My Generation– where do I fit?

Two days ago, a student told me that because I was born in 1974, therefore I am a member of something called “Generation X”. So yesterday I googled around for a while to find out what that means. In the process I discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that the music of my generation is not so bad.

So while cooking and cleaning up my house yesterday, I built a playlist of Oasis and Radiohead and Pearl Jam. Listening to all this great music, which I apparently missed, has made me wonder where I fit in the world. There are whole “generational” experiences associated with that era of music that I didn’t have.

What generation am I? According to one schema, popularised by Canadian novelist Douglas Coupland, Generation X is everyone born between 1961 and 1981, roughly the first round of children born to Baby Boomers. According to another, I’m from the “Baby Bust” generation, the period from 1967 to 1979 when birth rates tended to decline. Whatever the precise category, sociologists and newspaper columnists were saying we were slackers, “reluctant to grow up”, apathetic, cynical, disaffected, distrustful of authority, and generally ridiculous.

Another phrase I found to define my generation is “latch-key children”, that is, kids who carried their house keys on their persons because when they got home from school their parents were not yet home from work. My mom was always home so I was never one of those; but I shared with latch-key kids the experience of playing mostly outside, climbing trees or scaling the rockfaces of the Elora Gorge. We had games of Capture The Flag, riding around the village and the farm fields and parks outside the village, on our banana-seat bicycles, over a territory which measured something like three by nine kilometers. I might have been among the last “free range” kids, who could play outside with almost no supervision. But don’t misread me: I have very little nostalgia for that time. I was also the target of some very severe bullying from other kids back then, and the main reason I went on to my PhD was so that no one would ever push me around like that again.

One marker of generational membership is one’s age when certain society-changing technologies became available. I first got internet when I was an undergrad, and I got my first mobile phone during my PhD. (I organize the history of my life by what degree I was working on at the time.) But maybe a greater sign of your generation is the way in which you grapple with what your predecessors left you. I remember early in my Masters degree days having long conversations with my peers about how the baby-boomers in academia were refusing to retire “on time”, with the result that by the time we graduated there would be no academic jobs for us. As it turned out, when the boomers did eventually retire, the economy crashed and therefore universities hired us as adjuncts and sessionals instead of as real profs, and a lot of us dropped out of academia altogether.

To this day, I still feel as if a defining experience of my generation is of having been screwed by the Boomers. Boomers were in charge of the economy and the body-politic when the economy crashed, when global warming and climate change became more evident and nearly irreversible, when the the social-welfare safety nets that the Boomers themselves benefited from were gutted, when well-paying industrial jobs were exported overseas, and when we were put massively in debt by student loans. To this day the boomers refuse to let go of political power: it’s noteworthy, in my view, that both current candidates for the US presidency are boomers. And it’s the boomers telling the younger generations that their problems are their own fault because of “entitlement” or a supposed lack of individual initiative.

The end result of all this is that here in my early 40’s, I can’t help but feel out of place. And this is partly because of what happened to my demographic, and partly because of my own life decisions. I look back on my life and I see a certain pattern: a series of movements from one social world to another because of a feeling of non-belonging. As a kid I became a consumate recluse because I did not feel at home among the bullish and narcissistic asshole kids at my primary school. In my teens I made a point of not listening to most pop music, nor punk nor metal nor goth, because the kids who did listen to it were too cool to give me the time of day. I didn’t feel like one of them, so I didn’t listen to their music. After that, I entered the pagan world because I didn’t feel at home in Christianity: the doctrine of original sin seemed to me obviously wrong. I pursued higher education because I didn’t feel at home among the party-going upper-middle-class “preps” of my late teens and early 20s; nor did I feel at home in the factories and warehouses where I got my first real jobs. I entered left-wing activism, especially in labour unions, because I didn’t feel at home in capitalism: at the time, I felt that the local economy was a rigged game, designed to keep me out. I went to live in Newfoundland, then in my father’s country, Ireland, because I didn’t feel at home in Ontario. Then I went back to Ontario because I didn’t feel at home in Newfoundland or in Ireland– also because I couldn’t find jobs out there. I sometimes feel out of place when I am single, but when in a relationship I often feel like an imposter, as if I don’t really deserve to be loved; consequently I’ve never held a girlfriend for longer than about two years, and I’ve come to prefer living alone. I don’t feel fully at home in the pagan world anymore: I’m tired of the infighting, and the competition for attention, validation, and ideological purity. Finally, although I own a house here in west Quebec, and although I love my job and I love the Gatineau Hills National Park– still, whenever I go anywhere else in this city or in Ottawa, I still don’t feel fully at home. It’s partially the language barrier, but its also the culmination of all those movements in my life, where no matter what was going on around me, I felt as if I didn’t belong.

I’m not asking for counselling or “help”; I’m certainly not asking for commiseration or pity. I’m asking whether anyone else has a similar experience. I would like you to reason with me about these feelings. I’d like to know if it’s my generation, or if it’s just me. And I’d like to know where I fit in, if I fit anywhere at all.

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Why I Love Star Trek: My Short Reviews of the First Six Films

I was six, maybe seven years old, and turning the knob on the old Panasonic 12-channel TV, when I saw a field of stars, and a curiously-shaped spacecraft passing among them. A “re-run” (a word I just learned) of a show called “Star Trek”. Well, I had been playing with a telescope in my back yard for years already, and building a whole universe of spacecraft out of Lego bricks. So, of course I sat down and watched. The crew of that ship “beamed” down to a planet, where they met three witches, towering in the skies above them. And I turned the TV off and ran up to my room. It was too scary.

Eight years old. Still scared of Star Trek. My dad took me to the cinema to see The Wrath of Khan anyway. That film, along with Roy Gallant’s book Our Universe, and (I must admit), two of the three Star Wars films released to that date, produced in me a lifelong love of science fiction, which I still enjoy to this day.

Over the last few days, in honour of the 50th anniversary of the franchise, I watched all six films made by the original cast. Here’s what I like about each of them.

By the way: spoilers.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

I am very well aware that most scifi fans, and indeed most Trek fans, regard this film as the runt of the litter. To me, it’s one of the top ten scifi films ever made. I can’t recall exactly when I first saw it; I have a vague memory of seeing the transporter accident scene on TV in the late 70s or early 80s. In the 1990s a friend gave me the film on VHS tape and I watched it daily for a month.

