Tuesday notebook: What I’ve learned so far

Forest and Trees

A number of people have asked me what I’ve learned this semester. Not a knock on the program, but my first instinct is to respond with something like, “I’ll see in a few months.” I’m still in the trees, even though the clearing is just ahead with its helicopter waiting. In a few short days I’ll have a better view of the forest.

Nevertheless, the next answer comes: I’ve learned about genre, forms, the “weave” of a profile, the sections and purpose of a briefing note, the terms “scene” (in this case), “hed,” “dek,” “lede,” “nutgraf” and “write-around” and their technical definitions. The ability to look at a piece and identify those things. Basic, essential stuff that provides a critical foundation for future professional writing. Noticing the fact that I used both “essential” and “critical” in the same sentence, and being fine with it. Noticing the fact that most “sentences” in this paragraph are fragments, and being good with it. (A continued appreciation of parallelism, wink wink.) The way I naturally absorb and reproduce the tone and language of various genres.

I’ve also learned a good deal about the basics of freelancing and pitching, and grateful for the demystification that this learning has brought. The structure and length of a pitch, the contents of a freelancer’s invoice, the tax threshold of a small business. Stuff that I probably won’t need for a number of years, if ever: at this stage I do prefer the idea of working on staff with a publication, its familiarity, common purpose and relationships. And I look forward to my internship as part of a staff.

But again, I no longer see freelancing as this foreign mystery that I could never do. It’s also very true that it would entail ongoing, trust-building relationships just as much as any other work environment,. So I can now see the possibility that freelancing would allow me the flexibility to move between my very different niches, even on the same day or week. That’s been my experience as a student balancing six courses and a volunteer TFC site: see my portfolio for the range of stuff I’ve worked on.

Find the story

But the most important thing I’ve learned, the thing I’ll spend a lifetime learning, and in fact the thing that comes most naturally to me, is that I must always find the story. Why does this event or person matter, and matter right now? What questions might readers be asking, and how can I help answer them? Does my opinion, or my passion, connect with the experience of others? (This, by the way, seems to be the most important element of a pitch, maybe the only important element. So it’s what editors are looking for and what readers are looking for. It’s also what I’m looking for, since it’s the best way for me to just start the piece already!)

Maybe this focus on story comes from my experience with sermons: why does this passage in an ancient text matter to the real people I’ll see this coming Sunday? It’s clearly relevant to my genre fiction commentary: what’s the gist of this plot and character? How is that significant to real-world production news, trends and fandom conversations? And a soccer game, a tournament or a season: those are always stories of some sort: a story on the pitch, a story in the stands and a story in society; a happy story, a sad story or a ridiculous story. Our minds intuitively grasp cause and effect as a narrative flow: my job and my talent is to put hand to keyboard and express that narrative in prose.

As mentioned above, you can check out my Fall 2021 portfolio here to see some of the topics and genres that I explored. I couldn’t post everything: some assignments were more internal comms or otherwise didn’t fit with what the portfolio needs to be. If you’re curious about those other assignments and genres, please do send me an email and I’ll pass them along if possible. And if you’re interested in publishing any of the prose pieces, feel free to email me as well. Same goes for any comments or suggestions you might have.

Thanks for checking out this site as I continue this next stage in my story. Stay luminous!

Monday notebook: How Life Works

Featured image: Hey this is a serious post, so I have to balance it with some levity! Source: imgur/michaelscotchtape

How Life Works

All the way into young adulthood, I was told a lot about how life doesn’t work:

You can’t always get what you want: that’s not how life works.
You can’t presume everything you believe is true: that’s not how life works.
You can’t predict the future: that’s not how life works.
You can’t make everyone get along: that’s not how life works.
You can’t be certain that people will accept your work: that’s not how life works.

