R Streets R Stories

You can thank Sheri for that title – we used it as a hashtag for the Cathedral Village Arts Festival this year, and as an abbreviation of our theme, Our Streets Are Stories.

I always look forward to the CVAF anyway, but this year was extra special because I got Involved again and volunteered as the communications coordinator for the festival. This involved the usual social media effort, manning the Twitter and Instagram feeds while managing to keep myself as far removed from Facebook as possible. My alter ego on there suddenly became alarmingly popular though! This was a thinly disguised excuse to have an official reason to go out every night of the week and pack in as much festivalling as possible. I was creating valuable live coverage, honest! I even got an all access pass! (to a free festival).

I also had to help write press releases and schedule interviews with local media. Sheri (the chairperson) and other members of the planning committee were shunted off to TV and live radio interviews, frequently at horrendous times of the early morning. I did one myself too, at 6.45am on a Tuesday on community radio, practically guaranteeing me an audience of bus drivers and unfortunate Tim Hortons workers.

All these efforts paid off though, and the turn out was HUGE, despite the weather not being as exceptional as last year.  One key message we tried to emphasise in our media briefings was that the festival is #AllWeekLong. So many people still seem to think the festival is just the Street Fair on the last Saturday, when there are arts, dance, theatre, literature, music and film events on every evening for the whole week. Here’s a small sample…

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My parents arrived the first evening of festival week! A great way to start their summer holiday and I made sure to drag them to as many events as we could. They both even wrote and read poems at the poetry slam just 24 hours after their arrival! Poems had to be on the theme of ‘our streets are stories’ again. Here is my effort:

Cathedral Stories are worthy of glory
My poetry usually is not
While trying to avoid complication
I went for literal interpretation
The point of which I forgot.

It’s easier to start with a question, she says
How about, ‘What’s the word on the street?’
SLOW
or sometimes
‘No Parking’

At this time of year
Stranger signs start to appear
One popped up today
A stencil, sprayed, just outside Safeway
“It’s Good To Be Alive” the street seems to say.

Our cathedral story truly began
Five years ago
Returning from another poetry slam
Or was it just burgers in here?
Memories fade, the details unclear
But walking home we were
Small girl complaining
It had started raining
Small girl stops, plastic jacket undone
Not caring, while I start quietly swearing

She sits on the curb
In a puddle, plants her feet
And starts reading her book
In the middle of the street.

 

 

 

 

Limitless Stupidity

The budget is out. Federal and Provincial, although it’s Premier Brad Wall’s provincial one which I am stupefied by. Stupefied is the right word – I do feel like dumbassery is an actual virus that is reaching epidemic levels in the world at the moment, and if I spend too long reading the news (and especially social media ‘news’) it will lower my IQ.

So, Saskatchewan is in a mighty big deficit. I can see several reasons why this arose – financial mismanagement and some seriously dodgy deals (Global Transportation Hub, anyone?) – but mainly just the province being almost wholly reliant on oil and gas, and oil prices falling so dramatically. Common sense would dictate that even if we must rely on a volatile commodity, it would be sensible to save some money from when the markets were doing really well (‘Saskaboom!’) to cover us when they are not, like now. Norway does this with its oil money and has zero national debt. Neighbouring Alberta did similar and used the surplus to build pension funds and negate the need to charge provincial sales tax. Brad Wall just cut corporation tax and then ran out of money for anything useful.

If that were not stupid enough, the tactics he’s using to try and get rid of the deficit are just myopic. A 3% wage cut for public sector workers. This is fine for MLAs and the cabinet members and people on six figure salaries. It is most certainly NOT fine for teachers and nurses and, well, a whole host of underpaid but *useful* people.

In the budget itself, there were more horrors: cuts to schools, the universities, obscure things like the provincial hearing aid program, and then libraries and the Saskatchewan Transport Company rural bus service. But don’t worry folks, they cut the higher levels of income tax by half a percent! This is so obviously a budget written by people who never have to use and have never worked in any of those services. It doesn’t actually affect people’s take-home pay, (directly) so it must be OK, right?

