The NeverEnding Election


Outside of election periods, most people scarcely give politics the slightest thought. Well, except perhaps to frown or sigh heavily at the antics elected officials always seem to be up to. Antics that never seem to be simply doing their damn jobs.

And people these days have a right to sigh or frown or furiously pound out the odd rant or two on Fort Informed or in one of the other community groups that link us as surely as hockey or soccer matches, Paint Nites at the Bear’s Den and the Trade-show at the Dow. People have, correctly, surmised that some of our elected representatives seem far more fond of the thrill of political gamesmanship and the quest for votes than of the actual jobs that result from the winning of an election.

While residents of communities wonder where the promises of elections have wandered off to, representatives from councilors to MLAs to MPs seem stuck in the moment just before they won. A time when selfies and throwing shade at opponents was the only job.

In Parliament, Question Period is talking points only. English or French.

The Alberta Legislation often most resembles a junior high class when the teacher steps out of the room for a few minutes too long.

And the Fort Saskatchewan city council?

It suffers from a chronic case of side-eye and shade.

From chickens to bees to common-sense regulations to keep liquor stores from literally becoming the alcoholic beverage equivalent of a Starbucks on every corner, the Fort city council hasn’t met a proposal that at least one councilor can’t find a reason to dismiss with dramatic effect. Never mind that residents have made requests and councilors have responded with actual initiative – there’s an election coming! In October.

And if anyone is wondering why the library suddenly has a gate? What would the lead up to an election – months from now – be without an issue worthy of gating?

Library-gate, a completely manufactured outrage wherein the all volunteer library board, using money it raised itself, had the audacity to purchase a vehicle outside the city limits. Much like many Fort residents do when the vehicle that best suits their needs and budget can’t be obtained locally.

At last night’s council meeting, the library board chair attempted to set the record straight – with actual facts – after the city’s only newspaper deemed the truth not newsworthy.

She read from her prepared remarks but was cut off by the Mayor when she mentioned one of the councilors by name.

How the record can be set straight without mentioning the names of the councilors involved – though she was allowed to name the councilor* the Mayor doesn’t seem as fond of – is a mystery. And after a few minutes of back forth, the library chair finished her remarks and left the council chambers clearly angry**. Not an emotion that city councilors or the Mayor should want to foster in volunteers who step up and run important boards like the library board.

Fort Saskatachewan has an understanding reputation for volunteerism and publicly smearing  volunteers is a good way to kill community appetite for stepping up and pitching in.

And that’s the current state of good governing in Fort Saskatchewan. Volunteers and volunteer initiatives like the library board are sacrificed to petty politics.

Days, and sadly sometimes weeks,  worth of drama follows every trumped up incident while no one mentions the elephant lurking in the corner. It’s an election year.

A year when council members – instead of going to constituents to remind them of all the good things that have been achieved and asking, “What can I do for you now?” – decide the best course of action is make the person sitting next to them at a council meeting look bad. And if that can only be accomplished through creating outrage where none exists, well, that’s politics. What were people expecting?

When citizens go to the polls to cast ballots for a candidate, generally they have an issue or two on their minds. Water bills, a new bridge, the puzzling overgrowth of strip malls that never seems to yield more than a new liquor store, take away pizza joints or a walk-in clinic that won’t be open on Sundays.

They’ve probably made a connection or two with new faces running their first campaign for office or reaffirmed commitments to sitting councilors who proved their mettle over the previous years.

Voters are reasonable people. They have wish lists. They have grievances. They expect to be heard and taken seriously. They are looking for representation and people who understand that serving at any level of government is service on behalf of the people. Not self-service.

Too many elected officials anymore – at every level of government – are still laboring under the assumption that governing is ruling like the feudal lords in Medieval times. They treat their time in office as though it was a rousing game of Catan or an episode of Game of Thrones. As if their actions don’t have real world consequences that can adversely affect the lives of real people. The people they are supposed to be serving, and the people they are serving with on council, in the legislature, and in Parliament.

Politics might be a game, but life is not. Voters are tired, but not so much so that they don’t see what’s going and aren’t taking notes. But whether this coming city election is a long and brutal House of Cards knock off or a responsible, thoughtful campaign where adults behave as though they are familiar with the idea of adulting, is almost entirely up to those who step forward to run. For the first time or again.

