On Writing: Beta Listeners, Thank You

I put out my new novel’s first chapter in a MP3 format. This was done using a particular AI program. I’ve heard the comments and it (the program) has not lived up to my expectations. It’s good, but not quite human-like. I will leave it out there as a teaser for the book for now. However, since I’m a book listener rather than reader, it is my aspiration to have my new book available in MP3 format as well as paperback.

I am still pitching The Stones of Yemen to agents, who would pitch to major publishers and I hope we can cut a deal (which could take a year). I hope I can convince them to produce a very professional (real voice actor) audio book. If I’m not able to close a deal with a major publisher (and it is incredibly difficult to even to have one look at your work) I will still produce an audio book. However, I cannot afford to use a voice actor, which would cost over $8,000 for my book. I would use a better AI program than the one I used here and I’ve already tested and it does sound better. I will make that MP3 version free, to accompany the hardcopy book. But thanks for listening and giving me your feedback.

New Podcast: Science and Religion Part VI of VII.

I am wrapping this topic up by move into the more practical aspects of the new war on reason and science by some religious groups in the twenty-first century. You can listen here. I will mention that it cuts off at the end because I went over my time, but you didn’t miss anything. I am also sorry about having to clear my voice and cough, but those are side effects of my present chemotherapy. I will have one more podcast on this topic later this week. Have a great day and thanks for listening.

Health Update & Writing

I hope this will be my last health update for a while, but I left things a little on the negative side. My local doctor reduced my nasty chemo by a third a week ago. I’m already starting to feel some better. I can function for the early part of the day before the cloud of exhaustion sets in. I met with my myeloma specialist today in Seattle. She, like me, was very pleased with the cancer numbers being in the normal range. She is going to further reduce the nasty drug next cycle by a total of 50%. Then (which gives me a little hope) if I have not recovered from the side effects, she will reduce it by 75% total. But, she does want me to stay on this combination for life, but is willing to completely stop this nasty drug if it is ruining that life. Thanks for your interest and support.

On Writing

Beta Listener?

My novel, The Stones of Yemen, is in the process of the final editing and prep for publishing. I’m still pitching it to major publishing houses, but am prepared to go to a smaller one if needed. The goal is being published by the end of the year. This week we have been working on the audio book. I have below the book’s introduction and the complete first chapter in MP3. If you have a moment and are so motivated, I would be interested in feedback on the quality of the recording. You don’t have to listen to the whole thing, just enough to get a taste for the quality of the audio (I’m not asking anyone to critique the writing). But you are welcome to listen to the whole first chapter. If you listen, and have comments, positive or negative, you can leave them in comments or send me a private message (ristrettorain@gmail.com). Thanks in advance

The Stones of Yemen Introduction and Chapter One

Health Update: Part C + New Podcast, Religion Vs Science Part V.

In summary, I restarted my nasty chemo today with no definite end in sight. While discouraging, I have some hope because we reduced the dose (the oncologist did with reluctance) by 1/3. Rather than taking it 3 weeks out of the month, I will be taking it two weeks (off every other week). I will also discuss this with my myeloma specialist in Seattle a week from today. If your are interested in the “why” of this decision, I will post a paragraph below about the process. But thank God, I am back in remission, a deeper remission than ever before.

New Podcast

I finished a podcast, part V, in my Religion Vs Science series. This one was a summary of the previous four and moved the ball a few more inches toward finishing this series. If you have not heard any of them, and are interested, this would be a good jumping in point as I bring everyone up to speed. It is a bit of a “rattle off” mode, thanks to the steroids in my body tonight, and my desire to finish this topic. But it is more lucid than my last one which I recorded while feeling quite ill. I will have one or two more and then I will finished, I promise. You can listen to it here.

Why We Are Keeping Me on the Nasty, Life-Ruining Chemo

I will cut to the chase. Multiple Myeloma is a complex disease with many versions. No two MM patients are alike. Regarding my particular MM, if I were the stop the nasty chemo (Lenalidomide), my prognosis, based on studies, is a mean survival of 3 years. If I stay on this chemo, my prognosis has a mean survival of 10 years. Besides just living 7 years longer, it would mostly likely put me in the milieu of a cure. Now, a “clumsy” cure might be available with three years, meaning it might cure you if it doesn’t kill you first. Now, studies are important, but are most accurate when you are dealing with large populations. On an individual basis, I could die from MM this week even with this nasty chemo, or I could live 20 years without it. Yet, you could die this week due to whatever, or I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. But the odds are important as math never lies.

