Thursday, 20 October 2016

Gather Round

It's cold outside, boys and girls, so gather round the fire while I tell you a story.

Long ago and three blocks away, there was a small group of people who wanted to bring light to darkness. Who wanted to warm the winter nights with song. So they started a little club. They thought long and hard about a name until finally the elder of the group- a man we shall call "Bruce" - said "We shall call it 'Stage North'.'" 

And thus it was born.

We shall invite many people to join us, the people said.

We shall entertain with minstrels and troubadours. We shall serve wine and provide sustenance and it will be good. It will be a place where all shall come and forget about their troubles, for their troubles were many and the nights were long and the winter was cold.

So they planned and they worked and they invited these many people. Yet lo, the people did not come.

The small group of people drank the wine and ate the food and listened to the music. But they were sad. For where were these people they had worked so hard to entertain?

But they did not give up for they were a northern people and giving up was not their way. They worked harder. Slowly slowly the people began to come.

More people joined them.  They kept working. They learned that across their vast and wintry land there were many clubs like theirs. They sought out their wisdom. The wise ones from near and far beseeched them not to give up. "One day you will look out and you will see it and it will be there because you made it and it will be good."

By ones and twos, slowly but surely, the people came. The small group of people moved to a bigger house and again a bigger house. And still the people came.  They came for the wine. They came for the warmth. They came for kinship. They came so they wouldn't feel so alone. But most of all, they came for the music.

And it was good. 

It was very good.

Leeroy Stagger performs at Stage North, October 2016

Friday, 30 September 2016

Apples and Oranges

On the first day of grade two, I entered Mrs. Teeple's class full of excitement and fear. 
I had my brand new dress. 
I had my new scribblers and pencils and crayons.  

There were 42 of us in that class- some from farms, some residents of a new neighbourhood full of new houses for oil and gas workers in our burgeoning, hopeful town.

I found my desk and neatly stacked my school supplies inside. I was very proud of how it looked. I was ready!  No sooner had I done that when Mrs. Teeple barked out that we were NOT to put our things in our desks. She had a seating plan and everything had to be moved.  I was mortified.  I tried to surreptitiously remove everything from the desk before she caught me. 

How well I remember the shame.
I didn't want attention. 
But mostly, I didn't want to be wrong.

I think back to that day on Orange Shirt Day, a day to recognize the children who attended residential schools. 

The movement was founded by Phyllis Webstad, who was a student at St. Joseph's Residential School in Williams Lake in the 1970s. She was told she was not allowed to wear the bright orange shirt her mom gave her to wear on the first day of school.  I picture this little child, full of hopes and happy anticipation, proud of her new outfit. 
A girl just like me. 
A girl whose mom took pains to help her child come to school ready to learn and grow and belong. 
A girl ready to start the school year. 
How she must have felt. 
How ashamed she must have been. 
Ashamed for herself. 
But even worse, ashamed for her mom because it was the blouse her mom bought, with all the best intentions, that caused her humiliation. 
Being ashamed of yourself is one thing, but being told you should be ashamed of your mom is much much worse.

Phyllis says:
“The colour orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.”
And while I think about how alike Phyllis and I must have been on our first day of school, my story and the story of Phyllis Webstad are as alike as apples and oranges. While my momentary childhood trauma was forgotten and I (and later, my indigenous brother) were supported in finding our own way under Mrs. Teeple's iron fist and warm heart, Phyllis and thousands like her learned that not only were their clothes wrong, their language was wrong, the way they were raised was wrong, their parents were wrong and they did not belong. They learned their own identity was something to be ashamed of. 

Today, I am a teacher. 
I hope I don't ever tell a child his or her way of living is wrong and that they should be ashamed of being who they are. (Except for you guys cheating off Course Hero, my EYES ARE ON YOU.) 

I hope I truly show that I believe every child matters.
If I do ever make my students think they do not matter, even in subtle ways I am not even aware of, for that I am truly ashamed.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Government Work

This is a throwback Thursday piece about a job I had once. 

Every morning, when you get up, go into the bathroom and smack yourself roundly about the head.  Don’t hold back.  There should be a significant amount of pain, otherwise you are missing the point of the exercise, which is to prepare yourself for the day ahead.  Additionally, ask members of your immediate family and close friends to randomly strike you at unexpected intervals.  Request in particular that they attack you when you are doing something they requested or something you have done for their benefit.  This will also prepare you for your work day.

