Tag Archives: rob ford

Optimism is better than despair (or, What Would Jack Do?)

23 Aug

A year ago today the rest of Canada and I woke up to learn that Jack Layton had died. A man who had worked tirelessly to better our country, who had spent his life fighting for equality for all Canadians, was gone. I was in shock. I didn’t know what to do.

My friend Mandi and I had a coffee date that morning, so I packed Theo up in his stroller and set out for her place in the east end. Did you hear about Jack? I whispered to her, as if it was some kind of secret. As if saying it out loud would make it true.

She lived around the corner from his office, and we had to walk by it to get to the coffee shop. I want to get some flowers, I told her, to leave in front of his office. But there were no flower shops nearby – just a few East Chinatown convenience stores. The only plant we could find was a little pot of stunted bamboo shoots.

He’ll like it, I said to Mandi, after all, his wife is Chinese.

We started giggling and couldn’t stop. It was easier than crying, or at the very least more socially appropriate.

That week I watched in awe as Torontonians came together to share their love for Jack. Our famously cold, unfriendly city began to bare its soul in chalk messages written all over Nathan Phillips Square. When thunderstorms washed away the chalk, the people came back and filled the square with writing all over again. I have rarely seen something more beautiful than that.

I think that what Jack would have loved most of all was the unity among the people of Toronto that week. All of us, from all walks of life, keenly felt his absence. Although many of us might not have realized what we’d had while he was still living, we suddenly realized how much we’d lost after his death.

Tonight I went back to Nathan Phillips Square for Dear Jack: A Celebration. Much like last year, there were chalk messages written everywhere, and there was a large orange-bedecked crowd milling around. Most of the evening was lovely; I enjoyed the performances (especially Raffi!), and it broke my heart in just the right way to hear Olivia Chow speak about Jack. But I was frustrated that some people chose to use tonight as a platform for their political ideologies.

One woman wrote “Dear Jack, Toronto apologizes for Rob Ford. At least you missed that!” And I thought, how is this a response to someone who asked for love, hope and optimism? Or, as my friend Melissa said, we have 364 days a year to trash Rob Ford – couldn’t we use today as a time to get together to mourn, love, and look towards the future?

I’m glad I went, though. Theo enjoyed running around and playing with the chalk, and I loved running into various friends, exchanging hugs and murmurs of I can’t believe it’s been a year.

We miss you, Jack. I miss you. Thank you for everything you did. Most of all, thank you for inspiring us to continue to fight to build a better country, for helping us to believe in a more loving and just world. I think that your true legacy is the group of people who are using what you’ve built as a starting point, and are now running headlong towards the future, spreading love, hope and optimism along the way.

I won’t let anyone tell me it can’t be done. I will change the world.

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20 books that I hope Theo reads when he’s older, part I

20 Aug

It’s not exactly a big secret that I love reading (also – that would be a pretty weird thing for me to keep secret). I’m 30 and I still get crushes on fictional characters, although maybe I have better taste now than I did as a moony teenager in love with Holden Caulfield. One of my greatest hopes for Theo is that he will grow up to love books even a fraction as much as I do. In light of that fact, I’ve created a list of 20 books that I loved when I was a kid as a sort of starting point for Theo’s future reading career. Because it’s never too early for this sort of thing, right?

Keep in mind that I haven’t read some of these books in, like, 20 years, so my reviews/descriptions might not be entirely accurate. However, what I can offer you is the dominant impression these books leave me with so many years after the fact:

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1. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, 1959

This is a book about a 12-year-old boy, Sam, who gets sick of living in his parents’ crowded New York City apartment with his 10,000 8 brothers and sisters. His solution to this problem is to take off for the Catskill Mountains and find this piece of property his family abandoned years before (they used to have a house or something there, like, three generations ago, but then they moved to the city I guess).

Sam tells his parents that he’s going to run away to the mountains and basically says that he will go whether they’re cool with it or not, so they totally let him go. Um, amazing! How come my parents weren’t that cool when I was 12? Anyway, he apparently learns some wilderness skills or whatever at the public library (TAKE THAT, ROB FORD), and then is all, see ya, giant family and tiny apartment.

