Erasure III: The secret to learning languages and writing novels

I wanted to provide a quick update on what has become a series of reflections. It all started with this post about reflecting on the past and feeling free to make mistakes in the future. I also resolved to start studying Portuguese. Then there was a follow up about studying Portuguese on a trip to Montreal and being inspired to switch gears and study French, which I did as I made plans to travel to Brazil. Oops.

Anyone here speak French? No? Ok, cool…

So what has happened since then, and what mistakes am I making now? Spoiler alert: lots!

It’s been about five years since my last Erasure update, and a LOT has happened. In those five years I have:

  • Started at beginner level one and completed intermediate-level French classes
  • Received a travel grant to visit Brazil twice, and wrote a novel based on those experiences
  • Wrote another novel, and had some stories published
  • Returned to seriously studying Portuguese, and finally started to make some progress with my conversational skills
  • Passed the Canadian citizenship test (now just waiting for the call to take the oath of citizenship!)

That’s one bullet-point per year! And what have I learned from all this?

Mistakes were made! And there was a lot of lateral movement. But, if I had to do it over again, I don’t know that I would erase anything (No regrets!). Sure, it would have made more sense to study French before going to Montreal, then switch to studying Portuguese before going to Brazil, but that wasn’t where my path led me. I needed to visit those places to feel inspired.

Peut-être we can practice some Portuguese? Non? Desculpa, tchau!

I’ve learned that to make things happen in my life I need to be motivated, whether it’s writing or learning a language. Actually, I think motivation is the most important component of anything I’ve accomplished. I need to be realistic and kind to myself. If I don’t feel motivated, I need to take a break and look for ways to motivate myself rather than pushing through something I’m not motivated to do, because that leads to frustration and giving up. Maybe being indecisive can be a good thing? Or maybe not? I can’t decide. I’ve learned there’s no erasing the past, even the mistakes. So I’m only looking forward from now on, building on the decisions I’ve made—even the bad ones.

As I continue to study and write, I’m more motivated than ever before to work toward my goals and see them through. Even if I need to take a break or switch gears for a while, I know that writing and language are things I care deeply about and will always find the motivation to prioritize in my life, even if I need to step away now and then to find my motivation again.

If you have goals that you’re not reaching, ask yourself if you’re feeling motivated, and if not, what do you feel motivated to do? Maybe it’s time to shift gears, or take a step back and look for that inspiration again.

Both writing and language learning take a lot of dedication and persistence. So find your driving force, whether you call it motivation, inspiration, passion, or your muse. A dream isn’t enough. It’s a goal, an objective—what you need is the desire and energy to focus on moving forward a little each day, to be motivated to continue pushing through until those dreams come into focus.

Book Reaction: Wilde Stories 2016

31310785This is the kind of book that you read all at once and then keep close at hand to keep referring back to. 2016 was a great year for gay spec fic, with stories by veterans in the field such as Richard Bowes, and new-comers who are on their way to becoming the next big thing, like Sam J. Miller. The stories collected here are wonderfully diverse, from spaces of the imagination in the near future to the surreal.

These stories were largely published in major magazines originally, so I’d read a few of them before. But this collection is valuable in itself because it is a wealth of brilliant spec fic stories featuring gay characters. So often I feel strung along by bromantic novels that end happily ever with the main bro meeting a pretty girl in the final chapters. It’s a relief to suspend that hesitance I approach every story with, not wanting to be let down yet again.

And yet despite that hesitance, or because of it, I missed many brilliant stories throughout the year, such as “Imaginary Boys” by Paul Magrs, which instantly became a new favorite. This is a great resource to discover new writers (whether they’re new or you’re new to them) in the field of gay spec fic, and just an all-around essential book for anyone who needs more gay spec fic in their lives (and who doesn’t?)

Erasure II: Reshaping the Path

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Oops! There isn’t an eraser big enough for this ball of fur

I’ve heard from a lot of people in response to my Erasure post which I wrote over a year ago about turning 30, erasing stuff, and how we’re not getting any younger so I was going to carpe all the diems, make mistakes, and learn Portuguese. One of the best responses was from one of my oldest friends, Abe, who sent me a giant eraser and some comics I drew of our group of friends in high school. Good times. Actually, the comic was aptly named: The High School Times. Anyway, Abe recently started a brilliant blog, which you can read here. And you really should because he’s a brilliant, insightful writer and all around awesome person.