All these things deliberately hurt the poor, the vulnerable and anyone living in rural areas, and they are all interlinked. Cutting the STC bus service saves around $17million. Which is the cost of just over a kilometre of the new Regina bypass that they’re building just so people can avoid coming into Regina. Obvi..! However, the STC was never supposed to be profitable. It’s a service designed to link up small towns and provide an essential route for people who need to travel to the cities who may not be able to drive – lets see, like older people, or cancer patients going in for treatment, or students getting to the SIAST campus on the Regina-Moose Jaw bus in the mornings. But hey, SIAST lost some funding too, so maybe it’s not worth going to any more anyway… you can just do all your studying at the library, right? But no… the libraries are screwed too. What provincial funding the city libraries received could be supplemented by City Hall funds instead, (which means our City taxes may well go up accordingly) but rural municipalities just don’t have the population numbers to make up the shortfall from local taxation. And guess what? The STC buses were crucial for transporting *actual books* for the inter-library loans scheme too.

The school and university cuts fly in the face of the ‘Saskatchewan brain drain’ too. People with degrees and useful skills tend to leave the province to go make money elsewhere. So, as a friend pointed out, the budget helps ‘keep them dumb and keep them here!’ And look! They can’t even get the bus outta here now! Less flippantly however, the argument in favour of cutting public spending to fund corporate tax cuts is always ‘oh we have to remain competitive, if we don’t keep corporations happy, they will just leave the province and set up where it’s cheaper’. That is a remote possibility I suppose, but more likely they will leave because there is a lack of skilled workers to work in them! Cutting education funding is not going to help that one little bit.

It gets worse. On top of all that, the budget raised Provincial Sales Tax to 6%, but then added it on to things that were previously exempt like restaurant meals and children’s clothing. This has caused uproar within the restaurant business community and I can see why. My coffee shop proved unmanageably expensive to operate anyway (and I have just suffered through my business tax return so this is very raw!) but adding 6% to all the prices would have killed it far earlier. More expensive treats would mean fewer regular customers, plus adding 6% on to the cost of the ingredients would seriously hack into the bottom line. The news predicts a lot of restaurant closures, but of course, it’s all the small independent businesses that come off worst – the sort that are least affected by the cut in corporation tax.

It is this last part that affects me so directly. It damages my chances of either setting up another coffee business or even just getting a new job in that line of work too. And I really, really need a job. I’m up to 27 applications now, still nothing. This is becoming crucial because, on top of everything else, Carl just got laid off from his job! After 5 years there, being incredibly busy and putting in some serious overtime, getting a pay rise in January and even winning an award for his work at one point, they just let him go last week with no warning whatsoever, along with 10 others in the same office. Little consideration for the fact that he was actually in the middle of working on projects at the time, nor that he was the only person in the Regina office doing that job with that skillset. The only other person who could do what he does is in Saskatoon and only works part time. Someone, somewhere is not thinking things through, and it’s at our expense. The company could lose a load of business over this, and Regina is a small town – their reputation is in the mud now.

He can get EI benefits, but it is not going to cover things for all four of us, so we will have to rely on the Saskatchewan Social Assistance Program – that is, provincial funding that will help us cover all the new provincial taxes on things like clothes for our kids and no doubt, go towards the hike in city taxes that will come to make up for the provincial cuts too. Ironic, isn’t it?

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Want to help?? *bats eyelashes*

Feeling inspired, literally.

I don’t post nearly enough on here nowadays. My excuse is still Theia; it’s not that she doesn’t like me typing on this computer, it’s more she wants to join in, and that is very tricky. She has already managed to remove the Ctrl key from my laptop keyboard, in exactly the same manner as Big Sister did at around the same age. Groan.

I am on a personal mission to take my writing a bit more seriously at the moment. I have always written things, be it these blogs, a decade of Nanowrimo novels, slam poetry or even academic papers, and for the most part I really enjoy it. I don’t think I am a terrible writer, but as with anything, it always needs practice.

The hopeless, degrading and depressing job hunt continues and I loathe it. So far I have applied for 22 jobs, which has resulted in just 3 interviews and zero job offers. One did say I was overqualified, which is a double-edged compliment I suppose. But I am running out of job vacancies that I actually want to apply for now, meaning I am reduced to applying out of desperation. And that is counter-productive as well as depressing. I went for a rather-obscure publisher’s job at a magazine, interviewed and “came second”… and then I applied for an admin position at the Writers’ Guild that sounded really positive and hopeful at the interview, but I didn’t get that either. They didn’t say why and I was too disappointed to ask. Both would have involved some Professional Writing though, which would have been wonderful.

I have a friend here “pre-reading” the book I wrote, and another friend of mine is currently editing it from the safe distance of the UK. It’s an entrepreneurial memoir, about my ten years of misadventures in the world of coffee and starting my businesses. (check it out here) I wrote the first draft during Nanowrimo in 2015 and I don’t hate it. Therefore I’ve been (very slowly) typing it all up ever since and have even sent off queries and book proposals to a few publishers. The sort of publishers that say “wait 6-8 months for a response.” So, right now, no news is good new: no one has rejected it yet.