The purpose of your work is supposedly to complete a number of tasks for which you were hired based on your expertise in the area.  However, any time you try to use your expertise in the completion of your task, you will be criticized and questioned, generally by those who do not have the expertise for which you were hired. Primarily, this will happen any time you question anything and any time you want to move off a prescribed path, no matter who prescribed it, but especially if it was prescribed by someone who does not have your expertise.  So, in reality, your work is to defend the areas of your expertise to those who don’t have your expertise.  This will take up the better portion of your work day.

Do not expect to be autonomous in anything that you do.  Do not expect to accomplish your tasks, but fear the results if you do not.  Most importantly, do not dream.  Do not imagine.  Do not get creative. Do not have a vision. Especially, do not use your expertise.  When you use your expertise, you are establishing yourself as an authority over others who want to be the authority, despite the fact that they do not have your expertise.  If you really want to get ahead, try to get into an area where you have no expertise.  Then question and criticize those who do.  This will ensure that you remain in a position of power.

The purpose of the self inflicted beatings is to remind yourself you actually chose this path over your previous path where you actually used your expertise with positive results. Beatings inflicted by others will help you stay alert and remind you that you never know from whence the next attack will come.  The beatings also serve to anesthetize you to the beatings inflicted by those for whom you work.

Those who have gone before you will tell you that soon you will just not care anymore.  You look forward to the numbness.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Prodigal Child

Yesterday I marked an exam.

Today I triggered the process that will see that kid's report card generated and his marks sent to the Ministry of Education.

I gave a silent little cheer.

One more.

One more kid who finished his course.  

And it occurred to me that I think of each one of these kids as a prodigal son. That might not be exactly accurate, as the Bibical prodigal son is one who left home, lived lavishly and squandered his inheritance and returned to the loving arms of his father.  My students have not all lived carelessly and squandered their education. They do not all feel that they are unworthy. But somehow that idea about celebrating the return of one who was lost and is now found keeps coming into my mind. I think I probably rejoice more over that one kid who just finished Social 20-1 than a classroom teacher celebrates at getting an entire class through their course.

One by one.

The hockey players. The swimmers. The young moms. The Syrian refugees and the children of foreign workers and the ones who dropped out because of substance abuse or a bad home life. And the accelerated students and the ones who want to finish early. The kids who failed and are now trying again. The kids who need to upgrade a mark to get into college. The adults laid off from their jobs in the oil patch or the middle aged people who just want to prove to themselves they can learn.

Every one, working at their own pace. Many fall by the wayside, but for every one who succeeds, I do a silent dance of celebration.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

I Speak for All Canadians

Of all the things former PM Bryan Mulroney used to say, his statement "I speak for all Canadians when I say...blah blah blah" used to irritate me the most.

We heard the same from Stephen Harper and now from Justin Trudeau.

"I speak for all Canadians when I say we are ready to work with you in the cause of stability, security, and humanity."

"I speak for all Canadians, Canadians across this land, when I say that all Canadians reciprocate your friendship and today we accept your challenge..."

"Today, I speak for all Canadians when I say that our hearts go out to the families affected by this terrible fire."

”I know I speak for all Canadians when I tell you we will not abandon you."

"I know I speak for all Canadians in expressing unequivocal support and heartfelt gratitude to all our troops and their families. We are holding the torch high."

"I speak for all Canadians when I say Thank you for the music."

Yes, I get it, you're the Prime Minister so you get to represent "all Canadians" when you are performing your official duties.

But you are an elected official. ALL Canadians didn't vote for you. You don't speak for ALL Canadians.

So, yeah, it's annoying. But I get it.

What I don't get is when anyone else tells you that they know what all Canadians think or how all Albertans feel or what anyone's motives are for how they votes or act.

Things like "Alberta is a conservative province."

No one speaks for all Canadians. OR all Albertans. Or all women. Just because you are one, that doesn't mean you know what the rest of them think. No one knows what all Canadians think or want or feel. And you have to be some kind of idiot if you think we all think the same way.  If we did there would be no need for the democratic process.

