Thursday, October 9, 2014

Paintbrush

I've broken one of the cardinal rules of online article-reading: never read the comments.

The story itself—about Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman who has terminal brain cancer, and who has decided to end her own life on a day of her own choosing, surrounded by her loved ones—is one that I find fascinating, tragic, and comforting all at once.  Fascinating, because of the moral issues that it raises.  Tragic, because this woman is so young and it's reasonable to think that she might have wanted to do so much more in her life before this cancer happened to her.  Comforting, because it's good to know that some people, at least, do get to leave the world on their own terms. Frankly, I'm not sure that I would have her courage under similar circumstances.

 Of the commenters on the story, I've noticed that most of them seem to be supportive of Ms. Maynard's decision.  One or two of them seem intent on hawking cannabis oil as a cure-all even for terminal brain cancer, but otherwise it seems that most of the comments so far are from people who respect her decision and hope that her passing is what she wants it to be.  But I also noticed that a lot of them are placing the blame for the fact that she had to move to Oregon to do this on Christianity and on priests' insistence that people have to suffer before they die.

I've written about this myself before.  I still strongly believe that the prolonging of suffering just to say that someone is still alive is neither respectful of their life nor a legitimate means of bringing them closer to God (especially as so many invoke this particular god as a god of compassion, love, and peace, even if other voices tend to publically drown them out).  But a lot of those commenters also seem inclined to paint all Christians with the same brush: thirsty for world domination, determined to eradicate all real choice from people's lives, an unceasingly evil and oppressive force which is dragging the world back into the dark ages.

 And maybe they—we—deserve it.  Christian privilege is definitely A Thing, after all, and privilege has a way of making otherwise decent people into assholes from time to time.  Furthermore, a lot of these life-at-any-cost-even-if-it's-torturously-painful policies do seem to have their roots in various sorts of Christian dogma dealing with the sanctity of life.  (Mind, I'm sure that there's a financial motivation in there, too—but I'm a bit cynical that way.)  And there's no denying that a lot of people have done a lot of very horrible things in the name of Christianity.

 But maybe not.  After all, it's not usually right to apply the same awful stereotype to all members of any given group.  I'd hate to think, for example, that just because part of my spiritual life involves a triune God who is YHWH, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost, that makes me every bit as awful as the Westboro Baptist Church. Or, perhaps a bit closer to my own background, like I'm as bad as the Catholic hierarchy that still all too frequently allows certain priests to get away with victimizing children.

I'm not sure precisely why it bothers me that so many of these comments have arisen on the discussion thread for this article, though. Privilege, maybe? After all, even though most Christians really aren't like that, enough really are that it's a fairly understandable view. And goodness knows that a lot of commentary I've seen about people with privilege indicates that when you're privileged in some way and someone says something about your type of privilege that hurts your feelings, you're supposed to just shut up and take it because examining privilege is supposed to be painful—and anyway, that pain is insignificant when compared to the pain of oppression. It's not a point of view that I hold—I actually think that these things can and should be discussed honestly, but not with the intent of any party to wound anyone else, because causing personal hurt won't do anything to change institutional oppression. (But then, what do I know? I've got white privilege and a fair amount of straight-passing and Christian-passing privilege. It may well be that I have a personal investment in seeing things this way because it means that my delicate little white woman fee-fees are less likely to get hurt and result in the phenomenon known as "white woman's tears.")

Or maybe it's the way that I despise stereotypes. I've never met anyone who was accurately described by the stereotypes that exist about any group of which they are members, and I've found the various stereotypes to which I'm subject as a fat woman to be extremely harmful and incredibly inaccurate. Stereotyping may be a convenient shortcut, but it's also a way of saying, "You don't matter. People like you are all alike."

Whatever the case, the comments of that sort did distress me a bit. But of Ms. Maynard herself: I hope that she remains content with her choice regardless of whatever disapproval she may face, and that when she dies, it is what she wants her death to be—surrounded by love, and in comfort and peace.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

I've heard this before. That doesn't make it any nicer.

There's so much that I'd like to write—I've been working on posts about the gathering I went to at the end of July, actually—but right now, I've got something on my mind that's been bothering me a bit.

You see, a couple of weeks ago, my best friend confessed to me that although he loves me, he can never find me attractive because I'm fat.

I'm not in love with him, but it hurt almost as much (as I can say from bitter experience) as it would have if I had been.  My emotions, when I've thought of what he said, have run from sad to indifferent to angry and back to a sort of tired neutrality.  I've heard it before, after all—minus the "I love you," which somehow made it worse this time in some ways—and I'm kind of tired of it.

I believe him when he says he loves me.  He's not the sort to say this kind of thing lightly or without sincerity; even if he really doesn't love me, it's safe to say that he believes that he does.  And I believe him when he says that he doesn't actually see me as ugly and that he finds his reaction to my fatness to be somewhat difficult to understand.

