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Posted by E on July 19, 2012

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Posted in activism, agent, anonymous, art, artist, books, canada, culture, depression, identity, literature, longing, media, news, perseverence, poetry, politics, publishing, rejection, revolution, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Enter your password to view comments.

Alice in Writerland

Posted by E on June 4, 2012

Image

PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release

June 4, 2012

Toronto, Ontario

Incognito Press announces the publication of ALICE IN WRITERLAND: A WRITER’S ADVENTURES IN THE UGLY WORLD OF PUBLISHING, written by local author Elisa Hategan.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elisa Hategan is the Romanian-Canadian author of RACE TRAITOR, a debut novel based on her experiences inside a terrorist group, which won a Toronto Arts Council award, an Ontario Arts council grant, and a Canada Arts Council work-in-progress award, as well as qualified as semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest.

ABOUT THE BOOK

ALICE IN WRITERLAND is a heartbreaking, candid and scathing indictment of the publishing industry and the personal sacrifices involved in the pursuit of success. Much more than a shocking exposé of unprofessional behavior in the literary world, however, this is a memoir that transcends into an intense exploration of what it means to be an artist.

If you could have anything you wanted, would you sell your soul for it?

ALICE IN WRITERLAND provides a shocking inside view of a world where pompous literary agents, sleazy managers and high-priced creative writing workshops have created an industry that is less interested in pursuing talent and more concerned with ripping off hopeful writers.

If following your dreams meant giving up everything you held dear, would you still do it?

Elisa Hategan started out as a debt-ridden poet who knew absolutely nothing about the publishing industry. On a whim, she applied for and won a scholarship to a prestigious creative writing program. Within a year she had transformed from complete newbie to professional writer, winning multiple art grants and being accepted to the most prestigious MFA program in the country. Better yet, she had the perfect agent and a manuscript that caught the attention of a Big Six publisher.

And then, somewhere along the way, it all went terribly wrong.

Elisa Hategan’s Alice in Writerland: A Writer’s Adventures in the Ugly World of Publishing is the heartbreaking and ultimately triumphant story of one woman’s attempt to make it as an author, all the while trying to figure out what that really means in the 21st century.

Posted in artist, books, canada, canadian literature, culture, depression, freedom, inspiration, life, literature, manuscript, media, MFA, news, perseverence, press, press release, publishing, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Small Press vs. Self-Publishing in the New Millenium

Posted by E on September 25, 2011

Ten years ago, if I couldn’t sell my book to a Big Six publisher I would gladly have taken the small press route. Heck, even as far back as five years ago I’d gladly have signed on the dotted line, and bragged to all my friends that at least I got a “real” publisher. I’d have used words like “legitimate” and “prestigious”, and snubbed my nose at the yucky self-published vanity “authors” who used to lurk in the gutter alleyways of imprints like Lulu.

But now, with the possibilities offered by Amazon and Smashwords, I wonder if any small publisher can come even close to the advantages offered by self-publishing. Not that self-publishing is a radically new thing. It’s basically what writers used to do for hundreds of years before established imprints took hold in the last century. So I asked this question on Twitter: If you can’t sell your book to Big Six publishers, would you go to a smaller press and get small/no advance OR self-publish?”

One person managed to give a nearly mono-syllabic answer: “small press”, but when I questioned whether splitting my royalties with a press who doesn’t have the marketing dollars to launch me (and thus force me to do my own marketing) is even worth it, she didn’t respond.

The answer seems obvious to me. I don’t begrudge the efforts of small presses and their editorial teams, but the fact of the matter is, most books published by small presses rarely sell more than about a thousand copies. Small presses do not have the budget for premium spots in bookstores, for massive advertising, and do rely heavily on authors marketing their own books. Which is something I already do every single day. And when my earnings are so small to begin with, I’m not sure I really want to split my royalties 85-15 (or worse) with a small press. I’m just being honest here.

Some may argue that small presses add an indispensable value to one’s book by providing expert editorial services and cover design. What I’d suggest is that if a writer so wishes, they can easily hire out editorial, formatting and graphic design services for a flat rate / one-time fee, rather than entering into contract with a publisher who cannot pay you an advance higher than four figures.

I believe we are living in the gold rush age of publishing. For the last couple of years, Big Six traditional publishers have bemoaned what they call a new evolution of the Guttenberg Press, an electronic Golden Age that they hope to survive unscathed. Hatchette and Random House executives have flown (no doubt first class) to meet Steve Jobs in the hope that Apple can somehow squash the Amazon revolution that precipitated a system in which Gatekeepers are being eliminated faster than one can say “Tyrannosaurus Rex.”