All of that may be true, but so much negativity in one go can hold a guy back, it seems. And I know that I’m not the only one. My privilege means that racism, sexism and homophobia wouldn’t be the reasons I’d be rejected: how much harder is it for folks who face discrimination all the time? But I did feel my young age, and the sense of overwhelming disadvantage that my whole #millenial generation has experienced. Those weighed on me as I sought to move forward with life, to find a sustainable and meaningful career.

Then I hit the roadblocks scattered intentionally throughout the discernment of ordained ministry. Then I looked back on my sermons and reflections and saw the potential for professional writing. Then I found the PWC program at Humber, and dove head-first into a world of folks who may or may not know what a “bishop” or “synod” is (some do, some don’t), who genuinely act for inclusion rather than settle for performativity, who challenge me to call myself a professional writer whose time, effort and work are worth reading, worth even getting paid for.

Looking back on my time in formal ministry, looking ahead to whatever might come, and looking squarely at this Fall 2021 semester, I can recognize another voice that has consistently told me how life works. Actively, positively:

What you want is a clue to what you care about, “where your treasure lies”:
that’s how life works

What you believe to be true, your trust and your faith, is the all-important foundation of where you come from, and everyone’s from somewhere:
that’s how life works.

What you plan and dream are expressions of what you hope for, “the evidence of things not seen”: that’s how life works.

Who you seek out, the friends and family that you accept and who accept you, are the right people to build lasting relationships of peace and charity, “the ground of all virtues”:
that’s how life works.

The more you write, the more you pitch ideas, the more you hone those ideas, and the more editors who get to know you and what you can do, the closer you get to a sustainable job:
that’s how the writer’s life works.

Life isn’t about focusing on what you can’t do: that can’t possibly be the way life works, because working is active, not passive. Sure, we need to have a healthy respect for limits. But vocation, meaning, work: it’s about putting yourself out there, as a creative act in itself. That’s how life began, In the Beginning, and it’s how it works now.

I started this site just before the pandemic, learning WordPress through LinkedIn Learning and slowly building the site up as a place to share reflections and sermons, as I put myself through the ups and downs of ministry life. It’s now taken on a new purpose, a place where I express myself to the world, build a bridge to the world through my writing.

As you read, I hope you see that you and I are not simply crude matter.
We’re luminous beings, cities on a hill. Let’s shine.

Monday (Sunday) notebook: Fan Expo, unlimited

Fan Expo Canada this year was always going to be smaller than previous years. The organizers knew it was limited by the circumstances, and leaned into that.

But here’s what can’t be limited: getting to know people. If you know me but aren’t so sure what this fan convention thing is about, maybe concerned that I spend time and $$ on toys and movies, think of it rather that I’m taking the time to get to know real people in the real world, spending time with them and meeting them.

And finally, thanks to vaccinations and masks, thanks to our commitment to beating this pandemic, we can finally meet in person. To all the folks I met for the first time, especially those I’ve only chatted with on Instagram: thanks for saying hi, for being good with me coming up and introducing myself.

To the folks I’ve known for a few years: good seeing ya this weekend, and May the Force Be With You.

To my mom (who’ll read this on Facebook): words cannot express how grateful I am that you raised me with these stories. Live Long and Prosper.

And to the organizers, staff and volunteers at Fan Expo: you did it. You actually pulled it off amidst all these challenges. Thank you for reminding us that we continue to be #UnitedByFandom. See ya at Toronto Comicon in March.

Tuesday (Thursday) notebook: “Calm” before the Con

Tuesday (Thursday) notebook: Calm Before the Con 2021.

It’s actually happening. I can’t believe I’ll finally get to go to a Con, for the first time in over two years! (Yes there was the Fan Expo Christmas market in December 2019, but that doesn’t reallllly count…)

Fan Expo Limited Edition 2021 won’t be the same as the normal, pre-covid versions, but by golly it’s already feeling as close to the real thing as possible. In-person. Both buildings. Celebs. Merch. Umm…cancellations. Well, I think the “cancellations” are a tad more understandable this time, what with a global pandemic still on, and the potential labour difficulties in Hollywood.

