NaNoWriMo with a 1-year old

I love National Novel Writing Month. I love it because I met CRH there. I love it because it taught me the kind of consistency I needed to actually get anything done as a writer. I love it because I’ve met a lot of good friends there, and get to see them regularly because of it. I love it because November becomes a time when writing can be the focus, which I don’t get to do often enough. NaNoWriMo isn’t for everyone, but it is for me.

This year will be my thirteenth year of NaNo, and after 10 straight victories, I feel pretty good about my chances of winning. I managed to finish last year, with an 8-week old. I also managed to finish in 2015, the year I had my appendix out right before November started. Those two years presented some new challenges, naturally. I dug into that a bit in this post.

I expect that this year will present its own challenges. After all, I slowly recovered from the appendix thing, and at 8-weeks old KRH didn’t do much other than sleep. This year, he’s a ball of active, mobile baby, who can be relied on to summon trouble from the ether if left unattended for more than five seconds. In other words, he’s probably going to be more distracting than anything I’ve faced before.

Here’s how I plan to get around his presence and still get in my words.

Scheduled times

The formula for NaNoWriMo is simple, Write 1667 words a day, achieve novel(la). I usually aim for around 70-80k, but the formula remains the same even if the numbers change. At this stage as a writer, pumping out that many words on any given day isn’t challenging. What’s challenging is doing it consistently, every day. Stuff happens. KRH wakes up early. There are poopsplosions of a horrifying nature. So in so far as I can, scheduling the time and being consistent, no matter what’s happened, is a huge part of winning. It relies habit-forming and perseverance, but it’s also the way to win.

Big writing days

My big secret to finishing NaNo, though, is knowing that I can’t be consistent every day. There are just some days where words won’t happen. So that means I have to have days where I write a lot more. Weekends and writing events are the two most likely times where I can either get ahead, or catch up. Either can be necessary, given on how things go. Writing events haven’t been all that productive for me as of late, thanks to KRH, but hopefully I can find one or two that will be.

The community

This is the thing I find the best about NaNo; the fact that a bunch of other crazy writers are there with me, all jamming fingers to keyboards in pursuit of the same goal. That energy has carried me through many years, and I expect to feed on it like some bloodthirsty cannibal again this year. However, I anticipate being able to make it to a lot less of the writing events than in years past, so I’m going to have to make sure I get this in when I can. I’m lucky that my region usually offers twice-weekly events, which I usually attend religiously, but now I pick KRH up from day care and he has a bed time, so I don’t imagine I’ll make it to at least half of them. Still, even a few will be sufficient to feel that energy.

That’s it, how I’ll make the magic of November happen.

Election retrospection

We just finished a hard-fought municipal election in Calgary and I wanted to reflect on a couple of things about it. Some relate to me and some to KRH.

Let’s start with KRH, because that’s the least reflective. He’s only 1, but Monday night reinforced for me the importance of being engaged with the political process. I sort of fell into politics as an interest backwards, in that I absorbed a lot of political beliefs from people around me in my early teens, and then went out and figured out what I actually believed in, which fostered a love of the political and democratic process. I don’t expect KRH to go to university for political science (like I did) but I do hope that he’ll share my belief that engagement in politics matters. I hope that’s something I’ll be able to teach him as he grows up. How will I engage him? That’s a good question. I think by example is a good start (he got not one but two “I voted” stickers because he went to the polling station with each parent, despite not actually voting. Cute privilege.). But so is discussion about the issues and characters and ideologies, if he’ll listen. And engagement in election campaigns, when he’s old enough.

What’s important about all this is that my goal isn’t to indoctrinate him to my political beliefs. Instead, I need to equip him to learn about politics and issues, and then draw his own conclusions. I feel pretty confident that if I do this well, he’ll come around to my political beliefs, but I also run the risk that he decides to believe in the opposite side of the political spectrum. I’d be disappointed, but that would be his choice (so long as he doesn’t decide to support things that hurt people around him. We’ll have no Nazis in any household I’m responsible for). But I really don’t think that’s likely.

Speaking of Nazis, that’s a fine time to consider the election itself. What struck me is just how stressful I found it, and how important it felt until it was over. Elections used to be fun for me. I recognize, of course, that in part elections were fun because the result wouldn’t truly hurt me. Part of that comes from privilege, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the stakes 15 years ago were different than today. But this was a municipal elections. Municipalities, especially for cities, have quite broad powers in Canada and in many ways matter more to day-to-day life than other levels of government, but at the end of the day their primary concerns are with things like infrastructure. The issues that dominated the election were increasing property taxes, whether the local sports team should get a new publicly-funded arena, and personality. If the election didn’t the way I wanted, it would change the tone of the city I live in, but it was unlikely to dramatically affect my home. So why did I find this stressful?