But the fact remains that on some level, he agrees with the people who have called me any number of horrible things because of my weight.  And it hurt to hear him say that what he would want in a partner is basically me, but not fat.  I was surprised at how much it hurt, actually.  He's tried to figure out whether this is something caused by current societal attitudes towards those of us who possess ample figures, but it's so deeply ingrained in him now that he doesn't think he'll ever be able to get rid of it, no matter how much he wishes he could. 

I have to admit that I wonder whether he's actually tried.

Chief among the things that I've been thinking since we had that conversation is that I'm deeply afraid that if I could click with somebody this well—we are totally comfortable with each other, and we know each other so well that we've been at the point where we can practically read each other's minds for quite some time now—and yet still be very unattractive to him, then there really is nobody in the world who's capable of really loving me, through and through, as I am, and not as they would rather I could be.  Not for my fat, as people who only find themselves attracted to fat women might, and not in spite of it, as my best friend does.  Just me, as the Gods and my genetics made me, and as the person I am coming to be.

Because I don't want to be defined by my fatness.  I want it to be just another of my many descriptors, physical or otherwise, and no more or less attractive than my hair (long, wavy, and red-brown), my height (about five feet, seven inches) or my eye colour (a weird shade that's a mix of green, grey, and blue).  If I wear it as a badge of honour, it's because I've earned that by surviving the countless hurts that have been inflicted on me because of social standards relating to it even by well-meaning family and friends.  But at heart, I just want it to be part of me, not my most significant characteristic.

I want it to be neutral.

And as unlikely as I know it is, I want to be loved by someone who's up to the task as my best friend, however fond of me he is, apparently never will be.  I want to be seen as a woman, a person—not just a fat one.  I don't want my body, such a basic part of what I am, to be seen as a disgusting flaw.  If I'm difficult to love, I don't want it to be because of my clothing size—I'd rather that it was because of my personality flaws, because at least they aren't superficial reasons as anything related to my appearance is.  And I want to be found attractive by someone I find attractive, too.

This seems to be too much to ask, though.  And as much as I'm content with our relationship, I must say that it would have been lovely if he had been able to love my body along with the rest of me.  But he can't.

The hurt that I feel over this will be with me for a while yet.  It'll pass, though.  It always does. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Time to sweep away the dust and displace a few cobwebs. :)

First of all: I'm still alive. :)  The past few months have been good, if uneventful, ones.  I have to admit that I haven't felt moved to write for a while now—which is, historically, not a good thing for me, as a lack of writing ambition has usually been a sign that I'm going to start slipping back into that special living hell that is depression.  But so far I've actually managed to avoid a relapse, and for that I'm thankful.

I've been wanting to resurrect this blog for some time, though, because I've missed it.  I've said some pretty stupid things here, no doubt, and I'm actually embarrassed about some of my earlier work here, but really—this blog has always been, as the title indicates, a series of meditations in which I try to work through whatever's on my mind at the time, regardless of whether my state of mind is good or bad, and regardless of whether my conclusions are right or wrong.  I never expected that I'd always agree with my stated opinions in the future once I'd finished a post, and indeed, I'd be a bit disappointed if my past writings always reflected my present thoughts because I feel that would indicate a lack of intellectual growth.  And I never really set out to be right—not all the time, anyway. :)

So, as it stands, I'm going to try to write more frequently than I have done in the past year or so.  And I suspect that soon, I'm going to have plenty of inspiration, because next week, at the suggestion of a friend who is also going, I will be attending an annual Pagan gathering that happens just outside of Renfrew.  I'm really looking forward to it, not least because it's been a long time since I've had the chance to travel more than a couple of hours away from my current location.  And we'll be camping.  That's something that I've missed doing.  I've already aired out the tent and replaced my long-vanished air mattress.  Rain or shine—though of course I'm hoping for more shine than rain—this is going to be good. :)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sexual Immorality

Recently, I made an appearance as a guest musician at my best friend's church.  This has happened once before, and the experience was pleasant enough that I was looking forward to doing so again.  This proved to be the case this time as well.  I find the people there to be friendly and welcoming; I find them to be almost overwhelmingly so at times, actually, but that's mostly because I am very much an introvert, and I think that a more extraverted person would enjoy it more.  And the kind of music that they tend to have there (some classic hymns make appearances, but most of what they sing is modern "praise music") is usually quite different from the music that we usually have at my church—it is not at all unusual for us to sing compositions by Tallis, Byrd, Batten, Elgar, or Mozart—which makes for an interesting change.

