False Narratives

I don’t like liars.

I’m not talking about those little white untruths, the glossing over of things that most of us do from time-to-time in order to save feelings or avoid engaging in discussions that we know will circle endlessly around on themselves.

I’m talking about deception for deception’s sake- that primary tool in the arsenals of the majority of those who are seeking leadership roles. The false narratives being created to drive soundbites and ad campaigns are repugnant to a shameful degree.

I voted last week- one of more than 3.6 million Canadians who took advantage of the advance polls over the long weekend. Some of us- 71% more of us than voted in advance polling for the 2011 federal election- were likely weary of this never-ending campaign- running, as it did, throughout the summer- but I know that I did so in order to legitimately be able to tune out the fabrications and falsehoods that seemed to increase with each passing day.

Done with that. My die is cast. I can only hope that others see past the prevaricating and patronizingly paternal posturing of the past few months (and past decade, for that matter) and chose progressive change.

Thinking about the false narratives our leaders insist on feeding us gave rise to some personal reflection, and I realized, that while I’m not running for public office, and therefore not beholden to a reasonable degree of personal scrutiny, I’m not sure I have the moral high ground to be calling out kettles of any particular hue.

I’m sort of a fraud, myself.

Since I was off work this past week- taking some time to ‘catch up’ on stuff that too often falls by the wayside in the regular day-to-day of it all- I’ve been trying to focus on getting some writing done. Working on narratives that haven’t seen much action, of late, and feeling a little like a neglectful parent as I’ve done so.

We all have stories, and we all choose to communicate those stories in different ways. I’ve always had an inclination for the written word, so the stories that fill my head most often take the form of fictional narratives.

Around these parts, I tend toward the ‘essay’ or ‘opinion piece’, and I logged my fair share of hours researching and writing non-fiction, in the form of academic papers and that one big book that languishes on the shelf behind me, but my main hankering is for making up stuff- people and places and things that happen.

Even in the non-fiction, though, my voice comes through clearly, I think. When I started this blog, as a newbie- looking for a way to write about things that move me (myths, religion, music, social justice- you know, all that stuff you’ll find if you pop around the past posts)- I was a little daunted by the public nature of the forum. Since I’m a generation (or two) older than those who were born with iPhones clutched in tiny hands, I was suspicious of the potential exposure that might come with putting it all out there.

I was, at the time (and currently- but that’s another story), looking for a new career- having left the academic world following a whole lot of soul searching and self-evaluation. I read all kinds of horror stories about people who were black-listed for opinions or photos shared, a moment’s lapse, the ‘publish’ button accidentally tapped… You know- lives changed in an instant by the judgmental, under-educated trolling types that thrive on the Interweb.

Also, I had concerns about compromising any potential future academic roles (no use burning even hypothetical bridges) by spouting off about the state of post-secondary education, as I see the situation, and so I erred (if erring it was) on the side of anonymous caution.

I made the decision to write pseudonymously. I thought that doing so would afford a measure of security, and offer the opportunity to write in a different voice. Cole Davidson is the name of the narrator of a fictional piece of something I’ve been working on for a very long time.

Interestingly, although I never confirmed or denied one way or another, most of my return readers- many who have become friends over the years- assumed that I’m male, which, given the name, is, I guess, not surprising. Reading some of the earliest posts (and some of them make me cringe, so if you’re feeling curious, please tread lightly) I, at least, can see the struggle between first- and third- person, vying for the post of narrator. Telling my own stories, but doing so as if I’ve told them to someone else who is now recounting them… yeah. That got old fast. Though perhaps not fast enough.

I quickly discovered that this blog had the potential to be an on-going conversation– and the discussions that I’ve had here never cease to amaze me. In order to fully engage in this dialectic, I let go of all traces- save the pseudonym- of the literary conceit that even possibly prevented me from speaking authentically as myself.

A little while ago, one of my former students sent me a PM commenting on one of my posts (since they are linked to my Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter pages- I also have a Tumblr, but I’m rarely over that way, these days- posts are connected to my not-so-secret identity, as well), talking about what I’d written and asking why I assumed a male voice in communicating my ideas. Having listened to me over the course of a year of lectures and study groups, she was quite convinced that the voice was mine- and a little confused as to why I’d assume a male persona while writing about the stuff I used to teach about.

She wasn’t critical- just curious. She is a great writer, and has adopted different voices herself, so was looking to chat about my experience doing so.

I’ve been writing as Cole for long enough now, that I sometimes forget that’s it’s not ‘really’ me putting ‘myself’ out there. If he ever had his own voice (and I hope he still does- in the novel, at least), then he’s been over-shouted by mine, hereabouts.

