Let’s talk about poverty. And food.

This week, I got into a discussion with friends about poverty and food choices.

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Mostly, it was civil and reasoned, but, as so often happens, there was that one (white, middle-class, never been unemployed) person who started in on “shitty food choices that make people overweight and unhealthy”.

And there I was, white and middle-class (and revoltingly over-educated, to boot) watching as people floundered around, trying to refute this without knowing quite how because most of them (white, middle-class and rarely unemployed) have not ever been realio-trulio poor.

But I have been.

In my early 20s, I wound up poor and homeless, on-the-streets and sleeping rough homeless, for about six months. Never mind why. It can happen to anyone, and this is getting truer all the time.

When I came back to live in Canada, I was in my fifties, and there was a recession on, and I couldn’t find work. I wound up on welfare.

Don’t let anyone tell you someone on welfare is living some kind of high life on the taxpayer dime.

Do you know what a single person without a disability gets as welfare in Calgary?

They get $590/month, and eight trips to the Food Bank each calendar year.

That’s it. Less than $600 to pay rent and buy food, in Calgary, where the rent on a one-bedroom apartment averages out at over $1200/month.

So, even supposing you could find a two-bedroom basement suite for $1,000/month and could share it with another person, you are left with about $90 each month to cover everything else in your life.

If you are job-hunting, you can, of course, use the EI office computers. That’s a great thing, and the public library has internet access, too. So you will be able to apply for lots of things.

But you will still need a phone. To get a job, prospective employers need to get in touch and set up an interview. A phone is a basic necessity, and that’s going to be, at the very cheapest, around $30 every month.

So now you have $60 a month left. That has to cover things like bus fares if you do land a job interview, on top of your share of the bills every month, and those four months where you don’t even get a chit to go to the Food Bank on.

Buy in bulk, say the people who have never gone hungry for longer than two days in a row, and then only when on some new fad diet.

Well, the math is tricky. Bulk costs money up front: it doesn’t matter if a 10lb bag of rice is a great deal and will last a month, if the cost of that bag represents a third of your total food budget for that month.

Humans NEED calories. It’s impossible to survive for long at around 800 calories a day – that’s when actual malnutrition will start being a factor. Stay at that rate for too long, and you will die.

A 3lb bag of potatoes at Superstore is $3.97. One baked potato (no toppings) gives you 200 calories. If that bag has to last all month, then one potato might be more than you can give yourself every day.

A bag of carrots costs $2.98. One cooked carrot equals 80 calories, give or take. There are about 16 carrots per bag. So you need two bags, in order to eat one carrot every day. That’s about $6/month. For carrots.

Other vegetables tend to be more expensive, but come with smaller caloric pay-offs. A cup of steamed broccoli rings in at 31 calories.

A 900 gram (2lbs) bag of brown rice at Superstore is $2.24. One cup of cooked brown rice gives you around 210 calories.

But humans also need protein and fat, bigtime. Sure – we need vitamins and minerals to survive in *good* health – but those by themselves, won’t allow you to survive at all.

And if you’re homeless, you cannot even bake that potato or boil that carrot, which will cut your caloric intake in half.

Why do poor people wind up eating badly?

Because junk food is cheap. A Sausage McMuffin is $1.69 – and it has the calories and protein to make you cheaply reach almost halfway to the minimum daily requirement.

A bag of no-name potato chips ($1.18 for 200 grams) fills the belly AND the calorie need at way less the cost per pound than fresh produce does. A Big Mac Meal Deal($4.60) quells the hunger better and cheaper than a plate full of steamed broccoli ($2.97 for a pre-bound “bunch”) can, and for longer.

Do the math. It has become cheaper to eat over-processed, sugar-laden crap, because poor people are powerless: all their energy is spent trying to survive until tomorrow. They’re the very definition of a “captive audience”.

I know there are those of you who will not believe me.

