Tag Archives: being a teenager sucked ass

High School Redux

29 Apr

So a little while ago I blogged about how I absolutely, no-way, seriously was not going to my high school reunion.

I hated high school. Hated it. There was no fucking way that I was going to be talked into setting foot in that building again.

An old friend and I exchanged several emails coming up with long, detailed reasons for why we were going to miss the reunion.

Naturally, I ended up going.

A couple of notes about reunions:

1. If you blog about how you’re not going to your reunion, every one will spend all evening coming up to you and asking if you’re glad that you went after all. Not that I’m complaining about this – just mentioning, is all. You know, in case you were planning on emulating my life choices (note: I do not recommend this).

2. Everyone will tell you that you look exactly the same. This is meant as a compliment, although admittedly I didn’t initially take it as one. I mean, come on – the whole point of going to this reunion was to prove to people that I’m not the gross, ugly, greasy-skinned loser that I was in high school. But then I realized something – everyone is, in one way or another, an ugly loser in high school. I doubt that even the prettiest, most popular girls were immune from hating the way they looked. I also realized that, as hard as I was on myself back then, I didn’t look that bad.

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I mean, sad, angry and consumed with ennui, sure. Wearing an ill-fitting velour shirt, yes. But not exactly the horrific, Medusa-like creature I’ve been picturing all these years.

Anyway, in response to everyone who is absolutely dying to know whether or not I’m glad I went: Yes. I am.

That’s not to say that it wasn’t overwhelming, because it was. The first part of the reunion, which took place at the school itself, was especially tough. I feel like I spent a good chunk of the afternoon wearing my I’m-so-emotional-right-now-but-I’m-trying-hard-to-smile grimace, so if we ran into each other and I seemed flustered and weirdly toothy, that’s why. It was just a lot of people, and a lot of energy, and a lot of complicated feelings all at once, you know? And by “complicated” I mean “run the whole spectrum of emotions from great to achingly terrible.

The “great” moments include running into friends that I haven’t seen for years and years and spending hours starting every sentence with, “Hey, remember when?” For example: hey, remember when John Winter told the drama teacher on her last day at the school that she had a beautiful body and he wanted to make love to her? Remember how our mascot was Johnny Rebel, the Confederate soldier, and we had a Confederate flag hanging in our foyer, and NO ONE THOUGHT THIS WAS A PROBLEM UNTIL 1999? Remember every fucking crazy thing that Jason Baker ever did?

I was also super happy to be able to see a bunch of my old teachers, including my two favourite English teachers of all-time (one of whom occasionally reads this blog, YEAH, YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE). Some of my old teachers barely remembered me (or else didn’t remember me at all but faked it pretty convincingly), but most of them seemed glad to see me. One of them, a music teacher, took me aside later in the night and said that she was really, really happy to see that I was in a good place with my life, and that was kind of gratifying because it meant that at least one of my teachers had noticed how miserable I was back then.

Another high point was finding this extremely adorable (if I do say so myself) picture of me from when I was fourteen:

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This was from a writing “mystery tour” that happened in my first year of high school. It was a small group of students, and I was one of only three ninth graders invited along. They took us to various exotic locations around Waterloo Region (including the West Montrose Kissing Bridge and the boiler room of our high school), and at one point a photographer from the local newspaper showed up and took a picture of me sitting on a giant pile of tires behind Paleshi Motors in Elmira. The whole idea was that we were supposed to be inspired to write amazing things by all the places that we visited, and maybe that worked out for some people, but not me. Every word I wrote that day was terrible, and even as I was writing them, I knew they were terrible.

But you know what? My English teacher thought that I was a good writer, and that’s how I ended up being asked along on the trip. And now I look back at this picture and I think, Whoa, someone actually thought that I was a writer, and look, there’s me writing like a real gosh-darn writer lady.

Plus I am just super adorable. LOOK AT HOW SERIOUS MY FACE IS.

The less-than-great moments were watching the “documentary” that someone had made about the Integrated Arts Package and hearing people talk about how the program had absolutely, definitely, for-sure been a wonderful, life-altering experience. Because I guess the fact is that I’m jealous of those people, jealous in a gross, green-eyed-monster kind of way. I wanted to have been able to say that I, too, had come out of high school feeling brave and confident and talented. I wanted to be able to go on record saying that the Eastwood arts program was the best thing that had ever happened to me in my whole stupid life, but it wasn’t. The fact was that I couldn’t get my shit together, and not a whole lot of people there really seemed super interested in helping me get my shit together, and that was that. And, I mean, I did get my shit together later, and I have a great life now, and everything worked out fine, etc. It’s just that I feel sad that I missed out on this apparently amazing time that everyone else was having.

Except that not everyone else was having an amazing time – you just don’t find out until afterwards that pretty much everyone else was, in some way, miserable, too.

At one point on Saturday, while we were still at the school, I texted a friend and referred to Eastwood as the “pit of despair.” And like, I was kind of joking? But also kind of not?

I mean, I guess maybe that’s the thing – maybe high school is supposed to be a pit of despair, you know? Maybe that’s what these reunions are really about – reconnecting with people who went through this terrible, hormone-fuelled hell at the same time that you did. Maybe reunions are supposed to help you realize that everyone was so wrapped up in their own self-loathing that they had no time or energy to notice how much of a loser you were. Maybe you were fine all along and you just didn’t know it. Maybe.

Your high school classmates are like people that you lived with through a war, or a natural disaster, or some other awful event. You might not have a whole lot in common, and maybe they wouldn’t be the people that you’d pick as your friends if you were given a choice, but they understand something about you that not many other people do. Just the fact that you were able to push through and survive and make it out the other side with all of your faculties intact somehow binds you together, even if nothing else does.

I guess that one of the main things that I took away from the reunion was a realization that so many of these people would have been willing to be my friends, if only I’d let them. At the time I didn’t think that I was building walls and pushing people away from me, but of course I actually was. And I’m not saying oh God imagine what could have been, but still. I keep thinking about the part in A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, when Francie graduates from the eighth grade and discovers to her astonishment that all of her classmates, none of whom were her friends, suddenly want to write in her yearbook and know what her summer plans are and where she’ll be going to high school:

“They’re nice,” Francie thought. “I could have been friends with them all the time. I thought they didn’t want to be friends. It must have been me that was wrong.”

I mean, I guess that’s the thing about walls, emotional or otherwise – they make excellent defences, but they can be isolating, too. If you’re smart enough, you’ll let the good people in and keep the bad ones out, but Jesus, who’s that smart? Especially when they’re fifteen?

I guess what I really want to say is this: high school. It fucking sucked, and maybe it didn’t have to. But it did, and that suckiness got me to where I am now.  And my life now is pretty sweet, so there’s not much point in regretting any of it, or feeling bitter about it. I mean, okay, maybe I still regret some stuff, but on the whole I’m a lot more at peace with everything. And that’s pretty cool.

My only disappointment with the reunion was that they didn’t play this song:

Because you know what? I would have fucking nailed it.

Nostalgia Machine: On Re-Watching Girl, Interrupted

1 Apr

Those of you who are fairly new to my blog may not know this, but on days when I’m not busy kicking the patriarchy square in the nuts or deconstructing inaccurate Facebook memes, I like to indulge in a little bit of nostalgia. Well, maybe a lot of nostalgia. Then I tweet extensively about my my indulgences, and sometimes end up writing about them here.

Which is all to say that I re-watched Girl, Interrupted the other night and now I want to talk about it.

I saw Girl, Interrupted in theatres, when it first came out, and it gave me a lot of Feelings. Actually, it gave me one main Feeling, namely that I basically was Winona Ryder’s character, if slightly less gamine and winsome. I mean, I was a depressed teenager who had a) frequently contemplated suicide, b) felt lonely and isolated, and c) wrote obsessively in serious-looking leather-bound journals. Of course I identified with the film version of Susanna Kaysen.

Every single scene, every thought, word, and action in that movie struck me as being perfectly, achingly true. Every time Winona Ryder looked at the camera with her wide, tearful eyes, every time her mouth trembled with emotion, every time she stared sadly off into the middle distance, I thought, yes. Yes, I get this.

Then, a few years ago, I bought Girl, Interrupted on DVD, fuelled by memories of how important it had been to me. But after watching it for less than an hour I had to turn it off. It was awful, unbearable even. The performances were overwrought, the dialogue ridiculously, almost comically, dramatic. I was embarrassed that I’d ever even liked this movie, let alone identified with the main character. I put the DVD back in its case, stuck it on the shelf and didn’t touch it again.

Or rather, I didn’t touch it until earlier this week, when Catherine, my sister and frequent accomplice in nostalgic endeavours, suggested that we watch it. Sure, I said, figuring that I could hate-watch it and then later make fun of it. Maybe we could even invent a drinking game, like, take a shot every time Susanna cries over how hard it is to be a white, middle-class American. Hilarious, right? I mean, right?

Except that on re-watching Girl, Interrupted, I discovered that it had, in the last five years, somehow gone past bad and straight back to good again.

At its core, this film isn’t really about mental health, or suicide, or Susannah Kaysen’s stay at the famed McLean Hospital. I mean, of course it is about all of those things, at least peripherally, but at its heart it’s about friendship. Specifically, it’s about a sort of intense, parasitic friendship that seems to exist only between young women, those deceptively bright, canny girls just on the cusp of entering the adult world.

And maybe this isn’t the type of friendship that every girl experiences. Maybe this is just me, projecting my own pathetic history onto the blank canvas of Winona’s smooth, perfect face. Maybe I’m the only one who sees this when I watch this movie. But I know that this is a type of friendship that I’ve engaged in not just once but over and over, and maybe I still do, to this day. It’s possible that it’s a pattern that will play out for the rest of my life, or at least until I grow up and finally get some sense knocked into me.

Can you believe that I’m thirty and still talking about growing up in the future tense?

The dynamics of this specific type of friendship are as follows: half of the friendship, let’s call her Girl One, is a strong, loud, brash character who doesn’t give a shit about what anyone thinks, says whatever’s on her mind and gives very little thought to the consequences of her actions. The other half is someone, call her Girl Two, who is almost the photographic negative of the first – quiet, reserved, terrified of how other people see her.

Think Peppermint Patty and Marcie from Peanuts, except amplified, grotesquely exaggerated.

When I say that this friendship is parasitic, maybe what I really mean is that it’s symbiotic. As a lifelong Girl Two, I’ve always thought that I needed Girl One more than she needed me, but I wonder, now, whether that’s true or now. Maybe we’ve needed each other in equal amounts. I’ve needed someone to act out all of the things that I would never, or could never, dare to do, someone whose own loud voice might give me permission to raise mine, someone who would never sugarcoat whatever they wanted to tell me. But perhaps my friends, in turn, needed someone to occasionally hold them back, someone to steady them, someone who would listen to them and not pass judgment.

The truth is that I don’t know why or how much these other girls loved or needed me, but I do know that I loved and needed them with an intensity that sometimes bordered on obsessive. Because these girls, these loud, strident girls, had both a popularity and notoriety (not that my teenage self could differentiate between the two) that I could only dream of. People either fiercely loved or passionately hated these girls; as for me, they didn’t even bother to notice that I existed.

But these girls noticed that I existed.

And the fact is that as much as I like to think that I’m the type to stand up for what I believe in, the type to shout down the misogynists, the racists, the homophobes, the transphobes, I still sometimes need someone to give me a push. I need someone to raise their voice first, show me how it’s done, teach me not to be afraid. Because for whatever reason, these gifts don’t exist inside of me, or if they do, they lie perpetually dormant, and need to be awakened again and again and again.

On my own, I am not good at challenging authority. Not really. I need other people, people like Angelina Jolie’s character Lisa, to egg me on. And, much like Winona Ryder’s Susanna, I’m not always good at figuring out when the Lisas in my life have gone too far. I put too much trust in them, and then end up places, sometimes frightening places, that I never intended to be. I let myself be blinded by love, or at least by longing and envy, and don’t notice that some of these Lisas are downright bad news. Or rather, I don’t notice until it’s too late.

So yeah, maybe at thirty years old I do still get Susanna. Maybe there are more layers to the similarities between us than I’d originally thought.

And all that absurd dialogue and overwrought acting? This time around, they seem to me to be a painfully realistic portrayal of how teenagers actually behave. When you’re in your teens, everything that you feel is so intense, so immediate, so overwhelming that you can speak only in terrible, laughable clichés. My mother has always said that teenagers are like toddlers with better language skills, and now, watching my son struggle to express frighteningly huge emotions with his sadly inadequate vocabulary, I’ve realized how right she is.

I’ve realized that when I watched Girl, Interrupted a few years ago, what embarrassed me the most was the idea that at one time I might have spoken or acted in any way that resembled Susanna. Surely, even as a teenager, I’d been too smart, too articulate to ever behave so pretentiously. But the truth is that I was ridiculously, probably amusingly, pretentious. I just didn’t recognize this trait because all of my peers were just as overwrought and dramatic as I was.

All of this is to say that I’m now back at a place in my life where I can like, maybe even love, this movie, if only because it seems like a neatly preserved time capsule of how I thought and felt half a lifetime ago. I remember what it was like to be where Susanna was. To suddenly find yourself at the end of high school faced with choices, choices, choices, and yet not to see any of them leading anywhere. When I was a teenager, I lived in terror of being “normal,” because I worried that choosing a normal path and ending up with a normal life would make me just as grey and miserable as all of the adults that surrounded me. There would come a time, of course, when having a normal life and a nuclear family and a nine-to-five job would seem wonderfully, almost exotically appealing to me, but that came much later. When I was in high school, I didn’t understand that opting out had its costs, some of which, it turned out, I wasn’t willing to pay.

And sometimes I miss my teenage self, because even if she lacked her own voice, she still somehow managed to be totally steadfast and uncompromising in her beliefs, even if those beliefs made her feel miserable and isolated. But mostly I’m just glad that I’ve learned how to trade off one thing for another, to give a piece of myself away in order to be able to keep a different part that is more necessary, more valuable. I’m grateful to the Lisas in my life who have taught me when to stand up mouth off and, somewhat by extension, when to sit down and shut up. I’m thankful for every time I’ve had to learn the lesson that it’s important not to trust the Lisas out there too implicitly, and that I need to learn how to think for myself. It’s a hard lesson, and one that it feels like I’ve had to learn often, but it’s a good one.

Mostly, though, I’m glad that I’ve found my way to where I am.

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My Uncle Eric

26 Mar

When I was a kid I had this uncle, Uncle Eric.

Maybe you’ve heard of him? His name was Eric Donkin, and for a while (quite a while, actually) he was kind of a Big Deal in Canadian theatre.

Here is a picture of Uncle Eric as Julius Caesar:

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Pretty badass, no?

He wasn’t really my uncle. He was actually one of those family friends your parents force you to call auntie or uncle or cousin. His father had died over in England when he was a baby, and he and his mother had emigrated to Montreal when he was only 11 months old. His mother, who I called Nana Donkin, had met my grandparents not long after arriving in Canada and soon became their close friend. She used to babysit my mother and her siblings, and Eric had been like a (significantly) older brother to them.

Anyway, Uncle Eric was very well-established as an actor by the time I met him – he was already in his mid-50s when I was born and living in Stratford with mother and his friend John. Or rather, Nana Donkin lived in one large, gorgeous Victorian house in the middle of town, and Eric and John lived in another right next door.

My mother referred to John as Eric’s partner, and Nana Donkin called John his chum. My grandparents simply referred to John as Eric’s friend. None of the adults I knew ever spoke aloud what must have been obvious to everyone: that John was Eric’s lover, and, had gay marriage been legal back then, he likely would have been his husband.

As a kid, you don’t question language or titles a whole lot, I guess. So when my mother told me that John was Eric’s partner, I thought she meant business partner. I figured that they lived together because they had a lot of businessy stuff to do, and probably they were both bachelor-types who liked having the company of a roommate and friend.

As I grew older, I didn’t think to question John and Eric’s relationship. They were never demonstrative, never open about their love for each other; probably because both had grown up in a time when that just wasn’t done. Even when I was old enough to know what being gay or queer meant, and old enough to know that you couldn’t legally marry someone of your own sex, and certainly old enough to know that gay people often referred to their significant others as their partners, I still didn’t put two and two together.

It wasn’t until I was fifteen and attending Uncle Eric’s funeral that I realized that he was gay.

I was (and still am) a theatre nerd who, at the time, had dreams of someday sweeping across a Stratford stage in a period gown, loudly and beautifully enunciating my way through one of Shakespeare’s more famous monologues. So I was understandably a little overwhelmed by the fact that I was sitting in a private family-only box at the Festival Theatre listening to Richard Monette and Martha Henry eulogize my uncle. As I sat there entranced, drinking in every theatrically-spoken word, I had a lightbulb moment.

Someone, I can’t remember who, was reminiscing about performing with Uncle Eric at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre. She told a story about how one night, after whatever show it was that they were doing, all of the chorus girls ran into Eric’s dressing room and covered him in bright red stage-make-up-y kisses. Eric had just laughed and said, “I think I’m playing for the wrong team.”

There was, like, a record scratch sound that went off in my head.

Whoa. Hold up. What team were we talking about? What was she saying?

I leaned over and whispered to my mother, “Mom? Was Uncle Eric gay?”

“Shhh. Not now, Annie,” she said, distracted.

“No, but really,” I said, my voice entering “inappropriately loud” territory. “Was he gay? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Annie,” my mother hissed. “We’re in the middle of a memorial service. We will talk about this later.”

How had I gone my entire life not knowing that John and Eric were in love? Why hadn’t anyone every told me?

It seriously still blows my mind by the time Eric died in 1998, we, as a family, still couldn’t talk about the fact that he was gay. And it’s not like my parents were in any way conservative or homophobic – they were usually very open and liberal about everything. We’d already discussed the fact that being gay was normal, that it was just fine and dandy to love or date or co-habitate with someone of your own sex. I had gay friends at school; my father had taken me to my first pride parade when I was 14.

Every single one of us said that it was okay to be gay, but we never talked about the fact that Uncle Eric was in love with a man.

Later, after eating miniature sandwiches at John and Eric’s home, after letting John show me the pond in their backyard that Eric had built and proudly stocked with goldfish, after I’d hiding myself in a corner with Eric’s copy of The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy in an attempt to avoid having to talk to family, I grilled my mother about Eric. At fifteen, I was loud and somewhat abrasive, and I think I might have accused her of being a complacent middle-aged homophobe. For some reason, maybe as a way of transferring my grief and surprise at Eric’s death (he’d died suddenly of a heart attack during a rehearsal for Much Ado About Nothing), I was strangely upset about the fact that she’d never told me that Eric was gay.

“I don’t really know why, Annie,” she said. “I guess we were afraid of Nana Donkin knowing, and I thought if I said the word gay to you, you would repeat it in front of her.”

“She must have known, though. How could she not have known?”

“Well,” said my mother, not looking at me, “I think that it’s possible to stop yourself from knowing something if you really don’t want to know it. You have to remember that she grew up in a different time, and this wasn’t something that was acceptable back then.”

I’ve been thinking about Uncle Eric a lot today, what with the hearing regarding Proposition 8, which would ban gay marriage in California, that are happening at the US Supreme Court right now. I’ve been wondering how different things would have been if John and Eric had been allowed to marry. Surely, then, we would have had to talk about it. Surely we wouldn’t have been able to tiptoe around the issue the way we did.

Surely one of the number of articles and obituaries that I’ve read about him today would have mentioned John, his partner of dozens of years, if they’d been married.

There are people, nice people, who want to convince you that it’s possible for LGBTQ folks to have equality without necessarily having marriage equality. They want to ban gay marriage not because they’re homophobic, but because it goes against The Bible (which is obviously what should be informing American laws, because who needs separation of church and state?) and is somehow Morally Wrong. They’re totally fine with people being out of the closet, and starring in sitcoms and getting up to hilarious gay shenanigans, so long as they can’t get married.

And I think it’s great that so many people who, a generation ago, would have publically been against gay anything are now only against gay marriage. I do, actually, think that that’s a big step forward. But I believe that it’s wrong to say that the LGBTQ community is fully equal in a society that affords one, huge, particular right to straight people only.

And you know what? Remembering Uncle Eric has reminded how easy it is for straight allies to stay silent when their voices are needed the most. All of us, my whole family, could’ve spoken out against the casual, insidious homophobia that John and Eric faced. But we didn’t, and it’s hard for me to figure out the how and why of that.

Fifteen years later, I can’t help but be upset and embarrassed by the ways we let Uncle Eric down. I can’t help but re-examine my life to try to figure out the ways I’m letting down other oppressed groups that I call myself an ally of. I suspect that there might be more ways than I can think of.

For now, please enjoy this clip of Uncle Eric in The Mikado:

Three Memories

17 Mar

1. It’s a grey, dreary Saturday afternoon in early August, 1997. I’m at my friend Liz’s apartment; she’s throwing me a party for my fifteenth birthday. It’s not a big party – more of a get-together, really, with a handful of friends sitting around on Liz’s living room floor. Somebody has brought the obligatory cake, and there are gifts, too, but those are beside the point.

My real birthday present is that Liz has somehow convinced her mother to rent Trainspotting for us. Not only that, but her mother has actually left us alone to watch it.

I have been dying to see this movie ever since it came out the year before. I own the soundtrack (well, I own a taped copy of the soundtrack that my friend made for me). I have postcards showing scenes from the movie stuck on my wall. I’ve cut out every interview with Ewan MacGregor that I can find and pinned them to my bulletin board. My friend Emily somehow saw Trainspotting in theatres (in spite of the fact that she was too young for its R rating), and I’ve made her give me a play-by-play of all of its scenes.

I am so fucking ready for this.

I sit there and watch the fuck out of that movie, my fingers dug deep into the grey pile of the living room carpet. I drink in everything, even, maybe especially, the things that I don’t understand. I don’t flinch away from the achingly awful, sometimes sickening parts that I later won’t be able to watch as an adult. I watch this movie like I’ll be writing a final exam in which 100% of my grade is based on a essay regarding Mark Renton and his life choices.

I am fifteen. I am a virgin. I’ve never even smoked a cigarette, never mind fucking around with heroin. I don’t cut class. I don’t break my curfew. I try so hard to be good.

But in my whole life I have never had something speak to me the way Mark Renton’s opening monologue does:

Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life… But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin’ else. And the reasons? There are no reasons.

Because already I know that I’m not going to choose any of those things. I don’t know what I want in life, but the list of things that I don’t want is long and involved. I’m fifteen, so compromise doesn’t yet exist.

I am going to take the fucking world by storm, and I am not going betray any of my values along the way.

2. It’s a bright spring day in 2003. I have recently sort of, maybe started dating my friend. We have been on one, maybe two dates, but we haven’t kissed yet. He comes over to my house and we watch my favourite movie, The Red Violin. I lean against him and put my head first on his shoulder, then on his lap. I am so tentative, so nervous.

I am so in love with him.

Afterwards, he walks me back to the Dalhousie campus. I have to go work at the school call centre, where we try to convince alumni to donate money to the university. We end up wandering over to the stairs leading up to the Grad House (a misnomer of a pub where undergrad students are totally welcome) and I stand on the second step, so that I’m the same height as him.

Suddenly, he leans in and kisses me, then grabs me and spins me around until we’re both dizzy and giggling.

“Well, that makes things less awkward,” he says.

I bury my face in the front of his coat. I can’t stop smiling. In that moment, everything is sharply, painfully perfect. It doesn’t matter that in a little over two months’ time we will end up lost in a blind alley of shortcoming and fears and hurt feelings. It doesn’t matter that our friendship will end, not even with a bang, but slowly, painfully, spluttering and gasping to its death over the course of the next two years. It doesn’t matter that he will break my heart, not just once, but over and over.

It doesn’t matter, because even if someone had told me all of the awful things that were to come, I still wouldn’t have traded that one wonderful moment for a calmer, happier, but ultimately emptier world.

3. It’s a hot, sunny summer day in 2004. I am wearing a brown tank top and a skirt that my aunt bought me for my birthday. The skirt, which hits just below the knee, is cream with a brick-red pattern of swirls on it; it’s made of jersey cotton, which means that it moves with and clings to my body in the best way possible. The waistband is a thick elastic, in the same brick-red colour, and it dips down into a v in the front. I love the cut of this waistband an unreasonable amount.

I am walking next to Citadel Hill in Halifax. I have my discman in my purse, and I’m listening to my roommate’s copy of Hawksley Workman’s (Last Night We Were) The Delicious Wolves. Specifically, I am listening to Striptease. The sun is hot on my face and shoulders. My hair hangs long, dusty, tangled down my back. I am swaying my hips, wiggling my shoulders.

For the first time in a long time I feel perfectly at home in my body. I feel sexy, in a dirty, earthy way. I feel like someone who might be desirable.

I look down and notice that my skirt has slipped enough to show off the top of my black thong. I barely pause for long enough to hike my skirt back up, and then I keep going.

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High School Reunions, Or The Time I Farted Publicly

15 Mar

My high school career started off, quite literally, with a bang.

A few weeks into ninth grade, I was lounging around in drama class, leaning nonchalantly on something or other, when (sorry, there’s no way to be delicate about this) I farted. Loudly.

To make matters even worse, I immediately sat up and said in the most prim-old-lady way possible,

“Oh my goodness, excuse me.”

To say that I was mortified would be like saying … actually, I don’t even know what it would be like saying. I can’t even think of anything clever enough to explain how I wanted to stab myself in the eyes every time I had to go to school.

Up until then, I suspect that I’d already been teetering on the edge of “uncool”, but that one little (actually not so little) fart sealed the deal. I was banished to High School Loser Hell forever. Although there had only been about fifteen people in the class, within a few hours the whole school seemed to know. For weeks afterwards, people would come up behind me in the hallway and make farting noises. My face turned a permanent shade of red.

Imagine being a fourteen year old girl and having to live your life as the girl who farted in class.

My dreams of ever being prom queen or joining student council or even of ever having a boyfriend were all dashed in that moment.

I mean, comedic hyperbole, etc., and I actually did have one or two high school boyfriends, but still. It felt like the end of the world.

I’ve written before about how high school wasn’t exactly great for me. Which, whatever, it’s over and I’m a grown up and I don’t care anymore because my life is awesome now. Right? I mean, right?

Except for how I apparently do care and ended up throwing a little tantrum on Facebook about how I don’t want to go to the upcoming 25th anniversary/reunion of the arts program that I was in.

(Incidentally, this is a really good example of why I shouldn’t be on Facebook, because I just use it to vomit my feelings all over the internet)

Look. It’s not like I didn’t have any friends in high school. It’s not like there were never any good times, ever. It’s just that a lot of factors combined to make me feel like an unlovable weirdo social pariah and I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to get over that.

It wasn’t just the farting (oh God, I cringe every time I type that word, STILL, EVEN NOW, 16 YEARS LATER). It was everything. It was the fact that I was already socially awkward to begin with, and I had no idea how to dress, use makeup or make myself attractive in any way shape or form. It was the fact that I was depressed, and none of the adults around me seemed to have any fucking clue how to handle that. It was the fact that we were poor and I couldn’t afford to do half the things my classmates could.

I wish I didn’t have to use the word poor, because that sounds so, I don’t know, dramatic or self-pitying or something. And the truth is that compared to a lot of people, I had it pretty easy. But it still sucked. Part of it was that I didn’t really have a lot of experience being poor; up until midway through grade eight, we’d lived in a nice area of town, I’d had decently nice clothes, and I’d never had to miss out on anything due to lack of funds.

Then, when I was thirteen, my dad suddenly left, and my mother, sisters and I moved into low-income housing where things were, well, interesting to say the least. Our next-door neighbours (who, by the way, had a ten year old son) spent Christmas day drinking God-knows-what and then taking turns going outside to vomit on their front lawn. We regularly heard gunshots going off in other parts of our complex. Once, when I was in grade thirteen, I saw a man naked and stoned out of his mind lying on the front doorstep of the townhouse across from ours. He was begging his brother to let him in. Instead, the brother called the police, who came and beat the naked man while he screamed, Oh God, please stop.

And honestly, I swear, I’m not telling any of this to you to make you feel sorry for me. It’s just that I felt like my friends, with their intact families living in their mid-century bungalows in their nice, tree-filled neighbourhoods, maybe didn’t really get where I was coming from. Or maybe they did. What the hell do I know?

Anyway, we didn’t have any money, which sucked for a variety of reasons. My clothes were ugly and didn’t fit properly. I couldn’t afford to go on a lot of the field trips my classmates did. I had to miss out on a bunch of stuff because I always had to babysit.

Oh, and I was awkward, which has nothing to do with money, but I just want to mention it again, in case you forgot. And ugly. I had acne like it was going out of style (hint: it was never in style).

All of this was somehow manageable, though, until grade eleven, when I was hit, hard, with my first major depressive episode. I cried all the time. I started cutting (which is another fact that makes me wince with embarrassment, but I figure that since I’ve already told you about the farting I may as well go whole-hog with the unflinching honesty). My grades plummeted. I tried antidepressant after antidepressant, but none of them really worked. I couldn’t sleep at night, so I started napping during class. I lost the ability to concentrate.

And you know what? Almost none* of my teachers seemed to give a shit, or even seemed to have any kind of clue what to do with me. None of them offered me any kind of help or sympathy. One of them, in fact, tried to have me kicked out of the arts package because I wasn’t putting enough effort into school and extracurricular activities. She even scheduled a big meeting with the administration and made my mother attend, which was pretty much the opposite of what I needed right then.

And like, I get it, you know? These teachers were all tired and overworked, and here I was, yet another teenager who wouldn’t do her homework and just wanted to mope around all the time. And they were so used to seeing their students fucked up on pot or acid or heroin (NO BUT FOR REALS, I AM NOT KIDDING, THERE WERE KIDS AT MY SCHOOL WHO DID HEROIN), that maybe seeing me strung out on Paxil and Prozac didn’t seem that different. I wasn’t especially close to most of my teachers, and probably I didn’t really make it worth their time to care.

But weren’t they supposed to care? I mean, wasn’t that their job?

Or maybe they did. Maybe I misread everything and misunderstood their advances and offers of help because I was just too wrapped up in my own misery. Maybe they wanted to be kind to me but eventually got tired of me pushing everyone away.

I was a fucking treat to be around in those days, let me tell you.

The real kicker came in grade thirteen, when I couldn’t even afford the twenty bucks for a student card. The thing was, without a student card you couldn’t collect participation points. And you needed those points to win a White E, which was the participation award that my school gave out every year. You had to do a ton of extracurricular stuff to get a White E, and I’d been only one of, like, three to win one in grade nine. I’d received one every year since, and I knew that if I got one in grade thirteen I would receive a Silver E which was, like, a Big Deal at my school.

