Saturday 31 March 2012

Six Degrees of Abstinence

Since I was thinking about medieval attitudes towards sex, I remembered this particular little list.  It was developed by John Cassian who was obsessed about wet dreams and was on a crusade to eradicate them since they were evidence of an untamed libido.  If he was still alive, I’d be worried about him.  He came up with six stages of chastity, a set of goals for those seeking to live a virtuous, lust-free life.  Interestingly, this list only applied to men since Cassian believed it was impossible to eradicate lust in women.  So a pre-step for this list would be to remove oneself from the company of women, i.e. to a monastery.

Step one: Not succumbing to temptations of the flesh while awake.
Step two: Rejecting voluptuous thoughts.
Step three: Sight of a woman is no longer arousing.
Step four: No longer has erections when awake.
Step five: Reference to sexual acts in the holy texts are no longer arousing.
Step six: “Seduction of female fantasies does not delude him while he sleeps.”

So many possibilities for commentary.  I feel like John Stewart after Dick Cheney accidentally shot another man in the face while duck hunting.  It just feels too easy.

But I think I’ll stick with the psychology rather than venturing into the ever-so-easy condemnation of the hypocrisy.  It’s interesting that a complete lack of sexual interest was considered a desirable state in a grown man or young boy.  I think there’s an interesting parallel in our condemnation of male sexual interest in modern society.  We talk about how boys are “bad” for wanting sex (although we praise them for getting it) and warn young women about them.  We lecture boys on how they must never allow their sexual impulses to overwhelm them lest they become rapists.  Although we don’t come out and say it, asexuality is still implied to be an approved state, at least in youth.

I actually feel sorry for the men who struggled to suppress their sexual instincts based on this list.  It’s the same situation as chronic female dieters.  The message they received was that if they just tried a little harder, they would achieve their goal.  The flaw was in them, not in trying to overcome a couple million years of evolutionary imperative.  I imagine a class of men who were the sexual equivalent of anorexics, denying themselves physical release but mentally obsessed with the act of sex and arousal (a brief stroll through medieval religious literature shows an incredible obsession with sex and sex acts). 

Anger and resentment over continued failure would eventually turn outward as blame.  Blame placed on women.  It’s not that I’m a bad or sinful man, it’s those darn women’s fault.  And in a society which still accepted external influences on personal actions and impulses, i.e. spells and curses, it’s only a short step from ascribing blame to ascribing evil intentions.  I have no real evidence for this particular train of events but it seems like a plausible emotional trigger for society.  And the Inquisition and Witch Trials are recorded history. 

The majority of people were probably quite reasonable about sex.  The same as today.  But the ideals held up for us to emulate are different.  The ideal of wildly adventurous and carefree sex is just as unrealistic as complete abstinence.

Friday 30 March 2012

Getting Medieval About Sex

I was reading the Globe and Mail and I found an article by Jacqueline Murray, a professor of history at Guelph University, talking about how the Ontario Court of Appeal’s decision to decriminalize brothels actually puts us more in line with a medieval attitude towards prostitution and sex.  How could I resist commenting on such an article?

She says that in medieval times, prostitutes were organized into guilds just like any other craftsperson.  Reading between the lines of what she says, I suspect it’s somewhat the same view our society takes of strippers.  It’s legal, but not respected.  For the most part, people don’t talk about it in respectable society and there’s a certain amount of social ostracism directed at those who dance naked (or nearly so) for money.

Personally, I think the time is well past to legalize prostitution.  It’s safer for the women (and some men) who otherwise become easy prey for the darker side of society.  I’m not a huge fan of the idea of paying for sex but several thousand years of recorded history proves the futility of trying to eliminate it.  Since it’s going to be with us no matter what, let’s make it safer for both the workers and the customers.

The argument I’ve most often heard against legalization is “Would you want your daughter to be a prostitute?”  The answer (if I had daughters) would be “Of course not” but would have to continue “but if that’s what it comes to, I’d want her to be safe and have rights.” 

Every prostitute out there is someone’s daughter (or son).  There was a point where all sorts of hopes were cherished for that child.  And then things went wrong.  How much do they have to be punished for the bad choices they or others made about their lives?  I believe that we have an obligation as civilized human beings to try and cushion the most vulnerable sectors of our society.

Here’s my argument for legalization.  If prostitution was legalized and they could band together to protect themselves in the equivalent of a sex workers union, then sickos like Robert Pickton and other assorted serial killers would stop having a readily available pool of anonymous victims to hone their murderous skills on.  They would be noticed and caught significantly earlier in their careers.

Other benefits just keep on coming.  The government can collect taxes on it (and if they don’t have a moral issue collecting on tobacco, then sex really shouldn’t fall under a different category).  Standards of health and lack of drug use can be established.  Programs to help those who want to get out of the industry would be much easier and cheaper to run.  I’m honestly surprised it’s taken this long.

Imagine if it was food instead of sex.  Can you imagine restaurants and the sale of food for consumption being illegal?  Black market serving houses where the desperate go to earn their living by giving plates of food to anonymous customers.  It’s ridiculous and yet the act of sex is just as natural as the act of eating.

Maybe it really is time to go medieval.

