Tag Archives: running

Landmarks

I got outside for my first long run this week.

It was a lovely day and it was great to be outside rather than on the treadmill, but something was missing.

When I run on routes I use several times I look for landmarks. I don’t want to be looking at my watch all the time, because then I obsess over time, but I like to have something that gives me a sense of how far I’ve gone and how much longer I have to do. This year, one of my landmarks is gone.

For as long as I’ve been running here there has been a distinctively shaped tree by the pathway with a sign that called it ‘The Dream Tree’. It was a white elm. I noticed it because of the shape and then of course the name appealed to me a lot and gave me something to think about on my runs. Anyway the Dream Tree became one of my landmarks, and this year it is gone. This isn’t a huge surprise since it had obviously been sick the past couple of years (in fact I wrote a terrible poem about it on here once) and I guess sometime in the fall they cut it down. (Which is sad on a few levels)

It was surprisingly disorienting. I have been used to it being there for a long time, to planning my runs around it and using the sight of it in the distance as a guide to how far I was from home. I was, as I say, surprised by how much it threw me to be out and not find it there. Both on the way out and on the way home I had a genuine sense of disbelief that this part of the landscape was really gone.

However, I also figured out something else that I can use as a landmark, and if it’s a sign rather than a tree it will still work, and I’m sure after another run or two it will feel as natural as the other way did, even if it’s never quite the Dream Tree.

The reason I mention all this is that it occurred to me that these kind of things happen to us in life from time to time: we lose our landmarks. A job that we had done for a long time changes, or is taken away. A friendship we had relied on ends, or alters forever. A part of our routine is changed for reasons outside of our control. I felt that last year when I was injured and couldn’t run, and had to come up with different ways to burn off my stress and get my mind to running.

Which is kind of my point I guess: Losing a literal landmark is temporarily disorienting, we soon adjust and come up with something else that will work, even if it won’t be the same, and it’s the same with these other things that are sort of the landmarks in our lives. We lose a friend, or a job, or something else precious, and it seems as though things can’t possibly continue, but we’re pretty resilient and we come up with something, or a number of things, to fill the space and take up the weight, and on we go.

I will miss the Dream Tree though.

——

In non-running news, of course you’re probably aware that we’ve seen the first poster and trailer for the next Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi. They’re interesting studies, I think. (If you haven’t seen the trailer, it’s here.) Neither reveals very much.

The poster is kind of cool because Rey is doing the the typical fantasy hero pose, which is neat to see a female character getting to do. There’s not a lot else going on though, aside from an angry-looking Luke and Kylo Ren. The overall sense is that Luke is not going to be the unproblematic solution to everyone’s problems that the characters and audience may have assumed him to be.  The poster builds on the sense of menace and threat the filmmakers have been trying to stoke ever since they rolled out the Star Wars logo in red a few months back.

The trailer doesn’t have a great deal going on it either that you can really sink your teeth into. Rey is obviously training her Force abilities, Exciting Space Battles happen, and Poe Dameron gets another X-Wing blown up. The main thing that seems to have attracted attention is Luke line ‘It is time for the Jedi to end’.  (There are lots of other images in the background but it’s hard to say anything about them other than ‘yes, that is probably Captain Phasma.  Huh.’)

Now context is obviously important, so we don’t know why Luke is saying that, and I even read some suggestions that Mark Hamill had recorded that line specifically for the trailer, so it may not be in the movie at all. But it is interesting; they seem to be pushing the idea that Luke Skywalker may be pretty done with this whole Jedi idea and have very different ideas about how to approach stuff than the last time we saw him.  That’s probably more interesting than Luke just showing up, swatting down another couple Sith, and making everything fine again, and it also fits better with the middle movie of a trilogy, where in general Things Get Worse.

Of course you can read a *lot* into that one line, and figure that the movie is going to blow up the whole Sith/Jedi binary and give us a whole new philosophy of the Force. Or, you could figure that it’s a red herring that will ultimately mean nothing at all – movie trailers of course being famous for this kind of thing. I’m basically not ready to draw any strong conclusions from the tiny fragments the trailer showed us. (I kind of hope they *don’t* blow up the binary and introduce some kind of superior middle path, because one of the things I’ve always liked about how Star Wars presents the Force is that it is astonishingly powerful, but power has a price, one way or another. Either it requires tremendous discipline, or it tears you to shreds. Writing this brings up a potential scenario where Luke has fallen to the Dark Side off on his island and is a Sith hermit. That might be fun.)

This brought up another point that people were discussing after the trailer dropped: is a good trailer one that has *lots* of information in it, or one that tells you very little and leaves you wanting more? Watching the Last Jedi trailer doesn’t really leave you any the wiser about what happens in the movie aside from ‘it is a Star Wars movie’. That could mean that it’s a bad trailer that doesn’t inform the audience. Or, it could be exactly the right kind of trailer – it tells you what you’re going to get (more Star Wars) without giving away anything of significance about what happens in the movie.

