Missing the Material World

My first music player (of my own, rather than a family one) was a cassette player. It was old and second-hand, and only played well if the Play button was held down continuously. I managed that by balancing a skateboard on a cassette box that rested on the button. The first music album that I bought on cassette was “Go West” by “Go West”.

This has been on my mind as I tried to get hold of Taylor Swift’s new album. For various reasons, I don’t have a data account for my phone, so if I’m listening to music while I’m out and about, it’s music from files on my device. That’s not a problem most of the time, because ( like a lot of people my age) I have a large library of music that I had bought as cds and moved on to a computer for ease of storage.

Until very recently, buying a new album or individual track and downloading it was easy. Google Play Music had a large library, they had my payment details, so I could search up a title and click the button. When I wrote about Van Halen in a recent post, it took only ten minutes from thinking of the album “1984” to having it playing on my phone. But then, a couple of days ago, Mrs Dim asked me if we had “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” by Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLaughlin. We did at some point, but I couldn’t find it, so I went in search of a new copy. Google Play Music is no more, replaced by a streaming service that allows you to stream almost anything, but not download files. I tried all the recommended services, and all of them offered me the chance to pay a monthly fee for streaming only. At one point it DID look like I could buy the album in MP3 format and download it, but then the payment system said I wasn’t connected properly, To connect properly I would have to go to a different screen, which failed to load. I found that was the US version of the website (just a little company called Amazon, you won’t know them) so I went in through the Canadian site and found that A: There was no place that the album was available as MP3 and B: I couldn’t install the Windows specific Amazon Music app for my laptop because I was now “Signed in from another region and must sign in there.” I read that last sentence twenty times and it didn’t make sense. If I was signed in from another region, why would signing IN there again help? If I was signed in there, why didn’t it work? If I was signed in there, but physically HERE, why don’t Amazon know that? They’re pretty damn specific about not letting me watch shows on Amazon UK Prime, even as they let me pay the UK Prime fees.

Although it was late, and I was tired and angry, I went to the “Contact Us” page. Like most people who end up there, I just wanted an email address that I could drop all this into. I wasn’t expecting help, or resolution, just an outlet.

But no. Email was not an option. Or rather, there was an email button but it was greyed out, with the words “These issues are best resolved by phone or chat” superimposed. I opened the chat window, and under the “How can we help you” segment, I poured out all my irritation. When poor Priyanka logged into the chat to ask how she could help, I wished her a goodnight and logged out, leaving her to read the tangled mess in the box above. She didn’t, of course. She logged the chat as unexpectedly ended, sent me a record email and advising me to come back to the chat another time so they could resolve my issue.

They can’t, of course, because they have no incentive to. Amazon doesn’t want me buying files that I can keep and listen to over and over after paying just once. They, like Spotify and YouTube Music and all the others, want me to pay a monthly fee for music I have no ownership of, that is subject to their availability. People had paid to have a copy of George Orwell’s “1984” on their Kindles, but when there was a problem over rights, Amazon withdrew the book and it vanished from those devices overnight. You might have been watching “Friends” on Netflix, but last month, their rights to it went over to Crave tv. If you don’t pay Crave, you can’t watch that show. I can, because I have all ten seasons on DVD. Paid once, watch as often as I like.

Younger me liked the idea of a streaming service, because younger me thought it would be run for the betterment of people’s lives, for the best entertainment value. Want to watch a movie? Go to the library online, and just watch it! The reality is that we have four streaming services that we pay for each month. When we think of something we want to watch, it’s a fiddly job to search those four different services. Sometimes the thing is there and we can watch. Sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s there, but on a subset of one of the services that requires an additional payment to access. The job of the streaming services is to make money for the streaming services, not to provide the best entertainment options. If it were, then there would be a central location where you could search for the show you want, and your monthly fee would be split between services according to what you watched from each. Better for the consumer, worse for the service.

So, it looks like I’m going to end up buying a cd version of Taylor’s album, run it into my computer and send it over to my phone. Taylor gets her cut, I get the music, at least the two of us will be happy. And I’ll buy it at an actual shop, so sorry Amazon, you’re going to miss out this time.

