Oh, man, Kurt Elling.
FactoryGirl and Role_Model
If you’re doing role-based authentication in your Rails applications, I highly encourage you to take a look at Martin Rehfeld’s Role Model, which works really lovely with CanCan.
If you’re using FactoryGirl for tests, though, it’s a bit confusing to figure out how to properly assign roles to your fixtures. The answer is to use a callback, but if you try to make it work by following FactoryGirl’s syntax, you might run into a
FactoryGirl::AttributeDefinitionError. That’s because the syntax isn’t quite right if you’re using Rails 3.2.
Here’s the right way to do it:
Alpine gmail SMTP connection refused
If you’re setting up your gmail accounts on alpine, and you keep getting an error like ‘Can’t connect to gmail-smtp-msa.l.google.com,25’, it’s because you’re using the wrong format. Very irritating, since it looks like you’re doing it right. I had success, ultimately, with something like ‘email@example.com/novalidate-cert’.
Happy New Year!
Amongst the other sea of resolutions I’ve made and will inevitably break, I’m going to try to blog once a week.
You’re not as good a writer as you think you are. You’re also not as bad as you sometimes think you are. Statistically, it’s likely you’re near the middle.
The only thing that separates you from mastery of your craft is time, focused practice, and good teaching. Neither can be substituted.
Naming Your Characters
So you’ve got your world all planned out, your plot all figured and outlined, and you’re ready to go. There’s just one problem: your story is set in Victorian England, and your protagonist is named Ja’Qai.
Naming is tough, man. A good name keeps a story sailing onward like a nice tailwind. A bad name gets you up on r/funny, and that’s an albatross around your neck that you’ll never remove. One only hopes you have better taste in picking a pen name to try to repair your busted reputation.
Unfortunately, few people actually understand how to craft a name for a character. It’s not enough for the name to be slightly euphonic (i.e. sounds nice). There is a whole host of information that you have to consider when naming a character; fortunately, considering this carefully will make name choices a lot easier. (Even more fortunate: unlike with your own children, the name you pick doesn’t have to pass muster with your mother-in-law. Whew!)
So let’s dive in. What’s the first thing that we should consider?
This is the proper one to consider first because it will rule out a great portion of potential names for your character. It can be reduced to this: in any given world, there is a set of acceptable names that a character can be named. In meatspace (our own universe, as opposed to a fictional universe), this set of names is largely unlimited. However, in a different universe, one with less societal differentiation and one with different origins than ours, this list might be different. For example, if you are dealing with a pre-agrarian proto-civilization, it wouldn’t make much sense to give them the surname ‘Granger’ or ’Schaefer’, unless this meant something to them. Both Granger and Schaefer, of course, are names derived from farming.
This constraint isn’t very restrictive, usually. By far, the gross majority of restrictions come in the next category.
In western society, naming your kid ‘Adolf’ will probably go down like a ton of bricks. For the same reasons, unless you desire the controversial implications that such a name will bestow on a character, you’re better to avoid it. The same goes for ‘Jesus’, unless your character is Hispanic, which is a different situation.
Inside of every society, there is a range of acceptable names, too. These are usually a lot more pressing than universal constraints, and some societies and countries actually force the governmental approval of names before they are allowed to be given. Your research should lead you to be familiar with the relevant rules and customs for naming inside of a society—or, if the society you are writing about is entirely fictional, then you should consider creating these sorts of rules or expectations in context of your society’s history.
A society can be quite large, keep in mind—for example, the entire United States of America—to quite small, such as Harlem. Within each of these cultures are normative ideas about what children should be named, and these should colour your choice.
Further to the previous point, many societies and places around our world and in fictional worlds too will have a system from which names are derived.
There’s too much to talk about here to go into depth, but I encourage you to check out these good articles on naming Arabic characters, Romans, Russian/Eastern European patronymics, and the rise of Western last names. In short: make sure your name conforms! Or, alternatively, if you’re inventing a world, come up with a naming system!
