That Day Again

First, apologies for missing another entry last week. No great and weighty explanation for it this time ‘round – I just plain forgot to do it until it made just as much sense to wait until the next Tuesday. Obviously, things are still running a little strangely. On the other hand, I’ve written more in the past 10 days or so than in the previous 7 months or so, so it hasn’t all been bad.

So, for this week – tomorrow is July 1st, which is Canada Day. My feelings about this holiday seem to be getting more and more complicated, year on year. If you’d asked me not so many years ago, I would probably have said that Canada was a wonderful country that by and large did good things and was a lovely place to live. You can probably find me saying those exact words here on the internet machine without trying very hard at it.

More recently, I have listened to a lot more different voices than Past Me ever would have done, and come to recognize that a lot of my experience of Canada being that thing has a great deal to do with me being a white straight cis dude, and that there are very many other people whose experience with Canada is very different.

It’s tempting to say (and in fact, I nearly wrote it this way right now) that they have lived in different Canadas than I did, growing up in the affluent, very nearly all-white suburb that I’ve told you a bit about before. But that’s the thing – no they didn’t. We lived in the same country, same governments, same laws, same ostensible values, and had very different experiences of what that was like.

So, what to say about this place where we live. I think the idea of Canadian society – those ostensible values – is an unambiguously good one. According to our foundational documents, it’s supposed to be a society built on the idea of fair and just treatment for all. We like to talk about our nation as one that does good things in the world; that by and large, we help people.

I think the events of recent months (and recent years, and not-so-recent years) vividly reveal the ways in which we fall short of those ideals. Canada has huge problems with racism. With how women are treated. With how LGBTQ people are treated. The list could easily go on. There were sure a ton of examples in the past week or so, heartbreaking ones, of the ways in which some of our communities are failing people terribly, and allowing awful things to happen.

Our society treats far far too many people far too badly. We need to recognize it and reckon with it. But as glum a thought as that is, I keep coming back to a Buck O’Neil quote I ran across in The Soul of Baseball, which I read recently. “Don’t let hate fill your heart. Always more good people than bad in this world.” Or, to pluck a similar thought from a very different source: “You ask me, the light’s winning.” I think overall, there are more good people than bad in this world, and those good people are trying to make our world better, every day.

So we have ideals and we don’t live up to them, or haven’t yet. I’ve also written in this blog more than once that it’s not necessarily a bad thing to set a high standard and try to reach it, even if we don’t quite get there. What I think is true for Arthurian knights and other fantastic characters is (I would think) also true for Canada. It’s a good thing that we have these ideals for ourselves, even if we’re not there yet.

As long as we recognize that we’re not there yet, and we keep working as hard as we can to get there. Every day can be a little closer. A little bit better. A touch closer to the Canada of our imaginings.

No better time to start than tomorrow, on Canada Day. The year ahead can be better, if we make it that way.

Thanks for reading.

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Back to Normal?

I say this quietly: I wrote some stuff this week. This is only somewhat noteworthy from the perspective that prior to this week, I had written exactly zero (0) words since about January. I think I have come to some understandings with my writing, or hope that I have, and my Real World work is done for a while, and I’ve been able to sit and write, a little bit. It’s been great.

I’m not going to say much more about it than that, in part because I don’t want to hex this whole thing by putting too much pressure on it too soon. I’m writing. It’s good. One might argue, with how big a part of my life writing has been and typically is, that this is back to normal.

This is going on against a backdrop of an intense pressure for things to be Back to Normal. Shops and parks and restaurants and all the rest are gradually reopening, and the enthusiasm for things to be ‘normal’ again is palpable. You can see it in the people sitting out on patios on an honestly cold day that happened to be the first day restaurants were allowed to serve them there. It could not have been a genuinely pleasant experience, except that people want ‘normal’ so very much.

I hope we are not making these decisions too quickly, and won’t regret them shortly. I’m afraid that we are letting our desire for ‘normal’ to persuade us that it’s time to do these things, rather than making the decisions because it really is the right time. I hope I shall be proved wrong.

The thing of it is, for both me and the world at large, there is no such thing as Back to Normal. You an never get things back the way they used to be, not really. You can get close, find an approximation, but once something has changed, you can never get things back to exactly how they were before the change happened.

