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Operation Governor: The True Story of Canadian Intelligence’s Greatest Cover-Up

Posted by E on October 4, 2015

Hategan documentary VisionTV

“We’ll tear her to shreds.”

CSIS Toronto Region Investigator speaking of eighteen-year old Elisse Hategan, whose affidavits implicated CSIS agent Grant Bristow in criminal activity. CBC’s The Fifth Estate, October 1994

Elisa backcover

My name is Elisa Hategan and I’m a Canadian writer and freelance journalist. Today I’ve decided that I can no longer be silent about the upcoming Canadian Federal election and the vital importance of choosing a leader who will repeal Bill C-51, which has now become law and gives Canada’s spy agency CSIS unparalleled powers to spy on its citizens.

If you scroll down to the end of this page, you will be able to download a free excerpt of some of the most explosive parts of my 2014 memoir Race Traitor: The True Story of Canadian Intelligence’s Greatest Cover-Up.

When I was sixteen years old, I was recruited by a Canadian domestic terrorist group calling itself the Heritage Front – an extremist right-wing, white supremacist group with strong ties to Neo-Nazi Holocaust revisionists, the American Ku Klux Klan and even Muammar Khadafi. They became the family I never had. Two years later, after I witnessed the targeting of innocent people for harassment and violence, I realized I had to find a way to shut them down.

At first, I couldn’t see a way out. After I found support from a few courageous anti-racist activists, I spied on the Heritage Front for four months. In March of 1994 I took the stand and testified against a handful of group leaders in a contempt of court case that led to convictions and jail sentences. Within months, it was revealed that one of the three founders of the group was a paid agent of CSIS, Canada’s intelligence service. To put it bluntly, the Heritage Front had been created and partially-funded with the help of Canada’s own Security and Intelligence Service.

Despite the fact that I possessed a significant amount of information related to criminal activity within the Heritage Front, authorities showed no interest in taking any kind of action against the group. After repeated appeals to the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) and the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) were ignored, I was officially denied admission into the Witness Protection Program.

All my affidavits (detailing names and addresses of Heritage Front members who owned various weaponry and explosives, as well as detailed accounts of verifiable stalking, threats and harassment of community activists) were dismissed by police without as much as a single attempt to verify their authenticity.

I would later find out from an insider (as broadcast in a 1994 episode of CBC’s The Fifth Estate that featured evidenceGrant Bristow CSIS obtained from anonymous, highly-placed police and intelligence sources) that a CSIS mandate had circulated advising police forces to deny me protection and ignore my information, even at the risk of Canadian taxpayers and the threat to my own life. Over a period of five years, CSIS had sunk a huge amount of money into Operation Governor, which involved the creation of a neo-Nazi organization in Canada and escalating its levels of violence and armament. They couldn’t risk their house of cards to fall apart on the testimony of a teenage girl.

When details of CSIS’ Operation Governor did come out in the press, after an exposé authored by Toronto Sun reporter Bill Dunphy in August 1994, the operation was terminated. The agent who had co-created the Heritage Front, Grant Bristow, was quickly whisked away into Witness Protection, given a payoff totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars, two new cars and a four-bedroom, three-car garage home in another Canadian province.

No testimony or information from Grant Bristow EVER resulted in any arrests and convictions.

In the spring of 2015, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper (who in the 1980s was a member of the extreme right-wing Northern Foundation, which had Heritage Front and Reform Party members, along with skinheads, anti-abortionists, Holocaust-deniers and Conrad Black) has announced a new bill that essentially duplicates the NSA laws of arrest without warrant under the pretext of “terrorism”.

Bill C-51 is extremely troubling, considering that they will be giving CSIS far greater powers than ever before, turning it into what many have called a “Secret Police” with far-reaching powers. However, it has now become LAW.

THIS IS WHY I HAVE DECIDED TO GIVE AWAY AN EXCERPT OF MY BOOK Race Traitor: The True Story of Canadian Intelligence’s Greatest Cover-Up – RACE-TRAITOR Excerpt by ELISA HATEGAN 

CSIS rapeThis excerpt includes Chapters 16 and 19 of my memoir, which reveal information I also included in my 1993 sworn affidavits. They reveal disturbing information about the It Campaign – Grant Bristow’s involvement in encouraging criminal behaviour and activity in dangerous white supremacists and neo-Nazi skinheads. After you read this, you might get a better idea of why CSIS’s new mandate includes the provision that civilians are not to be raped or murdered.

Given the context of Bill C-51, it didn’t surprise either myself or the numerous activists, anti-racists and aboriginal protesters I’ve communicated with, that we cannot get any mainstream press coverage in Canadian media. Telling the story of how Canada’s own intelligence agency formed a domestic terrorist group that stalked, harassed and assaulted several left-wing activists in the 1990s would be in direct conflict with what Stephen Harper’s government has passed into law – a law whose definition is so broad, so undefined, that anyone in direct opposition to our government’s interests (such as Aboriginal protesters and the Idle No More movement) would fall into the category of “terrorist.”

Under C-51, CSIS will have the power to: 1) detain people without charges for up to 7 days; 2) interfere with bank transactions and seize bank accounts if they are “suspected” of potential terror activity; 3) order the seizure of “terrorist propaganda” or order it deleted from an online source; 4) stop any passengers “suspected” of travelling overseas to commit a terror offence to be removed from a flight; 5) seal court proceedings; 6) make it illegal to “promote” or “counsel” terrorist activity – the definition of what this constitutes is, of course, left up to CSIS’ interpretation. Using “disruption warrants,” Canada’s spies will do just about anything: “enter any place or open or obtain access to any thing,” to copy or obtain any document, “to install, maintain, or remove any thing,” and, most importantly, “to do any other thing that is reasonably necessary to take those measures.”

Hategan articleC-51 MUST be stopped, or at the very least re-examined. The repeated violations and more violations on the part of the former intelligence unit of the RCMP, which became CSIS, which evolved into CSEC, cannot be overlooked. Neither is Harper’s ongoing use of CSIS as his personal domain pet whenever he wants to keep tabs on anti-fracking protesters, Green Party members, or whoever is opposed to the Conservative Party’s mandate. Such collusion between government and intelligence agencies is insidious at best, and will be used politically to defeat (or even imprison) political opponents.

History has already showed us what can happen when agents run amok: Grant Bristow’s handlers had been inherited from the same RCMP department which preceded CSIS’s inception. Back in the 1970s they were burning barns in Quebec while blaming it on the FLQ. After that scandal ensued and RCMP intelligence was disbanded, they moved over to the newly-minted CSIS and taught neo-Nazis and violent skinheads (some of whom were part of the now-disbanded Airborne Regiment) intelligence techniques, thus contributing to assaults, stalking, harassment and worse. Since they got away with all of the above, I cannot imagine what will happen when they gain autonomy.

memeAt the end of this PDF sample you will find a brief media library with photos, links to newspaper articles, blog links and videos that cover the events described in Race Traitor. This is only a starting point, and consists of articles myself and other activists managed to collect during that time. All these articles are still in the public domain and easily accessible via archival libraries and microfiches.

I also included direct links to sites where you can purchase the book.

I am grateful to all who buy a copy or offer a donation for this free PDF. Without the support of wonderful people and community activists who believed in me, I would never have made it through my teenage years – I am deeply thankful for your help.




Posted in canada, csis, media, news, truth | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

White Lies: How the CBC Ripped Off My Story

Posted by E on September 21, 2015

CBC logo

In 1998, the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) released a movie based on my life titled White Lies, which starred Sarah Polley.

The film producer and script writer, Dennis Foon, collected as many details of my actual life as he could based on trial testimony, newspaper clippings and interviews I’d given in the media, and then decided to produce a movie script inspired in large part by what had happened to me while I was a teenager.

Trouble was, although my experiences were appropriated for the story, I never received any credit or compensation.

So how did this sordid saga begin?

In 1993 I was a 16-year old who was recruited into the ranks of Canada’s most dangerous (and notorious) white supremacist group, the Heritage Front. I was the only girl in the core of the movement, and was subsequently groomed for a leadership position. I began writing articles for their far-right publication, Up Front, spoke at rallies and even participated in talk shows on their behalf, such as my appearance on the Montel Williams show alongside White Aryan Resistance leader John Metzger.

I was still sixteen years old when I was introduced to notorious worldwide Holocaust-denier Ernst Zundel, who welcomed me into his townhouse on Carlton Street in Toronto. As an abused, impoverished, often runaway teenager, I didn’t have a home to go to or a family to care for me, and this is where Zundel stepped in and became a grandfatherly figure to me, while simultaneously teaching me that Jews controlled the world, the Holocaust never happened, and Hitler (whose portraits hung from the walls of his home) was invariably right to eliminate the mentally and physically handicapped, the homosexuals, and of course the Jews.

By the time I turned 17, one of the Heritage Front’s leaders, Grant Bristow (later revealed to be a CSIS agent) started what would become known as the It Campaign – a campaign of terror waged against anti-racist and community organizers who stood up in protests against the Heritage Front. Bristow single-handedly instructed dangerous white supremacists tips and tricks of the intelligence community – how to break into answering machines, impersonate reporters, stalk your victims and terrorize them, threaten and disguise oneself to avoid arrest. The emboldened skinheads went out and continued the harassment with vicious street attacks, beatings, physical and sexual attacks, car-tire slashings, as well as spray-painting / firebombings of places in the community such as synagogues, bookstores, and even the home of a well-known Kitchener-area activist and member of the CJC.

I knew I had to get away from the Front’s escalation of terror. This realization came on the heels of me admitting to myself that I was gay. However, as a core insider I had a lot of information I could access, and had earned the trust of the HF leaders as well as Ernst Zundel himself, for whom I worked as an assistant and errand-girl.

So I turned to the other side, spied on my former friends for 4 months, stole Zundel’s international mailing list, turned whatever information I could to police, and defected. In March 1994 I testified against Wolfgang Droege and 2 other white supremacists in the court of law and sent them to jail for the summer.

Although my info had resulted in convictions and I had been threatened with death, I was denied Witness Protection, while Grant Bristow – the CSIS agent whose years of building up the racist empire in Canada had resulted in ZERO arrests and convictions – was retired in the Witness Protection Program and given a brand new house, two cars, a retirement package worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.


I spent a couple of years in hiding all over Canada, sleeping on sofas, floors and dumpster-diving for food before I finally got my GED and was accepted into the University of Ottawa (from where I graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1999 with a double major in Criminology and Psychology).

While still in hiding and going by a different name in Ottawa (they knew me there as Kat), the CBC was making a movie behind my back. A movie they advertised on their own DVD/VHS covers as a “True Story” – supposedly based on the “true story” of another ex-Heritage Front member, Elizabeth Moore.

WhiteLies SPWhite Lies UK cover

I tracked down Elizabeth two years ago, after she messaged me through my website – she’s going by her married name now – and we became friends. She’s a really nice person actually, a sensitive woman who bears no resemblance to the old Elizabeth who was featured (along with me) in Hearts of Hate. She confessed that the CBC had paid her $12,000 to be a consultant on the movie, and that they based it on her. She told me that Dennis Foon, the writer, had helped her get an agent to negotiate with CBC on her behalf.

I thought I had seen the film, but back in the 1990s I was suffering from PTSD issues and I realize now that I must have only seen a commercial for it. No matter – it was unavailable now anyway, out of print and besides, I didn’t really want to revisit that part of my life or Elizabeth’s. So I let the whole issue go, although a nagging thought at the back of my mind told me that I should really see the film and their interpretation of what had really happened.

And then, voila! last week I found it on YouTube, uploaded by a girl named Brittany and chopped into 10 parts. I watched it closely, with a growing sense of horror, as I realized – for the first time – that the CBC hadn’t actually adapted Elizabeth’s story but my own.

The only things Elizabeth and Sarah Polley’s character ‘Catherine Chapman’ seemed to have in common was a nice, middle-class girl background. Oh, and the fact that Elizabeth had actually dated skinheads back then, while I did not (obviously, because I was a lesbian).

The story of Elizabeth-as-Catherine quickly lost credibility as the movie progressed. Her acceptance by a thinly-veiled Ernst Zundel (played by Lynn Redgrave), who puts her to work for him and grooms her as the new face of the movement, was actually my own experience. Elizabeth never worked for Ernst. I did. She was never the “new face of the movement.” These facts were stated about me over and over in newspaper articles throughout 1993-1995, as well as court documentation – from my trial testimony against Wolfgang Droege and his boys.

image1 image2 - Copy

There are scenes where “Catherine” goes to Klan rallies, shooting ranges, and is shocked by the escalation of violence – which makes her turn against “NIM” (which stands for a mash-up of the Heritage Front and Ernst Zundel). At one point toward the end of the film, “Catherine” is directed by a Jewish community leader to steal Zundel’s mailing list – this never happened to Elizabeth, but I did actually take possession of such a list (both from Zundel and Droege’s home).

All of the above-scenes were lifted directly from interviews I did throughout 1993-1995 with CBC, CTV, Vision TV, and various newspapers – notably Toronto Sun, Globe & Mail, and the Ottawa Citizen.

TO Sun feature defection hategan testimony

I should add that there was a secondary character by the name of Erina who is essentially a used-up ex-NIM member whose only act of protest against the hate movement is to hang herself. The CBC had the nerve to advertise that Erina was based on Elisse Hategan.

So why pay Elizabeth $12,000 and pass off my story as her own? It’s a tough question, and I speculate it has to do with the fact that I was in hiding for my life and using different names, so they couldn’t reach me for comment. At the same time, Dennis Foon (as interviewed in the movie’s ‘Bonus Feature’) was excited by the prospect of making a film about a “normal”, “educated”, regular, “middle-class” white girl from the suburbs, with “nothing particularly deviant or crazy about her” (i.e. not abused, poor, gay or particularly vulnerable, etc.) who attended university being caught up in the white supremacist movement – while myself, as an abused runaway high-school drop-out from a low-income single-mother household, didn’t fit Foon’s arguably elitist profile of “girl next door”.

There is also the issue of the story arc – the truth is, Elizabeth Moore came into the movement, stayed for a couple of years, dated someone in the group, distributed some posters, recorded hotline messages, wrote a couple of articles for Up Front, and then left as unmemorably as she had entered. According to her own admission in an essay titled From Marches to Modems, her first concerns about being a member of a white supremacist, neo-Nazi group came after she was featured in a documentary called Hearts of Hate – after it came out, she became very concerned about how she would be perceived (as in, her public image and I assume her school-grades) by her university circle, neighbours, etc.. It certainly wasn’t due to a perception that what she was doing in the Heritage Front was actually wrong.

Elizabeth Moore describing what made her leave the Heritage Front

Elizabeth Moore describing what made her leave the racist Heritage Front in the essay “From Marches to Modems”

If the CBC had made a movie about that, it would have been a flop – there was no action, no drama, no excitement. Elizabeth lived in the Annex (Clinton St) in Toronto for many years afterwards – pretty strange behaviour for someone who claims their life is in jeopardy. Nobody attacked her, nobody from the Heritage Front held a knife to her throat and threatened to take her life (like Peter Mitrevski did to me at Wolfgang’s urging). By her own admission (via a Facebook conversation with me in 2014), she was only a tertiary group member who wasn’t trusted with any sensitive information by the group’s core members:

liz confession1-1  liz paranoid

But that didn’t stop her from unsuccessfully asking the Canadian Jewish Congress to help her get admitted into the Witness Protection Program, a preposterous idea given that she didn’t actually possess any sensitive information and was never in danger. In fact, there are zero police records, independent evidence or media accounts /reports /articles about Elizabeth’s involvement with the Heritage Front until Hearts of Hate came out. There is virtually nothing as far as real evidence to back up her questionable claims of endangerment or self-importance. In sum, after hearing Elizabeth’s own confession – both in writing and several conversations – that she had been considered paranoid by several psychiatrists back in the 1990s (and after witnessing her mindset in relation to another extremely serious and troubling issue which I won’t mention publicly due to respecting the privacy of both Moore and other individuals in question), I believe that she became fixated – even obsessed – with my story.

Unlike me (i.e. CBC’s “Catherine”), Elizabeth didn’t go to any gun ranges, Klan rallies, and most certainly didn’t steal any information, from Zundel, Droege or otherwise, to incur as far as I know any danger on the part of the HF. She didn’t “defect” from a group where, by virtue of being female (a ratio of over 10-1 in the hate moment) and a university student, was invited to tag along with Wolfgang and the boys, but wasn’t actually taken into confidence in terms of their terror attack plans on their so-called “enemies” – they had learned their lesson after I had betrayed them a year prior to Elizabeth coming on the scene.

