26 Questions No One Should Answer

A little while ago a fellow blogger over at Write Accountable, came across an interesting little list called, “26 Questions No One Should Answer”. So, of course, she decided to answer the questions. I thought that some of her answers were pretty interesting so, logically, I decided to answer the “forbidden” questions myself. Honestly, several of the questions actually seem quite benign to me, but there are definitely a couple that are difficult to answer without coming off as an asshole. So, without further ado:

That's right, sweetie. You plug your ears and remain innocent.

1. If you could get away with one murder in your lifetime without any legal, social, or emotional repurcussions, would you kill someone?

I had to think about this one for a while because my first reaction was to say no, since I don’t think I could emotionally handle such a thing, but then the question does specifically state “no emotional repurcussions”. So I thought about it some more, and the answer is going to be yes, because there are genuinely evil people in the world, and if I could remove one of them from society without any kind of consequence to myself I would definitely sieze that opportunity.

2. What is your first thought when you recieve a message; are you excited for the idea of someone from (potentially) the other side of the world wanting to take to you, or fearful that someone will criticize you?

I’m always excited. There are always going to be the surprise criticisms that pop up and ruin your day, but my default position is a little jolt of excitement every time a message or a comment pops up on one of my forms of media.

3. Have you ever looked down on someone because you thought your religious views were superior?

My religious views are actually a lack thereof, so strictly speaking, the answer is no. But in a broader sense of the question, yes. I consider myself to be a very tolerant person, but I can’t tolerate religious beliefs that spit on human rights (such as, for instance, religiously-backed hate toward gay people, or religious control over women’s basic rights). When I talk to people who hold strong to such beliefs I find that I absolutely feel superior to them because it’s my belief that the basic right not to be abused is infinitely more important than a person’s religious faith. I generally feel that people have a right to believe whatever the heck they want, but when those beliefs turn into an excuse to abuse people for not thinking, feeling, or acting the “right” way, then hell yeah I feel “superior”.

4. Would you rather know everything the Universe has to offer, but in exchange lose all emotion, or just remain the way you are right now?

Absolutely stay the way I am. What’s the use in knowing all the secrets of the Universe without any emotion to enjoy it? Besides, part of the wonder of living is not knowing, and trying to work it all out on your own.

5. If you could live and be healthy without sleeping or eating/drinking, which would you cut out of your life?

100% definitely sleeping. I would miss the crazy-ass dreams that my brain comes up with nightly, but for the most part the need for sleep is the absolute bane of my existence. I can never seem to get enough of it, and it cuts dramatically into my time to get things done. If I had an average of eight hours a day more to work with, the world would be a hell of a lot brighter for me.

6. If you could take on the exact body and form of anyone on Earth, who would it be?

You know, I’ve been thinking about it, and I really don’t know. If the opportunity arose I would probably do some major research and choose an attractive female athlete who is in great shape with no health issues.

7. Would you rather burn or freeze to death?

I’m with Otaku Lady on this one… Why the hell would you choose burning over freezing? Freezing starts out painful but winds up with you basically falling asleep. Burning would be outrageously painful right up until the very last second.

8. If it meant it would solve all world hunger, war, disease, and bigotry, would you spend the rest of eternity in hell?

This is kind of a moot question for me since I don’t believe in hell, but let’s pretend for a moment that I did. Yes, I would do it, not for the world as a whole – because there are a heck of a lot of people out there who I wouldn’t suffer through a papercut for – but I could condemn myself to eternal torment if I knew that my daughter and my further descendants would be living in a peaceful, healthy, happy world.

9. Was the first crush in your life something you had, or something someone had on you?

Are you kidding? I can’t remember that! If I had to take a guess I’d probably say that it was me having a crush on someone else, but I couldn’t begin to tell you who it was.

10. Could you live without ever having sex (again) in exchange for eternal youth?

I probably could, but I wouldn’t want to. The idea of eternal youth is not appealing to me at all. In fact, it’s equally as frightening to me as the idea of growing old and dying. It might seem awesome at first and for a little while, but once your loved ones started dying and leaving you behind…*shudder*

11. Have you ever watched a full-length pornographic movie?

Full-length? All the way from start to finish? Um…no. Has anyone?

12. The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?

What is the purpose of this question, seriously? I like both, but if I had to choose I’d probably say that I like more Beatles songs than Rolling Stones ones.

13. If you could have the ability to manipulate matter or energy, which would you choose?

I’m going to go with energy, because by manipulating energy you can, in turn, manipulate matter. For instance, by manipulating heat you could reshape metal, or by manipulating air currents you could move water. So you’d technically be getting both, you see?

14. What was the worst nightmare you ever had?

It’s a bit of a tie. If we’re talking about sheer fright, I had a dream as a kid that scared the crap out of me. In it my aunt was giving me this evil smile as all her teeth were falling out of her head, and for some reason at the time that totally terrified me. But then, the fear faded fairly quickly for that one. Alternatively, not that long ago I had a dream that my husband nonchalantly left me for another woman, and when I woke up I felt genuinely depressed for a long time afterward. It was stupid, but it was as though all the chemicals in my brain had turned against me. That was pretty rough.

15. Would you rather spend one year with your one true love just to never see them again, or the rest of your life with second best?

This is actually a genuinely difficult one. They say that it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all, but I’ve always felt that people who say that have obviously never actually had to go through such a situation. Then again, how sad would it be to spend your entire life with someone who you knew wasn’t the one you truly wanted to be with? In the end I think I’d probably choose the first option and I’d dedicate myself to making it one hell of a year.

16. All the sequels/remakes/adaptations/rip-offs in movies nowadays; good or bad?

It depends on the movie. I’ve seen remakes that I loved, and ones that I thought were utter crap. Mostly I tend to find that sequels fail to stand up, but occasionally there comes one that’s actually better than the first movie. I try to judge each movie based on its own merits and not on what came before it.