Important to note: even western civilization has such a system: our last names are usually inherited from our fathers, though this is experiencing some change at the moment, and our first and middle names are chosen by our parents. It’s not a restrictive system, granted, but keep in mind that children given different last names from their parents, in municipalities where this is possible, will face issues as a result (crossing borders, for example). We can’t simply just pick a random name—a result of a monkey at a typewriter—and expect that it’s going to fly. Likewise, you should be aware of this if you choose to name a character that way.
When I was growing up, I was friends with a boy named Joshua. He had three brothers named Adam, Luke, and Matthew.
From this, you could probably deduce that his parents were practicing Christians. (In fact, they were indeed Catholic.) His parents, I assume, chose to name him very biblical names in homage to their religious beliefs. Likewise, consider the prodigious offspring of the Duggar family from TLC’s Oh My God How Is This Still On Television: Josh, Jana, John-David, Jill, Jinger, Joseph, Josiah, et al.. While there’s less of a theme here, the Duggars have made a conscientious choice to name their children with names starting with ‘J’.
A name for a character should be derived from the experiences and thoughts of the people who named him. One of my favourite authors to look to in this regard is J.K. Rowling, whose characters, albeit sometimes comically named—Remus Lupin being the prime example, whose parents were pretty much asking for him to be bitten by a werewolf—have a real depth of naming, often springing from their parents. Tom Riddle was named after the man her mother lusted after. Albus Dumbledore’s parents named their kids with names all starting with ‘A’. Ron Weasley is named after King Arthur’s lance; his sister, Ginevra, is a bastardization of ‘Guinevere’; their brother Percy named after one of foolish Knight of the Round Table. It’s arguable, I suppose, whether these are better examples of Rowling’s cleverness or parental consistency in naming, but let us suspend disbelief for just this moment.
Some of the things that might influence parental opinions:
- Popular culture, such as in the unfortunately rapid rise of ‘Renesmee’ in past years, and the popular rejection of other names such as Eugene and Helga;
- Commonality or the rejection thereof, leading to the resurrection of old names like ‘Mildred’;
- Childhood bullies or friends, or lost loved ones
- Favourite authors or actors; or
- Liege lords, relatives, or famous/current rulers.
Of course, you could go the Sarah Palin route, too, and just name your characters after stuff you see driving home.
The last segment is the one that is most commonly considered. You might want to find a name that sounds good (or sounds bad, conversely). This is less important than you think: euphony is a cultural judgment. Make your character popular enough, and a name that is reasonably euphonic will be accepted. Of course, you should put some effort into this, but it’s less pressing than many think.
The key to picking a good name is the same as the key to writing well. Do everything with purpose. If your character doesn’t have a reason to be named what he or she is named, then you’re not really doing your job properly.
The reason doesn’t have to be complicated—it could be as simple as ‘a teenager at this time period is as likely to have the name “Michael” as anything else.’ But you need to choose names with reasons. In my opinion, at least, this makes things far easier.
I’m also including some links at the end of this post to give you some lists of names to peruse, and that will hopefully give you some ideas as to some of the things you could research to come up with the right name for your characters.
You’re Not Lazy
I keep this link tucked inside my bookmarks folder, ready to whip out whenever I ponder my own poor writing accomplishment record.
From the top-voted comment, which is the one you really ought to read:
I’m guessing that you’re a creative, intelligent sort of person. Are you a perfectionist? That seems likely. Oftentimes, people with those characteristics really get bogged down by the magnitude of the tasks in front of them. Doing something means risking failing at it. Sometimes that risk seems to loom so large, and the drive to perfectionism is so strong, that any sort of meaningful and productive task just seems like it’s not worth it. Why risk failing, when you can just do something else instead?
You are the problem
We live in an era where societies are notorious for demanding more out of individuals than the week beforehand. Worker productivity is up. Personal busyness—the amount of people that say that they are ‘busy’, or ‘too busy’—is more common too (and here’s another writer’s take on it). All this to say that it’s not surprising that young writers feel lazy. Even more to the point: you’re not alone. Most people feel it. I certainly do.
And yet there has to be a balance in life. The story of the tortoise and the hare has never been more relevant, especially if you replace the hare’s nap with a massive heart attack and depression. What I dislike about the above comment from Reddit is that it doesn’t acknowledge that we place massive demands on our time, demands that were unreasonable even years ago. The odds are good that you’re accomplishing quite a lot as it stands. But in a lot of cases, the comment does hold true. The biggest time sinkhole is probably you.
