Just Finish

Most of last week I was away on my yearly trip up north to the small town where my mother’s family is from and where my parents have a little cabin. It’s become a good peaceful winding-down to my summer (not as productive as planned/hoped this time ’round, but stay tuned) and a bit of a break from the city and phones and (mostly) email that is a welcome corrective.

I also get to visit with family members I don’t see too often, and hear some old family stories. Of course many of these, I have heard before, but there’s still something that feels good about refreshing the familial memory store, a little. One story this visit (as often happens) was about my grandfather, and it has Stuff in it that I need to try to remember.

My grandfather was quite an amateur athlete, really. He did bike races, canoe races, snowshoe races, and he did distance running and walking. He won a bunch of them, in his younger days, and then he didn’t win any longer, but he really never stopped doing them. I imagine some of my interest in running draws its roots from there, and I often think of him, mid-run. I didn’t really start running until after he had passed away, which I regret, because I like to think it’s something we would have had in common.

I wear a bandana on my head when I run, and I get a lot of grins when people see it and a fair number of pirate comments, but the stereotypical pirate look has nothing to do with why I wear it. On one level, it’s just a practical solution to being bald and preventing sweat running into my eyes the whole time I’m out there, but of course there are other answers to that. The other level is that that’s what my grandfather did. I remember being very young in the back seat of the family car, and we met granddad out on one of his training runs and stopped to say hi. He was wearing a red bandana, that image has always stayed with me, and so at a certain point I decided to give it a try myself. It works pretty great.

So there are things I remember, but also things I’ve forgotten, or never knew until the family stories are getting told. The one I’m thinking about today is just something my grandfather apparently said to my aunt when they were midway through a canoe race. That it doesn’t matter how many people finish ahead of you, as long as you don’t quit. As long as you finish.

One of the things that really did draw me to running was that it’s not necessarily competitive. As the saying goes, the race is long and in the end it’s only with yourself. The race is yours. As long as you finish, you did just fine.

It’s a harder frame of mind to maintain than you might think, because of course they time these things, and it becomes hard not to think about ‘could I be just a little quicker, if’ and compare your time to x and y other people you know who did the same race, or the same distance, or even what you did, a year or two ago. Obviously pushing yourself to achieve the best you can is important, but this can so easily become another thing to beat yourself up over and make yourself feel bad about.

It extends, again I guess obviously, beyond running. Why haven’t I written more, or better? Why haven’t I had more published? Why wasn’t this summer as productive as I thought it would be and imagined it could be? Why haven’t I done as much, or as well, as x or y other people I know?

And again, having goals and standards is important. But at least for me, this can so easily become self-defeating again, if I follow the chain of thought through to the conclusion that I’m really not very good at this, not compared to x or y, and that it would really be better if I just stopped. Running. Writing. Whatever.

I at least need to listen to my grandfather when my mind starts to skitter off down these corridors. It doesn’t matter how many people are ahead of you. The race is yours, and only yours. Just finish. Do what you are capable of doing, on the day, through the week, through the summer. Do the best you can and know that you can do no more, and that is good enough.

Anyway, it’s another perspective that I try to keep in mind, both about my running, and things in general. You do your best with the tools you’ve got and the time and energy you’ve got and make the best decisions you know how to make and in the end, produce whatever you can. What other people produce isn’t really even directly relevant. Their situation was not yours.

My grandfather and I never had this conversation, or as many as I would have liked, at all. In some sense, though, I do think he is with me at times, as I run all my various sorts of races.

Thank you.

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On the Portability of Dreams

Long-time readers of the blog may remember that I’ve commented in the past on a particular tree that I used to see when I was out running (they said: oh no!) that was signposted as ‘The Dream Tree’. It was a type of white ash tree and that specific tree had apparently been a gift to the city from a group of visiting dignitaries. I thought the idea of a Dream Tree was a lovely one, thought about it often, and the notional final book in my series of stories about Adam Godwinson (from The King in Darkness and Bonhomme Sept-Heures), should I ever write it, would be called The Dreaming Tree.

Two or three summers ago now, the Dream Tree fell victim to the ash borers that devastated so many trees in the city. At some point I wrote a poem about it. Eventually they cut it down, and took the sign away. Now this year, as I stretch out the distance on my runs again, I have discovered that they have put the sign up again, beneath another tree (presumably also white ash?), further down the river. It’s the exact same sign, but marking a different tree as the Dream Tree.

