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.

 

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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.”

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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.

 

My Cultural Standards for Fiction

Two weeks ago, the Canadian literary scene got quite the shaking-up. (If you somehow missed this, start here and just keep clicking on links.) My students are wondering about it, talking about it, trying to solve this problem so it doesn’t inhibit creativity and multiculturalism but still considers people’s feelings when it comes to theft.

I have also been reading about this. As a fiction writer, I don’t want to inadvertently stomp on someone’s cultural heart. It’s not in anyone’s interest that I remain ignorant. I also believe it’s my personal responsibility–not an editor’s–to make sure that I don’t cross the line.

I think I’ve come up with an idea. It came to me while reading Robert Jago‘s On Cultural Appropriate, Canadian’s Are Hypocrites. He uses Harry and the Hendersons as an example of how cultural stories get taken out of context and badly used. I’ve never seen Harry and the Hendersons. Even when my kids we small and we were watching some rather terrible movies, we didn’t sink that low. Why not? Because it’s clearly crap. I don’t want to waste hours of my life deliberately partaking of total crap. There’s enough of that I can’t avoid.

So, how do I avoid total crap? There are certain filters or lenses one might use to determine crap levels. Part of it’s personal perspective; another part is something I picked up during my brief foray into academia. When writing non-fiction, there are certain standards for fact-checking and attribution to which one must adhere. One will not be taken seriously if one writes an academic paper that has no citations or uses “I once heard” as a resource. Primary sources are required; lack of citation is plagiarism.

I think I’ll apply the same criteria to my fiction.

  • If I haven’t used primary sources wherever possible, I can’t publish that story. (I, myself, count as a primary source, but I have to be ready to back that up with some sort of evidence.)
  • If I haven’t been able to come up with a minimum of three primary sources, I can’t publish that story.
  • If I’ve used something without permission, I can’t publish that story.
  • Anything that I’ve “made up” is to be clearly made up, not thieved. (I’m thinking about monsters and space aliens here.)
  • If I use someone else’s idea/tradition/culture and make money off it, a good chunk of that money (50%?) should go to a charity that supports said someone. My primary sources will be able to guide me to appropriate charities.

Fiction writers are still working with the making-up-stories-by-the-fire approach. Whatever one heard was fair game for pre-radio-era entertainment. Sometimes it was possible to trace the origin of the story; other times, it would be beyond the story-teller’s means/ability to do such a thing. Back then, there was some reason to just “borrowing” a story.

That’s not the state of things now. I have several libraries at my disposal, Google on all my electronic devices, and access to every country/culture on Earth through social media. I have no excuse for not getting a) the accurate story and b) permission from the appropriate people.

Not, of course, that this will save me from crap writing. What it might do is save my (few) readers from crap writing, and then the only thing they have to worry about is their personal opinion of my writing–including semi-colons.

Thieves are so annoying….

I’m Not Doomed, and I Won’t Doom Others

The only thing worse than one gender telling another gender what they are is–seriously, must I finish this sentence? In this day and age, yes, apparently I must object to a woman telling me what it’s like to be a woman.

I’m not “second-class”. I’m not “doomed”. Hilla Kerner of the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter tells us women are both these things. I reject her definition; I’ve always rejected it and will always reject it. We have to get over the idea that women are weak and unequipped to live in society. Our lack of Y chromosome does not define who we can be, where we can go or what we can do.

We have human rights. One of those rights is to be something other than a victim.

Because I’m not second-class, I would like to suggest that allowing someone else the same rights I have will not take away any of my rights. I can share. I can be compassionate and attempt to empathise with someone who might have had a slightly different experience from mine. To me, the basic shared experience is more important than the gender of the person who experienced it. (Actually, I can’t think of any social situation where the other person’s gender would be relevant at all.)

If we’re ever going to do something about sexual violence, we have to get over this ridiculous head-in-the-sand, hetero-normative approach to it.

Women rape women.

Women rape men.

Transgendered people are raped.

Non-binary people are raped.

By asserting that only men rape women, the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter is offering to kiss the boo-boo better while ignoring the blood surging from the artery. Though I haven’t been there, this shelter does not seem like a very safe place at all.

Passing Bill C-16 is a good start to sexual safety for everyone.