MOAR Gàidhlig Agus Cèic: New Year in Auld Scotland

Source (and a very good article): http://gaelic.co/gaelic-identities/

I’m trying to get better about updating here again. I spent so much of 2015 and 2016….and 2017 utterly burned out from blogging and totally overwhelmed that I feel like a wobbly wee fawn trying to walk for the first time into 2018. But! It’s a new year and there’s all sorts of stuff going on, so I thought I’d give a brief overview of what, however random (spoiler: probs very) it is.

1. Gaelic EVERYTHING. I started taking an Ùlpan Gaelic class in…October I think. I spent about fifteen years wishing really hard I would learn Gaelic by osmosis or something, along with some very ill-fated attempts to learn the language on my own from books, which did not work out. Two things dovetailed at the tail end of 2017, though (three, really). Moving to Glasgow and Partick in erm….Partickular….plunked me right in the heart of Glasgow’s Gaelic world. There are at least three Gaelic choirs in Glasgow, along with lots of classes, an entire centre/bookshop/Gaelic section of the library, and heaps of events. I started class and choir about the same time, and in two months I’m starting to understand things, can differentiate phonemes, and am recognising familiar words. Good place to be for an early learner!

2. MOAR GAELIC. Tha mi duilich–I’m sorry–did you think I was done? AHAHAHAHA. Me being me, I obsessively dig into my special interests, and in this case, I stumbled across a book called Fluent Forever that described a method of language acquisition that felt really natural to me. I’ve been applying it along with using the Mango language app (Gaelic is free on the app!) to supplement, and I am finding it’s clicking really well. I’ll try to periodically update my progress–the biggest thing I’m relieved about is having access to actual audio files and getting to interact with people who are native speakers, since that was something I flat didn’t have for ages. LearnGaelic.scot has 70,000 audio files if you are a struggling Gaelic learner–so glad I found it.

3. CHOIR. I sang in school choirs for years, and I really have missed making music. It’s been incredible to be part of this one, and we were even on the telly for Christmas Eve/Day on BBC Alba! V exciting. We’re performing with Mànran for the closing party of Celtic Connections a week from today, which will also be great, and in addition, the choir is about to celebrate its 125th anniversary in March, along with our director’s 50th year in the choir and 35th as the director, so there is going to be a fancy concert and fancy celebratory To Do.

4. Writing just like…everything in sight. I’m working on a sequel, a prequel, a YA contemp and a novelette. I wrote a picture book, a short story, and I’m about to start a screenplay. I’ve been actually writing again for the last two weeks, and I’m afraid I’m going to hex myself out of it, so I’m going to stop with that now. Suffice it to say that I’ve got a new book coming out in July (HEARTHFIRE) and miles to go before I sleep.

5. …Yoga? El oh el. You read that right. Me! Yoga! In the same sorta sentence! I’m doing Yoga With Adriene’s TRUE, a 30 day yoga challenge. I can sum it up thusly, in a real thing Kristin and I said to each other earlier today: “is she going easy on us or are we just getting stronger?” My wrists used to hate me and flinch every time she said to peel up into downward facing dog. Now I’m enjoying it! I used to hate forward folds, but now I can actually touch the floor, and having permission to modify by bending my knees a little is helping me get to a point where I don’t need to, which is great. I’m noticing some changes in my body with it, in my strength and endurance, which is reeeeally welcome. Enough so that I’m planning to keep it up and see what happens. I like that Adriene encourages you to explore rather than simply “do this.” It stripped away a lot of what I always felt made yoga really inaccessible to me, and she puts a heavy focus on self care. I like her lots.

6. Flossing. Y’all. Allow me to humble myself and say that at age 33 I have had an epiphany. I decided to floss every day for a week because I’ve never fucking flossed really in my life and my gums were swollen and I was getting aches and stuff in spite of never having had a cavity and erm. WELL. NO MORE. I’m now about a month into Actually Flossing Every Day and several things: my gingivitis is gone, my teeth don’t hurt, my gums don’t bleed anymore, some stubborn plaque is going away, and on top of all of that, fewer headaches. -_- This may be a no-brainer for most people, who knows. But maybe the dentists are right. *cough*

7. No poo. Yet another thing out of left field and already I feel like I am crunchier than I ever meant to be just using those two words together, buuuuuut as this is very much just a Me Experiment, ymmv etc etc etc. I have curly hair but didn’t uh…know it for a long time? I used so much heat on it and it kept getting supremely fucked up. I thought it was scalp psoriasis for a while. I thought it was build up for a while. I tried clarifying shampoos and medicated ones and noooothing helped. Finally a hairdresser a few years ago was like “This is caused by EXTREME dryness.” I’ve coloured my hair for ages, and tl;dr, my head was manufacturing way more sebum (y is this word so gross) than it needed. I got it under control by spacing out washes and only using things I knew worked for me, but it wasn’t enough.

I started noticing that my hair was getting ringlets under my ears and was like, “Huh.” My hair had been wavy since I was a kid, but I always just sort of assumed it wasn’t really? I dunno. I have no explanation. Anyway, my friend Elizah suggested I only shampoo the scalp and only condition the ends, which helped, and my hair started looking even CURLIER. But it was still really dry. I finally went into this huge rabbit hole trying to figure out what my curl pattern was and learning how to actually care for my hair (I’m between a 2C and a 3A–spirals when wet, etc.) I’d tried plopping before (Google it), but it wasn’t till I tried twisting it that I realised how much it wanted to spiral. If you look at certain pictures of me from the past few months where I’ve got hair in springy ringlets? Yeah, that’s literally just me twisting big chunks of it when it’s damp and then leaving it alone. O_O

Exhibit A:

So finally, after getting horribly frustrated for years with how my hair kept getting brittle and dry and so sticky/tangled I couldn’t get a brush through it, I thought what the hell. I’d try the no poo thing and try water only washes and see what happens. I started doing the following:

a. Brush it before showering.

b. Massage whole scalp under hot water like I would with shampoo, pulling my whole hands down the sides to the ends.

c. Condition the ends and comb through.

d. Twist or plop it after shower.

