Taking stock

This is what’s getting me through today:

I was perusing this public list of people’s bucket list items, and I gradually realized that I’d done a lot of them. Like, a lot. It’s remarkable how a few bad months can make you feel like you’ve never done anything good your whole life. Or, like all the exciting, novel experiences and adventures in your life happened so long ago, on the other side of some awful schism in your life, that they may as well have happened to someone else. 

As I scrolled through them, I realized how lucky I am to have done a lot of these things, and it’s really interesting to see what things people hold on to as life goals or dreams. For some, the items are so small that it made me take stock of how many of the things I take for granted (ex. laughing until I cry) are actually really valuable experiences.

Aside

I guess it wasn’t the worst year ever

My 2013 wasn’t as good as some other people’s, but it did have its ups in between the downs. And, while I toasted to 2014 by drinking sparkling wine and saying “Good fucking riddance” to 2013, I should probably acknowledge that I did, in fact, accomplish some stuff…I guess.

Things I did in 2013:

  • Joined a writing group. I love meeting with my writing group. It’s a blissful hour that happens at the library every other week when I get to discuss writing and characters and stories and sci-fi with people who just get it, you know? It might be the only time I forget about all the other shit going on. Plus, it forces me to produce new material on a regular basis, and I think receiving and incorporating feedback (especially when it’s hard to hear) has really helped my writing.
  • Finally wrote some stuff I don’t hate. I didn’t publish anything (though I’m on track to do that in 2014), but I did finish some stuff and finishing all on its own feels pretty damn good.
  • Disembarked from a bad relationship. Related: started a new, much healthier relationship with a great therapist.
  • Got to be the Best Maid in my best friend’s wedding. It involved a surprising amount of crafting, a whole bunch of tears, and the best party I’ve ever been to and it was amazing.
  • Started a (hopefully long-term) volunteer gig that I totally dig. It’s at Story Planet and it’s spectacular.
  • Moved downtown. I finally live somewhere so cool I don’t even care that my ceilings are too low for upright bookcases.
  • Got a new job that fits my life a bit better.
  • Adopted my first pet. He’s a hamster named Doc who refuses to pose for photos, sorry.
  • …bought a PS3?

Okay, the accomplishments are kind of dwindling now so I’ll stop. My regrets include not writing more/faster/better (I think that will be a regret of mine every year), spending more time brooding and crying than enjoying life, falling back into unhealthy habits and not travelling more. Which actually creates a good starting place for what my 2014 is going to look like:

2014-make-it-so

  • I am going to write more/faster/better, and also remember that I do it because it’s fun.
  • Every time I start feeling sad, I’m just going to stop being sad and be awesome instead.
  • Exercise more and eat better.
  • Travel SOMEWHERE.

Giddy up.

Grit

“It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.” – Babe Ruth

I know how terribly obvious this sounds, so just consider this a preface: It’s so easy to get disheartened when you see people achieving more than you.

I’ve wanted to write novels since I was a tyke, but I only really started writing seriously about two or so years ago when I realized journalism wasn’t going to be enough for me. Since then, I’ve hated almost everything I’ve written. And, on days that end in “y,” I poor salt in my wounds by comparing myself to people who are out there, writing stories and sharing them with the world at a skill level and speed that I can’t seem to keep pace with.

During my last couple of years as a writer-in-training, I’ve tried out and discarded dozens of ideas, eventually landing on a premise for a novel about time travel that I felt was decent. I wrote about 30,000 words that I eventually threw out. (Though I remain committed to making that premise work in some way, some day…maybe tomorrow, actually, now that I think about it.) Over the last 10 months, I’ve taken a break from novel-writing to take a crack at writing a short story. And last night, I finished it. (I’ve come to love that word. Finished. Mmmmmm.) And, amazingly, despite its problems, I actually like it. Callooh callay! (Of course, now it’s time for the heartache of rejection, but I’ll cross that bridge when I have all of the wine.) (Am I over-using parentheses?)

I’m writing all this out because it’s important to remind myself once in a while that I’m making progress, even if it is painstakingly slow. And progress is so important, because it means I’m sticking to my goals even though I’ve barely left the starting line of this exhausting marathon. And that, according to my new favourite TED Talk, is how you succeed.

