Saturday, December 31, 2011

Some Year-End Thoughts

By some measures, this has been a significantly more interesting year than I'd expected it to be.  In the past year, I've made some headway in conquering my depression and my eating-disordered behaviour, mustered the courage to let several new people into my life, become friends with most of them, started working (if only on a volunteer basis) in my chosen field, come to a slightly better understanding of my sexuality and sexual orientation, travelled to Scotland and Ireland, bought a guitar, read a lot of great books, learned how to make bannock, finished my first major crochet project, did some of my best writing so far, both here and under my other internet pseudonym as a fanfic writer, and found myself with something approaching a love life that confuses me a little, partly because of the nature of it and partly because (as I've said before) for a very long time, my love life has consisted of little but a series of rejections and other emotional disasters.

(I also, at this point in time, have thirty-five posts that are only in draft form at the moment; most of them were started this year, though there are also a few from 2009 and 2010.  Perhaps I'll be a bit better at finishing what I've started in 2012.)

So, whatever else I might say about 2011, one thing I doubt I'll ever call it is boring.

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On a not-so-personal note, this was also the year in which Stephen Harper unfortunately got that majority government he'd been salivating over since he first became our Prime Minister, the NDP became the Opposition party in a rather surprising twist of political history, Troy Davis was executed in Georgia even though seven of nine witnesses recanted or significantly changed their testimony against him and there was never any actual evidence that linked him to the scene of the murder he was convicted of committing, Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy movement grabbed headlines and met with unreasonable obstruction and aggression on the part of law enforcement, and a lot of white feminists did a lot of offensive and embarrassing things.  It's been a difficult year, but (as cynical as I can get sometimes) I do hold some hope that it's at least laid some groundwork for better things in the future.  A lot of people who needed to learn some hard lessons learned them, and a lot of other people were inspired to act, and to speak up, in ways that they might not have otherwise done.  And perhaps we'll eventually get the chance to build a better world because of it.

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A few days ago, a friend of mine wrote about a few things about the Western celebration of Christmas that bother him.  Among other things, he said that he wished that we wouldn't give so much money to stores that sell goods that were produced in third-world sweatshops, and that we'd give more generously to charitable organizations that help those in need, or actually reach out ourselves and give our time and energy to more good causes.

Which made me think of something that bothered me quite a bit while I was travelling, actually.

When I was in Scotland and Ireland with my church choir this summer, I was struck by the sheer amount of poverty I saw in both places.  So many people begging on the streets in Edinburgh and in Dublin, obviously needing help...and every time I didn't have a pound or a Euro to spare (I never carry much cash, just as much as I think I'm going to need, especially when I'm in a foreign country), my conscience picked at me.  How could I possibly think of myself as a decent person when I'd just refused help to someone who was obviously in need?  And inevitably, this quote from the Bible, which I've quoted here before, would come to mind:
How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?  Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
—1 John 3: 17-18
Obviously, I failed the test.

It's too easy to say that a single coin couldn't possibly have helped that much.  It's too easy to say that I was just being smart, avoiding being pickpocketed in a foreign country while distracted by the opportunity to do good.  It's certainly being too easy on myself to say that I was just being careful with my money, as I only brought with me what I thought I'd need.  The fact is, I saw people who needed help, and I didn't give it, even though I was only able to make the trip in the first place because I'd had help.  It didn't matter that the little that I could give would hardly lift them out of poverty, or even feed them for a night.  I know damn well that when you're in desperate circumstances, every little bit does help.

And yet, I know very well that kicking myself for it will do absolutely nothing to put things right.  I can only resolve to do better next time, and then actually do it.

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In some ways, I can hardly believe that we've made it to the year 2012 already.  When I was a child, even the year 2000 seemed like a far-away futuristic time, even when I knew objectively that it was actually not that far ahead of us.  2012 sounded positively magical, especially since at around the time we got our first dial-up internet connection, around 1997 or so, I started hearing about the Mayans' so-called dire prediction about the end of the world.  Never one to just sit back and accept the doom and gloom, I did a little research (it helped that I'd already started to develop an interest in Mayan culture and civilization), and soon realized that it wasn't so much that they'd decided the world would end in December 2012, as their calendar was set to enter a new cycle then.

But there are some people who just aren't capable of letting the facts get in the way of a good panic-inducing scenario, I suppose.

In any case, I shrugged it off.  I haven't changed my mind, but I do get the feeling that we're in for an interesting year on a lot of fronts.

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One last thought, and then I'll conclude this slightly disjointed ramble.  Of all the things I learned this year, there are two that I think are the most valuable: first, don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.  Even if it doesn't go well, the experience will be worth having anyway.  And second, it's OK to ask for help if and when you need it.

