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Pickle Me This

March 12, 2021

There is No Fake Spring

There is no such thing as “fake spring.” There is only now, and if you’ve been given the gift of a beautiful day, you ought to take it, instead of hedging or apologizing, instead of deciding not to get too comfortable. It’s a funny meme, the idea of fake spring, and I understand it entirely, this being my 42nd March in the northern hemisphere, but I am also tired of the way that meme culture leaks into ordinary life rendering all of us cynical and blase about such extraordinary events as golden sunshine and blue skies, the stupefying certainty of despair. As though everyone is afraid to be hopeful, mostly because they’re afraid to be wrong, and it’s just easier to decide that nothing good can ever happen. As though we ever know more than the world does, with the miracle of its cycles and changes, all its secrets and mysteries, expansive capabilities. And while there indeed still stands a very good chance of there being ice storms at the end of April, why is that any less of a reason not to glory in the sun today, or require such glory to come with a caveat? Like those people in England who used to reply, “We’ll pay for it later,” anytime somebody commented on the weather (which was often) and the weather was pleasant (much rarer). As though fate were two columns of debits and credits, as though balance were the point, as though it’s bad luck somehow to take your win, accept your gift, to take a moment to stop and be thankful for all this, regardless of what comes after. As though now wasn’t actually all we have, which is another way of saying: everything.

March 2, 2021

Something to Be Said for an Island

During the past year, I lost all my patience with the hive mind. I don’t think I’d ever blocked an acquaintance on Facebook before, but this year it’s been something of a reflex, and not even without sometimes telling that acquaintance to fuck off first , as in *typing it right out there in the comments thread,* instead of just yelling at my screen as per usual.

I mostly have quit Twitter altogether, because constant access to everybody’s thought processes like a ticker-tape was turning me into a misanthrope.

I still marvel at all those curious enough to put the big questions onto social media, beyond maybe, “What are your plans for tonight’s supper?” I am here for the minutia and your photos of your cats. But oh my god, I have never cared less what you think about vaccinations, or lockdowns, when you’re local nail salons should open, and my aversion to the airing of these concerns is so apolitical—the over-anxious bother me as much as the laissez-faire types. (Though it’s worth noting that I don’t have many of the latter in my circles, really. And if I did, I probably told them all to fuck off last April…)

I think it’s because I’ve found this very tenuous balance of keeping it together, and anything that causes me to waver makes me irate. And I don’t mean “anything” in terms of data, facts or news stories—I am always happy to consider these, because it’s not like I don’t inhabit reality, but it’s just other people’s feelings, other people’s fears and worries about the same things I fear and worry about—I just absolutely lack the capacity to take them on board.

Which is why my blog has more than ever seemed like a beloved retreat. Where I go to write pieces for myself, and I don’t even share some of the posts on social media because I really don’t care what anybody thinks of them, and I write these pieces for myself more than anything. If someone shows up and finds my thoughts worthwhile, then that’s terrific, but it’s not like I’m broadcasting them, you know? It’s “I don’t care what you think,” but not even from a place that’s defensive. Like really, all the work I can do right now is the work in my own head.

(It’s worth remarking that I have infinite capacity for other people’s blog posts, for their thoughtfulness and process, for work that makes me think. It’s the more surfacey, less exploratory kind of content that I just can’t contend with.)

And the strange thing about all of this is that while I’ve also been having no truck with the virtuals, I’ve been trying very hard to be zen about the actuals. Accepting that the behaviour of others is beyond my control, trying to trust that most people will make good-enough choices for our community, and trying not to lose my mind about people who don’t, because that anger serves no one. Possibly this is easier because the actual people are more theoretical these days of isolation, and virtual people are all getting up there in my online grill, having ideas and opinions, and everything.

(It is possible that the latter group of people drives me up the wall because they are proof that Project of Live-and-let-live is a lost cause? Or does Live–and-Let-Live only work if you keep people at a remove [ie not while receiving a tickertape of their every waking thought]?)

