Tag Archives: Ruminations

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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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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Back at it

Sunday, I sat down and wrote a little over a thousand words. It was the first work I had done on the current WIP since January, which neither sounds or looks great when I put it like that. In some ways, there’s a similar intimidation factor to getting back out on the road and running, now that the thaw has finally settled in. (Oh no, they said. Another running analogy.)

However, the comparison doesn’t really work because I wrote that 1,000 words in a little more than an hour, which is how it generally goes when things are flowing well. Not to say, at all, that everything was pure gold, but in terms of something-out-of-nothing, when things are going really well, I will be creating about as fast as I can type. Cardio and my running legs take, uh, a good bit longer than that to recover if I’ve been lazy for a while.

So, that was encouraging, although the next challenge is to get into a rhythm with it again, so that I’m writing consistently, instead of just as the mood strikes me on a holiday weekend. If I can do that relatively soon (and my schedule is such that I think I may be able to), then I figure I might be able to get a complete draft of this thing by the end of the summer, just in time for my schedule to get complicated by the day job again.

To the extent that I have a long term plan, it is to continue to produce some stories that are distinct from one another, rather than following my natural inclination, which is currently to write the sequel to Heretic Blood. But, there is basically no point to writing a sequel to a story I haven’t sold yet, so I’m going to (kind of) buy another lottery ticket by working on another story I can (potentially) shop around. I have no idea if this is the right approach, but it is what makes sense to me right now.

I’m also kicking around trying some short fiction for the first time in a long long while, but I’m reluctant to do that if it means putting a bigger delay on getting back to work on the WIP.

All of this is makes for a very thinking out loud, progress report-y blog this week, but there you have it. I will say that it felt awfully good to hammer out a good chunk of creative writing for the first time in a while, just like it has felt great to get back outside and run.

Hopefully more of both over the next little while.

Thanks for reading.

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Notre Dame Lives

Yesterday there was a terrible fire at the Notre Dame de Paris cathedral. I said some stuff about it on Twitter, but I wrote it before there was any real sense of how bad things were and what the result was going to be. We know a little more today.

As bad as things looked yesterday, when we saw that ghastly image of the spire falling, the picture that emerged today was much more encouraging. The bulk of the ancient stone structure seems to be relatively intact, although assessing that will take some time. All three of the medieval rose windows somehow survived what looked to be nearly certain destruction.

Sometimes, things aren’t as bad as we first think. Things endure.

The roof was nearly completely destroyed, taking with it oak wood framing that dated to the 13th century, in places. Exactly how it will be rebuilt is something of a question. It almost certainly cannot be reconstructed as any thing approaching what it had been – there’s a shortage of century-old oak trees, to say the least. There’s also very valid arguments against rebuilding in wood at all – perhaps, since we’re starting over, it’s time to build something that would cope with fire a little better. In the 19th century, they rebuilt the roof of Cologne cathedral with an iron frame, apparently for just this reason.

Sometimes it’s better to start over.

I read a fascinating observation from Dr. Jez Wells, at the University of York, who pointed out that no matter how the cathedral is eventually repaired and rebuilt, it will sound different. The roof structure will not be the same as it used to be, and so all of the geometry of reverberations will be different, and the building will no longer respond to music in the same way it used to.

Some things can’t be fixed.

It’s also a good point that any of these ancient buildings have not been static throughout their long existence. They have been damaged, rebuilt, expanded, rethought, reconsidered, redesigned and redone many times. Obviously what happened yesterday was a particularly traumatic change in the state of a grand old building, and it is still painful because of all the things that have been lost and will never come again.

But, Notre Dame will be rebuilt. It will continue to be all the things it has been for eight centuries, and will still mean many things to a lot of people. It will be different, but things always are.

Almost always, we can carry on.


The Star Wars Episode IX teaser dropped on us. Of course I have thoughts about this, and of course I’m excited. It’s Star Wars, after all, and we got Lando back flying the Falcon and Rey doing a pretty rad backflip cut a TIE Fighter in half looking manoeuvre. This setting does love a desert planet.

