Dad Not Required

I have mixed feelings about Halloween this year. No, that’s a lie. The feelings aren’t mixed. They’re definitely wistful and melancholy.

My oldest daughter wanted to go trick or treating with her friends this year. No dad required. <sigh>

My youngest daughter went with friends of ours who were taking their one year-old out for his first. Then we ran into Big Sister with a couple of her friends and they invited Little Sister to come along. No dad required.

My son is in high school now and didn’t feel like trick or treating. He and most of his friends had decided it wasn’t worth the effort. More time effective to buy discounted candy tomorrow. While I can see the logic, it makes me a little sad that he’s outgrown the holiday, or thinks he has. No dad required.

And here I thought I had one year left to trick or treat. One year after this year. But I didn’t even have this year.

My offspring are growing up and becoming self sufficient. While I know that’s part of the point, at least of growing up, I miss the small years and wish I’d had a real idea of what I might have missed at the time.

But every age has been my favourite, or so I like to say. There are trade offs, but I’ve gained the ability to trade sarcasm, geekier conversations, and similar tastes in movies, tv, and comedy. I have different and similar areas of overlap with each of them and lots of time yet to enjoy their company, as long as I don’t waste any of it.

But Halloween will need to be rethought next year.

The ones on each side are mine.

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World Fantasy Convention 2012, Rough Plans

So World Fantasy Convention, the Toronto 2012 edition, starts on Thursday (ack, the day after tomorrow!), and as I’ve expressed several times, I’m both excited and nervous.

When someone (that’s you, Wendy) talked me off the fence last year, I was nearly at the mental low point of the “my life is far more difficult than I think it needs to be”, and not too far off of when I started shutting off sources of stress and distraction (which ended up being most of the world) to focus my attention on kids and family. I looked at it from a writing career perspective: potential contacts and networking with some awesome panels thrown in.

My writing career, publicly speaking, isn’t really any different than it was a year ago. I haven’t submitted that many stories this year, though I’m working to change that right now, and didn’t send out any last year. But I’m feeling much better about myself and my life these days and I’m making plans for indie publishing and podcasting in a big way. I’m writing every day again, recording some fiction for release into the wild, and plotting out a three year plan for independent publishing of novels and short fiction collections.

But I’m not going to WFC with any networking agenda in mind. People and panels. This is going to be a social/informational convention for me. I’m going for the fun, and I think that’s the way I should have been thinking about it all the way along. I’m going to meet a few people I know only on Twitter and hopefully a bunch of other people, too. I’m going to sit in, and probably record, a whole bunch of panels. I’m going to experience some new food and new places. My hotel is, deliberately, about a 15 minute walk from the convention. It’s a bigger, more comfortable room, and I need to stretch my legs a little since I probably won’t manage anything remotely like the exercise routine I’ve gradually built for myself.

Oh, and panels. There are 21 I want to go to, but surprisingly only 5 conflicts, leaving me with a few tough choices and possibly16 attended. Maybe 16 attended. You see, there are also readings I’d really like to go to, plus the Autograph Reception, the Art show, the Dealer’s room, and a late night open flash fiction reading. It’s going to be a crowded weekend.

But believe it or not, I am a little shy in completely new situations, which this is, being my first literary convention. Someone pull me off the wall, please. I’m pretty friendly after that initial barrier is tossed aside.

Be well, everyone.

Vacation Plans: November 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d better get busy.

Evolution: And the Geek Shall Inherit?

So once in a while a really interesting conversation develops on Facebook. It could be about anything, but my getting involved means it’s likely to be skeptical in nature, commentary on society, or genre fiction related.

In this case, a friend on Facebook, hereafter noted as ‘Person 1’, posted this as his status update:

If H. sapiens was meant to be an herbivore, you would have lost the teeth required to effectively tear flesh, now STFU and eat a damn burger already.

Sincerely,

-Evolution

The rest of the conversation, minus a couple of joking comments and typed laughter, and occasionally edited for punctuation (and once or twice for spelling), went something like this:

Person 2: We are meant to be omnivores. Scavengers! Thus the vast amount of acids our body creates for digestion of flesh and meat, thus the requirement of teeth and K9’s! Re-read the Origin of the Species, bro! 🙂

Person 1: Maybe you need to re-read my status because that’s what I just said… Bro.

Person 3: So does that mean all the ‘duckface’ profile pics we see is actually evolution?

Person 1: Unfortunately duck face is a result of allowing all to survive instead of just the fittest. Evolution in H. sapiens has basically stalled out.

Me: I disagree with the human race being stalled. We’ve heavily modified our environment in pretty much every way possible. As a result, we’re now selecting for different traits. Allowing everyone to survive instead of just the fittest (and what’s our new definition of fittest?) will also allow our genes to throw more possibilities out there to see if anything sticks to the genetic wall.

