My Week 4 – An Open Letter To MacLean’s Magazine

Dear MacLean’s:
I recently read an article published in your magazine called “New Girl, Go Girl,” which purported to be about the “new feminism” (because apparently the old feminism, where women banded together and fought for equal rights with our male counterparts, wasn’t good enough). While there’s a lot to be said for young girls taking ownership of “cultural currency” and standing strong against “social stereotypes and a sex-saturated culture”, I take particular exception to three things in the article, and I will deal with them in order of appearance, so here they are:

3 Things I Learned From This Article
1) The best fictional teen heroines are the best by virtue of the fact that they are fat, plain, and sexual. “Fat” and “plain” are not my words; they belong to the author of the article, Anne Kingston. The first part of this article highlights a new teen novel, How To Build A Girl, whose heroine is described as smart, well-read, funny, but also fat and plain, among other things. Katniss Everdeen, of Hunger Games fame, according to Kingston, pales in comparison next to this new teen heroine because…well why is that, anyway? They seem to be fairly equal—I think we all agree that Katniss is smart, would have been well-read if the oppressive society she lived in allowed her to read extensively rather than fight for her freedom, and would have been hilarious if she (back to this again, sorry) hadn’t had to fight to overthrow a corrupt and oppressive government. As for her physical appearance, I can’t remember whether she was skinny or fat, pretty or not, because none of that was relevant to (sorry, once more) her fight to overthrow an oppressive, corrupt government. Kingston extolls the heroine of How To Build A Girl for the integrity of her personal quest—-to lose her virginity at age 16, which apparently she does accomplish in the novel. Good for her. Because that’s what very young girls SHOULD be reading about, not about women who want to change their worlds like Malala Yousafzai. It’s a shame that Suzanne Collins hadn’t realized that—I’m sure Hunger Games would have been even more successful if Katniss had spent the majority of her time trying to get laid. As for this being no “Cinderella story”, the heroine somehow gets a “coveted job as a music journalist, and sails into a bright future at the age of 17”, which is what happens to all girls who don’t pursue post-secondary education. In contrast, Katniss Everdeen’s Cinderella story is pretty close to the Disney version, except the mice are all forced to fight to the death, and the Fairy Godmother wants to kill her for starting a revolution.

2) Girls with “bass” run the world. Kingston cites Meghan Trainor, pop singer, and her catchy little ditty “All About That Bass” as part of the new ethic of female self-acceptance. I’m sorry, but did you actually read the lyrics of this song? There’s a neat little tool called Google that you might look into. If you bother actually reading the words rather than just tapping your toes to the chorus, you will discover that Meghan, who for obvious reasons “refuses to be called a feminist”, is proud of her large posterior for these two reasons: a) the boys chase it, and b) her mama told her that boys like a little more booty to hold at night. In addition, she wants all the “skinny bitches” to know that she is “bringing booty back.” THIS is the voice of the new girl power? That boys like big butts and that we should make sure that our “junk” is in all the right places? I’m sorry, but how is this self-acceptance in any sense of the word? What it is, in fact, is yet another sad example of women trying to desperately justify their physicality to men, and to condemn other women for theirs. As a professional, intelligent woman, I honestly can’t remember a single time that I worried about what “the boys” thought regarding my ass, or the rest of my “junk”.

3) Feminist ideas that should have stopped being an issue are still relevant in 2014. Knight refers to Susan Douglas, who seems to be a walking anachronism, and her two contradictory statements. First, she condemns the new “sneaky form of sexism” which seems to mean “young women can do or be anything they want, as long as they conform to confining ideals about femininity and don’t want too much”. Second, she condemns “a celebration of stay-at-home moms and ‘opting out’ of the workforce”. Excuse my ignorance, feminist guru person, but haven’t we gotten past the point where we look down on our sisters who CHOOSE to be mothers? Isn’t that what the fight for equal rights got us—the option to work or stay home? Some women actually like babies and want to spend a lot of time with them; some women think they’re poop and puke machines and can’t wait to get back to work. Either way, that’s the right of every woman to decide, and to snidely suggest that there’s something wrong with celebrating stay-at-home mothers is akin to someone else snidely suggesting that there’s something wrong with supporting our sisters who want to return to the workforce. So who is it that expects women to conform to confining ideals? You can’t have it both ways, Susan Douglas.

