To Be Human Again at Word on the Street 2017

On Sunday, September 24, I’ll be at Word on the Street. I’ll have To Be Human Again with me. (It’s a good thing to have.)

About Libraries

Activity Being Avoided: None. It’s a writing day. I’m allowed to be doing this.
Music In My Head: Kaa Khem — Yat-Kha
Tea Being Drunk: None. It’s water. I celebrated the civic holiday with chocolate cake, and I now have the same stomach ache I recall from childhood.
Books Being Read: Rebecca–Daphne du Maurier, My Happy Days in Hell–George Faludy

The Globe and Mail published this on Friday: Amid growing demand, GTA libraries are helping to fill a social-services gap

That’s my library they’re talking about at the beginning of the article.

Much as I appreciate this article, I’d like to correct the author: libraries have always filled a social-services gap.

 The small town I grew up in didn’t have a lot for kids like me: there were church groups and Brownies, and sport things. As a child, I had some friends but was more interested in books. (The inside covers of my childhood books all have death threats for the sister who had the audacity to thieve from my shelves.) I was eleven years old when I started volunteering at the local library. Very likely, I wasn’t what the average librarian might call helpful, but I was very happy to be there, touching all the books, getting quite side-tracked by reading the books I was supposed to be sorting, and maybe being a little bit useful or something. I felt mature.

I felt like I was being educated in a way that school could never offer.

The building was dusty, high-ceilinged, hushed except for the creaking of old wooden chairs and titanic reading tables. I can’t find any pictures of the interior, but here’s the exterior of heaven:

Image from Canada’s Historic Places

In 1980, someone made a prediction about the town: because of all the sinners and implicit sinning in the area, God was going to lose His patience and deal with the whole sinful mess. Sadly, God (or someone with a flourishing complex) chose fire to express His displeasure. Along with a good handful of other places, the library went down in 1980.

My heart broke. I think there might still be a small fissure beneath the thick scar.

Not to be thwarted, I volunteered at the school library. It was limited in both size and scope, filled with a lot of books that were, frankly, boring. The library contained books that were “appropriate” for W.A.S.P. children up to Grade 8.

I needed better than that. I needed adult books. I needed my big library.

We moved to a larger town just before my 13th birthday. The library there was much the same: old, creaky, educational and safe.

I had even fewer friends as a teenager. Didn’t need them. I had Timothy Findley and Jane Rule.

Can’t think what I’d be, or where I’d be, without public libraries. Certainly, I would be a demand on social services. Where else, pre-internet, would I have learned to be who I am? Where else would someone like me find sufficient sources of words for their sanity?

It’s always good to see public acknowledgement of our need for libraries.

If you need further proof that a good chunk of society’s money needs to go to libraries, you can also check out WMTC’s Things I Heard at the Library. (She’s a librarian, not just someone who would be a drain on society if she weren’t given enough to read.)

A Canadian Scandal

Before I begin this post, I should clearly define my heritage, as that seems quite important to many people right now. I’m the product of British Isle immigrants (who came over in the mid-late 1800s) and Dutch immigrants (1950s). I was born in Canada.

Yesterday, Joseph Boyden published My Name is Joseph Boyden in Maclean’s magazine. It’s 4 000 words of “here’s what I know about my family” and “I’m a good person”.

It’s not going over too well with anyone who isn’t from the upper white echelon.

Here in Canada, we like scandal. Our British heritage is made obvious in scandal: we disapprove from a chilly distance, disdain with silence. When we speak of people, we use the passive voice and unspecific pronouns like they and he/she, so as not to contaminate ourselves with proper nouns.

We can’t seem to decide: should we be blaming an individual or a group? Who, precisely, is responsible for this problem? Who should we focus on?

According to Ken Whyte, it is time to focus on an individual and the “bullshit” that has been inflicted on him:

(Will I comment on his use of capital letters? I suppose it could be accidental…. No, I think I won’t comment on it.)

According to Robert Jago, it is also time to think about the individual and a different variety of bullshit. (I suggest reading the whole thread and [most of] the comments):

(Mr. Jago also makes mistakes on Twitter, but they’re occasional and clearly typos.)

I think Canada might be getting too focused on the individuals. Individual attention is required when there is a person standing right in front of you, where the interaction is between you and them. When a whole country–including those who have never met said individual–focuses on one person, this becomes rather like a religion. The person becomes an entity, a god or a devil, to serve the purpose.

God/devil/scapegoat: they’re all useful.

The real scandal in my country, however, is that we are a humongous, varied group that isn’t working well together. We’re not working well because we’re focusing on individuals rather than groups. We’re looking for ancient DNA and contemporary affirmation to justify our views on millions of people.

Maclean’s magazine gave 4 000 words to one person. The article isn’t about making improvements to Canada, about how we can work things out so everyone gets what they need–and perhaps some of what they want. It’s about one person and how they justify their own identity.

I would have like to see something about how we could try to end scandal–something about how the taxes can be evenly distributed, how we can get everyone the basics of human needs and rights, how someone like me (who has everything they need) can share with those who need something.

