Trevor Abes: Writer

Tag: writing

A Really Cool Workshop for Really Cool People

Happy to share that I’ll be facilitating a performance workshop this June in a month-long series alongside Jay MillAr, Liz Worth, Tabatha Stuhlmueller and the Toronto Arts Council. It’s $40 all-included. Grab a spot here.

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Spoken Word Takes a Turn for the Outrageous

Outrageous is a new reading series in Toronto that’s turning heads and making friends by breaking all the rules. Read my article about it in Torontoist.

If you’re in the city, come by for Outrageous X on September 29 at 8 p.m.

From Outrageous VIII: Alex Hood on bass and Callum MacKenzie on sax as the Rainbow Jackson Free Jazz Experience. Photo by Maite Jacobson.

From Outrageous VIII: Alex Hood on bass and Callum MacKenzie on sax as the Rainbow Jackson Free Jazz Experience. Photo by Maite Jacobson.

 

The Peanut-Butteriness of Sunday Afternoons

Bookcase by Job Koelewijn.

Bookcase by Job Koelewijn.

I don’t know about you, but Sunday afternoons can feel raw, heady, like that moment of pride after plugging in a dying phone for charging, multiplied by a thousand. Teeth are brushed with the care of a kiss, every word of Friday’s leftover mail is read, not skimmed over dinner, and speed limits seem just inventions, the thorns bound to those platonically pristine roses we are sometimes reminded to smell.

Some of my happiest memories as a child happened half asleep on a chair or in the backseat of a car in mid afternoon, a haze of semi-dry heat pressing itself against my cheeks. I’d start to nod off and, instantly, I’d accept my body’s call to shut down, oblivious to the scenery –whether the dutifully green lawns of a Brampton suburb or plastic furniture and extended family, barbecue smoke and the smell of chlorine– and oblivious to the unfinished e-mails that could wait another hour or two. Then, awake and restored to the Earth, maybe by the rush of someone across damp swimming pool cobbles, scanning an article for overused gerunds no longer seemed so apocalyptic. Sunday, for me, is synonymous with this kind of small-time careless abandon.

Yet Sunday is closer to nothing than any other day of the week, not nihilism, but the total availability of space and time. Sunday is when breakups happen, when poems are finished. Sunday is when habits are given up and sons and daughters are disowned for good. It is the best day for first-time experiences, because they will seep into your attention and stain it like turmeric.

Even if your time off or week’s end is frequently found on Mondays, Mondays are your Sundays, those days when you lounge on the couch a little longer than you normally would,  forget the dishes soaking in the sink, and ponder for pleasure because you can without interruption.

The freedom to pick a file from the universe’s library and look at it as a toddler does an ant that doesn’t bite: this is a savory activity, one that merits more than a few minutes before bed. Through it people change, get better at being themselves, and imbue the daily grind with sweet, sexy meaning.

If you are, then let us see. 

The Devolution of Nikki Yanofsky

Photo by Valerie Jodoin Keaton.

Photo by Valerie Jodoin Keaton.

Even if you can’t tell John Coltrane from John McLaughlin, you’ve probably heard of Canada’s most promising jazz singer, 19-year-old Nikki Yanofsky. Hailing from Hampstead, Montreal, Yanofsky immersed herself in music as a child – her two older brothers introduced her to the Beatles and she enrolled in vocal lessons spurred on by her father Richard, also a musician. She turned out to be a natural talent blessed with perfect pitch, and the results exceeded anyone’s expectations. At 12, she became the youngest artist in history to headline the Montreal Jazz Festival, performing in front of more than 100,000 people. At 13, she recorded her debut Ella…Of Thee I Swing, a tribute to her idol Ella Fitzgerald, at a packed Place des Arts in 2007. The album features astounding renditions of “You’ve Changed,” “Flyin’ Home,” and Etta James’ “At Last,” which Yanofsky dedicated to her dog Hudson after stating that, at her tender age, it was the best way she had to emote during the song. Through the 14-song set, she sounds comfortable beyond her years with both the stage and the cadences of soul earned through hardship. She dips into lower registers like a wrong turn purposefully taken, soars for that show-stopping high note like the powerhouse greats she’s studied since primary school, and she scats with the personality of someone who’s dwelled in hell and found her way out at a snail’s pace. A teenaged hell, but hell all the same.

