Monday, December 23, 2013

Thinking About Resilience

The end of 2013 is drawing near.

I would surmise that this reality draws a collective *and very audible* sigh of relief from all around.  I personally cannot wait to raise a glass of bubbly (oh, who are we kidding? I'm going to raise at least a few!) on the last night of this year and welcome the year to come.

This year has been so hard for so many people.  I don't know how else to say it, but to assert that it feels as if this year has been a test of our resilience. Certainly, many wonderful things have happened to me, and to many people I love this year.  But amidst this, there has been so much loss, so many challenges.  The loss and the challenges seem disproportionate to years past, and though I'm not sure why this is, it really does seem to be the case. When I think of just my own immediate circles, I am reminded of:

homes (yes - multiple homes) damaged,
situations of homelessness (all temporary, but some hanging on for much of the year),
huge financial strains resulting from home damage,
the rocking of emotional foundations borne from losing the familiarity and safety of our homes; the spaces, the walls, the foundation that ground us and help us stand in the world.

loss of loves,
of loved ones,
of parents, family members, friends, beloved pets,
of jobs or job security.

and in a less tangible, much more ephemeral way, we have struggled with security all over the map (and globe),

under measures of austerity,
governance that is utterly baffling in its backwardness,
the resultant sense of hopelessness and anxiety stemming from witnessing these measures, living under the results of these measures, and the fact that no matter how loud the protesting voices are, they seem to go unheard.

we have struggled with too-intense workloads,
too-intense lifeloads,
with depressions,
and losses.

In a nutshell, 2013 has rocked us.  Rocked our foundations, rocked our faith, rocked our belief that we can affect change in the world, and in the complexly layered goings on around us.

In other, less nuanced but possibly more apt terms, it has rocked the living shit out of us.

Maybe this roughness is cosmic, maybe it isn't. Maybe this rocking will continue into the coming year, and maybe it won't.  (Though I *DO* like a good marker of the shift in these sorts of things... that would be nice, wouldn't it? A calm, gentle, lamb-like peaceful 2014?)  I don't know how things will come at us and to us in the coming year, and that ain't something I can control, so I'm trying not to dwell on that bit (at least not too much, but as you all probably know, I'm a dweller.  What can I say?!).

What I do know is this: 2013 has seen a truckload, boatload, snotload, shitload and all kinds of other loads, of resilience.  Of our ability (abilities) to take a deep breath and move through it, despite it, into that hard stuff and keep our asses going.

We kept loving, kept growing, kept teaching, kept learning, kept working on it all, because of it all and despite it all.

And so what I am choosing to gather and take with me as this year nears its finale and we move into 2014, is that resilience.  The knowledge and belief that just as we (and hear I mean the collective we, in the community, in the city, in the country, in the larger world) have struggled, we have also survived. We have kept going, met the challenges, and lived with them with as much grace and spirit and bravery as we could muster.

And here we are, in the darkest part of the year.  Still standing (you know, mostly).

And that ain't nothing.

So as this year draws to a close, I'm going to raise my glass to you, to us all, and to resilience.

*We are all stronger than we think.* 

Wishing you all the very best of the holiday season (aka holiday season survival),

With love and light,


Friday, December 20, 2013

Once upon a Lesbian Christmas: The Musical

I spent many of formative year in a blended Lesbian (yup, capital L) household.  And, as we all know, Lesbians are a strange breed of parent who are weird and force their children to listen to strange, Lesbian music.  True story.  I know every Ferron song there is, and  my mom bought me my first Ani Difranco cd (aw shit - who am I kidding.  It was a tape.) before any of y'all had even heard her name (guaranteed).  Christmas, as it turns out, is no exception.

Many of you may not know that in addition to the old familiar carols, there is also Lesbian Christmas Music (Yup, capital LCM).  Well, at least there is LCM from the 1990's - luckily coinciding with my formative years.

So, today I will give you all a special treat.  A glimpse into the LCM of my youth.  You will LOVE it, it's almost certain.  What's not to love?

Natch.  Still a LCM classic.

And from the Winnipeg (now long-ago defunct) Lesbo Trio....

Naturally, we listened to the Cris Williamson version, like a Proper Lesbian Family (PLF). I'm sorry JT - the PLF version isn't on youtube. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas version suffices for now ;)

And - no list of LCM would be complete without some Loreena McKennitt. She may or may not be "family," it matters not. She is - and always will be - lesbionic.

