Showing posts with label we like lists. Show all posts
Showing posts with label we like lists. Show all posts


what i liked, what i hated, and what i don't understand: a list about my election campaign

I agreed to stand for election because it was an opportunity -- an opportunity to bring a progressive perspective to a riding where those ideas are usually overlooked, and a personal opportunity to expand my own skills and experience. Overall, it was a positive experience -- because it was so short-term. If it had been gone on for six months or a year, I would have been miserable! Here's what I liked, what I hated, and what I just don't get.


1. I met a lot of people! Community activists, progressive-minded neighbours, minority voices in our suburban city. Strangers reached out to support our campaign, to encourage me personally, and with ideas of how they could help. I loved making these connections. It was personally gratifying, and it also expanded my own network in the community.

2. It was a completely immersive experience. I was fortunate to be able to take a leave-of-absence from both library and union work, so I could campaign full-time. I felt exactly like I did during our library workers' strike in 2016 -- completely obsessed. I woke up every morning before dawn, super-charged with energy, and worked like mad the entire day. If I created a brain-map for these times, 95% of it would be the strike or campaign, with a tad leftover to take care of myself physically and remember my partner and dog. I would not have the stamina to do that for months on end, but for a few weeks, it was exciting.

3. I believed we could improve people's lives. There's a unique buzz you get from advocating on someone else's behalf, and fighting for what you believe in. I fight for better working conditions and the rights of our union's members all the time, and I love it. I got a glimpse of doing that on a larger stage, having more opportunity to improve people's lives. That was exciting.

4. I loved the challenge. I used skills I've been honing in both work and union -- leadership, strategizing, planning, listening, researching, reacting.

5. I believed so deeply in the platform. I never would have or could have done it otherwise.


1. Being photographed so much. This was the worst part of the strike and it was the worst part of campaigning. It started off with a horrible experience getting my headshots done -- every single thing about the experience set up for failure -- and continued that way through the whole campaign, as I was forced to see images of myself all the time. I hated this.

2. Being cut off from much of my support network. Candidates are strongly advised to take their personal social media accounts offline during the campaign. I tried just being quiet and more circumspect than usual, but quickly found I was causing other people more work and concern, so I complied with the recommendation. I have many friends and fellow activists that I mostly see only on Facebook. Being cut off from my network was stressful.

3. Taking this blog offline. I hated this.

4. Having to moderate my responses to be appropriate for a candidate. The hotheaded temper of my younger days has long since mellowed and is well under control. But I still prefer a blunt response to a measured one. I zipped my lip... but I didn't like it!

5. Having so little time and so few resources. The NDP reached out to potential candidates in Mississauga very late, and for the most part, we candidates were on our own. The party used a central online platform -- a great tool -- but the structure and guidance it offered applied mostly to large campaigns with solid funds and an army of volunteers. I was able to access some guidance through CUPE, and about 80% of our donations and volunteers came through my own networks. I assume the Party's candidate search probably identifies people who have networks they can leverage, but it was inadequate.

What's up with that?

1. What is the effectiveness of lawn signs? They provide name recognition, but do they translate into votes?

I got calls and emails from many people complaining that they did not see my signs around Mississauga. They were often angry or at least very annoyed, implying our campaign was failing. They clearly equated signs with votes, and they thought we had failed to understand the importance of these signs.

Lawn signs are very expensive, and Mississauga Centre is large and sprawling. The Liberal candidate had enormous signs and they were everywhere. When we investigated the price of those signs, and the number you would need to achieve a noticeable presence, we were amazed at how much she must have spent. Allan's rough estimate was that the Liberals may have spent 8-10 times our entire budget on signs and door leaflets alone. (Our budget was $5,000, and we spent around $7,500.)

Instead, we chose to put our resources into printing. We focused on the many huge apartment and condo towers in the riding. A tiny band of dedicated volunteers put a leaflet in front of every door of more than 90 buildings. This reached a lot of people -- but it isn't public, the way signs are.

Our strategy also included a limited round of phone calls to likely sign takers, leafletting community events, meet-and-greets outside mosques, and every possible public appearance. When we received a sign request, I would contact the requester and invite them to canvass their neighbourhood with me.

Despite our lack of signage, we came in second with about 27% of the vote.

2. Why would people call a candidate for general election information?

I fielded many calls from people who received a leaflet and wanted to know where to vote, how to register to vote, why they hadn't received a voting card, what riding they are in, and so on. I returned every single phone call, and supplied whatever information was needed. Part of that is the librarian in me, and part of it is wanting the caller to come away with a favourable impression of their NDP candidate.

But why would anyone do this? Is the answer "because they don't know how to find information, and one phone number is as good as the next"?

3. Why can't people find the name of a candidate in any party?

We received many emails and phone calls from aggrieved residents saying they didn't know who the candidate was -- often because they didn't see any signs. Many of these emails were forwarded to me from the central party! If they could figure out how to email the NDP, why couldn't they figure out how to look up the name of a candidate?

4. Why do people expect a personal contact initiated by a candidate?

We did very little "door-knocking" (in-person canvassing) or phone calling, because we deemed it a very poor use of our limited resources. This contradicted advice from the central party, so I frequently questioned our decision. Then Allan and I would estimate how many people we could reasonably expect to reach in person, given the size of the riding and our small number of volunteers -- and we affirmed our decision every time.

When I did canvass, I was wholly unprepared for this reaction: "We haven't received a single phone call, not one knock on our door, not one word from any candidate!" This is said with resentment and hurt feelings. More than one person told me she would vote for me because I was the only candidate she met! In a riding of 85,000 potential voters, in a city with a population of 750,000, why would residents expect personal contact initiated by a candidate? Is this extreme passivity?

5. In a parliamentary system, where members of the legislative body vote in a block according to party, why is personal contact so important?

