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Writing: The Trouble With SFWA

Creative Commons: gnuckx, Flickr

SFWA stands for Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. They’ve been around for almost 50 years and protect the rights of speculative writers, which  includes legal and emergency medical aid, ironing out contract disputes, putting pressure on publishers (there is a bad boys list) and otherwise helping writers. They also maintain a list of professional markets, and to be a full Active member you must have sold three pieces, of at least $50 each, at the rate of .05/word or more. Or have sold a novel/novelette for at least $2000.

Further professional qualifications include that the publisher/magazine must have been in existence and publishing regularly for at least a year, pay the above professional rates or more, and have a distribution of at least 1000 copies. It used to be that this was 10,000 copies, if memory serves correctly, but I imagine it’s a sign of the times that not even mass market publishing houses print 10,000 copies of most books anymore. When the Canadian dollar was .50 to the US dollar there was never any consideration for the difference in rates, although it’s called SFWA and not SFWUSA. Five cents a word might have counted but when you can put the population of Canada into the state of California, it was pretty hard to hit those early distribution rates of 10,000 copies in Canada.

While SFWA does a lot of good, it’s also the old boys’ club and resistant to some change. The advent of small presses and POD (print on demand) has upset the apple cart in many areas. Costs of printing have gone up, readership of paper books is going down, and the economy is floundering. The dinosaurs need to evolve or they’ll be nothing but sludge. SFWA still cannot accept that flash fiction exists, or tweet markets. Instead of finding some in-between ground, they decided that a sale must be .05/word to be professional but if your story is 900 words or less, it won’t count. They could fix this and say at least four (or some number) sales of flash fiction or a combo of short and flash, etc. would be equivalent.

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Mary Beth Griffo Rigby, Flickr

Some change has happened, but last year, after nearly 20 years as an Associate member (having one professional sale based on the above criteria) I ended my membership and joined HWA (Horror Writers of America) instead. There are several reasons I did this. When I first joined SFWA they invited me, on the basis of selling a poem to Amazing Stories. At $36 that wasn’t bad money for a poem, even now, and I think that was around 1986. When I sent a copy of a contract for a story sale that met the requirements (and that after a year of my letters being completely ignored) I was told that my poem didn’t count and that I now had a 1/3 Associate membership, again. One step forward, one step back.

So not only did SFWA decide that poetry was no longer a valid art form nor worthy of notice, but they’d ungrandfathered me. I wonder if they would have booted me out if I didn’t have that second “pro” sale, except they probably wanted my money. Then I sold an erotic fairy tale to a Harlequin anthology. There was my third sale. (You can vote when you’re a full member.)  But guess what? Harlequin decided to do a vanity press line and SFWA disapproved (and rightly so), but instead of banning or disqualifying that particular imprint, SFWA disqualified Harlequin and all its imprints. Now Harlequin is one of the biggest publishers in the world. They’re rolling in the dough and not hurting, so why they thought they had to lure in hapless newbies with a vanity line, I’m not sure, and they should have their wrists slapped for that. But SFWA’s ban really only affected writers. Harlequin doesn’t care. I’d actually sold the story before the ban but was paid after.

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Will SFWA embrace the digital age? Creative Commons: Tony Hutchings/Getty Images

SFWA has helped me in the past with an iffy contract and they do at least have some standards but they need to evolve a bit more. I also joined HWA this year because I wanted to see what they’re like. While I haven’t even had time to look at the benefits yet I can tell you that I’m full-fledged voting member, and I did this on my credentials as a poet alone. I could have probably done it with fiction credits but the contracts I could find were for the poems. In HWA’s case their pro rate is the same for fiction but for poetry you must have had at least 10 poems published for at least $5/poem or .25/line. In fact, their definitions are more detailed but also more extensive than SFWA’s.

Arguments can be made that if I was a better writer I’d have been a full member long ago, and that of course holds water, but I’ve sold mostly to Canadian markets and even good writers sometimes can’t get their feet in the door of a tight market when a known name will sell more magazines. It will be interesting to see if HWA serves me better of if SFWA did. I could go back to SFWA at any time if I wish.

I’m a very strong advocate for poetry and anyone that’s worked on a poem can tell you it takes as long to write a poem as to write a story in many cases. Some poems take me years to perfect. I truly detest when someone pooh poohs a form of writing because it isn’t as long as a novel or a story. It’s a snobbery that not even the literary world aspires to. They have their own as many literary writers turn up their noses at “genre” writing. Half the time Margaret Atwood swears she does not write science fiction.

But any organization that recognizes poetry will probably get my vote over ones that ban it.

