Archive for October, 2013

Fencing Competition #1

I’m just hours away from my first-ever fencing competition. This will be the first time I’ve ever “represented” an academic institution in a sporting event since Cross Country way back in 2009. I’m understandably nervous right now, but hopefully that will pass as the day goes on.

This is how it’s going to work: Fencers will be placed into groups of 6-8 people. The first round will involve fencing against everyone else in my group. Depending on how many bouts I win, I’ll then be given a ranking for the elimination phase of the competition. My ranking will determine who I’ll face in my first elimination bout. If I’m ranked highly, I’ll face a lower ranked opponent, and vice versa. If I win my elimination bout, I move on. If I lose, my day is done.

I have to keep my expectations in check for this. Despite my prior year of experience at Queen’s in 2009-10, I’m still very much a beginner – taking three years off robbed me of most of what I’d learned. And although I’ve generally been better than most of the true beginners at Queen’s, this is an open tournament, where I’ll have to face people with many years of experience as well as beginners. As a result, I shouldn’t expect to win very many bouts here. For the most part I’ll be facing people who I have no business scoring points on, let alone beating. And in the first elimination bout I’m likely to be facing an opponent ranked very highly. But I won’t go in with a defeatist attitude. I’ll simply do my best and have fun with it. The pressure will be on my opponents for the most part – their teams will expect them to beat me, while the same expectation will never exist on my end. Maybe I can even use that to my advantage somehow.

I’m not a competitive person by nature, so this is going to be a fairly novel experience. People are going to be taking this event very seriously, which might throw me off a bit. Ordinarily when people over-celebrate their victories I think ‘eeeeeasy there buddy, it’s not a competition’, but today that’s obviously not going to work because it is a competition. Mentally, I have to be prepared for the other guy whooping it up every time he hits me. Not letting that get to me is going to be one of my bigger challenges, as over-celebration is one of my biggest sports-related pet peeves. I must be a zen master while at the same time maintain the animal aggression that is necessary for armed combat.

My goal for this competition is going to be to win one bout in the preliminary phase, and to score at least a point in every bout. This is going to be easier said than done given the fact that I’m likely to come up against some of the better fencers in Ontario today. Nevertheless it’s an attainable goal. I think.

Wish me luck!

Had a bit of a scare today in the form of a phone call telling me that my grandmother was in the hospital recovering from hernia surgery.

Calling it “a bit of a scare” is an understatement. It scared the shit out of me.

Now, the hernia itself isn’t so much what scared me. The surgery was successful, and by all accounts they managed to fix the problem before things got too serious. She’s recovering well.

What scared me though was the phone call itself, and what that phone call could have been.

It’s not lost on me that I’m very lucky. I’m 22 years old and I still have all four of my grandparents, and I’m fortunate enough to be close with three of them. I don’t know very many other people (if any) who can claim to be in the same position. On the great list of Things I’m Thankful For, this is damned close to the top.

The one and only drawback about having four grandparents is that eventually I’m going to have to lose four grandparents. The thought of losing even one of them makes me want to crawl into a hole and never come out, but the fact is that eventually I’m going to have to survive losing all four.

I’ve never dealt with death before. It’s always been something that’s happened to other peoples’ close relatives, not to mine. And I think that when it does happen, it’s going to absolutely destroy me.

It terrifies me, it really does. It’s not something I think about often, but when something like this happens I can’t help but think about that phone ringing and the voice on the other end saying the words that I never want to hear. 

Looking Back At Cody H.

It’s been over five years since I finished writing Cody H.

Five years. Can you believe that? I hardly can. Even though it’s not something that I think about on a day-to-day basis, it feels a lot more recent than that.

I was reminded of it by my mother, actually. One of the 8th graders who I shared the hallway with in grade 12 came into her office, and when my mother asked if he remembered me he said “Of course! He wrote a novel!”

So that’s got me thinking about Cody H., and everything it meant (and means) to me.

At this point, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the project is dead, and it’s never getting revived. I haven’t made any edits in nearly four years, and haven’t even opened the file in three. I don’t even have the file on my hard drive right now. It’s safely backed up in four or five locations, but still, it’s about as dead as dead can be.

