"at your library" in the north island eagle: commemorate remembrance day with a good book or three

Celebrate and commemorate Remembrance Day with a good book or three

Readers have told me they enjoy the themed booklists I’ve shared. Remembrance Day is an occasion to share another list. The Great War, as it was known at the time, has inspired countless authors, poets, playwrights, and screenwriters. Many authors have used the horrors of World War I as a lens to explore issues of war and the scars it leaves on all involved. Here are some excellent titles that may be of interest.

Title: Regeneration, The Ghost Road, The Eye in the Door (The Regeneration Trilogy)
Author: Pat Barker
What you’ll find: These novels, written in the 1990s by British novelist Pat Barker, were inspired by the real-life memoirs of soldier and poet Siegfried Sassoon. They are widely thought to be among the best historical fiction of our time.

Title: A Farewell to Arms
Author: Ernest Hemingway
What you’ll find: This 1929 novel is a classic for a reason. It is told in the first-person by an American serving as a medic in Italy, and explores war, love, courage, resistance, and so much more. A rich and deeply moving book.

Title: All Quiet on the Western Front
Author: Erich Maria Remarque
What you’ll find: This is often called both the greatest war novel of all time, and the greatest anti-war novel of all time. It is even more poignant for being told from the German point of view. 

Title: Birdsong
Author: Sebastian Faulk
What you’ll find: This family saga follows two parallel plots: a British soldier at the front in Amiens, and his granddaughter who is trying to understand his experiences, 60 years later. This book is lushly romantic, yet also deeply realistic.

Title: The Absolutist
Author: John Boyne
What you’ll find: Set in the trenches, this novel explores passion, jealousy, heroism, and betrayal. It’s chock full of tension and suspense, and a very surprising ending.

Title: The Winter Soldier
Author: Daniel Mason
What you’ll find: A young medical student enlists in the war effort, expecting heroism. Instead, he finds a desolate, freezing outpost, and decisions that will haunt him for a lifetime. A gripping saga of war, medicine, love, and redemption. 

Title: Fear
Author: Gabriel Chevallier
What you’ll find: This gripping novel is based on the author’s own experiences as a nineteen-year-old soldier in France. First published in 1939 – and banned until 1950 – it speaks to the vast gulf between the public, official view of war and the lived experiences of those who suffer through it. 

Title: At Night All Blood Is Black
Author: David Diop
What you’ll find: This story of a Sengalese soldier serving with the French forces, explores some surprising themes of vengeance, responsibility, and shame, along with racism and colonialism. It is unsparing and very graphic, also brutally honest and riveting.

Title: A Duty to the Dead
Author: Charles Todd
What you’ll find: This is the first book in a series featuring Bess Crawford, whose belief in honor and responsibility leads her to volunteer as a battlefield nurse. Her promise to fulfill a soldier’s dying wishes draws Bess into murder, intrigue, and tragedy, and tests her determination and courage.

"at your library" in the north island eagle: halloween is spooktacular at your library

Halloween Is Spooktacular at Your Library

Halloween is almost here, and with almost everyone in the North Island vaccinated, people will be exchanging their everyday masks for spooky ones, making costumes, and trick-or-treating again. Your library is part of the Halloween fun.

Haunted Vancouver Island for Kids (author reading)

Tweens, teens, and the “senior kids” will want to tune in on October 26 for a special virtual program: Haunted Vancouver Island for Kids. 

Award-winning author Shanon Sinn will host a special young people’s edition of “The Haunting of Vancouver Island”. Sinn will introduce some of VI’s favourite ghosts and supernatural beings – and reveal the truth behind their legends. Sinn is a celebrated local author who belongs to the British Columbia Ghosts & Hauntings Research Society and Paranormal Studies and Inquiries Canada, and researches hauntings and supernatural events. 

This special virtual event takes place 6:30-7:30 pm, and you can join on any device. To get the Zoom link, email kids@virl.bc.ca. If you need help getting started, ask at your favourite library branch. Sinn’s visit is intended for people 9 years old and up.

Spooky Scavenger Hunt

For the younger kids, we have a Spooky Scavenger Hunt in the children’s area of every library branch. Every child who participates is entered in a draw to win a book prize.

We know kids love scavenger hunts, but did you know they’re a fantastic literacy builder? Scavenger hunts teach kids to recognize shapes, colours, and word, and build memory and problem-solving skills. 

If you’re not a frequent library user, the Spooky Scavenger Hunt is a great excuse to stop by. Your little one can have some educational fun, and you can pick up a book and a DVD. It’s a free and easy way to add a little something special to your day.

Halloween Phone Holders with 3D printing

Did you know that VIRL offers 3D printing, available to everyone with a library card? 

If you’ve never heard of 3D printing, or you’re curious to try it, the Halloween Phone Holder challenge is a great time to start. You’ll need to sign up with TinkerCAD (www.tinkercad.com), a free website that teaches you how to design files for 3D printing. It’s not as difficult as it sounds! 

After you design your Halloween creation, submit it to VIRL’s Creativity Commons for printing. If you’re interested in this but don’t know where to start, contact Creativity Commons at cc@virl.bc.ca or 1-877-415-8475. 

Halloween Storytimes at Port Hardy Library

This month storytimes at Port Hardy will have a Halloween theme. Join us any morning – or every morning! – at 10:00, Tuesday through Saturday, for an in-person storytime. Storytimes build literacy skills in so many ways, and it’s a great way to get into the habit of making the library a part of your child’s life. 

Spooky books and movies for all ages

Reading spooky stories and watching slightly scary movies is a Halloween tradition at many homes. Your library is your go-to for a fun family event. 

Log in to our the VIRL website at home, or visit your branch in person, to order Halloween-themed books and DVDs. If you have internet at home, Kanopy Kids is chocked full of high-quality kids’ entertainment. Find Kanopy at virl.bc.ca > read watch listen > streaming movies TV & DVDs. You can watch on any device, and it’s free with your library card. For help getting started, visit or call your favourite VIRL branch.