This brings to mind a couple of questions. First is kind of a ‘Ship of Theseus’-ish one: does it actually matter which ash tree is marked as the Dream Tree? If the idea is to commemorate the gift to the city, well, that’s still being done, the tree is beautiful, and people can read the little story and think nice things about all of it. But it’s not the original tree. (Going further: was the tree I first got to know as the Dream Tree the original? Have there been a succession of them?) For the purpose of the sign, and the label, and what visitors will take away, does it matter?

I suppose as a historian I would suggest that it does, because the original thing that was placed or planted there at a point in time carries some significance that a duplicate or replacement does not. I’d probably like it better if the sign mentioned that this tree was a successor to the original Dream Tree, but I may be being too much of a stickler about it.

There’s another question that I thought about for the rest of that run, which is maybe more interesting. We all have dreams, ideas about things that we would like to do or see or have happen. Often enough, they don’t happen exactly the way we might have imagined that they would. I know that’s very frequently been the case in my life, both in and out of writing. And of course there are many dreams that haven’t yet shown me what will come of them.

In some cases, and contexts, people would say that a dream that is not fulfilled has died, like my first Dream Tree. But something else does happen, in many cases having some similarities to what I had imagined, along with differences. Most of the time, I’ve been fortunate enough that what I have had in reality has been really very wonderful, even if it doesn’t perfectly match up with a dream.

Should we really talk about a dream having died in such a case, or is it just a case of a different tree? How much can our dreams move and change before they’re not our dreams at all any more?

Personally, I think it’s an important part of dreaming to realize that while they are very powerful, we also shouldn’t hang our happiness on getting precisely what we dreamt about. In becoming reality, our dream will transform and shift and change its shape. By the time we get some sort of result, it may look like a different tree entirely.

But it still came from our dreams, and perhaps that’s the only important thing.

The only conclusion I have is that, whether it makes any particular sense or not, I am happy to see the Dream Tree on my runs again, tall and strong and beautiful and not the same as the other, which will forever grow beside the river in my imagination.

Thanks for reading.

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In Praise of Praise

On Twitter this week, I saw one writer bemoaning another writer they knew who was ‘self rejecting’, which is something I know I need to look out for. Self-rejecting is basically when you decide your work isn’t any good, and so you don’t query on it, or submit it, or let anyone look at it. I’m in the midst of querying Heretic Blood, and it is definitely discouraging at times (especially when you get the form-iest of form letter replies) but at least if you’re submitting places, you’re giving people a chance to say yes. They can’t say yes if they don’t see it.

Like I said, I am prone to being tough on my own work and I know self-rejection is a thing I need to watch out for. So far, a summer of ‘no’s on my new book has made the idea of not sending it out any more seem at least a little attractive. Maybe it’s easier to decide the book is no good and stop.

Fortunately, I had a couple little boosts as well. I wrote a social media post for Can*Con that a bunch of people said nice things about. I gave a friend some advice on the story they were working on, and they walked away feeling much better about it. Those little reminders that I have some idea what I’m doing can be so valuable in keeping your legs under you and keeping in motion on what you’re working on.

So, trying a few different things is good, but just as important to me is to offer genuine praise and admiration to artists when you think they did something cool. Even a little bit of positive reinforcement can be huge for someone struggling in what is often a very solitary and difficult field. Don’t underestimate how much your positive comment may mean to someone.

Also, none of that happens if I’m not putting my ideas out there, even on a very small scale. No-one can like your work if they never see it. It’s genuinely fine if you just want to write and have it be for no-one but you, but if you want to really know what anyone else thinks about it, at some point you have to let them see it.

Until you do, you can’t know if they might think it’s good, but equally, you also don’t know that they think it’s bad.

From my point of view, writing that has hard work done on it deserves an audience at some point.

Thanks for reading.

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Spider-Men

So, rather more on my usual scheduling for watching movies, I finally got to see Into the Spider-Verse this week. Look man, that’s just how these things go with me. I guess there are spoilers ahead, in the unlikely event that this is still relevant to anyone reading.

Sometimes actually getting to sit down and watch a movie that so many very clever people have said wonderful things about ends up being slightly disappointing, I think because if you’ve had a ton of people yelling about how excellent a movie (or probably a book, or a game) is and then you watch it and it *is* excellent, it’s sort of just fulfilling expectations at that point. I think.

In any case, that didn’t happen with this one. I really enjoyed Spider-Verse and found it, beginning to end, just a ton of fun. There was lots I didn’t expect, especially how much they incorporated elements from how a comics page looks into what we saw in the film. It was really creative and cool and just a joy to watch.

And, I really enjoyed Miles Morales. The writing for the character was charming and thoroughly great, his arc through the movie was really nicely done, and in a movie that was itself a ton of fun, he’s just a thoroughly entertaining character to have lead the story. I 100% agree that Miles makes an awesome Spider-Man and definitely get why a lot of people say he’s now their favourite version of the character.

