Lutra Lutra Review

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

Green DesklampThe interior of Filthy McNasty’s has been renovated—a new stage occupying the space formerly reserved for pool tables and Big Buck Hunter. The bathrooms have been treated with a dull wood finish—belying the bar’s name with an unprecedented sense of care and cleanliness.

Otherwise, Filthy’s is much the same as ever. The specially made ‘420’ menu is a sheet of printer paper with a scant line of items on it, and the familiar denizens pack themselves in tightly—with little pretension and even less sense of personal space—around the stage. They’re waiting for Lutra Lutra to perform. We all are.

But, we are told, there have been some complications with the opening act, and we will have to continue waiting as the band scurries about trying to solve the problem. The fans don’t seem to mind the wait so much, the booze is flowing, and spirits are high.

Lutra Lutra are an Edmonton, Alberta based band who members include Garreth Burrows (Vocals and Guitar), Katrina Burrows (Keys and Vocals), Will Smith (Bass) and Denis Frigon (Drums), and much like the freshly updated interior of the bar, they too have promised to bring in the new by debuting several songs from their upcoming LP.

Their self-titled EP, ‘Lutra Lutra’ is hardly old, bearing a 2016 release, but the brief, 6 song debut disc is already very familiar to fans of the band—who continue to mill about, eager for the show to begin.

otterheadfinal-copy

This album, given to me recently by guitar player and vocalist Garreth, was an intriguing introduction to a band notable as much for its strong and precise rhythm section (Smith is an especially stand-out performance tonight) as it is for the articulate cadence of its near-literary lyricism.

With anthemic songs such as ‘Fall Out of Love (FOOL)’, ‘Miser Remedy’, and the energetic closer ‘What We’ve Lost’, the album, despite being only just over 17 minutes, is packed full of catchy riffs and memorable lyrics which do much to showcase the band’s wry humour. Many of these songs will be guaranteed crowd pleasers tonight. It will be interesting to see how the new, untested material will hold up to these old standards.

There’s action on the floor now, and we’re told the band has managed to line up not one, but two replacement openers—both buskers pulled off Whyte Avenue and offered a spontaneous opportunity to perform. These openers, Drew Donald and Paul each performed brief but impassioned sets, riling up the audience and setting the stage for the main act.

As Lutra Lutra take the stage and offer a congenial greeting to the close-knit crowd, there is a surge of excitement on the floor, and attendees push to the front, settling into place for the show.

The set opens with several new songs—each maintaining the spot-on precision and witty lyrics the band is fast becoming known for. When ‘Miser Remedy’ hits—the first familiar song of the set—the audience is moved by a fresh energy—eagerly bouncing their heads and swaying along to the tenacious and contagious beat. This was followed shortly by ‘FOOL’, and ‘Culture and Wine’, and the crowd’s enthusiasm continued to grow as the band delivered their signature blend of technical expertise and indefatigable swagger.

The newer songs in the set showed great promise, and as I gazed about the bar, I got a sense of eager anticipation—the fans taking in each note and word with the enthusiastic attention of lovers long sundered.

While the new songs may not have brought quite the same energy to the set as the older, more familiar ones did, it was clear that Lutra Lutra’s new LP will be hotly anticipated as the band continues to deliver stellar live performances and hold true to their unique signature style.

Lutra Lutra Photo

-Left to Right: Will Smith, Denis Frigon, Katrina Burrows, Garreth Burrows-

The penultimate song of the night, the EP closing ‘What We’ve Lost’, was a special treat. The infectious tune is a natural showcase for front-man Garreth’s easy-going charisma, and the audience was quickly whipped into a raucous fervour as the band brought the show to a closing crescendo.

Lutra Lutra put on one hell of a tight show tonight. The older songs from their debut EP garnered a great deal of enthusiasm from their dedicated fans, and if tonight’s performance is any indication, their upcoming LP is sure to be a treasure of new classics. Just like the bar they played in, Lutra Lutra proved that the charm and style they’ve become known for will not be lost as they head into the future.

