Give Me Dragons, Knights, Wizards, and Witches

I love fantasy books.

I’ve started and stopped this blog post several times. I was going to attempt to write why other people don’t like the genre as it would provide me with a starting point to outline, why I’m fascinated by it.

Then, I realized, I can’t do that. I’m not those people. I don’t have access to their thoughts and understanding of the world as to why they feel the way they do towards a particular genre of books.  I have friends and family who have told me why they don’t enjoy these types of books; but unless I’ve recorded their conversation and gained their consent to write about their views, there’s no guarantee I would correctly represent their thoughts and ideas in this blog post. A mind is a faulty machine, and time whittles away and bends truths once told to us.

So, let’s forget that.

Here are my reasons why I adore fantasy novels. Fantasy allows me to be swept away to a completely different time where trees may grow upside down and a child might have a two-headed labrador retriever. Unconstrained by our current world and what we already know to be true, the author can commence building their world; a world that is only limited by the author’s imagination. You can create a dark world where “Sluaghs” rule the world and live in black clouds. High up in the clouds, Sluaghs whip chains from above against the humans on earth, and they don’t care what gets caught in the whip on the way down. They randomly kill whales in the sea, trees in their way, and flowers in their path when a Sluagh’s wrist bends forward with the whip to strike anyone or anything below. The more damage they do, the happier the Sluaghs are.

Every person in the world is destined for hell, because they’ve given up and refuse to fight those who are above them.

There is no hope.  

Except, then the story turns when a man, Jackson, marries a fairy named, Prydem….

From there, a long history can be created that links families together. The history of the new world can be long and complicated. But as the Reader flips back through the tangled web of alliances forged and then broken, it becomes clear how what happened before, created the world and problems humanity now faces.  When reading such passages, I’m instantly mesmerized by the author’s detail in describing the new world or people, and I can’t help but wonder: Wow, how did they come up with that? 

Battles are fought both on large and small scales. That’s the beauty of fantasy: it’s the twisted, unexpected turn of events that keeps us belted into our chairs and hanging on tight as we bounce, swerve, and bump along the fantasy ride.

Of course, there’s some familiarity in the creation of fantasy novels with dragons, knights, witches, and wizards but you’ll have absolutely no idea how it will be used because a huge part of the genre is with the use of magic.

With magic, anything is possible.   

But here’s the real reason I love fantasy: life is hard, unpredictable, and challenging. Except, when it’s not because there’s a garden to weed, grass to cut, and floors to be swept and mopped. But when I open a book, I love diving in deep and being swept away to another place, far from anything I’ve ever known or expected. Whether the book is four hundred pages and change, or six hundred, if I open a fantasy book, I am transported to another time and place, where a bigger and more unpredictable adventure awaits.

That doesn’t mean I don’t read memoirs, thrillers, or mystery novels. I have, and most certainly, I will continue to do so and those to can transport me to another time or place.  But there’s something about reading a well-created new world that stokes my mind and my own imagination. For me, for a few days or weeks, I’ve found a place to hide that’s completely different from anywhere I’ve ever been, and where almost anything, is possible.

Affordable Housing: Why It Matters

I’ve been living in a bubble, and I know it. I’m lucky to have a roof over my head and have not given it a second thought in over a decade. Last year though, my eyes were rudely awakened to the fact that Ottawa is facing an affordable housing crisis when I searched for several months to find my mother an apartment. I was astounded to see that a one-bedroom apartment was expensive at over one thousand dollars per month and only increased from there. To my horror, a bachelor apartment began at nearly nine hundred dollars.

I found my mother an apartment after several months of searching.  Nicely settled, this is where I should no longer care.  Something continued to bother me though about the affordable housing crisis in Ottawa because I already knew both Vancouver and Toronto struggled with the same issue over the last several years. I pondered if the issue wasn’t only in a few cities, or if it had ballooned to a national epidemic. A few months ago, my worries were confirmed, when I read multiple articles in the CBC, The National Post, and in The Toronto Star that outlined multiple Canadian cities grappled to contain the housing shortage and included the small maritime town of Charlottetown, PEI. (https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/charlottetowns-housing-crisis).

I grew up in a family where my parents struggled financially. I know what happens when you live from paycheque to paycheque and “get by”.  A time comes, when you no longer have a paycheque, and there’s nothing in savings.

Then what? 

Then you borrow as much as you can and hope things will get better before you reach your borrowing limit.  Lucky for my family, I never experienced what comes after that. We managed (barely) to keep the roof over our heads, the heat and lights on, and some food in the fridge.

