Only As Good As My Word

A few days ago, in the middle of my shift, I got a call from my boss. “You need to go to Burnaby,” he told me, and from the tone of his voice I could tell he had his eyes squeezed shut and was rubbing his forehead, as he often does when something is frustrating him.

“Uh, okay,” I said. “Why?”

“The protests, man,” my boss said. “Burnaby needs help with the protests.”

For those of you who aren’t in British Columbia, there is a small matter of a bunch of very angry people on Burnaby Mountain, protesting a company called Kinder Morgan who is doing test drilling for oil. The protestors had blocked the oil company’s access to the test site, but a Supreme Court injunction ordered them to get out of the way and allowed the oil company to get back to work. This decision, predictably, had not been met with much acclaim and a few people were deeply upset with the whole deal.

Which is where I come in.

When I arrived at the protest site I was sent to “hold the line”, which, really, sounds a whole lot more exciting than it really is. By the time I showed up, everyone was pretty calm. I stood on the road, on one side of a line of police tape while a group of protestors stood on the other. As you can imagine, some of the people were pretty angry, and there were a lot of insults hurled in my direction. I was called Pig, Nazi, Fucking Fascist, Pillager of the Earth, Government Goon, and a Fucking Asshole. But that was a very, very small minority of the people there. For the most part, people asked questions – most of which I could not answer – filmed me with their cell phone cameras, and took selfies which I was happy to photo-bomb. The highlight of the experience was when a woman stood directly in front of me and sang me a folk song – and sang it bloody well, too – to “ease the violence in my soul.”

The song felt like a kind of gift, like she was giving me a piece of her personal story, and I was happy to receive it.

At one point during the proceedings, a young man with a sparse beard and rain splattered glasses stood in front of me, rocking back and forth on his heels. He grinned at me, and grinned back at him.

“Do you think what they’re doing here is right?” he asked me.

“I’m not convinced the oil company is right, and I’m not convinced you’re wrong,” I said.

“Then why are you here?” he asked.

I had to stop and think about that for a minute.

I can honestly say that I have never had to do anything in the course of my duty that I believed was wrong. I have never been called upon to undertake any action that sat in contradiction of my personal beliefs. Everything I have ever done, be it as simple as telling a group of revelers to keep the noise down, or as dramatic as arresting a man for murder, has always been what I believed to be right. It’s kind of like I get to be the hero of the story my life is writing around me.

When I’m dealing with people – usually when I’m depriving them of their liberty or issuing them some manner of punitive fine – I get questions like “Is your mother proud of you?” Generally I ignore such questions, but I felt like this young man, who was standing in the rain and looking at me with genuine interest, deserved an honest answer.

“It comes down to keeping my word,” I told him, after I’d thought for a few moments.

“How so?” he asked.

“When I finished training and was handed my badge, I had to take three oaths. One of those is the Oath of Office, which basically says that I am to uphold the laws of Canada. The Supreme Court issued an injunction saying the oil company can go back to work, and I have been sent here to uphold it. The Oath I took supersedes any personal beliefs I have about this particular event, and I’m only as good as my word.”

The young man looked at me for several breaths, then nodded. “I can accept that,” he said.

The two of us were separated by a uniform, a line of yellow police tape, a generation, and one very scraggly beard, but I felt like we reached an understanding.

As we were looking at each other, reaching an unspoken state of mutual respect and agreement to disagree, another young man, who was holding a sign that read “No Pipelines”, walked up and stared at me with undisguised hatred. “How do you live with yourself?” he asked.

Before I could respond, my spectacled young friend put his hand on the other man’s arm and shook his head. “No. Leave him alone. He’s gotta do his thing and we’ve gotta do ours.”

In the days since I have thought a lot about that conversation.

When I was a kid, I lived in a household where your word was your most valuable currency. My Father firmly believed that a man who could not abide by his given word was utterly useless. As I grew I came to understand what my old man was talking about as I saw myriad examples of people who both kept their word as seriously as any contract signed in blood, and those who cast their promises about as carelessly as a piece of well chewed bubble gum.

As a man, remembering the lessons of my father, I take my word – my oath- as a very serious thing. And as I stood across a yellow line from a young man holding fast for the cause he believed in whole-heartedly, I could see he felt his word just as valuable. Regardless of where he stands, whether it is in opposition to me or not, he believed that he was doing the right thing. And this gives me hope.