If you’ve yet to catch Lutra Lutra live or want to grab their EP for yourself (and you should, on both counts), be sure to visit their website (Link) for more information.

-Brad OH Inc.

Advertisements

On Juggalos and Fanaticism

The Gentleman Juggalo LogoNothing I do elicits more abject disdain than my passionate enjoyment of the Insane Clown Posse. ‘Enjoyment’ may be a slight understatement mind you, I am a self-proclaimed Juggalo, and that comes with some pretty loaded implications.

Childish insults and hateful slurs aside, Juggalos are known for taking their musical-affections a step beyond most other fan-bases. In fact, I’ve heard it justly claimed that for Juggalos, the term ‘fan’ is short for ‘fanatical’. It’s as apt an analogy as any I could come up with, so I’m happy to appropriate it here—it’s true, Juggalos almost to the last are entirely fanatical about their love of ICP.

But behind this trend of obsession and fanaticism lies a deeper insight into the nature of the music—one perhaps that can be applied more broadly to all those things which bring some small sub-sect of people to their knees while being lost entirely on everyone else. A key part of this is the high entry point of the music, due to its very nature.

ICP are often accused of being vulgar, juvenile, or much worse. None of these labels are entirely untrue, but they also miss a big part of the picture, and the entire context. One of the chief reminders I give to people attacking the artistic merit of ICP is to consider what the letters stand for—they advertise it right up front; they are clowns.

So the silly and obscene is all a part of the act, but it’s the larger theme of this act which represents the buy-in, and that comes only to listeners who hang around long enough to read the brightly coloured writing on the big top walls.

You see, beneath the greasepaint and pantomime there is a much greater sense of sincerity that most casual listeners miss completely. It was Oscar Wilde who once claimed ‘give a man a mask and he’ll tell you the truth,’ and there could be no more perfect proof of this platitude than ICP. By donning their outlandish personalities and presenting their ideas as revelations from the ‘Dark Carnival’, ICP create a farcical mirror of reality through which they can comment on the deeper realities of life.

Each album is created around a central, all-encompassing theme: usually grounded in notions of facing your own sin after death, karmic retributions, and personal accountability. On each album, these themes are explored through songs shifting in perspective, point of view, and more often than not, even through the eyes of briefly encountered and little explored alter egos. Some songs will be bright, cheery, and seemingly of little substance, while others will be aggressive and dark—with the clowns claiming in the first person to commit heinous acts and hold despicable beliefs.

Seldom is the intention spelled out plainly, and the ICP leave it up to their listeners to sort out the clues and piece together the bigger picture. A lifetime of listening can certainly make this an easy process, but if a song like ‘You Should Know’ (Link) is your first introduction to the band, it’s understandable you’d be left with a pretty bad taste in your mouth.

Truly, to hear any single song out of context, one could easily assume some pretty awful things about the motivations and beliefs of the duo—and their fan-base. A thorough understanding requires a listener to immerse themselves in the lore of the band, the story of each album (Joker’s Cards), and eventually the Juggalo culture itself to fully suss out the depth of meaning in ICP’s music.

But herein lies the rub, and to my mind one of the most incredible things about art presented in this once-removed way. The high buy-in level acts as a sort of built-in gate-keeper for the music itself. It’s kind of like an ‘extreme’ sport. You really don’t see a lot of people merely dabbling in the hobby of wingsuits, and listening to ICP is no different.

It’s exactly why there is such a sharp divide between people who like ICP’s music (‘like’ being an admittedly weak description), and those who don’t (…or inevitably hate it with a passion). It’s an all or nothing situation. If you hear a bit and get turned off, you’ll think little of them ever again, and potentially fear their dedicated following. But if you do the work needed to understand them, you’ll emerge from the other end with a more secure understanding of the art of metaphor in general, and a ‘family’ of Juggalos banded together all the more tightly by their outlier status and shared vision. At that point, it’s only a matter of time before the baptismal Faygo shower makes it official—welcome to the family ninja!