Oh right there’s still a pandemic. So yeah-masks, distancing, and I’ve already shown my proof of vaccination. Restricted eating places, and likely longer lines. But you know what? It’s all worth it, especially since it means I get to hang out with friends, some I’ve been able to see over the last two years, some I’ve only ever chatted with on instagram.

Sure, Bill Shatner and George Takei are still committed to attend, and that’ll be fun. I’ve never seen Takei in person, so that’ll be a treat, in part because of how important the original Trek conventions were in his appreciation of the show, the genre and his character. I’ve seen Shatner here before. I hope he goes for more than half an hour, but at his age, who can blame him. The guy’s been to space.

I kinda feel like a shill writing this. I promise it isn’t an ad. I even mentioned the usual cancellations. I still wish FXC would just be honest with us about their celeb booking policy. I also seriously wonder why those “cancellations” keep happening. Most importantly, I really wish and hope they start to lean into the reality of what it is: not SDCC north-northeast, not NYCC north, but Fan Expo Canada. Get Canadian talent in. Get Canadian podcasters and commentators in. Give EK Johnston, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee and Simu Liu their own, full-length panels. Also, to be fair, keep bringing in folks who are filming shows down the street. (Jonathan Frakes’ last-second arrival in 2019 was a big highlight.)

But, and I’ve gotta repeat it: the biggest reason I’m excited is an opportunity to see friends, spend time with them, enjoy this fandom thing together. “Convention” means “coming together.” It means something we haven’t been able to do in-person for a year and a half, something that thanks to vaccines and other measures we can finally return to doing.

So yeah-I’m excited. All the digital cons were fun, and I hope they continue, but really they weren’t the same. Especially now that I’ve gotten to know so many more folks in the fandom community right here in Toronto. There’s nothing “calm” about it: bring on the Con!

Monday notebook: Pull list endings and beginnings

This week saw two endings and a beginning, all three of them involving my favourite franchises that start with “Star.”

IDW’s Star Trek: Year Five completed its audacious endeavour to not only write a coherent comic story, but purport to conclude the entire Original Series television show. It imagines that the final months of Kirk’s, Spock’s, McCoy’s and company’s mission to “explore strange new worlds; new civilizations” is taken up with a new, friendly young Tholian who ultimately serves as a bridge to the once-hostile species. It also heavily features a plot by none other than Gary Seven to mobilize Tholian technology to wreak galaxy-wide destruction, a plan that is thwarted by Kirk’s ingenious intervention through time travel. (We even get a 60s-era production design version of the Kelvin and George Kirk!)

All in all, I found that the authors brought the Enterprise’s Five Year Mission to a satisfying and heartfelt conclusion. Star Trek at its best uses these in-universe scenarios to ask the questions that inspire real-world humans to become more open, more inquisitive and genuinely curious about the world around us and especially of those who are different from us. The rotating team of authors succeeded in getting us to feel that openness, especially with Tholian Bright Eyes on the bridge.

Also concluding is Charles Soule’s War of the Bounty Hunters flagship comic. Soule makes good on his assertion that this comic is primarily a Boba Fett story. I found it amusing but believable that amongst all the competing interests vying for Solo-in-Carbonite, Fett ends up delivering his prize to Jabba after all. (He had to: it’s in the movies since 1983! But that could have felt rushed or implausible.)

But I do wonder if larger point of this merry-go-round was still to establish Qira as a major force (not Major Kira!) in the Empire. Or not just the Empire, but the Contingency, First Order and possibly Final Order? The announcements of the Crimson Reign and Hidden Empire comics hint at this, and the title Hidden Empire seems to be leaning into the tantalizing possibility that Qira has some part to play in the “Gallius Rax Side Hustle.” (Hidden Empire was revealed on the very last page of War of the Bounty Hunters #5, a reveal reminiscent of the Book of Boba Fett announcement.) I probably should’ve caught on when it was revealed that Ren would show up in Crimson Reign, but my Sequel-era speculating really got going when I saw more Knights of Ren in the literal picture near the end of War of the Bounty Hunters. Did Han Solo’s one-time high school sweetheart have a part in turning his son to the Dark Side? That connection is too tantalizing to ignore. Thanks Charles. Thanks so much.

