On Fantasy – 2

read part 1

In my first “On Fantasy” piece, I began exploring what fantasy meant to me in early childhood. How the entertainment I consumed shaped my capacity for imagination as well as the imagery I utilized.

However, the single most important thing for my fantasies and imagined worlds, the foundation upon which all of it rests, is reading. This should be no surprise to anyone who is now reading this. I don’t have to sell you on the concept, now do I?

Before I could read, I always had to rely on adults to provide me stories. They certainly did so, but never enough on my own terms. It was always, “well, your sister doesn’t like that one,” or, “we read that just yesterday.”

Once I could read, whole new worlds opened up to me. My imagination was harnessed to the written word. That, years later, I have been able to reverse this arrangement and harness the written word to my imagination is the coolest gift life has ever given me. What fun!

By early elementary school I had developed what can only be described as an obsession with mediaeval knights. The armor. The helmets! The swords and lances! It was pushing all my buttons. I don’t know who it was that did such a profoundly wonderful thing for me, but I believe it was one of my aunts. She noticed this obsession and bought me a beautifully illustrated abridged copy of, King Arthur and His Knights.

Oh my.

The book was a collection of the classic stories, retold in modern language for kids, of course. It had the most beautiful illustrations. Detailed, full color, ink and watercolor scenes. Knights battling with sword and lance. Giants and dragons. The occasional woman in distress. Blood.

This, I believe, was the first book that swallowed me up. I lost myself completely in it, and emerged deeply invested in that vision of storytelling.

To be clear: it was the weapons, armor, and gear of the warriors that attracted me so. It was the violence: the visceral thought of ending a life with a sharp piece of steel in your hand. I cannot describe how exciting this was to me.

From that time on, if a story had swords and armor in it, I was sold. It was this that drew me to the genre of fantasy like a moth to flame. The magic and the monsters and the fairies I could take or leave. I was there for the sword fighting.

Now, do keep in mind that this was all in the early 1980s. There really was not much going on for me right then in terms of mass-media entertainment. As unfathomable as this might be for youngsters these days, it was a time when you could not just consume exactly what you wanted precisely when you wanted. You were stuck with what they gave you. And they did not give us all that much.

There might have been a lot of sword and sandal epics in the 1960s. And some sword and sorcery movies in the 1970s. But we had no access to that. It would be another ten years before my family had a VCR, and at least four or five before any of my friends did. Conan the Barbarian might have been released right around then, but whose parents were going to let us watch it? Not going to happen.

So what recourse did I have to get my swordfighting fix? A library card, is what.

Something very cool did happen for us in the early 1980s, which would completely change how I related to fantasy and storytelling. The choose-your-own-adventure books started coming out right around then. And some of them were fantasy. Boy oh boy. Here we go!

Within a couple of years, my best friend and I were voraciously consuming the Steve Jackson and Ian Livingston’s, Fighting Fantasy series of choose-your-own-adventure books. These were the shit! You had a couple of dice and a character sheet and you actually got to fight and keep track of swag and abilities and whatnot.

City of Thieves became like a bible to me. The illustrations were marvelous, but it was the sandbox style of storytelling that was so compelling to me. That you could chose to walk into a shop and attack the shopkeeper with your sword was one of the best things that ever happened to me. How wonderful.

I do not remember how old I was, precisely, when I was introduced to the next level of all of this, but I must have been about ten. It was cataclysmic. My friend had discovered Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and had convinced his father to buy him the holy trinity of books: the Player’s Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and the Monster Manual. He showed me how to play and I was completely hooked from the first moment.

My parents were not the sort to buy me much of anything just because I wanted it, but I had an allowance and was able to make some extra money by mowing the lawns and cleaning up the dogshit in the back yard. For the next couple of weeks I put my shoulder into that and was able to buy my first set of dice and a Player’s Handbook. It was all downhill from there.

There can be no overstating how important D&D was for me and my development. It became my religion. It was all I thought about and all I wanted to do. That intoxicating freedom I had drunk of in, City of Thieves, was now a deep well. While we could not be and do anything we wanted (there are rules to the game, after all), the storytelling we were able to collectively develop together was unlike anything else I have ever experienced.

It is here that the flow of this telling would seem to have drifted away from where it started. Reading and its part in my development of imagination is where we began. When I hitched myself so profoundly to fantasy roleplaying games, did I not move away from this?

On the surface, perhaps. Because I certainly was reading a lot less once I began playing D&D. But I think that without a solid foundation in reading, I would never have been able to engage with roleplaying games to the extent that I did.

