Spring in Your Step

I feel like I emerge from every winter like a wild-eyed man who catches a glimpse of himself in a mirror and notices that his face is smeared with dark blood. At first he is startled and concerned, then he notices he is holding a severed and partially devoured human arm, and thinks to himself, ah, right. We do what we must to survive a Canadian winter, literally and figuratively.

Anyway. I have been letting some creative stuff slide – most notably the Sunday Night in Cinema 3 podcast and this blog – partly due to a busy stretch at work, partly due to preparing for conventions. I just spent the weekend in Saint John, New Brunswick, where I lived for nearly 20 years. It’s the kind of place where I saw someone I know immediately upon stepping out of the car. The trip had a dual purpose: a one-week-early birthday party for my son Jack, and attending a relatively new comics convention called Fog City Comic Con at the central library.

Jack and I snuck in a viewing of The Rock’s new film, Rampage, which is more fun than it has any right to be. The next day I gave him his presents (an Xbox game he wanted, a trade paperback of Star Wars comics, and Nick Offerman’s book Paddle Your Own Canoe) and took him and his friends to see Infinity War on Saturday afternoon. It was the second time for me but no less enjoyable. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, but it reminds me in a weird way of the last episode of The Fugitive – a huge event that had to stick the landing, and I think it did. We ate some pizza and chatted about it and the upcoming Marvel films afterward.

The next day I took my bag of tricks to the library and led a “how to make comics” session in their lovely new maker space. I also agreed to fill in on a panel about adapting other media to comics, moderated by my friend and cousin-by-marriage June. The rest of the time I relaxed at my table and chatted with a bunch of people I haven’t seen in ages, and I got a copy of a new comic book called It Came From The Public Domain that was published by a group that is developing local comics talent. It was an inspiring time and a perfect way to kick off my own convention season. It was also a pretty good dry run for the next show I’m doing, the East Coast Comics Expo in Moncton on the 19th, in terms of how I want to lay out my table. I also sold my last copy of The Insult collection, but with any luck I should have a new shipment in time for ECCE.

New Brunswick gets a lot of stick from the rest of Canada, and the last thing they need is the worst-in-two-generations flooding along the Saint John river that is happening right now.  It is supposed to start receding later this week but in the meantime, people are fighting to prevent their homes from flooding and contending with potential sewage backup and other issues. I have no doubt they’ll get through it, but in the meantime, all respect to the people of NB and the Saint John river valley in particular who are pitching in to help their neighbours.

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Hair Trigger

Last week was stressful; not due to one particular issue, just a confluence of work stress, personal issues, and maybe a dash or two of “enough with the winter already” irritation.

It got bad enough, pushing at my mind and demanding its focus, that I dug in a little harder with my meditation training and pushed back, forcing myself to put the various things in perspective and admit that everything will be fine. And then I felt better. But it’s funny how I had to go through a week or more of generalized, lower-level anxiety before the additional stress backed me into enough of a corner that I reached for that solution.

When we talk about mindfulness and staying focused while we meditate, we are essentially training our minds to have a hair trigger when it comes to putting problems in perspective and regaining equanimity. Building the reflex that promptly and effectively deals with discursive thoughts and real-world problems.

That in turn reminds me of one my favourite books of Buddhist lore, a collection of talks by the Korean zen master Seung Sahn entitled “Wanting Enlightenment is a Bad Idea.” It’s a great book. One of my favourite parts is his discussion of the concept of keeping such an open mind as we move through life that we don’t even form attachments to concepts, so that our honest answer to any question would be “I don’t know,” because you are not attached to any knowledge I suppose. He repeatedly advised maintaining this state of “don’t know mind” as the best outcome of a zen meditation practise, since he did not believe in attaining enlightenment, and as the title of his book implies, he felt that the pursuit of it could be detrimental.

I went to the library yesterday and signed out a few classic films and Norm MacDonald’s celebrated autobiography, which I look forward to starting tonight. It is incredibly already mid-April, which means I have three weeks to prepare for my first appearance back in good old Saint John at the Fog City Comic Con. I should just about make it.

Norm beckons. Check out two new episodes of Sunday Night in Cinema 3 and a new Insult. There will be a new Insult weekly on my Patreon page as well for a while. Thanks and have a great week!

