Friday, 11 November 2016

Uncle Vince's letter from Belsen

My great Uncle Vince Spowart lives on in memory as one of my favourite people. He was the brother of my maternal Grandfather (who I was never fortunate enough to meet) and was about the steadiest and most content person you could ever hope to meet. He carried with him a strength and grace I can only hope to grow into …… I’m not sure it’s in me.



George Vince Spowart served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War. He became a highly skilled airplane mechanic and spent much of the war working on Lancasters, Halifax, and Wellington bombers, Typhoon, and Mustang fighter planes. He was stationed in England, France, Belgium, Holland, and finally in Germany. A few weeks after the liberation of Belsen prison in April, 1945 he drove with a few fellow soldiers to the camp to see it. I’m not sure he was prepared for what he saw and wrote a letter home to his parents detailing the experience. By the Fall of 1945 he was home, in Canada, and soon to be married to his true love. As a child, I often heard of the pictures he took, the experiences he had, and the letter he wrote. I never saw them then, and I have no recollection of him talking to us about his time during the war. He was a happy, gentle person, and very rooted in the present, in the positive, and in the small joys of life. He lost his wife young and spoke often of his enduring love for her, he baked his own bread, he wore an infectious smile, and he fiercely loved his kids and family. That’s what I remember. But still I come back to this letter …… it sticks. And it deserves to be shared. But it is a hard read, heartbreaking in it’s wide eyed naivety, and touching in it’s tenderness and shock. It may trigger much so please read only when prepared. And for the love of Pete, please remember it when it comes time to vote …….. it is a slippery slope from talk of hate, to acts of hate.

I should also add that one of my other favourite people was German and immigrated to Canada after the War. He was a “Nazi” in the sense that every young man had to serve and was a “Nazi”, he was a gentle and kind soul. War is complicated …… a game of twisted ideals played by men safe in warm, plush seats. The horrors of war do not ever just belong to the victors. Remember. We, as humans, can all do terribly human things if we fail to uphold beautiful human ideals.


Uncle Vince’s letter was published in the ‘Cumberland Gazette’ on June 28, 1945. Some of the attitudes may seem a little dated but please know how progressive he always was for his time. 


Dear Mom and Dad,

Here’s that son of yours again. I was going to write you the night before last, but had nothing to say. I now have plenty to say.

I went yesterday to the Belsen prison camp, the most horrible sight in Germany. This time I was lucky enough to meet a few people who could speak English, but I’ll start from the beginning.

Three of us left camp early in the morning on a 35 mile trip to the camp. We caught a truck going out of the gate that took us within 2 ½ miles of the camp. We walked for about half a mile and decided there was no future in that so we decided to just take over the first German car that came along. One came and we stopped it. I had a bid wicked looking .45 revolver at my hip and the other two boys were packing German Lugers so it was quite easy to talk to the driver and we had no trouble getting him to see things our way- hence, in due time a relieved driver ejected three airmen at the Belsen camp.

As we came through the camp gate there was nothing out of the ordinary to meet the eye, a gay splash of bright coloured dresses of the women was brought out in contrast to the dull, drab, shabby dress of the men. They did not look too bad but a good meal would have filled them out a little better, I thought ‘poor devils’. I found out later that their stomachs were in such shape that a good meal would have killed them.

One of my friends had contacted an interpreter there and we were to find him first. He was a Romanian lieutenant and had been a prisoner before the camp was liberated by the British. He was a sharp looking man in his thirties, a man that you like at first sight before he says a word. Introductions were made and he spoke good basic English with an accent that added more colour to his winning personality.
We inquired about the burial grounds, explaining that we wanted to take pictures. He grabbed three bicycles for us, then decided it would be a little hard to give directions so he grabbed his Major’s car and took us down to the graves himself. We were very fortunate to land there in time for the 10:30 burial.

It wasn’t a pretty sight, but it was one which held your gaze as though under a hypnotic spell. Every once in a while, I would snap out it long enough to take a picture. The grave was about six-foot-wide, six-foot-deep and about 100 feet long. The bodies were laid in layers in much the same manner as sardines in a can. This has been going on for months but now it is a little more like a funeral. An army Padre says a service. A huge army truck pulls up at the end of the grave and eight or ten big Germans start pulling corpses roughly from the truck. Every fourth or fifth is naked. It is just the last day or so that the number of dead has been low enough to cover them up in sacking for burial.
One pathetic sight was that of a baby wrapped in a cloth no larger than a towel. This they laid beside the body of a woman that I was told was the Mother. No wonder they died, her legs were no thicker than my wrist at any part. Those that were naked, all the bones of the body were in plain sight. The skeleton at St. John’s Ambulance Hall in Nanaimo looked in better shape, and at least it looked happier.

I have had reason to tell you little white lies in my life Mom – such as the answer to “who took half that cake I was saving for supper”. I have nothing to gain by telling lies in this letter. But to go on with my story ….
The lieutenant was waiting for me to make some comments and I could find no words other than “my God, what a grim sight!” He just smiled and said “it isn’t so hard now, they have it more or less under control now. In the days when the Germans were running the camps, they buried both the dead and those who were not quite dead”. He said he had seen the ground moving as they covered the bodies, some of them were not quite dead are were putting up a feeble fight to get out.
The three of us climbed into the car with the officer and drove off towards his office not saying a word the whole trip. We were in no mood to make conversation.

