Sovember

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It’s already the end of November! That means so many things.

First, it means I get paid, but that happens twice every month. It’s hardly remarkable, then, and especially since so much of it is being withdrawn for my rent.

Second, it means as of tomorrow Christmas things are allowed, under my father’s house rules. But, second-dot-one, it means as of tomorrow my parents acquire a new house, so they probably have higher priorities than Christmas lights, baking, and decorations.

Third, it means my brother is shaving tomorrow. I bet his girlfriend is enthused.

Fourth, it means what was already a consumer-heavy November is going to grow into a holiday shopping frenzy. I’m not braving the malls if I don’t have to, but there are ceaseless reminders in the form of advertisements that not only ’tis the season, but that it’s a MUCH BIGGER holiday shopping season than ever. It’s no coincidence that our city saw hyped-up grand openings of Victoria’s Secret and Ikea in this past month. People were camping out overnight to shop for Scandanavian companions to their Allen keys, and it may continue to take that dedication and persistence to shop there at any point in the next month if you hope to get in and out of the store within shopping hours.

I was originally going to write of this in a post about the overexcited feeling of validation these stores seem to bring upon people, that it’s only now they’re here we live in a real city. But no, that’s not the source of this annoying disgrace. It’s just this time of year.

The Grass is Greener Lifestyle Dilemma

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When I was in elementary school, I had an active imagination. That imagination led me to pretend my classroom was a workplace and my bedroom was an apartment, and I was an adult. Now, of course, I wish I could be in elementary school again because that shit was easy, yo.

Even when I was in university, with a flexible schedule and only 15 hours of in-class time each week, I longed for a future that didn’t require studying and writing papers in off-hours to be coordinated with a part-time job that took evenings and weekends in a varying schedule. That, and I wanted a real income.

When I finished university, I got a shitty job with varying shifts that included evenings and weekends. It met my ambitions in striving for mediocrity for my early-to-mid-20s with just enough pay to get by. Working at that job motivated me to strive for a regular day job so I could have evenings and weekends off.

But now I have that. There is so much that is lost to previous schedules when I could occasionally fit something into the morning or afternoon. Now I have to worry about how my own business hours mirror those of other places, meaning I can’t arrange convenient times for things, or avoid busy crowds by going places when most other people are at work. While I didn’t make much money during university most of it was spending money, and I at least had more flexibility in choosing what I wanted to do when, even with my classes. The length of the working day at my shitty job was shorter, meaning I earned less money but had more time. I got to spend more time at home when working that job, even if my apartment was shitty because my rent budget was lower.

Part of my current time problem is I take the long way home every day, because I don’t work as close to my apartment as I would ideally wish. But having been unemployed for many months of the past few years I know what the alternative is – having so much time but no money to spend, as well as no other purpose to justify getting up in the morning except to look for jobs. On these winter mornings when I have to get out of bed when it’s still dark, and it’s so much colder above the blankets than underneath, so I do think back to when I slept in every morning. I think back to that whenever there’s something I need to do or want to be able to do for things outside of work, but I know it isn’t feasible. When I was unemployed I want what I have now, with perhaps an hour of the time it takes up shaved off, but I shouldn’t be complaining.

Most of the time I’ve been satisfied with where I am, with my schedule and my purpose and my lifestyle as a whole. I think the winter months are getting to me, that I have to get out of a warm bed and that it’s dark by the time that I leave. I wish that I could get more bang for my buck with the rent that I pay by spending more time at home, so any other commitment that I have feels like a burden taking away value from what I have no choice but to pay for. I wish I worked in my community so I could enjoy it more, like that brief period when I could, in fact, walk home for lunch every day. But I suppose if my mid-20s ambition was for a mediocre job and little disposable income, my late-20s ambition shouldn’t yet reach for the stars. I have my 30s to look forward to for that.

