Friday 10 October 2014

What to Wear, What to Wear?

I’d like to go on record as being a big fan of the vagina.  Always have been.  Heck, some of the best human beings I know have one.   Me too, for that matter.  Yes, the wonders of the va-jay-jay are numerous, not least of which the ability to expel a fully-formed human being anytime, anywhere.  (Well, not quite, but you get what I mean.)  Limericks have been written about them.  Monologues, even.  I’ll tell you, there’s not one gadget you can buy from a late-night infomercial that will come close to the feats performed on a regular basis by the average set of lady parts.  And I don’t care HOW good Dyson is at improving existing designs; they are never going to be able to better the vagina.  Unless they figure out how to keep it from leaking every time you sneeze…But I digress.

However, as much as I admire the range and ability of your garden variety hoo-haw, I think I could quite happily live the rest of my days without seeing one more of them packed into a pair of whisper-thin tights or yoga pants.  Too much information is just…too much.  No matter how gorgeous you think every bit of your bottom half is, ladies, I’m here to tell you:  no one needs to see that.  No one.  At least not the general population you’ll run into during the course of a day.  Your bus driver?  Tim Horton’s worker?  Your grandma?  I think I can safely say that none of these individuals are going to have a better day for taking a gander at your nether regions.  Last time I checked, that much detail belonged in a Wikipedia entry, not below your belt. 
I get it:  You want your freedom.  Knowingly or not, you are rebelling against a misogynistic system that until fairly recently had women draped in enough material to giftwrap the Q.E.II.  Skirts that were constricting, awkward and just plain inconvenient for doing anything more than gliding through life like a geisha in training.  Pantyhose that managed to strangle your lulu within twenty minutes of getting dressed.  Been there, girlfriend.  Been there, got the chafe marks, not planning on going back.  Neither am I going to force complete strangers to witness how I fill out my drawers.  There are things that you just can’t un-see.

Speaking of un-seeing things, this summer I was the unfortunate recipient of a meme on Facebook that showed the latest in men’s swim wear:  the string lateral flash thong.  Basically it’s a slingshot that wraps around a males’ hip and leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination.  I can’t conceive of the audience for this piece of ickiness.  Who needs to see a banana in a hammock, especially when that hammock is the size of a regulation rubber band?  Certainly not me. 
I’m not too worried, though.  Men are nothing if not loyal to what’s come before.  Witness the underwear drawer of the average male:  packed to the gills with undies held together with no more than a molecule’s-worth of fabric and a prayer, stretched, stained and fading like a prairie sunset.  Individuals willing to put these shreds on their bodies are not going to run out to buy the latest mankini, especially if all it consists of is a millimeter-thin scrap that displays their junk to the last microscopic (ahem) detail.  As hard as it is to believe I’m saying this, men have more discretion than that. 

I asked my husband to weigh in on the tights debacle recently.  He is Jamaican, and probably one of the least uptight, least judgmental individuals I have met in all my years.  I fully expected him, as “live and let live” as he is, not to bat an eyelash at all of this vacuum-packed vag.  Yet even he was scandalized by what women are wearing these days, all in the name of comfort/fashion.  Not that it’s for the benefit of men that I’m ranting on this subject.  Not at all. 
As a woman of the 21st century, I believe we have every right to put on our bodies whatever the heck we want, from burqa to bikini, with no apologies to anyone.  But as I’ve asked before, just because you can do something, does that mean you should do something?  Sure, I could put on a tutu and clown makeup to go to work if I wanted, but it doesn’t mean it’s a smart option.  There’s a homeless man I see all the time who wears mukluks and a parka all year long, no matter how hot the weather.  Then again, I’m pretty certain that he is mentally ill and he likely doesn’t have a choice, either. 

What I’m trying to say is that, as thinking modern women, we can do better for ourselves.  We don’t need to go to the lowest common denominator, do we?  Crocs were bad enough.  Stretchy pants that look like they’ve been sprayed on?  Are they really the best we can do?  I’d like to point out that you don’t see men wandering around in tights, even though they almost always value comfort above all.  You know why?  Because they would look ridiculous, and they know it.  Imagine a world where eighty percent of men walked around in skin-tight bike shorts.  Would you love the look?  Would it be appropriate?   What if men decided to wear them to the bar?  To school?  To work?  Would you need that much anatomical accuracy in your sightline every single day?  I’m thinking that your answer might fall somewhere on the negative side of things, but maybe I’m wrong…
If you want to be comfortable when you’re lounging at home or working out at the gym, that’s fine.  If you’re genetically fortunate enough to have a nice booty and you want to shake it at the bar, great.  Do whatever the heck you want, but please, I’m begging you.  Save something, even if it’s only your dignity.  Put a skirt over those tights.  Wear a long shirt over them and do your best throwback to the 1990’s.  Cover.  It.  Up.