*Disclaimer – I know the Bosserts. Our daughters are school friends.

**Edited after speaking with Renetta Peddle, the library chair who assured me she was happy to get a chance to speak and furious at being silenced in her attempt to set the record straight and clear the reputation of the library board.

#Census2016


Under the previous Canadian government, the long form census was abolished in the name of freedom because letting the government know your phone number, email address and the number of rooms in your house was too much intrusion and could lead to internment camps. Or so goes the hysterical objections.

The reality is that were it not for the census, civilization as we know it would probably not exist. It was the Romans, after all, who first came up with the idea of counting and sorting people, which lead to their empire and eventually the world as we know it.

Sure, that’s a simplification, but a pretty straight-forward one.

Counting, sorting, and lumping is how our governments go about trying to decide where tax dollars will be spent. Some of it for the greater good even.

And the spirits of censuses long past is one of the treasure troves historians seek out and use to enlighten us about our collective pasts and maybe clue us in on overlap among all the groups of people who make up our communities, provinces, regions and countries.

As a lover of all things geek and history, I am totally in favor of the census.

In my opinion, the arguments about what an invasion of privacy the census can be is nonsense when we remember how much personal information we thoughtlessly, and happily even, hand over to financial institutions to obtain funding or to social media outlets to obtain entertainment and connectivity.

It amuses me a bit when anonymous social media folks rail about government intrusion when I know they had to share quite a bit of personal information with an Internet connect provider, whose discretion and reliability are far less sure, in order to obtain the account they are ranting from in the first place.

Our workplaces, banks and healthcare providers have more pertinent information about us, and we barely blink about it, but inform the federal government about how many hours a week you work? Massive violation of the sacred trust.

People are funny.

And while I am not arguing that we shouldn’t wonder and be wary about the uses our government will put our information to, it’s worth noting the hypocrisy and contradiction in the rationales against the census.

The husband and I completed the census together. We got the long form, so it was a bit detail picky in a few places.

There was a glitch with the “save for later” function due to the high traffic volume on the website.

Canadians are such data nerds that they crashed the census website in their zeal to replenish the dried up information well created by the previous government.

Really, how many other countries in the world can boast that their population is highly in favor of data driven policy decision-making to the point that they take selfies with their census forms?

That’s right. Just Canada.

I love the idea that 92 years from now, some historian will discover that my house had nine rooms – not counting hallways, bathrooms and closets – and that I was a stay at home mom. How delightfully dull I will seem. My real self – and this blog – long gone and forgotten.

Perhaps what really bothers people about the census is that it strips our existences down to bare, boring fact. Nothing but checkmarks in sterile columns.

The Romans used the census to build an empire. Canada will use it to decide on more mundane things like infrastructure and social programming needs, but I giggle a bit at the thought that the rabid nay-sayers are correct, and the current government might be up to nefarious business with our cell phones numbers or ethnic backgrounds.

I can just picture the Prime Minister sitting in his office. Gleefully rubbing his hands together in the classic pose of a cartoon villain and saying,

“World domination. One census at a time.”

and then he cackles while his cabinet nods solemnly, wondering what they have done.

Little Red Corvette


Music icon Prince was found dead in his home today. He was 57.

On the social media, there was sadness and shock, and the inevitable “why are so many of our pop culture touchstones dying!” “Damn you 2016!”

I’m not sure if it’s been a banner year for celebrity deaths. I don’t really keep track of that sort of thing.

It has, however, been a first culling for the youngest Baby Boomers and the oldest Gen X of their musical and movie “heroes”, and they aren’t taking it well.

For me, I am not surprised when men in their 50s or older up die. It’s fairly normal for death rates to begin to inch up once people edge closer to retirement age, and for a 57-year-old male who’s been suffering from flu-like symptoms for a few weeks to suddenly die? Heart attack is the first thing that comes to mind.

Other celebrities who’ve departed for the other side or the beyond, or whatever your personal preference is, include Alan Rickman (a true loss) and David Bowie (someone I’ve always found quite creepy and can count the number of songs of his I don’t hate on precisely two fingers).

I liked, shared and retweeted depending but wasn’t terribly affected.