People want their candidate to be smart, honest, dedicated, and so on. I get that. But in a parliamentary system, the personal attributes of your representative are really not very important. What matters is where the party stands on various issues, and how many seats they win. You're voting for the party leader and the party platform. Yet many people vote for an incumbent because they're thought to be a nice guy or they host community barbecues.


what i'm reading: what i haven't read and am not reading

Many of my co-workers keep colourful lists like this,
or use Goodreads or Shelfari to track their reading.
I prefer plain old text.
Like most avid readers, my to-read list contains far more titles than I could ever read in a lifetime, even if I did nothing but read. Although I add books at a considerably faster rate than I tick them off, I do still keep The List, and I consult it when I'm looking for my next book. I do this with movies, too.

I also read books not on my list, much more so now that I work in a library, and my reading tastes have broadened. But I don't keep a list of all the books I've read.

This really bothers me. It has bothered me for a very long time. But at no time did I ever start keeping a list of All The Books I Read, because... I didn't start it a long time ago, so it will always be incomplete, so there's no point in starting it, ever. I know this is not rational, I know it's part of All Or Nothing thinking, which I work at avoiding, but... I can't shake the belief.

In library work we are urged to "track our reading," because it's supposed to help us be better readers' advisors. I question whether this is true. Most library workers don't consult their own reading lists when helping customers find reading material. But whether or not this is a useful practice, I don't do it.

I do keep track of movies and series that I watch. I've done this since the late 90s, and for some reason the incompleteness of this list doesn't bother me.

So, here are some book lists, sub-lists of The List.

Three biographies I want to read
Jackie Robinson: A Biography -- Arnold Rampersad*
Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder -- Caroline Fraser
Helen Keller: A Life -- Dorothy Herrmann

Three people I want to read biographies of but don't know which one to read
Muhammad Ali
Bob Dylan

Five books that I want to read but am daunted by because they are so long
This is a stupid category for someone who has read The Power BrokerBleak House, and City on Fire. Nevertheless.
London: The Biography -- Peter Ackcroyd
Dickens -- Peter Ackcroyd*
Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 -- Edwin G. Burrows,‎ Mike Wallace**
Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919 -- Mike Wallace
Jackie Robinson: A Biography -- Arnold Rampersad*

Three books I didn't finish but am determined to get back to one day
At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68 -- Taylor Branch (This is the third book in Branch's "America in the King Years," and an almost impenetrable read. But I read the first and second books, and half the third. Must finish.)
The Sherston Trilogy -- Siegfried Sassoon
Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 -- Tony Judt (also fits under previous category)

Six writers whose books keep appearing on my list but I haven't read yet (there are many more)
Frans De Waal
Carl Safina
Robert Sapolsky
Margaret Laurence
Colm Toibin
Helen Oyeyemi

Three topics I would like to read more about
Utopian communities
Confidence games, grifters, and hoaxes
Language -- acquisition by children, origins of, ASL, Esperanto...other stuff

Orwell still to read
A Clergyman's Daughter
Coming Up for Air
Collected Letters

Dickens still to read
The Pickwick Papers
The Old Curiosity Shop
Barnaby Rudge
The Mystery of Edwin Drood

The Shakespeare Project
In 2003, I decided to read or re-read all of Shakespeare's plays. I re-read all my favourites, then got totally bogged down. Here's a real test of All or Nothing. Even though I haven't read a Shakespeare play in more than a decade, the goal still nags me. I want to drop it! Can I???
Comedy of Errors
Love's Labour's Lost
Merry Wives of Windsor
Henry VI, Part I
Henry VI, Part II
Henry VI, Part III
King John
Antony and Cleopatra
Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus
Troilus and Cressida

* We own this in hardcover.
** We own this in hardcover and we acquired it by trading a box of used books for a new copy of this.

new year's un-resolutions

I don't do New Year's Resolutions, but I do enjoy using the revolution of our Earth around the Sun as an excuse to take stock in where I am and think about where I'm going.

This is not a Big Promise To Do Something; it's not even goal-setting. In my ongoing work to free myself from a strong tendency towards All Or Nothing, to not paint myself into a corner, to not create Rules which I then use to limit my experiences, I don't even set concrete goals.

My thinking takes the form of general precepts that I'm trying to remember.

When the weather is nice, spend more time outdoors.

Walk more.

Remember to make plans with friends sometimes.

Do a jigsaw puzzle now and again.

At work, take my full one-hour dinner break without doing union work.

Remember that it's all right to make mistakes.

Explore local history.

Stop multi-tasking.

Remember to blog instead of Facebook.

Read more.


11.11: remembrance day readers' advisory

I've posted 11 anti-war songs, and I've done Labour Day readers' advisory, but I don't think I've ever done anti-war readers' advisory.*** Here are 11 great books with an anti-war themes.

1. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

2. Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut

3. War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, Chris Hedges (nonfiction)

4. Regeneration, Pat Barker

5. Johnny Got His Gun, Dalton Trumbo

6. Hiroshima, John Hersey (nonfiction)

7. Mother Courage and Her Children, Bertolt Brecht (drama)

8. A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway

9. Catch-22, Joseph Heller

10. The Deserter's Tale, Joshua Key with Lawrence Hill (nonfiction)

11. And finally, the greatest anti-war novel of all time, All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque

There are many, many others: here are some lists.

Honour the dead by working for peace.

*** Turns out I had done this very thing, just two years back! The post was incorrectly tagged, so didn't come up in the search. Here's the 2015 version.


in which i answer the burning question, what will laura binge-watch next?

In response to my help me find a new series to binge-watch post, I got tons of answers both here and on Facebook. I'm keeping the list for future reference.

In the category of watching by myself during R&R downtime, I am starting with Hinterland, which has long been in my Netflix list. I've watched the first two episodes, and it's very much like Wallander, a good sign.

After Hinterland, the to-try list: Peaky Blinders, Shetland, Fringe, Bloodline, Wentworth, River. Also will try The Defenders, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage. Intelligence sounds good, but two seasons and no conclusion is a dealbreaker. 

