The Potential for Abuse

It’s funny how slow a progressive society can be.  We like to think of ourselves as being accepting, open-minded and awesomely cool; in reality, we’re nothing more than we were 500 years ago.

This month’s Walrus magazine contains an article entitled Campus Confidential. It’s a disturbing read.  In my mind, Liz Beatty now ranks up there with Amy Chua as the author of the most humiliating thing in print: “The potential for abuse is vast.”

The article is not about professors abusing students, or students abusing professors, or each group abusing members of their own group; no, this article is about making accommodations for students who need them.  The examples cited in the article are extortionate things such as note-takers, extra time on assignments and exams, technical aids and “distraction-reduced environments”.  The article also notes that students require a formal diagnosis from a physician before the educational institution can give them any help.

This debate is not about the potential for abuse of a system.  This is a matter of hierarchy.  A professor is desperate to stay on top of the pedestal, and no wanna-be is gonna tell them how to do their job.  If someone of equal social status–a physician, say–suggests that something is kosher, well, then it’s okay… maybe.

This is all about snobbery.

The lofty halls of academia took quite the hit when social class became politically-incorrect.  Institutions for higher education want everyone to attend (because bigger is better, and all the money is the same colour) but they don’t really want to  accommodate anyone who formerly would have been relegated to the kitchens and back hallways.

I don’t think any reasonable person would hold it against a small institution if they said, before taking the student’s money and making promises, they couldn’t afford to accommodate a certain need.  Support staff and equipment can be expensive, and it’s also difficult to quickly get through the bureaucracy to acquire these things (but that’s a subject for another day).  Were a school to publicly post their limitations, denial of accommodations beyond that limit would be valid.

The “vast potential for abuse” rears its ugly head when the teacher is allowed to tell the student how to learn.

John McAllister, editor

For a literary snob, finding an editor is a stressful activity–very stressful, indeed.  The sheer quantity of freelance editors makes it difficult to slog through the pile, even when instantly rejecting those with sloppy grammar, pink websites and/or a penchant for Ar Hermann font.  I wanted someone with a literary voice, and someone who didn’t show anxiety in the presence of adverbs and the passive voice.  I also needed an editor who would follow the rules until it was necessary to break them.

I found one.  His name is John McAllister.

He is well-educated, well-trained and experienced.  He has a nice writing style.  (It’s been suggested I chose him because his writing style is similar to mine.  That’s the point.)

For those of you who need confirmation: he did excellent work, he did it on schedule, and he answered my extra questions for free.  Yes, I’ll be using his services again.

For those of you who are looking for the cloud around the silver lining, he likes serial commas.  (He is, however, able to bite his tongue and allow me my old-fashioned British tendencies.)

My father’s blessing on this enterprise was that I might find my Covici.  I think that more than one book will be required to assess that accurately, but the bigger problem is that I would then have to be a “rarest experience”.  That’s a lot of responsibility, and I think I’ll leave that to the literary deity who deserved it.

rarest experience

The “Free” in “Freelance”

This article appeared this week: Time to Put the “Free” Back in “Freelance”.  I skimmed it the day it came out, and then someone sent it to me.  Was it a comment that I work too much?  Doubt it.  I spend a lot of time listening to music and contemplating the perfect sentence.  A better article to send me would have been Time to Take the “Goof” out of “Goofing Off”.

While the article has a point (balancing the schedule can be complicated), it misses a more-important point: the people who make freelancing viable are the sort of people who aren’t fond of free time, who get focused on something and don’t notice the world around them.  For people like me, freelancing is no more a risk for overwork than any other job.

I got into freelancing because it gave me the freedom to finish homeschooling my kids.  Once they went to high school (which they both did), my job gave me the freedom to continue intensive parenting when necessary–such as when my highly-intelligent son broke his leg while doing Stupid Bike Tricks, and when he broke both his arms doing Stupid Bike Tricks.  (My daughter also needed me, but her demands on my time could usually be measured in hours instead of weeks.)  I could attend mid-day graduation ceremonies, tend to dying pets, and all manner of things that people with Real Jobs might not be able to do.

