Archive for Alexander Herman
Importantly, I think the McLachlin story reveals the importance of choosing one field and sticking to it.
There’s a good article in May’s Walrus on the Supreme Court of Canada under the “reign” of its Chief Justice, Beverley McLachlin. It paints Mclachlin as a consensus-builder within the Court who has taken great pains to reach out into the wider community in order to show that the institution can be a welcoming and, even, democratic place. This is true. Since I’ve been in Montreal (four years), the Chief Justice has spoken at least three times (that I can remember) at various universities around the city.
Her early life is worth noting, as is her young adulthood. Born in Pincher Creek, Alberta, we learn that her hardworking Methodist parents instilled in her a certain tolerance of others, as well as a work ethic that has remained with her until this day. When we interviewed her for our book, the same influences came out. There was also the great story (though drenched in pathos) about how her mother wanted to be a writer, but, as a housewife in the post-war period, was never really afforded the chance. It came to Beverley to take up the mantel. Which she did, for a while. Before becoming a law student, she toyed with the idea of being a journalist – she wrote, throughout her undergrad, for the University of Alberta’s Gateway.
Importantly, I think the McLachlin story reveals the importance of choosing one field and sticking to it. Having abandoned journalism, she then contemplated (as you do) life as an academic in the philosophy department. But that dream didn’t have much staying power. Once law school started, it was only the law for Beverley (though it should be noted that the journalist’s pursuit of Truth, as well as the philosopher’s focus on the Idea, are still very much apparent in her writings for the Court). And, based on her success as Chief Justice, the country is better for it.
How did Pratt go from engineering student to respected, professional artist?
Christopher Pratt is arguably one of Canada’s greatest living painters. His distant, clinical landscapes are at the same time modern and wholly timeless. I’m certainly no art critic, but when I saw a retrospective show at Quebec City’s Musée national des beaux-arts, I was awestruck. Here was a real artist. Someone who belongs very much to a place (Newfoundland), but speaks, through sparse rural depictions, to a certain universality. That doesn’t do him justice though. You have to see his work (and I mean wall upon wall of it) to really understand its force.
But how did someone like that get a start in life? How did he go from being a pre-engineering student to a respected, professional artist?
The answer is simple. He saw that a life in art was entirely possible in his own environment. And this wasn’t easy. He grew up in a place where there were, as he says, no art galleries, no professional artists and no understanding that one could even make a living through painting of all things.
But Pratt persevered. He did a year of engineering, then switched to pre-med, then finally settled on an Arts undergrad… until he dropped out a year and a half later. In fact, his educational record does not show any sign of the committed professionalism he’d later develop as an artist.
One thing that kept him going were his artistic inspirations. Alex Colville, for example, the well-known artist, taught him briefly at Mount Allison in New Brunswick. And the image of Colville – his paintings showing the world over – who could “live in a little house, have a family with three or four kids and walk to church every Sunday” was indelible. It showed Pratt that it was possible to become a serious artist while staying close to one’s roots. You didn’t have to be brash, or urban, or complicated.
It was possible to make a career quietly, keeping to oneself and working on one’s art.
Just wanted to mention that some of the features from Kickstart were printed in Reader’s Digest this month. This isn’t just to plug the stories they picked from the book, but rather to comment on the bright, glossy photos they found. Bruce Poon Tip looks the part of the accomplished entrepreneur that he is. Lynda [...]
Just wanted to mention that some of the features from Kickstart were printed in Reader’s Digest this month. This isn’t just to plug the stories they picked from the book, but rather to comment on the bright, glossy photos they found. Bruce Poon Tip looks the part of the accomplished entrepreneur that he is. Lynda Haverstock, cold-as-steel look in her eye, standing in front of what look like Marines (who knew the former Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan’s secret service detail was so impressive?). Raffi is pictured with kids and bananas (in reference to his hit “Bananaphone,” of course). And Eddie Greenspan is shown with, of all things, a basketball. Funny, he never mentioned an interest in the sport when we interviewed him.
Anyway, Reader’s Digest did a good job picking these stories, as they were certainly among those that inspired us the most: Havertock had to overcome a debilitating injury in her twenties, Greenspan almost gave up lawyering, Poon Tip bemoaned the cold, solitary existence of a start-up businessperson in Canada. They’re all inspiring.
