Category Archives: Uncategorized

Book Review : The Past is Red

Given the two years of Covid, and the trailing toxic cloud of the Trump administration (which, like it or not, affects the whole world, despite America’s insular cluture), you’d think we’d want to avoid the climate catastrophe in fiction. Certainly, reading apocalyptic visions of the near future was not on my to-do list, since it feels like I could look out the window for that.

But I trust Catherynne Valente. I’ve read “The Girl who circumnavigated Fairyland in a boat of her own design” and liked it. She’s well-respected by authors whom I respect. And also, that cover was a real draw.

It’s a short book, narrated by the main character, Tetley, who lives on what was the great Garbage Patch in the middle of the ocean. The survivors of the rising waters landed on the garbage patch and sorted the garbage into different lands, then made homes there.

Tetley is an unreliable narrator, but always sets the record straight eventually. As the cover reveals, her voice is remarkably upbeat, given her situation as a hated outcast among her own people.

I’m not going to go into detail about the plot, because it’s twisty, and told non-chronologically, and I don’t want to inadvertantly give away important points. But it’s a gripping story – not in a run-for-your-life-there-are-wolves way (though there IS a tiger), but in a turn-the-page-I-have-to-know-what’s-next way.

I think what really got me was one character expressing my own fears about the future. He bewails the loss of ease. When I think about the problems we have all perpetuated, I worry that my children’s children won’t live a life where water comes from a tap, or electricity is easily accessible. I know that’s not the case for everyone right now, and that inequality is just as unforgivable as the inaction to prevent the catastrophe that we can see approaching. But, like that character says, it’s “soon, but not yet”, and so we have not acted, because to act would cost us some of the ease and convenience we have become accustomed to. We won’t risk that, despite the certainty that it will cost us the earth.

Read the book, folks, it’s really, really good.

Inspiration

Writer's Block, Flow, and Some Views on 'the Muse' – Jennysoft.com

Inspiration is not the problem.

Inspiration is BLOODY EVERYWHERE. All the time.

It’s in the song you hear over breakfast. In the conversation of strangers on the SkyTrain. It’s in the summary of the movie on tv later tonight, a paragraph of someone else’s invention that sparks a thought about something almost, but not quite, completely different.

Every day, there’s something that makes me stop and look at a picture only I can see. Perhaps it’s a whole scene, perhaps just a vignette. Sometimes it’s a story thread, winding away through the air like a piano playing in the room next door.

Inspiration is the brain’s cold-caller, ringing me up when I have my hands full, finding their way around the blocks on their numbers to offer the best deal on anything I could ever want, but I have to answer RIGHT NOW, hand over my credit card details without delay or this offer will expire…

And it’s impossible to silence this clarion call, there’s no escaping it in my everyday life. Driving the work van, choosing the books for today’s patrons, walking from the SkyTrain station to the library, there are mountains of potential unfolding in my brain, crowds of characters parading through my head, their arcs intersecting in moments of blinding drama that would shake the foundations of the literary world if only –

I…could…just…get…to…somewhere..that..I…could…write…them..down.

And the grim truth is that I can escape. If the noise of Calliope’s musings gets too loud, I can bring down the curtain with a single, simple act.

I sit at my keyboard.

Terry Pratchett was not just good and funny, he was right.

No one argues the fact that the loss of Terry Pratchett was a tragedy. The televised version of “Good Omens” brought a new wave of readers to his books, and there are millions like me who have never left the Discworld, coming back again and again to walk the streets of Ankh Morpork with Vimes and Carrot, or run across the Chalk with Tiffany Aching, or run away from everything with Rincewind the wizzard*.

Terry’s words have appeared on my social media timeline again and again in the past few years. People pick the Vimes “boots theory” of socio-economic unfairness, or Vimes’ musings on how the police should be the servants of the law, not the government. They pick Granny Weatherwax’s words on Headology, or her disections of psychology.

One of my favourite quotes is this exchange between Miss Tick, the Witch Finder, and Tiffany Aching:

Miss Tick sniffed. ‘You could say this advice is priceless,’ she said. ‘Are you listening?’
‘Yes,’ said Tiffany.
‘Good. Now … if you trust in yourself …’
‘Yes?’
‘… and believe in your dreams …’
‘Yes?’
‘… and follow your star …’ Miss Tick went on.
‘Yes?’
‘… you’ll still get beaten by people who spent THEIR time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.