Our world is going to end up different from the way it was before the pandemic. We can’t see how it will change, yet, but it will. Perhaps we’ll be wise enough to direct it, perhaps we won’t. But change is coming, not ‘back to normal’.

My relationship with writing is not going to be the same, either. I don’t know exactly what it’s going to be like. I hope it won’t be very different. For now, it’s enough that I’m creating words again. I hope to share some of them with you, when the time is right.

Thanks for reading.

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Past Police

Some readers may know that in my day job I teach history, and that my background is in medieval history in particular. I deliberately don’t write about that much here in part because this is (supposed to be) a writing blog and in part because there are few things more tiresome than people who relentlessly drag every conversation back to their particular little area. And, when you do a PhD, you have a very particular little area.

However, with recent events, it seems to me that there may be a way that my particular little area is at least slightly relevant, so I’m dragging it out tonight. Because my PhD thesis, and most of the original research I have done, is on order and disorder in the medieval city. As I write this, there are a great many protests underway about racial injustices generally, but abuses of police authority and use of force by police in particular. There are many who are calling for an abolition of police forces as we know them, and many wondering how feasible this is or what alternatives we might have.

I’m sure I don’t have an answer to our modern questions, but what I looked at in the past may have some relevance. Very briefly, when I pursued medieval history for post-graduate studies, I knew I wanted to do research on medieval cities. I got interested in misbehaviour in the city during my MA (a friend suggest the title ‘Gosh those scamps’ for my thesis) and when I started my PhD research I didn’t know exactly where it was headed, the same broad field of order and disorder in the urban community was still very interesting to me. Skipping a great deal of angst: the question I eventually settled upon was, essentially: ‘how was order maintained in medieval London?’

By the late Middle Ages, London had a population of 50 or 60,000, making it a small town by today’s standards, but easily the biggest city in England at the time and a middling-sized city in Europe. It was not a ‘capital’ in the modern sense of the word, but it was England’s wealthiest and most important city, politically powerful, and under its charter with the crown, London largely ran its own affairs within the city limits. It did not have, by modern expectations, police.

The city did have its ‘scavengers’, responsible for maintaining the streets and taking precautions against fire, ‘rakers’ responsible for clearing garbage from the streets and obstructions from the water conduits, and beadles who reported public nuisances and disturbances to wardmote courts for the attention of an alderman. There were aleconners to verify that ale being sold in the city was of a suitable standard, and various other ward officers whose job it was to see that city regulations were being followed.

None of this relates directly to crime, however, and in terms of what a modern person would think of as ‘policing’, London had but two sheriffs who were responsible for arresting criminals, executing royal writs, and seeing to the execution of traitors, heretics, and felons, as well as presiding over one of several court systems found in the city. Assisting in them in their duties, they had only a few undersheriffs and ward constables. There was a coroner, whose duty it was to investigate the cause of deaths within the city, but there was nothing like a standing police force to detect crime and seize criminals. We find some mention of ‘watches’ being maintained by each ward (usually when the cost of doing so became relevant) but it seems clear that these were largely groups to keep the streets clear of nightwalkers after dusk and (in theory) defend the city should it be attacked. They were not police on patrol, alas for the ‘guards’ who inevitably appear in every city in every fantasy game ever created.

It can often sound to us as though that must have meant medieval London, and other medieval cities, were lawless and chaotic places where crimes went unpunished, but the men (and it was uniformly men) who ran the city would have been bitterly offended to hear such a judgment and indeed the evidence we have suggests that it would indeed be unfair. There would be a great many things that would seem strange to us in medieval London, but there was, basically, order.

So how was this done, without police? I won’t attempt to summarize the full argument of my thesis here (you’re welcome) but a big part of the answer is that order was primarily kept by the community. When crimes did occur, it was the responsibility of every citizen to help raise ‘the hue and cry’ – the (public, loud) identification of the crime and the criminal, and to aid in their pursuit and capture.