Possibles: Lost, Criminal Minds, Friday Night Lights. I was pretty adamant about not watching FNL years back, but now I might give it a chance. 

Will try both Man Seeking Woman and Letterkenny, but have to wait until either there's more episodes or the show ends. 

In the category of Allan and I watching together over the winter, which generally means the best shows and intense binge-watching and discussions: The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Americans, not necessarily in that order.


in which i contemplate the personal pros and cons of social media

I've been taking a break from social media, and I am feeling the positive effects. But I do miss people. But I feel better...but I miss people...but I feel better. And so on.

This is your brain on fibromyalgia

I struggle with low concentration and intermittent brain fog. I believe it's from fibromyalgia, but whatever the cause, it's a minor disability or a weakness for which I must compensate. I have devised various coping mechanisms, and for the most part, they are integrated into my life, as are all my many coping mechanisms for all the bullshit life throws at me. (Not complaining, merely stating.)

I recently went through a rough patch where my mental state was particularly frustrating. I had a really hard time chairing a small meeting. (When I apologized, people told me they didn't notice anything different. But were they just being kind?) I had to write an email with a lot of names and dates -- numbers are the biggest challenge when I'm mentally impaired -- and despite checking and re-checking, I messed it up, and had to send a correction. My brain felt scrambled.

I sensed that time spent on Facebook was making it worse. I don't know where I place on the continuum from people who shun social media completely, to those who live on it, but over the years, I've gotten my social media use in a good place. Or I thought I did. Like a lot of people, I would jump on Facebook for short periods of time, several times throughout the day and evening. Now I think that may be the problem. Time that should have been free -- not so much down-time as brief spaces in between activities and tasks -- were getting filled with information. It was pushing my brain into overload. I say I think that was happening, because I really don't know.

What do I use and why do I use it?

Facebook. Most of my social media use is Facebook. I use it as an activism tool, and for connecting with an extended network of interesting people. Most of my Facebook contacts are people whose company I enjoy, but who I no longer see (and in many cases, never saw regularly or at all), or else connections to the labour and peace movements.

My union has an active, closed Facebook group that works really well for us. This means that when I take a Facebook break, I have an additional challenge -- how to post only in our union group, then leave.

Facebook also serves as a news aggregator and news filter. And I also get humour and general fun and silly stuff from my feed.

Unlike most people I know, I don't use Facebook to connect with old friends or acquaintances from former schools or jobs. I have zero interest in that. Apparently people find this odd.

Twitter. I used to use Twitter for certain specific news feeds, like Dave Zirin and and Glenn Greenwald. But I found that I rarely, if ever, saw more than the tweets and the headlines, and that was too unsatisfying. I opted for more time without bits of information scrolling in front of my face.

I like using Twitter for customer service, and for sending someone I don't know a link -- for example, sending an author a book review. Our union team used Twitter a lot during our strike, and I still do use it to circulate certain union information.

Instagram. I dislike Instagram and find no use for it at all. I know it's the current "where things are happening now" for young people, but that is obviously not a consideration for me.

Pinterest. I used to use Pinterest to find library programming ideas, until I realized how redundant it was. Pinterest amounts to a series of user-created directories -- and no directory will ever be as efficient and as comprehensive as a Google search.

G+. I used to post links to wmtc posts on Facebook, Google Plus, and Twitter. One day I forgot about Google Plus, and that was the end of that.

So at this point, it's down to Facebook.

My problems are my own

People in my Facebook feed regularly announce that they are unfriending Trump supporters or similar pronouncements. That's never been a problem for me. I used to get into arguments with US friends who support the Democrats, but over time I disciplined myself to scroll past that information without comment.

Similarly, I hear about venomous bullying -- what used to be called flame wars -- on Twitter, but I don't see any of it.

So these common complaints about social media are not effecting me.

For me, it's all about my mental state. Since beginning my vacation from social media, I've been reading more, started and completed a jigsaw puzzle, spent more time outdoors, and in general, I'm thinking more clearly.

That is the question


1. Brain less scrambled

2. Better focus

3. Reading more

4. Less screen time, which means more print time and (sometimes) more outdoor time

5. More mental calm and quiet


1. I miss people

2. Less time with friends, so less support

3. I don't know what's going on in people's lives, so I'm also not there to give support

4. Less humour, less fun

5. Need to make more of an effort to stay informed

I'm not liking these choices.


in which old photos make me think things

I've been scanning some old photos -- some of Allan and me through the years, others with my siblings at various ages -- and have been posting them on Facebook. This experience has led to two insights. The thoughts themselves aren't new, but this walk on memory lane has recalled and reinforced them.

Insight number one: my self-image was extremely distorted throughout my life. 

I thought I was fat and ugly. Yet there is evidence that that was not the case. I am now overweight, but that's a different story. This was a girl well within a normal, healthy weight and size range, thinking she was seriously overweight.

It was no surprise that many of my female Facebook friends related to this. We came up with the following list of reasons. The reasons are not ranked in order of importance; it's a big mix, a preponderance of evidence, as the legal phrasing goes.

1. Media. We are constantly barraged with images of what is supposed to be beauty perfection; most are completely unrealistic.

2. Friends and peers complaining they are fat, often people who are thinner than us.

3. Thoughtless comments from parents or other relatives.

4. A parent who constantly diets and talks about their size and/or weight.

5. Clothes manufactured with unrealistic size standards.

6. A sibling who was praised for her appearance, while many of us were praised for intelligence, cultivating the belief that a girl could be intelligent or attractive, but not both. Shorthand for this: I was "the smart one", she was "the pretty one".

7. Well-intentioned compliments about weight loss. ("You look great! Have you lost weight?")

Most first-world women have struggled with issues caused by a negative self-image, to varying degrees. It feels like part of being female. It can ruin lives. And it most certainly prevents us from leading happier, more fulfilling lives.

And I don't doubt that this is the case for men, too, perhaps for different reasons.

Insight number two: the future is unknown.

