Category: Life

Priority Shifts

Priority Shifts

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I’m given to bouts of introspection and analysis, examining some bit of my life or how I’m doing something. Usually these last a few hours, or maybe a day or two. Occasionally, they go longer.

The day or two I took off of writing to recharge my batteries turned into almost three weeks worth of electronic vacation while I considered nearly every aspect of my life. Hope no one’s missed me.

In that three weeks, I’ve spent a fair bit of time with my kids, switched back to day shift, been late once for work, gotten a lot of stuff done around the house, and spent a great deal of time thinking about all of the activities that make up my life and what place they should be occupying.

No, I’m not selling all of my worldly possessions and moving to a commune or a Buddhist monastery (although though I think both would be interesting experiences, if in different ways), or contemplating any major life changes at the moment. I don’t need a midlife crisis, really. But I’ve made some decisions about how I pursue certain goals, and how many of them I’m pursuing at any given time in favour of as much time with my kids as I can possibly get in whatever activities they’re willing to participate in.

I like to think I’m a fairly involved dad, but at the same time I feel like it’s never enough. How often do you stop and say, “Why am I doing this right now? What would be a better way to spend my time?” I’ve been doing that a lot lately, and I find that while I profess to be all about family, there are times when mine is around and I’m doing something by myself that doesn’t involve any of them.

This is not what I want.

So, more geocaching, more karate, more anime, more audio work and podcasting, more video games, more movie making, more football, more paintball, and more of whatever other things I can drag them away from the computer with (that includes my trying to become a pro gamer son). Okay, more shared housework and chores, too—stuff’s gotta get done, after all.

But also probably less writing and related activities. I’ve written before that suffering for your art is not a bad thing, but making other people suffer for your art just makes you a jerk (or perhaps some other word that rhymes with grass mole). Things that are solely for me can now only be done when they aren’t around or are sleeping (because it’s my night off and I’m on nights).

Not as bad as you might think, though. I have breaks at work, days off when they’re in school, commuting time (I can dictate), and a few other odd moments here and there. I’ll still get things done in a creative vein, but I’m not going to be firing on all cylinders on everything at once. Writing goals wiped clean on a word count basis. The goal is now to finish whatever project is on the top of the list.

There is now a top secret list of the order of priorities for my own creative work. Gone are the days of working on five or six things at once. I’m going to try one at a time for a while, which is going to be really tough for me, but will probably be good for me too. Blog posts go on a separate list. Yup, more of those than there have been in the last month or so.

My new word: focus.

Focus, grasshopper, you need focus.

Be well everyone.

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Cosplay Prep

Cosplay Prep

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Totally forgot to post this, so it seems a little off now that the Con is over. I’ve added a couple of notes here and there. Pictures in a post I’ll be uploading in a few minutes.

 

Many months back, my oldest daughter and I decided to go to Ad Astra, a (mostly) literary Science Fiction and Fantasy convention held in Toronto, a planned awesome father-daughter weekend. More recently, she decided that maybe, since we’re going to cosplay for Anime North in May, we should consider putting together something for Ad Astra as well. This sparked the interest of my youngest daughter (I only have two), who began to wonder if she’d like to come along. After going through the programming list with her, and after she sucked up to her sister a bit, it’s now a father-daughters weekend. (And was completely awesome. See my last post.)

And after trips to a variety of thrift stores and other places, we’ve now got a pile of stuff we’re supposed to be turning into steampunk outfits. And the con starts Friday (this was written on the Monday before). And I’m out of days off. I am, however, on nights so I have some afternoon time. We’ll finish up what we need to in the nick of time, I think, as long as the bronze paint dries on my gloves.

I’m using the word steampunk fairly loosely, too because I’m not all that interested in labels, really. The point of the cosplay is not to strictly adhere to an imagined aesthetic, however cool, it’s about bonding with my daughters and doing something fun. We went shopping. We mixed things together. We’ve sewn, hot glued, spray painted, and made jewelry modifications (fiddly damned stuff and those miniature pliers don’t really make things easier).

Net result: we each have a nerfpunk gun (pictures forthcoming) and we each have a costume (actually, I sort of have 2, pictures of all of us also forthcoming).

Are we done? Probably not.

Are we ready for the con? Who knows?

