Tag Archives: my secret girlfriend margaret atwood

Dove Does Not Give A Shit About Whether Or Not You Feel Beautiful

22 Apr

Sometimes I feel like social media turns me into some kind of awful, gruesome caricature of a feminist. I spend waayyyy too much time jumping in on Facebook posts or tweets or blogs to explain why this specific thing, whatever it happens to be, is actually problematic. And I try not to do this, honest I do. I know that it’s annoying as fuck. I know that I come off like I’m Lisa Simpson except ten times worse and with more swears. I know that. I promise I do.

All of this is to explain why I have been so quiet and patient about Dove’s latest marketing campaign, Dove Real Beauty Sketches. I haven’t said anything about it. Nada. Zilch. Haven’t commented on anyone’s links, haven’t tweeted about it, haven’t even whispered darkly about it to myself when I’m alone at night and unlikely to offend anyone.

But then my friend Shannon wrote this brilliant piece about it, and after seeing the reactions to her post in the comments on her blog and from people on Facebook, I’ve realized that I have to say something. I’m not going to talk about how their recent campaign continues to perpetuate the idea that a woman’s most important asset is her appearance. I’m not going to tear apart their youtube video, with its beautiful sadly hopeful background music and its tear-jerking content. Other people have done that better than I ever could, and I’m not going to step on their toes.

I do want to tell you one thing, though:

Dove does not give a shit about whether or not you feel beautiful.

They don’t. At all. Full stop.

All that Dove wants is for women to buy their products. And they’ve discovered that the best way to manipulate women in the Western world is to tell them that they’re beautiful. And you know what? This is a really fucking effective advertising strategy. Part of this success is because it goes against just about every marketing rule out there. Traditional advertising wisdom says that we should tell people that they’re lacking in something in order to make them buy it. Tell women that they’ll be more attractive if they use your makeup or skin cream or expensive shampoo. As Margaret Atwood explains in her short story Hairball, advertising to women is simple:

“You bombard them with images of what they ought to be, and you make them feel grotty for being the way they are. You’re working with the gap between reality and perception. That’s why you have to hit them with something new, something they’ve never seen before, something they aren’t. Nothing sells like anxiety.”

This has been the way that advertising has worked, more or less, for at least the last sixty or so years.

And then Dove came and seemed to flip the whole thing on its head in a way that seemed to be totally new and brave and laudable. They’ve taken the formula described above and are using it backwards – for instance, they’re looking at the gap between perception and reality and saying that, in fact, the perception that you are an ugly, worthless person is wrong, so let’s bridge the gap back to reality where you are actually incredibly beautiful and worthy. Instead of bombarding women with images of what they ought to be, they’re bombarding them with images of how they feel that they already are – curvy, wrinkled, imperfect – and telling them that this is real beauty. Instead of hitting people with something new, they’re hitting them with the so-called truth about themselves, full of platitudes and love and golly-gee niceness.

And all of this has been incredibly, insanely effective. Women are now buying Dove products not because they feel that these products will improve them, but because they’re loyal to a brand that sees them as truly, uniquely beautiful.

All of which would be fine, I guess, if that was actually what Dove thought.

But Dove does not give a shit about how you feel about yourself. Dove just wants to manipulate you into buying their products.

How do I know this? Well, setting my general cynicism about large corporations aside, I know this because Dove is owned by Unilever. And while Unilever uses Dove to sell warm, fuzzy, watered-down feminism to Western women, it uses several of its other companies to do the exact opposite.

Unilever also owns Axe, which is well-known for creating advertising campaigns that are, well, the opposite of empowering to women. A typical example of their preferred style of advertising is the that one I’ve posted below, in which a young man spraying himself liberally with Axe is suddenly surrounded by a mob of thin, bikini-clad super models. These commercials are not only degrading to women (by putting forth the idea that men are only attracted one specific body type, and that for women to fail to attain that body type means to fail to be beautiful), but they’re also degrading to men (by perpetuating the stereotype that men are all sex-crazed beasts who just want to go to booty town with as many hot, sexy ladies as possible).

It is seriously such a fucking joke that Dove makes videos about how many unattainable images of beauty a young girl will be subjected to as she grows up and how this will warp her self-perception, while at the SAME FUCKING TIME Axe is creating those unattainable images of beauty.

Even worse, Unilever owns Indian brand Fair and Lovely, a skin-bleaching cream marketed especially to girls from lower-class families. This cream, which is part sunscreen, part moisturizer, and part skin-lightener, promises women with darker skin that they will be able to find better, higher-paying jobs by having fairer skin. It’s even marketed as being “empowering” to women because having lighter skin gives them more “choices” in life.

Yeah, that’s right. The same company that, in North America, tells you to own and love your body the way it is, tells Indian women that they need to be whiter in order to be successful.

