2016 ADDENDUM: THE YEAR I GOT INK

After delays, cancellations, and general faffing about, I finally received my birthday present yesterday.

I think it looks rather natty myself.

It’s my first tattoo, at the age of 46, and as I can’t afford a sports car, and I have no intention of having an affair with my secretary, this is about as mid-life crisisish as I’m likely to get. Of course, if you’re going to permanently scar yourself, the image should have some meaning, and this is no different.

I’ve always been a huge fan of The Prisoner, the TV show from which the image and quote are taken. The show is a meditation in individuality, personal choice, and the right to privacy in a world where the compromises you make in order to survive threaten the very notion of your right to exist as a discrete being. After most of an adult life spent trying to balance some sort of artistic career with the soul-destroying conformity of various Governmental jobs, the quote speaks for itself: it’s a reminder to me of the need to constantly assert my individuality in the face of overwhelming conformity. It’s cost me a great deal over the years: happiness, job satisfaction, advancement, and stress. But it’s the message that I cling to, because I’m more than another faceless bureaucrat, and my worth to the Universe is greater.

The penny farthing is, to me, a bumblebee: the least efficient, most nonsensical design for achieving its primary goal, but one that works outside of all logic and reason. It’s the physical manifestation of a wonderful Doctor Who line, spoken many years ago by the Third Doctor– A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it is by no means the most interesting.

So, there we have it: thanks to my darling Luscious, the kids, and our good friends Kris and Kim, I’m a marked man. My physical nature is changed forever. And I’m rather pleased.

SOMEDAY SOMEBODY ELSE BESIDES ME WILL CALL ME BY MY STAGE NAME

A week or so ago, I turned 45. I’ve outlived Billie Holliday, F Scott Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye, Jackson Pollock…… of course, they achieved something, so, you know, I‘d better keep plugging away. My family celebrated by sending me out to see They Might Be Giants in concert– one of my very favourite bands, and as always, they utterly kicked it: their seven-minute, foot-stomping, pogo-inducing, stadium rock version of their 90 second children’s song Robot Parade will live long in the memory, as will bumping into a whole passel of colleagues and friends who were out getting their geekrock on. It was a weird moment– for reasons too long to go into, the last time I’d seen TMBG was on the night of my eldest daughter’s birth, when I was a very different person, with a wholly different life, and yet, some of the people I bumped into were the same people I had bumped into that night, as well, when I had only just dipped my toes into the world of authordom and SF fandom, and seeing their faces in the crowd was proof that I might, just maybe, have found my village. 14 years later, and it felt like seeing them again was an indicator of something I’d lost along the way– nice to see them, but an unspoken realisation that, outside of thee sorts of occasions, I’m rarely, if ever, going to do so.
 
It got me looking back at some of my earlier birthday notes, and in particular, some of the things I was contemplating when I turned 40, half a decade ago. Back in 2010, as I was contemplating my fifth decade stretching out before me, I confidently aimed my thoughts towards becoming a full time writer by, well, today. It was never likely to happen, I happily acknowledged, but it felt like something to aspire to. It felt like a goal that, knowing I could not attain, I could at least track progress towards. I might not be a full-time writer, I reasoned, but I’d at least be writing.
 
It was a positive thought, but then, I was pretty positive all round. Five years later, and I think it’s fair to say it’s not that I’ve strayed off the path, as that somehow I got turned around, and the trees are too thick to remember where the path was.
 
I’d just started my job, and it still looked like the kind of job that I’d lain awake at nights begging for. It’s not turned out that way. It’s soured in the intervening years, and I’m far more miserable there than it ever makes me happy. I have managed to sell three novels, and I’ve got no complaints there. But slowly, inevitably, the day job has chipped and chipped and chipped away at my creativity, and my time, so that I would be lucky to have written 10,000 words this year. Three short stories, one of them a commission, none of them over 4000 words. That’s been my lot. I haven’t drawn a thing in two years. More and more, if I have free time, I’ve spent it flaked out in front of the television or tucked away in the garage, beavering away at the Lego hobby I’ve used to fill in the gaps where writing used to make me happy. Artistically, it’s hard not to feel like my time has come: it happens to most of us, sometime or other. Sometimes life ends our creativity before death gets the chance.
 
So it goes.
 
