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Pickle Me This

November 20, 2019

Bits and Pieces

I want to blog, but I don’t know where to start, where to end, where to focus. Which is not only a blogging problem specifically, but also a broader statement about my current state of mind, which is scattered and anxious, as well as mostly fine. But the anxious part is weird, and I’m annoyed because I’ve spent the last while piggy-backing on my husband’s mindfulness, for the sake of efficiency. He’s gotten really into meditation and it’s helped him a lot, and it’s helped me too, because whenever I’m starting to lose it, I call on his knowledge and wisdom, and it’s hugely restorative. But maybe mindfulness-by-proxy is not a great long-term plan, and I might have to start meditating too, but how? There are not enough hours in the day, and of course, I’d rather be reading.

It’s the flip-side though of something I believe fundamentally, which is that the little things we do make a difference, that they matter. But this can also start to feel like an overwhelming kind of pressure. I was talking to a friend of mine who is a paramedic the other day, about CPR, and how I could never remember anything I was ever taught in a first aid class, but how he has restarted hearts and there are people walking around who are only alive because of him. But as I said these words, it occurred to me that if you get credit for all that, you’ve also got to take on all the people who you couldn’t save. The same as how you can’t believe your good reviews, or else you have to believe the bad ones too, except book reviews are less involved with literal peril.

Of course, because we’re talking about me, who never saved anyone, the stakes are very different. I honestly had a crisis sometime earlier this fall because I read an article about a cheese company that was going out of business, and the weight of having insufficiently supported the local cheese industry was weighing heavy on my shoulders. Does it officially count as a first world problem if you’re feeling anxious about your failure to support the cheese industry? I use this example to show that a) I am ridiculous and also b) the idea that one person can make a difference comes up short, is a scam, and diverts from the necessity of all of us working together, but then working together is hard.

Last fall was a difficult time. All our friends moved away, and my novel was rejected (this is when I wrote a post called Publishing a Book is Not a Catapult), and my husband tends to struggle in the fall in general due to cyclical things involving the seasons and his workload, so it all was not the best. This fall, however, even with some of our friends having moved back and new friends, and my book deal—it was still hard. Maybe fall is just hard? And I forget about it over and over with the promise of September and the glorious beauty of trees on display against a sky that tends to be impossible blue.

Last Friday I took my children to a play that turned out to be in December, but I’d thought we were late and the theatre turned out to be three blocks east of where I’d thought it was, so we were running to get there, but instead we were a month early. And then we went to get something to eat, and a crowd of teenage girls at a nearby table were staring at us and then laughing at us, and I still don’t really know why. (No doubt it was for a very complex and interesting reason, right?) They got up from their table and left, but didn’t leave altogether, instead lingering around a corner peering around to look at us and make faces at us, and why was I so upset and intimidated by a group of actual children? And I felt so powerless, and sad, which is never a great way to feel around your own children, and I wish I didn’t crumble under the scrutiny of a bunch of stupid kids, that those girls didn’t take me right back to when I was their age and intimidated by the power of girls like that. I grew up, but they still have that power. Why do I give it to them? Where is my spine?

Although nothing has taken me back to childhood social dynamics like watching my own child navigate those waters. I feel as though I haven’t fundamentally grown or learned anything since I was that age, because her struggles take me right back there. There is no perspective that I have to offer, except that the life I made (my friends, my people, this family that my husband and I have made together) is like a raft that I cling to on the turgid waters of life itself, and all I can hope for my children is that they get one like it.

And for the success of the local cheese industry, obviously.

Just once, I would like to be cool and laid-back. I would like to forget to bring that letter I need to mail, and instead of getting heart palpitations and reorienting my entire day to go back and get it, accept that it would fine if I just mailed it tomorrow. I would like to buy a block of cheese with no regard whatsoever for its origins (am actually quite good at this) and not even feel bad about it. I would like to genuinely not care if someone doesn’t like me. I would like to not be intimidated by teenagers. I would like to stop feeling guilty about decisions made months ago out of my own volition. I would like there to be be somewhere between my entire life being constructed of mundane to-do-list items, and everything going to shit because I didn’t bother to get it all done. I need to catch up on my emails.