The easiest way to fail is to think you’re going to fail, and then to work to make it reality. Silence your inner critic. Never forget to write for the joy of writing. Things don’t have to be perfect the first time; in fact, if you write a perfect beginning, you’re going to have to change it by the time you write the end. Better to get it all out and let the two co-evolve.
Getting Shit Done
Everyone loves anecdotes, right? Good.
When I was in high school, I had a really difficult time. Not only was I the most awkward person on the planet, even worse than most—but I was also enrolled in all the possible IB classes I could take, played in two ensembles, sang in two choirs, ran a forum-based RPG at night, and played hockey and soccer to keep active. Basically, I was a really busy boy.
I wound up doing very poorly in my classes because I didn’t hand in homework. I didn’t do the homework because I didn’t have time or the inclination to do it. To be clear, I was one of those assholes who did extraordinarily well on tests without studying, but when the gross majority of your grade was based on your day-to-day homework, your grades fall precipitously. I was barely passing most of my courses, and in some cases, wasn’t passing at all.
My parents were understandably upset. I don’t envy them the position of having a pretty smart child who fails to apply himself to his work. It left them in a very awkward spot (which I regret placing them in), and they did what they could do to parent me out of the hole I’d dug. Unfortunately, actively parenting a teenager is like pouring water on oil. This was the reason I had a difficult time in high school; my parents and I were always at loggerheads. For my part, I was convinced that I just had to do better (‘force of will’, I called it). They saw that I was drowning, and that no amount of paddling would keep me afloat forever.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the wherewithal to recognize this or to be able to excavate myself. My parents eventually stiff-armed me into reducing my classload and the amount of ensembles that I played in, and things got marginally better, even if I still had no inclination to do the homework. I scraped by. This was due in no small part to the altruism of my cohort, who often times bailed me out of my terrible organization (seriously, they were awesome to me, and without any real good reason). It was also due to the the altruism of my teachers, who would often let me submit homework six months late and get half marks for it. I probably shouldn’t have graduated high school when I did, though I did somehow. Nevertheless, I still hadn’t learned what the hell was wrong with me, why I had no work ethic to speak of.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20, so they say. I look back at myself now, and lazy isn’t the word I’d use to describe myself. Over-busy is perhaps better, and differently motivated is another.
The Banality of Quotidian Existance
There’s a common misconception that’s bandied about: work must be unpleasant for it to be work. It’s simply not true. If you’re poor, it’s probably a lot closer to the truth, because you need to pay the bills, and it’s far more likely you won’t enjoy what you’re doing to pay them. But if you’re a little better off, or even better yet, born into the lofty mesosphere of the upper-middle-class on the globe of wealth, then odds are good you’ve had the opportunity to pursue a career in a field that’s at least marginally interesting to you.
And yet, even when all is said and done and we have our ideal jobs, we’ll find ourselves bitching and moaning about how unpleasant they are to do, and how we wish we were having fun, and basically finding every excuse in the book not to do what we must. We wind up doing it anyway, because we are addicted to our iPhones and caffeine and living in 2000-square-foot houses with a dog and two kids, and these things cost a hell of a lot of money. But we basically bitch and moan our way through 45 years of years of work until we retire, shrivel up, and die, basted in our regrets and daydreams of afternoons in the sun.
So while we usually accept that work has to be unpleasant for it to qualify as work, it’s probably only because the alternative—confronting the fact that we spend a large portion of our lives wearing neckties and working nine-to-five—is rather depressingly tragic.
An Inability to Suffer
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, I seem to have been born with a lack of ability to suffer this. I’ve never been easily able to do homework; I’ve never easily been able to tolerate working in an office for longer than a year (in the past, I’ve switched jobs so that I can confuse my intolerance by making myself do something different, new, and challenging); I’ve never been able to just look at work that needed to be done and force myself to do it. While this is rather liberating for my soul—though I like to think I make up for it by adopting many other sorts of ennui—it’s also proportionately liberating for my pocketbook, which is less pleasing.
