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Pickle Me This

November 9, 2016

Work

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One of the most fascinating (if dispiriting) endeavours in which I’ve ever partaken is following Reese Witherspoon on Instagram. Not for the fact of Reese herself, who is perky, inoffensive, and avidly marketing her southern lifestyle brand, but for her followers. These are people who, apart from the fact of Reese Witherspoon, I seem to have absolutely nothing in common. Though you wouldn’t know it at first—click on their accounts, and they’ve got jobs and kids and gardens and they’re instagramming their pie just like I am. But when Reese Witherspoon posted admiration about Michelle Obama this summer, they went ballistic. “Unfollowing.” “I’m never going to be able to watch Sweet Home Alabama again.” “Reese, you’re an entertainer. We don’t come here for the politics.”

We don’t come here for the politics. 

As though politics was a channel on television and not the world we live in, and the streets we walk down (though I suspect these people drive down) when we take our kids to school. It was shocking to me, that decent-seeming people can operate in the world in this way. And not just in this regard of politics as a kind of accessory, something you can put on and shrug off. But that these decent people were coming at it with politics of their own,with their #NeverHillary and hash tagged support for the Republican candidate for president. These ordinary people are the monsters in our midst and they’re so emboldened. Moreover, they hate Michelle Obama. I didn’t know anyone hated Michelle Obama. They all seemed upset about her influence over school lunches. I don’t know. It was so much nicer when I had never considered Reese Witherspoon’s twitter followers, back when I lived in a bubble.

Yesterday the writer Glennon Doyle Melton posted a photo of her and her daughters wearing Wild Feminist t-shirts, ready to rock the vote. The photo received overwhelming support, save for a few people. People who wrote how they really respect Melton and value her work, but can’t believe she is supporting Hillary Clinton. (How? How? How? I would love to sit down for a drink with the woman I heard of the radio the other day who claims she’s voting Republican because she’s a Christian and has morals and values. What are they? How did the Republican candidate align with these? What is it like to live in a world that makes absolutely no sense. Although I’m started to get an idea…)

Somebody told Melton though, why are you involving your children in this? They’re young, this person said. Let them be kids and why concern them with politics? And this morning even more than yesterday I’m considering how abjectly wrong this is. That we have to involve our children. We can no longer expect others to do the work for us, and Facebook posts and tweets just aren’t cutting it—we’ve got to get out there and do the work, and our kids have to see us doing it. They have to know what the stakes are. It makes me think of Advice for the Young At Heart, by Tears for Fears. “When are we going to make it work?” I’ve spent a good decade being bitter at Baby Boomers for the world we’ve been stuck with, but I’m nearly forty—I need to do a better job for my own children.

“I could be happy. I could be quite naive. It’s only me and my shadow, happy in a make-believe.” And it’s not just me and my general complacency. It’s all the people who seriously considered Hillary Clinton the lesser of two evils, the people who are right now on twitter claiming that Justin Trudeau is just as bad—this fucking moralizing has to stop, pragmatism has to prevail. The current Liberal government has to use this moment of crisis to live up to their promises and underline the faith Canadians put in them a year ago. We have to work together with what we want. I don’t want a revolution. Although it’s easy for me to say—I’m not living on a remote First Nations reserve with no access to clean drinking water, for example (or in Flint, Michigan, with no access to clean drinking water) but I’m not sure these are the people who want a revolution either. I’m not sure the revolution some people are looking for would make life necessarily better for either of us.

The idea of politics being something you can take off or put on is continuing to trouble me. I wrote about it last March when Rob Ford died—I can’t put my politics aside. The idea that women are human beings worthy of respect is my politics, and it’s the foundation of everything. And this is what drives me nuts—not the idiots and the white supremacists because these people seem to have an astounding sense of their own identities, but instead the ordinary, decent people (your dad, your husband) who found making the choice between Clinton and Trump a difficult one. Do you know how radical that is? Do you understand how extremist and terrifying it is that any ordinary decent person who was of two minds about it even entertained the notion of voting for Trump, not even to get to the fact that they actually did so? If that were my dad, my uncle, I’d never be able to speak to that person again. All those families who quietly agree not to discuss politics at the table, lest it make anybody uncomfortable. But we have to be made uncomfortable. Look how impossibly uncomfortable we are this morning after a season of trying to be civil and understanding. The daughters of American need to turn to their dads and ask them, How could you do this to us? 

(This is also why we have to raise our children to be feminist. Actively, whether they are our sons or daughters. Do not think the world will do it for you.)

