Category Archives: Media

Have You Watched The Chair?

The Chair stars Sandra Oh as Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim, Nanah Mensah as Dr. Yasmin McKay, and Holland Taylor as Professor Joan Hambling

We just finished watching the Netflix series The Chair. The story begins as Ji-Yoon Kim becomes the first female chair of the English Department at an American college. She has lots on her plate. Some of her colleagues are way past retirement age and hardly any students sign up for their classes, while a brilliant black female professor who is very popular with students isn’t receiving the academic recognition she deserves.

Another professor makes a Hitler salute to illustrate a point during a lecture and the student body stages a protest. Then there is the wealthy donor who wants a famous actor rather than a distinguished scholar to give an important annual lecture at the college.

Everly Carganilla plays Ji-Yoon’s daughter Ju-Ju in the series

And as if she doesn’t have enough to juggle at work Ji -Yoon is trying to parent her adopted daughter who has behavior issues. She struggles to maintain a good relationship with her traditional Korean father and is trying to figure out if she wants to include romance in her life.

The Chair tells an engaging story with lots of action and humor but I would offer these three observations.

The syllabus at the university in the film was so steeped in tradition. The students were mainly reading things like Chaucer and Shakespeare and Melville. The work of white writers, mostly male seemed to dominate the courses offered. We didn’t see professors using contemporary texts by a diverse group of authors which I know quite a number of universities do by now.

I think the series realistically showed just how hard it is for single parents to juggle a challenging work-life and less-than-perfect family life. Ji-Yoon has reached what she thought would be the pinnacle of her career. She is the chair of the English department. She is also finally a mother something she’d always dreamed of being. And yet her life is so much harder and less fulfilling than she had imagined.

I thought it a bit unrealistic that every older professor in the department was portrayed as out of touch with students and dull in the classroom. My experience both as a teacher and student of English in secondary schools and universities leads me to believe that age isn’t always a factor as to whether a teacher is interesting or relevant.

The Atlantic reviewer calls The Chair “the best Netflix drama series in years.” Have you seen it? What did you think?

Other posts………….

Watching Bear Town

Politics is Tough

1619

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Connections With Michelle Sawatsky

I wrote a cover story about Michelle Sawatsky in 1991

In 1991 I was asked to do a story about Michelle Sawatsky for the magazine The Mennonite Mirror. At that time Michelle was a University of Manitoba volleyball player working towards a Bachelor of Music degree in piano performance and voice.

She and I talked about her successful high school volleyball experience under the tutelage of coach Shannon Kehler and the wonderful support her family gave her in all her endeavors. Michelle commented on how media coverage of women’s sports seemed to pale in comparison to the coverage offered men, and the way the American attitude towards the game of volleyball stood in stark contrast to the Canadian approach. She expressed appreciation for her university coach Ken Bentley who she said made allowances for her musical aspirations and was helping her become the best player she could be.

At the time I interviewed Michelle in 1991 she shared her dream of someday making the Canadian National Team and competing in the Olympics, a dream which came true in 1996 when she was on the Canadian women’s Olympic volleyball team in Atlanta. Michelle went on to establish a long and successful career for herself as a radio host for CFAM and its affiliates.

Taking Michelle out for dim sum in Hong Kong

In 2005 when my husband Dave and I were teaching at an international school in Hong Kong we invited Michelle to fly out to visit us and talk to the students at our school about her Olympic experience at our annual sports awards banquet. She also spoke to the high school student body and did some volleyball clinics with my husband’s physical education students.

Michelle with the students who interviewed her in Hong Kong

We had a good time showing Michelle around Hong Kong. One morning when we took a cable car ride to the top of Hong Kong’s Victoria Peak and happened to meet two young radio journalists doing a school assignment. They asked to interview us and when we told them Michelle was an Olympic athlete they were thrilled to have snagged her as a guest for their video project.

Photo by Jordan Ross The Carillon
Photo by Jordan Ross for The Carillon

On July 8th I was thrilled to connect with Michelle again when she interviewed me about my novel Lost on the Prairie on her radio show. We talked about how I got the idea for the novel, how it was appealing to a really wide audience of different ages, and the research I had done to write the book. You can listen to the interview here.