 I had a little laugh when I read about it, imagining all those execs in their crisp name-brand suits and ties, oiled briefcases in hand, walking pompously through Apple’s doors, thinking they have anything to leverage their arguments on. It was all the funnier, knowing that in the next five years, those New York penthouse residents will be lining up at their local Unemployment Office. Unless they package themselves out first, as several NY top editors already have been – and starting self-publishing consulting firms. Ah, the irony.

 This new age spells the end of MFA programs ran by greedy writers of the old generation, many of them mediocre writers in their own right, but who lucked out at a time when publishers would print nearly anything legible passed up the chain through nepotism and tapped favors. I mean, who in their right mind (aside from a trust fund baby) would spend $100K to get an MFA when there is no more Random House or Doubleday?

In the future literary universe, you’ll never get a huge advance. You’ll never have publishing execs speculate over your future success over endless luncheons. No, the only thing you will have to produce is a work that is good. Translation = that sells. That audiences, rather than editors and studio execs, will love.

 No more nepotism. No more favours. Of course, if you’re rich and can afford thousands on marketing, you’ll probably still manage to launch yourself out there. But without the gatekeepers, the world becomes a much more even playing field. Any hipster with a stack of flyers and a penchant for podcasting can generate the kind of grassroots buzz that can turn a coffee-stained manuscript into a bestseller.

In the new age we are entering, the ultimate gatekeeper will be the public. Only the AUDIENCE and the power of their mighty dollars will decide if your book has a future. NOT a nail-filing twenty-five year old acquisitions editor who’s rejecting anything on her desk that isn’t vampire teen porn.

 We are in a time of golden rushes. Thousands of new writers enter the self-publishing stampede with tin pan in hand, hoping to make their fortunes. Most will fail, in the same way that most authors in bookstores will fail to earn out their advance and never get anywhere.

But a few WILL succeed. Their ideas and manuscripts WILL strike gold, and when the dust settles they will enjoy the knowledge that they did it all on their own. That their success was entirely in their hands, and the profits they earned are not going toward paying for a Big Six publishers’ Fifth Avenue office suites and expense accounts, but in their own pockets.

We need to embrace this time of revolution, rather than cower and cling to sinking ships that are too bloated to sustain anybody. We need to remember that we at least have our talents and our fresh ideas, but agents and publishers, without their 15-90% cuts, have nothing. And that it was only a matter of time, in an industry that is barely a couple hundred years old, for things to change. For the unwashed masses on the outside of the palace gates to break through, behead anyone in the way and torch the whole bloody place down.

 Allons enfants de la Patrie! Le jour de gloire est arrive!

Posted in art, artist, books, commentary, culture, freedom, innovation, literature, publishing, technology, thoughts, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Norway’s attacks – debunking the terrorist myth

Posted by E on July 23, 2011

Since September 11, 2001, most people’s image of a terrorist has been that of an extremely religious, Muslim, bearded man with a burning hatred for the West. The reality of home-grown, white extremist groups and fringe left or right-wing nutcases has been relegated to the dusty corners of our consciousness. Despite the Oklahoma City bombing, despite the skinheads who marched on the streets of Toronto and London, Molotov cocktails in hand, Swastika banners in hand, we refuse to believe that a terrorist could be one of our own – not a Muslim, not a brown-skinned immigrant, but someone born and raised here.

Today Norway struggles with a momentous tragedy in its history – the bombing of a government building in Oslo and a savage massacre that took the lives of at least 80 youths in a Labour Party youth camp. The suspect – an Aryan-looking, blond and blue-eyed killer, well-known for his links to right-wing extremists, according to AFP sources.

We continue to have a heads-under-the-sand mentality in North America – that right-wing fanaticism doesn’t exist anymore, that violent skinheads and neo-fascists have been relegated to a harmless, inactive status, merely losers on Jerry Springer who garner a few laughs with their Klan-totting robes, but not much more a threat than that. And certainly NOT the types of people who can mobilize like Al-Queda, who can recruit alienated youth and train them to hate, and to kill.

When I was sixteen years old, I experienced first-hand the recruitment tactics of such a group. I witnessed more than a sixteen-year old should witness, and I testified against some very prominent neo-Nazis in open court. When the dust cleared, it became known that the white supremacist group I was being hunted by had been co-founded by an agent provocateur of the Canadian Intelligence Security Service (CSIS), our version of the CIA.