Well, it doesn’t help that the Canadian far-right has been quietly agitating against the tolerant muslim mayor that I support (You can see some of the nastiness here). Those same people are also targeting the federal and provincial governments, so naturally I’m against anything that would make them happy. There was also a pretty clear effort by business interests to support candidates who were favourable to their bottom line, not what citizens need, which felt serious. But this was never an election of the sort that would have installed dangerous candidates, merely candidates I disagreed with.

Nonetheless, it felt like it was. With even a few day’s distance, it continues to feel important, but not as critical as it did. Indeed, the amount of time and energy I spent worrying about it was probably out of proportion.

Politics matters. This was an election that could have changed the course of where I live. It mattered, and staying aware of the issues and voting were important ways I participated. But the campaigns took up space in my brain for a while, space that I’d much rather devote to other things. The next election is a provincial contest coming up next year, and that one will likely be even more concerning because it will be a starker choice between people I support and people whose ideas I believe can be dangerous to those most marginalized among us.  Engagement and participation will be critical. But I’m going to have to learn to keep the stress I’ve been feeling about elections in proportion. An election loss next year will be bad for what I believe, but it won’t be a slide toward fascism.  It lies somewhere between catastrophic and irrelevant. I’ve got to find that balance in my brain.

Tough writing times

Two authors who I respect recently  wrote about the difficulty of writing in our current world (John Scalzi in 2017, Word Counts and Writing Process and Kameron Hurley in Ongoing National Horrors Can’t Be Unplugged, But We Go On). And they are so right.

I wanted to throw in my own thoughts about this. I’ve had my own reasons for struggling to write, but they sure do dovetail with the political climate. KRH was born in October, and I must have said to myself and to others at least a dozen times how much I was looking forward to, at least temporarily, un-engaging with politics so I could focus on parenting. I felt I needed to do that because I’d found writing and indeed life difficult with the onslaught of news that hit in 2016, but I figured that after the American election, I could safely limit my focus. With progressive governments in place at all levels in Canada, it seemed as safe a time as any to take a break. I recognize the ability to do that is a sign of privilege, but I judged that I could stay aware of what was going on in areas I could effect, while disengaging from news what was ultimately irrelevant to me and was harming my health and well being.

We all know what happened that November, of course, and has been ongoing since then, and that’s bad enough. I worry hugely about climate disasters, or the collapse of international order (Canada’s foreign minister just called modern times the most uncertain since the end of the Second World War). But it isn’t simply the government that’s the problem. It’s the march of the far-right, of actual Nazis marching in the streets, of white supremacists and racists and fascists. They’re people who want to hurt nonwhites or who hate LGBTQ kids. People who would violently overthrow the government.

I’ve tried to strike a balance between engaging with these threats, and keeping my sanity. I’ve only been moderately successful. It’s definitely cut into my writing time. But why wouldn’t it? I worry about the world KRH is going to grow up into. Will he run the risk of radicalization? What about an international system that makes wars more likely? Will his children face a world where food security is an issue from the changing climate? There are countless threats brewing that could effect him. He’s only 1, but no matter how much I want them to be, it seems clear that by the time he’s able to understand these threats, they won’t have gone away. So my sweet and innocent child is going to have to deal with this shitshow world we’ve left him.

That makes me angry. Like, how did we fuck this up? How did Nazis become a thing again? How did we reach a point where so many things are getting worse, rather than better? But it did, and I have to engage with it, to do what I can to keep the world safe for KRH, for my friends and family and myself. I resent the people who made it possible, forcing me to spend time and energy on it, time that I could spend writing, or with KRH.

Nonetheless, I have to do it. I have to stay aware, and fight for the better world I want KRH to grow up in. And if that takes writing time and focus, then it does. If it effects my health and well being, then that’s what’ll happen too.

Still, I have to find ways to protect myself from the things that are irrelevant. And I have to find ways to survive the torrent of shit that we’re all getting hit with. Seeing that other people are struggling is important. It helps me feel less alone.

Back to work

Well, after four months, it’s finally time. Next week I go back to work, and KRH starts day care.

