And now comes the time when I resume posting schoolwork

(For World Religions class we had to write a one-page piece about a moment of awe in our lives. I wailed and fretted all around the internet, but I’m not actually too ashamed of this page. So I thought I may as well put it up here.)

In Awe

Last Thursday, I rode three planes as part of my quest to make it home to rural Newfoundland for my brother’s wedding. The third and final flight was a tiny propellor plane, the type which has rows one seat wide and which holds a maximum of 18 people. It took off out of St. John’s in the dark, after nine. I had made my connection with six minutes to spare, after fog delayed the flight out of Halifax. We had been flying in fog most of the day.

When leaving St. John’s, airplanes take a course over downtown and out to sea, turning to head down the flight path to their destination once they’ve come abreast of Cape Spear, the most easterly point in North America. As the plane started to turn in the air, I realized that I’d see my family again in just half an hour. I could probably count the minutes to reunion.

And then the flight tipped to the left, in that curious gravity-confusing effect of sharply banking aircraft. The horizon twisted away, and I was either looking at the ground or the sky, but for a moment it was hard to tell the difference. The view outside my window had turned to a jewellery-counter spill, gold, silver, emerald and ruby on black velvet. I recognized familiar city landmarks as the lights outside my window resolved into a net of gold underneath us.

I don’t see well enough to see the stars. Most evenings can provide christmas-card smears of brightness. But this moment was clear and wondrous, and in that moment these familiar man-made constellations held all the wonder of the cosmos.

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Thanks for the telegram, body

I deal pretty well with stress. Of course, I have my tells, as do we all (stomach aches, memory issues and curling into a ball and staring into space, to name a few), but overall I like to think that when faced with stress, I carry on as though nothing bad is happening. I’m a titan of industry!

When that stress finally lets off, I have different tells. Specifically, crushing exhaustion and sinus issues. This usually happens after exam time, or a move.

And RELATEDLY, I just switched jobs. (I promise this is related.) The ones I had before were fine, but probably not ideal for my interests and personality. I’m an introvert, and I was in sales. So I’m in this new job, and it has its share of blinding terrors, but significantly, despite working less hours here, I’m totally exhausted and rocking a head so clogged I feel like I’m going to overbalance. My body is reacting to this full-time job as though it has the same stress level as a vacation.

I’m guessing the job is a good fit for me.

Occupy a Charity! Or wait, what?

I started this blog post back in October, so it’s probably time to unearth it from my drafts and actually post it. Onwards!

Back in the fall of the year last year, during the Occupy movements, one of memes that was circulating the internet was of people saying “I am wealthy– tax me more!” I, being the cynical person that I am, wondered aloud why these people didn’t give the money they thought should be taken in taxes to charities, if they really cared so deeply.

Then I thought about that more, and it actually seemed an excellent idea. If you think you should be taxed at a higher rate, or if you feel that the government is falling down on the job on a certain issue– give a bunch of money to a charity! That way you actually know where the money goes, and you don’t have to wait for tax reform to roll around, a process that might take five or more years.

Side note: I am not advocating for high-income persons paying taxes at a lower rate than middle-income people. That is absurd. I’m thinking about the possibilities inherent in making 200k or more a year, which is the benchmark for the Canadian 1%.

At any rate, I was so taken with my idea that I mentioned it to someone else who was taking an interest in the Occupy movement. His reaction was first to accuse me of conservatism, and then when I requested an answer to why this idea I’d just come up with would be bad, he responded.

“Well it doesn’t work to just have people give money to charities, because then it gives people free rein to be bigots with their money.”

Now I found that to be a fascinating response, primarily because of all the assumptions it contains. The first one is that it presumes that the government is free of prejudice and/or bigotry. Is that true? On the one hand, no, because no choice can be free of a value statement. Every decision is prejudiced one way or another. But semantics aside, is our government free of prejudice?

I have been thinking about this, and I don’t believe that simply because the government is the government it is imbued with some quasi-mystical protection against awfulness. The record of history is that governments make mistakes, and usually when they make mistakes they make horrible ones. They also do good things, but it is far from a 100% skew in favour of infallible government. Yes, our governments are committed to justice and equality. In Canada we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which the government is committed to upholding. But so is every other institution– and  by law. If I want to go around discriminating against people on the basis of age, class, race, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, etc, I am prohibited by law from doing so. I could be working for the government or the local corner store, it makes no difference. So there’s that.

And the second presumption which that statement contented is that it’s the government’s role to stop bigotry. And that also, I think, is incorrect.

Please don’t stone me.

I don’t mean that the govt should be advocating or turning a blind eye to bigotry. Our duly elected officials, as representatives of the people, should be fighting grossness and injustice, protecting the powerless and disenfranchised, and helping those who need it. But that’s just it, as representatives of the people. Change shouldn’t come only from the government, it should come from the people, with “official” channels being only one of the channels which change travels.

So yes, it is government’s role to stop bigotry and grossness. But it is also EVERYONE ELSE’S role to stop it. If we rely on legislation as the only path to change things, I think we make a mistake. Social change usually comes in small increments, on the community and household level, after all.

So that is how a simple statement about charity and taxes opened up a whole can of worms in my head about the role of government and re-established in my own head that legislation is not the end-all-and-be-all of society. Feel free to point out my mistakes and mental flaws in the comments. 😀

The road to Success

So this isn’t going to be the post where I lay out my five-year plan with goals and schedules and tactics to achieve those goals. I am no prophet. This is going to be a rambley thinking-on-the-page post about shifts in mental status around writing.

*watches 99% of blog followers drift away*

Ah, my loyal spambots! Thank you for staying. 😀

So I started thinking about this post about two weeks ago, when I was going to bed dissatisfied with the productivity of the day. After I had pointed out to myself that I’d read 200 pages of a MG novel and worked for seven hours, myself realized that my subconscious has for some time now been ignoring activities that don’t involve writing in some way. The hours that fill my bank account? PSH. They are nothing. The two hours spend scanning for “ly” in a short story– now there is where my satisfaction lies.

Part of me was absolutely delighted to figure this out. I finally knew, with proof from my  emotions and everything, (exactly one year after I decided to try a workshop to see if I wanted to try this writing thing seriously), that storytelling was where my focus and love was. So yes, I went in and changed my facebook employment information to add “writer” as a part-time job.

Another part of me was closer to despair than to glee, because I knew that writing was what I want to do as my final career, and yet I have three years of 50-60 hour weeks ahead of me in school and work-for-money-for-school. My current method of devoting time to writing involves chunks of four or more hours at a time– which has not been a useable tactic as I keep having chucks of two or less hours, during which I am a starey-creature-who-stares-at-walls for at least half of that time.

You see, I am wimpy and thus I tire easily, and I don’t do well if I don’t spent time talking to/stalking the twitter/tumblr feed of at least one of my friends on the internet, and I don’t do well if I don’t get enough sleep, and so on, and so on. I know what I want to do, I just– can’t do it yet.

 

It is extremely tempting to just scream at myself for being so weak. I should push myself through writing anyways, damn the consequences. Edit anyways, no matter if I hate it and I can’t think straight and only one of my eyes will focus and all I want to do is cry. I need to get this done. I have done this before.

That is to say, I’ve gone the self-hatred route. It’s really good for producing self-hatred, not great for producing anything else. And I mean anything. Socialization drops, faith drops, work that I am being paid to do drops…

So I need to find another way forward. I need to (1.) teach myself to work in small snatches and (2.) to not fall into the habit of hating myself for my weakness whenever I can’t. (Legitimately, I asked someone if being depressed whenever I was tired was normal. It was suggested that I try being nice and rewarding myself for work done when I was tired. I literally had never considered that, as when I’m tired it’s a sign that I have failed to complete the work I wanted to and I’m giving up too soon darn it. Yeah. So that was another eye-opening realization.) I need to (3.) take advantage of my current jobs which provide exactly zero life of the mind, and use that time to ponder and brainstorm. I need to (4.) eat right so I don’t get tired sooner than is necessary, and I need to (5.) embrace the fun of writing (after all, I’ll be doing it for the rest of my life, (*squee!bounce*)).

Because writing should be fun, I have decided. I get to make things. I get to make AWESOME things. (I should stop abusing italics.) I get to think about Themes and Messages and Characters and Worldbuilding and Cultural Assumptions and Plot and Voice and ALL THIS FUN STUFF. (Note: that is an entirely appropriate use of italics.) And then I get to string them all together, using language, which I love. I love all of these things. Why would I not have fun? I’m not talking giggling-euphoria levels of fun, just that these are things that I adore thinking about, talking about, and dealing with. Seriously, I SHOULD BE HAVING FUN. If I’m not enjoying this thing which delights me, I probably have other baseline things wrong with my mindset right now and maybe I should– I dunno– eat or something. Sleep. Play Tetris. Take a shower. Sleep.