That said, the sermon made me feel like rolling my eyes much of the time, though out of respect for my friend and for people who have always been welcoming and kind to me, I refrained from doing so.  The minister was preaching on 1 Corinthians, chapter 6—the passage that talks about the body not being made for sexual immorality.  (This had been one of the day's readings, and the reader made a rather amusing mistake that nobody but B. and I seemed to notice—the reader claimed that "the body was not made for sexual immortality" and urged us to "flee from sexual immortality!"  It's probably a good thing that neither of us could make eye contact with the other, because we would have laughed.  Probably loudly.  We set each other off like that sometimes.)  I'd already been aware that this would be the minister's subject, and I'd braced myself for all sorts of statements that I would personally find to be offensive and wrong.  This was good, because I ultimately ended up disagreeing with practically everything that he said.

Suffice it to say that my definition of "sexual immorality" is quite different from the traditional definition.

First of all, I felt quite exasperated when the minister claimed that NO SPOUSE EVER has been glad to hear that their husband or wife has been taking a sexual interest in somebody outside of the marriage.  I mean, I can understand being upset that one's spouse has been sneaking around, because it's deeply important to be able to trust the person you've married, but although I'm monogamous by nature myself (a conclusion to which I came after a great deal of thought and a bit of experience a couple of years ago), I do not understand why so many people think that monogamy is the only constructive form of romantic and sexual relationship.  In fact, I can see how it can be very decidedly destructive when its participants cling to the notion that once you've paired off with someone, it should never even cross your mind that anybody else is at all attractive.  And given society's current attitude towards opposite-sex relationships of any kind (and of course the minister only spoke about heterosexual couples, presumably cisgendered heterosexual couples), this means that even the slightest interaction between a woman and a man suddenly becomes suspect if one of them is, or both of them are, married, even if the marriage is known to be a happy one.  The default assumption is that people are ruled by their hormones, so of course if a woman and a man are friends, at least one of them is going to fall in love (or at least in lust) with the other, and this will be a BIG HAIRY DISASTER because OMG!FEELINGS and YOU CAN'T BE FRIENDS WITH SOMEONE WITH WHOM YOU WANT TO HAVE SEX BECAUSE OF HORMONAL AND EMOTIONAL REASONS!

All things considered, you can probably guess what I think about that idea.

But the thing is, polyamory exists.  And while it hasn't always been perfect, I know at least one married couple who, because they are polyamorous, do see other people and are each glad to hear when the other has connected with a potential new partner.  Among other things, their relationship works because they don't sneak around.  Not everybody was made for monogamy.

Not everybody was made for marriage, either.  And while this was not at all a surprising thing for him to say, the minister explicitly said that any sexual contact that takes place outside of the bonds of matrimony is sexually immoral.  It doesn't matter if you love each other, or if you're in a stable, long-term, monogamous relationship.  Sexual contact is evil until you're wearing a wedding ring.  End of story.  Again, I deeply disagree.  There are some people who dislike the institution for various reasons, and of course there are places where certain couples cannot be married.  I don't think that they should be decried as "immoral" when they choose to engage in intimate physical contact with each other.  It is their choice, and as long as everyone involved wants it to happen, it's nobody else's business, really.

I also took exception to the way that the minister twisted the words "do what you want as long as it doesn't hurt anybody."  That's very close to one of the sets of words by which I try to live.  Although I'm not a Wiccan, part of my spirituality is influenced by Wicca (particularly solitary practice, of course), and I have always had a fondness for the Rede, especially its best-known line: "An it harm none, do what ye will."  I like it because it allows for a freedom of conscience, but because it also contains a rather important stipulation that you must not harm anybody or anything in the course of following your own desires, it also contains a powerful reminder: other people matter too, and so does the world in which we live.

But he made it sound like the only possible interpretation of "do what you want as long as it doesn't hurt anybody" is "do what you want; it isn't hurting anybody."  That was sloppy logic at best.  And then he applied this interpretation to examples of people who just did what they wanted to do and ended up hurting other people through their carelessness or outright malice.

Given that I'm not at all opposed to homosexuality or to sex that does not take place within a married relationship, or that will not result in the conception of a child, or to anything that takes place between people who are of sound enough mind to make informed decisions about their sexuality and who actively consent to what is taking place between them, what constitutes sexual immorality to me, then?

As far as I'm concerned, where sexuality becomes sexual immorality has nothing to do with whether the participants are married (to each other or to other people) or whether they have opposite sets of genitalia (which is really none of my business), or whether one or both identify as having the gender that they were described as having when they were born (which is likewise none of my business).  To me, sexual immorality is sex or sexual behaviour that ends up having destructive fallout in one way or another.

The person who cheats on their spouse isn't being sexually immoral because they're having sex with someone to whom they are not married; they're being sexually immoral because they are doing this without their spouse's knowledge and consent, and are therefore potentially exposing them to disease, or at least to the pain of knowing that their spouse has not been honest with them, and the possibility of at least one awkward and/or painful encounter with their spouse's lover.  They are abusing their partner's trust and love.

The person who pokes holes in a condom or otherwise sabotages birth control measures with the intent to facilitate a pregnancy is being sexually immoral because they are using sexual intercourse as a tool to create a result that their partner does not want.

