Excerpt from the second in the Life at Sea series: Landlocked

He tried to recover the salt air, the yelling men in the rigging, and the other piecemeal accoutrements of the nautical life.

He rarely imagined himself on a https://www.economist.com/img/b/1280/720/90/sites/default/files/images/print-edition/20190720_BKP004_0.jpgwhaler, although Moby Dick had taught him to expect the hardy meals of cabin bread and salt pork, the backslapping and desperation and fear of the breeching whale. Instead, he was on a ship of the line, by times ferrying passengers to the new world, watching the eager faces turned toward port as their dreams hovered just beyond a horizon that even they couldn’t see.

The steamships also put in their appearances, and he’d been an oiler, running from shaft to shaft https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/71/Ww2-oiler-Arnold-R-Fesser.jpgwith an oil can slippery with his sweat, or commanding others to crawl into holes while the massive engine idled, all potential energy pointed toward wreaking destruction but channeled into a narrow tube. The coal burners needed shovelers almost constantly, and he was black by the end of his shift, but above decks the white gloves of a steward covered the burn marks from sparking coals.

Sometimes he was a Joshua Slocum,https://www.whalingmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Joshua-Slocum_portrait_1989-1-6_cropped.jpg recently vacating the naval yards for the smell of wood and tar. He turned in Slocum’s narrow bunk as the winds howled outside the port or near at hand canoes from the shore gingerly crept upon him in the night.

Kon Tiki was also there, as he hauled in lines with half a dozen other bearded men, theirhttps://cdn.britannica.com/33/179033-050-9AB32FC2/Kon-Tiki-Pacific-Ocean-1947.jpg girlfriends and wives forgotten in the thrash of the waves. He could see the broad desert that was the ocean, the lift and settle of the shack behind the heaving waves, and sense the Paul Gauguin greetings of native women, their limbs Tahitian brown and their breasts half uncovered while they laughed shyly behind their hand.

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Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Covid

News about the Covid 19 virus has become a ubiquitous backdrop in our lives, and the media’s frenzy in our lives has become more ubiquitous than the trappings https://i.cbc.ca/1.5740918.1601216581!/cpImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/16x9_780/covid-que-20200926.jpgof the disease itself. More than masks and people side-eying while they avoid others, Covid news either placates or terrifies, although much of it is rhetorical rather than substantive, at least in the way that it is conveyed.

With each media source competing for our attention, the Covid stories either tend toward the outlandish—think of Trump’s advice about mainlining antiseptic—or garden variety fearmongering. More recently, perhaps recent work on the virus’ inner workings is understandably slow, our media has begun to play a blame game. It has become fashionable to blame the ponderous steps of governments, the intrusion into our bubbles of foreigners, or young people.

I am sure most people are familiar with the headlines about young people going on spring break, for the sept-and-octogenarians everywhere were horrified that youth might return with the virus. Many Canadian news stories proclaimed that new cases were predominantly amongst young people, and some headlines even gleefully featured the single and unfortunate death of a man who was nineteen. Without much information about the poor man’s co-morbidities, the headlines continued claiming that young people everywhere were partying too much while Rome burned, and there was much discussion about how the younger generation cared about nothing:

Dr. Prabhat Jha, a professor of global health in the University of Toronto’s faculty of medicine, said the demographics of COVID-19 have shifted nationwide, with new cases being driven primarily by people aged 20 to 39.

“The current sets of new infections, right throughout the country, are occurring in younger people. The vast majority are below age 40,” he said. “That’s attributable to close contacts, particularly in parties or in indoor spaces without distancing or masks.” (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/covid-19-close-contacts-rising-manitoba-1.5734420)

Not surprisingly, this type of boomer talk sells news, for boomers make up most of the audience of the major media outlets, but such statements obscure the situation of people under forty. They make up half the population in Canada (https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=1710000501) and they are predominantly the working population of the country. They are the essential workers, or, as in the case for many of them, they are too poverty stricken to stay at home while their bank account dwindles.

Occasionally a news story will put a new spin on how it blames young people for the persistence of the virus. Desperate to elicit views, they have recently began to explain an increase in recent cases—ignoring the reopening of schools—as people not isolating enough. The news story which caught my attention, however, was one which contrasted two very different pieces of information about the relative size of social groups in the early days of the pandemic with a more recent number. Momentarily forgetting that the many news stories quoting the WHO or CDC, or Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/harvard-epidemiologist-beware-covid-19-s-second-wave-fall), who warned that an uptick in cases would likely arrive with the cooler weather, people in general are currently portrayed as careless by comparison of our earlier more timid selves:

In April, when pandemic restrictions were in place, the head of Winnipeg’s contact tracing unit said new cases of COVID-19 had an average of about three close contacts per case.

But that number has ballooned for recent cases, “and that means we’re having additional people who are exposed to the virus, and contact tracing becomes more complex,” Manitoba Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Monday.

In one instance, a single case in the Winnipeg health region reported a total of 50 people as close contacts, according to the most recent provincial surveillance data. (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/covid-19-close-contacts-rising-manitoba-1.5734420)

What most attracted my attention is the CBC article’s attempt to compare the apples of averages to the oranges of anecdote. I have written elsewhere about the use of anecdote as proof, and typically in context it is easily recognizable, but what is most insidious about the comparison made by Canada’s national news agency is how they have obscured it by waves of supporting prose. Their reference to past “pandemic restrictions” implies we no longer have such restrictions, and they make an appeal to authority by citing Manitoba Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin. They even deign to give a statistic, and tell us that the average of contacts per newly-tested person in April was three.

