Monthly Archives: May 2019

Garden Time

I got my garden ready yesterday.

And by ‘garden’, I mean ‘some plants in containers’, because my available space is the deck at the back of my apartment. I’m very lucky to have my little step outdoors, but also what I have out there isn’t a ‘garden’ by most people’s definitions. But I get a lot of joy out of it.

I love trying out different plants and seeing how they do, and bringing back ones that I particularly enjoyed from previous summers to be my companions again for a few months. I suppose it’s taking things a touch far to think of plants as companions, but having that little collection of life around me when I sit down with my coffee to write a little really does feel as though I’m quietly hanging out with some other beings.

I like that the garden becomes, in some small way, part of the local environment. Just now I saw a bumblebee has found some of my flowers; the mornings where the garden is alive with bees are especially lovely. At least once a summer, I’ll water the plants on a hot day, and then look outside to see a little bird taking a bath in the water left on the leaves. Overall my garden provides many little moments of joy and peace which I think make me more productive in my writing and certainly enhance my life while it’s there.

Often my cat will come out to join me; he’s an indoors cat most of the time, but he likes to sleep in the sun and imagine murdering some of the local birds. I used to play music when I went out to write, but now I just work with birdsong as my background noise. They’re not overly concerned about the cat.

Setting up the garden feels like switching modes over to my summer, where I can take things a bit easier and spend some more time with my writing. Putting it all to rest for the winter, of course, is another change of modes in the autumn, and although I wouldn’t say I exactly look forward to that one (not nearly as fun as choosing the plants for the year), I appreciate the turn of the seasons. I know I’m fortunate to get my garden time every year, and I hope to have something significant to show by the end of it.

I’ll be out there as many days as I can. Me, my imaginary people, and our companions.

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Endings

I finally saw Avengers: Endgame! (And look, by my standards this is well ahead of schedule)

Endings are hard.

I thought it wrapped up the rather massive tale of superheroes about as well as one could reasonably expect, tugged on the heartstrings the way you knew it would and sowed the seeds for the next crop of brightly-coloured demigods. Of course it wasn’t perfect – there are some characters I would have liked to see more of, some moments that I would have liked to explore further, and some I would have done a little less of – but there must be immense pressure in trying to write a thing like Endgame, with its huge cast of characters, all of whom are somebody’s favourite, but not all of which can be the star, or even get the happy ending. Choosing where to leave each character, many of the them probably forever, is a weighty decision, and I know the writers will have wanted to get it right just as much as the audience wants it right, even as they won’t agree on what ‘right’ is.

I haven’t really had to do this yet, although I can imagine the task. Both my novels (I didn’t really know the second would be published when I wrote the first) have an ending, of course, but in my mind neither was ever the end of the story for Adam Godwinson and his friends. I have mentally plotted that ending, but that’s not the same as writing it. Perhaps I will one day. Similarly, the book I’m looking for a home for now, Heretic Blood, does of course end, but I hope it will be the beginning of Easter Pinkerton’s story, not the finish.

Again, though, I’ve thought about where I probably would leave Pinkerton, when and if the time comes, and I can imagine the weight of that particular ‘The End’. How much heavier if you have a massive audience. Regular readers of the blog will likely know that I haven’t watched Game of Thrones (there are reasons) but you could scarcely spend a split second on the internet the last while without becoming aware that a) the series ended and b) not everyone is happy with how it finished.

Endings are hard.

I sympathise with the GoT fans, even if I didn’t watch the show, because I remember spite-watching the closing act of Lost and being, at best, very annoyed about the whole thing. I had invested in the story, invested time of course, but thought and energy and part of my dreams, and I suppose I felt that I wasn’t getting a proper return. Ultimately, I didn’t want to walk away from those characters feeling, at best, annoyed about it all.

Thinking about it now – as a bit more of a writer and with a few (?) more years on board – it seems to me that no, we’re not entitled as readers or viewers to the ending we want. The artist creates their art, and we either like it or not, but we’re not owed anything in particular. The writer is free to tell the story they want to tell. We’re free to like it, or not. Of course, that doesn’t make it feel any better when we don’t like it, and this is the end. A story that takes a turn we don’t like is one thing, because perhaps the next bend will please us. But if this is the finish, and it’s not a place we want to stay, well, that’s much harder to stomach.

