About Art

When we dream of being more than what we are

A couple of things reminded me of the importance of art in our lives today. First, I was listening to the live tracks from The Hold Steady​’s 4 night stand at the Horsehoe tavern. When the crowd roared out as the songs began, I realized a live show isn’t about how successfully the artist reproduces the recorded version of the song. When it’s live, there will be missed notes, raspy vocals out of key, and unintended noise. But that doesn’t matter. A live show is about being in a room full of people who feel the same love for a song that you do. To be able to make eye contact with a stranger as the first few notes reach you, the tingling feeling shoots up through your body and the smile covers your face

The other one is sad but important. I hopped back on to twitter this morning and found out that the actor Leonard Nimoy had died. I was surprised that I felt a sense of loss from his passing, because he was “just a tv actor”. I struggled with finding the right words for my own moment of remembrance, because I was so dismissive of his contribution to pop culture and my life. But the way he brought Mr. Spock to life, the empathy and emotion he displayed in his character’s struggle, gave people, gave me, inspiration. The actor brings life to the words and makes something in their portrayal recognizable to us.

There’s no ranking system for passion and inspiration. If it moves you, encourages you, makes you think about being more than you are, it’s art and it is important.

My next adventure in independent publishing

Learning to swim by jumping in the deep end

I’m happy to announce that the third novel in my “Spellbound Railway” series is now complete and almost ready to hit the shelves. It’s called “The Patchwork Boy” and I’m immensely proud of it. Now that the creative part is done, I have to switch gears and focus on the publishing side of things. And this time, I’m trying something a little different. I’ve started a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money to pay for the first order of printed copies.

What’s Kickstarter, you ask? Good question! It’s a website that allows you to raise money for a specific project from a large group of people. If the crowd believes in your project enough to contribute enough to reach your goal, then the money is collected and you’re off to the races. If you don’t reach your goal, then no money is collected and you’re back where you started.

The good news is that failing to meet the goal doesn’t cost you anything, but let’s not talk about failure. I’m already nervous enough as it is. Asking all of your friends, family, casual acquaintances and internet strangers to spend their money on your wild idea is a nerve-wracking experience. You’d think that I would be used to it, after selling my first two books in much the same way, but evidently that’s not the case. So, if I seem to be a little distracted, that’s because I am.

I’m sorely tempted to spend the next 28 days perched on the edge of my seat, constantly refreshing the project page as I wait for the next backer to sign up. That’s probably not the best use of my time.

A moment of Zen Parenting

When a cliché becomes a reality, you adapt

I found myself in the middle of a classic parenting crisis a little while ago. We were bundled up and heading out the door to go to the library for a quick visit before dinner. Max was done his pre-trip bathroom pit stop, and I was heading in to do the same.

In the bathroom, I discover one of the world’s worst sights: an overflowing toilet full of human ick. My mind races back to the morning’s conversation:

“Dad, I have to tell you something. The toilet paper roll fell into the toilet.”

“Did you take it out and throw it out?”

“No, it had poop on it.”

“So what did you do?”

“I flushed it down.”

At the time, I had wondered how that had actually happened, but it was 7AM and my critical thinking skills were still offline. I did take a look at the toilet, but didn’t see any sign of something going wrong.

Flash forward to 4:30PM, with something very obviously going wrong. The very normal emotional responses of anger, disgust, and panic rushed towards my brain in a dead heat. But, luckily, a sense of calm stepped in the way. Instead of freaking out (and I so wanted to freak out), I looked at the gross scene in front of me and told myself “this is a thing that is happening. And I will deal with it.”

I calmly worked on plunging the atrocity down the pipes, as Max clarified that he had used the toilet brush to push the soggy toilet paper roll down the flush this morning. When the bowl finally emptied after repeated plunging attempts, I gave a small silent cheer of relief.I suppressed my revulsion as I cleaned up the horrifying water coating the floor, and I doused the area with the most toxic and powerful array of cleaning agents that I could.

Throughout the ordeal, I kept a calm, positive demeanor (with intermittent exclamations of ‘oh this is gross’). Max and I discussed the situation and agreed that, in the future, he should wait until mom or dad are awake before trying to resolve a toilet-based issue. I told him that I did appreciate that he tried to fix a problem himself, and that he had no reason to know that the toilet paper would expand and plug the drain.  And after giving myself a little clean-up, we continued along on our trip to the library.

After it was all said and done, I was struck by the lack of an emotional aftermath, If I had lost my cool and started bellowing, it would have made the rest of the afternoon and evening stressful and negative for both of us. Hopefully, I can start applying this technique to every challenge I face, but I’m still a normal person , and sometimes I’m going to flip right out.