Work Cut Out

This week’s post title is a tip of the hat to my fellow bluenosers Sloan, who are just about to release their twelfth album. I have had the pleasure of seeing them probably half a dozen times over the last 25 years.

The title also applies well to my creative goals between now and the end of the summer. I just turned in my application for DCAF, which if accepted, would come to my third appearance of the spring and summer. I hope to have an assortment of new stuff for each of them, as you can see in this public post on my Patreon.

It’s a lot, but I am just going to put my head down and power through, work with as little stress as possible, finding the joy in creating something, especially something I don’t usually create.

The long weekend was pretty good, a bit busy but good. I took Jack to see a couple of movies (Pacific Rim and Ready Player One) and to the board game cafe again. He turns 16 next month. Oy.

I enjoyed both of the movies well enough, each is more or less a three star entertainment. I talk about both on the new episode of the podcast, as well as some of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.

That’s it for now. Have a great week.

Spring Forward

It’s been a good week, despite my son falling ill for much of his March break, spending half of it prone on my couch and the other half propped up in his mom’s basement playing video games. I managed to be reasonably productive without feeling a lot of stress about it, which is a good zone to find and stay in.

As I write this I have just come back in from my third excursion of the day. The first was skating on the Emera Loop with my dear wife this morning. The second was a walk to the waterfront, by way of the central library to return a book and DeSerres, where a thick pad of their watercolour paper and a pad of their mixed media paper made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

My ultimate goal for the waterfront was to pick up this week’s comics at Strange Adventures, and it was most of my pull list: new issues of Assassinistas, Black Bolt, Captain America, Giant Days, Jughead: The Hunger, and The Wicked + The Divine, plus a Harley and Ivy comic with a cover by Tula Lotay, whose work I buy wherever possible. A few of those titles are ending soon or have ended already, so I added a few upcoming books to the list to try out.

The third walk was in the opposite direction, to the Anchor Archive zine library on Almon street, in the Radstorm space. I donated some copies of recent zines and comics after meaning to for ages. I also gave them some extra copies of what I have in my inventory for sample zine packs that they were talking about putting together. If you’re in the Halifax area and you are interested in zines (making them or reading them), you should pay them a visit.

The new episode of Sunday Night in Cinema 3 is up. Do check it out, won’t you? And speaking of movies, I realize that the new Tomb Raider is probably the destination for most moviegoing manchildren next weekend, but if you want to see a film that is genuinely special, one that is fresh and smart, I urge you to check out the teen dramedy Love, Simon. It’s directed by Riverdale showrunner Greg Berlanti, based on an excellent YA novel called Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertelli, a child psychologist turned author. Nicole and I saw a sneak preview of Love, Simon last night and absolutely loved it. I am so glad that gay kids and their allies will have it, however it does at the box office.

And speaking of Albertelli, the sequel to Simon, called Leah on the Offbeat, comes out next month. Her second book, set in the same book-universe, was called The Upside of Unrequited, and I also recommend it. I love good YA fiction, the more of it kids have to choose from, the better.

I was feeling glum after taking my son home, as I usually do, and I decided to cheer myself up by spending some time working on one of the card games I hope to publish sometime this year. It’s called Story Mode, and it will be an open source project. I plan on working on its alpha website after this blog post, so if you want to read more about how that would work, I’ll explain there.

Anyway, I had a couple of little breakthroughs, both in terms of the game taking shape in my mind and in technical terms. I was able to map out a development strategy for the game, basically taking it through alpha and beta editions before publishing a true 1.0 release for public consumption. I’ll go into that in more detail on the Story Mode website too, if you are interested in downloading a copy of whatever I have ready or playtesting. Or both.

So it has been a pleasant surprise to work on that at the end of the week, and my new goal is to have the alpha version posted online and printed for a limited distribution. The game will always be free to download online, but if you want a physical copy that comes from me, the easiest method to ensure you get one is to join my Patreon.

I am going to be doing my first mailout to patrons at all levels in the next few weeks, as an orientation package. It will include a new exclusive minicomic, the alpha version of the Story Mode game, a little bit of original art, some small prints and probably a mid sized print, a holder to put it all in, and my eternal gratitude. So don’t miss out!

