People always warn me about moving to a remote place. “The healthcare isn’t good there.” I would argue that healthcare as a whole includes access to fresh and local foods, a slower pace of life, and access to clean air. The first thing I remarked to my partner when I stepped foot on the ground in Charlottetown was that I could smell the salt in the air. It smelled good…
They wait, or they repress. But once born an artist, you’re always an artist. This is a personal story. Music has always been a trigger for me. “Trigger”, these days, has a negative connotation. But, in my case, music has always triggered a deep desire to create. Music is the ‘on switch’. Tonight, while listening to Fleche Love, the switch was tripped and I went down memory lane in my head…
I took an Uber to a local store today to buy myself a new microscope. An Eritrean man, we started talking about culture and immigration. “You speak Tigrinya, right?”. A huge smile appeared on his face. “You know that?!”, he said. Of course. I’ve known people from all over the world, including Eritrea. I remember what people tell me and I store that in my little ‘bank of stories’ inside my head…
I’m gonna address an elephant in the room here, which is that I have the reputation for never “sticking with stuff” when it comes to personal projects (there’s a huge distinction between ‘personal’ and ‘professional’, so read on). I’ve started a million personal projects. I’ve explored a bazillion hobbies. I’ve declared things, and never followed through with them. In the olden days, we’d call people like me “flaky”. Today, we’d probably say, “they’re on the spectrum”, whatever that means.
What a lot of people don’t understand is that there’s an internal risk assessment process that goes on every single time I start something new, and every time I pull the plug. Outsider perception doesn’t factor into that. Instead, I base my risks on questions, like: “Is anyone depending on me financially for this?”, “Is it helping me grow?”, “Is it paying my bills?”, “Am I still enjoying it?”, “Has it stagnated?”, etc. In other words, I have no problem ending a project if there isn’t a significant negative outcome if I don’t keep pursuing it. That’s it.
And, I’m not quite sure why these things matter to other people. Why is “sticking with it” so valued? I get it when it comes to work. If you look at my professional history, my average tenure as a private sector employee was five years. As an independent professional now, I make it a point to nurture long-term relationships with clients. So, why would anyone ever take issue with how a person manages their own personal projects? I wonder if it’s because that gets intertwined with dependability. Maybe it does. And I know that I haven’t always been dependable on other people’s pet projects. Mea culpa, and I have worked on that since then. It’s fine to let whatever self-determined factors drive your own projects, but on other people’s projects, your dependability should be driven by the “you gave your word” principle. As a result, I have to admit, I give my word much less. It’s easier to deliver when you’re not overcommitting, even when the projects sound like a lot of fun. Enthusiasm check, Julie.
And maybe that’s all it is. There’s a traditional belief that if you start something, anything, you’re supposed to see it to the end, even if it’s just your own thing. And that’s pretty much the entire reason why I don’t listen to what people think. It’s this kind of thinking that drives people to stagnate, to hold on to things for much longer than they should. If there’s one strength that people like me have, it’s this: shit doesn’t stagnate. Things never really get to the point where they’re overly repetitive, or where we’re just churning out the same stuff. This is especially noticeable in artists. A lot of my work stopped when I simply ran out of things to say, and if I did have stuff to say, I just ran out of ideas on how to say them. The work felt complete, why continue? I always found it odd that we put so much pressure on our artists to keep churning out new work, as though they were bottomless pits full of ideas. The ideas do run out, and as a consumer of art, you can always tell when the artist is just “sticking with it”. And sometimes, sticking with isn’t a bad idea. Fuck it, if it works, it works!
It’s just not for me. I can’t. Even if it’s working. It’s like I’m motivated by “newness”. Someone called me a “citizen scientist” the other day. I hate that term. Nothing I do is scientific. I don’t measure, I don’t label, I don’t track dates. I’m an explorer. I explore. That’s my strength. And if you’re like me, and you’re constantly trying new things, starting new projects, wondering “what if”, that’s your fucking superpower. GO WITH IT. Because as much as we need people to stick with stuff, we need people to initiate new things. And a lot of innovation happens through personal projects. I bottle a lot of this stuff up for work because there would be far too much financial risk for me to just “try new shit” with other people’s money. But, if it’s your own company, if it’s your own pet project, if you have the green light to do it for other people, just freaking run with it. Start, stop, flip things on their heads, open them up, smash them open with a hammer, throw them away, call them “Steve”, and paint them yellow. And if you’re someone who sticks with stuff, let that shit shine, too. Be that person that everyone admires for advancing on projects for years on end. Be the one who’s meticulous, detail-oriented. Be the one who nurtures the project, as though you’re growing your own daffodils, or spider plants, or little shop of horrors. Be grey if that’s what feels just right to you.
It sounds like quite the affirming post up until now. I think I’m just tired of everything being labelled and categorized and analyzed. In the end, does it really matter? If your method of doing things isn’t preventing you from leading a healthy, happy life, does it matter? Do you, I’ll do me, and let’s get shit done the way we want to get it done.
School is in full swing, and many mid-career adults are thinking of switching jobs. We’ve had a pandemic for two years, and I think most of us aren’t quite sure what the future holds in store for us. How do you decide what to major in if you’re not passionate about anything in particular? I thought I’d make a list of real world skills that will absolutely help you out in the future.
- Base your decisions on financial opportunity. You can always learn about other stuff later, but if you’re young, or you’re in the middle of a mid-career change, you’re going to need to learn actual skills. Whether that’s learning music, or plumbing, or coding, you should be able to “do” something that’s valuable.
- Learn the fundamentals. Too many schools today are teaching things that are “en vogue”, but three years from now, they won’t be relevant anymore. Should you be exposed to them? Sure. Should you rely on just that for a career later on? Hell no. Learn the fundamentals, not just modern frameworks.
- Learn how to communicate in English. If you want to compete in the English market, or in the global economy, learn English. Learn how to write it, and read many, many books written in English. Listen to English podcasts, watch English films. Immerse yourself in English pop culture. If you’re learning technical skills, learn their English equivalent so you can be valuable to future employers.