-Brad OH Inc.

‘Never Uncovers the Ultimate Truth of All Things’

Recently, the myriad authors of the ‘Edmonton Writer’s Group’ (Link) published our second anthology, ‘Between the Shelves’ (Link) . This book was sold in support of the Edmonton Public Library System (Link), and to that end has gone on to raise over $700 in donations!

We here at Brad OH Inc. want to thank everyone for their support. Today, we add our contribution, ‘Neve Uncovers the Ultimate Truth of All Things’ (Link), to our list of ‘Single Serving Stories’ (Link), meaning you can download it now for free over at Smashwords (Link).

Neve Uncovers the Ultimate Truth of All Things- Cover‘Never Uncovers the Ultimate Truth of All Things’- Smashwords

We certainly hope you enjoy this new format for ‘Neve Uncovers the Ultimate Truth of All Things’! But don’t forget, if you haven’t already bought your copy of ‘Between the Shelves’ (Link), you can do so now right here (Link)!

BetweenTheShelvesCover‘Between the Shelves’- Amazon

Remember, there are 10 other stories by local Edmonton authors in the anthology, so click here (Link) to grab your copy now. After all, every dollar earned goes towards the worthy cause of supporting the Edmonton Public Library System (Link)!

-Brad OH Inc.

Ode to the Tavern

cropped-cropped-blogbanner13.jpgThey say that behind every great man is a great woman. Well that’s goddamn sexist, and you should be ashamed for thinking it. But it may be true that behind every middling writer is a great drinking establishment. Therefore, we thought we’d take some time from our busy schedule here at Brad OH Inc. to acquaint you with the little pub that has been the birthplace to so very many of our greatest pieces: ‘The Tavern on Whyte’.

6- Ode to the TavernThe Tavern on Whyte’– Click the Pic to Visit their Site!

Now make no mistake, this isn’t some hair-brained scheme to establish the Tavern as a historical landmark. Not yet at any stretch. In fact, the staff here at Brad OH Inc. want to take this moment to discourage all potential stalkers and photographers from taking advantage of this profession of affection.

Rather, this is a simple declaration of love for an establishment which has acted as the de facto headquarters for Brad OH Inc. since the summer of 2013. The Tavern has seen the creation of the vast majority of articles here at Brad OH Inc., as well as the writing (by hand) of our upcoming novel, ‘Edgar’s Worst Sunday’ (Link).

And why not?

It’s comfortable, and quiet enough to think. It provides a fine view of Whyte Avenue without, and is always friendly within. So come by some time and have a drink—or enjoy any of the delicious selections from their unique menu. Chat with the staff and patrons, take in some fresh air on their patio (a true hidden gem of Whyte Ave.), and enjoy yourself.

Yes, the Tavern on Whyte has a lot to offer. But for this writer, it’s the staff that makes it the especially marvelous place it is. Now, it’s not just that they keep the ‘inspiration’ flowing, mind you. They do, no doubt—in fact we have to wait hardly a minute upon entering before we have an icy cold beer in our intensely focused hands. It’s the company as well—the conversations and inspirations. For truly the staff and patrons of the Tavern (past and present) represent many of the essential muses behind the writings of Brad OH Inc., and for that we are eternally thankful*.

*Disclaimer: This admission of appreciation is not to be taken as a legal acknowledgement of debt or the owing of royalties.

-Brad OH Inc.

‘Between the Shelves’ at ‘Words in the Park’ and Interview with Author/ Editor Hal J. Friesen

cropped-cropped-blogbanner13.jpgToday, we’re happy to formally announce that the sales of ‘Between the Shelves: A Tribute to Libraries by Edmonton Writers’ have led to the donation of over $700.00 to the Edmonton Public Library System We at Brad OH Inc. think that’s awesome—and we couldn’t have done it without all of you!

