I woke up early this morning. At 5:30 AM or so. 

I know that's not early for some people, but it's extremely early for me. I'm not lazy, but I work from home and I'm a bit of a night owl, often not getting to bed before 2:00 or even 3:00 AM. I try to get up at 9:00. This all sounds more decadent than it really is. I don't generally get that much sleep.

So yeah. 5:30. AM. 
I woke up scratching -- the result of a lovely patch of eczema in the crook of my elbow that was aggravated yesterday when I spent the better part of the evening dealing with a mould situation in a dank basement. (I won't even get into why this happened, just know that it did.) Mould is, as it turns out, a serious eczema trigger. Gross, right? I mean, the mould itself was gross enough (stupid, wet basement), but the itchiness was worse. Double gross. 

And of course, waking up itchy does funny things to a paranoid mind like mine, and even though I had no reason to do so, as soon as I noticed my itchiness, I immediately started thinking bedbugs. And after that, I couldn't sleep at all. 

We don't have bedbugs. Of COURSE we don't have bedbugs! There is no evidence that we have bedbugs. There has never been any indication that we have had bedbugs. WE HAVE NO BITES. So I know this is crazy, and I know we don't have bedbugs, and nonetheless, I live in constant fear, constantly vigilant always thinking we do, or rather, that even if we don't right now, that we eventually will. 

It's a bit like hypochondria. If we stay at a hotel, I immediately start thinking that we're going to bring them home with us. When riding the subway, I think about them crawling out from between the seats, hitching a ride in the folds of my hoodie. I read about bedbugs existing in my city ( which, of course, they do, since this place is home to about five million people) and I picture the little beasts hopping in my direction*. Determinedly. As if it was me they wanted. Me in particular. 

You can see, I'm sure, how Nutty McNutterson this is. Even now, as I write this, I'm itchy. I feel like I have creepies crawling all over me, though clearly, I don't. That's just how my mind works. I just have to think the word bedbugs and I get itchy. And all my constant vigilance doesn't help in the slightest. (Constant vigilance never does, you know. That's a little life wisdom from me to you.) 

Anyway, yeah. I was up early. And I couldn't go back to sleep, so I rolled out to Starbucks (possible bedbug haven?) around 7:15, and hung around spying on people who were on their way to work and school. It's funny to listen to people's conversations in the early morning. Most folks aren't talking. They're just busy getting their coffee and getting to where they're going. But the folks who are talking are often grouchy. At least, that's what I observed. About 90% of the people I eavesdropped on were complaining about work. 5% were discussing things I couldn't really decipher. And the final 5% were men, talking unabashedly (and offensively) about women. I heard one scruffy, older gentleman bragging about how he hits up Starbucks every day in the afternoons for the the pleasure of ogling the "yummy mummies". 

So yeah. My day was getting grosser by the minute.

But really, I'm not judging any of this too harshly (besides the oglers). I spent good portion of my Starbucks visit grouching quietly myself. I brooded about all the things that have annoyed me lately, spending a little time prodding and worrying each one. A few of these things, in no particular order, are as follows:

1. The fact that my Rogers internet keeps going out, and that ever since we got a new modem a couple of weeks ago, I am constantly disconnecting from the network. For no apparent reason. We pay them a fortune every month and never do we get what we ostensibly pay for. I get that this is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it annoys me nonetheless.

2. The fact that random dudes I used to vaguely know in high school sometimes talk about me. (And if this sounds weird to you, let me assure you that it sounds weird to me too.) I have this one friend -- bit of a turd-stirrer, you know the type -- who reported, for some reason, that my name had been coming up in some of his discussions with his high school-era Bruhs. He texted this to me, punctuated the news with two different emoticons: :o and ;). Because ...??? I don't know. It was weird. Maybe he was teasing. Or maybe he was trying to bait me. I don't know. Of course, he didn't report much about what was actually said. (Bros before ... nevermind.) Just that I came up, and that one dude regularly challenges him about remaining friends with me, while another quietly reads my blog even though it makes him "angry." So. Okay. Nate has always lived in the same city, and is still friends with many of the same people he knew when he was young, so I asked him if this seems normal to him. Does he, I asked, ever discuss women he knew back in the day? Here's exactly what he said in response: "You're asking me if, when I get together with guys from high school, do any of us ever bring up random girls from high school in conversation? No. Of course not. That would be extremely bizarre." So there's that.

3. Finally, the fact that the word "family" is so often reserved for use only for people with children. I was having dinner with an older person early this week who suggested that some young folks she knows had gotten married, probably because they "wanted to have a family". And to that, I thought, WTF? What old-fashioned garbage nonsense is this? Look, plenty of people assumed that Nate and I got married as a precursor to spawn (and even gossiped about how I must have been pregnant to get hitched so quickly). As if such a notion were not completely at odds with my world view. As if you need to, or even "should" be married to have a child. Rubbish idea, that. And then, just the misuse of that word -- "family." It irks me. I haven't pushed one out, but that doesn't mean I don't have a family, okay? I have a goddamn family. (Sorry to be the language police, but some people are really weird about what is and isn't a "family" and it makes me mad.)

Blah blah rah bah ha. See? Grouch grouch grouch. Over nothing, really. That's what happens when you get only a few hours of sleep. (Now I know this post is long, but hang on, it's about to take a turn, possibly for the better.)
It's September 11th, you know. (I try, in general, not to use the "9/11" shorthand. It bothers me for various reasons I won't get into now.) Anyway, I didn't realize. When I first woke up, the anniversary didn't register. It never does. Maybe because I'm not American. Maybe for other reasons. Though, once I'm reminded, I always find myself thinking about where I was and what I was doing on this date, back then.

I was in England. I was about a week into my exchange (or 1/2 year abroad or whatever you want to call it). I was in a very small gym, "shooting baskets" by myself, even though I'm just about the worst basketball player in the known universe. I was listening to the radio. The BBC. It was the early afternoon. I heard about the first plane then. And a little later, back in the residence, while chatting with my friend Nick on MSN messenger, I heard about the second plane. And then I saw the video. Soon after that, the internet and phones went down. And most of us, students, relative strangers, packed into the common rooms and glued ourselves to CNN. And talked. That's how we got to know each other. 