"at your library" in the north island eagle: back-to-school: your library can help

Back-to-School: Your Library Can Help

With the kids back to school, both parents and students need all the help they can get. Your library has a wealth of resources to help families succeed.

The Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) has a wealth of e-resources that will come in handy for all types of research and reports, at every grade level. 

Solaro is a great resource for test preparation and study, specifically designed for the BC curriculum. On Solaro, you can find math, science, and language arts for grades 3 through 12. It’s very customizable, so you can tailor your study to exactly what you need. Homeschool families and students in traditional classrooms will both find Solaro fun and useful. 

Getting set up with Solaro is a two step process. First, find it through the VIRL website and enter your library card number. You will be assigned a username and password. Then, download the Solaro app, put in that username information, and you’re good to go. 

Solaro isn’t the only BC-centric learning tool that your library offers. The Encyclopedia of British Columbia is the definitive reference work on the province. It contains more than 4,000 entries, plus more than 1,500 photos, maps, charts, and tables, plus audio and video clips. It’s reliable and authoritative – a real go-to for research.

KnowBC contains more specialized information about our beautiful province – birds, plants, shells, and marine life. There are fascinating articles about hidden histories, such as the first Black pioneers of the province, the BC labour movement, and the history of First Nations fishing in this region.

Explora for Kids is a kid-friendly research database, featuring a huge range of topics and subjects. It’s great for homework, reports, and simply to answer questions. Younger kids – grades K through 3 – will want to use PebbleGo. Both are reliable, trustworthy sources.

Find all of these by visiting virl.bc.ca > learn > all databases, or learn > kids. 

Teens have even more choices when it comes to e-resources. Visit virl.bc.ca > learn > teens > homework help for teens. Whether a teen is exploring a topic they’re passionate about or researching a project, they’ll find resources here.

Parents need support, too! Your library has books to offer guidance, suggestions, advice, and support to help parents succeed in their most important jobs. Whether it’s homework help, anxiety, identity issues, bullying, decisions about college or university, health and nutrition, or just about anything else you can think of, your library is your go-to source for information. Let us help you find support. It’s confidential, and it’s free. Give us a try.

"at your library" in the north island eagle: literacy skills are essential in our world

Literacy Is All Around Us

September is Literacy Month, a time to recognize and celebrate all the many ways literacy improves and enhances our lives.

As you go about your day, you use different forms of literacy all the time. Looking on Google Maps for directions. Following a recipe. Planting a garden. Reading food labels in the grocery store. Choosing a new tool for a project. Paying your bills. Taking the proper dose of medication. Looking on the internet for how to fix a problem – then watching a video and following directions. Every one of these tasks, and a million more, involve multiple literacies.

Of course to do any these things, you must be able to read and write. In our society, being literate is not optional. No matter how a person earns a living, having basic literacy skills is a must. But traditional literacy – reading and writing – is only the beginning.

Numerical literacy is the ability to use numbers for every day life – to read a price list and understand how much something costs, to make a budget, to understand a timecard at work.

Digital literacy means being able to use technology to access information, solve problems, and make your life easier. 

Together, these three literacies form a foundation of core literacy skills that every person in the 21st century needs. 

Contrary to what many people think, digital literacy is not a yes-or-no, on-or-off proposition. There’s a very wide spectrum of digital literacy, and most people fall somewhere in the vast middle: they have some limited skills. A mark of high digital literacy is our comfort level with learning new digital skills. Do you enjoy and embrace new technologies, or do find new technology scary and confusing? If you fall into the second category, you have a lot of company! 

Often we encounter stereotypes around literacy. Young people are supposedly all tech savvy, and all seniors are supposed to be baffled by technology. Men are supposed to be more numerically literate – “better at math” – than women. Guess what? False, false, false! 

Many young people lack access to technology. They know how to use their phones, but can they use Word to create a resume, can they download an e-book? On the other hand, many seniors thrive in the digital world. (Apparently as of my last birthday, I’m now a senior myself!)

As a librarian, I have a special interest in two other forms of literacy: health and media.

Health literacy means being able to communicate with health-care providers, follow instructions for medications, and find quality health information, to name just a few examples. The Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) has some great health resources, and we’d love to help you use them.

Media Literacy means being aware of and understanding the messages we get from all kinds of media – internet news, TV shows, movies, videogames, magazines. Someone who is media literate understands the difference between an advertisement that’s trying to sell something and impartial information. They can distinguish a solid source from a scam. It’s not always easy to do!

It’s not hard to see how digital literacy, media literacy, and health literacy are inter-related. How do we find good information? How do we separate facts from opinions? What media can we trust? Librarians can help you evaluate sources and sort through fact from fiction.

When you want to know more about the world, to learn a new skill, or pursue a new hobby, your library is the perfect place to start. The library is your home for all things literacy. We can suggest resources to get you started. And of course, our help is always free of charge.

"at your library" in the north island eagle: great things are happening at your libraries

Great Things Are Happening At Your Libraries

Our North Island branches of the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) are back to our full pre-covid hours, and back to normal – or better.

Port Hardy new hours and programs

Have you heard the good news? The Port Hardy Library is now has longer – and better – open hours. 

The new hours mean:

– continuous hours – no more closures for lunch or dinner,

– open two nights each week, instead of one – but no late opening on those days,

– open all day on Friday, and

– a simplified schedule that should be easier to keep track of.

These are all things that you, our customers, have asked for. 

With the new open hours and increased staff hours, we’re now offering a storytime every day. Parents, grandparents, and caregivers can come to the library any day (Tue-Sat) at 10:00 and participate in a storytime. 

Some of the sessions will be led by library staff, and some by “Mother Goose”, thanks to the Mt. Waddington Family Literacy Society. Storytimes are one of the best ways to build literacy, so I hope you will join us. 