To a lot of people, this looks like laziness. For a long time, I constantly felt lazy, and I suffered a lot of self-worth issues, really right up until present day. But I now believe with all my heart that it’s not laziness. Willpower exists in limited quantities. Expending your willpower weakens it for subsequent uses. Some people have a naturally high amount of willpower, and can power through pretty much everything. Most of us don’t have such gifted resistance.
So I’ve spent a lot of time actually working on the reasons why I hate doing the sort of drudgework that most people just deal with on a day-to-day basis. It’s just common sense that if you can’t stand doing something that you have to do, you need to find a way to make it bearable. And so I’ve observed four typical reasons a person doesn’t want to do something.
The first is that you hate the package that the task comes in. Commuting, here’s looking at you. To steal a line from Tim Minchin, it’s having to face the horror of another fucking day. Or maybe it’s having to go down to the basement, find a box, find a file, go back upstairs, give the file to a lawyer, and do it all in reverse thirty minutes later. Or, if you’re a writer, maybe it’s having to open your editor and getting yourself back in a space to write.
This is probably the hardest one to fix, too, because in a lot of situations it’s not a simple fix, and the fix certainly depends on your circumstance. Most people can’t simply stop coming into work. You just have to try and find a way to make this more bearable. To this I’d say that investing in yourself and in good tools is the only sure-fire way to make this better. Having a good chair to sit down has made my day immeasurably easier. Not having to commute has made it pretty nice. Not having to justify where I spend my time to anyone but myself—well, that’s pretty much heaven right there. I wake up happy to go to work these days, and I’m not that much worse off, in truth.
The second reason why you might hate what you’re doing is pretty prevalent, too: you’re doing the wrong thing.
Like my homework in high school, work that you don’t want to do is work that’s probably not going to get done, unless you have that massive amount of willpower. More likely, you’ll wind up putting it off until you’ve burned through the time that it would have taken you to finish, plus the free time you had to use afterward. Then you’re stressed because you’re still not done, and you pull an all nighter, and before you know it, you’re in a death spiral.
Sometimes you just won’t like the work you’re doing. If this is the case, you need to evaluate whether you should do it. If it’s a hobby, stop doing the hobby, simple as that, even if you think it’s something you should want to do. If it’s your career, then figure out what the end-game is. If you have to work your job for another year while you build a portfolio and try to get established doing what you really love, then tough it out and work your ass off to build a portfolio—most people will be able to tolerate a shitty situation if it’s only temporary.
Most people are only good at one thing. In truth, most people aren’t particularly good at anything; they’re usually mediocre but convinced that they’re slightly above average. The chances that you’re genuinely good at two things is pretty low. The chances that you’re pretty good at three things is even lower, and so on and so forth.
And if you’re talking about making a career out of something where you have to sell a product or a service, you have to know that you’re pretty darned good if you want to get ahead. That means that you really need to focus on just the one thing you want to be good at, and do that with all your heart and mind. You can be absolutely great at one thing, but you can only be good at a bunch of things.1 I can’t be your parents, either. You have to take a long hard look at the other things you do and decide whether you want to be great at something or just good. If you want to be great, you need to decide what’s getting in the way, and then cut the cord. That’s not to say that you can’t do it later in your life, or keep it as an occasional hobby, but the mistress will crowd out the wife, I guarantee you.
You’re doing it wrong!
The third problem could be split in two, because it’s two sides of the same coin. In both senses, you hate the work you’re doing because you’re doing it incorrectly. In the first case, that breaks down into poor mechanics. If you don’t know how to skate, you’re going to fall on your ass a lot when you try. Only the most dedicated, the ones who absolutely love to skate are going to stick out the bruises to make it through. For writers, if you’re writing and you’re running into issues whereby your characters just can’t seem to have any personality or your plot is as limp as salad left in the sun, then you’re probably doing something wrong, and you need to invest the time into learning the mechanics, or figuring out how to make the mechanics work for you.
