Why a Communications Strategy is imperative

Man, that sounds boring.

Bear with me, okay?

Whether you are running a business, employed as a writer or PR or communications staff, or whether you’re running or managing a minor sports team, a dance troupe, or a non-profit, you need a communications strategy. This might be as simple as “I have everyone’s email and will always send out notifications to a Bcc: distribution list”. It could be as complex as having dozens of staff monitoring social media, radio, print and television media, and providing official statements from the government. The reason why you need to have a communications strategy is because a good communications strategy will solve most problems before they become problems.

“Give me an example!” You demand.

All right.

Our hockey team, 2011One of our kids has been playing hockey in our town for eleven years. Last year, when he was injured (he had a concussion), he didn’t play contact hockey, but he did work as a referee with our local hockey association. The local hockey association has our contact information. They have our boy listed on registries and in databases and God only knows what else. After that year that he took off of contact sports, we didn’t receive any registration information for the upcoming hockey season (that being this year).

I vaguely remembered at the end of the school year that that was usually when he used to get registration forms sent home from school, but I wasn’t concerned when we didn’t receive one, because in previous years we had received registration packages in the mail. This year, though, the registration package never came. Our kid received his reffing stuff from our provincial hockey association, and he received emails regarding his reffing clinics from our local hockey association. No registration information, though.

Over the summer, we travelled and worked on the farm, and then came home so The Teen could play football on his home team. As happens with football, once September rolled around, we began seeing kids have conflicts with hockey evaluations and the like, and this brought up the question, “do you want to play hockey this year?”

I’ve never been the world’s biggest hockey fan, but I love watching our kid play. I have never begrudged the expense (registration alone is over $1100 this year; never mind equipment) or the time (we’re booked from October – April). I have only a few times begrudged sitting in a rink for most of my spare time, but the up side is that I’ve watched our son go from having to ask his coach to lift him up into the players’ box to being an aggressive, enthusiastic defenceman. He’s never going to play in the major leagues. He’s never even going to play in the junior leagues. Now that he’s midget age, he really only has two, maybe three years left of the excellent instruction and opportunity provided him by Saskatchewan minor hockey. We discussed this, and he registered, and was pretty excited to play again. Last year he was utterly despondent that he couldn’t play.

We missed the September 1st registration deadline, but we’ve missed that in the past and it hasn’t been a problem. The Teen doesn’t do evaluations because he doesn’t want to play on the Tier 1 team. He’s played Tier 2 and Tier 3 hockey his whole life, and is happy as a clam doing so. He’s passionate about hockey, but not…intense. He knows he’s never going to the majors.

The Captain, 2010Monday morning he received an email from the local hockey association telling him that they won’t accept his registration because they have enough players registered for the AA and Tier 2 teams. He doesn’t get to play hockey at home. Where he’s played for eleven years. With his friends. In his hometown jersey.

I was incensed. Disgusted. Angry. Disappointed. I started calling hockey teams all over our hockey zone, trying to find one that wants a Midget defence man. I’m still waiting to hear back. Our local hockey association gave me absolutely no help or direction, other than to tell me there’s a non-contact recreational league in the city The Teen can sign up with (not interested. Testosterone. Hitting. Roar). This led me to the Saskatchewan Hockey Association, who told me that he’s eligible to play for any of the teams in a 160km radius of our home. He told me if we can’t find a team in that area (to which it is feasible to drive a few times a week), The Teen can play in the city, but will need special permission to do so. This communication took five minutes.

Had I received an email or a letter or a frigging carrier pigeon from our local hockey association at any time this summer that said “our numbers for midget hockey are too low to sustain three teams; if you have a player who’s interested, please contact us”, I’d have contacted them. If I’d have seen anything that said “Registration is now closed for midget hockey as both teams’ rosters are full”, I’d have been disappointed, and a little frustrated that we’d never been contacted earlier to register. And mad at myself for not having checked earlier. If at any time I’d have received an email or a phone call or a letter or a goddamned interpretive dance that made me think that this association in any way gave a fiddler’s fart about my kid and his opportunity to play hockey, I don’t think I’d have lost my cool.

But I did. I lost my cool. I sent a pretty vicious letter. I understand why the board made the decision they did – they had the opportunity to put together a AA team that draws kids from all over southern Saskatchewan, and that’s really exciting. They didn’t have the numbers for three teams. They decided to put together two larger teams. I get their decisions. I really do. I don’t *agree* with them, because their communication strategy is apparently “let’s not tell anybody anything and we’ll make decisions that could potentially mean that a bunch of kids don’t get to play hockey in town this year. And in fact, let’s send them terse emails and not give them any information about how to play anywhere else because who in God’s green earth would want to play hockey if they couldn’t play for our team?” Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe their communications strategy is “we don’t need a communications strategy because we’re a minor hockey association and everyone who needs to know something can just find that information on our website or ask a board member”. Which is great if you know that every year you have to phone up the board and say “hey, are you going to have enough teams for my kid to play this year?”

