Thursday, September 29, 2011

"You must have a widescreen navel!"

The other day, I was looking for my brother's passport.  He doesn't live here at present, and he forgot it here the last time he came to visit, and he needed the information in it for some reason.  In the process of sifting through the ridiculous amount of stuff on his desk (and finding out more about my brother than I really needed to know), I found a little book of affirmations and meditations that apparently belonged to our mother first.

It's exactly the sort of thing that I would've been drawn to like iron filings to a magnet in my "Wicca 101" days.  Some of the meditations and affirmations are something I'd still consider worth thinking about, but from what I've seen so far, these are few and far between indeed.  Most of them are the sort of smug and lofty-sounding thing that you might expect from someone who thinks they're an enlightened and all-knowing master of the spiritual realm, but who comes across as pompous at best, things like "my wisdom creates that which I need" and "I rest today knowing that all my physical needs are met."  I find statements like these to be deeply offensive and intellectually lazy, because there's an implication that those who do not have everything they need are simply not wise enough.  Thoughts like these are not wisdom; they come from a place of privilege and there's a certain selfish egotism, a refusal to look beyond one's own life and circumstances, that is both shaming the people to whom these things do not apply, and deeply incompatible with actual enlightenment.

But then, who needs a real spiritual awakening when you can feel superior to unenlightened folk who don't believe that "my awakened mind is all knowing" and "my all knowing mind is all wise"?

Possible differences of interpretation aside, I opened this book looking for some possible deep thoughts to ponder and found little but smug spiritual junk food that left a bad aftertaste in my mind.  Perhaps there was a time in my life when these meditations could have uplifted me, but not for a long time; now, I find them trite and spiritually offensive at best.  They're about as enlightening as that "contemplation of the navel" in a third-season episode of Get Smart called The Groovy Guru.  (Incidentally, this post's title comes from this part of that episode, and the relevant part of the linked video is from about 2:16 to 3:45.)  I realize that my experience of the spiritual is hardly representative of most or even very many other people's, but I suspect that it's not a mark of true enlightenment to be wandering around all mysterious-like and spouting off odd-sounding statements like "Love awakens my mind to love.  I am the basis of love. So be it."  There's so much more out there than your own wonderfulness and your own thoughts, and to concentrate so much on yourself to the exclusion of everything seems deeply wrong to me in a way that I can't quite articulate.

I'm not saying that I know what enlightenment really is; that would be ridiculous.  I'm so far away from being enlightened that it's not even funny.  But I do know that focusing on yourself and how wonderful you are is not really a great eye-opener.

Monday, September 26, 2011

I think I've been slut-shamed.

So the other day I had dinner with a friend.

This wouldn't be particularly noteworthy if it weren't for the fact that for the moment, at least, this friend of mine lives in Michigan.  He's there as a result of some circumstances I don't feel free to divulge because although there's nothing criminal involved, it's a situation that has been very hurtful to two people of whom I am very fond, and I wouldn't want to add to that.  All you really need to know, for the purposes of understanding this rant, is that I live within an hour of a border crossing between Canada and the United States, that I have a friend who is currently living in Michigan through no real choice of his own, and that his wife still lives on the Canadian side of the border.

And that the border guard who questioned me on the American side of the border seemed to have appointed himself a member of the Morality Police.

I realize that they have the right to ask any question, and to do practically anything, to anyone seeking to cross the border as long as they can justify it as a matter of national security.  I understand the importance of making sure that anyone entering the country is not planning to do anything illegal or dangerous while there.  But once I'd revealed that I was planning to visit a friend, and that my friend was male, there was suddenly a level of hostility in this man's questioning of me that I have rarely encountered elsewhere for any other reason.

The line of questioning went something like this:

*Where do you live?
*What do you do for a living?
*How long do you expect to be in the United States?
*What are you here for?
*Where does your friend live?
*What is your friend's name?
*How do you know him?
*But you're only here to visit him, not his wife?
*Why doesn't his wife live with him?
*Are you here to bring him something from her?
*Does she visit him often?
*I want to know why a you would be visiting a married man in the United States when his wife isn't here.