Like I said, Unilever and, by extension, Dove do not give a shit about whether or not you feel beautiful. The only thing that they’re interested in doing is manipulating women into buying their products. For North American women, they do this by telling them that they are beautiful, no matter what they look like. For North American men, they do this by promising that their products will attract droves of hot babes. And for Indian women, they do this by telling them that if only they looked more like white people, they could achieve all of their dreams.

Dove described their Campaign for Real Beauty as “a global effort is intended to serve as a starting point for societal change and act as a catalyst for widening the definition and discussion of beauty.”

They’ve used the tagline, “Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does.”

Their website is full of criticisms of the beauty industry, self-esteem builders, and gushing comments from loyal Dove users.

All of this is bullshit. 

And you know what? I feel really bad saying that because I know a lot of women who have been inspired by this campaign. I know women who feel that this campaign has helped remind them that they, too are beautiful. I know so many women who really, really love this campaign. And I don’t want to tell them that they’re wrong! I just want them to know that, at the end of the day, Dove doesn’t care.

Dove doesn’t care, but I do. And lots of other people do. There are even organizations out there, organizations that are not owned by giant corporations, that care. We think you’re beautiful, and we’re not standing to make any kind of profit off of that thought. More than that, we think you’re smart, capable, funny, kind, all-around great people. We love everything about you.

And you know what? When I tell you that, I am not making a fucking cent off of it.

IMG_5504-ed-blog

Here are a few videos of advertising campaigns from Dove, Axe and Fair and Lovely, in case you want to compare:


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My Life As A Tree

14 Jan

Have you ever seen a kudzu vine? They’re all over the south, their bright green leaves waving gently in the hot, humid air. At first you’ll think that they’re kind of pretty, but once you realize that they’re capable of, you’ll never look at them the same way again.

They’re an invasive species, the kudzu vines; native to Japan and China, they were introduced to America to help prevent roadside erosion. They spread quickly – statistics show that they’re taking over the American South East at a rate of 150,000 acres annually. Kudzu will grow nearly anywhere, on anything, and its advance seems impossible to stop.

Once kudzu starts to take over a field or a forest, it slowly but surely replaces all existing vegetation. It starves the trees and undergrowth by cutting them off from sunlight; once the kudzu has done its work, all that remains is a swath of green, leafy vines, still in the shape of the things they have killed.

kudzu

Sometimes I think that kudzu is the most accurate metaphor for depression that I can come up with. Not just because, at times, it feels like I’m overwhelmed with depression, suffocated and blinded  by it, but also because sometimes I wonder how much of my actual self has been choked off, starved to death. I wonder how much of the me under there is already dead.

Like a tree that’s been covered by kudzu, I don’t look very different from the person I was. I maintain the same shape, the same colour. Outwardly, I’m indistinguishable from someone who isn’t living with depression. And if there are subtle signs that something is wrong – a funny look in my eyes, or a slump to my shoulders – well, those things are easily written off or ignored. With enough effort, I can pass as a person who doesn’t long to spend her days sprawled out on the couch watching re-runs of M*A*S*H, eating chocolate and sobbing.

I am a person who used to be happy. I am a person who used to look forward to things. I am a person who used to laugh, frequently.

It’s not hard to see how much being depressed has altered my life.

What I really wonder, though, is how much of the self I used to be is still intact. When depression first claimed me, I thought that it would be a matter of a few pills and then I would be back to my old self. Now, after years of fighting what Winston Churchill referred to as his “black dog”, years of thinking of it a disease, a medical condition, something that I could recover from, I wonder if it’s possible that the depression is me.

Certainly my life, my choices and my very self have been warped and shaped by depression. At this point, it seems impossible to separate who I really am from all the grinding misery, sadness and negative self-talk that my brain has put me through. When I think about the bad decisions that I’ve made, the not-so-great life choices and the hurtful things that I’ve said, I wonder who or what I’m supposed to blame for them. It seems ridiculous to say that depression didn’t play a part in the fact that I chose to lie in bed, crying and reading trashy novels, instead of doing any homework for basically all of 11th and 12th grade. But it seems just as ridiculous to say that I, myself, the non-depressed, rationally-thinking person who lives somewhere inside of me had absolutely no control over the situation. Surely, at some point, that part must have lacked the will-power or the desire to do what it knew was right.

On especially bad days I begin to believe that I let myself become depressed. I believe that I didn’t fight hard enough or long enough or well enough and, through laziness or lack of discipline, allowed depression to consume me.

Blaming yourself for feeling bad is a slippery slope that never leads anywhere good.

I often think about getting well. Most days it’s the only thing I think about. The truth is, though, that I don’t even know what well is, or what it looks like, let alone how to get there. If I’m being honest with myself, the way that I’m living now feels normal, because it’s the same way that I’ve been living for over half my life. I don’t remember who I was before all this started, and I don’t remember what it was like not to feel like this. I don’t remember what it’s like to get up in the morning and not dread every single thing that has to happen to me before I can finally make it back to bed again.