I don’t know if I’ve got talent. I don’t know if the world wants to read what I’m peddling. But if grit really is a key indicator of success, I think I may stand a chance, because it sounds like having grit is a choice. Every day, I can sit at my computer and choose to keep plucking away. I can choose to be gritty by simply refusing to give up. While I hope this perseverance leads to my eventual success (however I’m defining that on a particular day), it also serves a more short-term goal: it makes me feel like I have some control over this ridiculous, largely luck-based pursuit of mine, and that gives me something to hold onto on those days when I feel as though I’m typing nonsense into the abyss.

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The Day of the Doctor Who Anniversary Fete

I love the whimsy of Doctor Who. And the hijinks. And the gravitas and the wonder and the possibility. What imagination! What joy!

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I also happen to enjoy thematic party food, so when I invited some friends over to watch the 50th Anniversary Special tonight, I decided to have some fun:

Bowtie pasta in Dalek takeaway boxes:

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TARDISale (gingerale with blue food colouring):

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Jelly babies! (hooray for the candy shop near my apartment that sells British sweets):

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Cakes with ball bearings and Weeping Angel grilled cheese sandwiches (thanks to my WarpZone cookie cutter):

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And, Geronimo! (Also featuring the Sherlock and Watson cookies my friend brought over.)

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Now that the party is over and the special has been watched, I can’t wait to read about all the shout-outs to previous generations of Doctors I missed in the episode. I also really want to give John Hurt a hug, but I don’t know if that’s plausible.

(I’ve been using the word “fete” a lot lately because I’m reading Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog. Please accept my apologies. These things just seep in, you know?)

Video

Stop trying to make me freak out, TEDTalks

There is a lot of valid advice in this video about not wasting your 20’s. Clinical psychologist Meg Jay, who specializes in twentysomethings, says the decade is a ‘developmental sweet spot’ when you should be taking advantage of opportunities to invest in yourself through work, education and fruitful relationships, so when you hit your 30’s you’re ready for that big career move or settling down with a partner.

That being said, the video is a bit alarmist, especially if you’re nearing the end of your 20’s or past it. With so many people experiencing quarter-life crises and worrying about lagging behind other people/society’s standards in terms of personal and professional development, the common reaction to this video is probably: Oh no, I think I’ve wasted my 20’s.

Just to mitigate the inevitable panic of anyone over the age of, say, 27 or so: It may feel like we’ve wasted our 20’s now, but we probably haven’t. Whatever experiences and work you’ve accumulated since turning 20 may seem aimless or unproductive now, but it’s all investment in yourself. Which is Jay’s point.

“I’m not discounting twentysomething exploration here,” she says. “I’m discounting exploration that’s not supposed to count. Which, by the way, isn’t exploration. That’s procrastination.”

So before you (or I) jump to the conclusion that we’ve wasted our 20’s because that’s what our sad inner voices are telling us, let’s consider the possibility that we’ve done exactly what she’s advising in this talk. Then we can pass along this sage advice to a new twentysomething as someone who’s been there and done that, and not as a cautionary tale.

I Love You for Your Body (of Work), Mr. Whedon

I went into my opening night screening of The Avengers convinced that I was going to love it. And it wasn’t just because I let the hype and positive reviews raise my expectations. My mind was made a long time ago, when it was announced that geek demigod Joss Whedon had been hired as writer/director. (Though, I did harbour conspiratorial concerns that somehow the project was going to get taken away from him, or that the studio and other stakeholders would interfere with his vision and ruin everything. See: Dollhouse.)

After all, who else could direct an ensemble of scrappy, squabbling (anti-)heroes with such finesse, or combine well-paced tensity and humour that really respects its characters and their relationships without sacrificing badass action sequences? Few others, if any. Plus, he knows his comic books. And now that I’ve seen it, I am in awe of his accomplishment, not because the movie is perfect–it’s not–but because it was a difficult movie to make (in bridging preceding and succeeding movies, and in handling multiple protagonists and storylines) and, somehow, it works.

Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Joss Whedon (writer/director), Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Chris Evans (Captain America) on set.

And it works despite its flaws. [SPOILERS AHEAD] Loki’s Big Evil Plan is a little easy, especially when you compare it to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, where villains have nuanced motives beyond “I want to rule the world. Send in the space army!” I enjoy Tom Hiddleston’s creepy turn as Loki, and it’s not that he lacks a good backstory, it’s just that his scheming clearly functions merely to force the Avengers Initiative into action. Of course, it’s happening so fast and the reaction from S.H.I.E.L.D. is so entertaining, you hardly notice.

