Tag Archives: blogging

Winter

30 Dec

I am not a winter person. Given my choice of the seasons, I’ll pick summer every time. I love the heat, and I even love the humidity. I like it when stepping out my front door feels like walking into an oven. I like the sun, the warmth, and the long evenings that are perfect for picnicking or taking your kid to the park or drinking sangria on patios with friends. I love lying in the grass and reading for hours on end. I love summer.

Winter is a tough time for me. It’s not just the fact that it’s so cold that, after coming in from a long walk, I have to stand in a scalding hot shower for fifteen minutes until I feel warm. It’s not just the fact that my muscles ache because the cold makes me tense up, makes me walk around hunched over in a desperate effort not to freeze to death. It’s not even the fact that it’s already too cold for me, and I know that it’s going to get colder still. It’s more than that, and it’s subtler than that. It’s the light, both the dim, chilly quality it assumes this time of year, and its waning quantity, meaning that we only get to see the sun for a few paltry hours every day. Even though we’re past the solstice and, logically, I know that the days will be getting longer from now until midsummer, it still, somehow, feels as if the days are growing shorter and darker as we head into January.

These days I feel as if I’ve lost the capacity for joy. I’ll catch myself mid-laugh and realize that I’m faking it, and I’m faking it so well that I’ve nearly got myself convinced. In the same way that it’s sometimes hard for me to believe that spring will ever come again, it’s also hard to believe that anything will ever make me feel good or happy again. I have these thoughts, like, hey, maybe at the beginning of my life I was handed out a finite number of good experiences and now, in the winter of my 30th year, I’ve somehow managed to spend the last one.

Part of it might be the fact that everyone seems to be making their year-end posts, tallying up all their successes and bundling them together into one neat little blog post package. I thought about doing one of those, but I know that I won’t. Every new year always seems to me to be like a fresh, white sheet of notebook paper, but by December 31st it’s so marked up, so wrinkled and worn, so covered with revisions and smudges and holes where I rubbed the eraser too hard that I can’t make sense of it anymore.Rather than dig through my year to find material for a year-in-review post, I just want to throw the whole thing out, baby, bathwater and all. As 2013 approaches, 2012 is still too close to give me the perspective I would need, and all my hurts and failures feel too fresh for me to be able to dissect them. Even my successes seem slippery and hard to pinpoint. The other day, as I was watching the hundreds of comments going up on the article I wrote for the Good Men Project, I messaged my friend Audra and said, “Is this what success is supposed to feel like? Because I feel awful.”

Sometimes succeeding feels just as bad, just as anxiety-inducing, as failure does.

Mostly I just want everything to be over. I don’t mean that I want to die or anything like that, but just that I’m so tired of trying to guess what’s coming next. I’m so tired of trying to figure out what to do next, how to take my next step, or which direction I need to go. I want all of my experiences to be over and done with so that I can sift through them and sort them into boxes labelled “good things” and “bad things.” Then, once I’ve done that, I’ll be able to sit back, write a life-in-review post, and judge whether, when looking at the big picture, the scale tips more towards happy or sad.

I’m so tired. So goddamn tired. The worst part is that I can’t even begin to imagine when I won’t feel like this. Maybe next year? Or maybe when Theo’s in grade school? High school? When he moves out? I can’t help but feel like it’s partly my fault, or even mostly my fault, for not sleep-training him, for breastfeeding for so long, maybe even for choosing to have a kid in the first place. I love my son, but I don’t think I can function like this for much longer. Then again, what would not functioning even look like? Will my legs just give out one day, my knees buckling under my weight, and I’ll have to lie on the ground until I’m rested enough to get up again? How do these things work?

If you asked me what I needed in order to feel better, what it would take to make me feel happy, I wouldn’t even be able to tell you. That’s what’s hardest about all of this: feeling as if it’s whatever it is that’s going to save you is totally beyond your control. If there is something that can save you. If that something, should it exist, ever manages to find you.

Sometimes I think that all of the little things that happen throughout my day, the meals, the conversations, the rote interactions, are nothing more than activities designed to get me from one minute to the next until I can finally lie down in my bed at night and sleep (or not). When seen this way, a life is nothing more than a string of days, days made up of pointless experiences meant to propel you through time. I mean, of course my experiences aren’t meaningless. Or maybe they are. I’m not sure.