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Is Busyness the Beginning of the End of the World?

end of the world, fall of civilization, overpopulation, crowding, society, industrialization

Creative Commons: by Chris Devers, Flickr

These days everyone is busy busy busy. In fact we become so busy that we don’t have time to socialize. Let’s think back six hundred years to those good old feudal times. If you weren’t some rich noble gathering the tithes then you were either a farmer or a merchant. In either case you worked from sun-up probably near to sundown. Winters meant doing more work inside, mending and preparing for the planting season. Everyone, whether bakers or dyers or smiths, worked long hours. But they stopped in time for dinner and spending time with their families in the evening.

With the advent of industrialized society some aspects eased for a person’s life. We no longer had to tend animals, weave our own cloth, sew our own clothes, cook and prepare all of our dinners. Mass production made this easier while at the same time people began to worry about having no way to make a living as machines took over. We became a leisure society. Or did we?

We’re two to three hundred years into industrialization and we’re probably dealing with as much spare time as medieval Europe had. I’m like many people. I work a day job but I also freelance, to make ends meet, to have extra money. Our society has become so burdened by all those industrialized items that the cost of living has not equaled the everyday person’s wage. Houses (here in Vancouver at least) are astronomical in cost and two people have to work, plus have a rental suite just to afford to own one. Hockey tickets are out of the range of the average working family who might want to take the kids to see a game.

All great societies eventually fall, even Rome. In the past they often fell to invaders, but we are looking at a worldwide crisis with economy and culture. Riots happen, and many clashes still of ideologies and beliefs, overcrowding, lack of good water or food… we might be in our fall right now. So what comes next?

Unfortunately, building on a crumbling foundation will create more instability or lead us to the same problems time and again. Having a society based on always selling more, not just selling the same, means that it’s unsustainable. Soon we will not have enough space, time, money, land, food, water or merchandise. If we do continue with expanding populations, which give us more money, etc. then we risk and are already at risk of having no resources to support our planet. We will have more disease and more poverty, more pollution and more strife. You can see it happening already. Canada’s population is dropping somewhat. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. If everyone person only produced one child (so a couple could have two) then they would make a stable population that stayed the same.

In the middle ages the bubonic plaque wiped out a third of the known world’s population. It’s one way Mother Nature controls overpopulation. We’ve had H1N1, TB, E. Coli, etc. By the fact that there are more people, it will mean that more will die. As China and India,with over a third of the world’s population, industrialize and crave on the cars and machines that the world already has, we will see the consuming poison many places.  I’m not sure what we can do about this but we have to change our culture and economy so that it is not built on constant growth. We cannot wait for someone else to do it but each of us must start from the ground up. Maybe’s it’s impossible and we’re doomed to implode, and start over in a smaller and simpler world devoid of much. And maybe it will change no matter what. We know for a fact that there have been civilizations (as in towns and cities) for at least 10,000 years, which is not long is the lifespan of the world or even humans for that matter (2.5 million years). But if we’re not careful we could be a small blip in breath of the planet.

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Community in the City

Most of our cities are so large these days that there arises a suspicion of anyone who seems too friendly. Don’t smile at anyone on the street. Don’t answer their queries and if, like me one day, you ask if they can change a dollar into four quarters run away as if you’re stealing their soul. We are packed in tighter, in this new ecotrend of eco-density, which if anything raises frustrations and issues of not enough breathing space, but we don’t get friendlier.

Many people live in high rises and condos, or even single dwelling homes and may never get to know their neighbors. It’s more likely, if you have children that you will get to know neighbors who also have children. We might go through life, suspicious or concealed behind our apartment doors, doing no more than giving a nod to our neighbors.

I live in an area of Vancouver that is surrounded by blue collar industry. Our block is the only street with houses on both sides. One neighboring block has business buildings (foundry, fish factory, T-shirt manufacturers, stuff like that) and the other block has houses only on one side and a housing co-op. The homeowners range from those on one side of the street going from 30 years to 7 years ownership and on the other side from 7 years to a year. The house I live in and the adjacent houses are all from circa 1910. My neighbors like to garden and work on their homes.

Like me, we shop in our neighborhood, walking up to the Drive and going to local restaurants. I once in a while go drinking elsewhere but it’s best not to drive while drinking and walking up the street is easier, and cheaper than taking a taxi. We have quite a few local restaurants, a library, a bookstore, poultry market, several fresh veggie markets and coffee shops, bakeries, stationery stores, health food stores, clothing stores, etc. There are many areas in Vancouver that do not have these amenities in walking distance and people must drive or bus to them.

But in our area, this helps create a community. You see regulars in the shops and restaurant. There is a sense of knowing the denizens if not knowing them. But on our street, I can stop and talk over the fence to any one of my neighbors. We have keys to each other’s homes, should anything happen and a rescue is needed. If I don’t make it home I can call and say, pretty please will you feed the cat? We stop by at each other’s places from time to time and have a drink or watch a movie. A friend of mine who lives in a different area says that their neighbors cook outside on the boulevard in the summer and people wander up and down the street with drinks in their hand visiting each other.