With all that said, I still think my favourite part was Peter Parker. Wait, don’t shoot. I’m sure part of it is just the sheer inertia of Peter being the Spider-Man I grew up with, but he’s also a character that I have come to admire the more I’ve thought about superheroes. On our Broadcasts from the Wasteland podcast, Kelly Robson advanced the ‘who do you like, Tony Stark or Steve Rogers’ question, and my answer is neither. I like Peter.

The reason for this is that he’s a very pure kind of hero, which is increasingly my taste these days. He doesn’t really get anything out of being Spider-Man. Being a superhero basically trashes his life and leaves him poor (and yes, the economics of how Peter’s life is supposed to work have some, uh, questions about them), and a fairly ludicrous figure to most who know him. Even as Spider-Man, apparently like half the city at best distrusts him most of the time (again, how plausible this really is: certainly questionable).

He still keeps at it. Of course, every so often they do the ‘Peter quits being Spider-Man’ plot, and his life gets way better, but he always goes back to it. Because he has to, because ultimately the idea of people coming to harm when he could have helped them is not something he can live with. That’s just kindness writ very large, and I dig that very much.

Ok, so I like the character. The Peter Parker we see most of in Spider-Verse is an older version of the character whose life has gone to shit and has kind of let himself go, and the movie definitely plays it for laughs a lot of time. And yet.

Despite being (still? again?) poor, losing his wife, and getting older and kind of out of shape, vaguely-ludicrous Peter B. Parker is still going at this Spider-Man thing. He’s definitely fucked things up in his life, but the one thing he’s still gonna try to do is the Right Thing. Up until Miles is able to pull his shit together and really become Spider-Man, Peter is gonna sacrifice himself to save various other Spider-people and a universe he’s not even from.

He’s been kicked around, dinged up, and is not the sleek zippy younger model of the Spider-Man character. He’s still absolutely going to do everything he can to stop the bad shit from happening, because that’s just what he does. That’s the character I really, really admire.

I do hope that was a happy ending we saw in the final montage.

Anyway, go see the movie, in the unlikely event that I managed to see it before you.

Thanks for reading.

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On Schedule

I very nearly forgot to write this. It is 11:30 (ish) as I am typing up this entry, and had I been a bit quicker heading for bed I would have missed putting a new entry on the blog on schedule for the first time in quite a while. I decided it was worth making sure I didn’t.

I tend to do better with routines, in writing and in a lot of other things. If I have definite, regular times to Accomplish Stuff, more things happen than if I leave them for Whenever. Of course, the thing about routines is that they disappear awfully quick if you break them. Thus, here I am, typing this entry.

I am trying to (re)establish some routine, in general, this week. I haven’t been as productive as I would have liked to have been thus far in my rapidly-disappearing summer, and it feels as though a lot of that is because I’ve never gotten into a steady rhythm. I’ve been up to lots of different things, many of them fun and positive, but there’s been no pattern to it.

There’s still time.

Part of the reason I nearly forgot to write this entry is that there had been another break in my routine over the weekend – I was away at the Ad Astra conference in Toronto. I had a very fun road trip and weekend with friends and fellow creatives, and it was very good to feel connected to a community of writers and to feel like I am doing a real thing that other people do rather than just wasting time when I sit down to write.

So it was a good thing to do, even if it threw off my running routine and (apparently!) disrupted some of my other scheduling as well. That’s the other thing about routines – you have to know when it’s valuable to let them go, at least for a while.

Anyway, that’s what you get for this week. The blog’s routine has (barely) been maintained, and perhaps that will be an omen for me increasing my productivity over the last bits of my summer.

Thanks for reading.

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Stranger Things 3

The third season of Stranger Things dropped late last week, and (unusually for me!) I have already burned straight through it. Overall I liked it quite a lot, and thought it was a good course correction from a rather flawed second season. I’ll expand a bit with the rest of this; perhaps obviously, there are spoilers if you haven’t watched it yet.

As a whole, I really enjoyed this season’s offerings, although I have some criticisms. It feels to me like they will obviously have to walk back some of the things they wrapped up this season with: obviously Will (and the rest of the Byers family) will still be part of the story, El will probably get her psychic abilities back, and Hopper is probably not really dead. They might, it’s true, make any of those things stick, but it will be a surprise and I have to say they didn’t have a lot of impact for me as they unspooled, because I don’t really buy them.