Many of the Authors (and both Editors) will also be set up at ‘Words in the Park’ this Saturday, September 26th from 10:00am-4:00pm in the Sherwood Park Community Centre. We’ll be selling and autographing copies of ‘Between the Shelves’!

In celebration of these accomplishments, we have an interview with Editor and Author Hal J. Friesen, who appears in ‘Between the Shelves’, which you can now purchase here in either Kindle ($2.99) or Paperback ($12.50) copies. All proceeds are to be donated to the Edmonton Public Library System.

BetweenTheShelvesCoverThis interview was conducted by a variety of Authors featured in ‘Between the Shelves’ in anticipation of the anthology’s release:

  1. Brian Clark: What is the biggest thing you have learned from this self-publishing experience?

HF: I learned how achievable it is to put out a product of professional quality using readily-available tools. There were some frustrating moments getting the book formatted properly and tweaking cover blurbs, but on the whole it felt great to see a self-published book that could easily have come from a professional publishing house.

I also need to mention how pleasantly surprised I was at the scope and variety of stories submitted to the anthology. I thought I had a pretty good idea what I was going to get from the EWG group members, but they surprised me in a very good way.

  1. Vivian Zenari: What is your educational background, and how has that influenced your writing?

HF: I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Science from UNBC with a Joint Major in Chemistry and Physics, and a Minor in Mathematics. Basically for my undergraduate degree I was trying to refuse specialization, which in hindsight might not have been a good approach in terms of employability. I had knowledge in many fields but was missing snippets from each to prevent me from being completely proficient. My Master’s Degree in Science, focusing on Plasmas and Photonics, helped me tune my abilities and knowledge toward more practical applications – as ridiculous as that might sound after working on laser fusion experiments.

The breadth of theoretical and experimental science experience I’ve gleaned through the years helps me to appreciate how certain science fiction ideas might be implemented, the realities both pleasant and unpleasant of logistics that really help make a fantastical proposition seem real. When I wrote in high school I was thinking of sci-fi notions in a more detached and academic way. After academia, ironically, I think about them more in terms of what’s happening on the ground, what’s happening to the little guy who has to pull the levers, which helps make science fiction more meaningful to readers.

  1. Brad OH Inc.: Hal, your story is about a man (Albert Einstein), gaining great knowledge from libraries, but also experiencing stunning existential terror. Do you consider libraries to be places of hidden danger, or is learning in general a threat to our sense of being?

HF: I used to read these time machine choose-your-own-adventure books, and they were like puzzles where you got stuck in time loops until you figured out the correct sequence of events to escape a grisly fate. There was one particular instance where I was trying to avoid being guillotined, but kept getting sent back over and over again, being chased, being caught, having the blade fall – to the extent that I fell asleep and had nightmares about it. Libraries taught me to be utterly terrified of the Spanish Inquisition.

I think in our age of ubiquitous fear-mongering, it’s important to recognize libraries and their potential role in contributing to the general fright that fits so well in a terror-state. In this story I wanted to show that even a brilliant Einstein can’t escape the spine-tingling horror of a nameless source of danger. His existential cataclysm in a place of learning draws close parallels to the dread during the discovery of a newly-christened terrorist cell, or the announcement of the construction of yet another totally-necessary prison. I felt that the role of books and libraries in general has been undervalued in terms of their capacity to inspire totally irrational fear, and wanted to emphasize how deeply they can touch our being versus other forms of media.

  1. Brad OH Inc.: Why did you choose Einstein as your character? Do you have some arcane knowledge of his life the rest of us aren’t privy to? Is there any biographical truth to this tale?

HF: I have a copy of Einstein’s original manuscript on Special Relativity, and if you go to the trouble of reading it you find very strange references in the margins, almost as if he was placating some unseen observer. With extensive and advanced calligraphic decoding I was able to parse some of the scribbles he had tried to hide after the fact, after whatever it was had stopped peering over him threateningly. It was clear he had communion with a library spirit, or as he named it, Wilfred, though exactly which library was unclear – I used artistic liberty in that aspect.