3d Printing

Lots of things in the modern world could have stepped out of science fiction from fifty years ago. The mobile phone, meetings over Zoom, electric cars that charge by solar panels on the house roof… All of these things are miraculous in their way, and would have blown my mind when I was a kid. But I think the thing I would have longed for most would have been the 3d printer, and I believe this because I wanted one desperately even though I was over forty.

I was very lucky to hear from someone who had one they’d reconditioned and wanted to sell off cheap (ish). But the question was, what was I actually going to use it for? Because this thing was potentially an endless source of action figures, and I knew that would just cause trouble.

There’s a website for this, of course: https://www.thingiverse.com/ I got myself an account there and started collecting a balance of things I wanted, but didn’t need, and things that would be useful around the house. The first thing I tried was the awesome – looking bird-feeder.

This was too big for the machine I have (Flash Forge Finder), so I had to split up the model. However, since it’s a repeating pattern, I only had to use two parts (I cut the piece into quarters, and one quarter cut in half horizontally made the two pieces I used.) I printed each piece four times and glued them together, and was more than a little surprised to find the whole thing fitted together.

So, one for the house. I used the printer to make the gun for my latest costume idea, and have made a couple of gauntlets too:

I tried making an entire helmet – many, many more pieces to get one big enough for a head.

This week I printed another useful thing – a nose clip for mask-wearers who have glasses. Mrs Dim is very pleased with that, so I treated myself to an entirely useless Porg.

So far I’ve spent $60 on the reels of PLA used to make these things. Whether that’s cheaper than buying them…I dunno. I do know it would be hard to buy exactly these things in these proportions. I also know I have a lot more than $60 worth of projects piled up in my Thingiverse account.

But 3d printing is fun, and occasionally useful too. It is science fiction come to life, a Star Trek Replicator of my own, with a few limitations.

Silver Wedding Anniversary

Twenty five years is a long time. Not as long as it feels since it was March, but a long time. Mrs Dim and I were different people in many ways, and we’ve changed each other as much as we’ve changed ourselves along the way. Both of us seem fairly content with the result.

We celebrated the day of our anniversary with a family meal, carefully booked at a restaurant that had space to distance and was looking after its staff. Our first plan of a dream holiday in Hawaii had been scuppered a couple of months before (though we were lucky enough to be reimbursed for the cancelled flights). Instead, we booked a more modest weekend away in Naramata, at the Naramata Inn. Mrs Dim is big seafood fan, as well as appreciating good wine. I appreciate her, so we would both have enjoyed the trip.

Except THAT had to be cancelled too – new restrictions cancelled travel outside the Fraser Valley Health area, and we were spending the week at home, with all three kids.

We’re luckier than a lot of folks – our house is a reasonable size, even with five adults in it. We have a garden, and the trails on Burnaby Mountain right on our doorstep. Mrs Dim and I divided our time between working on the garden and house and getting out into the fresh air. We revisited some favourite places, and took advantage of the fact that we didn’t have to get up and go to work. It was a lovely week. On the Friday, I booked us a meal at the Port Moody Boathouse, which also does some lovely seafood.

I enjoyed my week at home, but I’m sorry that we didn’t get to mark such a milestone with more of a landmark celebration. It’s no one’s fault, in a manner of speaking – if more people observed the rules about masks and social distancing, the latest set of restrictions might not have come in, for example.

All things being equal, I’d like another twenty five years, please. But whatever is round the corner, each day has been a gift that I didn’t expect and will work to be worthy of.

With thanks to Eddie Van Halen.

1984 was a GREAT album. I listened to it a great many times when I was a kid, but I never had a copy. Not even a badly-recorded cassette ripped from a friend’s copy of a friend’s copy. Because in 1984, I was NOT cool. But I had a brother who was (and still is, by the way.)