While there were a lot of merits to this article, there were also a lot of flaws. Women need to stop worrying about their physical appearance and how men (and other women) feel about it, and start worrying about a) developing and promoting the power of our minds and self-will b) nurturing love for and promotion of other women and their choices and c) focusing on the world around us rather than the world within us. But that’s just me. Thanks for listening.

My Week 3 – Thanksgiving and Irrational Fears

Monday, when Ken and I ponder the meaning of Thanksgiving:

So we just celebrated Thanksgiving, and Ken and I were driving down to the cottage. It occurred to me that it was weird that we celebrate Thanksgiving in October and the Americans celebrate it in November, and what’s it all about anyway? And this is the conversation that ensued. Just for the record, Ken and I aren’t fussy about the accuracy of our facts:

Me: So why do we celebrate Thanksgiving in October and the Americans do it in November? What’s with that?
Ken: I don’t know—maybe their harvest is later than ours since they’re further south. They’re both just about giving thanks for a good harvest anyway.
Me: That’s not why the Americans celebrate Thanksgiving—they didn’t HAVE a harvest, that was the whole point. The Puritans came over here completely ill-equipped to survive. They were literally starving to death, and the Indians shared THEIR harvest with them, and basically saved their lives.
Ken: Oh yeah—“Thanks so much for your generosity—in return, here’s some small pox.”
Me: I know, right? “And some alcohol.” That’s gratitude for you. Do you think the native Americans “celebrate” Thanksgiving, or do they secretly call it something different, like “The Day We Wish You’d Never Shown Up”?
Ken: All I know is that Sherman Alexie just tweeted out that in celebration of Columbus Day, he was launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to build a time machine, so that he could go back in time and stop Columbus from finding the New World.
Me: Seems about right.

Wednesday: I realize that I’m even worse at small talk than I am at actual conversations.

I know I’ve already demonstrated my shortcomings when it comes to contributing to conversations with people I know, but that pales in comparison to my struggles with small talk. Here’s an example. I had to get my car’s thermostat replaced last week, so I took it to the car dealership, and they gave me a rental car, since I’m now a “VIP” by way of the fact that I’ve bought 3 cars from the same car guy (mostly because now I know him and we NEVER HAVE TO MAKE SMALL TALK). He’s great, and he doesn’t mind if I text him at dinner to see if I can test drive stuff (As a side note, I thought he was still at work, and when I realized that he was at home, I was horrified because I absolutely avoid imposing myself on anyone except my family, but he was really nice about it, and set up the test drive anyway).

Anyway, they called for a shuttle driver, who wanted to talk about the weather, and traffic, and that was OK because all I had to do was say, Mm hmm, and Right, and Really? and things like that. But then I got to the car rental place, and the rental guy was one of those SUPER-FRIENDLY people who wants to chat, and that‘s when things got uncomfortable. I’m kind of an introvert, and I was tired, and it was the end of a long day, so I can’t really be held responsible for the verbal fiasco to come. He proudly announced that he was going to give me the “brother” to my car, so I was kind of hyped up, thinking I was getting an awesome ride, then he took me outside and presented me with a Chevy Cruze. It was navy blue, and kind of scruffy. He looked at me expectantly, and I didn’t know what to say, so I said, “A Cruze. My dad says it has a good engine.” Then the conversation took a bizarre turn. (Mom, I need a favour. I know that you’ll be reading this before Dad, so I need you to promise to read this story OUT LOUD to him, and when you get to this part, skip over it. Make something up, like the guy asked me out and I initially accepted because I was so flustered, then I had to break it to him that I was happily married. Seriously. I swear to God I will do anything for you, including taking you to the casino if you do this for me.) OK. The rental guy looked at me and asked, “Oh, does your Dad work for GM?”  and then I became confused, (because how is that in any sense of the word, a LOGICAL connection?) and I said, without thinking, “Nuh, he’s just some old guy.” I knew as soon as I said it that it wasn’t even close to being an appropriate response, and to make things worse, the rental guy gave me a funny look, and said, “OK then,” in that kind of dismissive way people have, and I tried to make things better by explaining that my father was a retired teacher, etc. and not even that old, but VERY SMART when it came to cars. This, unfortunately encouraged him, and he started talking about his wife the teacher, and how she had to teach some students whose family got blown up on a boat (?) but I wasn’t really listening and just fell back on Mm hmm, and Right, and Really? which seems in retrospect to always be the safe, non-offensive choice for someone who isn’t good at small talk.

