...or, how to make your bottom drop off in days!
If you met me ten years ago and haven’t seen me since, you might recall a lean guy, almost as tall as Harlan Ellison, with a flat stomach. Since then, the stress of two careers (as I kept a full-time day job going for a long time alongside writing) and long-term sleep deprivation and all the other ills of our time, combined to keep adding weight to my midsection while I continued to work out and train in martial arts. Oops. Now, with the enormous benefits of Combat Conditioning making me a better fighter than ever – I don’t mean world-class, but I do mean better than my previous personal best – I was able to ignore the cushion of fat around my waist for a long time, until the scales a few weeks back indicated 80 kilos (that’s, what, 176 pounds or 12 stone 8, whatever units you choose) which was too much to ignore. If you think that doesn’t sound heavy, that probably means you’re taller than I am! Yet now the excess weight is flying off and I haven’t noticeably increased my training (although my kicks have improved hugely) and I for sure haven’t gone on a diet. Everyone knows that starving yourself is terrible, but people do it anyway, lowering their metabolic rates and encouraging every part of their organism (mind-and-body-as-a-whole) apart from the thin layer of consciousness on the very top (that icing on the cake, or rather atop the lump of structured fat which is the human brain) to eat rapidly and gain loads of weight just as soon as that food becomes available again... which it always does.
Oh and, does this have anything to with the art and craft of writing, or with my stories in particular? You bet.
Writers are ordinary people. (Sorry if you thought otherwise.) There are certain habits that all writers pick up – which is a topic I might explore in the future – while there are other things that are quite individual (such as how fast and how many drafts we write). One of the remarks you’ll hear from writers who’ve produced several novels is that, at some point, a character takes over the story they’re telling, and takes that story in a direction the writer never envisaged. Now think about that...
When I ask myself a question, who is the questioner, and who the questioned? And what is consciousness besides a thought contemplating thoughts?
...while I recall a question my friend Andy Hills once asked me: whether I fancied Yoshiko, the heroine of To Hold Infinity. (That was my first novel in the UK, but if you’re US-based, it’s the fourth book, the one that’s going to appear after the Nulapeiron trilogy.) I might fall in love with a character from a book that someone else wrote, but the idea of me – part of me – fancying Yoshiko who is also a part of me – another sub-personality running inside my brain – just did not compute. So that’ll be a no, Andy, old mate.
By the way, speaking of old friends, this website allowed one of my old pals to make contact with me some time back. Cheers, Vikas, and I hope that NYU is the route to achieving all your ambitions. In fact, I’m sure it is.
Now it’s obvious to me, and possibly to Vikas, and surely to any writer who’s bothered to ponder the matter, that every individual human brain houses a community of neural patterns that might or might not be personalities in their own right. One hugely powerful approach to changing behaviour, neurolinguistic programming, is absolutely based on that concept, since so much of it involves direct communication with the subconscious (NLPers would say unconscious) mind. (And by the way, if you do know about NLP, I’m well aware of why it is fantastically useful to say that: someone’s unconscious.) And in Walter Jon Williams’ excellent novel Aristoi, the aristocrat elite of the title deliberately allow different daemon personalities to surface in their minds, and then use painful psychic and athletic disciplines to bring those personalities under control. (It’s no accident that Walter is a senior dan grade in kempo: all martial arts training is about rewiring the mind-body-spirit as a whole.)
Tom Corcorigan trained in neurolinguistic rhetoric in Paradox, and makes particular use of that training in Resolution (which is easily the best-written of any of my books so far). In New Jerusalem, not yet published but better again (I reckon), the hero is David Wolf, who uses hypnotic techniques to more spectacular effect, behind the Iron Curtain of a rather different 1960s.
I remember at school, when I won the Latin prize, I used the money to buy a book on Gestalt psychotherapy, much to my headmaster’s surprise. If he’d known that I knew The World of Null-A word for word, he might have realized that my interest made sense. It’s interesting that the dictum of Count Alfred Korzybski that is the ongoing refrain of AE van Vogt’s book, and of the General Semantics movement (does that still exist?) is also a tenet of NLP:
The map is not the territory.
