Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Teenage Women in Tough Times: Novels by Sally Rooney and Caitlin Moran

A few days ago I finished and returned Sally Rooney's Normal People to my local library and while there picked up How to Be Famous by a comedian I like, Caitlin Moran. I'm about to go where I generally never will, and discuss the books in a way that scatters spoilers like pollen.

There are a number of areas of overlap between the two. The writers are women of Irish stock--one from Ireland and the other from England. The protagonists are female teens, each faces public shaming at some point, each has challenging parents, each is in love but not in the boyfriendgirlfriend relationship they would choose.

There are many differences, as well. Sally Rooney is herself twenty-seven years old. Caitlin Moran is in her early forties. Marianne, in Normal People, is traumatized by her young life to the point that she becomes self-destructive; Dolly Wilde is as innocent and audacious as can be. Both are brilliant. Rooney traces the lives of Marianne and Cornell with a deeply serious and delicate touch; Moran writes in a rumbustious and frequently hilarious style, giving her book a lighter feel for much of its length.

In fact, they are equally serious novels, examining abuse, desire, and self-understanding. Moran squares off against sexism and sex in a way I have never before seen. It is brutal and beautiful. Rooney focusses on the ways we betray ourselves in answer to betrayal, and can help each other mend.

One thing that upset some readers of Normal People was the "stereotypical" roles the female and male protagonists played. I disagree with that assessment; portraying sexism doesn't invent it. But even I hesitated when I saw the way in which the resolution came about, with Marianne needing Cornell in ways that leave the reader, in particular the feminist reader, squirming a little bit. Dolly Wilde has no such problem. Her resolution is entirely--as soon as I wrote that word I knew it wasn't quite right--independent, or at least largely female generated.

But that's all right. I don't need all my female protagonists to soar above their wounds. Some wounds don't heal so completely. Nor do I need to leave every book feeling settled, and sure. I like that I've had to reflect carefully on Normal People and on its ending, just as I like that Moran makes it very clear how this particular aspect of sexism works, and how women can combat it in ways men can't.

I love that my library has these books for me to read. Now. On to David Chariandy and Brother.

Normal People by Sally Rooney was longlisted for the 2018 Booker Prize and won the 2018 Costa Novel Award. "Irish writer Sally Rooney wins 2018 Costa Novel Award for 'trailblazing' book, Normal People" by Jane van Koeverden for CBC Books.

"How to Be Famous by Caitlin Moran review – sex, drugs and Britpop" review by Kitty Empire for The Guardian.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Some Guy Sitting in His Mother's Basement

Every time I hear this phrase my hackles rise.

This Guy--who is he? Some ill-informed, jobless jerk who spends his time trolling good, valuable, employed people, who spreads lies and seeds dissent, who wastes our time. Apparently.

What is this? Why have we as a pack decided to blame our ills on Russian spies and young men who we have decided are too afraid or too stupid to join the world as we have in a responsible way? It is such a familiar story. Russian spies aside--these are very real indeed, if we can believe our ears and eyes--time after time as a society we find a scapegoat for all our bad behaviours and blame them. Generally someone who cannot possibly defend themselves. Faggots. Jews. Fallen women. Guys in their mother's basements.

I don't know a lot of mothers who have basements, but I know a lot of young men who are consigned or consign themselves (where the line lies, I don't know) to withdrawal into the relative safety of their parent's home, away from a world that has battered and at times defeated them, who participate in that world mostly through their interactions with their families and the internet.

They are not trolls, funnily enough. Some I don't know well enough to fathom, but some I do. These are deeply intelligent, deeply perceptive, and deeply wounded survivors of a world that grinds people who fall outside the norm into a bloody paste. They are my beloved friends, whose futures I fear for, and when callous and thoughtless pundits and otherwise fair-minded people allow themselves to lazily blame people who are in many ways victims of the same system they themselves decry instead of looking carefully into why we normal every day people do terrible things to each other at the drop of a hat, I fume inside.

Not everyone who lives in his mother's basement is even wounded. Some of them simply live in a society that makes it impossible for everyone to make a good enough living to have their own home. Some of them are taking care of their mother, who is ill or old or lonely. Some of them are just young, and haven't figured out what move they want to make next.

Sure, some guys in their mother's basements are treacherous goofs. Lots of guys in high towers are, too. Why? What makes us this way? This is the question we need to ask ourselves, honestly and with vigour. And leave the wounded isolates alone.

Image: "Are online gamers really unpopular, overweight, and socially inept? Science weighs in.By Seriously Science | January 7, 2014 7:00 am

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

A Walk on the Mild Side

Image result for "beaconsfield park" vancouver

I woke up this morning to a beautiful day, and though I had lots of things I had to get done today, what I really wanted to do was go for a walk around the park next door to enjoy the last moments of golden light and shirtsleeve weather before autumn refuses to release its hold. I've been so busy since moving in, and I've been longing to explore the neighbourhood more.