I was sick for the last two weeks, a rather brutal cold that slowed me right down, depleting the energy stocks I count on, and they’re still not all back yet. I am really tired. I also was unable to swim the last two weeks, and I have come to count on swimming too as a kind of meditation and energy-release that keeps anxiety in check. I’ve also not done any creative work since I submitted my novel about a month ago, and I think I’m suffering from a dearth of that. So maybe it’s time to write a short story.

But in the meantime, I’ve managed to write this post, to process something of what has been on my mind. And as always, it’s cathartic.

November 3, 2019

Neither Useful, Nor Interesting

Oh, yet another blog post that begins with me talking about something I heard when I was listening to a podcast. The Mom Rage Podcast, no less—am I predictable yet? This one was about vaccines (it was so good!), featuring a conversation with medical anthropologist Samantha Gottlieb about the HPV vaccine and “vaccine-hesitant communities.” She spoke about how many people are put off by doctors’ refusal to entertain questions about vaccines at all, which only serves to underline skepticism. When the facts are that vaccines can cause risks, that vaccine injuries and reactions do happen. They happen on a disproportionately tiny scale, with risks minute. It’s more dangerous to get in the car and drive down the road, and we all do that all the time, but still. Doctors don’t want to admit it. It complicates the narrative, and complicating the narrative of vaccination is perilous, literally life and death.

Of course, I like complicated narratives. To complicate the narrative is to get as close as we can to something called truth. I don’t want to live in an echo chamber, a bubble. I relish conversations with my economist friend about the virtues of capitalism; I appreciate the activists who’ve open my eyes to the violent reality of racism; my morning routine is basically putting on shoes, but I’ve got big respect for people for whom make-up is a form of personal expression. On Twitter, I used to actually follow the person whose booking at the Toronto Public Library has created such controversy over the last few weeks, because her take on sex-work complicated what so many of the other feminists in my feed were talking about, and I found that complicatedness useful and interesting… until it wasn’t. I unfollowed this person when she started writing online attacks on the grieving father of a dead teenaged girl. When I realized this “journalist” (whose platform is her own website, which she likes to call “Canada’s leading feminist website” [according to whom?]) relishes attention more than any kind of truth, and had figured out that courting controversy was the fastest way to get there (and solicit donations). When I realized she was more invested in dogma and ideology than the feminists whose thinking (and actual lived experiences) she purports to oppose and complicate. This person is neither useful, nor interesting. She is sensationalist, and purely disingenuous. She is the anti-vaxxer of gender politics. She is not “just asking questions.”

I think there is room for questions and nuance in conversations about gender. Unlike the speaker who was provided space at the Toronto Library, I think that none of this is simple. I wish that the City Librarian had listened to so many smart and respected voices calling on her to cancel the speaker’s booking—the milquetoast mayor called her on it, for heaven’s sake. And no, these people weren’t “bullying the library.” You can’t bully a library. This is nonsense. But I also know that people too are complicated like their issues are, and there are many of them (myself among them) who don’t like being told what to do, to have demands made of them, who double down instead of considering the opposite. We put a lot of truck in unapologeticness in feminism, for better and for worse. I don’t think that we should be boycotting the library, because for so many people, especially marginalized ones, the library is their most accessible cultural institution. Because the library belongs to all of us. Because the people who have the least are the people that lose the most, and I don’t really know what the end-game is of a library boycott, especially now that the event is done and dusted. Though I commend all the people who’ve taken a stance and I do think it’s been hugely worthwhile—the turnout to the protest on Tuesday evening was an incredibly show of solidarity, and the issue has led to all kinds of conversations, which are necessary as we ask questions in generous and thoughtful ways, and figure things out as a society—a process that is far more useful and interesting than anything the speaker might have said on any platform. (This is the work, people. We’re doing it. Even if, or maybe especially if, you’ll only doing it all in your head.)

I do know what it’s like to have my body be the site of a debate. I’ve stood on the sidewalk holding a sign listening to men argue over the semantics of abortion, as to the precise point where the procedure should or should not be permitted, and I can tell you that it’s dehumanizing, insulting, ridiculous, and neither useful nor interesting. And so I have an understanding of where trans people are coming from when they refuse to entertain questions, conversations or debate about their bodies and their identities. When the field of debate is your lived reality, listening to people arguing in abstract terms and citing outlying circumstances as emblematic of the issue at hand—for anti-choicers, it’s all about the case of a particular doctor and abortion provider who was convicted of murdering infants, same as how the anti-trans crew is always going on about aestheticians and waxing, as though these are the actual goal posts and such things are happening every day—is exasperating, traumatic, and a gigantic waste of everyone’s time.

