A Glowing Bride – Scottish Steampunk with an Avatar Twist

A Glowing Bride – Scottish Steampunk with an Avatar Twist

The more that happens in my life worth writing about, the less time I have to write about it. I know I’ve been totally quiet on all the political stuff, lately, and frankly it’s because I’m disgusted with the whole thing. Instead I focused on personal stuff, which has kind of been necessary. You see, aside from getting involved with a new man last spring, we’ve got huge plans for ourselves and our relationship. Nothing other people aren’t doing, but enough that it keeps us really busy. I’ve already talked about the fertility thing, and how we’re going to a clinic. (Which, by the way, is going to cost us a fortune. Around $10,000 to $15,000 to harvest my eggs in a single batch. So, that’s on hold until we have that kind of money. Apparently it’s at least as expensive to do it in Canada, as it is in the US, if not more so.)

So, just to be different, my then-boyfriend-now-fiancé and I proposed to one another. We both got engagement rings, too. His is so big he’ll have to put it on his right hand when we get to the ‘I do’ part, and I may have to do the same since I’ve got short fingers. Two rings on the same finger looks weird on me. Still I love my ring so much. It was supposed to be my wedding ring, but it got here before the one that’s supposed to be my engagement ring, so we said to hell with it. We each have amethyst and silver in one of our rings, and rose gold and emerald in the other. I happen to be allergic to nickel, so I can’t wear white or yellow gold, but I’m fine with rose gold and pure metals. The emeralds have to do with the fact that we happened to be only a few blocks apart, down Emerald Street in Hamilton, when we met. Yet we had no idea we were even in the same country when we really started talking. Of course, it turned out we’d spoken long before then, because we’re part of the same political groups on Facebook.

Well, now the big stuff to deal with is a wedding day, hopefully on our anniversary, but the sad fact remains that we both have other entanglements to get out of, and my fiancé happens to be embroiled in something pretty nasty. I won’t discuss that publicly, since it wouldn’t be respectful of other people’s privacy, but suffice it to say it prevents us setting a firm date.

However, we do have plans. Big plans. We already think we know where we’re doing it. They’re heritage buildings that they rent out for arts and culture events. It’s really inexpensive to rent the place for almost two weeks, so we’re going to have something like an art festival in the days surrounding the wedding. I was originally thinking of doing a writing seminar only, but then I realized we could really make the whole thing a lot of fun for everyone. I mean, if people come in from the US and different parts of Canada, I wanted it to be worth it for them. When my fiancé said we should have a ceremony, he was mostly thinking of us writing our own vows, and didn’t realize that for me to have people at the wedding, they would have to be people from way out of town. I know very few local people. Four maybe, and that’s including my ex and his girlfriend.

From the possibility of a writing seminar, it expanded into various crafts and such. I was thinking a Victorian photo shoot would go along well with a portion of the theme of our wedding, since Steampunk is very much of the Victorian flavour. I also thought it would be good to do proper photo shoots for authors, who will need good headshots for their writing careers. I’ll probably hire a make-up artist and hair-stylist to make it all look great. I’ll have to have discussions with the various professionals to find out what they’ll charge for a day, or for individuals, especially since it will be a group deal, and then any member of the public can pay for either the seminar by itself, or the seminar with the photo shoot. I thought a mug-painting day would be good, too, where wedding guests can do two mugs – one for us as their wedding gift (instead of them trying to figure out what to give us, which is silly at our ages), and one for themselves. A painting class, flower arranging perhaps, where guests can do two arrangements if they like (one for the wedding, and one for themselves).

My dress is going to be very unique, though. I’ll say that much. I’m planning to have parts of it glow. My fiancé and I were/are planning to make our own top hats, but I’m debating on an elven circlet or something. At the moment I don’t have the time to deal with any of it, but I’m letting the ideas simmer. We’ll have LED lights and electroluminescent stuff. An arbour will likely be present, because who doesn’t want to get married under an archway??

We’re going to have a blast, whatever we do, and so I’ll be posting all about it here as we do it. You’ll get pictures, of course. And speaking of which, here’s our engagement ring shot!

Our Engagement

You can also partially see the lovely lightning bolt-shaped scar I have from my attempt to imitate Harry Potter. Okay, so I tripped and fell into a plate of eggs, the plate broke and severed a nerve, and then I had to have surgery on it to repair the nerve – yay me! Do I do good work or what?

I’m definitely happy to be having all this fun with wedding stuff, despite being too busy dealing with a dead laptop (a story for another time involving juice, that I’m just not ready to talk about yet), and trying to get a book written, while trying to get the podcast show back on track. The thing is, what really makes me happy is being so thoroughly loved, and being with someone I love just as thoroughly. We complement one another in so many ways. I’m ridiculously, madly, head-over-heels in love with him, and I have no doubt he feels exactly the same. It took until we hit our mid-life to find one another, but we finally did. None of this other stuff would matter without that, and I’m not at all stressed about dealing with that stuff either. It’s not stressful when you know it’s just something you’ll have a blast with.