The fact that I don’t use my real name is the only fictive part of my existence here at colemining. It’s all me- so very much so that I long ago left behind all hopes of sorting out the character whose name I assumed, with all good intentions, in this particular outlet.

Which means, that if the real Cole Davidson is to see the light of day (and I think he deserves to do so- especially since some usurper stole his identity more than two years ago), it will have to be in a different place- the one he was ‘born’, if you will, to inhabit. So I’m working on the fiction again. Stealing time (and who has enough of that, these days?) away from my peeps in this WordPress world, in order to spend some in one that I have created in its entirety (insofar as anyone ever creates anything whole-cloth. That world is recognizably similar to our own, after all).

Divided loyalties, of a sort. But no one ever said that paying attention to all the voices in my head was supposed to be easy.

Those of you who visit regularly, might have noticed that I posted a photo a few months back – and ‘outed’ myself, to a degree, at least. That I didn’t hesitate to do so is an indication that the dividing line between me and Cole has disappeared, assuming there ever was one. Going back over some older posts, I noticed that when I refer to myself it is often in an e e cummings-esque lower case sort of manner – although even that little editorial nuance isn’t terribly consistent. Cole fighting cole, for ascendancy or something Regardless, cole is not really Cole. And never has been.

I’m starting to think, despite our seeming estrangement, we have become a little co-dependent.

I did hang out with him a bit this week. I feel like we’re on the road to re-acquaintance, but it will take some more quality time to really renew a sense of one another and figure out what has changed since we last chatted. It’s been a long time. I think he’s changed – become more like me than I thought possible- but some of that will remain to be seen as we continue our discussions. Despite what some superstition-loving-deniers may think, we humans continue to evolve. And so, too, should our creations.

From one way of looking at things, it shouldn’t matter who I am. If something I’ve said resonates, then groovy. Let’s chat about it. But, as I’ve said before, context matters. A lot. And identity is part of context.

That doesn’t mean I’m unmasking completely. There are even more horror stories out there than when I started this thing. Atheist bloggers are targeted and murdered in parts of this world (not Toronto, admittedly, but still), and writers who speak against established norms lose livelihoods and freedoms under elites who seek to cling to power.

I currently live in a country in which, I’m ashamed to say, scientists are muzzled and unfunded for speaking truths against the government’s agenda and policy-making machine. I’m not confident that civil disobedience and speaking out against social injustice won’t end up getting my name on a CSIS watch list.

I’m hopeful that these things don’t come to full fruition- that the citizens of this nation will vote against politics of fear and division so we can regain our status in the eyes of the world- and, most importantly, live with ourselves.

We’ll find out tomorrow. In between innings of the baseball game. I’ve set my current priorities, and the Jays are top of that heap at the moment. I’m loving the story they’re creating, this Blue October. I’ll re-engage with the political reality once it is actually realized.

Demonstrating, once again, that we seem to share a brain, my lovely Glaswegian friend, Anne-Marie, posted about her decision to, once again, sign up for NaNoWriMo- that interesting social media phenomenon that is supposed to help writers get it together and crank up their word counts.

I did that a couple of years ago. I think it was a good exercise, but here we are now, and the novel of that November is no closer to being finished. Not really. So rather than signing up, I think I’ll just commit to spending more time with that other Cole- and all his friends- as a way of focusing my writing for the next while.

After I finish up an entry to the CBC Canada Writes short story contest, that is. While keeping things short isn’t really my forte (note the word count of this post, for example), if I’m going to diversify as a way of focusing, I might as well go all out.

So I might be around even less, for a little bit (I know, I’ve hardly been here, lately, as it is). My drive to survive- and thrive- through the telling of some stories will be changing direction.

I’ve gotten all fan-girl over Umberto Eco a number of times. He is an inspiration in so many ways. But as I looked for a pithy little saying/graphic to top this latest piece of something, I was torn by the number of quotes out there for the picking. Writers I admire, writers I just plain love. All those creators of stories that make the world a little better.

There’s a difference between narratives that are fictional and those that are intentionally false. The latter are designed to influence the credulous and further the agendas of their creators, orators and those who are complicit in the perpetuation of the lies (no names mentioned certain Canadian media outlets…).

The former, written with best intentions, add insights and truth to our on-going human dialogue.

I’ve set the record straight, at least a little, regarding my own participation in this here narrative space. I go back to work tomorrow. I’m hoping that through the self-evaluation of this mini-break I’ve figured out a way to spend the day fulfilling my work responsibilities, while still retaining enough creative impetus to come home and spend time with Cole et al- for at least a space of time each evening.