I’ve never had that question before. I always just assumed that the purpose of having a minor hockey association in your home town is to MAKE SURE that all the kids who want to play hockey in your town kind of get to play hockey in your town. But whatever. I’m not on the hockey board. I’ve never been invited to be a part of the hockey board. After what’s happened this week, I will never be invited TO be a part of the hockey board. And frankly, I’m a little worried that because I wrote a critical letter and then kind of sorta talked to some news folks about what had happened, that my kid will suffer in his hockey or his reffing or what have you. I HOPE that would never happen, but I don’t know about these things. I don’t grok politics. I don’t grok power struggles.

But I *do* grok communications strategies. And this, my friend, was a truly sad, and ultimately cruel situation. We received no communication from our local hockey board other than to be told they can’t provide an opportunity for our kid to play hockey on his home team, with his friends, for his first year of midget hockey. That was it.

Bad form, folks. Bad form. I’m truly sorry our boy won’t be part of your association this year. We have given you a lot of our time, money, and work over the last eleven years. And we will do so again, I hope. But this year, you let us down. You let us down HARD.

Design is not my strong suit

Here’s the thing.

I want a writing studio. I want a space that I can come to where creativity is the THING. I may even do sewing here.

IMG_7381.JPGWhen we bought this house, it came with a really neat space above the garage. It’s been great to have games up here and shindiggery, but in the past couple of years, that stuff hasn’t happened and the loft has been…lonely. I half-arsed decided that this would be the year I’d put together some kind of studio.

But here’s my porblem. I’ve started cleaning out all the junk and I’ve decided to get rid of a number of easy chairs (we have five recliners and two sofa chairs, along with three chesterfields, a rocker, and two coffee tables up here) but I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to make this big, open space do what I want it to do.

IMG_7385.JPGI have two bookshelves, two desks, and an old dining table we use as a bar. I don’t want to lose the comfy visiting area because it really is a great place to hang out. I show movies up here too, projected on the wall.

But how to create a little sanctuary amid the madness.

Plus, there are memories. So many memories here. A part of me just wants to seal this place up and keep the ghosts up here.

I need an interior designer or a buddy to come and tell me where to put things. Someone who uses words like ERGONOMIC. But only ironically. I need this space to be fabulous and I feel like I’m an eighth of the way there. I love the sorta Mediterranean feel of the ceiling draped in scarves and the floor covered in rugs. But I need more.

Late last night or the night before…

Last night I was fortunate enough to be able to play in my first ever tabletop Werewolf game, hosted by AJ. It’s all done by magic now, you see, with (so far) four players in three different cities playing via videoconferencing. Let me tell you, I’m liking this.

So after the game was over, we chatted for a while and then I jammed out because I was feeling sleepy, and this past year, whenever I feel sleepy is when I go to bed. It’s a novel concept, I realise. At any rate, on my way in to the house, I heard some folks talking out in the street and it sounded like they were going to or coming from a party. I smiled and made my way indoors. As I performed my evening ablutions, I heard these voices out in the street rising. It’s not uncommon for silly teenagers or partiers to shriek and goof around on our street, and our neighbours’ kids have frequent parties, so this wasn’t anything new.

But the voices really started rising, and it was clear they were yelling at each other, and I shut off the bathroom light and went to the window to look out, just to see what was going on. A girl and a boy were parked across the street, and the girl was screaming. “It’s always all about you, isn’t it? Well you’re not the most ******* important person in the ******* world! Other people have ****** lives too, you *******!”

The boy, who was half-out of the car, was saying “just let me call somebody, okay? This is ******* stupid.”

The girl screamed louder, calling him every name in the book. He kept saying “I just want to go home” or “I don’t want to go home”…then I heard the unmistakeable sound of a car door being kicked or punched. I turned the light back on, went downstairs, and turned on the outdoor porch light. I went outside onto the porch. I thought maybe if I was there, these kids would settle down. As I came around the corner, I heard a loud ‘crunch’, and the car door slammed and the girl squealed off in the car, leaving the boy standing on the side of the road, his face illuminated by the pale blue glow of the screen of his phone.

"Lantaarn" by Mark Uwland: http://www.mimia.nl/indexeng.htm
“Lantaarn” by Mark Uwland: http://www.mimia.nl/indexeng.htm

I watched him walk to the corner, where he stopped under a streetlamp. “Are you okay?” I called to him.

“No,” he said. There was a hitch in his voice. “I’ve had a really shitty day.”

“I can tell,” I said.

