Four poems about fire: #1

the night sky lit yellow and orange by a forest fire. in the foreground, smoke rises from a blue valley.

the sky is full of Alberta

that stalwart cloak of green

that DEW line shielding the eastern provinces from the

aerial assault of off-gassed methane

igniting in one long curving line and taking with it our

hopes for a safe and happy summer

as the sweetgrass dreams of grassy inland oceans

are buried by the silty ruins of the last great extinction


TL:DR because I don’t trust other fiction.

I toddled down a rabbit hole this morning.  I say toddled because I got myself out so quickly instead of losing 2 hours to doomscrolling.

I was following a series of increasingly strident flags declaring that THIS  is “the great gay American novel.”  And I mean, I like great novels and gay people and am interested in America and anyone who has the nerve to lift the curtain.  But like I always do, I started by reading the worst reviews. That’s where the gold is, the truth, the ick, or in some cases “this was too horny for me and had too many queer characters” in which case it’s a one-click buy. But sometimes it’s:


That’s a one-click read, that review. If it inspires such vitriol then either it’s a masterpiece or a steaming turd.

Ah.  The latter.

Because I’m absolutely not a little bit sorry, but The Great Gay American Novel is not allowed to be a goddamn Kill-Your-Gays trope.  Not a fucking chance.

We’ve heard those stories. They’re called queer history.  Despair, isolation, mental illness, and often the only defence is to destroy all human feeling in your soul so you don’t have to cope with the fact that if everyone knew you for who you are, they wouldn’t just hate you, they would want you dead.


Boooooooorrrrrrrring because it’s horrible and spiritually deadening and it still happens in real life all the time and so we don’t need a 700 page novel about a loser who spends the whole book being awful to everyone and experiencing zero emotional growth but he just happens to be a gay man in a book about gay men so that makes it THE GREAT GAY AMERICAN NOVEL. It just feels like more trauma porn: look, here’s a walking, talking tragedy, let’s zoom in closer on all his faults. Now closer. NOW CLOSER. 

Look, I haven’t read this book and under no circumstances will I ever read it (ok, a million dollars but I get half in advance.) I am basing my opinions on one review and the blurb of the book. And an interview in which the author said they didn’t believe in psychology and that people who were broken should essentially just stay broken.

That’s when I realized I’d *never* read the book, nor probably anything else this author has written. The way to help someone who is broken is to see them, hear them, love them, help them. “I see your pain.  Your pain is real.  Pain ends.  I trust you. I believe you.” You don’t shrug and then take character notes.  I refuse to read 700 pages about someone who refuses to grow, who gets no help, and whose main characteristic is being an irredeemable piece of shit.  Just sounds like a novel about straight people.

*and write

Balance is bullsh!t

Daily writing prompt
How do you balance work and home life?

It’s funny that this came up as a prompt the other day. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to accomplish my goals both professionally and personally, and as much as we all laud the concept of balance I’m starting to think it’s a joke.

When I think about balancing, I picture someone on a tightrope. Arms extended, eyes locked on the horizon, physically committed to a ludicrous, massively dangerous task for other people’s entertainment.

I did just write a novel about a tightrope walker, so yes it’s a strong echo in my mind but that also means I know what the metaphor means. And I don’t know if it should be a goal.

For one thing, it’s fucking impossible. You can do well, giving yourself more or less equally to all your wants and responsibilities. And maybe that’s a neurotypical thing, to be able to plot your life carefully then follow it through, but that’s not in my wheelhouse, to employ boardroom language. I can’t actualize that paradigm.

I’m losing interest in the idea of balance. It’s really difficult to relax while balancing. Balance is a state of tension, of holding in place. It requires hyperawareness of the body and the ability to ignore everything around you. If you find a place of stillness, you cannot move from it or you will collapse. That sounds–that is–exhausting.

That sounds like capitalism: find one thing and do it till you die, never quitting or questioning, while faithfully replicating your DNA to provide capital with more human resources and supporting the rentier system of the 1% that holds the rest of us hostage by giving them back in the form of household spending and debt all the money they loaned you as wages.

The ideal work/life balance is No Work, All Life. I don’t mean, let’s all be unemployed.* I mean, why is work not life? Why are jobs so shit? Why have we bought into this massive system of pitting our economic needs against our human rights? Who the fuck wants to be an actuary? I would expect a single digit percent of actuaries chose that career because of some deep inner calling. For everyone else it was because they weren’t pretty or clever or rich enough to get to do what they want with their lives, and so they put on a suit and sit in traffic and eat a packed lunch and try not to jump out the office window. If that’s your life why even be alive? So you can give your children the very same future?