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

I’m off work this week because it is my son Jack’s March break from school, and he is here to visit for some of it. Unfortunately he has come down with a 24-hour flu that has about 6 hours left, so he’s prone on the new couch binge-watching The Last Ship. It’s good to see him in any case.

My wife hosted an Oscar party last night and we were all like zombies this morning due to the lack of sleep. I sat in a corner, facing away from the TV, snarking at the many things I hate about the Oscars, and I fear I overdid it. Snark is, I think, like wasabi. Best in small strategic doses, not an Axe body spray of sourness.

I also recorded the latest episode of Sunday Night in Cinema 3 yesterday, and I had some things to say about the Oscars, including:

What a perfect summary it is of Hollywood that on the same weekend they meet to hand out gold statues and jerk each other off, they release a remake of Death Wish, an NRA member’s wet dream, about a good man with a gun who decides to take his country back from the lowlifes. I don’t care how many gay films or black films or women’s films they greenlight to make themselves feel better; as long as they keep greenlighting shit like Death Wish, because they know it’s a sure sale in red states, Hollywood is complicit in the suffering of hate crime victims.

And for that matter, as much as I respect the #timesup movement and the many actors who have come forward to tell their story of being abused by powerful men, there is a giant gap in that story as long as no one is talking about the “Church” of Scientology, which enslaves its members, threatens them, sexually abuses them, and who knows what else. If anyone’s time should be up, it is Scientology.

But by all means, Hollywood, enjoy your annual celebration of yourself.

Jeez, chill, past-me.

I’m actually starting to think about how much “knee-jerk negativity just never got me through,” like the Psychedelic Furs said once. The snark, the anger, the little splashes of jealousy; I think I need to get my nose closer to the grindstone of my Buddhism. Concentrate, in other words, on what I say and do so as to avoid wearing a trench of negativity in my brain.

I’ve been a Buddhist for about 20 years now, and while I would never claim to even have my shit together, never mind be enlightened, I feel like I am managing my dosage better than I did in my initial fervor. My poor friends back then, listening to me jabber on about the dharma and the noble eightfold path. These days it’s more like a radio station that plays in the background of my thoughts, and it’s time for me to turn it up a little.

Lately one of those things I have been thinking about working harder on is the concept of “right speech” from the Noble Eightfold. It doesn’t mean conservatism, or censorship, or being “politically correct”, or any such thing. It simply applies mindfulness to how you interact with others, be it in person or online.

I think the fastest way to fill in that trench in the mind that we make from knee-jerk snark or negativity is to be the opposite. To love everything, at least insofar as that is possible. Do I really need to angrily retweet shit about the current “President” several times a day? Could I be encouraging or supporting someone else in that same amount of time? Can I take my brain out of the bath of bad news and unhappy social media shares where it normally swims?

Again, this doesn’t mean ignoring the bad shit or pretending that everything is great. It’s more a matter of letting go of the small stuff, and concentrating on a better balance of information coming in. It’s just another expression of one of the core concepts of Buddhism, which is to see the world as it is, without the filter of a largely imaginary self-image, cultural baggage, and other obstacles. It’s similar to what I try to do with my spare time, which is divide it equally between creative work and relaxing.

For those of you who follow The Insult, I’m a few comics behind but I plan to catch up on that and some other things after I take the boy home. And hopefully, by next weekend if not this one, I will slap together the first episode of a new podcast that I’ve been ever so slowly working on.

And A Dollar Short

Because I’m posting this a day later than I intended to. You know?

Last week was busy, but good. It was a long weekend so I drove to Saint John, hung out with my son, watched Black Panther, checked out a boardgame cafe, ate a donair. Pretty typical trip. That was followed by a fun recording session at the Central Library back in Halifax with my friend Alison, for a second podcast project. The remaining weekdays were spent sketching a new mini-comic and scanning the results.

Saturday was full of errands, and one of them took me to Clayton Park, where I visited the vintage game store. My son has my copy of Grand Theft Auto V for the PS3, so when I noticed a copy for $5 I had to pick it up. I spent the rest of my Saturday screwing with AI cops, riding the back of a flatbed train car and shooting down their helicopters.