And, if you’re looking for this new edition of the magazine, it should be easy to find. It’s the one at magazine stands with Barack Obama on the cover…
A (more than slightly tangential) continuation from yesterday’s post: Has it been eight years already? It feels like just yesterday when I was bemoaning the new, anti-intellectual president elect from Texas. Time flies, it seems, when you have a focus for your hatred. But now that Bush, by the time of this printing, will already be [...]
A (more than slightly tangential) continuation from yesterday’s post:
Has it been eight years already? It feels like just yesterday when I was bemoaning the new, anti-intellectual president elect from
Unfortunately, this may pale in comparison to his less-forgivable errors: the cynicism with which he reneged on
(These thoughts are all my own – well, at least those I don’t share with the the outgoing US President – and certainly don’t necessarily reflect those of my co-authors, Paul Matthews and Andrew Feindel.)
Some interviews, word-for-word, can come across as ill-formed, awkward and vague
I was recently looking over a composite by the BBC of all George W. Bush’s worst “slip-ups” over the last eight-plus years. There are all the famous ones, most of which featured in Michael Moore’s famous movie. We learn that the human being and fish should coexist peacfully, that a saying in Texas is “Fool me, you won’t fool me again” and so on. It got me thinking.
While we were interviewing features for Kickstart: How Successful Canadians Got Started, we figured the best approach was to record each interview, so that we would be able to look over entire transcripts when writing a profile. What we learned was that, if you take, word for word, what someone has spoken and present it to the reader, it comes across as ill-formed, awkward and vague. So much in conversation is communicated through tone, gesture and an implicit understanding with the listener. All of this is lost in text.
When writing Kickstart, we needed to make sure the profiles were readable. That was our first priority. It involved a lot of editing, caressing, rewriting. (To avoid putting words in our interviewees’ mouths, we always made sure to show them the final copies to make sure we weren’t inventing anything – and they always signed off) Had we presented the mere interview transcripts, some of the most articulate people we interviewed (Hon. John Godfrey, James Orbinski, Lynda Haverstock, among many others) would never have comes across as well as they did in person.
All this to say that, perhaps, many of the best-loved Bushisms of the past era were often the result of a simple transcription. His message may (may) have been better expressed in person, to his audience. I urge everyone to be careful before passing judgment on someone based on a one or two-line quote read in the media. Often times, it lacks that great, important element known as “context.”
It isn’t just the twenty-somethings who are asking questions
Ever since we’ve started blogging about our book, Kickstart: How Successful Canadians Got Started, we’ve been getting a lot of unexpected responses from those younger than us, trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. When we first started interviewing well-known Canadians for the book (when it was still just a “project”), the aim was to pass everything we learned on to others of our generation, those members that Time Magazine had labelled “The Twixters.” A great number of our friends had just graduated from university and weren’t quite sure what road to take, what jobs to pursue, what to do next. We thought learning about successful people in arts, business, politics, etc. could help all of us get a clearer picture about the many opportunities out there.
But, with time, we realized something. Clearly, young people wanted to know about careers in their particular fields (like the story of cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Tirone David) or about those who did things a little differently (think of House creator David Shore). But it wasn’t just the twenty-somethings who were asking questions. Those in a younger generation, those still in high school, wanted to know more.
Maybe it’s obvious. It seems that students at an even younger age are concerned about what their future holds in store. Especially now, when there are so many opportunities (notwithstanding the current economic turmoil). What’s the best way to become a doctor? A lawyer? A writer? An activist? These are questions that all high school students should at least be considering. And, often, they can have an impact on where (or even if) one chooses to go to college or university.
Our goal with Kickstart is for teenagers to take note: of the possibilities out there, of the routes to take and of the great lessons learned from those Canadians who have been there before us.
Just a note to congratulate our contributing feature Ujjal Dosanjh for winning his riding of Vancouver South, defeating the Conservative candidate Wai Young by just over 30 votes. As we said already, John Godfrey, also featured in Kickstart, did not run, but his Liberal replacement in Toronto’s Don Valley West Rob Oliphan did – and [...]
Just a note to congratulate our contributing feature Ujjal Dosanjh for winning his riding of Vancouver South, defeating the Conservative candidate Wai Young by just over 30 votes. As we said already, John Godfrey, also featured in Kickstart, did not run, but his Liberal replacement in Toronto’s Don Valley West Rob Oliphan did – and won. And, so that no one thinks we have too many Liberals featured in Kickstart, we have the story of Brian Mulroney, who is, in many ways, the arch-Conservative.
