The Op-Ed Remains the Same

Yesterday, the Quebec student strike claimed if not its first than its most prominent casualty. Line Beauchamp, Quebec Minister for Education, resigned her post in both Premier Jean Charest’s cabinet and the National Assembly. As for Ms. Beauchamp, rest assured I imagine she has some sort of severance package to cushion her fall into the private sector, and given her age and education I would further assume that her student loan debt, if she had one, has been paid off for some time. I’m sure a teaching gig awaits at U Laval, or U de Montreal, provided she returns to school for an MA or PhD. As soon as they reopen. Enjoy your summer, Line.

This was a calculated move on the part of the Charest government. It’s akin to the Canadiens firing their head coach during a slump. It’s a distraction. It gives the scribes and pundits (entities complicit in this discussion) something other than the issue at hand to feed the news cycle for a day or two while the franchise, in this case the Quebec government, regroups and plans their next course of action before the season (ahem, semester) is lost. Randy Cunneyworth was not considered for the position, Charest instead going with Treasury Board President Michelle Courchesne. I’m assuming she speaks French.

The intermediary should have provided a moment for reflection for both sides, and perhaps a more enlightened and calm discourse emerging on the other side. But no such luck. It has been fascinating to see how Canada’s op-ed columnists and political pundits have covered this story from afar, removed both from the university experience and Quebec itself. It’s difficult for me to understand why there isn’t more solidarity, why not just students but reasonable taxpayers aren’t more concerned with how the student strike has been reflected in the media, and furthermore how the mismanagement of subsidized tuition shares multiple parallels with other forms of social spending.

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Le Québec est le Canada que nous devrions vouloir

The following is a French translation of my post from yesterday, “Quebec is the Canada We Should Want” kindly and expertly translated by Murielle Cayouette. Ms. Cayouette is an M.A. candidate for a “maîtrise en littératures d’expression anglaise” at université Laval and her thesis is on Native American Literature.  She also teaches part time in Cégep FX Garneau in Québec City.

Ce qui suit est une traduction française de mon post d’hier, “Quebec is the Canada We Should Want” traduit aimablement et de façon experte par Murielle Cayouette. Mme. Cayouette est un candidat à la maîtrise d’un “maîtrise en littératures d’expression anglaise” à l’Université Laval et sa thèse sur la littérature amérindienne. Elle enseigne aussi à temps partiel au Cégep FX Garneau à Québec.

Quand j’étais petit, j’adorais les cartes géographiques.  J’aimais rêvasser devant ces représentations tangibles d’endroits mystérieux que je ne pouvais qu’imaginer.  Quand j’avais huit ou neuf ans, mes parents m’ont acheté une mappemonde pour afficher sur mon mur de chambre.  Chaque pays sur la carte était coloré selon la langue officielle de chaque nation.  J’ai un souvenir très tendre de l’affection que je portais au Canada sur cette carte, avec ses vives rayures bleues et rouges représentant l’anglais et le français.  En fait, je crois qu’il s’agit de mon premier souvenir de fierté, en particulier en comparaison avec la grosse masse juste au sud, les États-Unis, qui eux n’étaient que rouges.  Ce n’était pas seulement une question linguistique : c’était une question d’unité, de diversité, et de ce que c’est d’être un Canadien.

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Quebec is the Canada We Should Want

A French translation of this post may be found here.

Une traduction française de ce poste peut être trouvé ici.

When I was a kid I loved maps. I loved the element of the unknown, physical and tangible representations of places I could only imagine. When I was about 8 or 9 my parents bought me a map of the world for my wall. Each country on the map was coloured to represent the official language of each nation. I have this fond recollection of an affection I had for the Canada of that map, bold in its red and blue stripes representing French and English. It might be my first memory of pride, especially as the big red blotch below us, the USA, was simply red. It wasn’t just about language, it was about unity, and diversity, and being Canadian.

As I grew up, and visited much of the country, living for many years in a few of its corners, those feelings reconciled. But in the past few months, having left Quebec after seven years and relocating to Toronto, and after being witness to the protests of Quebec students and the offensive manner in which the mainstream media has treated them as spoiled children, that notion I had of Canada as a child has dwindled a bit. And it has led me to think that Quebec, a province so often concerned with what makes it distinct from Canada, is in fact the last bastion of what I believe Canada to be, what I was raised understanding it to be, and what I saw in my reverie as I stared into the heart of those maps as a child.

