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.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Signal Boost

What follows is a link to the Trayvon Martin Foundation.  You can probably guess what I thought of the decision that the jury in Zimmerman's trial made.  A post about that is coming soon.  In the meantime, though, please check out their website.

Monday, July 1, 2013

This Is Fat Privilege

I know that most of my recent posts haven't been particularly spiritual, but please bear with me.  I've been working on a few posts with a more "on-topic" bent to them lately, but right now, after having encountered several of the things that usually trigger my difficulties with eating in the last several days, I feel the need to rant, especially because I've been stumbling upon a lot of opinionated comments talking bullshit about the ridiculous concept of "fat privilege."

I'll tell you what "fat privilege" is.

"Fat privilege" is never needing to go to the doctor because you know that regardless of whether something's actually wrong with you, you'll be diagnosed as fat and prescribed a diet, and sometimes told not to come back until you've lost 50 pounds.  "Fat privilege" is the absolute certainty that whatever might be wrong with you can be cured by starving yourself, overexercising, having someone mutilate your stomach and/or intestines, or taking medications that can cause fecal incontinence or cause fatal damage to your heart.

"Fat privilege" is being treated to absolutely charming remarks made in a disdainful tone of voice about people who are about the same size and shape as you are as part of what was supposed to be a funny story about a friend's childhood.  (And yes, I'm the author of that submission.)

"Fat privilege" is the fun of never really being able to be sure whether the person who's just asked you out is serious unless you know them well enough to know they're being sincere.  Otherwise, there's always the chance that they're just playing a prank on you, engaging in a bit of sweat-hogging, or playing some variation of "Nail the Whale".

"Fat privilege" is the thrill of experiencing verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse for simply existing in public at your current size.

"Fat privilege" is the knowledge that a word that accurately describes your body has gradually picked up connotations of laziness, stupidity, ugliness, and worthlessness and is regularly used by people who want to describe themselves in those terms.

"Fat privilege" is the great honour of knowing that people who look like you are often used as visual shorthand for greed, overconsumption, wastefulness, thoughtlessness, sloppiness, gluttony, disease, aggression, laziness, stupidity, and carelessness.

"Fat privilege" is the joy of knowing that when employers write that prospective employees of theirs must be "neat and well-groomed" it's often code for "fatties need not apply".  Furthermore, "fat privilege" is having an increased difficulty in finding work and earning significantly lower wages than our thin counterparts once we do get hired.

"Fat privilege" is not getting as good an employee discount as some other people because your employer has chosen to give a special reward to people with low BMI scores.

"Fat privilege" is being laughed at if you're walking, sitting, or leaning on something that breaks—perhaps especially if you're injured as a result.  Hey, it's always nice to bring a bit of laughter into somebody else's day, isn't it?

"Fat privilege" is having a choice between precisely two options for clothing: the do-it-yourself option or the cheaply-made but expensively-sold option that's hideous, badly designed, and made of some horrible synthetic fibre fabric that will start falling apart after a single washing.

"Fat privilege" is the fact that so many people think that the contents of your cart or basket at the grocery store are somehow fair game for them to comment on or, in extreme cases, actually start removing while they admonish us that "You don't need to eat that!"  And "fat privilege" is seeing the smirks on other customers' faces when they see that no matter what else you've decided to buy that day, you've also got some kind of junk food in the day's shopping.

"Fat privilege" is the ability to attract negative attention regardless of where we are or what we're doing.

"Fat privilege" is being told that all that we have to do to become human permanently change our size and shape is eat less and move more.

"Fat privilege" is never being sure whether you'll have to purchase two airplane tickets for yourself—and knowing that if you do, there's no guarantee that you'll actually get to use the other seat, because it's likely that either the second seat won't be beside the first one or, because airlines routinely overbook their flights, they'll decide to put someone else in your second seat anyway.

(Note: Southwest is evidently not as horrible to fly with these days, and it's against the law to have a fat-people-must-buy-two-seats policy in Canada, but other airlines in the States still have, and enforce, a policy that's similarly horrible to what Southwest was originally doing.)