I was so grateful to Michelle for giving me an opportunity to talk about my book on her radio program. It also provided us with another opportunity to reconnect.

Other posts……….

Memories of Sai Kung

The Goddess of Running Shoes and Olympic Medals

Aunt Olly

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Filed under Hong Kong, Lost on the Prairie, Media

Aunt Olly

Olly Penner

We didn’t have Sesame Street or Paw Patrol or Blues Clues when I was a kid. We had Aunt Olly. Olly Penner hosted a program on the radio station CFAM for kids called Children’s Party and I was a devoted fan in my childhood.

Like many families in the late 1950s and early 1960s we didn’t have a television and along with thousands of other children from all over western Canada and the central northern United States I sat near the radio every afternoon while Aunt Olly read stories like Tall Fireman Paul, Big Red or Johnny Appleseed and played funny songs like I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly and There’s a Hole in the Bucket. If your mother sent in a request, Aunt Olly would also wish you a Happy Birthday over the air and even tell you where your Mom had hidden your present.

I remember hurrying home from school and sitting down at the table with the snack Mom had ready for me and listening to Aunt Olly.

Photo from the CFAM radio website of Aunt Olly and her sidekick Gus

In 1989 I was on the staff of the magazine The Mennonite Mirror and was assigned to write a feature story about Olly Penner for the magazine. I was excited to have the chance to interview my childhood idol. I found out that not only had Olly done a children’s program for CFAM she had also hosted a variety of other shows like Ladies First, Hints for Homemakers, The Garden Show, and Social Calendar. She co-hosted the radio station’s morning show with anchor Jim McSweeny for 13 years.

Remember this was a time when most women did not work outside the home, something Olly Penner was criticized for by some radio listeners. She said the support of her husband Vic who was the editor of the Altona newspaper The Red River Valley Echo but was often referred to by the public as ‘Aunt Olly’s husband’, made it possible for her to keep up with all her radio station commitments which included many public appearances. She also found time to write a regular newspaper column, publish a cookbook, and be an active participant in several community organizations, all while raising two sons.

Children’s Party souvenir from Greg Lindenbach

The day I interviewed her she showed me the thousands of fan letters she had received from children. Many had sent her photographs and drawings and I recognized some of the names. But Olly also had fan mail from adults; grandparents who enjoyed her show, farmers who listened to her while driving their tractors, recent immigrants who said they were learning English by listening to her, and parents who said they got their children to behave by threatening to take away the privilege of listening to Children’s Party. She even had a fan letter from a clergyman who said he’d ‘fallen in love with her voice’.

Olly Penner

Olly retired in 1987 and when I interviewed her in 1989 she was already a grandmother and was enjoying traveling with her husband, and spending more time with her family. Olly Penner died in 2015 at the age of 86. She had a legion of fans in a time when media programming aimed specifically at children was a rarity.

The full original article I wrote for the Mennonite Mirror can be accessed on page 4 of the May/June 1989 issue here.

Other posts………

Radios Good and Evil

What a Woman!

My Childhood Reading Heaven

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Filed under Canada, Childhood, Culture, Media

Watching Bear Town

Bear Town is a Swedish series with English subtitles

Dave and I just finished watching the five-episode television series Bear Town based on a novel of the same name by Fredrik Backman. We had both read the book a few years ago and it was excellent. We were glad we had read the novel before seeing the series.

Just a warning that at the heart of the story is a very graphically portrayed and troubling event. It was hard to read about in the book and is even harder to watch in the television series. But for anyone who has been involved in the world of hockey either as a player, a coach, a fan or a parent the story and message in Bear Town is an important one to consider.

The book and series illustrate that hockey can be a great experience for kids. Hockey teams can help community pride flourish. Hockey can bring people together.

Playing hockey can also be an awful experience for kids. It can batter civic pride. It can divide people.  Bear Town looks at both the negative and positive sides of hockey.  

The story is set in Sweden but could happen in any place where people love the game of hockey.  One thing I appreciated about seeing Bear Town compared to just reading the book is how the deep cold, wintry landscape of Sweden so hauntingly and artistically filmed for the series adds ambience to the chilling truths that unfold in the story.