The person who contracts a sexually transmitted disease or infection and then continues to have unprotected sexual contact with others without telling them that they have this kind of health problem is being sexually immoral because they are directly endangering the health of their partners—and they are doing so without their partners' knowledge or consent.

The person who continues to make unwelcome sexual advances is being sexually immoral because they are ignoring the other person's lack of consent and, more than likely, are making them feel unsafe.  Furthermore, the person who makes unwelcome sexual advances and then insists that their targets should feel "flattered" because "I was just giving them a compliment" is being sexually immoral because they are deliberately ignoring the fact that this person did not want this form of attention.

The person who insists that rape victims were "asking for it" for any reason is being sexually immoral because they are insisting that unwanted sexual contact is the fault of the victim, not the perpetrator, because the person who committed the rape was simply too inflamed by lust to be responsible for their actions, and is excusing the rapist's actions—which at least potentially implies that they would not be averse to making use of their own sexuality as an excuse for violence, too.

I have to admit that aside from that last point, I'm a little unsure of whether I should include rape in my definition of sexual immorality, because in many cases, there's so much more at play than simply the use of one's sexuality, and because people who are raped respond to it in many different ways.  Rape is violence that tends to involve at least one person's genitals, this is true, but is that enough to make it a form of sexual immorality?  It's sexual assault, of course, which I consider to be something that's worse than mere "immorality" in many ways—the word doesn't seem strong enough somehow.  (But of course I don't believe in that "blurred lines" bullshit.  Rape is rape, and that's not what this post is supposed to be about anyway.)

Bottom line: just about the only thing that I agreed with this minister about is the idea that sexuality should not be abused or misused.  Everything else pretty much annoyed me.  And this served as a particularly powerful reminder of one of the reasons why I can never really call myself a Christian again in any traditional sense—a fundamentally destructive image of sexuality is too enthusiastically embraced by traditional Christian thought, and I disagree with most of Christianity's teachings about sex with equal enthusiasm.

Monday, March 10, 2014

A meditation on my closest friendship

On Saturday, I spent about seven and a half hours with my best friend.  This is hardly unusual; we've been in the habit of spending long periods of time together for most of the time we've been friends.  In some ways, this surprises me a bit; while I am no longer as socially awkward as I used to be, and I'm certainly not as shy, I'm still very much an introvert, and long periods of social interaction often have the effect of draining my energy rather than replenishing it.  But I find that there are some people who don't have that effect on me—when I'm with them, I get the same feeling of being energized as many extraverts say they do when indulging in social interaction.  Obviously, "B." is one of these people.

Our friendship had a somewhat unusual beginning.  (Well, unusual for me, anyway.)  While I have memories of him that date from late 1998 and early-to-mid-1999, I really consider myself to actually have met him in late September, 2011; he sang with my community choir for a couple of concerts when I was sixteen years old, but I don't recall us ever saying even so much as "hello" or "excuse me" to each other at the time.  

(Small digression: technically, I shouldn't have been able to join that choir until I was eighteen.  However, in 1997, about a month and a half before I turned fifteen, they sent out a message to the high school choirs in the area asking whether any of the students who sang in those choirs would be interested in joining this community choir for their 25th-anniversary concert.  I did, and because I loved the style of music that this choir sang, I decided to stick around afterward.  I found out years later that the choir's usual minimum-age cutoff was eighteen years, and that I was largely permitted to stay because I wasn't doing any damage to the sound and nobody really thought I'd stick around for very long.  Suffice it to say that I proved them wrong.)

Twelve and a half years (give or take a month or two) after he left to go teach in Toronto—B. is a bit over thirteen years older than I am, and because I rarely have any reason to think of the age difference between us, acknowledging the fact of it always comes as a bit of a shock—he came back up to Northern Ontario; he'd recently earned a doctorate in History and had been hired to teach part-time at the local university.  About a month after he came back, he attended a service at my church; he arrived shortly before the pre-service practice was about to begin.  Our choirmaster knew that B. could sing (S. also conducts my community choir, and has for over twenty years), and because S. has a talent for this sort of thing, in short order, he had convinced B. to put on a cassock and rehearse with the choir for the morning's service.  I remember seeing B. walk into the choir's rehearsal room, and though I hadn't seen him in over twelve years—oddly enough, I've since learned that our paths crossed on at least one occasion, at a theatrical performance that we both attended when he was visiting his parents in mid-2007—I remembered him.  That I did still kind of surprises me, because frankly, I had no reason to do so.