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Of all the films featuring the original cast, this one seems to me the most philosophical. It is a film about knowledge: it’s a film about the philosophical question “Is this all that I am? Is there nothing more?” And that’s a very difficult theme around which to tell a story. It explores this theme in two ways: one on a “big picture”, represented by the existential threat posed by the V’Ger probe, and the other on the “small picture”, represented by Spock when he gives up his Kohlinar discipline; and by Kirk when he effectively commandeers the Enterprise from Decker, its new captain. V’Ger is introduced with a long and visually trippy descent into the cloud, to establish the weirdness and alienness and wonder of space exploration. V’Ger itself is the product of an alien society that loves knowledge so much it took an ordinary exploration probe and gave it godlike powers for the sole purpose of learning “all that is learnable, and transmit its knowledge to its creator”. The film ends with very possibly the best reveal in scifi: V’Ger is one of ours. Then, as if to place a quasi-religious glamour on the search for knowledge, V’Ger and Decker fuse with each other and become a new, maybe supernatural being. The message is: knowledge is transformation and enlightenment.

If you are a fan of Trek who doesn’t much like TMP, consider at least this much: the music. Glorious. Evocative. Bold. Inspirational. The overture, Ilia’s theme, played to a blank screen (in the cinematic release) or a receding starfield (in the remastered DVD) tells you from the beginning that this is going to be an introspective and personal film. Then the brass rise for the main theme, played over the opening credits, tells you that this is a film about courage and triumph. You know that theme: it was used for the opening credits for The Next Generation. I listened to the soundtrack for TMP while writing my own novels. The long exposition scenes that some critics hate are actually essential: they give you time to think about the big themes that Star Trek has always been about. The scene when we arrive at the Enterprise in its refitting dock was the first time anyone saw their beloved starship in over ten years. Fans needed that long, loving look. They deserved Goldsmith’s beautiful music score to pay homage to it.

On watching this film again last week, for the first time in perhaps ten years, I suddenly realised how many contemporary films and TV shows of every genre obsessively demand action, action, action. TMP is a slow burn. A science-fiction art film. A movie for thinking, not merely ‘riding’. A love song to the idea that we human beings can solve our problems and boldly go where no one has… you get the idea. We have far too few such films in the canon of Western pop culture. We’ll probably not get many such films again, in Trek or in any franchise. But I digress.

The Wrath of Khan (1982)

This film I also regard as one of the top ten scifi films ever made. Indeed I think this film, together with its predecessor, make for two distinct and complimentary faces for what Trek is about: TMP is thoughtful, questioning, and inspirational; Wrath of Khan is scrappy, adventurous, and heroic. We have clearly defined heroes and villains; they’re both tough, and they’re both smart. The Enterprise crew changed its friendly (but boring) uniforms from TMP for a sharper, more militaristic look. The opening musical theme also changed, emphasizing strings over brass and somehow evoking the romance of space travel and the danger of space warfare at the same time.

When I first saw this film I was too young to understand philosophical and political questions hinted at (though not emphasized) in the film: questions like what to do about getting old, and what to do about superpowerful new technologies, represented by the Genesis Device, and Khan’s own genetic engineered ‘superiority’. I did, at the time, understand that big technologies could be destructive; we had done a nuclear drill in my school that year. What I love now about this film is that it represents a society that loves exploration, science, experiment, and curiosity; that takes such things seriously and questions their ethics; and that is capable of fighting when it needs to. The final space battle between Kirk and Khan, in the nebula, reminded me of submarine war films: the tension was not so much in fighting the enemy, bit finding the enemy. Yet Kirk and Khan had been exchanging moves from the first moment that the Reliant fired on the Enterprise– the battle between them was more a battle of wits than of weapons. Any idiot with a working right hand can fire a gun; it takes Kirk and Khan to fight each other with information, deception, move and counter-move, leading to a surgically-precise final blow. This is how smart people fight each other.

When writing the villain in my own novels, I had the voice of Ricardo Montalban in my head.

When writing the villain in my own novels, I had the voice of Ricardo Montalban in my head.

And then– Spock died! First time I saw the film, I never saw it coming. Spock’s death was perfect for the character: logically chosen, and heroically executed. The phrase “I am, and always shall be, your friend”, so simple and plain, and introduced early in the film where it was almost innocuous and casual, was elevated to a more noble meaning. It made for an interesting contrast against Khan’s parallel act of self-destruction: quoting Herman Melville (“To the last, I grapple with thee; From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee; For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee”), Khan sacrifices himself in order to kill; Spock sacrifices himself in order to save.

It was wise of the filmmakers to give Spock the last lines in the film: the reading of the show’s manifesto: “Space, the final frontier…”. It told us that the film makers loved Spock as much as we fans did. And that Spock might not be entirely gone.

The Search for Spock (1984)

This film came out when I was ten. I don’t recall if I saw it in the cinema; but I do recall that Robin Curtis’ portrayal of Saavik was one of my first adolescent boyhood crushes. (Too much information, I know. Sorry about that.)

Including my re-viewing of this film last week, I’ve seen Search for Spock perhaps only three times. I find it a strange film: it tries to be thoughtful like TMP, and adventurous like Wrath of Khan, at the same time, and I’m not sure it succeeds at either. The central theme of the film is friendship: it is about the Enterprise crew coming together to effectively bring Spock back from the dead. It’s interesting that the crew of the Enterprise, who we have long admired for being upright and moral people, commit several serious crimes: stealing the Enterprise, sabotaging the Excelsior, disobeying orders, all of which would likely earn them the death penalty in a real-word navy service. Yet the ethics of these crimes is never doubted: the value of friendship overrules them all. We see this in the great personal cost that the crew, and Kirk especially, must bear: the destruction of the ship, the death of Kirk’s only son. But I think the heart of the film appears at the end, when Kirk discusses these costs with Sarek. Sarek expresses regret that if Kirk hadn’t gone after Spock, he would not have lost his son. Kirk replies: “If I hadn’t tried [to save Spock], I would have lost my soul”. Kirk’s friendship with Spock and the crew is his soul; and in a clever reversal of Spock’s utilitarian reasoning that led to his self-sacrifice, that friendship is the “one” which can outweigh the needs of the “many”.

It’s interesting that the film makers had to invoke the idea of a soul to reverse the “needs of the many” argument that concluded Wrath of Khan. This soul is a psycho-spiritual “package”, so to speak, that McCoy can carry around in his head; it’s also a relationship between people, a non-supernatural phenomena. Trek has explored the ethics of individualism over socialism many times; I think that this film is Trek’s best exploration of that theme.

As a follow-up to my comment about the demand for fast-paced film making: Search for Spock doesn’t give us enough time to feel Kirk’s grief. But it does give us just the right amount of time to appreciate Spock’s return. Shot with almost no distracting visuals in the background, and no music, it gave Spock fans the reunion they were waiting for.

The Voyage Home (1986)

This is one of the most popular films in the series but I have mixed feelings about it. I like the environmentalist message, for instance, but I also think the message was delivered a bit heavy-handed. Trek’s best morality plays are the ones where the viewer is shown an ethical or social possibility that she might not have thought of before but still lets the viewer make up her own mind about it. Here the message is “Save the whales, save the world!” Ya. It’s a bit much.