Perhaps I should add that I no longer read van Vogt’s stuff: it feels like stuffing my brain through an egg scrambler. And don’t worry, I’m not going to do what van Vogt’s mate Hubbard did, and found my own religion. Unless... what did you say the tax breaks were? And did you mention nubile young acolytes? Blimey...
Ahem. So multiple personalities are a reality. Now there are many ways of looking at brain structure. The left brain/right brain structure (with the bridging corpus callosum) is a well known model, whereas in recent years people have been paying more attention to the cooperation and differences between frontal and temporal lobes. And so on... By observing the brain and mind from many different viewpoints and directions, we may at some point get the notation and theories I called cognitive algebra in Paradox (the basis of logosophical mind-tinkering with logotropes). And if you’ve read To Hold Infinity, you’ll know there’s another world in the mu-space universe where some people have unusual minds. That world doesn’t feature in the (sixth) book I’m working on, but it should feature in the one that follows...
Also, I’ve been in danger (not huge danger) and something like the buried primate brain took over, too fast for conscious thought. And once the circumstances were faster and more violent than that, and I went straight to reptile mode, with only problem-solving left and not a trace of emotion. That’s another part of the cognitive model.
Skip the next paragraph if you want to ignore workout descriptions...
Part of this explains why Combat Conditioning is great, with exercises that involve deep breathing with hard physical work: since respiratory control can be accessed by both the conscious and subconscious mind, it forms a bridge between them. Those Hindu pushups and squats, followed by the neck bridge, create an implacable mental focus because of that connection. If you like lifting weights, or want to try it, don’t let me put you off. Here’s the core of my own weight training currently, using heavy dumbbells: a tri-set (mini circuit) of three exercises – squats, bench press and one-arm row. After warming up (preferably including those three exercises with light weights) I go for either 3 sets of 10 reps or 5 sets of 5 reps, using the same weights for both protocols. Those are major complex (non-isolation) exercises. Abs are required as well. I’ll usually have done abs first, as part of a Combat Conditioning workout (with fifty to one hundred push-ups and one to two hundred squats: for me that’s a low number of reps) before I do the weights. I like dumbbell squats, because they’re half-way between a squat and a deadlift, which are both killer exercises. I’ll then add secondary exercises, maybe supersetting (alternating) overhead presses with straight-legged deadlifts (with light dumbbells) and biceps curls supersetted with a triceps press or extension of some kind. I also add slow kicking movements: front, side and back kicks.
...but as in sex, the conscious mind can largely be switched off during training, which is why people who say they get bored with exercise simply aren’t training hard enough and sinking into the joy of it. Downloading (or would it be uploading?) human personalities into computers would require emulating the entire body, or the minds would no longer be human. And you might wonder what this has to do with the weight-loss I’m having so much fun with.
Yet this part is really simple. I’ve researched hypnosis and NLP (and other psychological disciplines) by reading and watching videos, but until twenty days ago I’d never been in an induced trance. A few years back, Eric Furey, master practitioner of NLP (and husband to Maggie, no relation to Matt) showed me a tape of Richard Bandler sending someone deep into trance with a gesture. Eric also told me about some of the techniques which Tom uses in Resolution (and which – okay, I’ll admit it – I’ve field-tested and found scarily effective). But still, I’d never been an hypnotic subject until I used the Paul McKenna audio CD (which is called I Can Make You Thin, which means you can make yourself thin) and did the trance thing in the comfort of my own hotel room.
I lost five kilos in the first two weeks, and my energy levels are through the roof. If you thought I was adrenalized before... The behaviour patterns are exactly what I did before when I was lean, so I already knew it would work. Yet it doesn’t require belief.
I’ll soon be at my fighting weight, for good. I’m lifting heavier weights than before. And no, this is not the most important area of my life... oh, and I burst out laughing several times in trance. It’s a laugh. Life’s fun. We know that, don’t we?
Leap for the future, live the now, love yourself and the universe. Fly high, Pilots. Fly true.