Category Archives: Personal Life

6 Weird Things About Writing

person wearing a white sheet over their body and sitting on a couch. they are also wearing sunglasses and a hat.Have you ever taken a moment to think about how weird the writing process can be?

When it’s done well, the end result can be characters and settings that were so well-developed it’s hard to remember they don’t actually exist in our world.

That in an of itself is just a little strange (in a delightful sort of way) if I spend too much time pondering it, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg once one digs their way into the process of writing itself.

I know some of my readers are fellow writers, so you’re probably going to be familiar with at least some of what I’m about to say.

 

Googling Bizarre Things

Person's hand holding a sketch of planet earth. Below this image is a search bar.

That is to say, topics that aren’t actually connected to my daily life whatsoever.

I’m not pregnant or planning to adopt, but I still spend an inordinate amount of time on baby naming websites.

I have no interest in being one of the first humans to live on Mars or any other non-Earth destination, but I read every scrap of information I can find about space travel and what humans can realistically expect to happen when humans start sending people to Mars or the Moon to establish permanent or temporary homes there. This includes everything from how they’ll dispose of human waste to possible burial practices when someone dies during one of these missions to what the dust on other planets might smell like.

These are two of the tamer things I’ve searched for online. Here’s hoping no one looks through my other searches and assumes that all or any of them are based on what my actual plans are for the near future.

Eavesdropping

A stone sculpture of someone eavesdropping Some people might eavesdrop for juicy gossip or to learn things that they know others wouldn’t want them to hear.

I’m not one of them.

When I overhear other people’s conversations, my brain immediately jumps into dialogue mode.

How are their sentences structured? Which dialect(s) are they using? How often do the speakers interrupt each other, if ever? Do they stick to one topic or jump around?

Only then do I think about what they’re actually saying. Some people reveal a great deal about their lives from the conversations they have in public, while others remain closed books at least in the short amount of time I spend listening to their portions of the conversation.

Gaining Unusual Knowledge

man holding book that has sparks of light coming out from it.The upside of all of this research is that I’ve studied all sorts of topics that most people with similar backgrounds probably wouldn’t know.

For example, I can tell you what the odds are of surviving the various types of smallpox even though that disease was eradicated years before I was born.

I also know what cyanide tastes like, how to cauterize a wound, and a few different methods to cure the hides of large animals after a big hunt.

(Here’s hoping this blog post won’t get me put on any watchlists. Ha!)

Talking to Characters

nails and other small pieces of metal arranged to look like a human face and shoulders. The metal figure is staring straight ahead with a serious expression on their face. There’s something about talking to your characters that makes it easier to iron out plans for plot twists or future character development in my experience.

Yes, sometimes I even talk to my characters out loud and wait for a response. No, I don’t expect them to literally respond.

It’s simply a way to sort out my thoughts and figure out which ideas, if any, actually fit that particular character at that particular moment in their life.

A moment of silence helps me figure out where to go next. Does idea X or Y makes more sense? Or maybe I should try idea Z first even though it’s newer and needs more development?

Forgetting to Eat

An empty white plate on a blue background Sometimes I get so wrapped up in what I’m writing that I forget what time it is.

This includes the typical times of day when I have my next meal.

There’s something about getting that next scene sketched out or blog post written that makes it easy to lose track of time like that.

Who wants to stop writing in that moment? Certainly not me!

Although my growling stomach eventually reminds me that writers aren’t machines and it’s time to stop and grab a plate of something.

Taking Breaks Feels Bizarre

A bulldog lying on the ground while looking up expectanctly at the viewerLast month I took a two week break from any sort of writing at all.

It was weird to spend those days doing things that were in no way to related to any step of the writing process, but ultimately I know how important it is to step away from a project and let one’s mind rest for a while.

This technique also works for much shorter breaks. Sometimes I’ll go take a walk when I’m struggling with how to phrase a particular blog post or passage in one of my stories. There’s something about stepping away from the issue that makes it much easier to resolve when walk or vacation time ends.