He joined my church choir for a brief time (in early December, he started playing the organ for another church, also Anglican, whose previous organist had left the year before), and he also started singing with the community choir again.  We didn't speak much to each other at first, though we did get along fairly well.  Then, one day in late October or early November that year, as I still sometimes do, I was browsing through the page in LiveJournal's schools directory that links to journals written by people who have listed themselves as having attended the university where I earned my B.A., and I saw a now-familiar face smiling at the world from one person's default journal icon.  I thought about adding him to my friends list there, but we didn't really know each other that well at that point.  I knew that I liked him, and we'd had some pleasant surface-level conversations by then, but because I don't friend people idly, I decided to take a bit of time to make sure that I was really comfortable with him seeing the sorts of things that I post on LJ.  After a few weeks had passed and we'd interacted with each other a bit more, I decided that I was comfortable with that, so I added him as a friend on LJ and sent him a quick message to let him know who his new LJ acquaintance was.  He added me as a friend as well, and as we started corresponding through LJ, we gradually started speaking more frequently in person as well.

It occurs to me that if ever there were an introvert's way of forming close friendships, LJ might be it.

Our friendship didn't form overnight, of course, but relatively frequent correspondence, added to our now more regular in-person conversations, certainly helped.  By March of 2012, I was starting to consider him a friend, maybe even a good friend.  (I certainly liked him well enough to know that I'd miss him if he left town to teach at another university, as he had the opportunity to do at the end of May that year.  He ultimately decided to stay here, and later told me that our friendship was one of his more important reasons for doing so.)  We started spending relatively long periods of time together when we managed to get together for visits (our very first visit was something like six hours long, though I'd really only expected that we'd spend an hour or two together at most).  And when he left to spend the summer in Toronto, working on research with which he hoped to start turning part of his Ph.D. dissertation into a book, we kept in touch through regular—usually lengthy—Skype conversations.

Since he came back from that summer away, we've usually spent time with each other at least once a week outside of choir activities.  Even when one or both of us is short on time, we always manage to at least spend an hour together.  (The only exceptions to this have come with illness or travel, and in the latter case, we still talk through Skype, usually at length.)  We've developed something of a routine with each other in the past year and a half or so, though we've certainly varied from that routine at times.  Whatever we end up doing, though, we always enjoy each other's company.  

This is probably where some people would probably expect some big declaration of love and the wish that the two of us would someday become a couple.  I have to admit that under some different circumstances, that would have been nice—our relationship is a strong and mutually supportive one as it is, and neither of us hesitates to describe it in terms of love—but for a number of excellent reasons, most of which are his, that's pretty much impossible.  As it is, a number of people have asked both of us whether we're dating, and although I don't know for certain what the reaction has been when he's told them that we're not, most of the people who have asked me have been very surprised by my answer (which is usually a slight misquoting of Sheldon's repeated line about Amy Farrah Fowler in The Big Bang Theory, before it ceased to be true—I tell people that yes, B. is a guy, and yes, we're close friends, but he's not my boyfriend).  As much as I have to admit to being a bit annoyed by the way that people expect that just because we're opposite-sex best friends, we'll end up in a romantic relationship together, I also have to admit to being a bit amused by that as well.  I mean, anyone who spends five minutes or fewer with the two of us can tell that we've become very close—we have even been known to complete each other's sentences at times—and, if nothing else, the surprised, and occasionally shocked, looks on their faces when they find out that our relationship is absolutely devoid of romance tend to be pretty funny. :)

(Mind you, the one actual matchmaking attempt that's happened so far really did annoy me.  It's one thing to make assumptions about our relationship; these assumptions can be corrected.  But it's quite another thing to actually attempt to force our relationship into a form that conforms to the dominant social narrative about close relationships between women and men who are, as far as they know, not directly related to each other.  Suffice it to say that I don't like the interference or the implication that somebody else thinks that they have a better idea of what our relationship should be like than either of us does.)

Anyway, Saturday was largely one of our "routine" days.  I arrived shortly after two o'clock in the afternoon.  He was in the middle of preparing dinner—I love that he's as comfortable puttering around in the kitchen as I am, and we've cooked together on occasion—and we chatted for a while.  When he was finished putting together the meatloaf and vegetables for the meal, we took a walk; the day was gloriously sunny, and although there was still a rather biting chill in the air, it wasn't difficult to stay warm as long as we were moving.  Afterward, we played some music together—B. plays the piano, and I had brought my violin over that day—and watched part of "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," had dinner together, finished the movie, and talked until fairly late in the evening.  At some point that afternoon—when he'd put the movie on pause and gone to the kitchen to check on the meatloaf and potatoes—I closed my eyes and relaxed into the chair I'd been sitting in, and as I listened to him moving around in the kitchen, it occurred to me that I was feeling happier and more at peace then than I had felt in a long time.

I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to end up in a friendship like this one.  In spite of the many possible circumstances under which we might never have become close in the first place—he might never have come back up here after he had earned his doctorate, we might never have started speaking to each other at choir practice, I nearly didn't add him as a friend on LiveJournal, and he almost chose to take that sessional instructor position in Southern Ontario—we have actually done so.  I couldn't be happier with our friendship.  B. is one of the reasons—though hardly the only one—that my depression is now solidly in remission; I still get a bit gloomy from time to time, as most people do, but those times are nothing like the horrible feelings that I used to get, the ones that I always knew would frighten me once I was in a more stable mood.  And even when I did have a temporary relapse early last July, he helped to pull me out of it.