Thursday 29 March 2012

Rereading Harry Potter

I just finished rereading the Harry Potter series.  I haven’t touched them since I read the last book in 2007.  I was so upset over the characters being killed and felt like JK Rowling had made the story dark and depressing.  I’ve done that before with novels.  I don’t want to experience the low point so I avoid reading the entire set.

However, I often find I can’t stay away forever.  The memory fades and the good parts come back to me.  I’ve been toying with trying Harry Potter again for almost a year but I honestly didn’t want to go through the emotional pain of losing fictional friends again.  It’s a problem with me and my imagination.  When I find stories I love, then the characters become real to me.  I think about them.  I imagine backstories and extra events for them.  They may be fictional, but like the Velveteen Rabbit, they become Real.

I enjoyed the first six books immensely but I was bracing myself for the seventh book.  I cried again when Sirius died in the fifth and when Dumbledore died in the sixth.  Then came the onslaught.  Hedwig, Mad-Eye, Dobby, Fred, Lupin … each and every one tragic.

But not overwhelmingly so.

Maybe it’s because I knew it was coming, rather than being surprised with them.  The first time I read a book, I almost always rush through because I want to know what happens.  I don’t have the mental space to absorb details because I’m completely swept up in the plot.  I was able to spend more time in the ‘present’ of the book rather than rushing ahead to the next point. 

Maybe it’s because I’m older and I’ve dealt with more.  Things haven’t been easy for the last five years and I now know what it’s like to have to face overwhelming odds and keep fighting anyway.  When The Deathly Hallows came out, Alex had just been diagnosed and my world was in the process of reforming after a complete collapse.  I needed a happy ending, not just for Harry but for everyone. 

Whatever the reason, I see the elegance and determination in Rowling’s work now.  I owe her an apology for lumping her in with dark-minded writers who seem to genuinely enjoy kicking their characters in the teeth while they’re down.  She may have killed off a lot of characters, but I’m now willing to bet each and every one left a mark on her.  If I felt loss from my meager imaginings, she must have felt worse since these are characters she had been working with for over a decade.

Harry Potter can retake his place of pride among the stories on my shelf.  Welcome back, old friends.  It’s good to see you again.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Joey the Dragon Day

Today was Joey the Dragon day at Nathan’s kindergarten class.  My friends, Christina Clemis and Joey Hoffer, wrote and illustrated a children’s book about a friendly dragon searching for a home (available on  They came to speak to the class about writing the book and drawing the illustrations, to show them that real people write books. 

I was very proud of my friends and really happy that the teacher helped organize this.  First of all, I’m proud of them for writing the book and getting it published because it takes courage to put a little piece of yourself out there for judgment.  I’m also proud that they came to the school.  They looked so at home in front of the kids.

If I had seen a presentation like this when I was a kid, it might not have taken me as long to get the courage up to start sharing the stories floating in my head.  I thought artists, actors and writers were all tremendously gifted people who were identified at an early age and if no one was encouraging you (by which I mean professionally training you) by the time you started school then you were probably never going to do it.  A flawed conception, I admit, but one which took some work to overcome.

My family was always very practically oriented.  When I said I wanted to be an artist, my parents asked what I was going to do to earn a living.  Because art was good and something people should do, but it wouldn’t pay the bills.  Now this is tried and true advice in the vast majority of situations but I think it was applied a little prematurely.  If a five year old says he wants to be a fire-engine when he grows up, you don’t talk about the difficulty of animate-inanimate transmogrification.  Instead you invite him to use his imagination, talk about what he would do as a fire truck, secure in the knowledge that next week will be a different dream.

When I was pregnant, I was determined to encourage my children in whimsy, silliness and imagination.  The practical world crushes dreams at an astounding rate, so I wanted to make sure their dreams were resilient and, more importantly, always regenerating.  It doesn’t matter how many dreams are crushed if you can always find your way back for more.

Ironically, my children are very practical people.  But I’ve still snuck some whimsy in there.  They laugh freely and without self-consciousness.  They dance as if no one is watching and sing as if no one is listening.  Freedom to dream is a wonderful gift and I hope some children were able to pick it up today.

Tuesday 27 March 2012

First Birds and Bees Talk

I got my first opportunity to answer a birds and bees question, i.e. sex education.  Nathan was sitting with me and was asking me an endless stream of questions about all sorts of things.  He was asking about a bunch of toys and what they could do (answers he knows but he often just likes to have a conversation).  He asked me if he had a penis and I told him yes.  Then he asked if Alex had one and I told him yes.  Next up was Daddy and the answer was yes.  I guessed I would be next and I was right, so I told him I didn’t have one.  He thought about it for a moment and then asked me what happened to my penis.

I had thought about this in advance, so I was able to answer relatively smoothly.  I told him that girls didn’t have a penis and Mommy was a girl.  And of course the inevitable next question: Why?

Again, I’d done my homework and was prepped with a simple answer.  Boys have penises so they can grow up to be daddies and girls don’t so they can grow up to be mommies.  Simple and done.  Nathan was satisfied and moved on to a new topic.