So I was far from home, and I remember the day's punctuation marks and the timeline, but the truth is, when I think about this day, thirteen years ago, I think about my friends. I think about how September 11th made me make friends. I am not always the most outgoing person, and I'd spent much of my first few days in England alone. Hiding in my dorm room alone. Exploring alone. I like being alone, so this isn't unusual for me. I'm the one called "anti-social" because I felt more comfortable with my door closed. (And locked, frankly.) But then there was this thing that happened -- this thing that felt scary and that we had no perspective on whatsoever -- and I was unsettled and it made me (and lots of other people, I believe), make friends fast and hard, in a way that we might not have otherwise. Two of the women I met then still feel like some of my closest friends today, even though we almost never see each other, and rarely find the time to talk.
The three of us. Kids, really, though we didn't feel that way. It's hard not to smile when I think about it. We met during this very week in 2001 and didn't manage to come together again until September of 2008, a full seven years later. And now, purely out of luck, we've managed to schedule another get-together for the very same time. I hadn't realized it before, but it's our anniversary. Lucky number thirteen.

As I walked home today, still in the early morning (relatively speaking), storm clouds were above, but moving fast. The air was cool, and the wind was blowing hard. The streets were wet after a night full of rain. Not having slept, I was tired. And after my morning of grouching, you'd think that being reminded of today's politically-charged significance would make me even more grouchy, but it didn't. Remembering the date, I stopped thinking about irritating language, and blog lurkers from high school, and Rogers, and imaginary bedbugs. And instead, I thought about my old friends, who will be here in less than 48 hours, and whom I love. And that made me happy.

*Bedbugs don't really hop. Relax.
Oh, look. It's the most flattering picture of me taken this year. 
You know what I don't really do anymore? Blog.

Or okay, I blog a little. I blog on occasion. Once in awhile. The times in between the 'whiles' getting ever longer. Nonetheless, the site stays up. I tweet on occasion. And lately, I've been doing that thing the kids call Instagram. It's okay. My online self isn't dead. She just takes a lot of naps. That's how I've been thinking of it, anyway.

Today's my birthday. That means I am 34 and the site is nine. NINE YEARS OLD. That's how long I've been doing this thing. Some people say that having a blog is a bit like having a baby, but that's just stupid. I mean, if you neglect your blog, nothing actually happens. I mean, maybe you lose your url. Big whoop. If you neglect your baby, it dies. It LITERALLY dies. So, yeah, having a blog is NOT, in fact, like having a baby. (Also, a blog never bites you, spits up, or enters kindergarten only to start mooning every new person he meets. So this comparison is ridiculous. Let us all resolve to never make it again.) 

Anyway, yeah. A blog is a blog and a kid is a kid, and they don't really have anything in common whatsoever, but from what I hear from those who parent, both experiences can be well-and-accurately described as so-so, comme ci, comme ça, and/or up and down. 

My bloggy ups have been great (finding you -- all my fellow weirdos, -- and hearing all your stories has been an ongoing high-point), and the downs have been fairly shitty (being harassed with faux-anonymous hate mail and both excommunicated and threatened with a lawsuit by my extended family was probably the low-point). But all in all, the good stuff outweighs the bad, and so I remain online. I'm hangin' in. 
Google surprised me by "knowing" that it was my birthday. (Did you know that Google magic could do that?) Okay, so it's not really magic. It's just that if you're on G+, the creepy crawly bots note your birthday and show you a special Doodle on that date, on the Google homepage. Dummy that I am, I saw the Doodle and clicked it thinking, "Huh, someone famous must share my birthday!" only to find myself at my own G+ profile. And even then, it took me a second to figure out what was going on. Durrr. Tricked me good, Google bots.

Let's see, what else? Nate baked me a cake last night. And it actually turned out! Not to denigrate his cooking skills or anything (but dude can't really cook), so this was an impressive feat. (Shout-out to Gideon, who helped. Big ups, Gid!) 

We haven't been doing much. There's been some family/health stuff on my plate that's been taking up a good deal of my time. The hard-drive on my 2-year old computer fried and I needed to get a new one, and in addition to that extra expense, I lost a bunch of work stuff and that was a pain in the bee-hind. And don't even start mansplaining  to me about backing up -- and yes, it's mansplaining, because the people who do it are always men, because men* think they own technology.  A) I KNOW and B) I DO BACK UP and C) No one likes a know-it-all. 

Anyway, 2014 has been a little rough thus far, but the second half the year is going to be good. I can feel it. After all, I'm 34. Ain't nobody can tell me what to do anymore. Or they can try, but I'm probably not going to listen and nobody can make me. I'm the big boss. And I know a lot more than I did a decade ago, which is saying something. I'm really good at Jeopardy now. I'm growing. Can't say I'm not.

Now. With all that rambling out of the way, I think I shall commence the annual sharing of the "cake killer" pictures. This year, they didn't really turn out, but that's probably for the best. After all, I'm supposed to be growing, not taking weird pictures with cakes. 
Love you, Internet. For all your flaws, I still love you. 

Happy birthday to me!

*not all men. ;) 
A post in which I ramble and say the word fuck and bury the lede and refuse to give you anything pretty to look at. It's all words.

So I've been sitting here thinking about what to write. It's been so long. This always seems to happen, but I think it's hard for non-writers (and specifically for non-bloggers) to understand. The more you write, the more you write. And the less you write, the less you write. That's the obvious bit. Or at least, that's the bit that's obvious to those of us who actually write for a living. If you want to make a go of this thing, you need to work, every day, just like you would at a regular job. I do, I just don't often post the junk I write here. (Most of it stinks anyway. You're not missing anything. That's another secret. Most people have to write ten garbage paragraphs to get one good one. I do, anyway. Some lucky writers don't, but we hate them, so let's not talk about that.)

Anyway, moving on.

