To Richard Ford: I Named a Campsite ‘Montana’

I’ve known about Richard Ford’s soft spot for Canada for a long time. Years ago, when I heard him read at the International Festival of Authors, he followed two Canadian writers (Joseph Boyden and another whose name I can’t remember). As the only non-Canuck in the bunch, Ford had the host mention in the introduction that the Mississippi-born author wasn’t Canadian…yet.

And then there are the mostly flattering words by Frank Bascombe, the main character of Ford’s 1995 novel Independence Day:

The Canadians are now bustling into the lobby, elbowing each other and yucking it up like hockey fans—men and women alike. They are big, healthy, happy, well-adjusted white people who aren’t about to miss any meals or get dressed up for no good reason. They break off into pairs and threes, guys and gals, and go yodeling off through the metal double doors to the rest rooms. (The best all-around Americans, in my view, are Canadians. I, in fact, should think of moving there, since it has all the good qualities of the states and almost none of the bad, plus cradle-to-grave health care and a faction of the murders we generate. An attractive retirement waits just beyond the forty-ninth parallel.)

So, even before I read Ford’s explanation for naming his most recent novel Canada, I wasn’t surprised by the title. But I was keen on another bit of silly geographical serendipity involving me and the novel. Before the main character, Dell Parsons, is taken to Saskatchewan, he calls Great Falls, Montana his home. On a canoe trip in 2009, I named a campsite Montana.

My reasons for naming a plot you can only get to by canoe after a northern U.S. state are similar, but slightly less high-minded, than Ford’s use of our country’s name. Like Ford, the sound of the word resonates with me. (“‘Canada’ was such an attractive word to me,” Ford writes. “It had always possessed its own pleasing sonority.”) “Montana’s” sonority came to me via Frank Zappa. His eponymous song is a freaky idyll of dental hygiene and agriculture. Within the Zappa zaniness is a chorus with a languid “Movin’ to Montana soon.” “Montana” is a word you can draw out to evoke wide vistas and total chill. No big-city franticness in Montana. No sir.

The Montana campsite is on a point on Archer Bay, in Ragged Lake, Algonquin Park. Martha and I stayed there on the last night of our canoe trip at the end of that June. It was a trip with nice weather, no mishaps, but serious bugs. We didn’t linger on any of the portages and, once the sun went down in the evenings, we found respite in our tent from mosquitoes, which seemed particularly bad that year. The Ragged Lake site was high on that point of land, so it was breezy and the spaced-out pines didn’t offer the bugs any shelter from the wind. Martha put up her hammock. The site was just so chill and it reminded me of the only other connection I have with Montana: a picture I saw in some outdoor magazine, something such as explore or Outside.

The photo showed a state or national park. There were mountains in the background, which, yes, Ontario doesn’t have. But the forest was made up of evergreens that weren’t too dense. The forest looked easy to walk around in. Now, don’t get me wrong: Algonquin Park’s forests, Canadian Shield forests, are my forests. They are the ones I’d pick first out of nostalgia and loyalty. But Canadian Shield forests are hard to move around in. They are thick and dense and tend to scratch you. You can only move easily within them in winter on a pair of skis or snowshoes. But those Montana forests look easy: just the right amount of vegetation on the forest floor; trees never too close to one another. And while insects, like bad breath, tend not so show up very well in panoramic shots, you could just tell from that picture that there were no mosquitoes in Montana.

As I mentioned, my campsite christening isn’t as lofty as Ford’s novel naming. “Canada” is a point for the novelist from which he hoped to “find apt language for those complex, important feelings for which I otherwise didn’t have more than a conventional, simplistic, largely inherited vocabulary.” For me, “Montana” is a quirky way to buzz around my inherited vocabulary. Nothing I can hang a novel on, just a blog post.

2012 NMAs: Everything Else

When I started this guide, I knew I wouldn’t be able to give all the categories the attention they deserve. I don’t think I could have done it even if I had started when all the nominations were announced at the beginning of May. But, in an effort wrap this thing up with a big bow, I’m resorting to the way I usually guess at the winner of each category before the NMAs ceremony: with a mix of conjecture, hearsay, petty grievances, corporate alliances and shallow biases as my guides. If someone is willing to pitch in, I’ll add bribery.