On a less dramatic and more day-to-day misbehaviour (of many many kinds) was kept in check by, basically, peer pressure. Neighbours could very easily become aware of any misdeeds a Londoner might commit, and they were encouraged to report these to various authorities including guilds, aldermen, and priests for correction. (People’s reasons for doing so were complex, but collective reputation, whether of a guild of artisans, neighbourhood, or city was a significantly important consideration)

More than that, though, and preventing many misbehaviours from ever happening: one’s individual reputation was a vital resource in medieval communities. No-one would enter into a business deal with someone of ill-repute, few people would hire them or rent property to them, few people would marry them. We think most transactions in the medieval city were exchanges of credit (rather than coin), and it would have been basically impossible to get credit if people thought you were a shifty rogue up to no good. If you did become involved in a court case, no-one would testify on your behalf, virtually guaranteeing the verdict would go against you. For people of poor reputation, survival in the city very quickly became at best difficult, at worst impossible, and to avoid that kind of desperation the evidence is that most people basically behaved as they were expected to by the community.

This is not to say that there was no crime – there certainly was – but very often the criminals were identified, and if they were not captured for punishment they would at least be forced to flee the jurisdiction, which from a London perspective was good enough. There are other obvious flaws that will probably quickly occur to anyone who thinks about this method of maintaining order in the community.

None of this is to suggest that we should try to go back to a medieval model, or that things were ‘better’ then. The point is that things were different, and that they worked that way for several hundred years, longer than our current system of policing has been in place. So, one thing we know is that alternatives are possible.

Sometimes that can be hard to see, when we’re immersed in our present. Things have been that way from what medieval people would have called ‘time out of mind’, and so it’s perhaps an easy step to go further and consider that they must always be that way, and that there is no alternative. Perhaps that we’ve found the best answer, or the only possible answer.

Someone in London, in 1525, would probably not have been able to imagine our current system of policing, or politics, or a great many things about our current society. They would not have been able to easily imagine things changing to be as they are. Of course now it’s obvious to us that the alternatives existed, and to us the changes had to happen, because they got us to where we are today.

The point is that we are not the end of the story. Change is possible, almost certainly inevitable. There are alternatives to all sorts of things that we take as givens in our society right now. People are suggesting these as we speak. Perhaps especially in our present moment more than any other, it behooves us to listen, consider the alternatives.

It’s clear we need to do better. Let’s embrace the opportunity.

Thanks for reading.

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My Walk With Privilege

So, our times continue to be crazy. I think it’s probably impossible to avoid at least some awareness of the murder of George Floyd, and the protests it has touched off across the United States and elsewhere, and then the brutal, reprehensible crackdowns on these. It is a scary, confusing, sad and important time to be living through, and we must try to make sure that it leads to vital changes in our society, to get us closer to one that is fair and just and safe for every person.

As always, as a writer, my first instinct is to write about it. I have been, however, reining that impulse in. I know I can’t write about racism in any meaningful way. I know there are much better voices out there speaking eloquently on the matter, and I urge you to seek them out and listen to them. I certainly can’t say anything about what it’s like to experience discrimination in Canada, and I have mostly spent the last several days trying to listen to people who can and should speak on these things.

But, it did occur to me that I have known not a few white people who I believed to be generally well-meaning folk, but who did not believe that white privilege exists. I can sort of understand because there was a point in my life when I would have agreed, and would have told you that racism was not a problem in Canada. (I must have been, at certain points in my life, a fairly exasperating person to know.) I grew up in a little bedroom town not far from Toronto which, during my childhood, was overwhelmingly white. I could count the number of non-white classmates I had on my fingers, and in most classes I wouldn’t have needed the second hand to do it.

I suppose it tends to impart a certain point of view. Fortunately patient and generous people helped me to learn a lot since then, and I am better person for it. I guess I am hoping that I might pay back that debt a tiny bit with this story I’m about to tell. Perhaps there is a person out there who thinks the way that I used to who will read about this episode from my childhood, think about it the way I did, and come to think differently. I hope so.

Here we go.

It was summer and I would have been 16 or 17 years old. I had been at a friend’s house playing Dungeons and Dragons until the middle of the night (something like 1 or 2 am would have been our usual stop time – teenagers!) and I was walking home. It was summer, only a short distance (about 20 minutes I guess) away, and at that time I liked going for walks in the quiet of the night-time anyway*.

So there was me heading home in the wee smalls, carrying an empty 1.5L Diet Pepsi bottle. This was long enough ago that they still sold it, in that size, in a big, thick-glass bottle. You got a deposit back for returning them to the store, thus me carrying it with me. I had done basically this exact thing at least dozens of times before.

But this time, I was stopped by the police. A cruiser pulled over and the officers got out and wanted to talk to me. They asked me my name and if I had any ID. I did not. I didn’t even have a wallet on me – I had gone direct to my friend’s to play D&D, had no plans to spend any money, and knew I would be going straight home after. Even if I had, it wouldn’t have helped much, as I didn’t have my driver’s license. They asked my name and address, which I gave them.

Of course they asked what I was doing out so late, and I said I was going home from a friend’s. What had I been doing? I tried ‘playing games’ but that led to ‘what games?’ and so I had to say ‘Dungeons and Dragons’. This was before D&D had experienced it’s current, at least semi-trendy renaissance, so it was the nichiest of nichey nerd hobbies. I could tell the officers thought so. I also had no proof of this – my DM was the one who owned all the books, and he kept the character sheets between games. I suppose I would have had a pencil case with some weird dice in it, but that’s it.

They had more questions anyway. There had, apparently, been some cars broken into recently, and did I know anything about that. Truthfully enough, I said that I did not. The officers mulled things over. One said he would be putting my name into a computer when they got back to the station (again, long time ago) and if it turned out that I was on probation, that I would be in trouble. I was not, so I said that was fine.

And with that, they sent me on my way. I remember that I was a little nervous when the officers got out to talk to me, but I was certainly not afraid of the situation.

I didn’t think much of it at the time, not really, except that my friends and I laughed a bit about the bit where they asked me if I knew about the car break-ins. Were there people who said yes to that? In time the event mostly faded into the background of ‘slightly odd things that have happened to me’. In many ways, it’s a story where nothing happens, and that’s the point. Nothing happened to me.

In more recent years, I have thought about it some more, when friends of mine have told me about their very different experiences being stopped by police, in circumstances not too different from mine, but with very different outcomes. It doesn’t take much imagination to think about how things would have gone, at 2am in a middle-class white neighbourhood, if it had been a black boy instead of a white one, with no ID and a weird story. It’s not hard to know that it would have been different had I been a First Nations kid, with my big heavy glass bottle, when those officers stopped me.

I was sent on my way having given a name and address that could have easily been made up. Maybe the officer really looked me up in his computer at the end of the night, and maybe he didn’t, but they didn’t make even a cursory attempt to check that I really was going where I said I was. It’s not hard to figure why – because I was a white kid in (surely) one of the whitest towns in Ontario and so certain assumptions were made, the most basic of these being that I was telling the truth, or was at least not up to any trouble.

Again, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure that it would not have been that way for a POC child in the same situation. We know it wouldn’t from the stories that fill the news and the stories that these people tell us, about how it went when the cops stopped them and they did have ID and they had a better story than mine and it wasn’t 2am but things still went bad for them.

So. That night, long ago now, though hardly an earth-shattering event, is nevertheless a very tangible way that I can use to remind myself what white privilege is, that it exists, and it really affects people. It doesn’t mean that my life has been easy, or that I’ve never faced any obstacles. It just means that when I was a teenager who hadn’t been doing anything wrong and really was just on my way home, I didn’t suddenly have the police become another one. I went home and went to bed instead of into the back of a cruiser, or worse.

I thank all of my friends over the years who have helped educate that fairly ignorant white kid into someone who, I hope, understands things a little better, and all the other people who don’t even know me who have done the same through things they wrote or said.

And thank you for reading.

* – somewhat tangential to this story, but not really, is the fact that I never had a second thought about going for walks late at night. Even when I went to university in Toronto, I kept doing it. This speaks to the very different experience one has growing up male, rather than female, in our society. I don’t go for late-night walks any more, but I do go for long runs by myself, and am never harassed and never feel unsafe, which I know is not the experience for many who do not present as male. We’ve built a society with lots of different kinds of privilege, and inequality.

