Monday, March 31, 2014

Ask James Anything Month: We Get Stacks and Stacks of Letters

Greetings from a motel in Yorkton, Saskatchewan!

It's been quite the whirlwind month for me since last we spoke; I've overseen the final episode of Winnipeg Internet Pundits, entrusted the physical Slurpees and Murder Record Club collection (there were a lot of records) to radiomaking sensation Christian Cassidy, bequeathed most of my vast fighting-game library to the fine folks at Chip Damage, guested on an episode of City Circus with Royal-Albert-saver Marty Gold, and done a lot of final-visiting and merrimaking with folks whenever I wasn't doing all that stuff I just mentioned above.

With very nearly all of my local -- well, 'local', now -- that'll take some getting used to -- (where was I) -- with very nearly all of my local loose ends tied up, I set out early this morning from Winnipeg with a car packed full of my remaining possessions. Sometime tomorrow evening I should be arriving in the wilds near La Ronge, Saskatchewan, or more specifically in a nearby Lac La Ronge subdivision that can only get internet by smartphone.

Not yet having a Saskatchewan smartphone, I'll be off the e-grid until I get that sorted out. So I'd better get this mailbag a-rolling!

Anonymous, 2014-03-02 08:08 asks says:


Me thinks you could all too easily find yourself living in the middle of nowhere Saskatchewan without any income...

Oh, I all too easily could! That is always, always a possibility. I'd been told this about librarianship at the outset, and it'd proven true a time or two since: you have to be doing it for love, because you won't be doing it for money.

That said: the position still existed even after someone else left it, and I made it all the way through the application and interview process without this position being cancelled, so I've got a really good feeling about this one. (And any-a y'all who think I'm kidding about that happening are clearly unfamiliar with the discipline.) And really, I've spent quite a fair bit of time already in my life living in the middle of nowhere Manitoba without any income -- so, hey! Even if this position evaporates into the mists -- as positions so often do, these days -- I'll at least have advanced myself to a nice refreshing change of scenery. And I'll be far enough north that catching and eating nearby animals seems more socially acceptable, which I am not necessarily ruling out.

boom, segue

unclebob asks:

"So an easy one- do you like to fish? "

I never really got into it, but I was too young for it when I first tried it, I think.

I would've been maybe ten or eleven -- too young to drink, certainly, which I'm convinced is the same reason that kids don't understand how adults can like olives -- and aside from impaling both myself and my little brother with a couple of errant casts, my primary memory of the experiment is catching a fish but being too kindhearted a child to kill it and rip every bone out of its body. Pretty glaring character flaw, that.

I am older and more patient now, of course, and also correspondingly about a thousand times better at food prep. So I'm entirely willing to give it another shot, this time around.

unclebob also asks:

"And a harder one - will Katz be run out of town? "

Run out, no; Winnipeg is a town where actions and decisions very rarely seem to have consequences. But he ain't as feisty as he used to be, and the current (complete) set of infrastructure problems would be a rather ill-advised flag to carry into battle, so I have a suspicion he'll leave on his own accord soon enough.

Anonymous, 2014-03-02 19:14 asks:

"Why do library schools (ha, ha, ha i meant Information schools, as if) keep expanding student numbers when it is getting harder and harder for librarians to find work? "


I fear the increasingly dark, dank and depressing world of academia is a discussion topic I wouldn't be able give its proper due here. The longer that one dwells on the numbers-games of ivory towers overall -- more students being admitted in a world of vastly fewer positions, with degrees worth comparatively less now than they've ever been before, taught by frustrated barely-paid sessionals because lecturing as a career field is in its own crisis and tenured positions are now all but impossible -- well, it's all sort of a mess, isn't it?

Now, let's say a program wanted to reverse this, out of the goodness of its anthropomorphized heart. Let's say a department went to its broader overall institution to propose keeping its same budget levels but admitting far fewer students, sacrificing both short-term revenue and eventual alumni-donation prospects (even with the knowledge that other schools' programs are constantly, constantly, constantly expanding), in the name of proving a point. It strikes me as an unlikely basis for approval, and I'm the one trying to be optimistic about this, so that probably tells us all we need to know about that.

It's definitely a library-school problem, for sure, but not exclusively so; it's a problem on the 'school' side rather than the 'library' side, if y'feel me. Think about what it means for the whole education model that law school is no longer a safe employment path, for cripes' sakes.

But then, if I knew how to solve the whole thing, I'd have tenure by now. And if I have a kid any time soon, I'm buyin' nothing but pipes and wrenches as toys. Yes, even if it's a girl. Especially if it's a girl.

