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.