17. Would you rather be dirt poor and emotionally fulfilled in life, or be rich beyond imagination and emotionally dissatisfied for life?

Tough choice. I tend to want to choose emotional fulfillment, but I keep thinking about all the people whose lives I could change with that kind of money. Probably, I think I would go with the money.

18. Do you have any (secret) feelings of bigotry to any group of people?

I hate to admit it, but yes. I try my best to base each individual on their own actions and merits, but there is one particular group of people who have shown me time and time again that they’re lazy, ignorant, opportunist bums. I won’t outright say that this particular group are worthless wastes of space, but I’ve only met a tiny handful of them who were actually worth their own salt. It’s difficult not to be bigoted when a particular group consistently gives you good reasons to hate them.

19. Would you rather be the only person in the world who can read minds, or have everyone else be able to read minds except your own?

I definitely let everyone else read each other’s minds and just leave me out of it. Reading minds sounds awesome at first, but it would be stressful and depressing as hell in reality. Can you imagine constantly listening to the thoughts of the coworker who hates your guts, or the family member who thinks you’re a worthless disappointment, or the spouse who thinks you’ve been getting fat and isn’t really attracted to you anymore? I’m not saying that all the people in your life are constantly thinking bad things about you, but statistically speaking, if you could hear everyone’s thoughts you’d be regularly hearing stuff that you’d really rather not know.

20. If everyone in the world would automatically know one language, which language would you choose?

Honestly, it doesn’t really matter, but I would probably choose any language other than English, because seriously…English is a pretty screwed up language.

21. If you were old enough and not in a situation where it would be inappropriate, would you sleep with one of your (past) schoolteachers/professors?

I genuinely cannot think of a single one of my teachers or professors who I even had an innocent crush on, so I’m gonna have to go ahead and say no.

22. A world without religion; good, bad, or neutral?

Good, but don’t bring out the pitchforks yet. My main thought here is that without religion, people would likely be a lot more open-minded, using their own brains and guts to decide what is right, wrong, and important in life, and I truly believe that – most of the time – it’s much better to come up with your own conclusions than to just accept the ones that have been decided for you.

23. The men’s rights movement; legitimate cause or laughable, and why?

I won’t say laughable because there are definitely real concerns when it comes to men’s rights, but I can’t say legitimate because there are too many lunatics out there using “men’s rights” as an excuse to hate on women and do some pretty awful things. Then again, there are also plenty of feminists out there who are lunatics using “women’s rights” as an excuse to hate on men and do some pretty awful things. I think that what we have to move toward is the realization that both men and women are humans and that what we should really be concerned about is human rights.

24. You can eliminate one of your five senses to substantially strengthen the others. Which one and would you do it?

I don’t think that I would want to give up a sense, but if I was going to lose one anyway I’d choose smell. I’d miss sight, sound, and taste too much, and touch is kinda important for a lot of things, so yeah, definitely smell.

25. Do looks mean anything to you? Don’t lie; could you fall in love with someone you thought was ugly?

Aside from the obvious exceptions (like blind people), I don’t believe anyone who says that looks mean nothing to them. I do believe that physical attraction can evolve as the result of mental and emotional attraction (someone you just thought was “kinda cute” before becomes “smoking hot” as you begin to fall for them in other ways), but I don’t believe that a complete lack of physical attraction can just be overlooked in a relationship that involves any kind of sexual feelings. Make no mistake, physical attraction is an important part of a healthy relationship that involves sex. So I guess what I’m saying is that I could feel strong mental and emotional bonds to a person who I thought was “ugly”, but I don’t think I could love them in a manogamous sense. And I truly believe that if they were being totally honest, the vast majority of people would agree with me.

26. Can you understand the mindset and logic used by the opposite spiritual opinion?

If I’m being 100% honest, no. I understand why people want to have spiritual faith and beliefs, but I don’t really understand how they can. Everyone has the right to their own beliefs, but I personally don’t understand how people can truly believe in concepts like God, and heaven and hell, and angels and demons, and stuff like that. To me it’s like a child refusing to believe that a cartoon isn’t real. I don’t mean for that to sound condescending, but to me saying that you truly believe that God created the world in seven days just a few thousand years ago is like saying that you believe that there are leprechauns at the end of a rainbow, or that thunder is the sound of angels bowling in heaven. Spiritual beliefs were conjured up by less-civilized man who had to come up with a reason for why things were the way they were, because it is in man’s nature to need an explanation for things. But times have progressed, theories have been proven, and we have learned so much. We know now that many of the things that used to be widely believed were actually quite laughable, and yet people still cling to relgious belief like it’s the last life preserver after a flood, and that genuinely flummoxes me. Being told that something is a certain way for your entire life doesn’t make it true, and I feel that this is something that many relgious folks need to seriously consider.

But that’s just my opinion.

Surviving the Bowels of the Internet

Recently I delved, for only the second time ever, into the wonderful world of being a YouTube contributor, and with that comes a certain necessity for thick skin. We all know that the anonymity of the Internet turns ordinary folk into assholes, and assholes into ultra assholes, but the comment section of your average YouTube video puts even some of the worst people to shame. There is something about watching a video crafted by a complete stranger that turns people into hissing monsters whose only joy comes from desperately attempting to use every weapon in their online arsenal to make the video uploader cry. We live in a weird world.

I entered into this world willingly because I’ve grown a thick “Internet-Asshole-Shield” skin over the past few years because – and make no mistake about this – they’re not just lurking on YouTube. They’re everywhere, just waiting to pounce. So today I’m going to share what I’ve come to know about traversing this tricky online minefield of ours.