The elections results tomorrow will be a distraction (as will the debrief following the whole, sad business), and those Jays have a couple of weeks of baseball left to play (first two games in KC notwithstanding, As I keep reminding myself, there’s no crying in baseball, and we’ve come back from this type of deficit before), but, moving forward, I need to work at drowning out the irrelevant hindrances that serve to do no more than raise my blood pressure and existential ire.

Whatever masks we might wear, as writers or as people, I really believe that our best stories come from places of sincerity and honesty. In them, we can find our best reasons for engaging with the world and our fellow humans. If we cut out all the white noise.

So, a new beginning for me. Perhaps by moderating my propensity to preach to various choirs- both here and in my current day job- I can figure out a way to tell the stories I’ve been wanting to tell for as long as I can remember. Which requires tapping into the voice of my namesake for a time, and seeing what he might have to say about it all if I give him (back) his narrative lead.

There’s a quote (attributed to Charles Darwin but stemming, in all real likelihood from a synopsis of On the Origin of Species presented by some guy named Leon C. Megginson. Ah, misattribution. Hurts my historian-sensibilities) that goes something like this: It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

I think a change would do me good.

23 comments on “False Narratives

  1. Nice to see your post. I can’t sleep. Too nervous for tomorrow. But it’s a good nervous, because I feel that a momentous and wonderful change is about to happen. I hope the same for you. We’ve never met, so I can’t say if you are different than Cole. I guess I like both of you. Gender is a state of mind anyway. Hoping we can move away from gendered identities and just be who we are. I am learning that from my daughter. She rocks.

    • colemining says:

      Hi Booksy! I hear you- had some sleep issues myself. I really hope that the building energy IS reflective of positive change. I feel like I’ve been living with knots in my stomach for far too long.

      Re: the identity thing- I completely agree. Gender should be one of those things that is irrelevant- when we’re talking about the expression of opinions and capabilities in general. The only reason it’s even an issue, here, is because of people like our soon-to-be-former-PM. People who feel they have the right (moral or otherwise) to dictate what women choose to wear, to say, to do… We ALL need to stand up and oppose that sort of anachronistic thinking- and women should be leading the chorus.

      As a woman in a male-dominated field of academia, I encountered all kinds of sexist (if not downright misogynist) attitudes. Still do, truth be told. I am very aware of all my intersections- and the reality that they shape how I approach the world. I guess that I’m just feeling as if I need to be more open in my discussions, here- and part of that involves honesty about who/what I am.

      I am not surprised in the least that your daughter is a font of wisdom and positive example. She’s got a pretty cool Mum.

      Thanks for stopping by- and for sharing your thoughts. It should be a momentous day indeed (Go Jays!). xo

  2. quiall says:

    I for one have enjoyed your voice regardless of the gender behind it. You speak the truths others think (myself included)! Go Jays! I’m off to vote. I hate that we have started using fear and hatred to get people to vote. Makes me ashamed they are Canadian! That word used to stand for integrity, honour, truth. Yes, I am that old!

    • colemining says:

      Thank you, Pam. I despise that it took this level of state-sanctioned fear-mongering and xenophobia to get people out and doing their civic duty, but I’m pleased that all signs point to record-breaking turn-outs at the ballot boxes.

      Here’s hoping that we will get back to those days of integrity, honour and truth. I don’t think they are so far behind us that they’re unrecoverable.

      Happy Election Day! Go Jays! xo

  3. bethbyrnes says:

    Wow, Cole, as usual we are thinking along parallel lines. I have a post in mind for Friday about this whole female thing in the 21st century.

    I thought about keeping my gender anonymous on my blog too but decided I couldn’t keep it up and rant the way I do, freely, so I didn’t try. In fact, I have kept my profile low key and I still get people trying to get me to share selfies and showcase myself more.

    But like you, I am adamant that ideas and analyses stand on their own merit and not be judged through the lens or prism or age, gender, sexual preference, height, weight, color or any of the other secondary characteristics that some are so fond of using to pigeon hole other people.

    I hope you will be here a often as you feel comfortable being. I always assumed your name was merely a device. Why not? I don’t use my married name to keep those who might be trolling from finding me easily. We need the space to be ourselves and we give ourselves permission to be who we are despite the labels.

    • colemining says:

      Lol. I really think you, me and Anne-Marie were separated at birth, Beth.

      As much as I wish that ideas and analyses could stand on their own merit, I have seen a whole lot of disparagement of those things, based in a perceived lack of adequate context. Can I speak with more authority about feminist issues (especially things like responding to empty-headed people who claim they ‘don’t need’ feminism) since I am female? Or discuss rape culture, as another example. I think the answer is yes, and as such, it might lend weight to my discussions to ‘come clean’ about my personal experiences with those things.

      Having been on the other side- having ideas dismissed based solely on my gender and the assumed lack of ‘seriousness’ about my chosen subject- I am all too aware of the ways in which such things are measured. However unfair such assessments may be.

      As little as I like labels, they remain a fact of life. I guess I need to find a way to balance my awareness of this with the messages I attempt to convey. At least until we come to a collective agreement that exclusion, based on secondary characteristics, is not conducive to effective dialogue.

      Thanks for the visit! Look forward to your Friday thoughts! xo

      • bethbyrnes says:

        I would surely like to think so Cole, as we all three seem to agree on so much, sometimes at the same instant. 😀 It is really a dilemma as to when to invoke the experience we have as women and when to merely use other human attributes. Good point. I hope I remember to bring that up Friday, myself. I have battled the ‘seriousness’ issue all my life, even as a little girl. One nice thing about aging, is people stop focusing on appearances. Leaving women out of many arenas is to impoverish the resources to be marshalled for addressing problems. xo

      • colemining says:

        How lovely is it that the three of us (and others, of course), in different countries and from different backgrounds continue to find so much common ground and to have such incredible conversations? That’s the Interworld working as it should!

        I grew up with a lot of guy friends- some of whom remain among my nearest-and-dearest- and, on occasion, when they get going with the ‘guy talk’, I have to remind them that I am, in fact, a girl, so they may want to temper themselves somewhat- or get a response they mightn’t have been expecting (it happens, on average, at least twice on every annual cottage weekend, for example). But, overall, I was fortunate to be surrounded by people who didn’t base my opinions- or ability to express those opinions- on my gender. That good fortune remains- although it has caused a few relationship rifts over the years, when boyfriends might not have received that particular memo. In retrospect, it was a pretty solid litmus test.

        My parents raised three strong, opinionated women- and encouraged us to speak our minds (after thoughtfully weighing those thoughts), based in the worldview that they helped to shape. That privilege (and the education that came with the privilege) is another one of my intersections.

        During my time in the academic world I ran into the ‘other kind’ far too many times. I had to deal with certain ‘knowing’ looks when my thesis adviser introduced me as his research assistant. The male dominance of my chosen field seem inclined to believe that blonde girls don’t learn ancient languages and win teaching accolades for talking about ancient history and religion. I learned to ignore such things- a function of my age and that particular environment- but it’s not something I’d let pass as acceptable anymore.

        The gender gap is far from absent in my current role, as well. But I’m better able to deal with it than I was when I was younger. I’m long past caring about preconceptions and willful idiocy- and that ability to dismiss the irrelevancies of bias and prejudice came with having the forums to help me find- and use- my voice. Too many women have yet to do so, though- so I do all I can to facilitate such opportunities when they are presented.

        The lone woman on my defence panel was quite insistent- once I’d successfully defended a thesis which challenged some of the ideas of one of my male examiners (it wasn’t an easy defence)- that I should own the ‘doctor’ and be sure to emphasize the accomplishment whenever I could. I don’t generally put it out there that much, but I’m certainly more understanding about the reasons why she focused on the importance of doing so. There are too few women who are willing to take on the guys in their wheelhouse(s)- so I’ve found ways to reconcile my accomplishments without harping about credentials and such. I think I pull it off- most of the time.

        But there are still days when I feel like neck-punching someone- when my input is dismissed out-of-hand for no reason other than my gender/appearance. Sometimes that reality truly bites. But I’ll keep on using my voice- because I was taught to do so by women AND men of substance, and because there are too many women in this world who are unable to do so.

        Until I started seeing ridiculous posts and pages of women claiming to ‘not need’ feminism, I admit that I took some of my intersections for granted. I think this ‘coming out’ post (which has been brewing/stewing in the drafts folder for some time now) has its origin in things like that. And things like a national leader who seems to think it’s okay for him to dictate what women should wear (among other equally-insidious things).