Just about that time the old clock on the wall showed 12:00 noon, which is the time to eat, but I just could not. I am just not the type Mom, I’ve seen death from the shores of Normandy a few days after D-Day all the way through to Germany. We have been bombed, shelled, strafed, during which death came in many different forms, to say nothing of pilots burned alive in aircrafts, and it did not affect my appetite one way or the other. But this “go” at Belsen was just more than I could handle. I was not sick, but just had no desire to eat.

The people are a little crowded in the large brick buildings, but they try to keep them clean since they were moved into them. They were the barrack blocks for the guards. The buildings in which the prisoners used to live were all burned down to prevent the spread of Typhus. Flame throwers burned them down and did a good job. Any germs that lived through that will be too weak to do any damage.

I wanted to see this part of the camp so I used it as an excuse to get out of eating. It was a good mile to walk as the camp is a huge place, but fortunately I got a lift with a visiting army Padre. His uniform was good to get me in any place so I stuck by him all the way there.
There is a large sign at the gate of this section of the camp, I took a picture of it. It states that 100 000 people died in there and other things not very nice to think about. The place was burned flat but there were graves all over and we looked at them all. They are not the kind of graves you know. It was earth piled about three feet high in an oblong about the size of one of our lots. Besides these neatly piled huge mounds were signs in English. Some of them had 5000 buried in a grave no larger than a city lot. I don’t know how deep the grave is but by the smell of the place it wouldn’t take much digging to strike the bodies. All these graves had 500 to 5000 each.

The German inventive genius had manufactured another little plaything for burning bodies. This was placed in a handy spot where it wouldn’t be too far to drag the dead. They had some nice gas chambers there too, I am told, but they were all destroyed before I got there.
The German’s are a sports-minded race as you know, so they made a point of putting whipping posts about the place just for the soldier’s exercise, of course.

I was to be back at the officer’s office at 2:30 so I had lots of time to spare and walked through the woods around the edge of the camp.
It seems the prisoners have been told to get all the sun treatment they could, so they strip down and lay in the sun. The life these poor people have been leading the last few months has left a large percentage of them either a little mentally unbalanced or unmoved by sights out of the ordinary, so a little thing like laying out in the sun naked meant nothing to them. I didn’t see it quite that way, however, so I walked through the field of naked men and women in much the same manner as you would look through Esquire with sunglasses on.

When I reached the office, there was my chum, Johnny, and his lieutenant waiting for me. From there we whistled down the road to one of the large brick buildings and we began to see the brighter side of the camp.

We went through a door on which there was a sign that said “Recreation Room” in about six languages. The room was quite large and furnished to suit the taste of the Germans, who could no longer use it. Large easy chairs, writing tables, and two nice pianos gave it a comfortable appearance, and the presence of five good-looking young women made me quite happy that I had gone there. This had all been pre-arranged by the Lieutenant. I knew when he told me that they could all speak some English. Introductions were made and we began to take stock. We had to watch what we said as they all spoke English so we had to revert to good old Canadian slang. Johnny’s description seems to fit as well as any, and I quote “Dat ain’t de type of babe you snag on Tony’s Corner, dat’s da stuff of the higher brackets”.

Two of the girls, like the lieutenant were Romanians, one was a Gypsy, and the other two were Hungarian and Dutch. One of the Romanian girls was very pretty, with dark skin, black hair and dark eyes. Me, being a man, noticed she had a very nice figure too. You, Mom, being a woman, will want to know what she wore. She had a neat white skirt on and a brilliant red blouse. These stood out against her dark hair and skin and she wore it well. The others were dressed in a similar manner and they looked quite healthy and none the worse for their experiences.
I had been told that she could sing so I coaxed her to sing for us, which she did, aided by the Gypsy who did not surprise me by wielding a wicked bow on a violin. Her voice was, without a doubt, the best I have ever heard. I have heard plenty of singers since I joined the service, from top-notch singers to rock-bottom bores and never have I heard anything to equal this girl. Music took up the best part of the two hours, and we got back to talking again. The Dutch girl, it seems, is of Dutch nobility, and certainly looked the part.

When Johnny had a go at speaking French to me to try and slip one over on them, they shot French from all angles at us. One, two, even three languages – I can understand them speaking that many- but they could all speak six! Three Canuck Airmen were feeling quite foolish for a while.

The girls told us more stories of cruel treatment at the hands of the Germans. Johnny offered his sympathy and said soon they would be able to go home and take up wherever they left off. The answer to that stunned the three of us when they said they no longer had homes and most of them think they have no family left. It kinda makes you think, doesn’t it?

I wish I could tell what I have written to you, to every person I know. It would give them a little to think about. Good Canadian blood was shed to put an end to places such as Belsen camp. Let’s hope it wasn’t shed in vain.

Time to go and eat Mom, and this time I’m sure I can handle it.