The strength of this film is the camraderie of the team. For the first time in the films, the story is not just about Kirk / Spock / McCoy / Everyone Else. It’s about everyone, nearly equally, bringing their own unique skills to the task. Characters like Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov had almost nothing to do in the previous films; here they have essential jobs to do, and more recognizably distinct personalities. And excellent comic timing! Watching this film felt like hanging out with friends. We had an important job to do; but we’re having fun doing it. The saving of the day was a kind of foregone conclusion. What mattered was that the world of Trek was still around, its heroes were still heroes, and its sense of optimism for a better future was still deeply felt. Job done. But for all that, the film didn’t seem to have much re-playability. I couldn’t watch it again and again like I could watch Wrath of Khan. It felt more like an episode of a TV series than a movie. I also felt stuck on the sheer cheapness of the final set, the Federation council chamber. So, on the night last week when I re-watched this one, I watched the next one afterwards, right away.

The Final Frontier (1989)

I know that most fans regard this film as the very worst of the series. And yes, there’s a lot about this film that really, really sucks, and I don’t want to sound like an apologist. The film is funny in all the wrong places; the ‘ascent of man’ symbol as Kirk climbs a mountain just doesn’t work, and neither does its counterpart ascent in the Enterprise turbolift shaft. An end scene, where Kirk says maybe God is “here” and then he points at himself, just makes me want to gag. All that said: here’s a few points about it which I think are worth praising.

First, as with The Voyage Home, the Enterprise team are working as a team. They’re distinct individuals with unique and necessary skills, and their ability to work together is what wins them their victory. It was also nice to see McCoy standing up for Spock more often.

Second, a reaffirmation of classic Trek humanism. I had a VHS tape of this film when I was a teenager that I watched repeatedly. In retrospect this is surprising, since I was growing up in a deeply religious Catholic household and the film was a deeply anti-religious film. The slowly unfolding premise is a search for God. But the big reveal at the end is that “God” is a fake. In fact Spock, at the gunner station on board a Klingon ship, fires on him and kills him. Logic defeating superstition. Not even for the first time in Trek history. How did I get away with watching that film so often back then?

Third, its villain, Sybok, is a smart and charismatic person, and as you’ve gathered by now, I like a smart and charismatic villain. He’s on a kind of spirital quest, to locate the planet of Shaka-Ri, a kind of mythical Eden which might be the home planet of God. A sound, solid motivation, and it’s easy to share it. That Sybok gets there by effectively mind-controlling people is what makes him an interesting and frightening villain. Also his one tiny moment of self doubt: when told he is mad, he says “Am I? We’ll see!” Actor Laurence Luckinbill played that moment perfectly.

As a villain, Sybok has class.

As a villain, Sybok has class.

The scene in the officer’s mess where Sybok compels Spock and McCoy to reveal their pain seemed to me very effective. We got to see more of these men’s characters than we normally see. Spock’s pain is one we’ve known since the original series in the 60’s; McCoy’s struck me as new, and very emotionally powerful. Kirk’s speech about how we need our pain also worked: well, sort of. For one thing, we already know that Kirk’s pain is his grief for the death of his son; for another, it’s a strategic rather than principled argument, designed to keep Sybok out of his head. But a central moment in the film, for me, happened right after that speech. Even after Sybok “released” Spock and McCoy from their pain, they chose to remain with Kirk, and not join Sybok’s army of fanatics. That showed the strength of will and the sense of self, which makes those characters the heroes that they are.

We see this strength in Kirk a little later on, when the ship arrives at Shaka-Ri, and Sybok relinquishes command, like the honourable man he thinks himself to be. “What makes you think I wont’ turn us around?” asks Kirk. “Because you, too, must know.” Yes, and so must we. Very effective.

More effective still, is when Kirk asks, “What does God need with a starship?” Pure Pyrrhonic skepticism: Kirk still must know, and remains in doubt about everything so that he can get closer to the truth. His superpower is his ability to keep on questioning; Sybok’s weakness is that he can’t. Until Kirk shows him that he can. Then I think that Sybok became a kind of hero, in his own way: maybe an unwilling hero since all his deepest beliefs had just been exposed as illusions, but he died an admirable death nonetheless.

It’s hard to see these good moments behind the mess of bad effects, bad pacing, misplaced comic moments, and pretentiousness. Thank the gods (well, you know what I mean) that the franchise didn’t end here.

The Undiscovered Country (1991)

My re-viewing last week was the first time I had seen The Undiscovered Country since its cinematic release, and it’s growing on me. Though I called the first and second films two of the top ten best sci-fi films of all time, this one may well be the most perfectly Trek film of them all. It’s a film about how our biggest social and political problems are best solved by negotiation and discussion, and not by violence. But it also asks what is to become of those who know nothing but violence, and who might feel they have no place in a world defined by peace. So it is also a kind of ‘whodunnit’ detective story, about smart characters solving a difficult problem together. There’s an investigation into the assassination of an important Klingon politician and the saboteurs of a peace conference. Then there’s also a jail break, a space battle, Sulu in command of his own ship, Spock very nearly losing his temper, some well placed moments of comic relief. And there’s a promise at the end that our heroes are still out there somewhere, sailing into the sunset, and boldly going where no one has gone before. Star Trek optimism and adventurism at its best. Indeed if this wasn’t a Trek film I think it would still stand up as a great sci fi classic. A timely one, too: the Berlin Wall had just come down; America was no longer fighting a cold war with the Russians. So it was with the end of the Klingon Empire. Old cold-war warriors like Kirk and Valeris and Chang have to cool off, but they don’t know how.

For some reason I also began to notice something in this film which hadn’t caught my attention in the other films: the colour palatte. The film makes tableaus with high contrasting elements in the frame: computer lights and dark backgrounds; star fields and starships, red serge uniforms and black metal floorboards. A white hallway and a black armoured Klingon waking down it. Lt. Valeris’ ghost-white skin and night-black hair. The darkness of the mine shaft and the sharp red laser-rays of the mining tools. A red ticking digital clock over the black viewscreen. The bright flags, sashes, and colours of the conference hall. Films three through five had the “look and feel” of a television episode; this one had the look of a big screen movie. Although I think Shatner and Nimoy’s direction in films III, IV, and V got good results from the cast, Meyer got the best results from the camera.

One big problem, which I think no one saw back in 1991, because the sexual politics was different. Near the end of the film, Spock has to probe Valeris’ mind to get the identities of the conspirators. Valeris keeps her Vulcan cool, but it’s clear the mind meld is unwanted. Did Spock psychically assault her? Is Kirk guilty too, for ordering Spock to do it? I invite discussion in the comments.