This argument would carry more weight if the article didn’t rely so heavily on its schoolmarm warning that we were all being derelict in our Covid duty. Rather than give us the numbers and have them speak for themselves, the article—and seemingly, the Chief Public Health Officer—would rather have us respond to the notion that people’s contacts have “ballooned.” The number they use to show this is the case is the one person with the fifty contacts. They have data, they suggest (“according to the most recent provincial surveillance data”) but they are not interested in providing it to support their claim. The one person with fifty contacts might be a minimum wage earner who works with the public and who has been forced back to work because of cuts to government funding, or merely the most social outlier in a grouping of people who are generally much more careful. Without knowing the current average, without the article being more honest about how many cases now have something closer to fifty and far more than three contacts, there is nothing to indicate that this isolated case is anything but an anomaly.

That is the logic of the numbers, but the lack of numbers makes for a much more damning conclusion in terms of the article’s rhetoric. The numbers exist, the article is quick to inform us, but since it does not deign to deliver https://i.insider.com/5e6bf30e84159f119873e202?width=1200&format=jpegthem, we are tempted to presume that the numbers do not accomplish the fear mongering goal of slandering both young people and the person with fifty friends.

If the number of contacts a recently diagnosed person has on average recently risen dramatically, from three to four or five per person, and the person with fifty is an outlier, then the message is that we need do little more than we have been doing. If, as the stridency of their rhetoric suggests, the numbers have risen to thirty or forty on average, then the implications of their article—that we are to blame for the uptick in cases—might be true. In the meantime, I am much more interested in another story. I would like to hear about the numbers behind the anecdote, and how an analysis of how reopening the schools has affected the present swelling number of cases. The lockdown has scarcely changed since the summer, except for schools reopening, and the timing of the recent surge in cases is at least coincidental. School reopened three to four weeks ago, and that neatly matches the virus’ two week infection rate.

Lest anyone think I am advocating confining the children to our homes, let me assure you that I am as much a fan of the free—or rather tax-subsidized—daycare that is the school system as anyone else. I do not propose that even if millions of school-aged children going back and forth from public buildings to their houses have caused the current second wave we should close the schools, but I think we need to get past the simpleminded news stories which pick someone to blame and then stoke that fear until we have a new outgroup. When the virus was just starting to get a foothold in Canada, there was lots of talk about backpackers coming home from other countries, which was rapidly turned against new immigrants and foreign workers. That stridency faded when it appeared that the virus was also entering the country by the agency of retired people enjoying the petri dishes Japan has quarantined the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship carrying more than 3,000 people, over coronavirus fears.amenities of massive cruise ships. The spring break kids were blamed, and then people walking their dog. At the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, conservatives pointed to protestors, and now, other than the finger pointing that youth have learned to expect from the boomers, there are also the rabid anti-mask people.

I wish for a simpler time, when we could blame the virus on gods and demons, and let each other alone. But with the virus seemingly here to stay—at least until a vaccine is constructed by the labs working frantically to be the first—we need to learn how to cope with one another. It is no more useful to blame a segment of our population than it was for the Nazis, and unless we begin to think of a way to transform our society equitably we have as much chance of getting the government to act responsibly as we do a media source which compares an anecdote with some statistics.

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Don’t Tell the Archaeologist

My friend was flanked by two Inuit elders as she repeatedly picked up and asked about bones found on the ground. “A walrus rib,” the elder would reply, and then my friend would be off after another object. She knew that knowledge from elders is in shorter supply every day, and that the moment might be her only chance to ask about the bones she’d seen littering the tundra.

When she picked up a shaped bone covered in lichen, however, the elder next to her paused. He looked more carefully at it, and then called over the other man. Together they discussed the object, and as my friend’s excitement grew, they said it was a snow knife made from whale jaw.

She turned it wonderingly over in her hands. An actual artifact that would have been buried by snow most of the year. She might be one of the only people who had held it since its maker had used it for carving the drifts into igloos.

She asked the elders what to do with it. They told her she could throw it to the ground again, or take it. At first, influenced by her southern suspicions, she suspected a trap. Were they encouraging her to show her greedy southern ways, or did they actually mean that she might have it. And if she could take it, with their blessing, should she?

In the end, she took the artifact home, fending off the jealousy of the other southerners who wanted to find their own ancient Inuit artifact. Possession of the object weighed on her, however, as she frequently returned to the elders’ admonition: “Don’t tell the archaeologist.”

Like her, I rework her encounter with the past in my head. Who has title to the objects left by former members of the community if not the elders? And if the archaeologist can claim title, what does that look like?

Immediately it will occur to anyone interested in matters of sovereignty that the elders should have the right to dispose of their property—or that of their ancestors—as they see fit, regardless of the endless streamer of laws coming from faraway Ottawa. If they were inspired by the southerner’s awe, or merely wished to be hospitable to a young newcomer, so goes the argument, they were within their self-given rights. The Canadian government—which has more genocidal actions to account for than beneficence—does not have any authority—except that which they give themselves—to say anything about indigenous artifacts. More importantly, the elders are their people’s knowledge keepers, and therefore may well have gifted the snow knife for a purpose which goes far beyond a casual gesture.