My first trip to Europe was in 1982. I graduated university, then spent the summer working to save money for the trip, and went with a female friend. We had open-ended air tickets and no idea how long our money would last.

I had dreamt of going to Europe, especially Paris, all through my teenage years. The art history courses I took in university fueled this into an obsession.

When I finally went, I ran around at high speeds, trying to see as much as I possibly could. I was sure this would be my only opportunity to travel in Europe, ever. I don't know if I actually verbalized this, but it was always my assumption, a constant. I could not foresee how it would be possible, what kind of life I might lead that would allow me to go to Europe more than once.

My trips to Europe so far:
1982: Brussels, London and day trips, Amsterdam, Paris and day trips, Rome, Florence, Venice, Lucerne (with NN)
1985: London and West Country (with NN and on my own)
1993: Paris, Chartres, points throughout Provence, Naples, Salerno, Rome, Florence, points throughout Tuscany, Venice, Verano, Bologna (with Allan)
1998: London, some West Country and Wales, Paris (with Allan)
2011: Ireland (with Allan)
[Sometime in here I made a rule that anytime we went to Europe, we would include Paris.]
2013: London, Paris, and points throughout Spain (with Allan)
2014: Paris, Giverny, Rouen (with my mother)

And of course this omits any non-European travel, itself a substantial list (although never nearly as long as I'd like).

My point is not how much I've travelled. My point is that we don't know where our lives will take us.

I had many life goals and fantasies that haven't come true, of course. Most notably, I am not a well-known author of young-adult novels. But the list of Things I Have Done That I Never Thought I'd Do is much longer.


authors i keep wanting to read but don't

My book list is extremely long, so long that I don't call it a reading list or a to-read list, because I will never read even half the books on the List. It's more like books I would read. A list to narrow down the universe of books to a smaller universe of books to choose from.

Working in a library has increased the likelihood that I won't read even a majority of these books -- or decreased the percentage that I will read. Where I used to stick faithfully to my List, I now read lots of books not on the List -- books colleagues or customers talk about, and more often, books on display. Being a librarian has broadened my reading, which I love. It has made the List less a goal and more a general guide. This is fine.

Recently I noticed that certain authors appear on the List more than once, but remain unread. These are sometimes nonfiction titles that become hard to find. I'm clearly interested in the author's topics, but by the time I am ready to read the title, it's gone. I could find the book online, I'm sure, but I just move on to another title. There are many novelists on the List, too.

I don't delete anything from the List. It's a running list I've been keeping since 1985. That is either impressive or insane, depending on your point of view. I have a system for marking what I have read, and another marking for books I own but have not read. (There is much less of that in recent years, another result of librarianship.)

I have read so many books not on the List, and it bothers me that I didn't add them, but I can't change the method now. I could, but I can't. (In the library, we are told to "track our reading" in order to be better readers' advisors. I don't find this useful, so I don't do it. Please don't tell.)

I thought of this -- the authors that keep appearing but don't get read -- because I just started a book by John McWhorter, who teaches linguistics and writes about language. I noticed that many titles by McWhorter are on my List, and decided it was time to read one.

So. (I have just been reading about the word "so".) Here are authors who are on my List who I haven't read.

Frans de Waal
Carl Safina
Ann Douglas (this Ann Douglas)
Ann-Marie MacDonald (who I never heard of before coming to Canada)
Yxta Maya Murray
David Ebershoff
Trezza Azzopardi
Robert M. Sapolsky
Sally Denton
Kiran Desai
Ivan Doig
Edwidge Danticat
Mario Vargas Llosa
Siri Hustvedt
Margaret Laurence
Colm Toibin
Ted Conover
Helen Oyeyemi
Paul Greenberg
Barry Unsworth
Sarah Waters

This list does not represent all the authors on the List -- not even close. Only those I have never read who appear more than once.


10 things you can do to fight trump-era nazism

Like all good people, I am horrified by recent developments in the US, and like everyone who has been paying attention, not surprised. I take hope from the immediate and powerful resistance that has been set in motion. But also at the resistance, I am angry, too. What took you so long? Let's hope it's not too late.

Here are a few things you can do to fight back.

1. Donate to the American Civil Liberties Union. For nearly 100 years, the ACLU has been fighting for the civil rights of people marginalized or targeted by the dominant culture. These are the people best equipped to fight back -- the best and the brightest of the resistance. Even a small one-time or monthly donation can make a difference.

2. Canadians, sign a petition calling on Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen, demanding that they repeal the so-called Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States, which would allow Canada to welcome people fleeing violence from Muslim-majority countries and/or deportation by the United States.

You've probably seen Trudeau's tweet saying that Canada welcomes those fleeing persecution "regardless of faith". Here's an opportunity for Trudeau to make good on that statement.

Currently, if an asylum seeker residing in the US tried to enter Canada to escape deportation, Canada would turn them away, based on the "Safe Third Country Agreement". Read more about it here. Please sign the petition and ask your contacts to do the same.

3. Call or email your MP and ask them to support the above. Say it is a matter of great importance to you, because this is the Canada you want to live in. You can find your MP here by postal code.

4. Attend a demonstration against Trump's order and in solidarity with those it targets. In the Toronto area, it's this Saturday, February 4, 12:30-2:30 pm, outside the US Consulate on University Avenue. In cities across the US and Canada, it will not be difficult to find a demo. When you find this community, keep in touch.

5. Send a letter of support to a mosque or Islamic cultural group in your community. A simple act of solidarity goes a long way.

6. Share facts. I'm always surprised by what people know, and what they don't know. I've learned not to assume. Share what you learn with your faith group, your union, your spin class, your online community, your Facebook contacts. (This one comes with a caveat. Social media is great for many things, but it is not actually a form of protest. It can be the drug that keeps us docile and not protesting.)

Photo montage thanks to Dave Zirin
7. Write a letter to your local media outlet. These still matter. Keep it short and it's more likely to be published.