The sounds of my X'mas formative years....

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A repost from all the years past: Why I Uphold the Santa 'lie'

A whole lotta parents with young kids seem to be hatin' on Santa these days.  There are various veins of thought around this, 

1. Teaching kids about Santa is a lie and lying is always bad/truth is always good, etc.,  

2.  Teaching kids about Santa encourages rampant commercialism and doesn't reflect the 'true meaning' of Christmas, or,

3.  The Santa story conflicts with the Little Baby Jesus story (henceforth referred to as LBJ for brevity).  

I have some opinions about the aforementioned business of being down on old Santa.

Kids will, all too soon, be confronted with all kinds of shitty, shitty 'truthes' this world has to offer them.   Far too soon, in my not-so-humble opinion.   I'm not in any rush to invite that kind of shit in.   Moreover, I don't actually agree that lying is always wrong.  The ins and out of truthing and lying is mostly about grey area and very little about black and white, so to speak.   Which brings me around to the fact that I don't actually see encouraging a belief in Santa as lying, at least not in a bad lying sorta way.   

I believe that Santa is about far more than presents.  Santa, his reindeer and elven pals, his work, his journey, his belief in the intrinsic goodness of children (which may or may not be true ;)), is about believing in magic, suspending disbelief, choosing possibility over impossibility.  (This may get me into hot water here) but I believe that our old Santa story isn't really all that different than our cultural LBJ stories (though I'm not even remotely Christian, a girl can still appreciate the good bits an LBJ story has to offer now and again).   

Both Santa stories and LBJ stories can be used to encourage the good in people, kindness, and love for one another.  Both Santa stories and LBJ stories encourage the belief in magic, and in possibility.   Both can be used to instill wonder and excitement about life.   And for me, that wonder and excitement about life is every bit the 'true' meaning of Christmas.  

(As an aside here, both Santa and LBJ stories can be used in sucky ways too.  I can't get behind using Santa to control kids' behaviour - in much the same way I can't get behind using LBJ for controlling people's behaviour.  I don't and won't ever tell the kids that Santa only comes to children "that are good."  For starters, I believe, (you know, usually, and so should Santa, dammit!) that all children are good.  And I think using the magic of Santa to punish kids is sucky.  To each their own, I suppose, but you're not going to catch me threatening that "Santa won't come" if the kids don't do x, y or z.)

I also don't think that Santa has to be about rampant commercialism.  Boy-o wrote a letter to Santa this year, and there was no long list of "I WANTS".  He asked for dress-up clothes for himself, and for Girlio, so they could play together.   I hope that in part, this is because I'm trying very hard to create a family culture that runs contrary to that kind of me-me-me-ness.  This is something I make every effort to continue emphasizing throughout our kids' lives.    

So all you Santa-haters - say what you will.  And do what you will.  I support you in that.  But I'm going to choose MAGIC.  I'm going to help my kids believe in that magic.  I'm going to feel as excited and as giddy and as giggly as they do, heading downstairs on Christmas morning (even thoughlike most mornings around my house, it's likely going to come far too early), finding the note from Santa, and the dress-up clothes they asked so sweetly for and likely a few surprises they didn't ask for.  

And if I'm really lucky, I'll get to tap back into that amazing (and too short) time in my life, when I too wholeheartedly believed in magic.  That time was nothing short of a gift. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Repost: Dec 6, 2011

Today is December 6th.   Twenty-two years ago today, an armed man walked into Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, calmly and systematically separated women from men, and then proceeded to gun down 14 women and wound many others, articulating consistently his hatred of women, and of feminists in particular.

This day is and will forever remain permanently imprinted upon my memory.

I remember where I was that day, where I was sitting, how the material of the couch felt scratchy and rough underneath my hands.

I remember watching the news coverage and being just rooted to the spot, unable to move and aware of every breath.

I remember the tenor of my newly divorced father's voice muttering behind me that "those feminists are going to have a field-day with this."   I remember not knowing exactly what those words meant, but knowing somehow that those words were angry at women, too.  

I can remember my mother calling from her new house in the city to see if I was okay.  I can remember saying yes, because I didn't know what else to say. 

I can remember the cold shock that engulfed my 14 year old self - reeling in the face of the reality that girls could be hated, could be shot, could be killed in their schools . . . for being girls.