On the weekend, there was an article in the newspaper about “conspirituality,” which is the kind of nonsense I’m all over—if you ever want me to read an article, make sure it’s about a cult, is what I am saying. And I checked out the Instagram account for the woman mentioned in the first half of the article, and couldn’t stop scrolling because her audacity and entitlement was just so fascinating to me, like all I want to do is figure it out… But I won’t. And eventually I had to stop because if I didn’t, my brain would have exploded, and I just have to let it go, let that whackadoodle woman do her whackadoodle thing, and let all her whackadoodle fans respond to her posts with the worshipping hands emoji.

Like I’m reconsidering the idea of society as a web, is what my point here, or maybe I’m talking about (just?) the web as a web instead. This blog as the place I’ve got out in the country, off the grid, where we’re collecting the water in a rain-barrel, and while you’re welcome to stop by and I’ll pour you a cold glass of lemonade, there is really something to be said for an island.

February 24, 2021

‘90s Films About Hideous Women Finding Love

The 1991 River Phoenix/Lili Taylor vehicle, Dogfight, could only be construed as a romance by a certain sort of person, namely an awkward teenage girl with low self-esteem and no sense of her own narrative beyond being a character in someone else’s story. Who is content to sit around waiting for a boy with a pretty face to saunter over and ask her on a date—even if the only reason he’s asking is to win a bet with his friends as to which of them can pick up the ugliest girl.

 The movie takes place in San Francisco, 1963, the night before the Kennedy assassination, which is also the night before Phoenix’s character, Eddie Birdlace, a Marine, ships out to Vietnam. He brings Taylor’s Rose to the “dogfight,” and not only fails to win the bet, but Rose ends up slugging him when she gets wise to the ruse. Which, of course, provokes his interest—turns out Rose is more than an ugly face. And the two proceed to spend a Before Sunrise-ish night in each other’s company, Rose managing to project a sense of humanity onto Birdlace’s bland exterior, so that it seems kind of sweet that they end up sleeping together. Birdlace promising to write to her, but then he tears up Rose’s address the next morning as his bus pulls away, and now the 1960s proper can finally begin.

 If Dogfight wasn’t hope enough for weird girls with problems applying eye-makeup or fitting unruly bodies into pretty dresses that one day they too could be used and abused by a fellow with A-List good looks, along comes 1995’s Circle of Friends, based on the novel by Maeve Binchy. This time, the absolute dog is Minnie Driver who inexplicably draws the eye of Chris O’Donnell, a Hollywood Chris before Hollywood Chris’s were even a thing. Set in 1950s’ Dublin, their unlikely pairing invites disbelief—Driver’s Benny was supposed to end up with a very greasy character played by Alan Cumming—and then it all goes wrong when Benny’s conventionally attractive friend tricks O’Donnell’s Jack into having sex with her and pins her accidental pregnancy on him. In the movie, unlike the book, Benny eventually takes Jack back, however, because—obviously—such a girl can’t afford to be picky.

 If Dogfight wasn’t hope enough for weird girls with problems applying eye-makeup or fitting unruly bodies into pretty dresses that one day they too could be used and abused by a fellow with A-List good looks, along comes 1995’s Circle of Friends

The 1994 cult fave Muriel’s Wedding also falls into this peculiar genre, but at least with a high degree of self-awareness. Dumpy Muriel (played gorgeously by Toni Collette in her breakout role) wants nothing more than a dream wedding and a love story as rousing as an ABBA song—apparently she never listened very carefully to the lyrics of songs like “Waterloo” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You.” She finally schemes her way to a happily-ever-after with marriage to a hunky South African swimmer with a face so plastic he makes Chris O’Donnell look like a character actor. Eventually a series of tragedies makes Muriel realize that her priorities are shallow, and she discovers that female friendship can give us the real loves of our lives. But in the meantime, she has managed to consummate her marriage with the swimmer—score one for the ugly chick!

 It’s another bet that kicks off She’s All That (1999), perhaps the most defining film of this kind. Big man on high school campus Zack Siler (Freddie Prinze Jr.) suffers a comedown when his girlfriend dumps him for a cast member of MTV’s The Real World, and then he accepts his best friend’s challenge to turn the most unlikely girl at school into a prom queen. The girl? Lainey Boggs, played by Rachael Leigh Cook, an artsy dork who finds Zack and his friends insufferable and falls down a lot. But it also turns out—and get this—that when she takes her glasses off, she’s actually hot, and this helps Zack realize (as River Phoenix and Chris O’Donnell did before him) that this weird looking chick might be the only real thing he’s ever had.