Both our sons played hockey for a time and there were many good things about that experience for them. They learned responsibility, organization and teamwork, quick thinking and the importance of physical conditioning. They had some coaches who were excellent role models.

They also had coaches who were not good role models and we had to navigate some crazy hockey politics. There were attitudes and behaviours accepted in the dressing room that definitely were not in keeping with our family values. Hockey was expensive and time-consuming so if you weren’t careful it could become an almost obsessive focus of your family’s life in winter that didn’t leave much room for other important things.

Scene from Bear Town – photo by Niklas Maupoix

In Bear Town hockey gives an immigrant kid a place to belong, helps a boy without a Dad find a father figure, gives meaning and purpose to the life of an old man, provides camaraderie for a hockey phenom whose parents don’t have time for him, and inspires hope in a dying community. 

But also in Bear Town hockey creates a culture that entitles young men to think they can treat others violently. Hockey inspires vandalism and blackmail and fosters a locker room mentality that isn’t respectful of diversity. Hockey tears families apart and makes people feel hopeless. 

Bear Town is suspenseful.  It tells a story that will engage you but may trouble you deeply as well. If hockey has ever played a role in your life Bear Town will make you think about that experience in new ways. 

Other posts……..

The Bombers Grey Cup Victory is Exciting But……

Healthy Environments? Not Gyms or Arenas

The Shady Area Between Violence and Non-Violence

White Noise

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Television Talk

Before the pandemic, my husband Dave and I had busy social and work lives that often kept us apart for most of the day. We both had very different part-time jobs. We were each involved in a host of our own community, sports and service ventures, and we each pursued unique interests and passions. Although we had lots of friends as a couple, we each had our own circle of friends as well.

The great thing about being apart for most of the day was that in the evening over supper we had all these interesting things to talk about because we had both done such different things during the day.

However, during the pandemic, we have been together almost ALL THE TIME! Granted we’ve had some wonderful adventures together and our time cooped up in our apartment with one another has gone pretty peacefully and happily. But with our lives so intertwined, what do we talk about at supper now?

Our television shows! Dave and I have very divergent tastes in viewing preferences and so while he is watching a show on the television in the living room I am usually watching something completely different on the computer in my study.

Recently he has been intrigued by a series called The Walking Dead. It is not my cup of tea at all but Dave says if you can get past the brutal killing of zombies in each episode the series is really an insightful reflection on the meaning of life and is especially relevant to our current pandemic situation. He loves telling me all about it.

I have been watching New Amsterdam a Netflix series set in a modern hospital. Each episode raises one or more important issues in the health care field and while these problems are usually unrealistically resolved by the end of each show, I find the drama entertaining and thought-provoking. I love telling Dave all about it.

I have to admit I am looking forward to the end of the pandemic when each of us will once again be off pursuing our own activities and we will have had all kinds of interesting individual experiences from our days apart to talk about with each other at the dinner table, but until then we are keeping the communication lines open with……………. television talk.

Other posts………..

Four Ground Rules for Good Communication

The Twilight Zone

Is It Good To Be Lazy?

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Filed under COVID-19 Diary, Media

Politics Is Tough

Dave and I just finished watching Borgen a three-season political drama set in Denmark. It is great viewing. During the series you follow the career of politician Birgitte Nyborg who becomes the Danish Prime Minister .

One point Borgen certainly drove home for me is how incredibly difficult it is for politicians to achieve a balance between their personal and professional lives.

Over the three seasons of Borgen, Birgitte Nyborg the Danish prime minister is busy negotiating peace agreements between warring African countries, trying to push through important environmental and social service legislation, staving off political enemies, visiting soldiers in Afghanistan, preparing for important speeches in Parliament and presiding over cabinet meetings.

Birgitte Nyborg the new Danish Prime Minister meets the press with her family

At the same time she must deal with a husband who feels neglected and threatened because of her powerful political position, a son who has a hard time adjusting to his mother’s hectic schedule, a daughter with serious mental health issues, a meddling father, her own health concerns and trying to sustain meaningful friendships. It isn’t easy.

Maintaining a work life and personal life balance is difficult in many professions but seems particularly challenging in politics and particularly difficult for women.