I can also remember the subsequent media coverage, with experts left, right and centre explaining away the horrible, terrifying actions of Marc Lepine as the work of a 'crazy person,' and as an 'isolated incident,' as if those terms could make it okay to pretend that Lepine's actions were not intrinsically linked to the larger entrenched problem of violence against women in our country, and in our culture. 

The events of December 6, 1989 are still heartbreakingly and bone-chillingly relevant.  They are still connected to the larger, deep rooted problem of violence against women in general.  They are connected to every person who says 'it's none of my business' when they hear a domestic assault taking place; connected to the need to have a sexual assault campaign in this city letting men know that women who are extremely inebriated or passed out cold aren't able to consent to sex; connected to the rotten, crap assed reality that women are still blamed for their own abuse and assaults (shouldn't have been drinking, shouldn't have been out at night, shouldn't have been wearing those sexy sweatpants, shouldn't stay with him and on and on and on and on ad nauseum.)

The Montreal Massacre was neither random nor isolated.  The continued violence against women in our country, in our provinces, in our cities, in our homes is not random, nor isolated.  They are, each and every one of them, linked to our larger cultural acquiescence to, and acceptance of, misogyny.

I know that when my own Girlio is 14, I will remember still.

I hope against hope that I might be able to tell her, then, how much has changed since that awful day in 1989.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

When will I stop feeling guilty?: Or, Further Notes from a Queer, Feminist Divorce

Ahhhhh guilt.  Hi there, old friend. Long time no see. (How I wish that were true). 

That familiar feeling of this mothering job, always lingering.  Sometimes it is less present, sometimes more. But the residual vestiges are there always.   

There are studies by credible scholars to tell you all about how you are doing it wrong, how you are causing damage.  As a case in point, earlier this morning I was perusing the interwebs for resources for kids struggling with the effects of divorce - and what do I find? Several (yes, several - this is NOT an exaggeration) current (in the past few years) studies (from credible universities) informing me that by divorcing while my children are young I will be hindering their 1. ability to trust, 2. ability to believe that I will be there for them as a steady source of support, and 3. (my personal favourite) their relationship with me as an adult will be permanently altered.  Other studies, of course, will tell me that by staying unhappily in a marital situation, I will also be scarring them. Either way, at least according to the field of psychology, I fucked 'em up.  

So - what's not to feel guilty about?


She whispers in the pool that she wants me to live with Mommy again.  It comes out quietly, but clear, insistent. 

It is in between diving and splashing and happens so out of the blue that I barely have fine to catch my breath and steady myself.  

She immediately busies herself with playing again, but I know her, and I know very well that she is watching and waiting for me to respond, to comfort, to say the right thing.


But how do I explain to her everything that needs to be said? How do I tell her that I made a life I couldn't live in? How do I explain Adrienne Rich's Of Woman Born to a four-year old? How do I tell her that I had to go in order to rescue the very last pieces of myself, that I was hanging on by a thread?  Those things don't mean shit to a four year old who wants the comfort of her world back in order. 

I say the things I'm supposed to say: Mommy and Mama can't live together anymore because they were having grown-up problems. We both love you and Boy-o so so much, and it isn't your fault....

These things are true, of course. But it feels hollow.


There are crying drop offs again. Screaming. I try to talk through her through it, tell her I'll just be gone for a few days, that I'll miss her and think about her but I'll be happy because I know she'll be having so much fun!  I try to comfort her and squeeze away the sobs wracking her body that feels so small against mine.  And finally, I leave with the sounds of her tears ringing in my ears. I drive away with my hand pressed against the freezing cold of the driver's side window.  

I force myself not to cry until I am safely round the corner, and put the car in park.


He tells me on the way to drop off that another child in his class has divorced parents. He tells me that this makes him feel less alone. I marvel, for a second, at how divorced supercedes queer, and then I tell him that soon enough (for better and worse) he will have more and more classmates and friends with divorced parents.  I tell him that almost half of the people that choose to marry will eventually divorce, and the fact that his parents are no longer living together will eventually no longer set him apart in the crowd.  

"Why, Mama?" He wants to know.  "Is it because they didn't choose the right special people, like you and Mommy?" 

Again, a sharp intake of breath, a pain in the chest. 

Again, I don't know what the 'right' thing to say is. So I opt for my truth, and hope that at the age of not-quite-seven, he can hear and understand it.

