The New Not Normal

 

I’m spending this month in a series of group counselling sessions for management people past forty who are “in career transition,” as the euphemism goes. In general, it’s been pretty helpful. I’m terrible at networking and cold calling so it’s helping me with that. They say 80% of jobs out there are not advertised so networking is how you get them.

But an interesting thing happened yesterday. We’re in the suburbs of Montreal and as a group, I’d say about 30% of us are immigrants. If I was in the city’s core, I imagine that percentage would be higher.

One participant made a comment, beginning with “When I came to this country…” and when he finished the moderator said (I’m paraphrasing because it was in French, mostly):

“OK, here’s a thing. On Friday, in the United States, they are going to inaugurate an IDIOT. Because of this, on both sides of the border, and I’ve lived in Boston and Montreal, there are bigots who think it’s now ok to discriminate against immigrants. You may want to focus on your experience and education and not your background. When you’re talking about your background to an employer, just say I have a PhD. Or, I worked for Coca-Cola. You don’t have to say my PhD is from Spain or I worked for Coke in Colombia. That can come later when they find out how really great you are.”

Now, this moderator was an older guy so maybe he was erring on the side of abundant caution but it surprised me that he suggested that. Last year, Canada welcomed 25,000 refugees and only the most conservative of our politicians suggest heavy restrictions on immigration. But perhaps he has good reasons for suggesting it. Canada is not immune to this kind of dog-whistle, anti-immigration rhetoric and some of our own politicians are taking a page out of Trump’s book.

It’s a frightening and sad thing to imagine something as banal as employment counselling can be poisoned by this new political atmosphere.

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.

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.

December Catch-Up

I’ve often been told by my homeowner friends that the first few years of owning a house is a bit of a strain on the finances, unless they’re my loaded homeowner friends who are simply allowing their lives to unfold as they expect them to. So we’re broke and facing a much more modest Christmas than years past. So far, presents have included a new hot water tank as a gift to each other.

In general, for every birthday, anniversary, and now Christmas, we’ve just been saying to each, “Happy Birthday/Anniversary/Christmas! I bought you a house!”

Still, we do see a light at the end of the tunnel when cash will be flowing a little more freely and we’ll just need to be frugal until that time comes.

In the meantime, renovations on a budget have begun. The downstairs powder room has been repainted Tardis blue. Our winter project is to tear up the carpet in the rec room, paint the walls, and put down a new floating floor and moulding. Further down the line, more rooms will be painted and the kitchen will be spruced up (without actually replacing the cabinets until a later date).

Now repeating kindergarten, James is now getting help for his dyspraxia from the Mackay Centre on Friday afternoons. But there is some concern from his teachers about his ability to handle a mainstream school. This a big worry of mine because I want him to manage his developmental delay enough to do regular schools with his friends. He has gross motor skill issues, some emotional issues, and an almost violent obsession with screens. But he loves books and our nightly reading of The Hobbit. But all of this will be discussed with his doctor in terms of options for the future. It’s a source of a bit of stress but we’re managing.

akta

On a happier note, we are now obsessed with a TV show call Real Humans that just finished its first season on Space. Broadcast in Sweden as Äkta människor, Real Humans takes place in an alternate present in which humanoid robots (or Hubots, as they’re called) are integrated in society as a servants and workers. This leads to a number of issues with regards to labour, friendship, politics, discrimination, and sexuality. Some Hubots, thanks to an obsessed scientist, have become free and wish to free other robots. These Hubots are lead by a Chrissie Hynde lookalike.

The show works really well when it presents the social issues and not quite as well when it gets down to the actual plot of the series involving a government conspiracy. It felt as though the writer was more interested in Hubots like Rick, the creepy personal trainer model who is altered to become his owner’s boyfriend and then starts behaving erratically. Some plot threads get dropped (or perhaps put off until season 2) but overall, it’s an engrossing series.

I’ve also been attending a writers’ class at the local library and as a result, have been writing a bit of fiction here and there that may, one day, get sent to a publisher. Maybe. I write about 500 words here and there, when I can steal time. Over the past couple of sessions, I’ve been presenting a science fiction story as I’ve developed it. One participant kind of sniffed and suggested it wouldn’t pass muster with the Quebec Writers Federation who prefer more literary efforts.

That instantly reminded me of Tom Gauld‘s famous cartoon.

jetpack

Other than that, work is good. I.T. is a whole other world from where I was. I do conference calls with Mumbai so that’s new. I have another week and a half of In work before Christmas and then we’ll be spending the back end of the holidays in Saint John. Hopefully we’ll meet up with some friends we haven’t seen in a while.

In Which I Dream About Justin

Warning: This post contains the recounting of a dream, which is officially the boringest thing one can talk about.

Photo by Sean Kilpatrick of The Canadian Press
Photo by Sean Kilpatrick of The Canadian Press

Last night, I dreamed about a family reunion in which I was reunited with my long lost cousin Justin Trudeau. We had a good laugh about how long it’s been and he gave me a good natured ribbing about my support for the NDP and I, in turn, gave him a good natured ribbing about how, the last time we met, he had hair like one of the Musketeers.