I have often lamented that the stories are disappearing from the world, or, as Roland the Gunslinger would say: The world is moving on. But if two men who are miles apart can both hold fast and keep their word, while coming together over a hard line, then I think I can stop worrying about the stories of the world. They are alive, and people like myself and the slim kid standing with me in the rain are going to tell them, and hopefully learn from each other.

Now, get to work, my fellow word warriors, there are young people out there who need to learn how to stand, and it’s up to us to teach them.

As always, thanks for reading.

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A Few Lessons Learned

Over the past year, writing has been hard. Despite the fact that I continually find small slices of inspiration and make declarations of a renewed work ethic, both in my head and on this blog, those small slices have been digested into nothing more than literary farts that will stink up even the most ventilated of rooms.

I do not profess that my life has been harder than anyone else’s, but I have found it heavy, and the rippling effect of those consistent stressors have served to rock the boat of my writing life. And for the life of me I cannot get the bloody thing to settle down and prevent me from puking over the side.

Today, I returned home from the Surrey International Writer’s Conference. After four days of professional development classes, long hours, late nights and large quantities of Scotch Whiskey, I feel vaguely like I’ve been drug through a knot-hole backwards. But with that exhaustion comes a sense of fulfillment. I’m not going to say my tank is full, or that I am completely energized and ready to do extraordinary things, because that is only going to be so much bullshit. But, without question, I have learned. And the lessons have been deep.

For those who have never been to SiWC, the board (well, specifically the coordinator, Kathy Chung) manages to convince some pretty heavy talent to show up. The classes are always fantastic, and I take something important away from them every year.

This year, for example, Chuck Wendig taught me that it is my duty as a writer to always be the best version of myself, and that sometimes writing can be compared to performing veterinary medicine on a surly animal. From Mary Robinette-Kowal I learned that if your book doesn’t have an emotional impact on you, you’re doing something wrong. And from Peter Rubie I learned that the most important part of storytelling was to figure out what it is that I wanted to say, then find a classy way to say it.

The most important lesson of all, though, came from a woman named Laura Bradbury. I have known Laura for many years, through previous attendance at the Surrey Writer’s conference. Laura has always been kind to me, and obviously talented, but in the past year her career has skyrocketed. The really amazing thing, besides the fact that she hit the top of Amazon’s bestsellers ranks, is that she built her career in the face of daunting adversity.

In her keynote speech this morning, Laura revealed that prior to her first novel being published, she was diagnosed with a rare auto-immune disorder. I cannot pronounce the name of her illness but the bottom line is that her survival depends on a liver transplant.

This little issue of her liver conking out makes all of my problems seem extremely manageable in comparison. I do not know exactly how I would behave in Laura’s circumstances, but I do not think I would have been able to do what she did, which was to persevere and succeed. After being diagnosed Laura wrote, then published her first book, “My Grape Escape”, which did phenomenally well, followed by its sequel.

During Laura’s keynote speech, I could not help but think of myself as a big sissy. I still believe the things I have faced over the last year have been difficult, and would test the mettle of anyone. But they are not insurmountable, and I have been allowing them to get in my way more than they should. If Laura could finish two books (and get a healthy start on a third) while considering the realities of her own mortality, then maybe I could pull up my boots and get back to work.

At the end of her address, Laura encouraged us to write bravely, to be word warriors, and to finish what we started. I think that is exactly what I should do.

As Chuck Wendig said: “Sometimes writing is easy, and sometimes it’s like performing an act of violent proctology on an angry goat.”

I think the important thing is to keep working, even on those days when your story wants to bash you with its ragged horns or kick you in the junk. Because no matter how bad things might suck, the stories still have to be told.

As always, thanks for reading.

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A Young Man’s Guide To Women

*Note* This is not a lesson on how to “Get” women. I have no idea how to “Get” a girl; I am already married to a girl who picked me up and dusted me off and made me presentable. Why did she do this? I don’t know, and I’m not about to go asking questions about a thing that is already good. Instead, these are my thoughts on how a man should behave concerning women.

When I was growing up I had a lot of influences on me that dictated the way I would view and treat women, but there were two sources that were of paramount importance: My Dad, and the stories I read.

