Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Are All Canadians Fringe Dwellers?

When I agreed to participate in a study of Romanian writers by the University of Bucharest, I didn’t expect that it would lead to meeting another Canadian writer. That is how fate works…and serendipity. I was talking about seeing life through a different lens in an earlier post, written while still sleep deprived: viewing the world turned upside down or careering on its side. WOOEE!

Then PhD student, Marilena Dracea, at the University of Bucharest who was studying my written works introduced me to a fellow Canadian writer. That in itself is a wondrous thing—that someone half across the world would introduce me to someone in my own country. His name is Shane Joseph. Joseph has written several books. One is entitled Fringe Dwellers. It’s a collection of short stories about the marginalized people in society, those who for some reason or another have suffered some kind of prejudice or treatment as lesser individuals: widows, divorcees, immigrants, unemployed executives, the aged, the young, the poor, those with a perceived mental or physical “infirmity”. He writes about people who once may have led a normal life until a twist in the road—an epiphany, decision, stroke of fate—sent them into the fringes of society.

I would add: or until a collision with an unsavory or unconscionable force or unfair societal condition sent them spinning off the well-beaton path, injured but "enriched". And what of those who have always been perceived this way?

Joseph describes the scenario of a woman who was expelled from her family because she decided to leave the fundamentalist religious organization she was born into. He wrote about a man who is a war hero ... and a bum. Then there was the priest of a dying congregation in a booming suburb. Who are the marginalized and what does that mean? These are people who have a different viewpoint than the current one popular in their culture or region. These are people who may look different, act different, think and speak different, even smell different from the rest. They are generally looked upon askance or overlooked entirely; they are avoided or ridiculed or slandered for being different. They are misunderstood, perhaps even perceived as threatening (to the status quo or precious traditions and rules) just for being who they are.

What is it to be different and how did they get there? Most of the time it isn't an overt choice. Most people don't say to themselves, "I'm going to be different." However, it usually arises from having made some kind of decision (usually from the heart) that ends up setting them apart and making them different, or at least perceived as different (I guess that's the same thing in the end). The view is the opposite of the "mob mentality", which is driven by fear and the need to be the same. To "blend in".

Our society tends to view "fringe dwellers" as "broken" somehow, requiring subduing, in need of alteration (through drugs or some other rehabilitation technique to help them conform); social mores compell us to use our compassion, even our pity on these "wayward" unconventional souls. Instead, society could learn from them. For, like the scattered pieces of a broken mirror (that an ordered society would cast away as inconsequential or "messy") fringe dwellers offer diverse and fresh perspectives on all things important. They are the heralds of change and provide the scaffolding of a more plastic, flowing society that embraces its own evolution.

In a blog post entitled, “Are We All Fringe Dwellers?” Joseph shared that while doing his Canadian book tour, typical middle-class and apparently comfortably off Canadians shared perceptions of their own “marginalization”. This suggested to him that he had “tapped into the [Canadian] zeitgeist quite accidentally”.

Canada has long held international acclaim for its success as a multicultural society and for its ability to celebrate diversity through a federal constitution. In 1971 the Liberal Party government of Pierre Trudeau announced an unprecedented "Implementation of Policy of Multiculturalism within Bilingual Framework" in the House of Commons, the precursor of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act of the Brian Mulroney Progressive Conservative government in 1988. This made Canada the first country in the world to declare multiculturalism as official state policy. Canada's cultural mosaic is described by some as pluralistic, which views each culture or subculture in a society as contributing unique and valuable cultural aspects to the whole culture. In a 2002 interview with the Globe and Mail, the 49th Imam of the Ismaili Muslims described Canada as "the most successful pluralist society on the face of our globe", citing it as "a model for the world."

Perhaps, it is because we are all Fringe Dwellers…

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.


Anonymous said...

Wow! I'm glad I could introduce to each other some of my friends.

SF Girl said...

Hey, girl! Me too! Thanks for the introduction. Multumesc, Marilena!

Anonymous said...

You're welcome! :) Marilena

Shane Joseph said...

Nina - I was pleasantly surprised by this article. You hit all the buttons that I was trying to bring out in the book - well done!

SF Girl said...

Cool, Shane! I'm looking forward to reading your current book! :)

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Maybe we are all fringe dwellers? Who is to say what is normal, so we leave inside our own fringes.

SF Girl said...

HAHA! Yes...what IS normal anyway?... Check out my next post... ;)