Who Do You Think You Are

Introducing The Geekdown Podcast

Sometime in 2014, the Doctor Who relaunch hit Canadian Netflix. To that point my only familiarity with the show was a vague recollection of being terrified as a child when that creepy theme music started playing after Polka Dot Door ended on TVOntario. But with the 2009 reboot, and especially David Tennant’s turn as the Tenth Doctor, the show became a sort of phenomenon in my circle of friends, specifically with young women I knew who never expressed any tendency to nerdery before. So I made an effort to check it out.

And I hated it.

I could spot the reasons why I hated it (the camp, the mugging, the threadbare special effects), but every so often I saw what others saw in it: when the Ninth Doctor inadvertently stumbled on The Last Dalek in the Universe and proceeded to taunt and torture it, I thought I was all in. By the time the Tenth Doctor was fighting werewolves with Queen Victoria the next season, I was throwing up my hands. And I was troubled by what I seemed to be missing. Of course no one has to like everything, but this was something of “my people,” and I felt lacking because I couldn’t get over whatever was keeping me from just enjoying it. It couldn’t be the space travel, I loved Star Trek: TNG. It couldn’t be the time travel, I loved Back to the Future as much as any eighties baby. Was it the Britishness? I grew up loving American superheroes and Japanese anime (still do). Did my fandom fall along nationalist lines? I took these concerns to my friend Caitlin, one of the aforementioned young women who loved Doctor Who, from well before its 21st Century reboot. We never really reached an answer, but I never stopped thinking about this idea that Caitlin and I were both nerds/geeks/dorks, but in completely different ways. Surely our fandoms had to overlap somewhere?

And that’s when Geekdown was born. Every Tuesday, Caitlin and I will bring each other things from our various areas of interest, things the other likely wouldn’t check out, and talk about whether we like it, and why or why not, as we try to find the sweet spot where fandoms intersect.

There will also likely be high levels of nonsense, of the sort that only good friends of five-plus years can provide.

Subscribe to Geekdown on iTunes and Soundcloud.

Step Right Up

If you were to guess that the flurry of activity around here lately had to do with me getting the itch again now that the draft has finally left my grubby hands and flown overseas to people like designers and copy editors, you would be correct.

You don’t need me to tell you that writing is like running, or weight lifting or whatever other questionable endurance sport you might partake in. Use it or lose it, and I took my damn sweet time recovering from the process of writing the book (Level 56 on Grand Theft Auto Online, email me for my Gamertag. Get at me, dog). But then ideas for things to write about start to percolate and the longer they stay in there the longer they fester until the process of expelling them from my brain is lacklustre and disappointing. Not unlike passing a bowel movement.

As for how I’m feeling now that it’s out of my hands, the wonderful Julieanne Smolinski summed up that feeling with more precision than I ever could.

Yup.

None of this is to say I’ve been completely slovenly the last couple of months. I continue musing about whatever nerdery comes to mind over at 22 Pages for the University of Toronto (latest are here and here) and I also branched out a tad by tossing some pieces to the folks over at The Same Page on, oddly enough, the 40th Birthday of Hip-Hop and the release of Grand Theft Auto V (do you think I’m developing a niche here?)

As well, my friends and colleagues at 22 Pages Khaiam Dar and Alex Correa have collected the first volume of the webcomic they started in 2011, Smells Like Maturity. If you’re in the Toronto area, swing by Red Nails II at Jane and Bloor for their release party on November 15. I wrote the introduction, so if you’re a Ferguson completist, you’ll want to pick that up. Writing it turned out to be a bigger deal than I was expecting it to be, but I’m really happy with the piece, and for the opportunity to toast those two jerks on the occasion of making their longtime dream come true. Of course they’d release their book six months before mine comes out.

So that’s what I’m staying up to, friends. It’s a moment of respite from book madness as it moves to the production phase, but I’m sure you’ll be inundated with Dilla-related content as the book nears release. For the moment, I’m just enjoying the relative peace and trying to figure out how to stumble my way into being a quote-unquote “writer” instead of someone who wrote a book once.

Kind of weird to think now about how that struggle is what this blog was meant to document in the first place. .

Uhh…. Now What?

I haven’t shaved since Thursday. I don’t think I’ve eaten a proper vegetable in longer than that. My four-month-old Macbook blew a pixel somewhere during the process. My fluid consumption hasn’t been caffeine-free since last Saturday. But I pulled it off.

Yes, friends, I finished it. I submitted it. It’s fate rests in the good hands of the folks at the publisher.