Two years passed before her first studio effort, the laconically titled Nikki, hit shelves in 2010. Listeners encountered a greater prevalence of pop next to the expected jazz standards, but it was clear in Yanofsky’s delivery that she had a history with every song and artist. Nikki also had experience on her side, with St. Catharines legend Ron Sexsmith and Jesse Harris of “Don’t Know Why” fame on board as co-writers for some of her first original compositions. If the production was more refined, it was all the better for it, a necessary upgrade to meet the normal vocal changes from 13 to 16 years of age. On “God Bless the Child,” Yanofsky conveys a fitting cocktail of loss and longing; she understands Billie Holiday’s personal troubles during her 1941 recording without having to live them. On the playful “Take the ‘A’ Train” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” band and singer offer insights into straight ahead jazz that root Yanofsky in the history of her craft beyond proper song choices. Gone is what a certain critic called her “canny mimicry” – referring to her 2006-07 recording of “Airmail Special” on the compilation We All Love Ella– a sense of self-assurance and ownership over the material having taken its place. Nikki is currently certified gold in Canada, having shipped over 40,000 copies.

Throughout these years, what brought people out to the concerts is sheer amazement, at least on the surface. A kid that belts them like the best of them will always draw a crowd. What brought people out to see her for a second or third time, though, carries a considerable weight, and it’s that what we were watching was, without question, the rise of the world’s next great jazz singer. Diehards will disagree, purists always will until they see the grail before their eyes, but Yanofsky was a girl apart from the singers spoiled by jazz-inflected pop. From her Converse and jeans, she slipped into Ella’s high heel pumps better than anyone on the scene since she first squeaked her way onto it, and that all changed when Nikki signed with one Quincy Jones.

Quincy

Photo by Michael Buckner.

As Yanofsky’s co-manager, Jones had a gradual effect on the young singer’s sound. Jazz played second fiddle to pop song-structures; stripped-down, acoustic accompaniment was ditched for digital overproduction; and her supple vocal runs scooted to make room for clichéd R&B acrobatics. Yanofsky’s third album, Little Secret – long delayed since its initial fall 2013 release– saw her in the studio with Rob Kleiner, a songwriter and producer experienced in club-ready beats who’s worked with Flo Rida, David Guetta, and Cee Lo Green. The songs they came up with aim for a broader appeal and for younger audiences through the dilution of Yanofsky’s musical identity. Nikki has been smoothed out, with only vestiges of the uncalculated, care-free approach to soul, classic blues, and jazz that kept her from being swallowed by the industry. From the title track “Little Secret” to “Something New” to “Enough of You,” the album almost uniformly takes heed from repetitious Top-40-esque dribble. Additionally, the backing band on her Little Secret Tour is roughly 20 years younger than her last, with previous musical director Rob Fahie being replaced by Will Wells, a laptop-reliant arranger whose touring background is limited to a stint with LMFAO.

Yet as I said at the start, Yanofsky is immersed in music. Little Secret is masterfully executed because jazz is not the limit of her repertoire and she is a better singer with each passing year. During her set on June 25, 2013 at Toronto’s Koerner Hall, she sang a jazz-medley of recent hits, including Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” and LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It.” She wrote around her favorite verse on Louis Armstrong’s “Jeepers Creepers” and performed it as the animated throwback “Jeepers Creepers 2.0.” There is ample need for experimentation in jazz – and a need for fun in general, free from critical stuffiness about what jazz is and what it isn’t– as is the case in the career of a girl not yet 20. There are decades still to tread before Nikki’s style settles into any kind of permanence and more changes are surely to come. It’s just too bad the most recent adaptation in her evolution is the outcome of pressure, naiveté, and a desire to excel within conformity when inimitability was already there. 

Culture Hawker Chronicles: Patrick Grant

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From the Toronto Review of Books

In this series, Trevor Abes gets to know the people behind the counter at Toronto’s music stores, book shops, and art galleries.

Patrick Grant has his hustles. He’s been the general manager at Kops Records going on four years and he sings lead in Patrick Grant and the FleshVignettes, an indie rock sextet with soul and funk influences. He also plays guitar at The Comedy Bar for the Sunday Night Live show. Grant’s goal is to “make music that relates to both the body and the mind, to have a really groovy ass band that lets you get down, but at the same time makes you think.”