So many people go through life looking for the wrong things. They want someone to rescue them, or someone who has money. In truth, what we need is to be with someone where it wouldn’t matter if we were living on the street. I know very well that I could sit snuggled up next to him on a sidewalk, and wouldn’t even care. I don’t have to have money or a house. I don’t need cars. I didn’t have to have fancy jewelry, though it’s nice we were able to give one other rings that we both liked and picked out for ourselves. I just needed to know I was accepted for exactly who I am, and that we could sit down and talk to one another for hours on end. The chemistry doesn’t hurt either! I’m just so blissfully content, and I have a hard time explaining how very right everything feels now.

Oh, and the Scottish part of all this? My baby wears a kilt in his family tartan…and he wears it very well! 😉

It Might Hurt, but I Refuse to Toughen Up

It’s been more than three weeks since I’ve written anything, other than an e-mail to a friend and some private messaging on Facebook. Ever since I finished off my word count for National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo…or insanity) on November 30th, I haven’t felt the slightest urge to write a single thing. There was a writing contest I had intended to enter for The Prepper Journal, but I could not bring myself to even seriously contemplate a topic. Maybe I’ll send them something at a later date and ask if they’re interested in publishing it, but I desperately needed to take a step back from working for a little while. Luckily it coincided with the Christmas break for the show I produce, because I’ve been a completely lazy git for the last three weeks.

Not that I can blame myself for it. Most people don’t write a book in the course of less than a month, edit it in three weeks, and then write half of another book, while overlapping the editing of the first book. For two and a half months I worked every single day, usually from the time I woke up, until I finally fell asleep about twenty hours later. I’d take the odd break here and there, usually to binge-watch the X-Files with my daughter (we just finished season five and watched the movie a couple of days ago), but mostly I worked. Not that it felt like work at the time, because I was enjoying the hell out of it, but in reality I was busting my butt.

The problem didn’t really come until after my book was published and I started receiving negative reviews. The first couple were great, and I consider the majority of them to be positive. However, the negative ones were pretty bad, and in some cases downright rude or wrong. Believe me when I tell you that writers are very sensitive to criticism, though we’re told we just have to suck it up and move on. It’s not anywhere near as easy as it sounds. Even when a review is dead wrong (to the point where you believe they didn’t even read the book, or they skipped half of it), it gets in your head and plays a tune on you whenever your brain gets a little too quiet. I tend to have a lot of quiet time, so my brain poked fun at me quite a bit.

So, since the end of November I’ve been having a pity party along with my burn-out. In addition to that I’ve had to suppress my irritation with people. I mean, unless you’re stupid you don’t respond to the reviews on Amazon. It’s bad form, for one thing. For another, it’s a no-win situation. Not only is it rude to the person who left the review, but then other people start thinking you’re a jerk. For that reason I’m not going to talk about specifics even in my blog. People should be allowed to review. I do think Amazon should consider their review policy, such as disqualifying reviews from people who haven’t bought a product, or who are blatantly attacking or bullying someone, but other than that people have to be allowed to express their opinions.

I just can’t imagine expressing my opinion in such a rude fashion as some people do. Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian, and the whole mud-slinging thing is anathema to me, but there are rude Canadians, too, so I don’t think that’s entirely the issue. I think it’s simply a change in how people behave when they’re allowed to be anonymous. There’s an expression I like that applies to this.

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” ~ John Wooden

We’ve all seen what’s been happening online these days, particularly when it comes to inflammatory issues. Women are subjected to rape and death threats online, just for stating an opinion. Muslims are seeing hateful rhetoric in a constant barrage. Gun-control advocates are getting threats that they’ll be shot by ‘responsible gun owners.’ If these people were sitting face-to-face, in most cases the majority of their words would not pass their lips, and that comes from all sides of the arguments. It doesn’t matter if a person is a liberal or a conservative, a man or a woman, a Christian or a Muslim. We’re all guilty of it.

When it comes to my personal situation, I tried to make myself feel better by looking at reviews other authors had received, and it actually made me feel worse. Sure, I felt like I was in pretty good company. Well-known authors (such as Nora Roberts, Karin Slaughter, and J. K. Rowling), were subjected to major abuse in their Amazon reviews. I started seeing that the reviewers who spoke like that had some issues. Often they were extremely hateful. Teenagers were leaving nasty reviews about the Harry Potter series, and I have to wonder how they even have access to leave comments. In order to review an item you have to have made a purchase on Amazon, which means you must have a credit card of some sort. In most cases that would mean it’s the parents’ accounts, and yet the parents are okay with their kids leaving those sorts of remarks. It doesn’t bode well for the future of society.

