Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Do I Want to Know?

I must admit that I've always had a fascination for crime.  Due to the fact that I am a pretty law-abiding straight-laced individual, I have always been interested in the motivations of killers and the circumstances surrounding their crimes.  This is what directed me to take a Holocaust seminar during my university days, and watch gritty procedural dramas and documentaries today.  

This week there has been plenty of criminal drama to satisfy my curiosity.  Last night I was up later than I should have watching The National's coverage of the ongoing Russell Williams trial and sentencing hearing.  When the news of his crimes initially broke, I was dumbfounded.  The fact that such an individual managed to lead two very different lives without any professional issues, is quite amazing in the worst sense of the word.  For someone to be committing serious, perverted crimes during the night, and still have the ability to function in a demanding, high-profile job come daytime, is so startling.  It's like he just flipped a switch between his two identities.  Though there are many dysfunctional relationships amongst those in the military, the men and women who serve our country place a high value upon human life and thus his actions are more puzzling.  

The other question that coverage of his trial poses is how much the media should reveal to the public.  During the broadcast, there were a number of details of the sexual torture that Williams put his victims through before he eventually killed them.  The reporters were candid that there was a large discussion in the newsroom about how much should be reported, and what was considered excessive.  Apparently they reported only a small fraction of the evidence the prosecution presented in the courtroom, and tried to balance the curiosity of the public and compassion for the victims' families.  I think this is a very interesting question, and one that came up a few years ago during the Robert Picton murder trial as well.  The gruesome facts of his story presented reporters with the same dilemma and I often felt that I was being told too much.  My main issue with grisly crime details is that once I hear awful facts, I cannot unlearn them.  They are stuck in my brain and will be summoned by my psyche at the worst possible moment.  I will turn off the rational part of my head and become even more paranoid of possible crimes that may be committed against me.  

As a woman who sometimes lives alone, I have enough things to fear.  If my identity isn't being stolen because I bought clothing online, or I'm not being harassed by some drunk guy in a bar who thinks I'm a bitch for not wanting to dance with him or any other typical thing women think about, then I'm at my apartment concerned about home invasion.  I don't actually worry about any of these things, but the media does promote a certain amount of fear amongst the population in general.  Particularly, American news broadcasts seem to relay one possible tragedy after another.  If I'm not prey for roofie-bearing slime, then I may get cancer from my plastic water bottle.  Though I would never downplay the severity of any of these issues, I don't need to have any more paranoia in my life.  Whenever I listen to coverage of high-profile trials, I lose confidence in my own instincts and my ability to protect myself.  The women victimized by Williams were probably smart, savvy people and it's hard to differentiate them from myself.  That's the real scary thing.    

Saturday, October 16, 2010

One Week

I have been thinking a lot about change lately, and about whether or not I like it.  I am the type of person who enjoys burying herself in the daily rituals of life, so as to not think too much.  When I was recently unemployed, the thing that drove me nuts the most was not having a routine to fall back on.  I didn't necessarily have to get up at six o'clock every morning and could eat and sleep whenever I felt like it.  Needless to say, I was really adrift.  I am working again and gaining further confidence as I get more and more familiar with the work and the rhythms of the office.  I am finding myself falling into patterns and the security feels good.  

Things are about to change again.  My boyfriend is returning from his sail with the HMCS Vancouver in a week and I will have to adjust everything again.  I am looking forward to his arrival and will be there to meet him on the jetty when he sails in.  We will have to get used to one another again, now that I've become accustomed to sleeping alone and cooking for one, but it's all worth whatever adjustments we have to make.  When I talk to my mother about the deployments we joke that my relationship should be considered an "alternative lifestyle."  At my new work, they have been asking me what my boyfriend does for a living and when I say that he is in the navy, and that he has been gone for a few months, their mouths generally drop open in horror.  And I agree with them.  If I didn't fall hard for him, our relationship would not have lasted through the separations that the navy has already put us through.  It is the ultimate test.  For someone so buoyed by routine, living with a person whose job is anything but, can prove to be problematic.  

