Emphasis Added

November 4, 2008

It’s election day in the States. Over at Urban Observation, Urban Thought asks: “Why do people keep saying that Barack Obama is ‘seeking to become the first black president in U.S. history’?”

If Obama wins the larger share of the votes today, he will become the first black American President. However, Urban Thought points out, “Do you really think he is saying in his head, ‘I want to be the first black President’?”

Well — probably not. While the prospect of a black president — or a woman president if it were Hillary Clinton — is exciting, it is not the correct title. If elected, Obama or Clinton would both be the same thing: President.

I would also posit that Sir Ian McKellen did not become a gay actor, nor Louis Armstrong a black musician, nor Margaret Atwood a woman writer, nor Audre Lorde a gay, black, woman poet. They became, respectively, an actor, a musician, a novelist, and a poet.

And my point is…?

My point is, no one bothers to state that Sir Ian McKellen is a white actor, or that Louis Armstrong is a male musician, or that Margaret Atwood is a straight novelist, or that Audre Lorde is an anglophone poet.

White is expected. (In Look Who’s Coming to Dinner, Sidney Poitier was not expected.) Male is normal. (In an episode of “Petticoat Junction”, Uncle Joe assumes that the “MD” on a guest’s bag means she’s from Maryland.) Straight is the orientation of the vast majority (except in that delicious high-school auditorium scene near the end of the movie In and Out) . English is the language spoken the world over. (Apparently a politician in some English-speaking country once said, “If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for us!”).

It is good to know of successful people who don’t fit the usual model. It is good to be informed of their differences, in order to appreciate the extra struggles they had to undergo, and to rejoice with them. What isn’t good is to insist on always naming the unusual attribute, until it becomes part of the job title. Because when that happens, these successful people are no longer on the same playing field as those who fit all the criteria. They are set apart by the qualifier, often with the implication that they are on a lower rung. 

Think of it. The term “lady author” evokes someone who pens bad verses while sipping her morning tea. A “male nurse” must also be a substandard fellow, because we all know that boys, the superior sex, are doctors, and girls, the inferior sex, are nurses.

Et cetera.

It’s getting late. By the time many of you read this entry, the States will already have decided the next president. It may or may not be the man who, as the press claims, has “sought to become America’s first black president.” And maybe a few years from now, E.g. and I will be celebrating some phenomenon called a “same-sex blessing,” while Urban Thought and his fiancée will be planning their “black wedding.”

Now do you see my point?

Turtle Wins the Tartar Plaque!

October 7, 2008

Okay, I made that up. It’s not even a very funny dentistry joke because, as I learned today, plaque is the soft stuff that regular brushing and flossing can remove, while tartar is the same stuff after it’s hardened. Prize-type plaques should be solid and hard to chip, like dental tartar, not gross and gooey, like dental plaque.

But never mind that. What I did receive was this, from Dennis the Vizsla:

Dennis passed this award along to eight other bloggers besides me. Three of those recipients are also members of my blogroll. If I were to subtract them and  Dennis, there would be twelve blogs left on my roll. Of those twelve, four blogs are currently dormant. That leaves eight blogs.

So, shoot, never mind the formalities: I’m passing on my award to TOUT LE GANG ! Everybody!

And if that sounds a bit flippant, please look at it this way:

I read slowly. I subvocalize. So if I’m going to put that much time and effort into any reading material, it’s got to be good. It has to be well written, carefully edited, deep, observant, informative, funny, warm, sweet — not all of those things together, maybe, but at least two or three of them.

  • I won’t read most popular novels because they’re not well written. I like your blogs better than Stephen King.
  • I won’t read the business section of the paper because it’s so cold. I like your blogs better than Dilbert.
  • I won’t read most magazines because they’re so vapid. I like your blogs better than Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, or the Vegetarian Times.

So please, blogfriends, if your blog is not already decorated with one of these happy little I-Love-Your-Blog awards, be my guests.

And now I’m off to read my Elections Canada workbook on how to be a poll clerk. Wish me luck.