First and foremost, know and accept that people on the Internet are going to be insufferable jerks. There’s no sense in denying it, just like there’s no way to avoid it, and if you’re going to put yourself out there for millions of people to potentially jedge, it’s best to just accept jerks as an inevitability right now. You might be one of the lucky ones – you might be the rare person who recieves only praise from the online masses – but it’s best not to expect such a gift. It’s much better to prepare for the storm that never comes than to get torn apart by an unexpected tsunami.

Once you’ve accepted the fact that people on the Internet are very likely to be jerks to you, the next step is to shore yourself up for the kinds of insults you’re likely to recieve. For instance, in my videos I’m sitting in front of shelves full of books, toys, and collectibles. It is highly likely that at some point someone is going to spy something on my shelves that they don’t like and take it upon themselves to insult me for it. People can get strangely (and viciously) irate when other people enjoy things that they think are stupid, so I’m already prepared for idiotic attacks on my person because of the things that I happen to enjoy. Can’t think of any reaons in particular why someone would attack you with insults? Expect insults to be thrown at your physical appearance or intelligence, because without an obvious source, people will revert to the basics of human ego. You could be the most gorgeous woman on the planet, and some jackass will take time out of his day to call you a fat cow. You could be talking about the delicate intricacies of quantum physics, and some dingbat will call you an uneducated loudmouth. People will find something to shoot at you, even if it’s the absolute furthest thing from the truth. Expecting as much ahead of time will help you deal with it when it happens.

So now that you’ve accepted that an attack is likely to happen and you’ve mentally prepared yourself for such an attack, what should you do once said attack actually comes? The answer may surprise you: nothing. Do nothing. Do not engage. Engaging people who want nothing other than to hurt you or make you angry never helps…in fact, it’s exactly what they want. These people want you to fight back because by doing so you’ve let them know that they’ve struck a nerve. Even if your response is to tell them that you couldn’t care less what they think, the fact that you responded at all proves to them that they’ve bothered you. And once they know that they’ve bothered you, they’re just going to keep on firing shots. That’s how they get their kicks.

It seems terribly counterintuitive because it’s in our nature to defend ourselves, but I promise you that the absolute best way to deal with Internet trolls is to completely ignore them. Even if their words make you want to punch a wall, or scream and rant, or curl up into a ball and cry…ignore them. Do not give them the satisfaction of knowing that they accomplished exactly what they set out to do. Do not give them a reason to put futher time and energy into tormenting you. Do. Not. Engage. As the owner of the YouTube channel (or blog, or whatever else we’re talking about) you have every right to delete cruel or obscene comments, or block abusive users from your content, but do not talk back to these people. It’s a pointless waste of your time and only serves to allow assholes to justify their own existence.

But most of all, above everything else, my final tip is to not let people get to you. Sometimes people are cruel just for the sake of being cruel, and you have to remmber that their agressive, abusive behavior often has nothing to do with you. It’s all about them and their ridiculous need to hold some kind of imagined power over others. Don’t let them have that power. Realize that, in the end, the opinions of other people (especially complete strangers) mean absolutely nothing. Remember that one thing, and suddenly life on the Internet will be a hell of a lot simpler.

An Open Letter to Internet-Based Advertisers

Dear Advertisers,

Please revise your approach.

I’m sure you’re probably wondering how it is that you put billions of dollars into advertising on some of the most popular websites in the world and yet don’t seem to get nearly the return that you’ve always gotten through, for instance, television and radio commercials. I can explain. The reason is extremely simple: you are annoying. Annoying does not sell. Let me clarify.

When you force us to watch a two-minute advertisement before we can watch the one-minute video clip that we clicked on, that’s annoying.

When you have your ad pop up over top of the content that we’re trying to read, that’s annoying.

When you sneak ads right into the middle of the content we’re trying to read, so that we lose our flow and have to scan the page to find where the content continues, that’s annoying.

When you pay search engines to make sure that your website is the first result regardless of the fact that it has absolutely nothing to do with what we searched for, that’s annoying.

When you have audio ads blare through our speakers the second we open your website, and hide the ad in the darkest corner of the page so that the only way we can stop the onslaught is to turn off our speakers, that’s annoying.

When you use information gathered from social sites to aim ads at us by trying to be cute and doing things like plastering our names on t-shirts (“It’s a TRACEY thing!”), that’s annoying, and also pretty condescending, for the record.

Put simply, pretty much everything you do on the internet is painfully, tear-jerkingly, fist-through-the-computer-screen level annoying, and that’s why it doesn’t work. When your ad blocks what I’m trying to view, screams through my speakers, or implies that I’m an idiot (“It’s a Tracey thing”? Seriously?) it does not endear me to your company. It does not make me want to buy your product. It makes me – and billions of people around the world just like me – want to avoid your products for the rest of my life so that maybe you’ll go bankrupt and not be able to afford anymore ridiculous, goddamn, annoying ads.

Hey, I get it. The internet is a huge opportunity for hocking your wares, and you want to take advantage of that. But maybe be a little smarter (and a lot less annoying) about it. When I finish reading a book I always check out the little ads that they put in the back for other books that the author has written…that’s effective marketing. But if those ads were right in the middle of a chapter, I’d be extremely annoyed that the flow of the story was ruined and be significantly more likely to avoid that publisher from then on. We’re all used to commercials on television and they don’t bother us so much because TV shows are edited to allow for the short breaks that commercials fill, but can you imagine the outrage that would happen if a car commercial started playing half an hour into a big blockbuster film playing in theaters? Knowing that, would it be so terrible to put your annoying ads at the end of the online videos that we’re trying to watch? Off to the side somewhere of the articles we’re trying to read? And maybe, just maybe, try to avoid the whole “social media information gathering” nonsense that just gives us the impression that you must think we’re all mindless spenders who would buy any stupid piece of crap with our names on it?

Again: annoying does not sell. We may be a society of consumers, but we will still actively avoid consuming things that piss us off.

Please revise your approach.

