KitchenAid stand mixers and Le Creuset dutch ovens have become “small markers of stability and sophistication, coveted by young people for whom traditional indicators of both often remain out of reach,” The Atlantic’s Amanda Mull writes, and boy (glances at kitchen) do I feel seen. People delaying marriage and homeownership are upgrading their cheap starter equipment themselves instead of getting them as wedding gifts. As status markers go, though, they’re durable and practical: they may be expensive, but they last.
Where we live is a surprisingly lucky place, weather-wise. Storm systems often pass just south of us, meaning that when bad weather hits the St. Lawrence corridor, or Ottawa, it hits us much less severely, or misses us altogether. Or, because we’re a couple of degrees cooler than the city, we get snow when Ottawa gets freezing rain.
That can mean a lot of shovelling, but when you buy a house in your mid-forties, certain things become novel and interesting that others in your cohort got sick of doing decades ago. Shovelling the driveway is one of those things for us.
For the longest time we didn’t have a driveway, or had a parking lot with plow service: all we had to do was shovel out the car and the walk. Now we do have a driveway all to ourselves, and it’s fairly large: about 30 metres long, and wide enough for two cars. And we don’t have a plow service to take most of it away. So we shovel it out ourselves, by hand. With, you know, shovels.
Around here this is apparently evidence that we are off our nuts. People buy big and expensive gas-powered snowblowers to remove snow from driveways half the size of ours. But for the most part we don’t find it all that onerous, especially if I’m feeling well enough to pitch in. When there’s two of us doing it we can usually get it done in well under an hour.
And we try to do it as quickly as we can after it snows. This often means we’re out there several times a week, or even a day. But there’s a method to this madness. If you’re going to shovel the driveway, you have to be zealous about it or there’s no point. Keeping the surface bare makes it easier to shovel the next time, otherwise there’s rough ice and it’s a pain to clear things off. In order to do it easily, you have to do it a lot.
This doesn’t always work, mind. Last year the snow came down so often and so heavily that I threw my shoulder out: it was bothering me for months afterward. Doing it by hand has consequences. So for this season we bought a small, electric snowthrower to handle the heavier snow days. It’s no good on the snow of the kind we had over the weekend (heavy and wet and slushy), but it has come in handy on three occasions so far. It throws the snow further than we can, and that helps keep the berms from getting too steep. While it’s a bit underpowered for what we have, I wanted to avoid a gas model, and the high-powered blowers all run on gas.
And sometimes a combination of wintry mix or freezing rain renders the driveway an unshovelable mass of hard ice, which means we have to break out the ice chipper. On a driveway our size that’s a brutal, multi-day job, one that leaves our arms more or less gelatinous. But the end result makes the next snowfall that much easier to deal with.
New from me at Tor.com this morning: “Celebrating Christopher Tolkien’s Cartographic Legacy.” It looks at the collaborative process between J. R. R. Tolkien and his son Christopher as father and son tried to make the narrative agree with the map, and vice versa; takes a deep dive into Christopher’s mapmaking technique; and tries to assess the impact of his maps on fantasy mapmaking.
This piece came from a general sense that Christopher Tolkien’s mapmaking was being overlooked in the obituaries and remembrances posted in the wake of his death last week at the age of 95. I posted briefly about it on The Map Room last Thursday, and then found myself having more to say about it. By the end of day Friday I had nearly 2,000 words’ worth of more to say. Revised it over the weekend, sent it off, and now you can read it.
Featured image: Christopher Tolkien’s map of Middle-earth from The Fellowship of the Ring (Unwin, 1954). The British Library.
I imagine that everyone with a serious or chronic illness knows the date of their diagnosis. Mine was January 13, 1998, which is to say 22 years ago today.
The diagnosis was by that point a formality. I’d known something was up since June 1997—I was in constant pain and I had trouble walking and sleeping—and had been talking to doctors and undergoing tests. The previous month I’d received results from a bone scan that suggested a possible diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis—a disease I’d never heard of before, though it turned out that there was a family history of it. The rheumatologist reviewed that family history, the symptoms and the test results and concluded that I had a “textbook case” of AS.
(As it turns out, my case is not so textbook, or at least the textbook has since changed. A 2012 MRI revealed no evidence of spinal fusion after 15 years, which made a different rheumatologist wonder whether I had AS at all. She retracted that doubt at a later visit when I arrived in flare and she saw how I walked. I suspect that what I have is non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis, which is similar to AS and is treated the same way, but doesn’t involve spinal fusion and doesn’t show up on X-rays. I’ve yet to run my theory past a rheumatologist, though.)