I don’t know if I have words to describe this summer, but I’ll try. It’s been a wondrous experience. I’ve learned so much about this new and tiny life, even as he continues to become less new and tiny. June, when I left work, seems a very long time away and the month have been marked by countless adventures and experiences. It hasn’t been that long, and yet in that time, KRH has gone from barely sitting to crawling to trying to stand. He’s embraced a love of food and then gotten picky. He’s met a lot of people, seen a lot of things, played with a lot of toys, and had a lot of naps. And I’ve been there for the majority of it.

Being the primary parent, as CRH and I like to call it, has been a totally different experience than just being Dad for a few hours a day. I’ve learned what KRH does when he’s hungry or when he needs a nap. I’ve learned how to judge his moods and emotions. I’ve found things he likes (right now, books, his soother after hating it for 11 months, and larabars) and things he doesn’t (swimming class, not being allowed to eat cat food or play in the cat fountain). And I feel so much closer to him than I did before. For the last four months, I’ve been the one in charge of keeping him alive, happy and healthy, and if I say so myself, I did a pretty good job.

Of course, I’m a big believer that KRH is going to succeed in spite of his parents, rather than because of us. But I want to do what I can to equip him to become a responsible and kind adult. And I’ve learned not just how hard that is, but also how I want to go about it going ahead.

I’m probably never going to have another experience like this summer. I will happily take parental leave again for future kids, but then I’ll be thinking about KRH +, not just one child. There’ll be less of an ability for me to simply learn and more of a requirement to do things on my feet.  I think I’ll always think back to this time fondly.

That said, it wasn’t all easy. I think I now understand so much of what CRH went through. Even though KRH was older, taking care of him all day was a draining task, because so much of it is listening to a baby cry, or fighting naps, or changing diapers, or trying to get him to eat, or struggling to entertain him. It took up far more time and energy than I expected, even expecting that it was going to take up a lot of time and energy. There were times I found myself upset, frustrated and sad, because it was hard.

I don’t know if this is a journey all parents go through. I suspect it is, though I recognize how lucky I am to both have a partner willing to split the parental leave, and to live somewhere with that much parental leave. I’m also intensely lucky to have a lot of support available, from grandparents and friends and even the child-minding at the gym, things that very much helped keep me sane.

When I’ve had moments, I often pause to reflect on this strange situation. Somehow, it still feels unreal that I helped create a life, have helped take care of it and now I’m responsible for guiding it and growing it. It still leaves me feeling gobsmacked. I mean, what fool allowed this? Me, having such an important task? And the more I’ve seen KRH grow and learn, the stronger the gravity of the situation seems. A life. How do I protect and nurture it to ensure that it becomes everything it can? How do I do it in a way that there’s absolute certainty of success, which is exactly what he deserves?

There is no way. Nothing is certain, though I wish there was. And even if I could spend every waking second working toward that, it might actually not be what he needs. It certainly wouldn’t be what I need, or what CRH needs.

A week from today, KRH starts day care. As much as I wish he could stay with me forever, I think this is going to be very good for him. He’s a bit shy, but very social, and full of energy and a desire to go and learn and play. Day care is a place where he’ll meet new people and have new experiences and much more.

Meanwhile, I’ll go back to work and think about how I can make my life more like what I want it to be. That won’t be the worst thing for me either. I’ll have more energy for KRH when we both get home, because we’ll need to get our quality time in a much shorter period. And I’ll need to get back to being focused. In a way, the last four months have been an interlude on the rest of my life, and so very glad I had it. But now it’s time to start working on shaping the way life will be for the coming years. And I look forward to that challenge.

Setting deadlines and changing deadlines

The whole point of a deadline is supposed to be that the thing you’re working on is supposed to be done by the deadline, right? Maybe that’s why I’ve struggled with having to move my deadline back twice. Good writers and good workers hit their deadlines, after all.

In August, I set myself the goal of finishing my current rewrite by September 25. I was about a third of the way through rewriting a 110,000 novel, so that made it a very ambitious deadline. I can hit 3-4k a day on a first draft fairly easily, but adding in rewriting and re-reading time, that’s difficult. When I realized I’d miss that deadline, I moved it to October 9.  Just a few days ago, I had to move that deadline again, to the 22nd.

I felt disappointed with myself. Twice, I made a deadline and wasn’t able to reach it. The feeling of failure was pretty acute.