I’m trying to think of some kind of life lesson to put in here, some kind of moral to this story, but I’m coming up totally dry. Maybe you can try to find your own moral, because sifting back through this mess of feelings seems like so much work. Everything seems like so much work, to be honest. I feel as if I’ve been sucked totally dry of any and all will or ambition or desire.

The winter here is beautiful. The snow, and the quiet, and the bare trees are beautiful. There’s a hush this time of year that you never feel in the summer, and I know I would miss it if I never felt it again. I don’t hate winter, and I don’t even necessarily need for it to be over, like, right now. I don’t even think I would like to live somewhere that was hot and sunny all year long. I just need something to pin my hopes on, something to look forward to, something to hold out for. I need something to focus on when everything seems so dark and cold that I don’t think I can stand it for one minute longer.

I just need to know for certain that spring is going to come.

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“I’d Rather Risk Rape Than Quit Partying” – Rape Culture and The Good Men Project

11 Dec

I’m tired of blogging about rape culture.

No, honestly, I am. It gets exhausting after a while. It wears you down, you know? There’s just so much awfulness, so many rape apologists, and it takes a lot of energy to wade through it, dissect it, call it out and then deal with the backlash.

I’ve diagnosed myself with what Jezebel calls “rape fatigue“, a pretty accurate term for how I feel.

I wasn’t going to blog about anything serious this week. I was going to blog about cute things, funny things. I had a whole post planned out about how Red Fraggle is a feminist icon. It was going to be great, you guys.

And then The Good Men Project published a piece called “I’d Rather Risk Rape Than Quit Partying.”

And, well, here we are.

Let’s deconstruct this article, shall we?

We’ll start with the title:

I’d Rather Risk Rape Than Quit Partying

Let’s be clear: while the author does, later, admit that he would rather be raped than stop partying, that’s not what the bulk of this article is about. What he’s actually saying here is that he would rather risk raping someone than stop partying.

You might need a moment to digest that sentiment; I know I did.

Next, we have a caveat from the editors:

We at the Good Men Project do not endorse or support the author’s worldview, but it does speak to a very common experience that is often taken for granted and rarely talked about, except in vague and theoretical terms. We thank the author for being willing to speak openly about it, and share his struggle with his own experiences, though we want to make very clear that we do not agree with his conclusions.

You don’t agree with his conclusions, but you still published it, didn’t you? You’re still giving a voice to someone who is an admitted, unapologetic rapist. Whether or not you “agree with his conclusions”, you are still giving him your support by posting this to your site. You are adding another voice to rape culture.  You are normalizing rape. This is not okay.

Now on to the article itself:

When you party, when you move in party circles, you accept certain tradeoffs.

You accept that you’ll always be the bad guy in after-school specials and sitcoms about teenagers. You’re the bad kid who offers Buffy Summers a beer and gets her almost eaten by a snake demon. You accept that you won’t always be able to piece together everything that happened the next day. You’re forced to enjoy Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” not because you like Katy Perry but because you just plain recognize it.

You accept these tradeoffs because they come with amazing times. They come with glowing memories of an intensity entirely beyond the mundane, they come with crazy sex with amazing people, they come with living a few hours at a time in a world where anything, anything at all, can happen. I’ve moved from one party scene to another my whole adult life, because nobody wants to be that creepy old person or that inappropriately young person, but there are always plenty of people who won’t walk away from that incredible sense of liberation and possibility that you only find at the bottom of the bottle and a hot room full of crazy people.

Anonymous Writer is a hipper than me, has cooler friends, and goes to better parties. He’s a bad-ass who has lots of amazing sex and maintains a love-hate relationship with Katy Perry. He can only find “liberation and possibility” while drunk in a room full of strangers. Got it.

I swear to God, it is only after the fact that you start figuring out that one of the tradeoffs you’ve accepted is a certain amount of rape. The way crooked businesses accept paying fines for their infractions as the cost of doing business, you gradually, an inch at a time, realize that some of the stories you’ve heard, some of the stories you’ve lived, didn’t involve what they call good consent nowadays.

Yes, because rape is just a consequence of having a good time. Raping someone is just the price you have to pay in order to party hard like Anonymous Writer does.

And you know what? Lack of consent is lack of consent, no matter whether something happened twenty years ago or yesterday. I don’t care whether they didn’t call it “good consent” back in the dark ages; it’s still rape.