Your loving son,
Vincent” 

The afterthought to this may be to think it takes someone especially evil to partake in such cruelty. To believe such horrors could only be perpetrated by a monster. But I think the point is that anyone, everyone is capable of all the best and all the very worst of what it means to be human. And I don’t think it is the loss of the human ideal of kindness and compassion that first sparks such dark times. I think it is the loss of the human ideal of equality.

I believe Equality is the highest human ideal. The moment we see anyone as anything other than our equal, the moment we draw a circle around a person or group and call them ‘other’, the moment we fall into ‘we’ versus ‘them’ thinking, we leave the door open for small cruelties and tiny humiliations. Each small unkindness emboldens and strengthens the next, makes it easier. Do we really think we are so different? Do we truly feel we are so incapable of sinking to such depths? Because we shouldn’t.

The ideal of Equality is undermined every time we break a rule based on fairness because we decided it wasn’t for us, every time we demand a right without returning the corresponding responsibility, every time we hurl heartless words and judgements and punishments at any harmless soul we view as different, every time we profit from the vulnerability of others, ever time we stand silent when we should speak, every time we turn away when we should witness, every time we allow power to stand in place of wisdom, every time we let money stand in place of honour, every single time we forget all the things that make us so terribly and beautifully human dwell in each of us.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

A Tragically Hip Good Bye

“There are three things we cry for in life: things that are lost, things that are found, and things that are magnificent.” ~ Douglas Coupland (Girlfriend in a Coma)

It’s the “last” Hip concert ……… I don’t mean that to be facetious, and I actually hope I’m wrong … I HOPE that I have 40 more years of watching Gord and the band play out my Canadian rock poet fantasies, I hope he kicks this cancer shit to the curb and leaves it there …………… but the odds aren’t in his, or my or anyone’s, favour ….. he is leaving us line by line, word by precious word.

When I started watching tonight’s concert I thought I could handle it ………. As a fan from the first album, a spectator to many a tour, and a lucky soul who saw the first concert of THIS tour in Victoria, BC. Tuning in tonight felt like a patriotic book ending of a National experience, a fan’s simple act of reverence. But it was so much more. I wasn’t prepared for what happened tonight. The tearing open of deep wounds. The hemorrhaging of emotions, this might really BE what this really seems like, and they made it look easy enough to not seem like what it is. The behind the scene of their embraces and kisses was so piercingly intimate and genuine that it caught in your chest and let you know the night was going to get pretty honest and pretty raw. They took to the stage with all that grace and intimacy; as family.

“Any given moment – no matter how casual, how ordinary, is poised full of gaping life” ~ Anne Michaels (Fugitive Pieces)

There is a little friction among the found fans and the old fans, the lost fans and the non fans ….. but enough, this is not our path, for our Canadian path – the path that has always defined us – is far more twisted and complicated than that. Our path is one of misstep and overcoming, of individuality and unique weirdness ………. And what could be more Tragically Hip than that? The truth is everyone, old and new fans, true and fickle fans, have tried to pay tribute …….. tried beautifully, and aren’t we better for the trying? Can’t that, at least, we all agree on? The truth is that NOT all Canadians love the Hip, many don’t even like them, and that’s ok …. Honest. The best way to describe why the Hip is still so relevant to all Canadians is their mastery of the Canadian voice, their bent to the crooked, their unique brand of weird …. And as Canadians we seem to adore that. We can’t say why, but we do. You may not like the Hip, but chances are as a Canadian you like love an artist or art form quite like them. We seem to like our artists to show us the beautifully terrible and the terribly beautiful about ourselves and then try to make those ragged pieces fit ….. to me that sums up Canada.

“Yeah. We’re sweet but savage, and I think a lot of Canadians are that way” ~ Bruce McCulloch, KITH

My family travelled to Victoria, BC to see them open this tour. I was so grateful to have been able to take our kids with us and also that they had seen the Hip tour before as well. The Hip was well known for it’s quirky performances: Gord dancing and writhing on stage, songs often taking sharps turns into dark places: tangents and tall tales, and the amazing ability of the musicians to seamlessly keep up with the ever changing landscape of their songs. God those guys can play. So, this tour it really stood out how contained Gord was, how tightly the band played around him (both in proximity and timing), and the strength it was taking to be there (as a band and as a fan). I felt prepared for this CBC televised final concert, because I had already seen one, but I wasn’t. I was a mess the moment they started to play. Sobbing and overwhelmed. By the time they hit Little Bones they had hit their stride but the awful truth of his illness kept shattering the moments of perfect lucidity with waves from a broken brain, like ripples on a still pond and all around helpless to stop it. My brother texted me as he watched and made the insightful comment “I can’t help but wonder what he is thinking … of us. Is he worried? That he will forget the words? He is using the teleprompter because I think the cancer is eating the words away from him.” (He’s a PhD in science but sometimes he can really turn a phrase) I answered back “the brain finds a way, the rest of the show you watch his brain fire up and his body turn to ash. He’s running on will. It’s phenomenal. I wish you could have seen them live before, it was bizarre and wonderful, he danced and played with the audience, he was a poet …. A poet with an amazing group of musicians who joked he was a dancer. Every show was so weird and thought provoking and fun”. But this tour? I’m not sure what we’re watching, we’re bearing witness to something very personal, and it will be different for everybody.

