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.

The lost boys

I return to blog after the flu has knocked our whole family for a loop. It kept me off my feet for over a week. Get your flu shot, everyone.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Angela Nagle’s Atlantic article The Lost Boys, referring to the wave of alt-right (read, fascist) young men who’ve emerged in the last few years. As a man in that age group, who could very well have ended up a part of that, I think it’s important to think about this sort of thing, both in introspection for myself and about how I’m going to raise KRH to not join it himself.

I say that I could have ended up a part of the alt-right for a fairly simple reason; I spent time on 4chan. Both at the time and now, I’d have described the toxic hate that oozes out of the alt-right as gross, but as a man in his early 20s, I can think about how spending time on that site changed me. At the time, the lack of reverence, where everything could be a joke, was something that I found appealing. It seemed like it could do good, which was why I got moderately involved in Project Chanology, attending a protest and doing some advocacy. But many of the techniques that were first pointed at the Church of Scientology, later ended up in the toolbox of Gamergaters and now are used by the alt-right, especially against women and people of colour.

Whew. I ended up drifting away from 4chan on my own. And yet the off-colour humor of the site, that’s often racial or hateful in nature, certainly infused my language, and it took some time for me to realize that was a problem. I did, and eventually I examined a lot of the things I’d picked up there. But it’s easy to see a different path, in which that time on 4chan leads instead to the alt-right, simply because of the attractive nature of the message. It appeals to people who don’t fit in and to those whose lives haven’t turned out great, both messages that have some power.

So how do I make sure that, if KRH ever finds himself tempted with this dark side, that he takes the route that I did? That’s a difficult question, because there’s no way to every make certain of that. KRH will become his own person who’ll make his own decisions. There’s nothing I can do to him that will force him to follow my political beliefs.

But. I was loved, I was surrounded by good and loving people, and I was educated both directly by those people and just by exposure to them. I also had experiences that educated me. And that was just in the 1990s and 2000s. I like to think that, decades later when KRH is going through this same journey, we can educate him in better ways  than I ever was, and that we can give him the experiences and understanding of people who are different than him, and that in the same way those experiences ultimately prevented me from taking a more odious path, they’ll do the same for him. Because ultimately, that’s all I can do.

How do I do these things? Well, I have a few ideas, though I’m sure I’ll need more. I’ll have to pay attention to the media he consumes, and work to discuss it with him. I’ll have to listen to his language and discuss why some things are hateful or hurtful. I’ll need to make sure he’s surrounded by people who are different than himself, in race, gender, sexuality, belief and more. And I’ll have to stay vigilant in the ways that the alt-right (or whatever this sleazy ooze calls itself in 10+ years) recruits people, and make sure it doesn’t happen to KRH. It’s a tall order, but it might be one of the most important things I can do as a parent.

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.

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.


Three years

I mostly use this space to talk about writing and KRH, but in many ways that leaves out what’s probably the most important third of my life, my wife.  Today is our third anniversary, so I want to talk a little about our relationship and what that means to me.

Those three years have been a very long road, and I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say more things have happened in that time than in the 5-ish years of dating/engagement before. We struggled with loss…

…which turned into the adventure of success…

… and now apparently we’re parents or something. How did that happen? Sometimes it’s a mystery to me.

What I do know is that my wife had been the thing I can rely on most in this life. She allows me to be a better person, in ways that I wasn’t able before I met her. I can count on her intelligence, empathy and support in what I do. I often say to her that we make better decisions  than I do on my own, and I believe that. Sure, there’s a lot of kilometers and a lot of learning between where we started and where we are, and sure it’s been difficult and there have been struggles. But that’s the essence of growth, isn’t it? If we weren’t challenged, how would we improve?

But the real essence of what we’ve created is, I believe, a partnership. This relationship isn’t just about the time she makes for me to write, or how she went back to work early so I could take parental leave to spend time with KRH, or even just the way she’s always there to talk or listen or whatever I need. It’s about me also providing those kinds of support for her, just as often as she provides them for me. I don’t believe our relationship will ever be equal, because we both have different needs at different times, but it is important to me that it be fair, that we are both contributing enough to the well-being and success of the other.

I think this is something we do well. As with everything in our life, it’s been tested by KRH’s arrival, and there’s a lot more learning and a lot more improving that needs to be done. Indeed, I never want that to stop.

