Phrontistery is an ancient Greek word meaning “a place for thinking.” I love cool words and phrontistery not only feels good on the tongue, but its meaning really appeals to me — it describes a space specifically dedicated to thinking! For many people, bathrooms are a perfect phrontistery. They are for me, too. Showers score high as well. But I think I do my best thinking when I write. With my fingers on the keys, I can clarify my thinking and also discover ideas that must have been hovering around my subconsciousness, ready to be revealed to my eyes through my fingers. Writing is a metaphorical phrontistery for me. And probably in the days when diaries and journals were popular, many others found capturing words in a tangible medium clarified one’s thoughts and opinions on all sorts of matters. Luckily for my friends and family, I write mostly fiction — my phrontistery cleverly hides the true identities of many.
Lately, I have been devouring books at a high rate. As a result, my little collection of notes (over a thousands and counting) has been growing. I consider my notes app as part of my phrontistery. I jut down ideas for stories and plot twists and newsletter subjects and even definitions of words that I find interesting (like phrontistery).
I just finished In Search of Cell History The Evolution of Life’s Building Blocks by Franklin M. Harold. It felt like a graduate-level course on cell biology. Harold was fond of repeating and summarizing ideas, which helped a lot in understanding the technical material. One of the topics discussed in this book was the evolutionary origins of membranes — a subject matter I never really any thought to. I was so taken by the idea that I made the following note in my phrontistery.
Us versus Them/Inside and Out
Humans divide the world into us versus them, us and the other. But nature arrived at this approach first with the membrane — a key to life everywhere. Without membranes, there is no life! There is a thing and then there is the environment in which it lives. Membranes collect and unite a set of parts that make up a whole. A cell is a sack of many parts that perform the functions that make the cell alive, and all are contained within a membrane.
Our organs are encased in membranes. The heart is separated from the rest of the body by a membrane that allows it to perform its function as one whole entity. That’s true for our liver, kidneys, brain, and all our other organs. Each organ (or organelle inside a cell) has a membrane that defines it and separates inside from out.
Our skin is also a membrane — inside there is us and, outside, there is everything else.
This is true for our dwellings — walls contain inside and protect from outside. And there are fences, cities, and even the boarders that define countries. Whether real or metaphysical, membranes are what distinguish us from them.
Membranes are everywhere. They are part of the products we design and buildings that we build. They are part of our social structures — the rules that define a group are nothing but a metaphysical membrane.
At what level of organization do membranes cease to exist or serve a function? Even our solar system has a boundary. Our galaxy does, too — this space is in and that space is out.
Division is just one fascinating attribute of a membrane, at least those that form a biological cell. Surprisingly, cell membranes don’t reproduce using DNA. Cell membranes reproduce by expanding an existing membrane and cleaving off of a portion of such membrane to form the child cell’s membrane. In this way, modern cell membranes are inherited from other membranes all the way back through the history of life.
Cell structure and cell architecture — where the various organelles are located in the cell relative to each other — are also not inherited via DNA but are duplicated from the parent cell. These structures too have been passed down to us from our earliest ancestors.
What other things reproduce by expanding and cleaving rather than by DNA? Crystal formation might be considered as similar. Crystals in a cluster formation share certain traits. Once a crystal starts to grow and organize around a seed, it can split but still maintains similar characteristics to the original “mother” crystal.
In some way, we can even think of the laws of nature in this way. Once the physical constants arose, they spread — replicated — to the entire universe as it grew, remaining constant and uniform (as far as we know) throughout the whole observable universe. Cleaving is probably not the right way to thing about the universal constants, but, then, perhaps, that’s how other universes are born.
Crystals might be something similar. Once a crystal starts to grow and organize around a seed, it can split but maintain similar characteristics to the original “mother” crystal. Crystals in a cluster formation share certain traits.
Cell structure and cell architecture are also not inherited via DNA but rather duplicated from the previous cell mother. Here, cell structure and architecture define where the various organelles are located in the cell and relative to each other. These structures too are passed on from our earliest prehistory to now.
A Bit Book of News
Perhaps I should put an end to my phrontistery for this newsletter and just share a few exciting bits of news:
My short stories have gotten several awards from The Writers of the Future contest. This week, I’ve received a notice that “Funeral Request” — a short story about death and its aftermath in the age of pandemic — was awarded an honorable mention. It was a nice bit of recognition. Perhaps I will bundle all of the shorts that were thus recognized into a little collection and make it available. Something to ruminate on in the next year.
Becoming Animals, a novel written with my husband, Christopher, a few years back, has also been recognized by the BBNYA. This story has been steadily collecting awards. Renders my heart aglow. There have been other recognitions of our writings, and I should put together a list…it’s on my to do list.
Becoming Animals is also part of this year’s indie science fiction competition. There are 300 books competing to be the One! (SPSFC) Last year, Harvest made it to the semi-finalist stage of the competition. I write quirky books and thus my stories struggle to find their audiences. But these competitions are one of the ways indie authors find thier readers. And they are fun, in a nail-biting kind of way. So far, we are still in the running.
The holidays are almost upon us — time just seems to race at a breakneck speed. I wanted to do something special for those who get to the end of reading my ramblings — a nice collection of science fiction ebooks available for a free download! My book Mirror Shards is part of this collection. The whole book is available for download for free. Mirror Shards is about a boy who was born with health complications that severely limited his life but through some possibly magical intervention, manages to find an alternate world that is kinder to him. Or is it? This one is about love and all of its many forms. So grab it, gift it, read it, review it. Or pick up any of the other dozens of cool books in this giveaway…or all of them! Happy Thanksgiving!!!
PS: In case you are wondering who is the cool-looking dude on this blog’s header? It is a photo of a real person, an actor from about 100 years past. To me, he strongly resembles my main character in Mirror Shards.