8. Pledge to register. If Muslims are ever required to register with the government, be prepared to register in solidarity. If you have doubts or fears about this, now is the time to discuss with your family and friends. Vow to yourself and to your community that you will do this. It would be very fitting if the first, say, 10,000 registrants were Jewish.

9. Delete Uber from your phone, and don't forget to tell them why in the "share details" box. On Saturday night, protesters streamed into airports around the US to protest Trump’s anti-Muslim executive order. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance posted this:

Uber did the opposite.

Lyft, Uber's principal competitor, has pledged to donate $1 million to the ACLU.

I heart NYC
I freely admit that this is another excuse to ask people to #DeleteUber and never use them again. Their abhorrent labour practises drag precarious work into new depths. More info here.

10. Check out Bustle. They're full of great ideas.

And a bonus: 11. Don't allow yourself to get overwhelmed. Each one, reach one. Take a small action. Then another. Eat, sleep, repeat.


labour day readers' advisory: books and movies that celebrate labour

I spoke to a customer yesterday who was visiting from Denmark. He described himself as a trade-unionist, and he came to the library, looking for me, to learn about our strike!

He also said he had read a book he loved, and was looking for more like it. He described the book: "by a Canadian author, takes place in Toronto, about the struggles of workers building a viaduct". It is some measure of my Canadian acculuration that before he finished his sentence, I idenfitied Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion, an excellent work of historical fiction and labour history.

For the "more like that" question, I immediately thought of The Given Day, by Dennis Lehane, which led me to write this post about historical fiction in general. 

So on the Labour Day weekend, I thought it would be fun to do a little labour-themed readers' advisory. Here's my list.

In the Skin of a Lion - Michael Ondaatje
The Given Day - Dennis Lehane
Ironweed - William Kennedy
The Ink Truck - William Kennedy
The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
In Dubious Battle - John Steinbeck
The Jungle - Upton Sinclair
The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver (on my to-read list)
Work Song - Ivan Doig (same)
For the Win - Cory Doctorow
Rivington Street - Meredith Tax

There is so much good nonfiction out there, a list of labour-themed nonfiction would be overwhleming. I will just highlight a few.
Triangle - David Von Drehle (I wrote about this here and here; it's my number one pick in this post.)
Fast Food Nation - Eric Schlosser
Nickled and Dimed - Barbara Ehrenreich
Bait and Switch - Barbara Ehrenreich
Big Trouble - J. Anthony Lukas
Why Unions Matter - Michael D. Yates
Only One Thing Can Save Us - Thomas Geoghegan
Which Side Are You On - Thomas Geoghegan 
And this excellent list from a public service workers' union in the US, which includes fiction, nonfiction, and film.

Made in Dagenham
Jimmy's Hall (Paul Laverty/Ken Loach: see every film they make)
Bound for Glory
Sometimes a Great Notion
Norma Rae
Harlan County, USA
Bread and Roses (more Ken Loach)



we still like lists: recipe for effective activism

What it takes to be an effective activist:

1. Hopefulness

2. Persistence, perseverance

3. Reliability

4. Enjoyment of teamwork

5. Willingness to take direction from others

6. Willingness to make space and time in your life for your cause

7. Good listening skills

8. A long view

9. Boundaries

10. Passion for your cause


what i'm watching: 14 thoughts on watching how i met your mother (first time through so no spoilers please!)

I was watching MASH when Netflix pulled the plug on our VPN. I found a new VPN... but now MASH is gone. One day I hope to finish the end-to-end rewatch. But right then, my comedy-before-bed slot was left hanging. I tried "How I Met Your Mother," and I was very happily surprised.

I have not watched or read ahead, so please do not even allude to the ending. I understand many fans hated it, ok? No need to fill me in.

How I love "How I Met Your Mother".

1. Smart, character-driven comedy. Not easy to find.

2. Great female characters. Generally non-sexist, even anti-sexist.

3. Around Season 5, I thought the show was going off the rails, as Barney's character became more outrageous and non-believable -- usually a sure sign that a show is struggling. Then I was very surprised and happy that it found a new groove.

4. Most good comedies have at least a little pathos mixed in, and this show was brave enough to go there. Revealing the pain behind Barney's bravado was a bold move. Allowing Barney to care about Robin, also bold and feels credible.

5. I find myself getting into the relationships the way I did with, say, "Veronica Mars". I actually no longer care how Ted meets his soulmate. I'm way more interested in Barney and Robin.

6. Canada jokes. Occasionally a bit overdone, but I love the theme. Plus it's often a way to work in US jokes.

7. This is one of the funniest moments I've seen on any sitcom. I watched it three times then made Allan watch it with me. (I am now officially banned from ever doing that again.)

8. I am obsessed with this. The mannerisms and movements are so exactly perfect for a band playing this kind of music. I would be embarrassed to tell you how many times I've watched it. The first Robin Sparkles video was also dead-on. (The other Robin Sparkles vids were lame and unnecessary.)

9. I'm a little obsessed with Neil Patrick Harris's acting ability.

10. The occasional self-referential moments are great and not over-done.

11. First musical number in a non-musical show that I ever liked: Nothing Suits Me Like a Suit. Hated the musical episodes in Xena, beyond hated them in Buffy (two shows I love). Rarely liked them in The Simpsons. Loved it here.

12. I still haven't decided if the Seinfeld references are homage or rip-off. In general I love how the show updates the friends-hang-out motif -- a bar instead of a coffee shop, alcohol, recreational drugs, references to same-sex attraction in seemingly heterosexual characters.

13. The only thing I don't like: I find the Lily-and-Marshall perfect-couple-monogamy overdone. Granted, everyone's relationship "thing" is overdone, but this one just doesn't work for me.

14. New York City. Nicely done. Although the it-takes-five-minutes-to-get-anywhere that Seinfeld abused (Yankee Stadium!) is way worse here. Staten Island, for crissakes! But still. Good NYC stuff.


10 ways you can increase member engagement in your union

#7: Hold a logo contest!
Trying to increase member engagement in your union? Here are some ideas that work.

