Friday, November 14, 2014

the void

My mom sent me a message on Facebook last night observing that I've been pretty quiet this week. She's right, I suppose. I haven't blogged here or there. I have been less active than usual on Facebook (that is, less active than I usually am, not less active than the average bear. I suppose some people will be glad of that). In truth, it's been a long, lonely week, I didn't see a way out of it, and I really wasn't going to talk about it. I knew that this too would pass and like so many others, I'm tired of my whining.

I messaged specific people asking for connection & most of those messages went unheard. Or heard but not yet acted on for various reasons. It's no one's fault - I am here, in a different time & space. I was thinking today of a comparison to a swimming pool: when one person steps out of the pool almost nothing changes for the people still in the pool, but everything has changed - however temporarily - for the person dripping on the tiles on the deck. 

In essence, the water has filled the space I left when I stepped out of the pool, and that is natural, but hard to break through. I can't think of one person who has asked for my address here. I can't think of anyone who has called me unless they first missed a call from me. I chose to step out of the pool - it's only natural that the waters rush in and fill that void without anyone even noticing. 

I spend my life in a world of communications technology & strategy, but my day to day experience is one of missed connections. It's as true here in Kingston as it is at home in Canada. It was as true when I lived with the man I love as it is living with someone who started out a stranger.

I came across this video today and it spoke very powerfully to me of why I experience such a relentless desire to connect. If nothing else, the video takes some of the shame out of wanting (and missing) connection so much that it overwhelms me at times. At least I come by it honestly.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Green Hills of Africa: a review

Somehow in my summer of perusing used bookstores Ernest Hemingway's Green Hills of Africa ended up in my 'not yet read' stack. I can recall thinking that I should set aside my assumption that I would not like Hemingway and read something I wouldn't normally read. Hemingway is famous for some reason, right?? 

And so, casting my literary prejudices aside, Mr. Hemingway's wee book ended up in the aforementioned book stack, and then made its way with me to Jamaica based solely on its stature - I was at my weight limit for luggage; only small books were welcome on the journey. 

Even so, when I first sat down to read this book, Z was too fresh in my mind. Although that was a fictional imagining, I could so believe in the vileness of Hemingway and his interference with the Fitzgeralds that piling on the topic of slaughtering animals in Africa as a sport and a proof of masculinity ... well ... let's just say Mr. Hemingway had a bit of an uphill push.

Hemingway's sparse prosaic style, of course, is not a style I appreciate. And then there is his rampant self-centered stupidity. How is this for logic?: "He [their white guide] hated to have anything killed except what we were after ... No killing to kill, only when you wanted it more than you wanted not to kill it." So, then, you could only kill whatever you wanted to kill? Okay. Got it. That's some high standards. 

Sexism. Racism. Colonial swaggering. Alcoholism. Slinging insults at other writers from the safety of the safari camp. I finally called it quits this morning after one last attempt. I have read 47 of 200 pages. I can take no more. I love reading too much to have to suffer through it. 

The list of novels I've been unable or unwilling to finish is fairly short: Anna Karenina and Middlemarch because of baby brain in the first case and time constraints in the second (hey, profs, how about you DON'T assign thousand page novels to people who have 5 other novels to read?), Tale of Two Cities, even after my grandma told me I was probably too young the first time I tried to read it, so I tried again. Nope, sorry Chuck. 

And I think that's about it. I can still see the value of those three books though. Green Hills of Africa, not so much. It will find itself on some book donation pile here in Kingston. Maybe someone can use it to start a fire for roasting breadfruit - that would be a fitting end.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

this is not a post about that guy

I tried with everything in me not to write this post. I hate bandwagon jumping and tidal waves of current topics. I am disgusted by the whole sordid mess. I feel for the women involved who once again will shortly be forgotten. I never liked the perpetrator because he was a dick to me on Twitter once (ya, I am that judgy and unforgiving - oh well). I have tried not to read any more "Me Too Me Too" articles that come across my newsfeed, particularly those of the 'we all knew but we did nothing' variety, written as though these standers-by want our absolution. 

I have not jumped in because I am angry that the statistics - that knowing how many Canadian women are beaten, raped, murdered, missing, abused, terrified day in and day out  - are not enough for anyone. I am disgusted that it is only the (very minor) status of a "CBC celebrity" (which is right up there with being 'internet famous') that has anyone paying attention. 