So, a lot of things have happened since I wrote that Erasure post. I’m now headed toward 32, and not really worried about being 30 anymore, and the Portuguese thing got complicated. It’s actually a pretty funny story.

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Then: Novo Avenida

Last fall I went to Montreal. Hilarious story, right. Wait, here comes the funny part. I have never had a desire to learn French. While my mother and both of my sisters studied French in school, I studied Spanish. When my friends traveled to Paris in college, I studied Japanese. When I finally went to Europe, I avoided the continent all together and stopped in Ireland.

So anyway, there I was in Montreal with my Portuguese textbook, ready to use my spare time on vacation to complete the last few exercises.

Then things got French. Fast. People in Montreal that I talked to were all bilingual, but I quickly felt myself falling for the charms of the language and the culture. I’ve always dreamed of spending time in a place that would challenge me to speak another language, yet I’ve been feeling a pull back east as I get older too, and feeling like there is limited time to travel to new place while still staying connecting to all the places I’ve been. Quebec is lovely and hilly and mountainous, there are huge deciduous trees and all those wonderful things I miss about the east coast. Being in that place sparked memories of my past and reminded me of the future I’m chasing.

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Now: Comme un Gant!

So when I got back to Winnipeg, I put Novo Avenida on the shelf and enrolled in a French class. Wait, I’m not a quitter. I have justifications:

1) I got to take French for free through a government funded French for Immigrants program. It feels like I’m learning a lot faster than I was learning Portuguese through studying on my own.

2) I live in Canada. French is by far the most useful second language for me to know. It’s useful at work (when visiting Montreal) or just whenevs I feel like Frenching. That’s what they call it, right?

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The High School Times

3) I am no longer erasing. I read a book about mindsets recently, and how we can grow from mistakes. It made me see opportunity where I used to see failure. Maybe you don’t always have to erase, but can constantly improve. Such as reshaping a letter written in ink, turning a mistake into something new, not worse. So anyway, the justification is: French and Portuguese are both romance languages. Learning one will help me learn the other, and I have the ability to take French classes for free, so why not start there and build Portuguese on top of the skills I pick up along the way? It might not be the most efficient way, but how can you ever complete an objective if you’re erasing and starting over? Especially if you happen to be really indecisive and always want to try something new…

I think there was maybe a 4), but I forget.

Oh, wait, I forgot the really funny part. As in ironic funny. There is a chance I’ll be going to Brazil in the coming months. And I just might bring a French book to study while I’m there. *upside-down-smiley-face-what-a-crazy-world emoticon*

 

Book Review: Circuits & Slippers

csFirst, I have to say I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Begin honest review. Go.

This collection combines two of my favourite things—fairy tales and scifi. I’m fascinated by the intersection of fantasy and science fiction, and it’s really cool to see fairies translated into aliens, magic into technology, and ancient stories into futurescapes.

In a twitter chat with the authors recently, editor Jaylee James asked a question that strikes at the heart of the anthology:

“Do you think fairy tales will still be relevant in the distant future, or will we invent new fairy tales?”

Each story in Circuits & Slippers seeks to explore this question in some way.

Disclaimer: It’s really hard to review a collection of stories. Even in a collection by a single author, each story is a separate work with its own world, characters, and objectives. Since I can’t go into all of them here, I’ll just give you a little taste of what you can expect overall.

The anthology opens with “The Slumbering Hill,” a Sleeping Beauty retelling that sees Saira, a tech scavenger from a place called The Pits, journey across a desert to find a cozy town without tech where she discovers “fabric not yet made into clothing, seeds not yet grown, and ingredients not yet made into food.” The story is full of wonderfully imaginative details like these, and there is also a story within the story, a type of legend referred to as a “star story,” which is an answer to the earlier question as to the future of fairy tales. Anyway, the star story here is a scifi Sleeping Beauty tale that wraps up into the larger meta-narrative and comes to a satisfying conclusion that sets the perfect tone for the rest of the anthology.