There’s a period in time in between when you start learning a trade and where you get good enough that you start experiencing the outcomes that you desire. This is the easiest time to give up because you feel you’re not as good as you think you should be. Maybe it’s not worth your time to pursue further; I can’t say. I’d say this, though: if you have derived a lot of enjoyment from the task in the past, and it’s made you feel good about yourself, then try to remember that and stick it out, even if it doesn’t make you feel very good now. In such a case, you probably don’t actually detest doing the work; you’re just hung up temporarily.
As a side note, remember that rules exist for a reason. Naïve writers will imagine that the rules don’t apply to them. In truth, you have to be really phenomenal—definitely not a new writer—to be allowed to break them. If you don’t follow these rules, then you’re making it infinitely harder on yourself. Good first novels are concise, have the minimum amount of characters, and if they’re not predictable, they’re at least not wildly unpredictable. You might think you can get away with Tolkienesque world-building or with Rowling-sized sprawl, but both of them were well on their way to being masters of their craft before they really branched out. Tolkien was a professor of English and Anglo-Saxon at Oxford and wrote poetry in his youth. While JK Rowling started out without much writing behind her name, she stuck small for her first three books, and it was only after her editor lapsed into a coma from ingesting too much money that she really branched out in her fourth and fifth books. Remember, dear reader, to learn to tell one story first before you try to tell fifteen simultaneously.
The second half of this coin is doing it wrong in the sense that your actual execution of the task is wanting. Imagine if you tried to skate with super-dull skates: even if you’re really really good at skating, you’d fall on your ass a lot. Then doubt creeps in: am I a bad skater? What if I skate in this really bizarre way—will that fix it? That’s not fun, and it can quickly ruin an otherwise enjoyable outing. This is where actual writers—as opposed to pretend writers, who say they write and then never write—get stuck. Writer’s block lives here.
It’s not fun to work through this, but if you get to this point, you should. You’re likely just having an off day. It might be that you had a crappy sleep, or it might be that you have a cold, or maybe you’re distracted. It happens all the time. Decide whether you’d rather take the day off or whether you want to keep at it, maybe working on something simpler for the time being. Just don’t let it get to your head. My personal creed is to never take any advice I give myself when I’m tired, because it’s almost never useful.
But there are times when you’re feeling okay, and things just aren’t gelling. A perfect example: you want to write a thousand words a day, but it’s like pulling teeth to get it done. This doesn’t disqualify you from calling yourself a writer, nor does it make you lazy. It means you’re not doing it right.
Every time you encounter a pain point, you need to find a way to make it easier. The goal is to make it easy for yourself to write. If you find it difficult to write 1000 words a day, try setting your goal to 500. It might not get you where you want to go as fast, but if you’re more likely to achieve it, you’re more likely to bother getting started.
My own goal is 1 word a day, which is almost impossible to miss, and it’s rare that I don’t write a few more words while I’m at it. Some days, I only get one word off. Other days, I get a few thousand off. But I’m not crushed by the weight of my own expectations, and it’s harder to convince myself that I’m lazy because I’ve met my goal. One word a day might not seem like a lot. After one year, it’s only a half-page. But if I don’t write just one one word a day, then I’m a half-page short of where I would be if I had.
There’s a great book by a motivational speaker named Shaun Achor named ‘The Happiness Advantage’ that I can’t recommend enough. (Incidentally, Achor gives a TED talk that you should definitely watch.) In his book, he talks about the concept of ‘activation energy’, which he uses to describe the difficulty it takes to begin a given task. If you want to accomplish a task or make a routine easier to fall into, he argues, you need to lower the activation energy by a good amount. For instance, if you wanted to ensure you snacked on carrots during the week, make sure you cut them up in advance and put them in a container in the fridge; that way they’re easy to grab without requiring effort at the time of beginning.
Likewise, I use this same notion to inform my own writing habits. I leave a bunch of notes on what I’m doing when I finish writing, leave a sentence half-finished, leave my editor open but minimized, and try to schedule copious amounts of quiet time for myself in the next day.
It’s a pretty common experience for University students to procrastinate doing their essays. Usually, the reason for this is that they haven’t taken enough concrete steps to get started. When you stand upon a vast abyss and gaze at the land below, it’s easy to get lost in the hugeness; when you look simply at a square foot of rock, it’s not so overwhelming. It’s for this reason that I recommend you outline what you write, no matter what you are writing. It takes very little to get your thoughts down, and in bullet form, it takes even less effort to rearrange thoughts and tweak them. Even if you know nothing, get them down—in the process of writing them down, you’ll learn what you don’t know, and from there, you’ll have a list to start researching.
