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Archive for the ‘writer’ Category

Tracing the footsteps of Elizabeth Bishop in Brazil

Posted by E on November 4, 2016

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Like many people, I discovered Elizabeth Bishop one evening in 2013 by scrolling through the newest offerings on Netflix, and choosing a movie called Reaching for the Moon. Unbeknownst to me, the story I watched that night would be the start of a new adventure – one that would lead me into foreign territory and transform my poetry in infinitesimal ways.

Much like Elizabeth’s own journey, in fact.

elizabeth-bishopWhen she was 40 years old, American poet Elizabeth Bishop decided it was time to leave New York. She had reached a dead end both in her personal life (after a break-up with a long-time lover) and in her stagnant creativity, which resulted in a dry spell from publishing. Also struggling with alcoholism, Elizabeth longed for a new start, some way to rejuvenate her spirit and retrigger her inspiration. Receiving a fellowship from Bryn Mawr College was a godsend, and she decided that she would travel around the world.

She telephoned the naval port and was told that the next available freighter was leaving for South America. Impulsively, she reserved a spot.

In November of 1951, Bishop boarded the Norwegian freighter S.S. Bowplate. Unbeknownst to her, the journey would change her life forever. The first port she arrived at was Santos, and what was meant to be a brief sojourn to visit with an old school chum from Vassar, Mary Morse, turned into an eighteen-year stay that would profoundly affect the rest of her life.

Toward the end of her vacation, Elizabeth fell ill from a violent allergic reaction to a cashew fruit and had to be hospitalized. While being nursed back to health, her relationship with Mary Morse’s Brazilian lover Lota deepened and grew more intense. Soon Lota de Macedo Soares, a self-taught architect from a prominent upper-class political family, broke up with Mary Morse and persuaded Elizabeth to stay in Brazil and move into Lota’s sprawling estate home at Samambaia, in the hills above Petropolis.

With Lota’s affection, Elizabeth flourished. It was there, amidst the lush jungle foliage and under Lota’s care, that Elizabeth wrote the poetry that would win her a Pulitzer prize and turn her into a world-renowned poet.

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After watching Reaching for the Moon, I was convinced that I couldn’t stand Elizabeth Bishop. Her weakness, her repeated cheating on Lota, her complete dependence on alcohol as a way to relinquish personal responsibility. But out of curiosity, I wanted to see for myself if she was all she’s cracked up to be. Soon I would discover just how inaccurate the film was, and run into interviews that revealed director Bruno Barreto’s obsession with stylistic themes over historical accuracy. Like many biographical films, truth and historical fact was sacrificed to the artistic vision of a straight male director who’d never heard of Elizabeth Bishop before he read the script.

I would also discover that Elizabeth’s characterization in the film paled in comparison to the real person, both in physique and in spirit. Bishop didn’t resemble the tall, slender, cool, passive-aggressive character played by Miranda Otto. The real Elizabeth was short (only 5’4) and stout, intensely emotional, at times difficult, with an inner fire that was apparent to all who knew her. As the years progressed, her relationship with Lota became increasingly codependent. Paradoxically, the stronger she grew, the weaker Lota became. It would all come to a tragic end after Elizabeth traveled back to the US to teach at NYU and recently hospitalized Lota (against medical advice) decided to visit her in September 1967. On her first night in New York, Lota took an overdose of tranquilizers and fell into a coma, dying a few days later.

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Lota de Macedo Soares

After Lota’s death, Elizabeth was shunned by her Brazilian friends and Lota’s relatives. She was forced to sell her Ouro Preto home and the Rio apartment bequeathed to her by Lota after Lota’s sister contested the will. Elizabeth soon realized that she had no future in Brazil without Lota and reluctantly moved back to the United States, eventually teaching at Harvard until her death in 1979.

Over the weeks and months to come, I would devour all Bishop-related material I could get my hands on. Soon I discovered that she had written much more than just poetry, and I was hooked. After Poems: North & South. A Cold Spring and Questions of Travel, I ordered her prose, correspondence, her incomplete, posthumously-published drafts and at least two biographies.

It started out as a hobby – reading all of Bishop’s writing. I spent an entire summer in my garden, reading book after book. Why? I still don’t know. Like Bishop’s feelings about Brazil, liking her didn’t come naturally. Some of her writing made me angry or befuddled me. I complained to my partner of how much I couldn’t stand Bishop-the-person, only to find myself returning to Bishop-the-writer’s work the next day.

It might sound crazy to most people. Why would I become inexplicably obsessed with a woman who died nearly forty years ago, a poet who was my complete antagonist? Why did I keep going down the Bishop rabbit hole instead of putting away her books? What kept me so engaged even as I complained about how weak and conflicted she was?

For all its flaws and incorrect depictions, Reaching for the Moon was a watershed moment for Bishop’s memory, leading many to look up her biography and (re)discover the small body of writing she had left behind. Until the film came out Bishop was a minor poet, largely forgotten by the masses and hardly ever studied in creative writing classes.

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Elizabeth Bishop in college

In all my writing classes over the years, Bishop’s poetry has never been covered. It’s easy to see why – shy and reticent to share the personal or make it political in an age when her compatriots (see Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton) found their stardom by turning their inner angst into poetic magic, she isn’t exactly an obvious choice for later generations, for youngsters who have been taught that the personal is political.