A to Z Challenge Day 22: Victoria MacKinnon (the Lost Princess)

Most of my characters for this month have been pretty recognizable, even if you haven’t read their respective books, watched their respective shows/movies, or played their respective games. Most of them are based in pop culture, or come from things that a lot of us grew up with, or are characters that are currently beloved by the masses. But right now you’re likely reading the title of this post and thinking to yourself, “Who the hell is Victoria MacKinnon? What is she from?”

And so we come to another confession: Victoria MacKinnon, or “Tori” for short, is not a character that you will have ever come across because her story was never published. You see, Ms Tori MacKinnon is my character.

I’ve talked before about my story tentatively known as Parallels, a story that I’ve been writing for a decade, that has changed and been rewritten numerous times, and is only now coming into its own with new plans to rewrite it as a series. Victoria MacKinnon is the main character of that story, a young woman who is transported to an alternate Universe where she discovers that she must save the world from evil in order to return home. I love her because if you go back and read through all the different iterations that her story has taken over the past decade, she shows you exactly how I’ve changed and grown as a person and a writer. Victoria began her existence as a whiny, pathetic, self-absorbed loser who had no concept of what the real important things in life are…because she was based on myself. I wrote the character for me, and her personality and background – though they made perfect sense to me at the time – really showed how ridiculous I could be at that age. I was a young adult, but I was still a kid when it came to emotions and opinions.

But as I grew, so too did Victoria. Her thoughts and opinions changed, her reason for living advanced, and her hopes and dreams mutated into something more. Most of all, as my writing ability grew and I began to be able to think more about what the reader would enjoy rather than just what I felt like writing, Victoria became a very different person. These days Victoria is nothing like me at all, really, and that’s just the way I like it, because she is not me. Victoria MacKinnon is her own person with her own troubles and her own adventure to go on, and I’m just happy to be the one who gets to tell her story for her.

Things That I Think North American Schools Should Change

I’m not a teacher. I have absolutely no affiliation to the educational system at all, unless you count the fact that I have a couple of cousins and a couple of friends who happen to be teachers. I have not taken part in any studies, or done any of my own, though I have read a fair few. I don’t know what it’s like to be on the business side of the system, and honestly, I don’t care to. For the most part I am simply a woman who went through the educational system as a kid, and now has a child who will eventually be going through that same educational system. I just wanted to clarify that because what will follow are opinions; some of them are backed up by information I have read at one point or another, but mostly they are just opinions based on what I went through, and what I happen to know is occurring in our schools right now. Feel free to disagree with my points because, again, I am not a teacher, and I am not affiliated with the educational system in any meaningful way.

And with that out of the way, these are a few things that I think North American schools should seriously consider changing.

This is what I feel the system has basically boiled down to.

Start Paying Attention to Spelling and Grammar Again

This may not be a problem everywhere in North America, but it has come to my attention through several teachers I know that the education system concerning itself with such little things as spelling and grammar has become a thing of the past. While these two subjects are still technically taught, they are not graded in any way. My friends tell me that all that is important anymore is the intent of the words written. One friend in particular told me that she could get an essay with every last word spelled incorrectly and not a single piece of punctuation anywhere on the thing, but if she can understand what the student is trying to say and the topic of the essay is sound, she has to give them perfect marks. They cannot take away points for a complete inability to properly use the English language.

The reasoning behind this one is essentially that spelling and grammar are all but unnecessary these days because almost all of the writing we do is on computers or handheld devices, and that technology allows us to “spell check” at any point we so choose. Therefore, the experts say, time and energy spent drilling proper written language skills into our kids’ heads is time wasted…they can always just get the computer or their smartphone to fix all the errors for them. In a way I agree somewhat…that time could probably be better spent on other topics. But there’s a problem in that logic, namely the fact that spell checkers are far from foolproof. I know tons of people who had spelling forced down their throats as kids who still don’t know the difference between there, their, and they’re, or the proper use of then and than, or how to use commas to properly show a list of items, and now we’re not even bothering to try to get kids to learn these things? Spell check is a great thing, but it doesn’t help you determine which homonym you meant to use, and auto-correct will often give you a completely different word from the one you intended to use. This refusal to spend time on spelling and grammar is going to result in generations of young people sending out resumes that make them look like they’ve never attended a day of grade school in their lives.

I’m not saying that spelling and grammar should take up a huge amount of the grade of an essay or other written work, but it should definitely count for something.

A Lot More Tests Should Be Open Book

Let’s be perfectly honest here. Memorization means nothing. Memorizing a bunch of facts and figures so that you can regurgitate them on a test proves only one thing: that you have a halfway decent memory. It doesn’t prove your ability to comprehend the material, use it properly, or locate it when necessary. It is my genuine belief that our kids would be much better off being taught how to find information rather than how to stuff it in their heads just long enough to spew it back out onto an exam paper. Think about it; do you rely on your memory when dealing with your job? Maybe to some extent you do, when you’re doing something that you’ve done over and over a thousand times, but do you honestly rely on what you think you remember from school when such an opportunity arises? No, you don’t, because you don’t want to make a stupid mistake based on what you believe you may remember from goodness-knows-how-long-ago. Can you imagine if a doctor performed a surgery that they’d never done before based on what they remembered from med school that, oh by the way, they graduated from over a decade ago? You wouldn’t feel too comfortable about that, would you?

No, it’s my opinion that in this day and age, when there are literally a million different ways that you can type something into Google to find the answer to a question, our kids would be much better served being taught how to locate information and determine whether it is accurate information, rather than memorizing it just long enough to not have to think about it again until their kids are learning it.