We’ll also be offering programming for adults every Wednesday night. There will be a game night, a movie night, a book club, and one Wednesday called “something different”. That might be an author visit, a talk or presentation, a craft night, adult Lego night, to name just a few ideas. 

I’ll be leading a book club on the last Wednesday of every month, so if that appeals to you, get in touch!

For all these programs, social distancing will be in effect, and continued mask use is greatly appreciated.

Port Alice refurbishment

If you use the library in Port Alice, you’re in for a treat. Work is about to begin on a branch refurbishment. The library will be getting a long-awaited facelift – new flooring, new paint, a new information desk, beautiful new mobile shelving, and some fun new seating in the children’s area. We hope to host a Customer Appreciation Day to celebrate the new look.

The brand-new Woss

Have you checked out the beautiful new Woss branch yet? It’s a knockout. There’s a lounge area for reading and relaxing, a dedicated children’s space, and a meeting room that members of the community can book free of charge. 

A library customer has generously donated their time and resources to planting a garden that will beautify the library exterior for years to come. 

Next time you’re driving down island, stop by! Sayward also has a new branch; staff there would be happy to show you around. 

Port McNeill and Sointula

Changes at our Sointula and Port McNeill branches are less dramatic, but still very beneficial for those communities. A Mother Goose from the Mt. Waddington Family Literacy Society will be leading storytimes in both communities; check with your branch for details. 

Sointula will be getting a new exterior sign and an interior paint job. Port McNeill has beautiful new cabinets created by a local craftsperson, and some important behind-the-scenes improvements. Both branches are now open for public computer use, too.

We’d love to hear from you

If you have ideas for your library, we’d love to hear from you. Whether it’s a program idea, a book club theme you’d like to see, a research project you want to start, or you need some tech help, we’re here to help.

[Sidebar with new Port Hardy Library hours, an increase of more than 40%!]


what i'm reading: john steinbeck and me

I recently read Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck by William Souder, part of my new-found interest in biographies over the past few years.* 

Instead of reviewing the book, I thought I would write about the presence of John Steinbeck's writing in my life -- its history, its influence, the connection I feel. 

The book itself is quite good, but I assume it's of interest only to readers of John Steinbeck. Possibly to people who like biographies of writers? I don't know. Personally, I'd be very unlikely to read a biography of a writer whose work I didn't read or didn't like. If the topic is a good match for you, it is a good book.

For me, it's an obvious choice: my shiny new hardcover copy was a birthday present from my partner. 

Steinbeck's writing has had a huge affect on me. It influenced my desire to travel, my need to write, and my worldview, from an early age. 

To travel, to write, and to fight

My introduction to John Steinbeck was Travels with Charley, which I read either in late junior high or early high school. We didn't have a huge number of books in our house, and I read everything we owned. My parents had a paperback ("pocketbook") edition of Travels with Charley, and I read it, more than once.

I'm sure I would have loved to travel without this book. But Travels with Charley awakened a desire for a particular form of travel. I dreamt of wandering and roaming backroads, living with no fixed address, living so lightly that everything you need would fit in a simple van. It's something I've always wanted, and yet have never done. I've made (or at least tried to make) many of my dreams come true, but this one -- incompatible with so many other things I wanted -- has remained a fantasy. 

Still, travel has always been a huge passion of mine, and I can credit this book with its awakening.

Interestingly, the other voracious travelers in my life were similarly influenced -- my mother by reading James Michener, and my intrepid grandmother, from watching "I Spy"! (My brother is also an avid traveler, but I don't know if he credits anything in particular.)

Travels with Charley also made me want to write. There is only one other book that I can say that about: S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders, my favourite book for countless years, and still so close to my heart, it aches to think of it. Although I'm sure my need to write is innate and was not bestowed upon me, these two books were the spark.

And finally, there is my worldview. 

Both my parents were very progressive. They would have called themselves liberals in those days, but their politics were socialist. My father represented union workers his entire working life; my mother was a proud member of the teachers' union. They were pro civil rights, anti war, hated Nixon, revered people like Cesar Chavez and Eugene V. Debs. (Neither of them ever became conservative, by the way. My mother will still rail against Trump at any opportunity. The only time I ever missed my father was watching Obama's inauguration. He would have loved to have seen it.)

I've always been interested in social issues -- literally all my life, as soon as I was able to understand anything -- and ready to jump on a soapbox at the slightest provocation. I remember having to write an essay in my high school Spanish class, and I wrote against capital punishment. The teacher said that I always took on temas muy importantes. I was embarrassed, because I didn't know what other kinds of issues there were.

So, would I have been involved in social justice had I not read The Grapes of Wrath? Sure. It was in me. But when I read the book one summer while in high school, I suddenly understood my worldview in a more profound way, and I embraced it. The way the story moved me was unique in my experience -- and would remain so for a long, long time.

What moved me wasn't the story of poverty and the dustbowl, or the bigotry the migrant families encountered, or the conditions they endured. It was how people organized to collectively better their lives. It was how the people with the least, were most willing to share, while those with the most hoarded their wealth and purposefully kept others in poverty. It was thinking about what was possible when people organized around a cause and fought for justice. 

It may seem corny or melodramatic today -- or maybe it doesn't, I don't care either way -- but when I first read Tom Joad's "I'll be there" speech, I knew that's what I wanted for myself. Today, it still makes me weep, and take measure of my life.

I've read The Grapes of Wrath three times. It is one of a small number of books that I periodically re-read.** It has never lost its profound meaning to me. 

Why Steinbeck matters

While still in high school, I read most of Steinbeck's shorter novels, and his other "big" book, East of Eden (which I've now learned was his favourite of his own work). Later, as an English major in university, I saw that Steinbeck's writing was not highly valued, at least not in that era. I remember a classmate who was taking a Steinbeck and Faulkner course remarking that Faulkner was so much "better" than Steinbeck, because Faulkner was more complex, more difficult to understand, and Steinbeck was almost embarrassingly straightforward.

