Why Write

Photo Source

why write
why fight to form the words
why string the lyrics like beads
of sweat that pour from our souls
when nobody is listening

why bother
why fill the page with letters
or scrape the lead across
making marks of our victims taking
aim at our own lives

because we must
because we feel it
because creation and chaos
make artists of us all

Love Your Body, Love Your Self

scale-urbeautiful

There are plenty of reasons we’re supposed to hate our bodies and millions of products sold to help us battle these insecurities. There are weight loss products, hair dyes, wrinkle creams, supplements, and surgical procedures designed to help us get over the feeling that our bodies are disgusting.

In fact, just having a body seems to be something that’s generally frowned upon.

There are some basic assumptions we’ve made as a culture in order for these attitudes to thrive, but that’s a whole other blog post. Instead, let’s look at how unfair we can be to our bodies, and why they deserve to be celebrated instead.


Laughing_Buddha

Every body has fat. And we’re so mean to fat.

Everybody knows all about how bad fat is supposed to be. Burn it off, starve it off, carve it out, avoid it altogether, put it in your breasts, butt, lips, or in the garbage, just don’t let it get the upper hand.

But fat is our friend. It really just wants to to protect your vital organs and take care of you when you can’t nourish yourself. It wants to envelop you in a warm hug on a cold day. It makes babies even cuter. And it’s just kind of fun and silly and wants to jiggle along when you giggle.

Be nice to your fat.


greyhairModel: Yasmina Rossi

Every body has hair. And we’re so mean to hair.

It’s okay to have hair, but only in certain acceptable places. Otherwise shave it off, wax it, tweeze it, rip it out, burn it, or zap it with a laser. Have some on your head, but only if you’re prepared to process the hell out of it. Strip off all the nice natural oils with detergents, coat it in synthetic lubricants, and then spend 3 hours loading it with more products, fry it with heat, burn it with chemical dyes, and then try to fix all of the damage you’ve done with even more “repair” products.

Hair has its own personality, and it doesn’t mean to argue with you, it’s just got to do its own thing. It would rather dance around in the wind, wild and unruly, than hear about your hairstyle plans. It might want to be big, or flat, or whirl around your scalp in all different directions. It does not care what colour is “in” this season, it joyfully changes its own colour; it glows in the sun, and in time it shifts into grey, silver and white.

Be nice to your hair.


interwovenhandsPhoto credit: alejandroplesch

Every body has skin. And we’re so mean to skin.

It’s never quite what we want. It’s too dry, too oily, too freckly, too wrinkly, too thin, too light, too dark, too saggy, too uneven, too blotchy, too blemished, too scarred. Scrub it, douse it with chemicals, cover it with makeup, screw up its natural balance and then lube it up with petroleum, strip it with acid, sandblast it with “microbeads,” fry it in the sun or bake it under the sickly glow of a tanning bed.

Your skin is your soft, sensitive bodyguard.  It’s cautious and protective, but ready to face any threat first without question. It will warn you when something’s not right and will become more resilient if abused. It’s a warm place for loved ones to find comfort. It’s your connection to the world, and the medium of your intention.

Be nice to your skin.


leafveins

Every body has veins. And we’re so mean to veins.

At some some point in your life you will be told that your veins are an unsightly problem. Whether it’s that vein that pops out of your forehead when you laugh, or the spider veins and varicose veins creeping over your legs, or whichever ones happen to show when you put on your bathing suit. You’ll be told to cover them up, squash them with socks, zap them or wish them away.

Your veins and arteries are magnificent, and they lovingly help to nourish every part of you. They do the bidding of your heart, and guide your blood on its journey through every cell in your body, making every breath you take another miraculous extension of your life. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it.

Be nice to your veins.


blowingkiss

Every body has breath…

I predict that this will be the next completely normal, natural thing that will someday be considered a disgusting aspect of our bodies that needs to be regulated and controlled.

I mean besides breath mints and mouthwash and all of that. If I’m right, some day you are going to have to avoid breathing too much in front of people.

There will be advertisements for products that ask questions like,

“Tired of that nasty hot air coming out of your nose and mouth?”

“Are you embarrassed that your breathing is bothering people around you?”

People will wear masks, or filters, or some product to make the completely normal and natural act of breathing more socially acceptable, and we will all start being really mean to our breathing.

Sound ridiculous? It is, but so are all of the other ways we demean and subjugate our physical selves.

Metamorphosis

Butterfly - Metamorphosis

Rebirth isn’t easy.

Transitions are times of uncertainty, and even positive change can be scary.

There are growing pains. We fear the unfamiliar, even if we feel sure that the outcome will be worth it in the end. (And when are we really sure of anything anyway.)

