Category Archives: Uncategorized

One or More Percent Tolerance

I’m self-employed; I work alone, usually one-on-one with clients. I do have a set of guidelines I give to prospective clients, but I must say that I do not have any hard-and-fast rules.

In my line of work, there’s no “zero tolerance”.

I first heard that term during the brief period my children were in elementary school (before I started homeschooling them). At the time, it was “zero tolerance for violence”. Any student who participated in any sort of violence was suspended from school. Naturally, it didn’t take long for even the Grade 1 students to discover that one thrown chair could get you anywhere up to a week at home. My wee little darling, who was frustratingly active but not inclined to violence, was discovered by his (rational) teacher whilst in the planning stages of a group suspension. He and his cohorts thought it would be great to get out of school. We had to have a little chat about the consequences of actions and exactly how much fun a week in the company of his livid mother would be.

When I was in my early 20s, when the world was black and white, I probably would have agreed with the concept of zero tolerance. By the time I was in my late 20s, the world was starting to get rather grey around the edges. Now, all I see are variants of grey.

Thus, I have “guidelines” rather than “rules”. (Think Pirates of the Caribbean; include the eye-role, if you like.)

My guidelines are designed to protect me but, as a human, I find I need only so much protection. I bounce back from most insults and injuries. Sure, I’ll drop a client if they cancel too often, but if the cancellation involves family catastrophes, the sudden death of both grandparents always trumps anything involving me. I really don’t like being kicked, but if the child is kicking me because that’s the only way they can communicate–and I’ve been hired to teach them to communicate in more effective ways–then zero tolerance begets failure for everyone. 

My other problem with the phrase is that it makes people feel too comfortable. They trust the words and distance themselves from the nitty-gritties of a particular situation, and then everything falls apart when the grey areas show up. Most often, those grey areas are people. They are individuals with faces and names, and they don’t fit into the box for whatever reason.

Frequently, the grey areas surround the powerful people who have instituted the zero-tolerance policy and feel it doesn’t actually apply to them. (They are, after all, “good people” who have instituted a zero-tolerance policy.) As well, if zero tolerance is applied to a behaviour one wants to end, said behaviour merely goes underground until it becomes tolerated again. (See thousands of attempts across history and cultures to ban birth control, alcohol, drugs, sex work, etc.) This leaves the powerful sanctimonious and the vulnerable at risk.

Now’s the time to have a large swig of your tea. Gird your loins: I’m about to suggest an appropriate use of numbers. This is math, people. Math.

Let’s use any positive integer other than zero. For situations that might hurt another person, we can start small–1% or 2% tolerance–and see if that achieves the desired effect. That way, teenagers in a consensual sexual relationship won’t end up on the (bloody stupid) sex offender registry, but people won’t have to put up with being sexually assaulted. In other situations, where the only risk is to the individual, we could up it to, say, 99% tolerance… and we might learn something new.

It’s a different plant, but it’s still a nice plant.


Let’s Have a Chat About Accessibility and Being Hard of Hearing

I went to a poetry reading on Saturday night. It was at The FOLD, which seems to pride itself on accessibility–‘cepting it wasn’t accessible for me. Two of the four presenters didn’t use the microphone that was right beside them.

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a few years know that this seems to be a poetic problem

If you want me to pay you for your art, I need to be able to take part in it.

There’s not a lot about accessibility for hard-of-hearing people (though apparently one-quarter of the population has some type of hearing loss). Here are my suggestions for HoH accessibility:

1. Always use a microphone.

OU TUNT BEE I CA UH-UR-TAH OO. (Loud doesn’t mean I can understand you.) The microphone consistently makes all the sounds louder, which means I can pick up more consonants. Make it a good microphone, too. Static and blaring make things unintelligible.

2. Make sure you have decent speakers hooked up to said microphone.

Squawking and fuzzing aren’t good here, either.

3. Light the presenter’s face.

Lipreading doesn’t work well in mood lighting.

Lipreading, though, has drawbacks: B and M look the same; F and V look the same. Accents really mess with lipreading.  Shouting, emphasis and extreme emotion also contort lips. For most people in most situations, lipreading is only half a language.

4. Offer closed-captioned videos or print-outs of the reading.

ASL is nice, but not everyone is fluent in ASL. People who don’t use it regularly might be good enough to have a conversation, but poetic language is probably beyond them.

5. If you can’t make your event accessible for me, just let me know.

I don’t expect everyone to accommodate my ears. People who don’t speak English wouldn’t expect you to translate the whole programme into their language.

Just don’t lie to me and take my money.

For communication tips, read the Canadian Hearing Society’s page.



Reality Check

According to a recent Globe and Mail editorial, this is reality:

Yes, Mr. Suzuki can be strident. He wants the oil sands to be “shut down.” His views on economics are crude. We do not agree with his extreme approach to curbing climate change.

Now, I’m not one for reality. Fiction is the best thing ever created. The only good thing about being human, most days, is fiction. Let’s hear it for dreaming.

However, even I have to acknowledge certain realities. Sadly.

One reality is that digging deep into the Earth, bringing up chthonic substances and letting them run over the top of the Earth is–and always has been–a bad idea.

Another reality is that economics is a human-made thing, as fictional as it comes. (Hesiod was a freaking poet, people.) If, at any point, the economy sucks, we can just change it, or stop it, or do anything we want to it.

