Blog: entries tagged with "travel"

On a Boat

I’m not terribly good on boats.

I’m pretty sure my partner Sean still has my claw marks in his arm from the time we got stuck in a storm on a friend’s sailboat. I’ve been on ocean ferry rides where the pain and nausea sent me fleeing for the relief of a Gravol-induced stupor.

So when the hosts of my favourite writing podcast, Writing Excuses, announced that their Out Of Excuses Retreat was going to move to a cruise ship this year, I was just a little bit crushed.

My Writing Excuses Retreat 2015 badge

I’ve listened to the show for years now, and I can’t think of a single show, book or website that’s taught me more about the craft of storytelling. The four hosts (Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler and Dan Wells) tackle pretty much every topic a speculative fiction writer could ever want, and all in concise, focused episodes — “fifteen minutes long,” as their tagline says, “because you’re in a hurry and we’re not that smart.”

I’d wanted to attend their retreat since its first year, but could I handle the water? I did a bit of research and heard a lot of reassurances about the smoothness and stability of cruise ships. The end to my dithering came swiftly as the guest instructors were announced: Nalo Hopkinson! Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman! Daniel José Older! All right, twist my arm, I said, bracing myself as I put down my money.

Well, I’m back, and of course I needn’t have worried. The trip was awesome.


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2007 wrap-up

The dust’s settled on 2007 at last, and does it ever feel like a new year now. Here’s a few highlights, including some stuff I didn’t write about the first time round:

Props from the shootJanuary: Spinglobe moves into a brand new office in a neat building in the east end. One of the first projects is a music video for the Mahones. It’s a takeoff on that Fellini scene where la Saraghina dances the rhumba on a Mediterranean beach - except it’s January, on Ashbridge’s Bay, and the warm spell of the previous week is most definitely over. We should have called the production Minus 8½. We freeze our collective asses off, but the video ends up looking pretty darn fine.

February: Played in the band for a musical revue put on as a fundraiser by some friends - my first time playing Broadway style is a fun challenge; I stress way about it more than I have to. Reconceived long-running audio drama idea as a podcast; later in the year would reconceive it again as a comic. Expect it to morph into a novel, a musical extravaganza and finally a series of haiku in 2008.

March: In the studio with Ellen Carol to record bass tracks for her new CD, produced by Don Kerr. Restarted work on Flickershow CD; we get some solid demos done and some cool results on a trip-hoppy new song called “Hold Up Donny”. It doesn’t last, however; I end up firing myself as producer later in the year. If all goes well we’ll be recording with Don in 2008.

May: Played with Flickershow at the Sammy Sugar Day Festival, the kickoff for Ellen’s fundraising bike tour of Eastern Canada. Finally launched a site for Presonance, a collaboration with Rezo Largul.

June: Attended OpenCities, an “unconference” about the convergence of civic engagement and the open source movement. Among the topics are the waterfront revitalization, public space, DIY electronics and public art, dancing in the streets. Coincidentally, the next day, Flickershow played at Pedestrian Sundays, a monthly car-free event in Kensington Market (other events occur in Mirvish Village and on Baldwin Street); our first outing with keyboard player Rich.

Trees downLater in the month, Sean’s mom comes up from Pennsylvania for a visit. Tuesday we’re at work while she takes it easy; she’s out having a smoke on the front porch when lightning strikes a tree two doors down, and a gale-force gust of wind tears off branches for several blocks. We return home to find our street a maze of police tape, tree limbs and downed power lines. Neighbouring streets are almost unaffected. “I didn’t do it,” she pleads.

July: Played Newmarket and Brampton - our only out-of-town gig prior to this was our TVO appearance taped in Parry Sound. First steps toward developing an analog-to-MIDI interface using that splendid new toy, the Arduino.

August: Cottage outing with co-workers. Lots of laughs, plenty of good food and drink, and some cool photographic exploration of natural forms and painting with light.