I had a notion that, once the kids were both off in post-secondary education or whatever, I would get A Big Girl Job.  The extra money and the benefits held a certain appeal.  Naturally, I would only take A Big Girl Job that would be better than what I had as a freelancer.  Nope.  Nothing seemed better.  I looked for a year before realising that nothing, for me, was ever going to be this good.

I keep the freelancing work because it gives me freedom.  I can accommodate the stupid, goddamned Ménière’s Disease that takes such pleasure in messing up my days.  I can cherry-pick my clients and get rid of anyone who doesn’t work well with me.  There’s even the freedom to do something different whenever I get bored.  People still tell me what to do, but I have the option of declining to do it.

The Online Etymology Dictionary defines freelance as  “medieval mercenary warrior,” 1820 (“Ivanhoe”), from free (adj.) + lance (n.); apparently a coinage of Sir Walter Scott’s.  That’s me: a trusty weapon (words) and freedom.  I take my words to the place where they’re needed and where I think I’ll get the most out of wielding them.  The burden is on me to keep my skills honed so they’re enticing to the clients; if I become redundant, it’s my own bloody fault.  No, I won’t be able to retire when I’m 55 years old, and there are weeks where I’m grateful for my line-of-credit, but that work-for-the-future thing doesn’t really make sense to me.

If one can keep the schedule balanced, as I generally am able to do, one is also never out of work.  Where the employee is tiptoeing around the threat of losing their job, I may take a pay-cut but will not find myself suddenly unemployed.

I love my work.  I love my jobs.  I love being free.


To Be Human Again: The Second Excerpt

The new book continues at its expected pace, on schedule.

This is an excerpt from the second story Defilement, which is Case #33 on this pdf.  These two paragraphs are from the last section of the story to be written.  It’s my favourite part.

Part I

Herr O. was five years old when they got the white cat, rescued from a corner of the gardener’s shed. She was long and lithe; her shoulder blades were moving mountains beneath her fur. He thought she was so elegant, so perfect, that the Divine must have been involved: he called her Gott. When his parents and nanny overcame their shock and explained the depths of this blasphemy, he publicly lowered her status to Engel, and he only addressed her as Gott when they were alone.
They were sitting in the drawing room one morning, just after the fires had been lit. The grating shone with blacking; the flames were still morning-orange and cheerful. He was on the hearth rug with a pile of wooden blocks in front of him. The tower was getting wobbly. There was some thought in his head that the crackling flames might be loud enough to cause architectural destruction, as when thunder rattled the window panes. He was tempted to shush the flames, but knew his mother would laugh at him and make another note of his bossiness.
The cat strolled in from the kitchen, still licking her chops and breathing the scent of bloody meat when he put his face down to hers. She rubbed her body against his arm, his knee, and knocked over the tower with a flick of her tail.
He rebuilt the tower and convinced her to come back by the fire.
“Engel! Come, Engel. It won’t hurt you. You can knock it down again, if you like. Come?”
Eventually, she came, losing her caution to his outstretched fingers. Then she turned away from the block tower and rubbed up against the newly-blacked grating.
The smear was deep night on her cheek and lightened to charcoal down her side. He started at the sight of it, felt the electric tremor and the spreading heat in his belly. His eyes were wide and hot. His mouth paused in an oval exclamation.
“Oh, naughty Engel!” Frau O. picked up the cat and held her at arm’s length. “Liebling, pull the bell, please. We’ll get the maid to clean her up.”
He made no move.
“Darling, please! Before she gets me all filthy!”
His mother was wearing a powder-blue dress and a pink shawl; when he thought of the blacking transferring from the white cat to his mother’s light blue sleeve, the heat radiated through him again. Reluctantly, he stood up and reached for the bell pull.