So, here it is, my omnibus bill of NMAs predictions.

Art Direction for a Single Magazine Article Going with the home team on this one: Cottage Life, “A Happy Makeshift Vision” [.pdf of story]

Art Direction for an Entire Issue The Grid has some pretty great art direction— Hey, does it count as a magazine? If yes, then I pick the May 19, 2011 issue [.pdf of cover] for its audacity.

Arts and Entertainment Made my pick here.

Beauty Flare, “Main Attraction” [.pdf of story] because I like that one lady’s big hair.

Best Digital Design I couldn’t load these from the NMA site. “Failed to load PDF document” Are .pdfs really the best way to show digital design?

Best Multi-Media Feature See comment above for Best Digital Design. Someone had told me that “Jessica Allen at TIFF” was really good. I trust this someone and so should you.

Best New Magazine Writer Ryerson Review of Journalism, “Not All Smurfs and Sunshine,” is the only story I’ve read in this category. Therefore, it is the one that I think it will win. Matthew Scianitti has a lot going on: he’s written a solid profile of Esquire writer Chris Jones; Scianitti spells his given name like I spell my own, with two t’s; and he’s had this story pushed by Longreads. Throw in an NMA and wow.

Best New Visual Creator Report on Business, “Solar” [.pdf of story]

Best Short Feature L’actualité, Collection de guerre”

Best Single Issue Up Here, “The North Poll, May 2011” [.pdf of story] even though it appears to have nothing to do with Santa Claus.

Business I’m guessing one of those magazines with “business” in its name will win: Canadian Business or Report on Business. A very nice editor at ROB gave me my first fact-checking assignment years ago so go ROB! “Good Times in the Gulag” [.pdf of story] for the gold. Good times, indeed.

Columns No one has won more NMAs than Robert Fulford. He has 14 gold awards and three silver. Can the Fuggernaut  be stopped? (And can I say “Fuggernaut?”) I don’t think so [.pdf of stories].

Creative Photography Canadian Art, “quniqjuk, qunbuq, quabaa” [.pdf of story].

Editorial Package Loyal like a puppy dog: picking the home team. explore, “Top 30 Under 30” [.pdf of story].

Essays Fuggernaut—the dude is in the dictionary. Queen’s Quarterly, “The Artist as Scoundrel” [.pdf of story].

Fashion The lady in “Nature of Prints” [.pdf of story] (Flare) raided my mom’s closet from 1975.

Fiction Malahat Review, “Next Year, For Sure” [.pdf of story].

Health and Medicine Québec science “‘Quand je serai plus là, qui va s’occuper de mes poissons?’” [.pdf of story].

Homes and Gardens Canadian House and Home has more than half of the nominations in this category. I’m going with “Mindfully Minimal” [.pdf of story].

How-To Made my pick here.

Humour Made my pick here.

Illustration For sure “One Man in a Boat” [.pdf of story] from explore because of one little illo that has what looks like a little canoeist Luke Skywalker flipping the bird to a lockmaster Darth Vader.

Investigative Reporting Made my pick here.

Magazine Covers The circulation department at my company agrees that the Report on Business cover with Jeff Mallett on the cover is the strongest [.pdf of cover]. Sure, that’s two people, but that’s two circulators. Agreeing. For more on a circulator’s thoughts on covers, see special guest analyst Amanda Beattie’s discussion.

Magazine of the Year (Digital) The Grid, if it really is a magazine.

Magazine of the Year (Print) I want Outdoor Canada to win because I work with those guys and they can shoot guns. But, I think Maisonneuve will get this. Don’t tell anyone at Cottage Life Media Inc. that I said that.

One of a Kind I think this is the miscellaneous category. The Walrus cribbed the headline for “Adrift on the Nile” from a fine book by Naguib Mahfouz, so sure, that one.

Personal Journalism “All In” [.pdf of story] by Don Gillmor in Eighteen Bridges.

Photojournalism and Photo Essay The Walrus, ”Amazon of the North” [.pdf of story].

Poetry The three seemingly authorless poems from Grain [.pdf of poetry].

Politics and Public Interest Alberta Views, “The Rule of Law” [.pdf of story].

Portrait Photography Toronto Life, “Cop-Out” [.pdf of story].

