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uncontextualized babble

These are thoughts that will make little sense to anyone else because I don't want to provide the context and background.

But I've been thinking a lot lately about treating my mind (self, identity, cognition, narratives, habits, etc.) like a garden-- deliberately planting some things, not expecting anything immediate, simply returning my thoughts to tending them, trying to do away with the weeds to make space, etc. It's an image that is working so far, and I think part of it is the patience involved-- I don't feel discouraged because I have no expectations of sudden fundamental change. And yes, I know all of this is just "mindfulness" but this is the mindfulness I've been pursuing. :)

And I've been thinking a lot about what I want my world to look like, which comes from within. I've been thinking about what I want to carry with me and what I want to set down. I have so much internal weight, and I recognize that much of it is protective scarring. I appreciate what its intention and I feel very gently and compassionately towards it, but I don't need or want it anymore. Thinking about letting it go terrifies me but I understand that's because it thinks it's protecting me-- but it's not. Protecting me from what? More and more it just makes me feel small, cramped, trapped, anxious, confused, muddy, mean, shallow, empty... This is not who or how I want to be, and it is within my power to change, if I want to. And I think I want to.

There is a whole whack of stuff about stagnation/growth, static/fluid, same/change going on in my head, too-- the ever-ongoing theme of my existence, yin and yang, the creative process of balancing all things. I think I have become too much of some things and not enough of others and it's tipping the balance. The alternative to being too small, too safe, is being too expansive, losing too much control, and that's definitely a frightening prospect, especially because of my mood disorder-- a fire out of control, raging and destroying, and that's bad and scary. But this is like a flame so low it gives no light or heat; it just burns away, consuming without accomplishing. Until death.

I do think some of this is the process of recovery and healing from my past, after a period of dormancy. Eventually a seed has to sprout and I think this is the time. Becoming is a conscious process... or at least can be, because we're going to become something, regardless, and that something is informed by what we already are. These cognitive habits I have-- thoughts are like anxiety behaviours, like nail-biting, or a dog that licks patches of hair off itself. They're comforting in an ultimately destructive way. And the mind doesn't just fall into them-- the mind wants to go into them because they're comforting, even while they're painful. The mind is a stupid thing, sometimes. I don't want to maintain those behaviours and seeing them as the self-soothing but damaging habits they are is a helpful thought. Yes, they make me feel better in a terrible way. But that doesn't make them true, or good, and they can be changed if I'm brave enough to give them up.

34 years later and it's no less true

I was date raped.

I was date raped before the term "date rape" was even a thing. I didn't know it was rape because he wasn't a stranger in a dark alley. He was a friend who said he liked me. But he was also a boy and we all knew that if a boy "lost control" it was a girl's fault.

I was date raped and there was alcohol involved, so I didn't know it was rape because we all knew that if a girl drinks alcohol that's "just what happens to her." I had abrogated my right to say no when I took a drink because we had all heard, over and over, how girls who drink should "expect" boys to take advantage of them and couldn't complain when it happened.

I saw my rapist socially after it happened, because we had the same friends. That's what happens when your rapist is a friend. And I didn't hate him. I didn't know what to feel. I had no words because, back then, we didn't know rape could happen like this. I was young and naive and had a head full of society telling me what rape meant and why I should doubt myself. I had been conditioned, which is like being brainwashed-- every authority I'd ever known, my entire culture, had insisted from birth on what "reality" was and when my reality was in conflict of course I didn't know what to make of it.

I was 17. I had been with one boy before that. The boy who raped me didn't use a condom and I got pregnant and had an abortion. I've had to live with all of that-- the trauma and confusion, the medical history, the feelings of shock, anger, doubt, shame. I didn't "come forward" or go to the police because I felt no one would believe me because of the circumstances. All that would happen is my parents would be disappointed to find out I wasn't a virgin when it happened, I would become notorious in my home town for something ugly and divisive, people would "pick sides" and I would incur enemies who didn't believe me, my life and character would be on trial. It may have been "right" but that doesn't mean it wouldn't have been traumatic and ruined my life. It was more than I could handle-- I was 17 and by the time I even figured out what had happened to me was wrong enough time had passed that I knew people would use that as a reason not to believe me. Not because it didn't hurt or wasn't wrong-- it was not an intellectual decision made after the fact. It was a huge issue with frightening implications that took time to process. Like any trauma.