I’ve been living with that diagnosis, with modifications, for more than 22 years. I’ve always been open about my illness (much to my mother’s horror) and I used to talk about it a fair bit—I even ran a blog about it for a while—but lately I’ve been talking about it a lot less. That’s not because I’m doing better, because honestly I’m not (though there still seems to be no sign of fusion). It’s because talking about my illness is, even after all the elapsed time and the care received, still a potentially hazardous activity. Even under best-case conditions, talking about my illness requires a tremendous amount of emotion work.
Reading kind of fell off a cliff these past few months, which should give you a clue as to how I’ve been doing lately.
- Medallion Status by John Hodgman. Another collection of humorous personal essays from my favourite writer of humorous personal essays.
- The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders. Fascinating science fiction novel, set on a harsh alien world with a decaying human colony, that ends too abruptly.
- Phantom Islands by Dirk Liesemer. Another book about islands that were later proved imaginary; review forthcoming.
It was not one of my more productive writing years (book reviewing in particular seems to have fallen off a cliff), to the point that I resorted to reposting pieces I wrote years earlier. But I still managed to produce a few new pieces in 2019:
I published three essays on Tor.com this year that dealt with fantasy map design: “What Does a Fantasy Map Look Like?,” “Fantasy Maps Don’t Belong in the Hands of Fantasy Characters,” and “Where Do Fantasy Maps Come From?”: the second of these in particular generated a lot of interest, and pushback, mainly from people who stopped reading after the title.
(More articles along these lines will appear in the new year: they’re proving harder to write than I expected, so they’re slow in coming.)
In terms of science fiction and fantasy criticism, I also published one essay on the newly relaunched AE: “An Exercise in Telling: Sylvain Neuvel’s Themis Files” explored the unusual storytelling structure of the first two books. I also reviewed Farah Mendlesohn’s critical study of Robert Heinlein.
(Technically, the above pieces render me eligible for various Hugo and Aurora awards for fan writing and related works, but I have some sense of perspective about the chances of that.)
In terms of maps, I reviewed two books: John Roman’s Art of Illustrated Maps, which came out in 2015 but is now hard to find, but I needed it for my fantasy maps articles; and Matthew Edney’s academic and argumentative Cartography: The Ideal and Its History.
Other essays were more eclectic in subject. “The Enthusiast’s Blind Spot” was nominally about car reviews, but dealt with the disconnect between reviews by enthusiasts and the desires of the buying public. “The Ones Who Walk Away from America” melded my family history with the increasing crazification of American political discourse. “Canada’s Emergency Alerts Are Broken by Design,” which looked for a structural explanation for the complaints about being woken up by Amber Alerts, should have gotten me yelled at more than it did.
Finally, during last fall’s federal election I committed the sin of punditry, with a trio of essays exploring the parties’ election platform and rhetoric: “Status Quo Ante” looked at the Conservatives’ desire to restore the Harper years, “When Federal Politicians Talk About Provincial Matters, and Vice Versa” at politicians’ inability to resist talking about things that are not in their purview, and “Foreign Affairs” at the dangers of offering opinions on other countries’ politics.
Today is, I’m told, the 40th anniversary of the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture—the first Star Trek movie, and one that suffered from a rushed production that left several things unfinished (the prints were apparently still wet when they were shipped to theatres) and from a critical response that could charitably be described as lukewarm.
(I saw it in the theatre myself, but as I was all of seven years old at the time, I hadn’t developed much of a critical sense yet.)
Forty years later, though, there seems to be some groundswell of affection for the thing, warts and all. (See Ed Power’s piece in The Independent, for example.) A few years ago I wrote a piece for my fanzine, Ecdysis, called “In Defence of Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” and I thought I was being all heterodox about it. Turns out I wasn’t alone: others have either been reassessing their initial takes on the movie or finding that their impressions weren’t in sync with conventional wisdom.
It probably doesn’t hurt that there have been a dozen Star Trek movies since then to compare it with, and against some of them The Motion Picture compares … rather favourably. It was in that context that I wrote my little essay. Which practically no one read when it first came out, so here it is again:
The Liberals elected as many MPs west of Ontario as the NDP did: 15. (That number doesn’t include the North.) Not entirely sure why the CBC commentators made a fuss about the Liberals having no cabinet representation in the West: “the West” is more than just Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Even so, the Liberals elected more seats west of Ontario than the Conservatives did east of Ontario: 15 vs. 14. The NDP elected only two seats east of Ontario.
The Liberals elected more Quebec MPs than the Bloc Québécois—35 vs. 32—and edged them out in the popular vote in Quebec.
Half of the Liberal caucus will be from Ontario (79 out of 157). Nearly half of the Conservative caucus will be from the Prairie provinces (54 out of 121). Nearly half of the NDP caucus will be from British Columbia (11 out of 24).
Regionalism is a thing, in other words.
The Conservatives got fewer seats than the Liberals despite having more votes. Having the largest popular vote while coming up short in the seat count is what happens when you win your own seats by gargantuan margins (see Alberta) but lose by narrower margins. Happens to the Quebec Liberals provincially all the time: they win anglo Montréal seats by margins that would make Jason Kenney blush, and end up losing elections while winning the popular vote.
(If your response to this is “we need proportional representation,” please see my earlier post from 2015: The Unintended Consequences of Proportional Representation.)
Pontiac went Liberal, to no one’s surprise (see Pontiac in the 2019 Federal Election: A Preview).
Incumbent Liberal Will Amos was easily reelected with 48.9 percent of the vote. That’s down 5.6 points (and some 4,400 votes) from his 2015 result: still a comfortable win by a comfortable margin. There was a lot of movement further down the ballot. The Conservative vote recovered somewhat, the Bloc Québécois vote more than doubled, and the NDP vote was less than half of what it was in 2015. Looking at these numbers, which are much more in line with what I saw in the Chrétien and Martin years, you’d be hard pressed to believe that the NDP took this seat in 2011. They got just over a quarter of their 2011 vote this time around.
Voter turnout was nearly 61,000: down only 1,700 from 2015, and some 10,000 above the (redistributed) 2011 turnout.1 Quite strong, in other words. The Liberal vote didn’t stay home as much as I thought it might.
Axiom: For a politician, interfering in the politics of another country, especially a friendly country, is a super-bad idea because it will have diplomatic repercussions down the road: the side you come out against may win, and hold your support for the other side against you.
- Then-NDP leader Thomas Mulcair calling Donald Trump a fascist and demanding that the Trudeau government condemn his candidacy was a bad idea in 2016, because Trump went on to win: whoever lives in the White House, even if he’s horrible, the Canadian government has find some way to work with him. We know that Trump never met a grudge he wouldn’t nurse forever.
- Current NDP leader Jagmeet Singh hoping that Trump is impeached is also a bad idea, for the same reason. I think Trump should be impeached too, but I’m not trying to be prime minister. In the black-swan scenario where Singh ends up as prime minister next week, what does the incoming prime minister being on record hoping for the U.S. president’s impeachment do to Canada-U.S. relations? There’s a reason the Trudeau government has been treading delicately.
- Andrew Scheer coming out in in support of Brexit was also a bad idea. (It was also mystifying: I’m trying to think of what domestic constituency Scheer was trying to appeal to, other than certain other right-wing politicians abroad.) Supporting Brexit is not an obvious way to good relations with the EU—nor, should Britain turn on its heels, reject Brexit in a second referendum, and elect a pro-Remain government, the U.K. itself. Again: should Scheer be elected prime minister next week, this will complicate things.
- What about Barack Obama tweeting his support for Justin Trudeau? A bit more complicated: there are no direct diplomatic implications for Obama’s support, because Obama is no longer the president: he’s technically a private citizen. Trouble might come for Trudeau from other U.S. politicians who detest Obama enough to spite him by torpedoing Canada-U.S. relations, but I doubt that changes very much: the Obama-Trudeau bromance was very much a thing in 2015-2016.
I still think it’s bad form to endorse candidates in elections you don’t vote in: it’s easy to support a political position if you’re not affected by the outcome. I try not to comment on other provincial elections: it’s none of my business. But none of my business is on a different level than diplomatic incident. The latter does more damage than you might think.
Consider what has happened when foreign politicians inserted themselves into our political debates. We didn’t like it one bit.
In 1988 Margaret Thatcher addressed the Canadian House of Commons. In her speech she assured her audience that Canadians had “nothing to fear” from the just-signed free-trade agreement with the United States. (Said trade agreement was a bitter point of contention, and would become the single issue on which the 1988 election was fought.) When Thatcher said that, the opposition parties flipped out. John Turner declared the statement “inappropriate”; Ed Broadbent accused the government of being “colonial Conservatives.” Just imagine the impact on Canada-U.K. relations if Broadbent or Turner had gone on to be prime minister.
Or, to take another example: De Gaulle’s “Vive le Québec libre!” Which did have an impact on Canada-French relations: it created a serious diplomatic incident, and was a major political scandal back in France.
If we don’t like British, French or U.S. politicians offering their opinions on contentious Canadian issues, we should probably resist the temptation to do the same to other countries. Especially since doing so tends to blow up in your face.
By no means is this to say that we should remain silent when another government is engaging in acts of aggression, crimes against humanity, or other human rights violations: these are appropriate, even necessary things to speak out about.
But gratuitously inserting yourself into the domestic political debates of an ally? Endorsing one candidate or platform over another? No. Don’t do that. Are you stupid?