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July 28, 2004

  • Welcome to the Process
  • It’s now Wednesday. Wednesday is outer boundary day for me. Sunday’s the day I’m supposed to publish this column—pretty much anytime during the day. Monday’s the day when I try to get it done if I didn’t do it Sunday, and Tuesday’s usually when I’ve said I’ll have it up. Wednesday is outer boundary day—the day I absolutely must have the column up, after which point I might as well just say it’s going to be off until next Sunday.

    Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, who plays Randy on Train 48, is a faithful reader of this column and always makes sure to complain every time he sees me that the column is always being delayed by a couple of days. In fact most people I know who read the column say that. And he’s right. And you’re right. I set this thing up as a weekly discipline and I’ve discovered that it’s a good discipline for actually writing…but I’m still pretty crappy with deadlines. Though it’s only by a couple of days for the most part. And it’s not like any of you are paying for this…

    So why does the column sometimes wind up late, drifting from target Sunday to outer boundary Wednesday? Sometimes I’m just super-busy with a day job and a rather full life. Sometimes I have an unexpected crisis of confidence. Sometimes I back myself into a corner (as I did with the recent articles about my high school’s closure) and have to ponder how to get out. And sometimes, just sometimes, I just can’t write anything whatsover.

    It’s the latter phenomenon at work here this week.

    It all started last Thursday. Somewhere around Thursday I begin to ponder as I ride my bike to work, “Geez, I’ve got my column—read by dozens all around the world—to start thinking about. What do I write about?”

    At this point, I’ve usually got four or five ideas loosely in mind, but then I start thinking about what I’ve done previously and start eliminating ideas—I can’t do a column reminiscing about growing up so soon after another one; I can’t review a TV series or radio show too close to another review. By the time I’ve done this, I’m usually left with nothing whatsoever and at that point my bike ride has concluded. At that point I put it out of mind until…

    Sunday morning and I suddenly realize I still have to write a column. I sit down at my computer and click on Microsoft Word. But then I start surfing the web, and the next thing I know I’m busy getting in the middle of some online discussion I should really be avoiding.

    By Sunday afternoon, I’ve discovered that I don’t have anything to write about. Nothing. Nada. Some weeks I have a solid idea that I write days in advance. Some weeks I have a bolt of inspiration on Sunday morning and it just goes. Some weeks, I have a vague idea and when I sit down at the keyboard it all comes together.

    This week I’ve got nothing. Nada. Just a massive blank.

    Now writer’s block is a funny beast. It’s not that you just blank out on any good ideas; it’s that any idea you come up with seems so uncompelling and so comparatively weak compared to what you’ve perceived as a good idea in the past. It renders all effort completely inert.

    After a while, there’s no point in fighting it. I decide instead to watch a DVD. It’s part of a weekend of films I’ve corporately called “Amour Fou Cinema”: Truffaut’s The Woman Next Door, Hitchcock’s Vertigo and the absolutely wonderful Two English Girls. The last film (also by Truffaut) is more brilliant that I remembered it being. I ponder writing about it, but figure the seven people reading this column are bored with me gushing about things.

    Around 11:30 I post that I’ll have something up by Tuesday. Paul Lee is going to be pissed.

    Monday night I go on a disastrous date and decide that writing isn’t what I want to be doing afterward.

    Tuesday morning, I ride my bike into work and ponder doing a “process piece” on the nature of writers’ block. I dismiss it as being too boring and insider-y. But I plan to sit down and write something on my lunch hour.

    Tuesday I go to work and discover Internet access is down for the rest of the morning; my office renovations won’t be finished until next Tuesday (which means that either I come into work during my vacation, or wait until my first day back to put my office back together); the person I hired to do some outside writing on a project called me today saying ‘I think you can probably do this yourself’ and voila, I now have even more to do this week. And on top of it all, there’s miserable weather outside, I’m still single, and I’ve still got bupkis for my now perpetually late column. And it’s three days til payday.

    On my bike ride home, I remind myself I was going to write a column about TV and science fiction conventions and why I go to them. Maybe my day will improve, after all.

    I get home and—in a series of circumstances too complicated to explain (it always is)—manage to set my kitchen aflame. By the end of the fiasco, there’s dry chemical powder from the fire extinguisher all over my stove, and my smoke detector, which is wired into my apartment’s power supply, takes years to shut up.

    Suffice it to say, I might have been a wee bit distracted when I sat down and started my column on why I like conventions:

    In academia, every May marks the learneds. That’s short for “learned societies”—association of every size and shape and field of study, which gather under the umbrella of the Canadian Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences. Working in a grad school, it’s the one time of the year when most of the faculty have vanished, gone to go listen to papers and respondents and panels about their very arcane specialties.

    Every July, I have my own learneds. They’re learneds for geeks, but learneds nonetheless. It’s a media convention called Toronto Trek—although it’s much broader in focus than one particular TV franchise—and every year I pack up a change of clothes, my toothbrush and shaving kit and head to a hotel orbiting Pearson International Airport for a weekend of panels, discussions about my very arcane specialties.

    Which, quite frankly, sucks. It’s meandering and doesn’t really capture what I want to get at. It fails to capture the diversity of experience from geek to freak to sleek to bleak that makes up the average science fiction convention. I’m left with the rotting canker-like knowledge that Grant Morrison described it all so much better when he said: ”...conventions are like Fellini films you can wander through! Uncool is the new cool. Face it - where would you or any normal person rather hang out? In a hall bedecked with colour, where Klingons share cigarettes with vast men in Sailor Moon suits and beautiful porno-girls line up in latex to sign your arse while the Goth kids and the skaters and the punks all strut their stuff with pride in an atmosphere of festival and carnival overload?...or in a Republican Party Convention?”

    I really hate Grant Morrison, in case any of you were wondering.

    I spend the rest of the night Googling for a description of the very first World Science Fiction Convention in New York in 1938 and fail. And I update the website to say the column is coming out on Wednesday.

    And on Wednesday, I struggle gamely with my work, go home, watch a lot of original 1960s Spider-Man cartoons with a friend—some of which are more boring than I remember them being at the age of eight; others (like “Revolt in the Fifth Dimension”) are like LSD trips without the drugs—and ponder doing a column about nostalgia. But that seems like too much work. And I want to watch way more Spider-Man before I do that.

    And then at a little before 11 tonight, I sit down and knock this out in under an hour. Go figure. Turns out I ended up writing a process piece after all.

    So that’s why your column is late, this week anyway. Normally the dog ate it. Or I left it on the bus. Or I went to Paul Sun-Hyung Lee’s place and got so shit-faced drunk that I couldn’t write it. (Well, that only happened once.) I’m sure if I had to submit this to an editor for non-virtual publication this might be easier. Or maybe not.

    I’ll be off for the next two weeks on vacation. I’m not going anywhere, but I’m hoping to get some work done on some writing projects I’ve wanted to do for simply ages but haven’t had the chance because I have a day job. I’m hopeful that I’ll get something significant accomplished. But if not, I’ll settle for being somewhere in the outer boundary, just this side of Wednesday.

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