Press B to quit (for a little while)

Quietly storming out is so a strategy

I returned from a two-week vacation in the north of Ontario feeling tired but focused and triumphant. As the driver for this 18+ hour trip (each way) I had a clear purpose: keep the car moving. We had direction, we had a destination, we had a well-defined goal. And we reached our family goal, with almost no terror (a slight gas panic the only exception) and in remarkably good spirits. I felt pretty good.

And then I checked my email.

Suddenly, the long list of obligations and irritations came rushing at me, eroding away my peace of mind. Complaints and problems from some of the condo owners (I sit on the condo board). A variety of complications and issues with setting up the campaign office and team for this fall’s Federal election (I’m the association president). A profound lack of book sales during my absence (not surprising, given the nonexistent promotion I did for the book during that time). Negative online comments for a freelance article I did during vacation.I wasn’t writing anything. And on, and on. It felt like every area of my life that I devoted time to was producing nothing but problems. I was failing at a whole variety of tasks and duties.

I lost most of Sunday to this overwhelming feeling of failure. I couldn’t even pick out one part to fix, since working on one would mean ignoring all the others. I desperately wanted to get lost in a new video game, dive in and get immersed in an electronic world where I knew what to do and how to do it. Mental gridlock. Not a fun day.

Monday morning, I decided to do a little bit of quitting. And by that I mean, I quit everything frustrating for one day. Once the boy was off to summer day camp, and the dear wife was off to work, I tuned everything out and wrote. The dishes? Still dirty. The rogue neighbourhood cat? Still menacing gardens and befouling patios. The mysterious water leak that probably comes from our shower? Still unsolved. What I do have is progress on two separate story ideas, and a renewed sense of priorities. I can’t control all of the irritants and complications in life. It is unfair to judge myself by my success (or lack thereof) in resolving those complications.

I’m one guy, and I can only do so much. If I’m overwhelmed, it’s because I’m trying to fix everything at once. The lesson I’m learning today is:Put the to-do list to the side, take a deep breath, and give your passion top spot in your brain.

What “Inside Out” taught me

“All right! We did not die today, I call that an unqualified success.” – Fear

The family took me to the movies for father’s day, where we watched the newest Pixar movie “Inside Out”. I assumed that it would be another great movie from the folks at Disney/Pixar (and it was), with ample wisdom for my child to absorb at least a little bit of. What I wasn’t prepared for was the wisdom being one-size-fits-all, applicable for children and adults.

Here’s the premise in a nutshell (with a touch of spoiler): there’s a team of emotions steering your behaviour, and if a couple go missing, your psychological world is thrown into chaos. When we’re children, Joy is the dominant emotion and the desired state of affairs. As we age, it becomes more complex and can’t be painted with one emotional colour. Growing up means having experiences that have a multitude of emotions attached to them. You can’t just drive towards joy to the exclusion of every other feeling.

And that’s where insight leaped from child development to full-grown adult challenges. I realized that I can get stuck chasing unfiltered joy, and that’s an unattainable goal. In fact, chasing happiness that’s devoid of tinges of sadness, regret, fear, anger, etc… is an exercise in frustration. Not only does happiness elude you, so does contentment. You can’t go back to the monotone joy of childhood. And you wouldn’t want to, even if you could. The richness of human experience is built upon the totality of human emotion, both positive and negative. Take the sweet with the sour.

I’m also prone to letting Fear take the helm of my psyche, which can set the bar a little low for goals (see the opening quote above). I need to continue to work on integrating fear into the collaborative emotional team, making him a partner instead of a tyrant. Life will continue to have scary moments to it, but focusing solely on avoiding the things that I fear will keep me from some truly interesting and fulfilling opportunities. 3 cheers for less freaking out!

Positive Perspective

It’s funny how a simple choice of words can shift your perception.

I tend to be very critical of myself. Maybe that’s a natural state of affairs for humans, or maybe the well-adjusted among you don’t spend time berating yourself over missteps and missed opportunities. I’m not one to say.

I have a handful of talents, like any of you. I grade myself harshly on the application of those talents, looking at them as examples of my “wasted potential”. I think I rate them in terms of being able to use those skills “professionally” AKA “making money with them” which is a mug’s game from the start.