Speaking of Luminaries: I was pleasantly surprised by Daniel Jose Older’s latest High Republic entry, Trail of Shadows. It picks up on what tragically befelled Master Loden Greatstorm at the end of Cavan Scott’s novel The Rising Storm. It was thrilling to see the final moments of Scott’s prose novel now taken up as the prologue of this comic, this visual medium. Force bless the Luminaries. The prologue and the whole plot premise of Trail of Shadows makes the comic feel far more significant and “tied-in” than I thought. I know: that increased story weight can be a conceit of those of us who love canon and Star Wars’ historical nature. But it also means is that we’re continuing the “main plot” of the High Republic story in an exciting short-run comic noir. That’s intriguing in itself and bodes well for further short-runs like Soule’s take on Marchion Ro’s origins.

Tuesday notebook: Star Wars Canon and History

The first scene of The Bad Batch, the Lego Specials and Visions have got me thinking about why I enjoy canon continuity so much. Not so much the actual stories but the conversations they often bring up. I’ve spoken my piece about it before, especially the way I experience comics and novels having the same importance as films and tv. I think that’s the main difference between my own experience and that of my friends who don’t feel as connected to canon. Anyways, the ‘ol mind gears are turning about this topic once more. So here’s a proposition that I only partly believe, and not in the either-or way it’s presented:

Star Wars is not a mythology. It’s a history.

Again, I don’t really believe that. Of course it’s a mythology. It’s just that I don’t primarily experience it that way, with the fluidity, imagery and divinity that it entails. Star Wars for me is a history; even Jedi lore is a continuous story of cause and effect, an etiology that passes through High Republic to the Skywalker Saga to describe the “how did we get here” of Order 66, and the “where do we go from here” of Endor, Jakku and one day Exegol.

There’s the term: “etiology.” A narrative, presented in historical sequence, with an ideological, political or theological message that the storyteller is trying to drive home. I mean Bede’s and Eusebius’s histories. I mean, most of all, the Deuteronomistic history written to explain the Babylonian exile and God’s purposes of restoration. It’s written with a point, a purpose, but more concrete than a mythic “prehistory.” So, maybe continuities remind me of Star Wars’ fundamentally historical nature.

I’d argue that Lucas was trying to tell a real-world etiology through this fictional historical narrative, at least in part. How did we get to Vietnam and Iraq? Where do we go from the fall of the Iron Curtain, the rise (and hopefully fall) of qnon. And the questions I’m most interested in: how did we get to the end of Christendom, and how do Christians live faithfully and charitably now that we suddenly find ourselves a minority in so many more spaces than we used to? I think Qui-gon, Obi-wan, Luke, Ahsoka and Rey would have things to tell us—they have things to tell us—that light us on our way.

A final left-field thought. I’m reading Soccernomics, the premise of which is to apply economic calculations and principles to that other love of mine, Association Football. There’s also a chapter that contrasts soccer from North American sports. I won’t go into too many details here, but the chapter points out how the global sport has longer stretches of the season, and more opportunities for more teams, to play games that directly affect what happens to them in the future of that season, or the next. It also means that there are more games that are directly implicated by what happened in previous games. There’re simply less ways for this to happen in North American sports: if you’re eliminated from the playoffs, that’s it for now despite more games to play.

I wonder if that’s trained my brain to think a certain way: there’s an added oomph, a deeper interest, if a story is more directly implicated in what came before and directly implicates what happens next. In fiction, it also demonstrates the brilliant, satisfying, long-term planning of “show not tell” that I described yesterday. Finally, it’s realistic: something a character/person experiences at one point in their life will affect them later in life. We connect with, resonate with a character more when we see that occurring. We also get really excited when we hear something like the phrase, “I’m Cobb Vanth, the Marshall of Mos Pelgo.”