But I didn't. Deadlines are crushing in, I have way too much going on and am getting so little done because I am absolutely wiped. So I got up and started my day.

Since last night, though, I have been feeling very yukky. So tired I feel ill, and so ill I feel very tired. Naturally, this is a perfect combination for neither being able to sleep nor able to work. After dragging myself around and feeling increasingly unwell, trying to figure out how to stop feeling sick to my stomach and get some real work done, I phoned Susan, She Who Knows All (except when I know better). After a careful assessment she prescribed rest.

So I lay down for almost a minute, in which time I felt even worse because of the pressure on my body, and decided, what the heck. One little walk. How long can it take to walk around the park?

A very long time, apparently.

I started by going into the courtyard, something I seldom do because I still feel like it isn't my yard to walk in, and I smelled the ripening pears where they hung unblemished from the tree. Then I went across the yard to the extended care wing, because my neighbour told me today that there is a chapel in there that we can use, and I wanted to check it out. I eventually found a way in, and was shown the way to the chapel (no holy water in the fonts!) where I spent a few minutes looking around and then sitting quietly. Unfortunately sitting did not help my nausea, so I travelled on.

Out to the front boulevard where the bus was pulling out with residents seated, on their way to some adventure. Past the gardeners mowing lawns and bagging up leaves. Off the sidewalk and onto fresh green grass, speckled with late flowering plants. I was already in a different world. Such a pretty park, undulating up from one playing field to another, gulls squawking as they landed on the towering playing-field lamps. The upper field extends out to a lane behind a row of houses, several with old garages or tiny caravans. Tall trees grow across the rising land from west to east, and more fringe the fields. In the lower part of the park on the eastern side, instead of a playing field there are well-ripened, raised community garden beds. I walked among them to enjoy the company of the plants and earth and wood and string, making mental notes of things I might do in my own garden next spring.

A hummingbird, smaller than an Anna's so I am guessing a Rufous, landed in a sunflower next to me. When the hummingbird left a chickadee took its place, burrowing its face into the seedhead for a coveted treat. Mental note: plant sunflowers. I don't want to eat them necessarily, but I do want birds in my yard.

One of the plots belongs to a Montessori school group--a new revelation. The Italian Cultural Centre is not only responsible for starting the community garden (whose first rule is "Be excellent with each other") but it has a Montessori school (0-grade 7) within its walls.

Having spent this wonder-filled time in the park, I was feeling less sick. I stopped a woman to ask if she recognized the structure I was looking at. Was it a kiln? Was it a pizza oven? (It was a pizza oven.) She had just picked up her Fresh Roots vegetables for the week from the Italian Cultural Centre. These are grown by students at Van Tech, just up the street. You pay in January and pick up your veg all summer long (till 10 October). The kids are totally into it and she figured it worked out to about $20 a week for veg. Not organic, she thought. But good. She also buys her grains from a farm in Agassiz--whole, organically grown grains--on the same basis: pay in January, pick up through the summer. If the farmer loses the whole crop to bad weather, you lose your contribution. Fair enough. (This applies in all three cases. Makes the whole food thing more real, it seems to me.) She has the same deal with a woman at Trout Lake Farmer's Market. Unfortunately my memory couldn't hold all of that.

By the time we were done talking I felt gross again. But I still took time to look at Women’s Work : Reflections upon the History of Women in Textile, the exhibition on at the museum in the Italian Cultural Centre from 12 September to 30 December. There are a couple of pieces I quite like, and most of them I at least enjoyed contemplating. And a few more minutes to peek in at the Bocce rink and the Osteria (both closed) at the Centre. This is such a happening place, and so much of it comes down to the Italian Cultural Centre. Who'd have thunk it?

So here I am. Feeling vile and not having accomplished a thing today, with those deadlines not getting any further away. But what a lovely walk I had, and how amazing to live in such a place, where there is beauty right outside, and so many threads between the people here--a real community.

Image result for "beaconsfield park" vancouver

Images: Beaconsfield Park, City of Vancouver site.
Il Forno Community Oven, Italian Cultural Centre site.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Minstrel, Play Those Gay Melodies

Yesterday I heard in my head a song I knew in the '70's. (Gather round, ye young ones!)

When I was a child the word homosexual was loaded with bad associations. Homosexuals (all of whom seemed to be men) were either bad, evil, or mentally ill; either way, they were not people anyone knew or sympathized with, let alone people any of us might be. Love songs were exclusively about heterosexual love. The gay world, once learned of, was portrayed in depressing movies like The Boys in the Band (which I got my mum to take me to at twelve years of age--Dad refused to drive us so we took the bus).