My seven-year-old daughter crawled into bed with me this morning and her entire body was wracked with sobs. She is a bit melodramatic. 14 years of living with an English person has taught me not to get hysterical about things, but Harriet is still little. And I suppose I should be sorry that I involved her so much in what was happening yesterday, that she became so invested—this would be a victory for justice, for women, for feminism. But it’s not the worst lesson to learn, either, that the world is a deeply imperfect place and that the things you dream aren’t everybody else’s dreams. That there are disappointments and set-backs, but we fight on anyway. In fact, we fight on even harder. If it was important to be a feminist yesterday, today it is beyond paramount. We cannot stop.

I’m going to write a letter to my MP and to the Prime Minister today imploring them to see this as a pivotal moment—you must be the thing you promised you could be. I’m going to take action to stand up for the people of Standing Rock, who are defending their precious resources from the likely possibility of environmental disaster. I am going to continue to insist that Black Lives Matter. I’m going to lay down my life on the principal of public education so that we stop having people who fail to understand that #BlackLivesMatter means that all lives matter, and that they don’t right now. All this is a failure of intelligence, of empathy and understanding. I’m going to keep talking back to pro-life numpties on the street and online and using my voice and my story. I’m going to keep reading and learning and asking questions and rejecting cliches and trying to put the pieces together. To understand Reese Witherspoon’s instagram followers even, and where the common ground lies—the world does not need any more othering. I’m going to use my voice and my body and stand up for the things I believe in—which include goodness, the world, and people.

March 25, 2015

Pickle Me This: The Digest

springYou’ll see up in the top of the right-hand column that I’ve started a Pickle Me This newsletter, which will be referred to with the far more literary title of “Digest.” The Pickle Me This Digest will be the best of the blog delivered each month to your inbox with a smattering of book reviews, picture book reviews, and other features. I know that fewer people are visiting blogs on a regular basis these days, and instead come to specific posts via social media links, which is all fine and well, but I thought the Digest might be a great resource for anyone who’d like to stay better in touch on a regular basis.

m-word-coverEven better? Anyone who signs up for The Pickle Me This Digest in the next month will have their name entered in a draw to win a copy of the essay anthology I edited, The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood, which was published last year by Goose Lane Editions. Mother’s Day is coming up soon, so the book is timely. And if you have a copy already? Well, why not pass your extra copy along to a friend? As Deborah Ostrovsky wrote in the Fall 2014 issue of Herizons magazine, “… You won’t keep this book; you’ll pass it on to friends whose current vocation is changing diapers, or to friends who want a child, and those who don’t.”

If you’ve already signed up for the newsletter, I’ll add your name to the draw. And as ever, thank you for your support of Pickle Me This!

March 5, 2015

Perhaps the alphabetizing is a diversion

IMG_20150305_132621There is something. I am not sure what it is. Perhaps we’re that much closer to the sun and the days are longer, though winter is still very present, and maybe it’s that I’m keeping my head down and just trying to make it to the finish line. With March Break on the horizon (and we’re having a Dreaming of Summer party, inviting friends over so their moms can drink sangria in the morning with me), plus we’re spending much of April in England, which I’m so excited about. Before we leave, I am quite adamant that I shall finish the second draft of my novel, so that’s a preoccupation of late. I’ve been reading so many exceptional books (Eula Biss’ On Immunity at the moment), and reading fewer think-pieces. The other day, I culled my to-be-read shelf and got rid all the books I kind of always knew I was never going to read, and all the books that I was intending to read because I thought I should (and while I’ve meant to stop acquiring such books, I sometimes even fool myself). And then I alphabetized the books that were left, whereas before they’d been a series of teetering stacks. And it feels good, tidy, exciting. Though perhaps the alphabetizing is just a diversion. Is it possible that alphabetizing is always a diversion? I don’t think so though. It’s an order to chaos, something that makes sense. Regardless, it does feel like I’m walking along on the edge of something.

IMG_20150210_083952What else? Heidi Reimer’s winning essay about female friendship has been published in Chatelaine. I interviewed Marilyn Churley about reuniting with her son and her fight to reform adoption disclosure in Ontario. My profile of Julie Morstad is now online at Quill and Quire. A few weeks back at 49thShelf.com, we did a virtual round-table on The State of the Canadian Short Story that was amazing. And finally, here is a photograph of my children, because I know there are a more than a few readers who visit this site for only that.