Every morning, he surreptitiously arranged for the cat to find fresh blacking. The missions ended when his mother muttered something about getting rid of the cat if she didn’t learn to behave herself. Instead, he took to leaping from his bed the moment he awoke, to search for the cat and make sure she stayed out of the way of the maids and their household ministrations.
As he padded around the early-morning house in his dressing gown and stocking feet, clutching the cat against his thin chest, he began to notice the things that happened before the family came downstairs. After the gratings had been swept and the new fires lit, the housemaids would come into the room with their off-white dustcloths and wipe everything down. Over by the windows, the cloths would be able to wipe several surfaces before they were switched out for clean ones; closer to the fire and around the lamps, one swipe across the tabletop would necessitate a refolding of the cloth, finding a fresh side to desecrate. He would observe the maids from the corner of the room, until the cat began squirming and one of the maids called his nanny. Every once in a while, he was able to sneak down to watch them clean, but more often he would have to escape from his nanny’s clutches and go to the laundry room just after the maids had brought down the load of cloths for the day. It became easier in the summer when the laundress took her tubs and buckets outside, and the cloths lay in an easily-viewed pile for a couple of hours before she got to them. The nanny appreciated his new-found love of the outdoors, as it gave her the opportunity to gossip with the laundress.

Visceral Human Cover

What The Hell Has Everyone Been Fighting For?

Black Lives Matter Toronto held up the Pride parade today, sitting in with a list of demands.  Though I’m not in possession of fine details, the list looks entirely reasonable with the exception of the removal of police floats from Pride marches and parades.

BLM Toronto

I believe the police forces in North America are quite capable of excluding and prejudicing without a demonstration from Black Lives Matter.  It would have been nice to see the Pride organisers strike that one out and agree to everything else.

Of course, I would see no problem placing the police floats between those of, say, victims of the bathhouse raids and Black Lives Matter….

Welcome to the Exclusion Meeting. Because you’re the Accepted Group, here’s the list of people you’re allowed to exclude: no one. Because you’re the Accepted Group, here’s the list of things you’re allowed to cut corners on so that the Excluded People don’t get in: nothing.

 You may depart the meeting now.

Reading _To Be Human Again_

Activity Being Avoided: it’s a holiday, so I’m free from obligations… right?
Music In My Head: Neutral Milk Hotel has been in my head for almost a month now.  It usually alternates between April 8, Naomi and Two-Headed Boy.  Sometimes it decides that 3:30 a.m. is the time for Pree-Sisters Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye.  I used to think Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb was going to send me off the deep end, but this is taking it to a whole new level.
Tea Being Drunk: No tea.  Hot chocolate mixed with a cup of coffee and a lot of sugar.
Book Being Read: Today, being a holiday in Canada, is the day to finish off the last few pages of some four books.  I picked up a copy of Marni Woodrow’s Heyday last night, and will likely start that today.

The Writer left her ivory tower last night.  She travelled two cities to the east, got a little lost in the back alleys, found her destination, and spent a couple of hours with other humans.  On the way home, she ran into an old friend and spent an hour holding down a small piece of Bloor Street pavement while catching up on the last twenty years.  Despite having established that she is Way Too Old to do that sort of thing on a work night, she is in rather a good mood today.

An update on the book: I totally lied about the cover.  A friend, deftly avoiding the phrase “strap on a pair”, suggested that the cover I had designed was very philosophical and something more visceral might be in order.  This is the now the cover:

Visceral Human Cover

I read from Periodical Insanity last night.  If you want to read Krafft-Ebing’s original case study, it’s Case 161 on this pdf.

Here’s the excerpt I read last night:

Catharine is a 16-year-old girl whose governess has just been dismissed by Catharine’s mother.  Catharine is doing her best to get Gretchen back.

October 23, 1872
depression and irritability (seven weeks)

Catharine decided that tears, that feminine weapon which is effective against all ages, social classes and sexes, were an excellent place to begin. Planning, of course, would be difficult: her knowledge of extreme melancholia and its ensuing madness was limited, and her experience negligible. Proper women retreated into solitude for such dire states, and there were only proper women in the house–hence Gretchen’s dismissal.
Catharine was adept at reading her mother’s face. From the doorway of the morning sitting room, she saw the cold stoniness.
“Dry your face, Catharine. There’s no need to wallow.”
Catharine dabbed the embroidered handkerchief against her eyes. The corner of the handkerchief, with Gretchen’s monogram in pink and blue, dangled just below her wrist.
Feigning obedience, she perched on a chair beside Frau W. and watched her mother’s face as she explained the purposes of various ledgers and lists. Her mother’s eyes, Catharine noticed, did not contain the dark flecks that Gretchen’s did. The blue of the irises was not at all vivid. Her thin mouth was so pale it was almost grey. There was an unpleasant angularity to her jaw. Beneath her cap, there were no stray tendrils, not a wisp to hint at the existence of, say, luxurious golden waves which might be let down at night for Catharine to comb and plait. Catharine wondered what a man, namely her father, could see in her mother. Perhaps it was the woman’s business acuity.
“Catharine. Are you paying attention?”
“Yes, Mutti.” She sighed deeply. “I am listening.”
Her mother glared ferociously at the single tear coursing her daughter’s cheek. “You shall be running the household soon enough. You need to take some of the responsibility from my shoulders.”
Catharine slumped against the back of the chair, as if felled by an unseen weight.