In the winter, and one like we had in 2009, we end up shoveling each other’s cars out, or shoveling a walk. We can borrow cups of sugar, taste each other’s garden produce, pet and feed each other’s cats, watch out for each other’s property and generally enjoy a community camaraderie. I’ve come to not only appreciate this sense of community but desire it. It would make moving an extremely hard thing as these are my people. We might not all be bosom buddies but we get along, enjoy each other’s company and generally look out for each other.

This is community. It was what the earliest forming of “civilization” was all about: humans living together to bring strengths to the individual and pool resources, to share when times were tough and to help each other, to form a society. It’s too bad that in general our cities have become too big and too cramped, causing more and not less crime and people becoming so suspicious because the media over reports every crime until it fills every minute of your day.

But for me this community of shops and stores, of regulars in the area and of my street and the people who live there, that’s an important aspect of interacting with life. I’m not separate from but part of a whole and it’s been part of humanity has long as we’ve been civilized.

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Vancouver Goes Puritan Over Booze

Port cities are often more cosmopolitan that interior cities. This has been an age-old pattern, common where sailors and merchants from many lands came to sell exotic and unusual wares. People of various races as well as different customs would mingle in such a city and tolerance for difference was greater. It was true in the 8th century, the 15th century and is true today.

Vancouver, being a port city is more liberal in many things and culturally mixed for various reasons. You might almost expect it to be European in sentiment. By European I mean the easy laissez-faire of open patios, siestas, late night restaurants and drinking. This doesn’t give way to the degeneration of society but to an acceptance of a natural flow. The more taboo, bad or wrong something is deemed to be, in the eyes of the law, the more people will resist against it if it doesn’t feel right. And so it is with the puritan bylaws on selling alcohol and staying open late.

I had the chance, a few years back, to be in Montreal for a convention. We ended up going off to pubs and restaurants when the hotel bar closed up. From what I could tell the pubs and drinking establishments have a soft closing time that seems to be when the bartender wants to go home. We didn’t get to bed before 4 am any night and we were in pubs and restaurants. No one that I saw got overly rowdy but those of us who started our evening late or wanted to party a bit longer were able to do so. It was fun and nice to know that you didn’t have to be partying by 9  and out of the lounge by midnight.

Cinderella still continues to visit Vancouver, often having to be home by midnight, or the restaurants having to close up by this rather early time. This bylaw of early closings has been fought for years but for some reason City Hall wants to keep the draconian mindset. The only exception has been nightclubs in the downtown core on Granville Street. The problem is that many people don’t like nightclubs where fights among the 20-something set seem more common and therefore a search is de rigueur. Parking is hard to find and expensive (moreso because the City isn’t fulfilling its mandate of supplying affordable parking) and many people would rather stay in their neighborhoods where they can walk and avoid driving while drinking.

The City has had this unfair favoritism for about five years now. On top of the early closings and ways of tamping down culture with any place that has live music made to stop at midnight, the City Hall brain children have figured out a new bylaw. This one is the height of stupidity and outmoded thinking. The City, as of January (just in time for the Olympics, folks) wants all restaurants to have their alcohol sales equal their food sales. Fifty-fifty. So that means if you go in and have a $12-burger and want two ciders at $7 each, you’ll only be allowed one. Or if you go for dinner with a friend, say each spending $20 on food, you’ll only be allowed a $40 bottle of wine, not anything higher, nor more than one bottle.

Perhaps Vancouver’s eggheads feel that everyone is too thin and needs to eat more? Perhaps they want to promote beer or the cheapest swill only. That’s what we’re going to get. (Let’s not even mention Campbell’s monster, the HST, that will suck enough extra money and make going out a thing of the past.) Restaurants always make their money on the alcohol and without those profits we’ll see restaurants going the way of the dodo. Smart move, Mr. Mayor and all your cronies. Where have you put your brains?

The smart thing to do would be to let restaurants and clubs stay open longer across the city and allow them to serve alcohol. A fifty-fifty rule will kill the industry. Some cosmopolitan city we’ll have, where arts and culture are already suffering extreme cuts to the point of nonexistence. This will surely pull in tons of revenue that the city is somehow anticipating for the Olympics. Apologies, Madame et Monsieur, that wine is too expensive. Please try our special plonk instead. Oh and only two glasses each. Sorry, no dessert wine without dessert.

Now I’ve always said that if you don’t vote you can’t complain and I didn’t get a chance to vote in the last civic election so I guess I deserve what I get. However, I’m sure many of the restaurant owners did vote and they are extremely unhappy. My suggestion to the cogs that run Vancouver is to take a look at the great European cities, at Montreal and other places, and see what they do and how they handle restaurants and alcohol sales. Maybe the bible thumpers will get upset but then they don’t have to go to the restaurants. But we’re not going to have an all-out booze orgy unless they keep the drinking only on Granville Street where young guys congregate and drink too much. Spread it out and make it more like the local pubs of Great Britain and Ireland.