There’s so much STUFF on the internet about “write every day” and “write even if you don’t want to” and “butt in chair” and “the reader can’t tell the difference between words you wrote when you were having fun and words you wrote when you hated everything,” etc, etc, ad nauseum. The attitude seems to be that if you’re having fun you’re doing it wrong. You should be sweating blood, you know. You should feel PAIN. LIKE AN ADULT.

And I’m using my status as an adult to choose to ignore all that. Gonna have fun, gonna do cool stuff, gonna make things explode. *nch nch nch*

I am also going to find a way to explain this picture.

I feel as though in deciding this and then saying it in text I am committing a great heresy against the orthodoxy of the internet. YEAH I AM A HERETIC WHOOO.

To sum up: I have two victory conditions for achieving Success: that I write things I am proud of– that are funny and awesome and people want to re-read, and that I do not hate my life and how long it took me to get there. I need to be nice to myself while I live and write and work and get to my dream job.

See, I told you it’d be a rambling blog post. 😀

P.S. World-building note:  How WEIRD is facebook and our self-construction of our identity through it?

Using Violence for Good and Evil

So I was cruising twitter at work, as I do, and I came across this excellent article by Drew McWeeny.

What happens when we find ‘The Line’ as viewers?

In it, he talks about how, as a movie reviewer, he has seen hundreds of depictions of rape, and how he finally just snapped. He’s questioning why this happens so often, and coming to the conclusion that is essentially laziness on the part of the writers/directors, in most cases. (It’s quite a good article, you should read it.)

Anyways, I sent it to my movie-buff friend, and he came back with this.

He makes a much-needed point. I haven’t seen a lot of movies that included on-screen rape – only one comes to mind, and I’m hoping it’s only that one, because otherwise something is seriously wrong with me that I’ve just gone and forgotten the others – but the same principle applies (in a lesser sense) to other depictions of extreme violence and sexuality on-screen.

And I responded;

And it goes beyond mere gratuitous violence/sex, which is the usual accusation against pointless content. It’s just sloppy. So much writing nowadays is short-hand for emotional impact. (And I’m guilty of this too.) We need the audience to feel grief– so the child dies. We need the audience to feel horrified– so we rape someone. It angers me on two counts, because a.) it’s sloppy writing (something I feel strongly about), and b.) it cheapens the actual grief, pain and violence. Which is something I feel even more strongly about.

I thought of you when I read this, because I seem to remember you saying something like that in the past. 😀

Then Zack again…

Well, I sure hope I said something like that. ‘Cause, yeah, it’s true. I think it also indirectly leads to lack of character development, because seriously, what kind of writer would be able to write a convincing, sympathetic, well-developed character and then just casually have another character rape him/her, or the like? I mean, maybe a psychopath writer, but I sure can’t imagine doing that, and I think what generally happens is that that kind of thing is used as a substitute for character development, which ties in to what you’re saying about sloppy writing. Ironically, because the audience or readers won’t be all that attached to the character being brutalized in some way, they won’t feel the affect of the act as keenly, which, yeah, cheapens the evil on display and feeds the growing prevalence of apathy towards this kind of stuff.