I will only speak for one Canadian. Only one Canadian knows what she thinks or feels or believes and that is she herself alone- and sometimes she doesn't even know.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Weekly Life Spreadsheet

At work this year we have a new thing, a weekly report on Google Docs where I enter three bits of data about my week. It replaces an older spreadsheet where I entered 28 bits of data in 6 categories every day which replaced the MS word weekly worklog that included a list of what I did every day which replaced a weekly time sheet. One year I was on secondment to the government and had to use Microsoft's Project Manager to track my every move. That was a bad year. 

I know a lot of people have to complete timesheets and worklogs and spreadsheets and google docs or forms to detail the minutiae of their work lives. Sometimes as a way of tracking that they are actually working during the day or meeting their work goals or deciding who gets billed for what or just showing their bosses what they are spending their time on or helping them establish or focus on priorities. 

So I thought to myself, maybe I should create a life spreadsheet to track how I spend my nonwork time. Would it show me how much of my life is trickling away on things that don't really match up with my life goals? (which I don't have by the way)

 Take a look.

25 min
25 min
42 hrs
1 hour
1 hour
4 hours
1 hour
1 hour
3 hours
2 hours
13 hours
1 hour
1 hour
20 min
1 hour
1 hour
75 min
75 min
7.5 hrs
35 min
35 min
70 min
Personal writing
1 hour
1 hour
2 hrs
30 min
30 min
10 min
30 min
30 min
3 hours
Dinner guests
2 hours
(more damn apples)
7 hrs

5 hours

5 hrs
Family phone

20 min
10 min
3 hours
3.5 hrs
90 min
90 min
30 min
90 min
90 min
90 min
2 hrs
9 hrs
8 hrs
8 hrs
8 hrs
8 hrs
8 hrs
8 hrs
8 hrs
56 hrs

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Proudly We Hail Your Name

School Song

Proudly we hail your name
We'll fight to win you you fame
South Peace we'll be yours forever
Yours for South Peace High rah rah rah

Black, warning to our foes
Red badge of courage shows
White is right
And so we'll fight
To win for South Peace High

January 28th, 1966  Suppertime. A phone call. We drove to the school. Students and teachers stood in groups, watching hopelessly. The building fully engulfed in flames, its varnished floors and wood paneled walls, its wooden desks, its shop and gymn and library and its staff room with the mosaic table featuring the school mascot, a penguin- a room that smelled of coffee grounds and stale cigarette smoke- all ablaze. An electrical short, someone said. Fire ran down the ceiling of the main hall, said the one person who had been inside when the it started.

We returned the next day. Nothing but rubble. Firemen still working on the smoldering remains. The ground covered in thick yellow ice. The ceiling had fallen on my Dad's desk. Its contents were the only things that survived. A once conical marble paperweight, now blackened with soot. A pocket watch. Folders and files that reeked of smoke. They found those later.

The weekend was chaotic. Phone calls and meetings and searching for space. All the while my mother's sewing machine, whirring endlessly. We knew to be quiet, to stay out of the way. Something terrible had happened. The grownups needed to fix it. 

School opened almost immediately with makeshift classrooms in other schools, the public library, army barracks, the curling rink, whatever public building had space. "Let it be a challenge to you," became the new school motto. On the first morning students and staff congregated in the gymnasium of the junior high down the road. They were met by a new school mascot, Palmer the Penguin, sewed by my mom. 

My brother and I , junior cheerleaders
The new school built following the fire was a gorgeous new modern structure with wide hallways and glassed in study areas, skylights, and a student lounge with purple carpets and funky furniture. An innovative "modular" timetable, a school with its own farm and other unique programmes. We visited many times during construction and after, running down the halls on weekends the way only the kids of school teachers are allowed to do. Basketball tournaments and concerts and graduations and school carnivals and drama productions and talent shows and boat races. It was a home to us almost as much as our own house. My dad became principal and the blackened paperweight sat on his desk. My mom taught ESL and law and math and sewing. My siblings and I graduated. My dad moved on and his staff gave him a framed watercolour of the school surrounded by the photos of every teacher who had taught under his tenure.

My family moved away. 
Yet South Peace was still in our hearts. 
The school where my parents met. 
The school they returned to years later. 

The lawn of South Peace Senior Secondary, 1976
It was not a fire that ended the life of South Peace. That was done by the stroke of pen decades later. 

South Peace Senior Secondary School. 