I honestly thought I would feel better about my own bad reviews if I was in good company. I mean, hey, if it can happen to some of the best (or even most popular, whether or not you agree they’re the best), then it should be okay that it happened to me, too. Instead I feel scared by it. I’m scared of what we’re turning into when it becomes okay to belittle people online. I know that there are people that get off on hurting others. I know there are trolls and bullies. I know some people try to feel better about themselves by showing off and criticizing other people for doing something they themselves cannot do. I see it all the time on Facebook. I’m a member of some movie groups for some reason, and I see people panning movies left, right and centre, when I sit there and think, “I’d like to see you do better!” If they can’t do it themselves, then at least they can cut down someone who has already done it, in other words.

That’s the real test, though, isn’t it? A friend of mine reminded me of that saying, “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach,” and said he didn’t think that was a fair thing to say. I agree completely. You can’t teach something if you don’t know how to do it. He said those who couldn’t would just criticise those who do, and again I agree. But I’m still very worried about society. There’s a damn good reason I don’t leave the house much. When people think it’s okay to issue threats over books or articles, there’s a serious breakdown in our humanity. People are shooting people over idiotic things. Young men think they have a right to kill a bunch of people because young girls won’t send them naked pictures of themselves. The sense of entitlement on this planet is growing all out of proportion with what we actually deserve.

Part of me is saying that I should just toughen up and get on with my life, and the other part of me is saying that’s entirely the wrong thing to do. Why should I toughen up? Why should I be any less sensitive than I am? The real question is, why should I change because of what other people are saying and doing? Yes, I will have to suffer if I don’t toughen up, but I also won’t lose the part of myself that refuses to become desensitized to aggression and violence – and that’s what it boils down to. People are being rude and angry toward other people, for no good reason. They’re taking out their own insecurities on others, and we have to stop tolerating it.

I don’t believe in all the old-school manners and etiquette, but by the same token we should treat one another with respect. Even when another person has shown they don’t really deserve it, we do not need to sink to that level. We become that other person if we do. I’ve made it a habit the last few months to simply stop arguing with people the moment they become rude. I refer to one-on-one encounters online. If a person calls me a name I tell them I’m done with the conversation for that reason, and then I actually leave the conversation. I don’t care what they say after that, because the name-calling just invalidated their argument for me. A debate is fine. Even an argument can be fine. When you step across the line to abuse, I’m done with it. And I wish more people did the same. It might teach these rude people that it’s not socially acceptable to do what they’re doing.

Of course, far too many people thrive on drama, and often cause it. It’s like those people who like to gossip. I can’t understand why they have so much of an interest in someone else and how they live their life. It makes no sense to me. And yet they sit there and talk about another human being in the worst possible way. It might sound terrible to say, but I honestly don’t have that much concern for what other people are doing, so long as they’re not hurting anyone. I’m more than happy living in my own little world, while everyone else lives in theirs. I like my solitude. The only people I make an effort with, to find out what’s going on in their lives, are the people I love. Other than that, I can’t be bothered. I’ve got too many other things in my life to do, that I find far more interesting.

Today I finally wrote an article for a friend of mine who asked me to contribute to his online magazine about a month ago. I wrote about dealing with criticism, because it was what I’ve had on my mind for some time, and his site is about happiness and mental health. I’ve worked through a lot of it, though I still get somewhat irritated when I stew about it too much. In my case I can’t resolve the criticism with a confrontation, so I have to vent in other ways – like this blog post.

I don’t want to be a whiner or a wimp, but I also don’t want to lose touch with my honest feelings. I’ve distanced myself from people in many ways, in order to prevent loss of emotion on my part. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I find too much interaction with people I don’t know can result in me shutting down my emotions just to get through it. I did it when I worked in the corporate world, and I worked too hard as a teenager to regain my emotions (after a childhood of abuse) to lose them now because of strangers.

So, instead of toughening up I’ve examined the criticisms, learned what I could from them, determined what parts might be accurate, and then tried to get a handle on why people would feel the need to behave in such a fashion. Allowing myself to understand their motivation has been a big help. Any disparaging remarks will hurt, but knowing why they were made makes them easier to deal with. And of course, just because someone has an opinion, doesn’t mean they’re right.

The Only Rights We Have Are the Ones We Fight For

Oftentimes in life, just showing up to a fight is enough to end it. Thus was the case with my most recent battle a couple of days ago. My landlord attempted to take me to court to get me to pay for renovations they were doing. Yes, that is totally unfair, as well as completely illegal, but if I hadn’t gone to court I’d have been charged more than $2,600 in absentia. They tried to lie and say we’d damaged a floor that had been in the building since it had been built. I won’t bore you with all the details, but I will say that the guy who did our walk-through when we were looking at the place said they would fix the floor before we moved in. They didn’t, but that tells you the damage was pre-existing.