Can you imagine your grandmother in a pair of tights?  Your mother?  Your great aunt Sally?  You can’t, can you?  That’s because these women were raised to believe (correctly, in my opinion) that displaying their naughty bits to all and sundry isn’t (wait for it) classy.    
There.  I’ve said it.  The “c” word.  (No, not THAT one.)  I am well aware that in these days of political correctness, it’s taboo to actually say that something is objectionable.  It’s all “different strokes for different strokes” and “nobody cares” and “no worries”.  To state an opinion that isn’t vague and inoffensive to every single creature on the planet is looked upon as being the next best thing to a dinosaur.  Me, I’m from the Late Cretaceous. 

I know I sound like some oldster, waving her bony finger and “tsking” under her breath, but I don’t care.  What is that saying?  “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything?”  Well, I’d like to know who decided that this particular something was a good thing.  Because as I see it (and BOY, have I seen it!), it’s most definitely NOT. 
Ladies, we are not lemmings.  We do not need to follow every trending thing and say “Me too!”.  We just don’t. As thinking human beings, we can decide that swathing our undercarriages with black lycra is just not how we want to roll.  We don’t have to be lazy and wear the same damned thing every day, just because it’s “easy”.  Please.  If that’s your only criteria, why not wear a bathrobe and slippers everywhere?  As independent women, we can say that we know what is appropriate apparel for the great big world out yonder and just wear that.  It’s not like there aren’t a whole lot of options for us.  Far more than men, when you come right down to it.  Which is why deciding that tights or yoga pants are our only choice ninety percent of our lives is just silly.  

Say it with me gals:  Tights aren’t pants.  Tights aren’t pants.  That’s it.  Just keep repeating it until you believe it. 
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a bone to pick with those “socks and sandals” folks…




Sunday 14 September 2014

No References. No Kidding.

Hey kids, gather ‘round.  Let me tell you about the latest game that’s all the rage with Canadian employers.  It’s called “No References”, and it’s coming soon to a job market near you.

Having recently found myself in the uncomfortable position of being unemployed, I have been doing my darnedest to reverse that situation.  I scan websites, make cold calls, and follow up every lead I get, looking for what is the Holy Grail of the jobless:  a decently-paid position within a reasonable commute which doesn’t involve illegal behavior or selling pencils from a cup at midnight on a street corner. 

Let me tell you:  “challenging” just doesn’t go far enough when describing this particular peach of a situation.  Collecting an old debt would be easier.  Countless phone calls to people I may or may not know, flogging my skills and experience like a carnival barker at a freak show.  (“Hurry, hurry!  Step right up!  See the woman who learned to type on a…typewriter!!”)  Following up even the smallest lead, only to find that the job in question pays just enough for me and my boys to comfortably starve to death, doing something I’m not even qualified to do.  However, like scraps thrown to a starving dog, I’m still grateful for every tip, because one of those chunks of gristle might hold the key to survival.  I’m not picky, mind you.  Anything that vaguely resembles an admin. assistant position will do, as long as I can pay my rent and keep the lights on. 

Which isn’t to say I have no standards.  Sure, getting my dream job would be nice.  Something involving a landslide of copy-editing and writing.  Something that would allow me to be creative and useful and pay enough to run a second-hand car and pay my bills and occasionally be able to take my boys out for a treat.  But if I’ve learned anything in my forty-five years, it’s that dreams are fine, but you can’t feed your family or keep a roof over your head with them.  Reality is the only way to go.

Which brings me back to that game I was talking about.  On one of my recent interviews, I was told that one of the references I’d given had refused to give me one.  The reason?  The company they worked for now has a policy of (get this) not giving out references.  That’s right, folks.  You can work somewhere for years, come in early, leave late, work hard, volunteer for extra projects, the whole schmeer and still end up with nothing to show for it but confirmation from an HR schmuck that:   a)yes, this tool did work for us and b) they worked from Date X to Date Y.  Keep in mind that this applies whether you were Employee of the Year of the doofus who spent every workday taking two hour lunches and running the office hockey pool when you were supposed to be earning your keep. 

Needless to say, this discovery left me a bit red-faced during my interview.  A reference that wouldn’t actually give a reference?  Hmmm.  Sherlock Holmes I’m not, but I figured this needed immediate investigation.  It didn’t sound right or fair or even remotely logical.