Person 1: Disagree all you like. 🙂 Disagreeing doesn’t really change anything though. We no longer select for any traits, we do everything we can to allow every possible trait to survive. It once was that during times without food, people who did not have the right genes wouldn’t have enough fat stored in their bodies to keep going so they died out. As a result, H sapiens is very good at storing food… Fast forward say 10-15,000y or so, now you have those same genes in an environment where food is plentiful. Now the majority of society is overweight (partially because of genes, partially environment) rather than those people dying off and people with ‘thin’ genes surviving and ending up with another genetic shift, we strive to allow people with ‘fat’ genes to also survive, keeping the shift from happening.

Colourblindness is another example. 15,000y ago, I would very likely have been eaten by an animal by now because I would not have seen them if they were camouflaged. BUT, since we have no natural predators anymore, because we’ve so heavily modified our environment as you pointed out, my genetic deficiency is allowed to continue and propagate even though it is deleterious to me and the overall species.

There is no evolution of H sapiens because there is no natural selection. We fight nature every step of the way to make sure that everything survives, and if everything survives nothing can be selected for naturally. It’s not possible to have evolution without natural selection and since we’ve more or less negated natural selection, we have no real evolution. The definition of fittest has not really ever changed either, I would still define it as the best suited traits for a given environment However, we can change our environment meaning the fittest don’t seem to matter so much since we can modify our environment to the point where even the least fit survive.

Until we get better at genetic engineering/synthetic biology, there is not a whole lot we can do to kickstart the evolutionary process (other than eugenics and that’s a pretty touchy subject). Therefore, (at least for now) the evolution of Homo sapiens is stalled.

Me: Still disagree.

You do make a couple of good points, though. I’m near sighted. Would never have made a good hunter in the environment our somewhat wilder ancestors developed and grew in. Probably would have died young because I threw the spear too soon. Or, I would have been the guy who figured out some improvements on our tribe’s trapping methods. If I’d lived, at almost 42, I’m now past average life expectancy and probably an elder of the tribe.

But we absolutely do select for specific traits. What those traits are may depend on what segment of society (or which part of the world) you’re talking about. I actually wonder if we’ve got a few sets of parallel evolutionary experiments going on. Men don’t select for the sturdy woman who’s likely to bear him the greatest number of living offspring and women don’t select for the man who can beat off the cave bear with a club so those offspring continue to live. Nature selects for the best fit, but once it selected for enough intelligence for us to make our own selections, it became natural for us to manipulate the process. Having gained that intelligence, we’ve used it to build a technological society and that society has helped shape us. It’s a circle.

We can no longer survive the lifestyle of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, not least because we don’t digest our food quiet the same way. We’ve adapted to most things being cooked. Raw meat doesn’t work, scavenged or otherwise. AND we’re no longer raised to the intense existence of having to find our own food every single day. We’ve gained in height and intelligence and knowledge, but at the expense of shorter life spans and physical capabilities that would put most professional athletes to shame, at least while our bodies lasted.

We are still human, but what it means to be human is not the same thing it was 10,000 years ago.

Are we overdue for a major evolutionary change? Probably not. It doesn’t work that fast and our environment has changed gradually enough until recently to let us change with it.

Are we about to have a major evolutionary change? I don’t know. Do you believe in the Singularity?

Person 1: Ha, ha, ha! I can’t really speak for others but a woman with a ‘sturdy’ set of hips still makes me want to have more babies than a woman without them. And women are still 100% attracted to alpha males! (Anyone who tells you different is a greasy liar.)

Me: I’d argue that the general definition of alpha male has changed and that even while women (in general) may be attracted to the strong, athletic type, intelligence and reasoning both have an effect on final selection of a mate/partner, for both partners. Our society may worship the physical, but it does so from a distance. On a day to day basis, it’s more likely to value the ability to use the genetic resources one has to keep things going at the level we’ve become accustomed to or improve on it.

Me: And the Geek shall inherit the Earth.

And as things so often happen on Facebook, the conversation doesn’t stay near the top of the stream long enough, but I thought the general ideas interesting enough that I wanted to hold onto them a little longer. There are many questions and few definitive answers.

I think a lot of definitions have changed. What we find attractive goes far beyond the physical and the potential of strong, capable offspring, sliding deep into the territories of intellectual and social values. There are people you just instinctively know you’re not compatible with because of their views in certain areas and there are people who feel the same way about you.

Evolution applies, but the human race has grown into a pretty complicated thing. We each shape ourselves and society even as society works to shape us. Evolution never stops. Where will we be in 100 years? Good question. It’s going to be a lot of fun finding out.