“The first sentence of any novel should be: trust me, this will take time but there is order here, very faint, very human.” ~ Michael Ondaatje (In the Skin of a Lion)

The moments Gord watched the crowd were so undefinable and very raw. This feat that the band has pulled off, this experience they have generously shared with their fans only worked because of the sincerity, authenticity, and incredible vulnerability of the band members and their fans ..... something small and precious and emotional; like a sun warmed piece of ocean glass in your pocket. A mutual gift of gratitude. The band: Paul, Rob, Gord, and Johnny somehow finding the power to will it all into being. I cannot fathom where they found the courage and strength to honour their friend in this way.

“Conversation in it’s true meaning isn’t all wagging the tongue; sometimes it is deeply shared silence.” ~ Robertson Davies (The Rebel Angels)

When Gord did speak it was either to express gratitude or to issue a challenge. He is, at his core, the kind of artist who likes to shine light into dark places, to never let a self satisfied happiness go undisturbed. He expressed deep concern over the state of the Northern peoples and specifically our Metis and First Nations peoples. A parting shot reminding us we still had many wrongs to right. He glowed over Prime Minister Trudeau and implored us to follow him where we need to go on this. For what it’s worth I think Gord is right on both counts: that Trudeau is worthy of the responsibility and that the responsibility is deeply worthy of undertaking. Imperative in fact. I am so glad he did not shy away from this part of himself. That this disease, this tour, this experience has not eroded his character or sense of self. I love people who have a moral compass that points straight and true, a good soul, a conflicted beautiful messy unrelenting messenger. Cancer may be stealing his words, but not his message. And the message he has always delivered has been one of the importance of tearing open old wounds so we may try to heal them properly. To bear witness. To tell stories. To never allow the pleasant to get in the way of the real.

“I didn’t know how to say ‘I’m sorry’ but the big tear that went out of my eye said it for me.” ~ Robert Munsch (From Far Away)

“The two most important phrases in the human language are ‘if only’ and ‘maybe someday’. Our past mistakes and our unrequited longings. The things we regret and the things we yearn for. That’s what makes us who we are.” ~ Will Ferguson (Happiness)

When Gord hit the stage in that amazing silver sparkling suit and they broke into “Something On” the entire band seemed to exhale. The tight breath they all had been holding, and everyone watching had been holding, suddenly exhaled. It was tangible. Joy entered the room. The sorrow and the joy mingled as it had in Victoria a month earlier, a feast of the bitter and the sweet. The joy fuelled the rest of the night and honoured the pleasure they have clearly shared together over the years. There was a quiet strength and dignity to it, a slow powerful beautiful burn. I can’t imagine another band anywhere pulling it off. “Those guys fucking love each other. I hope my kids can have friends they love that much” my brother texted to me. “Yup” ……. Because how often does someone really let you in like that to see? Brave isn’t a big enough word.

The void which would be left by the loss of Gord Downie’s voice if we lose him will be immense. But we can all endeavour to seek out the wealth of other Canadian artists … the keepers of our voice, our Philosophers. Canada is full of people who express the answers in search of our questions, who challenge us, who remind us of who we are and who we could be. In fact, the only thing that saved me from utterly falling apart during the entire CBC broadcast was putting pen to paper, scrawling out words that passed through me, and soothed me. I searched for words of other Canadian artists that resonated for me. I scribbled down thoughts as they unfolded and the lens I watched through changed from one of grief and loss to one of celebration and expression. I hope that people will seek to express and actively find other Canadian artists who make them feel like the Hip. I have shared many quotes throughout this blog from such Canadian writers to inspire you. Please find the words that speak to you about this amazing, complicated country. I think it could be essential.

“You wish you could tell yourself
that this is all too sentimental.
You want to agree with the person
who said, “There’s no salvation
in geography.”
But you can’t
and you’re beginning to suspect
that deep within you,
like a latent gene, is this belief
that we belong somewhere.”
~ Bronwen Wallace, a Poet from Kingston who died of cancer at age 44 (excerpt from ‘Lonely for the Country’)

I’d still like to believe that it won’t be true, that Gord Downie will live through this and continue to front the Tragically Hip for decades. Maybe we can keep him. But this felt like good bye; a knowing, bone deep felt good bye. And it felt so incredibly special that they gave us the time and energy to do it. I wrote a blog about my feelings after the band broke the news of Gord Downie’s illness because I wanted to acknowledge how important they have been to me, even just for myself (the link is below in case you're curious). I knew I would have to write again when the tour was over, just as so many people have done, and express just how grateful I feel to have experienced this. I have loved the Hip from their beginning. I was there and we have grown together; they feature heavily in my soundtrack as it were, and so many Canadians feel the same way. They have an ability to create a song that feels written or performed just for you …. even when in a room, a hall, a stadium, a Nation full of people who feel the same way. Hip fans are all the authors of their own interpretations of Hip songs …… Thank you Gord, Paul, Rob, Gord, and Johnny for being the powerful subtext.