TL:DR Modernity is delusional. Baked into the core of our culture is the idea that *this world as it is right now* is the best we can do. That Starbucks and Exxon Mobil are natural and inevitable, that the only improvement possible is making the whole world like America. Delusion, delusion, delusion.

Fuck the work/life balance. It’s a joke, it’s a yoke, it’s a rationalization for letting capital skim the cream of labor’s efforts. For our collective good we need to seek a way of life where our work is worth living for.

An ideal work life balance? The least work possible at a job that won’t cost me my life.

*We can talk about health care and education as necessary jobs as long as you want to discuss why we underpay and understaff both these professions.

Just Eat the Cookie

A chocolate chip cookie with one bite missing sits on a white tabletop scattered with cookie crumbs. Although maybe those aren't chocolate chips but raisins. This is why I have trust issues.

I’ve always thought of myself as unable to resist temptation.  As being too desperate for dopamine to not eat the cookie, not buy the gift.  I always eat the cookie. But I don’t always buy the gift.  

And I realized my problem isn’t with reward systems, it’s with gamifying food.  

Consumer capitalism has a terrible relationship with food.  It’s used as lure, camouflage, dumping ground, flag to wave, and whip to beat ourselves with.  It’s a popular brand of mayonnaise declaring over a 90s grunge pastiche soundtrack that it “will not tone it down.”  It’s a food that has never once in its existence contained fat declaring in block letters on the label that it’s “fat-free.”  It’s thinking almond milk is virtuous without considering the operations of the almond farming industry (not pretty, if you ask a bee in California.)  

Dieticians and specialists in early childhood will both tell you that using food to reward or punish children makes food a battleground and plants in them the seeds of lifelong eating disorders. So why would I do that to myself? If I eat a cookie, it’s not because I have “allowed” myself a “reward” of a “bad” food that I would ordinarily resist.  It’s because I wanted a cookie, and I happened to have some.  I might treat myself to a more expensive meal for a special occasion, but I don’t like tying food to performance benchmarks.  I’m not a seal, bopping a ball with my nose to get a fish. I’m a person with an oven and a working knowledge of baked goods, and sometimes having a cookie is the only thing that makes me want to do my job. Let snacks be snacks, I say.

Gifts, though…I resisted building a Lego set for almost a week until I’d hit a word count goal.  The unopened box sat on my desk for days, taunting me a little, but more inviting me to reach my goal.

I now have this nice reminder on my desk that I can get what I want if I stick to it.  That cookie, or cake, or 700 calorie whipped cream and coffee thing? Long gone.

But don’t let me stop or shame you.  Everyone is wired differently. I don’t want to attach moral significance to snacks.  Excuse me, I’m going to go eat a cookie. 

Line Poem 6

















I wrote this on a day when market forces want me to say “Happy Mothers Day.”  Being a contrary such and such, let me be the first to wish you a Happy Choosing-not-to-be-a-mother-if-motherhood-wasn’t-what-I-wanted Day. If you need to mother someone, it helps if you start with yourself.

16 – Tear






























This poem is part of an ongoing dialog with identity and self-knowing. I’ve been buying a lot of new Canadian poetry at independent book fairs and am struck by its precision. A descriptive poetry, emotional but not instructive the way I find a lot of modern poetry can be. The poetry I like the best says “here we are, you and I, and this is what that’s like for me.” And the “you and I” can be anyone: you and everyone, you and no one, you and the world, you and yourself.

You maybe don’t have to love yourself. You can maybe just be satisfied with yourself and that will be enough for now. You don’t have to love toast but you might happily eat it every day. The heart is a muscle and all muscles need training. Even when the heart is metaphor for the locus of all your emotions, it must still be trained. If you want to move mountains, you start with one stone.

It is possible to exercise love for all creation by annihilating the self, but the empty vessel is itself a conceit, an opportunity only afforded in a society of abundance. If we are all Buddhists, who fills our begging bowls? Most of us must wade through the muck of our attachments–to spouses, children, parents, life–but to do this well requires an open, active heart. Brave-heartedness, the will to show love despite the countless reasons not to, will be key to our survival in the coming decades. Shallow, angry thinking cannot save us from our selves. We need more and stronger love.

We need more tears.

And they wondered what the secret was

Gaining traction–getting attention–on the internet is an opaque process for the most part. If, like me, you aren’t doing a frequent deep dive into how your content is getting served to the public then you probably have very little idea why something you post does or does not get clicks. To try and game social media algorithms is to play against masters of obfuscating data trails. Certain enormous retailers are equally secretive about how they intervene in the relationship between buyer and seller. To the liars fall the spoils, we must say in this situation, because the retailers and media corporations both hold the majority of the power and make a substantial amount of the money.