Perhaps they thought that a southerner who showed such interest in northern culture should be encouraged, or that such a gift might engender a respect for Inuit https://i.cbc.ca/1.4308701.1506470630!/fileImage/httpImage/inukshuk-toronto-airport.jpgculture in the rest who were merely tramping the landscape taking selfies. My friend is a teacher, so maybe they thought she would incorporate what she learned into her lessons. Therefore, their gift might return a hundredfold as the children of the community feel their own connection to their past as well as observe the rare moment that a southerner respects their culture. That might encourage them to look at their own cultural practices anew.

Without access to the elders’ thought processes, we are left with the actions of archelogy as a field as it is practiced when it comes to indigenous artifacts. It will surprise no one to hear that the colonial attitude toward indigenous cultural artifacts is not always respectful. Much of the clothing found in museums was taken from indigenous people killed in massacres, while other artifacts were looted from their destroyed towns and villages or unfairly traded for, which amounts to theft by another name. Even in modern times, as Thomas King justly addresses in his Dead Dog Café show, “It’s good to have Indians in Canada so that white anthropologists don’t have to dig up their own graveyards.”

I’m sure King’s statement resonates for many indigenous listeners, and even made a few colonials pause and they remembered that loyalist graveyards in eastern Canada remain untouched while grave sites which are much more recent are regularly pawed over to satisfy the route of a highway or a museum’s collection.

The archaeologist where my friend is living is almost certainly more beholden to their own career—and what articles they can publish—than they are to the elders. And they are more interested in what museums and their field of study wishes to know than the needs or wishes of the community.

The discovery of Kennewick Man in the Columbia River in Kennewick, Washington, United States, in 1996 is a famous case of the wrangling which can happen as the colonial powers struggle to control even the ancestors of indigenous people. Once DNA confirmation established what the local Umatilla people had suspected, the skeleton was turned over to them for a tribal burial. However, that only happened after the archaeologists pursued a lengthy court case in which they argued their study was more important than the relatives’ wishes about the treatment of their ancestor’s body. The Spirit Cave mummy from a 1940 discovery, and the Wizards Beach Man from 1978, were similarly contested remains, and that led to lengthy court battles to repatriate the bodies.

In 1999, when Kwäday Dän Tsʼìnchi (Long Ago Person Found) in the Southern Tutchone language, the four hundred year old preserved DNA showed similarity to that of local people, but the archaeologists in this case were much more circumspect about how they handled the body. They consulted with the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, who sent representatives to name the person. The First Nations bands were further consulted about the project in general and dealt with the disposal of the remains once the agreed upon scientific studies had taken place.

Similarly, the only local source of metal in Greenland, which was Innaanganeq meteorite, still resides in the American Museum of Natural History and the University of Copenhagen Geological Museum. In 1894 Robert E. Peary shipped the three largest pictures to the United States where he told them to the American Museum of Natural History.

There is no museum in my friend’s new home, and there is no local collection of artifacts to which she could contribute the snow knife. Although southern museums and art galleries frequently trade in Inuit art, they have no money for building a permanent exhibit in the north. Therefore, the snow knife either stays on the ground, is collected by an archaeologist where it might contribute to a paper to enhance the archaeologist’s career, or merely catalogued, boxed up, and shipped south.

I’m not sure that the artifact is better off in the hands of my friend, but at least in accepting the generous gift she is following the dictates of the elders, who have repeatedly seen anthropologists shipping their history and culture into a green southern land where it remains. They know what little the north gains from such encounters, and that might make them reluctant to give up yet more of their history to such unsteady hands. Perhaps, given the absence of a museum, the poor condition of housing in the north which makes their own living situation unstable, the elders merely choose the best option amongst those which were worse.

My friend senses the responsibility which she has taken on, and just as in her instruction she feels the weight of her task; she will ensure that the snow knife will not merely be thrown away, put on a museum shelf to attract colonial currency to the institution, hidden in a box, or as lost completely to time as it would be if left on the ground. Given the way indigenous artifacts are handled by the Canadian government or curious southerners, perhaps that is the best we can hope for.

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Writing as a Logical Series of Steps

The inevitability of plot is one of the easiest aspects of writing. As a storyteller you shove a metal key into your characters, wind them up like a toy, and watch them perform series of proscribed motions. Many of the stories which adhere rigidly to the rules are easy to identify. They it within well-known genre categories, such as westerns, adventures, and romances. The stories which rail against, which deform the boundaries of those rules, are those for which narrative is an examination of reality, and how reality is malleable when it confronts our story of its existence.

When I think of the characters’ agency, or rather lack of it, I am reminded of the toys of my youth. Although I never had one of the little cars myself, I was able to see how the key, once wound, would push a spring to drive a series of gears. The real genius of the self-driving car—which would drive straight and turn and reverse depending on its programming, was the programming chip. The chip in those early days was not computer driven, any more than the cars were electric. Instead, a shaft moved against a shaped piece of plastic and its instructions were directed to the wheels. Leonardo da Vinci designed exactly the same device, and in later years we credit him with creating the first programmable machine. The genius of the device, at least in terms of writing, is in the limited possibilities offered by the shaped plastic. Narrative operates the same way.

In much the same way that a person’s life is shaped by their social and economic background, their access to education and privilege, and their relative mental and physical health, the toy car’s behavior is influenced by the blunt instrument of the plastic cog.

A storyteller is in the same situation as the toymaker who produced the plastic cog. They must decide what direction they want the toy to go, backward or forward, turning to one side or another, and then reversing at the end of its travel, and the writer is faced with the same decisions. There is a ripple effect which informs the entire life of a person born with a physical disability. Likewise gender influences whether someone can hold certain jobs in some societies, or even be taken seriously in a meeting. The writer takes those uneasy truths about society and makes those the tracks their characters must travel. How well the character stays on the pre-programmed path defines the character’s independence or how the writer thinks about the choices offered to their character if the society of the novel resembles their own.