They didn’t really give us all that much to chew on, and I’m sure we can rely on some of it being misdirection. Death Star wreckage is cool, the Emperor’s laugh will always be unsettling. I hope they managed to stitch together a fitting farewell to Leia.

I am a bit worried that they’re going to try to push a Kylo Ren redemption angle. It seems very likely, but I think they’ll have to work hard to earn it.

I’m also concerned – both from the ‘Rise of Skywalker’ subtitle and the little bit we see here – that they’re rolling back the ‘Rey from nowhere’ background from Last Jedi and giving us some kind of Secret Skywalker reveal. Again I think that probably fits with the series’ overall mythology, but I also think it will be so much less satisfying.

If the hero is nobody in particular, then anyone can be the hero. That’s a solid message these days, I would argue.

In any event, it’s early days to know what’s going on with this film just yet. I have high hopes, and just a few gnawing worries.

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Ordinary Expanse

This week I discovered that the SF series The Expanse is available on Amazon Prime video. (Yes yes I am sure this was not difficult information to come by for people who pay proper attention to the world around them. It was new intelligence to me.) Thus, conforming quite well to my usual schedule, I have started watching it roughly 5 years behind the rest of the world.

I’m not super far into it yet (a pile of grading helps with resisting the urge to binge) so I don’t have a lot to say about the story yet (aside from general ‘I enjoy this’ level stuff) but I do already have Thoughts about the setting in general. I love that a lot of the future world imagined by The Expanse is dingy, dinged-up, worn-down and knocked around. A lot of the very obviously future tech is still just as obviously tools that people have done a lot of work with, objects that have been a part of people’s lives and taken the lumps that all of our objects do. (Not uniformly so, which makes a striking and effective contrast when we step into Rich People Land and everything is pristine. I think I like this show’s politics, but that’s a ‘later’ topic.)

I’ve talked about appreciating this aesthetic before, in Star Wars, and a lot of the future world of The Expanse reminds me of that, and Blade Runner. It isn’t a vision of the future we see enough, in my opinion. Many of our futures are gleaming in their perfection (Star Trek being perhaps the exemplar of that, in my mind) in which everything looks brand new and perfectly cared for. We also commonly see dystopia, where everything has collapsed and people inhabit the ruins of the civilization that has gone.

Both of those can be effective (although I think we tend to wait for the other shoe to drop on those gleaming futures, these days), but to me the middle ground of settings like The Expanse are perhaps the most plausible. The future will be like the present, and the past: inhabited primarily by ordinary people who have work to do, lives to get about the business of, and the environments they move through will primarily reflect that.

When I did history, I was a social historian, primarily interested in the lives of ordinary people, so it’s perhaps not a surprise that I tend to enjoy this in my fiction as well. The world of supermen and chosen ones can be a fun ride, of course, but what I actually expect we would find if we could look ahead to a future civilization is one kind of like The Expanse showed us: one that looks and feels like a place where everyday people live their every days.

So, lots of ground to cover yet on this unspooling tale, but I’m very much enjoying the early steps.

Thanks for reading.


Shoot I should also have added that the podcast I co-host, Broadcasts from the Wasteland, officially launched yesterday!  You can find us on iTunes or Spotify or visit us at our website and download from there.  I would be delighted if you checked us out.

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Down Cycle

I’m pretty low energy again this week, and feeling like I’m struggling a bit. Through my work as a teacher, I know that many of my students are doing the same, and so are some of my friends. I don’t believe any of my students read this blog, but perhaps someone like them will, and maybe they will find it helpful.

This is what I’m reminding myself these days. Everyone struggles sometimes. It’s ok to not be at our best all the time, and there are times when it’s enough just to keep going. Take care of yourself, reconsolidate your strength, and be back to being brilliant another day.

It’s ok to have times where we’re not at our best, it’s ok to admit that, and it’s ok to ask for a hand when we need it.

I read a little Taoist thought before I go to bed each night, even though I don’t really have the discipline to do it properly. There’s been a lot lately about how everything is cyclical, including our strengths and capabilities, and that it’s wise to recognize when we’re in a down part of the cycle, and wait to act until circumstances change.

That’s what I’m reminding myself to do this evening. See you again next week.

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