Truth and Reconciliation Day 2022

Thanks to an accident of birth, I’m free to live in Canada. It’s a land I have no claim to, and though we acknowledge every day that we are here on someone else’s land, we still hide behind sophistry. We say “unceded”, when we mean “stolen”.

We live on the land that was taken from people who had lived there for thousands of years. Because they looked different, because they valued different things, lived a different life, they were judged lesser, deemed uncivilized. Though the people who stole the land professed to hold to a religion that says stealing is wrong, they compounded their crime by trying to eradicate the people who lived there first. They tried to destroy their way of life, and they stole the children to separate them from their families and their culture and their heritage.

There’s no excusing what was done. It’s not enough to say “It was a different time.” or “They didn’t understand the impact of what they were doing.” They did know. They were very clear that the culture that existed in North America must be replaced with that of the European Colonists. That no act of violence was too terrible if it resulted in cutting the next generation of the First Nations off from their families, their stories, their history.

We talk about Truth and Reconciliation, but it’s not ours to give, or to take. The uncovering of the Residential School graves last year was a step towards truth, but like many things, this was a truth the indigenous peoples have been telling everyone for years. Any reconciliation has to be on their terms, not ours.

And if you think that’s too much to ask, imagine having your children torn away from your family, being denied contact, having them raised in a culture and religion that is not your own, and perhaps facing the horror of them never returning. Having no idea what happened to them, or where their remains lie. This one aspect of the crimes committed against the First Nations should be enough to stop us in our tracks.

We have allotted one day to mark Truth and Reconciliation, to stand against decades and decades of abuse, erasure, prejudice, and mischaracterisation. It’s a long road that we must walk now, and the First Nations have to be the ones leading. We can’t ask how far we have to go, until we acknowledge the terrible weight of the burdens they have already been carrying all these years.

Writer’s Block

I was going to title this post “Writer’s block – myth or not?” but I didn’t. Here’s why:

A lot of writers who blog, or Tweet, or whatever address the issue of writer’s block at some point. Some say it doesn’t exist, that to write – to really write – just takes the application of bum to seat and fingers to keyboard. It’s a job, they say, and writing every day like it’s a real job will carry you through the days when you just don’t, you know feel it.

Other people say “No, that’s not what I’m talking about. I want to write, I really need to, and I am sat here ready to go, and the WORDS WON’T COME!” It’s a genuine blockage, something preventing the flow of words that is normally, if not effortless, then at least easy.

So that brings me round to something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: People are different. We KNOW people are different, but we still determinedly lump together people who share one aspect of their lives, or their personalities, or their medical diagnoses, and we treat them all the same.

Writing. I’ve been a published writer for over twenty years. I’ve earned actual money from the stuff I write. Now, I don’t make my entire living from writing, so maybe you can discount me that way, but I don’t think so. I’ve written fiction and non-fiction and sold both. I’ve done magazine articles and short stories. I’ve done novels. I’ve certainly done plays. But what I’ve written over the last three years could be fitted on a pack of cigarettes without removing the government-mandated warning pictures. And yeah, some of that is because of regular life – remodeling the house, buying an apartment, Mrs Dim’s medical condition, the trip to England… There are always going to be interruptions. But I’m saying for the record here that there has been plenty of time for me to write, and I haven’t done it.

Is that Writer’s Block? Maybe for me. It’s not the first time I haven’t had ideas fighting to get onto paper, though it is the longest. I’ve had ideas during that time, obviously, and some of them got noted down in various places, but nothing developed beyond that scribbled note:

“And then my husband got fat”

“Small, Good Wolves need not apply”

“Famous Last Words”

“The Gardener of Crystal Palace”

Last week I was shuffling through a bunch of old files. One of them was an outline of a play I started to write. It was called the “Not Bertie Wooster” Play, because I had listened to the complete Jeeves and Wooster series on audio, and the style of Bertie’s speech was burned into my brain. I had a lot of fun, writing the outline using Bertie’s eclectic terms of affection and disbelief, and was building up quite a Wodehousian plot. Naturally, I ran out of steam about a third of the way through, but that was five pages. Five pages of outline. Since I didn’t have any other writing work on, I thought it would be easier to try writing out the script from this outline, rather than trying to write something new (or, actually, finish the outline first!)

