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Truth and Reconciliation Day 2022

Thanks to an accident of birth, I’m free to live in Canada. It’s a land I have no claim to, and though we acknowledge every day that we are here on someone else’s land, we still hide behind sophistry. We say “unceded”, when we mean “stolen”.

We live on the land that was taken from people who had lived there for thousands of years. Because they looked different, because they valued different things, lived a different life, they were judged lesser, deemed uncivilized. Though the people who stole the land professed to hold to a religion that says stealing is wrong, they compounded their crime by trying to eradicate the people who lived there first. They tried to destroy their way of life, and they stole the children to separate them from their families and their culture and their heritage.

There’s no excusing what was done. It’s not enough to say “It was a different time.” or “They didn’t understand the impact of what they were doing.” They did know. They were very clear that the culture that existed in North America must be replaced with that of the European Colonists. That no act of violence was too terrible if it resulted in cutting the next generation of the First Nations off from their families, their stories, their history.

We talk about Truth and Reconciliation, but it’s not ours to give, or to take. The uncovering of the Residential School graves last year was a step towards truth, but like many things, this was a truth the indigenous peoples have been telling everyone for years. Any reconciliation has to be on their terms, not ours.

And if you think that’s too much to ask, imagine having your children torn away from your family, being denied contact, having them raised in a culture and religion that is not your own, and perhaps facing the horror of them never returning. Having no idea what happened to them, or where their remains lie. This one aspect of the crimes committed against the First Nations should be enough to stop us in our tracks.

We have allotted one day to mark Truth and Reconciliation, to stand against decades and decades of abuse, erasure, prejudice, and mischaracterisation. It’s a long road that we must walk now, and the First Nations have to be the ones leading. We can’t ask how far we have to go, until we acknowledge the terrible weight of the burdens they have already been carrying all these years.

Writer’s Block

I was going to title this post “Writer’s block – myth or not?” but I didn’t. Here’s why:

A lot of writers who blog, or Tweet, or whatever address the issue of writer’s block at some point. Some say it doesn’t exist, that to write – to really write – just takes the application of bum to seat and fingers to keyboard. It’s a job, they say, and writing every day like it’s a real job will carry you through the days when you just don’t, you know feel it.

Other people say “No, that’s not what I’m talking about. I want to write, I really need to, and I am sat here ready to go, and the WORDS WON’T COME!” It’s a genuine blockage, something preventing the flow of words that is normally, if not effortless, then at least easy.

So that brings me round to something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: People are different. We KNOW people are different, but we still determinedly lump together people who share one aspect of their lives, or their personalities, or their medical diagnoses, and we treat them all the same.

Writing. I’ve been a published writer for over twenty years. I’ve earned actual money from the stuff I write. Now, I don’t make my entire living from writing, so maybe you can discount me that way, but I don’t think so. I’ve written fiction and non-fiction and sold both. I’ve done magazine articles and short stories. I’ve done novels. I’ve certainly done plays. But what I’ve written over the last three years could be fitted on a pack of cigarettes without removing the government-mandated warning pictures. And yeah, some of that is because of regular life – remodeling the house, buying an apartment, Mrs Dim’s medical condition, the trip to England… There are always going to be interruptions. But I’m saying for the record here that there has been plenty of time for me to write, and I haven’t done it.

Is that Writer’s Block? Maybe for me. It’s not the first time I haven’t had ideas fighting to get onto paper, though it is the longest. I’ve had ideas during that time, obviously, and some of them got noted down in various places, but nothing developed beyond that scribbled note:

“And then my husband got fat”

“Small, Good Wolves need not apply”

“Famous Last Words”

“The Gardener of Crystal Palace”

Last week I was shuffling through a bunch of old files. One of them was an outline of a play I started to write. It was called the “Not Bertie Wooster” Play, because I had listened to the complete Jeeves and Wooster series on audio, and the style of Bertie’s speech was burned into my brain. I had a lot of fun, writing the outline using Bertie’s eclectic terms of affection and disbelief, and was building up quite a Wodehousian plot. Naturally, I ran out of steam about a third of the way through, but that was five pages. Five pages of outline. Since I didn’t have any other writing work on, I thought it would be easier to try writing out the script from this outline, rather than trying to write something new (or, actually, finish the outline first!)

