The road to Success

So this isn’t going to be the post where I lay out my five-year plan with goals and schedules and tactics to achieve those goals. I am no prophet. This is going to be a rambley thinking-on-the-page post about shifts in mental status around writing.

*watches 99% of blog followers drift away*

Ah, my loyal spambots! Thank you for staying. 😀

So I started thinking about this post about two weeks ago, when I was going to bed dissatisfied with the productivity of the day. After I had pointed out to myself that I’d read 200 pages of a MG novel and worked for seven hours, myself realized that my subconscious has for some time now been ignoring activities that don’t involve writing in some way. The hours that fill my bank account? PSH. They are nothing. The two hours spend scanning for “ly” in a short story– now there is where my satisfaction lies.

Part of me was absolutely delighted to figure this out. I finally knew, with proof from my  emotions and everything, (exactly one year after I decided to try a workshop to see if I wanted to try this writing thing seriously), that storytelling was where my focus and love was. So yes, I went in and changed my facebook employment information to add “writer” as a part-time job.

Another part of me was closer to despair than to glee, because I knew that writing was what I want to do as my final career, and yet I have three years of 50-60 hour weeks ahead of me in school and work-for-money-for-school. My current method of devoting time to writing involves chunks of four or more hours at a time– which has not been a useable tactic as I keep having chucks of two or less hours, during which I am a starey-creature-who-stares-at-walls for at least half of that time.

You see, I am wimpy and thus I tire easily, and I don’t do well if I don’t spent time talking to/stalking the twitter/tumblr feed of at least one of my friends on the internet, and I don’t do well if I don’t get enough sleep, and so on, and so on. I know what I want to do, I just– can’t do it yet.


It is extremely tempting to just scream at myself for being so weak. I should push myself through writing anyways, damn the consequences. Edit anyways, no matter if I hate it and I can’t think straight and only one of my eyes will focus and all I want to do is cry. I need to get this done. I have done this before.

That is to say, I’ve gone the self-hatred route. It’s really good for producing self-hatred, not great for producing anything else. And I mean anything. Socialization drops, faith drops, work that I am being paid to do drops…

So I need to find another way forward. I need to (1.) teach myself to work in small snatches and (2.) to not fall into the habit of hating myself for my weakness whenever I can’t. (Legitimately, I asked someone if being depressed whenever I was tired was normal. It was suggested that I try being nice and rewarding myself for work done when I was tired. I literally had never considered that, as when I’m tired it’s a sign that I have failed to complete the work I wanted to and I’m giving up too soon darn it. Yeah. So that was another eye-opening realization.) I need to (3.) take advantage of my current jobs which provide exactly zero life of the mind, and use that time to ponder and brainstorm. I need to (4.) eat right so I don’t get tired sooner than is necessary, and I need to (5.) embrace the fun of writing (after all, I’ll be doing it for the rest of my life, (*squee!bounce*)).

Because writing should be fun, I have decided. I get to make things. I get to make AWESOME things. (I should stop abusing italics.) I get to think about Themes and Messages and Characters and Worldbuilding and Cultural Assumptions and Plot and Voice and ALL THIS FUN STUFF. (Note: that is an entirely appropriate use of italics.) And then I get to string them all together, using language, which I love. I love all of these things. Why would I not have fun? I’m not talking giggling-euphoria levels of fun, just that these are things that I adore thinking about, talking about, and dealing with. Seriously, I SHOULD BE HAVING FUN. If I’m not enjoying this thing which delights me, I probably have other baseline things wrong with my mindset right now and maybe I should– I dunno– eat or something. Sleep. Play Tetris. Take a shower. Sleep.

There’s so much STUFF on the internet about “write every day” and “write even if you don’t want to” and “butt in chair” and “the reader can’t tell the difference between words you wrote when you were having fun and words you wrote when you hated everything,” etc, etc, ad nauseum. The attitude seems to be that if you’re having fun you’re doing it wrong. You should be sweating blood, you know. You should feel PAIN. LIKE AN ADULT.

And I’m using my status as an adult to choose to ignore all that. Gonna have fun, gonna do cool stuff, gonna make things explode. *nch nch nch*

I am also going to find a way to explain this picture.

I feel as though in deciding this and then saying it in text I am committing a great heresy against the orthodoxy of the internet. YEAH I AM A HERETIC WHOOO.

To sum up: I have two victory conditions for achieving Success: that I write things I am proud of– that are funny and awesome and people want to re-read, and that I do not hate my life and how long it took me to get there. I need to be nice to myself while I live and write and work and get to my dream job.

See, I told you it’d be a rambling blog post. 😀

P.S. World-building note:  How WEIRD is facebook and our self-construction of our identity through it?

The spending of money and why that gets weirder the longer you stare at it.

