A Day in the Life

This is the first in a series of poems (and possibly rants) I plan to write about teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Accessible doors locked so I have to use my hands—

Once, twice, three times, four—

on the same handles used by several hundred students

and several dozen teachers.

“Attention Staff: Please sign the log sheet located on the filing cabinet upon entering the room.”

I must sign into the “private” office I share with up to eight colleagues

“Maximum number of occupants: 5”

but only five of us can access our possessions at any given time.

“High Touch Surface: Remember to disinfect after every use.”

“High Touch Surface: Remember to disinfect after every use.”

“High Touch Surface: Remember to disinfect after every use.”

Fridge…microwave…printer.

“Maintain physical distance”

In a room where students sit no more than four feet apart

“Face mask required for entry”

with ill-fitting masks.

The students arrive all too soon,

forgetting that I have asked them to remain in their seats

and get my attention

before asking a question.

The double the normal length lesson begins.

Some students are with me while

others catch up on sleep,

and I am envious.

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“Supergirl” Season 4 is Super Duper!

Warning: spoilers are likely to follow.

Thanks to Netflix, I was just able to catch up on Supergirl season 4, and I was blown away. Now, I know I’m coming late to the party, but I’m going to whoop it up anyway, so if you’ve already watched the season and screamed accolades from the rooftop, imagine that I’m right there with you.

Supergirl, for those of you who don’t know, is Superman’s cousin who is also on Earth, wears a similar costume, and fights bad guys, just like Superman. At the core of the Supergirl story is a trio of strong female characters (Supergirl/Kara, Alex, and Lena) who are joined this season by Nia Nal, but more on her later. Nevermind that the season 4 has plenty of elements from Superman lore, like Brainiac, Lex Luthor, and even Superman himself, and aside from the fact that actors from other Superman productions–such as Erica Durance who played Lois on Smallville, Helen Slater who played Supergirl herself in the 1984 movie, and Dean Cain who played Superman on Lois and Clark–are featured in roles. Supergirl season 4 is impressive for the values it imparts. Here are my observations.

A timely message

Given the state of the nation and that racism and hatred and mistrust for immigrants has risen to the forefront over the past few years, Supergirl is to be praised for demonstrating how xenophobia can only lead to a nation’s destruction. Rather than human immigrants, aliens (as in from other planets) are the targets. They are referred to as “roaches” and told to go home. Near the climax, they are even banned from Earth and a satellite goes into orbit to shoot down approaching spacecraft. Though it’s interesting that we see the leader of the racist Children of Liberty–Ben Lockhart’s–origins (played with sexy scowls and determination by Sam Witwer), at its heart, the season is a parable for where we are heading if we give into our fear of the unknown and buy into stereotypes. In other words, allowing hate to grow and lashing out at our fellow man will assure nothing short of our own destruction.

Typically, literature–and science fiction in particular–is used to hold a mirror up to our society, but according to LiteraryTerms.net, one of the traits of science fiction is “to explore what could happen if certain events or circumstances came to be.”And while I’m not suggesting that Supergirl demonstrates what might happen on Earth if we become a safe haven for aliens in danger on their own planet, I am suggesting that it takes our persecution of those we perceive as different to the extreme. Angry mobs, protests gone wrong, and burying democracy in favour of a police state are only a few of the things that could seriously happen if we stand by and let racism flourish.

Nia Nal is a Superwoman

Nia Nal is the new character introduced this season. She is trans character played by a trans actress. Her character is a half-alien who belongs to a race of dreamers (they have prophetic dreams) that are passed on from mother to daughter. Nia’s parents expect her sister to have the ability, but instead, Nia is the one to inherit the power. This is a puzzling reveal for Nia’s sister, a genetic female, who observes that Nia shouldn’t have the power because she’s not a “real woman”. I think this turn of events is fabulous. To me, it says that in her heart and in her mind, Nia is a true woman. And the fact that the Supergirl‘s writers set the story up this way, it says that this is true of all trans people. If a person–in this case, Nia (Nicole Maines)–believes herself to be female, who are we to judge? Nia has no qualms about letting the world know that she is trans and in the Supergirl universe, no one so much as bats an eye at her admission. The situation is a brilliant example of art depicting life the way it should be.

Watching season 4 of Supergirl has only cemented my enthusiasm for this television show. I can’t wait to see season 5!

Do you watch Supergirl? What do you think of the series and plotlines? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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Exposing yet another Canadian tragedy

THE HOME FOR UNWANTED GIRLS by Joanna Goodman

At this point in history, most of us know about the Native residential schools. Some of us might be aware that there were, in fact, slaves in Canada. Let’s not forget the boatloads of Jews who were sent back to Europe during the Holocaust to meet their fate in the concentration camps. There was also the appropriation of the Dionne Quintuplets who were taken from their parents and made into tourist attractions. I would, however, be willing to bet that few Canadians are aware of the travesty orphans in Quebec orphanages suffered in the 1940s and 50s, something The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman strives to bring to the fore.