That was just the beginning. She would take more time to devise the next stage, the one beyond tears and sighs and general malaise. That was what the nights would now be for.

October 29, 1872
The lethargy and melancholy were not difficult to fake. Catharine often found herself deep in morose contemplation of the pattern on the seat cushion or some such thing, and would frown in her surprise. The occasional outburst of vituperative hissing seemed to drain her of any energy she had managed to regain over the course of the night. Were she to follow the outburst with a vale of tears, she would find herself in need of a lie-down.
The maids took to cleaning her bedchamber first thing in the morning, as it was never guaranteed that she would spend more than an hour outside of it.

November 7, 1872
The doctor, supervised by the scornful Frau W. and a nervous Herr W, gave Catharine a double dose of cure-all, to be administered three times daily. A constitutional stroll was also recommended, and a diet including plenty of red meat.
“A waste of money,” Frau W. informed her husband once the doctor had left the room. “The girl is just sulking because she is being forced to behave like a lady.”
Herr W. directed his comments to the floor. “Better safe than sorry. We would not be very good parents if we allowed our daughter to perish from some tropical disease.”
“And where would she have contracted a tropical disease? You spoil her.” She clicked her tongue at him, and then turned on Catharine. “Get off the bed. You heard Herr Doktor: you need to go for a walk. Now.”
Herr W. looked out the window at the end of the hallway and said he guessed that the rain would come any minute.
Catharine briefly laid her head back against her pillow and swallowed the faintly bitter anise taste of the pills. Gretchen, she thought, this had better bring you back.
With a sigh, she hoisted herself from the bed.

November 18, 1872
The intimacy of the doctor’s visits became the highlight of the week. Food lost its appeal; books, were they able to break through the thickening fog, merely added to the heaviness in her brain. In a foetal position on the hearth carpet, Catharine tried to strategise the next bout of ingenious revenge, but instead she found herself constantly returning to memories of Gretchen: the timbre of her voice, her soft hair, her warm scent.
One evening, the cook waddled up the stairs to bring Catharine a well-fortified hot toddy.
“Shhh, kleine Mädchen,” she murmured, pulling Catharine up from the floor and gathering her against her lumpy, fusty-smelling chest. “Time will heal the wounds.”
Catharine drew comfort from this, circling her hands into loose fists around her ears and letting the cook rock her back and forth. Though it wasn’t Gretchen, it was enough to keep her going, to get her through the long night. The next day, when Frau W. handed her a cut glass vase for an arrangement of dried blue kornblume, Catharine let it slide from her feeble grasp and shatter on the floor. Taking a step backwards, she looked at the mess, and then let loose a howl that made her mother’s spine shiver.

November 27th, 1872
maniacal outbreak, lasting two days; thereafter, melancholic
Catharine was beginning to realise that her efforts were futile. While Herr W. could possibly have been swayed, it was Frau W. who had dismissed Gretchen, and Catharine knew her mother was the only one who could bring the governess back. Catharine decided, one dark morning around 4:00, that she would have to try something more drastic to make it clear she wasn’t willing to live without Gretchen. She cast about, trying to determine the best course of action.
There was no option other than all-out chaos and mayhem. She lay back down in her bed to rest until the sun came up. (There was no use beginning the chaos and mayhem immediately, as her bedroom was too far away from her mother’s: no one important would hear her. She would conserve her meager energy.)
When she could hear the maids in the hallways and she thought her parents were likely to be awake, it was time to begin. The chambermaid came in to build up the fire, and she brought with her a large jug of hot water which she set down beside the washbasin. When the fire was burning well, she turned away to prepare Catharine’s clothing for the day.
Catharine smiled inwardly at her own flair for drama: with a maniacal scream, she threw the water onto the fire, filling the room with smoky steam, and then hurled the jug at the mirror over the washbasin. The crash was cathartic; she cast about for more things to throw.