 Which is the point, of course, for any woman, whether she wears glasses or not: she is there to bring meaning into the life of a painfully boring, oblivious man. To awaken his feelings, his passion, and remain loyal to him even after he treats her poorly, because after all, how could he know any better before she’s shown him the way? It is the job of this woman to be his helpmeet on the journey toward enlightenment, the discovery of his truest self, never mind her own desires.

(1990s’ films remind us to be wary of women with desires: remember how The Hand That Rocked the Cradle turned out? And Rebecca DeMornay wasn’t even ugly.)

What higher purpose is there anyway than making a man who resembles a Ken doll consider that he might be human?

February 22, 2021

On Rereading Wuthering Heights

I received the Gladstone Press edition of Wuthering Heights for Christmas this year, a beautiful book that replaced perhaps the most hideous copy of Wuthering Heights in existence, a cheap paperback full of typos—I’d got rid of it or else I’d post a photo, but you can check it out here. (Oh, and while I’ve got you, doesn’t this look like the version of Wuthering Heights that LM Montgomery wrote?) Anyway, the Gladstone Press Wuthering Heights is beautiful, and an occasion to reread this classic novel. I don’t remember when I’d read it previously—at least once, perhaps for a university English class? But it was a curious thing to encounter it again.

Mostly because…everybody in the book is terrible. Except the housekeeper, Nelly Dean. Somebody needs to write a Wide Sargasso Sea-style retelling from Nelly Dean’s point of view. But everybody else: awful. And not just Linton, who had every right to be awful, because somebody had named him Linton, but all of them, including various Catherines. If only somebody had thought to take the children from these families into town and encouraged them to mingle with wider-society. If only any of them had ever been attired for the weather, which would meant there would have been less catching one’s death. This book, I wrote a few weeks ago in an Instagram post, would make an excellent advertisement for Goretex.

Not that I didn’t enjoy the book—I did. But I sure did hate everybody within it, until the end when the pieces began to come together. The book underlined for me too how little patience I have for men these days, the excuses we make for their deplorable behaviour. However did anyone get the idea that Heathcliff was a romantic hero? Heathcliff was a monster. Really, this is kind of a book that’s up there with Frankenstein, instead. He makes Mr. Rochester look like Prince Charming. And, well, maybe I was wrong to assume he was meant to be a hero at all, maybe I just put him that category because I was young and stupid when I first read this book. But I found absolutely nothing redeemable in his character this time.

Sometimes I feel like we don’t know how to talk about men except in exemplary terms. I write about this in my own novel. We’re finishing a read-aloud of The Odyssey right now, and maybe it’s Emily Wilson’s translation, but there is something ironic about the constant refrain of “the godlike Odysseus” in the text, when he really seems to be so fallible, painfully human. And so too with Heathcliff, in whom we attribute depth in order to better understand his terrible behaviour, so that he becomes larger than life, when really he’s so pitifully small, and we really need to stop making excuses for terrible men just like him.

February 9, 2021

The Solution is Patience

The solution is patience.

Though not always.

Sometimes the solution is to rise up and make noise and stomp your feet and demand to be heard, and rally in support of others, and organize a potluck, and shake your fists, use your power.

But sometimes the solution is just to wait.

When the teacher hasn’t logged on to virtual school. When the vaccines are delayed. When technical glitches impede your progress. When you can’t find your hairbrush. When people are insufferable. When conspiracy theorists run rampant. When you’re feeling sad and like there’s no way out of that place. When it’s only February and you want it to be spring.

The solution is to breathe. To know the knot will untangle, and pulling on it now will only make the thing tighter. Instead, to be patient. Hunker down. Buy a cheap bouquet of tulips.

The solution is to put the kettle on, and brew a cup of tea.