I am happy that we've developed such a close friendship, and I certainly hope that in the years to come, we'll manage to keep some of this closeness, regardless of whether we always live in the same general area.  Even if we don't, though, I will always treasure what we have now, and be thankful that we've each made choices that have made it possible. :)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Marshmallows

I don't think I've mentioned this before, but I'm a former Girl Guide.  I went all the way through the program from Brownies to Pathfinders—"Sparks", for girls who are about five years old, wasn't introduced until I was about seven or eight—and I earned my Canada Cord in 1999.  I was a little bit older than the average for it, but I joined Brownies about a year later than most girls, and I spent an extra year in Pathfinders because paying proper attention to my schoolwork hadn't left me enough time to accomplish everything I wanted to before leaving Guiding.

Now that you've got the background, you may well be asking: what does all of this have to do with marshmallows?

Well, once every year in Brownies and Guides, we played a game.  We were all seated in a circle in an order assigned by the leaders; once that was done, the leaders would read out stories of good fortune, bad fortune, or anywhere in between.  Each story would end with either "take [x] treats" or "take no treats" and occasionally "take [x] treats, but give half to the person with the most treats."  The treats they used were marshmallows.  And at the end of the game, we'd always talk about how it felt to have a lot of treats or none at all.  Afterward, the girls who had a lot of treats were encouraged to share with those who didn't have any, or didn't have as many.

This was always an interesting social experiment in itself; the girls who had been given a lot of treats were always reluctant to share with those who had few or none because they viewed the treats as rightfully theirs.

As for me, I was one of the ones who was, year after year, seated in a position where my stories gave me no treats.  This made a major impact on me, and I noticed the sudden greed of the girls who had been given a lot; even when they did share, they were usually inclined to only share with their close friends.  I also noticed that the leaders must have had specific outcomes in mind for each of us, because usually we were allowed to sit wherever we wanted while in our circle—assigned seating would only have happened if they wanted you to have a specific experience.  But it wasn't until years later that I realized: that's a hell of a lot like being part of a system that's set up ostensibly to help you, but subtlely (or not-so-subtlely) sets you up to fail.

And it's an interesting microcosm.  The selfishness shown by the girls with lots of marshmallows looks an awful lot like the selfishness of those who hoard wealth and whose lives are drenched in privilege.  But I also remember one other thing that, in retrospect, is every bit as interesting: being given treats when you'd just been denied them by the rules of the game also felt embarrassing.  It's like the difference between a handout and a hand up.  And while a lack of marshmallows is rarely a problem, being shown only a grudging amount of compassion, or compassion on terms which allow the giver to say "look at me, I'm such a fantastic person," is not just embarrassing—it can be emotionally draining, and in the end, the person who is the recipient doesn't necessarily get what they actually need—just what the person with more resources is willing to give.

Take it from me: it never feels good to be given crumbs, and to be expected to be overwhelmingly grateful for them, when other people get to feast.

(For anyone who's interested: a variation of the marshmallow game can be found in this .pdf document.)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Inspired By Teo Bishop

I've been thinking quite a bit about Teo Bishop's recent re-conversion to Christianity—perhaps quite understandably, because part of the story of his spiritual journey rather strongly resembles my own.  Well, on the surface, at least.

I've never been a frequent reader of his main blog, Bishop in the Grove.  A friend of mine has frequently linked to posts of his on Facebook over the years, so I have a passing familiarity with his writing, and I've thought that he's said a number of pretty smart things.  But he hasn't really loomed that large in my concept of the Pagan world.  So when he announced that he'd gone Christian again, I didn't feel the same sense of betrayal as some of my fellow Pagans—which I'm guessing would include at least some who saw him as some kind of Pagan authority—did.

Granted, the fact that I didn't feel betrayed is very much related to the fact that I walk a reasonably blended path, and that his Christian denomination is another face of the one I've been involved with for five years now.

Still, I have to admit that I'm having trouble understanding precisely why people have felt betrayed by his choice.  I mean, I understand that his words have meant tremendous things to other Pagans, and although I'm not tremendously familiar with what he's written so far, I do respect him as a thinker and a writer.  But it's a choice that he made for himself, one that made sense to him as he exists right now.  I haven't heard that he calls what is now his former path evil, Satanic, or anything else of the sort; he has done nothing to us. What he did was for himself.  And as I understand it, he is still sharing his thoughts and his reflections with those who are interested in reading them.