The next tale is a retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk—but the beanstalk is a space elevator. This story has a similar atmosphere to the first, a wonderful blend of fable and future.

Then things take a dramatic turn with “Alone, and Palely Loitering,” which is about Galahad, who is an “automated museum curator,” an AI tasked with filling and protecting a grail with the history of Earth after its demise. While the lore it’s based on is still central, the story has a strong scifi atmosphere (in an awesome, creepy, “what happens when we’re gone?” kind of way.) Similarly, “The Last” tells the tale of the last woman from Earth, a warrior who was salvaged from the planet’s wreckage and preserved in a tower as a specimen of humanity. Her final mission…Project Rapunzel.

“CAT Beyond the Moon” mixes things up even more, with a very funny narrator who tells us about a girl named Cara who wants to attend the Newton-Nye institute, and doesn’t think she has a chance until CAT a “Creature for the Annihilation of Tragedy” comes along to help her—after getting a new pair of boots, of course. While the story is set far in the history of our own solar system, there are a lot of hilarious current references, such as the “tragic tale of the Downgrading of Pluto” which is taught to all the children in this world, and is yet another answer to the question of what fairy tales will become.

Another story that stands out is “Le Trotteur,” which takes us into a future version of the Quebecois legend of Alexis Lapointe, who in this reality is a Magskater hurling across gravity-defying tracks. The story has a fun, sporty feel because it’s driven by races and speed, yet finds time to slow down to incorporate the strong flavour of French language and culture.

“Fit for Purpose” is narrated by an android, which gives it a unique perspective, and there’s some interesting gender stuff going on here as the android is sexualized even though it doesn’t have a gender.

Another one of my favourites, “Compatible” is a hilarious and touching story about an alien studying human hair. It involves a trans human and a “more-male-than-female” alien who can’t quite be Earth-gendered. Here is an example of the humour: “I’m just now realizing how expressive eyebrows can be. Maybe humans use the hair on their head to communicate with other humans, and that’s why they’re obsessed [with it].” Maybe you have to read it in context, but trust me, when you do it’s hilarious.

These are just the stories that stood out to me, but the rest of the anthology doesn’t disappoint. There are cool scifi twists on some of the most conventional tales, like Goldilocks, Red Riding Hood, and Beauty and the Beast. And as you find yourself slipping deeper into this timeless future, it becomes clear that the stories themselves are both the questions and the answers—blending the wisdom of the past, the progress of the present, and our hope for the future. Fairy tales are timeless because, in the telling and evolving, they inspire us to push ourselves to the stars.

Circuits & Slippers comes out in paperback and kindle ebook on September 29th.

Erasing and Evolving

Abe is one of my oldest friends (as in since childhood, not as in he’s really old…) and he writes awesome stuff that you should check out on his blog. We met in kindergarten, and years later we are still erasing and evolving together. I’m still planning to write a follow-up to my original Erasure post, but this is going to be a tough act to follow after Abe’s post…

Thursdays with T

A while back my friend Will (who’s blog is awesome, seriously stop reading this right now and go check out his page) wrote about how he suddenly realized one day that he had reached a point in his life where he wasn’t expected to need erasers anymore. He gets a bit deeper on the subject but in summary, he realized that as children we are expected, heck encouraged even, to make mistakes. It’s how we learn. It’s how we grow. But then we reach adulthood and overnight we’re supposed to have our entire live worked out. No more erasers. No more do-overs.

erasing_mistakes_by_werxzyimage credit

That post really hit home for me. Partially because I, with age 30 peeking right around the corner, am nowhere near having my life in perfect order. True, the past few years I’ve started to figure things out, but compared to the typical adulthood timeline…

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Happy Pride!

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Winnipeg Legislative Building

I fee so lucky to live in a time and place where we can be proud to be ourselves. It’s not always easy, but it is possible. Pride is special to me for a couple reasons, besides the obvious ;)

1. For many years I considered myself an ally. I was on the fringes of acceptance, but scared to come out. Then I saw representation of gay people in books (largely through Lethe Press) and stories (coming out stories and also Netflix DVDs that were delivered in discrete envelopes) and I wanted to be brave like the strong characters in these stories. Stories made me realize for the first time that I could be proud of myself, to acknowledge that I was gay and that I could be strong and happy instead of ashamed.
2. My birthday is in June. That’s it. A little anticlimactic, I know, but it feels a little magical. Another magical thing was that I first came out on a groundhog’s day, which I find pretty funny.

