Category Archives: Politics

My Ever-Evolving Definition of “Being Canadian”

I’m 37 and I’m still not really sure what “being Canadian” means.

We’re a hodgepodge of nations, Spackled together with generational waves of immigrants who land here, retain some of their culture, and absorb others, and blend it all together in a delightful Canadian cultural smoothie that has oddly distinct flavours throughout.

We’re a sum of all our parts, always have been, so, as the world ebbs and flows through times of geopolitical strife, those seeking Canadian citizenship have changed greatly over the decades. From Poles to Jews to Hindus to Cambodian and Vietnamese, decade after decade, we’ve seen changing tides, and it changes who we are.

In a way, that’s a large part of Canada, an ever-changing reflection of the world’s times and its migrating peoples.

Somehow, a line in the sand separates us from our American friends, known around the world as brash and outspoken citizens, and we’re known to all as the continent’s meeker, milder types.

I’m the perfect age for knowing that Being-Canadian-Then versus Being-Canadian-Now has morphed considerable over time. Our sense of national identity has shifted through the decades, which is part of why I’m unsure about what my national identity means at times. Add that my city is the youngest, fastest-changing city in this country, and my somewhat untethered identity kind of computes.

My confusion is compounded when I visit the United States. Cross the 49th, and it’s a country dotted heavily with billboards selling the military as a career choice, and Jesus as Saviour. A land seemingly built on agriculture is littered with fast food chains that barely represent the nation’s great produce. The richest country in the world, at one time, and it doesn’t even provide ongoing medical care to all its citizens. The class divide is like a fault-line cutting across every American city, and Detroit is a harrowing postcard of its industrial decline.

The USA seems a land that comes together as well as any in times of national crisis — like 9/11 and Katrina — and shows the world what a great people it has, but somehow doesn’t provide a social safety net because the belief of “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps” means no comprehensive safety net for you. It’s a place where socialism is a bad word, despite an “in it together” mentality that comes out with every natural disaster.

You step into Canada, and we’re in it together both in word and in deed, our income tax system is proof. We pay more but get more, but not as much as we once got.

There are problems here, too. Some native communities are like third-world outposts. Vancouver’s Downtown East Side has long been rife with drugs, poverty, homelessness, and an AIDS/HIV rate that once was among the highest in the industrial world, but that’s been changing a lot too. Environmentally, we’re even now committing great sins with our natural bounty, and our personal freedoms aren’t quite as flexible as they once were.

We’re far from perfect here in Canada. But every country is.

Beyond that imperfection, there’s the people, the land, and the humour.

I’ve travelled coast to coast in this country, I’ve lived above the 60-degree line of latitude. There’s no place in Canada that I don’t love.

But how do I nutshell a country that’s this huge? How does a country with 202,000 kilometres of coastline and 10 million square-kilometres of landmass, that’s the most multicultural nation in the world, with only 144 years of history get crammed into an easy-to-define class?

It’s impossible.

From the safe passage allowed to African-Americans during slavery to our shameful treatment of the Japanese in WWII to our not-too-distant slap on the wrist from the UN for neglect of native rights, there’s a long and storied history of Canada embracing human rights in an inconsistent way, but for every failure we’ve had, there’s also been a shining moment.

Today, we’re a country that generally embraces knowledge, human rights, culture, and good times. We tend to love nature and the world around us. Because it’s as expensive to travel to the other side of the country as it is to visit the rest of the world, we’re pretty well-travelled beyond our borders, so we know it’s a bigger world than just us.

Unfortunately, that also means our talent migrates, a problem we domestically call “The Brain Drain.” After all, other countries have more flash and money, like the UK and USA, and money’s a nice thing, since our taxes are high. We get it.

Fortunately, our talent deserves the global recognition it receives. Over the decades, our writers, singers, actors, and painters have been celebrated as world-class. We read more per capita than any other country and we write more, too. From Mary Pickford, Louis B. Mayer, and the Warner Brothers, early Hollywood was built by Canadians. Today, William Shatner is loved around the world and Jim Carrey remains one of the highest paid movie stars.

We’re definitely the mild-mannered types who say please and thank you, but our favourite sport involves black eyes, high-speed collisions, institutionalised fighting, and some of the most aggressive gameplay on earth.

With almost a tenth the population of the United States but only narrowly more land mass, Canada feels like a vast and empty land once you get outside the cities. Sprawling and impressive in its expanse, some of it, like the poet Robert Service once wrote, is so isolated and desolate that there’s “a silence that bludgeons you dumb.”

