Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
So High on Solo
From someone in my generation ,it’s not exactly exceptional that I like Star Wars. Tempted as I am, it’s not necessary to delve into my life story setting out exactly what part of my childhood, and now adulthood, Star Wars has formed. Suffice it to say I can tell my Bossk from my Dengar.
I’m also one of those fans that doesn’t take the most critical eye to the franchise. Sure, I will laugh at every cringe-worthy moment in the prequels, but The Phantom Menace was the first movie I saw in a movie theater, and just because I think Attack of the Clones is the worst Star Wars movie doesn’t mean I won’t watch it when it’s on without shame (that’s a lie, shame is involved). So I suppose I’m an exception to the adage “No one hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans”. It’s no surprise then that I’ve generally enjoyed the Disney-era Star Wars movies. Some more than others, but you won’t catch me standing on a street corner yelling about how The Last Jedi did unspeakable things to my childhood.
So if you’re looking for a review of Han Solo that fits a certain narrative, you won’t find one here. But if you want to accuse someone of being a cultist or a studio shill, I’m your man. Although I gotta say, I wish someone would pay me to shill, I have hobbies I need to sponsor.
I went into the movie keeping a lid on my expectations. This was an origin story I didn’t really think we needed, and the well-known issues with the directors, as well as the rumours about the acting didn’t give me any particularly high hopes. So honestly, when I saw initial reviews clocking in the low 70s on Rotten Tomatoes, I was pretty pleased. I knew that for someone like me, it would be a decent ride.
And a decent ride it was. Now, I’ve heard that the first hour has pacing issues and it feels disjointed. Unfortunately, I’ve got a hard time wrapping my head around those terms. That’s like hearing from someone that the chocolate ice cream I just ate tasted bad. No, I tasted the bloody thing, and I liked it. So honestly, I have no idea what they’re talking about.
I liked hopping from planet to planet – it made the galaxy feel big, which is what I find some of the recent movies have been lacking. And then the movie picks up steam and off we go, with me sitting literally on the edge of my seat for most of it. Not so much because the “Oh my God what’s going to happen next?” feel of it, but the “Oh my God this is the Star Wars I love” feel of it. A mix of familiar ships and cool new designs, new characters mixing with old favourites who are given new life.
Kudos to Alden Ehrenreich no matter what anyone says. He didn’t set out to do a Harrison Ford impression and I don’t know why anyone expected as much. He played a young Han Solo, not a young Ford, and I think he did it well. Just a bit more naïve and happy-go-lucky than the experienced smuggler we first meet in A New Hope. And I don’t even know where to begin with Donald Glover as young Lando, stealing every scene he was in. Now any time I’ll watch Billy Dee Williams as the iconic character I will see him in his youth. The two have completely merged together in my mind.
But don’t get me wrong, I’ve got my own complaints, too, places where the movie doesn’t quite feel as necessarily Star Wars as I would have liked. Although it makes sheepish attempts to get out of it, it still seems to lack the gratuitous presence of most of the alien species established in the first six films. It’s hard to make it feel like the same galaxy when the supposedly ubiquitous Twi’leks (which apparently I can spell correctly from memory - what is wrong with me?) are nowhere to be found. I should have to geek out when there’s a momentary sighting of a Rodian.
And I still haven’t felt that we really got to know a place like we did with Tatooine, Bespin, Naboo or Coruscant. The new locales still appear as snippets to be filed away, instead of actual worlds. But that just might be my own nostalgia talking. We’ll see what happens when my kids grow up, if they end up being Star Wars fans. Maybe to them Corellia would be just as real as Dagobah is to me.
In any case, no matter the movie’s flaws, I had fun, and I wish more people had fun, too. I know the feeling some of them decry. It isn’t *my* Star Wars, either. But I’m not a kid anymore. If I keep chasing that feeling, I don’t know if I’ll ever find it. If I do, I’ll know it, and it’ll be magical. And if I don’t, then that’s alright, because I’m willing to sit back and enjoy the ride in the meantime.
For those of you who haven’t watched the movie yet, look away now because I’m about to dive into some spoilers.
The thing about a Han Solo prequel, is that you either don’t touch anything that was previously established, or you better be telling us how he met Chewbacca, got his blaster, and did the Kessel Run. Okay, so all three happened in the span of what, 48 hours, but that’s alright.