All I can say is that I hope you never have to find out for yourself in real life, just how classist, discriminatory, and skewed against us all the food industry has become.

 

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Readers!

I want to talk to you about my books.

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The thing is, most (if not all) Alberta Public Libraries are on the “Marjorie System”, which means that if one library in Alberta has a book, anyone from any other library can request that book and the library will send it down/up/over.

I’m pretty sure other library systems do this. It’s also called “Inter-library Loan” and one of the ways it can work is if enough people request a title, library acquisitions departments might go looking for a place to buy that book and add it to their collections.

My first novel “A Spell in the Country” is sitting on the shelves in the Camrose PL.

If you’re in Alberta, and strapped for cash but hate eBooks, or just are leery about trying a new and unknown author, but you have a library card – go in and ask your librarian to request it.

Seriously. If enough people do, the library might even buy another copy.

And if you like it, ask them to get you my other novels. Or a copy of “Flashbacks: an unreliable memoir of the 60s”.

If they say they cannot find it (There is a special price for libraries ordering through Createspace, but I’m not sure how well that works) tell them to contact me and I will find a way to get copies for them.

This is a more cost-effective way for me to reach readers than anything else I’ve ever found. I’ve sold a lot of books by people reading the library copy and then coming in to Cathel Books here in town to buy the others, or looking for them online. No one should feel obligated to buy them when there’s a “free” alternative that will work for both of us.

Being Senior

Sometimes, being old really sucks.

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I’m not talking about the backaches or the high blood pressure here.

I’m talking about how this society treats us.

Now, I am the last person to say that people with lots of wrinkles and grey hair deserve some kind of automatic respect: the Flying Spaghetti  Monster knows how strongly I feel about the way in which my generation essentially dropped the proverbial ball and turned this earth into what will shortly become a living hell for our children and grandchildren.

But that’s not really connected to our chronological age. That’s connected to our pure and unadulterated selfishness as a group. Trust me, there’s a good chance, if human life survives the next few decades, you might be being accused of the same thing.

I’m talking about how we are treated, personally and individually, as if we are automatically half-wits.

I’m talking about how it is assumed we cannot think our way out of a paper bag, and so, when we ask a perfectly reasonable question about, say, technology, it is immediately taken as “I don’t understand this thing I own.”

No one actually listens to our question. They see that cell phone in our hands, and they snatch it away and start fiddling with it, or telling us “You aren’t using x properly”, without regard to the fact

A) that it is our property you just took away without asking, as if we were a toddler getting a hold of the bleach bottle in the laundry room, and

B) that we might not have asked if you could fix something for us, but simply wanted some information, and

C) that you all get that tone – that already-slightly-exasperated, Mrs. Superiority tone that says “Why are you even still alive?” and you might not believe this, because we don’t often fight back, but we don’t really like it when you do that.

Piled on top of this, there are the oh-so-not-funny cracks about our age and infirmity, as if we were somehow unaware that we aren’t 25 anymore.

I can joke about my wrinkles – you cannot. That’s how courtesy works.

Let’s not even start on our presumed lack of experience or knowledge about stuff like drugs and sex.

I just need to tell you how enraged we feel when you do these things.

I am not stupid. I have navigated six decades of life in this world, without your help. I managed to educate myself, to feed myself, to clothe myself, hold down responsible jobs, and to solve a myriad of real-world problems before you were born.

Much as I admire many people younger than myself, I have to tell you that some of you are starting to get on my nerves.

Do you believe?

Do you believe in yourself? In your work?

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Do you believe in the power of your words? In anyone’s words?

 

In an FB group about screenwriting, I wound up in an argument about this, and I was shocked to discover that some writers apparently don’t think what they do is meaningful.

They don’t believe that anything they or anyone else writes can have an influence on any of the people who read/watch a movie, or that their work can in any way create change (for better or for worse) in their culture.

A sizable number of screenwriters argued that violence against women, as seen in movies and television, does not in any way contribute to rape culture.