That sums up nicely why Steinbeck is important, and why I believe he's worth reading: his accessibility. Steinbeck's language, his meaning, his purpose are available to most readers. You don't need anyone to explain Steinbeck to you. His writing is elegant and profound, but it's not obscure.

I do like many writers whose work is less accessible. But I value accessibility in writing very highly, especially in political work. I may read many writers who "preach to the converted," but the writers I admire most try to reach new minds.


In 1988, Allan and I went to California on our first real vacation together -- San Francisco, a drive down the coast, then to Yosemite National Park. It was a magical trip in so many ways, and one of our stops was the John Steinbeck Library in Salinas. There was a small but wonderful exhibit of Steinbeck memorabilia, including the handwritten first page of The Grapes of Wrath. This visit meant so much to me, more so for having a partner who would understand my desire to go.

In 2002, we did a west-coast baseball trip, driving the Pacific Coast from the Olympic peninsula in Washington State to the border of Mexico. We saw games in five parks; only the Padres weren't playing at home. This time, we visited the National Steinbeck Center, which opened in Salinas in 1998. It's a great place, and I highly recommend a visit if you're nearby. However, the manuscripts that I found so thrilling are now available to researchers by appointment only. I am so fortunate to have seen the little exhibit in the Salinas library before it was subsumed into a bigger, sleeker museum.

Steinbeck reading plan

Mad at the World reminded me of Steinbeck's many other novels, most of which I read a very long time ago, likely in high school. Like my favourite contemporary writer, Colson Whitehead, every one of Steinbeck's books is different. I'm thinking I will re-read the shorter novels in between my other reads for a while. I don't know how this will work. I'll let you know. 

 * People whose biographies I have read in the past few years: Frederick Douglass, Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller, Galileo, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louise Fitzhugh, Janis Joplin, a dual biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X (not my first biography of either man), plus graphic novel biographies of Ali, Emma Goldman, and the graphic adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank.

** The others are 1984, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin. Helprin turned out to be a conservative hack, so I doubt I'll go another round with WT (which is just as well, I've read it twice). City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg will likely pull me back for another round.


gardening and games, but not piano: three things going on with me

Maybe next year: borscht.
It was not a total #gardenfail

You may recall that I tried to plant my little gardenette, as we used to do in southern Ontario, here in northern Vancouver Island. I was not successful.

The area we cleared became well grown over with weeds, and that was fine for now. 

Months later, to my surprise, I spotted some red stalks among the green. Beets! One beet plant survived and grew. I harvested one tiny beet. 

While I was showing the beet to Allan, he spotted a tomato plant growing amid the ruin. This gives me hope! As baseball fans have said for generations: wait 'til next year!


I began piano lessons in March 2020, right after the covid shutdown went into effect. I practiced diligently and consistently for 16 months. As long as I was learning and making progress, no matter how small (and progress was only small), I enjoyed it. 

[Piano posts: why it is interesting and significant that i own a piano, in which i begin re-learning how to play piano, using pianote, reflections on a year of piano lessons by a dedicated (and untalented) student.]

After a year, small, incremental progress became tiny. Minute. Microscopic. Gradually, progress dwindled off, then stopped altogether. I understand about learning plateaus, but this plateau seemed permanent. No matter how much I tried, it seemed I had hit an impenetrable wall. 

Learning is full of frustration. I know that. But in this, I must ask if I've reached the limits of my ability. No matter how much I practiced or what I tried, I was no longer advancing. And because I was no longer advancing, piano went from a difficult but satisfying challenge, to pure frustration. 

In June of this year, I started practicing less, and by July, stopped altogether. 

First I took a little time off, then weeks stretched into months... and I stopped. This winter, I'm going back to jigsaw puzzles.

I have a lifetime membership to Pianote, so I can return anytime. We'll see.

My games addiction is back, big-time

I love games. For me, games of all types are completely addictive. Once I start playing a game I like, time disappears. I always have to drag myself away. 

In my 20s and 30s, I thought that any time I spent playing games was a total waste. I was  freelancing, and maintaining discipline was very important. I used to say I had to be busy at all times to justify my existence, and I was only partly joking. Games were an addiction to be avoided.

After being diagnosed with fibromyalgia (after seven years of misdiagnosis), I gradually came to understand the need for downtime, and built it into my life. I also started recognizing the value of giving myself space for whatever I wanted to do -- without the need to justify it. So here I am.

I'm not a gamer. I don't go anywhere near videogames. Not because I think they're evil or a waste of time, but because it's a door I don't dare open. My brief experiences with videogames led me to believe that if I had a proper game system, I'd never watch a movie or a series again. My series/movie time is relaxing and restorative in a way that videogames wouldn't be. So I don't allow myself to go there.

I very rarely get to indulge my love of board games, as my partner has no interest. Considering all the awesome tabletop games out there these days, this is very sad! I would love to have a weekly music-and-game night. But no.

I love jigsaw puzzles, and have been enjoying great puzzle challenges during the winter for the past few years. (When I complete a puzzle, I post pics Facebook, but have spared wmtc that particular nonsense.) 

In Ontario, during times that I commuted by public transit, I could never concentrate enough to read, so I would listen to music and play games on my phone, mostly hundreds of different kinds of solitaire. Now I have no commute, but somehow I've become addicted to games on my phone anyway: crosswords, anagram games (NYT Spelling Bee and Wordscapes), and 3D puzzle games.

When I began piano lessons, I dropped puzzles, feeling that I don't have time for both. So now, it's back to puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles might drag me away from my phone games.


national day for truth and reconciliation: bearing witness, finding meaning

On September 30, many Canadians will have the day off in honour of a new holiday: National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The holiday was created in response to the continuing revelations of mass graves located beneath the sites of the former concentration camps known as Indian Residential Schools. The remains of more than one thousand people have been found, and thousands more remain undiscovered.