For me and every other navy woman it is a difficult test, but allows you to learn pretty quickly whether or not a relationship will work.  The navy, and the armed forces in general, are quite the marriage graveyard and if there isn't commitment on both sides, then there is no chance.  I've had to channel that self-reliance that I developed as a single woman living alone, and just got through my day-to-day life.  The days went by and things got easier, and my boyfriend made it better by calling on a regular basis.  Lonely moments come and go, and my countdown continues to motivate me to get on with it. Happily, this experience has given me more confidence in my own ability to take care of myself on an emotional level and strengthened our relationship.  Neither of us knew how hard the separation was going to be, but we've come out the other side knowing that we can live with our "alternative lifestyle."  It's definitely not for everybody, but sometimes change is a good thing. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Unbridled Success and Legal Woes

My sister is in town for Thanksgiving and she brought with her a copy of Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.  I have not personally read any of the books in his Millennium series, but I appear to be in the minority.  These books are all at the top of the current bestsellers list and have grossed approximately $40 million dollars in sales to date.  There are also movies based upon the books, which have only served to heighten their popularity.  In Larsson's native Sweden, people are paying to go on tours of places featured in the novels, much like the homes of the stars.

There is one stop which will not make it on the tour, and that is Larsson's apartment which he shared with his common-law partner, Eva Gabrielsson.  Yesterday, I read an interview with Gabrielsson written by The Globe and Mail's Anna Porter, and it was quite the eye-opener.  What makes Larsson's success story so intriguing is that his international fame only came after his sudden death in 2004.  He died of a heart attack while in the midst of writing a book, and sadly left no will.  This point is key to the events that would follow.  At the time of his death, he had already brokered a publishing deal for the three books in the Millennium trilogy, and they were completed.  According to his partner, Gabrielsson, he was approximately two hundred pages into his fourth book when he passed away.  All of these factors add up to an intense legal drama which has been brewing for years.  

Sweden is known for being a progressive country, so I would never have suspected that Swedish law would not support the concept of a common-law union.  Gabrielsson and Larsson were together as a couple for over thirty-two years when he passed away, but she has received none of the money generated by his work. Due to the fact that Larsson never created a will, all of his earnings have gone to his father and brother. What is even more extreme is that Larsson's half of their shared apartment was inherited by them as well, and it was only after a large legal fight that she managed to own her own home. As Gabrielsson explains, Swedish law strives to protect the familial bloodlines, and so the male relatives of a deceased person would automatically inherit his/her assets in the event that there is no will.  

Upon reading Gabrielsson's story of grief and legal woe, I grew very sympathetic to her plight.  I am in a common-law relationship and many of my friends and relatives have been in the same situation.  If a person does not have a positive relationship with their partner's relatives, or if there is a lot of money involved, I can see how the legal wrangling might transpire.  Luckily in Canada common-law relationships are recognized, but a will is always a good idea no matter what the status of your love life is.  Needless to say, I feel for Gabrielsson who doesn't strike me as a gold-digger or a fame seeker.  She has her own career as an architect, and only seems to be speaking out because of the misconceptions about her partner's work and her legal battles.  The father and brother are combating her claims by questioning her influence upon the work itself, which seems to be really subjective grounds for not allowing her a percentage of the royalties.  As his companion for over thirty years, she undoubtedly had some impact on his life and work.  Some writers' significant others play key roles in the development of their work, but if that wasn't the case with Gabrielsson, I don't think that she should be disinherited.  

For what it is worth, I hope that she succeeds in shedding more light on this legal issue and ultimately gets what she deserves.  Whether she helped in the creative process or not, she supported his career in her own way and should be compensated.  Though I clearly have no clout with the Swedish legal system, that's just how I see it.            

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Canada Reads: What is the Best Canadian Novel?

Today is my day off and therefore I am at home catching up on my chores and listening to CBC Radio.  I particularly enjoy Jian Ghomeshi's pop culture program, Q.  Sadly, it is probably most famous for the controversial interview he conducted with Billy Bob Thornton last year.  Nonetheless, I was listening today and he announced a new twist in this year's Canada Reads.  For the uninformed, Canada Reads is put on every year by CBC Radio and this year is its tenth anniversary.  The idea is that a panel of Canadian celebrities, such as they are, choose Canadian novels that they feel all of Canada should read.  They debate the merits of their books and at the end of each show, a book is voted off Survivor-style until one book remains. 

