Thursday, August 14, 2014

Opinions Are Like Assholes...

I don't usually get involved in menial little arguments. I tend to keep myself coiled in my little bubble and keep my opinion to myself because it seems that anyone who voices how they really feel receives a lot of backlash. 

When did it become okay to attack people because they have an opinion that may differ from ours? Social media (and the internet in general) has given us an outlet of basic anonymity and people are taking advantage of it to be fools and downright rude at times.

A long time ago I made it a practice to not get involved in these stupid arguments that turn to name-calling and utter disrespect for the topic at hand. In fact, I had to stop reading most comments on articles because it made all my emotions roil at one time to the point that I felt like I might explode.

Pro-choicers battle pro-lifers all the time. The debate has been going on for decades. Each side having an opinion. No one is right. No one is wrong. But each hold strong in their convictions. I respect that. 

But this blog post isn't about real debatable issues. It's about the ignorance and arrogance of people saying hateful and disrespectful things because they can and no one can really do anything about it.

The recent one that's really got my panties in a knot regards the recent drowning of a man at Sikome Lake in Calgary. Comments on this piece on The Calgary Herald's Facebook page are blaming the family for being so stupid as to not wear life preservers if they couldn't swim, for taking an infant on the boat. Or they're blaming Sikome Lake for not making the people get off the boat for a) being too full and b) not wearing life preservers or they're blaming Walmart for not making sure the people had adequate water protection when they bought the boat in the first place. One particular comment focuses on "the rules" for water safety and that it's required by law to have life preservers etc and that these people were essentially asking for it for not being protected.

The fact is, yes, the accident was preventable. Yes, there are many things they should have done differently. Yes, the family will now have to forever face the fact that they made a poor judgement call. Yes, a young man is dead. A father. A husband. A brother. A son. Gone because of an accident. 

And it was just that. An accident. Accidents happen every day. There are laws surrounding driving a vehicle. Don't drink and drive. Don't text while driving. Obey the speed limit. Don't run red lights. But who can honestly say they have never broken one of the rules of the road? Laws as they are. Who has made a bad judgement call and gotten away with it? Who has lost a family member because of an accident that was completely preventable if only they had followed the rules?

When did it become the general public's right to attack these people who made a poor decision? What if it was your family member? Would you want to hear and see all these comments reiterating just how STUPID your family member was? From all these self-righteous people who have apparently never made a mistake in their lives. 

This, in my opinion, is akin to bullying. Something that has become even MORE rampant with the introduction of social media. You want to make it stop, then stop doing it.

And then, of course, there is the sadness surrounding the death of Robin Williams and the increased awareness of mental illness and addiction. And, suicide. It seems to me that no one wants to admit the truth. That living just became too much for this great man that he saw no other way out but to end it himself. 

I have chosen to focus on his life and his greatness. I have chosen to believe that mental illness drove him to do such a thing. But as soon as someone asks us to face the truth, that is was suicide, he is attacked and criticized for being uncaring and misunderstanding. While I don't agree with most of what Matt Walsh has said in his article Robin Williams didn’t die from a disease, he died from his choice, one line from this whole piece sums up my original reaction to hearing the news. 

"... have we stopped to think how it looks and sounds to those who may be contemplating this heinous deed themselves? Can we tell our friend to step away from the ledge after we just spoke so glowingly of Robin Williams’ newfound “peace” and “freedom”? This is too important a subject to be careless about. We want to say nice things, I realize, but it isn’t nice to lie about suicide."

Matt Walsh has a right to his opinion. Just as we have a right to ours. Some vocalize it. Some don't. But what we don't have the right to do is call Matt Walsh names because he has chosen to state his opinion and we might not agree with it. 

Continue the debate. But debate based on facts that support your argument. 

Like this: Matt Walsh, Robin Williams and how ignorance can lead to unkindness (I also don't totally agree with this article. Having dealt with suicide in my own family, I found nothing offensive about what Matt Walsh said.) 

Stop the name calling. Stop being ignorant bullying brutes who get their kicks from saying horrible things about people who they don't even know.

And even though I don't want to, I will continue to be drawn to the comments section like a housewife drawn to trashy novels. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Research is Necessary, But Watch It...

Stephen King said, “Remember that word back. That’s where the research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it.”

But research is necessary for any story for authenticity sake. Especially if you're writing about a time period you have no first hand experience with.

The current part of my novel that I'm plugging through takes place in 1940's Alberta. I know there are areas that I need to make more authentic for that time period and for the most part I've been able to mark those sections and just carry on writing knowing that I will have to go back, but when I got to a section that required me to have some knowledge of what the inside of a grain elevator looked like, I stalled.

I clicked The Google and started searching for anything that could help. While I got some ideas, it wasn't enough. I knew I had to find one and experience it first hand. But where could I go to get inside one?  And it had to be a really old one.

I started searching ghost towns in Alberta. Found a few. But not all of them have grain elevators and the ones that did, how could I know whether I could get inside them without actually going to look?

I started with Rowley, Alberta. A little town just north of Drumheller. It's easy to find. There's a big sign on the side of the road, on a little hill, reading Rowleywood. 

Needless to say, we found the town (of course I couldn't make a trip like this without backup), and found the grain elevators.

While it was quickly discovered we could not get into the grain elevators, I did learn quite a few things on our little scavenging adventure. 

Grain elevators are impossibly big.

Grain elevators are old. At least these style, made out of good old-fashioned wood.

Grain elevators are a fire hazard (see above) and with the shear number of thunderstorms in Alberta every summer, it's not surprising most of the abandoned ones have been torn down.

You can never be sure what you will find when you go out adventuring. But it's quite likely you'll find something completely out of place. 

And probably a little creepy.

There is so much history to be discovered in Alberta. It's right under our noses and while many are probably aware, there are likely more people who aren't. There are people with stories out there. Stories demanding to be told. 

Despite not getting exactly what I wanted out of the day trip, I did get a lot of photos and I did learn stuff. Knowledge is power, right.

But I didn't get any further in my novel because I still had not seen what the inside of a grain elevator looked like. 

And then...a writer colleague suggested Heritage Park. How silly of me to not even consider what I was looking for was actually right under my nose.

So yesterday, I took the advice and spent the afternoon at Heritage Park. 

I got to go inside a grain elevator.

And I learned even more about grain elevators than I really needed. 

If you've been to Heritage Park you will know that in pretty much every building, there is someone in there to tell you about the building and give you some great Alberta history. 

I learned there are 60 lbs to a bushel.

I learned exactly how a grain elevator works from the farmer dropping off the grain to being loaded onto a train and exported wherever it needs to go.

I learned that it would take a lot of men to do the work of a grain elevator. They would be exhausted.


I learned that the operation of a grain elevator is really not all that complex. It goes in, it goes up, it goes down and it goes up again and out. Pretty simple concept. Of course it has to be weighed and sorted before it goes into the elevator bins and that takes some math, and a scale.

But here's the thing about researching a story. Only a fraction of what you learn in your research will ever make it into the story and in thinking about Stephen King's quote above, that makes perfect sense. You don't want to overwhelm your reader with all your research, you don't need to show them how smart you are.

If you try too hard to please, you won't be trusted.

You only need to create a realistic environment in which your story takes place.

I learned oodles. I didn't need to know how the thing worked, I just needed to see what it looked like so I could continue writing.

My mission was successful. I set out to see the inside of a grain elevator, and I saw the inside of a grain elevator.

And a windmill.

I'll save that for another story.