Saskatchewan Racist as Fuck No Surprise To Anyone But Folks Who Don’t Like Indians

Yeah, I stole the title from my own Twitter stream.

I’ve seen these headlines over the last couple of days that talk about how SHOCKED everyone is to find out that SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH has PROVEN that Saskatchewan is full of people who pretty much hate each other. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has lived in this province for more than ten minutes. Seriously, we can’t stand each other. But because it’s so goddamned cold in this province, we help each other because there’s a good chance that at some point in the near future you’re going to be stranded on that stretch of highway #1 between Moose Jaw and Swift Current where literally nothing happens for days unless someone is looking, which nobody ever is.

"Deny" image by Asif Akbar used royalty-free from freeimages.com

“Deny” image by Asif Akbar used royalty-free from freeimages.com

White folks are racist towards “The Indians” (or, if you’re outside of a small town but not quite in one of the cities, “The Natives”), “The Immigrants”, “Those Mooselimbs”, “The Catholics”, “The Protestants”, “That Black Guy” [excluding football players], “The Chinese” (sometimes also referred to as “Asians” as if Asia weren’t, you know, fucking immense and full of many nationalities, but whatever. See “The Indians” above.), “The French” and basically anyone who can’t trace their own lineage to other white folks. French people are not included as “white folks” because Quebec. And of course people (mostly dolts) talk about “reverse racism” (which doesn’t exist) which is what happens when a brown person hates a non-brown person. It’s still racism. It’s just the kind of racism that happens when an historically ill-served and abused culture ends up hating the privileged class or race.

And yes, I’m just going to go ahead and use the term “racist” and “racism” synonymously with “bigot” and “bigotry” because sometimes when I get going on a rant I don’t much care about the vagaries of nit-picky word origin when we all know what we mean. We mean the kind of knee-jerk, ingrained, culturally insensitive distaste and prejudice we have against an entire class/culture/group of people based on a single or small select group of characteristics. SO GO AHEAD AND TELL ME IT ISN’T TECHNICALLY RACISM TO HATE MUSLIMS. It’s still ruddy bigotry so that’s what we’re dealing with.

Look, we have a long and storied history of misunderstanding, ignoring, mistreating, and basically hating the Aboriginal peoples of our province. And the immigrant peoples. This comes primarily from the long and storied history we have, as descendents of Europeans, of hating each other. THIS IS WHAT WE DO. It should come as no surprise to anyone that WE STILL HATE EACH OTHER. Because what have we done to change our own behaviour?

Sure, you watched a movie about Gandhi, and boy howdy he was a really smart little Indian dude. You thought Nelson Mandela was kind of keen. You said you’d have voted for Obama. It’s sure easy to point our fingers at all the hate and intolerance all over the world and still be unable to see our own prejudices. To be unable to acknowledge that we still comment about how our doctors are “darkies, but they’re not quacks” (that’s a direct quote from a guy I know). To express shocking ignorance at our own history of systematic destruction of entire nations’ language, culture, and religion in what any other place would be called genocide or ethnic cleansing but what in Canada we choose to call “that nasty business with the residential schools”.

It’s pretty easy to say shit like “well all that nasty business that happened with the residential schools – you should just get over it. If it weren’t for the Europeans, you’d still be living in tents, for God’s sake”, which is something I still hear people say. And they’re not joking. Heaven forfend you should mention Treaties. Because somehow, magically, these internationally-binding agreements that *our government* signed on *our behalf* don’t apply to us? Because, what, that was just, you know, a thing that some dudes did, like, a hundred years ago or whatever but it doesn’t apply now.

Do you know why there are a bunch of different countries in Europe? Africa? Asia? BECAUSE OF INTERNATIONAL TREATIES, you boob.

Anyway. Yeah. That Saskatchewan is racist as fuck is not news. That very few people seem to be able to figure out that ACCURATE INFORMATION and education is the first way out of the hole into which we have all, seemingly quite happily, jumped is pretty sad. The first step in eradicating racism is a very, very easy step. But it involves leaving your ego at the door, and sadly, I don’t think we’re even close to that yet.