I cynically anticipate that the story will run its 10 day news cycle and life will once again go back to normal. Women will carry their keys in their hands when they walk to their cars after dusk. People will ask what a young woman wore to a party before she was drugged and molested. First Nations women will disappear from the sides of highways or downtown streets. As I said, life will go back to normal.  

I really wanted to say nothing. To let it die down. To do what I can to support those women I can support in the ways I know how, resigned to more of the same from the country I love that claims to be a place of peace and justice despite all evidence to the contrary. 

Then this morning a friend shared this intelligent and compassionate article by former MTV VJ Jessi Cruickshank that reframed the story in a way I found naïve and yet helpful. Yes, as someone in Canadian media circles she had met the creep in question. Yes, as so so so very many Canadian women she has a story of a man abusing his power in order to impose his sexual desires on her body. But most importantly, in my opinion, she speaks to the women - to those who choose to tell their stories, to the shift available in creating a culture in which telling those stories in safe. 

I still wasn't going to say anything until I read this comment in response to Jessi's post: 
"As the sordid tales about Ghomeshi continue to be investigated and disclosed, we will learn a lot about the culture within the CBC. This story is not going to end well for Ghomeshi, the CBC and his CBC enablers."
And I wanted to scream. Who could possibly give a damn about some minor celebrity or the reputation of a CBC that has already been gutted and abandoned by the government? We lose any learning opportunity and deflect any responsibility if we pretend this is about Ghomeshi or the CBC - and let's be honest, if anything good can come out of these despicable acts it's only in that we learn from them and our country grows just that tiny nudge closer to actually being a nation of peace and justice. 

One of the movements to arise out of this festering heap is an encouragement for women to tell their stories, and a pretense that Canada is now a safe place to do so (as, admittedly, Jessi optimistically declares). I call bullshit. Blanket statement like that help no one. It is not safe for all women to tell all their stories to everyone. It is important for every women to tell her story to someone, but that does not have to be public. 

Back when I still had an agile brain I did my Masters thesis on trauma theory, a concept which developed from research on the restorative power of personal storytelling for Jewish survivors of the holocaust. One of the important learnings of that research was that not just anyone can hear the story - there has to be enough emotional distance between the teller and the hearer for the story to be safely heard and believed. Both the teller and the hearer are important parts of the healing power of the conversation For example, very few survivors told the details of their stories to their spouses or children; it was a much more healing to tell those stories to a friend or grandchild. That relational difference meant that the survivors could tell their stores without having to worry so much about how upset the listener would be. 

A story that is heard and believed helps a survivor integrate that trauma into their concept of themselves more fully, restoring them to themselves and their loved ones. But - let me reiterate - telling your story is only healing if you are believed, if your audience is emotionally able to hear and receive the story as presented, and if your concern for their reaction is less powerful than the opportunity of being heard. 

I fear for many women who get tossed up in the wave of story telling without consideration of what that will do for their sense of self or of safety. Absolutely, for many women - especially those who have never said anything or for whom enough time has passed - that choice will be freeing. A monkey off their back. A light shone in the corner. 

But what about all those other women? What about the ones who have already told and weren't believed? What about the ones who pressed charges only to be told "he says that's not what happened" or "that's not enough for us to do anything." What about the thousands or women who have been asked what they did to cause the crime against them. For someone whose story has already been discounted or used against them, retelling the story is as potentially devastating as not being believed in the first place. 

For the record, yes I have experienced both sexual and relationship violence. Stating that publicly is of no value to me. I don't tell those stories publicly because they are difficult to tell without giving them more power than they actually hold. In both cases I reported. In both cases I retorted, blocked the aggressor after the fact, and moved safely out of reach. In both cases I had supportive people who listened, who believed me, and who actively supported my healing. I had only one or two really stupid people say really stupid things (no, as a matter of fact my height is NOT enough armour to keep a shorter criminal from committing a crime against me), but by far the most immediate and persistent experience for me was of being supported, believed, and listened to. No, not by the police, as it happens, but by people I respect. Most days those experiences are fully integrated into my understanding of who I am now, and they inform both my anger and my compassion on these issues. Some days they unexpectedly re-emerge and I'm left to curse the impact on present relationships and experiences. I mourn those moments when a man who is my safe place to fall appears as a threat because of those long-past experiences.

