Scary stuff Stephen Harper's said

It's election time in Canada again but this is an election with a difference as it marks the first time in the history of the Commonwealth that a government has been found in contempt of Parliament (a penalty that theoretically could involve jail time). On March 21st a Commons procedure and house affairs committee tabled a majority report concluding the government was in contempt "for refusing to disclose enough information about the cost of several big-ticket items." The Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois concurred and united in a non-confidence motion against the Harper Conservatives.

So not a first we can be proud of but then there hasn't exactly been alot to be proud of around these parts in recent years. According to Amnesty International Canada's global reputation as a human rights champion has been eroded. “No longer the champion, more and more Canada is perceived to be a country that is reticent to take a consistently strong stand for human rights. Sometimes Canada now is also seen as part of the problem, not the solution,” said Amnesty Secretary General Salil Shetty. The scathing Amnesty International report also notes that “On the home front, Canada’s human rights movement feels under siege. Never before have Canadian organizations worried so much that there might be consequences if they disagree publicly with the government on a human rights concern.”

As we move towards election day I know the nation is in dire straits when I find myself missing sweater vest Harper. At least back during the last election Steve-o was actively trying to convince Canadians that he was harmless (how could a guy in a sweater vest from Sears possibly be a serious threat to democracy?). But now it's as though he's figures that not enough of us care about democracy in the first place—that a significant percentage of Canadian voters are either NeoCon fanboys or apathetic and lazy enough not to want to be bothered by pesky little things like the environment, human rights, transparency, ethics and democracy. So these days Steve-o's dropped the sweater vest act and is sticking to alternately sneering and uttering the word "economy" like it's a chant.

Economy. Economy. Economy. I made the economy, damn it. And I can take it with me when I go too.

Or something to that effect. Which is a hoot because Steve-o was the last party leader to realize the Canadian economy was in trouble in 08.

How about this Stephen Harper gem from back in 2005: “When a government starts trying to cancel dissent or avoid dissent is frankly when it’s rapidly losing its moral authority to govern.” Coming from someone who has since prorogued Parliament twice (to avoid confidence votes he would've lost) and brought U.S. style media control to Canada that's downright hilarious.

Stephen still can't take any heat from the press and during his campaign stops is limiting national media to four questions a day which stands in marked contrast to the way NDP leader Jack Layton and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff are running their campaigns. "Harper finds time to do one or two carefully staged photo opportunities each day...As with all such events, the people who come in contact with Harper are Conservative supporters or part of the planning."

If the Tories were to run an honest campaign it would look like this:

Stephen Harper despises this country and he hates most of us Canadians too.

But then again, Steve-o hasn't really been hiding his feelings these past few years, has he? So maybe he's right about the NeoCon fanboys and folks that don't want to be bothered with democracy. I can only hope he's wrong about the number of them that are out there because I know there are quite a few of us who are livid that he's been able to continue tearing the country down for this long.

Some Additional Reality Check Reading on Stephen Harper

* The Canadian Nixon (a 2008 article which is more relevant than ever)

Remember when I said that I hoped to put up a chapter from My Beating Teenage Heart soon and then it didn't happen? Remember sometime later when I repeated that message and still didn't put up a chapter? Well, I haven't gotten the okay to post Chapter One yet and now I'm not sure when that's going to happen so this time I won't say soon and maybe refraining from saying soon will make soon arrive sooner than it would've otherwise. We'll see...

In my impatience I did post a sort of countdown page for the book which links back to the main site. Lately I've also been listening to my one of my favourite 80s bands who have a great new album out:


It's pretty damn cool that a band I loved as teenager is putting out good music 28 years after I first started listening to them. It would never have occurred to me back then that this was possible, namely because I never thought that far into the future. Meanwhile now I'm wishing I had tickets for Duran Duran's upcoming Toronto show but since The Phoenix only has a capacity of 1300 the gig's sold out. Sigh.

I'm still listening to mucho Adam Ant these days too


and I think “Ridicule is nothing to be scared of” has to be one of the great pop music lyrics of all-time. I also finished reading his autobiography, Stand & Deliver, not long ago and am looking forward to his upcoming album.