How we choose to honour this day will be up to each of us. On one end of the spectrum there may be mourning and grief, contemplation and resolve. On the other end, an aggrieved, bitter racism. In between those poles there are feelings of helplessness and confusion, platitudes, lip-service and window-dressing, and an excuse for a day off with no meaning at all.

Many Canadians celebrate Remembrance Day with reverence, observing a moment of silence at 11:11, and attending events commemorating Canadians who lost their lives serving in the military. Although (as you may recall) my take on this differs from the official reading, I know that the holiday does have meaning to millions of people. I hope that the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation will take on a similar somber meaning. 

Witness Blanket

This week I had the opportunity to bear witness in a small way: my partner and I attended an exhibit of "The Witness Blanket" in Campbell River, about three hours south of where we live, and the closest population centre to our region. The exhibit is of a reproduction of a major installation by the artist Carey Newman. 

Newman spoke with survivors of the Indian Residential Schools, as these concentration camps were called, and visited former sites. He collected physical objects, and incorporated them into a large, carved work. The work lives in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, in Ottawa.

On the museum's website, you can see images and read about eight of the objects that Newman incorporated into the work. I found this one especially sad. Impossibly sad. Sadness too profound to express.

In the image of the Witness Blanket above, you can see a set of horizontal, rectangularly-shaped slots below each panel. Those hold law books

The replica

The Witness Blanket was created in 2015, and was often on tour. It became damaged and in need of restoration. What tours now is a two-dimensional facsimile of the carved work. I hope one day to experience the original carving, although seeing the reproduction was still impressive and deeply moving.

In Campbell River, the Witness Blanket exhibit is hosted by the Laichwiltach Family Life Society, in partnership with the Campbell River Arts Council, the Campbell River Museum, the City of Campbell River, and the Vancouver Island Regional Library. (Laichwiltach is pronounced "lee-kwa-ta".) There was a good video interview with Newman, and, most unexpectedly, a Residential School survivor addressed a small group, speaking about her experiences. That was an unexpected gift.

In this article in the local Campbell River newspaper, you can see more photos of the replica Witness Blanket, including some of the opening ceremony. In one photo, you can see a dancer wearing a traditional button blanket.

There is a Witness Blanket website, but it doesn't seem to function correctly, as well as an app through which you can explore the work and its meaning.

Carey Newman has close ties to our area. His bio reads, in part:

Carey Newman, whose traditional name is Hayalthkin'geme, is a multi-disciplinary Indigenous artist, master carver, filmmaker, author and public speaker. Through his father he is Kwakwak'awakw from the Kukwekum, Giiksam, and WaWalaby'ie clans of northern Vancouver Island, and Coast Salish from Cheam of the Sto:lo Nation along the upper Fraser Valley. Through his mother he is a Settler of English, Irish, and Scottish heritage. In his artistic practice he strives to highlight Indigenous, social, and environmental issues as he examines the impacts of colonialism and capitalism, harnessing the power of material truth to unearth memory and trigger the necessary emotion to drive positive change. He is also interested in engaging with community and incorporating innovative methods derived from traditional teachings and Indigenous worldviews into his process.

September 30, 2021 and beyond

I hope Canadians are seeking out and joining local commemorations, or those offered by their employers, to imbue their day off with meaning. Tomorrow, I am joining a march led by three of the Indigenous communities in Port Hardy. (Of those three, Port Hardy was settled on the traditional Kwakiutl [pronounced "kwa-gi-uth"], territory. Two others Nations, the Gwa'sala and 'Nakwaxda'xw [pronounced "nak-wa-do"] people, were placed here involuntarily, two separate Nations forced onto one reserve, their villages burned behind them.) 

If you have an opportunity to visit the Witness Blanket, even in its current replica form, I think you will be moved and impressed. There are also many books and recordings by survivors, each of their voices bringing us the painful gift of truth.

And of course every Canadian can read the Calls to Action created by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and think about what they personally can do to contribute to Reconciliation.

Reconciliation is not an end goal: it is a process. It's not something governments will achieve, although government has a part to play (one that it is currently and spectacularly failing).

Reconciliation is the responsibility of every person in Canada, every organization, every employer, every family. It's something we must contemplate and consider, and hopefully learn to embrace. As I'm learning from the Indigenous people in my own community, we must walk the path of Reconciliation together, with curiosity, humility, and respect. That is the only way forward.


another federal election, another opportunity squandered #elxn44 #ndp

I haven't written anything about the upcoming Canadian federal election, because what is there to say? The results are depressingly predictable.

We will either have a Liberal government or a Conservative government. 

Both will suck. One will suck worse, and one will appear to suck less. 

In a predictable bit of circular reasoning, a large number of Canadians will not vote for a party whose values they claim to support, because that party is not "electable". Despite imagining themselves as politically savvy, they will choose not to strengthen the party whose platform they support, not to build that party for the future. They will believe they are making a smart choice by not voting for what they want. Instead, they will chose to continue down a worn path that prevents Canada from moving forward.

If the Conservatives win the election, supposedly progressive people who don't vote NDP will blame progressive people who do vote NDP, sneeringly calling us as conscience voters, as if acting on one's conscience is something to be avoided. 

If the Liberals win the election, supposedly progressive people will breathe a sigh of relief, believing rhetoric and appearance over substance and voting record.

People who don't identify as progressive, but who would substantially benefit from an NDP government -- that is, the majority of Canadians -- will not vote NDP, because of mistaken, ill-informed beliefs. These beliefs are supported by the Canadian media, doggedly asking the question that is reserved solely for the NDP: How are you going to pay for that? The question no one ever asks about a military budget. About corporate welfare. About privatization. A question that used to be asked about public healthcare.

There's a reason that, come election time, the Liberals sound like the NDP. In 2021, why not vote for the party that truly supports what the Liberals claim to support?

Only one party supports a national pharmacare program. 

Only one party wants to expand public healthcare to include dental care.