Firstly, I learned by example, watching my Dad and the way he treated my mother. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a household devoid of violence. My Dad yelled a lot – I mean A LOT – but it was usually in a comical, ranting manner. He shouted at the television (specifically at hockey players), at the lawnmower, at the deer that ate the buds off his tomato plants, but it was very seldom that he ever yelled at me or my mother. I can count on one hand the times he ever struck me – usually he made me go and get the wooden spoon and bring it to him, which would have me flailing on the floor and begging for forgiveness, which he found to be a much more effective punitive form than actually hitting me – and he never, ever hit my mum.

My Dad believed that it was a failure of your manhood to hit a woman. He told me that it was okay to get mad, to argue, to disagree with your wife, but it was never okay to let that argument dissolve into violence. It was also never acceptable to resort to calling a woman names like “bitch” or “whore” or “slut”. Nor was it okay to touch a woman unless you had expressed permission to do so. My Dad loved the sight of a pretty girl – or, as he would put it, he appreciated a finely turned ankle – but if someone really caught his eye the most he would do was mutter, “Well, hello there,” under his breath and then carry on.

Another thing my Dad believed in was books – stories – and he encouraged me to read from a young age. The stories I read had almost as great an impact on my view of women as my observance of my father, which is fitting because I read many of the same books he did.

The authors I was most drawn to, mostly men in my younger days, always had a positive view of women, sex and love. From Stephen King I learned that love should be urgent and true, in the manner of Roland Deschain and Susan Delgado. From Jack Whyte I learned that women were fierce compatriots who had distinct voices that should be heeded by their men. As I read, and grew, I developed my own opinions – a personal code, if you will – based on the examples I witnessed. I came to believe that a man, a good man, must possess certain qualities and behave in a certain way.

As I look at young men, now, I worry. I worry that there is no one to teach them how to behave. I worry that they will not learn the lessons they need in order to be good men.

If you pay any attention to social media, you can see that I am not the only one who is worrying. We seem to live in an era where some people (men) believe that threatening female authors, artists and celebrities with rape and violence is an acceptable practice. There are regular examples of men turning the responsibility for sexual assault back on the victims, saying ridiculous things like “If she didn’t want to get raped, she should have protected herself.”

This has been said before, by people smarter than me, but I have to ask, “Are you fucking serious?” After working in law enforcement for over a decade, and investigating far too many instances of sexual assault, I can tell you something for certain: No victim of rape was ever “asking for it.”

The problem with the general attitude of men who perpetuate these ideas is a lack of education. Whether they had poor role models in their parents, or they watched too much bad television, or didn’t read enough stories when they were kids, there is a mass failure in the education of young men. There is a disconnect somewhere that leads them to believe that some of this misogynistic shit is okay. Believe me, it is not okay.

Towards the ends of education, I have put together a few guidelines on how I think men should behave towards women. This is by no means an exhaustive list, it is only a beginning, but it is a beginning that some young men just do not have, and I wish I could give it to them. If I had my way, I would sit down with every man between thirteen and thirty and make them listen to this.

Rule number one: Remember, women are people. You might think it really stupid for me to start with this, but I don’t think that some men actually get it. Women are living, breathing, thinking, feeling entities who have as much right to security and well-being as any man. Being born as a male does not give you the right to violate that personal security.

Rule number two: Conversation is good, harassment is not – know the difference. I think it is perfectly acceptable to approach a woman in public and try and strike up a conversation. Go ahead and talk to that girl in the book store, coffee shop or bar; tell her your name, ask her what she’s reading, offer to buy her a drink, you might even let her know that you think she’s pretty. You never know; that one “hello” might turn into something awesome for you both.

But learn how to interpret social cues. If you’re making her uncomfortable, or she outright asks you to leave her alone, excuse yourself and carry on. Rejection is part of the human experience – embrace it – it is not reason to get mad, throw a tantrum and start hurling insults. Just because one particular person doesn’t want to talk to you, does not mean your entire life is a failure. And, really, if a woman gets mad at you for trying to talk to her, you probably didn’t want to talk to her anyway.

Rule number three: Keep your hands to yourself. The right to personal security means the right to not get groped. No matter what a woman is wearing, it is not an implied invitation for physical contact. Yes, there will be situations where physical contact is permitted, and even encouraged, but if you don’t know a woman I’m gonna suggest that grabbing her butt is a really bad idea.

Have a sense of personal space. Respect boundaries. Even if you think physical contact might be acceptable, if a woman tells you not to touch her, there should be no questions. It should not be a debate. If a woman says, “Don’t touch me,” your response should be “Okay.”