This man was provided funds to sustain this group, many of whose members travelled to Libya to meet with Moammar Gaddafi, who was at the time in the process of connecting various terrorist groups from across the world, funding and giving them access to secret training camps in the desert.

 

The fact that a government agent would have a hand in not only establishing, but fuelling a radical white supremacist group, provoked a temporary outrage in the Canadian public, but not a lasting drive for change. Within a few years, the entire story was forgotten. The former agent provocateur was relocated to another province, given a massive house in the suburbs and a generous allowance for another three years. For what amounts to teaching violent neo-Nazis how to terrorize innocent civilians, and how to smuggle guns over the border from the US. A government report came out that basically acknowledged that Operation Governor had been compromised by an “overzealous” source who might have gone “a little too far”, but nothing was ever done to bring those responsible to justice.

In fact, when I submitted my book for publication over the past year, comments ranged from the flippant to the entirely dismissive, as in the editor from Canada’s Douglas & McIntyre, who sent this rejection note: “I just feel like the issue of white supremacy has had its day, and it would take something more current for a book on this to break out.”

Just tonight, Norway’s Prime Minister, faltering before the press, answered the question “Is right-wing extremism a problem in this country?” with a wishful self-denying “No, we don’t have a big problem with right-wing extremists.” What? That’s after 92+ people have been murdered by a neo-fascist. But in his head, like in publishers and most journalists’ minds, when a Muslim kills, it’s an organized plot. When a neo-fascist kills, it’s one lone, crazy gunman. Nothing to really worry ourselves about.

To the establishment, terrorists have to be Islamic fundamentalists. Even if a Timothy McVeigh or Anders Behring Breivik pops up every few years and takes the lives of hundreds or thousands of people in the process. The fallacy of thought behind editorial boards and mass media is dismissive and shockingly small-minded. The reality is, even if a lone gunman is behind a massacre, there is an entire ideology of hatred behind him.

I suppose that soon I’ll have to list my book on Kindle, since there seem to be no interested publishers in New York who want to buy a novel based on this stuff (but they’d easily offer a million bucks to Kim Kardashian or Casey Anthony for a ghost-written memoir). I owe it to people to put this book out. I’ve received funding from Ontario and Canada arts councils for this project, and there are many of us who I believe it’s an important book since it depicts the step-by-step process of indoctrination of young people into radical terrorist groups.

But traditional publishers do not see my book as “commercial enough” (St Martins / Minotaur). Beyond the disappointment I have in the system, I genuinely wonder what Douglas & McIntyre, Random House, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins have to say tonight. I wonder if they really think a terrorist must have a Muslim face. That the subject of radical right-wingers is passé. Because if they do, they are very, very wrong. And Norway is paying the price for such a flawed assumption.

Posted in canada, commentary, crime, culture, europe, freedom, germany, literature, news, politics, press, publishing, war, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

How to Start your own Cult

Posted by E on September 26, 2008

Over the years I’ve met so many people who are gong-ho about spirituality to, in my honest opinion, an unhealthy degree. I have my own beliefs which I keep private, but overall I am and have always stood staunchly against organized religion. If there is one thing I believe, it’s that Christianity, Islam and whatever else are just further along the chronology ladder than Scientology and assorted cults. History alone has given more credibility to so many “conventional” religions that have used force, torture and heretical laws to wipe out millions of opponents.
A war rages today, between conventional religion and those freakish marginal movements that are scattered everywhere and are more common than we would like to think.

Almost anybody can become a cult leader, from an average redneck in a small town to a leader of a national Democratic political party. Cult behaviour does not discriminate. Nor does it need religion to call itself “The One” and demand that we should believe in its transformative powers.

The simple answer is this: Religion is the root of all “evil”. There are many other “truths” out there, but we have to start with this one.

Yes, society needs to be bound by common social rules and regulations, but these need not be backed by threats of supernatural punishment or retribution. Just look at dictatorships throughout history, communist and national socialist alike – they were efficient enough at massacring and persecuting millions without installing fears of eternal damnation. But they too had their party rules, and if you refused to obey, you were labeled an outsider.

You will not discover The Truth in mind-numbing fluff like The Secret, or by getting swept up in Oprah’s latest fetish with The Power of Now groupies, or by tying a red string around your wrist, changing your name to Esther and eating kosher.

Anything that defines reality by a set of rules and regulations is to be avoided. Reality is mutable, is ever-changing, is malleable and up to the interpretation of every individual being.