- Learn how money works. Envy, resentment, regret, and ignorance will slow you down. Look at money objectively, learn about ‘value investing’, learn the value of time. Working for free should always be a choice – it should NEVER be something that’s expected of you.
- Learn to hire experts. There was a time when I thought I was an expert on contract law… until I started hiring lawyers to review contracts for me. And now, I’ll never DIY an employment or work contract ever again. They are worth every penny. Same with accountants. Accept that you have your own things to focus on, and if they’re not law or accounting, hire an expert.
- Pick the right program. If you absolutely prefer schooling over self-education, be VERY picky about where you spend your (or your parent’s) money. Is the program a reflection of the real world taught by real-world experts? Do they have portfolios online that you can browse? If a teacher can’t show you evidence of their own work, then they have no business teaching. As a former hiring manager, we can tell when you’ve learned bullshit in your program. Which leads me to my next point:
- If you’re stuck in a bullshit program, supplement your knowledge. Go to Indeed, type in the name of the career you want, and look at the requirements. Learn those things. Join online forums for those things. Become fluent in the language around those things. Do extra work with the mindset that it’s temporary, and that it’ll be worth it in the end.
- Learn how to write a solid resume, and learn how to interview. Learn negotiation skills.
- This one is something you’ll only learn along the way: learn to burn bridges. And accept that sometimes, you’ll be let go, too. These things can feel awful, but it’s never ‘the end’. See it as an opportunity to go to greener pastures, and you’ll be just fine. And if you’re in a bad place, burn that bridge and don’t look back.
Everything you do in your professional life is FOR YOU. You get to make all the decisions. You get to structure your schooling, and your career the way you want to.
For those of you who want to be self-employed, then the best thing I could say to you is this: get your head out of the clouds, and start thinking about all the skills it takes to run a business. Talk to business owners. MANY of them. Ask them all the shit they wish they’d known before they started. ‘Cause I’ll tell you from real-world experience, that shit is hard, and you need a strong stomach for it.
The best way to future-proof your life isn’t to learn transitory skills that are in fashion today; it’s to learn the very fundamentals of what’s valuable in the real world at almost any point in time. Keep that in mind, and you’ll be just fine.
Here’s what often keeps artists poor: they are unwilling to learn the basic rules of commerce. Instead, many of them worship a moral code that removes all chances for financial success because it’s grounded in highlighting their struggles, instead of their accomplishments, and it begs for unconditional respect from the public for their their plight as the “noble poor”, instead of their competencies, and their behaviour.
This ignorance of basic business principles doesn’t make artists more noble, and it doesn’t make them morally superior to those who have “sold out”. It simply makes them stubborn, and ignorant. And often, the stubborn and the ignorant have a knack for being more vocal, and for leading teams of other so-called morally superior artists, who then ruin it for anyone who wishes to break free from the starving artist mold.
I have heard so much bullshit throughout the years about how you should, and should not do things, whether that’s sales, production, packaging, relationship management, etc. In every industry, there’s always someone prepared to offer unsolicited (and often, uninformed) advice. Some people are just happy to be stuck in a mental prison, and they’re more than eager to imprison others.
I remember being told very early on not to be so public with my thoughts, not to share the “process”, not to post drafts or mistakes online. A whole slew of artists are paranoid about social media, they’re scared of online interactions, and they discourage openness with strangers. I ignored this advice, and over twenty years, 80% of my opportunities came from Facebook. It turns out that people appreciate the humanness of curiosity, of exploration, and of failure. People appreciate it when you share intimate thoughts with them. (Consequently, people don’t enjoy bitching, and complaining, so there is a fine line to walk when sharing online). Instead of being so paranoid, we should be exploring possibilities for relationships with people who are not artists. Connection with others is always superior to fear.
And, believe it or not, that’s how the pros do it. They enjoy being surrounded by their own. And you can be a professional by behaving like one. However, don’t mistake “professionalism” for being a “pro”. The two are often not aligned with each other. The bad advice I received over the years was often given given to me in the name of “professionalism”. But that ideology is often just based in tradition – not the ‘real world’ of how pros actually do things. So, be skeptical of habits, traditions, and advice espoused by people who aren’t the right models for the person you want to become, later on.
You can also be poor, AND professional. We’ve all been there, and the professional world (contrary to popular belief) really respects people who do what they can with what they’ve got. You don’t have to have all your ducks in a row. You just have to “do”. “Doing” is really the big thing that sets people apart.
Because here’s what I’ve learned about the laws of commerce: those who get the most opportunities, have the thickest portfolios. They have THOUSANDS of pictures online. They have so much experience, that their reels show only their best work. They’re picky with who they work with. They want to compete with the best, they want to work for the best, because they know that even just a few years with a big production company can boost their career for years to come. They build actual personal relationships with people. They don’t do this whole fakery of “networking”.
In the end, you don’t have to be in it for the money. But, you should have the choice. And I resent artists who don’t encourage their local community members to develop the skills needed to compete on the global stage.
So, if you ever find yourself in a position where you’re not taking the advice of your oh-so-enthusiastic peers on how to do things, because you’ve learned that that’s not how the professionals actually do it, then congratulations: you’ve risen above the bullshit. And I promise you, there’s a whole network out there of people with impressive talent and experience, and given enough time, they will find you. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to share your talents, to play, to experiment online. Don’t be afraid to reach out, to write thank you letters to your heroes, to commend an industry leader for their recent project. Don’t be afraid of other people, and don’t be afraid to be yourself. The rules of commerce are guided by authentic connection. That’s all it is. Be real with people.
I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be tired, than resentful. Resentment is a demon that will eat you whole, over time. If you want to know the best skill you can acquire for a healthy life, it would be to learn the art of “letting go”.