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Welfare: For Freeloaders or Desperados

The history of social welfare has been long and varied, being part of the Roman, Islamic and Jewish empires. It has covered different groups with different criteria but overall it was for the poor and needy, for the elderly, widows and people with disabilities.

Canada has had a welfare system since the Great Depression. Part of a social welfare system, in Canada’s case includes health care, education and supporting the underprivileged. It can vary from province to province as to what specific criteria are. There is also the specific welfare part of welfare, which is helping those who are unemployed or unemployable.

I have had the unfortunate experience of needing welfare firsthand. When I was in my 20s I hit a time of recession in the province and couldn’t get a job. Putting in over 50 applications a month landed me nothing. I had no choice but to go on welfare. As it turned out there was a period when my other two roommates were in the same situation. We would get a few tins of food from the food bank and limp celery and eked by. I had no savings, no car and was not even sure how to do more than I already was.

Eventually I ended up with a part-time job for two days a week. The business was good enough to pay me under the table. If they had taken deductions and given me a pay slip I would have had to report it to welfare. That amount I made would then be deducted from my welfare payments. Welfare at that time paid something like $300-400 a month, hardly enough to live on. I could lay around and get $400 or I could work part-time and get $400. There really wasn’t incentive to even work part-time. So the under the table arrangement helped me survive because who can survive on that amount when rent is $300?

I then got a second part-time job and worked under the table there for two days a week. That gave me four days at part-time. It made the welfare bearable but still hard to do much. At the same time both businesses offered me a full-time job and I went with the one that I thought would keep me interested longer. I got off of welfare with a huge sigh of relief. It was humiliating and belittling.

In Canada’s past, women and single mothers on welfare weren’t allowed to have boyfriends and their virtue and chastity were watched as much as their bank accounts. This attitude can perpetuate in our society. It’s one thing to be buying designer clothes but to have nice clothes and a haircut for applying for jobs is another thing. Yet people have been scrutinized and punished if they try to have any normal aspect of living. “Welfare bums” are relatively rare and those who are like that often have other underlying conditions that could do well with other government services. If a person is an alcoholic or drug addict or socially inept or unhygienic, which stops them getting a job, then the answer is not to leave them on welfare but to help them become another useful cog in society’s great machine.

Yes cogs. The cut and dryness, or the black and white world of welfare is denigrating and hard. Most people don’t choose to be there as it’s no way to live. My second brush with welfare was at a point when I was trying to move out of freelancing into another job. I was in school full-time for three months doing an apprenticeship program in script supervising. Unlike every other person in the course I had neither a spouse to support me through the program, nor was I able to get unemployment insurance because I was a freelancer. I did have two publishers in New York and on average received one manuscript a month from each. This was enough to get by on while finishing the program.

Unfortunately, both publishers went under or changed focus (one to movies) at the same time and I lost my source of income. I didn’t want to forego the course but what money I had got me through to the end of November and I still had December to go with no options. I went to welfare and said I only needed $300 to pay my rent and I could get by. ( I lived alone and had no roommates). At that time I had a grand whopping total of about $4,000 in RRSPs. RRSPs are heavily taxed if you take them out early. They are also taxed if you take them out when you’re older. But people get them as retirement income, a way to cushion one’s unemployed elder years.

Welfare would give me no money at all. Not even $5. Here I was, in school, going through training, with no options and they wanted me to cash in that $4,000, so that I could then depend on the state for longer when I was older, use medical services more because I was not living well, or more likely, end up living under a bridge. This was the government’s solution. Of course the rate of welfare isn’t much higher than it once was but I probably needed to be a drug addict to get any support. It was the only time in my life where I was seriously contemplated prostitution. I just couldn’t get up my nerve to do it, yet this is where my government wanted me to be.

So the next time you pass judgment on one of those welfare bums, trying walking and living a mile in their shoes. Welfare isn’t for the weak at heart and most people can’t even survive on it. There is no such thing as living a free and easy life while on it. Oh, and how did I get through that month? By the good graces of friends and family. My landlords only charged me a half a month’s rent. People sent me money and I gave out no Christmas gifts. I thank my lucky stars I had such generous people in my life.

http://www.canadiansocialresearch.net/bc_welfare_time_limits.htm

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When Were Women’s Hats in Fashion?

I’ve been asked this question and let’s say women’s hats have been in fashion for centuries. If I limit this to Europe (because various regions developed headdresses as different times) then we can look at it a bit more specifically. Headdresses might be a better word than hat since what we see in modern terms as a hat is not the same as a head covering. This could cover everything from a kerchief to feather and bone to felt and straw.