That was a week ago, and I am pages into the script and haven’t caught up to the end of the outline yet. Writing this is fun , it’s not difficult, and I’m not worried about running out of outline because it feels like this is one of those plays where the characters will take up the story and run with it if I let them.

I haven’t “broken” a writer’s block. I haven’t found a method that will work for other people, or even for me the next time around. Everyone is different. But for now, I have rediscovered my own joy in writing, and it may well carry me through to the end of this script.

If YOU are suffering from Writer’s Block, or some similar condition that is preventing you doing your own creative thing, then firstly, I believe you. No one can tell you that block does not exist. It’s YOURS.

Secondly, because everyone is different, there are a million different pieces of advice out there that claim to break your block. None of them is going to be right every time for every person. But because there are so many, and hey, aren’t you desperate? Then you can try as many as you like until you find one that works for now.

Fifty, not out… (Cricket reference.)

There’s a lot of mileage made in popular culture about fear of aging, but the truth is, it’s rarely presented as an issue for folks like me – middle class, middle age white guys. In fact, we’re more likely to be told that Charlie Chaplin was still fathering children when he was in his seventies, and I still don’t know what to make of that.

I didn’t worry when I turned thirty. I’d once been told that men hit their physical peak at eighteen, but if that’s true, then my peak wasn’t much to shout about, and if I ever get around to making an effort, I’m pretty sure I could get into better shape, even now. Thirty was nothing, though. I was a dad of young kids, involved in the school, trying to make a hobby into either a career or a paying prospect. I was learning to be a good husband, still thinking back then that it was something you could become, not something you had to choose to be every day.

I don’t remember turning forty, really. I notice I didn’t blog about it, and we didn’t make a fuss about that birthday, but instead threw a party  when I turned forty two, because that IS an important number, right? Forty is officially middle-age, and even today a guy making it to 80 is doing well, beating the averages. But my kids still seemed young, and I could generally keep up with them. There were the odd aches and pains, but I still wasn’t actually doing any exercise, so that wasn’t surprising.

And now fifty. Two of my kids are so grown up they’ve left home. One’s working full time, the other’s about to finish university. The remaining stay-at-home may be about to start work too. My latest shot at promotion may have stalled, but I’m happy in my job, and it brings in enough to allow us to live happily, if not extravagantly. I’m not disappointed that I never became a motorcycle stunt man (as ten-year-old Dim once wanted), and I’m happy with all the choices I’ve made, I think. Being fifty doesn’t feel as old as it used to sound.

Derek at Emerald City

So far we haven’t taken Derek out of town. The Vancouver FanExpo is small but mighty, and we have loved the two visits Derek has made there. In the background, however, was this idea that maybe we should be looking to keep moving up, with the eventual aim of going to the Mother of All Comicons, San Diego.

Just a couple of hours across the border, Seattle hosts the Emerald City Comic Convention. This year they announced that David Tennant was going to be attending, along with Billie Piper. A few years ago, the Weasels went all the way out to Edmonton to get a photo with David Tennant.

Mrs Dim and I decided we might head out to Seattle, take the photo with us, and get our picture taken with their picture, and then challenge them to get another picture holding our picture…. Well, it was a great plan. Unfortunately, once the Weasels heard about our plan, they decided they should come too, and bring Derek…

Derek has been upgraded somewhat, thanks to the 3d printers and the Raspberry Pi, but we hadn’t had more than a brief try out with all the kit in the basement. The biggest addition was the hoverboard that Mrs Dim found, which allowed Eldest Weasel to move Derek around without having to flap her feet like Fred Flintstone.