I came out as a lesbian before Elizabeth decided she was gay too

I came out as a lesbian a year before Elizabeth Moore decided she was gay too…maybe. Or maybe not.

Moore telling me in a 2014 email that she thought she was gay too.

Elizabeth Moore tells me in a 2013 email that she thought she was gay too

And yet, that didn’t stop her from continuing to walk in my footsteps: after I came out as a lesbian and my coming-out was featured in Now Magazine, Elizabeth (who’d always dated men before, including a racist HF skinhead) confessed that she also went through a gay period (she’s back to straight now). Then she wanted to work with the media, and was excited to get that gig with the CBC.

Upset, I decided to confront Elizabeth with the reality that the CBC producers who made the film had appropriated my story. Dennis Foon’s own website states the following:

“I was intrigued when I read about a high school girl, Elizabeth Moore, who had been recruited into the Heritage Front, a neo-nazi group in Toronto. She rose up in the ranks of the organization before she finally defected.”

Rose up the ranks? Defected? According to Elizabeth’s own confession, she was a tertiary group member. liz confession1-1

Elizabeth was never a speaker at rallies – I was. She never had access to Ernst Zundel’s data and I doubt she was in his townhouse more than a couple of times. I had enough on the Heritage Front to put its leader behind bars and disband CSIS’s Operation Governor – since I testified in Parliament in front of a specially-appointed Senate SubCommittee that investigated Bristow’s illegal activities, CSIS had to hide him in Alberta. His days as agent provocateur extraordinaire were over.

Hategan articleGrant Bristow CSIS

Did Elizabeth Moore shut down the Heritage Front? Absolutely not. What were the CBC smoking – because I want some of it. Given Elizabeth’s own confession that she had been considered paranoid by several psychiatrists and that she hadn’t actually been taken into the group’s confidence, I believe that she fixated on my story after it received national press attention and subsequently (while I was in hiding for my life) appropriated it for her own benefit.

No – the Heritage Front, Ernst Zundel, and the whole neo-Nazi movement in Ontario were essentially shut down by the actions of a few brave anti-racist activists: Martin Theriault, Rodney Bobiwash, myself, Ruth M and Annette H, and by the hard-hitting articles penned by Toronto Sun’s Bill Dunphy. Although they continued to operate for a couple of years afterwards, they were nothing like the power-force they used to be in the early 1990s.

When I confronted Elizabeth, this is what she wrote back. It’s an exact quote of the email she sent me yesterday afternoon:

“What Dennis learned about you came from legit sources like court records, newspaper articles and talking to many people who knew you then. He did over a year of research on this”

CBC evidence

So basically, Elizabeth herself ADMITS that Dennis Foon (along with his chain of command, which include Phil Savath and Brian Freeman), researched my story via court documents, interviews with people who knew me, and then made a movie about…..Elizabeth?

Maybe since our names were basically the same (Elisse/Elisa vs Elizabeth) and we are both short, dark-haired women, they thought nobody would notice.

It’s pathetic.

Pathetic because while I was dumpster-diving for survival and begging for spare change on street corners while in hiding, people were making money hand over fist based on what had happened to me. Producers were attending Emmy and Gemini galas and getting nominations for a film that wouldn’t have existed without me.

Pathetic because even after I wrote my memoir last year and was interviewed by the CBC’s Director of Programming / Original Program Development Sadia Zaman (who interviewed me 20 years earlier in a half-hour documentary for Vision TV), nobody at the CBC was willing to give me even a sound-bite of coverage. The story wasn’t relevant anymore – in today’s political climate, only Muslims can be terrorists. There’s no such thing as racism and white supremacy anymore.

I guess they had already capitalized on my story and were busy supporting other CBC rock stars like, you know, Ghomeshi?

I don’t know of any lawyers who can help me pro-bono in going after the CBC – but if you can help, please email me. Regardless of whether I can win a lawsuit against them or not, it’s clear that from a moral (and karmic) viewpoint, my story was exploited and I received no compensation, no credit whatsoever from the publicly-funded Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I have an extended collection of media clippings that demonstrates many of the events depicted in White Lies were actually based on my experiences.

I would suggest the CBC revise the title of that shoddy film as “CBC Lies.” For anybody who is interested in what really happened back in the 1990s, please read my book Race Traitor: The True Story of Canadian Intelligence’s Greatest Cover-Up. (Sorry for the shameless plug, guys, but I didn’t score a dime from the CBC and I’m telling a TRUE STORY.)

book2 Elisa and RT

So if you’re reading this – Dennis Foon, Phil Savath, Brian Freeman, Kari Skogland, whoever else worked on it and yes, especially Elizabeth Moore – you should all be ashamed of yourselves.


Posted in cbc, elizabeth moore, heritage front | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Journey to Judaism: The Day I Became A Jew

Posted by E on August 10, 2015

Elisa Jerusalem cropped

I became a Jew on the day I was born, December 17. Thirty-eight years had passed between the moment my mother gave birth to me in Romania and the day I was formally accepted as a Jew by rabbis in a North American synagogue.

After I’d completed a year of study, my mentor rabbi informed me that I was ready to take the next step toward conversion – writing a formal essay explaining why I wanted to embrace the Jewish faith, and meeting with a Beit Din. For those reading this who are unfamiliar with the term, a Beit Din is a rabbinical court assembly made up of three observant Jews (at least one of whom is a rabbi) who decide if a convert is fit to be accepted for conversion to Judaism.

Embracing Judaism was the last step along a journey of self-discovery that had taken me many years to explore, and I wanted to do this right – it was important to me that I should have a conversion process that followed the halacha (Jewish law) closely, which meant having a Beit Din made up of at least one rabbi, followed by a ritual immersion in a synagogue mikvah – a pool of water derived from natural sources.

It was the beginning of December and with my birthday right around the corner, it was only natural that I would schedule my Beit Din and Mikvah day on my birthday. How could I choose any other date? What better day to experience a spiritual rebirth and be formally acknowledged as Jewish?

The sun was shining brightly when I woke up early in the morning – too early in fact. The excitement and nervous butterflies churning in my stomach made it impossible to go back to sleep. ‘This is the last day I’ll wake up and not be Jewish,’ I thought. I busied myself by having a long shower, brushing and flossing my teeth, washing my hair and scrubbing my fingernails and toenails free of any traces of nail polish – there was to be no barrier between the body and the Mikvah water.

Brilliant sunshine illuminated the path toward the Beth Hillel synagogue where I would be formally interviewed. I knew it would be a beautiful day, and it turned out exactly as I’d imagined – how could such an important day ever be shrouded in clouds?

The rabbis met me in the lobby of the synagogue at noon. My Beit Din was composed of three ordained rabbis, all active members of the Rabbinical Assembly, although one had retired from his congregation. After everyone arrived, we walked over to the meeting room in the back of the synagogue. A long conference table split the room which could have seated twenty. The three rabbis sat on one side of the table, and I took a seat across from them.

“As we begin, I’d like you to tell us what brought you here and why you want to become Jewish,” Rabbi Levine said.

I summarized some of the key points that I wrote about in my conversion essay:

“The feeling that propels me toward Judaism isn’t as simple as breaking it down into words. It’s a feeling, an echo of something within myself that I am just now recognizing and giving voice to.

I feel that I have always been a Jew. I was born in the mid-1970s in communist Bucharest. Under Ceausescu’s dictatorship, Romania didn’t prioritize religion, choosing instead to indoctrinate their people to worship the State. I don’t remember either of my parents being religious in any way. We never went to church. I identified with my father’s family much more than my mother’s side. I stood out among my maternal cousins by being the black-haired, dark-eyed child who didn’t fit in. People said that my father and I ‘looked Jewish’.”

 Iosif Hategan age 15 Iosif and Ana

Above: me at age 11.  Centre: my father Iosif (Josef) at age 15.  Right: My father and grandmother Ana.

We emigrated to Canada when I was 11 years old. My father subsequently decided to return to Romania and died there when I was 13. I never had the opportunity to ask him all the questions I would have liked to know – Why did he hide his own heritage? Why did he feel ashamed of who he was?

I’ve had people tell me, Why bother to convert. Your father was a Jew, you don’t believe in Jesus as the messiah, so what’s the difference? But it bothers me that I am not recognized by all Jews as a fellow Jew because of my patrilineal descent, and I feel the need to undergo this formal process so that I can both learn much more about Judaism, and to feel like a “real” Jew.

In my soul, heart and mind, Judaism is more than a religion for me. It’s a shared history, a family and a connection that has always been there, just outside the realm of my consciousness and yet was always there. Like a pulse that cannot be subdued.

After my father’s death, I lived in a rough low-income neighbourhood with my mother. As time went by, she grew increasingly abusive and I had no choice but to run away. Between the ages of 14-16 I lived in several Children’s Aid homes. In time, I ran away from an abusive foster home and returned to my mother’s apartment. At age 16 I was friendless and desperate. Eventually I became recruited by a neo-Nazi group, the Heritage Front. They became the family I felt I’d never had, and looked after me at a time when my only choice was to live on the streets. They also put me in touch with an internationally-renowned Holocaust revisionist and Hitler sympathizer, Ernst Zundel. Zundel gave me a job working in his basement printing press, fed me and looked out for me.

By the time I turned 18 I knew that what the group was doing was wrong. I wanted out of the organization but they were possessive of me and I didn’t know of a way out. I attempted suicide and eventually I turned to an anti-racist activist, who put me in touch with the director of a think-tank on extremist right-wingers. He, in turn, asked me to spy on the Heritage Front and Ernst Zundel and collect information that could be turned over to the police.

defection 1994-2Hategan articleMetro Toronto

For half a year I gathered as much information on illegal activities, weapons and dangerous persons, as well as stole Ernst Zundel’s national and international mailing list, which consisted of people all over North and South America and Europe who had sent in money to fund Zundel’s Holocaust revisionist projects. In 1994 I testified in court and sent 3 Heritage Front leaders to prison, effectively dealing a serious blow toward dismantling the group.

I was only 19 years old. I lived in hiding and attended university in Ottawa under an assumed name. Upon graduating Magna cum Laude with a Criminology and Psychology double-major, I taught ESL in Seoul, South Korea and subsequently travelled throughout Europe the following year.

I spent some time in Krakow and visited Auschwitz and Birkenau. Something stirred in me that summer – an inexplicable familiarity, a sense that I was connected to those places in some undefinable way. When I first heard Ladino songs, it was as though I could almost recognize them. The music seemed familiar somehow. Then there were the places in the south of Spain, as well as in Poland and Hungary that I visited – they felt as though I’d been there before. In Debrecen, the city my father was born in, I allowed my feet to take me where they wanted to go, and I ended up on a narrow, cobblestoned street, in front of a half-burned synagogue with smashed-out windows.

It felt like I had been there before. The feeling was strong, palpable, like a childhood memory – a memory that was just outside the realm of my consciousness.

I eventually returned to Canada and tried to lead a normal life. But something always clawed at the back of my consciousness, pushing me toward a Jewish path. I lived along Bathurst street, in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood. I began to read books on Judaism and spirituality. Ten years went by since I first thought of undergoing a formal conversion to Judaism, but something always held me back – I first wanted to discover the truth about my father, my family’s past. I had to know our own past in order to go forward.

Years later, during a visit to my paternal grandmother’s village in Transylvania, I tracked down relatives, old family friends and neighbours, and asked questions. At my uncle’s house, among my deceased grandmother’s possessions, I discovered a box of mementos and photographs that I’d never seen before. The box was marked with the Jewish surname “Kohan” – the Hungarian version of Cohen. I finally began to believe that my suspicions had been true, and that my father had actually been Jewish.

Back in Canada, I ordered a DNA kit from 23andme, sent in my saliva sample and waited for a month to receive my results. When they came in, it was a surreal experience – one of the most significant days of my life. To realize that after so long, what I had suspected was actually true! I burst into tears of joy, knowing that I was no longer alone – at last I had a past, a history. And well over 20 relatives in the 23andme database with the surname Cohen, some of whom offered their help in piecing together our common ancestry.

23andme EH profile  23andme EH profile2 

Part of my conversion essay:

In my soul, heart and mind, Judaism is more than a religion for me. It’s a shared history, a genetic memory, a family and a connection that has always been just outside the realm of my consciousness, yet was always there. The more I learned about Judaism through my study, the more I felt my bond to the past grow stronger.

My father’s denial of his religion and heritage was like an invisible wall that kept me from my past. But with each day and each hour, the wall becomes increasingly transparent. The bricks fall apart and I begin to see a glimpse of something beautiful and mystical on the other side. The shadows of those great-grandparents and the whispers of their lives comes through to me, through me, and out into my very own existence.

I have had thousands of Jewish ancestors from Poland, Russia, Galicia, Ukraine and Romania, whose truth, lives and stories have been wiped off in only two generations. One hundred years. That is all it took to wipe out my family’s connection to their own lineage and heritage.

I look at the world and wonder how many others walk around unaware that the blood of Sephardic conversos or Ashkenazim forced to hide their religion runs through their veins.

I aim to reclaim that heritage.

“Please read your Declaration of Faith for us, Elisa.”

I stood up and read the piece of paper which I had practically memorized over the past year.

declaration of faith Iosif and Elisa Anna-Philip

Left: my declaration of faith. Centre: my favourite photo of me & my father.  Right: grandmother Ana with her husband.

Afterwards, they asked me to sign it and I did so, then handed it back to them. I answered several questions related to holidays and ritual, and recited a couple of prayers. Then one of the rabbis asked me more about my father’s family. “Did you know the biggest group of immigrants to Israel after the war were from Romania?”

I hadn’t known this, and he smiled at me warmly and told me a story about his friends who had come from the same part of Transylvania as my father. Then our conversation touched on the Holocaust, and I mentioned the profound experience I’d had in my twenties when I visited Europe’s biggest concentration camp, the largest mass-murder site in the world.

Rabbi Fertig sat up. “You were at Auschwitz?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“What was it like?”

I gazed into the distance, recalling the summer of 2001 when I had backpacked across Europe, and how my journey to find my roots had led me to Auschwitz. “I went in the summer, when the grass was this high.” I said, lifting my hand to indicate waist-height. “It was a sunny day. A very beautiful day. The sun was high up in the sky, and there was such a vivid a juxtaposition of life and death. The grass was buzzing with crickets and frogs, filled with life….right up among those terrible barracks at Birkenau. I walked inside the barracks and felt that emptiness….the void, the echoes of the lives that had been lost there.”

Rabbi Levine stared at me for a long time. “So many millions perished in the Holocaust – and now you are returning to the fold.”

“I am but one drop,” I said quietly, my eyes filling with tears.

We all fell silent. After some time, Rabbi Brief asked me, “Have you chosen a Hebrew name?”

There was never any doubt in my mind what my Hebrew name would be – Elisheva, of course. The Hebrew version of my own given name. Better yet, it somehow ‘fit’ me. It felt more right than anything else.

“Elisheva Sarah.”

Rabbi Levine cleared his throat. “I am obliged to inform you that although a Conservative Beit Din is accepted by all conservative and affiliated denominations, some Orthodox will still refuse to see you as Jewish.”

I nodded. “Yes, I know this.”

“Do you have any questions for us?”

I hesitated. “Do you think….will I be accepted by a Reform synagogue?”

The rabbis looked at each other in amusement. “They’re going to love you,” the oldest of the rabbis answered. “Reform already recognizes you as a Jew because you have a Jewish father – so just based on the fact that you still went through this when you didn’t have to.”

Rabbi Levine peered into my eyes. “I read your conversion essay and I have to say it really moved me. You’re a very good writer. A very gifted writer.”

Something stirred inside me. Trying to fight back the knot in my throat, I said, “I’m working on a book to preserve the memory of those in my father’s village who have been forgotten. I want to do this for them – I’m the only one left who still carries their stories. Everyone else has passed.”

He nodded, and his eyes communicated such a deep empathy, such a sense of recognition and understanding, that I had to bite my lip to keep from tearing up. My eyes swept the room – the other rabbis were nodding, acknowledging me. I felt, in that moment, that they were seeing the real me – that part of my core I had kept hidden for so long. The vulnerability. The sadness and the truth of what I’d always known to be true. The real core of me.

Rabbi Levine pushed back from the table. “I am ready,” he said. He looked to the others: “I know it’s cutting this short, but I’m satisfied with this. I’m ready to make this woman Jewish.”

my Mikvah my mikvah2

We walked out of the synagogue and around to the side of the building, where another door stood open. A tall, thin woman waited for us there, her hair covered under a beret-type hat. She beckoned us in and we shook hands. “Welcome Elisheva,” she said, smiling at me. “You can leave your coat and stuff here. I warmed up the water really well for you, and have everything set up for you. Come and let me show you around.”