But a few weeks ago, my friend Dan gave my negative perspective a nudge. I had baked some cupcakes for our friend Jeff’s birthday, to share with the whole Friday night gaming group. The cupcakes were a hit with everyone, especially Dan. His exact words were: “Baking is definitely one of your un-nurtured talents.”

There is a world of difference between “wasted” and “un-nurtured”. I stopped regretting the current state of my abilities, and instead, I started to see the possibilities for growth. Every day you have a chance to nurture your talents and see them bloom into something wonderful: Why spend time beating yourself up over what you haven’t done with them so far? And for the love of crumbcake, don’t measure yourself against the money-making yardstick.

Back to the Regular Nonsense!

Pushing out the seemingly endless promotion for the whole Kickstarter book stuff over the last month (spoiler: hit the goal, everything work out!) led to a small bit of social media and blogging burnout. I was sick of talking to you and you were sick of hearing me.

Now that our time apart has passed, I feel refreshed and ready to return to my ramblings. Today’s topic is Obscure phrases, specifically the phrase “bun-fight”.

A Bun-fight is an English expression that is of indeterminate origin. Whenever it came into popular use, no one person successfully took credit for it coming into existence. Think of it like a Victorian meme.

There are 2 uses for the phrase:

1) A fancy, formal occasion

2) A heated argument over something trivial

The first definition seems incongruous, since “fancy celebration” and “fight” usually don’t go together very well. It makes a bit more sense, however, if the party you are referring to is a tea party for children. Picture a room full of children in uncomfortably formal clothing, squabbling over who gets which doughnut.

In common usage, the second definition is the one that sticks. It’s a pretty good way to describe a nearly pointless argument over some trivial detail. If you need to have a little variety, or you’re a fan of even more obscure phraseology, try these alternates that have sadly died out of common usage: “Crumpet-Scramble” or “Muffin-Worry”. Drop either of those phrases at your next coffee klatch and revel in the confused, worried looks of your conversational partner.

Asking isn’t easy

It feels a little bit premature to talk about the lessons I’ve learned during the Kickstarter (FYI: 3 days left to raise $195. Achievable but looming). Normally, I try to give myself a few days after any experience to settle down before reviewing and analyzing it. But there’s an ongoing lesson that I’m wading through right now, and I want to talk about it here.

Just like the blog title says, asking isn’t easy. It takes a considerable amount of self-esteem and a resilient ego to create something and present it to the world.”Look at this thing I made, universe! Everyone, stop your activities and pay attention to me!”. And your ego takes a real knock when the world, except for your immediate circle of wonderful friends and family, responds with a disinterested ‘meh’. But you soldier on.

On top of that, I’m now asking for the world’s support in cold, hard cash. Repeatedly. Every day. Confession: By this point in the kickstarter, I’ve run out of ideas on how to continue promoting it, other than “MONEY=YES. MORE!”. The lesson here is about planning your promotion well ahead of time, and having some of the promotional content ready to go live in advance. Coming up with a new sales pitch everyday is just a tad fatiguing.

And yes, there were days that I didn’t do any promoting at all. Some mornings, the prospect of harassing my friends and family for the umpteenth time was too much to handle. The last thing in the world that I want is for my circle of support to feel like I only love them for their money. While it’s nice to have money, I really love their unconditional support and enthusiasm.

At our regular Friday night board game night, I get questions about the book, about the kickstarter and about the next project on the horizon. I know that the crowd around the table are rooting for me and that is more important than anything else. So thanks Dan, Toad, Jeff, Andrea, Gord and Carol : you’re a great gang of nerds.

While I’m at it, thanks to Emily, Paul, Leanne, Nick & Kelsey, Roy, Brad, Jesse, Mike, Kevin, and every friendly face that’s given me encouragement over the last few weeks.

And as always, my number one fan, my love, the foundation of everything good I have built, my darling wife Kristen, thank you for believing in me completely.

To wrap up: Go go go! Less than 200 bucks left! Let’s finish this thing off! Yay team! (Here’s the link. GO GO GO)

Developing characters

The world is full of interesting characters. The trick is asking the right questions.