But because the school wouldn’t let me collect those points, I had no hope of winning one. And while in retrospect this seems like an especially stupid thing for me to care about, at the same time it also seems incredibly petty of my school to not be willing to just waive the fee for me or whatever.

So anyway, then high school ended, and if I’d had any bridges to burn I would’ve burned them, but I didn’t, so I couldn’t. I just hightailed it the hell out of Ontario and decided to start a new life in Halifax as an Especially Cool Person Who Does Not Pass Gas In Public. And by and large, I succeeded.

Then I moved back to Ontario and joined Facebook and had to face all of my demons former classmates and mostly it was fine. I mean, actually it was all fine, and everyone is super nice and lovely now and no one has made fart noises within my hearing or anything like that. And some of the people I knew in high school are now my closest friends, and I don’t know what I would do without them. And I no longer dread visiting Kitchener because I’m afraid that I’ll run into someone I used to know only to have them point at me and say, “That was the girl we all laughed at in high school!”

But that still doesn’t mean that I’m able to look back fondly on my high school days, you know? And I definitely have a hard time celebrating the administration of a program that didn’t really want to lift a finger to help me when I was at my nadir. I get that lots of people found the program inspiring and life-changing and blah blah blah, but mostly it just made me feel like I was a talentless hack who was going nowhere in the arts world.

Mostly I’m just super jealous of everyone that had a good time in high school. Mostly I don’t want to go to this reunion because I don’t want to hear everyone else’s largely positive interpretations of events that were miserable and embarrassing for me. Mostly I’m just incredibly embarrassed that I’m fucking thirty and I’m still so insecure.

Fuck, you guys, I don’t know. High school fucking sucked, and the shitty part is that it sucked to a greater or lesser degree for everyone, so it’s not even like I get to be alone and special in my pain. I just happen to be the loudest about it, apparently.

Maybe we can just use this as an opportunity to wallow in our collective former misery together?

Maybe that’s the point of high school reunions, after all.

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*There were a few that cared. My grade ninth and tenth grade English teachers come to mind. In particular, my grade thirteen English teacher, gets my undying thanks for the kindness he showed me then and still shows me today. Apparently I did well, at least, with English teachers, hah.

Shrevolution! Or, I Hate Valentine’s Day

14 Feb

I’m just going to go ahead and put this out there: I’m not exactly the world’s biggest fan of Valentine’s Day.

I mean, it’s fine when you’re a little kid. You make sure to wear something red or pink, tell your parents how much you love them, and draw hearts all over every-fucking-thing. Everyone in your class gives you a card, your gorge yourself on chocolate, then spend the afternoon in a sugar-fuelled frenzy and throw up all over your babysitter’s carpet. End of story.

Then you hit puberty, and Valentine’s Day becomes this huge, looming thing. Like, it’s the only day where you can truly prove just how much you love (or, at least, want to fuck) another person. You can be in a happy committed relationship for every other day of the year, but if you happen to be single on Valentine’s Day, then you, my friend, are the most pathetic person in the world. Or at least you’re made to feel like you are.

My dislike for Valentine’s Day has slowly evolved over the years. In grade school I thought it was fine, maybe even sort of fun, and in high school I endured it, handing out ironic valentines to friends and crushes alike (go ahead, ask me how well that worked in the dating department). By university, though, I was ready to declare open season on V-Day.

I decided that the modern-day, grown-up version of Valentine’s Day was nothing less than a capitalist nightmare, chock-full of obligations to spend money: on flowers, on dinner, on chocolates, on jewellery, on sexy lingerie. There were other, insinuated obligations, too. For example, women were expected to pay for all the attention and money lavished on them by putting out, whether they wanted to or not. I even once had a male friend say to me, “If I buy my girlfriend flowers for Valentine’s Day, she basically has to have sex with me, right?”

Uh, no, dude. She doesn’t.

And, I mean, seriously, out of all the thinly-Christianized pagan celebrations to take hold this side of the Atlantic, how did crappy old Valentine’s Day manage to make it onto that list? Why can’t we celebrate May Day and dance around may poles? How come we don’t do anything for St. John’s Eve, a.k.a. Midsummer? I would way rather build some bad-ass bonfires in June than hand out ugly, mass-produced cards in February.

All of this was part of the reason why my roommates and I decided to throw an Anti-Valentine’s-Day party during second year. My mother had put a package of pink, heart-shaped Post-It notes in my stocking that Christmas, so we used those to decorate our apartment, scrawling things like, “LOVE IS AN ILLUSION” and “FUCK YOU” on them. You know, the usual romantic stuff.

Aside from the fact that a girl that no one liked and no one would admit to inviting ended up vomiting red wine all over our bathroom, the party was a resounding success.

The next year, my friends and I celebrated Valentine’s Day a little differently. Our plans started innocently enough: we were going to go eat greasy, delicious, non-romantic food and then go somewhere for drinks. There were four of us, two of whom had boyfriends, and all we really wanted was a quiet, Galentine’s night out.

Once we got to the pub, things went downhill fast.

A few drinks into the evening, the ranting began. And, naturally, the more we drank, the more belligerent we became.

“Fuck Valentine’s Day!” said one of my friends, “People think it’s all about women, but really it’s all about dicks getting some action.”

“Yeah, fuck dicks,” said another. “I mean, don’t actually fuck them, but also, fuck them.”

“Valentine’s Day should be for clits, not dicks! Dudes should be obligated to prove that they can perform proper oral sex before taking a woman out for V-Day,” said someone else. “Clit not dick! Clit not dick!”

Clit Not Dick ended up becoming our mantra for the evening. We repeated it frequently and loudly. We decided that we were going to start a revolution based on our new slogan, one that would free women everywhere from the oppressive shackles of Valentine’s Day. We began approaching romantic-looking couples at other tables to ask if they’d hear the good news about Clit Not Dick. We harassed the band with demands for songs by Veruca Salt, Hole, and, strangely, Counting Crows (they actually did end up playing Mr. Jones, probably just to make us go away).

This was back in the days when you could still smoke in bars, so we started chain-smoking to go along with our drinking. Soon our ashtray was overflowing, and our table was surrounded by a blue haze. We decided that we should pact that night, the four of us, to continue spreading word of the revolution. We touched the glowing tips of our cigarettes together and called it a cigarette pact because, we said, cigarettes don’t lie.

Later, we spilled out onto the street and, arm in arm, began marching down Spring Garden Road singing We Shall Overcome. Whenever we saw a girl getting into a car with a guy, we would run over and try to convince her that she didn’t need him, she only needed herself! We proselytized about the revolution to everybody, shouting CLIT NOT DICK at random intervals.

We found a phone booth and somehow managed to cram all four of us into it. We dialled the tips line for the local newspaper and left them a long, rambling message about capitalism, the revolution, and how Valentine’s Day oppressed women, and, naturally, clit not dick. We finished up by saying that we expected to see something about this in the next day’s paper.

“GET ON IT,” my friend yelled into the phone before hanging up.

One of my friends was so drunk when she got home that she was slurring her words. She tried to tell her boyfriend It’s the revolution! but apparently it came out sounding like Shrevolution! 

Naturally, once the rest of us heard that word, we adopted it as the new name for our movement.

The next year we held another Shrevolution, but the year after that I met Matt, and everything changed.

I learned to love Valentine’s Day and everything that went with it.

PSYCH. I still hate Valentine’s Day. Matt, who is kind of into it, has had to accept that I’m just not a very romantic person. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we’ve tried to celebrate it, if only because it seemed to mean something to Matt. But I think he realized pretty early on that it wasn’t my thing – the fact that for our first Valentine’s Day together he gave me a red silk pillow with I Love You embroidered on it and I gave him a swiss army knife may have helped tip him off – and now we’re pretty low-key about it.

