Sep. 4th, 2011 04:46 pm
leahbobet: (bat signal)
Over the past few weeks I've been thinking about inspiration.

(No, this is not a writing post. It is a post about the things we do with our hands.)

Jack Layton -- for the international readers, the leader of the (social democrat) New Democratic Party and the current federal official opposition -- died abruptly of cancer two weeks ago. The response was solid national mourning: my very political Twitter friends posted their personal Jack stories; publishing people linked articles and eulogies; my very apolitical suburban upper-middle-class relatives talked about him in an almost puzzled, off-balance way at a family funeral last weekend, like people who'd lost a tooth and kept worrying at the gum. People who didn't like this mostly demonstrated enough sense and class to keep their mouths shut and respect everyone else's mourning.

There was a state funeral, and a lying-in-state at both the Parliament buildings in Ottawa and City Hall here, where he served for many years as a very active and visible city councillor. I went to the visitation with friends, and waited an hour and a half in line to pay my respects at that flag-draped coffin. [ profile] commodorified, who was in town though I did not know it, inadvertently started a tribute they'll be talking about in the history books. We left chalk. It was almost the definition of a community experience: the vast iceberg of a whole city and country groaning and shifting together. Everyone drawing a little closer.

He left a letter. It was his last public act. It's called A Letter to Canadians, and was released shortly after his family announced that he had passed away.

You should read it, but here's the important bit:

...consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

I am not politically partisan, both by personal inclination and professional obligation, but I believe in those words. They took me in the chest and made me cry at my desk for the loss of a person I'd never met. They are good words, and I say that in the way Beowulf keeps repeating þæt wæs god cyning. Yes, they confirm my worldview to a certain extent, and one must always be a little careful of that. But they are good words. They are right.

I want them so very badly to be right.

It's been a week. Things go back to normal. They do, and they don't.

But this is a post about inspiration.

I don't know why it's faintly embarrassing to say that paragraph inspired me, especially when it came from someone who was often cited as being close in the vicinity of inspiration: down the block or right next door. I want to twist to avoid the word. I want synonyms, waterings-down, elisions.

Possibly it's terrifying.

It's the same root as respire and spirit; Latin spirare. It means "to breathe". It means to have something put its lips to yours and fill your lungs or soul like a sail.

There is, I think, a particular courage inherent in being willing to be inspired: being willing to take someone else's words into you, breathe them into your lungs, and let them animate your arms and legs and heart. To hear someone else's words and change your life is a ceding of a certain kind of control, and it's frightening, and brave: it puts you on roads you didn't plan to walk to places you've never been, and some of them can be trying and terrible and dark.

They demand willingness to devote yourself passionately to something bigger than you, and nebulous, and chancy, and like all passions, bearing a terrible risk of heartbreak. And many of us, in pursuit of ways to never fail, are perfectly willing to make a very bad tradeoff, and never try.

It does not mean agreeing with everything the speaker ever said or did. That's role model, not inspire, and I remain very against role model on the grounds that it's sloppy critical thinking. But it means picking your stars, and orienting yourself by them, and then throwing yourself into space by their light.

(Yes. Throwing yourself into space.)

It's been six months since my grandmother died. She left a letter for each of us too. Mine was not polished in the way political rhetoric is: either because of the times, or possibly my great-grandfather's views on women and education, my grandmother never got halfway through high school. But it was honest, like the one I linked above. It was good words, and true.

She told me that she would be there for me, and that good things would happen; questions would be answered in their own ways. She told me to always smile.

I take that as one of my stars too. I carry it in my lungs.

This can be read, I suppose, as an argument for activism. It's definitely an argument for living an engaged and deliberate life. It could also be an enormous arrogance and intrusion: to have someone else speak, and expect you to twist and alter your life and all your careful plans.

What I think I'm asking here is for you to take courage: to not shrink from that word (that task, that challenge) or minimize it. To reject the cynical, slowly or altogether, raise sail, and fix, one by one, your stars.