Someone said to me recently, accusingly, that my problem is that I don’t want to put the necessary work into getting better. The funny thing is, they’re right. I don’t. I’m too tired to do any kind of work. It’s bad enough that I have to get up every day and drag myself through yoga and parenting and writing; I don’t want to have to do any extra work on top of that. Thinking about having to work in order to get well makes me feel exhausted before I’ve even started. Of course I want to get better, but maybe the truth is that I don’t have the energy to do that right now.

It doesn’t help that I don’t really know what people mean by work. Do they mean endless doctor’s appointments? If so, check. Therapy? Check. Medication? Check. Buying self-help books that I’ll never read? Double-check. And, I mean, it’s not like these things are totally useless (except maybe the books), but they’re not really fixing anything, either; mostly they just keep me afloat until the real help arrives. Except that I’m not sure what the real help is, or if it even exists.

The other night, as I was reading through decade-old journal entries, I was struck by how little I’ve changed. I mean, my circumstances have changed, certainly, but the sadness and fear and naked self-loathing I found scrawled on those pages haven’t. Not really. I might be better at hiding those things, better at handling myself in social situations, but truth is that I’m still just as miserable now as I was when I was twenty.

Ten years is a long time to be that miserable.

I also found a quote that I’d copied from Margaret Atwood’s short story, The Sin Eater, which seems just as fitting now as it did then. It’s part of a conversation between the narrator and her therapist, discussing coping skills for her emotional problems:

‘Think of it as a desert island,’ he said. ‘You’re stuck on it, now you have to decide how best to cope.’

‘Until rescued?’ I said.

‘Forget about the rescue,’ he said.

‘I can’t,’ I said.

I can’t forget about the rescue, either.

Because it’s not a nice desert island that I’m stuck on, not one of those tropical ones where you befriend the wild animals and make bras out of coconuts. My desert island is some craggy mass in the North Atlantic, maybe off the coast of Nova Scotia. It’s grey and miserable and wet here, and everything edible tastes like cardboard. It’s always cold, even in the middle of summer. The wild animals are mean, ugly and prone to biting.

The worst part, though, is that the mainland is so close that I can see everyone I used to know going about their daily business. I can even hear them as they talk about all the things that I used to care about. And I’ve tried to get back there. I’ve built boats, dozens of them, to try to cross that narrow strip of water; you can see them there, lined up on the shore of my island, with names like Zoloft and Psychiatry and Therapy painted on their prows.

Nobody ever taught me how to build a boat, though. My crafts are hopeful, but never seaworthy.

Can somebody please send me instructions on how to build a boat?

Why Feminism Is Still Important (or, why I hate the word “equalist”)

1 Nov

Last night I was flipping through Margaret Atwood’s Wilderness Tips (which, by the way, is probably her best book of short stories). In the middle of Uncles, I came across a brief exchange between two characters, one of whom is trying to convince the other to write a guest piece on feminism for his newspaper:

“This would be a different angle.” There was a pause; she imagined him polishing his glasses. “It would be – now that the women’s movement has accomplished its goals, isn’t it time to talk about men, and the ways they’ve been hurt by it?”

“Percy,” she said carefully, “where do you get the idea that the women’s movement has accomplished its goals?”

I feel like this is a conversation that I’ve been having for most of my adult life. For someone who came of age in the 90s and early 2000s, it can be hard to explain to other people why feminism is still necessary. Many of our bigger, more obvious goals – voting rights for women, the ability to own land, equal education for girls, and more control over our own reproductive systems – have, in the western world, largely been achieved. The landscape of third-wave feminism, which began in the early 90s and continues today, is often confusing and tricky to navigate. Some third-wavers question whether “feminism”, a term that might be limiting and can seem as if it’s promoting oppressive gender roles, should even be used. On top of that, it often feels like the current incarnation of the feminist movement has devolved into petty bickering about whether or not mothers should stay at home, or how a “real” woman is supposed to give birth.

So why even call yourself a feminist anymore?

I know a lot of women – smart, strong, progressive women, women that previously self-identified as feminists – who no longer use that label. People want to distance themselves from the negative connotations that surround the term “feminism”, or else they don’t want to seem as if they’re only interested in women’s rights. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that they’d prefer to be called a “humanist” instead; in fact, this past weekend, a good friend said wistfully to me, “I wish society was at a place where I could call myself an equalist instead of a feminist, but I guess we’re not there yet, huh?”

