On the Language of Business

As a Quebec anglophone, I am what is known as bilingual*. I can read, write (with assistance), and understand what is being said in person or on TV or radio.

The * comes in when it comes to speaking. I am incredibly shy about speaking in French knowing that the French in my head sounds a lot better than what comes out of my mouth. So, afraid that I’ll make mistakes, I speak quickly and nervously and because I speak quickly and nervously, I make mistakes. If I slow down and think about what I need to say, I do better.

This makes job hunting in Montreal a bit of a challenge. Montreal has plenty of companies that operate officially in English. I worked 19 years for a company that did its business in English. But others are French only or bilingual. And that’s natural. This is, after all, Quebec. You know you can do the job you’re applying for but if you can’t communicate through the selection process, and knowing you’re up against people who speak four or five languages effortlessly, you’re going to be a disadvantage in a major way.

I have a phone interview in French on Wednesday. I can do things to prepare, like write down some anticipated responses in French (phone interviews are great that way – they’re like an open book test) but my spoken French really needs to improve. There are things I can do to help with that: MeetUp groups that specialize in French conversation, etc. But until I get it up to a better standard, I’m always going to find myself at a disadvantage.

It’s the reality of employment. You always need to upgrade your skills and learn new ones if you want to stay relevant.

Clearly, I have some room for improvement.

But at least I’m not Wayne Gretzky.

Can Blogging Come Back?

The title does not, by any means, suggest everyone stopped blogging suddenly but on a personal level, and for many bloggers I used to follow, the habit started dying off about five years ago, perhaps longer.

Social media had a lot to do with it. Facebook allowed you to sit in a space with most of your friends, family, and co-workers and share things that you might have shared on a blog but were really too short to elaborate on. Twitter allowed you to share quick thoughts or links to things you thought were important or just amusing without having to write an entire blog post about it.

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But for me, I think it was when Google shut down their Reader, one of their best products. Opening up Reader first thing in the morning was a great way to get my fix of writing, find a conversation to be part of, and find content for my own blog, all in one place. When it died, part of my own blogging habit died with it. I tried the alternatives like feedly but it just isn’t the same. WordPress has its own Reader which is great for, well, WordPress blogs but, again, does not offer the same experience. Around that time there were other platforms like feedburner in addition to an explosion of blogging. When you have that kind of combination, it inspires your own writing.

Perhaps a lot of people also stopped blogging so much for the same reasons I did: life changes. You get married, you have kids, you buy a house, you’re focused on your job (or getting one, in my case) and the priority to write about that thing that interests you gets reduced.

But with Twitter having turned into a Cuisinart blender of Pepe frogs, angry eggs, and proud Neo-Nazis chasing away everyone who dares to suggest we act decently toward each other, and Facebook that place where I behave myself like my mother is watching (because she is), surely there is room for thoughtful, engaging writing on the web. The forums are still there, free for anyone to use. Maybe more of us will use them and we can have a slightly better internet.

The Mystery of the Dead Fish

Nova Scotia is closing off 2016 with a grim mystery: Why are so many different species of fish washing ashore dead?

Eric Hewey, a Halifax resident, home for the holidays in Digby, noticed a massive number of herring, crabs, lobster, and starfish had washed up on the shore dead. Ted Leighton, a local retired veterinary pathologist thinks, because the deaths cut across species, the cause was not likely viral which would limit it to one species.

Until scientific tests can be carried out, the cause will not be known but that hasn’t stopped Facebook commenters from weighing. As far they’re concerned, this is the work of anything from the aquaculture farms nearby to an after effect of a recent storm to, yes, Biblical End Times. I think the first possibilities are probably the most worthy of investigation.

2016, it seems, is determined not to leave even the sleepiest corners of the world untouched.

By Christmas?

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried. When I was downsized in March, I got a number of phone calls from recruiters fairly quickly and I assumed I’d be working again by summer. Then I thought, when that didn’t happen, I’d be working by fall. Then everyone assured me I’d be working by Christmas.

But right now, I can’t give it away. I’m still living off a severance package and all is well in that department but eventually, I’m going to need something. I got an email from a company specializing in debt restructuring asking if I was interested in a position with them. Calling people to arrange debt repayments sounds positively depressing but, well, I’m going to have to do something, aren’t I?

I’m reminded of the song by Payola$, “Christmas is Coming” written during an economic depression in the early 80s and it even mentions going on Unemployment Insurance, as it was known back then.

Been down to the UI
and nothing but queues
Been down on my welfare
with holes in my shoes
the kitchen’s still leaking
with floods on the floor
the landlord will fix it
he only wants more
Christmas is coming it’s been a long year

I suppose as the new fiscal year begins, companies may have more positions available.

On the other hand, there is a child-man in the White House with his finger on the button and we’re all going to die so it won’t matter! Wheeee! I’m trying not to be fatalistic. I really am.

Anyway, we’re spending tomorrow night in Ottawa to visit some friends and family and see the lights on Parliament Hill. Our invitation to visit Justin and Sophie at Harrington Lake must have been lost in the mail so we’ll be at a Travelodge. And we’re eating at a Chinese restaurant. Because somehow, every holiday season, Chinese food is consumed somewhere along the line.

I hope you and your loved ones have a nice Christmas, Hanukkah, or just a relaxing holiday break.