The joke to me is that the harder I try and use the interlaced nature of the internet, the worse my reach is. This blog for example: if I embed a video, if I use the scheduler, if I use the auto-repost function, my content goes unseen. Not just zero likes but zero views. This is, in a word, bullshit. We built the internet to be interconnected. Isn’t that what it’s a short form of, interconnected network? It’s like we built highway interchanges then put brick walls across them. What’s the point of the internet if every node on it savagely protects itself from all other nodes?

I didn’t know what this post was about when I started writing. Only that I wanted to test my theory above. I needed a post, and now I think what it’s about is to say that:

The point of the internet is not to make the shareholders of social media corporations rich. It’s to connect across a network.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Much rarer in practice.

A week ago I joined a Discord server hosted by one of my favorite authors (It’s invite only so don’t even ask, IYKYK.) It is one of the finest instances of people being quality on the internet: the encouragement from other members, the positivity everyone exudes, the ethical durability of the group rules, all at a time when I was kind of starved for human interaction. It is however a very select group. Small numbers seem important when maintaining the quality of social groups. I will be curious to see this group evolve, and I’m glad that I joined in the first days.

All relationships begin with unknowing. To get to know a person is to train your brain, to construct a reality within it that contains that other person. I’m maybe not sufficiently afraid of strangers, which is a gift of my race and social class, though statistics leave no one unharmed. But I like strangers, new people, potential. I like reaching out, even if now and then I get my fingers bitten. Haven’t lost one yet.


I stock up on dopamine* in the mornings by dancing, sometimes singing to my favorite songs.  These range from So Whatcha Want by The Beastie Boys to the opening of the 2013 Tony Awards as sung by Neil Patrick Harris (thanks, internet, for all your flaws, for bringing me this ode to excess.)

Being a stage performer, particularly in musical theatre where you might have to be singing, dancing, and acting all at the same time, is tremendously hard work.  It is physically demanding, often debilitating.  Lots of musicians bring the same energy to the concert stage, not just in rock but across the board (it’s Britney, bitch.) 

It’s not just the dopamine I’m chasing but the calorie burn.  So I’m not ashamed to say I had to bail out about two minutes into the Talking Heads’ performance of the song Life During Wartime in the seminal concert film Stop Making Sense. 

IDK what David Byrne was eating those days (looks like nothing) but he never stops moving and neither do the rest of the band.  If you don’t regularly exercise, you’d never keep up, because they are beasts.  MF, they are playing their instruments while running in place and has Gen Z seen this shit yet?  This is a TikTok challenge waiting to happen, amirite?

So I thought, what a great candidate for a stupid goal. To be able to do David Byrne’s bit in Life During Wartime.

Get delusional, isn’t that what the kids say?  This is a theme for me right now, after a post I made about impossible goals to a lively group of professional writers blew up, getting a few hundred comments from writers at every stage of their career.   Why not carry this energy into everything I do?

I need delusional goals.  Ordinary ones don’t seem to motivate me.  So why not try something ridiculous?  Absurd and not wholly useful except that it spurs me to be more active.  A chance to score a symbolic victory over my human tendencies—taking the easy way out, hoarding calories in case of famine, anxiety about my appearance and social rank.

We have so little time on earth, and there’s so much that we might do that we’ll never have the time to even read about in someone else’s words.  We’re dying the minute we’re born and I think if more people understood that we might as individuals and as a civilization use our time better.

I’m old enough to feel this in my bones.  They say youth is wasted on the young because it’s only the accumulation of years that make you understand time at the cellular level.  There is no solution to death.  I don’t know that I’d choose eternal life even if it was offered.  All we have is today, this hour, this second, this heartbeat, this blink of the cosmic eye, our every breath one more pearl strung on a thread that grows shorter and shorter.

Do it now.  The thing you always wanted.  Do it now because there is only now.  Only this moment, this breath.  This.

Photo by Alex Turcu on Unsplash

Victoriana redux

There’s no denying that I am a snob. As such, I like my Historical Romance to be damn well historical. Attempting to live by my own standards, I mostly muddle about in the Victorian Era, despite all the press about its repressive culture. Michel Foucault has said some things on this, but I’ll save that for my dissertation (and this heavy-duty post of mine from last year.)