I have not shared this story in its entirety with anyone, I don't think, in 34 years. Because even now it makes me feel so terrible. I imagine all the people who are going to hurt me more by condemning and judging me, saying awful things to me, because for them it's all just a theoretical subject instead of my lived experience. They think they're discussing a subject-- I am that subject.

I don't hate that boy and I don't think he should have gone to jail. I didn't want to "ruin his life." But I don't think it should ruin my life just to acknowledge the reality of my experience. What he did was wrong, and it hurt me. That is the truth. But it's also not about him-- it's about how society has conditioned us all to misunderstand consent and our responsibility to one another.

I'm sharing now because I am so angry over the responses to the Ghomeshi trial. I am too angry to care anymore about what people who have never had to experience this think. I don't care if you understand or not anymore. You may have the "right" to judge me but that doesn't give you the basis on which to judge me accurately. You were not there and, if you're judging me negatively, you probably have no idea what it feels like to be a woman in this society. So you go ahead and be ignorant; I'm not going to let fear of your ignorance keep me silent anymore.
I know you get tired of me being a feminist. Or, rather, you get tired of me being an outspoken feminist-- the kind of feminist who has to talk about it, who has to "make everything about feminism," who seems dogmatically determined to see everything through that lens. You get tired of me posting articles, making comments. You get tired of my intensity, but, even more, you get tired of the monotony of it-- I am a one-hit wonder. You stop thinking about what I am saying and instead only notice your chagrin that I am, yet again, saying it.

It's not that you disagree. You just don't see the need for the constant focus. You think I should "lighten up," although you might not use those exact words. You suspect there is more pathology than passion.

And you don't understand why this. You think "why not all human rights?" And you conclude that it's because this applies to me-- as a white, cisgender woman, feminism speaks most directly to my own personal issues-- and on that basis you assign a kind of self-interest that allows you to dismiss the principles I'm addressing.

There is a litany of disclaimers which I, as a feminist, must pronounce before getting to my point. I have to assert that I do not hate men. I have to identify as an "intersectional" feminist, because white feminism has been mainstream. I have to acknowledge that there are other human rights issues that are also important. And when I have provided enough justification for my right to speak, I have to be careful of how I speak, because I am being monitored for tone and vocabulary; any suggestion of personal perspective is also grounds for dismissal of the principles.

I am only "allowed" to be a feminist as long as I remain academic and occasional.

I can't do that.

Feminism is about me, but not just about me. I genuinely believe that it is the best thing for everyone-- at least the kind of feminism I practice is. It's about challenging cultural constructs at a fundamental level, the most primitive part of our tribal brains that engages in "othering." It's about anthropological and evolutionary archetypes. It's about demonstrating and dismantling the ways in which we build our own reality, both socially and psychologically. It's about privilege and power in any form.

So yes, I see it everywhere. I see it in corporate dynamics, in environmental issues, in political events, in personal interactions. I don't need to go looking for it: today is the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, only a few days after a Planned Parenthood massacre. We are immersed, and if you have developed immunity then good for you, I guess. I am not immune and it continually makes me sick. My comments are like allergic reactions. But I think I am making the world a healthier place.

Maybe there are people who tune me out, who are tired of it, who roll their eyes and wish I would find another hobby; that's because feminism is a hobby to them. It's not for me, though. There is so much pain and injustice, so much victimization. I know "victimization" isn't a popular word but I can't tell you how many women have told me how wordless they've been, because of how their voices have been eroded. So even if I talk too much, I'm nowhere close to filling to silence.

I am always going to say something when I see the manifestation of prejudice and the abuse of power. And maybe it is compulsive, and therefore predictable, and therefore tedious. Maybe it makes me boring, pedantic, and irritating. If that's how you feel, that's okay. Because every time most of the people roll their eyes and mentally dismiss me, there's one person who feels empowered or validated. For every time people are hearing a point again there's someone who's hearing it for the first time. What is obvious to people who already know is a brand new thought to those who don't, and every brand new thought has the potential to be the beginning of a personal revolution.

You are tired of my fight. I understand. So am I. It's just not over yet.


Offering vs earning

A few years ago I came out of a relationship and discovered that I was terrible at having feelings for people, or letting people have feelings for me, or doing any of that feeling stuff in general.

So, with the help of my poor boyfriend, I decided to work at it. I met people I liked and I made an effort to be open, to connect. I tried to let myself be vulnerable. I tried to communicate how I felt and build relationships.