With what I’ve learned as an adult, I’m pretty sure I’m technically a rapist. Technically nothing. One woman told me herself.

Anonymous Writer is a rapist. Got it.

Our encounter was years before—I’d been in a drinking contest and she’d been drinking and flirting with me (yes, actually flirting) all evening.

She was actually flirting! You can take this rapist’s word for it!

As blurry and fucked-up as I was, I read her kiss of congratulation to me as a stronger signal than it was, and with friends hooting and cheering us on, I pressed her up against a wall and… well. Call it rape or call it a particularly harsh third base, I walked away with the impression that it had been consensual, if not really sensible. (She had a boyfriend at the time, but their boundaries were fuzzy.)

He was peer-pressured into pushing her up against a wall, either raping her or going to a “particularly harsh third base” (whatever that even means), but it’s fine because he thought it was consensual. Oh, and because her boundaries with her boyfriend were “fuzzy”. Got it.

Years later, she was in a recovery program—not for alcohol, ironically—and she got in touch with me during the part where she made peace with her past. She wanted to clarify that what had happened between us was without her consent, that it hurt her physically and emotionally, that it was, yes, rape.

Here is one story about a time she was drunk, which totally makes it ironic that she’s not in an alcohol recovery program. Also, being raped was probably her fault because she had substance abuse problems.

Oh, and by the way, she was raped. By Anonymous Writer.

We talk about who is and is not a rapist, like it’s an inextricable part of their identity. “I’m a Libra, a diabetic, and a rapist.” That doesn’t work, though. Evidently I walked around for years as a rapist, totally unaware. Nobody stuck that label on me, I certainly never applied it to myself, even now it only feels like it fits when I’m severely depressed. The label, the crime, simply coalesced for me one day, dragging years of backstory behind it.

Anonymous Writer isn’t a rapist, because he doesn’t feel like one.

I literally could not come up with a better way of summing up how rape culture works than that one, single sentence.

That is the damnable thing. We all cluck our tongues at those evil bastards who force themselves on girls—or guys—who are insensibly passed out. At the same time, we all acknowledge that a glass or two of wine helps pave the way for a lot of good times. And in the trackless, unmappable gray swamps in between, we cough and change the subject.

Consent is not trackless or unmappable. Consent is fucking consent. Deal with it.

In the real world, especially among experienced drinkers, being blackout drunk doesn’t necessarily look like being passed out on the floor, helpless prey for any passing predator. It can look like being drunk, but fully in control. It can look like being passionately excited. It can look like being a great dancer. It can look like being very sexually aggressive.

It’s not just booze, of course. Ecstasy makes everything incredibly tactile and you want to touch everyone. Weed makes some people insatiably horny. I had to fend off a young woman recently who was talking a mile a minute and sliding her hands inside my shirt, I was still together enough to tell she wasn’t all there, on what turned out to be a mixture of acid and cocaine. There is plenty of fun stuff out there, but mostly it’s booze. For the majority of people, it’s going to be drinking they have to watch out for.

If you’re not sure that someone can consent, don’t have sex with them. If someone is drunk and you’re not sure how drunk, don’t have sex with them. If someone is drunk, don’t have sex with them. There. I’ve made it easy for you.

A friend of mine once told me about a girl who he knew for a fact had only had two drinks. He didn’t know she was on prescription medication that amplified those two drinks beyond all measure. He thought she was just very horny when she wouldn’t leave him alone or take “Are you okay?” for an answer. It wasn’t until she kept calling him by the wrong name and couldn’t remember the right one that he realized she was not able to consent, and called a halt to things before they went any further. He says he had to dissuade her from pursuing things further, because she was really into it, apart from not knowing who he was or where she was.

“Can you imagine?” he tells me in horrified tones. “I was almost a rapist.”

How do I tell him that I was in a similar position and made a different call? How do I tell him that I am what he’s terrified he almost was?

Well, I guess Anonymous Writer doesn’t have to, because rape culture! He will never be prosecuted. He will never go to jail. He will never even have to admit under his own name that he’s a rapist.

Here’s the plain, awful fact: people can have more and better sex drunk than they can sober. Some of the best, most fulfilling relationships of my life have started out with joyously drunken sex. I’ve had amazing times, orgies sometimes, where it’s simultaneously true that everyone’s consenting and having fun, and that they wouldn’t be consenting and having fun if they were stone sober.