If I assume that my protagonist is a girl born into a wealthy upper class medieval home, then the contemporaneous notions of propriety and a woman’s place in society become either a foil to her desires or a straitjacket which she must endure. The writer can choose to stretch those boundaries, and therefore tell a modern story in the trappings of the past, or future as far as that goes, but they are both bound by—in the sense that such rules are what they are working against—and freed into the possibilities of the narrative.

In my first novel, https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/proxy/Y4BopRBZP289CEvhH4q_YhnF-_HtVsU4Vq3Posdh9O1MtCbOF8FJObyswReoyROcv5aeC10ZQkqHqWjjp7LAQ4mLkKeUMbCp7iqnp_SDzuqkl4Q5FxwNaked in the Road, I imagined a man who had decided to eschew society and its consumer waste and strike off on his own. He removes all his clothing, and with that symbolic gesture he leaves his house and walks down the rural road. Once I set my character on this path, there were some inevitable realities that he had to deal with. He needed to eat, drink and sleep, and before long he would need clothing for warmth even if he didn’t need it for modesty alone in the woods. The first chapters of the novel wrote themselves, as the man scavenged for food and clothing on the margins of society. Once he went deeper into the woods, then he was limited in what he could do by what tools he could make and the resources at hand. If he met someone, there were a series of options in terms of where the interaction might go, and once that other person reacted, he was also limited in how he might respond.

The patterned way that people behave is both complex, in that we daily choose from a bewildering array of options—and simple—in that those options are confined by what is allowed by the physics of our locale, limited to behaviour that is coherent in terms of our past decisions, and accepted by society. Characters face the same constrictions. If they pick up a hammer they are likely going to strike something, and if they hit a nail the world around them changes, and if another being, then their world changes even more.

Once a character marries, then divorce is a possibility, and once they have a child they can lose them. Each choice a writer makes both opens up the story, in that it inspires another whole range of options, and closes the story, for there are a million roads not taken for the one chosen.

The story doesn’t lie so much in these societally dictated choices, however, but rather interesting narrative is influenced by the tension between what the character does and the reader’s and society’s expectations. Once Huck set off with Tom and Jim down the river in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the current draws them farther into the deep south of Jim’s slavery. This allows the characters to have adventures along the way, but the river cannot reverse and take Jim north to freedom. Twain was bound by the phenomenological world just as much as the boys on the river. Likewise, Huck’s limited educational background, however enhanced by Twain’s voice speaking through him, makes him a product of his background and place. He cannot talk about space exploration or universal human suffrage, so he is confined to asking questions. The cleverness and subtlety of his character lies in the questions he asks, however, and that creates the tension between what is possible for him in his society and the ways he pushes the boundary through his indomitable will.

Writers live mostly on the borders between these two options. They are confined by the possibilities of their textual ethos, the physics they have chosen to inform their story’s foundation, and their characters either chafing under those confines or striving to break through the boundary to some other possibility.

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Always a Working Light Bulb

No one who has lived in the west and has observed the rampant consumerism and waste will be surprised by yet another example of still functioning goods thrown away, but when people learn about the light bulbs, https://secure.img1-fg.wfcdn.com/im/86435661/resize-h800%5Ecompr-r85/1563/15631141/Maurine+33%2522+Table+Lamp.jpgmany are still right to be surprised.

One of the most common items to be discarded is a lamp. For some reason people throw them away more often than end tables or towel racks. Perhaps that is due so a misguided fashion sense, the notion that the old lamp does not match the new decor, and therefore should be sent on its way. When this happens, however, the lamp is almost always accompanied by a bulb. One might guess that part of the dissatisfaction with the lamp has to do with a burned out bulb, but this is rarely the case. Instead, in the seventy percent of lamps discarded with a bulb, the bulb is nearly always functional.

That phenomenon is so https://images.pexels.com/photos/577514/pexels-photo-577514.jpeg?auto=compress&cs=tinysrgb&dpr=1&w=500common that I have taken to collecting the bulbs even if I don’t have a way to test them on the spot. Each time I check a lamp for a bulb, however, and marvel that it contains one, I can’t help but wonder where the person thinks they are going that they will never need a bulb again. If they are near death and moving into palliative care, I can understand their situation. Likewise, if they are moving overseas and the familiar—to North Americans at least—Edison threaded fixture will not be available, then they should probably leave the bulb behind. They might better give it to a friend or donate it to a charity, but at least leaving it behind makes sense.

The many others, who are merely moving across town, or who bought a new couch which clashes with the old lamp, are impossible to understand. Where are they going that they will never again need a light bulb? Some of the newer bulbs are expensive enough to be worth carrying over into the new lamp or new apartment, and likely the new lamp didn’t come equipped with a bulb.

Of course the discarded bulbs are as much an analogy about waste as they are a loss of resources in themselves. The sheer bloody-mindedness of the casual discard informs the rest of western culture as well. https://nypost.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2018/03/180322-israel-turning-garbage-gold-04.jpg?quality=80&strip=all&w=618&h=410&crop=1Some clothing is made to be worn merely a few times, people buy paper plates so they never need to wash dishes—as though that were such a formidable task—and paper cups and fast food packaging litter our roads and streets.