But Prince is a bit different.

Prince is part of the soundtrack of my life. The university days primarily.

My chief memory of the fall of 1983 is scored by Prince.

One weekend in particular stands out

Sigma Chi Derby Days. It was an annual drunk-fest to mark the new semester and the end of summer. That was my sophomore year, and though I didn’t head over to the frat house as early as some of my friends, I ended up there eventually. Most of the campus ended up there at some point between mid-afternoon and midnight.

The party started in the dorm. Someone was mixing Blue Curacao in the sink while others danced around the room to 1999.

At 4am, our hall was still full of people. Loud. Drunk to some extent.

Every light was on.

Stereos and boom boxes competed to be heard. Laughter. Dancing.

Every door was open. Well, every door but Nick’s, the RA. His door was closed. No light seeping out from under it.

And when Currier Hall’s head RA came stalking down the hallway, flanked with other resident assistants who were equally grim-faced and clearly not there to dance,  it was Nick’s door she stopped at.

“I can’t believe he’s sleeping while all this is going on.”

A small crowd of curious co-eds were watching by now. There were giggles.

Someone said, “I don’t think he’s sleeping.”

She pounded on his door. Ready to confront him and discover why he wasn’t keeping order. Again. At barely 3 weeks into the school year, our floor had a bit of a reputation for “all nighters”.

Nick, who was put together like a Greek demigod, answered wearing just a sheet, followed by a young woman in similar attire. If Little Red Corvette wasn’t playing, it should have been.

By Monday, Nick had moved into the house of the fraternity he belonged to. Of course, he belonged to one. Anyone who could wear polos like he did naturally belonged to a fraternity.

The new RA was a wee weasel named Eric. We didn’t even try to like him, and he in turn didn’t like us.

It’s a testament to the soundtrack of my life that whenever I hear a Prince song, I can remember both Nick and Eric though I haven’t seen either man in over thirty years, and I can remember the Sigma Chi Derby Days like it was last weekend.

Everyone’s life has a musical score. Mine has an album full of Prince.

His death reminds me – though I hardly needed reminding – that time has passed and, like people, will continue its inexorable path to an endpoint. Some of us sooner and some later, but all of us inevitably.

Five Problems with Social Media


There are far more than five problems with social media but five is as good a place to start as any.

I should disclaim that I have technically been “social” on the internet since the late 90’s. Back in the day when message boards and list-serves were the meet up places for those who had decent access to the world-wide web and who realized the potential for using it to find people of like minds on just about any topic you care to imagine.

In many ways, the old days were pretty good. The forums that existed were tailored rather specifically, so the odds of tangling with someone who just happened to stumble across something you’d posted was fairly low.

Not that dust ups didn’t occur. Flaming was rampant and often part of the fun. But the fires were localized rather than raging wildfires that could burn across the planet in a matter of hours.

There was not much fear that anything that happened on a forum wouldn’t stay on that forum. The potential of ruining someone was not as great as it is today.

Which brings me to problem number one.

Social media’s tendency to mob people because it’s terribly easy to gather up a sizable and diverse audience, equip them with virtual torches and pitches and set them loose to vilify, humiliate and destroy anyone within a matter of hours or days.

Long after the initial spark has burned out, a viral posting on the Internet has a half-life that can easily exceed that of the subject. For good sometimes but usually for ill.

The immediacy of social media makes it dangerous in ways we simply haven’t come up with decent ways to counteract.

And some of that stems from problem number two.

Most of us are too exposed to virtual strangers through our social media use and neither appreciate how little we really know many of the people we “friend” or merely “follow” nor are wise enough to wonder or worry about it.

Which leads to the third problem – and I am incredibly guilty of this – a shocking amount of over sharing goes on via social media.

Where in bygone ages, we could only horrify our family, friends and sometimes co-workers with our exploits and opinions. Now our audience is anyone and everyone with the added bonus of reach. We are  also – initially anyway – shielded from reactions of those who have allowed us into their Internet neighborhoods and homes.

While we are all familiar with the Facebook share, rant or errant Twitter post exploding virally, most of us will never experience anything like that personally. This lack of consequence than emboldens us at the expense of our silently suffering social connections. People who surreptitiously mute or politely unfollow our updates to spare themselves rather than risk confrontation, hurt feelings or awkwardness. What people we don’t know don’t know about us is often for the best after all.