I’ve always believed that Canada’s geographical spread/disconnect and the long winters with long nights are a part of why we’ve been such an imaginative, artistic, expressive land. To bridge that expanse, we now use the internet more per capita than most of the world. It seems to be changing our sense of disconnect as the use of social media grows.

We’re a changing country, Canada.

In my lifetime, we’ve gone from thinking we were an international afterthought to seeing Pierre Elliot Trudeau spin his famous pirouette behind the Queen, netting international headlines, showing we had a sense of humour and a less subservient sense of self than we’d always had. Some were horrified at the disrespect to the monarch, but many others felt as though the shackles of Commonwealth submissiveness began lifting then.

The Constitution came home a few years later. By then, we were known for the Beachcombers, Anne Murray, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, and Gordon Lightfoot. Another television show began to get a lot of attention, and would influence Hollywood for the next decade — SCTV.

Bryan Adams would soon be singing about the Summer of ’69. Michael J. Fox would become the heart-throb burning up the silver screen. By age 13, I’d started feeling like being Canadian seemed to mean something more than had been let on to me.

We were starting to feel like we weren’t just the little sibling with hand-me-downs from the United States. Suddenly we were wanted at the party — our music, our books, our stars, our culture, our funny… our natural resources.

These days, our dollar has parity with the United States, we’re the world’s 4th-largest oil producer, and Justin Bieber is King of the World.

I don’t really know what “being Canadian” means right now. I suppose it’s time I find out what the ever-morphing national identity is right this minute, but that’s part of why Canada is so incredible.

We’re not one country. We’re not stoic, stagnant. Where the United States’ founding fathers intended their constitution to be an ever-evolving document, Canada has somehow managed to be an ever-changing land that continually reflects the people who are building it — and, as their faces change, so does ours.

I’m proud of that. We reflect the modern world as well as any nation can. I love what Canada represents in my foggy, identity-muddled brain — even if Stephen Harper is the motherfucking Prime Minister right now.

I’ll forgive you for that, for now, Canada. But sharpen up. If we keep making good beer and bacon, we’ll overcome him, too.

Emotional Hangover: The Morning After

A Conservative majority was elected in with barely 60% of the country’s registered voters caring enough to do their civic duty.

For all you cynics out there who bitch about governments then don’t vote, claiming “it doesn’t work anyhow,” you get the government you deserve: A government that legislates as it sees fit because too many of its residents are more pleased to whine and moan about policies than get involved.

It’s devastating.

I don’t know what I’m more angry about today — that some 40% of registered voters never showed up, never mind the eligible asshats who’ve never bothered to register — OR the fact that some ridings had, say, 70+% of residents voting for several LEFT-wing candidates, but because none could amass a sizable lead, a Conservative could win with less than 30%.

Our system is broken. It’s a fucking joke.

I’m forced to strategically cast a YES/NO vote because I’m more concerned with end-numbers and whose figurehead will get into power as our Prime Minister, because Canadians vote for one Member of Parliament for their little pocket of the world, a “riding.” The dude(tte) who wins the “riding” goes to Ottawa and represents that town/city/region, and their “seat” is counted into a total, and whomever’s party wins the most “seats” out of the 308 available then forms the ruling government. We don’t vote for a leader, just our local MP.

Minority/majority breaking point is at 155 seats. The Conservatives didn’t just win, they spanked the Left.

With 167 right-wing seats, there’s a whopping 26-vote lead over the 141-seat TOTAL opposition. That’s four political parties that somehow have to work together and still have about a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding at defeating measures that are likely to throw the Canadian social safety net’s sanctity into question.

I expected the Conservatives to win, and secretly wouldn’t have minded it. I didn’t want a majority. I wanted a weak minority, mostly because I do fear messing much with the national financial mix in a world where the global economy has the stability of hitching a unicycle ride with a drunk.

I’m not a fan of extremism in any form.

I was a profoundly religious child who grew up with bad experiences in the Catholic church, I’ve seen both sides of the financial coin from a first-person-life point of view, have paid for my own education and worked my way through school, have seen what abuse and addiction and crime can do to families, and how long even smart, capable people can be unemployed in hard times. My politics are absolutely shaped by my experience, but as sympathetic as I am to the left, I favour a more centrist view. Too bad that party got smoked like Bob Marley on a fatty last night.

I’m scared of a majority government that stands unsympathetic to most of the issues I hold dear, with a party run by a man who has shown tones of wishing autocracy was doable in Canada, and who is profoundly religious, and who I consider one of the SHREWDEST political tacticians Canada has ever seen.

I’ve said over the years that Harper was like a man on a tight-rope who understands to his very core what the advantage of balance was when faced with a minority government. Has he pushed his limits in the past? Yes, but not often.

