Government

An Open Letter to Ben & Jerry

Dear Ben and/or Jerry,

Listen, I get it, guys. We are America’s hat. We live in a country that is under snow 95% of the year. The other 5% consists entirely of room temperature water hatching mosquitos. Sure, we’re the second largest country on earth, but I can appreciate why you might not view Canada as a market to conquer. Still, it doesn’t help that the majority of our media is siphoned from our southern neighbours. We get to watch your sultry actresses spoon Americone Dream into their mouths while battling eyelashes at their White Russian scooping sugar daddies. I have to say, it sort of sucks. I know, I know. It’s a matter of priorities. You probably make a lot of money one the steadily expanding bellies of the American market.

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The Languid Tale of Tina Louanne Sparkles

The Languid Tale of Tina Louanne Sparkles

There comes a moment when every person has to serve his or her country. Sometimes you are hired as an elected official, sometimes you join the military, and sometimes you waste the time of a person you presume might be trying to get your passport for illicit purposes.

Our story begins way back in August 2013 where in a mysterious person randomly messages yours-truly on Facebook with a simple codeword: Hi.

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An Open Letter to Peter Fassbender’s Smirk and the People That Taught Me

This is the second in a series of open letters to people who have influenced my life. Because of the current BCTF Strike, as well as the appalling response by the BC Liberal Government, I have decided to address this letter specifically to the education minister, Peter Fassbender’s Smirk.

Dear Peter Fassbender’s Smirk,

You and I have never met. You don’t know who I am, and quite frankly it will probably stay that way until we are both dead and meet on the plains of purgatory and battle each other’s souls to death for a place in the afterlife. I will win. You will lose. Here is why.

I grew up in Kelowna, BC, and I had amazing teachers.

No, not that isn’t right. I had amazing heroes. And even though I am older now, and somewhat wiser, I will still count them amongst the strongest, most influential people who I have ever had the joy of knowing. I’m going to tell you about them, about moments when they touched my life, taught me about math and English and happiness, and I hope you will, at least for a few minutes, indulge me in my honest rhetoric, because for all the complaints you hear, and the demands you are facing off with every day, I think perhaps you have not grasped the importance of these men and women. But I have, Peter Fassbender’s Smirk, and I make no qualms in telling you that without their active involvement in my life, their care and support, I would not be who I am today. No, I might not even be here today.

I won’t use names, to protect the innocent (Ha!). So, you will simply have to take my word for it that these marvelous people exist in the BC education system and have been drastically overlooked by you and the BC Government.

When I was in high school I was an annoying person. I was sarcastic and, to some extent, probably disrespectful despite my admiration. There is no excuse aside from teenage hormones, the uncertainty of my various spinal surgeries, and the fact that I was struggling very badly with my father leaving our family.

I was not, how shall we say, adjusting well to the changes in my life, and was in desperate need of strong male role models that would be reliably in my life. Still, my desire to come to terms with my father’s actions was considerable, and as I was growing into a bolder young woman I sought some way to stand my ground against what he had done. With that in mind I turned to my English teacher. He had the unfortunate role of teaching the ‘Dumb English’ class, which myself and another brilliant student had been put in because the other classes were simply no longer capable of holding us. It would have been a hellish experience if not for that teacher. He also taught me Japanese, most of which I have forgotten (ahh so desu ka? Hai, so desu.)

After school one day I approached this teacher, asking for advice. I explained the situation as a hypothetical “what would you do in this situation?” hoping he might have some scathingly brilliant response that I could throw at my father. Instead he thought for a moment and told me, quite frankly, that the next time my father pulled something like that I should say “Blood doesn’t require me to put up with your bullshit.”

Now, it took me over five years from that point to get up the courage to finally address all the lingering issues I had with my father. I had to figure out who I was, and what I wanted from life and more importantly, from my relationship with my father. But for every day of those five years I took those words with me. Nothing had ever come across so true and eloquent to me, and I doubt I will ever hear anything that again. It took me five years, but I said it, and now when I have a problem with my father, I speak to him as a woman, strengthened by the fact that this teacher gave me the words I needed to stand my ground. Without this teacher, I would not be as courageous as I am.

In the same vein as above, I had another interaction with a different teacher in my final year. I was a dreadfully sarcastic person in his class, almost to the point where it would have been considered rude. We bantered, called each other by nicknames, both of them the results of solid senses of humor. One day I must have breached the line, as I was told quite sternly to stay after class. I was horrified. I had never been asked to stay after class. Mortified, I took a seat as I was directed. He sat down in front of me, and all at once his stern expression disappeared and he asked if I was okay.

Holy shit mother of ass thank god. I was wise enough to know at that point that life wasn’t easy for my mum, and the thought of disappointing her with some black mark on my record scared the shit out of me.

The teacher and I spoke for a while. I explained how I was worried about my upcoming surgery, pain, my family, everything that was packed into my mind. It was out of his way, and not something he had to do, but he cared enough to ask. It was more than most others had done up to that point. He showed me the value of asking questions, of taking the time to be concerned. Without this teacher, I would not know how to take the time for others.