Don’t feel like you have to write in order. Write the fun scenes first. Make it easy for yourself.
If you feel like you’ve hit a dead end, it’s because you’re not following the rules. Remember that stories have shape, and that there should always be a clear transition from one scene to the next, and from one character’s desires to his actions. Go back and do some more planning, and rewrite.
Just do it
The last case is when the work just sucks but you have to do it anyway. Obviously, this is the situation you are trying to avoid, but there are some times when it’s unavoidable. Make sure this is not one of the earlier problems in disguise. Also make sure that you’re not doing it when you don’t have to; if it’s a boring scene to write, it’ll be a boring scene to read—I guarantee it. Cut it, and your plot won’t suffer; in fact, it’ll probably enhance the tension.
If, at long last, you can’t make it easier for yourself or avoid the work altogether, plug your nose and do it. The smaller and less odious you can make the task, the better. The janitor who hates taking the trash out isn’t going to quit his job if he loves the other 99% of it.
Stephen King, who is somewhat of a master of getting things done, reminds us that the important thing is getting things done. It’s better to finish a lousy book than not to finish at all, because at least it’s out there. You can polish drafts, too: consider the woodworker who cuts a block down to a quarter of its size before chipping away small bits. Many refinements over time will yield a masterpiece. I recommend you investigate the Pomodoro technique for use in training your concentration so you can learn to avoid constant distraction. I find that my own lack of professional accomplishment can sometimes be explained by lack of focus (and more frequently by my impatience, since writing takes a lot of time).
There is actually such thing as being lazy, too, don’t forget. Sometimes not wanting to do the work is laziness, and you have to be careful to guard against it. Work is still work, even if you love it; we do it because we need to get paid. The goal, again, is to get to the point where it doesn’t feel like work, and where it isn’t hard to convince yourself ot spend the time.
Finally, remember that you are entitled to time to yourself not spent on work. Never forget to give yourself guilt-free time to relax, because it will vastly improve your output. Nothing is so important that it’s worth beating yourself up over.
1: Unless, of course, you’re motherfucking Hugh Laurie.
I Have Taught Them NOTHING
Just finished a marathon essay-grading session. Still the same problems. I don’t mean issues with argumentation—it’s my job to teach them that stuff. I mean many of them still can’t capitalize or use an apostrophe properly.
Really it’s not about grammar. As I’ve tried to explain to them, potential employers will not bother with anyone who can’t write a decent email or cover letter. My students have grand ideas about their futures, but they can’t be bothered to spell-check.
Maybe I’m the problem. I’ve been teaching college for about 12 years, and I still can’t figure out how to motivate my students. I’ve tried fear, humor, positive reinforcement, even kindness. And yet every term two or three get better, two or three fail, and the rest get a C.
Actually maybe I’m not the problem—that describes just about everybody.
This is symptomatic of our overcrowded universities. I TAed introductory writing for one semester, and while I was a sub-par TA (oh, the things we’d change if we could go back in time), I recall grading papers and being very saddened by the result. The truth, of course, is that most people who go to university don’t need to go to university, but professors are handicapped by mandatory grading limits—basically, you can’t flunk everyone who deserves to flunk. This keeps people flowing through the university, prevents them from dropping out, and keeps their tuition dollars flowing inward (along with government money).
In that class, things that I would consider an egregious failure of writing often slipped through with minimal marks deducted. Even those submissions that were relatively error-free were often completely sophomoric or displayed serious flaws in reasoning. Maybe I was overcritical, but by the third or fourth paper, if you were still making rudimentary grammar mistakes that I’d corrected for you more than once, then you were clearly not trying very hard, and, in my opinion, deserved to fail. But there was a complete and total lack of consequences for that failure, and as a result, many skated onward to go finish their Kinesiology degrees. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think you have to be able to write well or even correctly to work, but you damn well should be able to write if you’re going to receive a degree.