1. Always make time for your members' concerns.

This is number one through infinity. If you don't make time for your members’ concerns - if your members don't know that you're fighting for them - everything else you do is a waste of time.

I made a pledge to myself and to our members: I will never say, "I don't have time for you," or "Your concern is not a priority for us." I often cannot fix the member's problem. But I can empathize. I can affirm and validate. I can let them know they're not alone, that someone is fighting for them.

2. Identify allies.

Find one or two members who will conspire with you, and work with them. They may be of totally different backgrounds and have completely different perspectives than you. That's good! Come together over your shared concerns. Sit down for a coffee or a pint, talk about steps you can take to improve the situation. Make a list, then each of you find one or two more people to bring in, and make a few things on that list a reality.

3. Offer specific tasks to volunteers.

When specific, self-contained tasks come up, put a call out for volunteers. "Can someone go to the Library Board meeting next week?" "I'm looking for a member to update the job postings spreadsheet." "Can someone look after this location's union board?" This extends your reach - you and your small band of allies aren't doing all the work - and it engages more members, gives more members ownership.

4. Find ways to make your union more accessible and more inclusive.

Our meetings used to be held on the same night of the week, such as the second Monday of the month. But our members work shifts, and in many different locations. Now we rotate the nights of the week and the location of meetings. Even if meeting attendance doesn't increase, our members feel more welcome, more included.

For you, making your union more accessible may mean something else. Think about it. Is there something built into your structure and practices that may be keeping people away? Do you use a lot of union jargon? Do you shoot down every new idea as impractical, or already tried? Are you, however inadvertently, giving the impression of a closed clique? These are good questions to ask ourselves on a regular basis.

5. Find ways other than meetings to get together.

Hold a labour film night. A potluck. A summer barbecue in a local park. It doesn't have to be often - twice a year is probably enough. Give members the opportunity to connect with each other in a non-work and non-union-meeting environment.

6. Keep your members informed.

Be generous with information sharing. Tell your members as much as you can. How will they know what their union does for them if no one tells them? Why would they care about a union they never hear from? Show your members you are fighting for them.

7.  Hold a logo contest!

Do you have a good logo? If not, consider holding a contest. We put out a request for designs, and members voted online. One result was the awesome logo pictured above. The other results were creativity in support of our union, member involvement, and increased feelings of pride.

8. Think small.

What little things can you do that will involve more members? CUPE's colour is pink. On the day our bargaining team returned to the table, we held our first Wear Pink day. Each Wear Pink Day, we challenge members to get more people involved at their location. I got a bunch of CUPE gel bracelets, and we give them away to members to wear in the workplace. With your allies, brainstorm ideas that may work in your own workplace.

9. Get in touch with history.

Every so often, answer the questions "What has your union done for you?" "How has belonging to a union benefited your working conditions?", and "How do unions benefit society as a whole?" Sprinkle labour history in meetings, in your emails, and on social media. You know that pride you feel in being part of the labour movement? Share it.

10. Rethink your union bulletin boards.

Are the union boards in your workplaces up-to-date? Or have they been stagnant so long that members don't see them anymore? Bulletin boards can do more than announce meetings and minutes. Try a "Clause of the Month". Labour-themed cartoons. Jokes. Find members - not officers, not stewards - who will tend the board like a garden.

11. What else??

Your ideas here.


we like lists: things we learn from tv detective and murder mystery shows

If you enjoy detective shows, murder mysteries, and legal dramas, you learn a lot of things that don't necessarily reflect reality. Here are some things you may learn from these shows.

1. Women are crazy and kill people.

I have already blogged about and disproportionate percentage of female murderers on TV detective shows.

In reality, about 90% of homicides are committed by men. I don't know what percent of TV murderers are women, but on some shows it's well over half.

2. Defense lawyers are all scum.

On quality police and legal dramas, most categories of people are portrayed as both good and bad. There are honest prosecutors and corrupt prosecutors. There are valiant feminist crusaders and wacko women schemers. But only one character is uniformly and consistently portrayed in a negative light: the defense attorney. On TV, there are no honest defense lawyers. They are all evil magicians who use the law - often dismissed as "a technicality" - to subvert justice.

In the modern justice system, everyone is entitled to a defense. The revelation of scores of wrongful convictions points to the need for such a system. Yet in the world of TV detective shows, when a suspect "lawyers up," she is practically admitting guilt.

The award for the most scummy TV defense attorney of all time goes to Maurice Levy (played by Michael Kostroff), who defends the Baltimore drug dealers and murderers who populate "The Wire". Levy is also the only Jewish character on the show.

In "The Wire," as in many quality shows, characters have a lot of nuance. The good guys are deeply flawed, the bad guys sometimes show compassion, and sometimes it's not so clear who is good and who is bad. Except for defense attorneys. There is only one. And he is very bad.

3. CCTV is an important and useful law-enforcement tool.

The entire UK - and, of course, much of the US, Canada, and elsewhere - is now blanketed in surveillance cameras. Study after study shows that CCTV does very little to prevent crime, except in limited, closed environments such as parking lots or stores. You'd never know this from watching detective shows, in which CCTV is often a crucial link in apprehending very bad people who do very bad things. Yet another cultural trope to remind us that if you have nothing to hide, you have no reason to oppose surveillance - that is, to value your privacy.

Anything else?


we like lists: list # 20: top ten reasons we love our favourite cult show or movie (updated with less cult!)

For those who want the question with no context: Do you love a cult show or movie? What movie and why? List at least 10 reasons.

Update! Judging by comments, this list will be more fun if we omit one word and get a bit more specific. So here it is again.

Do you love a TV show or movie that is not (or was not) a huge mainstream hit? Which one and why?

(Better now?)

* * * *

Further to my longstanding tradition of watching TV shows and movies years - or even decades - after they first run, I have just completed Season 1 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (What can I say? TV was not important to me in the 1990s!) One of my TV gurus, the famous NFC, is a big Buffy fan, and after hearing the show mentioned several times, it was time for me to check it out.