The student protest is just one element of the Canada I see in Quebec. The Globe and Mail’s editorial board wrote this morning that Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s compromise with the students was “sending a message that Quebec’s social entitlements will not last forever.” They went on to describe these entitlements: $7-a-day daycare, lowest tuition in Canada, subsidized hydro-electricity, and reasonably priced pharmaceuticals. The use of the word “entitlements” was a poor choice, but one the Globe obviously choose as a slight of those who believe that such “entitlements” are an essential part of the fabric of this nation. Here, it has a negative connotation that suggests that Quebec is Canada’s petulant child. Instead, I see these as the social necessities that are fundamental to not only the human condition, but also the success of a social democracy.

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Dear HBO: Writers Are Not Interesting, Pass it On

The most interesting person I’ve ever met happens to be a writer, but I’m going to go ahead and guess that was just an instance of happenstance. For the most part, the writing industry is equal parts dullards and Dos Equis men just as the accounting industry, or animal husbandry industry, or the bible repair industry. Unfortunately, the writing world has never been lacking in ego or narcissism, and as a result the general public is subjected to many a film, TV show, play, novel, novella, short story, sestina, villanelle, and haiku by writers about writers for writers. Writers are given a forum with which to share their narcissism. Admittedly, I’m on occasion guilty of this myself, but I’m relatively unsuccessful and those who have been subjugated to my work heavily rooted in the self have more often not complained, but rather bought me a drink or seven, and patted me assuredly on the back. “There, there,” they say, “there, there.”

The problem starts early on in the writer’s evolution. The institutionalization of writing has meant that writers now learn to write in MFA programs, as opposed to the old route where aspiring writers would simply read books, get drunk, find a pen, and see what happens. There are certain tropes of the creative writing pedagogy. One, of course, is using the term pedagogy as often as possible. Another is to tell students to “show don’t tell”, which is indeed great advice for writing, yet bad advice for flirting. Recently, the term “learnable moment” has become very popular, but I still have no idea as to how that’ll help me write a good paradelle. But the most dangerous and misleading teaching is the notion of “writing what you know”. This, is where we’ve gone wrong. So horribly, horribly wrong.

“Writing what you know” has led to creative writing workshops filled with pieces about bad university dorm experiences, the problems with parents and mean boyfriends, and the increasingly popular “things that happened to me yesterday while on Ritalin”. I had one professor who thankfully went the other way on this, suggesting “if it happened to you, don’t write it. It’ll never be as interesting for anyone else.” He would also take aspiring writers writing what they knew to task, telling many that their pieces should be titled “My Name is (insert name) and This Once Happened to Me”. Of course, he also advised that I own more knives, took Viagra recreationally and not for sexual purposes, and then asked to borrow my girlfriend, so…

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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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Margaret Wente Hates Herself

I wasn’t going to say anything. I was just going to keep my mouth shut. I spent the entirety of April writing poetry, and feeling okay about myself, about my current station. I discovered charcuterie as a meal. I’ve cut back on my smoking. Spring sprang. Life was good. In the background, the Quebec student strike flickered in philosophical disagreement with much the rest of the country, at least those with jobs and educations already paid for. I kept informed, but remained quiet. Even when under the influence of argument inducing whiskey, the loose lip encouragement of good wine and free vodka, I was, for the most part, silent.

While I supported the virtue of the students protest, I wasn’t entirely on board with them. Their tuition is, comparably, reasonable. But as the month progressed, and my poems got more self-indulgent, I found myself starting to lean more and more to the side of these selfless young people, standing up in Quebec for those who won’t, or can’t, stand up in the rest of Canada. But still I kept it mostly to myself. And then, this morning, Margaret Wente provided her unsolicited thoughts (in the increasingly disappointing Globe and Mail) on the students’ demand for tuition control and responsible spending by post-secondary institutions. And once Wente published her column, and with my month of poetry over, I couldn’t keep quiet anymore. Wente offended me from my slumber. Good morning.

I’ll preface my argument by noting that I hold two degrees from a Quebec university, a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing and an MA in the same disciplines. Was my tuition, as Ms. Wente notes “the lowest tuition fees in all of North America”? Yes. Am I debt free? No, not even close. I’m in better shape than most, but I am underemployed and frustrated both by my university experience and the life I’m trying to build outside of it. But I wouldn’t trade my time in university for anything, and I owe what quiet moments of success I have had to that education, and how it has made me a better writer, a better person, and a better citizen.