The mutual rescue between him and Chewbacca and the seeming elimination of the life debt from the Expanded Universe may not please die-hards, but I actually welcomed the change. Gives much more meaning to the reason that a two hundred year-old former leader of the Kashyyyk defence, friend to Jedi, is hanging out with a loser like Han. It gives their friendship more agency instead of it being a social contract Chewie couldn’t get out of even if he wanted to.
There was one piece of lore that was particularly silly. When Han was asked his last name by the Imperial recruitment officer and he didn’t have a response, I stiffened up a bit. Then Han said he was all alone, and I was just giddy with anticipation. And then I watched the origin of “Solo” materialize right before my eyes with a stupid smile on my face, ‘stupid’ probably being the operative word here.
Oh, and of course, how can I not comment on the reveal in the last few minutes of the film? The moment that hologram came online I knew this was going to be good. Then I saw the robotic legs of the speaker and had to restrain myself from shouting out my guess in the theater. And then there he was, the most underrated and then redeemed by further material villain of the movies, making a triumphant comeback. And then he just had to ignite his lightsaber for no discernible reason other than “lethal glow sticks are fun”. Ah well.
I just need to talk about my dad
Permit me to be a downer, but this what’s been consuming my mood as of late, and I feel like writing about it to hopefully feel a little better. I’ve mentioned in a previous entry that I lost my dad last year. Currently I’m in the short stretch of days between what should have been his fifty fourth birthday and what will be the one-year anniversary of his passing.
I can’t say it’s been easy. In fact, I won’t say it, because that would be an outright lie, even though it’s a lie I tell myself quite regularly. I would say that it feels like a cloud has been hanging over my head for a whole month, but that would both be cliché and not entirely true. It’s not a cloud that sits above you, but a feeling that sits in you, gnaws at you, makes you hollow on the inside. What it does bring about apparently is a flair for the melodramatic, so guilty as charged, I suppose.
It doesn’t help that through mostly a coincidence, I have recently been writing out a character’s conversation with his deceased father. Now, my character’s relationship with his dad is a bit more complicated than mine, but it doesn’t change the fact that even after a year I still can’t make heads or tails of what I’m supposed to be feeling. My moods are as forceful and unpredictable as the seas, but there’s one constant thread that runs through it all that I can agree on and that is that I miss him. I miss both the presence that was and the two decades that were stolen from us. One of my kids will likely have no memories of his dyeda, while the other might retain some distant images. He was stolen from them, too.
I guess this is where the coherent train of thought starts to get away from me, as the anger rolls in. I just sit here trying not to get crushed by the weight of the things left unsaid, by everything that was left on the table like yesterday’s coffee, where the drink can now only be dumped, the mug washed and put away in a tidy cupboard somewhere. Eventually he’ll become more memory than man, such a gaping chasm these lost years will leave.
I wish I could make this blog entry into something poignant and inspirational, but I think that would be disingenuous. It’s my personal belief that in our society we have real trouble facing grief, and death, and sickness. My own writing incorporates those themes, particularly their relationship to mental disorder. I think it’s unfair to the very real feelings we experience to claim that this process is a triumph over adversity. It’s incredibly unfair to the person that is gone, pretending that the hole could ever be properly mended. It will always crack, even a little bit, and you just patch it up as best as you could.
So I guess my takeaway, or at least the first stages of a takeaway that will probably take the whole of my life to build, is to not hide from it. Process it. Take in the cruelty of it. It’s okay to thrash around. It’s okay to not find comfort in your own skin. It’s okay to feel and it’s okay to talk about those feelings. Most of us have gone or will have to go through this. This isn’t some dark thing that should be swept under the carpet. This is life. That ugly side of it without which the light won’t shine quite so brightly. This is the other side of the coin that is love. The pain that goes with belonging. Don’t be afraid to hold your loved ones close. We are human, it’s what we need to survive.
Counting my chickens
I’m going to go ahead and count my chickens. Mostly because they’re already in the process of hatching, but also because I’m pretty darned excited about these chickens. I’ve been trying to get my short stories published since I was in high school. Back then, my methods were crude, and submission guidelines were at best skimmed, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up on some lifetime blacklists across literary journals in Canada. Let the past stay in the past, unless you want to revel in my pain and read a bit more about my old writing exploits.
My efforts had become more organized and respectful over the years, but they still bore no fruit. My greatest short story success was from The Advocate, which is a publication produced by the Law Society of British Columbia and distributed mostly to BC lawyers. It’s an industry journal, but they do run an annual short story competition for stories that in some way relate to the topic of law and lawyers. So my first official publication was when my short story “Spider Silk” won third-place in their competition and scored me a $100 gift certificate to Chapters. And as much as I will be eternally grateful to the judges at The Advocate for my first break, I hungered for that literary publication.