It's terrifying, yeah. Space is cold. Jumping is the kind of thing that always tends to make my knees lock.

But it's the most natural thing in the world, too. It's nothing but breathing.

Breathe in.
leahbobet: (gardening)
July 5, 2011 Progress Notes:

"On Roadstead Farm"

Words today: 150.
Words total: 4350.
Reason for stopping: It's not really coming out tonight, and it's late.

Darling du Jour: N/A.
Words Hallie Won't Admit to Knowing: N/A

Mean Things: Didn't really have enough room to be mean tonight.
Research Roundup: Photo reference for farm dresses of the era I'm vaguely cribbing from; cultural demographics of Windsor.

Books in progress: Darren O'Donnell, Your Secrets Sleep With Me.
The glamour: Rambling evening walk with Dr. My Roommate through Christie Pits and then to the far grocery store. It's muggy out, but not horrifically so.

I don't know if I've mentioned Not Far From the Tree here before; possibly not. They put together homeowners with unpicked fruit trees in the city and volunteers willing to pick them, and donate a chunk of that harvest to food banks and shelters so they have local, fresh, free produce. Then the volunteers picking get some, and the homeowners get some. Everybody gets fruit, nothing gets wasted. It's kind of tiny and brilliant, and yes, this ties in with the eating local thing.*

I've been out picking with them for a couple years now. Last year's best pick netted me 11 pounds of grapes, some of which are still in my freezer.

Well, today I am pleased, because I finally got in on my first pick for this year**: cherries, tomorrow night. There is going to be cherrific goodness, in less than 24 hours! And let me tell you, there is nothing like the fruit you pick yourself. Nothing.

More cherry news tomorrow. And hopefully, more words, 'cause this was kind of sad.

*Non-Torontonians, this is an idea I wholeheartedly encourage you to copy in your town if the spirit moves you.
**It's experienced some slightly mad success. Which is fabulous. But also means that, so far, it's kind of hard to get in on a pick this year unless the e-mail comes through when you're actually at your computer. I have been thwarted on the cherry thing a few other days this week. Me want cherries.
leahbobet: (gardening)
Home, as of about an hour ago, despite tornado warnings, torrential rain, and one serious weather-enforced stop in Kitchener. Nothing's broken in the two blocks between the subway and home. Things were really, really quiet. I don't know how things are looking by the office, which was pretty much ground zero, but which knew it was going to be ground zero.

We'll see how things look tomorrow. I have some errands to run down on Queen Street.

Before I go run myself a bath and pour a glass of wine and try to wash two days of constant adrenaline out of my mouth, just to put this out there: This is really upsetting to me. It ranks high on the list of things that could happen in the world that would upset and frighten and hurt me. I get that to some people it's a hypothetical, that it's something that happens far away, that it's just things or it's a brick in a political platform, and I get that some people have different coping mechanisms.

To me it's very real, and for a variety of reasons, it's intensely personal. Intensely.

I'm asking everyone to please be considerate of that. I'm feeling severely wounded and vulnerable here, and it makes me snappish. Until things have settled some, until I at least know that the people and things I care about are where I left them, until I've had a chance to go down to the river or something, being considerate in this space would be appreciated.
leahbobet: (gardening)
I don't know how to wrap my head around this.

I'm out of town right now, in an exceedingly nice hotel room with a view of Windsor, Detroit, and the river between. Back at home, in my city, in my neighbourhood, there's this happening.

They're rioting in my city. There are cops firing rubber bullets into the crowd outside my office and arresting people face down in the grass in the park where I eat my lunch. There are SWAT teams on the paths of my university. There are police cars burning out front of my favourite movie theatre, a couple blocks from [ profile] bakkaphoenix, and the stores on Yonge where I checked in on Thursday to try to get a mirror for the new apartment, some tights for work, my groceries, have had their windows smashed in. There are pictures all over the internet of violence, destruction, anger. I've been refreshing the #G20 Twitter feed here for an hour or two. I'm pretty sure I've annoyed my friends by staying in to do that instead of coming out for dinner.