That was a week ago, and I am pages into the script and haven’t caught up to the end of the outline yet. Writing this is fun , it’s not difficult, and I’m not worried about running out of outline because it feels like this is one of those plays where the characters will take up the story and run with it if I let them.

I haven’t “broken” a writer’s block. I haven’t found a method that will work for other people, or even for me the next time around. Everyone is different. But for now, I have rediscovered my own joy in writing, and it may well carry me through to the end of this script.

If YOU are suffering from Writer’s Block, or some similar condition that is preventing you doing your own creative thing, then firstly, I believe you. No one can tell you that block does not exist. It’s YOURS.

Secondly, because everyone is different, there are a million different pieces of advice out there that claim to break your block. None of them is going to be right every time for every person. But because there are so many, and hey, aren’t you desperate? Then you can try as many as you like until you find one that works for now.

Fifty, not out… (Cricket reference.)

There’s a lot of mileage made in popular culture about fear of aging, but the truth is, it’s rarely presented as an issue for folks like me – middle class, middle age white guys. In fact, we’re more likely to be told that Charlie Chaplin was still fathering children when he was in his seventies, and I still don’t know what to make of that.

I didn’t worry when I turned thirty. I’d once been told that men hit their physical peak at eighteen, but if that’s true, then my peak wasn’t much to shout about, and if I ever get around to making an effort, I’m pretty sure I could get into better shape, even now. Thirty was nothing, though. I was a dad of young kids, involved in the school, trying to make a hobby into either a career or a paying prospect. I was learning to be a good husband, still thinking back then that it was something you could become, not something you had to choose to be every day.

I don’t remember turning forty, really. I notice I didn’t blog about it, and we didn’t make a fuss about that birthday, but instead threw a party  when I turned forty two, because that IS an important number, right? Forty is officially middle-age, and even today a guy making it to 80 is doing well, beating the averages. But my kids still seemed young, and I could generally keep up with them. There were the odd aches and pains, but I still wasn’t actually doing any exercise, so that wasn’t surprising.

And now fifty. Two of my kids are so grown up they’ve left home. One’s working full time, the other’s about to finish university. The remaining stay-at-home may be about to start work too. My latest shot at promotion may have stalled, but I’m happy in my job, and it brings in enough to allow us to live happily, if not extravagantly. I’m not disappointed that I never became a motorcycle stunt man (as ten-year-old Dim once wanted), and I’m happy with all the choices I’ve made, I think. Being fifty doesn’t feel as old as it used to sound.

Derek at Emerald City

So far we haven’t taken Derek out of town. The Vancouver FanExpo is small but mighty, and we have loved the two visits Derek has made there. In the background, however, was this idea that maybe we should be looking to keep moving up, with the eventual aim of going to the Mother of All Comicons, San Diego.

Just a couple of hours across the border, Seattle hosts the Emerald City Comic Convention. This year they announced that David Tennant was going to be attending, along with Billie Piper. A few years ago, the Weasels went all the way out to Edmonton to get a photo with David Tennant.

Mrs Dim and I decided we might head out to Seattle, take the photo with us, and get our picture taken with their picture, and then challenge them to get another picture holding our picture…. Well, it was a great plan. Unfortunately, once the Weasels heard about our plan, they decided they should come too, and bring Derek…

Derek has been upgraded somewhat, thanks to the 3d printers and the Raspberry Pi, but we hadn’t had more than a brief try out with all the kit in the basement. The biggest addition was the hoverboard that Mrs Dim found, which allowed Eldest Weasel to move Derek around without having to flap her feet like Fred Flintstone.

With Derek taking up the whole of the back of Magda the Mazda, the Weasels has to drive themselves to Seattle, but we managed to arrive at the same car park beside the convention center. Assembling Derek as easy, thanks to experience…

But then we ran into an issue that we’ve not had to deal with before, which Seattle may need to look at. To get to the elevator for the convention center, Derek had to go down some stairs. Derek can not go down stairs. Despite the fact that we were parked next to a disabled parking spot, the only access to the elevator without stairs was down the “NOT FOR PEDESTRIANS” ramp. Only to find we couldn’t get into the convention center that way. We had to go find an employee to point out the ADA compliant entrance.

It’s a good job we don’t believe in omens. We trundled Derek into the center itself and stacked him up with Eldest Weasel in the driving seat.