Except for the few hours during which she collapsed into fatigued unconsciousness, she managed to keep it up for almost two days. Frau W. initially tried to end the rage by means of a willow switch, but the bloody scratches she received to her face soon ended that. She locked Catharine’s bedroom door from the outside and left her daughter to her own devices.
Finally, Catharine capitulated to silent, lonely misery. Once, she believed she heard heavy footsteps–like those of a man–stop in the hallway just outside her door, but after a brief pause the footsteps continued down the stairs until Catharine could no longer hear them.
She was coming to a disheartening realisation. Gretchen, she thought, must have been kilometres and kilometres away to not have instinctively heard Catharine calling out to her.

Why I Hate Hockey, Part II

Last night, Facebook had a little glitch in their system that resulted in me being invited to comment on the hockey draft.  My family has had their bit of fun with that.  I was reminded of this essay I wrote a few years ago and found again a few weeks ago.

Why I Hate Hockey

    Hate is such a deep word, though I regretfully confess that—when we get right down to it—it’s the only appropriate choice. While everything has, or is subject to, multiple aspects and facets and perspectives, there will always be one aspect or facet or perspective which is bigger and louder than the others. It’s because of this that I say, “I hate hockey.”
However, the term hockey is too vague for such a declaration. There are too many different people playing hockey for me to see it as all one game. There’s the general, overall, umbrella term hockey (let’s call it “small h hockey”) which defines the game where one laces on some skates and tries to get the puck into the other guy’s net; there’s the “wanna play hockey?” variety, where a bunch of people get together informally, everyone splits into even teams, they whack some pucks into a net, and then they go to Timmy’s for hot chocolate; there’s also the lots-of-rules, highly competitive, we’re-no-longer-human-we-are-awesome-machines game of hockey.
My only problem with “small h hockey” is that I don’t get it. Just as some people don’t see the purpose to tying knots in a long piece of string until you end up with a sweater, or spending an hour deliberating the placement of a comma, I don’t see the purpose to zooping around a cold arena trying to put the puck into the net. (And your reward for putting the puck in the net lots of times is another chance to zoop around a cold arena and put the puck into the net again?) I’m female–not a hair/make-up/fancy clothes girly-girl, but the type that likes stereotypically-feminine things. I like to read and write; I like to make small things with my hands; I like to listen to people talk. If one were to look at me through a primal lens, I would definitely be the woman out tending the fields and small animals, and humming quietly while I rocked my baby in front of the fire at night. Loud noises and fast movements disconcert me; there’s no appeal to the smell of sweat and testosterone. When I watch hockey, I’m reminded of the skills required for a successful hunt; if my tribe depended on me for meat, they’d be pretty damned skinny. But at least with a hunt I’d have motive: hunger would spur me on, and the pleasure of satiation would give me reason to do it again. Hockey doesn’t seem to have any purpose, so if someone desperately wants to beat me to the puck, I’ll gladly let him get there first. I have no interest in the race–neither the competition nor the speed. Hockey is too fast for me: I don’t think or move very quickly, so I haven’t the instinct to–while sliding around the ice on thin blades of steel—turn around, move a wooden stick behind a splodge of rubber and use said stick to wing said rubber splodge into a net, all within a split second. If the game could pause, and I could have time to consider where to place the stick and where to aim the rubber splodge, I might be more inclined to attempt a game. But that’s not the way hockey goes. Hockey is a think fast/move fast game. There’s no time for leisurely contemplation. Snap judgments are the mainframe. So “small h hockey” can’t really be included in the hate category, but I think I’d honestly prefer to do… I don’t know what would be the lesser of two evils… a complex calculus problem.