And now I've discovered something else: people will not handle your feelings with care. People are astonishingly callous about other people's feelings.

And now I think, maybe the problem wasn't really me. Maybe it makes a lot more sense not to entrust oneself and one's vulnerability with people who will not be gentle with it and thoughtful of it. Maybe that doesn't make me distant or difficult-- maybe it means I value myself enough not to let other people have the best of me when they're not going to value it themselves.

An Invitation To Men To Tell Me I'm Wrong

In recent years my studies in gender have expanded and I've become very interested in "masculine" as a gender construct. It's harder to study, partly because there's not as much research and literature, and partly because I don't have the personal experience. But I've become more aware of the ways in which (our) society creates and enforces masculinity.

It's very interesting to see how my experience in understanding it is similar to what I've seen in men struggling with their own socially conditioned misogyny. It's fairly easy to point to obvious "external" issues, but much harder to identify our own biases and prejudices. I can say, "Society doesn't allow men to express emotions and that's wrong." But then I have to identify the gap between recognizing that intellectually and deconstructing my own socialization. Because for me it's only theoretical that men have emotions. I assume they do because it stands to reason, and because I understand how gender construction works. But on another level, I'm instilled with the belief that men don't really have feelings-- not like women do.

So this is my process. I'm going to try to start identifying beliefs about men and masculinity that I think are a result of my conditioning; in other words, beliefs that almost certainly aren't true. I'm not stating them as facts, I'm stating them as "what society has told me" and which I'd actually like to not believe. And I'm inviting male-identifying people to confirm that yes, I am in fact wrong if I believe these things. (As well as inviting broader discussion.)

1. Men cannot control themselves sexually. I was taught that I had to be very careful how far I let things get when being physical with a boy because at some point he would become aroused enough that he couldn't control himself and he would have sex with me whether I wanted to or not, but that it would be my fault for allowing things to get beyond that threshold. I understand there is a difference between a horny teenage boy and a grown man, but I think we see how this kind of belief saturates our society and is still prevalent-- the idea that women can arouse men beyond that man's ability to control himself.

2. Men do not want to have committed, emotionally intimate relationships. I was taught that no man actually wants to be in a relationship, and that as a woman I had to manipulate and entice him into one (and then into staying). It's also a very popular and ubiquitous idea-- as a society we believe that all women want to get married and men never want to and a woman has to somehow "trap" him into it. This has created a lot of anxiety for me, but it also means I don't really believe men need or want emotional intimacy and can't be trusted to commit to relationships.

3. Men only really care about what a woman looks like. This may be more a result of the way society values women, but that's why feminism ends up addressing gender inequity as a whole-- you can't really affect one without affecting the other. But in telling me that what matters about me is how I look, society is also telling me that men are superficial and don't particularly value intelligence, humour, character, etc. We are immersed in narratives about men leaving or cheating on their spouses because of some younger woman who has no qualities other than she's hot. (Which also goes back to the "men cannot control themselves" thing.) But the overall message is that is what men value and prioritize.

There is a myriad of other myths-- masculinity and non-hetero sexuality is a huge one, for example-- but the beliefs I've stated represent a kind of a core idea, I think. Or at least, they represent the ways in which myths of masculinity interfere with my ability to perceive men as full human beings, which is what I think the myths of femininity have done in terms of men and women.*

(*I apologize for the binary gender presentation. It isn't that I think gender is binary, and I desperately hope that our perception of gender is changing dramatically, but when dealing with the established constructs one is inevitably dealing with the binary model.)

I am very interested in hearing from male-identified persons in terms of how these myths are false (or true) and what experiences have resulted, as well as other myths. Or anything, really-- I'm exploring.
It seems the only way I truly understand anything is via contrast.

I could have turned out like my mother. She's high-strung and psychologically unhealthy. Extremely. Her issues are endless and she has never addressed them. I am as familiar with her narratives as she is, because I have heard them all my life-- written in stone, without question or analysis. Memories, incidents, and interpretations that serve to reinforce her identity as a martyr and victim. She routinely breaks down and acts out in totally unacceptable and dangerous ways. She is not okay.

I have spent a fuckload of time unbecoming the things I learned to be because of her. I doubt people would even recognize me 20 years ago because of the work I've done. I am physiologically prone and behaviourally trained to be anxious and depressed, and while I take medication I have also implemented all kinds of other techniques to change my brain and manage my dysfunction.

Sometimes, when I talk to her or witness her behaviour, I can feel that person inside me. The panicky person, who finds everything overwhelming, the "end of the world" thinking, the frantic, incoherent "it's all too much" mentality. The flailing, drowning person. It terrifies me more than anything in the world, because I have Been There and Done That, but it's like a shadow from which I can never completely detach. When I have proximity to my mother, that shadow seems to gain substance.

But I'm much, much better than she is. (Not as a human being, but in terms of mental health.) I am stronger, calmer, more rational, and healthier. I have earned this health through work and effort, including the fearless moral inventory that underpins any real change. I am not her.

Please god.

Taking note

I feel super crappy about getting fired (a topic which, while probably self-explanatory, I will no doubt explore in great wordy depth eventually regardless) but right now, at this moment, what I'm thinking is:

I'm about to go out into a perfect October day. I have lots of warm and suitable clothes to enjoy what I'm doing. I am packing a lunch full of healthy nutritious food. I am meeting a friend who is an awesome person. I am doing a thing which is fun and cool and which I've been wanting to do for years now, and today I am!

I have no job, but I didn't love the job. It wasn't a dream job. And I have a very safe and cozy place to live that I'm not really in danger of losing, even if money becomes a serious thing. I have no one depending on me and no one to worry about besides myself. I've already had two explicit offers of financial help, and I think there are probably several implicit ones. (I hope, and assume, I won't need any of them, but that is totally not the point.) When this bad thing happened to me, I was a) able to reach out for support, and b) received it-- without judgment.

Jesus fucking christ, if you compiled a list of "criteria for happiness" I'd run out of ink before I stopped checking boxes.

The feeling I have, overwhelmingly, is dejection, and I'm going to try to allow my feelings-- it's a crappy thing to happen and it's normal to feel bad-- but I really did want to take note of this awareness; it doesn't make the feeling go away, and that's fine, but it broadens the experience so it's balanced by things that heal.

I don't know.

I'm rapidly reaching the conclusion that my three favourite words are, "I don't know."

I was the primary caregiver for my nephew between the ages of approximately one to four and, as anyone with kids knows, they ask a lot of questions. They're learning. But they aren't just learning things-- they're learning how to think. And one thing I noticed a lot of caregivers doing was responding to questions with dismissals or outright misinformation. (That's not a judgement-- I've been there and I know that there are times you just don't have the energy. If there's one thing I learned it's that there are a million ways to be a good parent and absolutely no way to be a perfect one.)

But my big thing was to say, "I don't know... but I know how we can find out." Because I wanted him to know that information was something you could acquire. That there was nothing wrong with not having it as long as you were prepared to get it. I wanted him to know there was no shame in not knowing, and empower him to find answers.

I don't know if it's human nature or our society, or both, but it seems like saying, "I don't know" is a bad thing to people. It's insecurity and defensiveness and ego, I realize, but that comes into it because of the judgement we've attached to not knowing. As a teenager, I certainly pretended to know a lot that I didn't, and in retrospect I was a total dumbass-- not because of what I didn't know but because of what I said I did-- and what I subsequently went on to defend.

Here is a true story: when I was 14 a friend of mine was talking about apartheid in Africa. I didn't know what apartheid was. (This is way, way back in the early 80s, before the internet, so please be gentle.) My friend was experiencing the rush of developing a social conscience and could be a little preachy, so I was a bit sick of the topics he kept bringing up. (Yeah, I know-- irony, karma, etc.) Anyway, I was just feeling contrary and when we brought up apartheid in a way that suggested I couldn't possibly disagree with him (and he was right about that, no question) I just defaulted to the opposite position.

I know in retrospect this is fairly normal human behaviour. But it meant that I spent a portion of my life, however small, arguing in favour of apartheid. Obviously everything I said had to have been total bullshit because I had no idea what I was talking about; I can't even remember now. But I see this happening all the time-- I have to constantly check in with myself and ask, "why do you want to argue about this? Is it something you actually believe or are you just being contrary?" I have to ask myself, "Do you actually know what you're talking about or are you just finding flaws in the original argument?" (Which is not at all the same thing.) And so on-- a whole checklist of cognitive fallacies and verification of information and emotional reasoning I try to go through when I find myself tempted to argue.

And more and more I realize: I don't know. Could I make an argument about A or against B? Yes. But I don't actually know. Being able to construct an argument is not the same as having information. If you can construct an argument without information then you're likely fooling yourself about the information you think you have-- and that's a cognitive fallacy that I run into All. The. Time.

People think they know. There is nothing more frustrating or difficult. Now especially, with an election approaching, it's painfully apparent that the mechanisms of belief and opinion are self-perpetuating and self-reinforcing. To learn anything you have to have an open mind; one of my favourite quotes in the whole world is attributed to Aristotle: "It is the sign of an educated mind that one can entertain an idea without accepting it."

But we need to give ourselves permission to not know, because if we already know there is no room for anything more or different. It's almost as if people would rather be wrong but sure than unsure with the potential to be right.

I love people who say, "I don't know." And I love it when I can say that, and then go to Wikipedia, and four hours later realize I started reading about biochemical signatures and ended up reading about 12th century farming. Because ohmygod is there ever so much I don't know. There are a few things I do know and that's what people will see me actually talking about. But the best conversations, the best discussions, the best discoveries-- the best of people-- often starts with, "I don't know."

It's such a shame we find it so difficult and that our society seems to encourage the exact opposite.
I was thinking about how the "perfect victim" narratives applies to people with mental health issues.

The "perfect victim" narrative is always retrospective. It's an analysis after the fact. The "perfect rape victim" didn't have anything to drink the night she was raped (or a history of/reputation for drinking in general), never used drugs, was not sexually active or sexually active in acceptable ways (married, monogamous, straight), etc. It's common enough I don't need to elaborate.

There's the "perfect victim of violence," too, especially as it applies to people of colour. (Visually white-culture presenting, usually described in context of church and/or school, etc.)

It's a myth, of course-- people can, will, and do always find some way to discredit the victim. Because they're deliberately trying not to see victims because if they did then they might have to accept that misogyny/racism/transphobia/etc. exists, which is uncomfortable, or they might have to face the realization that we can't control our lives through our own behaviour, which is uncomfortable, or they might lose their sense of superiority, which is uncomfortable... whatever the reason, it's uncomfortable, so they avoid it.

Fine. It is what it is. We do what we can. I'm not here to talk about that, anyway.

The "perfect victim" of mental illness is someone who has it but never shows it. They can talk about it (sort of) and describe it (briefly) and be advocates (quietly) but they can't actually be mentally ill. They can't behave in any of the ways which make up a huge part of the reason mental illness is a problem to begin with, because if they do people react with the kind of social judgment and disapproval that is part and parcel of our social species.

I get it-- it's an evolutionary thing, which means it's a survival thing. It really is. We can tolerate some differences but there has to be some kind of mechanism for approving or rejecting behaviour, become some behaviour is beneficial to us all and some behaviour is harmful to us all. It's not a bad thing.

...I was reading this thing about what people say to sexual assault victims-- things like, "you're so strong" or "it made you stronger" or "you're inspiring" or "you're not a victim, you're a survivor."

People say very similar things to people with mental illness, too.

And it translates as: "You can't be weak," "you should be able to endure more," "I need to be able to look up to you," and "you've healed so you can't feel hurt, anger, shame, or fear."

Dudes, that sucks.

I want people to manage their shit but I also want us to be able to be honest that it takes managing, and not always in a "look at how well I'm doing managing thing" way. Not always in a "perfect victim" way. Sometimes in a "fuck you, this is hard and no I'm not going to be stoic-because-it's-the -acceptable-way-to-present" way. Sometimes in a "actually, I'm telling you this so that you can fucking help me with it" way, not a "look at the bravery of my raw, naked honesty" way.

I want the same thing for people with chronic pain and other debilitating conditions, people with visible and invisible disabilities... hell, people in general, I guess. I don't mean an emotional free-for-all where we all just give up on personal responsibility. But enough of this "I'm only allowed to be ill if I'm not actually being ill" shit.


Birthday blogging, 2

There's been a really noticeable upswing in my urge to cook lately, which is a very good sign. For awhile cooking had been reduced to survival standards. Which isn't to say it wasn't good food-- I love myself-- and my food-- too much not to eat very well. But cooking was not a joy.

Yesterday, I made gazpacho on the spur of the moment... on top of a roast pork with all the accoutrements. Today I whipped up some pesto, just for the hell of it. My kitchen is clean and I know what everything in my fridge is.

Food is life, cooking is creativity, and feeding others is nourishing.