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No It Isn’t Done Yet, But Thanks For Asking

The Infamous Manuscript

The Infamous Manuscript

Just now a woman stopped me on the Go Train platform to tell me that her nephew had finished his novel. Oh, and he’d published it too.

“It’s on the shortlist for the Jiller prize,” she told me.

“Giller,” I corrected. “Good for him.”

“How’s yours coming?” she asked me.

I felt a lump forming in my throat. “It’s coming along,” I told her.

She looked at me with what could have been sympathy but might just as well have been pity. “Good,” she said, nodding. “Good.”

She was asking because she’s ridden the same Go Train as me for several years. And as long as she’s known me I’ve been working on this novel.

And I felt bad because as long as she’s known me I’ve been working on this novel.

This morning – the same day, mind you – another Go Train friend told me about a friend who had just published a novel.

“How’s yours coming along?” she asked.

“Fine,” I said. “Almost done.”

“It’s been almost done for four years,” she reminded me.

“Yeah,” I said, and slunk off.

Recently a relative said, “I don’t tell anyone about your book any more. It’s embarrassing. You need to just finish it.”

Later that same evening one of my daughters said, “Just finish it, Daddy. I’m sure it’s fine. You don’t need to fix it anymore. Here, let me read it.”

“Another pass and I’ll let you read it,” I told her, and slunk off.

The fact is my novel isn’t done yet. Last summer – or was it the summer before – I thought it was. I convinced myself it was done. I was tired of writing it. So I gave it to a few friends to read. Four of them professed to like it (one even graciously copy edited it for me.) I’m still waiting to hear from one (I don’t blame him – I consider it a great imposition to ask someone to read my work). One said he couldn’t get past page forty (yes, he’s still my friend, the jerk).

While I was waiting I read it over again myself. I liked it. But I didn’t like the ending.

So I went back to work.

And that’s what I’ve been doing since, correcting the ending. It’s a lot better. But I still have a few pages to go.

James Michener

James Michener

James Michener once wrote that the biggest challenge in writing a novel is finishing it. Many others have expressed similar sentiments. One of Michener’s favourite novelists only ever wrote one book. Except that’s not exactly true – late in life Michener looked him up and found out he’d actually written three others, but never finished them. Late in this fellow’s eighties he was still working on them, trying to make them perfect. As far as I know, he never did.

I have always been afraid of being that guy.

Once I was mad at George RR Martin for not finishing the next book in his Game of Thrones series in a timely manner. I met him in Montreal two or three years ago. I wanted to say, “Finish your damn book, sir.” Except I knew better, and I knew what it was like trying to finish a novel you care about.¹ You can’t just finish it. The book is the boss. It will tell you when it’s done, not the other way around.

George RR Martin

George RR Martin

Another of my favourite writers, Vernor Vinge, took ten years to write one of my favourite books, A Deepness in the Sky.² He had a full time job, like me. I’m eight years in since I started working on this book seriously in the Fall of 2005.³ So by that standard I still have two years to go.

Vernor Vinge

Vernor Vinge


So yes, in case you were wondering I know it’s completely ridiculous that I haven’t finished my novel yet. I’m sorry. Believe me, nobody wants to finish it more than I do. Increasingly when people ask me about it I just want to weep at the pathetic-ness of it all.⁴

Will it be worth it after all this time?

I was going to write that I don’t know, because I have no way of knowing whether it’ll ever get published, except to say that my efforts to get it published will equal my efforts to make it good.

But the true answer is of course it will be worth it. It’s already worth it.

Because I have loved every instant of writing it.⁵

Postscripts:
¹In the end I just shook his hand and told him how much I loved his books. “Thanks,” he said. And that was the extent of our relationship.
²Don’t hold me to that figure, I’m not exactly fact checking here.
³Although I put the first words to paper sometime around nineteen eighty-seven, I think.
⁴Except, as I have written before, I don’t, because I’m a man and as such have never wept and probably never will.*
⁵Except the first draft. I hate first drafts.
*Yes, the bit about weeping and being a man is meant to be ironic.

Bespectacled

The Glasses

The Glasses

When I was eleven I couldn’t see the chalkboard.

So I got glasses.

