Monday, October 26, 2009


Current Reading: Now and Forever, by Ray Bradbury

Inspirational Quote: "I believe that we are here for each other, not against each other. Everything comes from an understanding that you are a gift in my life - whoever you are, whatever our differences." -- John Denver

I've found myself thinking more and more about the definition of success. Kristine Kathryn Rusch has a great deal of analysis, in several parts, that indicates why the idea might be worth some contemplation.

I've never felt like a success. I got through university, I eventually got a job which led to other jobs and to about as much financial reward as could reasonably be expected. By that measure, I guess I'm doing alright (although that could change in the next three weeks. Yes, I know, but I've been told that deadlines have slipped and dates are approximate. My happiness is immeasurable). I've got a working marriage and a family that clunks along without actually flying apart, so I guess that could be considered success of a sort.

However, I feel less like a success than as though I simply haven't failed.

But that judgement demands I define personal success. What am I reaching for that I haven't achieved? I haven't finished thinking about that. Until I have, I guess worrying about whether or not I'm successful is a fool's exercise.

Musical Interlude, Part I
I feel bad about this: more than 20 years after hearing "Summer of Sixty-Nine" the first time, I've realized that I don't like Bryan Adams's music.

Please, don't tell anyone. They'll revoke my Canadian citizenship and I'll have to move to somewhere foreign, like Andorra.

I could just move to Quebec, but I refuse to worship Celine Dion and that may cause greater difficulty than my lack of French fluency.

No modern politician has had as significant an impact on my country (Canada, not Andorra. Not yet.) than Pierre Trudeau. The Toronto Star asked Pierre's son, Justin Trudeau, to review the second book of his father's biography. Interesting reading.

Musical Interlude, Part II
October 12th was the anniversary of the death of John Denver, a musician, writer and actor who was everyone's kid brother during the 70's. As a teenager, my favorite albums were Star Wars (by John Williams and the LSO), and Greatest Hits Volume 1 (by John Denver). This is perhaps greater testimony to my innate oddity than any other single fact I could relate.

And of course he had numerous appearances on the Muppet Show.

He lost me when he began turning to New Age concepts and away from the sort of grass-roots innocence that informed his early work, but that's the way it goes.

For those of you who expected a teen-aged Ulysses to an angst-ridden fan of rebel-music, metal or counterculture, I'm sorry to disappoint. I'm too shallow for any of that.

Anyway, here's Calypso in memoriam, a piece which never fails to stir my nostalgia.

His description of a moment of subconscious creative breakthrough (a conscious mind becomes saturated with a problem it is unable to solve despite complete concentration, it distracts itself with some other activity only to find the subconscious providing a complete solution during that activity) should be familiar to creative people in any field.

Monday, October 19, 2009

We're All Unique. Except Me.

Well, this is interesting enough to bring up:

A discussion about writing by some of the writers attending the International Festival of Authors.

Two big takeaways for me:

1)I'm not the only one who procrastinates.

2)I'm not the only one who kicks myself for procrastinating.

Y'know, it's a wonder anything ever gets done by anyone.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Existential Dilemma

Current Reading: Escapement, by Jay Lake

Inspirational Quote: "If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion." -- George Bernard Shaw

I am tense. I am stressed. My thoughts have scattered and are hiding in the divot just behind my left ear while my nerves are so tense they're humming Puccini.

Sometime in the next three weeks, I will be told whether I'll continue to have a day job (which affords me little comforts like food, shelter and Hawkins Cheezies. Although the freedom of unemployment is nice for about a week, after that, it sucks.

So, pardon the lack of a substantial post. I promise I'll come up with something pithy, witty, or at least worth reading as soon as I can string three coherent thoughts in a row without wanting to scream and take a belt sander to the kneecaps of the nearest corporate CEO.

Whilst I prevaricate, discuss: is it better to pontificate or to ruminate? And while doing so, be sure to mention what you consider to be proper protective clothing for your chosen activity.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Talking Turkey

Current Reading: Escapement, by Jay Lake

Inspirational Quote: "An optimist is a person who starts a new diet on Thanksgiving Day." -- Irv Kupcinet

Here in Canada, it is Thanksgiving. It's what happens to the archetypical pagan harvest celebration when it's co-opted by Puritans and then transplanted north by Loyalists. For some reason, it traditionally involves the slaughter of turkeys. If you have no experience with turkeys, then there are only two things you need to know about them.

They are:

1) Stupid. The story that a turkey which looks up during a rainstorm will drown is likely apocryphal, but certainly they seem stupid enough to not look down when they feel their lungs filling up. I've seen entire flocks of wild turkeys wait to cross a highway until they're sure a car is coming. It was my car. One of them bounced off my windshield and left deep scratches across the driver's side. I think this might be a turkey's way of playing chicken. Which is just fowl.

2) Delicious. I find the meat a little dry, but this is usually compensated for by a few spoonfuls of turkey gravy and cranberries. Oddly enough, I don't find either turkey or cranberries edible unless in combination. Turkey gravy, however, makes a great stand-alone dish.