I wonder if the caterpillar knows what she’s in for when she hangs herself from a stem. Really, you never know.

Maybe she rages and sorrows in her cocoon, wishing she could go back to the simple days when she mowed through leaves and marched along on rows of sturdy legs.

Maybe she frets that her spindly new body will bend and break in the howling wind.

Perhaps she sighs with envy that those lucky moths are free to rave, euphoric, around lamp lights while she sleeps off a day of dizzy hot sunshine.

In the midst of it, it’s easy to be petty and it’s easy to pity yourself. It’s hard not to feel afraid, resist and hang on to what’s familiar.

But once you take to those wings you can’t help but dance, and suddenly you find you are an ecstatic piece of art Being and you can do no wrong.

Because playfulness means you can lose and still giggle.

Fluttering is when flying falters.

I wrote this piece as part of a creative writing circle in 2010.

“I Told You So”: Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Violence

Photo Credit: AP/Todd Williamson/Evan Vucc via Salon.com

Photo Credit: AP/Todd Williamson/Evan Vucc via Salon.com

With the Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby scandals there has been a lot of talk about sexual violence, why we tend to turn a blind eye when a celebrity behaves badly, and why women don’t report these crimes.

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I think the last question is one of the most pressing and puzzling, and one that I can shine some light on.

Looking at the statistics, we know that one out of every six women (in the US) is raped or faces attempted rape. So why aren’t thousands of women swarming police stations demanding justice? Why do we refuse to talk about it, share it, out our attackers from the hilltops or march in the streets?

Some do, and as we’ve seen in the news recently, they face seething backlash, accusations that they are lying, additional trauma while navigating the justice system, and the ever-present insinuation that they have done something wrong.

That’s all been discussed and debated. What I find the most shocking and disturbing is the big “I Told You So” that is set in motion from an early age.

Setting Victims Up for Failure

From the time we are old enough to understand, girls are told that if we are not careful we will be raped. We will be hurt. We will be taken advantage of, humiliated, used and abused by men if we are not careful.

We need our daddies and brothers to watch out for us.
We need to suck it up and accept that “boys will be boys.”
We need to watch our back when we go out at night.
We need to watch our drinks and each other when we are out with our friends.
We need to always, always be alert and aware to danger because if we do not, and we are not careful, we will get raped.

This sets us up for inevitable failure.

Be Careful. Avoid the Unavoidable.

Every day we are reminded that violence, and violence against women in particular, is normal and ubiquitous. That it is completely unavoidable.

Every day a new victim turns up. Women are routinely abused, brutalized and murdered as a regular part of our daily lives through the news, on CSI, in movies and games, jokes, advertisements and frat boy chants.

I once turned on TVO (which is a bit like the Ontario version of PBS) and within two minutes witnessed a woman violently beaten by her husband in an otherwise tame period piece. The frequency in which this kind of scenario is thrown into our consciousness is absolutely shocking.

And so, the violence isn’t shocking anymore. This unfortunately creates a sense that there is no escape from violence, real or imaginary.

Redirecting Blame

Despite this persistent perception that women are constantly at risk of being victimized, and not likely to escape it, we still put the burden of responsibility on women to “be careful,” and to keep themselves out of danger.

With sexual assault, unlike with other crimes, we tend to question the victim before the attacker. For example, if someone is mugged, even if it’s in a high-crime area, people generally don’t ask questions like:

“Why were you out alone so late?”
“Why didn’t you protect yourself better?”
“Why didn’t you fight them off?”
“Why were you in that neighborhood anyway?”
“Were you out drinking?”

This is the problem. This is the “I Told You So.”

When we believe that violence against women is inevitable, and women choose to live our lives anyway, the implication is that we accept the risk. That we know what to expect, and should therefore not be surprised when bad things happen.

In other words, constant warnings that the world is a dangerous place effectively place the blame on victims for daring to exist in the world.

What Has to Change

Regardless of the precautions we take, one in six of us will still be victimized. And likely by someone we know. Because rape is something we are taught we must avoid at every turn, and is our responsibility to avoid, when it happens we are made to feel that we just weren’t careful enough.

We weren’t diligent enough. We failed to keep ourselves safe. We should have known better. We shouldn’t have let it happen.

Until it’s seen as something out of the ordinary, something outrageous and unthinkable, many women will not report rape.

Until we stop telling our daughters to watch out, and start telling our sons to watch themselves, many women will not report rape.

Until we recognize that most assaults are not perpetuated by ‘stranger danger,’ but most often by people that we know, trust, admire, and even love, many women will not report rape.