I can't stop looking. I want to cry. I am crying.

I've been trying to intellectualize this, trying to process it all day; to write something here for you that would communicate the worth and weight and heft of how this feels, to write about how a building is not just a building, but a node of experience and memory; about neighbourhoods and what they're made of, their tacit social contracts and how the Annex tastes different from Church/Wellesley feels different from the Beaches; about how I dream the Don River sometimes, swim it in my dreams or watch it run like lifeblood under the Bloor Viaduct, joke about how years of drinking unfiltered Toronto tap water has bound me to that river like sympathetic magic or a geas and now I'll never be able to go somewhere else for good, lest I wither and die.

I've got nothing. I have nothing wise or pointful or calm to say. There's no art in my fingers right now. All I want to do is wail.

The overriding theme, which I`m sure my mother would disagree with strongly if she read my LJ? I should have stayed home. I am a big fucking traitor.

I really, really want to go home right now.
Okay, dudes, listen up.

Alyssa Smith is one of our newer slush readers at Ideomancer. Her house burned down last night.

Today while she was at work, she got a call from her landlord saying that her house was on fire. By the time she got home, there was nothing left. Literally, nothing. Her beloved pet birds, her family heirlooms, her books and clothes and furniture and brand new iPad, all gone. Her roommate likewise lost everything. The buildings on either side of hers were gutted too. Their best guess is that the fire started in the basement, right underneath Alyssa's bedroom, and spread astonishingly quickly. (News coverage here with video of the fire and the burned-out building. Quite horrifying. No reports of human deaths or injuries, which is kind of amazing given the scope of it.)

Right now the Red Cross is putting her up in a hotel. She thinks that will last about a week. After that, she's going to couch-surf until she figures out whether she wants to wait three months for her old place to be renovated or try to find a new home. Until she's settled, she doesn't need donations of stuff. What she needs is money so she can keep herself afloat for the next couple of months and eventually replace some of the things that were destroyed. She does have a job and income, but she'll need to take time off work to deal with all of this. She had tried to get renter's insurance and got stuck in the labyrinthine bureaucratic process, so she has pretty much no recourse except for those of us who care about her.

[ profile] rosefox has set up a donation fund to help. If you have a couple bucks to throw into it, I'd personally be much obliged.

"[ profile] helptheproject is a fandom auction to benefit the Virginia Avenue Project, a free afterschool arts and academics program. 100% of participating children graduate from high school. 95% go on to college. 98% are the first person in their family to go.

"Due to budget cuts, unless we can raise $15,000 by mid-March, we will lose our centerpiece program, the One-on-Ones. In this program, professional actor/writers write a short play to act in with the kid they're paired with, rehearse it with them in a beautiful countryside summer camp, and then return to Los Angeles to put on a show. This program has been running continuously for 20 years - let's not lose it now!"

Via [ profile] asatomuraki:

[ profile] hominysnark needs a hysterectomy to keep an unpleasant medical condition from becoming a life-threatening one (it's already most of the way there) and she can't, because she doesn't have health insurance.

Why doesn't she have health insurance? Because she's self-employed, and as many self-employed creative people (she's an artist and writer) know all too well, when you have to choose between eating and having a place to sleep or having health insurance, the health insurance loses. I know this, because the hubby and I have been paying for self-employment health benefits for most of this decade, watching the cost go higher and higher while the benefits get lower and lower. We pay more for health insurance than we do for shelter, but live in terror of not having it, just in case. Because not having it could mean complete financial ruin, and destroy our children's future. It's freaking scary.