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Excerpt

An excerpt from a novel I’ve been writing that I need to finish. This particular passage is set during prohibition in a fictional New Brunswick town called Ducks Harbour:

Roderick Soloman sat in the saloon across from Captain Lillington. The Newfoundland born captain of the Nellie J. Banks took a swig from his bottle of Moosehead Pale Ale and, lowering it, he took a hard look at Soloman while the fingers of his free hand drummed the table. Soloman kept both hands on his own bottle, his fingernails surreptitiously scratching the label. His wife would not approve of this meeting, nor its location, he thought. Saloons were no place for moral men. Given the way he saw the others in the room drinking whisky like it was water, knowing they would soon be swaying home up the street to the row houses where they lived, he was inclined to agree. But as he was the son of Joshua Soloman and the current president and owner of Soloman Wineries, he was in no place to pass judgement on those who took to the drink.

In the corner, he recognized one of the men: George Hoyt but everyone called him Georgie Boy. He was one of his employees, driving the company truck for deliveries. Barely reaching five feet, he was a jockey before the First World War. He returned different, as men so often did, and never rode a horse again. Soloman wasn’t sure where George got his nickname but understood it had something to do with his post-war stint as a boxer. He didn’t know what a five foot man with no reach and barely any muscle on him would do as a boxer but there were tales of his ferocity in the ring. His crooked nose and cauliflower ears told that story. But that was long ago and today Georgie Boy was a known drunk who still managed to show up to work on time. George lived in one of those row houses and it was on more than one occurrence that he had to be carried from the saloon to his home where his wife sat up waiting for him in the front room, listening to the radio. George’s bar buddies would enter without knocking, deposit their charge on the sofa next to his wife, and say a hearty goodnight. His wife, Debbie, merely grunted an acknowledgement that anyone was even there. She then set to work putting him to bed there on the sofa, annoyed but relieved that he was home in the first place.

Soloman returned his attention to Captain Lillington.

“I’ve got a hold full of demerara rum from Jamaica and beer from Saint John, all heading for Prince Edward Island. And you want me to add your dandelion wine?” The old mariner asked.

“Not just dandelion. Blackberry, strawberry, blueberry. Diversification, it’s called.” Soloman clarified.

“It’s called weak piss is what it’s called. Prohibition may be the law of the land on Prince Edward Island, but the punters over there aren’t going to settle for just anything, not when there’s black rum to make for a fine Saturday night.”

Soloman knew better than to be insulted. He was opening negotiations. When the consumption of alcohol was still prohibited in many parts of the Maritimes, he knew he had to do this dance every once in awhile. The ten years prohibition took hold in New Brunswick were difficult but the winery managed to use its bottling facilities to create a line of soft drinks, the best seller of which was a golden ginger ale. But they never stopped bottling wine as they had permission to export it to foreign markets and, unofficially, it got exported back to its home base.

“Not everybody likes rum and beer,” he countered. “Perhaps the wives of Prince Edward Island would like it to go with their Sunday roasts?”

It was a hard sell, he knew. Islanders were looking for the most efficient way to get drunk. Moonshine was the chief domestic spirit where prohibition was the norm. It made, he was a told, a fine cocktail when mixed with lime cordial. Islanders were not looking for a bottle of something that could be paired with a Sunday pork roast. But he needed to keep his company’s name in the hearts and minds of those jurisdictions when prohibition was inevitably taken off the books. Otherwise, they were liable to forget about whatever it was that the Solomans had on offer in favour of the Oland and the Labatt families.

Lillington scratched his chin and was silent for a moment.

“Right,” he said at last. “Let’s talk price.”

La Meute

Rather disturbing, if not entirely surprising, story at CBC today about the rise of far-right, anti-immigrant groups in Quebec.

The question of Quebec identity has come up in this province from time to time whenever new customs are introduced into the majority culture. It came up with Charter of Values two years ago and now it’s manifesting itself into this group called La Meute or, “the Wolfpack.

Aligning themselves more France’s Marine Le Pen of the Front National than Donald Trump, la Meute, according to the CBC, “hope to become a lobby group of sorts, dedicated to making Quebecers aware of the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism.” Generally, I’ll assume your political movement is bad news if it has “Front” in the name.

Of course, they seem mostly based in rural Quebec where few immigrants actually live but anti-immigrant sentiment is often highest.

Over the past year, with the refugee crisis in Europe, as well as with the election of Donald Trump, it seems as though people, egged on by fake news designed to whip up hatred, are now emboldened to act out against those who are different.

We need to guard against complacency and smugness in Canada because we’re not so different from the rest of world.

Currently Reading

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I’m reading the 2o15 Hugo Award winner for Best Novel, The Fifth Season. It’s the start of an epic fantasy series by N.K. Jemisin called The Broken Earth.

Here’s what the Atlantic had to say about it:

The Fifth Season is a stunning piece of speculative-fiction work, and it accomplishes the one thing that is so difficult in a field dominated by tropes: innovation, in spades. A rich tale of earth-moving superhumans set in a dystopian world of regular disasters, The Fifth Season manages to incorporate the deep internal cosmologies, mythologies, and complex magic systems that genre readers have come to expect, in a framework that also asks thoroughly modern questions about oppression, race, gender, class, and sexuality. Its characters are a slate of people of different colors and motivations who don’t often appear in a field still dominated by white men and their protagonist avatars. The Fifth Season’s sequel, 2016’s The Obelisk Gate, continues its dive into magic, science, and the depths of humanity.

I don’t read a lot of fantasy and I wanted to read authors outside my own white male demographic so this highly recommend book fulfills that need to break out of my bubble.

I’ll be certainly picking up the next book in the series.