I tell him that his Mommy and I were the right people when we found each other - two gorgeous people who were wildly in love and who worked incredibly well together, and then eventually, who didn't work so well together. I tell him that I think our culture dooms us to failure with talk of there being one special person for everyone, and that I truly believe there are lots of special people in the world for each of us.  That each person we love teaches us something about themselves and ourselves and about love and growth, and that sometimes we love and learn from each other for a long time and  sometimes just a little while. But each of those experiences of love are important. And special. And right.

I hope I have said the right thing. I hope and hope and hope. . . 


In my own research on queer parenting, I recently read an article by Rachel Epstein in which she said this: 

"So what does it mean, in the context of parenting, in the context of loving and aching to protect our children as much as we possibly can, to question the ways that the pressures we experience can lead us to desire “normal.” “Normal,” I would suggest, is not always better – for us, for our children" (91).

She also said this: 

"[I hold my breathe] when I realize that my children are witness to my own romantic/sexual life that doesn’t follow a traditional trajectory. I hold my breath and then I let it out because I realize our children can handle more than we think..." (102).

I realize in this parenting endeavour, that all of us hold our breath. This is the stuff of the work and the stuff of loving, and the stuff of not knowing how things will turn out.  But it is perhaps, particularly difficult for those of us who choose a different trajectory in the world, who refuse the appeal to de-queer their own paths, finding spaces in which we can calmly exhale can feel few and far between.  

The stuff of mothering, for me, is a constant push-pull between my beliefs/politics/work and the incredibly magnetic and often all-consuming force of the emotional side of mothering.  The fear, the guilt, the worry that they bear the brunt of, and are fated to experience the collateral damage of my decisions. And I also experience the joys, of course.  Too many to list. But there aren't many messages from the world at large that will very often tell me I'm doing this thing right. I'm a queer, divorced, grad student, half-time single mother (and all-of-the-time mother because contrary to popular belief, there is no magic button to turn this mothering bit off) and this is a life that I chose. 

For positive reinforcement of these choices, I have only my own beliefs and instincts that the most honest route is the best route. For all of us.  

(And Holy Jesus Christ On A Cracker or on a Floating River Raft or on a Cross or Wherever Else the Little Baby Jesus Hangs Out! Right now I am clinging to the hope that my beliefs and my instincts aren't dreadfully off the mark.) 


Guilt.  Guilt.  Guilt.

*****Epstein, Rachel. “Queer Parenting in the New Millenium.” 21st Century Motherhood: Experience, Identity, Policy, Agency. (Ed. Andrea O’Reilly). NY: Columbia University Press, 2010. 90-103.

Monday, November 25, 2013

What If The Kids Aren't Okay?

In her article "Identity Treason: Race, Disability, Queerness, and the Ethics of (Post)Identity Practices" Victoria Kannen asks, "What aspect of oneself or one’s identity is relevant for ethical attention and judgment? In what type of activities do people engage in order to form themselves, to moderate their presentation, to decipher what they ‘are’ in order to become recognisable?" (150).  

I've been thinking a lot about this very thing since last week, when I was interviewed about my experiences as a queer mommy blogger by a rad academic doing research in the area.  One of the biggest issues rumbling around in my mind since then has centred around a question I was asked about politics and queer blogging, and, in particular, what I thought about her observation that the vast majority of queer parent bloggers in Canada are markedly apolitical. (You know, except me and my let's hang out all the dirty laundry all the time-ness.  Winky, winky face).  I think this tends to be true. I have found it to be true in my life and also in the blog-o-sphere. There is, among us queer parents, a certain amount of what I like to call 'appealing to normalcy.'  A 'the-kids-are alright-ness'.  This isn't accidental, and this is, without a doubt, political.  I've said it once, I've said it twice, and I'll say it again. The queer parent position ain't easy. You get accused of appealing to normal on one side and accused of freakery on the other.  Untenable, friends. A tricky line to tow. I try, try, try to resist the 'appeal to normalcy' and still, it is ingrained in my mind and in my embodied ways of walking in the world. Those who critique queer parenting from within our own ranks sometimes insist that the very call to parenting is itself indicative of trying to tidy up, make palatable or 'straighten' (if you will) the promiscuous queer life.  And for some folks this may be present prior to parenting. But what I can speak to, from the side of being a parent who actively tries to resist keeping up with the straight world Jones',  is that there is a real and consistent pressure to be a 'good gay' when one is a parent.  To be over-the-top child centred, to be the best and most attentive parent, to be the strongest and most committed (monogamous and happily married parenting unit) to prove that we are good enough for the job and that 'the kids are okay.'  You know, in spite of our horrible, dirty, kinky, queerness. Which is, of course, the unspoken by always underlying issue. I feel it, I resist it, and I feel it some more.  It's a never-ending cycle of deep down shame and struggling to resist it.