In this age of internet, where just about everyone has access to blogs, Twitter, etc. I would like to see an individual’s issues on said individual’s personal social media sites and national issues in our national media. The use of scandal to sell magazines depresses me.

And, for pete’s sake, let’s try for a new, more interesting, better class of scandal.

P.S. Ken Whyte praises the piece as “outstanding”. It’s not. It’s not better than, worse than or different from any other rambling blog. It needs a red pen.

Edit: Pithy internet quotes to support my point.

 

Chicken Soul Soup: Wrong Word, Kid

In which a student confuses words and evokes Harlequin fantasy.

“The law [Bill C-16] does not consider the majority as women tend to feel somewhat venerable when a biologically-male person barges into their change-room.”

Image

Happy Canada Day

Because the Internet Needs More Cat

Activity Being Avoided: going to bed
Music In My Head: listening to Andrew Bird’s Armchair Apocrypha
Tea Being Drunk: none. It’s cocoa. I’m supposed to be going to sleep soon.
Books Being Read: The Son of a Certain Woman–Wayne Johnston, Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent–Liz Howard

This post is for a student–the sort of student who can order up blog posts as if they’re choosing from a menu–who wants to know about my cats. My gut instinct said no one else wants to read about my cats, but secondary reaction said it wouldn’t be the first time only one person has read a post.

I’m a cat person. I get along with cats for all the same reasons dog people don’t get along with them: they’re indifferent, arrogant, demanding, egocentric and immutable.

I will always be a cat person. There’s no sense to existence without something (*mph*) small and (*merph*) fuzzy walking on your chest and (god dammit) demanding attention.

Meet Esther. She just sneezed in my face. Life with cat mucus.

Esther, who is solar-powered.

Esther is a hedonist. She likes intense sunlight, being held, being fed, sitting between me and my laptop, and generally having everything go her way. When Esther doesn’t get what she likes, everyone hears about it. I think she’s got a little Siamese in her, somewhere; that yowl is preternatural. Her favourite place to sleep is on the small of my back. If I am not available as a heat source when she wants to sleep, she likes to be wrapped in a blanket so she can nap–not blanket-tucked-around-shoulders: wrapped. Her face needs to be covered, too. Clearly, demons don’t need to breathe.

Her brother is Leo. He has what my friend calls “stranger danger” fears (everyone is a stranger). He’s afraid of loud noises and things that change. Leo also has an oral fixation and needs to bathe me several times per day. We’ve come to an agreement that he can have at the rough parts of my skin (elbows, knuckles) any time he likes, but he may only have one swipe at the sensitive parts (inside of the wrist) and the ticklish parts (palms) are entirely off-limit. He also likes being fed, and will stand on his hind legs to thwack my bottom while I put the food on the plate.

Leo, who likes a selection of water bowls.

Leo and Esther arrived five and a half years ago, after the death of the last of what I now consider to be “the first batch” of cats in my adult life. These guys arrived, along with a sister (who died a year and a half ago), when their owners moved into a retirement home. The cats had other names that no one seemed to know for certain, and were theoretically all female.

They became Naomi, Esther and Leah.

Ten days later, when we finally got him out from under the chair, Leah became Leo. We figured it was okay to put a Latin name in with the Hebrew, given that the cats spoke neither language. (At the time, they only spoke Polish.) They haven’t objected to it yet.

That’s *my* pillow, meant for humans, not cats.

The cats control the house. They schedule a good part of my day, and take up a fair amount of time for creatures that are theoretically independent. For their sake, my saving account gets laundered straight through the pet food store and the vet. They view shedding as a full-time occupation, so I only sound obsessive when I say I vacuum thoroughly twice a week. My furniture is all ripped at the corners, and all the plants in the house have to be edible. Cardboard boxes and paper bags are earmarked as entertainment.

Despite what that confession might imply, these are not what millennials have termed “fur babies”. They are family members. They are kindred spirits. They are a reason for lifting one’s nose from the page and paying attention to the good things in life.

 

Plus Ca Change…

Next Saturday is Canada’s big “150 year” celebration: 150 years since signing a certain piece of paper. Can’t say much more than that about the number, which is otherwise irrelevant.

It has, however, spurred me on to some reading. I just don’t think I know enough about my own (massive) country. There’s no particular direction to my reading: anything that comes across my path is fair game for consumption, with the exception of hate speech, because I hear more than enough of that in the news.

Though Quill and Quire panned it as “elegant bathroom reading”, I recommend Charlotte Gray’s Canada: A Portrait in Letters as elegant bathroom reading–or public transit reading (though it’s a little hefty; one could do arm curls, I suppose, and kill two birds with one stone). It’s lovely to see that Canada has been the same for the last 200 years: money and resources are unevenly distributed, people of one origin despise people of every other origin, eloquent women are considered lesser than men, Indigenous leaders are still asking for the same things, white leaders dictate how things are and will be, and the uneducated are still arguing about how science works.

I wonder when our country will get it together and start acting like one country.

Draw yourself a nice bath, make a cup of tea–no, scratch that: pour yourself a beer, and start flipping through this collection of proof of our humanity.