I think there is room for questions and nuance in conversations about gender, because we live in a world where there are no absolutes, but I am sure that insisting on those conversations at this precise moment is not the most pressing thing we’ve got on the go. That democracy and freedom hang in the balance, as so many others might put it in their letters to the editor. I think back to the vaccine analogy, and the distrust and violent suspicion at the heart of the anti-vaccine movement, which is not so far apart from that of anti-trans activists, really. In both cases, there is an over-estimation of vulnerability, and a convenient disregard for those who are actually vulnerable after all.

Of course, there are conversations that need to be had, questions that need to be answered, but not like this, not by this person. As with the vaccine conversation, the harms—here, it’s increased violence against and vilification of an already vulnerable population—really do outweigh the benefit, which is mainly the privileged and smug self-assurance of living in a society where any idiot gets to spout her rubbish in a public building. And if such self-assurance is our guiding principle, instead of listening to, learning from, and taking care of each other, then what does it say about us?

February 18, 2019

Lemon, it’s Wednesday

“Lemon, it’s Wednesday,” so goes the 30 Rock meme after Liz Lemon comment on the week that’s been, which is the way I was feeling last week about the month of February, when we weren’t even two weeks into it yet. We’ve had stomach bugs, and kid emotional turmoil, disturbed sleep, terrible weather, and so much snow shovelling. We have a provincial government whose sheer incompetence is the only thing between it and the destruction of our public institutions, and so last week I was out at two community meetings with galvanizing plans and discussion for how we can stand up for public education. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that most of my neighbourhood is covered in a thick and impermeable sheet of ice, which means that any walk down the street is a hobble, and I’ve got leaks in my boots. I’m feeling discouraged and sad about how my writing career is panning out, with a novel rejected in November and the one I did publish prominently featured in the chain bookstore clearance bin. And I’ve reached that inevitable point in my own plans for exciting things this year where I wonder if I’m fooling myself and everybody thinks I’m a total idiot. I was so tired last Thursday after running around taking everyone to their swimming lessons, and also having dinner ready early so that everyone could eat around their swimming lessons. “I’m sorry I was cranky,” was the text I sent home while Iris was practicing her flutter kick in the pool before me. “I think what I need is to just come home tonight and take a bath.” But of course there would be no bath, because before the night was out it would become clear that I have head-lice. Head-lice was the one thing my February had been missing.

My brain is still teeming. The itch. It doesn’t require proof or evidence. Thought is enough. You do it yourself. Lice. Imagine them crawling on your head. Claws touching skin. They pass over us, across this family. —Alexander MacLeod, “Wonder About Parents”

In the last few days, we’ve spent over a hundred dollars on expensive shampoo and a lice comb, and my husband has spent hours picking over my scalp with attention to detail. And it makes me wonder what the women who end up with lice who don’t have partners do? Let alone the women who have lice who don’t have a spare $80 lying around to buy the shampoo necessary to treat the whole family (and for best results, repeat the process in seven days). I feel outclassed by the people who are able to call in the lice-trepreneurs (this is a thing!), but at least I can afford Nixx. And it makes me think about the “Bug Economics” essay in Carissa Halton’s wonderful book, Little Yellow House, which I read in January. She writes about how many families are unable to afford the “kill-these-damn-bugs shampoo,” which might not even work anyway. She goes on to write about another inner-city scourge, bed-bugs, but the principle applies to lice as well: “While everyone can get [them], the poor are most likely to have to deal with the creatures longer than most.” I am lucky: I am not poor. Also, I don’t have bed-bugs. (Yet? February has a lot of steam left in it still.)

Lice. The third week. Head checks in the morning and head checks at night after the baths. You need to go slowly. A separate bath for every person. New water. Fresh pillow cases every night. New sheets. New blankets. The washing machine is going to die. Hats and T-shirts and hooded sweatshirts. Brushes and combs and hair elastics. Water boiling in the kettle. Everything that touches us needs to be scalded. —”Wonder About Parents”

Lice is a metaphor. Lice is also not a metaphor, which is the unfortunate part of this story, or at least one unfortunate part. (It is February. There is very little fortune.) But still, lice is a metaphor for the secret shame that creeps around your head, and makes you unfit for others’ company. It marks you and makes you less than, and everybody tells you that they’re attracted to people with clean hair, but nobody believes that anyway. You start contemplating pixie cuts, crew cuts, buzz cuts. The chance to be somebody different. Because what if I’m completely hopeless, and I’m just the last person to realize it? It’s taken me almost forty years to contact lice, and I’d always kind of thought that I was immune to it all, just like how I thought I was immune to failure. Or dared to hope my story would end up different than most people’s, is what I mean, that it could even be a story of triumph. Everyone gets lice sometimes (although usually it’s when they’re six and not thirty-nine), and everyone’s book ends up in the clearance bin, but still, who wants to be everyone? Necessary humility, certainty, but insufficient consolation.

