Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Internet - today's writing tool

The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman is the first book I've read that actively references information pulled from the Internet - including many direct quotes from Wikipedia.

I don't know how writer's managed to pull together anything comprehensive before the Internet existed. I've just begun reading The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker which was first published in 1973 - and in it, Becker decries the mountains of research and information that exist in the world and the lack of organization to it all.

Well in a sense with the net and specifically Wikipedia, we now do have an organizing force collecting and updating mankind's ever growing foundation of knowledge. I've been transcribing my interview with Frances Macnutt and I don't know what I would do without Google and Amazon and Wikipedia.

In just the first ten minutes of our chat, Macnutt referenced St. Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech, President Obama's Inaugural Address, a study of the sexual abuse of women in America, John Newton and John T. Noonan's A Church That Can and Cannot Change. Yes I have a basic knowledge of some of these but jumping online and doing just a few minutes of research about each one adds layers of understanding and depth to the interview that would have taken months of research before the availability of the Web!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Writing = hard

Writing a book is very challenging!

This is my first and no, I didn't expect it to be easy. But just getting through a few pages really takes a lot of time, focus, research and some staring out the window to happen (I can see why they always show writers offices with a nice view).

I will say I am enjoying the process but it's a challenge. I'm writing for about four hours a day, which seems to be about my limit of just hands on the keyboard, working it out. However I am always thinking about it, reading or doing research.

I wonder how long this thing is going to take. I should probably set a goal for when to cross the finish line...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Questions about the author

Someone asked me recently, "What will you do if this book gets published and ends up being really successful? What will be next?"

I had no good answer for this. It's related to the question, "Why are you taking this on?"

Both are valid. The real answer is that it's just an idea and subject that fascinates me and I thought it would make a really interesting book. I'd like to get it published but haven't thought beyond that as to what I might do if it is actually successful.

On the other side of it, a reader may ask, "Why you?" I know that if I was picking up this book I might wonder why a musician and marketing strategist is writing a book about human sin and how we should address our most basic flaws.

I'm going to deal with that question in the preface of the book but the short answer is that developing an understanding of how people think and function has been critical to my work both in the artistic and business worlds. People interest me, and that interest translates into a variety of outputs.

And so I move forward on this passion project, and I guess we'll just see what happens next.

Monday, February 23, 2009

People talk

I have this nifty little digital audio recorder that I've been using for my interviews. What I love about it is that I can just transfer the audio file from each interview onto my computer and then do the transcription.

The challenging part (or at least the very time-consuming part) is transcribing each interview. All of the interviews thus far have been between 45 minutes and an hour and a half, but it takes me at least 5 times that to get it all typed out.

I think it is an important process, though, because it forces me to really think about what my interviewee has said. I originally figured I would hire someone to do transcriptions but I'm very glad to be doing them.

The interesting thing is trying to capture and approrpiately punctuate the cadence and style of each speaker. I'm noticing a lot about how people talk - one person says "you know" constantly, another drops the "g's" of off all of their "ing" words and yet another starts every sentence with "And..." It's also interesting how many pronouns we use in every day speech. For instance trying to type out a sentence with a lot of "there's," "theirs" and "they'res" gets really confusing! Some people say "someone" where others say "somebody," and everybody seems to say "gonna" all the time.

After doing all of these transcriptions I am going to have to go through each and highlight the most relevant and salient points. Where possible I am going to try and pull in verbatim quotes from the interviews because most of the people I've chatted with have been really articulate and super smart.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Brain Science and Sigmund Freud

I've been chugging my way through Biology of Freedom: Neural Plasticity, Experience and the Unconscious for the past few days and it is blowing me away.

This book is by two French men - psychoanalyst Fran├žois Ansermet and neurologist Pierre Magistretti. I've never really studied psychology or the biology of the mind and this is a master class in the latest clinical research combined with classic Freudian theory. (I am amazed also that Susan Fairfield was able to translate this dense work from French to English - I wonder if she had to understand all of the biological terminology in each language to nail it?)

Aside from the concepts of neural plasticity, which I will definitely get into in the book, two things are really surprising to me:

1 - How much we really do know about how the brain works. I've always thought of the brain as the final frontier of modern science and while that still may be true, the amount of kowledge of brain function and neurochemistry is staggering.
2 - How much psychology is still rooted in what Sigmund Freud had to say 100 years ago. I've always known him as hugely impactful on psychoanalysis but it's amazing how modern neurology is supporting his theories about the interactions between the conscious and unconscious mind.

I'm not sure I would recommend this book for everyone but I am planning to dip into the science of how our brains work and the biological basis for why we all struggle with the 7 sins.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Hatred, racism and Abraham Lincoln

I've been working through the sin of hatred and considering Abraham Lincoln's abolitionism as a predecessor to an eventual election of a black president. And with Obama such a fan of Lincoln, he's been in the news a bit lately. I've come to realize how little I actually know about Lincon's life and work.

In doing some research I came across a Lincoln quote that was such a shock because of it's somewhat overt racist language. This will probably make it into the book, though likely as a footnote because it's a bit of a tangent from the major points I'll be covering:

"I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races - that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

I wonder if Lincoln would have voted for Obama for president!