Also, after making this video, I am SO IN LOVE WITH TEXT-BASED COMMUNICATION. It was killing me in editing to not be able to touch up words here and there, polish phrasing, put this intro on that outro…

Yeah. Writing is better.

Using Violence for Good and Evil

So I was cruising twitter at work, as I do, and I came across this excellent article by Drew McWeeny.

What happens when we find ‘The Line’ as viewers?

In it, he talks about how, as a movie reviewer, he has seen hundreds of depictions of rape, and how he finally just snapped. He’s questioning why this happens so often, and coming to the conclusion that is essentially laziness on the part of the writers/directors, in most cases. (It’s quite a good article, you should read it.)

Anyways, I sent it to my movie-buff friend, and he came back with this.

He makes a much-needed point. I haven’t seen a lot of movies that included on-screen rape – only one comes to mind, and I’m hoping it’s only that one, because otherwise something is seriously wrong with me that I’ve just gone and forgotten the others – but the same principle applies (in a lesser sense) to other depictions of extreme violence and sexuality on-screen.

And I responded;

And it goes beyond mere gratuitous violence/sex, which is the usual accusation against pointless content. It’s just sloppy. So much writing nowadays is short-hand for emotional impact. (And I’m guilty of this too.) We need the audience to feel grief– so the child dies. We need the audience to feel horrified– so we rape someone. It angers me on two counts, because a.) it’s sloppy writing (something I feel strongly about), and b.) it cheapens the actual grief, pain and violence. Which is something I feel even more strongly about.

I thought of you when I read this, because I seem to remember you saying something like that in the past. 😀

Then Zack again…

Well, I sure hope I said something like that. ‘Cause, yeah, it’s true. I think it also indirectly leads to lack of character development, because seriously, what kind of writer would be able to write a convincing, sympathetic, well-developed character and then just casually have another character rape him/her, or the like? I mean, maybe a psychopath writer, but I sure can’t imagine doing that, and I think what generally happens is that that kind of thing is used as a substitute for character development, which ties in to what you’re saying about sloppy writing. Ironically, because the audience or readers won’t be all that attached to the character being brutalized in some way, they won’t feel the affect of the act as keenly, which, yeah, cheapens the evil on display and feeds the growing prevalence of apathy towards this kind of stuff.

And at this point I asked if I could put the conversation on my blog.
And I’ve been thinking about this over the last few days, because of my reaction to certain things in books. Books about Cancer, specifically. And everyone in my internet is suddenly reading A Monster Calls and A Fault in Our Stars, both of which I’m sure are fabulous books, but ones that I am terrified of. This would be because I lost my little brother to cancer at the age of 4, and it was not a good time for me. (I’m not gonna bother to go into how bad of a time it was, because if you can’t infer it from “little brother died of cancer when he was four” then we clearly have a failure to communicate that goes beyond word choice.)
That’s not to say that stories about tragedy cannot be worthwhile. The best stories invariably DO contain a seed (or sometimes a forest) of pain. In all of my favourite books, horrible things happen, have happened, will happen, and are being dealt with. But pure content does not make a story good or bad. But pain as content is something like juggling fire. If it’s done well, it’s awesome. If it’s done badly, it is a really bad thing for everyone. I firmly believe that there is no middle ground.
And unfortunately, stories about cancer usually go down in flames; Nicolas Sparks being a prime example. Children dying is used in procedural TV shows to add a dash of pathos. The slow death of a child is used as a checkbox to elicit a brief emotional response, and then the story moves on to the important stuff– the sexual tension between leads. It worries and disgusts me.
So if I feel like that about cancer, something that touches huge swatches of the population and yet is mishandled in fiction and the media constantly, how do rape survivors feel about how often it’s used (as outlined in the article I linked to), to add some brief horror and sexiness to a film? How do domestic violent survivors feel about all the jokes about “he didn’t give me the right gift, so I’m gonna beat him up/if she doesn’t give you a sandwich give her a black eye.”
And I am not immune to this failing. It is so much easier to give a character a traumatic backstory and then never deal with it. Because yeah, I don’t want to deal with it. Pain is not fun to delve into, I’d rather add some trauma to make people edgy and badass and then have them be So Awesome™ for the rest of the story. So writing this post, and thinking about it, has made me realize that is a terrible approach to story-telling. If I want to share my stories (and I do), I have a responsibility to make sure they don’t go around throwing people’s pain in their face and telling them that it is worthless. And I do not want to do that.
P.S. Still gonna read The Fault In Our Stars someday. Just maybe when I’m feeling less fragile.


My Grandfather was fifteen when the war broke out. When it ended he was a veteran of D-Day and the liberation of Belgium and the Netherlands, and less than twenty years old.

