Muddled storylines


There’s a story that I’ve been working on for quite a while now. I had the idea for it when I was fifteen, actually, and finished a (ridiculously long and convoluted) first draft when I was seventeen. I then put it aside for a while, because I decided that I hated it, and I couldn’t handle taking a scalpel to it. In the interim, my thoughts on it have gone through numerous shifts. I’ve removed characters, I’ve added characters. I’ve changed the geography of the reality the characters operate in. It’s fantasy, so I’ve changed the laws of physics. Ideologies have been born and died. Centuries of history have been written and rewritten. It’s been a long time since it was the story that it once was.

There are three characters that have held on through all of these changes. And I realized the other day, as I was picking up this story again, that part of the trouble I had with starting this story again was that each of these characters had survived so many rewrites and alterations that I couldn’t quite remember what version of them I was working with. I had too much history with them, too many arcs and details that weren’t relevant anymore but were still in my head and noted down places. That part of the trouble that I was having starting up this story again was that I had several versions of these characters in my head, laid atop one another like tracing paper, and that I wasn’t sure who they were anymore.

So I had to do something that I hadn’t done in a while in any dedicated way with these characters. I had to sit and nail down, once again, who exactly these people were. I had to decide what in their history was going to stay in their history, and what had to go, and what those changes made them.

There’s some author who said that a good writer has a finite number of characters in them. That a great writer has … let’s say six. That all the characters in that writers oeuvre are just iterations of those basic character types. The same person, but with different likes and dislikes, different features, but the same manner, the same basic personality, the same structure. Maybe these characters have held in their because I’m not a great writer, and I only have three characters in me. Which is fine. I can do plenty with three characters. But I was just thinking about my favourite writers, especially those with large bodies of work, and I was considering their protagonists, and it occurred to me that a lot of those protagonists feel like one another. Not that they are especially alike in terms of interests or even the reality that they exist within or their position within it, but that they¬†feel alike.

I had an epiphany about the structure of the story today, one of those moments where everything clicks together and makes sense, when all the bits and pieces seem to be in harmony. And a big part of that was going back and revisiting these characters that I had known for year but that I hadn’t … had a talk with in a while.

I don’t believe in writer’s block, but I do believe that you can get stuck, muddled on a part of a story, just like you can get in a rut with any job, and that sometimes finding the solution can seem impossible. Maybe because writers are so invested and labour so long in solitude over their work that we become attached to the idea that we have some monopoly on getting stuck on a problem. There’s such an emotional investment. I was miserable last week, because I had hit this roadblock and couldn’t see around it. I ultimately had to pick a different direction to come at the problem, and that was difficult because it meant going through a lot of old ideas, some that I really liked, and rejecting some of them. Putting them permanently aside. But I did it, and I feel pretty awesome now.

Though I’ll probably be attacked by doubt about the decisions I’ve made sometime in the next few days. But I guess that’s just … you know, being human.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got for you today. How are you? Any epiphanies?




Global warming and incipient terror

“Do you wanna get really terrified? Ice caps are all melting, and we’re gonna die.”

– “Do It With a Rockstar” by Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra


Just read this article on President Obama’s move to reduce US CO2 emissions. I’m not from the US, and the bypassing of Congress and “checks and balances” and potential American job loss are all things I’m not going to comment on in this post. I’m not going to talk about strategic positioning relative to China.

What I’m going to talk about is more on the personal Sword of Damocles side of things, so buckle up for safety.

The article talks about how climate change has generally just been paid lip service in politics. It’s a talking point, that gets touched on at the tail-end of speeches made during campaign season. It’s an annual gathering of a select group of world leaders that leads nowhere.

It’s also the Made in China tag on more than half of the products in North America.

It’s Respirator Masks.

It’s terrifying, and I’ve been feeling a kind of incipient terror about it for most of my life, a low-level anxiety that means I will carry around an empty can for blocks rather than throw it in a garbage can. Because that shit is recyclable, and the ice caps are melting, and I need to “do my part.”

“Do my part.” Like it’s a war. And in a sense, it is. But a war on who? Certainly not the environment. The environment in Private Ryan in this scenario. The enemy is established patterns of behavior. In laziness. In legislation.