At any rate, I still have great respect for the man and my understanding is that these kinds of attitudes softened within him over the years. But it is still interesting to realize that racism was so prevalent in American society that even the great abolitionist participated in this kind of talk.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Interviews and books

In conducting the research for the book I am interviewing quite a few people and obviously doing quite a bit of reading. Here is who I have interviewed thus far:

Spencer Wells: This was my very first interview. Spencer is an old friend who has had quite a career as an anthropologist and geneticist. Anyone interested in the history of mankind should check out his National Geographic special: The Journey of Man (which used to be up on YouTube but it looks like it got yanked, hence no link. It is available on DVD and worth picking up).

Steven Pinker: This is my most recent interview. Dr. Pinker is a linguist and experimental psychologist who is a regular speaker and who's appeared on fun shows like The Colbert Report. I really enjoyed our talk and the guy is just brilliant. He gave a really amazing and hilarious talk to Google that I highly recommend (if you don't mind a few curse words). And check out that head of hair! He's one of a kind.

Nancy McWilliams: Dr. McWilliams is a professor of psychology at Rutgers and is a practicing psychoanalyst. I visited her home office in New Jersey and had a really lovely, in-depth conversation about the seven deadly sins and how they manifest themselves. Her insights will definitely make it into the book.

Pastor Mac Brunson of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville: I took a trip to Florida to interview Mac Brunson and others. I think it's important to incorporate a theological perspective of sin so I'm determined to meet religious leaders from many faiths. I'm not really a religious person but I was really impressed with Pastor Brunson's knowledge of The Bible. This really was an incredible interview that spanned many topics, including just where I think I am headed for eternity!

Chris Bartkowiak: Bartkowiak is a former cop who has spent the last ten years counseling sex offenders in the Jacksonville area. I reached out to him because I wanted to explore the sin of lust and take a look at how people with major issues can change or manage their issues. Bartkowiak also provided a really interesting perspective on addiction overall as well as the criminal justice system. I will probably post a few of his stories up on here as there was just too much good stuff and only so much that is directly relevant to the book.

Pandit Kadambi Shrinathji of the Hindu Society of North East Florida: I had an intense interview with the Hindu priest Pandit Kadambi Shrinathji where we talked about the "6 enemies of man" - which remarkably align pretty closely with the 7 deadly sins. I was amazed by this guy and the amount of time (an hour an a half) and attention he gave me. I was also so impressed by his take on Hinduism itself, a religion I knew so little about going into the interview. The Hindu folks in Northeast Florida are lucky to have this smart, happy and loving guy as their priest.

Craig Kurtz: I met Craig and his wife Sharon at a Carraba's Italian restaurant and we talked in depth about drug and alcohol addiction. I wanted to explore this because, as with the sex offenders, I thought it would be useful to talk about how one works with people that are really in trouble - how they can change and turn their lives around.

Francis Macnutt of the Christian Healing Ministries: Francis Macnutt is an 83 year old former catholic priest who founded and runs the Christian Healing Ministries. Macnutt certainly knew his history and most of our conversation centered on the background of the seven deadly sins and their relevance to modern society. We also spoke in depth about his ministries belief in the power of prayer in healing people both of internal turmoil as well as physical ailments. I was and remain a skeptic, but Macnutt makes a convincing advocate.

I have kind of a massive wishlist of people I would like to interview. The truth is that I could keep on going and going and this thing would never get done! So if I am able to get a few more great interviews I will hopefully be in good enough shape to get this thing finished.

Of course I am also neck deep in Internet research, and I am reading a few insightful books as well. Right now I am somewhere in the middle of Biology of Freedom by Fran├žois Ansermet and Pierre Magistretti , Intelligence Reframed by Howard Gardner, The Seven Deadly Sins by Solomon Schimmel and Hilary Clinton's It Takes a Village. And for fun I'm reading The Outliers (which is inspiring some relevant ideas) and The World is Flat. I've never read so much!

So, that's where I am in terms of interviews and book research at this point. As I mentioned I could keep going and going with this and never actually write a thing so I have to be careful about spreading out too thin. That said, if anyone has suggestions for amazing people to contact, do feel free to drop me a line :)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Journey Begins

It is February, 2009, and I've decided to start blogging my progress in the development of Curing the Human Disease.

This story goes back a few months - to early November of last year, when the idea for this book first came to me. The United States was deeply immersed in the election cycle and just about everyone I knew was tuning into the news for hours each day. It was an amazingly dramatic showdown between Barack Obama with Joe Biden and John McCain with Sarah Palin - I was as enthralled as the media.

I've always been fascinated by politics but this was the first time I felt inspired to truly think beyond myself to the problems affecting the U.S. and the world. So, I was thinking deeply about stuff...how do we fix these issues that plague us? Terrorism and violence; poverty and the economic crisis; executive compensation and corporate crime; pollution and global warming. I was thinking - all of these issues we face have human behaviors at their core. We all have the capacity for greed, jealousy, hatred, etc. That means in order to truly fix the challenges we face, we have to address the human issues that we all face, which actually align fairly well with the 7 deadly sins.

And thus came the idea for Curing the Human Disease, which started as a set of questions: Why are we all born with the capacity to do great harm? What does society do about it? How can we "cure" people of these flaws, or at least mitigate them? I started conducting interviews and doing research and thus far it's been a fascinating journey.

I decided to start this blog because as I am traveling on this journey I keep uncovering such interesting bits of knowledge and hearing amazing stories that may or may not make it into the book. I just wanted to talk about some of what I am seeing and hearing here and maybe get a few people interested in tagging along with me.

After this first post I might do a bit of catching up from what I've been doing over the past three months or so - so the timeline may be out of whack until I catch up a bit!