Although we have only recently mastered producing the re-sealable container—in the form of the ubiquitous drink container found in every ditch—they quickly became taken for granted. While such a screw-top container would have graced an aristocrat’s table two hundred years ago, now children pitch them away and buy thicker containers—which they soon discard—to show off their environmental sensibility.

The many people aroundhttps://ca-times.brightspotcdn.com/dims4/default/be05d75/2147483647/strip/true/crop/2048x1363+0+0/resize/840x559!/quality/90/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fcalifornia-times-brightspot.s3.amazonaws.com%2Fe6%2F07%2Fdf9502108431c12b135d823a0d36%2Fla-tk-20160420-002 the world who struggle daily for their sustenance understand those who are dismayed by such flagrant waste. One light bulb at a time, we are casually and thoughtlessly ensuring that we are poorer, our landfills are bulging, and our insult to the planet is registered in some fashion.

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Shovels are the New Gold for the Survivalist

People who worry about the collapse of society are usually preoccupied with that they can do now to prepare for that—they imagine—inevitable eventuality. That preparation invariably involves hoarding of goods, for many of them are interested in shopping and come from

Photo by Cris Faga/REX/Shutterstock (9990525v)
People shopping
Black Friday in Sao Paulo, Brazil – 22 Nov 2018

consumer cultures where the worst world they can imagine is one in which the shops have no goods for sale.

The converse of this mentality is the common scene in nearly every end of the world movie in which the heroes—and in some cases the villains—spend their time filling shopping carts with the suddenly free goods of the collapsed society. This fantasy is predicated on two important notions, that goods will be needed in bulk after the world has crumbled and that those with the most toys win.

Certainly there are some goods, such as foodstuffs, which are perennially essential, but for the most part those Sunday shoppers after the collapse gather flashlights and batteries, guns and bullets, and cans of beans. When the Covid 19 crisis arrived, or was perceived to be arriving, hot items for hoarding turned out to be noodles, tomato sauce, tinned beans, and oddly, toilet paper. I don’t think anyone imagined that toilet paper would become such a sought-for Covid commodity, and as the paper flew off the shelves in bulk, the shops struggled to compensate by increasing their prices.

My friend is teaching in the far north this winter and her colleagues flew north with their luggage packed to capacity with dried soups and pasta. They envisioned a world in which they would be asked to fend for themselves, and also hoped to save what they saw as the extreme food prices of the north. Partly such urges are about price and scarcity, and partly they are likely some instinctual response which lies deep in the reptilian brain.

This same notions drive those who would prepare for the unforeseen eventuality of global collapse. As they add toilet paper to their list of what they need to hoard, they cast their minds further into their imagined future. That is when they start to think about the future of currency. They cannot imagine a world in which items cannot be bought, so they try to stave off the inevitable inflation of paper currency with hoarding precious metals. They imagine that gold will retain its value, or even increase, so they hide gold bars under the floorboards, and if they cannot afford gold they buy silver. The more canny amongst them, as they see themselves, purchase silver quarters which were minted before 1965 when they were predominantly silver. Thus at one stroke they provide a market for old quarters, and save themselves hundreds or thousands of dollars while still hoarding metal.

The premise behind such hoarding is that society will retain a currency culture and that metals precious today will hold their value. Gold is primarily valuable because it does not tarnish, and therefore is useful in electronic work or jewellery where toxicity or allergies are a concern. Neither of those practices would survive the collapse intact, and the hoarder is left with an attractive but heavy lump of metal no one wants. Silver is more useful, because it is a very good conductor, but within the lifetime of the hoarder the world will scarcely run out of copper wire, mere scavenging will provide enough for any common use, so the prepper is left with more metal for jewellery.

The best item for the hoarder, if they are truly worried about their purchasing power after society has collapsed around them, is something which has intrinsic value. They shouldn’t rely on metals which are only https://thesurvivalnews.files.wordpress.com/2018/05/food-storage.jpg?w=1400valuable because there is a luxury market, but rather they should consider items like food, which the starving survivor would gladly pay for with gold. Thus, the survivor who has a garden is much better off than the hoarder who has canned beans and toilet paper.

On one of the Doomsday Prepper episodes, one of the survivors touted his foraging skills, and the show followed him as he went along a creekbed gathering weeds for this dinner. His essential goods included salad dressing. One of his statements was more than a little strange however. He showed how he’d included in his pack fragments of obsidian for chipping arrowheads. Somehow he imagined a world in which the use of a bow and arrow would be so common that he could use the obsidian for arrow points, rather like our ancestors did some thousands of years ago. I cannot understand how he couldn’t see that the world we occupy, even after a societal collapse, is very different than that of our ancestors. With piles of metals containers, industrial waste, and discarded cars, the scavenger could avail themselves of metal with which to make a much better arrowhead than they would with obsidian, even if they were an experienced knapper.

This drive to hoard toilet paper and canned goods, guns and bullets, combines with a kind of back to the land notion, at least in the idealistic imagination of the urban dweller. They do not prepare for that eventuality by converting their lawn to food production, but instead their mind returns to what our ancestors used to prize, obsidian and gold, and their urge to hoard now for later never leaves them room to consider what a real currency might look like.

I suggest shovels, although knives, spoons—if they weren’t so common already—and axe heads would work as well. The item hoarded has to satisfy several different functions. It must have an intrinsic value regardless of what world confronts the hoarder. Whether an economic collapse, AI takeover, plague, zombie apocalypse, or decreased human fertility as a result of toxins in the environment, tools like an shovel or an axe have a value which will persist.