But one of those things I’d describe myself as being mediocre at is setting good deadlines. A good deadline has to be achievable, right? In reaching the first deadline, I counted on KRH going to daycare when we’d originally planned, giving myself 5 whole days for uninterrupted writing. I knew that in order to reach the deadline, I’d have to do a ton of writing on those days. Well, those plans changed, meaning there was no way I’d reach that goal.

I recalculated, moving the goal up 2 weeks, to the day before I expected to return to work. But even then, that required me to write about 3k words a day, again re-writing with rereading time. That takes me 2-3 hours a day. I can do that, but it uses up any nap time KRH might give me and time in the evening. More importantly, it was using time that I needed to finish other temporary but higher-priority goals (basically, stuff I need to do before I go back to work). So after about a week, I realized that wasn’t the best use of my time, either. Hence, another pushed deadline.

I think that for my own sake, it’s important to remember that this was an entirely self-imposed deadline. Some deadlines, in other words, are worth staying up all night for (or at least a few extra hours). But for the sake of a month, when I’ve already told myself dozens of times (and will keep having to, really) where taking care of KRH was the primary goal, then it’s not worth killing myself over. A different deadline would be.

So what makes a good deadline, anyway? I’ve recently been reading Shawn Achor’s Before Happiness: The 5 Hidden Keys to Achieving Success, Spreading Happiness, and Sustaining Positive Change. I’m a big fan of Achor’s other book, The Happiness Advantageas a science-based look about how to bring positivity into your life and the proven benefits of doing that. In  Before Happoiness, there are some interesting ideas about how to design good goals. A couple stuck with me. From Before Happiness.

“Identify your X-spots. X-spots help your brain believe that success is close, possible, and worthwhile. They need not be near the end of successfully completing a project; they can be found all along the way. When you are at work, design minigoals that you can achieve daily so that you can be sure to reap the benefits of mental accelerants each and every day. Set markers to highlight for yourself when you’re 70 percent of the way to each minigoal—that will cue your brain to release the productivity-enhancing chemicals that will speed up your progress. And for particularly challenging or mundane tasks, focus on “progress to date” rather than “what’s left to do.”

Keep your eyes on the beach, not the rocks. Mentally practice and visualize accomplishing the small steps you need to take to get to your goal. Your brain will naturally steer you toward whatever you focus on, so instead of visualizing failure, visualize what success could realistically look like.

Make 70 percent your goal. Design goals or minigoals that you genuinely believe you have more than a 70 percent chance of achieving. If you doubt your likelihood of success from the beginning, then you dramatically decrease your chances of hitting your target. If you honestly believe you have less than a 70 percent chance to complete the goal, adjust it to make its likelihood of success more than 70 percent.”

I recommend checking out his work if you haven’t already. Still, these are things I’m trying to embrace in my current goal-setting. I think it’s easy to see how, by breaking down goals, staying focused on success, and believing you can achieve your goal, you can increase your chance of actually achieving it. Both of my previous deadlines didn’t take these into account. We’ll see if my next attempt can do better.

Finding community

A Facebook post recently led me to reconnect with some members of a community that I’d been a part of, some time ago. During the 2000s, I spent a lot of time in the nascent webcomic community around Keenspot and Keenspace and more independent comics. Most memorable were titles like Bruno the Bandit, Roomies!, Sluggy Freelance, and the one whose community I really got involved in, CRFH!!!.

I spent a lot of my late teens bouncing around the internet, looking for places where I could be. I spent time (that I’m not particularly proud of) on the Yahoo! message boards, in roleplaying chats, and other places. Luckily for me, I ended up in the CRFH!!! forums, a welcoming place that wasn’t toxic. From there, I jumped into a sub-set of fans, who imagined their own universe.

I spent a lot of time with those people, chatting, posting, writing, thinking, dreaming. They were probably one of my biggest influences, as far as being a person. I drifted away from that community as I reconnected with real-life friends and made new ones. I also made my way through other online communities, including a World of Warcraft guild and later, the National Novel Writing Month local chapter.

I don’t think it’s a particular stretch to say that we’re all looking for places where we’ll be accepted and we can also meaningfully contribute. What kind of form that takes and what we want it to take is going to be different for everyone, but if we don’t have that, I think we want it.