Only one party wants to re-invest in our depleted public sector.

Only one party supports workers.

Only one party truly engages in Reconciliation.

Only one party has a leader willing to call out Canada's institutionalized racism.

Only one party has a plan to address income equality.

Only one party wants to invest in affordable post-secondary education.

I could go on and on. 

But it doesn't matter, does it? 

Until Canadians are willing to do something besides this

nothing will change. 

But that's not really true. There's never a time when nothing changes; change is the only constant. So what changes will we see?

The public sector will continue to shrink.

Income inequality will worsen.

Climate change will worsen.

Housing will become even less affordable.

An increasingly large segment of Canadians will be unable to afford post-secondary education -- and indeed, unable to afford daily life.

I want change. I want a government that wants the same things I want. That's why I vote NDP.


from the archives: all over the world, i tell people where to go

On our recent trip to Oregon and California, I made a note every time someone asked me for directions. 

That may seem like an odd thing to track -- unless you're well-established as a magnet for The Lost. Not the spiritually lost. The physically lost and uncertain.

On this trip, we remembered three times: near the dog park in Berkeley, on a street corner in San Francisco, in a parking lot in Portland. It's possible there were others we didn't note and forgot. We shared a laugh: it still happens.

It is not lost on me that for my second (or third?) career, I chose a profession where I help people find information. I'm pretty sure I used this, in much shortened form, on my graduate school application essay. (Little did I know I could have written gibberish and been accepted. Are you a live body who will pay tuition? You're in!)

Being asked for directions during my first trip to Portland reminded me of an essay I once wrote -- really just a piece of an essay that I tinkered with now and again, back in pre-internet days when we wrote things and sent them to people who might publish them. I'll use this occasion to publish it myself.

Hello, my name is Laura and I give directions.  

I don't wear a button, but I might as well. Everywhere I go, people ask me for directions.  

It is a rare subway trip in my own city that I am not approached. "Does this train go to Grand Central?" "How do I get to Columbus Circle?" It happens just as frequently when I travel. I had been in San Francisco less than an hour when I car pulled up beside me, passenger window rolled down, inquiring face at the window.  In Italy and France, natives and tourists alike asked me the way. On a deserted highway in rural Mississippi, in a tiny village in upstate New York, in the middle of rush hour in Chicago. They pick me out of crowds, cross the street, flag me down. They want directions, and they want them from me.

When I talk about this phenomenon, people think I'm exaggerating. That is, until they spend time with me. An old friend and I were doing errands on the Upper West Side when a woman stopped me: "Is there a crosstown bus on this street?" My friend said, "I see you're still in demand."

I've given much thought to why this is. I suppose, as a short woman, I don't appear threatening or intimidating. Perhaps as an alert city-dweller, I look alert and confident. The very first time I can remember being asked for directions may provide a clue. I was in college -- on the first day of classes, freshman year. I was nervously rushing to class, wondering where on earth I was going and what on earth I was doing, when a young woman tapped my arm: "How do you get to College Hall?" I burst out laughing. "I have no idea!  I'm a freshman!" "Wow!" she said, impressed. "You really look like you know where you're going." Together, we held her map and tried to determine where we were. But it made my day. No, it made my month. Hey, I look like I know where I'm going.

It's a responsibility I take very seriously. If I don't have the requested information, I feel like I've let someone down. (Even worse is the occasional realization that I've given someone wrong directions.) I wait while people search for pens. If the person is interested, I'll give several alternatives. I tailor my directions to their needs: Can they walk a long distance? Are they in a rush? Would they rather save the price of a token, and see the city on foot? More than once, I've told tourists that we were headed in the same direction, and took them myself.

Yes, I have walked around New York City with strangers. And, obviously, I talk to strangers all the time. Aren't I afraid? The answer is no -- and that's probably the biggest reason I am asked for directions so frequently. Contrary to what many people believe, for an adult with common sense, talking to strangers is not a high-risk business. Quickly, expertly and mostly unconsciously, I size up the inquirer, using the cues that we all use every moment of our public lives. How close are they standing? Do they appear to be headed somewhere? Where's my bag, my wallet? 99% of the askers are lost, or at least unsure of the way. When I encounter that 1%, I move away, just like anyone else.

That last paragraph now seems silly and unnecessary. But leaving aside my urge to edit, re-reading this reminded me of two episodes that didn't make it into this draft.

Near Rockefeller Center, a Japanese man stopped me. I had a very hard time understanding his English; his guidebook was in Japanese. I did get that he was looking for a bookstore, possibly a Japanese bookstore? I tried several times to work out what he meant, but finally had to say I didn't know. More than a year later, I saw an article about a famous Japanese-language bookstore in the area (and have since discovered it's part of a chain). I was so annoyed at myself for not being able to help this man! I hope he found the store.

A more amusing episode took place on the subway platform at Columbus Circle. I was on my way to my weekend word-processing job, and a family of four approached me. They were decked out head-to-toe in brand-spanking-new Yankees gear -- hats, t-shirts, water bottles, the works. The dad asked me when the next train to Yankees Stadium would arrive. 

I told him there was no way to know when it would arrive, but if they were going to the Stadium, they were on the wrong platform. "This is the downtown platform. You need to go up the stairs, over to the uptown side," I said, gesturing through the path they should follow. "Then take the D train. It should say 'Uptown and the Bronx'."

To my astonishment, the man replied, "No, this is the train we need. I just want to know what time it is due."

So many things wrong with this sentence! Where to begin!

I wasn't a librarian yet, so I wouldn't have called him sir. But I was polite, far more polite than many New Yorkers would have been. "Hey, I live here, and I go to Yankee games all the time. I promise you, you're on the wrong platform. You need to go over there, to the uptown side. Also, there is no train schedule, especially on the weekend. They come when they come. Also, the game isn't until 1:00. You won't be able to get in the Stadium, and the area will be deserted."