The not-so-obvious bit -- or maybe I should say, the not-so-intuitive bit -- is that the more you write, the more you can write, and the less you write, the less you can write. I've heard people liken it to a muscle -- use it or lose it, they say -- but that  analogy annoys me for some reason. I'm not sure why. 

So. Yeah. Look at me. I'm talking a lot about writing and not a lot about the things I sat here meaning to talk about. I'm not sure if I'm avoiding something, or just getting out my garbage paragraphs for the day, but either way, I'm gonna post it. And I'm going to post it without pictures. I know these last couple of years have brought on a lot of talk about "the death of the novel" and even "the death of blogging" but fuck that. You can read and you should read and a bunch of pretty pictures are nice sometimes, but you don't need them. All you need is your imagination and all I need is to blog like a mofo, no editing. If I don't, I might never blog again. It's been too many months and I'm so far outside of it, I think I'll have to break a window if I want to get back in. (How's that for shitty analogies? Writing is like a house, get it? And once you're outside of the house, it's like you forgot your keys. Or lost 'em or something. And you can't get back in. And blah blah blah. It's official. These are the garbage paragraphs. Ugh. How embarrassing.)

Non-Editor's Note: Oh god, Self. Stop rambling.

It's May. Can you believe that? MAY. That means it's almost June. And  by the end of June the year will be half-over and I haven't even gotten used to it yet. 2014 seems to be getting away from me. Perhaps you noticed. What with the lack of blogging, and all that drivel above, maybe it's become clear that I'm kind of off my game. I only managed to take down my Christmas decorations a week ago. A WEEK AGO. And I barely managed it, frankly. I kept having to sit down to rest. And I kept checking my email. And the whole thing took hours, when it really shouldn't have. Honestly, if I lived in a bigger apartment, where it wasn't such a hassle to have a Christmas tree clogging up the living room, and two sad stockings staring at me from the mantle, I don't know that I would have bothered with taking anything down this year. I would have left it all up until December of 2014. Why not? Who's going to know? These are the things I was thinking just a couple of weeks ago. The horrified look on Nathan's face when I suggested it is was motivated me to abandon the idea and just get started (and me getting started is what motivated him to help finish). If he'd enabled me, if he'd said "Yeah, fuck it. Let's leave it up!" then who knows where we'd be? Luckily, he said "You don't really want to do that, do you?" with this scared look on his face, like he was thinking Who are you? and Who are we turning into? and that was the thing I really needed to get the fuck on with it. Maybe that's what marriage is. Having someone who looks at you with a frightened expression when you need it, but doesn't actually criticize? No. Probably not. I pulled that idea right out of my ass. Don't even listen to me. That's not what marriage is at all.

Back to the point: I've never been this way before. I've never been this slovenly person. Not that I can remember, anyway. I've been tidy and organized for my entire adult life. I get shit done. That's who I am. Or rather, that's who I thought I was. Like I said, this year, somehow, things have been getting away from me.

I've been pretty sick. Maybe that has something to do with it. (Way to bury the lede, eh?) Don't worry. I'm not dying or anything. I just have stuff. Stuff is what I have. At the moment, the stuff that I have is Shingles. 

YEP. I HAVE SHINGLES. Just got it, actually. Best. Day. Ever. 


But the Shingles is not even the point. It looks like it's going to be on my back. The vesicles are tiny and not yet bad, but they're getting there. They hurt. I hurt. It's kind of like I have a deep muscle-strain, coated in a sunburn. It's not the worst, but I certainly don't like it. And it's really just the cherry on the sundae of health drama that has been my life for the past six months.

After last year, which was kind of big, health-wise, what with recovering from EDNOS (symptom-free, baby!), and all that, you would think I'd just have gotten healthier, but no. The opposite is true, as it turns out, which is frustrating for a lot of reasons. 

Aside from the Shingles, I have Graves' Disease. It's an autoimmune thing -- a thyroid thing.  It's not that big of a deal. A lot of people have it. Especially women. I know a gal in my immediate circle who has it too. So okay. Hooray! At least I know what I have. Or rather, I know what I had. I just wish I had found out sooner.

Thyroid issues are SUPER common in women my age. No one ever told me that. And no one ever checked my thyroid function. That's the thing I'm pissed about. No one checked it when I said how anxious I was feeling, and no one checked it when I went to a shrink who gave me an SSRI I didn't need, and no one checked it when I ditched the shrink and ditched the SSRI unsupervised because it caused so many other problems. And no one checked it when I said, "Hey, I feel worse than ever. And also, FYI, I have an eating disorder and my symptoms are really bad and I feel so anxious about it I can hardly breathe." No one checked it.

No one checked my thyroid when I said I couldn't sleep. No one checked it when I said my heart was racing. And no one checked it when my hair started falling out in clumps. (I've lost, like, 1/3 of the total hair on my head at this point.) In case you missed it, the key point here is this: NO ONE CHECKED IT. Other people clearly blamed me when I explained my symptoms (Out of breath? Armchair diagnosis: Fat. Can't run any distance at all? Armchair diagnosis: Fat.)  And to be fair, I blamed myself as well. What we should have been doing was blaming my thyroid, which was so hyperactive as to land me in the hospital over Christmas.

Whatever. I am better now. I mean, I have an autoimmune disease and I'm on a lot of medication and it might get better after awhile and it might not, but regardless, I feel way better and that's what matters. And I'm not fat anymore. This has been a blessing and a curse. I mean, don't get me wrong. My quality of life went WAY up as a fat person. Way the fuck up. I mean, being a fat woman in contemporary North America was really fucking fun, yo. People definitely didn't treat me like shit every single time I left the house. Not at all. Choosing to be fat was the best decision I ever made, in fact. And then, choosing to NOT be fat? Well, that was a genius move on my part, too. HAHAHA. (Please tell me you get how sarcastic I am being here.)