Nope. It can’t. They cited studies that showed no link between violent video games and violent behavior. They were passionate in their defense of writing rapes as “motive” AND as comedic scenes.

No one, they said, would take those seriously. And they said that the rapists were always the “bad guys” and no nice man (99 per cent of the male population is, according to them, “nice”) would ever wish to emulate that kind of thing.

NosirreeBob!

 

But there are two problems with this attitude.

One is that it completely devalues the very thing that they do – the thing that they say defines them, the thing that adds validity to their lives. The thing that they claim is their passion in life – apparently, it’s just a frivolous endeavor that has no real meaning and adds nothing to the discourse.

The other is, of course, that it pretty much claims that not only is advertising a waste of money (Quick, someone tell all those Fortune 500 companies! They could save BILLIONS! Literally!) but that 99 per cent of the population is completely immune to any form of propaganda.

Every totalitarian regime in the 20th century starts with a purge of intellectuals: artists, writers, dancers, actors – basically, anyone they thought might communicate a different viewpoint has almost immediately been incarcerated and/or executed.

Every totalitarian regime has replaced those freer expressions with a state-run media that inculcates their values, their prejudices, their fears into the population.

It works. They know it works. The words and images you are exposed to change your thoughts, your values, your principles.

And any writer, or artist, or performer who believes otherwise should go find another line of work, because if you think all you produce is useless fluff, that’s all you ever will produce.

 

The world’s got enough of that.

 

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Update, August 9, 2018: In fact, the idea that violent media of any or all types does not increase violent behavior and attitudes in real life is false. Apparently, some of what you read in the news magazines isn’t true!

“In fact, violent videogames have an even more powerful influence than violent television and movies, whose detrimental effects have been documented for decades. ”

https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/moral-landscapes/201011/playing-violent-video-games-good-or-bad

 

   I Got Rhythm…or maybe not.

.I have remarked before that I don’t give “writing advice” ……….

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Except, of course, when I do.

And, of course, a post came up on FB. and I got this sudden epiphany and, well, here goes.

Someone was asking about comma use in this sort of sentence:

“He had round, blue eyes.”

Did there REALLY need to be a comma between ‘round’ and ‘blue’? (Yes. Of course you need a comma there. This is irrelevant.)

The question got answered…but, as is the way of FaceBook, there was also the one person who said, instead, “I would write it as ‘His round eyes were blue.’ “

(Yes, this is a terrible example, and no, it wasn’t the real example, but never mind. This is also irrelevant.)

That’s when it hit me.

The problem isn’t in either of the examples. Both constructions are equally valid. (They’re terrible, but they’re valid. Let it go. It’s just a construct I‘m using as a jump-off point.)

My point (I always get there eventually) is that it isn’t a matter of which is grammatically right or wrong. It isn’t even a matter of preference, which the sentence-doctor up there assumed by offering a completely different way of wording the sentence that got rid of the need for any commas at all.

It’s that that sentence, any sentence in a work of prose, is not some kind of lone sentry in the wilderness. It’s never about “what to do in every situation”.

Each of your sentences has to be constructed in relation to every other word that has come before it – and in relation to every word that comes after.

Words have rhythm. Sentences have cadence. A prose work must have an internal sound – as a whole – that pleases the reading ear.

If you decide ahead of time exactly how you write things, and you never vary, you will write books that in poetic terms, are doggerel. They will be on the level of third-grader’s first attempt at rhyming schemes. They will go “bumpety-bump-bump-bumpety-bump-bump-bumpety-bump-bump” over and over until you type “The End” – and your next book will sound exactly the same.

There are lots of books out there that do that, of course.

And people do buy them.

But they’re kind of like potato chips.

Potato chips are nice, for the few minutes that you’re eating them – but they aren’t very good for you, and the feeling of satisfaction never lasts long.

Some of us aspire to something more.