So, anyway. She needs $2700.00 for the operation, or she has to wait for her condition to become life-threatening. (It will get there long before she could save up that much, especially since she has $8,000.00 in medical bills from just having it diagnosed.) See, she falls in that sweet spot between having enough income to have health insurance or pay for health care herself and being poor enough to qualify for any sort of break from providers or government program.


I know that if every one who can will give a buck or two, maybe we can get this thing done before her life is at risk.

Lisa's my friend and has been for years and years. She's an awesome, funny, talented, creative, and wholly decent human being.

If anyone has a couple bucks to throw in to help defray the costs of this surgery, it'd be much appreciated.
It's -9 C in Toronto tonight; with the windchill, it feels like -15 C. I came home this afternoon huddled down in jeans and sweater and my big wool pea coat, scarf and hat and lined gloves, and my knees were still freezing by the time I made it the four blocks from the office home.

Those of you who caught the prior post know that Peter Watts, whom I like and respect and count as a friend, was detained, beaten, and pepper-sprayed by US border guards while trying to cross back into Canada; while coming home. When he was released from custody on the other side of the border, it was "coat-less and without a vehicle, in a winter storm."*

Let me tell you a little story about the cold.

In 1990 in Saskatchewan, a 17-year-old boy named Neil Stonechild was found frozen to death in a field outside Saskatoon. He had last been seen, handcuffed and bloodied, being packed into the back of a squad car.**

Ten years later, two more Native men were found frozen to death outside the city in a single week. A third came forward with a story of being driven around outside the city by the police and threatened. There was a public inquiry. Two police officers on the Saskatoon force were ultimately charged and lost their positions.

There's a name for this thing. It's called a starlight cruise.

I found out this story from a CBC documentary in 2003 or so. [ profile] matociquala was over visiting. It had long, lingering landscape shots of the frozen prairies; the very epitome of winter.

I started crying and I couldn't stop.

See, here's the thing about living in a cold-weather society. You stick together, because you have to: it's you against the winter. That is, on a certain level, the basic division of life. That's where the concept of the Wendigo comes from. A wendigo is famine, starvation, greed; the insatiable need to eat until you eat the members of your own society. Wendigo are creatures of the cold, the North. They are supernatural, but a human being can become one, if they resorted to cannibalism.

A wendigo is what happens when human beings turn away from their own and throw in with winter.

These are the worst sins of a cold-weather society, the ones that are irredeemable: siding with winter. Feeding off your own. Taking another person as prey, or leaving them as prey for the winter, in jeans and a shirt with no wool coat or scarf or hat; with no lined gloves and no transit home, knowing full well what the winter does.

These are the things that scare me.

I will not be travelling to the United States for the forseeable future.

Dr. Peter Watts, Canadian science fiction writer, beaten and arrested at US border.

This is my friend. He is somewhat self-deprecating and snarky and goofy, and he writes phenomenal fiction and has done me a great deal of kindness. He is part of my community. I have a not insignificant amount of adrenaline in my mouth right now.

If you have the resources to spare even five bucks, I would much appreciate it if you would consider contributing to his ability to simultaneously pay his rent and mount a legal defense. Paypal is

Thank you.
June 5, 2009 Progress Notes:


Words today: 500.
Words total: 500.
Reason for stopping: This rousted me out of bed at 1:00 in the morning. Now it's 3:00 in the morning, and that's reason enough.

Darling du Jour: The ghost doesn't talk. It doesn't smell. It's a cold space and a pressure, the feel of leather gloves on skin. I only know it's him by the way its hands linger on my cheek, the way they always did; by his hands and the way he kills.

Mean Things: Yes.
Books in progress: Alan Bishop and Mark Bostridge, eds., Letters from a Lost Generation: The First World War Letters of Vera Brittain and Four Friends; Lois McMaster Bujold, Falling Free.
The glamour: Dayjob.

It's been a while since I've been mugged by a story so hard it's shoved me out of bed and to the desk. I've got enough bits and the basic skeleton down now, so I'm going to go back to bed.