I tend to hate spoilers, so I’m actually quite content to go into any book or movie fresh and discover everything as I go along. However, I can see the other side of the argument. Personally, I think the people who made the Last Jedi trailer knew exactly what they were doing and put out just enough to whet the appetite for the legions of Star Wars fans, refresh the hype machine for another few weeks, and keep everyone dying to have the new movie come out, or even just for the next little drizzle of information that they’ll give us.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve got for you this week. Thanks for reading.

Next week I won’t do a running analogy.

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Relative

I had a curious moment last week, and thus a topic for this week’s blog. It was at a planning meeting for Can-Con 2017 (which, quick aside, if you haven’t already made your plans to attend, you definitely should. We’re going to have amazing stuff for you this fall, and our guests are fantastic) and the person who organizes one of our city’s writing groups said that I was one of their success stories.

Wait, what?

In recent months I have gotten to thinking that my writing hasn’t yet amounted to very much.  My friend who just signed a lucrative book deal, now there’s a success story. Another of my writer friends has newspapers wanting to do stories on her latest release. Yet another guy I know is blowing up all over the media with his latest project. When I had been thinking of ‘success stories’, those were the people that I thought of. (And, just to be clear, they are all immensely talented artists who have earned every drop of that success and I could not be happier for them)  Nothing I have done seems as though it is in the same league as that.  Thus, not a success.

And yet. I should also remember that I have two books published. There are plenty of people out there who work very hard every day chasing that dream that I am sometimes in danger of dismissing. When Renaissance agreed to put King in Darkness into print, I said it was the fulfillment of a life’s ambition, and it was. Then they did it again. What I mean is that if my point of view shifts slightly, what I’ve done with my writing changes from ‘ugh not really going that well honestly’ to ‘wow, there are really some Achievements Unlocked here’.

I don’t say this to humble-brag (honestly) but to try to remind myself that ‘success’ and ‘failure’ are not really the binary absolute standards they may appear to be or that we often think of them being. There’s a lot of space for point of view and perspective that allow those two ideas to bleed into each other, and it’s all too easy for someone like me, who tends to be one of my own worst critics, to push everything I do into the latter category, even though there are perhaps lots of people who wouldn’t put them there.

These sort of reminders are all around me, when I pay attention. At the gym where I work out, I frequently can’t help but compare the amount of weight I can lift with what other people are doing, and think ‘wow, I’m pathetically way off that’. At the same time, though, not that long ago I was talking to one of the people who lifts those alarming large amounts of weight; they asked how long a run I had just done and I said it was ‘just’ 5k. (This made sense to me because I’m training for a longer distance and from that point of view 5k is not very much) They replied that they’ve never done more than 3.

Just like with my writing, this is important for me to remember. Lots of people will never run 5k. (Perhaps even more have absolutely no ambition to do so, but never mind) Even for people who are athletic or who take up running, that may well be the longest distance they ever think of doing. I am currently aiming for a longer distance, and 5k is, from that perspective, part of a training plan rather than a goal. Neither of those things is better or worse than the other, they’re just different people with different objectives and different strengths and at different points in their process or entirely different processes.

So as with writing, how to evaluate the things we’re capable of depends very much on point of view. Perhaps in a few years it will be me with a nice payday from a book deal. Perhaps it won’t, and if I was determined to look at it that way that might be a disappointment, but one the other hand I will always have two novels in publication and that is a goal some people, including me from 10 years ago, dream of. What might be a disappointing performance for one person or in one circumstance might be an absolutely exceptional one in a different context. I think if we’re being fair, there probably really aren’t any absolute standards for things at all. I think, and try to keep reminding myself, that it isn’t a very good idea to measure what I can do against the standards of other people. No matter how well I do, there will always be someone who can do way better. There’s always something I can point to and convince myself that I don’t measure up and am not doing well. I shouldn’t do that, because there’s certainly lots of people who would trade places with me in a second. I am, in many ways, incredibly fortunate. What I should be is grateful for that, and perhaps allow myself a bit of satisfaction in what I am capable of rather than kicking myself for what I can’t do.

None of this means that I shouldn’t continue to push myself to write more, and Write Better. I should continue to work to run further and faster. However, the part I need to keep reminding myself about is that the reason to do more and better is the challenge of improving myself, testing the limits of my own abilities (which are not the same as the limits of anyone else’s) and seeing what I am ultimately capable of. In the end, the race is only with ourselves.

Thanks for reading.

