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plus ça change

There are some days when I just don’t want to internet anymore. When every other thing I read is evidence of the senseless violence humans act out on other humans. When shootings and bombings seem relentless.

If Jo Cox’s murderer had an assault rifle, West Yorkshire could look like Orlando right now. If he’d had a bomb, perhaps it would look like Istanbul. I don’t need to go on, though you all know I could.

It would be easy, I think, to stop reading twitter and facebook, to turn away from the news feeds, to ignore the ever present evidence that as a species we are unforgiveable to each other. That the hate we enable – by ignoring or reinforcing – is manifest in the violence we not simply tolerate, but encourage.

Our world is one in which violence creates a platform. We – as communities, as countries – not just tolerate but prop up violence as a solution. We excuse it. We justify it. If you want people to listen – kill somebody. If you want people to obey – blow someone up.

This is our world. Where people learn that to be heard, to remake the world as they want it – violence is the ultimate tool.

What will it take? What will it take to end this? I don’t want to wake up every day in a world where people are killed – punished, in the eyes of their attackers – for holding a particular view, for dressing a particular way, for loving a particular person, for their very skin and hair and eyes.

Each of those numbers, each of those names – they are people. They are me, they are you. We – you and I – we die with them.

They had a right to breathe this air and tread this earth until their hearts and bodies gave out. They had a right to live in safety. To laugh and dance and sing and love. They had a right to fucking live in the light.

This is not my world. I do not know who makes this world. I want to hide from this world.
From this pain, from this senseless violence, from this constant, relentless reminder that we are not safe, that at any time someone angry can stop my life, your life, our lives – they can tear apart our communities, they can spit on our civilisation, our freedoms, our ideals, chase thousands from their homes – they can upend the good world.

Because our good world has no defence against this. Our world offers thoughts and prayers with no action. Our world gives condolences. Our good world offers sentiment when it should kneel in the earth and rip out by the roots all of the signposts and standards that show angry people that violence works.

I want to hide from all of this because it hurts. It is painful and frightening. My heart breaks for those who lose family, friends, lovers, homes, communities. I am terrified for those I love and cannot protect.

And I rage. I rage at the injustice of the violence that is cavalier as it steals these beautiful, singular lives as if they do not matter.

But I cannot hide. Because they do matter. Every single one. I do not want the portrait of these pointless, angry murderers burned on my retinas, I do not care who they are or what supposed rationale they claim justifies their outrageousness – I want to know all of these people and mourn them like friends. I want to bury the image of these killers with the remembrance and due attention to those people who were simply living their lives.

I do not know if facing the ugly cruelties of the world will make it change, but I know that ignoring problems makes them worse. Ignorance may be bliss, but it is also useless and damaging.

Knowledge is work. It is pain and it is grief. But it too, is a tool. And one I hope ultimately more powerful than the violence that is the first or last resort of the angry and desperate.

In the Christian tradition, the tree of Knowledge was forbidden to Adam and Eve. Knowledge meant they had to leave safety and plenty and live in the world, in all its harshness. But knowledge does not change the truth. Adam and Eve were naked before they understood shame. Knowledge instead changed them – their thoughts, their choices, their actions.

Knowledge is not a punishment; it is the cost of living in the world. And it is the only means by which we can change.

I have no faith to speak of, but I would not be able to continue in the world if I did not believe that we could, all of us, reach a place of peace. A day and time where violence is not a megaphone, not a passport, not a ticket to the big kids table, not an option. A day where every life is recognised as holy and worthy. Where disagreement or disapproval does not find it’s logical conclusion in blood.

And so. I continue to stare this in the face. I take my knowledge as the bitter pill it sometimes is in the hope that I will learn something, anything, worthwhile – and in the hope that something will be enough.

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Still a Stranger Here

I like being Canadian.

Aside from the embarrassment of Rob Ford and the ongoing empire of Stephen Harper, we have a lovely reputation: polite, friendly, the cleaner/nicer/more left-wing version of Americans.

I also love living in London; the theatre and museums, while not absolutely peerless, are exceptional (and have quite spoiled me for living anywhere that isn’t as culturally rich).

And while being an expatriate comes with pros (two passports!) and cons (like people correcting my diction and pronunciation. I know what I said. You know what I said. I know both what you people call it and how you pronounce it and have decided to stick with my own vernacular in this case. So stop being pedantic), there is something particular to the UK (and Europe) that I don’t think I will ever master.

“Hello.”

In Canada and the US, you have: the wave,

giphy

the chin acknowledgement (think ‘s’up’),

giphy-1

the handshake,

giphy-2

the fist bump,

giphy-5

and the hug,

giphy-4

for varying degrees of physical and emotional proximity.

In the UK and Europe, though – y’all do the cheek kiss (for an indeterminate length and number of times), with either a handclasp or some kind of hand-on-arm job.