It’s amazing how much you can discover when you read the source material rather than just taking secondary sources at face value.

  1. Brad OH Inc.: Your passion for libraries is clear in this story. Share with us some of your most formative memories of being in the library. Is there any encounter in particular that stands out as a moment where knowledge was so startlingly thrust upon you?

HF:  Guillotines were startlingly thrust upon my unsuspecting neck in that traumatizing time machine book…

When I was a child, there were summer reading challenges where you got to move your pawn along footsteps lining the library walls, taking a step for every book you read. The path took a circuitous route around the two-story Prince George Public Library, and I would take out piles of books in order to get to the end. And I did.

My prize? PTSD from an impossible and horrific Spanish Inquisition time machine loop. And a ribbon.

The library used to have person-shaped chairs in bright colors, and I would sit near the large windows and browse through Goosebumps books, Tintin comics, and fantasy books. I would sway back and forth in the S-shaped chairs, knocking them flat onto the back, or upright again with a satisfying thunk. The trips to the library were a fairly regular occasion – my mother would tiptoe off to the romance section, and my brothers and I would spin the carousels housing adventure and horror novels.

Getting my first library card was actually one of my happiest childhood experiences, because I felt like I had graduated from this semi-weekly family ritual and had become an adult. It was a lot better than any actual graduation, that’s for sure.

  1. Brad OH Inc.: Your writing has historically been focused on some pretty heavy scientific concepts. What do you consider to be one of the most interesting unanswered questions in modern science? Do you have any possible ‘dream scenario’ solution to this quandary that strikes you as the most appealing?

HF: Not to avoid the question, but I guess the more interesting questions are ones we haven’t thought of yet. The untapped potential and dark corners of our understanding are very exciting places, which is why I enjoy good hard science fiction so much. One recent discovery was that the brain might have a lymphatic system, which opens the door to all sorts of medical progress and better development of humanity.

The unanswered question of life beyond Earth is a continually fascinating one for me, and my dream scenario is that I live long enough to see contact happen. That would be a great privilege.

The unification of gravity and the other fundamental forces is another issue that fascinates me. I remember the exact place where I first read Maxwell’s derivation of electromagnetism and the intimate relationship between them. I literally got up and wanted to run around (but couldn’t in my cramped dorm-room) because I was so excited by the beauty of something so connected and intertwined. Connectedness, for lack of a better term, is something I explore a lot in my writing, and it interests me equally in the natural world.

Similarly, the unification of quantum mechanics and general relativity – the small with the very large – is also quite an interesting unanswered question. I’ve read a proposal that suggests the answer might be in our interpretation of time itself, which sent my head spinning in beautiful pirouettes.

I think some of the deeper philosophical-physics questions might go unanswered for a long time, but can make you experience some of the same existential schism Einstein does in the story. Questions like: what exactly is charge? What exactly is mass? We have equations that describe what they do but that’s different from knowing what something is. There’s a joke that if you want to drive a physicist crazy, ask him what charge is. Try it sometime.

  1. Brad OH Inc.: As a follow-up to the former question, of the myriad scientific discoveries throughout history, which would you most like to have been a part of, and why?

HF: I’ve developed an unlikely fondness for light and optics, so I think I would have loved to have been a part of Maxwell’s discoveries unifying electricity and magnetism. Any of the so-called Maxwell’s equations. Ampere, Gauss – to have been around any of those guys would have been gnarly and radical, and I’m sure my language wouldn’t drive them crazy. Gauss was a genius.