But it doesn’t matter if we are or not. We’ve had fun, and we’re going to have a great time next weekend. We are still trying to hammer out a schedule for the convention. There are three of us, after all, and I’m not giving my girls completely free run of the hotel.

{And now we just need to worry about our Soul Eater cosplay for Anime North.}

Be well, everyone.

 

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Top 10 Ad Astra 2013 Moments

Top 10 Ad Astra 2013 Moments

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My daughters and I went to the Ad Astra SF convention in Toronto (technically Markham, but it’s attached) last weekend and we had an awesome time. A busy weekend filled with geeky goodness. We spent most of the weekend in costume (all of it in the case of my oldest daughter while the younger daughter and I took half of Sunday off), so I didn’t get a lot of pictures. Hoping that someone is going to post some, but frequent Google searches haven’t come up with much yet. Hint, hint. (A handful of pics in a slideshow here, including one of us with my head cut off, and a video recap here, which we do appear in briefly.)

But with any experience, there are bits that stand out and I thought I’d share a few of those in brief.

  1. Stepping onto the stage with my daughters at the Masquerade so they (okay, we, but I stood in the back even though they made me go first) could show off their costumes to the waiting crowd.
  2. Heather Dale holding us in the room after the Masquerade to start the concert with a beautiful, vocal only version of “Mordred’s Lullaby”, standing up out of the audience to root us all to the spot and letting me know I’m maybe not quite as done with the Arthurian mythos as I’d thought I was.
  3. Talking my daughters into a posing session for a group of artists in our Steampunk cosplay, letting ourselves (and not fooling myself at all, mostly them because they’re far cuter than I am) be drawn in a variety of poses.
  4. After the posing session, having the artist GOH, Scott Caber who has far more major credits than they could list in the program, pull us aside to finish his sketches of my girls, sign them, and give them to us.
  5. Discovering two new anime series with my youngest then sharing them with her older sister. For reference, Ore Shura and Kotoura-san, and I recommend them both to any anime fan. The latter, in fact, is going to “appear” in the first episode of the Cyborg Bunnies Review.
  6. Meeting up again with two friends I made at World Fantasy last year, and being so absolutely and completely happy to do so and that I’d met them in the first place.
  7. Being privileged that both of those friends (who are both authors) allowed us to interview them for the podcast that we haven’t quite launched yet (but it’s close!).
  8. The poke in the brain Tanya gave me (not that she knew it at the time) to get back to my Japanese lessons. I’ve misplaced the bulk of what I have learned and need to fix that.
  9. My oldest daughter winning what she had to compete for at the Art Auction.

10. Realizing that both of my girls actually wanted to hang out with me for the entire weekend.

Okay yes, that’s really more than ten moments, but feel free to make your own list. There were a lot more besides, in panels, at the Pacific Mall, in the dealer’s room and just hanging out in the halls. Ad Astra 2013 was a great time, and I think we’ve decided we’re going back next year. It was a lot of fun and everyone who can should come join us.

Be well, everyone.

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A Podcast? Really?

A Podcast? Really?

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So we all know I’ve been thinking about podcasting for a long time. Over the second half of 2012, I did a lot of research and listening to podcasts about podcasting, and generating ideas for different things I might like to do. I’m pretty much ready to jump in and get started, planning some fiction and something just for fun. I expected curve balls as I get things ready, but I didn’t expect one quite so soon: my oldest daughter came to me out of the blue and said she wanted to do a podcast together.

Within an hour, we’d sat down and worked out what we wanted to podcast about, generated enough content ideas for a dozen episodes with no sign of slowing down, and started on a list of possible names. Wow.

The naming of a podcast is a big deal. It needs to reflect the content you’re producing in some way, and it needs to say something about you as the host(s) as well. However, this isn’t about me. It’s about my daughter and me. It needs to be fun for her and therefore make her happy, so the name of the podcast is whatever she wants it to be.

And she wants it to be “Cyborg Bunnies”.

Believe it or not, it works.

We brainstormed names for almost an hour, starting with things like “Family Geek Adventures” and “Mel & Dad Geek Out”, and getting gradually stranger and sillier. She turned up her nose at the first few serious suggestions, telling me the name needed to be fun and random, since the podcast would be. So they got gradually got stranger and more random, and “Cyborg Bunnies” is where we wound up.

