Television series are an interesting medium for storytelling because there’s a forced delay for their release, yet a story that goes on and on for years. In my experience what allows audiences to continue being invested is the characters that stay with us, with whom we experience the plot, and who react honestly despite cliffhangers, summer breaks, and other contrived interferences. It allows us to believe events are really ongoing, and we want to believe.

In my lifetime of watching, there have been a few beloved stories that went entirely off the rails. I can usually pin it down to the writers (or whoever makes the decisions) choosing to force plot despite, rather than because of, their characters.

Bones, a quirky crime drama based on Kathy Reich’s books, achieved this in an early series by revealing that one of the main characters was actually working for a Big Bad, and had been for months. It was such a revelation that even the actor claimed he didn’t know ahead of time. The writers just wanted some conflict to shake up the team. In doing this they destroyed their credibility in writing stories about the remaining characters, who as far as audiences knew could turn at any time “because it was interesting.”

The X-Files is notorious for this, replacing Mulder when David Duchovny’s contract was finished. Die-hard fans (like me) held on and accepted Agent Doggett as a temporary alternative, but there isn’t a fan alive who claims the series finished as well as it started. Great characters are not interchangeable in this way.

JJ Abrams lately of Star Trek and Star Wars fame may well be the God of Ruining Good Things for how he structures his television shows. In both Lost and Fringe he presented us with fantastic, lovable and hateable characters who navigated fascinating plots for years, and were then shoved forward in time when the plot demanded quickening. This left us scrambling to fill the gaps in our knowledge of their lives and motivations and pick up the pieces of what might have been an exciting ride. But why weren’t we along for the ride?

All this discussion brings us to The Walking Dead, and from here on in there will be spoilers. Seriously.

In future when it’s discussed no doubt the showrunners and writers will admit the season 7 premiere was a gamble. 40 minutes of suspense and monologue, with multiple deaths, including one character who’d been with us since the beginning. Death isn’t unusual on the show, even with important characters, but consider how it was presented in this episode: drawn out, brutal, and gory. Extraordinarily cruel. This was intentional, first to align with the comic book, and also to set the stage for a new season that includes a villain who makes The Governor seem mild.

We can look at the source material, the comic book, for a clue as to what went wrong. Although the same character dies in the same way, it’s not a five minute 2-for-1 the way it is in this episode. Additionally, that’s a comic book and not a live action hour where the audience is jerked around through time via one stunned character’s memories and fears. You can choose to keep reading a comic issue right through, and haven’t necessarily waited months to find out Oooh, who’s going to die? played up as much as possible by AMC. So although the details are the same, the presentation is not. In the comics, this was a tragic death, one of many. But the television episode was created to make its audience feel tense, uncomfortable, and bad, without relief, for as long as it played, and then longer. Was that really done to serve the characters and their real motivations? Or simply to propel the plot of a stagnating television series at least one more season?

Somewhere, a script writer is high-fiving their buddy about a job well done. Unfortunately their success has a price, which is this audience now understands they aren’t watching their well-known characters react to the situation, but puppets kneeling silent while a contrived situation unfolds to make the plot go further. In my opinion, this was a failure.


The Rocking Chair

The rocking chair has yellow paint on one of its struts, and one rocker looks distinctly chewed. It creaks something fierce. And if you pulled too hard it would come into pieces, the glue that kept it solid long since evaporated.

It might have been the climate that did it. The dry cold winters in Prince George or the hot summers in Invermere. It might have been the damp in Nanaimo, the forest chill in Terrace, or a season spent in a storage locker.

Or it was transit, being trucked here or there in the back of a station wagon, a Subaru, a Dodge, a Toyota. Down some stairs, and up an elevator. Stacked with boxes, with blankets. With clothes.

It might just have been years of use. Rocking a baby from her first day at home. The carelessness of a toddler. The roughness of a teenager. This cat, that cat. The dog that chewed it instead of a shoe. A woman who writes while she rocks.

The woman who can’t imagine her home without the rocking chair. It doesn’t suit any particular style and wasn’t built to last forever. But then, neither was she.

The Rocking Chair


What scale would you use to answer the question, “Why are you here?” where why means for what purpose? Here in this place right now, or here in your current situation this season, or living on the planet at all, ever?

For me, for many scales, these answers have recently changed very quickly. I live somewhere new and most of my habits have been forced to adapt. This new setting has encouraged me to examine my life by the largest scale. To look not at what I want to do tonight or this weekend, but at what I want my situation to be ten or twenty years from now, or further. Where do I want to be in the world as well as what person do I want to be in the world? And how do I get there?

Like most people I dynamically create assumptions about where I’m heading from day to day, without paying much attention to the why. So what’s interesting now is realizing I can take control and change the result. It feels like knowing there’s an extra line of text beneath the words I’m reading, and I’ve suddenly remembered to read it too.



I find the supernatural fascinating, but the Holy Grail is a ghost. Getting the creeps is nothing compared to evidence of a real human person appearing in the world after death.

I don’t believe in ghosts. My closest friends can tell me their experiences and I love to hear them, but I’m thinking, You were tired, or You were dreaming, not You actually saw a ghost. Noises are the best. It’s easy to dismiss a noise without finding its source. You heard creaking in an old house at night? Wow, let me call Zelda Rubinstein.