I’m pretty proud of how this was handled.  I was calm and matter-of-fact so that he didn’t get the idea this was a shocking or forbidden topic (a guaranteed way to make sure he starts bringing it up all the time).  The information I gave was easy to understand and age appropriate, thanks to some research in advance with Dr. Laura Berman.  She’s got some simple pamphlets and diagrams that parents can use to explain sex to their kids and it’s broken down according to age.

I could have gotten into a discussion of gender roles and sexual politics through history but he doesn’t care about any of that.  He’s learning about his body and the differences between bodies.  To him, there’s no more significance in asking why Mommy doesn’t have a penis than in asking why his grandfather doesn’t have hair on his head and his father does.  It’s just a difference and he’s curious about it, which we certainly don’t want to discourage.

We have to be a little extra careful in explaining things to the boys because of their autism.  Alex in particular has a habit of repeating things, sometimes months after the fact.  So we need to make sure whatever we say is suitable to repetition.  We also have to make sure what we say is short and to the point since they’ll start to tune out longer explanations.

I’ll be curious to see if the topic comes up again anytime soon.  I wonder if I’ve satisfied his curiousity or if more questions will be coming as he has more time to think about it.  I’m actually kind of pleased to be dealing with this.  It’s a normal parenting challenging, one that every parent has to go through.  It’s not one of our special autism parenting challenges.  It’s nice to be able to deal with something which is well documented with lots of tools available.

Monday 26 March 2012

Pitching Pressure

This week is a big week for me.  This weekend I will get my first chance ever to pitch to a professional editor.  I’m feeling nervous but also excited.  This could be the first step in actually having a career in writing.

My biggest challenge will be not psyching myself out.  I don’t do well with projecting down the road too far.  A lot of people will talk about the importance of staying positive and visualizing success but it’s not for me.  I’m a problem solver, which means I start anticipating potential problems so I can solve them.  It’s a great tool in most of life but I’ve learned I have to be careful about overwhelming myself.  The further you go into the future, the more possibilities there are and the more potential problems you have to be prepared for.

Thus I’m telling myself not to get too far ahead.  One step at a time and no pressure on any particular step.  I’m going to go in and do the best I can and see what happens.  If the editor likes it, then great.  I can send off the manuscript and see what happens after that.  If she decides it’s not for her, that’s fine.  I’ll have the experience under my belt and I can send out queries to other editors and agents.

I’ve been working hard on getting the fifth draft of Lord of Underhill ready.  I’m most of the way through the first half, which is where the majority of the changes needed to be made.  I’d like to be ready to be able to email it the next day if she wants it but I’ve been told it’s all right if I need another few weeks.

The website is up and running and I’m fairly happy with it.  I may not be able to afford a professional web-designer but I don’t think it looks kludgy and amateurish.  I have my business cards with my new logo and motto.  I’ve considered whether or not to start up a Facebook account but for now, I think it would be too much.  I’d rather do a few things well than take on a lot of tasks and do them badly.

Sunday 25 March 2012

Social Conscience

I was raised to be very conscious of the rights of other people.  I’m an anomaly when I vote.  I don’t just consider whether or not a particular program will be beneficial to me, but will it be beneficial to everyone.  I’m a firm believer in social assistance programs because I believe that it should be the role of government to do the jobs which are unprofitable for private industry (such as garbage pickup, health care, public safety, etc).

We receive assistance from several government programs because of our boys.  I’ve always been careful to avoid the appearance of impropriety because I believe that’s my responsibility as a recipient, to avoid doing something which could jeopardize the program.

I was speaking about this with a group of friends recently and one of them was talking about his experience as a board member on the co-op.  Several of the co-ops were subsidized by social services, in some cases as much as eighty percent of the fees.  And yet the recipients often had trouble paying the remainder.  He would see them bringing in cases of beer and cigarettes but they couldn’t manage the rent.

I know about other situations.  A family friend does home visits for the health department and on visiting one family, she saw a brand new snowsuit lying in a puddle of water in the front yard.  She picked it up and brought it inside but the parents dismissed her concern, saying they’d just get a new one from the Snowsuit Fund (which collects new and gently used snowsuits for needy families).

Situations like these are the ones which tend to make people jaded and skeptical about assistance programs.  It gives conservatives reasons to slash funding.  It makes the regulations and red-tape tighter, forcing those who need help to jump through more and more hoops in order to get it, slowing everything down and raising overhead costs.  It makes it harder for new programs and charities to get funding.

I don’t think we need to get too puritan in our expectations of recipients.  There was a fuss recently about a family who was receiving respite for their autistic child and they went on an expensive cruise.  I don’t have a problem with that.  Just because you’re getting help doesn’t mean you can’t have a vacation.  (Especially in this case since it turned out they’d saved for seven years to make it happen.)  I’m not even against families buying booze or cigarettes, as long as the children have enough food and the rent is paid for.  If not, there are provisions for dealing with that.  Neglecting your children is something which can be prosecuted and if your children are taken away, the money you receive for them goes too.

There are abuses out there and those who abuse the system should be dealt with.  But not by throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  The majority of those who receive assistance are good people who are doing their best in bad situations and need the help.  They don’t deserve to be punished because of freeloaders.

But I think we also need to start raising the social consciousness out there.  It can’t hurt if people start thinking about how their actions affect others.  We all have a responsibility to make society run smoothly.

