While the Rest of Us Watch

The following can be found in its entirety on The Barnstormer. Link below.

Falling in love is easy. We’re conditioned for it. It can happen in an instant, a natural sensation born of basic human need and desire. Sometimes it lasts a few seconds, like when your eyes meet another’s on a morning subway commute or when a song reminds you of a moment long thought passed. Sometimes it lasts a bit longer, it penetrates the being, it becomes like oxygen, or blood, or whiskey. A need. A constant. Sometimes, it seemingly lasts forever. It is unsettling, and yet it is everything. It wakes you in a cold sweat. It asks how your day was. It promises to take you to Nicaragua. It complains about its mother. It tells you it’s all going to work out. It lies.

But as easy as it is to fall in love, falling out of love is apocalyptic. It writes songs. It bears poetry. It drinks. Heavily. And within this context, within this slow spiraling death of what once had nothing but life, is the curse of audience. Of being a spectator in the film version of your own life, watching, hopelessly, as something, someone you love disintegrates. Becomes something you loath. Becomes that which you once, together, swore you’d never be. And as spring lists gently towards summer, and another long season of hockey comes to an end, we’ve collectively been witness to the sad, slow, merciless downfall of CBC’s Hockey Night in CanadaHNIC. Baby. We could’ve had something special.

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100 Days of Blame

I am, by most accounts, a horrible partner, and I have the exes to prove it. I am self-involved, self-indulgent, and more often than not underemployed. I suffer from tunnel vision and insomnia. I enjoy adult beverages, some times too much. I write poetry. I listen to a lot of alt-country. A lot. This is why I am 35 and my folks still ask about the absence of grandchildren and RRSPs. This is why my LinkedIn profile notes that I am a freelancer, but follows the claim with a question mark. This is why my relationships last three months, and typically end in a furious and graceless blaze of glory. But despite my poetic endings and disappointed parents, I’ve always been good at admitting blame, of recognizing my faults, and celebrating my flaws. One day I plan on learning from them. During the 100 days of the Quebec student strike, all sides, all entities involved, have been unwilling to admit any fault, to believe that they may have made mistakes, to admit that they should not have come home three days late smelling of perfume and whiskey. So, as Montreal prepares for an important day and joins the protest century club, I’m taking the time to consider how to share some blame.

The Mainstream Media

The CBC, CTV, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, et al. have failed miserably in their coverage of this event, and rest assured it is an event. The journalistic coverage has been if not lazy than perhaps complicit. Over the weekend “a” Molotov cocktail became pluralized very quickly in many reports. All entities continually refer to the “students” protesting and marching, while in reality the students are on strike but much of the rest of Quebec are on the streets. They quote tired facts about tuition costs, but are guilty in omitting from the discourse what non-residents and international students pay. The images and arguments have been ones of violence, and all too willing to ignore the moving and inspirational story of the rise of an important social movement. Their coverage has the appearance of writing from afar, written on desks in Toronto and Calgary.

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Where Did Journalism Wente?

Tuesday morning, venti Pike Place in hand, I sat in my local Starbucks as I do most days. I plugged in my earphones, connected to the WiFi and tuned into CBC Radio’s Q with Jian Ghomeshi, then opened up my various inboxes and feeds to try and catch up on what I missed whilst asleep. A normal day would typically progress as such: discover nothing happened, post clever tweet, ‘Like’ friends Facebook post, confirm that the Leafs still suck, reply to my mother’s suggestion that I get a real job, order second venti Pike, write something for my blog that 42 people will perhaps read, poke at freelance projects. You know, a Tuesday.

And if it wasn’t for a message in my inbox from colleague Ian Orti with a link to Margaret Wente’s op-ed on Quebec students (or rather, as Peggy calls them: the baristas of tomorrow) my Tuesday would’ve merrily skipped along, ending in beer and whiskey, eventually becoming a Wednesday where the whole thing would repeat itself. Instead, I quickly wrote a response to the offending Wente column, posted it, the thing went viral, Maisonneuve picked it up, I went on CJAD radio, and for a few days my parents left me alone about the freelance life without a wife or children. It was a good week.

But that was Tuesday, and my 15 seconds of notoriety was fleeting. By Friday night my folks were again asking about the absence of wife and grandchildren. Whiskey and beer supplies were dangerously low. Wente continues to write. So here I sit Saturday morning, same Starbucks, same venti Pike, and unfortunately stuck reading the same newspapers that employ the likes of Wente to lazily write hypocritical and poorly constructed pieces that negligently fit into the modern paradigm of what passes for journalism in 2012.

A friend sent me a piece by Wente from early April, in which she celebrates her Boomerdom and notes that she left university debt free, got a job quicker than an arts grad can whip cappuccino foam, a bought a house in the Beaches with a small loan from her mother that is now worth a small fortune. Easy-peasy. And yet just a short month later, she was condemning students for just wanting just a fraction of the same advantages she had. And it led me to wonder, how does this tripe make it past the editing process? How, in this day and age, are we subjected to newspapers that fail to subscribe to the simplest virtues of journalistic integrity?

