Monthly Archives: September 2018

Welsh Lessons

I need to get back doing my Welsh lessons. I mostly say this here because I’ve been in the sludge lately in terms of getting a lot of things done, and hopefully if I write some goals and commitments down it will be a bit of a push towards getting moving on them. Finish revising Heretic Blood. Decide which WIP should in fact be the WIP. Get back to learning Welsh.

Earlier this summer, I started trying to teach myself some Welsh online. Learning Welsh was an idea I had always sort of kicked around in the back of my head; I have some Welsh ancestry and so it seemed like the kind of thing I ‘should’ know at least a little of. I have always had a sense of the past, I guess, and I’ve always kind of liked the idea of forging some sort of connection to at least part of my own.

As I learned more history, I started to think of the idea as more important. Without going into excessive detail, medieval Wales had problems with their larger neighbour, England. Starting in the 13th century, Edward I decided it was a good idea to exert actual rule over Wales rather than just being their theoretical overlord, and started with a military invasion; the campaign would take nearly 20 years. (Invading Wales turned out to be hard.)

After which, Edward enacted a program to make his control permanent, building castles all through the territory from which to exert authority. He also built towns that were meant to be the centre of the new Welsh economy, and transplanted English people to live in them. The town residents had economic privileges and special rights, so these ‘planted towns’ were pretty attractive places to live. The trick was – you couldn’t be Welsh. To live in Edward’s new towns, you had to speak English and transact all your business in English; Welsh speakers were only allowed in town long enough to buy or sell, and had to be out of town by sundown. On pain of death.

Obviously what this did was to encourage people with an eye to profit or social advancement to stop using their own language, learn English, and move into an English planted town. Essentially, to stop being Welsh and start being English. Edward’s plan was not to rule the Welsh at all, in the long-term, it was to stop there being any Welsh to rule.

Usually at this point in the class at least some of my students are starting to look uncomfortable and someone will usually ask ‘isn’t this kind of like ethnic cleansing?’ Which of course it is. It’s not a recent invention.

Edward did all this along with abolishing the Welsh system of laws, rewriting Welsh history to try to remove the idea of an independent Wales, and a number of other symbolic gestures that were meant to eradicate the idea of Wales as anything other than an appendage of England. Turning the ‘Prince of Wales’ from an independent ruler into the presumptive heir to the English throne is one that has stuck around, and is a great example of how much of an asshole Edward could be – the story is that he promised the newly conquered Welsh that they would have their own Prince who couldn’t speak a word of English, with the obvious implication that it would be a Welshman. Instead, he installed his own infant son. What a dick.

Another gesture that stuck around is one we don’t think about much at all today – denigrating the character of the Welsh to the point that the name became a slur we still sometimes use. What do you say when someone makes a bet and refuses to pay up when they lose? They… welshed. This is all part of a construction of the Welsh as dishonest, dishonourable people that encouraged assimilation, denying Welsh ancestry and Welsh culture, along with abandoning the language.

This may and probably should be starting to sound like a somewhat familiar playbook, especially to those with some familiarity with Canadian history. Edward I would have understood very well the policies used here to try to wipe out another culture, and another ethnicity. As someone who works with language and stories, I have a certain amount of understanding of how powerful they can be, and what a deathblow to a people it can be to take those things away. Fortunately, it’s hard to do – it turns out that people are pretty attached to their language, and their stories.

Edward’s plan only kind of worked during the Middle Ages and fortunately in the years since there has been a real effort to restore the use of the Welsh language throughout Wales, to the point where you can get government services in it and the most recent surveys indicate that 11% of the population are fluent in the language Edward I tried to wipe out forever.

It’s to be hoped that the same can be done for other traditions and cultures that power has tried to crush and stamp out. For my own very small part, I do feel just a little bit of extra motivation to work on learning this reasonably tricky language that some powerful jerks thought was enough of a threat that they tried to make it disappear.

Get bent, Longshanks.