In contrast with the passionate, vibrant experimentation of the Beat Generation, Bishop’s classic approach to literature and her staunch avoidance to confront political and feminist discourse in her work rendered her an almost obsolete vestige of a repressed generation.

As a young poet, I was dazzled by the raw honesty of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Bukowski, swept away by Plath’s confessional brutality. Writers like Bishop and her idol, Marianne Moore, did nothing for me. I saw them as Vassar-reared, elitist upper class dilettantes who refused to address the sweeping changes of their time – they met in cafés and parlours to exchange and review each other’s couplets rather than discuss the Second World War that raged around them, the civil rights movement that brought equality to racial and sexual minorities.

Our poetic styles couldn’t be more different. I was as bold as Bishop was reticent; I challenged the establishment with the same ferocity she had retained while ignoring any criticisms of the government of her day. Her refusal to be included in feminist or women-only anthologies (underscored by the belief that it would somehow reduce her worth as a poet), her reluctance to openly come out as a lesbian even after the advent of gay liberation, all go against the grain of my own belief system.

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Lota de Macedo Soares

Only in my late thirties could I have begun to appreciate the quiet strength that resides in Bishop’s poetry. I still can’t say that I like the woman on a personal level, but there is something about her that fascinates me. I’ve read passages of her letters (as addressed to Robert Lowell) that I found incensing, even borderline racist and contemptuous toward those less privileged than her – opinions no doubt amplified by being in the company of the Brazilian elites of the day. But there is also an overwhelming defiance in her writing, interweaved in equal parts with fear, hope and childlike wonder all at the same time.

Emboldened by my connection to Bishop’s work, I wrote my first villanelle One Europe after being inspired by One Art. And as soon as I submitted it, it was accepted for publication in Canada’s oldest poetry journal, CV2 (Contemporary Verse 2). I wrote a second poem, set in Brazil, and once again it attracted attention and a mentorship with a renowned Canadian poet. Clearly, Elizabeth Bishop’s influences on my own writing had produced results.

A year later, after I’d made my way through her entire correspondence and translations, going so far as to acquire some first editions of her books (including Life World Library’s Brazil), I realized that I had become a self-taught Bishop scholar. With that realization came the knowledge that I had to confront my own feelings and try to understand what it was about Elizabeth Bishop that both attracted and still repelled me. As it often is, people who trigger strong feelings in you are actually reflections of your own self, mirroring some part of self-identity that you refuse to see.

I realized how much I was like her. All the things I hated about her work were things I hated in myself. I wished she had been stronger, that she could have come out as a feminist or lesbian poet, but it took me years to allow my own identity to seep into my writing.

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Elizabeth Bishop with Tobias the Cat in 1954

We live in an age that worships youth and carries the unspoken message that if you haven’t “made it” as a writer by your late 30s, you’re a nobody. Her success later in life, in spite of depression, personal struggles with a dark past and substance abuse, inspired and rejuvenated me in all those dark moments that come to all writers, when I felt down and hopeless.

And then came the day when I knew, more than anything, that I had to travel to Brazil.

I craved to see for myself the influences that had created the greatest phase of her career, and the years that she admitted were the happiest of her life. Brazil was where Bishop’s path took a new turn, where she produced work whose lasting power would outlive her.

I was 40 years old too. I often felt hopeless and burnt out.  I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I wished to touch the same spark – that intangible, luminous magic – of inspiration that had struck Bishop. Some places have that effect, you know; just like some plants only bloom in certain soil, the fertility of creation comes easier in certain spots than others.

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A view of Guanabara Bay and Flamengo Park – Lota’s vision. Taken from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain.

The 2016 Rio Olympics made it easier to travel to Brazil. The visa requirement was waved for the summer, security was at its best, and by booking far ahead I was able to line up affordable accommodations both in Rio and in Ouro Preto. Ignoring the dreadful headlines about killer Zika mosquitos and roving favela gangs, I spent most of August and the first week of September in Brazil, working on various projects which included researching the life of Elizabeth Bishop and Lota de Macedo Soares. Needless to say, I skipped the mosquito repellant and was not bitten once.

During my Brazil sojourn I wanted to stay a few days on Copacabana beach, just to take in the atmosphere, but didn’t realize that the hotel I’d booked was literally next door to Elizabeth and Lota’s old Leme apartment. Its street address and entrance might have been on Rua Antonio Vieira 5, but the balcony actually fronts onto Avenida Atlantica.

It was an amazing coincidence. Every day I’d look outside my window onto Leme beach, I realized it was essentially the same view they’d had back then. Every evening I went downstairs to have dinner and cashew fruit caipirinhas on the patio at Jaquina’s, which is actually on the main level of the same building. Lota’s apartment was the penthouse – which you can see on the highest floor. It’s the unit with the wraparound balcony and a walk-up to the rooftop (click photos to expand).

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The view from a similar balcony at Av. Atlantica and Rua Antonio Vieira, 5.

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Copacabana beach – on the left is Leme hill, and on the right is Sugarloaf Mountain.