Proudly, I hail your name.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Gran Via

The music starts before the doors close as we embark at Diego de Leon, heading for the Gran Via metro stop. The guitarist, a muscular guy in a tight back T-shirt, has a karaoke machine strapped to a wheeled cart. He's playing "My Way" with more passion than skill. His eyes close and he's really into it.

Across from me is an elderly man in an Espana ball cap. He shakes his head in disapproval. Two middle aged guys travelling with their wives each other a look that says "this shouldn't be allowed." But the guitarist plays on, oblivious. No one looks at him. But slowly, people begin to smile.

A blind man gets on the train at the next stop. The elderly man offers him his seat. He says no, he is getting off at the next stop.

The musician ends "My Way" awkwardly before beginning his second song. The middle aged couples are still smiling. The old guy looks grumpy.

The musician finishes his song and passes around his tin cup. The middle aged guys, the old man, some women, and my husband-who had had his headphones on all along-dig out some change.  His cup filled, the musician bows his thanks and exits the train.

The Gran Via.

The great road we all travel.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

When it's Sunday in Madrid

When it's Sunday in Madrid you sleep in.
You make espresso.
You eat bread.
You join Madrilenos as they enjoy their morning.
With churros and chocolate and cortado.
With church bells and family and friends and street musicians.
The elegant ladies with their matching shoes and handbags.
The young men with their long hair.
The Real Madrid fans awaiting tonight's game.

When it's Sunday in Madrid you think about how you live your life and how others live their lives and what makes a life.
You think about how you're alike and how you differ and why any of it matters.

When it's Sunday in Madrid.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Little Bits of Paper

My parents moved half a dozen times in the fifty years of their married life. 

A basement suite in Victoria, a small house in Trail, unique houses they designed and built in Dawson Creek and Tumbler Ridge. Every time they moved, stuff went with them. Furniture. Clothes. Household effects. Works of art. Mementos. 

And little bits of paper. So many little bits of paper, following them from place to place, packed, unpacked, looked at, put back in the box. Once or twice I have made a stab at going through these papers with an eye to discarding them. I look at these little pieces of paper, saved and stored over the years. I haven't had the heart to throw them out. 

Not yet.

Maybe today will be the day as I ponder my own possible next move.

Here, I find the lengthy correspondence detailing why the grandfather I never knew did not have his original birth certificate. Here, my mother's original teaching certificate. Her report cards. Diplomas. Awards. Newspaper clippings. The "Ritual Calling of the Engineer", inscribed with Dad's name from 1948. Blood donor records. The obituary of the navigator on Dad's aircrew. The death certificate of Dad's sister Muriel who died when she was three. Postcards. My father's Sunday School attendance records from 1937. Love letters. A newspaper article announcing my maternal grandfather's promotion to bank manager in the Highlands. My baptism certificate. Poems written by my brother. My great aunt's expired passport. Dad's letter announcing his resignation from his teaching career. "Dear Mr. Parslow: While my affection for young people as not diminished, my enthusiasm for entering the arena on a daily basis has..."

So many pieces of paper, sorted, packed, moved, unpacked, read and re-read. Added to and deleted from over decades of life.

Some make me smile like the Christmas card from my brother "Bobby" and the first thing I ever published in the Edmonton Journal and an article I wrote for the ATA News called "Nice Swim Doug". A photo of my four year old sister from the Peace River Block News. Emails sent by my junior high daughter, printed off and stored away. 

Some make me wonder. Why this one Mothers' Day card with the cute kitties? Then I read  inside. "The world needs more mothers like you. One more anyway." A card sent to my mom from my cousin just a few months after her own mom had died.

Each piece saved for a reason. But what reason? Who were they saving it for? Each other? Their kids and grandchildren?

Decades of their life story in bits and pieces. 

The housekeeper in me wants to throw it away. The archivist in me wants to curate it. The librarian in me wants to organize it. The writer in me dreams of telling their story. 

But the daughter in me puts it back in the box. 
Little bits of paper. 
Your journey is not over yet.

Top Ten Reasons Jason Kenney is Touring Alberta in a Pickup

Today Jason Kenney began a truck tour of Alberta to drum up support for his bid to become leader of Alberta's Progressive Conservatives and "Unite Alberta" in the way only a guy in a Dodge Ram can do.