Trevor: What does your job at Kops involve?

Patrick: I do merchandising, stocking, and ordering of new product.

Trevor: Where did you grow up?

Patrick: I grew up on the North York side of Scarborough, Ellesmere and Victoria Park area.

Trevor: What kind of musicians inform you?

Patrick: My favorite artist of all time is Bruce Springsteen. I like guys who are heavily songwriting-oriented, like a Paul Simon, or in terms of newer guys, I really like Kurt Vile.

Trevor: Where’s your fascination with music come from?

Patrick: It grew through my family. My dad dropped The Boss, The Doors and The Eagles in the car all the time. Hearing “Break On Through (To The Other Side)” when you’re seven has a pretty profound influence on a kid.

Trevor: What have you been listening to lately?

Patrick: A compilation [on Now-Again Records] called Forge Your Own Chains: Heavy Psychedelic Ballads and Dirges. Tracks on this record might have been sampled on your favorite hip hop song, thought most people wouldn’t necessarily know.

Trevor: Tell me what’s so special about vinyl.

Patrick: This is a little heady, but when you’re relating to something that is a physical object scraping against another physical object to make a sound, it reacts with your body in a way that’s not necessarily just in your ears. It’s participation. People like to have a tangible physical medium when they’re consuming art. It’s the difference between going to an art gallery and looking at Picassos on your computer.

Trevor: What do you make of all this hoopla about the death of record stores?

Patrick: I don’t really believe that record stores are dying, I believe that record stores that don’t know their position and function are dying. Everyone wants a place like [Kops]. I see some record stores close because of a lack of an ability to adapt.

Trevor: Have any interesting run-ins during your time at Kops?

Patrick: There was a day a cat came up to me with a Connie Francis record he got out of our 25 cent bin, and he said, “Can you put this on hold for me? I’ll be back tomorrow to pick it up.” I asked him who I should put it on hold for. He looked me in the eye and said, “Andrew Lloyd Webber,” and walked straight out the door.

Classics Envy: Why No Book Is Better Than The Next

Photo by Michael Fritz.

Sam Beckett. Photo by Michael Fritz.

Thought they are facts, and highly intuitive ones at that, reading a novel doesn’t necessarily offer more mental benefits than watching a film, and reading a short story isn’t guaranteed to make you a better person than an episode of your favorite TV show. If the relationship between readers and literature was that simple and self-aggrandizing, book critics would be falling over left and right from persistent genital arousal disorder. I did not understand any of this until roughly halfway through university.

In university, I was the kind of English major that looked down on “trashy” fiction for being what it is: easy, popularly-themed reading that hopefully appeals to everyone and your grandma. Authors like Grisham, Patterson, and Coelho didn’t deserve to be called literature because their aesthetics lacked complexity, and their books too-much resembled the products of an assembly line. These authors were, in a sense, garbage.

Where did I first encounter these views? The likely answer is through my fascination with literary theory, the writers of which still hold the places in my psyche that many tend to reserve for rock stars and celebrities. Their personal lives aside, I took reading suggestions from Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon, I read Derrida like he was the Oracle of Delphi, and Barthes, well, his style and grace just couldn’t be matched. The logical consequence of believing in and defending a theorist’s teachings is thinking that whoever disagrees is wrong. Now, Derrida never said Danielle Steel’s novels were shit, and Barthes thought a lot of well-respected books were– Bloom, it’s worth remembering, reserves his wrath for Harry Potter and Stephen King; the connection between lit theory and looking down on grocery-store-rack fiction is the presence you keep: People that write about books write about the ones that offer the most mileage; your Austen, your Proust, your Beckett, and your Kafka require a considerable amount more unraveling than the latest Alex Cross thriller. Comparatively, does that mean The Metamorphosis will do you more good than bad? Clearly not. If the relationship between high-literature, an aptitude for learning, and the smooth development of the self was that straightforward, Jackie Collins wouldn’t be allowed near a television studio. And the issue is well beyond different books appealing to different people, because a love for the classics doesn’t preclude a love for what is perceived as kitsch.