Will he seek that balance now that he has nearly a 10% lead over the combined opposition? Heh. Insert cynical chuckle here.

I find it hard to believe a man who tried to rename the country’s government from “The Government of Canada” to the “Harper Government” is likely to squelch any ambitions now that he’s been handed a broad mandate.

I’d love to be wrong.

So, today I’m stuck here with this pretty sullen state of mind as I realize this is the shape of the government until October, 2015. Someone last night said “Cheer up, the Americans suffered 8 years with Bush and got Obama!” I countered with, “Yeah. We’ve suffered 7 years under Harper to get 4.5 more years of Harper. Great.”

Canada’s system is broken on several levels.

Our citizens, with their apathy and refusal to get involved, are a mockery of democracy. You people don’t even deserve to vote. You don’t deserve the advantages of a socialist nation if you refuse to participate in its operation. And that’s what you’re going to get, a lack of social systems, more prisons, and more defense spending, because that’s the platform you elected. You embraced the status quo by choosing to have NO vote.

So, you get what you apathetically chose, Canada.

My parents used to take me along on the odd election day. They said, this is what you do when you live in democracy, you vote. They taught me civic responsibility. Have you taught your kids? Or are you teaching them cynicism and that you have zero power to change the world? Are you okay with that? Are you okay with your friends raising kids that way?

People often say “Oh, we have no real power anyhow.”

Yes, you do. If you, and enough like-minded people, all believe and fight for something, you can get it. Sometimes it’s as easy as putting check-marks on paper.

It’s called voting. It’s powerful. It shapes laws that define everything from how much tax is on your bottle of wine tonight to whether your kid can afford university or whether your spouse will be struggling to pay medical bills after your death like Americans do, or just mourning you like Canadians usually do.

So, way to fuck that one up, you 40% who didn’t show up, and the countless others who’ve just never registered.

The take away I’m hoping to see grow into something bigger?

  • Justin Trudeau won his riding, and as much as he’s been a bit of an idiot in the past, the Liberal party is too important to his family’s legacy for him not to get a reality-check slap in the face and grow up FAST as far as developing a political acumen goes. He’s his father’s son, and I can’t see him not reading this election correctly and growing very quickly from the experience. If anyone can resurrect some of Canada’s dream for its left-of-centre roots, it’s a Trudeau–but the kid has a lot of savvying-up to do. (The whole family in fur coats on a Christmas card. Really, Justin? Sable farmers are a big electoral backer? Slick.)
  • The NDP are more likely to continue in an idealistic point of view, and I think the country needs that with all the crap going on in the world today, and given more time to campaign, they might have turned this election into something for the history books. They don’t have the economic know-how to get this country through tough financial times YET, but they have 4.5 years to really strap on those big-boy pants and get sound policies that embrace reality rather that fairytale finance.
  • A lot of people I see who are smart, motivated, and driven are now wanting to get involved politically, because it’s clearly not happening with the people we’ve got.
  • The chance of Canada’s political system melding down into fewer politics are stronger this morning than they’ve ever been. While I loathe the one-or-the-other system in the United States, the alternative in Canada hasn’t exactly floated my boat either. Maybe less is more in a frustrating political time like this.

This morning, I’m trying not to conjure my inner-Darth Vader and give in to the Dark Side, but it’s really hard to pretend to have optimism about Canada’s future.

Four and a half years… that’s a long-ass time, friends. That’s a big majority.

We need more anger in Canada. The passive-aggressive bend-over-and-take-it nature that seems to come with a Canadian passport really shows up come election time, and it’s tired and old.

We should expect more. We’re Canada, for fuck’s sake.

If YOU care, then you have 4.5 years to make your compatriots care.

No vote is a vote for the status quo.

You wanted it? You got it. Enjoy your government.

Me, I’m just getting started.

Election Day: Democracy Makes Good Eatin’

A rainy election day has dawned here in Vancouver. A low rattling hum comes from my refrigerator with the whistle of wind outside and the splatter of rain under passing roadway tires. It’s a murky aural mess that seems an ominous forboding of the day ahead.

I don’t follow politics as well as I should, given my aspirations, but the peripheral glances I take have me pretty riveted in this contest, and apprehensive, of outcomes tonight.

The NDP’s amazing ascent over the past six weeks is well-deserved. I think their platform at times equal parts unicorns and fairy dust, economically speaking, but a left-wing opposition under a minority government of a would-be autocrat should be the closest thing to balance this country has seen in decades.

