Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
I’d be the first to admit that I’m not the handiest guy around. This isn’t a point of pride, by any means; and I’m generally not a fan of having pride in one’s ignorance. The fact that you don’t cook, don’t read, or can’t change a tire isn’t a personality trait, so no need to hang any part of your identity on it. For me, it’s just a hole in my knowledge that developed without any effort. My dad wasn’t terribly handy either and I’ve been privileged to get by with other people being able to do this work. That said, I can hang a picture straight, and where the situation calls, can turn to Google if necessary.
The situation called loud and clear on Saturday night when the cold-water handle of the kitchen faucet popped right off as I was washing the dishes just before midnight.
Let’s just say containing a gushing geyser with my bare hands while my wife tries to keep the baby asleep in the other room isn’t my preferred way of spending a Saturday evening, but we don’t always get what we want.
Fortunately, she was able to step away and come to the rescue, grabbing a thick towel which allowed me to cover and contain the flow long enough to switch off the tap underneath the sink.
But now what? It was too late to call the handyperson and with the water flow contained, it was no longer an emergency. What I also had to keep in mind is that during the pandemic we’ve been pretty hunkered down, and not letting people into our house when we have the choice was a key part of our COVID mitigation strategy. So now we have to organize the plumber to come in just as we’re almost out of the worst of it (fingers crossed). Seemed like such a waste.
So I rolled up my sleeves and made a second attempt at getting to the bottom of this faucet handle – a faucet handle that was now at the bottom of my sink. I’d tried once before, when it first started leaking, but couldn’t get past the “remove the handle” stage. The instructions said either undo the screw or pop the handle off. I couldn’t find a screw and the handles wouldn’t pop off, so that dead-end made me feel less than clever, to put it mildly.
Having the handle now in my hand allowed for a closer look, and found a sneaky hex-socket screw (the typical IKEA Allen wrench screw) that got out with some serious wiggling. One of the two never got back in, but I’ll just focus on the victories for now.
Having the inner workings of the handle now available, the diagrams on the internet made that much more sense. Turns out, I had a busted o-ring in my cold-water handle, which didn’t create the right seal. Not only that, but the fact that my handle managed to pop off with the water pressure meant that the main screw that held it in place was also loose for a while. The “how” of “how it happened” though was far less important than the “how” of “how to fix it”.
I dismantled the hot water handle to compare the two and to switch o-rings and then put the faucets back exactly as they were, turned on the water pressure … and found both the hot water and the cold water were now flowing through into the faucet itself without me having to turn the handles.
Somehow I’ve managed to eff it up even worse.
What followed was a long trial and error process that uncovered that I had loose rubber seats that were supposed to stem the water flow from the pipe to the handle, which I then put back in. This solved the problem for all of a minute, returning the moment I turned the handle, which then led to discovering that the cold tap was missing a little spring that was supposed to hold the rubber seat in place. The spring from the cold water tap lay loose in the sink o the verge of falling down the drain.
After about three in the morning, everything was in place except for a broken o-ring now on the hot water handle, but otherwise the sink was perfectly usable until I could get my hands on the spare parts to take care of that last remaining leak.
The feeling of satisfaction I experienced though was quite surprising – this was something that had sadly been completely outside of my wheelhouse, but that I was able to puzzle through. For many, it probably seems like a simple task and they’d chuckle at the amount of grief it gave me. But for me, it was a new problem I managed to solve all thanks to one of the indisputable advantages of the internet – the accumulation of nearly all of human knowledge at my fingertips.
Hopefully trying to install that new o-ring won’t leave me botching the whole thing entirely, but I guess we’ll wait and see.
You know what, as long as it’s still January, I’m allowed to do “Best X of 2020” posts. My house, my rules. That said, it feels weird using the word “best” and “2020” in the same sentence. Very little about 2020 felt good, and I noticed that this December I wasn’t inundated with the Top Countdowns for the year as is normally the custom. My guess is people don’t have the appetite for it, which is understandable. It looks like I didn’t either seeing as how I hardly noticed anything missing. That said, I’ve been doing my Writing and Reading wrap-up posts since I started this blog, and I don’t see the need to skip this year. It’s healthy to reflect on anything good that happened last year, though sometimes it feels like getting blood from a stone. Apropos of that last statement, this has not been a great reading year for me. For one, I lost my prime reading time, which was on my commute to and from work, due to working exclusively from home, which in itself had its own plethora of benefits, but its side effects as well. The other reason being like many people I just wasn’t in the right headspace to pick up a book instead of doomscrolling for a few hours before completely slipping into despair. Nonetheless, there were a few highlights from what I did read last year, so let’s jump into those.