But what makes a good community? What makes a healthy community? I think back to the time I spent online, and sometimes I feel like it’s fairly miraculous that I turned out like I did. The time I spent on those Yahoo message boards now makes me cringe. So too does a lot of my behaviour in other communities. I spent time on 4Chan, and looking back it’s fairly clear that some things I picked up there did not make me a better person (and it’s also easy to see how, taken further, people can pick up toxic and hateful beliefs and even be radicalized from the communities they take part in). All of these communities were non-sexual in nature, but I tended to seek out the sexual parts of them, and there ended up being nudes of myself online fairly quickly after it was legal (although that was always by my consent and I count it as a positive experience).

I think it’s easy to see how any of those things could have backfired, and quite honestly I’m glad that social media like Twitter wasn’t around during those days, because the many mistakes I made could have easily been magnified.

When I think about my time in the healthy places, I think some of the most important parts of me are because of it. I found a community that generally didn’t care who I was, in terms of sexuality, political belief, hobby and ethnicity, so long as I was someone who was pleasant to interact with, most of the time. More importantly, they were people who were there during difficult times in my life, when I didn’t have many friends in real life.

Community, I’d argue, should foster positive growth in us, while discouraging the negative and asking us to be better. We should contribute in constructive ways, ways that help both ourselves and others. They should support us when we need it. Perhaps in this way it’s better to be a recognizable face in a small community rather than someone in a large one, but I don’t know if there’s a wrong way to do it.

I think about community because I wonder how I’m going to help KRH find healthy ones. There probably won’t be any one place I can guide him to that will be a positive influence for the rest of his life. Instead, I expect that like I have, he’ll pass through many different communities, sometimes being a problem, but hopefully learning as he does. The internet was new enough (and in my experience, the dangers slight enough) that I was able to make my way through it without being damaged, but I don’t think that’s the case now and I don’t expect it to be when KRH goes online, which I guess will continue to be one of the main ways we seek out community. So how do I help him?

Here’s what I’m planning. I’ll speak frankly to him about my experiences online, as he’s ready, and I won’t leave out the parts for me that are embarrassing or that paint me in a negative light. I’ve had these experiences and I think I can model being better for him. Especially as he’s younger but at all times until he becomes an adult, I’ll keep a careful eye on what he’s doing online, and his exploration of the world in that way will result in a lot of conversations and discussions about appropriate ways to treat others, dangerous beliefs and activities, and probably all kinds of things I can’t even anticipate yet. And those conversations will be difficult, but we’ll have to have them anyway.

I expect he’ll still have to do what I did, which was to go out and make mistakes, to be foolish and childish, on his way to learning. But I hope he’ll follow a similar path to me, in which that learning makes him a kind person. What will his healthy communities look like? I certainly hope they’ll look like mine. But what’s more important is that they be positive places, and he be a positive member of them.

 

Family vacation

Over the last week, KRH, my wife (Now referred to as CRH) and myself went on vacation.

I suppose you could say we went on several small vacations, smushed together. We spent the labour day weekend with my wife’s family out in B.C., near Radium. The temperature was hot (Nearly 30 C) but despite some smoke, we enjoyed it, mostly because KRH gets to go to the beach. He’s discovered sand as being fun, and was happy to use his shovel to fling it everywhere. Thanks to babysitting from Grandma and Grandpa, I wrote about 15k words while we were there, but still made time for meals and to visit the lake.

We returned home, and the next day we got on a flight… back to B.C. This time, we headed to Vancouver, where CRH’s sister lives. We spent a few fun days there, which included a visit to the Vancouver aquarium.

Then, for the final leg of our journey, we met up with my parents, and we all took the ferry over to Vancouver Island, where we went to a birthday/ reunion of sorts for my side of  the family. For almost all of my extended family, it was their first time meeting KRH, and he rose to the occasion by being cheerful despite many missed naps and intensely late nights. As family reunions on my side tend to go, there was a great deal of wine and even more food.

We returned home tired and with our schedules thrown out of whack, but having had a great time and learned a few things. We think, for example, that we’re raising a little extrovert, who gets energy from people, as KRH was happy to play with grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles and be friendly long after he ought to have passed out. We’ve also got a pretty good idea of how far we can push him when it comes to naps, how well he travels, and a bunch of other things.

All in all, a pretty good week, even if I wrote very little for the last two-thirds of it. I’ve discussed before how I think vacations, previously an opportunity for me to work my butt off, are probably going to be a lot less productive, at least while KRH is young. I think I’m slowly coming to terms with that. I can’t sacrifice my writing, but at the same time, this is the sort of vacation I expect I’ll always remember. Those are the sorts of memories I want to create with KRH, so if that means a week or two less writing a year, so be it. That’s a price I’ll happily pay.