He crossed the street toward me. He was crying. I figured he couldn’t be more than 16, so I asked if he was 17, and he said he was 18 going on 19. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to wake you up.”

“Oh, you didn’t wake me up,” I said. “Is there somewhere I can take you? Do your folks live in town?”

“No, I’m staying with my grandparents on their farm,” he said.

“May I drive you home?” I asked.

“No, they’re super mad at me and they kicked me out. They were my last chance. I moved out of the city to live with them and now I fucked that up too.”

I asked him to come sit down with me on the porch so we could think of something to do. I would gladly give him a couch to sleep on if he really was destitute, but I wanted to get him calmed down first. He apologised again for being drunk and loud. We sat and talked for a while, and then the girl came screeching back past the house. This upset him again and he asked if I thought it was a good idea to call her dad. I said it was. He tried, but there was no answer. We talked for a while again, then the girl pulled up and stopped in front of the house. “Are you going to be okay?” I asked.

“Yeah, but I’m going to leave my bag here, if that’s okay,” he said. “I’m not going with her.”

He went over to the car and leaned in but didn’t get in. She seemed to have calmed down, and he sat beside her. She said everyone left her, and she didn’t know what to do and she felt worthless. He said, “Look at me. I’m still here. I’m *right here*. But you’re making bad choices right now. I’ll always have your back, but this is ******* stupid. Let’s just go home.”

Then she started screaming again and punching the steering wheel. I began walking toward the car, and she took off just as the boy jumped out of the passenger seat. He came back to his stuff. “Should she be driving?” I asked. I wasn’t sure if she was super emotional or piss drunk.

The boy shook his head and looked at me earnestly. “I don’t know what to do. She’s going to come around again, I bet, or cause an accident or whatever. I need to call my cousin.”

He called his cousin and asked her to come pick him up. He gave her my phone number, then tried to text her to tell her to get in touch with his grandparents, but his phone died. I told him I thought it would be best if we phoned the RCMP, because his friend was endangering herself and others. He said he didn’t want her to get in trouble, and I said, “Remember five minutes ago when you told me you’ve left most of your friends because they were making bad decisions and you didn’t want to go down that road?”

He nodded.

“This is the same thing. You have made your decisions, and you’re learning to live with them. In order for your friend to learn from her mistakes, she has to experience the consequences of making them – the consequences of the decisions she’s made. The consequence of this decision is that she’s going to be in trouble. You tried to stop her, and she nearly ran you over. She’s in trouble now, and it’s our job to make sure she doesn’t cause something horrible to happen. Maybe this would be the wakeup call she needs.”

“But she’s only 17. They’ll take away her license.”

“Do you think she has earned the privilege of having a driver’s license, based on her decisions tonight?” I asked.

He lowered his chin and said “no” very quietly.

We saw a set of headlamps in the street, and went out to see if it was his cousin. It was another car, and the young man’s friend shot out of the cross-street and nearly caused an accident on my corner. I took out my phone to call the police. “Please don’t,” the young man said. “She’s going to get in so much trouble.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “But this is the right thing to do.”

Just then the RCMP pulled up outside my house. The young man said, “Oh shit, what do I tell them?”

I said, “Go over there to their car, be polite, and tell them the truth.”

He did that. As he was talking to them, his friend came speeding up the street behind the RCMP car. The officers got out of their cruiser and stopped her. The young man came back to stand with me. “I hate cops,” he said. “They’re so rude.”

“They’re only rude if you’re belligerent,” I said. “How do you think you would deal with it if your job required you to deal with rude drunks all night, every night. And people who are trying to kill each other?”

“That’s a good point,” the kid said.

The RCMP administered a breath test to the young lady who then proceeded to scream and kick the windows of the cruiser. The kid with me kept wanting to go over to her while the officers were talking to her, and I kept telling him to just chill out and let them do their jobs. One officer came over to us and tried to get the kid’s story, but he was nervous and drunk and not making a whole lot of sense.

“Where are you staying?” The officer asked the young man.

“I don’t have anywhere to stay,” the kid said.

“We have places you can stay,” the officer said. “Don’t worry about that.”

“You do?!” The kid asked.

“Yeah. Cells.”

“Oh. I don’t want to stay in a cell,” the kid said.

I snorted.

The officer turned to me. “So who are you in all this?”

“She, officer, is a Very Nice Person,” the kid said.

I told him who I am. That I’d heard them fighting and had come outside to make sure they were okay. That I’d just been sitting with this kid and didn’t actually know him.

“So, you and your friend weren’t at this house tonight?” The officer asked.

The kid shook his head.

“And you’re….what…some kind of ‘responsible adult’?” The officer asked. I even heard the air quotes.