I would say quantum mechanics, but the results aren’t as easy to put your hands on or see with the eye. The laser would have been pretty amazing to discover. I got the chance to hear Charles Townes, one of the co-inventors of the laser, speak, and it was surreal to see him use a laser pointer to point at a slide of his original laser conception. He made lasers originally for astronomical purposes, and at the time of his talk (age over 90) he was still doing that. There’s a raw enthusiasm and electricity some scientists exude and I think to have been around any of those remarkable individuals would have been illuminating and inspiring outside of the discoveries themselves.

WitP twitter header

Remember to catch the authors of ‘Between the Shelves’ at ‘Words in the Park’ this Saturday, September 26th from 10:00am-4:00pm in the Sherwood Park Community Centre!

Finally, be sure to visit Hal J. Friesen at his blog right here, and check out his story “Reading After Hours” in ‘Between the Shelves’. You can purchase it now on Amazon.

-Brad OH Inc.

Fringe Fest Play Review- ‘Rigby Muldoon: Time Traveller for Hire’

cropped-cropped-blogbanner13.jpgLast Saturday I found myself skillfully navigating the crowded and popcorn reeking confines of the Edmonton Fringe Festival—lovely lady on my arm—in a hurried attempt to make it to the box-office in time. My friend Tom, the Stage Manager of the play I’d chosen to see, had advised me that advance tickets wouldn’t be strictly necessary, yet still an uneasy feeling mounted in my gut as I pushed through the mobs on the way to the PCL Studio Theatre.

As is often the case, my intuition had served me well—albeit late—and I arrived just in time to find the box office freshly out of tickets for ‘Rigby Muldoon: Time Traveller for Hire’. Damn my luck! What sort of fringe fest play sells out on its opening weekend?

Well, this one by all evidence. ‘Rigby Muldoon’ sold out its opening night in fact—and every other night since!

Written by Robyn Slack and directed by Olivia Latta, ‘Rigby Muldoon: Time Traveller for Hire’ is a noir-infused sci-fi comedy which tells the fascinating tale of aimless gamer-girl Annie Sinclair (Carina Morton), who is so desperate to undo the decisions of her past that she hires the services of the gritty and unabashedly noir-inspired time traveller: the titular Rigby Muldoon (Joshua Lee Coss).

Rigby And AnnieRigby Muldoon (Joshua Lee Coss) and Annie Sinclair (Carina Morton)

‘Rigby Muldoon’ was first test-read at Nextfest in June of this year, and only written in May. For such a relatively short turn-around time, the performance was impressively polished and professional—a 75 minute romp through time which brought consistent laughs to everyone in attendance.

While writer Robin Slack admits that the themes of the play are laid out on the table pretty early, the deft exploration of the subject matter keeps the audience guessing at several ongoing strands, while distracting like a skilled magician with a litany of jokes ranging from time-travel idiosyncrasies, to complex call back humour and even several plays at retro-inspired nostalgia (not limited to a Coolio reference!).

The tone of the show is unapologetic in its passionate dedication to what’s come before it—it’s innately chrono-conscious after all. The heavy noir imagery and attitudes manage to work incredibly well alongside the throwback video game references and 90’s irreverence which the cast find themselves mired in.

To give some context to the menagerie of mad settings and insightful writing you might find here, one stand-out scene involved a laser-tag shootout which served not only to make some key advances to the storyline, but also to utterly—and hilariously—tackle the concept of ‘trolling’. Take notes kids!

Of course, the humour isn’t limited to 90’s culture and unexpected twists: every facet of the stage design, costuming, and acting serves to solidify the intentionally overblown themes and self-aware quips. It seems at times that each scene might fit as well in a play of a totally different genre—but ‘Rigby’ is one of a kind!

In fact, as I sat watching the show in silent admiration, I realized how unsurprising it was that it had sold out every night it’s been put on. With its non-stop laughs and impressively subtle twists, it is the undeniable progeny of an unrestrained love for all things nerdy, coupled with an innate understanding of the fundamentals of good storytelling.