But to me, Terry’s works seem even more prescient now, or at least written by someone who really saw people as they are. We’ve all seen people saying they finally understand the trope in zombie movies where people who have been bitten conceal the bite, putting their friends and families at risk. We’ve watched the people marching for their “right” to become infected, to pass that infection along to the vulnerable.

Last night I started re-reading “The Bromeliad”, Terry’s trilogy about the Nomes. It has a lot to say about people as a group, and how good ideas can be hard to get into heads that are, apparently, completely empty. It also shows that the best leaders are the ones who don’t want to be leaders, but want to make life better for others. I feel that too many of the people at the top of our political trees are the ones who wanted to be important, wanted power, wanted influence, and don’t care what they have to do to get it.

Of course, the Nomes don’t have social media. They listen to the people in charge, and then they argue amongst themselves about it, but they don’t have these outlets constantly promoting voices that may or may not have good standing. Outlets that are, let’s not forget, built and run by individuals and companies that are aiming to make money, regardless of what they said when they set up the app,or site, or whatever. (Most of these social media sites we cling to start with a fanfare about connection, or sharing, or communicating, but they all come down to money in the end. If you’re not paying for it, you’re the product being sold. Because, yes, we gave them our email address, our phone number, our likes and preferences, and not one of us read the EULA before we clicked the “accept” button. We gave them permission, and we don’t know what for.)

So, as I did in my lonely year in Portsmouth, sharing a two-bedroom flat with a man whose entire diet consisted of Frosties, I have retreated to the comforting world of the Nomes. Where life is hard, and difficult, and getting anything done requires explanation, repetition and shouting. But they do it. They go from Outside to the safety of The Store, then almost immediately have to persuade everyone to leave The Store, even though most of them don’t believe there’s anywhere else to go. They have to figure out how to take enough with them to survive, and to do that they have to persuade the others that they are capable of doing it.

Terry saw the world very clearly, and he put so much of what he saw into his books so we could see it the same way. I’m sure he’d be horrified by the behavior on display today, and I would dearly love to see what he would say in response. We can’t claim things on his behalf, of course, but we can read what he wrote and allow that to influence how we behave, in this world that’s sometimes more unbelievable than one carried on the back of a giant turtle.

*Rincewind’s spelling is as good as his…er…spelling?

Why your opinion is worthless

It’s been nearly two years of Covid. Two years of speculation on what it would mean, how it might spread, how it could be fought and overcome. And for just as long there have been people who said that it wouldn’t be a problem, that it wasn’t a danger, that people shouldn’t worry.

Those people were wrong. That’s not an opinion, it’s a fact. Covid spread worldwide, it’s killed millions, and it hasn’t gone away (or even “disappeared like a miracle”)

Now we have vaccines, something people were desperate for when the scope of the problem became evident, but the effectiveness of those vaccines has been eroded by people who:

A: Wouldn’t get vaccinated

B: Wouldn’t wear masks and

C: Wouldn’t reduce social interaction.

These people are broadly grouped together as “Anti-vaxxers”, though in truth they have no organisation, no common message, and only ignorance in common with one another. Countless op-eds in newspapers and online have suggested that we (the folks who got vaccinated, maintained social distance and continue to wear masks in public) should treat the “vaccine hesitants” with respect, because we won’t change their views with scorn, mockery or, it appears, the truth.

While I understand this point of view, I think it falls down on one fundamental point – it’s bollocks.

If, after nearly two years of Covid, you are “hesitant” about the vaccine, it’s because you are being wilfully ignorant. You have ignored the mountains of evidence and clung to obscure YouTube videos and Twitter links that reinforced your original thoughts They are right, you believe, because even though they are the minority viewpoint, they align with YOUR viewpoint. The “Mainstream media”, which you trust for your weather, traffic reports, news of major crimes and international events, is targeting this one aspect of modern life for a torrent of disinformation, and are paying off legions of doctors and nurses (and, presumably, dead people) to create this fiction that Covid is dangerous.

If you don’t “believe” in the vaccine, let me take this opportunity to say I do not care in the slightest about your beliefs, and neither does the world. You can choose not believe in tables, or mountains, or Buddhists. The world will still contain those things. Your belief, or lack of, does not change anything.