"Fat privilege" is the ability to easily unlock other adults' inner children—if we accidentally brush against someone, and especially if our skin actually touches them when this happens, some people will actually react as if we have cooties and have therefore just infected them, just like we used to on the playground when we were kids.

Yes, fat people really are just swimming in privilege.

Friday, June 14, 2013


I recently went with a friend to see "Weird Al" Yankovic perform a concert.  It was a great evening—we ran a couple of errands, had dinner together, and then attended the concert.  Aside from the fact that I forgot to bring earplugs (I have sensitive hearing, so the volume level that night was not comfortable), I really enjoyed myself; he has a tremendous amount of energy for performing, and he really seemed to be having fun up there on the stage.  It helped, too, that I've loved his music since I was a kid—twenty years ago, one of my friends introduced me to his music, and he's been one of my favourite singers ever since.  My friend really enjoyed the concert, too; he's been a fan for longer than I have.  (Of course, it helps that he's about thirteen years older than I am; I wasn't born until 1982, so if I was even alive when Weird Al's music really started to become popular, I was probably still listening to Fred PennerRaffi, and Sharon, Lois & Bram at the time.)

The last song before the encore, though, was one that I was hoping that he would not perform, and I was rather disappointed when he did.  Given the title of this post, you can probably guess which song I mean.  While I'm not as easily triggered as I used to be, I was distinctly uncomfortable—not least because the intro to the music video was played on an onstage screen just before they started the song.  I also saw and heard a lot of people singing along with him, as some people had been doing throughout the whole evening.  I was certainly grateful that my friend and I had opted to have dinner before we went to the show; even if I'd been in a state of feeling-dizzy-because-I-haven't-had-anything-but-water-in-over-sixteen-hours hungry (and yes, I still do that to myself from time to time, though not as frequently as I once did), I couldn't have eaten a bite.  I was feeling better by the time the encore was over with, but I was also still feeling incredibly self-conscious and uncomfortable.

It was the only song that Weird Al and his band had performed during the whole concert that I didn't applaud.  Convention aside, I just couldn't bring myself to do so.  The lyrics consist of little but a combination of derogatory stereotypes and some of the most horribly vicious and excessively mean-spirited insults I've ever heard directed against fat people.  (And on an unrelated, but perhaps even more important, note, the line "I've got more chins than Chinatown" strikes me as being more than a little racist.)  And regardless of whether the song is meant as a bit of harmless fun, I've experienced serious insults, and even a few episodes of physical violence, as a result of other people's hatred for fat bodies for as long as I can remember.  This stuff is not harmless.  Joking that fat people take up seven rows when we go out to see movies, cause enough impact on the Earth that it measures on the Richter scale when we walk to the mailbox, are the only ones who get a tan when we visit the beach, are having twenty-thirds when normal people are having seconds at mealtime, or really sit around the house when we sit around the house—those are real insults that really get used to hurt people IN REAL LIFE.  And they're not automatically harmless, innocent, or funny just because it's Weird Al who's still singing them in this song after twenty-five years.  I doubt that I was the only member of the audience who felt that way; I noticed that there were a number of other fat people in the audience that night, and more than a few were larger than I am.

As for my friend—who is tall and very thin—I have no idea what he was thinking, as the matter never came up in conversation afterward, but I noticed that he didn't applaud after that song either.  I'm not automatically interpreting this as a show of support, but it's worth noting that he does know about the issues that I have that cause me to starve myself, and he knows that I can be triggered when I unexpectedly encounter this level of hate for fat people.  It's entirely possible that he found the song distasteful for his own reasons.  Nonetheless, I appreciated it.