November 14, 2014

Disposable women, forever and always

We always had true crime books lying around the house when I was little, and since I read everything, these books were no exception, and I do wonder how the 10 year old’s psyche is affected by rigorous rereadings of Blind Faith by Joe McGinniss. I have a better sense of the impact of Wasted: The Preppie Murder by Linda Wolfe, the story of the murder of 18 year old Jennifer Levin in New York City by a man who strangled her in a park and pleaded guilty to manslaughter—the death was a result of “rough sex”, he said. (When police found him the next day, he was covered with scratches. He claimed he’d been attacked by his cat.) Which is that from very early on, I learned that there were some men for whom women were completely disposable, and that our justice system is stacked against victims of sexual violence in a way that is absolutely heinous.

wastedI’ve been thinking about Jennifer Levin’s death since yesterday, when the verdict was delivered in another case involving the death of a teenage girl. We all know her name, but no one is permitted to print it, which means just this: you can indeed be prosecuted for using a rape victim’s name, but you can actually photograph the victim being raped and then share the image on social media—destroying the self-esteem and reputation of a teenage girl, who goes on to commit suicide—and receive a punishment that involves writing a letter of apology and attending a course on sexual harassment. “He must learn how to properly treat females,” is part of the judge’s verdict, as though this is something that must be taught, as though knowing “how to treat females” (who are indeed people) isn’t sort of one of the barest prerequisites for being a human being.

“Why didn’t he help her?” I wonder. The boy with the camera, I mean, or any of his friends, or the police who shrugged when the victim came to them with the actual photo of her rape being committed, and who found no way to prosecute any of the perpetrators (for distributing child pornography—the charge that has a man punished by letter of apology) until after her death by suicide. Why did nobody help?

Let alone, why are there people actually defending the perpetrators? The same kind of people who are bothered by rape charges ruining the lives of nice young men, or promising footballers? What kind of inside out world do we live in? The kind of world in which the parents of a young man who talks about having his colleague raped as a kind of punishment actually speak out in defence of their son? If that were my son, I’d draw the curtains and not go out again for a very long time. Have these people no shame? “We ask you to give him the chance to learn,” the parents say, to which I respond with a vehement, NO. One does not have to learn about how it’s wrong to talk about raping one’s colleagues (or anybody). If you don’t know this already, you never ever will.

When Toronto’s terrible mayor and a godforsaken excuse for a human being was diagnosed with cancer last fall, I fumed as public figures postured about prayers being with him etc. etc. This is another man who has not yet learned that it’s wrong to talk about raping one’s colleagues. It was all I could think of, as his ass fat tumour came down, that a public figure gets to say the things he said (let alone do the things he did) and then get up there with a whole lot of actually honourable citizens and campaign beside them for the job of mayor. “But no!” somebody protests, “do not make disparaging remarks about a man with cancer.” Because we’re willing to draw a line there—we are moral after all—but it’s women who are disposable, women who are nothing more than something for you to stick your dick in, or make jokes about sticking your dick in. A dick receptacle. And if that’s not enough, you can choke them too, “rough sex,” says another public figure, not even sheepishly. And now I’m thinking about Jennifer Levin again, a moment in time, 1980s’s excesses, but it’s forever and always. This is the world in which we live.

You can call it rape culture. You can call it the most horrendous, pervasive male entitlement too. But not all men, another voice pipes up, but oh, there are ever so many. Some of whom are even seemingly feminist allies, examining complicity as they forget about the women whose bodies they themselves have groped, and carrying banners at feminist rallies, even. These men are fathers, husbands, brothers and sons—to frame things in those terms. And I don’t know what to do.

come-cold-riverIn The New Quarterly 131, Karen Connelly’s essay, “#ItEndsHere,” parallels Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s seeming unconcern with the disappearance of 300 school girls with Canada’s own lack of response to the more than a thousand missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women in this country. (The most recent in the news is the young girl in Winnipeg, Rinelle Harper, who was assaulted twice and thrown in the same river where 15 year old Tina Fontaine’s body was discovered months ago. Mercifully, Rinelle Harper survived. She is recovering in hospital.) Connelly reminds us of the rumours surrounding the farm where the remains of so many women were eventually discovered—those rumours would not be investigated for years, during which time so many women died. Disposable women. Ineffectual authorities. There’s a pattern here. It’s like stringing beads.

Connelly writes, “When there were enough missing women—68 to be exact…—the police finally began to look for them. The investigation into the missing women of the downtown east side began in 1998. [Redacted] continued committing murders until his arrest on February 22, 2002.” And from her poem, “Enough,” from her recent collection, Come Cold River:

Unfold the maps on the table. 
Let me show you hell.
As described in The Globe and Mail.
Oddly, it includes English Bay,
blue salt water, sand, crows, 
owls in the cedars. 