Thankfully, what happiness I do have comes from my family. I’m now older than my parents were when they split up, and my children are exactly the same age as my brother and I were. It’s an odd little confluence of numbers, but it has gnawed away at me since I realised. In my own, personal, time-stream, the next 5 years weren’t good ones. I lost my home, experienced genuine poverty, was abandoned by friends and teachers, viciously bullied, was closeted in close quarters with an embittered, spiteful mother whose anger was quick to surface and always aimed as verbal barbs at the people who couldn’t escape them—my brother and I. I clawed my way through high school by sheer dint of refusal to capitulate. It wasn’t until I found my way to University, and the first genuine freedom I’d known in years, that I was able to draw breath, sort through my emotions and aspirations, and try to become something of consequence. The track was a narrow one, and I nearly fell off it completely—my brother did, and as a consequence, we haven’t spoken in several years. I didn’t, but it was a close run thing. I look back at the person I was before my first wife died, and genuinely believe none of you would have like him. I don’t, and I’m pretty certain I didn’t back then, either.
 
So, maybe, at 45, that’s my victory, and my task. I give my family a good home. My children are happy, contented, aspirational, safe, and comfortably middle class where both their Mum and I were scraping along the underside of the poverty line. My wife is talented, caring, constantly bettering herself and passing that betterment on to the rest of us for our own enrichment. We have money— if not in the bank, then at least in our pockets. Our food is fresh, or clothes new, our haircuts from a shop.
 
I’ve been an author, a stand-up comedian, a poet, a cartoonist, a tennis coach, a film student, a reviewer, a jewellery salesman, an artist. I thought that would last forever. I certainly thought so five years ago. Now, contemplating the next five years, I can’t help but think that side of things is over. I’ve shrunk, until I’m just another husband and father with a hateful job and too much TV. I just have to be a good one.

DROOPY DRAWERS, FORTY FOUR

I turned 44 years old on Tuesday. To be honest, I don’t know what to make of it. Lyn and the kids were beautiful to me, allowing me time to open and build my great big birthday Lego set and serving me a dinner created especially for me. And my bonus sons Aiden and Blake, as well as their respective girlfriends, gave me gifts that showed they really did think about what I like and what sort of person I am when I allow myself the space to simply be my private self.

It’s a big thing, for me, when I receive gifts from my bonus children– I came into their lives when they were pushing towards their teen years, and they would have every right to consider me solely as the man who married their mother, rather than any sort of friend or father figure. I’d understand their reasoning, if they did, because I’ve already lived with that sort of attitude– my parents separated when I was only slightly older than they were when I came into their lives, and my stepfather made it very clear that he was only interested in being a part of my mother’s life, not mine or my brother’s. He even refused to marry her until we were both out of the house. But they don’t. They took me into their lives as much as I tried to make them a part of mine. They not only remember my day, they mark it as something to which they attach importance, and that makes me feel like I’ve done something right by them.

And knowing that the members of my family see me as someone important helps, because right at the moment, my daily life seems to come with a high degree of difficulty: my day job is trying, and I’m struggling with the responsibility of several events I don’t wish to run yet have to acknowledge fall squarely within my portfolio; the events I normally do enjoy running have left me flat and uninspired; after a positive start to writing work this month I’ve pretty much abandoned Nanowrimo and am taking stock of my upcoming work; the novel once known as Magit and Bugrat is to undergo another title change at the publisher’s behest and has been pushed back a second time, so that it will appear far enough into 2016 to pretty much destroy any career momentum it might have helped maintain in the wake of the Corpse-Rat King books; and all in all, I’d rather just be at home with Lyn and the kids, preparing for our move to the new Batthome and enjoying a quiet and self-driven life together.

Perhaps it’s my mid-life crisis calling, but I’m feeling a little sick and tired of living my life at the beck and call of outside parties.

I read over the blog post I made this time last year, and it was full of grand plans for the year between then and now. In the end, almost none of them came to fruition. So, no big plans for me this time. No announcements or prognostications. All I want for this coming year is to move to my new house, find a measure of peace with my family, and try to rediscover some sense of personal satisfaction with what I see in the mirror.

The way I feel right now, that would be enough.

THIS ONE GOES OUT TO THE ONE I LOVE

My darling wife, Luscious Lyn, turns 45 today.

It’s difficult for me to believe that we’ve been together, now, for over 11 years. Every day feels like a first. There’s a freshness, a spirit, to our relationship: it constantly reinvents itself, changes shape and form and direction, so that I’ve never once felt any sense of stalemate, or a lack of passion.