And just a note on the low voter turnout (just under 60% for the first time ever): many people I have spoken to said that, among twenty-somethings, those that didn’t vote usually tried to vote but were turned away for having insufficient ID or the polling station had been moved to another location without notice. I think these point to structural problems, as much as anything about youth “apathy” or any other tagword floating around the media.
You can learn a lot by not asking about the scandals
When we interviewed Brian Mulroney for Kickstart: How Successful Canadians Got Started, it was back in the winter of 2006, well before anyone knew much about Karlheinz & co. It was probably better that way. It seems like when a scandal hits, that’s all anyone wants to talk about, journalists especially. Instead, our discussion with Mulroney was relaxed and amicable, allowing us to focus on our real purpose, finding out what he did in his twenties.
The interesting thing about Mulroney — we could almost call it inspirational — is that, he was, in the words of Peter C. Newman, Canada’s first working class Prime Minister. He grew up in the small, remote town of Baie-Comeau on Quebec’s north shore (hit Quebec City and keep going ’til dawn), where he spoke English and French with equal frequency. His father was an electrician who gave the young Brian at least one piece of propitious advice: “The only way out of a mill town is through a university door.” The man had also worked on the electrical rigging of the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City, a fact that Mulroney often mentioned (boasted?) when welcoming foreign leaders into its wood-pannelled grandeur.
We learned many other interesting anecdotes about the man, most of which ended up in the book. The most revealing thing about writing a book about well-known people in their twenties is that that period in people’s lives is usually relatively uncontroversial. When he meets with reporters, Mulroney is likely asked the same question 99 per cent of the time. Did he accept payments when holding office, etc.? But people can really open up when you ask about a more simple, hopeful time in their lives. And a lot can be learned from it too.
Goodale jumped head first into politics
As a continuation of our “Individuals of an Election” series, I wanted to say a few words about Ralph Goodale. This series is meant to give a behind-the-scenes look at some of the politicians either running in the upcoming federal election or who have run at some point in the past. All those we profile here were featured in our book Kickstart: How Successful Canadians Got Started, which means they were nice enough to sit down for an interview.
A few days ago, I mentioned John Godfrey‘s story. He was someone who knew that, before diving into the political maelstrom, he needed to have a grip on (at least) one other career. So he became involved in university administration and newspaper publishing. But that certainly isn’t the only approach…
Ralph Goodale will be again running for the Liberals in Regina’s Wascana riding on the October 14 election. An impressive fact is that his is the only seat in the province not belonging to the Conservatives at this point (which leads one to reflect on the strange status quo in the province, which has historically elected the NDP to its legislature, while opting for across-the-board Tories in the federal game).
But back to the point of this blog: finding out how successful Canadians started out in their careers. The case of Goodale is quite different than that of Godfrey. Goodale dove right in and became an MP at the tender age of twenty-four, then, in 1974, one of the youngest in Ottawa. But times were special. Most important was the impact Pierre Trudeau had on Goodale’s generation, motivating youth everywhere to get involved in the country’s governance.
Goodale also said that, as someone who had graduated from law school at the University of Saskatchewan, he had the option of practicing law. In fact, he was working at a firm when he ran in his first election. But, according to him, sometimes an opportunity comes your way and you have to jump at it: in this case, a series of unforeseeable events that had opened up a spot on the Liberal’s roster. Otherwise, he may have remained a lawyer, gotten his roots down, become a partner and then, next thing he knows, he’s well into his middle years and, perhaps, too old to run an energetic and vigorous campaign.
So, as a counterbalance to the earlier story this week, often individuals can run for politics early in their careers. And for Goodale, it has been his entire career. After a stint as leader of the (doomed) provincial Liberals, he returned to the federal scene and eventually became minister of finance in Paul Martin’s government.
For anyone who is worried that we’ve featured far too many Liberals in these pages (Ujjal Dosanjh, John Godfrey, and now Goodale), especially because of the way this election will likely turn out, fret no longer. Coming up, we’ll feature one of the biggest non-Liberals in Canadian history: Brian Mulroney! And for those worried about the high number of MEN being featured, we’ll be profiling Lynda Haverstock and the other incredible women who have pushed their way to the top in this traditionally male-dominated business.