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The Evolution of the Asshole: Pt. III

Introduction & Part I: Adam & Eve Were the First Assholes can be found here.
Part II: Portrait of the Asshole as a Young Artist can be found here.

Part III could not have been completed without the invaluable input and collaboration of Ian Orti, the author of The Olive and the Dawn and L: and things come apart. He can be found here. You want to go to there. He’s giving stuff away.

A quick review for those who have just joined the discussion (though if you weren’t such an Asshole, you’d click the links above and read the first two essays. But, whatever. Asshole.) Adam and Eve were in the garden, they were assholes, then some asshole started painting on cave walls and writing poems and dancing, then came the Renaissance, then Foucault birthed MFA programs, pulling all sorts of Assholes from their parents sweaty basements and into universities where their Assholeness was given a diploma.

So, where to now? Evolution is a scattered beast. Even Darwin will tell you that back in the day amoebae were popping out of the ocean and becoming monkeys all over the place. That’s why we have different races and animals. And Russians. While some breeds of Asshole were popping up in 14th century France, there were different species of Assholes pulling their DNA from apes all over the planet, and perhaps on Mars. Of particular note were well known Assholes such as the Kangaroo Island Emu, the Pallid Beach Mouse, the Stephens family of Crawfordville, Georgia, and the aforementioned Russians.

But when considering the Asshole, it’s important that we discuss Assholes that were evolving simultaneously around the world, not just in Russia. One of these species of Asshole, though showing origins in many different locales, became a prominent Asshole in the west, and in particular in the past half-century in the United States, Canada, and parts of Colombia. Its origins are muddled. Some in the scientific community believe the first evidence can be found in non-avian theropod dinosaurs. Other contend that it can be traced to dolphins, orcas, lions, the Harris Hawk, or perhaps crocodiles. All can agree that this species of Asshole is a pack hunter. I am speaking, of course, of Dudes.

Part III: Dudes

It’s very important that we are able to differentiate between a dude, or the dude, and Dudes. Separate the dude from the dudes, the wolf from the pack, the man from the men, the Jeff Lebowskis from the Jackie Treehorns. Intriguingly, they have very little in common besides etymology. A dude is your buddy who feely buys rounds of drinks, reads Yeats, and digs Uncle Tupelo. A dude is a girl friend who sets you up with her cool friend and tells you your poetry is boss. A dude takes you to the bar at two in the afternoon on a Tuesday because you need it. A dude abides. Dudes travel in packs and treat objects like women, man.

The first evidence of Dudes is likely in the first Asshole Adam and the serpent. It’s hard to know for sure. It’s pretty much universally understood that Dudes travel in at least packs of three. The Magi were certainly Dudes. Back-up singers. Blind mice. And of course are prominent in Arthurian legend.

King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table were Dudes, evidenced by their perpetuated and exaggerated existence through folklore. Also, they dug hanging out in a group, had their own clubhouse, and wore similar outfits. The Knights of the Round Table were the house league hockey team of its day, and participated in activities of Dudes such as homoerotic hazing, watching pornography as a group, and eating fried foods. King Arthur was their Alpha Male, and within most construct of Dudes, and Alpha Male can be found. And, it goes without saying but, Alpha Males are Assholes.

“Three Blind Mice” is the nursery rhyme of Dudes, and represents one of the first known gospels of Dudes. The rhyme’s inspiration was born of the reign of Queen Mary, and specifically her burning the Oxford martyrs at the stake for heresy. Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, were all Dudes. They were Dudes in that they were enablers, promoting and supporting the activity of Dudes such as philandering, divorce, Royal Supremacy, clerical celibacy, and incorrectly citing the Bible to make your point. These activities became the foundation for many contemporary elements of being Dudes.

Furthermore, the passing down from generation to generation of “Three Blind Mice” is a manifestation of the folklore nature of the Dudes, for Dudes require lineage and tradition as both an affirmation of their Asshole ways and a means of perpetuating the species. (This is why the modern Dudes can be found in frat houses, Boston Pizzas, and on hockey teams, but more on that below.) Consider:

Three blind mice, three blind mice,
See how they run, see how they run,
They all ran after the farmer’s wife,
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,
Did you ever see such a thing in your life,
As three blind mice?

The mice, traveling in threes as Dudes, need to be seen, and celebrated for simply being. “See how they run, see how they run,” is documentation of how Dudes need attention. Additionally, they’re after the farmer’s wife, because Dudes are philanderers. Fortunately, the farmer’s wife (read: Queen Mary) is a dude and takes care of business.

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