I am deeply deeply privileged to have all of the elements that are ideal for moving forward from trauma - I had both immediate and ongoing support. I have a believing circle of friends who let me tell what I wanted to tell when I wanted to tell it. I had and have access to professional support. I had knowledge. I had a safe place to turn. I have a lifetime context of love and safety that let me know instability was a temporary state. 

To ask women to tell their stories when they have few to none of those elements in place is both cruel and reckless. Everyone knows the statistics. And I believe, despite the statistics reported by the Canadian Women's Foundation, that everyone knows someone who has been abused, raped, hit, locked in her own home, denied basic human rights, and bullied because she's a women. If you think you don't know anyone it's because they haven't chosen to tell you, and that is one right they NEVER have to give up. 

It's time to grow up. It's time for Canadians to stop acting as though some egotistical dink is an outlier and the women he abused are unique. They are very very sadly  not unique at all. 

What are we to do about that? I ask myself these questions, and encourage you to do the same - 
  • Are you the kind of person who would say something - to a man who is being creepy with women, or a woman who seems scared of someone, or to a friend who has just met 'the perfect guy' about whom you know other truths? 
  • Are you the kind of person a woman can safely tell her story to and be believed and appropriately supported? 
  • Are you someone who has commented on a young woman who is "asking for it" because her shirt is too low or her skirt too high? 
  • Are you someone who has asked why a woman stayed with her aggressor? 
Then you too are part of the problem. And you too have an opportunity to learn, as do we all. We can scapegoat Ghomeshi to carry all our collective sins - even those of omission. Or we can look at ourselves and ask what can we do to make Canada safer for women.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

sometimes it's okay to read the comments

Yesterday, as I was walking home from a fabulous brunch with a friend, I noticed how loose my shorts were, how strong my legs are, how tall I was walking, and that I wasn't out of breath. I have been in Jamaica for 6 weeks now and part of my transit from home to work is walking at least 15-20 minutes on either end of the day.

I often walk more when I have places to see, things to do, and (apparently) crêpes to work off. It may not be a lot of activity to some people, but it's a hell of a lot more movement than my body was getting at home. I also eat more fruits and vegetables here because on a volunteer's stipend eating local and in season is not only a nutrition choice but also an economic necessity.

That's me in the middle at age 14 automatically hiding my
stomach when a boy I was crushing on was nearby, never
mind the threat of a camera. 
As has been my reality since I was about 12 years of age, I think about my weight, my body shape and where those are in comparison to where they have been and where they could be a lot more of the time than I should. But I don't have a set regimen to change that and - PLEASE HEAR THIS! - I do not want one.

I eat foods I love, that I can access, and that I can afford. Often that is fresh watermelon from a vendor on the street corner, and equally often it's peanut M&Ms. In order to avoid possible gluten-poisoning, I mostly ask for salads as my side instead of a starch, though a couple rounds of fried bammy with scotch bonnet hot sauce never go amiss. I have dessert if something looks like it'll work for me, though that's rarely the case. But I am not intentionally depriving myself of anything. My eating is healthier than at home, but could still be much cleaner. I'm good with that.

The change in routine and food availability means that clothes I brought assuming they'd fit once I'd been here a while now fit, and clothes like the aforementioned shorts are getting noticeably loose - as in "does that woman have a butt at all - how do her pants stay up?" loose. In light of all that and the body-positive way I was feeling as I walked home yesterday, imagine my surprise when I got to my apartment complex gate, said hello to our security guard (and I use that term VERY loosely) only to have her reply:

"You look like you've put on weight since you got here."

Ugh.

I don't believe she was being rude. There's a vast cultural difference here from both the Canadian standard of beauty and the Canadian taboo of commenting on people's bodies - even the bodies of total strangers. Jamaican women of my age and younger celebrate their bodies and walk with confidence. Even if they have a poochy belly or flabby arms they wear much more body-conscious clothing than most Canadian women do, and for the most part they do it looking composed and confident, not trashy. It's inspiring.

I have had comments on my legs, my shoulders, and definitely my body in general. I've been told I look very strong, called 'champion' and a whole lot of things I - thankfully - couldn't understand. I've also been told I look - at least in my face - like Natalie from Facts of Life. I've had a co-worker comment on how much sugar I eat, point out how much fat is in cashews, and ask if I eat buttered popcorn flavoured rice cakes because they are fat free (no, I eat them because they are buttered popcorn flavoured, gluten free, available here, delicious and a great carrier for cheese!).