With Derek taking up the whole of the back of Magda the Mazda, the Weasels has to drive themselves to Seattle, but we managed to arrive at the same car park beside the convention center. Assembling Derek as easy, thanks to experience…

But then we ran into an issue that we’ve not had to deal with before, which Seattle may need to look at. To get to the elevator for the convention center, Derek had to go down some stairs. Derek can not go down stairs. Despite the fact that we were parked next to a disabled parking spot, the only access to the elevator without stairs was down the “NOT FOR PEDESTRIANS” ramp. Only to find we couldn’t get into the convention center that way. We had to go find an employee to point out the ADA compliant entrance.

It’s a good job we don’t believe in omens. We trundled Derek into the center itself and stacked him up with Eldest Weasel in the driving seat.

Try as we could, we couldn’t position the speaker in a way that prevented feedback whenever we tried to use the Raspberry Pi voice-changer. The Pi worked, but the feedback drowned the dalek voice. We disconnected it, and hooked up a phone with pre-recorded phrases instead. Voice changer next time. The hoverboard was working, though, so we trundled forward, into the convention at last.

Derek was a sensation. From the moment he rolled into the the first hall, he was mobbed by people admiring him, asking for photos, for details of construction, for confirmation that someone was inside.

Eldest Weasel makes Derek come alive, but even when she stepped out for a chance to tour the halls and Derek was simply standing sentinel, he attracted admirers. It was just so much fun to see people genuinely light up when they saw him.

When Eldest Weasel returned we had our biggest challenge: We had to make our way from the convention center to the Hyatt Regency. Out on the actual streets of Seattle.

All the photo sessions were taking place in the Hyatt, so we were making our way there along with other convention goers, and passed by others on their way back to the convention. We were stopped for photographs as we went, and Derek’s hoverboard proved equal to the challenge of the streets. Even so, Derek’s driver found the process quite tiring, and was relieved to unstack in the Hyatt for a bit of a rest.

We had made it to the Hyatt in good time, so Derek was able to restack and roll into the long line of people waiting to have their photo taken with Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper (David Tennant having, sadly, had to withdraw due to filming commitments.)

Even after everything we’d seen that day, the look on their faces as we rolled through the curtain – well, Derek rolled – it was amazing. So much so that I apparently nearly forgot to get into the photo myself.

Derek made it to Emerald City in style, and he wowed the crowds and the celebrities. We still have more upgrades planned, more work to do, but as he is, Derek is just fine.

You can’t go home again.

This has been a popular saying since Thomas Wolfe wrote his book with that title in the first half of the 1900’s (it was published posthumously in 1940). It’s one of those sayings like “You can never cross the same river twice” that is, on the surface, complete rubbish. Of course you can go home again. You can also spend all day going back on forth over any bridge you name, crossing the same river every time.

But these are not meant to be taken at surface meaning, like “When the leaves are the size of squirrel’s ears, it be time for plantin’…”* The home you go back to is not the same as the one you left, because both you and the people there have grown and changed in the intervening time. The river water you cross the second time is from further upstream.

Despite these linguistic caveats, I did recently return to the town I once called home. New Alresford, in Hampshire, England. It was Mum’s birthday, and my dad asked if I could fly over as a surprise. I took my Eldest Weasel, as she is calm, an experienced traveller, and she could pay for her own ticket.

I was very happy to be going to see my parents and my friends. I was less enthusiastic about visiting the UK in general, because the lackadaisical attitude to Covid precautions meant it was quite possible I would get infected while there. But we took masks and went forth!

The birthday surprise was great, and Mum was delighted, which made the whole trip worthwhile within 48 hours of landing. We caught up with friends and family at the lunch, and at Mum and Dad’s place afterwards, but the next day we got to stroll around my old hometown.

I left in 1996, and unsurprisingly, it’s changed quite a lot. The pub where I used to work has been rebuilt after it burned down. (I have an alibi. Not that I need one. I didn’t do it.)

The Post Office is now an Estate Agent’s, the Newsagent’s is now…well, NOT a newsagent any more. The Pizza Express has been replaced with something else that doesn’t do pizza, and my old school looks like a place that might provide a decent education, or at least place well in the league tables. The bookshop where I used to get deals on second hand books is still there, and I bought some second hand books.

