Is there too much emphasis on ‘diversity’?

The headline exploded on the page. “Lack of diversity leads to cancellation of Minneapolis writing conference.” What??? I read it again, then quickly scanned the accompanying article. It wasn’t just ‘click bait’; apparently twenty-one of the twenty-two speakers booked to discuss writing for children at the Children’s and Young Adult Literature (CYA) Conference  in Minneapolis were white, so it was cancelled.

The lineup of speakers for the Loft Literary Center’s conference on writing for children and young adults was stellar. William Alexander, winner of a National Book Award. Kelly Barnhill, winner of the Newbery Medal. Phyllis Root, author of more than 40 books for children. And 19 others.

Other than Alexander, who is Cuban-American, every writer who agreed to speak was white. And so, just days after announcing it, the Loft in Minneapolis canceled the Oct. 20-21 conference.

“We have set a goal for ourselves to be inclusive and to work toward equity, and we didn’t think the conference would live up to that mission,” Britt Udesen, executive director of the Loft, said Wednesday. “We made a mistake.”

I’m going to get whacked for my reaction — I just know it — but this is the kind of situation that sets my teeth on edge. Being politically correct just for the sake of being politically correct. Making the colour of people’s skin more important than their qualifications for the job. Am I the only one who thinks this is crazy ridiculous?

It stirs the same reaction I had back in 2015 when Prime Minister Trudeau was being petitioned by a group of eighty prominent women (“former politicians, academics, businesswomen and other professionals”) to fill vacancies in Canada’s Senate, not just with women, but…

“To achieve gender equality as soon as possible, the twenty-two current vacancies should be filled by women from diverse backgrounds, including Indigenous women, women from minority linguistic, racial and ethnic communities, and others, consistent with the Senate’s role in minority representation.”

According to the 2016 census, Canadian women slightly outnumber men — there are one hundred women for every ninety-seven men, “a figure that has held relatively steady over fifteen years, based on data from Statistics Canada.” Women want to be equally represented in more than population statistics. I get that. Women have seen outrageous discrimination in our world and it’s important to address that kind of injustice.

Stats Can also says, “One out of five people in Canada’s population is foreign-born.” *

“Canada is a multicultural society whose ethnocultural make-up has been shaped over time by immigrants and their descendents…By 2031, if current demographic trends continue, 47% of the second generation (the Canadian-born children of immigrants) will belong to a visible minority group, nearly double the proportion of 24% in 2006.”

So yes, that’s something else to be considered, here and elsewhere, as we strive to be an inclusive society. But must we resort to reverse discrimination to achieve it?

When it comes to the CYA Conference, I think there’s more behind the cancellation than the lack of diversity on the panel.  Apparently there had been “dwindling interest in the event, which has been held at least every other year since 2003. Only thirteen people had registered for this year’s conference.” We’re told…

The Loft had invited more than ten writers of color to speak and expected a few “to come through at the last minute, “and then they didn’t,” Udesen said. “It’s MEA [teachers’ conference] weekend, so a lot of local writers were unavailable, or a lot of them had just recently taught with us and they thought it would be repetitive.”

Knowing how far in advance the planning happens for my favourite Canadian writers’ conference (the Surrey International Writers’ Conference), I’d say poor planning might have had as much or maybe even more to do with the cancellation of the CYA Conference than the lack of diversity on its panel. But that does nothing to alleviate my frustration at the reasons given.

When the colour of people’s skin, their racial origins and gender are considered first, before their qualifications for a task, we’ve lost our rationality. We’ve become extremists. IMO that can’t end well.

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*Immigration and Ethnocultural Diversity in Canada

Gardening and Writing au naturel

Our instinct is to push back. Unfortunately, our energy level can’t keep pace with either the instinct or the desire, so year-by-year the wildness surrounding our rural home has encroached on the lawn and gardens.

It’s a tapestry of textures, weeds and wildflowers amid original plantings. At one time I’d be stressed about not being able to keep ahead of them, but … it is what it is. This is rural living and at this point in our lives it’s never going to look like a well manicured city property unless we hire a professional gardener, and THAT isn’t going to happen.

So, buttercups mingle with cranesbill, salal creeps beneath the canopy of maple branches, ferns pop up in the midst of hostas and iris, and we embrace the au naturel look.

The whole gardening endeavour here is a little like my writing. I admire the works of many published authors — words neatly gathered on the page and polished to present the perfect story — and wish mine could be similar, but I’m not them; I’m me.

My method of writing is a lot like my method of dressing, of entertaining and of dealing with daily routines — a little haphazard and a lot informal — so it’s not surprising that I write ‘by the seat of my pants’ and face queries and submissions so casually that they often don’t happen. It’s not surprising that my garden is a little on the wild side, too.