Try as we could, we couldn’t position the speaker in a way that prevented feedback whenever we tried to use the Raspberry Pi voice-changer. The Pi worked, but the feedback drowned the dalek voice. We disconnected it, and hooked up a phone with pre-recorded phrases instead. Voice changer next time. The hoverboard was working, though, so we trundled forward, into the convention at last.

Derek was a sensation. From the moment he rolled into the the first hall, he was mobbed by people admiring him, asking for photos, for details of construction, for confirmation that someone was inside.

Eldest Weasel makes Derek come alive, but even when she stepped out for a chance to tour the halls and Derek was simply standing sentinel, he attracted admirers. It was just so much fun to see people genuinely light up when they saw him.

When Eldest Weasel returned we had our biggest challenge: We had to make our way from the convention center to the Hyatt Regency. Out on the actual streets of Seattle.

All the photo sessions were taking place in the Hyatt, so we were making our way there along with other convention goers, and passed by others on their way back to the convention. We were stopped for photographs as we went, and Derek’s hoverboard proved equal to the challenge of the streets. Even so, Derek’s driver found the process quite tiring, and was relieved to unstack in the Hyatt for a bit of a rest.

We had made it to the Hyatt in good time, so Derek was able to restack and roll into the long line of people waiting to have their photo taken with Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper (David Tennant having, sadly, had to withdraw due to filming commitments.)

Even after everything we’d seen that day, the look on their faces as we rolled through the curtain – well, Derek rolled – it was amazing. So much so that I apparently nearly forgot to get into the photo myself.

Derek made it to Emerald City in style, and he wowed the crowds and the celebrities. We still have more upgrades planned, more work to do, but as he is, Derek is just fine.

Another Juggling Box Update

There’s a lot going on right now. Two of the kids have moved out, there was a fire at work, we’re renovating the basement bedroom….

…Yes, that’s ANOTHER fireplace we’ve removed. I’m also trying to get Derek’s upgrade moved along, but I’ve reached a tricky bit that involves putting together a lot of components at once in a way that absolutely must not go wrong.

On top of which, I’m also trying to keep ahead of the script reading work I do for Lazy Bee Scripts. We’re busy, is the short version.

Nonetheless, it bothered me that I had made this custom-built thing to carry all my juggling kit, and yet when I added the jar I use to carry the fuel that keeps the fire clubs burning, the lid would not shut. The box on the top is the logical place for this jar, but I was not about to rebuild the entire top box just to accommodate a few centimeters in height. So here’s my elegant solution:

Not only does the jar now fit when the lid’s closed, it doesn’t rattle about as you drag the box around on the tiny wheels! I bet all the woodworkers who’ve been liking the original post will be well impressed with this.

Visiting Cirque Du Soleil for “Alegria”

It’s a long weekend here in BC, and Mrs Dim had booked tickets for the pair of us to go see Cirque Du Soleil’s new show “Alegria”. Every time Cirque come to Vancouver, they pitch a huge big top on False Creek, just by the Rogers Arena, across from Science World. Even amongst the interesting architecture of Downtown, the tent stands out.

I hadn’t seen a live Cirque performance since I went to see “Quidam” in London with Paul, one of my juggling partners, but our eldest had been to this show last week and said it was awesome.

It was definitely weird, being in such a busy space – our largest gathering of other people since local restrictions were lifted, but staff were masked and so were quite a few visitors. We had opted not get VIP seating, or upgrade when offered the chance on arrival, but our seats looked pretty good. We weren’t right at the edge of the performing area, and there weren’t any support structures in our way. We were pretty close to our neighbours, but this is BC, so we said Hi and chatted with them. They were, of course, nice people.

The performing area was bare, except for a bent stick with a crystal in the end, slowly rotating on the spot.

If we craned our necks and looked to the right, we could see the entrance, guarded by an ornate throne.

Like most Cirque shows, there was a kind of story, and sometimes that story seemed to be part of the circus performance, and sometimes it didn’t figure at all. The characters spoke in a kind of semi-intelligible fashion, like Minions, so you didn’t have to speak English to “understand” them.