But what does it mean if the kids aren't 'alright'? If the couple who parent is fractious, or, god FORBID, if the couple isn't actually a couple anymore? GASP! Divorced queer parents?    Or, like me, divorced queer parent attempting to date and do grad school and carve out a life for myself as well as for my kids?  Even if I wanted to pass, I fail, fail, fail at the game of normalcy and same-as-you-ness.  My life = societally speaking, not a good 'homelife'. Broken home. Queer home. Split-energies home. Broken. Queer. Split-energies. Guilt. Shame. Bad mother. Bad mother. BAD MOTHER! And so on and so forth...

I feel guilt and shame about my queer, divorced, grad-student, broke-ass parenting. I do. I'll just put that right out there. I feel it with the same stubborn tenacity as my insistence in my right to be a queer, divorced, grad-student, broke-assed parent, and to do so openly and in the face of those who would yell 'BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?!'  

And sometimes, sometimes my children are great. Happy. Thriving and well-adjusted.  Other times, they just aren't.  Some of that may be my fault.  Maybe it's because they don't have 'a dad.' Maybe it's because they no longer live in the idealized loving two-parent home. Maybe, maybe, maybe.  We can maybe until the cows come home and that shit is all kinds of complex.  Maybe it's because sometimes, we aren't meant to be alright.  Sometimes, for kids as well as adults, shit just goes topsy-turvy. Sometimes, it's just fucking hard to be a kid. To be a grown-up. To be alive. The most likely answer is that sometimes, it's probably a combination of all of these things. 

Which brings me back to Kannen's question: "What aspect of oneself or one’s identity is relevant for ethical attention and judgment? In what type of activities do people engage in order to form themselves, to moderate their presentation, to decipher what they ‘are’ in order to become recognisable?" (150).  

The reality is this I am many things: a queer, crazy, fuck-up; a dancer, lover, femme; an academic, a thinker, nurturer, fighter; a person who struggles to find her way in the world and figure shit out and take care of her babies.  All of these things = a great fucking mother and a half-decent human being. 

Sometimes the kids aren't alright, and sometimes they are. 

But I'm not going to pretend to be more palatable to make anyone more comfortable - even if that someone is me.

Victoria Kannen (2008) Identity Treason: Race, Disability, Queerness, and the Ethics of (Post)Identity Practices, Culture, Theory and Critique, 49:2, 149-163, DOI: 10.1080/14735780802426643

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Called out on capitalism by a not-quite seven year old...

I hate to brag. But I'm going to anyways. You've been warned. My Boy-o, he sometimes blows my  mind with his ability to comprehend and question very complex social structures and situations. I guess it isn't really bragging.  He isn't an extension of me, and he's not cool because of me either.  He just came out that way.  I looked into his eyes on the day he was born and swore he looked older and wiser to me.  And I still think this might well be the case. Anyhoo...there is a story coming, I swear.

So, the kids and I have this little tradition of walking or biking to Timmy Ho's early Saturday mornings for breakfast-y goodness.  We go there because the small-fry like it, and because the three of us can have breakfast there for under $20, which we pretty much can't anywhere else on the planet.  (It's most certainly *not* because I love their coffee, which is god-awful, and what I consider to be "taking one for the team").  Anyhoo again (always digressing with the damn brackets, me...)

We are sitting with our doughnuts and breakfast sandwiches (doughnuts first, of course) and chit-chatting when we realize that the line-up has just gone berserk and is practically looped around the store out the door into the chilly early-morningness.  Boy-o says: "WOW! The people who work at Tim Horton's must be REALLY RICH!"

I laugh and explain that in fact, the people that work at Timmy's are not, in fact, rich.  I explain that in fact, like most front-line workers, the people who work at Timmy's are likely paid very poorly, while the people that OWN Timmy's make a great deal of money.  We chat about minimum wage in Alberta, and how it's really quite tough to get by on that kind of wage, even working full time (Yes - I do talk like this to my kids.  I get a lotta flak for it too.  But I figure that, within reason, they ought to know how the world around them works).  He seems to be taking this all in, pausing and nodding and reflecting.