On Sunday I went to see Annihilation, which is trippy as hell but also a really smart SF concept once they explain what is going on with “the shimmer”.  The visuals and the score are amazing. In that regard it reminds me of the Soderbergh remake of Solaris, which is in my top 10 of films, so yeah, I liked it.

The new couch is finally being delivered tomorrow morning apparently, and we can finish with moving our shit around and upsetting the cats. Except that Jack is visiting next week during his March break, but they’ll like that. And I am taking the week off, so I will probably spend some of that time catching up on creative projects and trying to put together the first episode of the aforementioned second podcast.

With the Olympics on television it seems like the main American cable networks ran as little new content as possible, so it gave me a chance to catch up on some things, like the last few episodes of The Walking Dead and Star Trek: Discovery. The first has been a well-oiled machine that I continue to watch, gratefully accepting its peculiar zen nutrients. The latter is like a drunken Viking, staggering around wrecking the place and creating a scene that no one will forget. I love it. It’s the best Trek to date, so far anyway.

All of this unusual activity put me “behind schedule” for the Sunday Night in Cinema 3 podcast, but the latest episode is up now for your enjoyment. I will also post my vocal warmup to my Patreon and I plan on posting a bunch of stuff there in March after a relatively quiet February. February is always so quick, isn’t it? 2-3 days less than the others doesn’t seem like it should feel like much of a difference, but it does.

Anyway. I won’t take any more of your time. But thanks for spending a little of it here. I appreciate it. Have a great week.

Resistance, Zen, and The Last Jedi

It’s been a weird week within a weird month. Family stuff, holidays, work stuff, stress, highs and lows. Life, right?

I’m a Zen Buddhist, which means a lot of different things, but within the world of Buddhism it generally means that I prefer to follow the Japanese flavour of Buddhism, which makes sense, since that is the one that has really taken hold here in the west. There are probably hundreds of flavours to choose from, each choosing a different aspect of the Buddha’s teachings to focus on, but I like Zen because it is reasonably simple, and doesn’t come with some of the cultural baggage that, say, Tibetan Buddhism does. Zen doesn’t feel like much of a religion compared to what they’re doing in, say, Myanmar.

Anyway. I mention all of this because my religion (or lack thereof) is on my mind a lot lately, as I remind myself to be mindful and patient with myself, with those who ask things of me. Buddhists are, after all, supposed to be egoless! And be of service to everyone! I half-jokingly think to myself sometimes “you hate yourself anyway, why not destroy your ego and spend the rest of your life doing as many small good deeds as you can for others?”

We’ll see. I think I might have to make a comic about my idea of Buddhism sometime. I have written some notes for one but they are pretty scattered, and on top of that we Buddhists are not really supposed to proselytize to others, but… we’ll see.

I think a lot of us who get into Buddhism are attracted by the initial rush of feeling at peace that we might feel once we start meditating, before the horrible truth of meditating becomes evident- that there is a lot of shit in your mind that wants to come out. If you go to a meditation group long enough, you will feel other people’s suffering around you. It is not the relaxing thing you might expect. Which doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. It’s more like going to Crossfit for your brain. You (might) feel like shit afterward, or you might feel strong and ready to take on the world. The trick is to keep going, and to learn to simply let yourself BE, instead of constantly fighting with yourself, constructing imaginary arguments and dramas in your imagination that wind up influencing your real actions.

I am reminded of a scene from the latest Star Wars movie (minor spoilers follow)- where Luke, on his remote island, has been protecting the sacred old texts of the Buddha – sorry, I mean the Jedi. He sees the Force-ghost of Yoda and expresses his worries to Yoda, who Force-ignites the tree of knowledge or whatever the hell it is that Luke is fixated on. It’s such a stereotypical Zen moment, and a great encapsulation of the theme of the film, which is to forget the artificial structure you have built for yourself- all that stuff that you surround yourself with so that you can look at it and say “THIS IS ME.” I’m pretty sure I laughed out loud at that moment.

I don’t have a neat conclusion for all that. It’s a work in progress, like everything else in this world. So I’ll leave you with this week’s production report:

I am also going to post a Patreon-exclusive new installment of The Insult, probably tomorrow night. I made some good progress on a new print, had a few fun ideas for other things, and had some good conversations with people about another podcast. More details as things come into focus. Until then, have a good week and thanks for  reading.