My prayer is that this dose adjustment will give me a little of my life back. If it does not, I will have to make a very sober decision in a few months if living 3 years (if I followed the statistics) at 80% of my former self, is better than living 10 years at my new 20% of my former self. Having cancer is not for the faint hearted, just ask some of my friends who have been at this a lot longer than me.

Thanks again for your interest, thoughts, and prayers.

Mike

New Podcast: What if Life Does Not Have a “Purpose”

I will get back to my series on science and religion, but a simple question I raise here, what if we are wrong that life must have a grand purpose? What if Rick Warren (author of “The Purpose Drive Life”) was completely wrong? You can listen here.

Please understand, this is part of series of questions I’ve been raising for more than 30 years and has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I am fighting cancer in my personal life.

Health Update, Part B

My labs came in just a few minutes ago. I didn’t want to waste time as my kids and family find out about my cancer here. In summary, my Lambda light chains (that is the type of cancer I have) came back as normal (22.4 mg/L, normal is 5.7-26.3 mg/L). I was elated last time when they came back near normal (27.3 mg/L), but now, it is completely normal. This is a huge positive step. My cancer is back in remission as of today and a deep remission at that. But MM is very mischievous and can stay in remission only for a few days … or a few decades.

To further illustrate how good this news is, I know of someone with MM who went on an experimental treatment, has been on it for 8 weeks with terrible, life-threatening side effects, and he found out today, his cancer is worse than ever. Can you imagine how demoralizing that would be? He is a good man and did nothing wrong, but life throws curves.

Now, to my present problem, I’ve been on a three-drug regiment for 9 weeks and for the last 5 weeks I’ve felt like Alexander (children’s story) with the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad–feeling. It has been awful. The space of my life has been reduced to a box, not much bigger than my bed. Each morning my body throws me a new prank, usually in the form of pain and exhaustion. With that I had become demoralized. However the hope I now have, is that I can get off or reduce the drug lenalidomide, which I think is causing most of my problems. The plan that is before me right now is to stay on it, but with these new lab numbers, I hope to persuade my doctors to give me a chance to get off or lower dose.

Poor Denise, as healthy as an ox, has had her own life reduced to my space as I can’t do anything with her. She has friends that she can hang out with, but her life this summer has been squished due to my illness. If you know her and want to invite her to events in town, throw her an invite. That would help with some of my guilt.

Thanks again. I will give a brief Part C, next week when we figure out this plan.

Mike

Health Update

Tomorrow is another landmark day. My cancer labs will be drawn with results by next Monday. On my last labs, four weeks ago, the numbers came in stunning, very close to no evidence of cancer (Multiple Myeloma is never cured with chemo but can go into hiding). I was elated. I was also four weeks into a very rigorous 3-drug chemo program. One of those chemos, lenalidomide, is well-known for its effectiveness, and its toxicity. However, I was also pleased to report last time that only a few side effects had been realized by that point.

Unfortunately, side effects soon came after that last report and have been rather severe. Lenalidomide typically causes a collapse of the healthy blood cells, RBCs, WBCs, and platelets, and that’s now what’s happened. This (and other mechanisms) have led to an overwhelming sense of fatigue. It is hard to believe that I was climbing our local mountain and running one day a week, just five weeks ago, and now it takes effort to do the basic activities of life. I can still think and write but not much else. Summer chores are accumulating.

The other thing that lenalidomide has cased is pain. I’ve been spared a lot of pain until now. But I have significant nerve pain in my legs, arms, back, head, and urinary tract. I know it is the lenalidomide because this is my week off (on 3 weeks and off 1) and those symptoms are subsiding. But the pain makes sleep almost impossible and misery when awake.

So, this is what is at stake and how you can pray if you are a praying person. Thoughts and hope would be appreciated as well. The original plan was for me to only be on this intensive program for 2 months, meaning ending next Monday. However, my local oncologist has renewed the same program for the coming months. If my labs tomorrow are nearly as good as a month ago, it will give me the position to petition him to drop at least the lenalidomide. If the labs are worse, he would consider this program life-saving and essential.