A few days after I arrived, I hired a driver and guide to take me up to Petropolis and the hilltops of Samambaia. Once the depressing urban jungle of Rio’s favelas gave way to mountainous vegetation, the road turned steep and narrow. I could only imagine how precarious it must have been back when Lota had to maneuver her Jaguar regularly on a winding, partially-unpaved road; now a two-hour drive, it took nearly twice as long back in the 1950s.

Here are some photos taken on that day. The actual Samambaia house is private property so we were not able to go inside, but the hilltop views reflect the fierce beauty of its surroundings. I also took photos of downtown Petropolis, Quitandinha Hotel (a Grand Hotel-type place where the millionaires, celebrities, movie stars and the elites of Petropolis congregated in the 1950s) and the Crystal Palace (click to expand photos).

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During the last week of August, I flew to Belo Horizonte, the capital of the Minas Gerais region, and hired a car for the two-hour drive to Ouro Preto, which was even more spectacular, quaint and tranquil than I’d imagined. Once known as the biggest city in the New World, Ouro Preto is a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site and the soul of Brazil’s 1700s gold rush. Its surrounding hills are stippled with gold mines and reddish clay earth.

It’s hard not to fall in love with its timeless, rustic beauty, which (oddly enough) reminded me quite viscerally of my grandmother’s Transylvanian village, where I spent many childhood summers. Safe and friendly, it’s easy to imagine living here for an extended stretch of time and just write. If I could afford it, I would return in a heartbeat.

Ouro Preto is a quintessential village with sloping cobblestone streets and several white stone bridges connecting different parts of town – a tapestry of eighteenth-century dwellings and ornate churches standing next to simple, whitewashed colonial houses. A sprawling main square dotted with baroque buildings next to an arts-and-crafts market.

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The sunshine spills over an explosion of tropical plants sprouting prickly red flowers, then flows downwards to an abundance of purple-and-yellow wildflowers that grow in the sidewalk nooks. A smell of smoke and burning wood lingers after sunset, a dog barks in the middle of the night, the cackling rooster screeches at the crack of dawn.

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A narrow, cobbled road connects Ouro Preto to its sister city Mariana, located a fifteen-minute drive away. High up in the hills overlooking the town, Elizabeth Bishop’s former home boasts an incredible vista that overlooks lush foliage, baroque churches and coppery-red shingled rooftops. In 1960 Bishop purchased a home here, at 546 Mariana Road; she called the house Casa Mariana (click on photos to expand).

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It was bittersweet to say goodbye to Brazil, and I can only imagine how traumatic it must have been for Bishop to leave her adopted home, everything she had loved and lost here. But what made me sadder was how few people remembered Lota de Macedo Soares. Although her spirit is embedded in the beautiful Flamengo Park which circles Guanabara Bay, nobody I talked with in Brazil knew who I was speaking about.

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My guide, a gay man who prides himself on having a history degree, announced that the park had been designed solely by Burle Marx. Even when I tried to impress upon him the significant work Lota did in the design and construction of the park, he (like others) wasn’t particularly interested in knowing about her. Even the small commemorative plaque in Aterro do Flamengo has misspelled Lota’s name and was never corrected. Sadly, in death Lota’s memory has been brushed aside and replaced with the names of powerful men who were determined (and arguably succeeded) in erasing her identity from the history of the city she loved and helped to transform.

Someday all our memories will be forgotten and lost – such is the fate of time and mortality. But I do hope that in the beauty of a blossoming garden, in the delicate verse of a poem that takes someone’s breath away, a shred of ourselves still remains.

Surely this is what Elizabeth and Lota would have wanted.

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

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Introducing my new Social Media Marketing book!

Posted by E on June 10, 2016

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I’m excited to pull back the veil from a project that has been in the works for the last few months. It’s been so hard to keep this baby a secret, but no more! The idea for this book spun off from my series on Social Media for Writers and took off like a rocket. After lots of positive feedback, questions from new clients and the need to elaborate on several points, it seemed logical to encapsulate all valuable information into a single book – The ART of Social Media: An Essential Guide for Writers and Artists.

There are probably thousands of marketing books out on the market about building your platform, launching your brand into the world and getting noticed. What makes mine special is that I write from experience – for over ten years I have developed both my own and other artist and business brands. I’ve met with publishers, was offered book deals, hired and fired literary agents, published poetry traditionally and self-published a number of books that sold very well.

In essence, I will be taking over a decade of experience as a writer and combining it with the knowledge I’ve gained in my Social Media Marketing studies at George Brown College in Toronto. Yes, after years of offering social media consulting to clients, I’m finally getting certified! I don’t believe it’s necessary to have a framed piece of paper on a wall in order to lead an effective marketing campaign, but it doesn’t hurt to have it.

So before you pay for marketing lessons or books written by well-meaning indie writers who don’t actually have a marketing or advertising background, consider getting a copy of my new book. As both a writer and working social media strategist, I can give you a hard-earned perspective that combines artistic creativity with marketing knowhow.

I will write about mistakes I’ve made and lessons I’ve gained, and share a recommended campaign plan and marketing strategy across most popular social media platforms. I will also cover what you absolutely have to do today to ensure tomorrow’s success, and what you’ll need in order to build a solid platform that reaches your target audience.