Yeah. No. It was bad. I was pretty healthy, but being fat was bad because of how badly people treated me. Fucking old crones whispering behind their hands to their old crone friends, "Look at Jennifer. What happened? What do you think is wrong?" Nothing was wrong. They were wrong. (If you are reading this, and you're one of those shitty people who talks about other people's bodies in this way at all, ever, even when the people you're talking about can't hear you, then YOU, my friend, are wrong. Fuck off. Go read something else. I don't like you. And don't even think you're fooling me either. I know exactly who you are.)

Um. What was I saying? Oh yeah. Being fat was bad because of assholes and patriarchy and capitalism and other shitty things, but it was good too. It was good in that it made me honest. And it made me angry. And I became sort of a low-level Size-Acceptance Advocate and Fat Activist. And politically, that was super-positive! (I'm embarrassed because it looks like I had to become fat to understand fat people, and as a person who believes in empathy, I find the "you have to walk a mile in my shoes" mentality to be problematic. I should have come around to a lot of this stuff way sooner, but whatever. I'm here now and that's what matters.) Good things came of my struggle. And when I started to lose weight, mostly as a result of getting off that stupid SSRI, suddenly, I felt a little adrift. Could I still be a SA advocate as a straight-sized person? For exactly four seconds I wondered that. OBVIOUSLY, the answer is yes. You can be an ally, and activist, and an advocate, no matter who you are. 

So that's where I am now. I'm not fat anymore. I'm not thin either, but I can shop at most stores without salespeople being totally mean to me, and just being able to do that -- being able to exist without the staring and gossip and assumptions and general meanness -- is such a privilege. In January, I bought some clothes -- practically my first new clothes in years. I almost cried in the store. That's how unfamiliar the feelings was. So what now? So now, I do whatever I can to call attention to the fact that other people don't enjoy these privileges and that it's BULLSHIT.  And since early last year, when I first resolved to stop participating in negative body talk, I've remained pretty steadfast. I have continued to refuse to take part in any "Ugh, I hate this about myself/I'm such a pig for eating that grain of rice/I'm so bad/I'm so good/That's fattening/This is healthy" talk with other women, and after more than a year, the worst thing that's happened as a result is that I've had a few stilted conversations. Basically, I'm winning. 

Best of all on the body-front, I seek out nudie and fashion shots of bigger people all the time and I think I've successfully retrained my brain because now, I find it easy to see a huge variety of people as both "normal" and "beautiful" in a way that didn't compute before. All it took was a little variety. I made a little effort to consume more pop-culture stuff that represents a greater variety of body types and shapes (GabiFresh, Drop Dead Diva, Dances With Fat, Lindy West's Tumblr: malcolmjamalwarlock, Mary Lambert, Everything Gabourey Sidibe I can Find, etc.) and BOOM, now I don't even notice anymore. A bigger person doesn't look "fat" to me in a negative way anymore at all, if I even notice, which I rarely do -- s/he just looks like a person. So, you guys, this is big! It turns out, it is TOTALLY possible! You too can change your life in this totally awesome way. It's the biggest relief ever, I promise. Turning off the body-consciousness and just being a person among people is a way better way to live. I made a little list above, but email me if you want to come up with even more pop-culture that might help your brain in the same way I fixed mine. Neuroplasticity is da bomb, friends.

So. Yeah. That's where we are. Let's summarize. I'm not fat anymore, but I'm into fat-acceptance and body positivity. I have Graves' disease and I might have it forever, but I feel good. I have Shingles and I won't have it forever, but I feel bad. 2014 is getting away from me. I finally took the Christmas tree down. It's May. Blogging is hard, but sometimes you've just gotta do it. Most of this post is garbage. Writing is hard too, but if you want to be a writer, then you've gotta do it every day. Aaaand ... we're right back to the beginning. Nice summary, right?

I think my metaphorical blogging house has been effectively broken-in-to. I'm in. I'm back inside.
We went to the Bahamas! Like, months ago. Sorry. I really should have posted this sooner. 

Where did we go? To a very wee place called Stocking Island. Only about 11 people live there. My hopes were high, and it was a bit of a let-down as a result. The trip was expensive by our standards -- three to four times what it usually costs for us to spend a week in Cuba. And I guess I thought the quality of the trip would be commensurate with the increased cost. It wasn't. 
Don't get me wrong, the island was beautiful, the hotel was fine, the food was ... less fine. (Think about paying $18 USD for a pasta dish only to be served a plate of something that looks and tastes exactly like Lipton Sidekicks.) But the beach was beautiful, and the waves were generally huge, and we made friends with some cool animals, including a confused heron-like bird that banged on our cabin door in the night and flew right into us when we were walking through the trees to dinner, inexplicably. Crazy heron. 
There were lots of nice things. Nathan clowned on the beach (as shown). I binge watched Orange Is the New Black on a laptop at night (there were no TVs), and read all of The Hunger Games. And cried over all of The Hunger Games. (And then cried some more because that shit is brutal.) And then we came home and were hassled a little in the Miami airport and almost missed our connection. (And when I say we were hassled, I mean I was hassled, of course. No more than usual, but combined with the extra chaos that is the Miami airport, it was annoying. Of course, Nathan sailed right though. I wonder why.). Finally, we had to deal with dumb people crushing us with their seat-backs on an over-crowded airplane. (I'm only 5'4" and my knees and computer screen were smashed and bashed.) Ugh. So there were some not-nice things too.
Do you like my animal shots? That hermit crab was huge -- as big as my hand! I couldn't get him to come out of his shell any more than shown, though. He seemed to know I was lurking. The geckos were cute, as always. I couldn't get a shot of a more brightly-coloured one, though. That last crab is dead, perhaps obviously. I just thought he looked kind of cool. Poor crab.