Seeing how Brigitte Nyborg handles all the crisis in her personal and political life in Borgen is realistic and engaging. It is one of many reasons I’d recommend this excellent Netflix series.

Other posts………

Women Should Be Leading. Without Them Men Turn Into Morons

Should Women With Young Children Be Politicians?

Why All These Old White Men?

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Speaking To An Empty Room

I’ve been watching the speeches at the American political conventions. Almost all of the presentations are virtual and I think the different speakers are demonstrating varying degrees of comfort with trying to connect with an audience they can’t see.  It can be disconcerting. I got a little taste of what that was like on a recent Sunday morning when I spoke in our church.  I was at the front of the sanctuary behind the pulpit and there were exactly seven people listening to me. Due to COVID precautions, the only people in the building were those who were participating in the service in some way and they were spread out in the huge room that can seat hundreds of people.  I admit it was a little unnerving speaking to all those empty pews.  I knew people were watching me on their computer screens but I couldn’t see them. The experience made me realize how much I rely on my audience when I speak.  I like to look at people and connect with their eyes.  I like to see them smile or nod their heads when I say something that resonates with them.  I like to see them raise an eyebrow if I’ve said something they find questionable, or furrow their brow if they disagree with me. If they move a little restlessly in their seat I can guess that what I’m saying makes them uncomfortable.  

If they are looking at their watches it’s a sign that I’d better speed up or leave something out of my talk. If they are looking down studying their written program or a paper handout, or even checking their phones they are probably bored. And yes I even like to see when they have fallen asleep because then I might raise my voice or say something startling to wake them up.  

Many people kindly sent me messages after I spoke on Sunday to let me know they had appreciated my words.  That was good of them because when you can’t see your audience you really have no way of knowing how your message is being received.  

Speaking to a nearly empty room made me realize what an important role your audience plays when you speak. I am sure the many people who have done virtual presentations during the pandemic are realizing the same thing. 

Other posts………..

Four Ground Rules For Good Communication

Calculator Conversation

A Lament For Letters

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The Female Lead

I started following a group called The Female Lead on Twitter and I am so inspired by their regular posts that highlight what a different world we might have if women had been given equal rights throughout history and if women, instead of primarily men, were leading the world at this critical juncture.  Some of the posts are quotes from women that help us see things in new ways. 

Jacinda Arden the prime minister of New Zealand is being praised for her leadership during the current pandemic

I really rebel against this idea that politics has to be a place full of ego where you’re constantly focused on scoring hits against each one another. Yes, we need a robust democracy, but you can be strong, and you can be kind.

Jacinda Ardern

Michelle Obama photo by Gage Skidmore from Wikimedia Commons

Strong men, strong men, men who are truly role models, don’t need to put down women to make themselves feel powerful

Michelle Obama

Ruth Bader Ginsberg- American Supreme Court Justice- photo public domain

When I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough women on the Supreme Court and I say, ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’s been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.

-Ruth Bader Ginsburg

17-year-old climate and indigenous rights activist Helena Gualinga holding the red sign in the photo. She lives in Ecuador.

A strong woman stands up for herself.  A stronger woman stands up for everybody else.  

-Anonymous

Vera Rubin- Photo from the Smithsonian Institute

There is no problem in science that can be solved by a man that cannot be solved by a woman.

-Vera Rubin the astronomer who discovered dark matter. She spent her life advocating for women in science and was known for mentoring aspiring female astronomers.

I raise up my voice not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of the human population is held back.

Malala Yousafzai

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez

The idea that a woman can be as powerful as a man is something that our society can’t deal with. But I am as powerful as a man and it drives them crazy.
The Female Lead doesn’t just have quotes, however.  Sometimes they feature fabulous cartoons like this one by Lunar Baboon. 

The Female Lead has also introduced me to lots of women I didn’t know about who have done and are doing incredible things. Like…………

Dr Gladys West- photo in the public domain

Dr Gladys West one of the lead inventors of GPS Technology. She is known for her contributions towards the mathematical modelling of the shape of the earth and……….

Althea Gibson – photo public domain

Althea Neale Gibson who in 1956 became the first Black person to win a Grand Slam tennis title! 