The Way We Teach Math Should be Seriously Reconsidered

Math is an excellent skill to have, don’t get me wrong on that, and I’m a huge advocate of kids having things like the multiplication tables drilled into their heads so that they can do quick math on a moment’s notice (have you ever tried calculating a tip or figuring out how much your grocery order is going to cost with tax and just made your own head hurt?). However, here’s the thing. Back when I was in school it was very common for teachers to refuse to let students use calculators, all while spewing the sentence: “You have to learn to do this manually because you’re not always going to have a calculator in your pocket all the time.” Sound familiar? I’m certain that every student for decades heard that sentence thrown back at them, and yet now we know it to be false. How many people in this day and age don’t have a cell phone with them most of the time? Even super-old cell phones have a calculator function, so yeah, we really do have a calculator in our pocket at all times these days. That’s not to say that I think kids should just stop learning math because they don’t really need to know how to do it, but how often in the work world do you think people rely wholly on their own mathematical prowess? If your job relies on calculations, are you really going to trust your ability to work those calculations out on your own? Do you think that chemists, architects, and rocket scientists work without a calculator? Not if they want to keep their jobs for very long, they don’t.

No, I do believe that kids should have to learn the methods, but I think they should spend less time laboring over question after question and spend more time learning the proper use of computing devices. They should be able to do the basics, but when it comes to advanced mathematics they should know how to properly use a computer, calculator, or whatever ever devices they may require to come to the desired conclusion. We definitely want our kids to know enough math to be able to look at the result they got using a calculator and think, “That doesn’t look right” (because technology is not flawless either), but yes, I think we should be teaching them to use calculators in the first place because I don’t know about you but I don’t want the people running our nuclear power plants to be working out all their numbers by hand on paper.

“Split” Classes Should Not Be a Thing…Ever

Split classes probably don’t exist everywhere, but they’ve popped up in my neck of the woods in past years so I’m going to explain. Say, for example (I’m just grabbing numbers out of the air here) that the school board has decided that there can be a maximum of 30 kids in one class with one teacher. Now say that this year we have 40 first grade students and 40 preschool students. Instead of splitting the numbers evenly and having two first grade classes and two preschool classes with 20 students in each, what happens instead is that they do “split” classes. That means that they have one first grade class with 30 students, one preschool class with 30 students, and one first grade/preschool split class with 20 students…half of them trying to learn first grade material and half of them trying to learn preschool material with one teacher.

I understand that there’s a financial aspect to this and that when we’re talking about budget it’s better to have three classes with three teachers than four classes with four teachers teaching the same number of children, but it’s my belief that this is an extraordinarily terrible set-up for the children. For one thing you have one teacher trying to focus two different curriculum into one, which means that someone is losing out somewhere: either the older kids are leaning less for their age group or the younger kids are having more advanced information forced on them. For another thing, you have the age gap between classmates which isn’t necessarily a good thing when it comes to social interaction. For example, my daughter is going to be one of the youngest kids in her class when she starts school because her birthday is just barely before the cut-off point. Other kids will be the oldest kids in their classes because their birthdays come right after the cut-off and therefore have to wait until the following year to start school. That means that it’s entirely possible (and likely) that my daughter could be starting school at 5 years old, and have 7-year-olds in her class with her. At certain points that age gap wouldn’t mean a lot, but there are definitely points at which I personally believe it makes a huge difference. There’s a heck of a difference in maturity levels between a 5-year-old and a 7-year old, and I’m not sure that I would feel comfortable with those two age-groups mixing on a social level. My daughter and her cousin are about a year and a half apart, and while they get along and love each other, I couldn’t fathom having them in the same class at school, being taught the same material and having the same expectations imposed upon them.

Split classes are often toted as being aimed toward advancing kids who are already a little advanced – in other words, put the smartest kids in the split class and they’ll get to learn more material sooner – but personally I think it’s nothing more than a way to save money and is almost definitely doing damage to at least some of those kids. It’s one thing to skip a grade because you and your parents and your teacher discussed it and decided that you’re too advanced for the material that you’re currently being taught, but it’s an entirely different thing to be forced into more advanced material – along with having to learn to deal with a different age group of children being in the same room as you all day every day – just because you happen to be in the upper percentile of the kids that you just happened to start school with.


Look, I don’t want to see kids suffer. If there’s a kid who, for instance, just doesn’t get math no matter how hard he tries, I don’t want to see him punished for that, because some kids just don’t mesh with some subjects. By all means, take that kid and work out a special math program for him so that he can still work through the system and move along while working on subjects that he is able to understand.

However, I can’t tell you how much I hate this “no child left behind” concept. I’m certain that someone could quote lots of psychological pros for having a schooling system in which children can never fail, the same way that someone decided it would be a great idea to take the ball away from kids playing soccer so that there’s no way anyone can lose. Regardless of your feelings on this system, here’s the problem with the overall thing: those kids – the ones who have been pushed through their education for a dozen years and have never had to deal with any kind of consequences based on their own effort or lack thereof – are eventually going to find out that the real world doesn’t give two shakes of a rat’s tail about their delicate emotions. When you spend twelve years showing a child that they’ll still move on regardless of how much or how little work they do, they’re going to learn to do as little work as possible to get by. And then when those kids hit the real world, the real world hits back…hard. College professors couldn’t care less about a student’s feelings; they aren’t going to allow them to pass a course just to make sure they continue to feel good about themselves. Employers aren’t going to give a damn about participation awards or what great self-esteem a person has; they will fire employees who refuse to put in a full day of honest-to-goodness work and they won’t think twice about how that firing will affect their ex-employee’s psyche.

By taking away any chance for a child to fail, we’re creating generations of young people who genuinely believe that the world is going to be handed to them on a silver platter, and can’t handle it when that doesn’t happen. By avoiding having to teach kids about what it means to lose, we’re telling them that they don’t ever actually have to try. By insisting that every kid is equally capable in all things, we’re taking wave after wave of kids and building them up for enormous disappointments later on in life. And here’s the thing… When kids are still young, we can teach them to deal with disappointment, to understand that not everyone can be good at everything, and that you have to put in hard work if you want to succeed; but if you teach them the opposite of all that for the first nineteen years of their lives, how are they supposed to handle the disappointment then, when they can’t get a job and they’re stuck living in their parents’ basement and they have absolutely nothing going for them at all? If you were told your entire life that you were the strongest person in the world, how would you feel when you finally went out into the world and the first person you came across punched you right in the nose and knocked you the hell out?