That’s it. I shampooed it a teensy bit last Sunday after a week of only water to see what would happen and sort of…control for the times I didn’t. In two weeks, my hair is springier, softer, and curlier and like…I do not know, my friends. My head doesn’t stink (and see above, re: yoga, because I have gotten sweaty), my scalp doesn’t itch as much, and I can always comb through it. I’m going to keep on for a while at least to see how it goes but holy crap, if this keeps working I will never buy shampoo again. shrug.gif

8. Celtic Connections, holy shit. So this festival is truly special. I ended up serendipitously (I keep using that word because stuff like this JUST KEEPS HAPPENING) being given a ticket to see Julie Fowlis after my daft arse bought the wrong one, and I got to spend the evening with a lovely sister and brother from Barra and their entire extended family, because why not? What a magical night it was. Remember that! A couple days ago, we went to Binneas nam Ban, a production celebrating the women bards of Scotland. My choir was out in force to support one of our members in the house band, and not only was it a spectacular evening of Gaelic song and story, but community and connection (dare I say….Celtic….Connection? Oh I dare.) with folks from the choir and then I ran into the Barra folks again, which was delightful. What an excellent…everything.

9. Random familial stuff? For all the (valuable and nuanced and necessary) conversation around DNA testing, I did the thing a few years ago and had a few surprises, but now with evolving tech and databases, the place I did it is showing some interesting additional information–like tracing specific places in regions where it’s probable your ancestors came from. Which really is fascinating. I’m taking it with a few grains of salt, but what they showed matched up with a lot of family oral history, my own previous research, and the research done by my aunties, so basically: kinda cool.

There’s the Polish Jewish woman from the Polish/German borders in the 19th century when my family butted up against the border–she shows up on the map (!) and in family oral traditions/handwritten family tree (thanks, Aunt Doti!), since certain Yiddish words trickled through the generations, which I find really amazing considering she was vastly outnumbered by German Protestants. My Scots Irish chunk from Donegal in Northern Ireland–they’re there. And all over Scotland, including my beloved Inverness and Glasgow. Inverness is where I hypothesised that an ancestor called Ann Lachlan came from in the late 18th century, and it could or could not be her, but either way: kind of rad to see some of the places I’ve felt drawn to over time actually on that map? *makes spoopy noises*

There’s a big blotch over Rannoch Moor where the it’s likely the Mearses hailed from, and a surprising patch out on the Isle of Jura, which was a wee serendipitous coincidence considering we’re singing a Jura song in choir (An t-Iarla Diurach, if anybody’s curious). There are dots around the Black Forest in Germany where some folk came from as well, and just generally kind of a cool thing to see unfold. Blood is what it is–it gets no special powers to decide who gets to be where (or shouldn’t, anyway) but it can provide us interesting looks back. Another sort of tangential point this all brings up is this: these things have passed overwhelmingly matrilineally. It has been, without exception, female family members doing this, and from female family member mouths I’ve heard these stories and gotten information.

I am interested in the curiosity and stories that looking backward this way lends itself to. I’m interested in exploring with an open heart and enjoying the incredible diversity and intrepid spirit of human migration wherever it leads or began. Having had people who came before me doesn’t make me who I am, but it can help me understand them, perhaps. What made them go or stay–and as an immigrant myself returning to one of those places, what made me do it too. It certainly wasn’t those blots on a map or leaves on my family tree that brought me here wholly, but the spirit of a place where, like so many did for so long going to America, I felt I would be welcome and encouraged to build a better life. Initially I came here because I wanted to see where they’d come from, but I decided I needed to move back because it felt like home due to the people who are here now–what matters to them and how they treat each other. The kind of home they want to build is a kind of home I want to be part of building too.

Some of my family in ages past left their homes under similar conditions and political upheaval as I just did. That is a somewhat sobering thing, but it is also an encouraging one. Things must have seemed pretty hopeless in the 18th century Scottish highlands and islands. Things are a little dodgy here now with Brexit, but they are hopeful, too. And certainly Gaelic is thriving here, almost three hundred years later, when perhaps my ancestors thought it would be wiped off the earth. Their oral traditions and storytelling made their way through centuries, and that is far more powerful than blood alone.

I’ll end this with a song by Libby Roderick, who is one of my all time heroes of song and a true Alaskan bard. It’s called Bones.

BONES

Words and music by Libby Roderick
c Libby Roderick Music 1997
BMI. All rights reserved.
From Lay it All Down

I come from a long line of dead people
I come from a tall pile of bones
My people lie sleeping all under the world
Their souls turn to roots, leaves and stones.
My grandpa went by whiskey in an L.A. hotel
His dad died of Ohio coal
And before him, and before that, they slipped under the ground
Fewer bones walk above than below.
My great grandmother’s eyes stare out from my face
Her skinny bones dance around in my clothes
You can almost hear the whisper of her sweet southern song
In this voice I’ve been calling my own.
A toast to the living, walk us walk down the aisle
So these bones can be married to the flesh for awhile.
A song, a song for the living, though the flesh worries when
These bones will be leaving to join family again.
I come from a long line of dead people….

A Many-Patterned Strangeness

I likely ought to be working on NaNo stuff or Patreon stuff or any number of other Stuffs, but it’s been a wee while since I updated here, and I’d like to get back into the habit of blogging more. (They said, for the fourteenth time in the past year without actually doing it.)

We’ve now been in Glasgow for almost two months. We have a flat and bank accounts and internet (at long last!). I’m drinking copious amounts of tea (which here is available most often in packages of 150-200 bags–take notes, America and your 20-bag boxes). I wanted to reflect a little on the changes since the move.

I also feel a little awkward doing so, because things have been bleak in the States. (Today, however, there was good news to wake up to, as well as no small amount of schadenfreude that that horrid bathroom bill author in Virginia lost the state rep race to a trans woman.)