Anyway, we're home now. If you follow me on Instagram, you've seen some of the pictures I took with my iPod, (stingrays!) but this post features the ones I took with my real camera. I hope you like 'em.
Next time, we're probably going back to Cuba.
So an interesting thing happened on my Facebook page the other day. I posted a link to something and a contrarian man who I'll call Brett commented in reply. That's not the interesting part. Brett loves to post argumentative comments on my page and does so fairly often. He will post the occasional comment of agreement or support too, but arguments are more the norm. And while in part, this is just his personality, there seems to be something more complicated going on under the surface of these argumentative gestures, which are often left on posts that have to do with women's rights and violence against women. I think, for some men, any mention of the patriarchy can hit a nerve, and certainly, my posts on these subjects seem to elicit the most response. Furthermore, contrarian comments are generally condescendingly worded and oddly presumptuous, left by a the sort of man who favours a didactic style, though his opinions tend to be based on anecdotes rather than facts. In Brett's case, I don't even think he's aware of it. He's not a bad guy. But I've been losing patience with his combative nature for awhile.

So, last week, I posted a link to an issue I was interested in, with a one-line header that expressed my feeling: I was disappointed with the thing that was happening. Big whoop. 

Enter Brett. 

His contribution was this: The situation was inevitable and simple, he said. My disappointment was naïve, he implied. Sigh.

So what bothered me? His assumptions. Firstly, he assumed, seemingly-instinctively, that his opinion was better and more intelligent than mine. Secondly, he assumed that I had not done even the most basic level of research on the subject. And finally, he assumed that his voice was both welcome and invited. I think he did all this without even knowing he was doing it. Like I said, he's not a bad guy. Nonetheless, I'm not the only person who noticed the implications of what he said.

I responded. I usually ignore this sort of thing, but I guess I'd had enough. I explained why his initial comment was overly simplistic, shared some more complex factors that I felt his comment had ignored, and then told him his perspective sounded like mansplaining.

That was my mistake ... using the word "mansplaining." It was as though the word emitted a high-pitched whistle that only a certain kind of man could hear. It alerted them to danger, a siren wailing "Feminazi with opinions has ATTACKED our bro! We must ORGANIZE!And so they did. 
Brett said he was insulted and disappeared from the conversation, but his bros -- a small group of men who had nothing to do with the initial interaction and who, in fact, never comment on my page or interact with me online in any meaningful way -- rose out of the Facebook woodwork to come to his defence. One said he was worried about me. Another posted a link to the first result in a simple Google search in order to prove that I was wrong, and another -- an especially obnoxious man who I've always been nice to over the years, but never actually liked -- told me I should put tinfoil up to keep out "bad" opinions. (I have no idea why he put the word bad in quotation marks, since he wasn't quoting me.) Then, when I told him to fuck off, he implied that I was a bitch. I don't think he meant it misogynistically. I'm sure he implies that everyone he disagrees with is a bitch. Definitely. To clarify, I pushed him to actually say the word, but he refused several times, pretending he hadn't said anything at all. All bluster, no bravery. Not at all surprising.

Just chillin' in our tinfoil hats, keeping out the "bad" opinions. From the movie Signs.
So just to recap: For having an educated opinion and stating it, I was being called a crrraaaaaazy bitch. Just another nut with a vagina. Was this fun? No. It was not. Did I fall apart about it? No, I didn't. But I did talk back, because I'm tired of big, pushy loudmouths implying that I'm stupid or crazy for thinking what I think. I turned their crap back on them, not unlike a particularly-foul mirror.

To Brett, I said nothing. Like I said, he had disappeared. 

The man who was concerned is a close friend -- the only real friend who got involved -- and so to him, I talked. Ultimately, I felt good about our interaction. While he's not used to me being assertive, he understood where I was coming from. Plus, he had the decency to contact me privately, instead of posting a little attack on the actual thread. As it turns out, he's a friend, rather than a bro. Good on him.

As for the man who sent the simple link, I deleted his comment. He responded that it would be okay for us to discuss the issue in private, via DM. I admit, even this felt presumptuous and entitled. Why is it assumed that he's owed a conversation? He's little more than an acquaintance and I didn't think I needed his approval to have a valid opinion. Nonetheless, his messages were respectful and politely worded, so I engaged with him a bit, even though I didn't think it was his place to get involved. And it was fine. Unnecessary, but fine.

[Edited to add: the man who sent the simple link, who pretended to have a civil conversation on this subject, has since blocked me. I assume, in solidarity with his blocked bro. But I'm the angry, unreasonable one in this scenario. Okay. Lol.]

As for the charming individual who implied that I was a crazy bitch, well. I'd already told him to fuck off, so I simply blocked him and told him he wouldn't be missed. It wan't a hard decision. The man's always been an idiot. (More on that later.) 

So, it would seem that this little gang was dealt with tidily. Or ... was it?

I wish. Alas, the last man chose not to give up. Let's call him Gob, shall we? Gob, the man who told me I was a crazy bitch, continued to behave shamefully. Having been blocked from Facebook, he chose to send me (and others) a series of emails that a kind person could only categorize as stupid and obnoxious. Here's one of his earlier gems, from a time when he was still weakly-feigning politeness. I think he's trying to say ... Label bad! Libertarian good! Except when Gob make good label is smart! Rar! Something like that. It's a screen shot. Click to enlarge.
What can I say? This is a man who, when we were students, lifted a small, not-well-liked boy by the back of the shirt and the scruff of the neck and threw him from a room. I witnessed this charming bit of abuse. The story was told and retold, to the sounds of much laughter and merriment, because, of course, the boy who was tossed was odd and unpopular, and therefore deserved what he got. That is the mindset of most teens and I admit, I laughed along with everyone else. I was eighteen and stupid. But even at the time, in the back of my mind I was thinking We're laughing because a big guy physically assaulted a little guy. That's why we're laughing. I'm not the hero in this story, I did nothing and I am ashamed. But I think this tale helps to explain the personality of Gob.

In response to his email, above, I sent back a caustic little note of my own, in which I both pointed out the complete strangeness of his message, spawned as it was from a conversation he seemed to have imagined. I told him he was either confused or lying, and made fun of his atrocious spelling. We all make typos, I said, which is true. I've made some in this very post, but really ... considering the fact that he was being so condescending, I think so many errors are little much.