And I’ve been frustrated because, despite my desire and the desire of nearly everyone I know (and I am a Canadian in the province that birthed Greenpeace, so I might be a biased sample, but I don’t think I am) to “do our part,” the problem is bigger and scarier than our efforts can address. There’s a book I own but haven’t read yet called The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, and part of why I haven’t read it is because, from what I have read, it seems to confirm a lot of the boogeyman I’ve been living with, and likely to introduce more.

The majority of pollution comes from the industrial sector and there are so many things that people making most of the money could/should be doing before any one person needs to feel anxiety about their aluminum can. But most of the people making most of the money will do what they’ve been doing, what’s been making them money, until they’re forced to stop. Until they’re legislated to stop. Until it becomes so inconvenient and illogical and costly to do as they have been, that they have to rethink the way they do things.

It sometimes seems like political parties are more concerned about who will get the credit (or blame) for legislation than in the passing of it. Even if something is generally accepted as fact (like climate change) and it is widely felt that something needs to be done, nothing is accomplished. A politician would rather hamstring their opponent than help their constituents. Which is, I guess, sort of talking about the bypassing of Congress, but really it’s just a general statement about politics and general confusion about the term “public servant.”

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for you right now. Except to say that I want to be more hopeful about this legislation, about the potential for humanity to become more conscientious denizens of the world, than I can find it in me to be.



Work-life balance is an ugly phrase and we need to find a new one


As you may have gathered from the title of this post, I don’t like the phrase “work-life balance.” I think, aside from the inescapable clunkiness and the self-help-y tone of the phrase, what bothers me about it is that it suggests a dichotomy between work and life that I think is less and less present, if it ever really was. Work is part of life and life part of work. Just because it’s not always fun doesn’t mean it’s not life.

Most of us spend the majority portion of our (conscious) adult lives at work. With coworkers. Doing work. Thinking about work and worrying about work. We build our vacations around our work. Many of our friends are our coworkers. Some of our spouses started out as coworkers, or friends of coworkers. For many of us, there aren’t firmly delineated boundaries. Personal and professional relationships can blend and change.

People say they need to work on their work-life balance when work takes over a greater portion of their lives than other things, other interests. When family suffers, when friendships deteriorate, when you’re just fucking exhausted all the time because you’re stressed out and on call all the time, that’s a poor work-life balance.

I’m not saying that it’s not a thing, and that it’s not important to figure out how to balance it, just that the phrase might be part of the problem. In suggesting that work and life are separate things, you make them into two opposing forces that need to be measured against one another. It becomes a “versus” situation, where work is up against family, friends, fun, etc., where it should be work and family and friends and fun. I think the need for balance comes back to anxiety, to the feeling of being overwhelmed by conflicting responsibilities. Of trying to manage on an ever decreasing budget of time.

Did I ever talk to you about the Culture of Character and the Culture of Personality? It’s mentioned in the book Quiet by Susan Cain, which I recommend whether you’re an introvert or not. If I haven’t, I’m about to, and if I have, get ready for redux:

In the Culture of Character, people are admired for internal traits, like honesty or temperance. There is a stronger delineation between public and private life, with greater weight being given to the person you are in private than the person you are in public. In the Culture of Personality, it’s much more external. How you present yourself in public is given more weight than your internal characteristics. Which makes charm very important. The book argues, and I would agree, that in the latter half of the twentieth century we moved from a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality. Nothing wrong with it, but I do think that phrases like “work-life balance” relate to this. Because as we live our personal lives more publicly, as there is more overlap between our persona and our character, it can become a more difficult thing to balance all the different elements of your life. It can be harder to “switch off,” “unplug,” or whatever you want to call it. And not just because most of us never have our phone’s more than an arms-length away.

I’ve gotten a little off-track. The point of this post was, I don’t like the phrase “work-life balance,” and I want a new one. But I need help.

So, right now I’ve got “Anxiety Meniscus,” “Human Factor” (this one would be a measure of how close your were to being a computer in a flesh suit), “To-Do List Measure” (if your to-do list goes past a certain length, chances are you’re work-life balance is a drunk guy on a balance beam), ummm…

Okay, what you got?