Sep 18, 2017

On Etiquette

A few months ago, my dude and I were spending some time with his father and new wife. The wife was beginning a new career in which she planned on teaching etiquette classes to children, which seemed preposterous to me. What kind of lazy asshole parent is going to send their child to etiquette school to learn manners? I thought teaching please and thank you appeared quite early on in the Things You Should Teach Your Kid manual, along with not to pick your nose in public (or at least not eat it) and the difference between "I" (a subject) and "me" (an object).

This occupational information did, however, get me thinking about etiquette, and what I have determined is this: there are two kinds of etiquette, the Golden Rule kind and the designed-to-maintain-a-social-hierarchy kind.

The first kind is logical to me. If you would like something from someone, you should say please rather than just demand it. If someone gives you something, you should thank them, whether it be a birthday present or your change at the grocery store. (No one owes you anything in this world, so try not to behave like an entitled jerk.)

The Golden Rule kind of etiquette covers pretty much everything of any importance when one is behaving as a member of society. Would you like someone to let you in when you're trying to turn onto a busy street or merging into one lane? Do you enjoy being interrupted in the middle of a story or seeing other people's masticated food? Do you get a kick out of sending messages, emails, or phone calls and not getting responses in a timely manner? Do you delight in sitting around waiting for people to show up at the agreed-upon time? In these instances, and others like them, etiquette dictates do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

As an aside, I am not always the epitome of polite. Sometimes I'm late for things that do not have a strict start time (especially if they are first thing in the morning - well, afternoon - I do enjoy my sleep), and sometimes I get really excited about contributing to a conversation and forget to swallow first, and sometimes I'm in a hurry to get somewhere and just don't feel like letting you in. For these moments of human weakness, and others like them, I apologize.

It's the second kind of etiquette that I scorn. This category includes things like opening the car door for a woman, not putting your elbows on the table, and serving from the left and removing from the right (or is it the other way around?). This kind of etiquette is designed exclusively to allow one social group to feel superior to another because they know the "rules" while others do not. And, also, I suspect, to sustain the materialism and sexism inherent in our society.

Let's examine the expectation of a hostess gift, for example. There is the obvious sexism inherent in this form of etiquette (ie) the woman of the house will appreciate some small material object to show your appreciation for her hospitality, because she does all the cooking and likes shopping. In extending the invitation to spend time at my home, I did not also intend to force you to go to the mall. (I also did not intend for you to do household chores like washing dishes. Seriously, I can do it later on my own. You don't know where anything goes anyway.) If you would like to bring a bottle of wine to share over dinner, by all means, please do, but if you bring nothing, I certainly won't hold it against you. (I think hostess gifts are how candle makers and HomeSense stay in business.)

My dude's mother once informed me that the proper way to eat soup was to scoop stuff onto the spoon while moving the spoon away from you toward the far end of the bowl. This sort of etiquette rule must surely have been created by rich white landowners during a break between counting their money and whipping their slaves (ie) they had nothing better to do.

Taking your hat off is another odd rule. As an article of clothing, it serves a purpose (usually to hide one's bald spot or the fact that your hair is unwashed). If you are more comfortable wearing a hat inside, I'm cool with it. (Unless it's a giant sombrero or something that makes getting around awkward.) I'm too lazy to google it, but I'm sure there must have been some sort of lame sexist reason for removing one's hat. Or possibly a hygienic one. Feel free to enlighten me, etiquette trivia buffs.

As another aside, if you are a guest in someone's home, you should obviously politely acquiesce to their requests, however inane they may seem to you. It's their space and you should be respectful of that. For example, I'd prefer if you took your shoes off in my house, because I hate sweeping and also don't want to damage the floors. Guests in my home go to the bathroom to check their cell phones, which I find hilarious. I'm only trying to help you recognize your addiction, guys. You'll be okay without it for a couple of hours, I promise. There are no acceptable reasons why anyone who has made previous plans to hang out with me at my house must have their cell phone readily available, except if maybe the babysitter had to take the kid to the hospital or someone has died (and if someone is dead, they'll still be dead when you get the message a few hours later). But I digress.