To Be or Not To Be

What Shakespeare was talking about in the famous soliloquy from “Hamlet” was not all about whether it’s better to end your life or to continue to endure pain and heartbreak. It was not an extended existential whinge. It was, rather, a contemplation on whether or not to use the plural or the singular third person verb form of the infinitive “to be”. It’s a difficult question, with a relatively simple answer.

“To be” is one of the weirdest verbs in the English language. It does all kinds of fancy footwork, like a set of twins conjoined at the hip dancing salsa. It’s the sort of verb that makes high school students weep. Grade two kids just get it without questioning, but grade two kids are usually smarter than teenagers.

Anyway, here’s the rough rule of thumb:

If the subject of your sentence (the person, place, or thing that you are talking about) is *singular* in nature, then use “is”. If the subject of your sentence is plural, then use “are”.

F’rinstance: “There are many solutions to this problem.”

I can parse that sentence for you completely if you’d like, but suffice it to say for now that ‘solutions’ is the subject of the sentence and ‘problem’ is the object of the sentence. “There are” is the form of the verb in question.

F’rinstance: “There is one solution to this problem.”

Again, using the same subject/object (solutions-solution/problem), it is evident that because ‘solution’ is singular, we use “is”.

I mention this because I saw an entire article in the newspaper this morning in which not only the interviewee used the verb wrong, but the *reporter* used the incorrect tense. Regina Leader-Post, where are your editors? This is a very simple solution that any copy editor would catch immediately. Call me.

——

Also, as an unrelated note, I dreamed that Carl, Brennan, and Viper Pilot showed up to a nightclub at which I was dancing like nobody was watching (nobody was; the place had just opened). I burst into tears when I saw Viper Pilot. I do hope he comes for a visit soon. I miss him like all kinds of crazy.

Full Stop

PunctuationThe Nipper is learning punctuation. They were studying periods, exclamation points, and question marks in class. He told us they have hand signals for each one (they clap for an exclamation point, raise their eyebrows and touch their chins for a question mark, and they hold their hands out in front of them, palms facing away, for a full stop (and they say “errrrrch”)). But he was a little confused why they’re all considered terminal punctuation.

I told him its because a period, otherwise known as a full stop, is just that. It’s a full stop. It stops the words from tumbling all over the page pell-mell, coming to a big heap at the bottom where no one can suss them out. Because words, you know, have energy, and when nobody’s watching, they’ll just skitter across a page if there’s nothing at the end of a sentence to keep them in their own yards. He didn’t believe me, so I showed him a book of poetry with left-justified pages in some places and right-justified pages in others, and some weird shape poetry.

“So,” I told him, “punctuation that ends sentences always has to have a full stop. An exclamation point is a full stop that’s really excited. It jumps up and down and leaves this weird line above it. You can always tell when words are meant to be excited or exciting if there’s a jumping full stop at the end.”

“Ohhhhhh,” he said. “That makes sense. But what about a question mark?”

“Ah. Sometimes, full stops get confused, and they wander around a bit looking for the answer. The sentences in front of them ask the questions for them.”

“*I* get it!” He cried, then commenced walking in vaguely question-mark shaped patterns around the bedroom. “With a question mark, the period kind of walks around wondering where he’s left his shoes!”

“Yes, that’s it precisely,” I said.

And that is why question marks always go barefoot.

Eighty Men Died Trying to End That Spree

Nieuport 17 front view (painted, minus prop/nose cowl)

Nieuport 17 front view (painted, minus prop/nose cowl)

It seems like the only time we really have is time that’s under pressure from five different directions. We were at the rink Thursday, Friday, twice on Saturday, and yesterday. We’ll be at the rink again tonight, tomorrow night, Friday, and Sunday nights. It’s the nearing-the-end-of-the-regular-season crunch to get all our games in. And then playoffs start. It’s been a good year for our team; they’ve played well, they’re in the top third of the standings, and they get along well as a team. In addition to the games, we have a kid who’s a ref, so when we’re not watching him play, we watch him make calls. It’s an interesting game, when you’re watching the officials instead of the play. Not better; not worse. Different, though. And you really notice the douchebubble parents an awful lot more when it’s your kid they’re jeering at. I’m not…supposed to go to The Captain’s reffing too much…

The point here is that when we weren’t at a rink, we were at the kitchen table (I am loathe to think about what my beautiful oak table is going to look like when we take the newspaper off it; I suspect it will have glue or water or – gods forbid – paint thinner stains on it), trying to put the finishing touches on the Nieuport 17. The Captain has more or less given up on the Sopwith. I hope he completes it on his own when he’s not under so much pressure. I’d finished putting together the individual parts of the aeroplane Thursday or Friday. The Captain helped me glue the tissue paper to the frame.