So.  Recap: even fat jokes sung by Weird Al are hurtful and unfunny, and although it didn't even come close to ruining my evening (it would've taken a lot more than that to do so), it made me very uncomfortable and self-conscious—and while I could possibly have been the only one who felt that way, I consider it to be unlikely.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Thanks, I Think: Reflections on Aging and Changing

Yesterday was a dear friend's birthday.  The celebration, which is always fun, this year involved dinner at a local sushi restaurant and, once we'd all gone to her home, a game of Cards Against Humanity.  Photography ensued, of course, and this morning, she posted some of the results on Facebook and tagged people in the photos in which we appeared.

A couple of people I haven't seen in years, one of whom was a fairly good friend in high school (though we've drifted apart in the past dozen years), remarked that in their estimation, I haven't changed a bit since we graduated from high school in 2001.  I thought that was a rather odd thing to say; after all, I've been able to see the changes in myself as they've gradually happened.  Surely they should be easier to notice for people who haven't seen me face-to-face in several years.

Granted, the people in my family don't tend to age particularly quickly, and even when I was in my mid-twenties, people (usually older than me, but sometimes also people who were about my age) occasionally used to ask me what high school I went to, and they were genuinely stunned when I revealed my actual age—the looks on their faces were usually rather amusing. :)  But I really have changed.  On a purely aesthetic level, I see the places near my eyes where wrinkles are starting to form.  I see the small changes in my figure—I've gained weight and then lost (most of) it again when I consistently resumed the eating and activity patterns that I tend to fall into when I'm not depressed.  My hair's a bit redder, and because it has more of a tendency to curl now than it used to, it's still as long as it was twelve years ago, but it doesn't always look like it is.  I've been known to wear a bit of lipstick and nail polish on occasion, which I never did in high school, and I had my ears pierced when I was in my second year of university.  I'm even a couple of centimetres taller than I was in 2001.

Mentally, the changes are a bit more dramatic.  I've developed my mind in ways that I couldn't possibly have anticipated back then.  I'm better at analysis.  I'm becoming a competent teacher, thanks to my volunteer work.  My spiritual life has changed—for the better, I might add.  The way that I live it now has allowed me to heal some old wounds, and although I do still find it a bit frustrating at times to be both Pagan and Christian, the resulting mental gymnastics have been worth performing, because they force me to figure out precisely what matters the most.  I have fallen in love three times—once with someone who proved not to be worth it, and his effect on my life was devastating, but it also helped me to stop myself making a horrible mistake.  I have fallen deeply into depression, and developed a particularly stubborn form of eating-disordered behaviour, and then gradually come out of them, particularly over the course of the past couple of years, though I do still have relapses of both from time to time.  My sense of humour has gotten better, my fondness for diverse forms of music has really blossomed, my love of literature has waned and then been rekindled in a big way, and my writing skills have dramatically improved.  I've picked up a fondness for The X-Files, The Vicar of Dibley, The Big Bang Theory, and the recently-cancelled Touch.  I am every bit as stubborn as I used to be, but I now have the confidence and the intelligence to make better assessments and decisions than I had when I was eighteen.

So, yes, I've definitely changed since high school.  And while my acquaintances may have meant for their words to be compliments—after all, it's quite common for people to believe that getting older is something horrible that is to be feared and avoided—I have to admit that my first instinct was not to perceive them as such.  Change is good, and just like everyone else, I've been through a lot of changes in the past twelve years.  And as painful as some of those changes have been, there is precious little that I would actually do differently, given the chance.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Feel-Good Almost-Wisdom

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine shared the following picture on Facebook.

 photo yourvoicecommands_zpsb6038b9d.jpg

Not too long ago, I'd have absolutely loved it.  I still kind of like it, but I have to admit that my thoughts about it are really rather mixed.  On one hand, I do believe that the words that we say, and the things that we think, do affect the way that we live our lives—and by extension, they also have some power to affect the way that people treat us (largely because of the way that our thoughts and words cause us to behave) and the things that happen to us as a result.  And I believe that it's not at all a bad idea to encourage ourselves to achieve our goals, or to believe (and reinforce the belief) that we are capable of achieving these goals.  As it was put in one of my favourite movies, "If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything."

That said, I have a couple of issues with this picture.

First of all, there's the way that intellect is conflated with IQ.  They're not the same thing.  IQ, or Intelligence Quotient, is simply one's score on any number of tests designed to measure one's intelligence—tests that are often heavily dependent on cultural expectations and that put a disproportionate amount of emphasis on mathematical and spatial abilities.  Intelligence is so much more than this.  It encompasses many aspects of cognitive ability—not just mathematical or spatial intelligence, but linguistic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and kinesthetic intelligence as well.  IQ tests don't typically assess the creativity or problem-solving abilities of the person taking them, and people with learning disabilities (which are not in themselves indications of low intelligence) are frequently at a disadvantage when taking an IQ test.  Overall, IQ tests are not a particularly reliable means of determining how intelligent a person is, and to say that IQ and intelligence itself are the same thing seriously undermines the point that the person who put this picture together apparently meant to make.

(Lest you think that my obvious dislike of IQ tests is because of a history of low scores, I should assure you that it isn't; in fact, the lowest I've ever scored is 118, and that was on a particularly bad day.  My scores are normally in the 130-140 range, which I understand is not terribly high, but a bit above average nonetheless.)

I also find it rather disturbing that the creator of this picture states that good things inevitably follow these affirmations.  This is a feel-good message on the surface, but this kind of thinking tends to place a lot of blame on people for whom things have not satisfactorily worked out.  You can think all the good things that you want, and act in as positive a way as it's possible for you to act, and things will still go wrong from time to time.  That's life.  And blaming people for bad luck, saying that it wouldn't have happened if only they'd thought positively enough, is just not cool.  It's not particularly enlightened, either.

As for the way it dismisses the concept of trying—this also isn't a great idea.  "I'm trying" isn't inherently a block or a means of holding oneself back.  It's not pessimistic or a premature admission of defeat.  At its best, "I'm trying" means "I'm doing, and I admit that it's difficult, but I'm doing this anyway because I believe that I can."  At its worst, it means "I'm in trouble here, and I could really use some help."  Either way, it means that effort is being put towards a goal, and that should never be de-valued the way that it is here.  Success is not always a given, and it's not self-defeating to acknowledge that when you're having a particularly difficult time with what you're doing.

And I particularly take issue with the idea that "I'm a skeptic" inherently keeps people from learning.  Because I am a skeptic.  That's how I learn.  I am always questioning things—perhaps especially my strongest beliefs and the information that I'm most inclined to think of as the truest truth, regardless of whether it actually is.  If I were to abandon my skepticism, it would have to entail an abandonment of independent thought and an acceptance of whatever I'm told.  That's not learning, that's gullibility.  For me, at least, skepticism is not a complete refusal to believe anything—it means that before I'll believe it, although I may consider accepting an idea, I need to see convincing proof of its validity.  The fact that I require proof does not prevent me from learning.  And although I'm technically a member of the Millennial generation (albeit one of its older members), and many of us were encouraged to think of ourselves as special little snowflakes who are entirely unique, I hardly think that I'm the only person who learns this way.

As much as the creator of this picture gets wrong, though, I do believe that it's a good idea to watch out for our own negative attitudes and beliefs and consider that we may be tripping ourselves up when we're having a particularly difficult time with a task or a goal.  To the best of my knowledge, I've never met anyone who hasn't ever made a mistake.  Human beings, it seems, are phenomenally good at undermining ourselves, especially when we believe, deep down, that we don't deserve to have something good.  But that doesn't mean that we're the only thing that's holding us back.  It certainly doesn't mean that we need to be told that we're not being positive enough.  Thinking and saying and doing positive things—that's incredibly helpful.  Even more, I think, when people we trust are encouraging us and reinforcing the positivity that we're trying to feel and to project.

But as powerful as this can be, it's only part of the puzzle.  I often wish that sometimes more people who are seeking enlightenment, or who are convinced that they have achieved it, would remember this.  After all, telling people that the only possible reason why they haven't succeeded is that they're not [INSERT CONDITION HERE] enough is neither positive nor helpful.