Then I decided that this was going to be the year. It sounds stupid and simple but it was neither of those things. I wanted this to be done. I needed this to be done. So I rolled up my sleeves, threw myself into research of publications, created spreadsheets to track my progress (I’m all about the charts), finished new stories and refreshed older drafts. 2018 would be the year that I would finally break through.
And it seems that it’s exactly what’s happening. After wave upon wave of rejections crashing over me, Passages North, the annual literary journal sponsored by Northern Michigan University, has kindly chosen to publish my short story “Ursa Major” in their online bonus content. It was the shortest story I had every written (about 1,700 words), so it’s a perfect fit for an online platform. And once it’s up on their website, I would be able to share it with all of you, which is basically the icing on the cake.
It felt like a glacier had all but slid off my chest. Once you’ve heard the word ‘no’ a hundred times, none of those stories about famous authors getting a tonne of rejections really provide any comfort anymore. You feel like you’re going to be that one writer who’s just not good enough. And then it happens that you made something you love and someone else loves it too, and suddenly you feel years of battered self-esteem come falling off.
I barely had enough time to bask in the glow of this success, when I got another email. Now one of my older stories “Nightfalls”, one I refused to stop believing in, has been picked up by the Nashwaak Review to be published towards the end of this year. So thank you to the good folks at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick for the opportunity to be published in Canada.
And just like that, after a decade and a half of misses I now have two hits.
Now here’s where we get to those proverbial chickens. I’m not an overly superstitious person, but I have my quirks. This one I probably got from my dad who would often tell clients: “See you next week, unless something happens.”
“What might happen?” They would inevitably ask, and then he would shrug and respond: “I dunno, I could die.”
So I do have this sense of too-good-to-be-true dread that this, too, will die. But my excitement outweighs the fear, which is why I’m sharing this with you now even though the actual publications are still a ways away. I will of course be posting more about it closer to the dates, unable to contain my giddiness.
I know it sounds a bit dumb but my happiness about this can’t be understated. Something that has formed a part of my internal identity for so many years has finally become a part of my external identity as well. You can read a little bit more in this entry about how long I’ve been writing, and it’s really humbling to have those efforts paid off.
So thank you for staying tuned in the meantime and hopefully these are just the first steps for more exciting things to come.
There are constantly shifting periods within my life that my wife lovingly calls “side-projects” but most of which she wants to call “What the hell are you even doing you’re a grown ass-man.” This is why I married someone who knew me in high school, because if she could like me through that, she would be able to handle anything. These side projects are as varied as they are ill-advised. For instance, for three years, I drew a webcomic (it was terrible and needs to be burned with fire but I had fun). Or how about that time I built a little house with popsicles, carpenter glue, and a pocket knife, and used our clunky second-hand CRT television as a work bench?
These little flights of fancy stick to me too easily, so it’s no surprise that when my wife and her sister were one evening going on and on about bullet journaling, my ears pricked up.
Graphs are an obsession of mine. If there’s anything that I learned in high school that came to any use in my later life it would be learning to use Excel in Ms. Hubbard’s Info Tech class. Whether it’s our car’s mileage, the success of national hockey teams or my words per day output since 2005, there is a chart or graph on my computer that covers it.
So when I found out that someone invented a paper journal (despite my affinity for Excel, I am still a sucker for physical media) whose dot pattern could help track a bunch of my goals and habits, I hit up our local bookstore and impulsively bought the only one that was available at the time, despite its slightly nauseating colour and the fact that the entire lineup appeared in the same store only a couple of weeks later.
My entry into the world of bullet journaling also coincided with an important life milestone. Despite my best efforts and pleas that had fallen on deaf ears, I was turning 30. Not that there was anything particularly wrong with the way I handled my 20s, but I was determined to “Do my 30s right”, and if I could track sleeping, eating, exercise, language learning, productivity and a bunch of other crap found in self-help seminars, and put it in a neat little notebook, well then there was something right with the universe.
For those of you that are familiar with certain aspects of bullet journaling, you’re probably asking: “But Michael, you can’t draw for crap, what the hell are you doing getting into the girly art of bullet journaling?”