I’m nervous about the notion of the NDP running the country, despite liking Jack Layton a lot, but if that’s what it takes to save the social system that defines what it means to be Canadian — a country where we’re in it for one and all, where my tax dollars are your security net and yours are mine, where healthcare access should be a basic human right — then so be it, bring ’em on.

That’s the country that defines who I am. It’s the nation that lets immigrants in, helps businesses grow, provides education among the best in the world, and celebrates arts and the freedom of information.

I don’t know what this country is that I’ve been living in. I feel like it’s America-Lite™. But I’m Canadian, not American, and that won’t be changing in my lifetime.

I’m unsure how we’ve become a place where a Tim Horton’s donut shop is converted to triage because there aren’t enough beds in the hospital across the street. We were the headline gag on The Daily Show that week. I don’t know where Tommy Douglas’s ghost is, but I bet he’s pissed.

Somehow I woke up in a Canada that began razing the Albertan tar sands, the environment be damned. A place where, on the one hand, the Prime Minister at long last apologizes to the First Nations for the horrors of the residential school system’s abuses, but then denies access to clean water for more than 100 at-risk Native communities nationally.

In today’s Canada, women are being legislated into regression by having 43% of federal funding cut under Harper’s administration.

Instead of being a Canada fighting for human rights internationally and advanced-thinking domestically, “my” government decided it wants to build more prisons, despite falling crime rates. Incarceration has never been the solution in Canada, our social programs have been a large factor of our always-lower crime rates compared to our Southern Neighbours, but now we want to replicate their system here? How does this make sense?

Don’t even get me started on issues of internet privacy and the business of bandwidth. If bandwidth is information, and information is power, and power encourages change, then the Conservatives’ position on access to bandwidth isn’t very encouraging for society as a whole.

Education is already priced out of reach of some; protecting bandwidth-access is a way of equalizing that.

Then there are the Liberals. I’m not happy with them, either. They’ve been incohesive for years, and they can’t figure out a leader who can win. I respect Ignatieff but there are issues I have with his record (a politician who doesn’t show up for votes is a politician who’s not interested in the details of legislating, I’ve always felt).

It’s your classic Canadian contest: Who do you want to win? I sure as hell don’t know, sir, but I know who I want to lose.

Long story short, it’s a good year to have a say and play a part.

The above gripes of mine are barely even scraping the issues of what we need to contend with in Canada.

We have climate change issues, and thus need a government who’s thinking about alternative energies, not just sucking the last of our fossil fuels without recompense.

We’re still in a shaky recession that Canada barely got through, while nurturing a massive personal debt/credit-load across the country, and we’ve a dangerously uncertain financial precipice before us.

Education is at a crossroads, as is the entire medical system, so too is the Canadian Pension Plan.

Cutting spending and thinning the spread only gets you so far. Then, one day, you’re not a socialist country anymore, and it’s every man for himself, like it is for our American friends.

In a perfect world, there will be a better distribution of power and no party will have a clear majority.

I’m not a fan of the hoodoo-voodoo economics behind an NDP platform, given it’s a combination of “if the stars align and the genie grants our budgeting wishes”, but if ever Canada needed a Socialist voice in the national government that carried a little weight, I’d say today, this election, THIS is when it’s needed.

Because I love the Canada I was raised in. And, like the rest of the world, I know what a dark and difficult path lay ahead, and we’ll be better for the long-run if we protect this Canadian way of caring for, and helping, our brothers and sisters.

My name is Steff, I am Canadian, and I have voted.

As a Canadian, How I Remember

I remember waking inexplicably with a jolt at 5:45am PST.

As a child of the ’70s, in hindsight I’d now describe the jolt as “a disturbance in the Force.”

Something seemed wrong, deeply and pervasively wrong, but I didn’t know what.

I shrugged and got out of bed. I brewed the coffee, amazed at the deceptively silent and beautiful dawn rising outside. At about 6, I sat on the balcony, enjoying my coffee, taking in the warm, gorgeous September morning.

At the time, I had no cable TV. In 2001, the web wasn’t as accessibly streaming news like it does today, and I wasn’t tethered to things like I am these days.

Then, I had no idea our lives had all been altered in the preceding moments.

I showered and headed to work.

There, coworkers told me what happened:

Two planes, two towers, untold thousands of civilians, utter chaos.

The second tower had only collapsed about 30 minutes before I got in.

The significance hit me squarely. “This changes everything,” I muttered.

My coworker Leslie nodded, saying that, in less than an hour, the world her 5-year-old son would grow up in had changed forever.

***

I often forget that morning now, when the words “9/11” flash past in conversation or print.

I forget the fear, the uncertain future, the heartbreak. I often forget it all.

Now, “9/11” is not so much a tragedy that changed my perspective on the world as it seems to be a code for the politicization of ideals that polarize the Right & Left.