Anything that dictates in no uncertain terms how you should think, what to say and what to believe is to be questioned and taken at face value. The answers to all questions lie within yourself, and the inner voice that tells you right and wrong. If you have to consult a religious book, a political candidate or ask a guru for the answer, you have already lost yourself.

Posted in culture, election, freedom, politics, propaganda, religion, thoughts | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

Beijing 2008: Top 10 Olympic scandals, hissy fits and tantrums

Posted by E on August 23, 2008

This has been one colourful Olympics. For every glorious moment of well-deserved glory for winning athletes, there was a hissy fit, temper tantrum and otherwise classy behaviour from others not quite caught in the Olympic spirit.

It took until the last day to get our gold-medal moment of shame, which I will arbitrarily award to Cuba’s Angel Matos, but there are many other honorable mentions. So here they are, our spectacular lineup of athletic sportsmanship: *drumroll*

GOLD MEDAL LOSER: taekwondo (curtesy of CBC)

Taekwondo athlete Angel Matos of Cuba faces a lifetime ban after kicking the referee in the face following his disqualification in a bronze-medal match Saturday at the Beijing Games. Matos’s coach Leudis Gonzalez also faces a lifetime ban in response to the incident that took place at the end of the men’s over-80 kg bout.
“We didn’t expect anything like what you have witnessed to occur,” said World Taekwondo Federation secretary general Yang Jin-suk. “I am at a loss for words.”

SILVER MEDAL LOSER: wrestling (Courtesy of the Telegraph.uk)

Abrahamian threw down his 84kg greco-roman bronze in disgust after his shot at gold was ended by a decision denounced by the Swedish coach as “politics”. Abrahamian took the medal from around his neck during the medal ceremony, stepped from the podium and dropped it in the middle of the mat before storming off. The Swedish wrestler had to be restrained by team-mates earlier as a row erupted with judges over the decision in a semi-final bout with Andrea Minguzzi of Italy, who went on to the take gold. Abrhamian, who won silver at the Athens 2004 Games, shouted at the referee, then went over to confront judges, angrily throwing off the restraining arm of a team official. Swedish fans booed loudly as the judges filed out of the arena. Abrahamian said nothing to waiting reporters but whacked an aluminium barricade with his fist as he left the hall.

Abrahamian was eventually stripped of his bronze medal by the IOC because of this tantrum.

BRONZE MEDAL LOSER: fencing

I have decided to remove this particular entry because it is time to put this incident to rest.

OTHER (DIS)HONORABLE MENTIONS:

These other guys didn’t throw hissy fits during their matches, but must be included nonetheless in order to have a complete account of Beijing 2008’s various petty dramas:

4. The lip-synching fiasco:

The golden Olympic opening ceremonies was somewhat tarnished by news accounts that some of the fireworks had been computer-added to the program we all saw, and that the pretty little girl in the red dress who sang so sweetly was actually lip-syncing, with the original pre-recorded child singer deemed “too ugly” by the Chinese program directors, because she had a missing tooth and buck teeth.

5. The underage gymnast scandal

Chinese gymnasts are very likely younger than the minimum allowed age of 16 – and certificates have been “doctored” by Chinese officials in order to allow them to participate, leading to a team gold medal and several other gold and silver medals that weren’t deserved. While this cheating allegation is currently being seriously investigated by the IOC, (one of the girls even admitted in a Chinese television interview last year that she was 14!) nobody is batting an eye at all the horrendous Chinese child labour practices that are going on in factories across China in order to feed the government coffers that wasted spent a disgusting 43 billion dollars in showing the world that “we do Olympics better than everybody else.”

Ok, I know a lot of people are saying in defense of the Chinese “Asian kids are much smaller than Western ones”, but let me tell you something. I taught kids in Korea for a whole year, and I did travel to China as well, and I’ve never taught a sixteen-year old who looked that young. From my guestimate as a teacher in Asia, three out of the six girls are 12 or 13 years old.

6. The Spanish slanty-eyes photos

This one speaks for itself. But apparently it wasn’t meant to be offensive, as hard as that may be to swallow. The Spanish basketball team (and their supporters – in the other photos) took out ads featuring this photo, saying “We are prepared for China!”; that is to say, being prepared for Chinese competition meant seeing things through their competitors’ eyes…

7. Accusations of bribery and manipulation in Boxing:


Bought boxing matches, what else is new? I only watched two matches before being too disgusted to continue. Read the account, courtesy of Yahoo News:

Boxing officials were battling to contain a major scandal on Saturday as serious claims of bribery and the manipulation of Olympic judging panels emerged after a series of disputed bouts.