If we look at earlier civilizations, head ornamentation covered metal crowns,  coronets and helmets for war. These can be seen in Egyptian, Babylonian, Sumerian etc. eras. Metal working was endurable and saved the head from a Bronze Age sword. But it wasn’t really used in making hats or head coverings so much as showing social class and standing.

The first hats were most likely squares of fabric, just as the first types of clothing (after fur and wool) were squares of woven fabric stitched together. As civilizations evolved into aggregate societies, becoming more sedentary and developing cultures, they also learned to weave, sew and shape cloth. The making of any fabric was time-consuming and no piece was wasted. People either made their own cloth or had to trade with merchants and then sew their own garments. Rectangular construction used every piece even if it was cut first into various rectangular, square or triangular shapes.

The same knowledge and skills for clothing would have been the basis for hats. It is known that Norse women wore rectangles of fabric upon their heads, sewn into a peak or rounded, essentially forming a cap. (many early medieval caps and coifs were worn by both sexes) The veil or fabric (from wool, linen or cotton depending on the area) rectangular headdress was common in European countries, protecting the head from sun, and in some areas as a form of tradition or religious custom. Styles may have been influenced back and forth between the religious customs and the nonreligious. In some cases married women were required to cover their heads and this seems to be more a Christian tradition than cultural.

Fabric became more elaborate and was used in turban like wraps and caps. It’s hard to peg the first true hat but the Phrygian cap (a soft red knitted hat, like the Smurfs wear) was being worn in Phrygia (of course) as well as Greece and Rome as early as the 4th century BCE. The Catholic mitre was being worn by about the 11th century, and was probably an adaptation of the Phrygian cap. But these are men’s hats.

hoodEarly outerwear involved rectangular mantles (the precursor to the cloak) and eventually hoods. These garments were worn by men and women alike. Women’s hats began as elaborately configured and starched veils or fabric. Some were pinnheaddressed into interesting shapes while others were stitched.  There would have been a utilitarian aspect, keeping the hair away from food and fires. As textile weaves became more intricate, so did the headdresses, involving wire, mesh, brocade, velvet, fur, linen, silk, wool, etc.

As the Catholic church’s influence grew, various laws came into effect. Some were sumptuary laws indicating that only a person of a certain station (or nobility) could wear certain colors, fabrics or styles. Others were edicts of the church, that women must cover their hair, or even their ears because Mary had conceived the word of God and the ear must be covered. This brought out more ingenious headdress, often flaunting the church doctrines. Veils so thin they were nearly nonexistent are indicated in some paints, and really don’t hide hair nor ears. Hats and headdress became greater symbols of status, social rank, wealth and fashion.

barbetteAround the 13th century the transition began from coif, cap and headdress to hat. The barbette or porkpie hat was a stiff band of several inches depth that went around the head with a piece of fabric wrapping  under the chin to hold it on. It was hollow on the crown but some began to be filled in with fabric.

The hennin is the big conehead style everyone imagines when thinking of
hat

A form of hennin.

fairytale princesses but had a relatively short life and also had many variations. These began in the 14th century and involved veils as well as hat forms mixed together. Jewels and pearls adorned headdresses by the 1400s and the Tudor headdresses took on a new form, which was not utilitarian at all. The Renaissance and Tudor eras of the 15th century really began the roller coaster of fashion in all senses. Clothing patterns became very elaborate as did hats and by the Baroque and Rococo eras hats and hairpieces were monumental in stature and elaborateness.The ornamentation of the Tudors was just the beginning of hats.

anne of cleves

The elaborate Tudor headdresses were just another step.

So when were women’s hats in fashion? You could say from about 1300 till about 1960. Hats are still worn but not as often. The full evolution would take a lot longer to research and write. As well, narrowing hats by country or era can give more focus. This is a very surface brush with hats and I have not consulted one of my 40+ books on clothing/costume history at home.

But hats have often been worn for fashion and fun, to flaunt status and sometimes for piety. They will always be worn as protection from the elements, whether sun, rain, cold or wind. They reflect the flavors of an era as well as what fabric or trim was newly discovered or cherished. They also indicate the growing sophistication of the human hand and the creative mind. Hats will never quite die out for all of these reasons.

If you would like to more know about a specific era, country or style, then let me know and I’ll see what I can dredge up.

http://m-silkwork.blogspot.com/2008/11/womens-caps.html

http://www.vintagefashionguild.org/content/view/604/75/

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Rationing During the World War

I wasn’t around during either World War so can only use my imagination, history texts and those oh-so-accurate Hollywood movies for my impressions of it. My parents both had been in the tail-end of WWII. I can also take memories as my mother has told me a few stories about those times.