  1. My mental health is better. Full stop. I almost don’t even need to elaborate. It’s just BETTER. I wake up in the morning happy. I get silly swells of emotional whatsit just walking down Dumbarton Road here in Partick, even if someone didn’t clean up after their dog or whatever. The air smells better here. It’s cleared away the fog. I rest easy knowing we’re in the bosom of Nicola Sturgeon and her dogged defence of Scotland’s social systems. I have also, no fewer than three times, seen a non-binary gender option on *official forms*. The option to chose MY ACTUAL TITLE instead of getting shoehorned into binary terms. The Glasgow City Council was one, for fuck’s sake.
  2. I have a GP literally across the street. No, really. I can walk out the door of our building, keep going, and run right into it. My healthcare is taken care of. I got two prescriptions filled in September. You go to the pharmacy, they fill them, they hand them to you, you leave. Notice anything missing in that list? I didn’t leave anything out. I read an essay yesterday that a friend shared, by a man expressing absolute love for his best friend, who moved in with them when his wife got cancer. There was a line in that essay that will fucking haunt me. He said: I juggled money because nobody would die if we didn’t pay our taxes, so the hospitals and surgeons came first. (Essay here.) That is something that should never be said, especially so casually as to basically be a throwaway statement in passing. America’s healthcare is criminal. That’s all.
  3. I am doing things I have wanted to do for ages. Not just living here, but I found a Gaelic class thanks to a friend, and it’s a 24 week course that transitions into more units, and basically the whole time Monsieur is at pharmacy school, I’m going to be learning Gaelic, hopefully to fluency over the next few years. Not only is this a massive bucket list item for me, but it’s good job security, as it’s a highly sought skill here. My classmates are a wide spectrum of ages, a few from the islands whose parents are native speakers, others who want to get in touch with older roots, and the class itself is taught with the Ùlpan method that originated in the Middle East, wherein everything is taught in the target language with very, very little explanation in English. I AM FUCKING ECSTATIC.
  4. I’m reading more. I’ve read more books in the past two months than I read in the past year. I’m rereading the Wheel of Time. I’m reading ALL THE BIRDS IN THE SKY by Charlie Jane Anders. I just finished THE MYSTERY OF HOLLOW PLACES by Rebecca Podos. I’m excited about books again.
  5. I’m writing more. More importantly, I’m wanting to. I’ve been utterly crushed by the industry for the past couple years. I’ve been constantly battling the nihilism of “what’s even the point of submitting”, which isn’t healthy? Really not healthy.
  6. I feel safer. This isn’t really an illusion. It is safer here, physically and psychically, for someone like me. Just in general, really. Again, I’m serious. Crime happens here. Violent crime happens. But the drop off in odds for it to happen is so stark it’s a cliff, moving from America to here.
  7. I’m exploring my world. We went to Loch Lomond. Canoed. Talked shit to some ducks. Sailed about with some swans. Walked at twilight and watched the stars come out in a perfectly clear sky. I reunited with Jordan after six long years. I finally got to meet his amazing dog Dougie! I’ve reconnected with old friends and connected with new ones. I get to finally meet a Welsh friend in person next week, and more folks on Friday! Went to a neighbour’s party! (Hi Sara! COME HANG WITH THE CATS AND BRING YOUR SISTER.) I miss some Stateside people so much it hurts, but I can’t wait to show them around my home here.
  8. I’m playing. Playing! Sometimes that’s video games and sometimes it’s wandering about charity shops or finding new Pokemon around Glasgow or painting (!!!) or learning to KNIT or any number of other things.

This is a good place to be. A good place. I am so thankful to be here that I get all weepy and emotional at random moments during the day and then get embarrassed and SHUT UP WHAT ARE YOU LAUGHING AT.

I haven’t had a whole lot of dreams come true before. This list is a bunch of really, really big ones.

So yeah. Life’s good here. We’re going to Paris for our anniversary (aka Christmas/Boxing Day). We’re going to Inverness for my birthday (Monsieur surprised me). I got to speak Gaelic with humans for the first time ever after fourteen years of desperately wanting to learn. I’m about to hit the mystical age of 33. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I’m actually looking forward to my birthday.

Here’s a bunch of pictures, including lotsa selfies because why not. ENJOY.

What Goes Around

Today I woke up in Glasgow.

 

Three years ago today, I woke up in Silver Spring, Maryland, looking northeastward in the direction of a land about to decide its own future.

 

I hoped Scotland would vote yes that day.

 

In the three years since, much has happened in Scotland and the world beyond. In me, too. Three years ago I also made a choice. It wasn’t the placing of an X in a box marked No or Yes, but it was as momentous and it was as decisive.

 

Three years ago, I crept up upon my 30th birthday in a year that rivals the worst of my life. The years since have been full of disappointment, upheaval, not a little bit of floundering, and a lot of pain. But in the midst of all that (neither in spite of it or because of it), I met my partner on a train.

 

What’s odd (much is odd) of our meeting isn’t so much the manner of it but the orbitals of our lives that brought us near one another many times before that day, on two continents, in three countries. When he was growing up in California, I was visiting the San Fernando valley. When he was living in Hamilton, Ontario, I was visiting Julia in St. Catharines. When I was living in Scotland, he passed through Glasgow.

 

Sometimes we take circuitous routes to get somewhere.

 

Ten years ago, I likely could have moved here. I could have gone directly from my history programme into a graduate programme in Glasgow or Edinburgh, stayed under the Fresh Talent Initiative, and perhaps by now have been a citizen. Perhaps I could have voted in that referendum in 2014.

 

The world has changed since then.