We’ve discussed the need for artwork, an e-mail address, and hosting, and we’re fleshing out something like a structure for the show. Not too much of a structure, mind you, but ideas for a variety of segments to mix and match with using the Wheel of Random™.

Yes, this may affect my creative goals for the year. There’s only so much time in any given day/week/month. So what? Those goals are arbitrary benchmarks set by me, and this is something one of my children wants to do (and another wants to guest star on once in a while). That makes it a far higher priority than any story, novel, or self publishing venture. I can adjust my goals, especially for my kids.

Plus it’s going to be a heck of a lot of fun. Maybe people will even listen, but we’re not all that worried about that.

For now, I need to go make a list of extra equipment I’ll need so that two of us can record at once. Another microphone, a mixer…

Be well, everyone.

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A Quick Writing Update

A Quick Writing Update

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So I haven’t blogged much lately, but I have been getting some stuff done. Christmas, mostly, but a little bit of writing and related activities as well.

I’ve done most of the pre-writing I want to do for Dreams of Freedom and expect to start writing it somewhere between now and Christmas. The story is taking shape pretty well in my head and I hope that’s a good thing. Previous experience with detailed plotting has had me lose interest pretty quickly once I start writing. I’m usually better off only plotting three or four chapters ahead at most. Trying things a little differently this time, so we’ll see how it works.

I might have mentioned “Klaatu Barada Nikto, Baby!” somewhere, probably on Twitter. It’s a long novelette (or possibly short novella) pulling several ancient SF clichés together with a character who can only speak in slightly mangled SF TV and movie quotes. This is from an idea I had at least five years ago, and even wrote a little bit of at the time. The story has shifted but character never went away and I feel like it’s finally time to tell Klaatu’s story. So far, I’m about 6600 words in and feel like I’m at the midpoint, but we all know how good I am at projecting story length lately.

A couple of years ago, I wrote Warforge: Caledonia, calling it a novel made up of three interlinked novellas. It was fun to write, had concepts and characters I enjoyed, and seemed pretty good at the time. I put it away for a couple of months after the first draft and didn’t like it when I pulled it out again. Fast forward a couple of years, and it’s not nearly as bad as I thought, but needs work. I spent a little bit of time untangling the novellas before reading through critically to make revision notes for each. As part of the process, I added notes at a high level to fill in what I perceived to be the missing bits. The project needs some significant changes and additions, totally 30-50,000 words at a guess. Which <counting on fingers> is going to put all three stories outside novella range and into short novel territory at 40-50k. And when do I plan on doing this? An excellent question. Yes, I’m crazy.

You might have heard me complain on Twitter that I was having trouble with a story I intended to submit to an anthology. Well, I didn’t submit it and not because the story didn’t turn out well (I think it did), but because I beat the high end of the submission guidelines by 2,000 words. Natural Order has gone through two more drafts, and is better for both, but still comes in at just over 6,800 words. Considering my rough estimate for the original story was for 3.5-4k, that’s still on the long side. And I didn’t submit it; not because it wasn’t done on time (it could have been, but I let things go when it became clear I had no possibility of coming in under the max word count), but because I couldn’t justify to myself even asking the editors if they’d still like to see it. “Hey, I know your guidelines say you’d like things around 3-3.5k and will look at things up to 5, but my story is so good you should give it the space you’re planning to devote to two other stories.” Sure, that’ll go over well.

Perhaps it’s a sign of encroaching middle age, but I’m finally committing to keyboard some of the philosophical thoughts I’ve slowly developed over the course of almost forty-two years on this planet. I don’t expect them all to remain static, but there are a lot of small points I seem to feel the need to make more concrete. The Book of Lance so far contains about 2,000 words worth of point form notes. Eventually, it will encompass 40-ish short chapters. I don’t intend it for public consumption, but who knows.

So that’s what I’ve been up to in the last few weeks, aside from work, family, and getting Christmas organized (it’s a slam dunk this year, if I do say so myself).

Be well, everyone.

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Vacation Plans: November 2012

Vacation Plans: November 2012

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So as of yesterday, I’m on a two week vacation, not returning to work until Monday, November 12th, and I’ve got, as one or two of my kids might say, a crap tonne of stuff to get done.