There was another teacher, too, who I am still in contact with and who I have the utmost respect for. He had taught my brother during one of his first years as a teacher, and as I had learned from previous encounters, the Sawisky name brought with it a certain history. I expected I would be Greg’s Sister as I was with many of the teachers around the school, delegated to the position of the last Sawisky who didn’t have to excel as long as she didn’t fail. Mercifully this was not the case.

To say I enjoyed English would be an understatement. I flippin’ love english. Words, words, words! But I have to admit, I found the imposed 30 minute reading at the start of each class which, let’s face it, every teacher does because otherwise these students will probably never pick up a book. Ever. Like, figuratively, ever. As with all my teachers, I asked if it would be all right if I could write during that time instead, and somehow that devolved into me doing the local crossword puzzle. And then devolved further into him doing the crossword puzzle. Pretty soon it was a crossword puzzle off. Who can finish it first? Who can finish it before the obligatory reading ends?

When I left for my fourth spinal surgery, he gave me a stack of books to keep me entertained. I ended up purchasing most of them for myself later on just so I could reread them. Have you ever read Hey Nostradamus! It’s a Douglas Coupland novel. I would recommend it. Maybe he can lend it to you. Without this teacher, I would have never pursued my love of writing.

These are people who have influenced my greatest decisions in life, who taught me what it means to stand on my own two feet. These are remarkable people that you will never get the chance of being inspired by because, quite frankly, I’m pretty sure they think you are a bit of a dingus. And as the BC Government seems to be treating this Strike as a Win or Lose competition, I have to tell you Peter Fassbender’s Smirk, I think I won this round. I have the ability to look at myself with a critical eye and say Yes, this is definitively who I am, and I am this way because of these people. They did not, I am fairly sure, consider me a dingus.

So while you are busy digging in your heels and placing a monetary value on the education of students, consider this: For as screwy as my childhood was, there are dozens if not hundreds of students who are more desperate for solid, reliable, oodfigures of authority in their lives. They need advice, reassurance, and help from the very same people who offered it to me, and so many others. And those students, the one’s you are denying an education to, are the future. Not you, Peter Fassbender’s Smirk. You are the past, but your decisions every day of the strike will have a very real and very immediate impact on those who will define the future of BC. You have a duty as Education Minister to stand up for the students and teachers, not the government. Believe me, I’d say the government is standing just fine on its own.

I carry the education I received from those people every day of my life, but it is the people that define the experience, not the mandatory syllabus. I would urge you to consider that what you are denying these students is not simply an education, but a chance at growing up as considerate, brave, and respectable members of the community.

Most Sincerely,

Kathleen Sawisky

PS: You’ll have to excuse my poor grammar. I have no excuse, I just simply don’t want to be judged on it.

An(other) Open Letter to the Government of Alberta

Dear Alberta Government,

It’s been a while since last we spoke, and a lot has happened in the Province of Alberta. Alison Redford is no longer High Supreme Commander of the Good Ship Lollipop, and Health Minister Fred Horne is the Intern Premier (Inmiere? Preterm?) Good for you, Fred. I’m proud of you, especially given our close relationship that developed through that letter you sent me where you basically said “Nope, sorry, that’s the way it is. A Hurr hurr hurr.” I’m really proud of you, Fred.

Things have happened in my life too. I’m getting married this summer to a wonderful man. I finished my novel and am preparing to self-publish it. I finished my third year of University. Yup! Life is good on the Starship Sawisky.  Apart, and I don’t mean to complain, apart from this one itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny little issue that still remains. I still have severe and debilitating chronic pain.

Funny, I know, right? Two nights ago it was so funny that I was up until three a.m. in agony as it felt like the hands of Beelzebub himself crushed my ribs towards my lungs. Hi-larious stuff.

"Chronic Pain a Hurr Hurr Hurr:

A visual representation the funniest joke to ever be told about chronic pain

But you know me, Fred. I keep my chin up. I have a good attitude, or so they say in all my files. I don’t allow my debilitating condition to affect my attitude towards life or my enjoyment of it. Sure, debilitating pain means that I can’t work the traditional summer jobs held out for people like me. I can’t be on my feet for 8 hours in retail. Can’t stand stationary behind a bar, lubricating those well-oiled vocal cords of Alberta’s MLAs. No, I need to work short hours where I can be allowed to sit. I need accommodations to be made, and when I can’t find places willing to make them, I end up in situations like this. My dear old piggy bank, the lord god bless and keep him, has been emptied of his considerable wealth and gone to the big old Bank in the sky (see: Alberta Legislature).

Retrieved from: https://flic.kr/p/6G7moL

“This is going to lead to serious PTSD”

In my defence, desperate times lead to desperate measures. My fiancé has taken on the brunt of the wedding burden, and while I’m not a Bridezilla and don’t require gilded lilies that have been enchanted to sing my praises as I waltz down the aisle on the arm of Robert Downey Jr. it would be nice if we could feed our guests, and if I could, you know, contribute something other than my glorious presence.