The Future Portrait of the Present

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E-mails are so simple and accessible that they are mostly shallow and meaningless in the long term. Most of my job works around sending and receiving e-mails. This is largely because computer files can be attached, which at least adds purpose and utility, and passing on small amounts of information is simply the most practical option over picking up the phone. Then there’s the “conversation” closer that comes after passing on those small amounts of information that’s simply “Thanks.”

I’m Canadian, my clients are Canadian, and that’s just what we say in our polite and humble giant country. It’s professional and it’s courteous and it’s respectful, and those are all important things in an economy based on service. But the e-mail itself, containing information below that’s already stored elsewhere, but with a simple one-word message not of substance to the overall product of the business relationship, is useless. It’s sent out of an expected level of courtesy, but it’s only expected because it’s so easy.

I received a Christmas card from my grandfather with a cheque and a letter. The letter explained why he sent the cheque in spite of my campaign to end Giftmas. He wrote of understanding my reasoning and respecting my initiative, but he chooses to continue doing this. He’s been suggested to stop this before, by his companion or whatever you may call her, because she thinks his grandchildren are ungrateful and that he should be spending all of his money on himself. Leaving out all personal biases towards the source of this sentiment and the latter of its two justifications, there is supporting evidence for the lack of gratitude. We’ve fallen out of the habit of writing him back thank-you letters.

I broke that streak for my past birthday and wrote him a thank-you letter. I included general updates on my life as a whole. Grandparents tend to want to know these things, after all, and if I don’t like how the message is getting distorted in the game of telephone through my mother who passes it onto my aunt before it reaches his ears, I might as well cut out the middle(wo)men.

There are billions of e-mails sent every day. Historians of the future, if electronic records are sustained, will have too much useless bullshit to sift through to get a real grasp of the social history of our time as communicated in writing between regular people. Letters are such a rich primary resource for academic pursuits for the past; they are a path to follow, with exact dates attached, that can span across countries and continents and cultures. They used to be written by the privileged literate elite, and now that our developed societies have nearly universal literacy one may think that the magnitude of information to sift through would deter historians from pursuing this source of research. But even history of the last century where literacy was high and letters were common for nearly everyone is researched through records of personal correspondence. Soldiers in the two World Wars writing to their wives, political prisoners or refugees in exile writing to the colleagues they aren’t free to see, family members keeping in touch as one embarks on a path in step with a broader social movement – these are all rich sources of data for social historians and it’s worthwhile tapping into the forests worth of paper to find them.

Paper is at least sorted differently from electronic mail, and not password protected. We throw out flyers and file our bills or financial statements until we decide to shred them. If we still wrote to each other socially by mail, to make it worth the postage we would write rich in content, and we should consider it worth keeping these letters so they can appreciate in value over time. It’s a self-filtering process, to have letters that will appreciate in value kept separate and more accessible than dull daily business.

My grandfather grew up in the era when social correspondence was still on paper, and when it was at its peak. He was a youth in the war years, with two brothers flying war planes in European skies, who never made it back home. Paper correspondence was the only practical means of keeping in touch when family was an ocean away, and the very real chance of never seeing them again face to face made such communication infinitely more important. The value of mail is mostly lost on people in this era, because when we write to people we write shallow surface e-mails of little bits of transactional information, or mere formalities of etiquette. Texts are only so long, tweets are only so long, and Facebook posts are, well, just there to put on a face and not much of sincere personal interaction. But having those opportunities to communicate little by little breaks down the long form that contains comprehensive sentiments and experiences. Without letters sent or personal diaries kept in the way they were for the past few hundred years we are erasing our present from the future.

I don’t know if my grandfather keeps the letters I’ve sent him over the years – and since I can’t remember what I may have written as a child part of me hopes he hasn’t – but I’d rather put myself in a position to get strange looks from people for saying I still write letter mail, because I would give them strange looks back. Maybe that would get the gears rolling in their heads that there is a long-term purpose to this, and maybe our era too dense in information will leave a trail of usable stories that serve a better purpose in the future than what’s encoded in 1’s and 0’s. Historians will know that when they see a paper kept in its original but opened envelope that the content matters more than just a hollow one-word “Thanks.”