If you are “hesitant” because you don’t know what’s in the vaccine, or you’re worried about being microchipped or traced, then I hope you cook every meal from fresh ingredients you farm yourself, and never take any other form of pharmaceutical. I hope you read every word of every EULA that accompanies every app on your phone or your computer. In fact, I would hope you don’t HAVE a phone if you’re worried about being tracked or traced.

If you’re concerned that the vaccine rewrites your DNA, please lie down in a dark room before you hurt yourself or others. It’s probably too late to tell you not to take horse de-wormer.

Finally, if your stance is predicated on “Freedom” or involves the words “liberty” or “constitution”, reflect on the fact that you are looking for language that will permit you to care only about yourself and your own convenience. Other people would like freedom and liberty. Other people are protected by your country’s founding documents. Why do YOU suddenly take precedence when you’re being asked to take medical precautions that protect YOU as well as them? When you shout about freedom, I see a toddler whining about having to eat vegetables. You don’t care what the results of your actions may be in the future, you want to avoid responsibilities NOW. You don’t want to wear a mask, or take a vaccine, it’s inconvenient to you.

There’s no reason to treat such attitudes with respect, or to attempt to understand them. They are selfish, childish attitudes that have prolonged this pandemic, and will continue to do so. I’m vaccinated, I wear a mask to work every day. I keep my distance when I can. None of this is convenient, but it’s necessary. It’s necessary because childish, selfish people refuse to take those same precautions, and I’m done with them.

Chuck Wendig: The Book of Accidents

Working at CanPages wasn’t a bad job. It was close to home, paid more than my previous job, and I had to actually WORK (because proofreading is hard). Of course, the skeptical would say that getting a job with a provider of local phone directories was a little short-sighted, especially in 2013. Anyway, yes, they were bought out and shut down, but a few sections were told to finish up what they were doing before leaving. Including my section, who stayed on for three or four months after everyone else had left.

With nothing to do.

And I mean, NOTHING. I had a desk, a Mac and two 23 inch screens, and no work to do. I spent those months on Google Plus, which was still a thing back then, and I’m pretty sure it was around that time that I came to know the work of Chuck Wendig. First through his G+ posts, then through his blog, Terribleminds, and then through his books.

Over the years I have read e-books, physical books, borrowed books from the library, asked for them for Christmas. I don’t know that I’ve read everything he’s written, but I have read all the Miriam Black books, and the Atlanta Burns stories. I read “Wanderers” with more than a little awe at the sheer scope of it.

It’s natural enough, then, that I would grab “The Book of Accidents” with both hands when it came along.

Chuck Wendig does not write easy books. He doesn’t spin calming visions of meadows and sunshine. His are not the tales of humourous misunderstandings, or social faux pas. Chuck puts monsters under the beds, then has those monsters turn out to be glove puppets of a worse monster, who is actually only the polite face of a monster so terrifying that other monsters leave a nightlight on.

“The Book of Accidents” is big, not as long as “Wanderers”, but still a healthy-sized tome, and I was looking forward to reading it slowly. I’ve just about finished “The Night Circus” for the third time, and need a break from the swirling rage it generates by being so effortlessly brilliant and simple, yet mind-numbingly complex and heartbreaking at the same time. The family sat down to dinner last night and put on a movie I wasn’t interested in, so I picked up “The Book of Accidents.” That would have been around 6.45pm. I can’t tell you what time I finished reading the book that night, because I lie on my side facing away from the clock, but I suspect it was past 1am. I’m a bit tired today, but it was totally worth it.

Like many of his books, “The Book of Accidents” quickly builds up a head of steam, and then it does not relent. The characters and the events are moving fast, and I did not want to stop reading, did not want to step out of the world of the novel and have to wade through normality for a day to get back to reading. I read, and I read, and I read, and when I closed the book, I did not feel cheated. The story delivers on the early promise, and while not every thread is neatly tied off, they don’t need to be. If there’s no sequel, that’s not an issue, but if there is, I’d read that for sure.

A few warnings – Chuck deals in gore, and there is plenty in this book. There are graphic descriptions of deaths and violence and school shooting victims. Like I said, he’s not writing whimsical comedies here.

But if you like sharp prose, fast plots, weird, weird, WEIRD goings-on and a SUPER-SIZED dollop of scary, then this is the book you need. And then go back to Blackbirds, Bad blood, Shotgun Gravy….

Genius is hereditary….I hope.