Profiles Made my pick here.

Science, Technology and Environment Made my pick here.

Service: Health and Family I’m keen on seeing Homemakers get an award from the grave. They give the choice of sex or drugs. I’m feeling the drugs: “Drugs Made to Measure” [.pdf of story].

Service: Lifestyle Today’s Parent, “Party People” [.pdf of story]

Service: Personal Finance and Business MoneySense, “The Real Cost of Raising Kids” [.pdf of story].

Single Service Article Package explore, “58 Ways to Do Summer Better” [.pdf of story].

Society The Walrus, “The Farms are Not All Right.”

Sports Made my pick here.

Spot Illustration More, “Post-Secondary Distress” [.pdf of story].

Still-Life Photography NUVO, “Propped” [.pdf of story].

Travel Made my pick here.

Words and Pictures Made my pick here.

2012 NMAs: Magazine Covers

In magazines, the writers write, the editors edit, the art directors do stuff with pictures and keep editors from going crazy with too many words, and the circulators…circulate? Whatever they do, it is a dark and mysterious art whose importance I don’t question. I just don’t understand it. As a special treat, below is some insight into the magazine covers category from a circulator, Amanda Beattie of Cottage Life Media Inc., which will give you peek at that dark art.

First up, Urbania with “Bébés” [.pdf of cover]. Dolls freaked me out as a child. Actually, they still do. Next.

With Vancouver Magazine’s October 2011 cover [.pdf of cover], the art and editorial departments seem to have taken note of what circulators want. The “101 Things to Taste” cover line jumps off the page with clear benefit to the potential reader. There’s great use of cover lines that draw the eye. Also, there’s great use of the real estate above the logo (key if the magazine gets hidden in the back of the newsstand) and along both sides, which is really helpful when the publication is fanned in promo pieces. I’ve never seen the UPC placed so high, but it really works here. Will it win? I doubt it. Would I like to high-five this art director? Yes. Yes I would.

Next up, the Toronto Life October 2011 cover [.pdf of cover]. Who wouldn’t like a cover that calls Tim Hudak a backstabber? The subtle use of a sideways glance for eye contact rather than face-on beautifully drives home the idea that you just can’t trust this guy. Verdict: I don’t think this will win but it’s still a great cover.

I like the way they have styled the cover lines on the enRoute “Earn Your Stripes on Canada’s Wildest Slopes” cover [.pdf of cover]. It reminds me of a luggage tag. Covering the face of the skier is fun but you lose the opportunity for eye contact. Again, not my pick to win.

Now for The Grid versus The Grid. “Got Spunk?” [.pdf of cover] is fun but “Beyond Gay” [.pdf of cover] is the better of the two covers. I love the various facial expressions and the cover line grabs you immediately. The elephant in the room is that some people see The Grid more as a news weekly than a magazine and that may work against them.

This Magazine 45th Anniversary Special is cuckoo bananas [.pdf of cover]. That is all.

OK, I’ll say it: I didn’t want to like The Walrus “The Future of Food” cover because they always win—a lot. Then I opened the .pdf and damn it! It’s good. I don’t usually like illustrated covers but I think this is in the top three of the category. They have managed to strike the balance between a strong illustration and cover lines that captivate but don’t overpower. Would I be surprised if they win? Guys, it’s The Walrus.

Also, in my top three to win it is Canadian Business with “BlackBerry is Toast: A Toast to BlackBerry” [.pdf of cover]. This photo grabs you. Great use of cover lines to tie it all together. Clean. Simple. Awesome.

Finally, there is Report on Business with “Mallett” [.pdf of cover]. Not everyone will agree with me but this is my pick for the win. Outstanding art direction. The tone-on-tone colour scheme works with the wardrobe choice. The ball only partially obscures Jeff Mallett’s face, while he still maintains eye contact. Having the “ball in the air” symbolism doesn’t feel forced either. The use of numbers is a bit unusual, drawing a lot of attention to the page numbers, but it works. The cover lines to appeal to multiple audiences. I could go on and on.

Final verdict: the top three are Canadian Business, Report on Business and The Walrus. The wildcard is The Grid’s “Beyond Gay.” Granted, I may be totally wrong. Few things are more subjective than a cover.