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CanLit the Precious

On Monday, Scotiabank Giller Prize founder Jack Rabinovitch announced the jury for the 2012 award, Canada’s most prominent literary prize. Gary Shteyngart, Roddy Doyle, and Anna Porter comprise this year’s holy triumvirate who will bestow a Canadian author $50 000, and inevitably a window display at Chapters/Indigo and a bestseller. It should have been a moment to celebrate Mr. Rabinovitch’s continued support of the literary arts, and yet for the second time in less than a month cultural protectionists, insulating elitists of Canadian literature raised their ill-mannered voices in defiance in the pages of The Globe and Mail. For to them, CanLit is a precious entity, one that should never be left to the masses, and should be devoid of the trappings of humour or success.

John Barber of The Globe and Mail took the opportunity to issue a snide commentary on the state of Canadian literature. To Barber, it’s important that when discussing CanLit literature that we employ methods of rash generalization by speaking of “populist authors” and juries that “in the past have tended to represent the higher end of the literary spectrum.” The gist of this condescending bit was that smart people favour “Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro,” while the dimmer bulbs who are still able to slobber their way through a text enjoy books that are funny, intelligent, and rarely discussed at grad student colloquia.

Barber further suggests that the jury’s choices will differ from years past, that the “inclusion of two popular, largely comic novelists is bound to change the established character of the program,” referring to the celebration of Canadian literature rich in nature motifs, the plight of first generation Canadians, and revisiting war in a discussion of family while tapping maples for syrup. God forbid a literary prize celebrate a piece of writing that may occasionally illicit laughter or sales. Furthermore, it’s insulting to Doyle and Shteyngart, suggesting that neither writer has the literary fortitude of an Atwood to see through their guffaws to champion writing unlike their own. Shteyngart quickly responded on Twitter noting that he will be “also giving out Canada Council grants to Jewish writers living within 5 kilometers of The Main.”

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Truth & Pettiness on Canada Reads

I tuned in all week to the CBC’s Canada Reads series, as four Canadian pseudo-celebrities and Alan Thicke debated the merits of five books of non-fiction in a Survivor-like competition. I believe the winner, Carmen Aguirre for Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter, received a dinner with Margaret Atwood, or a window display at Chapters or something. I’m not sure. I don’t think it was important. The week’s broadcasts, acutely moderated by Jian Ghomeshi, were at once entertaining, informative, combative, and funny. So, you know, everything that Canadian Literature tends not to be. For the most part, I’d rather stab myself in the eye with Margaret Atwood’s Long Pen than listen to a debate about CanLit. As you can imagine, my MA in English Literature was torturous, which is why I developed a dependency on bourbon and NeoCitran. It’s not that I don’t love Canadian writing, because I do. It’s not that I don’t like the Canadian writing community, because I have found it warm and accepting. It’s mostly because these debates tend to illuminate Canadian literature’s tendency to be insulated, precious, and protectionist. Also, there’s too many poems about wheat.

The highlight of the week on Canada Reads was Anne-France Goldwater, a Quebec judge who garnered attention on day one for accusing eventual winner Aguirre (who, incidentally, Goldwater ultimately voted for) of being a “bloody terrorist” to which panelist Shad replied: “If you consider her a terrorist, you have to consider Nelson Mandela a terrorist.” Goldwater agreed with the hip hop artist: “Damn straight. Blood on his hands,” to which the rest of us replied: who’s Shad? Goldwater also accused the author of another one of the Canada Reads books, Marina Nemat, of lying in her memoir Prisoner of Tehran about her time in an Iranian jail: “Marina Nemat – and it’s known to other prisoners; other prisoners who shared her experience – tells a story that’s not true and you can tell it’s not true when you read it.” Did Goldwater believe in what she was arguing? Probably. Is there truth to her claims? Maybe, but to me that’s not important. Good debate relies on half-truths, strong opinions, and passionate advocates and that’s what Goldwater provided.

Predictably, the CanLit mob were outraged. This is what happens in Canada. Any discussion that travels outside the norm, that dares to engage and challenge an informed and intelligent readership, is viciously attacked. They want to wrap CanLit in a Hudson’s Bay blanket and tell it everything’s going to be alright. It’s insulting to both writers and readers, and it’s all too common. Nemat herself went on the offensive, demanding an apology from Goldwater, and claiming on Facebook that Goldwater’s comments were “bullying and it’s a crime.” I don’t doubt for a moment that Nemat was hurt, and I don’t doubt the veracity of her writings but bullying isn’t a crime, rather possibly an actionable offense, and she certainly has the right to engage Goldwater in a civil suit. Though Goldwater is a successful lawyer and I imagine she knows the line between actionable and argumentative.

Nemat took her argument to the pages of The Globe and Mail, perpetuating the notion that no press is bad press. What Nemat went through in prison is an abomination, acts that reflect the worst of humanity, and her strength in writing of her experiences is both admirable and inspirational. But she chose to do so, and that opened up her experience to public discourse. In her closing paragraph of the Globe piece, she appeals directly to Goldwater: “Dear Ms. Goldwater: The witness is the cornerstone of the justice system. If we throw stones at her, we have taken a step toward burying freedom and democracy. Canada and Canadians deserve better than this.” Arguably, truth is the cornerstone of the justice system, and witness requires corroboration. But any witness must face confrontation, and in writing the book, Nemat has opened herself up to cross examination.

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