Canada, The Country, Endures

1. I am not a fact-checker.
2. I am not a journalist.
3. I am not a writer with a column in Esquire.


Earlier today, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a 24-year-old reservist, was killed – gunned down while standing guard at the National War Memorial, steps away from Parliament Hill.

Cue shock. Horror. Incredulity. Tears.

Followed by reflection. Commentary. Punditry. Partisanship.

The latter was worst on Twitter. It always is.

But the pièce de résistance – the cake-taker, if you will – was this piece by Esquire’s Stephen Marche: Canada, The Idea, Is In Pieces

Let’s read it together, shall we?

Starts off well enough, with a review of the day’s events and some background on the place itself, notably the “lovely wide lawn around the Parliament buildings on which families play frisbee and walk dogs and occasionally protest.”

And that’s where all rational reflection leaves the building (which, incidentally, many staffers were unable to do until well into the night, still on lockdown nearly 12 hours after the shooting began).

That blissful, sun-dappled lawn? According to Marche, “that was the Canada of (his) youth.” Canada now … well, it’s in pieces, apparently.

Except that: it’s not. It’s not in pieces, if it was ever whole.

Marche continues: “If I’m being honest, I guess I believed that we were too irrelevant to be attacked. Too marginal, too inconsequential. Canada didn’t fight the Iraq War. It fought in Afghanistan. But it was always a follower or a refuser, never an inspirer.”

Well, listen. The man is entitled to his opinion. And I’m entitled to think he thinks too little of us. He calls his world view naïve. On that we can agree.

I’ve yet to see – surprisingly – a word cloud of the day’s coverage, but it wouldn’t be naïve to expect to find “innocence” featured prominently. It’s a word that many used, almost always in the same context: innocence gone, innocence lost.

In contrast, I found these comments more accurate, if less dramatic and retweet-worthy:

From Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s national address: “Canada is not innocent to the threats we face, and we know that we are not immune.”

And from another young leader, 19-year-old mayoral candidate Morgan Baskin: “Canada is not innocent and never has been. We have a complicated past that includes things we cannot be proud of.”

Different uses of the word, to be sure. The first talks about our collective understanding that we are not beyond the reach of terrible, horrible, unspeakable acts. The second, about the fact that whatever innocence Canada once possessed died a very long time ago.

In my lifetime, it died the day Denis Lortie killed three in Quebec’s National Assembly.

It died again five years later, when Marc Lepine walked into a classroom at École Polytechnique and shot dead 14 female engineering students.

It died in Mayerthorpe.  It died again in Moncton.

Canada’s innocence died at Dieppe, and before that, at Beaumont-Hamel.

It died in residential schools. It died in our Japanese and Ukrainian internment camps.

It died in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. It died, along with 1,181 murdered Aboriginal women.

It died so many times I couldn’t even place all the horrors listed above in any kind of sensible chronological order. It died again and again and again.

But it’s okay because, as Marche reminds us, we are the first to experience the searing pain of loss. Oh, and we still have wi-fi: “This is what the twenty-first century feels like: You sit at your computer trying to figure out how much of what you love is about to fall apart, and how soon and how completely.”

He also went on to say that Canada’s motto is “Peace, Order and Good Government.”

It isn’t. Our motto is A Mari Usque Ad Mare (From Sea to Sea).

But it’s the article’s conclusion that really grinds my gears, sufficiently that I put off sleep long enough to write this piece: “This is the one sign of hope on this day of looming darkness: Canada seems capable of facing the twenty-first century with some guts, at least, now that it has finally, brutally arrived.”

I would hope that the Twitter backlash – many of the examples I listed above were referenced there – will serve to remind Marche that today’s tragedy stands in sequence, not isolation.

And if it should happen again, as it inevitably will in some awful form or another, I hope he remembers another motto, that of Quebec: Je me souviens.

Not coming soon to a TV near you

old_school_tvAaaaand … we’re back.

Took a brief hiatus to focus more on paid writing but you all were never far from mind.  No fair blaming me for that — if you all paid me, these last three sentences would have added about $50 to my bank account.  Insert unironic smilie here.

We’re back, with this: the host of a local current affairs program took to the show’s blog to say some mind-bogglingly obtuse comments about why it’s hard to book women for his show.

He basically offers up three explanations as to why male guests agree to appear and women don’t:

  1. Child care duties: “No man will ever say, “Sorry, can’t do your show tonight, I’m taking care of my kids.”
  2. Concerns about appearance: “No man will say, “Sorry, can’t do your show tonight, my roots are showing.”
  3. Perceived lack of expertise: “No man will say, “Sorry can’t do your show tonight, I’m not an expert in that particular aspect of the story.”