(I know you are overjoyed that the running analogies are back)

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The Year Ahead

It’s going to be a bit of a short entry this week – I’m a bit under the weather and also gearing up for the start of winter term teaching, so I’m not entirely sure what to do with this entry. It’s also the time of year when lots of places are doing 2016 retrospectives, but I think I already spend more than enough time chewing over the past. There were things that made me very happy and others that were very difficult and I think it’s best to leave it there.

In part, I think it’s good to do that because my energy needs to be on the time ahead. I also don’t do New Year’s resolutions anymore; I think sometimes those turn into a way to set ourselves up for disappointment in the same way that the ‘you must write every day or you’re not a real writer’ mantra can end up sabotaging writers. It is a new year and a chance to do things differently, but it’s also easy to set ourselves up for disappointment by Resolving to do things that aren’t possible, or at least not realistic.

As an example, when I first started distance running (yes, another running analogy, sorry) I knew I wanted to try it and headed out on a run with the idea that I was going to run for about an hour and see where it went from there. (I know, I know) I made for I think ten minutes. I felt awful. I hadn’t even come close to what I set out to do. Now, in truth what I had done was set a goal that was in no way realistic (and didn’t at that point even know what a realistic goal would be) and so not achieving it didn’t mean anything other than I needed to set better goals, and it was good that I had made a start Actually Running rather than thinking about starting running. However, in that moment my goal (ill conceived as it was) was something to feel bad about, and I think a lot of probably well-intentioned Resolutions to make huge changes in our lives just end up being sticks to beat ourselves with in the end.

I’m not saying everyone who does New Year’s Resolutions is unrealistic or doomed to failure, but I don’t think the practice is an especially helpful one (for me, at minimum) and so I don’t make them. I do have a very general idea of what I want to do with the year ahead, though.

First and foremost is to finish writing Easter Pinkerton’s story, my current WIP (that still needs a proper title). I’ve run into a little bit of sand on it the past while due to the end of fall term and the holidays, and I need to get back at it. I think I can still achieve my aim of having a complete draft by springtime, spend the summer editing, and then perhaps be able to start looking for a home for the book in the fall.

I am going to see if I can successfully multi-task my writing projects a bit in the months ahead, though, which is something I haven’t really done to this point. I tend to work on one project exclusively, laying other work aside until one piece of writing is done. This makes it (relatively) easy to keep a solid momentum behind whatever I’m working on, and, to the extend that I can really control these things, keep my creative energy directed where I want it. However, I realize this probably makes me less productive than I might otherwise be – can’t write this other thing because Not Done with thing #1 – and I’m going to have to try changing it this year. I have some new opportunities (which I can’t give details on, yet) that are very exciting but also won’t wait while I write the new book. So I shall have to discover if Easter can play well with other imaginary people.

I suppose that’s the biggest thing that I want to accomplish with the year ahead. I’ve just started to get my feet a tiny bit wet with building a network as a writer and to start to take my craft something approaching seriously, rather than as a hobby. I’ve already made what I think are some potentially important steps, and I want to continue the process in the months ahead. A lot of this involves doing things that are contrary to my nature (like going up and introducing myself to strangers, oh dear) but as I increasingly come to think of myself as a writer who teaches to pay the bills rather than a teacher who happens to write, this is something I’m going to need to do. It may be that writing will never be a bigger part of my life than it is right now, but I’d like to see if it can be.

That’s going to involve all sorts of work, some of which I probably don’t even know about yet, but it’s a project that, in some ways, I have been wanting to do since I was in the second grade and not doing my math lessons so I could write more stories. So we’re gonna see. I’m not setting myself any particular goal here because I don’t even really know what’s possible to achieve. However, to make another running analogy, this is perhaps like when I first started to get into distance running. I got out on the road and gave it a go. The rest of it – what I could do, what specific goals I might have in terms of distance and time, the tools I was going to need – all of that flowed from getting out on the road.

So that’s as much of a 2017 resolution as you’ll see from me. I will be out on the road, and I hope yours is smooth and takes you to glorious places.

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Another Character Moment

This is going to be a little bit of a process entry again, so, uh, consider yourself forewarned.

I’ve been getting a reasonable amount of work done on the WIP (not anything so mundane as coming up with a title, though, heh) and thinking about it a lot and I find myself in interesting territory again. I’ve written before about how, as I write about characters, a lot of times I feel as though they’re telling me about themselves as I create. Obviously this is an inversion of what’s actually happening, but – again, as I’ve said before – I feel as though these imaginary people are coming to me rather that me creating them. Perhaps when I call them into existence, I don’t know everything about them, or at least it feels like it.