The other function that the hoarded item must have is portability. The user must be able to carry it from one place to another if it is to operate as a currency. Gold and silver are also portable, but they are value-dense, where the shovel or axe is not. If the item is too valuable, then it draws those who would steal it. The shovel is portable enough to be a currency, valuable enough on its own, but does not accrue value with its multiplication. More shovels are not more valuable than one, for any one person only needs one shovel. In that way, it is the perfect hoarder item.

I would suggest that a hundred shovel heads—for the handles can be added by the user or become a value-added function of the seller and having a non-functional shovel would discourage stealing—would be the best currency for the hoarder concerned about such things. Even if the world didn’t end, then their shed full of shovel heads might be sold as a lot to a consignment store where they would easily retain their value. If the worst happened, however, and the hoarder needed to rely on their purchasing value, the gold bearer would show up to their door begging for a shovel so that they might bury their wealth, and they would be prepared to pay a premium for such a useful tool. Other neighbours would come with squash and carrots, chickens and medical knowledge, in order to barter for the shovels the wise prepper had hoarded in advance.

A useful tool in all situations, the shovel would become a steady source of income for the hoarder, and trimming poles to make handles a lucrative side industry while others stay crouched over their silver quarters or eating their tinned food.

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From The History of Planeville

For them, Amy was what their grandparents would have called a witch, and they imagined invisible tendrils of control, a delicate understanding of human desire and the torrid expectations of jealousy, a look which could pass information that language could no longer tell, and all of that manipulated by a woman who’d lived long enough to gather the information to her chest like a miser with a hoard. She’d lived beyond the understanding of a typical person, they would say, and so she’s learned the secrets that compel, the gentle touch that applied at the right time can turn a man from a dark past to the light of duty and responsibility. Some said they’d gone to her with help for a carbuncle that had grown beyond what the town doctors could manage, and she’d drained it with a few words and a cup of tea. Still others claimed she’d oriented a baby who sat uneasy in the womb, and set his feet on a path that would lead him to the life of a farmer, or, more darkly, a life of crime.

As their fears grew, as the century collapsed into the warfare of the next, their need for someone to stand at the helm became more desperate. The telephone, international news from the papers, rumours of radio and signals sent by cracking the air itself, shook the granite foundations of the valley people, and they turned to their ideas of Amy’s abilities as their ancestors had turned to Meme and Wilhelm’s vision. Amy’s influence came to be both malign, as it expressed the fears of the timid, and joyous, as those more optimistic looked forward to a century of peace and communal cooperation. Two Amys came from this union of fear and optimism, and when the stories travelled the valley they would sometimes meet and hurry on, so different in demeanour and bearing that they appeared as strangers on a windy night, far from the home of their own hospitality and nowhere near offering a hand to another.

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Found Sentences: Our Past and Present Future

Usually the student sentences which stand out for me are more than merely comical. I am also less interested in those errors which some see as comic, especially in terms of laughing at the student’s expense. I am much more interested in sentences in which a student has inadvertently, or perhaps vertantly, stumbled upon a more compelling truth than the straitjacket of English grammar allows. Those sentences which have forced some slippage in the signifier, merely by wrenching the syntax or logic of the utterance until another meaning has been created.

My latest discovery is a sentence which seems too simple to allow much flexibility. My student said, near the beginning of her essay’s first body paragraph, that “Our past has given us a lot of what our future is today.” The rest of the paper did little to ensure that what the past had delivered was clear, or what portions of our future they were referring to, but the sentence itself, with its three possible tenses, as well as the qualifier which limits what seem to be gifts from the past, is already exhilarating in its reach and challenge.

Perhaps in its most plebeian reading, the sentence merely states that our world today is the result of the past, although if that was all the sentence did it would be more than mundane. The student goes much further than that. She both points to our shared inheritance, “Our past,” and reads the benefits from our cultural tradition as a gift. Although at first sight she might seem to be disparaging the hard work of our thoughtful ancestors, who put together a system of laws, built massive monuments and structures, wrote classic literature and histories, and passed down their scientific advances, I don’t think that is either her intention, or, more importantly, the sentence’s resultant meaning. I think she is exclaiming about how we receive those accomplishments for free, merely for the price of museum admission, reading a book, or observing buildings around us. Her statement is one of gratitude, although she is not slavish in her appreciation.

If her sentence were to continue in that same vein, a euphoric paean about the past, it would be much less interesting, but she chooses instead to problematize the power the past has over our present accomplishments. The past has gifted us, she is willing to admit, but we have also made great strides on our own. That statement is difficult to support logically, since any accomplishment is necessarily in the past, but she questions whether the past has given us everything, or merely “a lot.”

Where the sentence really shines is where the gifts from the past are to be delivered. Those gifts have been given to our future. She is not saying that those of us in the present will not enjoy them, but rather that the past has made a significant contribution to our future. The statement becomes problematic when we realize that her phrase the “future is today” is difficult to parse. This is not meant to be some slick advertising slogan, but the confusion of times destabilizes the entire sentence.

Suddenly the gifts from the past have been delivered to both “our future” and our present, which are written as though they are one in the same. Even as my student suggests that Hegel is correct, and that we cannot grapple with the present except as a gestural statement about the past and a hope for a future which is forever out of reach, she is rejecting that notion.

Hearkening to a notion of the future which our shared past reached toward, my student has chosen instead to charge ahead. She demands that the past does not shape us entirely, as much as we are necessarily beholden to its gifts, and that instead we are living in some sort of continuous future-shocked present where we are free to make our own fate.