This is just one part of the systematic dumbing down of our universities. While I understand the reason that this is done (‘education for all’ is a worthy rallying cry), I think it’s silly. Great portions of our university populations would be far happier doing vocational training inside a specialized trade school. This doesn’t make you dumber or less special. You shouldn’t have to sit for a four-year degree when what you want to do is be an accountant, or run a business, or even work as a programmer. These things are all occupations that could be done with a high level of hands-on training. If I were an employer, the last thing I’d consider as a qualification would be a piece of paper. Give me the guy who’s done it as a hobby for a year, and I’ll take him instead, because he’s proven.
The university ought to be reclaimed as a place of higher learning, where the study of what we know is inextricably tied to the study of what we don’t know. It’s a joke that a Master’s degree is still ‘entry-level’. Inclusivity at the university should go die in a fire, because all it’s doing is making some students sit through useless classes that will never be of use to them (much to their frustration), and it’s making the experience suck for those who actually enjoy those classes and value learning for the sake of learning.
Dear #ndpldr Candidates…
My name is Rob Yurkowski (@robyurkowski). I’m 24 years old, live in Montréal (though I’ve spent most of my life in Regina), and I work in technology. Though I’ve considered myself a dedicated NDP supporter for a year now, it’s only in the past few months that I’ve become a paid member of the party. I couldn’t justify the expense of membership before then, but I’m glad I finally paid my $5 — the opportunity to help elect the next leader has been so rewarding, and I only wish I’d found the money to be present in Toronto with you all.
I am so impressed by all of you. It’s easy to forget how much sacrifice serving the public entails, how difficult and stressful it is to be in a constantly combative line of work… how the weight of all of Canada must fall on your shoulders when you stand up in the House of Commons (or when you are working in the back offices strategizing, with all due deference to Messrs Topp and Singh), and lastly, how thankless the job can be. Thank you for your dedication, and for your tireless work toward improving Canada. Regardless of outcome, you are all heroes in my book.
I watched you all speak Friday afternoon while I worked. All of you said very interesting things, and I am left with the sense that any one of you would, with time, become an excellent Prime Minister. However, there were a few things I would like to address before we move on to the next round of voting—a few things that I think will only serve to strengthen you and the NDP as we move forward toward electing a leader.
First, to all of you: as much as we believe that Prime Minister Harper is taking this country in the wrong direction, as much we may personally dislike or loath him, as much as it is fashionable to tell him to pack his bags—we categorically must refer to him with due respect. That means addressing him as the Prime Minister, or Minister Harper, or even Mr. Harper at our most familiar. He is the Prime Minister of Canada, and—regardless of what we may think of him, his party, or the Conservative playbook—he, by virtue of his position, deserves respect. This is a matter of professionalism, and if we intend to form government after the next election, we must remember the rules of sportsmanship that once governed Canadian politics. Remember: we ourselves must be stewards of the change we want to see in politics.
Secondly, I am not sure why we are crediting the Prime Minister with such a dastardly image. His regime has been ruinous to Canada, for sure, but he is no Snidely Whiplash. He, like yourselves, is a public servant who believes what he is doing for his country is the right thing. We should find him neither evil nor nefarious (let us leave that to Elections Canada), but we should recognize that his proposals are the product of a radical ideology that creates two classes of citizens—the super rich, and the rest of us. It’s not that he’s trying to destroy Canada; it’s that his vision for improving Canada is destructive.
Our fight is against Mr. Harper, yes, but our bigger struggle is against the ideology he espouses. His brand of conservativism has been sold to Canadians as ‘stability’. In actuality, followers of this ideology are proponents of the destruction of the cultural separation that exists between us and our trade partners. They’re proponents of the softening of our laws that protect our social order and guarantee that no one Canadian is worth more than another. They are dedicated to the eradication of governance based on reason and measured statistics, and they see the world in terms of with-us-or-against us imperatives that stress the compromise-based Westminster system to its limits. In short, Conservative conservativism is anything but stable.
Let nobody doubt that we must work to combat this way of thinking first and foremost. Our country runs on compromise. We have more in common than we think, and we can find consensus on a great deal of things. We have to vigorously reject any ideology that only sees victors and losers, and we must remind Canadians through our actions and our words that Parliament is designed to work together.
