Category Archives: Thoughts and Musings

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.



Being decent people.

Thanks for reading.

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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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Kerr Avon

Yesterday, we got the sad news that the actor Paul Darrow passed away. I never met him, nor did I see very much of him out of character any place, so I can’t say I knew him. And yet, the news was very saddening to get, because Paul Darrow played Kerr Avon on the show Blake’s 7, and my, did I love that character.

I wrote a bit about Avon and Blake’s 7 once already, but I’m going to dig a bit more into it today, because Avon is truly one of my very favourite TV characters ever. (Only a very little bit because young, not-experienced-with-accents me really thought they were saying ‘Evan’ for the first couple episodes) It’s a bit odd, in a way, that I have so much affection for Avon, because in some ways he seems to be the kind of character I don’t have a lot of patience with, these days.

To explain – the basic premise of Blake’s 7 is a bunch of escaped criminals in a battle against a totalitarian Federation that rules the galaxy with an iron fist; basically Robin Hood in space, or a cynical flip of Star Trek. Most of the titular Seven are more or less as you’d expect: idealistic to differing degrees, fond of each other, and definitely dedicated to the idea of the Federation’s overthrow.

Not so Kerr Avon, computer crook and embezzler, who is clear enough that his goals are survival, and getting rich. He’s derisive with gusts to contemptuous towards the others, especially as regards any lofty goals. Avon is a cynical pragmatist with, it seems, no time for anything other than what’s best for his own self. Not, in general, the kind of character I dig very much.

The first reason I do enjoy this one is that whatever else is true about him, Avon is fun to watch. The writers gave him a lot of great lines. (Watch this compilation and see if you don’t have at least a little affection) I think this is where people sometimes go wrong with anti-heroes or bleak characters: we’ve gotta at least want to follow them around on some level, and Avon was always worth watching for the next line he might drop on some unsuspecting twit.

The other reason I think the character works is that there’s just enough hints dropped that it’s possible that some or all of the above is an act, or partly an act. Avon talks a good game about ditching the others, but never does it. In fact, he’s always there when needed. He definitely thinks he’s the smartest one in the room, but in terms of actions, he’s always there for the group when it comes down to it. Again, I think there’s a lesson for dark characters, here: there needs to be something that makes us want to be on their side, at least a little.

With Avon, it was relatively easy to do because he was on the team, in the end. Exactly how much, well, that was harder to say. That brings me to one of the things I love about the whole Blake’s 7 series. Wonky as the sets often were, the writing was very well done, and they had the confidence in their audience to deal with some ambiguity. Exactly how much of a selfish jerk was Avon, and how much of it was an act? Hard to say. The final episode, with its gloriously grim ending, with Avon’s ‘Have you betrayed me?‘ (this to Blake, who for much of the last act has seemed to be working for the Federation) can be read in different ways: is this Avon’s arrogance, unable to believe that he’s been outwitted? Is he shocked at the idea of it being Blake who’s the turncoat, rather than the other way around? Or, is he horrified at the idea of betrayal of a friend (a friendship Avon would never have admitted existed)?

We never know, for sure. We never know exactly how much ‘anti’ there was in Avon’s anti-hero, and I love that ambiguity. You genuinely never know exactly what to make of him, and puzzles are always enticing. In sum, although Kerr Avon was undoubtedly a darker type of character than I usually enjoy, there was a lot done right in his creation and performance, and so I liked this particular one a great deal.

Anyway, although I didn’t know Paul Darrow, I am still deeply sad to hear that an actor who gave me a character I loved has gone. I shall enjoy Kerr Avon forever, and think about him – and, of course, Darrow’s performances – whenever I need one of those tricky ‘antihero’ types. Perhaps there was a little Avon in my prickly druid Gwriad, from my D&D game. The good thing about fictional characters is that they do stay with us forever, and so in at least a little way, so do the people who created them and brought them to life.

Thank you, Mr. Darrow.

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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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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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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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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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Over the past few days, the river here has flooded. It is supposed to crest sometime tomorrow, and so far my neighbourhood has stayed mostly dry, but there’s also an advisory out for heavy rainfall, so it’s still not entirely clear how that’s going to work out. Several places not far from where I live have already been less fortunate, and so have communities scattered all over in Bracebridge, Huntsville, Pembroke, and Kashechewan, a Cree reserve which has flooded every spring for the past 17 years.

(We should do something about that. My neighbourhood got the army called in to help.)

There’s something implacable about a flood. The water level keeps going up, and there isn’t anything that can be done about it. The primary means of defense is still a wall of sandbags, which seems like it should be heavily obsolete by now, but isn’t. And, even if you build your wall, ultimately it just may not be up to the challenge. You prepare as best you can, and in the end you hope it’s enough.

I think it’s a tough feeling for many of us, these days, when we are used to so much of our life being amenable to our control. We don’t have to deal with things that simply aren’t all that often, and I don’t think we’re particularly well set-up to handle them. As I said on Twitter, times like this make it really easy for me to understand why recourse to the idea of a higher power has been so popular – it provides at least some sense that there is something to be done about your situation, even if that something is just to ask for help.

Many times, things happen in our lives that are not our fault and not under our control. We just have to ride it out. I hope everyone out there having a tough spring for whatever reason finds the waters receding soon.

If you came here expecting a reaction to Avengers: Endgame, boy are you reading the wrong blog. Patience.

Thanks for reading.

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