I’ve felt the pressures of each of those at various times but to paint the challenges as some sort of gender essentialism is … well, plainly put, it’s bullshit.

(Note that he also says that it’s been particularly challenging in the last couple of weeks.  Hello, March Break.)

Now, I’ve not been asked to appear on the program but I can think of many reasons why I do take a pass on personal media opportunities, and they’re not as simple as that 1-2-3.

As I said on Twitter:

I write op-eds for other people all the time and the starting point is always the same … namely, I know very little. Research it, write it, edit it, submit. If I can do this for others, why not for myself?

I have no formal authority (job title, graduate degree, etc.).

I occasionally have work conflicts that preclude free expression.

I work hard to see different perspectives, which makes arguing one’s own opinion more challenging.

I don’t have a lot of free time.

Like most people, I’m not a fan of rejection.

I’m more aware than most that published thoughts live forever.

Other reasons, too.

But, you know, the show’s producers aren’t therapists and I’m not an asshole.  I wouldn’t waste their time explaining why I feel insecure about my level of experience and expertise, because time is short and they need to get off the phone with me and onto the next prospect.  Frustrated producers might take my polite “Have to watch the kids” as an excuse, but it’s not an excuse if it feels, for me, to be true.

I’ve passed on going out to some networking events I probably should have attended, because I had nothing to wear.  I mean, I live in jeans and seven-year-old yoga pants, no joke.  I’m lucky in that I’ve got a few great contracts right now and can finally afford to buy new clothes.  But I hate shopping.  And I have a great partner who will happily watch the kids while I go shopping, but that’s not how I want to spent my childless time.

Do you see what I’m getting at, here?

Sometimes we legitimately have to watch the kids.  And sometimes that’s shorthand for, “I don’t feel pretty,” and “I don’t feel smart,” and “I don’t trust you,” and “I don’t want to disappoint everyone.”

So it’s not that easy.  If you come at an issue as challenging as the representation of women in media with the impression that there’s an easy answer and you’re just missing something … well … you’re half right.

On glitter in Canadian politics

A week or so ago, I found out about an event — a fundraiser — for my political party of choice.  I saw the invitation and decided quickly that it wasn’t for me.  Last night, the rest of Twitter saw the promotional piece and promptly asploded.  Here’s the item in question:


(Here’s where I include the disclaimery copy about how I actually am a party member and supporter and wasn’t asked for my opinion but I’m a mouthy broad so here it is anyway.)

The backlash started off with a kind of subversive/sarcastic take on things, and a clever repurposing of the event’s hashtag, #askjustin.   Not surprisingly, the critics were women, and not surprisingly, they were very, very funny:

Of course, things devolved rapidly and thoroughly over the next couple of hours once the partisans got their paws on it.  But for awhile there, #askjustin offered some really interesting insights into Canadian women voters.  By which I mean the vocal ones on Twitter; I’m sure if I showed it to my female friends who are largely offline or disinterested in politics, the response would have been a dismissive, “That looks stupid. Why would I go to that? Here, try this chocolate, it’s insane.”

When I first saw the promo, and even now when I look it at, I mostly feel confused.  I don’t get the “unplugged” angle (he’s a politician, not a musician).  And speaking of insane … what in Helvetica is up with that font?  I am 100% sincere when I say that that font is partially responsible for my decision not to attend, as is the fact that I have my own unplugged (a cappella) rehearsal to attend.

Unlike many of the #askjustin Tweeters last night, I didn’t find the graphic offensive.  I did find it trivializing.  The issues facing women — to the extent that there are gender-specific concerns not directly related to our unique physiology — are legitimate, and deserve to be treated respectfully and seriously.  I have no doubt that’s exactly what will happen at the actual event.  Still, I don’t understand why the organizers felt this was the best way to get those women in the door.

The answer likely lies in that visceral reaction I had when I first saw the invitation.  As I said, the reaction was an instant and complete sense that this event was not for me.  It’s not the $250 price of admission — fundraisers often have big-ticket prices.  No surprise there.  It’s more that I looked at the address — trendy Queen West — and knew that that $250 would escalate to $500 or more because I have nothing to wear.  Not one thing.  I’m a work-at-home-mom.  My wardrobe is 50% jeans and 50% yoga pants so old that their sheerness is due to overuse, not recent changes in textile inputs.