 

Sometimes I feel like my fate is inextricably connected to Scotland’s. Those choices we struggle to make for ourselves are pendulous things. Who’s to say what a No or a Yes will mean until it does? What’s important is the choice itself and the ability to make it. It’s the ability to effect change in your life and others’, and in the course of that change, to recognize that in the midst of disappointment, upheaval, floundering, and pain that wondrous things can happen, things that shift your course just a bit, just enough, so that maybe a little farther on than you expected it to happen, you find yourself where you really need to be.

 

2016 was that year none of us could predict. We were all there—I won’t rehash it. But it came out of seeming nowhere and shook many of us to our toes. We’re going to feel the aftershocks for a long, long while going forward.

 

There’s hope, though, in spite of those tremors.

 

When you spend a day or a decade with held breath, looking in one direction and hoping, only to be disappointed, it can feel sometimes like it leaves you teetering on a precipice. The winds can get you there, with your toes curled over the edge and your arms milling against the force of them. It takes time to find solid ground, and sometimes we slide and scrabble before we can stand again.

 

I didn’t make it here ten years ago. When I came back seven years ago, it was as if I was walking through a dream of maybe. My life didn’t fit where I wanted it to, then. When I left, I felt certain I’d be back, just like the certainty I think many of us feel in the quiet moments, listening to the rain. Then, as now, the key is that when we get back there, when we get back to that home-moment of maybe, of hope—that we do not try to reach it alone.

 

Sometimes even together it’s not enough, not quite, but togethers can grow until they can be.

 

It’s been three years since that day, and I am home, and there is hope, and I’m ready to move forward. This time I didn’t come alone.

80 Years to Forget: We Can Do Better

In 2012-2014, I had the opportunity to be involved with Scotland’s referendum for independence with National Collective. Even from across the pond, Ross Colquhoun was kind enough to publish my thoughts about an independent Scotland’s unique opportunity, and I made friends with several of the other creative folk who spearheaded the Yes movement.

Let’s back up.

I lived in Inverness, Scotland on and off while I was at university. I spent summer holidays there, living in the Inverness Tourist Hostel and cleaning toilets for my roof, spending my off days wandering by the Ness River or doing wee day trips to go hillwalking. My first summer there was 2004. I met a Polish guy that summer as I made a cup of tea in the salmon-painted kitchen. He was stirring a pot of baked beans on the stovetop, and he asked in hesitant English, “You are American. What do you think of George Bush?” He asked the question with an impish grin, a sort of sideways smirk.

I’d been in the kitchen listening to him talk to his friends, wondering what language they were speaking, since to me it sounded like a mix of French and Russian. I was excited that he spoke to me. He and I became fast friends, and my little neuroatypical self decided to learn Polish from scratch.

The next year there were more Poles in Inverness, the next even more. Paweł was still around, and when I came back in 2006, it was after my first semester in Kraków, my Polish nearly fluent. Around that time, about 10% of Inverness’s population was Polish. I expected to hear anti-Polish sentiments from the Scots around me, because I was used to the way people in Denver talked about “the Mexicans”. I’m sure some people voiced them; but never to me. To the contrary, what I heard from Inverness residents was that the Poles who had come to their city were hard-working, generous, and welcome.

I still talk to Paweł sometimes. His English became fluent and touched by Scottish cadences. He now lives in Poznań with his wife and has a business with his brother. He and I emailed just recently, almost 12 years after we first met. The EU gave me that friendship.

***

I mentioned I lived in Kraków. I did, from February of 2006 until August of 2007.

My field of study was History, with an emphasis on the Second World War, the Holocaust, and the sociology of authoritarianism and fascism.

I had a phenomenal professor at the Jagiellonian University named Annamaria Orla-Bukowska, who regularly found opportunities for her students to be involved in Holocaust Remembrance. I also dated a German man who was doing his year of civil service as a mediator of high school visits to Auschwitz-Birkenau in the Polish town of Oświęcim. Those two life situations converged in interesting ways. Through Professor Orla-Bukowska, I had meet-ups with visiting Israeli students, participated in counter-protests of Poland’s rising far right, and got to have access to her wealth of expertise. Through my ex-boyfriend, I was invited to participate in the Day of Remembrance at the camps themselves, where I got to meet survivors, hear their stories firsthand.

At a reception following an event at the Youth Meeting House in Oświęcim, I sat down at a table next to two old men. One of them greeted me in Polish with a twinkle — earlier that day he’d thrown the centre into a tizzy when he refused to speak Polish and instead gave his address in English, to hastily assembled translators who had been prepped to translate Polish-German and Polish-French, but not English at all — and he asked where I was from.

I told him Montana, and he immediately crossed his arms and looked affronted. “Why didn’t you bring me a horse?” he asked in Polish.

I promised him that the next time I was in Brooklyn, I’d bring him one.

He then took the man’s hand across the table and said, “You know how I know him?”

I said I didn’t. He said, “We were in first grade together in Łódź. First grade. We both got sent to Auschwitz. And we never saw each other there! But we both survived. And we met, later, again, at a survivor’s event in the sixties.”

The other man smiled at me, and I remember thinking so clearly how fortunate I was to get to meet them, to hear that. To remember.

***

There is a group in Poland called the Obóz Narodowa Radykalna, the Radical Nationalist Camp. They are, quite evidently, a far right, fascist group.

One of the counter protests I attended was because they were marching through Kraków in 2006.

They performed the Nazi salute.

They carried signs that said “Polska dla Polaków” — Poland for the Poles.

***

In 1931, Poland looked like this:

Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 11.00.38 AM
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_census_of_1931

After the Second World War, 3 million of Poland’s 3.1 million Jewish people were gone, along with millions of Poles and other ethnic minorities. Poland’s population was no longer 32 million, but 23 million.

Today, Poland is 97.7% ethnically Polish.

***

There were two black professors I met briefly at UJ, one from the Caribbean and one from South America.

Both of them had been physically assaulted in Poland. One was knifed and hospitalised.

***

Throughout Europe and America, there has been a resurgence of populist, nationalist movements.