When I was twelve I wore them part time. I would carry them from class to class and put them on when I needed to.

By the time I was thirteen I was wearing them all the time. Just in time for my teen-age years. Just in time to eat away at my self-confidence like a particularly potent brand of sulphuric acid.

Sometime around twenty-one or twenty-two, after much consultation with friends who’d already taken the leap, I got contacts. I loved them right away. They took my disability and made it go away. It required some practice but in no time I had no trouble putting contacts in my eyes. There was the odd mishap, like the time my lens got too dry and scratched my cornea, and the time a lens split in half in my eye and rolled up under my eyelid. (I freaked out at that one, until I reasoned that the lens couldn’t get lost behind my eye, that it had to be just under the eyelid, and sure enough a doctor flipped the eyelid back and got it out.)

Once I accidentally washed my contacts down the drain (I got mixed up and thought I was rinsing out my contact lens container). No problem, I resorted to glasses. But by then I had developed a loathing for glasses, and on the subway I took them off to get a break from them and set them on the seat beside me. Then got up at the next station stop and left them behind. They never showed up at Lost and Found, so for three days, while I waited for replacements for both my contacts and glasses, I was forced to live life with my natural-born eyesight.

Because I always had some form of vision correction, I hadn’t noticed how badly my eyes had deteriorated. I wasn’t exactly blind — I could still see close up, but what an eye opener, pun intended. I still had to go to work. I remember editing audio tape with the tape machine inches from my eyes. I went to the zoo with my girlfriend and was unable to see any animals. I couldn’t watch television, there was no point going to movies, and I couldn’t even read a book or magazine with comfort. I realized for the first time in my life how much of a disadvantage I would be at had I been born in a time without vision correction — in other words, for most of human history.

But other than those incidents I had a good twenty-six years wearing contacts.

Until a couple of years ago. When I started getting headaches.

I have an astigmatism. I can’t see far away and just about all distances are blurry to me. In my mid-forties, as I think is the case for just about everyone, I started to develop far-sightedness, or an inability to see close up. My eyes began to lose their elasticity. My contacts couldn’t correct all my vision problems.

I persisted anyway. I loathed glasses, I told myself. It was inconceivable that I should have to wear them all the time. I dealt with the headaches. I worked through them, lived with them. Never felt completely normal — unless I wore glasses. I tried different contacts, but none of them made the headaches completely go away. Some days were worse than others. You might think, why would he put himself through that? I would refer you back to the part of this essay where I mention loathing glasses.

Still, the older I’ve gotten the more I’ve made my peace with glasses. They allow me to see, after all. They are a miracle product — not as elegant as contacts, which allowed me to pretend that I didn’t have a disability, but thank God for them.

Because last weekend the headaches were so bad that I was practically in tears by the end of the day (I wasn’t actually in tears, mind you — I am a man, and as such I have never cried, and probably never will.) It was obvious that the end was nigh. I knew this would be the case someday, but I thought that day would be when I was seventy, not forty-eight.

I have worn glasses every day since. Twice I have put the contacts back in but haven’t been able to stand them any longer than an hour. I am looking at a future of glasses and no contacts.

My optometrist tells me she has one more trick up her sleeve. Something called “monovision”, which involves correcting for distance in one eye and up close with the other eye and letting the brain try to make sense of it all. I’m not optimistic, but I’ll give it a try. I’d sure like to be able to wear contacts again.

Still, if I have to wear glasses full time I will accept it with grace. Why wouldn’t I? There are people who suffer much worse fates — loss of limbs, chronic pain, what have you. What’s having to wear glasses compared to that? Nothing more than an annoyance.

So if you see me with glasses and wonder what’s up, that’s it. Get used to it.

I intend to.

What Did We Know?

Three Oaks Senior High School

Three Oaks Senior High School

My wife and I were discussing reunions for the High School we both attended, Three Oaks Senior High School in Prince Edward Island. Neither of us has ever managed to attend a reunion because we live in Ontario, only get back to PEI every two years (if that), and when we do get back any reunions are invariably held the week before or after we’re there (hmm… makes you wonder).

We got to talking about the so-called “in-crowds” which neither of us were ever a part of, if such things even existed at Three Oaks.

We agreed that it was a long time ago and probably everybody’s changed anyway.