My father likes hockey. While I was growing up, he wasn’t obsessive about it, but it was something he could always talk about for quite a while when in the company of other hockey fans. As an infant, I was perched on his lap and taught to cheer whenever Frank Mahovlich made a goal. I don’t remember when we stopped watching hockey together; the activity was probably phased out as his other three children arrived and he no longer had leisure to sit in front of a television. Regardless, I still hold Frank Mahovlich dear: the coffee mug bearing his black-and-white image is washed reverently whenever I visit my parents’ house. Frank Mahovlich is an aspect of hockey which I don’t hate. I suppose this is where my respect for the “wanna play hockey” type of hockey comes in; sure, it was more of a “wanna watch hockey”, but it always had that faint undertone of familiarity and reverence.
I also spent my formative years in a small town where hockey possessed the male of the species all winter long. The free skating times at the arena were always contaminated by large, moving bundles of hockey equipment that “needed to practice for the next day’s game”; the bundles of hockey equipment were annoying but nothing more. We also skated on the river, and the girls in their white skates would be forcibly removed from the park by boys armed with their sporty weapons. More effort was probably expended on the cultural battle than the actual game of hockey, but if I were ever to give my seal of approval to a variety of hockey, this would be the one I’d choose. Those guys were obsessive and determined and masculine, but the game was what gave them the thrill. It didn’t matter if you were male or female, five years old or twenty-five years old, as long as you could fill out the team, you were in. Even if you were still too small to stand confidently on skates, someone would come around behind you, scoop you over to the net, and prop you up so you could shoot. (I use the pronoun you in the impersonal sense; I watched these scenes with well-disguised admiration, but I was never once on the river with the hockey players. And, yet, this variety of “wanna play hockey” doesn’t stir up any strong feelings which resemble hatred… despite wanting to find Bryan Greer and punch him for all the times he interrupted the World’s Best Figure-8 Performances.)
It’s only been in adulthood that I have identified what I truly hate about hockey: unnecessary rules that have absolutely nothing to do with the game. Girls must play on girls’ teams, regardless of size, weight, ability, etc; boys must play on boys’ teams, regardless of size, weight, ability, etc; talented players go on one team and “lamers” go on another team, and the other guys just don’t get picked for a team at all. Fourteen-year olds play in one league but thirteen-year olds play in the league below them, even if the thirteen-year olds are better hockey players. Small children are told to “suck it up” when they whine about being tired at a 5 a.m. hockey practice. Older children are punished, physically and emotionally, by adults who want them to play the game perfectly; adults behave like deranged animals because “someone else” was responsible for their child not playing the game perfectly. People are ostracized from the game if they look different from the other players, or if they’re attracted to their own gender–or if they don’t have a gender, or if they’re not willing to hurt someone to get a goal. Coaches are relieved of their duties if they take their team off the ice so they’re not subjected to cultural slurs that incite hatred.
These rules have nothing to do with the game; they don’t make the game better or more fun. These rules bring in money. These rules give ersatz power to people who desperately want it. These rules make people into Good Hockey Players, but don’t let them be anything else. This is where the term hatred is applied, and I’ve applied it with Krazy Glue. This is the part of hockey that overpowers all the other parts, and I will never, ever learn to accept this part.
So, I guess I’ll have to re-entitle this essay: The Aspects of Hockey which Flabbergast Me, the Aspects of which I’m Somewhat Fond, and the Aspect which I Well-and-Truly Despise. There’s no neat little nutshell for me to put this into, just as there’s no nutshell for anything else which has come to command the lives of a nation for six months of the year. When I vociferously claim “I hate hockey”, it’s due to my respect for human beings rather than my distaste for the game itself. It’s the extremes that I hate: the need to be The Best, the need to have The Most, and the insistence on leaving all the rest behind.
The game wouldn’t even exist without humans, and the Good Hockey Players are still–regardless of statistics and income–nothing more than humans. They can’t be known as such until they’re juxtaposed with the Bad Hockey Players, and no one can become a Bad Hockey Player until they’ve stood on wobbly legs on a frozen river, depending on some adolescent in a bright red #27 shirt to show you how to do this marvelous thing he does.