My latest example is the protagonist of the current WIP, Easter Pinkerton. She’s a spy in 1880s England who is about to get into more trouble than she would have believed possible. When I first started writing the story, I wrote a scene where Pinkerton (I learned fairly early on that she’s not fond of people using her first name) kills a traitor, and in the process uncovers part of the mystery she’ll chase for the rest of the book. In that scene she’s disguised as a man, and originally I did that because a) it struck me as probable that a female spy would find it convenient to dress as a man at least some of the time, b) it seemed to me that it made this specific mission easier for her, c) it makes for a nice swerve at the end of the scene (which I have now spoiled, aheheh) and d) I am a massive Sherlock Holmes dork and so of course I couldn’t resist putting a little of Irene Adler in her.

So there it was and I think the scene works ok, and I hadn’t given much more thought to Pinkerton’s use of male clothing than that. Then I wrote some more, and wrote some more, and finally created the scene where she returns home after a full day of cloak-and-daggery. And the very first thing she did was change into mens’ clothing again. I wrote that bit through what felt like a reflex, I genuinely felt ‘well of course she does this’ without having any wider ideas about it than that. I wrote it and I knew it was true and felt like Pinkerton had told me something about herself. This part of the creative process fascinates me more the more I think about it (although again, no doubt there are psychologists somewhere going ‘yes, all very straightforward’) and why you’ll never convince me that there isn’t something at least a little beyond biological/electrochemical machinery going on in there somewhere.

Of course now I’ve had some time to think about it, and of course there are all kinds of wider issues connected to it. Wearing mens’ clothing would have been a much more deeply transgressive thing for a Victorian woman to do than it is today (and obviously there’s still lots of issues around it today), so why does Pinkerton do it? It’s not just to be comfortable, or at least, not physically comfortable. She’s at home, she can be herself, and this is what she chooses to do. Pinkerton told me something about her identity in that scene that I now know I have to do right by the rest of the book.

I went back over what I had written that precedes that scene, and I don’t think I need to change anything to reflect my new understanding of Easter Pinkerton, but it has changed a bunch of things that will come afterwards. On the whole, if I can do it right, I think it will make the book richer and I like the character even more now. (I mean, I like each and every one of my imaginary people, even the awful ones, but probably inevitably I have my favorites, and Pinkerton is rapidly becoming one.)

That ‘if I can do it right’ looms rather large for me as I attempt to continue writing, though. Easter has a part to her identity that is not my experience, and so I feel extremely cautious about proceeding. Appropriation is a real issue for many people, and even well-meaning misportrayals can be upsetting and hurtful. It would be easier, in some ways, to just Not Do This part of the story, and make Pinkerton back into a character whose cross-dressing is purely pragmatic, but I wouldn’t like it, and I wouldn’t feel I was doing right by the character. I would feel like I was silencing something in a potentially hurtful way, even if no-one would ever have known about it but me.

I really don’t want to sound ‘oh pity me’ here – this is a challenge but I like it. It is somewhat like being out for a run and coming the the bottom of a big hill. This is going to be difficult, but on some level difficult is why we’re out there. Writing something that’s going to be difficult (for me) is a good thing for me to do. It will (however it works out) make me a better writer and make me think about a whole ton of things I wouldn’t have otherwise. If I do really well, perhaps no-one who reads the finished product and hasn’t also read this blog will know that Pinkerton was a hard character for me to write – they’ll just enjoy her story. I could presumably write a bunch of perfectly acceptable stories with characters who won’t push me the way I think Pinkerton is going to, but among other things, then I wouldn’t have the feeling of being at the top of the hill, and knowing you’ve done it, where you feel (just for a moment) invincible.

So Pinkerton is going to exist (in whatever form the story ends up existing in) as she ‘really’ is, or how she has started to explain herself to be. I’m going to do my best with it. I’m also waiting to see if she has more to reveal to me. I have a feeling there’s more that she’ll tell me about when the time is right. I don’t typically write romance, because I don’t feel I’m very good at it, but I also have the nagging feeling that Pinkerton isn’t going to let me off that easily. She and I will perhaps have to negotiate.

These imaginary people are a treasure, and a responsibility. I genuinely want to do right by them (in my admittedly-odd way of viewing them) but I want to do right by whoever it is that reads the story in the future. Ideally I’d like it if there’s something in my characters that might speak to them, that they might identify with, or at least that they’ll feel that my imaginary friends are worth spending some of their time with.

That was all very introspective, even by the standards of this here blog here, so thanks for your patience. I’ll go see if Pinkerton wants to talk about anything and let you know how it goes.

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Can*Con 2016

This past weekend was Can*Con in Ottawa, which is our annual convention for readers and writers of science fiction, fantasy, horror and erotica. It is steadily growing both in terms of the stature of the guests who attend and the number of people who sign up for a weekend’s worth of discussion on the literature they love. It will also always be special to me because it was a Can*Con pitch session that got me connected with my publisher for The King in Darkness, and being able to see my first novel in print.