Smile by Raina Telgemeier. This was somehow my fourth Telgemeier book even though it was her first bestselling graphic novel, but it also has a special place in my heart, having picked it up for my kids at the airport during a short business trip. Felt like a very on-point dad thing to do – grabbing something for the kids while I’m away. My dad travelled a lot starting around the time when I was my eldest’s age, and he would do the same thing for us as sort of compensation for being away from us for days and occasionally weeks at a time. The book was not ideal for my four year-old but with the six year-old now in kindergarten, the graphic novel hit on a lot of points that have become a part of his life, like teasing, bullying, making friends and changing friends. The endearing art also goes a long way to packaging this coming-of-age work for young minds, and I’ve been catching the eldest flipping through his other Telgemeier books at his leisure.
Thanks, but Let’s Not Do This Again
Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. I’ve read a bit of Dick before, with A Scanner Darkly being my favourite (it has a fantastic film adaptation as well), and hearing a lot of good things about the television show, I thought I’d check this out. Boy, was this a lesson in setting proper expectations. Let’s just say, even without watching the show, I can tell this is nothing like the show. The Nazi victory in the Second World War is less the driving force of the plot but rather the backdrop for an exploration of colonialism, destiny and hope. It is incredibly slow-paced if one is looking for a big thriller-paced payoff and shies away from really exploring the inherent atrocities of living under Nazi and Imperial Japanese occupation. There’s a lot to like about this book if one focuses on what it is trying to say, and not what you thought it was going to try to say, and the colonialism critique through the eyes of the colonized colonizer alone makes the read worth it. Lesson learned though about judging a book by its adaptation.
I’m Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help! by Xavier Amador. This was part of my research dive for my first novel – a book who’s intended audience is families of those who suffer from schizophrenia with a focus on one of its most insidious symptoms – the inability to tell one is suffering from a mental illness despite all rational signs indicating so. Equal measures informative and heartbreaking, it strengthened my understanding of the disease, but left me with a heavy feeling and a renewed sympathy for those taking care of loved ones suffering from this terrible affliction.
Good Citizens Need Not Fear by Maria Reva. One of the few times (if not the only time) I’ve ever pre-ordered a book because I was so excited by the prospect of reading it. It happened to arrive at the store just at the turn of the pandemic, which locked it up for a couple of months before I was able to get my hands on it. And when I did finally get a chance to go through it, it was well worth the wait. Not only was this a collection of short stories – the genre that launched my writing and which I still turn to from time to time – but it was also close to my heart in its setting. The series of interconnected stories follow a group of characters who at one point or another reside at a crumbling apartment block in Ukraine in the twilight years of the Soviet Union. It chronicles years I have lived through but was mostly too young to remember, though even for me that time forms an integral term of my early identity – political unrest, long lines for groceries, young parents not knowing what the immediate future will bring. It was a dying nation with a citizenry that had no choice but to live, and Reva’s short story collection captures this perfectly. It also illuminates for me a new perspective that I hadn’t spent enough time considering. As a third, or even fourth, generation Muscovite, there were certain privileges that my family had in the overall hierarchy of the Union, and I had rarely been forced to confront that colonialist reality in the way Reva’s satire made me do. So overall, the book was not only influential on me as a writer but as a person of Russian heritage as well.
Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (the first book in The Expanse series). I would be remiss if I didn’t mention an audiobook I listened to, mostly because I need to make my assertion that audiobooks are legitimate “reading” and I will fight anyone who suggests otherwise. My approach to this book was completely ass-backwards since I initially watched the first half of the first season of The Expanse and then, abandoned by the friends with whom I’d been watching, turned to the audiobook instead. I’m glad I did, because I’m not embarrassed to admit (that’s a lie, I’m really embarrassed by this) but I need more sci-fi on my reading list. For one, I’ve never had much of a yearning for hard sci-fi. I’ve always been a Star Wars, Babylon 5, Star Trek, space opera kind of guy with speedy interstellar travel, a whole host of alien races and a hint of the supernatural to keep things spicy. So The Expanse’s universe of limited technology, slow travel and murderous G-forces was not my regular cup of tea. That said there’s plenty to learned from someone else’s tea. It’s a great book, though it suffers from a diversity problem. The world is carefully crafted and believable and the terror of the supernatural element that is included is enhanced by this believability. Plus, since the travel and communication in my own story are far slower than any of the three works I mentioned, The Expanse offers me a lot of good tips. The adaptation seems pretty faithful too. Then again, that’s what I thought after the first couple of episodes of Altered Carbon, so don’t take my word for it.
Best Book of 2020
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Could I not have a chosen a book written this century? Or at least, the previous century? No, no I could not have. With the new movie having come out at the end of 2019 and my wife reminding me that this was one of her favourite books growing up, it seemed like the perfect time to pick this up and I’m so glad I did. It’s so infrequently that a book comes a long and endears me to the characters so much that I feel they’re real, and that I will actually miss their presence when they’re gone. I can see why the book has stood the test of time after more than a century and a half, with strong feminist themes and the perfect picture of the rewards and trials of family bonds. I will say that I’m still (as my wife) reeling from the whole Jo and Laurie thing, and I’m even madder about who she ends up with, but the movie did such a fantastic job of shedding new light on these plot developments I feel like it’s one of those rare adaptations that adds to the work instead of detracting from it. An added benefit was shining a light on the smooth-brains that criticized the film for being another retreading of the same thing (lovely as the 1994 film was, it isn’t even in the same league as this one). Apparently, these critics haven’t been witness to Sherlock Holmes being dusted off every couple of weeks, or just how much of our film and television entertainment is about watching men out-punch, out-spend and out-smart each other, and in the case of Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne, do all three. Everyone should read this book and watch the movie, it seems like one of those prerequisites to properly growing up.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin. I’ve rarely, if ever, felt such a strong urge to reread a book right after I’ve finished it. In the universe of the novel, Humans discover that the galaxy is populated by various subspecies of other Humans, most nearly indistinguishable from one other, with the most notable exception being those that reside on the aptly named chilly planet of Winter. Here, Humans don’t have a static biological sex but only exhibit sexual characteristics when they mate. The deep and intricate world and social commentary that Le Guin paints has so many layers it’s impossible to pick up on in a single read, and I feel like I should first consume academic literature on the novel before starting it again. It was very educational to see worldbuilding tied so inexorably to the themes of the book. Towards the end, a character who is used to the limited gender roles familiar to the reader remarks that is incredibly difficult treating these individuals as individuals, rather than as “men” and “women” – a comment on the reader who for hundreds of pages likely suffered from the same prejudices. Picking this book up was a concerted effort to familiarize myself with mid-century sci-fi and I hope I didn’t ruin the whole genre for myself by setting the bar too high.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and this year, because fuck this year, it started early. I’m talking about Christmastime, or as I like to call it, the time Michael figures out where the hell two thousand Christmas lights are supposed to go (hint: at least six hundred of them go on the tree).
I was never a Christmas freak growing up. In Russia, the big family holiday is New Year’s Eve, and even though as “westernized” Russians, Santa Claus did drop by with something in our stockings, it was New Years that took centre stage. And sure, there’s many similarities, for example how our New Years trees are essentially Christmas trees, but the holidays tend to be invasive in different ways.
So it was my wife that ended up infecting me with the stereotypical anglo-western Christmas bug. Our first winter in Toronto, where we moved into a 350 square foot box while I went to law school, one day she came home with a few bags from Dollarama and basically vomited Christmas all over our apartment. Then, over the years, I built up on this decorating tradition, and much like with Frankenstein, the creator quickly lost control of their creation.