In my early twenties I took it upon myself to get one of my new friends into RPGs. He was a fellow I worked with at the gas station. I have written of him and his brother before.

This guy loved Star Wars and Star Trek to a degree that was dysfunctional. His dream was to become a Star Trek series developer. He lived and breathed this stuff. And as my good friend, I wanted to share with him the gift of roleplaying. It seemed the ideal fit. The only hitch was that he did not like fantasy.

By this time, my friends and I had long since developed our own gaming system for modern combat, based on the D&D ruleset. Mostly we used this to play one-off sessions very much akin to Grand Theft Auto (at its worst) as a kind of palate cleanser between serious D&D campaigns. I thought it would not be hard at all to adapt this set of rules to a Star Trek setting. I was right: it was easy.

With the rules in hand, I had my friend roll up a character and we began to play. I let him roll up a higher level dood and everything. A captain of his very own starship. Then I gave him his orders.

As we began playing, I waited for that moment of joyful exhilaration to overtake him. That moment I was able to witness in so many other people I had introduced to the game. That moment when the freedom of the medium overtakes a new player and they have the time of their fucking life.

Instead I got awkwardness. I got a dud.

“I can’t just talk about what my guy is doing! I can’t see the ship! I need to see it! This is lame!”

What a dud.

The thing about this guy was: he was almost functionally illiterate. When we watched movies together that involved some degree of reading, such as a backstory in the opening credits like Star Wars, he would have to pause the movie for ages to get through it. I doubt that he had ever in his entire life cracked and finished a book of his own accord.

I relate this not to be mean (I am, after all, an extremely slow reader myself), but to make a wider point about reading and its role in developing imagination. My friend lacked a capacity that my other friends and I took for granted: the ability to transform language into visualized imagery. To take some stats on a piece of paper and turn them into our heroic avatar. To hear a story told to us and imagine it as though we were in it.

Anyone who grew up reading has this capacity. But do not think this is inherent to us. It is not. It is something we learned how to do. Reading and being read to gave us this.

For those others who did not, or could not, read, there is no such inner world, I suspect. They need the movie or the video game to render the fantasy for them. The action figures to be their avatars. Their imagination is limited by that of others. They can only attack the shopkeeper with their sword when a game designer has allowed for it.

How truly sad for them.

So read to your kids. Talk to your kids. Tell them stories. This is vital for their development as creative, imaginative creatures.

And if no one did that for you, then I am sorry. You were done a profound disservice. I do earnestly hope that is something you can remedy for yourself. I think it can be done.

Read more. That’s it.

It is worth it.

On Fantasy – 1

Seeing as my blog to this point has mainly been navel gazing over my random thoughts and gripes, and since I am meant to be in a transition to a fantasy format now, I thought I may as well do some navel gazing about my random thoughts about fantasy.

With this in mind, I would now like to start exploring what the genre of fantasy means to me. This rumination shall, I expect, eventually expand to include my thoughts about the creation of fantasy as a writer. This shall, I hope, dovetail into explorations of my own efforts in fantasy: such as my realm itself, the mechanics of the world, magic, and the kind of societies I have chosen to develop.

Okay, enough preamble. So, what is fantasy to me?

It’s not a mere genre, that’s for sure. Fantasy is an alternative reality I’ve lived much of my life in. It is the internal world I retreated into at the earliest available opportunity.

But what was the opportunity? What external stimulus provided the mechanism to create that inner world? How does one construct the fantasy world they are seeking to escape into?

There is no question that much, if not all, of the inspiration for my fantasy worlds came from external sources. For as far back as I can remember, my worlds were constructed from the imagery of things I had consumed as entertainment.

This is early childhood stuff. Fairytales. Sesame street. Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Cartoons. My mother’s stories.

All providing scraps of imagery that resonated with me. Scraps that were collected like pebbles to be polished through frequent handling. A knight in shining armor. A dragon. A giant robot with laser cannons. Whatever turned my crank, really. This is what kids do. They mix and match. Throw cowboys, indians, and World War Two army men together. Dinosaurs and princesses. Toyboxes dumped out to create original little worlds.

Now, I never had many toys. My dad was cheap; he wasn’t about spending his money on overpriced, plastic shit for our amusement. But we had books, and we were read to. This, over the longer course, I have learned, was the greater gift.

Without an abundance of physical objects to focus on, my sister and I put our creative energies into expanding the roles and the worlds of the objects we did have. Our stuffed toys developed hierarchies; powers; rules and codes. It all got very nuanced and complicated.