Rule number four: Violence, and threats of violence, are not acceptable. Working in law enforcement, I see a lot of violence. While sometimes the reverse is true, I most often see men assault women, and I’m talking like a ten to one ratio. Just to be clear: This is not okay. This is never okay. Like my Dad said, it is okay to disagree, it’s okay to argue, but resorting to violence is a failure.

Another trend I see so often is threats via social media, a recent example of which is the threats of rape and violence made to Emma Watson. To me, this is the height of cowardice; for a man, or group of men, to threaten a woman via the internet, where they cannot be held to account for their actions, is the very height of cowardly ridiculousness.

If you disagree with something someone said, I think it is okay to express your disagreement. But I also think you should do it in a reasonable, rational manner. Saying you’re going to rape a woman because you didn’t like her book/video game/statement is not rational. It is cruel, and stupid, and hateful and you should be ashamed of yourself.

If you really don’t like something someone has to say, don’t listen. Don’t buy their book, or play their video game, or read their blog. You can exercise free will and go do something else. Expressing your opinion through hate, misogyny and threats will not make anyone listen to you, it will make them think you are an asshole.

Being a man is not a matter of the gender you are born with. If you are born with a penis, that makes you male; being a man is something more. It is up to each of us to dictate our own behaviour – to develop our own code – and decide what makes a good man.

Each of us will have different experiences growing up. We won’t all have the same role models, read the same stories, get the same education. But I can’t help but thinking that if young men read a little more, thought a little more, felt a little more, that we wouldn’t have to keep having these conversations. The things we keep fighting for, the ideals we keep presenting, would already be the norm.

So, write a story, or read a story, and then think about it. You might learn something.

As always, thanks for reading.

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Everything I need to know about Life I learned from Conan the Barbarian.

“Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.” – Robert E Howard

When I was about six years old, my elder cousin, Mike, had been sentenced to watch me for the afternoon. As I was trailing on his heels around the house, and he continually referred to me as a ‘Willnot’ (a piece of shit stuck to the hair on his ass that ‘will not’ come off), he was at a loss for ways to keep me entertained and out of his hair.

Finally, he dug into a box in his room and produced a tattered stack of old comic books. “Here, Willnot,” he said. “Make yourself scarce for a while.”

I sifted through the stack, finding the standard mid-1980’s superheroes shouting various slogans denouncing evil, Russia and bad economics. But in the middle, with the cover half torn off, was a really old copy of “The Savage Sword of Conan.”

Within half a dozen pages I was hooked. The idea of a dour, hulking warrior who always did the right thing, always conquered his foes – be they man or demon – and always got the girl, appealed immensely to a six year old me (who was short, chubby and often bullied). I read every page of that comic a dozen times over, then convinced my Dad to take me to a used bookstore in town, where I could pick up more copies for ten cents each.

“I don’t think your mother will like it very much if I let you get these, Squirt,” my dad said.

“But, Dad, it’s Conan!”

“Why isn’t he wearing any pants?” my dad asked as he flipped through the pages of an issue. “Why isn’t anyone in this thing wearing pants?”

“Cause it’s Conan!”

He sighed and dropped the issues on the cash counter. “If you tell your mother I bought them for you, I’ll kick your ass til your head rattles.”

I went home with my stash like a mongrel dog that’s scored a chicken leg, and hid in my room for the rest of the day, poring over the pages of the tomes as though they were the lost wisdom of the ages. Instead of sating my hunger for the mighty thews of my hero – and sword wielding girls in chain-mail bikinis – my new reading material only served to make it worse.

I progressed from the little comic-book rack issues, to the bigger, more adult black and white versions. From there I moved into the mid-1980’s pulp novels by writers like L. Sprague de Camp and Robert Jordan. I absorbed the original Arnold Schwarzenegger movies from the 1980’s like they were going out of style (and still watch them every time they air on AMC, much to my wife’s dismay). Then, finally, like a wayward son coming home, I eventually found my way to the original 1930’s era stories by the creator of Conan, Robert E Howard.

The journey took me from the early days of my childhood, where I really had to concentrate on the little white bubbles to figure out what Conan was shouting at his enemies, and constantly ask my dad the meaning of words (like ‘cur’ and ‘entranced’). But as I look back on it now, it was a journey that had a fairly heavy influence not just on the way I write, but on the way I think of men and how they should behave.