I burst out laughing. “Well,” I said. “I’m not allowed to go to hardware shops without a grownup.”

The officer grinned. “But do you know this kid?”

“Nope. I just came out to see if everyone was okay.”

They got the girl squared away and locked her car up. The officers asked me if I was good to look after the kid until his family came to get him. I gave the kid my phone and he called his cousin again to come and get him, which she agreed to do, so I told the officer that the kid was welcome to sit on my porch and that I’d wait with him until his cousin showed up.

So we chatted until his cousin arrived. I told him, “keep making good decisions, and things will get better. I promise. This is probably the worst time of your life, but it does get better.”

“People keep saying that,” he said.


“That’s because it’s true,” I said. “Chin up. Be well.”

He started crying again as he left, and he hugged me and wouldn’t stop saying thank you. I appreciated that, but really, just wanted him and his friend to be okay. And I don’t mention all of this to toot my own horn, which unfortunately is what it sounds like. I mention all of this because I thought it was a beautiful thing that happened, in the end. And because it’s the sort of thing that doesn’t happen every day. And because I really think that kid will do well, if he makes better decisions. And is able to stop thinking that life should be fair.

So that was my evening. How was yours?

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.

Creative Industry versus Arts

Recently, the Saskatchewan government released information surrounding the creation of a new agency to support the second and third and leg of the arts continuum. “What the hell are you talking about?” You may be asking. “What in the blue hell is an arts continuum?”

I know you’re asking this, because most of the criticism I’ve seen against the move by the government to create this agency has been all about how this will be the death knell for the Saskatchewan Arts Board (the oldest standing arms-length arts funding agency in the world, after London). I’ve heard that the creation of this agency was meant as a replacement for the film employment tax credit. Murray Mandryk mistakenly, in his column in the Regina Leader Post, claims that a fund included in this announcement was “siphoned” from the Arts Board and that the government “replaced a grant system for the film industry with a far less lucrative grant system for the entire arts community”. (Mandryk’s column in the Leader Post is here.)

I’m going to tell you what (in my opinion) the government has done wrong in this whole schlameel. First, they got rid of the Film Employment Tax Credit. That was just stupid. It was short-sighted, and it firmly placed Saskatchewan in last place in most of North America when it comes to progressive, revenue-generating programs for industrial arts grants. Second, they have not done very much (and it’s not just the government here; we all of us in the Creative Industries need to do more) to educate the people of this province about what the Creative Industries are and how they differ from “the Arts” and “Culture”.

So, with your indulgence, I’m going to tell you what the Creative Industries are and why what the SaskParty government is doing with Creative Saskatchewan is a Good Thing. I’m also going to tell you why Murray Mandryk is so wrong about that one million dollar ‘transitional fund’.

The Arts Continuum – Here’s how it works: And artist is a creator. Artists create art because that is their profession. Because they are driven to do so. Writers, painters, photographers, dancers, actors, musicians, sculptors, graphic artists, etc., are all *creators*. You/we make things from nothing. We transform things that already exist into something else. We are engaged in the creation of art. Some of us do this for the sake of art. Some of us do this to try to make a living. The arts in Canada must be publicly funded – and what I mean here is that there must be public funding for artists to create art. That is the role of the Saskatchewan Arts Board. They help make it possible for artists to create, and they help to promote and to foster an understanding and appreciation for the arts and for the importance of the arts. The Saskatchewan Arts Board is an integral part of Saskatchewan, and it isn’t going anywhere. I hope to God it isn’t going anywhere.

Once the creation process is complete, some art forms then go on to a production stage. This is the industrial component of the Arts Continuum, and it encompasses, but is not limited to, the commercialisation of the artistic product. What I mean is, a musician composes a song (art) and performs the song (art) and then records the song (production) and then sells the record (commercialisation). A writer pens a novel (art) and reads from the novel (art) and a publisher accepts the manuscript for publication (production) and sells the book (commercialisation). A producer finds a script she likes (an artistic product) and hires a director and actors to perform the screenplay (production) on film. That film is then distributed (commercialisation) and sold.

The Creative Industries are the PRODUCERS of artistic products. They are the art galleries, the recording studios (or the musicians themselves, if they produce their own recordings), the book publishers (or the writers themselves if they self-publish), the theatre companies, the film producers, the craftspeople and artisans whose primary focus is to distribute, sell, and market their products. Creative Saskatchewan is being constructed (and it’s important to note that this agency is still in gestational form – nothing is solid in its creation yet) for the purposes of supporting Creative Industries in a similar fashion to how the Saskatchewan Arts Board fosters artists and creators.