My main memory of this book is that this kid was fucking SERIOUS BUSINESS. He finds a peregrine falcon that he trains to hunt for him. He lives in a tree. He almost dies, like, fifty times. At one point he is skinning a rabbit and is like, hmmm, I really want to eat his liver. So he does, and then he’s like, welp, I guess I was vitamin D deficient. I don’t know why, but that scene struck me as especially hardcore. HE ATE A LIVER, YOU GUYS. A LIVER. I guess liver really grossed me out when I was young?

Another big impression that this book left on me was that I was a huge wuss. I would never, ever go off and live in the mountains by myself in a house that I had to dig with my own hands. I could never be that self-sufficient. Also, I could never go that long without seeing another human face (even if occasionally I fantasize about it). In spite of my wussiness, though, I still managed to identify with Sam because, hey, who doesn’t want to run off and leave everything behind sometimes? Who doesn’t want to push themselves to the limit to discover how much they can endure, and how much they’re really capable of?

And I guess that’s the main message I got from this book: if you really want something, and you really prepare for it, you can achieve it. And also maybe you will get a sweet pet falcon out of the deal.

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2. Warrior Scarlet, Rosemary Suttcliff, 1958

This one takes place in Britain, during the Bronze Age. It tells the story of Drem, a kid with only one functioning arm. The thing is, Drem really, really wants to be a warrior (in case you were wondering, this is kind of a Big Deal in his tribe). At first everyone is all, no way can you be a warrior, your arm doesn’t even work! You’ll have to go live with the sheep-herders. Have fun with the sheep, Drem! And then they’re like, well, I guess you can train with the other youth. Maybe.

So of course Drem goes to train with the other boys his age, seems to prove that he’s able to keep up with them, and totally starts to get over the fact that he’s different. He even starts to bond with his peers! BUT (you totally knew there was a but coming here), in order to become a warrior he has to kill a wolf. And of course the killing gets all fucked up (the wolf injures him really badly, so his friend steps in to help, which is TOTALLY NOT ALLOWED according to the tribe), and it looks like Drem will be spending the rest of his life with the sheep people. Of course, some other stuff happens, Drem ends up somehow killing the exact same wolf he failed to kill years before, and there’s a happy ending where he completes the super seekrit initiation ceremony and becomes a full-fledged warrior. Yay! Everybody wins! Except the wolf, I guess.

My main memory of this book is how insanely fascinating, beautiful and bad-ass it made Bronze Age Britain sound. I remember poring, practically drooling, over passages about midnight bonfires and sacred rituals and ancient magic, and whoa, did I ever want to live in that world. I remember this being a book that I daydreamed about a lot, and that’s something that I want for Theo. I want him to have books that he loves so much he ends up spending hours and hours imagining what it would be like to exist within the confines of that story.

Plus, you know, super seekrit initiation. SO AWESOME.

3. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle, 1962

First, can we all just agree that Meg Murry is awesome? She’s not conventionally attractive, she has self-esteem issues, she’s socially awkward, she beats other kids up, and she’s super smart. I mean, sure, she’s not as smart as Charles Wallace, but then who is? Anyway, she’s someone that a lot of people can identify with. And she ends up kicking major ass.

The book takes place in small town America (I want to say somewhere in New England, but I’m not sure) during the cold war. The Murrys are a family that includes two super-smart parents, their super-smart daughter Meg, their super-super-smart son Charles Wallace and their totally boring and average twins, Sandy and Dennys. Mr. Murry disappeared during some kind of secret science mission, and now everyone in their village thinks that he just ran off and abandoned his family. Oh and everyone also thinks that Charles Wallace is developmentally delayed, even though he’s a genius like whoa.

Anyway, Meg and Charles Wallace end up teaming up with some extraterrestrial-type ladies, Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs Which, and Meg’s hot schoolmate Calvin O’Keefe (who is super popular but ALSO has issues) in order to go rescue Mr. Murry. They travel through space and time in a sort of “wrinkle” called a tesseract (SCIENCE!!!!) and have some adventures before finally arriving at the planet where the force of ultimate evil darkness is keeping Meg’s dad prisoner. Even though you would think that it would be Charles Wallace who ends up saving the day (because he’s so frigging precocious), it’s actually Meg’s badass contrariness that gets everyone out of there alive. HIGH FIVE FOR SMART, CONTRARY WOMEN.

My main impressions from this book were: a) whoooaaaa I think I like science fiction and/or fantasy (it was probably the first sci-fi/fantasy book I read) b) I wish I could be part of the Murry family and c) I triple wish that Calvin O’Keefe was my boyfriend (he is seriously so nice, you guys don’t even know). It’s a book about a smart, resourceful young woman who realizes that she’s strong and awesome and ALSO she gets a hot, nice boyfriend without even changing anything about her looks. He even tells her he likes her in glasses! Aw, you guys, I love this book so hard.

 

4. The Great Brain, John Dennis Fitzgerald, 1967

This is actually the first of a series of books about Tom Fitzgerald, the titular Great Brain. The books, which are set in late 19th century Utah, are narrated by Tom’s long-suffering younger brother, John. See, Tom is a genius, but he only wants to use his powers for evil, i.e. “swindling” people out of their possessions and thinking up get-rich-quick schemes. He also does things like trying to frame the schoolteacher for being “a drunk”. You guys, these were THE BEST BOOKS EVER, basically.

No, but seriously, even though Tom occasionally receives his comeuppance, he still gets away with a lot of stuff. When I was a kid, I mostly wanted to hang out with him and stir up shit and learn how to swindle people out of their possessions because, hey, it sounded like a lot of fun! Plus, they had so many whacky adventures. If these books are anything to go by, Utah is way more fun than any place I’ve ever lived.

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5. Le Petit Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1943

There is some kind of law that every French-speaking person has to read this book at least once over the course of their childhood. Now, let’s be totally clear: no kid is going to understand this book. They might enjoy it, but they won’t understand it.

Plot-wise, the book is about a pilot who crashes in the Sahara and is struggling to survive. One day, a young boy, the titular Little Prince appears. Now, this Little Prince is from space (!!) where he lives on his own personal asteroid (!!!) that has three active volcanoes (!!!!) and one rose. Weirdly, the humanoid prince falls in love with the rose (to be fair, I guess he didn’t have a whole lot of options in terms of life partners), who then lies to him because she’s super vain and kind of rude. They break up for a while, but then I guess they get back together.

The Little Prince decides he needs to explore the universe, so he sets off to visit a bunch of other asteroids, each of which is populated by a single, ridiculous adult. One of these adults, a geographer, is all, hey, you should totally check out the planet Earth! And the Little Prince is like, okay cool!

On Earth, the prince meets more ridiculous adults, and discovers that his rose isn’t beautiful or unique after all. He’s pretty bummed about this until he meets a fox (who totally steals the spotlight and gets the best lines in the book) who convinces him that yeah, dude, your rose IS special because she’s the one you love. Whoa! Revelation!  The prince also meets a weird snake who tells him that he can send him back to his home asteroid, but the prince is all, no, that’s cool, I’m good for now.

Anyway, the prince tells this whole story to the pilot, and then helps him find a well so that he doesn’t die of thirst or whatever. Then the prince is like, welp, I guess I’ll go find that snake again! The pilot realizes that the Little Prince will have to let the snake kill him in order to get him back home, and tries to convince him to stay on Earth. The prince totally ignores him and lets the snake bite him. Sorry, pilot! The story ends with the pilot looking for the prince.

As a kid you read this book and you’re like, hmmm, I guess this is fine. It’s kind of funny or whatever. Then you read it as an adult and you’re like, oohhhh, I get it. Adults are boring and totally sucky, while kids are awesome (fact). Also we have to appreciate the people we have in our lives who love us, and not spend time comparing them to other people (double fact). And finally, you realize that you want to spend all day hanging out with the fox, who says things like, “On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.” (One sees clearly only with their heart – the essential is invisible to the eyes)

As an adult, I’ve read Saint-Exupéry’s other books, and have realized that he is this crazy amazing poetic philosopher. Wind, Sand and Stars is, in particular, my favourite. But I’m glad that I read The Little Prince when I was a kid, even if I didn’t understand it. I’m glad to have my childish impressions so that I can compare them to how I see the book now – I think that’s especially important given that it’s a book about the magical worldview children have that we lose as we age.

I’ll finish off here with a quote from Wind, Sand and Stars:

Old bureaucrat, my comrade, it is not you who are to blame. No one ever helped you escape. You, like a termite, built your peace by blocking up with cement every chink and cranny through which the light might pierce. You rolled yourself up into a ball in your genteel security, in routine, in the stifling conventions of provincial life, raising a modest rampart against the winds and the tides and the stars. You have chosen not to be perturbed by great problems, having trouble enough to forget your own fate as man. You are not the dweller upon an errant planet and do not ask yourself questions to which there are no answers. You are a petty bourgeois of Toulouse. Nobody grasped you by the shoulder while there was still time. Now the clay of which you were shaped has dried and hardened, and naught in you will ever awaken the sleeping musician, the poet, the astronomer that possibly inhabited you in the beginning.