For both readers and writers, we might cram in one more pop culture reference and crib from a movie trailer that ran before Avengers for comfort: ‘No one’s ever really gone’. The great part about the stories we love is that we can always go back and experience them again. I am a great re-reader of stories, and going back to let the moments I loved live again is a big part of why. No, it’s not quite the same as a new unexplored tale, but it’s clearly not the same as ‘gone forever’, either. Writers have even more freedom to bring back a character we thought we were done with, or add more branches to a story we thought was finished.

Of course, there’s a hazard to that – sometimes if we unpick something that had been neatly tied off, it turns out that we can’t find a new ending that’s quite as good. Conan Doyle wrote a lot of good Holmes stories after resurrecting his detective, but none of the places he tried to leave off again were ever as satisfying as “there, deep down in that dreadful caldron of swirling water and seething foam, will lie for all time the most dangerous criminal and the foremost champion of the law of their generation.”

Endings are hard.

On some level I think we tend to want to resist them, in stories or in life (wherever you want to draw that line) and think that there is always just a little more, perhaps. At the same time, we know that everything does end, eventually, and I think we want to find meaning or at least a nice feeling when they do. There’s a reason why ‘in the end, none of it meant anything’ is a sentiment that tends to be an unsettling one.

I try not to fret about it too too much. Everything does end. An ending isn’t necessarily bad, or at least it doesn’t erase everything that came before it. For a time there was a story, and it was one we wanted to read. The experience, the reading of it, that time we shared with the writer (and whatever other artists were involved), that never goes away. I try to be kind to endings, because they are hard, and especially when we didn’t want something to be over. Every ending, though, is an opportunity to pick up a new story.

I suppose I’ve been thinking rather a lot about this, the last few days, with the end of another semester (and thus, the end of a number of stories), and then in my D&D game, my character’s story required that he walk away from the party, thus leaving the game, at least for now. It was surprisingly hard to do, in the game, and I was surprised as well at how much of a reaction it got from the friends I play with. Ending are hard, and all around us, but then again so are beginnings. I’m really looking forward to seeing what everyone thinks of my new character.

Thanks for reading this, and enjoy what you read next.

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Evaluation

Gonna be another short one this week (nope, still no Endgame here). I’m riding out the end of term chaos and generally trying not to plan much beyond the next week, after which things should settle down.

I did have one experience – Day Job related, again – that I thought was maybe worth mentioning, though. I had an evaluation done on one of my courses this winter. In general, my feeling is that you can evaluate me whenever the heck you want; I stand by what I do and have no problem talking about it with whoever. I was just a little worried about this particular one, though, only because this particular class had been a little on the quiet side, and I wasn’t quite as confident about what they would put on the evaluation forms as I might have been with other groups.

So yeah, I fretted a little.

They came back fine. In fact, they came back really good, especially from a group that I didn’t feel like I had a good read on and wasn’t too sure whether I had made an effective connection with.

So, yay me, but more importantly – I think we often fail to give ourselves enough credit for the things we’re good at and tend to assume the worst about any task that we’re undertaking. I know I do, anyway. It’s far from easy, but I know I need to try to be just a little more willing to believe in my own abilities and the quality of the (various kinds of) work I do. I also know I’m not alone in that.

Thanks for reading.

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Interpretation

Not a great deal to write about again this week (nope, still haven’t seen Endgame.) – I have been seizing a few more opportunities to knock out a few more words on the WIP, but not a lot to be said about that beyond ‘uh, trying to do some writing’. It will get better once I’m able to get it on a regular schedule again.

I don’t usually write much here about teaching, which is the Day Job, but I did have what I thought was a kind of cool moment last week that I’ve been thinking about a fair bit. I do a little bit of English tutoring in addition to the history teaching, and I’ve been doing a little bit of work with poetry with one of my students (they have been looking at it some in their class).

This student is pretty bright and ahead of their level, so I’ve been trying a little bit more advanced stuff than the material from their class, which has gone well. So, last week I had them take a look at a poem probably nearly everyone reads at some stage, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’, by Robert Frost. I wanted to use it to start to introduce the idea that sometimes, we can look beyond the literal meaning of the words and see that the writer is talking about two (or more) things at the same time.

Which often seems like a pretty elementary point to people who think about writing a lot, but it was very fun to watch this student gradually catch on to this way of thinking, and by the end of our session suggest that maybe the poem was about what it’s like to get lost in a daydream. Which, I thought, wasn’t a bad interpretation.

I left them with the poem to keep thinking about.

Moments like that are what can make teaching very rewarding, and perhaps this student will go on to think about reading and writing in a slightly different way from now on. Mostly I just thought it was cool to be there as someone started to see something in a way they hadn’t before.

That’s about it for this week. Thanks for reading.

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