The only way out is through.

Which is true for head-lice, and Februaries, and any period of unhappiness. It’s never easy, because you get to March and you’re still carrying February inside you, and maybe you’ve still got nits (although I’m really hoping I don’t). And to be honest, I don’t any advice that is better than that, to just keep going, in addition to washing one’s hair with vinegar, which might not even help, but I like that there is something else I can do—in addition to the chemical shampoo.

November 19, 2018

A Hat Like That

Millinary grief: It’s a thing. And you would think that mere hours after having listened to a radio interview with a woman whose child had died after she forgot him in her car, I would be able to refrain from going into a paroxysm of sadness from the realization that I’d lost my hat, but you’d be wrong then. Because relativity is a bitch, and it was not just any hat, which I know for certain now because I’ve tried three other hats in the 24 hours since, and none of them have measured up…to the specific proportions of my outsize head, I mean. But my Kyi Kyi hat always did, with a fleece liner and room for a ponytail even. After putting on a hat like that, all the others just seem paltry, scanty, barely worthy of the title “hat” at all—more like antimacassars for the head. And what’s the point in that?

There is so much to keep track of. This is what I was thinking on Friday evening when Stuart rushed Iris out of a movie theatre shortly before the credits because she was tired and ragey, and then I was charged with carrying out four winter coats when the film was finally over, along with mittens, neck warmers, and everybody’s hat. And I managed not to drop a single item, which I was particularly proud of, and then Stuart took Iris outside because she was threatening to vomit (she didn’t) and put on her coat there, and then they came back in—she only had one mitten. “No, we had all the mittens,” I was adamant. It was a point of pride, and then Iris started crying, and the theatre staff were promising they’d find it for her after the show was done, but I knew we’d had the pair and went outside to find the errant mitten lying on the sidewalk. Which was better than the time I had to go all the way back to the theatre at Yonge and Dundas Square to locate Harriet’s mittens, which turned out to have actually travelled home alongside her in her pockets, I suppose. But still: why do I spend so much time time enlisting cinema staff to locate missing mittens? What is it about the psychology of mittens anyway that gives them such a propensity for lostness? Such an endemic problem that they even wrote a nursery rhyme about it.

Hats too have a similar propensity, I suppose, as demonstrated in Jon Klassen’s loose-linked trilogy of books about missing hats and our the extent of our longing for these things. And while I would not eat a rabbit, if I could I would go to great lengths to track down my missing hat, which I think I must have left in a taxi on Saturday evening—except taxis apparently don’t have lost-and-founds, so it’s almost as thought my hat has ceased to be altogether. And I miss it desperately, even as I realize I’m lucky enough that I’ll be able to replace it. But not in that exact colour, and further, my thoughtlessness in losing it makes me feel like I was never really worthy of such a hat in the first place, plus I’ve lost my place in our family pom-pom squad. I miss my hat very much.

June 20, 2018

Us.

Kent Monkman, The Scream

‘Politically speaking, tribal nationalism always insists that its own people is surrounded by “a world of enemies,” “one against all,” that a fundamental difference exists between this people and all others. It claims its people to be unique, individual, incompatible with all others, and denies theoretically the very possibility of a common mankind long before it is used to destroy the humanity of man.’ —Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