On the surface, these arguments seem to make sense. I mean, you catch more flies with honey, etc. If using different terminology means that more people are willing to work towards equality, then that must be a good thing, right? I mean, let’s be honest – the term feminist conjures up images of angry women burning their bras, or intimidating women stomping around in army boots telling men what’s what. Feminism is often equated with hating men, or with the idea that women are the superiorsex. In contemporary mythology, stereotypical feminists only make up for their lack of a sense of humour with their surfeit of untamed body hair.

Here’s the thing, though: calling yourself an “equalist” slides you right back into all those traditional gender roles that society wants you to be in. Being an “equalist” ensures that you won’t intimidate anybody, that people won’t see you as someone who goes against the grain. It turns you into a smiling, apologetic woman who says things like, “but I just want everyone to have equality – men and women.” It makes you totally non-offensive, and as such, takes away a lot of your power. Women who describe themselves as equalists strike me as people who are afraid of conflict and who, above all, want to be liked; men who call themselves that strike me as people who want to deny all the challenges that women still face.

When we talk about equality, in a lot of cases men are already hold the standard that women are trying to achieve. It was only last year that women working for Canada Post won the right to equal pay – and this, by the way, stemmed from a case that was filed in 1983. The New York Times recently reported that a a heavy and persistent bias against women still exists in the scientific community; most troublingly, this bias is upheld and perpetuated by just as many women as men, which goes to show you how deeply misogyny is ingrained in our culture. Women still have to be afraid when walking alone at night; hell, we have to be afraid when out at a bar with a friend, or out on a date, or in almost any situation when we encounter a man alone. We live in a culture where women have to fear for our safety in ways that I don’t think men will ever understand.

And, of course, our reproductive rights are always, always in jeopardy.

All of that is only the stuff that’s happening here at home – what about the challenges facing women in other parts of the world? Countries where women have to fight for the right to drive, or work outside the home, or walk around in public with their hair uncovered? Countries where terrorist organizations shoot little girls in the head just because they want to go to school? There are places where just being a woman is treated as if it’s a crime.

This isn’t to say that there are no issues facing men – to the contrary, gender stereotyping certainly affects men as well as women. But when we start talking about equality for men, it often comes to dominate the conversation, derailing any attempts to discuss the ongoing inequalities faced by women. We need our own space to talk about what’s happening to women today; we need our own conversation about issues that are unique to us. We need feminism.

Look, I’ll be honest: I wish we lived in a world where just talking about concepts like equality meant promoting the rights of women everywhere. I wish that we didn’t have to use labels like feminist or pro-choice; I wish that we could just trust people to be sensible human beings and look out for each other. We don’t live in that world, though. Not even close. In spite of the progress we’ve seen over the last few generations, the feminist movement still has a long way to go before it achieves its goals.

Maybe someday we will live in a world where half the world’s the population doesn’t have to suffer simply because they’re women – I mean, I guess anything’s possible, right? That’s what we’re fighting for, right? Until that time, though, I plan on being an intimidating, humourless (though admittedly body-hair-free) feminist.

Bullying Part III (or, all hail Margaret Atwood)

10 Oct

This will be the final instalment of my totally unplanned Bullying Trilogy (seriously, it started out with me just wanting to talk about clothes).

After I made my last post talking about how I was bullied in my teens, my friend Audra asked if I’d read this 2011 article from New York Times, Bullying As True Drama. In fact, I had read it when it first came out and hadn’t really given it much thought. Re-reading it, though, I found myself nodding and muttering, yes, yes, yes under my breath.

So much of this article hits home for me. This part, for instance:

Many teenagers who are bullied can’t emotionally afford to identify as victims, and young people who bully others rarely see themselves as perpetrators. For a teenager to recognize herself or himself in the adult language of bullying carries social and psychological costs. It requires acknowledging oneself as either powerless or abusive.

Or this:

While teenagers denounced bullying, they — especially girls — would describe a host of interpersonal conflicts playing out in their lives as “drama.”

At first, we thought drama was simply an umbrella term, referring to varying forms of bullying, joking around, minor skirmishes between friends, breakups and makeups, and gossip. We thought teenagers viewed bullying as a form of drama. But we realized the two are quite distinct. Drama was not a show for us, but rather a protective mechanism for them.

And especially this:

“Teenagers want to see themselves as in control of their own lives; their reputations are important. Admitting that they’re being bullied, or worse, that they are bullies, slots them into a narrative that’s disempowering and makes them feel weak and childish.”

Like I said in my last post, bullies can smell a victim. The minute that you admit to yourself or to others that you’re being victimized, then I guarantee you that, barring serious intervention, the bullying will get worse. To make matters even more difficult, many kids (and adults) don’t realize that they’re bullies; this behaviour is so ingrained in our culture that it seems downright normal. I’m certain that most of the kids inflicting “drama” on others have, at some point, been on the receiving end of “drama”. To them, it’s an unpleasant but ultimately unavoidable part of life.