Here’s a plain, awful fact: Anonymous Writer is a rapist.

Here’s another plain, awful fact: you don’t have to have sex when you’re drunk, even if it feels really great. You don’t have to have orgies where you know that the participants would not be consenting if they were sober. You don’t have to rape, but you do. And then you make excuses for it.

Those aren’t the times that bother me. The ones that bother me are the ones where I got loaded, had some fun with a lady, and then she never wanted to contact me again. Messages go unanswered, social contact is dropped.

It doesn’t bother Anonymous Writer when he rapes someone, as long as they remain friends with him.

There are men, rape-apologist pieces of shit, who will tell you that women cry “rape” every time they have sex they later regret. I carry no brief for those assholes. What eats at me is that there’ve been cases, more than one and less than six, in my life where either explanation would seem plausible. If a woman had consensual sex with a guy because they were both drunk, and later she decided he was a loser and she regretted it, she might refuse to have further contact with him because, hey, awkward. But if a woman was raped by a man who thought she was still capable of consent when she was too far gone, she might refuse to have further contact with him because, hey, rapist.

Except, as far as we know, none of these women (other than the one mentioned above) have cried rape. So there was no need for that sentence. They either refused to answer Anonymous Writer’s calls because they regretted having sex with him, or because they felt violated. This has nothing to do with anyone crying rape.

And, by the way, Anonymous Writer, you did rape.

That’s not the worst part either.

Oh good.

It’s been pointed out to me that I’m using a lot of heteronormative language here, men/me as rapist, women as rape victims, and I honest to God don’t mean to do that. It’s just the linguistic habits I grew up with.

But there have been times I’ve cut off all contact with women after drunkenly fooling around with them, the same criterion that, in reverse, makes me suspect myself of rape.

There have been times of “I regret going to bed with her” and times of “I don’t recall going to bed with her.”

There’s been at least one time I was informed, days after the fact, by multiple eyewitnesses, that I’d had sex with a girl. This came as news to me, and explained a couple messages I’d gotten from her, a girl I generally had no interest in getting involved with.

It must be bad manners to admit to being a rapist and to also say one is a rape survivor, all in one article. I don’t know any set of social mores where that’s okay. I certainly don’t feel like a rape survivor, whatever that’s supposed to feel like. I just can’t quite find a workable standard where I’m one but not the other. I don’t say that as any kind of apology or justification for my actions or my mistakes. I’m just trying to state the facts nobody ever quite wants to state.

So the worst part isn’t that Anonymous Writer raped someone, it’s that he’s not sure whether or not he’s been raped, although he doesn’t feel as if he has been.

That’s the worst part here.

Some might think it’s monstrous of me to keep drinking, keep partying. But I have had so many good, positive, happy experiences because I took a chance and altered my state and connected with someone else sexually, it seems crazy to throw all that away. Do people who’ve been in car accidents give up driving?

Translation: I will continue to knowingly rape women, and here is a shitty metaphor about car accidents to explain why I’ve chosen to do this.

Translation: the conditions that lead to me raping women are too much fun to give up.

Translation: I live in a culture that will continue to forgive and excuse me for every rape I’ve committed.

When I sit down and think about it, it seems like I’ve accepted a certain amount of rape as the cost of doing business, and so have most of the people I know. And that seems like the most sick, fucked-up, broken solution to anything ever. And maybe finding it livable-with condemns us all to hell. I don’t know. I can’t even talk about it under my own name.

Fuck you.

* * *

I want to be thoughtful about this. I know that I should be. I should say that this man clearly has addiction issues and needs help. I should offer him my support, because he is also a rape victim. I should be kind, forgiving, generous. But I can’t. I can’t do any of those things to someone who is an unapologetic rapist, someone who is clear on the fact that he will rape again. Someone who views rape as a “trade-off” for having a good time.

Rape is not something inevitable that happens because you’re partying too hard, because you drink to excess, or because you’re having too much fun. Rape is a choice that this man makes. This man knows that his drinking and partying will lead to having sex with a partner who cannot consent, and yet continues to do so. This man is an unapologetic rapist.

I know that I talk a lot about rape culture, but you guys? This is rape culture right here. It’s articles like these that make men feel better about raping women. It’s articles like these that contribute to victim blaming (if a woman doesn’t want to be raped, she shouldn’t drink so much, right?) It’s articles like these that normalize rape, that make rape seem like a by-product of enjoying oneself, that make rape seem inevitable and uncontrollable.