So that's it.  Whoever you are, wherever you are, I wish you a wonderful and blessed new year.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Slight Clarification

It occurs to me that there's something else that I should've made a bit clearer in my previous post: I don't just consider myself pro-choice because I believe that the option of abortion should be available if it is necessary, for whatever reason a pregnant person might want or need it.

I am also pro-choice because I believe that it should be easier for those who want to continue the pregnancy, and to give birth, to do so.  I believe that parental leave should be longer, and that there should be a system in place that will help people to raise their children: better and more accessible daycare, for example, and easier access to services and assistive devices for children (and adults, for that matter) who are physically, mentally, or emotionally disabled, and a health care system that doesn't treat pregnancy like a disease unless there's actually a real complication and not just "oh, you might get this because you're not a Hypothetical Perfect Patient."  And I believe that children should not be punished if their parents are poor; poor children often get the worst of everything, including food, health care, and education.  Those who are pro-life might want to consider fighting for the rights of those children who have actually been born and who are vulnerable to the intrinsic unfairness of a world in which there are haves and have-nots.  Unless you care, not just with your emotions but also with your actions, for the children who have been born into less-than-wonderful circumstances, I would argue that you're not really pro-life, just pro-birth.

Friday, December 16, 2011

In Reply to a Pro-Life Comment

(The following post started out as a response to a comment on my post Why I Am Pro-Choice.  However, my usual verbosity got the better of me, and I decided that it would be better in the end if I made an actual post of it.)

Hello Anonymous,

I wish I could be sure that you would see my reply to your comment, because just as you felt called to comment, I feel called to respond.  You say that you believe that every person, even an unborn child, has a right to life, and on that point, we actually agree; although I am pro-choice, I am not necessarily pro-abortion.  I simply acknowledge that there are times when people who are pregnant may wish to have an abortion, for reasons that are extremely important to them.  I would never condone the use of abortion as birth control (which happens far less frequently than you may have been led to believe).  And I would never insist that any woman experiencing an unplanned and/or unwanted pregnancy absolutely had to go through an abortion.  But I would never want to remove the option, either, from any person who wanted to exercise it.

The thing is, sometimes pregnancies go wrong.  Sometimes the pregnancy is ectopic—that is, implantation takes place somewhere other than in the uterus itself—and this puts the life of the pregnant person in danger.  A ruptured fallopian tube is a very painful way to die.  Sometimes the fetus has developmental defects that are incompatible with the ability to sustain life, such as severely underdeveloped lungs or missing internal organs, and it would be by far more compassionate not to force the eventual child to suffer the death to which these defects would inevitably lead.  Sometimes the woman has medical problems of her own that make pregnancy and childbirth a particularly life-threatening prospect, and even if you take the callous route here and say that she should've used birth control of some kind, I must remind you that sometimes birth control of any type fails, no matter how careful people are about using it.  And suggesting that such women should avoid having sex at all is just plain cruel.  Physical intimacy may not be as basic a need as food, water, air, or shelter, but many people find that it is necessary nonetheless.

And there are other considerations.  Although it's rare, sometimes pregnancy is the result of rape, and it is manifestly unjust to re-victimize a victim of rape by forcing her to bear her rapist's child if she doesn't want to.  Sometimes women literally cannot afford to be pregnant, whether or not they want to have children; even if someone would be willing to adopt the baby immediately, during the pregnancy there would still be necessary doctor's appointments, sometimes medications which insurance (even here in Canada) may or may not cover, and usually maternity leave, which women (especially single women working low-paying jobs) may not be able to afford to take.  If she can't afford to actually take maternity leave, then that would be an additional layer of hardship for a pregnant woman, even if she was going to immediately give the child up for adoption after it was born.  And pregnancy and childbirth are not things that a woman should be forced to go through if she doesn't want to.  They take a serious toll on women's bodies, and even when they go well, recuperation can be difficult afterward.  C-sections, episiotomies, and even the wear and tear of a totally natural birth, can all be very hard to heal from.

In a perfect world, abortion would never be necessary or desirable.  But we do not live in a perfect world.  We live in a messy world where things go wrong and the right choice will not necessarily be the same thing for everyone.  And while you believe that God doesn't make mistakes, your belief does not, and should not, trump any person's right to determine what happens to their body.

So I stand firmly on the side of the person who is pregnant.  The person who already exists, who lives in the world, who loves people and who has people who love her, and who should not have to go through pregnancy and childbirth unless she actually wants to.  And if she doesn't want to, for whatever reason she has, you, and people like you, should not be able to have veto power over what she does in response to what is happening to her own body.

Although I don't know if you'll ever see this, or if you'll listen to me if you do see this, I would like very much if you would visit the following web pages.  I don't expect any of them to change your mind; I simply hope that reading these things will help you to understand why I, with my deep belief in the necessity of love, compassion, and respect for life, support the right to choose.