So I checked it out.  I talked to some professional headhunters, and they confirmed this ridiculousness.  Nowadays, more and more employers simply refuse to supply former employees with references, no matter what the circumstances of their departure.  It’s a CYA (Cover Your...Ahem) ploy, used to limit employer’s liability for people who no longer work for them.  I can understand it, to a point.  Likely their head offices are telling them that going on record as endorsing a former employee might get them into trouble down the road.  I mean, what if said employee uses that reference to secure a new position and then goes on to commit fraud or burn down the building at their new place of employment?  What if said employee uses a reference as evidence to sue for wrongful dismissal?  What if I bump into Idris Elba in an elevator and he takes one look at me and falls madly in love?  Trust me.  In this world, anything is possible, but not nearly as much is probable

Companies who deny references to former employees (the regular kind, I mean, the ones who just want to find another job and get on with their lives) are playing the most cynical kind of game.  Do they not realize that all they are doing is creating an adversary out of someone who might otherwise have been an endorsement for them?  Because this “no reference” baloney applies to everyone, even the people who left on good terms, for whatever reason.  A woman who leaves to start a family and years later is trying to get back into the job market?  Screwed.  A summer student who leaves to go back to school and is then looking for their first “real” job, desperate for a decent reference?  Screwed.

What these employers fail to see is that this “no reference” thing is eventually going to come back to bite them in the butt.  Because as my friends in the headhunting business point out, once everyone starts denying references, no one will be able to check anyone’s reference.  And then where will we all be? 

Yeah, you got it.  Out of a job. 

Friday 7 February 2014

Good News Is...No News?

The Biebs is back in the news, and I’ve noticed something:  the worse he behaves, the more newsworthy he becomes.  Or at least that’s what the popular media wants you to believe.  This teenage phenom, this PR agents’ worst nightmare is…everywhere.  Facebook, TV, radio, Twitter.  He’s probably being discussed at your granny’s bridge game right now, for pity’s sake.  Just this morning I heard that his concert video “Never Say Never” made seventy-seven million dollars, while his recent “Believe” video has “only” made six million.  (Which of course would be enough to feed and clothe the population of several Third World countries, but I digress.)  It seems that we, the public, enjoy seeing another human being play the fool.  Or do we?  Is it just that we’ve been conditioned to pay attention to bad news and disregard good news as "fluff"??
According to those who determine what is newsworthy, happiness is less than riveting and success (depending on the field of endeavour) is worthy of contempt.  “Feel-good” stories are maybe worth a few lines while failure is the stuff of endless magazine covers.  At least, that’s how it plays out in the media.  Now I think most of us are aware that teenage girls love a bad boy, but I don’t think we knew that middle-aged news media editors did, too.  Which I find more than a little disturbing, frankly.
While we’re all busy crucifying young Justin, we need to remember that the Biebs is just another dippy nineteen year-old kid, the age where most people are still working at Subway or zoning out on their parents’ couch, playing Xbox 360 till the wee hours.  Remember:  he’s a kid, a talented one, who started out with nothing but a voice, a guitar and a Youtube video.  He became popular before he had his permanent molars, and was vilified by kids and grownups alike as being a “sellout” at the tender age of twelve.  What? 
My twins are ten and a half, and the idea of them being idolized and/or despised by millions of strangers is inconceivable.  Just getting them to take a bath is a challenge.  I can only imagine the choices they would make if they were handed everything they wanted from now on, were obliged to work like adults and left to their own devices to while away their spare time.  No doubt even they (despite my best parenting efforts) would get to a point where egging neighbour’s houses and racing Lamborghinis at three in the morning might sound like a neat-o plan.  What do they say?  “Too much of anything is a bad thing”? 
And did you hear about Madonna?  I’d be surprised if you didn’t.  Miz Ciccone goofed up majorly the other day, using the “n” word in a tweet.  All I could think when I read that on Facebook was “Oh, Madge, how far you’ve fallen.”  She was on the cutting edge of absolutely everything at one point, and now she’s hanging on to fame with a death grip any WWE champ would envy.  (And here’s a tip for you, M:  once you’re accessories start wearing you (cane, anyone??), it’s time to leave the party.  I’m just sayin’.)
My point?  Nobody in the media gave a rat’s ass about Madonna (at least, not in comparison to her good old Blonde Ambition days) until she decided the best way to encourage her son as a boxer was to Tweet a racial slur, a ham-handed attempt at sounding hip and happening.  Lordy.  Prior to that, Madonna was no news:  just another wacky artiste in a goofy hat at the Grammies.  (I mean, even Pharrell Williams couldn’t pull that one off.)  However, once she’d put her foot in her mouth and wiggled her piggies for a while, she was the week’s hot news.  According to the media. 
Have you noticed, though, that you aren’t hearing anything about Lady Gaga?  Where is the drama?  All she seems to do is tour, perform and post particularly heartfelt, politically correct comments on Facebook.  She’s not out getting drunk and taking a swing at Ri-Ri in some bar in Cannes.  She’s not adopting random children from poor countries in order to up her street cred.  The woman is making a bazillion dollars a minute, recording catchy new tunes at the speed of light, getting nominated for multiple awards, and she rates barely a line in the tabloids.  She is working hard and being successful and apparently, that isn’t worth hearing about.  Perhaps if she staggers out of the surf on some beach in Thailand and exposes her naughty bits, we’ll hear about it.  But ‘til then, she’s one big yawn.  According to the media.
It’s not like I’m Lady G’s biggest fan.  I’m just trying to make the point that the media decides what is news, and they decide what isn’t news.  And according to the media, right here and now, the misguided adventures of some goofy Canadian kid are worth flogging to death, like so many dead horses.  That kid is in trouble, and giving in to the media’s siren song to pay even more attention to him isn’t going to help.  So quit with the online petitions to give him to the States.  They’ve already got Kanye West and the entire Kardashian family to put up with.  Give ‘em a break. 
I’ve heard what people are saying:  that there was a whole generation of nineteen year-olds who fought and died fighting the Nazis during WWII.  That the Biebs is just a spoiled brat, who deserves whatever malice he gets, in the media or otherwise.  To some extent I agree with them, but are we really expecting a kid born in 1994 to act the same way as the generation that lived through the Great Depression and came of age during a world war? 
Anyways, all that is beside the point:  The point IS:  Jazzy Justin is NOT newsworthy.  We’ve got millions of kids starving and dying in multiple Third World countries.  We’ve got a First World filled to the brim with obesity.  We’ve got a government that seems completely out of touch with what the average Canadian taxpayer needs.  We’ve got polar ice caps melting at the speed of sound, child porn all over the internet and pipelines exploding here, there and everywhere.  If the media is determined to focus on bad news, they should at least focus on things that are actually worthy of notice.  The antics of one overindulged teen heartthrob are most definitely not.    
And that’s something you can “beliebe” in….