Let's get friendship right
Get life day to day
In the forget yer skates dream
Full of countervailing woes
In diverse as ever scenes
Proceeding on a need to know
In a face so full of meaning
As to almost make it glow
For a good life
We just might have to weaken
And find somewhere to go
Go somewhere we're needed
Find somewhere to grow
Go somewhere we're needed
~ The Tragically Hip (excerpt from ‘It’s a good life if you don’t weaken’)

In the end it was just Gord on stage as he simply stated “Goodbye everybody. Have a nice life.” And no one doubted the sincerity of that. It was just so fucking Canadian.



Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Bras. Lowering your standards to raise your spirits ... and girls.

So I realize I talk about my boobs with nauseating regularity ....... but at this point in our online relationship you may need to accept that it's not going to stop and embrace it. For me, my breast awareness mirrors my awareness and feelings about myself ....... both took a long time for me to accept, both suffered from self inflicted impossibly high expectations, both have gone south fast as I have gotten older. Pfffft. Also, I am at times both a figurative and literal BOOB.
And so I, as you all well know, have a drawer bursting with bras which make me ...... unhappy. They poke, deflate, bubble boob, cone boob, dangle boob, back boob, side boob, drop boob, uni boob, NW SE boob (I'll give you a minute on that one ......), and generally, literally and figuratively, 'let the girls down'. Sigh.
None of this is an excuse, but simply an explanation. I went to a store I will call Vancouver Hush-Hush and bought a $50 bra for the girls ... and the girls are happy-ish. Look, I WANTED to send a clear 'vote with your dollar' message that I will not support a company that makes lingerie for 8 year olds. I WANTED to hold my ground and not support a company that says it embodies the modern self actualized sexual strong woman but then creates advertising layouts which look suspiciously like the brain child of Charlie Sheen and his porn family, and runway events that appear choreographed by Hugh Hefner himself. Pfffft. I WANTED to buy into the notion that price equates quality and you get what you pay for. However, I went in and a lovely, shapely girl named 'Clinique Happy' (no, not really, she was named after a different fragrance but I'm protecting her identity) fitted me into a version of the same model of bra that has been my when-I'm-feeling-bad-about-myself-go-to for about 6 years. Of course, I had to exchange it the next day as the band width she talked me into was definitely too big and was sliding up my back (which means doooown my front) and I knew that would be the case but I was trying to be "nice" and then festered about it all night until I went back and exchanged it. She was nice about it. The girls are just happier being in the locked north and upright position with their friends the back boobs than they are heading south and dangling. Just saying.
To anyone who bore with me through this, my 8 millionth diatribe about boobies, the lesson is that sometimes you have to go with what makes you happy, sometimes you have to eschew conventional wisdom and embrace the fact that a cheaper item can and will out perform a self declared superior one, sometimes you can try to hold some semblance of moral high ground by participating in the real world and the parts of it you don't like by engaging in meaningful dialogue about the changes you want to see without actually abstaining from the industry you want to change (like a vegetarian who eats bacon). A good bra is important ladies, every girl with boobs knows it. All those bra-burning feminists of the 70s have come clean ...... few, if any, actual bras were ever burned. It turns out it was one of those seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time ideas that fizzled because A. it was a largely symbolic gesture by a woman who didn't really need her bra and threw it in the trash can at the Miss America pageant protest B. they couldn't get the flame retardant poly blend material lit before the police showed up to stop them and C.from that point on every boobied woman at a rally said "hell NO, I NEED this bra". http://www.snopes.com/history/american/burnbra.asp
So that's my latest story in my continuing bra saga. I'm still not "there". I am still conflicted. I am still battling "squish points". I am still cheap as heck. But today I'm feeling ok about myself .... well, ok-ish, because I feel like the girls will be supported and look alright and because I expressed myself, and in any self awareness journey that's a start.


Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Dear Auto Mechanic

In Canada, women first exercised their right to vote in a federal election in 1921. That is in 1921 if they were white women; Canadians of Asian and east Asian decent could not vote until after WW2, and First Nations women could not vote until the 60s …. The 1960s. Tangled in this journey are a mishmash of Provincial rulings (as late as the 1940s in Quebec) and a confounding journey for women to actually run for office instead of merely vote for which man would hold it. And the journey continues from the fight to be legally recognized as persons, own property, run for and hold office, through the ongoing struggles to gain the right to have control over her own body, obtain and keep any job in any field and be treated with respect and as credible. We struggle with the ever elusive wage parity issue and we struggle to find and define the feminist approach to motherhood in all it’s ways of being. Women struggle on.

And so it seems in this modern time when we’ve come so far and yet have so far to go that we should not ever give our power away; never stumble and fail to rise ………. Yet every fucking time I go into a service bay it happens. Pfffft.