It sucks seeing kids fail, it really does, and I’m a big believer in that the educational system is not adequate for every child. But pushing a child through school even if they refuse to put in the effort to try and learn is akin to paying a mechanic to take the wheels off your car and then refuse to put them back on. The only beneficiary is the child’s sense of entitlement, and lord knows we already have enough engorged senses of entitlement floating around the world these days.

You Know What Opinions are Like, Don’t You?

A fellow blogger, one I happen to follow, has started up an interesting project. This blogger is known as Opinionated Man, and on his blog HarsH ReaLiTy he has come up with the idea for “Project O“. Basically, throughout the month of September he is going to be researching and discussing the concept of “opinions”, what they are, where they come from, what factors in our lives affect the ones we have. He plans to do this by way of information gathered from us, the bloggers, the readers, the people around the world connected together by the internet.

opinionsI thought this sounded particularly interesting, so when I saw that he released a template of questions for use in the project, I decided to write a blog post answering them. As per his requests, I will also be emailing my answers to him for use in the project, and I urge you to do so as well, should you decide to take part on your own blogs.

So without further ado, here we go:

Question 1: Please provide a window into who you are, some background information in a not too overwhelming profile here.

I’m a wife and mother, and an only child, but I grew up positively surrounded by cousins. I was a book-nerd kind of kid growing up, as well as a bit of a geek (I liked Star Wars, anime, video games, etc). I never had a lot of friends, but I loved the few I did have. I’ve wanted to be a fiction writer since the third grade, but somehow or other I became an instrumentation technician by trade. It’s a very male-dominated field but I’ve had surprisingly few issues in my seven years in the trade. These days I write whenever I can and aspire to become published sooner rather than later.

Question 2: If you haven’t already done so please provide your country of origin, whether you are male or female, an age would be nice, and where you currently live if that differs from the country of origin.

Country of origin and the country I’m currently living in are both Canada. I’m female and 29 years old.

Question 3: Recount the first time you remember having a differing opinion from someone significantly older than you. Do you remember what the topic was about? Did you voice your opinion or hold it to yourself?

The first time I can remember having a really strong opinion to the opposite of my elders was when I first started to realize that I thought religion was hooey. I was in the 7th or 8th grade, I believe, which is when Catholic kids complete their “Confirmation” ritual. It involves going to church every week for so many weeks and doing this and that and there’s a big ceremony at the end…and after a couple of weeks of church (I hadn’t really gone since I was little) I remember thinking, “This is ridiculous, I don’t believe a word of it, and so why am I trying to become a permanent member of this church?”

I did voice my opinion to my father, who more or less told me that I could believe whatever I wanted, but that it would probably be worth it to just complete the confirmation and be done with it since some of my family is very religious and it would likely have ended up in a huge fight. I took his advice and never went to church again after that ceremony.

Question 4: What levels of respect were practiced around you when you were a child? Was there bowing involved, handshakes, “yes Sirs and yes Ma’ams,” or some  other equivalent respectfulness in your culture’s tongue? Is an honorific given to someone older than you and do you often respect and practice that? How might the culture you were brought up in have affected the growth of your own opinions?

There weren’t a lot of honorifics in my childhood. Mostly we were just expected to watch our mouths (no profanity) and our tones (no smart-mouthing). I don’t know if it was a product of my upbringing, or if it’s a general feeling that I absorbed from my environment, but I grew up believing that age has nothing to do with respect, and that it doesn’t matter if you’re 100 years old and I’m five, you do not automatically get my respect if you haven’t earned it. There are, in my opinion, too many older people out there who feel that they should be respected by the sheer fact that they’ve survived for a while longer.

Question 5: How traveled are you and to what degree do you keep up with international news? You might also provide an educational background if you wish and if that education was gained from somewhere other than your current location. How available is the news and what goes on in the outside world to you in your country?

I’m not particularly traveled. I’ve only traveled within Canada, and not even all the way across (I’ve started in Nova Scotia and gone as far as Alberta). I obtained my education (Bachelor of Technology) in Nova Scotia. International news is available enough here (if not a little bit “tweeked” by the media), but I can honestly say that the degree to which I keep up with it is minimal at best. I glean my news stories from what others deem to be important (my husband might tell me about something, or my father might post a status update about it on Facebook). It’s not that I don’t care what’s happening in other areas of the world, but I’m the kind of person who can barely handle the events going on in her own life, never mind the lives of people I’ve never met.

Question 6: If you could share an opinion on a single international incident or topic that you either feel strongly about or that might not be known to the rest of the world what would it be? You have our attention.

As mentioned above, I don’t really keep up on the news or international incidents, but if there was one topic that I’d impress upon the world if I could, it would be the stigmas surrounding depression. These days it’s been proven that depression can stem from any number of factors, including physical (hormonal, for instance) ones that in no way reflect a person’s life or situation. I’ve seen people be berated for “pretending to be depressed” because the feeling is that someone can’t be depressed if they have what is considered to be a “good life”. Too many people think that depression is only allowed if the person has “real” reasons (got fired, wife left, someone close died) to be depressed, but there are scads of reasons for someone being depressed. I myself had a doctor check me out for chemical-imbalance depression because of a couple of other complaints I had brought to him, and the reaction I got from a few people close to me was very simply, “you’re not depressed”, as if it was an impossibility. I wasn’t, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to presume to know what’s going on in my mind and body, and true depression – whatever the cause – is a very dangerous thing to ignore and scoff away.