(Side note: somewhat hypocritically to this, I recently came across and discarded an elaborate collection of notes we used to pass around in class in high school. To be fair, the quality of substance in them was questionable at best, as it was mostly drawings of genitalia and writing the variety of their corresponding formal or colloquial words. I’m not going to draw a bunch of penises and mail it to my grandfather…unless there’s a really, really important reason.)

The Spirit of Giving

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I’ve eliminated “Christmas”. I won’t be buying gifts beyond simple stocking stuffers for family this year because we’re adults. It becomes a mixture of risk of getting the wrong thing, and having to gamble on whether something will be of equal or greater value to what that person gets me. We’re adults now; if we don’t have the means to get the things we want, that’s our responsibility. And the materialism of gift-giving is a known evil. We should be honest, and say it’s pointless to continue buying into this lie of presents being at the heart of the holiday spirit.

This frees up a few hundred bucks. I don’t really need anything with that saved money. What I want should be spaced out over time, if I want to take higher ground. What is there to do, then, with money?

  • The “Rolling Jubilee” movement, started by the Occupy Wall Street collective. This is donating money to buy debt from lenders for a lower price than was originally lent – because they are guaranteed a minor payoff as opposed to the debtor going into bankruptcy – and forgiving that debt. The kind of debts purchased are student loans or medical bills, highlighting things that are basic parts of civilized societies and yet drive people into financial ruin. Donating even $20 can relieve sufferers of hundreds of dollars owed.
  • Local charities. To make up for my lack of acting on an obvious solution to a person’s obvious need with last week’s jacket fiasco, I need to kick myself in the ass and ensure the basics are met for the people who live around me. Winter wear, food, and funding for shelters are obvious needs that nobody in a wealthy society like Canada should have unfulfilled. A jacket is the ounce of prevention.
  • International charities. Even other wealthy countries, like the US, have their people-in-need, like the New York/New Jersey victims of Superstorm Sandy. Girls’ education in misogynistic societies like areas of Pakistan where an outspoken girl named Malala got shot in the head for advocating for girls’ right to go to school. There are unfortunately no shortages of injustice or suffering, and as my extended health insurance paid entirely for a new set of contact lenses I have doubly no excuse to pretend I’m blind.
  • Microloans. As implied in the first point, I find the financial sector is loaded with bullshit and it’s unhealthy to put people in deep and haunting debt – but that $50 can turn around a family’s life across the world, and will be returned for me to lend again is a far superior financial system to bring poorer families in poorer countries to prosperity. An added benefit is that this empowers mostly women, who are often neglected by resources in their home country on the path to a thriving economy.

I’m still going to spend on myself. All of these only call for modest individual contributions. The back-patting is only secondary to visible differences as movements are recorded through mass media, through continued personal involvement, or through changes in immediate surroundings. I’m writing this not asking for advice on which to choose because I should contribute to all. It’s just more of a kick in the ass to put it out there that I acknowledge charity I can give. Enforce me to live up to this.

Snow Angel of Mercy

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There was a “snow storm” all weekend, which really means a straight 24-36 hours of light snow, leaving at least one foot deep on the ground. When I went out for the first time after most of it had fallen, I fell on my back and made a snow angel in an untouched surface parking lot. It was the weekend; no one was parked there and it hadn’t been plowed yet. I wanted to make a statement about what flat land should be used for – fun. If you insist on paving over fun, at least build a couple extra levels connected by ramp so space can be saved elsewhere for fun.