Aside from World Fantasy Convention in Toronto from the 1st to the 4th of November, about which more (probably a lot more) over the next few days, I have a pretty big To Do list. This includes:

  1. Pounding out some serious new wordage. For every day I’m not at WFC, I’m looking for at least 1500 words of new fiction plus a blog post as often as I can manage.
  2. Doing a lot of editing. Setting aside at least an hour every day specifically for editing one of the three Warforge novellas I wrote last year. Revision notes are already accomplished. Long past time I made these fit to read so I can get to the next piece of the story.
  3. Finish planning on what I’m calling the Small Realities Indie Publishing Experiment. This is also past due, and part of my overall 5-year publishing plan, that I’ve also roughly planned.
  4. Record the raw audio for at least four short stories. And I even have them picked out. Yes, I’m finally going to start podcasting some of my fiction, as I’ve been promising myself I’d do for the last couple of years. The raw audio for two stories is already complete and one just needs a little second pass editing to make sure my retakes are good.
  5. Get as many as twenty stories out into the wild looking for home. This is, more or less two submissions per day for the days I’m available, and, I’ll be honest, that’s still well under half of what I have ready to go. I haven’t been good at submitting the last two years, for various reasons. In fact, I didn’t submit anything anywhere in 2011. That’s changing now.
  6. Get a full web site under way. I have the domains I want. I have a rough vision. Why the heck haven’t I gotten off my butt to get some web hosting?
  7. Gather up all the scraps of poetry lying around and turn it into electrons before I lose any of it. I wrote poetry on whatever is handy. The problem is I don’t always manage to get it into the computer. Some of it is decent and I’d like to hold onto it if I can.

That’s the creative list, and it seems pretty ambitions. Always aim high. But there’s other stuff to get done, too, a lot of other stuff.

  1. Finish Fall Cleaning. We’ve been trying to reclaim the house from ten years of life with children since we moved in at the end of 2002. It’s been a long hard slow, but with the exception of one room upstairs (see #2 in this list), the first and second floors of the house are pretty much reclaimed.
  2. Repair and paint Gamer Boy’s room. There are a couple of large holes, currently covered by framed posters, in one of Gamer Boy’s walls. These happened, and I think I’ll leave out how to protect the not-so-innocent, not long after we bought the paint. I’ll be supervising the repair job and will have some significant assistance from Gamer Boy for the paint job.
  3. Paint the master bedroom. A secondary task, if Gamer Boy’s room gets completed quickly enough. We bought the paint at the same time.
  4. Ease back into running. The last time I tried to get back to running didn’t work out so well. I forgot the cardinal rule: Take it Easy. Result, again, over stressed hamstrings and a calf that made me limp for three weeks and probably took twice as long to heal. I’m going to try again. Slowly, with the objective of being able to run a nice, relaxing 5 km by the end of the year.
  5. Finish the medium and long term financial planning. This has been a goal for a while, and we’re making some serious progress. For the short term, we need to learn to stick to the budget we set. For the long term, we need to figure out just what our goals are and plot an annually updatable path to reach them. Long past due.
  6. All the standard household chores. Too numerous to list and everyone has their own anyway, so how interesting would that be?
  7. All of the numerous errands and chauffeur duties that come with having three kids.

More than enough to fill two weeks of time, wouldn’t you say? Especially since there are four days more or less completely spoken for by World Fantasy Convention.

I’d better get busy.

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Dancing With The Dark Side

Dancing With The Dark Side

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(This post originally appeared as a guest post on Chocolate Scotch, a blog run by Sue Baiman in early August. I encourage everyone to check out the huge variety of thoughts on creativity posted there.)

There are far more ways to express yourself through art or craft or science than there are people. I’d go so far as to say that everyone is creative in some way. It’s something inherent in human nature, though not everyone allows that part of themselves to peak at the outside world, and only a few of us allow our creativity anything approaching free rein. Still, whether we consider ourselves creative or not, we all think of creativity as one of the most positive traits someone can possess.

So why do we have a cultural cliché in the tortured artist? Why do we feel on some level that we have to suffer or sacrifice for our art?

If creativity is a mostly positive thing, it also has its issues, moments that threaten the act of creation and sometimes your life beyond it.

Creativity has a dark side.