Saturday 24 March 2012

A Great Quote

I was watching Breakout Kings the other night.  It’s a fun little series about a US Marshals group which uses convicts to track down other escaped convicts.  The dialogue is generally good but there was one real gem the other day.

The Marshal and one of the convicts were taken prisoner by the escapee they were pursuing.  The escapee grabs the Marshal’s gun and uses it to get them into the house where her partner is waiting with hostages and a shotgun.  After some taunting and some outright panicking on the convict’s part trying to convince the escapees not to kill him, the other Marshals arrive and take everyone prisoner.

The Marshal tells the convict that it was all part of a plan.  He’d emptied his gun of bullets and knew the others were tracking his phone.

Convict: Plan?  Plan!  What about the bullets in his gun?

Marshal: (pauses, tilts his head and shrugs) Fair criticism.

I loved that moment.  I love all that it implies, that the Marshal was flying more by the seat of his pants than following a detailed plan; how he recognizes that things got dangerous and out of control and the combination of respect for and dismissal of the convict’s concerns.  It suggests a real partnership despite their differences but keeps the line between them intact.

I am a sucker for great dialogue moments.  I love Joss Whedon for his ability to craft words like a wood sculpture, knocking away the unnecessary bits and leaving you with something unique, elegant and comprehensible.  That’s great writing.

Friday 23 March 2012

Dustbusting Ectoplasmic Orbs

First, yay for getting to use the word ‘ectoplasm’.  It’s just fun and doesn’t come up nearly often enough in general conversation.

I’ve been watching My Ghost Story which deals with people who have experienced paranormal activity.  They often document it with cameras, voice recorders, etc.  I believe in ghosts and spirits but I’m a skeptic about the evidence collected.

Especially orbs.

For those who don’t know, an orb is a round glowing object which appears on film.  It is often invisible at the time of recording, appearing only on the photograph or video.  They are supposed to be evidence of a spirit’s energy.  But there’s a problem.

Dust can reflect the light, creating glowing spheres.  If it’s close to the camera, it can appear quite large.  It can also change direction suddenly, appear and disappear as it rides the air currents.  If you want to create a photo with orbs, just make sure you have some light shining past your camera.  If you want to guarantee it, don’t vacuum for a few days beforehand. 

That’s all it takes.  I have a great deal of respect for the show Ghost Hunters because they rarely accept photos of orbs as evidence.

On a recent episode of My Ghost Story, one of the investigators showed footage of what he claimed was a string orb which floated near him and then went back and forth in front of the camera a few times before disappearing.  He’s talking about how the changes in direction show intelligence and is very excited over what he calls the ‘weight’ of the orb.  It’s not just a little ball but has a tail.

I’m watching it and it looks like a tiny scrap of hair floating on the air in front of the camera.  I’ve watched dust (not proud but I can zone out with the best of them) and hair or fibre scraps will do those kind of little barrel rolls.  The ‘orb’ in the images never goes behind anything which would give us an impression of distance so there’s nothing to disprove it wasn’t right in front of the camera.

The investigator was talking about impressions he had, cold spots and a sense of presence.  I believe those can be evidence of spirits.  Or drafts and high electromagnetic fields, which mess with our senses.  That’s the difficulty with paranormal investigation.  Tracking down ghosts in a lab hasn’t worked well.  We can’t be sure what the difference is between evidence for natural and supernatural phenomena because we can’t distinguish them for sure.

Some day, I think we’ll figure out what’s going on.  But if we’re going to, we need to do serious scientific research about it.  Too many investigators indulge in predestined thinking.  We know it’s haunted therefore any evidence we collect must be evidence of a haunting.  You can’t do research that way.

Thursday 22 March 2012

Verbal Scars

I’ve been doing some thinking about how easy it is to hurt someone with words.  Once something has been said, it can’t ever be unsaid.  You can forgive and try to move on, but the scar will still be there. 

I’ll admit I tend to be a foot-in-mouth kind of person sometimes.  And sometimes I think I end up swallowing most of the leg.  But I don’t think I’m the sort of person who says things in anger.  Deliberate, trying to hurt someone where it will do the most damage.  I’m more likely to walk away.

Dr. Phil compares emotional hurt to burns.  It only takes a fraction of a second to do, the area will be incredibly painful until it heals and the scars left are the ugliest and most difficult to deal with.  I think it’s a good analogy.  In the movie The Story of Us, Michelle Pfeiffer’s character talks about how people think time heals old hurts but it’s not true because hurt always hurts.  You learn to deal with it but it never completely goes away.

We can all remember moments where a careless or angry word seared into our psyches.  The details are usually painfully clear as if tattooed on our brains.  It doesn’t matter if the person apologized after.  Those moments are one-way doors.  Once you step through, you’re in a different world and you can’t ever get back to the old one.

I try to be cautious in this blog.  I usually write a day or two in advance to give myself time to think whether or not I really want to post what I’ve said.  Sometimes I change it and sometimes I won’t post what I originally intended.  It’s easy to forget impact when you’re angry or excited.  The Internet makes it very easy to speak first, regret later.  Once something is online, it’s out of your hands.  The same with the words in your mouth.  Once they’ve been said, they can’t be unsaid.