There will be lots more nitty-gritty stuff and specifics tools covered, but the basic gist and intent is to help you uncover the best (and secret) strategies for developing your artist brand. Trust me, it’ll be more than worth it, especially since I’ll be pricing it under $10.

Ok, I’ll let the book speak for itself. It should be available for pre-order in the next week or so, with the official release date set for December 1st. I can’t wait to share it with you guys 🙂

PS as always, any Patreon supporters at the $5 or more level will receive a free copy!

 

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The Author’s 10-Step Guide to Creating a Media Kit

Posted by E on April 8, 2016

Media Kit InfographicPress kits should be part of every artist’s marketing and branding program. I’m not here to sell you on why you should seriously consider putting such a kit together – the fact that you landed on this page shows me that you already know the importance of creating a ready-made document that outlines key facts and statistics about your work. That’s why I decided to tackle this subject in Part 4 of my ongoing series The Artist’s Guide to Establishing a Social Media Presence.

Although you can share it with readers or fans, the target audience for your media kit is, well, the media – journalists, interviewers, publishers, book retailers, as well as potential advertisers and sponsors. The kit conveys a polished, professional image of you as a writer and informs them about your Platform – the golden word of the publishing industry.

Everyone working in the arts – no matter your medium – should have a professional bio and press kit ready. Even mainstream journalists I know have their own prepared kit.

So what should you include in your Media Kit?

There are many tutorials on the web which address media kits and their importance. But in my opinion, it all boils down to three simple questions:

1. Who the heck are you?

2. Why should we care about your work?

3. Why does this book matter?

If you can answer these three questions in a friendly and professional (but not too salesy) manner, you are on your way to establishing yourself as a subject matter expert.

THE 10 MAIN COMPONENTS OF A PRESS KIT INCLUDE:

media kit anatomy1. Biography – As part of any press kit, the first and most important thing you should have is a well-written biography of approx. 200-300 words. A professional-looking headshot is not optional – you must include a photo if you want to gain traction in your career. Make it a PDF so it maintains its formatting when you email it. The Bio should include your contact information. This is basic stuff: name and email address, and if you’re not shy about receiving phone calls, you can also add your phone number and mailing address (I recommend getting a PO Box). Basically, have some means that someone can contact you. Make sure that this information is always up to date.

2. Leverage your Expertise: mention any previous awards you’ve won or publicity you have already received. Have you attended artist residencies or colonies? Include copies of any significant press clippings or tear-sheets – I provided photos of feature articles where I was interviewed, and listed scholarships I won to creative writing residencies.

3. Include a direct link to your website, portfolio and blog. I’ve harped on this before, but I can’t say it enough times: buy your own domain. It’ll only cost you about ten bucks a year and it’ll come with a professional email. If you can’t afford hosting, just point the domain to a free website where you can profile your work and establish a social media following: sites such as WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr. I discuss this process at great length in Part 1 of this series. If you have a website, you can use it to upload samples of your work, video clips, podcasts, new photos – any multimedia stuff that now becomes your calling card.

4. Artist Statement – For visual and multimedia arts, an Artist Statement is an absolutely necessary part of the business. It’s meant to allow others to understand why you are creating your art and what you are trying to achieve. Although writers don’t usually present artist statements, I’ve chosen to adopt the practice for myself. After I wrote mine several years ago, I have really appreciated how much it’s helped to define the influences and scope of my work.

laptop keyboard roses15. Exhibitions & Shows – For visual or performance artists, it’s vital that you include any exhibitions you have participated in, both group and solo, no matter how long ago or minor they might seem. Link to the galleries or theatres whenever possible, and don’t forget to include previous postcards or prints that were part of previous exhibition promotional material. Also, don’t forget to keep updating your kit as new exhibitions & shows come up.

Writers will want to list a publication history – published books, any places where your work might have been featured, etc. Even if you’re a novelist, include any poetry and/or short fiction that might have appeared in reputable literary journals. Don’t list contributions to your friends’ blogs; list only publications that have paid you for your work.

6. Current Press Releases – This is where you unveil new work; you must keep them succinct and limited to one page. You can also list press releases announcing appearances, awards, talks and any future shows. Remember to keep them up to date, especially if your data sheet includes site and social media traffic statistics –you don’t want to keep growing your following but neglect to update your stats and reflect this growth.

7. Postcards or Bookmarks. You can get fairly inexpensive, good quality postcards that will have your book cover on one side and a brief synopsis of the book on the reverse, as well as the book’s ISBN and places where it can be purchased.

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8. An Author Q&A: you can compile a short list of interview questions and responses about you and your work. This can include questions about yourself, your background and what makes you uniquely qualified, your inspiration for writing this book, your future projects, etc. This is even more useful for non-fiction titles, where your knowledge and subject matter expertise are intertwined with the value of your book.

sample press kit9. Reviews and Testimonials – this is pretty self-explanatory. If you’re popular and have a significant social media following (read: have 10,000+ Twitter followers or blog subscribers) don’t forget to mention it in your kit. Include positive reviews, buyer testimonials, and pretty much anything that shows that people want to hear what you have to say.

