Monday, February 02, 2009

A Taste of Xeno's Arrow

It occurs to me that I've talked up Cold Iron Badge here, but not so much my first comics-baby, Xeno's Arrow. That should be remedied, and since I an image online with an easy-to-use link anyway, I thought this would be an opportune moment to provide a little taste...

Xeno's Arrow is the story of Xeno, a young alien boy of mysterious origins who has spent his whole life in an Intergalactic Zoo run by Lizards who makes the pivotal decision to escape and seek freedom and adventure... but finds that nothing in the universe is quite what he expected...

Once upon a time, in the Known Galaxy...

Saturday, January 31, 2009

You'll Have To Excuse Me, I'm Not At My Best...

And I really do feel like I've been gone for a month, albeit metaphorically. Missed out on the drunk part, though. What I do have is a cold.

But even before the cold bit me -- and I knew it was coming, since the rest of the family were already feeling it -- it had been a frustrating week, wrapping up a frustrating month.

I've been tired and unfocused, and the cold weather has me feeling down. It's been hard to write. It's been hard to eat well or get to the gym, either (I don't think I've made it to the gym since the new year) and I feel like I've lost a lot of ground on that front. Which is ironic, because I managed to get through the holidays without putting any weight back on, only to trip up during Resolution Season.


But tomorrow is another day. There's a new week and a new month coming up. They'll be better than this one.

The plus side is that I'm way too busy, and have way too many projects to juggle, to waste time on self-recrimination. Onward!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bachelor of Erstwhile

I've been at my current job for a little under a year; I started on February 11th, 2008. As many of you already know, I work for the University of Toronto. For a variety of reasons, I love my job. I work in a small, congenial office with great people. My work involves all sorts of interesting projects and initiatives, and unlike some admin jobs that I or friends have suffered through, mine is for an organization that actually benefits humanity.

Another reason that I love my job is that universities, by their nature, are supportive of education and life-long learning.

When I studied Theatre at York University, there were a lot of courses outside of (and even inside) the Faculty of Fine Arts and the Theatre Department that I couldn't take, despite being interested in them, because of scheduling conflicts and the like. And many of the courses I did take had a more practical than traditionally academic flavour (although I was the only Theatre major I knew who took a Political Science course for fun.)

So I always felt like I'd missed out on some opportunities to expand my horizons, think more deeply, really get into the university experience, and read the books you should read to be culturally literate but only actually do read when they're going to be on the final exam (I'm looking at you, James Joyce!)

Which was a pity, but so it goes. I figured that academia was behind me. It wasn't as though I had the time, or especially the money, to go back to school

And this brings me to the other opportunity to get back from erstwhile that I've been mentioning. One particularly amazing perk of being an employee of the University is that I can essentially get a degree for free. More than one -- I can pursue a course of study up to the Master's level.

There are some reasonable limits, of course. The benefit covers the equivalent of a general arts degree; if a program had additional fees, I'd be on the hook for them. It only covers a part-time course load, which is about the most I'd try to schedule around work, writing and my family anyway. And, big as U. of T. is, it doesn't cover every possible field of study, certainly not at the downtown campus where I work and where it makes sense for me to take courses.

But those are trivial issues. This is, as I said, a really freaking amazing opportunity. It would be ridiculous not to take advantage of it.

The problem is, I can't decide how to proceed. There are so many amazing possibilities, I'm not sure what field of study to pursue.

So, in addition to my own thinking on the subject, I thought I'd take this to you, my illustrious peanut gallery. You know me. Or you know me well enough to have a sense of some of my skills, strengths and interests. Or you don't know me at all, which will at the very least liven up the discussion, so don't let that hold you back.

I ask you: What sort of degree should I go for?

I'm going to share some of my thoughts, then open up the floor to you for comments and suggestions.

Books. Lots and lots of books. This strikes me as a great excuse to get caught up on some of the canon that I missed out on due to the specialized nature of my earlier studies. This would be a degree, then, pursued purely for personal enrichment, not to advance any particular goals re: my career. U. of T., like many universities, now has courses in genre fiction and graphic novels in the English department. That would be interesting, and I'd be curious to see how my practical experience in the field meshed with an academic take on the subject. I've also thought about using this, along with some Art courses, to sort of invent a degree in comics for myself.

Cinema Studies
A degree that requires watching a lot of movies is about as awesome as one that requires reading a lot of books. Cinema Studies at U. of T. is an academic program, so it's not really "film school". Which is good, because I have an aversion to guys who wear their baseball caps backwards because that's how Spielberg does it. The program would focus on analysis, which does interest me, and which I'm good at. I figure at the very least, I'd emerge being able to use the phrase "mise-en-scene" correctly in a sentence, which would be a net gain.

I love history. A lot of my pleasure reading is non-fiction, focusing on history. An undergraduate History degree could lead to the Medieval Studies program, which strikes me as extremely cool. Because I am a huge geek. Regardless, an opportunity to learn Middle English is not to be casually tossed aside.