Taking my car into a service bay has become a ‘thing’ for me. A place where I feel an overwhelming sense of female inferiority being projected upon me, even if it is only imagined. I KNOW most men who work in the car service industry aren’t misogynists, I am well aware that there are many women who share their profession and rock it, and I am perfectly conscious of the fact that I could go out and learn about the modern combustion engine so I could confidently discuss the maintenance and repair needs of my vehicle. But I don’t want to have to become a mechanic to be able to talk to a mechanic. What I want is to go into a service bay and NOT feel like they think I’m stupid. Just once I want to drive in and not see a thought bubble above the technician’s head reading “how do you operate the pedals without your vagina getting in the way?” Just once I want to ask a question about my car’s treatment plan without the service adviser's eyes saying “if you weren’t so female, you’d understand.” Just once I want to go into a car care experience without feeling like, one way or another, I’m going to get screwed.

Everybody holds expert knowledge about something. Some of us can explain the space time continuum or how to make a Yorkshire pudding that stays leavened, or how to cure a sheep of foot rot. Some of us have traveled the globe and know the best way to open-jaw your way around Europe. Some of us can perform an Aortic transplant. Some of us can identify which Jane Austen novel is which by the first line. Some of us can dance. Some of us can fold 3 loads of laundry while doing Kegels. Some of us can drive a bus. Some of us can execute a Party for 18 preschoolers and keep smiling. Some of us can make Zelda a legend. Some of us can land a 747. Some of us can grow zucchini. And some of us can fix cars. But it only seems to be the ones who fix cars who make me want to tie down my boobies and don a fake mustache in order to feel like they aren’t upselling me service and holding my vehicle for ransom. When I go to the Gynecologist I may not know many of the words they are using to describe my physical parts, but I still feel like the expert in the room when it comes to my own mammaries and genitals. When I go to the mechanic I just feel like a tit as he has his head up under my skirt. Pfffffffffft.

In truth I struggle to think of an industry I have less trust in than auto mechanics. It’s ingrained into the culture of it. There are just too many stories out there of rip offs, coercion, unnecessary work, shoddy work, misdiagnosis, etc. I know there are MANY good and honourable auto mechanics; I myself have experienced them, but we ALL have an experience or two that festers deep. Combine that with the entire auto industries’ lighted mirror in the passenger seat approach to their female consumers and we have a recipe for a relationship built on wariness and animosity …… at least for this girl sitting in the driver’s seat pulling into the service bay.  So Auto Repair industry please be aware that I know that you don’t WANT me to feel like this, and know that I acknowledge that a lot of this is my demon to wrestle with so to speak. But I carry a huge amount of angst when it comes to feeling respected, valued, and trusting while you are under the hood of my beloved minivan. I carry a huge debt of gratitude to the woman warriors who have fought and won so much for me to be where I am and I feel like I am letting them down as I am gripped by terror in your shop. Be aware that our relationship could use some mending. Be aware that there are a lot of us drivers-with-vaginas who feel the same way.

Fun facts:
A woman named Mary Anderson invented the windshield wiper in 1902.
In 1916 the Girl Scouts introduced the 'Automobiling' badge ...  BEFORE women won the National vote.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Gord Downie and Life and Grief

Mark just messaged me with this news. This one got me. So often we hear sad news about a celebrity and it touches us, because we have "memories" of their movies/songs/concerts/art/moves/goals/etc. But it's not real. We don't/didn't know them. They don't/didn't know us. It's good we feel a little sad because it shows their accomplishments touched us, and it shows we have empathy. But then we move on. It's not our place to 'grieve' with that real life person or their friends and family. They grieve the person .... we're only grieving the ghost/the mirage/the image.
But within that, there is always a caveat isn't there? For everyone there is some exception. Gord Downie is my exception. This feels like family. His songs are woven into the underbelly of every part of my growing up (a process that spans from those early recollections of awakening from childhood right up until now and continues still .... I'm not sure I'll ever feel like a grown up). The Hip's songs colour such a huge number of my memories. First jobs, the taste on my tongue of dirt and sunshine working in the yard, my first kiss, my first broken heart, growing in and out of friendships, painting rooms (so much painting rooms), home repair projects, the slow slip of time on perfectly free afternoons, long long road trips, falling in love, then falling in love for real. I hear their songs when I recall the scent of my new babies, how I sang Hip songs to them because I was too tired to remember any lullabies, and how right that felt. I remember falling asleep for the first time in the arms of a man, listening to the Hip ...... his favourite Hip album was Up to here, mine was Road Apples ..... he married me anyways.
So this news of Gord Downie is exceptional in it's sadness for me. I am so sad for me and I am so sad for him. He is an artist that continually created poems and music that felt authentic, and sincere. He made art he got ...... and he and the band didn't seem to give a shit if anyone else did. But it didn't feel like they were defiant about that, simply naked .... laid bare. It either spoke to you or it didn't. Most of the time I got it. There is a deeply Canadian feel to his lyrics, something intangible but undeniable, whatever the 'Canadian' voice is they found it. His songs felt like stories, tales of how to be strong and how to break open to let the good stuff out.
I send my heartfelt condolences to Gord Downie, to his family, to the Hip, to his friends, to his fans. I know sad hard days lie ahead for them. I know he doesn't know me, but his music does, so I'm going to hold a little of this grief back for me.
http://www.thehip.com/news/an-important-message-from-the-band/

Following the Victoria, BC concert. I posted this about the experience: So it's Friday, and we are with our children watching the hip. Gord ascended to the stage resplendent in a shimmering fushia suit .... and sang, Boots or Hearts, barely audibly above the crowd ..... who hit every note and screamed every word. It took my breathe away. 
The crowd is giddy on joy and sorrow. Happy Friday. Go feast upon the bitter and the sweet. GO!