Don’t let this section make you assume that I write thousands of words every single day. My output does vary from one day to the next, but not having any of it at all is something I need to adjust to every time another break come up again.

Fellow writers, what would you add to this list?

What I Read in 2020

book opened on top of white table beside closed red book and run blue foliage ceramic cup on top of saucer In January of 2013, I began blogging once a year about everything I’d read that previous year.  This tradition began when my dad asked me how many books I’ve read in my entire lifetime.

I couldn’t begin to give him an answer to that question, but it did make me decide to start keeping track from that moment forward. The previous posts in this series are as follows: 2019, 2018,  2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013.

Over half of the books I read in the average year are for a review site that I volunteer for under a pseudonym. I always omit those titles from this post for obvious privacy reasons.

2020 was a below average reading year for me, even more so than 2019. This was particularly noticeable when it came to the sci-fi and fantasy genres. I started so many books that I never ended up finishing due to *gestures tiredly at the countless emotionally draining moments of this year that all of us are already keenly aware of.* 

For some reason, nonfiction was an easier read for me this year in general. I’ve included links below to the few SFF novels I not only finished but blogged about.

Biographies, Autobiographies, and Memoirs

Tombstone that reads "born" and "died"“Mrs. Beaton’s Question: My Nine Years at the Halifax School for the Blind” by Robert Mercer

“Republic of Shame: How Ireland Punished ‘Fallen Women’ and Their Children” by Caelainn Hogan

“Gay Like Me: A Father Writes to His Son” by Richie Jackson

“Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter” by Kate Clifford Larson

 

Fiction

“The Pull of the Stars” by Emma Donoghue

 

A fountain pen lying next to old black and white photographs and a bundle of documents wrapped in brown paper and tied up with black stringHistory

“A Good Time to Be Born: How Science and Public Health Gave Children a Future” by Perri Klass

“How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York” by Jacob Riis

“Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present” by Frank M. Snowden

“Nobody’s Child: A Tragedy, A Trial, and a History of the Insanity Defence” by Susan Vinocour

 

woman wearing a white nightie holding a lantern as she walks through a wormhole. There is a space ship flying through from the other side of the worm hole.Science Fiction and Fantasy

“Greenwood” by Michael Christie

“The Ghost Child” by Sonya Hartnett

Everfair” by Nisi Shawl

The Deep by Rivers Solomon

“The Emissary” by Yoko Tawada

“Silver in the Wood” by Emily Tesh

 

Science, Health, and Medicine 

“Zombies Run!: Keeping Fit and Living Well in the Current Zombie Emergency” by Naomi Alderman

Photo of human skeleton in a teaching lab“The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of How Buildings Shape Our Behaviour, Health, and Happiness” by Emily Anthes

“The Turnaway Study: Ten Years, a Thousand Women, and the Consequences of Having – Or Being Denied – an Abortion” by Diana Green Foster, Ph.D.

“High Risk: Stories of Pregnancy, Birth, and the Unexpected” by Chavi Eve Karkowsky

“Natural: How Faith in Nature’s Goodness Leads to Harmful Fads, Unjust Laws, and Flawed Science” by Alan Levinovitz

“Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats” by Maryn McKenna

“Overkill: When Modern Medicine Goes too Far” by Paul A. Offit

“Monarchs of the Sea: The Extraordinary 500-Million-Year History of Cephalopods” by Danna Staaf

“Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death, and Art” by Rebecca Wragg Sykes

 

Sociology and Psychology 

“The Kids Are All Left: How Young Voters Will Unite America” by David Faris

Black and white sign that says "polling station"“The Narcissist in Your Life: Recognizing the Patterns and Learning to Break Free” by Julie L. Hall

“Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times” by Katherine May

“The Polyamory Breakup Book: Causes, Prevention, and Survival” by Kathy Labriola

“Librarian Tales: Funny, Strange, and Inspiring Dispatches from the Stacks” by William Ottens

“Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity” by Helen Pluckrose

“Strange Situation: A Mother’s Journey into the Science of Attachment” by Bethany Saltman

“Learned Hopefulness: The Power of Positivity to Overcome Depression“ by Dan Tomasulo

How were your reading habits affected in and by 2020? Have we read any of the same books this year?