I’m a people watcher. Whenever I’m out in public, I can’t help noticing the interesting people living their lives around me, and wondering how they got to where they are. It’s a habit that I try to restrain most of the time, especially for the women in the room. The last thing I want to do is make anyone feel creeped out and uncomfortable because of my glances and curiosity. There’s really no explanation that sounds plausible when you’ve accidentally been staring at a woman during her workout, so it’s best to avert mine eyes.

The gym is really the worst place for my curious creative brain. It’s a venue with an increased likelihood of lechery, and my brutish features don’t help convince anyone that I’m not up to no good. Nor does my habit of staring blankly off to space as I work through a creative idea. So far, I’ve avoided any disastrous misunderstandings, but the danger is always on the horizon. I spend a lot of time looking down at the floor between sets.

But there are so many interesting people at the gym! So many men and women with unique appearances and mannerisms who choose to spend hours working the machines and sweating profusely. There’s a fellow who works out with a speed and intensity that frightens me to watch. He focuses on quick, explosive movements and agility. He shadow boxes between sets. He can do more pull-ups in 30 seconds than I could muster in a day. My first guess is that he fights, either MMA or boxing. But he’s also entirely bereft of body hair, so maybe he’s a competitive body builder. On the other hand, he is as pale as a ghost, and you’d expect most body builders to sport a leathery ultra-tan.

Another example of a story waiting to be told: a woman with mountains of bright blond curly hair piled high atop her head pumps away determinedly on the stairmaster. Her overly ample bosom is restrained tightly enough to eliminate almost all uncomfortable exercise jiggling, and the disproportion of her cleavage to the rest of her body hints at artificial enhancement. Her arms, ankles and collarbone are covered with tattoo work, faded by the years of intense tanning. Her eye makeup is dark and dramatic, and her fingernails are long and shiny with polish. The severe look of her nose and jaw has a masculine quality to it. So why did she choose to make these choices? How did she end up here? These are the questions that run through my brain as I huff and puff my way through my own workout routine, questions that I could never walk up to a stranger and ask.

So I keep the questions inside of my own head and I begin to invent answers to them. That’s why I have a steady supply of ‘new’ characters to put into my stories: I’m harvesting my ‘wonder why’ file of invented stranger profiles.

Where the story started

I cast a spell over the west to make you think of me, the same way I think of you

The “Spellbound Railway” series started back in November 2010. I decided to break the rules of the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) by taking a pre-existing story idea and writing past the 30 day deadline. I knew that I could write a 30 day, 50 000 word story, but I wanted this one to have the room to go longer and take more time than that.

I started with the idea of high school kids finding out that they could manipulate the world around them with their new magical abilities. It’s magic at the quantum level, nudging probabilities to create the effect they wanted. And if you try to explain exactly how your spell works or what your casting process is, your magic will stop working that way. This is loosely based on the quantum mechanics ideas : the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the Observer Effect. And when I say loosely, I mean very loosely, because I am in no way a physicist.

The inspiration for the plot of the book came from the song lyric at the top of the blog post. I had the image of a very sad boy, standing on a rooftop with his eyes closed shut, desperately wishing for love in the way only a heartsick high school kid can. The end result of that process was WitchKids.

And the first book opened up a bigger set of questions. It brought in another quantum mechanics theory, the many-worlds interpretation. As I wrote the second book “Kingmaker” I began to map out the manifestation of many-worlds in my narrative universe, how the realities were structured and connected, and the effect that actions in one could have on the others. But even with the cosmic events in the background, there were still very pressing, immediate issues the heroes had to deal with, things that couldn’t get fixed with magic, like dysfunctional families and unstable romances.

And now we’re at the new novel “The patchwork Boy”. The heroes are reaching their final days in high school, teetering on the brink of being full-blown adults. And adult life is messy and unfair. I’m really in love with the story and I’m excited for everyone to get a chance to read it.

I hesitate to even think about the future of the series while I’m still slogging away trying to raise the cash to get the current book printed (here’s the link to the kickstarter, if you haven’t had a chance to back it yet to get your own copy of the new book pre-ordered). But I can tell you I know where the story is going, and it’s going to be a very bumpy ride for everyone involved.