The house at the top of this post is the one Mrs Dim and I first lived in when we were married. It doesn’t look wildly different from when we owned it – the windows are still the original drafty sash jobs, but there’s a skylight in the roof that must make the attic room more cheerful. The front yard has flowers in it, but the place is up for sale again, so the current owners must feel they need something more. (They can’t possibly be downsizing, unless they are hamsters or contortionists.)

As it was when WE put it up for sale…

I’d told myself I should be more positive about visiting the UK, and there were a lot of things to appreciate. The countryside is beautiful and green, despite the record-breaking temperatures, and it’s EVERYWHERE. From the moment we left the airport to the time we returned, green fields, trees, flowers, meadows, rolling hills and rivers made up the landscape.

The people we met were also positive and welcoming, even if they rolled their eyes while talking about the current political situation, or the handling of Covid, or the weather. The streets were clean, and when we went shopping with our crazy list of things to take back to Canada, we found all of them.

I don’t ever plan on returning to the UK to live. If I’d ever considered it, the opening times of the Alresford library made my mind up.

And yes, maybe Alresford only has 5,000 inhabitants compared with the 250,000 who live in Burnaby, but if you make it hard for people to visit the library, then they won’t go. And if they won’t go, you have “evidence” that they don’t need a library, so it closes. And people like Boris Johnson feel a little more secure, knowing the population has fewer resources.

So, despite Thomas Wolfe, I did go home again, spending good times with my parents, and catching up with friends at a local pub (didn’t burn that one down either. Or any of them. IT WASN’T ME!) I visited my brother and his family at their home, played tourist in my old hometown, told my daughter stories of the boy I used to be, and then….

I went home again.

*This is not true, and I do not wish to be held responsible for failed crops. Lucy Johnston said it once in college, and it’s one of the few things I heard in college that I can remember now.

Another Juggling Box Update

There’s a lot going on right now. Two of the kids have moved out, there was a fire at work, we’re renovating the basement bedroom….

…Yes, that’s ANOTHER fireplace we’ve removed. I’m also trying to get Derek’s upgrade moved along, but I’ve reached a tricky bit that involves putting together a lot of components at once in a way that absolutely must not go wrong.

On top of which, I’m also trying to keep ahead of the script reading work I do for Lazy Bee Scripts. We’re busy, is the short version.

Nonetheless, it bothered me that I had made this custom-built thing to carry all my juggling kit, and yet when I added the jar I use to carry the fuel that keeps the fire clubs burning, the lid would not shut. The box on the top is the logical place for this jar, but I was not about to rebuild the entire top box just to accommodate a few centimeters in height. So here’s my elegant solution:

Not only does the jar now fit when the lid’s closed, it doesn’t rattle about as you drag the box around on the tiny wheels! I bet all the woodworkers who’ve been liking the original post will be well impressed with this.

I read for fun, and that’s ok.

We’re living in weird times, and I’m not just referring to America’s apparent slide into Medieval Theocracy. Guys like me are in charge of most of the big media the world consumes – TV and Movies – and we are producing endless love letters to our childhood selves. Comic book movies, Sci-Fi epics, reboots or remakes of the films we grew up with, sequels that have taken decades, tv shows that fill in gaps that, quite frankly, most people didn’t care about or notice.

More than one critic, and a few film-makers, have said this childishness is unseemly. That superhero movies are all very well, but they’re not Art, they’re not what the medium is about, and so on and so on.

The same snobbery is alive and well in the publishing industry. While the big Five are happy to publish anything that will sell, there’s still this weird perception about what is a “proper” book. Romance is a derided genre, but sales pay for most of the rest of the books. People might sniff at Danielle Steel books, but she’s topped bestsellers lists for decades and shows no sign of slowing down, and unlike some James Pattersons I could mention, she writes all her books herself.