So the fourth problem is that in our quest to connect more because it’s so easy to do using social media, we actually become less connected.

There is a reason why you don’t go to your 25th high school reunion, but you forgot it and foolishly reconnected with not just your teenage bff’s but everyone you were ever acquainted with in school and then were eventually forced to unfollow all of their updates. That reason is, of course, you never wanted to maintain those connections. If you had, you’d still be friends with these people in your actual real life.

Social media allows us to feel widely connected or reconnected while at the same time providing convenient barriers to be intimately connected with more people than we can realistically handle or endure. Here is the final problem with social media. We are no more social with it than we were without it.

Problem number five is that we all have a much more finite capacity for connection than social media would have us believe.

Humans are simply incapable of caring much beyond a small circle of people. That’s why we distinguish between acquaintances and friends, and why friends are categorized accordingly to how we met them and closeness to us.

There is a vast difference between work friends, activity buddies and close or best friends, is there not?

Though there are mechanisms for ranking people in social media, the reality is that those who use it more become the people we see the most whether they are all that important to us or not.

All this said, as an introvert, I find social media a great leveler. Take away the physical aspect of being social and I can be as outgoing as anyone, which is why I have always enjoyed it.

But I am less certain that it’s been a boon for human relations. While connectedness has allowed people to more readily see the things we have in common in our various quests, it’s opened the doors to divisiveness on a larger scale too. I am uncertain that the former off-sets the latter. Not enough anyway.

 

 

 

Good Day! And Welcome to Day 2 or 3


I’ve already lost count.

Let’s talk about ageism today though.

Age has been on my mind a lot because I am getting old. Actually, I am old. And people are not keen on allowing me to claim my rightful age.

52 is not my favorite age. Currently or ever, I suspect. Not because it’s old, but because I am fully aware of the limitations that time and society have placed upon it and me.

33 was my favorite age physically. I was peak me from a purely superficial standpoint and from a strength, agility and endurance one as well.

And though 52 is long past peak body, it’s just coming into peak me in terms of awareness, knowledge, ability to leverage my experiences and education. It’s emotionally my steadiest era to date.

I’d be thrilled to have my 33-year-old knees back, but little else about that year or that decade entice me to wistful nostalgia. It’s only in recent years that I’ve truly come into my own.

That’s why ageist attitudes and the idea that youth should be an ideal worthy of a pedestal irks me.

While I wouldn’t argue that some of us don’t age like fine wine, never lose the training wheels or come to a greater understanding of what life is really about – our place and purpose, I think there is more to be said for old age than youth. IF you can let go of the idea that you are not your body.

What freaks people out about aging boils down to a weird attachments to and hang-ups about our physical selves that leads us to believe that is all that we are. Just a meat sack to be maintained according to societies ever-changing requirements.

If we didn’t have such a damaged relationship with our bodies, we’d probably feel better, or at least be neutral, about the fact that it changes over time. We are not children forever. We are not teens forever (though it feels like it at the time). We are not young adults or middle-aged adults for very long.

But we are old – most of us – for nearly, as or longer than we are all of the aforementioned.

At some point as we approach 50, it’s like a switch is flipped, and we are no longer young or youngish. No one mistakes us for a demographic we’ve clearly passed through. We are told we “look good for our age”, which may or may not be true, but  it’s not something young or middle-aged people are told. It’s reserved for the old.

At 52, I am old.

And I have earned it, dammit!

I will not be patronized by people who can’t or won’t come to terms with their own aged selves.

I will not long for anything in the past (except my knees – really miss the happy days of bouncy knees).

I will not be told I am “only as old as I feel” or “just a baby”.

I am not interested in propping up other people’s denial when they wail “but if you are old, what does that make me?”

Older. That’s what it makes you. Older. Deal with it.

Or better yet. Revel in it! Celebrate it! Be fucking amazed at what a warrior you are. How wise. How experienced. How zen.

Oh, I am aware that in a world where supple, tight and smooth is idealized that soft as leather and lined skin draped over bumps and bruises is not celebrated. That’s evident every time an actor “of a certain age” appears on a screen sporting an iron pressed look. One that is frozen in a parody of the young person they no longer are.

