Friday, 29 January 2016

O Canada, where have thy priorities gone?


I am all for being considerate of others and their opinions, on a one-to-one basis and on a global scale. But, there are days that my crusty self raises its ugly head and roars. I had one of those days this week when it was announced that MP Mauril Bélanger was going to try to once again change the lyrics to our national anthem. Because of his recent diagnosis of ALS, I hesitated for a moment to allow the crustacean in me to surface. But, while my heart goes out to him and his family for that awful turn of life, I am not attacking him, but expressing my frustration with the apparent priorities of our government. It is, after all, our tax dollars that pay the salaries for these folks to debate key topics, not to mention to cover the costs that would be incurred should we need to change the lyrics. Personally, the anthem isn't even on my list of concerns for our country. It would be laughable if it wasn't so frustratingly stupid—a waste of time and money when there is not enough of either to go around.

The controversy rests in the line "in all thy sons command". Apparently, it is harming the women of our country and needs to be changed to a gender-neutral reference. I won't even talk about how insulting I find it to insinuate that my female psyche is so fragile that it is damaged by this line, nor about how a country that prides itself on being a mosaic is less concerned about the definitive religious slant in the song, nor about how, as a bilingual country, the lyrics in French (the original anthem for those who don't realize that) do not match the English "translation". These are sandpaper ponderings chaffing my indignation at the lack of common sense and the absence of practical solution-seeking to real issues.

I want to know that my government is hearing the voices of La Loche, a community rocked by more than the recent shootings. Can we spend parliamentary time talking about disengaged youth, about connection and support, about youth centres? Can we honestly, with more than just the intent to make a difference, pursue the events that have resulted in the oppression and suffering of communities of Indigenous Peoples? Help find solutions. Help implement them. They will guide you, my government, if you listen carefully.

I want to know that my government is genuinely concerned about the environment, that they are looking at industrial impact on our natural world. Can we try to focus on ruptured pipelines, fresh water and marine protection, pursuit of clean, sustainable, green energy? It is a challenge. We want everything, but it comes at a cost. My government, how can we ensure that today's price is not paid by future generations?

And, what about our economy? A sagging loonie, the death of job sectors, growing levels of poverty? Can we talk about those issues? Can we spend valuable time and money on finding ways to strengthen our country's financial base, to ensure security for each Canadian family…old and new? I look to you, my government, to help us sort this out.

I have but skimmed the surface of issues far greater than the words in our anthem, words that many Canadians probably cannot quote anyway. Please, my government, let's get our priorities straight. I do not need to see my gender named specifically in the anthem. I need to see my needs, the needs of my fellow Canadians, and the needs of our country addressed in meaningful ways.

With no change in lyrics, I will continue to stand on guard for thee, I really will. Please show me that you are standing on guard for me. For us. All of us.

 

Saturday, 23 January 2016

The Road to Raven's Path...and Beyond


When I was young, I lived near Saint-Marie among the Hurons. Anytime someone came to visit, we brought them to this historical recreation of the mission that existed on that site in the 1600s. I experienced the village time and again, soaking in the atmosphere and the sense of history. Even as a child, I felt a presence there and a comforting connection. I still do.

When we moved back to Newfoundland, I asked for snowshoes and a hatchet. I spent many a day trampling through the forest and dreaming at the base of the mountain. I would imagine I was living in the time of the Ouendat, that I was one of them. I think I have always craved a simpler time. Certainly, a more peaceful time than the angst of those teen years.

I happily lived in my illusory bubble until I found a tattered old book about the princess of Terra Nova. It told the true story of the life and death of Shanawdithit—the last surviving Beothuk. A tragedy so heartbreaking that I set my romantic images of the time aside, and replaced them with a lifelong fascination with the intersection in history of Indigenous peoples and Europeans.