And for those reading in or around Toronto, the three Kickstart authors are going to be at the Word on the Street festival at Queens Park this Sunday, September 28. The festival is consistently chosen to be one of the city’s best, bringing together thousands of people, booksellers and authors on what hopes to be a glorious fall day. In the IdeaSpace tent at the north end of the park at 11:00 AM, we will be talking about the book, as well as selling and signing copies.
Why Godfrey built a career before becoming a politician
Though he won’t be participating in the upcoming federal election, a word or two needs to be said about John Godfrey. The outgoing MP for Don Valley West in Toronto, Godfrey will be ceding his position as Liberal shoe-in to Rob Oliphant in this multi-ethnic and multi-income-bracket riding, bridging the great urban/suburban divide.
We interviewed Godfrey two years ago for our book and the then-minister of state for infrastructure and communities gave us two and a half hours of his time at the Marriott cafe on Bay Street. Here’s a little of his story: Godfrey came from a well-to-do family from Toronto’s leafy Rosedale neighbourhood. Growing up after the Second World War, he watched his house become a meeting point for European immigrants fleeing that war-ravaged and partly-totalitarian continent. His parents found these newcomers enticing – and so did the young Godfrey. (I should note here, to throw all objective integrity out the window, that my own grandparents, coming over from Switzerland in 1945 were among this lot taken in by the Godfreys… but that’s another story entirely.)
Godfrey maintained an interest in politics throughout his academic career. He talks about one moment when the entire political structure shifted: the day John F. Kennedy was killed in 1963. From that point on, younger people turned from participants to activists, and the culture went from one of hope & progress to one of tension & disparity. Godfrey tried to incorporate many of the elements of this change – eventually bringing it to political life when first elected for Jean Chrétien’s Liberals in 1993 – but he always tried to build another career for himself before diving headfirst into that “game.” This is something for young people, perhaps inspired by such current lightning-rods as Barack Obama or Stephen Harper (ha!), to take note of. A life in the world of politics is a difficult one. You can either try to work your way up the ranks, as a staffer or an election foot soldier (going door-to-door, putting up posters on quiet street corners at 2:30 in the morning, etc.), from an early age or you can, like Godfrey, establish yourself in another career – the man was President of King’s College in Halifax and editor of the Financial Post (now reborn as the National Post) – before giving politics a try.
Court judgments are some of the best literature you’ll find in Canada
Does anyone here know much about Bora Laskin? Probably not. And yet he was one of only a handful of people who has left an indelible imprint on Canadian society. If you were to trounce down to Bay Street, or to Osgoode Hall, or to Flavelle House off Queens Park, you would find small communities that worship the man, almost as a saint. But out in the general public? Not a chance.
Laskin was Canada’s Chief Justice from 1973 to 1984. It has been said by many that he was the first great Chief Justice this country knew. In the recent book, The Laskin Legacy: Essays in Commemoration of Chief Justice Bora Laskin, Irwin Law has published an intriguing hagiography of the man. Edited by Neil Finklestein and Constance Backhouse, the collection is based on speeches from a symposium in honour of the great judge held in 2005.
Now, be careful. Though the book has a diverse set of perspectives on Laskin – we learn about his underprivileged upbringing in Thunder Bay, we learn about his impact on the court, we learn about his belief in a strong federal government – it is meant solely for an audience of legal professionals and academics. If you are anything less than comfortable with such terms as “constructive trusts” and “fiduciary duties”, this book is, sadly, not for you.
Perhaps this reveals a greater problem. Anyone exiting one of Canada’s twenty law faculties could probably write a detailed essay (with proper citation, no less) on this great legal mind. But he is, at best, an obscurity to others.
This need not be the case. The writings of our country’s great judges can be as powerful as political tracts and as evocative as great literature. But because lawyers alone read the judgments of our courts, the public is kept ignorant of some truly great writing. True, certain Supreme Court decisions involving tariffs, income tax rates or land use planning can be highly technical and, thus, boring. Yet much of what Laskin wrote (and nearly all of what his successor as Chief Justice, Brian Dickson, wrote) contains flashes of brilliance: prose that can judged alongside the works of Burke, Mill and Arendt.
