Friday, October 28, 2011

Birthday Nostalgia and Official Lameness

On Wednesday I was at work and was called into the kitchen/lounge. My first thought was why is everybody here? My second thought was hey, there's a cake. My last thought was Hey, it's my birthday this week!

So, yes, I forgot it was my birthday this week. I have reached the gloriously wise age of 34! Which is a lot like 33, only bigger. And better. Everybody knows 34 is where it's happenin'.

But, yeah... I sort of forgot my birthday. It's possible this qualifies me for Official Lamenss and Old Fogeydom. Old Fogeydom strikes everyone at a different time, and never strikes some people. But apparently it has struck me at the keen age of 34.

Which makes me sort of nostalgic for childhood, for the sheer joy of birthdays. My daughter was so excited, and gave me a huge hug, and said she loved me, and then went and made me a car out of cardboard and paper for a present. Which is probably as close as I'll get to my birthday request of a Mini Cooper. And her excitement made me excited, but... sort of vicariously. It's odd, in that I now look forward to my kids' birthdays, but forget my own.

It makes me wonder where that birthday joy goes. I suppose it just gets transmuted and transferred. I remember, though, as a kid, the excitement of it, an excitement that was sometimes grander than the event itself. I remember going with my best friend, Tyler, to rent some movies for my birthday. Actually, we were going to rent a VCR (or was it a Beta?), because this would have been 1983 or 1984, and in those days that's what you did. Only aliens and officially lucky folk had video players in their own homes.

I was six or seven, Tyler a year older. We were excited. My friends were gonna come over. Games, sports, food, cake. And movies! Rock on. We wanted something exciting, a blast of action that would match the excitement and adrenaline of a birthday, that greatest of things. Sci-fi, we thought! Like Return of the Jedi! Oh yeah!

We selected Tron.

Yes, the original Tron.

Let us say that this did not turn out to be the movie that these young boys were hoping for, or expected. Let us also say that the lightsaber action was somewhat limited. Let us also say, in conclusion, that this particular room full of puzzled six- and seven-year-olds did not finish watching the glory that was Tron.

There was disappointment.

And yet there was still that birthday joy. We went outside, and it was one of those glorious fall days. Blue sky, piles of coloured leaves on the ground, that crisp, musky scent of autumn lingering everywhere. You could almost taste Halloween, like a touch of pumpkin on the tongue.

We played sports. We screwed around, bugged each other, laughed. My different groups of friends came together and everyone got along (in fact, years later, some of these guys from different groups would meet in high school, recognize each other from those long ago birthday parties, and become best friends themselves). And, of course, there was a gluttony of G.I. Joe figures, Transformers, pizza, and cake.

There was something irrepressible about a birthday back then. Now I'm not even certain what I want to do on my birthday. Favourite meal? Who knows. All I know is that I would like to see my kids, to see a bit of that irrepressible joy reflected from their eyes. Even though "34 years old" probably seems like a description of the age of mountains or oceans. "When I was young, there was no summer, and winter reigned all year, and we lived in tunnels beneath the ice, and then God made North America and invented the donut..."

I find myself nostalgic for the past. Yet, when I woke up this morning, I came downstairs with my kids. I made myself a coffee. My daughter hugged me. (I changed a diaper, but we'll ignore that part.) Beautiful reds and oranges littered the eastern horizon, limned with a sharp and slanted morning yellow. Tufts of fog lingered, woven through the greenery and haunting the hollows between the fields. The grass was white and sharp with frost.

And watching this, sipping coffee, my kids at my side, I realized that life was pretty damn good.

Tron or no Tron.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Promotions, Pneumonia, Charity, and the Blogging Experience

Perhaps you noticed the static on my blog the last few days? That silence is indicative of an interesting week. For one, I was promoted at work, and I am now the Senior Editor at the wonderful editorial company where I spend so many hours of my week. It's a very pleasing promotion, but it does mean more responsibility and more work. Also, a shift change, with my work days switching from Thursday-Sunday to Sunday-Wednesday, which means I actually have a weekend day off. Break out the potato chips and Manchester United football. But... more work. More hours.

How will this affect the blog? I have no idea! But I'm not too worried. Nathan Bransford and Natalie Whipple started a trend of posts discussing blogging burnout over the last week, as well as discussions on how and why people blog. Apparently: Full-time blogging is hard work! And not always so profitable! Scaling back is okay!

Which is great. Because I scaled back the day I started. Three cheers for a lack of blogging ambition!

Seriously, though, I think it's kind of interesting to see a swing toward doing what you want, in terms of the ol' blog, and doing it when you want it. I've always been selfish like that, and when you throw in my laziness, as well, it's just a great mix.

I think part of the reason the shift seems to be happening is because blogs don't work quite the way that people thought they worked. I think the assumption a lot of writers had was that they were supposed to do this, and it was going to be networking, and building a big platform, and in a few months they'd have a huge following and agents and editors would want to snap up their work when they queried.

But I think there's a sort of fishbowl effect in the writing-blog world. It's self-contained. And, even in this fishy little world, it's hard to build followers. Even the most fabulous blogs, by people who are really good at social networking, usually only have about a thousand followers or so. And this isn't going to sell a publisher a lot of books (though they might like the proactive stance). And this problem is accentuated by the fact that blogging writers are mostly writing to blogging writers. In other words, people just like themselves, who are trying to do just the same thing - not exactly the target audience. The problem is that, in general, the blogs don't actually reach the readers who would be buying the books (at least pre-publication).