My interest in the subject eventually revealed itself to be more personal than theoretical. This complicated matters a great deal.

It was a lonely, scary, dangerous time, and opportunities for connection were very rare.

Then 1977 came along. I moved back to Vancouver from Ontario and discovered the women's movement, and a little known (entirely unknown outside of that community) record company called Olivia Records. They were women musicians and music producers, and feminists, and mostly lesbian.* For the first time in my life I heard songs--wonderful, often beautiful songs--celebrating women loving women. They touched my heart. They enshrined my identity as a meaningful, real, creative, joyous, worthwhile thing. And very rarely, they were really funny.

Such was this song, one of the two or three from that era that returns now and then and whispers in my ear.

Ladies, gentlemen, and humans of other gender identities, I give you Meg Christian’s "Here Come The Lesbians."

Finally, I'd like to offer you a more recent rendition of thesong, introduced warmly with some of the history I am touching on here and participated in enthusiastically by the attending crowd.

Enjoy, my friends. For we are all one.

*At the time, you were either one or the other. Bisexuals, once they surfaced onto my radar, were generally held in low esteem by gays and lesbians and were seen by most of the straight community either as untouchables, like homosexuals, or as kinky sexual opportunities. So I assumed I must be a lesbian, and over time had to go through an even more painful second coming-out, as bisexual. Bisexuals REALLY weren't okay among lesbian feminists. They slept with the enemy. They were blamed for AIDS. I lost a whole community when I came out as bisexual, which had not happened when I came out as a lesbian.

Related Article: "How Should We Archive the Soundtrack to 1970s Feminism?" by Bonnie J. Morris, Smithsonian Magazine, March 30 2018.
Image: Casey in 1977 (ish), by Vida Boyd Kindon.

Friday, 10 August 2018

On the Verge

This may be the last post I write about moving. (Although it may well not be--such is the enormity of this transition in my scale of things.)

My ex's--my dear, dear friend's--father died this week. I have spent several days with him upmost in my mind, and yesterday we gathered around his funeral in the Jewish cemetery in White Rock where Susan's mother is buried, and we acknowledged and honoured his life and the emotion of those who loved him most. We returned to Susan's to eat and talk. We took breaks, more people came and others left. We ate more, and prayed the Kaddish.

Though I have seen him little in the last several years, Susan's father has been a nearly daily part of my life as I listened to her tales and heard her struggles in supporting a spirited, stubborn man who was in his hundredth year when he died. Now he is dead, and while the prayers continue, and the legal and practical work awaits, there is something gone from our lives that will never be again. There is, amidst the clatter of dishes and the singing of psalms, a silence profound and permanent. Philip is gone. Susan's parent is no more.

In the face of this, my own transition seems small, and yet for me it is substantial. In two days the contents of the garden will in large part be moved, and three days later everything else I own will begin to find its way to my new home. It will take years to sort it out, I'm sure. But not so terribly long to make the bed, put the toothbrush in its holder, figure out where to put my books.

In both of these transitions, people have gathered. Not dozens, not hundreds, not necessarily the ones we might have expected in every case. But they have come together although they did not have to and have made what seemed impossible something of beauty and gratitude.

One friend who joined in the first round of moving (to the place I never quite moved into), had not been in touch for years. But somehow I thought, what the heck, and asked, and he came, girlfriend in tow. Another brand new friend who is helping--boyfriend in tow--is the woman who is moving into my old dear apartment. How amazing is that?

Two of my nephews, my friends, people I see seldom, people I see often--one woman I have not seen in forty years, but she is coming with her truck, and we can smile at each other again.

This is community. We can feel so damned alone sometimes, can feel and be isolated, can feel and be imperfect friends. And then some huge transition comes along, cancer, or childbirth, or moving, or death, and suddenly we see reflected in the faces around us the love they feel, the generosity they hold, the meaning of people living our lives together in a difficult world.

I am grateful. I am profoundly moved. (I hope I don't really take years to unpack everything.)

The blessings of this rich and varied life, revealed once more.

Friday, 6 July 2018

The Ever-Sad Thrill of Death

Saman Kunan

Each time I hear about the diver who died after bringing O2 to the kids in the Thai cave yesterday I feel so sad. 

I live in Vancouver, BC. In our province we have many high mountains and rushing rivers, snowfields and waterfalls. We rest against a broad ocean and there are endless tracks in our forests. Ten minutes from the city you can go off the trail for an adventure and find yourself hopelessly lost.