For me, they’re also leaning a bit hard into the 1980s referencing, now. The first season was a great story that was set in the 1980s and so had inevitable aspects of 80s culture showing up throughout. Based on the positive response a lot of that nostalgia generated, they seem to have turned the volume up on all the 80s stuff, to the point where I now find it distracting. I loved the synthy soundtrack of Season 1 a lot more than having a riff from a 80s top 20 hit every few minutes, for example.

I was disappointed with the direction they took the character of Hopper for most of the season. While I understand he’s meant to be a guy with some issues and rough edges, for the bulk of the episodes he really just came across as a borderline abusive jerk. All of that is (somewhat) redeemed by the last couple episodes, and especially his monologue that ends the piece, revealing what Hopper was actually thinking during the earlier parts of the series. However, as wise people have pointed out, what you think and believe deep in your heart of hearts doesn’t really matter at all – your actions are what is important. So, I don’t think his letter to El really entirely pulls things back from taking the character in a pretty unpleasant direction for the bulk of season 3.

With that in mind, I liked a lot of what they did. Robin is an excellent new character, and her relationship with Steve was executed with a deft touch. I think they fixed a lot of the issues with pacing from last season, and although there are maybe some questions lingering over some of the stuff they threw overboard (so, what about the rest of the psi-powered children?), I think it was the right thing to do. We had what felt like a much more focused story with far less dead weight this time out.

In particular, although Will isn’t the focus of this season as he has been, his storyline still resonated with me a lot. A lot of people have written about his ambiguous sexuality, which I don’t feel qualified to comment on. I did, however, grow up just a little bit slower than a lot of my peers, and did (it seemed to me) wake up one day and suddenly everyone was concerned with hair styling products and having the right labels on their clothes, so some of the ‘left behind’ moments Will experiences, and feeling alienated from the people you used to be closest to, those I identified with a great deal.

There’s been a pretty clear tonal shift in Stranger Things by this point: I think Season 1 was a suspenseful horror story, and now the mood is much more of an over-the-top splatter romp, but that’s not necessarily good or bad. They’ve identified what they want to do and they’re doing it really quite well.

After last season, I had some serious misgivings about whether or not the continuation of Stranger Things was ultimately going to be a very good idea; now I am genuinely eager to see what they’ve got on deck for Season 4.

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The Work Continues

I ran a little bit of a race yesterday. (Yes, it’s another one) It went reasonably well – I was quicker than I was a month ago – although there’s still also room for improvement. Not a dream race, one that could have been better in a few ways, but not so bad, and worth having done.

I’m feeling that way about a lot of my writing these days (see the ‘Hatewords’ entry from last week) – I don’t feel like I’ve really hit a good stride with the project I’m trying to work on, and I’m not entirely happy with what’s getting produced, but it isn’t (I think) irredeemable either and it’s better than not writing anything.

Sort of goes back to something I have written here (and continually remind myself) a few times recently: it really doesn’t have to be perfect, as long as you’re still working on it. I’m still training for my running every week, and I’m gonna keep plugging away at this WIP, and (I trust) both will gradually get better.

This actually meshes somewhat with yesterday also having been Canada Day, and my feelings about the country where I live of late. I think I’m very fortunate to live here, and there are a lot of things about this country that we can all be justifiably very proud of. There’s also a lot of things that need serious work and attention.

We need to do much much better by First Nations people, who still have uranium in their water and systemic racism in their path. We need to do right by LGTBQ people. We need to stop dickering over what it might cost and shift ourselves to really do something about climate change, if it isn’t too late. We need to root out and destroy the rising forces of white nationalism, that would have been unthinkable to see when I was young. And on and on.

Real, serious things to work on. It doesn’t mean that everything about this country is awful and that there’s nothing to be pleased about. It just means there’s more work to do. For all of us, as a society, and for each of us as individuals.

Running.

Writing.

Being decent people.

Thanks for reading.

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Hatewords

Yesterday I wrote about 1,300 words and hated all of them.

Well, most of them, anyway. I was working on the WIP, and generally felt like everything I was writing was pretty crude and clumsy. I’ve written a lot here about how sometimes it’s ok to just decide the day is not going to be a good one for creating, and sort of pull the ripcord on it. I still think that’s an important thing to give yourself permission to do, sometimes.

This wasn’t *quite* one of those days, though – I was banging the scene I was working on into some kind of shape, kind of roughing it out, and even though I’m pretty sure when I go back and give it an editing pass that a lot is going to change, it wasn’t quite ‘throw in trash’ bad. I am not proud of what I wrote, and it’s certainly not something I would share with anyone else, but it was a step towards something that I’d give to a reader.