Search Engine Questions From 2020

a cartoon face that looks concerned. it has question marks over its face and a raised eyebrow. Every year I take the last two weeks of December off from serious blogging to recharge. One of the lighthearted topics I save for the end of this month has to do with answering search engine questions.

The phrases and sentences in bold below are the most amusing, thought-provoking queries that have sent new readers to this site over the past twelve months that didn’t warrant their own blog posts.

My responses are below them. This is a 1500-word post because new visitors, and therefore I, had a lot to say this year.

how to fly in air by meditation.

Some people do believe it is possible to levitate or even fly while meditating.

I’m quite skeptical about claims like these, especially if they’re made by anyone who is making money by selling anything that will teach you how to do this. When in doubt, do not pay anyone to give you magical powers unless you are a self-aware character in a story you know will end well.

 

Lydia’s barber shop

I do not own a barber shop, although my spouse and I did start trimming each other’s hair during the first wave of Covid-19 and have continued that practice to this day.

 

Lydia’s apple orchard

I also do not own an orchard. When I was a child, I lived in a few different farmhouses that were  originally built in the 1800s. At least one of them had a single apple tree on the property, but that was the extent of their orchard-like properties.

 

how to fix a Mary Sue

Step 1: Start working to unlearn sexism (and all other forms of prejudice). If you are human, this is an ongoing process. If you are not human, please comment and tell us what your species is like.

Step 2: Hold male characters to the same standards you hold female characters to.

Step 3: Write characters who have realistic and meaningful flaws no matter what their gender identities might be.

 

Star Trek fluffy creatures

The word you’re looking for is Tribbles, and I will talk your ears off about them if you allow me to. They’re delightful.

Captain Kirk slowly emerging from a large pile of tribbles

 

why do I prefer to be alone?

You might be an introvert. Alone time is what recharges us from socialization.

 

reasons to go to the mall

In pandemic times, you should only go if you truly need something there and can’t find it anywhere else.

In non-pandemic times, you should only go if you truly need something there and can’t find it anywhere else.

(Can you tell I’m not a fan of malls?)

 

what being an adult feels like.

Uncertain. I thought I’d have it all figured out by now.

 

You can learn a lot from Lydia.

Thank you. You use proper punctuation and grammar which easily puts you in the top 1% of search engine queries. We might be life partners and/or chosen family now. If you wish, I’ll even start trimming your hair. 😉

 

why are gym teachers so mean?

my English teacher hates me.

Teaching is a skill that is not possessed by everyone who is employed at a school by any means. I also wonder if some teachers aren’t terribly burned out and should be retrained for different careers.

I had an awful teacher in school one year. When I was much older I learned some things about her personal life that helped me develop a little compassion for her, but I still think she should have sought employment that didn’t involve children in any way.

However, understanding why someone may have behaved the way they did is never an excuse for the harm they cause.

Volleyball hitting the top of Lisa Simpson's head and then deflating. From the animated show "The Simpsons"

what make a good gym teacher

Someone who genuinely enjoys teaching and spending time with children.

Someone who is cognizent of the fact that their students come from a wide variety of backgrounds and ability levels and who takes all of these things into consideration when lesson planning.

Someone who is responsive to their students and adjusts their teaching methods to appeal to everyone, especially kids who have not had positive experiences with gym class or exercise in general. Athletic kids will continue to enjoy working out regardless, so I think it’s important to help non-athletic kids discover the many other types of exercise out there.

 

mindfulness gif.

I could talk about this topic all day. I love mindfulness gifs.

the word breath. there is a feather above and another one below the word, and all three items slowly expand and contract in a gentle breathing pattern.