February 5, 2021

Dizzy Righteousness

“…a rising army of impossibly unhappy people, their ambitions both vague and vast, who have come to understand that the dizzy righteousness of that derangement is the point.” —David Roth, “The March of the American Kooks”

For a long time, quitting Twitter—for me— seemed about as possible or likely as quitting oxygen, even if the whole experience was so much less rewarding. I didn’t like Twitter (anymore—once upon a time it had been a source of friendship, inspiration and fun, but that all changed around 2014 or thereabouts) but it was necessary, it seemed. It was true there were things I knew from Twitter that were tremendously worthwhile. If not for Twitter, I might have travelled to the UK at year ago this March, but I was put off by disturbing tweet threads by Italian ICU doctors with perspectives that weren’t yet being reported in the newspaper. Twitter was how I found out about everything, from breaking news to pop culture scandals to political developments. It was the platform from which I interfaced with so much of the world…and then it began to occur to me that this was the problem. That while the world was difficult, Twitter only made it worse.

There was a reason that I quit Twitter, finally, but now I can’t even remember what it was, and perhaps this is the point. When I finally logged back onto Twitter a few weeks after my first break—I still have an account but check it every 60 days instead of 60 times a day, which is a big shift for me—Scott Baio was trending for arranging mugs in a department store, and that really just clinched it, because what if I’d never found out that had happened? What else could I have done with those brain cells?

I had spent the last three years on Twitter being furious, mainly about our provincial government and various terrible things they’d done, and while I found solidarity and community with other people who felt the same on the platform, the platform for practical purposes wasn’t useful to me. All my online fury actually gave me a peculiar sympathy for the kind of person who gets radicalized through online groups and decides to drive his truck from Manitoba to Ottawa to smash into the gates at the entrance of the Prime Minister’s residence. Because online rage is a self-perpetuating spiral, and spitting one’s feelings into the online void only underlines how impotent most of us really are, and that only makes you angrier (and the cycle begins again). My furious responses to the Minister of Education’s tweets were not useful to me, nor him or anybody, and it wasn’t like he was even reading them. This performance could not be more similar (or futile) than screaming into the wind. The only entity that profited was the social media platform because it seemed I couldn’t quit it.

Sometime last summer I began to insist that I could no longer view our government as an adversary. Which is not to say that our government was not an adversary, but this arrangement was making me irate and unhappy, and it didn’t make anything better. Further, my children were to be heading back to school in September, and I really decided that having some trust in the system was necessary for me to be a functioning citizen. Like, I’d rather trust and be wrong than end being that guy in a tinfoil hat. And I realized too that my online interactions were so much of the reason why I was angry all the time. That normal people didn’t necessary function this way, and maybe there was something more targeted and effective I could do with my energy than be constantly furious or full of anxiety, waiting for the next calamity to come across the timeline. And that if I just decided not to be furious all the time about the government, flicked it off with a switch, would that make an iota of difference to how the government functioned? It wouldn’t make anything better, but it also wouldn’t be worse.

“I feel like everybody on social media is always yelling at me,” I said the other night to one adult person I spend all of my time with these days. Trying to articulate just what it was that was making me uncomfortable—not just with Twitter, but the Facebook and even Instagram with its weird powerpoint social justice stories. I can’t stand them. “And it’s not that I don’t care about social justice,” I continued, but I am beginning to think of “social justice” as an abstract principle as an ambition that’s also vague and vast. I am still really tired of social justice memes and wish that people would write their own stories, feel their own feelings, share their own ideas instead of parroting somebody else’s.

This is not an “everybody on the left is brainwashed, it’s a cult, cancel culture, blah blah” kind of post. I still stand by guiding principle that one should never do anything for which Jonathan Kay or his mother might leap to their defence. A lot of people who’ve spent less time online than I have imagine themselves bravely rallying for free speech, due process, and against slippery slops, and they don’t know that they’re being manipulated by so many bad-faith actors. I’m not “just asking questions” or wondering if political correctness has gone too far. And I am definitely not saying “Goodbye to All That” to “the church of social justice” (as one viral essay once put it), or talking about “both sides.” I know what side I am on, and it’s the side of anti-racism, alleviating poverty, supporting marginalized people, lifting up the oppressed, supporting workers’ rights and helping make the world a safer, more gentler place for weirdos to be who they are. But I just have recently become dissuaded of the notion that social media is the place to make all this happen. (Blogs, on the other hand…) Considering that there are other ways to be engaged. That perhaps what social media is isn’t even actually engagement.