The end result was that as soon as they saw we had shown up to court (they saw our names on the sign-in sheet) they decided they would be willing to go through a mediator rather than the adjudicator. Fancy that! We presented numerous pictures showing the water damage in the apartment that could only be pre-existing, and entirely out of the realm of our control. The roof had leaked for a long time, there’s a wall in which there’s a leaking pipe, and there is so much mold and mildew that I can no longer use my bedroom. By strange coincidence they were no longer interested in pursuing damages. Happily this mediation gave us the opportunity to bring up their numerous illegal activities without actually reporting them, but they took them a little more seriously at least. It also gave us the opportunity to let them know we’d happily be vacating the premises at the end of March. Yay!

Things became remarkably friendly during these proceedings, considering how nasty they tried to be. They talked about what great tenants we were, because we were quiet and always paid our rent. I guess they figured we were so nice that we would happily roll over and pay for them to replace the floor in our apartment. Right. The funny thing is, they truly have no clue how absolutely nasty I could have been. I could have forced them into bankruptcy had I chosen to make my complaints known with the appropriate legal parties. If I had chosen to be vindictive, the city would have come in and shut the place down. They would have been charged many thousands of dollars just to be able to continue as landlords.

Instead, I simply stopped them from screwing me over. If they had chosen to keep on with their case, I would have pulled out all the stops, of course, if for no other reason than to show the true state of their general character. Their blatant dishonesty would have been more than enough to have my case thrown out. As it is, that’s what the end result was here, and they were forced to swallow the application fee of $170 for filing against us. They’ve also told us they’re going to provide us with a good reference, etc. I don’t care if they’re doing it to placate us, as long as they don’t screw up our reputation as tenants. Here they tend to keep a record, and it becomes really difficult to find a place to live if you’ve been a bad tenant – similar to having a bad credit rating.

It just goes to show, though, how far some people will go to get you to pay their bills for them, and how little you sometimes have to do to stand up for yourself. Just because there are laws that exist to protect us, does not mean we won’t be taken unfair advantage of. Every time we do not force people in power to abide by the laws, the more likely they are to run roughshod over us. Landlords seem to be some of the worst, because so many of them are owner-operators, basically, uneducated in the terms under which they are allowed to continue said operations. They seem to think that because they buy a piece of property they automatically have the right to rent it out in any manner they choose. They don’t, and the courts can remove their privileges as landlords. They can also be heavily fined and find themselves stripped of their property if it turns out to be unfit for residential use.

There are people in this world who have a gigantic sense of entitlement. They’ve somehow come to believe themselves above the law, or simply better than others around them. They feel like they deserve better treatment than that which they afford others. You find it a lot in wealthier people, who have never had to live through difficult times. People who inherit their wealth in particular, such as the Walton family brats who now run the Walmart empire, and the Koch brothers who now run Koch Industries. They didn’t build their businesses themselves. They just suck every last ounce of profits out of them with no consideration for what they’re doing to others. They simply do not care, and the government lets them get away with it.

Things aren’t a whole lot better in Canada, but all companies are forced to comply with much higher minimum wages, and there’s a lot more protection for employees up here. Yet, somehow, Canada has been listed as the number one country to do business in. A less complicated tax code helps. We have very little local interference in business, too, so businesses generally only have to deal with provincial and federal legislation, and they do not contradict each other in any case I’ve ever seen, because the contradictions have already been dealt with very simply. If the business runs across provincial lines, such as transportation, it’s governed federally. If not, it’s usually governed provincially.

Very few of our laws are municipal or regional. Sometimes they’re managed by regional departments, but the laws are still provincial. I had American friends be confused about how little concern I showed for the mayor of Toronto being a crack-head, but truthfully there is almost no power in being the mayor of a city here. He could have done something stupid like have a garbage truck dumped onto someone’s car, maybe, or change parking legislation, but that’s about it. It wasn’t until it came out that (allegedly) he was abusive to his wife, I even looked twice at him. As far as I (and most other Canadians) are concerned, scandals aren’t really something we pay much attention to in politics. Drugs aren’t legal here, but a lot of people think they should be, so people think nothing of offering to share a joint with their neighbours. My own mother smokes a fair bit of the stuff, which I find funny because I can’t stand it. I don’t mean that I judge anyone who does it. I just mean I don’t like what it does to me, so I don’t smoke it myself.

Over the last few decades, sadly, many people in North America have given up on the idea of fighting for their own rights. We had a big lull where we thought things weren’t perfect, but it wasn’t worth getting worked up about, but now we’re seeing the harsh reality that crept up on us during our political slumber. In Canada our environment is being destroyed. The entire province of Alberta is a disgusting mess. Yes, people still live there, particularly since there are a ton of high-paying jobs, but it really isn’t a healthy place. There are so many toxic spills in Canada, that they’re almost uncountable. Close to 2,000 per year for the last 37 years. About 6 per day.