Donald Trump says he’s going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. Farage gloated about Brexit by saying UKIP achieved their goals “without a single bullet being fired.” Guess he forgot about Jo Cox’s murder and has the apparent memory span of a goldfish, since it was only nine days ago.

In Orlando, over one hundred LGBTQ* people were murdered this month, most of them Latinx.

Greece. France. Spain. Denmark. Switzerland. Austria. Macedonia.

All have majority or significant minority representation of nationalist parties right now.

So let’s go back to Scotland.

***

Scotland’s SNP, the Scottish Nationalist Party, literally has “nationalist” in the name. Their aim has been Scottish independence from the United Kingdom, something I’ve heard clueless American Republicans bawl about something something Braveheart, “FREEDOOOOOM” without looking any closer.

Two years ago, you’d hear the Better Together camp talking about “nats” as if they were buzzy little flies swarming around the face of the United Kingdom.

It is sort of an ingenious political manoeuver, to reduce the SNP to that.

The SNP’s version of nationalism is so far from UKIP, Farage himself looks like a gnat in the distance.

The SNP’s desire for an independent Scotland, in the past decade I’ve observed it, has been predicated on several things:

  1. Labour’s failure to address the needs of Scottish workers.
  2. Scotland repeatedly and emphatically voting against Tory rule in Westminster only to be saddled with Tory governments and Tory Prime Ministers and Tory austerity.
  3. Pro-EU, outward looking progress.
  4. Inclusivity, equality, and social democratic values.
  5. Protecting the NHS.
  6. Empowering young people.

That is so radically different than the ethnically or racially based nationalism we’re seeing elsewhere. During the Yes campaign, the dialog invited contribution from immigrants, non-white Scots, LGBTQIA people. And over and over I saw the message they were sharing: it doesn’t matter who you love, where you came from, or what you look like. If you make your home here, you are Scottish, and you are welcome.

Hell, five of Scotland’s party leaders — including Ruth Davidson of the Conservatives and David Coburn of UKIP  — are repping the G, L, or B in that acronym.

I currently live in America. Even in staunchly liberal Maryland I can’t — CANNOT — imagine a queer governor or senator existing with their sexuality being so much of a non-issue. Let alone a conservative governor. American conservative values have taken up LGBTQIA exclusion almost as part of the party platform.

Scotland has been voted the number one country for LGBTQIA people to live. It’s not hard to see why.

***

The Brexit vote stunned me, but it didn’t surprise me. UKIP’s rise has been marked; the Tory government of the UK as unsure to do with Nigel Farage as the GOP is when it comes to Trump. That kind of nationalism is not something I am unfamiliar with.

 

You see it over and over throughout history. Austerity or something like it is implemented due to a flagging economy. The policies grossly fail the working class, the working poor, the disabled, the vulnerable, the already disenfranchised. Their lives get demonstrably worse. Meanwhile, some sort of social change is occurring. This scares people. Someone in the ruling class points to the social change and says, “This is why you are suffering.”

Everyone wants someone to blame.

Immigrants. Queer folks. Religious minorities. People who look different.

The last wide scale wave of nationalism like this culminated in the greatest human-made disaster in history. 60 million or more people died.

It has only taken about 80 years to forget.

But it doesn’t have to be like that.

***

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me; I’ve intended to make my home in Scotland since forever. Scotland is not a perfect place; no place is. It’s not just nostalgia for the friends my time there gave me, for the opportunities, the experiences, the landscape.

It’s because for the past half decade, I’ve seen something remarkable happening there. Something I want to be part of.

I’ve watched as a small country with the population of a large US city turned its focus outward and its resources forward. Scotland has pushed hard on renewable energy, beating each goal with time to spare and searching for ways to keep this planet longer. Scotland has encouraged immigrants from within the EU and out, starting with the Fresh Talent Initiative in the last decade and now, fighting to ensure those who could be adversely affected by the Brexit vote know they are safe and welcome in Scotland. This shows that Scotland knows there is power in diversity, that new minds bring new ideas, and that people who want to be there will work hard to stay and make their homes better. I know that’s what my partner and I want to do. He wants to be an NHS pharmacist. I want to learn all the Gaelic and history and stories and keep writing my fiction there. We want to contribute. We want to help build.

Scotland’s SNP has committed to gender equality. All of Scotland’s party leaders support a gender neutral passport. Nicola Sturgeon has a gender balanced cabinet.

I’ll be over here side eyeing America’s fewer than 20% female Congress.

University in Scotland is free for residents. The SNP voraciously protects the National Health Service.

The SNP has grasped something that the rest of the right-leaning nations we’re seeing right now desperately need to: if we hope to survive, it is imperative that we embrace diversity, fight for a fairer and more inclusive society, and reach out — it is vital that we don’t slap hands away when they reach back.

That’s where I want to live. That’s the future I want to help build. I tell stories for a living; I want to be part of this one.

80 years have passed since Europe and the rest of the world was plunged into the global catastrophe of the Second World War.

At Auschwitz, when you visit, you are beseeched to never forget.

I remember. Those who were there won’t be with us much longer. We have to remember for them. We have to remember what happens when we turn inward, isolate, invalidate our fellows for the colour of their skin, their ethnicity, their religion, their identities. That way leads only to danger and death. Maybe not today or tomorrow. But in 1930, nobody saw 1939 coming either. They saw only what they perceived to be a threat, and they reacted. These things have a way of snowballing.

We cannot let that happen.

There is a better way. Scotland’s fighting for it.

I want to help.

 

 

A Wee Thing About Shrikes

Hello, everyone!

So. Time for me to explain a thing you may or may not have noticed!

I’ve gotten a few questions recently about THE MASKED SONGBIRD. Namely, why it’s not for sale anymore.

That may be news for you. It came off sale December 20 after my imprint closed in September. That’s about all I’ll say except for the fact that my rights to it and the sequel have all reverted to me, so the great news is that I can bring them back to you!

My fabulous friend Jes has done a brand new cover for the book.