It kind of went downhill from there, though (thank goodness) he did eventually let me into the country.  As the questioning went on, I could see a sneer developing on the border guard's face.  Even as I outwardly remained calm and polite, internally I was seething.  If my friend had been female, or if I'd been a man, or if I'd been travelling with a boyfriend or husband I don't have, my intention to spend a few hours with a friend who happened to live in Michigan wouldn't have been at all suspect.  Even if I hadn't had to reveal that my friend is married (which I unfortunately had to do, as I can't lie to save my life under most circumstances, and I met him because his wife has been a good friend of mine for six or seven years), it might not have seemed overly suspicious to this guy.  But suddenly, as soon as he found out that my friend is married and that his wife lives on my side of the border, he started speaking to me like I was some kind of slut who was out to wreck a marriage, just because I had the temerity to visit a married man without the presence of his wife.

Quite frankly, because she usually only gets to see him once or twice a week, I wouldn't dream of asking if I could intrude on their time together, but that's entirely beside the question anyway because I had the distinct impression that the border guard was going to deny me entry into the country until I repeatedly assured him that I had no intention of interfering with a marriage.

It's like he thought that I shouldn't want to see my married male friend simply because he currently has to reside in a country that is not my own and because I am a woman who is not his wife.  Like he thought that a single woman who is friends with a married man can be nothing but a homewrecker.  In fact, I'm almost certain that this is what was running through his mind; it showed in his questioning and in the sneer on his face.

I've never understood this idea that people can't be friends if they have different sorts of genitalia. Maybe it's just because when I was growing up, the vast majority of the people I associated with were male; being the only female player in a competitive pipe and drum band was no cakewalk much of the time (though it did have its perks; for example, unless my family was travelling with us, I always had a room to myself when we went to the various competitions in which we played), but at least it taught me that the idea that women and men can't be friends is total bullshit.  These guys, until my depression kicked in and I started to withdraw and become more sarcastic, were my friends and I valued their friendship.  (I still miss them, but I suspect that in the worst of my depression, we all burned those bridges just a bit too thoroughly to really be friends again.)  Sure, I did develop a couple of crushes along the way, and at least one of them apparently developed a brief crush on me, but that was always secondary to what was really important: these guys were my bandmates, my friends, and an odd type of extended family.  And as we got older, I think we all benefitted from this demonstration of the fact that not everybody who's friends with a member of the opposite sex will automatically want to jump each other's bones, and that it's not necessarily a disaster even if there is an attraction, requited or not.

It's no secret that I think that Western society in general tends to put too much emphasis on the shape of our bodies, regardless of whether it's the amount of fat we've got under our skin or what reproductive organs we've got.  I don't hold any hope that this border guard had any particular moment of enlightenment resulting from our conversation; I'm sure that even though he did eventually allow me to remain in the USA, he probably remained convinced that I was just some evil Canadian slut who was hell-bent on corrupting the morals of an innocent American man and destroying his marriage.  Mind, I can't bring myself to care; people can be ridiculously judgemental about things that don't match their particular view of the world, but my concern about his opinion of me ended the moment he permitted my entry into his country.  I just wish that my intent to visit a friend wasn't automatically considered suspicious just because of our respective sexes and marital statuses.

Friday, September 23, 2011

So I've Been Tweeting...

I'll admit up front that I'm not much of an activist.  I've walked picket lines a time or two in support of causes which I felt deserved my time and attention.  I've donated money to various causes when I could afford to do so.   (Hint: even when you can't afford to do so, sometimes there'll be a way to manage a donation of some kind.  See the "Free Rice" and "FreePoverty" links on my left sidebar for details.)  And I suppose that some of my blog posts here could be seen as activist in nature, though they only reach a fairly limited audience.  But other than that, I really don't tend towards activism in general; I prefer gentle subversion.  It's more in tune with the rest of my personality.

But when I saw that #OnlyFatPeople was trending on Twitter this morning, I decided to mess around with it a little, via my recently-acquired account there.