“Not they. Us” —Hassan Ahmed

Please forgive me for stealing my epigraphs from Rebecca Woolf’s Instagram feed. But I just want to take a moment to think about books, to think about Zlata’s Diary, a book about a young girl being a young girl during the siege of Sarajevo in 1993, a book that was compared to The Diary of Anne Frank, much to Zlata Filipovic’s consternation, I recall—because Anne Frank died and Filipovic didn’t want to. I remember reading both these books and imagining my way into the lives of their writers, the recognizable landmarks of girlhood, childhood. There was nothing extraordinary about their lives or their worlds, and that was the very point—how perilous was safety, was everything. How easily these people could be me, and didn’t you think this too when you read book like this? When I used to think that books about the Holocaust were even over-taught (my childhood was absolutely saturated with Holocaust novels), although I don’t think that anymore. Not since I learned that not everyone is reading, or at least reading and realizing how easily it could be any of us. Which is what I thought when I read Sharon Bala’s The Boat People, or even An Ocean of Minutes, which is also about being a refugee, about that desperation. I’ve read so many of these stories that imagining my way into the minds of people who risk everything for the chance of a better life is like a reflex—there is no difference between that mother and me. And I’ve seen enough of the world during these last two years politically and even in terms of climate that has undermined all my certainties about who we are and where we’re going that I’m unwilling to be sure that my own safety will never be in peril, that I will never be the kind of person who has to run. We are all that kind of person, or we all could be, and that’s only my selfish reason for condemning the separation of children and their families at US borders. Let alone the humanitarian one. Acknowledging too that I live in a country with a shameful history of separating children from their parents, a history that lingers on into the present—so this “not them. us.” as well. The Thomas King quote: “You see my problem. The history I offered to forget, the past I offered to burn, turns out to be our present. It may well be our future.” Let’s be as loud and brave as girls in storybooks and ensure that’s not the case.

‘In grade school we studied WWII. Learning about the genocide and the concentration camps and the way a whole group of people were dehumanized and carted off like cattle, many of us said, very earnestly: “I’d never let that happen.” Well now we are adults and guess what? It is happening. We are watching it happen.’ —Sharon Bala. (And now read her blog post, “What to do.”)

April 12, 2017

All Just Fine

I read Jennifer Weiner’s essay collection Hungry Heart in the fall, intrigued by it because while I’ve found some of Weiner’s books really interesting, it’s her authorial persona that continues to fascinate me—and also drive me mad. The way she complicates things, which is also to say that she messes them up. She’s can imperfect candidate. Sometimes she’s so smart and right on—and then pushes it all a little too far. There is a line, and she crosses it, or rather, she tap-dances up and down it. Which, theoretically, I should be delighted by, women who occupy spaces in between, who stir things up, who persist. But with Weiner, it’s not always delightful. With Weiner, sometimes it’s me going, “Jennifer, no.”

But I had a revelation recently, about Jennifer Weiner. And that it’s while I’ve been making allowances for a long while for crotchety, dislikable, annoying, rude and awful women in public life—because it is highly likely I am going to grow up into such a thing precisely, and it’s in my interest to nurture spaces for such women in the world—but I wasn’t offering Weiner the same consideration. Displaying the same prejudices Weiner has been railing at for years—against lightness. For women who’ve forsworn the usual female templates, I’d forgive nearly anything, but I keep demanding conformity of Weiner, and being disappointed when she doesn’t comply with it. And then it occurred to me that it wasn’t necessarily that she was being inconsistent, but maybe the problem is that I was.

Weiner’s essays themselves though were the first revelation, fascinating insight into her character, her background, the struggles in her life that have left her starving—for affection, validation, for sustenance. The fact underlying so many of them being the thinnest skin, a furious yearning for everyone to like her. She is so sensitive, and no amount of success can take care of that. “Jennifer, no” is what I was thinking again. You’ve got to grow a rhinoceros hide.

Which is easier said than done, of course. Jennifer Weiner knows that. Although I didn’t, not really, not until a month ago when my novel was published. And while it’s been a month of incredible highs and the kinds of experience many authors only get to dream of, success brings with it complications. Some friends of mine—Heidi Reimer, Suzanne Alyssa Andrew, Carrie Snyder and Maria Meindl—ran a panel last year called “The Shadow Side of Success” (and if you’re a TNQ subscriber you can read it here and if you’re not, see Heidi’s post) about those complications and I was grateful for it as my pub date arrived, figured it would help in preparing me for the spectrum of experiences. And it did, but it also didn’t. The same way, I suppose, you never know the ways in which you’re going to fall to pieces when you have a baby. I mean, you know there will be dysfunction, but how will it manifest, is the question. And I bet it’s different every time.

I’ve been having a tough time these last few weeks, which is ridiculous because I’ve also been having a glorious time. It’s been a joy to have my novel received by the world, by readers who get it, by great reviews even. But I’ve also had those peak moments of joy followed by moments of the most melodramatic despair imaginable. Highs can be rough, of course, because everything after seems like a come-down. And I’ve found myself feeling profoundly sensitive, vulnerable. The number of perfectly stupid things that have managed to hurt my feelings these last few weeks are too high to count. And suddenly I have a new level of sympathy for Jennifer Weiner. I can’t imagine how terrible it must be to be a writer when you’re as predisposed to being sensitive as she surely is. Publishing a book, as I said to someone recently, is a bit like turning yourself into a walking talking gaping wound. It’s not pretty.

Which was why I was heartened by Shawna Lemay’s Transactions With Beauty post this morning, “A Proper Cup of Tea”. Balance is the thing I’ve been struggling with, not that there isn’t goodness, but how do you put it together with all the rest? Make a whole? Once again, I’ve thinking about in-betweenness, but not necessarily tap dancing. I want to be thinking about grace.

And Lemay writes, “So there you are, walking with your sorrow and your joy, teacup balanced in hand, on the path that has heart, walking impeccably. No one said it would be easy. But the key is the wholeheartedness. The key is that you will constantly need to right yourself.”

She writes, “The key is that this is all just fine.”

January 30, 2017

Together We Stand Tall

I know it’s not a good news day, but I’m feeling positive. Maybe it’s because there was sunshine, or how it felt like something that I wrote letters to my MP and Prime Minister and two other cabinet ministers today imploring them to take a stand against #UnpopularDonald’s Muslim Ban and in general just to do better in order to give Canadians a government we can believe it. It’s because there were marches all over the world today in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters, and my husband emailed me today with a note that said, “Next protest.” And we’re going. It’s because the government’s response to the shooting at a mosque in Quebec City last night was to call it what it was: a terrorist attack. It’s because of this image, and because of the thousands of Americans who’ve been protesting all weekend. It’s because the people are a force, perhaps in a way I never dared to dream of.

I remember listening the radio in September 2015 and hearing the dreadful news of refugees out of Syria. This was when our government was shrugging about the whole thing because what can you do, and then the body of a child washed up on a beach, and someone was recounting the incredible way Canadians stepped up for refugees from Vietnam in the 1970s, and I remember feeling so hopeless. Because things like this just don’t happen anymore…except they do. And they did. And now, 16 months and a new government later, thousands of Syrian families have settled in Canada, their settlement supported by people who are my friends and neighbours. My mom volunteers at her city’s New Canadians Centre, my dad’s partner tutors Syrian women in English. Syrian families were brought to small towns and big cities across this country. These are Canadians I know, and so many I don’t, and they’ve changed lives and the world, and they give me hope that anything is possible.

What oppressive governments do is try to keep their people from seeing other possibilities outside of the present, try to keep them in the dark about the people’s own power—but my feeling is that #UnpopularDonald and his band of merry fuckwits are not doing a terrific job on this front. I think he’s underestimated Americans, and how closely people around the world are actually connected with each other. It’s not going to be soon and it’s not going to be easy, but he’s not going to win, and America’s going to come out into the light.

November 8, 2016

We have our cake.

img_20161108_200636I am so sad, but I am thinking about a lot of things that are undeniably true. Which are that if it has to be close, I’d prefer the smart, civilized people be the losers actually, because they can do so with dignity and civilly—and perhaps take a step back and have their points be proven by poor politics in practice. If Hillary Clinton wins, there would still be this simmering rage and maybe this is the way it has to burn out. Things are definitely not okay as they are, and no election victory would change that.

I am thinking that I am so proud of the women who were empowered to stand up for their beliefs and ideas and the prospect of a woman being president. I think there are women who learned to call themselves feminists for the first time. I think that some women discovered why feminism is necessary, and why it will always be necessary. No more complacency—feminism is an urgent matter.

I am thinking of how important it is that liberals and progressives never stop checking themselves, examining their ideas and understanding of the world, and asking themselves questions about what is right and what we stand for. If everything was as we wanted it to be, I’m not sure what the point would be in standing for anything. All of it would cease to have meaning, and so it’s a struggle. If I were not averse to war metaphors, I’d say it’s a battle, even, and not just against other people who don’t think the way that we do but against the worst parts of our own selves.