We also need to realize that the ways in which bullying happens have changed; it often occurs online, or through texting; it’s not always public. This, then, is where I think David Dickson, chairman of the Bullying Prevention Initiative of California, really misses the mark with definition of bullying as happening, “typically in a social setting in front of other people“. That definition certainly doesn’t hold true today; in fact, I’m not sure that it’s ever been accurate.

One of the best literary instances of bullying that I can think of is the torment that Elaine Risley goes through at the hands of her so-called “best friends” in Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye. Though all three of her friends are party to the bullying, few outside of that group know what’s happening. In fact, Elaine is pretty clear about the fact, were she to tell anyone about being bullied, she would feel as though she were breaking some kind of sacred code:

“Whatever is going on is going on in secret, among the four of us only. Secrecy is important… to violate it would be the greatest, the irreparable sin.”

A few adults in Elaine’s life seem to have some inclination as to what’s going on; she hears the mother of one of her friends saying that she deserves to be bullied because she’s a “heathen”, and, several years after the bullying occurs, Elaine’s mother makes a vague reference to the girls giving Elaine a “bad time”. Those instances aside, none of the grown-ups seem to know or understand the severity of what’s happening. The three girls are at Elaine’s school, and one of them is even in her class, but none of the teachers seem to notice that anything is amiss with their relationship; even her peers see only a group of “best friends” and nothing more.

Based on all the above, I wouldn’t say that Elaine’s bullying is public; in fact, her tormentors are very careful to maintain the façade of friendship that they’ve built up. Does that mean that it’s not bullying?  Elaine is certainly emotionally, mentally and physically scarred by what she’s going through; not only are her self-confidence and happiness eroded to the point of non-existence, she also begins experiencing symptoms of severe anxiety such as fevers, stomach aches and tendencies of self-harm (among other things, she begins biting her fingers, and pulling patches of skin off her lips and the soles of her feet).

Another important thing to note is that, much like the girls mentioned in the Times article, neither Elaine, her friends, nor the adults in her life ever use the term bullying. Instead, they use euphemisms like giving her a hard time. At one point Elaine’s mother even tells her not to let the other girls push her around, and not to be spineless, as if that’s any kind of helpful advice. So the message that Elaine receives both from her “friends” and the adults in her life is that the way she’s being treated is her own fault.

This, then, helps explain why, when the balance of power shifts between Elaine and her “friend” Cordelia,  Elaine begins to bully her back. While Cordelia spent most of grade school bullying Elaine, Elaine turns around and spends much of high school treating Cordelia equally terribly. In her mind, though, she’s not a bully; she can’t be, because, in Elaine’s eyes and the eyes of the world, her “friends” from elementary school weren’t bullies either.

At one point, when things are at their worst, Elaine’s mother says to her,

I wish I knew what to do.

And that, that right there, is often the hardest pill for both adults and teenagers to swallow – the fact that when bullying or “drama” occurs, the adults involved often just don’t know what to do.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that part of the reason teens started using the term “drama” to sort of re-brand bullying was the realization that, possibly for the first time in their lives, the adults around them had no clue how to stop them from hurting. So the term “drama” isn’t just a protective mechanism for the kids themselves; it’s also their way of protecting their parents and teachers, a way of reassuring them that it’s okay that they have no idea how to help because it’s nothing, just drama, and their help isn’t needed.

Matt and I were both bullied when we were younger, and because of that we’ve talked extensively about what we would do if Theo was ever bullied. I would like to say that we’ve come up with an awesome plan but, really, we haven’t. If things were ever to get really bad and Theo were to express a desire to change schools, Matt would prefer to go ahead and do that, whereas I would rather that he learn to work things through with his peers rather than running away. Of course, Matt doesn’t know what he would do if things were equally bad at Theo’s new school, and I have no idea how Theo is supposed to learn to rationally work things through with a bunch of hormonally-crazed teenagers.

I think, though, that at the end of the day that Times article has it right; instead of focussing on the “negative framing” of bullying, we need to work towards teaching our kids what healthy peer relationships look like and how to be good digital citizens. We need to teach our kids empathy and the ability to recognize when “drama” has gone too far. We need to find ways to empower our kids instead of making them feel weak or victimized.

I know, I know, this is a lot of talk without a lot of substance to back it up, but hey – I’ve hopefully got a few more years to figure it out. And while I’m teaching Theo how to be a smart, confident, independent person, I’ve got him to teach me how to be a thoughtful, wise and effective parent. So far, I think we’re both doing a pretty okay job.

Shit My 16 Year Old Self Says

14 Sep

Like many (most?) people , I had a shitty time as a teenager. I felt like a lonely, isolated weirdo. I guess I kind of was a lonely, isolated weirdo?