10. Sample copies: you can choose to offer samples of your book, i.e. a couple of chapters presented into a ready PDF, or full-length review copies. Personally, when I deal with establishment media I like to provide them with giveaway copies of my book in order to make sure they actually read it. This is what publishers do and it’s pretty much the modus operandi of the arts industry – for instance, recording studios give away tons of free tracks at a CD launch. This of course is highly dependent on your budget. To keep costs low, I don’t recommend giving free copies of your book to anybody but established journalists and bloggers with a significant platform.

Elisa Hategan bio June2016

So without further ado, I’d like to introduce my own media kit – you can browse through my kit on my website, elisahategan.com, but here is my bio in PDF: Elisa Hategan Author Media Kit.

It’s still a work in progress, in the sense that I still have to create a Q&A and add a couple of other items, but in lieu of that I might just link to a Q&A interview I did last year with a US blogger on a prominent anti-racist site.

A final word about media kit templates – you don’t have to buy an expensive template or build a bio with Photoshop. I created my Author Bio in Microsoft Word and it only took an afternoon of tweaking to achieve something I’m satisfied with. So just get creative!

Ok, I hope you find all this stuff useful and have fun putting together your own media kit!

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

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Become a Patron and Make a Difference

Posted by E on March 22, 2016

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I really need your help, folks. As a rule of thumb I don’t like to depend on others’ generosity and I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t absolutely crucial. But honestly, it is.

The first and last time I begged for spare change was a year ago, in order to finance my research trip to Eastern Europe. My crowdfunding efforts and book project were publicized in a front-page section of the Toronto Star on May 5, 2015. I managed to generate approx. $2000 through private and online donations, which was enough to pay for my flight and most of my rental accommodations in Bucharest. However, while working on the book I experienced a major depressive episode which was worsened by my mother’s death in December.

Researching in Romania, 2015

Researching in Romania, 2015

I’ve found it extremely difficult to work on my manuscript, which is all kinds of awful since it involves stripping away layers of multi-generational pain and heartache in my family. It didn’t help that my research into my father’s Securitate archives in Bucharest this past spring led me on a path toward discovering that my father had actually been killed by Ceausescu’s secret police.

In January I ended up in hospital after a suicide attempt, and my road to recovery has been rocky. To put it bluntly, I’ve found it extremely difficult to see a point for my life, for the traumas my parents went through…. I know we all feel like this sometimes, but I honestly didn’t see a purpose to my existence; I didn’t feel that anybody would care whether I lived or died.

An acute example of this manifested in the weeks right after my mother died – two of my closest friends didn’t care enough to phone me in person and see if I was okay. It was a brutal thing to discover – that people I really cared about, who I’d helped generate thousands of dollars in grants and helped immensely in the past – people who I thought cared about me also – seemed more interested in posting selfies of themselves in new outfits than in sending a single message of condolence. However, in the last couple of months I have come to realize that it was a blessing in disguise – it’s only at hard times that you discover who your real friends are.

I won’t deny it; it’s been awful trying to understand the roots of cruelty – whether the source of my parents’ childhood traumas or my own, or even to understand indifference and lack of empathy in people who I thought were good friends. And then there’s the issue of figuring out how to get out of bed in the morning. Believe me when I say that trying to self-motivate yourself after a suicide attempt, when you don’t see any value in your own existence, much less in your own work, is one of the hardest things in the world.

But recently I’ve stumbled onto a new means of both inspiring AND supporting myself while writing – by surrounding myself with people who actually want to be part of my artistic process. People who care about contributing to the arts, even if it’s with a single dollar every month. So this week I set up a new crowdfunding site on Patreon.com and I hope that I can connect with new people who will be my new family.

My Patrons are the family I never had – a family that supports and sustains me through the process of creating writing that aims to make a difference. I need each and every one of you, and everything I create is dedicated to you. Please support me by becoming an Arts Patron and make a difference.

Those who know me are aware of how badly I was exploited as a teenage girl – first by a radical homegrown terrorist group called the Heritage Front, and afterwards by Canada’s own CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Network), who exploited my story as a teenage kid and stole my identity for a 1998 film called White Lies, which starred Road to Avonlea’s Sarah Polley. While I lived in hiding after sending white supremacists to prison, dumpster-diving for survival, CBC producers were enjoying the limelight and financial benefits, along with Emmy and Gemini nominations, for a movie that wouldn’t have existed without my suffering.

I’ve never had any breaks in life, and I don’t say this because I expect any sympathy, because I’ve seldom received it. I am only stating a fact – that I need every single one of you because I have no family or fallback options. I put myself through university and graduated Magna cum Laude, I published in prestigious literary journals without knowing the editors, I won every award I’ve ever received with sweat and hard work, without any connections. I have nothing at all but my mind and my writing.

I ask only for a $5 donation every month, and you will be first to know about new books and artistic projects I’m involved in. I will give you an advance copy of every new book I create, and my promise that I will continually work on producing writing that aims to make a difference in the world.

Little-Match-Girl-Illustration-By-Rachel-IsadorI appreciate any contribution, no matter how big or how small. You can donate any amount you feel like. Even $1.00 can make a difference, if enough people contribute.

In centuries past, artists depended on the generosity of strangers and art patrons to fund their creative processes – and although we might live in the 21st century, little has changed. The Arts is still a field marked by poverty and uncertainty – most of the time you don’t know where your next funding source will come from. Often you don’t even know if people appreciate what you are trying to do until the work is out there.