I wasn’t kidding about the number of lights. My last tally was a couple of years ago and we were up to three thousand, a good chunk of which ends up on our tree, as you can see from this year’s iteration:
I also have some icicle lights in the corner of the living room, a set of dewdrop fairy lights on a bookshelf in the kids’ room, and this string of white lights running half the perimeter of our unit:
I think it might be a good thing that we live in a Housing Cooperative and not a detached single-family home, because had it been the latter, I think Christmas decorations may have been allotted double-digit percentage points in the family budget. Instead, our housing complex is set up more like a townhouse with multiple units per building. Still, it doesn’t stop me from plastering the railing with as many lights as I can fit:
Every year I make an event out of adding to my collection, usually hopping south of the border for a visit to Target. This year though, the borders are closed, and in any case, I’ve lost quite a few lights to attrition this year so it would mostly just be replacing what I previously had. I was thinking of checking out Canadian Tire’s curbside pickup but I prefer looking at the lights in person, so my purchases this year have been limited.
The best part is that once it’s all set up it’s really easy to maintain. I went from plugging everything manually every evening to using remotes to now setting everything up on two plugs that come with a timer, so it ends up being completely hands-off.
There’s generally been a lot of trial-and-error since I started doing this that makes the setup easier year every year, like taking pictures of the previous year’s lights to jog my memory, installing clear plastic support hooks that can stay up year-round, and figuring out how to place lights on railings in a stable but not time-consuming way. Gotta say I’m very pleased with past year’s me and the tidy work he left for me.
I think it goes without saying that lights are not the most important part of the season for me, but I’ll say it anyway – it’s my family’s happiness and seeing them up and feeling like Christmastime has begun that keeps me coming back to this labour of love year after year. And during this year, we can use all the light in the darkness that we can get.
Alright, real talk.
Never in my history of my writing have I felt burnout about writing in particular, and wanted to throw up my arms and just say “fuck it, I’m never going to make it”.
It’s not like anything particular happened, more like perfect storm of consecutive punches: the pandemic in general, the holidays coming up where lockdowns have basically took a giant dump on usual plans, the sleep deprivation of having a newborn, stress eating, not exercising due to lack of sleep and therefore not counterbalancing the stress eating, reading about writers having a “barely productive” year with six publication when I haven’t published squat in two years, having a spark of hope during #pitmad and finding out it’s essentially a self-publishing scam, failing to find an audience for my web serial after three months, blah blah blah sob story that most writers go through.
I’m jus tired. Tired of trying with absolutely no promise of success; of putting in hard work where the only fuel is hope and the only reward so far has been self-doubt. When does one ask themselves if they’re good enough? Almost constantly. When does one decide to answer the question in the negative?
Not now. Not yet anyway.
That doesn’t make what I’m currently experiencing feel any better though. Watching the yellow blips of pending submissions in my spreadsheet all flicker to red. Seeing absolutely no traffic on my blog or on my Royal Road page for my web novel.
I love writing. This summer, when I had hit the best groove of my life it made me feel good, even though my success landscape was pretty much identical to what it is today. Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe I’m just not writing enough, which is what’s leaving room to get distracted by the failures instead of enjoying the journey. Eventually, I will get out of this funk, and will regain my ability to see the big picture – that I like creating stories and playing with language and sharing my work with people no matter how few of them there are.
Apologies for being a downer, I just needed to vent, and firmly believe that bottling it up certainly won’t fix anything, and I for one like seeing that I’m not the only one who sometimes feels down in the dumps about their writing, so hopefully I can do the same for someone else.
Right, that’s my excuse.
Anyway I’ll make it up to you all with my next post which will be about Christmas lights.
A couple of months ago I posted here about waiting for our new baby to arrive any day now, and then about a week later I disappeared off the face of the Earth, with only regular The Bloodlet Sun updates being posted through Weebly’s handy queuing system. I suppose everyone could have guessed what happened, but long story short, at 6 am on a Tuesday, my wife’s water broke, and a couple of hours past midnight on Wednesday, we welcomed into the world our new baby boy.
For those of you keeping count, that’s now three boys in our family. The temptation might be to think that we had this one because we were going for a girl, but there’s no truth to that. Sure, it would have been nice to add a splash of variety, but we know boys, we’re good (knock on wood) with boys, and so we’re happy with boys. I guess the only one who experienced any kind of disappointment is our eldest, who already had a little brother and was really hoping for a little sister. The rhetoric for the first couple of weeks was “I wish he was a girl but I still love him” and even now that’s gone out the window.
The bottom line is, both kids absolutely adore their new baby brother. Gabriel, who is now the middle child and who, I swear, was born a middle child, is thrilled any time he has to throw out a used diaper, and both brothers rush at the opportunity to keep the little one company whenever their mom or I need a few moments in the kitchen.