I am trying the traditional publishing route mainly because I value what I’ve written enough to actually want to see it edited by a professional – and there’s no way I could pay to have to done properly otherwise, sadly. I also don’t have the time, the resources nor the skills necessary to self-publish and promote the book myself. In my (limited) experience so far with my coffee books, marketing the things is harder work than writing them, If you self-publish, you can get the book on Amazon quite easily. But from there, it is very, very rare to find paperback editions on the shelves in traditional book stores. And I much, much prefer Actual Book Browsing for Actual Tangible Books in an Actual Physical book shop. I don’t think I am alone in that particular pleasure.

Of course, there aren’t many book shops in Regina. There’s a specialist, antiquarian book store which you really have to know is there. There’s apparently and independent place too, but its so far up in the north end that I have no hope of ever getting up there. And then of course, there’s Chapters. Which I like, but it has Starbucks in it, and so all is lost.

HMMMM…. anybody else thinking what I’m thinking?

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WATCH. THIS. SPACE.

Alternative Facts and playing chess with air horns.

Sometimes, my beloved Canada is just far too close to the USA.

First milestone of the year: 22nd January produced my first bout of abuse on Twitter in 2017, from some Trumpanzee. Getting abuse on Twitter is nothing new, sadly, and nothing really out of the ordinary especially since I am guilty of the crime of Having Opinions Whilst Female Online. This week especially has proved Lewis’s Law of the Internet: any comments about feminism justify feminism. And in this case, any comments about the Women’s March totally justified the Women’s March.

What triggered enough Trump-supporting trolls was this image, originally from the US  National Park Agency:

c2qdr1xxcaa6wx4-jpglargeThis then got picked up by CNN who contributed their own versions. The emptiness was also recorded on countless other news sites and also by people’s personal phone videos and so on. Even better, it was then contrasted with images of the humungous crowds in the Women’s March.

Stupidly, I read the comments on the CNN piece. One of them was “Come on, CNN is #FakeNews. We’re not stupid.”

I admit it. I couldn’t resist. I replied: “Erm, yes you are.”

I know, I know… don’t feed the trolls. You can guess at the sort of responses I got to that! I went on a rapid block-fest (hence no screen-shots) and that was the end of it.  I am just incapable of comprehending the sheer level of stupidity here. This was just after Sean Spicer, the brand new press secretary came out with the claim that the Orange Toddler’s inauguration was the biggest and most watched in history, after saying no one actually had the numbers. Demonstrably wrong. Provably false. So why risk saying it? Because he/they could be absolutely certain that a significant proportion of their audience will believe it no matter what the evidence to the contrary. The Head Troll in this little twitter exchange actually told me that I shouldn’t watch so much TV because I was being brainwashed and should learn some critical thinking. Priceless!

2 + 2 = 5.

We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.

Or, for a more modern version, try Picard’s desperate scream of

“THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!!”

In an even more dystopian statement, Kellyanne Conway then claimed that the White House are presenting “alternative facts”. Going back to Orwell, first they steal the words, then they steal the meanings.

There is no arguing with “alternative facts”.

There is absolutely no point in feeding the trolls by trying to argue against Alternative Facts with Real Facts because if they can no longer accept actual evidence, then the only recourse is to just provide your own defensive insults and the whole discourse very quickly disappears down a spiraling abyss of bullshit. I know this because I am guilty of it myself. I didn’t need to actually call that idiot an idiot directly. It obviously didn’t change his mind about anything, I dare say he wasn’t remotely bothered – and if he was, he certainly gave out worse than he received on the insult stakes. All I did was allow myself to be angered by it, triggered, which then opened up my feed to a whole new cesspit of trolls and in a way, validate their existence.

He is entitled to his opinion, as ignorant as it may be, and he has the right to voice it all over Twitter, just as I do. However, no one else is under any obligation whatsoever to agree with him, or even respect it. We don’t have to read it.

And that is the crucial bit. We don’t have to read it. Nothing is forcing me to spend a ridiculous portion of my day glaring at my phone on Twitter. Neither does anyone have to watch CNN if they don’t trust them. Reading Trump fans’ feeds is like picking at scabs – I know it will only make me feel worse, but its almost compulsive. I won’t achieve anything. Any sort of opposing interaction in this online black hole results in getting more and more wound up, angry and hate-filled, and that sort of ‘discourse’ is the entire basis of the Trump regime. Divide, obfuscate and conquer.