The International Boxing Association (AIBA) suspended Romanian technical delegate Rudel Obreja after he held an impromptu and rowdy press conference and made lurid allegations against senior officials.

AIBA also revealed that it had been tracking “possible attempts of manipulation” for more than two months and had brought in an International Olympic Committee (IOC) observer “when the situation became more serious”.

8. The paralyzed dancer

Because of sloppy platforms and mishandling, a 26-year old woman who was supposed to perform a 2-minute solo dance at the Olympic opening ceremonies, a prize-winning and talented top Chinese dancer, fell and broke her back, resulting in complete paralysis from the waist down. Apparently she had laid in agony for 50 minutes while the emergency medical crew had to endure a lengthy security check. One wonders if more immediate attention and packing of her back in ice could have prevented to extent of the damage.

At first this story was given the usual sanitized Chinese cover-up. But as more stories emerged about the young Mongolian woman who came from nothing, and for whom dance was everything, the media picked up on it. The photo shows the brave face Liu Yan puts on as she wishes the best of luck to her country’s athletes. You have to hope that the Chinese government will be prepared to pay for her lifelong care, rehabilitation therapy and give her a generous pension. You just have to hope.

9. The Grannies sentenced to a year in a re-education labour camp

Two frail-looking Chinese women in their late 70s have caused a storm in China by applying to protest during the Olympics. They’ve embarrassed the Beijing authorities and so earnt themselves a one-year sentence to re-education through labour for disturbing the public order, and that’s even before they got a chance to actually protest. Their case has led to criticism that the so-called Olympic protest parks were never intended to allow people to demonstrate during the Games.

In an interview, neighbours Wu Dianyuan, 79, and Wang Xiuying, 77, said they had not received compensation after their homes were demolished by the city government seven years ago and were simply fighting for their rights.

In an interview, Wang (who is blind in one eye) and Wu were seated together in a ramshackle one-room apartment without electricity in which Wu now lives after her home in central Beijing was demolished to make way for a development.

“We have done nothing wrong,” said Wang.
“They won’t let me protest, then they sentence me to a year labour camp. […] It’s not fair.”

Thankfully, after all the media attention, their sentences have now been suspended, on the condition that they “behave well”. Read: no more protests for grandma.

10. The constant police presence. Read an excerpt from Globe&Mail’s article by G York:

Many of China’s security measures at the Olympics seemed to be symbolic threats, aimed at sending a strong warning message, rather than having any practical purpose. Why did China park an armoured vehicle outside the main Olympic Press Centre? Why did police walk through the crowd at Ditan Park last Sunday, taking photos of every citizen who was watching the closing ceremony on giant outdoor screens? Ditan Park is an ordinary park, not an Olympic venue, and nothing except the large television screens had any connection to the Olympics. Why did the police need to photograph everyone at the park?

I am leaving any other Olympic scandals that come to mind to the readers’ vote – what other dark moment sticks in your mind as an embarrassment to the Beijing 2008 Olympics? Please feel free to contribute your suggestions.

Posted in canada, cuba, culture, fencing, humor, humour, media, news, olympics, politics, press, wtf | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Berlin, Beijing – behind the smoke and mirrors, a monster rears its ugly head

Posted by E on August 22, 2008

Berlin 1936 = Beijing 2008. I bet Leni Riefenstahl is rolling in her grave wishing she could’ve gotten a crack at filming this one.

How are they similar? In both cases, a hopelessly corrupt IOC awards the Olympic games to a savage totalitarian state, while the world turns a blind eye to the atrocities committed by that state.

Violations against open discourse started early: as foreign journalists began converging on Beijing to cover the Summer Olympics, restrictions began to be placed on journalistic freedoms.

Since China was awarded the Games, China’s Communist Government and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have continually given guarantees to the world’s media that journalists would have unrestricted access to the Internet.
Then, the Chinese Government blew that commitment into disarray when 20,000 journalists covering the August 8 – 24 Games in Beijing were told they would be blocked from accessing some Internet sites.

China has also designated 3 parks in Beijing for “sanctioned demonstrations”, promising that there would be room for protests, provided that those planning to organize a peaceful protest would submit a petition in advance. The result: people were rounded up and arrested instead. No protest ever took place.

Australia’s Media Alliance spokesman Christopher Warren was quoted as comparing the upcoming Games to those hosted by Nazi Germany in 1936. “This promises to be the most restricted Olympics, in terms of reporting the Games and its social and political context, since Berlin in 1936”.