Until we remove the sense of sole responsibility, failure and shame from victims, many women will not report rape.

For now, I’m encouraged that there is some good news. Public opinion has turned a corner, and silence is making way for discussion.

Mancession Blues: Ford’s “We Own Work” Ad Campaign

Ford has introduced an ad campaign in support of its already machismo-motored efforts to sell tough trucks to tough guys.

The “We Own Work” campaign hammers home the message that tough men are real men and real men drive tough Ford trucks. The rest of us just wouldn’t understand.

Ford ads have never exactly been subtle about appealing to blue collar men who feel massively insecure about their masculinity, but the blatant-ness of this campaign reflects a very real social issue.

These are truly desperate times for tough men. During the economic downturn, male-dominated blue-collar industries like those depicted in the Ford ads took a massive hit. As a result, unemployment rates among men actually climbed higher than unemployment rates among women (Source).

This “Mancession” has caused some pretty scary social shifts. Well, “scary” if you are a tough rugged manly man who thinks being anything other than a tough rugged manly man is weird and frightening.

Men who have historically been the breadwinners of the family are out of work, and unable to support their families. As parents continue to juggle the pressures of paying bills and finding child care, more women have become the family breadwinners while an increasing number of men have stepped into the role of primary caregiver.

New York Times Cover

All of a sudden women are bringing home the bacon and it’s Dad who stays home and cares for the kids. To a Ford truck guy, this is the gender apocalypse.

Daddy with Stroller

Not only does it prove that women aren’t just a nice addition to the workforce, but are more vital to the economy than anyone realized, it also forces us to acknowledge that men are quite capable of taking care of the kids. Suddenly the image of men as “clueless, slapsticky, unknowing, babysitter-esque” buffoons when thrust into a parental role will no longer fly.

The jig is up. Men can change diapers.

So as a brand heavily invested in traditional gender roles, how do you deal with this uncomfortably progressive shift in social norms? (Or as one 2011 Ford Super Duty truck ad puts it: men who don’t “have the stones to bring home the Benjamins.”)

One word: backlash.

Or in other words, a well-researched, carefully orchestrated synergistic advertising campaign with a high production value.

There’s nothing quite like a well-orchestrated ad campaign to tap into and profit from people’s burning insecurities. This is one of those brilliantly timely ones that perfectly captures the insecurities of a whole culture.

Ford is the soothing gruff, raspy manly voice that says: Don’t worry, guys. Men still own work. Women still own domesticity. The world is still as it should be.

Good job, Ford. You’ve got your work cut out for you.

Ford CowboysNice chaps. From the 2012 Ford Super Duty Photo Gallery.

Does Social Networking Make Us Narcissists?

I think Nina Arsenault is an incredible artist. [Heads up, her website has some NSFW content.] She explores and deconstructs the concept of “personhood” with such ferocity, it’s completely breathtaking.

Nina Arsenault - Mannequin (2007)

I recently read an interview with Nina Arsenault about her ties with serial killer Luka Magnotta. (Thanks Jeff Perera at Higher Unlearning for sharing the link.) The conversation turned to a general discussion about the “virtual self” and narcissism as the new norm:

Back in the 80s it was difficult for people to understand the concept of virtual reality.  The term was considered an oxymoron.  Now, the minds of an entire generation are developing with virtual selves–representations of themselves which can have exaggerated, false, or accurate relationships to their lived existences.

What my generation calls narcissism–understanding oneself and others as a series of images–is being bred into human beings globally.  Post-millennial children do not really know what life is like without a virtual self. I don’t think we can anticipate where this evolution/mutation will take us as a world culture.

What new technologies will emerge to fuse with this mentality? How will it further commoditize us as human beings? How will it continue to construct our understanding of reality as a series of images we are buying, selling, vivifying, living up to or not living up to?

Her comments really struck me.

Does social networking encourage narcissism? Is it harmful for kids to grow up exploring, forming and expressing their identities on an image-conscious, sound-byte loving internet?

A blog article called Transparency is more expedient than lying does a good job of addressing these questions, I think.

As the article explains, our identities are much more fluid than they used to be. Thanks in part to these “virtual selves” that Arsenault talks about, our identities are now largely a matter of our own opinion.

So how do you know who is authentically who they say they are?

Venetian Masks

Well, thanks to social networks and everyone’s ubiquitous online presence, the evidence is out there for everyone to see.

Our lives are becoming transparent. This makes it very difficult to create a fake personal identity that’s convincing. Not impossible, but difficult.

As Nina Arsenault herself points out through her work, identity is already extremely fluid and the way we express who we are is extremely complicated.