Alongside the ever present conundrum of “What sort of plays do you write?”, the second most popular question people ask is “Why did you become a playwright?”*

It’s a fair question, and one I used to answer with some vague pompous and self-aggrandizing waffle about working my way through the various formats until I found the one that took the least effort for the most money.
But the stupid thing is, there’s a sensible and much more compelling answer: My Dad is a playwright.

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It’s stupid because it’s taken me so long to realise. Dad has always been a vicar. It’s something he worked hard at, and I only really thought of him in those terms : Dad/Vicar. But while he was doing all that vicar stuff, he wrote several terrific plays for the young people of the church (and a good few adults as well) that play to all the strengths of good community theatre plays.

1.    They are written for a minimalist stage. All Dad’s plays were performed in the church, and although he was able to construct a small stage for most of the churches he worked in, the performance space was not purpose built. There were rudimentary flats, but the main idea was that lighting and props gave the idea of location (along with the dialogue, of course) and any bits of furniture that were needed could only appear if it was feasible to lug ’em onstage by hand during a blackout.

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2.       Like the staging restrictions, there were restrictions on the effects available. The lighting was limited, usually either hired or volunteered, but the best you could hope for would be different lighting areas and some colour. No flashy effects or projections – this was in the early Eighties, after all.

3.        Large cast. With the number of kids in attendance, plus the adults, there were a lot of people to accommodate. Luckily the Bible isn’t a small cast production, so there are plenty of parts on offer if that’s your source material. But you have to be pretty smart about how many are going to be onstage at a time, how long are they on or off, and what the heck are all the folks who aren’t onstage doing?

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4.     Story. Yes the Bible has plenty of stories to work with, but if you’re performing for a church audience, you have to think of new ways to present stories they’ve heard every Sunday. That was tricky enough in “All Prophet No Loss” which dealt with the various prophets, but in “Man on a Donkey” Dad was telling arguably the most famous story of all, Holy Week and the Crucifixion.

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Dad took on these challenges while doing his day job, one far more demanding and time consuming than any I’ve ever tackled. He wrote these brilliant full length plays and my Mum wrote songs to go along with them. Together they produced and directed them, oversaw the making of costumes (again, something simple, like tabards or waistcoats in the main) , manufactured props and painted flats.

And in amongst it all, a young me was wandering around, occasionally helping, usually hindering and always in some part or other. I was the man in the market, explaining the strange behaviour of the Prophet Hosea. I was a slave in Egypt, singing a funny song based on the old hit “Right said Fred” and trapping a wicked overseer in a statue made from cardboard boxes. Critics agree my best appearance was as the advertising salesman “Gordon Bennett” selling his line of Garden Machinery for Block and Dibber.

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Years of my childhood, spent preparing for and acting in plays written by my father, and I couldn’t come up with a more compelling reason for being a playwright than : “It was easier than writing a novel.”

Sometimes life’s secrets aren’t secret at all – they’re so obvious you have trouble seeing them.

 

*This has only become the second most popular question since I stopped working as the Door Greeter in Home Depot. Back then, the second most popular question people asked me was “Which way to the washrooms?”

Be a man.

A Dirty Job (Grim Reaper, #1)

As you might be able to tell from the illustration, I’ve just finished reading “A Dirty Job” by Christopher Moore. Again. I think this is the third or fourth time I’ve read it, and I’ve listened to it on audio a couple of times too. I’ve also read the sequel, but not recently. I’ll be collecting that one again next week, I think.

One of the things that draws me to this book is that the central character is described as a Beta Male. Not only is he described that way by the omniscient author voice, he also describes himself that way, and is content with the description. In a world where we love to label people, Beta Male is not usually considered one of the nice ones.

The odd thing is, Alpha Male is also probably most used as a derogatory term. Maybe it’s my own Beta sensibilities, but the few men I see using the term unironically about themselves online are NOT living the kind of life that looks appealing. It’s the kind of life that looks both entirely superficial and exhausting. It’s all about how shiny and fast my car is, how big my pecs are, how much cash I’m making RIGHT NOW, and the crucial point of all this is: are these things MORE than everyone else around me?

Of course, Alpha Males will tell you I’m wrong about that. They’ll talk about warrior this, and hunter that, and maybe leadership something or other. If you’re unlucky, they’ll also start in a diatribe about wolf society that is both wrong and outdated nonsense.

