Feb 17, 2017

Narcissus

I have, in the past, been criticized for being egotistical and narcissistic (and even if you've never brought it directly to my attention, you might have thought it), but I don't believe I am any more self-absorbed than anyone else (although I probably express it more often). Shouldn't we be the most interesting people in the world to ourselves? When you get right down to the real nitty gritty, we're the only thing we've got that can't be lost.

I am fascinated by my own thoughts. The intricate layers of thinking: the concurrency of the song running through my head, the imagined conversation, and the memory. How can the present, past, and future exist simultaneously in my brain?

My body is also fascinating to me. The way it looks and the things it does, the things it is capable of doing. I very frequently feel like an interloper in this bag of flesh and bones and blood. How is this body so intrinsically entwined with who I am in my entirety? This thing that bruises and bleeds and breaks and heals all on its own. (And don't forget aging, the way the body weakens and softens and wizens.)

In a crowd, at a club, I am invisible, unnoticed, looking out at the world from a face that does not belong to me, or to the essence of me. I feel awkward standing still. What do I do with my hands? (Is this why we hold bottles of beer at concerts? To give ourselves something to do that makes us feel less ungainly? Am I the only one who feels this disconnect?) That feeling of looking out, which suggests that there is something in. 

I like taking pictures of my body parts, itemizing them, cataloging. Here is my navel, here are my breasts, my hips, my legs, my hands. Here are my bruises; here is my blood. Here is my face, this thing I will never see except in reflections. I cannot take a photograph of the in, so here are photographs of the out.

I can't help that I am the most interesting person in the world, to me, and I can't stop trying to figure myself out. Understanding of one's self leads to an understanding of others, and an understanding of others leads to an understanding of the world (or so we hope). So forgive me my self-absorbed musings and memories. I appreciate your indulgence, and I sincerely hope that you are the most interesting person in the world to you.





   

 


Feb 1, 2017

On Religion

I personally think religion is stupid. If you need to believe in something bigger than yourself to get by in this crazy world, then, go ahead, knock yourself out. If prayer and meditation help you focus and deal with hardship, get down on those knees and light those candles.

But too many people use religion to justify their shitty, antiquated behaviour. Too many people use religion to hurt others. Too many people do not understand that the rules and tenets of their religions were created by men in positions of power to control (and often protect, to give them their due) the men and women beneath them in the social hierarchy. Too many people forget that religion was created as a way of explaining things we now understand through science.

I honestly believe that religion is the source of all evil in this world. (Which is kind of interesting, because would we even have the concept of evil without religion?)

Don't worry, it's cool. I'm allowed to marry a 13-year-old against her will and force her to fuck me - it says so in my holy book.

You can't have sex without being married or you're going to hell - it says so in my holy book.

You can't eat bacon - it says so in my holy book.

You can't control your own reproductive system - it says so in my holy book.

I'm going to tell you you're evil and make you hide who you are because you love someone who has the same genitalia as you - it says so in my holy book.

You must wear something on your head even though you might just want to go bare-headed and feel the wind in your hair some days and I'll punish you if you don't - it says so in my holy book.

You have to starve today - it says so in my holy book.

You can't play with the face cards - it says so in my holy book.

You need to go to this building a certain number of times a week, and you should leave some cash even though you're broke - it says so in my holy book.

You can't drink liquor or ingest certain substances - it says so in my holy book.

We're going to chop off bits of your sexual parts. Boys, because someone once decided foreskin was weird or something. Girls, because you shouldn't think sex is fun - it says so in my holy book. 

If you have sex with another man, I can kill you, but I can have as many wives as I want - it says so in my holy book.

I have to ring your doorbell early on the weekend to convince you that you are wrong and I am right - it says so in my holy book.

Killing you will help me get to heaven - it says so in my holy book.

There are obviously some good parts to most religions, and the varying interpretations of those holy books might be vastly different from their original intent. But as a human being in the wildly futuristic year of 2017, do you really need to have someone else tell you to try to be good? Do you need the fear of eternal punishment to not act like a jerk?