There has to be a word for what I’m feeling right now, a quasi-depressed state for having returned to the city after having spent over a week in the wilderness, near the ocean, on Prince Edward Island. Due to time constraints, we chose to fly there and back. Usually, I prefer slow travel because fast travel is always a mindfuck for me.
My fiance’s parents (yes, I got engaged while I was away!) moved to the Island as part of the “back to the landers” movement in the 60’s and 70’s. They were hippies who believed there was a better way to live, so they left the city for a life in nature. I spent my holiday in a beautiful house built by hand, by her father, and renovated, by hand, by her step-father. I ate vegetables from her Mom’s garden, and fish and seafood caught fresh from the sea.
People always warn me about moving to a remote place. “The healthcare isn’t good there.” I would argue that healthcare as a whole includes access to fresh and local foods, a slower pace of life, and access to clean air. The first thing I remarked to my partner when I stepped foot on the ground in Charlottetown was that I could smell the salt in the air. It smelled good. (Upon my return to Ottawa, I commented the opposite – it smelled of piss, and exhaust.)
I woke up this morning to the sounds of a hammer banging on metal, from local construction. I opened the window and heard loud trucks hitting potholes, teenagers cackling, and someone yelling at someone else over something stupid. Do you know what I fell asleep to when I was away? Crickets. And when it rained, I heard the rain. Nothing but the rain.
This morning, I placed an order for Instacart because I really didn’t feel like being out and about. I need alone time. I ordered fruits, vegetables, and some meat. None of it local, except for maybe the cauliflower.
On the plane ride back to Ottawa, I was reading a Scientific American magazine. In it, there was an article about how GDP is a poor measure of a society’s well-being. It’s out of date, and it leaves out all sorts of measures, like inequality, but also all of the other things that make people healthy, and happy. There is one thing that technology will never be able to fix: the barrage of noise, violence, and pollution from overcrowding, poverty, and poorly planned urban developments.
When I was away, the only Internet access I had access to was a “high-speed” dial-up connection. It meant that I could only really access social media to upload a couple of photos a day. Everything was so slow that it made it unpleasant to wait to load pages. I couldn’t engage on social media, I could barely load webpages to catch up on the news. And while I was frustrated with this outcome, it took me just a day or two to forget about it. Why on Earth would I want to spend any time at all in the online world when the physical world around me has so much to offer?
It makes me wonder why we don’t collectively turn things off, maybe once a week, so we can all become better patrons of this planet? I also found it wonderful how the small communities I visited are full of people who know each other, and who, in large groups, take good care of each other. The problem I’ve always had with the online world is how tragedies so far away always take precedence over the needs of local communities. So much time is spent fretting over the things that happen far away, that we have no reserves of energy left to nurture our neighbours. I believe in the butterfly effect – that we, as a whole, have to find ways to make life better for everyone. But, I think that too many people don’t realise how deeply hooked they are. All of the shiny new things that beep and glow in the dark aren’t going to save us from ourselves, until we learn how to temper our addiction to them.
Something lit up in me while I was on the Island. Something I hadn’t felt in a long time. Maybe it was a sense of belonging. Maybe it was a sense of purpose. I feel like the city massages everyone’s inner rats. I have so little fucks to give anymore about winning the rat race. I’m not going to suck up to anyone, I’m not going to pretend to like people who aren’t nice, and I’m not going to work for free. There are work life traditions that are very toxic to people’s well-being, and I’m out of that game, for good.
There are an infinite amount of possibilities in life, and we have more agency in choosing our fate than we think. You can choose to be overly busy, and tired. You can choose to be bossy, or kind. You can choose to understand, and apologize, and let things go when they’re not a big deal. I heard someone refer to PEI as the “gentle island”. I think that descriptor is perfect, and I think that’s exactly what I want in life right now: gentleness. I want to take my time with the wonders of the world because time is a precious resource.
And in the cities, people tend to forget that, because there are a countless number of distractions, and stressors. Time moves faster. People move faster. Food is made faster. But, in a rural community, you’ve only got what you’ve got. Yourself, and nature, and other people who have chosen to live a similar life. The “back to the landers” might have had this one right. It takes a return to the land to understand, and appreciate, life again.
(If you’re curious: the photo below is a shark egg casing!)
Now that I’m teaching classes in Digital Culture, it’s made me reflect on how my own approach with technology has changed over the years. So, I thought I’d write a personal essay about it.
Unlike most of my other posts that reflect on a personal topic, this time, I’m not going to start with the past. I wanted to start with how I interact with digital culture, right now. I have several Twitter accounts, several Instagram accounts, and many, many websites. I have one (or more) Facebook accounts – I don’t remember how many. I livestream, I’m exploring TikTok, and I have a multitude of YouTube channels. All that to say, I’m all over the web, and I’m constantly exploring what’s out there.
A cybersecurity professional once told me: if you want to beat them at privacy, don’t hide – overwhelm them with data. And that’s what I’ve done over the years, not on purpose, but because I have changed. My interests have evolved, my knowledge has changed, and my competencies have expanded. Who am I online, today? So many things!
There was a time when I bowed to the pressure that our technologies impose on us. Reply to all comments. Argue with strangers. Have one website for everything. Be private online. Don’t share with people you don’t know. Over the past decade, there have been SO many unwritten rules, and far more new social rules about how to engage online, that I too have succumbed to the peer pressure from time to time.
Something changed in 2018, when I lost the ability to walk for almost a year. My priorities changed. My interaction with technology changed, and how I manage my own accounts, and my digital presence evolved, as well. I became far less concerned with what people thought of me, and more interested in the beauty of sharing – at my own pace. In other words, I came to see the virtual world as just that: virtual. It’s something that I control, for pleasure, for sharing, for communication purposes.
Today, I have Twitter accounts that haven’t been updated in weeks or months. I check my messages only once in a while. I update my websites when I feel like it. Oftentimes, I post and ghost, and that gives me great pleasure. Why? Because you never owe anyone a reply. How you interact with technology is partly determined by you. I say “partly” because there are other factors that make technology independence difficult.