But tonight, the Shrevolution will ride again. A bunch of my old Halifax friends are now living in Toronto, and three of us are going out to the Drake tonight to eat fancy, romantic food and get trashed on overpriced cocktails. Because as much as I might laugh at my younger self for some of my ridiculous Shrevolution antics, I can’t say that I entirely disagree with her thoughts on V-Day: that it’s too commercial, too capitalist, and there’s too much obligation to spend money that you might not have. Also the fact that you should celebrate your love for someone every day, not just spend one day a year in the back corner of a third-rate restaurant because that was the only place you could get a reservation, exchanging cheesy Hallmark cards and crappy gifts. Because you know what? Love fucking deserves better than that.

So while you are sitting there trying to whisper sweet nothings in your lover’s ear over the din of everyone else trying to do the same, I will be laughing raucously, swearing like a sailor, and yelling rude things.

Happy Shrevolution, you guys!

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An Open Letter To Wil Wheaton

21 Jan

Hi Wil Wheaton,

How’s it going? Good, I hope. We’re all fine here. I mean, we just had this gross stomach flu or whatever, and my kid kind of threw up all over everything. But everyone’s okay now. In case you were wondering.

Soooooo about this thing I am writing.

I know I promised you a post showcasing all my hilarious drunk tweets at you, and I swear, I’m getting to that, but you’re going to have to bear with me through a bit of backstory first.

I mean, or not. You can always scroll on through. This is the internet after all.

But if you want to read all the nitty gritty details, here they are:

Twelve was a tough age for me. Some kind of paradigm shift happened over the summer between sixth and seventh grades and I went from being a pretty normal, if obnoxiously know-it-all kid to being the biggest loser in dweeb town (have you ever been there? I don’t recommend it). Part of it was that all the other girls in my class had started wearing tight jeans and cute t-shirts, while my daily outfit usually consisted of a sweatshirt with kittens on it (I had several) and track pants. Part of it was that I’d spent July and August developing a really unfortunate case of acne. The main problem, though, seemed to be that everyone else had collectively decided that they were going to grow up, and meanwhile I was still reading Babysitters Club books and playing with dolls.

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that I had the shit teased out of me. All day, every day. I cried. A lot.

The fact that my father left a year later only compounded my misery.

Have you ever read David Sedaris’ essay A Plague of Tics? In it, he talks about obsessive-compulsive disorder, the symptoms of which he suffered from right up until he started college and took up smoking. He writes,

“It’s as if I had been born to smoke, and until I realized it, my limbs were left to search for some alternative.”

Sometimes I wonder if I was born to be a geek, but didn’t figure it out until seventh grade. I’d always had pet obsessions, things that I read, talked and thought about constantly for a few months before discarding them and taking up a new interest. For a while it was the Titanic, and, if you’d known me during that phase I could’ve given you all the specs of the ship, given you an accurate timeline of it sinking, and spit out a list of famous survivors. After that, I think, it was The Black Death. I also went through periods where I was deeply interested in The Russian Revolution, Anne Boleyn and the Halifax Explosion. It was always something, you know?

In retrospect, I think that I was a geek in search of something to geek out about. Then, when I was twelve, I discovered Star Trek.

Star Trek was like my own private It Gets Better Project. I mean, sure, waiting 400 years for things to get better wasn’t exactly the most optimistic view to take, but still, I enjoyed the fact that someone, somewhere had imagined a future that was vastly better than the present I was living in. A future where socio-economic status didn’t seem to exist anymore (as long as you were in Starfleet, I guess), and nobody had nicer possessions or better clothing than anyone else, because everyone just replicated whatever they wanted. Racism, sexism and gross teenage acne all seemed to be things of the past, and people could legit have sex with robots if they wanted to. And if someone’s dad disappeared*, it was probably because they had died on some kind of mission, sacrificing their lives for Exploration and Science – not because they just didn’t feel like living with their family anymore.

I know it’s popular to hate on Wesley, and make “Shut Up, Wesley” jokes and talk about what a loser he was, but you know what? I liked Wesley. I mean, I liked him because he was cute, and I was twelve, and I wished he was my boyfriend, but I also liked him because I identified with him. Like me, he didn’t seem to have any friends (I mean, yeah, the show tried to pretend that he had friends, but come on now. Let’s be serious grownups, please. You and I both know that Wes did not have any friends). Like me, most of his interactions were with adults who thought that he was pretty smart, but still didn’t exactly respect him. And, like me, he was prone to speaking out at the wrong times, saying the wrong thing, and was generally regarded by everyone as a nuisance.

I was, like, pretty sure that Wesley Crusher was my soul mate.

Naturally, being a trekkie didn’t exactly improve my image at school. I guess I could’ve just, you know, not told anyone about my Star Trek habit but, being me, I couldn’t keep my damn mouth shut. As with my other, former obsessions, I wanted to talk about it all the damn time, forcing my parents, classmates and few remaining friends to listen to me rattle off every tiny detail about the Enterprise and her crew. Pretty soon everyone in my class knew that I had a crush on Wil Wheaton, and the kids who actually knew who that was added that to their reasons to make fun of me. To say that I was miserable would be an understatement.

You know what, though? It helped to have Star Trek tapes to pop into the VCR when I got home. It helped to watch you being a nerd in space, and it helped even more to realize that you were happy being a nerd in space.  It even helped to know that all the other fans of the show hated you because I was like, damn, I am only being crapped on by a bunch of twelve year olds, but here is a dude who is seriously hated by every adult science fiction fan ever, and is he letting it get him down? No, he is hanging out in space, saving the motherfucking Enterprise like a fucking boss.

Eventually, I stopped watching Star Trek. Part of it was that I grew out of the show, but part of it was also self-preservation; if I didn’t want to be a nerdy loser for the rest of my life, I would have to start actually being interested in cool things. I began to cultivate the persona of someone who liked hip, independent films and read near-incomprehensible modern poetry. I shopped at second-hand stores for vintage clothing (mostly because I couldn’t afford anything new), listened to Tori Amos, and dyed my hair weird colours. I learned to be snarky, and started making fun of people before they could make fun of me.

And things did get better. And I met a dude (who thinks you’re aces, by the way), and we got married, and we have an awesome kid. I’m mostly happy now, and the reasons that I have for being unhappy have nothing to do with how popular or attractive I am. All of the things that I hated about being twelve have pretty much been fixed, which is pretty amazing. Even more amazing is the fact that after almost half a lifetime of pretending not to be a geek, I’m finally starting to re-embrace just how nerdy I actually am. And I have to say, it feels pretty good.

Look, Wil, you’ve probably got a lot of things in your life to be proud about. You’ve got an awesome wife, two great sons, and you continue to make some pretty amazing stuff. And Stand By Me is maybe one of the best movies ever made. But if you ever need one more thing to be proud of, you could think about the fact that you helped a sad, lonely twelve-year-old girl get through a really tough time in her life. Maybe you hear this type of thing all the time. Probably you do. Probably none of this really means much to you, but it trust me, it meant a fuck of a lot to me.

So thanks for that. Seriously, thanks a lot.

Anyway, on THAT note, let’s get to those drunken tweets!

Literally The Best Picture Ever

Literally The Best Picture Ever

p.s. The working title for this post was “Girl Tweets Obsessively/Drunkenly At Childhood Crush Until He Responds: A Story of Triumph”

p.p.s. I want all of Wesley’s season one sweaters. Not even kidding. I’m totally into it.

* My dad didn’t actually disappear, we knew where he was and all that jazz. I was just saying that for, you know, dramatic emphasis. He did leave really super suddenly though.

National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

7 Dec

When I was a kid, my mother had a button that looked exactly like this:

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I couldn’t find a very large image of this button, but in case you’re wondering, around the edge it reads: “In commemoration of the 14 women killed in Montreal, December 6th, 1989 and all women who have suffered from violence.”