I am thinking about my daughters, who cut the cake tonight and we celebrated the chance of woman being elected president of the USA. When they went to bed, it was likely Hillary Clinton would be elected, but things have turned around since then, and I hate that I may have to deliver the very worst news in the morning. And yet, the lessons in that too—that none of this is easy, that a better world is not instantaneous, that there are setbacks and disappointments, but these are not the same as defeat.

(Yes, I am thinking that I’m glad I live in another country. I am thinking about when Rob Ford was elected mayor of Toronto on a gutting night like this six years ago, and also about the blog post in which I sought bright sides and one of them was that probably soon he’d die. Totally called it.)

I am thinking that all of this is easy for me to say, as a person who never even has a vote in the matter and only has to live next door to the consequences. For American people who are Black, Muslim, or LGBTQ, I imagine the stakes are terrifying. For people who love their country and are devastated tonight, it all must seem impossible. It does seem impossible. And yet. And yet. We will wake up tomorrow morning, and we will get on with it. Which is not the same as “everything will be okay,” but it’s the same general idea.

There will be cake for breakfast anyway. We’ll see how it goes from there.

June 26, 2016

Heavy Hearts

It’s all very heavy, it is, and then my children keep getting sick, and we keep starting off weekends with a such a bang that we’re destroyed by Sunday, and it’s so hot. I remain stuck inside a reading rut. The UK referendum weights heavily upon me too, because I love England, and it once was my home, and it gave me a husband plus two children who would have been EU citizens, but not anymore. It’s the irrevocability of it all that gets me. And I think about my friends and family in England, people in their 30s and 40s who are in the beginning of the middle of their lives, raising families and making a world for themselves, and they awoke Friday morning to discover that world wasn’t what they thought it was. I think about the anomaly of the EEC and EU eras compared to the bloodbath that has been the rest of European history, and it scares me. Not that I think that everything will be not be okay in the end, but I think it’s unfortunate that the standards of “okay” will have to be lowered. It’s about legitimizing racism and stupid nationalism, and voters who are well intentioned but really should have been more careful about who they were aligned with.

My feelings are well articulated with this meme: “..whilst I appreciate that, just as I did, you chose your vote based on what you thought was for the best, you have precipitated a huge financial collapse, destabilized my country, and threatened the future of my children, and it’s hard for me to forget that, especially within a matter of hours.”

As Margaret MacMillan writes, and she knows more about what all this means than anyone does (and if you think she doesn’t, you are ignorant): “the Britain of the future will be smaller, poorer, possibly meaner, and certainly less relevant in the world.”

June 16, 2016

On Process, and Progress, and Living in the World

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When Princess Diana died in 1997, I was on Weight Watchers and watched the funeral coverage for hours at a time whilst weeping and riding an exercise bike. I know that feeling things is very important, but will forever be grateful that I ended up married to an English person who taught me the value of composure. Remember how Joni Mitchell taught Emma Thompson in Love Actually how to feel? It was my cold hearted English husband who taught me the opposite, how not to spend weeks at a time weeping on an exercise bike over the death of a stranger. That drama comes around in time, and we don’t necessarily have to go out and court it. (While I am only being partly sardonic here, full disclosure necessitates that my husband’s is the warmest heart I know. I also know that learning to feel for many people is a ticket to sanity, but for me, some restraint was certainly in order. For most of us anyway, it ends up being a balance.)

Which doesn’t entirely relate to my next point, but alas. Which is that this has been the most distressing week I’ve encountered in a a long time, a cumulation of world events and my hormones, I’m sure, but I feel the weight of it all in a way I’m usually more adept at shouldering. Orlando, Stanford rapists, UofT’s lockdown, so much hatred and anger. Also, and this sounds shallow but it’s not, Instagram is ruined for me, changed in the last few days, and now full of ads and posts not in order, and I miss its goodness, the immediacy of the engagement. I really have found Instagram good for the soul, and feel like I’ve lost something. I’ve been driven back to Twitter, which is not good for the soul, although I actually had tears spring into my eyes this morning when I saw #OCanada trending and learned that MPs had in fact changed the lyrics to our national anthem, against the fervent efforts of many to uphold the supposed inclusiveness of the word “sons.” (Possibly yes, “sons” was a general term, back when women had no status, and the language reflected that. Further, “all our sons command” was not even the original lyric, so it’s not like historical preservation is order of the day. I taught my daughter to sing “in all of US” when she was very small, because she is a daughter and nobody’s son, and I think that if we continue to insist that things a national anthem matter, then at least we should make its lyrics meaningful.)