“You’re with us or you’re against us” were the words that soon would divide us all, months down the line, as 9/11 became a vehicle for political divide at home in America, and also became an ethnocentric push of the “American way” versus the world’s.

***

But, on September 12th, 2001, I considered myself not Canadian, but “small-N north AMERICAN.”

I wanted to get The Fuckers. I wanted bloodshed for my American friends.

I wanted to help, I wanted to pray, I wanted a million things — I wanted anything but to ever again see the image of people jumping from burning buildings to a certain but faster and simpler death, or that horrible mushrooming cloud covering city streets in dust and decay.

***

Somehow, in the months that followed 9/11, we lost the brief  closeness it brought us.

We lost the “we’re in this together” feeling that came immediately with the attack. We lost the reminder of how important community and camaraderie were.

***

I remember those early days, though.

There was a moment on the evening of September 11th when I was just stunned to hear laughter trickling down the street as young children jumped rope and rode donuts on their bikes. It seemed odd to me that happiness could be found anywhere in the world on a day like that.

I thought, in children’s laughter, innocence lives on. Maybe it could come back.

We still thought there were maybe 40,000 or more casualties that day. How could there not be? Well, the simple matter of the attack happening before 9, that’s how there could be less.

And thank the powers that be, too, that the terrorists didn’t time it “better” for the arrival of workers. After all, “maximum casualties” is their credo.

Still, as I fell into the endless loop of videos on the news, it seemed like happiness and hope died that day.

I remember going to bed on September 11th, at a loss for where my place in the world was.

Who was this evil, where would they strike, when would this end, why did they hate us, what did they pray for —  all these questions raced through me.

I felt like a zombie for days — listening to the radio, waiting to see how America would really respond, what the global fallout was going to be.

Like most Canadians, I knew already:

“We’re in it with you, wherever you go, if it’s to get the fuckers who did this, we’re in — lock and fuckin’ load, motherfucker.”

***

And Canada’s always been in it against Bad Fuckers with our buddies, the Yanks.

We’ve really stuck it out in Afghanistan. We’ve had a strong troop presence since Day One. We’re still there. It’s our way of life that was attacked that day, too. Canada had a lot of Canadians in those towers.

But, down south, with our good friends, the post-9/11 stance got murky and somehow the parties decided it was time to use 9/11’s attack for political means.

Somewhere, the message got lost — the people jumping from those buildings, the aghast onlookers on the street, the chaos and fear, that ALL got lost.

Wrong choices were made.

Wrong alliances formed.

Wrong goals set.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Did what happened in the coming years disrespect those who died that day? Did the politicizing of the horrors take America’s integrity out of those attacks? Did the day itself fall out of relevance in the stupidity that followed?

I used to think so.

I sort of forgot just how deeply 9/11 cut into my soul, how much it hurt me that anyone could have that kind of hatred for a lifestyle that they’d just blindly kill anyone they could.

I sort of forgot how much I learned about life in those days — how kind strangers could be to one another, how alike we all are when we cry and grieve, how strong we could be for those around us, how pivotal being a friend in a time of need could be.

The lessons I learned from 9/11 about the GOOD in each of us are what I want to remember for the rest of my life.

And, to do that, I need to remember how horrible it was for a little while.

***

This morning, I’ve been watching some of a History Channel documentary from 2008, 102 Minutes that Changed The World (aka “…Changed America“, its original USA title).

It’s 9/11 “as it happened” — unnarrated, unadulterated. Just amateur recordings from people on the street in Manhattan when the Towers began coming down, shown minute-for-minute as it happened, from hundreds of perspectives.

My heart’s been in my throat a lot.

Now I remember.

I remember how “tragedy” became redefined for me, and how now I think of heartbreak on a scale of Zero to 10, with 10 being “the big fireman in the street, staring in horror at the World Trade Centre, screaming and crying”.

Definitions of some words were forever altered that day for me, and when I think of some emotions, like “horror” and “fear” and “loss” and “terror”, I flash back to  faces from the news, of people on Manhattan streets, from the coverage that played for weeks following.

***

I don’t know where we are now… whether we’re a better people than we were before 9/11. I’ve disliked so much of what I’ve seen of people’s values in the years since — the forcing of prescribed morality by the Religious Right, the sanctimony of the “true patriot” ultra-conservatives, the horribly bungled military actions, the loss of rights for immigrants, the prejudism, the erosion of the economy.

9/11 transformed so much for us, even in Canada, but the almost-a-decade since has led to dark, dark times in America.

So… where are we now?