But in those dark, rainy days where you are alone with your doubts and your demons (and those bills that need to get paid), it sure would help to know that someone out there cares about your work.

PLEASE consider being a part of my life. Help me find the inspiration I need by letting me know that others see value in my art. Please tell me that my work matters.

Please help me by becoming a Patron.

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Introducing My Newest Book: DAUGHTERS OF THE AIR

Posted by E on March 7, 2016

Daughters of the Air Adele coverI am happy and proud to announce the release of my newest book, Daughters of the Air – A Retelling of The Little Mermaid, a literary novel that incorporates the tragic story of Adele Hugo and involves love, madness, reincarnation and obsession across two centuries.

Incognito Press has released the novel in digital format only, but you can purchase it even if you don’t own a Kindle – just download Amazon’s free Kindle App on your iPad or iPhone and you can read it today.

You can also find it on Amazon Canada, Amazon.com and all its international affiliates.

I ask all readers, friends and supporters to consider purchasing a copy, even if this book is different from my previous non-fiction work. I really need your support, both emotional and financial (via sales) and word-of-mouth in order to continue bringing you new books in the future. Your help is absolutely crucial to my journey as a writer.

Book Description

Paris, 2015: Walking along the banks of the Seine, twenty-four year old Darya Eliade, a young woman spending the summer abroad after the death of her father, stumbles upon a photograph of Adele Hugo, the forgotten daughter of France’s greatest author.

Haunted by the sadness she sees in Adele’s eyes, Darya becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to her, setting in motion a journey of self-discovery into her own past as a radical political activist.

With the help of Jeanne, a mysterious Spanish journalist, Darya’s search for the root of heartbreak will track the Hugos’ movements from Paris to the Channel Islands, from spiritualist séances to the austere coastlines of Nova Scotia.

Guernsey, 1854: Eager to escape the oppressive regime of her famous father, twenty-four year old Adele Hugo begins a passionate affair with a young English lieutenant, Albert Pinson.

Over the next ten years their affair will spiral into madness and tragedy, as Adele’s idealistic pursuit of true love will stop at nothing to fulfill itself. Against a backdrop of occult and political insurgence, Adele plots how she will capture the heart of a man who despises her.

Spanning three timelines, two continents and incorporating the fairytale storyline of The Little Mermaid, Daughters of the Air is a meditation on the nature of love and all its unrestrained expressions: sacrifice, obsession, destruction and redemption. The novel brings together the concepts of reincarnation, fate and love to uncover a secret buried for two centuries.

Posted in literature, press release, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

I Know What It’s Like Not to be Believed

Posted by E on February 1, 2016

woman-gagged

In light of the Jian Ghomeshi sex scandal and the burgeoning public epiphany that sometimes women don’t speak of abuse not because they’re not truthful, but because they fear ridicule, public mockery, further abuse and being disbelieved in the court of public opinion (as well as actual courts), I must write this.

Over the last year I put aside my blog and focused on generating media interest in my book, which is based on my experiences as a teenage girl inside a domestic terrorist group spear-headed by a CSIS (Canadian Intelligence and Security Service) agent, Grant Bristow.

After releasing my book at the end of March, there was a flurry of interest, but none from traditional media outlets. I quickly discovered that if you are not published by a large press, i.e. Random House or Penguin (who I walked away from back in 2011 for various reasons), nobody will believe you.

My experiences cruelly paralleled what happened to me back in 1993 – upon a secret mandate issued by CSIS to all provincial police forces to dismiss all my signed affidavits and eyewitness evidence (discussed in a 1993 episode of The Fifth Estate), I was denied entry into the RCMP Witness Protection program and forced to go on the run for my life.

It didn’t matter then that everybody knew a CSIS agent had gone rogue and established the violent paramilitary white supremacist group you might remember as the Heritage Front.

It didn’t matter that Brian McInnis, a cabinet aide to the Attorney General who leaked an internal confidential CSIS report about said rogue agent, was dismissed from his job and charged under Canada’s insidious Official Secrets Act.

It didn’t matter that assaults, hate-mongering and even two particularly vicious sexual assaults had been connected to the Heritage Front (and many believe, to the leadership).

It didn’t matter that said rogue agent encouraged others to join the conservative Reform Party (and served as bodyguard at Reform conventions), thereby leading to the destruction of this political party when the Toronto Sun broke that violent HF members were encouraged to join Preston Manning’s Reform party as a way to sway them to the far right.

No investigation was to take place.

The rogue agent would be cleared – because to clear him was to ensure CSIS’s good name, along with the name of the agent’s handler, one connected to the RCMP intelligence unit that preceded the inception of CSIS – the same RCMP unit responsible for dirty tricks against the FLQ that included breaking into offices and blowing up barns under the guise of being “French separatists”.

Grant Bristow CSISIt didn’t matter that neo-Nazis with criminal histories were taught by this CSIS agent how to stalk and gather information against political opponents, how to harass and threaten them over the telephone and even in person with impunity, while at the same time gathering a seemingly-endless cache of weapons to be used in what they believed was an impending Race War.