I tweeted things like, "#OnlyFatPeople are used as visual shorthand for laziness, stupidity, greed, and incompetence. How lazy of the people who use them that way!" and "When #OnlyFatPeople are blamed for the world's problems, it makes me wonder what the people doing the blaming are hiding."  I know that my use of the tag probably did no good in the long run; most of the tweets on that tag are of a disgustingly abusive and overall bullshit nature, but it felt good to do it anyway.  And I noticed that quite a few other people were expressing their distaste for the popularity of the tag as well.

All in all, a good start to the day, I think.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"An eye for an eye, and the whole world goes blind."

For what is probably an extremely obvious reason, I've been thinking a lot about capital punishment today.

I've never lived in a country where there is a death penalty; the last execution in Canada was carried out twenty years before I was born, and the practice was entirely abolished here six years before I was born.  But according to a relatively recent poll, a fair number of Canadians support capital punishment in theory, though less than half of us would actually like to see the measure reinstated here.  Personally, I hope I never see it reinstated.

There is no true justice in taking a life for a life.  There is nothing but bloodthirst and a hunger for revenge that is only thinly disguised as justice, using excuses that have not stood up to true scrutiny.  It is not an effective deterrent to crime.  (The idea of it being so is utterly ludicrous; after all, how many criminals actually plan to get caught?)  And there is still too great a possibility of executing people who aren't guilty of the crimes for which they've been convicted.  And at the most basic level, this is nothing more than state-sanctioned murder using justice as a flimsy excuse.  It is as grave an injustice as the crimes for which these people have been convicted.  Taking another life rights no wrongs.  All it does is turn other people into murderers.

I don't know whether Davis is guilty or innocent of this murder.  I know that the evidence that convicted him is by no means solid, and I know that it's very reasonable to doubt that he did it.  With no DNA evidence, no murder weapon, and seven of the nine witnesses who identified him later recanting or casting significant doubt on their testimonies, and as I hear that another man has actually confessed to the murder, I know that it's highly likely that there has been a grave miscarriage of justice in this case.  And I also know that even if he truly is guilty of the murder, the death penalty is too goes too far.  And to have dangled four execution dates over his head now, and to have granted three stays of execution and now a delay of execution (allegedly while the Supreme Court decides whether or not to grant a stay of execution) within minutes of the time at which he was supposed to die is tantamount to psychological torture.

This is wrong.  On every possible level, this is wrong.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11, Ten Years Later

You should know that I wasn't going to write this post.  Believe it or not, I'd said pretty much everything that I'd meant to say in the post I wrote a year ago today.  There are already so many perspectives out there on the September 11 terrorist attacks, and many of them are far deeper and far more powerful than I suspect that this is going to be.  And yet, I find myself compelled to write something.

Maybe it's the weather.  Today looks surprisingly like September 11 did a decade ago; then, as today, the weather where I live was clear and beautiful, a little cool but not actually cold, as we usually get during this time of transition between summer and autumn.  I didn't tend to pay much attention to the news in the morning in those days; I seldom had time to do more than wake up, get dressed, make sure I'd done my homework, grab an orange or a pomegranate from the fruit bowl, and zip out the door, since the university was a half-hour's drive away from home and we usually stopped at a Tim Horton's somewhere to pick up coffee, since someone had misplaced the power cord for our coffee pot.  That day was no different.  Until I got to school that morning and saw so many people packed into the student lounge and paying so much attention to the TVs, I had no idea that anything unusual was happening.

Or perhaps "unusual" isn't the right word...

I was eighteen years old when the attacks took place; my nineteenth birthday was still just a bit under two months away.  As such, I only knew the pre-9/11 world as a child and a teenager; the entirety of my adulthood, such as it is, has been spent in a post-9/11 world.  But I remember all too well the new kind of fear that I'd never seen any of the adults in my life (and there were lots of them) exhibit before, and I'd been following politics for several years by that point anyway, and I knew that the fallout of the September 11 terrorist attacks would inevitably lead to military retaliation and legislation that would take away the very freedom(s) that politicians would claim that it was supposed to protect; governments have tended to be very predictable in these matters.  And we saw it happen, from the war in Iraq (I still think it's utterly fascinating how "Get Osama!" turned into "Get Saddam!" so quickly) to the laughably-named PATRIOT Act in the USA to armed guards at the border to not being able to carry more than 100 ml of water with you on a plane to body-scan machines that can cause cancer but that even in Canada we're supposed to believe are a harmless and effective method of detecting weapons.  Paranoia is still high and we're still paying the price, even with Osama bin Laden now known to be dead.