Many arts-focussed agencies (like the SK Arts Board) do not focus on sales, distribution, marketing, production, market penetration, etc.. Many arts-focussed agencies concentrate on supporting “the arts” and the CREATION of art. What the SaskParty Government is doing here is trying to foster the Creative Industries. The commercial aspect of the arts which is often kind of forgotten or overlooked. There are agencies that exist like this for the non-creative industries.

British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes provinces all have some kind of Creative Industries support. In most provinces in Canada, a model similar to what the government proposes for Creative Saskatchewan is in place IN ADDITION TO publicly funded arts agencies like the Saskatchewan Arts Board. The creative industries agencies help producers to access domestic and international markets with cultural products (books, movies, music, craftworks, visual art, dance productions, theatre productions, etc.). So what the SaskParty government is trying to do is to put Saskatchewan in the front of Canada’s Creative Industries, not have us trailing behind.

In other words, this agency is not, and was never proposed to be a “replacement for the Film Employment Tax Credit”. Creative Industry Sector Organisations have been talking about a creative industries agency for YEARS. Long before the government axed a perfectly good revenue-generation support for an entire industry. Be angry about their having axed that program. Be VERY angry about it. But don’t pretend that Creative Saskatchewan is intended to be a replacement or a band-aid or a consolation prize. And the film sector has been, is, and will be included in all of the planning for this agency. It’s not like the province just said “screw you; here’s your gift bag, go home” to the film industry.

This one million dollar fund that Murray Mandryk claims is being “siphoned” from the SK Arts Board was established years ago. Initially it was money that was supposed to be used for something entirely different. The SK Arts Board became the steward of that fund (following a review of the music industry in Saskatchewan, when all of the Creative Industries Sector Organisations were moved from one funding agency to another [from SaskCulture to SK Arts Board]) and it became their $1.15M revolving loan program. The truth of the matter is that that fund was under-utilized. It was not accessible to many creative industry applications because of the nature of their business models. The SK Arts Board did everything in their power to increase the use of the fund, but it just wasn’t something that most creative industries could use. The SK Arts Board, working with the Ministry of Parks, Culture, and Sport, have transitioned that fund from something completely unusable to something that DOES have real applications in the creative industries. So it’s not being siphoned from anywhere. It’s been changed so that people and cultural industries producers can actually use it.

What are the Creative Industries in Saskatchewan? Again, here the media releases have it a little wrong. “Writing” is not a creative industry. Writing is an artistic endeavour. PUBLISHING is a creative industry. Currently, the Creative Industries Sectors (and their related organisations) are: music (SaskMusic), film and television (SaskFilm and SMPIA), book publishing (Saskatchewan Publishers Group), craft (Saskatchewan Craft Council), art galleries (SaskArt), dance production (Dance Saskatchewan), theatre production (currently without an industry organisation but represented by individuals from the theatre production community), visual arts (CARFAC), and digital arts (and I’m ashamed that I can’t remember the name of the organisation that represents digital arts – which includes the games industry, btw). In all the media releases you have seen, “writing and publishing” has been included as a creative industry, and that’s wrong. It’s a small error, but it’s one that sticks in my craw.

It indicates that the government’s big mistake here is in not being as clear as possible about something that most of the people in this province have not heard of, are not familiar with, and don’t understand. Another shameful oversight is that nowhere in the media release or anywhere on the Government’s website is it indicated that Saskatchewan has and has had a well-established Creative Industries Council (a non-profit organisation developed by and run by people from the five original cultural industries organisations in the province) for years. Its website is here: http://www.culturalindstries.sk.ca.

So. That’s the deal. The SK Arts Board isn’t going to be taken over by Creative Saskatchewan. They have completely different mandates (or they will, once CS is actually created), and completely different applications, and completely different sectors/patrons. The provincial government isn’t trying to replace the Film Employment Tax Credit with this transitional fund, and they’re not trying to squeeze film out of the new agency. Their big mistake is in not taking up the mantle of public education about the Creative Industries, and, on a smaller scale, of *still* not quite getting it right when it comes to the publishing sector.

I owe you. All of you.

You want to know what teachers make?

If you haven’t heard yet, teachers in SK are looking at job action because their union’s negotiations are not going well. Teachers in the province have been without a contract for a shameful amount of time, and while the action on Thursday is not specifically a strike (it is a rally and study day), people in Saskatchewan are acting like…well, they’re acting like jerks.

I don’t want to engage in a discussion about the worth of unions, because I suspect once we do, we’ll just have to agree that we don’t see eye-to-eye on the issue. But I do want to talk about what’s happening. What’s important here is this:

“The goal of the Teachers’ Bargaining Committee is to return to the bargaining table to negotiate an agreement that affirms the worth of teachers, not to take sanctions,” said Gwen Dueck, chief spokesperson for the Teachers’ Bargaining Committee.

