Category Archives: Life

stereotypes that imprison people

A lot of our ideas about what we can do at different ages and what age means are so arbitrary — as arbitrary as sexual stereotypes. I think that the young-old polarization and the male-female polarization are perhaps the two leading stereotypes that imprison people. The values associated with youth and with masculinity are considered to be the human norms, and anything else is taken to be at least less worthwhile or inferior. Old people have a terrific sense of inferiority. They’re embarrassed to be old. What you can do when you’re young and what you can do when you’re old is as arbitrary and without much basis as what you can do if you’re a woman or what you can do if you’re a man.

Susan Sontag

life is evidence

This notion of investigation offers an alternative to confession. Its goal isn’t sympathy or forgiveness. Life is not personal. Life is evidence. It’s fodder for argument. To put the “I” to work this way invites a different intimacy—not voyeuristic communion but collaborative inquiry, author and reader facing the same questions from inside their inevitably messy lives.

Leslie Jamison

culturally, we aren’t allowed to be sad even for a little while

Sadness can be legitimately problematic, absolutely. If your sadness comes from seemingly no place or even an obvious place but keeps you from participating in life or enjoying anything and refuses to abate no matter how long you go on letting it express itself, you of course can’t keep living like that. But culturally, we aren’t allowed to be sad even for a little while. Even when it’s perfectly sensible. Even when, sometimes, we need it.

Mac McClelland

the truth is more important than the tribe

[E]volution actually happened. Biology is incomprehensible without it. There aren’t really two sides to all these issues. Climate change is happening. Vaccines really do save lives. Being right does matter—and the science tribe has a long track record of getting things right in the end.

It’s their very detachment, what you might call the cold-bloodedness of science, that makes science the killer app. It’s the way science tells us the truth rather than what we’d like the truth to be. Scientists can be as dogmatic as anyone else—but their dogma is always wilting in the hot glare of new research. In science it’s not a sin to change your mind when the evidence demands it. For some people, the tribe is more important than the truth; for the best scientists, the truth is more important than the tribe.

Joel Achenbach

it is impossible to live without failing at something

[S]ome failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies.

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned.

J.K. Rowling

why

are we always overwhelmed and never just whelmed?

transitive verb
1:  to turn (as a dish or vessel) upside down usually to cover something :  cover or engulf completely with usually disastrous effect
2:  to overcome in thought or feeling :  overwhelm <whelmed with a rush of joy — G. A. Wagner>

intransitive verb
:  to pass or go over something so as to bury or submerge it

in 2015

I resolve to…

  • figure out how to buy jeans I can wear longer than 15 minutes without being able to take them off like they’re sweatpants (why do they stretch so much? how am I supposed to know what size to buy if fitting room fit =/= real life fit? #thingsishouldhavefiguredoutbynow)
  • subtweet more (the witty kind, obvs.)
  • get a new phone so I can annoy people with emojis

This post is not about Jian Ghomeshi

I’ve never listened to Q and the closest I came to Moxy Fruvous was a song on a mixtape a friend made me back in the day. But the moment I saw that first cryptic tweet about the CBC and Jian Ghomeshi parting ways I knew the direction the story was headed. Maybe I’m too cynical. Or maybe we’ve just heard this story too many times.

So while fans of Q and Ghomeshi were tweeting their dismay and best wishes, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Which of course it did.

But like I said, this isn’t about him. It’s about something I read in a post written about the situation and what it reminded me of:

“Evidence. Everyone wants evidence, and this is all I can give: I knew about Jian, and everyone I ever talked to about him did too.” —Melissa Martin

Take out ‘Jian’ and fill the blank with another name and I can say this too.

I knew about _____, and everyone I ever talked to about him did too.

The circumstances were different, and yet the same in the way all stories like these are the same: older man in position of power, a succession of younger women (girls, really).

Years later, whenever his name would come up, because someone had seen him or something, conversation would inevitably circle back to how we were always low-key anticipating his name showing up in the news, how surprising (but at the same time not) it was that it hadn’t yet happened.

So why did no one ever say anything? Because it was at best secondhand information, overheard conversations you weren’t really supposed to be listening to but did anyway, and often more distant than that. They weren’t our stories to tell. It was the kind of thing that could be dismissed as rumor. Except. Except.

Everyone knew.

One time, I met two people who had known him in the same capacity I had but at different times. For relevant reasons (not gossip), he came up in conversation. Our knowledge of him was independent, but our stories corroborated. To be clear, we were not telling the same story, but different stories illustrating the same pattern.

We knew it wasn’t just a rumor, yet no one said anything because no one had any proof, and no one wants to be accused of making up rumors to defame someone’s character, which, lbr, is a more likely outcome than being taken seriously. There’s an expectation that if there’s a problem the people directly involved will speak up for themselves. But, for myriad reasons, that doesn’t always (or even often) happen in these types of situations.

And then you move away and time passes, and it starts to feel less real, like maybe something you dreamed or watched on TV.

Until you encounter someone who also knew him and nope. There it is again. Still real.

There is no conclusion to this story, but there is another loosely-connected one.

Around the same time I met the two people who had the stories similar to mine, I had a supervisor who made me deeply uncomfortable.

He was a middle-aged man, probably 25ish years older than me at the time, who had near-complete control of my professional fate—and who was way too touchy for my liking and kept invading my personal space. He’d stand suffocatingly close, looming over me. I’d back up and he’d move closer. He was constantly patting me on the arm or the shoulder. I dreaded meeting with him alone, especially sit-down meetings where he’d scoot his chair closer so he could reach out and touch me on the knee. I made sure the door was always open. I kept one eye on it at all times. I was sketched out.

There was zero doubt in my mind that he had crossed lines, and I would have had no hesitation calling what he was doing sexual harassment, except. There was a twist.

I never said anything directly to him for obvious reasons, but I was very open in speaking to my coworkers about how uncomfortable he made me. I think I was trying to protect myself by making sure others knew, in advance, just in case. And in response they concurred that he was an excessively touchy personal space invader, who also weirded them out. In other words, they basically told me he did this to everyone. The twist was that my coworkers were all men, all older than me. Of course, it was easier for them to avoid or rebuff him because he was not their supervisor. And, just a wild guess, they likely didn’t feel as/at all physically threatened like I did. But if he did this to everyone, what was it then? Could I call it ‘sexual’ harassment if he was creeping everyone out?

In the end, I decided it didn’t matter. Whatever it was, if it made me feel uncomfortable, it would likely make another young woman in my position feel uncomfortable too. Maybe he was like that to everyone precisely because it did create confusion as to what was really going on.

I was fortunate that this was a temporary situation, and after this man was no longer my supervisor, I wrote a letter to human resources describing his behavior, why it made me uncomfortable, and why I didn’t feel I could speak up earlier. I gave him the benefit of the doubt (something along the lines of ‘maybe that’s just the way he is, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok’), and all I asked for was that someone speak to him about it (read: tell him to stop). I was… excessively nice, because I wanted what I was saying to be taken seriously and not be seen as a response to his evaluation of me. And I did get a reply, which said they would speak to him about it. I left it at that. Mostly I just wanted to go on record. So if something did happen to someone else in the future, no one could say “well, no one ever said anything.”

Now I think about this and I’m kind of surprised I was bold enough to write that letter (and kind of not; I was in my writing angry letters phase), even though I wasn’t sure what ‘it’ was. On a conscious level, I think it was telling my coworkers and no one being surprised. They all knew. I mean, how long had this been going on for? How many other young women had felt like I did? But subconsciously, I think it was having this other thing that everyone knew about and no one had the power to speak up about in the back of my mind that convinced me it was important to say something when I did have a firsthand story to tell.

I don’t know if made any difference, but I’m still glad I said something.

Still, I’ve never written about it publicly. Every time there’s another incident where someone speaks up after years of people being silent, I think about writing about it, and then I don’t. Partly because it was so minor, comparatively speaking, and I don’t want to over-dramatize. But partly it’s because I did say something, albeit in a backchannelly kind of way, and so it doesn’t quite fit the narrative. tbh, I’m worried it’ll be taken the wrong way. Like a humblebrag or something, which… no. So, what am I saying? This ish is pervasive. It’s more likely to have happened to you than not. You’re lucky if it didn’t end badly. And it’s hard to speak up, almost requires a magical set of circumstances to do so.

This is why my instinct will always be to believe the women who have the courage to speak up regardless of how long it took over the one powerful dude whose world is crumbling because he finally got called out on his crap. I mean, vast conspiracy of evil women or one man behaving badly… which is more likely? Just saying.

And honestly, conspiracy theories? Please. It doesn’t require a genius to understand that one person speaking up gives others the courage to do the same, knowing they are not the only one. It’s not complicated. (Also, there’s always more than one. Trust.)

“Change sometimes does begin with one person who raises her voice.” —Roxane Gay

[hmm, maybe I’ll actually post this instead of leaving it in draft form for six months and then stealthily posting it when no one’s looking. I am fond of that trick tho 😉

update: didn’t press publish last night, but seeing the screenshots in my Twitter timeline this morning, yep, publishing now.]