This is rape culture. This is our culture.

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Burnout

6 Nov

I’ve been thinking a lot about this blog, and why I have it, and what I want to get out of it.

A lot of what I’ve written here has been political. Much of it has been my own small attempt at affecting change, and there have been times that I’ve felt pretty positive about what I’ve done. Like the whole Gap Manifest Destiny debacle – I’m fairly certain that I helped mobilize the effort to have that t-shirt pulled. I feel like I did something good there, you know?

That sort of thing is what the internet is amazing for – it can help coalesce individuals into movements, or bring together like-minded people to fight for causes that they care about. It can be crucial for organizing protests, keeping people engaged, and giving minute-by-minute updates on what’s happening. The internet can be really fucking amazing. It can also be pretty terrible. There are times when interacting with people online feels like swimming in a giant sea of negativity. No matter what you have to say, no matter how nicely you say it, there are always fifty people ready to shout you down; there are always people who are more than happy to tell you how wrong (and ugly) you are. For the most part, those are people who are legitimately engaged in the discussion; don’t even get me started on the disgusting crap put out there by the trolls.

And yeah, before you say it, I know that I need to grow a thicker skin. I know that I need to just learn to ignore them, hold my head high and carry on about my business. And I’m trying, trust me, I’m really trying. You know what, though? It wears on you, it really does.

Part of my problem is that I’m a people-pleaser. I say yes way too often. I smile and nod a lot. I want to make sure that everyone is happy, all of the time. I have a hard time standing up for myself, and when I’m challenged on something I’ll often back down, concede defeat, or, most shamefully, burst into tears. I just want everybody to love me all of the time, even though I know that’s impossible, and even though I’m not willing to extend the same courtesy to everyone else.

I’m trying to be less of a doormat. I’m working on it, seriously. I want to be someone who stands up and fights for what’s right; I thought that having this blog would help me in that.

I wonder, though, if this is the right way to go about it. I mean, I’ve used this blog as a platform to be pretty damn vocal about what I believe in, and it seemed like that would be to the greater good. It seemed like I would be getting into the trenches, fighting the good fight. Really, though, what am I doing here?

Let’s be honest: most of the time I’m preaching to the choir. While I might occasionally educate some of you about some random fact, for the most part I’ve been trying to convince you guys of stuff that you already believe in. That’s not to say that there aren’t people who disagree with me – there are, for sure. But let’s be honest here: I’m not likely to change their minds, in the same way that people who are anti-abortion, or anti-caesarian, or prefer “equalist” to “feminist” are unlikely to change mine. And some of those who disagree with me are my friends and family; some of those are people I love.

Sometimes it feels like what I’m really doing here is alienating people that I care about, just because they believe in different things than I do.

Lately I feel really bogged down by everything. It seems like there’s so much going on in my life, and I can’t figure out how to get a handle on any of it. I feel like for every one thing that I accomplish, there are ten more things still left to be done. I feel like the things I write here are half-baked, badly considered and not well thought out; my only excuse for that is how little time I have to devote to researching and writing my posts. I wish I could say so much more, go so much more in-depth, but I just don’t have time. I’m doing what I can with what I’ve got, though. In fact, it seems like my motto these days is, I’m doing the best I can. I say it to the people I work with, I say it to Matt, and, above all, I say it to myself. I say it as if it will somehow get me off the hook for all the things I’ve left undone, all the things I’ve half-assed or bailed on or otherwise not given my all.

You know what, though? That’s just a bad excuse for not doing all the things that I’m supposed to do. It’s really no one else’s problem that I’m doing the best that I can, and it’s definitely no one’s problem but mine that my best just isn’t cutting it. Either I get my shit done, or I don’t. Either I succeed, or I fail. Or, to quote Yoda, “Do, or do not. There is no try.” Black and white, here, people.

I’m trying to come up with some kind of brilliant ending to this post, or a beautifully constructed sentence that will wrap everything up in a perfect cohesive bow, but I’m drawing a total blank. I don’t even know why I’m posting this – is it in the name of honesty? Or do I want you all to pat me on the back and tell me I’m doing a good job? I don’t really have the energy to try to untangle what my motives are. If I’m being honest, I would probably say that it’s a combination of the two, with a good dash of wanting to know that it’s possible to create some kind of change in the world.