Anonymous, 2014-03-02 20:06 asks says:

"Slim pickins huh. Take the time to develop another career. Have fun and only eat yellow snow every other day. "

You... do get that I just landed a permanent full-time position in the career I love and a place I'm excited to live, right? I should think there are worse fates. (I should know, I've lived a few of 'em.) But your support is appreciated, nonetheless.

Anonymous, 2014-03-03 11:59 asks:

"What's your sign?"

As an Aries, I don't believe in astrology.

Here's the thing: if I'd been born a day or two later, I'd've been a Taurus, and therefore would've been a wildly different pile of characteristics and personality traits.

"Because of the relative position of the sun and stars at the moment you were born, I can tell intuitively and immediately that you are compassionate, patient, warmhearted, dependable and loyal. Wait, you were born before midnight? Never mind, you're a dick, then."

Some astrology systems try to weasel past that by declaring "cusps" around the transition dates; the Aries-Taurus combination is thusly heralded the "Cusp of Power", running from April 17th to 21st, unless it actually runs from April 19th to 24th, unless it actually runs from April 15th to 25th. Depending on who you think is most trustworthy at reading your birthdate and drawing conclusions from it.

It probably didn't help my enthusiasm any that I'd occasionally look through the paper to kill time and get a load of cheerful escapism like this:

Thanks, stars. Thanks for that. friggin "cusp of power" how about you cusp my dick, how about that


Shaun M. Wheeler asks says:

"Sorry to see you go, James. Good luck on the new career!"

Thanks, man! Good luck with the newest blog incarnation; I'm looking forward to seeing how you tackle the new subject set!

Anonymous, 2014-03-04 10:09 asks:

"What's your opinion on the continuation of the Winnipeg Cat meme by a third party?"

Well, I was disappointed, mainly. I certainly wasn't in favour of it; they'd've known that if they'd asked me at all, which I imagine is why they didn't.

But I was moreso disappointed because it wasn't going to work out well for anyone. Let's say there was a beloved animal-themed internet site, with several updates a week and with years' worth of archives, that used the same art and same font in every image but got a pass for it because of its creativity and distinctive writer's voice. You probably know exactly where I'm going with this: Dinosaur Comics, by Ryan North. (Seriously, it's the best.)

Let's say I really liked Dinosaur Comics, and I felt inspired by it, and I wanted to do something like it. I could do anything in the world! Imagine all of the cool prospective spiritual successors I could attempt, with any idea I wanted, in any genre I wanted, in any media format I wanted. Infinite possibilities, infinite potential!

Now let's say I started a website that used the Dinosaur Comics template, and tried to write them like the original Dinosaur Comics, and called my site "Dinosaur Comics". Doesn't really have the same ceiling of artistic development and potential, does it? Not only that, but anything I'd produce would naturally be compared against Ryan North's Dinosaur Comics, and he has a head start of several years and perfect familiarity with the style.

Even if I thought I could write as well as Ryan North (and believe me, I don't) -- even if I busted my ass off for years, honing my craft tirelessly to some day be able to write better than Ryan North -- I would never be able to write like Ryan North, and the writing of Ryan North is why people like Dinosaur Comics.

All of that is what happened here, on an obviously much smaller and crappier scale. There're an awful lot of things that I'm not particularly good at, but I'm the best in the world at writing like me.

As I'd said on Twitter at the time, I'd love to one day be good enough to inspire people to try doing their own fun stuff -- but that doesn't mean try doing my stuff. Why would you even do that? I'm a terrible ceiling to limit yourself to. Build on my work, not under it. C'mon.

So I was disappointed, mainly. Some undisclosed person or people copied the template wholesale and did their best to be me, instead of attempting their own ideas and one day making something better than I ever could've made.

(If they'd waited two weeks, they could've done an Earl of Winnipeg and had roughly a million times the prospective readership base. There's something to be said for patience.)

As I'd also said at the time, I didn't see it lasting very long, and it didn't; they tried doing daily updates like I'd done and gave up after two weeks. Which just reinforces what I already could've told you: it ain't easy being me, man. They rebranded it after that as "" and made the site a big sloppy RSS aggregate of local outlets, which is off furiously spamming Twitter somewhere, but whatever, that probably fills a need. It's something, at least!

Anyway, all y'all be you, don't be me. There's your takeaway.

Sean asks:

"Re: Anonymous @ March 2, 2014 at 8:08 AM

Seriously, did you actually read what you linked to?