Anyway, when I clicked on the trending term, I found one woman declaring that she will never sing the gender inclusive Oh Canada. “Why not?” I asked her, because the resistance is baffling to me. She explained that she is “not one to bend or sway” (why is rigidity a virtue, I ask myself again and again. What kind of a person never entertains the notion of changing her mind?) when someone finds something offensive and also that the “son” in the lyric is actually Jesus, and we can’t “gender neutralize” him. And I just really didn’t know where to go from there. Her argument is founded on not only nonsense (surely we are not commanding “true patriot love” from Jesus; I’m not sure we’re meant to command anything from Jesus at all, never mind, why is Jesus in our national anthem anyway, except he’s not) but a rejected stand against empathy (refusing to try to understand when someone is bothered by something she’s okay with, to see that another point of view might be as worth considering as her own, even if it’s a different one). Anyway, it’s exhausting. She can sing her song and I’ll sing mine, but it’s worth noting that I was curious about understanding her point of view while she was categorizing the people calling for the lyric change as “wimps.” Which is pretty much where we left things.

And then I read that British MP Jo Cox had been critically injured by someone reportedly shouting slogans regarding the British referendum. And when I heard about that, it took me back to my post from Monday about politicians spouting divisive and dangerous rhetoric with so little regard about the license their words gives some unstable people in our society to go out and commit horrifying acts of violence. I also read Jia Tolentino’s interview with a woman who has recently had an abortion at 32 weeks, a really sad, hard read but an essential one, particular for those people who have no idea what the reality is behind “late term abortion.” As I tweeted afterwards, I am so grateful for these women who share their sad and terrible stories, and I am so sorry they have to and are not left alone to grieve their tragedies. That these woman must make themselves so incredibly vulnerable to prove a point to people who are completely ignorant and full of hatred. It is very easy for women like me to share our simple, painless and uncomplicated stories of abortion, and I only continue to do so because life is rarely so simple or complicated, as Tolentio’s piece makes clear. The most tremendous part of the interview is when the woman says: “Like it or not, all of our rights are intertwined. Maybe there’s some woman who has had four abortions and maybe that feels really wrong to you. But my rights are wrapped up with hers, so I have to fight like fuck for her to have as many as she wants—not just for her sake, but for mine, too.”

I hate that there are people making this, people’s pain, into a fight. We’ve all got better things to do than fight. We’ve got lives to live. And now Jo Cox has died, which is so devastating, all that it stands for, especially in terms of women in politics. I can’t stop making everything about gender, because everything is about gender.

There was a story in the news this morning about a Catholic school trustee who has finally around to the province’s new sec-ed curriculum after a revelation that her own son had been abused as a child, that perhaps it is necessary to reframe the way that sex and sexuality are discussed. While it is irritating once again to have somebody celebrated for realizing what seems blatantly obvious to many of us (see Tabatha Southey on Michael Coren), I think it’s good when a public figure is celebrated rather than denigrated for changing her mind (which is not to say that changing one’s mind puts one above scrutiny. I still think it’s rather too convenient when a politician rejects a previously controversial stance, and wonder why we’d want anybody in power who’d ever held those views).

This is, the changing of minds, is of course, the thing called progress, which is not as simple as I once thought it was—an arrow pointing forward, things getting better and better. The last fifteen years have certainly underlined that this is not the case, and that progress is not our inevitable direction. “Progressivism” isn’t even really a thing, as it is peopled by people who seems to understand themselves as its embodiment and are unaware that their own progress too has to be part of the process. It’s a process of self-examination, of being open to changing, to growing, to learning something new. It’s about bending and swaying, and learning from each other, learning how to work together. It’s collaborative, but it’s also not meaningful unless it’s intensely personal. The line that struck me from the Guardian’s Jo Cox editorial: “What nobler vision can there be than that of a society where people can be comfortable in their difference?”

I have learned so much about the world by thinking hard about blogging, and that last point makes me think about what May Friedman writes about the blogosphere(s) as a radical space “because of the implications of all these narratives coexisting, and the endless unspooling dialogue that therefore emerges.” Blogging too has taught me about how to embrace process rather than looking to an endpoint, because the complexity of the world means that progress is never fixed, that it’s not a place to arrive at. Instead it is the way that we figure out how to travel through.

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