Jun 5, 2019

On Canada

The MMIWG report basically demands funding (for research and services), access to resources, more equitable representation, and fair treatment, all of which I can get behind. One of the most important indicators of a successful nation is how well it treats its minorities and the impoverished/underprivileged, and there is obviously room for improvement in this area in Canada. Their suggestions make sense and are important for not just indigenous girls and women but all Canadian citizens. 

But I have a problem with a couple of aspects of the report:

"15.2 Decolonize by learning the true history of Canada and Indigenous history in your local area. Learn about and celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ history, cultures, pride, and diversity, acknowledging the land you live on and its importance to local Indigenous communities, both historically and today."

I am totally cool with learning about other cultures and history. It's an important part of living in our modern global society and a necessary step in ending racism and intolerance. What I have a problem with is the "celebrate" part.

I don't celebrate Jesus Christ as my lord and saviour or bow down to Allah. I don't wear a turban or a hijab. I think dictating what and when people can or cannot eat is ridiculous. I'm pretty sure a rain dance won't make it rain, and I'm almost certain that a dude in a chariot doesn't pull the sun across the sky every morning. I don't support valuing male children over female children. I'm not especially fond of jazz, metal, or throat-singing. I think it's cool if you want to see a naturopath, but I'm probably just going to take some ibuprofen.

The demand that I "celebrate" indigenous culture just because they were here first seems to run exactly counter to the kind of inclusive, accepting society we should all be actively working towards. I can respect the fact that your cultural beliefs and heritage are important to you without actually subscribing to them.

Re: decolonizing: Most high school English courses now have a unit on Canadian identity, and the students are asked to read a bunch of short stories and explain how they contribute to the uniquely Canadian voice. I remember having to do this myself in my Can Lit class in high school a million years ago. This task is impossible because there is no singular Canadian identity.

The indigenous people of Canada are an important part of our history and identity, but arguably no more so than the Scottish fishermen of the Maritimes or the Mennonite farmers of the prairies or the Africans fleeing slavery from the U.S. or the Japanese immigrants who died building the railroad or the French missionaries or the Middle Eastern families seeking refuge from violence or the Greek, Italian, Chinese, Irish, Russian, German, Mexican, Korean, Portuguese, Dutch, Vietnamese, Thai, etc. etc. etc. people who now call Canada home.

“An absolute paradigm shift is required to dismantle colonialism within Canadian society, and from all levels of government and public institutions, ideologies and instruments of colonialism, racism, and misogyny, past and present, must be rejected.”

Indigenous people of Canada, I see you. I recognize that your story has not been told honestly in the past, that you have been neglected and abused and mistreated. I acknowledge your pain and suffering.

But Canada is not just you. This land that we all call home is no longer just yours, as much as that might hurt to accept.   

Without some sort of catastrophic event, be it asteroid or global warming or nuclear war, that destroys all (or most) of humanity, the absolute paradigm shift you desire is impossible, and, while it is nice to look back on the good old days, the past is the past. Living in and longing for the past prevents you from living now. And isn't now what ultimately matters?

Apr 16, 2019

A Little Salt Water

On a bitter day in April, a fair weather forecast and the promise that the world will soon erupt in green.

On a day of diagnosis, the word benign instead of malignant.

On a day when brilliant orange flames rage in Notre Dame cathedral, knowing that the four hundred worn stone steps, polished smooth from millions of pairs of feet ascending and descending the cramped spiral staircase over centuries, remain to be climbed once again.

On a day of loneliness, a gesture, or a song.

On a day of silence, a word.

That sense of heaviness, the tension of a clenched fist in my gut, my chest, my throat, that manifests in an anticlimactic trickle of tears.

Is this what it means to be human? A little salt water, a little hope.

We need so little, really. 

Feb 28, 2019

Cracking the case, but also not solving a goddamn thing.

I think I've cracked it. Sitting here in my dimly lit living room, dishwasher chugging dutifully away, reading a book but also thinking about something else entirely, when the thought pops into my head: the reason behind so many of the conflicts we are currently experiencing in first-world nations regarding cultural appropriation, identity, and the like. (Because in nations struggling under violence and oppression that threaten one's life rather than just one's sensibilities, these problems are understandably low on the list of priorities.)

The nut I think I have cracked is this: we all want to be accepted and treated equally, but we also want to remain individuals, special and unique, and we want to be recognized in both ways simultaneously. I don't know how we can have both without destroying something fundamental about society, namely the divisions within it.

(I should probably mention that I am all for the destruction of society, so long as a brighter, more powerful phoenix rises from the flames.)

There is an aggressively possessive tendency in modern society that undermines our progression towards a society that is inclusive and egalitarian. This is mine, we say, and you can't have it. This symbol, this object, this article of clothing, this hairstyle, this genre of music, this job, this piece of land. This word.

Most of these problems stem from the unfortunate history of European countries colonizing the rest of the world and imposing their imperialistic worldview on societies that existed perfectly well without this outside influence. (I blame spices.) In their excitement and ignorance and unwavering moral certitude, the conquering nations of yore caused a fuck-ton of harm to indigenous peoples around the globe, murdering, enslaving, possessing.

But we can't change that. In 2019, we can't bring back the roaming herds of buffalo, we can't undo the slave trade. Those imperial conquerors are dead and gone, although certainly some of their more unappealing characteristics live on in capitalism and racism and sexism and a general shittiness towards identifiable others. Would the world have been better had those explorers stayed home and cultures been kept isolated from each other? It's interesting to consider, but ultimately moot. This is the world we live in today, and we need to figure out a way to deal with it.

When you've been in control for thousands of years, it makes sense that you would want to maintain that control. And when you've had almost everything taken from you, it makes sense that you would want to hold on to whatever you can.  But if we give up the idea of ownership, we begin to destroy the boundaries between us. If we share something (whether that be DNA or a recipe for guacamole), the original owner does not have less. We both have more. And when we have more in common, the superficial differences between us become less important.

This is why I think it is important for the people in power (largely, still, white men) to share that power. Sharing the power doesn't mean you no longer have any. And what is power for (or what should it be for) other than bringing the people of the world together and supporting those who need support.

Just as important as the people in power sharing their power is for the historically marginalized groups to not remain mired in the past. You can only blame so much of your misfortune on the unavoidable things that have happened to you. At some point, whether it be as an individual or as a cultural group, you need to make the conscious decision to move forward.

We need to share those things that separate us so that we are no longer separate. If we all share everything, our power, our land, our traditions, our ideas, our experiences, and our stories, maybe we can bring an end to the seemingly endless bickering about what belongs to whom.   

What this means, though, is that that thing that makes you special, that identifies you as part of something else, a tradition or a culture or a group (whether that identification has harmed you or helped you), won't be as identifiable.

And we all want to be special. We don't want to be like everybody else. We want our uniqueness to be acknowledged and respected and rewarded. Maybe it's just an inherent aspect of humans as social beings, this desire to be simultaneously a part of and apart from.

I don't know how to solve it. I don't know if we can. But I really hope so, because, like it or not, in this crazy future world of the year 2019, we're all in this together.

Jan 14, 2019

I won't show you.

"Tell me your dreams; am I in them? / Tell me your fears; are you scared? / Tell me your stories; I'm not afraid of who you are. / We could fly..." - Madonna and Lenny Kravitz

I won't show you. I'll tell you. 

I won't tell you how long it will take to read. You'll simply have to begin, if you choose to begin at all, and stop when you come to the end (or earlier, if it grows tiresome).

I hope that in the telling I will reveal something of myself to you that can't be revealed in the sharing of a meme, a selfie, an article written by someone else and presented without comment. 

I'll tell you in print and paragraphs instead of a photograph. A picture is worth a thousand words, they say, but aren't words worth so much more? (Would a photo of the field of daffodils stretched out in never-ending line along the margin of the bay have yielded immortality?) 

I fear that I am something of an anachronism here, in this space. No longer my space but an unending stream of faces and feeds. (I confess I find my appetite waning.) Even the vocabulary of online existence is designed to simultaneously gratify and diminish: a gram in an instant, a chat in a snap. Aren't we worth more than a moment and an emoji? 

There you are, out there in the ether, a click, a burden, a chore. But without you I am nothing. What is a writer without someone who reads? Especially this voice, the voice of me as poet/philosopher, with nary a vulgarity or an aside in sight. (As an aside, I like this voice as much as my other voices, but fucking Christ, does anyone else? Who am I writing in this pretentious goddamn voice for, exactly?)

There is, perhaps, an end in sight. Overwhelmed by algorithms and advertisements, by the repetitious and the mundane, maybe we'll drift back into a world where the only information we receive is that which we actively seek ourselves. Maybe I'll write you a letter on a piece of paper and you'll have to wait a week to get it and then I'll have to wait another week for your response. Ah, the lost thrill of anticipation! 

I worry that we are lost, lonely as the digital data cloud that floats on high, overwhelmed by irrelevance and edification, because we are sharing, yes, but we aren't sharing ourselves, or at least not the parts of ourselves that really matter.  

So I'm not going to show you. But I'll tell you about it, sometime, maybe.  

Jan 3, 2019

It's All About the Balance, Part One (As an aside, it's January, so I wouldn't look for Part Two anytime soon.)

Aphasia, alcoholism, the death of a parent after a prolonged sickness, the guilt over a brother's suicide, a mother's hypochondria, defective technology, shitty poetry, mediocre pizza, the facebook friend who only posts empowering self-help memes, two sides to the story and no way to determine the truth, letters asking you to contribute more than you already do, a friend's chronic illness, an absent father, grey January days, cat puke, that upcoming colonoscopy appointment, when someone cries over the phone and there's nothing you can do about it, money, how long it takes the oven to reach 400 degrees, insomnia, dust build-up, loneliness, guilt, rape, a sleeping partner's incessant snoring, taking care of aging parents and their struggle to maintain their independence, knowing that you will face that struggle some day yourself without any kids to take care of you, reading the comments, broken plans, job dissatisfaction, a missing puzzle piece, a chipped nail, social justice warriors who hinder rather than help the cause, despotic rulers, diarrhea, unleashed dogs, cigarette butts, surgery wait times, that one neighbour who is always washing his car, boredom, jealousy, having to reserve a seat ahead of time to go to the movies, people who get upset over the results on award shows, OCD, sitting through online advertisements in order to watch a youtube video, someone else's urine on a public toilet seat, not getting a timely response, racism, tsunamis, caring too much, and not caring at all.   