In the US, there are so many problems that may be unresolvable. The education system was attacked and dismantled a long time ago, so it becomes a struggle just to make people understand that there is a problem, much less what to do about it. George Carlin did a far better job of explaining it than I can here, but it boils down to a system of government wanting a population that is easily controlled. I’m hoping the people in both our countries wake up to the reality, and that we can come up with a solution before it’s too late. However, so many just shrug their shoulders and say, “What’s the point? There isn’t anything we can do about it anyway.”

Of course, that’s exactly what they want you to think. And by “they” I mean the giant corporations that are profiting off our ignorance and inertia. The government itself wouldn’t be a problem if big businesses weren’t there to hand over the cash. In the US it’s even legal to bribe your senators and congressional members. It’s called lobbying. They have to be a lot more circumspect in Canada, but they still manage to a lesser degree. If people are led to believe that nothing they do will make a difference, they simply won’t try. If they don’t try, it just makes it easier for their rights to be stripped, even if those rights are protected by law.

Every time we allow someone to step on us, we contribute to the larger issue. In fact, there’s a butterfly effect. I’ll use my own example to illustrate what I mean. Let’s say I hadn’t fought my landlord on this, and they got my money to pay for their renovations. There’s no way they would have stopped with me. They would have found it a very easy way to renovate the whole building, and would be encouraged to try it with everyone, knowing that it was unlikely anyone would try to stop them. Every single person in this building (about 30 apartments) would most likely have been taught that they’re just going to be screwed over for the rest of their lives. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I don’t think it’s too far off the mark. The people who live here are mostly uneducated, and they’re all poor. Nobody would live in this building if they were bringing in a decent income. In my case my daughter makes minimum wage, and I’m on disability. Even still, we’re moving on to better things. I’ve never lived in a place this disgusting in my life, and I don’t intend to stick around.

Back to my point, however. So, you have a building with 30 families, all being taught that they have no power and no rights, because none of them here will likely have read the Residential Tenancies Act. In fact, most tenants never read even excerpts from it. I’m an exception, apparently. I like to learn new things, and I like to know what my rights are. My landlord is far from unique when it comes to bending and breaking the law. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a landlord that wasn’t breaking the law in some fashion or other. Most of them violate entry laws, most violate anti-smoking legislation, most don’t pay interest on deposits, and most do not maintain their buildings mechanically or health-wise in accordance with the law. When tenants don’t fight back against them, they simply continue doing business in the way that brings them as much profit as possible.

Our homes are the places where we spend most of our lives, usually. At the very least we usually sleep in them. To have our rights taken from us in our own homes is very meaningful. This mentality invades all other parts of our lives. When you stop to think about the fact that most employers also violate the rights of their employees, there are very few ways in which citizens are not being stepped on. It becomes a constant, daily thing. Again, so few actually read about employment legislation, so they don’t even know that their employers are supposed to provide them with a copy of the Employment Standards Act in order to educate them on their rights. When employees don’t know that, they don’t ask. They don’t know where to go to get the information, because they aren’t researchers by nature.

Even thinking about the ways we’re always being taken advantage of is exhausting. There are just so many battles to be fought. I haven’t worked for anyone other than myself for a long time, and even then I worked in payroll and human resources, so I was the one making sure the employees were not having their rights stripped. My employers weren’t thrilled, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to be a party to it. These were people that were paying themselves a million-dollar bonus at Christmas, but they didn’t want to pay two hours of overtime to an employee. This attitude is typical, and I’ve never worked for an employer who wasn’t like that. I’m sure there are some nice employers and landlords out there, but like most people I haven’t been lucky enough to run into them. In many cases landlords and employers don’t even know they’re doing anything wrong, but it’s their legal obligation to know these things, so I feel no sympathy for their plight. If you’re going to hire people, or rent property to people, then do your due diligence.

At work and at home we’re getting screwed over constantly, and then there are all the other things that are coming down on us. Our lands are being stripped and destroyed, the environment is becoming toxic, and in twenty years there’s a good chance we’re not even going to have breathable air unless something is done immediately. There will be continuous changes to what we can do in our leisure time, simply because there will be places we’ll no longer be able to go. People are discriminated against for their gender, race (theirs or their spouse’s), religion, and sexual orientation.

This is why every single one of us has to stop in their tracks and say, “Enough already!” We have to stop this on a daily basis. We have to fight against it. We have to share information with one another about what can be done. We stand to lose every one of our rights without a single battle being fought, simply because we don’t want to deal with confrontation. I’m well aware that confrontation sucks. I absolutely hate confrontations. I hate drama and fighting. I don’t watch reality TV, and that’s one of the biggest reasons. I don’t mind sports like UFC and boxing, because there are rules and they’re not based on personal issues. It’s about technique and skill in the ring.