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Pain and Animal Dreams

 I’ve been rereading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams, a story set in Arizona in the eighties.  The protagonist, a young woman named Codi, has to deal with returning to her small hometown to help her father who has Alzheimer’s.  She’s always felt like an outsider and keeps searching for someone to give her the answers which will make her life make sense and make her belong.  Much of the book focuses on her fears of loving others since her mother died, her father retreated emotionally and she had a late-term miscarriage at fifteen.  It’s a good book, one of those poignant emotional journey stories.

I’ve been thinking about Codi and her view of the world.  She persists in believing that her pain is somehow unique and can never be understood by anyone else.  She holds herself apart from others, using superficial or artificial personas, and then complains about feeling isolated and unconnected.  She’s full of anger at her father and sister for abandoning her, although she focuses most of her anger on her father.

It is true that no one else can ever completely understand your pain.  It’s a completely subjective experience and since we’re not telepaths or empaths, we can’t know for sure what other people’s pain feels like.  We can only extrapolate from our own experiences.  It’s a system which has worked pretty well for us as a species but it’s not perfect.

In Buffy, there was an episode where Buffy got telepathy.  At the end, she’s talking to a boy who she believes is planning a killing-spree.  He complains that no one notices he’s suffering.  She tells him no one sees his pain because they’re all too busy silently screaming out their own. 

We all scream silently and pray someone hears us.  We hold back and hope someone else will reach out to us.  But most of us are deaf to the screams around us.  We look at the surface and marvel at what a competent, attractive person someone is, never knowing that inside their head is a very different picture.  We assume everyone can see our own internal pictures, forgetting that we can’t see theirs.

The thing Codi doesn’t realize is that we have to communicate our pain to have it healed.  People may never understand your exact pain but they know their own.  They know how awful pain is but they’re not good at picking up when other people are in pain. 

It’s hard to reach out, especially when you already feel vulnerable.  But it’s usually not as awful as you’re afraid it will be.  Sometimes people really are there to catch you when you fall.

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Final Walks

With Alex’s new program, it’s too far away to walk to school.

I’ve been walking with him to school every day for almost three years now.  It’s a little time we get to spend together every day.  Sometimes he’s insisted on running far ahead of me, giving me heart attacks when he reaches the main street crossing.  But there have been a lot of times where we’ve held hands the whole way or he’s leaned against me with my arm over his shoulder as we walk together.

I’m really going to miss that.

This year, it’s been a little trickier, at least in the morning.  Alex and Nathan both want to walk with me, which often leaves Dave the odd man out.  But we’re still going together as a family.  It’s feels natural and good.  Families should walk to school if they can. 

But it’s coming to an end.  I’ve already had my last walk home with Alex.  It was one of the nice ones.  He was in a good mood.  We held hands and talked (or more specifically, I talked and he listened or at least didn’t tell me to be quiet).  We walked slowly, taking our time.  I think he’s going to miss the walks and the private time with Mommy.

I’m going to miss standing with him to watch the city bus go by.  His face just lights up and he jumps up and down with excitement on seeing it.  We’ve used it to coax him to get moving at the beginning and end of the day.  He loves buses and usually visits one of the school buses before we leave the school yard.  He goes in and sits down in the front seat, just as if he was going to go home with it.  Getting him off of it is usually a little more difficult.

I hope Alex will be happier in the new program.  I hope that he enjoys the drive to school.  But I’m going to miss walking with my little boy.

Monday 19 March 2012

Addicted to BloonsTD4

I have become addicted to an app.  I never thought it would happen since I’m generally tech-challenged and have never gotten much into the gaming scene.  I’m horrible at video games and quickly lose patience with them.

But I have met my match in BloonsTD4.

For those who don’t know, it’s a tower defence game involving monkeys trying to pop balloons with darts.

Yes, you read that correctly.  Monkeys trying to pop balloons with darts.

And I love it.

It’s a puzzle game and that’s the only class of game that I generally enjoy.  I like the challenge of trying to maximize effect with minimum resources.  And I can play it on our iPod touch, which means I can play it while keeping an eye on the kids rather than having to be squirreled up with a computer somewhere.

It’s surprising to me how much I’ve ended up playing it.  I’m probably playing as much as an hour out of the day.  Which means it’s time to get some perspective and pull it back.  It may not seem like such a big deal but  I’ve worked really hard to minimize my TV watching to make sure I get writing time each day.  If that time ends up getting sucked into a computer game, it won’t help.

But I’m sure I can still find a little time to marshal my army of dart throwing monkeys to save the world from evil balloons.

Sunday 18 March 2012

Message From A Dead Horse

I’ve been sporadically following the controversy of Rush Limbaugh attacking a student for asking for coverage for contraception through her college health plan.  He called her a slut and a whore and said if she wanted to be paid to have sex, she should post her encounters online so he could enjoy them.

I realize part of his job is to generate controversy and get people talking.  But in this case, it’s not controversy.  It’s just sad, old and tired.  A woman asks for something you don’t like, so you attack her character to get her to shut up.  Boring.  Here’s a message to you, Rush, from the dead horse out back: Stop beating me!