Friday: I catalogue some of the things I’m irrationally afraid of, and Ken makes them worse.

I don’t suffer from any kind of anxiety, I really don’t, but for some reason, I have certain irrational fears that I can’t explain, like being afraid of stepping on a nail sticking out of a wooden board, falling onto a table saw, and other highly improbable things involving sharp objects. I can usually quell these fears, except that I’m married to a man who takes extreme delight in making them worse. Case in point: I have a morbid fear of nail guns. Ken was using one this weekend, and I had to keep going into the bedroom because I was afraid of getting shot with it. When Ken pointed out that it was absolutely impossible that he could shoot me with it because of its safety guard, I reminded HIM that that was exactly what he said about the electric staple gun, right before he shot a staple past my head and that I didn’t trust ANY so-called “safety technology” regarding sharp, missile-like objects when it was in his hands. Sure enough, not much later, he dropped the nail gun on the floor, tip-down, and came close to shooting a nail into his foot. (He will claim that I am exaggerating in a “lying” kind of way, but I’m just telling it like I saw it.)

Aside from sharp things, the other source of my panic is the idea of someone kidnapping my child. My 16 year-old, six-foot-one, blue belt in Kung Fu child. But still. Even today, I worry to the point of hyperventilating if he goes to the store around the corner (literally around the corner) by himself. I take great pride in disguising these feelings, and try not to worry overly about him leaving school property and being accosted by a gang of human traffickers. But a few days ago, I was telling Ken about this, and he quite calmly informed me that he would NEVER pay a kidnapping ransom, because according to MacLean’s magazine, you only embolden the kidnappers and cause them to kidnap more people when you pay their ransom demands. I pointed out that we only have one child, so there wouldn’t BE any more kidnappings, but he said he had his principles and I just had to accept them, and that if I was ever kidnapped, he wouldn’t cough up the cash for me either, and that I would have to understand the nature of his sacrifice. “I’d be doing it for the good of all society,” he said. Now, I’m pretty sure he was just teasing, but then it occurred to me that this might be the nail gun thing all over again, so I plan to start saving up, just in case.

My Week 2 – Smokehouses and Country Vets

Sunday, When Ken and I Have Yet Another Fascinating Conversation:
When we’re driving in the car together, Ken and I often have fascinating conversations about the things we see. I like talking to Ken more than pretty much anyone I know, because we can talk about anything with complete seriousness. Like this:
Ken: Did you see the barn we just passed? There’s a big sign on it that says “Smoke Barn”. I wonder why.
Me: You mean “Why is it a Smoke Barn?” or “Why label it?” Because to answer the first question, most likely because things get smoked in it, tobacco leaves for instance. Or maybe it’s where people who work on the farm are allowed to smoke.
Ken: No, I mean why put a sign on it? If it’s YOUR Smoke Barn, why tell other people about it?
Me: Maybe the owner is really proud of it and wants people to know that he finally reached his goal of owning a Smoke Barn.
Ken: It just seems weird.
Me: Maybe it’s a liability thing, like for insurance. In case someone breaks into the barn, gets overcome by the smoke and dies, their family can’t sue you cuz you warned people that it was a Smoke Barn.
Ken: I think that if you break into a Smoke Barn and die, it was pretty much your own fault.
Me: I don’t know about that—I remember hearing about a robber who was on the roof of a house trying to break in when he fell through the skylight and broke his back. He sued the owners for having a faulty skylight and won.
Ken: That’s crazy.
Me: Maybe they should have put a sign on it.

Tuesday, The Day I Pretend To Be A Country Vet:
So I was reading the latest issue of my favourite magazine “Country Living”, because I live in the country but need help, because I’m not really a “country” person and this magazine helps me figure out how to decorate and cook in various countrified ways that make me feel like I can keep up with the other country people around here, although technically I live in a village with a gas station, a video store, and two restaurants. I say two, but there is a currently a plaza being built on the edge of town which is, like, two blocks from my house, featuring another gas station as well as a Pizza Pizza store and a Country Style Donuts place, because of course what every small village needs is national franchises that will run local businesses into the ground. I’m going to digress from my Country Living opening and complain for a minute about the new plaza because a) it’s been under construction for over a year and at this point I’m convinced that the owners only work on it when they win money at the Woodstock casino, and b) we already have some great restaurants in town as well as a gas station called the Diva (a tremendously cool name, right?) run by this lovely East Indian family, which has amazingly cheap gas as well as dollar store stuff. These people are all local and I will NEVER buy anything from the new plaza. (Unless the gas station is full-serve because I hate pumping my own gas. I would like to be more loyal, but the truth is, I can be pretty mercenary when it comes to avoiding getting gasoline on my shoes.) Anyway, back to my original topic—I was reading Country Living magazine and it features a column called “Ask A Country Vet”. And based on the questions that are asked of said veterinarian, I can only assume that SOME people in the country don’t get out much. This month’s issue featured the following question: “How can I prevent my cat from sleeping in the laundry basket on top of my freshly laundered clothes?” I’m going to give you a minute to re-read that question. Because I had to re-read it more than once to confirm that I wasn’t imagining that I was in an alternate universe where veterinarians had to actually answer bizarre questions like this. Then I pretended that I was the veterinarian and answered the question thusly: “After you freshly launder your clothes, PUT THEM AWAY. Then your cat can’t sleep on them.” It seemed like a pretty obvious response to me, as someone who has owned cats for many years, but wait—the vet responsible for this column apparently has never owned a cat, and very seriously responded that the best solution was to put a SHEET OF TIN FOIL on top of the laundry so that when the cat leapt into the laundry basket, the sound of the tin foil would startle it to the extent that it would become afraid of the laundry basket, thereby avoiding it. My immediate response to that was WTF??!! because in my experience with animals, scaring the crap out of them does not lead to a happy co-existence. But the main reason why you do NOT want your cat in your clean laundry is this: Cats are filthy. They poop in gravel and then drag it around your house. I love my cat, but when she jumps up on the bed and wants to cuddle, I try really hard NOT to think of the billions of bacterias that are swarming all over the quilt, and I never, ever high-five her like I do the dog. Now, here’s what I imagine will happen in this whole tinfoil scenario—your cat uses the litter box, and is about to drag some of that poopy gravel into your freshly cleaned laundry on its little poopy paws. Then your freshly cleaned laundry scares more poop out of the cat, ONTO your freshly cleaned laundry. Instead of pissing your cat off, why don’t you try the simple, hygienic trick of putting the laundry away? Then it occurred to me that maybe the editors of Country Living magazine make up these questions because a few months ago, somebody asked this following gem: “Why does my dog chase his tail?”

Friday, The Day I Discover My New Favourite Phrase
I’m currently binge-watching a show called “Elementary,” which is a modern-day Sherlock Holmes series. The dialogue is very witty at times, and today, during one episode, Sherlock, played by Johnny Lee Miller, who is very awesome, says to Watson, played by Lucy Liu, “Opinions are like ani, Watson—everybody has one”. It took me a second, then I figured out what he meant and it became my new favourite phrase. My previous favourite phrase was “This is not my circus; these are not my monkeys” which I would say to myself whenever the case called for it, which was fairly often. But my new favourite phrase can also be used for a variety of occasions, and sounds pretty innocent until you look up what “ani” means (it’s pronounced ayne-eye, by the way). When I started writing this, I looked up the spelling because I didn’t know if it had one or two “n”s in it, and I discovered another interesting fact, thanks to dictionary.com, that while it means the plural of “anus”, the word “anuses” is more commonly used. Really, dictionary.com? Because I’ve never in all my life had the need to refer to more than one anus, so whoever is making its usage common is beyond me. Maybe people who work at hemorrhoid cream factories. Or proctologists. Then I thought about something similar that happened in class the day before (absolutely NOT involving the word “ani”), when I remarked that someone had used two different mediums in their artwork, and one of my students, in the way that only teenagers can do, corrected me and said I should have said “medi-ahhh”, because that was the plural of medi-ummm. So I did what all great teachers do when they’re caught making a mistake, which is to totally make something up on the spot, and I told the kids with absolute confidence that when you are using a specific number in front of a word like that, you use the singular noun form, not the plural, because it was Latin. And nobody questioned it.

My Week 1 – Marijuana and Febreze

So I’ve decided to change things up a little bit because I’m not currently a mentor and don’t have a particular protegee, so I’m turning this blog into also a reflection up* the things that happen to me either in real-life or sometimes in my head, which are often even weirder. I can’t rename this blog because a) I am not that technologically proficient and I just spent 15 minutes trying to reset my email for this stupid site and I still don’t think it worked and b) it’s kind of an ironic title in a lot of ways.