With the difficulty of the pandemic pregnancy, it’s nice to be on the other side and happy. This wasn’t a year that anybody had planned so having this sunshine in our life is a welcome relief.
For my own part, I’m doing what I can to support my wife and our family. I was fortunate enough to be able to get four weeks off work as vacation time to help with the transition, and had some generous coworkers fill in for my files during that time. I know lots of men aren’t given the same opportunities, something I decry whenever I can, but if you are at least presented with an option that makes sense financially, do take it. Not only does that set a good example for other dads and puts the pressure on governments and employers to extend better leave benefits to fathers, you will benefit immensely from it by being able to provide support to your spouse and to spend so much quality bonding time with your newborn.
Another undeniable silver lining of the pandemic is that with remote work, I’m able to be there more and to continue to spend my time with those that are most important to me. I hope that’s one lesson that the world can learn from this unfortunate situation is that the majority of people would sooner be spending time with, or at least being closer to, their family then ploughing away at an office.
I’ve been back at work for almost a month now, and judging by the tardiness of my blog entry on our baby you can tell I’m not quite fully into the swing of things. Sleep is currently a fickle concept but some nights are better than others. In any case, even when I’m up with him it allows me to keep current on the Mandalorian and allows me to catch up with all sorts of shows I’ve been behind on. While I do look forward to getting some rest, I will enjoy my current ability to be reckless with my sleeping habits.
As for the rest of the writing outside my blog, the creative juices are sluggish but not entirely dormant, so I am producing a little bit here and there but nowhere near what I was immediately before the baby came. Good thing I’m currently sitting on a The Bloodlet Sun buffer that stretches into March. That said, no complaints from me – they’re this little only for so long, and I have the rest of my life to write.
I currently find myself in one of life’s biggest holding patterns – the arrival of a new baby. Of course, it’s my wife who’s taking the brunt of the waiting as we move into “any day now” mode with everyone’s bags ready to go whenever the little one decides that it’s time. Still, after going through most of the pregnancy during a pandemic that did not make it any easier to find ways to occupy the two kids that we already have, she still managed to finish a semester of school and go on almost daily walks, which she’s keeping up. It’s incredible what she can do.
As for myself, most of my experience is simply marinating in ever-increasing excitement and nervousness, throwing every possible second of my day into supporting her, and counting down the days to when my poor wife can stop struggling to turn over in her sleep like a very determined sea turtle returning to the ocean. I’m also ready to pull the trigger to go off on a short paternity leave (more like banked vacation, so I’ll take what I can get). So it’s a bit like living on a powder keg that can go off at almost any moment, but one that’s filled mostly with confetti.
The kids are also happily waiting to be introduced to their new baby brother or sister, with very serious and opposite opinions being held by each as to whether it will be a boy or a girl. They also met their newest baby cousin a couple of days ago (don’t worry, that family is in our pandemic bubble) and with the glow on their faces when they did, I just can’t wait for our own little bundle.
As we enter the home stretch, the undercurrent of anxiety that’s inherent with this kind of event can just go pound sand. Between cancelled family vacations, home schooling, and a pregnancy where you’re unable to go anywhere indoors, can’t see your parents, or ever truly meet your healthcare providers, this has been a ray of hope and joy to ride out the last few months. Sometimes it feels like swirling around in your own personal eddy while a storm of uncertainty rages around you, and in the end, I’m just looking forward to entering this new stage of our lives, turning into a father of three, and for us turning into a family of five, and all the adventures that would come with that.
There’s something to those walks with the baby carrier at three in the morning that help me refocus and reprioritize; realize what the important things are in my life and to reorient myself in their direction. Even if in their first few weeks and months I have way less time for my writing, I feel like my kids only help me grow as a writer, allowing me new insights about myself and the world that serve my writing.
So if I disappear for a little while, the reason is I’ve got a new ten pound project keeping me up at night, and I wouldn’t wish to have it any other way.
Another month gone by of this madness and I wanted to check in on something else I’ve been seriously unmotivated about, so that I can let you know you’re not the only ones out there who aren’t quite feeling yourselves during quarantine (actually, it’s to make me feel better about all my productivity failures – if I’m being productive about not being productive, it kind of resolves part of the problem). I’ve been pretty much neglecting my publication efforts for the last two months.
