Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Having the Name Leith Has Been a Mixed Blessing

(This originally appeared on the blog portion of my MobileMe site, in a post dated August 12, 2011.)

Leaf, Leif, Kleith, Lieth and Leitch--these are just a few of the numerous misspellings I get for my first name Leith.  And don't get me started on the mispronunciations!  As you can probably imagine, I spend a fair bit of my time explaining to people where my name comes from and what it means.  As a result, I have amassed quite a bit of information, some of which I will share in this post.

Leith has several meanings as a Gaelic noun, including "share," as in "leith mar leith," or "share and share alike."  Leith is also the name of the port of Edinburgh, Scotland.  As a proper noun, Leith has been transformed in Gaelic to mean the "moist place" or "river."  This latter definition is appropriate, as the mouth of the Leith River empties into the Firth of Forth at the Leith port in Scotland.

But I am named after a place on the other side of the Atlantic--a village called Leith--which is about six kilometres east of Owen Sound, Ontario.  When I was growing up, I spent many summers at the Peterson cottage at Leith.

Although I have many happy memories of my time at Leith, Ontario, having the name Leith has definitely been a mixed blessing.  From the Valentine's cards in public school addressed to "Leaf," to the too-oft ribbing about my Viking connection (Leif Ericson), there appears to no end to the ways people can distort my name.  As no one seems to have any trouble getting Keith right, I've tried explaining my name is like Keith only with an L.  Then I get Kleith.

Leith is usually found in the boys' and not the girls' section of the what-to-name-the baby books.  I constantly get Mr. Leith. . .and I'm a Ms.  (But in recent years, a number of people have told me about other females named Leith, so maybe more baby books will start adding it to the girls' section).

I know the "i before e except after c" jingle has been thoroughly engrained into most people's minds because I have great difficulty convincing some people that my name is an exception to the rule.  In fact, a few insist on spelling my name Lieth despite my protestations.

But there is nothing that will get me more peeved than those who persist in spelling my name Leitch.  Now tell me, how many parents would give their daughter the name Leitch?  I've lost track of the number of times I've spelled out my name very slowly, and what do people put down?  You guessed it.

Problems with my name usually happen in waves.  Things will go along swimmingly for a few months, and then there will be a rash of "Leithal" errors.  About nine years ago, I got so fed up that I decided to publicly air my grievances.  The result was my two published articles in the London Free Press (2003) and the Owen Sound Sun Times (2004).  Each article dealt with a different facet of the situation.

This public venting seemed to help reduce the number of blunders.  In fact, I thought the worst of it was behind me, but, alas, I was wrong.  Yet another wave soon beset me.  One night, after a horrendous week of them, I dreamed that I was face to face with God and Satan in the afterlife.  God insisted on spelling my name Lieth, and Satan contended my name was actually Lethe.  (Lethe (pronounced Lee'thee) is the mythological name for one of the rivers that flows through Hades; drinking of its waters makes people forget their time on earth.)

I was so angry with God and Satan for distorting my name that I informed them I was going to create a whole new society in the afterlife.  At that point, the alarm went off and I woke up.  I raced to my desk and wrote down the details.  The result was "Leithal Knocks," a 10 minute staged reading performed at the Grand Theatre's Playwrights Cabaret in 2005.

I hope this exposure to my Leith lore will inspire an increase in the correct spelling of my name.  And to others who have unusual names and suffer like I do, let's encourage those around us to ask, when they don't how to say or spell our names.  Even though this approach does not always work for me, it does eliminate a few bloopers.

My Central English Teacher, Louise Wyatt, and "Write, Write, Write"

(This originally appeared on the blog portion of my MobileMe site, in a post dated April 7, 2011.)

Louise Wyatt was my Central Secondary School English teacher in Grade 12.  I remember her as being a formidable force, a person not to be crossed, but also an inspiration.  She made English classes interesting in a way I did not think possible.  Her enthusiastic recitations of John Donne's poems still play on in my memory.  An even stronger recollection is when she stood up in class, swung her arms back and forth, and said "r-h-y-t-h-m" over and over again.  From that day forward, I never had any trouble remembering how to spell that word.

But some important advice from Miss Wyatt never resurfaced until decades later.  During Christmas 1997, I visited my father, who then lived in Duncan, B.C.  A friend of my father's, writer Frank Hird-Rutter (1928-2003), paid a visit to my father, and chatted with both him and me.  Hird-Rutter encouraged me to read Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way (1992) because he was convinced I should write more.  In fact, he was so convinced I should do this that he loaned me his copy of Cameron's book.

On the way back on the plane, I read it and concluded he was right.  Then I started reading Carol Shields's novel, The Stone Diaries (1993).  Shields acknowledged the help of a number of people, including Miss Wyatt.  That's when my former teacher's advice resurfaced.

Miss Wyatt retired in 1969.  Shortly before I graduated from Grade 13 in June 1970, she came into my home room and placed a book in my hand.  It was called Write, Write, Write.  She said she was giving me this book as a graduation gift because she thought I should get into my writing seriously.   I thanked her for the book and told her I thought that was a good idea, but I wanted to wait until I had more experience, like when I was in my 40s.  Talk about serendipity!

On April 9, 1998, I phoned Miss Wyatt, who was by then in a nursing home.  I told her the good news that I was getting into my writing.  I also told her that I had lived for 12 and a half years in Northern Ontario and the Northwest Territories.  She said she thought living in the North was "a wonderful way to learn the truth."  I asked her if I could visit her, but she said she wanted me to remember her as she was back at Central.  I was glad I was able to have that conversation with her before she passed away, at 92, in 2000.

In 2003, Central celebrated its 125th anniversary.  I did not attend, but I read London Free Press columnist James Reaney's January 26, 2003 column about when he was at Central (the same time as me, actually, although we were in different classes).  He mentioned "the mighty Miss Wyatt" who had "touched the lives" of former premier John Robarts, radio personality Max Ferguson and environmentalist David Suzuki.

In fact, Suzuki included Miss Wyatt in a 1998 CBC-TV Life and Times documentary about himself.  Her influence on him is also recorded in a 2004 article.  In both Suzuki's and my case, we had lost touch with Miss Wyatt for decades, but we eventually rediscovered her influence on us.  Unfortunately, in 1996, I gave away the Write, Write, Write book.  But the following year, I embarked on a journey that Miss Wyatt and I had both foretold in that Central home room many years before.

"The Politics of Suffering" - Fascinating Read

(An earlier version of this first appeared on the blog portion of my MobileMe site, in a post dated February 21, 2011.  I have updated the original with additional information.)

For more than 40 years, Peter Sutton worked as an anthropologist and linguist with the Australian Aborigines.  He grew more and more disillusioned with the situation there, and penned the book, The Politics of Suffering:  Indigenous Australia and the End of the liberal consensus (2009).  He argues that certain traditional approaches to such matters as violence and sorcery have had a detrimental effect--particularly when combined with welfare dependence and substance abuse. 

Sutton's book proved to be so much in demand that a second edition was issued in 2011, with an additional foreword, plus an afterword by him.  Both the first and second editions of the book include a foreword by Aborigine scholar, Marcia Langton. who agrees with many of Sutton's concerns.  I see numerous parallels between what he says and my experiences with the aboriginal situation here in Canada.

My "Clans and Tribes in the 21st Century," "Violence Against Aboriginal Women" and "Part Two of Two - A Delectable Lie, A Tree and a Way Forward:  Multiculturalism and Aboriginal Policy Compared" posts at my other website, http://www.counterpoise.ca, make reference to Sutton's views.