Incognito Press

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

Posts Tagged ‘writing’

A Year of Light and Darkness

Posted by E on December 30, 2016

elisa-dec2016As 2016 comes to an end, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what has been a very transformative year for me. An extremely difficult one as well since this month marks one year since my mother’s death last December, and her loss still feels altogether raw and very recent.

But it’s also been marked by some personal and professional accomplishments: I travelled to South America for the first time on a research project, and I’ve finally completed my last course for my Social Media Marketing Certificate from George Brown college! I must confess, I was waiting to earn this degree before I publish my new Art of Social Media Marketing for Creatives book, and now it’s going through the final edits before heading off to the printer.

I wanted to also touch upon some memorable highlights. When it comes to publications, there are three I am most proud of this year:

1. In March I published my literary novel Daughters of the Air, which interweaves the tragic tale of Adele Hugo, a retelling of The Little Mermaid fairytale and a modern-day timeline into a story of obsession, reincarnation and exploration of everlasting love. It’s tone is similar to The Red Violin and Posession, in that it’s a haunting love story that spans three continents, three timelines and three hundred years – a search for the root of heartbreak that involves mermaids, political activists and haunted geniuses. It flows from Paris to the Channel Islands, from spiritualist séances to the austere coastlines of Nova Scotia.

I am extremely proud of this book and I really hope you guys will get a chance to read it, because I poured all my heart into this one and it’s by far my most ambitious novel.

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2. In April, my villanelle poem One Europe was published in one of Canada’s oldest literary journals Contemporary Verse 2: The Canadian Journal of Poetry and Critical Writing (CV2). It’s the only national poetry magazine that continues to publish four times a year and I was so excited to be included in the Spring 2016 edition. I was inspired by Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art to create a similar pattern, and I’m so very glad that I wrote it. A villanelle has a very complicated rhyming pattern and creating it was a lot of work, but the joy and sense of accomplishment I felt for being able to create something this complex was tremendously rewarding.

3. In July, my editorial article was published in the Canadian Jewish News in a three-page spread. Moreover, it actually made the front cover for that week’s print edition! Nothing beats receiving a congratulatory message from my former university professor, mentor and self-described “Jewish uncle”, renowned Canadian poet Seymour Mayne, praising me for having my article featured on the cover – he’d just received it in the mail hours before Shabbat, and it made our weekend.

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Although I would gladly have written the piece for free, getting a cheque from the CJN for the article was a great feeling. Depending on Patreon, writing grants, freelancing projects crowdfunding sites to keep writing full-time is a haphazard, unpredictable process that can get stressful. A lot of people read my blog but very few realize just how time-consuming writing can be, and how generating money is a persistent issue. If everyone who reads my blog donated a single dollar to my Patreon fund each month, I would have a full-time income.

I’ve been a blogger and freelance journalist for years, but my work often went unpaid. My experience with CJN taught me that I can effectively pitch and sell articles to major publications, which has shifted my perspective and made me more ambitious about pursuing paid gigs with established publications. Who knows, lighting could strike twice and I might get another article to grace a front cover someday!

Elisa HasdeuIn the coming year I intend to work more on commissioned articles and less on regular blogging. Actually, I spent the early part of summer taking online courses to earn my certificate in Journalism from Michigan State University. Although I don’t believe that a formal degree is necessary in an oversaturated field where very few can find full-time employment, I see reporting, blogging and freelance work as a continuum in 21st century journalism. In a world where an increasing number of mainstream reporters are being laid off and digital publications redefine the profession, the lines between mainstream reporter, blogger and independent journalist have become blurred.

But don’t fret, my friends! Even though I will be making paid freelance work a priority, I could never give up blogging altogether – it’s become second nature to me. I started blogging in 2007 or -8 and it’s been such a helpful outlet of emotional and artistic expression for me, not to mention that I’ve met so many great people through it.

But time will be an issue. This spring I am booked for approx. eight to ten speaking engagements throughout Ontario and Quebec. In March I will be a speaker at a conference where Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion, former Attorney General Irwin Cotler and several United Nations staffers will also be presenting. It’s also a great opportunity to meet others involved in human rights, genocide documentation and social justice issues.

Afterwards I will be interviewed for a PBS special which will be filmed in NY state. I’ve also been asked to speak at SUNY that week.

Between the speaking engagements, a commissioned book I’m working on for a client, writing my own memoir and trying to finish my MFA (I only have a semester left), time is a commodity that I will have to plan carefully. Still, the excitement of achieving so many personal goals is more powerful than my ubiquitous jitters of speaking in front of large audiences.

Under a Trump presidency and alt-right governance, more than ever, it’s an important time to be a journalist and activist. I look forward to bringing my story, knowledge and expertise about extremist movements to a broader audience.