 

The home stretch

This week marks the final third of my parental leave. In just one month, KRH will be start day care. Shortly after, I’ll be returning to my day job in communications for a nonprofit.

This leaves me with somewhat mixed emotions.  I’ve had a lot of fun being at home with KRH. We’ve gone on lots of walks, visited my parents, been to some classes, and just generally spent time together. And I’ve had a good time, but it’s also been a lot of work, to the point where my secondary goals for the summer (things like working on my eating, and writing, and such) have been basically non-existent.

I knew my summer would be busy, and yet it caught me by surprise. I think maybe I wasn’t expecting just how much even a small thing could throw off a day. I imagined I could get into a schedule of naps that would allow me to get things done. But sometimes, KRH just throws out a big fuck you to naps and so he’s fussy all the time. Or he gets us up three times a night and I’m bagged the next day. Or my timing is slightly off and we miss a nap, or he naps in the car for five minutes, or there’s laundry or chores or other things to do.

So long story short, while I’ve enjoyed this summer, most of those goals remain undone. Of course, when I go back to work, I don’t think I’m going to suddenly have a lot more time to do these things. In fact, I’m probably going to have less. That’s going to present its own challenge, and it’s one I hope I’ll be able to deal with once I have a rhythm and a schedule and things that I don’t have right now.

Still, I can look back on the last 10 weeks with some pride. I’ve learned a lot about parenting, about KRH, and about what my wife has been through. I’ve learned to handle fussy days and missed naps and changing schedules and stormy periods. I’m sure I have a lot more to learn, but I’m more in sync with KRH than before. Furthermore, I’ve learned that despite that I really wanted this, it’s not really what I want to do full time (perhaps because I imagined I’d have a lot more time to write and stay organized and cook and clean and all that). Full-time stay at home parenting isn’t what I really aspire to, at least not as I’ve experienced it right now.

I wouldn’t say that I’m eager to go back to work (they’ve been calling me about some technical things and I’ve racked up a bunch of hours in the last few weeks and even more spent worrying). But I am looking forward to the opportunity to change things up and find new ways of doing things that will, I hope, be a lot more sustainable. What it will look like, I’m not certain, but I intend for it to have opportunities for both writing and for lots of quality time with my family.

White supremacy and parenthood

I didn’t see this coming. If you’d asked me, a year or two ago, what I figured one of the key issues of the early years of KRH’s life would be, I’d have never said white supremacy. Even last year, I would never have supposed you’d see actual Nazis marching the streets of the United States on the scale we recently witnessed.

It isn’t as if I thought it could never happen. I spent a lot of my university degree exploring the rise of fascism and the Second World War, so I consider myself academically fluent in their existence and many of the methods they’re employing today. In fact, while I was going to school in the mid 2000s, I would often joke about street battles with Nazis, because at the time Lethbridge (where I went to school) had a white supremacist movement, as did my home town. But at the time, it felt laughable. We’d beaten the Nazis. They were just clinging to an ideology that millions of brave men and women helped bury.

Instead, in 2017, it’s clear that fascist ideology remains a powerful force. And not just fascism, but the white identity that goes with it.

I find this alarming and disturbing. I was lucky enough to spent a number of years involved in a program called CISV, a youth peace education movement which allowed me to visit Japan and Norway and meet a lot of people from a lot of other cultures. I learned we have nothing to fear from the other, a belief I still hold to this day. I think societies with more viewpoints are stronger, not weaker.

So what do we do about white supremacists? We have our share in Canada, emboldened by events to the south and in Europe. I think it’s incumbent on me, as a white guy, a citizen and a parent, to challenge these ideologies where I can. I’m lucky that I don’t think I know anyone who harbours these kinds of thoughts, but people don’t have to be outright Nazis to sympathize with many of their ideas, given how easily they play on our cultural fears. And it is hugely important for me to try and share my own beliefs about equality, tolerance, justice and kindness with KRH, especially in an age when young white people are just a web search away from radicalization.

Furthermore, I think it’s critical that we avoid the kind of political climate that leads to strengthening these ideas. I think that’s exactly what Canadians did when they rejected the barbaric cultural practices hotline and other fearmongering in 2015, but those ideas were merely pushed back, not defeated. We must recognize that right-wing politics is not always tied to ideas like fear of the other, but reject it whenever it is.