And that, to me, has become the biggest cultural shift we’ve experienced in the last ten years: this obsession with the web. This “always online” culture bothers me. This obsession over online content, who publishes what, who can say what, how it’s allowed to be said, bothers me. Back when I was in school, you weren’t allowed to quote ANY website. It was expected that anything published on the web – because it didn’t have any oversight in place – was just rubbish. Any references for an academic paper had to come from a legit source, and most legit sources were not online. Back then, we understood that anyone could write anything on the web. It seems we’ve lost touch of that.
On the flip side, this loss of oversight has benefited us greatly. As the web expanded, and as Internet access became more widespread, the guardians of knowledge had no choice but to acquiesce to a barrage of new information, and new data. When anyone could write anything, then anyone could also question anything. Did we get history right? Were we holding back some voices? Were we setting up too many artificial barriers for jobs? When anyone could write anything, then anyone could be anything they wanted to be.
I am who I am today because I took that to heart. I became who I wanted to be because early on, I recognized that I didn’t need permission (nor a piece of paper) to prove that I was competent. Forgive me for saying this, but whenever an institution warns against “fakeness” on the Internet, it often prompts me to question their motives. Too often, I have seen authors of certificate programs deride self-made workers, in favour of selling more programs. You see this a lot in the marketing world, and in technology. There are certificates for everything these days.
The question shouldn’t be “who’s the more valid expert”, because these days, there are many different ways to become an expert. Instead, the question should be “how do you prefer to learn”? What’s your timeline for learning? What can you afford? Do you just want a job, or do you want to be exposed to different perspectives? Do you want to just get it over with, or do you want mentors? Because there are some fields that simply do not require formal education to prove one’s competency. And I currently teach in a program that could be replaced by autodidactism.
And the Internet, the Web, and mobile technologies have all allowed us to absolutely thrive on our own. For every article about how horrible Twitter discourse is these days, there’s never an article about how fortunate we are to have the tools to start a new business for free. We don’t talk about how easy it is today for artists to collaborate, to discover new techniques, to find new audiences. We don’t talk at great length about how easy it is now to not get lost in the streets, or to find products online you can afford, or to find a pet sitter at the last minute.
I used to think that digital culture was just an extension of real-world culture, but it’s more than that. It has created a culture of comfort, to the point where we’ve forgotten how hard it was to live without it. Just the other day, I was bitching about having to switch to my work computer to work on a document I had saved locally, instead of saving it through Google Docs (where it’s available on any Internet-connected computer).
I bought a pair of Facebook’s new smart glasses the other day. I’m almost scared to use them. I’ve never been scared of technology before. I’ve always found it exciting. But these things scare me, because I can’t help but think of ways in which they could be abused. Am I growing old? Am I having trouble adapting?
My relationship with digital culture has changed so much over the years, and thankfully, I haven’t found it too hard to keep learning and adapting to how it’s been changing. But, I do wonder what it would take for me to say “nope, this is where I draw the line”. Mass surveillance is already here. You have a camera pointed at you in almost every store you go into, and at almost any street corner in most urban centers. There is little we can do to opt out – and I think that’s what troubles me the most about the future.
As I said earlier, I’ve enjoyed managing my online presence differently these days. I enjoy not updating my networks every day, and not replying to every comment. I enjoy being able to choose when I post a selfie, and which selfie I decide to post is up to me. But, when technology grows so much to the point that I can’t opt out of how it wants me to use it, then I start to disconnect. And that’s actually one of the many reasons why I’m moving to the middle of nowhere next year. I want to be able to use technology, turn it off, and go out in the real world without it tracking my every move.
I consider myself a child of the Internet, one of its first early adopters. My entire career was forged from its flames, my independence carved from its offerings. I’m not sure what I would be today had this digital revolution not happened. And if one were to ask me if I’m proud to share my knowledge of this stuff with others, I would say, “yes”, without hesitation. But it will always come with a caveat: “yes, but YOU will have to decide how you want to use it”. I think that as professionals, it’s our job to let tomorrow’s digital and tech creators know that they have agency over this technology. They can control their relationship to it. I’m against indoctrination of any kind, and as a mentor now, all I can do is offer up my love and passion for what is, and what it could be, and let others decide how they want to use it.
I’m originally from Northern Ontario, a bastion of union representation, and blue collar workers. In every federal election, it was expected you’d vote orange. The North had always been an NDP stronghold, because the NDP was known to be the “working man’s party”, until they changed their agenda. When they veered away from the working class, they also lost their guaranteed votes in the North. Not that it really matters. There isn’t a political party in Canada that absolutely needs the northern vote to win.
I learned about this recently: see that red line in the picture below? 50% of Canadians live below that red line. If you’ve ever wondered why Canadian political parties are so city-centric (and Ontario/Quebec-centric), well now you know.
So, you might be wondering then: why the heck would a francophone minority, a lesbian, a science communicator, a professor, and a believer in climate change vote Conservative?! Let me explain…
In March 2021, 54% of Conservative delegates voted against an official acknowledgement that climate change is real. When I read that headline, I immediately went over to the Conservative Party’s website, and I joined the party. Why? Because to not recognize climate change is ABSURD. As I researched this further, I learned that most party members don’t become delegates, and most members don’t bother to vote. A small percentage of the party makes the policies because they’re the most engaged. (I imagine it’s like this for the other Canadian parties, too.)
I’m a firm believer in a strong opposition. We need healthy checks and balances, and in my opinion, we can’t have our biggest opposition stray this far away from Science. I wasn’t about to let the Cons get behind an agenda full of quackery. I haven’t told anyone that I’m a Conservative party member, but I’m telling you now, because I think it’s important to share my reasoning.