Monday, April 8, 2013

You Can't Steal A Person!

A few days ago, I watched Scott Pilgrim vs. The World with a close friend.  He'd seen it before, and he knew that it was on my list of movies that I wanted to see but hadn't got around to seeing yet.  Because he knows my sense of humour very well (not least because his own sense of humour is every bit as warped as mine), he thought that the movie would probably amuse me.  He was right.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and would happily see it again someday.

But there was something that really, really bugged me about it.  Knives Chau, who is Scott's girlfriend at the beginning of the movie, at one point physically attacks Ramona, Scott's new love interest (admittedly, with whom he cheated on Knives before he broke up with her), and shouts that Ramona "stole him with [her] advanced American slut technology!"

There is just so much wrong with that statement.

Perhaps Knives can be forgiven for that particular outburst, and for accusing Ramona of stealing Scott again a few minutes later; she's seventeen years old, after all, and I don't know about you, but when I was seventeen years old, my level of emotional maturity wasn't, er, quite what it is now.  And there's quite a powerful stereotype out there which paints boys and men as all but helpless in the face of exceptional feminine beauty.  It's the same mentality that accuses victims of rape of secretly wanting it or asking for it because they were drunk/scantily dressed/walking alone/previously sexually active.  According to this pattern of thought, guys are helpless in the face of their own desires, and those desires can be easily swayed by unscrupulous females who use their bodies to get their attention.  I'm not sure that I ever really believed the whole story, but, though the fact embarrasses me now, I must admit that in my teens I did at one time believe that it was possible for some exceptionally pretty girls to "steal" other girls' boyfriends.

But you know what?  As I indignantly remarked (to my friend's slight amusement) at this point, "You can't steal a person!"  And you can't.  You really can't.  They make the decision themselves.  Hormones may deliver a good part of the inspiration for that decision, but the fact remains that they decide that they will cheat on, or even abandon, the partner they already have for somebody else.  And they make the decision quite willingly.  There's no theft involved.

To say that one person "steals" another implies that the person whose partner they "stole" actually owned their partner at some point.  But we don't own other people.  When we do, that's called slavery.  And I don't think I have to tell you what an evil thing that is.

I'm just glad that in the same scene, Scott rebuts that accusation with the simple fact that he cheated on her with Ramona, who had no idea that Scott wasn't single when they first met.  But the idea of one person stealing another person's partner is so absolutely ridiculous that it's past time for us to abandon it.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Three Lists Of Three Things For Ostara

(I'm aware that Ostara was actually yesterday, but the last week has been kind of awful and I ran out of the necessary time and energy to write.  Nonetheless, here are some of the things that I was thankful for, looking forward to, and intending to work on yesterday.)

Three things to be thankful for:
1. After a week of treatment for a blocked urethra, it looks like the younger of my cats is going to be OK.
2. I have good friends and a (mostly) loving family.
3. I have music to keep me sane—or at least to keep the worst of my depression at bay.

Three things to look forward to:
1. Thunderstorms.
2. Being able to walk barefoot in my backyard again.
3. My community choir's spring concert.

Three things to work on:
1. Help to promote the cause of mental health and access to mental health care and treatment in my community.
2. Finish some of my works in progress—especially an original story that I abandoned for a few years without ever really losing interest in it and a long crossover piece of fan fiction that I've been working on, in one form or another, since 2008.
3. Research and writing on subjects that interest me.  I probably won't ever get the chance to further my post-secondary education, but that doesn't mean that I have to stop learning.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

And Now I *Am* OK

I was almost right about one thing in the previous post: I find my mental state when I last wrote here to be rather worrying, though not actually "terrifying" as I thought I would.