Growing up, the heroes onscreen that I saw were all Alphas. They were bold, physical, decisive. They took risks. I remember very clearly watching a James Bond movie (The World is not Enough) where Bond follows a lead by assuming a man’s identity and getting on a plane. He doesn’t know where the plane is going, doesn’t know what his assumed identity was meant to do there, and he had no back up. To me, that was terrifying.

But being Beta has made my life what it is. It didn’t bother me that I earned less than Mrs Dim, or that her career meant we would have to move every couple of years, so I couldn’t have a traditional employment path. It meant I could accept the reality of me being the primary caregiver once we had children, and it meant our arguments, disagreements, fights and differences of opinion never boiled over into anything major – I had backing down built into my DNA. And backing down doesn’t mean losing, folks. When you lower the temperature of the fight, you allow the pre-frontal cortex to re-assert control of the brain, supplanting the amygdala, which kicks in first in stressful situations. Your amygdala is the lizard brain, the home of fight-or-flight, whereas your proper reasoning is in your pre-frontal cortex. Once that can consider the facts, you make better decisions, but it’s slow to get moving. I didn’t win every argument (a lot of the time it was because I was wrong), but sometimes I got my point across later.

I have three kids, all AFAB, and I used to get a lot of comments about being a dad raising girls. People used to express sorrow at the family dog also being female, as if having a male dog would give me some kind of solace, some bastion of maleness from which the pair of us could regard the rest of the family. It always sounded weird to me, because I LIKED my kids. Just because they were girls didn’t mean there was some kind of gulf between us. They liked Star Wars and Doctor Who, and yes, they had dolls and fairies and stuff too, but they were my kids and I knew them very well. When they were tiny I would dress them for practicality, but when they were older they picked their own outfits, and dresses or trousers were their choice, and I don’t believe my views affected those choices one way or the other.

My middle kid told me the other day that I don’t fit a lot of the dad memes on Reddit – I’m not emotionally distant, or rushing out to spend time fishing or working on a car. I still did all the stuff I remembered from MY childhood – a dad should give rides on shoulders, should say “Hey, I think I have a book on that” when you’re doing a school project, should help you fix broken things, be bad at dancing, and know some obscure songs.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Alpha Males are the whole problem. You get assholes in every community. I belong to the Star Wars Fan community, Cosplay Community, Writing Community, Library Community, Ex-pats community…. No group of people exists with a common thread that doesn’t include at least one person who’s an asshole. But the Alpha Male image is based on propping up the ego of that individual. All the traits that they laud in themselves are selfish ones. Are they the ones to lead a group of survivors on a desert island? Maybe. Are they a useful member of the community in normal times? Less so, I would say.

We finally live in times where marginalised communities are rising to be heard. People from areas of life who have been oppressed, enslaved, denied, derided and pushed aside. They are standing up and demanding their space. Who is IN their space? Right now, it’s generally white guys, guys who think of themselves as global Alphas. And while most people know that it’s a big table with room for everyone, all those Alphas think that allowing others to the table means pushing them out. Betas would be asking if anyone wanted snacks on the table, if everybody was ok with their chairs. Betas want people to get along. Remember that internet tagline about “Don’t teach women self-defense, teach your sons not to rape?” That’s this too. The whole idiotic “incel” movement is based on entitlement : “I should have a girlfriend who has sex with me, I’m OWED one. The films and TV say it should happen because I’m a strong man.”

Alpha thinking. That guy who gave symposiums on “How to get girls”, who wrote the playbook. Like there’s a formula you can repeat to win any woman. Alpha thinking.

Alpha thinking has done more than enough. European men have rampaged around the globe, incels have murdered women, others have killed indiscriminately because of their belief in themselves, in their rights and what they are owed. It’s past time for the Alphas to stand aside, and realise their lives are phony and destructive.

Canada Day 2021

Tomorrow is Canada Day, the 1st of July. It’ll be the twelfth Canada Day we’ve had since we arrived, and it’s going to be a strange one.

For a long time I admired the Canadian attitude to Canada. The people seemed happy to be Canadian, happy to own it, to wear the maple leaf on anything and everything, to take the national stereotyping in good heart. Canada wasn’t a bad place, so we could relax about liking it, unlike those poor neighbours down south who are so embarrassed about their multiple failures that they have to be fiercely PROUD of their country, and shout down anyone who isn’t.