Fast forward a few months, and the Liberals introduce Bill-C10, an overhaul of the Broadcasting Act. If you haven’t heard about it, do your own research. Essentially, it would cripple independent creators, and give preferential treatment to establishment organizations (including the unions). The problem is, New Media belongs to everyone, and there are more independent content creators than there are unionized ones. As indies, we’ve kept up with the times, we’ve created the innovations, we’ve taken all the risks. Meanwhile, the institutions that lag far behind are asking for handouts, and more legislation to protect their interests. As independents, we compete on a global scale. I’m not a Canadian content creator – I’m a global one. My financial support comes from Americans, Europeans, Australians, and a small percentage of Canadians. You can’t simply draw borders around the Internet. It doesn’t work that way.
The Bill also allows for censorship on all online platforms. It would allow the CRTC to regulate user-generated content. And this is where I draw the line.
The Internet enjoyed a period of being like the Wild Wild West, where you could say anything, upload anything, access almost anything. Sure, most of the content was white, and male, but that was also a reflection of what happened in the 80’s. In the mid-80s, young boys were gifted computers at Christmas, while the girls continued to get dolls. There was a clear separation between what was a boy’s gift, and what was a girl’s gift. Naturally, when the Internet was introduced, young boys took to it like moths to a flame. (The history of women in computer programming is a fascinating one. I highly recommend this book in order to understand how, prior to the 80’s, there were far more women in programming than there are now.)
In the 90’s the corporate world hadn’t caught up yet, so there wasn’t the kind of social engineering that we see today. There was a ton of innovation, we tried things, we coded our own websites, and for a while, there was true anonymity in some online forums. I think this wilder period in history ended in 1997, when Microsoft bought Hotmail. And that triggered the age of acquisition of all the little tech companies, until we had just a few left to control the entire infrastructure. It’s funny because the Liberals don’t even need to pass this bill. Twitter and YouTube are already doing all the censorship (one has to wonder: is this at the behest of the US gov’t, or is the US gov’t now at the mercy of these tech giants?).
Nonetheless, the Liberals pushed and pushed for it. Thank goodness, it was temporarily halted by the Senate. Read Senator David Adams Richards’ amazing speech here. Here are a few excerpts:
I never finished university, never joined PEN International or The Writers’ Union of Canada. I was invited to one PEN International conference where people — mainly tenured academics from Toronto — sat on stage and shouted at each other about who should be allowed to write what about whom. They were the authoritative, cultural decision makers of Canada, many who had never written a book. I see them somewhat today in the angst over this bill.
There is a book in the centre of one of my bookshelves, surrounded by other books. Some of the books it is surrounded by have had an interesting history. They were banned in many countries for long periods of time: Dostoyevsky’s Demons, Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, James Joyce’s Ulysses and Solzhenitsyn’s The First Circle. In the centre of them is this book, which sits unobtrusively and inconspicuously for months at a time, without anyone noticing it: Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler — himself the banal and venal master of book burning. But if I begin with him, as venal as he was, where would I end?
Some years ago, I was at a dinner with some very important, famous people. One academic mentioned that he had given his entire life for Canadian literature. Others there applauded him for doing so.
When I was writing my fourth novel, we sold our 20-year-old car to pay the rent; and my wife, to keep us alive, was selling Amway door-to-door in the middle of winter. I believe she gave her life for Canadian literature as well, but she didn’t get to that dinner.
For that reason, in her honour, I will always and forever stand against any bill that subjects freedom of expression to the doldrums of governmental oversight, and I implore others to do the same. I don’t think this bill needs amendments; I think, however, it needs a stake through the heart.
As you may already know, I have a problem with authority. I’m not a fan of cultural institutions acting as gatekeepers. I’m especially not a fan of anyone telling me what content I can or cannot consume. I’m baffled by people who support this – is this really want you want, this uniformity of thought?
I have one rule when it comes to power: don’t support any extension of power that your enemies might have access to, later. We live in a beautifully liberal society right now, so why create an opportunity for a less than desirable outcome when these kinds of mechanisms get into the hands of not-so-liberal rulers? If you think it can’t happen, read a history book.
The Conservative Party is the only party in Canada that doesn’t support this bill. My, how times have changed.
So, that was the first nudge for me.
The other nudge came in the form of support for a two-tier medical system. The publicly funded medical system in Canada is in really bad shape. It will mostly keep you alive. But, if you suffer from any chronic condition whatsoever, you’re in for a rough ride. If you need a specialist, you’re in for a long wait. And if you need an MRI, well, you’re waiting even longer. I’ve used the private system in Quebec, and I’m about to sign up for a private side Family Doctor, soon. But, in some provinces, there is NO access to private care. PEI, where I’m moving to next year, doesn’t have access to private options. Meanwhile, many of its residents are going to Moncton, Halifax, Montreal, and Ottawa to pay for accelerated care. Some might call that unfair, but to a person who’s suffering from debilitating pain, it’s an act of desperation. We need greater access to a two tier system UNTIL we can fix the public side of things. You can’t ask people who are suffering to wait until the public system is fixed, just so they can be morally pious to your cause.
I just voted Conservative for the first time in my life, not because I’m a new fangirl of the party, but because their current agenda aligns best with my vision of a better Canada. And like any mature, skeptical adult, I know that all politicians lie. It bothers me that Erin O’Toole dreamed of being Prime Minister when he was in high school. Just for that, I don’t trust him. But, this is what we’ve done. We’ve made it so that career politicians are favoured over hesitant leaders with good ideas. Every single modern party leader has a deep thirst for power.
To be honest, I’ve actually never been so detached from politics than in the past five years. Everything is political these days. The fact that I’m writing an article about who I voted for feels a bit wrong. It feels like I’m participating in the circus. But, I hope you understand that I did this for a reason – I was ashamed. And to me, the minute we feel shame about something, it means that that ‘thing’ has become no longer socially acceptable. In this case, I don’t think that voting Conservative should invoke shame. If anything, it invokes a great amount of concern for what’s become of our two most liberal parties, the NPD and the Liberals, that a gay liberal chick from the North just voted Blue for the first time in her life. If that’s not a wake up call, I don’t know what is.