Sunday 19 January 2014

And For My Next Trick...

Now I’m no Houdini, but I’d like you to know that I am able to perform a little magic. In fact, I’m getting ready to do one of my most amazing tricks in March. I’m currently preparing to make what I dearly hope is my last trip to visit my darling husband in Jamaica. Not that I don’t love him or Jamaica. I do, most emphatically. It’s just that I’d far prefer it if he lived here in Canada with me, rather than thousands of miles away in the sunny Caribbean. That’s not the trick, though.

You want to know how I can do magic? Just watch as I transform myself from a pale, flabby slab of middle-aged mom to a voluptuous sex-bomb with legs a mile long and milky white skin to die for. My figure will miraculously metamorphose (with no smoke or mirrors) from fat to fabulous, from extra-large to extra luscious. Men will whistle, call me beautiful, smile at me with a glint in their eyes. I will literally be able to stop traffic with just a smile. And how will I perform this bit of witchery? Well, it’s simple really. I just have to transport myself (via Westjet) several thousand clicks due south of here to a little slice of paradise called Jamaica. I’ll walk off the airplane into Sangster International and POOF…I will instantaneously become sex on a stick. The Canadian Marilyn Monroe. No lie.

You think I’m kidding, don’t you? It’s impossible to believe. I know. Here at home, I am ignored, dissed and dismissed by Canadian men as a woman of a certain age, generally nothing special. I don’t fit the anemic Western ideal of beauty as personified by busty young stick insects such as Gisele Bundchen and Scarlett Johansson. (Side note: Just so you know, fellas, God is very fair. S/He didn’t lump (hah!) fat gals with flat chests. Nor did S/He gift skinny chicks with (naturally) huge tatas. You see girls with tiny bums and huge boobs? One word for you: implants. Either that, or eating disorder. Dat’s da fac’, Jack.) Here, the idea of men doing a double-take as I walk by is laughable. In Jamaica, it’s a regular occurrence. And you wonder why I love being there?