So there you have it.

Science fiction which is optimistic about humanity’s future isn’t very fashionable anymore. The future we expect is more like the one depicted in films like Blade Runner, The Matrix, or Serenity. Or, people might look forward to a future in which we join the Rebellion and fight the Empire. But the tragedy of that future is that the war, while mythic and romantic, never ends. That is why, although I would like to study at the Jedi Temple some day, I would much rather live in the Federation.

Off to binge on The Next Generation now. And DS9. And Voyager. I’m also 14,000 words into writing my own scifi novel. The human adventure is just beginning.

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I bought a house. Then the bank punched me in the face.

In December of last year, I bought a house– a nice house, with the perfect location, size, and price for my way of life. And I thought all would be well. The house has good bones, new roof and main-floor windows, and new-ish hardwood floor. But it has a wreck of a basement: insulation is missing on most walls, the wiring and plumbing is not up to code, the basement windows too drafty. I expected my energy costs in that first winter in the house to be high, seeing as the basement was not properly insulated. So I arranged for a “construction draw mortgage” which would pay for the renovations to clean all that up.

Everyone involved in the transaction, including the mortgage broker, the real estate agent, and most of my friends, assured me all would be well.

It’s about six months later, and I’m feeling as if ever since I bought the house, someone or some group of people promised me something, and then when I asked them to deliver their promise, they punched me in the face instead. I feel like I have been cheated and lied to, victimized by a sophisticated bait-and-switch trick, all validated and approved-of by the CMHC and other regulatory bodies that are supposed to put a lid on this. Here’s the story.

The first punch in the face.

In mid December of last year, I gave $15,000 to the notary to cover the downpayment, the lawyer’s fees, and some back taxes. Later that afternoon, the notary phoned me to say I needed to pay $16,000 more, and he gave no explanation for it.

I didn’t have that much money. For about 48 hours, I was sure that I would lose the house and all my money with it. Picture me standing in front of the TD bank branch on St Joseph in Gatineau, in the traffic, in the rain, wondering whether I will have a home to go to tomorrow. I don’t fault the notary for this– he was acting on the instructions he received from the bank. But no one at the bank could explain why I suddenly owed more than twice as much money. I had to hike up the limit of my line of credit to pay for it. Now my short-term debts were enormously higher than I had planned them to be. In fact I had planned no short term debts that I couldn’t pay within a month or two. Instead, I have five-digits worth of short term debts that might not be paid in full for years.

The second punch in the face.

Early in the new year, I wrote to the mortgage broker to ask about how to access the construction-draw funds for the renovation. I got no answer. I phoned him a few times, and left multiple emails. After several months I heard back from him– he had left the bank, and was no longer working on my file. Well, that happens from time to time, and I can’t fault him for that, though I would have appreciated it if the bank notified his clients. So I wrote to his branch, arranged for a meeting with another of their agents, and asked my questions.

At that time, I was told that at least some of the money could be available to me in advance. Perhaps as much as the 15% advance which the contractor wanted. I handed in all the estimates I had so far. But this particular agent admitted that he hadn’t worked with construction-draw mortgages before, and he had to make some inquiries. Very well.

Weeks go by, and nothing happened. I made some phone calls and emails again. The manager of the branch phoned me and said I had been given incorrect information. The construction-draw portion of the mortgage would not be paid until the construction was finished. He also gave me an answer to my question of why I had to pay an extra $16,000 back in December. (Remember, this is five months later.) It was an “insurance premium”, of a sort that is normally rolled into mortgage payments, but for some unexplained reason I had to pay up front. He didn’t say exactly what kind of insurance. It’s not the regular house insurance: I get that from a different company. It’s something else. I still don’t know what.

So, I was to get no money from the bank until the work is done. But because of that unexplained “insurance premium” that the bank took from me without warning, I did not have the funds to pay my contractor to do the work in the first place. You see the trap I’m in: the renos won’t happen until I can pay for them, but I cannot pay for them until after they happen.

The third punch in the face.

The bank manager suggested I could extend my line of credit again, to pay for at least some of the labour and materials in advance. He assigned me to another agent, and I came into the branch to show my income and do the paperwork. At this time I had been assured my line of credit would be increased to $30,000, which I could use to pay the contractor for his labour, and then I could buy materials like insulation and lumber using store cards from Rona or Home Depot. This debt would then be covered by the construction-draw funds, and rolled into my mortgage, as promised.

More weeks go by, and I notice my line of credit had not increased. I wrote the manager to ask why, and I learned that the bank’s head office decided my income wasn’t high enough to carry that much debt– even though the bank knows that the construction-draw portion of my mortgage would cover it less than six weeks later. I was told this was the CMHC’s rule and that there was nothing the local branch of the bank could do about it. The manager said he would investigate whether CMHC would allow the release of half the construction-draw funds when half of the work was done; later he found that he couldn’t predict that until after half the work was done and he got a CMHC inspector to visit. He says I should ask the contractor to accept payment when it’s over, or else borrow money from friends or family.

It’s not the fault of that particular branch manager. But it is the fault of someone, somewhere, at the bank, that I am unable to do what the bank promised me I would be able to do. There are people whose job includes explaining these things to me, and yet nothing was explained. There were too many expensive surprises in this whole experience. And they’ve left me feeling thoroughly demoralized.

Meanwhile, my building contractor, who has been chomping at the bit to get to work all this time, is left wondering what’s happening. He’s a decent man: friendly, helpful, and well recommended from friends at my workplace. But he can’t work for six weeks for free, and I won’t demand that he should. In a way, the bank has been punching him in the face, too. The renovation work should have been completely finished three months ago. Instead, it hasn’t started at all.

I’m investigating other companies that might be able to offer me another loan, but I’m running out of options. I don’t even know what office at the bank I should complain to about any of this. I can’t ask any friends for help– they don’t have money to loan me either. And I don’t have the skills to do the work in the basement myself, although I suppose I could learn them this summer.

I am not asking you, dear reader, for any help in this matter. But I am asking for you to share this story with anyone you know who might have had a similar story, or who might be about to walk into a similar trap. Perhaps next year I will look back at all of this and feel thankful that I got through it. But at this moment, I’m beginning to wonder if what the banks really want me to do is hand over everything I own, and then thank them for the privilege of being punched in the face.

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The Centre and the Distance of Civilization: Some Research Questions. Please Help!

In May of last year I began researching a book about the philosophy of civilization. I’m almost done; but I’m asking for your help.

I would like to hear from people who, one way or another, have moved “out” of civilization
— or who wish they could. For example, I’d like to hear from ex-urbanites; off-the-grid homesteaders; residents of experimental or intentional communities; urban primitives; residents of small towns or islands, far from major cities; or anyone who thinks there’s something not-quite-right about civilization, whatever that may mean to you, and who has changed their lives accordingly. I’m curious to hear from people whose jobs or livelihoods regularly brings them to the margins or the edges of civilization— whatever you regard those edges to be. I’ve got some questions for you.