Thirteen Things in as Many Minutes

September 25, 2008

autumn suspended

It’s a quarter after ten — pm, not am — so I really need to either post something NOW or miss a day for the first time since I started.

I’m sad today. Oh, my own life is fine for once; it’s just everyone around me who’s having a hard time of it. One friend has just been downsized out of her job; another has just learned that her husband has cancer; another got stung by a scorpion, of all things; another has just returned home from her uncle’s funeral. Sad stuff everywhere around me, as though I’m a buoy in a sea of troubles.

It’s hard to concentrate with all of that going on. It’s hard to decide whether to write something sad, or consoling, or silly. So I’m going to take a page from Gina’s blog and make a list of 13 thoughts. And hey, this being laundry day, a list makes perfect sense. Okay, go.

  1. Cai and Fergus are playing together right now. I love to see them chase each other and play tooth hockey.
  2. I was warmly welcomed by E.g.’s parents while I was in Saint John; I felt very relaxed and comfortable in their home.
  3. The four of us went for an afternoon walk each day we were there, a different park or waterfront every day, and all within a ten minute’s drive.
  4. One day E.g. and I saw a deer and heard a loon at the same time, one block from her parents’ home. The word “suburb” has a different meaning in Saint John than in Toronto.
  5. On the flight back, the view over Saint John was full of trees and lakes, sprinkled with houses; the view over Toronto was gridded and orange like a half-burnt log, embers as far as the eye could see.
  6. The sirens are wailing down the street. I don’t think a day goes by around here that I don’t hear them at least once.
  7. I spoke to my brother and his wife tonight. They’re hoping that we’ll come up for Thanksgiving. That would be nice.
  8. I sat down and played the piano for a few minutes one day at E.g.’s parents’ place. It was mostly songs I had composed when I was about 12; they suddenly all came back to me. I hadn’t thought about them for a while.
  9. I’m finding coming up with 13 thoughts difficult.
  10. The Bible verse going around in my head right now is Matthew 23:37 : “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (NRSV) The “prophet” in question is the woman who was downsized out of her job, and “Jerusalem” is her workplace. It’s just sad.
  11. The dryer has stopped. It plays a little tune like a tin soldier’s march, in a voice like an electronic greeting card.
  12. Very late now. The dogs are asleep for the night.
  13. I will drop over to E.g.’s Flickr page for a few moments, and find a photo to illustrate this entry. Good night, all.

Sky Woman (Ohsweken, Part II)

May 23, 2008

“One Moment of/in Time” by Randy Johnson, 1998; 16.5 mm high.

Out on the sidewalk, E.g. said, “You really want that sculpture, don’t you?”

“Just because I really like something doesn’t mean I have to own it!”

Penny said, “It is very nice, that one.”

E.g. said, “It’s art. There’s nothing wrong in owning art, and nothing wrong in encouraging an artist. I can buy it if you’d like it.”

I re-entered the shop. The man behind the counter looked up. Not meeting his eyes, but with a hand on the carven woman’s left shoulder, I stared at the floor.

“I’d like to buy this sculpture.”

“Do you know what it’s about?”

“No. I just think it’s beautiful, the way the bird and the woman — I can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. Could you tell us about it?”

That was when Penny, E.g., and I discovered that the “clerk” was the artist himself. Randy Johnson told us he was a member of the teaching clan, which is either Wolf or Bear, I no longer remember. Then he began to teach. There was a large clamshell on the counter, and in it he placed some dried cedar tips, which he then lit on fire. The teaching lasted far longer than the fragrant smoke; I think we were there for over an hour.

Randy told us of how Sky Woman fell through a hole where a tree had been uprooted, and fell toward the Great Flood far below; how the birds caught her to slow her descent; how the water animals, the ones who looked up and named her Sky Woman, searched for a bit of dirt at the bottom of the waters, set it on Turtle’s back, and watched it grow as Sky Woman walked in ever-widening circles, singing.