If you squint at that photo you can suss out what it was for. I won’t openly acknowledge it since I’m superstitious like that. I should know either way within the next couple of months. Me and all the other cranks who took advantage of the open call, ha.

Whether or not it gets accepted or not is kind of irrelevant, though. It was a good idea, and it’ll still be a good idea if they decide it’s not a good fit for them right now. I’ll find somewhere else for it.

What’s more important is the education this whole whirlwind provided me. Chief among the lessons: This is what I love to do. Waking up at 6.00 a.m. some days was still a pain in the ass, but once I got the coffee maker working, sitting down to work on it was a joy. I’m sure this was partially due to the pressure of the oncoming deadline thanks to my brain’s inability to summon an idea until just over a week before the due date, but it was more to do with loving what I was doing. The hardest part now is waking up tomorrow and not have to immediately rush to the cafe or the kitchen table to get some work in before I went to my job.

I hope it will be habit forming. This last week was the only time in recent memory I wrote every day. On something I valued, not cranking out a blog entry to distract myself from short stories or anything else I had on the go. Working on the proposal only served to affirm how much I love to make things, whether that’s podcasts or stories or blogs. These are the things that bring meaning to my life. Some of you probably knew that all along. I’ve always been a bit of a dullard when it comes to these things.

Thankfully, I have two other writing projects to try and finish this week, along with the aforementioned Macbook display issue to try and remedy, so I’ll be able to keep busy. Turns out, I kinda like busy.

Before I collapse in slumber, I would be remiss if I did not thank some people for their love and support this past week. I can be….,, unpleasant to deal with when immersed in a project like this. It lives in my head and consumes my thoughts, which can lead me to expect people around me to read my mind by osmosis, or to understand what I mean with little explanation. This can…strain some relationships occasionally. My thanks to those who gritted their teeth and let me go crazy, or kicked my ass when I was needing it.

To Richelle Gratton, Tera Brasel, Jeff Meloche, Khaiam Dar, Caitlin MacKinnon, Sarah Jacobs and Nicole Bryant: you all get shouts in the acknowledgements. And I hate acknowledgement sections in books.

Now, I think I’ll go pass out.

A Letter to Meg

Meg is a friend and former Canadian Tire co-worker from back in the Windsor/Amherstburg days. We hadn’t spoken in the better part of five years when I get a message from her via Facebook, asking me if I blogged.

I swear, people, I wonder why I even try.

Anyway, Meg was interested in writing regularly and wanted to start a blog to do it. Sounds familiar. She wanted to check out mine, if I had one, to see what it was like. 

“Blogging is so super strange,” she wrote. Yeah, it is.  But it can also be kind of fun and amazing. I thought I would reply to her in public, as a chance to wax poetics on everything I know about blogging, which ain’t much.

Meg,

I was pleased to get your message, if a little surprised, given how long it’s been since we last spoke. I’ll admit, somewhat shamefully, to having you and the rest of the former CTC crew on the Facebook chopping block not too long ago.  I’m glad I didn’t drop the axe.

So, you’re looking to start a blog to keep the chops up.  That’s actually the very reason I started this up in the first place.  In 2009 I’d long been downsized from my position as Chief Blogger/Onine Editor for the University of Windsor paper, cranking out a couple of entries a day eight months a year. Suddenly I had a surplus of free time on my hands. Working at the bookstore had put me in a more literary frame of mind, as did the friendships I formed with a number of my coworkers there.  By that point I’d been blogging since 1999 or so, writing mostly in the style of emo, though we didn’t have a name for it then.  Writing for The Lance had scrubbed most personal details from my writing in favor of news and opinion, with the occasional reference to the persona I’d constructed to stand in for me.

What became PFG’s been a bit of an amorphous beast since then, moving from the story of a guy who wanted to finish some fiction and try to get it published, to pop culture commentary, to something that’s now spun out into the occasional podcast or video and now sort of back to a fiction focus [though results in the recent poll suggest that’s not what people want from me].

I’ve thought a lot over the years about what blogging means to me.  I still, despite the bile most Internet-famous writers push into my throat, believe blogging and the ease of access to content creation for most people is one of the most important developments in recent memory.  Yes, a good number of blogs, including some of the more famous ones, are little more than vanity projects or single-topic stunts trying to spin into a book deal, it’s still an amazing tool with an infinite number of uses [something I had the amazing fortune to speak about to a group of students at the Queen’s Fac of Ed years ago. It was a simpler time].