Even Hilary Clinton thinks this shit is weird.

I do not know what to do with that.

This STILL feels unnecessarily intimate and weird to me.

If you do that in North America? You’re either a theatre-person greeting other theatre-people, or you’re basically hitting on someone REALLY HARD.

I can’t you the number of times I’ve automatically gone for a hug since some person is suddenly in my personal space and they’ve gotten a mouthful of hair or head butted.

And I still can’t tell if you guys are actually doing a kiss or just going ‘mwa’ in the space next to my head.

I tend to do the latter, after I’ve done a weird pseudo-hug that’s the equivalent of a limp-fish handshake (which I loathe) because ARGH I can’t KISS you, that is for intimates.

I get it, I think – it looks classy, it’s less business-y than a handshake, it’s affectionate and I’d bet most Londoners are affection-deprived on average.

But…

It’s not intuitive for me. It doesn’t come naturally, and I still haven’t figured out exactly where the cheek-kiss thing falls in terms of social proximity. Do you do this with literally everyone you meet? Work colleagues? Bosses? Friends of friends?Grandparents?

Where is the line? Have I unwittingly offended people by pre-empting them with a firm all-American handshake or put them on the back foot by an unanticipated warm and fuzzy Canadian hug?

It’s odd. I speak the language. My parents are Brits, but picturing them doing the cheek-kiss thing is impossible – is this a new thing? They left the nearly 40 years ago – is this a European import? WHAT IS THE DEAL?

Seriously. Please. Someone teach me.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it, though. I do it, because social niceties and whatnot, but it always feels like a put-on.

Blog for Choice Day – 2012

Blog for Choice Day – 2012

Today is Blog for Choice Day: the 39th anniversary of Roe v Wade in the US, the court case that established that women had a legal right to abortion (until the point of fetal viability).

The legal right to abortion, including safe and ready access, is a key element of civil rights everywhere for people with female reproductive organs (henceforth referred to as ‘women’ – fully acknowledging that there are people who identify as women who do not have female reproductive organs, people who identify as men who do, and those who do not identify as either who may or may not have them).

This right is as critical as having access to contraceptive options, thorough sexual education, and infrastructure that supports healthy pregnancies. Any person should and must have full bodily autonomy, and this is only possible if they are fully aware of how reproduction works, and have the means to control it without fear of judgment or reprisal.

It is not just in the US where this right is called into question, to the point where it endangers or ends the life and health of women. Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures going (safer than giving birth), and yet around the world, “nearly half of all abortions worldwide are unsafe, and almost all unsafe abortions occur in the developing world” (via feministing)


Usually, the objections to reproductive rights spring from a moral tenet, often via religious beliefs (which, as we know, are so often scientifically verifiable) that abortion or birth control of any kind amounts to infanticide, that the only morally correct sex is that which is performed with the intent to reproduce within a religiously sanctioned union of some kind, and that women are obligated to carry to term, birth, and raise any fertilized eggs that happen to implant in their uterine wall, or indeed maintain an ectopic pregnancy at great risk to their health until on the verge of death, should a fertilized egg implant elsewhere.

Implicit in this idea, too, is that pregnancy and childbirth and child rearing are a kind of divinely sanctioned punishment for any non-reproductive sexual behaviour. And who wouldn’t want to be raised by an unenthusiastic genetic parent(s) who consider them a penance from God?

There are plenty of arguments to be made about the moral correctness of abortion – pointing out for example, that many people who get the procedure already have children, and are making the decision based on availability of resources, and a lack of support for the raising of children in general – but this ignores the heart of the argument, to wit, it is the owner of the uterus/ovaries/fallopian tubes who gets to the decision.

The state does not have the right to dictate decisions that affect the health and bodily autonomy of its residents/citizens. It can suggest, it can make widely accessible things that are likely to improve the health and wellbeing of the country (e.g. flu vaccines, birth control – thank you NHS), but it cannot and should not actively legislate within the borders of the human body.

The purpose of the state and legislative structures are to manage the resources and interactions of a millions-strong community. Sex and pregnancy have nothing to do with anyone or anything other than the people having sex or providing the egg/sperm. A fertilized egg is not a citizen in need of protection from person in whom it exists. The person in whom a fertilized egg may implant, however, is a citizen in need of protection against those who would presume to dictate what they do with their organs.

If pro-life activists really wanted fewer abortions, they would support access to contraception and sexual education – two things that are statistically proven to reduce abortion rates. But they don’t, because what they are really interested in is limiting the choices available to women so that women’s sexual behaviour is in line with what they think is appropriate.

Without bodily autonomy, women are not free, and to imprison women in their own bodies – that is the real crime.