As always it was fantastic to get to spend a couple of days really feeling like a writer: participating in thoughtful discussions about both how to write and things we enjoy reading, meeting loads of awesome people who are deeply into the same stuff that I’m deeply into, and talking about my own writing to people who didn’t immediately look shifty and scurry away sideways. Especially when writing often has to be crammed into whatever time can be stolen here and there from jobs that pay the bills and the practicalities of life, it can be easy to feel like your writing isn’t very significant. It’s amazing to have a few days where writing gets to be The Thing and to have your passion validated. I always come away from Can*Con very excited to get to work on new projects. Project. One project at a time, like a sane person.

So that feeling was great to have again, but this Can*Con also felt very different because this was the first year that I was part of the organization team, which is also getting larger as the con (and therefore the work involved in setting it up) expands. This added a whole new level to the experience. In addition to everything else, I was also getting chairs where we needed chairs and hastily creating signs and helping lost souls find the con suite – and also getting to meet all of our guests in a slightly different way than previous years. Getting to (even briefly) say hi to Ed Greenwood was pretty cool. More than anything, this all made me appreciative of the work that goes into putting on an event like Can*Con in a way that I hadn’t really understood before; we started actively planning this soon after the New Year and had basically been working steadily at it ever since. It was great to see all that work turn into the event itself and to watch people enjoying themselves with what we’d put together.

Now I also need to lie down.

All of the discussions I went to were interesting – I was part of talks on epic fantasy, the nature of monsters (which will lead to a radical change to my current WIP), the portrayal of medieval culture in fantasy, the financial side of writing, and Shakespeare in science fiction, and all of them gave me a lot to think about. The one that I’ve been going back over in my mind over and over, though, was the panel on adapting SFF for TV or movies, which (to be honest) I mostly went to because Jay Odjick panels are always awesome.

Now, in all honesty I’m extremely unlikely to have to worry about the things that go into having something I wrote adapted for film (although, as we saw last week, I do think that would be pretty rad), but one of the things that all of the panelists said (including Tanya Huff and our agent guest of honour Sam Morgan) got the Mind Gears going. Basically they said that if your work is being adapted into another format, those writers are going to change basically everything (Tanya Huff was invited to write an episode of the series that was adapted from her book Blood Ties, and they kept six lines of the dialogue she had written) and that, as a writer, you should be fine with this because they’re giving you a cheque, and your original work is of course unchanged.

I gotta say, that makes a solid amount of sense. Stephen King got asked about whether he was upset about what Hollywood had done to some of his books, and famously replied that ‘no, the books are fine, they’re right there on the shelf’. I admire that. I also know that deep inside my bizarre little writer’s heart, I would be screaming at the top of my lungs about something I wrote being changed. It’s my story. These are my characters. I wrote them this way for a reason, you don’t get to just change them around. Or, if you do, it’s not my story any more, and let’s not pretend that it is. (As an example, one ‘change’ suggested by a reader of King in Darkness was that the main character Adam should ‘get together’ with Sophia. Sophia is gay. Adam is at least twice her age. If that change got made to the story, I would be really upset. And yet, ‘add a romance!’ seems like a pretty probable move.)

I really do get the ‘yes, but cheque!’ argument, as well as the one that everyone knows that film writers change everything and so nobody really connects a film version to the writer in any significant way. It’s probably ok if the screaming is on the inside. So I do get that, and understand Sam Morgan’s comment that if a client of his was upset about changes being made to an adaptation of their work, he’d smack them (because: cheque!), but I also know that at least some part of me would be deeply unhappy with the whole deal. It’s probably just as well that this is a moot point and that probably no-one will ever want to make a movie out of King in Darkness, is one takeaway.

The other is that it’s remarkable how much ownership creators (because I don’t think I’m the only one) feel over their imaginary people and their stories, and how emotionally invested we are with the pretend worlds we’ve brought into being. I do write my stories the way I do for reasons that I think are good, and because (as I mentioned in an earlier entry) I feel like I know these characters so well, it seems wrong to just arbitrarily change them. It’s part of why creating art is so risky, because you really do put a piece of yourself out there for the world to look at. (That’s also part of why it’s great, when people look at it and say that they liked it.)

However, I should know from my history studies that stories don’t belong to anyone, or rather they belong to everyone. Stories that survive almost any length of time at all get constantly rewritten and changed and done over again to suit the needs of different audiences and to express the values and priorities of different cultural moments in time. King Arthur and Robin Hood and (more recently) characters like Batman and Sherlock Holmes change and change again as writers and readers who love them want to do something new with them or make the story work for their time and place. It is, really, a wonderful compliment to a creator to say that you want to take something they came up with and adapt it and give it a new kind of life.

So maybe I really would be ok with someone rewriting my stuff to film it.