Look at the Americans. Their Supreme Court has a halloed place within the pantheon of collective myth. Their fourth Chief Justice, John Marshall, is revered as the founder of a truly independent judiciary. Earl Warren, who was Chief Justice throughout the turbulent sixties, is known for his progressive stance on civil rights and desegregation. And, today, the extremist philosophy of the originalist Antonin Scalia is known – and feared – by much of the decidedly “liberal” media.
In Canada, however, the personalities on the court don’t receive the same coverage. Perhaps, with far fewer lawyers per capita, we have less of a legal culture. People here are also much less litigious.
But we need not reserve some of the country’s great writing to its judges and lawyers. Especially not since the Charter of Rights and Freedoms affects everyone equally. The notions of justice, of individual rights and of the collective good should become part of our overall discourse. My challenge to Irwin Law, then, is to publish a book not aimed at law faculties and firms, but rather at the general reading public, to let Canadians know about the rich culture of legal writing that exists on their doorstep.
This post was first published on Open Book: Toronto’s Writers in Residence page on May 10, 2008.
Well, another Canadian federal election is underway… We thought we’d offer a small contribution to the debate by adding a more “human” element. Although it can be said that, unlike with our American friends, politics up here mostly ignores the characters involved in favour of more policy-centred coverage. If we have foresaken the cult of [...]
Well, another Canadian federal election is underway…
We thought we’d offer a small contribution to the debate by adding a more “human” element. Although it can be said that, unlike with our American friends, politics up here mostly ignores the characters involved in favour of more policy-centred coverage. If we have foresaken the cult of ego, the unfortunate result is that we inspire rather, well, uninspiring individuals to the helm of major national parties.
Since some of the contributors to our book, Kickstart: How Successful Canadians Got Started, are very much involved in the election, set to occur on October 14, we thought we’d highlight a few aspects of their early stories.
“It was a difficult campaign. It may seem normal now to have people from different backgrounds in politics, but in that time there weren’t very many. So when I ran, sometimes I’d go to the doorstep, knock on the door and somebody would open it. Before I even said something, the door would shut on me. That was pretty disheartening. But I persevered… and lost.”
That experience was with the provincial NDP in British Columbia. After eventually leading that party (and the province), he opted for the Liberals when he decided to run federally.
For more about Ujjal’s story, click here.
Our buildings can teach about more than architecture
I have always had a fascination with the construction of our universities: how we choose to build them, what kind of practicality they have, and – I suppose most importantly – how they stimulate creativity and learning. This came to mind today as I frantically scoured the McGill campus in search of a free computer. Today was an important deadline for those of us studying law, so I tried my best to avoid the faculty altogether.
My search serendipitously brought me into parts of the school I only theoretically knew existed – the engineering department and fine arts department among them – through skimming of the administration’s weekly news release. Every time I turned down a corridor, a new world opened up. And each had its own set of room numbers, its own bearded middle-aged men in tweed and oh so many students.
Often our time is spent tethered to places of habit – a faculty, a neighbourhood, an office. But venturing beyond can prove, though initially confusing (it took me half an hour to finally track down that free computer), a rewarding experience. I was able to learn a little more about my institution. And, afterwards, I was able to explore the somewhat impressive combination of designs so common in these aged institutions, the creation of a space for the mass of hurried students – a space that married the brick porticos of a forgotten Protestant structure with the glistening atriums of recent times, the august vestibule of a former mansion with the godawful (though functional) concrete of a new stairwell.
Though often overlooked by its primary users, our universities house a vast array of architectural flourishes. From neo-gothic and Romanesque to modernist and contextual. One could use these buildings as guideposts for a crash course on architecture. Or someone could write a book about them…
Over the summer, I was able to spend some time with three great books: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie and, most recently, Herzog by Saul Bellow. All three, coming highly recommended by friends whose judgment have my utmost respect, shone for me. And this is not to say [...]
Over the summer, I was able to spend some time with three great books: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie and, most recently, Herzog by Saul Bellow. All three, coming highly recommended by friends whose judgment have my utmost respect, shone for me. And this is not to say that I’ve actually finished all (or any) of them. Anyone familiar with my restless reading habits knows that only rarely do I ever finish a book – and never in a timely fashion.
