Home from the hospital

I’m pretty sure all parents will have some kind of health scare or another in the lives of their children. I was a pretty healthy kid, an only child, but I managed to dump a pot of boiling water on myself when I was young, so I’m sure that necessitated a hospital visit, for example. Surely it’s some kind of right of passage, a thing we all end up doing one way or another.

Anyway, I write this after getting back from 5 days in the hospital with KRH, including some time in pediatric intensive care. Last week, I got a call from daycare about him having a high fever, and as soon as I picked him up I heard the telltale wheeze that means he’s having breathing problems, so off to the doctor we went. Once there, it was determined that he was having respiratory distress, so our next destination was the children’s hospital.

To make a long story short, KRH had managed to acquire infection by two separate viruses, and combined with what’s increasingly suspected to be asthma, he was in fairly rough shape. Now, this wasn’t our first trip to the emergency room with breathing trouble (we spent his first Christmas Eve in emergency, and we’ve been back more than a few times) but it was his first time being admitted.

My poor boy with his airflow mask in the ICU.

I think a couple of things from these last days will always stick with me. First, the memory of holding and comforting him before we were sent to intensive care. His breathing was getting increasingly wheezy and he was working harder and harder to breathe. We’d already been in the hospital a day by this point, and my wife had gone home for a little while after spending the night, so I was there while there was an increasing parade of nurses, respiratory technicians and doctors came in, examined him, applied medicines, and expressed concern.

In retrospect, I wish I’d been smart enough to ask how concerned I should have been, because the doctors could probably have reassured me that they were acting to keep things from getting to a state of “very bad.” Still, for all that I was kept pretty busy during this part, it was hard not to focus on the fear that things were getting worse.

The second thing came about two days later. He had to wear an airflow mask for a while, and after about 36 hours in that, he was able to go down to just oxygen, (plus a bunch of other tubes, mind you). Anyway, he was in the hospital crib, with the sides lowered about halfway. I took about two steps away to turn a light down… and turned back to see him hitting a table below the crib headfirst. I’m pretty sure the movement of him falling is burned in my brain.

He ended up with a nasty bruise but no lasting damage, but I’m struck by how much worse it could have been, because if the table hadn’t been there he’d have fallen three times as far. I know better, too. I’ve caught him numerous time as he tries to lunge off things, but the nurse had put the crib sides where they were and I didn’t think to change them.  I may never trust him again.

I think these moments are forever etched in my brain, and that’s okay. I knew being a parent would have times like this, and I expected them to change me, but I didn’t expect the raw emotion of the feelings. A little worry or a bad memory can feel very powerful, almost to the point of being overwhelming.

I’m sure there’s a writing lesson here somewhere, about how things affect us more when we care about the person these things are happening to, but really, sometimes it’s fine just to feel these things as they are, especially given how new I am to this whole parenting experience, still. I’ll just hope for good health for everyone, friend, family and otherwise.

Creative Fuel: The Last Jedi

You may have heard there’s a new Star Wars movie. With it came a cottage industry of thinkpieces and reactions, many of which were divided. Some people praised the movie, others hated it. I fall on the side of the former, to the point where I’ve been thinking about it for almost a month.

I don’t necessarily think I have anything interesting to add to the critical analysis of the film, or convince anyone who thought it was bad that it was, indeed good. It wasn’t even my favourite movie from 2017 (That honour belongs to Thor: Ragnarok). But for me, The Last Jedi was a fascinating meditation on what Star Wars is.

So what is Star Wars? Space ships, lightsabers, superweapons and the force? Fantasy in space? It is, of course. It’s also probably the intellectual property I’ve spent the more time with. I was too young to see the original trilogy in theaters, but watched them all on VHS, got into the Expanded Universe, and I’ve played numerous incarnations of Star Wars roleplaying games, board games and video games. I haven’t read every book or played every game (the sprawling story of the EU lost me sometime in the 2000s, the prequels nearly killed my love of Star Wars, and I’ve probably missed more games than I’ve played) but I have a lot of Star Wars locked up in my brain.

Here’s where Star Wars gets interesting for me. For all that the movies have essentially followed the Skywalkers, the books and games have been far more about striking out and dealing with rebellion and resistance. To me, that was always the more interesting part of Star Wars. That might be why I liked Rogue One so much, despite that it was a seriously flawed movie; it was about the rebellion, not about Luke or Anakin. Rogue One felt like a war movie, and I loved it. It asked the question of what it was like to be one of those rebel soldiers who were never named in the movies previously but who died fighting for what they believed in. It’s worth noting that I also love Star Wars: Rebels, which is, you guessed it, also about the rebellion.

So the fact that The Last Jedi felt like a story about the survival of the Rebellion played heavily to me. So too did the fact that the latest trilogy has pointfully identified angry young white men as the antagonists, which feels about as topical as one can get right now. And while I hope the actual Nazis who are disturbingly common and Star Wars fans don’t have a lot of crossover right now, I suspect they might. I worry that those people have taken exactly the wrong message about Star Wars, one in which they think they’re the rebels, not the evil empire, and I suspect they’re also the ones who complain about Star Wars being inclusive of women and people of colour actors. This isn’t news, but this is the Star Wars I’m happy to show up for.

But most of all, I think The Last Jedi is about opening Star Wars up, not just to tell new stories, but really making it for everyone. The Resistance was very female and non-white. And of course, with the original cast dead or going to be that way, (*salute for General Organa*) the new movies are entirely in the hands of new characters, who are female and non-white. A lot has been made of the line “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to” which was ironically spoken by Kylo Ren, but perhaps spoken to the audience who want to keep Star Wars to themselves. And I haven’t even gotten into Finn’s arc of choosing a side. This is a movie overflowing with the kind of symbols that Star Wars hasn’t been known for, and I loved it.