“What did we know back then, anyway?” I said. “Nothing, that’s what we knew. We were just kids. We didn’t know anything.”

“You didn’t know anything,” my wife corrected me. “But I’m pretty sure everybody else knew some stuff.”

Effectively ending the conversation (it’s hard to talk when you’re too busy laughing).

Nothing to Prove — Geek Girls and the Doubleclicks

Facebook Faux Pas

Not so sure about the thumbs up...

Not so sure about the thumbs up…

I don’t know how many times I’ve embarrassed myself on Facebook. Probably more times than I even realize.

Recently, at about one in the morning, I came across a humorous anti-gun cartoon good enough that I thought I’d share it. I wrote a caption to the effect that as long as at least some people on the planet were thinking in these terms, there was hope for humanity. I felt good about myself.

The next morning I woke up, opened up Facebook, and the anti-gun cartoon had somehow turned pro-gun. I had posted a pro-NRA gun cartoon and loudly proclaimed this kind of thinking to represent salvation for humanity!

What an idiot.

So I wrote a comment clarifying my views. Later in the day I looked at the cartoon again and thought, well, maybe it could be interpreted as anti-gun, if you squinted right. When I realized that I could no longer even interpret the cartoon correctly, either due to the ambiguous nature of the cartoon or impending senility, I decided the best course of action was simply to delete the cartoon, which I did.

Writer and Facebook Friend Ed Willett

Writer and Facebook Friend Ed Willett

Later, one of my Facebook friends, Canadian science fiction writer Edward Willett, posted the following on his Facebook page:

Social media reveals to you what your acquaintances think about all sorts of controversial issues. I am not sure this is a good thing, since it is likely you will then discover that your acquaintances appear to be blithering idiots about this or that issue on which you disagree, which may have a harmful effect on otherwise friendly relationships.

When I read that I thought, My God, he’s talking about me. Okay, probably not specifically me, but it could certainly apply to me on occasion.

Because sometimes I can’t resist sharing cartoons, essays and whatnot that I think reflect my views. Only they may not entirely reflect my views, either for reasons of stupidity as noted above, or because I’m being flip. Because let’s, um, “face” it, Facebook may not be the best forum for in-depth intellectual discourse, and sometimes (I would even say usually) when I post or share something, I’m doing so without a whole lot of thought behind it.

Recently I was called out for this flip-ness. Flipness, it seems, doesn’t translate well on Facebook. People take you literally. A couple of weeks ago I shared someone else’s essay on how modern filmmakers should not eschew analog film in favour of more modern, but more expensive, digital equipment. I agreed with some points of the essay. But I posted it because I like to indulge in a tongue-in-cheek preference for analog over digital because I run a department called Digital Production Maintenance. Sometimes the digital broadcast equipment my department maintains drives us absolutely bonkers with the need for constant upgrades and the software bugs such upgrades inevitably create. I joke that life would be a lot easier if we reverted completely to analog and changed the name of the department to Analog Production Maintenance. But I am joking (mostly). When I shared the essay on Facebook I did not make this nuance clear and at least one friend took me to task for my apparent gullibility. Perhaps others thought the same. There is a real (if slim) chance that such “mis-posts” could potentially even harm my career, were the wrong person to misinterpret such a Facebook post.

I have also noticed that whenever I go to the trouble of posting something with a little heft to it (such as this essay), it is usually completely ignored. Whereas when I post an anniversary announcement, or a cute picture of my kids, the “likes” sky-rocket. I am tempted to conclude what most people have probably known from the beginning. That it’s best to play it safe on Facebook. Leave religion, politics and other serious thinking out of it.

Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke

However, I am not inclined to leave religion, politics, and other serious subjects completely out of it. As Edmund Burke once wrote, for evil to flourish all that is needed is for good people to do nothing. I subscribe to that whole-heartedly. It is not my nature to stay completely neutral, posting only innocuous posts about baby kittens and friendly whales.

But clearly I need to modify my approach. When I do stray into dangerous territory, I need to exercise more care. I need to be clear, not flip. I must make sure that I am not misrepresenting myself in any way.

Heaven forbid someone should think I’m not in favour of baby kittens or friendly whales.

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