Some days I look at the results (of both) with a degree of discouragement, wishing I could produce something better, but other days I acknowledge this is the way it is. I remind myself there are good things to be said about the au naturel lifestyle.

And as the poster in my office says,

“Be yourself.
An original is always worth more than a copy.”

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Tuesday’s This and That: Birds, Writing and a Conference

I’m sure birds must have brains — isn’t that where the term ‘birdbrain’ comes from? — but I have no idea whether or not they ‘think’. I’m having a battle of wits agains a pair of Juncoes who are as determined to build a nest in my hanging geranium basket as I am determined not to let them. By sheer perseverance they’re slowly outsmarting me, and that irks!

For some reason I am reminded of a quotation by George Carlin: “Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.”  

My hubby has inserted a criss-cross of kindling pieces into the one basket that’s been getting the most attention, but it appears the birds see that as more of a sturdy building foundation than a deterrent.

The Juncoes are persistent, but so am I! We’ve lived here twenty years and this behaviour only began a couple summers ago. (I see I posted a similar complaint at this same time last June.)

It’s not like there isn’t a multitude of other potential nesting spots around our two-and-a-quarter wooded acres, so I’m not sure why the hanging baskets outside our family room window are so appealing to them. Certainly their poop on the window as they swoop in for their landings isn’t appealing to me!

We’ve temporarily relocated our two hanging baskets onto the deck outside the patio door so I can more easily shoo them away. At the moment I’m not confident about winning this battle with the birds, but the survival of my geraniums depends on it.

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A member of my writing critique group has invited fellow writers to join her for ‘Writing in the Garden’ one morning a month between May and September. She has a beautiful garden — it was featured during a Maple Ridge Country Garden Tour a couple years ago — and would be an inspiring venue for writing … if the weather would cooperate.  A covered lanai protects from rain, but it’s been too chilly to sit outside, so for May and June we were invited inside to write in her lovely home.

I’m not one of those writers who chooses to gather up writing tools and head out to a local coffee bar to write. Normally, I need solitude to transfer the words in my head onto a page, so it surprised me to produce several hundred words during each session. I guess a little peer pressure must have helped.

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Registrations opened last week for the 25th anniversary Surrey International Writers’ Conference, and, despite a budget that barely accommodates attending every second year, I’ve registered again, for the third year in a row! I’ve been attending frequently since 2004 and it’s always an incredible conference. As much as I might wish my encounters there with industry professionals would result in acquiring an agent or a publishing contract, I’m enthused about just being there — being immersed in all things writerly for a four day weekend of workshops and inspiring camaraderie.

SiWC is one of the most popular writers’ conferences in North America and draws attendees from many different countries. The day after registrations opened, it was more than 50% sold out. One of the more popular Master Classes on Thursday was sold out in a record-breaking five minutes! It’s a very large conference and yes, for an introvert like me that could be intimidating. But the atmosphere is always welcoming and inclusive, regardless of one’s level of writing expertise or achievement. And by booking a room in the host hotel, I’m free to slip away and decompress whenever necessary.

This year the conference dates are October 19 – 22. This is only mid-June but I’m already hyperventilating a bit. 🙂

Best not to think too far ahead. Better I wave a tea towel at these pesky Juncoes and get back to my writing.

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Making Vimy Ridge Personal

War has always seemed a very distant reality to me. As I was growing up, it existed mostly in sepia photos and scratchy news reels that preceded our Saturday afternoon matinées.

For a time, WWII separated our family when my enlisted father was sent from Vancouver to Toronto in 1945 to be a masonry contractor during the building of Sunnybrook Military Hospital for veterans (now the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre). But even that ‘inconvenience’ was short-lived when he located an apartment for us a few months later, and my mother and I travelled by train to join him.

WWI was ancient history. It wasn’t until I’d been married for several years that I heard a fleeting reference to my father-in-law having served in France. He never talked about it other than to show us a unique ‘souvenir’ — a rosary of roughly carved wooden beads and a cross that had an extra set (decade) of beads — which he’d found in a muddy ditch.

All these years later, as preparations are being made for tomorrow’s 100th anniversary commemoration in Vimy, France, we are reminded that he was a part of that battle. There is a memorial there to the 3,598 Canadian soldiers that lost their lives, but Edison Lloyd Garvin came home uninjured. He put the horror behind him (or at least kept it well hidden), married and got on with his life.

Several years ago I took a notion to google for information on his military service. All I found at that time was his regimental number and a copy of his attestation papers showing he had enlisted on September 15, 1915 at age nineteen.

Since then, the Government of Canada has been digitizing the records and, to my amazement, my search earlier this week brought up a PDF file containing forty pages — including an itemized record of my father-in-law’s entire military history.