I think if we had been given every figure and figurine, playset and accessory we could have desired, then we would not have developed that capacity. There is no need for the imagination to fill in the gaps if some consumer product is always there to do it. I believe this is doubly so with television and video games.

So by the time I started consuming proper fantasy in cartoons and movies, I was well equipped to pick up the imagery it provided for my own use. Star Wars and Transformers were mixed and matched with this, that, and the other. Just as a toybox is dumped out to play, there was no proprietary separation of intellectual property and genre. Whatever turned my crank.

A huge source of this inspiration was Star Wars, episode four, A New Hope. I saw it in a theater when I was about four or five and it scared the shit out of me. But it also inspired me on a level that nothing else had to that point. Before the toys were even around me, I was occupying that world in my own head. As a stormtrooper or Darth Vader, generally (why this is shall be good fodder for a later navel gazing piece, me thinks).

By grade one or two this obsession also helped me bond with fellow children in a way I hadn’t before. We could share this fantasy. Play within it together. What fun!

Fantasy no longer had to be a solitary venture. It was now collaborative. Game changer (or creator, if you will).

I recall how in early elementary school, when the whole, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” bullshit started, I thought about Marc Hammel as Luke Skywalker. I wanted to be an actor, because I thought it was the actors who created these stories that were so enriching my life. What a cool thing to be! It was some smart aleck girl that informed me that it is not the actors that really create the story; they just read what the writer tells them to. Well, thank you miss bossy thing!

If this is the case, then a writer is the thing to be, isn’t it?

read part 2

An Appeal For Reason From the Unreasonable

“The divisiveness of our modern society is tearing us apart! Conservative versus liberal; anti-vaccine versus pro-vaccine; lovers of freedom, like me, versus the woke gestapo of the cancel culture. This polarization is ruining marriages and destroying families!”

Well, sir, I can agree with much of what you say. However, I do find your turn to this argument suspect since you, of late, have been one of the most tiresome buglers of noxious, Conservative propaganda that I know. Gun rights. Anti-vaccine. Freedom of speech as a blind for defense of Western (if not white) supremacy. You name it, you’ve spewed it. Often eloquently and from somewhat clever tangents, sure, but you have definitely not been a voice for peaceful coexistence.

When you proudly proclaim that you would kill and die to defend your very narrow notion of freedom, you cannot then claim to be a moderate voice engaged in reasonable discussion. The threat of violence is explicit in your rhetoric.

So what is this, then? This appeal for reason from a very unreasonable man. What are you up to? I suppose I should dig a little deeper into what you’ve been going on about lately. Because, after all, since you’ve been such a disagreeable asshole of late, I’ve been ignoring you completely.

Oh dear. It seems you have lost your job because of your refusal to get vaccinated. I see now. And you are very angry that the legions of people like you who believe in freedom above all else did not have the courage to stand up and stop this tyranny from taking place. But you will take a stand. You will not go quietly into that night. You are a brave man who will stand on principle no matter what.

No matter how alone and isolated it makes you.

See, here’s the thing, little buddy: You are not a member of some silent majority. You have gotten so insulated within the echo chamber you have created for yourself that you believe many more people think the way that you do than actually do. It turns out that, in reality, you are an insufferable dickhead spewing a fringe position that most people are sick and tired of hearing.

You have fallen into an understandable, but basic, trap of human consciousness. We want to believe that most other people think just the way that we do. In the face of our expression we take silence as agreement, or at least acquiescence. But this is not how people behave. When faced with a confrontation or a pontificating asshole, most people stay quiet and put up no resistance. Then they do what they can to put as much distance between themselves and the asshole as possible.

You seek a grand reckoning. A fiery showdown to demonstrate to the world what an incredible and brave individual you are. You seek this heroic stand of yours to be recognized with a slow clap from someone in the audience (digital of course) that grows into thunderous applause. These frightened people who think and feel exactly as you do but have been intimidated into silence, they will rally.

But the thing is: That’s not how it’s working out, is it? There is no stage for your hollow horn. No one wants to argue with you. No one is obliged to argue with you. No one is obliged to listen to you. And the fact that they aren’t speaks only to the hollowness of your platform. It’s boring. You are boring.

Ouch.

The isolation you are beginning to notice is not the result of censorship. It is not the result of tyranny. It is the result of the people around you putting you on mute.

So this appeal to reason, this call for everyone to work harder at getting along, this is just a mewling cry for attention.