And then, after sitting quietly for a moment, my not-quite-seven year old son says this:

"Soooooooo.... the people that work at Tim's don't make very much money.  Andddddd the people that own Timmy's make lots of money?"

I nod.

"Well Mama - then WHY do we eat here??"

Monday, November 4, 2013



There was a dark and twisty repost from The Belle Jar (if you don't read her blog, you should. You really, really should.  She is all kinds of brave and wonderful).

And I started the day with the kind of intense anxiety that makes me want to drop out of sight and out of the world, resulting in me skipping my writing group and attempting to work from home.

And there was the start of said work, note taking from amazing book by May Friedman on Mommyblogs and The Changing Face of Motherhood (2013, U of T Press - which is, friends, the shizzle of an academic book on mommy-bloggin'). Friedman's journey post-mothering, the one that took her into the world of mommy-blogs and blogging, is so incredibly resonant for me. She writes:

Yet the biggest shift in my sense of self came from my entrance into the hallowed realm of Motherhood, from the insistence by those around me that now I must be different and that my prior self was simply irrelevant. In those early days I lacked to the language to express my bewilderment at the stripping down of subjectivity that I was witnessing – by the baby, as I might have expected, but also by my friends, my own mother, and the world at large. 3
As a feminist academic I sought out feminist writing on motherhood so I could begin to understand the seismic shift that was occurring, and read work by Adrienne Rich (1976), Sara Ruddick (1980), and Naomi Wolf (2001). While much feminist writing had resonance, I found it did not yield the intimacy and dialogue that I craved. Even the best academic writing had a conclusion, which – in keeping with all expert literature on motherhood – was often presented a “right” way to mother. Now, in addition to being bewildered, I was also frustrated that I could not maintain my feminist idealism when it came down to the messy, real-life work of parenting. 3-4
And then, of finding the world of blogging, she explains: "I felt a kinship to this mother that I lacked in the embodied world of parents around me" (5).

Reading the above - just the very beginnings of Friedman's book - filled me with such feelings of familiarity and remembrances of my early parental discomfort, isolation, bewilderment. 

And all of these convergences this morning got me thinking about stuff.  Thinking about thinking.  Thinking about me, this blog, my dark-and-twistiness, my mom-ness.

This, for me, is a place where I could always go to share those less than savoury parts of myself: the sarcastic and caustic me, the anxious me, the me bewildered by motherhood, the messy me, the bad-mother me.  This space is so different than my public self.  My gracious self, my quick to smile and even quicker to please self. Palatable me. Deferent me. Sweet me. Good(ish) mother me.

Though I am often quick to believe criticisms of me as a person in the world, I have protected this blog with my mama-fierceness; the fiery place in me that flares out fearlessly to protect my littles but almost never shows itself in self-protection.  And yet criticisms about this space have been shut down staunchly and resolutely and without remorse.

This place has been unabashedly me since I had babies. It has helped me to negotiate being queer and being a mother and trying to find mutuality between those spaces, those two politics. Even when the world at large tells me daily that queers are not mothers and mothers are not queers. And though some queers would tell me that only sell-outs make babies.

This blog has seen me through a divorce. Countless days of anxiety so heavy that I was sure I would be crushed beneath the weight of it. The start of single-parenthood. Embarking on a Phd that I never quite believed I was smart enough for, and then chose to start anyways with several odds working against me.  Endings and beginnings, losses and gains, and loads upon loads of Great Unknowns. This place hasn't always made sense.  It hasn't always been pretty.  But it has always been profoundly full of the parts of me I'm not able (for a gazillion and one reasons) to show elsewhere. My dark and twisty bits. My inner ugly auto/biographer.

I don't have time to come back nearly as often as I'd like these days, though I still go to bed each night with words swimming through my head that I long to have time and energy to write down here.  I will again, someday.

Until then, it will keep coming in dribbles and drabbles, fits and starts.  It will keep being ugly. Dark and twisty. Sometimes even unpalatable.  (And what a relief it will be).

xo T

Monday, October 21, 2013

If you ain't happy and you know it...