Stay tuned for parts II, III and IV. And please feel free to leave book suggestions in the comments – if I get enough of them, I will do a whole post about your suggestions. I would write about books all day every day, if I could.

p.s. Can we all just agree that Holden Caulfield would be, like, the worst boyfriend in the history of ever?

The so-called Mommy Wars (or, what I learned from watching the X-Files)

15 Aug

If you are a person living in the world who has children, knows people who have children, or has ever spent any time on the internet, you’ve probably realized that people like to debate various parenting ideologies.

Now, for most of human history, I would say that the dominant parenting philosophy has been do the best you can with what’s available to you and hope that your children survive until adulthood (and also it would be nice if they didn’t turn out to be serial killers or Rob Ford or whatever). In fact, this same philosophy is still employed in many parts of the world today. However, for those of us living in the western world, most of us have more options when it comes to how we raise our kids. More options should equal everyone is happier and has a better time, right? Wrong.

Maybe I should rephrase that first sentence: if you are a person living in the world who has access to the internet, you have probably heard of the (sigh) Mommy Wars.

Can I just take a moment to say how frigging much I hate the term “Mommy Wars”? Like, a lot. For one thing, who put the mommy in mommy wars? Yes, every child has a biological mother (I mean, probably – but I’m not super up on science or whatever, so I could be wrong), but many children have other styles of parents or guardians, mostly fathers, but also sometimes grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. So why the focus on mothers? Oh right, because women are crazy and can’t control their emotions society loves to crap on women.

Full disclosure – I watched a lot of X-Files growing up. Like, I could probably still recite entire chunks of dialogue from that show. Because I am aware of Mulder’s lasting influence over me (paranoia! the unexplained! the government is up to something!), I am hesitant to be all THIS IS A CONSPIRACY. But, you guys, I think this might be a conspiracy.

Here’s the thing: I really do believe that one thing holding women back from achieving equality with men is the fact that we’re too busy fighting viciously amongst ourselves. The energy we spend snarking and nitpicking and flat-out attacking each other could do so much good in the fight against the injustices that we face, if only we could see the bigger picture. And who does it benefit the most to keep women from seeing the bigger picture? Well, you know, the patriarchy.

Although men don’t often participate in the more vitriolic discussions surrounding parenting, many of the things that perpetuate the “mommy wars” (you have no idea how much it makes my skin crawl to have to keep typing that out) come from men. Men in the media who continue to remind us that breastfeeding beyond a certain age is weird and gross (for example, Martin Schoeller, the photographer whose contentious oeuvre recently graced the cover of Time Magazine), men in politics who think they should tell us how, when and why to have children, male doctors weighing in on parenting philosophies that really have negligible impact on children’s physical health, and even the frigging Pope who somehow thinks that he gets some say over our sex lives.

The patriarchy doesn’t want us to be better mothers; it wants us to become so consumed by the idea of doing it “right” that we don’t notice how little power and agency we have in our lives. It wants us to continue to be distracted by busy work so that it can continue to do what it does best: try to run our lives.

Let’s face it – most of the debates that fuel the “mommy wars” (stay-at-home mom vs. working mom, breastfeeding vs. formula, babywearing vs. not babywearing, bed-sharing vs. cribs) are just one valid choice pitted against another valid choice, with the same arguments being repeated over and over, ad nauseam (no, seriously, I actually feel a little nauseous sometimes). The thing is, all of the above parenting choices are fine. No one is a bad parent because of ANY OF THESE THINGS. Every parent is different, and every kid is different, and same style of parenting isn’t going to work for everyone.

So let’s all step away from our computers, take a deep breath and realize that being a parent is really fucking hard work. And you know what the best way to get through these tough times is? Supporting each other, and supporting the choices other people make. Let’s all hug it out and promise to have each other’s backs, okay?

Oh, and let’s get out there and kick the patriarchy right in the balls, you guys.

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… that it’s possible to be a parent and not be a dick about it

The Secret to Happiness

13 Aug

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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.