‘For those who don’t know…’
In some writing spaces, there’s an actual physical list of clichéd words and terms on a wall- phrases that have been overused to the point of being meaningless. It’s a good practice to remove crutches and help sharpen writing.
One of my personal crutches that I’ve been thinking about lately, which is “for those who don’t know.” I use it when we have an expert guest on and I want the host to prompt them to give a basic explainer on the topic at hand. For example:
“For those who don’t know, what is the first-past-the-post voting system?”
“For those who don’t know, why does the U.S. think Canada is unfairly subsidizing softwood lumber?”
“For those who don’t know, what is geoengineering?”
It’s a way of making the topic accessible while demonstrating that we, the journalists, already know all this stuff. This is for the benefit of the listener, not us.
I’m wondering if that’s necessary. If a host were to start a conversation with “What is first-past-the-post voting?” would listeners at home throw their hands in the air in frustration at their ignorance?
Or would it be pretty clear that this is being done for the benefit of establishing the basics before moving on to the more nuanced portions of the conversation?
Interested in your thoughts.
“I’m a citizen of a place that was laid right on top of another.”
I first read this piece by Denise Balkisoon on what it means to be Canadian when it came out over a month ago, and I’ve come back to it multiple times.
There are many, many great parts of this, starting with a rumination on how countries are places, not just ideas:
“The closest I got to considering the physicality of countries was thinking about borders, which are ideas about how imaginary lines should be imposed onto a real space, followed by vigorous attempts to police them. It’s weird that invisible borders breed cultures, but they do, and one thing that I’ve always known is that Canada is not the only way a country can be.”
And this, on ‘Canada the good’:
“My Canada has always been a place where the idea of white Anglophone superiority is driven home with consistent ferocity. Though I have a Canadian passport accepted around the world, that doesn’t mean I am accepted as Canadian. I used to internalize that rejection, fuelling my travel with a desperate longing for a new home. That phase is over now. I know that I belong to this place, and I’ve become used to asserting that.
“Between my global views and my local wounds, I consider my citizenship a lucky penny with a tarnished side. Canada was, without a doubt, a good place to be born. I have had a safe and comfortable life here. But I refuse to be endlessly grateful to anyone other than my parents. The comfort I live in is no more than I deserve, since housing, health care and education are basic human rights, and hardly guaranteed to every person born in this country.”
And on the division between ‘mainstream’ Canada and the lived experience of many Indigenous people:
“A bit out from the road, in the middle of some tall grass, I noticed a sign featuring what I saw as “Indigenous art” and advertising a helpline for native women coping with violence. I had driven by at least five times before, but this was the first time I registered that sign. And I felt, physically, the intense individuality of my lived experience of space, and how the same small bit of Earth could be utterly different for different people. In the language of The City and The City, I had experienced a breach. And, as in Besźel and UI Qoma, unseeing is almost impossible. It’s not an idea, but a truth: I’m a citizen of a place that was laid right on top of another.”
The Manitoba Sound
Melissa Martin investigates the Manitoban accent and its roots in Indigenous languages and waves of settlers:
“Manitobans don’t think about this much. Our accents aren’t famous or a point of civic pride. Unlike English speakers in New Yawk or Bawwston, we don’t often see our ways of speaking presented in pop culture media.
“So we don’t usually conceptualize ourselves as speaking like Manitobans — until someone else points it out.
“Yet language is tied to place, as surely as mountains and rivers. The words we use, the colours of our vowels, the way consonants find their way through our teeth: those belong to here, too — and they are changing.”
I love learning about these hidden, subtle things that create community and identity in almost imperceptible ways.
The New York Times looks into ‘Month 13’ of the 12-month private sponsorship of Syrian refugees in Canada
An excellent piece of reporting by Jodi Kantor and Catrin Einhorn in the New York Times following the experience of well-meaning Canadians and their Syrian sponsors as they move away from helping their charges through everything towards, hopefully, self-sufficiency. As expected, it’s complicated.
“She and the other sponsors asked themselves: How could this be happening, after they had grown so close to the family? And did they really have the right to know or question how Mr. Hajj used money?
“In reply to his question about welfare, Ms. Karas did not mince words. ‘We didn’t bring you here and give you all this help so that you could become a drain on our government system,’ Ms. Karas told him. She explained that social assistance was a stopgap measure for people in need. “We expected you to go out and get a job and support your family.
“Mr. Hajj agreed not to apply. “’’m a son to these sponsors, who have lived in this country their whole life,’ he said later. ‘They must know for sure what is right and what is wrong.'”
Honest, stark and, importantly, human, this is great work. And, not to take away from this, it should be asked why this is a front page story on the Times rather than a Canadian publication.