Group-1Left to Right: Laena Anderson, Robyn Slack, Joshua Lee Coss, Carina Morton

Speaking before the show with Writer Robyn Slack, I was assured that the play’s performance had exceeded his expectations. If so, he may be well-advised to broaden them before considering the next step for ‘Rigby Muldoon’. Its abundance of humour works on all levels while managing to make room for enough essential character building moments to keep the audience affectionately engaged throughout. My showing ended with an extended standing ovation from the sold-out crowd, and I can scarcely imagine the ending is much different no matter what night you attend.

As of the time of this posting, there are only two showings left of ‘Rigby Muldoon: Time Traveller for Hire’. You can catch it at the PCL Studio Theatre at the Edmonton Fringe Festival at the following times:

Saturday August 22nd – 8:45pm

Sunday August 23rd – 6:45pm

Just remember, unless you have the time-altering talents of the titular Rigby, you’d do well to learn from the mistakes of this writer and get your tickets in advance!

For More Info: Rigby Muldoon

-Brad OH Inc.

Between the Shelves Book Signing and Interview with Author Trudie Aberdeen

cropped-blogbanner1.jpg

The following is an interview with Trudie Aberdeen, who appears in the Brad OH Inc. and Hal J. Friesen edited Anthology ‘Between the Shelves: A Tribute to Libraries by Edmonton Writers’, which you can now purchase here in either Kindle ($2.99) or Paperback ($12.50) copies. All proceeds are to be donated to the Edmonton Public Library System.

BetweenTheShelvesCoverThis interview was conducted by Hal J. Friesen in anticipation of the anthology’s release:

Trudie Aberdeen is a long-time language educator and social justice advocate. She is currently working on completing her PhD on the topic of heritage language acquisition. In addition, she teaches English to adult newcomers to Canada. Her academic interests include refugee education, multilingual literacy instructional practices, language conservation, action research, and language instruction for heritage language learners. Her research can be found in the following journals: The Manitoba TEAL, Multilingual Discourses, and the 9th Low Educated Second Language and Literacy Acquisition (LESLLA) Symposium. She also serves as the book review editor to the Canadian Journal of Action Research.

  1. The passion for your work is clear in every aspect of your writing. How long has heritage language acquisition been a part of your life? What started it all?

TA: I was raised in a middle-class, English-speaking family in Alberta. My childhood was fairly normal. And when I was a little bit older, similarly to most rebellious teenagers, I took my teenage angst and raged against my parents. While others were sexing, drugging, rock-n-rolling and doing other “naughty things”, I inflicted on my father what I thought might have been one of the most painful childhood revolts I could think of: I went to Campus St. Jean and took university in French! On my personal journey to bilingualism, I learned about the power of language along the way.

Contrary to current popular belief, I’m not really a natural when it comes to language learning. I’m someone who learns with moderate aptitude and great effort. I was always fairly successful in school, so learning that language learning was hard was a shock for me. So despite by best enthusiasm, I wasn’t successful my first year and was put on academic probation. Because I struggled with the language I was in a place very few white, middle class, English-speaking women with average intelligence ever get to be: I wasn’t part of the mainstream. For me, this is when I realized how language (or lack thereof) can limit one’s chances of success. I finished my degree successfully, although it took me more than four years and I had to spend a year in language classes in Quebec, but I eventually triumphed.

I taught in Japan for several years in an international school. I was the English as a second language teacher to elementary school aged children whose parents moved temporarily to Japan for business or diplomatic missions. I saw how quickly many of my students learned English and how quickly many of them forgot their mother tongue. I saw the parents who were “trapped” because if they moved home they could no longer put their children in school because the children couldn’t read or write their “mother tongue”. I also worried a lot for my students who appeared to have learning disabilities. Parents, colleagues and I often asked, “What is this child’s issue? Is it a language learning inability or something bigger?” Often it is difficult to know.