Velorution_vintage_poster_pin_up_giWhen I was a child my mother had this drawer in the china cabinet (a pretty old and shoddy one) that was full of stuff. It had playing cards, some with girly pinups (of my father’s), ashtrays, rumoli chips, cribbage boards, coasters and whatnot. It also had a small stack of postcards. Where they came from I’m not sure. Some were joke or funny postcards but all were illustrated as opposed to photographs. A few of these had those classic pictures of a woman, pin-up style of course, showing stockings and peeks of underwear.

One particular card I remember had a woman holding her hand over her mouth as her underwear puddled around her feet while she watched a man change her tire. I recall other cards with the dropping underwear thing and just never got it. It wasn’t until my mother told me that rubber was rationed in the war that I started to understand.

When the Japanese and Germans cut off supply lines for various items, the UK, Canada and US (along with needing various items to feed the troops) brought in war rationing as well as other countries affected by the war. Rationing lasted from 1942-47 in Canada, from 1942-46 in the US and from 1939-1954 in the UK. Obviously European countries were harder hit as they were directly in the line of fire and did not have the range of resources that N. America had.

Rubber was needed for tires and other items so it was rationed on civilian cars, but it also affected fashion. There were no elastic waistbands in underwear, nor straps on bras. And no wonder women cherished the silk stocking from France. Clothing in general, especially in Europe was rationed as well and people were only allowed to buy so much in a year and had to use ration coupons for everything. Of course rationing affected all types of food as well.

My mother told me about the problems of wearing the button underwear of yesteryear. The buttonholes were given to stretching, which often caused a malfunction of the underwear. She said she saw this well-dressed woman walking along the street one day and slowly this pink fabric began to creep below her coat. The woman stopped, stepped out of her underwear and kept walking, leaving the pink offender behind. Women often put safety pins into their underwear to secure it better. Imagine our world now, if we had nothing that stretched. That would eliminate almost all underwear out there including yoga and exercise wear, bumpers, steering wheels, tires, boots, shoes, electronics from phones to kettles, you name it.

We don’t realize how much we have and in a world of the world wars, people were cut off from various supplies. My mother also commented on chocolate and while she was stationed in England a friend was sent several squares of chocolate. Not even a whole bar. Her friend shared with my mother and they would take one small bite of chocolate. She’d stare in windows at pastries she couldn’t afford with her rations.

We live in the have and have not world now. A third world country has people who won’t read this. They’re not thinking of internets or blogs or social networking. They’re thinking of how to get another meal and finding enough shelter. In North America, for almost all countries, the poorest people have TVs and phones and several sets of clothes. They may be of poor quality and made of stretchy material that was so hard to get so long ago, but they have the essentials.  We toss out clothing that is out of fashion by a few months. We get rid of clothes that are too tight or too big.

During the war, people would have made do, or would have taken up needle and threadmake-do-and-mend to adapt. In some ways it wouldn’t be a bad thing to bring back some rationing. Too many countries are using resources at a phenomenal rate, depleting trees, water, minerals beyond our ancestors’ wildest nightmares. We waste millions of tons of stuff a year that gets sent to landfills, and yet, we want more. If our society continues to live in the more is better attitude and that a person’s success is judged by how much they accrue, well then, we certainly won’t have more in fifty years.

Everyone needs to take a history lesson, thank their lucky stars and consider how we could use those mindsets that were done for war but could be done for economy today. I’m sure I would moan with everyone else if rationing came in (where backyard gardens also flourished) but I would make do and be no worse for wear.

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Society and Death

We have moved into a period in this culture where death is not part of life, nor the every day. Although death continues to happen to young and old, ill and hale, through accidents, disease and murder, still we talk about it in an all-encompassing way but ignore it in the intimate of the every day.

There may be somebody who will say death is not part of life and for the person who dies, life indeed is no more part of them. But for those who know someone who has died, death is very much part of their lives. It used to be that in small communities, such as mining or fishing towns, when someone died they were laid out upon the table in the family home. A table is where people break bread, eat of the earth, communicate and come together, and it is a place big enough to lay a body. Where it will be cleaned and dressed by family members. A place where a person lays in state for people to pay their last respects before being taken to the church and then buried. Funeral parlors weren’t in every small town.

Death now is the last great taboo of the Western world. When someone dies, people have no idea what to say and so say nothing at all. They’re uncomfortable with the concept of death and avoid it like the plague. Veer around the person whose loved one has died, maybe send an innocuous card. A brave soul might say, I’m sorry to hear about your mother/brother/wife.

The griever is expected, after missing a few days of work, to act normal, to show no emotion that may be seen as sad, maudlin, angry, or grief-stricken. Crying is verboten. After all, people will feel edgy and avoid the grieving. So act like it’s life as normal.

The truth is, grief takes time. There is no set limit but it often takes a year to process through a person’s emotions. People who deny their grief and don’t go through the process can actually do physical damage to themselves. The storing up of such emotions, rather than releasing them through a natural process, can also affect the person’s psyche for the rest of their lives. Studies have shown that you can’t put off your grieving for too long, that there is a crucial period when the grieving should take place.