Intellectual wanking aside, writing fiction in the idiom of the Victorian age is a lot of fun. I like the diction and writing style, the license to be poetic and to drench my dialogue in innuendo and double entendre. I like as well the scenarios the Victorian era offers. Despite its reputation as an era of repression, it was in fact a time of broad social upheaval and technological advancement with many parallels to our time, including the struggle to implement socially beneficial infrastructure as the epidemic and chronic illnesses of increasingly urban lifestyles were battled with public health measures like sewers and indoor plumbing. 

Deep diving into Victoriana feels a little like visiting Japan. It provides a sweet spot of a lifestyle much like mine, yet with an utterly foreign aesthetic and social imaginary. Britain under Queen Victoria and Japan in general are both cultures built on very precisely managed social facades, behind which can rage stunning perversities. We observe the gentility of a tea ceremony, but flip over the painted scroll hanging on the paper wall and you will find a geisha ‘entertaining’ several octopuses. The Marylebone gentleman speaks in Parliament, dines with his wife, kisses his nanny-educated children goodnight, then goes to the bawdy house and gets his arse resoundingly ‘birched’ like the good old days away at school.

While the Regency is a very popular period for Historical Romance (from Austen to Heyer to Quinn to Hall) it was not a very long time period. Many of its charms linger into the Victorian age. Well-spoken politeness still wins the day, and one’s past can define one’s whole future. Yet by the end of the 19th Century, class structures have notably shifted, introducing new types of people to each other. The middle class has begun to emerge, challenging the nobility’s power through sheer force of numbers. And technology had already begun to change the way everyone lived, at a pace unmatched in prior ages.

Not to mention it’s after Britain’s abolition of slavery, which suits me very well. I certainly can’t erase the wealth acquired through the Transatlantic slave trade, but statistically any titled person i.e. English Duke in the Regency was likely benefitting from the Slave Trade. Yes, that wealth carries over even to our times, but let’s say I prefer to play with the fiction-writing kit that doesn’t include that particular component. My titled 19th Century snobs can still be cruel, remorseless, indifferent to oppression. Today we might call them Tories, and there’s a wealth of contemporary fiction about this same kind of ultra-rich white cis-het culture. I don’t need to write about duels at sword-point for my stories to contain entitled men who feel they have the right to be violent, and who need putting in their place, which is really more where my interest lies.

And then there’s the aesthetic. I like dark suits and slim waistcoats and pocket watches and canes that turn out to be shivs. I like tailcoats and tight white shirts and black hansom cabs slipping through the streets to indecent assignations. Cockneys with knives. Can-can and Burlesque. Laudanum and Absinthe, Impressionism, subways, suffrage, Sarah Bernhardt and steam power, Charcot’s gynecological exhibitions and Aubrey Beardsley’s priapic prints, masturbation both as a symptom of insanity and the means by which one prevented it, and all the while corsets get tighter and tighter. The British Experiment reached its giddy apex, and for a few bold years the sun never did set on its Empire, while quietly it was being said that perhaps its former colony across the Atlantic was about to steal its gilded crown.

Change by the bucketful: unavoidable, terrifying, fascinating.

Disorderly Conduct

scrabble letters arranged on a plain white surface to spell the words "life will not wait"

I told WordPress to notify me twice a week that it was time to post something.  I began immediately to resent this, and have ignored several notifications.  This is me all over. It doesn’t matter if an event is in a calendar, on a chart, in my phone, in an email.  As soon as I’m told to do something I’m not already happily doing, my RSD and defiance disorder go on high alert and I start deliberately, some might say belligerently, ignoring the notifications.

Which is why I have yet to discover an author business planning system that sticks.  No matter how carefully I craft my quarterly plan, my weekly schedule, I just don’t do the dang work.  I’m so good at ignoring important things that I started asking myself if I have Asperger’s.  I so often refuse to do what’s best, even when it’s obviously what’s needed and would be really easy to do, though I genuinely do like myself, in a compassionate, c’mere you dumb-ass kinda way.

I think and think and think and in truth I probably just spend too much time alone.  I can overthink anything, which can be good when you’re doing big vision work, and much less helpful when you’re trying to pick a task and stick with it until you can call it done. 

Because I have so many things to do, it’s a struggle to prioritize.  Everything feels like a priority, and I don’t want to spend all my time planning, but I’m not achieving much with the time I have so maybe what I really need is to get the heck over myself, sit down and do the work *I know* needs to get done, and let the rest fall into place.

The place where I get all of it right is just over the horizon. I have a flat tire and I’m fucking hungry, but if I can get this wheel back on, I can start rolling again and get to where I want to be.

Do you use a planner? Google calendar or similar? What works for you?