Looking back on those three years, there’s been some heartbreak and some euphoria. I hope things trend more toward the latter for the many years ahead, but no matter what happens I know we’ll meet it as partners. And that makes me happy.



Writing with kids

After a somewhat lengthy hiatus, I’ve decided to reactivate this blog. For the most part, it was a distraction from actually writing. Also, I wasn’t really all that sure I had anything to really share.

A boy who takes after his father, obviously.

A boy who takes after his father, obviously.

My son (who I’ll call KRH) was born three weeks ago. He’s a healthy baby who’s quickly enchubbening. And despite my fears to the contrary, I’ve found that writing does actually go on after children.

Now, this may be premature. I was off work for two of those weeks, and KRH spent a lot of that time sleeping. I’ve also been working hard to support my wife, who is doing the difficult and important work of spending most of her time feeding and holding our son. Nonetheless, I found it encouraging that I’m still able to find some time to work.

Before KRH came along, I spent a lot of time worrying that writing wouldn’t happen. I wasn’t able to find a lot of people who wrote about writing with children. A lot of the things I did find were like this, which featured lines like “I have pretty consistently failed to have enough energy for parenting, fiction writing, freelance writing, and other obligations in my life.” and “Plan for six months off.  Having a baby was sooo much more work than writing a novel.” They don’t mean to be negative, but to me it came across that way.

Now, I had no illusions that this was going to be easy. But children and writing are two of the driving goals in my life, and in this case they may be at least contradictory. The thought of giving up six months of writing (and admittedly I’m not the parent KRH needs the most of, right now) is agonizing to me, especially if we go on to have two or three children, as is currently our plan. Blip or not, I’m filled with the overwhelming need to chase my chances now because I don’t know if there will be other chances down the road. And I’ve spent ten years learning how to be a regular, devoted, committed writer.

I’m re-starting this blog to follow my journey through writing as a father. Maybe this experiment will be a failure, and I simply won’t have the time to both be a good parents and a good writer. But I don’t believe that to be true. I think this is possible, and that it’s also possible to stay healthy, happy, and not sacrifice important relationships to do it. That’s not to say there won’t be sacrifices, because there will. I’m already making them. But I believe this is possible, because I need to.

Check back once a week on Wednesdays for my latest posts. I’ll talk about what I’ve done, what I’m finding works with KRH, experiences, lessons, and so on and so forth. Thanks for reading!

How to build and grow an online audience

I recently attended a panel by Robert J Sawyer at When Words Collide, and he had some fascinating thoughts on the subject. He argued that the best way to do this was to find your audience, be it lovers of science fiction or fantasy or erotic furry start trek fanfic, and that it was dangerous to market your book to someone outside your audience, because they’re probably not going to like it. He suggested that most people are unable to distinguish between “this was not to my tastes” and “this was bad.”

Is this llama your audience? Then why do you think he's going to read your blog/book/comic/whatever?

Is this llama your audience? If not, why do you think he’s going to read your blog/book/comic/fanfic whatever?

Once you’ve found your audience, he had two suggestions. One, determine what your “mission statement” as a writer is. That is, what do you, the writer, provide to your readers? If you don’t know it, they’re certainly not going to.  Second, he said, intrigue people so they want to spend time with you. The best way to do this, he suggested, was to be genuinely interested in your audience and try to spend time with them.

Robert was an excellent speaker, but it was in no small part due to this talk that I went “Oh yeah, I have a blog.” And it led to a shift in the way that I’ve been blogging. So far, I’ve kept my politics, my beliefs, and my opinions about a lot of things to myself, precisely because I didn’t want to alienate potential readers (and so I don’t look like a loon, like a certain hard-right science fiction writer who had a movie coming out soon, who will remain nameless). But Sawyer had an excellent point. If you don’t like who I am, he said, you’re probably not going to like the kind of book that I write.

And he has an excellent point. Now, this doesn’t mean I’m about to go spewing insane opinions and lurid details about myself  all over the internet, because I have a professional career that has nothing to do with my blog and my writing, but I can’t appear faceless. I’m a writer of, and a fan of, science fiction and fantasy, of parkour, of politics and history. These are things that I enjoy talking about, and some of them have been very absent from this blog. Also I do bring what I would argue is a Canadianness to my writing, and if you don’t like that, you’re not going to like what I write.

In short, I’m going to spend more time writing about those things here. If you enjoy some of the same things, then perhaps you’ll like what I write. If you don’t, then perhaps you won’t. And that’s fine too.