Friday, September 29, 2017

Orange Shirt Day

I am wearing an orange shirt today to show my support for residential school survivors, and my sympathy for all those whose families are affected by the legacy of those schools.

The history of residential schools is certainly a reminder of the dangers of racism, and I don't want to minimize that. But to me it is also a reminder of the importance of parental rights. I firmly believe that parents should always have the right to choose whether their children take part in any sort of education, and the right to have access to their children. If the parents of the children that were taken to residential schools had not been denied these rights, a lot of the harm that took place could have been avoided.

It is easy to underestimate the importance of simply having the right to bring a child home. A parent cannot always justify or show evidence for why a child needs to be taken out of a situation. Often the child will not talk about what is happening to them, and the parent simply has a gut instinct that something is wrong. When it comes to protecting children, there is no substitute for the judgement of the parents who know and love them.

Over the years as a homeschooling parent, I have met many families for whom the decision to homeschool was a reaction to a situation in which the well-being of their child was threatened. I know that there are people striving to make our schools inclusive and positive for everybody, but the fact is that bullying and abuse will always thrive in situations where the victim is not able to simply walk away.

The arguments that are made against choice in education today are sometimes reminiscent of the arguments used to justify residential schools. I have heard it argued that parents who don't speak English are not giving their children a proper education. I have heard it argued that parents who teach their children from a religious perspective outside the mainstream are not giving them a proper education. 

It seems to me that there is plenty of time in life to learn about English grammar or evolution, but there is only one chance for a safe, loving, childhood. I hope that we will never again see children having that chance so brutally taken away as we did under the residential schools. I also hope that we will continue to progress toward a world where families are valued and given the freedom to seek out the way of life that is best for them.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Story in NeoOpsis (and WWC/Chatauqua)

NeoOpsis 28 is now available to order, and it includes my story 'Broken Dishes'. Here's the link:

When Words Collide was wonderful as usual. Lots of inspiration and good company, and I also got some practical advice about self publishing. I am leaning more and more towards going that route with my current novel. I just need to find time for a few final revisions and figuring out how to format it and making a cover and all the other stuff that I'm sure I'll discover needs doing. . .

The Chatauqua event also went well, and gave me an excuse to explore some really interesting areas of history. Dawn Blue was great to work with: it was one of those cases where we were very much in tune with our ideas of what sort of stories to tell, and the set just naturally came together.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Read 'By Hadrian's Wall' online! Also Pure Spec

I decided to try submitting a story to Vocal Media / Omni. This is a platform that, as far as I understand it, works sort of like youtube for writing in that if you get enough views on the things you post, it is monetized. I am hoping to get more stories and poems up and see whether I can build a presence there. In any case my first story is up now. It called 'By Hadrian's Wall' and is a sort of quirky future fantasy piece about glaciers advancing and about fairies and about the importance of heritage and the ties between people, land, and livestock.

Here is the link to my author page, from which you can view (and hopefully read!) the story:

While I'm posting, I also wanted to mention that I had a terrific time at Pure Speculation this year. I am so grateful to all the friends who helped me bring Overtime - The Musical to life, and also the people who came out on a Saturday morning to support us. The whole event just had a wonderful, positive community feel to it, and the programming was great. I was also introduced to the work of Zenna Henderson, who I need to read more of! (Inner grammar nazi: that should be 'of whom I need to read more' I think in correct old fashioned Standard English. . .but I just would feel like a Jane Austen character or something putting it that way. . .)

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Upcoming Events

I have a lot going on the next few weeks:

July 26 I am doing a song for Weird Al Karaoke at the Buckingham on Whyte.

July 28-29 I am at the Pure Speculation festival where, among other things, I am going to be presenting my musical version of Charles Stross' story Overtime, with a wonderful group of my friends (and children) that I managed to talk into singing and dressing up as zombies and things of that sort.

August 11-13 I am at When Words Collide in Calgary

August 16th I am doing a set of historical Canadian stories for Strathcona County's Chatauqua event, along with Dawn Blue.