I made another snow angel on my soon-to-not-be-my-parents’ front yard (more to come on that later) as kind of an homage to a childhood there. Walking the dogs through nearly pure, fresh snow was also a welcoming celebration of winter, because any dog with a decent coat deserves winter. Dogs in snow is one of the most fun things I can imagine. (Well, excluding a particular “fun” category…)

The downside of winter came on my walk to work this morning. Speeding cars down mucky roads splashed me with street slush twice – my pants, my coats, my bags – and I would’ve sacrificed my coffee and travel mug to break a windshield if it were logistically possible. (Speed and direction don’t cooperate with this plan.) A two-foot length of sidewalk is cut off by barriers: SIDEWALK CLOSED PLEASE USE OTHER SIDE, which would require me crossing six lanes of traffic twice. I walked around that sign, through the two-foot high unplowed hill of snow that surrounded it, out of spite and principle. I nearly fell. It wasn’t as fun or glorious as making a snow angel, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Despite the cold and the short days, snow makes winter the wonderland it’s called in song. I will make snowmen this year, which I haven’t done for possibly a couple of decades, and I will toboggan down man-made hills. It’s not the weather that makes a Prairie Winter unbearable; it’s the people complaining, the people rushing to shop for the holidays, and the people hiding in their mobile shells dirtying the roads and, evidently, people without mobile shells walking alongside them. I will take on the challenge of sticking to my guns, to my principles, if not to show people it’s possible to walk in snow and cold, then to gain notoriety in being that girl on the sidewalk who mouths off (and possibly throws snowballs) at cars. And for the snow angels. Definitely more snow angels.

Lessons in Personal Hypocrisy

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I started off today, a day of such political importance, being very selfish in a hypocritical, antithetical way to my beliefs.

At the bus stop, in the small shelter, a woman wearing a white t-shirt in weather that was a mixture of snow and frozen rain, tried talking to me when I had ear phones in and music playing. I paused the music. She asked for the time. I turned my music back on. She started talking to me again. She asked what street we were on. I kept my music on pause. She then asked if I had any drugs for her. I said no. A moment after, she walked away.

Here’s where I was selfish. Right before she walked away, it hit me that I was wearing two jackets – a winter coat for the wind chill on the outside, and a hooded jacket underneath for the rain and snow. I was going to take a bus. I could’ve sacrificed the hooded jacket, one I bought four years ago for $20.

But I didn’t and she had left. She clearly had larger problems than not having a jacket, but everybody in zero-degree weather deserves one.

I’m thinking I should donate this jacket, or another $20 one just like it, to a shelter. Winter is coming and it should be a human right for anyone living in a society of this climate to have a jacket to keep them warm.

Democracy for 300 Million, Future for 7 Billion

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Americans:

You’re the butt of so many international jokes, but it’s because you’re so important internationally. This is moreso for Canada than any other nation, reasons obvious. Your elections, then, are fundamental influences on the direction of the world.

Whom you vote for is important, even though the range of your two-party system is so narrow compared to elsewhere in the world. But it is the function of your democracy that needs to maintain an international example. As flawed as your electoral system is, and as ridiculously ignorant as many of your voters are, the very act of voting is crucial for all citizens to perform.

I have many dear friends living in the United States, whom I care for tremendously. I want their freedoms protected without excuses for “security”. I want their healthcare to be accessible with little financial worry. I want their friends and family safe at home and not needlessly in danger overseas. I want them to be respected for who they are in their hearts, minds, souls, and bodies. I want them to have opportunity, to have choice, and to have confidence.

I want everyone in the world to have those things. I want everyone in the world to have their societies ruled by democratic, rational-legal authority as Max Weber called it. All of these things start at individuals going to the polls.

Whether your preferred candidate will inevitably win in your state, or the other mainstream candidate will, or your third-party candidate of choice has no chance – in all cases, go out and vote. With that attitude, that sense of civic obligation gone, the future will be used and abused by people other than you, and that is the future of worldwide civilizations. As I wrote earlier, I’m geographically removed from all sorts of places at risk of damaging change, but I still care on a fundamental level of humanity, and we all should. The very act of voting, no matter whom for, is expressing that care.

So please, if you haven’t in advance, vote tomorrow. Just vote.