I can't help but think even now, months after the military operation in which he died, that when he was killed, those who still supported him now have another reason to hate the Western Hemisphere; he's just as dangerous dead as he was alive.  His supporters have been given a martyr.

Even in Canada, you know, we still get a lot of "9/11!  9/11! 9/11!  Freedom isn't free!  Support the troops!  Support the war!  If you've got nothing to hide, you've got no need for privacy!  GIVE UP YOUR FREEDOM AND PRIVACY SO THE TERRORISTS WON'T WIN!!!" rhetoric.  I've never approved of it.  It's almost like we're still trying to discredit the already thoroughly-discredited rumour (and extremely ridiculous concept) that Canada let the terrorists into the USA.  (Among other things, even if they had come from here, it would have been the American border guards who let them into the country.)  It's always seemed to me that whatever goals the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks had in mind, they had to have known, at least, that governments around the world would react as they ultimately did, by feeling and embracing fear and using it for their own ends.  So we've seen essential freedoms and liberties eroded, more racism and racial profiling, encouragement of fear, and even Canada's been locked into at least one war that we had nothing to do with starting.  (And by the by, even though we haven't officially been involved in the Iraq war, I hear that we've sent some troops and resources there nonetheless, though we're mostly just still tied up in that mess in Afghanistan.)  And because of this fear, and all of these resources that could have been put to better use than being dedicated to killing brown people in the Middle East, and all of these policies and people treating all travellers as if they're criminals for simply wanting to visit another country (I remember border security and airline security before 2001, and while they could sometimes be invasive, I never got the feeling of hostility that I get whenever I travel to other countries now), I can't help but think that this "war on terrorism" has actually been a victory for those terrorists.  As Dana Scully said in the first X-Files movie, "the rational object of terrorism is to promote terror."  And that's exactly what happened.  The terrorists inspired terror, and politicians kept it going.

We live in a terrified world.  We've gotten used to it over the past decade, but it's no less true now than it was on that terrible day with the beautiful weather.  And now, ten years later, when we remember the violence of the day, I hope that there will be no (or at least very little) glamourisation of the day and of its fallout, including this "war on terror" that has no possible end and very little at all to recommend it.

As a personal observance, I've scheduled this post to appear at 9:30 AM, which is roughly the time when I walked into the student lounge and realized that the world was about to change in a terrible, dramatic way.  Delaying this post for a mere half hour seems a little strange, but at this time ten years ago I didn't know that anything was happening.  It seems right, if only for the same sort of reasoning that goes along with celebrating Remembrance Day at 11:00 AM.

Monday, September 5, 2011


Before I get on with this post, I should warn you that my depression has been kicking in again lately.  Right now, I just need to vent...


I started keeping a diary when I was eleven years old.  There were a couple of years when I would reserve the very last page in each book for a letter to myself at some future age; it was fun to imagine the type of life I might have back then.  I got the idea from a book by L.M. Montgomery (yes, the woman who wrote Anne of Green Gables); I think it was Emily's Quest.  When Emily was 14, she had written a letter to herself at age 24, asking herself about what her life was like now, and signed it:

Your Foolish,
Old Self

I did pretty much the same thing in my letters, right down to the signature.  And in case you're wondering what this has to do with anything, I should probably mention that one of the letters that I wrote to myself when I was fifteen was addressed to myself on a day that I'm now quite certain will never come: my wedding day.