Can we not all just agree that life (all life, including the life of this planet and all its inhabitants) is valuable and should be respected? Can we not just all adopt the Golden Rule and throw out all that oppression and subjugation and violence that is responsible for so much suffering and death?

Let's at least give it a shot, see what happens. Riot on if you're with me.

Jan 23, 2017

The March

I've been having a hard time expressing, even to myself, why the women's march this past weekend has had such a powerful impact on me. People have asked me why I marched, what I thought it was accomplishing, and I don't really know how to answer. I didn't have a specific agenda. I am a straight, white, educated, non-religious, middle-class Canadian woman. I have never been raped or abused. I have never had an abortion (or a child). I am comfortable with my body and my sexuality. I am in a relationship with a man who is my intellectual and emotional equal. I have never felt denigrated or limited because of my gender at school or at work. I am lucky.

But I feel a very deep connection, inexpressible but undeniable, to my womanhood and to my place in womankind. (Is it buried in that extra X chromosome, in the blood we shed? Do men feel this same sense of solidarity?)

I have been aware of my own female power for as long as I can remember - it is an indelible part of my identity - and seeing all these women around the world standing together, and being part of the group in my own small city, reinforced this power.

But without exception, there are moments in every woman's life that make her feel powerless, and afraid. I am lucky to have had only a few such moments, moments that did not escalate into anything traumatic or tragic. But those moments, minor though they are, have stayed with me.

The boss at my first job asked me and my female co-worker to touch his new pants. At the staff Christmas party, he encouraged us, at fifteen, to drink alcohol.

An older man pursued me at my place of employment, buying me gifts, telling me not to tell my boyfriend, introducing me to his daughter, showing up at a bar I went to, all despite my informing him that he was making me very uncomfortable.

The married (and considerably older) proprietor of a restaurant next to the store I worked at offered to give me money to go for a drive with him.

I was roofied. (I made it home safely thanks to friends.)

These moments were why I marched. Because men are powerful, too, and because people, men and women both, in positions of power have the responsibility to not abuse that power.

I marched to support the women who do not have my freedoms and who suffer for no reason other than the fact that they are women.

I marched to add my strength to the feminine force that has the power to change the world.









Jan 21, 2017

Listen.

She comes to you at night with her siren-whisper.

Listen.

It's a man's world, but here you are, with your breasts and hips (and the brain that they can't see). Play it up, show some skin, make them love you, with your chipped fingernails and fishnets and black boots. It's easy, really.

When they kindly provide you with knowledge that you already possess (because you are a girl, so how could you possibly know about baseball or carburetors), bat your lashes and ask for clarification. Reflect his condescension in the twinkle in your eyes. Let him see it, and laugh.

Reject him, but do it kindly. Remember that he's a person, like you, and his ego is as soft and fragile as his external genital organs.

You are hard beneath your softness. You bear the weight and the pain of the millions before you whose suffering comes to you in blood.  

And when you're walking alone in the dark, don't forget to put your keys between your fingers, aim for the eyes, the throat, the groin. (The boots will help you run.)














Dec 30, 2016

Let's go to the movies!

There's something special about going to the movies.

Sure, sometimes it's nice to lounge mascara-less on your couch in your pajamas under a blanket with the cat curled up next to you and enjoy reasonably-priced snacks while watching something on netflix. But there's just something special about going to the movies.

There is an unparalleled sense of togetherness in being in a theatre full of people. Laughing together, discreetly wiping away tears together, jumping out of your seats together and then laughing because you knew it was coming but jumped anyway together. (And, yes, it's always a drag when you have somebody who constantly speculates on what is going to happen or comments on what has just happened sitting behind you, but that's part of the gamble, part of the excitement.)

Even a sparse crowd has its charms: there's the knowledge that the few other people in there with you would also rather see this small budget foreign film, or that they also missed opening night and barely managed to see this blockbuster on the big screen before it left theatres.

When we go to the movies, we are all watching the same movie, but bringing our own experiences and knowledge and understanding to it, making it collectively ours but also our individual own. And that is pretty magical.

(Plus, nothing comes close to movie theatre popcorn.)

These things have not changed, and I would still rather go out to watch a movie than stay in, but I am increasingly disheartened at the way the experience has changed over the years. (Except at the Hyland. Don't ever change.)

Going to the movies used to be the great social equalizer. Everybody paid the same price (unless you were a senior or a student) and those who got there early got the best seats. If you wanted to see something on opening night, you stood in line and took your chance. Sometimes you got turned away or the only seats left were in the far corners of the front row. (I watched Beverly Hills Cop from this neck-breaking vantage point.) Sometimes you even had to wait a whole week. Now people can book their seats ahead of time and saunter in at the last minute like celebrities themselves and take those two perfect seats in the exact middle of the theatre.

You used to have to wait in line with everybody else to buy your popcorn or candy. Today you can pay an inflated fee for the privilege of reclining and having a waiter deliver your steak and lobster dinner. If you wanted to drink alcohol during a film, you had to smuggle rum in in flasks or bring airplane bottles of vodka in your purse. Now someone brings a craft beer or a glass of merlot directly to your seat.

You used to (and I'm really aging myself here) have cartoons before the previews. Now you have to sit through fifteen minutes of commercials and watch Scene members play the cell phone "games" which are actually just the production companies' way of gathering information in order to determine which summer superhero movie needs more promotion. You need a minimum of three reminders to turn your cell phones off, and even then someone inevitably needs to text a friend or check facebook during a pivotal scene. The movies themselves are valued more as vehicles for merchandise and tie-ins and franchises than as artistic expressions of someone's vision.

Going to the movies used to be about us, the collective theatre-going audience, but now it seems more focused on creating or reinforcing a social hierarchy wherein one must be a member of an elite club, needing constant reinforcement in the form of points and rewards and special treatment.  

It's nice to feel special, but isn't it also nice to be reminded that, at your most fundamental, you are just like every other human being out there? That it doesn't matter how much money you make or where you live or what you drive, that you can eat the same overpriced (but delicious) popcorn and drink the same watered-down soda and sit in the same room in the same padded chairs as a bunch of strangers and still all be emotionally affected by watching characters and worlds and stories come to life in front of you?

When it comes to going to the movies, I, for one, will always choose the latter.

   


Nov 19, 2016

I am a shitty feminist.

I realized the other day, to my horror, that I have subconsciously been giving in to gender roles and expectations in the way I tutor my students by giving my male and female students different books to read. 

At some point in our journey of knowledge, I have all of my students, boys and girls alike, read Of Mice and Men and Lord of the Flies. These books are brilliant and I love them unreservedly, but there is only one female character between the two of them, and she winds up dead. 

I make everyone read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, because they are teenagers and need to read about what it feels like to be a loser in high school in order to either identify or empathize. (Also, there are some pretty great songs for us to look up together on youtube.) 

We always do Shakespeare because they study his plays in school, and, while he does have some sharp female characters, Will was writing in the Elizabethan era, so the ladies eventually succumb to the wishes and desires of the men. (Sure, girls could be queen, but they couldn't vote.)

In the dystopian fiction department, lately I've made a bunch of them read Oryx and Crake, and 1984 and Brave New World are always solid options if they need to write an Independent Study Project. The female characters in these novels are, respectively, a child sold into prostitution, a hypersexed rebel, and a vapid Barbie doll. 

When the boys need something to read, I suggest The Wars by Timothy Findley, or Cormac McCarthy's The Road or maybe The Mosquito Coast, highly male-centric all. When the girls need something to read, I suggest The Handmaid's Tale or The Joy Luck Club or Lives of Girls and Women or A Complicated Kindness, and I make all my female students read The House on Mango Street, a gorgeous bildungsroman about a Latin-American girl who dreams of having her own house someday. 