Question 7: What does the right to an opinion mean to you? Is it essential to freedom to have this right? How far would you go to protect that ability? The world is on fire with people of passion, how passionate are you about things you value?

This is a tough one because while I believe everyone has a right to their opinion, there are plenty of cases in which someone’s opinion is clearly wrong or psychotic. For instance, a kid who shot up his school because he was being bullied had the opinion that his tormenters deserved to die.

I do believe that everyone has a right to their opinion, but how you act on that opinion is the real trick.

I’m passionate about a great many things (the depression issue above, acts that I consider to be extremely poor parenting, the current employment insurance scandal going on in Canada, and so on), and this kind of passion inevitably leads to a battling of opinions. It can be very difficult, in these situations, to grit your teeth and accept that other people have different opinions. How does one find a happy medium in this sense when your opinion is that another person’s opinion is wrong? It’s a bit of a catch-22, isn’t it?

Question 8: Is it ever right for you to be allowed an opinion while someone else is denied that same right on the same topic?

In my opinion (haha, this is getting silly…) there are plenty of situations where I would deny someone their opinion. People are going to have an opinion whether you like it or not, because that’s the way that works, but I would deny someone their opinion if they had absolutely no knowledge or experience of the topic at hand. For instance, say I’m yelling at my daughter in the mall for doing something bad, and someone comes up to me and berates me for yelling at her because I’m “causing her psychological issues”. If that person has no kids of their own, has experienced no psychological issues as a result of the same kind of situation, and has never so much as opened a book on psychology, then what right do they have to impress their completely-pulled-out-of-my-ass opinion on me?

Question 9: The last question. upon completing this template and hopefully contemplating the issue what does this project mean to you? How can Project O potentially enlighten or help the world?

Mostly I’m interested to see some of the outcomes of these questions. Opinions are a tricky concept because they can come from so many different places, including but not limited to plain old base emotion. I hope that reading other peoples’ responses to these questions will help people to understand each other a bit, and maybe even help them learn a bit of tolerance.

Tea-riffic…(Haha, I’m So Clever)

We all have our weaknesses, our little addictions. About a year and a half ago, while doing some shopping in Halifax with my inlaws, I discovered one of mine. I had noticed this store before, but never bothered to go inside. This time I ventured in and promptly stared in confusion at the giant wall of shiny, silver canisters plastered with labels of black, white, red, green, yellow, blue, brown, and purple. I was a little flabbergasted, I admit, but the staff were almost unbelievably helpful, and after examining a couple of the canisters and feeling more than a little silly while sniffing at them, I left the store with my first packet of David’s Tea.

Those who follow my Twitter feed know that the day I just described resulted in a bit of an addiction. A lack of the stores near where I live keeps me from spending my life savings, but a location in the Toronto airport has allowed me to pick up a pack here, a pack there whenever I’m travelling to and from work, and I managed to bully my husband into picking me up a couple of containers for Christmas this year. My addiction has been well-supplied.

As I have quite a wealth of experience with the flavors of David’s Tea at this point, I thought it was about time I share some information on what I’ve tried, what I love, and what I suggest.

(And now seems like a good time to mention that I am in no way affiliated with David’s Tea, nor are they paying me in any manner. These are just the opinions of a very satisfied customer!)

Customer Service:
This may seem like a funny thing to start with, but I really felt the need to share my level of satisfaction with the customer service at David’s Tea. I’ve only visited three different locations, but I’ve dealt with approximately ten different employees, plus a customer service rep from their website, and I’ve thus far had nothing but good experiences. I’m sure that somewhere, at some David’s Tea location, there is probably a disgrunted brat of an employee who huffs their days away, but I’ve not come across one myself. Every employee I’ve dealt with has been extremely cheery, helpful, and friendly. They’ve helped me (and my husband) pick out teas, expressed their opinions and preferences, asked about my own preferences and made suggestions based on those, encouraged me to examine and sniff the teas, offered free samples, and in general just treated me as though I was a friend. Two employees in particular (both of whom work at the Toronto Pearson Airport location) happily take the time to ask me about my day and my travel plans while scooping up my tea. It’s just very calming and refreshing to have a happy face smiling at me and treating me well while I’m picking out my purchases. I’ve dealt with enough rude, ignorant cashiers and customer service reps to be able to really appreciate the nice ones, so keep it up DT employees!

It may seem a little silly, but part of what makes the tea so great for me is the accessories. Two months ago I purchased one of David’s Perfect Tea Mugs and I couldn’t be happier. It’s a clear mug (so you can watch your tea steep) and a very fine mesh steeping basket. There is also a cover which doubles as a saucer to put the basket in once your tea has finished steeping. I positively love it, and the basket is wide enough that it is fairly easy to clean by hand. By comparison we also have the David’s Tea by Bodum travel mug. At first I liked this one, and I do still like it for traveling, but it has a fatal flaw…it’s a royal pain in the arse to clean. The mug itself is long and thin on the inside, and the mesh filter that is meant to push your tea leaves out of the way tends to get gunked up pretty badly. The combination of these two issues pretty much demands that it be washed by a dishwasher; by hand just isn’t going to work. Since I spend so much time out West where I have only a small sink to clean my things in, this doesn’t work well for me.

In addition to the Perfect Mug, I’ve also purchased one of their Perfect Spoons. Basically it’s just a pre-sized spoon that measures out the exact amount that most David’s Tea recipes suggest (1.5 tsp), but it is awesome in its simplicity. I make a perfect cup of tea every time with its help.

OMG, the Actual Tea:
I’ll be honest, I’m up to about 30 different varieties at this point, and I’ve loved almost all of them. That may just mean I’m a tea maniac, I’m not sure. But for the sake of sharing, I’ll talk about a few of my favorites, and one in particular that I didn’t enjoy.