With the economy shape-shifting daily, people re-examining their values and material mindsets with an almost-Depression-era austerity, and everything else that’s come in the last decade, I’m hoping we’re in the process of finding who we are, much like Americans did in the late ’40s and ’50s.

I’d like to think what we’re undergoing societally is like spring-cleaning a house. First you got to get it really dirty, tear shit apart, find all yer crap, get rid of it, and then reinvent things from the ground up. Then, you have awesomeness.

If it takes me weeks to do that on the homefront, I can imagine it taking more than a decade for a superpower like the USA to get their shit done. It’s year nine, post-September 11th.

So where are we now? Where is America’s soul today?

I dunno. Somewhere between there and here… and There.

I think that if everyone looked back at the three weeks that followed 9/11, they might start remembering that, somehow, this worst-thing-to-ever-happen-on-American-soil horror managed to, for a very short time, bring out everything that the world sees as being the BEST of what America is.

As September 11th looms, I’d like to remind my American friends that, when the Towers came down, we were with you. When you went to Afghanistan, we were with you.

And when you really need us again, we’ll very likely be with you once again.

But the America we’re with is the America you are when it seems like there’s no hope, the America you are when you rail against evil.

The America we’re with is the one that celebrated the end of whites-only club the night Obama was elected.

The America we’re with is the one that rallied to help its fellow man in the days following Katrina, when the government didn’t even have its act together. It’s also the America that didn’t hesitate to show up first for East Asia’s Tsunami and Haiti’s earthquake, because its people expect nothing less of its government.

The America we’re with is the one that lets all people speak for what they believe in, that celebrates freedom of speech and equality for all, and who stands up for international human rights.

Luckily, most of the time, that’s the America we know & see, too.

Maybe, this week, with 9/11’s anniversary returning, Americans can remember who they were on September 12th, 13th, and the days that followed.

Because the world stood with America for a reason.

The terrorists never won that day, and if we remember who we are, they never will.

Office Life: Thar Be Meanies

In Virginia, there’s an esteemed literary magazine called The Virginia Quarterly Review.

There, an editor has committed suicide, and the Review has been shut down amid a new investigation that the suicide was as a result of workplace bullying and harassment.

I found the story fascinating on a couple levels.

Photographer unknown.

One, there’s a strange perception, I think, that these sort of things don’t happen in intellectual/cultural offices, and I think this sheds light on the reality that people can be mean fuckers whatever their aesthetic tastes.

Two, it continues the realization I’ve had since reading William Styron’s Darkness Visible years ago — that is, to be literary is to be predisposed to depression and potentially suicidal tendencies. The “Overthinky Syndrome” comes on something fierce when one is closely aligned with literary pursuits.

Three, I don’t think we really give enough weight to mental health on the job when it comes to the people around us.

A few years ago, as I was descending into the darkest depression I’ve ever had, I was working at an office where I felt put down and distrusted daily. It was a very difficult environment to work in, but I had no choice, I’d run out of employment insurance and had to take something.

Given my declining emotional state, I didn’t really trust my feelings — maybe I just felt like shit. Maybe I was misreading the things said and done around the office.

One day I was sorting through papers and found legal documents relating to a case involving one of the company’s principals and the province’s labour board. Apparently there were allegations of psychological abuse by the company’s principal, made by former employees.

I suddenly felt a little vindicated. It wasn’t just me, this person actually was kind of mean and cruel.

A year later, I was working for another employer who would mentally beat me down now and then because I wasn’t sacrificing myself for the job like she was. (I don’t own the company, woman, and I was told it was 9-5, not 55 hours a week, and I was getting paid for 40. Liars.)

I know what it’s like to have the opposite kind of bosses, too.

I’ve had a lot of employers who’ve been people who stopped me from doing negative self-talk, who told me how valued I was. I’ve had a lot of luck working for good people.

There’s a world of difference between going to that kind of job, where a bad mood is just part of life’s occasional fluctuations, versus one of the jobs where I’d be lucky to make it through a day without some mocking, blaming, or guilting kind of assault happening, where a bad mood would spiral into dread about returning the next day, and more dread about enduring five full days in a row with no escape.

One of the reasons I want to be self-employed is, the good people I was working for are in a precarious part of the film industry and job security is a thing of the past. I’m pushing 40. I could’ve handled that uncertainty in my 20s, but I can’t anymore.  I can rely on myself, though.

Another is, my last experience looking for work landed me in both of the above jobs, and I do blame both experiences in part for the depression I then spiralled into.

I also credit them with making me ANGRY enough to change my life.

But some people don’t get to reach angry.