Anyway, advice.

(more…)

Exposing the Business

The kids love graphs.

The best thing about blogging with WordPress [and there have been some bad things about it lately, infinite scrolling!] are the statistics they keep, allowing me to obsess over every visit, read post and clicked link. There really is nothing better than seeing the bars on the graph grow taller, charting the increases in engagement with people who swing by to read the site.

I have a pretty basic [as in, one step above rhesus monkey] understanding about building that engagement: more content = more views. Consistent voice, consistent posting, the two primary tenets of blogging, an idea so basic at this stage in online content creation it seems inconceivable anyone could screw it up.

I posted three entries on Monday, each occupying a different lane on the content freeway that is Poetry for Gravediggers: a Wrestlemania wrap-up in the morning, the next installment of Thirty Days of Stories and a rare personal post later in the afternoon discussing what I wanted for the site. No surprise, I had a good day for traffic. But I noticed something when I started looking at the numbers a little more closely.

The post on the short story got zero views, while the laid back, freeform, ‘personal’ entry received far more than I was expecting. It gave me pause, since I go out of my way, and have explicitly stated that I’m kind of over talking about the ins and outs of my own melon; I’ve done that so much in blogs, with PFG I was trying to connect with something bigger than myself. I’m fricking boring, people.

But the numbers yesterday have me reconsidering. They would seem to suggest people prefer when I’m blathering on about myself, and could care less about the aspiring writer’s journey or the musings on hip-hop or other pop culture commentary. You’ve piqued my curiosity.

This is very informal, I’m not about to say I’d actively change how I do things around here [I’m finishing those 17 other stories whether you people like it or not], I’m just interested. The stats for yesterday would suggest people would prefer I natter on about myself, which seems dreadfully boring and the sort of thing you can get from at least fifteen million other bloggers, some of whom are not averse to posting photos in varying degrees of undress. I’m not that dude, will never be that dude. But if the response was overwhelming, I might consider it. To an extent.

Click away, friends. Let me know.

Where Jordan Be?

My Wrestlemania moment, when a friend in attendance at WM23 held up a sign informing the world that I smelled.

The long overdue housekeeping post.

Despite the recent flurry of activity around here, I can’t stand here all proud of myself for the quality content I’ve been providing you, friends, because as always, it comes on the heels of another screeching halt.  That tends to be the routine around here: flurry of activity, screeching halt.  I try to blame it on the dark days of February, but as someone recently said to me, ‘February comes every year,’ and well, it is April now, isn’t it?

I’m not exactly a shining example of the rhythm method of blogging, since I never seem to get into one, but I’m slowly trying to take all of this more seriously, to actually believe what I talk about when I talk about PFG. Maybe it’s all the wrestling writing I’ve been doing here lately [I should really look for an outlet for that], paying attention to the art of the promo, maybe it’s the book I’m reading when I’m not reading short stories: Susan Cain’s Quiet, all about the realities faced by introverts in a world where the Extrovert is the ideal [full review forthcoming when I finish].   But, whether I believe it in my heart that I’m good at what I do around here, as The Rock would say, “It doesn’t matter what I think.” I need to act like I do. 

I have a friend convincing me to take my writerly endeavours more seriously from a business perspective, and as I start to think about it in that fashion, I already feel the shift in me taking it more seriously, all the things I want to do but wouldn’t, due to financial constraints, even the measly seventeen dollars it would take me to remove that .wordpress from my URL.  But if I’m gonna promote, it sends a message right there that I don’t believe in myself enough to invest the cash to own this domain outright. Time to get serious…er.

That said, even in those periods of silence, I can still be found writing here and there. I shout them out on Twitter, but I undertsand not everyone follows me there [though you really should, I’m pretty funny sometimes].  You can find some of my writing on books over at the Chapters/Indigo Blog [I’m personally fond of the piece on The Annotated Sandman], and I do a monthly column for the Comic Book Fandom Group at the University of Toronto.  

I’ll be looking to update the bio page in the coming days, once I figure out what to say about myself, and there’s always the few samples of journalism, fiction and poetry I have in the ‘Works’ section.  One of the pieces recently got some unexpected attention, which may have sent me scurrying back into the foxhole I was in, but frankly I can’t afford to think like that anymore.

So read, friends. Appreciate. If you’d like to contract my services, get at me.  I still might not know what PFG is for, what it’s supposed to do.

But goddammit, I know it does it better than most.

Hey, Internet.

August is a cruel month...