    1. What does the word ‘civilization’ mean to you? Or, what is its centre?

    2. What is civilization’s biggest problem? Or, are there many problems, and what are they?

    3. In your life, or in the lives of others close to you, what have you done about that problem?

    4. Why live off-the-grid? Or, why do you live in some way at a distance from the centre of civilization? Or, if you don’t presently live that way, do you wish you could? Why?

    5. Has moving to an off-grid way of life (or planning or wishing to live that way) changed the way you think about things?

    6. What kind of future do you foresee for yourself and that away-from-the-centre way of life?

    7. If you had a chance to go back to the city, would you take it?

Actually I’d like to hear from anyone at all who might be interested in these questions.

Please answer as many or as few of these questions as you like. Take as much or as little time as you like. Post your thoughts to the comments space below, or email me: bmyers (at) live (dot) ca.

Yes, I know some of key words in these questions are not clearly defined. To others whom I’ve already posed these questions, one common automatic answer was “That depends on what you mean by civilization”. I’ve left these key words mostly undefined because, while I’m interested in people’s answers, I’m also interested in how people interpret the questions.

Finally, please share this mini-questionnaire as widely as you can.

Thank you!

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Preparing To Launch A New Game

In my creative projects, I wear many hats: philosopher, researcher, novelist, musician, game designer. About two years ago, I tried to launch a tabletop RPG based on The Hidden Houses, my urban fantasy novels, using Kickstarter.com to pay for editors and illustrators. Back then, it failed. But I remained determined. I’m now gearing up to try again. And this time, I’m laying the groundwork a little more carefully.

For instance, I’m recruiting some help much sooner in the process. Last time, I wrote to almost a dozen artists I knew, and asked them to let me use work they had already created, with the promise that if the campaign succeeded I’d work with them to make project-specific illustration. This time, I commissioned my friend Susanne Iles to create some project-specific illustrations right away. (And I’ll pay her out of pocket, whether or not the campaign succeeds.) I saw one of her rough sketches this morning; it’s going to be great. I also have informal agreements with two other artists to work on the project after the campaign is over.

Because, here’s an image I made 20 years ago, which at the time I wanted to use as the front cover of a different game I made back then:

Two of my old D&D characters, punting on a creepy river

Two of my old D&D characters, punting on a creepy river

And here’s a sketch of “Old Hobb”, one of the characters from my novels, which I made about a month ago:

Old Hobb speaks without speaking. Know what I mean?

Old Hobb speaks without speaking. Know what I mean?

I still like these images, but I’m nowhere near good enough to illustrate an entire 250-page RPG book all by myself.

I’ve also recruited “beta-testers”. There’s about a dozen people now, some friends of mine and some friends-of-friends, who are already playing the game. I’ve asked them to tell me their thoughts about the workability of the engine, the clarity of the world building info, and so on. (And, I’m asking them to help promote the heck out of the fundraising campaign, when it goes live.) In return, they’ll get a copy of the finished product, and an honorarium, of an amount to be determined based on the success of the fundraising campaign.

Add to that, the nonfiction book I’ve been researching and writing since the spring (traveling all the way to Bohemia, Czech Republic, to do so!) and all the responsibilities I’ve taken on as a new homeowner, and it looks like 2016 will be very creative for me.

(Also very expensive.)

By the way: if you are a fan of games like Dungeons & Dragons, White Wolf’s Vampire / Werewolf / Changeling series, and the like, let me know. If you think you and your friends will enjoy a tabletop RPG which is part political thriller, part fairy tale, and part philosophical salon, let me know. Yes, I really can make a game that’s all three of those things. Join the beta-testing team to find out how I did it. 🙂

Besides, I will need the help of a small army of people to plug the Kickstarter campaign when it gets underway.

This game will probably not be a “legacy” project for me; it’s not what I expect future generations to remember me for, if they remember me at all. I certainly don’t expect that the game will make me rich. But it will be fun. And that’s a good enough reason to try again.

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Pictures of my new house!

I bought a house.

I started house-hunting about a year and a half ago, when it appeared that my job was secure enough, and that I had near-enough money for the downpayment. I didn’t house-hunt with much enthusiasm; the apartment I lived in was nice, and close to work, and I probably could have remained there mostly-happily. But then I saw a wonderful house along the road I take to walk to work, and I phoned my real-estate agent and asked him to come view it with me immediately. I put in an offer the next day.

It turns out that the sellers had a previous offer already in hand, and so I lost that house. So I bought the one next door. 🙂

In retrospect the “house next door” is the better choice for me. It’s smaller and less “modern” than the first one. Its dominant colour scheme features earth-tones like yellow and red-brown. And aside from its excellent location– close to work, grocery store, Gatineau Hills park, bus route, and so on– I was “sold” by a curious renovation made by the previous owners. They demolished a wall between two of the bedrooms, thus creating a master bedroom that’s as big as most people’s living rooms. That huge room is now my library.

Buying a house was not the most stressful thing I’ve ever done in my life, but it comes very close. Every time I thought I knew what I was doing, something unexpected appeared which no one warned me about. For instance, the building manager at the old apartment seemed to want to punish me for moving out. I had to scramble for an insurance company when the first one I contacted, the same one my employer uses for group insurance, turned me down. The store where I bought my appliances forgot to send me my stove; I didn’t have a stove in my kitchen until yesterday. Worst of all: a few hours after I delivered the downpayment, the notary phoned me to say that I was short by– well I best not say exactly, but it was a five-digit figure. There was (and still is) no explanation; and my mortgage broker said it made no sense to him either. He stayed up late at night trying to find out where the miscommunication was. For about 48 hours, I thought I was facing complete bankruptcy and homelessness. Eventually I extended my line of credit to cover it. I still have no idea what happened there, but I’m working with the bank and the local chamber of commerce to figure it out.

It’s been about three weeks now (although I spent one of those weeks out of town) and most of that time I wandered around the house and yard, looking at things, touching things, and feeling the weight of the financial responsibility. I am now ten times deeper in debt than I was with my student loan. I’ve unpacked slowly, and often rearranged furniture as I went. I think it was when I first hung the art on the walls that the house felt finally “mine”. I’m mostly done unpacking and arranging things now. I might be cleaned-up enough to receive visitors this weekend.

Until then, here are some photos, at last!

Here’s the house as it appeared on the MLS listing, back in October. Oak tree on the left, maple on the right. (Yes, it’s a clue pointing to where the house is. Please don’t stalk me.)