David Roth’s “The March of the American Kooks” is one of the most interesting, succinct and illuminating pieces I’ve read about the lunacy of American politics at this moment, articulating so much of what I was trying to get at as I rambled on about everybody yelling at me on the internet. And there is no doubt that the far-right fringes have become a clear and present, violent danger. When there are people marching in the streets with literal Nazi flags, and you’re still going on about “antifa,” I think you’ve missed the point, or you’ve been watching the wrong television channels. I am still confused about how after Nazis went marching in Charlottesville in 2017, perfectly reasonable people wanted to remind us that the left has its extremism too. January 6, 2021, my dudes. This is what comes of both-sidesing. The threat and danger is clearly situated along one specific branch of the political spectrum, full stop.

But part of the reason it’s especially threatening and dangerous is that “dizzy righteousness of derangement” which stretches right across the board, that is not just specific to conspiracy theorist kooks. Which makes it difficult to turn vast and vague ambitions into anything tangible beyond clicks. Fed by social media platforms designed to stoke our rage (Elamin Abdelmahmoud writes about this here), we’ve all bought into this idea that righteous online fury is the way to the change the world—but I think we’re being played. This notion has given us nothing substantial or useful to meet the moment—and its clear and present danger—with. It’s also profoundly uninteresting.

From Roth’s essay: “The politics these people profess is not about helping anyone, lord knows, or really about any kind of ideological program at all. It is about an obsessive and even loving taxonomy of and fixation upon enemies and problems, and the way it works is through relentlessness, and through a refusal to ever stop performing weird arias of anger and umbrage.”

The outcomes are different, and perhaps so too are the extremes, but the symptoms are the same, and I’m done with it. When you can see yourself in an article about a bunch of conspiracy Q-uacks, it’s time to close the browser, turn the page.

February 4, 2021

Things to Read During the Big Game

This is the photo that came up when I searched my Google Images for “sports.” GO TEAM!

One of my favourite things about how my life turned out is that I married somebody who cares about sports even less than I do, which means that I got to give him the big news that there was some kind of sports event this weekend, which I only know about because I keep receiving e-newsletters from food bloggers with subject heading GAME DAY EATS. (I was actually only able to parse out what the game in question was because I’d heard about the poet who was scheduled for the halftime show.)

And I honestly felt like perhaps I was the only blogger on earth whose content wasn’t Superbowl-adjacent (it IS the Superbowl, right? And Superbowl is a compound word? Or is it Super Bowl? I don’t know. I am going to choose to remain in ignorance. At least I know it’s about football, by which I mean the oblong, brown American kind, and so I’m feeling a little bit savvy.) Just because I don’t actually care about sports doesn’t mean I don’t want to be part of the action.

And so that end, I have put together a list of some of my favourite game-day literary experiences, books that are perfect to get lost in and you don’t even have to worry about the score.

January 23, 2021

What Norman Rockwell Left Out of the Picture

How old were YOU when you learned that when Hank Aaron eclipsed Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1974, he was subject to hate mail and death threats by fans furious that a Black man could outrank a white baseball legend? That his successes were snubbed by baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who would have been expected to congratulate him and didn’t?

I only found out this morning, myself, reading Hank Aaron’s obituary in the Toronto Star over my cup of tea, and I’m not really going to beat myself up that, because that I was reading an article in the sports pages at all was kind of remarkable. But it’s also typical of the limitations of my understanding and experience, as someone who grew up in the 1980s and came of age in the ’90s, believing that the fight for civil rights had long ago been won.

We thought a lot about Martin Luther King Jr., but never about the fact that someone had murdered him. I knew about Ruby Bridges from Norman Rockwell’s iconic image of the school girl, but never once in my life had I seen a photo of the ferocious mobs of white people (mostly women) who were screaming at her as she entered her school. I knew that baseball players like Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron had overcome adversity and racism to succeed as they did in baseball, but all that strife was kind of abstract. Until this morning, I’d never really considered the kind of violent rage that would cause someone to write a death threat to a baseball player, to put a stamp on it. That this is literally white supremacy—a phrase that gets tossed around a lot these days, but possibly because it’s everywhere: the unfettered rage of a white person at seeing a Black athlete shine.