I can't think of an example of etiquette that does not fall into the first category that we follow for any reason other than that is what we were taught was the way things were done. Is there a logical reason for behaving as I'm told? If there is, I'll do it. But if it's just because it's the "right" way to do things, according to some archaic and/or arbitrary "rule," well, frankly, fuck that. Life's too short to spend worrying about what fork to use (work from the outside in).    

Jun 10, 2017

It's good to have goals.

Last night, while walking through our developing suburban neighbourhood with my dude, checking out who had new sod and accidentally peeping in un-window-treated windows at people going about their evenings, I realized something rather important about myself. It was a rather baffling epiphany, but when I ran the events of my life through the idea, I realized it was true.

I was feeling pretty chipper because the pool and deck construction in our backyard is reaching its final stages. (As an aside, it's been an ongoing ordeal because our house sits on a high water table, which means that there are freshwater streams flowing freely beneath the surface of our backyard. The pool guy has congratulated us on being tied for the most difficult pool installation of his career thus far, and he has been doing it for quite a while. So that's been fun.) So anyway, there we were, walking along in the warm summer night, and dude asked me if I'd ever imagined I'd own a pool.

I laughed and replied in the negative. And that's when I realized that I had never imagined myself doing anything. I have never had goals. Let me repeat that, because it sounds ridiculous: I have never consciously driven myself to accomplish anything.

The only exception I can think of is the desire to go to university, but even that had no end other than an education. I wanted to go to university and I did. School was never hard for me, I got a good scholarship, and I went. I never dreamed of going to university one day, never dreamed of walking across that stage to get my degree. It just happened.

And, that, the fact that it just happened, has been the guiding force of my entire life.

Although I did occasionally think about the style of wedding dress I would wear if I got married, I never dreamed of finding a nice boy and getting married. Nice boys have just always been around.

I never dreamed of owning my own house, let alone a house with a pool. We bought our first little condo because it was more practical than paying rent, made some money when we sold it, built an inexpensive little house with that money, made some money when we sold it, built a slightly bigger house on a beautiful lot at the edge of town, built a pool because what else were we going to do with that yard? (Also, I have bad knees, and I enjoy the thought of swimming low-impact laps in the sunshine, and of splashing around with my friends and family because summer needs to be celebrated.)

I never dreamed of owning a nice car. Dude's job pays the lease on a fancy car, while I still drive that piece of shit Honda (which, incidentally, I have reached a truce with. I even sort of like her now that I've determined to just drive her into the ground).

I never dreamed of having a successful career that I actually (mostly) enjoyed. I got constructively dismissed from my shitty retail job and then my current teaching gig just sort of evolved over the years.

I never dreamed of having children, ever. (And then I ablated my uterus and almost died, but at least I don't have to worry about accidentally getting pregnant anymore.)

All those so-called milestones that society creates were never milestones for me. They were just things that happened. So when people congratulated me on them, it always felt a little odd. What exactly have I achieved? Everybody needs to live somewhere. Everybody needs to get around in some fashion. Everybody needs to make enough money to live. (Not everybody needs to get married or have children.)

I have never placed expectations on myself to do or be or accomplish anything, other than a person who tries to be kind instead of an asshole (and I think I succeed, at least most of the time). It's a very relaxing way to live, not worrying about crossing those items off of society's list, those items that identify you as a "successful" human being. Success is relative, and the moment you try to categorize it according to someone else's criteria is the moment you let society win. Fuck society. Society is full of shit.

My life has not been without its hardships (poverty, divorce, mental illness, my mother's aneurysm, the deaths of many pets and a few people), but no one's is. And I have certainly worked at things, just never with a single-minded, Gatsby-ian focus on the eventual culmination of effort. So, while I am infinitely grateful for the way good things have just sort of happened to me, I also firmly believe that this openness to the world, this ah well attitude, has played a major role in allowing the good things to happen.

If I can end with a bit of wisdom that you might also be able to apply to your own life, it is this: sure, it's good to have goals. But it's okay not to have them, too.  


May 29, 2017

What if?

What if we appropriated things from other cultures but didn't make any money off them? What if we went to Mexico to learn how to make tacos and came home and made awesome tacos and sat around eating those tacos and drinking really good tequila with some friends and had a great night? Would that be okay?

What if I saw a beautiful Indian girl with a piercing in her nose and thought it added to her beauty and I wanted to add to my beauty, too, so then I paid a guy to pierce my nose because I couldn't handle stabbing that needle into my own flesh? Would that be okay?

What if I went to a blues bar in Chicago and saw an old black man play a haunting blues song and I knew exactly what he was feeling because, man, does love hurt sometimes, so I went home and strummed some of those chords and hummed the melody? Would that be okay?

What if I wrote a story from the perspective of someone who wasn't me because I wanted to try to understand what it was like to be someone else? And what if I shared that story in my blog online and people read it and identified with something in it? Would that be okay?

What if everybody stole things they found interesting or useful or beautiful from other cultures but nobody made any money from those things? Would that be okay?

Because if it's just the money that is the issue, capitalism is the real problem. So maybe try to deal with that instead of criminalizing people for recognizing the value in other cultures and wanting to make those things part of their own.

I don't want to go back to a world where cultures are isolated from each other, because isolation creates fear creates violence creates death.

Colonization is a problematic issue. I believe that we should study our own history and the history of other cultures and learn from the past and try to be kinder to each other. But I believe that we should move forward, too. You can only blame your abusers for so long before you need to take responsibility for your own life. Life isn't fair, and for you to expect it to be is naive and will only result in disappointment.

We live in a capitalist society. Unless you can think of a way to change that, maybe you should accept that people are going to try to make money in whatever way they can, because that is how we survive. Do what you can to promote education and compassion instead of pointing fingers and placing blame. If cultural authenticity is important to you, don't support the products of someone who doesn't have the corresponding cultural background, but don't actively try to destroy another human being for, for example, being attracted to indigenous art and incorporating some of those ideas into her own artwork. How do restrictions and limitation and censorship make the world better?

There is something so inherently wrong with the notion that making someone feel ashamed of their actions is the best way to change their behaviour. If you're trying to toilet train your son, is spanking him and yelling at him going to stop him from peeing his pants, or will a kind word and encouragement be more effective? Both will probably work, but what kind of individual are you creating in the process?

Now my ideas are getting muddled, but they're all tied up together, aren't they? I don't have a solution, obviously, but I know that the world will be better when we stop being so angry at each other.

I thought I was done with this topic for the moment, but now maybe I wonder if the people who are so indignant on the internet about perceived injustices maybe feel powerless in their own lives for some reason. Maybe attacking others gives them a feeling of righteousness to make up for a lack of confidence. Pointing out the flaws of others is often an indication of dissatisfaction with oneself. Bullying is a way of building yourself up.

So maybe what we need to do instead of complaining about the actions and attitudes of others is work on our own actions and attitudes. Start accepting ourselves and ignoring the mores of society and just do what makes us feel good and smart and beautiful, fuck what anyone else thinks. This is the kind of riot I heartily espouse, so I guess I will finish the way I always finish, by reminding you to riot on, but kindly, please, if you could.

Apr 11, 2017

Lancing the boil

Many months ago, I was out dancing with a friend at a club I frequent when a stranger approached me and informed me that people were laughing at us while we were dancing. There was a gleeful malice to the way she passed this information on that astonished me. This wasn't friendly. She meant it to hurt. And it did, for two reasons.

Reason the first: I knew this girl to see her; we have many mutual friends, and although we had never met, I had seen her name and picture pop up on other people's facebook pages. She seemed fun and I admired her style. She was one of the cool kids.

Reason the second: To quote Madonna, only when I'm dancing can I feel this free. I love the communal aspect of the dance floor, dancing with friends and strangers to songs we all love, sharing the groove, singing along. And while I am ashamed to admit that I have been guilty of judging others in the past, particularly those who cannot seem to find the beat (the beat for me is like breathing), I have come to the realization that those who dance, however badly or off beat, are having way more fun than those standing on the edges of the dance floor watching and judging. And so I have a few drinks and I dance, and I don't care what people think because this song makes me wanna feel, makes me wanna try, makes me wanna blow the stars from the sky...

I would never ever tell someone that they look stupid, that they are being laughed at and ridiculed, for doing something that brings such joy. It was like this girl, this stranger, took something away from me in that instant, and for what reason I couldn't fathom.

I didn't let it interfere with my weekly dance therapy, but it was undeniably there, this doubt, this insecurity. Her message and her malice stuck with me the way the words of that boy in high school have stuck with me (even now, being as comfortable in my body as I am, the phrase "thunder thighs" carries a sting).

So last night at the club, she was there. I had seen her around often enough, but last night I had had enough vodka and enough of feeling bitter whenever I did see her to confront her about it and ask her why she chose to deliberately hurt someone she didn't know.

She didn't remember saying anything. She blamed whiskey for making her mean, and she said it didn't sound like something she would say. She said she was a terrible dancer herself, so why would she throw stones? I assured her that she did and she apologized, but her not remembering made her motivation unknowable, assuming she was telling the truth. She seemed legitimately contrite, so I'm choosing to believe her. Maybe she'd just had a bad day and too many shots of whiskey that night.

Amusingly, the bouncer kept his eye on us. I wasn't going to start a fight, and she was actually quite lovely and gracious when confronted with a drunk weirdo coming up to her out of nowhere telling her about a mean thing she did months ago that she didn't even remember. I just wanted to know why, and maybe I also wanted her to know that what she said hurt, that she had hurt someone and that that wasn't cool. Things ended amicably between us, and I'm glad I finally said something. Letting negative feelings rot and fester is not my conflict resolution style, as a general rule.  

The old adage about not saying anything if you can't say something nice is a wise one. I don't think it's possible to eliminate that part of human nature that criticizes others, but it is certainly possible to not verbalize these criticisms, especially if they don't affect you personally in any way. There are enough shitty things in the world already without us consciously adding to them.

Being kind can be hard as hell. There's a lot of pettiness and competition and judgment in the world. I'm no angel in this department myself. But I try every day to be better and to make people feel good about themselves if I can. I try to stick up for the little guy, because we are all the little guy at some point.

Thanks for reading, and be kind to each other, okay? Because kindness counts for a lot.


Apr 7, 2017

Gimme an R!

I watched the (edited-who knew there was a version with boobs?!) video for Rock You hundreds of times as a kid, because Video Hits needed Canadian content and Helix was prime CanCon, so I was pretty pumped for some spelling tonight at the iconic band's hometown show.

Brian Vollmer is reminiscent of a rock and roll version of the Cryptkeeper at this point, but, accompanied by the hijinks of the band, still put on a great show. I kept hoping the long, stringy-haired guitar player's willy would fling out of his ripped up jeans and leather chaps (dude did a lot of calisthenics), to no avail.

Of the couple hundred or so attendees (even Jesus wasn't loved in his hometown, as the lyrics of one of the band's more recent songs go), a solid 67% of the men were bikers. (I hung out with bikers fairly frequently as a kid, as my hippie mom was part of that scene, and I'm a little embarrassed to admit that, as a not-unattractive woman, I'm kind of scared of them now. We have some serious biker gangs in my town, and a couple of years ago, one of them started hanging out at the bar I frequent. I know that not all guys in gangs are rapists and murderers, but that dude was scary as fuck, and I was glad when he stopped coming around.) The rest of the guys were dads in Danier leather jackets or dudes in light denim and white sneakers. There were also a lot of shirts and jackets bearing liquor logos or Iron Maiden patches.

The heavy metal love ladies in the crowd were of the middle-aged bad-haircut-and-highlights variety, although there were a number of younger women in tight Classic Rock Free 98.1 tank tops or (inexplicably, as this local opener was truly abysmal - the lead singer was chewing gum, for fuck's sake) After the Lounge t-shirts.

I saw them and I loved them all. (Except for that weird teenaged couple humping awkwardly near the front of the crowd. If that kid's jeans weren't covered in jizz by the time we shouted our last "Rock you!", I'd be pretty surprised. Ah, young love...)

Despite the small turnout, there was a lot of love in the crowd for these aging rock and rollers, who probably still get their fair share of backstage blowjobs, if the amount of animal print in the audience at this show is any indication. So if Helix comes to your town and you have fifteen bucks lying around, you should probably go. Because whatcha got? ROCK! And whatcha gonna do? ROCK YOU!

Mar 31, 2017

On It (with a spoiler about Cujo, so consider yourself warned)

From Holly's Bookshelf: It, by Stephen King

This fact may come as a surprise to you, but I was an avid reader as a child. I read everywhere, all the time: in the car, at school when I was done my work (I was precocious and always done early), walking to and from school, in my closet when I wanted to hide, and in bed under the covers with a flashlight when I should have been asleep (which I blame for my myopia). We were poor, so libraries were my holy place, but there were always books in the house.

My dad read new age books about past lives and astrology and other non-fiction that was of no interest to my fiction-hungry heart, but my mom (thank you forever, Ma) read trash, thick paperbacks by Sidney Sheldon and John Saul and Danielle Steel and Dean Koontz. I wasn't supposed to read these, of course, but I did, sneaking chapters a few at a time when she was busy, flipping through and rereading the good parts (sex scenes, natch) whenever I got the chance.

My mom was also a big Stephen King fan.

(The amount of terror this rather quaint cover caused me as a child is laughable today. Also, you couldn't get away from it. Those goddamn hand-eyes are also on the spine.)

The first Stephen King book I read was It, and It scared the hell out of me. I was 13, and all the things I was already afraid of made appearances, and even things I didn't know I was afraid of, like blood burbling out of the bathroom sink when I was in there alone. (I never peed so fast as in the months after reading that book, a horror which revisits me even now on occasion if I am in the house by myself.) The monster's final form was something I should have predicted but didn't, and if you haven't read the book I won't spoil it for you, but suffice it to say that I have not, and never will, grow out of this particular phobia.

It was about a gang of loser kids, which I could identify with, but it was also about the adults those kids turned into, which was cool, given my budding adolescence. It had everything an imaginative girl with a decided fondness for the macabre could ask for: terror and violence, sex and romance, swear words and sacrifice. I read It, and then I read every other Stephen King book that was published. (His short stories are some of my favourites. If you haven't read The Long Walk, you should probably get on that.)

King is a prolific writer, and he would release a new book almost every autumn, just in time for my birthday. I read them and I loved them all, although I was fondest of the ones without happy endings. (Nothing upset me more than watching the movie version of Cujo, where the kid fucking lives. I was furious.)

(I own The Green Mile in serial form. I can remember waiting for the next one to come out, which is almost impossible to imagine doing in the gimme-now society of today.)

After King's near-death accident, I noticed a definite trend toward happy endings, and I eventually moved on to rather more sophisticated fare, so I stopped reading his books somewhere along the line, but there will always be a terrified place in my heart for his particular way of digging right into our collective unconscious to root out our greatest fears, his brilliant use of dialogue and italics, and the way he identified me personally, with affection, as Constant Reader. Nobody spins a yarn quite like the King.

Mar 27, 2017

On Inequality

I believe with all my heart and intellect that, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, or income, people should have the ability to provide a safe and comfortable life for themselves and their families, an education, access to health care, and the right to treat their own bodies as they choose.

I believe that, as a society, we should help people with physical / mental / emotional impairments in whatever ways we can (so things like ramps to public buildings for people in wheelchairs, described video and little chirpy sounds at crosswalks for the blind, extra time on tests for students with dyslexia, etc.). I believe in equal rights and opportunities for all of humankind.

But I do not believe that we are all created equal.

Some of us are smarter, faster, or stronger than others. Some of us are more motivated, more artistic, more tech-savvy, more empathetic, more generous, more logical, or more inventive than others. Some of us are better drawers, builders, drivers, planners, teachers, dancers, or nurturers. Some of us have better eyesight or a better sense of smell or a better sense of direction. Some of us are better spellers and some of us are better mathematicians and scientists. Some of us are better at telling jokes and some of us are better at small talk. Some of us have asthma or a peanut allergy or astigmatism.

I think it's ridiculous to treat everyone as if they were the same, when we are clearly not all the same.

A woman is superior to a man in her ability to give birth and breastfeed a child.

Sighted people are superior to blind people in their ability to describe the colours in a sunset.

A person with the working use of both their legs is superior to a person in a wheelchair in the ability to save someone from a burning building.

A non-pedophile is superior to a pedophile in not regarding children as objects of sexual desire.

A tall person is superior to a short person in getting a good sightline at a rock show.

A person with dark skin is superior to a person with pale skin in not getting a sunburn at the beach.

I could go on, but I think you get my point. The only way of creating true equality is to erase our differences, and that, as dystopian fiction makes abundantly clear, is a terrifying prospect.

So I guess what I'm saying is that I believe in equal rights and opportunities, but I don't believe in equality. Ah well, and riot on.