We cannot simply rely on the electorate to reject the Conservatives based on the unsavoury things they have done and will do during their tenure in power. The Conservatives have proven capable of producing sufficient spin to distort and distract from their slow dismantling of democracy. We must be vigilant to remind our countrymen of the damage, yes… but we mustn’t forget, moreover, to offer an alternative that is based on the values that Jack proposed.
The Conservatives have told Canadians that wealth trickles down from the most wealthy, and that we should rely on the benevolence of a few to create jobs and keep our economy flowing. We must remind our countrymen that the strongest economy comes from a solid middle class, that if we give people a fair chance, we’ll build a stronger country for everyone, not just the rich. We must remind them that we can create Jack’s better, fairer, more equal Canada by working together.
The Conservatives have told Canadians that if they don’t support tough internet laws, that they are paedophiles. We must remind Canadians that disagreeing with the government does not make them paedophiles any more so than being concerned for our privacy entails we are hiding something. We must remind Canada that the internet is the greatest democratic achievement since the printing press, and that we can be guardians of it while simultaneously protecting our citizens from cyber crime.
Finally, the Conservatives have told Canadians that it doesn’t really matter if you play by the rules, so long as you’re holding all the cards, and that you shouldn’t bother to consider other opinions if you’re in charge. We must remind Canadians that fair play and compromise make us stronger. We must tell them that we can get along, that our politics do not have to be so hopelessly bitter and disenfranchising, and that every vote will be heard, whether cast for the Conservatives, the Liberals, the Greens, the Bloc, or the NDP.
We also cannot forget that there are good reasons for people to vote Conservative. We must respect these reasons, and we must strive to make each opinion heard more clearly. The current incarnation of our electoral system hides nuance, and if elected in 2015, we must rectify this, even at the cost of our own ouster. It is essential for the health of our democracy. Voting participation rates, already low, are falling because of the Robocall scandal. If voters do not feel that it is worth it to cast a ballot, then the legitimacy of the Canadian government will fall into question. We can improve this immediately by updating our electoral system to accommodate more than two parties. I urge you all, candidates, to be vocal in your calls for a referendum on electoral reform. We must ensure adequate representation for all Canadians, not just for an ever-shrinking plurality in each riding.
In the nearer term, we need to build a wide coalition. I don’t care, particularly, how we do it, but we need to be cautious about interpreting the results of the 2011 election as an NDP victory based on our message alone. I believe that Jack’s words resonated—particularly the idea that ‘we have to do better’—but I also believe that Michael Ignatieff’s performance in the English language debate had a significant impact on the results, and I do not expect the Liberals will elect a lacklustre candidate for the third time in a row. For this and other reasons, we cannot assume that Canadians will vote for us in the numbers they did in the previous election. I do believe that with a good three years as Official Opposition, we can solidify our argument for our election. We must never take this for granted, though—we must learn the lesson of the ‘natural governing party’. Nice though it is to address our Leader as ‘the next Prime Minister of Canada’, we must understand that once the Convention ends, our leader is only the Leader of the Official Opposition, if that, and nothing more until the electorate has their say.
Personally, I am wary about a direct merger with the Liberals because of their baggage. I don’t buy the idea that progressives will go elsewhere if we do merge, but part of the advantage of the NDP has is that we are free of the sort of entrenched political ritual that has beleaguered the Liberals (although I’m not so sure we’re free of baggage ourselves, after Mr. Broadbent’s remarks yesterday afternoon). Regardless, we must be mindful of the fact that we cannot begin to effect change when we are reduced to asking questions (if we so are allowed!); we must unify progressives and work toward the installation of a progressive government.
Tertiarily, we have to improve our get-out-the-vote efforts for youth. Even more than unifying progressives, unleashing the unharnessed power of the younger generations is a gift that will keep on giving. If you’d like ideas on how to reach my contemporaries, I’m happy to discuss with any one of you.
Candidates, I say it again: I am very proud of you, and I feel that my decision to join the party has been vindicated the things you speak of. I wish each of you good luck; regardless which of you is nominated, you will have my full support.