She’s a woman of immense strength, my Lyn, of intensity and lyricism and devotion. She forgives everyone, sees benevolence and righteousness everywhere, puts the whole world and its achievements above her own. She is by turns humble, empowering and sacrificial. And these great strengths are also her great weaknesses, because they drive her into areas of self-doubt and lack of belief that she doesn’t, in the slightest way, deserve. She is capable of great things, and while she achieves them on a daily basis– overcoming health issues, raising children through the onset of myriad serious, life-changing issues, coping with a past that would keep seasoned horror writers from their sleep– she holds within her the capacity to create something that will change the way the world looks at itself, if she believes in herself long enough to do so.

She is the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning, and the last thing I see before I fall asleep at night. She bookends my thoughts like she bookends my day– nothing I say or do happens without her in my mind. She is the centre of my life.

Happy birthday, my beautiful wife.

PORTRAIT OF MY FATHER AS A 70 YEAR OLD

It’s my Dad’s 70th birthday today.

It’s an odd occasion in many ways: as I’ve spoken about before, we have a friendly relationship if not an overwhelmingly close one, and he really is the last link between me and what I think of as my ‘old’ family: that traditional family structure of my birth– my mother is dead, I am estranged from my brother and see no way of going back, I have never been close to any cousins or grandparents and never see them beyond the occasional visit from overseas relations or bumping into each other in the shops, which suits me fine. Dad is it, and even though we live no more than thirty kilometres from each other, we’re far from in each other’s pockets.

I’ve never thought of him as old. Perhaps you never do with parents– I don’t know. Mum died when she was 61, which certainly is not old, so I’ve no experience in the mind set. But there’s no denying that 70 is an age where the average lifespan begins to loom on the horizon: certainly, there’s got to be a point where every year begins to feel like an extra year, one you’ve been granted rather than taken as your right. Or perhaps I overstate the age thing because of my own particular phobias. Either way, I find it difficult to associate my old man with an old man. There’s the understanding, at the back of my vision of him, that one day he’ll be gone and that somewhere along the line I’d better start preparing myself for that eventuality.But not now.

For now, he’s only 70. There’s plenty of kick in the old bugger yet. I’ll drop in on him after work today: the kids have made him cards, and I have a present and a hug for him. We may not be in each other’s pockets, but he’s still my Dad.

Happy birthday.

TIME TO START CHECKING OUT GUN SHOPS

My daughter lost her birth mother when she was just 4 days old, thanks to a criminally incompetent doctor and a hospital that would be lucky to operate successfully as an abattoir. As starts in life go, there would be few less auspicious. 

Today, she turns 12. Thanks to Luscious, the mother I met when she was 14 months old and she chose when was approaching 2, she has grown into a stylish, graceful, intelligent, mature, wondrous child, at whom I marvel every day. There is nothing of me in her: she has her birth mother’s looks, and her Mum’s dignity, optimism and unwavering moral compass. She is a developing artist, a burgeoning cook with a fine line in muffins (another skill in which she follows her Mum), an fan of Katniss Everdeen, a listener to Goon Shows, Queen of the colouring-in competitions (undefeated in 12 attempts over four years). admirer of Pink, chooser of NuWho over Classic Who, with a heart like a planet and a caring nature and fierce desire to learn that constantly fills me with joy, consistently at the top of her classes, recommended by her teachers to stand for School council, awarded and rewarded and valued by all who meet her.
She is the kind of 12 year old I never even attempted to be, and truly precious to us. 
Happy birthday, my girl. 

NOT RUDE, AND GINGER. AND NINE.

Our youngest son turns 9 today. I can’t tell you how many times over the years we’ve not been sure he’d make it. It’s been a struggle for him every step of the way: from several major miscarriage concerns before he was born, to multiple operations, to his current illness, he has battled and overcome more in his few years than I have faced in my 43. He has to be home schooled, he can’t join any sporting teams, he has few opportunities to make friends and undergo the kinds of social interactions children of his age should be taking for granted.

And yet: he is the brightest, happiest, most clued-in 9 year old kid I’ve ever met: quick of thought and wit, with a boundless fund of optimism and goodwill, and a robust personality strong enough that he is unafraid to face down adults and claim “That’s your opinion, but mine is different” when we disagree over subjects of taste and perception. A huge fan of Doctor Who and Lego and Batman Beyond; a lover of music as wide-ranging as Black Sabbath and John Dowland; a writer of haiku and book reviews; budding scientist; amateur paleontologist; dinosaur freak; obsessive watcher of Gary’s Mod videos; opinionated Star Trek- DS9 fan; maths lover; science nut; Iron Man fan and all round rock ’em sock ’em rough and tumble human spider boy’s boy.

In short: he’s brilliant.

Happy birthday, beautiful boy.