I find it worrying because I'm still capable of falling that far, that fast.  Admittedly, I was unusually tired at the time; until yesterday, for the last several months, there had not been a single day in which I have not had to get up, get going, and keep going because so many things needed my attention.  I was having trouble sleeping.  (I don't think that it's entirely coincidental that, after having given myself permission to rest from about Friday afternoon until Saturday afternoon, then running a few errands that weren't all that horrible, and then having dinner and watching most of "The Fellowship of the Ring" with a close friend in the evening, I finally feel at peace and even somewhat refreshed.)  And the argument that I had on the day when I last wrote here was with someone I love; I always end up feeling the most hurt when I feel as if someone I love unconditionally only loves me conditionally, which strikes me as not being "love" as much as it is "fertile grounds for rejection," and that's precisely how I felt when we argued.

Come to think of it, that sounds an awful lot like one of the major reasons why I've never had a girlfriend or boyfriend.

And yet, I am not actually terrified by the way that I was feeling the last time I posted anything here.  No matter how bad I get, I doubt that I'll ever seriously harm myself.  The temptation to hit myself may exist, but I'm capable of fighting it.  And I don't ever get suicidal anymore, regardless of how overwhelmed I sometimes am by negative feelings.  Even when I did feel suicidal, which last happened a couple of years ago, I was never actively so; I never made plans, never acted on the feelings, only ever had a feeling of "I should remove myself from the human race because I am a hopeless, useless, superfluous drain on resources with nothing to offer the world, so I hope something happens that will erase my existence from this planet because I don't deserve to be here."  That feeling hasn't come along in years now, and for that, I am thankful.  I also believe that if it ever does come back, I will know how to fight it.  

The thing is, my life has significantly changed since the last time the suicidal feelings happened; among other things, I now have a small and trustworthy circle of close friends.  (My social life wasn't precisely nonexistent before 2011, but I mostly just had acquaintances and somewhat distant friends, and didn't feel inclined to bother the one really close friend I had at the time because she was working as a teacher in Korea and I felt that she had more important things to deal with than my petty insecurities and worries.  And yes, I now realize that was silly.)  And though I don't tell my friends everything, I trust them to be as supportive of me as I have tried to be supportive of them.  Thus far, my trust and my love (and yes, I love these people) have not been proven to be misplaced.  I believe they will not be.

So.  I'm fine, for the time being, at least.  And I'm looking forward to singing at church this morning and then taking a long walk somewhere this afternoon, because the sun is shining, the snow looks absolutely glorious, and on days like this, I am not just grateful to be alive—I absolutely love it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I'm Not OK

Right now, I'm in a state of mind that I know will terrify me later, when I've managed to re-establish some of my mental equilibrium.  I won't say what's put me in this state, though I will say that an argument was involved, and that I believe that I am 100% at fault.

I feel useless, lonely, alone, hopeless, and totally worthless.  I feel like I want my body to be in as much pain as my mind is at present; right now, it's taking a considerable amount of willpower to stop myself from inflicting pain with the nearest wire coat hanger or heavy book.  (And I have both of these things in abundance.)  I feel like if I disappeared, nobody would ever miss me; I feel like nobody would even notice for at least a couple of weeks.  The scary thing is that this is what I'm feeling even after I've actually calmed down a little.

Living with depression, especially depression that's gone untreated as long as mine has, is a pain in the ass, to say the least.  I know that treatment options exist; I also know that even here, in Canada, I cannot afford to seek them out, and even if I could, I wouldn't be getting treatment any time soon; in my city, we have within the past year had to withstand a reduction in mental health services, so there's quite a waiting list for help, and in any case, even the least expensive counsellor available here charges $150 per hour of counselling.  That's way out of the range of what I could ever possibly afford.  So, frankly, it's easier for me to stay home, save the money, and do the best I can with music, reading, writing, my volunteer work, occasional socialization (I have several particularly close friends, most of whom I don't see nearly often enough, and one with whom I typically spend several hours at the end of each week), and meditation.  Usually this helps.  In spite of incidents like this, I'm getting better.  I haven't actually felt suicidal in about two years, though there have been times when I've felt a little more able to understand the urge than usual.  (That's scary enough for me, believe me.)  But I am still prone to fits of moodiness, and there still are times, like this afternoon, when something in me breaks and I find myself rapidly spiralling back down into that state of mind that I once knew so well: that mix of feelings of worthlessness, self-hatred, irritability, lethargy, and hopelessness that are the earmarks of my particular kind of depression.