I didn't take the high road, but I did keep responding, and I'm pretty proud of that choice. To every one of his comments, to me or about me, I replied. And as long as he keeps writing, I will keep doing so. That is, until I can't be bothered anymore. That's my choice, not his. I read a piece by the awesome Lindy West once called Don't Ignore the Trolls. Feed Them Until They Explode. and I consider myself to be taking her advice. 
My point is this: Any woman who spends even a moderate amount of time discussing political and social justice-related issues on the internet knows that the web isn't a safe space for women. 

I post a fair bit of political stuff on my Facebook page. That space, reserved for people I've approved as "friends" is my only online forum that is particularly controversial. (And honestly, not even very controversial -- I post plenty of silly jokes and amusing animal pictures, just like everyone else.) Nonetheless, I have a few particular areas of interest:

1) Race and Racism (specifically in regards to mixed-race issues)
2) Body Politics (specifically Size-Acceptance and Fat-Activism)
3) Gender Politics (specifically Feminism)

These are, not surprisingly, the political areas that have affected me most directly. I'm a woman (duh), I'm mixed-race (double-duh), and I am in recovery from an Eating Disorder (ED) and have been both fat and thin (if you read this blog, another duh). I have other, related interests, which include anti-capitalism, class issues, and poverty, but they are more peripheral than my main stuff. Anyway, all of this is simply to give you an idea of the sorts of things I post. None of them are all that radical, really, but most of them have a tendency to trigger certain insecurities in people, especially privileged people, and all of them tend to bring on argumentative comments from men. It's a sad fact that you can't really talk about sexism or racism or any major bigotry without offending people who think you're blaming them. Mention racism and some (SOME not all!) white people think you're criticizing them, for example. Talk about feminism and some (SOME!) men think "Hey! I'm a nice guy! You're attacking me!" These people feel angry, as if you're saying that systemic, institutionalized issues are their personal responsibility, when they're not. No one I know right now is a racist, but many people I know accidentally and unthinkingly have racist and biased ideas subtly influencing their ideas. Consider the fact that many people think names like Shaniqua are "ghetto." That's an inherently racist ideas, and it's just one of many that lots of people subscribe to without thinking. My point is that most of us are complicit to some extent, in every arena of inequality. Including me! That's okay! It's not our fault per se, but it's something that needs to be talked about, something that needs to be faced if it's ever going to change. That's why I talk about this stuff online when I can, to my friends, in the relatively safe space known as my private Facebook page, though as I said, I'm finding that bringing up these subjects can be dangerous. My story above was not about physical, major danger, but about the small things, the everyday things that are at very bottom of the same scale. Real danger is reserved, for the most part, for people who are much more important than me.

Consider Lindy West, the Jezebel writer -- my absolute current favourite online scribe. She wrote a couple of pieces awhile back that contained what amounted to a very mild critique of rape jokes in the sphere of stand-up comedy (for example, categorizing a joke about how a woman in an audience should be gang raped because she didn't find a particular comic's jokes to be as amusing as he did as not cool) and all hell broke loose. She received a deluge of rape threats, comments about how she was too fat and ugly to be raped, comments about wanting to rape her with a traffic cone, comments about how she should kill herself, etc. It was, for any reasonable person watching, both shocking and disgusting in a very visceral way. The word "cunt" was practically impossible to avoid, a clear favourite insult (next to fat and ugly, of course). It was metaphorically unbelievable and soberingly true -- a woman with an opinion had better beware. The internet and it's trolls were coming. 

And then there's local Anita Sarkeesian. If you've never heard of her, let me sum up her story: In 2012, Sarkeesian launched a Kickstarter project to fund the Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series -- a project born of her academic background. She raised plenty of money, but she also drew the ire of a legion of misogynist trolls. According to her Wikipedia entry, she was e-mailed images of herself being raped by video game characters, her personal social media accounts were attacked (hacking attempts and the like), and even her Wikipedia entry was doctored, "vandalized with images of sex acts" according to the page as it currently exists. But, as they say in the world of late-night infomercials, that's not all! My favourite fun-fact in Sarkeesian's story is that one hater hated her enough to create a video game allowing angry male users (or anyone who felt like it) to "beat up Anita Sarkeesian." The premise was simple. Misogynists the world over could click on a stolen photo of Sarkeesian's face and watch while it transformed into a battered, bloody, bruised mess. These men wanted to put Sarkeesian in the hospital because they didn't like her ideas, but being weak and impotent, they decided to pretend to do so from the safety of their own manky basements instead -- a brave and not-at-all pathetic choice.
Sorry for the blurry image. It's the best quality I could find.
So, yeah. If you're a political woman, the internet is often a dangerous place. That's the simple part. But there's more to this story.

I do not think that I am at all like Lindy West or Anita Sarkeesian. Both of those women are major figures, important voices, both online and in the wider world, and not just because they're feminists. I'm a nobody -- a regular woman making no real political impact, just puttering along and trying to live my life. And that's fine. In fact, it's important, because big stories like the ones I just mentioned aren't all that common unless you're a major feminist figure. Much more common are stories of the sort of bullying and silencing that go on every day on the Facebook pages, the Twitter accounts and the web pages (etc.) of regular women like me. It's almost imperceptible, we're all so used to it, but if you're at all political, I'm sure you know what I'm speaking about -- the attempts to educate, to correct, to shame, to categorize us as crazy and imply that we are "bitches" to be dismissed -- in the form of comments from men who think their voices are always welcome, always wanted, always right. These are the sort of men who commonly take up the most space they can in the world, opening their legs wide on public transit, for example, interrupting with their booming voices when women are speaking, making little puppet mouths with their respective hands and saying "shhhhhht!" when they don't like what you're saying. And not as a joke. 
Again, not ALL men are like this, of course -- Nathan is a good example of that, as are all of the men in my immediate-circle -- and many men are only partially like this, or like this only once in awhile, but there are a lot of men who are like this all the time, out there in the world. Legions of them.