Trading insults anonymously in restricted, short soundbytes merely magnifies the antagonism and reduces the significance of what is said. It’s like we are trying to win a chess game in two minutes by repeatedly honking air horns at our opponent. It is never going to be productive from either side of the political spectrum, and we should all just stop. There are better things to do.

I am not saying we should go easy on the Trumpanzees. I am not saying we should ‘give Trump a chance’and normalise this utter crap. I’m certainly not saying we should accept everything we read in the news. And I am not even saying we should lay off the casual insults – rascists/misogynists/homophobes/transphobes/neo-nazis and LIARS should be called out as such, as should ignorance in all its forms. But for any sort of resistance to have a lasting impact, to create meaning out of the noise, we have to actually engage.

If we can’t dispute ‘alternative facts’ we can at least point out the logical fallacies and cognitive dissonance that created them. As we won’t be listened to online, we have to march in the streets. Anyone can just shout “Listen to meeeee! I’m RIGHT!” – but to be any more credible than the trolls, we have to demonstrate why we believe what we believe. ‘Othering’ our opponents by dismissing them all as ignorant actually empowers them because they then remain uncriticized. It also furthers the divisions in American society – and in the rest of the world. How do you combat ignorance? Education. And how do you educate? Through engaging curiosity, encouraging exploration and questioning everything. Not through sounding 140-character air horns.

Lost

inspiration

Feeling a bit hopeless right now. I haven’t posted about all the recent politics because I can’t think how to articulate my incredulity in any way that hasn’t been written a thousand times already. Brexit was bad enough… Trump is just unbelievable. Carl and I sat up watching the US election (alternating between BBC, CBC and Twitter, for ‘balance’) until it was clear that Hillary was not going to win; it was about 1am when we finally gave up and went to bed despairing of the world.  At the time I was angry and raging sarcastically online, but the next day I seemed to get a sort of political hangover. I didn’t want to do anything, couldn’t face going online in case there were still Trumpanzees on my Twitter feed, but couldn’t summon the motivation to go out and do anything else. I met up with friends and took the kids to the park and it seemed like we all felt the same, just numbed by the whole thing.

I can’t blame this entire malaise on Trump though. I am in a low spot for lots of reasons right now – maybe it’s the weather? (For the record, no snow yet..). It’s all about Uncertainty and not being in control of various aspects of my life at the moment, and I am never very good at handling that.

My ‘maternity leave’ (not that I actually took any) officially finished 6 months ago, and since then, I have had some actual leave in that I haven’t been doing any work that warrants a salary. Strangely enough, this isn’t sustainable for very much longer, as we are living paycheque-to-paycheque and struggling.  Theia will be 18 months old at the end of January, which means she can go to daycare then, IF we can afford it, and IF I have a job that requires childcare. That is extremely difficult to engineer though, because I not only have to find a job, I have to find a job at a time that coincides with when the daycare has space for her, AND that job has to pay me enough to make it worth me paying the daycare fees for. This isn’t as hopeless as it was in the UK when I found myself in the same position with Miranda – even a full-time minimum wage job here would net enough to cover daycare costs and spare me about $500 a month – which would certainly help right now. (As opposed to the UK where full time daycare would have cost me more than my entire month’s salary after tax)  But, I like to believe I am an adult now, I shouldn’t really be looking at minimum wage positions, and I don’t want to go to work just to have half to two-thirds of my earnings go towards paying someone else to raise my child.

To this end, I have applied for ten other “grown up” jobs, most of which I think I would actually enjoy doing too, and all of which, on paper at least, I had the qualifications for. I haven’t heard back from a single one of them. I can blame the economy or the time of year, but I think a large part of it is my resume. It  must be fairly obvious that I don’t know what I want to do with myself, and I honestly don’t right now, but that is not the same thing as saying ‘I DON’T want to work’, I just don’t know what work I want to do! Also, I am back to the overqualified problem. Turns out, the only thing worse than putting “obscure Arts PhD” on your resume, is putting “nearly a decade of self-employment” (NB: I am paraphrasing here). Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur… but one who still has to pay the bills.

Through the cafe in its various forms, and Wheelie Good Coffee on the market, I have basically put myself through an MBA only without the certificate at the end. At risk of immodesty, building a business from scratch with no money in a country you’ve only lived in for 2 years really takes some doing: it’s all problem-solving, multi-tasking, design, research, fundraising, communications, networking, social media, marketing, leadership skills, HR, business development, even financial wizardry (YOU GUYS I DID A BUSINESS TAX RETURN ALL BY MYSELF!!!) I guess the trick is to make it look like I can apply all these skills to things other than coffee. I know I’m capable, but there’s a fair chance prospective employers will just give preference to someone with more direct experience.