I stumbled across a cheeky post  by Katherine Fritz on Facebook yesterday, and it really resonated with a less cheeky sense of unease that I've been carrying around, and not sure how to articulate.  (Kathryn blogs over at I Am Begging My Mother Not to Read This Blog, if you want to check out her other stuff!).  I love (lovelovelove) the way this post calls out "habits of happy people" posts.  Why?  Because I FUCKING HATE those posts.  They make me want to find the author of the post and punch them in the face.  Hard.  And why, might you ask again?  Because they make me feel like I'm failing.  (you know, again).  Not only am I failing at staying on the top of the constant motion of my single-mother-phd-student-broke-person-anxiety-bomb-at-the-best-of-times life, not only am I failing to get enough good homework done, enough good-enough mothering done, enough paying the bills done - but I am ALSO failing at getting the being happy-enough done.  For not putting enough joy and sunshine and dandelion fluff out into the world.

Think I'm overreacting?  Maybe. I do tend towards that general emotion trend sometimes.  But I'm also very aware that I'm not the only one.  In fact, part of my reason for writing this post, in addition to reading the awesome blog by Fritz, was the status of a friend recently, who said that they were feeling judged and ashamed for 'not being okay.'  There is pressure in our world to achieve this thing called 'happy.'  To be joyful.  To look on the bright side.  To have a glass half full.  To 'create' the world we want to live in.  To spread positivity.  To be 'okay.'

It seems to me, in fact, that the pressure to be happy and zen-like has become a social requirement - something to be pursued with the same zeal as a paycheck in our neo-liberal capitalist society.  The happiness quest sells books - gazillions of them -  like "The Secret" or "The Happiness Project," and most of them tell us the same thing.  If we aren't 'happy,' we're doing something wrong.  If we aren't 'happy,' we have failed in creating our happy realities.  Happiness, spun this way, feels a bit tyrannical.

We, as a culture, are deeply deeply uncomfortable with sadness.  With anxiety. With all kinds of feelings that normal people experience within the course of a day, a week, a month, a year, a lifetime.  We ask how people 'are', as a social nicety, but we all know the 'correct' answer to this question is "Fine!" or "Great!" or "super swell! Thanks for asking!"  And, as a person who has experienced bone fide depression and anxiety (by this I mean the debilitating kind, not the flippant, I'm-having-a-big-feeling-and-it-scares-me-kind), and who tends toward the Eeyore at the best of times, I often feel like a big liar answering this question.  I often want to say things like: "I'm actually really anxious and spent most of last night worrying about the oil tanker spill, the state of global politics, my kids, whatever, whathaveyou," or "I'm really sad and I can't concentrate," or something of the like. (Sometimes I want to say "I'm so happy I could pee my pants!" too, but I don't this this should be a social requirement).

Whatever happened to authenticity?

Why are we sooooooooo fucking uncomfortable with sadness?  With not-okayness?

When did happiness become social requirement?

Look around, folks.  This world is hard.  It's really hard.  We are profoundly isolated and disconnected from each other.  The bad bits of the world often seem so insurmountable that they are impossible to fix.  And on a smaller scale and deeper level, we, as people who mean well, often hurt each other deeply.

Sadness makes sense.  Anxiety makes sense.  Frustration makes sense.  Anger makes sense. And sometimes happiness, calm and contentedness make sense too.  Sometimes, all of these things at the same time make sense.  (And as an aside, if we weren't fucking messes some, or even a lot of the time, we wouldn't appreciate those beautiful shiny spots of happy-delightedness nearly as much).

My fear is that the push for happy-happy-okay-ness in our culture will only serve to disconnect us from each other more; create further isolation.  My fear is that we are losing our ability to be emotionally authentic in the quest for soothing our cultural discomfort for sadness and less pleasant emotional states. (My secondary fear is that we miss seeing the privilege inherent in the articles and books we write and read about the quest 'to get happy.' The class and race privilege.  The time privilege. The living-without-oppression privilege.)

Our commodification of 'happiness,' our expectation that everyone around us be 'okay,' doesn't actually lead to more general contentment.  And it definitely won't enhance our ability to create and sustain community.

So I guess this is my way of saying - be how you are.  Be sad.  Be anxious. Weep on the way to work if you need to.  (And ask for support if you need to, too).

Because I think, in the end, that kind of authenticity is some radical shit.  

*** Caveat - this is NOT in any way intended to induce shame for those that say, take meds etc. to deal with continued and debilitating states of unhappiness, a category which yours truly falls into.  Love my meds.  Love 'em.  Love the daily functioning.  Love it.  Some day I might not need them.  Right now, I do and I'm so fucking glad they exist.