Amanda Beattie

2012 NMAs: Science, Technology and Environment

Purpose To find the most likely winner in the science, technology and environment category.

Hypothesis The odds favour powerhouses, such as The Walrus, Maclean’s and Report on Business. Award-magnet explore is also a strong specimen.

Materials 10 Canadian magazine articles:

Procedure Read articles. Form opinions. Make notes.

Observations MacKinnon’s tale of a polar bear on an epic survival trip is both a metaphor and adventure story. The works by Borde, VanderKlippe, and Gray and Nolen take us through the social and political effects of things started in the lab, but they are light on hard science. For for the hard stuff, see Köhler’s story of  experiments on subatomic particles and how the findings could blow the doors open on 20th-century physics. Basen delves into every journalist’s nightmare: the world of online content farms in which an algorithm dictates what you write about and you get roughly $0.03 a word. (That last sentence was so horrific I had to close my eyes as I wrote it.) Saunders profiles activist Tzeporah Berman and charts the evolution of environmental activism. Wood’s examination of the process of fracking for natural gas has disappointingly few plays on the word “frack” (e.g. “frack off,” “mother fracker,” “fracked up the environment,” etc.). The headline should have riffed on the line from There Will Be Blood: “I fracked up your milkshake.” Trust me. It totally works. Lorinc writes about the big, scary idea of geoengineering: that we’ve really messed up the planet so now we have to really mess with it to “fix” things. Talking about geoengineering, like the birds-and-bees talk, is something you should discuss before it’s too late. Glavin takes a mytho-poetical look at the declining salmon stocks on the Fraser River. Glavin’s prose is rollicking and his is the only work that both tries to explain mysteries of nature, while still keeping them mysterious.

Conclusion Despite my fracking criticisms, I think Wood’s article is the strongest work in the category. His writing is engaging; his story is well-crafted; and he handles the technical stuff deftly. His article also happens to cover all three items in the category’s name: science, technology and environment. There you have it—science has spoken!

2012 NMAs: Investigative Reporting

In the investigative reporting category, writers get all Woodward and Bernstein, which can mean playing the Access to Information Act–game, interviewing scores of people or getting shot at.

Alison Motluk’s examination of the cluster fudge that lead to Stephen Harper pulling the plug on Canada’s production of medical isotopes (“A Political Meltdown,” The Walrus) is more of an access-to-information adventure. She does an excellent job of untangling the mess that began with Brian Mulroney’s government in its rush to privatize parts of Canada’s nuclear infrastructure.

Also from The Walrus is Arno Kopecky’s “The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay.” Kopecky travels to Columbia to find out what is behind the growing numbers of desplazados, people displaced from the countryside by private militias. There’s a Canadian connection lurking behind this displacement: Canadian mining companies. The article is a stunning look at the structural violence in Columbia and how it affects the people within Kopecky’s story. And the writer finds himself in the middle of a shoot out. And then a prank! This story is the best read of the bunch.

Actually, there are two more stories about Canadian mining companies behaving badly: “19 Villagers Dead/$155 Million Profit” and  “Where Asbestos is Just a Fact of Life” (both Report on Business). The former looks at Barrick Gold Corp.’s gold mine in Tanzania, while the latter chronicles the history of asbestos mining in Canada and the effect of our country’s dodgy export in India. The portion of the asbestos article that focuses on Quebec was written by John Gray and the reporting from India came from Stephanie Nolen. With both journalists on the ground in their respective locations, their coverage of the asbestos issue is rich and thorough.

For more on nukes, there’s Valérie Borde’s “Gentilly, la centrale de tous les soupçons,” which tries to find out if the Gentilly 2 reactor in Quebec is worth renovating. The coverage is encyclopedic and there’s even a Simpsons reference. (It can’t be good if your reactor is compared to the one Homer works in.)

Claude Adams writes about the strange and ultimately tragic story of Beverley Giesbrecht, a Vancouver businesswoman who converted to Islam and was kidnapped in Pakistan (“The Hostage,” Vancouver Magazine).

In Maisonneuve, Selena Ross delves into the corruption and violence that’s a part of the snow-removal industry in Montreal (“Getting Plowed”). Paging David Simon, you should totally build your next HBO series from this article. You’re welcome. (I can’t wait to see my executive-producer credit.) Also note, this story has won a Canadian Association of Journalists award.

Do not read “Cockpit Crisis” by Chris Sorensen (Maclean’s) if you have any hang-ups about flying.

In “Nice Place for a Mall” (Report on Business), John Lorinc creates a compelling narrative that covers all the players—both for and against—in the development of a big-box mall in Salmon Arm, B.C. The story’s “bad guy,” Mitch Goldhar, owner and developer of SmartCentres, gets a very nuanced treatment.

Rounding out the list is “Lobbyists and Lip Service” by Jeff Gailus (Alberta Views). Gailus has the most energetic prose of the bunch, which he employs in his look at the world of lobbying within the Alberta government. He takes the province’s lobbyist registry for a spin and finds that things are less-than transparent.

While this category is loaded with fine stories of investigative reporting, many are exceptional in different ways. There is the paper-trail research by Motluk that probably required Buddha-like serenity in the face of access-to-information frustration. There’s the great storytelling by Kopecky. There’s the heavy-firepower reporting of Gray and Nolen. There’s the sharp prose of Gailus. What do the judges want to honour? I’m guessing they’ll go for Gray and Nolen’s asbestos story. Their work is also nominated in four other categories (politics and public interest, business, health and medicine, and science, technology and the environment). It’s a strong one.

2012 NMAs: Travel

This category is explore versus explore (versus explore versus explore) and friends. First let’s see what happens if we let the explore nominees duke it out.

“The Big Blue” [.pdf of story] is the only true adventure story in this category. Writer Charles Wilkins and 15 others paddle across the Atlantic in a tale of physical exhaustion, danger and weeping saddle-sores, “one of them as big as a Ritz cracker.”

While Marni Jackson’s “The Week the Women Went Away” [.pdf of story]—a story about a group of nine women trekking through Newfoundland—lacks the danger of Wilkins’ story, Jackson’s tale has sharper writing. She has a lot of nuggets, such as “in the parking lot we stepped out into an eddying nimbus of white, as if we were on location for a movie set in heaven” and “a breeze dissipated the fog and we looked down at huge sea stacks rising up out of the water, like bar stools of the gods.” My slightly unfair criticism of this story is that although I really enjoy these skilful flourishes, sometimes they draw too much attention to themselves, like Arnold Horshack trying to answer a question in Mr. Kotter’s class.

Jay Teitel’s words in “One Man in a Boat” [.pdf of story] propel you along better than those in previous two explore stories. Teitel paddles up the Rideau Canal, sort of.  Actually, he didn’t have time to paddle the whole thing, so he paddled some significant stretches of the water system with the goal of pulling into the Château Laurier for tea.

Allow me switch into a slightly very nerdy mode: this story has a Star Wars reference that doesn’t really work. “I [paddle into the lock] feeling like Luke Skywalker entering the waste disposal bay of the Death Star,” Teitel writes. Now, the nerds know that Luke, along with Leia, Han and Chewie, ended up in a garbage compactor on the first Death Star. They slid in through a garbage shoot to get there. Their entrance was wilder than, say, paddling a canoe into a lock. It was more like an industrial mudslide. While Teitel’s large lock may have had the ominous feel of a Death Star, his entrance into the concrete bay resembles more the scene at the beginning of Star Wars, when the Rebel ship Tantive IV is pulled into the Imperial Star Destroyer. I really hope the judges take all of this into consideration.

The last explore story is “Mostly Awesome, with Brief Periods of Terrible” [.pdf of story] by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall. It chronicles the writer’s hike up the Bruce Trail and features injury, discomfort, booze and hurt feelings. We’ve also seen it in the sports and humour categories.

So, my pick out of the explore stories is Marni Jackson’s “The Week the Women Went Away.” (Watch Star Wars a little more closely next time, Teitel!)

In the non-explore section of this category, there’s a trip through Steinbeck country (“Class Mammalia,” Eighteen Bridges) [.pdf of story]; a visit to a freaky eco-tourist town made by director Emir Kusturica to replace the town he lost during the Bosnian War (“Mon petit village en Serbie,” L’actualité); and a houseboat on the Seine (“Ma maison sur la Seine,” L’actualité).