October: A week from hell. Two or three clients go through reorganizations, and a number of key projects go on indefinite hold. Contractors removing a cellular tower break a sprinkler pipe and flood part of our office. None of this registers, however, because our co-worker’s 21-year-old brother has just died in his sleep. Things are very quiet for several days.

IMAGENovember: Two good friends of ours invited us to play a song at their crazy cabaret-style lesbian wedding. The only question was what to wear. (As MC for the evening, Sean had no such dilemma, since they’d put him in a rather lovely kilt and feather boa.)

At the end of the month, a beautiful, awe-inspiring, mad trip to Marrakech with Sean, his mom and stepdad, and a new friend, the irrepressible and energizing Katie. We stayed in the heart of the medina, a maze of winding alleyways full of people, tiny shops, mopeds and stray cats. A handful of local kids kept asking for money; Sean juggled for them instead (years ago he did it for a living in Dallas) and became an instant hit. Later, we drove through the Atlas Mountains to ride camels into the desert and sleep in a tent. Beautiful country, lots of wonderful people. And occasional strange family moments.

December: The partners make the tough decision to sell the company to a bigger firm. Some of us move over, the video business splits off (taking on the name Robotnik Films), and I start looking for work. I’ll miss the place, and I’ll miss working with the Spinglobe crew. But it’s a huge opportunity, both to find work in a field that’s important to me and to have some actual free time again. Here’s to the new year!

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On returning

Desert near Zagora, Morocco I just spent a week in Morocco. Not somewhere I would have gone of my own accord, but for my partner it was something akin to a spiritual mission. And what an incredible, overwhelming, intense, emotional week it was - Sean likened it to gestalt therapy. (Some day I may even write about what we actually saw and did there!)

We’d planned the trip for quite a while, and as it turned out, it came at a moment of big change for us. About a week previously, Sean had made the decision to fold the little company where we’ve been working for the past few years. It’s been a tough time, getting everything in order, helping one another find new work, and finishing up a few last projects.

The biggest question: what next? For me, at least, the journey provided some time to think, and opportunity to contemplate our place in the grand scheme of things, from our vantage point on the edge of the Sahara.

The desert is a powerful symbol for me: it represents Death; the end of all things. It’s what happens to ecosystems when they go belly-up, when the soil dries up and blows away. And as we consume more, as the climate shifts, as more water is drawn up from the water table for irrigation, for the cities, as less snow falls every year on the Atlas Mountains to melt and feed the valleys below - our deserts grow.

It didn’t help matters that we’d flown across the Atlantic to get there, leaving high-altitude jet exhaust in our wake. I hate thinking about these things, but I can’t turn away. The coming decades are going to be hard ones for humanity. What we’ve got ahead of us is nothing short of a war effort - a war against chaos and collapse. I would rather not live to see half the species on the planet disappear. I would rather not live to see modern civilisation break down. I would rather not see haves and have-nots pitted against one another in a struggle over dwindling resources. But these are the possibilities we face, and I’d rather be doing something constructive than sitting in a hole pretending everything’s fine.

Far too much of our way of life has come at the cost of misery for other people and other creatures, and the destruction of ecosystems around the world. But at the same time, we’ve accomplished a lot that is great and meaningful, and I don’t believe the solution is to roll back the clock. I don’t believe that life in the past was better - merely less precarious on a grand scale.  We have to move forward, not back. We have to innovate like mad - not just mere technical innovations but ways to connect with each other and with the world around us, to find our place, to recognize the part we are playing, to find opportunities to make the world better.

The day after we got back, I spied a copy of GreenTOpia at Grassroots (very much awesome) and bought it on the spot. In the opening pages Pasha Malla writes:

What can you do? You can do what you can do. Can you type? Type something. Can you walk and talk? Walk around and talk to people. Can you use your Ph.D. in environmental science to test for and uncover the alarming release of polyvinyl chlorides from shoreline industry into the Great Lakes, then publish a report, coordinate a media campaign and pursue legal action based on your findings? Then by all means please do that, too. Ride a bike, write a letter, save a plant. We are not powerless against the They we’re up against.

