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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…

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. …

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…

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…

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…

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…

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

We try to hide the price tag

We’re scared that if people know what things cost upfront, they won’t want to pay. First, you have the meal. Then you pay the bill. And if we lived our lives backward, they would start with loss. With degeneration. With absence. Maybe it’s better this way. Better that the bill comes at the end so we never have to ask whether it’s worth it.

Nothing valuable is free. Pain and loneliness are the prices we pay on their opposites. On joy and companionship and love. …

The Bollingen Tower. Davide Mauro, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

I passed the tower every day

On my way to college, the lurching bus would wind its way out of the city along narrow lanes lined by thick hedges. The tower rose above the fields, a striking building in the midst of otherwise forgettable scenery.

I hated everything back then. I carried hatred around my heart like a stone, snarling at everything I saw. But I liked the tower. It was somebody’s house, and I used to imagine what it would be like to live in such a magnificent structure. To be able to look at the world from a distance, raised above the petty concerns…

Landscape With The Fall of Icarus. Possibly Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Et ignotas animum dimittit in artes. — Ovid, Metamorphoses, VIII, 188

So begins A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. James Joyce’s first novel, conceived when the writer was just 22, but not published until he was 34. It would take a similarly overeducated egghead as the novel’s main character, Stephen Dedalus, to translate the book’s epigraph. And a classical education is rarer now than it was in the early 20th century.

And he set his mind to unknown arts. That will do. Because A Portrait, as the name suggests, is a semiautobiographical account of Joyce becoming the…

Narbonne, France. Photo by author.

A year and a month ago, we were in Narbonne

A coastal town in the south of France, sixty miles from the border with Spain. In 118 BC, it was home to retired Roman legionaries. Next, Narbonne was conquered by the Moors, who were later supplanted by a Jewish principality that lasted through the Middle Ages.

And in the cathedral, started in the thirteenth century and never completed, I felt nervous. I watched the precipitous lean caused by a worn-down stiletto heel as an exquisitely-dressed couple wandered through the church. …

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