“Come back and listen to me! I have important things I have to shout at you!”

This is the cry of a man who, for years, has taken the silence of those he preaches at as acceptance of what he says. Who believed that when he shouted down those that argued with him, he had won the argument. The last man shouting is the winner of the “debate,” right?

Not really, no.

And what of this grand stand you are making? Getting yourself fired because you wouldn’t take the vaccine. It is not quite the confrontation you were hoping for, is it? Instead of some blaze of glory moment, what you have delivered yourself is the slow grinding attrition of looming poverty and the indifference of society.

“The rats, it got your flower, bad blood it got your mare
If there’s anyone that knows, is there anyone that cares?”
– Bob Dylan, The Ballad of Hollis Brown

You should check out how that song ends, because you would seem to be on the same road as old Hollis. Be that as it may, if there’s anybody that gives a shit about your predicament, it is only to wonder why you are being such a jackass.

But what of the high principles and ideals you say inform this stand of yours? Freedom, right? The freedom you say you would die and kill to preserve. Okay, let’s unpack that.

As I have stated earlier in another post, you are free not to take the vaccine. No government agents have come to forcibly jab you with their needles of tyranny. What you are whinging about is freedom from all responsibility and accountability.

“None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license.”
– John Milton.

So are you a good man who loves true freedom? Or do you simply seek license to do as you want?

If your job requires you to have a driver’s license, and you lose your license, you will then lose your job. Is that not an impingement of your freedom? Your workplace can also require drug tests of you. Are you not similarly oppressed in this?

Or, is your company not exercising its freedom to demand a certain level of responsibility from its employees? They are not, after all, obliged to give you employment no matter what you do, are they? Why, that would be socialism, and we all know what you think about that!

So you will happily submit to being licensed to drive. To stopping at stop signs when you are driving. To not smoking in restaurants. To paying the government for a passport in order to travel abroad. To pissing in a cup at random intervals for your company. And to countless other impingements on this precious freedom of yours.

But what of the freedoms of your fellow citizens? The ones that are unlike you in their circumstances? Do we find evidence that you care about them? For in this we shall find out if you are truly a good man who loves freedom heartily, or whether you only seek license for yourself. Let’s see:

Anything in all your posts about marriage equality or LGBTQ rights? No.

Anything about people having the freedom to wear whatever clothing they want regardless of their religion? No.

Anything about women’s right to choose in regards to abortion and the regulation of their own fertility? No.

Okay, then, so what freedom are you specifically so butt-hurt about here?

Ah, your freedom to own guns. That’s what you care about. Your right to own your lethal toys. This is the line in the sand that you would kill and die for.

Oh, right. And your right not to get poked by that scary needle by that mean, scary doctor or nurse. Mustn’t forget that.

And for this you would threaten violence. You would get yourself killed, or thrown in prison as a cop killer, or simply fired, when you have children to provide for. You would put your own family into that kind of uncertainty.

This call of yours for civility and reason against the divisiveness of polarization that tears families apart. What are you talking about? There is no divisiveness of polarization without human agents of factions. If your family has been torn apart by this, then I have no doubt you were one of the agents doing it.

You are like a toddler, having a tantrum. Except you are not a toddler. You are a grown man, with guns. Your actions have consequences. Isn’t this a trope you’ve loved spewing to anyone that has to suffer listening to you? Responsibility! Accountability!

Well, here you are now: where the rubber hits the road in regards to your own responsibility and accountability. There are all kinds of ways you can handle it.

My suggesting is: Grow the fuck up.

Memories

Working in a 24 hour gas station/automotive shop in a meth/crack neighborhood of a big, stabby, Albertan city taught me many things. Street smarts, how to stand up to bullies, and sketchy-as-fuck junkie management. All very useful skills.

Mostly it taught me that all those stories in Penthouse Letters are very possibly true. All very possible; except for the part where the participants are hot or sexy.

If I could show you the things I’ve seen, you too would yearn for mind bleach. No beauty here. Only stale beer sweat and lesions. Impulse bought dollar store toys for neglected children forgotten in the gas station shitter along with the used needles. A woman with her halter top stretched tight over pregnant belly, passed out drunk in the gutter; dumped there out of a rusted pickup truck.

Ah, memories.

Germans

My mom is German. She was born in Germany and then my grandparents immigrated to Canada in the fifties with three kids (would have two more in Canada).

When my mom was a teenager, my grandfather would force the family to watch Monty Python’s Flying Circus with him. But it wasn’t because he enjoyed it, it was that he was trying to figure it out.