Recently, I signed a contract to work as an Associate Professor in Digital Culture, for one year. The contract is with a new French university (l’UFO) in Ontario, Canada. I thought I’d write a little something about the experience, because it’s a role I never thought would be available to me, as a university dropout.
Let’s start with the fact that I am “Franco-Ontarienne”. For those who aren’t familiar, that means that I was born and raised in Ontario, but within a French-speaking family, and within a French community. In Ontario, Franco-Ontarians are a minority. To outsiders, we’re often mistaken as Quebeckers. To Quebeckers, we don’t exist. Quebec is the ruling French province in Canada. The Quebecois preside over French culture, French education, and French cuisine. Franco-Ontarians, Acadians, and Franco-westerners are often an after-thought in the minds of most Canadians. In fact, most Canadians don’t understand why we have two official languages, outside of Quebec. So, trust me when I say it: we’ve had to fight to have our French culture recognized for decades on end.
Unlike Quebec, and outside of federal laws, we don’t use legislation to protect our culture. We do it through our communities, through our Churches, and through our schools. I wasn’t allowed to speak English in the home when I was a child. I learned most of my early English words through Sesame Street (and since Sesame Street was an American program, I also learned a bit of Spanish). The Franco-Ontarian experience is lost on most young adults who leave home after high school. They escape to larger cities, and they leave their mother tongue, and their Mom’s tourtiere recipe, behind.
I’m telling you all of this so that you know where I’m coming from. I’ve been a minority my whole life. First, as a lesbian. Secondly, as a Franco-Ontarian. And thirdly, as a university drop-out. When I was younger, I held on to these identities. I protected them. I yelled them in the streets, I wore their flags, and I created organizations around them. Now, everything’s a blur. Even the most well-meaning of communities will fuck you over, eventually. I’m not a person of communities anymore. I’m an independent with identity badges that I wear, but only as happenstance. The whole of my being isn’t defined by identity descriptors anymore.
I went to French schools my entire life. I attended two French post-secondary institutions, one of which screwed me over so hard, I rejected Franco-Ontarian culture for an entire decade after that experience. One of the main problems with minority communities trying to build new institutions is the lack of attention to quality. “Just be grateful you have this.” Nevermind the fact that nepotism and incompetence tend to run rampant in the Franco-Ontarian community. If there’s a buck to be made, there’s a Quebec consultant looking for a way in to shake up our culture. It’s not that outsiders aren’t welcome, and can’t provide a fresh perspective. It’s just that we’re tired of being told that our French isn’t French enough. Ma langue n’est pas pleine d’anglicismes. Ma langue, c’est un patois. It’s a language that has evolved through many generations of French-speaking peoples that left Quebec to settle the North. It’s agricultural, it’s practical, it’s in some ways, very blue collar. So, in the eyes of many puritans, my language is ‘dirty’. C’est un français “manqué”.
So, when I was invited to teach at the new French language university, I looked at my partner (who knows all about my history with Franco institutions), and I said, “Yes, but I will not be like them”. “Them”, the ones that said ‘just be grateful’ when we lacked resources. “Them”, the ones that pushed puritanism down our throats. “Them”, the ones that made me reject the Franco community for most of my adult life.
I’m going to be competent, I’m going to be caring, I’m going to motivate, excite, and care about these students. I will never say to a student, “just be grateful”. I’m the one who’s grateful. I’m happy to share everything I’ve learned throughout the years. I’m happy to share my expertise. I’m happy to give.
I wasn’t supposed to be a professor. This is just a bonus in my life, a fork in the road that I thought would be blocked for good. As a tech professional, I chose to work in English precisely because my options were more limited. English in the language of commerce, and trust me, I would never dissuade a Franco student from choosing to work in the English world after graduation. What I will do is give them the competencies to compete in whatever language they choose to work with, later on. It should never be ‘one or the other’. It should be universal – what you learn in French can be applied in English, and vice-versa. Schooling has a language, but Education doesn’t. And education continues long after graduation.
In the grand scheme of things, I’m a nobody. I’ve never published, I’ve no credentials. Personally and professionally, I’ve never cared about these things because they’re a poor measure of someone’s character. Knowledge can be memorized, and recited. Some might argue I’m hard to work with because I haven’t been properly indoctrinated. There’s some truth to that. But I also know a few rebels with PhDs. In the end, it comes down to whether or not we want more of the same. I find sameness boring, and exhausting.
If this professorship works out, then great. If it doesn’t work out, great. When you start to look at life with a stoic lens, it doesn’t really matter in the long run. I accept the challenge. And I look forward to it. As an 80’s kid coding in BASIC, chatting with strangers on Bulletin Board Systems, defeating the Pac Man games on my Atari, there’s no way I’d have imagined that one day, I’d be teaching digital culture to university students.
I hope they’re prepared for the memes.
There will be so many memes.
Here’s what I’ve learned over time: your idea doesn’t matter. There are plenty of people with good ideas. There are very few people who can actually properly execute those ideas. It’s the execution that matters the most.
There. That’s it. That’s the golden rule.
Of course, it’s simplified. An even truer fact is that most good ideas don’t leave people’s heads. Most people let their ideas ruminate for far too long. They linger on the unknowns, the specifics, the hows and the whys. They think of all of the things that could go wrong. They judge their idea for months instead of just trying it and testing it. They come up with the costliest way of doing it, instead of looking for the cheapest way to make it happen. They make assumptions instead of doing research. They think their idea is the best in the world, but they never even bother to bring it to life. People will find all kinds of excuses to not even try.
And if they do try, they still manage to hijack their own project in so many ways. Most people will not move beyond their first failure. Humans have this curious tendency to get in the way of their own progress. Usually, that’s because they’ve never dealt with the underlying issues that stunt their growth, whether that’s lack of confidence, sadness, or in some cases, their own circle of friends. I hate to say it, but your friends might be encouraging you to fail. Take a closer look. Sometimes, people’s habits get in the way. They get sucked into the never-ending news cycle online. They’re hooked to social media. They’re drawn to gossip, they eat poorly, they sleep poorly, they say “yes” to everyone for everything. Their underlying lack of discipline makes it impossible for them to make free time to work on their ideas.
Once you learn how, and when, to say “no”, it becomes your greatest superpower in your life.
There’s a reason I haven’t mentioned fear yet. Fear, in my opinion, is best managed through exposure. As in, if you’re scared to fail, or scared to succeed, the only way to beat that is to start doing. Fear of doing is like fear of spiders. The more you read about spiders, the more you watch videos of them, the more you see them in real life, the more your fear gets replaced by curiosity, or nonchalance. Fear happens to everyone, even the ones that don’t seem scared at all. I still get scared. I’m always scared. But then, I think of the flip side. If I succumb to fear, I’ll have to do something else that I really hate doing. So, fuck fear. It’s just getting in the way.
All of this is obvious stuff that just gets rehashed in every single self-help book out there. And yet, people don’t seem to get a good grasp of what it takes to get things done. A part of me even wonders if it’s personality-based. As in, it all depends on how your brain is wired. It also depends on your surroundings, including your friends and family, your spouse, your time on social media. It’s rarely just one or the other – lack of doing appears to be multifactorial. You have to find the best way that works for you.
Here’s what I do know about execution though: it never has to be perfect. But, it almost always has to be better than “good enough”. And your first iterations will always suck. I had a client once who thought that they needed to present a perfectly polished social media presence. To which I replied, “you’re not even on there yet – let people get to know who you are, and iterate from there”. Polished is for later. But, I would also argue that if your project is a team effort, don’t skimp out on the team. Get polished people involved, and a list of priorities established right away. Make the baseline GREAT, not “good enough”, and definitely not broken.
In the software industry, there’s this belief that ‘first to market’ is the only thing that matters. What most start-ups don’t realize is that sure, you might get first to market, but your idea is most likely easy to copy. And unless you’re first to market AND your product is awesome and easy to use, your first client might be your only client, in the long run. It won’t be enough to sustain you if you stick with “good enough”, or worse, broken. I’ve seen companies go bankrupt with amazing ideas, and very poor execution. “Yeah, but it works!” is such a common mistake. It doesn’t matter if it works if everyone hates using it. A beautiful UI also doesn’t make up for a lack of innovation or functionality. The two always go hand in hand in a product that’s well executed, even if it’s just an MVP.
Same thing in the arts – I’ve seen great playwrights give their scripts to terribly managed theatre companies that fucked it all up, and the plays were a bust. If you have a good idea, keep it close, and only put it in the hands of the right people.
One of the best things I did later in my career as a fine art photographer was to only work with the best. “I want to work with you!” – I got emails like this almost every day for a few years. I kid you not, it was such a regular occurrence that I had to start filtering my messages to ignore any unsolicited emails. Instead, I sought the best, and sent them a portfolio that they couldn’t resist. My messages were never declined, and I got to work with everyone I contacted, even the famous ones.
There’s a known saying in the industry that once you start rejecting mediocrity, you start to get higher quality work. You start to produce higher quality work, too. The more you surround yourself with people who are dependable and can execute well, the better position you’ll be in to bring your own ideas to life. And in the world of work, I think most people don’t even care what product they work on, as long as the execution is sharp, and beautiful. Clients, customers, employees, contractors are all attracted to projects that do more than just innovate. They’re attracted to projects that work smoothly, that plan each step to reach certain benchmarks, that value quality. In the arts, boy is it ever nice to work on a project that cares about quality!
I find myself writing these things sometimes, knowing that it doesn’t make a difference. That’s never been the purpose. Instead, it’s articles like these that I refer people to when they ask me “how did you manage to do it?”. I surrounded myself by the best, I came up with ideas and immediately executed them, most of them were failures, and I just tried new stuff all the time. And, I devised a killer portfolio to make up for my lack of credentials. The latter is an article for another time. But, now you know – a great idea isn’t a great idea until it’s proven to be great. And it’ll never be great if you just aim for “good enough”, in the long term.
We have made three major cultural mistakes in Canada. We’ve elevated conceptual art in our schools, and in our museums (where the artist’s concept of a piece is more important than the finished piece itself). We’ve created an unbalanced expectation that our youth should value emotions, and thoughts, more than doing, and following through. And we’ve allowed our cities to become too expensive for artists to live in, play, and bring new art to life. All of these conditions have helped create an arts sector that is stale, unimaginative, and safe. And, we’ve reinforced it with political pressure, bureaucracy, and cultural apathy. Nobody gives a shit if the artists are starving.
As a tech consultant, podcaster, and science communicator, I call myself an artist, first. That’s what’s in my blood. That’s the brain, and the heart of who I am. I made the decision not to make a living as an artist in Canada, because it allows me complete freedom to create. If you can fund your failures (and not make them dependent on some outside source that gets to decide how and when you can fail), then you will become a better artist. If you can’t fund your own failures, then switch to a cheaper artform. It really is that simple.
I think the greatest mistake that artists make is becoming dependent on a system that wants to shape them, limit them, and force them to produce at times when they should be playing. Conversely, an artist is also completely fucked if they have free reign to do anything they want. It’s actually a good thing when creativity is framed inside a loosely defined box, whether those lines are delineated by a disciplined artist, or by an outside source. Rare are the third parties that actually know how to construct a framework that allows an artist to thrive.
Do you know why I keep talking about failing? Because THAT’s what advances an artist’s craft. That’s what germinates new ideas. It is absurd to me that within the arts community, failure isn’t celebrated. In fact, the community tends to chastise artists who don’t fit in (which then creates an obsession about “fitting in”, which isn’t healthy for artists, at all). Instead, we should all be applauding an artist who takes chances. We should be in awe of the artist who strays from the pack. We should be having a party every time an artist gets in trouble, falls down, and gets back up. Most artists don’t play because they stop at “well, that sucks”. Yeah, it fucking sucks, because you just started. It sucks because you don’t know what you’re doing. It sucks because you’ve only spent a weekend on it.
We’re also obsessed with linear progression. As in, once you’ve started something, you HAVE to finish it. Nope. You can start something, stop, start something new, stop, go back to the first thing you’ve started, or start a new thing again. Art-making almost requires you to shut out everything you know about rules, “shoulds”, and “shouldn’ts”. Art-making requires you to be a child, again. A child doesn’t self-flagellate for every mistake they make. They don’t stop and ask why they should play with something. They’re not scared to share their opinions, until we train that out of them. An artist should always emulate a child, playing, discovering, exploring. It’s the only way to get back to the thing that makes you an artist in the first place.
We have to get out of our heads. We have to get out of the digital landscape, and back into nature, where things are raw, uncensored, and not governed by man. I watched a chipmunk try to get seeds from a large squirrel the other day. The chipmunk was thin and weary, because the squirrel wouldn’t let him near the most plentiful source of food. I watched him try different angles, hide behind tall grasses, try to sneak past and scrape at any remains. It would have made for a great musical! We can learn, and be inspired by nature. We’re too self-centered at the moment, completely preoccupied with human problems, and human desires. The art sucks. I don’t want to see another play about an “ism”.
There’s a collective depression affecting artists today, a year and a half into a worldwide pandemic. If you think you weren’t valued before the shit hits the fan, just wait until during, and after. And the thing I don’t understand is why we haven’t created MORE public spaces for artists, at a time when we need artists the most. I want roaming parades, and quartets at every street corner. I want visual art stapled to every hydro pole. I want big massive installations in every park. I want poets with microphones on rooftops. We have no idea how to treat a sick society. The virus is only 1/10th of what ails us right now.
An artist has to act. An artist has to fail. And when you’re living in the horror story of a plague, you have to act more. What we’ve learned from terrible events in history is that people need hope, and optimism to survive. You’ve been thrust into a milieu where happiness is rebellious, and virtue is tied to how miserable you are. Artists are rebellious by nature, so be rebellious. Do the opposite of what they expect you to do. Thrive. Do. Make. They don’t own you. You don’t depend on them. You might have convinced yourself that you do. But, you don’t. Nobody owns artists. And art-making doesn’t need to be tied to financial recompense. Find other ways to make money. If “artist” is your first title, then be that. It is who you are, and it is who you’ll always be.
I think about it a lot, what I want my life to be like after 50. I picked that age randomly, as a way to give myself enough time to get what I’m after. When I was younger, I imagined what life would be like, but I didn’t always chase after it. Now, I live a life that’s more pragmatic. Everything I do these days has a practical reason for it. It doesn’t mean I’ve left whimsy behind, it just means that as I got older, I realized that some things need to be planned. If you want something, you have to structure your life in such a way that invites that “thing” into your life.
I knew ten years ago that I never wanted to work in an office building ever again. I’ve managed to make that happen, and I’ve been working from home for over a decade. I knew I wanted to be with a woman who had her shit together, wasn’t knee-deep into politics, and appreciated nature and city life as equally as I did. I met her, and I love her more and more each and every single day.
I’ve never really asked for much out of life. I’ve always just wanted a roof over my head, and the ability to pay my bills, and feed myself. I’ve been poor, very poor. I’ve been in the closet. I’ve been ridiculed, and embarassed. I’ve done a lot of things that I regret. For all of the wins I’ve had in life, I’ve had double the failures. I’ve fought for everything I’ve ever wanted. I didn’t have the credentials, I didn’t have the looks, and I didn’t have the experience. I fought fair and square. I’m tired of fighting. All I want now is a peaceful existence.
I’ve found myself drifting away from people who fight, people who run in circles, people who seek attention. It’s not my fight, and it’s not my problem. I don’t care if I fit in, and something tells me that most women in their 50’s can’t be arsed, either.
That’s my dream. To be surrounded by a group of men and women over 50, around a bonfire, laughing about all of the stupid things we’ve done in our youth. Things that would surely get us in trouble today. I want to be around people who are secure in their skin, who are interested in the natural world, the trees, the fish, the sky, and the moon. I want to breathe fresh air in the morning, and I want to see the stars at night.
I’m trying my best to engineer the kind of life I want to have when I’m 50. I want to live in the country, and I have no idea what I’ll be doing for work by then. I imagine something related to technology. Though if I’m honest with you, I’d love to be able to disconnect completely when I’m that age. I don’t know if that’s possible, but I like to stay flexible to what opportunities might come by then.
Sometimes, I think I’ll become a beekeeper. Other times, I dream of becoming a toy maker. I want a simpler life. I want to go fishing during the week. I want to do random things that make other people smile because I’m relaxed enough, and happy enough to make it happen.
I’ve been practicing the art of living in the moment, for the past few years. It helps to keep stress at bay. Stress is terrible. It’s just as bad as alcohol, or sugar. We don’t talk about that as often as we should. I’ve been living more for today, but it’s fun to dream. It’s fun to think about what life might be like when all the pieces fall into place. I’m engineering this life because I know I have some control over it. You can have any life you want. You’re never really stuck, and if you are, it’s temporary. There’s always a way around it, no matter what the issue is. There’s a substitute, a solution, or another option. Remember that, and you’ll be happier in life.
While I have a pretty good idea of what I want in the future, here’s a little secret: don’t try to plan it all out. Leave some room for surprises. Open up little doors during your journey, and take a peek inside. Try new things. You don’t have to commit. But, try things, scary things, absurd things, things that feel just out of reach. That’s how I got all the stuff I’ve got today. It’s not that things always went to plan. It’s that the things that I never expected would happen, happened. I got lucky.
Besides, luck only really happens to people who dare.