Or maybe I just love the way both Star Wars and Soccer are histories. Etiologies. Chicken or egg?

Monday notebook: Coach Nate

*spoilers for the Ted Lasso season 2 finale*

Here I go again, cheering for the bad guy. Ok fine I didn’t actually cheer for Nate to succeed, but there’s something satisfying about a well-written and well-performed villain origin story. I feel a hint of pride for the guy, who had a conviction, acted on it and stuck with it, and now he’s gained his independence, his power. His convictions were wrong and his actions were horrible: he’s now positioned as the villain after all, in an immensely clever bait-and-switch that follows directly on everything we’ve seen him experience, even if a far cry from the loveable, almost bumbling towel boy from season one.

We’ve seen him experience it. A cardinal rule of storytelling is “show, not tell,” and this show played that perfectly. We saw his horrified face when Roy came back to coach, relegating Nate’s influence to the literal and proverbial sidelines. We saw how he became motivated to up his confidence, transforming his fashion and developing that evocative, self-loathing and self-liberating spit. We saw how his father treated him, demanding, withholding praise but easy and direct with the criticisms. Nate was looking for a father to welcome and value him, and he never got it. If only he had spent some time with Dr. Fieldstone. Then he would have been able to see himself and others properly.

But now, at the end of season two, he sees us. That parting shot, smirking triumphantly from the touchline of the West Ham training session, is a glare that not only breaks but decimates the fourth wall. “I see you, and I see how you create villains like me.” It takes a village to make a villain. Withholding, critical fathers. Shame and fear at the reality of human vulnerability and all our struggles with mental health. A society that offers the tempting prospect that more money and power will paper over those struggles, wish them away, or worse, fix them. Sam shows us what happens when a man has a loving, supportive father. Ted and Jamie show us the true strength that comes when those whose fathers were absent or abusive learn to face that reality. Nate, our sympathetic (or utterly unsympathetic, your mileage may vary) villain, is going to further warn us that we still fall short of our ideals.

Tuesday notebook: Vernestra Rwoh, relatable prodigy

Original photo here.

I hope to have separate outlets for fandom and soccer writing, but for now I’ll keep them here.

*spoilers for Justina Ireland’s Out of the Shadows*

Jedi Knight Vernestra Rwoh could have been annoyingly unrealistic. I think we’re meant to think it’s a little ridiculous for a 16/17-year-old to be elevated to knighthood, much less have a Padawan of her own. It would have been ridiculous if she suddenly had everything figured out, knew precisely what to do all the time and, more importantly, knew how to react appropriately in every situation. Sure, there’re plenty of examples that show her to be a bona fide prodigy, from her steady leadership of younglings on the jungle moon, to her continued command just before the Valo attack (I’m about halfway through Daniel Jose Older’s Race to Crashpoint Tower). Much of her involvement in the Starros/Graf/San Tekka conflict displays uncommon maturity, culminating in the trust that Mari San Tekka shows her on The Oracle’s deathbed.

But there’s one moment in Out of the Shadows that clinches a more realistic character for me: her impatient response to her former Master Stellan now ordering her on behalf of the Jedi Council to accompany Ghirra Starros. We’re shown in this novel how Vernestra strongly sides with Avar Kriss’s emerging “interventionist” faction: Jedi who believe The Force is calling them to take a more active leadership role in the Republic’s war against the Nihil. Some of Rwoh’s commitment to this position may be a studied conviction, and it’s clearly tempered as shown when she abhorrs Jordanna’s use of excessive violence.