If I’m being perfectly candid with myself, the lack of acceptances over the last two years probably has something to do with it. I often come on here to encourage folks to push through the wall of rejections and just keep trying in the face of adversity, but it wouldn’t be adversity if it didn’t have any adverse effects. Sure, I’ve had my share of “good” rejections including one that said my story was in the final fifty for consideration. These are the blinking lights at the end of the tunnel (or the flame that attracts the moth, whichever way you want to look at it), but overall since my last publication in Nashwaak Review in December 2018, things have been pretty grim. And the grimness does get to you.
Whether as a result of the lockdowns or because the academic came to a close, but I feel like editors have been very active since March, and in that time I’ve accumulated about two dozen short story rejections. Normally, these get processed into my big glorious spreadsheet of submissions, I make notations of when I can next submit to a journal, and makes plans for the next rounds of submissions. Currently, this stack is sitting neglected next to my desk, and I haven’t opened my spreadsheet in over a month.
This makes me a little bit sad. Despite the minuscule ratio of my works that have been accepted, I usually enjoy playing the game – organizing journals, figuring out which stories are appropriate for which ones, customizing cover letters, sending my babies off into the real world where they inevitably get smacked around a little bit. It helps that I’m also a chart fiend, as evidenced by my light bullet journal addiction, so updating this gives me a certain pleasure based on that alone. Plus there’s always the promise of success – the more I send out, the more chances there are of being published no matter how small. So when I don’t find joy in something I normally do, it leaves me with a troublesome feeling.
I apologize if I’m being a bit of a downer. If the previous trend has been any indication, the moment I complain about something here is pretty much when I turn it around and start doing it again. Despite my lamentations a couple of weeks ago, I’ve slowly been getting back into editing my work, which is a good sign for finally completing Chapter 2 of The Bloodlet Sun (it’s been over a year, I should be dead of embarrassment but it helps I have very little shame) and a couple of short stories that have been “almost complete” for quite some time.
So too I think in the next week or so I’ll rip off that Band-Aid, update my chart, and start planning out my next flurry of submissions. I guess, in a time where we have to tell ourselves ‘no’ so much for the greater good, it’s hard to keep hearing ‘no’ from an additional source, particularly when it chips away at one of the core parts of your identity. Sure, each rejection is like a mosquito bite, but as someone who once went to a beach in Cuba after nightfall, I know that a having a few dozen simultaneous mosquito bites is a whole different ball game.
I guess what I’m trying to convey is that to be a writer, you need to have thick skin. But having thick skin doesn’t mean it’s impenetrable. Some things will get you down more than others, and right now I’m in my down. I know the next ‘up’ is right around the corner, and if you’re in a down, I hope you find yours too.
It’s hard to imagine that just over a month ago, I chose to drive to campus and forgo public transit, and then called my mom and said that bringing the kids over that weekend might not be such a good idea. Within days, my commute to work was resolved with a “Work from Home” directive from the university, and my decision to not visit anyone outside our household was no longer just a precaution, but an expectation for the public good. These six weeks have certainly stretched for many of us the definition of what “normal” could be, and I hope all of you are doing as well as you can under the circumstances.
As for myself, in a previous entry I mentioned how I was having a rough go of it, but it’s been getting gradually better. I’ve made progress across multiple projects (as I’m prone to do, since I can’t seem to commit to any specific thing for too long) and it’s less of a chore to sit down and force myself to write. One would think since I enjoy it so much I should just be turning to it for comfort in difficult times, but as I’m sure many of you have also discovered this doesn’t seem like the case. The stresses and anxieties of the current situation have knocked us out of ourselves and it’s going to take a while to feel normal again, and probably not until the situation stabilizes. I’m looking at my sister-in-law as well who knits like a fiend but has completely dropped it for last month. She recently bought new yearn, so maybe she feels the same slight thaw that I do.
And it’s okay if you’re experiencing no such thing. I think there’s an unfair perception out there that because some of us suddenly have way more time on our hands we should all come out of this as world-class bakers, or pianists or polyglots. That’s a whole lot of aspirational baloney that doesn’t take into account the fact that we’re all human and that our flight-or-fright response had been perma-activated for weeks on end. I’m yet to even touch editing. I can get myself into putting down new words on the page but even the thought of rereading my writing for the purposes of improving it is giving me anxiety.