It’s difficult to choose an absolute favorite, but pretty high up on the list is Amaretto. One of the teas my husband got me for Christmas, this concoction of Lapaco, almond, apricot kernels, orange blossoms, rose blossoms, and flavoring smells exactly like a bottle of Disarona Amaretto. That is to say, it smells delicious. Seriously, I could just sit there and sniff the tin. But then, I’m a little looney. As far as flavor, it is a little weaker than some of the other teas, but when brewed a little strong it also tastes quite a lot like Disarona, only hot and without the alcohol content. Depending on your preferences, that could be an upside or a downside. I’ll let you decide, but for the record, for me it’s instant love.

Also high on the list is Strawberry Rhubarb Parfait. The mix of apple, hibiscus, raisins, carrot, yogurt bits, strawberry, rhubarb, and flavoring may be a little tart for some people, but to me it’s a delicious treat that makes me feel like I’ve had dessert. The best part? If you forget about it and it gets cold, it just ends up tasting like strawberry juice!

The last one that I’ll mention (before I end up giving you a blow-by-blow of every flavor I’ve ever bought) is Dragon Pearls. I was first attracted to this green tea simply because it seemed so neat…each of the “pearls” is hand-rolled from green tea leaves scented with jasmine flowers. As the tightly rolled little balls steep, they unroll (showing you just how meticulously miniaturized they really were) and release a very soothing scent. When I actually tasted it for the first time, I melted. Green tea is not for everyone, I know, especially not without some kind of addition such as honey, but personally I find Dragon Pearls to be incredibly calming and delicious. It is the kind of tea I would enjoy with some warm biscuits and butter. (Damn it, now I’m seriously craving some biscuits and butter…)

Now, to be fair, I have tried one tea that I did not enjoy at all. That one is Super Ginger. I bought it as a trial pack of teas meant to help when you’re suffering from a variety of ills. This mixture of ginger, green rooibos, pink peppercorns, black and white pepper, and flavoring is supposed to be a soothing cold remedy, but I had a seriously difficult time forcing it down. I found the overall flavor very spicy in an unpleasant way. It may have helped burn the cold out of me, but it wasn’t worth the cringing horror I felt whenever it was time to take a gulp. Better luck next time, DT.

So there you have it: yays and nays. But mostly yays. 😛 Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a delicious hot cup of Cookie Dough tea to imbibe.

Critique Coping

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

20. How to cope with a substantial critique or edit

Reading critiques or edit suggestions must be the worst part of being a writer. I don’t care who you are, no one enjoys being told that there’s something wrong with the thing they’ve spent so much of their time and effort creating. Your initial reaction is always going to be one of defense: “This idiot doesn’t know what they’re talking about! I’m right and they’re wrong, end of discussion!” Even if you’re mature and composed enough to realize that the person giving you the critique has a very good point, part of you will still want to argue, to fight and say that there’s nothing wrong with the way you wrote it.

For myself, the way to deal with a critique is by taking a deep breath, reading it through a couple of times, and trying to see what the reader didn’t say. That is, I put a lot of effort into trying to decide whether the reader is being harsh because they really want to help, or if they’re just being intentionally cruel; whether their ideas have merit, or if they’re letting personal opinions get in the way of sense; whether they genuinely want to help you make the story better, or if they’re just shooting out some generic nonsense to mask the fact that they barely read the story.

The sad fact is that while you can’t have the knee-jerk defensive reaction to critiques, you also can’t accept them as gospel. One thing I learned while hanging out at Critique Circle is that, yes, some readers are knowledgeable people who truly want to help you make your story be the best that it can be, while other people are just going to force their opinions on you under the guise of giving you “advice”. That’s why it’s a good idea to have multiple proof-readers. For example, there is a scene near the beginning of the action in “Nowhere to Hide” in which the main character strips off her pajama top and wraps it around her fist so that she doesn’t hurt herself while breaking a window. When I posted this scene for critique, one reader told me that the whole scene was pointless and “smacked of fetish”. I was hurt and confused when I read that because I didn’t feel that way at all, and I thought the scene made a lot of sense given the situation. I was just beginning to wonder if maybe I was being a little sensitive when half a dozen other critiques came in and almost all of them mentioned how much they loved that particular scene. If I hadn’t gotten those other critiques I may have changed the scene based on one person’s opinion, which would have been foolish.

So in conclusion, take critiques seriously, but not always to heart.

30 Days of Truth – Day 18

Your views on gay marriage.

First of all, let me just say that this topic ranks very high on my list of “arguments I wish would just die already”. I have opinions, strong ones, but I’m just so sick of hearing about this topic. I can’t believe that we’re still arguing about this. ARG.

So, okay, my views. My views are thus: let the poor people get freakin’ married!

Here’s the thing. Marriage, at its core, is nothing more than a contract between two people who love each other. We bring religion to it, especially in North America, but in the end marriage has nothing to do with God. Non-Christians all over the world get married all the time. If your religion states that you get married with God as witness, then that’s just fine and dandy. But in the end, no matter what you do or don’t believe in, marriage is just two people getting together in front of their friends and family, stating their love for each other, promising to be together, and incurring all the taxation that befalls married couples. Case closed.

So why then are people so damned against gay people getting married? The super religious types will keep a strangle-hold on the bible and state that its sacrilegious and destroys the sanctity of marriage, and all that crap. My response to that: there’s a LOT worse sacrilege and sanctity-destruction going on out there, as far as marriage goes. There are people who have married and divorced a dozen times, despite divorce being looked down upon by many religions. There are people who have been forced into loveless marriages for any number of reasons, even though that goes against the very principle of marriage. There have even been people who have married inanimate objects. I shit you not. Google that nonsense. And while I’m not attacking any of these people in particular, I find it amazing, insane, and insulting that we as a nation are still attacking gay people when that kind of nonsense is going on out there.

So to summarize: let the freakin’ people get married. Case closed.