But there’s also an immaturely rebellious side to Vern (yeah, sorry Jedi Rwoh). She gets excited at the prospect of a “secret mission,” but then sarcastically protests when Stellan gives her the actual assignment to chaperone Starros. She blurts out, “’It’s not like we’d be of more use fighting the Nihil with Avar back on Starlight,’” very much believing that she and her Padawan would be of much greater use joining the fray. We’re told that “her tone was bitter,” although “she regretted the words as soon as they were out.” Stellan admonishes her to respect the importance of the assignment and the trust that the Council is putting in her. She gets there, but only after taking a moment to move through and past the “frustration” of feeling like “she was being sent to do the same kind of Padawan busywork Stellan had given her once upon a time.” (Out of the Shadows, 191-193)

She’s conflicted, she doesn’t have it all together, doesn’t always respond in the most mature way. Which is to say that Justina Ireland has written a thoroughly compelling and relatable adolescent prodigy, reminding us of another immature wunderkind who craved “adventure…excitement” at odds with the “deepest commitment, the most serious mind” that Jedi are called to pursue.

Monday notebook: False and True prophets

Yesterday’s Gospel reading, combined with a fine sermon from the associate priest, got me thinking about the prophetic office and vocation. (We did the Feast of the Dedication so the readings are different.) Well, to be fair, a lot of things prompt me to think about the prophetic vocation these days. Jesus sure does root out corruption, clean house, get angry. The cleansing of the temple is rightly understood as an image of divine wrath on the corrupt exclusivisms of the Church, but we can’t stop there if we’re going to drive down to the true heart of prophecy. We often think prophecy is all about getting angry, making waves at the authorities, saying the “unpopular” thing. But it’s so very easy for those to turn into ends in themselves–or worse, ways to prop up the prophet’s own ego. Whatever happens to be unpopular can so quickly become popular, the waves and changes of one generation have a funny way of getting entrenched as the institutional MO, and frankly some folks have more of a right to be angry than others. Mark Driscoll, and perhaps some critics of Mark Driscoll, are poignant examples of prophecy gone awry. I’m one episode into the Christianity Today podcast about all that, and I can already see how truly prophetic it might be by not going the ideologically angry route of “gotcha” journalism.

Prophecy, be it Jesus in the temple, or Jeremiah in Judah or the compilers of the Deuteronomistic history in Babylon and after the exile, or those of us discerning a call to name the internal struggles and complicities of the Church today, does not get some sort of exception away from being rooted in the love of God who builds up God’s people, the love of God shown in Jesus Christ. Because nothing exists outside of God’s love; Christ is the one in whom all things are held together. A false, self-serving prophet divides and harms: their allegorical sentence of stoning is commensurate with Jesus’ hyperbolic claim that false, self-serving shepherds deserve to be sunk with a millstone. But a true prophet seeks to model the very humility, compassion and generosity that they are calling on the authorities to pursue, seeks to root their life and therefore their critique in the unifying love of the Holy Spirit. Jesus makes cleanse the temple to be the place of prayer and gathering for all people; may the Holy Spirit cleanse us to be the place of prayer and gathering for all people, building us up in love.

My prophetic message to the western mainline

Especially to clergy:

Work less. Delegate more.
Love your family. Keep the Sabbath holy.
When it comes to the concrete tasks of mission,
have less answers and more conversations.
You are not a CEO shackled to a bottom line.
You are a leader of a missional community,
of people called to make God’s love present
through their selves, souls and bodies,
through their ideas, input, commitment, and (as needed) money.
Mission cannot be driven by the consolidation of power,
but by the collective buy-in
of a common vision and common action:
it is what *we* do because it is who *we* are.

And it is only who we are because it is who God is.
So the pressure’s off:
you are not the Good Shepherd
and you never will be.
It’s not up to you to keep the Church/your parish alive.
There is One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism,
One Sustainer and Giver of Life.
He is unflappably gathering and feeding his flock,
of which you are a part,
and in which are called to take part
in His work of gathering and empowering.
May we, His sheep, be open to His voice.