‘Appeal’ may not be the right word. Mere interest isn’t what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about life-paths, and passing fancies are but small fragments of their multifoliate makeup. Whichever books you dare crack open, the only way to guarantee they affect you to their fullest degree is to read them without preconceptions; in this way, Twilight and Waiting for Godot are essentially the same. 

Roland Barthes. Photo by Aly.

Roland Barthes. Photo by Aly.

Record Store Roundup: She Said Boom! Roncesvalles

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From the Toronto Review of Books

She Said Boom! takes its indelible name from the first song on Toronto post-punk band Fifth Column’s All-Time Queen of the World. It has two locations (393 Roncesvalles Ave and 372 College St), under separate but amicable ownership, that serve two very different communities. The College store is close to Kensington Market and the University of Toronto so it caters to younger customers, mostly college students, while the Roncesvalles store gets more young families and people from Parkdale.

The storefront sign at She Said Boom! Roncesvalles is proof that written explosions are just as eye-catching as hot ones. Open since 1999, it’s one of the first businesses in Toronto to sell both books and music. “The reason was largely accidental,” says owner John Bowker. “I wanted to open a record store, and my partner wanted to open up a book store, and neither of us were able to pay the rent on a full store by ourselves. I remember wondering whether people would be willing to shop for books in a store where loudish, non-classical music was playing. Turns out, books and music worked very well together. And so obviously Chapters and Indigo stole our idea. Now Indigo sells candles.”

Read the rest here: Portrait of a Record Store: She Said Boom! Roncesvalles.

Jazz, Journalists, bpNichol, and the roaring 1920s: T.O. Events for June 6-June 20, 2013

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Chuck Klosterman. Photo by Collapse the Light.

From the Toronto Review of Books.

Coach House Books is celebrating the release of a new collection by bpNichol, entitled a book of variationslove-zygal-art facts. The night will be hosted by the book’s editor, Stephen Voyce, and features readings by Margaret Christakos (What StirsMultitudes) and Paul Dutton (Aurealities), plus a short-film screening by Justin Stephenson. 7PM. June 6. No One Writes to the Colonel. Free.

Renowned bookseller David Mason launches his memoir, The Pope’s Bookbinder (Biblioasis), in which he shares his unvarnished opinions about his trade. Mason’s devotion to literature began with bathtub reading sessions at age 11, followed him to Paris as a young man, and even brought him a bit of gilding work for Pope John XXIII. 7PM. June 6. Ben McNally Books. Free.

Book Summit 2013 is Woodstock for book professionals. On the bill are workshops, interviews, conferences, and talks by leading authors and publishers about pressing industry topics like e-books and young adult fiction. Chuck Klosterman (Fargo Rock City) is this year’s keynote speaker. 8:00AM. June 20. Fleck Dance Theatre. $92.75-$166.25.

NXNE ART screens a selection of paintings, clips, and visual poetry every 10 minutes on TTC Subway platform screens. Among the themes explored are urbanity, war, and the inbetweenness of domesticity and the wild. June 10-16. Free.

The Griffin Poetry Prize Shortlist Reading features poetry performed by Brenda Shaughnessy (Our Andromeda), Jennifer Maiden (Liquid Nitrogen), James Pollock (Sailing to Babylon), and more. 7:30PM. June 12. Koerner Hall. $10-$33.

Heritage Toronto is leading a guided walk entitled Journalists and Editors in 19th Century Toronto. Explore the city’s journalistic past of friendships and foes from 1826 to 1892 spearheaded by Toronto’s first mayor William Lyon Mackenzie. 10:00AM. June 15. 160 Frederick Street. Donations.

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Nikki Yanofsky. Photo by Barry Harris.

Toronto’s Downton Abbey is a guided tour of Spadina Museum. It provides insight into the lives of servants, cooks, counts, and countesses in the lavish 1920s. Thursdays at 7:30PM and Saturdays at 2:30PM. Reservations recommended: 416-392-6910. Regular Admission.

This summer’s Toronto Jazz Festival boasts a lauded group of headliners that touch on every point of the jazz-blues spectrum. Returning favorites include Trombone Shorty and Montreal’s Nikki Yanofsky. The Robert Glasper Experiment plays a special intimate set at The Horseshoe Tavern. June 20-29. Various Venues. Some events free, $ varies by concert.