Kenney will tour the province in a truck the colour of the Alberta flag, bunking in with friends he hasn't met yet so he can get to know the "real" Alberta, apparently including the non-existent town of "Whitelock" which he announced he would visit early in his tour.

Mr. Kenney currently sits as an elected Conservative MP for the riding of Calgary-Midnapore with a yearly salary of more than $170,000. Generally, elected officials in Canada use the time when the legislature is not sitting to visit their constituencies and serve the people who elected them. Not so the former Liberal-turned-Reform-turned Conservative Mr. Kenney who apparently feels the time is right to capitalize on his knowledge of government misspending obtained during his tenure as first executive director of the Alberta Taxpayers Association, an organization to which very few Alberta taxpayers belong.

Why is Kenney touring the province in a pickup? My top ten list.
  1. Wants to find out the correct place names of Alberta towns. Which he never learned due to the "social engineering" rampant in our school system.
  2. Gotta have a gun rack, bro
  3. Mom never let him drive a truck when he was a kid 
  4. Needs to fit in with the guys in the parking lot when his buds are watching the peelers
  5. How else will he haul the quad?
  6. Wants to take advantage of the cheap cost of fuel before Notley's carbon tax kicks in.
  7. Chicks dig a guy with a truck
  8. Looking for places where he won't even see a niqab.
  9. Prius don't run so good in wintertime.
  10. Truck nuts don't fit on the Taurus


Jason Kenney.
You haven't lived in Alberta for nearly 20 years. 
You wear a suit every day.
You listen to Gregorian chants on your Ipod.

And you're couch surfing Alberta in a pickup?

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Make Whiteness Great Again

"We Want Our Country Back!" says UKIP.

"Make America Great Again," says Donald Trump.

You want your country back, Leave voters?

Back from whom? From the immigrants of the nations you colonized? From the people who do the jobs the white people didn't want to do? From refugees of nations traumatized by western interference and the lack thereof? From the highly skilled researchers from all over the world who work at your universities and start-ups? 

Or is it just the people of colour you don't want?

And America? Take "your" country back? From whom? The indigenous people whose land you stole?  Those of African descent who were shipped to your country like cattle ? The Latin American immigrants who take care of your children and your gardens and your homes and your farms? You want a wall to keep them out?  Or do you want to take your country back from those from all over the world searching for a better life, your land which you widely advertise as "home of the free"? 

Or maybe, just maybe, you want to take it back from the capitalist profiteers who shipped jobs out of country for shareholder profits?  Or the financiers who retained obscene profits while others lost everything?

 No?  Didn't think that was it.

Conservatives hearken back to the glories of the past. But what glories were these?

The glories of an empire on which the sun never set, an empire built on the resources of the new world and the labour of countless millions of Asians and Africans in colonial times? The moral superiority of a nation that took over entire continents while rejecting the inherent rights of the inhabitants, attempting to break and rebuild children by "killing the Indian in the child" ? Splendid "developed" nations where human rights advocates are assassinated? A free nation where people were refused the ability to drink from water fountains because of the colour of their skin?  A nation whose isolationist policies prolonged world war, leading to the needless death of tens of thousands while war profiteers lined their pockets? 

These past "glories" are nothing to revel in.

Words of UK MP Jo Cox, who was tragically killed prior to the Brexit vote
Look, I'm white. I'm as white as a person could be. My great grandfather was so white it is said he glowed in the dark. I'm not ashamed of being white. I enjoy all the things white people are said to like Christian Lander wrote in his book Stuff White People Like. But I'm also realistic. This stuff I like-the myriad advantages I have-these things do not come from the inherently superior nature of my DNA. They do not come from generations of my ancestors being morally superior, harder working, more intelligent or more deserving than those who have more melanin than I do. I have them because of a set of circumstances including the audacity of my forefathers. 

So UKIP, #Brexit fans and supporters of Donald Trump; French members of the National Front and German members of the "Alternative für Deutschland".

Ban Muslims.
Build walls.
Drive out people of colour.
Return to isolationism.
You will not go back in time. 

You will not stop the clock.
You will not stop the 21st Century.

The future lies before us. It will include people of all colours in a world where the majority of people are neither white nor Christian. The world of the future must include collaboration and understanding and tolerance. And yes, it must include government.

Stop pining for a past that never was. Embrace the future that will be.

And if you don't want to do that, at least watch Stewart Lee.