That’s him, with the ice cream. I’m the string bean in the plaid shirt behind him. From my perspective, Ronnie was effortlessly cool as a teenager. He’s almost two years older than I am, and where we grew up, there were a bunch of kids that divided pretty neatly into older siblings and younger siblings. We all spent a certain amount of time hanging out together, but the older set had definite advantages.

Anyway, it was Ronnie who had the record player and the good albums. I heard “Night at the Opera” for the first time as it floated down the hallway from his room. At one time I could sing along to almost any “Marillion” song, but I couldn’t tell you the names, because duh, I didn’t ever SEE the albums. 1984 got a decent amount of airtime on Radio Ronnie too.

When I heard the news about Eddie Van Halen today, I thought of 1984, and “Jump” in particular. The internet being what it is, I bought a copy online during my lunchbreak, and played it in the car all the way home.

It sounds just like I remember, and I found myself singing along to songs I thought I had forgotten. The synthesizer is right in your face, day-glo orange and yellow, and as plastic as the toys and fashions of the 80’s, and I did not care at all. I remember the miseries of teenage, and I remember the fear and anger of the 80’s with the threat of nuclear war, the miners’ strikes, Thatcher, unemployment….and yet this music is unashamedly optimistic. It bounces. Sometimes, yes, it sounds like the horny teenage boys of the eighties too, with too much confidence and not enough respect, but set against the endless funerial drumbeat of “Covid…Trump…Covid…Trump” it was a welcome breath of fresh air.

Now that we all have a world wide soapbox to air our grievances on, you often hear people complaining that this or that has “ruined their childhood”. Playing 1984 today showed me that it’s not that hard to recapture some of the great feelings from yesterday, and that nothing speaks to the soul like music.

Thank you, Eddie Van Halen.

So, this is 48.


There are several points in the year when we tend to reflect on life and our progress through it. New Year’s is the obvious example, but we tend to look forward there. Birthdays make us look back, to compare where we are with where we thought we would be.

Well, except for birthdays in 2020, because who thought we would be HERE?


I’ve been luckier than most, able to return to a job I enjoy, doing much the same as before the pandemic. Yes, we have to wear PPE, and we’re dropping library materials at the door, rather than going in to chat with people and check the books out to them on the spot. It’s far less social than it was, which impacts the patrons more than it does me. Some of our patrons are elderly, and our visits were a welcome distraction from a quiet life. These days it’s likely even quieter.


The pandemic has affected me in other ways though. Like many people, I thought the initial work from home/furlough would mean a burst of creative work. I got my workshop cleaned up and organised, and was ready to rocket through a bunch of projects, as well as writing more plays and maybe a book.

That optimism lasted a few weeks, and though I’ve made some progress with my Clone Trooper armour build, there’s still a long way to go, and every time I look at it, I’m not filled with enthusiasm any more. I managed to finish an old, half-written play, but other than that there has been no new material created at all. When I talk with Mrs Dim about her experiences in working from home, I realise the underlying pressure of living in the pandemic, exacerbated by the idiots who refuse to wear masks, or abide by social distancing, and the endless stream of miserable news from south of the border.

Why do we care what happens in America? Well, every time I think that, I remember someone here at the library saying that “Canada needs someone like Trump…”. They thought electing a businessman was a smart idea. It’s not, of course, because countries aren’t businesses, and even if you WERE to elect a businessman, why not choose one who wasn’t such a failure? But I look at the growing authoritarianism in America, the spinelessness of the GOP as they seek to retain power by aligning themselves with criminals, and I watch the breathtaking incompetence and lack of awareness in the UK, and I worry. Because there are those people here too, people who will break the rules to see if they can get away with it, people who insist they’re not racist, but pile all the blame for the problems of society on people who look different, or live differently.

If I ever thought about being 48, I never imagined it would be a time when I wanted more compassion and empathy in the world. In the US and UK, the governments are committed to making money for their friends at the cost of the people, and they don’t see where that’s a problem. I’d like things to be different when I reach 49.

If it wasn’t for COVID….

I don’t talk much about Canadian politics. I mean, except for the obvious stuff (obvious if you have a brain and a heart, like “If the First Nations say No, then DON’T DO IT!”).