Trust me. I rewrite fiction all the time.

By Holger Motzkau 2010

The Power of Positive Thinking

Activity Being Avoided: math. Self-employed people should have fairy godmothers who get off on bookkeeping.
Music In My Head: Our House — Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I sing it to the cats. They like it, but Esther tells me we lack fireplaces.
Tea Being Drunk: water *sigh*
Books Being Read: Green Grass, Running Water–Thomas King, A Gentle Madness–Nicholas A. Basbanes

A while ago, a student tried to do an essay on the power of positive thinking. It was their first choice of topic.

Positive thinking is very important; positive thinking, they said, is good because it helps you be more positive.

We talked about circular logic.

Positive thinking, they said, is good because it can help you achieve a goal.

We talked about weak arguments.

Positive thinking, they said…

Wait, I said. Lemme get you a book.

The library is stuffed with books on positive thinking. The library is cutting down their print resources by half, but it still requires more than two shelves to hold all the positive-thinking books. The student was unimpressed when I arrived at the table with an armload of what would translate to several hours of research.

The student changed their topic.

Very few cultures or societies appreciate extremes. We cluck our tongues at people who are too thin or too fat, who spend inordinate amounts of time playing video games or reading novels, who spout dogma about a particular deity, who wear clothing too formal or too informal. If someone were to spend all their time thinking negatively, we’d have them committed.

We prefer mediocrity to excess.

Somehow, positive thinking has become a religion, rather fundamentalist in its doctrine. If you have a negative thought, you are weak, have lost control and, therefore, have sinned.

Yeah, no.

Good and evil are intrinsic to this life. We’ve personified both (God and Devil, Batman and The Joker), symbolised both (light and dark, dove and snake). Some of the first words infants learn are bad and no.  We can’t get rid of the negative, no matter how hard we try.

That’s okay, people. Really.

Darkness makes the light such a relief, but there’s also an intrigue to darkness. Like the universe, darkness is infinite and so carries an infinite mystery. We know from experience that light always ends… somewhere, some time.

There’s an irony to the pious positive thinkers wanting to dissuade others from negative thinking–enabling anger, sadness, jealousy, loneliness–as if it might invoke the Evil Eye.

Me, I’d rather receive an evil eye than a rolling one. Perhaps I’m just used to it: the evil eye has nothing on my mother’s thou-hast-done-wrong look. No amount of positive thinking could ward that off….

I find it interesting that we’ll stroke black cats, sweep up the pieces of a shattered mirror, stroll beneath ladders, but not allow ourselves a negative thought.

What then, you ask, is the power of positive thinking? The power is money: self-help writers get to take a lot of Caribbean cruises.

You have a book to fill up your library shelves.

Sitting with the Bad Guy

A student had to write an essay in response to this quote:

Said student didn’t do so well with the essay, partly because they didn’t understand the concept of “easy and preferred answers”.

If human life had accurate easy and preferred answers, philosophers wouldn’t exist. Argument wouldn’t exist. There would be no need for thought.

Much as it may seem otherwise, I am easily bored. (It’s difficult to notice because I am also easily entertained by my own imagination, which can be whipped out at the drop of a hat. Do what you want with this statement.) The process of thinking is enjoyable to me: the result may be fine, but the means of getting there is what I appreciate. Maybe that’s why I never excelled at math: correct answers are not as pleasurable as good answers.

I also appreciate “liberal education”. I don’t want to miss anything interesting.

On Twitter and blogs, I follow an odd assortment of people. Very few of them are people I agree with—or necessarily like. I want to read about things I don’t know about. I want to read what the ex-cons and the anti-contact MAPs and the disgraced editors have to say. I want to read what the rabble-rousers and prejudiced people think. After all, “[y]ou can’t have a light without a dark to stick it in” (Arlo Guthrie). It behooves me to become familiar with the light, the dark, and that wonderful, explorable, murky grey area in between.

A few months ago, my daughter phoned me. She’d just witnessed her first car accident, and she’d been sitting with the person who was at fault–the crasher–as the victim had a whole slew of people with him. The crasher was having a bit of a rough time with what had just happened, so my daughter sat on the curb and listened until the authorities showed up. My daughter said the crasher was pale and shaking, obviously in shock: to my daughter, there were clearly two victims, and victims should not be left to flounder.

A very long time ago, I was in the same situation as my daughter’s brief companion: I was once a crasher. Like the crasher in my daughter’s situation, I knew I was at fault and was trying to process everything while standing alone on the street corner. The priest from the nearby church came to stand with me. We didn’t talk much; it was just easier to get through that waiting period with someone close by.

I was thinking of this as I read my student’s (failure of an) essay. They had used “right” and “wrong” as adjectives for “answers”, and I realised how rarely those terms are appropriate, in my experience. Perspective is a definitive thing, and the human race has yet to share a single perspective.

Naturally, it would be very nice if everyone would share my perspective–or would that bore me?

I believe we have the right to judge things as “correct” or “incorrect”, “good” or “bad”; however, personally, I want to be quite sure I’ve got all the information before I make that judgement. I’m not ashamed to change my mind–and I’ll gladly do so if I find it necessary–but it’s that whole ounce-of-prevention-pound-of-cure thing. Backpedalling is like work.



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.


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.