Did The Last Jedi have flaws? Absolutely, but in my mind no more than any other Star Wars film, and none that detracted from the film for me. For this point in my life, it’s probably my favourite Star Wars movie.

On Grit

Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance was a book I read for myself. I was hoping to learn how to be resilient and mentally tough. I wanted to know how to stick to goals and keep pursuing what I wanted, even in the face of adversity. 2017 was a year where there were good reasons to struggle, but I don’t know if 2018 is going to be that much better. So I wanted to learn how to persevere.

I didn’t pick it up thinking I’d learn anything about KRH, when in fact I think I walked away with more to think about for him than for myself. If you haven’t heard Duckworth’s TED talk, I recommend watching it, which I’ve helpful included below.

Let me say, first of all, that as a writer perseverance has been my ideal goal for a couple of years now. I did a lot of writing in my late teens and early twenties, but in a scattered sort of way. I’d work hard for a few days, then get lost in video games or other things. It wasn’t until my late twenties that I realized the only way I was going to achieve my goals of publication and success was to regularly put my nose to the grindstone. I set a target of 10,000 hours of practice, not because I thought I needed that to succeed, but as a way to track my progress. So I’ve been pursuing perseverance as a writer for some time now.

So I was a little surprised that Grit was in large part about the value of perseverance, rather than skills about how to obtain it. A good part of the book is about finding the thing you’re passionate about, something I’d already done, and citing examples of people who’d done this, and then persevered in their pursuit of their goals until they reached success. It’s not as simple as that, and Duckworth goes into the evidence in favour of not just practice, but of improvement.

What I think this was perhaps most useful about is thinking about how I’m going to help KRH find his passion and develop grit. I knew, from my early teens, that I wanted to be a writer, but it wasn’t until far later that I was able to develop some perseverance in the pursuit of it (and I’m not where I want to be yet, as the last year just proved). But I would not have described myself as a passionate or motivated teenager, to what I’m sure what the frustration of my parents. I know now, of course, that whatever intelligence or talent I may possess isn’t going to get me anywhere, but I spent a fair part of my youth thinking so, or just not thinking about it. So I appreciated Duckworth’s ideas about how to find passion by trying many things, about knowing when to quit, and about the value of working on hard things.

Until recently, CRH and myself had disagreed a little about KRH. CRH wanted to support the development of his passions, to encourage him to explore interests and extra-curricular activities. I was prepared to let him be a little more lax in the development of his interests, because I figured that his passion and motivations would come in time, like mine did. I wanted to support him this, but not push him to find those interests.

Now, I’ve started to think CRH might be right. I think the way might be to encourage and support KRH in finding his passion, but to also have high expectations of him in pursuing those things. I think that maybe I could have benefited from that myself. I’d be a lot further in pursuing my goals if I’d started working consistently five years earlier. In fact, I wish I had, when I consider that I spent a good deal of that time doing things that didn’t really end up developing my interests or myself. There could still have been plenty of time for World of Warcraft and games and watching anime and spending time with friends, the things I mostly did with those years, but I could be a lot closer to where I want to be.

In the end, time that’s passed has already passed. Now, I look to the present and the future. Grit was an excellent read as a parent, and I’m glad I read it.

2017 in retrospect

New Year’s is a fascinating time. It’s a time that seems to inspire excess, while also serving as both an end and a beginning. Surviving another 365 days seems like a big enough deal that we should celebrate, and yet, it’s often that sort of celebration that we intend to put behind ourselves.

Last year, I took a look at 2016 to end that year, so this year I’ll do the same. So what did I do in 2017?

In a lot of ways, not as much as I’d hoped. And yet, I accomplished a fair amount, a great deal of it around learning to Dad and surfing the waves of having this tiny being I call KRH. But so much of my internal focus is on “productivity” by which I tend to mean my progress toward goals, things like writing, health, personal growth. And in this year, when I intended to thrive, I mostly survived or ran in place. That left me feeling pretty disillusioned about myself.

The thing is, I shouldn’t be. This year, I finished yet another rewrite, made progress on an ongoing project, took four months of parental leave that both expanded my perceptions of what being a Dad was all about and taught me an awful lot about KRH, got into a manuscript workshop, wrote a bunch of queries, and generally survived on less sleep than I’ve ever had while the world felt like it was burning around us. So maybe it wasn’t my most productive year. I survived it, and now I have to learn and move on.

How is 2018 going to be different? In a lot of ways, it probably won’t be. The chaos isn’t going to stop, I think we all know that. More personally, KRH is going to keep getting bigger and older and keep learning, and in a lot of ways he’ll need his parents more than before, even if he one day (hopefully) allows us to sleep through the night. So the challenges remain.

Long story short, I think I need to tackle those challenges differently. Rather than merely having goals, I need to build systems that will carry me toward those goals. Perhaps more important, I need to be resilient in sticking with those systems, no matter who’s tweeted what or how little sleep I got last night. If it was easy, I’d already be doing it.

So what’s next? Applying those systems, plus that manuscript workshop I mentioned earlier. In a lot of ways, the more I learn about publishing and writing, the further I think I am from getting published. I think I’m writing damn good stuff, but I wonder if there’s another level I need to hit before I get to publication. After that, keeping on with the book I’m workshopping, because turning around a novel a lot faster than I currently do is something I really need to do. The average MRH novel takes about 650 hours right now, and I want to both cut that down, and get better at getting it all in inside a calendar year or so.

Launching into this year, I think I feel a lot more optimism than I felt this time last year, and I also think my expectations of myself are a lot more reasonable. That’s good! I suspect those expectations will get challenged very quickly.