Calling a woman a slut because you don’t like what she’s saying is just pathetic.  You honestly couldn’t come up with anything else?  Couldn’t discuss what she’s actually asking for?  I’m assuming he isn’t actually as dumb as he sounds, since then he’d have to be planted somewhere and watered twice daily.

I am very tired of a woman’s appearance and sexuality being used to discredit her goals and accomplishments.  It’s the twenty-first century and I think we need to come up with some new insults.  Those are almost two centuries old.

Women shouldn’t be attacked for wanting to have sex.  It’s natural and part of the same biological urge men have.  Wanting to make sure your life doesn’t get derailed by an unplanned pregnancy or cut short by disease is smart.  If someone is considered intelligent enough to drive a car, drink and vote, surely it’s plausible to trust a person to have sex responsibly, too.

Here’s a challenge to everyone, male and female alike.  Let’s stop using the words bitch, slut or whore to dismiss people whose opinions we disagree with.  Let’s stop the more subtle degrading dismissals too.  I can always tell when an autism posting disagrees with Jenny McCarthy because they’ll mention she posed for Playboy.  Because that’s relevant to her opinions in some way … apparently.  It’ll all part of the same attack pattern.

It would be incredibly refreshing to see the actual opinions attacked rather than the character of the person expressing them.  It would also be a heck of a lot more useful in helping to improve things.  Attacking character is low and shows a real lack of imagination.

Frankly, I think we can do better.

Saturday 17 March 2012

Funky Fog Effect

I was driving home late last night.  There had been a lot of fog out in the rural areas but as I came into the city, I saw something spectacular.

The fog was hovering about twenty feet above the road and it was only a few feet thick.  A thick gray blanket stretched across the countryside as far as you could see.  But then as I got closer, it got even cooler.  The streetlights poking up through it were casting perfect circles of rosy-lavender mist.  You could see faint cones stretching up from the circles to the lights but mostly you saw these massive disks surrounding each and every lamp post.

It looked like something from a science fiction movie, where cities are suspended on floating pods.  It also made me think of some of the scenes in Disney's Fantasia where the winter sprites are circled by the snowflakes or the hippos make tutus out of bubbles.  But there was more of a sense of weight and presence, as if a host of gigantic powerful beings had descended and were evaluating what they found.

Friday 16 March 2012

Draft Five In Progress

I’ve been working on the latest draft of my novel, Lord of Underhill.  It’s been difficult to work this week since the kids are off school for March Break but I’ve managed to squeeze in some time.  If all goes will, this draft will probably be the one I present to the editor in April (assuming the pitch goes well enough that she asks to see the manuscript) so I’m making extra efforts to make sure it’s a good one.

One of the suggestions from the critique group was to change a character’s name so that it was less similar to another character’s.  I’d really been struggling with it.  I just hated all the names I could come up with.  But now I’ve found one that works.  Not as well as my original but still pretty good.  I think I can warm up to it.

I’m pleased with my progress so far.  I’ve written my extra scenes to weave in a new plotline to increase the tension in the first few chapters.  Now I’m going through to make sure everything is consistent and to tighten things up in general.

I’m still trying to punch up my heroine and make sure her enthusiasm comes through without being dorky.  I have such a clear picture in my head but somehow it’s not coming across.  I’ve been doing some research in the last few weeks, looking at some of the heroines I like who have similar personalities to how I see my heroine.  Funny, smart and with an unquenchable enthusiasm for life.

Thursday 15 March 2012

Tanya Huff Cheer Up

I just finished reading Tanya Huff’s Smoke and Shadows and I was reminded of why I keep her books around.  Her sense of humour is incredible.  I usually read her Keeper trilogy when I’m feeling blue.  The Keepers are magicians who can end up inadvertently affecting the world around them if they’re not careful.  One of the most entertaining examples is when the younger sibling begins to think jealously about the older one: “Always did think the sun shone out of her ass.”  Switch scene to older sibling and her boyfriend who is thinking about how beautiful she is and how the light brings out the highlights in her hair and then “Wait a minute, where is that light coming from?”

Wordplay amuses me.

And so does her portrayal of cats as completely sarcastic and self-absorbed.  I’ve lived with cats for over a decade now and I can guarantee there are times you wonder if that is what they’re thinking.  Especially around suppertime.  The little cat-related asides throughout the plot provide a lot of well-timed comedy.

Smoke and Shadows is one of the Henry Fitzroy books, after he moves to Vancouver.  I liked the TV adaptation of Blood Ties but I didn’t enjoy the books as much.  It wasn’t quite the same sense of humour.  This one is closer but still more serious than the Keeper books, which I’m guessing were intended as comedy right off the bat.

I end up watching and reading a lot of dark material because most of the time, that’s what I enjoy.  But sometimes I need to come up for something lighter.    You can’t spend all your time with brooding Princes of Darkness.  The charm wears off after awhile.  Something rom-com-ish with Hugh Grant or Julia Roberts.  Or Tanya Huff.

Wednesday 14 March 2012

The Method

There was an article in this month’s Romance Writer’s Report about using acting techniques to help your writing, particularly the Method.

