the 2 things i got from “hungry heart”

I read Jennifer Weiner’s memoir, “Hungry Heart” this week.  It is a collection of essays, not an autobiography but more a series of autobiographical pieces.  And there are two key concepts I took out of the book:

  1. OMG SOMEONE ELSE FEELS THE SAME WAY I DO ABOUT JUDITH KRANTZ’S “SCRUPLES”.  I read the entire Judith Krantz oeuvre as a teenager, and strongly identified with her heroine from Scruples, Billy Winthrop Ikehorn Orsini.  For those of you whose mothers did not leave copies of Scruples lying around, we meet Billy Ikehorn as a rich beautiful widow, but she begins her life as a self described “fat freak”.  By the time she turns eighteen, she’s a five-ten, two hundred pound social outcast.  After a year in Paris, Billy loses the weight in an early version of the French Women Don’t Get Fat diet, and develops a stunning sense of chic through her boarding hostess, an impoverished French countess.  She then goes on to live in New York, where she has a lot of unapologetic sex in the Helen Gurley Brown model (social commentary!), and then marries an extremely wealthy man, who conveniently dies seven years later.  From there on, the book goes through her challenges running her own Beverly Hills fashion emporium, and her marriage to a movie producer…but that wasn’t a future I was interested in.  All I cared about was that there was a heroine in literature who looked like I did at sixteen, and who made herself into a beautiful, sophisticated woman of the world despite that.

    Jennifer Weiner also got this – she says that, to her, “Billy felt personal.”  This is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone recount their teenage appreciation for this 1973 work of fiction for this reason.  For Ms. Weiner, as for me, the appeal wasn’t just Billy’s social or financial outcast status, it was the height and her weight she entered adulthood with and the beauty and sophistication she achieved despite it.   I was also five ten by my twentieth birthday, and while I wasn’t two hundred pounds, I wasn’t far below it.  It was surprising to me that someone else who physically resembles me read this book and felt the same way at the same phase of life about this particular character and what she represented: the hope of becoming a beautiful, sophisticated woman despite teen years spent as a too-tall overweight freak.

  2. In more seriousness, the bigger concept I got is that women expend too much energy worrying and obsessing about their weight.  And when I read that, it became like a truth I couldn’t unsee.  How much time do we waste trying to be thinner and prettier that we could be putting into better uses?  Would Hillary have won if we’d all stopped fretting over calories and spin classes and really stared down the political situation?  Has our obsession with our weight distracted us so much that we cannot focus on things that are truly important?

It’s this second point that really frightens me.  I think about the amount of time I’ve spent dieting and obsessing about my weight and it makes me dizzy.  There was the constant calorie burning and calorie tracking.  There is the space in my head dedicated to an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of food macronutrients, which has led to an ability to play a version of The Price Is Right in guessing the caloric cost of everything I eat.  Most of all, there has been the insane amount of energy I have spent either anxious that I wasn’t doing enough, or berating myself because I wasn’t doing enough, and usually both at once.

 

We have also, by giving our weight such importance, made it a defining feature of success in a woman.  We have acknowledged that it is representative of the ability to achieve a goal to be able to meet a set of arbitrary physical standards.  If we do not meet that goal, we believe ourselves to be weak, undisciplined, unworthy of any sort of social rewards.  We either accept a lesser lot in life, or push ourselves through tremendous amounts of thought, energy and strength into losing weight.  And ultimately, we may choose to accept the worst of both options, expending time and energy and mental strength into a weight loss goal, and when it can’t be reached, accepting an inferior social status as the result.  When you believe you are too weak to lose ten pounds, how can you believe that you are strong enough to lean in?

So now we have created barriers of our own making.  We can’t level up our lives in other regards when are too afraid of being judged for our appearance.  We can’t put the time and energy into the things that should truly matter to us when we are pouring all this work into obsessing over food and exercise.  I’m not saying it’s a trap by THE MAN to keep us down, but it is a trap perpetuated by every man who judges us and deems us worthy of conversation based on our appearance, whether he says so or not.  And it’s one we perpetuate to each other, as we judge other women based on how hard we think they’re trying, how much work they’re doing: the last frontier of the America Puritan work ethic funhouse mirrored into judgement.