But recently I’ve found myself telling people that, if it weren’t for the global pandemic and the idiot south of the border, I think Justin Trudeau would be in a lot more trouble. Granted, this latest scandal over preferential treatment for the WE charity and lucrative talking gigs for family members IS gaining traction, but it was when the Conservative leader Andrew Scheer demanded that Liberals ask for Justin’s resignation or admit they supported corruption, that I felt things had reached a peak.

A Conservative leader outraged about corruption. OK, it’s easy to take the cheap shot and say he’s just angry because he’s not getting a cut, but I think it’s important to point out that I think, if Trudeau DID do something wrong, he should face consequences. And with this coming after SNC Lavallin and that other thing, then, yeah, maybe he should step down.

But since we’re all up in arms about corruption, especially the purer-than-thou Conservatives, let’s ALSO take this opportunity to really make some changes.

First, no MP (Or MLA or whatever) goes from parliament to a job with any for-profit organisation. I mean, that’s just asking for trouble, isn’t it? If people in a position to influence government policy might then go on to work in an industry that they had benefited…well, it’s corruption again, innit? So, they should go work for charities, where their contacts and skills will benefit society at large.

Second, there should be a post parliament wage cap. after all, they get pensions, don’t they? Why do they need multiple-thousand dollar incomes on top of that? We keep being shown budgets on how to get by on minimum wage, so isn’t it a tiny bit hypocritical to need such huge salaries after parliament? And you wouldn’t want people to think you were being paid off for something, would you?

Third, let’s put an end to lobbying. No MP or MLA or secretary or anyone in parliament should receive donations, gifts, cars, teddy bears, flowers or holidays from anyone in a position to gain from parliamentary influence. If the political party can’t fund itself from the generosity of individual members (with an annual donation cap per person too, because a CEO of a company might be a party member too), then they shouldn’t NEED millions from industry. Because, you see, when your party takes large sums from, say, the oil industry, and suddenly your party is not that keen on alternative energy despite the imminent extinction of human life on the planet, people get suspicious.

As Douglas Adams said so well, people are a problem. Democracy is a great idea, and it would work very well if people weren’t always greedy, self-serving, and keen to find loopholes that allow them to do what they want, not what’s best for everyone.

So, Justin, I hope you’re ashamed of yourself, and that you do something positive. Andrew Scheer, it would be nice if you differed from all other Conservatives and actually DID something significant about corruption and greed, instead of just pointing it out in other people. I’ve grown up under Conservative governments in the UK. They lie. They accuse others of minor crimes while they commit robbery in broad daylight. They are champions of injured pride, hot denials, and taking the money. Stand out in the crowd by having actual principles.

The Collapsing Empire Trilogy

The Collapsing Empire cover art.jpg

I’m a big fan of John Scalzi. I first ran across him by reading some of his articles for his blog, Whatever, and that lead me to his books. The first may have been “Old Man’s War”, which is itself the start of a multi-book series. Before long, I was buying his books through Audible, because I listen to audio books on my way to work, and Scalzi’s are often read by Wil Wheaton (Not the Old Man’s War series, that’s William Dufris and he’s marvelous too.) Still Wil reads “Fuzzy Nation”, and “Lock in” , and “Redshirts”, and “Agent to the Stars”, and the Collapsing Empire trilogy.

Scalzi has his haters, for his perceived liberality. They say all kinds of stuff about his books, and I have to say, I don’t get it. I’ve been reading sci-fi since I picked up The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy at age ten. I’ve read Hard Sci-Fi, Military Sci-Fi, Space Opera, Speculative Sci-Fi, Psychedelic Sci-Fi, Afrofuturism. I even read “Battlefield Earth” all the way through. Scalzi’s books are good, solid adventures, with interesting characters and some great lines. There’s one thing that he does well that I think is almost unique, though. In both the Old Man’s War series (The latter part, with Harry Wilson as the front man) and The Collapsing Empire, he performs the most amazing balancing act.