A lot of people like to spend their time maligning “wokeness,” and in some ways I understand the cynicism, and I actually see the fallacy of viewing everything that happens in the world through a social justice lens, but I also can’t think of a better metaphor. That I must have been sleeping, for what other excuse could there be for having failed to notice that those furious white women screaming at Ruby Bridges didn’t just disappear with the Civil Rights act, and neither did racism? That even if “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” there are so many people intent on throwing obstacles in its way?

That the story of a hero like Hank Aaron isn’t actually one of triumph in the end, but instead that of an incredible talent who lost his love of the game, because racism and white supremacy beat it out of him—and this story is so exhausting. It often seems never-ending. And people who haven’t woken up yet, who continue to insist that race doesn’t matter, that none of us are or should be judged or valued by the colour of our skin, that “making everything about race” is a thing that people go out of their way to do in a world where men get death threats for hitting home run records, in a world where race seems to be about everything—they’re only making that story even longer.

December 9, 2020

Marching and Movement

We’re coming up fast to my annual winter internet holiday (away from the internet), which I am looking forward to (the number of books I can read while not scrolling Instagram is pretty epic), and I think it’s probably time for it. While I’ve been doing well and feeling fairly calm, I’m also in a weird post-publication creative freeze where I’m itching to start something new but I don’t know what it is yet (and you can’t rush these things) and I’m lacking the focus for blogging right now too, although I keep writing rather epic Instagram posts that turn out to be blog posts in disguise. I am looking forward to my holiday to give the spinning wheels in my brain a rest, to do some deeper thinking, and for a reset that hopefully will bring me #BackToTheBlog in the New Year.

But in the meantime, I want to write a bit about politics. About how while I have always been political in the choices I make, the stories I tell, and how I live my life, actual politics makes me squeamish. I think I hate being pinned down, is part of it, and also being told what to do. I hate speaking in chorus, can’t stand crowds, and/or suffering ninnies politely, and maybe I am deeply allergic to earnestness. All of this an aversion that four years ago, I decided to work to overcome, because staying on the sidelines was now out of the question with a burgeoning fascist regime in the country just south of us, a movement whose reach went well beyond those borders. How naive I’d been to imagine that politics (in the electoral sense) didn’t exactly apply to me. I was going to take to the streets. We were going to fight.

And we did. Kind of. There were placards on the porch and we marched, both in sunny weather and in snowstorms. We rallied for refugees, and for the climate, and over and over again in support of public education. I went to meetings and organized petitions and baked cakes and muffins and I’m not saying I did anything extraordinary or even was terribly involved (I like community in theory, but people, ugh), but I showed up. I stood up. It matters that people do so, even if there aren’t a ton of them. Even if nothing changes, standing up means one more person who did.

But the pandemic changed things for me. Though I was already tired—when everything fell apart in March, we’d been through a winter of labour unrest in our public schools. Before schools closed altogether, there had been rotating strikes for two months, and the ways things were going, they would only have escalated. And of course, we stood up with our teachers, for education. We showed up. So many days standing out in the cold, but this is no real hardship. Public schools matter more, and I have a very warm coat. But it was dispiriting, is what I mean. I really missed the era when I just sent my children to school and never thought of it again. Being a parent of school aged children in Ontario since 2017 has been stressful and heartbreaking, the constant erosion of all those things we care about, denigration of people and institutions who are the bedrock of our communities.

At some point, I had to stop going to meetings. Any political action I undertook would leave me to collapse into an emotional wreck three days later. I was way too emotionally invested, to the point of being unable to function sometimes. How do other people do this?

And then the pandemic hit, and I was just fucking done. I did spend about two weeks wracked by incredible anxiety, convinced we were all going to die (this was my Crocodile Dundee phase), but even after I got over that an stopped having heart palpitations and nightmares, my appetite for politics was even smaller than it originally had been. I guess at a moment when so much was at stake, doing anything other than having people work together just seemed counter-intuitive and just irritating. The pandemic, to me, underlined how perilous was absolutely everything, like absolute threads we were all just hanging by, and everything political just seemed made up and phony. Like, nobody really knows anything, and we just made all this shit up to feel important, to provide ourselves with purpose, but it’s nonsense, all of it nonsense. I mean, of course, there is meaning in life and in the universe, but almost everything else is just a whole lot of posturing.

