Walter Mosley: The Older You Are, the More You Live in the Past
"A lot of people get upset at young people," says Walter Mosley, "They say, 'Young people aren’t living up to their potential. Young people are interested in things which are shallow, which are meaningless, which are unimportant. But the truth is, is that the older you are, the more you’re thinking is historical, and the more historical things become—especially in our world today, where things change so quickly because of technology, the more they’re invalid."
This is just one of many insightful observations on work, life, and writing, that Mosley makes in his recent Big Think interview. The critically-acclaimed novelist stopped by Big Think studios to reflect on his most recent novel "The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey," which details the life of a 91 man suffering from dementia. In light of Big Think's Breakthroughs series on Alzheimer's disease, it was interesting to find that Mosley was drawn to the subject of senility from taking care of his own mother. "My experience of people with dementia is that a lot of their personality, a lot of their knowledge, a lot of their experience is still there but there’s not a direction connection that they can just reach out and get it and then bring it back," says Mosley.
Regardless of the subject matter or length of a writing project, Mosley says he sticks to the same writing schedule, writing about a thousand words each morning, sometime before most people even read the morning paper. "The next morning, I read those thousand words and cursorily edit that. Then I write the next thousand," he says. "I do that all the way to the end of the book and then I reread the book quite a few times, editing as go through because you know, your book grows; the early part of your book is growing still while you are writing the later part of your book."
This is the same schedule, more or less, that he's kept since leaving his day job as a computer programmer in his 30s to pursue writing full-time. Avid readers of his work may find that his prior experience as computer programmer sometime shows in the form of "little discreet boxes of logic" his writing, says Mosley. In his opinion, making such a career shift wasn't as dramatic as it may seem. In fact, Mosley explains that it was somewhat unintended: "When people come to me and say, 'So when you started writing, you were trying to become a successful writer,' and I say, 'No, when I became a writer—I started writing, what I wanted to do was to write a short story that worked.' And I never really thought I’d be successful. I never thought I’d get books published, but this was something completely beyond me. You know, the fact that it happened is wonderful, but it is not something that I was aiming for."
Aspiring writers shouldn't measure their success in dollars and cents or fame, says Mosley, but rather in their ability to entertain people with their writing. "Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, you know, Victor Hugo. I mean all of these people, they’re popular writers. They’re writing to the broadest range of people," explains Mosley. "Yeah, it’s great literature, but it was popular literature when it was written. And that’s the case with almost all of the literature that survives starting from Homer. You know? It’s the adventure; it’s the story; it’s the fight; it’s people falling in love; it’s people with deep, you know, personality disorders who succeed anyway; you know, beyond themselves. That’s what great literature is."
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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