To a certain extent that’s a real shame. I poured my heart and soul into those 75,000 words, and for a period of about a year that novel was all I ever thought about. I worked on it harder than I’ve worked on anything else in my life. I was incredibly diligent and showed a level of determination that I’ve never showed in any academic work before or since. I look back to the amount of work I put in, and it boggles my mind. I don’t know how I did it. Every day I sat down and pumped out a little bit more. Some days I would be able to crack out 700 words and some days I would only be able to get out 100. But I worked steadily, I rarely took days off, and finally after 10 months I was able to type that final period. And it felt fucking great.

So to see that all come to nothing is a little sad.

At the same time, I don’t have anyone to blame but myself.

At one point after I had finished with the first draft and was editing away, someone in the publishing business was going to look at my novel, but they needed it immediately. I said I wasn’t ready, that I needed another week. They said they were leaving town at the end of the week. And so I turned their offer down. It’s not likely that anything would have come of this though, so I’m not overly concerned about it.

But my biggest regret, and the only one that still eats at me, is this right here. 

When I was more than halfway through the novel, I made a really bad decision: I sold out. And not only did I sell out, but I sold out in the worst way – I sold out for no money. I sold out because I thought that a reader base which I didn’t already have would like one idea better than another. And that led me into trying something that compromised the quality of the novel and was way too ambitious.

Originally, Cody H. was going to be a nice story about the value of friendship, with a side order of “be careful what you wish for” thrown in. Cody’s got a nice group of friends, but they’re all going to be going their separate ways at the end of the year. One night, he makes a wish that things would never change. Much to his surprise, that wish comes true – he and his friends end up repeating the same week over and over in and endless loop – and it ends up tearing his circle of friends apart. He spends the rest of the novel trying to figure out who is responsible for granting this wish and looking for a way to reverse it. The conclusion was going to be along the same lines as Freaky Friday (the book, not the movie). Once Cody and friends learn their lesson, the history teacher turns things back to normal as if nothing had ever happened. There’s no explanation given for how the history teacher was able to manipulate the fabric of space-time – that’s left open for the reader to imagine as they please. Cute and harmless, right?

Instead, I decided to take things in an entirely different direction. I decided that the whole ordeal was a test issued by the history teacher to see if Cody and friends were worthy of possessing various magical powers known collectively as “psy”. Ultimately this alternate plan was going to have our band of heroes collect mystical artifacts, visit new worlds, and save multiple civilizations.

Like I said, way too ambitious. Obviously, a plot that as complex as the one I was planning could never fit within the pages of one book – it would have to be a series of three or four books, and there’s no way I could have done that. Somehow I convinced myself that when I finished the first book I’d start on the second one immediately, but although I did a fair bit of planning for books two and three, it never moved beyond that.

But more importantly, the shift from the “friendship” plot to the “magic” plot was a shift from the book I wanted to write to the book that I thought other people would want to read. The Harry Potter series had just come to an end and I figured I could fill that gap by creating a new magical world for readers to dive into. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy crafting this world; on the contrary, I enjoyed it immensely. But by prioritizing the hypothetical reader (who didn’t even exist at this point) over myself I think I compromised the quality of writing substantially. And that’s the main reason I don’t want to go back and read Cody H. I’m afraid that all the hard work I put in will have resulted in something that’s shit.

If I could go back five years, that’s the one thing I’d change. It probably wouldn’t have changed the fate of the novel. Had I gone with my original plan I’d probably still be here today, reflecting on a five year old unpublished novel. But it’d be the five year old unpublished novel that I wanted to write, and not the one that I thought I should write. And if by some miracle I were to go back and edit Cody H., I would undo my mistake and write it the way I should have to begin with.

Nevertheless, the end result is that today I’m left with a manuscript which can never be published (even if my writing was brilliant, what kind of publisher would take on the first part of a series if the author had no intention of continuing it?), and one which I’m not even sure if I should be proud of.

With all of that said, there’s one point that I must make absolutely clear: Writing that novel was not a waste of time, and I did achieve the ultimate goal that I had set out for myself when I started writing on that memorable 14th of September, 2007. The whole reason I put pen to paper was in order to do something that I would be remembered for. It wasn’t about money, it wasn’t to pad my CV, it wasn’t about writing the Great American Novel. It was about doing something memorable.

Now go back and read the third paragraph of this blog.

Did I accomplish what I set out to do? You bet your ass I did. And you’d better believe I’m damned proud of that.