In The Home for Unwanted Girls, fifteen-year-old half-English/half-French Maggie gets pregnant by her French boyfriend. When the girl, named Elodie, is born, her parents whisk the baby off to be adopted by a Jewish couple who cannot adopt through the system, but Elodie is sickly at birth, and the couple backs out. The only thing left to do is to give the baby to an orphanage. When Elodie is 11, she meets with a doctor who declares her mentally insane so she can be admitted to the insane asylum to which the facility is about to be converted. Told the other is dead, Elodie and Maggie stumble through life, unable to rise above the circumstance of Elodie’s birth which, in Catholic rural Quebec, is a horrific sin.

Search for the “Duplessis Orphans” to learn the whole story. In a nutshell, the Catholic-run institution found it could make more money housing the mentally ill than orphans, so they had the residents in their orphanages declared mentally insane so they could keep living in their institutions and collecting money for their incarceration. The Duplessis orphans were treated no differently than the other inmates, receiving the same, harsh punishments and no education. The orphans were not removed from the institutions until after 1962. They were eventually issued an apology in 1999 and paid damages in 2006, but the damage for “an estimated two to four thousand children [who] were physically, mentally, and sexually abused” had already been done.” As would be imagined, the orphans found it difficult to integrate back into society after their experiences. The character of Maggie is inspired by Goodman’s mother, who was the daughter of a French Catholic married to an English “seed” man (one who makes a living selling seeds like Maggie’s father in the novel), but the rest of the book is based on Goodman’s research into the Duplessis orphans while giving a “deeper historical context into some of the long-running tensions that still exist between the province’s French and English communities.”

The Home for Unwanted Girls was an incredible read which I was unable to put down and finished in less than a week. Some of the attraction is akin to slowing down to catch a glimpse of the aftermath of an accident—we are so enticed by the devastation that we can’t look away. Elodie’s story while incarcerated, based on an actual, first-person exposition by a Duplessis orphan, propels the story forward, as do Maggie and Gabriel’s will-they-won’t-they relationship. Will Maggie and Gabriel get back together? Will Gabriel ever find out about Elodie’s existence? Will Maggie and Elodie ever be reunited? Read Joanna Goodman’s The Home for Unwanted Girls to find out.

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“The OA” Season Two — WTF?

Warning: this is about “The OA”; spoilers abound.

Brit Marling as Prarie/Nina from “The OA” season two

 In season one of Netflix’s “The OA”, Prairie, a blind girl, is kidnapped by Hap and kept in an underground glass prison cell for seven years. Hap is obsessed with people who have had near death experiences (NDE), and he wants to find out what happens after death. This is no “Flatliners”. Hap regularly kills Prairie and his four other charges—NDE survivors all—by drowning them in a helmet he’s devised before bringing them back to hear about their experiences. When Prairie tries to escape, she regains her sight after Hap hits her over the head in an attempt to kill her.

What the prisoners see after death is a series of “movements” they must do together in order to escape their subterranean prison. I should clarify that the way they escape is by sending their consciousnesses to another dimension.

Weird? You bet. And it only gets weirder.

“The OA” is a story within a story in which Prairie recounts what has happened to five select people in the present, including one of the teachers at Prairie’s school. When an active shooter goes on a rampage at the school, the five repeat the prisoners’ movements to distract the shooter. Season one ends with Prairie being shot in the chest.

Season two opens with Hap killing the prisoners and all of them, including Prairie, waking up in their bodies in an alternate reality. Hap is still keeping them prisoners in a psychiatric institution, Prairie finds out what her life would have been like without her NDE as a child, and Prairie’s love interest, Homer, is a doctor working under Hap. Prairie’s audience of five go on a quest to find out what happened to her and to send the teacher to Prairie’s new dimension.

Season two introduces a house that’s actually a puzzle that people solve using a phone app, a psychic octopus, ghosts from another dimension, the revelation that Nina, Prairie’s alter-ego, is a medium for nature, and that teacher BAA is a medium who can sense what’s happening in the other dimension. Remember how I said that it only gets weirder? Cue brain seeds that grow gardens forming an interdimensional map, and that Hap is Jason Isaacs (the actor that plays him) in another reality who is married to Brit Marling, the actor that plays Prairie (shades of “Being John Malkovich”). The object of the game is to find the rose window that looks into this alternate reality in order to win the game. Oh, and there are dreams. Lots of them, in which many people dream of a tunnel the size of a coffin, two round staircases, a rose window, and Karim, a private investigator hired to find Michelle who is Buck, a transgender teenager that is one of Prairie’s five select people.

I watched all eight episodes over two days and needless to say, I’m still processing. I have a lot of thinking to do and a lot of reading to figure out what I’ve just watched. Just like season one, this season takes a long time building up to the final two episodes which feel rushed. In fact, the whole season feels rushed, like there’s SO much jammed into those eight hours that it will take a lot of unpacking to understand the symbolism behind the giant octopus or how BAA suddenly has psychic powers. There’s no guessing needed to figure out the symbolism of the eyes (Prairie was blind; Nina was not), near drownings (reminiscent of Hap’s torture device) or that the puzzle floor is a huge cross-section of a tree (symbolic of the tree of life).

Regardless, both seasons of “The OA” are worth the watch for literary nerds like me who can’t help but ponder the overall meaning of the story. This is going to take a while. Discuss amongst yourselves until I figure it out.

Any thoughts? Please leave them in the comments below.  

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