Oct 15, 2018

Doing It Our Way

It's an interesting time to be a woman. As I frequently tell my students, it has been barely a century since women were considered legitimate enough as human beings to be allowed to vote. As the old Virginia Slims ads pointed out, we've come a long way, baby. (As an aside, what an exciting time it must have been for manufacturers and advertisers when they realized that women spent money. Just make it skinny and/or pink! It's a goddamned gold mine!) We've come a long way, yes, and we still have a long way to go, but, baby, we are definitely making strides. Long ones. In heels even.

Having never had a penis, I don't know if men feel the same sense of communion with other men that I feel with other women. The sense of pride in another woman's accomplishments, in her triumphs and successes, even though they have nothing at all to do with me. Does the same force that synchronizes our periods draw us together in the desire to protect each other? Is it somehow biological? Or is it more social? Does every marginalized group feel this way towards its fellow members? 

I am going to go off on a tangent momentarily in a brief defense of men. For literally thousands of years, men have not thought of women as equals. They have not had to. They have traded us as commodities, controlled our bodies, gazed at and lusted after us, victimized us, belittled and infantilized us (see "baby" above). And we women have, slowly but steadily, been challenging this treatment and forcing change. 

As a woman, I understand the frustration and indignation that have led to the current volatile social climate. But I can also see how, from a male perspective, the seemingly sudden outrage could be overwhelming. Here's where I get a little controversial: excluding obviously predatory behaviour like drugging and raping women, I think men who have behaved in the past in a manner we are now calling out as abusive should get a pass. 

Every man who called a woman "sweetie" or patted her ass as she walked by or catcalled her from a car window or kissed her without her consent should be forgiven his trespasses. How does someone know his behaviour is wrong when everything else in society not only condones it, but actively encourages it? I honestly believe that you didn't know any better because you never had to think about it, so I am willing to give you a pass.  

But think about it now. All those seemingly innocent actions and attitudes, compounded, along with the more blatantly oppressive, have led to this female revolution. We have put up with it in the past because it was simpler, easier, less likely to cause trouble for us. We have been afraid, because you are bigger and stronger than we are, and you have wielded more power. We have been silent. We are silent no longer. We are strong, and together we are powerful. So I am willing to give you a pass. But just one. Now you know better. 

Okay, now that that's done I can get to the original point of this blog, which is that, when I was growing up in the 1980s, there were some rather remarkable strides being made in the feminist revolution that I have only recently recognized, and that is in the popular culture medium known as television.

I haven't thought of these shows in years, but looking back, I can see how important they were, both to me personally and to the populace in general. Here were single women pursuing careers while raising cool daughters (Kate & Allie, One Day at a Time). Here were women working hard for the money and fighting against the patriarchal boss man (Alice - kiss my grits!). Here was an inversion of expectations with a woman as the brains and a man as the pretty face (Remington Steele).  Here was a detective smarter than the men around her (Murder, She Wrote). Here were women doing it their way (Laverne and Shirley). Here were a bunch of old ladies forcing us to challenge our perceptions of what it means to be an old lady (The Golden Girls). Every one of these characters (and the actresses who portrayed them) was a woman facing, and overcoming, some kind of adversity. They were independent, strong, funny, smart, brave, empathetic, and supportive of each other. Watching them certainly made this particular young girl smarter and stronger than she would have been if she'd only watched The Dukes of Hazzard and The A-Team.     

As we continue to fight for true equality, it's important to remember these shows and to appreciate the work of the women who have come before us. Cultural change does not happen overnight, but it does happen. So riot on, ladies. Let's fucking do this. xo   

Oct 5, 2018

A Warning

One day, my pretty young thing, you will grow old.

This bag of bones, so lithe and lovely now, will become your burden to bear. This flesh, this fat, these folds. The wrinkles in your forehead, the creases in the corners of your eyes. Gravity gently exerting its force on earlobes, buttocks, breasts.

Impossible as it is to imagine, you will experience the body's revolt. Cysts and tumors, blood clots, weak knees and stiff joints. Kidney stones and cancer. The thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.

I know you don't believe it, but trust me when I assure you that you will grow old. (You are ugly already, despite your shapely thighs and high breasts, your firm skin and taut stomach, your perfect selfie smile.)   

So the next time you remark flippantly on someone else's bag of bones, the next time you make someone feel insignificant and small for the burden they bear as a being of bone and blood and flesh, you would be wise to remember that any body can go at any time. A weakened blood vessel in the brain will do it, or a blocked artery. A peanut butter sandwich or an oyster or a bee sting. Something you can't see, can't predict, latently lying in wait. A hammer to the skull, perhaps.