I guess I just really need to know that I’m not running myself ragged for nothing. When I say that, I’m talking about more than just this blog – I’m talking about working and teaching and trying to keep my apartment somewhat clean and, most of all, being the mother that Theo needs. I need to know that all this shit I’m doing is going to be worth something someday, you know?

I’m just so burned out right now that I can’t see how anything I do could ever be worth anything.

Abandoned Halifax Infirmary – photo by Angela Carlsen

Deconstructing Racism And Privilege

18 Oct

Before we start, let me be really upfront about a few things.

First of all, I am not an expert on racism; I haven’t studied it extensively, and what I’m about to write here is mostly based on a few smart books/articles, conversations with friends, and stuff that I’ve read online. Oh, and feelings. I have a lot of feelings about racism.

Second of all, I’m white. I mean, like, really white. I have the complexion of an anemic Swede. So obviously I don’t fully understand racism and its impact because I will never personally experience it directed towards me. Everything that I’m writing here is offered as the perspective of someone who lives in the land of white privilege.

So with that baseline in place, I want to talk a bit about racism in general and some of the fallout from The Gap’s Manifest Destiny debacle in particular (sidebar: isn’t debacle a great word? let’s all agree to use it more often). I’ve been reading some of the comments left on my blog, on my Facebook page, on BlogHer and on this piece in The Guardian, and many of them are, well, troubling. To put it mildly.

Here’s a small sampling of some of the comments:

“Oh for pity’s sake, must everything be offensive? Political Correctness gone wild.”

“WHAT aboriginal community in the U.S. ? This belief in the U.S. is dead. The only complainers are the very few who were conquered. Conquering is not new to any culture. If the Native Americans weren’t so busy trying to conquer each other, they might have been able to keep more of their land. It seems every culture grew from conquering over a culture for whatever reasons they had. The system is world wide. Just because we finally gave it a name doesn’t mean we alone own it.”

“OMG, and the shirt is black too, with white text. We must read everything into this!”

What I find truly annoying it that creating a fuss over this sort of trivial nonsense only makes it that much harder to battle genuine racism … Instead of fighting actual racists, they find it easier to make normal people, without racists tendencies, to tread on eggshells around minorities.

I think this is absolutely ridiculous that natives feel entitled to stick their nose into everyone’s business because it ‘hurts their feelings’.

We get it, we took your land and you feel a deep entitlement to free education, no taxes and who knows what else. But you know what… throughout history people have been stealing land from other people. You need to stop drawing pity to your people and move forward like the rest of the world.

You are just a bunch of entitled greedy leeches that like to cry out and draw attention to yourselves.”

I think that a lot of these responses are knee-jerk reactions that come from a place of fear. We see something like the Manifest Destiny tee, and we don’t see a problem with it. Then someone tells us that it’s racist, and our reaction falls into one of the following categories:

1. We accept that it’s racist, and work to understand the how and why of it

2. We deny that it’s racist, and then defend that denial

I think that a lot of people choose the latter because accepting that the t-shirt is racist, and knowing that they didn’t initially understand why, means that they are racist. And they’re not racist! They have friends who are people of colour! They would never do/say/think anything racist! So, logically, if they are not racist, then the shirt must not be, either.

For those of you who are afraid of being racist, I’m going to tell you something that will maybe sort of let you off the hook:

If you are white, you are racist.

To be clear, for the purposes of this post I’m defining racism as prejudice plus power. In the western world, in this specific time in history, only white people can be racist. People of colour can certainly be prejudiced against those of other ethnicities, but they can’t be racist because they don’t have the societal power to enforce those prejudices.

Look, it’s not your fault that you’re racist; you’re probably a really nice person and yes, I do believe you when you tell me that you have friends of many different ethnicities. You grew up in a world where you were immersed in white privilege, and that privilege was constantly being reinforced by your education, the media and society in general. You didn’t ask for that privilege; it was handed to you whether you wanted it or not. Given these circumstances, you can’t help being racist.

But believe me when I tell you that you are racist. I am racist. We need to acknowledge and accept this before we move forward.

That fact being established, I want to be really clear on something: it is not for white people to say what is and isn’t racist. It’s not our place to roll our eyes and say, Really, do I have to be offended by everything now?