I smiled back at her, and Carol’s eyes glided to my hair. “You have long, gorgeous hair,” she said with a smile, and I instantly read between the lines. The hair was going to be a problem. Making sure there were no tangles was going to be challenging enough. But then she added, “I’m concerned that it might float up when you submerge. Every strand has to go underwater.”

The rabbis sat down on a small bench in the narrow corridor that led to several rooms, including the one where Carol was leading me. It turned out to be a small but perfectly clean bathroom with a shower stall and all the toiletries one could imagine.

She closed the door behind us and pointed out everything, careful to inspect that I wasn’t wearing any nail polish. I started to remove my earring studs and put them in my backpack while she explained what I already knew – I was to scrub off everything once again, wash my hair thoroughly and brush it so there were no tangles anywhere. Then, when I was ready, to walk through another door wearing little bootsies to keep from slipping and only the towel.

“The Mikvah is completely private,” she assured me. “The rabbis will only listen to the submersion and I will be the only one in the room with you. They will hear you say the prayer, but they cannot see you. I am here to make sure your privacy is respected and I myself will not look at you – when you descend into the Mikvah I will hold up the towel and respect your privacy. You can rest assured that your privacy and modesty will be respected at all times. So take as long as you need to get ready, and I will be on the other side of that door.”

After she left, I tried to keep myself from shaking. To think that I was so close to the Mikvah I’d read so much about, so close to the completion of a journey that had taken me years to achieve!

The bathroom was spartan and super-clean. A shelving unit ran beside the sink, and everything I could possibly have forgotten was there: nail polish remover, cotton balls, extra soap, toothpaste, shampoo, dental floss, even a small vial of Air d’Temps perfume that I planned to spritz on after the ceremony was complete (but forgot to, in the ensuing excitement). As Carol had promised, two different kinds of combs lay ready to tackle my difficult hair. I chose the one with the wider-spaced teeth and bravely stepped into the stone shower stall.

The shower itself was as I’d expected, with the worst part being – of course – running the brush through my well-shampooed (but not conditioned) curls. Needless to say, when it was all said and done I lost more than my usual amount of stray hairs, possibly because I was so excited, nervous and emotional about the ritual to follow that I brushed a bit too impatiently and managed to snap off some more split ends.

The last thing to go were my contact lenses. The Mikvah rules were that nothing could stand in the way of the water immersing the body, not even contacts. I placed the case carefully on the sink ledge and wrapped the fresh white towel around my body.

Then I reached for the door handle and stepped into the other room.

The room was low-lit, with several pot lights illuminating only the water – which was as blue as the sea. The Mikvah was larger than I’d imagined, much larger than a Jacuzzi but not quite the size of a swimming pool.

Am I really here? Is this finally happening? I wondered, gazing in awe at the water that would soon immerse every bit of my being. It’s so beautiful.

I kicked off the bootsies and held still while Carol the Mikvah Lady inspected me in order to pick off any stray hairs that may have fallen down my back. I checked myself also and found an additional long hair that I handed her.

After she discarded the loose hairs, Carol came back and stepped behind me. “You can give me the towel and go in now,” she said, holding the towel I handed her up in front of her – as promised, to protect my modesty. Although I’d wondered what it would feel like being completely naked in front of a stranger, I realized that I didn’t feel embarrassed at all – this felt like such a perfectly natural, even maternal process.

I walked toward the Mikvah and began to descend the seven steps that led down to the main pool. I held the railing and stepped down the seven steps–each one representing a day in the Creation story. Then an unexpected challenge arose: by the fourth step I could already tell that the water was too deep. As in, over my head. I’m not a swimmer by any stretch, and have never managed to hold my own in the deep-end of a swimming pool. I would never be able to touch the bottom.

Over the past year I’d researched anything I could find about other people’s accounts of their conversion ceremonies, but had never read about the situation that confronted me now – being only 5’2” tall, by the time I reached the lowest step I was already immersed up to my chin.

I gazed into the shimmering depths of the main pool and realized, not without a fair amount of trepidation, that I would never be able to stand upright in it. The water was high enough to go over my head. Although I love splashing around in water, I’m not a swimmer and have never managed to tread water in the deep end of a swimming pool.

An irrational fear seized hold of my mind. Has anybody ever drowned in a Mikvah? I wondered, cringing inwardly at the ridiculousness of the question. Worst case scenario, Carol the Mikvah Lady was here, along with three rabbis on the other side of the wall partition. Surely somebody would pull me out if I didn’t resurface after a while, right?

My desire to become a Jew was now confronted head-on by my fear of drowning. The combination didn’t make for a particularly mystical experience. Did I want to convert badly enough to risk drowning? Would you rather live as a Christian or risk drowning to become a Jew?

The answer came hard and fast: YES. Yes, I wanted it that badly. Badly enough to jump off into the deep end, where the water towered above my head – not knowing if I would bob back up or sink right to the bottom.

Over the months that led up to this ceremony, I’d imagined this day to be a peaceful, holy, life-changing process. In a way, this was still partly true – with that tranquil blue water so warm and lovely, lapping at my skin, an aura of serenity had surrounded me. But suddenly another part of me was seized with fear. As anxiety mounted in my chest, I realized that in order to become a Jew I would have to conquer my terror.

I took a deep breath and tried to balance myself on the lowest step, which was really hard because the salt water makes you buoy about, making it impossible to keep your feet firmly planted onto the tiled ground.

“Are you ready?” Carol’s voice resounded behind me. “Take your time. When you’re ready, I want you to take a deep breath and jump away from the step. When you’re fully immersed under the water, lift your legs up so that you don’t touch the bottom to make sure that for an instant, you’re floating free.”

I sucked in a deep breath, steadied myself….and then stepped off the ledge. Water flooded into my eyes, mouth, over my head, and suddenly I was up again, sputtering and flailing toward the metal rail in the corner. I seized hold of it and clambered up onto the last ledge again.

Carol looked at my ungainly flop and smiled sympathetically. “We’ll have to do that one over again. Your hair didn’t go all the way under.”

Strands of my hair had floated to the surface since I hadn’t sank deep enough. “Does this happen a lot?” I asked her.

She nodded. “You’re very buoyant – we all are – so what you’ll need to do is really let go and try to jump up a little when you step away from the stairs. The force of you jumping up will ensure you submerge all the way down.”

I took another deep, shuddering breath, and felt determination flow through my entire body. I hadn’t come this far to allow fear to stop me now. I thought about my father, my grandmother, about our family friend Steve Bendersky and the relatives he’d lost in the war, about the numbers tattooed on his arm, about the heritage that had been denied me. I thought about the people who had been killed over the centuries for being a Jew, about all who had walked down this path before me as converts and embraced their Jewish neshama.

I had come this far. I was ready.

It still felt scary, taking that plunge – but I no longer cared about drowning. I wanted to leap as far into that water as I could, to take it all into my heart, to let it remind me of my strength and ability to survive anything.

I was enveloped in a cocoon of blueness and warmth – the perfect heat of a womb made of nature’s own waters that seemed to have always existed in and around me. I opened my eyes underneath the water which coated every pore of my being and thought, This is the day I was born. Back then, and then again today.

No sooner did that realization hit than a force propelled me upwards – the force of my own buoyancy. I hadn’t drowned after all. In fact, I felt stronger than ever.

Carol’s voice echoed throughout the small room: “Kasher!”

I repositioned myself on the last step, filled my lungs with air, and leapt up again. I sank down into the depths of the Mikvah and didn’t fight it this time – I gave myself to it in body and soul.

When I bobbed back up, Carol called out “Kasher” for the second time.

I half-swam back toward the steps, found my balance again and turned to face the blueness. This would be my third jump. When I came back up again, I would be a Jew.

“Take your time,” Carol said softly. “If you want to take a moment to say a silent prayer – just for yourself.”

I closed my eyes and felt tears brimming behind my eyelashes. I mouthed the words of the Shema silently, for everyone before me, and then again for myself – that I be worthy of that painful, beautiful legacy and that I might contribute toward making the world a better place.

And then I took the biggest leap of my life into the waters that had always waited there for me. I lifted my knees up to my chest and spread my arms out to my sides, and the Mikvah embraced me.

And as I came up to the surface as a Jew, Carol called out for the third time, “Kasher.”

My voice shook as I spoke the words of the final prayer, Shehecheyanu, a prayer uttered by Jews for two thousand years: “Barukh Ata Adonai, Elohenu Melekh Haolam, Shehecheyanu, Vekiyimanu, Vehigiyanu, Lazman Hazeh.”

As soon as I said the last word, “hazeh”, voices all around called out “Mazel Tov!” I heard the rabbis break out into applause from the other side of the partition carved in the wall, congratulating me.

I turned around and emerged out of the water slowly, its warmth following me. Carol was beaming at me, holding out the towel. “Mazel Tov, Elisheva.”

I pitter-pattered back to the bathroom where I was shaking as I toweled off, got dressed as quickly as I could, and put in my contact lenses once again. I was too impatient to take the time needed to blow dry my long hair, and as a result I was still dripping water when I re-emerged into the little room where everyone was waiting for me.

The rabbis surrounded me and put their hands on my shoulders, breaking into song. As they sang, said their blessings and gave me all the official conversion paperwork, tears started to course down my face. They sang the old traditional Siman Tov/Shalom Aleichem song and I just folded my arms across my chest and bit my lip to unsuccessfully stop myself from crying. The oldest rabbi, probably close to eighty, wrapped his arm around my shoulders in a way a father might comfort a daughter and as he held me while I cried, I felt the warmth of his joy – I had come home.

Elisa and rabbis my menorah

Above: me with rabbis after the ceremony.  Right: a beautiful antique menorah – my conversion gift

In April 2015, a couple of years after my conversion to Judaism, I left for Romania in order to research my newest book, Remember Your Name. Because Bucharest is only a two-hour flight from Tel Aviv, I decided to make my first journey to Israel. I also fulfilled a secret wish I’d carried since my conversion – to go to the Western Wall and recite the Mourner’s Kaddish for my father.

IMG_9298 Jerusalem arches IMG_9131

It took me a lifetime to realize that my parents had been a by-product of their time – they had suffered so immensely that they had absorbed their oppression and passed it onto others. They made others suffer because that was the only way they could relate, after the pain they had endured. They hurt me because they themselves had been hurt. And then I too, as a child of their hatred, had tried my best to keep that light of hate alive – because I’d never known another way. So many scarred, wounded people have created the world we live in today, where suffering and oppression breeds brutality.

When I was in Israel, a new understanding flooded me – that my story doesn’t end with dissecting my own family’s hatred and buried identity. It doesn’t end with me converting to Judaism. I’m also digging back further into the history of hidden Jews and forced converts in Europe, and the internalization of hatred, the transformation of victim into oppressor. We see this everywhere today – oppressed becomes oppressor, persecuted people turn the brutalization they suffered into outward brutality – from the peasant workers’ 20th century revolutions that turned into communist dictatorships, to the Jewish-Arab conflict in the Middle East.

It’s all a vicious cycle. A cycle where hatred and religion-fueled intolerance supresses the spark of divine essence, the oneness, that connects all beings. A cycle of hate and judgemental intolerance so brutal that it’s pushed me toward feelings of worthlessness and thoughts of suicide for most of my adult life. Until I realized that the future of humankind doesn’t rest with governments and profit-driven policies but within us – that love is stronger than hate. Unity is stronger than division. Kindness reveals much more courage than brutality. That is where everyone’s G-d resides. In deeds of loving kindness. In recognizing our mistakes and showing forgiveness to those who harmed us. And in understanding that our differences are nothing in comparison to the beautiful light that shines within us all.

Elisa TelAviv sunset yad vashem vista

Posted in anti-semitism, family, hate, identity, jewish, life, news, religion, romania, thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Gagging the Messenger: An Open Letter to Walrus Magazine

Posted by E on September 28, 2015


This afternoon I read with open-eyed wonder as your magazine trashed Bill C51 and argued passionately against this bill, which you called “a mistake.” A bill which rapidly morphed into a law that gives CSIS untold new powers and is effectively the end of civil rights and privacy as we know it.

What a joke, for a publication that lauded and exonerated a CSIS agent who was directly responsible for the harassment, assault and rape of so many activists and members of the community.

walrus 2004_09In September 2004, just 11 years ago, you were in bed with CSIS. You know exactly what I’m talking about – you published an extremely biased piece by Andrew Mitrovica that essentially exonerated and justified much of CSIS agent Grant Bristow’s actions in what became known as Operation Governor – the creation and funding of a powerful white supremacist, neo-Nazi organization called the Heritage Front.

Your decision to publish this piece of garbage at a time when popular opinion was that CSIS had acted erroneously, resulted in a steep rise of positive publicity for both CSIS and a man who had illegally encouraged skinheads and violent criminals to harass, assault and rape community and anti-racist activists.

Ironic, given the fact that you’ve now jumped on the bandwagon of C-51 critics. Ironic, given that you strive to portray yourself as a high-brow piece of Canadian journalism on the same level as The New Yorker or Atlantic Monthly. One who publishes only the “best writers” Canada has to offer, and claims to be politically fair and impartial.

Yeah, right.

Hategan articleLast year I published a memoir about what I witnessed as a teenager – namely the illegal acts committed by witnessed Grant Bristow, along with the illegal acts he encouraged me as a minor (a 17-year old) to commit.

Did you guys even attempt to speak with me? Did your editorial board give a shit? Did Andrew Mitrovica reach out to me and ask me what happened, or make the slightest semblance of an apology, given the preponderance of evidence that the article was a sham? Given the overwhelming evidence from mainstream media that showed how wrong you were to celebrate CSIS?

Wouldn’t it have been good journalism for Mitrovica and/or your editors to contact me or other Bristow victims at any point in time, before or after writing your pro-CSIS piece, given the fact that my testimony was credible both in the court of law (leading to convictions and prison terms for 3 top Heritage Front leaders), and also good enough for me to testify about Bristow’s illegal acts in front of a Parliamentary Subcommittee in the House of Commons? Given the fact that based on a dozen or so affidavits I signed back in 1993 (which you’re welcome to look at upon request), police attempted to open a criminal investigation into Bristow’s activities – but were thwarted by CSIS. (Why don’t you go ask Clayton Ruby and Paul Copeland, both prestigious Canadian human rights lawyers, how hard they tried to get Bristow in for questioning).

No, of course not.

Why? Because your magazine – like most other elitist, cultural literati publications – were not actually concerned with the truth. You had already had your positive spin on Bristow and had already made your sales for the Bristow edition, and that was that. You didn’t really care about the implications of having covered up for a criminal who was responsible for the harassment, threats, assaults and violent rapes that occurred as a direct result of his actions and directions.

Grant Bristow CSISWhy stir the pot after you sold the target amount of issues in your target market? Especially after you’d already set the bar in terms of whitewashing the Bristow affair?

Why reduce yourself to speak with an insignificant, literary nobody? I’m not a male author penning books on political shit-disturbing phenomenon. I’m not one of your prestigious guest authors – hell, you won’t even consider my submissions because I have no names to drop and I’m not second cousins with Margaret Atwood. I didn’t attend that overpriced MFA program one of your staffers was invited to teach at last summer.

I’m a nobody who told the truth.

Worse yet, I’m a woman writing political discourse who cannot get published in Canada – while everywhere around me men (who didn’t witness first-hand what I did) are getting book deals from major publishers – including the men whose excerpts you chose to feature in your September 25, 2015 issue.

I’m sorry I don’t have a penis. Perhaps if I did, I might have captured your attention. Even though you still chose to publish Andrew Mitrovica’s piece on Grant Bristow – despite the fact that unlike Mitrovica, I actually knew the man in person and he counselled me to commit crimes while I was still a teenager. Despite the fact that nobody bothered to fact-check the truth. Why would you, when you could just take Bristow’s word for it?


Something I learned painfully from publications like The Walrus: the weight of truth depends on the perceived worth of those who speak it.

Back in the 1990s, I possessed enough information to send at least ten Heritage Front and Northern Hammerskins individuals to jail – including Grant Bristow. Probably more, but it hurts too much to start thinking about all the What Ifs. Aside from learning how to hack into telephone systems and how to push people to the brink of suicide, I was taught another important lesson by CSIS – that the weight of truth depends on the perceived worth of those who speak it.

The intrinsic value of my evidence was judged by my worth as a human being – and as an abused, impoverished teenage girl with no education, family or powerful clique of good old CSIS boys to back me up, what I had to say meant absolutely nothing.

Thanks to Canada’s Security and Intelligence Service, millions of dollars were sank into ugly, bottomless pit that was Operation Governor. Falsehoods were spun to assert that Bristow had somehow “prevented” crime from happening, though the fabrications included in the SIRC Report tell us just how much their words are worth. And when I brought real, concrete evidence forth to prosecute dangerous individuals, they buried it.

And yet, being that it is 2014 and I am a university-graduate and professional writer, I never expected this treatment from the supposedly-liberal, “bleeding-hearted” media. From journalists who work at Walrus Magazine. Or from the former head of the Canadian Jewish Congress, who organized a forum in a Toronto synagogue where Grant Bristow was invited to speak and got a standing ovation, despite the crimes he had encouraged against members of the Jewish community. Despite the firebombings of Jewish activist homes, synagogues and the Native-Canadian Centre on Spadina Road.

These days C51 is in the headlines and, like any bleeding-hearted liberal publication worth its salt, The Walrus rushed to jump on the bandwagon of why this intrusive, unconstitutional law should be scrapped. Hey, I don’t begrudge your move because anybody with a modicum of intelligence could poke holes in the unconstitutionality and sickening unlawfulness written into the very fabric of C51. But let’s face it – if you were honestly concerned about CSIS’s reach into every aspect of our personal lives, you wouldn’t have condoned, much less published, what amounts to an exoneration – and downright glorification – of Grant Bristow.

MURDER AND RAPE: What You Covered Up

There are things I didn’t include in my memoir. Events so explosive that to this day I’ve feared the repercussions of CSIS and Bristow.  As a teenager I was threatened at knifepoint, told I would be killed if I spoke about what they did. But now that C51 is law, I can’t stay silent any longer.

Because of CSIS’s Operation Governor, people were attacked and murdered. Concert halls paid for with CSIS money resulted in vile hate concerts after which skinheads went looking for targets to beat up and attack – and in the summer of 1993, three Sri Lankan men were beaten in the streets of Toronto: two of them died, including 32-year old Gunalan Muthulingam. A third one, a 41-year old Sri Lankan Tamil immigrant, former science teacher and father of three by the name of Sivarajah Vinasithamby was punched and kicked in the head so violently that he became brain damaged and paralyzed.

Two women were raped – one violent assault took place in Vancouver, British Columbia and was orchestrated by Operation Governor’s star agent. The other sexual assault took place in Toronto, where a black woman was violently raped by an unknown white supremacist because she had been a social worker in a group home that had recently expelled a 14-year old female member of the Heritage Front.

Instead of investigating the attack, the white police officer charged the victim with mischief. The charges were dropped after I contacted her attorney, famous human rights attorney Clayton Ruby, and volunteered to testify on the victim’s behalf. (Public Mischief Charges Dropped – Toronto Star Mar 8, 1994, Page A6).

CSIS was behind the illegal smuggling of violent White Aryan Resistance (W.A.R.) white supremacists Tom and John Metzger into Canada in 1992, who were smuggled over the border dressed as rabbis (the idea of their star agent Bristow – who you lauded in your Walrus issue). CSIS brought them in, and then got praised for sweeping in to arrest them in the parking lot of the Latvian Hall.

Your boy Grant Bristow, after his heroic depiction in the Walrus by Andrew Mitrovica, went on to harass Jewish Edmonton mayor Stephen Mendel in an attempt to alter the mayoral election, as summarized in this media coverage.

I’m not saying that you are guilty of covering up crimes which you didn’t know existed. But – as a publication that strives to represent the Canadian public – the very least you could have done is allow me to tell my side of the story. If you truly cared about justice, you could have started a new investigation, which – even if you insisted that a male journalist write it – would allow me to share my side of the story.

Instead, as always, you sided with the men – the CSIS agents, the male authors who penned your political pieces, the men in your editorial board who were confronted with the truth and looked away.

By doing so, you became complicit in the CSIS cover-up of Operation Governor.

So please don’t insult my intelligence. Don’t sit here and pay lip service to why C-51 should be scrapped, when you have implicitly cooperated with the criminals in covering up the truth of what really took place in the 1990s. Because, in truth, elitist literati like yourself don’t give a shit about the activists who actually make things happen.

You only give a shit about the status quo, and what’s “hot” in the moment. If you did, you would recognize the error you made in whitewashing the Bristow Affair and Operation Governor, and take a modicum of personal responsibility.

You don’t represent the average Canadian, and you don’t actually give a shit about anything other than your own fiscal bottom line. You would care about exposing the truth, instead of favouring articles written by male authors over women who witnessed the crimes being discussed.

You don’t actually care about the truth, or you wouldn’t have made sure to cover it up.

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The Power of Magic – Eight Powerful Ways to Regain your Self-Confidence

Posted by E on September 15, 2015

Young woman enjoying sunlight

Do you remember the day when you forgot how to fly? When you stopped believing that you were a secret princess spirited away from an enchanted realm? When you stopped speaking out of turn, because others told you that you were too loud?

After you stopped believing in magic, the world became a much harder and grayer place to be. When you no longer believed in your ability to make things happen as effortlessly as a child building a sand castle along the seashore, everything seemed much more complicated. More hurdles to jump, more self-help books to read, more eventual “settling” on the idea that maybe we were never “meant” to become our childhood heroes.

Little girl on a grassy hill looking into a mountain landscapeSomewhere along the densely-forested path to adulthood, your confidence in yourself got lost.

The biggest factors behind low self-confidence are Shame, Guilt and Fear. Most of these splinters were seeded in us when we were children – often by people who were damaged or frustrated in their own ways, and forced their pessimistic view of the world upon us.

Low self-confidence and self-esteem are among the most crippling personality traits you can have, because your worst enemy becomes your Self. Not a boss, a competitor or a pragmatic parent, but YOU transform into your worst obstacle. That monster sitting on your shoulder, whispering those awful things in your ear? You put it there, and it’s that voice that will limit your opportunities and jeopardize your chances of success.

girl reading a bookFive traits common in people with low self-confidence and self-esteem:

1. Taking blame when it is not their fault – being overly critical of themselves

2. Being preoccupied with negative outcomes and past failures

3. Being overly shy and reserved – fearful of new things or spontaneity

4. Doing things to please others or because they fear confrontation – staying in jobs they hate, not speaking up when saddled with extra work, remaining in abusive relationships

5. Undervaluing their own worth – working for free, being underpaid, giving their energy without compensation

How can we make-believe again?

what if fly1. Believe You Can

This is the truth: Nobody is better than you. Sure, there are people who are more proficient at certain skills than you are, just like you’re way ahead of a novice when it comes to your particular craft. But on a fundamental level – and despite the screwed-up socio-economical hierarchies we have created – all human beings are equal. There is absolutely no reason you cannot strive to become the best you can be. I don’t want to put down those who feel afraid, because I’ve known that sort of apprehension. We’ve all experienced fear – the fear of being judged, of stumbling or stuttering at the worst time, the fear of somehow failing and being seen as inferior or worthless.

I grew up in a communist country where corporal punishment was a daily occurrence. If you didn’t do your homework or forgot your notebook at home, you got the ruler over your hands or got strapped with a belt in front of the whole class. I saw a teacher once make one student strap another until he cried. Not that I was impervious myself: I was smacked in the head and had my pigtails pulled when I forgot to bring my science scrapbook to school that day. Small brutalities like this will, over time, embed microscopic fissures into your spirit. The ugly things other brutalized kids say to you, the bullies who call you horrible names – the escalation of pain and fear – further splinter your spirit.

i believe flyUntil, one day, you cease to believe in magic, in your ability to fly. You lose that fairy-tale, innocent fearlessness all children have, the faith that you can do anything. Fear and doubt replace the beauty and get internalized into your psyche, your emotional DNA. And everything that happens after that – every insignificant failure, every stumbling step, no matter how unrelated – becomes “proof” that you’re not good enough.

But what if you CAN fly? What if there really IS a higher purpose to all this – to everything that you’ve experienced, to all that heartbreak? What if you used those terrible things as motivational building blocks to keep you moving forward? You can defeat all those who harmed you in the past by becoming stronger than they are, and by achieving more than they ever will. If you don’t have the confidence to do it for yourself, do it to spite them. Fight back – as I did against those who exploited and harmed me.

You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.

You-never-know-how-strong-you-are2. Improve the Lives of Others

If you think that nothing you do has any impact in the world, try improving the lives of the less fortunate. Few things made me feel better as an impoverished student owing a gazillion dollars in student loans than stepping into the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre as a volunteer with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Canada. For the couple of hours I was there, creativity abounded – prisoners who spent all their days, weeks and years behind bars were free to get creative. They painted their nails, they sketched pictures, they talked about their lives while we thought up creative projects. One afternoon several of us volunteers arranged for a KFC party for the women – we brought in a couple of 20-piece bucket meals and the excitement and gratitude from the prisoners left all of us moved.

flying girlEven though it took a lot out of me afterwards, when leaving the prison and hearing door after automatic door slide shut behind me, I knew that I had made their lives that much better. In that moment, that was all that counted.

Later in life, I sponsored a few overseas children through organizations that allowed money to be transferred directly to a local community officer who took the child and her family shopping for necessities. For every $100 I managed to scrounge up, I would receive stacks of photographs of the family with the supplies they’d received, and heartfelt, handwritten letters of thanks. Even though I might have put that $100 toward a new dress or pair of shoes, something that might have benefited me – I derived so much more enjoyment from realizing that such a small sum of money (in western societies) can have a dramatic impact in providing impoverished people with items that I take for granted every day – like having a bed, or a rice cooker.

By working with a disadvantaged teen, or volunteering in a soup kitchen or an abused women’s shelter, you quickly begin to realize how good you have it. It’s a sobering lesson, but also one full of power. You owe it to yourself – and to those who don’t have the opportunities you do – to accomplish something that will leave the world a better place.

thinker little girl3. Empower Yourself with Knowledge

Millions of people in this world would trade places with you in a second, if given the chance. You’re literate (I assume, since you’re reading this now :) ) and had the opportunity to go to school, to access a library, to live in fairly regulated, sanitary conditions. Having full bellies and amusement galore has left so many westerners complacent and superficial. With TV, the internet and our electronic gadgets – never mind YouTube and the free movie streaming sites – we are drowning in entertainment. Our society might say that it values education, books and the pursuit of knowledge, but people’s behaviour speaks to the contrary – indifference and self-centredness rules.

Just because everyone around wants to talk about what they did on the weekend or share cute kitty pics from I Can Haz Cheeseburger doesn’t mean you have to keep yourself at the same insipid level. You don’t need to enroll in formal classes, or pay for education – it’s all out there, within grasp. Hundreds of years of literature, history, art, discourse, creativity and insights…all at your fingertips. Online, in libraries, in museums… knowledge is yours for the taking. And the more you learn, the more confident you will become. The more you will understand yourself, the world you live in, and how to relate to others.

girl jumping4. Accept Who You Are

How can you grow your self-confidence and platform if your image hinges on a fabrication or an illusion? I’ve known too many people whose résumés were a lie – one woman I knew indicated she’d attended Havergal College, a private, elite Toronto high school for wealthy girls (tuition is upwards of $10,000 a semester) as well as a Swiss boarding school, when in fact she’d grown up in a Barrie, ON slum. Another person took short-term, sporadic volunteer gigs found on Workopolis and listed them as real, year-long jobs on her LinkedIn profile – tantamount to me listing myself as a correctional officer simply because I’d volunteered inside prisons, or as a legal secretary because I’d once worked in a law office.

In an age when competition is fierce, desperate people will resort to desperate things in order to make themselves be noticed. A 2012 Globe & Mail article estimated that close to 40% of job seekers lie on their resumes.

But the best way to boost your confidence is not to pad your resume, but accept who you really are. Surround yourself with people who believe in you, and minimize interactions with naysayers and pragmatic, sarcastic individuals.

Accept your good qualities and acknowledge your flaws. To believe in yourself you have no choice but to love yourself, for better or for worse.

phoenix5. Have Your Own Goals – not those others wish upon you

What gives your soul purpose and meaning? What are the things that make your spirit feel like flying? What accomplishments will make you feel like a phoenix rising out of a pond of ashes? You’ve got to figure this out, and get to it. Maybe it’s taking that once-in-a-lifetime journey, or running that marathon, or becoming proficient in a particular hobby. What you enjoy, and gives your life purpose, is what is valuable. What one person thinks is a great accomplishment might mean little to someone else – someone pursuing an MBA versus taking a year to write a novel. Value is relative, and when it comes to building your self-confidence, anything goes.

Believe-in-Magic6. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

There is only one YOU in this universe. You are unique in every way. If you think about it, everybody battles adversity – everybody at one point or another thinks, “I don’t know if I can do this.” It’s part of our human experience. And that’s perfectly okay. According to Charles Bukowski, a seriously messed-up and utterly brilliant writer, “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.”

emerson meme7. Have Patience & Think Differently

Pain and frustration have their purposes – they push us toward discovering new solutions, new ways of thinking that might illuminate a path previously unseen. The last thing you want to do is quit before you’ve had a chance to properly develop a proficiency and pathway toward accomplishing your dream. Just like how young teens can literally have growing pains when their bones lengthen, you too might experience negative emotions when things don’t happen right away. Sometimes you can get so frazzled by the lack of immediacy in results that you might miss an important clue sitting there, right in front of you!

Trust me – I’m probably the most impatient person you’ll ever meet. I know how waiting can feel like the most terrible thing in the world – but the rewards can often be the sweetest.

dance-in-the-rain8. Take Care of Yourself

As someone who has battled depression all my adult life, I can’t stress how important it is to make sure you look after yourself. The better you feel when you look in the mirror, the more confidence you’ll have about getting out of bed in the morning. Pay attention to your grooming. Try to exercise. Dress as nicely as you can, given your budget. There are wonderful finds for every budget. A friend of mine owns a consignment store and I’m constantly amazed at the luxurious, wonderful designer clothing that she sells for a fraction of the original prices.

Make sure you eat well and get enough rest – it might sound like really basic advice, but caring for yourself is a crucial building block toward loving yourself and developing your self-confidence.

Walt Disney, the creator of so many magical stories of our childhood, once said, The secret of making dreams come true can be summarized in four C’s: curiosity, confidence, courage and constancy, and the greatest of all is confidence. When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable.

You CAN fly, even on broken wings. I know you can, because I’ve seen it. The thing is, those wings are inside your mind. And that is where the magic lives – and everything is possible.

girl running  dandelion dreams

Posted in books, inspiration, poetry, psychology, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Bread and Circuses – The Illusion of Choice

Posted by E on September 14, 2015


Last night was the first day of Rosh Hashana – for those of you unfamiliar with Jewish holidays, it’s a special celebration that marks the beginning of a new year – 5776 to be precise. So for the last couple of days I’ve been busy cooking up a storm and cleaning the house for a dinner party on Sunday evening. But sometime between making sure that the Hungarian goulash would bubble gently on the stove for precisely 2.5 hours and getting the ingredients together for my first-ever (and incredibly delicious) Asian-inspired bourbon chicken dish, the idea for a new blog entry came to me. Paradoxical, considering that what I was doing (chopping veggies in the kitchen) was rather mundane – but since I get my best ideas in the shower or while brushing my teeth, it shouldn’t have surprised me after all.

shana_tova shanatova drawing

Over the last month or so I’ve been developing a basic guide to social media marketing for artists – writers specifically, but something that should benefit anybody in the arts who wishes to build a wider platform. I’ve written about 3-4 pieces that cover branding, crowdfunding and blogging, but suddenly – while checking on the brisket and roasted Romanian peppers (I should give you guys the recipe!) – it dawned on me that I neglected the most important factor of marketing – the bigger picture.

Just about anybody can call themselves a social media expert these days. As human beings bred to be social creatures, we all have varying degrees of proficiency. But what passes as social media instruction is often very superficial – just last week I read ads for a webinar that teaches wannabe “experts” how to bluff their way into getting hired by unsuspecting clients who might actually know more than they do.

I’m guilty of giving impersonal advice too, and who isn’t? The internet is full of advice that aims to be helpful. You’ll be told that you need to brand yourself – start a blog, print some business cards, etc. It’s all fine and dandy, and you’ll read the same advice practically everywhere. But how many such self-help webinars will tell you about the illusion of choice? Who will tell you that you’re actually working against a huge, invisible wave that nevertheless permeates every fiber of our daily existence?

media_consolidationThe Illusion of Choice

In order to really and truly understand the fundamentals of marketing, you must learn about the forces behind it. Specifically, you have to learn the rules of the game that, for better or worse, we’re all conditioned to play. A crucial piece of that understanding rests in accepting the fact that much of what we think we know – that is, the basis for our opinions – comes from a filtered, polluted and thoroughly biased process.