Once the screaming died down.

And on that cheerful note, I want to use this space to thank everyone who was part of Can*Con and helped make it such a great weekend. We had amazing panelists, really enthusiastic and thoughtful audiences, and our volunteers were outstanding. All of the other members of the organizational team – Marie Bilodeau, Nicole Lavigne, and Brandon Crilly (who was programming’s Batman to my Robin) did fantastic work. I also want to especially thank co-chair Derek Künsken for inviting me onto the team and letting me be a part of it all.

Already looking forward to next year.

—-

Some of you may have noticed a sudden lapse in running-related entries on here. Many of you probably said ‘oh thank God’. In case you were curious, though, the reason is that I have had only the second significant injury I’ve suffered as a runner this summer and have shut things down for the season. The plan is to spend the winter getting strong and have a great season next year.

This has been surprisingly difficult, though, both because running is a stress-buster for me and has very much been part of my routine for years, and also because (as I’ve talked about previously) I do a lot of writing in my head while running, and all of that is currently lost. I also had to admit a little while ago that there was no way I could do the race I had planned for the end of the month, and just let that go.

In a way though that’s another useful lesson to come out of running that I think applies to writing as well. It’s good to set goals for yourself and to push yourself to achieve them, and to try to set standards that you need to live up to in terms of amounts of work getting done or having something finished by a certain time. That helps with organization and time management and making sure that you’re making your writing a priority.

There are also times, though, when things are just out of your hands and you have to let one of those goals go, and that’s ok. I couldn’t do anything about this injury, and it’s ok, and I will be back running when I can and I’ll hit the next goal. Sometimes the equivalent will happen with writing, and something won’t get done on time, and that’s ok.

Setting goals is only useful if it makes you better, not if it just turns into another stick to beat yourself up with.

Letting go is ok.

That’s what I’ve got for this week, except that if you’re going to be in Ottawa on Saturday, October 29th, you should definitely come to the Renaissance Press launch event for Bonhomme Sept-Heures and seven (seven!) other authors and creators, at the 3 Brewers pub at 240 Sparks St. It will go from about 5 to around 7, and there will be reading from all the authors, prizes, and probable tomfoolery. It would be great to see you there.

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Head Up

So despite my repeated assurances that this is not going to become Evan’s Running Blog, in the interests of Having Something To Write this week – you know I really did have a kind of interesting train of thought while out for my run the other day.

Going through the difficult part of the run, (basically every run that I do has a difficult part) I had to do the usual thing of talking myself out of several bad behaviours that start to happen when I start to get tired. I have to remind myself not to put my head down – this compresses the lungs and partly closes the throat, so it makes breathing more difficult. I have to remind myself not to shorten my stride, which results in needing to make more steps to cover ground and therefore burns more energy than my normal form would. I have to remind myself to relax my shoulders, so that I’m not wasting energy by tensing the muscles there; same deal with unclenching my jaw.

I have long found it curious, and a little frustrating, that the body’s instincts (or, at least, my body’s instincts, although this seems to be common) are, in a moment of difficulty, to do things that are not only unhelpful, but actually counterproductive. It would seem (in my extraordinarily poor understanding of evolution) that it would make more sense if the natural tendency was to instinctively adopt behaviours that are more efficient, rather than less, as exertion increases, and therefore do better at what the body is currently trying to do. Instead, without thinking about it, my body switches to a bunch of things that only make what I’m trying to do more difficult to accomplish. The only conclusion I’ve ever reached when I think about this is that the instinctive part of my body has decided that the best thing to do would be to stop running, and so it’s ‘trying’ to do things that will make that happen.

However that may be, its frustrating to feel that I’m ‘naturally’ reaching for things that are making what I’m trying to do harder and working against my own interests (finishing my run as soon and as easily as possible) in the moment. It also occurred to me that running isn’t the only time this happens. I know it happens with writing, sometimes.

When a writing project is going well, I can’t get enough of it and am basically constantly looking for excuses to write a little more of it. When it stops going well, unfortunately my natural instinct is to leave it aside for a while, which is exactly the wrong thing to do because whatever it is will never get better, and never get finished, if I don’t work on it. I even do this with particular parts of a work; if there’s a scene or piece of dialogue that I can’t figure out how to make work, I will (as I think I’ve written before) skip over it (sometimes leaving myself a helpful note like FIX THIS LATER or THIS IS TERRIBLE) and write something else for a while, which certainly relieves the short-term frustation of not being able to make that particular bit work, but doesn’t fix the actual problem. The only way it gets fixed is to sit and try some different approaches and write some bloody stuff down and eventually figure out a way to come up with something that reads approximately ok.