Now With Enhanced Audio Capability

So I’m starting to get excited about World Fantasy. Held in Toronto this year, and migrating to a new city every year, this is the first time it’s been within reasonable driving distance from me since I’ve been into my writing enough to feel like it might be worthwhile for me to attend.

I’m checking the website daily to see if the program guide has been released yet (promised for the middle of October and tomorrow is the 15th) since it will provide hours of fun and aggravation as I try to figure out how to maximize my time while still being able to spend a little time in the dealer room and meet some people I only know virtually.

I haven’t booked a hotel yet (and really should), but I have started to get ready, making sure all of my electronics are in order, and the last big piece of that was some decent portable audio recording capability.

The iPhone did surprisingly well at FanExpo and Montreal Comic Con, but I wanted something more for the amount of audio I expect to collect the first weekend of November. Hence the Zoom H1. Mine is from Steve’s Music Store. Since I’m north of the Canada/US border, I spent a couple of bucks more for the assurance that it wouldn’t get held up at customs.

Without going into a lot of detail, the H1 edged out the Tascam DR-05, more or less due to getting it with the accessory kit for about $9 more than just the Tascam. There are certainly differences between the two but from everything I watched and read, the audio quality they produce is very comparable. In fact, in a lot of the head to head comparisons I watched, I couldn’t tell them apart easily.

At any rate, I thought it would be fun to film myself unboxing my new toy, as well as getting me used to talking off the cuff about something when it’s not part of a conversation. It’s a skill I’m planning to need for a podcast in the (hopefully) relatively near future.

Since I was filming it anyway, I thought I might share it, too. It was recorded in my dining room, not really an audio friendly environment and you can really tell in the first half of the video where I just use the camera audio. When I switch to the Zoom for the back half, it’s still not exactly beautiful sound, but it’s pretty good, and awesome by comparison.

It is, however, almost eight minutes long. You’ve been warned. If you just want to hear the audio difference, listen to a few seconds at the beginning then skip ahead four or five minutes to see what it’s like from the Zoom. Night and day.

The video quality is amusing. My dining room table is obviously not as stable as I thought so we get some jiggly cam here and there and then the camera will try to refocus. Plus I didn’t think to check the camera alignment before I started filming for real, so the top of my head is cut off. Next time.

Here’s the video. Enjoy, and be well everyone.

I Blame Wil Wheaton

The one thing Gamer Boy and I didn’t go to together at Montreal Comic Con was the Wil Wheaton Q&A session, though he did come with me later to get his autograph.

Mr. Wheaton was an interesting speaker and covered a lot of subjects both on his own and prompted by fan questions, everything from “Stand By Me” to his time on Star Trek TNG to “Table Top” on Geek and Sundry. I have audio and I’ll share when I get the podcast up and running.

Before I get started on what I’m blaming him for, let me be up front about something: I’m not a huge gushing fanboy most of the time (though I do have my moments now and again) and I didn’t trip over myself during the brief conversation at the autograph table, but I was also never a member of the “we hate Wesley” club (though I know people who were). I’m only a year and a half older than he is, more or less just the right age to understand what it was like to be an ostracized geek in high school (though fortunate to have other geeks around me) and I could extend that understanding to the character he had to play on the show. And his character got better, too, just by the way.

So, before the show, there was a screen looping an episode of Table Top, which I’ll admit to never having heard of before. He talked about it during the presentation, too. After the con, I thought I’d check it out. My kids like to play games and it’s tough to find things they’re all interested enough to play. I figured maybe I’d come up with something to try.

I’ve watched every episode of Table Top now, and ordered three games from the earlier episodes that looked like they might appeal: Munchkin, Get Bit, and Tsuro. Of the three, Munchkin is the biggest hit at home. We’ve probably played it 8 out of the last 10 days with a single game stretching over several evenings of an hour or more after I get home from work. All three of the kids are involved and we’ve convinced my non-geek wife to join into the new game, continuing tonight. My kids and I have played the other two and had fun, and will again, but it’s got to be Munchkin right now and we’re probably just about ready for an expansion pack.

My youngest saw me watching an episode of Table Top and asked me if we could maybe make a web show about us playing games. I thought about it for a few seconds, and said, “Why not?” We haven’t yet, but we have brought the cameras out a couple of times to let them roll while we played.

I wish we’d had them running during the epic battle that began with three of us poised to win the game and ended with no one higher than level five. A flurry of cards and excitement. It was awesome.

So, new games, a little more family time, and maybe even a home shot web show about gaming with my kids to come (because I have so much free time). I blame Wil Wheaton.

And when I say ‘blame’, I mean ‘thank’. Thank you, sir.

Be well, everyone.

Dancing With The Dark Side

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

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

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

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

Creativity has a dark side.

The Next Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Means, Well, Um…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stealing Time

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

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

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

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

Without Darkness, There Can Be No Light

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

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