So here’s some of my week.

Wednesday, also known as the day I realize I really can’t tell stories orally that well. So I was sitting around with a couple of colleagues and we were talking about how people use the comment tool on almost anything now to slag people for very minimal reasons and say some pretty nasty things because they think the internet makes them anonymous even when their names and pictures are RIGHT NEXT TO THE COMMENT. I launched into what I thought was a very clever tale about how I’m a member of a buy and sell group on Facebook, and how recently a local candidate for town council was totally taken to task when someone posted a warning about break-ins in the area, and he commented that part of his election platform was to help prevent crime. (On a side note, he was very vague and I don’t know how he’s going to prevent crime unless he means he’s going to prowl the streets of our town at night like some badass ninja vigilante). Anyway, I described the nasty backlash he got “for trying to exploit the situation to win the election” and I ended with something like “it was too bad, really.” Then I realized that my colleagues are looking at me a little blankly, almost expectantly, liked there should be more to the story, and then I also realized that my story had no real thesis, which everyone knows a good story should have, and that I’d missed the most important element to the story, the plot twist, which was that the poor guy is only 19 years old and it’s his first foray in the political arena and he probably didn’t realize that people on buy and sell sites can be very fickle. I should just give up on trying to contribute to conversations altogether, and just focus on writing things down, which is of course, my thesis, and the conclusion to this story. Tada.

Thursday. Did I really just encourage my students to smoke pot?? No. I. Did. Not. It was a total accident that can be explained in this very convoluted way. I was talking to my grade 12s about Titus Andronicus, Act 1, and two characters, brothers, who are trying to become emperor. In what I thought was an attempt to make things relevant, I said that Rome deserved a strong leader, and that just like Rome, so did Canada. I pointed out that the one brother was a lot like Justin Trudeau in that he was relying on the goodwill of the people to get elected, just like Bassianus in the play, and that Stephen Harper was very much a Saturninus figure because he was relying on the fact that he was the “elder statesman”. Then one of the kids commented, “Justin Trudeau’s only platform is to legalize marijuana”, and I said, “See what I mean? He’s like the fun candidate, and Stephen Harper is the guy who won’t even admit to smoking marijuana and he’s a pretty grim guy in his sweater vests and all. He should really live a little.” And suddenly everyone was laughing, kind of hysterically, and I had this horrible epiphany that I might have just implied that marijuana and “living a little” should go hand in hand, which is totally not what I meant to do. So I tried to clarify that I didn’t mean to say it like that, but the kids just kept laughing, and I kept digging myself into a deeper hole, until finally I just said, “Don’t do drugs. I don’t recommend them”, which sounded in retrospect not a great thing to say either. But it seemed to calm them down, and we moved on with the lesson, but I WILL spend the next few days worrying about whether I get a call from an irate parent who is either upset about the marijuana thing or doesn’t like that I called Stephen Harper “grim”.

Saturday. This morning I was in the staff bathroom at the school where we have International Languages on Saturday mornings drying my hands with the hand dryer (because a) I had just washed them and b) I was freezing and the heat was awesome) when I noticed a can of Febreze air freshener on top of the paper towel dispenser labelled “Alaskan Spring”. So I sprayed it because I’ve always wondered what spring in Alaska smelled like (does it really smell kind of like stale Old Spice cologne? Has anyone been to Alaska? If so, can you clarify this?) when it occurred to me that maybe other people had used it BEFORE they washed THEIR hands, and then I got all germaphobic-y and had to rewash my hands all over again. Yep. The thesis of this story is that you should always spray room freshener in a public bathroom BEFORE you’ve washed your hands, then you’re good to go. Or that Alaska smells like someone’s grandfather.

*Yes, I know that there’s a typo in the introduction. It’s there for a reason. Or maybe two reasons that are inextricably linked. While I was typing this blog, Ken came in and wanted to talk to me about something, I don’t know what (because I was typing, you see?) Ken is always going on about how people can’t really multi-task and then he was like, “Can’t you listen to me and type at the same time?” And then I made the typo, which just proves that a) no, I can’t multi-task and b) it’s ironic that he’s always telling me that I can’t multi-task, then he insists that I do it.