A very happy birthday

Birthdays have not traditionally been an enjoyable event for me. There has been a consistent sense of anxiety as the day approaches, a feeling that only intensified once the actual day started. It would all begin to escalate with a simple question “what do you want for your birthday?” This question honestly flummoxed me each and every time. In my heart of hearts, I didn’t know what actions or gifts would give me a happy birthday. I wanted to be happy, I really did, but I could not identify how to make that happen. Cue the stress, the irritation, and the depression.

There was a change this year. I found out how to be happy on my birthday (and possibly happy all the time). I can’t put my finger on the exact catalyst for this change, but there were a few things that stuck in my mind. The public (social media) birthday wishes from a few of my dear family members made mention of how creative I was and how they were excited for what I would create in upcoming year: my wife’s message was the perfect example of this. And my sister-in-law in Thunder Bay let me know that her 9-year-old had confiscated my novels from his mom so that he could read them himself, and he was chewing through the books with a voracious literary appetite.

It’s very important to note that my friends and family have always been supportive, more so than I’ve ever really acknowledged. And that’s the big change, the present I gave myself: I acknowledged that I have these wonderful people cheering me on. For the first time in my life (or as far as I can remember) I accepted the fact that I am loved and supported. By simply believing that, my birthday became one of real celebration. I didn’t need to spend the day hoping for proof or validation. My emotional foundation was set. My family loves me, my friends care for me, and I’m happy with who I am. The stress that usually haunts every minute of August 20 vanished. It was replaced by a calm optimism and joy. It’s pretty amazing.

Talk about your successes

Self-promotion is hard. For me it is, anyway. I envy anyone who can proudly march around and proclaim “Here is a thing I made! Look at it, experience it, and pay me money for it!”. In my ideal world, I toil away in cloistered quiet, writing one project after another. It sounds wonderful and it’s entirely unrealistic for two reasons.

1)Life costs money. A pile of unsold manuscripts doesn’t bring home the bacon (or the electricity or the roof over your head).

2)I need an audience. I love the stories that I write, but they don’t fully come to life until they are shared. And I need their feedback too,

The good news for me is that I do have an audience. You, the devoted readers of this too infrequently updated blog, are the people who have chosen to tune in and listen to me. Over the last few years, I’ve been able to share my observations, experiences, and general ramblings with all of you. And surprisingly, you keep coming back. So thank you!

So here’s what I would like from you, dear readers. As you know, I self-published my latest novel “The Patchwork Boy” in June. I am incredibly proud of it, and I want your help to promote it. Positive reviews are an independent author’s best friend. Each review on sites like Goodreads.comAmazon, Smashwords.com or iTunes brings more attention and more potential readers to the book. I know that some of you are worried about writing a review, and trust me, I understand. But a review does not have to be as complex and verbose as a PhD thesis. A simple, to the point blurb does more to sell a book than you will ever know.

That’s your mission, should you choose to accept it: go write a quick review at one (or more), and let me know when it’s done. I cannot stress enough how much I value your support and encouragement, and I’m grateful for all the help you’ve given me before and in the future. Thanks again!

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)