Something Else?
So what do you think. Is there a possibility that I haven't considered? Something that's a natural fit for me that I haven't mentioned? Let me know, in a comment below or by email!

Whew. That's what's on my mind right now. But next time out, I think I'll actually talk about writing again...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

On Privacy and "Business Casual" Blogging

"On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."

I first read that in Douglas Coupland's 1995 novel Microserfs -- one of my favourite novels, by the way. I don't think Coupland made it up; one of his characters uses the phrase as though it was already a generally-understood truism. And was in 1995, when people still talked about the capital-I Internet and used the phrase "information superhighway" only a little bit self-consciously.

In other words, being online and secret identities go back a long way.

There are many good reasons to post online anonymously, or using a pseudonym. One of those advantages is that it makes it possible to share things with the entire world, without the entire world knowing that you are actually you. You can blow the whistle on something dangerous or illegal, vent about something without getting into trouble, ask for help about something that's embarrassing or really sensitive, something you might be judged or attacked for.

Online anonymity, in other words, does not exist solely to facilitate spamming, or so that dolts can safely insult one another's opinions about Spider-man, or to allow teenagers to get away with posting videos about setting their sister's hamster on fire. It has real and valuable benefits.

However, anonymity cuts both ways. Another advantage of the the Internet is supposed to be how easy it is to reach large numbers of people all over the world -- but that can be hard to do under a pseudonym, unless what you're promoting is your pseudonym.

Which is all very well if you want to increase the profile of an online persona called Number1HarryPotterFan4EVAR, but problematic if you want to tie what you do online to something you do in analog.

What I'm getting at here, is simply this: Most of what I do online, I do under my real name. Including this blog, which is public and which is one of the top 20 or 30 returns when you do a Google search on me.

This is complicated further by the fact that I have the blessing and curse of not being named John Smith. There are one or two people who come close with variant spellings, but as far as I can tell, I'm the only Stephen Geigen-Miller in the world.

Which makes it very, very easy to be certain which Stephen Geigen-Miller you're reading about.

I know for a fact that my current employers Googled me before I got hired; my wife Googled me before our first date.

So: Everything I do online impacts on my offline life. And it also impacts on everything else I say and do online -- including endeavours that I share with other people, like Greg for Xeno's Arrow and Patrick for Cold Iron Badge. Besides being careful about the impression I make of myself, I also have to think about how what I say and do will reflect on my work and my creative partners.

This means that, in a very real way, whenever I'm posting online, I'm at work. It's a pretty friendly, casual work environment, to be sure -- but it's still the office. It's public, not private. and there are some things that it is not appropriate to discuss in public, or at the office.

(This may just be my WASPy, suburban upbringing talking, but it's how I feel.)

These things include, as far as I'm concerned, finances, my sex life, things that would violate someone else's privacy, and beyond a certain point, personal health issues.

I am comfortable with disclosing, in this casual office we share, if I've been sick, particularly if that affects any of my de-erstwhiling processes. I'm comfortable with talking about how I'm trying to eat better, get to the gym more and lose weight. It's a tough slog, and a sometimes depressing, frustrating and even scary process, and I need to talk about it and ask for support in order to get back to the way I want my life to be.

But that's about as far as I'm willing to go. I have limits regarding how detailed and specific I'm going to get, and that's where my personal definition of crossing the line between "business casual" and "icky personal health issues" lies.

And just to be clear: This is a choice I make that is for and about me, nobody else. Other people can and should go into as much detail about their lives as they want to. I follow some blogs -- some of which are under the authors's real names! -- that share very personal information, about health, relationships, and/or sexuality.

And just to be absolutely painfully crystal-clear, I'm also not upset or offended that anyone cares enough to want to know more about what's going on in my life. That's wonderful, and you are very sweet. But let's have that conversation when I'm not at work, okay?

Now that that's been dealt with, there's still the matter I alluded to in my previous post, the other not-writing, not-the-gym back-from-erstwhiling I wanted to discuss. More on that next time.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Shape of Blogs to Come

Well, I haven't been doing much flying so far. It's been a hard week to get on top of -- I just can't seem to get my head in gear.

I've been tired, and out of sorts, and not writing much and not getting the gym and eating too much crappy food.

But you know: Meh. The week is almost over, and then it's on to a new one.

I've had one minor triumph: I field-tested my new notebook computer, which I have named Trogdor, after the internet's most burninating dragon.

I've been taking Trogdor to work with me, and yesterday I sat down in the cafeteria -- the busiest I've seen it for months, full of university students -- and tried it out.

And yeah, overall, things went well. I'm still adjusting to the idiosyncrasies of the keyboard, which is obviously more compressed than that of a regular desktop or even a laptop computer. But that's going to be relatively straightforward. The battery seems to hold up, and by the end of the hour I was making fewer typos than when I started.