I’m not saying that there is never any overreaction when it comes to racial issues. What I am saying is, if a person of colour tells you that something is racist, give them the benefit of the doubt. If you don’t understand why it’s racist, ask them to help you understand. If the explanation makes you uncomfortable, ask yourself why it makes you uncomfortable.

And for the record, I would rather overreact to something than under-react to it. I would prefer to be labeled hysterical than labeled an apologist. I would rather be hated for being outspoken than look back on a a terrible event and feel like I could have done something if only I’d had the courage to open my mouth.

So remember earlier, when I told you that I was sort of letting you off the hook? Well, here’s the part where it turns out that I’m not letting you off the hook at all. Yes, you are a good person. No, you can’t help being racist. What matters now is what you do with this information; what matters is whether or not you remain blind to the fact that you are subject to prejudices against people of colour, or whether you accept it and say, okay, what do I do now?

To say stuff like, “… creating a fuss over this sort of trivial nonsense only makes it that much harder to battle genuine racism”, is to remain wilfully blind to your own racism. It’s to see racism as a series of overtly cruel acts perpetrated by other people, and not as an inherent part of the invisible systems we all participate in that benefit white people.

To make comments to the effect that what was done to the Aboriginal peoples in North America is ancient history, and that “conquering” is just a normal part of civilization, is to remain wilfully ignorant to the truth of what happened, and how it’s still happening today.

To say that we live in a society where political correctness has gone overboard and to dismiss the cries of racism from people of colour as a gross overreaction is to assert that it is, in fact, up to white people to decide what is and isn’t racist. It’s saying that people of colour aren’t smart enough to know what true racism is, or that all they want is our pity or our land or our money. It’s perpetuating the idea that only white people know what is best, and it’s insinuating that it would be wrong or even dangerous to have people of colour in positions of power where their poor judgment and conniving ways could have a disastrous effect on everyone.

Okay. What do we do now?

I’m going to say something that might seem really scary, but here it is:

Let people of colour have a voice. Seriously listen to what they have to say. When what they say frightens and confuses you, don’t shut them out. Keep listening. Be willing to work with them; be willing to have them tell you that you’re wrong. Spend every moment of every day fighting against your prejudices. When you want to leave a comment like the ones above on an online article, take a moment before you hit the reply button and think, what am I really saying here?

It’s hard, I know. Many (most?) of us grew up in an era where overt racism was very much frowned upon, but the underlying racist structure of society was never talked about. We grew up with books and television shows and movies that were racist, although we didn’t know that at the time, and it can be difficult to cherish the memories of those things while at the same time admitting that they were problematic. We grew up knowing that racism was so wrong, which means admitting that we’re racist makes us feel like monsters.

The hardest thing of all is accepting that society has to change, because why would we want to change things when everything is set up to benefit us? What motivation is there to have anything be different from the way it is?

Well, for one thing, I want Theo to grow up in a better world than I did; I don’t want him to have to have the same prejudices I do. I want to stop feeling guilty just because my skin is white. I want to look at someone and see who they are, instead of first noticing their race.

Most of all, I want to live in a world where everyone is equal. Yes, I know that people will always be born into different socioeconomic circumstances; yes, I understand that some people will always have to struggle more than others just to achieve the same thing. But that struggle should never, ever be tied to a person’s skin colour. A person should not be set up to fail from the very beginning just because they’re not white.

And if you don’t understand that, then I don’t know what to say.

Failure Is Easy (And Sometimes Success Fucking Sucks)

4 Oct

I did a teaching demo today for the owners of a local yoga studio. It was an amazing opportunity – their space is beautiful, they have a ton of teachers that I love and respect on their schedule, and it’s walking distance from my house. I’ve known the two owners for nearly a year, and they’re wonderful women – both are amazing instructors who have a quiet, gentle presence that would put anyone at ease.

Needless to say, I was fucking petrified.

I started out by nervously giggling my way through a short interview, and then spent a few minutes fumbling around with the audio system, trying to get my music to play and hoping that the trembling in my hands wasn’t obvious. I’d planned and reviewed the sequence that I was going to teach, so fortunately I didn’t forget it or anything, but my voice had gone strangely squeaky, and I could tell that my breathing was shallow. After a few minutes, though, I hit my stride and started to feel more confident. After all, I teach several times a week, right? I know how to do this.

Right?

Afterwards, they smiled at me, and told me what a lovely teaching voice and style I had, mentioned that I’d given excellent cues and had clearly been well-trained, and finally said that I had a beautiful practice.