My Grandfather dropped out of school after grade eight, because his parents could only pay for the secondary education of one child. So he worked in the woods, cutting lumber with a hand saw and a team of horses. After the war he went to Briarcrest Bible College. They said as long as he had a high school diploma when he graduated they’d let him study for a degree. By the end of three years he had completed a three-year degree and four years of high school, while simultaneously working full-time.

My Grandfather spoke seven languages. I once came upon him reading in preparation for bible study, reading the recommended “The Message” paraphrase, and then going over it in Greek.

My grandparents were married in the summer of 1949. This year they would have celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary.

My grandparents went to Africa as missionaries. First to Portugal for six months to learn the language, then they sailed to Angola. There was no dock which could take the ship they came in on, so they threw everything overboard and waited for it to float in on the tide. They drove to the end of the road, and then walked into the jungle for another eight hours, carrying their belongings and my aunt Sharon, who was six months old. Talking drums sent the message ahead; “The missionaries are coming.”

My grandfather signed up for the air force as a tail gunner. The mortality rate for tail gunners was so high that the USSR assigned the position to penal battalions– you were not expected to come back from that job. My grandfather had no lack of courage. But he did have poor depth perception, and he was ground crew instead. He said the most terrifying night of his life was the last night in Angola. He, my grandmother and my aunt crouched under a window frame while rebels fired through the window over their heads.

They went back to Canada long enough to raise funds for the passage, and then they went back. My grandfather went ahead to the Belgian Congo, across the border from Angola. My grandmother had my dad and then brought the children to join him. My grandfather build a trade college, a hospital, and a seminary, so that the refugees who were walking through the jungle away from Angola could make new lives in a new country. He taught at the trade college and distributed seed for the UN, while my grandmother taught an elementary school.

My grandfather had dementia, and his funeral was yesterday. I was not able to attend.

We knew it was coming, and we knew that his body was failing for some days before. I keep finding myself doing small, repudiative and analytic tasks– like making lists. (That would be the explanation both for this post and the ones I’ve put up in the last week.) I had a longer posts prepared wherein I blathered  about my reaction, but this blog post isn’t about me. It’s about my grandfather.

It’s about my hard-working, ferociously intelligent, taciturn, faithful, dedicated, practical grandfather. My grandfather could work you into the ground right up into his eighties. My grandfather built his own house when he retired. My grandfather lived through the depression and had a related lack of trust in banks. My grandfather told me that “sincere” came from sine cera— “without wax,” to indicate that a thing was true all the way down. It was a word with roots in Latin and Portuguese and woodworking.

When my little brother was dying, my father came up with the tradition of saying “see you tomorrow,” with the belief that we would meet again. For some of us it just might take longer to get through the day. So to my grandfather, who I love, and who I barely know, and who I am proud to think I am even a little bit like, even if it is only that I don’t talk much in the morning and also love etymology, see you tomorrow.

See you tomorrow. I’ll have a lot to tell you.

Top 11 Reads for 2011

Wow, isn’t that a nice tight title? I should win an award for creative titling, for that.


I saw the trend going around the blogsphere to post a list of the best books read in the previous year, and thought I should dutifully follow that trend. Then I looked back over the list of what I’ve read in the past 12 months, and my word, there are some HAWT books in that list. I’ve seriously read at least six stories which have markedly changed the way I approach reading and/or writing.

Enough prevarication! On to the list!  Continue reading

What 2012 looks like for me.

It doesn’t include the end of the world, let me tell you that.


If the apocalypse comes, I am not at home. I’ve read enough fiction to know that. Sheesh.

I should probably disclaim at this point: my plans are always nebulous. I’ve had enough curve balls thrown at me to (hopefully) not be too set on any plan I attempt to predict the future with. I am no prophet.

Anyways, my plan for the next year comes in three parts. I had originally planned to go back to school in January. I was gonna take 6 courses, it was gonna be awesome. And then, (curve ball ahoy) my funding (in the form of a long-shot bank loan) for next term did not appear. At that point I took a long hard look at my bank account and– I get to work for the next term!

As much as I am regretful about not being able to go back and study Celtic History and Logic and Greek/Roman History and Psychology and French and Global Short Fiction– all those courses should still be offered when I get back Next winter. And I am so looking forward to being able to look at my bank account and feel I’m snubbing bankruptcy. (Right now our flirting is about toescalate to tongue-kissing, to illustrate the state of my bank account.)

Continue reading

Spending on what you love.

A couple weeks ago in church we had a talk about giving, by Keith Turner (who’s not the pastor or anything, he just had some awesome things to say). There were many interesting things mentioned, but one thing that really struck me was said in the closing. Basically, Keith said, you can look at your spending (he said “chequebook,” but “bank statement” also applies) to see what you really care about. Not what you’d like to think you care about, but what you actually prioritize for.