When I started my doctoral studies, I began to take interest in adult literacy learners. In my field of English as a second language teaching and learning, literacy learners are adults who grew up never learning to read their mother tongue, mostly due to limited opportunities because of gender, poverty, or war. Their lack of first language education impacts on their opportunity to learn English. They often struggle with things that most of us take for granted: following instructions for over-the-counter medication, signing their children’s homework log, figuring out a map, and reading street signs. Despite all of their challenges, all of those I have worked with have an undeniable spirit, determined outlook, and an often overlooked sense of intelligence.

My dissertation, however, looks at heritage language learners. These are usually the children of immigrants who have to navigate cultures and languages, not being conventionally “Canadian” and first-language English speakers, but not being of the same language and culture as their parents, either. Most of these children struggle to keep the language of their parents and cannot without the help of a larger language community and school. My work is looking at how schools and communities can support these students.

Heritage language learners and adult literacy learners do not initially seem connected, but they share many commonalities. Both groups often are trying to learn language in an environment that is limited in exposure to language. Both are often trying to learn language without literacy. In many instances, these two groups can be within the same family. Some immigrant parents (especially those with limited literacy) can struggle to learn English and their children can struggle to maintain their first language. In my line of work I have met many people who are unable to have a basic conversation with their parents because they do not know enough of each other’s language to exchange more than limited small talk.

  1. There seems to be a message or end goal with your writing / research. What is it you hope to achieve at the end of your dissertation? 

 TA: I hope to show the world exactly how much expertise exists in the field of heritage language education in Alberta. I wish politicians, educators, and scholars to know about the challenges and limitations that programs face so that they can receive better support in doing what they do best.

  1. Who has inspired you as either a writer or researcher? 

 TA: My four favorite researchers are Dr. Olenka Bilash, Dr. Kenneth Schaeffer, Dr. Nick Ellis, and Dr. Elaine Tarone. All four are gifted scholars and educators. However, what I admire most about them is their compassion and vision for making the world better for others.

  1. Would you be willing to share one or two stories from your experience as a language educator? 

TA: In 2004, I had a beautiful kindergarten student from Sweden called Hedda. She was a dream child: polite, kind, energetic, brilliant, and friendly. She started school in September and by Christmas she was speaking English well. Her reading level was near the top of her class. At the parent-teacher interviews, I gave her parents “the talk.” I warned them about language loss and the importance of first language maintenance. I told them that they had better start planning for her Swedish or else it would be gone. I recommended that they find her a tutor and begin reading lessons as soon as possible.

While Hedda’s mother seemed convinced by my message, her father was less so. He responded firmly, but politely, that Hedda was a little girl. She had just made a huge adjustment, according to her father, by leaving her extended family behind in Sweden and moving to Japan, and furthermore, she needed to worry about enjoying herself, not planning for her future education. I responded that while I respected his point of view, he should at least consider my suggestion. He told me that he would think about it after his family returned from their holiday in Thailand.

Sadly, all four members of Hedda’s family were lost in the 2004 tsunami that killed more than 250,000 people on Boxing Day. I often think of her and her beautiful family. I often think of the advice I gave to her parents, and consider what her father responded to me. For language learning, we need to have long-term planning, and to prepare for what is coming ahead. At the same time, we need to remember that this moment might be all that we have.

  1. Why do you personally think language is important?

 TA: If you ask a brain researcher or a psychologist, they will tell you about all of the cognitive benefits of bilingualism. Of course, I believe all of these things are true such as bilingualism increasing intelligence and delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Still for me, the most important aspects of language learning are social in nature. Language connects people to opportunities and it connects us to one another.

Check out Trudie Aberdeen’s story “Newcomers to Canada and Edmonton Public Libraries” in ‘Between the Shelves’, which you can purchase now on Amazon.

BetweenTheShelves_poster-YMCA-WEB

Finally, be sure to visit us for a ‘Between the Shelves’ signing this Saturday, May 30th at William S. Lutsky YMCA (1975-111 St NW) from 10am-2pm!

-Brad OH Inc.