But alas, my attempts to receive any form of funding via AISH or, alternately, selling my soul to the Devil, have resulted in utter failure. Apparently the souls of the members of Alberta’s Legislature Assembly have really overwhelmed hell in recent times, and mine has been deemed worthless.  Fair enough, it was used and pretty dirty from all the time I’ve spent rolling coin.

Here’s the thing, Fred. As the Health Minister I had hoped, recklessly I’ll admit, that by addressing you more directly in previous open letters that you might have a solid understanding of my position. Not because you’ve been in my shoes. No, no. Let’s be clear, there is no way you could possibly grasp what it is like to live in Chronic Pain. Each case is extraordinary in its own way, and each individual responds to the trials and tribulations of daily chronic pain in different ways. My experiences at the CPC in Calgary have showed me that there is a heavy instinct, especially in older patients trying to become accustom to their new-found life of agony, to roll up in a corner and wait for the darkness to pass. What I know, and hope you are aware of as well, Fred, is that the pain never goes away. That is the key point of chronic pain. It is forever. It will never get better, but very likely may get worse. Now, I don’t mean to be ‘that sort of youthful interloper’, but I would much rather deal with chronic pain later on in life. At the very least I have memories of better days that I can relieve through my Recollection X190 machine that surely must be in production by now.

Retrieved from: https://flic.kr/p/8Bc2Pz

Finally, a way to relieve my days as a go-go dancer, when my legs weren’t flabby and the children hadn’t yet left stretch marks

Alas I am left with memories of… Um, something. It’s been almost thirteen years of chronic pain, so my memories pretty much entail getting my hair pulled by my brothers and trying to hide grape juice stains from my mum. My twenties, which I have been told are supposed to be the best years of my life, are marred by pain, Fred. I wake up in the morning in pain. I have a shower, get dressed, all in pain. I have little to no appetite because of pain, but force myself to eat because my loved ones believe I will instantly stop taking care of myself if they cease asking questions. I get through the day, all in pain. I go for walks, because they are good for my back, even though they cause me pain. I do the first movements of Wing-chun because they don’t cause me pain but give me a way to focus myself when I am in pain. Which is, you know, most of the time. I try to channel my pain into more creative pursuits.

As retrieved from https://flic.kr/p/5uNx3K

Creative, not necessarily legal

But when all else fails and the bills pile up and the bank comes a calling and Mr. Oinkers lays on the floor in shatters, I will still be in pain. Jobs are still, and always will be, hard to come by because our province, and indeed our society is not built to properly assist those in chronic pain. It takes one appropriately worded doctor’s note, citing that the patient is in extreme pain and cannot function in normal society for the Province of Alberta to cut a cheque to the oilfield worker who hurt his back and simply cannot work. What about us that try to make the best of it? What about those of us that have learned to cope and channel our pain and exist in spite of it all? We have honest doctors who fill out forms where they declare that we are handling the physical aspects of our chronic pain well. What about the social aspects? The financial? What happens to us then? You see, Fred. I think it is sick that as a chronic pain sufferer I must be further punished by my province for existing the only way I know how: with a smile and a crude joke. I think it is sick that as a chronic pain sufferer I must somehow wear my pain on the surface, alienating those I love and losing their respect, if I simply want to be able to afford to existence. You know. As a person. You place me in an impossible situation. If I acted the way I feel I’m certain I would have AISH supprot, as well as a parade of government well-wishers at my doorstep. But, if I acted the way I feel I doubt I would hear from my family how proud they are of me; I doubt my friends would ever tell me again how impressed they are with how I deal with pain. In fact, I doubt I would have any friends at all.

You, Fred Horne and the rest of the MLAs of Alberta, place myself, and other chronic pain sufferers just like me, in an impossible situation. You exist in a reality that is separate from our own and yet impose the structure of your reality upon us, as if it is somehow a perfect fit. It isn’t, sir. You’re trying to put a square peg in a round hole, and no matter how many times you bash us around with that rubber mallet, we are still going to be in pain and still be in desperate need of financial support from the Government of Alberta.

Now, I could rehash the issues I have with AISH on a legal basis, that AISH uses terms like “Adult Interdependent Relationship” (the common-law replacement in Alberta) while not holding to the actual Government definition of Adult Interdependent Relationship, but you and everyone I have spoken to have proven that they aren’t interested in silly things like ‘legal definitions’ and your ‘fellow man’, so instead I will simply say this: I haven’t gone away, and neither has my pain. The only difference between me now and me six months ago is that I can no longer afford any of my medication, rent, or food and rely wholly on the kindness of others to ensure that I am able to exist.  I’m not alone in these struggles, and it is about damn time someone in the Alberta Government took a few steps back from ‘politician’ and took a look at what it means to be ‘human’.

Retrieved from: https://flic.kr/p/8rTRPb

More of one, less of the other

Sincerely,

Kathleen Anna Sawisky, Esq.