Nieuport 17 Painted

Nieuport 17 Painted

From there, we sprayed the covered parts with water – this was the coolest part of the whole thing – and as it dried, the tissue paper shrunk and kind of sucked itself on to the stringers. That was wicked. Having learned that Canada has outlawed the distribution of the substance one needs for the next bit (I swear to Christ, it’s called dope. I went to a shop and asked for dope and they told me it’s illegal to distribute it in Canada, and I said, I know, but this isn’t dope-dope; it’s for covering a balsa airplane with tissue paper, and the guy blinked and said, I know, that’s what I was talking about, and I said oh, well, we’re on the same page then.), so I had to jury-rig something. The purpose of covering the tissue paper with dope (snigger) is to seal the pores in the paper and to harden it up a bit. Because tissue paper tears like…well, it tears like tissue paper, really. And it’s delicate like a delicate thing.

So I was dopeless. But I happened to have a can of Games Workshop “Purity Seal”, which is crap for the purpose for which it was invented (sealing your hand-painted miniatures – it leaves a horrid crust on your paint. Seriously, never use it). So I took the smallest section of the aeroplane and sprayed it with the purity seal.* It worked, as my aunt would say, slicker than snot on a doorknob.

The Captain and I assembled the aeroplane. Much Swearing was had when it came time to attach the top wing, because it had warped, but after I left it overnight and came back to it, and weighed the wing down on each side with glass bowl while the gluick dried, it seemed just fine. The Captain painted the aeroplane – and here’s where karma must have caught up to us – he ran out of the alumnium colour with about 2 square inches of the fuselage left to go. And the hobby shop wasn’t open yesterday. So we finished the rest of the painting (I showed him some drybrushing techniques before he went off to the rink), and as the paint dried, we watched copious amounts of Doctor Who.

Nieuport 17 "flying" without a prop

Nieuport 17 “flying” without a prop

I had to hand-letter the insignias, because the decals that came with the model were for a French plane, and I’ve discovered that Cs are VERY DIFFICULT. But I fucking ROCK at 5s. When The Captain went off to bed, I strung the wires between the wings and mounted (poorly) the machine gun on the top wing. I think the ‘motor’ won’t work (the elastic is too long and I’m not sure I can anchor it properly inside the fuselage, but we’ll see. I put some modelling clay in the bottom of the fuselage at the pivot point. This morning, The Captain put the wheels on and put Plastic Billy Bishop in the cockpit. He coloured the instrument panel and glued it in place.

All that’s left is to finish the bit of the fuselage that needs paint, install the motor, and gluick the prop to the engine block. And then the Nieuport 17 will be complete.


*NB – when it says “use in a well-ventilated area” on Games Workshop Purity Seal, they mean, like, a park or an abandoned street, or possibly a missile test site. I shit you not. I took the pieces outside to spray them, but couldn’t leave them in the cold to dry because they’d warp, so I brought them inside. I had both doors and several windows open for several hours. Even still, I had to close The Nipper away in the computer room so that I didn’t intoxicate my child.

Just an earthbound misfit

Just a wee preview, then. No long-winded stories about Canadian pilots. No jibber-jabber about aeroplanes. Just this:

The skellington of the Nieuport 17, covered in tissue paper, shrunk and strengthened. Tomorrow is Painting Day.

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Taking an Aeroplane Across the World

Nieuport 17 completed parts

Nieuport 17 completed parts

I have been peeling glue from my fingers for a week. This, too, is strangely cathartic. Insert long-winded, slightly purple prose about shedding the old skin and leaving troubles behind, blah-blah-blah. In reality, there are little fingerprint flakes all over my favourite spot on the chesterfield. Don’t tell His Nibs.