When I moved to the UK from Canada I thought it was a great opportunity. Despite films’ attempts to show “old Indian burial grounds” as the most haunted of places, I can’t say I’ve ever encountered that phenomenon. And as much as there are thousands of years of human occupation in North America, most of that time has been lightly populated, so it’s difficult to say There have always been people in exactly this location. Contrast the UK. Any given space in Edinburgh or London has been crowded with thousands of people living and dying for a very long time. Not passing over that land, but living in that actual building. So many spirits attached to those rooms. Statistically, it was a good shot. If I was going to see a ghost anywhere I’d see one there, right?

I lived in houses that were older than Canada and saw nothing supernatural. I wandered places where the bones of hundreds were stashed and they were silent. One might say dead. Despite the population, despite the age of things, reports of actual ghosts were no more numerous than in the NA. And I’d say the reports sounded about as believable on either continent. Which is to say they were bullshit everywhere.

There was just once I found a place I’d believe was haunted. Driving in Tyrone after visiting family I went to find the Cooneen ghost house. I got a little lost, and I passed it without realizing I was passing the driveway. Down a corridor between the trees I saw it for a moment looking back at me. And it did look. It saw me. It had all the presence and personality of Leatherface.

Cooneen ghost house



A friend shared a post with me on Facebook the other day, an exaggeration of the creative writing process meant to elicit a laugh and nothing else. I immediately tore the thing to shreds. Not in a reply–it was quicker than that. In the moment I’d finished reading it, I was already thinking, This is wrong in a large number of ways and it teaches me nothing. I’m not laughing.

Then, Oh crap. I’ve lost my sense of humour.

I knew it was supposed to be funny and nothing else. I knew it wasn’t supposed to teach me anything and it wasn’t meant to be entirely correct. It had been designed to refer to generalizations and poke fun at something that’s usually serious. That’s what a joke does. What the hell was wrong with me that I couldn’t even laugh?

I didn’t reply to my friend that day. I didn’t trust myself to reply. The next day I read the post again, and hey! It was funny. It hadn’t changed, but I had. I hadn’t lost my sense of humour. I was just having a bad day, a day when I couldn’t see my life for the days in it.

We’re rarely the same people from day to day. Every part of living involves processing and reacting to the world around us, and that reaction can change, sometimes a bit, sometimes a lot, depending on how much sleep we’ve had, what stress we’re under, even if the caffeine flowed a little too well that morning. Another popular Facebook post says “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best.” Seriously, I can only just handle me at my worst. What should I expect from my friends?


Planet IX

It’s normal to choose favourites for everything the way you’d choose your favourite ice cream, even if it’s effectively irrelevant. Favourite colour, favourite season, favourite planet. The latter, of course, is Pluto. A mysterious, frozen landscape spinning so far from here even the centre of the universe seems closer (but that is wrong, for the record.)

In 2006 the International Astronomical Union (IAU), a collection of stuffy jerks who probably don’t even like ice cream, suddenly announced that Pluto is not a planet. Why? Apart from the stuffy jerk thing, the truth is “a planet” had not been properly defined before this. I guess for the first few thousand years of stargazing it seemed obvious enough to say “big spherical thing spinning around a star” without writing that down.

So Pluto was no longer a planet, specifically because it hadn’t cleared its orbit of debris. It was a dwarf planet, which sounded a lot to me like the IAU’s way of saying “Okay guys, we know you’re going to hate this, so we’re going to keep planet in its designation anyway, because we’re tired of never being invited to parties, and we do like ice cream a little bit, well, we like frozen yogurt, that’s nearly the same thing.” And the kerfuffle settled for a decade.

This week two astronomers have announced a new ninth planet far, far beyond Pluto, at a distance of 200 to 1200 AUs (1 AU = the distance from Earth to the sun) compared to Pluto’s puny 40 AUs. Astronomers have been announcing a possible Planet X for most of my lifetime, but this time it’s more or less confirmed. And it’s exciting. Very exciting. I should be over the moon (ha!) but I find myself irrationally resistant to the hype. One of the astronomers who found this new planet is the very same who made the discovery that led to Pluto’s reclassification as a dwarf planet. He’s even quoted as saying, “Killing Pluto was fun.”

It’s normal to feel defensive on behalf of a frozen ball of dirt 6 billion kilometres away, right?

Planet IX


Santa Claus has got to be one of the biggest crocks in the western world. Otherwise level-headed parents encourage their children to believe a man comes down their chimney once a year and leaves gifts. And for what? So children can have a little magic in their world?

Children have magic without Santa Claus. Usually their magic is better. There’s nothing they won’t believe and can’t imagine, until the monotony of day by day wears them down. Why does a sleigh and elves and magical presents have to be the most important thing? Why is it better if a stranger leaves them a magical elf-made gift rather than a parent giving something they worked for?

My favourite winter movie is How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the original, not the live action abomination) because it addresses my main issue with this holiday: it’s all about the presents. It should not be all about the presents. “More stuff” is not a thing to base a national holiday around. And there is nothing warm and happy about the stress and disappointment involved in buying presents because it’s a certain day, rather than because someone needs something. Even films about Santa Claus accept this, exploiting our year-round guilt about not spending time with family rather than admitting Santa Claus is a vehicle for bribing kids to behave. Yet the connection between the jolly ol’ crock and the guilt is never really explained. We simply accept it, like we accept that Wil Ferrell will win Zooey Deschanel’s heart by being unceasingly quirky.