Even a three-year-old could have heard this but coming a mile away.

But, one of them said gently, we noticed that you didn’t look at us. Do you ever walk around the room while you teach? Do you ever offer adjustments?

I do, I do, I stammered, I mean, maybe not as many adjustments as some other teachers, but I can do them. I mean, we learned how to. And I can walk around the room while I teach. We did focus on that in our training. Walking, that is, around the room, and not just demonstrating the poses to the students. It was something my teachers talked a lot about.

It must have been hard to teach to us, said the other, it was probably overwhelming to teach to the two owners of the studio.

I was totally nervous, I said. Didn’t you hear my voice shaking?

It was the sort of thing I knew I shouldn’t have said even before I said it, but then it came out anyway.

They talked to me a bit longer about the importance of connecting with your students, of having a relationship with them, and of maintaining an awareness of what’s happening in the room at all times. I said a few thing that probably sounded like feeble excuses. They thanked me for coming in, said that they had no immediate spots available on the schedule, but would keep me in mind for the future. I thanked them a little too profusely for having me in to demo for them (because it’s an honour to even be asked, right?) and then rushed out the door.

I don’t know which reaction to criticism is worse: to tell yourself that what other people see is wrong, that they just don’t understand what you’re trying to do, that they’re the ones with the ones with the problem, not you, or to do what I did, which was to tell myself that I’d flat out failed.

The thing is, they were right. I didn’t look at them while I was teaching. I probably don’t connect with and engage with my students enough. I do need to get up off the mat and walk around the room more often.

I could have said to myself that I would work harder, that I would take workshops on how to give adjustments, that I would get better and be the best teacher possible. The problem with that line of thought is that it seemed overwhelming and exhausting. I was tired just thinking about it.

It was easier to tell myself that I’d failed, that I was a bad teacher, that I should just give up and move on. It was easier to blame myself for not being prepared enough, for not thinking to look at them often enough, or even for scheduling a demo like this before I felt fully confident in my skills.

Failure is easy. Failure means that I get to give up, relax, not be so hard on myself. Failure means that I get to spend more time at home with my husband and son, and less time improving myself. Failure, somehow, means less anxiety.

Success, on the other hand, can be totally scary. With every success comes the idea that you need to build on it, keep the momentum going, continue to grow bigger and better every day. And success, of course, makes every little failure seem all the more bitter.

Every time I write something on here that elicits a reaction from people, that ends up being passed around on Facebook, or generates a lot of comments, I feel like my next post has to be even better. And then if I go a few days without posting anything that gets a big response, I feel like I’ve lost it, whatever it is: the ability to write, maybe, or to communicate effectively, to touch people.

A few things, though:

1. Every post I write doesn’t have to win the Nobel Fucking Prize for Bloggers

2. I am still just getting started as a writer who is writing things for other people, and not just scrawling messy feelings in my diary.

3. I am still a novice teacher; I just graduated in June for Pete’s sake

4. Who the hell is Pete, anyway? Is it Peter like the apostle Peter, the one who became the first Pope?

5. I really hate that dude.

I am a good teacher; I am also a good writer. I have innate talent in both of those areas (I mean, if I do say so myself). BUT (did you see that but coming?), innate talent will only get you so far. The rest of the way to success is hard fucking work. It’s hard work, and the road is never smooth – every time I succeed, it will likely be followed by a few failures, and it will be a while before I get to the point where I feel like everything is settling down and working out the way I want to. Maybe I never will. See? Fucking scary.

People like to say that failure is not an option, except that it totally is. I could totally pack up my yoga mat and go home. And I could justify that decision a million ways: teaching was wearing me out (true!), I felt like I wasn’t seeing my family enough (also true!), I wasn’t sure how to improve or move forward (double true!). Failing would be easy.

But I don’t want to fail.

I don’t want that to be the lesson that I teach Theo.

I don’t want that to be the lesson that I teach myself.

So if you’ll excuse me, I will take my lovely voice, my excellent cues and my beautiful practice and go work on learning how to properly walk around the room. It’s going to suck at first, and I’ll probably screw it up the first few times I try it, but I’ll ride that out and see it through until I get better. And I will get better, because I am a smart lady who can figure this shit out.

My child, even though I am a stupid misogynist and it’s totally my fault women can’t be priests, I will pray for you.