What were the acts? Well, I didn’t take any photos of them. Photography is not forbidden, just no flashes and no video, so it’s safer not to try. The first act was acrobatics using poles, supported on shoulders to propel the acrobats into the air. It was big and showy and really, really impressive. Then there was a more traditional trapeze act, a pair doing release and catch moves right up at the peak of the tent,

In between acts, either the “main” story of the jester who wanted to be king (or whatever) or the more minor but more fun story of the two clowns would continue. The latter produced the most unexpected moment of the whole show, when there was an actual blizzard – paper snow, blasted from the area of the throne, all the way across the stage, and right into the faces of the people who HAD bought the VIP seats.

There was an amazing fire twirling act, whatever you call a trapeze act that doesn’t use a trapeze but just has a wrist through a rope loop, a hula hoop flow artist, an awesome trampoline team act, and a pair of captivating acro-balancers. Did I miss anyone? I can’t remember, but it was a great show. Oh yeah, the guy Mrs Dim really liked who did the act with the big steel wheel he rocked around the stage.

Thank you, Cirque du Soleil, for a great evening out!

Training Day

The Skytrain is a big plus in our neighbourhood. The nearest station used to be fifteen minutes’ walk away, but then they expanded the line through to Coquitlam Centre, and now we have one just around the corner. On a good day, I stride to the station, hop on the train to Lougheed station, then change and ride eight stops to Metrotown. Then I only have to walk across the road, and I am at work. If I time it right, it’s about forty minutes, door to door, and I can listen to audio books all the way there and back.

Today was NOT such a day. Although the sky was blue and the weather pleasant as I walked to the first station, I arrived at Lougheed to a baffling message on the arrivals board. No mention of the Waterfront train I usually took, and the one that would take me back up the hill to my home station wasn’t due for 25 minutes. These trains are normally running four or five minutes apart at most. A twenty five minute gap meant a serious issue, not to mention that I’d be travelling in the wrong direction.

But I had another option. There’s a longer route to work, requiring an extra change, but it only adds ten minutes or so. I reluctantly went down the stair and up the other stairs to reach the far platform. I boarded that train a minute later, then noticed a train arrive at the platform I’d just left. As it pulled out, I could clearly see the destination on the end carriage – Waterfront. MY TRAIN.

But now I was on the VCC Clark train, also pulling out. I scowled to myself and stared at my feet. Which were in the centre of a spreading pool of coffee. My travel mug had fallen out of my bag, and I hadn’t closed it properly. Everyone in the carriage watched the stream of liquid as it gurgled back and forth with the motion of the train, getting in under all the seats. I had to stay on that train for eight stops.

At Broadway I leapt off, and raced up the stairs to the next platform. My brain was still hung up on the train I had missed, so when the “Waterfront” train chugged in, I didn’t hesitate to leap on it. A crowd heaved on with me, and I was shoved far down the carriage. That meant that, when I noticed we were going THE WRONG WAY, I could not get out at the first station to change trains. I had to work my way through the crowd and eventually escaped at Stadium/Chinatown.

I rolled into the office at 9.05am. It barely counts as late, given that most days I’m around twenty minutes early, but I was DONE. Lucky for me, my co-worker was happy to do the deliveries, so I could stay in the office and pack for tomorrow.

Tomorrow, as it happens, is my day off. I won’t be taking the train anywhere.

If you want to follow this trip on the map illustrated, start at Burquitlam and move your counter down to Lougheed. Pause there, then go on along the yellow line to Commercial/Broadway. From there, move your token onto the Blue line, going the wrong way past Main Street/Scienceworld and stopping at Stadium/Chinatown. Then go back along the blue line all the way to Metrotown. Phew! For true realism, pour coffee on your feet as you begin.

Moving on…

Not from my house, but from Twitter. The news about the takeover has pushed me to make the jump, although I haven’t found any of the alternatives (MeWe, TapaTalk, Mastodon…) to be quite as good. That said, it took me a long time to get used to using Twitter after G+ got shut down. THAT loss was a big spur to getting my own domain name for this blog, in an attempt to ensure that the content I put up here stays online for as long as I can manage it.

So, if you see me on Twitter, that’s not me. If you can come find me on Mastodon or any of the others, I’m @Dtrasler and I’d love to follow you there.

Upgrading Derek

You may be familiar with Derek the dalek from earlier posts – he’s a project I embarked on thanks to my eldest kid, who has always been the chief Whovian of the family. We built Derek for a Vancouver Fan Expo, and he nearly worked. Then we rebuilt him for the last Fan Expo before the Great Pandemic, and he was something of a triumph.