This year I was a consultant on a short documentary about Ernst Zundel‘s former home, titled ‘206 Carlton‘, produced by a Ryerson University Documentary Media student. I was also quoted in several articles about the resurgence of the ultra-right wing in Canada, such as:

CityNews: Alleged Toronto neo-Nazi publication expands west, pestering downtowners

National Post: ‘Hitler actually wasn’t that bad’: How Neo-Nazis are using attractive young women to boost their movement

All of this has led to a sharp rise of hate tweets, Facebook messages and threatening emails coming at me from social media trolls emboldened by Trump’s win to the point of delusion. Par for the course, I suppose – though the vile anti-Semitic, misogynist words reveal the persons behind them for the pathetic cowards that they are.

Lastly, I’m proud of an extensive, in-depth interview I did with author Samita Sarkar of Blossoms Writing. It’s a worthwhile discussion to check out if you’re interested in knowing more about me, the story behind Race Traitor and its aftermath.

So on this note, I wish all of you love and light for the New Year. May your 2017 be bright and inspiring, and remember – tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one!

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If you enjoyed the read and wish to support a creative writer, please consider dropping a dollar in my Patreon donation jar 🙂 

Posted in news, poetry, politics, white supremacy, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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 🙂 

Posted in literature, poetry, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

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!

 

Posted in books, marketing, social media, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in art, grief, inspiration, romania, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

I Know What It’s Like Not to be Believed

Posted by E on February 1, 2016

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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 »

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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Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans

Posted by E on September 5, 2015

students demo student protesters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Siegel wrote this about the difficult period following his graduation:

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

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

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

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

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

defection 1994-2Hategan article Metro Toronto

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

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

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

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

ottawa

On my Macdonald St porch

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

“Do you have a driver’s license?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, of course not.”

“Do I have to pay for my flight?”

“Nope.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

with students in Koreawith studentsmy classdrama festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I agree.

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

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

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

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

Free to live again.

you_are_not_a_loan

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

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The Importance of Blogging – 10 Top Reasons

Posted by E on September 1, 2015

Girl on tablet with social media icon chalkboard

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

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

FIVE BUSINESS REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD BLOG:

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

people in the information space

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

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

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

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

blogging importance2. Increase your SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FIVE PERSONAL REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD BLOG:

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

how_to_blog1. Blogging Improves your Writing

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

No more Writer’s Block

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

2. Blogging gives you a Voice

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

blogging-community3. A Supportive Community

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

4. You are a Journalist

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

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

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

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

Your new resume and calling card

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

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

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

Blogging Brand Voice1

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

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

Posted by E on August 27, 2015

Marc-Chagall_I-And-The-Village

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crowdfunding_Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

crowdfunding hands    crowdfunding steps

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

1. Do Your Homework

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

2. Develop a Social Media Strategy

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

crowdfunding tree3. Appeal to your Friends and Fanbase

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

4. Create a Winning Pitch

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

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

5. Project Confidence

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

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

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

6. Show How the Money will be Spent

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

7. Get your Hands Dirty – Promote Every Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. You might need to use Social Media Advertising

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

10. Set a Reasonable Intention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12. You’re Not Doing This Alone

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

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

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The most important book I’ll ever write, and it needs YOU

Posted by E on March 20, 2015

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“This story needs to be told and widely read” – reknowned human rights lawyer Paul Copeland

Dear friends, supporters and occasional voyeurs 🙂

everyone who knows me is probably aware of how reticent I am to discuss the details of whatever it is I’m working on – it’s a weird idiosyncrasy common mainly among writers and is the result of a befuddling combination of nerves, superstition (if I talk about it, I’ll jinx it!) and just plain discomfort at being asked questions that demand answers you haven’t quite worked out yourself.

But it’s time for my manuscript to come out of its closet and introduce itself – until now, only a handful of close friends ever knew of its existence. Until last night, I kept it under wraps for many reasons – but now circumstances force me to appeal to all of you and share my first-ever crowd-funding effort for this book.

Please, PLEASE take a moment to click on this link and check out the detailed story behind this manuscript. I feel so strongly about it that I have no doubt it’s the most important, and powerful, book I will ever write. So please – even if you can’t spare a dollar, at least share the Project link among your friends, relatives and whoever you think would be interested in supporting a book that will hopefully make a difference.

REMEMBER YOUR NAME is a memoir that depicts a journey into the roots of hate, identity, human trafficking and self-discovery in Eastern Europe.

It’s also the story of my family, the story of my country, the story of my people.

We all have our own story, but that story doesn’t belong to us: it’s the story of the hometown we came from, the people who gave birth to us and the people who came before them; the kids we went to school with, the neighbors across the road. It’s the story of every individual who came into our path, who added their own presence, experience, emotions, light and darkness to the universe that became our own.

I picked GoFundMe over Kickstarter because of its flexible funding model – which means every single dollar you donate WILL actually reach me, whether I meet my funding objective or not. So please be part of my team and together, let’s make this book happen!

Remember Your Name is a memoir about memory, heartbreak and belonging. Tying together six hundred years of revolutions, cruelty, despair and transformation, this is a luminous journey of love, loss and hate into the heart of a memory that refuses to be forgotten.

I am deeply grateful for anything you can do to help. Thank you.

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