It’s hard to reconcile for many.

It just makes me sigh and worry for humanity’s future.

I resent that I am forced to deal with ageism. That there is maintenance beyond just what is sensible and healthy. And that somehow my aging without regard to arbitrary rules concerning appropriate dress, hairstyle and habits is somehow impacting negatively on anyone. Whether I know them or just happen to pass through the same space here or there, my existence is not harming anyone’s life. It’s just their unrealistic body ideals that are offended and frankly, that’s not my problem.

Ageism is as made up as any other ism. Invented only for nefarious or selfish reasons. To oppress, suppress, discriminate and divide. And like all other isms, we can choose to participate or not.

I choose not to.

 

Writing Challenges


The biggest challenge I face when writing is getting out of my head and doing it.

It would be easy to assume that when I am not physically engaged in the act of writing that I must not be writing, but the truth is that I am writing nearly all the time. Dozens of stories – many that will never manifest on a page – are in play at any given time.

And when I am not “writing”, I am thinking about writing.

It’s a wonder that anything else in my life gets done.

I’m sure you might wonder how a writer writes in their head and if I could explain it properly, I would. However, it’s not a straight forward thing and the best example would be daydreaming though instead of wishful thinking about my own life, I dream up lives for people who don’t technically exist.

To me, it’s a natural extension of the “fan fiction” I would daydream about characters in the books I read when I was young. In my experience, books never ended. I simply moved the settings and characters into my mind and continued on as I thought the narrative should travel.

As I got older and mastered – after a fashion – the art of writing, I borrowed ideas from books and television and began inventing characters, settings and narratives of my own.

But then, as now, I think a lot more than I write. A lot more.

When I sit down to write then, words come out in a hurry and because I have spent so much time with characters and ideas in my head, it might seem to anyone watching me that I am channeling stories. Plucking them out of the air even.

The only problem with my method of “writing” is that I sometimes get stuck in my head.

And let’s be honest, it’s easier to write when it doesn’t require you to actually write.

With writing comes revising, editing and that can sometimes be tedious work. Though I will admit that I love editing. It’s my inner English teacher’s only outing anymore and she relishes it.

So, when I am in one of my stuck in the labyrinth of my mind periods, I sometimes turn to writing prompts. Think of it as following a trail of twine to the exit. Like Theseus only I didn’t have to slay anything. Much.

I’ve run across two fairly decent prompts in the past couple of days.

First one is a computer game actually called Elegy for a Dead World.

Based on the poetry of Shelley, Keats and Byron, you explore dead civilizations and write their history from the point of view of an archeologist.

The second is a 30 Day blogging challenge. I haven’t done one of those in forever, and though I don’t find all of the daily prompts intriguing, I am going to give it a go in my own fashion.

It’s this or write about Canadian/Albertan politics and truthfully, I am full up with impatience with both right now.

Mostly because there is next to nothing of great importance going on although one would not know that given the volume level of the dialogue on current topics.

Let’s just sum up briefly by saying that some people’s perspectives are in sore need of grounding reality checks. In the young I can write if off to youthful idealism, but there are plenty who are old enough to know better that should simply find new hobbies because they seem to have lost their way.

So! Writing Challenge it is.

At least until I get bored or the temperatures rise to such a level that I will need to be outside as often as possible. Warmth is not a lengthy visitor on my little patch of the western Canadian prairie, and I find, as I age, that I need to physically bask in it as much as possible so when winter comes – and it always does – I don’t lose my will to live.

 

Hillary Clinton is Still My Hero


As much as it’s possible for me to have heroes, I still consider Hillary to be one.

Not only a hero, but a feminist one. And if you knew me at all, you’d know that I cringe a lot at the thought of openly declaring for a personal feminist icon.

Feminism is such a charged term. I’ve been on the pro and con side of the use of it over the course of my adult live, but in recent years, I’ve decided that it’s the best term to describe my feelings on equality.

In my opinion, if  a person believes that men and women are equals in the eyes of the law – civil and human rights – that person is a feminist. Whether they call themselves a feminist or not is up to them, but that’s how I view them.

Back in 2008, I supported Clinton in the Democratic primary race over Obama.

Not because she was a woman.