At least, that has been my experience. It's only recently that I've noticed the many ways in which everyday sexism affects my online life, and though I'm not sure this is something that happens to every woman who behaves like me on the internet, I have a sneaking suspicion that my experience is not so much an exception as it is the norm.
Remember yesterday when I posted all those flower photos? I took some other photos around the neighbourhood too. Uglier photos. Darker photos. Here are those photos.
A tree against the sky, heavily messed with in Photoshop.
Some leaves I arranged on the sidewalk.
A foamy puddle on the street.
Yellow leaves in the gutter.
A cool vintage bike.
A crack in the sidewalk.
Horse chestnuts! As you can see, I gathered many. Possible craft to come.
And finally, a hideous Halloween decoration honouring Frankenstein's monster.
Happy Fall, my friends.
Went for a walk. Took some pictures of flowers. Let me know if I've got the names wrong.
Yellow roses.
A couple of bees enjoying a susan or sunflower.
Salvia, I think.
Yellow daisies?
Red mums.
American mountain ash.
Another yellow daisy.
Last of the summer pansies.
Another bee on a susan/sunflower?
Geranium himalayense.
A black eyed susan, or conedisk sunflower, dying, sadly.
Some kind of wild mint, maybe? Possibly a variety of creeping jenny?
Daisy again.
Many mums.
Coreopsis rosea, being enjoyed by a bee.
Let me preface this by saying that this blog is far from my best work. That's what happens with a rant. Okay, here we go. 

This is my cell phone.
I take a lot of shit about this phone. People laugh at it. They roll their eyes. They are frustrated when I don't answer, frustrated that they can't get hold of me at the exact moment they want to. 

I bought it in 2007, right after I moved back to Toronto from Vancouver. At the time, it was the cheapest model available. It works and I pay about $15 or less a month to operate it. Battery life remains good. I can receive texts, though I prefer not to, and send them, though I prefer not to. Half the time, the phone is dead, mostly because I often forget that I own it, sometimes for weeks at a time. I still check my voicemail, and not just to make the icon go away.

And you know what's great about it? You don't decide when you get to talk to me. I decide. If I like you, I do my best to accommodate you, especially when it's important, because that's what communication is -- it's about more than one person. But in the end, I decide what works for me and how much and how often I'm willing to listen. It's a good system, fundamentally similar to your own (which is using your phone the way you want, for what you want). Our systems don't always mesh, but so what? Curmudgeons: We're just like you!
Nathan, for his part, doesn't even have a cell phone. So take the crap I receive and multiply it by a million for him.

As a unit, we get more pressure about our cell phone choices than we do about having a baby. And that's saying a lot.

Is it really such a big deal? I know I'm "trapped" in 2003. I like it here! 2003 was a great time for the cell phone. Why does it bother people so much? Is it so strange/wrong that I like focusing on the person or people I'm with when I'm with them, as opposed to focusing on my phone, looking ahead for something better? And likewise, is it wrong to prefer people who focus on me? Is it wrong to be irritated by last-minute "Oops! I'm going to be 45 mins late!" texts that arrive with no explanation? Wrong to want to have a conversation with someone who looks at my face rather than at his phone? When I'm with someone or doing something, that's what I'm doing. I'm busy. I'll get in touch with you another time, when I'm not busy. Why would anyone have a problem with that? I. Do. Not. Get. It.  Maybe I'm 4000 years old at heart, but I don't get it. 

I also don't get this brand-new community of earnest people who are just (finally) realizing they need to cut back on the cell phone use. There are so many articles about it, so many videos, each one more tiresome than the last.  All this earnest fucking realization garbage, about something that is obvious and simple if you use an ounce of common sense ... it's ridiculous.

Here's one called The amazing discovery I made when my phone died. (Amazing? Really?)

Here's a mini movie everyone was obsessing over about a month ago called I forgot my phone. (Gag me.) 
And here's everybody's favourite comedian Louis C.K. talking mostly about what I'm talking about in this much-less-funny blog. (And I LIKE Louis C.K. Everybody likes Louis C.K. There's nothing wrong with this bit, really. He's funny and he's right. He's so very "on-trend" -- that's the bit I find tiresome. The fact that this "realization" that should be obvious is even a trend to begin with.)
Articles about easing up on the smart phone usage are becoming like articles about "millennials." Enough, already. Guess what? Ten years ago, you didn't have a smart phone. What you've just "realized" about it isn't an "amazing discovery," it's a recent memory.

Once upon a time, I had a smart phone. I had to. For work. I checked it constantly. I rolled over in the morning and pulled it off my nightstand to check it, before I could even see straight. And then I realized how shitty that was, and how awful the constant checking made me feel, the way it activated my anxiety and bruised my soul, so I stopped. First I stopped checking so much, even though I had to keep the phone for work, and then eventually, I left the job and the phone behind.

If you think you use your smart phone too much, stop. Cut back. Be a grown up and do you. Take care of yourself.  And move on with the understanding that you are not a trailblazer. You are not even a person who is particularly interesting. You're certainly not a hero.
The truth is,  I love technology. I use technology! I have kept up with the social networks I like (such as Twitter), and this very blog, but I don't chain myself to them. I use Facebook even though I stopped enjoying it years ago, mostly because I think it's important for my work. And like I said, I text. On occasion. When I have to. I don't answer every call I receive, or every text. But that's not because I don't have a smart phone. It's because I DON'T WANT TO.

And can we also just talk for a second about email? Email, I'm all for. I love email. If you can't get me via text, why not email me? All the people who have smart phones have email on those phones, and yet, they don't want to email. Even though I like email. Even though emailing is the very best way to get in touch with me and to ensure a response. What's THAT about? Effective communication is about meeting in the middle, isn't it? ISN'T IT?

In my opinion, email is really just an improvement to something that already worked. It's practically exactly the same as a handwritten note or letter, but instant and free. I got behind email in 1995 and stayed here. Email helped me fall in love every single time it happened. It helped to solidify my closest, longest friendships. Email is great, and yet suddenly, it's not enough.

And to be fair, I think texting might be similar for some people -- just an even more distilled type of email. For some people. For many people, at least in my experience, it's an enabler of idiocy, ruining attention spans, destroying communication skills, making people even less empathetic and understanding, and even more stupid, detached, and selfish than they already were. And I don't like it. And I'm not going to start using it. Not now, or in the foreseeable future. Maybe eventually, if the climate surrounding how it's used changes and/or if I have to, but not right now. And y'all* or just going to have to ... as the kids say.
P.S. Thank god for Nathan. If I had to date in this text-obsessed climate, I don't know how I would stand it. Instead, I got in just under the wire, and hitched myself to man who is possibly even more curmudgeonly than I am. At least while the world is going crazy with the phones, we have each other. 
* Not YOU you. If I like you and we're friends and you send me a text on occasion, understand that I'm not talking about you.
When September rolls around, I always think about "back-to-school." Usually, I blog about it. Last year I wrote something about clothes -- that first-day outfit. The year before that, it was about the weather -- the sudden crispness in the air. The year before that, I think I wrote something about change, and all the different places where I've lived.

I've always thought that Labour Day was an unescapable emotional trigger. That every year, it would activate something in me through some strange combination of sense and muscle memory. I would feel that back-to-school rush, that prickling motivation to start something new, that remembered-desire to change everything about myself and start fresh, just in time for the "new year." 

But this year, I don't.

It's odd. All the old starters are here. I can hear the kids out at recess after months of silence, there's more traffic on the road, the light seems weaker and all the humidity is gone. It's almost chilly. And still, it doesn't feel like "back-to-school." It feels like any other day. And I'm not sure I like it. 

I feel outside of something that seems to be happening to everyone else and it's making me a little sad. Is back-to-school gone forever? Will it come back? Maybe if we had children? Never?
I have been feeling a bit old, this summer. Not OLD old, but older. Somewhat bereft of possibility. I keep thinking about what I was like in my early twenties, when I was "just starting out" as they say. It's not that those days feel like they were such a long time ago. (They don't -- they feel recent. Disturbingly recent.) It's just that my realm of possibility has gotten so much smaller since, the borders closing in. At certain moments in our lives (if we're relatively lucky, and I have been) almost all paths are open. You can imagine yourself being almost anything, if only you could make a choice. Astronaut?* It's possible. Given the right education, it's possible! Or rather, it was possible.

There are two schools of thought on this. Nathan, bless him, thinks I'm being too negative. (Compared to him, I'm always being too negative.) Other people have told me that almost everything remains possible with the right amount of will power. They say, "You can still be anything you want to be. You just have to be willing to take a leap! Ask! Believe! Receive!" (Barf.) And then there are those who think that the opposite is true, that with every day that passes, every choice we make limits our future choices, until our respective paths are, if not definite, then very predictable. 

I don't know what I think. Both things are true to an extent. I suppose if I really wanted to, I could change my life, begin again. I mean, I've done it before. (But that was because I had to. If you don't have a choice in the matter, reinvention is a very different thing.) At the same time, it's certainly no longer possible for me to be many things. MOST things. I mean, really. Astronaut? It's never going to happen (even if I wanted it to). 
At this point, I'm guessing that I'm never going to go back to school. Not ever. I think that part of my life is over. Maybe that's why I'm a little sad today, I'm not sure.

Sometimes I feel like I wasted a lot of my 20s, that I missed out on doing what I should have been doing because I was focussed on something dumb. I don't know ... It's impossible to know how things might have been different. Maybe they wouldn't have been different.

When I started my MA, I was 27, and I remember asking a prof I was friendly with if he thought I was too old to begin grad school. He said no, that he thought I was fine, but he also added that if I had been a bit older, say 30, he would have cautioned me. By 30, he said, he wouldn't advise it. AND THAT WAS SIX YEARS AGO. So I think about that and I think, "Oh well. Another door closed. I guess I'll never get a PHD." I don't even WANT a fucking PHD, I just feel a little sad about not really being allowed to get one, you know? 

I think I'm rambling. Anyway, that's this year's back-to-school post in the bag. Maybe nothing's changed at all.
*I don't actually want to be an astronaut. That's just an example. Jeeze.
I know it's not my regular day to write, but something just happened that I had to vent about so as not to explode.

I was just at the press preview for the Ai Weiwei According to What? Exhibit that is about to open at the AGO. No problem there. I write less than I used to, but I still work now and again and I've been to a bazillion press events before. They're usually no big deal. You get your snacks, you get your drinks, you get your quotes. You make awkward small talk with other journalists (who all seem to hate each other) and then you go home and churn out your piece. Easy.
Only, these days, I'm not working for a big-time, well-known outlet. I'm working for a website. And it's not a website a lot of people have heard of. And I'm using a pseudonym because I want some extra distance. As a result, I've become a nobody. In this particular instance, this was made clear by the fact that instead of being allowed a regular 5 minute interview with the person I'd come to see, I was lumped into a 5 minute "group interview" with a pack of junior mint bloggers each of whom looked to be about 20 years old. At most. 

But okay, fine. I'm not a snob. Or, I don't want to be a snob, so in to the group I went. And then I spent the next 5 minutes listening to these fucking children ask stupid/inane questions that the interviewee -- Mami Kataoka, the original curator of the show -- tried her best to answer kindly and in good faith (bless her). 

Here are just a couple of questions the baby journos asked:

1. How is the show being received in North America so far? 
The answer to this question should have been: "Have you heard of the Internet? Want to try using it?" But like I said, Mami was a sweetheart so she actually tried to answer.

2. How do most people feel the first time they see the art? 
What? How is someone supposed to answer this? Are we all supposed to be mind readers? This question doesn't even make sense. Mami, very reasonably, answered "Well, how did you feel?" 

It only got worse from there. AND as a result, I wasn't able to ask any of my actual questions. I can still write the piece, so that's not a big deal, but seriously. SERIOUSLY, you guys. I am depressed. I am now lumped in with these people. THESE ARE THE PEOPLE I AM NOW LUMPED IN WITH.

I love journalism, you guys. I really do. I don't wish I was dead at all.

P.S. The highlight of the day was actually this creep shot I snapped of Jeanne Beker, who I've worked with before, but who clearly didn't recognize me. Because I am a nobody.
Sorry Jeanne. This is not a flattering photo. That's what I get for being a creep.