Many of us have heard of Noam Chomsky’s ground-breaking 1988 book Manufactured Consent. Chomsky based the title on a quote from a 1922 book titled Public Opinion by one Walter Lippmann, which delineates the social, physical, and psychological barriers impeding man’s ability to interpret the world. Yes, even back in 1922 (before the funnel-like conglomeration of the world’s media) there were concerns about human beings’ ability to discern the truth around them.

“The manufacture of consent is capable of great refinements no one, I think, denies. […] the opportunities for manipulation open to anyone who understands the process are plain enough” – Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion

media-moguls-1200x849The blame for such intentional ignorance rests both on the plutocracy of the status quo (who own or fund the printing presses, radio, TV and other forms of media) and also on the public itself who prefers ignorance over reality – much like the current obsession over Kanye and Kim Kardashian’s ass.

Lippmann’s discourses are that 1) the media is profit-driven, and 2) wants to play it safe, i.e. won’t publish anything too controversial.

1.The buying public: The bewildered herd must pay for understanding the unseen environment through the mass communications media. The irony is that — although the public’s opinion is important — they must pay for its acceptance. And we know that people will buy the most media at the lowest price: “For a dollar, you may not even get an armful of candy, but for a dollar or less people expect reality/representations of truth to fall into their laps”. (Wikipedia)

2.Nature of news: Officially-available public matters will constitute “the news”, and unofficial (private) matters either are unavailable or used as “issues” for propaganda. (Wikipedia)

Bread and Circuses

cicero bread and circusesI’d heard this phrase decades ago, as part of some subversive political zine or another, and knew that it dated back to Roman times, a poet named Juvenal and the violent “games” of the Coliseum. The meaning isn’t hard to grasp: in 140 B.C. Roman politicians passed laws to keep the votes of poorer citizens by introducing free food rations: they gave out free grain and entertainment, i.e. “bread and circuses”, which became the most effective way to rise to power.

I heard the phrase again last year from someone who had read my memoir Race Traitor and was shocked that it hadn’t received coverage in mainstream news. So many people have written to me privately and congratulated me for fighting fear and publishing a crucial part of 1990s Canadian history, a piece of our history that certain government factions would rather be forgotten.

juvenal2I told him that I’d done my best to contact the media, tapping every contact I’d had in the press. I was actually interviewed by a well-known journalist from the Globe & Mail, as well as a top programming director at the CBC. Neither interview ever made it to print (or air).

I refused to speculate why, but with the media monopolization that has taken place over the last few decades, it isn’t hard to imagine why a state-funded television network like the CBC would decline to air my story – despite the fact that in 1994 they had broadcast a Fifth Estate episode that featured Grant Bristow and my story. Back in 1994 Linden MacIntyre (who couldn’t be bothered to reply to my 2014 email, even after being connected to him via well-known human rights attorney Paul Copeland) had quoted the Toronto’s Regional CSIS Investigator as saying “We’ll tear her to shreds” about me. I was an 18-year old girl back then, a child, who CSIS wanted to “rip to shreds” because my affidavits described many of the criminal activities their agent Grant Bristow had committed. Grant, of course, was subsequently retired to Alberta and given a “shut your mouth” package totalling close to a million dollars.

revolutionGiven the media monopoly going on in the world today, it is increasingly difficult to get any airtime if you’re writing hard-hitting pieces that might challenge the government or status quo. I’ve received private messages of encouragement from mainstream journalists too afraid to cover my story publicly. What choice do they have? I understand their dilemmas – everyone has a mortgage, kids, needs to put food on the table.

Six media giants now control 90% of what we hear, read or see on television, on the radio, in the newspapers or at the cinema. In 1983, that 90% was owned by 50 different companies. Yes, times have changed, and if you want to be hired or stay employed in mainstream press, you have to toe the line and play by the rules. This isn’t a “conspiracy” – it’s a sad fact.

Timeline of Media Conglomeration

1941 – rules were created to ensure that a broadcaster could not own TV stations that reached over 35% of the population.

circuses21946 – rules were enacted that prohibited a major network from buying another major network

1996 – Telecommunications Act = rules went out the window, unprecedented radio station consolidation

2008 – the US Senate voted, without debate, to throw out FCC’s rules on newspaper broadcast conglomerations.

These six major corporations now own all the world’s major publishers and every major newspaper in western countries. They also own the news stations, leading to collusion and censorship in reporting.

Why am I writing this? Because whenever it comes to media manipulation and the corporations behind it, you’re bound to hear all sorts of opinions about who is running the show, and what their agenda might be. And frankly I am sick of the misinformation going on out there, even among progressives on the left and Anonymous. Tired of the implied and overt anti-Semitism that goes with the thought that these six corporations are all connected to Jewish families like the Rothschilds or Bilderbergs. This is NOT about Judaism, or “the Illuminati”. Such disinformation campaigns are hateful, disingenuous and serve to promote division among people. They’re just as evil as media disinformation campaigns that aim to vilify our “enemies” (i.e. the Russians – anybody in BRICS) before we go to war with them.

Orwell media memeLet me set the record straight: as a Jew, I’ve never benefitted from any largesse because of my ethnic or religious background. Because I told the truth about CSIS’ illegal actions in the 1990s I still can’t get my book featured by the mainstream press and I had to default on my student loans in order to have a life. I have absolutely nothing on my side but the truth (not that the truth puts food on the table).

Religion or a European background is NOT what ties people like the Rothschilds, the Bilderbergs, the Rockerfellers, the Oppenheimers or the House of Windsor together – because as a European and a Jew, I’m still poor. And let me assure you that nobody called me with the password to initiate me into the Illuminati :)

What keeps the elites in power is greed and unethical, unadulterated wealth – not religion, not ethnicity, not skin colour. The only God the .001% of elites worship is Money. Any charitable foundations they create are about tax write-offs. Any photo-ops with indigenous peoples or wartime refugees are to profit from potential lawsuits disguised as humanitarian causes, or potential territorial resources. When Queen Elizabeth shakes hands or takes a bouquet of flowers from a toddler, she’s more concerned about the colour-coordination of her coat & hat and renovating the plumbing at Windsor Castle with taxpayers’ money.

speak the truthWe’re talking about the .001% of elites whose God is Money. These are people born with diamond-encrusted gold spoons in their mouths, who have never known hunger, fear, or had to fight with all their might to achieve anything in their lives. Their only claim to fame rests on the laurels of being born at the right time, out of the right vagina.

And in the meanwhile the rest of us, the .999%, are fighting amongst ourselves for scraps. Allowing the biased, partisan, manufactured media to divide us along camps of left and right, black and white, Jewish, Christian or Muslim. This is not about money or religion, or sexual orientation (I’m a lesbian – but why would you care what I do in bed?).

It’s about POWER and CONTROL.

How can we ever succeed when the game is rigged? Simple – educate yourself. Inform yourself and others. It’s only the beginning. And even if with every passing year it’s more difficult to discern the truth – you have to keep trying. Because our lives have to have meaning above and beyond the pursuit of money. There has to be some meaning in all this – in all the tears and despair of a world where millions die of hunger, manufactured wars and preventable diseases every year.

There has to be.

life meaning

Watch this today. BE the change you want to see in the world.

Posted in activism, blog, books, cbc, censorship, freedom, globe & mail, grant bristow, jewish, journalism, media, publishing, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Secret of Compounding Blog Posts

Posted by E on September 9, 2015

inkwell feathers

Everyone who’s ever had a blog knows that you’ll get your winning entries – the pieces that bring you loads of traffic – and your destined-to-gather-dust duds. And the frustrating thing is, at first it all seems like a crapshoot where you can’t tell which post will take off from the starting gates and which will linger unread, despite all the effort and research you put into it.

Sometimes it’s sheer luck. At least it seems like that on the surface. But if you scrutinize the patterns of your own writing, certain facts are bound to emerge. It might take quite a bit of time, but eventually you can come to predict which articles are destined to be “winners” – the pieces that bring you a constant stream of traffic, and lead people toward your other writing.

However, until this month I didn’t have a word for this. Not until I stumbled upon an excellent HubSpot research report titled Compounding Blog Posts – What They Are and Why They Matter.

compounding and decaying So what are compounding posts? Why is it crucial that you understand how they function?

A compounding post is one that grows in traffic over time, surpasssing its initial, just-published traffic. “Compounding posts may not necessarily be blockbusters when they’re first published, but their structure and substance are so relevant that they continue to deliver value and grow traffic organically — no additional marketing needed.”

The opposite of a compounding post is a decaying post. A decaying post declines in traffic over time.

The report revealed an important statistic about compounding vs. decaying posts. According to HubSpot’s research, 38% of total blog traffic is generated by compounding posts. However, compounding posts only make up 10% of all posts.

compounding posts

This seems very frustrating – out of the approximately 200 posts I’ve published in the last few years, only about 20 will be compounding. That’s a lot of time spent planning and writing pieces that will probably not go anywhere or generate much of a return. So what can you do about that?

I think the goal of most individuals and businesses is to write posts that perform. But along with trying to learn how to write compounding posts right out of the gate, I think it also boils down to what you are trying to accomplish.

In classic marketing, there are two basic schools of thought when it comes to branding – you can brand yourself, or you can brand a business (with its own particular subject matter).

who-are-youI don’t beat around the bush about being partial to the former. With me as the brand, it gives me the freedom to write eclectic pieces about anything that I feel passionate about. One day it might be an intimate, journaling piece that chronicles a particular situation I feel strongly about; the next day I might use my psychology degree to put together a profile of Psychopathy, or perhaps offer my experiences as an expat living and teaching abroad.

For huge corporations, a business brand is crucial. I read an article recently which stated that when considering toilet paper, the vast majority of buyers are not interested in the company’s CEO. But for smaller businesses, the owner’s personal brand is absolutely critical.

If I chose to brand only one angle – say, a consultancy business as an editor – then all my posts would be very narrow in scope. Obviously I would write about editing, publishing and the art of writing as a whole. But I know myself – after say, 50 posts or maybe a year of plugging at the same subject, I’d get pretty bored.

Maybe if I wrote to a niche audience I might acquire a large following faster (though there are no guarantees) and of course there is the possibility of selling the business down the road – after you’ve accumulated enough of a following. But the internet is chock-full of niche writers, so if you choose a topic that has been flogged to death (say, social media marketing or indie publishing), you’d better have something truly original or it will be very difficult to monetize it. Not impossible – because nothing’s really impossible – but very, very difficult to resell.

So don’t choose your branding strategy based on some vague notion of future riches – choose what fits YOU and your personality the best.

After reading the HubSpot editorial, I decided to decipher what sets my top articles apart from everything else I’ve written on this blog. I decided to compile all the pieces that received the highest-amount of traffic and try to break down the components that contributed to their success. Once I started to understand what they had in common, I created this list:

Variety IS the Spice of Life

Don’t just clone your pieces. I can tell you that my top-performing articles are all divergent in their topic – one thing they all have in common is my unique perception. Don’t be afraid to roam free, rather than be corralled into a singular perspective. You are a well-rounded human being with (I would assume) more than one interest and one viewpoint – use your blog as a vehicle to explore the things that make your heart beat faster: books, music, politics, shoes, cooking – whatever makes you, well, you.

Emotional Authenticity – Be Genuine

Something that all my top pieces have in common is that most of them are written from the heart. They’re full of emotion: some were written when I was feeling heartbroken or frustrated at those who took advantage of me as a teenager (my blogs about the CBC, CSIS and the Heritage Front). Others capture a particular life experience that resonates with others (such as the story of my conversion to Judaism, or my memories of growing up in a communist dictatorship).

long word counts

 Length is an issue also – these are also pieces that are particularly in-depth and on average have a higher word count than my shorter entries.

Of course I have other, equally emotion-driven pieces that are seldom read. But just like a writer who publishes and fails and tries again, I cannot guess beforehand what will be a hit. The important thing is to plug away at the craft – it might take one book to break out, it might take ten until you hit the bestseller lists. What’s crucial is to keep going, and to be authentic at all times.

In this age of superficiality, there is an underlying aspect to the human condition: the drive for meaning. For emotional truth. Don’t try to write something compelling – FEEL IT. Feel the power of the words as they flow from your heart out through your fingers.

Knowledge – write about what you really know about

The other factor all my top-viewed posts have in common is knowledge and expertise. I wrote about subjects that I knew intimately. When you try to bluff being an expert and write pieces that are not rich in content, people tend to notice. Think of how many blog posts you’ve skimmed over, nodding to yourself, Yup, I already know all this. You don’t have to be a subject matter expert to realize that valuable, smartly-written content is still hard to come by.

Take a Broad, Sweeping Approach

Broad topics that appeal to a large audience perform better over time than those with a narrower focus. Become a guerilla marketer for your own blog. Turn things inside out. See things from fresh perspectives. If 90% of what you write is serious, try adding some light-hearted, fun material. The reverse is true – if all you focus on are subjects involving fashion styles or cooking, consider a deeper, emotional piece about what a particular recipe means to you – does it make you connect with a grandmother who passed on, or a part of your heritage?

Be Unique

What draws you to one writer over another? I’m willing to bet that uniqueness is a factor. Superficial, short pieces might be fun reads and easy time-wasters, but they are also forgettable. They’re the fast-food of the masses – you read them, enjoy them, and two hours later you’re already hungry for something new.

Write about the things nobody else is talking about. Don’t just regurgitate the fluff everybody’s blogging about, or keep things lite and trite – there are thousands of very successful blogs that already do that. Fashion blogs, mommy blogs, even political pundits – it’s all been done. So just write what makes you content or fulfilled.

Be Passionate

Write the kind of material that will be savoured, bookmarked and reread. Look through your own bookmarks and see what you tend to revisit – and then find something that you are really, truly passionate about. Be fearless!

As you can see, these factors are applicable not just to creating a popular blog or website, but also can be translated to your approach to writing in general. Whether you’re working on a short, 600-word editorial or a full-length novel, the same rules apply.

Be Yourself.

Quill and Ink feather-pen-and-ink-on-old-paper

In case you’re curious, here are my top articles (in no particular order). Over time, they have generated thousands of hits to my blog and website.

White Lies: A Pack of Lies, or How the CBC Ripped Off My Story – in 1998 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) made a movie that exploited and capitalized on my life experiences as a teenager. Problem is, they didn’t bother to tell me about it.

Journey to Judaism: The Day I Became a Jew – the most personal, spiritual journey I’ve made in my life. Genetic memory, discovery that my anti-Semitic father was a Jew who had hidden his roots, and uncovering my painful legacy lead my decision to embrace my heritage and convert to Judaism

An Open Letter to Canadian Media – in light of Bill C-51, I consider this article to be among the most important pieces I’ve ever written. This piece led to several alternative and mainstream media interviews, as well as speaking engagements.

Race Traitor MEDIA LIBRARY – a comprehensive but not complete media library to detail the situations described in my memoir Race Traitor

The Dubious Adventures of Grant Bristow, or How CSIS Taught Me Everything I Know About Phone Hacking The truth about what really happened in the 1990s and CSIS’ role in creating a white supremacist pseudo-terrorist organization in Toronto. This article depicts what agent provocateur Grant Bristow did to stir up criminal activity, and what I did as a teenager to shut them down.

Memories of my Communist Childhood – Growing Up Under the Red Banner is one of my most emotional pieces. It has been quoted in various online journals and is about growing up as a pioneer in the Romanian communist utopia of Nicolae Ceausescu, during the Golden Epoch of our Fatherland.

Doing a Midnight Run without Getting Caught – the title says it all. A practical how-to guide on escaping from Korea while bound to an E2 work visa.

The Brutal Truth about Being a Writer – the most important ingredient you’ll need to make it as a writer, and it ISN’T talent

Psycopath vs Sociopath Psychological profile traits to help you discern if anyone you know could be categorized as such – there is much confusion on what is the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath. This article is going to clear it up.

The Artist’s Basic Guide to Establishing a Social Media Presence – Part 1: Build your Brand If you’ve ever wondered where to start to build a platform as an artist, read this first.

The freedom to dream, the courage to belong  If you’ve ever had a dream worth fighting for and you searched within yourself for the courage and resilience to move forward, you’ll want to read this.

Why I Defaulted on my Student Loans – and why, if you’re suffering financial hardship, you should too

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Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans

Posted by E on September 5, 2015

students demo student protesters

“Technically, you’re already in default,” said the man with the heavy Francophone accent. “You defaulted as of last month. There’s nothing else we can do. Your debt was sent to collections two weeks ago. You’ve already had a grace period extension.”