With all the noise, I figured my best bet was to try writing something that didn't involve too much intricate plotting or having to hear idiosyncratic character voices in my head -- so, no finishing Chapter 3 of Cold Iron Badge or starting a new draft of the screenplay.

That will come, but I think I'm going to have to start taking my lunch later. Chuck Palahniuk is apparently a great advocate of writing in hospital emergency rooms, but I need to have a little more peace and quiet.

So I tried writing an Erstwhile post. Not this one; because I don't have wireless internet access, and didn't actually remember to buy a USB flash drive when I bought Trogdor, I currently have no way to get my writing from Trogdor to the desktop at home, which I can use to, you know, actually post here.

I'll remedy that goof-up before the weekend's out. Until then, I'm sort of writing a new post now and sort of trying to reconstruct what I wrote before while sort of also updating it because it's not something I'm doing live anymore, but something I did yesterday.

Regardless, what I was getting at yesterday, and what I'm getting to now, is this: In my bold announcement last week, of my bold return to bold blogging... I neglected to boldly, or even cravenly, address the question I raised in my post previous to that, about five months back.

Namely, what this blog is for now, if I'm kind of back from erstwhile.

And yesterday I came up with a couple of answers to that.

First of all, and let's be honest here, I really am only "kind of" back from erstwhile. Cold Iron Badge is going extremely well, and Patrick is getting better all the time. I'm active in the writers group and I'm excited about the feedback I've been getting there on my screenplays; I think the next drafts will really take them to a new level.

But there's a lot to be done, too. Getting more readers and recognition for Cold Iron Badge and Xeno's Arrow, and monetizing them as well. Getting an agent, so that my screenplays can go to market.

Essentially, I want to not just be a writer, nor even a professional writer, but a paid professional writer. I know that's mercenary, but you know, I'm comfortable with being mercenary. I'd like to be paid for my work.

And I think that will be an interesting, blog-worthy process, and one that I'd like to put out there (as long as I'm careful not to use the real names of people and organizations when things are "in development".)

But also, writing isn't the only part of my life where I need to de-erstwhile.

Over the past few months, I've started trying to get to the gym regularly again, and eat better. Or at least, eat with more restraint. I was doing pretty well up until the holidays and my weird post-holiday snacking binge this week -- well enough that I was starting to see the beginnings of results.

Frankly, this is a process where I could really use some support. Again, I'll be circumspect about details at the ickier end of the spectrum, but it'll help me a lot to know someone's in my corner.

And there's another area of my life where I can get back from being an erstwhile -- an opportunity to re-open a closed chapter. But I'll save that for next time -- it's worth a blog post of its own.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year's Revolutions

Hello and happy New Year!

I've been away from here, but I have been blogging -- at the Cold Iron Blog, where my Cold Iron Badge co-creator Patrick and I talk about the origins, process and future of CIB.

You can also follow me on Twitter, or friend me on Facebook, both of which I've been updating rather more frequently than this space.

Other than the Cold Iron Blog, though, I haven't been writing much over the past few months; my head has been in other spaces, and there's always the issue of time. Not of finding it, so much as managing it. But with the recent holidays, I've upgraded my tools in a way that I think will help a great deal -- my Christmas present from me and the family to myself was a netbook, one of the new generation of really small, light, efficient laptops. It weighs about a kilogram, and the battery works like a dream, so I can really take it anywhere. Now I can write with ease on my lunch hour at work, for instance.

The ghosts of Shakespeare and Robertson Davies are laughing at me. "You don't actually need a computer to write, you know," they're saying. "Or have you not heard of the bleeding-edge technologies that we call a pen and paper?"

Supercilious dead bastards.

The fact is, there are things that it is easier for me to write on a computer. Longhand is all very well for jotting down stray thoughts, or for outlines, ideas and character sketches -- things that involve me crystallizing my thoughts on paper. But for the actual writing, the things that other people are actually going to read, I just find it easier, faster, more efficient and more fluid to use a computer.

I'm going to push myself to write for at least an hour every day, more if I can make the time after the kids are in bed. It doesn't sound like a lot, but it's much more than I'm managing now, and I think it'll make a huge difference.

Because, after a long period of erstwhiling, and then a long process of de-erstwhiling by fits and starts, I feel like now is the time to really push forward.

There's so much I want to do. A couple of my screenplays have gone through the critiquing process in the Writers Group, and it's time for new drafts that'll polish them up. There's lots of exciting stuff coming up in Cold Iron Badge. Greg and I have been talking about launching a new Xeno's Arrow website, building our readership, and eventually merchandising and creating new material.

It's an exciting time, an exciting place to be in.

There was a lot of pain for me last year, but a lot of good, too -- my new job at the University and the launch of Cold Iron Badge were two big ones. I've been describing 2008 as the year I stopped falling.

That means that 2009 is the year to fly.