The debates become quite lively and I look forward to listening to it every year.  This year the twist is that all the books must have been published within the last decade.  That got me thinking.  What is the essential book that I feel every Canadian must read?  It is far easier to look into the past and pull out the gems of yesteryear such as The Handmaid's Tale or The Stone Angel.  I feel it's a much bigger challenge to think of recent books which I passionately feel all Canadians should read.  My initial thought (without having much time to think about it) is that I would recommend Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood as a work which continues to resonate in our collective consciousness and has been prescient in its predictions.  Unfortunately, it has already been on Canada Reads, and thus cannot be advocated this year. 

I think that what we have here is an embarrassment of riches.  There are many talented Canadian authors who have produced great novels over the past ten years and it is very difficult to choose just one for everyone to read.  Though books by Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood are perennial favourites and no-brainers during trips to the bookstore, there are many other great writers in Canada.  I would offer the example of Douglas Coupland, the Vancouver author who is always exploring the issues affecting my generation and generally pushing the envelope.  There are many other authors who have done excellent work during the last decade, and that makes this challenge all the more difficult.  

When I was in a Canadian Literature class, there was a huge debate involving the merits of Canada Reads. The idea of a group of Canadian elites who aren't professors or experts choosing a book for every Canadian to read, seemed to bother some people.  I personally feel that programs like Canada Reads are much like the Harry Potter phenomenon.  However people feel about Harry Potter, at least that wizard got children reading, as a gateway book, if you will.  Discussion about Canadian books is always good and may expose people to books and authors that they may not have otherwise heard of.  

If you have any suggestions as to what you feel is the quintessential Canadian novel published in the last ten years then feel free to comment on my blog, or nominate your selection formally on the CBC website (link provided below).  Happy pondering!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Chick Lit With a Twist

Books are a lot like life, no matter how much you prepare for a certain outcome, there are often curve balls thrown your way.  I have been reading a lot of heavy subject matter lately, which has only serves to highlight the chaos and loneliness that are the staples of my life.  So, in order to combat the general heaviness that has pervaded my life, I began reading a good piece of Chick Lit, The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs.  

When I checked out this book from the library, I was expecting a frothy tale about a group of women living in New York who frequent a wool shop.  It started off with the usual trappings of a novel written for a primarily female audience, a group of female characters with varying levels of self-awareness who pursue positive change both personally and professionally.  The story revolves around Georgia Walker, the owner of a wool shop affectionately named Walker & Daughter.  She is a feisty single mother whose business and parenting savvy has not translated to her love life.  There is a large cast of supporting characters including Darwin, the clueless academic, Lucie, the pregnant filmmaker, and Anita, Georgia's fairy godmother and mentor.  

The plot speeds up when Cat Phillips, Georgia's ex-best friend arrives on the scene, causing both women to question themselves.  Cat's wealth drives the self-made Georgia crazy even after she commissions Georgia to knit a one-of-a-kind gown.  Georgia's self-sufficiency brings out feelings of inadequacy in Cat, who remains married to a jerk out of fear of the unknown.  This relationship is at the heart of the book and remains that way until the story takes a twist.  A twist which took me to an emotional place that I didn't expect to go, not with this book.  I will not reveal what happens, but needless to say it threw me for a loop. It dredged up a lot of issues that I had thought that I dealt with and I had a very hard time finishing the book.  I think that the book is well-written and that my purely emotional response is to blame, rather than the writer.  

Overall the book has been a good, if emotionally draining, reading experience.  As a knitter, I related on a deep level to the calming effect of the clacking of the needles and the sureness of the wool.  Sometimes having a project to complete and something to do with my idle hands is the only thing that stands between me and total insanity.  In life you rarely get do-overs, but with knitting you can always rip out your work and start again a little wiser.