Bren's House

Here’s the first view of the living room, after you step in the front door. I built that bookshelf myself, around 20 years ago. And I’m the author of all the books you see stacked there. Yes, this is a transparent attempt to wow my guests. I know it doesn’t work. But what the hell.

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The dining room, which is actually an extension of the living room. The painting of the beach on Innis Oir was made by my mom; the table, corner hutch, and sideboard are the same kitchen furniture from the house in Elora where I grew up. This was my parents’ housewarming gift to me, and I can’t imagine a better one.

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Huge, wide, floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room. I need four curtains to cover it at night.

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View from the front windows, today. That’s seventeen inches of snow out there– yes, I got a tape measure and I measured it.

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Here’s part of the kitchen (and a view of Mom’s painting again). The fridge is standing out like that because it’s too tall to fit in its niche. It will be replaced next week. Note also my map of Skyrim. I think it goes nicely with the shelf below it.

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The library.

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Philosophy on the left. Mythology, history, anthropology on the right. (Other categories out of shot).

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Writing and study area. Also, my essay-marking area.

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The back yard. I don’t quite know what to do with it yet; I’ve never had a green thumb and I’m not really interested in gardening. I might just plant more trees.

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The basement. The previous owners, or someone in the history of the house, put a bar down here, complete with fridge, sink, lights, built-in blender, cushioned ledge, 70’s era porno-film carpet, and fake English Tudor timbreframe on the ceiling. As fun as this is, I plan to pull all of this out during the renovations, and install a proper kitchen.

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In fact in February I’m planning a full scale renovation of the basement, because most of it looks like this:

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Basement bathroom. I’ve never seen a urinal in a private home before!

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And finally, I shoe-horned my bed into the smallest room in the house.

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There it is. As I grow more comfortable with this house, plans for it start growing in my mind. I’d like to host music nights with my guitar-playing friends, or salons in the style of the 18th century French philosophes. After the renovations, the basement will have a rentable unit, and a guest bedroom. And, of course, I plan to write many more books here. I think this will be a good home for me, for the next however-many years.

Incidentally, I have about 40 gently used cardboard boxes now. Do you need them for your next move? If you can come and get them, they’re yours. I don’t plan to move again for a while.

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Ecology and Civilization: A sample of the work in progress.

In May of this year I began work on what will be my ninth philosophy book, and seventeenth book overall. I thought you might like to see Chapter One. As you read it, remember that this is an early draft. But do let me know what you think of it. –Bren.

First meditation: Why should I return to the city?

I’ve cycled seven kilometers through the forested hills which begin near my front door and continue northwards for what looks like forever. The story in my tourist’s map says my destination is a lookout platform above Pink Lake, in Gatineau Hills national park: a lake with no oxygen in its lowest depths, and therefore home to an unique and fragile ecosystem. The story in my mind, however, says that my destination is the climax of a hero’s quest: a tower in the midst of a deep dark wood, near a magical lake, full of stars on the surface, and monsters far below. The treasure I hope to find at the end of this quest is the answer to a question: why, if at all, should I go back to the city?

Lookout platform over Pink Lake, Gatineau Park. My own photo, August 2012.

Lookout platform over Pink Lake, Gatineau Park. My own photo, August 2012.

Let me attempt to convey why I think this question is important. Behind me on this bicycle path is the route back to the city. Were I to return there, I could take up again my share of the gains of civilization. There’s clean water in my kitchen and washroom. Electricity in the walls to power my computer and other machines. Libraries and museums to enrich my mind. Food that is safe and healthy to eat. Telephones and computer networks to keep me in touch with the rest of the human world. Hospitals to care for me if I am ill or injured. Police to protect me from criminals, armies to protect me from other armies. Every few years there’s an invitation to vote for the people who will take charge of all these things. With these gains come debts and responsibilities. I must find a job, and pay my bills, and respect the law. Outstanding among these responsibilities is the unwritten requirement to ignore, or sometimes to participate in, something I know to be entirely absurd. For instance, when I vote, I might find that all the candidates are incompetent or corrupt: their talents lie– so to speak– in their ability to hide their true selves. The laws I’m bound to obey might prevent me from doing something that harms no one, or they might oblige me to do something that harms myself and others. It might punish people who don’t deserve punishment, or reward people who didn’t earn their reward. The books I read or the films I watch might stupefy me, instead of enlighten me. When I spend money, I might be indirectly helping to exploit or enslave the worker who made what I just bought. Or, my money might help to destroy an irreplaceable natural environment, from which the raw materials came. I might find that other people whom I depend on, be they salesmen, school teachers, religious leaders, or even my friends and lovers, regularly deceive and manipulate me, in order to protect their reputations or assert their influence. In the course of professing commitment to religion or politics, I might attack people who profess different religions or different politics, and I might call that violence my demonstration of piety, loyalty, and integrity.

I arrived at the lookout platform. I lock my bike to a fence post and search for a quiet place to breathe. Suddenly I discover I’m sitting on the threshold of three immensities: the city behind me, the uncovered water before me, the starry sky above me. Here in this liminal place, the question why should I go back to the city?, becomes the question of why, if at all, I should put up with these absurdities. Why, if at all, I should turn back and rejoin civilization?

The Charles Bridge, Prague. An icon of urban high civilization. My own photo, July 2015.

The Charles Bridge, Prague. An icon of urban high civilization. My own photo, July 2015.

Civilization! A word like no other, in any language. It announces every society’s highest and deepest values: it’s the name we give for the most enduring and most glorious of humanity’s creations. It speaks of that which a nation may share in common with other nations. Yet it also speaks of the conquests, colonizations, and oppressions which make that enduring glory possible. It lifts up one society by putting down another; it demands the capture and taming of wild lands and animals; it summons flag-waving believers to war. This book is a quest for the essence of civilization. As we shall soon see, the quest shall take us not only through the usual trails of economics and politics, but also to some of the muddiest fields of ecology, the deepest caves of human nature, and the highest hills of the meaning of life. I find such metaphysics questions inherently interesting, and for me that’s reason enough to ask them. But the absurdities may lead me to some dark conclusions. What if civilization is only “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”? What if civilization is nothing but a machine for crushing people? What if it’s a machine that must inevitably break down? To consider these things is to consider the metaphysical perils to human life. At their extremes, it’s not only the destruction of individual people’s lives at stake, but also of the destruction of art, literature, architecture, knowledge, the whole inheritance of history, everything we point to as proof of our greatness, and the very possibility of a legacy for the future: the surrogate immortality of apotheosis. So this book is about the despair that may dwell in civilization’s heart: despair for its essence, and for its future. It’s also about what, if anything, can be done about it. The question, Why should I go back to the city?, is also the question, Why, if at all, should I have hope for the future of humanity?

The 'small picture' of civilization: members of my family, fishing from the dock. September 2015.