Secondly, sprinkling attention among the ensemble makes it difficult for Captain America, the unequivocal leader of The Avengers, to really rise to the level of protagonist, though that would have been a risky move, what with Steve Rogers not being even half as interesting as RDJ’s Tony Stark. (There are a few reasons for that, which I discuss in this podcast I co-host! GO FIGURE.) In the end, trying to balance all the different characters leaves little room for any individual character arcs (exception: Bruce Banner/The Hulk, who was handled magnificently). But what you have to remember is, this isn’t the story of any one character; the character is the group, and in that way, it works.

(I like to think that if The Avengers were a TV series, or if it becomes a trilogy, Joss would have the space to give each character the arc he/she deserves, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.)

But back to my obsessive adoration of Joss Whedon. If you know me, you know that I’ve been a fan of his since Buffy premiered in October 1997 when I was a mere 12 years old, and that I’ve followed his projects ever since. I even went to see him at San Diego Comic-Con in 2009. (And almost met him! It’s a very sad story full of woe and regret; ask me about it sometime.) You could say I’ve grown loyal over the years, though hopefully not to this extent

Me too, Gabe. Me too.

All that being said, I don’t want to be accused of a particular kind of loyalty, the kind that inspires eye-rolling pop culture commentators to accuse fanboys/girls of being unconditionally allegiant to the point where they’re incapable of being objective and will start campaigns to save a show before it even airs. No, I like to think my kind of loyalty is of a different brand.

I don’t think Joss Whedon is infallible. I just love the things he makes, and it’s a very pure love. I look forward to his projects, and generally feel great affection for them despite their flaws (the ones that stand out to the critic in me), because when I watch or read something where he’s had a controlling creative influence–that hasn’t been messed up by meddling forces–there’s something purely JW in them, something that I would say is an extension of his personality. The witty dialogue, the way he manages relationships between characters, his balancing of drama and humour: when he gets it right, it appeals to something in my personality.

On that note, this combination of elements is something I try to achieve in my own writing because it’s the kind of chemistry, a perfect storm of wonder and beauty, that makes people fall in love with a story and its characters. Joss Whedon fans are as fervent as they are because they don’t just love shows like Buffy and Firefly, they fall in love with them. (Whoa. Too much? Are you tearing up?)

When The Cabin in the Woods came out a couple of weeks ago, I had a similar reaction. You could tell how much fun Joss and Drew Goddard (co-writer, director and Whedonverse alum) had making that movie. And if you love horror movies and monsters the way they do, and the way I do, you’re going to love this movie. Not because it’s flawless, but because it speaks to something in you. You’re kindred spirits! We’re kindred spirits!

This is also how I feel about a lot of books, like Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, and TV shows like Lost, which I’ve written about before. Yeah, it fumbled a lot and didn’t live up to everything that it could have been. But I love that series and I love Whedon’s ouevre* for being whimsical, for being mysterious, for having fun with the genre, and for creating character ensembles that I care about. I love them not because they’re the best things being made from a critical standpoint, but because they speak to something in me. I love them for everything that they try to be and for everything that they very often are.

It’s the same way, I suppose, that you’d love a person.

And now, I leave you with this letter from Mr. Whedon himself, which was the impetus for this post. Enjoy.

*Does that sound dirty? I think it sounds kind of dirty.

Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope

Hey! They released the trailer for Morgan Spurlock’s Comic-Con documentary, which I saw at TIFF a while back, so here’s the trailer plus my very offhand review below. (And then let’s all go see it again when it comes out, m’kay?)

I saw Morgun Spurlock’s Comic-Con documentary at TIFF this week [actually this past September], exhaustingly but aptly titled Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, and it was fantastic. It didn’t really approach the subject as an attempt to document the history, overall cultural influence of the con, its role in San Diego, controversies or anything like that – though there were elements of these things – instead, it was more of a love letter from convention goers to the con itself.

By following a handful of fans who attended as part of their dreams to become comic book artists or costume designers, as well as a comic book retailer and a whole slew of famous, regular con-goers like Kevin Smith and Joss Whedon (!), it told the story of what the convention means to real fans/geeks/lovers-of-things.

A lot of people have been talking about how it’s a charming look at the kind of people who love things intensely, especially the kinds of fans who are moved to emulation as artists. I definitely agree, and I’d have to say it accurately and wonderfully reflected my feelings and experiences as a fan. Even if you don’t consider yourself a part of “that world,” go see it. It’ll explain a lot about why conventions mean something to those who go, and what that whole culture means to them (us).