We are not free from the past, and we are not caught in a nostalgic present, but instead we are racing down the far side of the exponential curve of discovery and innovation. As if she were speaking for all youth, my student has declared her own manifesto; she would shove both the present and the past out of the way so that she can build our future.

In its willingness to discard portions of the past, and to embrace what may come, I think the sentence from my student shows, and I don’t mean this ironically, that the future is in good hands.

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The Boatyards of the Azores and Hawaii

He’d heard rumours about the boatyards of the Azores and Hawaii. Some said that retirees who’d spent their working life dreaming of sailing away would sit at their desks gazing a wooden yacht until the fantasy became a certainty and their bank account was emptied into a hole.

Then, these would-be sailors would set out, usually from the western or eastern coast of the United States. They would gladly set to sea, waving to their friends come to see them off from where the boat had sat in dock, and they would sail into the beautiful weather of their imagination.

Once at sea, the drudgery would set in, but they would courageously turn their soft hands to the task of coiling rope and drawing sail. They would crow about their accomplishments online. They’d been correct all along, they were meant to be a sailor and they’d been trapped at an office job while they accumulated enough money to make the dream into reality.

The slap in the face would come suddenly, just like a mugger will approach in the street. A squall, or perhaps a local storm which wasn’t reported by their weather service, would rock the boat of their fantasy until they began to get the queasy feeling that they’d been wrong.

The seasickness would foreshadow what was to come, and they would realize how vast was the featureless desert that was the ocean. Waves would rear impossibly high, and they wouldn’t have the confidence of the true sailor that their boat would bob to the top like a cork. They would dread each wave’s approach, and cringe slightly even as their quavering voice fought to overpower the background howl of the wind in the rigging.

When the storm passed it would leave in its wake a torn sail and a lost line, but the greater impact would be on the mind of the soft-handed sailor. They would suddenly realize how cast on their own they were. If they were to call in desperation because they’d struck a lost shipping container in the night and sunk, days might pass before anyone came. Uneasy, even as they negotiated the deck, they would repeat aloud the sailor’s mantra, One hand for you, one for the boat, and when caught at it, they would grin sheepishly.

They would fancy, especially in their postings online, that they were more than prepared for a larger storm, but that confidence would be shaken from its perch when a squall turned into a gale. Storms are common enough on land, where unshakable houses provide a place to hide, but at sea, where the house pitches up and down the standing rigging whines and creaks in the wind, they are terrifying. The storm warnings from the weather service would fall on deaf ears, for they would already be so frantic that nothing could be said that would assure them of their life’s continuity.

When the squall blew into a full-force gale, or the gale swept upon them without their realization of what it might mean, they would spend their time shaking with nervous energy, shuddering with each pitch of the boat, and tugging fruitlessly at the storm sail they ran to keep the boat pointed into the wind. They would rethink every portion of their fantasy, curse the optimism and confidence that had set them to go to sea in a leaky vessel not worthy of its name.

Their fear would coil lines around their feet, thrash their shoulders into bulkheads, and bruise their knuckles on stubborn blocks which refused to turn once the wind was on them. They would rail at the heavens, curse their gods and demons, but most of all they’d realize that the deadly mistake was their own, and they promised that if they could safely make landfall, they would never set sail again.

The nearest major ports for those who set out to cross the Atlantic or Pacific in their round-the-world tour would be the Azores on the Atlantic and the Hawaii archipelago in the Pacific. Their huge boatyards were crowded with boats that were all but abandoned. Maintained only by their dock fees, they were vessels in name only, for their owners had crept into dock shattered in spirit and by times in body. They would tie up, make some promises of when they’d return, and then take a room in a hotel.

The soft wide beds, the Jacuzzi after a night of drinking, the company in the bar, would remind more of landfall than of a voyage’s end. Without looking in on the boat again, except to carry away a few precious items, the round-the-world sailors would board a flight for home. “There’s untended business I’ve left behind, and family trouble back on dry land,” they would plead, and the dock owners would let them go, the wad of cash for fees pulled from weak fingers proof that they still cared about the boat.

Such boats could often be bought for little more than the outstanding fees, but such a venture is a real commitment to the project, however. The hundreds of abandoned boats showed that others had nursed a similar dream and that it had come to a slow drip of oil and water in a boatyard redolent with the smell of tarp and desperation. Only the most foolhardy of sailors would set out from a graveyard, and only someone whose weather eye was turned to the future would dare to take on the ill-fated slip-holders which were plastic boats abandoned by bankers and social workers, by teachers and software engineers.

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Winnipeg Bus Conversations

Conversations on public transit are less frequent with each passing year. Although print media in the form of books and newspapers have always protected the less socialized from interaction, that has been exacerbated by the use of smart phones. Normally any conversation that happens now is between people who are already known to each other and came aboard the bus together, or a one-sided interaction with someone who is slightly off and doesn’t realize that the code of Canadian behaviour prohibits interaction with strangers.

I was that talkative person a few months ago, when my express bus was inching along in traffic due to the construction on campus and the university workers salivating for home at the same time. I was standing at the front of my crowded bus as it swung us forward and back and moved only a metre at a time. I looked at the people near me and said emphatically, “Thank god I got the express.” Their reaction was typical. Even though they weren’t occupied with a phone—for they needed their hands free to hold on—they merely gave a half-smile and looked away. Talking on the bus is tantamount to a diagnosis, they seemed to suggest, and they wanted no part in the straitjacket I was sure to soon require.