This is a scary thought, to realize how distracted we all are on this topic.  In “Lady Oracle”, Margaret Atwood’s character, Joan, realizes that there has been wars going on that she was barely aware of and wonders, “what else had been happening in the world while I was busy worrying about my weight?”  What if all women everywhere stopped worrying about our weight for a week and thought about the next thing down on the list: the fact that we have allowed our entire country to be hijacked by a man who continually reduces women only to the value of their looks.

What if we all put the kind of effort into reading the news that we do into trying to calculate a serving size?

What if we all stopped letting ourselves be distracted by our weight, and turned all that energy into asserting our equal status in Western society?

That is what I got out of reading Jennifer Weiner’s memoir: that physical size, both height and weight, color the entire life of a woman who falls outside of the socially accepted range for both.  And that’s kind of ridiculous.  And also that if Ms. Weiner has not read Lady Oracle she probably should.  As books in the subgenre of Fictional Women who Lose 100+lbs At Age 18 go, it’s a much better tome on the subject than Scruples.

 

 

gender equality, sitcom style

“Funny”, in females, is not portrayed in American media as a desirable trait.  It’s something reserved for the sidekick or the comic relief wing-girl, not something for the romantic lead.  I have often believed that girls are encouraged to keep their hilarity within the confines of what’s still considered cute: witty banter, not full on vulgar humor.  There have been women who have gone outside of this mold as comedians, from Joan Rivers to Sarah Silverman, but they are an exception.  Comedy, whether vulgar or smart, can be constricted to gender roles.

Recently, there has been a sort of paradigm shift in how women are portraying themselves in television.   They didn’t come here to play “cute”  They came here to laugh, and they are all out of f’s to give if people do not like it.  There are sitcoms now with female leads that are far from charming, who are not polished, who are just going to go with their characters and all the vulgarity that comes from it.  Now, we have Julia Louis-Dreyfus making statements like, “I just got Brit-fucked by that balloon animal,” and Ilana on Broad City saying, “I am so hard right now,” Now we are getting somewhere in allowing women to put their energy into being hilarious, and not asking them to make sure it stays “cute”.

Fifteen years ago, the closest thing we had to a show where women just went for that kind of bawdiness was Sex and the City – and that was only because Kim Cattrall is an amazing comic actress.  Still, the show felt it had to represent all the areas of the female psyche, so it gave us the traditional female elements and their shocked reactions along with the less traditional characters and their shocking statements.  When Samantha talked about Richard’s “long, pink, perfect dick”, there was a reaction from half the characters where they were somehow still shocked at her crudeness.  Those reactions are there to provide empathy to the poor shocked audience, to show an acceptable reaction to a woman making a sexually explicit statement.  Now, we have episodes of Broad City where Ilana says, “I think I’m just craving pink dick,” and her friend doesn’t even blink.  And just the way she says it, and the way it’s accepted, makes it NBD.  That is what I’m looking for: a universe where hilarity and comedy can come from anyone, and not be defined by their gender.

I often wonder if this is an actual generational gap. Is it that the generation of fifteen years ago felt constrained to these traditional gender roles?  I think that is what frustrates me the most about that mentality when I re-watch Sex & the City.  It was a groundbreaking show for the time, but it still frustrates me how much it adheres to traditional female archetypes, especially since it is essentially conceived and developed by men.

And now we have sitcoms with flawed female leads!  Look at 30 Rock, a show I’m shocked not only was made, but that ran for as long as it did.  Or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, a total phenomenon based on a woman whose behavior is completely out of touch with social expectations.  Or Parks and Rec. It’s not “ladylike” behavior.  It’s just funny behavior.  We have hundreds of shows where brassy, bossy, bawdy behavior is taken for granted when it’s done by guys.  Now we finally have a handful where it’s done by women, and in the universe they live in, it’s totally OK.

I love that we are finally getting to shows that do not feel like they need to map characters to traditional female roles.  It’s no longer required to put a Charlotte in, or to channel Helen Lovejoy in a sort of Greek chorus.  This is where something like Two Broke Girls fails: it has a traditionally female character to be shocked by her smartass friend.  It still has a traditional female gender role to balance out, and tell us that we should be leery of this kind of unladylike behavior.