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Please. Go Public. Fund Public.

According to my ‘magic Google machine’ Alberta was providing at least some level of publicly funded, publicly provided Education in every jurisdiction in the province by 1905. The fight to create a public education system in Alberta, and throughout Canada, was not accidental nor easy. It was a deliberate attempt to create a system which supported equality, promoted democratic principals, and attempted to sow the seeds of a civil pluralistic society. It had many detractors, and there are so very many ways it has fallen short. It was a noble idea which for decades still practiced exclusion. Just a few of the sadly notable examples are exclusion of Chinese Canadians, and exclusion of our own First Peoples. We’ve lost our way time and time again, but as we push wider the circle of inclusion, as we invite more and more in, we grow closer to the ideal …….. we get closer to living up to the incredible potential of what a great public system of education can be. But we’re still fighting this ghost of exclusion, and in the case of private schools, we’re still paying for it. It’s time for that to stop.

See, a Private Members Motion (504) stands before the Provincial legislature calling on the current government to “affirm its support for private and charter schools.” And the cost of doing so, it appears, is at least 200 million dollars a year. 200 million to further this idea of exclusion. 200 million for Private schools who hand pick their students, and can reject any student who they don’t feel make the cut. 200 million to allow them to select only students who are very unlikely to ever fail, and then pat themselves on the back when those students succeed. 200 million for segregated schools. I think it’s time to use that money on the system that does it’s best to take them all as they come and sees no child as more worthy than another. I’m disappointed that we’re still fighting over whether or not that is an ideal worth fighting for.

I understand that some private schools are attempting to fill gaps in dealing with certain special needs. I still think we can fight harder to improve how those needs are met within the public system. Inclusive education is a mountain to climb, but we’ll climb it in much better company together. Let’s not lose sight of that.

I understand that some private schools are attempting to meet the needs of various cultural or religious viewpoints. I believe wholeheartedly that families and churches can teach their own beliefs but that the goal of public education must remain secular. 4 years ago I wrote another blog (sort of) on this subject http://seriouslymom.blogspot.ca/2012/05/but-you-see-public-school-is-my-church.html and I said “school boards walk the razors edge between allowing every child to come replete with their own beliefs, and keeping those beliefs from colliding in destructive discourse, resentment, and conflict”. I also said “In my opinion, Public school should be mandatory and must remain secular. There is a greater good that is served by us all learning to get along. Allowing groups to break away and learn in these little unchallenged homogenous groups does not teach the skills required to get along with everyone in the future. If you’ve learned to be together in school then you will have discovered all the ways that you are the same, instead of focusing on all the ways you are different. Let’s call it ‘competency in togetherness’ and it does not need to mean that you give up your beliefs”. I’m not sure I can say it any better than this now; we either believe we can learn and live together or we don’t. I believe we can and must. I’d like to put 200 million on that please. Let it ride.

I understand that many private schools attract parents through fear. Many families, particularly those new to Canada, are manipulated and frightened into believing that Public education is lacking, inferior, and insufficient. Instead of taking the time to understand that an education is more than marks and test scores and rankings posted by think tanks that think they can sum up a school by looking at marks on a page. It’s time to fight back against the fear. It’s time to proclaim loudly that each of these kids is a diamond in the rough and the greater goal of Public education is to prepare them for a future that is yet unwritten in a land of every people in a bold wonderful experiment that we don’t yet know will work. Just a few days ago I wrote a related blog http://seriouslymom.blogspot.ca/2016/03/the-gift-of-nearly-perfect-delightfully.html and said “Our school system here in Canada isn't perfect. Never has been, never will be. But it's based on this beautiful and noble idea that if we give every child the same well rounded knowledge and experience then they will come out the other side happy, and knowing enough to know a little about everything and a lot about who they are. It's a dream ....... a goal ......... an important solution to this problem of balancing a future full of open doors with a slow enough pace to enjoy and appreciate what's behind each one. We know a school aged child's mind won't be ready to see that, so maybe the gift is teaching them nothing more than to be curious enough to open lots of doors and wise enough to figure out the ones to walk through”. Again I believe any Canadian (new or old) has already doubled down on the crazy idea that this wonderful mess we’ve made will work. Let’s not let people opt out of Public Education out of fear it won’t.

Lastly, I understand that some people simply, sadly, view themselves as superior (or at least somehow more deserving?). And they want to be able to pay their way into something they consider “better” …… and ultimately they have the wealth to back that belief up. I wish they didn’t feel that way. I don’t think they’re better than me, or you, or my kid, or yours ……… the whole notion doesn’t gel with any of my close held beliefs on equality, but I probably can’t change people like them. Probably not. Sigh. But I can ask that we stop helping them to the tune of 200 million dollars. Just saying.