Incidentally, if you're an Ant fan you might want to check out an interesting new interview with Adam from BBC 4's On the Ropes. He discusses his career, his experiences with bipolar disorder and how he takes issue with the label.

Stand &Deliver The Autobiography by Adam Ant, All You Need is Now by Duran Duran

When I say I'm listening to music I often mean albums (rather than individual songs) in the CD or even vinyl format because for me, digital just doesn't feel the same. I do sometimes listen to tunes on shuffle (or Internet radio) while at the computer but if I'm really into something I want a physical copy (whether we're talking about books, movies or music). More on that here and here if you missed my posts on the topic last month. Obviously I'm in the minority on that, though, because globally recorded physical music sales fell by almost $1.5bn (14.4%) last year. During the same period digital revenues grew by only 5.3%.

It's often pretty disheartening reading comments to articles like the Guardian one I linked to above because many of the posters typically blame record industry greed (those posters must be having flashbacks to an earlier time!) for the continual fall in profits, claim artists shouldn't expect to be paid for their efforts (though I'm sure these same posters wouldn't be happy if it was suggested that they themselves put in long hours at work for free) or rant that the music industry isn't raking in money anymore because music today sucks (why these folks never seem to consider that the current state of pop music might in part be due to record companies no longer having the funds to support as many diverse artists and bands resulting in their clinging to proven formula acts in an effort to stay afloat, I'm not sure).

No one is ever going to be able to completely correlate lost sales with piracy (this is another point which commenters repeatedly raise in an effort to dismiss the scope of the piracy problem) but just because we can't draw a direct line between the two doesn't mean that piracy doesn't continue to play a major role in the gutting of the record industry. I find it strange (and frustrating) that many people don't have an issue with paying for hot new digital devices (phones, tablets etc.) on a regular basis but are extremely quick to either rip off or call for bottom of the barrel prices from companies and individuals who create content for those devices (games, movies, music, books). Seems to me like those devices would get boring pretty fast if there was nothing new to put on them. The well can run dry if it continues to prove more and more unlucrative to create music, movies, book and games.

I worry about that not simply because I'd like to be able to make a living as a writer but because I want to read new books, listen to new records and watch new movies. Many, many of them! And not only by writers, musicians and filmmakers whose work is mainstream and popular enough to scrape up decent profits at a time when piracy is rampant and there's constant pressure to lower prices.

I mean, hey, I'll always love 80s music, classic screwball comedies and Jane Austen novels but I sincerely hope there are enough of us out there who realize what's at stake here and are willing to support the arts (whether through legal downloads or purchasing physical copies of works), otherwise our culture's in danger of getting pretty damn stagnant and stinky.
There’s a scene in classic YA book Forever where main character Katherine’s mother tells her, “Once you start having sex, you can't go back to holding hands.” When I first read Forever I was a pre-teen myself and thought of that statement as some kind of profound truth that I was being clued in to. Because sex was, like, this monumental thing, right? This line in the sand – you’ve either done it or you haven’t – and once you have, it changes you. Forever.

kissWell, actually, not necessarily, no. It’s potentially physically and emotionally risky and those are risks everyone should take seriously (and deal with appropriately) but sex, on its own, isn’t likely to change who you are if you’re comfortable with what you’re doing and you’re doing it responsibly and safely. And once you start having sex you can, of course, go back to holding hands (or whatever else) if you want to. And, yeah, there are people out there who want to do just that (no matter what popular culture or Katherine’s mother says) so rest assured if this is how you feel, you’re not the only one and you shouldn’t feel there’s anything wrong with wanting that. Likewise if you haven’t had sex yet but things are going too fast for you sexually with a partner you shouldn’t feel pressured to keep up. We have some pretty messed up, unhealthy ideas about sex in this culture and the once you start having sex you can’t stop idea is one of them, which is why I’m so happy to see that sex ed guru Heather Corinna has written an article called “Whoa, There! How to Slow Down When You're Moving Too Fast” for the ever awesome Scarleteen website.

Whenever I talk about sex ed I inevitably bring up Scarleteen and its founder Heather Corinna and I hope if you’re looking for honest comprehensive information about sex delivered with a non-judgmental attitude you’ll drop by the site and have a look around.