Dealing with my mistakes is a future me problem.
Wanted to check in from my den during the Covid-19 lockdown/isolation/quarantine. I’m blessed in that I’m able to work from home and have my closest family under the same roof and am generally doing well. And even then I went pretty silent over the last two weeks because, let’s face it, it’s a lot to process.
I think it’s important to remember that it’s okay to feel how you’ve been feeling. This entry is the first time I took to my writing. Even though I don’t have a commute and so technically would have more access to free time, my writing requires a certain headspace and all the space in my head has been filled with news of the pandemic, as I’m sure it has for all of you.
So forgive yourself if you think you have all this newfound “free time” that you’re wasting. There’s nothing “free” about this time. It comes at a great cost, both globally in terms of those directly affected by the virus, and personally for all your anxiety you have for the world, your loved ones and yourself. I think accepting the fact that you may not be yourself could even help settling your mind and your mood so that you may be more productive in ways that you hoped you could be.
You may also find, like I have at times over the last couple of weeks, that nothing outside of the pandemic matters anymore. It certainly feels like it has smothered the world to be the singular thing of importance. My home conversations are often about Covid-19, my group chats are almost exclusively about Covid-19, all the social media that used to talk about sports, and politics and writing is pretty much all devoted to discussions of Covid-19. It’s a fascinating phenomenon to watch the world unite on a single topic, but at the same times it threatens to eclipse everything else.
Here is where you need to remember that writers are artists, and great art often arises out of dire circumstances as a beacon of hope for the world. Not only that, but we are also storytellers, and humans have sought comfort in stories since times immemorial. Now is not the time to put writing on the backburner because something bigger came along. Now is the time to channel your fears, anxieties and frustrations into something that could help others deal with this.
Write for yourself, to help get your mind off things. Write for others, to help them do the same. Sow hope and happiness and sunshine as much as you can, and forgive yourself if the burden of current events prevent you from doing what you love.
Most of this also applies to those of you out there who are not writers. Be kind to yourself and how you’re dealing with something humanity hasn’t really dealt with in over a century. You each might find your own method of coping, whether it’s dark humour, apathy, aloofness, despair. Don’t judge yourself, or others, with how you’re reacting and what you’re doing during your days. As long as we’re doing what we need to do to protect others from the pandemic, what you do with the rest of your time is mostly your business. We could be hunkering down for a long time, and we’ll face a lot of adversity, and as long as you don’t act like your own adversary, it would be that much easier to get through.
Best of luck everyone, and stay safe.
My country is currently abuzz with the news of the firing of a Canadian icon, a long-time hockey commentator by the name of Don Cherry. For my Canadian readers, this man needs no introduction, but for everyone else, I figured I’d start with a summary.
Shortly after spending two decades as a hockey player in the minor leagues, in 1974 Cherry was promoted to the head coach of the Boston Bruins, one of the oldest franchises in the National Hockey League and a very successful team in the 70s. Cherry coached the Bruins for five seasons before entering broadcasting where he soon landed a gig for his own segment during Hockey Night in Canada, the premier hockey broadcast in the country.
Cherry had kept this job for nearly four decades, despite over the years accumulating soundbites that ranged from somewhat questionable to straight-up sexist and xenophobic. His ire was an out-of-control firehouse that sprayed every demographic that didn’t fit into his anglo-white old stock conception of what Canada should be. French Canadian and European hockey players were a favourite target, but all sorts of diatribes accumulated over the years including about women reporters and Canada’s Indigenous people. These might seem tame by the standards of media personalities in other countries, but in Canada, despite his lovable bright suits and tell-it-like-it-is attitude, he stood out as a sore thumb in a country where it’s generally frowned upon to be openly hostile to one another (off the ice, that is).