In the Method, you draw on your own emotions and experiences in order to recreate them on stage or on set.  The idea is to create a genuine experience of artificial circumstances.  Most actors have never been face to face with an alien race bent on destroying the Earth, but we’ve all been in situations where we felt overwhelmed and were determined to continue.  Most of the top actors in the world have trained in the Method and most of them say they use it.

I can see how it can be useful to writers.  To recreate experiences allows you to remember vividly.  Then you can describe how you felt: how your eyes stung from tears or how you couldn’t stop laughing at an inappropriate time or how your ribs suddenly loosened in fear.  It keeps you from being repetitive and makes it feel real.

Of course, sometimes making it feel real can be a problem.  There are actors who have plunged into severe depression because of the memories they were accessing.  The founder of the Method recommended not using any memory from nearer than seven years to avoid trauma but time isn’t always a guarantee of healing.  We all have painful things in our past and no matter how removed we are, it doesn’t take much to bring that pain back.  And, of course, you’re always looking for the most impactful memories to use.

It can also turn into an on-set problem.  This isn’t something writers need to worry about but actors should.  In one episode of Battlestar Galactica, Edward James Olmos is reacting to the death of another character.  He’s looking at this incredibly elaborate model of a sailing ship that we’ve seen in his quarters many times and you can see the pain building up in him and you can see that he’s trying to hide it and suddenly he just explodes into action, smashing the model off the table and bursting into tears.  It’s a wonderful scene, very emotionally moving.

The problem?  It wasn’t in the script.

If I remember correctly, that model was a thirteen thousand dollar model they’d rented from a prop shop.  And then it was smashed on the floor, requiring some quick and hefty budget readjustments.

But it was still a very moving scene.  It was one of the few times we ever saw Olmos’ character lose control which made it even more emotionally intense.

I have my problems (and they are big problems) with the writing on Battlestar.  But before we knew how messed up it was going to get, there were some incredible moments and some amazing stories.  Even pure crap can sometimes spawn a beautiful flower.

Tuesday 13 March 2012

Where's My Toga?

I’m starting to feel like a Roman slave girl.  With Alex just getting over being sick, Nathan has started to come down with it.  Which means neither of them have much of an appetite.

I’ve been trying to tempt them with some of their favourites and their lack of enthusiasm has meant I’ve ended up having to feed them myself.  It’s not unusual with Alex, who has an extreme aversion to most food at the best of times.  But the last time I had to feed Nathan by hand was when he was sitting in a high chair.

But Mr. Nathan spent his lunch hour lying in my lap enjoying a serving of yoghurt and then a bowl of bits of bite-sized fruit, all fed to him by hand.  By my hand to be precise.  Lying back on his ease, watching some Wiggles and periodically opening his mouth so I could poke in a strawberry or blueberry.  He even had the patrician head tilt exactly right so I could place the fruit on his tongue without blocking the TV.  It was so funny I couldn't help but laugh, which jiggled him and earned me an irritated look.

All that was missing was the Mediterranean weather, some mosaics and appropriate costumes.  But at least he’s got some good food in his belly to help him feel better.

Monday 12 March 2012

Irritability Explained and the Language Barrier

Alex has been irritable for the last week, having a lot of trouble settling down, following directions and managing his chores and work.  He’s been very whiny and aggressive.  We go through periodic phases like this and while we usually have theories on what’s causing it, often we don’t know.  In this case we wondered if it was anticipation of the schedule disruption of March Break or concern about changing to a new school.  It could be the change in weather.  It could be something we can’t detect, like a headache or stomachache.  It could be lack of sleep.  It could be some sensory trigger which we don’t notice, like a light buzzing or the furnace ticking.  You get the idea.  There are always a ton of possibilities and most of them we can’t do anything about.

In this case, further symptoms have granted illumination.  This weekend he started running a fever.  Which means the difficulties of the last few days were probably the start of him getting sick.  You can’t rule out the other problems but it adds a little more certainty to the myriad of possibilities.  Hopefully his mood and compliance will improve as he starts to feel better.  At this point, he's reached the difficult stage in recovery when he feels better enough to be aware how miserable he is.  We had a lot of acting out while we were at the doctor's but they were able to confirm this is likely just an infection and not something which needs antibiotics.

We've also noticed that the last of his baby teeth has loosened.  Loose teeth have consistently brought on bad behaviour.  With Alex's oral sensitivities, I imagine it would feel horrible, like your whole mouth falling apart.  Again, hopefully knowing that will give us half the battle.

On another unrelated noted, I discovered Nathan’s closest friends from this year will be switching to French Immersion next year.  Since Nathan already has some speech and auditory challenges, we decided against putting him into the program.  He’ll do better only having one language to deal with.  But it means now he’ll be separated from his friends.

I’m fairly confident he’ll make new friends.  He made these friends fairly quickly after all.  The challenge is that once he’s got a friend or two, he stops looking for more.  And he can get quite jealous and possessive of his friends since he gets anxious about being left alone.  We’ll have to work on continuing to expand his playgroup so he doesn’t get so nervous.  And he’ll still get to see his old friends on the playground and we can do playdates together.  But it’s not the same as having them in the class.