In this brand new article Corinna writes:
“A lot of young people think that sex is like Pandora's Box: once you open it, you can't ever close it and everything you took out of it can't ever be put back in, whether you like it or not. But that's just not true: just because we've done something once sexually never means we have to do it again or always have to do it. Just because something felt right once, or in one situation, doesn't mean it feels right now or always will in every situation. And sometimes what felt like the right pace for a while can later feel way too fast in hindsight. If and when that happens, we never have to stay at a given pace: we always have the choice to slow things down and only do whatever it is that feels right for us at a given time, even if that's nothing at all.”
Corinna also offers a handy list of warning signs that things may be moving too fast for you or a partner:
“· Sex feels more like something that "just happens" rather than something you or your partner actively choose to do

· You or your partner are experiencing anxiety, fear and/or regret during, after or about sex

· You or your partner don't, can't or don't feel able to really talk about sex together

· You or your partner feel pushed sexually or like one person is always leading sexual activities

· Sex feels physically painful, uncomfortable or just really blah for you or your partner

· Sex feels like it starts and ends too fast or too soon

· You or your partner are taking risks you don't really want to or don't feel ready for

· You or your partner are skipping or being inconsistent with safer sex and/or birth control

· You or your partner feel unable to be assertive with limits and boundaries or like limits and boundaries aren't respected

· You are being dishonest or feeling like you can't be totally honest with friends and family about
the pace of your sexual relationship

· You or your partner feel dissatisfied with sex, or like sex is very one-sided

· And the easiest clue of all: things feel like they are moving too fast”
The article then moves on to offer practical advice on how to slow things down and reminds us that, “Obviously, there are other things in our lives that we have to do even when the timing doesn't feel perfect or when we'd rather be doing something else, but sex should never be one of those things. Sex should always be 100% optional.”

There’s just so much good information in this article that I hope you’ll head over there and read the whole thing (and then send out the link widely) but in the meantime I’ll leave you with this final thought from “Whoa, There! How to Slow Down When You're Moving Too Fast:”
“It's a pretty good rule of thumb that if you or a partner aren't able to talk about what you're doing well or at all, then you probably shouldn't be doing it. Try and make sure that whatever you're doing, you're talking about it first before acting on it, rather than the other way round.”

“Everything that we inherit, the rain, the skies, the speech, and anybody who works in the English language in Ireland knows that there's the dead ghost of Gaelic in the language we use and listen to and that those things will reflect our Irish identity.”
— John McGahern
It doesn't have to be St. Patrick's Day for me to feel sentimental about Ireland. You can read me wax on about it elsewhere on my website:

Below is one of the songs I associate most strongly with my time in Dublin in the early 90s. Such great times that I'll always feel grateful for.

I hope if you haven't been there yet you soon get a chance to experience Ireland and discover all the good things I found in it. And if, like me, you already know and love Ireland but don't live there, I hope you find yourself back on Irish soil again soon.

Here's some more from The Saw Doctors to make you long for Ireland:

I first stumbled across American monologuist and actor Spalding Gray's autobiographical work in the late 80s when the filmed performance (directed by Jonathan Demme) of his monologue, Swimming to Cambodia, was shown on TV. Just Spalding, sitting at a desk in a plaid shirt, talking about his experiences in Southeast Asia while playing an ambassador's aide in The Killing Fields.

If I had any idea who he was when I first encountered Swimming to Cambodia it would've only been because of Spalding's acting roles in movies like Beaches, Clara's Heart and (of course) The Killing Fields. But I was instantly hooked on his unique brand of storytelling filled as it was with keen observations, much angst, confessional humour and a constant underlying sense of the bittersweet nature of life. So revealing is Spalding Gray in his monologues that I almost felt like I knew him by the time he died in 2004 (He was last seen on the Staten Island ferry on January 10th of that year and his body was pulled from the East River roughly two months later).

Over the years I was lucky enough to see two of Spalding Gray's monologues live—Monster in a Box in the early nineties in Toronto and It's a Slippery Slope in Dublin in the late nineties. I also enjoyed his novel, Impossible Vacation, and his monologues Terrors of Pleasure and Gray's Anatomy, which I still have VHS copies of. I was hoping to see more of him over the years and watching And Everything is Going Fine, a documentary about Spalding Gray composed mainly of clips of Spalding talking about his life and work (the two seem indivisible), is like one final visit with the great monologuist.