Everyone who has watched the Olympics has witnessed pro-Chinese cheating, none more evident than in the gymnastics fiasco. Not only are at least two of the girls underage, but in my opinion it’s pretty clear the judges have been bought. Not surprising, though, since the field of gymnastics, like figure skating, is notorious for bribing and buying of judges.

China has spent in excess of 43 billion dollars (yes, you read that right) to showcase their superiority over (and shame) all other nations who have ever hosted an Olympics. You can rest assured that the message “We’re Bigger, We’re Better” does not stop with the theatrics of the opening ceremonies, to dubbed musical productions or with little girls who are considered too ugly to represent China and must sing below a stage.

The smoke and mirrors that cover an insatiable urge to beat all others will not put all its hopes on the shoulders of mere human beings. Just think about it – if you’ve gone all the way and spent 43 billion dollars on a show, what’s a few more paltry million to buy off some judges?

This is a country where you go to jail if you speak out against the regime. Where ethnic and religious minorities are persecuted and murdered in the open. Where you must fit in, must not think for yourself, must become a robot for the State.

Communism and fascism are similar in that way: they curtail the freedom to be an intellectual, to have free thought, to breathe without looking over your shoulder. They curtail the kind of music you can listen to, the kinds of magazines you read, the choice of vocation, job, and career you may ever have dreamed to have.

These are nations where children with aptitude are kidnapped from their parents and thrown into provincial facilities where they are forced to train for 16 hours a day, just to show the State as powerful and full of glory. Gold medals are stacked upon the broken bones, wilted minds and ruined bodies of young people.

You can also count on the fact that pre-Olympic discussions took place, where Chinese judging officials have been not only bribed with better apartments and salaries, but also warned that if they brought shame upon China (by marking them less than anyone else), they would be deported to some gulag somewhere and would wish for an early death.

You think it can’t happen again? Guess what? It’s happening already.

Posted in censorship, china, commentary, communism, culture, freedom, germany, news, olympics, politics, tibet, war | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Why Canadian fencing sucks big time

Posted by E on August 12, 2008

 

While keeping score with the Olympic games in Beijing, I hardly batted an eye as the news flashed on the official Beijing scores site: one by one, each Canadian fencer fell, pretty much after their first or second bouts. It’s a bit of a deja vu, actually, a flashback to the last Olympics – in Atlanta and Athens – when Canada managed to actually qualify more fencers to go than even this year.

And then what happened? Well, you know. What always happens.
They go home after 1 or 2 bouts.

Sorry to break it to you folks, but the sad and unfortunate reality is that Canada isn’t known for producing quality fencers, which is why the best Canadian fencers go abroad to train (look at Sherraine Schalm), and why someone like Jujie Luan, even at 50 yrs of age (an old lady to some), can qualify for a spot so easily, within 15 months. Coaching is rife with favoritism, bribes used to be common (and not just here – look at the Sports Illustrated’s infamous expose of bribery and corruption in fencing – read it here) & Canadian fencing programs here need to come a LONG way before they can be on par with the Romanians, French, Italians and Hungarians.

Even the biggest recent name in Canadian fencing, Sherraine the epeeist, who was profiled on everything from Macleans to CBC to everything else, who got a sweet book deal and on occasion has been somewhat of a media darling around here, lost in her first bout during the 2004 Athens event. She’s up tomorrow in Beijing, and as much as I’d like to see her succeed, there are no others who have tread before her. No Canadians have ever won a fencing medal. Ever.

So, Elisa, tell us, why does Canadian fencing suck?

Well, first of all, we have to put aside the popular fantasy that fencing is a sport which can be played recreationally, like volleyball or ping-pong or shooting hoops. EVERY STEP of fencing is geared toward competitions. There is no such thing, honestly, as fencing for fun; from day one, enthusiastic, wide-eyed wanna-be fencers are shoved forward onto a slaughterhouse ramp of competitive bouting. You go to amateur bouts, then to “Open” national circuits, then to international competitions. It’s what it is. Even if you want to wage your own protest and say “Hell, I’m gonna fence for fun”, your opponents will be prepping for their competitions, so it is impossible to avoid the intrinsic cut-throat nature of this sport.

But back to why it sucks big-time in this country.