And yet our society tries to make everyone a stoic, free from any emotions except those that are uplifting and bright. By doing this, we cauterize ourselves from the full range of what it means to be human, effectively castrated from all but the most superficial feelings. You cannot have joy without experiencing pain. A constant state of euphoria cannot last and becomes the norm on which a person then judges bad or good, happy or sad. What would normally be sad becomes huge trauma and depression, with no end in sight to it.

I believe it is this unhealthy avoidance attitude that society has to death and negative emotions which have caused an increase in drug use, both recreational and with anti-depressants, to handle what once our bodies could do on their own. We have fewer ways to cope naturally and must go to the drugs. Drug addicts cannot find that constant euphoria so they hunt it in the addiction, afraid to face a life that encompasses happiness and pain.

And death–we can’t avoid it. It will happen. I never knew what to say to anyone when their family member or friend died. We don’t hug our coworkers, we don’t pat them on the shoulders. We maintain distance. We don’t wail at funerals and beat our breasts. And yet we should, for in those acts we express the grief that otherwise builds up in us. We have an outlet that lets us return to a healthy mentality faster.

I regret that when my sister-in-law’s parents died (at different times) that I didn’t know what to say and said nothing at all. How callous. How ignorant. It took the death of a friend for me to experience the grieving process and to understand how people can feel, and just how long it can take to think of that person without crying and feeling as if someone has crushed your heart. I began to understand that a person grieving can feel very cut off and alone, and as if no one cares.

It is almost like being shunned, when someone has to grieve. Letting a person or a community grieve publicly, sharing memories, talking about the person who passed can help. It validates the feelings and a person will recover faster from mourning if they are allowed to express themselves. And yes it can take a year or longer. I have only lost friends and that affected me greatly. I can’t imagine the depth of the pain and loneliness that their spouses felt.

We can all change this debilitating trend by not being so scared of death and the process that we pretend doesn’t exist. The TV show Six Feet Under took a black humor look at death, from the death that opened each episode to the dysfunctional and very real lives of the mortician family that dealt with their own issues and the mourners for the dead. It was an adventuresome show because it touched on death in a very real way that we shy away from. And the show was a hit; witty, tender, irreverent, strange and examining some aspects of life we would rather avoid.

Now, when I know someone who has lost a loved one, I try to let them grieve, to make sure they know it’s all right, to help them and to express my condolences so that they don’t feel isolated. It is the best way to make life more meaningful, by acknowledging the death of friends, family and coworkers.

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What’s in a Name, and Changing It

Back around 1000 CE, surnames were not as common or set as they are now. Someone might just be known as John or Mary. If a second Mary showed up then you might be known as Mary of Kent, or Mary the weaver. John the smith or Liam of the potters’ field or Elizabeth from Gower got shortened in time to John Smith, Liam Pottersfield and Elizabeth Gower.

The taking of a surname started in the south and slowly spread north as cities and villages grew. The gentry were the first to take surnames and only around the 14th century did surnames become the norm for the common people.

When John Smith and Mary Kent married, she did not become Mary Smith but retained her name. Names became a little more standardized and were passed down in the family. No longer was there Erik son of Anders, and Bjorn son of Erik. They went through a transition of Erik Andersen and his son was Bjorn Eriksen. This is still done in the Scandinavian countries but I’m not sure if it changes per generation any more but there will be a Sigrid Eriksdottir and a Bjorn Eriksen, depending on your gender.

As far as English speaking, European culture went, the surnames stabilized. When John Smith and Mary Kent married, she did not become Mary Smith but retained her name, for a while. This was common practice but seems to have shifted somewhere between the 17th and 18th centuries, though it is hard to pin down when this change happened. There is some indication it was happening earlier. In  other cultures women may never change their names or take on hyphenated or other joined surnames.

Being that European culture of the time (and still) ran on a patrilineal system it’s no surprise. It’s been argued, but in most cases, it is a woman’s choice. In my mother’s era women were no longer entities of their own but became part of the man, Adam’s rib, so to speak, with marriage. Mary Kent became Mrs. Smith, but even moreso, she was Mrs. John Smith. No longer did she have a name or identity of her own. Mr. Smith remained the same, no matter if he was married, single or divorced. Miss Mary Kent advertised her availability with that honorific and that she belonged to someone when she took Mrs.

Because I believe so much in equality, I don’t think it’s right or fair that a woman always takes the man’s name. But “always” is not the way it is anymore. Rock stars, movie stars and doctors often keep their birth names, not changing when they marry. Married women might be Ms. now instead of Mrs.

The rules change in different countries and I was aghast to see that in England today (according to the website on name changes) a woman is still referred to as Mrs. John Smith as is “correct” and “traditional” according to the site. Because it’s tradition to have slavery, or to beat spouses or to throw out working TVs does not make it right. Traditions change. Some of the argument against keeping one’s birth name (if a woman) is because it will cause consternation, people won’t accept it and it will be difficult. In other words they’re saying, don’t rock the boat and be happy we let you vote.