Also, when I came on this blog to post, I discovered that most of the text of my last post somehow came out as black-on-black, which hopefully is fixed now. The poem is, in fact, more than one line long.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Lesser Slave Lake

I went to Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park last week with my daughter's Environmental Education class. Here are a couple pictures and an attempt at a Sapphic Ode.

Under weighted clouds now the rippling blue lake,
pale as fairy's eyes in the land of songbirds,
calls the shy spring from beneath the bleached blond
grass to arise fresh.

Birches shine white, echoed by juiceless driftwood.
Left behind by winter, a lonesome snow ridge
hides behind sand dunes and the fiery dogwood,
cool in the damp wind.

Saskatoon twigs rise into gleaming gemstone
buds and starkly black, among muted wood tones,
trunks of burnt trees linger erect like charcoal
marks on the landscape.

Further off, bird banders are watching flocks swoop,
knowing all their patterns of flight and shrill calls.
Morning brings them captives in spider web nets,
tangled and wide eyed.

Hands as gently firm as those of midwives
hold the small captives as they stretch and measure.
Softer yet, breath rustles the feathers, flows through,
revealing pink flesh.

Soon the task is done and the bird is set free.
Up it flies now, grazing the top-most tree limbs,
scenting nesting grounds in its waking homeland

north of the pale lake.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Storytelling Conference

The Storytellers of Canada/Conteurs du Canada annual conference is coming up in just a couple of weeks, from May 22 through 28. This event rotates through the country, and having it here in Edmonton is a wonderful chance to experience some of the best storytellers from all over Canada. The link above goes to the webpage with all the details, but I would like to highlight a few things:

On Saturday and Sunday afternoon there will be free storytelling sets in Old Strathcona. There are both adult-oriented and child-oriented venues, and a great variety of tellers. There are also story concerts and slams on several evenings (there is a small charge for these, and some are adults only) including a Francophone concert.

There is also a free introductory storytelling workshop during the day on Wednesday, taught by MaryAnn Lippiatt. MaryAnn is a very entertaining teller, who I am sure will put together a fun and memorable session. The workshop is geared toward adults, but motivated teens may also register.

We are still in need of volunteers. Help is particularly needed during the Saturday and Sunday afternoon sessions. Also, I am running a merchandise table for the conference and am looking for helpers on Thursday morning and Sunday afternoon. If anyone sees this and feels inspired to help, email me at and I can give you more details.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Beast

I have been doing some songwriting lately and there is one song I wrote that I particularly wanted to put out there before the upcoming anniversary of the Fort McMurray fire. It is not very polished but I hope that some will appreciate the sentiment. I am still trying to figure out how to insert the mp3 file into a post, but for now it is on my webpage here:

Romeo and Juliet

I went to a dance show last week (by that was based on the story of Romeo and Juliet, though more in the sense of riffing off the story than telling it. It was done with a wonderful sense of humour that had me laughing out loud many times, and I enjoyed the show thoroughly. A few days down the road, though, I find myself thinking of a particular issue I have with the way many people approach that play.
I feel that the main tragic hero of the show is Juliet's father, Capulet. It is his hubris that drives the plot into tragedy, and he meets with one of the most terrible retributions imaginable for his pride. It seems to me a far easier thing to merely die oneself than to be responsible for the death of one's child, and he fully realizes his responsibility by the end of the play. To some extent hubris is a characteristic of the two clans as a whole, not just Capulet, and they share in the tragedy. But Romeo and Juliet are not really tragic heroes. Their mistakes are innocent ones, and the warning the play seeks to give us is not about the dangers of falling in love.

This was a big part of my issue with the Citadel production of the play a couple years ago. Capulet's part was cut to the point where he came across as a simple two dimensional villain. And to my mind that missed the whole point of the play. Perhaps this is a case where what speaks to me in the story is different from what speaks to others, but I will point out that Shakespeare explores a similar theme in other plays, most notably King Lear.   

Monday, April 3, 2017

Shirley Goes: Anniversary of Vimy Ridge.