Luminato 2013 is a multidisciplinary festival formed to stoke Toronto’s creativity. Craftspeople of literature (Sam Sutherland), theatre (Marina Abramovic), music (Joni Mitchell, Serena Ryder), dance, magic, and the visual arts all set up shop in the city to share the lives their passions gave them. June 14-23. Various Venues. Most events free.

As part of Dundas West Fest, the print culture champions at The Monkey’s Paw are holding their inaugural Collage Fest, a competition to create pieces of original art from books, magazines, and pamphlets that would otherwise be recycled and forgotten. 11AM-5PM. June 8. The Monkey’s Paw. All materials free.  

Forging Connections at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival

The Toronto Comic Arts Festival (2013) was not your average convention. People weren’t dressed in carefully considered costumes or walking around in character stockpiling freebies indiscriminately. Set in the Toronto Reference Library over the second weekend of May, the intimate space lent itself to discovery and spontaneous conversation more than sweaty-palmed, star struck fervor. TCAF opened its doors to the simply curious and the comic-obsessed with equal grace, focusing attention on creators and their work.0511131157-00

Caitlin Cass, an artist based in Buffalo, NY, is the founder of Great Moments in Western Civilization, a cooperative dedicated to picking and blending stories from history. Her work draws on influences from Heraclitus to Paddington Bear in a poetic attempt to fit the whole world into one craggy group picture.

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Caitlin Cass, holding The Text, her latest Postal Constituent offering, about “the anxiety people feel about language and its unbreakable authority over us all.”

Matt Moses, head of New Jersey’s Hic & Hoc Publications, said, “TCAF is the best in my mind. It’s much warmer, and more welcoming, and so much better organized than most conventions.”And no, he’s not just being nice. As a home for alternative artists who eschew mainstream taxonomies, H & H is akin to illustrated Bizarro Fiction.

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Moses, left, with authors Lauren Barnett (Me Likes You Very Much) and Pat Aulisio (Bowman 2016).

Chester Brown promoted an expanded version of The Playboy (Drawn and Quarterly), a nostalgic and curious treatment of his obsession with Playmates and self-pleasure that was first published in 1992. A believer in the idea of looking back as a way of moving forward, Brown said of his use of autobiography, “I was inspired by my friend Joe Matt’s honesty and openness about his life in his comics.” Then, he flipped one open (Matt’s Peepshow #1and, with a warm and wistful smile, pointed himself out drawn on the page. “Of course, this is when I had more hair,” Brown added.

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Chester Brown with The Playboy.

This year’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival showed how the unlimited social circle is the fastest way to becoming yourself. From the small presses happy to have tables, to the centrally located major players digging through boxes of money to make change, everyone’s fictions were courageously laid bare for the sake of forging new connections where none existed before.

Record Store Roundup: Kops Records

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Founded in 1976 with a focus on soul music and mod subcultureKops Records (229 Queen St. West) is Toronto’s oldest independent record store. It’s known for housing the largest selection of seven inch 45s in Canada and for an abiding dedication to musical roots. According to General Manager Patrick Grant, “[Kops] specializes in unveiling to people the roots of stuff that they like. We’re trying to provide [records] that elaborate on tastes you already have.” In this way, you can walk in listening to The Fugees’ “Killing Me Softly” (1995) and walk out – with two LPs under your arm – having learned that its memorable sitar riff is sampled from A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Applebum” (1990) which sampled it first from Rotary Connection’s “Memory Band” (1967).

Read the rest here: Record Store Roundup: Kops Records.

The Tobacco Defenestration

The Tobacco Defenestration

Photograph by Jenny Downing.

From Record One: Peep Show

I’m sitting in a vanilla bean office chair next to my bedroom window on the 28th
floor of my postmodern apartment complex, Sonatina, where there’s never any music
playing. The chair used to belong to my uncle: he died from asbestos in the university
where he served as professor, from drinking whiskey and from smoking cigarettes. He
liked Dunhills, the ones with a crimson stripe on the filter.

I’m smoking a cigarette with a blue stripe on the filter, a beer-and-a-smoke kind
of cigarette that imprints on my lungs a hot patch tingle. Not a Dunhill, a Canadian
Classic. The pack has snow on it.