It didn’t matter that my credibility on the witness stand had already been established after my testimony was crucial to the convictions of three prominent Heritage Front leaders back in 1993.

In the end, I was just an impoverished, homeless, abused eighteen-year old girl and they….well, they were CSIS.

I was a nobody, and Grant Bristow was deemed enough of a hero to receive a standing ovation at a Toronto synagogue after an event hosted by the Canadian Jewish Congress – albeit they were among the same people who were targeted for attacks by violent skinheads and neo-Nazis who looked up to Grant Bristow, who worshipped him as their hero.

Although I was a lesbian, although my father was Jewish, although I sent three neo-Nazis to prison, I was not credible enough for ANY police division in Canada to open an investigation.

I was worthless.

I was a nobody.

Scores of weapons ranging from automatic rifles to M16s are still on the street because nobody bothered to sign off on a warrant to raid premises that stored illegal weapons intended for future terrorist actions.

But here we are, exactly twenty years later, and I have a book in my hands that details everything I saw and accounted for in my affidavits.

Hategan articleI thought the media were my friends. Upon the advice of my former lawyer Paul Copeland, I contacted various prominent members of the media, including Linden MacIntyre (before his retirement) – who I presume didn’t think much of my heartfelt plea to discuss the events I had witnessed, because he didn’t grace me with a single acknowledgement message.

I sent a message to a woman who had filmed a documentary about me for It’s About Time, a Vision TV program where she had worked before she climbed up the media ladder and eventually became DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMMING AT THE CBC. She had been one of the few people concerned about me, back in the day. Or so I thought, because of the care she took during my interview in the 1990s. Then again, back then she was a hungry, inquisitive recent film school grad with a vested interest in doing the right thing, not Director of Programming at the CBC. She hadn’t rubbed elbows with the elites yet, she hadn’t had a taste of what Canadian media is really like.

She assured me that she would send my manuscript and story throughout the ranks of the CBC – Canada’s taxpayer-funded Broadcasting Corporation. Surely someone there might be interested in speaking with me, even for a mere sound bite, in light of all the controversial CSIS operations in the Muslim community (where people with questionable guilt and motives are pushed into illegal actions by people who cannot, in good conscience, be described by any words other than agent provocateurs).

NOBODY bothered to contact me again.

FINALLY, I heard from a journalist at the Globe & Mail who is very familiar with political columns and often writes articles about the over-reaching grasp of our country’s shadowy intelligence agency.

We met for coffee in the Annex and had a conversation which lasted over an hour. He was interested, even flabbergasted, by what I had seen. And then came the punchline – when he asked me if the book was self-published. When I told him it was, it was clear that his mood had shifted.

Somehow, by the sheer fact that someone like Random House wasn’t behind me, he was never going to cover the story. In fact, it seemed like he lost interest and questioned whether what I had told him was in fact, factual.

I am used to being disbelieved by the police, but it was a first – to encounter this from people who are entrusted with impartiality.

It was in that moment when I experienced a visceral sense of deja-vu – the sensation of feeling like no matter what I said, or did, that nobody would believe me. That I was worthless. That I was a whore who was doing this for attention.

I felt dirty. I felt ashamed. I felt exactly as I did when Wolfgang Droege, leader of the Heritage Front and best buddy of Grant Bristow, hit on me when I was sixteen, and when a knife was held up to my neck and I was threatened with death on suspicions of turning against them.

Yes, I know what it’s like to be treated like a rape victim. I know what rape feels like, and I know what it’s like to be alone in the world, to feel ashamed and dirty when everybody around you prefers to look the other way.

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

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

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

And yet somehow, being that it is 2014 and I am a university-graduate and professional writer, I never expected this treatment from the supposedly-liberal, “bleeding-hearted” media. From journalists who work for the CBC and Globe & Mail. From people who are not supposed to make you feel like garbage for TELLING THE TRUTH.

But then I think, they too must be scared. Scared to offend, to push the wrong buttons, to stick up for someone who was victimized.

Not when the men in question are powerful. Not when the victim is a teenager, a piece of trash. Not when our government has bought an agent’s silence with a quarter million dollars.

And not when a book is self-published.

For further research, I have an extensive media library and traditional press documentation available to anyone interested in what really happened in Canada during the early 1990s: https://incognitopress.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/race-traitor-reference-media-library/ 

READ MY BOOK HERE: http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B00JA05FYM

 

Posted in grant bristow, media, press, truth, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

On Stalkers, Trolls and Awesomeness

Posted by E on January 29, 2016

Fearless

I’ve given a lot of thought to this subject, especially in light of a recent landmark court case which determined that freedom of expression on social media networks trumps moral outrage and the perception of being harassed simply because one’s feelings have been hurt due to insensitive online comments. As the judge put it, “One man’s vulgarity is another man’s lyric.” (Judge B. Knazan, R v Elliott). This precedent-setting court case involved two prominent Toronto feminists, Stephanie Guthrie and Heather Reilly, and a man named Gregory Alan Elliott who had directed crude and disparaging comments at the women via Twitter.