My parents split up when I was 13, and my mother, sisters, and I moved into low income housing. Our neighbours there did things like getting their 10 year old son drunk on Christmas and then laughing as he vomited all over the front lawn. Behind our row of townhouses was an old landfill covered with sod, which everyone called Mount Trashmore. On some nights we heard gunshots, although, to the best of my knowledge, no one there ever died. Once I saw a man, naked and high on something, beaten by the police in broad daylight.

We didn’t have any money, which meant I didn’t have the right clothes. Scratch that, I didn’t even know what the right clothes were. For some reason, I didn’t get the memo sent out to all the girls sometime during the summer before 7th grade. This memo apparently told everyone that, going forward, we would be dressing in cute little t-shirts and tight jeans. I showed up for the first day of school wearing baggy track pants and a pink sweatshirt with kittens on it.

On top of all that, I was socially awkward (no surprises there). Adolescent conversations contained a layer of subtext that I couldn’t detect and didn’t understand. I wanted desperately to know how to act around my peers, but I couldn’t seem to get my shit together and figure out the right way to be.

Oh and also, I had really, really bad skin. Like, really bad.

Anyway, I found my diary from when I was 15 and 16 today. It was weird reading something that I wrote literally half a lifetime ago. Some of the stuff in it is super pretentious, some of it’s strange, but some of it’s downright lovely.

I thought I would share a few snippets with you:

I dreamed of you again last night. It was a pleasant interlude from the harsh reality I am trying to cope with. I wish you would come back.” [oh the big emotions and big words of a 15 year old!]

Last night I dreamed that A called me; I was very happy.

Here I go on & on about how I hate society, but we have made society & we are society, so I suppose that what I really hate is people.” [a revelation!]

“I pretend that I am Margaret Atwood as I walk to school, making up long monologues in my head. This usually happens after I finish a book of hers. I spend days in Atwood-esque contemplation. I tell myself that I should write things down, but I never do.”

P does not really hate me, he says. He was just in a bad mood. He hugs me with that half-bemused, half-sarcastic smile on his face and pats my back. He hates scenes of any kind. I know, of course, that eventually he will hate me, but I can pretend for now that everything is the same.” [relationships and hormones – rarely a good mix]

Houses that have been steeped in the living of people have a certain character. More on this later.

“Everybody wants to be a writer.” [hah, how true]

Find out what’s wrong with my skull.” [this is scrawled across the bottom of a page and I have no idea what it means]

“Does everyone feel with the same intensity that I do?” [Oh, honey. Probably.]

Shakespeare was a hypocrite.”

I like the smell of wood burning. It reminds me of birthdays and camping trips and maybe something deeper than that.”

“I need this book so that I can remember me and know that what I have become is better than who I was. Or happier, anyway.”

My first instinct is to laugh at the stuff I wrote, the babyish attempts at prose and the juvenile idea that being “literary” means using multisyllabic words. I won’t laugh, though, because that girl? The one who wrote all that stuff? That girl lived in terror of being laughed at.

I’ve been thinking about that girl a lot. I’ve been thinking about what I would say to her if I could.

I would tell her that even when it seems like no one loves her, plenty of people still do.

I would tell her that, even though moving to Halifax is a good idea, she’ll never be able to outrun herself.

I would tell her that she has so many awesome people that she’s going to meet.

I would tell her that she has good taste in books and movies.

I would tell her not to to be too hard on herself.

I would tell her to brush her teeth more often.

I would tell her that there are no easy answers, and that at 30 I still have self-esteem problems, but in spite of that things are good.

I would tell her that the people who are making her feel bad right at that moment won’t matter to her in a few years, but that her good friends will only become better over time.

I would tell her that some (thought not all) of the things she’s found excruciatingly embarrassing will someday be funny.

I would tell her to do her damn homework.

I would thank her for writing all these things down, because she’s right – I’m grateful to have this record of who I was at that time.

When I bought this book I thought it was the prettiest thing ever.

15 literary characters I am in love with (or have been in love with at some point in my life)

30 Aug

I have this bad habit of falling hard for fictional characters. Like, to the point where, when I get to the end of a book, I feel like we’ve broken up or something. Does everybody do this? Or am I just a weirdo?

Anyway, I made you a list of my top 15 literary loves of all time! Oh God I love lists so much.

1. Theodore Laurence from Little Women 

First of all, please note that this dude and my son have the same first name. It is not really a coincidence. If Theo had been a girl, one of the names we were considering was Josephine. Don’t laugh.

Laurie is everything younger me wanted in a boyfriend: he was cute, funny, smart, mischievous and totally in need of a mother figure (okay, kidding on that last part – I mean, it’s true, it’s just not really on my list of potential mates). Even now when I read Little Women I get SO PISSED OFF that Jo won’t marry Laurie. How can she resist him when says stuff like:

If you loved me, Jo, I should be a perfect saint, for you could make me anything you like.

That’s clearly total lies, but still. Romance!