The show was very popular, and people in his workplace would talk about it. I suppose he was trying to assimilate into the culture a bit, or just figure out these Anglo sons of bitches that kept making fun of him in ways he couldn’t understand.

So, the family would watch an episode, and then my grandfather would attempt to deconstruct it to figure out why it was funny.

He was always wrong. His square-headed German aristocratic brain was incapable of getting it.

Now, his kids did understand it, but couldn’t attempt to explain it to him. First of all, how are you going to explain English absurdism to a WWII era German? Secondly, he was such an authoritarian, he wouldn’t have allowed any of his kids to usurp his authority in that way.

So they would all snicker away while he ponderously analyzed why some goofy nonsense was funny.

Years later, my dad bought my grandfather that gag gift book, “100 Years of German Humor,” that was just a bunch of blank pages.

Papa (my grandfather) didn’t get it.

“Ya, vas is zis? Ze pages, zey are all blank. Zis is a faulty printing! A joke? Nein! Das is nict gut!”

He got really incensed not at the nature of the joke, but at the wanton waste of paper.

He went on to use the gift as a notebook, filling it up with his weird, old-fashioned German handwriting. Designs for contraptions we was planning; lists; and general reminders to himself.

German humor, indeed.

The American Apocalypse and You

I can’t help but be amused when I see Americans describing the doomsday scenarios they see coming coming down the pike at them. Basically, so many of them just describe conditions that many people around the world are already living in.

“The stores will be empty, the power will go out, and there won’t be any internet.”

I do get how these aren’t good conditions. But they don’t spell the end of humanity.

The problem is that even given their land of plenty, Americans as a society are incapable of being civil and kind. So I can see how the prospect of returning to a more rudimentary existence must be completely horrifying.

If the internet goes out, Americans will probably revert to cannibalism within a week. In other countries, they pick up a book.

The cancer within American society has metastasized. Their violence, selfishness, and greed is about to run its inevitable course. As with cancer, the mutant diseased cells attack the healthy. Their zombie apocalypse is real and it is happening now; the zombies are running the show. Saying shit like, “guns don’t cause shootings,” or viciously ganging up and consuming others for minor deviations in their accepted modes of thought and expression. Spreading their sickness through their phones.

They are just about done. So it goes with empires. One wonders if the tin-shit Emperors of falling Rome rallied the massed plebs with promises of “making Rome great again.”

Probably.

But so it goes. So it went.

So, as it is with these things, when we hear the bad news of the diagnoses, we offer our sympathies. Even for the chain-smoking drunk that has been an egregious bully, we still say the requisite magic words of sympathy:

“We’re so sorry America. It must be so hard for you. If there’s anything we can do to help (short of actually going anywhere near you, of course) don’t hesitate to ask.”

That’s the most important thing here: sympathy and empathy. It is sad. My heart goes out to individual Americans.

As with dealing with a cancer patient, we must express our sympathy even as we prepare an emotional buffer to insulate ourselves against their demise.

But just a friendly reminder to everyone:

Do realize that the internal spasms of the American police state are no more relevant to you than those in China, Brazil, Ukraine, Russia, and the multitude of other shitty places where shitty government goons brutalize their citizens on behalf of the elite.

The United States’ problems only seem more important because we have been programed to value Americans too highly. In this world, it is all too natural to think that an American voice is more valuable. That an American life is more valuable.

So when Americans scream into their self-created void, it is hard not to take it more seriously than we should. Americans are so profoundly narcissistic that they believe the collapse of their society signals the end of human civilization. Why wouldn’t they? To the average American, human civilization ends at their own borders.

However, just because Americans believe this, does not mean the rest of us should.

I get on social media and I see things like Canadians having arguments with other Canadians about the American Second Amendment and mass shootings.

Get a fucking grip! We’re a different country, you slack jawed morons! Stop culturally imperializing yourself! They might make a decent superhero movie and their TV is pretty fantastic, but you can end it there if you want.

All just an unfortunate side effect of sharing a language, I suppose. And I do understand the benefits of that far outweigh the petty annoyances. Back to back worldwide Anglo Empires have done a fine job of spreading English as the international language. The white, English-speaking first stage colonials (Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) have had nothing but good from it.

But still. Just because we can understand the internal squabbles of Americans, doesn’t mean that they have to matter to us. They don’t give a fuck what we think of them anyway; we’re just some nebulous hypothetical place to move if things get too bad in their homeland.