Obviously it’s a fine line. I wasn’t feeling great in terms of what I was producing, but I was *producing*, and in the end much as I felt pretty hostile to what I created (thus the ‘hatewords’ label a friend of mine assigned to them on Twitter), I know it was a step forward that I wouldn’t have taken if I stopped entirely.

Remembering to give myself permission to also produce stuff that isn’t immediately perfect is also important, because it’s obviously easier to fix something that is written but has issues than start from nothing. All stuff I feel like I should know, but obviously need to keep relearning.

Thanks for reading.

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Push

Consider yourself adequately forewarned: this is another running analogy.

Late last week, I had – in terms of time – probably my best run of the summer. (I was also largely fuelled by a payload of fury, but that’s probably not highly relevant. Case in point #9283 that ‘keep your emotions in check’ is a heap of bullshit) I do think it helped that I was Very Angry, and it probably also helped that it started raining a bit partway through (motivation!) but what both of those things really did was get me in a mindset where I was willing and able to push myself.

Yeah, I was getting a bit tired, and yeah, legs a little sore, but that doesn’t necessarily mean slow down. Maintaining max performance necessarily means that it’s going to feel like you’re doing as much as you possibly can. Especially for something that I essentially do for enjoyment, that’s not always the easiest thing to do. Slowing down is both the response my body appears to be angling for, and the one that comes more easily. Which is basically fine – except that it won’t lead to my best running – because running is a hobby. I don’t, however, want my writing to be just a hobby.

I mean, this is far from an earth-shattering observation, but it’s one I do need (apparently) to remind myself of periodically. We can do hard things, but they are still hard. That means both that yeah, it’s ok to find them difficult to do, but also that they’re going to require some perhaps uncomfortable effort to get done.

That’s true for getting the best time out of a run that I can, and also true as I try to get back in the writing groove now that I’m done teaching for the summer. I would really like to get a complete first draft of the WIP knocked out by fall, which is going to require a significant amount of work to achieve. It’s not going to happen if I take it easy and write when I feel like it. I’m going to need to push.

I’ve written before that I also think the ‘write every day’ rule is goofy and that there are times to admit that writing is not going to be a thing that happens on a particular occasion and let yourself off the hook about it. As with most things, there’s a balance to be struck here, between pushing yourself to get the work done and also recognizing limits.

I thought Rich Larson put it well when we had him on Broadcasts from the Wasteland (what is that, you ask? Well, go here) – basically you have to show up for work as a writer, i.e., sit down at <whatever writing technology> and try to get the words going. Some days the answer will be ‘no’ and that’s ok. Most days, you’ll get at least something done. Some days will be outstanding.

The thing is that just like I need to push a bit on the runs, I also can’t just wait around for the days when I feel absolutely overflowing with inspiration to write. Not if I want to be my most productive and have writing perhaps be more than a hobby. (I should say that some of this absolutely depends on my writing friends who are good enough to tolerate writing in the same space as me. 🙂 )

So: pushing myself, to write, and to run.

Thanks for reading.

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Questions and Answers

Every so often, I have one of those days that leaves me with a lot of questions.

Am I any good at what I’m doing?

Do I accomplish anything?

Does any of it matter?

So, reasonably typical bad day. One of the things I often do when I get into that kind of headspace is go for a walk in the woods (which I’m reasonably sure I’ve mentioned before). I find it peaceful and relaxing, and it provides a different perspective, which is always useful when I’m reminded of it.

Today I saw a lot of turtles. In particular there was this one turtle that was very close to the boardwalk I was on and it looked at me, and I looked at it, and there was my reminder. Not that the turtle had any answers – it is, after all, a turtle.

But it also doesn’t have a lot of questions. It’s just doing its thing, enjoying the late afternoon sun on a log, waiting to find something to eat in a minute, possibly wondering what the weird shape looking down at it is. But mostly just being a turtle.

The woodpecker crashing around in the branches shortly afterwards, in all honesty I can’t tell you what the heck it was up to, but it was similarly going about its business. Same for the cedar waxwings, the heron, the chickadees. They’re just doing what they’re capable of doing within the situation that surrounds them.

I find that a useful thing to try to come back to. Ultimately, I do the best that I can and I do what is in me to do. I will probably never have a nice neat, satisfying answer to what that amounts to or means, and I can let that make me unhappy or I can try – best I can – not to worry on it. I can only do what I can, whether that makes me a slick looking heron or an apparent disaster area of a woodpecker, or a serene turtle on a log.

Anyway, this is quite far from the notional purpose of this blog so I’ll try to get back a bit closer to ‘home’ next week. Thanks for reading.

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