So anyway, I want to return the love and support I got in those early days by sharing some reading recommendations of great gay books.

Boys Like Us

This is a collection of essays by gay writers, reflecting on a diverse array of coming out stories. Some tragic, others hilarious. I kept this book by my bed for months before and after I first came out, gaining strength and courage from the stories.

I’ll Give You The Sun

by Jandy Nelson

This is a beautifully written YA novel about art, love and everything in between. I know I already said it, but the writing is so beautiful, at once satisfying and startling. This book is made of the kind of sentences that get stuck in your head like songs.

 

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Another YA novel, about love and longing, and another piece of brilliant writing. Seriously, that is enough. Go read it.

Vintage: A Ghost Story

by Steve Berman

A YA novel about a gay goth kid. Yet another beautifully written work. The haunting coming of age story is about a boy coming to terms with life, death, sexuality and the strange forces beyond us. Fast paced yet thoughtful, this novel follows some conventional ghost story/horror/suspense conventions in the best, creepiest ways while telling a refreshingly unique story.

Otherbound

by Corrinne Duyvis

Yet another YA novel. I didn’t plan this I swear, they’re just great books. This one is contemporary fantasy, sort of. A girl and a boy from different worlds share a special link and do not fall in love with each other!

Another Country

by James Baldwin

I first read this in a literature class in college. I’ve now read it about 5 times. This was the first work of “literature” that I read that featured gay characters, and it changed me and continues to change me to this day.

The Whole Story and Other Stories

by Ali Smith

Ali Smith is a genius. And this is another book I read for a class but kept reading over and over. Her stories are insanely creative, mind-bending, and wonderfully crafted.

 

I could keep going on and on with great book recommendations, but celebrating diversity is about sharing and listening so everyone can be heard.

What are your favorites?

Invisible Ink

My eloquent sister on writing and where words go once they are written.

Brenna Layne

IMG_20160507_125618929Almost-invisible ink.

Novel-writing is an act of wild optimism. It is for any writer, I think, but particularly for those of us who aren’t published. When I begin writing, I write not for an audience, not even for myself, but for the story–because there is a story that wants to be told. When I revise, though, it is with audience in mind. Will my thoughts come across clearly, my images vividly? Are these characters believable, sympathetic, real?

The initial drafting is a kind of possession. The raw material of story seizes you, sinks its fingers into your windpipe, and refuses to let go. Revision is different–a smoothing, a subtle shaping of worked clay. The story is birthed and must now undergo its metamorphosis. This is the point, for me, at which audience truly begins to matter.

But here’s the rub–there is no audience. This is true for published writers as…

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Book Reaction: Star Maker

I have to admit, it was hard to get into this book. I have tried to read it twice before and ended up skimming both times. Star Maker was written in the 1930s and the language is often dry and difficult, and there is very little plot. This is definitely a work of science fiction, but more than anything it is a travel log of a disembodied consciousness’s journey through the cosmos. A majority of the “story” consists of long-winded descriptions of planets and species. These planets are bizarre, yet well-thought out. And although I said there is little plot, there is definitely a progression to the book that lead me to a very rewarding experience I completely missed out on when skimming it before.StarMaker-Cover
Now what makes me give this book five stars? It is mind-blowingly brilliant. It continually made me feel like I was learning things I shouldn’t know, like I was being let in on secrets of the universe that are typically invisible. I haven’t read anything like this in a long, long time. Star Maker is not a perfect book, and it is very challenging, but it is one of the greatest works of science fiction ever written, and it awoke a curiosity in me that I haven’t known since childhood, making me ask why, why, why?
If you want to enjoy this book, don’t come to it expecting a fast plot or an easy read. Come ready to challenge your perspective of the universe and ask questions you forgot you needed to answer.
5/5 stars

Out of joint

Brenna Layne

the time is out of joint~Shakespeare, Hamlet, I.5.190

Lately, the idea that I have anything to say feels patently absurd. It’s probably also patently absurd that I use expressions like “patently absurd.” My intention has been to post weekly, on Thursdays, and I’ve not been doing a fantastic job of it. Thursday slides closer and then slips by in the backwash of the week’s end, trailing a tinge of that quiet but uncomfortable remorse one feels when one promises oneself that one will do something and one doesn’t. That is a lot of ones, but I’m feeling archaic. The time is out of joint.