When it comes to fighting ‘city hall’ as they say, it’s different. The results matter. They have an impact on your life, so it’s scary to fight against someone. I guarantee, however, that if you don’t fight, the results will be far worse than if you do. If I hadn’t shown up in court the other day, they would have ruled that I owed the money, and I would have been charged for the filing fee as well. I would have been stuck owing almost $3,000 for something that wasn’t even my debt. Not showing up for a fight is basically considered tacit consent. Courts will almost always rule against the party that isn’t there. You simply must refute the claims of those that would take advantage of you. If you don’t, your neighbour is going to be the next one footing the bill.

If it’s your boss taking advantage of you, your co-workers are likely getting the same treatment. I actually had a friend go to work for a company that had screwed me over in the past, and they did even worse to her. I helped her fight it, and she won, but she would likely have never been put in that position if I’d fought them when I had the chance years earlier. An employer that’s forcibly reminded by the courts that what they’re doing is illegal, will think twice about doing it again. An employer that is never challenged will keep doing the same things, and will likely get progressively worse. In some cases they never learn, but as long as people keep fighting, then there’s a good chance the company will end up getting shut down and the employees will be awarded what they’re owed.

It’s always worse in lean times when there are few jobs and few places to live. People are afraid of losing their jobs and apartments, because they know it’s going to be tough to find another one. That fear is what keeps us all down. We fight when we know we’ve got the upper hand, or we fight when we know things can’t get any worse. The common person rarely has the upper hand, though, and if we’re in a position where we know things can’t get worse, that’s a terrible place to be. It’s easier to give up then.

I’m of two minds when it comes to unions. I know they’ve served a purpose, but I also know the unions aren’t exactly the benevolent organizations they pretend to be. In some cases they simply clog up the works and take hard-earned money from their members for doing absolutely nothing. Their existence, however, is a benefit in that they’re a constant threat to the employer. I’m well aware that it was union efforts that organized the workers and they were responsible for getting us our shorter work weeks (and many other benefits), so we certainly need to show our gratitude there. However, I’ve also worked for a company where I have been harmed by their presence. It’s a sort of catch-22. All in all, though, I do think they’re needed, if for no other reason than the silent threat factor. Any company that has a union in place is well aware that they’re being constantly and closely monitored, and not just by a single individual. They aren’t faced with only one employee that knows their rights, but every employee that has an ironclad contract. That can make a big difference with a crappy employer.

Organized protest is always what leads any social change. A single person can be responsible for a great deal, and usually that’s because they’ve managed to gather together a group of like-minded individuals. The shouts of a group become loud enough that the governing bodies can’t tune them out. The public starts hearing their voices, and they often add their own then. Social change happens because the majority of people want it, and they force the legislators to acknowledge that it’s what the public wants. Government is supposed to work for the people, but it doesn’t unless the people force it to. Government simply goes on doing whatever it’s doing, often being bought and paid for by big business, unless the citizens put their collective feet down.

The other part of understanding social change, is that we have to realize it starts small, and it starts locally. If we want change, we start with our neighbourhood, because it’s really not that hard to get a few hundred people together. Then we can move on to our city. Once we have our cities back, we can deal with state or provincial government. After all, if every major city has changed, the province or state no longer has a choice, really. Once each state or province has changed, that changes the whole country. It’s not that hard to remove the corrupt government officials if we band together and decide we don’t want them. We hired them, and we can fire them.

All of this begins with showing up. Until we show up for the fight, we will be walked on. Once we show up, we can plead our case. Enough people together, fighting for the same rights, and you’ve got big change. It may not be changes to the law, because the laws might already be on the books. They just have to be enforced, and if you don’t fight for your own rights, then who do you think is supposed to do it for you?

What’s in a Name? Kin, Labels, Etymology and More!

The seemingly simple topic of names is actually chock full of complexities that nobody fully understands. There are so many layers and levels to it, that it boggles the mind. Every one of those areas has differing schools of thought, too, and all cultures are different. When you’re talking about something so personal as a name, people can’t even agree on whether or not it is personal. For instance, there are those who think it’s nothing but a label, and we should do without labels entirely. I have to say, this would be a very confusing world if we had to say, “Hey you!” in order to get someone’s attention. The artist-formerly-known-as-Prince-and-was-subsequently-known-as-Prince-anyway is probably the best illustration of what happens when someone doesn’t have a name (or label if you will). Most of us would agree that we prefer to have a name rather than a serial number, and find even social security (US) or social insurance (Canada) numbers to be dehumanizing. Besides, names are easier to say. Usually.