Oh and yes, I did eventually realize while planning this blog post, that the experience could be summed up with the phrase “sh*t happens”. At the heart of every cliché lies a nugget of truth, I suppose.

Navigating without a map

The freedom to chart your own course comes with surprising pitfalls

In December, I uttered the greatest phrase a writer can ever say: “I’m done”. The first draft of my next novel (book three in my “Spellbound Railway” series) was finished. A sense of fatigued elation came over me, and the joy of being able to step away from the desk and emerge from my basement office victorious was immense.

Shortly thereafter, a second phrase bubbled up into my mind. It came in small, nested itself into the back corner of my thoughts, and started to ache. “What’s next?” it asked. My completion elation turned into smoke and blew away in the face of this yawning void of an unanswered question.

In a regular job, you don’t have to ask that question. You show up, pull your assigned levers, grumble about the boring work and your smelly coworker, and go home at the end of the day. A parcel of cash shows up regularly to justify dragging yourself into the dank cubicle farm. When you finish one task, another is put in front of your nose.It may not be spiritually rewarding, but it is predictable.

But in my line of work, there’s no assembly line. There’s a giant unsorted pile of possible tasks in the corner. I finish one step, and then look at the pile and wonder what should happen now. Most of the pieces in that pile are unlikely to produce anything other than more tasks to throw back on the pile.

So I found myself, metaphorically speaking, sitting on the floor and staring in dread at that massive pile. For a week I scrambled around between all of the possibilities: Do I edit this new draft right away? Do I focus on trying to find freelance non-fiction work? Do I pack it in and get a job painting miniature houses? And so on, and so on.

Eventually, I came to a few realizations. I need to write every day. Taking “time off” from writing only makes me more irritable and anxious. And I need to take the small business aspect of independent publishing much more seriously than I have before.

I’m not fully prepared for every “what’s next?” eventuality, but I think I have a better handle on the basics. In this upcoming year, I’ll see if a kickstarter campaign would be a good fit to pay for the first print run of the next book (and for professional editing, if the campaign went very well). I’m also looking at Patreon as a way to release the next story I’m working on as a serial. Of course, if a publisher or agent wanted to swoop down and take care of all of the parts I don’t like so that I can focus on storytelling, I wouldn’t complain a bit.

Checking in at the end of the year

Here we are at the end of 2014. I’ve been away from this blog for the last six months, and I’ve missed it (and you, dear audience).  There was no sinister reason for the lack of blogging, just a need to keep my public online presence focused on other things than my personal ramblings. Also, life was a little busy. Busy with what, you ask? Well, here’s a brief list in loose chronological order:

  • Went to Montreal for the first time
  • took a 6 month break from being president of the riding association
  • thought about running in the federal election, decided against it
  • mourned the loss of my dear wife’s grandfather Bud.
  • took a whirlwind family trip to Thunder Bay for Easter
  • worked as a campaign manager in the provincial election
  • put up signs for a successful municipal Councillor campaign
  • ran my own campaign for school board trustee (didn’t win, but that’s how it goes)
  • worked on a massive and immensely rewarding media project with a great local company
  • lost a friend to cancer
  • went to Markham for the first time
  • went to Hamilton for the first and second time
  • finished the first draft of my next novel
  • played Santa for school kids
  • rediscovered how poorly suited I am for skating (WEAK ANKLES! HATRED OF FALLING!)
  • maintained sobriety for 16th consecutive year

And that’s just what I can remember off the top of my head. As I get back into the swing of things, I’ll blog about many of these experiences in more detail. But for now, I want to appreciate the scope of what I achieved this year. More importantly, I want to thank everyone for their support, encouragement and faith. My lovely wife Kristen is the foundation of all that support and I am a better man because of her strength, compassion and love. My friend Todd who kept asking me throughout the busy year “how’s the writing going?” with just the right tone of excitement and anticipation in his voice. My friend Emily who might have been more thrilled about the next book being finished than I was. My friend Nick who gave me the biggest challenge that I have faced in a long time. And dozens of other people who have come into my life and been a part of this amazing journey. Thank you everyone.

What’s ahead in 2015? If recent history is any kind of indicator, 2015 will be all over the map. My goal is to keep moving the ball a little further down field with every adventure, and get a little bit better with each step. As for formal New Year’s resolutions, I’m going to stick with one: I will not wear light coloured slacks with black suit jackets in 2015.

Happy New Year!