As though we want them. Like access to our country is just another inalienable right of Americans. I mean, why stop flexing your entitled sense of privilege at your own borders, am I right? Come on in! Let’s see if you can fuck up this place any worse that you did your first home. It’s not like your very ideas and modes of thinking haven’t completely polluted our language and culture already. Make yourselves at home, eh!

And to the Americans: carry on.

However, if your superiority complex has been wounded here, I recommend getting back onto the Fox short-bus where they have all manner of gold stars for your hockey helmet. Bless your little heart! Yayyyyy! U-S-A! U-S-A! We’re number one because we can bomb murder almost anyone we want and nobody can do shit to stop us! Yayyyyy!

The biggest bully on the playground is indeed the greatest in his own mind.

Goaded by Youngster

I just had an exchange that got my dander up and have decided to deal with it here. Consider me goaded.

Someone I follow posted a screenshot of some teenage drama they are engaging in. In it, she and her friend were trashing someone they’re beefing with. The poster added a note to the picture in which she asked another user if she is, “being mean or just honest.”

I’m not so sure why I felt the need to respond to this, but I thought I would send some food for thought the poster’s way. So I sent her a private ask with the following message:

“Unsolicited question, I know, so I’m not replying to your post directly. That said: Why do you assume that being honest isn’t also being mean? They are not mutually exclusive. The greatest cruelties are always honest.”

Now, I don’t know anyone in the exchange and am not the slightest bit invested in their drama. I just saw her using this false dichotomy that so many do these days to justify shitty, reality-TV type behavior. It’s the kind of thinking that helps make the world a shittier place to live in; a noxious element in the “Mean Girls” atmosphere permeating Western civilization. It’s not just that we’re going to embrace being shitty: we’re going to tart our shittiness up in the guise of virtue.

(“God! I’m just being honest!”)

I really have no idea to what degree the poster was invested in the trope they were using, but I thought she might be smart enough to benefit from considering her assumptions a little. However, given the juvenile nature of the slut and looks shaming she was engaged in, I may have been expecting too much.

Be that as it may, she immediately replied (unpublished) with: “Was it not obvious that I was being facetious?”

Now, to answer the surface layer of her reply: No. No it wasn’t. Not even a little bit. The query very much was an earnest one (although not directed to me).

On a deeper level: Okay, I get it, my input is unwanted and irrelevant. In order to communicate this, she has engaged in a classic rhetorical strategy of youngsters and the simpleminded. The, “I wasn’t even being serious, and you are a total out-of-touch shithead for not picking up on that.”

Some would be tempted to go off on a tangent about millennials at this point, but I’m not going to fall into that trap. This tactic is not unique to millennials; it’s as old as dirt. The playground taunt of, “I could have beaten you if I really wanted, but I didn’t care enough to try.” If you can’t beat them, at least make sure you piss them off.

That’s fine. I was an uninvited participant to begin with, I’ll show myself out.

However, imagine my surprise then, when I returned to my newsfeed to see that she had written a text post in which she states: “it’s true, being mean and honest aren’t mutually exclusive. This is an interesting thing to reflect on because (blah, blah, blah)…”

All without any sign of my question to her anywhere on the post or her blog.

Oh no you didn’t. You did not just smack me down like my question was the most obtuse of irrelevancies, only to immediately answer the substance of it publicly on your blog like you came up with the notion to explore it by yourself. Posting your answer straight to your blog without any indication that this turn to a deeper thought was not derived from you.

You didn’t even have the class (as someone who lays claim to the mantle of “writer,” no less) to alter my turn of phrase. You just yoinked it for yourself. An expression, I might add, that was the most dynamic prose of your whole post.

Yeah, consider me goaded.

A Visit With Nancy and Endi

I was recently watching sumo with my Canadian friend, Nancy, and her Japanese cop husband, Endi, at their place. They’re in their sixties and have just built their retirement home on Endi’s family property to replace the house that was bust up in the big earthquake.

Nancy’s from Nova Scotia and is one of those lapsed church ladies that can be incredibly hilarious and crass without ever saying a bad word. She was my original teaching superior at my first job in eikaiwa in Japan (English conversations school). Since then she’s become something of a surrogate mom for me.

Her husband, Endi, is an odd duck. For example, Nancy was complaining that while she was on her last solo trip to Canada, he rearranged the living room furniture so that all the chairs and sofa were facing a blank wall.

“He likes to sit and stare at the wall,” Nancy said. “He’s says it’s ‘berry nice.’”