Look, I know all about privilege. I am so darn privileged it’s not even funny. I am educated. I am healthy. I have 2 gorgeous children who, aside from being weird like me, have no major challenges to learning. My children never worry about where their next meal or their clean clothes will come from. They arrive each day at school fed, clean, well-rested, and with the things they need to learn. I live in one of Edmonton’s most expensive areas. But it is also an area with a large tract of CHRC community housing. This means my kid’s elementary school is likely Edmonton’s school with the widest socioeconomic spread, and an incredibly diverse population. My family chose to go there, in part, because of that not in spite of it. Because we don’t believe in segregation. Because we believe in equality and the principles behind it. Because we believe everyone has something to offer, everyone has something to learn, and that happens best in a diverse setting. Because we believe they are all diamonds. Because it's just a really great place to be. It’s hard and I know the school struggles under the weight of its diverse challenges at times; somehow they make it look easy …….. but I know it isn’t. The school community there rallies around these diverse needs and differences and helps where it can. It’s really so very beautiful …… and so much more than the sum of its marks or it’s grades (though they are actually very good) or it’s ranking on that piece of paper from some right-wing think tank who has never bothered to come visit. And despite it all I know it will still launch many, many children (from all socioeconomic levels) who will take the world by the tail, and furthermore I believe they will be well-rounded and have a great perspective on life. So why do we need to let people ‘opt out’ of that? And why do we need to spend at least 200 million a year to help them opt out?

Saturday, 16 April 2016

10 Things You discover by going to your first ever Iron Maiden concert at 43 years of age

1. When your very excited husband gives your very excited boys tickets to Iron Maiden for Christmas you should try harder to seem more excited. 
2. When an Iron Maiden concert is still 3 months away, your 10 year old child will start operatically performing renditions of ‘Aces High’ every damn day in the Bathroom and it is important NOT to laugh when he can see you.
3. While anticipating a momentous experience at his first Iron Maiden concert, your 13 year old will load his MP3 player with Iron Maiden songs and listen each day while on the bus, and each evening while reading. He will commit to this studious work in a way that, if applied to his academic studies, would get him into med school. 
4. In the week leading up to your first Iron Maiden concert your husband will call or text you randomly from work to see if you are “going to wear your white wrap around fly jeans to the concert”. You will snicker at the thought because A. Your white jeans weren’t wrap around fly, they were Fancy Ass, duh. B. The idea is so ludicrous. And C. there is no way they would fit even if you still had them …… but he still kinda sees you the same. It’s sweet.
5. On the day of the concert you may be feeling dread. You will try to hide it but your husband will see. He will be sad. He will say “I know, it’s like the Ballet for me.” You will say “Does that mean you will go to a Ballet with me?” He will flatly say “Hell, no.”
6. You will remember that you were an eclectic teen. That while most girls you knew where listening to boy bands, you were listening to punk, folk, alternative, old rock, and a bit of hard rock ……….. not Iron Maiden hard rock, mind you. Hair metal hard rock. But surely you could adapt for a great live experience? You will feel more confident as the day goes on.
7. Leaving for the show your husband will look at you and say “are you really wearing that scarf to the concert?” You will momentarily rethink your leggings, scarf, cardigan ensemble and then switch your nice scarf for a crappier one because you know someone will spill beer on it. You will catch a glimpse of your self in a mirror and think ‘frick, I look like such an old Mom’ ….. and then think ‘perfect’. Iron Maiden is a old band, there will be lots of old broads there.
8. Upon arriving at the concert you will realize that you seriously misjudged the uniform. It’s ok, you’re good with that. But a shocking number of women WERE able to find their 1990s Fancy Asses and are rocking them (although most are black and not white ….. those girls were clearly more hard rock than me) and, let me tell ya, those are some well made pants because they are containing 20 extra years of Mom mileage and still holding. It makes for a very interesting look actually. You will be thankful you chose to look in the mirror before heading out. You will make note that when a woman squeezes her post babies 40-some year old body into her pre babies 20-some year old skinny jeans it creates a whole new size and shape of human on the top half of her body. You will gain a new appreciation for black leather, pleather, skinny jeans, and elastic of all kinds ………. For the sheer amount of humanity, they are containing tonight is astounding.
9. You will also note that the show is indeed very multi generational. A good sign you think. And it is, for the most part. But you will still feel old. The youth at the concert are very tattooed and very pierced, and although you usually consider yourself very supportive of self expression you find yourself feeling bad for their Mothers and wondering how much the plastic surgery is going to cost when they grow up enough to realize what a very, very bad idea some of this was. You are also asking yourself if you would feel comfortable if your future Gynecologist had a neck tattoo. The answer makes you feel much closer to your Mother’s age than these kid’s age ….. yep, you feel older.
10. You will find the concert enjoyable. These guys can still really perform and play. You will find that you enjoyed watching your boys and hubs so happy. You will find you enjoyed the show…………. And that you decided you will almost certainly be taking your hubs to the Ballet next season.