The Consuming FIre.jpg

Look, in most stories, the authors tend to follow the Hollywood paradigm: at the climax of the action, the villain is winning, or has even won. The good guys are beaten, or captive, or sometimes even a bit dead. At THAT point, just AFTER it’s all too late, someone pulls a winning move out of the bag and Everything Is Ok again. This is fine, and makes for some tense cinema, but it can be really galling to read/watch as the heroes get a pasting. Sometimes they even have to be stupid to allow the villain to get the upper hand, or their powers weaken inexplicably (Think of Captain Marvel punching her way through a gigantic spaceship, then bouncing off Thanos like she’s a gnat). It’s like the story is supposed to be as chessgame between the two sides, but one side gets takes all the pawns, puts the king in check and sets fire to the board, then the other player drops an anvil on their head to win.

What Scalzi does is allow his heroes to be clever, to work hard and succeed in throwing off course the plans of the villains, but NOT derail them entirely. In The Collapsing Empire, the first book in the trilogy, Cardenia and Lord Marce and Kiva Lagos have to contend with the House of Nohamapetan arranging assassination attempts, corrupt business dealings and reaching for the throne itself. This being the first of the trilogy, you might expect things to go badly for the heroes, for the second book to be the struggle to regroup, then the third to be the triumphant final battle. That’s not the case – the bad guys make their plans, the good guys disrupt those plans, but the plan changes and the bad guys move on with it. Like a chessgame, their are captures and sacrifices and reversals, but the game doesn’t end until one side or the other reaches the winning condition.

I won’t spoil the ending of the trilogy, because it’s a great series. The problems the good guys face are huge, and they’re not all the creation of the bad guys. The third book was a real rollercoaster ride, with some very unexpected moments and a conclusion that was right for the story, even if it’s not the one Hollywood would pick.

If you can, grab these books. If you have the option, get the audio version, because Wil Wheaton really puts his heart and soul into the reading – this is not just narration, he really does conjure these characters for you.

The Last Emperox

5 reasons I didn’t make it.

Stop me if you’ve heard this already.

I’ve been writing with intent to earn since 1998. Been dreaming of being an author for another two decades before that. I have written and published something like ten e-books, over eighty plays, several short stories and some non-fiction articles. I’ve written a couple of screenplays that have gone nowhere, and I’m still not rich or famous.

July sixth 1975

To be clear, I do comparatively well from my play writing. When there’s not a global pandemic shutting down every public gathering, I get a monthly payment for my scripts that’s very nice, especially considering there’s no heavy lifting involved. Some even won awards, like this nice medal.


But no matter what, I’m not topping the bestseller charts with my books. Look:

Amazon top 100

All the way up to number 73! Inside the top 100 of a very, very narrow category! Anyway, my point here is not just to whine about not being an NYT bestseller, but to explain why I’m not. I mean, sure, there are LOTS of reasons, but here are the top 5 I can think of. You can add more in the comments if you would like to be hurtful.

1. Writing is rewriting.

Stephen King says the first draft is you telling yourself the story*. That’s all well and good, but you should get to the end, then (after going and doing something else for a while) go back and look at the story you’ve got. You should maybe think about theme, and how to emphasize it. Look at the characters you have, and see if there are any you’re hanging on to for sentimental reasons. Do they all serve the story? Look at the different scenes you have. Are THEY all important? Is there one there that you don’t need, but you just think it’s funny? Is that a problem?

See, rewriting can be hard. people say “Stick your draft away for a few months and it reads like someone else wrote it.” and that’s good advice, because they’re right. But the big test is whether you can take that story you built, word by word, and break it down, then reassemble it as a different version. I can’t. Even when I have had brilliant people like Lucy V Hay showing me the parts that need fixing, I can’t do the work. I’ve done it with plays – rewriting, restructuring, changing the endings. But not short stories or novels. So what I end up with is a first draft. Maybe proofread, maybe spellchecked, but not fundamentally different to the first version that fell out of my head, and I think people can tell that.

