Sunday, 22 April 2018

Journey to Canadianness (postlogue)

Been craving macaroni and cheese the way my mother made it, which requires American cheese.  American cheese, for those not in the know, is a kind of processed cheese made (at least partially) with a blend of ‘natural’ (unprocessed) cheeses.  The processing gives it a smooth texture and a low melting point. American cheese is not, as is widely believed, the same thing as Velveeta, although both are processed “cheese food”.  Velveeta and its ilk are designed to be soft and spreadable.  American cheese is meant to be solid, but to melt easily. (Don’t get me started on why ‘Swiss cheese’ and “Gruyère cheese’ are not the same thing.*)

I have tried to make macaroni and cheese (and more generally sauces Mornay) with regular cheese and have never been able to get it to come out right. It splits, or it’s grainy, or it turns into a huge gloppy  mess.  No no no no no.  I’ve also tried it with other kinds of processed cheese (or cheese food), and it’s Not The Same.  So there is a need for actual American cheese, which (surprise!) isn’t available in Canada.

So every once in a while, I go down across the border into the Old Country and bring back a few bricks of American cheese, so I always have some to indulge my macaroni and cheese fix. Something that I don’t do as often as I used to, because diabetes and carbs.  But I have a brand of lower carb penne that I like, so the cravings have come back.  But I don’t have any American cheese in the freezer.  Horrors!

It’s actually been almost two years, I think, since I’ve driven over the border.  My last few trips have been by plane, for conferences, consultations, my mother’s memorial, and things like that.  I still needed my US passport (to get into the USA with my Canadian car)  and my permanent resident card (to get back into Canada with my US passport) for those, but that’s what happens when you’re an ex-pat.

Which brings me to my next and perhaps last** part of Journey to Canadianness, the application for a Canadian passport.  At my swearing in ceremony, as readers of this blog will recall, they took away my permanent resident card, which presumably I wouldn’t need anymore.

Getting back into the country (Canada) with just my US passport is probably not a huge deal, but it will definitely involve a trip into the customs/immigration place so they can run my paperwork.  Which as I say is probably not a huge deal (I’ve done it once before, crossing into Vancouver of all places with an expired PR card), but it’s not something I want to deal with if I can avoid it.  So I’m applying for a Canadian passport. Which I could have done as early as February 1st, but whatever.
So, forms, a couple pieces of  ID, proof of citizenship, photos, and two references and a guarantor.  The references have to have known you for two years and might actually get called.  The guarantor signs the form and one of the photos and must have a valid Canadian passport.  This last part is new.

Apparnetly, I have been in Canada long enough for there to be an Olden Days, so here we go.  In the olden days, your guarantor had to be a lawyer, a clergyperson, a uniformed officer, or a member of a short list of other presumably respectable professions, which again in the olden days included university professor. Which I was, and am,  one of. I have been a guarantor on a couple of passport applications.  The new form requires the guarantor to provide a valid Canadian passport number, which makes sense over any random lawyer, uniformed officer, clergyperson, and certainly university professor, you could drag in off the street.

I got pictures taken a couple weeks ago in a fit of organizational industry, started filling in forms, and getting random friends at work to fill in their info as references.  But Canadians don’t habitually carry around their passports, so I have to actually arrange for someone to have their passport so they could fill in the guarantor part of the form.

I was going to ask my friend Sky, but when I was getting photos and information I learned that he was defending his dissertation (the last big hurdle before getting your PhD) on the 20th, so I decided not to bother him with my trivia.  Readers of this blog will remember my friend Wendy, who actually asked to come to my swearing in and started that whole mishigas. I figured that she’s a big booster of becoming Canadian, so she ought to be wiling to be a guarantor.  Which she was.  But we had trouble getting together before she skipped town for something (ironically to the USA) where she almost got snowed in.  So we finally got together  this past Friday, literally a couple hours after Sky got done***, for her to sign her life away on my behalf. 

So I’ve got a plastic envelope with my completed form, photos, and supporting document (my proof of citizenship) and my current US passport (one of my pieces of ID--the other one will be my drivers license which I presume I will have on me anyway).  There’s this thing about a valid Canadian travel document, which I don’t think I have one of (they list three kinds) and the only other kind of document they might conceivably want to see is my immigration form (‘landing document’), but no one has asked for that since the swearing in.  So there we go.  If I ever get done marking papers****, I’ll toddle off to a nearby Canada Services (or Service Canada, I forget) office, where you can turn in this kind of thing and they can check your documents, pay a fee, and in 4-6 weeks, according to the paperwork, I will receive my Canadian passport.

*Swiss cheese is a variety of cheese (or probably a class of related cheeses) produced primarily in North America.  It’s nearest cousin from Switzerland is probably Emmental.  Swiss cheese is kind of required for a proper patty melt (Ground beef, seeded rye bread, grilled onions and Swiss cheese), which does not work for Emmental or Gruyère.  While you can make fondue with Swiss cheese it works better if there is at least some Gruyère in the mix.  Trust me.

**The last-last step might be renouncing my USA citizenship, which technically isn’t so much a step on a journey to Canadianness and a step on a journey towards not being anything else.  I haven’t decided to do it, and the benefit (not having to file US taxes every year) doesn’t really outweigh the con (not voting in US federal elections).  Unless the US continues on its road ot Hades, in which case not being an American might actually be a general advantage.  Certainly being able to say I’m Canadian is an advantage up here, that I don’t think gets any more advantageous by not being an American anymore.  Duality is common enough up here that I don’t think people care. We’ll see.

***Congratulations, Dr Onosson! (Which technically isn't true until he turns in his revisions, they're accepted, and usually there has to be some kind of Act of Regents or something to make things official-official, but for all practical purposes, passing the defense is the last hurdle.) 

