Incognito Press

truth. knowledge. freedom. passion. courage. Promoting free-thinking, activism & rogue writing.

Archive for the ‘freedom’ Category

Bread and Circuses – The Illusion of Choice

Posted by E on September 14, 2015

media-small

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.

Advertisements

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

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?

ottawa

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?”

“Nope.”

“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.

you_are_not_a_loan

If you enjoyed the read or found it useful, please consider dropping a dollar in my Patreon donation jar 🙂

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

An Open Letter to Canadian Media

Posted by E on February 19, 2015

Elisa and RT bookFV

My name is Elisa Hategan and I’m a Canadian writer and freelance journalist. Twenty years ago, I was a teenage member of an Ontario-based domestic terrorist group called the Heritage Front. They were a radical white supremacist, neo-Nazi lobby group with ties to organizations that connected into parliamentary politics. After turning against them, collecting information and testifying against group leaders in court, the Toronto Sun broke the story that one of the group’s leaders was a CSIS agent, Grant Bristow. For a period of approx. 4 years, the Heritage Front had been founded and funded in large part by Canada’s own intelligence service, CSIS (Canadian Intelligence Security Service) – the Canadian equivalent of the CIA. They called it Operation Governor.

Hategan article Grant Bristow CSIS

After the official inquiry resulted in a whitewashed report that was slammed by both left-wing activists and Preston Manning, then-leader of the Reform Party which was essentially destroyed by revelations that Heritage Front members had infiltrated its ranks, I went into hiding and tried to forget what had happened. Over the years, however, I realized it was a story I had to tell. So in 2010 I wrote a memoir titled Race Traitor and entered into negotiations with Penguin Canada over the acquisition rights, but after a month and no solid offer I walked away from the negotiation table. I should add that no other publishers, big or small press, were interested in publishing it. “The issue of white supremacy has had its day” Douglas & McIntyre. “ I can’t see a broad market for the book.” – Random House. Last year I ended up self-publishing it: Race Traitor: The True Story of Canadian Intelligence’s Greatest Cover-Up

In the month after the book came out, I was interviewed by a senior journalist at the Globe & Mail, Colin Freeze, as well as a Director of Programming at the CBC here in Toronto. They both expressed great interest in covering the story, but afterwards came back at me with excuses that senior editors were reluctant to go to print (or, as in the case of CBC, to air) with it – mainly because it was an old, irrelevant story since it happened 20 years ago. Also, there was the pesky issue that in today’s political climate, and according to Minister of Justice Peter MacKay’s own admission, only religion-based violence can be considered terrorism, i.e. only Muslims can be terrorists. In other words – when a Christian massacres almost 100 defenceless youth on Utoya Island in Norway, murders innocents outside a Kansas City synagogue (on the heels of Holocaust-denier David Irving’s talk two weeks earlier), plots a Halifax Valentine’s Day massacre or shoots 3 innocent Muslims in Chapel Hill execution-style, they are not terrorists but misguided, lone misfits.

Just this past month, 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, anybody can be detained for a week under the pretext of “terrorism”, etc. 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.

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 is attempting to pass 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 Bill 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.”

Bill C-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.

meme

There is a wide amount of evidence, press clippings and media sources that back up my memoir, as well as the testimony of activists who had been terrorized. Please consider featuring the story of CSIS’s establishment of the Heritage Front in your media outlets – Canadians have a right to know what their own government has done in the past, in order to prevent it from ever happening again.

Please let me know if you require further information and/or documentation, which I would be happy to provide.

Elisa

If you found this information useful, please consider dropping a dollar in my Patreon donation jar.

Posted in activism, freedom, hate, journalism, letter, news, ontario, politics, racism, revolution | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

CSIS agent Grant Bristow’s hit list

Posted by E on April 2, 2014

We live in an age where a sexist note about female pilots written by an idiot generates enough outrage to make international news. But the actions of CSIS (Canadian Security and Intelligence Agency) agent Grant Bristow, who co-founded and led the white supremacist Heritage Front back in the 1990s, have long been forgotten.

I could write about how heart-wrenching it was for me, at only eighteen years of age, to be denied police protection after I testified against dangerous white supremacists. How frightening it was to discover that the group that had recruited me as a teenager had been founded and partially-bankrolled by Canada’s own spy agency – an agency whose overseer budget has been eliminated back in 2012. An agency that is now spying on innocent activists and groups like Idle No More under the pretext of protecting our freedoms.

I could write about the profound betrayal I felt to know that dozens of my affidavits involving Heritage Front criminal activity and illegal weapons were dismissed in a concerted effort to protect a man whose job was to  torment and criminally harass people, to incite and fuel the fires of hatred. A man who ended up being rewarded by CSIS with a four-bedroom house, two cars, unlimited long-distance phone calls and $3000 per month for several years afterwards. Despite NEVER contributing to a single political extremist’s arrest and conviction.

