Try, try, try again

He also likes to mix up my decaf and regular tea bags. His fine motor controls are pretty good, maybe better than I’d like.

In the last two weeks, KRH has discovered walking. He’s been a bit of a slow developer when it comes to physical skills, preferring to sit back and watch others before he tries something. He didn’t start to crawl until he was nearly a year old, and he seemed to be slow to try to walk compared to his daycare friends. Still, about a week ago, he decided it was time, and now he walks quite confidently, and takes just about any opportunity to practice.

Observing his explosion of skill got me thinking about the value of learning and how it’s often an uneven process. I’m in a manuscript workshop class right now, and recently it was my turn to have my novel critiqued.

It was an… interesting process. In my past works, I’ve had some feedback before I turned it over to beta readers, but not for this one. Furthermore, rather than a chapter-by-chapter reading, this got turned over to 7 other readers, in all it’s glory (or lack thereof), who read the whole thing and spent two hours offering me their thoughts. And although there was a good amount of positive stuff, there was about as much constructive feedback as you’d expect for a 3rd draft. And for a while, it was hard not to be discouraged. And indeed, for a few days I was. I knew how to fix some of the problems, but others I didn’t, especially the ones I’d come to the class specifically to work on.

That, in turn, got me thinking about a tweet I’d seen. I spent at least ten minutes searching twitter so I could share it with you.

I suspect I’m at a “perceived lack of skill” stage, but this is more a point about learning and advancing. Ideally, this should be our process for pretty much every skill, but of course we don’t have the time or effort to consider practicing everything in the meaningful, developmental way that’s needed to progress your skill.

KRH, meanwhile, don’t really think about progress or advancement yet. He’s busy moving through the skills most of us will develop through our life, at the pace he feels comfortable at. At some point, he’ll develop the ability to consider his failures, which will hopefully give him the ability to learn from them. Then, he’ll have to learn how to keep going, even when he’s discouraged.

I do have those skills. So even when I don’t get get the glowing feedback I’d prefer, I have to get back to work. Because that’s the only way to get better, and getting better is the only way I’ll get to that next step. So, onward.

#MeToo and Me

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the #MeToo movement. A lot of the best pieces are coming from Laurie Penny (whose book Bitch Doctrine was an excellent and worthwhile read), including her latest The Great Stink about how men should be responding to #MeToo.

I have primarily been thinking about #MeToo in a way relating to KRH, in terms of doing everything I can to help him grow into an empathetic, non-toxic guy. This is really important to me, because I see it a duty to both myself and to him to not just raise him well, but as a way to leave the planet better than I found it. I have also spent some time thinking about myself and my actions in the wake of #MeToo, but I must admit a large part of them come from a place of fear of being accused. I count myself a “good guy.” I don’t think I’m guilty of treating women badly. But here’s a quote from that article that struck me.

Let go of your resentment at women’s lack of patience, let go of your wounded pride, let go of your useless shame, and let go of the idea of being a “good guy.” “Good” is not a thing you are, it’s a thing you do, or don’t do. The world is not neatly divided into good and bad men. It never was, and we need to let go of the idea that it ever was, so that we can finally be better to one another, finally learn to deal with our shit like grown-ups in this strange new cityscape we’re crawling through together, trying to find our way to the light. That’s the only way we’re going to move from a place of holding abusers to account, into a future where abuse is less likely to happen.

This was poignant to me, because the same day I read this, author Myke Cole published When you make a mistake you have to own it. In it, he examines some of his past behavior, and finds himself guilty of what I think many men would on reflection; making some people feel unsafe. I don’t know Myke, but he’s friends with a number of authors I like and respect, and I believe him when I say he’s tried to be aware of his behavior. I don’t think Myke deserves praise or defence for this realization, but I do think he’s doing the right thing by examining his behavior (albeit prompted by someone else) and making amends as best he can. I think all men should be doing the same. That’s the only way we’re going to change masculinity and be better going forward.

Which is where it comes back to me. I aspire for good to be, in Laurie’s words, something that I do. But I don’t know if it always has been something that I’ve done. Some of my behavior from my early 20s, in particular around things I said and ways I acted when drinking, now make me uncomfortable. And I certainly don’t think I’m immune to the same kind of blind spot Myke showed.

So here’s what I’m going to do. First, I want to take a good, deep think about what I do and how I act. If I have that kind of blind spot, I want to find it. I want to, as Myke did, own my behavior without excuses, exceptions or defences. Even if this is something I no longer do, I need to recognize it. And I especially want to teach KRH to do better than I have.

The other thing I want to do is apologize. If I have ever made someone feel uncomfortable or unsafe, then I deeply apologize. It doesn’t feel good to recognize that I may not have been the good person I thought myself, but any shame I might feel from my past actions doesn’t compared to any hurt or other feelings I may have caused others. I want to assure everyone I will try to do better.

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.

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.

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.