In Raven's Path, I had a chance to capture some of my thoughts and feelings. I both vilify and glorify the tribes as well as the Europeans, because that is the essence of all humanity. We cannot neatly categorize any culture despite our continual efforts to do so. Purity and evil do not exist as white and black within any nation. Some humans bear a darker stain than others. Some carry the light. Mostly, we're just grey, neither fully good, nor truly bad. We are all people who dream and desire, who laugh and cry, who hate and love.

Raven is born of my wonderings about those who are lost between cultures. How many children were born because of the strangers that wandered these lands? How did they straddle two worlds? Did they feel like they belonged to anyone? What heritage did they embrace? Eventually the Métis would give many a sense of identification but, by the original definition, the father was European. What if it was reversed and the father was Indigenous and the mother European?

My explorations into the past, both through historical research and fictional experimentation, have also heightened my awareness of Indigenous peoples today. I am excited to live on a new coast. I have much to learn about the tribes here. I am anxious to hear each band's story. But, I am saddened almost daily by the news. The history of abuse. The missing women. And, I am reminded that my life here has come at a cost to many—and that the price is still being paid.

So, I can lose myself in the adventure and romance of the past when I write. That is okay. But, I also have an obligation to think about the atrocities buried in our history, that echo in the harsh reality of today. I must not forget whose land I walk upon and I must question what my role is now, in a modern world. What can I do? What can we do? How can we balance the scales of injustice?

It is a question I ponder. It is an answer I have not yet found.


 

Saturday, 16 January 2016

The question is not whether we will die, but how we will live. —Dr. Joan Borysenko


I've contemplated death a lot this week. Not in a morbid way, but in terms of its role in life and, more specifically, in this writer's life. Without a doubt it is prompted by the unexpected loss of two icons, famously brilliant in their fields and quietly generous in their private lives. Why is it that I mourn their loss? Why celebrate that they lived at all? Why does it feel so personal when I've never met them? And, while I've greatly admired them, I'm not sure when I last saw Rickman on screen or listened to one of Bowie's songs.

I think, for me, they exemplify my life's ideal: to pursue what you love with great stubbornness and passion. They didn't listen to naysayers. Nor did they try to conform to trending types. They were, in all of their incarnations, true to themselves and their art. Both were chameleons who challenged themselves repeatedly through change—that ever-constant thing that so many of us fight, when embracing change is what makes us fly. It is why they soared high enough for all of us to take note.

So what is the role of death in this writer's life? It is the reminder that there is only so much time in which to do the things I want to do. That finiteness is a powerful motivator. I will not leave my dreams standing at the threshold. I'll continue to invite each one in. Get to know them. And when I am satiated by those dreams, I will open that door again and see what else is waiting.

I have not and will not live complacently on the sidelines of my life. And, hopefully, when I step off this planet, I will have left some worthy words behind. If not, know that I died happily trying.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

The Psychology of Writing


The psychology of writing would have made an interesting doctoral thesis. I read of writer's frustration, writer's block and writer's angst. And writers subject themselves to this daily, yearly…willingly. All for that illusive moment of euphoria, when they know they've chosen the perfect words and wrapped them around an engaging plot. But it is a rare moment, and it is fleeting. It is followed closely by worry about the next words or, worse, doubt about those words that only days ago seemed like gems. Anxiety leads to rearrangement of those perfect words like they were flowers in a vase that just might look a little more balanced if the gerbera were shifted a little here or the baby's breath there.

I confess to being guilty of all of the above. It feels quite inexplicable at times. I mean, I don't have to write. I certainly get to choose what I write. So, why subject myself to the internal anguish? I have no answer to that except that "I must" and that feeling is as baffling as the subjugation to the pleasure/pain process.

This week I have been working on Mags' story, a character I met in Lizzy's world. I started with enthusiasm and then stalled. I have written the first two chapters and several scenes that occur further on. But, as I stare at the computer, I find myself looking for something else to write, something else to do. Scenes for other stories I am writing infiltrate and I grab onto them, getting them down, patting myself on the back because, hey, I'm writing, right?