He also collects rocks, which for some reason drives Nancy crazy. Not crystals or geodes, mind you. Rocks.

Endi used to handle the dead body inspection wherever he was stationed. He’d be the cop that would decide whether to have an autopsy or start a murder investigation when a corpse was found. With us being in basically rural Japan, it was generally a lot of suicides and solitary oldster decomps. He was also busy after the Great Tohoku Earthquake dealing with all the tsunami bodies. That got rough, he said. Not just the ocean water victims with the crabs and everything (although he said that was causing the military boys a lot of psychological trouble), but also dealing with families fighting over remains in the hopes of having something to have a funeral with.

Endi has all kinds of interesting dead body stories. He can be pretty callous, as is to be expected, so he can be fun to talk to about that kind of stuff. He never says much about active police work though. People for him tend to fall into two categories: “Nice Guy/Lady” or “Berry Stupid Guy/Lady.”

Endi’s also pretty intimidating in his way. He’s totally chill, but he’s got a face like one of those Japanese Buddhist guardian angels, and has black belts in kyokushin karate (hardcore full contact) and judo. Even in his sixties, he looks like he’s been carved out of wood like one of those temple guardian statues.



The first outing I had with Nancy and Endi was with my wife. We went to a Buddhist temple that had two really fine guardian statues inside the entrance gate, flanking the portal. Endi kept sticking his head into their space and smiling up at them saying, “guard. Guaaaaaaard. Guuuuuaaaaaaard,” in a really low, guttural tone, like a growl. Then he looked at me with basically the same smile that the statue had. Message received.

Not that I was too worried; Nancy had already told me that Endi said I was a nice guy.

He’s semi-retired now, which means he got transferred to his home town and will be driving a desk at headquarters until he’s 65. To prevent corruption, Japanese cops get transferred every few years from town to town within their prefecture. This has given me cause to see much of Fukushima that I wouldn’t have otherwise, since my wife and I tend go to visit Nancy and Endi every couple months.

At their house last weekend, in breaks between sumo bouts, I was asking Endi what work’s been like. Apparently, guys in his position are used to handle the “problem customers” that police face. Endi’s regulars are old ladies with dementia who live alone and use filing police reports as a form of entertainment. One in particular is a widow whose husband used to be police. Every week she comes in and tries to file one of two reports: either her home has been burgled and her money’s been stolen; or, her home has been burgled and she has been raped. Endi says his duty is to listen gravely to the old ladies, take notes with all his years of report taking experience, assure them that all investigative measures will be taken, and then throw away the notes as soon as they leave.

Endi loves sumo, so it was interesting to watch it with him. Between bouts he was happy to tell me all about the personalities, rivalries, nuances, and conventions. He’s very impressed with sumo wrestlers. One time he was at an onsen (hot spring spa) and there was a pro sumo wrestler in there with him. Endi offered to wash his back for him, and was allowed to do so. It seems that this was his proudest moment in life.

From Endi I learned that it is true that sumos have subordinates wipe their ass and wash their hind parts for them. This is an honorable and useful endeavor for the youngsters, I was assured (”Berry good, yes. Berry berry nice for them.”).

It was also fun watching sumo with Nancy, since she likes having me around to crack jokes with. She’ll trot out her English master’s degree grammar to say wickedly funny shit over her husband’s head. They both liked it when I referred to one sumo move as “the titty grab.”

It was a fun visit.

Truth and Reconciliation

A few years ago, one of my Canadian friends here in Japan gave me a compilation CD of kids’ songs she had got from a discount bin in a store in Canada. It was a three CD set that had older recordings of many classic kids’ songs and sing-along standards. I was charmed that it had some of the old-school nursery songs with the original dodgy lyrics (“Three Blind Mice,” and so forth). So we put it in the car and into the mix it went.

My daughter was about two at the time, and she came to enjoy these CDs. By the time she was four, she was singing along with most of them. Quite charming.

Now, there was one song that was not so charming: “Ten Little Indians.”

Listening to the CD for the first time I had no idea what was coming next. I heard that song start, and I thought, “Oh dear.” And, as with the rest of the songs, the version was full-on. It was a kids chorus group doing the singing, with a war drum backing them, and doing all the war-whoops and chants. The whole routine.

Oh dear.

But, I thought, the rest of this CD is lovely, and as bad and racist as this song is, there is no cultural context for it here in Japan. With my daughter being too young to explain properly why this song is bad, I decided just to ignore it, as I did with so many other things she enjoyed that I did not care for.