In other words, the event felt exclusive — in the sense that I felt excluded, from this singular event.

That is not my experience of the Liberal party as a whole, nor its leadership, its advisors, its members and hordes of volunteers.  I’m not bailing on anyone or anything over this.  I rather resent the implication that I should.

Again, no one asked for my feedback, but this second half-caff is kicking in, so there goes … here’s what I’d do to make things right, if any right-making is required:

  1. Reconsider the concept.  That is, the utility/effectiveness of gender-focused events.  We’re more than half the population.  Our issues are your issues: full stop.  On a practical note, day-to-day, I have more in common with a harried dad than I do fabulous single girls.  Our bonding points are childcare costs and aging parents and the goddamn miracle it is that any relationships survive having children.  Not nail polish (as Tweeters suggested) or virtues (as the invitation did).
  2. Find five serious questions you can answer.  Find them on Twitter and answer them there.  Won’t take more than 10 minutes of sifting through the #askjustin posts to find the genuine queries about barriers to income equality, the lack of affordable childcare, the problem of mounting student debt, the dearth of women in boardrooms and backrooms.  Not everyone can afford to attend and ask in person.  Don’t let that limit your outreach, now that so many more are paying attention.
  3. Ignore the rest.  I haven’t checked the #askjustin threads this morning.  I suspect event organizers are doing just that, as it’s the smart and reasonable thing to do.

UPDATE: And as of just-before-8:00-AM, that is, hours before I sat down to write this, #2 was taken on in full. Not just five, but about two hours of answering questions. Nicely done.

The grass is green everywhere

I saw this request on Twitter earlier today:

Does "constantly" count as "ever?"

I didn’t respond to the request because, OMG, 140 characters, you have got to be kidding me.

I have a lot more than 140 characters’ worth of envy to share, folks, and here is the short list — limited not by the boundaries of truth or even my own imagination, but by the fact that I have to do bedtime soon.  Here goes.

Times I have felt jealous of other parents:

  1. when their babies slept through the night
  2. when their babies didn’t cry for no reason
  3. when the things they tried to stop the crying actually worked
  4. when they didn’t argue in front of the kids
  5. when they made time for something called “date night”
  6. when they were able to accurately label themselves, eg: “attachment parents”
  7. when they knew right away whether or not they’d go back to work
  8. when they had kids who could handle temporary separation
  9. when they say things like, “Oh, he just loves it, can’t get him out of the bath.”
  10. when they can get their child’s hair cut without having to wear earplugs
  11. when their toddler “just trained himself, no accidents!”
  12. when their children are functionally and not just aspirationally bilingual
  13. when they talk about being on top of the kids’ education funds
  14. when daycare is an option just so that a parent “can have some me time”
  15. when their kids are sitting/walking/talking/reading earlier than average
  16. when visits to the dentist are stress- and scream-free
  17. when they say they never let their kids watch TV (and mean it)
  18. when their living room contains adult magazines, not taped-up board books
  19. when they have a plan for their life that doesn’t revolve exclusively around their children
  20. when they are able to see the humour in a situation, without having to sleep on it first

Okay, those are 20 instances.  There are more.  They aren’t funny, but nothing about envy really is, and believe me, I should know.

As counterarguments, though, I feel like I should at least nod toward the things in my parenting life that are envy-worthy, because there are a few:

My kids do sleep through the night, for the most part; Juno started it when she was days old. 

Seve has never thrown a temper tantrum in public (at least not the full-on, raging, throw-self-to-floor kind). 

Juno is pretty fearless and new people/situations don’t faze her at all. 

Standard toddler variances aside, they’re both great eaters — neat/tidy and open to new foods. 

P is a fantastic co-parent; outside of breastfeeding, nothing about the process has ever been sloughed off as “my responsibility” (that includes doctor visits, dirty diapers, night wakings, everything). 

My parents have never — ever — offered unsolicited advice. 

Both of my in-laws are now deceased but there was never any friction there, either. 

Outside of a few bouts of gastroenteritis, no major health scares. 

My kids have an abundance of clothes that fit them, and despite the whining that crops up when I’m in possession of food that I’d rather not share, they don’t go hungry.

All that to say, in answer to the original question, “Yes, but I’m still alive.”

Which is only 25 characters, so … ah … sorry about that.

If you think I’m talking about you here, yeah, you’re probably right.

If you think I’m talking about you here, yeah, you’re probably right.