Just as when I’m running, it seems inevitable that these things will happen, and what I mostly have to do is remind myself (again) not to follow my counterproductive, contrary-to-my-actual-interests instincts, and do the things that currently feel difficult, but will get me where I need to go in the end. Open that document. Go to that scene, erase my despairing little note, and jigger around with words until it does work. Much the same as getting my head up and lengthening my stride again, even though this feels like something I desperately don’t want to do, it’s the only thing that get what I want done, done.

It also occurs to me that there is perhaps a parallel to recent political events here, regarding the appeal of figures like Donald Trump, and Nigel Farage, where in times of difficulty we may find ourselves attracted to ‘solutions’ that are not actually in our best interests, and end up doing things that won’t actually improve the situation we’re in, and may make it worse, just as my bad running behaviours do. I know you probably don’t come here for politics, though, and so I think I’ll take this no further this morning.

I will also say that I read a fascinating article a long time ago (long enough that I can’t find it this morning to link it for you) that suggested that human beings had once depended on running distances as a hunting strategy. The reasoning was that humans, without tools and weapons, were not strong enough to defeat many animals in a straight fight, nor swift enough to catch many in a short pursuit, and so what they would have had to do was make a long pursuit over a significant distance in order to bring their prey down more or less through sheer bloody exhaustion. So running, despite the behaviours I complain about above, is part of our instinctive core after all. I have no idea if that theory holds the slightest bit of water, but as a runner I kind of like it, and I also like the idea that, despite a tendency to sometimes do counterproductive and negative things in times of crisis, our better selves are still down there as well, even if we sometimes have to remind ourselves about them.

Head up. Have a great week.

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Apt 613 did a very kind review of The King in Darkness, for which I am very grateful. You can read it here.

The Limestone Genre Expo has released its final schedule, which I am even on! Check it out here, and its not too late to make plans to attend if you’d like a weekend of great reader-y writer-y fun in Kingston. I’m really looking forward to it and looking forward to meeting some new people there.

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Running with my Grandfather

If (god help you) you are a long-time reader of this blog, you will know that one of the things I do in addition to writing is distance running. I started running for pure recreation (it being a kind of fitness activity that is incredibly easy to get started on) and over time this worked its way up to doing some organized races of various distances. I’m certainly nothing remarkable as a runner, but I enjoy challenging myself to do a little better and seeing if I can improve my own performances over time.

Spring here has been (and continues to be) very reluctant in really arriving properly, but it has (mostly) gotten warm enough that I’m back to running outdoors and getting ready for my first race of the season in a few weeks. I think I’ve mentioned before on here that I do a lot of thinking while running; I write things in my head and my brain wanders all sorts of places.

One of the things I think of most often is my grandfather.

My grandfather was way more of an athlete than I could ever hope to be; he did (and won) competitive bicycle races and canoe races and snowshoe races, as well as being a runner and speed walker himself. I remember when we would visit his farm in the summertime, sometimes on the drive in we would meet him on the road training. No gym or workout program for him, just hard miles on the road. I keep meaning to try using a bandana instead of a headband myself, sometime.

Sometimes on a difficult run I will think about my granddad and things from his athletic career and somehow whatever I’m doing doesn’t seem like such a big deal any more. Sometimes if I’m doing well that day I’ll also think about him and wonder if, somehow, a little bit of my performance has come down, through the slot machine of DNA, from him. I like to think Granddad might have been interested in some of the runs I’ve done.

He lived a very different kind of life than I have. He raised his family on a farm with no electricity and no running water, supporting them with his own hard labour. The last house he lived in, he built himself, from cutting the trees right through to the finishing touches. He went to war and came home. My grandfather was never wealthy, never had much in the way of luxuries or Stuff, but he lived a long, full, remarkable life surrounded by people who respected him (he held several local government offices) and cared about him.

I am constantly in danger of feeling hard-done-by in life and thinking that I’m not enough of a success and haven’t, I guess, racked up enough of a high score in life. My grandfather reminds me that basically none of it matters if you have what you need (and you need a lot less than you may think you do, and certainly less than you’ve been told you do) and that life probably doesn’t need to be as complicated as we are often determined to make it. I’m doing all right, and more than all right by most standards. I shouldn’t let other people’s standards and the loud, loud world take that from me. Granddad never did.

I keep thinking I should write a book about it all, except for one problem.

The thing I regret is that despite everything I’ve just written, I never knew my grandfather as well as I would like. When we visited, I remember him being very quiet. He would sit with us all (when not working), but usually silently, watching much more than he spoke. Every so often he would, quietly, share a story or a memory and then let the conversation slide away from him again. He had a broad smile that appeared infrequently.