SHRIKE: THE MASKED SONGBIRD will be rereleased April 7, and it will be available for the first time in trade paperback!

And you can expect the sequel in September!

I’ll be revealing the cover in the coming weeks. If you’ve only recently discovered STORM IN A TEACUP, I hope you’ll enjoy SHRIKE as well!

 

The Aftermath of No: Thoughts Over a Cuppa

I’ve been wanting to write this blog post all week. The words would flow through my head, taking shape into sentences, teasing the edges of my mind — but each time I sat down to write it, the blog post editor stayed blank. No title or paragraphs, just the blankness that occurs when there are too many words blending together like so much coloured light into whiteness.

But today, here I am. I know what I want to say.

The title, if you’re wondering, is a wee jab at Patronising BT Lady. 😛

The Sadness

I can’t pretend this vote didn’t affect my mood all week. When the numbers came in, and I sat there staring at the blank chunk of map where they were still waiting to plug in the Highland result, I felt numb. Seeing the map overwhelmed with white and only a few tiny patches of blue — I felt like those great white swaths. Numb. Tired.

Hearing Eilean Siar read out their No result in Gaelic, my fledgling understanding of the language enough to translate Bu Choir and the numbers that came after it into less than it needed to be — it sent a tear streaming down my cheek. I have no words for how I felt when Dundee and West Dunbartonshire announced, followed by North Lanarkshire and Glasgow. But in the end we all know it wasn’t enough.

It really hit me the next day with the reports coming out of Glasgow of Brit Nats being just generally wanker-y in George Square, which had been the site of so many positive Yes rallies. It hit me when I saw Rule Britannia trending on Twitter. It hit me when I saw update after update from people I value and care for, their devastation and their pain at seeing the Scotland they’d dreamed shunted away for now.

Last night I had a Glaswegian man at one of my tables. I told him I used to live in Inverness and planned to move back, and he looked up and said, “Inverness voted Yes, you know.” I nodded and said I did. And he said, “And Glasgow, and West Dunbartonshire.” And I said, “And North Lanarkshire and Dundee.” And while he didn’t follow it up by saying that he’d voted Yes himself, I saw it in his eyes. In that moment as we rattled off those communities who declared for Yes, it was heavy with many, many more words.

The Hope

The Yes movement for me was always a beacon of hope. I intend to make my home in Scotland, and the Yes campaign is one that values what I do: diversity, equality, fairness, peace. This kind of world. A world where the people in the shadow of Trident voted for independence without fear for the jobs that could be lost; in hope and trust that an independent Scotland would replace those jobs with new ones. A world where renewable energy is not just some wistful dream, but a reality actively pursued. A world where gender, class, ability, ethnicity, and sexual orientation are only facets of people, not the whole person, and those who may differ from the majority are protected by law.

Scotland is truly unique in that her people are on the same page about many major issues: the NHS, free post-secondary education, care for the elderly and the poor.

They may differ a bit on how to get there, but those values are common and closely held.

The Story Has Not Ended

lord ashcroft polls, ashcroft polls, indyref, indyref demographics

I have three major thoughts about this. First, that even from this side of the pond, I could see Better Together’s Project Fear as exactly that. Scaring people with their pensions, the pound, likening a Yes vote to aiding the forces of darkness (No, really. Indy Scotland is apparently Mordor. Salmond is only a few letters away from Sauron, after all. :P), whatever they could. And it worked. What’s horribly saddening about that is within days of the No vote, 10 Downing St has said there will be a decrease of funds to Scotland, and…basically the No campaign frightened the pensioners and is now turning around to make those fears come true themselves. Shame on BT and Westminster both. Shame.

Second, look at the 16-17 year olds. There will be an entire generation of strong Yes — and there are more adolescents turning 16 every day. While that 71% is staggering, something to note is that they do not exist in a vacuum. To the contrary, they have younger peers, peers who watched the referendum happen with the engagement of their older friends who overwhelmingly favour independence. To discount the 14-15 year olds who will likely be able to vote next time this question comes up is foolhardy. Generation Yes is real, they are engaged, they are empowered, and they are not going away.

Third, my generation. I’m smack in the middle of those 25-34s. My generation. My generation who entered the workforce in the worst economic climate since the Great Depression. My generation who were told if we followed in the footsteps of our baby boomer parents life would work out for us. My generation who have struggled against a corrupt system and felt powerless. My generation who saw what Yes could offer and empowered ourselves. My generation who chose to believe in a fairer Scotland, a fairer world. My generation. My generation. I am proud.

It’s not difficult to suss out why my generation voted Yes in such large numbers. It was a chance to make a change, to take an active hand, to seek something better.

All these things come together to say that this conversation is not over. We did not wake from a dream of Scottish independence that vanished into the recesses of our minds come 19 September. That dream did not fade. Indeed, that dream is nothing more or less than a vision for the future that can become a reality.

When this conversation continues, it’s going to include the already-broken promises of Westminster. The bias of a BBC that went from reporting the drying up of Scotland’s North Sea oil last month to its apparent bounty this month. The hostility of the mainstream media in a land where only one newspaper, the Sunday Herald, declared for Yes. (Their readership has doubled, by the way.)

This week the Scottish National Party more than doubled its numbers. Doubled. From around 25K to over 60K and still growing as quickly as their servers can accommodate the traffic. Over 1% of Scotland’s electorate now actively belongs to a political party. The SNP is now the third largest party in the United Kingdom. The Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Socialist Party have also reported massive gains as Yes voters (and unhappy No voters) leave Labour in droves. The Greens’ youth sector is now bigger this week than the entire party was last week.

A new Scotland will come, and it will be built by the youth and celebrated by those who are hoping to live long enough to see it, who voted Yes in the face of fear.

This is not over.

A new Scotland. For the Common Weal.

The Time Has Come: Vote Yes, Scotland

castle stalker, oban, scotland, highlands, highlands and islands. western isles, alba, nature, castles, scenery
Castle Stalker outside Oban, Scotland. Copyright 2010, Emmie Mears

I wish I could be there with you, Scotland.