Upon enlisting he was assigned to the 45th Canadian Battalion and on March 13, 1916 embarked on the SS Lapland for England. There, on June 6, 1916 he was transferred to the 43rd Battalion (Cameron Highlanders of Canada) as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and was sent to the field in France.

His Active Service Record indicates he remained in France until February 8, 1919, at which time he returned to England. Due to the demobilization of his troop, he left Liverpool on March 12, 1919 aboard the RMS Baltic. His Discharge Certificate was issued on March 24, 1919.

Those are the bare facts. Seeing them and all the in-between actions noted in handwriting, the cheque number of every monthly $15 payment that was sent to his mother, and in particular, seeing my father-in-law’s own very recognizable signature on the various forms, brings the distant reality much closer. Now the battle at Vimy Ridge is personal!

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Another Generation

My St. Patrick’s Day post shared bits of my family background, including photos of my two sets of grandparents. They were a big part of my life all the way through childhood. Once I was married, however, life took my hubby and me away to live in assorted provinces throughout Canada — places where the rest of my family didn’t live — but fortunately I had great memories of many gatherings and experiences that involved all my grandparents.

Robert & Ella Garvin

My hubby, on the other hand, was four years old when he remembers seeing his Grandma Ella Garvin for the last time. She was the only one of his four grandparents who was still alive when he was born.

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There are many reasons why his parents had him and his brother later in their marriage. Before his father, Edison, finished high school, World War I took him to France for three and a half years of military service. Following his discharge he worked for a year before embarking on a series of Bible College courses in preparation for ministry. After supplying pastoral care as a student in Stratton, ON, he went to a small, rural congregation in Ridgedale, SK while continuing his studies extramurally. He married Mary Elizabeth (Beth) Haines in 1924.

Grandmother Sarah Ann (Lewis) Haines

The manse in Ridgedale was little more than a drafty shack — I’m told they could lay in bed and line the stars up through a crack in the roof. Edison’s ministry there was abruptly ended by two years spent battling tuberculosis in a sanitarium in Saskatoon, followed by a long recuperation period. During his recovery, he undertook some part-time ministry and continued more extramural studies, this time from Knox College, before finally being accepted for ordination.

It wasn’t until he was called to full-time ministry in a church in Selkirk, MB that their children were finally born. Edison and Beth were both 42 years old when my hubby arrived. We’ve often quipped about my husband’s parents being old enough to be the parents of my parents who were 20 and 21 when I was born.

When writing our church’s history in 2015 I added this comment:

“Who we are as a church today is
a direct result of the journey of faith
begun by those who travelled before us.”

I believe it’s equally true for a family. Our roots have contributed to the people we are today. We exist because of those who came before us. If there’s truth in the cliche that we can’t know where we’re going until we know where we’ve been, then it’s important to be aware of our ancestors and what led to where we are today.

So I shall muddle on in my genealogy project. I haven’t yet unearthed a photo of the fourth grandfather, William Haines, but am hoping I’ll find it in one of the many boxes still stacked in the corner of my office. Don’t hold your breath! 🙂

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Maybe I’m Writing; Maybe I’m Not

Success as a writer depends on many things. When I started writing fiction I didn’t think much about being successful. I just wrote. I wanted to create an interesting story in an imaginary setting. It took me years, but I completed that story, then revised it several times. In some ways it was a waste of time.

Despite all the revising, I knew it wasn’t a good story. It had fatal construction flaws. During those years I also began exploring authors’ blogs and writing sites. That’s when I realized I didn’t know how to write a novel, so I backed off the writing and began reading how-to books.

Since then I’ve written more novels. I’ve even sent off occasional queries and submissions, investigating the possibility of agent representation and publication. But I haven’t persevered. The reasons are vague — partly lack of confidence in the quality of my work, partly reluctance to share with a public audience what seems like a very private part of me.

To be a good writer I truly believe one has to be honest — willing to do what K.M. Weiland so aptly describes in her recent blog post:

“Creating is about sticking your fist down deep in your soul, ruthlessly clawing at whatever you can find, and then dragging it out to be shared in the shocking light of day.”

In the novels I’ve written, I haven’t been digging down far enough. I know I’m a private person, and that has me wondering if I can ever find what it will take to write with complete abandon and honesty.

Does that mean I’m thinking about quitting? No, I love writing too much; but my goals may be changing. Instead of writing fiction, I’ve been inserting other tasks into my free time, feeling the push to complete projects that have been sitting in a corner (literally) for years. One involves gathering bits and pieces of our family history together to finally create our family tree. I’m sure my advancing years play a part in this (I’m appalled at how quickly time passes!) but a dose of reality is redirecting my focus.

I’m interested in your feedback. If you’re a writer, has your writing journey moved ahead without interruptions? Has it ever changed directions? Am I wrong in taking my current approach?

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