I enjoyed S1 enough to continue watching, with the understanding that a first season often just lays the groundwork. In other words, I liked it, but I'm hoping and assuming that the show will develop into something more than what I've seen so far.

Watching Buffy TVS has made me think about another show, perhaps my very favourite television show: Xena the Warrior Princess.

When we were preparing to leave New York and move to Canada, I used to catch random episodes of Xena re-runs on a minor cable channel. After spending the day writing, it was the perfect mix - fun, absorbing, but not overly challenging. Before I knew it, I was hooked. But I had never seen the whole show, in order...

...until Allan surprised with me with one his amazing birthday presents: first a bootlegged copy of the series on DVD, then an upgrade to this beautiful 10th anniversary special edition boxed set. It even included a miniature dagger, the kind Gabrielle used to whip around.

Now, of course, the series is available on Netflix, but in those days there was no Netflix in Canada, and the opportunity to watch the entire series in order was pure heaven.

Buffy predates Xena by two years, and so far at least, the two shows have a very similar vibe: strongest female lead character, female sidekick, goofy male third wheel, goofy humour, cheesy special effects. (I've also discovered that two of my FB friends also love Xena. Don't you love when that happens?)

So watching Buffy S1 has made me think about why Xena is so special for me. And hey, it's a list!

Do you love a cult show? Or if you're into a lot of cult shows, what's your favourite? Why do you love it? List at least 10 reasons.

Top ten reasons I love "Xena: the Warrior Princess" (not in order) !

1. Mythology. The series moves through the myths and legends of all different cultures: ancient Greek, Roman, Chinese, Hindu, Christian, Norse, and so on. I love mythology, and I love how the myths are adapted and presented in the show.

2. Scenery. Since Xena and Gabrielle are always traveling, the show often has an epic sweep, set in many different terrains. Filmed in New Zealand, the show is sometimes gorgeously cinematic.

3. Cheesy special effects. What can I say? I'm the girl who prefers the Gorn to any more modern sci-fi.

4. Philosophy. What is the nature of good and evil? Can benevolent acts in the present compensate for past abuses of power, or have humans invented that idea for our own comfort? Can good ends justify violent means, or does violence always lead to more violence? Can a commitment to nonviolence bring about change, on its own? What is love? What is mortality? All this and more!

5. Bisexuality. Xena and Gabrielle are life partners, bound in body, spirit, and soul. They have both also loved men, and have recurring relationships with men in their lives. Not a problem.

6. Polyamory. Xena and Gabrielle love each other, and they love other people. Also not a problem. It's not about competition. People are complex, and different relationships satisfy different needs and desires.
I always thought Argo made a better
third than Joxer.

7. The fighting! How will Xena battle these 50 heavily armed but intellectually and morally inferior men? The mandatory group fight scenes in every episode are more choreography than violence.

8. Humour. Cheesy special effects and cheesy humour. They go together like... Xena and Gabrielle.

9. Xena. Lucy Lawless' character is just so freakin' awesome. I want to be her. Isn't that what fantasy - to some extent - is all about?

The obligatory bath scene
10. Gabrielle. I said this list wasn't in order, but hmm, is that true? I have always had a mad crush on Gabrielle. Having discovered the series in random re-runs, I first saw her like this, and was smitten. I didn't know she originally looked like this! When I watched the show in order for the first time (on DVD), I was waiting for The Haircut.

Your turn!


remembrance day: 11 anti-war songs for 11.11

Many artists and bands have recorded anti-war songs, and they're not always those associated with protest. Here are 11 songs that decry the deceit, corruption, and futility of war.

1. What's Going On - Marvin Gaye

2. Generals and Majors - Andy Partridge (XTC)

3. Welcome to the Occupation - REM

4. The Call Up - Joe Strummer, Mick Jones (The Clash)

5. Wargasm - Donita Sparks, Suzi Gardner (L7)

6. 99 Luftballons (99 Red Balloons) - Fahrenkrog-Petersen / Karges / McAlea (Nena)

7. And the Band Played Waltzin' Matilda - Eric Bogle (The Pogues)

8. The Words that Maketh Murder - P J Harvey

9. Self Evident - Ani DiFranco

10. Rich Man's War - Steve Earle

And number 11, one of the most enduring peace and justice songs ever written: Blowin' in the Wind - Bob Dylan

Limiting myself to 11, I omitted powerful anti-war songs by Black Sabbath, Jynkz, Phil Ochs, Billy Bragg, Pete Seeger, Green Day, and so many more. Please post yours below.


we like lists: list # 19: more eponyms, subcategory edition

Eponyms everywhere! Who knew?

Our most recent list of eponyms was a smash success. It gave rise to at least three subcategories, as I wrote here:

- Inventor/creator/discoverer, not genericized. These are eponyms, but have not entered the vocabulary as a separate noun or descriptor. Example: Alzheimer's. Compare to pasteurized.

- Fictional characters
--- Mythological names
----- Biblical names

This list is more specific, and more difficult. Allan and I have done this one before, and even with help from a well-read listserv, came up with only a handful. (Idea for new reality show: Are you smarter than Wallace-L?)

When Joseph Heller died, I marveled at how his creation has entered our vocabulary as such a widely recognized generic expression. The often-misused phrase "catch-22" was long ago separated from its origins. I'm sure many people use it who have never heard of Heller's book. I wondered if there were any other examples.

Using a very strict criteria, we came up with very few:
Big Brother

Here are the rules. Fiction only. Can be a title or a character. The author must be a known person whose identity is not in dispute. That means no myths, including bible stories, but of course Shakespeare can be used. The word must be recognizable as a generic term, enough that you'd see it used in a mainstream newspaper story.

Thanks to last night's thread, I'll add one that the Wallace list missed:

Got any others? You can use our last list, but other than that, no cheating, please.


we like lists: list # 18: words that were once people

I really enjoy learning about the origins of words and expressions. (I included this in our last list.) Several words now part of ordinary vocabulary started out as proper names.