The Captain and I cut out the plastic bits last night after his hockey game (which his team won by a resounding 10-2), and this morning, before I was even out of bed, The Captain had glued together the wheels, the machine gun, the engine, and The Man Himself…the one we’ve all been waiting for… MISTER BILLY BISHOP! WWI Flying Ace! Dogfight Champion! The only British Air Force pilot to ever successfully complete a solo strafing run on a German aerodrome! (He was awarded the Victoria Cross for that one.) Sure, at the moment he’s all pasty white and looks just like every OTHER WWI Pilot, but this weekend is for covering the frames with tissue paper and painting the insignias and the miniatures. I’m sure we can get this little plastic pilot to look at least a *little* like Billy Bishop.

As we sat together last night working on the aeroplanes, I said something to him about how David would have been an awesome person to have helping us with the project. The Captain glanced over at me and said, “I’m not sure it’s healthy for you to dwell so much on things, Mum.”

I said, “of course, you’re right. But there is a time for grief, and for expressing your sorrow that you won’t be able to create new memories with your friend. I think building this plane has helped me not be so sad about things. And thinking about David isn’t a bad thing, I don’t think.”

He sighed and said, “I think I just cut my finger on this plastic.”

Once I had all of the component parts complete, I laid them out on the table in order of where they’d go on the finished product. I thought how amazing it is that just a week ago, this object taking shape before me had been a series of numbered, weirdly shaped flat pieces of balsa wood in die-cut lots at the bottom of a cardboard box. I remembered opening the box and thinking, this is going to be a hell of a ride, because all the models I’d done to that point had been cast or molded plastic. I’d never actually had to build a fuselage or a wing before. I’d never seen these parts take shape before my eyes.

Nieuport 17 completed parts - top view

Nieuport 17 completed parts – top view

Billy Bishop barely graduated from high school. He went to the Royal Military College and was asked to leave, but WWI broke out before they had the chance to actually give him the boot, and he signed up. He was not…good…at academics. He was ill when his unit got shipped overseas. As it ended up, he wasn’t even particularly good at flying. But he was very good at taking photographs and telling stories. And he was very, very good at shooting. He had a patron in Great Britain who got him audiences with all of the Most Important People. Not that he wanted that. But it was wanted on his behalf because it was felt that the troops needed a hero. Billy Bishop was that hero. And, incidentally, the day he did the strafing run on the German aerodrome solo was because his mates were too hung over and/or still too drunk to fly. When he returned, his plane was full of holes and was trailing bits behind it. But he returned. Time and time again, he returned. At a time when most pilots died within ten days, he claimed more than 72 “victories” (enemy aircraft shot down). For a time, he was the third most successful flying ace in the WORLD, behind a French aviator who was second to the Red Baron himself (Baron von Richthoven). By the end of the war, Bishop had outdone Rene Fonck (the French aviator) by a score of three, and the Red Baron had been shot down by Arthur Brown, another Canadian in the RAF.

I can’t think of another more testosterone-fuelled, absolutely ludicrous and insane thing to do than to get into vehicles made of chopsticks and burlap with unreliable motors that would then trundle down a field and maybe – MAYBE – lift off before smashing into the trees (Billy Bishop did that, btw)…only to then fly around in an open cockpit with a gun MOUNTED TO THE TOP WING and shoot at other people in chopstick-and-burlap planes while trying to dodge their bullets. Like, if I wrote a book about this, NOBODY WOULD BUY IT. They would tell me, “that’s ridiculous. That would never happen. It just doesn’t even make sense.”

In addition to fusing balsa wood like it’s going out of style, it turns out that model plane cement is also good for fixing shoes. At David’s wake, I threw a heel on my favourite boots. As Pete the Shoemaker from my mum’s hometown would say, “gluick. Gluick will fix. Pete will gluick.” Pete’s long gone, but whenever I have to repair something, I always say “Pete will gluick.” And, as you can see here, Pete, as it were, has gluicked.

Adventurer's Boots

Adventurer’s Boots

I don’t need no arms around me

Nieuport 17 top wing frame

Nieuport 17 top wing frame

It occurred to me that in putting together this aeroplane methodically, piece by piece, painstakingly gluing one tiny piece of balsa wood to the next, that this has become my therapy. It wasn’t a huge revelation. I didn’t fly through the streets of the greater metropolitan valley centre area shouting that I’d discovered the next great heal-all, chicken-soup-for-the-soul-of-the-friend-whose-good-friend-committed-suicide. Rather, it was a quiet thought. Something that slipped in while I was laying out the pieces of the fuselage frame.