The irony?  Just before the argument began, the one that set off my current mental state, I was doing some research about depression so that I could write about it for another blog, one that I've set up and am maintaining for a cause that is very dear to my heart.

Mission accomplished, I think.  If nothing else, in my current mood, I certainly have my inspiration.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"Those who can, do; those who can't, teach."

I've run into this terrible saying so many times in the past few days that I just have to say something about it.

First of all, it's a lie.  I'm not saying that there are no incompetent teachers, of course.  That would also be a lie.  But I am saying that we do not have so many incompetent people in our profession that it justifies saying that we are all incompetent.  When I walk into a room full of teachers, which happens more often than you might think (my life is kind of weird that way), I always see within a few minutes that I am walking into a room full of caring, professional, and exceptionally intelligent people who are always looking for better ways to teach the students in their classrooms.  Some are better at it than others, of course, but there's a baseline standard to which we are all held, and it is a strict one.  We are constantly evaluated for our effectiveness, and if we fall short of the standard, there are consequences.

Teaching is not the easy job that so many non-teachers assume that it is.  When school is in session, we spend more hours in a day with our students than many of their parents are able to unless it's a weekend or a holiday.  Thus we are not only expected to teach our students; we are also expected to raise them.  We take our work home with us; lessons don't plan themselves, and the work that we collect from our students does not mark itself.  We take courses to learn new things about teaching and learning so as to be better and more interesting teachers for our students.  We deal with irate parents who don't like it when their perfect little angel is disciplined for beating up a classmate or who are upset because their child failed an assignment.  We are often the first to notice when a student has a mental health issue or a learning disability, and when the problem is found and understood, we spend extra time on our lesson plans to make sure that we put the necessary modifications and accommodations into place so that these students (and frequently, there is more than one student in a classroom who needs such modifications and accommodations) have as fair a chance at success as their peers.  To be a teacher is to be a diplomat, a temporary substitute parent, a record-keeper, an actor, a researcher, and a perpetual student all at once.  It is a challenging profession, and one that is as important as any other.

And yet the general public is consistently encouraged to think poorly of us, to blame us for everything that goes wrong, and to de-value what we do.  "They're just lazy," they're told.  "Look at all the vacation time they get.  Look at how well they get paid.  If they want any respect, they should get a real job.  Teaching is so easy, anyone can do it.  They don't need sick leave.  They don't need a better salary, not even the newer ones who are just starting out.  They don't need preparation and planning time.  And if they complain, don't listen.  They're just whining because they don't understand the real world.  They need to shut up and do their easy jobs.  Those who can, do.  Those who can't, teach."  It's a lie, and, as lies go, it's a particularly dangerous one.

Put simply, those who can, do.  Those who can, and who are dedicated to making sure that others can as well, teach.  Those who can't are not teachers.

And people who sling this thoroughly false and terrible statement, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach" at teachers are acting maliciously and are often wilfully ignorant.

Friday, January 11, 2013

On Liking Christ But Not Christians

There's a quote that I've seen several times recently, some with slightly different wording, that's frequently attributed to a certain Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who is of course better known as Mahatma Gandhi.  A little bit of research has informed me that there's not a lot of evidence that he actually did say it, but nonetheless, Gandhi the historical figure and Gandhi the archetype do seem to be a bit different at times.  In any case, the quote in question is "I like your Christ.  I do not like your Christians; your Christians are so unlike your Christ."  And frequently, I've been encountering it in contexts that make me feel extremely uncomfortable and even a little bit insulted.

