Since launching our fellowship program in 2014 (thanks to the generous support of our readers!), Apartment613 has encountered many super-talented Ottawans. Sanita Fejzic is one such individual—a thoughtful writer, playwright, and active community member.
For her fellowship, Sanita set up a new city department—well, not officially, but as close as we’ll get. The Department of Compliments and Complaints allowed people to share what they love and what they wish they could change about Ottawa. She interviewed people all over the city, and the diversity of answers is fascinating. Her fellowship with Apartment613 wrapped up late last year, and to tie it all together, we asked her to tell us a bit more about herself, her future projects, and, of course, give a compliment and a complaint about this city.
Apt613: Tell us about yourself!
Sanita Fejzic: I’m an Ottawa-based writer. My novella, Psychomachia, was short-listed for the 2015 Ken Klonsky Contest this Fall and will be published next year by Quattro Books. I am hoping to put on my first play, The Blissful State of Surrender, at a local theatre. I also publish short stories and poetry across Canadian and American literary journals, and am the co-editor of Ottawa’s In/Words, a literary magazine and micro-press. I am also a mother of a beautiful four-year old boy. My partner and I both quit our government jobs a few years ago to return to University for a second degree. I’m currently enrolled in an Accelerated Master’s degree at Carleton University. Next year, my research will focus on theorizing novellas in Canada.
How long have you lived in Ottawa?
I immigrated to Ottawa from Geneva the year of the ice-storm. I was born in Sarajevo, Ex-Yugoslavia and am one of the many individuals in the world who can claim to be born in a country that no longer exists. It makes you question the meaning of borders, countries and concepts of citizenship.
What inspired you to start the Department of Compliments and Complaints project?
Well, the Ottawa Police Service actually has a Compliments and Complaints Department, which struck me as a natural extension of disciplining and punishment. I wanted to subvert this impulse for control as a way of celebrating Ottawa’s humanity, diversity and creativity. The compliments celebrate Ottawa while the complaints, unlike those the police must deal with, are constructive criticisms that speak back to power. Indeed, many of the respondents complained about careless gentrification, noise pollution, careless commercialization (with a particular emphasis on Lansdowne), difficulties with public transportation and so on.
You talked to so many people from different areas of the city – what struck you the most in those conversations? Was there a common compliment or complaint that you heard a lot?
It became rapidly clear that what respondents appreciated most about any area of town was a sense of community. Whether it was access to child care services or simply an atmosphere, a mood, which was fostered by small, independent restaurants and shops, people seemed to love running into each other and getting the ‘small town vibe’ as one of the respondents called it. The complaints I addressed in my previous response. There were also a number of individuals that complained about the way the City allocated funds, the way corporations, particularly condo developers got away with careless gentrification, and so on, but many [respondents] requested not be included with their name and photo. It is strange to think that, given with the opportunity to voice their truth, many respondents felt scared and did not engage in free speech. In a way, they were disciplining themselves, and that was a common phenomenon. I spoke with an older gentleman in the Glebe for over twenty minutes and he had many intelligent and sensitive things to say, but ultimately declined to have me publish his responses because he was trying to sell his house and was worried that my interview would negatively affect his ability to sell.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on a hybrid novella titled The Decapitation of the Four-Headed Beast. It is concerned with “Parrhesia” which is translated into English as “free speech.” Inspired by Michel Foucault’s lectures “Discourse and Truth” captured in his posthumous book Fear-less Speech, I, like Foucault, am concerned not with “the problem of truth, but with the problem of the truth-teller, or of truth-telling as an activity.” Obviously there is some resonance here with the C&C Department. I am also working on two collections of poetry, one titled, The Encyclopaedia of Eccentric Suffering and Subtle Ecstasies and the other, Out/Flow of Desire.
And now, for your own answers to the C&C Dept. – one complaint and one compliment!
Complaint: The city’s lack of composting in buildings and condos, on street corners and in malls, marks its lack of commitment toward environmental standards which, I think, should be a priority. There is no strategy to eradicate poverty in Ottawa and the symptoms of this neglect are evident left, right and centre: from overflowing shelters, to areas of town that are crippled by unsafe prostitution, crack houses and violent gangs. The point is not to react with police force or underpaid social workers, but to treat the problem at its source, with progressive policies that strengthen the social net of the city and progressive taxation policies that bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. This is not a municipal problem specific to Ottawa, but a national issue that seems to have worsened in the last decade.
Compliment: Ottawa is understated, quiet, clean, and as some have said, perhaps the world’s coldest and most boring capital. If at first glance this reads like a complaint, I beg to differ. Geneva is understated, quiet and clean and yet no one goes on to qualify these qualities as boring. I like simple, small, quiet things. They have a tranquil strength that is charming and unpretentious. I wake up in the morning and am struck by the pink sunrise. I take my son to school and we sing. We enjoy peace and safety and don’t take it for granted. My neighbours are my friends, we talk and eat and laugh together. My partner bikes to university where she has access to some of the best education in the world. Same for me. I eat local, healthy food at home or in warm restaurants with great vibes, such as Oz Kafe. Yes: there aren’t enough options for food past 10 p.m. in Ottawa, and that’s why I’m grateful for Elgin Street. I can admire Monet’s paintings and listen to a harpist at the NAC, skate in front of City Hall with a Beavertail in my hands. I can do whatever I want, or almost whatever I want, because I am part of a privileged group of citizens whose socio-economic status allows her to watch movies, write books, and interview people for Apt613. I have the privilege of time, which allows me to think about the cultural, social, economic and political structures that delineate our limitations and possibilities (I hesitate to say ‘freedom’ because this word has a complex history) and understand their effects on subjects like me. Thank you, Ottawa.
Read all of Sanita’s posts from the Department of Compliments and Complaints series here.