To the people who offered time, help, or donations, anonymously or not, re: my last post? Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Although some of you have likely already seen this via [ profile] matociquala and [ profile] truepenny and so forth?

This is my friend [ profile] cpolk. Her roommate has done a very bad thing, that being not paying his share of the rent and not letting her know about it. And so she found out this morning that they are being irrevocably evicted. Tomorrow.

(No, there is nothing that can be done about the eviction.)

She outlines the thing here.

We're throwing her a virtual rent party to raise the cash to salvage some of her stuff, pay for storage and so forth, and keep her off the streets for the rest of June. The Paypal button's under the link there -- it's cash-Paypal only, not credit cards. If you can see your way towards kicking in a few bucks to the cause, it would be personally, deeply appreciated.

(And if you're in Calgary and have some spare time this afternoon, drop me a line?)


Mar. 19th, 2009 02:05 pm
Thing the first: I have partially reprised my [ profile] helpvera auction offer over at [ profile] con_or_bust, where I have some professional-grade critiques on the block. If this is relevant to your interests (or you think someone else's) hop over and bid.

Thing the second: SHEEP!

Best. Sheepthing. Ever.

That is all.
Y'know, I think I've located the glitch in our metaphor system; the semantic breakdown:

The internet is not a battlefield, upon which a war is fought. Against an enemy. Who requires no-holds-barred force.
The internet is not your house, which needs to be defended. From, again, some implied faceless mob of attackers.
The internet is not a square mile of territory which one can be driven off.
The internet is not a community which one can be ostracised from.
You cannot win the internet.

When you stop looking at it in those terms? You'd be surprised how unnecessary it all becomes.
I haven't really said anything about the most recent iteration of the Racism/Sexism/Stuff in SF Argument. This is for two reasons: the first is that some of the people centrally involved are very close friends of mine, and that means that I really have no ground to stand on where I can be sure I am not engaging debate from that standpoint or will not be perceived to be engaging debate from that standpoint. Meaning...sorry, but people piling onto my friends, and it doesn't matter for what reason or under what justification, does make me want to take some kneecaps out. That's the human tribal instinct for you, and I'm a little Mama Bear that way. I write the songs that make the whole world sing kneecap the people who make my best friends hurt. And even if I wasn't stating a position from a red-eyed lust for kneecaps (which is pretty much over now; my capacity for outrage isn't really that long-lasting), it's about 95% likely I would be assumed to be since I'm not exactly keen on sockpuppeting either, so we're just not gonna do that. It does not gain anybody anything.

The second reason, though? Is because looking back over the last few iterations of this argument? I find my position hasn't changed. We have a clearly identified problem, and I would like to get on with fixing it. And, well, I already said that stuff, and either that resonated with individuals or it didn't, and that's life in the big city.

So, Leah, why a post just to say why you didn't say anything?

Basically, this is an FYI: if anyone's feeling the desire to build some shit and fix some shit, however small and non-lifechanging a part of the problem we might be able to tackle, and however much what we tackle will undoubtedly not save the whole ranch? I'm still here with my hammer.

That's all.
This is probably all over some of your friendslists, but well. Some things bear repeating.

Norilana Books publisher Vera Nazarian is in danger of losing her home by the end of the month, where she's caring for her elderly mother after said mother's bout with cancer. [ profile] helpvera is running a Live Long and Marry-style auction to attempt to raise some of the money to pay off the mortgage and save the house.

Why? Well. She's one of ours.

I've donated a story critique or two and a pair of hand-knit handwarmers.

So if you'd like either one of those things, or are interested in things like signed first editions, handbound books, jewelery, ARCs, and the like, hop over to the auction and check it out.
Okay. So we hear a lot in the news about how there are all these homes that have been foreclosed on across (mostly) the U.S. and are now sitting empty, to the point where they are spray-painting the dead lawns of whole neighbourhoods to try and sell these homes.

And on the other hand, we also have Habitat For Humanity, an organization devoted to building new homes for people who cannot afford them.