The London Plan – White Oaks Wants In #ldnont

It is an exciting time for London. We’re building the plan that will steer our city’s development for the next 20 years: how we embrace and celebrate our diversity, grow our economy, strengthen our neighbourhoods.

The draft version of the London Plan ( available at http://thelondonplan.ca/) includes a focus on placemaking, places like Wortley Village and Richmond Row among others. It talks about the idea of these main street as “cherished historical business areas”, and that they are important in defining our identity as a city. I agree with the idea, but I think they’ve come up short in its application. 

One of London’s best kept secret is the wonderful and vibrant community of South London. If you take a walk Down Jalna boulevard, you’ll find healthy and friendly neighbourhoods that are all connected to a beautiful pedestrian highway, the White Oaks Optimist Park. Beside the park is the South London Community centre, the Jalna Library, the South London Neighbourhood Resource Centre and the South London pool. It’s one of the best places in the city. But to the London Plan so far, it’s nothing but a retail area. It doesn’t have a main street, but it needs one.

The area directly around White Oaks Mall is designated as a “Transit village”, and that’s definitely needed. What’s also needed is a space that is designed to become a main street, a plan that allows for the creation of a public commercial space for small businesses that creates the same atmosphere that SoHo or downtown or Lambeth have.

The challenge is that there currently isn’t a suitable area for a main street, but that’s a challenge that our city planners can find a creative answer to. Instead of focusing on a straight thoroughfare as a main street, why not take an underutilized commercial area and create a commons? As an example, look at the southern side of the intersection of Ernest and Bradley. The rundown, nondescript commercial plazas on both sides of Ernest that constantly struggle to find and keep tenants could be replaced with a distinctive community building design with a public square in the middle. There are several locations like this in South London that could blossom into a truly spectacular main street, but it won’t happen by accident.

When we recognize the vibrant, mutlicultural nature of the community of South London, it becomes clear that it deserves to have it’s own distinct identity. It needs a place to grow it’s history as the city grows over the next 20 years. And the residents of South London need their city councillor to speak up and champion their great neighbourhood to ensure that the London Plan will work for them, to help their community reach it’s full potential.

New Year’s Clean Slate

At first blush, I thought that I would have another year of no real resolutions (if I made any recently, I sure don’t remember them). Most of the self-improvement vows that people take are activities I’m already working on. I go to the gym, and I’m trying to be a little more enthusiastic about it. I try to watch what I eat. The only addiction I am currently in the thrall of is my earthy mistress coffee, and I’m okay with our 4 cup a day dance. I regularly end up outside of my comfort zone, and it’s only going to get more exciting/terrifying in 2014.

But I had a walk down memory lane yesterday that gave me something to resolve. I was giving myself a haircut and reflecting on the nostalgic feeling brought on by the giant wad of hubba bubba gum I was chewing. Max didn’t like the flavour of the bubblegum tape he got in his stocking, so he gave it to me, and I decided to show off by eating the entire roll. I can safely say that, though I can chew a whole roll of bubbletape, it is not a good idea. But the gooey, overly sweet blob I quickly spit out is beside the point.

The memory of eating cheap bubble gum from packages of hockey cards led me to remember the small variety store near the house where I grew up. And that led to the memory of the time when I was 10 and I bought a playboy from that same store, egged on by my school chums to do so. The store clerk challenged me by asking if I was buying it for my father, and my mumbled ‘yes’ was good enough for her. Seems a little lax in retrospect. Along with the memory came a flush of guilt. I stared in the mirror and realized I was feeling bad about something that happened 30 years ago, something that hurt no one and had no value now other than a funny story. Carrying around this guilt was doing nothing for me.

So, my New Year’s resolution is to declare complete amnesty for any and everything I did before the age of 18. That isn’t to say that I didn’t make mistakes as a kid. Heck, that’s one of the primary functions of childhood: making dumb choices and learning from the fallout. But feeling guilty about those dumb moments is unfair. It’s reviewing my past actions using my current experience and cognitive ability, instead of seeing those actions in the proper context.

This resolution gets a bit trickier when I consider the awful years from age 15 to 18.  Those memories are foggy, but their proximity to adulthood makes me feel like I should take full ownership of them. But the reality is that those years were marked by social anxiety, depression, and self-medication through alcohol. That doesn’t excuse the mistakes I made during that time, but the past is past. That kid (and he still was very much a kid) was doing the best that he could. Being angry at him and feeling guilty for his decisions won’t fix anything now. Even worse, beating up the memory of that kid would leave bruises on who I am today.