I didn’t understand until much, much later that the thing was that Granddad was shy around people he didn’t know very well, and he certainly didn’t know me well, seeing me a couple times a summer. I’m not surprised, thinking about it now, that he wouldn’t have known how to relate to me, coming from a very different lifestyle than he had ever led, interested in all the weird things that have always interested me, and of course being shy and quiet myself, and so unlikely to reach out from the other direction. I hope that he was nevertheless happy to have us kick around the farm on our visits; certainly those visits will always be part of my treasured storehouse of memories and, I suspect, they continue to affect the kind of person I am today.

I do wish that we’d known each other better. I wish I had made a really good try to engage with him, once I was old enough to know what was going on, although perhaps that wouldn’t have worked out. Working out that Granddad had some of the same issues with people that I do made me feel a little closer to him, in the end, even if it maybe kept us from knowing each other real well in actuality.

I’m not sure where this particular entry is going except that I’m grateful to have known my grandfather as well as I did and to have had his example to draw on from time to time. I suppose I’ll always have some regrets about lost opportunities in the past, but I also have treasured memories that never fail to make me smile and glad I was there.

Thanks, Granddad. I’ll see you on the road.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve got for you this week. Thanks for reading.

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These Shoes

Well, we’re finally down to it. I haven’t had a chance to watch the new X-Files yet and so this week I’m writing about shoes. These shoes in particular:

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I have had this pair of shoes for a long while. I bought them for distance running, and after they wore out for that they’ve been walking around shoes for the last several years. As I guess you can tell from the picture, they’re pretty well done for that as well now. They leak, the soles are nearly worn through and falling to pieces, and the uppers are coming apart at the seams.

With the onset of a proper winter, it was time to put the summer footwear away, and the thing is that I probably can’t get another summer out of these guys.

Now, a sane person would have just dumped them in the trash and thought no more about it. I, however, got to thinking about everything these shoes have done in their time.

These shoes and I have been out for morning run after morning run, through ice and mud and goose poo and glass and whatever the hell else was out there waiting. These shoes got me through a half marathon. These shoes have done the plough push, deadlifts, hill sprints, and the farmer’s walk. These shoes did the run up Suicide Hill where Adam Godwinson runs for his life in The King in Darkness.

Speaking of, I wrote basically the entire book while running in these shoes. All those moments and characters, by and large, came from where-ever they come from into my mind while these shoes and I were doing our thing. For that alone, I feel like I owe them.

These have also been travellin’ shoes. These shoes have been on the beach and across the ocean. They have climbed pyramids, walked in the footsteps of the Lionheart and Eleanor of Aquitaine, through a tropical forest, and on the sand at Juno Beach. They’ve been to Alcatraz Island and in thousand year old cathedrals. They have done the ‘oh god can’t miss this flight’ sprint. They’ve been on cities afloat and on medieval streets I could follow forever. They’ve been on the paths of my child hood and shot arrows at my grandfather’s farm, which I think he might have enjoyed seeing.

In these shoes I have had days that were the next thing to perfect and some of the worst days of my life. They always brought me home in the end.

It is strange, and I suppose more than a little silly, to put so much significance on an old pair of shoes and to feel badly (as I do) that I’m going to have to give up on them in a way they’ve never quit on me. It is time, and yet I genuinely feel guilty about the idea of dumping this worn out pair of Asics. I know not everyone does this, but I also know I’m not absolutely the only person who gets somehow attached to things that I own and have used for a while, or things that have come to me in ways that felt important at the time. The shoes are the latest example of this, but I’ve been doing it all my life.

Perhaps predictably, I think it has to do with stories. I don’t think we really form connections to inanimate objects (for the most part); what we’re feeling is the link to the memories, and therefore the stories, that those things represent and remind us of. These are things that have been part of our stories and remind us of them and, as creatures of memory, it’s not easy to put those things aside and perhaps lose our link to those memories, and to the stories. After all, as everyone notices in time, our minds are far from perfect storehouses and we forget things we’d much rather keep close to us forever. I think that’s why people like me like to keep our little treasures around us: to help preserve those stories for when we need them. But there are limits, I don’t actually want to live in a trash heap, and so sometimes things just do need to go.

For a while, I was trying to think of the right way to put these shoes to rest, since (being a goof) putting them in the trash just seemed insufficient. Fortunately (maybe) I’ve come up with something. This summer I am running the Spartan Race here in Ottawa and I am given to understand that whatever shoes you wear to that thing get utterly destroyed. So these old shoes will get one last day on the field of glory and get me through one final race.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

I’ll also try to have something a little less goofy for you next week.

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It happened again

Not quite awake

I move through the misty slumbering quiet

Brushed by leaves dripping with dreams

Past sleepy flowers

Insomniac moths

last night’s snails

and beaches filled with goslings

A gradual stirring, emerging

Rowers on the river

Dogs on adventures

Inevitable cyclists

Hello, city

Let’s go

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