There is the problem of what I call the “cancer-patient’s dilemma.” When does life saving treatments render the life no longer worthy of saving? I’ve had this discussion with many cancer patients, although they may not be as candid with the question as I am. At least it would be depressing to know that this present state is my new normal. We will hope for good news from tomorrow morning’s tests and that I can persuade my doctors to get me off this drug. Then maybe hope can be restored.

I will update when the results are in and if there is a new direction in treatment.

Thanks, as always, for your concern. Mike

Mathematics and Theism

I try to avoid writing articles here anymore, unless it is about my health or writing. I digress today, I am sure because this is my steroid day. With my new chemo program, my quality of life has plummeted in the past three weeks, feeling awful most of the time. But with steroids, I briefly awaken to feeling human for 48 hours, then the oppressive chemo-induced flu sets back in.

But I came across an article today that I wanted to share and the written page (vs a podcast) is the only way to do that. Please understand, I do not share this article to argue with religious people about a “better” way to believe in God. I certainly do not share this with atheists in order to persuade them to believe in God, because such a change in the basic fundamentals of someone’s presumptions would take a million times more discussion space than this tiny blog page could ever hold. But I do want to share this, for people like me, for whom I think this would be helpful. I am someone (and there are others like me) for whom mysticism doesn’t work. I can’t “experience” my way to God.

I’ve mentioned before that I spent 30 years in evangelicalism, leaving that movement in 1990. I left because I knew if I tried to stay in the disingenuous version I was in, I would soon be an atheist for life.

But when I did leave evangelicalism, I found myself in a “spiritual” wasteland. I considered myself an agnostic for the early 90s, evolving into atheism for a short while in the mid 1990s. With that said, I want atheists to know that I respect their perspective. No answers for the big questions of life is a slam dunk. All have their difficulties, if we are honest about it. There are plenty of difficulties in believing in a personal God. There are plenty of difficulties in trying to live in an atheistic universe. As an evangelical we had to believe that atheists were either immoral or stupid, but most likely both. I am sure there are plenty of atheists who see theists the same way. So, it was with great humility that I sought to find God again, if he or she were there to be found.

I eventually did find my way back to believing in a personal God and in Jesus as the messiah. Now, I subscribe to a very simple, de-religionized, brand of Christianity.

But for those like I was, those within forms of Christianity that just no longer makes sense, I offer this breadcrumb. This is only one tiny nugget in my years-long process of becoming a theist again, nowhere near an exhaustive treatise. Remember, breadcrumb.

I have said before, mathematics is the native language of God. Mathematics, especially the higher forms of mathematics, in my opinion, are the breadcrumbs (different metaphor) of God’s existence dropped across the forest floor leading people like me (and Isaac Newton) home. I would say with confidence that if I had not discovered higher math in the 90s, I would not be a theist today and certainly not a Christian.

I have said before, mathematics is the native language of God.

For those unlike me, whose Christianity is self-assured without evidence and see my approach as “unspiritual,” I will remind you of how Jesus responded to Thomas. Some of you are “Peters,” I’m a Thomas. Mutual respect is required.

When Thomas doubted it was Jesus (then alive), because he had seen him dead, Jesus didn’t say to Thomas, “Okay dude, close your eyes and meditate and have a spiritual/emotional experience to prove to your heart that I am Jesus.” He also didn’t say, “Shame on you Thomas, I dare you doubting me, you rebellious person.” What did he say? Here’s how the Bible describes it in the book of John:

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

John 20:24-29 NIV

There is a mass exodus from Christianity in western (previous Christian) cultures. I’m only the message bearer. One the most common reasons, which I’ve heard people in their teens or twenties say, is that the Church does not allow doubts or questions. They only teach you what you must think, not how to think in a healthy way. Historically, the Church has preferred non-thinkers as sheep are easier to herd than inquisitive cats. Curiosity is quenched for the sake of conformity to the Church’s teachings. I like the church that I attend because there, curiosity about the cosmos is encouraged, not stifled.

If you want to read more about this mathematics-God connection, this article is a good introduction. Not exhaustive by any means. I have many other reasons for believing in God, but that is far beyond this blog.

Again, my steroids have enticed me to write too much and for that I apologize in advance.

Mike

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