Frankly, this transformation from blah to bodacious was wholly unexpected. The first time I went to Jamaica, I was already accustomed to the idea that being pale and built like I currently am would guarantee my invisibility to the opposite sex. Truthfully, the first time I had a handsome Jamaican man smile at me with “that look”, I wondered if he was legally blind. I actually turned around to see who was behind me. It was unnerving. I kept expecting a film crew to show up and tell me I was being punked. Then my Jamaican friends and I went to Negril for the day, stopped at a roadside bar for a drink on the way, and I discovered something wonderful.

As with most bars in Jamaica and elsewhere around the world, there were posters with half-naked women plastered all over the place. The thing I noticed about these women was that they were kind of like…me. Size-wise, anyway. Not one of them was tiny. Not one of them looked she had even a remote desire to be tiny. These were curvy, voluptuous, drop-dead gorgeous women who didn’t look like they spent one single second worrying if their butts were too big. And there were definitely a lot of butts on display.

I told the Jamaicans I was with that those women would be considered fat back home in Canada. At first they laughed, thinking I was kidding them, the crazy white lady in their midst. As they began to understand that I wasn’t joking, they were dumbfounded. They wanted to know what the models back home looked like in comparison. When I described the typical size zero to them, what I think resembles a twelve-year-old boy with double D breasts, they couldn’t understand. “Women are supposed to have hips and breasts and thighs!” they cried. They found it creepy that any man would want a woman that was built like a boy. They looked at the posters again and said that women were supposed to be curvy. As for me, I didn’t really know what to think. I’d spent so many years immersed in Western culture, bombarded with images of super-skinny models and actresses (Nicole Kidman, anyone?), that the Jamaican models looked odd to me.

Before I go any further, I want you to know that I know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking that this is all pretty damned convenient for an (ahem) larger female such as myself. How nice would it be to just forget the whole struggle to lose weight and declare myself perfect just as I am and damn the consequences? I’ll admit, it is horribly tempting. However, I do have a brain, and that brain is more concerned with my health than how I’m perceived by the opposite sex. Just as I’m not going to starve myself to make myself more desirable to Canadian men, I’m not going to ignore my health to look sexy to Jamaican ones. All I’m saying is that it was refreshing to see another interpretation of beauty; one that wasn’t focused solely on being thin. It was nice to think I didn’t have to be a size four to feel good about myself. Funny how that realization allowed me to just relax and enjoy myself for the rest of my trip, rather than worry about whether or not I looked fat in my bathing suit.

Another glaring issue: how much of this admiration is based on me and how much on how poor a lot of these men are? Are they just smiling at me because they see what they think is a rich white tourist who might be their meal ticket out of the country? No doubt. I’m not so na├»ve to think that I’m the bomb dot com at the tender age of forty-five. Stupid, I’m not.

All I’m saying is that it was a breath of fresh air for this forty-five-year-old who had spent the past fifteen years beating myself up for not looking like I did when I was fifteen. To accept that at this point in my life, this is what I am: a grown woman who has borne three (count ’em) beautiful sons, laughed and smiled and cried and weathered all sorts of storms (literal and figurative) with the attendant sagging and stretch marks and wrinkles and scars. Yes, I do need to lose weight. There’s no doubt of that. In the meantime, there is a distinct relief in knowing that there is a place I can go and feel beautiful JUST AS I AM, with no apologies to anyone.  

There’s another magic trick I can perform. Besides transforming from Harried Hausfrau to Va-Va-Voom Veronica, I can also disappear. Yup, I can completely disappear. All I have to do is come back to Canada. Faster than you can say “liposuction” I become invisible to the male population. Not that that it is my prime motivator. But humans are wired to notice if they attract attention, positive or negative. It would be ridiculous to say they aren’t. If no one cared about how they were perceived in the world, why would any of us look in a mirror? We all know that we are judged by our outward appearance every day. So when you look around every day and see how middle-aged women are regarded by our culture as just so many overripe bananas in the bottom of the fruit bowl, it doesn’t really set you up to feel particularly valued or confident. Frankly, you feel like you need to apologize for yourself, which is ridiculous.

In Jamaica, I feel powerful, confident and sexy. I feel unique. Yet when I’m in Canada, I feel like I’m largely ignored. (Except by my kids, for my talents of talking on the phone while making PB&J’s and sorting laundry with my feet, of course.) I resent this on many levels, but mainly because I finally feel like I have something to offer the world other than youth and beauty, yet because I’m “old” and fat, the only people who notice me are those flogging wrinkle creams and Depends. What I’d like is to see acceptance for diversity in our culture’s concept of beauty. I want people (read: Canadian men and the fashion industry) to realize that women do not have to look like Victoria’s Secret models to be worth noticing and valuing. I want Canadian women to realize that. Forget that: I want to remember to value myself just as I am, even when I’m not in Jamaica.