My father told me, you can always find work. I believed it. I also naively, believed, I could never be homeless.

Canada is not the only country attempting to address the affordable housing crisis.  Both the United States and the United Kingdom are attempting to tackle and correct the same issue. (I know about London, because I saw a Tube station sign there last year, stating the Mayor was working to address the issue.)

Recently, we planned a vacation to visit Portland, Oregon. We were aware affordable housing was a problem there too, and they now also tackled a homeless issue. (https://www.oregonlive.com/portland/2019/08/38000-in-portland-area-were-homeless-at-some-point-in-2017-study-finds.html )

I wasn’t prepared for what I saw there though. Along the interstate and under bridges, tents were pitched. Garbage littered the side of the highway and included a crumpled umbrella. In the city, we saw discarded socks on the paved sidewalks. In the city of Portland, during the day, homeless people sat on the curbs and stretched out and slept on the streets.

One day when we were on the train, I noticed a woman standing on the side of the road with a sign around her neck that read, “Houseless”. Below the word, was a simple request for a little money, whatever could be spared. The woman never looked up but focused her eyes on the sidewalk. She only raised her head, when a woman in a truck called to her and gave her some money.  The woman smiled at her gratefully and looked a little relieved.

I was mistakenly under the impression, homelessness occurred under particular circumstances such as drug addiction and youth fleeing an abusive home.  These were not excuses to ignore the problem but provided some context in order to explain how a person ended up on the streets. However, the reasons also conveniently and falsely reassured me, I might never be homeless.

If affordable housing continues to be a problem, I now know I could be. Examples of circumstances that may reduce my ability to earn an income include: if I’m unable to find work; if I suffer a serious health illness where I’m unable to work, or not able to work for a long period of time; or, when I’m a senior and need to find a rental apartment on a fixed income. As well, even if it doesn’t affect me directly, there’s a greater possibility it could affect family and friends.

Homelessness isn’t a risk for a small minority of the population if it ever was. There’s a risk it could or already is a national problem.  I know the time has passed where I can protectively fold my arms and say: It can’t happen to me. The point is passed too where I can shrug my shoulders and mumble: Someone else will take care of it. It’s not my problem.

Truth is I know affordable and low-income housing are problems in this city and in this country. Based on a December 2018 article in the CBC, it stated that homelessness in Ottawa had “risen by 21 percent.” (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/shepherds-good-hope-ottawa-homelessness-1.4946896) Somehow, I failed to notice it.

I have lots of reasons to step back on this topic: the politicians are addressing the issue; Canada has a large social system that might be able to manage and take care of those who are close to becoming homeless; and finally, who am I to make suggestions and try to help? I don’t have the experience and should leave it to the experts.

Portland’s changed me though. Now, I know I need to absolutely help if I can. Assuming, it’s not already too late.

One Of My Favorite Books: Sweep The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier

One of the books I’ve read in the last six months, and possibly one of my absolute favorites, is Jonathan Auxier’s historical fantasy novel, titled, Sweep The Story of a Girl and Her Monster.  In this book, Nan the central protagonist, is a young girl who’s a chimney sweeper and through her the reader is given a rich description of the treatment and dangerous working conditions children faced who worked in these jobs, in London in the late 1800’s. The conditions were dangerous due to accidents, but as mentioned a few times in the novel, there were also long-term health complications that sweepers faced from regularly inhaling soot from the fireplaces.

The introduction of  Charlie, who is the monster, only adds to the rich detail and beautifully layered way this story is told. Kind, protective, and gentle Charlie is given a child-like quality of seeing the world that only makes the reader want to protect him. However, it’s Charlie’s devotion to Nan, and Nan’s concern for him, that forces a reader to thumb through the pages quickly to find out how the story ends.

Why do I love this story? Historically informative, while interweaving elements of fantasy into the story, I was enthralled by this book. Add into this, the closely-knit camaraderie amongst most of the sweepers (with the exception of one), and the flashbacks to the Sweep who raised Nan in the early years of her life with kindness and devotion despite his poverty, and I could not put this book down. As well, there was also the call for activism by youth for social change, that was inspiring.

How could I not like this book?  

I know I didn’t say a lot about the plot. That was intentional, for fear of giving away too much in case some people want to read it. I love complicated, rich stories that are told in multiple layers. This book was absolutely one of my favorites for this reason. It’s been almost  six months since I read it, and the fact that I still think about it, says something.