Further reading;
UN states told they must legalise abortion (Guardian)

Arguments in favour of abortion (BBC Ethics Guide)

Images of Boehner from Keep your boehner our of my uterus tumblr
Poster from Protectchoice.org

2012

via livius.org

Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.
– Heraclitus

let’s ignore the sexism and hope that the ‘man means everyone’ is more valid in Ancient Greek diction

The arrival of the New Year generally inspires a backward glance – recalling major events, highs and lows. The older I get, and the world being as it is, it always seems that much easier to find evidence that we’re a self-destructive species at the mercy of natural disasters and our reliance on exploiting non-renewable resources, and each other, in our quest for survival and dominance.

I was going to list a small sample of the bad things, but it’s just too depressing for this post. I’m sure you can think of plenty.

The thing is, there are so many people in my life that inspire hope in spite of that – not because they are necessarily saving the world, but because they are kind, creative, intelligent and interested people who do fun and interesting things all the time, which reminds me that this is not only possible, but that it’s the best way we can be.

If it didn’t smack of un-provable evo-psych nonsense, I’d be tempted to say it’s the way we are naturally inclined to be when not forced by circumstance to be otherwise. Which is to say, most people probably do have their own small but interesting milieu in which they can be creative and kind; whatever the larger political or financial movements may be, someone’s probably still making tea and cookies for their friends, or writing a play, or painting.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t pervasive beliefs held by otherwise decent people that help to perpetuate injustice, but that, excluding a select, super-villain-y few, most have the ability and inclination to change for the better, to examine their beliefs and politics when provided with the opportunity to do so, and amend them if they are found wanting.

I stumbled across the following yesterday on Free Will Astrology (don’t judge me):

I’m reminded of Jung’s formula, which is that we don’t so much solve our problems as we outgrow them. We add capacities and experiences that eventually make us bigger than the problems.

That just sounds about right, doesn’t it? Think of the things that kept you up at night when you were a child, or ten years ago, or five. Sure, we can get retrospectively angry about the things that upset us at the time, but the real annoyance is usually that, were we faced with the same situation now, we would handle it better – we’d be less afraid or intimidated or anxious, because we’d be better informed and more experienced at handling similar conflicts.

If we can extrapolate from the individual to the group, then we could assume that human society, too, can grow past its problems, that the combined capacities of the 7 billion people (or so) alive today, and the experiences of our ancestors, means that we are collectively getting better. That, theoretically, humanity could reach a point equivalent to self-actualization.

It is our capacity to change, and to imagine things as other than they are, that allows us to carry on even when things seem overwhelmingly dire. So I hope, then, for 2012, that we as a species have the opportunity to abandon that which is damaging to us, and pursue that which allows us to be our best selves, so that we can outgrow our problems.

And as an individual, I hope I can remember that, and get bigger than a few problems of my own.

further reading

“Formal or informal Saudi complicity, whether from sympathy or to buy internal peace, are real Acts of War.”

Steve Marlowe examines post 9/11 America, and just how much democratic freedom has been given up.

In Which I Learn that I Know Nothing

I am currently learning how to be not good at something.

At the grand old age of 31 there is little that some analytical thinking skills, Google, and a penknife can’t help me figure out. Adulthood is full of all sorts of little disappointments and accidents, but one does eventually get quite good at the basic business of getting through the day.

Chuck Norris

image from chucknorris.com

After several years of waffling, I have finally recommenced with martial arts. I took Tae Kwon Do classes (as well as swimming and diving and piano and acting), when I was a kid. No one will soon be mistaking me for Chuck Norris after my handful of lessons in Hapkido.

I am generally a pretty confident person, convinced, by and large, of my own general competence. In my new uniform, which feels stiff and gigantic, I am shy and apologetic. I ‘ki-hap’ (that’s the shout-y bit) as quietly as I can. I say ‘yes ma’am’ awkwardly to our Saboumnim. Everyone in my class is more experienced than me – they help teach me the five or six things I have learned so far, they give me tips on technique, they tell me I am doing well – and I am embarrassed, and afraid they are bored, or that I will do something wrong and hurt them.

At least once per class I fight down tears of frustration. Anger, sometimes, because how come these people have to tell me what to do? How come they have to witness my ignorance and point it out? And also why do they have to grab my wrist so hard?

And then I remember, this is what it is to begin. It is not my wrist that hurts, it is my ego. Everyone does know more than me, and I can’t learn what they know unless they tell me what to do. They are not judging me – how could I know something I haven’t yet been taught?

Why am I ashamed that I am not good at it yet? Because I am used to being good at things. I am used to feeling, more or less, equal in general knowledge and skills to the with whom people I regularly interact. Which is not to say that this is true, merely that I can move through the world as if it is true. These classes are challenging that. In a very physical way.

And yet, the red-faced moments pass. I keep on kicking or punching or blocking as I am told, and as I keep going, those moments get shorter. And that happens because I am learning to accept that of course I don’t know, that is not bad, it’s just a statement of fact. That I learn when I listen and do as I’m told, when I stop resisting the fact of my own ignorance. It doesn’t mean I know nothing, it just means I haven’t learned this yet.