Sunday 11 March 2012


Life comes down to the choices you make.  I believe that.  I believe everything boils down to simple choices in the end.  No matter how complex someone says the situation is, it boils down to a simple choice.  To choose a political example: the Canadian military presence in Afghanistan.  There are a lot of conflicting priorities and influences but in the end our decision as a country is simple: Do we want to support the Afghani people during their transition to a more egalitarian society or do we want to protect the lives and safety of our citizens?  We can’t do both.  It is a war zone with severe and imminent risks of bodily harm.  In order to support the Afghani people, we have to be there on the ground, doing what is necessary.  Therefore it comes down to a simple choice: help or protect.  I don’t pretend to say one is the right decision but they can’t both happen.

On Dr. Phil, there was a man who preferred to live as if he was an eighteen month old infant.  He had a girlfriend who fed him, bathed him and changed his diapers.  (I’ll give you a moment to recover from the eww factor of that particular revelation.)  I don’t generally like judging other people’s choices but that one was hard to avoid.  She had a hard time explaining why she was with him and kept falling back on saying it was complicated.  But it’s not complicated.  Either she stays with him and accepts that she will never have the kind of relationship she hoped for or she leaves him and deals with being alone.

The choices are simple but the impact is difficult.  When people say a choice is complicated, I think it’s because they know what they should do but don’t really want to do it.  Or they are afraid of the results.  I am sympathetic to that.  There are choices that scar your soul and change your life dramatically.  The options might suck, but there's still a choice.

Saturday 10 March 2012

Monsters, Monsters Everywhere

I like monsters.  Like Hagrid in Harry Potter, I think they’re interesting.  I’m not a fan of horror movies because there’s rarely a surprise with the monster.  The monster is the bad guy, he (or she) (or it) is evil and out to destroy and there’s not much depth beyond that.  I much prefer the sort of stuff Joss Whedon does where sometimes the monster is the innocent victim of prejudice, sometimes it is evil, sometimes it’s charming and funny but still does the most appalling things (kitten-eating Clem as an example). 

I like characters who are people.  I don’t like having everything up front and no surprises.  I like discovering that the “good” guy has a streak of darkness in him.  I like it when the bad guy has a sympathetic (if twisted) rationale for what he’s doing.  I like having the possibility that either one might cross the line.

One of my favourite universes is the X-men universe and I think a lot of the characters have that kind of depth.  Not all, but the ones who have been developing with multiple writers over decades have some good backstory to play with.  Magneto from the movies is a great example of a villain for me.  This is a guy who has been kicked in the teeth by life again and again.  He’s been persecuted for being a Jew, for being a mutant.  His family was killed by the Nazis, his wife and children were killed (or so he thought).  By the time we meet him, he is determined to make certain no one is ever going to attack him again.  He’s not willing to trust to diplomacy, it’s failed him again and again.  He truly believes that the only way to protect himself is to make sure he’s the one in charge.  There is the tantalizing possibility that maybe Xavier and the X-men will be able to convince him of the error of his ways.  He’s not evil in the classic melodramatic sense.  He has flaws in his thinking and standards of behaviour but there is a strange sympathy to his point of view.

Compare Magneto with Batman.  Batman also had a traumatic experience in his life and dedicated himself to making sure it would never happen again.  Same motivation as Magneto.  But Batman isn’t trying to save the world, he’s only dealing with the immediate situation in front of him (this particular mugging, robbery, whatever).  You would think Magneto’s noble and lofty goals would make him a better person but in this case it actually makes him worse.  It’s his belief in his noble goal which lets him justify some really appalling means to get there.  Batman has a strict line he won’t cross, but there’s always the risk that this particular situation or villain will push him over.

A hero who is never tempted into darkness is boring.  A villain who is just Evil is boring.  A writer may not always have time to get into all the backstory, but there should be something besides one-dimensional motivation.

Friday 9 March 2012

Head and Heart

Alex’s school has been having difficulty with him for some time now.  It’s not for lack of trying or lack of willingness.  They’ve been wonderful and willing to deal with a lot of stuff, more than I honestly think they should have had to.

A slot has come up in a specialized program and they’ve recommended that Alex take it.  Intellectually, I know it’s the right thing to do.  He can’t stay where he is and any chance of improvement is better than the no chance he’s got right now.

Heart-wise, it’s a little more difficult.  Alex is seven, almost eight.  Most of his peers are beginning to discover themselves as independent individuals.  They’re exploring their worlds and seeing their horizons expand.  Sometimes it seems as if Alex’s horizons are collapsing around him.  It’s a hard thing to see.

The program looks good.  There’s some one on one teaching and each of the children has an individualized program.  We’ll have to see how Alex adapts.

I think that’s one of the harder things about having a child with special needs.  Sometimes you end up with a conflict between what you would like your child to have and what your child actually needs.  It’s easy to get caught up in some kind of rosy idealized vision and forget that your child will have a very different experience.

One family I know left their autistic child behind when they went to Disneyworld for the weekend.  Sounds horrible, doesn’t it?  To deprive a child of a trip to the happiest place on earth.  But this child is highly ritualistic, has strong reactions to crowds and noise and has a low tolerance for new places.  To him, Disneyland would have been a forty-eight hour nightmare.  They could have tried to force him into submitting to their idea of what a family vacation should be.  But instead they were compassionate and looked at it from his point of view.