So, let’s all pretend to agree that we need names. On to the next step. You have a kid, you stick a name on it, you register the birth and name with the government – I assume that all depends on what country you live in, too, but I’m going with what I know. In Canada you can’t even leave the hospital without register a name for your kid, and in the US you used to be able to wait a while before settling on a name if my understanding of the system is correct. I don’t personally understand that approach, but at the same time I’m also reading the Game of Thrones books (no I have not seen the TV series – I’m debating whether or not I even want to – it is TV after all), and there are customs in there where people don’t name their kids until they’re about two years old because it’s considered unlucky and too many kids die before that age. Hmmm. I’d think you’d want a name just in case they do die, so there’s something to stick on a headstone, but I suppose the idea is to not get too attached to them. Good luck with that.

Now anyone I’ve ever known who has had a kid, myself included, has sweated the choices. Most of us realize that it’s a bad idea to name your kid something they’re going to be picked on for, but then there are those who don’t want their kid to be like everyone else. Being one of the ones who was picked on, I would advise prospective parents to think twice about weird names. In fact, if you have a weird last name, it might even be time to bite the bullet and make some legal alterations to it, so future generations don’t grimace whenever they speak it aloud, or get pissy when they constantly have to correct people who misspell it. My last name is the perfect example of that. Everyone assumes there’s an R in it. There is not, and the last time it had an R in it was probably centuries ago. Just because there’s another group of people out there who chose to leave the R in their name, does not make it true of my own family. In my case I no longer have to worry about spreading my name about. My daughter doesn’t share it, and I’m beyond the point of having more children.

On the flipside there are those who have had family pride instilled in them, so that their name makes them stand a little straighter and throw their shoulders back. More power to ya. In my case I had some decent relatives, and then there were the ones with the yellow buck teeth – first cousins who tried to get me into bed. Yes, I know. Ick. Both the teeth and the cousin part. First cousins might be legal in some places, but I wasn’t going there voluntarily. Those teeth were a good reminder of why first cousins are a bad idea, in fact. Not only inbreeding, but inbreeding with visible flaws.

So at one point I seriously considered legally changing my last name. I can’t remember what it was that caught my attention, but at that time I realized something. My name would be what I would make of it. After all, it’s not a very common last name, so there are no massively famous people (for their celebrity or for their infamy) that I had to live in the shadow of, or overcome their reputation. I’m not a Lincoln or a Sheen, or even a Smith, which is so common no one would assume any relationship these days anyway. Not being in touch with any of my family members makes this easy as well. I will make my name what I want it to be, and so it doesn’t matter at all what it meant in my home town. This apple fell very far from the whole orchard.

Beyond what’s common, popular, known or there’s a built-in reputation that comes with it, there’s the meaning of the names themselves. Now, looking at my last name you would think it means land of sticks. It doesn’t. It translates from another word altogether and means land beside the hill. Weird huh? Of course, last names are like that. First name are usually the big conundrum for new parents. Boy names, girl names and gender-neutral names. I like the latter idea. If I’d had another child, Alex would have been a seriously-considered option. My daughter ended up with a name that was so common she usually had several other girls in her class with the same name. It wasn’t like that when I named her, or I’d have chosen something different. Something not weird, but not overly common either. Instead she got buried unwillingly in the popular.

Baby naming books or websites will always be needed. We want to know we’re not naming our kid something that means ‘pile of dung’ or something. Kids are cruel, and if they discover this, your kid is doomed. Yes, doomed. That will stick with them in every possible permutation for the rest of their lives. I was briefly nicknamed Spike in junior high (an 80s hair thing). People remembered. People almost got punched for remembering, but they remembered. I was okay with it in grade 8 – not so much in high school and later years. If I were faced with naming a kid now, I’d also be doing a Google search on the name, including middle and last, varying what I entered. You just never know. Maybe you haven’t heard the latest news about that serial killer in California, or the politician who just got caught doing the nasty with a chicken. With the internet now, kids will find out about those things. Sometimes people are bored and Google a person’s name at random. It’s not possible to completely avoid that kind of thing, but do your kid a favour and at least make an effort to do so.

Finally there’s equality. Woman got sick and tired of losing their last names, for one thing. For another, when you have a career and have built up a reputation, changing your last name can do a lot of damage. There’s no way to properly format a resume to state that at one place your name was one way, but then at another it was a different way. It might be alright if we all married once and stayed married. We just don’t now. Or very rarely. Sure, you can use the antiquated “nee” with your former last name after it, but seriously? Let’s be realistic about corporate life. Women who do that are looked at more than a little contemptuously. It tells everyone there that you gave up your identity for a man. If you’re willing to do that, the assumption may be that you will not take your career as seriously as a man would. Then starts that whole, “Women don’t belong in the workforce. They just can’t be relied on to stick with it.” They also tend to assume you will be taking time off to raise a family, and they will not make that same assumption with a husband. They don’t have a clue what you and your partner have decided to do about a family. They simply assume, and it’s not a career boost.