“But if you wait just one more month….” I started, straining to hear him over the crackle of the crappy long-distance connection. “I’m getting my first salary at the end of this month.”

“Is there no one who could lend you the first payment?” he asked sympathetically. “A family member? We can’t put off your repayments any longer.”

“No, but I’ll have the funds soon. I’ll get them transferred into my Canadian bank account and send you the cheque as soon as I get paid.”

“I’m sorry,” he said again. “You understand that I have no choice. It’s policy.”

He tried to be as nice as possible about it, but I was out of options. My credit was ruined. It was the year 2000, the birth a new millennium, and as a twenty-five year old I was supposed to be having the time of my life. Instead, I was screwed.

Student-Loan-DebtThis month I read a powerful NY Times op-ed by Lee Siegel, titled Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans. He spoke of a deeply-personal subject that parallels my own experiences – a situation I’ve never written or spoken about publicly. In light of the heavy criticism heaved upon Siegel for encouraging others to default, I feel it’s tremendously important to add my own story. Thousands of young grads’ lives are affected both by heavy student debts and by the decision to choose default and/or bankruptcy over being enslaved for decades – this is an option that shouldn’t be shrouded in shame.

Siegel wrote this about the difficult period following his graduation:

I found myself confronted with a choice that too many people have had to and will have to face. I could give up what had become my vocation (in my case, being a writer) and take a job that I didn’t want in order to repay the huge debt I had accumulated in college and graduate school. Or I could take what I had been led to believe was both the morally and legally reprehensible step of defaulting on my student loans, which was the only way I could survive without wasting my life in a job that had nothing to do with my particular usefulness to society.

I chose life. That is to say, I defaulted on my student loans. As difficult as it has been, I’ve never looked back. The millions of young people today, who collectively owe over $1 trillion in loans, may want to consider my example.”

grad ingreenI graduated in 1999 from the University of Ottawa, freshly-minted with a double major in Criminology and Psychology. For a former high-school drop-out with a turbulent past, I’d done exceptionally well in university: on the Dean’s Honour Roll for my first three years, receiving small merit scholarships and earning a Magna Cum Laude distinction. I’d also discovered my passion – writing. After dreaming of being a writer since childhood, in my last year of university I encountered a Creative Writing professor who encouraged me to pursue that vocation. Professor Seymour Mayne (who would become my long-time mentor, supporter and friend) believed in my potential and told me I had real talent, and that I shouldn’t be afraid of dedicating myself to it.

My Honours degree was an personal achievement, considering that I’d dropped out in grade nine and never attended high school; in its place, I took an equivalency exam and was awarded a GED (high school equivalency) diploma at age eighteen. My childhood had been rough and violent – an immigrant to Canada from age 11, I grew up with abusive parents. My father died after I turned 13 and my mother’s abuse continued, leading me to run away. After a couple of years in CAS group homes and foster care, I returned to my mother’s home. At age sixteen I was recruited by the Heritage Front, a dangerous racist gang that soon became the most powerful neo-Nazi, white supremacist group Canada has ever had.

By age eighteen, I knew I wanted out. After a series of events I described in my memoir Race Traitor, I spied on the group leaders and testified against three of them, sending them to prison. I would later find out that a co-founder, Grant Bristow, was a CSIS agent who had instigated several criminal acts about which I’d provided affidavits. At CSIS’s request (and to protect their agent, as discussed in a 1994 episode of CBC’s The Fifth Estate), my application to be admitted into the Witness Protection Program was denied.

defection 1994-2Hategan article Metro Toronto

I was nineteen, in danger after several death threats, and had nobody to protect me except for a small number of dedicated activists who risked their well-being to ensure I remained alive. I was on the run for over a year all along the East Coast and eventually settled in Ottawa and rented an extra room from a grad student. My roommate, Julie, encouraged me to apply to university. “How could I pay for it? How would I live?” I asked her.

“The way everybody does,” Julie answered. “Apply for OSAP, Canada Student Loans. Anything you can get. I’ll help you fill out the paperwork.”

fencing teamAnd so I did. With my GED and letters of reference in hand (for which I will be eternally grateful), I applied and was accepted by both Carleton and the University of Ottawa. I chose the latter. I moved closer to the campus, renting a sunny room in a century-old, red-bricked house on Macdonald Street. My years of study were beautiful and were a new childhood for me – I threw myself into my studies. I somehow managed to get on the varsity fencing team, and won first place at the Varsity Athletic Games. I volunteered in the community. I wrote papers for other students for extra cash and tutored foreign students in English. In summers I worked two jobs, both at magazine and tobacco shops – one on Sparks Street that paid me $7 under the table, the other being the famous Mags & Fags, Ottawa’s oldest newspaper and periodicals shop.

By the time I graduated, I was thankful for my loans and intended to repay them as soon as I was able to get a job. I had a grace period of six months from my graduation date before the loan repayments would kick in. Plenty of time to find something, right?


On my Macdonald St porch

After a couple of months of searching, I landed an interview for a job that seemed made for me – as a staff member of a locked-up youth facility. It was a good job. By good, I mean earning double digits – $15 an hour instead of the minimum wage $7 I got paid at the magazine stores. With my years spent as a CAS kid and my dual criminology and psych degree, I was a shoo-in. I had cinched the interview and the smiling man across the desk was already discussing me coming in for shifts every other weekend, but for one last question:

“Do you have a driver’s license?”

Of course I didn’t. Not just because of the obvious reason – there was no way in hell I could afford a car, even a beat-up used one – but also due to my fear of being found by the men who had threatened to kill me.

Less than five years earlier, when I was just seventeen years old, I had been taught by the Heritage Front’s self-appointed “Intelligence chief”, Grant Bristow, that getting the info off drivers’ licenses was as easy as paying $5. “Access of information,” he’d told me. “You just need the driver’s name and you can get it through the Access to Information Act.”

Section 21(1)(c), to be precise. That’s how skinheads and neo-Nazis learned to track down their political opponents to their home addresses – via public voters’ registries and drivers’ licenses. With my name being so unique, I couldn’t take the risk of applying for a license unless I had a name change. And since CSIS had directed the RCMP (the Witness Protection Program falls under their jurisdiction) to dismiss my information in order to protect Bristow from criminal charges (both my ex-lawyer Paul Copeland and notorious Toronto attorney Clayton Ruby were working on getting Bristow’s crimes investigated) – I couldn’t get a name change.

Why? Because I owed student loans. To prevent fraud, Canadian law stipulates that you aren’t allowed to change your name if you have any unpaid debts or any pending court proceedings. That makes sense, except for the fact that at age nineteen, I had gone from an existence in hiding straight to university – which was only made possible by getting student loans. Now that I owed over $40,000, there was no way I could change my name. A driver’s permit (that revealed my home address) was out of the question.

Even if I might decide to risk being found, I was terrified to bring harm onto others – I worried about my elderly, frail landlady, about my roommates and the woman I was involved with at the time, who was Hispanic (and at risk for a racial attack if they found me). Knowing how the Heritage Front had been taught to operate by Grant Bristow, everyone around me was at risk. I owed it to all of them to reduce any potential traces of my address anywhere.

The interviewer looked apologetic. Even though the advertised position involved looking after incarcerated youth within the facility, their policy still required all staff to have licenses in case there was an emergency, or the kids were to attend an appointment outside the facility. I shook his hand and thanked him for considering me, and I managed to keep myself from bursting into tears until I was around the corner from the building.

All of a sudden I understood how screwed I really was. A criminology or social work degree was absolutely useless without a drivers’ permit. The CO’s from the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre told me the same thing: just get your permit and reapply. They already knew me after I’d volunteered inside the prison as an arts coordinator for the Elizabeth Fry Society, and I’d also interviewed them for my Penal Justice term paper. But how could I tell them the truth – how deeply ashamed I was about my past. Even though I had been a minor, legally a child, for most of my involvement with the hate group – and I made amends by putting its leaders in prison – how could I tell potential employers why I was afraid to have my address on my ID, or register anything under my name? Wouldn’t such a past immediately kill my chances at employment?

memeI thought about Grant Bristow. I thought of how the CSIS agent, co-founder and co- leader of the Heritage Front was sitting pretty in a three-car garage house bought by taxpayers’ money (and getting a living stipend to the tune of $3000 per month) despite never testifying in any court proceedings. All because CSIS made sure to get him into the Witness Protection Program and ensured that I would be rejected from the same program.

So now that I couldn’t get a license (for risk of being tracked down) jobs in my field were out of the question. Furthermore, all government jobs I applied to (Canada’s capital being, after all, a hive of bureaucracy) required a working fluency in French, which I lacked. Soon I found myself in the same boat as so many other young grads – dependent on $7, minimum-wage jobs. I worked ten hours a day and cried myself to sleep worrying about whether I could make it as a writer. How would I find the time to write? Would I end up a shop girl for the rest of my life, selling souvenirs, newspapers and cigarettes to tourists on Sparks and Elgin streets?

What had seemed a perfectly good job as a student was no longer such a rosy prospect. I felt depressed and frustrated with my every failure to secure a well-paying job. Depression set in and I stopped going to work at the magazine store. The six months came impossibly fast – I practically blinked and my payments were due. Something in the vicinity of $500 a month. I made minimum payments on my credit cards and begged the student loans people to please give me an extension.

To my surprise, a lady from the bank took pity on me. Three more months, she said. She’d obviously heard enough similar tales to understand the difficult position I found myself in. But that was it, my last lifeline – no more extensions after that.

major-s-hill-parkI pounded the pavement again. It was a scorching summer and my depression had grown worse. To keep myself together, I often walked to the top peak of Major Hill’s Park, crouched down on the grass and wrote poetry. I loved seeing the jutting glass arches of the National Gallery of Canada building, the way it looked like a crystal palace hovering over the sea of multihued tulips that spread from the grassy hillocks toward the artsy Byward Market.

Sometimes I clambered down to the rocks along the shoreline and sat on my favourite boulder, watching the tumultuous waves of the Rideau River crash against the rough beach pebbles and rootless tree branches.

alexandra bridgeUpward and to my right, the steel beams of the Alexandra Bridge glinted, catching the sparks of late afternoon sunlight. I liked that bridge. My landlady’s daughter Jennifer told me that one of her best friends had committed suicide in winter by throwing herself off it and smashing into the ice floats below, and I had made a mental note at the back of my head that if all else failed, that was as good a plan as any.

If I couldn’t make it as a writer and couldn’t get a decent job, what the fuck was the point?

Major_Hill_ParkAnd then two miracles happened, and they came back-to-back in such a way that it was impossible not to take it as a sign of greater things to come. The first (and best) news was that The Fiddlehead, one of Canada’s most prestigious literary journals, was going to publish one of my poems! I’d had poetry appear in University of Ottawa publications before, but this was the first time an independent publication liked my writing enough to put it into print. When they mailed me the issue in which my poem appeared, with a cheque for $40 tucked inside, I was ecstatic and fueled with hope – maybe I could make a living as a writer after all.

The following week, a friend forwarded me an email from Adam, a recruiter for Korean hogwons (privately-owned tutorial schools) who was looking for English-speaking young people to teach ESL. No experience needed – you just had to have a BA (in any field) and speak fluent, native-proficiency English. And they paid more than the part-time job I’d just quit.

Soon I was on the phone with the guy. “Is this a scam?” I asked him.

“No, of course not.”

“Do I have to pay for my flight?”


“So what’s the catch? Are they a strip club? A prostitution ring?”

He laughed. “There’s no catch – they’re desperate and will fast-track everything. They’ll Fedex you the flight ticket, set you up in your own accommodations close to the school, and you only have to work twenty hours a week. They’ll pay you 1600 won a month and they don’t care if you’ve never been around kids before. You’ll likely teach a combination of kids, teenagers and adults.”

Getting paid the equivalent of $1600 a month for only 20 hours a week – with the potential of making double that income if I tutored privately after hours – sounded insanely great for someone in my desperate position. And best thing was, no driver’s license was needed!

azaleas koreaLess than a week later my flight ticket arrived from Singapore Airlines. The next day I took the bus to Montreal so that I could get my work visa from the Korean Consulate, since I was leaving the following week. They had seen many young people like me, the smiling lady at the consulate told me. Recent grads without job prospects at home, fleeing by the thousands to high-paying teaching jobs in Japan and South Korea. But Korea paid better, covered accommodations, and the cost of living in Seoul was a lot less than Tokyo.

Afterwards I packed all my things in one feverish 24-hour period and carried them to the basement, thankful that my landlady Pat had allowed me to store my things while I was gone. On a dark and rainy Monday morning, my best friend Dina drove me to the airport. She herself didn’t have any other jobs beside her brother’s magazine shop on Sparks street. Soon she would depart for France, where she’d been offered a contract position for six months. Since she loved Paris she’d probably have done it for free, especially once she managed to talk an elderly aunt who lived in a crappy outer arrondisement to let her crash on her sofa.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I would never return to live in Ottawa. By the time I found myself back in Canada, a year and a half later, most of my friends had left the capital. Nearly all of them because they couldn’t find work there and had heavy student loan burdens that needed to be covered. Half a dozen ended up in South Korea. The rest scattered throughout Ontario, and several went back to school. The general thought was, What do you do when you can’t get a job? Simple: enroll in graduate school and take out another student loan – that delays the payback period.

We were the screwed Gen X generation – kids born in the 70s and early 80s, nestled precipitously between the relatively-young, unionized Baby Boomers who’d taken all the best jobs and refused to be pushed out before age seventy, and a newer age cohort who would take all the entry-level jobs of the new millennium.

Seoul Korea editNaively, I still thought that I could pay back my student loans. I was still one month shy of defaulting, and I was going to scrimp and save every penny to send it back to ScotiaBank. But within the first couple of weeks at my new job in Inchon, Korea, I realized that I’d made a mistake – my contract wasn’t being honoured. The school director was giving me additional hours for which I wouldn’t get paid, and I was lowest on the totem pole among the other foreign teachers, who all saddled me with their most difficult classes.

I felt lost and upset at the deception. I still had my return flight ticket, but I didn’t want to quit and return to Canada. I was just starting to like Korea. My problem was, according to Korean law, my work visa was attached to that particular hogwon (school). If I had any hope of working in Korea, I would have to find a new school who could reimburse my director for the flight, documentation costs and the finder’s fee paid out to the recruiter.

elisa with studentsLuckily, I was in a country where my ability to speak perfect English was in high demand. I met with Adam, the guy who’d recruited me, and over the course of one Saturday we walked around downtown Seoul until we found a school looking to hire. My new school director negotiated a price on my head with my ex-director, and a fee was decided upon. I also promised my old director that I would work for free (and forfeit my first month’s income) as long as he signed the official documentation releasing me from my work contract with his particular hogwon.

By the time I started my new job in Seoul, another month had passed. Once I was settled into my new apartment in the Kangdong-Cheonho district and had an official address, my landlady Pat forwarded me a large padded envelope containing all my letters from ScotiaBank and the student loans people. It was then that I realized I’d ran out of time.

I scrambled to make my credit card payments via snail mail – these were the days before online banking was introduced, which would have made my life a whole lot easier. Then I made an appointment to speak with a ScotiaBank rep about my student loans. Given the 12-hour time difference, I stayed up until the middle of the night to speak with him, only to be told it was too late.

“I’m sorry,” he repeated. “Your loan has gone into default. There’s nothing else we can do for you.”

with students in Koreawith studentsmy classdrama festival

me in ChinaI worked hard that year and saved up thousands of dollars. I taught private classes nearly every night after my hogwon shifts ended and paid off every cent of my two existing credit cards. Then I scrimped some more. I even put aside a little to take a week-long vacation to Beijing and scale the Great Wall of China during my school break.

When my teaching contract ended, I had to make a choice – to pay off a portion of my student loan, or to live? It wasn’t a hard choice to make. Now that I was jobless once again, I could give ScotiaBank the ten thousand dollars I had put aside and then incur more interest until I was back up to $40,000+ once again. I could try to join the rat race back in Canada and work myself into oblivion at a job I hated, just so I could salvage my shitty credit score. Or I could hide out abroad, away from the collectors and knee-breakers, and write.

I was a traveller before I could afford it. I dreamed of exotic places and faraway destinations, and all that stood between me and living that dream was an insurmountable student loan I knew I could never pay off. I didn’t have any supportive family and had the misfortune to be poor and unconnected in a place where money and connections buys you everything.