And at this point I asked if I could put the conversation on my blog.
TA-DA.
And I’ve been thinking about this over the last few days, because of my reaction to certain things in books. Books about Cancer, specifically. And everyone in my internet is suddenly reading A Monster Calls and A Fault in Our Stars, both of which I’m sure are fabulous books, but ones that I am terrified of. This would be because I lost my little brother to cancer at the age of 4, and it was not a good time for me. (I’m not gonna bother to go into how bad of a time it was, because if you can’t infer it from “little brother died of cancer when he was four” then we clearly have a failure to communicate that goes beyond word choice.)
That’s not to say that stories about tragedy cannot be worthwhile. The best stories invariably DO contain a seed (or sometimes a forest) of pain. In all of my favourite books, horrible things happen, have happened, will happen, and are being dealt with. But pure content does not make a story good or bad. But pain as content is something like juggling fire. If it’s done well, it’s awesome. If it’s done badly, it is a really bad thing for everyone. I firmly believe that there is no middle ground.
And unfortunately, stories about cancer usually go down in flames; Nicolas Sparks being a prime example. Children dying is used in procedural TV shows to add a dash of pathos. The slow death of a child is used as a checkbox to elicit a brief emotional response, and then the story moves on to the important stuff– the sexual tension between leads. It worries and disgusts me.
So if I feel like that about cancer, something that touches huge swatches of the population and yet is mishandled in fiction and the media constantly, how do rape survivors feel about how often it’s used (as outlined in the article I linked to), to add some brief horror and sexiness to a film? How do domestic violent survivors feel about all the jokes about “he didn’t give me the right gift, so I’m gonna beat him up/if she doesn’t give you a sandwich give her a black eye.”
And I am not immune to this failing. It is so much easier to give a character a traumatic backstory and then never deal with it. Because yeah, I don’t want to deal with it. Pain is not fun to delve into, I’d rather add some trauma to make people edgy and badass and then have them be So Awesome™ for the rest of the story. So writing this post, and thinking about it, has made me realize that is a terrible approach to story-telling. If I want to share my stories (and I do), I have a responsibility to make sure they don’t go around throwing people’s pain in their face and telling them that it is worthless. And I do not want to do that.
P.S. Still gonna read The Fault In Our Stars someday. Just maybe when I’m feeling less fragile.

Grampy

My Grandfather was fifteen when the war broke out. When it ended he was a veteran of D-Day and the liberation of Belgium and the Netherlands, and less than twenty years old.

My Grandfather dropped out of school after grade eight, because his parents could only pay for the secondary education of one child. So he worked in the woods, cutting lumber with a hand saw and a team of horses. After the war he went to Briarcrest Bible College. They said as long as he had a high school diploma when he graduated they’d let him study for a degree. By the end of three years he had completed a three-year degree and four years of high school, while simultaneously working full-time.

My Grandfather spoke seven languages. I once came upon him reading in preparation for bible study, reading the recommended “The Message” paraphrase, and then going over it in Greek.

My grandparents were married in the summer of 1949. This year they would have celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary.

My grandparents went to Africa as missionaries. First to Portugal for six months to learn the language, then they sailed to Angola. There was no dock which could take the ship they came in on, so they threw everything overboard and waited for it to float in on the tide. They drove to the end of the road, and then walked into the jungle for another eight hours, carrying their belongings and my aunt Sharon, who was six months old. Talking drums sent the message ahead; “The missionaries are coming.”

My grandfather signed up for the air force as a tail gunner. The mortality rate for tail gunners was so high that the USSR assigned the position to penal battalions– you were not expected to come back from that job. My grandfather had no lack of courage. But he did have poor depth perception, and he was ground crew instead. He said the most terrifying night of his life was the last night in Angola. He, my grandmother and my aunt crouched under a window frame while rebels fired through the window over their heads.

They went back to Canada long enough to raise funds for the passage, and then they went back. My grandfather went ahead to the Belgian Congo, across the border from Angola. My grandmother had my dad and then brought the children to join him. My grandfather build a trade college, a hospital, and a seminary, so that the refugees who were walking through the jungle away from Angola could make new lives in a new country. He taught at the trade college and distributed seed for the UN, while my grandmother taught an elementary school.

My grandfather had dementia, and his funeral was yesterday. I was not able to attend.

We knew it was coming, and we knew that his body was failing for some days before. I keep finding myself doing small, repudiative and analytic tasks– like making lists. (That would be the explanation both for this post and the ones I’ve put up in the last week.) I had a longer posts prepared wherein I blathered  about my reaction, but this blog post isn’t about me. It’s about my grandfather.

It’s about my hard-working, ferociously intelligent, taciturn, faithful, dedicated, practical grandfather. My grandfather could work you into the ground right up into his eighties. My grandfather built his own house when he retired. My grandfather lived through the depression and had a related lack of trust in banks. My grandfather told me that “sincere” came from sine cera— “without wax,” to indicate that a thing was true all the way down. It was a word with roots in Latin and Portuguese and woodworking.

When my little brother was dying, my father came up with the tradition of saying “see you tomorrow,” with the belief that we would meet again. For some of us it just might take longer to get through the day. So to my grandfather, who I love, and who I barely know, and who I am proud to think I am even a little bit like, even if it is only that I don’t talk much in the morning and also love etymology, see you tomorrow.

See you tomorrow. I’ll have a lot to tell you.