I find it interesting, now, to think of the assumptions that I was still capable of making when I was fifteen.  I was so confident that eventually I'd have a job I loved, or liked at the very least, by some time earlier in my 20's.  (I'm 28 now, due to turn 29 in November.)  I thought that even though I wasn't exactly the prettiest girl in my grade at school, I would eventually start dating and find someone with whom I had enough mutual love, respect, and trust to marry them, and that they'd want to marry me.  Before I realized that for various reasons I'd be a terrible mother, and before I found out that there were a number of unpleasant genetic surprises in my family history, I did want children, though not very many; two at most.

The reality?  In spite of all the work that I put in at school, and continue to put into building up a résumé that might lead to a decent career, I have been unable to find a job since I graduated from teacher's college.  I have decided that I don't want children because I couldn't imagine it being even remotely ethical to have kids when I know that there's a good chance that they'll inherit something unpleasant from me, like a congenital heart defect (which I don't have, but because heart trouble runs in my family on both sides I am probably a carrier for it), and when I know that I couldn't possibly be a good mother: to put it bluntly, I'm too screwed up in the head.*  As for anything related to my love life, I dated a few times, but nothing ever really came of it.  I haven't had a date in ten years, actually, because in the past decade nobody I've been attracted to has been attracted to me.  I've been single so long that I don't really know how to be anything else.  Given my age and relative lack of experience, and given that every year that passes means that there's a greater likelihood that anyone who I could meet and be attracted to who was even remotely age-appropriate for me and not disgusted by the size of my body would already have formed a long-lasting relationship with someone else, I suspect that it's highly unlikely that I'll ever be anything else now.

All things considered, I feel somewhat inadequate and (since I haven't been able to find a job) totally useless and unworthy of that kind of relationship anyway.  Unemployed people, especially the chronically unemployed, like me, have a reputation for being worthless and lazy slackers who just sponge off of everyone else.  I wonder if the degree to which I have internalized that stereotype has anything to do with my feelings of inadequacy.  Goodness knows I've spent enough time berating myself for my lack of work.  As it is, and as much as I'm trying my hardest to make good changes in my life, there are just some times when I feel extremely lonely and a little powerless because in the past ten years, my personal failures and some outside circumstances have tended to combine in just such a way that I almost get what I want, but in the end, I don't because somebody else who deserves it more gets it instead.  Or, in the case of certain jobs that would have been perfect for me, not even being able to apply for what I want because they're only open to people on Employment Insurance or who are under 29 and have recently graduated from college or university (and this second one is a type of stipulation I don't remember seeing until I'd been out of school for about three years).  Or because even though they're entry-level positions, the employers are asking only for people with at least six months' worth of relevant job experience.

I am thoroughly tired of this.  Tired of not being good enough, smart enough, attractive enough, or worthy enough.  For all the promise that I showed as a younger person, I have turned out to be a complete disappointment and I am ashamed of it.  There are some days when I feel like because of all of this, I'm a waste of time, space, and resources.  This is one of them.

And those letters I wrote to myself?  I've re-read them.  I'd laugh if it wasn't so overwhelmingly frustrating that practically nothing I hoped for when I wrote those letters has come to pass.

--,--'--@ --,--'--@ --,--'--@

*Edit for a slight clarification, Oct. 23 2011: it's not that I think it's my depression that makes it a bad idea for me to reproduce, or any other mental issues I may or may not have; I like kids and I generally tend to get along with them very well, which is particularly good because I am a teacher who is currently doing volunteer work in a primary-level classroom.  However, over the years my ability to trust other people has been severely hampered because of multiple extremely bad experiences with people I thought I could trust.  And as I know from experience, having had one parent whose inability to trust not only wrecked my parents' marriage but destroyed my ability to even trust myself for a very long time, a parent who cannot learn to trust their child's good judgement, no matter how well said child has demonstrated good judgement in the past, does a hell of a lot of damage to that child's self-esteem and ability to deal with the world.  I've struggled with the repercussions of that enough for myself; I would never want to inflict that kind of damage on another human being.  But because of that, and because of my serious doubts about whether I'd be even halfway competent as a mother, I believe that it would be a very bad idea indeed for me to have children.