But why do that, when I can show you?

The Hit List: These hand-written addresses and name/phone numbers of community activists were given to me by CSIS agent Grant Bristow, who also distributed them within the white supremacist Heritage Front in an effort to incite harassment and attacks. He was never prosecuted for inciting criminal activity against innocent Canadians, and CSIS packaged him off with hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.

How much do you want to bet THIS doesn’t make national news?

hit list bristow

Posted in canada, freedom, news, politics, racism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

An open letter to Rita Atria

Posted by E on July 26, 2012

This is a love letter to the sister I never had.

On July 26, 2012, the twentieth anniversary of your death, I want to say that I will never forget you, Rita. I want to shout your name from the rooftops, and hope that somewhere in the echoes that bounce back, you are still there. I want to say that even though I never met you, I will always consider you a sister of my heart. You are my shadow self – a firefly in the darkest sky, a girl who never grew to be a woman.

We were born 3 months apart in the latter half of the same year, in the same part of the continent. We were both loud, vivacious, black-haired, brown-eyed girls endowed with a penchant for mischief. You were born into a small village of Mafiosos and I was a street urchin seeking out a family among a group of hateful extremists who envisioned that they would one day rule the country.

We were both seventeen years old when we saw our “family” for what it really was and tried to get out. We were both seventeen when we began to compile information on the men who we had once trusted, looked up to, even loved. We were little girls who wanted to pretend that we were soldiers in a war greater than ourselves.

In the greater scheme of things, we were little children. Disobedient children who spied on our families and turned against men who had once held us close to them and called us “daughters.” We sat in open court and pointed to such men, denouncing them for the vile criminals that they were. You testified against the Cosa Nostra, men responsible for murdering your father. I testified against the Heritage Front and helped shut down Canada’s largest white supremacist organization, bankrolled and condoned by Canada’s Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

We both betrayed the only family that had ever embraced us.

I am you, Rita, and you are me. We are no more or less than any other teenage girl who wants to make a difference in her life, who wants a better world for her unborn children. We are every girl who lives in fear today, yet holds within her heart the flicker of hope that she will one day be counted. That someday she might make a difference.

We both know the seclusion of safe-houses, the anonymity of a new haircut and a bottle of scalp-burning dye. The unfamiliar utterance of a new name in our mouths. We know what it is like to have an entire world hate us and call us traitors. We know the words grown men have spoken after us, the threats and hits that were placed on our heads. And the truth, Rita, is that we were both children. We were idealists with hardly any concept in our minds of the ugliness of the world, of the seclusion and loneliness that would come.

When you’re in hiding the sky is always starless, muffled by an oppression of perpetually-low clouds. There’s only the stillness of empty apartments, where the silence of incalculable whitewashed walls closes in on you. After a while, the danger is no longer as relevant as walking to the window to tear apart the curtains, regardless of who might be lurking below. Because all you can say to yourself is, When the gunfire erupts I will not duck, I will not retreat.

I wish I’d met you, Rita. I wish that I could hold your hand and call you Sister. When you climbed over that balcony and flew down to your death, broken-hearted after the Mafia assassinated your only friend, magistrate Paolo Borsellino, convinced that nothing would ever change, a part of me was there with you. A part of me has always longed to take flight too.

Every year that passes since your passing, after the great snowfalls recede and give way to the delicate beauty of new growth in spring, I think of the shadows of us two – two teenage girls who wanted to make this ugly, senseless world a better place.

You live in me, Rita. And I will never forget you.

Posted in activism, beauty, cosa nostra, csis, family, freedom, history, identity, innocence, italy, letter, life, love, mafia, media, news, paolo borsellino, politics, revolution, rita atria, truth, Uncategorized, violence, war, women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

True courage will never be forgotten

Posted by E on July 19, 2012

Twenty years ago today, an Italian Magistrate was assassinated in cold blood via a car bomb in Palermo, Sicily. This murder provoked some of the largest anti-Mafia demonstrations ever held in Italy. It also set the stage for the suicide of Rita Atria, a seventeen-year old girl who was one of Borsellino’s biggest witnesses in a trial against the Mafia. After Borsellino’s death, Rita jumped from the building of her safehouse apartment only a week later, on July 26.

For those who may not be familiar with Borsellino, here is a quick summary. Paolo Borsellino (January 19, 1940 – July 19, 1992) was an Italian anti-Mafia magistrate. He was killed by a Mafia car bomb in Palermo, 57 days after his friend and fellow anti-mafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone was assassinated. He is considered to be one of the most important magistrates killed by the Sicilian Mafia and he is remembered as one of the main symbols of the battle of the State against the Mafia. Both Borsellino and Falcone were named as heroes of the last 60 years in the November 13, 2006, issue of Time Magazine (Wikipedia).