****So close, but then there's the assignment of numbers and the calculation of grades.  But I might be able to get done with this tonight, and grades will magically be done before tomorrow.  Maybe.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Journey to Canadianness (the exciting conclusion)

Oh, the drama. That I create all in my own head.

A month or so ago I got an order to appear today (January 30) at 1:15 (or actually 13:15) at the train station, which is apparently where you do this sort of thing, to be sworn in as a citizen of Canada.

It also recommended ‘business attire’. The issues are as follows:
  1. I’m not sure I know what ‘business attire’ means anymore
  2. It is the dead of winter, so I'll have a coat of some kind
  3. I find it difficult to manage both a jacket and a coat, particularly if it's not a giant 'over'coat and just a coat-coat
  4. I will undoubtedly not have my coat on inside anyway
  5. I have a paucity of shirts that I can close around my fat neck
  6. I look like an idiot in a tie without a jacket  
  7. I look slightly less idiotic in a button-front shirt and a jacket, or a button-front shirt without a jacket, but that strikes me as potentially insufficiently 'business attire' to be swearing (or affirming) to God and Queen and so on
  8. The lining of my black jacket is not doing particularly well, so wearing it out and about is potentially problematic
  9. My only other sports jacket / blazer thing is seersucker, which is a no go from both the ‘dead of winter’ and ‘business attire’ angles, I reckon
Much consultation, with Facebook since that’s where I do all my socializing, and especially some Messengering with a bud who’s gone through it recently, convinced me that a nice shirt and big-boy pants were adequate. Last night a friend confirmed that ‘a shirt that doesn’t look like it’s supposed to be worn with a tie’ might be best if I wasn’t going to wear a tie. So I think I have nice black pants, and a black button-front shirt with a broad plaid in white.

This morning I get up and it isn’t going to be quite dead-of-winter-y as previously predicted. It’s windy, visibility is compromised (but not quite blizzarding), but it’s supposed to snow a few centimeters around 1pm. It’s about -11C and it was going to climb to around -5C in the afternoon. 11C is sort of on the edge of ‘medium jacket’ weather, and -5C is definitely too warm for any kind of ‘winter coat’. So hm.

There was also the comment by a friend who will remain unidentified, except that it was Richard Maritzer, speculating that the reason I didn’t want to wear a tie was that I didn’t own any nice ties.

I have a dozen or so (maybe 10?) ties. All are nice. Except for one or two, I’d in fact say they were downright pretty. I don’t mind wearing them. I mind trying to close a shirt collar around my fat neck (see #5, above). But I was running around, getting dressed thinking “if it isn’t going to be that cold, I could wear the jacket. And I could wear the tie and show that Richard Maritzer who doesn’t own any nice ties.

I also convinced myself that wearing a shirt that was effectively a white-on-black grid would likely just emphasize the misshapen body and weird tucking that I do with shirts like that. So in the end, Richard Martizer notwithstanding, I went for a color-blocked check shirt in dark red, gray, and black, which I like and think looks pretty good on. Skip the tie. Skip the jacket. Stick to your guns.

So dressed as ‘business attire’ as I’m likely ever to be (I wore a tie to the Winnipeg Theatre Awards, but since I was backstage most of the night it hardly mattered—and I’ve been known to say things like ‘If you want me in a tie, you have to be getting married, getting buried, or getting a PhD’.) I head out.

The train station (known as the Via Rail station and Union Station, depending on who you talk to and the context) is downtown. I’m halfway up before I realize I have no idea where I’m going to park. I know where there’s parking. I just usually have an idea of where I intend to park even if I don’t end up there, because I’m nothing if not flexible, but dammit you have to have a plan.

There’s smallish lot next to the train station which I have driven past, quite a bit, but have never pulled into. In the end since I get there around 12:30 with plenty of time, I drive around. I know that on the non-Main-Street side of the train station is a large parking lot that serves, among other things, the Forks Market (important shopping, meeting, and touristy kind of spot), the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, and the baseball park. So I drive down there and poke around to make sure that there is parking and that there’s a way into the train station from that side.

Since I have no idea how long this is going to take (reports vary), I paid for ‘all day’ parking until 6pm. Readers of this blog may recall that I paid $10 to park for all day for approximately 45 minutes when I took the exam. I know I have friends coming, with vague plans for drinks or something after, so I figured I can leave the car there, and worst case I’ll have to move it to someplace more convenient when we go out after.

Got inside and friends Ron and Sheila were already at the canteen, or whatever you call the snack bar area, and we sat and talked for a while, joined a bit later by friends Wendy and Patricia. A few minutes after 1pm, we head into The Room, which turns out to be built like a largish lecture theatre with a dais in front that looks like a bench in a court.

Some nice ladies (I believe volunteers) direct my buddies are directed into the room, and I’m directed around the corner to line up to verify my document(s), which consisted mostly of presenting my notice to appear and surrendering my Permanent Resident card, and signing the oath form on the pink line, getting a bunch of propaga—er, literature, and being shown to my assigned seat (#10).

Now, I like my PR card. I tend to keep things like that. Every drivers license I’ve ever been issued in Manitoba used to live in a bin in my office until I tossed them, and just about everything else in that bin, in a fit of organizational pique. Including several old parking passes, pages from a word-a-day calendar from 2004 or so that I was keeping for some reason, my ERII flag from the jubilee, and so on.

But since in a few minutes I’ll be a Canadian citizen, I don’t need a PR card, so whatever.

The ceremony goes like this. Frank (readers will remember my interviewer/language assessor/document verifier) is there to keep things orderly. Everybody in the room has indicated that they’d prefer to do the ceremony in English rather than French, so the proceedings will be in English. There’s no amplification because they can’t get the mic or speakers or something to work, so everybody is going to have to be quiet. The ceremony will begin, the judge will come out, say a few words, then the oath will be administered. After that, everyone will be called up to collect their certificate of citizenship, which we are directed to check to make sure everything is spelled correctly. Then a representative of the Canadian Armed Forces will speak briefly, then there will be the singing of the national anthem, and then those who want to can have their picture taken with the judge, the Air Force captain, the Mountie, and the guest from the government, who turned out to be my Member of the Legislative Assembly (the provincial parliamentary body).

I won’t go into who said what, because they actually all went on a little longer than I think they needed to. The judge started with pointing out that we’re doing this on Treaty 1 land, meaning basically it was claimed by Canada (or whatever the analogous body was at the time) from the native population, which in our case is the Anishnaabe more than anyone else. There’s mention of Louis Riel and the formation of Manitoba. There’s talk about how Canada is the second largest country on earth (by area). There’s lots of talk about freedom and safety and respect, that was clearly very meaningful to many in the room, who may not have come to Canada entirely by choice, who leave behind persecution, or poverty, or martial conflict, and so on. Coming from the US, I am moved, but I’m used to freedoms guaranteed by the law, nominal equality, freedoms of expression, religion, and so on, so I don’t relate to these reminders quite as I probably should.

The oath itself is a little weird. You start by swearing loyalty to Queen Elizabeth, Queen of Canada, and her heirs and successors, which as an American just seems weird. You also swear to obey the law and fulfil the responsibilities of citizenship. Interestingly enough, in spite of this being an explicitly English-language ceremony, you have to do the oath in both languages. It was a rare moment of pride that I was only one in my little group of proto-citizens who spoke (or pronounced) enough French to be able to do it plausibly in French. You’re repeating after the judge, who did not always have the best French anyway.

They call you up individually (or as a family) alphabetically. Frank makes a really good attempt at not butchering your name. You go up and notice that your friends Kevin and Shayna have also come in to watch and take pictures. You shake hands and receive your certificate from the judge, who engages in chit chat about where you’re from (“I’m from the US.” “Oh.” “Yeah, not really as inspiring a journey as most.” “Where in the US?” “Well, Seattle, originally.” “Oh.”), and you go down the line to shake hands with the Captain from the Air Force (who gives you your little flag pin), the Mountie (who gives you a little flag) and (in my case) your MLA. Then you go down and sign the oath form again, this time on the yellow line. You say hi to Will (readers of this blog will remember Will, the young man who administered my exam) who with a bunch of friends (including, I think, his friend from the exam who’s name I didn’t catch) is overseeing all the paperwork. You hear your friend Wendy hiss something at you so she can take a picture, and then you go back to your seat.

When everybody is done, the Captain from the Air Force tells us a little about the role of the Armed Forces, that the Forces are for the protection of, and service to, citizens (which is not always true where some of these people come from). Winnipeg, it turns out, is the Canadian headquarters of NORAC (which along with NORAD in the US make up the North American Aerosomething defense program). It’s also headquarters of his own unit, which is often involved in search-and-rescue operations, and his boss, who apparently is a two-star general basically in command of the forces from Manitoba across through Alberta, and north up into the Arctic. Which was interesting, but since everyone had their certificates at that point, there wasn’t a lot of paying attention going on. He closes by imploring us to pay attention to the many cenotaphs and to the sacrifices made that we commemorate on Remembrance Day (Veteran’s Day in the US*).

The judge says welcome and congratulations, you all sing the anthem, and it’s over.

Except then you can (if you wish) (or in my case, if your friends wish) line up for your opportunity to take pictures with the judge, the Captain, the Mountie, and the MLA. Your friends stake out a place in good photographing position and, being Canadian, eagerly volunteer to take pictures for others while you’re trudging up in line.

Then you and your friends try to figure out whether we’re going out for a drink or food, or what, and exactly where. At this point, it’s almost 3:30pm. That’s how long a ceremony that lasts ‘about an hour’ that started about 1:45 takes.

You end up going to The Forks, because you’re practically already there, and you spent a couple of hours gabbing with friends, take a few more pictures, and then buying Evil Cinnamon Rolls on your way home.

Of course, your mileage may vary.

But it was a pretty good day, if a little long, but now I’d better get to some work I need to do for tomorrow.

But aujourd’hui, je suis canadien, and that’s how it all happened.

*The ‘business attire’ drama was made particularly comical by the young man next to me, who was wearing a t-shirt, a hoodie, jeans, and hiking boots.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Discomfort and disquiet

I get that what I experience as pain is probably nothing compared to what others experience. But this is my blog and I’m uncomfortable. In the sense of “you may feel a bit of discomfort”. In the sense of “you will know great pain.”

I have had three serious back spasms in my life. The first in 1984, then in 1990, and in 1996. Each had a similar progression: Rob is fine; Rob falls to the floor in blinding pain; Rob is unable to move for about four hours; usually with the help of a handy dorm-mate or friend Rob gets to some kind of medical service; and then Rob spends several weeks in various degrees of pain and discomfort while things work themselves out.

I am currently experiencing something akin to a back spasm, but have skipped steps 2 and 3, having not had an obvious 'event'. Since just before Christmas, my lumbar back has been ... off. Ranging from a little twingey to sharply owie to basically okay. With better days and worse days. Starting Thursday I guess, I went from ‘not great’ to ‘downright owie’. Which I’d still characterize as ‘occasional’ or ‘episodic’. There are times, particularly if I’ve been standing up straight for a while, or lying down for a while, when I actually can’t tell much is wrong. Until I move.

But similar to previous experience, the pain is in my lumbar back. In previous episodes it started clearly in one spot (one doctor looked at my back, and saying ‘oh yeah, right there’ was able to shove his knuckle into the middle of it). This didn’t start in one spot all at once, but sort of started ‘vaguely my lower back’ and has started to concentrate in a spot just to the right of the base of my lumbar spine. Which as I recall is actually a vertebra or two lower than I think it was in the past, but that could be just not remembering exactly correctly. Or it could really be different. We’re definitely approaching the sacroilial end of the lumbar spine, I think.

So depending on how I move, I get an acute (both in terms of sudden and in terms of sharp) pain that happens when I try to move, particularly going from relatively curved over (slouched) to a properly curved lumbar spine. I’m better the straighter I can keep my back. So standing up or sitting down, or lying down is kind of an adventure of trying to realign my spine. I can actually bend over (a bit, with my back straight), get down to one knee (for instance, to pick up the slice of turkey I dropped on the floor because I dropped it trying to get it onto my sandwich from the wrong angle), get myself in and out of bed, in and out of the shower, on and off of the toilet, and so on. But twingey twinge. I have taken, apparently, to trying to turn my gasps or squeals of surprise and pain into warblings of familiar songs. Most recently the Star Spangled Banner. “Owie, Ow ow ow Ow”, like a one-man Muppaphone.

I’ve also noticed a familiar post pain-flare symptom, which is that a dull ache seems to radiate around and down my right ilium (hip bone), as if those muscles that attach there (notably quadratus lumborum) are either working really hard either trying to keep me upright, or are getting yanked on by my (erector spinae?) muscles in spasm. Which is why I have decided this is an actual muscle spasm, and not just me getting old and decrepit and increasingly out of shape. I mean, I’m sure it doesn’t help, but this is different.

What I learned from three previous trips to the doctor is once you get vaguely ambulatory, it’s best to stay that way—there’s no benefit from three weeks of bedrest. Also heavy muscle relaxers don’t really help a lot, especially if you get so depressed on one you become afraid to take it in the third day.

So I’m not just going to crawl into bed and hope it goes away, although I plan to spend as much time as possible flat on my back for the rest of the weekend probably. My immediate problem, aside from being in variable degrees of pain, is that weekend was meant for the reading of manuscripts and marking of papers. I could probably still read, standing up, with the tablet, but this plan doesn’t allow me to make notes trivially, which is kind of the point of reading. I think marking papers, which pretty much requires me to bend over a stack of papers for a couple of hours, is not going to happen.

If I feel better tomorrow, I might try to rig up something that will let me stand at my desk so at least I can read on the screen comfortably, and possibly type notes with the keyboard. But for the moment, I’m just going to try to not collapse in pain crying.*

I used to own a pair of forearm crutches that I bought cheap off a friend who had CP (I think she was switching to a wheelchair--anyway she had a set she sold me for $20 or something), because it was easier to bear my weight on my wrists and shoulders than my back. I also made my mother buy me a drafting table when I went off to grad school so I could sit more upright when I read. I left the drafting table in California because I couldn’t figure out how to move it to Wisconsin in my car, and I finally got rid of the crutches when I moved in 2015. So of course I’m wondering if having kept them would have made anything easier. On the other hand, this is Canada and it can’t be that hard to get a pair of used forearm crutches from somewhere. Which I probably won’t need again for another 20 years, in which time I will get rid of them just in time for my next spasm. I guess.

In brighter news, this is Canada, and you can get OTC methocarbamol, which I’d never even heard of before I came here. Marketed specifically for back spasms, it may not help, but it isn’t going to hurt—I’ve never gotten depressed or scared on it, and its potential for abuse is extremely low.

*I’m not actually a crier. That is, about pain and horror. It has been known for me to lose it over a coffee commercial**, or the odd sporting event, but that’s not the same. So I don’t actually cry, unless I’m actually in personal despair, which I’m unlikely to be unless I become seriously disabled by this. Which is, to say the least, unlikely. But knowing I have, likely, a week of serious hobbling is going to get me down, especially if it means I can’t get what little work I was looking forward to doing done.

**It’s an old Folgers one that comes around again every once in a while, with the teen boy bouncing a basketball in the kitchen, when his brother comes home from the army, and the coffee he has wakes up the mother. “You two never could let us sleep. My baby! My baby!” That one. Excuse me for a sec.***

*** Also, it’s been about 40 minutes of me sitting here typing and not doing any work, which I can already tell has been a huge mistake. In more ways than one. Ow owie ow, ow ow ow owie ow.****

****O Canada.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Journey to Canadianness (Canadianity?)

This has been sitting in my drafts folder for a couple weeks now. Time to get it up.

Okay, so this story starts last year. Well, actually it starts in the spring of 2000 when I was offered a job in Canada, my birthday that year when I actually entered Canada as an immigrant, and the following year (it says in my papers but I can’t be bothered to look it up now) when I ‘landed’ as they say, becoming a ‘landed immigrant’ as they used to day (now they say ‘permanent resident’). And a couple years ago, when I started thinking about it seriously. And last year, finally, when I took the plunge and started getting pictures taken and finding all my documents and looking up the actual procedures.

So there’s all kinds of paperwork. You have to have pictures taken, not quite like passport pictures, but anywhere that does passport pictures should be able to do them, pay the fee, fill out the application and supply copies of all your documents. These include but are not limited to:
  • Your record of landing
  • Your passport at the time of landing
  • Any passports during the previous 5-year reporting period
  • Any Permanent Resident cards issued during that period
  • Two pieces of government-issued ID, one of which must bear a photograph (it’s never clear whether your current passport and PR card are sufficient, so I submitted my drivers license and my Manitoba health card, which together are acceptable)
  • Proof of language proficiency (in either English or French). As a native speaker of English born in, and until moving to Canada resident in, the USA, I assumed this wouldn’t be a problem. The typical case is that you pass a TOEFL or something. The easiest was to submit a diploma from an institution of higher learning (or something like that) completed in an English speaking institution from an English speaking nation. My PhD from UCLA sufficed.
  • Many signatures and things attesting that everything was true and complete, that I had never been ordered out of Canada, that I had in the last 5 years not been incarcerated or convicted of a felony anywhere, and so on.
  • You pay on line and get a PDF receipt, which you submit with everything else.
There’s a thing on the website that tells you how long it currently takes to complete the process, or maybe it was 12 months to process the application and schedule you for your exam. If the second, they were pretty darn close. Because I submitted all my documents the week of The Election. That Election. I would have anyway, but whatever.

Then (it says explicitly) you won’t hear anything until they need something else. So some office in Vancouver or somewhere checks your application, and a few months later, they send something telling you to get fingerprints done.

The last time I needed fingerprints, I was told to go to the RCMP, who told me they don’t do fingerprints for background checks anymore, and that I should go to City Hall, or the Public Safety Building, or whatever they called it, and have the Winnipeg Police Service do it. Which I did, and they did, and all was happy. But in the meantime, the Winnipeg Police Services has moved, and only do it by appointment a couple days a week, or seriously for like an hour on Thursdays for walk-ins.

So I went with the Commissionaires. I’m not 100% certain who the Commissionaires are, but they do background checks and fingerprinting for these kinds of things. So anyway, last winter sometime, because there was still snow on the ground, I went in and did my fingerprints, which were magically transmitted to wherever they needed to be transmitted to (again in Vancouver, as I recall).

Then, of course, you don’t hear anything until they need something. So skip ahead to November 9th or something like that (interestingly enough, almost exactly 12 months from filing), when I get a letter telling me to appear on Monday, 11 December, at an ungodly hour of the morning (8:15) downtown, in some building I’d never heard of, to do the citizenship exam, and be sure to read the little book which has everything I need to know about Canada for the exam. Except the names of the Prime Minister and Governor General, and the opposition parties and their leaders at both the federal and provincial levels. Which several practice exams asked about, but didn’t come up on the actual exam, presumably because it wasn’t in the little book.*

So I’ve read the little book carefully a couple of times, and done dozens of practice exams on the internet. And I’m fine. So I take time last week (after my last class) to do a little more prep, read the little book again, do a couple more practice exams, and watch curling on TV. I spend more time than I should have thinking about booking a room downtown, figuring it has to be easier than driving up at said ungodly hour of the morning, deciding driving was probably good enough or worst case the bus (just in case, bought a bus card‐which they spell Peggo, but seem to pronounce ‘paygo’, in a weird case of capitulating to the raising-before-velars crowd—to avoid the whole thing, I just called it a bus card and didn’t have a problem) and most of the weekend anxiously looking at the weather forecast, which was for 5cm of snow Sunday evening, and more overnight (it said <1cm 4am="" 5cm="" almost="" another="" anywhere="" basically="" could="" every="" from="" hour="" mean="" nbsp="" new="" no="" p="" snow="" to="" until="" which="">
I went to bed right after the curling final (which ended a little after 9pm), did my usual read a comic book, do a crossword puzzle, play some game or other, watch some YouTube, take my insulin, and try to go to sleep routine, having set the alarm for 5:45am, which meant I could do my usual check Facebook, check Twitter, crawl out of bed for coffee routine, and still have time to check the weather and decide not to drive in and hike to the bus stop, or call a cab, or whatever. Woke up at 5, and couldn’t get back to sleep, because typical. So by 5:30 I was up and about, looking out the windows to see not really 4cm of (new) snow on the ground. Which is not really a problem to drive through, since I live on a fairly major highway and everything will have been plowed and sanded, or at least driven over by dozens of semi trucks overnight, all the way downtown.

So I leave right about 7, figuring best case it would take me 30 minutes to get downtown and parked, worst an hour. Went to Starbucks. Went home to pick up my phone because I’d forgotten it and no way was I driving in the snow without my phone, and ended up hitting the road for real about 7:25.

Let me tell you 7:25am is apparently when the universe decides to go to work in the mornings, because where there was no traffic really at all at 7am, there was serious traffic. Took me about 10 minutes to get up to the next major highway crossing, then about 20 to get up to the one after that. And that was just traffic. There wasn’t a stall or a crash or a lane closure or anything all the way up.

Pull in to the parking lot adjacent to this building I’d never heard of at about 8:05, which all things considered isn’t bad time. Paid to park ‘for the day’ because that’s how this lot rolls, and got inside in plenty of time to sit for 15 minutes waiting for something to happen.

Which it did. Eventually, I think just ahead of 8:30, the 14 or so of us were herded into the testing room by a tall young man name Will, along with a dozen or so of my closest strangers, and spent about 10 minutes listening to Will explain to the assembled group what was going to happen, how to mark the form (you circle the letter of the correct response), watching Will check IDs and getting my exam form in its very official blue report folder and its pages all carefully encased in sheet protectors.

I took some of that time to try to place Will’s accent, which I’m still not sure about. His vowels weren’t quite local, and his dentals were sort of stoppy. He also used ‘okay’ as a tag a lot more than I think I’ve ever heard up here. If you don’t know what that mean, ignore it. My linguist friends are sure to appreciate. (Right?)

Will tells us to start, and about 2 minutes later I’m done. Being dutiful, I carefully checked my answers, reread the questions to make sure I’d read them right, and I raised my hand so Will’s helper (a young woman whose name I didn’t catch) could let Will know I was done. Will came over, checked that I’d filled in everything appropriately, and sent me back to the waiting room. At which point it was about 8:37.

Where I waited another 15 minutes or so. I assumed being the first one out, I’d be the first one called in for the interview, but I was second. So whatever.

A very nice not-as-young-as-Will-but-I’m-getting-to-an-age-where-everybody-looks-young man called Frank takes me into a little room and asks to verify all my documents and engages me in conversation to assess my English skills, because since last year having a document proving your language ability is not good enough anymore. As I said, I didn’t expect to have a problem, and I didn’t. Meanwhile Frank is checking my documents (you have to bring in all your originals).

Here’s the thing about passports. They don’t always stamp them, particularly when travelling by car into the US. One of the things in the paper work was to account for any absences from the country during the five year period the application covers. So Frank went through my most recent passport and found all four(?) of the stamps, which were helpfully on one page, and verified that I had in fact declared those absences from the country, along with a handful of others. So at least I didn’t have any documented absences that I hadn’t declared.

Frank and I had a nice chitchat about linguistics, sociology and criminology, how old my landing document was (because you don’t land anymore, you become a permanent resident). Frank asks how I thought the exam went. I say something like ‘okay, I guess’, and he tells me I got 20/20 on my exam, which obviously is a pass, and congratulations, at some point you’ll get a letter telling you to appear at a swearing-in ceremony, where you’ll do the oath with anywhere between 50 and 300 of your closest strangers, and get your citizenship document. I asked what the difference between ‘swearing’ and ‘affirming’ (the oath gives you the choice).** Frankwaits patiently for me to put all my stuff back in the poly enevelope and get out of his office so he can do it again with the next person.

So in one to three months, I’ll get a notice to appear one to two months thence, to swear (or affirm) in.

Will inform when hat happens.

*Just because I looked it up, the PM is Justin Trudeau of the federal Liberal party. The opposition parties are the Conservatives, whose leader is Andrew Scheer (that happened in the last couple months) and the New Democrats, whose leader is now Jagmeet Singh (which happened even more recently). I don’t think there are any Greens or independents in the House of Commons right now. The Progressive Conservatives (Brian Pallister) are in power in Manitoba, and the main opposition party is the NDP (but I have no idea who the NDP leader is. I know who the last one was, because he was Premier for a lot of my time here). The Liberals aren’t an ‘official party,’ because they don’t have enough seats (I think they have three right now, and you have to have five(?) or something like that to qualify for the good offices, I guess). There are two independents, one of whom was a federal cabinet minister for the Conservatives back when they were in power, so I don’t know what, if any, his relationship is to the local Progressive Conservatives (or for that matter the federal Conservatives, who aren’t Progressive Conservatives but are the result of a merger between the federal Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance Party (itself a merger of the Reform party—which was formed form a right-wing arm of the PCs—and certain PC defectors at the time), which was funny because when they merged, they briefly became the Conservative Reform-Alliance Party until the news satire shows got a hold of what their initials were.

None of which was on the exam, but is fun to talk about.

**The difference is whether or not what Frank described deftly as a ‘deity of faith’. You swear to a deity. You just affirm to whoever is in the room listening. Or something like that. I’m going to have to make a choice sometime, I guess, but then I’ll be swearing allegiance to a Queen and her heirs, so whatever.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

It's ba-a-ack...


So. Hey there. Been a while. Sorry. Gonna break this one up into sub-plots because a) there are a lot of them and b) this post is going to go on forever. Maybe I should break it into parts.
Lotta stuff happened in the last, ahem, year(?), and went unreported. At least here. If you are a FB friend then you were treated to a more-or-less real time commentary.

So over last school year, once we got back from the strike and back on some kind of sensible schedule, I managed to develop some enthusiasm for work, extra curriculars, and personal stuff. Started a couple necessary projects, making plans for my second bedroom, looking at my finances, etc. All was good.

One project was developing the plan for the next phase of my research and working out the details. Another was starting a textbook for a class that pretty much only I (in the world) teach the way I teach it.

Part 1 (Adventures in Healthcare)

A couple of years ago I was having trouble with my right shoulder and was diagnosed with frozen shoulder syndrome. Basically the joint capsule seizes up and greatly restricts your movement, often painfully. Typical pattern is 6-9 months coming on, 6-9 months with you, and 6-9 months going. At the end of which you have close to the range of motion you had before. Fortunately, it only really hurt when I tried to do something the capsule just wasn’t in a position to let me do. There are those who experience excruciating, debilitating pain, pretty much constantly through the coming and with-you stages. Saw a physiotherapist off and on for a year who gave me a slew of stretching exercises that we knew weren’t likely to do a whole lot—it’s just the nature of the problem—and did my best to compensate.

At some point I developed a problem with my right Achilles tendon, specifically where it inserts into my heel, and probably involving the bursa between the tendon and the calcaneus (the heel bone). Which found me going back to the physio for a few times. Gave me some stretching and strengthening exercises, but basically not much he could do about the actual ‘injury’ until it healed itself. Which typically it does. Like the shoulder it was mostly ‘make sure nothing gets worse and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again’. He looked at me once and said ‘Usually people come to me, I give them some exercises, they feel better, and I look like a genius. Then you come in with these other things.’ Or something like that.

In the meantime, I’ve done something to my other shoulder, so while I have almost 100% movement in my right shoulder almost anything that isn’t just ‘typical’ movement, especially if it involves any rotation, hurts. A lot. Although not often while I’m doing it, more just after I stop. So after a couple years of making sure I pulled on shirts and jackets over my right arm first and twisting my other arm back to get the thing on, I now basically hurt myself every morning. Also every night when I turn on my CPAP machine and turn off my bedside lamp. Or try to lie on my left side, which seems always to either press on the joint or roll my humerus forward in ways that do not feel good. Sometimes quite a lot. Looked it up and basically whatever it is (it isn’t frozen shoulder, could be rotator cuff, remote possibility of the beginnings of arthritis, but shoulder-specific arthritis is relatively rare. But so is retrocalcaneal bursitis, which is probably most of what is going on with my Achilles tendon, and apparently I beat those odds. So there you go.

Anyway, physically it kind of feels like I’m old and falling apart.*

*Side story: Justice Thurgood Marshall retired from the Supreme Court in 1991 at age 83. At a press conference (as I recall with the other Justices) he was asked why he was retiring. His response was “I’m old and falling apart.” Given in an exasperated, cantankerous, ‘what a stupid question’ kind of tone. He became my hero and role-model for cantankerous old man-ness.

Part 2 (Misako Kondo Hagiwara, 1920-2017)

In the spring, my mother (who wasn’t in the best of health) started to decline. She lived with one of my sisters back in the Seattle area, more or less since my father died, and I live 1300 miles away in a foreign country, so there wasn’t much I could do about it and wasn’t really expected to. So the local family experienced more angst preparing for ‘the inevitable’ (which shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone—my mother was 92 and not in the best of health), with trips to doctors and hospitals and convalescent care to hospital to palliative. Which all things considered could have been much worse and gone on a lot longer.

My mother passed on April 17th. I’d talked to another of my sisters a few days earlier with the change to palliative and what would happen then. I’d been expecting, in the worst case, a ‘come home now’ message, which I was actually kind of prepared for. Fortunately the message wasn’t come home now, so much as ‘what’s going to happen is going to happen, probably sooner rather than later, big arrangement issues were made (seriously) decades ago, so local family would figure out how to deal with the rest, and we’d figure out sometime later to get the family together and do the memorial and the interment’ and so on. Which we did Mothers Day weekend. Which was a week with the mishpucheh*, and actually more fun than it should have been, even with the whole mishpucha and the usually getting-on-each-others-nerves. With somber moments, of course, but always punctuated with in-family eyerolls and good humor.

*Side story: I grew up, sort of, believing mishpucheh meant something bigger than a mishigas. Mishigas is a Yiddish-origin word which used to mean something like ‘riotous mess’ from a basic meaning of ‘craziness’ (I think this is the same root as meshuga). I think I learned mishpucheh in the context of something like “Such a mishigas, the whole mishpucheh”. Mishpucheh (or apparently, having just looked it up, mishpocha) is another Yiddish-origin word that means ‘family’, especially ‘extended family’ construed broadly. A gathering of which in a lot of families inevitably means some kind of mishigas. So there you go.

But the upshot of my mother’s decline is that I spent more psychic and emotional energy on the inevitable toward the end of the delayed (due to the strike) winter term than was good for me, and, well, things went haywire. Regular sleep patterns? Out the window. Anything resembling a considered diet and sensible food choices? Gone. Exercise was also, at best, a marginal priority, since at one time or another I couldn’t move my arms or stand or walk comfortably. So that.

Part 3 (… So I’m working on it)

Emotionally, the enthusiasm and momentum I’d worked up basically went ker-poof. And while it wasn’t much trouble to get up in the morning, or the circa-noon, and go about my day in public as a mostly functional person, there wasn’t a lot of available attention span, and almost no energy, for doing anything that wasn’t really immediately necessary. What there was was a lot of staring into space, or at the TV or internet enabled equivalent, not actually paying attention to anything. Also the spending of a lot of money on I’m not entirely sure what. Well, I am, but nothing exciting.

So that sucked. And I didn’t really start to feel like myself again until July, which I devote primarily to the Fringe Festival. Which having committed to not worrying about money, or diet, or blood sugar, or that kind of thing for the 12 days of the festival, I actually enjoyed a lot more than I expected. Of course it helped that two of the new food vendors had a sausage-dog ‘noriyaki’ thing on an egg bun with nori and some kind of amazing barbecue sauce and a flourish of Japanese mayo, and pulled pork and some really juicy brisket on poutine.

August was taken up trying (and often failing) to prepare for classes and trying to wind up our inaugural Winnipeg Theatre Awards season. And trying to get up at a human hour of the morning consistently, and not making any more of a mess of my state of life than I could help.

Then, just before classes started, the class I had managed to do some prep for (although not enough) got cancelled due to low enrollment. Which sucks. A) I (along with others) was sure this topic would be a big draw for students, so when there was little-to-less interest to speak of by mid August things were bad. B) I ‘owe’ a course now, which means I’ll probably end up doing 3 in each term next year.* University people know that teaching expands to take up all the time it can at the best of times, so any discipline I have to get stuff done that isn’t class stuff, which I don’t have a ton of, will be spent trying to get work done, with limited momentum going into it.

*Side story: Although I did read the proposed workload guidelines (which by the contract we got that ended the strike are negotiated between the Faculties (i.e. deans offices) and the faculty (i.e. the academic staff), and it might rend up reducing our teaching loads by one course every two years, so maybe I’ll catch a break and only have a 3-2 as scheduled.

Okay, so the point of this post is to actually publicly promise a few things. I’m more likely to do things if I think other people are watching and waiting for the results, so here goes.
  • I’m actually writing at textbook for that class that only I teach the way I teach it (so if I want a textbook, it’s pretty much up to me to write it). I started that earlier in the year, and kind of lost the thread toward the end of fall term, and my mothers’ decline. Last week I finally opened up a couple of the chapters that I did get some work into before everything blew up. And they were gibberish. I don’t mean poorly organized, full of typos, etc. I mean flat out ‘I can’t imagine a native English speaker with a PhD writing like this, at least not without some kind of brain injury’. I exaggerate. But bad enough that really, I can keep the outline, but I have to throw out the crap I have. But I’m working on it.
  • I’ve also decided to develop a ‘workbook’ of activities relevant to a course in acoustic phonetics (my specialty). I had an idea like this, intending to develop it relative to an existing textbook, but I think I have made peace with the fact that the free, open-source software that ‘everyone’ uses for this kind of thing isn’t the evil, deranged, project I always thought it was. Don’t get me wrong, there are ‘quirks’ galore, and it is far to easy for people to use it without knowing what they’re doing. But that gives me a hook for the workbook. So as with all new projects, I’m excited about this one. But I’m working on it.
  • I’m going to re-start my Mystery Monthly Spectrogram webpage. Maybe as a blog rather than a webpage, but whatever. I haven’t updated it since 2009, when a) I went on leave and b) the computer that ran my preferred software (the one that nobody uses because ‘everybody’ uses the free one) died, and I couldn’t run the software I had on the new computer (there was a DRM ‘dongle’ that plugged into the parallel port to make the program work. Guess what, they don’t make parallel ports anymore.) And replacing it was prohibitive. So maybe not monthly, and I may make more liberal use of the ‘features’ of the free program than I had intended (playing with the format, to make it easier to produce the figures the way I want them—which was one of my objects to the program in the first place, it’s cumbersome graphics system). So maybe not ‘monthly’ (‘quarterly quandary’?), but regular. So I’m playing with the software and the graphics and the presentation, and I’ll try to have something going somewhere by the end of the year. So I’m working on it.
  • I’ve got two things that I need to prepare for the Ethics Board, having to do with my next project. Last year I developed a project for my acoustic phonetics class that a) could end up in the workbook, and b) has some special ethical issues owing to the classroom basis of the data-collection and analysis. And storage. This task is actually a reasonable dry run for a part of the tasks in my next ‘big’ research project, both in terms of general method and as ethics submission. So one and a third birds with one stone. So I’m working on it.

There’s a couple other non-work projects that I’m trying to put into the mix, including this blog, but this is not the time to go into those. But I’m working on them, as well as getting my diet and blood sugar back on track. To that end, I have acquired a new glucometer, because new toys always get me a little more excited to check my blood sugar.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Thoughts on the UMFA Strike 2016

Okay, it’s about money.  What it’s not about is salaries.

It is true that University of Manitoba pay scales are the lowest of the U13 Canadian universities. It’s true that every contact for 30 years before the 2001 strike had salary increases that failed to keep up with inflation. Just FYI..

It’s about protecting the quality of the University of Manitoba. The University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) is there to advocate for full time faculty, librarians, instructors, and head coaches.  It isn’t the Excellence Task Force.  There are limited ways for UMFA to exert its influence on the University. And one of the ways is negotiating salaries. And yes, that is about our ability to make mortgage payments and pay for our children’s schooling and all that.  But that’s not all that’s on the table, and for many, probably most of us, it isn’t the top priority.

The quality of our university is under assault. For the last several years, the Faculty of Arts, as an example, has faced a 5% cut to its budget.  Meanwhile, more Vice Presidents and Assistant Vice Presidents are created, and their offices staffed.  The Faculty of Arts budget covers payroll for all Arts staff, including members of UMFA, members of CUPE (including part time and sessional instructors), AESES (support staff), office supplies, upkeep, overhead, and so on.  Salaries in most positions are collectively bargained.  There aren’t that many budget lines that the Dean can wield discretion over.  

So, librarians (who cannot be protected by tenure) are laid off, classes that could be taught by sessionals (people hired term-by-term to teach single classes--last check about 1/3 of undergraduate hours in Arts) are not offered; remaining class sizes increase. Instructor workloads are increased. Dead computers aren’t replaced.  

All of this harms the university, diminishes student experience, devalues the education we can offer.  So yes, it’s about money.

Without competitive salaries, the UofM cannot hope to attract and retain quality staff.  Who in their right mind is going to choose to come to Winnipeg to make less money than they could make elsewhere?

Research is threatened.  The creation of arbitrary ‘performance metrics’ at a central level undermines quality research, because it forces researchers to prove their value in page counts, in ‘impact fators’, in funders’ dollars brought in, in hours spent at a desk or in a lab, or appearances at conferences--in short-term tangible output, rather than long-term quality of scientific and scholarly results.

Collegial governance is threatened. Consolidating decision making in an increasingly bloated central administration means decisions are made by people far from the front lines, many of whom are not scholars, who don’t have to do their own paperwork, who don’t have to budget down to the box of paperclips.  Without buy-in, let alone input or even consultation with academic and support staff on the front lines of their budget dollars.

Academic freedom is threatened.  As we become more and more beholden to arbitrary ‘output’ and securing funding from outside sources, we trade our academic freedom to pursue the issues we think are important, for work that looks good in a press release, that will attract funders’ dollars.  Scholars can be threatened with less funding, less staff support, less money for graduate students, if they don’t do sexy, high-output, highly fundable projects.  

So yes, it’s about money.  But it’s not about salaries.  It’s about building an academic institution of the highest quality possible, and in the end that’s going to cost money.  But it also requires an environment where academics’ opinions and experience are valued, where support staff and graduate students are valued, where undergraduates can receive not only information they need but experiences in critical thinking, judgment, argumentation, even grammar and writing style, supported by academic and support staff who aren’t under constant threat.

Brian Pallister, premier of the province of Manitoba, has imposed a mandatory one-year contract extension on ALL unionized public employees, with a 0% increase in salaries.  If the university doesn’t comply with that order, the province can cut funding even further. Talk about a threat to the academy.  But that also means that salaries are off the table.  So it couldn’t be about salaries, even if we wanted it to be.

As of 1 November 2016, after being without a contract since March, after months of negotiations and a last-ditch attempt at mediation, UMFA has gone on strike.  It’s inconvenient for everyone.  It’s frustrating for everyone.  You’ve paid for a quality university experience, and strike action is impeding that. That’s true. But it’s also the only way we have to fight for the things that go into building that quality university you deserve.  That you want.  That we all need.

So, in the end, it is about money.  But then everything is, just as everything, in the end, is about politics. It's about building and maintaining a quality university: excellence in instruction, in undergraduate experience, in graduate and professorial research.  And in the end, quality costs money. I get that. But there's so much else on the table before we get to salaries.

#WeMakeUofMHappen #ReadyForAFairDeal #UMFAStrike2016