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Escape from New York

Sorry for missing an entry (again) last week … I have really been struggling to find things to write about that aren’t somehow pandemic-related or at least pandemic-adjacent, and still determined not to have this become a pandemic blog for however long the situation lasts. Normally I can always write about my writing, but as I mentioned a bit ago, I’m not actually writing anything right now. So, uh, thus the struggle.

To avoid another missed week (and utterly breaking the habit of writing this thing, which I still think is valuable), I clutch at the following straw: I was doing my marking this week and some music from the Escape from New York soundtrack came on, which got me to thinking about a time a while ago where I found out a clever friend of mine had never seen Escape from New York, and after I made them watch it, their response back was basically “Why do you like this movie, exactly?”

Which is fair, because it is an extremely low-budget move from 1981 that can seem like such a cooke-cutter action movie (except, again, so low budget) that it’s easy to wonder why this movie is absolutely one of my favourites. Part of it is that I am a huge fan of John Carpenter, who (to me, anyway) does an absolutely great job at creating moods in his films, uses tension extremely skilfully, and tells fairly straight-ahead SF/horror stories that I basically always enjoy. (Yes, even Ghosts of Mars)

Some of the ‘cookie cutter’ nature of Escape is a bit unfair because, again, it’s a really old movie. So a lot of the action movies that a modern audience has seen do all this stuff were made after it. This is not really to argue that Escape was exactly cutting-edge (although, in terms of special effects on a budget, it kind of was) but coming to it now and feeling that you’ve seen it done a bunch of times before is sort of flipping the timeline backwards, unavoidable though it may be.

What’s fair is that the film is extremely basic in its premise and its cast of characters. We have a grim antihero protagonist who (not accidentally) is just about a cartoon version of the Action Hero. We have a ticking clock scenario, with impossible odds in the way and (literally) the fate of the world in the balance. Carpenter (I would argue) plays out that string adeptly and spins out a tale that is fun to watch, so long as your tolerance for ‘done on a budget’ is reasonable.

But, why is it one of my favorites? Well. The thing is that there’s more thought behind the film than you might initially think, and that’s what continues to give it impact for me. Carpenter imagines a world that completely abandons any sense of responsibility for the victims of a world economic collapse, literally kicking criminals ‘out of the world’ to fend for themselves in the ruins of an abandoned New York. We have a President of the United States who clearly does not give even the slightest fuck about the people he governs, and is only interested in the office for its own sake.

And our hero, Snake Plissken (really!), ex-war hero turned outlaw, ultimately decides (spoiler alert) that the institutions holding his troubled society together are simply not worth saving, based in no small part on their lack of regard for the ordinary people who perish helping him rescue their feckless President.

Carpenter says he wrote Escape in reaction to the Watergate scandal, and you can certainly see that, but I don’t think you have to squint very hard to see parallels to some of the situations we inhabit 40 years later, either. So, I feel like this is an old tale that still has some resonance for modern viewers.

Anyway. I didn’t have a real good answer for my friend when they asked, but that’s what I should have said.

Thanks for reading.

Catch you next week. Honest.

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Baseball, Stories

So, a day late on this one again, mostly because I couldn’t think of anything to write that wasn’t pandemic-related, and I have been determined not to make this All About The Pandemic, because frankly I already do more than enough thinking along those lines anyway, and I’m sure you’ve got all the pandemic content you could ever want or need as well.

But then (as of course often happens) as I was lying down to sleep, an idea occurred to me, because I was thinking about baseball*. Now, why was I thinking about baseball, in this odd season where major league ball is not being played, and gives no particular sign of being played? Partly, this doesn’t mean that there’s no baseball being played at all – the Korean league is playing in front of empty stadiums, and I have adopted the SK Wyverns as my team to follow from a (great) distance. Korean league baseball is a delight, with bat flips and teams named the Heroes and parts of the stadiums labelled ‘EXCITING ZONE’, but of course the Wyverns are terrible and it’s still all very far away.

So that wasn’t why.

I have also just finished reading a really excellent baseball book, Joe Posnanski’s The Soul of Baseball, which you should really give a read if you have even a tiny piece of affection for the sport. I would argue that a lot of people will probably enjoy it even if they’re not into baseball, but I can’t imagine a baseball fan not liking it.

But that wasn’t why, either.

The real reason is that one of the ways I have been passing some of my extra time in seclusion has been to get out my old tabletop baseball game (Avalon Hill’s Statis-Pro Baseball)** and playing out a little league with teams from 1985. Now why 1985? Because that’s not the year I bought the game, and in fact I ordered these cards special.

Well, if you’re a Blue Jays fan (or, I suppose a baseball historian) you may know that in 1985, the Jays had finally turned into a good team, good enough to win their division and get to the American League Championship Series, and even lead it 3 games to 1. The ALCS being a best-of-seven, they needed to win just one more game to go to the World Series. Instead of doing that, they would lose three straight, and the Kansas City Royals advanced to the championship, won it, and (with apologies to Joe Posnanski) I have loathed them ever since.

So, 1985 is a bit of a tantalizing ‘oh, what if’ in the minds of the right vintage of Jays fan, the sort of thing that games like Statis-Pro are somewhat uniquely suited to exploring. But, despite the heartbreak of how 1985 (and, really, all the efforts of those 1980s Blue Jays teams) ended up, I have a lot of affection for it because that’s more or less when I started becoming a fan of the team.

By which I mean, having an active interest in the team itself and hoping they would win rather than just watching a baseball game because it was something my father put on in the living room. I had favourite players (Jesse Barfield and the late Tony Fernández), and although I had tons to learn about how baseball really worked, I would watch the games and hope to see my heroes do well and (since they were pretty good that year) see them do some pretty amazing things.

Bit of a shock how it ended up, which is really the point I am (eventually) getting to. 1985 was also the year when (coming to this realization perhaps a bit late in life, but I have generally been behind the curve in various kinds of learning) the difference between sports and a story in a book, or a movie, came home. Because of course, had it been a book (or at least, the kind of books I would have been reading at the time), ‘the good guys’ wouldn’t really lose three straight games to their rivals, and they wouldn’t really not go to the World Series. Maybe they’d lose two, and then win the last vital game in dramatic fashion, but they’d never really fail utterly the way the Blue Jays did in 1985 (or the way they did an arguably even more heartbreaking thing in 1987).

One of the main reasons I enjoy watching sports is that you do get wonderful, exciting, amazing stories played out in front of you that challenge the limits of the imagination and would strain suspension of disbelief if someone did make them up that way. You genuinely cannot predict what might happen, no matter how well you know the conventions of drama and character and plot, because none of them apply.

But, of course, that’s also one of the strengths of the stories we write. We can tell the tale we want to tell, or want others to experience. Unless it suits our purpose, we don’t need to have our heroes, or our readers, experience their own 1985. That’s a big part of why I think fiction is always my first love, both for entertainment purposes, and as something I will always come back to creating***. Being able to tell, and to read, or watch stories where things end up as they should is such a powerful and important thing, and perhaps especially so during times where the ends appear uncertain.

.Keep creating, and keep reading.

Thanks for being here.

*-I did not leap out of bed and go write it, right then, thereby getting it published ‘on time’ because although deadlines are definitely a thing for me, I am just sane enough to recognize that the world does not exactly turn on the writing of this blog. Also, it was just past midnight anyway.

**-For the unfamiliar (thus, virtually everyone), Statis-Pro and games like it were simulations of baseball from the time before computers became ubiquitous. Each player has a card that rates their effectiveness at hitting, fielding, running the bases, and pitching, and with these and a bunch of arcane charts you can play out all these imaginary games. You can use the teams as they existed, or switch the players around and create new ones. If you have cards from different seasons, you can have pretend matchups that break the laws of time. It was exactly the sort of thing that would naturally appeal to a quiet kid with a good imagination who was also a baseball fan. I played a lot of Statis-Pro.

***-I was going to write a whole thing on this, but again, I don’t want to dwell too much on the pandemic situation. So: as I mentioned on my friend Jay Odjick’s podcast, I started out my seclusion period thinking about how much writing I would get done. For a variety of reasons, that hasn’t happened, and in fact, I have written exactly zero words during this time. I have, at times, felt very badly about this, especially while seeing writers I know be very productive. Most times, though, I feel able to recognize that there are good, legitimate reasons why I’m not able to write right now, and I know in my soul that I’ll get back to it.

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Little Steps

Just a few words this week on the subject of change, which seems to be much on people’s mind in a variety of contexts in recent days. I don’t pretend to be an expert on politics nor on activism, but studying history has given me a certain perspective that I think is frequently lost.

It’s nothing especially profound, just that change, real significant change, takes time. Generally it takes a very long time. One of the examples I use in my Western Civ classes, towards the end, is that it wasn’t until 1909 that a minimum wage for men was established in the UK. That was after decades of hard-fought struggle of various kinds, to achieve something we would absolutely take for granted as part of society today. It was part of a wider fight for the rights of workers that literally spanned a century and more, and many would say is still going on, with tiny incremental gains and advances here and there the way it got done.

That’s how it almost always happens. Change is almost always a series of small victories that take too long to win and can seem like not enough when we get them. But that’s how the struggle works. One step at a time.

If a person takes the position that if they can’t have everything they want, right now, that they’d rather take nothing than an incremental step, and perhaps even further suggest that this is the morally superior position to take, well, I question how much you actually believe in the cause you claim to advocate for. Yes, it would be marvelous to get everything we need in a bold stroke. Absolutely, you should dream about the goal you ultimately want to see achieved. That’s how you keep yourself going in the struggle.

But if you really believe in that goal, then you take every step, however small, in that direction as a victory. No, the job’s not done. But there’s a little bit less of it to do than there otherwise would have been, and that is good. If you believe in the goal for the goal’s sake, then you take every tiny creeping step towards it as a triumph. And the struggle continues.

Thanks for reading.

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Little Claw

When I was young(er?), I had pretty serious asthma, to the point that when I was (even) small(er), I nearly died a couple of times. It wasn’t that bad most of the time, but it was one of those things I always had to be thinking about when I was growing up.

One moment I particularly remember was telling my asthma doctor, a nice man named Dr. Singh, about what it felt like when my lungs were acting up. I said that it felt like a little claw grabbing on to the bottom of my lung. (Always the right one, for whatever reason) From his expression, that wasn’t something he was used to hearing from elementary school aged patients. But, that’s exactly what it felt like, some kind of long-clawed talon (always red in my mind, for some reason) snagged on some part of my interior.

Being the kid with the iffy lungs was not always a great role to have growing up, but by and large I was very fortunate. I got good medical care, and I had encouraging people around me who always told me to do as much as I could, but to know when enough was enough and respect my limits. (Which, honestly, is not a bad rule for a lot of things in life) With the exception of one spectacular example that left me with a substantial scar on the back of my head, I did pretty well at that. I did grow up (to a degree) and my lungs got stronger and stronger, to the point that I rarely think about my asthma, anymore.

Now here we are in these, uh, unusual circumstances, and my gym is closed, so to do my running I am obliged to do it outside, in considerably colder weather than I would usual run in. It’s been mostly fine. But a few days ago, I was doing some hill training, and it was, to say the least, brisk. Cold air has always been one of the triggers for the asthma, and to my surprise, right at the end of my training, the little claw was back.

Felt just the same as ever.

It wasn’t anything serious, and I still remember what to do, so a few minutes later, I was fine. Not something I had expected to ever experience again, though. I suppose the little claw will always be a part of me.

As I’ve had time to think about it, I’ve decided it doesn’t bother me all that much. That weakness will evidently always be a part of me, but it doesn’t define my life, and I’m sure that having grown up with asthma has shaped me in all sorts of ways I’m not aware of. Generally I think I turned out all right, so I wouldn’t change it. The little claw is as much a part of me as the toenail that grows all weird, and most of the time we have an understanding.

I think many of the unfortunate things that are in all of our histories are similar. In the end, just a part of who we have turned out to be, and that is all right.

So I am at least content to know that the little claw is still out there, where-ever it hangs out.

And I did finish that hill run.

Thanks for reading.

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Enormous Cave

Short one this week, I fear – my energy level is kind of in the sewer and my seasonal allergies are not treating me well, but I am really trying to get back on a regular schedule with the blog again.

And thus.

This week I ran across a story about this enormous cave in B.C. that had been sealed up for thousands of years by ice and has only recently opened up, probably due to climate change. I mean first of all, there’s a fantastic setup for a horror, SF, or fantasy story if I’ve ever heard one, right?