And for those brave enough and willing to do it? I think outright confrontation of these ideas is important. If white supremacists come into our streets and threaten us with violence, oppression and death, then we must respond. I have a complicated relationship with punching Nazis and although I find it satisfying, it isn’t an approach I would personally take. But, I do think it’s important for good people to reject and oppose these ideas at every turn.

A Man For All Seasons isn’t a political blog. It’s a blog about writing and parenthood. But in 2017, that requires the acknowledgement of white supremacy and fascism. I believe that we all must stop what we’re doing and take notice of what’s going on.

Logistics mode: Daddy edition

An idea my wife and I picked up some time ago is about “logistics mode.” From Brigid Schulte’s Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time, the idea is simply, for mothers, it’s easy to get caught in a whirlwind of Things That Need Doing, to the point where your brain fixates on these things.

I thought, until recently, that I understood this fairly well. I consider myself an equal partner in the life my wife and I have made together. We’ve always been a bit non-traditional, so getting planning for meals, getting groceries and cooking were always mostly my jobs, while my wife took care of our money management and more irregular household things. Also, acts of service is one of my main love languages, so if I spot something (the dishes are a good example) that are technically my wife’s job, I’ll often do it, because I want her to have free time. Surely it was normal to have a head buzzing full of Things That Needed Doing.

What I’ve learned since I started parental leave, though, is that it isn’t just having an ongoing list in your brain. It’s more like a set of handcuffs. And I think I finally understand what my wife went through for the first 8 months of KRH’s life.

Over the last few years, I tried as much as I could to take things off my wife’s plate. Even before she got pregnant, she was under a lot of stress, so in my way I took on things to try and help with that. I acquired a lot of small chores, like feeding the cats, cutting the lawn, cleaning litterboxes. None of these were large chores, but I wanted to try and take them off my wife’s to-do list. Then along came KRH, and I certainly wasn’t handing any of those back.

Since I went on parental leave, I’ve been trying to do just about everything I can. Indeed, I’ve felt like I have to, like these things are the prerequisites to being a good Dad. So I’ve been doing errands, laundry, all the cleaning I can, and so on. Plus, I take care of KRH from the moment my wife leaves, until after she’s home and fed and ready to take him on for a while. And since KRH still doesn’t take a bottle and my wife is working, I listen for him on the baby monitor at night, and I jump up to get him and bring him to my wife, and then take him back to his crib after. Finally, we’ve had a few weeks where we’ve been away on weekends or otherwise busy, so even our joint-cooking sessions have fallen on me. And my time to do more or less everything is during naps and after my wife gets home.

I don’t want anyone to think my wife isn’t pulling her weight. She works hard during the day, and as I’ve started to get overwhelmed with these things she’s been pushing me to communicate and tell he what I need to take off my to-do list. But I feel a bit paralyzed by the sheer number of things it takes to keep this household running to whatever my apparent standard is. And even when I do have down time (which my wife makes sure I get), I can’t seem to use it how I want, which is mostly for writing. As such, I’m not making much of any progress.

I knew, of course, that my writing would suffer when I went on parental leave. But I didn’t expect the level to which it has. This week marks the halfway point of that leave, and I’m feeling more than a touch down on myself, because I have a high expectation for myself when it comes to myself. Apparently, that expectation does not adjust to include children.

So what am I doing to try and get past this? Well, I’m trying to free up mental space and loosen those handcuffs. Here’s how.

Meditate
Meditation always makes me feel calmer, more focused, and generally happier. And for some reason, as soon as I get stressed, it’s always the first thing to fall to the wayside. That doesn’t make sense, but I think a lot of our culture encourages us to sacrifice self-care when the going gets tough.  So, I’m trying to carve out at least a little bit of time for meditation every day.

Cutting out social media
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Social media distracts focus. I find it easy to get distracted by whatever god-awful daily nightmare is going on south of the border. Twitter, in particular, is my poison. There’s real value and importance in keeping aware of what’s going on in the news, and I think dis-engaging from politics is itself an act that only the very privileged can take. But I do need to stop focusing on things that interrupt my train of thought and steal my time. So, I’m blocking Twitter on my phone during the day.

Get permission for self-care
Nobody needs permission for self care. But in a situation where my not doing things means someone else has to, self-care is one of those things that can fall by the wayside. My wife, aware that I’m struggling, gave me permission to leave some things like dishes or tidying for her when she gets home. This helps me feel better about using time like naps for self-care.