2. Bang the drum.

Nobody thinks to themselves “I love selling things! I think I’ll write a novel!” And no one says “Hey, I’m a novellist, but my favourite part is doing the publicity!” If you’ve chosen to devote huge chunks of your time to sitting alone, building imaginary worlds and people out of words, then you are unlikely to be the kind of outgoing gladhander who can sell product to everyone.

And yet, if you want to jump from writer to published author, you have to learn to sell yourself and your book. Even if you think you’re going to get an agent and get picked up by the Big Six and they’ll do the publicity, you have to sell yourself to that agent. You have to believe your work is good, believe you have more in you, and you have to be able to communicate that belief to someone who’s never met you.

I once rang a publisher when I had finished a first draft of a novel. I don’t know what I was thinking, but the poor guy actually answered the phone. I told him I’d just written a book, and he asked me to describe it. Right then I knew that I wasn’t going to make it. I stuttered and stammered and I credit that unknown phone-answerer with tremendous kindness. I don’t remember him sneering at me (as he should), nor slamming down the phone in disgust (also warranted.) He taught me a valuable lesson, which is that you have to have a pitch at your fingertips, and you have to make your story sound good. I did not.

3. Pick a lane.

This is maybe a little more controversial, but I think it applies to us enthusiastic amateurs. I mentioned I have ten e-books out there, but only two are novels. One’s a zombie novel, the other a vaguely YA book about a musician. I have four collections of short stories. One is Sci-Fi, two are coffee-break stories (warm, minor-twist endings, no bloodshed or graphic stuff), and one is… other stuff. I have a book of poetry. I have a non-fiction book about my family’s first year emigrating to Canada, and three non-fiction books about my hobby of building prop helmets. The point is, if you like one of my books, there’s no guarantee you’re going to like any of the others. And if I wanted to approach a regular publisher or agent, I could show them my dazzling sales stats (“Look! This month there were three sales! Three! In the same month!”), but would have to acknowledge that they are spread out amongst different genres. No big, pre-built audience waiting there for my next zombie novel.

When people talk about e-publishing, they often mention having a tail. Publish two or three books before you expect to pick up a serious readership. They may be right, but I bet it helps if you stick within your genre. I have a couple of friends who have written sequential books – Rick Wayne and Lisa Cohen, for example. Their earlier books were written on faith, and their readership grew as the series progressed. The clamour that people made on social media for the next book interested new readers. Don’t be a butterfly author.

4. Maintain your platform.

Everyone knows that authors these days have to have a social media presence, but that’s getting harder and harder to define. Let’s start with where I went wrong: I loved G+, built up a group of friends there, and gradually slid off the public face of G+ into more private group areas. It was more fun for me, but less useful for selling my books. I have a Twitter presence, but find I’m resistant to the Twitter style of trumpet blowing – posting pictures of your book cover fourteen times a day with pull quotes from other people saying how much they loved the book. Worse are the ones that try to give a sample of the book’s dialogue without running out of characters. Still, that’s more than I do. I can’t publicise my books on social media without deprecating them, even though I have devoted a lot of time to each one, and they’re sooooo cheap! But I don’t have a plan, I don’t have a schedule, and I lurk on Twitter rather than dividing my time more usefully amongst other sites too, like Goodreads, and Instagram and whatever else the kids are into these days. Somewhere online, there’s a group of people to whom your book will appeal. Finding them can be a big challenge, or maybe even a part time job. But if you choose not to do it, like me, then you can’t complain about book sales. Well, you CAN, but no one will listen.

5. Don’t drop the ball.

So, you write your novel. You re-write your novel. You get it edited (always a good plan). You maybe re-write it one more time. Then you go out to sell it. Maybe it sells, maybe it doesn’t. You sit down to write novel number two. The thing is, don’t completely abandon your first novel, especially if you’re self publishing. It may feel like last week’s laundry, but there will always be people out there who haven’t heard about it. People join and leave social media sites all the time. If you’re maintaining your platform, your number of new followers (or whatever) should be rising, and those new people need to know about your first efforts as well as your latest blockbuster. Yes, there’s a balance between ‘I didn’t know you’d written that!” and “Dear god, are you STILL banging on about that old thing?”, but you can find that balance. Look at what others do. Work out your own strategy for new versus old. It may be that, like Seanan Mcguire or Delilah S Dawson, you’ll want to split your genres out under different names, but whatever you decide, remember to cheer for your early efforts too. Any one of them could be the way a new reader finds their way to you.