Don Cherry’s inexplicable longevity came to a grinding halt this weekend. Monday was Remembrance Day in Canada, a solemn occasion to commemorate all those who sacrificed their lives to make sure we can continue to enjoy living ours. One of the associated traditions here is donating to the Royal Canadian Legion and wearing a commemorative red poppy. Cherry had taken issue with the fact that he’s observed fewer and fewer people wearing poppies over the years. But instead of directing his rant at Canadians in general, he chose to single out “you people” – specifically immigrants who come to enjoy the Canadian way of life but allegedly can’t be bothered to honour those who’ve laid down their lives for it. Interestingly, it wasn’t the worst thing Cherry has said, and his overall point was a decent one: trying to drum-up some support for veterans and to help rekindle a waning tradition. But instead, he chose to make it an “us” versus “them” problem, where “us” is an extremely specific definition evidenced by Cherry’s comments over the years.
The proverbial straw had crippled the poor exhausted camel that has been forcibly dragging Cherry’s career towards the third decade of the twenty-first century. Two days after the “you people” monologue aired, Cherry was canned.
I think before I say anything further I should mention that a small part of me is saddened by this. It is an ignoble end to a national icon, a household name, a staple of Saturday night television, and the seventh highest-voted Canadian in the 2004 “The Greatest Canadian” TV show. He’s survived so many self-inflicted verbal wounds that one simply assumed only health issues could keep him away from the broadcaster booth.
But beyond the begrudging respect for somebody who obviously loves our country very much, my sympathy for Don Cherry is in short supply. He should have been fired a long time ago. Instead of being propped up and forgiven in the name of ratings, his employers should have pulled his national platform for sharing his bilious opinions. He had made Canada a less welcoming place.
To understand where my own feelings about Don Cherry stem from, you have to remember that I moved from Russia to Canada when I was thirteen years old, and spent most of my teenage years struggling into my new identity. Many tears had been shed over the question of whether I could ever be able to consider myself “Canadian”. And a recurring casual reminder of my otherness was the man in the silly suits yelling at me from the TV every Saturday.
Cherry had always worn his attitude towards Russians on his sleeve. This clip from the 1996 Hockey World Cup is a particularly fiery example. Coincidentally, I was present at that game, in my Pavel Bure Vancouver Canucks jersey, unequivocally a fan of Team Russia. It was a couple of months before my parents formed the intention to immigrate and three years before Don Cherry assumed a supporting role in my ensuing identity crisis.
You can see from the clip that it wasn’t enough for Cherry to comment on the quality of Canadian hockey versus Russian hockey. Russian hockey accomplishments were completely demolished and the Russians were accused of having no heart. The problem with Cherry’s brand of patriotism is that it’s not only based on building Canada up, but tearing everyone else down.
And that is how it felt – as I built up my confidence in my “Canadianness” Cherry’s routine commentary would tear pieces of it down. Russians are cowards. Russians are sneaks. Russians have no heart. Never sticking to a specific incident, always these sweeping strokes as if Cherry was pointing his accusatory finger right into my soul.
The low point in this journey came for me in Grade 10, during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Probably in part because I stubbornly held onto to some pride for my mother country, I was anointed the class scapegoat for the entirety of the Russian Olympic team. Russian ice hockey team losing? French figure skating judge helping Russians win? Russian skiers caught doping? I was called to answer for every one of these sins.
So while I literally had my back against the wall as several of my classmates jeered about Russian cheating, what did Don have to say about all this?
"I’ve been trying to tell you for so long about the Russians. What kind of people they are and you just love them in Canada with your multiculturalism."
You see, his comments didn’t just stop at hinting at systemic Russian doping, a stance that would be vindicated years later; he had to take it a step further. This was all about what kind of people these Russians really are, and that tolerance of these people is a negative consequence of multiculturalism. Here was a beloved Canadian basically telling me that I was unwelcome here. While I struggled to feel like I belonged, Don shamelessly reminded me that I didn’t and fanned the flames of ridicule that I was subjected to.
Over the years, I’ve grown more comfortable in my skin, and I look back at that period of my life as an unfortunate but essential part of a young immigrant’s struggle. I know what I am and it would take more than the careless words of a TV personality to shake my identity as a Canadian. But the hurt had never fully healed, especially while Cherry was still given the time of day to make others feel the way I did, or worse.
At the end of the day, Don Cherry is not necessarily a bad man, but he is an ignorant man, and the narrowness of his mind does not leave a lot of room for people who are not like him. This to me has always been antithetical to my vision of Canada – a nation that strives to the best of its ability to be inclusive and welcoming.
So thank you, Don, for your service, but it’s time for everyone to move on.
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.