As a writer and freelance journalist who prizes freedom of expression, but also as someone who identifies as a feminist and who has been harassed online, I understand both sides of this argument – the importance of standing up for your right to express dissent, even comments that others might consider politically-incorrect and offensive, versus a human being’s basic need to feel safe and not personally-attacked. It was an ugly case that probably shouldn’t have ended up in criminal court at all – a case where people on both sides of the equation were not entirely without blame for adding fuel to what became a nasty online battle made up of hurled insults and unproven accusations (such as pedophilia) between feminists and MRAs (men’s rights activists).

auschwitz meme forgivenessFor most of us who write political commentary and engage in social media conversations, this battle hits close to home. For me personally, what comes to mind is a comment left on my Facebook Author Page last year where an Oshawa man threatened to blow my head off with his shotgun. It was just after I’d published my memoir Race Traitor: The True Story of Canadian Intelligence’s Greatest Cover-up and the threats were coming in.

Even though I screen-captured the comment and my friends urged me to contact police, I held back – knowing that it wouldn’t do much difference. Some of my supporters contacted the man directly and threatened to report him to the authorities, and he promptly removed the comment and sent his profound apologies, terrified that I would get him arrested. In truth, I didn’t want to go through a court case and deal with police. Instead, I just blocked him on social media and chalked it up to drugs and/or alcohol having played a factor in the threat. Fortunately, after the dust settled I never heard from him again.

A couple of months later I received an email from Aryan Nations in Idaho (I have site trackers installed on my websites and I was able to authenticate the IP of the email as having come from the Hayden Lake, Idaho area) also insulting and threatening me. Once again, it disturbed me for a little while but I decided to shake it off – after a few years as a prolific blogger, you get your share of disturbed individuals and pretty much the only thing you can do is not let them get to you.

The courts are not going to be of much help. As everyone has seen after the Elliott case was decided, the comments being hurled at Steph Guthrie on Twitter these days are a lot more mean-spirited and threatening than what Elliott had ever previously tweeted. Moral of the story? Nobody can help you if you can’t help yourself first by disengaging in conversations with trolls and blocking them. It also means that you resist the temptation to answer back, to check what they might have said after you blocked them, to call them on their bullshit, etc. Ignoring someone is a two-way street, and most people learn this the hard way.

fearlesnessIndeed, I have blogged and published content on various social media platforms for close to a decade. In that time I’ve encountered my fair share of online stalkers, creepy harassers and trolls, and I also spent far too much time stressed and concerned over my safety – but such stress has impacted on my own well-being and productivity. As anyone who’s had an online presence for that long will tell you, the more nasty comments, tweets or emails you get, the more your ability to express yourself becomes limited, at the very least on a subconscious level.

You begin to censor yourself, to be unduly careful not to express opinions that might be divisive, lest they provoke and set off someone whose only pleasure seems to be targeting individuals online with anonymous hate and abuse.

Although my exposure to such abuse has prepared me for the possibility of being a target, I can’t say that it’s made the experience any easier when it is actually happening. I have come to realize that it’s an ugly world out there and not much I can do about mentally-ill, unbalanced individuals or substance abusers who have nothing better to do than stalk my blogs and websites obsessively.

awesome kittyWhile I cannot do much about others’ behaviours, I can choose to exert control over my reaction. I know it’s a cliché but it’s one that makes sense for a reason – your reactions can make or break your confidence and impact your view of the world. Despite the distress I’ve felt over the years, I realize today that I must grow a thick skin if I am going to last in this profession – I already wrote about this last spring in a piece titled The Brutal Truth About Being a Writer.

I have no choice but to reframe my reality and embolden myself by accepting that no matter what I do, crazy people will always be there. But they cannot hurt me if I don’t allow them the power to get to me, to poison my mind with fear. Like with voodoo, threats and intimidation only work when you allow yourself to believe them. By rejecting fear, you detach from needing external validation from virtual strangers, reject their interpretation of who you are, and take back your power.

This is how I become INVINCIBLE.

This brings me to my 2016 Resolution –to REFRAME how I deal with daily #socialmedia psychos. From now on, instead of allowing them to affect me or stress me out, I will simply view them as my jealous, adoring Bieber-like fanbase. People without any creativity or talent to make something of themselves; sad and pathetic losers who don’t have a life of their own and are obsessed with mine.

Besides, everybody knows that growth in popularity is commensurate with increase in psycho fandom – any celebrity can tell you this. Whether a movie star or bestselling author, the more popular you get, the more nutbars you are bound to attract. Call it the hidden cost of success.

So, from this day onward, instead of feeling stressed & harassed by IP-specific trolls (who’ve also used proxies and VPNs to stalk me), I will view them as adoring fans addicted to my awesomeness 😉

So if you’re reading this, I know you can’t help yourself – indeed, I am THAT awesome 😀

little girl green grass

right awesome

Posted in activism, blogging, politics, press, social media, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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

Posted by E on September 15, 2015

Young woman enjoying sunlight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Being preoccupied with negative outcomes and past failures

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

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

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

How can we make-believe again?

what if fly1. Believe You Can

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

thinker little girl3. Empower Yourself with Knowledge

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

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

girl jumping4. Accept Who You Are

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

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

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

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

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

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

Believe-in-Magic6. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

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

emerson meme7. Have Patience & Think Differently

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

girl running  dandelion dreams

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

Bread and Circuses – The Illusion of Choice

Posted by E on September 14, 2015

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.

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

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