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New Scars

Over the summer I got a new coffee maker, and it has a special setting for when you’re going to make only a few cups rather than a full pot. Apparently, part of the deal here is that it heats up the water more so that you still get a nice strong brew. I learned this rather intensely well a little while ago when I spilled a cup of freshly-brewed, extra hot coffee on myself. I burned the everloving crap out of myself, and at least one of the burns was genuinely reasonably serious.

(Obviously part of the lesson here: always brew a large amount of coffee. I feel like I should have known that one already)

Perhaps obviously, it wasn’t exactly a great experience – healing takes work, and my energy level has been way down as my body has been working to fix itself. I (obviously?) don’t recommend getting injured, but it’s a pretty cool process to watch. Our bodies are pretty amazing at the damage they can repair if given a chance; of course there are some things they can’t handle but they can fix quite a lot. I remember a book I had growing up that tried to explain how the body worked by comparing it to a castle. Probably not a surprise that that one stuck with me. Right now my body is hard at work sealing up a breach in the curtain wall. It’s getting there.

We are durable creatures, all of us. We can survive and thrive through more than we think, given time and a chance to heal up. It’s often not easy, and it’s certainly not often very fun, but we can do it. Professional setbacks, personal disasters, injuries: we can come back from quite a lot. Give it time. Rebuild the battlements, get back on the parapet.

I am going to have some new scars after the healing is done. That’s ok; in part they’re going to be where people won’t see them, but mostly I try to maintain a positive attitude about all my various scars. Society generally tells us to look down on them, but a scar is an indicator of something you survived. It’s a marker of something that wasn’t strong enough to kill you. It’s easier said than done (and easier to think than to really believe) but a scar is something we should really take pride in. Yeah, I was stronger than that.

And we all have them. You can’t go through life without picking up at least a few scars, metaphorical or otherwise. All the places we go to leave their marks, one way or another. I try to value mine (it’s easier at some times than others) as indicators of storms I have weathered, trails I followed, missteps I failed to avoid. I’m not sure my history is terribly interesting (relatively speaking) but it’s mine and I wouldn’t be who I am without it. Most of the time I think I’ve turned out all right, so I’m grateful for the path that brought me here.

Old scars, new scars, and all.

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Side Jobs

Short one again this week – I’m kind of running around with the start of the new semester, all the things that need looking after, and my consequently declining energy reserves. A new term is always exciting, but there’s so much to do!

And yes, as you will probably already have deduced from reading this blog or my social media, that does mean that I have a job besides that of being a writer. Writing is, in fact, very far from providing a significant part of my income, so though I love it and think of my writing as the most important thing that I do right now, it’s not paying the bills.

Many creatives are in similar situations, a fact that our society sometimes decides is a funny joke or something to sneer at. Recently (as you will no doubt have seen) a couple media outlets tried to shame an actor for having a job at a grocery store. Man, if you look the guy up you’ll see that he’s been working steady, he’s been getting jobs, it just doesn’t pay the bills. Fortunately the overwhelming response seems to have been that no-one should be made into a public spectacle or made to feel bad because they’re working a couple jobs. Just as fortunately, the actor himself seems to have a pretty good attitude about it all and may even have scored some extra work.

So that particular situation seems to have resolved itself decently well, but it is an uncomfortable reminder of the position creatives often find themselves in in society. People often assume that doing art is easy money (people have genuinely asked if I make all my money from my books), that the artists whose work they have enjoyed are set for life, and are doing nothing but work on their art all day every day. Would that it were true.

The odds are very good that your favourite writer has at least a side job or two. That singer you admire may be working a full-time job around practicing Russian pronunciation. This isn’t a cry for sympathy, not exactly – everyone has to work and lots of people work more than one job these days. In a lot of ways, creatives are exceedingly lucky to be able to make anything at all doing something they love.

On the other hand, since we (as a society) do like art so very much – and we do – perhaps we could at least not poke fun at whatever work artists find themselves needing to do to earn their bread and cheese. There’s nothing noble in not being able to pay the bills, and whatever work you gotta do, you gotta do. No job is shameful.

It also puts the complaints about artists not having their work be free or the next thing to free in a different perspective. We love art, on the whole. We shouldn’t try to wriggle out of paying the artists.

That’s it for this week – thanks for reading, as always.

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