It’s the shows where a character can behave based on who they are, regardless of their gender role, and have it be accepted in that universe that I’m fascinated by.  Otherwise, having a “cute” girl who’s programmed to react in socially appropriate ways just makes the “funny girl” seem like she’s there for comic relief.  Having a person just be hilarious, without anyone reacting based on gender stereotypes, is what I really love about this next generation of female comedy.  I hope the next seasons of all these sitcoms I’m so into can keep it rolling to remind us that our gender restrictions can no longer keep us from being equally bawdy and hilarious.

 

 

the year of creativity: part 2

Yesterday, I wrote about how I suspect creativity is something missing from my life that will make me more consistently happy

I do not describe myself as a creative person.  I have no aesthetic sense.  I write, but it is mostly in this blog post format.  (I also write essays that I post on Medium)  I took a lot of music classes as a child (piano lessons for years, band nerd) but didn’t keep it up as an adult.  I sing loudly but worry I am off key.  I do not dress in a way that is expressive on a day to day basis.  I do not create.  

There is, however, something unique about the way my brain lights up when I bring something into reality that sounds or feels the same way it does in my head.  I get this professionally sometimes when I talk about marketing plans.  It’s the same light up, synapses firing feeling I get when I hit a piano chord on a difficult key change I’ve been playing.  When I hit the synth line bridge in “Are Friends Electric”? (F7/D7/G7/C7) or the bass line in “Temple of Love”, and I heard the sound under my hands match that in my head, my brain lit up.  When I describe a feeling or explain something in a blog post, the same thing fires.  There is something immensely gratifying in translating my brain into reality.  (Also to singing along to Sisters of Mercy, especially if I can get my husband to play the bass while I play the guitar riff on piano)

Taking that a step further: I love being able read a piece of music and shape it with my own emotions and inflections.  I love writing: I go into a trance writing, seeking the words to express myself.  It’s not extraordinary creativity, it’s not creating something entirely new.  Rather, it is shaping something that was already in existence, but in a way that dovetails with me and my brain.

I may have underestimated creativity or my need for it.  I have been overly pragmatic and tried to focus all my energy into the material things I thought would make me consistently happy, and I don’t think that’s the answer.  I don’t think that’s the best use of my light, so to speak.  I am, after all, made of goddam stardust, and I am almost halfway through my time of having a soul attached to my physical body Earth, and perhaps crashing through on pragmatism and material priorities alone isn’t enough.  Not that I need to disdain the practical world, more that I just don’t need to push the non-practical, the non-productive creative part of my nature, to the back of my brain until I can retire and work with it.

So this year, I am making it a point to be more creative and see what it feels like when I get something out of my brain and into existence. That steampunk novel idea that’s been rattling around in my brain?  Let’s get that onto paper (or rather, Google Drive).  I am pretty sure I am writing a derivative of Perdido Street Station, without as much actual talent or research or skill.  It is still my bad steampunk novel  and my world to build and visualize and live in (and I have realized that I can’t even write a goddamn escapist fantasy novel without a class war in it) and I will get it out of my brain one way or another.  I’ve decided that rather than scooping my brain out is probably not as good an idea as it is to just take a writing class so I’m doing that through my alma mater

Oh, and I got a piano over the holiday so I can resume plunking out Bach preludes as part of the Royal Conservatory series.  I love preludes! And fugues!  I like pieces that work on a theme in classical music and shift slightly each time.  I also really like Baroque music, and I had forgotten exactly how much I liked it until I spent a few days practicing Little Prelude in C Minor.

I am a little worried about trying to fit in Creativity among everything else going on.  After all, I am up late just writing this (I’m telling myself it’s psychologically healthy to do so). The writing class I signed up for calls for 4 – 6 hours a week.  Playing the piano is usually play for 30 – 45 minutes of practice. But that’s the time I was spending watching TV or reading books by other people.  Which was valid,  but I have decided that watching TV and making fun of SNL with Paul is just not as much of a priority right now.

I am slightly anxious how I can fit in dedicated creative time and gym time and cooking/house management, and launch Wallabout Bay (my new Scout troop) and manage 5th Brooklyn and help with Attrition Coalition and do well enough at my job to get access to the kind of growth in it that will make me happy and  be a wife and mother…it’s a lot of and this and this and this, and all of it makes me feel slightly crazy overwhelmed.