The hot story this Olympics was about Jujie Luan, a former medal-winner for the Chinese waaaay back when she was still a Chinese national, having been churned out by those infamous Chinese athlete factories – you know, where they pick kids from kindergarten, assign them a sport and ship them off to athletic facilities on the other side of the country, whether the parents consent or not. Well, Jujie has been in Canada for many years now – I even got to see her some years back, fencing at the Nationals – and because of the Olympics being set in China, her homeland, she came out of self-imposed retirement. Jujie is 50 years of age, but nevertheless, within 15 months she managed to qualify for Beijing. (She was defeated in her second bout, but that’s not the point). Not to take away from Luan’s story, since training for this caliber of event is remarkable for someone her age. But fencing is NOT as physically demanding as most other Olympic sports. This is why routinely fencers up to their late 30s still qualify for Olympics. In fencing you “peak” in your mid-30s.

I think what’s more interesting is that Luan managed to qualify for a spot on the Olympic team within 15 mths. Frankly, this doesn’t say much for Canadian fencing as a whole.

When you go back to look at my former schoolmate, Sherraine Schalm, you get to see that she has actually been training in Europe for the last decade; a few years in Paris, and more recently, the last four in Hungary. Why? How could such a well-publicized Canadian athlete not actually LIVE here?

Well, other than mediocre coaches, favouritism that is so rampant – where good fencers get pushed aside by coaches who would rather sleep with their students – as it happened at my alma mater, supposedly the best varsity program for fencing in this country (where Sherraine also first came to train), where we won first place after first place in the university games for nearly a decade. The truth is, Canadian Coaches tend to play favourites, which is what the Romanians and the Chinese don’t do – for them, fencing is a business, without emotions and without bi-partisanship. If you have the spark in you, they will work it out of you. That’s their job.

Secondly, and just as importantly, government funding for “lesser-popular” sports like fencing (read: not football, soccer or hockey) is simply non-existent. Athletes are somehow expected to fund themselves, their lessons, their living expenses. Grants are few and far between, and cannot be said to even remotely cover the travel expenses of attending world championships every year.

Therefore, the pool of potential gold-medal-winning fencers has been reduced to the coach-favoured and wealthy – those whose parents and family can raise or at least scrimp together the necessary funds for them to survive as they train. You must be both to last as a competitive fencer. And if a coach doesn’t favour you, and won’t train you for free (how many do it anyway? How many retired fencer-come-coaches can afford to?) and you have to keep paying 20 bucks per lesson, how many lessons do you think you can afford? It all adds up.

Of course, to be a GOOD fencer you have to live abroad, and by the time you factor in the cost of renting a shitty apartment in a double-digit arrondissement on the outskirts of Paris, (as several people I know have done) and commuting to a gym where your teammates, via the grace of the French government, have their own personal trainers and psychologists and adorn the posters on bus shelters, you realize you’ve been pretty screwed by the country you are supposed to represent.

Now how’s that for motivation? No wonder the sport is so pathetic in this country.

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Posted in canada, china, commentary, culture, fencing, olympics, thoughts | Tagged: , , , , | 12 Comments »

WTF is the problem with Young People F*cking?

Posted by E on June 13, 2008

As so many of you are aware, a little independent film, which may or may not have any artistic value (I haven’t seen it yet, and even if I did, my subjective opinion has no bearing on this post) has splashed into the news, solely because of its cheeky title: Young People F*cking.

Now I don’t really know anything much about it except having heard some convoluted news reports involving Canada Arts Grants and public outrage, of the sort that goes something like: “Is this what our tax dollars are going to,” yadda, yadda, yadda.

Not that I find Arts Grants judges to be much more than an inbred, pat-each-other’s-backs sort, but ask yourself this: If this title should have been called any of the titles below, would anybody in the media have batted an eye, never mind sensationalise it to such a degree that now it is receiving top billing at film fests (as the filmmakers undoubtedly intended)?
Young People Killing
Young People being raped and murdered by psycho cannibals
Young People dismembering each other
Young People blowing each other’s heads off
Young People being torn to shreds and eaten by wild dogs
Young People being murdered by eccentric millionaires in Slovakian torture chambers
Young People being disemboweled by crazy hillbillies
Young People being hunted down by serial killers at roadside stops
Young People cannibalizing each other

Well, what do you think? Would Bill C-10 approve of any of the above? Most likely, if it’s anything like the garbage being produced by Hollywood and the television industry over the last few years? So — how many of those titles I just listed sum up any of the films you might have seen over the past year or so?

Of course, all of that gory, gross stuff is nothing compared to the rather insipid, vacuous act of Young People Fucking.