The Next Project

You’re in the middle of a project you love—a novel, a screenplay, a painting—something fun, exciting, and going very well. Creative energy burns through you, desperate to be turned loose, impossible to contain. A new idea sprouts in the back of your mind, something you can look forward to doing when you’ve finished. It’s new, it’s exciting, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.

It’s the Next Project, and it isn’t content to wait in the back of your mind until you can give it the attention it deserves. The Next Project considers the Current Project competition, and it will demand more and more of your mental attention until you reach the point where you’d rather abandon the Current Project and start on the Next Project.

I’ve written 1/3 to 1/2 of at least five novels, and I don’t know how many short stories, this way. Yes, I have every intention of getting back to each of them someday, but there will always be a Next Project to distract me and as each abandoned story falls farther into the past it also falls farther down the priority list.

But I’ve found a way to counter this dark side manoeuvre, to scratch the mental itch. And it seems so obvious, so absurdly easy, I’d like to smack myself in the back of the head for not thinking of it years sooner.

Work on the Next Project, but only a little teeny bit, or in a way that makes it different, or both. Spend ten or fifteen minutes a day on the new thing. Maybe with a pencil and paper instead of the keyboard. Slower, yes, but it lets you keep your focus on the primary project at the same time.

The best of both worlds? Always up for debate, but it helps.

No Means, Well, Um…

Okay, so maybe you can work on more than one project at a time. Lots of people can and do. Variety is nice, but just how many major projects can you have going at the same time and still make any real headway on any of them? It’s easy to take on too much. Believe me, I know.

And it isn’t always self-inflicted. Sometimes people come to you. You may have discovered this law of nature in your day job, but it crops up in the creative world, too: the reward for good work is more work.

Someone really liked a story of yours they read in an anthology last year so asks you to submit to theirs. That voice work you did in your cousin’s podcast was great—and could you do this major character in my thirty-episode audio drama? The blanket you knitted for the new baby next door was beautiful. My sister’s having triplets…would you mind?

And sometimes it’s got nothing to do with you. The universe is sneaky and underhanded, and it will throw things at you to suck up all of the time you thought you had. Voilà! You’re overcommitted. And there are deadlines, and you fall behind, and your stress level goes up…

When you get a new idea, it’s easy to give it some time to see where it takes you. When someone comes to you to ask for your creative help, it’s easy to say yes. It feels good on both counts: getting things done and doing things for other people.

But when you’ve taken on so much that you can’t get anything done, whatever the reason and whether or not there are deadlines attached, you’ve got a problem: you can’t get anything done. For someone who needs to be creative in some way, this is nothing short of torture.

There’s a deceptively simple solution. Be honest. Both to yourself and to the people you’ve already committed something to. Prioritize and explain those priorities. And don’t be afraid to admit that the universe has thrown you a series of curve balls. Be as open as you feel you can be.

And if someone asks you to do something that really excites you, don’t say no, at least not outright. Ask them to ask you again in a few months, if the offer is still open, or drop them a quick line when you’ve caught up a little.

Honesty is still the best policy. It’s not always the easiest though, even with yourself.

Stealing Time

You’ll run across the advice sometimes that you should steal time from other parts of your life to pursue the creative endeavours that are so important to you. Take the laptop to bed with you, take a notebook to your daughter’s soccer game or your son’s karate lesson, and your boss certainly won’t mind if you do a little of your own thing on company time. Steal the minutes wherever you can and be as productive as you can with them.

Creativity’s dark side is whispering directly into your soul. There’s a huge difference between making time and stealing time.

Suffering a little for your art—giving up a few hours a week of TV or video games, or that thing you used to really love doing on Saturday morning that’s now far more like a chore than something fun, anyway—can improve your art, or at least the value and focus you place on it. Making other people suffer for your art just makes you a jerk, especially if those other people are your family and actually like having you around.

This is a hard lesson. The real world is very important.

Without Darkness, There Can Be No Light

Which isn’t the same as saying you should wallow in the darkness looking for a spark to clear it all away. You don’t need to succumb to the dark side to learn how to defeat it. You only need to watch out for the potential pitfalls your passion to create can lead you to.

Each of these things I’ve had to learn the hard way, and I’ve had to relearn them, too. More than once, and I’m probably not done with the lessons yet. There’s always more to learn, and more to create.

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