An exception to that was another trip around the same time, when I went aboard the bus with one of my international students and we were talking about how the unsocialized Canadians cannot seem to talk to others. We were loud enough in our expostulations, but no one near us responded. Instead, another man standing behind us piped up and exclaimed that he’d noticed the same thing. We brought him into our talk, and before long my friend left the bus and I was avidly chatting with my new friend. I asked him why he refused to follow the rule to ignore all others, and he explained that it might be the result of having been adopted from overseas. Although he was young when he came to Canada, he thought that might have made him stand apart from the bizarre social norms of his new country.

On my bus last week I was able to witness an exception to the golden silence and frigid social norms that govern most interactions with strangers on western public transit. I was standing near the driver and directly in front of me was a woman who was messaging back and forth. Because I am naturally nosey, I looked over her shoulder and I was surprised to see that she was most interested in messages she’d sent. Although I couldn’t read the small printing without my reading glasses—and I wasn’t quite curious enough to make my intentions obvious by taking them out of my bag—I could tell that she was scrolling slowly through long sequences of messages she’d sent to someone else.

There was another couple standing beside her, and the woman leaned on the man, which made me think about how much more difficult it would be aboard the bus if I were as short as the woman. The man was my height and could easily hold the bar over his head while he supported his girlfriend. When he received a phone call, he had to free up his arm and before long he was engaged in a mundane conversation that didn’t attract my attention.

It was only when he had stopped the call and was explaining to his girlfriend that he’d just received a call from a woman who had transitioned from the man he’d known in school. He explained how he knew the woman, how when she transitioned he hadn’t been surprised, and they talked about whether his girlfriend—having attended the same school a few years earlier—knew him or her. He tended to mix up his pronouns, as he talked about the boy he’d known in school, and the woman he’d only recently found on Facebook.

Suddenly, on the strength of her eavesdropping, the woman in front of me asked him if he were talking about ___. Once he confirmed that he was, with a rather surprised look on his face, she said, “That’s my wife.”

This began a short interaction about how Winnipeg was such a big small town in many ways and that such coincidences, although odd in other places, were a commonplace. She yanked hard over on the tiller of that conversation by demanding to know why her wife was calling him. I couldn’t see her face, and tell if her expression matched her tone, but she sounded suddenly jealous and suspicious. To his credit the man handled it well. He said he hadn’t heard from her or him in over a year, she corrected him to “her,” and after that suspicion was settled, he spoke about how they had bonded in high school.

The way he phrased that bonding was awkward, for he said they both excluded because he was bisexual and his friend thought of himself as a woman. The woman accepted that explanation, but couldn’t resist telling him that he shouldn’t be discussing another person’s transitioning so openly on the bus.

I was delighted by the entire interaction. I liked it that the man I wouldn’t have thought to be so open minded was supportive of his transitioned friend, that the woman was so suspicious and judgemental, and that the conversation had taken to many strange tracks. He agreed with her, although I thought he was slightly taken aback that she was describing the parameters of his conversations with his girlfriend on public transit. That mollified her, and then they began a stilted conversation in which he flattered her by asking—since he was having such trouble with pronouns—whether he should call his friend he or she. She told him he should use she, and why she felt that to be the case.

Before long her stop came up, and she exited the bus. The couple exclaimed after that Winnipeg was such a small place and the coincidence of her friend calling after a year while standing next to her wife was strange. I was so thrilled by the conversation that I couldn’t help but jump in. “I thought that conversation was going to go very differently,” I said. “Especially with that whole, ‘Why is my wife calling you?’”

“Yeah,” he admitted. “I thought the whole thing was about to go south.”

We continued the conversation about the woman’s tendency to correct him, and then drifted into how older people have difficulty accepting how notions of gender have expanded more lately. I told him that it is expected that people his age are more accepting, but that I am continually surprised by people my age who make it their business what other people think about their own bodies. We then discussed their study plans at university and college, and when they left the bus the man shook my hand and I said goodbye.

There is hope for the unsocialized people in the Canadian and American transit systems, but such interactions are few and far between. Most people are more than satisfied to read the transit as something to be endured while they wait to get to a place where they will live, rather than a place where they are also living.

In other countries, people use transit as a valuable moment to talk to a stranger. I have had people unburden on me as though they were in front of an unpaid counselor, and I’ve had others pick my brain for advice about their university career once they found out I teach at a university. Still others use the moment to satisfy their curiosity about how people live in other countries. In Winnipeg, few realize that they are shutting down more and more opportunities to converse with a stranger. They demand silence while watching a movie, ignore strangers while walking in the street and taking the bus, and eschew meeting another’s glance when killing time in a waiting room. As they slam more and more doors on possible social opportunities, they are driven to dating apps and social media platforms in order to feel as though they belong to a community.

I don’t want to be the voice of the older person who didn’t grow up with social media and therefore has a gut reaction that it is all wrong, for I scarcely want to return to scratching on the cave wall with charcoal and ochre just because that was good enough for hundreds of generations of my ancestors, but when I search for a model of socialized behaviour, I am drawn to that of other countries. Even in my classrooms, the international students are the ones who talk to those around them. They have spent their lives interacting, from the joint family living arrangements in their home country to the dozens of friends they’ve made and lost on a daily basis. They have a skill set that Canadians would be wise to emulate, if they want to find a friend without an app, and a lover without a credit card.

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