It’s mostly due to my short attention span and as-yet-undiagnosed ADD, but a small part has something to do with an obsession with style. Not simply the style of writing — whether it be ornate prose or Hemingwayesque simplicity — but the style with which a story is told. My favourite sentences contain entire worlds within each clause and sub-clause. Ones that can make you stop, reflect, and reread them several times before moving on (Rushdie and Vlad Nabokov are, in my mind, the most successful at containing such multitudes). Clearly, this doesn’t help my reading process.
I was often embarrassed by this inability to keep up with the assigned pages in high school English classes. Had I read all of MacBeth’s Act V last night? How about the first hundred pages of A Separate Peace over the weekend? Not a chance. Though, as someone who loved the class, I could never admit it. I would lie when called on and then, egged on by my embarrassment, make up some cliche answer about character development or white/black imagery or foreshadowing.
Now, as I page through the beginning of Herzog, or any good book for that matter, I am wishing I’d never had to invent such pretense. Our schools must teach us to grasp the immeasurable joys that arise from great literature, not to give stock answers to stock questions.
Perhaps it’s because most courses present the same staid approaches to the same staid texts. I’m not saying Shakespeare isn’t great: I just feel we’ve taught him to death and the sight of his slow execution is a mindnumbingly dreadful experience. Elizabethan language is hard enough to grasp. What’s truly exciting about MacBeth or Hamlet or King Lear are the stories, the wild, unnatural, off-the-wall stories. This is what needs to be appreciated in these works: the playfulness, the excitement and the irreverence. It exists in all literature, in all books.
Maybe a new approach to reading needs to be introduced early. So that kids can appreciate things the way I rarely could. Make them enjoy the experience of reading, not feel they have to prepare a useless paper on the use of food metaphors in Shakespeare or the supurfluous man theory in Turgenev.
Let them discover the stories — shall we? — while we rediscover our own.
Last week, I was in Chicago, taking a short holiday, visiting some friends and catching up on the latest trends in skyscraper architecture (which point, by the way, very high – 150 storeys high, to be exact, which is the lofty ceiling of the new Santiago Calatrava spire going up at the mouth of the [...]
Last week, I was in Chicago, taking a short holiday, visiting some friends and catching up on the latest trends in skyscraper architecture (which point, by the way, very high – 150 storeys high, to be exact, which is the lofty ceiling of the new Santiago Calatrava spire going up at the mouth of the Chicago River).
It was forty years after the doomed Democratic convention in the very same city, which brought together hippies, yippies, black panthers, war veterans and you-name-its in a legendary (read “short-lived”) confrontation with the military industrial complex in general and Mayor Richard Daly’s (pere) men in black in particualr.
It was the city where presidential hopeful Barack Obama got his feet wet too. It was here, according to a recent New Yorker article, on the city’s infamous south side, that he developed many of his political philosophies and problem solving techniques. This is his place, if ever he had one – not Hawaii, not Indonesia, but in this boastful, barrel-chested city of glistening modernist spires, where America displays its best, along Michigan Avenue and for sale, and its worst, the dreaded southern end of the city, the mire of boarded-up buildings, lingering corruption and unemployment. Though, as many Chicago residents pointed out, his bastion is the enclave around the University of Chicago known as Hyde Park, an area of Nobel laureates (the university has the highest number of prize-winners in the world) and endearing Queen Anne style homes.
It was also forty-five years after Martin Luther King’s famed speech on the Washington Mall. And for the first African-American presidential candidate, that should mean something…
Yet, as a gang of us wandered from the Gehry-designed stage at Milenium Park, where a free Sonny Rollins show had just finished up, checking bar after bar to see if they were playing the speech, the hope that was oozing out of Mile High Stadium in Denver was nowhere to be found. No establishment was playing the speech. And, finally, after we managed to haggle one mafioso-like owner into playing it on one of his many screens, we were deprived of sound.
You see, the Cubs game was on – and the hometown boys were about to stage a great comeback…
We’ve always tried to make Kickstart’s underlying philosophy one of helping others. The book tries to use the words of successful Canadians in order to point the way for those young adults whose real lives are just beginning. We include ourselves, for obvious reasons, in this latter category. We’ve learned an awful lot from those [...]
We’ve always tried to make Kickstart’s underlying philosophy one of helping others. The book tries to use the words of successful Canadians in order to point the way for those young adults whose real lives are just beginning. We include ourselves, for obvious reasons, in this latter category. We’ve learned an awful lot from those who were generous enough to donate their time. Whether it’s about being a ballerina, an entrepreneur or a librarian, we feel that others can learn a lot too.