He told us of Sky Woman’s twin sons, the well-developed one who was happy and created good things, and the poorly-developed, flat-faced one who was unhappy and created bad things. He told of how they were both Sky Woman’s children, and how she loved them both.

He told us of the White Pine — you can see part of it under the happy child’s chin — beneath the roots of which the Five Nations of the Haudenosee buried their war instruments and proclaimed peace. The eagle roosts at the top of the White Pine, watching for peoples to come from the Four Directions to join the peace and bury their weapons also.

He told us many things. He took his teachings from ancient legends and recent pop-psych books and everything in between. Finally, when our new knowledge was overflowing our ears and mingling in confused strands on the dusty wooden floor, Randy stopped. From a drawer he took out a small brown feather. Handing it to me, he said, “May our paths meet again. Niá:wen’kówa.”

“Niá:wen’kówa,” I smiled. “Thank you very much.”

A Sunny Day in Ohsweken

May 22, 2008

blue view

A few years ago, E.g. and I were down in Port Dover, visiting a classmate. The weather was good, so our friend suggested we go over to the Six Nations reserve at nearby Ohsweken. Penny, an immigrant from northern England, had frequently visited the reserve with family and friends over the years. She told us she always felt an inner peace when she went. Okay, we said, let’s go.

In contrast to Penny, I have North-American-settled ancestors on both my mother’s (Mennonites) and father’s (United Empire Loyalists) sides, stretching back nearly 300 years each. Love being what it is, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a bit of unrecorded First Nations blood in me.

What I’m certain of, however, is not the blood in my veins but that on my hands, as the descendant of intruders to this continent. My European ancestors stole a people’s land, and then called them “poor”. They curtailed their means of livelihood, and then called them “lazy”. They banned their language, and then called them “uneducated”. They destroyed their culture, and then called them “uncivilized”. They took away their children, and then called them “drunkards”. The peoples of the First Nations have been struggling with might and main to restore their heritage, while the federal government gradually concedes an acre here, a protective law there, a little restitution, a little respect.

So here we were in the public park in downtown Ohsweken, where there was some kind of celebration going on, with tables and barbecues set up to sell hot dogs and cobs of corn. I was too shy, too guilty, to partake. I felt like an interloper. I hung back while Penny and E.g. loaded up their ‘dogs and brought me a ginger ale.

Then Penny guided us across the street to some tourist shops. Ah, shopping, the great leveler. Here was my place — except my bank account was nearly empty at the time. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to look.

The first store held the wide variety of trinkets one expects from tourist shops the world over. Here were necklaces, dream catchers, moccasins, T-shirts, souvenirs with beads, wood, and feathers. There was an interesting mix of items for white tourists and gear identifying different indigenous nations or clans. We flitted about the shop, and I relaxed a little.

The place next door was smaller, quieter, sparer. We crossed a worn wooden verandah to an old screen door, and entered a large dusty room lined with shelves on its left- and right-hand walls, and a table and counter in front of us. We were the only shoppers. A man, presumably the clerk, sat behind the counter, simply nodding to us and saying nothing.

The shelves held sculptures. Now, I was raised not to go into a store if I didn’t intend to buy anything, and part of me wanted to exit now; but the sculptures were beautiful. I paused at each one of the dozen or so there, wondering at their symbols, gingerly touching a few of them, although most of them could probably tumble down a staircase without sustaining any damage. One in particular arrested me completely. I didn’t understand, but I was drawn to it. Finally, I asked the man its price. When  he told me, I nodded appreciatively, regretfully, and walked out of the store.

Tomorrow: Part II.

Making Fortunes

April 14, 2008


Eleven-year-old Jack had his fortune told last week.  This morning on our way to the streetcar, graciously ignoring my rude interruptions, Jack recounted to me the psychic’s predictions.

“She said I was very smart –”

“No question there.”

“And I would become very successful –”

“Uh-huh, can’t see why not.”

“And I would live in a really big, white house with ginormous pillars in front –”

“You’re going to be a bank teller! That’s terrific!”