When the library sent everyone home during Covid, we were encouraged to take some of the online courses that were available, and chief among them was, essentially, “Introduction to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada”. It was a good course, carefully constructed by a group of people who represented a good cross-section of the many nations, bands and tribes and peoples that make up the Indigenous and Metis populations. It was a good course, but hard to switch of the colonial brain, the cynical, analytical part that wants to complain about things that are different. But by doing that, I came to see that we did, what the Europeans did, was inexcusable. We rolled in, made agreements, broke those agreements, then told the people who were here first that they had no claim under a system of law they didn’t subscribe to or even get recognised by. Time and again, colonists have proven they cannot be trusted.

This course wasn’t the first I had heard of the Residential Schools. We’ve visited the Nk’Mip Cultural centre in Osoyoos (https://nkmipdesert.com/) where they have displays about a school that did better by the folks, which tells you how it could have gone. But the course went into detail, and you cannot escape the fact that by trying to commit cultural genocide, the colonists have damaged an entire group of people, then castigated them for that damage.

I come from a small island nation that has been invaded over and over. Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Romans. All came and left their mark on the land and the people. In a play about the meaning of culture, I had an old woman ask her grandchildren if, should the Canadian Indigenous peoples get recompense for their injury, she should be recompensed by the Italians? But that’s disingenuous. This is about events that happened in living memory. About wounds that are still raw. About prejudice that affects hundreds of thousands every day, across generations. We need to sit and listen to those we have hurt, and let them lead the way to restitution. That will be hard, because the way they will go about that process, the steps they will require of us, and the time it will take will all feel different and strange to us. But it CANNOT be done on our terms. This is not for us. It is because of us.

So this Canada Day will be strange. I still love this country and the people in it. I’m still glad we came here, even though that makes us more a part of the problem, until we can find a way to be part of the solution. Canada may not have been a nation before 1867, but it has always been home to the people who lived here. Whether the land belonged to those people, or they belonged to the land is immaterial in light of what was done to them.

I’ve heard many times that the name “Canada” comes from the word “Kanata”, which means “Village”. I have lived in villages before. Everyone knows everyone else. People are able to help one another, and the whole village can come together in times of crisis or celebration. It’s time for Canada to come together and heal.

World Juggling Day or Not everyone can do everything.

If you’ve read more than three entries of this blog, or followed me on Twitter for more than a month, you probably know I’m a juggler. I may have cut way, way back on the amount of juggling I actually do these days, but it’s not something I will stop being.

Today I happened across a reminder that World Juggling Day will be this weekend – it’s set for the nearest Saturday to the 17th of June, when the International Juggling Association was founded back in 1947. I don’t know how I’ll be celebrating on Saturday, given the weird state of home life right now (Mrs Dim’s minor stroke last month, and the unexpected arrival of a kitten this weekend), not to mention that it’s also Father’s Day, which may or may not have celebrations of its own.

But thinking about juggling reminded me of a conversation with Mrs Dim. She’s concerned about her short-term memory issues. The docs assure her that the issues themselves are short-term, and it’s very likely she’ll recover full function in a matter of weeks or months. Mrs Dim is nervous, since so much of her job depends on her memory, so she asked me to tutor her in some of the endless memory techniques I keep researching.

And here’s the thing: I keep researching memory techniques because I have a lousy memory for certain things. Star Wars trivia? Not a problem. Appointments? Names? Pet immunisations? All a blank on a regular basis. Mrs Dim thinks my failure to train my memory despite reading all the books I can find on it is because I don’t apply myself. I think it’s because I have a bad memory.

Yes, yes, I know. Almost every book on memory says “Hey, anyone can improve their memory with these simple techniques! Memory is a muscle that must be exercised!” To prove this, there are testimonials from people who had bad memories before, and better ones after. I’m paraphrasing because, naturally, I can’t remember the exact words, or the names of the books.

Let’s take that muscle analogy for a spin, though, shall we?

I have a full set of muscles, and they are entirely adequate. At school, I competed in Sports Day and was unimpressive. I was beaten in races by kids who exercised to the same small degree I did. If I had trained hard, I could have probably beaten THEM, but I would still have come in behind Neil Ricketts, who ran the 100m in 13 seconds. Had he trained extensively? No. He was just naturally built for sprinting. And casual racism, violence, and bullying, but we’re talking about muscles right now.