The road out? 
Oh, that remains
under construction.

April 24, 2013

Malarky Triumphs!

IMG_20130424_214736 IMG_20130424_205105IMG_20130424_192254Oooh, what a night! I’ve been a devotee of Anakana Schofield’s Malarky since I first read it just over a year ago now, and so it was fantastic to be in the crowd tonight as Our Woman, the book and its author finally got the credit they’ve long-deserved. So pleased that Malarky was tonight awarded the 2013 Amazon First Novel Award. Sometimes it all works out all right. And sometimes you also end up with the most mind-blowing assortment of desserts in your lap, on a plate even, ready to eat. They were as good as they looked.

February 11, 2013

News!! Truth, Dare, Double Dare: Coming in April 2014

motherhood_manifestoI started talking about motherhood three and a half years ago, joining a conversation that I’d never supposed could be so absorbing, perplexing, and reflective of larger issues and politics. And as I talked about motherhood more and more, it began to occur to me how alienating was that conversation to so many other women, whether they were mothers themselves, or had wanted to be, or had become mothers in ways that were less than straightforward, or had never wanted to be mothers at all. I started to see how the motherhood conversation was not nearly wide enough to encompass women’s diverse experiences of motherhood, and maternal things. I began to see how understanding the various relationships that women have to motherhood could tell us a lot about about women’s lives today, the real nature of “choice”, and how far feminism has brought us (or not, in some cases).

It all started with my friends, really, whose experiences of infertility, adoption, abortion, maternal ambivalence, miscarriage, being child-free were so absolutely ordinary in so many ways, but were also represented as being far outside the bounds of the motherhood conversation. I wondered if there was a way that these experiences could be included in a broadened conversation, along with stories of stepmothering, grandmothering, single motherhood, other relationships with children that weren’t necessarily biological, having many children, having only one, having children die, worrying about having children die, exercising choice, or having choice taken away from you.

It was last December when I was talking about this with my friend Amy Lavender Harris, and she said, “This would make a really good anthology.” That night, I got to work emailing women writers I knew whose stories fit the bill. I spent last winter and spring contacting writers, so many of whom responded with complete support for this project. I spent the summer writing my own piece (over four amazing days at the Wychwood Library, during which I listened to “Call Me Maybe” on repeat) and was constantly aglow with the idea that all over this country were brilliant women were busily at work creating this book with me. They sent me their essays and they were wonderful, and I spent late-summer and Fall putting the pieces all together.

And now I am happy to report that the news is official. Our book, Truth, Dare, Double Dare: Stories of Motherhood will be published in April 2014 by Goose Lane Editions, whose people have been as supportive of this project as I could have dreamed of. Key champion has been my agent Samanatha Haywood–I feel so lucky to have her in my corner. And my mind has been blown by the generosity and brilliance of the women who came together to make this book possible: Heather Birrell, Julie Booker, Diana Fitzgerald Bryden, Myrl Coulter, Christa Couture, Heather Cromarty, Nancy-Jo Cullen, Marita Dachsel, Ariel Gordon, Amy Lavender Harris, Alexis Kienlen, Fiona Tinwei Lam,  Michele Landsberg, Deanna McFadden, Maria Meindl, Saleema Nawaz, Susan Olding, Alison Pick, Heidi Reimer, Kerry Ryan, Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang, Carrie Snyder, Patricia Storms, Zoe Whittall and Julia Zarankin. Each of these writers has underlined the one thing I’ve always been sure of, which is that women are absolutely amazing.

November 27, 2012

Here and There

No blog post of considerable substance today because I have scheduled a marathon tonight to get though 200 pages of Richard Russo’s Straight Man before my book club meets tomorrow night. Whatever book I’m reading next is not allowed to be 400 pages along–I need a dose of brevity. In huge news, Harriet turned 3.5 yesterday and therefore had her photo taken with Miffy. We can’t quite believe how much she’s turned into a big girl since her birthday 6 months ago. Her Daddy also had a birthday this weekend, an actual full birthday, and it was a pleasure to celebrate  his goodness (and eat cupcakes). In great luck news, we participated in a community clean-up on Saturday and found $10 in a leafpile. On Sunday, we stopped by the AGO to see Monica Kulling read from her new book Lumpito, which we’re all a little fond of. I was thrilled to see a couple of my favourite books of 2012 turn up on the Globe and Mail’s best book round-upMad Hope and The Juliet Stories. Other exciting things are Obama supporting indie bookshops; a new novel by India Knight!; and this excellent book vending machine which I have to visit asap. As soon as I finish reading Straight Man, that is…

