Haunted When The Minutes Drag

I moved around a lot as a child. By the time I was 12 years old I’d lived in 8 different cities and two different countries. I got very used to (and very good at) making new friends and even better at saying goodbye to them. In fact, my entire childhood is pretty much compartmentalized, with memories tied to a specific place and time, and those memories extend to TV, music, movies, comics and so forth.

For the longest while I thought this was normal; that everyone moved with the frequency we did. Then I later realized that my life was the exception; my friends were kids born in their city or town and grew up there and would very likely remain there for. They were lifers; I was just a face and a name passing through, staying put for a short time, then one day I was gone and my face and name would fade from their memories. I doubt many, if any of the people I went to school with in Vancouver or Edmonton or Greensboro remember me at all. I was the anomaly, not them, and while I once liked the excitement of new cities, new homes, and new schools, over time I came to hate those moves. I came to hate having to say goodbye. I wanted stability. I wanted a sense of place. I wanted a home, not a house.

Pictured: the writer as a brooding young man

Pictured: the writer as a brooding young man

I bring all this up because I’m at work on my next project, a novel largely inspired by the years I lived in Brockville, Ontario (roughly 1986-1992). While wholly a work of fiction – it’s a horror/sci fi/mystery hybrid – it’s still drawn from the reservoir of memories of my years in that town. It’s about many things I experienced there, and after I left. Mostly it’s about saying goodbye.

It’s been quite the experience so far. Like opening old wounds. Sure, you remember the good but to create real drama you have to zero in on the bad. I’m taking my mind places it hasn’t gone since, well, since those darker days. It hasn’t been pleasant, but it’s been necessary. Both the good and the bad have given me fuel, but so have the mundane moments; shooting pool, hanging out at the arcade, renting crappy horror movies form the local video store. Those moments that seem inconsequential at the time that take on mythic importance so many years later.

When I lived in Brockville I hated it, but I think every teenager hates where they grew up. It was boring, it was stale, and I felt trapped. Even when I got my driver’s license and my first car I felt tethered to home like I was attached by a big elastic. Just when I thought I’d achieved freedom there was something to snap me back. Had I lived someplace exciting like Toronto or New York I’m sure I’d have things to complain about them too, but age changes things. Your memories of that “miserable” time become more golden. You realize that, while they were far from what some would call “the best years of your life” they were special, they were meaningful, and they mattered because they made you the person you are now. Your work ethic, your personality, all of it formed in that blast furnace called High School. It was when you made the decision, conscious or otherwise, to be the person you wanted to be.

Unsurprisingly, if you know anything about me, music has been a great gateway to those years and memories. The infamous box of old mixtapes that inspired Mixtape have come in handy here, as have the assorted yearbooks, photo albums, magazines, notebooks and so on that have been following me around for almost 30 years. Unlike Mixtape, this new project has that element of the fantastic that hopefully means a wider audience than the ‘musical memoir’. It’s very different from Mixtape but shares a lot of its DNA. If you take the cast of my comic and all of a sudden dropped them down into Invasion of the Body Snatchers you essentially have this new thing. Like Mixtape, it has unlocked old memories and opened old wounds. Much of my dislike of those years is because that was the period my parents’ marriage hit the rocks. It was not a happy time. There was yelling and arguments at the dinner table, on outings, even on one infamous birthday celebration (mine). I couldn’t wait to get out of there and when I did I never looked back or went back.

For a while, anyway.

In college when people asked me where I was “from” I never had an easy answer. “Directly” you could say “Brockville” but it wasn’t where I was “from”. When you lived in 8 cities over 12 years you can’t say you’re really ‘from” a certain place. I still saw people from Brockville, and remained friends with them through some of college but we were all moving in other directions. New friends, new horizons; those old familiar faces reminded you of the person you were not the one you wanted to be. So for a very long time I buried Brockville and those years deep, until a good fifteen years had passed since I said my formal goodbye. That story has been documented elsewhere so I won’t bore you. I will say that once I started to plumb the depths of my experiences growing up I became a much better writer. I had a POV, I had a story, I had a voice that was unique yet familiar. My experiences weren’t so different from many others whether you were from Providence, Rhode Island or Buenos Aires, Argentina or Monroe, New York.