As happens any time food is involved, relatives tend to gather to make polite chitchat, stuff their faces, and fall asleep on the couch. The chemical responsible for the post-gluttinous nap is called tryptophan, and it is why Uncle Bernie no longer has a moustache. One of the things families often do that does NOT involve whisker trimmers is talk about all the things for which they're thankful.

This year, in honor of the holiday, I thought I'd present a short list of things for which I'm thankful, in no order:
1) Pie. Especially Lemon-meringue.
2) My family. They know me best, and are the only ones allowed to make my life miserable without having me wish they'd go away.
3) Employment. It's good work, if you can get it.
4) Canada. If it weren't for my native country, the U.S. would stretch all the way to Baffin Island and the Innuit would have no socialized medicine.
5) Autumn. Ithaka is the most amazing, colorful country when the leaves turn. And it's nice to have a season's worth of warning before winter smacks you in the gob with a fist made of ice, snow, and heating bills.
6) Readers. If someone laughs at any of this, then I feel my existence is justified (a bit, for a little while). Thanks, folks.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Book Report: Symir: The Drowning City, by Amanda Downum

A necromancer/spy goes to a city/state recently conquered by an expansionist empire. She's supposed to arrange financial and material support for the rebel factions, but finds herself personally involved in the rebellion.

It's an interesting world, and the city is like New Orleans by way of Afghanistan or Iraq. I found the story intriguing, and the characters were well drawn. I also found, however, that Downum's style isn't for me. Technically, it's fine. It's just a style I found difficult to read.

Ulysses Rating: 2 - I had a tough go.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Epic Fail

Current Reading: Symir: the Drowning City, by Amanda Downum

Inspirational Quote: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." -- Thomas Edison

"One hundred percent of the shots you don't take don't go in." -- Wayne Gretzky

Synchronicity. It's more than just an album by the Police. It's when events occur which, although causally unrelated, are related in meaning. This week, I've experienced a synchronicity of people talking about failure.

If you don't know what failure is, then good for you. Here's a bazillion illustrated examples to help you figure it out.

If you're afraid of failure, then congratulations. So am I, so we both have company. We can also include Moonrat in our group. But I think failure is an underappreciated experience in our society. I'm not saying that failure should be embraced. I'm certainly not saying it should be encouraged.

I'm definitely not saying it should be rewarded. I think that the stupid American banks should have been allowed to collapse. I think GM should have been dissolved. I realize that both these things would have hurt people, but I think that the collapse of these institutions would have been the correct consequence for their mismanagement. If those who actually mismanaged things could then somehow be on the hook for the financial penalties (instead of earning millions in bonuses), then the world would be an altogether better place. As it is, their failures were rewarded, and there appears to be no incentive not to fail even more spectacularly in the future.

Now, doesn't that give you hope for tomorrow?

My brother-in-law is a teacher. He's frustrated. Most good teachers are. He can't fail anyone. Those who set policy believe that the harm done to a child's self esteem when they fail is greater than the harm done to their self esteem when they get to high-school without being able to read. It doesn't matter how big a discipline problem a child is. It doesn't matter what natural difficulties a child has that may make them slow to absorb lessons. It doesn't matter whether a child puts any effort into their education. My brother-in-law is under enormous pressure to pass them. This past weekend he brought up failure in a conversation we were having. He's infurated by having to deal with the results of this policy: kids who believe that not learning is okay because they'll get through school either way.

Aeneas is a bright kid, but last year he would have rather been "cool" like some of the slackers in his class. As a result, he put in no effort he wasn't forced to (oh, those were some fun nights). I wish his teachers had failed him, so that he could experience the consequences of being "cool," so that he could discover for himself the price he was paying for his attitude. Instead, we have no guarantee that this year is going to be any different from last year.

Kristine Katharine Rusch has a fair bit to say about failure (check out the videos she posts), its benefits and place in the development of capable human beings. I agree very strongly with every point she makes.

I think one of the problems that will face the next generation (and is already starting to trouble this one) is a lack of experience with failure, a desire not to accept the personal consequences of personal failure, and ignorance about what needs to be done to recover from failure.

Because that's the where you'll find the value in failure: what happens after.

I have a friend who's a very good painter. A couple of years ago, she entered an art competition that rejected her work in a brutally unprofessional manner. She hasn't picked up a brush since. She's learned that she didn't want artistic success if it meant having to endure what she endured.

On the other hand, over the years, my short stories have been rejected in dozens of places. I've learned that those places weren't right for those pieces at those times. I've learned to study the markets more deeply. I've learned to target my marketing better. My failures are helping to lay the groundwork for my eventual success. And even if there is no success, I've learned to keep my perspective in the face of rejection and I've learned to take out of those failures whatever knowledge or wisdom I can and apply it to my next attempt.

What should happen after is that we pick ourselves up and try again, or try something else. The single most valuable thing we can learn from failure is that it can't stop us.

Because that's what we should really fear: giving up.

(Footnote: study of the life of Mr. Edison is fascinating. Here is a man who embraced failure with a feverish energy, hounding it until it surrendered the secret of success.)