Speaking of James Patterson, the Mystery/thriller genre doesn’t count as high-quality stuff either, even if it’s a gritty Norwegian thing. People went wild over the Stieg Larsson books, but then people went wild over Harry Potter too. Doesn’t mean it’s literature, Darling.

I hardly need mention that Sci-Fi, despite being able to trace its roots back to Mary Flipping SHELLEY, is still the awkward Uncle at the family barbeque.

Which just leaves general fiction. Now, a lot of that can be discounted too, because it’s just stories. Good stories, fun stories, heart-wrenching stories. But not the real thing.

And now we get to it, because the figure in the Opera mask, playing the organ in the basement of this baroque construct is none other than Lit Fic! Yes, Literary Fiction, stories that are, by some esoteric definition, more than their genre cousins. Or perhaps not more, but “better”.

Let me be honest here: I don’t like lit fic books. If I see a book and the author bio says they just got their MFA and this is the book they’ve been working on for five years, I will eye it with suspicion. If that author is a white male and he teaches Creative Writing, I will hurl it from me with great force.

“But Dim!” I hear you cry “Isn’t this a terrible prejudice? How can you condemn all these works without reading them?”

And that brings me to the reason for writing this post. I do read lit fic from time to time. After all, I work in a library and I like to read. I will actually check out a book just because of the title, or the premise, or even the cover. There, I judge books by their covers. Sue me.

Over this last week, I’ve been short of books to read. A fire at my branch of the library has shut off access to the main collection, including a couple of holds I was waiting on, so I grabbed a book from Mrs Dim’s TBR pile (TBR = To Be Read). It was by an author I had read before, and I hadn’t liked that book, but I prepared to cut him some slack and read this one.

It wasn’t as bad as the other book, but it was bad. And I know, that’s a subjective opinion, because he’s an award-winning writer who’s had two books made into movies (one of which is the aforementioned bad book). I read this one because the premise was interesting and I wanted to see how the story turned out, but along the way I had to listen to the writer chuckling to himself about his wonderful command of the language and his wonderfully poetic sentence construction, regardless of the effect this had on the characters he was using to prop up a preposterous and unwieldy plot. The story progressed, and then it ended in an unsatisfactory fashion, because the author had said all that he wanted to.

Stephen King (who knows a thing or two about writing) says that you should write the first draft of your story with the door closed. In effect, write that first draft for you, telling the story to yourself. Don’t worry about the language, or the themes, or maybe even the continuity. Get the bones down, get some flesh on them. Then, you open the door. You write the second draft with the reader in mind. What you want them to feel about the story, what effect you want to have, what themes you want to emphasize.

I don’t think Lit Fic authors ever open the door. If they ever write with a reader in mind, it’s the Art Critic, or that girl who sneered at them when they were fifteen. They want to impress people with their cleverness, light up the sky with the fireworks of their prose. And if you ask about story, about a satisfactory narrative, they will smile condescendingly and say “Oh, well, if you’re looking for that kind of book, the Maeve Binchys are over there.” and they would laugh with their friends, but they don’t have any.

I heard about an interview with a Lit Fic author who had written a book with Science Fiction elements. In fact, what he had done was taken a long-established sci-fi trope about what makes someone human (remember “Frankenstein”?) and trotted out a thin volume of his own. When the interviewer asked him, naturally enough, what Sci-Fi books he had read as he prepared to write his variation on this ancient theme, he (probably) smiled condescendingly and said “Oh, I don’t read genre.

And that was apparent to anyone who read the jacket of the book, since the same idea has been done over and over and much more interestingly from Mary Shelley herself and on down through the years. But this guy, he thinks he’s being so damn original, so clever, so incisive, as he ponders questions that have been old hat in Sci Fi since before Jim Kirk took over the Enterprise from Pike. Because he doesn’t read genre, darling, so he doesn’t know what he’s missed.

So, I may not like Lit Fic, but I will continue to pick them up from time to time. The same way I read romance from time to time, or thrillers, or horror, or YA. Because I love books, and stories, and just because Sci-Fi is my wheelhouse doesn’t mean that’s the only thing I’ll ever read. I don’t want to become as provincial as that Lit Fic author. It’s ok not to like something, but I’m quite happy for other people to go on reading Lit Fic if it floats their boat. Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean I want it gone.