I’ve taught juggling and circus skills since I was eighteen (and now I’m forty nine or thereabouts). I’ve only met two people in all that time who could not be taught. And it wasn’t that they couldn’t learn, they were choosing NOT to try, or not to listen, or determined to fail. Don’t know why, and after all these years have passed, I don’t much care. But my point is, while everyone can be taught to juggle, not everyone can be great at it. My first juggling partner, Dougie, was a natural juggler. He could watch a trick being done a few times and pretty much nail it on his first go. He learned amazingly fast, but he was lazy and sloppy in other ways. My friend Mike didn’t learn so easily, but put in much more effort, hammering away at each trick until it was right. I’m somewhere in the middle of the two, but hampered by my own demons of apathy and short-term concentration. What was I talking about?

Oh yeah. So anyone can learn to juggle, just like anyone can learn memory techniques. But some people are going to pick up the props (general term for anything you juggle) and get the idea in minutes, while others are going to need days. And some of those others will have to sweat for weeks to get a simple three ball pattern, while others will go onto numbers juggling, or knives (which are actually easy, but don’t let on!) or fire.

Dougie, me and Mike

So maybe those folks who tried the memory techniques and became memory masters were built that way to begin with. Maybe the folks like me will sweat away at our mnemonics and lists, and visual guides and hooks and only ever be barely adequate. A lot of these memory techniques, I fell, need a good memory to work. It’s easy to say ‘Place your daily appointments along a mental route you travel frequently”, but I don’t remember the route I travel to work every day. I can’t replay it in my mind like a movie. That’s not how my memory works.

People, I think, are good at different things. We can learn new skills, but some people will be better at some things than other people will. We should be ok with that.

Epic fantasy book review

This was my “To Be Read” pile not so long ago. I’d been carelessly piling up holds in the library and then a lot of them came in at once. You’ll notice that at least two of the books you can see are epic fantasy, something I don’t often dip into because…well, you’re not SUPPOSED to dip into it, are you? You’re supposed to dive in, headfirst, bring a sleeping bag and stay for a quest or two.

I picked up “The Sword of Shannara” on the recommendation of a patron, who assured me that it would make me forget all about that Lord of the Rings nonsense. After all, it was wildly different, with the story concerning a wandering wizard who seeks out a quiet young individual in a village to tell him that he must defeat the powerful evil growing once again in a distant but somehow threatening land. This unassuming individual takes his best friend (who happens to be his brother, and they set out, but the wizard is delayed and they are accompanied by a dark and brooding warrior type, who turns out to be destined to be a king, but has been cast out of his kingdom. Soon they gather a company around them that includes a dwarf and at least one elf.

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t thought about “Lord of the Rings” for MINUTES now.

My problem is that, yes I did grow up with Lord of the Rings, but I grew FURTHER up with Terry Pratchett. The straight, solemn pomposity of Shannara was just too grating. And I don’t care how much you love the series, when a character says ‘As you know” and then continues to talk for two pages in only four paragraphs, the editor fell down on the job.

Because of this unpleasant experience (I had to finish the book because the patron was going to ask me about it), I rather bounced off the better written but incredibly dense ” The Unbroken”. I could see it was setting up for a great sweeping series of volumes, and I couldn’t clear the mental space to get involved.

And then last week another hold came in. This was the third in a series. Well, the second FULL book, though there was a short story in between. Novella, maybe. Anyway, I’m not going to name it because the author fell out of favour due to reprehensible conduct, and though he has made no reparation or changes, he’s crept back onto social media and his books are out there. I had liked the characters in the first book, so I bashed on.

This book takes the “two streams” approach. The action begins in timeline A, what we could call “The present”, and between chapters it switches back to a point int he past that will lead to the present. The view alternates, moving the moment of The Present forward, even as The Past account catches up to where we came in. Confused? Don’t worry, it’s worse if you read the book. You see, the main character is also wanting revenge for something that happened to her way back beyond the point of The Past that we’re dealing with, so in both timelines you get extreme flashbacks. And it’s an ensemble piece. That refers to the previous books. And switches between first person and third person viewpoints.

Naturally, I was a little burned out on epic fantasy, but the latest hold that arrived (no, I haven’t finished ‘The Constant Rabbit” yet, it gets gloomy, but I did get through all of “Doctor Sleep”, and I put aside “The Burning World” for now.) is a much simpler prospect. Just an alternate history of Britain in the early nineteen hundreds after the French captured a steamship that slipped through a time gate and gave away the tactics of Trafalgar and Waterloo. There are tortoises too, but some of them get shot. It’s called “the Kingdoms” and I’m enjoying it immensely, thank you.