The trouble was, the song became her favorite. And she would sing along and do all the whoops and chants without any notion of what it is all about. But I knew all too well.

Oh dear.

One of the fun surprises of parenthood is how you are able to re-experience elements of your own childhood through the eyes of your child. It is much the same thing as watching a movie you love with a friend who has not seen it. It’s great.

Watching your child go through things can also trigger all kinds of emotions and memories from your own childhood, both good and bad. So it went with my daughter and, “Ten Little Indians.”

Driving along, with her in the back seat war-whooping and chanting, and wondering what I ought to be doing about this, I had a sudden recollection of doing exactly the same thing as her. I remembered singing that song in exactly that way, with the whoops and the chants, not just by myself, but with a big group of kids. I remembered loving it.

This got me thinking, in a very bothered state: When had I done this? With what group of kids?

It took me some time to remember properly. It was in grade one of elementary school. We did that song in our music class. At least a few times.

Oh dear.

Now, in the last months as the truth and reconciliation movement has gathered momentum with the discovery of unmarked graves of First Nations children at residential schools, I have been drawn to think about this memory again. To put it into the wider context of Canadian society as it relates to this issue.

Oh dear.

I do not think that our teacher, in choosing this song, was thinking that she wanted to be a cog in the machine of cultural genocide. I do not think that as six-year-old children we realized that our performance was working to dehumanize First Nations people in our own perception.

But this is so. This is what we were engaged in, consciously or not.

Then I went on to recollect that there was at least one First Nations child in our class. I recalled that she went on to be the first outcast among us. I recall that I went on to treat her very poorly.

I do not think this is a coincidence.

When I widen my thoughts further, to the area of Edmonton where I grew up, I recall stories I heard from an older man I worked with. How he proudly related how his grandmother came to northern Alberta as a little girl in a chuckwagon with her family to homestead a farm. What a tale it was. And without diminishing the incredible story of that family, that is how immediate the history of colonization is in our land. This is not ancient history. This is our story.

Many people like to ask how it was that normal Germans could sit by and allow the Holocaust to occur. They think to themselves that if they had lived in those times, they would have done differently. They would have stood up. They would have resisted.

Well, something similar to the Holocaust did occur in Canada, for the entire duration of the twentieth century. A cultural genocide was conceived of, planned, and perpetrated by the Canadian and provincial governments and Canada’s major churches. Justified, in fact, with the same philosophies and academic theories that the Nazis used to justify their genocides. Racial ideology. Eugenics. The purity of the nation.

It is all the same thing, at heart. The Nazis just took it further.

And we must not forget that this genocide was perpetrated by Canadian society as a whole. For we cannot say that the average German bore culpability for the Holocaust without now turning that righteous judgment on ourselves.

A genocide was perpetrated, and what did we do? Did we stand up? Did we resist?

Ignorance is no excuse. It never is. The machine of the Canadian genocide of the First Nations ought to have been patently obvious to everyone. All it would have taken was the slightest bit of attention for all of us to realize what was happening. But we did not look. Instead, we sang, “Ten Little Indians,” and turned like predators on the other we had created.

And now we are discovering the atrocities of this genocide. “Discovering” them from the people who have been clearly talking about what was done to them for years; done to them by people who were lauded in our communities as paragons of charity. Perhaps we are discovering these things in the same way that the land of these peoples’ ancestors was “discovered” by Europeans so long ago.

I wonder how this new age of discovery will impact the culture. I somehow doubt it will make the same mark in the dominant narrative of our history. I also wonder if it too will be appropriated; this time as a vehicle of virtue signaling and patting ourselves on the back for our enlightenment.

And I’m not going to say, “I stand with you.” Because have I? Do I? I don’t even know what that means. It seems an empty platitude. I think you need to earn the right to say you stand with someone. Doing so requires some degree of tangible action.

I will say that I am sickened, depressed, and demoralized about what we have been “discovering.” And I do not know what to do about it.

But I will say: I am very sorry for my part in it.

Babies of all Ages

One fun thing about babies is that all of their babbling and nonsense is entirely purposeful. They believe wholeheartedly that they have something important to say and are expressing it clearly; that the remote control truly belongs in the trash. They have important work to do.

Sadly, people rarely lose this perception of themselves, although some people do actually develop the faculties to communicate, think, and act effectively.

Many don’t, however. Like babies, these folks stumble on through life convinced they make sense and are doing important work.

Only now they can drive and own guns and stuff. Sometimes they run countries.