But, like a lot of the things I have built over the years, he has his issues. Assembled from scrap wood and bondo and papier mache and more bondo and lots and lots and lots of paint, he’s really HEAVY. He’s hard to pack into the car, even though he comes to pieces, and he’s hard to wheel around. Mrs Dim has been suggesting for ages that we make him lighter, but I simply didn’t know how.

But then, the other day, we were talking about how to store Derek somewhere less obtrusive than the basement. Maybe he could go out in a shed? I immediately designed a TARDIS that would accommodate him, and would cost a couple hundred bucks less than the cheapest shed, but Mrs Dim said no. So I went to the Project Dalek Forum to look for alternatives.

I didn’t find any. I find a complete set of files for a life-size 3D printed Dalek, the same model as Derek.

WHAT IF WE REPLACED SOME OF THE HEAVIER PARTS WITH 3D PRINTS?

See, I have TWO 3D printers, thanks to an accident of fate.

Neither has a particularly large print bed, and I’m stingy with buying PLA, so I rearely have more than one full roll at a time, but still…

I decided to start with the dome, printing a new bottom edge to sharpen up the lines on Derek’s dome.

This looked like it was going to take ages! But once I had a few of those blue edge pieces printed, I couldn’t resist printing the next part up, just to see what it would look like. The red part in the picture took 8 hours to print, and wiped out the last of the PLA I had for that printer. But it looks great!

So I restrung that printer with an old quarter-reel of PLA and churned out another two blue pieces, then got that printer working on a bigger blue piece while the first one turned out a yellow.

Which is where I am now. That hole you can see should be filled tonight, and then I need to order more PLA so I can continue. Two more edge pieces and one more curved piece, and I am halfway round the dome! Slow going, yes, but faster than the way we built the original dome, and way, way, waaaaaay lighter!

I want to complete the dome, print a new neck section, and preferably a new set of shoulders too. All of those are heavy elements, and none are weight bearing. If we can trade them for 3d printed versions, they’ll make Derek lighter and easier to move, as well as being more accurate and having cleaner lines.

3D printing a life-size dalek sounds crazy, but so did building one when I didn’t have access to a 3D printer. We did a great job with Derek Mark 1, and a better job with Derek Mk 2. This is just Derek Mk 3, the same axe with perhaps a new handle and a new head, but the same axe nonetheless.

Fighting the Fatigue

We’re just about a month out from the anniversary of Mrs Dim’s stroke. Though we were lucky that she avoided the physical effects that you’d expect from a stroke – partial paralysis, muscle function disruption – she is still dealing with the after effects. Damage to the area of the brain that deals with memory is permanent, and though she has developed new systems to help compensate, we’ve yet to see evidence of her brain creating the new pathways. It’s possible that it’s happening, but it’s hard to chart progress.

Having had several encounters with physical injuries in the past, Mrs Dim is used to rehab work. It appeals to her nature – building up stamina by regular hard work, pushing yourself just a little further each time, until you regain full strength. Unfortunately, that’s not the way to deal with brain injuries.

Added to this, there’s the very real issue of “Post Stroke Fatigue”. Affecting around 40% of stroke patients, it can persist anywhere from 6 months to 2 years after the actual event. The Physical Therapists anticipated this, and suggested Mrs Dim get used to doing little and often – do an activity for a half hour, then take a half hour break. But it’s hard to change the way you’ve lived your life, so when she wakes up full if energy, she goes full bore at the day. This means she’s wiped out by lunchtime.

Our doctor did have some medical suggestions, but the medication we tried only woke up her brain, it didn’t provide any extra energy, with the result that she was exhausted, but her brain wouldn’t slow down enough to let her sleep.

I’m writing about this because she often worries that she’s some kind of fraud. Without a visible injury, with the ability to hold a sensible conversation for up to an hour (at the right time of day!), it’s easy to forget she’s impaired. But the fatigue is undeniable, and so out of character. Her ambition is undimmed, whether it’s about the house, the garden, her work, or the family. She’s not making concessions about life, just because it’s harder than it used to be.

This year has been tough, even coming off the first year of covid. We’re hoping that the next year might include a return to work in some form or other, which means different challenges, more new schedules and finding yet another new normal. But then, I get the impression that that’s how life is for everyone right now.