I am finding that right now I need to make sure my Twitter feed and my other sources of social media are filled with positive, inspiring messages that give me hope.  The Female Lead fills the bill nicely.  My only criticism of the site is that I wish I’d see more Canadian women on its feed.  Maybe I need to send them some suggestions or maybe I need to start a Female Lead twitter page focused on Canadian women myself. 

Other posts……….

Where Does She Get Her Energy?

A Book To Make You Feel Insanely Hopeful

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Filed under feminism, Media

Will You Miss the Comments?

The Winnipeg Free Press has ended the practice of providing an opportunity for readers to make comments online after reading articles in their paper.  I usually read the comments in the Free Press and also in the other two daily newspapers I subscribe to.  I appreciate the additional perspective the comments offer me.  I do know that some comments are awful.  They are racist, contain personal attacks, are insulting and come from ill-informed or angry readers.  But there are also stimulating and interesting discussions that take place in the comments section. 

Photo by Hasan Albari on Pexels.com

The Winnipeg Free Press is not the first news source to make the decision to eliminate comments. More and more news outlets and newspapers are eliminating their comments sections. I read an article where representatives of seven different news organizations discussed their decision to remove their comment sections.  Here are some things they discovered.  

  1. There were still plenty of comments on Twitter and Facebook when articles were shared on social media. This steered more readers to news sites than a comments section every had. Carefully selected articles highlighted and linked on social media received a huge response from readers online. 
  2. Participation in online forums and writing letters to the editor increased when comments weren’t available.  
  3. One news site that ended its comments section seven years ago has more than doubled their number of subscribers in that same time period, so it obviously didn’t hurt them. 
  4. It takes a lot of time and money to have people moderate the comments section to eliminate irrelevant and inflammatory comments.  Those resources could be better spent providing more in-depth and broader news coverage. 
  5. Some news services found that the same commenters were making hundreds of comments and that they didn’t have nearly as many unique commenters as they thought. Their number of commenters really only represented a small percentage of their reading audience. 

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

The Winnipeg Free Press says that in the near future they will be introducing other ways for readers to provide feedback and opinions and engage in discussion about articles in the paper.  As someone who has commented on Winnipeg Free Press articles in the past and who frequently reads the comments section, I look forward to learning more about these plans.  

Other posts………..

Letter to the Editor

The Religion of Trees

A New Writing Challenge

 

 

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1619

My son recommended the podcast 1619 to me. It was an excellent place to start my quest to learn more about systemic racism.  The series aired in August of last year and won a 2020 Pulitzer Prize, the first podcast to ever be given the coveted award.

1619 is narrated by Nikole Hannah-Jones and I loved the way she interspersed incidents and people from her own life with the information she presented in each episode.  One of the stories she told was about a favourite uncle who dressed in red from head to toe for Nikole’s university graduation.  He was SO proud of her. He died of cancer at age 50 because of systemic racism in the American health care system. 

The podcast’s name comes from the fact that the first slaves were brought to America in 1619.  In an article in the Michigan Daily  Nikole talks about how every American schoolchild knows the name of The Mayflower the ship that brought the first Pilgrim settlers to North America in 1620 but few know the name of The White Lion which was the ship that brought slaves there a year before. 

Although you learn lots of history from listening to 1619 the thing I liked most about the podcast was the fascinating people I got to know. 

Angie and June Provost

People like June and Angie Provost, sugar cane farmers from Louisianna who lost their family farm because of systemic racism against Black farmers in the banking industry. They are fighting back and taking their case to the public so other farmers won’t have to experience what they did. 

Rebecca Lee Crumpler

People like Rebecca Lee Crumpler the first Black woman to graduate from medical college and become a physician in the United States. She had a practice for poor women and children in Boston but after the Civil War, she moved to the south to provide medical care to freed slaves. She was subjected to intense racism and sexism but remained dedicated to her profession. 

I can highly recommend 1619 as an engaging and eye-opening experience on the road to learning more about systemic racism.  You can listen to the episodes here.

Other posts………. 

Are You A Performance Ally?

Racism -Pure and Simple

A Possible Alternative to Tearing Down Statues

 

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Filed under History, Media