I’m single but were I not I would not take my husband’s last name. I would keep my name or might consider hyphenating it. I know one couple that chose a brand new name for themselves and another couple that did the same but combined parts of their birth  names. But why should I change my identity and he assume that he doesn’t have to? Why do I have to become the posession of a man. I certainly would never ever become a Mrs. John Smith. I remember my mother and women of her era having trouble getting credit cards in their own names once they divorced, because the companies presumed they were with men and issued the cards in Mr. John Smith’s name.

In Canada, the rules change province by province. I believe certain human rights pertain across the country but what costs in name changes will change. In BC, each person can keep their birth name, the woman can take the man’s or the man can take the woman’s. Should they want to hyphenate or use both names, that becomes a legal change of name for which they must pay. But otherwise, they can keep their name or change to it at a later date, only paying those costs associated with getting new ID, like driver’s licenses or passports.

In Alberta, it’s mostly the same but I believe a man must pay if he changes his name to his wife’s. There is another example of something not being fair. It’s assumed a woman will change her name and a man will not. A woman doesn’t have to pay but a woman does. I just wonder when the world will see women as equal human beings. It happens in some places and in others, women have limited rights.

I’m not saying one shouldn’t change a name but I think each person should think before they do so: is it necessary? Why me? Why not him/her? Will my identity change? Do I have to belong to someone? Should we choose a completely new name? It goes on. I just think that people changing their names because “it’s always been done” is not reason enough.

Here is a thesis on the changing of women’s surnames.

http://www.bsu.edu/libraries/virtualpress/student/honorstheses/pdfs/C692_1991CoxDinaM.pdf

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Personality: You are Who You Pretend to Be

As a child I was extremely shy and introverted. This doesn’t mean that I was weak or without personality. I was fairly strong willed but I wouldn’t talk or do anything to stand out in the crowd. The argument for nature vs nurture might play in here. My personality was imprinted at birth. My circumstances affected how my personality played out.

Growing up in a home rife with turmoil and many abuses probably made me into the shy and insecure child that I was. I was picked on, teased and remained in the background. I remember my passive aggressive act when one girl was bugging me in school. I didn’t confront her but as I walked home I spit on the sidewalk in front of her house.

In grade 7 I was still fairly shy but starting to flower in personality (as we are all wont to do in teenagerhood). I had a few friends, and was trying to fit in. However, my mother asked me what I wanted for Christmas (or my birthday) that year and I said a purple dress/shirt/some item of clothing. I received a wardrobe of purple; pants, tops, dresses. Everything was purple. I could not wear purple again for about ten years but today it is a color I wear frequently.

With that geeky stigma of one color, I tended to cringe and become conscious of clothing. I also looked at Margaret Parsons in my class. She was shyer than me, had red ringlets (really gorgeous red hair actually) and wore a school uniform. In retrospect I have a lot of sympathy for Margaret and Morag, who both came from school systems with uniforms. They stuck out like sore thumbs and again, moving into a district wasn’t easy. They were definitely outsiders and looked at strangely. Kids are very cruel, not yet tempered with the social skills on how to stab someone nicely in the back.

Back to Margaret; she was very very shy and quiet and I decided then and there that I didn’t want to be like her, which meant I had to change. It was important for me to fit in. My family was different, with divorced parents, not going to church, fighting. All my friends had more “normal” families. First was the clothing. Jeans and T-shirts were much the norm for teenagers.

By late high school I upped the ante again. My clothing was mostly in shades of blue and brown. I decided that if I wore brighter colors it would make me more outgoing (and had read something to that effect). Basically it became a case of fake it till you make it. I did this again in art college.

Overall it was a long, slow transition, but little by little my clothes got brighter and my personality changed. I started to wear more jewellery (some would say I wear too much) and became a clothes horse, liking fashion and trying to find unique styles. But along the way I consciously challenged my boundaries. And sure enough, I went from being a shy introvert to and outgoing extrovert.

Few of us are 100% of anything. We all have introvert and extrovert in us. I can be quiet, even withdrawn, and sometimes prefer to sit back in the sidelines and watch. But I also enjoy being at a party or around people. Had I not pushed myself I would have probably remained an introvert. Would the switch have happened anyways? I don’t know. But I’m sure it would have taken much longer.

Wearing bright colors was a physical manifestation of how I wanted to change and I think it did work towards bringing me out of my shell. And shell it was, a protective coating from a tumultuous home life and the jibes and jeers of class mates. Interestingly enough, I grew a different shell, with bolder colors that stopped a lot of the teasing once I wore them with confidence. So yes, I think a leopard can change its spots.

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