Sure they ran a small loss last year, but their cash reserves would allow them to continue operating in that state for at least another decade. As long as they continue to receive their 'Provincial/Territorial Funding' I'd say that they're a pretty safe bet for the coming future.

Sorry James, I don't want to start a flame war in your comment section, but I cannot abide clumsy interpretation of financial information.

Anonymous, 2014-03-05 17:07 responds:

"Sean, as a former board member of a library that is now part of the Winnipeg Library system I can assure you that you don't any basic concept of the operation and funding of any library system.

You comments won't start a flame war because I'm quit sure that anyone beyond their teens is well aware that when the vast majority of funding for any activity is provided by political grant (political whim) it could end virtually overnight and it's program end.

Have a nice day.

If you kids can't keep your hands to yourself, I'm gonna turn this car around, and there'll be no Cape Canaveral for anybody!

Ben Century asks:

"Dammit! I'm gonna miss your blog. It's been a joy to read and it's pretty much the only way I keep up with all the goofiness that goes on in Winnipeg.

So my question is... Are you gonna start a new blog called "Wheat and Roughriders"?

Aww, thanks! I don't know what I'll end up doing yet, out there; I won't have much in the way of dedicated interne--

Anonymous, 2014-03-12 11:52 contributes:

"Good one Ben, but I think that "Pilsner and Incest" would be a more appropriate title for a Saskatchewan blog (if he still bases the title on the region's popular drink and common crime). "


I won't have much in the way of dedicated internet access, at least not for the first few months, so I won't exactly be hurrying back into the game. I'm sure I'll end up doing something, though, soon enough!

I mean probably not with that last title but

The Analyst asks:

"Were there internal discussions at WIPs about finding a replacement host before deciding to kibosh the show?

What are your opinions on an unbalanced budget law?

Do the economies of scale from amalgamating rural municipalities outweigh the loss of unique communities?

Will you blog about Saskatchewanian politics?

Well, y'have to remember, I was the replacement host. Tessa had been our board operator and was able to make it down every Wednesday, until her hours changed and she wasn't, so at that point I scramble-learned how to operate the board and took over until I found out I'd be unable to make it down every Wednesday. (What with not being in the city. Or, uh, the province.) So there were discussions, yes, and they'd gone on for a while, and we all kept 'er running while we could, but ultimately the logistics of everyone being gainfully employed on Wednesdays didn't quite work out. Well, work out show-wise, I mean. Employment-wise it's pretty cool.

Unbalanced budget law makes sense to me economically, or at least it convinced me in the way I saw it explained, because I'm not an economist. And if it were solely economists and other rational actors in charge of the decisions, I'd be fully on board for them. But the ramifications politically make me suck wind through my teeth. "Don't worry, we'll pay off the spending some other year! When things get better. Whenever that is." Augh, and whenever things would recover governments would run the surplus just to boast about running the surplus, then protect it as a status symbol ("Look how well we're doing!"), and--eesh. I'm sure it can work, as an idea, I'm just not sure I'd trust anyone to implement it.

RM amalgamation really would've needed to be a post all by itself, because there are way too many moving targets for me to tackle them all succinctly. There's an underlying assertion of pigheaded RM self-preservation in the mandate of forced amalgamation, because it bases itself on the idea that there are significant savings to be made -- but if the savings are significant enough to clearly and overwhelmingly justify amalgamation, why wouldn't RMs have already been amalgamating en masse voluntarily? Were they not amalgamating because each and every one of them are territorial and fearful, or not amalgamating because the savings aren't worth it? A moot point with amalgamation forced, but still. Lots to unpack in there.


Deborah Ann says:

"Congratulations James, Well deserved, couldn't be happening to a better or nicer person as yourself. Those students will be lucky. Thanks for reading all my medical reports when you were at Herzing. All the best to you, I'd skip the part about eating the yellow snow or you might end up at my office. All the best. Debbie"

Thanks, Debbie! All the best to you, as well, and I'm glad to hear that everything's working out.

Well, folks, that'll do it for Ask James Anything Month; I had another special little surprise I was going to spring sometime soon, but that'll just have to wait until I see some solid internet signal again. You all take care of yourselves!


Mike said...

"If you kids can't keep your hands to yourself, I'm gonna turn this car around, and there'll be no Cape Canaveral for anybody!"

This hit way too close to home for me.

Erik said...

For when you get nostalgic for Winnipeg:

Remember the simpler times when Winnipeg Bus Drivers sang.