04 August 2008

Uncut and uncensored

Lately I’ve been fighting the urge to run screaming back into the arms of Canada, Oh Canada, my home and native land. When I try and think of the specifics of what I’d gain from this escape, though, I come up empty handed.

My hometown is sleepy and predictable as ever, last I heard, and I’d probably go stir crazy within a few days of seeing it (given too that my current condition precludes indulging in the preferred pastime of locals – beer). Vancouver is too abstract a concept, my family an unhealthy illusion hastily erected by the trembling hands of unsubstantiated nostalgia, so that’s out.

Then a few things happened and I remembered why being here is good for me. The first thing that happened was I read a news story on the CBC website, about a man who killed and beheaded another, younger man on a Greyhound bus. It wasn’t the incident that gave me pause so much as the journalism, and then the attitude of the readers, conveyed through commentary.

News stories on the BBC website (and in many newspapers I read here) typically function as a series of pure, dispassionate vehicles for information. You can bet that if someone were decapitated in England, you’d get the details first and foremost. Any ensuing pieces would include further details as released by police or officials, and from this you could paint your own picture of what took place.

In Canada, news is nearly always a community event, and the community spends a great deal of time debating broadly through the singular voice of a newspaper or the disparate voices of its readership about what that event should mean. The man beheaded on a bus was sort of a no-brainer, but Canadians cannot be trusted to their own interpretations, thus we’ll throw them a few more maudlin headlines like “Man slain on bus had ‘a heart bigger than you can know’” - blatantly not news, but just in case you didn’t catch on the first time.

And as though in validation of this journalistic patronisation, readers give their poorly articulated (and often grammatically abhorrent) views on the matter, leaving comments riddled with religious propaganda at best and, at worst, racist slandering (the killer was of Chinese decent).

Reading the CBC website made me recall an aspect of Canadians I can’t abide, which is that even though we have plenty of educated, well-spoken individuals, the loudest voices (I hesitate to say bleeding heart Liberals and brainless Conservatives, but I can’t think of a better catch-all) are the ones that pollute the airwaves with utter nonsense. The better voices stand quietly by for the most part, out of politeness or for fear of dirtying their hands.

This is not exclusive to journalism either – impotence is a way of life for Canadians, and you see it in their politics, their profit and non-profit organisations, their arts & entertainment and various institutions. It makes a body feel more alone in the world than if she were to read a newspaper that inadvertently scrambled the communal impetus of a newsworthy topic, or travelled the busiest streets of the busiest city and found not one open face among its pedestrians.

So I’ve taken cbc.ca/news off my list of favourites and now that leaves the second thing that happened which made me realise that maybe I should sort out my differences with London and get on with my life here: a conversation with my mother.

There was nothing overtly wrong with how the conversation went. We speak every Sunday, and usually manage to struggle through with mostly happy results. But I suddenly had a flash of what life used to be like when my parents were no more than a ten minute drive - or an inexpensive phone call - away. And that unleashed a montage of imagery related to what holidays in Vancouver are actually like: frustrating, disappointing, and with mere flashes of repose, affection and rare exhilaration.

My family – exhausting and often mortifying to be around – are usually too self-involved to bother with one another, and that is the sad, honest truth.

But aside from the likely erroneousness of all this synecdoche, it is true what they say about escaping the self: wherever you go, there you are. And most of what needs fixing in my life has to do with how I perceive myself in relation to others in my environment, and the environment itself at times. I honestly believe (right now, breaking news) that it will be easier for me to do this here.


Make!Do! said...

I struggle all the time with - Return to Canada? Or Not? I build up a happy illusion about it and then I go visit and the constant circles of impotent and polite discussions and commissions and inquiries and the endless Defining - who are we? Sometimes it's all a bit much. I read the comments on the bus decapitation story too - Edmonton hits the headlines internationally! - and was reminded of what I tell Canadians who slag Americans in general - um, there's very little difference sir, honestly. Anyway, enough.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. I will resist my Canadian urges to weigh in on this topic...

Anyhow, I'm glad to hear you're staying so that we can be all neighbourly again. It's funny because people in the UK seem to think that the distance between London and Cardiff is massive but really, it's about the same distance as between Regina and Saskatoon. It's strange how differently we look at distance...

Love you!

pk said...

Canada and Australia are much alike : the cultural cringe, inverted and direct: the parochialism......

'It is suicide to be abroad. But what's at home? A lingering dissolution.'Sam Beckett, as always, right on the money.
It took me about five years, and then i wouldn't have gone back. Except, when I did,when dad died, after two weeks of thinking 'this is weird, this country' I suddenly thought, standing outside Covent Garden tube' just about to go to the airport, 'oh wow, that's it: I'm back' and then I flew home and that was that, 12 years ago.....
I like the idea of you staying in London, as an adventure, and even on my behalf (god he's presumptuous)and having, tee hee, English children. Innit?

To paraphrase Les Blank "London is as good as ten mothers"

love from Mrs Slocombe

Anonymous said...

make!do! - Alberta and Texas have much more in common than Canadians are willing to admit.

Amy - I hope everything went okay with your bio data (Is that right? Bio data? I hope they didn't want a skin sample)!

Mrs Slocombe - those are very good, very heartening quotes (and sentiments). I've no idea how to bring up an English child and am worried we won't understand one another on some fundamental level. As long as I can remember not to say 'diaper' or 'trash can' around their friends, I might be okay.

pk said...

Don't worry:if they are English, you'll never know! You sound just like my friend Fran when you say that: she's just left Kilburn to live in San Francisco for the opposite reasons to you: her kids are grown though.....and contrariwise Frannie understands me perfectly, and is even quite anglais.