Beyond getting married and women not always changing their last names, or at least hyphenating them, babies come along to challenge your equality ideas yet again. After all, it’s no longer written in stone that children automatically take their father’s last name. Women are starting to say, “What? My last name isn’t good enough? My family is less important than your family? I don’t think so!” In fact, this isn’t such a new phenomenon as we might generally think. Royal families intermarried – one country’s prince to another country’s princess, and that sort of thing. These high-level marriages did not completely subjugate the family names of the brides, simply because that would have been an insult to an entire country. If the idea behind the marriage was to bond two countries, that sort of insult would nullify any benefits achieved by the marriage. Even among the lesser peerage, especially when the woman’s family was considered a station or two above the family of the man, women often retained their own titles of some sort. I’m foggy on specifics, but I remember seeing it on many occasions when I was doing research. Titles would be handed down to the children at any rate.

What I’ve been seeing as some of the latest trends are girls being given their mothers’ last names, and boys getting their last name from their fathers, or even the reverse. Sometimes the couple each retain their own last names with no hyphenation, but the kids get the hyphenated name and the boys & girls have the same last names. Again, there’s very old precedent in a way. Think of Nordic last names. The son of Odin was Odinson (like Thor Odinson). His daughter’s would have been Odinsdotter or Odinsdatter. They’re called patronymic names when they’re named after the father, but there were matronymic names, too, apparently. Laws changed and in some cases this practice was forbidden, but then laws changed again so people could go back to doing it.

I guess in a world where English-language people (like myself) are so openly egocentric that they assume the world revolves around their own basic culture, there were many who got confused by the ‘alternative’ practices. Then again, there’s a large portion of the world that places the family name first, and the given name second. So, in those countries the custom would be for me to be called Stickland Rain. I know that it’s like that in China, as well as in Hungary (or was anyway). Certain Chinese celebrities have swapped their names back and forth, confusing the masses of movie-goers, but if those movie-goers are too lazy to learn about other cultures I feel no empathy for them. Having worked in payroll and human resources, it was my job to know this stuff. In one place we had a large number of Chinese employees who were permanent residents, and I needed to know which name was the family name. As far as I was concerned, I needed to be respectful of the differences.

This brings up other issues with regard to this topic, doesn’t it? The whole thing about being an immigrant. See what I mean? A seemingly innocuous topic has turned into something fraught with meaning on every possible level. There are many who feel that if you come into a country then you should adopt your new country’s ways. Sure, legally I can see that. You obey the laws already in place, because by crossing that border it’s tacit agreement that you will abide by them. That does not mean your culture needs to be tossed out the door or disrespected. I know in Canada it’s always a struggle to accommodate certain religious beliefs, particularly in employment situations where there’s a uniform involved. When it comes to names, though, there are many who sneer at foreign names. I see it more in the US, but I see it in Canada as well. Racism is nowhere near dead, folks.

I have a friend whose last name is technically pronounced differently, but in high school he chose to anglicize it for ease of use. He refers back to the ‘when in Rome’ analogy. His family members were adamant that it should be pronounced the original way. I pronounce it the way he wants it pronounced, but my ex’s family is from the same country and he was taken aback by the way I said it. My only response was, “If that’s what he uses, that’s what I’m calling him. It’s his damn name.”

In the end that’s really what it should be as far as I’m concerned. My daughter is debating on changing her name. She does not like its popularity. She’s considering a variety of options, and some of them I think she would later regret. However, it’s her life, and I really don’t blame her for not being happy with what she has. Maybe George R.R. Martin and his Game of Thrones are closer to the truth on this one, though we certainly need to be able to call our kids something other than, “Come here you little…” when they’ve drawn on the walls in Crayon for the umpteenth time. The thing is, do we even know what to call ourselves as time goes on? Do we pick a name that sounds cool later in life, but then realize ten years down the road that it wasn’t exactly our best idea?

Thankfully it’s not horrendously expensive to change your name these days. I think it’s only about $170 in Canada, for a full, legal name change. Less than the price of a DIY divorce at any rate, and probably a lot less confusing. Having gone through umpteen dozen name changes myself – two marriages where I actually changed my last name, and the rest were from childhood and were not by my choice – I can tell you, it takes people a while to get used to the new name, yourself included. By the time I got married for the third time (and no, that one didn’t stick either), I was really sick of changing my name. My ex didn’t like it, but by then the most I was willing to concede was a hyphenation. We didn’t last long enough for me to make the change, which at least saved me from having to change it back.

Would a rose still smell as sweet by any other name? You betcha. It would just have to hear it a few times before it would answer to it.