Some people get beaten down day after day, told they’re stupid, useless, and lucky to even be employed. Management puts hurdles before them they’ll never overcome, and the economy ensures more hurdles.

The hopelessness of being stuck in jobs like that, in the face of an economic climate like we have now, it makes sense it’d be driving people to suicide.

And our dearly departed editor? Well, there’s not really a growing market for literary review editors, is there? If he felt trapped, if the university was looking the other way on complaints just to avoid controversy, if daily badgering and emotional assaults were happening, if he was your typical overly-analytical literary genius, then… tragically, it does compute.

Workplace bullying is as bad as childhood bullying, if not worse.

At least when you’re a kid there are potential adult figures who might ride in and save you from bullies.

When you’re an adult, there’s a veneer of judgment that comes with admitting you’re being bullied at work. Most reactions are along the lines of “Suck it up” or “It’s just a job” or “Hey, just three days till Friday! Chin up!”

When a job becomes your jail, you try shrugging it off. One can logically think “Oh, it’s just a paycheque”, but there’s a toxicity that comes from being exposed to these people on a day-in, day-out basis.

Like a river can passively wear down even the strongest of rocky terrain, just running over the same ground day after day, so too can a person’s soul and spirit erode.

When I quit the job that had me working daily for six months just 10 feet away from the most toxic, negative, and belittling woman I’ve ever known, it took me more than a year to start finding the positivity and hope in myself again — the things I said were just nothing like the person I used to be. That negativity changed who I was.

And I’m a pretty strong chick.

That was six months, just six months of being broken down by intimidation and judgment and belittling.

What about others? How far does that daily treatment go, how much worse does it become over time? How deeply does it seep?

This kind of treatment isn’t business as usual.

It shouldn’t be overlooked.

Employees should have greater rights about how they can expect to be treated, especially if they’re performing good work and delivering results. (Some useless fuckheads who don’t care about their jobs or quality could use a little yelling at, but all within reason.)

If this was just another unhappy Wal-Mart or McDonald’s or city-sanitation type job, the story would’ve been dismissed. “I’d commit suicide if I had that job, too — har-har.”

But all this guy had to do was read and write for a living. These were literary people, they had soul and the ability to communicate well.

And yet, here we are.

Cruelty and harassment knows no boundaries. There is no class distinction. Intelligence isn’t immune to meanness.

We’re supposed to be a kinder, gentler society. Maybe now we can stop with the lip-service and get on with the reality of being better than our predecessors.

Closet Skeleton Pioneers

A friend of mine laughed at me the other day when I suggested that I was an “oversharer” on the internet.

“Hah! You? Oversharing?”

Yes, I know. Just a smidge. The thing is, I’m pretty good at toeing a line these days. I don’t tell you what I don’t want you to know. Pretty simple.

Learning how to toe that line, though, WHOO. I done fucked up on more than just a few occasions, s o much so that I jokingly referred to myself and those like me, who’ve been oversharing for years, as “Closet Skeleton Pioneers”.

By that I mean that everyone’s got skeletons in their closets — some lover they treated like shit, a job they stole office supplies from, a friend they betrayed, a speeding ticket, you name it.

EVERYONE has been a dick at one point or another. Dig deep enough and you’ll find dirt. (If not, you’re boring, live a little.)

Luckily for me, I hit the age of 21 before the internet got invented.

And my record’s been expunged. Hardy-har, right.

The point is, despite what you think you know about me, I consider myself a really ethical person and there are things I’ve done and said that I hope never see the light of day because I don’t want them taken out of context, since we all know context is EVERYTHING.

And that’s the problem. When you see a photo on the web or a snippet of a conversational exchange, context gets lost and objectivity goes right out the window with it.

We all know that’s true of many events in our lives.

Don’t we?

So who the fuck is doing all the judging?

Are you? Are employers? Is your lover?

Who’s doing the judging when my friend on Twitter reacted yesterday morning after he received an email after a husband found his wife “Facebook cheating” and sent the entire exchange out to their kids’ school’s parents mailing list? Ain’t just the hubby judging now, is it?

What were employers digging up that led Germany to introduce a new law that will make it illegal for them to do job-applicant background searches on Facebook? Probably they were digging up a lot of skeletons, right?

It goes without question: Things you say or do on Facebook, Twitter, and in other areas of the web can absolutely destroy your life.

But who is doing the judging?

There’s a reason it’s so damn hard to become a Saint in the Catholic Church, you know — perfection’s pretty fucking difficult to come by.

When I was a kid in Bible school, I was told a story about Jesus intervening in a stoning, saying to the angry crowd of sanctimonious rock-chuckers “Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone”, or somethin’ thereabouts.