It’s never been my philosophy to take the Neil Gaiman approach to PFG, serve up some personal details of what I’ve been up to along with some links to where you can find pieces I’ve written. Mostly because I’m old enough I don’t think my life is interesting enough to warrant detailed description [says the guy with a blog/Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr, etc], but also, sadly, because there’s never really anything to tell, especially on the ‘stuff I wrote,’ frontier.

But no longer!  A couple of opportunities recently came through for my “talents,” where you can now find my writing and ramblings.

Over on the blog for Chapters/Indigo I wrote a piece recommending some essential hip-hop non-fiction titles in celebration of the art’s 38th birthday.  Longtime readers will be familiar with a lot of what’s over there, but there are some new titles I’ve never mentioned before.

More interestingly perhaps, a friend of a friend started up a comics fandom site targeting students at the University of Toronto and asked me to contribute. So I did.  I’ll hopefully be contributing to 22 Pages twice a month, hopefully. Head over there now to read my begrudging appreciation of FanExpo, Toronto’s premier pop culture exhibition.

Still, even with these side projects, there’s no reason to deny you the PFG experience you know and love.  August was busy, but still had enough time to blog if I really wanted to.  That thousand word piece on Final Fantasy I threw up this week should be enough to suggest how I’ve been spending my free time lately.  Speaking of which, I can hopefully get an hour in before bed if I go riiiiiiight, now!

Shots Fired, Part Two

For three and a half years, I was fortunate enough to have someone pay me actual money to take words from my feeble little brain, organize them into sentences they then would print in a newspaper or post online.

And I still never called myself a ‘writer’.

I have a problem with self-labelers.  I have a problem with people who give themselves titles they haven’t deserved yet.  You might do these things, but that doesn’t make you the thing you say you are. If you write, you aren’t necessarily a writer. If you play music, you aren’t a musician, and if you paint, you aren’t a painter, if you take pictures, you aren’t a photographer.

I’ve seen this discussion a million different places, with most people opting to soothe the battered egos of the aspiring artist, essentially letting them off the hook and telling them, ‘If you need to say you’re a writer to get your ass in the chair, then fine you’re a writer,’ or, ‘if you write everyday, you’re a writer.’

Um, no.

I might shoot some free throws at the hoop over the garage, it doesn’t mean I’m a basketball player.  The title denotes a level of professionalism, and if you haven’t earned it, I don’t think you should have it, is all. I am clearly the odd one out here, judging by the proliferation and popularity of sites like Redbubble.

The problem with Redbubble [or Deviantart, or Livejournal or hell, even WordPress] is this: Yes, there is good quality, there’s the stuff that gets posted to the main page or gets picked up and reposted somewhere and goes viral.  And then there are millions of contributions that exist only in the profile of one poster and his or her followers.  They post a shitty poem or drawing and sit back for the accolades to come in from people as amateurish as they are.  The cost for these compliments is to offer equally vapid and thoughtless [meaning without thought] compliments to them in return, creating this vacuum of sycophancy and mediocrity that I just don’t have the time for, not anymore.

See friends, back in the heady days of 56 K we had forums: awful places with awkward interfaces, but they were the first way most of us started using the Internet to connect with people from across the world, and if you were a writer a quick browse through Yahoo’s category listing could give you some poetry magazines.  This is how I found VOiCE.  VOiCE was a zine published out of Indianapolis which never took my submissions probably because I wasn’t quite miserable enough and didn’t listen to enough industrial music </sourgrapes>. But they had a forum and a dedicated group of people who would read whatever went up and sometimes offer criticism but most times just offered support.  You know what constant support gets you?  Shitty poetry, that’s what.

But it was the order of the day, and I just wanted to fit in, so I’d leave two-word niceties on most people’s work so they’d repay in kind when I posted, or at least go easy on me because I was a nice guy.  For the most part it worked, but one day one guy wouldn’t let me off the hook, asking me why I always heaped compliments on work that was inferior to my own.  It’s still the kindest thing a stranger has ever said to me, and an endorsement I’ve never forgotten, one that shook me out of the coma of cheap flattery I’d been in.  I stopped posting not too long after.  A quick check of the web address reveals an aborted attempt to relaunch the site as an archival blog, choked with spam comments.

This is an epiphany most Redbubble seem content to live without.  They enjoy their complacency, so good on them for it, I guess.

So keep on throwing up first drafts with no revision and call yourself a writer. But you ain’t fooling me, friends. I respect the art too much to toss the title around so frivolously.