In the absence of any employment offers, my other hopes are that I/we can continue with the cafe in some form – that is, I work out a way I can return to work on/in it and pay myself enough to live off. Owning and running a coffee shop has always been my dream – and I achieved it. What I didn’t manage/haven’t managed yet is living my dream and making a living from my dream. ‘Ay, there’s the rub.’

In an ideal world I’d pick it up and move the whole endeavor to a better and cheaper location. And I would love to try and incorporate a bookshop. But I need the funds to do that, and I don’t have them. Even if I can raise some investment somehow, I lack the confidence now to know if I should even be considering this as an option. Is it too much of a financial risk, and should I concentrate on finding an actual employer instead? Somehow, all of this is so stressful that I haven’t got the mental energy to make that decision, let alone get on with doing something about it. I am exhausted.

Also, I wrote a book. An actual, 70,000 word, non-silly, zombie-free memoir sort of thing about coffee and about the whole entrepreneurial experience. For once, I’ve taken my writing seriously enough to have planned out a structure and storyline, and I don’t hate what I wrote! I have spent this year’s Nanowrimo trying to edit it properly. I even approached a couple of publishers and wrote a proper book proposal. Unfortunately, the publishers’ websites say things like “Please allow six months for a response”. So I don’t know whether its worth prioritising the editing over fruitless job-hunting when I get fed up, in the event that it gets rejected over and over and over after months of waiting.

So. The end of the year is looming, and the future is highly uncertain. I am lost, and in need of inspiration, something to boost me in the right direction again.

Something will turn up. It always does.

A new season.

I sound so clichéd saying this is my favourite time of year…

If you say “pumpkin spice latte” into a mirror 3 times, a white girl in yoga pants appears and tells you all the things she loves about fall.

Regina is looking stunningly beautiful with the sun out and the leaves falling – Instagram-worthy, I’m sure. The mosquitos have returned to whatever realm of evil from whence they came, I don’t have to argue with Theia about the wearing of the dreaded sun hat, and Miranda has started full time school!

I had the summer “off” – that is, the cafe is now safe in the hands of Sheri and whereas I am still involved, it no longer takes up every waking moment. However, with no school and no routine, the past few months were actually busier than ‘normal’! I had to find something that would amuse both the small beastlings every day, and that proved difficult given that everything had to be organised around Theia’s nap times, and Miri’s tendancy to turn the TV on every second she’s in the house. Nevertheless, we packed a lot in to the school holiday; it felt like we managed a million different playdates but we still didn’t actually contact half of her classmates despite promises of meeting up over the summer. Carl and I took the kids camping for the first time in our enormous tent down to Buffalo Pound – Miranda had a fantastic time and enjoyed even the most uncomfortable parts (it was me having the tantrum when we parked in the middle of a swarm of mosquitos, she was fine!)

She also mastered her bicycle which was a Momentous Achievement (especially since it meant that I didn’t have to try and pedal with both of them!). We had library trips and park trips and swimming and museum outings and so on. I started (finally!) doing the market with the Wheelie Good Coffee again and Miri has pedaled alongside me all the way to the plaza. I am so proud!

But the days are getting shorter and cooler, the trees are already gold, and during the day it is just Theia and I. A vague routine has been established (barring cafe-related emergencies) and I now manage to go for long walks or bike rides in the vain hope of getting her to sleep. It has been perfect Stomping weather recently! Crisp, clear and colourful.

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Last week was the official Grand Launch of the cafe in its new form, and it coincided with the Downtown Business Improvement District’s ‘Park(ing)’ day. Park(ing) days are now a nationwide thing, where we were encouraged to reclaim the parking space outside the cafe and turn it into some sort of Park. We actually reversed it, covered the step outside the cafe in flowers and bikes (and my Wheelie cart) and had that as a park, and then filled the parking space with armchairs and bookshelves and lamps and made a ‘reading room’ outside:


The day was a massive success for the cafe, and hopefully for the Downtown BID as well. I sat in an armchair in the middle of 11th Ave with my coffee, Theia snoozed in the sun, and I stared at the big shiny office block that I escaped 18 months ago. I am hopelessly broke right now and dreading the Job Hunt, but I have no regrets about quitting that job whatsoever!

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