“Rising Again” by Nicholas Köhler (Maclean’s) focuses on the people of the Japanese town of Onagowa as they start to pull things together after the earthquake and tsunami struck. The prose is sharp and powerful and, like any good travel story, gives you a rich sense of place.

I really like the idea of “A Pipeline Runs Through It” by Nathan VanderKlippe (Report on Business) [.pdf of story]: a journey along the proposed route of the Northern Gateway Pipeline, from Edmonton to Kitimat, B.C. VanderKlippe does an excellent job at capturing the conflicting interests and even conflicted feelings surrounding this project. However, the writing falters in some places. “A hole cut for an entrance door perfectly frames a view of the swift green waters of the Morice River. The riverbank is populated by flyfishers casting for steelhead and hunters bleeding out massive moose carcasses,” VanderKlippe writes. Now, I can visualize a busy riverbank of people fishing, but I believe this passage  is also telling me that there are a bunch of hunters who just dropped a bunch of huge moose amongst the fishermen and women. I have a hard time picturing that scene. There must be a crazy large moose population along this river that are easy to pick off and the flyfishers must have nerves of steel as the hunters bag moose all around. And all this is visible through a doorway! At least VanderKlippe didn’t muddle a Star Wars reference.

Finally, Chris Nuttall-Smith goes to Denmark (“Don’t Worry Be Danish,” enRoute), and makes it sound really cool. This story had all the markings of a snoozer: a not-so-exotic location, no danger or political conflict, Danes, etc. But Nuttall-Smith’s prose just rockets the reader along. “…they infuse moonshine-strength alcohol with herbs and spices and serve it half-frozen in tiny glasses so that it shoots straight into the space above your eyes,” he writes.

So, I really don’t know which story stands above the rest. For straight-up adventure, Wilkins and his Atlantic trek. For best explore story, see Jackson’s tale. For a powerful story, see Köhler. For “I can’t believe I enjoyed that so much,” see Nuttall-Smith. I have tried to use The Force. I have searched my feelings but the future is not clear with this one. (You catch that, Teitel?!) I think Köhler’s story is the best, but I have a feeling the gold will go to explore. I’m saying “The Week the Women Went Away” for the win.

2012 NMAs: Humour

No piece of writing has made me laugh more than the Scholastic Books adaption of Spaceballs. I remember reading it on a family camping trip and doing my best to muffle my snorts and snickers as everyone was sleeping in our small tent trailer. Ultimately, I’m told, I did a bad job of muffling.

For my look at the humour category, Spaceballs will be the benchmark of funny. Does a humour piece evoke as much ha-ha as the young-adult novelization of the Mel Brooks film? If not, where on the scale from Spaceballs to a tax form does the article fall? My guess is that nothing will match Spaceballs because that book is 100 per cent pure giggle juice for a 12-year-old boy.

While “How I Lost the War Against War and Learned to Love Arnold Schwarzenegger” by Caroline Adderson (Eighteen Bridges [.pdf of story]) and “Jessica Grant on How She Survived Her First Hurricane” (ELLE Canada [.pdf of story]) are funny and fantastically written, they are not very Spaceballs. Their humour is much more understated, more grown up. Adderson writes about trying to raise her son to eschew anything that resembles violence or aggression. That means no water pistols or shoot-’em-up movies. It’s her battle against Boy. Grant’s story is a nicely off take on weathering Hurricane Igor in Newfoundland. Its humour is wry and sneaks up on you. As for emotional reactions, the story did make me wince because it features some significant oral surgery and its aftermath. These are both great stories, but I think their low Spaceballs ranking will keep them from gold. (The judges also use the Spaceballs scale, right?)

“Housebroken” by Pasha Malla (The Walrus) got a snort out of me with a well placed swear. Nice work.

I didn’t dig Jonathan Goldstein’s “China in 72 Hours” (enRoute [.pdf of story]), which is weird because I’m a fan of his National Post column. Maybe it’s the Spaceballs goggles. Now that I think of it, his radio show has made me laugh out loud, but I don’t think his prose ever has.

“Mostly Awesome, with Brief Periods of Terrible” by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall (explore [.pdf of story]) is solid. However, the chronicle of a hike that went pretty off the rails provoked more winces than guffaws. explore also gives us Ian Brown’s fitness adventure involving roller skis [.pdf of story]: high wit and high speeds.

And there’s the Scott Feschuk trilogy that features Tim Tebow, summer camp and Stephen Harper. “A Reading from the Book of Tebow” (Sportsnet) is a good riff, in a biblical mode, on the quarterback’s religiosity and NFL zealotry. “James and the Giant Poo” (Maclean’s) is the anti-ode to summer camp. My favourite of trio is “‘The what? I thought I was against those.’” (Maclean’s), an interview between 2005 Stephen Harper and 2011 Stephen Harper. It’s solid satire, which I sometimes feel is tougher than farce or straight wit. Satire works from a moral base. Both the writer and reader have to share in the world of right and wrong encompassed in a work. You know, like, eating babies is wrong. We all agree, right? Feschuk takes aim at hypocrisy and political cynicism. Satire—the best tool for calling bullshit on bullshit.

Well, it seems I’ve strayed from the Lone Starr/Barf/Dark Helmet/Princess Vespa perspective. To get back on track, I’m happy to announce that Bruce McCulloch’s “The Mouse and I: A Love Story” (Swerve) is the Spaceballiest of the category. The Kid in the Hall’s look at the effects of rodents in his house provoked one full-on laugh and another snort. It’s the edgiest of all the nominees and not just because he uses the phrase “eye-raped,” but that helps. This story should win gold. However, I’m not ready to put all my money on McCulloch. I think all that Feschuk in this category portends something. To metaphorically bet against my team, I’ll say “James and the Giant Poo” for the win. Everybody loves “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” tales of camp. And it has “poo” in the headline, which is very Spaceballs.

2012 NMAs: Arts and Entertainment

You have to be kidding me. Cottage Life drops a Canadiana bomb with “A Happy Makeshift Vision” [.pdf of story], in which famous Canadian poet George Bowering writes about famous Canadian poet Al Purdy and his old A-frame abode in Prince Edward County. The story has the vibe of a Purdy poem. Give it the award.

OK. Wait. What else is in the A&E category?

There’s a high Arctic Canadiana bomb from Canadian Art magazine. In “Man Standing,” Timothy Taylor profiles Zacharias Kunuk, the director of Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen and Qapirangajuq: Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change. The first section of the story has a few too many overly poetic turns of phrase that draw too much attention to themselves: “[the airport] hurtles by in a rainbow spray of ice crystals….the way tongue drifts form in the winter season.” But, Taylor’s tale really shines later with his insights into the director’s films and the cultural psychology of the Inuit—without using wanky phrases, such as “cultural psychology.”

In The Walrus, Tom Jokinen explores opera from the inside with “Adventures of a Supernumerary.” The writer gets all immersion journalism as an extra (supernumerary) in a Canadian Opera Company production of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. Jokinen weaves various themes and images with ease. My favourite line: “The Finn wears his heart not on his sleeve, but in a Tupperware container in the refrigerator, the better to bear the trials of a working life.”

The Walrus also gives us “Modern Inconveniences” by Adele Weder. After I read the first line, I decided I didn’t need to read any more.

In his 1908 essay “Ornament and Crime,” Viennese architect Adolf Loos waxed magnanimous: “I have made the following discovery and I pass it on to the world: The evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornament from utilitarian objects.”

In Grade 9, in an essay on whether the narrator of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” was insane or not, I opened with “The Collins English Dictionary defines ‘insanity’ as…”

I no longer expect anyone would read on after that.

L’actualité has a profile of Karine Vanasse, who I’ve only seen in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. (I really should see Polytechnique.)

Not surprisingly, Gerald Hannon has a fantastic profile of Kent Monkman, the visual artist known for his gender-bending trickster figure Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, who subverts European/Native power structures and makes Monkman a truck load of dough. Hannon lays down words with the precision of a poet. He could win this category, and I have him picked for his story in the Profiles NMA.

In the modern music department, Brian D. Johnson has a profile of Tony Bennett, “Steppin’ out with Tony,” in Maclean’s; Sarah Liss has a profile of Deadmau5, “The Man in the Mouse,” in Toronto Life; and Noémi Mercier has a profile of Karkwa, “Les dernières flèches de Karkwa?” in L’actualité. Of the three, Mercier’s work is the strongest. Her article about the 2010 Polaris Music Prize–winning group examines a band that is famous, but not famous enough. Also, to riff on the story’s deck, it’s one solitude on an odyssey within the other. Call this one a Hugh MacLennan Canadiana bomb, which might pack more megatons than Cottage Life’s bit of maple ordnance.

Military metaphors aside, my pick for the NMA does not feature Purdy or Karkwa, but a game of chance and a writer who passed away in 2010. Don Gillmor writes about writer Paul Quarringtion and his final months before dying of lung cancer in “All In” [.pdf of story]. The story, which appeared in Eighteen Bridges, weaves Quarringtion’s story with the games of poker that he, Gillmor and others played. The story is a tightly written elegy and an effort to deal with chance and mortality. It’s the strongest story in the A&E category.

2012 NMAs: Profiles

This category should really be called the “Gerald Hannon gets an award” category. Now let’s see…Yup. There’s his story on James Loney, who was held captive in Baghdad for 118 days. Well, there you have it. Sorry, all the other nominees.

2012 NMAs: How-To

I must come clean: I am  the managing editor of Canadian Home Workshop magazine. It says “Canada’s do-it-yourself magazine” right on the cover of each issue that goes out. Do-it-yourself magazine, people! The magazine tells you how to do things. It should effin’ pwn this freakin’ category but—

Pardon me. I’m sorry for that outburst. You can see I have a few things still to work out in light of my magazine’s absence from this list of nominees. My therapist says things are progressing quite well…and the judges for this category all have restraining orders against me. Yes, things are going quite well.

So, I feel strongly about this category not only because of my job, but because this category celebrates the most poetic writing in journalism. I’m talking poetic in the Horatian sense, Ars Poetica. The old Roman wanted plays to instruct or delight. To do both, of course, is better. Really, all non-fiction writing must do both. With how-to writing, you might think the delight part could get a pass. But no. No! If your article is going to win this category, it must be firing on both Horatian rockets. I will look at all the how-to stories by how instructional they are, as well as how delightful. Each article will get a score out of 10 for its instruction and 10 for its delightfulness. Very scientific, no?

“How are you managing?”
Deena Waisberg gives us tips for becoming a better manager.
Instruction: 4
Delight: 3
Total: 7

“Honey, I Sunk the Boat” [.pdf of story]
Cottage Life
Christine Langlois runs through some boating maintenance and operating mistakes and how to avoid them.
Instruction: 7
Delight: 7
Total: 14

“Hot Spot How-To” [.pdf of story]
Cottage Life
Susan Nerberg tell us how to build the perfect sauna for the cottage.
Instruction: 8
Delight: 8
Total: 16

“Camping 101” [.pdf of story]
Canoeing and camping expert Kevin Callan and Ryan Stuart cover just about everything you need to know about camping.
Instruction: 9
Delight: 9
Total: 18

“The Ultimate Home Maintenance Guide”
Romana King tells you all you need to know to keep your house in good repair.
Instruction: 9
Delight: 8
Total: 17

“75 Whitetail Essentials” [.pdf of story]
Outdoor Canada
Mark Raycroft has 75 [!] tips for hunting deer.
Instruction: 8
Delight: 6
Total: 14

“Camping” [.pdf of story]
Ricardo magazine on camp cooking.
Instruction: 3
Delight: 4
Total: 7

“Gee, Mom, I wanna go home”
Up Here
Katherine Laidlaw sets down the rules of living and working in mining and exploration camps.
Instruction: 3
Delight: 7
Total: 10

“The Grapes of Laugh” [.pdf of story]
Natalie MacLean tells you how to host a wine tasting.
Instruction: 6
Delight: 7
Total: 13

“How to Cook Like a Pro”
Western Living
Cooking tips on tips.
Instruction: 6
Delight: 5
Total: 11

So, there you have it. The numbers are in. explore is favoured to win with “Camping 101.” I have a good feeling about this one. I can picture myself going up to James Little, the editor of explore, after the ceremony on June 7 and congratulating him on his magazine’s win in the how-to category. And then, I’ll punch him on the shoulder for winning in the how-to category. I also see another restraining order coming.