I know.  I'm a Christo-Pagan; to a good many people whose Paganism is, as some would say, more "pure" (ugh) than mine is, I'm effectively a member of the enemy camp.  They would say that I've sided with the oppressors, the megalomaniacs, the ones who want to Do All The Bad Things to women, children, LGBTQI (etc.) people, poor people, people in overpopulated areas or areas in which diseases, especially sexually-transmitted diseases, are still a huge health threat, and the rest.  They would say that I am a tool of the patriarchy, a tool of the Christian supremacists, a tool of anybody who hopes to make Christian theocracies out of countries in which people are currently free to choose what they will and will not believe, and all that.  In short, they'd say that because of the Christian aspects of my personal spiritual practices, I am not to be trusted and my opinion doesn't matter.  And I would even hesitate to express this sentiment to close friends of mine who happen to be Pagans of various stripes because I do have a certain amount of Christian privilege, and I do my best to keep from hurting anyone with it, and I would especially hate for it to hurt those who number among my nearest and dearest.  So there are things that I keep quiet about, no matter how much they hurt me, because my hurt is, in the end, the hurt of someone who has a form of privilege that they don't, and using that privilege to silence them is bad form at best.  But damn it, this is my space, and so I feel free to say this here: I used to like this quote, regardless of who and what its actual source may be.  (I've also seen at least one version of it attributed to the Dalai Lama.)  I don't anymore.

The thing is, I know a lot of Christians who are kind, compassionate, and generous people.  They aren't perfect.  They've all done things that they regret, they all have their dark sides, and they all have their own issues, but that's because they're people, not because they're Christians.  And I've been part of a number of initiatives at my church that were aimed directly at helping people who are less fortunate than ourselves, including putting on a play that raised money for Child's Play and making warm winter clothing for children who live on a remote reserve in the far north.  One of my close friends is an Agnostic who was raised in two Protestant denominations, at least one of which is Evangelical in a thoroughly Charismatic way; I am also fond of his still-Evangelical parents, who have always treated me with great kindness.  With a few individual exceptions, most of the members of my family are Christians of one denomination or another (most frequently Anglicans or Catholics, though a few other denominations make their appearance here and there), and as much as some of them drive me nuts sometimes, they are good people and I love them.

To place all of these people in the same category as those Christians who harm others and use their religion as an excuse to do so, those Christians who oppress others because they are something of which those Christians don't approve, those Christians who kick people when they're down, and those Christians who, through self-righteousness because they believe that they are "Saved," look down on others who are less fortunate than they are or who are different from them in some way...on a bone-deep level, that strikes me as being wrong.  And I know that this whole post probably reads as a slightly more long-winded example of something from Derailing For Dummies, but nonetheless, to make such a blanket statement as "I do not like your Christians; your Christians are so unlike your Christ" does imply that the speaker believes that all of them are hateful, all of them are hypocrites, and not a single one of them is a decent human being.  I take exception to this.  It is a direct insult to me, as someone who sees Jesus as a face of the Divine, and even more so to all the genuinely good people I know who happen to be members of one Christian denomination or another and who walk considerably more traditional avenues of belief than I do.

I am every bit as insulted by that statement as I would be by anyone who disparages Paganism or insults any of my Pagan friends.  And I cannot simply understand that we are not among the people who are being pointed out as hypocrites by the originator of this quote; because of its wording, the phrasing that does not include anything like "with a few exceptions, your Christians are so unlike your Christ," it's hard to interpret this as anything but a harsh criticism of everyone who has claimed some variety of Christianity as part of their identity, particularly because the quote is frequently attributed to men who are widely acknowledged to be, or to have been, particularly wise and enlightened, and who are known to never have been Christians.

I understand Christian privilege and I certainly understand anger at Christianity.  In many ways, I still feel this anger myself.  But I am angry with the Christians who use their religion as an excuse to do harm, the Christians who use their power to cover up terrible things, and the Christians who try to impose their beliefs (regardless of whether it's through political influence or unwanted proselytizing) on other people.  Believe it or not, it is possible to make distinctions between these Christians and the ones who do not use their faith as a weapon of Mass (ha!) douchebaggery.