Maybe he couldn't appear to be wrong in front of his kids. Maybe... who knows! But he insisted. And he yelled at me! Seriously, the man yelled: "This is the train to the Yankees! Do you know the schedule??" 

At that point I could only scoff in his face. "Suit yourself." I shrugged my shoulders. "Have a nice day."

My train arrived, and I left. Later I shared a good laugh with a friend who I went to games with. I wonder what happened to that family that day. 

The moral of the story: when a New Yorker gives you directions, don't argue.


labour day 2021: workers want to work less and live more

Lying Flat
We're told there is a labour shortage. Businesses can't find workers. No one wants to work.

Why the shortage exists and what should be done about it are the subjects of much debate, and no small amount of disinformation.

Within this shortage, there are two different streams: one a shortage of workers wanted to perform part-time, low-wage, repetitive jobs, and the other, unfilled positions that come with higher earnings and benefits packages. 

These are different issues, with different causes and consequences -- but they share a root cause: the capitalist work ethic.

Work vs benefits: a baseless claim

There is an idea out there that young people -- so-called millennials -- don't want to work. 

We are told millennials are lazy divas who think work is beneath them. They are immature and irresponsible, so they can't find and keep a job. (This myth also provides an opportunity to blame everyone's favourite scapegoat: mothers.) And of course, the favourite hobbyhorse of the right wing: government aid. People are supposedly living the good life collecting covid benefits. Why work when you can live it up on the gravy train?

No evidence is given for this claim. It never is among people who despise governments that help people, rather than those that strictly to corporate welfare. But in fact, the evidence suggests much the opposite. Economist Paul Krugman asks: 

But have unemployment benefits actually had a major adverse effect on employment? No. State-level job numbers released Friday reinforced the conclusions of earlier studies that found at most a small negative effect.

This time, Republicans inadvertently provided the data needed to refute their own claims. Many red states rushed to cancel enhanced unemployment benefits earlier than their scheduled September expiration. If these benefits were a major force holding back job creation, these states should have seen noticeably faster employment growth than blue states that kept benefits in place. They didn’t.

In reality, much evidence shows that Americans have struggled to access assistance during the pandemic. From The Guardian

Workers across America faced long delays in receiving unemployment benefits as state systems were quickly overwhelmed with the mass influx of applications that caused months-long backlogs. Meanwhile, workers who made errors on their applications, had missing records or had their claims flagged had their benefits stopped – and often had difficulty restarting them once problems were resolved.

About 9 million Americans are estimated to have lost work due to the pandemic but received no unemployment benefits.

Sharon Corpening, 60, a freelance writer in Roswell, Georgia, lost all her work contracts when the pandemic shutdowns occurred throughout the US in March last year.

As a gig worker, Corpening’s initial unemployment application was denied by the Georgia department of labor, until the Cares Act provided pandemic unemployment assistance for gig workers a few weeks later. She spent weeks trying to process her application and encountered issues with the unemployment website, and would sit on the phone for hours daily failing to reach a service representative.

Like thousands of Americans having trouble with their unemployment applications, Corpening joined a Facebook group and got involved in helping others through the unemployment process, advocating for systemic reforms and countering narratives that try to portray unemployed workers as “lazy” and “not wanting to work”.

. . . The impacts were detrimental to workers around the US, who fell behind on rent or mortgage or car payments, experienced utility shutoffs and relied on food banks and assistance programs to feed themselves and their families.

The story above mentions a family that was forced to put their special-needs child in a group home -- putting her health in jeopardy -- because they could no longer afford to care for her at home. It mentions a single mother who lost both her jobs through covid but was unable to access benefits from the state of Florida -- a system that Governor Ron DeSantis admitted was purposely designed to be difficult to access. There must be hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of stories like these all over North America.

Low-wage work sucks... but if it paid better, it would suck a lot less

I'm willing to concede that some low-wage earners might live better on government assistance than on their crappy jobs. If that's true, the problem is not the benefits. It's the jobs.

I can't possibly say this any better than "Canadian writer Lori Fox in her recent essay in the Globe and Mail: I’m one of the service workers who left the restaurant industry during the pandemic. Serve yourself". Fox's essay is well worth reading in its entirety, but here's a teaser.

I was a server for 15 years. When the pandemic struck a year-and-a-half ago, I was one of millions of food service workers – cooks, bussers, hosts and servers – who were furloughed as the world shut down. I’m also among those who chose not to return to the industry when things began to open back up. I’m one of your missing service workers.

Let me shed some light on the “mystery” of this labour shortage: With an abysmally low rate of pay, bad (often erratic) hours, no sick days and near-constant sexual harassment, racism, sexism and queerphobia, working in service sucks.

And yet that hasn’t stopped pundits, and even some restaurateurs, from decrying our lack of good ol’ fashioned work ethic and blaming the government dole for keeping us from returning to our rightful place: tableside, making them money and waiting on our betters.

What has been said about us – that CERB has kept us from re-entering the work force, that we are lazy and unambitious, that we simply don’t want to work – is ridiculous.

It’s also indicative of the way much of society thinks about working-class bodies: as expendable, interchangeable, replaceable parts of a capitalist machine over which it has ownership. Some people not only feel entitled to our labour, but to pay as little for it as possible.

Let’s be clear, then. It’s not that we don’t want to work – it’s just that we don’t want to work a physically demanding job in substandard conditions without benefits for minimum wage. And we especially don’t want to do that during the rising fourth wave of a pandemic. A study published earlier this year found the risk of death during the pandemic increased 40 per cent for food and agricultural workers in California.

Some of your “missing” workers are not missing. They’re dead.

And Fox is writing in a Canadian context, where the average minimum wage is one-third higher -- and in some cases, double -- that in most US states. And Canadian workers have their health care covered. 

Is it any wonder that workers don't want dead-end, repetitive, poorly-paid jobs, where they are treated like crap, their wages stolen regularly, with no benefits and with no possibility of advancement?