And the important bit in there is the clause an agreement that affirms the worth of teachers. So let’s look at that. I’d like to look at it in a couple of ways. And before I do, I’d like to point out that a teacher at the beginning of their career (right out of University, with a four year degree) can probably expect to make around $45,000 a year. Teachers can make as much as $75,000 a year, with at least a decade of experience. Those aren’t particularly impressive salaries for professionals, but let’s just leave that aside for a moment.

  1. You don’t pay teachers directly to educate your children. We all of us in the province contribute, through our taxes, to educate your children. You’re more than welcome to choose to send your children to private school and pay out of pocket for the privilege. I have no idea how you can get out of paying the school portion of your property taxes, though. I guess you could just quit paying them.
  2. Teachers are not childminders. If you want a childminder, send your children to a babysitter instead of sending them to school. They won’t get an education, but you won’t have to deal with having to know your child’s school schedule, either. You’ll be able to go to work every day.
  3. As an alternative to #1 and #2, you can home-school your children. There are plenty of resources available for home-schoolers. Just remember that there’s a *reason* schools have extracurricular activities for students – as a home-schooler, you should make sure your children have ample opportunity to participate in team sports, arts and cultural activities, and other activities with their peers. Socialising is important.
  4. Teachers work more than 8 hours a day. They are usually at school before 8am and they usually leave school after 4pm. And that’s assuming they are not on any committees, are not involved in intramurals or in extracurricular activities, or are not on supervision duty. That also assumes they do not stay late or come early to help students who need some extra study time. That also assumes they do not participate in away-from-school trips for sports, band, or academic fairs/competitions. I challenge you to find a teacher who does not do at least one of the above.
  5. Teachers do not “get the summers off”. They do not get paid for the summer break. If you’d like to take two months off without pay, go right ahead. Many teachers will have their salaries pro-rated so that they receive less each cheque, so that they will receive *some* income over the summers. But it’s not paid vacation.
  6. Teachers do not take “vacation days” whenever they want. Professional Development days and Teacher Inservice Days are work days. Teachers are at work, usually at school or at a conference. Do you know what they do at those things? They learn how to better educate your children. If you think you can do a better job, see #3.
  7. If you feel your child is being treated unfairly or that your child’s teacher is not doing a good job of educating your child, you have options. According to the Education Act, you first talk to the teacher about the problem, and try to solve it that way. If that doesn’t work, you should approach the Principal. If that doesn’t work, you can go to the school board. I think you can even talk to someone at the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation as a last resort, although I’m not positive on that last one. If you don’t like what’s happening in your child’s classroom but you’re not proactive about it, you only have yourself to blame.
  8. through 10. Teachers educate your children. If you’re not prepared to teach your children how to read, how to write, how to do arithmetic, comprehension, music, art, physical education, how to write essays, how the Canadian political system works, why history is important and what our history is, chemistry, biology, physics, algebra, literature, grammar, spelling, heath, family life, sex ed, psychology, law, wood shop, mech shop, home economics, and a MULTITUDE of other things, then, really, shut the fuck up and sit down.

Sure, you have to work. You have to earn a living to put a roof over your head and to put food in your children’s mouths. I get that. We ALL get that. It’s *inconvenient for you* when teachers strike because you have to take time off of your own work. And some people might even lose their jobs over that. WE ALL GET THAT. Go back to point #2. Teachers are NOT childminders.

Go ahead and hate unions all you want. Go on. I’ll wait.

Got that out of your system? Good. Forget about the goddamned union, okay? It outlines their rights and their *responsibilities*. It includes a professional code of conduct. Teachers have a union because it wasn’t uncommon, not so very long ago, for teachers to be paid less than hotel kitchen staff. And it wasn’t uncommon for school boards to just decide not to pay teachers at all. Even now, teachers volunteer for FAR more than for which they are paid. Do you know why they do that?


So before you go off the rails and bitch about how teachers have ‘no right to just walk off their jobs and leave my kids with nowhere to go’, and before you start mouthing off about how it ‘must be nice to have the summers off and only have to work 200 days a year’, go and do their job for a year. Hell. Do it for a *month*. You go in and wrangle twenty or thirty children, five days a week, ten months a year. Go in and come up with a way to keep those kids engaged and interested, day after day. Deal with their fights with each other. Deal with their parents who seem to think their own children are the only children attending the school; the ones who think their kids deserve an A because they “tried hard”.

Go in and try to teach children how to be respectful and accepting without talking about racism, because racism is not politically correct. Try to teach children how not to get pregnant or how not to contract social diseases without talking about sex, because sex is DANGEROUS. Get your own butt in gear and try to teach polynomial algebra to a bunch of kids who can’t bloody add because their teachers weren’t allowed to hold them back from grade six. Deal with the bureaucracy that can sometimes be wonderful but can also ruin your life and your passion. Deal with 30 tweenagers, or better yet, deal with 20 fifteen year old boys who think they are better than you, and their 15 female classmates who think they’re smarter than you.