I have added an audio file, "Shirley Goes" on my website:

It is a recording of me reading a chapter from Lucy Maud Montgomery's Rilla of Ingleside, recorded in honour of the upcoming anniversary of Vimy Ridge, which is mentioned in the chapter. This book was the last in the Anne of Green Gables series, and is a truly brilliant book, which I would recommend even if you do not read the other books first.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Kids These Days

I really don't get why so people are so critical of today's youth, and particularly of the way they use technology. Part of this is because I happen to know a lot of really great people who are in their teens or twenties: smart, creative, tolerant, just generally all-round awesome people. And yes, some of them post selfies of themselves on the internet now and then and things like that which I guess you could say are a bit superficial.

You know what, though? I don't remember any shortage of superficiality or outright vanity for that matter among the kids I knew as a teen. It was pretty crazy just how much importance some of the kids I knew used to place on where people bought their clothes for one thing. And from what I remember of talking to my Mom, it was not much better in her day, only it was cashmere sweaters that got you into the social elite rather than Esprit jeans.

Not only that, but my Mom went to high school with guys whose idea of a fun time was playing chicken with their cars. For those not familiar with this quaint pass-time of yesteryear, the idea was that you lined up your cars facing each other. At a signal both drivers would speed toward each other, and the first to swerve to avoid a collision was the chicken.

But I guess people will believe social media is causing a total decline of civilization if they really want to.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

My Big White Papery Thing

I decided to try submitting my novel to a publisher who wants to be sent the entire manuscript printed out on paper. This is the first time (and could be the last time) I've actually printed out an entire novel, so I decided to take a picture.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Limerick 2

Some aliens who were all quite identical's
Armpits got tickled by their tentacles
Until they grew so vexed
They tucked each one under the next

And knotted themselves into pentacles.

(Because it's almost St Patrick's Day after all. . .season for limericks.)  

Friday, March 10, 2017

Logic Puzzles

 I just finished reading Alice in Puzzle-Land by Raymond Smullyan, and was inspired to come up with a couple logic puzzles of my own.

When she was a girl, the White Queen practiced believing impossible things for half an hour every day. Once, when she was practicing, she overheard two bishops having the following conversation:
B1: At least one of us is red.
B2: I never step on squares of my own colour.
B1: I never step on red squares.
B2: We are both the same colour.
The White Queen believed everything they said. Assuming the court contains only those pieces normally found in a single chess set, and follows the normal rules of chess, how many impossible things did she believe?

The next day, the White Queen overheard another conversation between two knights:
K1: Knights always tell the truth.
K2: Bishops always lie.

The White Queen believed these statements, but no longer necessarily believed what the bishops said on the previous day. Did she believe any impossible things?