 

cool things to collect

Memories. Photos. Delicious meals and snacks. Smiles. Random acts of kindness. Amusing stories. Hugs (in non-Covid times and with consent, of course).

 

how to have a friendly face

Smile gently and make eye contact. Use these powers carefully if you’re a woman or non-binary person who wants to avoid the occasional odd encounter with a stranger.

 

the bear who wasn’t there

This sounds like something my dad would google. He likes to sing lighthearted folk songs, so I choose to imagine that one of them is about an invisible or missing bear.

 

seven rabbits

rabbit gif

There are more than seven rabbits in this gif. Is that close enough?

seven rabbits eating food while crowding around a small bowl

 

how to make playground equipment

I haven’t the foggiest notion how to do that. May I refer you to my brother who builds all sorts of things out of scrap wood for fun? If you ask him for a poem or story about it, he will refer you back to me for an artistic interpretation of his work. We’re a good team like that.

 

children’s prehistoric fiction books

I don’t remember reading anything on that topic until I was a preteen, but I think that Grandmother Fish: A Child’s First Book of Evolution by Jonathan Tweet sounds intriguing.

strongest caveman novel

I love this query and hope one of my readers will have a suggestion for it. This is also a great segway to the second portion of this post.

 

Jean M. Auel and Earth’s Children Questions

On that note, let’s end this with some of the many questions about Jean M. Auel and Earth’s Children I’ve received here since the Internet has decided I’m an expert on this topic.

Beware of a few spoilers from a nearly 40-year-old series if you want to read Earth’s Children without knowing anything in advance.

Where does Clan of the Cave Bear take place?

Answer #1: It takes place between 29,500 and 26,500 years ago in what is now known to be southern Europe.

Answer #2: A regrettable film from 1986 that seemed to have only briefly skimmed the blurb for this book instead of, you know, actually reading and comprehending the entire story.

Answer #3: Your imagination.

young Ayla touching a cave bear's skull
Young Ayla from the aforementioned film.

 

When was Clan of the Cave Bear written? 

It was published in 1980, so I’d guess it was written in the late 1970s. If you meant the geographic location, I’d assume it was either in Jean M. Auel’s home or at the libraries where she studied all sorts of stuff related to hunter-gatherers and prehistory while writing this tale and its sequels.

 

Is Jean Auel still writing?

Is Jean Auel writing a seventh book?

What happened to Jean Auel?

Jean Auel is in her mid-80s now and retired from writing new stories so far as I know.

 

Does Ayla see Durc again

Canonically, she does not see him again, but there are many fan fiction stories out there that give this mother and son a much more satisfying resolution to their forced separation.

 

What happened to the clan after Ayla left?

Based on the foreshadowing in Clan of the Cave Bear, the current leader probably wasn’t in power for very long due to his narcissism, impulsivity, and bad temper. Based on promises their mothers made when these characters were babies, Durc was assigned a mate who was half homo sapien and half Neanderthal like he was. As an adult, he may have left his tribe with anyone who wanted a more stable living situation and moved elsewhere.

 

Earth’s Children’s series book 7

There is a fan fiction book written to wrap up all of the loose ends that were left unresolved in Jean M. Auel’s official sixth and final book in this series.

 

Clan of the Cave Bear movie remake

The Valley of Horses movie

Is Clan of the Cave Bear on Netflix?

Will some streaming network please buy the rights to this series and turn them into films or a TV show! There’s clearly demand for it from people other than me.

 

Is Ayla a common name?

It depends on which culture you live it and what your definition of “common” might be.

Ayla is a traditional name in Turkish,Hindi, Spanish and Scottish cultures and sometimes pop up in Hebrew ones as well.

In 2017 it was within the 100 most popular names in Scotland, New Zealand, Australia and Canada.

If I had a dog, Ayla would be a top contender for her name.

 

What is Ayla’s real name?