You might not agree with *how much* of a rise in pay teachers are asking for, and that’s fair. I don’t agree with you (I think we should pay them far more than 12% over 1 year), but that’s okay. But don’t sit there and tell me teachers don’t DESERVE to be paid, and paid VERY WELL for their services.

Some things are better left unread

I got into this discussion twice in the last week. Granted, once was because I started the discussion, but still.

A while ago, a friend of mine suggested I read a certain book. It was, the friend said, a favourite. The sort of book one reads over and over so that none of it is forgotten. The sort of book that changes lives. I read the book (as a side note, I do try to read most of the books people recommend to me).

I don’t like to think I’m one of those literary snobs who only reads books that are incomprehensible or that have been shortlisted for an award no one has heard of. I don’t like to think I’m the sort of person who starts a book discussion with : “The perspicacity of the characters are reminiscent of early Dickensian writings, although in a far more parochial, muted sense”. You know what I mean…the kind of high-brow academic malarky that basically makes everyone think you’re an enormous jerk. People like that usually go on to compare *something* in the book to some Greek philosopher, or to some obscure French medieval poet, and then start talking about how *important* the book is. This is usually a precursor to ripping apart everything about the book, from the opening title pages to the author’s photograph on the inside leaf. Maybe I *am* that sort of person and just don’t recognise it in myself.

I really prefer to find something wonderful about every book I read. It’s not always possible.

It wasn’t possible with this book. I agonized over what to tell my friend. In fact, I might not have ever told my friend what I thought of this book. I might have just decided to cop out with something like : “Well, it’s not something I would ever choose to read. Again. Ever.” But the truth of the matter is, the book was a total and complete waste of my time. Now, I know my friend reads my bournal, and I just want to be clear that my opinion on your most favourite book of all time in no way colours my opinion of you, so none of the vitriol and yellery that follows is directed at you. I know I probably don’t have to say that, but. Favourite books are sometimes like dear friends and I’ve discovered purely through trial and error that if I insult someone’s best friend, I often raise ire.

Although I cannot imagine what one could say about this book that could be insulting. There is nothing *rude* you can say about it that isn’t true. Except maybe that it’s pornographic. But that’s not rude. It’s also not true. It also would have made the book tolerable.

It’s important to me, when I don’t like a book, to really think about *why* I don’t like it. There was one book I read (also recommended by a friend) that I didn’t like. In the end, I figured out that the writing was extremely well done, and the book itself was amazing, but I just hated the protagonist so much it made me dislike the book. Which is ultimately a *good* thing, because it certainly highlights the writer’s skill. But that character was a total douche.

So. What didn’t I like about this book?

Well, I didn’t like *anything* about this book. Not. One. Redeeming. Factor.

The Shack, by William P. Young (Self-Published)

First of all, it’s a thinly veiled attempt to talk about Christianity without talking about Christianity. As if you could slip it in there without anybody recognising what you were up to. This pisses me off. It’s insulting. First of all, to assume that your reader isn’t going to figure out in less than five seconds what you’re up to is, frankly, a gross misunderstanding of your readers’ capacity. Second, why beat around the bush with this? Why try to be coy? Why not just come right out and say: “I’m trying very, very hard to write one of those…whattayacallits…ALL-A-GORY…thingummies” Because unless you’re CS Lewis or Tolkien (which you’re really, really not) or any number of other writes who’ve written allegorical stories, you’re not going to do it well. Do you know how difficult it is to write a competent, workable allegory for any religion’s theology? It’s REALLY HARD, without sounding like a simpering idiot or a pretentious jerk.


The basic premise is offensive. I mean, it’s even offensive to Christians.

The execution is terrible. It’s a book full of meandering, pointless prose, and dry, repetitive narrative. It’s hackneyed and trite, and there isn’t, I don’t think, a single original thought in the entire manuscript.

On to the thinly-veiled and horribly executed ‘allegory’ of the Trinity.

Jesus, of course, is a young middle-eastern fellow with a beard. He wears jeans and a plaid lumberjack shirt. And workboots. Or no boots. I don’t remember if he has stigmata, but it wouldn’t bloody surprise me. The Holy Spirit is some kind of weird, garden-tending hippie that is ‘shimmery and difficult to see’. I know a lot of hippies. Many of them are shimmery, some of them are difficult to see, and all of them tend gardens. I think the Holy Spirit might also be Asian. I don’t remember now. But his/her name is Sarayu, and I think s/he is supposed to be Asian. The ethnicity of any of the characters really oughtn’t be important, but the writer makes such a big deal of it, I suspect what he wants us all to know is that HE IS INCLUSIVE. HE IS NOT RACIST. HIS HEAVEN CAN INCLUDE THE YELLOW PEOPLES AND THE BROWN PEOPLES.