The bitterest pill to swallow is when Laurie goes and marries THE WORST MARCH SISTER (aka Amy). Ugh. Whatever, I hope he’s happy being married to the vain, obnoxious “artist” (hint: she is actually not very talented) of the family. I’m sure she’s thrilled she finally bagged a rich dude, since that was her plan all along.

My love for Laurie was probably aided by the fact that Christian Bale played him in the 1994 movie. Swoon. Double swoon.

2. Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye

I think that we can all agree that Holden would definitely be in the running for Worst Boyfriend Ever. He’s whiny, he’s pretentious, he has a victim complex a mile long – and yet, there was so much that teenage me identified with in him. As an adolescent trying to define myself against the storm of media-generated ideas of what I should look like, how I should act, what I should wear, his anti-phony policy had serious appeal for me. Also, I could totally identify with how awkward and isolated he felt around his peers. So even though reading Catcher these days makes me roll my eyes so hard I practically sprain them, he’ll always have a special place in my heart.

3. Sherlock Holmes, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

True, he’s a rude, egotistical, incredibly impulsive drug-addict who hates women, but let’s face it: Sherlock Holmes is awesome. He doesn’t take shit from anybody, he’s super smart, and he’s a snappy dresser. Plus he would be really fun to hang around with (even if he would totally make you feel like an idiot all of the time). I know he is probably totally asexual, but what woman doesn’t love a challenge like that? (Hint: most of them)

4. Duncan, The Edible Woman

Another contender for Worst Boyfriend Ever. I’m sensing a theme here.

Duncan lies, and screws around with Marian’s feelings, and is generally terrible and manipulative. But somehow he is still lovable? It helps that he’s pretty honest about being a rotten person. He’s funny and quirky and is the perfect counterbalance to her bizarre, overly structured relationship with Peter. Plus, he’s tall and skinny, which is totally my type. I wouldn’t want to date him, but I think he’d be fun as a friend with benefits.

5. David Staunton, The Manticore

Okay, so David Staunton is totally weird about women and hasn’t had sex since he was 16. Oh, and that one time David did sleep with someone, it was with his father’s former mistress, in a bizarre arrangement set up by his father. I still love him, though. I love how he tries to quietly defy his overbearing father at every turn, and how he’s able to build a life for himself that’s at least partly outside of his father’s (extensive) shadow. Plus, his sister Caroline is awesome. I would totally marry him and then hang out with Caroline every day.

6. Christopher Heron, The Perilous Gard

Christopher is another love dating from my teenage days. I guess The Perilous Gard is technically YA, but if you like historical fiction, you will probably love it. Anyway, Christopher spends the entire book being moody and rude to Kate (with somewhat good reason), but then totally redeems himself with an awesome speech at the end:

I never thought of you like that. How could I? If you were any other woman, I could tell you I loved you, easily enough, but not you – because you’ve always seemed to me like a part of myself, and it would be like saying I loved my own eyes or my own mind. But have you ever though of what it would be to have to live without your mind or your eyes, Kate? To be mad? Or blind? I can’t talk about it. That’s the way I feel.

PRETTY ROMANTIC, RIGHT? It seemed that way when I was a teenager, anyway.

7. Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall

Thomas Cromwell kind of gets a bum rap when it comes to English History. He was unpopular in his own time, and unpopular after his death (by beheading!). What this book supposes is: maybe he was actually a pretty nice and awesome dude? Well, nicer than he’s painted in the history books, anyway.

What’s especially awesome about Cromwell (in Wolf Hall, at least) is that he is super unpretentious. He was born a commoner, and even as he rose through the courtly ranks, he still maintains his commoner sensibilities (and sense of humour). He had a shitty childhood, and then his wife and daughters both died of the English sweat (DID YOU KNOW THAT IS THE ACTUAL NAME OF AN ACTUAL DISEASE? sorry, I got a little excited there – up until I read this book, I assumed that it was a made up thing, like “brain fever”). Anyway, in spite of all this, he plods away at his work and is a nice, funny dude, and, I dunno, I kind of love him. He’s definitely marriage material, even if he does have some emotional baggage.

8. Konstantin “Kostya” Dmitrievich Levin, Anna Karenina

First of all, props to Levin for having such a long, awesome name. I love Russian names. Love them. I wish I had a Russian name, complete with awesome nickname.

Levin is kind of a sad sack, and spends a large chunk of the novel either mooning over Kitty or pondering the meaning of life. He’s still pretty great though – especially when he gets all up on worker’s rights. And he’s definitely a devoted and loving dude, which puts him way ahead of most of the people on this list so far. That being said, he does have the potential to be a super annoying partner, though.