        Unfortunately, there are a whole lot of people who want to keep the myriad resources unheard- and use gender politics in order to nay-say those attributes that we bring to the table. We have come a long way- but we are in danger of slipping back into attitudes of separation and division. As A-M said, the inequity in leadership roles in both public and private sectors needs prompt addressing. xo

  4. I often imagine/dream/think that the essence of who we are mingle on a different plane while we sleep. Yup, I do. We share the knowing of each other and return to wakefulness only with a vague sense of having encountered something, someone, somewhere. Later we meet someone in whatever form or fashion or we have a deja vu moment and something is sparked of that earlier encounter. The body being a nothing during that time. It helps me understand that who people are is not dependent purely on the physical and goes some way in explaining to me why I feel I already know some people or places or have a sense of understanding of a given situation. I rather like the idea that, in some spiritual sense, gender/appearance/nationality and the rest don’t matter.
    Then we get back to the real world and the nitty-gritty! It’s terrible that, even in these so-called enlightened days, there is still so much gender bias (among others, sadly). You’d think by now we’d have gotten over it. Of course, there are those for whom a penis means power. You’ll have seen the photoshopped pics doing the rounds on what the various chambers of power look like once men have been removed from the scene? Anybody, male or female, has to acknowledge that the imbalance is practically criminal. It’s underrepresentation on a massive scale. I don’t particularly advocate gender selective candidacy but something has to be done to redress the balance ‘cos these guys are sure making a pig’s eye of things on this here planet.
    Out and proud, Cole! All the way. 🙂
    Don’t tell anyone about my weird dreams/thoughts/imagination or we’ll never a bloody chance. 😉

    • colemining says:

      I think you and Jung would get along well… I also think that you’re both on to something. Our shared humanity means that our connection goes beyond the superficial trappings of the physical- and our awareness of one another should thus transcend anything that is seen on the surface. And I really think that this reality is a solid explanation for that whole deja vu all over again thing.

      But yes- I’m all too aware of the persistence of gender bias- and the ways in which female voices are still shouted down and/or over. Been stuck in that lousy craw more than once. Which is why I’ve felt an impetus lately to, as you say, ‘out’ myself. The fact that I’m a woman shouldn’t make anything I say/do/write more or less impactful- but it does. Sometimes positively, more often in the negative. It’s easier to dismiss than read critically, after all. And that imbalance of which you speak is the reason behind it. I’ve seen, in this never-ending election of ours, some fairly insulting attempts at adding ‘tokens’ to various party line-ups (whether those tokens are female or guys who aren’t white)- and, in too many cases, these plants are little more than mouth-pieces, unable to do more than spout party lines.

      I have no doubt that your thoughts- weird though they may seem to some- contribute to daily change and movement toward redressing the balance.

      Thanks for your visit(s)- and comments, as always. Let’s get writing! xo

      • Tomorrow you said for the election result? I’m keeping everything crossed for a new reality for you and yours.
        If I could write as fast as I can talk I’d be on to something. 🙂 To work! x

      • colemining says:

        Some time tonight. Will catch up with the returns during breaks in the ballgame.

        If you could write as fast as you talk, you’d have a whole series under your belt! My issue is that I come up with the best ideas/phrasing/communication of an idea when I have zero access to pen/paper/the computer. Usually as I’m trying to fall asleep… Need a writing room so I can get up and compose when inspired. Ah well- this will happen eventually.

        To a little more work- then glued to the tube and my Jays. xo

      • Congratulations!!!!

      • colemining says:

        Phew. Quite something indeed. I’m impressed with my fellow Canadians- the voter turn-out and clear expression of a desire for change cannot be undervalued. Hope he gets right to work! xo

  5. bethbyrnes says:

    Goodbye Mr. Harper! Hurry away. And take some cohorts in the lower 50 with you please. I hope this is a harbinger for November, 2016! ❤

    • colemining says:

      Beth! Thank goodness! It didn’t play out exactly as expected – or hoped, to be honest- it would have been nice if the Liberals and NDP were working together. I have my issues with some of Mr. Trudeau’s decisions, as you know. And I’m a little sad about what happened in my riding and a couple of others around the city. But the people voted for positive change- rather than succumbing to fear-mongering and divisiveness. And we voted LOUDLY! I haven’t heard exact stats as to voter turn-out, but if the advance polls are any indication, we might have set some records.

      Here’s hoping that it marks a change for the whole of this continent of ours. New beginnings! Always good! xo

  6. Congratulations on the election! Just wanted to chime in. I’ve been reading some of your back posts, and so sorry for not being around for a time. Glad you’re back and now will seek you out in my inbox. Tossing support your way with all the changes – external and internal. ❤

    • colemining says:

      Hi Susan! Lovely to see you! Thanks for checking in- and for your show of support. Very happy that we voted for some profound changes hereabout. Fingers crossed Mr. Trudeau lives up to his potential and promises.

  7. […] in politics, in business, in education, in every-freakin-day life- that coincide with the way my mind has been working of […]

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