I tell myself I’ll know soon enough.  If dedicating time and energy to creativity is actually what is going to make me happy, I’ll prioritize it.  If it doesn’t, I won’t.  At least I won’t be telling myself that it’s not worth the time anymore. At least I won’t be telling myself that I don’t deserve to be creative, or that I can’t justify taking the time for it.  At some point, I have to say, yes, I will do this.  I will practice my crafts.  And I may not be great at creating, but it lights my brain up in a way that makes me happy and may even make me better in other parts of my life.  And that in itself is something.

the year of creativity

I have a very full life.  A very good life, many would say: a family, a career, a community, friends, all of the things that go into being a well-adjusted adult.  At least, that’s what it looks like in writing, on social, on “paper” and pixels.  It isn’t Instagram pretty, but my life is solidly built.  I’ve had a mix of opportunity and good luck that I’ve been able to parlay into a generally awesome existence.  I do not need my life to be universally aesthetically appealing, because it was built for me.

That’s why it sounds precious and ungrateful to say that this isn’t enough.  To say I’m not happy, all the time, given my circumstances, makes me feel like I am a whiny Gen Y yuppie, aka a GYPSY.

There is a critic that lives in all of us that says we are not entitled to say that if our lives are good.  This voice tells me that because I have the basics of the Western world: love, safety, shelter, food, that should be enough.  Furthermore, American work ethic tells me that if the life I have built isn’t everything I want, that’s my fault for not working hard enough.

I told myself that for years, that I had no reason to be unhappy because I had the potential to have everything.  I could lose weight to be beautiful, I could work harder to be wealthier.  Everything that could make me happier was possible if I was only willing to work for it.  If I wasn’t willing to work for it, then that was why I wasn’t happy.

I told myself for years that if only I was more goal oriented, if only I would focus, Jillian, focus, then everything would improve and I would be happier.  The awesome life I built would feel complete.

Then somewhere around last year, I realized that the goals I had been working towards had absolutely dick-all to do with being a happy, fulfilled person.  If I’m not entirely happy in my own my life (outside of my relationships with my core people), it has jack shit to do with what I can afford or what I weigh.  Instead, it has to do with the way I am treating my own brain, and the little box I am trying to shove it into.

And that was the revelation.  It isn’t that I’m unhappy because I haven’t worked hard enough to earn everything I want.  It’s that I didn’t want the right things to begin with.  Fuck being thinner – my husband loves me the way I am and only wants me thinner if it gives me the confidence to wear sluttier clothes.  Fuck more money – money is security to me, and the ability to Travel the World.  It can make a big difference in happiness, but it isn’t everything I want.  Fuck…oh, wait, professional success is still important, so maybe I should not say “fuck you Corporate America” just yet.

Why is it though that professional success is still important, especially when divorced from financial motivation?  This is simply because I actually really like my career when it’s challenging and I’m getting to do the things I’m best at.  When I’m poking around in data and writing up ideas for a media plan and pulling together slides on Consistent Messaging From First To Last Touch (note to self, that’s a professional article idea), then I’m happy.

So what is it missing in the rest of my life that is making me less than happy all the time?  How can I light my brain up more to make that happiness more consistent and less fleeting…and maybe, in the course of things, reinforce the part of my brain that comes up with good ideas at work?  (Or at least make myself more fulfilled so I feel more balanced at work)

I suspect the answer may be creativity.

I am a very pragmatic person.  I am not a creative person.  How am I going to make this work?  I will write that in tomorrow’s post.

 

I have to stop reading the comments

I have to stop reading the comments

Do not ask me why I read the comments. It is always a mistake. Whatever the topic now, it manages to devolve into a set of crystallized black and white beliefs from the Left and the Right. This year’s crop of holiday messages has been the worst yet, as people have used those as jumping-off points to insult and express their dislike of the politicians posting those good wishes.

It’s impossible to see good in any comments anymore. The right jumps in to say that we Lefties are all “libtards” (officially my Most Hated Term Ever) and refuse to see The Truth about the Current POTUS, and/or His Associate Hillary Clinton and/or The Current Canadian Prime Minister. That “truth” is usually that that the “libtard” in question is wearing blinders/corrupt/biased in ways that are MUCH worse than their counterparts on the Right. If only us lefties were smarter/less fooled by MSM/more willing to admit it, we’d realize the leaders we chose are awful in their own right and that we are too stupid/selfish/elitist to choose REAL leaders like Current Right Wing Extremist. (Oh, and also, Obama is a Muslim/Trudeau hates Christmas)

The Left states that the incoming President is racist/going to get us all nukes/corrupt, and that the outgoing POTUS/his associate Clinton/current PM Trudeau is the best, classiest leader that ever was or could have been and NO MATTER WHAT they are definitely better than PEOTUS/past PM Harper. They would like to cite a lot of racism and prejudice that the Right is responsible for, and would like to also cite Russian hacking/Russian affiliation/Russian arms race as a factor.