I believe that in her world the guard's statement was an observation, not an insult. But I carried it the rest of the day. I could take my shorts off without undoing the fly, but despite evidence to the contrary I still carried her comment all day.

In the meantime, I posted pictures on Facebook of my trip to Ocho Rios last weekend, including this one of me in a bikini at Dunn's River Falls. I have never worn a bikini before; I have worn a bikini top with board shorts, but only once very briefly and only in an 'audience restricted' area. This was me, for 4 and a half hours, with potentially hundreds of strangers seeing and assessing me, just as I was seeing and assessing them.

That's not what this picture shows. This picture is of me
  • having an absolute blast doing one of my favourite things - namely playing in water
  • fulfilling a promise to myself to be daring
  • wearing what I wanted to wear because I wanted to wear it
  • not letting decades-old doubts stop me
  • having the most fun I've had yet in Jamaica
  • feeling great about myself and my life.
The problem is, when I posted the photo to Facebook I added a caption that referenced not the joy in my face but something about not being the fattest woman I'd seen in a bikini that day. I discounted my own joy and freedom after the fact. I squandered the power of that moment. The comments that followed have varied from "if a country can cure body image Jamaica is it" (maybe, maybe not - see paragraph 4) to "you look great" to "who cares how you look, you're clearing having fun" and a recommendation for great looking suits for 'curvy girls.' 

The truth is, I am not curvy. I am overweight. At what I consider my ideal weight I have very few curves, a long 'athletic' profile (broad shoulders, narrow hips, a straightish waist) and basically no butt at all. When people include me in discussions about this dance class or that new store for 'curvy women' I want to tell them, "I'm not curvy; I'm overweight." As a euphemism for fat, curvy fails.

I am not obese. I am overweight. I can shop in any store I want to and buy 'regular size' clothes (well, not pants that are long enough, but that's a problem I like having). And I am overweight. When I am again at my goal weight, the body mass index will still consider me overweight. And at some point today I had a eureka moment and realised that my percent body fat is a fluid and inaccurate measure of who I am. That realisation has somehow released a lot of very old angst for me. 

I don't know exactly how much I weigh right now, but I know how differently my clothes fit. I know how different my legs look. I know I have definition in places I didn't know definition was missing. I also know that I have weighed up to approximately 30 pounds more, and down to approximately 30 pounds less in the past 4 years.

I know that - and I'm not going to pretend this isn't a consideration - there were men interested in me at every point along that spectrum and I still hated my body. I know that at either end of that spectrum I wanted to hide my stomach. I know that because of an auto-immune disorder sometimes my bloated belly will not reflect my overall health no matter what size I wear. I know that no matter how many sit ups or crunches or burpees I did (if I was someone who did sit ups and crunches and burpees) I would always have a stomach with multiple scars, poorly reattached muscles on one side, and a road map of stretch marks.

But most of all, I know that having a rich, full life of adventure, not being stopped by what else is going on around me, smiling, laughing and jumping in with abandon when opportunity knocks, and valuing more essential things about myself  is sexier than lady abs could ever hope to be. 'Big ups,' as they say, to every single person who helped to get me here.
__________________________

PS: If you think I want diet and exercise tips, please re-read the post. You couldn't be more wrong.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

facing forward

I took myself on a little get-away this weekend with the intention to clear my head and heart a little. And while I did accomplish that to some degree, it was definitely not with the grace for myself and others that I would have liked.

I had fun. I pushed myself. I dove in fully (actually fell backwards into the water fully). I also hid out and watched atrocious TV in my hotel room, ate chips for supper and texted Freckles, Shiney and Diva Moe - my trifecta of saving graces.

I am not expecting that it's possible to lay dreams old and young to rest without some pain, but I wish I saw a way to not have my reaction to pain be anger and a hard heart. Then again, maybe that's the appropriate response for now. I did come to Jamaica to learn more about boundaries and taking care of myself so I can take better care of others. I suppose I shouldn't expect to be perfect at it right off the bat. 

On a related note, I'm just going to leave this right here. Freckles said it to me last night and when my big sister tells me something, I generally believe it. Feel free to borrow/adapt it as needed:


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