Who talks, who listens

So Sweetie and I are watching Treme the other night (before The T.A.M.I. Show—I'll get to that in another post). We don't watch much TV, and we don't like paying for a tier of channels so we can watch one or two that we care about. So often we catch up on series from networks like HBO when they come out on DVD.

If you've never seen Treme, I recommend it highly. Very highly. It was co-created by David Simon (with Eric Overmeyer), who was responsible for The Corner and The Wire, both set in his home town of Baltimore (as was an earlier series he was involved with, Homicide: Life on the Streets). Treme is set in New Orleans, starting three months after Hurricane Katrina. It's about people trying to get back to normal life in their city with its unique culture. It chock full of music!

Like all of Simon's shows, Treme (the Tremé is a neighbourhood just northwest of the French Quarter, home to many a jazz musician) has wonderful, memorable characters. Included among them, maybe even more than in previous Simon shows, are wonderful, memorable female characters.

Ladonna Batiste-Williams (Kandi Alexander) is married to a dentist in Baton Rouge (where so many fled and stayed) but spends much of her time in New Orleans with her mother to try to find her brother, who seems to be lost in the prison system, and to keep her bar going. Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens) is a chef who runs her own regional haute cuisine restaurant, which in the wake (literally) of the hurricane is having a tough go. Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo) is the kind of lawyer who spends most of her time trying to help people deal with a broken system.

We just watched season one, episode five. There were two scenes that really struck me. Simon and company are very deliberate in what they put on screen, so I have to think I was supposed to be struck.

The evening before, Janette had made dinner for four well known New York chefs and really impressed them. It won't pay Janette's bills, but it was a personal triumph for her. So the next day at a second line parade, she finds her erstwhile boyfriend, Davis (Steve Zahn) (who is really more like a guy she sometimes sleeps with). She tells him she has great news. He doesn't even listen. He cuts her off, shows her a CD that he had just made for an ersatz campaign for city council, and then takes off. She never gets to share her news.

Well, maybe that's just Davis. He's an asshole who thinks only of himself. But then later, there's a scene where Toni comes home to her husband Cray (John Goodman), an English professor at Tulane, after a really hard day. She's been trying to locate Ladonna's brother, trying to deal with another friend's missing trombone (stolen by police), all kinds of shit. She walks in and tells her husband something like "you wouldn't believe the day I just had." Does he listen? He does not. He cuts her off and tells her about his own bad news, admittedly rather serious, about probably having to return an advance on a book he hasn't finished over the course of something like six years. Like Janette, Toni never gets to share her own story.

In both cases, neither man even makes an attempt to listen to the woman. He immediately goes into talking mode. Not listen, then share. I imagine there are people who would not have been struck by that. I definitely was.

And then there's Annie (Lucia Micarelli). Annie is a very talented, classically trained violinist who can play just about any style. She and her Dutch boyfriend Sonny (Michiel Huisman) busk on Bourbon Street for the tourists. She's a far better musician than he is. She almost turns down a couple of great gigs when he is out of town. She is fiercely loyal. He is nothing of the kind—jealous, yes, but not loyal. He cares much more about himself than about her. Yet she circumscribes her own life because of him. She is not only loyal. Despite her talent, she seems to lack the confidence to go her own way.

I think women in western society really have come a long way over time. I think there is more equality of the sexes than there used to be. But it's amazing just how insidious sexism can be. Some men, at least, just don't see it in themselves. Sonny is a jerk anyway, so we don't expect much from him. We just hope that Annie will learn that she has so much more to offer than he even cares about. But Davis, despite being an asshole, is a university-educated ostensible radical, a crusader for social justice, at least in his own mind. And like the radicals of the late 1960s, of whom he often reminds me, he never seems to understand that gender inequality, in the most ingrained ways, is at least as much of a problem as the social ills against which he constantly rails and indeed is part of them. And Cray is a genuinely good guy. I'm sure he loves Toni, as she loves him. They have a good marriage. But still, he would rather talk than listen. He might not even know how to listen.

Small, subtle things still can have a huge impact. But the smaller and more subtle, the more difficult they are to change. Yet we must change them.


Thanks, I made 'em myself

A little while ago, I received an invitation to Google+. If you don't know what Google+ is, as far as I can tell it's pretty much a clone of Facebook. People talk about it being better integrated with other services (certainly with the rest of Google). That doesn't matter to me. The only thing I use Facebook for, and Google+ if it comes to that, is to stay in touch with people I care about.

Google+ comes with some preset groups called "circles," which allow you to control (more easily than on Facebook, I think) who sees which things you post. The presets are Family, Following, Friends, and Acquaintances. Each also has a description. Here's the one for Friends: "Your real friends, the ones you feel comfortable sharing private details with." And here's the one for Acquaintances: "A good place to stick people you've met but aren't particularly close to." Of course there can be lots of gradations in between, and I've already created new groups. Still, the basic division got me wondering.

There's a cheeky saying that gets around (in various forms): A friend will help you move, but a really good friend will help you move the body. I have no plans to whack anyone, but I get the point. Somewhere between "sharing private details" and "moving the body," maybe I can figure out what makes a real friendship at a time when people (including me) have hundreds or even thousands of "friends" on Facebook. Since my Facebook list is loaded (yes, a couple hundred) and Google+ is still just getting started, I figured I'd experiment with new Facebook groups, using Google+ as a model.