Pregnant 10-Year-Old Refused Abortion By Mexican State: Pregnancy can be dangerous for full-grown women, but even more so for children who have been raped and who have become pregnant as a result.  Children under 14 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than adult women.

A Heartbreaking choice: The stories of women who didn't want to have abortions, but who found them necessary anyway.

Every Saturday Morning: A blog written by escorts at a clinic which provides abortions in Louisville, Kentucky.

Abortions just as common in countries that ban it as in ones that don't: study: Whether or not it's legal, women who want abortions will find ways to have them...even at the risk of their own lives.

Abortion in America: A three-minute video by the Guttmacher Institute about women who have abortions, and the reasons why they have them.

As I said, I do not seek to change your mind.  If your mind changes at all, you're the one who has to change it.  But I do hope that you are willing to at least look at these resources and do your best to understand why I, and why others like me, believe in the necessity of choice, even if you don't believe in it yourself.


Monday, December 5, 2011


Look, I know that it's extremely important to a lot of people that they buy the perfect Christmas gift for everybody on their gift list.  (Incidentally, I find the idea of compulsory gifts somewhat ridiculous—yes, even when I'm the one receiving them—but that's a whole other rant.)  And I know that the task can be rather frustrating.  But those articles that list gift suggestions for people based on whether they're women or men are...well, quite frankly, they're getting a little tiresome.

Instead of reducing complex human beings to ridiculous gender stereotypes (women like frilly pink makeup with diamonds, men like computerized power tools with boobs), why not think about the individual to whom you're giving the gift?  What do they like?  What are their interests?  What really matters to them?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

In Memory Of A Friend

I apologize for the fact that my most recent posts here haven't been particularly uplifting.  This, I'm afraid, will be more of the same.  I wish it didn't have to be.  But unfortunately, I woke up to some sad news today.  One of the altos from my church choir died sometime yesterday.  It wasn't really surprising—she had been suffering from heart problems for years, and they'd gotten worse in the past year, even leading up to a lengthy hospital stay not long before our church choir's trip to Scotland and Ireland this August—but it was unwelcome news nonetheless.

I first remember meeting Ruth about ten years ago, when she joined my community choir for the first of our two trips to England.  I was nineteen at the time, and at that point my spiritual life was as Pagan as it could possibly be, considering that I had only graduated from my Catholic high school at the end of the previous school year, and I don't think that I had fully realized yet the real meaning of preparing Anglican church music to sing in a very large, very old Anglican church that used to be a very large, very old Catholic church.  Because she sings alto, and I'm a soprano, we didn't really speak much before the trip; it's not that there's any kind of snobbery inherent in that statement, but my community choir is fairly large, and even at the time there were close to fifty singers, especially since we had several people who our director had asked to join us for the trip.  There wasn't much of a chance for us all to socialize with each other at rehearsal, either.  But then, when the trip itself got underway in August 2002, Ruth and I did end up talking several times.  Over the years, as another trip to England took place and I joined the church choir, I gradually came to think of her as a friend, though not a close one.

Ruth was raised Baptist, though she eventually converted to Anglicanism.  In the time that I knew her, her faith and her belief in God were absolutely unshakeable.  They were her favourite topic of conversation, in fact; rarely would a chat with her not end up touching on at least one or two theological points.  She didn't get preachy, exactly, or particularly self-righteous; it was more that her faith was the most important thing in her life, and she gave it a lot of credit for sustaining her in some of her most difficult times, both in her personal life and with her health.  Suffice it to say that she and I didn't always see eye-to-eye.  But anyone could see the tremendous love that she had for other people as well as for God; for as long as I knew her, she was never one to act as if her faith made her better than anyone who didn't believe as she did, and her kindness and generosity were always freely given.

She did have a tendency to speak about non-Christians as if they were slightly recalcitrant but still somewhat amusing children who would come to their senses eventually.  It wasn't out of malice, so I never took offense as I might have if almost anyone else had expressed those sentiments; rather, she believed that it was just common sense to believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and that it was more than a little silly to ignore the God whose presence she felt so strongly in her life.  In fact, at a time in my life when I was more than a little lost in regards to what to do about my spirituality, she gave me some very valuable advice.  Though I know that it led me down a path that she wouldn't really have approved of, I have never regretted listening.  And I know she was happy when she found out that I had joined the church choir three years ago.

Speaking of the choir, her dedication was admirable; she rarely missed a regular service, or an extra one, for that matter, unless she genuinely couldn't help it.  We will miss the strength of her voice as much as we will miss the woman herself.

She went into the hospital for the last time a few weeks ago, and then checked herself out against medical advice as soon as she was strong enough to do so.  I couldn't say for sure, but I think she knew this time that she was on her way out.  I'm thankful to have known her, and I'm glad that she was able to go on to whatever comes next in the comfortable surroundings of her own home, a place I know that she loved.

May she rest in peace.