 

I won’t lie to you; I’ve thought of David every step of the way so far. At his wake, the Saskatchewan Architects’ Association awarded him his professional architectural certification, something he’d been working toward since he got back from UBC. I can’t see a blueprint for anything and not think of David. I never could. Well, I suppose I could before I met David, but I hadn’t seen many blueprints back then. I’ve thought how it would have been really cool to make models with him. I’m sure he’d have changed the plans and modified the pieces and critiqued the design. I’m positive he’d have studied up on the model we were making and would have some grand scheme we could then use the model for. Honestly, I’m just happy to have these quiet thoughts to myself when I’m building this amazing piece of equipment.

 

When the instructions said “crack the wing frame at this point if you’re building dihedrals”, I thought, I know dihedral angles do something or other in mathematics, and I suspect in aeronautics, it probably stablilizes something, but I don’t actually know what that means. And since I find it Bothersome when I don’t know what something means, I looked it up. in case you had forgotten, the dihedral in a fixed-wing aircraft is the angle above the horizontal that an aeroplane’s wing…um…is at. ANHEDRAL angle is when the fixed wing angles down below the horizontal. The dihedral angle of the wing controls an aircraft’s roll. I considered all the times this aeroplane might possibly actually fly, and then decided, ‘fuck the dihedrals’, which is probably something that ALL aeronautics engineers say at SOME point in their lives.

 

Not that I am by any means an aeronautics engineer. Nor an engineer of any sort. Except perhaps for a soup engineer. I’m good at soup.

 

But here’s the thing. In this quiet, step-by-step assembly of an historic aeroplane flown by one of Canada’s greatest “war heroes” (if there is such a thing), I have found a quiet place. I’ve been at the centre of this quiet place before, and it’s not something I chagrin I’ll never find again…instead, this is a sort of soft meditation I wasn’t expecting. I can sit at the table and glue my fingers to the pieces and smile as I carefully and slowly peel the pieces away again. I lay out the pieces on the table, beside the frame that’s pinned to the blueprints, and I can think about David and everything else without being overwhelmed. I suppose this is also part of the regular passage of time and what they call ‘moving on’.

 

This isn’t the first time I’ve dealt with sadness and loss and grief and death and suicide and sorrow. Not by far. But there’s something different about this time, and I don’t really know what it is. But when I’m finished this aeroplane, I’ll hang it in the window, and every time I look at it, I’ll think this is the plane I built with David, even though that sounds silly. But in this one thing, moreso than anything I’ve worked on, I am finding myself needing to be more meticulous. More careful. More precise. More exacting.

 

You know these words are antithetical to me. I am the opposite of those things. Except in terms of language, I suspect. But still, when I knit a sweater or a sock, I don’t much care if I slip a stitch or bugger up one of the pattern repeats…generally, I figure if I can hold the thing up and ask if anyone sees anything wrong with it, and they don’t, it’s fine. So please, inspect the socks and/or other gifts I’ve made for you because I guarantee there is at least one error in each one. But I’m being very careful with this model. Partly because I want to get it right. Partly because it just won’t go together right if I don’t do it right. Partly because it’s like I have someone to answer to. Someone who understands how to look at a blueprint and see the thing in three dimensions (note: that’s not me). Someone who understands how things fit together…watching me.

 

I know it’s just my own mind. But it’s a reassuring part of my own mind. And you may continue to see updates as the model continues to take form. You may not. I’m still on shaky legs here, when it comes to putting my words out there right now. But for today, I have a completed fuselage and a half-complete wing frame. I’ll be adding the rest of the spars and the shapers tonight and tomorrow. I hope to get to the bottom wing and tail section by the weekend. As an aside, the Nieuport 17 only had ailerons on the upper wing. It wasn’t until the Nieuport 28 design that ailerons were added to the bottom wing instead of to the top wing. At the same time, the wing spars were changed from a V design to a twin spar design that provided greater stability and manoeuvrability.

Nieuport 17 wing frame and fuselage

Nieuport 17 wing frame and fuselage