Finally, I realized what was happening. I like Mags—a lot. She's already had a hard go of it and deserves a little happiness. However, that's not what's coming. I know this. I see this. And, I hurt for her before her pain even begins. As long as I don't write, she stays in a pseudo-happy limbo land. The moment I begin, there is no turning back. She will never again be the same sweet Mags I met in Lizzy's story.

On the other hand, nobody is truly happy living in limbo, including an author. So, I pushed through the reticence and wielded my pen, metaphorically slaying a seventeen year old. Undoing her world. Burying her deep enough in the ugly hole that life can be sometimes, that it will take her the whole novel to dig her way out…if she can. I don't know. I can't see that yet. Perhaps, if I could, I wouldn't have been so hung up on flinging her into it in the first place.


I've changed my mind. I don't think the doctoral thesis should focus on the psychology of writing but the psychology of the writer. Speaking for myself, it is one busy mixed-up world inside of my head. It might make for an interesting study. Here's hoping it makes for interesting stories.  J


Friday, 1 January 2016

2015: Shaken, Not Stirred

Wow. 2015 is gone. Done. Finished. Never to return again. Kaboom!!!...and, fireworks and all of that. For me, it truly was an explosive year, a rollercoaster ride with lots of flash and splash and dips and turns. Absolutely exhilarating.

I am uncomfortable with complacency, always have been. My head lives in the world of "What if?" It has led me through so many wonderful and disastrous life decisions. From my fragile foray into performing with Newfoundland and Labrador Theatre to puppeteering for kids, from waitressing and bartending to ushering folks around the world as a tour escort, I have had so many incredible experiences. My creative heart discovered a home with our theatre troupe, Madcap Players, and my drive to know more, do more, be more, found its place in education as a teacher, a consultant, a post-secondary educator and an administrator. I thank all of you who have been a part of those experiences that challenged, enriched and fulfilled me. I am blessed, blessed, beyond blessed.

Still, it was not enough. It is no secret to those who know me that stumbling across Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series ignited, in me, a renewed passion for reading and writing. In 2008, I began my writing journey with Raven's Path. What a buzz! It is a high so addictive that DH and I sat down and made a plan that would allow me to sniff the sweet blossoms of fresh words on a regular basis. It made no sense to give up a career I loved, a lucrative one to boot, to chase dreams across the page. Yet, that is exactly what I did because, you know, what if?

2015 was our first full year of embracing the new "us". We snowbirded it (that really should be a verb considering the number of Canadians who head south each winter), breaking from the mainstream who head to Florida and, instead, went to Texas—because we met in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas in 1985. We were ecstatic with the unfamiliar freedom, yet plummeted as we grappled with the lives and the careers we left behind. The rollercoaster had left the platform.

A bitter ice storm and an eight-hour drive that turned into fourteen hours, with many cars—including police cruisers—off the road, changed the trajectory of our lives. DH looked at me the day after that intense drive and told me that I needed to find a house that I wanted…in British Columbia.

Our path has been clear since that proclamation, but it has not been without its peaks and valleys. Goodbyes are hard. Really hard. Hellos come with challenges too. Yet, as we embraced new friends, we also discovered that we have not said goodbye to old ones. In some ways we are more connected than we were when we lived amongst those we love. You make that special effort to reach out. You recognize that it is no longer sitting and waiting for you because you live around the corner. Some of those friendships are glowing brighter because of the distance, some in spite of it.

It's the end of the year, and our roller coaster seems to have eased into the station. Let's step into the bar, pull up a chair and choose a beverage. We'll lift a libation to celebrate the moment, the year, our lives. I'll begin with champagne, but I think it needs to be followed by something a little more complex. Something that reflects the choices we have made. Perhaps something shaken, not stirred.

How about you? What toast reflects the year you have left behind? The year that lies ahead? Whatever it is friends, old and new, I lift my glass to you and wish you the strength to pursue all of the what ifs in your life.
Cheers!