I know I’ve neglected this blog for quite a while as I worked on my last two books, but I feel the need to write this today. I admire Borsellino’s work, because in my past I have encountered brave people like him, people who would risk everything and put their lives and careers on the line to do what is right. Every time I think of Rita Atria and Paolo Borsellino, an echo of my own past rises up in me.

Parallelling the Mafia crime wave on the 1990s, Canada had its own homegrown pseudo-terrorist group, the Heritage Front, a vicious gang of white extremists who were keen on piling up guns and infiltrating the right-wing Reform Party in the hope of one day coming to power.

Our spy agency, CSIS, had sent an agent provocateur to infiltrate, stir up shit and escalate aggression and targeted attacks inside the HF, and it was only as a direct initiative of several courageous anti-racist activists that I was able to hide out and eventually testify against several leaders of this group.

 

I consider Rita Atria not only a true heroine, but a spiritual sister of sorts. I was born only three months after she was, and at the same age we rebelled against powerful, violent men. In our late teens, we both spied on and testified in trials that led to convictions. We both lived in hiding at an age when our lives had only just begun.

There are very few people in this world who can truly say that they understand what it’s like to be seventeen, eighteen years old and on the run for your life. Who know the impossible loneliness and self-hatred that swells us inside you when you’re forced to abandon all trace of your own identity. When you live in the darkness of a series of apartments, always changing names and locations, when you know a whole network of violent, hateful people would rather see you dead. When you’ve been abandoned by the world and the thought of simply ending it all seems like the best prospect.

Neither Rita nor I held any hope that the world would change. We both stood, literally, on the precipice of a great height from where we wanted with all our might to end the suffering within. The difference was, I still knew that out there remained a growing mass of faceless activists dedicated to ending government corruption. Whereas for Rita, all hope ended when Borsellino was murdered.

That day, twenty years ago today, Rita (whose life story was told in the recent film The Sicilian Girl) wrote in her diary: “You have died for what you believed in, but without you, I too am dead.”A week later, right before she leapt to her death, her suicide note said: “I am devastated by the killing of Judge Borsellino. Now there’s no one to protect me, I’m scared and I can’t take any more.”

When I think of the early 1990s, I think of two teenage girls separated by a continent, who may not speak the same language or ever heard of one another, but who are determined to take on a fight that is greater than they ever imagined. It makes me wonder how many such teenage girls are out there today, fighting against oppression, poverty, discrimination, sexism, and organized crime, feeling hopeless yet continuing to pass a symbolic flaming torch of courage from one hand to another.

Posted in activism, crime, freedom, news, truth | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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 »

History that is forgotten is destined to be repeated

Posted by E on November 11, 2011

This time of the year, around Remembrance Day, I get more emotional than usual. I search through my genetic memory and reach for my dead, faceless grandfathers. One was a captain in the Austro-Hungarian army during WW1, the other died in battle during WW2 while my mother was an infant. I never knew either of them. I never saw a photo of either of them.

War is a brutal, awful thing. It destroys photographs, it curls up the edges of memories and leaves only a hollow longing in its place.

My mother’s father was shot through the head in the Romanian battlefields at the end of the Second World War, in 1944.  A bullet smashed through a gap in his helmet and entered through his left ear just as my mother, an infant at the time, fell from a great height and shattered her tympanic membranes, rendering her deaf in the same ear.

My father’s father was a highly-decorated captain who met my grandmother Anna in Transylvania, where his troops were stationed. She eloped with him to Hungary, where she had her baby. But his family, because of Anna’s lack of dowry (my great-grandfather denied her inheritance because she’d ran off with a Hungarian), intercepted the marriage. My poor grandmother, all of eighteen, was put out on the street with a baby in her hands. A baby who ended up deaf, the villagers gossiped, because Anna had kept him a secret throughout the pregancy. But my father would never know his own Papa, because my grandfather would be killed in battle only two years later.

Even though I’ve never known, much less seen a mere photograph of them, both my grandfathers are here with me today. Their courage flows through my bloodstream. The untold horrors they must have faced in open combat claw at my consciousness.

We live in a world where so many people my age take for granted the freedoms we enjoy, the personal liberties that surround us, the fact that we can sit back and write sarcastic quips on the internet mocking this war and that one, but we lack the understanding that sometimes war is necessary for survival. That sometimes picking up a weapon is not an option, but a need. That is courage. What those naive, red-cheeked young people who entered battles for the love of country, for the love of all that was right, and met with hatred, and terror, and death. Who came home — if they were lucky — scarred in psyche and in body, their innocence ripped from them by the savagery of war.