Thursday, March 2, 2017

SF Book Anniversaries: 2016 Review

 The last couple years I have chosen a few books to read that have an anniversary of first publication that year. My rule is that it must be a multiple of 50 years since the book was first published. I usually stick to novels, and they must be some sort of speculative fiction. I tend more toward science fiction than fantasy, because I find it interesting to see the future as imagined from the past. Last year I picked out four books to put together a panel at When Words Collide, but will not be doing that again as it was not well attended. I would still like to keep up my anniversary related reading, though, so I was thinking that I would try putting reviews of the books up on this blog instead. Meanwhile, here are a few notes on last year's books:
Utopia by Thomas More was published in 1516, and so celebrated its 500th anniversary last year. I will be very surprised if I find another book quite so old this time around! It is more descriptive than narrative on the whole, but still does have enough of a narrative framework to count as a novel. It deals with a journey to an imaginary country somewhere in the new world: a topical notion at the time of writing, when the reports of trans-Atlantic explorers were of great interest in Europe. It has quite a bit of mostly dry wit to it, but readers may wish to check a couple different translations to find one that flows well for them. Although Thomas More was English, he wrote the book in Latin. The book had a great deal of influence on later work, and so is definitely worth reading for anyone interested in the history of speculative fiction.
My next choice was The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing-World by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, published in 1666 (350 years ago). It is a novella rather than a novel, which is probably just as well because the writing has an amateurish quality which sometimes becomes tedious. Margaret Cavendish managed to make a name for herself as a female scientist at a time when that alone was ground-breaking, and she has a tendency to use her story as a means of displaying her opinions on various scientific topics. It soon becomes clear why her name is no longer remembered for science, since she displays a marked tendency to place herself against the very theories and methods that led to modern scientific developments. Nonetheless, there is something really fascinating about how she works out her ideas, and also about her gleeful self indulgence in creating her own world, and even writing herself into the story.
I fudged my own rules a bit to include Strange Tales from Make-Do Studio by Pu Songling. First of all, it is a collection of stories, not a novel. The earliest surviving print version which can be assigned a date came out in 1766, 250 years ago. However, this was after the author's death, and it is likely that there were earlier versions in circulation. The book was originally written in Chinese, and my English translation did not include all the stories from the original, but I hope was a decent selection of the best stories. Pu Songling was a bit like Hans Christian Andersen, in that he collected stories, but made them very much his own. His stories are much more for adults than for children, and have a literary rather than a oral style to them. They include many fantastic elements from ghosts and fox demons, to dream journeys.
A theme I had found among all four books I chose in 2016 was a very strong political consciousness. The authors of all three books I have mentioned so far were clearly frustrated with their inability to change the many injustices they saw in the world, and turned to writing as a way to express their views. More was a parliamentarian who found himself in the service of an autocratic monarch, and in many ways his book is less about creating an imaginary society than critiquing the current one. Cavendish stated that she chose to be ruler of an invented world partly because she lacked scope to act in the real one. Pu Songling was frustrated after failing to advance as a scholar. He is said to have referred to his work as his "book of isolated indignation," and several of his stories dwell on injustices of his time, including official corruption.
The final book that I included was also very political. The sixties produced so many great science fiction books that it was challenging to pick just one book from 1966, but the one I ended up settling on was The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein. As the only modern novel of the group, this one definitely stands out as a narrative. The 'Loonies' are interesting as a hypothetical society, but the real interest of the story is in the way political action plays out within that society as the protagonists conspire to achieve independence from Earth. There are also strong threads of scientific speculation on topics including adaptation to the moon and artificial intelligence.
Along with dissatisfaction with society there often seems to be a yearning for some outside force to set things right. More's book is relatively guiltless on this count, perhaps because More had too much real experience with politics to buy in to that particular fantasy. Cavendish characteristically goes to the extreme, describing a fantastical invasion of one world by the denizens of a more advanced one, in order to place them under an idealized absolute monarchy. Pu Songling includes among his stories some tales in which otherworldly intervention brings justice in an unjust world. The equivalent for Heinlein is artificial intelligence. I found this a problematic aspect of the book. At the same time as the characters idealize individualism and free choice, the solution to their problems depends on an absolute adherence to a program of attack determined by a sentient computer. In a book that explores a lot of questions, the questions of whether such a godly machine is firstly possible, and secondly good for humanity felt a bit glossed over to me.

That may be a personal issue though. I find that certain SF tropes tend to feel somehow wrong to me: artificial sentience is one, and time travel is another. Perhaps if I could figure out just what it is that bothers me so, there would be some stories worth writing in that.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017


 I've seen a post going around on facebook that talks about the poison skittles analogy: the one where the author states that they would gorge themselves on skittles. I thought they made a good point, but was a bit reluctant to say the same. I think my kids would be sad if I ate a poison skittle. But today it occurred to me that I am already living with the risk that I may get in the path of a violent radical. That basically means that I am already eating out of a big bowl with poison skittles in it. And if somebody adds more skittles to the bowl which have actually been vetted by people trained to recognize poison skittles, that might in fact decrease the odds of me picking a poisoned one. So I feel pretty comfortable saying to bring them on, even without bringing any particular altruism to the table.

Make sense to any other cowardly but math literate folks?

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Iago and Emilia (I Will Speak)

 There has been some controversy about the play Othello in Edmonton lately. I am not going to wade in on the specifics of that situation, but I do want to say that I would be sorry to see this play pushed out of sight and out of mind because of controversy around the titular character. The reason is quite simple. If we lose Othello, we also lose Iago and Emilia.

Of all the plays I've been to at our local outdoor Shakespeare festival, probably the one that left the biggest impression on me was Othello. The reason was the superb performance by the actor who played Iago. He delivered his lines in a way that made me see how such a person could convince people that he was an honest man, to be trusted above others as a source of truth.

The world is afflicted right now with a plague of Iagos. The problem is not just lies. It is twisting of facts to demonize opposing viewpoints and establish oneself and one's allies as the only trusted sources of knowledge. It is the abuse of that trust to mislead people and to incite them toward destructive acts.

We need, like Emilia, to stand up and speak out when we discover this happening around us. We need to do so even, or perhaps especially, when it may seem to be against our own interests, and those at fault claim to be on our side. I am not talking about preventing anyone from speaking, but about challenging the things that they say and holding them accountable.

I would like to leave you with two quotes, both spoken by Emilia: one an accusation and one a credo.

Your Reports Have Brought this Murder On.

I Will Speak as Liberal as the North.

Immigration Stories

I have noticed that some of those who are critical of our current refugee programs are saying that we should not try to justify them by talking about early immigrants, because those immigrants were not supported by government funding or handouts. I would like to share a couple stories from the early twentieth century in my local area, which I hope will help to illustrate a couple of points. First of all, I do not think we should romanticise the struggles and hardships of early immigrants. We may admire their perserverence and spirit, but we should not want to return to a situation where people had to work so hard for so little. Secondly, I would like to point out that early immigrants did get help from the Canadians who welcomed them, so far as they were able in a time when there was little money to go around. I believe Canadians who welcome refugees, whether by directly raising money to sponsor them, or by advocating for them, are fulfilling the dream of many who came before them that wished they could do more to help.

My father-in-law, Bob Kennedy, immigrated to Edmonton as a small child. After a few years, his family fell on hard times. At that time there was a relief program in Edmonton, but only for men who would do labour in exchange for the money. Here in Canada, that meant things like shovelling snow off the streets. Bob signed up for this program. At age ten, instead of attending school, he worked a full time man's job in order to support his family.

In 1929, around the same time that Bob was working in Edmonton, Frank arrived in Fort Saskatchewan. He had come from Yugoslavia, and hoped to earn enough money to send for his wife and two sons to join him. He managed to get work at a farm near Josephburg, but the money he was able to save accumulated slowly, and he was worried about his family's safety. He convinced his employer, Charles Thomas, to give him extra money in exchange for putting in extra hours at night, digging a ditch. He dug a two mile long ditch by hand, but still did not have enough money to send for his family. By now a decade had gone by and his sons were teenagers. Frank received word that they were going to be conscripted into the German army. At this point Charles raised the money that was needed, and loaned it to Frank. Thanks to his help, the family was able to leave Europe just before outbreak of war.

Frank's story is told in more detail by Helen Lavender under the title "Ditch of Dreams" in the anthology Under the Wide Blue Sky. If you live in Alberta, you should be able to get a copy by way of the TAL library system. But I actually want to recommend a different book.

When we talk about the dangers of letting possible terrorists into the country, by and large the people that cause the most concern are young men. We need to remember that so often, just like Frank's sons, the young men trying to leave troubled countries are doing so in order to avoid being forced into military service against their conscience. When we help a young man to avoid being forced to fight for the Islamic State, we are not just showing kindness to him, we are denying them a soldier.

So because it deals with exactly that theme, and because I think it would be nice to make a point through humour after depressing everybody with real life stories, I would like to recommend Harry Harrison's book The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted. It is a bit dated, but still a good read, with the trademark dry humour that distinguished all the books in that series. And even if you find the whole thing completely unrealistic, you may still be left with a feeling that Mr. Harrison had his heart in the right place.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Rural Schools

And here is what I sent to my provincial representative today. I have decided it is time for me to become that curmudgeonly letter writing crank I always suspected I would turn into some day:

One of the questions that I have been asking myself lately is why parties like the NDP have so much difficulty gaining ground among rural voters. I think one of the reasons is simply that they do not have access to many of the programs that we are funding with their tax dollars. Funding for arts and culture is perceived as going almost exclusively to urban areas.
I have been involved in a lot of cultural activities over the years, including youth theatre productions and other educational activities for youth, folk dance, storytelling, and events promoting local writers. One of the biggest difficulties for those of us who try to organize cultural activities is the lack of affordable space, both for events and for ongoing rehearsals and meetings. This is difficult even in Edmonton, but much more so in rural areas where there are few venues for a group to meet.
Schools play a huge role in providing a space for cultural activities, as well as athletic activities, and many other things that help create vibrant communities. The decision on whether to support rural schools is not just about efficient use of our tax dollars. It is about supporting vibrant rural communities where families have a place to get together and engage in the activities that matter to them.
There is also a strong environmental case for rural schools. Start with the extra distance that children must be bussed. Then add on the extra distance their families must go every time they pick up their kids from an after-school activity or meet with the teachers. Assume that some of those kids who can no longer take part in sports and cultural activities that were hosted at their school will not simply miss out, but will be driven further to take part in activities elsewhere. It adds up to a lot of extra fossil fuels, and a lot of extra time for people with their butts in the seats of vehicles.
The Ministik school, right here in our riding, is currently being considered for closure. I am sure that you are keeping abreast of the situation, but I want to encourage you to truly look at the whole picture here. It is my sincere opinion that our province could use more small rural schools, not fewer.

Black History in Alberta

I read in the news that Alberta is officially recognizing February as Black History Month. In honour of that I would like to share a story, though unfortunately it is one I only know the bare outlines of.

One of the founders of the storytelling circle I belong to, TALES Strathcona, was Helen Lavender. Helen told many sorts of stories, but now and then she would relate stories of her own life, often beginning with how she came to Alberta as a baby in a Bennett Buggy during the early 1930s. Another thing that she spoke of only once or twice, but that really stuck in my mind, was a certain couple who were neighbours and friends of her family when she was a young child, living in rural Alberta. This couple was very elderly: I have it in my head that she said they were both about a hundred years old, but I am not absolutely sure I remember that detail correctly. The detail I am sure I remember right is that they were both just thirteen years old when they ran away from slavery together, and came to Alberta on the underground railroad. They homesteaded together, working hard to create a new life for themselves. Helen remembered them as kind, welcoming people, still very much in love with one another.

I think most modern people would feel that thirteen is too young to decide to spend the rest of your life with someone. But you can't apply ordinary rules to something like this. In a better world the two of them would have had time to grow up in security and freedom and leave such decisions for later years. They did not have that privilege. They had the courage to take a chance on a better life together, and they were able to build that life here in our province. I think it is a part of our history that is worth remembering.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Freedom of Travel

I am pasting in here a copy of the email that I sent today to the Prime Minister, the Immigration Minister, and my MP.

I know that you are hearing from many Canadians right now who want to see our country help the people currently affected by the US ban. I wish to add my voice to those urging our government to remove the US status as a safe haven, fast track the processing of refugees who have already been vetted by the US, and raise targets for admission of refugees. But I also want to see some assurance from the Canadian government that our border agencies will treat all travellers as free human beings, entitled to basic rights.
When a traveller is detained, their family and lawyers should be given access to them, and they should have the right and opportunity to initiate communication with their family and lawyers. This is particularly essential if the traveller being detained is a minor: there is simply no excuse for refusing a parent access to their child. If Canada does not have regulations which provide for these rights, we should.
Many of the changes I have seen over the past decades to airport security, such as the strict rules for what may be brought in carry-on luggage, do help me to feel safer when I travel. But I am not convinced that there is a sufficient gain in safety to justify policies which are increasingly preventing legitimate travel by innocent people. There needs to be greater transparency and clearer means of appeal for travellers who are put on no-fly lists, or are otherwise barred from travel.
I also have concerns about the recent changes that demand Canadian citizens always travel on a Canadian passport. Since I became a citizen of Canada I have not renewed any passport other than my Canadian one, and use it exclusively for travel. I do not understand why somebody who has moved from Canada to another country should not be able to do the same. It can be very difficult to renew a passport from overseas. I think that when regulations are made, we should always consider whether we would consider that regulation reasonable if other countries were to put similar rules in place.
The freedom to travel is more than just a luxury. Travel allows family to be with each other at critical moments in their lives. It allows experts in many fields to meet with their counterparts in other countries to share knowledge, helping to build a better future for us all. It allows athletes, who have trained hard to represent their countries, to compete in friendship with their counterparts from around the world. I hope that Canada will stand out in the coming years as a nation that supports this freedom.