One of the great tragedies in life is that we grow up thinking we’re alone and that nobody anywhere understands our problems or what we’re going through, only to learn well after the fact that on every street, in every school, in every town small and large there were people our age going through the same things we were. You can’t help but be haunted by your past and the memories you have of that long ago and far away land. Whether you realize it or admit it, it’s a part of who you are. And I think by embracing the past, warts and all, you stand a much better chance of navigating the present.

If writing is therapy I suppose this new project is mine. Especially being a father now I’m trying to come to terms with the person I was versus the one I am right now and the one I hope to be. To teach my son how to be a better person than his father is. To show him that despite a world that seems dark that there are joyous moments to behold. That even when he’s upset or unhappy and wishing he lived anywhere but here (wherever that will be), that in time it’ll be a lot easier to remember the good moments than dwell on the bad.

So that’s it. Now take care of yourselves. I have a novel to get back to.

Pictured: that moody young man discovering his muse

Pictured: that moody young man discovering his muse

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A Quick One While He’s Away

Yes, I’m still alive.

Yes, I’m still on sabbatical.

Yes, my back is much better, thanks for asking.

Yes, I’m actually on a new project but one I can’t talk about right now.

Yes, I realize that by working on a new project I’m technically not on sabbatical.

Yes I’ll be posting a longer update soon.

TTFN

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Comfortably Numb

I’m not much for posting state-of-my-life stuff online. Not my thing, never really been my thing. I figure you’re here to .. um, why are you here?

Well it’s been a rough week…

On Jan 31st I pulled a muscle in my back. One of those “oh shit I shouldn’t have done that” moments – picking my son up off his playmat. And sure enough I was proven right. The next day I was sore. Really sore. By Tuesday I couldn’t get out of bed without help. By Wednesday I was done. Finished. Not with the pain – with suffering it.

I’ve had back problems for years, ever since a the handle on a banker box full of books tore as I was lifting it down off a shelf at my old apartment in Toronto. Rather than let it fall I tried to stop it. That sudden sharp pressure on my back tore a muscle and sent me collapsing to the floor in agony. I must have lay there for 20 minutes before I could get to my feet. And of course there was no aspirin or Advil in the apartment, meaning I had to walk to the nearest drug store many blocks away. It was excruciating. Thinking back on it now it felt like two China plates in my back rubbing together. I made it to the drugstore and back with Advil, heat pads, and Bengay. I self-medicated, I took things very easy, and after a week it cleared up. But for the next year I’d get twinges of pain here and there and if I wasn’t careful, would re-injure it.

That was maybe 12 years ago. And I’ve had on and off pain since. Getting older sucks. Lifting with your back also sucks. I pulled a muscle the day we left for a 10-day Scandinavia trip and had no choice but to take an asprin and fly for 8-10 hours.

But this time it was different. Because I’d been suffering back pain for seven months, starting with the birth of our child. Because baby needs to be carried, lifted, put down, changed, played with, you never get that break. And of cause there’s the matter of the following:

Stress. Depression. Anxiety.

They’re real and while they may not kill you they sure as hell can incapacitate you. Nothing humbles you more than needing your wife’s help to get into and out of bed. And to be frank it’s been that way for a while – that stress. It probably didn’t show up in any previous posts because I’m a dude and guys don’t talk about their feelings. But that day to day feeling, like my head’s been in a vice and someone’s been slowly tightening it on me? I’ve been living with that for some time. I’m generally a pretty chill guy. I will get pissed off on occasion but that fuse has been a long one. But since work intensified and I had a baby to feed, clothe, care for simultaneously, that fuse had gotten shorter to the point that something would set me off:

Every. Single. Day.

Not an exaggeration either. It was that bad. And all that stress, that anger, that anxiety contributed as much to my injury as the actual injury.

The good: obviously something needs to change. I know that now. And taking time off to just focus on healing was the best thing I could do. Which is why once I deliver this manuscript I plan on taking a break from work. I don’t know how long this break will last, but it will be lengthy.

There’s a school of thought that if you’re a writer you need to write every day. I’m here to say that’s bullshit. You need to take care of yourself every day. Do that, and the words will flow. Fail to do that, those words will stop flowing whether you want it or not.

It’s been a week now, and the pain is slowly subsiding, mobility is improving, and each day I’m feeling incrementally better. I managed to knock out 2000 words today and am getting back on track. But things are going to be quiet around here for a little while as I focus on the important stuff and less on blogging. So, take care of yourselves and I’ll check back in sometime soon.