But maybe there’s something for which we can actually help…
Publishing. This has been a question many young people have on their minds these days – especially those looking to try their hand at writing. Do we have any advice? Well, perhaps. We’re just starting out on this adventure known as publishing a book: hell, we haven’t even had our launch yet. But, with the help of our great publisher Dundurn, we’ve learned a thing or two about getting our book into stores.
First of all, money talks. Every time you see a cookbook at the front of a bookstore, or wonder why your favourite novel has its own little shelf under the Fiction category, there’s a reason. At the large retail chains this usually has to do with how much push a book is getting from its publisher. It’s not the staff being creative with a store’s presentation (which is what we’d always thought). Every placement is the result of a specific agreement, usually made at the top of the chain of command.
We’ve already tried to seek out our book in the great Indigos of Toronto. One particular store was hording it in the backroom, which is understandable: it usually takes a few weeks for a bookstore to process a delivery of books from a distributor. We had to push for them to agree to bring the book to the shelves a little early. Thank you, Indigo.
In fact, in this country, a lot relies on that particular chain. Say what you will about the disappearance of small mom and pop operations, if you get your book into Indigo/Chapters, you’re set. Especially if Heather Reisman likes your style. The jury is currently out on what she thinks of ours… but we know that Ms. Reisman is on the same page as us: she believes in respectful entrepreneurship (see her fantastic Entrepreneur Series with Peter Munk and Jim Pattison, two of our own favourite interviewees), as do we; and she supports great Canadian writing (especially prominent in her Heather’s Picks section). We’re not sure if we fit into this last category, but we’re big fans of those who do. We hope that a relationship with Indigo/Chapters develops. Because, for first time authors, so much relies upon it.
When we first started the interviews that eventually led to Kickstart: How Successful Canadians Got Started, we didn’t really know what to expect. Wouldn’t it be difficult to sit down with so many well-known people, especially considering the three of us were literary nobodies? We had no publisher, no agent and very little experience (I [...]
When we first started the interviews that eventually led to Kickstart: How Successful Canadians Got Started, we didn’t really know what to expect. Wouldn’t it be difficult to sit down with so many well-known people, especially considering the three of us were literary nobodies?
We had no publisher, no agent and very little experience (I think we were still listing work on the high school yearbook in our credits). Why would anyone have twenty minutes – let alone two hours – to talk about their twenties, that awkward, often-forgotten time in their lives.
But we persevered… something like that. Actually, a great deal of the success in “bagging” over seventy interviews came from luck, pure and simple. We happened to be calling at the right time or some assistant was interested in offering a PR-motivated interview (not knowing, of course, that we still didn’t have a publisher).
But co-author Andrew Feindel, as someone who takes great pride in the skill-set offered to him by one of the most respected business schools in
All this to say that Paul Matthews and I, the more – ahem – artsy guys of the group (we both have BA’s in History and English), would have been completely hopeless when it came to logistics.
Having a business side works. Even when it comes to writing books.
Tomorrow, we’re faced with the daunting task of speaking to a roomfull of youngsters who are, in all likelihood, far more successful than we are, let alone than we were at their age. The Top Twenty Under Twenty, with a somewhat self-explanatory name, consists of teenagers (and possibly some pre-teens) from around the country who have [...]
Tomorrow, we’re faced with the daunting task of speaking to a roomfull of youngsters who are, in all likelihood, far more successful than we are, let alone than we were at their age. The Top Twenty Under Twenty, with a somewhat self-explanatory name, consists of teenagers (and possibly some pre-teens) from around the country who have excelled in one form or another. Some are entrepreneurs who have started and managed several businesses; some run non-profit organizations; others are exceptional performers or athletes. They were chosen by the organization Youth in Motion and the Courage to Soar conference, where we will be speaking on its final day, is taking place at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.
The task brings to mind a few of the Kickstart contributors. While most of the features in the book only blossomed (in a career-sense) during or after their twenties, there were a select few who, like the Top Twenty Under Twenty gang, became extremely committed to their dreams early on. This applies to the athletes, like Olympic gold medal wrestler Daniel Igali, or CFL star Normie Kwong. To become a great athlete, one needs to begin early. Training becomes as important as schoolwork and all other activities expected of teens.