I’m guessing learning not to get mad at myself will be at least as valuable as the throwing-attackers-and-breaking-their-arm move.

There is no such thing as ‘too smart’

Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocre minds. The latter cannot understand it when a [wo]man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his [or her] intelligence and fulfills the duty to express the results of his [or her] thoughts in clear form.

– Albert Einstein

There are many ways in which women are spoken to and of by other people, and by the media, that separates them from ‘normal people’ (i.e. men), .

Stern faced men, striding down the city streets, are never shouted at by passerby ‘go on, luv, give us a smile’. Men do not have to deal with the aggressiveness of total strangers when the smile so demanded is not forthcoming.

Adverts don’t assume that men emerge triumphant from the kitchen after their children request more peas, or nod and laugh victoriously after eliminating 99.9% of bacteria from food preparation surfaces with the cunning use of bleach. Men are not shown vacuuming.

Men are not told that they are ‘too smart’.

Yesterday, I was told by a colleague that I was ‘too smart’ to work in the industry in which I am currently employed.

Has this individual ever said such a thing to any male, and surely amply intelligent, coworkers?

I take great pride in my intelligence, as I think it is one of the most important traits a person can cultivate. Any person who shows a curiosity and a willingness to learn should be encouraged. Without the critical analysis spurred by informed curiosity, civilization would stagnate. Intelligence is required to interact with the world, to acquire new skills and supplement pre-existing knowledge. Intelligence provides the confidence to challenge what is, and ask if it could not, perhaps, be improved upon.

To be intelligent is to be willing to challenge authority. I wish I were more intelligent. There are so many questions that, tackled by informed, intelligent people, could be answered to the betterment of humanity. I am waiting for a room of engaged, smart people to achieve world peace, cure AIDS, end climate change, and create a solid prime-time line-up on broadcast tv. A room of over-privileged, supercilious ignoramuses is what tends to cause the world’s serious problems in the first place.

So why am I, and I suspect many other women, labeled (in what I’m sure is meant to be a complimentary tone) ‘too smart’? Well, we are expressing dissatisfaction, we are noticing the flaws and failings around us, drawing attention to them, and demanding something better. We are refusing to play by the rules, refusing to accept the game as it is, insisting that it should be changed. We are, to use classically feminist vocab, pointing out the patriarchy to the patriarchs, and that tends to make them a little uncomfortable.

Why? Because it wasn’t them personally who created a culture and infrastructure that just happens to create an inter-institutional bias towards white, cis, straight, abled, (upper) middle class men, just like they didn’t personally have slaves or invade other countries killing off swathes of the local populous so they could steal their resources and claim the land for some monarch or other. They just happen to benefit from being one of history’s winners. They didn’t ask to be born.

So they don’t feel that they should be punished for their success. They earned it! They work hard and just because they happen to fit into the system so neatly doesn’t mean their work, their effort, should be devalued. No, it is they who will change the world, by playing the system from the inside! He will master the game, reach the pinnacle of power and influence, and then, like a benevolent leader, lean down and lend a hand to all those ‘other’ people left outside the clubhouse while he was learning the secret handshake.

As Audre Lorde (not a white guy) famously wrote “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”. Does this well-meaning, accidentally (I hope) patronizing individual really think he’s going to save us all by becoming like, say, Rupert Murdoch? And even if he does, where the fuck does he get off implying that my using my brain somehow precludes me from achieving a position or sphere of influence whereby I might change the world for the better?

But you see, in a mind like that, formed by the life experience he’s had thus far, a woman cannot do it. To win, one must play the game. To play the game well, one must be smart. And to be smart and a woman is to refuse to play the game because a moment’s thought reveals it to be a steaming pile of factory-farmed-chicken manure.

In condescendingly implying that I should take my educated little head somewhere else, this person unconsciously reflects his own investment in the status quo, where someone like me can’t win because I do not mindlessly respect the existing authority enough to become part of it (as he implicitly can and happily does).

I do not quietly accept what is, I actively point out if something is sexist or bigoted or just generally not cricket. I do not assume that money is the only measure of value. I do not aspire to create pablum for the dribbling and unwashed masses to distract them from their own existential crises, nor do I think accepting that as the duty of media is anything other than a grave insult to the human species.

To live as if success is predicated on treating one’s professional life like a game of Monopoly is to right up there with assuming all relationships have the same narrative arc as Pretty Woman – massively over-simplified and ultimately self defeating.

Here’s the thing. Life isn’t a game, there are not winners and losers. Life, society, culture, everything, is a process, massively complicated because it involves about 7 billion living people, and plenty more dead ones.

There is no such thing as a woman that is ‘too smart’, only people who are too foolish to listen to her.


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