So, Dim, does all this negativity mean you’re done with writing e-books?

I don’t know. The pandemic hasn’t been good for my confidence, or my creativity, like a lot of people. And there’s that stupid feedback loop, where I don’t make any money from e-books, so I don’t invest any time in them, but they’re not going to sell if I don’t invest the time (see three of the points above) and right now I should have time but I still can’t muster time and energy to do all the things I have to, let alone the things I think I want to.

Well, that got dark quickly. Are you still writing plays?

Yes. Sllllloooooooooooowwwwwllllllyyyyy. But yes. And tomorrow I may laugh again, because me and my writing partners at TLC Creative are still working on The Hound of Music.




*He says other stuff too, I expect, like “Pass the potatoes.” and “Who elected this clown?”, but I thought I should stick with the relevant stuff.

The Facebook Effect during COVID

We moved out here to Canada, as I’m sure you’re sick of me saying, back in 2009. To keep our relatives and friends up to date with contact details and health news etc, we sent emails every couple of days with photos attached. Before long, it became obvious that this would be horribly intrusive – who wants a two page screed on the things we have been doing, complete with pictures, turning up in their email while they’re going along with their regular life? We’re hanging out in Stanley Park, or riding the Seabus, or going up Grouse Mountain, while they’re paying the gas bill and doing the school run. It was no fun for our friends to be continually pestered with how great things were for us.


Like a lot of people in similar situations, we turned to Facebook. We could post a bunch of pictures at a time, and people could choose to look at them or not. If we got too irritating, they could cut us out completely.

After a while, though, we heard about ‘The Facebook Effect”, where people are made to feel inferior to their friends, because their own lives don’t look as interesting as the images posted by their friends. Of course, people only post the Good Stuff on Facebook, so logically you KNOW their lives aren’t all sunshine and rainbows, but it’s hard to remember that as you click through photo after photo of smiling, happy people in their beautiful house etc etc.

So, now we come to the pandemic. People are hunkered down in their homes, and the truth is that we’re all knocked sideways by this. We don’t know for sure how long it’s going to last, what the true outcome of the whole thing is going to be, how life is going to be changed from now on…. It’s a lot. And what your daily life looks like varies tremendously from person to person. Mrs Dim is working from home, via Zoom, and phone and email, and her working day is still pretty much 9-5, but in the study with the door closed, rather than in her office on the top of the mountain. I was stood down from work because delivering library materials to the elderly and sick would have been EXTREMELY irresponsible, but I couldn’t exactly work from home either. I was encouraged to stay in touch with the Library and take online courses, but after a couple of weeks, I was officially laid off. Now I am overseeing Tiny Weasel’s online education (nagging, that’s what I’m doing. “Do your work, log on to the chat, watch the video, write the essay.” It’s about as effective as you’d expect.) Eldest Weasel just took her Finals and is now on break until the Summer Term starts, and Middle Weasel is still doing shifts at the Bakery.

So, some people have more time on their hands, some people actually have less – if your kids are usually at school or daycare and now they’re home, someone has to be responsible for them. It wasn’t long before the social media sphere was alive with things you “ought” to be doing with your “spare time”. Learn a new language, learn a musical instrument, do the gardening, write a novel, watch all the TV….


This is the COVID Effect. Because we don’t necessarily have more time, and we don’t necessarily have more capacity. Mrs Dim keeps saying “Ok, I think this is normal now, I think I understand…”  but I don’t think that’s true. I think the reality of what we’re dealing with comes and goes in waves. One day you’re fine with it, you can race through your “Must Do” list and tick some things off your “Want to” list. Other days…Other days it’s enough to be out of bed and fed. Back when I stopped going in to work, I started a 12 week course, and skipped through the first six weeks’ content in a week. I also started learning to use Blender, the 3d modelling program, by following YouTube Tutorials. But the pace of learning with both these courses has slowed. Arguably, I have more time now, and things should have settled down, but some days the energy, the enthusiasm, just isn’t there.