And one day, I shall finish writing my own lit fic book, currently stalled at 7,500 words because I keep wanting it to have a plot and a point…

Dinosaurs and the Action Woman

Yesterday, Mrs Dim and I went off to see “Jurassic World: Dominion”. We’d seen Lucy V Hay’s review, so we weren’t going for great cinema – we were going because we love the franchise in all its goofy magnificence. Mrs Dim said she was expecting a kind of “Pantomime walkdown”, with all the old stars (the ones still alive) using their catchphrases one last time.

To be honest, I really enjoyed the movie. I didn’t watch it with my script-reader’s head on, nor was I out to pick plot holes (although I did wince about the way the “hyperloop” system worked – where was the vacuum? That tunnel was open EVERYWHERE! That’s just a sodding TRAIN, mate!) But I felt bad for Claire, the character played by Bryce Dallas Howard.

In the first movie to show her, Jurassic World, Claire is an upwardly mobile executive, estranged from her family because she buries herself in work. IN the course of the movie, much like Alan Grant in the first, she comes to appreciate her family and the connections with people over the tough and soulless business world.

Claire as she first appears.

In the second movie she has knocked off some of her corners and is better prepared for the action sequences. She’s brave and doesn’t hesitate to step forward. I came out of the cinema this time feeling she’d been badly served, spending more time frozen and waiting to be rescued.

However, talking it over with Mrs Dim on the dog walk this morning, I may be wrong (This happens quite a lot: I discover I am wrong when talking things over with Mrs Dim…)

At the start of the movie, Claire is leading a raid into an illegal dino breeding facility. She breaks a lock, and when they find a creature in distress, she doesn’t hesitate to free it, even though they’re only supposed to be gathering evidence. Then she piles into the van as other vehicles come screaming up, and she drives away under fire, through a charging herd of Triceratops. This is not a weak and feeble character. She is in charge of her actions.

The moment that I was thinking of, when she freezes, comes after a series of traumatic events: She has to eject from the plane, has her parachute trashed by Pterasaurs, lands in a tree and is almost eaten by another predator (didn’t recognise the species, sorry!), and then she has to make her way through the dino-infested valley to an observation post. As she’s trying to get inside, she’s cornered by three dilophosaurs. She’s unarmed and alone, so it’s more than fair to accept that she’s reached the end of her rope at this point.

Mrs Dim’s argument was that we still haven’t got a very good idea of a what a strong woman looks like. Lucy talks a lot about this issue too (having written some strong women herself). Strong women aren’t simply Rambo with boobs. Women don’t tend to be as physically muscular as men (though obviously there are some women who are more muscular than some men) and while there are a number of female characters who can seriously kick butt, they tend to be ones who are trained from birth or have super-abilities (I’m thinking of Wonderwoman, Buffy, Spider Gwen and so on…)

Claire’s motivations in the movie are atonement (brought up in the first scene) and the maternal desire to rescue and protect her adopted daughter. She does fight, going toe-to-toe with Dichen Lachman’s villainous character (who almost certainly WAS trained to kill), and she persists through a variety of risky situations until she finds Maisie again.

Both Bryce Dallas Howard and Laura Dern play tough women who aren’t fazed by hard choices and physical difficulties. They didn’t enjoy wading through dying, burning locusts to try and shut off the power, but it had to be done to save their friends and loved ones, so they did it. I think they’re actually pretty good role models, for all it’s a crazy film.

(By the way, the message of the film is pretty stark – we’re screwing up the world, but it’s never too late to stand up and do the right thing – but it’s right on the money.

Last of the High School Graduates

Some time ago (in the post I wrote here ) I mentioned that we couldn’t plan on returning to the UK after only a couple of years, because once the Weasels began their Secondary Education, it was best we let them see it through. With a three-year age gap between each weasel, that meant that by the time one was done, the next two would be well and truly in it.