For years I’ve hoped for this day. For the last two, it has been forefront in my mind. Wondering what you’ll do. What you’ll choose to become.

To become.

It seems like such a passive verb, a state of being evolved from circumstance, without agency or decision.

But you have both agency and decision this week, Scotland. For years you’ve voted for governments and been overruled. You’ve had your resources used for causes you did not choose, and danger placed near your cities. You’ve been thrown scraps and denied the change you desire. You’ve been promised powers that were not delivered, and those promises whisper through this decision now.

You have an enormous wealth, Scotland. It’s not just the riches of the earth, which you have in abundance. It’s not just your energy or your exports or anything like that. It’s your people. The people of Scotland are your greatest asset. Resilient and strong, innovative and intrepid. Your people are your triumph and your future.

Your people are not homogenous, nor are they any one thing at all. Your people are diverse and intelligent, forward-thinking and outward-looking. You are a small country, but you are a great one, too. It’s not your borders that make you great; it’s your ability to understand where those borders lie in context with a wider world that set you apart.

This debate could have gone very differently. It could have devolved into a discussion of nationalism and stereotype — and indeed those who wish to maintain the status quo often tried to paint it as such. But the reality of the Yes movement is just that: movement. Not xenophobia or fear-mongering. A powerful attitude of positivity, of an ability to effect change. To build a nation that cares for her people, understanding that they are her most precious asset. That fosters intelligence, innovation, creativity, and a desire to see a better future for all her people — not just those who can afford it.

Your people are in possession of a unique opportunity. Without bloodshed or warfare, you can choose to create a new country. You. Choose. This is a power within your hands, a chance to make something better.

It won’t be easy. Nothing worthwhile is. There will be complexities and complications. There will be some false starts, and there will almost inevitably be some broken promises and realities that don’t quite reflect the ideals you have. But you know what? It will be within your power to change. If your government disappoints you, you will be able to replace it. The generation of youth that has risen up and engaged these last two years will be the new leaders of your nation. They bring with them passion and pride in their ability to move, grow, change. They have claimed their country as their own with future generations in mind.

Take a moment and appreciate the beauty of an engaged populace. Even from across an ocean, it is a beacon of hope for me.

I want to see you succeed, Scotland. I think the best way for you to do that is as an independent nation, with your own hands at the tiller of your destiny. Destiny is not something that falls into your lap. Like family and strength and love, it’s something you build with your hands and your toil and your passion. It’s something you keep at even when it’s hard. That’s something you are already good at, Scotland.

You can do this. You are a capable nation filled with people who can take this unique opportunity and be brave, bold. You can leave your nation better than you found it.

This vote will not be the end of this journey. Tomorrow will be only the first step. Whether yes or no, you will continue.

But I hope it’s yes. I hope you will look into the future and greet it with a “we can.” I hope you will own the power you have to change something vast and important. I hope you will greet a new dawn with a sweaty hand grasped in yours, ready to roll up your sleeves and make the idea of a new nation into a reality.

I hope you will show us that it’s possible. For two years, you’ve given me hope. Inspired me and spurred me forward. Your creativity, your passion, and your pragmatism. Your compassion, your engagement, and your drive.

Show us now. Build your destiny.

The tiller is yours.

 

5 Reasons to Follow Scotland’s Independence Debate

Five million people. 30,414 square miles. The size of Maine or Belgium. Aside from pop culture phenoms like Braveheart and Trainspotting and Hogwarts, why should the world pay attention to a wee country voting on their independence?

It’s no secret that I support Scottish independence. But what’s perhaps less clear is why you ought to care, regardless of the referendum’s outcome.

Here’s why.

Scotland, beach, Achmelvich Beach, Sutherland
(c) 2010 Emmie Mears

1. This wee country is paving the way for the rest of the world in several ways.

Scotland is on track for creating 100% of her electricity from renewables by 2020¹. Read that again. 100% by 2020. Wind, tidal, hydro — Scotland’s output of sustainable, renewable energy is growing by leaps every year.

While Scotland does have oil in the North Sea, that’s not the focus. Scotland knows such resources are finite. In spite of Scotland’s oil reserves and contrary to the oil deification we see in the USA, Scotland has thought beyond oil’s end to maximise clean energy now.

Scotland is a wealthy country, but she has her eyes on the poor rather than valuing failed trickle-down economics and austerity measures. In addition to renewable energy, this small country recognises and values the truth that her people are her strongest asset and biggest source of innovation — and that people have the most ability to thrive when they have access to education, healthcare, and retirement after a hardworking life.

2. Scots are displaying optimism in the face of a world mired in recession.

One look at the Yes campaign shows that those fighting for Scottish independence are doing so not just because they fancy they might be able to change things; they ambitiously and passionately plan to change things.

It almost sounds utopian to imagine a fairer world where needs are met and wealth is shared by more than only an elite few. But compared to politics in the US, Scots agree on many, many facets of issues that splinter US voters. The National Health Service. Free post-secondary education. Equal pay. Assistance for those who need it. Pensions. Couple that with an abhorrence of nuclear weapons and their penchant for clean energy, an independent Scotland could very well show the rest of us how to human.*

3. Creativity in action: the independence generation

Creative folk are breathing life into the Yes campaign — and into society at large. While major news outlets focus on hammering Scots with the ideas that Scotland is too wee, too incompetent, too dependent, there is a renaissance happening in the artist’s den. These aren’t artists content to paint or write or design or play in solitude for the sake of ego — these are engaged people actively taking part and exercising their agency for the betterment of their country. National Collective and Bella Caledonia are two sites worth watching during this campaign.

The spirit of this transcends self-identifying as a creative person: the independence generation is treating all Scots like architects of a new nation.