That would probably be the best trick of all.

Thursday 21 November 2013

Take a Ride On the Riled Side

On a frigid day like today (minus twenty-five with the wind chill), I’d like you all to think about the bus riders out there.  You know, those hardy souls who put up with cold and wet and snow in order to utilize our oh-so-convenient public transit, thereby preventing a few of the greenhouse emissions that will eventually kill us all.  Thanks to us, you’ve got a little longer to enjoy the planet.  You’re welcome.

Yes, we also serve who only stand and wait.  And wait.  And wait.  (Don’t let anyone tell you that there’s a bus handy when you need it.)  Winnipeg Transit used to have a slogan:  “Ride Above It All”.  But when you’re standing at a bus stop in January, unable to feel anything below knee-level, you don’t really feel like you’re above anything.  Unless maybe you’re so cold you’re having an out-of-body experience, looking down at your poor shivering self, way down below, frozen to the spot. 

Whether you believe it or not, there’s a price to be paid for every single one of you that decides that they can’t deal with taking the bus.  Pollution is the obvious one.  Someone’s got to take up the slack for you folks who decide you need your Tim’s or your Starbuck’s, and you can’t live without your McMuffin.  So all of us riders deal with the wasted time and the cruddy weather while you guys have your treats and get up half an hour later, just because you think you can. 

As far as I’m concerned, there are only two groups that deserve a pass on this issue:  those with physical challenges (confined to wheelchairs, for example) and parents of small children.  Because if you’ve ever had to haul a baby in a stroller and/or a toddler in a snowsuit (the equivalent weight being a drunken sumo wrestler tied to a boat anchor) any distance, you’ll know that it is soul-crushing to add public transportation into the mix. 

But all you able-bodied, child-free people?  Come on.  Get off your butts and out of your vehicles and face facts.  The world isn’t going to support your behaviour for much longer, either by design or by accident.  At some point, you will have to lower your First World standards to include a little thing called “reality”.  And that will involve not being comfortable and warm and sufficiently hydrated and fed every twenty minutes.  Come on coffee drinkers:  you can make it half an hour without your cuppa joe, can’t you?  Aren't we tough-as-nails Winnipeggers?

You should say a prayer of thanks for all of us brave bus riders.  Brave, not just in the sense that we brave the elements.  No, we are dragon-slaying-type brave.  We share our personal space (sometimes a bit too personally) with the widest variety of the human spectrum on a daily basis.  I’ve seen all kinds of socially unacceptable behaviour, from swearing and yelling to actual fights.  I’ve endured body odors, morning breath, perfume and cologne by the reeking gallon, and garlic breath that could bring down a healthy bull elephant without much effort. 

I’ve been ogled, stared at, chatted up and bored to tears by over-sharing strangers who felt the need to connect with someone.  Anyone, in fact.  I’ve been subjected to all kinds of too-loud music, from thrash metal to hip-hop, whether through crappy headphones or no headphones at all.  I’ve played witness to groping, snogging and make-out sessions that, try as I might, I just can’t un-see. 

But no matter what a pain in the butt it can be, there are still good things about riding Transit Tom.  Feeling morally superior is (obviously) one thing.  Being able to snag twenty or thirty minutes more sleep is pretty awesome.  Catching up on some reading is always sweet.  Not having to worry about finding a parking spot ranks pretty high.  And paying just eighty-four dollars for an entire month’s worth of transportation is fabulous, considering the high price of gas.  Besides all that, it’s just the right thing to do.  It is.  This planet is gasping for breath, and the last thing it needs is another line of gas-guzzling vehicles clogging up the roads or idling at the local coffee shop. 

So:  you think your daily commute is a pain?  Trust me:  if you saw what we put up with on transit, you’d shake our hands.  Maybe even buy us a Timmy’s at the next drive-through. 

Amen to that. 

Sunday 3 November 2013

Halloweenies, unite!!

Now that Hallowe’en is done and dusted for another year, I thought I’d put in my two cents about the occasion.  I absolutely adore Hallowe’en.  I think it’s the best day of the year, bar none.  You know why?  Because of all the holidays, it’s potentially the smartest.  It forces you to think, and I’m a huge fan of thinking.  Probably to my detriment, but that’s another story.  I just like the fact that Hallowe’en encourages creativity and levels the playing field for the Sheldon Coopers among us.  You can be smart, witty even, and you are actually admired for it.  The geekiest kids can be popular on Hallowe’en, unlike the rest of the year, when being intelligent is regarded by most of their peers as showing off. 

Of all the holidays, I think Hallowe’en rates as the smartest, while Valentine’s is at the bottom of the list.  To me, Valentine’s is a no-brainer, and not in a good way.  Everything’s laid out for you, right down to the colours, the flowers, the verbiage.  Of course, as my eldest son pointed out to me, creativity can play a part in Valentine's.  Let's face it, though:  if you really want to do St. V.’s on auto-pilot, you definitely can.  Not that I don’t enjoy getting all the usual Valentine’s gewgaws, but it isn’t a thinking person’s observation.  I mean, anyone with the cash can walk into a flower shop, buy a dozen roses and give them to someone.  Not just anyone can think of and put together a memorable and witty costume.   

Hallowe’en is smart and sassy, shocking sometimes, but never boring.  My kids wonder why I put so much effort into making our costumes every year.  They always want me to buy them superhero getups or creepy masks.  At least, they did when they were little, before yours truly brainwashed them into thinking that Hallowe’en is an excellent chance to showcase their creativity, their individuality.  Why be one of a hundred Spidermen, when you can be one of the few Roman centurions or the lone undead bellhop?   

When my boys were small I used to tell them I couldn’t afford to buy them costumes.  That was true, but it wasn’t the real reason.  Even if I could have afforded to buy them, I wouldn’t have.  Why?  Because as far as I’m concerned, buying a costume is another no-brainer.  It’s the antithesis of what I believe is the spirit of Hallowe’en.  What creativity or thought does it take to spend forty bucks on a costume that’s going to fall apart in a day?  I'm well aware that lots of people (some of my very good friends) buy their costumes.  They say they aren’t creative or have no time to make one.  I get it.  Different strokes for different folks.  But if I had to pick between store-bought and homemade, it’s homemade every time.  Far better to make your own and fly your freak flag as high as you possibly can.  

Great costumes are ones that you have to appreciate, if for no other reason than the thought that’s behind them.  My friend Jessica does elaborate costumes each year, but it’s not just the workmanship that blows me away.  It’s the fact that she spends so much time pondering what she’s going to be.  Like any Hallowe’en aficionado, she regularly comes up with a costume that is original and reveals a great deal of thought.  When you see her all kitted out, you just have to smile and be amazed at what she’s created. 
Don't get me wrong:  I love Christmas as much as the next person.  But there's so much emotional baggage that comes along with that particular holiday for so many of us.  Either we have huge expectations of the perfect family Christmas (and let's face it, whose family is perfect?) or we're missing loved ones or we're stuck being alone for whatever reason.  It's not for nothing that the suicide rate jumps at that time of year.  Christmas can be the toughest day of the entire year, and that's why it isn't my favourite.
Hallowe'en is far less complicated* and usually far more fun as a result.  A costume and some candy, and you're good to go.  Admit it:  who hasn't caught sight of someone dressed up at work or on the street or on the bus and giggled?  Hallowe'en is clever and fun, and aren't those things we could all use a bit of more of in our lives?  So, that's my shout out to Hallowe'en, in all it's smarty pants glory.  Can't wait for next year!
*Please note:  I'll save my rant for how political correctness is ruining the observance of Hallowe'en in schools for another time. 
"The brain is like a muscle.  When it is in use we feel very good.  Understanding is joyous."  - Carl Sagan




Tuesday 15 October 2013

B is for...