Conan was a very one-dimensional character, and likely wouldn’t hold up in today’s era of conflicted, ‘Grimdark’ fantasy where you can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys, as is the author’s intention. But at his bloody, broadsword swinging, ale guzzling, kingdom conquering knee I learned a few immutable rules of manhood.

Never back down from a fight, unless you’re horribly outnumbered, then run like hell. Conan was a Barbarian. Not an idiot. During the course of the stories you could see him exercise things like common sense, and diplomacy, and reason. He was an educated individual who paid attention to the things around him, could speak several languages, and adopted and adhered to the customs of whatever country he was in. Unless he was being tried in court…then he had a tendency to cleave the Judge. From this I learned that even tough guys knew it was good to learn new things and it was okay to read books, as long as you picked up your sword and worked your arm once in a while.

If it bleeds, you can kill it. While he knew when it was a good idea to run when the odds were ridiculous, you never saw Conan give up. If he was backed into a corner, whether it was by a man, a group of men, a demon, a giant snake, a dragon, or a monkey in a red cloak, Conan would fight like mad and resort to biting someone’s face off if he had to. While I never bit anyone’s face off, I learned resilience. I learned that sometimes you had to put your back up against a wall and refuse to give any more ground.

The best women are the ones who might stab you. While Conan loved women, and did a lot of fornicating, he always treated women well and was never the ravager, and wouldn’t stand by while another man forced himself upon a woman. Robert E Howard also seemed to put special emphasis on women who were Conan’s partner, who wielded a sword with as much vigor as Conan himself. Characters like Valeria and Belit the pirate, who stood back to back with Conan fighting off one demon or another, taught me that, while a woman should be cherished and protected, she should also be considered an equal and part of your team. Like Conan, the best women in my life have always been the ones who challenged me and pushed me to do better. I’ve learned to respect the team aspect of a relationship and seek out a woman that would fight for me just as much as I’m willing to fight for her (which is how I ended up with a pretty Polish girl who might punch me in the throat if I really get out of line). You can rest assured that Conan wouldn’t stand about while some troll on the internet threatened a female author with rape because he didn’t like her opinion. Conan wouldn’t stand for it, and I don’t think any other man should either.

It’s no fun hitting someone who can’t hit back. Conan wasn’t above stabbing a man for paying him an insult, but you never saw Conan pick any fights that didn’t need to be picked; like when he saw some ‘cur’ slapping around a barmaid or picking on a street urchin. In typical good-guy fashion, Conan stood up for people who couldn’t stand up for themselves. Whether it was a wayward traveller who had been set upon by rogues, or a princess whose kingdom had been usurped by an evil wizard, Conan was willing to bend his steel towards a worthy cause. While I don’t often (ever) stab people, I’ve done my best to mark a line in the sand and stand on it when I see acts of evil. Sometimes that line is hard to see, but it’s there and I try to keep it, like Conan would.

As I look around, I think the world could use a little more Conan. Most young men I run into (and I run into a lot in my line of work) are horrible little shits, completely devoid of any redeeming qualities; things like courage, or perseverance, or compassion, or kindness. They don’t seem to have had any positive role models to teach them it is not okay to pick on people who can’t defend themselves, or hide in your parent’s basement and threaten people over twitter, or do ridiculous shit and then do anything you can to avoid the consequences.

If some of these young men could get a little less civilized (you know, with the consequence-free threatening via the internet, and the public bullying, and what not), and find a little of their inner barbarian, I think we would all be better off.

As always, thanks for reading.

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The Beauty of a Faceplant

Anyone familiar with the Mounted Police will be aware of a demonic torture device they’ve devised called the P.A.R.E. Or, Physical Abilities Requirements Evaluation. It is kind of like an obstacle course devised by a devil to be inflicted upon the unwary. To undertake, and pass, this evaluation is a mark of honor, because it has been turfing people out of the recruiting process since the mid-nineties. As a prospective member of the RCMP you have to pass the PARE in four minutes or less before you can finish training and earn your badge. As a regular member, at least in BC, you have to undertake the PARE every three years as part of the maintenance of your operational skills.

When I was twenty-two years old, and made up solely of piss and wind, completing the PARE during training was no big deal. It wasn’t a walk in the park, but I never worried about it, and always came in under time without too much trouble. Now, eleven years, thirty-five pounds and three knee surgeries later, the PARE isn’t quite so easy. I spend a lot of time in the gym, but I’m a bit of a meat-head and cardio isn’t exactly my strong suit.