No one knows the answer to this for sure. I suspect that Ayla was part of her original name. For example, she might have been called Shayla or something by her birth parents before her adoptive (Neanderthal) parents shortened it because they couldn’t pronounce those extra syllables.

A Photo Essay of Toronto in December

A bare tree branch with a nest in it. Each month I share photos from one of the parks in Toronto to show my readers what our landscape looks like throughout the year. This is the eleventh instalment of this series.

Click on February, MarchAprilMayJune, July, August, September, October, and November to read the earlier posts.

Other than the amount of snow on the ground, the scenery in December remains almost exactly the same from the beginning to the end of the month. You will probably notice a few differences between the photos in this post and the ones to come in January, but it won’t be as dramatic as it is in the autumn and spring.

It was a balmy 8 Celsius (46 Fahrenheit) and somewhat cloudy when I visited. Typical days during this month generally don’t rise above 2 Celsius (35 Fahrenheit). Snow is common now, but most of it generally melts before the next batch arrives.  This is not the case in January, so my final instalment of this series might need to get a little creative depending on how slippery the sidewalks are then!

Let’s begin our virtual visit.

Landscape portrait of a World War II monument at a park in December. All of the trees are bare.

The first thing I noticed was how washed out everything looked there. It was the sort of day that was dark and cloudy one moment and weakly sunny at the next. I thought this photo captured that in an interesting manner.

A closeup of a World War I monument in a park. It's surrounded by scraggly evergreen bushes.

A closer and clearer look at this entrance to the park. The evergreen bushes in front of the monument have gone dormant now.

A muddy running trail at a park in December.

Mud has returned to the running trail.  I did see two brave souls continuing to jog there and sometimes running onto the sidewalk or to dryer bits of grass when they encountered the biggest puddles. (There would generally be dozens of joggers and walkers politely using the same space in the autumn and spring. I expect to see none at all next month).

Salt scattered on a sidewalk.

The sidewalks are now covered in salt alongside all of the leaves that have decorated them these past few months. They are almost always wet now, so the salt helps to keep them walkable for most pedestrians before the big storms of January make this a much slipperier place for a stroll.

A patch of dirty snow on a sidewalk.

However, anyone who has mobility issues should be cautious here in real life. Even relatively warm and dry days now include patches of snow and half-melted ice scattered here and there. The salt can only do so much, and it will only grow slicker over the next couple of months.

Skyward shot of tree branches against a cloudy sky

The canopy of rustling leaves is 90% gone now and the park is quiet. Last summer we couldn’t see the sky from this perspective. The clouds moved so fast that these photos also might look like they were taken on separate days instead of only a few moments apart.

A tree filled with dead autumn leaves

This sapling was one of a handful of trees that still held onto most of its leaves. A few of them generally retain at least some of their leaves until the end of winter.

A bird's nest in bare tree branches.

With that being said, this is what the majority of trees look like now. Yes, that includes the bird’s nest. Not all of them have old nests, but many of them do.

Two bird nests in the bare branches of a dormant tree.

Some of the largest ones even have two or more nests visible now. No wonder I heard birds chirping everywhere last spring and summer! I think it’s marvellous to see where the birds decided to make their homes eight or nine months ago.

Earlier this year I talked about how wet, spongy, and muddy the ground was as it thawed. You saw a photo of this on the running trail, but it’s something found throughout the park. I couldn’t walk on most of it without caking my shoes in mud.

 

A tree that lost half of its branches and a big chunk of its trunk in an early 2020 winter storm. It's dormant now.

Luckily, our tree friend that lost half of its branches was in a drier section of the park. It seems to have survived our first few snowstorms just fine.

 

A landscape photo of a tree that lost a third of its branches in an early 2020 winter storm.

The zoom lens on my camera helped me get this shot of our tree friend that lost a third of its branches. It still has a wet trunk and drooping branches. I’ve avoided walking underneath them for months now for safety reasons. Soon we will see how they will fare under the heavy ice and snow that coats everything in January.