I didn’t want to march anymore. It was a performance. There was no end-game. I was tired and bored, and also proximity to others had become potentially fatal. Which was the reason I gave for not marching with Black Lives Matter in June, which was a month that shifted my perspective in terms of police funding (ie defund it) and kept anti-Black racism in the forefront of my mind. A moment in which the radical point of view managed to touch if not infiltrate the mainstream, and that’s amazing. Shifting the dial, and that’s something, not nothing. But still—I was thinking of the Black woman in Toronto who was killed in an encounter with the police during the same time as people were rising up in the wake of yet another police killing in the US. And my discomfort with the way this woman’s death was meant to be a symbol of everything rather than the specific thing that it was, a thing I knew almost nothing about. I didn’t feel certain enough to go marching for that. Plus there was a pandemic on, and (also) I didn’t want to march in the first place.

I am reading the book Me and White Supremacy now, and to be honest, not finding it particularly revelatory. I am also reading Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson, and it’s blowing my mind. I think the former book would be more useful for the type of person who hasn’t been following Black women on Twitter since 2014 (except she’d never buy it) because everything Me and White Supremacy is telling me, I already learned from them, women like Mikki Kendall and Tressie McMillan Cottom, and so many others. Caste, however, is making my head explode, bringing the world into shocking, bewildering clarity and I know that I am only deepening the furrows on my brow as I read it, because my expression is perpetually, “What the actual fuck???”

But one interesting thing that Me and White Supremacy has me questioning is why I didn’t go marching in June, because the pandemic, I think, was definitely mainly an excuse. (That I did absolutely nothing else during this period with large groups of people is less important than it seems.) It has me wondering why I was willing to attend climate marches (two, I think) though I would not consider myself a climate radical by any means, but would be averse to marching for racial justice jus because I didn’t agree with absolutely every single item on the agenda. I mean, I agree with racial justice, obviously. But recall my previous point about the problem of the specific case standing in for the entire problem and my discomfort with that. Why do my scruples pop up sometimes and not others?

Part of the problem is the typical white person’s problem of seeing racism as a problem that does not concern one if one happens to be white. Fearing tension too—am I welcome at this party? Maybe also not knowing enough about what was going on. (Something else I’ve become tired of re activism and social media is the idea that everybody has to be aware of every single thing that’s occurring in every single place. Like, Instagram powerpoints: Why You Should Be Paying Attention to What’s Happening in the Back Shed of a Blue House on a Road in Dayton, Ohio.)

But where are we marching to, exactly? And is this what’s going to get us there? And let me tell me, my appetite for marching diminished even further once it became the primary pastime of right-wing nut-jobs. I honestly think there is nothing I would march for in December 2020, because marching has officially jumped the shark. We’ve brought the broomsticks in from the porch, finally, and the streets belong to the anti-maskers now. I think we have to find another way, and thinking about what this is is my new challenge.

Or am I just making excuses for doing nothing at all?

Because, of course, I have a lot invested in the status quo. And I don’t say this entirely glibly. I’m not a believer in the BURN IT ALL DOWN school of politics, because what this year has taught me is that it’s all just a tinderbox, and a house of cards anyway, no matter your leanings. This year has taught me a lot about the London Blitz, which is that it was probably a shitshow, but we just forgot about that part, and everybody is rational and stoic in the historical record. But that’s not how people work. People are messy, and muddly and it’s always bananas, and every good thing that ever happens maybe only happens by the skin of our teeth. And what if progress is actually that?

November 16, 2020

Normalize THIS

Something I struggle with is how to express my discomfort with people being eternally scolding in their politics and on social media without being scolding myself, which is pretty much impossible, and so this is why it’s great to have a blog, because here’s a place to put these sentiments but no algorithm is going to send anybody to read them and therefore my blatant hypocrisy will be less of an issue.

But seriously! If I read one more post demanding we normalize something, my head is likely to explode. STOP YELLING AT ME.

And do you know what very ambitious but in fact still a far more achievable goal than demanding that everybody you encounter accept your point of view?

Deciding to give absolutely no fucks about what what anybody thinks of you.

None. Nada. (And it helps to be at least 40.)

Normalize your existence by unabashedly existing. Everybody else can suck it.

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