It’s also always kind of amazing to me that we are still discovering such truly huge things about the world we live on. (Yes, the reason why this particular one came to light is Not Great) In our age of GPS and satellite photos and Google Street View it is easy enough to think that the world is thoroughly known and understood, and that we have discovered nearly everything that is out there to find. Neil Gaiman has a good bit in one of his short stories (which I am far too lazy to chase down) about all the wonderful imaginary places that got chased off the map by people travelling around the globe and proving they weren’t there.

And yet. Here’s this frankly huge thing that – at least outside of First Nations culture* – we know very little about. And that’s pretty cool, that there are still huge and wonderful things out there to be found. It makes the world seem a little bit more magical, and I think in our current situation, it’s also good to have some reminders that as tough as the world kind of is right now, there’s still wonderful things out there in it, too.

I do like a good cave story.

Thanks for reading.

*-In my admittedly brief research for writing this, the best I could find was that it’s possible the site is known and had significance for First Nations people who live in the area, but nothing conclusive. I welcome more information, if you have it.

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Chain of Discovery

Reaching a bit for a non-current events related topic (because I really don’t want to do a stream of those) and this is what I’ve got.

I was thinking this afternoon about what to write on the blog and had some music on. As is frequently the case these days, it was a lady blues singer called Joanne Shaw Taylor. I’ve got a bunch of her stuff now and it’s currently my default ‘I should throw something on to listen to’ option.

Now, even just a few weeks ago, I would not have recognized the name*. What happened? Well, it’s a bit of a trip. I watched an episode of an old TV show I like a lot, Justified. More or less, as I recall, it was serving as the audio-visual equivalent of comfort food. Anyway, there’s a song that plays behind a particular scene that I’ve always liked a lot.

No, it’s not Joanne Shaw Taylor.

It is by Otis Taylor, but they’re not related**. I tracked down some of his stuff, and I like it a lot too. On some of the tracks, there’s a female backup singer whose voice really kind of grabbed me.

No, still not Joanne Shaw Taylor. It’s Otis Taylor’s daughter Cassie***. A little more progress down the rabbit hole and I discovered Cassie Taylor has some records of her own****. I listened to them, and I liked them too.

This got me to thinking that I was a little light on lady blues singers in my collection, and further research. And, thence, through various sources of varying levels of helpfulness, to Joanne Shaw Taylor. Who is, I should say, a highly acclaimed musician and so I claim no particular credit for this ‘discovery’, I just thought the route whereby I arrived to it was, once I thought about it, more than a little curious, and heavily reliant on pretty fragile connections.

I love those kind of seemingly random chains of discovery that can lead us to reading a million increasingly obscure webpages in an afternoon or stumbling on an artist I didn’t know about before. It also gets me to thinking about all the random blorps of chance that have to happen for an artist (even an acclaimed one) to come to the attention of someone new to their work. Sure, if your stuff is up on the internet, theoretically a huge number of people can get it, but because that’s true of so many artists, what are the odds that any one of them will ever even know it’s there?

I feel, therefore, profoundly lucky that anyone has ever found my work to give it a shot, and even more strongly that one of the best things you can ever do for an artist you admire is tell people about them. It doesn’t have to be pushy, or a hard sell. Just, to people who you think might genuinely dig it, a little mention.

It’s not necessarily the best relying on those chains of discovery to cascade down.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see about having a less squirrely topic next week.

*-it turns out that I did, retroactively, recognize a couple of her songs as ones that used to play on a local radio station, back when it was still playing blues and not the infinitely more bland crap they switched over to. The name had never stuck in the spongy confines of my brain though, obviously.

**-The song is ‘Ten Million Slaves’.

***-In the song where I really noticed her bit for the first time, aside from liking the song, I was also struck by how different Otis’ voice sounded. Well of course he’s not singing that one, he’s just on the banjo. The singer, as I immediately kicked myself for not figuring out, is Keb Mo, another of my favourites. It’s a weird web out there.

****-Here I reveal, to some degree, exactly how old I am, because I’m not even sure the concept of an album is even a thing any more, much less calling it a record.

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