“And she saw me standing in front of a large crowd –.”

“Just before you get hanged?”

“Well, I think it sounds like I’m going to be President!”

“Except you’ve got two passports, and neither of them is American. Wouldn’t you at least prefer Rideau Hall or Buckingham Palace?”

Then I gave him a quick recap of what Victor Hugo had to say on the subject of fortune telling back in 1831, in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Esmeralda has been raised with the gypsies because they stole her as an infant. They were able to kidnap her because her mother asked them to read her daughter’s fortune, and then left the baby alone in the house while she ran to brag to her neighbours about how great her child would become. Oops.

“And you think my mum would let the gypsies steal me?”

“Oh no, she would never be that foolish. My point was that fortune tellers will tell you what you want to hear. Victor Hugo was being very clear that fortune telling is baloney. And it’s still baloney 150 years later.”

And it’s still baloney about three thousand years after the Hebrew Scriptures warned against divination of all sorts. And as with just about every other passage in the Bible, unscrupulous advantage has been taken of this one. This “proof text” has been used down the ages to rid communities of marginalized old women whose best source of cat-food money has been to carefully examine a troubled face, and tell the listener what he most wanted to hear.

Because wouldn’t we all like to know what the future holds, and better still, to know that it holds good things? Flip the tarot cards then, draw up the horoscope, tell me what my name means, find a hook for me on which I can hang my hopes! Tell me what I want to hear.

I do think that in a way, fortune telling can be helpful. It can help to clarify our desires of who we want to be. For example, my astrological sign says that I am good with languages and with numbers. I agree with the first part and dismiss the second, not because there’s any truth or untruth in either statement, but because the second part is not what I want. I want to be a story teller, not a bank teller. So my gut reactions to various occult assertions about me help me to confirm what I want. In that case, why is it such a bad thing?

I think the Bible speaks against fortune telling for the same reason that, for every claim it makes, it elsewhere makes a counterclaim. Hate your parents and siblings for the sake of the Truth; but if you say you love Truth when you don’t love your siblings, you’re a liar. Don’t let witches live; but be merciful and humble. That kind of thing. Each time I think I’ve got God securely fastened into my butterfly collection, I come back after lunch to find another empty pin. There are no “proof texts”, I think, because love is a risk. The God of Love calls us out of our security and into scary, risky places; the god of Certainty is a hollow idol.

My partner and I are standing at the edge of a canyon just now, beside a rope bridge. E.g. has seen the other side, but is afraid of heights. I don’t mind the rickety bridge, even if it is missing half of its planks, but I don’t know where it leads. We’re both afraid. We both agree, though, that we need to cross that bridge.

Okay, let’s go — you first. No, after you. No, I insist. No, I couldn’t possibly.

Maybe we could draw cards?

Stretch of the Turtle

March 27, 2008

the clearing

When I started this blog, I was afraid. Partly I was afraid that no one would read it. But I was also afraid of who might find it: a dognapper; a cat experimenter; a stalker; the nerdy guy from grade 10 who, three decades later, still plays trombone in his little church band. All scary in their own ways.

So far, though, I’ve gotten only positive feedback. No zero-hit days. No visible rise in creepy people in the parks. No high school hauntings.

I’ve also gone sidewisedly way more public than I’d meant to. My partner hinted the other day that, with her beautiful photos not linked to her Flickr site, invisible creepy people visiting my blog could pretend her intellectual property was theirs. So I fixed the photos. Now, with just a click of the white cartoon glove, you can glean all sorts of information about me, my partner, and our pets. The shriek of the turtle is heard in our land!

Hmmm. Maybe Turtle should stop panicking, and consider just how much personal damage has been caused by her partner’s three years of Flickring. And the answer is, None. No damage. Her partner has improved her photography and made friends from all over the world. She has basked in kind comments, and left kind comments for other photographers. She wears her Utata sweatshirt with pride. Harm? Not.

Maybe Turtle could stretch just a little farther.