And, truth be told, I rather appreciate the honesty with which he's approached the subject, though I have to admit that I'm not entirely in love with the way that he describes himself as a "cradle Episcopalian who became Pagan only to feel a call from God again"—but then, it's his identity, so he's really the only one who gets any say in the matter.  I just dislike the implication that the Divine does not call to Pagans as well, when that, in my experience, is very much not the case.  But he could have kept quiet about his increasingly Christian view of the world.  He could have kept writing as Teo  the Pagan.  He could have gone into denial about what he was thinking and feeling.  He did none of these things, and I do think that it's a mark of a certain kind of courage that he made the choices he did.  He owned what he was going through, and he continues to do so.

Although my spiritual life exists with a certain amount of skepticism, for a very long time, I've tended to think of the Divine as wearing many faces—a sort of "Deity behind the Deities," if you will.  And I've thought that perhaps it reveals itself to us in the ways in which we're best suited to understand it.  Some people see it best in the Triple Goddess (the well-known Maiden-Mother-Crone triad) and—frequently, though not always—her consort, who may or may not have horns.  And sometimes this is the form in which I best understand it, though to me, that Goddess has a hidden fourth face, and I think it's a mistake to restrict the God to one single phase of life, especially when the Goddess is granted the full spectrum of cisgendered and cissexual female existence.  Other times, I look for the guidance of Gods and Goddesses who are associated with wisdom and knowledge; often, I'm especially drawn to Ceridwen, who isn't technically a Goddess unless you're Wiccan, which I am not, but whose story particularly resonates with me for a number of reasons.  (Actually, I often find myself drawn to Celtic deities and mythological figures in general, but, for reasons that I don't entirely understand, I find myself most drawn to the ones from Welsh folklore and myth.)  Sometimes the faces that the Divine wears for me are the faces that I grew up revering—Jesus of Nazareth and his mother Mary.  (Again, Mary's not technically Divine in Christian cosmology, but I grew up Catholic, and my favourite prayers were always the ones that were directed to her: the Memorare, Hail Holy Queen, and, of course, the ever-popular Hail Mary.)  Sometimes I don't feel like it needs a face or a name for me to feel that I've felt its touch or its inspiration.

Perhaps that, then, is why I've had very little intellectual or emotional upset about the fact that a fellow Pagan has gone back to the Christian fold.  (Indeed, Bishop himself seems to be reluctant to embrace any single label; in an article I read this afternoon about his conversion, he states that neither the statement that he's turned into one of the Christians who's alienated Pagans, nor the statement that the Christians have won back a soul for the team, seems to ring true to him.)  This is his journey, and although I can't say that I plan to follow it any more closely than I had been doing before, I certainly wish him well.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Here Come the Food Police

One of the things that I like the least about teaching Primary-level students is the fact that we're expected to police their food choices, right down to the order in which the students eat what's in their packed lunch—sandwich first, maybe the beverage if it can't be put off until after the fruit or vegetables have been consumed, and only then, if there was time and the kid was still hungry, might they be permitted to contemplate the sugar-laden dessert item.

I hate this. It's not teaching them to have a healthy attitude towards food. It's teaching them that Food Has Rules, that some foods are intrinsically Good, that other foods are intrinsically Bad, and that the Bad foods have to be carefully regulated because they taste too good. Kids like sugar, without a doubt. And too much sugar isn't good for anyone. But there's a finite amount of anything involved when a parent packs their kid's lunch—it's not like there's an infinite supply of candy, cookies, and cake in a lunchbox that suddenly appears if the kid eats their pudding before they eat their sandwich! If it were up to me, I would let them choose the order in which they eat their lunch, and only ask that unless they're full, they at least nibble on everything that they've brought that day. But unfortunately, it's not up to me, and I have to watch (and help) as the same old counterproductive messages get passed on to a new generation.

You know, when I was a kid, I didn't like that we were given no real choice regarding the order in which we consumed our food. Sometimes I wanted to leave the sandwich for last because it was what I liked best (especially if it was corned beef with lettuce and mustard—or good old peanut butter and jelly, of course). And being forced to eat things when I didn't want to eat them yet actually turned me off of a lot of the healthy foods (especially fruits and vegetables) that I now really like—particularly celery, tomatoes, oranges, grapefruit, broccoli, asparagus, apples, carrots, cauliflower, and potatoes. It took years for me to get over that whole "I'm eating this because I have to" mentality and replace it with "this actually tastes pretty good, and I'm eating it because I want to." And I never quite managed to overcome that problem with bananas; when I was in Kindergarten and only going to school for half-days, I couldn't get enough of them. By the end of Grade One, after a full school year of being told "no, you have to eat this before you can eat something else," I couldn't stand them. And I still don't like them. (Well, maybe banana muffins aren't that bad.)