But a few of those in the arts also started to pursue their livelihoods at a young age. I’m thinking of Karen Kain, the world famous ballerina, who graduated from the National Ballet School and dove right into professional dance at the tender age of eighteen. She became a celebrity, danced with Nureyev and toured the globe while in her early twenties. Listening to her speak, we felt a considerable distance from our own experience of dead-end jobs, frustrated ambition and generally restless behaviour.
But with Kain, we learned, the stakes were so high, that when she was twenty-eight, she encountered some serious problems, both professionally and emotionally, that forced her to retire (temporarily) from the world of ballet. I guess it’s true: no one gets a smooth ride.
How does one measure their own success?
I know we’re supposed to taylor the first few blog posts to the central theme of being young, having graduated and trying to find your way in the world, but something came up which I couldn’t resist writing about. Not to worry, there will be plenty of blog posts recounting some incredible stories from the early lives of well-known Canadians — from astronaut Roberta Bondar to children’s performer Raffi, and beyond.
But last night I saw a movie; or , rather, a “film.” It was called Amal. It is a Canadian film, already in theatres (or, more accurately, “in theatre“) for the past five days, that follows the events surrounding the death of an eccentric Indian millionaire, his misguided — and surprisingly cruel — children, and the title character, an autorickshaw driver whose heart is so golden, it weighs him down endlessly, as he weaves his way through the congested streets of Delhi.
Director Richie Mehta tells a simple story. One could even call it a fable. It was put together for less than a million dollars, no small feat for a film these days. The ending comes as a surprise, though it makes absolute sense. And the theme of wealth reverberates throughout the story. Who has more of it — the heirs of a rich man or the one who leads a peaceful, altogether happy, existence?
That question was one we tackled while conducting our interviews for Kickstart. We set out to learn the early stories of Canada’s most “successful” citizens. But how does one measure success? Is it an individual’s net worth (think of billionaire Jim Pattison)? Or is it the amount they give away (think of entrepreneur and philanthropist Peter Munk)? Does it mean leading a balanced life (a lesson passed on from so many of our interviewees, including Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Beverley McLachlin)? Or being happy within yourself?
We hear these questions buzzing around Amal’s rickshaw as he escorts his patrons in and out of the city’s byzantine centre. The ultimate result of Amal’s insouciant quest is that he never knows how close he may come to attaining wealth, unless of course he’s had it all along. “The wealthiest person is a pauper at times,” goes the song, performed by everyone from The Byrds to Johnny Cash and Jeff Buckley, “compared to the man with a satisfied mind.”
The film is touching in its poignancy, believable in its intimacy and endearing in its home-made style. My co-author Paul could go on at length about how important it is to support local films in their first few days: if the theatre senses a lack of audience, it will immediately withdraw the film, letting it flounder and end up in a vault somewhere, unseen by the masses.
Do yourself a favour: go and see this movie. It’s well worth the investment.
Alexander Herman is co-author of Kickstart: “How Successful Canadians Got Started,” a book based on interviews with over fifty well-known people from across the country. He has studied at Trinity College Dublin and is currently studying law at McGill University. He has also written a work of fiction called “The Toronto Trinity.”
How to approach life after school
Well, here we are. It’s been a while — our journey, that is. We began work on the Kickstart project way back in the frigid winter of ’05. Gas was cheap, the Red Sox had recently won the World Series and the three of us were trying to figure out what the hell we wanted to do with our lives. You see, we had recently finished university and were struck by the confusing landscape of post-graduation life. We no longer had the structure of school to keep us in line. Life was beginning, for real this time.
Over the next three years, we set out to interview some of the best known people throughout this vast country of ours, asking them what they had done when they were in our shoes. How did they get started? What obstacles did they have to overcome? Who might have inspired them?
The product of those three years, Kickstart: How Successful Canadians Got Started, was published this spring by the Dundurn Group. Then Tony Keller from Maclean’s approached us and asked if we would like to contribute a blog, dealing with various and sundry things, including what on earth young people do when they’re starting out in the workforce.
Thanks, Tony. We hope we don’t disappoint.
Alexander Herman is co-author of Kickstart: “How Successful Canadians Got Started,” a book based on interviews with over fifty well-known people from across the country. He has studied at Trinity College Dublin and is currently studying law at McGill University. He has also written a work of fiction called “The Toronto Trinity.”