What frustrates me the most is that neither group is playing on the same playing field. They are each shouting horrible insults at each other in knee jerk reactions of hatred that require the mental gymnastics of lumping each and every person into the same category. I do genuinely believe that there are many more incorrect facts and honestly just plain wrong beliefs by the Right, and that a lot of people with single-issue reactions (ie. this week’s “Obama is the WORST EVER for not using his veto to help Israel” crew) are lying to themselves and/or believing outright false news in order to make themselves feel better about the fact that A Possible Nuclear Winter Is Coming And It Was Fairly Elected In.

The Right continues, when sane, to announce that Obama was the Worst President Ever because of one or two things he did wrong; the Left continue to exaggerate Trump’s less concrete (and therefore more easily dismissed) problems to stand on a platform of Righteous Indignation and Moral Superiority.

How about this?

  1. The Left will focus on actual, well written statements. Not “Trump Will Get Us All Killed”, not “Trump Grabs Pussies”, not “Trump is Racist”, but “Trump has Business Conflicts Of Interest and had Bob Dole broker a call with Taiwan for his own hotel empire’s growth, thereby risking our relationship with China.” Or “Trump is pandering to a Christian population and is expressing vocal support of policies and laws that are in direct conflict with our Constitution”. Or “Trump isn’t attending security briefings but apparently has time to watch SNL.” Or even “Trump’s entire cabinet bought their positions and will never have the country’s best interests at heart over their own business kickbacks.” (This is my favorite because I really can’t handle having decisions over minimum wage made by a fast food CEO, or decisions on our foreign relationships made based on what’s best for Exxon)
  2. Perhaps we could also politely suggest that the Right put the same amount of fucking effort into digging up dirt, corruption and shadiness among Trump and his ridiculous excuse for a Cabinet that they did into finding all that circumstantial evidence against Hillary to believe she was corrupt. If they’re all so great at seeing through the screen of decency that Obama and Clinton throw up over their shady backdoor dealings, maybe they can apply that superpower to the new League of Supervillians that will be running the country? Insulting Hillary and telling us about her corruption is moot right now, maybe those watchdogs could look for corruption in the administration they somehow thought would be less corrupt.
  3. The Right will stop the absolute wall of hatred they throw up at every possible opportunity, like posting those stupid “crying laughter” emojis, saying that the Left is whiny, or calling us “libtards”. I hate “libtards” because it’s a generic insult calculated to be offensive, and I hate being called “whiny” because I don’t like the President Elect and insist on expressing my distrust of him and his coterie of 1%ers at every possible opportunity. You know what’s whiny? The government of North Carolina disenfranchising the state by taking all legislative power away from the democratically elected governor. Or, for that matter, continuing to complain about losing the Civil War for over a hundred and fifty years. Being “loyal opposition” to a PEOTUS you don’t trust isn’t even in that league.
  4. The Right will also stop citing proven false statements like Obama being a Muslim, Planned Parenthood selling fetus parts, LGBTQ being a “lifestyle choice” or climate change being a myth. Science exists, please stop denying it.

What we should do is just all talk about why we are so fucking emotional about this. I know why I’m so emotional. Every single member of Trump’s cabinet will make decisions that are bad and wrong for me, my family, my community, my city and my country. Most of all Trump’s policies on climate change will put my beloved hometown underwater within my goddamn lifetime. And to add insult to injury, my NYC income tax is now paying for security at Trump Tower because the PEOTUS won’t even live at the White House. Do you all realize how much that is taking away from my son’s school budget? DO YOU?!?

This is what I mean about emotional. I perceive these things as genuine threats to me & mine. Insulting me though, does not serve to help. And me insulting other people who believe in Trump because they are upset that Obama chose to stab Israel in the front today (JESUS BARRY REALLY?!?) or who genuinely believe that Trump is the choice for bringing back jobs to their small towns is not going to help in much the same way.

And that’s just America. I am deeply afraid for Canada, and afraid that the culture I grew up with and so strongly believe in — that of diversity and mutual respect and being just plain nice to people — is being eroded as people begin to take on American-style exaggerated blanket statements as mantras so they may justify adherence to a slate of politics they may or may not entirely agree with. For example: justifying the concept of “screening for anti-Canadian values” and saying that “67% of Canadians agree with it” [sample size or survey too small to make this accurate, btw] because you don’t like the Liberals fiscal policies are two totally separate things from the Conservative slate In Canada, we do not have to have absolute partisan politics with prejudice and insults the way we have in the USA. The fiscal conservatives in Canada should be perfectly capable of saying, “I don’t like Trudeau’s carbon tax but I do like how he is willing to work with pipeline companies,” without having to go into personal insults and undying loyalty to the Ghost of Stephen Harper and/or The Threat of Kellie Leitch and their racism — or, worst of all, saying things like “we need a Trump.”

Canada has been divided East vs. West before, and we do not need to follow America’s shitty example of being divided Rural vs. Urban now. It’s fine for those who do not like Trudeau to post that their Christmas is fiscally bleak because they don’t think his financial policies for the country make sense, but to constantly say he is a corrupt pretty boy out of touch with reality is making those statements far less part of a Loyal Opposition and far more part of a Knee Jerk Partisan Loyalty — or really, just Being A Jerk.

So that’s why I have to stop reading the comments. It literally sets my heart racing to be impersonally attacked, to have the leaders I support and believe in and the service they have done to their country reduced to insults so that those on the Right may continually believe in 100% of their political slate and their extremely poor choices. Claiming climate change doesn’t exist so you can be completely on the Conservative Train isn’t necessary. It’s OK to not agree with the entire slate of stupidity, and it’s OK to say that Obama did a good job of climate change legislation even if he wasn’t a friend to Israel.

It also makes my blood sugar spike to read the pandering and retroactive re-writing of history to eliminate things like Clinton or Trudeau’s pay-to-play fundraising. Right now I am also disappointed about the glossing over of Obama’s policies on Israel (REALLY BARRY YOU WANTED TO BE A DICK ABOUT THAT INSTEAD OF FORCING A SUPREME COURT APPOINTMENT?!?!?!). But I do think the selective perception and fake news is a more common phenomena on the Right as we see this increasing psychological phenomenon of justification and self-placating regarding an extremely bad decision to elect and support Trump. This is why we see the walls grow more absolute and the statements less truthy with time. This is why seeing the right wing trolls really upsets me because they are so illogically and unnecessarily mean, and they especially come out when the Left make emotional, sugarcoated and/or panicky statements.

Perhaps we could all agree to make more logical and polite statements on the Internet as a first step to healing the divide between the two Americas…and what will, if we don’t stop it, become two Canadas as well. That would make me more likely to engage in productive and intellectually challenging discourse, instead of being outraged and responding in a non-constructive way. It would also be nice to be able to make statements on the Internet without worrying about being attacked, as I am posting this on Medium, because I know ultimately, I will get comments from people who do not agree with me about one political point or another and will argue about it.

Just, if you must argue with me, please do not call me a libtard, or insinuate I am whiny, or that I am ignoring the fallacies of the Democrats/Liberals. I may not be as familiar with all those fallacies — but I’d be willing to hear logical statements about them. Saying Obama is the worst, most divisive president in history though and ignoring the legacy of economic and environmental good he did in his last eight years of service, however, is not going to make me listen. Calling the current PM “Trudope” or insulting his hair is not relevant to an argument against his tax policies or foreign aid distribution. Just stop. Please. And allow me to read the comments once again.

it’s Remembrance Day

Dear Dad,

It’s been eight years today since you died, today, on Remembrance Day.  My memory of this day and its ceremony belongs to you: it is the minute of silence at the War Memorial in Oak Bay, where you thanked the veterans of the Second World War for fighting for you and your country.  It was not lost on us how much this day meant to you because of how you, your community, and your country were threatened by that war, and how much it meant to you that so many people were brave enough to fight.

Dad, I have thought of you so much this past election season.  You went into the hospital for your last stroke just before Barack Obama took office, before he defeated John McCain.  You called McCain, a “doddering old fool” and cheerfully remarked that Sarah Palin “had nice legs but nothing else going for her” (OK, a tad sexist, but true).  You would have appreciated watching the Obama presidency and the intellectualism he brought back to America.  You would have enjoyed watching FOX News lose their minds over Obama for eight years so you could have called their talking heads “bloody lunatics”, and you would have really loved the eight years of Daily Show and Colbert Report coverage that followed.  (I’m sorry to tell you Stephen Colbert is now David Letterman’s replacement and no longer the genius satirist you appreciated so much.)

I’m not sure if you would still be able to mock and chuckle at what has happened here this week.  It is too frightening and too serious.  I was sad you weren’t here to make fun of Trump throughout this election season, but I think you would stop laughing and be horrified at his legitimate election this week.  I think you would say that all of America had finally proven itself crazy, and that it was time for me to come back home to Canada.  I can almost hear you, telling me not to stay here, not with Paul (who you loved) and Ben (who you were so proud of).  I think you would see parallels to Hitler’s Germany, and be afraid for me.

Dad, it isn’t time for me to come home yet.  You also taught me to stand up for the little guy, even if it meant going to a fight.  You believed in the English colonialism and imperialism, but you also believed in equality and English moral decency for everyone once they were colonized (Again, kind of imperialist, but better than judging on skin color).  I remember how you had an equal rights hiring policy, how you judged people by their work ethic, not their heritage.  I believe you would be shocked and aghast at the hate crimes that are already springing up in America after the election, but you wouldn’t want me to turn my back on people I could help.

When the Germans started their attack on the Jews, no one came to help my people then.  Not the English, not the Canadians.  The Americans turned Jews away.  Dad, you never really accepted what that meant to me or my mother or our family.  You had a lot of respect for those who fought, but you never thought it was a huge deal that no-one from the Anglo Saxon countries came to help the Jews.  I realize that the Battle of Britain was going on for years and England was kind of busy, but even after you defended the homeland, no one tried to bomb or shut down the concentration camps.  Six million Jews died, six million people like me, like my son – well educated, apartment dwelling Western European Jews, many my distant kin in Austria and the Ukraine.

Dad, I realize that the English suffered during the Wars, and that you spent your childhood hiding from German bombings, even in the far North of England. But that is a Boys Own Adventure Story compared to what happened to the Jews.

I am facing an America that has accelerated its usual racism and is now speeding towards something that is more akin to Nazi Germany.  Swastikas are springing up, the Klan is celebrating – and all of this because the country legitimately elected a man who legitimized racism and prejudice.  Dad, it’s frightening, even for me, a half-Jew living in New York City.  Conservative America was disturbing but we could still make fun of it. This is too scary to even mock.  You would have been upset if you were here to see Stephen Colbert breaking down on air, in shock at the election results.  And Trump’s America isn’t coming for the Jews…but they are coming for someone.  And just because it isn’t me or mine doesn’t mean I can hide from it.

You taught me to stand and fight for what was right and that holding on to good old fashioned English morality was important.  Being Jewish teaches me that I have a responsibility to be vigilant against prejudice, and to stand up for those I see being tormented unfairly.  These two things together mean that I can’t leave America yet.

I’m scared though, Dad – scared that New York will suffer an attack, a bombing, a Blitz. I’m scared for my friends – my friends who are visibly not Caucasian, my friends who are LGBTQ.  I’m even more scared that Canada will follow the UK and US down this crazy path, and there will be no safe place anywhere anymore.

As scared as I am, I will have to hold the line and fight.  I will not go quietly into that good night, I will rage at the dying of the light.  A Dylan Thomas poem you loved, which is about death, but could also be about giving in to despair and hopelessness.

Dad,  I wish, more than anything else, that I could still talk to you.  I think you’d still be trying to convince me to come home, but I also think you’d understand why I felt I had to stay and fight – and you’d probably blame my mother’s side of the family (“You must get this from your mother and her Vietnam War protesting” you said, when I went to DC to protest the Iraq War).  But as much as I get my strong conviction for civil liberties from my mother, I also got the need to always do what’s right from you.

You said it was up to us to stand up for the little guy.  I will not only stand up, but I will stand with all who need me to.  And I will teach Ben to stand up with me.

Dad, I remember and honor your memory today.  I will say the yartzheit for you tonight, as I have since you died.  And while I’m in services, I will also pray for the same kind of strength that it took for each and every soldier to fight in each in every war.  We must remember and honor those who fought for our freedom, and fight ourselves to preserve it.  You taught me that too.

-Jillian

 

dreaming of the edge of the world

Douglas Coupland wrote, in Shampoo Planet, that home is where you dream, that it’s part of your brain’s hard drive.  That we’re all hard wired for our dreams to be set at home.

I’m not terribly sure where I dream these days.  Many days my dreams do exactly what they should do, and parse through the mundane things that have happened to me each day.  Some days, they are pop culture references – TV, movies, books.  And then other days, I dream of my own home, of that corner of British Columbia I grew up in, took for granted and left.  I dream of Victoria.

With no close family left in BC, I’m unlikely to return, even for a vacation, because I know I’ll always prioritize the rest of the world over returning to that corner of it I know by heart.  And yet, every day, I think of random places and it catches my breath in sadness.  I’ll  be caught by a random memory of Oak Bay in summer, or I’ll look at a street in Manhattan and see the West End.  It is forever and ever part of my permanent memory, my own hard drive.

For the past year, since I said goodbye the last time, since I wept my way back across Canada on a red-eye flight back through Toronto last November, I have been trying to push back those memories and focus on my actual present in Brooklyn.  I love Brooklyn, after all – I love New York the way I loved Vancouver.  This is the most Vancouvery place I could have settled with my family, after all, with its hippie food co-ops, overpriced real estate, bike lanes and beaches.  New York City is ten times the size of Vancouver and yet I get it because I lived there.  And I chose to be here, and I work every day to stay here and I love it here.  And so, rather than focus on the past, I chose to push it away.  I thought that would be the smart thing to do.

The problem with the past is that it won’t be pushed away.  It’s been half a lifetime since I lived on the Island, a dozen years since I left Vancouver, and yet I still dream of home.  It’s taken me the last twenty years to realize that not everyone feels homesickness like I do, and not everyone has the emotional attachment that those of us born in the Pacific Northwest do to our homeland.  Maybe I should be celebrating that and shining that light into my own memories instead of drawing the curtain on them. Maybe I should choose to follow those memories for a few minutes each day – not enough to be lost in nostalgia, but enough to accept the sorrow and the joy that comes from spending the first twenty years of my life in a lost English colony on the edge of the world.

And so, I’ve chosen to spend a few minutes memorializing my own memories of Victoria.  The neighborhoods and streets are still there, and many are actually protected by heritage and building laws.  The Victoria in my memory is frozen in time between 1988 and 1998, in an era before the Internet had pictures, a time between when the natural resource industries crashed and the tech industry started, yet it doesn’t look much different than the city I said goodbye to in 2015.  There will never be skyscrapers in Victoria the way there are in Vancouver…but there will be condominium developments, and there will be growth, and there will be big changes yet to come.  When I remember places – a half-finished Songhees walkway, Vic West of abandoned industrial zones, an Oak Bay Marina with Sealand of the Pacific (yes, of Blackfish fame) – they are memories of places that no longer exist except in memory.

I have pushed back memory because I am afraid of homesickness, of the addiction of nostalgia and the past.  These are terrible temptations in stressful times.  I have questioned many times since I left the Island if my desire to go home was pure homesickness or just a longing to return to a time that was less complicated.  After all, wouldn’t everyone like to have the responsibilities of their nineteen year old self for a few days instead of the responsibilities of their thirty-eight year old adult self?  So it is with the fear of addiction that I risk reliving memories of British Columbia and choose to describe them.

So.  I remember Oak Bay, Victoria, the Island.  I remember Vancouver, the Lower Mainland.  I will allow myself to revisit the place I know by heart.  I will trust myself to accept the strange mix of loss and comfort that is growing up someplace that borders on the unreal in sheer beauty, and then having chosen to leave it, as every small-to-medium town kid does, to See the World.  After all, being able to call one single place home means that, as long as I live elsewhere, I am forever on a journey.

When I am self-pitying, that is when I tell myself I’m living in exile Off Island.

When I am hopeful, that is when I can see that journey as being a lifetime of adventure.

And living in Brooklyn, that is exactly the adventure I dreamed of as a teenager in Victoria. I do not need to convince myself of the sheer awesomeness of my present, I just need to come to terms with the contrast it has with my past.