So this is the shitty thing that I have only just realized: I make the girls read books from the male perspective, but I rarely make the boys read books from the female perspective. Why do I do that? I think it's because I don't want the boys to be bored (it's tough enough getting half of them to sit still and read for half an hour already); the terrifying assumption beneath that decision is that reading about life from a girl's point of view is dull and uninteresting to boys. This obviously makes no sense, as I personally find reading about life from the male perspective just as valuable as reading novels about women. 

Ingrained in me still, despite my feminist ideals, is the idea that what boys have to say is universal, while what girls have to say is gendered and specific. I want my girls to read about characters like them, strong and ambitious, and maybe struggling. I want them to read about female sexuality and abuse so they are educated and armed. I want to give them female authors as role models and female characters they can identify with, because sometimes, still, it is hard being a girl. 

But what if I started exposing the boys to these female stories, too? Would that help create a generation of men who understand the terror of rape, or the horror and shame of getting your first period and thinking you might be dying, or the feeling of inferiority? I think it might. 

I am going to post this on facebook, so I want to ask any male friends out there if, as children, they ever read and loved Anne of Green GablesPippi LongstockingLittle Women, HeidiThe Secret Garden, or Nancy Drew as I read and loved Treasure IslandThe Hardy BoysThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. If you have children, do you give the boys "boy" books and the girls "girl" books? (Books with animals as main characters don't count.) 

Will books make the difference? Will children even bother reading anymore? I know that, starting Monday, I'm going to make a concerted effort to find out. 

As an aside, thanks for reading this, as it was really just a way for me to work out my thoughts and confess my sins. But also thanks for reading in general, because books can change your ideas, and ideas can change the world.   

Nov 11, 2016

Why am I always writing about death?

Mortality, right? It's such a huge goddamn drag.

Most of you are my peers, give or take ten years or so. Our idols are mostly 20+ years older than we are, and therefore at the age when health issues and the cost of celebrity are catching up to them. Sometimes our heroes die at 27, but mostly they live until at least 60, and then they have a heart attack or get cancer or overdose or just die in their sleep like we all hope to do.

2016 isn't trying to be a bigger jerk than most years. I imagine 2017 will be even worse, because time don't give a shit [sic]. If you are my age (how the hell did we get so old?), think about the remaining artists and actors and musicians who have shaped our generation. They are ALL going to die, hopefully before we do.

When I worked at the bookstore, the death of a writer meant a huge surge in sales of that writer's works, which used to piss me off. Why can't we appreciate people while they're here? I thought. Why does it take death for people to realize how much one person has brought to their lives?

It's because life goes on, man. We have laundry to do and dinner to make, doctor's appointments and plans on the weekend. We have music to listen to and books to read and movies to watch. We have to hit the gym and get the kids ready for school and remember to floss.

If there is a silver lining to death, it is that it brings us together. It makes us stop in the middle of all that living and remember how ephemeral life is. It makes us appreciate, even for a moment, how truly astonishing it is to be here. It reminds us that the people we love matter, matter so much it hurts, and it reminds us that we matter, too.    

I learned when I woke up this morning that Leonard Cohen had died. While he was never a big influence on me personally, I do respect his poetry and his intelligence. I know a lot of people who are pretty broken up about his death, and you have my sincerest condolences.

Today is, also, fittingly, Remembrance Day. Very few people die willingly, and those that do, I suspect, have been somehow duped. So to put on those boots and grab that gun knowing that you probably won't return is the bravest thing I can imagine. Mortality, man. Such a fucking drag.

So today I raise a glass to you, Madonna, and to you, Mr. Springsteen. We will collectively mourn when Debbie Harry and Iggy Pop die because, man, are they cool. One day even Keith Richards will inhale his last cigarette. (Who am I kidding? He'll outlive us all.)

Ah well, and riot on.