So much of my past had been ripped from me as a child, during Ceausescu’s communist dictatorship. I wanted to revisit Romania and find out how my father died, to track down old relatives, trace my roots through Hungary and Poland, and understand the bloody history of an Eastern Europe whose DNA flowed in my veins.

students-loans2And I wanted to write. In order to get that time to travel to write, I had to default on my student loans. In some ways, I was fortunate that nobody else had co-signed my loans. It wasn’t like I was making a high enough income to worry about garnishment or income tax withholding. In fact, I didn’t even plan on returning to Canada for several more years – I wanted to work in Korea or live in South America next. My credit score was the only casualty, and I was willing to sacrifice it in order to be a writer.

I knew that eventually I would have to find a partner with good credit, who could support me during the times when my bad credit might haunt me. Someone who could understand that I’d never be able to co-sign on property, or car loans, or anything that demanded a review of my credit score. Who’d understand my need to forge ahead as a writer despite the financial catastrophe that a career in the arts usually entails. Fortunately, I was eventually able to find such a person, and as the years passed my student loans became a distant nightmare I seldom thought about.

As Siegel writes, “Am I a deadbeat? In the eyes of the law I am. Indifferent to the claim that repaying student loans is the road to character? Yes.”

Who the hell has the right to lecture bankrupt students on morality? The colleges whose greed-driven, soaring tuitions are making higher education an increasingly-unaffordable commodity? The banks who defraud, bribe, and are experts in insider trading and nepotism? We may have outgrown debtor prisons, but we still live in a world where if you’re poor and cannot pay your mortgage, you’re kicked onto the streets. Considered barely different from a common criminal. Whereas if you’re a bank and you break all sorts of laws, you’re given a bailout plan worth millions.

We live in a country where an intelligence agent who helps create a neo-Nazi white supremacist group, who plans and directs criminal acts with impunity and never accounts for a single arrest and prosecution gets a payoff worth close to a million dollars from Canada’s Security and Intelligence Service, but a teenage girl who testifies against white supremacist leaders (who go to prison) gets denied Witness Protection and has to go on the run for her life.

student_loan_debt__too big to fail   Seniors-with-student-loan-debt

“If the banks have become too big to fail, then the people have become too small to succeed,” argues Siegel, defending what he says would be “a collective act of civil disobedience” if everyone would simply default.

And I agree.

Am I unethical? To some, most definitely. But if I am unethical, then so are the banks who sent my student loans into default without giving me another chance. So are the government agents who instigated the harassment, terror attacks and assaults of innocent Canadian citizens and simultaneously denied me the opportunity to start a new life. So are governments who invest far more in prisons and the military than in their own citizens’ educations.

Canada changed its official policy on bankruptcy and student loans on July 7, 2008 – reducing the time limit you had to wait before declaring bankruptcy from 10 years to 7 years.

On July 8, I made the first appointment with a bankruptcy attorney in downtown Toronto. By the following Monday I was in their office, signing the required papers. In the eight years since I’d graduated, my student loan and interest had ballooned to $50,000.

Nine months after, I was free. Free to breathe. Free to legally change my name.

Free to live again.


Posted in freedom, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Importance of Blogging – 10 Top Reasons

Posted by E on September 1, 2015

Girl on tablet with social media icon chalkboard

Every day, about 175,000 blogs are created. There is a blog born every half-second. So why should YOU start one, you might ask? The real question you should ask yourself is, why haven’t you started one yet? There might be millions of blogs out there, but they are not all created equal. In the blogosphere, Longevity, Frequency and Quality are king.

shakespeare blogSome are simply online journals that capture an individual’s daily routines. Some are heavy-duty corporate articles that attract thousands of readers, or motivational pieces that are retweeted and reblogged hundreds of times. Each blog is different and some serve multiple purposes. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, based on how search engines rank their pages, a blog that updates more frequently will rise up in the search results and achieve greater exposure than a static site.


Of course static websites like a .com have not outrun their purpose – but the most successful sites will have incorporated blogging as part of their brand-building strategy. You can also buy a .com domain and point it to a blog, which is what I’ve done in several cases where I didn’t want to pay for hosting a static website. Nowadays you can integrate a classic website with a blog architecture, as is the case of – where you can own your domain but still use the powerful blogging tools that WordPress offers.

people in the information space

  1. The cardinal rules of blogging are 1) Post frequently, and 2) don’t post articles that are too long. I’m guilty of violating the second rule rather frequently since many of my pieces run well in excess of 1000 to 2000 words. I believe in creating comprehensive and well-researched articles and often there is much more to be said about a subject than can be encapsulated in 500 words. But whenever I can, I make sure to break up the large chunk of text with appropriate images or fun facts, so it gets easier on the eyes.

Here are some reasons you need to incorporate blogging into your business:

1. Drive Traffic to your Website via built-in Links

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Each article posted on your personal or company blog has the power to drive traffic to your domain and sell your brand and/or products, along with potentially cross-networking with other powerful sites. The more interesting the material you post, the more likelihood there is for catching people’s attention and gathering awareness for your main product site.

blogging importance2. Increase your SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

Eighty percent of people who search for information online never get past the first page of results. It is therefore crucial that your business and brand identity appears in the top ten search results. Blogging frequently attracts higher traffic to your site and will result in your website being indexed higher in Google and other internet browsers, which in turn will lead to further expansion of your name and brand.

Companies that blog have 434% more indexed pages. And 9.81% of businesses consider their blogs to be an important asset to their businesses. Blogging is a sure-fire way to increase your SEO and do it fast. According to Social Media B2B, companies that blog generate 67% more leads per month than those that don’t.

Fresh content is key to beating out your competitors in search engine results and boosting your offline business. According to a 2010 study by the Kelsey Group, 97% of all consumers use online media to shop locally. Another study conducted by Intelius shows that 78% of consumers consider it important to look up information about businesses online before deciding to interact with them.

3. Establish your Brand as an Expert in your Particular Field

For years now I’ve written blogs for several corporations and non-profit organizations, mostly as a ghostwriter – meaning I was hired to write articles for the particular company to publish at their own discretion. I’ve also built several websites for clients and created their web content. I cannot stress how invaluable it is to keep constant, new information coming. Writing one entry every couple months or so will never build enough interest to bring people back to your site. And it’s not just a matter of creating content, but actually making it interesting and relevant for your audience.

4. Develop New and Improved Relationships with Clients, Fans and Customers

A key to being an effective blogger is the opportunity to engage with new people who search for keywords and stumble onto your blog. After several years, I have close to six thousand regular subscribers to my Incognito Press blog. I probably could have built more connections if I had been more persistent in updating my content. There were months when I was working on other projects and neglected my own website. However, despite the occasional breaks over the years, I’m at the point where my blog averages approx. a hundred new hits a day – and on days when I publish a new piece, my traffic spikes to several hundred.

why blog blogging 5. Increase Sales of your Product or Services, which will Monetize your Brand

Many of the people who purchase my books discovered me and my story through the articles I posted on my blog. Aside from being able to sell books through a blogging platform, you can also be paid to write articles on various products. Leading bloggers in their field are often given free products and/or monetary compensation for reviewing anything from fashion products to consumer goods. The more traffic you generate to your site, the more your brand value increases and you become a commodity. Eventually you have the option of selling your blog and associated domain at a premium, or publishing its contents as a book – the sky’s the limit!


Should you blog, even if you have nothing to sell? Of course you should, and here are some reasons why:

how_to_blog1. Blogging Improves your Writing

I started blogging sometime in 2007, I think. Over the years I’ve noticed that, just like in journalism, blogging has helped me immensely in writing clearer and faster. Why is it like journalism? In a press office, journalists are expected to produce certain word counts on a deadline – after a while, the thought of writing 1000 words per day becomes routine. Practice makes perfect!

No more Writer’s Block

If you blog for as long as I have, you begin to realize that there’s really no such thing as writer’s block. Just like going for a walk, writing involves the process of putting one step in front of another until you get to the end of your goal – word after word after word, and then it’s done. It’s giving up the excuse of lack of concentration, and realizing that – just like in working out – blogging daily or weekly develops your writing muscle.

2. Blogging gives you a Voice

blogging voiceFew things are better than getting something off your chest. Art – writing, painting, dancing – are incredibly powerful and therapeutic methods to make yourself be heard in a world where it’s so easy for people to fall through the cracks. It’s a means to record your experiences through your own unique filter. It will capture a lasting chronicle of your days, months and years, as well as leave something behind for your loved ones when you are gone. Just like anything you create, it’s a legacy of your essence in this world and an important part of our collective history.

blogging-community3. A Supportive Community

Blogging can get you to come out of your shell. You can network with new people and be introduced to an audience and community of supporters who understand you and encourage your dreams. I’ve met some really amazing people through my blog or by reading their blogs, and I’ve been enriched by their presence in my life.

4. You are a Journalist

sky horizonHow many times have you watched your local television news and saw them quoting Twitter users or YouTube posters? In the age of social media, online news providers – yes, this means your blog also! – are at the forefront of NEW MEDIA. In fact, they are replacing traditional media at an astounding rate. Independent news networks and blogger sites are the main reason newspapers are shutting down all over the country and paid jobs in journalism are increasingly scarce. This isn’t a bad thing, people – the increased diversity of voices brings fresh and original perspectives to the human experience. It opens the door to niches and new ideas. It sparks a new hunger that ignites the imagination and originality.

bloggervsjournalistAs a blogger who often writes commentaries on politics and the arts, I can tell you that my blogs have attracted the attention of mainstream press and have reached many thousands of individuals. I’ve come to the conclusion that bloggers (especially those who cover hard-hitting issues) aren’t just doing a hobby but an actual job. Their pieces can be sold to newspapers and magazines and, in fact, they can be considered freelance journalists.

5. It can Lead to Speaking Engagements, Publishing Deals & Jobs

In the publishing world, there’s almost nothing better than having a platform of thousands of readers. There are authors who were rejected hundreds of times and subsequently developed such a strong following that agents and publishers came crawling after them. Many of them don’t even want a traditional deal anymore. Based on the contents of my blog, I’ve been asked to be a speaker at various conferences and have hand-sold more books than the average first print-run Canadian author typically gets.

Your new resume and calling card

Most companies’ HR departments are now regularly googling prospective new employers. People want to know you and what you’re all about, and this is your chance to establish yourself as someone who knows your field well.

Finally, the more you write and the more attention you get from your pieces, the more likelihood that you might be offered a freelance or ghostwriting gig. And there’s no better feeling than getting paid for what you were already doing for free.

On that note – if anyone reading this wants to hire me to write your blogs for you or your company, drop me a line! ;)

Blogging Brand Voice1

Posted in blog, blogger, blogging, press | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Medicalization of Grief

Posted by E on August 29, 2015

sadness heart tree

We like to think we live in a diverse, tolerant, understanding society, when nothing could be further from the truth. The Cult of Positive Thinking has made it socially-acceptable to be shunned for expressing real emotions: sadness, grief, any manifestation of loss that isn’t perfectly encapsulated by a prescribed set time, after which you are supposed to “move on.” There are craploads of online articles that purport to answer the question “What is normal grief?” (emphasis mine), “What is the difference between grief and clinical depression”, “Grief – What’s Normal and What’s Not?” and “A Helpful Guide to Coping with Grief and Loss” – as though something like this can be easily slotted into a How-To guide. As if, you can grief for a certain period of time, dependant on the degree of closeness to the deceased, and afterwards you’re clinically abnormal if you do.

So what is “normal”? Three to six months for an elderly parent? Nine months for a spouse? One week for a pet?

Leo Dec2011 smallWhen my beloved cat Leo, who was like a child to me, had to be put down in 2012, I could tell that my grief wasn’t socially acceptable. Of course, no one actually came out to say, “It’s just a cat,” but I know that’s what they were thinking. His death affected me viscerally for two years, well past socially-acceptable norms. I didn’t think of Leo’s soul and spirit as a “cat.” He was a family member. But in our world, there is an unspoken denigration of any species other than Homo Sapiens. And in this society, nobody wants to talk about grief. After all, how long are you supposed to grieve a “pet”? A week? Is the loss even considered “serious enough” to take time off work?

What if it was a child? How long are you supposed to grieve, before you are expected to put your best face on and be a “role model” for the world? Years ago, I read about the tragic, violent death of two New York City children murdered by their live-in nanny. Stabbed to death in their bathtub, during bath time, to be precise – a violent and brutal end to lives that never had a chance to bloom. Their mother had kept a meticulous blog of their life, full of wonderful, creative activities – picnics, playdates, the best Manhattan kindergartens money could buy – and when they were murdered, social media swarmed upon those photos. There was a kind of disturbed glee at the fact that someone in an upper-class, $10,000 per month rental apartment, could suffer loss.

But loss always feels the same. Whether you’re in the lowest or highest income brackets, to lose a child – indeed, anyone you love deeply, with all your heart and soul – is the worst ache you can ever experience. And yet the expectation was that, after a certain period of grief (say, a year), the family would move on with their surviving middle child and life would go on. Indeed, they did – they established a foundation and art scholarships in the names of their dead children and nowadays are all about being positive and carrying on the dead kids’ “legacy”.

PROZAC SAMPLE ADI wonder how much of that “positivity” is the result of social expectation. If you “get over” such a tragedy, you’re a role model for “moving forward.” You get to go on talk shows and get applauded for being “strong.” If you don’t, you’re a loser who must be mentally ill. Personally, I couldn’t recover from such a loss. I’d want to die. We all die anyway, right? So why live with pain for another 40+ years (statistically speaking, based on my current age)? How does one recover from such a loss and get to be a poster child for Positive Thinking?

ritalinWe live in a fucked-up world where the DSM-5 (Psychiatry’s Holy Bible) classifies grief as a potentially-abnormal phenomenon, a mental illness to be medicalized and treated with psychotropic drugs (a billion-dollar annual industry) if need be: Prozac, Paxil, Lithium, Ridalin, and everything in between. The meds are only supposed to mask the grief that you’re not supposed to manifest in polite society, to mask the unacceptable pain we all feel but aren’t allowed to speak about.

Don’t make any assumptions about me and my stance on this field, by the way, particularly as my BA was a double major in Criminology and Psychology – essentially both being fields of study focused on classifying human beings as criminals or abnormal – but these days I wonder all sorts of things. I guess it’s understandable, especially since I’m grieving the loss of my own mother.

My mother isn’t dead – not physically, anyway. But for all intents and purposes, she is gone. Taken by a disease worse than cancer and stroke and traffic accidents and all things combined: Alzheimer’s. You see, when a person gets cancer, there is time to grieve and say goodbye. Preparations for departure get made. When it’s a car accident, the initial shock is brutal – but at least you don’t see your loved one in a vegetative state for years, trapped between here and there.

But this horrible, awful thing – nobody gets it. How could we evolve as a society in terms of human rights and technology, yet at the cost of burying our true feelings deeper and deeper?

Sadness is NORMAL. Grief doesn’t have an expiry date – it lasts as long as you feel it in your body. I experienced severe trauma in my first, formative ten years of life. It still affects me today. And it’s certainly not for a lack of counselling or Prozac. But sometimes trauma, grief and sadness can take decades to resolve. And sometimes, a part of it remains with you for life.

And that is perfectly fucking NORMAL.

Iablanita bridge 2

One of my favourite photos with my mother – one of the very few

I feel like my mother is dead already, but it’s not politically-correct to mourn her yet. People don’t understand when I say that she’s gone, because technically she’s still alive. And I recognise that for as long as she’s alive, it’s socially unacceptable to grieve as though she’s dead.

And yet, she is.

My mother was an awful, abusive, neglecting parent – mostly because her own “mother” didn’t care to raise her and her father had died in her infancy. She grew up wild and feral, with no maternal instincts, and I wasn’t a planned pregnancy. And therefore I too, skinny and alone, raised my own self.

And yet today I feel something I’ve never thought I could ever wish for – that the abusive, unkind person she used to be still existed.

Iablanita bridge

One of my favourite photos with my mother – one of the very few

Because I could be angry. I could hate her. Because I could try – as ineffectually as it might be – to lash out, and at least attempt to explain how her behaviour affected my life.

But all there is now is a shell – a person with the same DNA, but a body vacant of its spirit. She’s only 70 years old, but early onset Alzheimer’s has taken whatever had remained of her. I’m only grateful that, even though I had a 50-50% chance of inheriting the APOE gene from her (which she tested positive for) as well as from my maternal grandmother who also died of Alzheimer’s, my 23andme results show that I did NOT get the Alzheimer’s gene. Although it’s something that still terrifies me each time I forget someone’s name, each time I have to search my brain for a particular word.