Firstly, I resent that first accusation. I’ll have you know that my stick people have the most intense expressions. Just look at this son of a bitch over here, judging you silently (may have been a product of 5 hours of intense sketching.
And secondly, there is nothing inherent to bullet journaling that requires artistic flourishes or stickers. Outdated gender norms aside, there is nothing preventing anyone from becoming a bullet journal enthusiast. I mean, sure, did I immediately go to Michael’s and buy a set of 20 Staedtler coloured pens? And did I update my hideously overpriced Micron pen collection? Maybe. But I didn’t need to do any of these things. I could just as well have pulled out a Bic pen and set to putting my bullet journal entries together.
So, what exactly went into the goal of doing my thirties right? With two young kids, one of whom was five months old at the time, it comes as no surprise that sleep was an important factor. Kids will eat away at enough if it without any effort on your part, so I figured I could tackle getting to bed on time easily. It’s not the easiest thing to do to go from 12:30 am bedtimes on weekdays and 2:30am on weekends only four years ago, to desperately trying to get to bed before 11:00 pm every day just so you wake up a semi-functional human being. Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not whining. Kids are the most exciting thing that’s happened in my life. But they take their toll, and I needed to track to make sure I wasn’t exacerbating the problem.
Okay, given how that went, perhaps that wasn’t the best example to lead with. Another endeavor that I started to immediately track was my feeble attempts at learning Spanish through apps and reading literature I don’t understand. I recognize my failure as a Canadian in my inability to speak fluent French and then hopping on to trying to learn another language. But I will blame my teachers for compromising my love for the French language and my eternal fascination with Cuba for my attraction to Spanish. I put together an entry that tracks my use of the Memrise and Duolingo apps and whether I read or listen to any Spanish that day. As you can see from the tracker below, my results have been streaky.
Here you have another entry that doesn’t show the most stellar track record. But that’s the beauty of it. Even if I hit my lows or my busy periods, the fact that I’m still tracking this keeps pulling me back, and I’ve never fully given up on my goals. That’s kind of what I discovered on this journey, there’s only so many hours in a day, so there’s only so much you can do. Requiring perfection from yourself is about as unfair as requiring perfection from others, but as long as you keep trying at least the journey would be fun.
So now you’re thinking, “Thanks Michael, I don’t need a journal to tell me I don’t sleep and for my own sanity’s sake I won’t track my caffeine intake. So how will this help me in my writing?” Ah, there’s another advantage to bullet journals – you’re only limited by your imagination. Anything you want can be tracked, if you’re brave enough.
Take this spread here, which tracks my general types of writing output. This hits on everything from novels, to blog posts to time taken for my publication efforts. Even my hesitant forays into poetry are tracked here. Sometimes it’s hard to see what we’ve done, especially when jumping from project to project without taking anything to completion. But here I can quickly see where my time goes, and be assured that I’m putting in my hours to chip away at the coveted 10,000. Not a magic number, necessarily, but I thought it would be nice to take inspiration from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, where he talks about how most experts at something tend to clock at least 10,000 hours in that activity. It's also a pretty sweet Macklemore song.
And that’s not the only writing-related bullet journal entry that I have. Since about 2005 I have been tracking, on-and-off, my writing output in terms of words per day. I know some people feel that this turns writing into a chore, and that’s certainly one of the reasons why I would stop for long stretches at a time. But I found over the last couple of years that now it aids in motivation, and going back at the end of the month and seeing production in graphic form encapsulates what I had done nicely. So at the beginning of 2017, I decided to do this in bullet journal form, where I would track the days using colour-coding based on how many words I wrote, with a little legend on the side to help me remember what the colours mean.
As you can see there is a significant bite taken out of the middle of 2017, and I elaborate on this a little bit in an earlier blog entry. But aside from that stumble, I think it’s pretty neat. You can easily see how 2018 has been significantly more productive than 2017, due to several factors of maintaining a good streak, having a variety of projects, and being in a good general state of productivity since November 2017, which again is covered in said blog entry. I want more days to be in the blue rather than in the green, but with work and other commitments it’s tough to fit that much writing into my day.
So there you have it, a bit of an insight into one of the many things in my writing toolbox. I would encourage you to pick out a bullet journal of your own and see where it takes you, or otherwise find a way of tracking and visualizing your progress. But remember, steer clear of anything that will suck the joy out of your art. Track to write, not write to track.
Michael is a husband, father of two, lawyer, writer, and is currently working on his first novel, at a snail's pace. A very leisurely snail. All opinions are author's own.