November 19, 2012

Reading in the First Trimester

I have so much trouble reading when I’m 6-12 weeks pregnant. As I’ve done it twice now, I can say for a fact that I am the problem and it’s not necessarily the books I encounter, all of which seem to me to be absolutely intolerable. In my first trimester of pregnancy, I completely lack the patience required to overlook the (often obligatory) parts of any book that are intolerable, and understand its fundamental goodness. I can’t read a book that’s very long either, because eventually it becomes associated with nausea and even the thought of the book makes me want to puke. I have a similar relationship with Calgary– every time I go there, I’m 6 or 8 weeks pregnant, and I can’t even think about it anymore. And with Cloud Atlas, whose first pages I read in Calgary and therefore never again.

Another book I can’t handle is Cybele Young’s A Few Bites, which is so so good! But the book came into my life when I was six weeks pregnant and when Ferdie is presented with his lunch of broccoli, carrot sticks, and ravioli, my stomach heaves. I can no longer eat broccoli, which is bizarre because I’ve always loved it, but no longer, temporarily I hope. We’ve had to ask our organic food delivery to stop bringing it because every week I threw it out.

There is Nicola Barker’s The Yips, which I bought in Calgary but Calgary was not even the problem. The biggest problem I think is that it was not as good as Burley Cross Postbox Theft or Darkmans, and I was so unhappy (and feeling sick) while I was reading it. There were a few weeks where I hated everything, and not just books, but then I started reading A Very Large Soul: Selected Letters of Margaret Laurence, and began to feel better. Correspondance and short stories were the trick I guess, fragments, and perhaps this was why I was so elated to discover Isabel Huggan’s The Elizabeth Stories–finally a book to fall in love with. And the Susans anthology. And slowly, slowly, I was happy to find that I could love books again. (I am not sure that Calgary will recover so easily.)

So yes, this is a round-about way of saying that after being the first woman ever to have a baby three and a half years ago, I am going to pioneer the act of having a second at the end of May. Literary trauma aside, I’ve had a relatively easy first trimester and have been so grateful for Harriet’s mornings at school so that I’ve still been able to get my work done. Grateful too that we dragged out Harriet’s napping through the weeks when I needed it most. Also that emotionally, I’ve have a much easier time of it this time around–with a three year old running around, less apparent miracles are easier to believe in. I have faith this time, and it’s so refreshing not be crazy (though we’ll see how long the sanity lasts. In my experience, it comes in limited quantities only).

I am excited and terrified, and hoping that everyone who promised it would be easier second-time around wasn’t lying. I am really excited for Harriet to become a sister. And most of all, I just feel enormously lucky, that this decision whether or not to have a second child was one we had the freedom and good fortune to make for ourselves.

October 30, 2012

Hatchback

Where have I been? Nowhere, actually, except consumed by projects and daily life, plus we’re giving up napping at our house, which is cutting into my reading time. And so the past few days, I’ve been reading instead of blogging when I had the chance– the wonderful Elizabeth Stories, which I can’t wait to write about here. Had a wonderful night out with Stuart on the weekend, with dinner and Ira Glass at Massey Hall! Halloween has also become a full-time preoccupation–we’ve had three parties so far, and it’s not even Halloween yet. I’m also getting ready for the Wild Writers Festival this weekend, where at my session I will advise writers not to write blog posts in which they apologize for not blogging. So I’m kind of breaking my own rule now, but then consistency has never been my strong point, and I’m not apologizing either. Also, I can’t believe I haven’t told you about the eventful IFOA night I attended last week (I am the anonymous woman calling out angrily), with the marvellous Anakana Schofield (who came over for breakfast on Saturday) and that I met Leanne Shapton!!!, which went much smoother than the time I met Joan Didion. Thank goodness.

October 24, 2012

On the Rosalind Prize

So thrilled to read about the advent of the  Rosalind Prize, Canada’s new literary prize for fiction by women. Which is not to say that Canada needs more literary prizes in general, but I think we need this one. Two years ago, I shared my thoughts on the Orange Prize, and I haven’t changed my mind. Oh, and you know my feelings on women and the Leacock Prize. Anyway, it turns out that the stats for women and Canadian literary prizes are as pathetic as all the others.

In a week during which the same old (justified) woes about women’s representation were aired again, and a venerable Canadian publisher faces peril, it is refreshing to see action for positive change and it’s really nice to be inspired.

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