My topic today?  Well, it's one of my favourites, one I harp on almost as much as I go on about postpartum depression.  Bullying.  Bullies.  My whole life, my pet peeve has been people that are inconsiderate of others, and I guess it's pretty obvious that bullies fit neatly into that category. 
When I was little, I got bullied.  A lot.  It was partly because I was shy and quiet (hard to believe, I know), and partly because I was different.  I had short hair when all the kids (even the boys, back in those days) had long hair.  I had red hair, was pale and avoided the sun as much as possible, moving from patch of shade to patch of shade like a vampire.  I had an odd name that required me to correct my teacher at the beginning of every school year, since it was my middle name as well.  Confusing, right?  In short, I didn't stand up for myself, and I didn't fit in.
My most memorable experience of being bullied happened fairly early on in elementary school.  I was in Grade One, and two boys in my grade thought it would be awesomely fun to whip me with a broken skipping rope.  My face, my legs, my back.  After running away from them til I couldn't run anymore, I ended up collapsing on the playground, crying.  My older brother came over, hauled me to my feet and took me to the principal's office.  What the principal wanted to know was what had made these boys do this to me.  I had no clue.  It wasn't until high school that I finally asked one of them why he had done it.  "I dunno.  Just felt like it." was his answer.  Fab-o.  It was then that I learned that some bullies do what they do for no better reason than they can
Other bullies came along later in life.  Junior high was one big fun fest, considering that a group of kids in my homeroom used to make fun of me every day.  My clothes, my hair, my glasses, my lack of makeup:  it didn't matter, they ridiculed me for it.  Every.  Single.  Day.  Best part?  One of them was my brother's best friend and the other was my next door neighbour.  When I was at home, they "forgot" about how they treated me at school.  Nice.
By that point of my life, I understood that some bullies did what they did because they were feeling bad about something in themselves.  They hurt, so they hurt someone else.  They were afraid of not fitting in, so they fit in by making fun of others who were even more out of place.  I got it, but it didn't make things any easier.  I had kids tell me to my face how ugly I was.  I had people steal my books and throw them in the garbage.  I got pushed into lockers.  One day, two guys in my grade actually spat on me from the landing above.  This ridiculousness happened all the time, and I prayed for it to stop.  Did I bother to report it, you ask?  Nope.  Who wants to tell their principal that they've been spat on or pushed around or told they're *bleeping* ugly?  I was just glad to get to the end of it (sort of) when high school started.  Three years of misery finally came to an end. 
The thing about bullies, though, is that they grow up, too.  You don't leave them behind once you graduate.  Nope, they come out of the woodwork no matter how old you get.  The thing about adult bullying is that it can be much more subtle.  As such, it's sometimes hard to distinguish from run-of-the-mill constructive criticism.  Adult bullies usually  hide their bullying by saying that they are just "being truthful".  Honesty is their cover, and it can be crazy-making.  At least when you're an adult, you (sometimes) have the opportunity to respond to it and (hopefully) shut it down. 
Now, before you think all I'm doing is whining for no reason, I'll come (closer) to my point.  I watched a documentary with my sons the other day.  It was called "Bully", and I'll tell you, it was hard to watch.  Not only did I feel horrible for the kids in the film, it brought back so many painful memories of my childhood, it left me in tears.  It makes me livid to think that kids are still having to put up with this stupidity on a daily basis, especially after all the anti-bullying campaigns that have come and gone over the years.  I would have thought parents and administrators and teachers would be so attuned to any signs of bullying, that it would have gone the way of the dodo by now.  Or more like, there would be more efficient/effective ways of quashing bullying behaviour. 
Apparently, I am delusional.   As Depeche Mode put it so succinctly:  "People are people".  If they smell blood in the water, the sharks of the human variety are more than happy to take a chunk out of those who dare to be different.  On top of that the Internet, as it does with every social phenomenon, amplifies the reach of every antisocial a-hole on the planet. 

However (and here's that point I said I was coming to), there's a funny thing about bullying.   As heinous as it is, it has the potential to bring out the absolute best in people.  Bullying can transform a perfectly ordinary human being into a champ in no time flat.  Zero to hero, just like Malala. 

If you hadn't heard, Malala Yousafzai is the Pakistani teen who was shot in the head by the Taliban (those oh-so-brave defenders of honour and justice) for her activism regarding the right of females in her country to an education.  Shot.  In.  The.  Head.  For wanting the right to go to school.  Not only did Malala not die from these cowards' bullets, she was nominated for a Nobel peace prize this year.  Of course, there was a lot that went on before the assassination attempt.  Malala had done a great deal of work in her young life to that point, including writing a blog for the BBC about life under Taliban rule, and appearing in an American documentary about the same.   She knew that her stance was potentially dangerous, to her and her family.  She spoke out anyway, because that is the way to stop a bully.  Call a spade a spade and don't back down.  

I don't know if Malala was surprised at how many other people rallied to her defense, and how quickly they did so.  Probably not, because she is young and obviously idealistic.  I wasn't surprised.  When someone is so patently in the right (as Malala was, and continues to be), it's easy to support them.  Humans aren't born hating and hurting.  Their default setting is love.  Anyone who's ever looked into a baby's face knows that.  It's that inherent sense of justice that has pulled mankind back from the brink over and over again.

Bullying is bad, no two ways about it.  But as with everything in life, your response to it is what matters.  You can get bitter.  You can shrivel up and hide.  You can pick on others or kick your cat or drink or a million other negative things.  OR, you can use all that negativity and turn it around and refuse to get sucked in.  Stand up and say your piece, knowing that although not everyone is going to agree with you, YOU will know that you haven't been defeated.  And peace of mind?  There's two things about that:

1.  It's more precious than gold, that stuff;

2.  It's something bullies will never have.