Until this week, when Tiny Weasel became the latest to graduate from High School.

So now I’ve attended three North American High School Graduations, and I have to admit, I have questions.

To give you some context, I “graduated” from Perins Secondary school at the age of sixteen in 1988. Back then, that was the end of your mandatory education. You could choose, like I did, to go on to A levels at a college (Still called “Sixth Form Colleges”, though we didn’t have “forms” in the school), but you could also just go out into the workforce.

At sixteen I was studying nine subjects, and when I had taken the last exam, that was it. Since all my peers were doing a different mix of subjects, we all finished school at different times. There was no big leaving ceremony that I remember, and I did not feel that one was lacking. At the end of my A levels, the college had a “Leavers Ball”, but that was more about celebrating social status (it seemed to me) than about the end of college.

In contrast, all three of my weasels have had a big ceremony in some public forum. You have to have tickets to attend, and graduates have robes and hats which are regulated in terms of what you may or may not write on them. Each hat has a tassel which must be attached, and that tassel MUST BE ON THE LEFT as you come on stage for your moment in the spotlight, and YOU YOURSELF must move the tassel over to the RIGHT SIDE on leaving the stage. If you don’t….I dunno, maybe your graduation doesn’t count?

Yes, this was the first graduation we’d been to that didn’t feature that song from “Rent”…

(Not that it’s a bad song, but apparently it got used A LOT!)

No, this year we got the Coast Salish Anthem, which was appropriate for the venue AND the occasion, and the fact the we are supposed to be (at the very least) acknowledging the First Nations in everything we do.

Anyway, that was the right choice. And I like “Hallelujah” as much as the next guy, and the choir did a beautiful rendition of it, but was it a good choice for the occasion? They featured a verse I hadn’t heard before (there are something like fifteen actual verses for the song, though most people use three):

You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the profane Hallelujah

I’m the first to admit that I’m picky about words – it’s a big part of both my jobs. But this verse is saying – what? That it doesn’t matter what’s said, it matters what the person saying it means? Or that it DOESN’T matter what the person saying it means? Because I have to say, these days we are all trying hard to get people to understand that WORDS DO MATTER. That what you say can be damaging to other people, that your intention does not negate the harm you can cause with the wrong words.

Then we got “Pomp and Circumstance”, which North Americans only know as The Graduation March, but Brits know as “Land of Hope and Glory”.

If you were aiming to De-colonise some North American traditions, maybe look at removing the tune that goes along with one of the most bombastic and imperial “hymns” out there? Oh, that’s not what you hear when the tune plays? Listen, I know this guy, Leonard Cohen? He says it doesn’t matter what you heard….

Why though, asks Mrs Dim, after the ceremony is done. Why that tune still? If the answer is “because we always use that tune…” then NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Try again.

Following the entrance of the Class of 2022, we had three speeches from members of the educational establishment. They were all different, but all said much the same thing, and yes, they were generally in praise of what these kids had endured under the crazy years of Covid restrictions. But three speeches is, as far as I’m concerned, two too many, especially when the night is getting cold, and we haven’t even gotten to the presentation of the thing they earned with their five years of school.

And there was longer to wait, because first you get the presentation of the Scholarships and special prizes. Kids trooped across the stage, sometimes more than once or twice, and one had to stand while the announcer detailed that she was getting this scholarship for being poor. (Ok, that’s not the terms they used, but we all understood them.) I don’t know how the other graduands felt, but my elder two in the audience felt lesser for not winning scholarships and awards, and they haven’t been in High School in years. Yes, this is an achievement that should be celebrated, but the scholarships are mentioned as the kid gets their scroll (actually NOT a scroll, but I can’t help myself) anyway, so why the need to announce exactly WHAT the scholarship is? Why not put that info in the programme?

Because, and this is the important part, there are FOUR PAGES of names for this graduating class. They all deserve their time on the stage, being applauded by families and friends, and I would not deny them that. But by the time that walk started, we had already been sitting a long time. The final few grads (my weasel among them) had waited upwards of two hours. And then they all have to sit down again and listen to the Valedictorian speech.