Over the past few weeks, we have done some DIY. We’ve done some gardening. I’ve done a “Monday Challenge” three weeks in a row for the family, silly challenges that take a half-hour at lunchtime. Some things we’ve posted pictures of on our Social Media, and some we haven’t. We have relatives in countries that are under a stricter lockdown than we are here in BC, and it seems unfeeling to post pictures of a freer life, whatever our true motivation.

I’m not going to be able to play the piano by the time we’re through all this (we don’t have a piano, which is a big obstacle there…). I’m not going to be able to speak Mandarin, and I doubt I will ever finish making this 3d doughnut. And I’m ok with all that.

Screenshot (79)

Whatever you might want to do, or have to do, I hope you remember to be kind to yourself. That this isn’t normal, no matter how long it lasts. That no one is demanding that you come out the other side with anything but your sanity intact. And if there is something you’ve been planning to do, take this:

Round tuit

Cooped up and coping.

COVID 19 has affected everyone differently, I guess. Some love the chance to isolate, some hate it, some would be fine with it, except their entire family is isolating WITH them, and that’s no fun. Like a lot of guys my age, I expected the apocalypse to have zombies in it, so I have spent some time considering the need to metaphorically pull up the drawbridge. It’s nice to have the option to walk the dogs without also carrying weaponry (saying this now, aware it may not age well…)


We’re very fortunate on many counts – our corner of BC is voluntarily self-isolating, rather than being in lockdown. We can still visit grocery stores and there’s things to buy when we get there. Mrs Dim is able to work from home, ad though I’ve been laid off from the library, I have the option of EI or the CERB when my money runs out. In the meantime I get to play teacher for Tiny Weasel, tidy up all those long-term DIY jobs, and the plethora of other ones that have sprung up now that Mrs Dim has a little more time to stride around the house.


And, as other people have pointed out, it’s Spring. We have the cheering sight of nature waking up around us (including bears, of course) and the weather is warmer, and sunnier than it has been for a while. We get to remodel the top of the creek bank, and if my tennis elbow ever clears up, I can take that carload of rubbish to the tip.


The other thing that reminds us how lucky we are is our contact with the outside world. I’m used to Skyping with my Mum and Dad back in the UK, but these days Mrs Dim has been video conferencing with her whole family once a week. That means family in the UK, in Greece and in Washington State. Every one of them is in Lockdown, with trips outside severely restricted.

We don’t know when things will change, but I think everyone is accepting the idea that they will simply change, not “go back to normal”. This weird interlude has upended so many aspects of normal life that it seems impossible things can go back to the way they were. I hope the good parts, like remote working access for disabled people, become the norm, but I worry that the gratitude being showered upon the health workers and delivery personnel will evaporate when the time comes to give it a more concrete reward than clapping. The NHS may have saved Boris’ life, but I truly believe he cares more about his bank account, and that’s being cared for by lobbyists.


Like many folks, I’m not finding the constant anxiety, crowded house and gloomy news broadcasts very conducive to creativity. I still have scripts to read and appraise, and I still have writing projects of my own to work on, but I find the more mechanical task of appraisal easier than writing something new. I’m trying to learn 3d modelling from free youtube tutorials, and my wooden AT AT toy is…. well, I’ve nearly got all four legs on, let’s say no more than that. Each day is an adventure, but I’m using the word the way Rincewind the Wizard would. Adventures are uncomfortable, awkward and sometimes terrifying things, best viewed from a distance.

Wherever you are, and whoever you’re there with, I hope you’re remembering to be kind to yourself. This isn’t normal life, and anyone who’s expecting you to act like it is can be safely ignored as a dangerous loon. With whatever methods at your disposal, check in on your friends and neighbours, not least because that means they’ll be able to see you’re alive too. And if you’re looking for a reason to be grateful… well, there AREN’T any zombies.