It is my believe that when all things are equal, people who support feminism should support women in political races because that’s the road to parity in terms of legislative representation, which is crucial in moving females forward on all fronts rights. And equality is a good thing for everyone.

However, I supported her because I thought she was the most qualified and that he wasn’t quite yet. Nothing has happened over the past eight years to convince me that I was terribly wrong in my assessment at the time.

As the 2008 race heated up, I remember telling my husband that the primary was shaping up to be a sexism versus racism contest. Were Americans more racist or more sexist. I felt that latter and though disappointed that I was correct, I wasn’t surprised.

Like many Hillary supporters, I felt she sold out at the convention, but the reality was always that she was being a good politician. She saw the writing on the wall, took one for the team and was rewarded with Secretary of State.

That’s how politics works.

And while how politics works makes me roll my eyes hard – because it’s a game invented by men that doesn’t work as well as it should or could, and we all suffer for the pig-headed, power-hungry idiocy of it all – I admire the way that Clinton has learned the game and bests her male colleagues at it more often than not.

It is not easy to succeed in a world that still mostly belongs to men and operates according to the rules of privilege that have changed little over the millennia.

It takes brains, determination and a whole lot of what is commonly referred to as “the right stuff” to ascend the ladder in a profession that not only has little use for women but is inherently hostile to them.

Hillary Clinton has done what few women have done, and she’s arrived not once but twice at the doors to the pinnacle of American politics – vying with not just some success for a nomination to run for President.

At this point, I can hear the anguished cries of Millennials and Gen-Xers exhorting me to look at her “lies, shifty ways and innumerable crimes against (insert name of your favorite horror here)”.

And it’s at this point, I sigh heavily.

I don’t have heroes. Not in the pristine sense of the word. Even when calling Hillary one of my heroes, I am not using the word the way others do.

I don’t expect perfection. I don’t even believe that it’s possible.

I am especially skeptical that anyone could reach the upper echelons of political power could be anything other than a flawed and compromised human being because to be a good elected representative of people anywhere means have made tougher calls than most could fathom even contemplating.

I don’t admire Hillary Clinton because she hasn’t made mistakes. Really bad ones sometimes even. I admire her because she hasn’t quit.

Even with a past that arguably isn’t always stellar, she still appears to believe that the system can be used for good. That it’s possible to achieve change even though it’s more evident than ever that change isn’t always great and that great change is often achieved at a heart-wrenchingly slow pace and is not universally wished for or welcome.

She believes in team, equality and the hard work both take.

When I look at Hillary Clinton, I see someone who has spent her life evolving. It doesn’t seem that she ever arrived anywhere and said, “Well, I’m here, it’s all good, and I’m done.”

She pays attention, sees when tides are turning and isn’t afraid to follow them if needs be. Even in the face of derisive scolds and harsh personal attacks. And frankly, it’s her ability to adapt and change that strikes me as being the most realistic approach to life because life isn’t set in stone. Shit happens. You roll with it or you get buried under a stinking mess.

I understand Democrats and Independents who see Clinton as part of a problem that plagues American politics these days. I get that she’s not change the way they’d like it to be.

I wouldn’t argue that she understands the system and knows how to work it. But in that sense, she’s no different than Bernie Sanders, whose been a politician much longer than she has and is just as adept.

But I see Hillary Clinton as a smart, shrewd, strong woman who’s succeeded in ways no other woman has before. She’s followed trails blazed by others and pushed those boundaries farther than any woman has before. How is that not change? She could be the President of the United States of America. A capable woman leading the most powerful nation in the world.  How can that not make a difference?

When I listen to all the reasons that people won’t support her. Won’t vote for her. All I hear are excuses, rationalizing away a leap forward for women – for the world really – that simply don’t add up to more than material self-interest or a lack of life experience or both.

Because, in my opinion, real change is something that shakes the pillars of a foundation and rattles the teeth of those inside.

At the end of the primary, if Clinton is the nominee, she will be reaching out and building consensus. Count on that. If not she will be the team player backing Sanders, the same way she backed Obama – something that can be counted on too should it play out that way – mark my words. Which is just about sums up why she’s achieved the success she has. She understands that sometimes you lead and sometimes you give support. That real change is a group effort.