He did a good job, but as the voice of the graduating class, maybe he should have been further up the programme? After all, wasn’t this whole evening supposed to be about them?

This is the essential point of the whole question, I think. Who is this ceremony for? Mrs Dim says the robes and hats imbue some solemnity, and there’s the old argument that everyone looks equal with the gown over their clothes, rich or poor, cool or nerdy. The ceremony is not mandatory, she points out – if you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to.

That’s fair, but I think there’s a certain amount of expectation from the parents who had their grad in this style. The educational staff who have seen dozens of these ceremonies and know how they “should” go. The PAC members who fundraise for the events around graduation.

With Tiny Weasel’s graduation, we’re done with High School, so we don’t get a vote anymore. We didn’t join the High School PAC, so we didn’t get any input into the graduation (if they have any beyond organising the celebratory dinner dance.) I’m not going to start a crusade to change the culture of graduation in BC. All this pondering of the rights and wrongs will remain just that – pondering.

I’m glad Tiny Weasel got to have a regular graduation ceremony, something she’ll have in common with most of the people she’s likely to meet in her adult life on this continent. She enjoyed it, generally, and she didn’t trip over her gown or lose her hat. Perhaps it was a better send off to the years of school than my own quiet retreat, but I still don’t feel I’ve missed out. My school friends who were worthwhile are still my friends, and there’s nothing more I needed to keep of my school years.

My final school year. (Not actual size)

Visiting Cirque Du Soleil for “Alegria”

It’s a long weekend here in BC, and Mrs Dim had booked tickets for the pair of us to go see Cirque Du Soleil’s new show “Alegria”. Every time Cirque come to Vancouver, they pitch a huge big top on False Creek, just by the Rogers Arena, across from Science World. Even amongst the interesting architecture of Downtown, the tent stands out.

I hadn’t seen a live Cirque performance since I went to see “Quidam” in London with Paul, one of my juggling partners, but our eldest had been to this show last week and said it was awesome.

It was definitely weird, being in such a busy space – our largest gathering of other people since local restrictions were lifted, but staff were masked and so were quite a few visitors. We had opted not get VIP seating, or upgrade when offered the chance on arrival, but our seats looked pretty good. We weren’t right at the edge of the performing area, and there weren’t any support structures in our way. We were pretty close to our neighbours, but this is BC, so we said Hi and chatted with them. They were, of course, nice people.

The performing area was bare, except for a bent stick with a crystal in the end, slowly rotating on the spot.

If we craned our necks and looked to the right, we could see the entrance, guarded by an ornate throne.

Like most Cirque shows, there was a kind of story, and sometimes that story seemed to be part of the circus performance, and sometimes it didn’t figure at all. The characters spoke in a kind of semi-intelligible fashion, like Minions, so you didn’t have to speak English to “understand” them.

What were the acts? Well, I didn’t take any photos of them. Photography is not forbidden, just no flashes and no video, so it’s safer not to try. The first act was acrobatics using poles, supported on shoulders to propel the acrobats into the air. It was big and showy and really, really impressive. Then there was a more traditional trapeze act, a pair doing release and catch moves right up at the peak of the tent,

In between acts, either the “main” story of the jester who wanted to be king (or whatever) or the more minor but more fun story of the two clowns would continue. The latter produced the most unexpected moment of the whole show, when there was an actual blizzard – paper snow, blasted from the area of the throne, all the way across the stage, and right into the faces of the people who HAD bought the VIP seats.

There was an amazing fire twirling act, whatever you call a trapeze act that doesn’t use a trapeze but just has a wrist through a rope loop, a hula hoop flow artist, an awesome trampoline team act, and a pair of captivating acro-balancers. Did I miss anyone? I can’t remember, but it was a great show. Oh yeah, the guy Mrs Dim really liked who did the act with the big steel wheel he rocked around the stage.

Thank you, Cirque du Soleil, for a great evening out!