I'm thinking now, of my very favourite moment in Impossible Vacation, when main character Brewster North entertains a six-year-old child.
I reached down and took the pillow that Shanti was sitting on and lifted him up from the couch real high and held him there, as if he were flying on a magic carpet, then I let go of the pillow and dropped him. Shanti squealed and let out with a wild laugh as he and the pillow hit the floor and bounced; and then, making an immediate recovery, Shanti jumped back on the pillow and cried out, "Do it again!" I made up my mind right away to try to totally satisfy him so that perhaps for once in his life at an early age, he would know the condition of complete indulgence and satisfaction. He would have no leftover longings; at least for this day he'd be cured of the longing for the event that never happened.
I'm thinking how we'll never hear more stories from Spalding Gray. We will never be cured of the longing for the event that will never happen.

And Everything is Going Fine closes at the TIFF tomorrow.

Spalding Gray at work
I was doing some pre-spring decluttering last weekend and one of the things that I decided to tackle was the rejection file that I started in 2001. I don't know if you can really tell from the below photo just how stuffed this file folder was but take my word for it, the thing was positively crammed with rejections (and some requests which would later lead to rejections) from four different countries.

rejection folder: sorry - not for us

Most of the correspondence in the above folder are agent rejections, both from before and after things didn't work out with my first agent. I'm not sure why I held on to all of them for quite so long (maybe it felt like proof of my efforts?). In fact, even after weeding out the form rejections or others that didn't offer much wisdom on why whatever particular manuscript I'd sent along a query for wasn't for them, I slipped quite a few back into the folder for further safe keeping.

If you're not a writer (or a musician, actor or some other type of artist/performer) it might seem distinctly odd to continue to choose to do something that involves so much rejection. Needless to say your confidence can take a beating. Maybe you even seriously consider quitting. But often the desire to write (or act or sing or whatever) won't leave you alone so stopping isn't as simple as it sounds. Even as the professionals (agents and editors) tell you that your work isn't what they're looking for, telling stories is what you want to do.

It's important to remember that when the rejections become particularly painful. If you're truly passionate about your own stories it's easier to stand behind them when the going gets tough. It's also important to realize that getting published doesn't mean your rejection days are behind you. Not all your books may sell and when those that do start to make their way out in the world inevitably they will encounter detractors. There's absolutely no way your work can be everyone's cup of tea. Some reviews will (reject!) slam your novel. Some readers will react with indifference or irritation. Having been through the submission process with agents and/or editors beforehand this will be nothing new to you but it can still be frustrating.

If they have too strong a negative impact you might find that it's better not to look at reviews at all. You definitely don't want any unnecessary negativity messing with your creative energy. In fact, personally I find it's better not only to avoid reviews but industry blogs and websites in general and just lose myself in whatever story I'm writing, like a tightrope walker or a horse with blinkers on.

So to sum up, for those of you who are precisely where I was before my first book was published (stuffing your rejection folder): write what you love, dedicate yourself to making your work the best that it can be, don't give up and—if it's going to throw off your balance—as much as possible, don't look down!

tightrope walker
Today is the one hundredth anniversary of the first International Women's Day events which were held in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland in 1911. There's a lot to celebrate and a hell of a lot left to fight for.

There are some people out there who are fond of saying feminism is no longer needed because gender equality has already been reached. But despite the progress made in women's rights there's not a country on earth where equality has truly been achieved.

Annie Lennox, who helped start the EQUALS campaign which advocates for equal rights for women, has written an article on the sobering gender inequity statistics and need to push forward:
“Despite the fact that half of the world’s population are female, women’s rights have become marginalised as a ‘minority issue’. Many young women feel that the label of ‘feminist’ is, at best, irrelevant to their lives and, at worst, a stigma to be avoided at all costs. Sullied by stereotypes of hairy arm-pitted man haters, the concept of feminism and its principles of equality and anti-sexism need to be refreshed and reclaimed by a new generation. Feminism shouldn’t be an F word. We should embrace it.”
You can read the entire post over at the Oxfam blog:

“Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”
— Cheris Kramarae & Paula Treichler
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