First, I have to separate local from remote. I have people I consider genuine friends, people with whom I share private details (and who might even help me move the body) but who live far away. I put effort into maintaining friendship with people far away. We email, IM, and talk on the phone. I value my far-away friends. But when I call them, it's not to hang out and spend face time together. That happens only if we meet up somewhere (which in some cases has happened).

So I'm looking at my local friends, and I realize I have some lists in my head. "Acquaintances" is a pretty easy one, although there can be levels of that too. I know a lot of people I say hi to, maybe hang out in a group with. They're all people I like or else they wouldn't be on my Facebook list. I'm more drawn to some than to others. I'm sure that works both ways.

Then there are those few with whom I actually spend "quality time," even if perhaps not recently. We go out to dinner. We get together for coffee. We might go to an event together. We sit and talk and share our lives. These are people I treasure, and I want to make sure I do my part to keep these friendships thriving. It's not always easy. We all get busy. I fear that I am sometimes not as good about keeping up as I ought to be. But I've found that real friends are ones you might not speak with for a while, but then when you do it's as though you haven't been apart at all.

The friends who would help me move the body make up a pretty small group. I don't think it's possible or even desirable to have more than a few intimate friends. Still, there are people outside that group whom I would like to know better. When I see them, I'm happy. It's great to chat and catch up. I would love more.

My close friends are close because something clicked. Who knows how or why that happens? When it happens between two people who are both on the same wavelength, it's wonderful! But it's not something that happens often. Sometimes it's asymmetrical—it takes two to tango, right? Sometimes two people don't click in quite the same way. There are a lot of variables involved in whether a friendship forms or not. And if it does, it has to be nurtured from both sides. You don't get to the stage where you can not see each other for a long time but it's still OK for quite a while.

It was great to see women at the Girls Rock Camp Vancouver Showcase last night whom I had not seen in too long. In a few weeks, my women's wine and book club will meet, the first time for me in a couple of months. Hopefully there will be some more dine-out meetups coming up. I actually inherited a Meetup group that I'm not quite sure what to do with but don't want to lose. There are people in all those groups and beyond whom I would love to know better. There are people with whom I might or might not click. All I can do is to be open and aware, and to be myself. You can't force a click. But you can be ready for it.


Orthography, eh?

I missed writing this on Canada Day! Sorry, I have a few other things going on right now. But I figure it's Canada Day long weekend, smooshing into US Independence Day, so I'll still write what I planned to write.

I migrated here from the United States. As you might expect of someone who did such a thing, I have long been a Canadaphile. I was in love with Canada, French and English, land of all my ancestors, well before I realized I would live here. And one of the many things about Canada that I love is the way we spell.

Now, that's not an easy thing to love. Why? Because we can't always figure out what "Canadian spelling" actually is! It's somewhere between British and American, but sometimes it's also both.

We drive our cars on tires, not tyres, and parallel park at the curb, not the kerb. I am the organizer of a Meetup group. I'm supposed to organize events. Unlike in the UK, both spelled with a "z" (yes, that's "zed"). But I am a member of an organisation, spelled with an "s." There are lots of those. We can't figure out whether we analyse or analyze a situation, but those of us who are civilized live in a civilisation.

Just as in Britain, I have a driver's licence, and the federal government has a ministry of defence, but if we want a drink we hope a restaurant is licensed, and if challanged on something we might become defensive. It takes practice to get to Carnegie Hall (or maybe Roy Thomson Hall), so if we want to get there we'd better make the time to practise. I see those and words like them get messed up on both sides of the pond, some going with US spellings "to practice" and "driver's license" and others writing "over-correctly" about "piano practise." The rule is consistent though: if it's a verb or an adjective derived from a verb, use an "s"; if it's a noun, use a "c." I will leap to the defence of this spelling convention! To learn it, I just had to practise a bit.

The middle of something is the centre. I try to get more fibre in my diet. I am 176 centimetres tall (in bare feet). But if I were measuring how high an airplane is flying, I'd use an altimeter. We distinguish between "meter" (something for measuring) and "metre" (the basic Système Intérnational unit of length). Except when we don't. I believe we can blame Alberta for that one.

And then there is the one that everyone knows about. We use spellings such as "colour" and "honour," right? Well, maybe. If you consult the Canadian Press style guide, you use the shorter form. Apparently, use of the American spelling for those words has been around pretty much as long as Confederation. I remember when Maclean's magazine officially stopped using the CP guide and began to spell those words like "real Canadians." Because, indeed, the "ou" spellings do prevail. Just not always.

And in case you thought it was simple, it's not. A picture might be colourful, but a noble act is honorable. And even though I love glamour, I have to remember that the dress I bought (or didn't buy) is glamorous.

I learned to spell in more-or-less standard Canadian by deliberate effort. I can only imagine how difficult it is to learn when you're growing up. You get the correct spellings in school (hopefully), but US television, publications, and advertising flood across our border. And then even the newspaper of record, the Globe and Mail, sometimes gets it wrong.

I'm not giving up. I don't live in the UK or especially in the US, and I'm not going to spell as if I do. I earned my English degree in the United States, but as an adaptable pedant (is that an oxymoron?), I am now thoroughly Canadianized. But not Canadianised. I think.