The ‘small picture’ of civilization: members of my family, fishing from the dock. September 2015.

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Dating Advice: How Not To Be A Controlling Misogynist Dudebro

In early November, I asked my Twitter & FB followers: “What is the best way to signal romantic interest in a woman without being a controlling misogynist dudebro?” Here, I’d like to share some of their most common, and most interesting, answers. Contributors are identified by their initials.

Compliment something that she’s worked to cultivate and that matters to her, like her ideas, talents, skills, or conversation. (M.B.B.)

Don’t talk too much about yourself, and if asked, be humble with ur responses. Engage her interest by finding out more about her. (A.L.)

Strike up a conversation and ask her stuff about her and what she thinks about things. Don’t pick stuff that’s too controversial, but just general interest. See what happens. If she answers all your questions, but doesn’t ask anything about you, offer some of your own information. If she still doesn’t ask anything about you, she’s not really interested. Offer her your email/phone number, politely and respectfully bow out, and see if she contacts you or comes to speak with you, expecting that she won’t. If she does, go back to step 1. If she doesn’t, be gracious when/if you see her again. (J.D.H)

Whatever you do, don’t brag too much. So many guys brag, brag, brag and ask nothing of the woman. This makes a woman think the man is not at all interested in who she is but desired only for her looks or a lay. I often joke that a man shouldn’t need to brag because if he is so great or skilled it should be evident. I find what men consider brag-worthy may not necessarily be the same traits the woman admires in the opposite sex. (D.T.)

Listen to her. Engage her in conversation about the things that matter TO HER. Learn what those things are and remember them. Respect her boundaries, but offer a kiss or hug when it’s appropriate — i.e. when you’ve gotten to know her and can talk comfortably with her. If you’ve known her 10 minutes, it’s too soon. If you’ve been going out with her for two years, it might be too late. (P.W.)

Respect her boundaries – yes! Don’t go in for a kiss unless it is obviously going to be reciprocated. (Y.A.)

I’m a bit weird (as Ian likes to point out) but I like people being direct but gracious. Fuck the euphemisms. Don’t say you want to go “for coffee.” Just say “I would like to go on a date. Would that be OK with you?” Don’t hover nervously or get into her personal space. Maintain eye contact and have friendly smile. (E.G.)

Respect boundaries and body language. Listen and don’t make assumptions about her knowledge and experience. Other than that, just relax and have a laugh. (G.P.)

It depends on a number of things- do you know her already or she is a stranger? Approach would be different for those situations. Timing is important- don’t approach if she is wearing earphones or deep in a book. Make sure there are lots of people around when you approach her. Check to see if she looks to be in good spirits, or not (don’t bug her if she’s in a bad mood, thinking to cheer her up) Keep a respectful distance and offer a non-physical compliment, or ask a question about her (if you know her) If she smiles and and answers happily, continue. If her answers are one word and she keeps looking around, move on. (A.S)

If you are interested in her mind and the things she says, tell her that you’d love to talk with her more sometime and ask if there’s a place/time that’s convenient for her and conducive to good conversation. (M.R.)

Ah gesh Brendan, all you had to do is say “hi, wanna grab some coffee?” to me and I’d be all for it. . On a real note: if you don’t intend on being a controlling misogynist dudebro, you won’t BE a controlling misogynist dudebro. Just talk to her. (C.G.C)

Before you ask her out, spend some time on presentation. Shower, shave, wear a nicer shirt. Especially if she knows you, taking the extra effort shows respect. (K.C.)

Don’t show confusion. Know what you want. Vulnerability is fine, but not too much of it. I do not want to feel manipulate to say yes because otherwise you will be deeply hurt. (M.F.)

There were a few suggestions that were mentioned which were immediately struck down for being too creepy. Such as:

Find out if she listens to a radio station and then request a song for her. Something playful and fun, not full-bore romantic. (O.F.)

Buy her books. (L.B.)

Here’s one which, although I am sure the author thought he was being funny, still seemed out of place:

Club her on the head, then drag her back to the cave by the long, blonde locks. (D.C.G.)

But most of my friends are the sort who enjoy irony. So it was immediately pointed out to D.C.G. that:

…It’s Brendan who has the long, blonde locks. (M.C.)

Side note: I had this idea that if I wrote a few good books, I wouldn’t have to club anyone on the head to drag her home. An interesting woman might come to visit me voluntarily.

Another comment that stood out in my mind concerned what to do when one’s expression of interest is rejected. As follows:

I have found that the key is: 1. Respect, 2. If rejected, not being an entitled jerk about it. (V.I.G.)

If you are shot down, be gracious. She owes you nothing and her decision is to be respected and unquestioned. (E.G.)

I’m not sure if you already know this woman fairly well, or if you casually know her, but try this: while in conversation, catch her eyes, smile, lean in towards her slightly. You will use your body language to let her know you’re interested, if she holds your eyes, smiles etc., proceed to asking her out for coffee. If she leans away, avoids eye contact, back away yourself. (D.B.)

Respect it if she is not interested. Please do not push if she says no. (A.H.)

If things are awkward or stilted then respect the fact that you two weren’t meant to be. (J.S.)

And several contributors said that maybe the thing to do is not to “date” at all, but instead to just be a part of someone’s life:

I’ve never “dated” in the sense that I met someone and immediately asked them out or was asked out. What happens for me is that I will make friends with someone, and we start spending an increasing amount of time together, usually with lots and lots of talking, until we just happen to realize we’re already in a relationship, or until one of the parties feels compelled to confess deeper feelings and the other reciprocates. So my advice would be to hang out, do things you both enjoy, and eventually when it feels right tell her your feelings. (S.M.)

My own courtship with my husband was very much like two cats sparring… I am sure we all have seen this, how cats will circle one another… at one point I almost despaired and gave up on him, but on Nov 4 we celebrated our 9th anniversary. (F.G.)

I had complicated reasons for posing this question on my social media feed. One was that I have had a profile on a dating site up since August. I started looking at the men’s profiles just to see what the women on the site were seeing, and maybe get a few hints about how to write my own profile. After too many pictures of shirtless men, and too many profiles written in text-message shorthand, I had enough. Many of the women’s profiles were equally demoralizing: I’m pretty sure I won’t bring happiness to a woman whose dating keywords include “chillax”, “keepfit”, and “YOLO”. Anyway, in four months only three women responded to my ad, so I was feeling like a failure.

I also follow about a dozen feminist philosophers on my Twitter feed, from whom I’m learning the language of contemporary feminism. I follow them because they are smart and interesting; their lives are about something more substantial than “YOLO”. But some of them, or their family and friends, were targets of some vicious online harassment during the “gamergate” and “sad puppies” scandals; or, they were academics who analyzed those scandals. They live in an (online) social environment where they can expect to be punished for drawing attention to basic injustices in their world, or punished for rejecting unwanted attention. How to approach these women and talk to them? I don’t know. So, I asked for help.