4. They are peaceful.

This is not a debate of ‘nationalists’ versus ‘unionists’. This is a simple question of democracy restored to a country that has seen her votes vanish in the face of un-voted for governing bodies, in spite of increased devolution. It is, very simply, a modern picture of self-determination, for Scots to be able to choose their government rather than be saddled with one less than 18% of them voted for.²

There isn’t the cry of Scotland for Scots only or anything else one may expect to be paired with a word like ‘nationalism’. Rather, the focus of the independence campaign is to build a fairer country where the government is representative of the values of her people.

5. The history behind it.

If you’re familiar with Scotland’s history at all, you’ll know that there have been many instances wherein governing bodies made decisions for the nation at large based solely on their own pockets (including some direct bribery), with little or no regard for the overwhelming majority of the non-aristocracy.

The very Act of the Union was unpopular in Scotland, with widespread rioting and discontent to the point that martial law was enacted. And then there were the ensuing Jacobite rebellions in 1715 and 1745 when the monarchic succession became embroiled with religion and James II (James VII of Scotland) fled to France. The century following 1707 was rather bloody, oppressive, and distrustful on both sides.

So what does that have to do with the present? The intriguing answer is: not as much as you might think.

Far from a crusade to right past wrongs or a campaign to run through the annals of history, this vote is more about the future than the past. There is little or no woad to be seen, few cries of freedom, and what we do see of that is from a standpoint of politics, not blood. What is inspiring about this referendum isn’t that Scots are looking backwards; it’s that they are looking forward.

And we should all be watching them make their decision.

 

¹Report from Scottish government. Also, here’s a BBC article.

*Obviously not all Scots agree on everything. Also obviously, independence won’t be as simple as ticking a box and POOF, Fair New World. But the shared beliefs and values of Scotland’s people are a very hopeful sign, and a successful independent Scotland could build the country they want to live in.

²2010 UK general election map.

THE MASKED SONGBIRD Release Date!

Edinburgh, Scotland, creative commons, George Gastin, Sir Walter Scott monument, perspective
By George Gastin (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Hello, everyone!

If you were around last Thursday evening, you may have heard this news already, but I wanted to put it here as to be all official-like. My debut novel, formerly called SHRIKE, has been renamed THE MASKED SONGBIRD (Book One in the Scottish Songbird duology).

Even more awesome, we have a release date!

As some of you know, THE MASKED SONGBIRD will be published by Harlequin E. As part of this new line, the book will first be released in a four book ebook bundle with three other awesome science fiction/fantasy novels, followed by a solo release! This means that when it first drops, you’ll be able to get four great books at a great price. Not long after, THE MASKED SONGBIRD will have it’s solo release.

So when is all this happening?

THE MASKED SONGBIRD will release with the bundle on July 1, followed by its solo release September 1!

Until then, you can keep up with the news on Goodreads!

 

The Power of Potential: Scotland and Independence

Scotland, Scottish flag, Scottish independence, Eilean Donan castle, Loch Duich
(c) 2010 Emmie Mears

Today I read a great post over at National Collective. The post was entitled 100 Artists and Creatives Who Support Scottish Independence. It is precisely what it says it is, a large list of folks who art for a living and who also think Scotland ought to be independent. On it are writers like Iain Banks and Irvine Welsh, poets like Scottish Makar Liz Lochhead, musicians like Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite and Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison. There are actors and comedians, designers and folk singers.

The common thread running through their quotes isn’t just what they do — it’s what they see.

Potential.

Mark Millar, who I don’t particularly like for some of the nasty things he’s said about women and comic books, had an analogy that shows I do agree with him about something. (But seriously, Mark Millar, grow the fuck up and realize that women like superheroes too. And women are, you know, people, so you should write us that way. And rape isn’t just a “plot device.” *kicks empty tin* /rant)

Woo-sah.

Anyway. The something I agree with him about is that an independent Scotland is like a blank sheet of paper.

That’s the common thread I noticed in what all those artists and creatives had to say. What it really boils down to is potential. Potential is exciting. Potential is opening your door in the morning and not fearing what is going to happen — it’s opening your door in the morning and knowing you have the chance to close it at night having made that day better, more prosperous, more fair.

Potential is why I started Searching for SuperWomen. Not to bust the chops of the comic book industry or Hollywood or whoever’s chops merit busting on any given day — but as a place where we can look toward the future and its potential and claim it. Reach out for it. Wish for it, talk about how it could happen, work toward it every day. So lying in our beds many years from now we won’t look back on these days and wish we’d painted ourselves blue and barreled into battle.

What was I talking about again?

Oh yeah. Potential.

This year’s referendum for Scottish independence is less about Mel Gibson’s claymore and more about self-determination. When you read the independence debates, you don’t see much of the FREEEEEEDOOOOOOOM rhetoric; you see more of the this is what we could be. 

A Scotland where there aren’t nuclear weapons housed just outside of a major metropolis — or within her shores at all. A Scotland where the vulnerable are cared for. A Scotland where innovation and advancing thought are treasured. A Scotland that embraces the wider world and welcomes the best and brightest from without to pursue their goals within. A Scotland where the central government is one they voted for (in that map, BLUE who voted for the current government at Westminster). A Scotland where austerity measures aren’t plastered across the land. A Scotland where the pioneering of renewable energy will work for her people.

Potential is a powerful thing. Imagination is part of it, but another part is the desire to work for it. That’s something else that makes up a common thread in the Yes voters I’ve seen. They know independence isn’t the easy route — far from it. But the potential for greatness makes up for the necessary difficulties.

It’s that potential that grabbed hold of me when I lived in Scotland. It’s what drove me to write a novel with that as a central theme. It’s why I support Scottish independence.

As for the other side, it’s hard for me to see the same level of possibility when the No campaign’s central tenet seems to be that things are peachy the way they are.

Come September, what story will we be writing?

Way back in 2012, I wrote a piece for National Collective discussing this very idea. It’s exciting to see that the book mentioned in this piece is the one we just sold to Harlequin.