Do you want to know two of the best things about visiting the park in December? I’ll give you a few hints.

A squirrel climbing up a sapling that has gone dormant for the winter.

This one might be a little tricky to see. Look at the sapling in the centre of the photo if you need help. Yes, that’s a squirrel! It was climbing so vigorously the whole tree was shaking a bit.

A black squirrel sitting on top of a knot of a tree.

There’s something about this time of year that makes squirrels slightly easier to photograph. This little black squirrel is sitting on top of a knot on the right hand side of this tree. I’d just seen it climb out of a hole in the knot. That must be where he or she lives.

My other favourite part of visiting the park now is something I tend to overlook the rest of the year.

A small patch of evergreen trees in a park.

Evergreen trees are one of the few splashes of colour between now and April. I sure appreciate their green addition to the landscape when everything else is drab and various shades of brown, black, and grey for months on end.

A landscape shot of trees in a park who have all lost their leaves and gone dormant.

Here’s another shot of the more typical deciduous areas of the park for reference.

A sidewalk in a park flanked by dormant, bare trees. The grass next to the sidewalk is covered in a thick layer of brown leaves.

Finally, this is what the famous walkway looks like after nearly all of the leaves have fallen.

The plan is to blog about this park again in the icy, snowy depths of January so that every month will have been accounted for. Then I hope to do one final post in the spring to see how our two damaged tree friends fared over the winter.

Take care until next month, readers!

Creepy Christmas Poems

Christmas wreath with a Santa placard saying "Merry Christmas" hung from it. The wreath is hung on a slightly ominious black door.
The spookiest Christmas stock photo I could find.

Someone, or possibly more than one person, keeps finding this blog by searching for creepy Christmas poems.

If they ever read this post, I hope they know it was written in direct response to the multiple queries that have popped up in my analytics.

I more or less stopped celebrating Christmas years ago when I moved far away from home, deconverted from my childhood religion, accepted a job in an industry that was always busy and stressful in December, and found myself overwhelmed by the sentimentality and consumerism of secular Christmas.

Now I sound like a grumpy character at the beginning of a Christmas movie who is about to learn a valuable life lesson, but that’s honestly not how I think about this holiday at all.

I enjoy the lights, food, and music that is traditionally shared now, and I cheer for everyone who finds meaning in the other aspects of Christmas (and/or any other winter holiday) as well.

I simply know what my limits are. Luckily, those limits include creepy Christmas poems when new readers show up here looking for them. Here are some poems that celebrate Christmas without a single ounce of sentimentality.

A Christmas Ghost Story by Thomas Hardy

Yule Horror by H.P. Lovecraft

Scary Christmas by Donald R. Wolff JR

Christmas Ghost by Andrew Green

Christmas Poems (That Won’t Make You Throw Up) by various authors

Holiday Horror: A True Story by Lucy Giardino Cortese

Merry Christmas from the Void (an analysis of three H.P. Lovecraft poems)

Merry Christmas by Langston Hughes (scroll down to read it).

 

Which creepy Christmas poems would you add to this list?

Thankful for What We Have: A Review of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is a 1973 animated Thanksgiving film about Charlie Brown, the famous animated character from the Peanuts comic strip by Charles M. Schulz, throwing an impromptu Thanksgiving dinner for all of his friends. The other films in this holiday trilogy in it include A Charlie Brown Christmas from 1965 and It’s the… Read More

Thanksgiving Dishes I Can’t Cook

American Thanksgiving is only a few days away, so I thought I’d go a little off-topic and share something that wouldn’t normally fit into the scope of this blog. I’m a perfectly serviceable baker and cook. The food I whip up isn’t fancy and it won’t appear on the cover of any magazine, but it… Read More

Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: How I Decide What to Read Next

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews. Click here to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question and here to see the full list of topics for the year. Figuring out what to read next is pretty simple for me. The Toronto Public Library allows patrons to place holds on up to 30 ebooks at… Read More