Really: In 2010, who’s without sin?

I mean, the Catholic Church outlawed SPEEDING, for crying out loud. Everything’s a sin. The Pet Shop Boys had it right.

When I look back upon my life
It’s always with a sense of shame
I’ve always been the one to blame
For everything I long to do
No matter when or where or who
Has one thing in common, too

It’s a, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a sin
It’s a sin
Everything I’ve ever done
Everything I ever do
Every place I’ve ever been
Everywhere I’m going to
It’s a sin

Was Neil looking back at his life on the web? Woulda if he coulda then, I bet.

So, let’s just accept that everyone’s imperfect, and, instead, (like this guy here and his “degrees of evil” guide to killers), get ourselves a handy cheat-sheet of just what level of assoholic or just plain edgy social behaviour one is guilty of and how it ranks them on the Good Versus Dick scale, okay?

Such as:

  • Never emails or messages you back, but pathologically lurks and knows Everything That Happens every time you talk in person. Creepy but not mean.
  • Likes kinky sex and lets everyone know it.
  • Thinks “cleavage” and “profile pic” are synonymous.
  • Considers social media his personal dick-dipping pool and has more numbers in his contacts than the CIA does.
  • Just LOVES drinking wine and doing so liberally. While telling you all about it. Every single night.
  • Keeps getting caught in masturbatory lies that make them sound great, but you know through the grapevine that they’re barely making rent and are shopping at Thrift Stores, while judging others for doing the same kinda “posing”.
  • Has, like the majority of people over 21, tried marijuana or something else questionable at a party at least once.
  • Speaks frankly about their disgust for political figures or employers.
  • Has a spouse yet endlessly flirts with others, without boundaries, and in public.
  • Has a pulse.

I mean, seriously. Half the things I do on a daily basis would probably get me fired from most jobs, because I’d never keep my mouth shut about what I hate and why. My old employers got a giggle out of it, but I assure you — it’s an acquired taste.

Despite what you may think of my loudmouthed, in-your-face, drinks-too-much, full-of-innuendo online persona (and, yes, it somewhat exists offline, and without a backspace key), I’m a good person.

I’m a really, really good person.

I hold the door open for men and little old ladies. I say “please”, “thank you”, and “sorry.” I look people in the eye. I pay my taxes. I’m honest, I don’t steal. I’m a quiet neighbour, a good daughter, a great friend. I bake muffins for lovers. I pay back my debts.

So, if you want to jump to conclusions about me based on the image I portray on the web — knowing I’m a creative person with a gift for fiction — then you’re entirely entitled to do so, and I’m entirely entitled to think you’re a narrow-minded presumptive dick who’s not worthy of my time.

Or maybe I just see you as someone who needs to think outside the box a little more.

Who I am online might have hurt me in the past but it helps me now. I have something to gain from keeping this persona/point-of-view alive. There’ll always be a price I pay as a result of it, but I’m hoping that’s just the cost of doing business.

I’m not the only web-user with a persona, or with skeletons; I’m just hyper-honest about it.

As time goes on, though, all of us will have our skeletons exposed. Then, with more to compare and contrast, we’ll know who the real assholes are — unless, of course, none of it’s true.

And that’s the problem with reaching any conclusions based on the web.

How do you know it’s true? When everyone can enter information and nothing’s necessarily vetted on the web, how do you know it’s true?

Simple: You don’t.

Here’s how I operate.

I watch for how people actually are with each other, online and otherwise: How they argue, how they’ll never let up, how they want the last word, how they judge others, how they talk about others, how they scheme or gossip. Because it’s in their everyday words and behaviour that we really see who people are — special events, like parties with hijinks, are too out-of-context to really give us an inkling of who someone is.

Me, I’ve written a lot over the years, on topics about everything from drinking and drugs to kinky sex, but you’d be wrong if you thought I was particularly wild or exciting anymore.

I’m being boring nowadays. I just make it sound exciting.

And there you have the web in a nutshell, and why laws like Germany’s are long overdue — when it comes to the internet, you can’t believe everything you read. You certainly can’t dismiss it, either. But there are no litmus tests or polygraphs one can administer to online “personality” accounts to judge the veracity of their content.

It’s time people started realizing you really can’t judge any of us on the little you see of us online, and that the skeletons in our closet aren’t nearly as big or scary as you think they are, especially when brought into the light.

If you want to supplement what you know of someone by how they are online, and you can do so judiciously and with many grains of salt, then knock yourself out.

Just don’t be surprised when that spotlight hits your life, too.

In fact, some of your skeletons probably look awfully similar to ours. After all, dontcha know? It’s quid pro quo season on closet skeletons.