All week, during the course to update my mandatory training, I was worried about the PARE, even though my job wasn’t riding on whether I could pass or not. When my name was called, and I had to step up to the start line, my heart was pounding. I looked around the big training-center gymnasium and saw the oldest guy on the course, Al (who is in his sixties and has been a Mountie much longer than I have been alive) running the course. He wasn’t running fast, but he was getting it done, and he was doing it with a smile on his face.

I figured if a guy who was double my age could run the PARE without complaining, that I should stop being such a sissy and just get it done. So I stepped up to the line and took my turn.

The course is six laps of obstacles (sharp turns, a five-foot jump, six stairs to go up and down twice, two hurdles and a vault), followed by a “push-pull” station. If you want to see what it looks like, you can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoCs_Jn65-o.

The first lap felt great. I was up and down the stairs two at a time, the hurdles felt like the easiest of hops, and the vault was no problem. By the end of lap two I was sucking wind. By the end of lap three I thought there was no way I could finish. By the end of lap four my vision started to change – it went all white at the edges and my field of view narrowed – and I began to experience auditory exclusion.

Then, on lap five, I tripped going down the stairs and did a full on face-plant. Like, not just a little stumble, but a full-on, sprawling, face skidding across the gym floor while everyone in the room winces, type of face-plant. The facilitator ran up, his thumb poised over his stop watch, and asked if I wanted to call it quits. And, in truth, every part of me, from my freshly bruised face to my quivering legs, wanted to give up. But there was something inside of me, the thing that comes out when I hear someone screaming for help and have to kick down a door when I have no idea what I might find on the other side, that told me to get up and keep going. So I got up and kept going.

I felt like I was going to die, but I finished. And when I lowered the weight on the “push-pull”, the facilitator held up the stop-watch and showed me my time. Four minutes even. I had met the qualifying time, even though I didn’t really have to and had completed a large portion of the course on my face.

I decided, later, as I was struggling to catch my breath and not vomit, that the test had been as much against myself as the stopwatch, and I was infinitely glad that I’d struggled through and not given up.

Later that night, after I had gotten home and badgered my wife for sympathy, I sat down at my writing desk. I did not feel very creative, and I looked at my lap top for a long while before I actually even went so far as to open it, but I started writing. And I wrote a lot. And more importantly, it was good. I had been on a bit of a roll for the past week, since I was stuck out in Chilliwack for the course and had nothing to do in the evenings besides watch television or write, but the day of the PARE seemed especially significant in my progress. While every fibre of my being wanted to go and lie on the couch, I forced myself to sit down at my desk and dig around in that place in me where the stories live – perhaps the same place that sends me through that unknown door.

This year has been a hard one in my writing life, because my general existence has been tumultuous. After my dad died in January I had a hard time engaging my imagination and moving forward on any project. As the year went on it seemed like every time I dredged up some motivation and got a little momentum going, something would come along to slap me down and send me back to the beginning.

But this little experience running the PARE, and finishing when I didn’t think I could, seems to have sparked something in me.

Sometimes, it is not the act of writing that is actually hard, it is the getting our asses in the chair that presents a problem. We have the skill, we have the ability, but what we lack is the work ethic, or what my dad called ‘the stick-to-it-iveness’, to sit down and get the job done.

There is motivation in all of us, and it rests in the same place we find or stories – as well as our courage – and all you have to do is dig deep enough to find it.

As always, thanks for reading.

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Writing Like An Old Man Drives…

…Slow and sloppy. (Okay, so, I stole that line from George Carlin – although his version was far more colourful – but it fit the theme I was thinking about today, and I didn’t think he’d mind.)

As I was driving home from the gym today, in a bit of a foul mood – due in no part to the rank odour I had generated in the giant sauna I refer to as a gym – there was a very, very old man driving in front of me.

I was driving along in a relatively deep funk – referring to both my demeanor and my body odour – that I had been wallowing in for a couple of days. I had failed, somewhat miserably, in my bid to write 10,000 words in 10 days (getting about 7,000 words in my ten day period). I started off well, but the closer I got to my self-imposed deadline, the more I sat and stared at my computer screen trying to figure out why I couldn’t remember how to string a sentence together. I went from a commitment to write every day, to spending my writing time watching Youtube videos while I pounded my fists on my desk and yelled, “There has to be inspiration in here, somewhere!”