Is there any charity out there that's, well, cutting out the middleman? Buying up these terrifically cheap foreclosed homes, and maybe fixing them up as needed, and then giving them to people who cannot afford homes?

If so, I would like to know as to give them money.

If not...well, why not?
From various places about the Livejournals, it looks like Hurricane Gustav is going straight for New Orleans. And that there's a lot of, shall we say, human error going down that's not going to make this very happy at all.

[ profile] matociquala has a good roundup going here.

This may be a good time, if you feel moved to do so, to donate to Habitat For Humanity, who have been working for the last three years to rebuild and replace homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. And who will likely be right back down there if Gustav turns out badly. Or the Red Cross, who are already prepping up. Or The American Humane Society, which is also already on the case and helps evacuate pets, board them, and restore them to their families afterwards. Which is important, not just for the animals, but for the people. And if there are any other organizations with a good track record anyone wants to suggest, please do so in comments.

I have not yet developed the power to stop hurricanes in their tracks or teleport large distances to ferry people without transport out of danger. So.

Let's get the emergency cash to the people who are in a position to do something, even if it ends up being picking up the pieces again.

Before they have to ask.
StatsCan has released some census data today: notably, that 1 in 6 Canadians is a visible minority and in Toronto, that's actually half of everybody. To which I said, well, cool, because I started attending school in the mid-late eighties and am thus a member of the generation raised by hippies.

(No, seriously. All the people who honestly believed in peace, love, and understanding, not to mention Pierre Elliott Trudeau's Just Society, multiculturalism, and all the things we trumpet as quintessentially Canadian? They went into teaching.)

If you read the comments on that first news story though, you'll see pretty quickly that my reaction isn't really the standard one there:

You answered a lot of questions my friend, what would 5 MILLION immigrants do if all hell broke out and a war started on CANADIAN SOIL

I guess the first weapon I would grab would be a "phone book'

My second weapon I would grab?. the " Koran" and a bottle of shoe polish !

Or we have:
I've actively sought to upgrade my skills through education. I contribute to the community. However, I am a straight white male. That puts me at a disadvantage in this nation.

There is no chance I will be considered for any job of merit that contains a diversity or equity notice.

How is that fair?

We are indoctrinated with diversity politics from birth - and although I do honestly believe all are created equal - discrimination exists in Canadian urban centres - if you are a white man you are going to be passed over for a job.

Y'know, I do realize that I live in a bubble and it's partially self-constructed. My world is that of an urban centre where 50% of the people in town aren't white -- or hell, more. They were only counting visible minorities. I'm an invisible minority myself and have learned to play that to my advantage. I've chosen my friends and acquaintances partially based on agreements of politics. I live in the (very nice) gaybourhood. This is like a nesting-doll set of insulation from what might be going on in other parts of the country and the world. It's a very safe place to be.


What the fuck are these people doing in my country?

And really, that's the root of the problem. They have the right to their opinion same as me, but only one side of the equation seems to be getting that this road goes both ways. It's my country too, guys. And my Chinese downstairs neighbours' country. And the girls in headscarves at school, it's theirs too. Those people who don't look like you in the apartment three doors down? They're not strange animals or personal threats. They're your neighbours. They're Canadians.

Some of us recognize that, and some of us apparently don't.

Day 0257203957230535. Still no Just Society.

Fire Fund

Feb. 22nd, 2008 11:38 am
A few people asked, so from today's Star:
The city has established the Queen Street Fire Fund; donations can be made at any Scotiabank branch.

From CityTV:
The trust account will be open beginning Friday and donations can be made to the "Queen Street Fire Fund" at any Scotiabank branch.

Vaughan hopes to also arrange a place where you can drop off clothing or make other non-cash contributions. That announcement is expected in the coming days.

One of the people who's been burned out of a home is [ profile] newroticgirl's brother. So help a buddy out.

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