In 1880, a group of Irish tenant farmers organized a labour ostracism against the agent of an abusive absentee landlord. The agent's name was Charles Boycott.

Charles Ponzi was a con artist who promised investors they would double their money in 90 days.

In the film "La Dolce Vita," directed by Federico Fellini, an intrusive photographer is named Paparazzo.
Thomas Bowdler was a crusading editor who published a book called "The Family Shakespeare": the Bard without the naughty bits. Bowdler believed his work made Shakespeare suitable for the delicate sensibilities of ladies (i.e., upper-class women) and children.

So there we have four words - boycott, Ponzi scheme, paparazzi, and bowdlerized - that are derived from people's names.

Can you think of any others?

Adjectives like "Orwellian" or "Dickensian" don't count. Those refer to conditions described by an author. "Freudian" doesn't qualify, but if, say, dream interpretation was called sigmundosis, that would count.


we like lists: list # 17: conformity and its discontents

Allan is in the midst of a giant Stephen King reading and writing project, and in honour of that, I'm reading my first ever book by Stephen King.

From this post, I was moved to read the novella The Body (which was adapted into the movie "Stand By Me"). Allan's description of the novella made it sound like a very good young adult story, so I decided to give it a go.

This made me think: why have I not read one single book by - as the book jacket tells me - the world's best selling novelist? I have nothing against best sellers per se. I just never care about reading them. The books that I want to read will seldom (if ever) have wide popular appeal.

Sometimes people who are avid readers say they read a hugely popular book because they were curious - they want to see what all the hype is about. The Da Vinci Code and Bridges of Madison County are two that come to mind in that category. Right now that book is Fifty Shades of Gray. Yet nothing I have heard about any of these titles piques my curiosity. My reading time is rare and precious; I can't spend it lightly. I did start to read The Da Vinci Code once, while waiting for someone in a bookstore. I thought it was truly terrible. End of experiment.

So this brings me to today's list. What do you like that's quirky or oddball or completely non-mainstream? What does the rest of the world seem to love that makes you shrug or run the other way? And where do your tastes coincide with mass appeal?

This isn't only about books. Books are just what inspired the post. It could be anything.

This list has three parts.

A. Name three things that you really like which most dislike or don't care about.*

B. Name three things that large numbers of people enjoy or are obsessed with that you have no interest in.

C. Name three things that you like that are also very popular.

* These days, thanks to the internet, most of us have found others who share even our quirkiest fascinations. For part A, I think we have to imagine a pre-internet or internet-less world. Imagine the people you physically see on most days.

Here's mine.

A. Three things I like that most people seem to hate or not care about.
1. The novels of Charles Dickens
2. Origins of words and phrases
3. Little boxes or containers

B. Three things many people care about that I spend zero time thinking about. (Very tough to limit myself to three!)
1. Celebrity news/gossip
2. Football
3. U.S. elections

C. Three loves I share with millions of fans.
1. The Rolling Stones
2. Bruce Springsteen
3. Baseball

Your turn.


we like lists: list # 16: five things going on with me

I did this once before - turns out it was about a year ago - and although not many people participated, it made for good conversation and helped me get caught up with some friends. So why not? I still prefer posting about my life here as opposed to Facebook. From last year's post:
This list will answer the burning question: What's up? What's happening in your life? Doing anything interesting? Enjoying doing something mundane? Reading a good book? Working in your garden? Suffering from the heat? Tell us! Elaborate as much or little as you'd like.
We'll limit this to five, but less than five is OK.

1. My mom's annual visit is this week; she arrives tomorrow and leaves Friday. I always try to make her visit special - cook a nice dinner, do stuff she'll enjoy, have foods she loves in the house. She is very easy to please, and super appreciative, so it's a pleasure to make the effort.

Would you believe this woman turned 81 this year? This photo is from 2010.

2. I'm loving going to War Resisters meetings this summer. During the last school term, especially after I added my library job, I had to stop attending meetings, and was only marginally active by email, and attended some large events. It feels awful to sacrifice what I care about most! And it's also isolating, as meetings (and the post-meeting pub) is a big chunk of my social life. So it's great to be back this summer... and I will again have to drop it come September.

3. Speaking of September, here's a newflash: I'm not completely dreading school this year! That's a nice change. Knowing it's my last year is making it much easier to face. Plus - a huge plus - all my classes should be relevant to my new career. In the fall I'm taking "Children's Cultural Texts" with a great instructor I had last year for the children's digital games workshop, and "Public Library Advocacy," with an instructor who is a famous former public librarian and administrator, and teaches people how to advocate for libraries in their communities. In the winter, I'll have "Graphic Novels and Comic Books in the Library" and "Issues in Chidren's and Young Adults' Services". And then I will be done.

4. And speaking of being done... This is way far in advance, but I'll share anyway, since it's so present in my mind. I am planning a trip to celebrate finishing my degree. I love planning trips - for me it's part of the excitement of travel - so I'm having a great time thinking about this one, no matter that it's 10 months away! We'll start out in London (the "other London") to visit some friends, including a close friend who we haven't seen since she relocated in 1999. Then we'll spend a few days in Paris, because I've decided that every trip to Europe should include a visit to Paris. (Our last time in both London and Paris was 1998.) Then we'll take an overnight train from Paris to Barcelona, and spend the rest of the time in Spain. I'm not sure how long we'll have in Spain, but at least 10 days, maybe more. So far, Barcelona, Bilboa, and Roman ruins are the main targets.

Roman aqueduct in Segovia, Spain

5. Over the weekend, I read this excellent feature about Springsteen in The New Yorker. We weren't planning on seeing him on this tour, but now I feel I must. I've seen Bruce many, many times, beginning in 1978 and most recently in 2007. Now he's playing one night in Toronto and one night in Hamilton, and who knows if or when I will ever have the opportunity to see him again.

Your turn!