Three young adventurers, who made their living filming themselves doing daring thngs in nature, died this week in falls I have camped near several times. Their friends and families are mourning and in shock. When these things happen, as they do so very often here, amongst the tears I hear expressions meant to console--that they died doing something they loved.

Saman Kunan died because a group of children, led by an adult, went on an extremely dangerous lark as the result of a dare. He may have been doing something he loved, but he wasn't doing it for fun, and he wasn't risking other people's lives to enjoy himself.

He isn't the first rescuer to die in the attempt of saving other lives.

I didn't know Saman or his family but I am feeling grief for him which is accentuated by years of hearing stories like this on the radio, over and over again, of people going unprepared into the backcountry or of difficult, heroic attempts to peel daredevils off of cliff-faces. I do also grieve for the young people who have not yet learned that they aren't invulnerable, whose joy in their strength and physicality and the thrill of risk is not tempered by sufficient belief that staying alive is thrilling, too. It was one year ago to the day from the death of the three vloggers at Shannon Falls that the young Irish footballer, David Gavin, drowned when he dove into the churning waters of a river near Golden, BC. He knew he could handle it. They knew they could handle it.

What is my point? That people shouldn't take risks? That we should leave them to it if they do stupid things that risk their lives and our own?

I don't know that I have a point, actually. Sometimes when I hear these things, some guy in flip flops who decided to leave the designated trails and ends up with a three day all out search through the mountainside, I get huffy like my parents would and grumble, "Leave him up there! Make him pay for the rescue!" and other such sympathetic things. So sure, the sheer waste of it angers me, too.

But right now I'm overwhelmingly sad. Sad at a world where peoples en masse are facing abuse and death trying to escape their violent and impoverished homelands. Sad at a world where men like he-who-shall-not-be-named are doing everything they can to roll back the rights of the environment and the humans who dwell in it. Sad at young people who throw their lives and those of their rescuers away for a thrill.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

The Grand Old Lollipop of Life

How long has it been since I announced my new home? Six days? Well--surprise! I'm moving somewhere else.

You will remember that I had some regrets about the new place, mixed in with the relief and happiness I felt at finally putting my search to rest. I was happy about the mountains, and the sky, and the light. I loved the people at Anavets, Beth especially, who runs the office, and Ruby, her boss, but even the residents seemed sweet to me. I was thrilled that I could have an animal, if I chose to. But the size of the place was yet smaller than my own, with no balcony or patio, no garden, and reduced privacy. I was ready to make that compromise, and knew I could be happy there, but I was sad to say goodbye to my plants and the ability to fling open my door and just be outside. (There is only a small window to open there, though there is a larger non-opening window.

Well, I was very unexpectedly offered an apartment at the place I have been going back to every two or three months, pestering the manager and over time discovering what a lovely woman she is. The new place is a small one bedroom, with lots of cupboard and closet space, more privacy, spacious kitchen and bathroom (compared to most you'll find in tiny apartments, that is), a patio, and my own private garden. It is run by an Italian organization and is reminiscent of the Roman villas, with a courtyard in the centre--but not a paved, desolate coutryard, a grassy, treed yard with a small gazebo for barbecues and vegetable plots for the residents. And it is joined to an extended care home so once we get too rickety to take care of ourselves, we can move next door and not be separated entirely from our homes once more.

Before I left Erminia, I gathered my courage and asked if there might be a place there where I could plant my magnolia, because I didn't want to leave it behind to be mowed over when the building comes down. She was very understanding that I might want to keep this friend nearby, and said we would try to fit it in outside my place, and if not, in the central yard!!!

I am astonished. Shocked and gobsmacked and shaken and thrilled. There is only one sad note: no pets. I hadn't decided that I would get an animal, but I had a very good cry as I contemplated never ever having one again. I am lucky that I get to walk Susan's dog, Juniper. And that I get a cuddle now and then from Joani's kitty, my nephew, Albert.

Life continues to amaze me. I cannot believe I have obtained such a beautiful home. There is artwork in the hallways! And I'm halfway to making my first friend there--Dee, the woman whose place I will be taking. She is moving down the hall to a larger, more mobility-impaired-friendly apartment.

It has been an exhausting, horribly frightening two years (minus a month) since I first learned our building had sold. I have hit the depths on more than one occasion as I considered the housing situation in Vancouver and how unlikely it would be that I would end up somewhere I really liked. But I held out, and now I have three apartments in my possession, two of which I am in the process of giving up. (THAT was one of the hardest phone calls I've ever made--to tell Beth at Anavets, the wonderful, welcoming woman who rented me that lovely tiny home, that although I haven't even entirely moved in yet, I'm moving out.)

They say you should count your blessings. I have been doing that a lot today. An unbelievable number of wonderful things are stuffed into my own little, shivery life. For that I give enormous thanks.