8. Calvin O’Keefe, A Wrinkle In Time

Calvin is possibly my favourite on this list. He is a super popular smart athletic dude who loves Meg for exactly who she is. He doesn’t want her to be prettier, or less socially awkward, or more able to control her temper. He loves how smart she is, and is totally cool with the fact that she’s more intelligent than he is. He is just so lovely. My 12 year old self was totally head-over-heels for him.

I think Matt is basically my Calvin O’Keefe, even if I’m not actually smarter than Matt is (although one time I did score slightly higher than him on a fake online MENSA test).

9. Morpheus, The Sandman

Another dude who is worst boyfriend material. Why is he even on this list? He spends his days moping around, he’s always in a bad mood, he treats everyone pretty badly, but, I dunno. He’s the master of dreams, and that’s pretty awesome. I really want to live in his castle. And I think under all of his weirdness he has a good heart. Yeah, these excuses sound feeble, even to me.

Let’s just accept that I have terrible taste in fictional men and move on.

10. Claudine, Claudine at School

Claudine is rude, outspoken, hilarious and totally badass. Oh, and she’s also into girls, specifically her teacher. What’s not to love? When I was in my teens I didn’t know if I wanted to sleep with Claudine or be her. Or maybe I just really wanted to live in the late 19th century French countryside.

11. Frances Piper, Fall On Your Knees

Oh, Frances. One of my favourite characters ever. I think that Kathleen Piper is supposed to be the real lesbian ingénue of this book, but Frances was always the one who did it for me. Even though she has a pretty shitty life, she never pities herself. She’s totally funny, crass and irrepressible. Also she’s the kind of person who Gets Shit Done. She doesn’t sit around and wonder what she should do – she plans carefully, then goes out and does crazy things like trying to replace her younger sister’s dead twin by sleeping with someone she’s only met a handful of times.

Frances is someone I would want to have on hand in any emergency. Also, she’s a really great cook, specifically of Lebanese food. Yum.

12. Touchstone, Sabriel

Touchstone is this sort of semi-helpless character who has amnesia for most of the book and is also prone to berserker rages. But other than that, he’s totally lovely. And he’s totally willing to let Sabriel boss him around, which is awesome. Plus it sounds like he has really great hair.

13. Millat Iqbal, White Teeth

Another emotionally damaged asshole who also happens to be totally charming and funny and attractive. And apparently really good in bed! After we both read this book, my friend Annie confessed that she had a sudden impulse to go up to all the brown boys she met and whisper, are you some kind of Indian sex god?

He has good taste in movies, too, if I recall correctly.

14. Almanzo Wilder, Little Town On The Prairie

Almanzo is another one of my favourite characters, even if he’s not strictly fictional. Laura constantly describes herself as being as “dumpy as a French horse”, and, of course, Almanzo is a total hottie. All the other girls in town want him, but he chooses Laura because she’s smart and nice and a SUPER HARDCORE PIONEER. Seriously, Laura was the best. She could totally have out-pioneered all the other girls in that town.

So yeah, Almanzo is another dude who gets huge props for loving Laura for who she is, and not what she looks like. And from later books, it’s pretty clear that he and Laura work as a team in their marriage, rather than him trying to dominate her. Another one who’s total marriage material. High five!

Sergeant X, For Esmé – With Love and Squalor

First of all, this is a guy who knows how to talk to kids, which is rare. And he is just so charming and lovely with Esmé, who is clearly heartbroken and lonely (and a little bossy). This is one of my favourite Salinger stories of all time. I’m so glad that he was able to make it through with his F-A-C-U-L-T-I-E-S mostly intact.

Man, who would have thought there would be two Salinger dudes on this list? That’s kind of a shocker.

So spill, internet. Who are your embarrassing fictional crushes? And what do you think they say about your personality? (I think it’s pretty clear from this list that I want a smart, funny, attractive yet douchey and self-obsessed dude who is able to talk to children and loves me for who I am. And is the master of the dream world.)

Okay, but seriously – HOW COULD SHE SAY NO? I hope she enjoys her eventual marriage to the smelly old professor.

The Secret to Happiness

13 Aug

Image

Practice random acts of yoga.

Then make your husband* photograph you using the hipstamatic app.

*please note that you can substitute anyone in place of “husband”, including but not limited to: your boyfriend/girlfriend, best friend, life partner, girl you met once at a party, boy you met once at a party, person you met at a party who doesn’t want to be defined or limited by gender, your coworker, a mutant cat who was born with opposable thumbs and enough smarts to work an iPhone, Wes Anderson, that dude who gave you the side-eye because you wanted to use exact change at the corner store, your mortal enemy (I don’t recommend this one, though – they would probably take a blurry picture ON PURPOSE), your great aunt, your great aunt’s mortal enemy, Rob Ford, Rob Ford’s mortal enemy, a dude walking by on the street, the bartender from your favourite local watering hole, punk rock teenagers, punk rock adults, punk rock Margaret Atwood, etc.