Who would want these jobs? Would you?

Being married to your career also sucks, but in different ways

The other labour shortage involves thousands of vacant positions for people with formal education and work experience. 

Our society abounds with fields where professionals -- never called workers, but if you work for a living, you are a worker! -- are expected to put in horrendously long hours, never or rarely take time off, and often when they do, to be on-call. Lawyers, doctors, and all manner of professionals are expected to "pay their dues" by prioritizing their careers over all else. For many, that's a "choice" never ends.

Then there are the workers who are expected to subsidize their employers with unpaid labour -- educators expected to grade papers at home, social workers whose caseloads are a physical impossibility, health practitioners rushed off their feet and worn out, all day, every day. 

All manner of support staff and public servants fall into this category because of chronic understaffing. Staffing needs are constantly sacrificed to the bottom line, whether that is controlled by profit or by the constant pressure to maintain ever-shrinking budgets in an austerity economic climate. 

In so many fields, workers are expected to sacrifice their personal lives, their family lives, and their mental health, because work is always expected to come first.

Lying flat

Writer Cassady Rosenblum was a producer of a major NPR show; she quit her job, left the city of Boston, and now lives with her parents in rural West Virginia. Obviously, a move like that requires a great deal of privilege. But if we care about the needs of all workers -- indeed, of all people -- that includes people who are well-paid, but over-stressed. 

Rosenblum writes:

As of June, there were more than 10 million job openings in the United States, according to the most recent figures from the Labor Department — the highest number since the government began tracking the data two decades ago. While conservatives blame juiced-up pandemic unemployment benefits, liberals counter that people do want to work, just not for the paltry wages they were making before the pandemic.

Both might be true. But if low wages were all that’s at play, we would expect to see reluctant workers at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, and content workers at the top. Instead, there are murmurs of dissent at every rung, including from the inner sanctums of Goldman Sachs, where salaries for investment bankers start at $150,000. According to a leaked internal survey, entry-level analysts at the investment bank report they’re facing “inhumane” conditions, working an average of 98 hours a week, forgoing showers and sleep. “I’ve been through foster care,” said one respondent. “This is arguably worse.”

In China, young people choosing to work less and live simply has taken the form of a movement: tangping: Lying Flat.

A generation ago, the route to success in China was to work hard, get married and have children. The country’s authoritarianism was seen as a fair trade-off as millions were lifted out of poverty. But with employees working longer hours and housing prices rising faster than incomes, many young Chinese fear they will be the first generation not to do better than their parents.

They are now defying the country’s long-held prosperity narrative by refusing to participate in it.

Mr. Luo’s blog post was removed by censors, who saw it as an affront to Beijing’s economic ambitions. Mentions of “lying flat” — tangping, as it’s known in Mandarin — are heavily restricted on the Chinese internet. An official counternarrative has also emerged, encouraging young people to work hard for the sake of the country’s future.

“After working for so long, I just felt numb, like a machine,” Mr. Luo said in an interview. “And so I resigned.”

To lie flat means to forgo marriage, not have children, stay unemployed and eschew material wants such as a house or a car. It is the opposite of what China’s leaders have asked of their people.

It's what the ruling class has asked of us for centuries. 

Meaningful work can be a great source of satisfaction and fulfilment. But those of us lucky enough to derive challenge, joy, and fulfilment through paid employment know that even the best work can destroy our lives. The human-resources buzzword "work-life balance" makes it very plain: work is not life. Work is a part of our lives but isn't all of our lives.

And for most workers, work is something that, if we're lucky, pays the bills. 

It's time for a four-day workweek

It's no wonder the movement for a four-day workweek is popping up all over the internet -- not just among us lazy socialists but in the business media.

Think of how much more balanced our lives would be with four days of work and three days for ourselves and our families. Think of how much more productive we'd be if we weren't running down the clock every Friday.

Once upon a time, there was no workweek. There was only work. Workers who wanted to spend their sabbath day resting were told "If you don't come in on Sunday, don't come in on Monday" -- meaning if they took a day off, they would be fired. We owe the five-day week -- a once-radical idea that is now enshrined in labour codes the world over -- to labour activism.

It's time to take it one step further.

We toil in a world that does not support us

There are other reasons for the labour shortage: neither American nor Canadian society offers the supports needed to make working possible.

Child care, a basic need of millions of workers, is either nonexistent or unaffordable. 

Public transit is a disgrace, and many workers cannot afford the costs of auto insurance and maintenance. They spend hours transferring from one overcrowded bus to another. Others who can afford cars spend those hours locked in traffic.

Millions of women still face "double duty" -- working full-time plus bearing all family responsibilities. Although this has changed in past decades, it should have gone the way of the rotary phone. But it is still far too common.

And if it weren't for the ridiculously high cost of housing -- the strange fact that the most basic human need is subject to the for-profit system -- I have no doubt that the labour shortage would be exponentially worse. 

Capitalism, internalized

If the idea of a four-day workweek seems foreign and radical, you are experiencing a symptom of a different pandemic: internalized capitalism. Much as we absorb stereotyped gender norms, we have been absorbing capitalist values throughout our lives.

I've been seeing and enjoying this meme in many places.

[By "feeling lazy," we can assume @therapywithlee means believing we are lazy when we need time off from work -- not "feeling lazy" in a pleasant and cozy sense.]

Labour shortage or learning curve?

Ten minutes into the global pandemic, all the cracks in the capitalist system were exposed. The cracks turned into an earthquake. Now we're surveying the wreckage.

The global pandemic has taught us many lessons. Taken together, the lessons have led to one big conclusion: the system doesn't work.  

What will be done with this knowledge is unknown. And it won't happen by accident. 

The ruling class will line up in force to resurrect and maintain the old order. Workers -- working people, all of us -- could prevent that, but only if we are organized and intentional.

Will we use our covid learning to build a better future? One that values our physical and mental well-being over productivity?

It's Labour Day. Demand More.