Which brings me to God. The Holy Father. Who is an African-American woman. Who calls herself Papa. And Elouisa.

I mean. ELOUISA? Really? You get a note in your mailbox after you’ve just announced to nobody that you’re giving up on your faith, and the note is signed from “Papa”, and your own father is dead, and you come to the conclusion that the note must be from God, and not from some weirdo who wanders around putting notes in people’s mailboxes? And God – I mean ELOUISA – *puts a note in your post-box*?? I guess things have really gone south since the whole burning bush thing. Modern-day equivalent would probably be a slightly charred and smoking potted plant, which just doesn’t have the same panache.

And let me go back here, a moment. I’m not saying it’s ridiculous to picture God as a black woman. I’m saying that by making it such a big deal in the novel, and by making the main character have to work so hard to get his own mind around the idea, you’re basically saying: “Look! Readers! God can be anything! EVEN a  black woman!” And “Even ASIANS can be included in theology! Even though many of them are godless communists!” And “Not ALL Middle Eastern men are terrorists who want to destroy western culture and eat your babies! Some of them are Jesus!”

One of the tenets you’ll hear as a writer is “show, don’t tell”. It’s really not a difficult concept to grasp. Except for William Young (the author of the book).

Apparently, he wrote the book as a Christmas gift for his children. And then, as is the way with things like this, some of his friends made the mistake of telling him that the book was *really good* and that he should get it published. And it’s books like this that sometimes make me disparage the relative ease with which people can now publish their own work. Don’t get me wrong, self publishing has been around since the 1600s. William Blake, for God’s sake (or should I say for “Elouisa’s Sake”), was a self-publisher. I don’t even know, to be fair, whether William Young tried to shop The Shack to traditional publishers, but if he did, it would have been rejected by most. Why? Because it’s trite, it’s not well written, it’s pedantic, the narrative is plodding, unnatural, and forced, the dialogue is stilted and ridiculous, the premise is tenuous, and even the editing is shaky. There are self-publishers out there who are extremely professional, who wouldn’t want anything out under their name that isn’t perfect. William P. Young is not one of those sorts of self-publishers.

So aside from the story itself, the actual writing, the production quality, and the narrative, what’s left to criticise?

The page numbers are stupid.

Okay, I say that kind of in jest. But it was also clear to me that the people who produced this book didn’t give a fiddler’s fart about design. And design is important. But then again, the people who produced this book didn’t care that it was terribly written to begin with, so there are a few strikes against them already.

Other Christians have spoken out against this book, from ministers who say there are heresies in the story, to apologists who claim there are “theological errors” in the book. Of COURSE there are theological errors in the book; the author is not a theologian. He’s probably never even read the church fathers. He probably hasn’t even read anything but the biblical passages he’s required to read in church. I don’t doubt the man’s devotion to his faith and to his family, and that’s all lovely, but his book sucks.

I mean, sure, theologically, if you happen to be Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim, the book is rather terrible on a religious front. The basic message it gives you is: “if you’re having a terrible time of things, if things are really hard, you should know that God will do everything He can to make it better, provided you pray hard enough and properly”, and “God is whatever you want Him to be”, and “God makes everything happen for a reason”. If you’re Christian, or Muslim, or Jewish, and if you’ve actually taken the time to learn what your faith teaches, you’ll know that all three of these premises are incorrect, hurtful, and are damaging to your faith and to the expression of your religion. I mean, I could go on about the horrible depiction of the Trinity as three separate persons, but that’s probably a little too heavy for a Monday morning, and you probably don’t care much about deeply theological arguments like Trinitarianism. (Incidentally, what Young offers in his book is not a Trinity. It is a Tritheism, which is very, very different…or, I suppose, you could argue that it’s Modalism, but again, Heavy. Monday. Stop.)

In short, don’t waste your time. Or your money. I’ve no idea why this book is so popular, except perhaps that fundamentalists think it’s incredibly clever and hopeful, like The Celestine Prophecy was, or The Secret (both of which were terrible books that attempted to disguise a thought pattern/belief system either in narrative or in a series of revelations…not unlike any holy book, I suppose, but the ancients did it so much better…I mean, at least the Old Testament is a good, rip-roaring fantasy adventure, right?), and that it bolsters their belief that prayer is about God helping them. Which it isn’t.

So, I’m sorry that I hated your favourite book. No, ‘hate’ is the wrong word. I despise your favourite book.

If I was going to rate this book, I wouldn’t even flip the bird once. I’d just toss the book in the recycling bin.