It echoed perfectly what I’d been feeling (if in slightly more combative terms). I’ve decided, now that it’s transition time, that I want my next job to be in the sustainability sector, something involving permaculture, or appropriate technology. I need to be working with people who are thinking along the same lines.

I’m also hoping to have a lot more time to write and devote to creative projects, and to post more here. There’s already a section on this site called The Big Here which I intend to write for much more in the coming months. Ecology, both human and non-; architecture and design; how people relate to each other and how they adapt to different situations… it’s all part of a greater whole.

I feel like I’ve just awakened from a long sleep. I’ve got a lot of tangled underbrush to get through now, finishing up the last few projects before we close up shop, not to mention two gigs coming up. But already my head feels clearer.

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Time off

On the way home, we decided to take a detour back to the turnpike, and found ourselves zig-zagging back and forth along the country roads north of Philadelphia while I tried to tell from my hastily-printed Google map whether this or that road ever hooked up.

“This way. No, whoops, not this way.” We pulled a U-turn, and I studied the map some more. “Trouble is, at this scale, none of the roads on this map have names.”

I looked up. The road to which we were now returning was called “Street Rd”.

Central ParkWe’d spent Sunday in midtown Manhattan, and ended up wandering idly through Central Park. There was a sort of roller rink set up near the southern end of the park, and we watched for a while before continuing on. In the distance, from the top of a hill, we could hear more music. “Oh, this sounds more like Eli’s kind of thing,” said Sean. A few steps later I realized who it was: Konono No. 1.

I’d been kicking myself for missing their show at Harbourfront a couple of weeks earlier. And now, here they were, playing for free, in Central Park. My companions found it a little monotonous, but I danced like a goof.

A few hours later, I realized that in all my bouncing I’d really done some damage to joints in the balls of my feet. Again. It’s Thursday now, and I can still barely walk. No more dancing until this gets fixed. Waah.

But that was probably about the only bad thing about the weekend. We saw family, we relaxed, we bought books, we ate good food, we learned stuff.

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Cottage life

Sean and I just got back this evening from spending a weekend with our officemates - the five of us trekked up to a cottage about three hours north of town, and hung out, ate lots, strolled around, had a bonfire, and talked big crazy talk about the company. They’re a cool bunch (two partners plus three freelancers, the latter including me), and I’m really glad we’re all working together.

I’m such a city kid now. I hadn’t been looking forward to the trip at all. But in all, it was a lovely time.

SketchesOn a little hike through the woods, it struck me that I’m especially fascinated with fungi, ferns, lichens, mosses… non-plants, proto-plants, primitive things. Things that can survive on bare rock. Beautiful things that grow out of dead trees. Things that might have around when the dinosaurs ruled. I was filled with glee when I found a boulder maybe the size of a chest freezer, which was covered in several sorts of moss and lichen, and a unique species of fern. Everywhere else, a more complex-looking fern had out-competed it, but this one had found a niche in the thin soil atop this rock.

And the fall leaves were quite gorgeous, too. As the years go by, I’m slowly starting to appreciate autumn.

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I had been secretly hoping that some totally unknown 80-year-old country singer from Kapuskasing would kick all our asses with a witty, heartfelt tune and a glint in his/her eye (shades of a certain David Hein song)... but it was not to be.

Nah, we didn’t get the encore either. But whatever - Julian said it best in his email: “It’s public broadcasting, so there are no prizes, and everybody wins!” We sang really well, people seemed to enjoy it, and they edited our mini-interview down to one sound-bite so we didn’t sound like total knobs. I’m happy!

They also cut the pre-song chatter with Steve Paikin, where I accidentally admitted to not having a television… aheh. It got a laugh, but oh boy. :D

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