And so yesterday, while visiting her at Mount Sinai hospital, I hand-fed her dinner and couldn’t stop the tears from flowing down my face. Because she is a child now – a child who harmed me in so many ways and will never understand how she has scarred me. But now there is nobody to stand on trial, nobody to hold accountable.

So while I spooned rice, turkey mash and gravy into her shaky mouth, it dawned on me that the person who wounded me is gone. Dead. There is only a small, vulnerable child left in her place. But nobody around me understands this because, for all intents and purposes, this woman is still alive.

So perhaps I’m not supposed to grieve and mourn the death of her. After all, we’re not allowed to mourn the non-dead. To mourn longer than usual. To express any sorts of feelings of raw pain and anguish, of depression and loneliness, because there is no motive. The pain of my childhood is long behind me, right? And my “mother” is not dead. Not clinically, anyway.

And yet, I am.

Posted in death, grief, personal, psychology, sadness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Artist’s Guide to Establishing a Social Media Presence – Part 2: Crowdfunding Your Project

Posted by E on August 27, 2015


About ten years ago I stumbled upon a revolutionary website that introduced me to the concept of microloans: With as little as $25, I could contribute funds to individuals all over the world, and especially in impoverished third world countries, in order to help them achieve their business goals. People who wouldn’t normally have access to traditional banking systems were now able to obtain loans and expand their income, providing better lives for their families. Within a year, my partner and I had contributed to more than a dozen businesses and were rewarded as our funds were paid back both monetarily and through the sense of joy we experienced each time we were sent an update or photo from the person we’d funded.

community treeAfter my introduction to Kiva, I started wondering if there wasn’t a way to contribute financial resources to individuals in need without the need of a payback. Sure enough, within a few short years, the concept of crowdfunding exploded. Crowdfunding is, in essence, the potential to leverage the power of social media in order to build widespread support for a project. Crowdfunding builds upon the idea of crowdsourcing: “the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to an undefined, large group of people or community (a “crowd”), through an open call.” (Wikipedia)

The basic concept of generally goes like this: you pitch an idea, set a fundraising goal and choose a deadline for raising funds – typically 30 to 45 days from start. (The last point has been rendered obsolete with the introduction of new, never-expiring platforms like GoFundMe).

A 2014 Forbes article quotes a Crowdfunding Industry Report by Massolution which states that an estimated $5.1 Billion was raised through online crowdfunding in 2013. 2014 brought new crowdfunding sites that further accelerated the rapid industry growth.

crowdfunding umbrellaKickstarter was the major crowdfunding website that started it all – whether needing the cash to fund an innovative consumer product, a CD release or to get an indie film made, people who might never have had the ability to see their dream in action began to connect with others who understood their vision and, more importantly, were willing to bankroll it with as little as a single dollar.

Kickstarter’s unique concept still rests in its all-or-nothing approach – if your financial goal isn’t met by the end of the campaign, everyone who contributed gets their money refunded and the project creator walks away with nothing. This was meant to encourage 1) realistic fundraising goals, and 2) the public’s trust that their money would actually be used for a project that got enough funding to actually get made.

Because of their history and the public’s familiarity with its concept and reliability, Kickstarter still remains the most popular platform for crowdfunding. However, the competition for funds is fierce, and now there is such demand for campaign creation that Kickstarter’s team has implemented a system of pre-approval – which means you compete with other idea pitchers before you even have a chance to be featured on the site. Due to the fierce competition, having a high-quality video that explains your pitch is pretty much a necessity.

However, there are a couple of other newer crowdfunding sites that are rapidly gaining in brand name recognition and giving people a chance to raise funds without forcing them to take an all-or-nothing risk. The most reliable competitors to Kickstarter are Indiegogo and GoFundMe.


This spring I launched a campaign on Indiegogo for a new memoir project, and two months later I continued it using GoFundMe as a platform. Both sites have a lot of similarities, and while I chose Indiegogo initially and would still recommend it to start with (I’ll explain why in a minute), I found that GoFundMe offers the most flexibility via their open-ended campaign platform. This means there is no expiry date to the pitch, and you can keep the link live and continue receiving donations over time, as long as people are still willing to support your project.

It’s no secret why I chose not to go the Kickstarter route – the all-or-nothing approach was a deal-breaker for me. I’m not a gambling person, and I don’t have thousands of fans and family members to solicit from. I also dreaded the figures – as of today’s Kickstarter stats, only 37.12% of projects are successful. I feared having to beg everyone for donations for a month and raise only a portion of my needed amount – only to lose it all. It wasn’t a gamble I was willing to make.

So I went with Indiegogo because they have a beautiful and intuitive website interface and lots of the artists I know were using them at the time to fund their project. I think I set a deadline of 45 days for my campaign, and then it was live and searchable within minutes. No glitches, no staff preapproval process – just smooth sailing all the way. They also have a much larger international presence than Kickstarter, and aren’t as North American-centric. An important factor for me, given that my book research involved travel to eastern Europe.

The thing that makes GoFundMe third in my view (behind Kickstarter and Indiegogo) is the fact that you need to raise a threshold of $500 before your campaign can be featured and searchable on their public site. The link still works, but it’s not searchable via their website. However, GoFundMe makes up for this major flaw by allowing you to withdraw the donations as soon as they come rolling in, instead of waiting for an expiration date.

There are, of course, other websites where you can raise funds for humanitarian cause or a charitable purpose – the most popular among non-profit organizations is FirstGiving. But since this is a Basic Guide for Artists (and since my word-count for this article is reaching epic proportions) I’m going to limit myself to these top three sites.

Infographics-CrowdFundingIf you take a moment to visit my crowdfunding project pages at Indiegogo and GoFundMe, you’ll see how I set them up and the kinds of thank-you Rewards (or Perks, as Indiegogo calls it) you can provide to your donors. It’s extremely important to offer something back – because people need to see proof of their donation in action. Even if your project might be delayed in completion – and one of the biggest complaints about Kickstarter and other platforms is that the projects often run late in delivery – you still need to keep your backers informed as to how things are going.

All in all, I raised close to $2000 for my book using a combination of Indiegogo, GoFundMe and private donations via Paypal – I’d set up a donation button on my website and sent the link to anyone who expressed discomfort over registering on a crowdfunding website. I was actually surprised at how many people opted to donate directly to me. Although I still came short of my goal of $8000, the money I did raise was invaluable and helped cover my flight ticket to Romania, as well as part of the cost of accommodations.

crowdfunding hands    crowdfunding steps

A 12-Step Battleplan on how you can get your project funded:

1. Do Your Homework

Look up the most successful campaigns on Kickstarter – after you watch a few pitches, a pattern starts to emerge. The best campaigns will use humour or emotion to elicit a response from their potential backer audience.

2. Develop a Social Media Strategy

Identify any particular target audience and figure out how to reach them. It might involve joining new groups and discussions on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Reddit, Yahoo Groups, Google Plus and anyplace in between. If you have any media contacts, try to line up interviews as soon as the campaign goes live. Remember that it takes time for a story to be developed, approved by an editor and then broadcast on television or in print, and a campaign can go by really fast. So make sure your media exposure will take place while the campaign is still live.

crowdfunding tree3. Appeal to your Friends and Fanbase

If you already have a fanbase or following built around your artistic or professional profile, you need to leverage it. You may need to contact each person individually, so start early. Customize your promotion to suit your platform. Don’t just ask your friends and fans for money – ask them to spread the word among their own friends and contacts. Asking them to donate a moment of their time to share your link (especially if they don’t have a job and money to contribute financially) is equally important.

4. Create a Winning Pitch

Be passionate about what you’re trying to create. Show your emotion and let people feel how important this is to you. Don’t hold back, and don’t just assume others will understand how critical it is. This isn’t a time to be subtle, so go forth with all guns blazing. Try to make an impression from the first paragraph. Don’t assume people will scroll down and read your entire pitch, so try to grab them from the first sentence.

If you have the ability to film your pitch – do it. The added human factor of your audience seeing and hearing you speak from your heart about what you want to accomplish will make a huge difference. I’ve seen fantastic videos and poorly-made ones, and in my opinion if you don’t have the skills or equipment to produce a good video, it’s probably better to skip it and focus on other visual imagery such as photos. At the bare minimum, you absolutely must have a photo of yourself so that people can see who they are backing.

5. Project Confidence

whether-you-think-you-can-henry-fordIt’s crucial that you maintain confidence in your vision. You have to believe that you can accomplish this – because if you show any doubt, how are you going to inspire confidence in others?

Above all – can you deliver on your pitch? Do you have the experience or credentials to get this done? If you’re pitching for a movie, do you have any knowledge of media production or camerawork? If you’re pitching for a book – have you ever written and/or published anything before? In essence – are you qualified or equipped to get the work done?

“People don’t want to back a campaign that’s not going to work,” says writer and entrepreneur Seth Godin about his crowdfunding experiences. You have to convince your potential backers that you are a winner, that cool kid who’s going to re-enact a David vs Goliath epic battle and triumph in the end. Most people want to support others succeed and vicariously join in that feeling of triumph and success.

6. Show How the Money will be Spent

Don’t just talk about how important this is to you. people need to see a detailed explanation of how exactly you’ll be using their money. The more detailed the plan, the more credibility you’ll gain for your project. Make a ballpark figure on what it will cost to supply materials, or what the travel and research costs might be, within reason.

7. Get your Hands Dirty – Promote Every Day

It still surprises me how many people think they can just launch a crowdfunding project and it will magically get funded. For every idiot who wins the Kickstarter lottery by pitching a harebrained concept like making potato salad and gets $50,000, there are thousands of worthwhile, well-thought-out projects that go unnoticed and unfunded. So don’t assume that yours will be the one that gets lucky, because the odds are against you.

This mentality of “If you build it, they will come” is just plain wrong, because it enables you to get lazy about soliciting donations from everywhere around you. Remember: close to 50 percent of donations will come from people you know. Yes, you read that right. For campaigns to go viral, your friends have to share with their friends, who in turn tell all their friends and relatives about it.

Email everyone in your contacts list. Tweet about it every other day. Contact people who aren’t normally on social media – email them at their regular email addresses. Ask them to check out your campaign link and tell you what they think. I’ve received cheques in the snail mail and Paypal donations directly. Don’t just rely on Kickstarter or Indiegogo – money can come from unexpected sources!

8. Don’t use Social Media exclusively as a Promotional Tool

crowdfunding offlineDon’t start friending new people and joining new groups to just post a link to your crowdfunding campaign. Some group moderators might consider such an approach as spamming. Worse yet, new friends and potential new acquaintances will see your approach as not entirely genuine. So take the time to build new contacts and relationships with people before telling them about your campaign. Build meaningful engagements that will last well beyond your campaign’s expiry date.

It might take a lot of time, but you have to make the time to contact people individually. Personalize your emails and Facebook direct messages to each person – don’t just mass-email a “Hey guys, I need your help” message, because it will be ignored. It’s much harder to ignore a personalized request than a spam-type message. Yes, this involves tailoring your messages to each person in your Facebook or LinkedIn account, but you’ll likely get people’s attention that way.

9. You might need to use Social Media Advertising

The average crowdfunding campaign earns less than $10,000. If you have a significant goal, you will need to buy ads. From my experience, Facebook ads (and to a smaller degree, Twitter ads) are likely the best option to target consumers, but getting the right key words to target a particular audience is crucial. Don’t make your reach too broad or too narrow, but also remember that you can’t spend too much money – the whole point of this is to earn donations for your project, not spend for advertising. Create a budget for the ads – say, $50 – and stick to it.

10. Set a Reasonable Intention

If the project costs will be very high (say, over $10,000) consider breaking up the crowdfunding campaign into several chunks. This is especially important on an all-or-nothing platform like Kickstarter, where if your goal is too high you risk losing everything you’ve already raised. It’s something I’ve seen over and over, and it’s really sad considering how much energy and hope people put into their fundraising.

Even if your funding model is flexible, such as on Indiegogo, don’t consider it an invitation to set an unrealistic goal. I’ve recently seen an Indiegogo campaign for a book by a first-time author set its goal at $40,000. This is excessive and will be perceived as unreasonable by almost anyone who reads that pitch – the author didn’t mention any travel plans or particular reason why he would ask for such a high figure and, given his lack of a writing background, it appeared like a delusional request. When it comes to crowdfunding books – where there isn’t a high cost for manufacturing materials and the most expensive item on your list might be a laptop or word processor, you have to be especially careful to be realistic. Even if the project involves travel for research, try to keep your budget as tight as possible.

Remember that people naturally and subconsciously want to side with a winner. Don’t let them smell the possibility of a failure by making an unreasonable demand.

11. Your Success or Failure at Crowdfunding does Not Reflect Your Project’s Intrinsic Value

light brightlyThis is the most important thing I can tell you – don’t take it personally if people you thought you could count on don’t come through for you. In my mind, this is the most important thing to remember – it hurts far more to be ignored by people you’ve been friends for years than by casual online acquaintances.

There were girls I went to school with, women I had histories with, old classmates who were employed in good government jobs. People who frequently posted photos of fancy restaurant dinners and weekends away at exotic retreats. People who always seemed to be online on Facebook….except for the month I started posting about my fundraising campaign. It’s a phenomenon I’ve read about on other people’s blogs — your so-called friends mysteriously vanish, make up some excuse about not having seen your post, or promise to take a look later and then never respond to your messages….until your campaign is finished. Then suddenly everybody is talking to you again. There’s no more awkwardness about not wanting to cough up $5 or $10 to support your vision.

I don’t consider people like these friends anymore. It’s a harsh statement to make, but in this age of social media we often fool ourselves into thinking we are more popular than we really are. You can boast of a thousand Facebook “friends” but in reality have less than ten people in your close circle who really “get” who you are.

tree dont give upCrowdfunding has a funny way of revealing who is really in your court. I can understand the reluctance of people who don’t know me personally to get involved in supporting my campaign (although donating a single dollar wouldn’t kill them). But I have to admit that yes, I did experience disappointment and feelings of betrayal when individuals I considered friends for decades (and who were gainfully employed) wouldn’t even acknowledge my messages or offer a single dollar as a donation. Even as a gesture of faith.

In fact, I noticed an interesting juxtaposition between friends in lower-income brackets and those making higher figures – in general, the ones with less money actually donated more to my campaign. With a couple of exceptions I’m very grateful for, many of those who considered themselves upper-middle class or in the highest income bracket were actually the stingiest.

It’s next to impossible not to take this personally, not to see the lack of donations as a correlation to someone’s lack of faith in you. Because it is. I’m going to be frank here, but if someone who’s known you for most of your life, is privy to your hopes, ambitions and passions and recognizes what this project means to you and still makes an excuse or refuses to help, it’s not about not having $5 to give.

Support comes in many ways – people can still share the link to your campaign on their Facebook wall, with their friends or Twitter network. They can send you a message of encouragement, if nothing else. Someone who doesn’t offer a single dollar and doesn’t share the link with anyone cannot claim to have any support for your dreams. This is a hard fact to accept, but in the end you must understand that it’s not to do with you. Their unwillingness to help is more due to stinginess, jealousy or perhaps one’s lack of faith in their own ability to crowdfund successfully. No matter what the reason, it’s not your fault.

Forget the nay-sayers and the unsupportive. Show them how they missed out on being part of something truly wonderful and possibly even revolutionary. Above all, remember this: Someone’s rejection of your dream isn’t a judgement on the strength or worthwhileness of what you are trying to accomplish.

The famous Greek philosopher Epictetus once said, ‘In prosperity it is very easy to find a friend; in adversity, nothing is so difficult.’ When you’re popular and on top of the world, everybody is your friend. But when you’re down and need support, be it emotional or financial, the herd thins out and you begin to see who your real friends actually are.

12. You’re Not Doing This Alone

Whether you get all the funding you need, or a small portion of it – it’s important to be grateful. Even if you asked for $10,000 and received only $100, it’s a hundred dollars you didn’t have before and it brings with it the knowledge that others have faith in you. Don’t think about those who didn’t support you – think of the people who did. Persevere and get the work done. Over-deliver on everything you promised.

Even when things get rough, remember that you have a crowd of supporters behind you – these people implicitly understand and support your vision. Some will be close friends, others new acquaintances and even complete strangers who donate anonymously. This is the beauty of crowdfunding –you are embraced by a strong circle of supporters who are your motivation and a battalion for your self-esteem. Your campaign backers are walking with you at every step of the way. You’re doing this for them as much as you’re doing it for you – so use their willingness to take a chance on your dream as fuel for your fire.

imagination meme

Posted in crowdfunding, media, social media, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »


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