So then I looked at my bank statement mentally, and it was a bit– awkward. School– for me. Books– for me. Travel– for me. Food– for me. I’ve dropped thousands of dollars on *me* this year, and only a couple of hundred on anyone else.

But it goes further. Because what is money? Money is just an abstraction of time. To see what you truly value, look at where your time is being spent; both IRL time and pre-paid-time-as-represented-by-this-plastic-card-which-has-a-magnetic-strip-and-some-brand-names-on-it.

Once again, I come up pretty self-centred. It’s the Jasmine-and-stories show all day every day.

Maybe I should evaluate this more often.

What happens to your feelings when you have not achieved a life of perfect logic is a painful story.

So, I learned another thing! And this time it’s about brains! —–>

(I know, the list is of “things” is getting ridiculous by now. It’s like I paid money to go learn things or something. Only I didn’t learn this in class.


Anyways. (Have you noticed I’ve gotten so bad at intros that I’ve abandoned them entirely? I know I’ve noticed this.) I learned an interesting fact about the brain. Several facts, in fact. Current research into neuropsychology has turned up fascinating information about how we process emotions. It turns out that in the face of extremely traumatic situations, if we can’t process the emotions that are overwhelming us, our brains tend to “burn a fuse” and distance us from the situation. This is especially true in the case of negative emotions such as anger, shame and fear– if we can’t deal with them at the time (which is filled with trauma, after all) we deal with them later. And this is a perfectly healthy coping mechanism– we’re not supposed to be processing all emotions all the time. On the one hand, not all social situations call for a detailed examination of that shame you just experienced, and on the other side of the spectrum, not all car crash sites call for a full working through of the fear you just felt when your car impacted another one. So, you deal with it later.

And this is where things get interesting and directly applicable to my life. Because anyone who’s had to be a first aider is familiar with the “I’ll deal with this later” feeling, right? But you HAVE to deal with it at some point. If you just leave it alone, the trauma doesn’t go away. It just sits there, nesting in the back of your brain, like a little time bomb, waiting to go off. Because if you don’t deliberately deal with the emotions in a safe environment, you’ll come to something that will set it off when you’re not prepared. And you’ll start bawling in a public place. Or you’ll become filled with shame over a joke someone tells you, to a completely unrealistic degree. Or you’ll just have amazingly intense anger over something that doesn’t seem to warrant it.

When this effect was being described (we were talking about Inner Healing, btw), I’m pretty sure I was sitting in the back of the room with a strong resemblance to a bobble-head doll. Shame, Rage, Sorrow, Check… but when that happens, you just stuff it back and think through it, right? You take refuge in your reason?

Wrong! (Well, mostly kinda wrong.)

It turns out that when you’re dealing with emotions that “blew a fuse,” that you were not able to deal with at the time, when they are triggered they actually make your brain stop playing nice with itself. It can be seen on a scan that when this happens there’s all kinds of activity in blood flow and activity in the areas that control emotions, but very little in the areas that control places like language and reason. This would be another reason why these emotions feel overwhelming, because you are literally losing contact with the facilities that help you articulate these feelings or figure out why they are happening. You can do it, but it is really hard. And there does reach a point where you are not at home to reason any more, especially if your emotions have a fast fuse in normal life.

And to make things even nicer, the more times this little time bomb of emotions is set off without begin dealt with, the more twisted up it gets. You’ve got this chain of emotions that started with– say– fear. Legitimate fear because you were in a car accident. And then five months later you dissolve into a shivering wreck because you hear glass break, and someone laughs at you instead of employing empathy (that person is a jerk, btw) and then you’ve got shame attached, and it gets wound up tighter again when you stuff it back. And then you hear brakes squeal at that frequency, and you’re instantly filled with fear– only this time there’s shame attached too. And so on, with more shame and fear and anger at yourself for falling prey to this stupid reaction, (cause you know you’re not in danger this time, what is WRONG with you,) till it becomes this THING, this thing you just think of as a handicap, which you can’t control, and you just believe of yourself as being broken instead of that there’s something in your brain that never quite healed.

Started well, that sentence.

All this to say– bottling up emotions only works for so long. Moreover, also to say that thinking your way out of things is hard, and emotionally flagellating yourself for having emotions is not the best path forward.

Also: I’m using 2nd person pronouns just cause if I used first the full time it would look pretty egotistical. And I wouldn’t want my personal blog to look egotistical, would I now? Hah no. I’m relating to my neurosis, not anyone else’s, just so you know. I’m sure this blog post is applicable to no one except me, in fact. All my friends are at least 250% better than I am at dealing with emotions. 😀 I just thought it was INTERESTING, and might be useful to writerly-people. (And maybe for life? Who knows your internal cartography better than you? It wouldn’t be me, for certain sure.)