And it seems to me that at this time of the year, when even at the secular level we have (in Canada, at least) recently celebrated the harvest, it seems like a particularly bad idea to teach kids—even inadvertently—to hate food, especially when so many in our own country and around the world do not have access to enough food of any kind. If it were possible, I'd teach them to appreciate food, to share it when they know that someone hasn't got enough, and that eating what they're hungry for, when they're hungry for it, isn't a bad thing. (Students who, for known health reasons, have to carefully regulate their diets—such as students with diabetes—might be a possible exception, but ideally, there'd be a way to get them to enjoy a healthy variety of foods without reinforcing that Good and Awful-Tasting Food/Bad And Delicious Food dichotomy as well.) Making such a big deal about the order in which the students eat what's in their lunch just seems so damn counterproductive.

And I must add that it's a huge privilege to even have this much food that we're told that we have to food-police the students in our care. That we live in a society that currently holds a lot of messed-up ideas and attitudes regarding food and eating is not news. I just hate that the same old harmful ideas, especially in response to the current panic over childhood obesity (which is a whole other rant in and of itself), are being reinforced and even elaborated upon. (There's even one school in Toronto, in fact, to which students are not permitted to bring any junk food to school—not even granola bars.) We should be teaching kids to love good food, not hate it. And teaching them that their own preferences for the order in which they eat their food are wrong, and that they don't get a choice about whether they eat the sandwich or the cookie first, isn't a great way to do that.

Friday, July 19, 2013

You think we live in a post-racist society? Think again.

I've been hearing and reading things about George Zimmerman's murder trial that are, quite frankly, still pissing me off.  ESPECIALLY the verdict.

Here's the case as I understand it.  Last year, Trayvon Martin, a seventeen-year-old kid, was walking through the gated community where his father lived.  He'd just been to the corner store to buy iced tea and some Skittles.  He was wearing a hoodie, and because it was raining out, the hood was up, and he was talking with his girlfriend on his cell phone.

And then George Zimmerman, who was driving through the neighbourhood, saw him walking.  He called the police, claiming that the kid was obviously up to no good and was probably on drugs.  He also said that Martin seemed to be looking at all of the houses.  (Oh, the shock!  Oh, the horror!  A kid who's taking a walk in a neighbourhood where he's just recently arrived to visit his dad is looking at the houses!)  Zimmerman left his vehicle, pursued Martin, confronted him, and shot him to death.  Later, he used the excuse that he thought that Martin was armed and dangerous and claimed that Martin had threatened and attacked him.

Funny.  Just because the kid was black, he was a threat to people's safety simply by taking a walk in the rain.  And the threat he posed was so dire that it warranted a pursuit (which the police dispatcher told Zimmerman not to engage in) and, ultimately, a physical confrontation that ended in Martin being shot to death.  Zimmerman, of course, claimed that he shot this kid in self-defence.

I don't buy it.  From what I've read—and I've been keeping an eye on this case since Zimmerman killed Martin last year—the most dangerous thing about the kid was the sugar content of the junk food he'd bought.

And yet, Zimmerman's lawyers were given permission to pry into Martin's school records and social media accounts, like anything that he'd said or done in the past could be used to justify Zimmerman's attack on him.  At times, it looked like Trayvon Martin himself was being put on trial, not the man who killed him.  And the result was all too predictable: Zimmerman was acquitted.

I was, needless to say, heartbroken.  But I wasn't surprised or shocked, just sad and angry.

I hate that black people's lives are evidently considered to be worth less than white people's.  I hate that Marissa Alexander is serving 20 years in prison for firing a single warning shot when her life was actually in danger (anyone who thinks that spousal abuse isn't life-threatening is not only tragically wrong, but also potentially a horrible human being), but George Zimmerman walked out of that courtroom a free man after having caused a confrontation that didn't need to happen and killing the kid who he profiled, stalked, and fought.  And I hate that there are so many more cases that are similar to the killing of Trayvon Martin that we just don't hear about because the same system that creates and maintains white privilege also makes it so easy to ignore—or never even learn about—black people (especially unarmed black people) who have been killed, often as a direct result of racism.  In far too many cases, their killers walked free, or were never even charged in the first place.

And there are a lot of them.

This shouldn't be allowed to continue.  Trayvon Martin may be one of the more famous victims, but he was hardly the first, or the last, black person of any age to whom this sort of thing has happened.  But I think that in many ways, what happened after his death is a tragically excellent example of the harm that systemic racism does.  Consider: his killer wasn't even arrested until after an international outcry arose, his killer was released on parole soon afterwards anyway and was able to raise huge amounts of money for his legal defence (and ended up using some of it for living expenses), and despite the fact that pretty much everything that Zimmerman did that night was wrong, and despite the fact that the horrific wrongness of his actions resulted in a seventeen-year-old boy's death, the jury chose to free him.

That's the power of systemic racism.  A boy gets murdered while walking down the street.  There are witnesses.  His killer is told by the police dispatcher to whom he's talking to not follow the kid, but the man with the gun, the man who has a history of violent and abusive behaviour, disregards this.  And still the mostly-white jury decides that the killer didn't do anything wrong.  He's even got his gun back.

Tell me that's not fucked up—and if you believe it, prove it to me.  Come on.  I dare you.