This morning a friend passed to me an essay about how scientists concluded that women may actually prefer assholes. It’s a clickbait headline, of course; it’s real argument is the somewhat less outrageous claim that people are strongly drawn to assertiveness, and to a touch of aggression. Still, I feel like the world is sending me mixed messages. It makes me shake my head.

So, dear readers of this blog, what do you think of the advice summarized above? What else should men do if they want to show romantic interest in someone, and not be a controlling misogynist dudebro?

(And as a footnote: don’t you just love the word dudebro? It’s the perfect word for a male narcissist. I use it now as often as I can.)

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My donation to Save Our Water: How did it go?

Early in November, I offered to donate all the November royalties from my novels to Save Our Water, an environmental charity working to protect the watershed of my hometown from corporate exploitation. How did it go?

Here’s a screenshot of the Kindle ebook sales:

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And here’s the paperbacks:

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After excluding the non-fiction titles, I sold 43 books in total. At an average royalty of $2.50 per Kindle title, and $1.50 per paperback, that’s $90.50 that I profited this month. Seeing as there’s still two days left in November, I’m just going to round up my donation to $100 and send the money in.

For a self-published writer, this is a very, very good result: and compared to my usual showing, it’s about four times better than usual.

Other observations: The huge spike in the middle of the Kindle sales graph happened when The Wild Hunt blogged about my donation. This produced what was probably my best social media reach ever: the article was shared hundreds of times, and I received about a dozen private messages asking for more information or thanking me for “stepping up”. Fellwater, the first book in the series, reached its best ever Amazon ranking: it was the 53,459th best selling book that day. Here’s a screenshot:

Best Amazon rank so far

Also, I noticed with interest that among the paperback sales, Hallowstone outsold the other titles, even though it’s the second book in the series, not the first. But in retrospect, this might make sense. As one reader told me this summer, books 2, 3, and 4 make for an excellent trilogy in their own right, and book 1 could actually be read last, like a prequel.

So, there you have it. To those who bought copies of my books this November: thank you. May I encourage you to tell everyone you know about my books, and to please post your reviews to their Amazon pages and on other places, so that some day soon I’ll be able to do another charity run like this one, for other worthwhile causes. And naturally, I continue to encourage you to support environmental protection works, and to care for this good Earth we share, and for each other, in whatever way you can.

Click here for info about Brendan’s novels, and to purchase copies. Ebook and paperback.

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I’m Donating My Book Royalties to Save My Hometown’s Water

I grew up in the village of Elora, Ontario. As a child I knew its trees, flowers, and berry patches, its creatures great and small, and the sharp edges of the river’s stone walls, and I sometimes felt that they knew me. The village was my field of fairy-tale adventures, as was the conservation park to the west, and the abandoned railway line that began across the road from my house and took me to the next town over the fields. As I grew older, that landscape provided the inspiration for my first adult thoughts. One particular spot, a raised ledge that my friends at the time called “Elf-top Plateau”, was the place where I wrote my first songs and stories, and the first place on earth where I perceived something resembling a spiritual epiphany. And in my full adulthood, thoughts of “my land” inspired my doctoral thesis on environmental philosophy. Although I haven’t lived there since 2006, I still think of it as my home town.

The Elora Gorge. My own photo, July 2014.

The Elora Gorge. My own photo, July 2014.

I set my fantasy fiction series, “The Hidden Houses”, in Elora and its environs, although I renamed it “Fellwater”. In those novels, a faction of villains work to control, or else destroy, a magical water well. In early 2015, Nestlé corporation submitted a proposal to extract and bottle water from the aquifer that feeds the village, and other communities downstream. (A curious case of life imitating art, perhaps; although I’m sure Nestlé’s intentions are merely capitalist, and not the same as those of my antagonists.)

This proposal was protested by local residents, who made three main demands:

1. Nestle should monitor local wells for two weeks prior to its main pumping test, in order to provide better groundwater baseline data,

2. Municipal and provincial authorities should impose a three-year moratorium on consumptive water-taking in the Grand River watershed, and,

3. Municipalities in the watershed should be granted the time they need to complete their Water Supply Master Plans and their Tier-3 Risk Assessments.

Protest marchers rally in Elora, 2015.

Protest marchers rally in Elora, 2015.

I think these demands are very reasonable, and I’d like to help give them some publicity. To that end, I promise to donate all the royalties from the sale of my novels, for the month of November, to Elora’s Save Our Water campaign.

Elora’s rich, diverse, delightful, and bountiful watershed, the very flowing heart of the real-world fairyland that I still love, is clearly threatened by industrial water extraction. The company plans to take 1.6 million litres of water every day. That’s almost as much water from the aquifer as the village itself takes; effectively doubling the demand on the ecosystem. Yet where Elora residents pay $2140 per million litres, Nestlé will pay only $3.71 for the same volume.

This injustice stirs in me a hazy mixture of rage and despair. But what can I do, sitting here at my desk in west Quebec? This much, at least: I can help promote the cause. I can ask you to visit the Save Our Water website to learn more on your own. If you find their demands reasonable, please support the cause by talking about it with your friends. You can donate money directly to the group through its web site, of course. But if you would also like to experience a little bit of the magic that I felt, as a child and a young adult, living in one of Canada’s most inspirational ecological wonderlands, then you can read my novels. And my profit from the sales of these books, for the month of November, will all be turned over to the campaign. Every penny.

The four titles of The Hidden Houses main series.

The four titles of The Hidden Houses main series.

Naturally I hope you like my books: click here to find out more about them. I hope you will share this blog post to all your friends, as well as the SaveOurWater.ca web site.

Let me give the last word to one of my novel’s heroines, chieftain Miranda Brigand:

“The world turned its back on us a long time ago. We know that. In fact we accept that. Even we ourselves don’t believe that dancing around the Maypole will make bad weather go away. But when the world left us behind, it also left so much more as well. The idea of the heroic life! Adventure, courage and strength. Generosity, friendship, and solidarity. Where are those virtues now? And what has the world embraced instead? Pop celebrities instead of heroes. Politicians instead of leaders. Teachers that promote conformity instead of knowledge. Law courts where justice goes to whoever has the best paid lawyer. And the people who work for change are ridiculed, ignored, sometimes attacked. Oh, we can see the nightfall of the earth, just as much as anybody can. But we are looking for the sunrise in the right place. That’s what Fellwater Grove is about! We don’t want to rule the world. We just want to live better lives. We’re all just people here, that’s all, just people. But people who care about friendship, and music, and all the things that really matter. We built this place to protect these things, and to make sure they don’t die. The world might want them back some day.”

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