People asked how we were related and, as it turns out, it was on both of our mothers’ side as one of my uncles married the sister of Margaret Sinclair.

We had such a good time at the family barbecue that I forgot that I gave bad directions to a friend who ended up parking her Yaris on Wolf Island (not Wolfe Island), a small circular land formation in the middle of the Bay of Funday which can only be accessed by land for one hour a day, thus stranding her there for the night.

I awoke in the middle of the night trying to figure out if I was in fact related to the leader of the Liberal Party. No, I only had one uncle on my mother’s side and he married a woman from New Brunswick who is no relation to Margaret Sinclar. Then I began to wonder if I was going around telling people that I was related to Justin Trudeau and a slight panic began to set in as I was sure I had and people would think I was a liar or a fantasist. It took a while for me to calm down long enough to remind myself that, no, I haven’t been making up stories about famous relatives before I would fall asleep again.

On a related note, I am attending a creative writing class at the local library tonight. I may be asked to leave.

On memories, Switchback, and Chubby Checker

On Monday, I received the above Twitter notification and was surprised to find I had been mentioned in a blog piece by Taddle Creak editor-in-chief and founder Conan Tobias. Conan was a childhood friend back in Saint John. We both shared a love of comic books, science fiction, and broadcasting in general.

Back in the early 80s, CBC aired a Sunday morning sort of free-wheeling variety show for kids called Switchback that aired different editions, depending where in Canada you lived. The Atlantic Canada edition was hosted by Stan Johnson. Imagine the CBC of today attempting to air four or five independent versions of one show.

The piece recalls how Switchback came to our elementary school as they often interviewed kids for various bits. I got on camera responding to the question, “Insecurity is…” (which was “Getting your test back and your teacher has an evil look in his eye.” I was a witty 11 year old, no?).

Aside: This was the beginning of my broadcasting career. The end of my broadcasting career was in 2000 when I appeared on the briefly lived CTV cable channel TalkTV (it became MTV in 2006). A friend who knew the producer invited me on to be part of a panel doing an “armchair review” of a Drew Barrymore movie. Despite my comfort doing campus radio for years before that, as soon as the camera went on, I froze. After that point, beyond a few additional appearances on the channel via webcam, I avoided broadcasting and even today, the thought of speaking in front of people gives me anxiety. But I got to meet Ben Mulroney and Seamus O’Regan so there’s that.

Anyway, the piece recalls how we also went to the mall as the crew was making an appearance there as well. It goes on to explain the importance of mentors in young lives and how this meeting with the show’s producer led to Conan’s own career in publishing. The thing is, I don’t remember this trip to the mall at all.

I guess that makes for a good reason to stay in touch with your childhood friends. They can help access memories that have been locked away for years.

I do remember our other brush with greatness.

Around the same time in our lives, a local car dealership was advertising an appearance by Chubby Checker. I liked 60s music thanks to another friend who listened exclusively to late 50s/early 60s rock n’ roll (specifically Elvis Presley and the Beach Boys). So we rode our bikes the five kilometers it takes to get there where waited for Chubby to arrive. And we waited. And we waited. Then his bus arrived. And we waited some more. Finally, he got out, signed his autograph for us and….went back into the bus.

Later, we learned the station was giving out tickets to Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. There may have been a trivia question involved. Anyway, we won them and went to the movie and saw Kirk destroy the Enterprise. This was sad but also cool because we just assumed they’d get the Excelsior after that. Instead they got another version of the Enterprise. But hey, Sulu got the Excelsior so it’s not all bad.

https://twitter.com/jduncanhansen/status/481123825363320832

On Memory and Identity and Lost Supermarket Chains

lanceetcompte
(image via nous sommes folklore)

The other day, I went to the dentist for a check-up and cleaning (no cavities, mother!). The dentist’s office is located in a mall that is celebrating its 60th anniversary. In the mall, there were signs detailing the history of the mall, showing when it opened in 1954, and the new dining sensation of barbecued chicken available at Miss Montreal diner. The supermarket attached was Steinberg’s, naturally, as the Steinberg family owned the mall and adjacent car dealership. All that exists of Steinberg’s these days is the Pik-Nik in the mall’s food court.

“Oh yeah,” I thought. “I remember Steinberg’s.”

Which was not true at all. I came to Quebec in 2003, eleven years after the chain declared bankruptcy and got sold off to the Provigo chain. I had vague memories of being aware that it was a chain in Quebec in the 80s just from watching Lance et Compte and Rock et Belles Oreilles on Radio-Canada.

But I don’t “remember” this place as though I’ve always lived here. Maybe after having a kid born in Lasalle, getting married, and buying a home here, I finally see myself as a Montrealer/West Islander/Quebecker. So much so that my memories start pretending I’ve always been here.

Later, while listening to the game on TSN 690, I thought to myself, “I miss Dino Sisto calling the games on CJAD.”

Or maybe when you start pining for days long gone by in your adopted home, that’s when you’re part of the place for good.