So: vast amounts of networking work; little direct payoff; and a slow growth of followers. It's a bit like self-publishing: if you want to take this route, you really need to embrace it. Embrace all of it, even the icky parts, and be willing to invest time and copious amounts of blood. Sweat and tears will be there, but invisible beneath all the blood. Lots of blood.

A lot of writers, however, simply don't have that sort of time. I don't. Busy work schedule, three small kids, my own writing - endless platform building and selling is out. If I get a book published, there would be time for targeted promotion, likely, but endless pre-publication platform building? No time. And, frankly, no inclination.

And blogs really aren't all that great for this, anyway. But what they are good for is making connections within that fishbowl writing community. It's not a platform network, but a social network.

I think blogs are relevant in the connections you can make with people. Because, yes, it is a fishbowl, but we're not the only fish swimming around in there. It's nice to find little schools of fellow writers to swim around with, and occasionally bum a critique off.

There's an organic quality about this, a sense of shared experience that I like, which is so much better than the vast babelish tower of a mechanical platform used for shouting mercantile propaganda. I think, if it's organic and true, blogs can become connected with your life; they become part of you.

Part of the reason I haven't blogged the last few days is because my daughter has pneumonia. Life intrudes. It always does, and perhaps it always should. On Friday, my daughter went to the hospital to have some dental work done under anesthesia. First, she didn't react well to the Versed (mazilopam). Pliable and happy! No! Anxious and hysterical! Yes! And then, apparently, when under full anesthesia, my six-year-old girl aspirated.

This led us back to the Emergency Room on Sunday night, with a little girl who had delusional fevers, continuous vomiting, headache, body aches, nausea, and dizziness. We carried a bucket, and people shrank away from us in the waiting room. But, because of the fever and the possible anesthetic complications, they emergency staff got us in quickly. Chest x-rays showed pneumonia.

Better to discover this sooner than later, however, and the antibiotics have worked wonders. But no blogging was to be had.

And this is a good thing. I think when you force things on a blog it simply becomes a weight. You're in that fishbowl, and it seems that you're being dragged to the bottom, down to that sparkly gravel where the rotten bits of food and fishcrap are lying around. Not so good.

Better to write what you want, and write it when you want it - write in when you need it. Find what works. I think the blog will then reflect you better, and the writing will be more beneficial. Because that's what I truly like about the blog: the writing. Because writing something is not the same as thinking it. There's a clarity and completeness that comes with writing something; the writing demands it. What was a vague thought, something felt or intuited, becomes something concrete and real, something worked-out and solid. In the end, I suppose, I write the blog for me, as a way to work out my own thoughts on the page, to find that moment of clarity.

My blog is useful, first and foremost, to me. But if I'm writing what's useful to me, hopefully this can translate, and others might find it useful for them, too. Because blogs can work wonders. Help yourself and you'll help others; help others and you help yourself. Make a few connections. Who knows what might happen? You might help another writer in writing something great. Or you might help fund a health clinic on the far side of the world. Sometime today there will be a critique by me up for sale over at the Rejectionist's. Please check it out, if you have the time. Sometimes blogs can do good.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Words: Spend Them or Hoard Them?

I think there's a tendency for writers to be miserly with their words. A good sentence is like found gold; it should be locked away in the vault, and used only at the right time.

It seems like a lot of writers feel they only have a certain number of good words coming to them. This is only natural, perhaps. Good lines seem to fall from heaven, at times, appearing mysteriously on dove-like wings. Here! A gift! Just for you! It's normal to squirrel it away. Save it up. To write only when the really good words come.

Except this can be damaging sometimes. We tiptoe around the precious words, scared to upset them, scared to bring them out in the open where we might lose them. I can't spend this great line in a blog comment, can I? Hardly anyone will see it, and then it will be gone with barely a ripple left behind! No, I shall write something simple in the comment box, and I'll save up this little beauty for some time when I can really use it, sometime when it will really shine.

But I don't think good words work like that. Writing is more like exercise. The more you do, the stronger you get. Your prose is going to get leaner and better. And the more energy you expend, the more energy you'll have. Sort of a paradox. But the more good words you use, the more good words will come to you. Indeed, better words might even come to you. But only if you spend the good words first.

I think this is partly a matter of simple confidence, or rather the balance of confidence against fear. Perhaps it's normal to think "What if the good words stop coming? What if this is it? I shall save this precious sentence..." Writers fear the well running dry.

And I think this depends partly on how we see the words coming to us. Does a muse send in singing telegrams? Well, what if the muse stops? What if we offend that muse, and the muse decides to send down sweet words to your neighbor, Chuck? What if Chuck gets the publishing contract?

I think it can help if you see the writing as work, and the words as a little heavy lifting. Work hard, lift a few more... and each time you'll get a little stronger. Each word you put out there will make you a better writer. Perhaps the change is infinitesmal and invisible. But it's there. It's been worked into the writing muscles. And the effort is cumulative.

No one gets up in the morning one day, without ever training, and goes out to run a marathon. They won't get far. But if the miles have been tracked into the legs every day, every day for months and years, then a marathon might be within reach. The feet have come to know the cement of the road.

So spend your words freely. The road is long, and you need to build up your strength.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Keyhole to the Future

Sometimes you just need to find that one key to fit in the keyhole of the future and unlock possibility. Sometimes you trip over that key, and sometimes you have to search for it. Sometimes it's been there the whole time and you never realized it. Part of the weirdness of life is that the key is almost always a surprise.

And, luckily for me, that's my wife in the picture.