War is in my blood, and whether you deny it or not, it’s in your blood also. You can’t run from it. Its legacy, for better or for worse, is all around us. We are the descendandants of several millenia of bloodshed and revolutions. The fact that we are here signifies that our lineage is built on the triumph of the victorious. We are the ones who survived, and we did so because of our ancestors. Because of the countless wars and savage battles they fought to give us our freedoms today, as frought with uncertainty as they are.

So let us remember our grandfathers and grandmothers and all those brave souls who were forced to grow up way too fast, and whose innocence was robbed well before their time. For if we forget the greatest treasure they gave us — our life and our freedom — then history is destined to be repeated.

Posted in family, freedom, history, news, politics, war | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 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 »

The girl in the picture is me

Posted by E on August 19, 2011

The girl in this picture is me. Or rather, it was me. The me I was between age 16-18. The me I lost when I left Toronto, after testifying against a bunch of neo-Nazi leaders who led an organization co-founded by a CSIS agent. Founded, and funded, by our own Canadian government.

Nobody knows what it is like to live in the underground. It’s been romanticized, glamorized, but unless somebody’s actually lived it, nobody can imagine the toll this life can take on you.

Nameless cities, countless names, and through it all, you just ask yourself, Why do I bother? Why not just let them find me – the ones who kept tracking me down, phoning me in the night with threats like “we’re coming to get you,” and “rats end up in the sewers.”

By writing this entry, I’m coming out. Not as gay (that happened a long time ago!), but as a poser. A faker. An impostor.

This is an open letter to all my friends who will be reading this, whether via this blog or through my Facebook account link. Friends I’ve made in different cities and different countries. Friends near and far who have all called me by different names. I’m here to tell you that no, I wasn’t going through eccentric, creative phases whenever I changed cities and switched names.

 There was a reason for it. At least at the time. But as the years went by, I found myself repeating a pattern that was no longer necessary, yet I didn’t know how to stop – lying. Lying had become part of my identity. Lying about my past, my family, my name. All of it as easy as a knee-jerk reflex. Because when you discard identities like you do clothing, sometimes you don’t know how to relate to others without exposing yourself. Even when the threat has long ended.

So for all those who called me Emma in Nova Scotia or Kat in Ottawa or Elisa in the GTA, or the countless little monikers I’ve worn between one place and the next, this entry should provide the answers to some of the questions you’ve always been too polite to ask.

Why am I “coming out” now? Some of you know about my novel Race Traitor, which is loosely based on my own story. You probably didn’t realize there was a connection. What you’ve been told is that it’s a cool little thriller I’ve been working on for the last couple of years. What you don’t know is that it’s full of demons. Not of the supernatural kind, because those can be vanquished easier than those who come to you in the night, through nightmares and flashbacks and terrors that leave you shaking and wondering what the hell’s the point of going forward.  These demons are real people, and they are out there in the world. Seducing and recruiting young, impressionable people, into movements that rob them of their minds and souls. And you owe it to this world, and to all of those lost youth, to understand what happened to me. And what forced me to write this book.

The irony is, this fall my memoir was going to come out with Penguin. I turned them down, because they wanted me to expose myself and offered me nothing to compensate for the threat to my life and that of my loved ones. So instead of telling my secrets, I turned the memoir into a novel, and wrote new secrets for a new character. I’ll never regret this decision. It led me to create an updated story that will reach far more readers than the decade-old story of a girl who disappeared in 1993.

I paid the price for my privacy. I had to publish it myself. Sure, it came close to being bought several times, but ultimately rejected with comments like “this isn’t pertinent to our society anymore. The heyday of right-wing extremists is over.”

Then the shootings and bombing in Norway happened. It was a wake up call for me. Ultimately I had to fire my agent, take my career back into my own hands, and publish the book myself. Incurring, of course, the silent disapproval of nearly all my writer friends who were horrified that I’d subject myself, and my manuscript, to the ghettos of the “Indie” world. Regardless of the quality of my writing, no respectable newspaper or magazine would review my work now. I’d effectively committed career suicide.

So where does this leave me? Yeah, I guess I could go around peddling my wares on writers’ forums now. Bombarding everybody with tweets and emails begging them to buy my book. But I won’t bother to do that. I won’t plead, beg, or steal you attention with requests that you buy it.

All I wanted to do is to tell you the truth about me, and the truth behind my book. If you don’t like the subject matter or don’t want to waste five bucks on something that took me over a year to write and a lifetime to escape, I don’t give a shit. Really.

 I don’t really give a damn about anything anymore.

Posted in books, canada, commentary, crime, freedom, germany, history, letter, life, literature, news, politics, press, publishing, thoughts, toronto, writer | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »