Nov 8, 2017

Modern Romance

We are standing together in the same place at the same time. Would it be agreeable to you if we exchanged pleasantries?


May I ask your name?

My name is ----. It is very nice to meet you.

May I inform you that I find your physical, emotional, and intellectual presence interesting and engaging?

I have noticed that you are occasionally glancing at my lips. We are standing close together and our bodies are turned toward each other. Your arms are not crossed. Your legs are not crossed. I am also looking at your lips. May I kiss you?

Would you like to have sexual intercourse with me tonight? Please sign here that you are not intoxicated and have agreed of your own free will to consider having sexual intercourse with me tonight. This is not binding. This signature only states that at --:00 on ---, you are agreeable to the idea of sexual intercourse with me. You are free to make this contract null and void at any time by expressing "No," either verbally or physically. 

Since we have changed locations and are no longer in a public place, could you please sign here that you are not intoxicated or being coerced in any manner, even though the two of us are now alone, and that you have agreed of your own free will to engage in behaviour that may, should you agree, lead to sexual intercourse and the completion of orgasm? 

Do you have any sexually transmitted diseases? Could you please sign here stating that you do not have any sexually transmitted diseases?

Do you agree to use a condom in order to protect us both from illness and/or pregnancy? Could you please sign here stating that you agree to use a condom?

May I kiss you again? Please initial here that you have agreed to let me kiss you again.

May I place my hands on your body? Please initial here that you have agreed to let me place my hands on your body.

May I remove your shirt and bra and touch your bare breasts? Please initial here that you have agreed to let me touch your bare breasts.

May I kiss you again? Here? And here? And here? Please initial here that you have agreed to let me kiss you again, here, and here, and here.

May I remove the rest of your clothes? May I also remove my clothes? Please initial here that you have agreed that we will remove our clothes.

May I touch you between your legs? Please initial here that you have agreed to let me touch you between the legs.

May I insert my penis into your vagina? Please initial here that you have agreed to let me insert my penis into your vagina. 

Would you like to change positions? Please initial here that you have agreed to change positions.

Please continue to inform me with words that what we are doing is acceptable to you. Unintelligible sounds are not sufficient. Please say, "Yes, please continue" if you would like me to continue. 

Please sign here to confirm that the terms of our contract have been fulfilled.

I will provide you with a way to contact me in the future, but you are under no obligation, either legal or emotional, to do so. Please sign here that you agree that we are under no obligation to contact each other in the future.

Thank you for your participation, and good night.

Oct 11, 2017

What it feels like for a girl.

She has an innocent face. People respond to this face, which is pretty but not beautiful. There is an openness, a sincerity, an honesty in her face. A sensuality, too. She can hide behind this face, can smile and think impatient, unkind thoughts.

She feels contempt for people who are not as strong as she. She has no patience for the emotionally weak or the intellectually crippled. The alcoholics, the self-help-book readers, the peanut-allergy sufferers. The anxious and the depressed. She is a gazelle, lithe and powerful, and they are the weak members of the herd who will be consumed by their disorders and neuroses. She is the lion who will consume them.

She has an intimate understanding of blood, its colours and viscosities. She is the moon, cold and barren. She is the huntress, reckless and violent. She is the victim, but never for long.

She is the mother. She soothes and nurtures, caresses and calms. She offers her hand and accepts the burden as her own. She is devoid of ego and endlessly patient. She understands suffering because she herself has suffered.

She sees into your sadness, sees the damage, the moments that have contributed to who you are and why you say and do the things you say and do. She will tell you that you are good and kind and loved. She will help you if you let her.

Sep 29, 2017

Today is my birthday. (3)

Falling at the end of September as it does, my birthday has always been a time of new beginnings. In the past it meant the excitement of a new school year, the warm days and cool nights that herald the return of autumn and the necessity of socks, another candle on the cake.

Now it means I'm probably on the wrong side of halfway to death, assuming I reach the Canadian average of 82.14 years for a woman. (We no longer bother adding another candle to the cake. Who can blow out a conflagration?)

That's a scary thought, to be more than halfway to death. But then I think back on all the things I have been and done and seen in my 44 years thus far, and I think of all the things I have yet to be and do and see, and death, that rascally spectre, doesn't seem so scary. (44 years is simultaneously forever and no time at all.)

I have been a virgin and a lover. I have been a liar and a teller of truth. A thief and a criminal. A daughter and granddaughter and niece and sister and aunt. A student and teacher. A flirt and a fool. A rebel. A loser. A friend. 

I have created art in writing, in photographs, in paint, in podcasts, in plays, and in film (despite being a terrible actress). I have done drugs and been drunk. I have driven down dark highways alone with the radio turned up and the fog whispering of murderers. I have counted down and kissed my love at midnight for over a quarter of a century.  

I have seen the mountains of British Columbia, the hoodoos of Alberta, the prairies of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the lakes of northern Ontario, and the lighthouse on the rocks at Peggy's Cove. 

I have gambled in Vegas, hiked the Grand Canyon, sat on a cracked vinyl stool and listened to an old man sing the blues in Chicago, walked the Freedom Trail in Boston (twice), had my car broken into in Detroit, and fallen in love with New York City.

I have seen movies that have amazed and moved me, and I have been amazed and moved by Koons' hearts, Pollock's splatter, Rodin's sculptures, Caravaggio's violence, Rothko's colours, Calder's mobiles, Picasso's bulls, Dali's nightmares, Warhol's irreverence, Magritte's juxtapositions, Lichtenstein's dots, Weiwei's ashes, Banksy's politics, and Bourgeois' mother, along with thousands of other lesser known artists whose pieces have spoken to me from the walls and spaces they inhabit. 

I have made friends around the world thanks to technology even though I hate technology. I have killed spiders and rescued beetles, because those two extra legs make all the difference. I have thrown parties and thrown up.   

I have read books. I have read books. I have read books. 

I have had a baby monkey jump onto my head and I have run my hand over the rough fur of a wild ocelot and somehow resisted the urge to touch the baby sloths. I have listened to the ding and mew of frogs in the night and been terrified by the roar of howler monkeys. I have ridden on horseback and ziplined through the jungle and soaked in tropical hot springs. I have choked on salt water and been knocked down by waves and watched wisps of smoke rise from a volcano.

I have learned how to cook and play poker and drive a stick shift and build fences and start the lawn mower with some degree of regularity. I have worked at shitty part-time jobs and quit and been constructively dismissed and built my own business helping students with their grammar and their confidence.

I have been broke and I have had enough money that I don't need to worry about money. I have given food and loose change (and socks, once) to the homeless, and money to the needy children of the world and to those who have lost everything in disasters. I have given flowers to strangers. I have given away unused metro tickets in foreign countries, the last few dollars of a gift card to the person behind me in line, and the candy that comes with my popcorn to the first child I saw. 

I have seen The Gates of Hell and the Sistine Chapel, been awed by the Sagrada Familia, walked narrow winding worn stone steps to bell towers and looked out across European cityscapes. I have stood in the gravel square of a Nazi concentration camp that once ran with blood and wondered if the prisoners could still appreciate a gorgeous summer day among all that death. I have wandered catacombs and cobblestone streets, seen medieval castles and ancient Roman ruins, found feral cats to pet and feed, and cheered for the bull to win (he didn't).   

I have seen Madonna in concert nine times. I have gone on rock and roll road trips and stood in front of bands I love and bands I hadn't heard of. I have sung along with huge crowds in stadiums and seen shows in nearly-empty clubs. I have sung my heart out even though I can't carry a tune. I have danced (for inspiration).

I have seen corpses lying in their coffins, looking like poorly-made papier maché figures, desiccated and hollow. I have seen people I love in hospital beds, broken and wasted. (I have been in hospital beds myself.) I have watched life been there one moment and gone the next. 

I have watched beloved children grow. I have carved pumpkins and let them rot on the porch.   

I have seen eclipses and shooting stars and the Northern Lights and the rings of Saturn (through a telescope) and stood in rain storms and built snowmen and tried to find where the rainbow began and stopped to smell the roses and stood in wheat fields and understood that the earth was round. 

I have felt exhilaration, joy, compassion, rage, fear, pride, embarrassment, pity, frustration, sorrow, disappointment, longing, and love.  

And I have crunched through dried autumn leaves on my birthday and been grateful for this preposterous accident of energy and matter and consciousness that is life. 

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.