Despite the warmth of an atomic orange hoodie and thick green-scale
lumberjack-chequered pyjama pants, I’m sick as a parrot on a 3-day saltine bender.
My nostrils are dripping. Wiggly phlegm is coalescing in my throat.

The wind tends to blow in on the 28th floor, and I’ve taken precautions. There’s
a pair of dark blue skinny jeans slotted under the door with a wet Martha Stewart striped
towel to prevent smoke-swirls from sliding into the living room where mom
and dad are on the internet. A plastic fan whizzes against the breeze – blades
speckled with soot and ash because I only look at them when they’re spinning – and I
try to exhale into it from behind, into the window.

I don’t know it’s my last cigarette. At a more basic and less demanding location
in my brain, where the fundamental processes that keep me alive are carried out by
idiots and country bumpkins, I’ve known for a while. I’ve felt the tipping point
approaching on piles of guilt and cancer googling.

Read the rest here by downloading the anthology: Record One: Peep Show.

What Does It Mean To Be Canadian?

Canada“Any name may be Canadian,” or so says John Parlabane, the defrocked monk in Robertson Davies’ The Rebel Angels (1981), a novel about the inner workings of the College of St. John and Holy Ghost, a fictional Canadian university. He explains himself a little later,

“I think we are foolish on this continent [N. America] to imagine that after five hundred generations somewhere else we become wholly Canadian –hard-headed, no-nonsense North Americans– in the twinkling of a single life.”

In other words, continental generalizations aside, becoming Canadian happens quickly and frequently.

Parlabane is speaking to and about a graduate student in medieval studies, Miss Maria Theotoky, who has told him that she’s Canadian by birth. Immediately unsatisfied, because any name may be Canadian, he pries further and discovers that mama and papa Theotoky are Hungarian. The question to hold on to is, what’s Canadian?

Time for you to test Parlabane’s idea. Take this online ad posted by Now Magazine.

Meat and Greet Social evening for older trans men and their allies. April 17, 6:30pm. 519 Church Community Centre. 416-355-6787.”

I’d like you to perform a bit of gut-analysis between your neck and your belly button, where the most pressing ethical quandaries are debated, and decide if you feel a need to know where the attendees are originally from to call the meat-ing Canadian.

If you do, you and the CRTC have as much in common, and there is likely a Can-con percentage that, once fulfilled, renders the event Canadian in your mind; then, labelling things “Canadian” that are above their respective Can-con percentages builds our society and cultural industries, and vice versa.

If you don’t need to know, you share Parlabane’s any-name idea, and we have to ask once again, you can stop holding the question now, what’s Canadian?, but this time with a little more information to go on: being Canadian has nothing to do with where you’re from.

KirbyImagine our country as Kirby, Nintendo’s pink puff ball adventurer, with his mouth open wide ready to inhale. Suppose Kirby feeds on cultures and gains nourishment by taking ownership in them, by calling them his own. He’s always indiscriminately hungry; note how the double meaning in “Any name may be Canadian” proves this: 1) Any name has the right to become Canadian. 2) Any name may already be Canadian. Such a varied group of people makes us some of everyone from everywhere, a perfect cross section of humanity. For example, after five or ten or thirty years of visits, you walk into a certain record store in downtown Toronto feeling as confident as you do when you get home after work. Your best friend enjoys the occasional joint at a cannabis lounge in Vancouver. A colleague of your father’s, who you’ve met before, performs FGM on someone’s daughter next week and believes with his whole soul that he’s doing her a favor, even though the procedure is illegal in Canada and should be; a decade later, when her water bursts, doctors at Mount Sinai will have to have received special training on how to treat her.

You can disagree that FGM is on the same level as, say, SARS or the Oil Sands, but you can’t say it’s not a Canadian problem.

Of course, we have homegrown examples too, like Standard Time and Canola, and proudly so, but they are only a tiny piece of the pie; universal health care, The Group of Seven, The English Patient  and hockey would have never happened (as we know them) without leaving our doors open to the world.

So, does labelling things as “Canadian” build our society? I reckon it does. It guarantees our future. After all, controlling the flow of culture in an effort to sculpt a national identity down to something pure has been known to cause a spot of bother.

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