I went backwards in time on a 1920s steam engine last weekend in Buffalo, NY. I went backwards in time on a 1920s steam engine last weekend in Buffalo, NY.

Perhaps it’s autumn that does this, that works its strange magic through the waning days and lengthening nights. When the leaves flame out against the hillsides and the nights…

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Erasure

FullSizeRender[2]A couple months ago I turned 30. The big 3-0. All year I felt this impending milestone sinking on my shoulders and it made me question what I’d done with my first 30 years. Which led me to ask myself why I hadn’t achieved what I’d set out to do in my 20s, the major goals being to publish a novel and become fluent in a second language. As my 29th year burned to a close, I collected the last of the rejections on my novel and chalked it up as a loss. Which made me start feeling even worse about my other goal of learning a language. I wasted my 20s fueling a failed novel, and had nothing to show for it. All I had was a job I hated (that exacerbated the failure) and a lower than novice level understanding of Spanish, Japanese, Latin, and Portuguese.

Hitting 30 was one of the most depressing times of my life. I hadn’t done anything. And I blamed it all on the novel, on writing and how it had made me lose sight of my career and other ambitions.

It was dark times. Dark, scary times. I hit 30, totally unprepared with no seatbelt or parachute.

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The other side of my 30th birthday was just as dark and scary.

But shortly after, things started to get better. I revisited my second novel and let writing become an activity I enjoyed again instead of a means to an end (an end of failure slathered in sticky peanut butter and dusted in glitter). It’s got a long way to go, but Second Novel is going somewhere. And I’m going with it.

Almost exactly a month after my 30th birthday, I started a new job. This literally changed my life. My last job was emotionally draining and awful and the new one is busy and gets stressful, but it doesn’t make me feel completely awful, which is completely awesome. I have energy at the end of the day. I sleep well. I feel happy sometimes, actually most of the time — which is new.

FullSizeRenderThis newfound calm has led me to the decision to actually study Portuguese instead of just talking about it. I ordered a textbook online and was half excited and half disappointed yesterday when it arrived and I discovered the workbook was already filled in. Excited because it’s fun to see someone else’s mark on an object, and disappointed because how am I going to learn Portuguese if Sarah from Guelph already learned all the Portuguese out of this book?

Luckily, Sarah wrote her answers in pencil, so I went to grab an eraser, only to discover that I do not own a single eraser!!! When I thought about it, I realized I haven’t used a pencil at home or at work, probably since high school. On my desk at home I have a stein my sister brought me from Germany. It is full of blue pens, black pens, pens that FullSizeRenderlook like monsters, sharpies, and highlighters. Not a single pencil. My desk at work is covered in papers with pens sitting on top of them and rolling under them like snakes under leaves. My top drawer is full of a dozen backup pens. No pencils.

Throughout my school years I was something of a pencil fanatic (read into that what you will). I had an impressive collection of Yikes! designer pencils, mechanical pencils of all lead weights and materials, and many, many more pouring out of my backpack and Trapperkeeper.

I also had a collection of erasers. The boring pink trapezoids, a green one shaped like a brain (from Yikes!’ Fall 96 collection), erasers that looked like dinosaurs, and ones that sat atop my equally impressive pencils. I only used the pink utilitarian ones because I didn’t dare turn my favorites into rubber pulp. But I took comfort in the fact that I had an infinite variety of writing tools at my disposal — and also a limitless number of ways to correct any mistakes I happened to make.

In our youth we’re expected to write in pencil, to make mistakes, to have an eraser FullSizeRender[1]handy. But then as we get older there are no erasers. Time is always passing, and you come to learn that you can always make a second attempt but you can never have a complete re-do because what’s done is done and there’s no going back.

I know this now. But that didn’t stop me from buying an eraser today. I’m going to erase Sarah’s attempt to fill in the blanks, and I’m going to learn Portuguese!

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