When I write, I allot certain times of the day, based upon my work schedule, and what my wife happens to be doing at the time, to writing. Last night I was supposed to write from 8pm to 9pm, and then meet my wife on the couch for some down time.

I managed to write a few sentences, then deleted them. I read back to what I had written in my last session, decided it sucked, and deleted most of that, too. I simply could not get any forward momentum. I couldn’t get a rhythm going and catch the flow of the story. After I stared at that cruelly blinking little bastard of a cursor for about thirty minutes, I gave up, stomped around the house for a while, and then went outside to glare at the plants in my back yard.

As I stood there, giving my wife’s tomato plants the stink-eye, she came outside to ask me how the writing went. “It didn’t,” I said. “I forgot how.”

One of the reasons I love my wife so much is that she is strong enough to kick my ass and keep me in line when I really get out of hand, and doesn’t pay much attention to my “poor me” bullshit.

“Ty,” she said, laying a tender hand on my arm. “You didn’t forget how to write. You’re just having a bad day.” Then she stood on her tip-toes to kiss my cheek. “Now quit whining and get back to work.” By all the gods, I love that woman.

I didn’t write that night, but I thought a lot about it. I read, and thought; petted the cats, and thought; watched part of “The Wrath of the Titans”, and thought. This morning when I got up, still deep in the grips of a horrid funk, I hadn’t come to any startling revelations about how I was going to write the Great Canadian Novel, or even how I was going to string a coherent sentence together.

It wasn’t until I decided to hurl verbal abuse at a very old man that I had an epiphany. (Settle down, I didn’t actually yell at the old man. I’m not a complete dick. I was in my truck with windows rolled up and the only witness to my ridiculousness was me).

The old guy was in front of me, driving an old Buick that was roughly as long as three city blocks, travelling at approximately the same speed as an ice-berg. The man was a rolling cliché, with a straw fedora, a set of puffy knuckles gripping a steering wheel that was well above his shoulder level, and a pine-tree air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror. He wanted to make a right hand turn on a green light, but stopped at the intersection and then jerked forward erratically, his brake lights flickering on and off.

“It’s okay, dude,” I said to myself. “You can go.”

He didn’t go, but I could see the peak of his fedora swiveling back and forth as his land-barge continued to inch into the intersection.

“Any particular shade of green?” I asked the windshield of my truck, as I glared up at the light that gave the old dude the right of way.

“It’s the pedal on the right,” I said, gritting my teeth as the old man continued to sit, his nose out in the empty intersection while I sat behind him, losing my mind.

As we waited, the light turned yellow and people behind me began to honk.

“For Christ’s sake, just go!” I said, yelling at my steering wheel.

Ultimately the light turned red and the old man tottered through the intersection, nearly running over a pedestrian and broad-siding a city works truck. I could only sit there, watching both the pedestrian and the city works guy shake their fists and yell at the old man who was blissfully oblivious to their criticism, and shake my head.

As I continued my drive, thinking about how silly the old man was, giving myself an internal lecture about how you had to be confident when you drive and go when it was your time to go, I had that epiphany I was hoping to get while glaring at the flora in my back yard.

My writing was much like the old man’s driving. I was unsure, hesitant, slightly oblivious and not at all confident.

Telling a story is kind of like driving a car (only without the risk of driving over people and getting sued). You have to know the rules, have some kind of awareness of where you’re going, and then you have to make the commitment and go. You cannot hesitate, like the old man at the intersection. At best, you’re going to get absolutely nowhere, and at worst you’ll lead yourself to complete disaster.

Today, with the old man in mind, I managed to sit down and get some work done. It wasn’t my best, and it wasn’t a lot, but it was good, and it was progress.

Sometimes, I found, you just have to find the accelerator and give it a push.

As always, thanks for reading.

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A Good Time to Keep My Mouth Shut

I’ve been thinking a lot about perspective, lately, and how it relates to me, in both my personal and writing life. But over the past few days a few incidents have really highlighted the fact that there are times to relate your perspective, and times you should probably keep your mouth shut. 

It started off in the beginning of the week when my working life imploded in a serious of incidents of unprecedented ridiculousness and violence. Despite what I viewed as the extreme hardship of some of the files I attended with my team, we were highly successful, and in one of the events I was praised for my performance as a leader. That is all well and good, but what I did with that praise is not something that makes me particularly proud.