Well, at least it wasn’t called Young GAY People Fucking. It wouldn’t even make it past the screening room.

Posted in canada, censorship, commentary, culture, gay, media, movie, movie review, news, political correctness, politics, rant, thoughts, violence, wtf | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Haunting of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose

Posted by E on May 1, 2008

Back when I began to write some of the posts that would bring me the most attention, controversy and praise – posts on adoption, deaf culture, art, and growing up under communism – I never would have dreamed that a simple article that I wrote over the course of an hour would become my most popular post. My article on Sophie Scholl currently generates hundreds of hits every day. It never fails to amaze me how even now, decades after this young girl’s speedy trial and execution, that so many people from all over the world still enter her name in search engines.

I believe there is an innate magnetism around her story, an aura of “everyman” that pulls a spectator into her life. Vicariously, we hunger for the sort of stoic bravery and unabated faith that she had in her convictions.

The story of the White Rose is close to my heart, and it came long before the movies made her a coffee table name in North America. I have witnessed underground printing presses where people wielded the written word as weapon, and been witness to all the joy and horror of a world gone mad. I choose to keep those stories to myself, unwilling still to share all I have seen. 

But there is something universal about this – a repetition of lives, a reincarnation of convinction that infuses the hearts of all who have ever been part of an underground political movement. This is why so many people search her out, this Sophie girl, and what she embodies: fearlessness in a regime of fear, faith in her own self in a world where personal identity is sacrificed to a collective state of mind-numbness.

The White Rose haunts all of us who have ever wanted to change the world. It is our hope that someday, the seeds of our actions will grow into the forests of a world where all can be free to speak their minds – politically incorrect or not – without fear and oppression.

Too often the Left has been sidetracked with the political agendas of many who would take away people’s rights to have their own ideas. Yet they will triumphantly wave the example of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose as a feather in the socialist cap. So do bland, neo-socialist liberal Arts Grants committees that espouse fairness and oneness for all, but withdraw funding of controversial projects, penalizing any work that breathes creativity and/or controversy.

But this is not what the White Rose symbolized! Sophie, her brother Hans Scholl, Alex Schmorell, Willi Graf, and Christoph Probst, along with their philosophy professor, Kurt Huber, all were executed for speaking their minds. These young people died because they published leaflets that commanded people to THINK! To break free of the mould of their oppressive national socialist regime.
To me, the White Rose will always be a harbinger of the freedom of ideas, of expression, of thought – whoever they belong to. Because ultimately, everyone deserves to have their own voice, as morally-repugnant as it may sound to some.

This is the fundamental truth: Ideas do not massacre people. Ideas on their own do not torch neighbourhoods, incite race-riots or instigate hate attacks. PEOPLE do that – people who have so much hate inside themselves that it bursts out into the world like an explosion. And these people come in all colours and all religions, and of all political affiliations.  

Every race and religion is capable of violence. Curtailing ideas is only insulting the intelligence of the masses, which every doctrine considers no more intelligent than sheep. Despite what you hear through the mass media propaganda machine, the reality is that everybody can kill.

Blacks kill. Whites kill. Muslims kill people in western European neighbourhoods. Religious fundamentalists stone women to death if they dare show their ankles underneath their burkas. Christians torture and kill indigenous people in Latin Americas and the Middle East. Jews kill. Arabs kill. Communists kill. Fascists kill. Husbands kill wives. Mothers kill children.

Everybody kills.

But murder is carried out because of hatred, and hatred does not needs ideas to propagate itself. Ideas are merely used as an excuse. Ideas are the flimsy excuse behind which the true nature of hatred resides: fear, jealousy, desire for more than what the neighbour has. These are universal, primal urges. The active banning of ideas under the auspices of them being “politically-incorrect” serves only to deny the deeper roots of hatred and division.

This is the propaganda of the world we live in, a place where voices of dissent are moderated and quashed at every opportunity.

I am reminded of a saying by Voltaire that has enjoyed revived popularity: I may disagree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

To me, this is what the legacy of Sophie Scholl is all about. This is why I will always remember the actions of Hans Scholl, Alex Schmorell, Willi Graf, Christoph Probst and Professor Kurt Huber, and Sophie herself.

She is me. She is you. Sophie haunts us all. She is a part of all of us who carry inside ourselves the childish idealism of a future where all can live, breathe, and have the right to have our own thoughts without censorship.
 

 

Posted in activism, censorship, commentary, culture, politics, sophie scholl, thoughts, war, white rose | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »