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Novelist. Essayist. Former entomologist. Now a full-time writer exploring travel, art, philosophy, psychology, and science.

Stories from a static year

Photo by author

2020 was my first full year of writing on Medium

And although I told myself with almost every story I published that I was done with the platform, I kept coming back. Until the calendar flipped over and I realized I had a body of work on my hands.

Some of these stories are among the most popular I’ve written. Some were abject flops. But all have something in them that I’m proud of. A message I think is important. Helpful tips for others. Or just a single phrase that came out exactly the way I wanted it.

Anyway, although I cringe a little at…

How to live a life you wouldn’t trade for anything

Photo by Nate Johnston on Unsplash

I get what many will consider an

obnoxious thought:

it’s still nice to be

Bukowski. — Charles Bukowski

Don’t you want what I’ve got?

That’s the whispered question behind every smiling Instagram photo, every vacuous blog post, every article detailing how the author made themselves rich with nothing but pluck and a laptop and a civilization’s worth of pre-existing infrastructure.

Desire makes the world go around. And it keeps the cash registers ringing. How do you keep the richest people who’ve ever existed buying? You tell them they’re poor. You tell them that life won’t be complete until they have the next thing.

It doesn’t matter…

Are your memories really yours?

Photo by Krzysztof Niewolny on Unsplash

Is Memory Inherited?

Logic says no. We inherit physical traits, phenomes, and phenotypes. We inherit non-physical things too. A language and a culture, a fully formed world that closes over us like a shell the minute we’re born. But we emerge fresh and wet and as impressionable as concrete waiting to dry. Not a blank slate, exactly. But at least a fresh start.

But there’s evidence we’re wrong about that. Maybe there’s more to memory than we think. Maybe our experiences encode themselves in our physical bodies and pass themselves on to our children, whether we want them to or not.

How much…

Confronting extinction is the only way to live

Photo by Jimmy Conover on Unsplash

The most alive people I know live under a volcano

Vesuvius last erupted in 1944. It’s been the bane of Naples since there was a Naples, and the city goes back a very long way. You only need to take a ride on a rattling train to Pompeii to see what it can do. The unescapable pyroclastic flow that turned a vibrant city into a graveyard and its inhabitants to dust.

The jagged top of the mountain rises above the city and its gorgeous bay. Visible from everywhere. …

We are never more free than when we are alone

Image by Fool4myCanon, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

“A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.” — Arthur Schopenhauer

Alone, we’re useless

We humans hear poorly compared to other mammals. Our sense of smell is a joke. Our eyesight is impressive, but only during the day. Compared to most animals, we are clumsy, lumbering things, blindly unaware of what’s going on around us.

What we have going for us, apart from unusual endurance, is our overclocked brains and our completely unparalleled communication…

A Canadian wilderness lies right outside the city

Tree stumps rising out of Alouette Lake. Photo by author.

A horse splashed along the beach

There were three of them, clustered together at one end of the lake next to the hydroelectric dam. Water churned and splashed around the hooves of the white horse as it playfully kicked, stray beads leaping up to cling to the animal’s skin.

Anything this good has to be rationed. In the busy summer months, they issue passes at the park gate, turning people away when it gets too full. But it’s not summer yet. It just feels like it. …

Why we small creatures matter in a big wild world

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

She had studied the universe all her life, but had overlooked its clearest message: For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love. — Carl Sagan

It’s a big world

And an unbelievably vast universe. And set against immensity, it can be hard to believe we matter at all. The stars don’t notice us, and when we look up at them, we feel tiny and insignificant. Our entire lives are just a blip in an ocean of time.

That’s what our minds tell us. But our hearts say something different. That we are here now, and that it matters. That…

Nowhere is perfect. Canada comes pretty close.

Photo by Lee Robinson on Unsplash

They changed the license plates

In Canada, like in the US, every province or state has its own slogan embossed on the license plates of cars. Québec remembers. Saskatchewan poetically calls itself the Land of Living Skies. Manitoba is merely Friendly.

When I arrived in BC, young and dumb, license plates proclaimed the more or less inarguable Beautiful British Columbia. But in 2007, as the Olympics approached, the slogan changed. Now BC was the self-proclaimed Best Place On Earth. So boastful. So arrogant. So unCanadian.

In the vast continent-spanning countries of the New World, identity is a precious commodity. Our countries are huge and new…

Pantheism, blasphemy, and the nature of infinity.

Probably not this one, though. Photo by Sonika Agarwal on Unsplash

“Life and death are just things that you do when you’re bored.” — John Cale, Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend

Remember Word Problems?

If Johnny is on a train going 30 miles per hour from Manchester to London, and Rasheed is on a train going 50 miles per hour from London to Manchester…

They taught me that in school. They taught me that plants turn sunlight into food and that Macbeth was too ambitious for his own good. They told me that Hitler was bad, but only God is really good. That His favor is the only thing that matters.

They never…

Watching culture die one clickbait post at a time

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

It happened to somebody else

If you subscribe to the theory that no single cell in our body lives more than seven years, that’s literally true. There was a different person using my name back then, with different views and different priorities and only some of the same experiences.

Back then, I wrote a slightly starry-eyed article on self-publishing. At the time, I had just completed a novel. A difficult and almost willfully uncommercial novel that I knew was never going to be a hit. It wasn’t supposed to be. Halfheartedly, I tried the usual route to getting it published. I talked to a few…

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