Every year, after my mother retired her Remembrance Day poppy sometime in mid-November, she would break out her rose button and pin it to the lapel of her coat. As a small child, I remember coveting the button, because I liked the picture on it. When I was older, it made me uncomfortable; I didn’t like that my mother wore a pin to commemorate a mass murder, and the look on her face and the tone in her voice when she explained the story behind it frightened me. Strangely, the story itself didn’t frighten me; it seemed too remote, totally removed from my day-to-day life. It was a freak accident; a tragedy, yes, but nothing that could ever happen to a person like me.

Later still, when I was a teenager and irritated by everything my mother did, I found the button obnoxious and sanctimonious. I’d grown up hearing my mother referring to herself as a feminist, a term that I refused to apply to myself. It seemed to me that most boys hated feminists and, when I was a lonely high school student with low self-esteem, the last thing I wanted was to do something that would cause the boys I knew to reject me even more. When they made jokes about women, jokes whose real punchlines were how stupid and pathetic women were, I laughed. Sometimes I joked back, making fun of the way girls dressed, of how many guys they slept with, how idiotic and shallow they were. Sure, I was a girl, but I was on their side – I wasn’t one of those girls. Never mind the fact that I probably would have given my eyeteeth to be cool enough to be one of those girls.

Back in those days, whenever late fall rolled around and my mother broke out her shabby, rusting rose button, I would roll my eyes. He was crazy, I would tell my mother. Like, mentally ill. It had nothing to do with women, he was just nuts. What if he’d killed only Dutch people? Would we have national day of remembrance and action on violence against Dutch people?

When I was a teenager, I thought that feminism was pointless at best, and a way of angering and alienating people at worst. It hadn’t yet occurred to me that sometimes angering and alienating people was a good thing; that there might be situations in which I wanted people to feel negatively about me and the things that I said. At the time, I couldn’t imagine not wanting to please every body, just like I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to kill me simply because I was a girl.

Now I know differently.

I’m not saying that anyone’s out to get me specifically, because as far as I know, they’re not. It probably helps that I come off as fairly non-threatening – I’m a small, mousy white woman who doesn’t work in a male-dominated field. I’m a shy, quiet woman who pretty much totally followed the status quo – I finished high school, went to university, then married a nice guy and had a kid before I turned 30. Probably the most threatening thing I do is blog (extensively) about women’s reproductive rights, but that hasn’t generated any death threats or anything.

But there are still people who hate me because of my gender. I mean, maybe not openly, maybe not obviously, but they do. We live in a culture of casual misogyny. A culture where over 600 First Nations women are missing or have been murdered in Canada, only to have our government do nothing about it. A culture where female sex workers are treated as objects instead of people. A culture where women are told to be less angry when they talk about the events of December 6th. A culture where women are constantly being ridiculed, judged and set up in competition against each other. A culture where my sister, an avid World of Warcraft player, has been asked repeatedly to turn on her webcam and show other players her breasts in order to “prove” that she’s a woman.

When Marc Lépine went to the École Polytechnique 23 years ago today, he entered the school with the intention of killing feminists. Feminists, he said in his suicide note, had ruined his life. Lépine had applied to the École Polytechnique in both 1986 and 1989 but had been rejected both times because he lacked the CEGEP courses necessary for admission. In Lépine’s mind, however, he wasn’t admitted to the school because women had taken too many of the available spaces. Women, he thought, had taken everything important, and left nothing for him.

Lépine killed 14 women just because they were studying engineering. Lépine killed 14 women for daring to want careers in a male-dominated field. Lépine killed 14 women for being women.

I was seven years old when École Polytechnique Massacre happened. I want to think that the world has changed since then, but really, has it? Women are still the butt of the joke. Women are still lacking in positions of power. Women are still being told that they need to compete against each other. There is still a persistent bias against women in the worlds of math and science. If there’s anything that can be learned from the latest American election, it’s that there are still men who hate women. A lot of men. Powerful men.

I don’t know if my mother still has her rose button. Probably not – I haven’t seen it in several years, and the last time I did, it was looking pretty beat up. I wish she did, though, and I wish that she lend it to me. These days, I would wear it with pride.

Bullying (or, nolite te bastardes etc.)

7 Oct

I’ve written on here about some of the less-than fun stuff I went through as a teenager, but I think that last night was the first time that I’ve ever publicly referred to it as bullying. And now I kind of want to talk about it?

A little bit of background:

I’d had the same group of friends throughout most of elementary school. The five of us had been pretty tight, spending every recess and lunch hour together, pairing up for science projects and book reports. On the weekends we would force our parents to shuttle us around the city for various playdates and sleepovers.  I’d known them for so long that I couldn’t imagine ever not being friends with them.

Then, one mid-day recess in seventh grade, my friends told me they had to talk to me.

We sat in a circle on the schoolyard pavement, near the edge of where the grassy field began. It must have been October or November, because I remember that the sky was grey and there was a chill in the air. My friends started out by saying that they’d been talking about me, and had realized that they collectively found me annoying. They told me that they’d come to the decision that they didn’t want to hang around with me anymore, and asked me to stop joining them at lunch and recess. I tried to argue with them, then tried to bargain, but it was pointless; their collective mind was made up.

Basically, they broke up with me.

What had already been a difficult year went from tough-but-manageable to downright miserable. Even before I was de-friended, I was already being picked on by my classmates for my bad skin, the way I dressed, and the nerdy things I liked. Now, not only was that all still happening, but I suddenly had no one to protect me, and no one to tell me that I wasn’t an ugly pathetic loser.

As the year went on, the kids who made fun of me became braver, making more and more publicly humiliating comments about me. One kid said that I didn’t need to use whiteout, because I could just use the pus from my pimples – the teacher laughed at that along with everyone else. Another kid wondered aloud why my clothes were so terrible, since my father was a lawyer and could almost certainly afford something better than ill-fitting sweatshirts and track pants. Boys from my class prank-called me in the evenings, pretending to ask me out – then repeating everything I’d said on the phone the next day to the rest of my class.

I didn’t tell my parents what was happening because I was embarrassed, although they must have noticed that I wasn’t being invited to my friends’ houses anymore. I didn’t want them to know how much of an outcast I’d become at school, because it seemed like it was mostly my own fault for being unlikeable. Anyway, I reasoned, even if they did know, what could they do?

When I started high school, I chose a school that almost none of my classmates were going to. The only person from my class who was coming with me was the girl I’d become close with in 8th grade, so that was fine. I figured that this was the perfect chance to start over. No one at this huge new school knew me, or knew my past; I would walk through those front doors in September as whoever I wanted to be.

I didn’t get to start over, though. Does anyone ever really get a fresh start? I still had all the problems that had led to being teased in the first place: bad skin, the wrong clothes, and geeky interests. Even worse, the last two years had left me with zero self-confidence, which meant that I was constantly second-guessing myself. Because of this I had a hard time making friends, and when I did I was clingy and jealous. I was even more of a mess when it came to boys. Boy, was I ever.

Bullies can smell a victim, and I was soon back to being the butt of the joke. I went to an arts high school where I majored in dance, and the girls in my dance class were saccharine sweet to my face (most of the time), but made fun of me as soon as my back was turned. By the end of the year I was so tired of it that I transferred out of dance class and instead majored in visual art, where I was surrounded by pretentious art school kids, stoners and comic book nerds – on the whole, a much nicer group.

I don’t mean to make it sound like I was totally friendless. I mean, yeah, I had people that I hung out with – a pretty big group of friends, actually. But even within that group I was teased. Early high school was pretty much just as shitty as late grade school.

My later high school years were better, and the same goes for university. I moved out east for school, made some great friends, and became the stunningly self-confident adult you see before you today. Things are mostly totally fine now. I am mostly fine now.

What’s strange is that now I’m friends on Facebook with a lot of the people who made me miserable (maybe some of you are reading this now – hi guys! kind of awkward! sorry!). We’ve never talked about or even acknowledged what happened; after half a lifetime of not knowing these people, we mostly just “like” each others’ statuses and comment on photos of each others’ kids. Initially, I felt awkward having them back in my life, mostly because I worried that they were still judging me and still finding me wanting, but now we’ve settled into a sort of comfortable camaraderie, reminiscing about our collective school days as if we’ve been friends all along.

Maybe they’ve forgotten what happened, or maybe it just never seemed like a big deal. Maybe they feel bad.  Maybe I’m the one with the problem. Maybe they were right, and I am a pathetic loser. Maybe they were dealing with their own stuff at the time and didn’t realize how much it sucked for me. Most likely it’s a combination of most of the above.

I find that when I talk about what happened, I use a lot of euphemisms; I’ll say that I went through a tough time when I was younger, or else that I had a bad year the year I turned 12, or any other number of variations on the same thing. I’ve been hesitant to use the word “bullying” when talking about my own circumstances, for a couple of reasons:

1. Was I even bullied? I mean, yes, I was teased, but does that count as bullying? When does it cross the line from normal kid behaviour to bullying? Or is bullying so pervasive in our culture that it now seems normal?

2. Weirdly, I feel anxious about what the people who are my friends now will think of the fact that I was such a loser. There’s a part of me that thinks that they’ll start to reconsider our friendship, start to notice all of the less-than-stellar components of my personality.

3. Saying that I was bullied is admitting that I also became a bully later in high school. I made fun of people, talked behind their backs, told secrets. I was even party to making a girl cry in 11th grade chemistry class. I was mean, and I liked being mean.

I do think that it’s important to start a dialogue about this, especially in reference to the first point. In the wake of Jennifer Livingston’s on-air response to an email criticizing her weight, in which she refers to the man who sent her the email as a bully, there has been a lot of discussion about what qualifies as bullying, and whether or not it was the appropriate word to use in that instance. David Dickson, chairman of the Bullying Prevention Initiative of California, says“Bullying, normally, is what someone, in a very mean spirited way, continually and on a repeated basis, does to another person, typically in a social setting in front of other people…It was a stupid letter he wrote, but he commented privately.” 

Now, I’m not an expert on bullying, and none of the definitions that I’ve found online have really been satisfactory, but it seems wrong to ignore this entire discussion just because what happened doesn’t fit Dickson’s fairly narrow definition of what bullying is. Whether or not the letter sent to Livingston was public, it was certainly hurtful and unnecessary, especially considering that she’s likely spent a lifetime of facing comments like that. Also, it sucks to have a so-called bullying expert be so condescending and dismissive, especially when bullying in our culture is so often dismissed as kids just being kids (or, in this case, fat ladies just being too sensitive).

Maybe Dickson wouldn’t consider what I went through to be bullying. I mean, sure, it was public, and it was often mean-spirited, but maybe it wasn’t very mean-spirited, or maybe it wasn’t repeated or continual enough. Maybe it was just teenagers being dicks to each other, and I’m just an oversensitive lady-type. Usually writing things out here makes them clearer (and hey, it’s cheaper than therapy), but this time it just makes them seem murkier and more confused. Was I the one with the problem? Were they the ones with the problem? Was I undeserving of friends? Am I still?

What I do know is this: I’m tired of pretending that nothing happened, and I’m tired of feeling like I did something wrong and have something to hide. I’m tired of waiting for all of my friends to discover that once-upon-a-time I wasn’t cool, and then to high-tail it out of my life – so take that, brain, a pre-emptive admission of uncoolness. Most of all, I wouldn’t want any other kid to feel as shitty as I did.

So yeah. Can we talk about this?

Me at age thirteen, centre, with my cousins and sister.

On Bullying And Being A Clothes Horse

6 Oct

I like clothing. I like it a bunch, and not just because it gives me the ability to not be naked. If avoiding nudity was my only concern, I probably wouldn’t have as many clothes as I do.

For those of you who don’t know me very well, let me be really super clear on something here: I own a lot of clothes. A lot.

I used to not care so much about what I wore; I mean, sure, I liked getting dressed up, but if someone gave me money, I spent it all on books (or sometimes books and candy). Gifts of clothing at Christmas or my birthday were considered boring, and beneath my interest; they were quickly set aside in favour of more interesting packages. When my mother gave me money to go back-to-school shopping, I would spend as little of it as I could on a few shirts and a pair of jeans at Walmart, then save the rest for the more interesting stores.

Then puberty hit, and people started making fun of the way I dressed. Why? Because teenagers, that’s why.

Not only was I lacking in fashion sense, but I was also widely considered to be quite ugly. A classmate of mine took a sort of informal poll on the relative attractiveness of the girls in our class, and I rated lowest. Out of 28 classmates, only one (a girl named Cindy who was well-known to be the nicest person ever) had said that I was “sort of pretty”; everyone else, even (especially?) the boys had marked down “ugly” next to my name.

I tried to laugh it off, but underneath I was heartbroken.

I went home, cried, sassed my parents, ate some ice cream, cuddled my cat, scrawled in my diary, etc.

Then I decided that this was, in part, a solvable problem.

I couldn’t change my facial features or the basic structure of my body, of course, but what I could do was learn how to apply makeup and wear the correct clothes. In order to do this, I would have to figure out what the right ways to do these things was, because I honestly had no idea. I began to observe my classmates as if I were a cultural anthropologist; I made notes on what they wore, how they did their hair, and what shade of lipstick they applied. I bought fashion magazines and pored over their pages, cutting out pictures of the outfits I liked. We didn’t have a lot of money, so I started spending time at Value Village, Goodwill and the Salvation Army, digging through the racks for things that might look good, or fit me well.

I began replacing my wardrobe of printed pastel sweatshirts, track pants, babyish puffed-sleeve dresses and unflattering stovepipe jeans with slightly more grown-up attire. Back then, I wasn’t necessarily trying to be fashionable, or even dress particularly well; I just wanted to fit in and be able to disappear into the crowd. I gravitated towards basics like plain t-shirts and tank tops paired with jeans, khakis or a simple skirt. All I wanted was to be normal, because I thought normal meant that I wouldn’t be bullied anymore. I wanted to use clothing as a sort of protective armour, one that would make me look like an average high school student instead of someone with a target on their back.

By the beginning of university, I’d begun to wear things like vintage slips and old, beat-up leather jackets. I tied my hair back with old kerchiefs I’d bought for cheap in Kensington Market. My grandmother gave me an old coat of hers from the 60s, and I wore the shit out of it. I was starting to look kind of good.

While in Halifax, I was lucky enough to have two roommates who a) were approximately the same size as me, and b) had awesome, badass fashion sense. We instituted an open-closet policy, and having access to a sort of communal wardrobe gave me the chance to experiment with different looks without having to commit to them. I stopped wanting to look normal, and started wanting to look interesting. I learned to accessorize. I started putting outfits together in unconventional ways, and discovered that I kind of liked doing that.

Now, weirdly, some people actually consider me to be fashionable. It’s still a label that feels strange to me (and I often think it means “you sure do own a lot of clothes!”), and I don’t really believe that I dress particularly well. I still sometimes feel like my clothing is a disguise rather than an a form of self-expression. In a lot of ways, I’m still that skinny, ugly teenager who has no idea what to wear; I still study the way people dress (more out of habit, now, than out of necessity), and although I don’t cut pictures out of magazines anymore, I do pin copious amounts of fashion on Pinterest. But now, instead of feeling like this is something that I have to do in order to fit in, I do it because I’m looking for ways to stand out from the crowd. I also do it because I enjoy it.

Having taken the time to look back and write all this down, I’ve realized something: I took an experience that was ultimately really sad and tough and demoralizing, and out of that I developed a passion for something that I didn’t really care about before. Being bullied led me to explore and learn to love something that I might not have thought much about otherwise, something that still brings me happiness as an adult. And really, isn’t that the best possible outcome of a situation like this?

Anyway, here are a few things that are inspiring me these days. Maybe they’ll inspire you, too!

Tweed Skirt from Steven Alan