Think about it this way. Which do you think is more disturbing?:

  1. I lie about my age on Facebook so that I appear to be 10 years younger than I really am.

    OR

  2. I use cosmetics or surgery to alter my physical body so that I appear to be 10 years younger than I really am.

Nina Arsenault - Ordinary Day, Extraordinary Girl (2007)

We live in a society where transforming our physical selves is commonplace and considered desirable. So is it really shocking that this sort of behaviour would translate to how we present our virtual selves?

Aren’t we already pretty narcissistic and image-obsessed?

Edit: This post has been Freshly Pressed!! What an honour to have been chosen by WordPress.com to be featured on their site.  If you enjoyed this entry, please consider hitting Like, sharing the post, or following my blog. Thank you!

Ten Tips to Adjust Enhance Your Attitude

A bad attitude is easy to spot, but what does it mean to have a “good attitude”?

Rainy Day Attitude

Here’s a list of Ten Aspirational Attitudinal Enhancers that can come in handy on those challenging days – you know the ones –  when you need:

a) a good pep talk,
b) a stiff drink,
c) a swift kick in the butt, or
d) all of the above in no particular order.

1) Accept It

Sometimes the first step in the face of adversity is to accept that the situation is out of your control. There’s only so much you can do to change things for the better, and you may not be able to fix the problem. At least not immediately, and not all on your own.

Letting go of the responsibility you feel to change what you cannot change will free you to focus on dealing with the issue in a more productive way. At the very least, you’ll feel a little less frazzled.

2) Work Through It

We all wish we had unlimited capacity to handle what life throws at us, but we don’t. There will be times when you’re overwhelmed, depressed, angry, hurt, frustrated or just plain pissed off. And that’s perfectly alright!

Rather than trying to avoid these feelings or push them aside, it’s better to admit to yourself that you’re struggling and work through it. Give yourself license to feel upset, and acknowledge how the situation is really affecting you. Take a breather if you have to, just try not to vent your frustration at anyone or you might regret it later.

3) Rise Above It

Focus on the positives. Don’t get caught up in triviality or pettiness. For example, sometimes one comment can make or break your mood, your confidence, your day, or even your whole week.  Take people’s kind words to heart, and don’t dwell on the rest. Someone else’s bad day doesn’t have to ruin yours.

Smile!

By choosing to forgive and be kind to people who don’t always return the favour, you invite them to join you on the high road rather than letting them to pull you down to their level.

4) Be Accountable

First and foremost, be accountable to yourself. You may not be able to control how other people behave, but you can control how you react.

Admit your mistakes but don’t dwell on them. Focus on what you can do to improve things, and do whatever you can to make things better. You may not be able to control all of the outcomes, but you can at least say you tried your very best.

5) Take It In Stride

When you’re having a bad day, sometimes even small things seem enormous and overwhelming. Don’t Panic! Believe it or not, you can handle it. Whatever “it” is, don’t let “it” get to you – you are stronger than you think.

6) Have Confidence

In fact, you’re not just strong, you’re awesome. You can not only handle the situation, you can ROCK IT!

Give yourself credit for your successes, and how well you can handle yourself under pressure. You may not be perfect, but you’re getting through it one step at a time.

7) Respect Yourself

No matter what you’re up against, go easy on yourself. If you wouldn’t put cruel demands on someone else, why would you put them on you? Sometimes this means defending your boundaries and saying ‘no,’ which can be really hard. But if you treat yourself the way you would treat a cherished friend, you’ll have more to offer in your relationships with others.

8) Nurture Yourself

When life taps your well dry, you need to replenish it. Find something that restores you – reading, biking, sitting in the sun, playing fetch with the dog, painting with watercolours, or whatever makes you happy – and treat yourself whenever you can.

If you don’t think you have the time, book it as an appointment. Schedule an important meeting with yourself, or better yet, take yourself on a date. Book it a week in advance if you have to!

9) Laugh It Off

Is this something you’ll laugh about later?

Implied Facepalm

Try laughing about it now. Take a step back and see the ridiculousness of it all. Sitcom writers live for this kind of hilarity. Even if it doesn’t change your perspective much, your insane cackles will scare off anyone who might cause you more trouble.

10) Live and Learn

Believe it or not, even the worst of times can’t last forever. When you do make it through the storm and find yourself on the other side, enjoy breathing that big sigh of relief. Pat yourself on the back – you made it!

Now take some time to reflect. What did you learn from this experience? Would you do anything different next time? What worked for you and what didn’t? Who could you count on for support and who left you hanging?

—-

What does having a “good attitude” mean to you?

Do you have any advice to share on how to keep a positive attitude through challenging situations?

(Cocktail recipes totally count as advice.)