One of my junior members came to me to tell me a story about something he’d encountered during the shift – something he’d never seen before and forced him into a steep learning curve, but gave him valuable experience and a cool story to tell. He came into my office and laid the story on me, and instead of praising him like I should have, I pulled a, “Oh, yeah, well let me tell you about what I did.”

As I bulldozed over top of his experience with my story, I saw the enthusiastic smile slip from his face. By the time I was done the air was sucked out of him completely. It took a while for the defeated expression on his face to make it through to the interior of my empty head, but when I realized what I’d done I felt terrible and had to think really hard about how to never do that to anyone again.

Due to the difference in our rank and service, our perspectives were very, very different. Was my scene bigger than his? Well, yes it was. Was my scene more dangerous than his? Well, yes, but it’s my job to do that kind of thing. Did any of this make his task or experience less valid than mine? Fuck, no.

I felt bad about the way I’d treated that young constable for a couple days, and I was still thinking about it when and I was on my first day off and noticed several of the authors I follow on Twitter lamenting about their interaction with their fan-base, and how to deal with negative reviews. As I read their posts, about how they only had ten thousand twitter followers, or some one gave them a negative review, I wanted to reply to them and say, “At least someone bought your book, you whining shit!” Then, of course, common sense got a hold of me, (specifically the concept that no one was forcing me to follow anyone on Twitter, and if I was that grumpy I could go elsewhere – and the guy had so many followers he wouldn’t notice the departure of little old me) and I decided not to be the crazy person on the internet.

I thought, after I’d calmed down, about the difference in perspective for myself and the lamenting author. For him, writing is his livelihood and the issues he was discussing were vitally important to being able to feed himself and pay his electricity bill so he could power his lap top and keep writing. I, too, would like to one day make my living from my writing, but I am not going to starve if no one buys my book. His perspective was vastly different than mine, but was also extremely valid.

One of the most salient points I experienced this week came while I was perusing Facebook last night. A friend of mine (who shall go unnamed, because I think he’s done enough verbal fist-fighting over this already) posted an article by another writer. The article had to do with, what the author believed, was a major downfall in modern literature, and he was very focused on a certain group of people that he believed to be majorly responsible for that downfall.

I read the article and I’m still thinking about the content. There were points I agreed with, and points that I thought were a little off-side and had degenerated into nothing more than a rant. I didn’t say anything about the article, because this was one man’s perspective. The thing that bothered me was the string of hateful comments the article generated, many of them directed at the person who had shared it. Many of the comments, from my layman’s perspective, were attacking the article, and the person sharing it, because it went against their own perspective. It did not validate what the commenters believed to be their own monumental struggle, and because of this they felt it necessary to go on a vicious attack. I didn’t weigh in, because I didn’t want to be the crazy person shouting into the internet, but I thought a lot about the perspective of those comments and tried to understand the place they were coming from.

I don’t think I’m ever going to understand, but I know that I can peacefully allow people to have their perspective and not feel the need to correct them for it.

I believed that I actually learned a bit of a lesson today, and I was vaguely proud of myself. A friend started talking about their work place, and the internal politics that were ruining it. As soon as they started talking about work-place politics I looked around for an apple box to stand on, so I could launch into a diatribe about how it was so much worse at my work place; where my friend worked in a place with about twelve employees, I worked in an organization of over twenty thousand people where politics decides whether or not I get proper safety equipment and adequate resources to keep me alive at work and…blah, blah, blah…

Before I could open my mouth and make an ass of myself, my brain actually kicked in. My friend’s perspective, my brain told me, was valid, and important, and deserved my attention. The fact that it was very different than mine did not make it any less valuable. Now, I told myself, was a good time to keep my mouth shut and listen.

Perspectives are much like stories: they are all very different. And it is the difference, I think, that makes them all important. I am not going to like everyone’s perspective, just like I am not going to like everyone’s stories; I can’t stand “Twilight”, but it encouraged a large cross-section of youth to put down their cell phones and actually read a book, so maybe it isn’t as bad as I want it to be.

The thing that has become abundantly clear to me over the last few days, is that even though I don’t like something, or maybe don’t understand it, does not make it any less important. Barring anything that preaches violence against a given group (and there are lots of examples this), I think we need to give everyone enough space to have their own opinion, and tell their own story.

After all, nothing is more important than a story.

As always, thanks for reading.

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