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2009 vs. 2019: Softer

Another year, another round-up. The #2009vs2019 posts are flying fast and furious. But the words are sticking in my throat. So much happened in 2019. How am I supposed to compress the year into a blog post? How can I encompass an entire decade?


Every year on January 1, I take a sharpie and a blank 8.5×11 sheet and I write my goals for the year. This sheet is my compass; we may detour occasionally, but it always points north.

This year, I fell short of my goals.

It hurts, saying that. Not that 2019 was a total wash. It started with delightful news — I signed on with Kim-Mei Kirtland from the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency and we’ve been having a wonderful time working through my queer beer novel. Though I didn’t submit as many stories as I wanted, a higher proportion sold. Dublin WorldCon was an incredible experience with some very dear friends. And of course, Jen Albert and I started ephemera, a new monthly SFF reading series here in Toronto.

But I didn’t do everything I planned.

From “Among Elves and Trolls,” John Bauer (1912).


For some reason, it felt like my gears never caught right. For some reason — yeah, right. As we discussed earlier this year, 2019 was my post-apocalypse. Surviving, rebuilding. It takes energy, it takes time. It’s necessary work, and it turns out that writing is really hard when it’s left undone.


In the fall, I saw someone I used to know. From nowhere, I thought — you’ve gotten harder, and I’ve gotten softer.

Not softer as in, weaker. Softer as in, the protective shell’s opened a little. Softer as in, belly-up and trusting. Softer as in, I don’t walk around with my shoulders to my ears anymore.

Softer as in, I’m not anticipating hurt.


Honestly, I’m not sure what I would’ve done without my loved ones. My choir fam in particular held me up this year, and I can’t even describe how much they mean to me. It would take a million oratorios.

They played a large part in this softening. With them, I feel – it’s okay. We’re okay. It’s the sensation of squeezing someone’s hand and feeling them squeeze back. Trust, kindness, and love.


I wasn’t always very kind to myself this year.

“You have a relationship with your writing, just like you do with your partner,” a friend told me. “How are you treating it right now?”


It was like my writing voice didn’t work the same way anymore. Like I was straining for notes that were once within range — like I couldn’t keep in tune, even when I knew the harmonies I wanted.

“The Shipwreck,” J.M.W. Turner (1805). Courtesy

There are a lot of reasons a singer’s voice might suffer. Injury. Neglect. Overuse. Getting it back takes rest, gentle practice, and patience. Naturally, I did none of these things, beating myself up over blank pages.

Until —


I took my partner’s favourite tropes and smashed them together into a story I never intended to sell. For once, I wasn’t thinking about markets and recommended reading lists and reviews. I was telling a story to someone I love. It wasn’t a story for me — okay, it was also for me, I’m not that disingenuous. Deep down, I knew I needed to get over my own hang-ups.

But anyway, I finished it.

It’s not my best story. But it was the crack I needed.


I stopped beating myself up. I started reading more fairy tales.

After chewing on a story seed for months, I managed to get it written and sold.

Rest. Gentle practice. Patience.

If I can be softer with my loved ones, I can be softer with myself as well.


There’s a softness to ephemera as well. I’m so touched by the energy everyone brings to it; I love the space we’re making together.


So now we’re at the end of the year. I feel…steadier. Like the ground has finally stopped shifting under my feet. Tomorrow, I will take my sharpie and my blank sheet and I’ll write the goals I want to reach in 2020.

“Catskin,” Arthur Rackham (1918).

I can do it. I know I can.

With kindness, and work, and soft steadfastness.


What I’m Listening to This Week

This one again – I need the poetry.

A Kinder Year: 2018 Post

It’s a brand-new year. As is my wont, I’m writing this from Virginia, where I’ve passed the year’s turning in the company of some very dear friends.

So: new year, new opportunities, a vast expanse of untrodden snow.

“Winter Morning, Charlevoix County,” A.Y. Jackson (1933).

Where do we go from here?

Well, finding out is part of the fun, isn’t it? This feeling of standing on the precipice, leaning over the blank valley below—I think that’s why we love the idea of the New Year so much. It’s all possibility; all potential.

For myself, I have written my usual yearly goals on an 8.5” by 11” sheet of paper. I’m excited by the projects lined up for this year, but I’m also approaching it with a lot more humbleness than I did last year. If nothing else, that was a hard lesson learned in 2017.

In addition to those yearly goals, here’s what I would like for 2018.

I would like 2018 to be a softer year, a gentler year. I would like to nurture more joy—in my work, in myself, in my relationships. And above all else, I want 2018 to be a kinder year.

In the end, we can always use more joy and kindness.

So wherever you are today, however you are spending it, that’s my wish for you. Enjoy this feeling right now: gazing out to the horizon, with nothing in the way but spreading whiteness and light. The hard parts come later; this is the first swoop as you launch yourself skyward. So revel in it. Today’s for soaring. Wrap yourself in love, joy, and kindness.

“The Magpie,” by Claude Monet (1869).

And have a very Happy New Year.


What I’m Listening to this Week

I’ve been searching for a recording of “And as I Wake” for ages! It’s a delightful setting of Milton’s “Il Penseroso” by Canadian composer Stephanie Martin. The text always makes me think of the dim stained-glass light of the University of Toronto—and that interplay between choir and organ starting around the 2:30 mark is sheer joy.