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The Great Internet Detox

sorry-no-internet-today-1

So in December I did what I call an “Internet Detox”. I put my Twitter account on hold. I installed a nifty comment blocker on Firefox that effectively killed the comments section of every website I visit. I didn’t create a Facebook profile.

A month in, I have to say going back to my old internet habits may be impossible. In fact I’m wondering just how little internet one can get away with in this connected age.

I need to keep Twitter because, as the only social media I’m on, I kind of need to have some sort of online presence as a writer (and soon-to-be-published author) other than a lightly trafficked, infrequently updated website. That’s going to be an ongoing battle.

But I realized I don’t need to be online nearly as much. In fact of the many sins one can lay at the feet of the Great God Twitter is that too much connection to the world’s triumphs and tragedy is a net negative. I couldn’t tell you what the key points of outrage were through the last month of 2015 because I didn’t hear about them. The fact that whatever they were have faded from view in the first week of 2016 tells you just how much oxygen outrage sucks out of a room.

The comments are another story. We all know comments, we all despise them yet we all indulge them. And why not. There’s entertainment there, along with outrage and incoherent ALL CAPS rants with lots of exclamation marks!!!!!!!

Out of mind, out of sight.

I now limit my recreational internet to my iPad, with the “reader view” of the Safari browser engaged. Not only does reader view eliminate comments it also un-junks the experience, eliminating the popups and sidebars and links to other articles and content designed to keep you clicking through the website as long as possible to gin up their numbers so they can charge more for ad space.

So, how did it all go? Let’s just say almost three weeks later I still haven’t seen The Force Awakens yet, and still remained spoiler-free. I’m also more than halfway through the big Magicians Impossible rewrite and that’s after one month of a three-month schedule. That includes Christmas and New Years and being a stay-at-home dad.

I often wonder what kind of effect the internet is having on our world and ourselves. There’s been some good, but a part of me thinks it’s been more negative than positive, especially as it comes to political discourse. It’s like we’re living in an internet message board 24-7. That inability to see both sides of an argument, that need to “win” by the number of retweets and FB likes.

So my challenge to you – and a nifty new year’s resolution to boot – is this: I challenge you to detox your internet/social media experience. Shutter those Facebook and Twitter profiles. Leave the phone or tablet at home. Install the comment blockers.

Try it for a week. See how it goes. Maybe go longer; January’s pretty dead work-wise anyway so take advantage of it. You’ll see the difference, believe me. And maybe if enough of us do that we can build a slightly better world in 2016.

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Keep The Car Running

Happy December everyone. I say “Happy December” because I’ll be too busy to say “Merry Christmas”. I’m mired in rewrites on Magicians Impossible, which is due at my publisher’s on March 1st – three months from, well, NOW.

It’s going pretty well so far. Second drafts aren’t necessarily easier than first drafts, but I enjoy them more. If I’ve done my job on the first draft, the second can be a lot more fun. That’s because you’re whacking away with hammer and chisel, finding form in the formlessness of your first draft. That is if you did the first draft the way you should.

Your brain has two hemispheres. The right hemisphere is art/imagination. The left hemisphere, logical/analytical. This illustration sums it up beautifully:

image

When writing a first draft you want to be firmly in the right hemisphere. You want to splash color, you want to make music, you want to create. You don’t want to think about word count and page count. You want to express yourself.

When writing the second draft, you want to use the left hemisphere. You want to focus on words, on sentence structure, on page count, on word count. You want to edit, cut, revise. You want to deconstruct and rebuild.

What you don’t want to do is write your first draft with the left brain. You don’t want that kind of control over your imagination. You want to fly but the left brain grounds you with a weight tied to your leg. You can take halting, brief flight, but you can’t soar.

That’s why I don’t do NaNoWriMo or ZD30, as elaborated on in a previous post. Because they force you to use the left hemisphere over the right. To focus on stuff like page count and word count. That’s not how you create. That’s not how you fly.

But, as I work my way through a 127,000 word draft that’s going to take some heavy editing, it’s the below scene from Season One of THE WIRE that best sums up the editing process. Time consuming. Painful. And no small amount of profanity:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vx0xulrOsgQ&feature=youtu.be

So I’m off to the races. I may check in at the end of the month with some year-end wrap up. But for now, Happy December.

 

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