The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Westerners are from Mars: Easterners, from Venus

Westerners are from Mars: Easterners, from Venus

I loved Steve’s take on our collective. In many ways, it made me smile and it made me cringe. It also made me think about my part of the world and how my Atlantic Canadian viewpoint might be different. Kind of a Borg—I mean Blog from the Eastern Canada perspective. I hear all the time things like: “Eastern Canadian themes get well received in Toronto; we’re so foreign to them over there, we might as well be Americans.” Or: “If you have a novel about Eastern Canada, it’ll sell like hot cakes over there.”

“Over there” sounds like we think they are foreign. And indeed, they are. Heck, where I’m from in a town on the South Western point of Nova Scotia, we think 30 km away is foreign. So if we’re eaten up over there in Western Canada, I’d like to know exactly what ‘it’ is that’s being consumed so avidly. I’d brew it, bottle it, and prostitute it if I could. So I wonder: Hmmm. Are we really different over here? Last I looked, I had two feet (ok, so the toes are webbed, but that’s not a coastal thing—or wait; maybe it is.), I have a relative struggling to stay clean, I have a daughter, a dog, and a home that I always think is too small until cleaning day when it seems like Buckingham Palace. So there must be something else, some ‘experience’ that sells to Torontonians that smells a little bit like “phew. I’m some glad I don’t live there.” Kind of like, ‘the 1800s are a charming period but gawd I wouldn’t want to go back.’

Note: You will notice the usage of the term ‘some’ in the earlier point: something I take doesn’t happen too far afield of Eastern Canada?

So knowing ourselves should make us better at revealing ourselves—at least you’d think so. Which makes me wonder: are our (and I mean Atlantic Canadians here) writings indicative of the Eastern Canada experience? We mostly fish for a living: The most famous novel I can think of that captured that experience wasn’t even written by a Canadian. The Shipping News was everything we Nova Scotians think Newfoundlanders are. But is it accurate? I wonder if any “Newfies” could step in here for me.

We drink Beer; much of it in my circle, a large consumption of Keiths or Keiths Light. Well, I suppose the rampant alcoholism of Atlantic Canada as well as the sometimes vulgar language is captured effectively by Linda Little in Strong Hollow. Again, she’s a Come-From_Away, not a maritimer born and bred. What could she know of being Atlantic Canadian, and yet she does. Or at least she captures it well.

These women are not alone as writers writing about Eastern Canada and receiving notice for doing it. Even the famous Alice Munro has written about us. But how many of “us” are there? How many are ‘writing what we know’ of our world? Our specific, miniscule, horrible minutia of having to walk to the top of the road to get our mail, of having to make sure we have a sober driver if we want to go out on Saturday night because it costs 60 bucks in cabfare to get home. We have to take note of the fact that we bundle our trips to town to spend less gas and that we leave our dogs outdoors untied.

It’s a challenge, I know, because what makes us different, I guess, is exactly what we don’t know is different. We take that inconsequential for granted because we don’t know any better. And I think this is where Westerners understand us better than we do ourselves. They see what’s different—and they celebrate it for us. And with us.

I think of my area and how different each piece of it is—so different in fact that we say stuff like: Up the Line, or Down Shore, or Townie. Up the Liners love live bands and are fanatic to keep their French language French, not watered down into Fringlish. Down Shore folk who have a twang to their English that’s so amusing and unique, it’s legendary around these parts and they’re the besta kinda people ya’d like to meet. Townies who know nothing of the small area they belong to—oblivious even to their surrounding environment and history because they’re materialistic and ‘city-minded’ (note: city minded for us means a population of about 20K)

And then there’s the Come-From-Away: the folk who come in and find us so charming they stay here and try to fit in but who will always be a Come-From-Away no matter how much like us they get because we don’t introduce them with their lineage in front. They’re not: Richard MacIsaac’s Thea from Rockville, married Eleanor, you know, Arthur Purdy’s daughter? Mother came from Scotland as a warbride? They’re not even: Thea à Richard à Charles à Daniel à Harold à Duncan. They’re just Thea from Toronto.

Come to think of it: maybe this is what really makes us different—and maybe this is what we need to capture. That we know each other, sometimes too intimately.


Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

I think the fascination that central Canada has with the maritimes is exactly what you get at in the last section of your lovely blog. That intimacy with lineage. Everybody in my apartment building is from somewhere else. Most are recent immigrants from other countries with English as their second language. I barely know them, let alone their ancestors. We long for deep community, us folks who live in the alienated urban-suburban mobile culture. What would it be like? We wonder. And we assume you Easteners will be able to tell us.

Sun Jul 02, 11:11:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Yes, that intimacy with lineage, as AT says, is extremely fascinating. So is, for me, the language, as I guess it embodies that intimacy. What you say about Westerners seeing and celebrating what’s different is interesting, too. You know, we have several 'Newfie' bars in Van? And so many Maritimers, here. It's the lure of the ocean, I guess.

Sun Jul 02, 11:25:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Fascinating, Thea. It is difficult to write about your own world because it doesn't see special or unusual enough. A Come From Away (love that!) often can better see the uniqueness. The attraction of the Maritimes for me is the relationship between the people and the sea and the one-side quality of that relationship; the sea will always win.

Sun Jul 02, 03:56:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Correction: I meant to write "seem special," not "see special."

Sun Jul 02, 03:57:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

My father is from Pictou Nova Scotia, one of my best friends, who I lost tragically a few years ago, is from Halifax, there is such a pull for me to go there, to see the rest of the country on the other side, I so love the language, the slang, the what I dream of as a more laid back lifestyle, I also dream that you have closer relationships with neighbors and friends and family is close by, where as here on the west coast, we are scattered, a mixed group, who I also imagine, have allll travelled from east to west...A come from away, it's perfect..thanks Thea xoxo

Sun Jul 02, 04:24:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

I've never been to eastern Canada, but I want to go very badly. When I lived in Ottawa I got to know quite a few easterners and have maintained those relationships. Boy could they drink booze. For me that part of Canada carries a mystical quality, a sort of yesteryear feel. I can't wait to get out there someday.

Mon Jul 03, 04:17:00 pm GMT-4  

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