2013: Self-Centred Edition

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Forget the overthrow of governments and the passings of some of the most influential world leaders of the 20th century – what about the milestones and transformations in MY life that happened this year?

1) I now run sometimes. This started some time in April to balance the renewal of alcohol consumption in my life with something healthier, and I’ve managed to continue it, more or less, to this very very VERY cold day. It’s the healthiest way I’ve been able to turn my self-hatred against itself and I plan on continuing for as long as my feet work. (How long that would be is always up in the air.)

2) I have another dress. It’s a bridesmaid’s dress, but I’ve already worn it a second time (less than a week after the wedding no less) so it’s not as much of a waste as other special occasion dresses. It’s hard to find opportunities to wear it, though, when the fanciest thing I do is drink by myself in my own apartment in the middle of the afternoon.

3) I’ve now been to Ottawa and Montreal. I feel like one of the last people I know to have gone to those places. The first one thoroughly reinforced my jaded attitude towards the façade of colonial nationalism. The second one got me good and drunk the French Canadian way.

4) My hair colour changed – or rather, reverted back to more or less its natural colour. Its natural colour would be if I bleached every 8th strand to pure whiteness, but I did enough damage to it to keep it blonde for the first eight months of this year so I think I’ll stick to darkness for a while. That I went blonde to begin with was one of the marvel achievements of 2012, along with sitting on a plane for the first time in four years and drinking enough to swear it off for months.

5) I got a new job. This has greatly improved my quality of life, though far from perfection it remains. I have far more time, make more money, and no longer want to walk into traffic.

6) Although the rest of these more or less go chronologically, and in that order this should go at the beginning, I’m saving it for the end. I lost my 20s. I don’t know where they went. Bits and pieces are scattered everywhere. Half of it was sold off at the end of 2012. Some of it is scattered throughout Europe and the American South. A bit of it is also lost on an island off the West Coast. Some of it is across the street from me, but I can’t go back to collect it. Other parts are short walks away but I’d rather never go those places again. A few years of it I get to keep at home with me. Some of it is trapped in limbo where places now torn down used to be. But a bit of it, just a little bit of it that was intentionally the soberest part, gets to be frozen in the history of 2013. I’m actually largely okay with that. My 30s are the ages I was looking forward to for all of my 20s. So far they’re only mildly disappointing. It turns out I still feel like a child who’s been able to fool people into thinking I’m an adult. It’s just more convincing now without a 2 in my age.

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Year in Review

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The year started off on a very sober note. Literally. Just a few days before the end of 2012 I swore off alcohol until my 30s due to a Christmas of competitive drinking with a cousin who inherited the same strong British liver I did. Conveniently my 30s were less than four months away, but that was still a notable period of time to live through a goal like that.

The roughest times to be sober were casual, like after curling Friday nights until March. Those were the last opportunities to order beer from the bartender in the lounge upstairs who often wore black vests and bowties that looked very out of place. The social and cultural nature of consuming alcohol stood out this whole time, rather than physical or psychological dependence on its effects. I can safely say I’m not medically an alcoholic nor do I rely on it as an emotional crutch, as there were very trying times in that initial four month period that alcohol wouldn’t have helped.

General depression is always a minor buzz in the back of my mind – the noise kind, not the feel-good variety that I still had caffeine to depend on when drinking was on pause. There’s always that desire for what’s just out of reach; something internal about myself; a nirvana that’s never achieved. A more specific situational depression affected me greatly throughout the first two-thirds of the year. I was in a dead-end job that sucked the life out of me and took up far more of my time than it was worth without any purpose to buffer the sacrifice. I broke down, almost ready to step onto the highway into speeding traffic outside, and within weeks of that I quit. I got a new job, with much better circumstances than the one before.

The year was filled with extreme highs and deep lows. I mean this literally, in the meteorological sense. For a few weeks in the summer temperatures consistently reached close to 40°C at the hour I trekked on foot for 45 minutes to get home. I sought brief refuge from local weather conditions with a week-long trip to Ottawa-Montreal, where the weather was just as bad and I spent much longer walking much more in strange places. On the other severely frozen side of the coin, the past few weeks have consistently reached -40°C at all hours of the day and I’m frankly quite sick of it. It takes a lot to get me to complain about the cold, because at least my apartment has heat (to regulatory standards) and I can add more and more layers as needed. But really, if I can’t walk to far away lands or run around the block – and I have put myself through cold hell to do that this year – it’s too much.

Running was my way of turning negative traits against themselves for a positive outcome. I’ve never liked running, but I have enough self-loathing to turn that into a cycle of spite. Don’t feel like running today? Fuck you, you don’t deserve the fucking luxury of sloth. I’m still not very good, but I have improved. I just wish it weren’t too cold to bother trying right now so I can keep it up for the winter without having to go indoors.Beartato x 2

Major things happened around me. I eventually gave up on blonde. I failed to meet certain goals. People are racist and governments are frauds. I’m still too cowardly to draw comics.

But there’s a lot more Beartato around me now.

Where the River Meets the Sea

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On vinyl since before I was born, my family had the John Denver and the Muppets record. When we upgraded to the 90s we bought it again on CD. It’s been an important part of the season throughout my life – as has the Muppet franchise as a whole.

Sesame Street is virtually a universal experience for North American children, so of course it started there. I grew up when Fraggle Rock was first aired. My parents were fans of the initial Muppet Show series in the 1970s and exposed us to the show, which helped give context for the characters in the few movies that came out in the 1980s for us. It was a major part of my upbringing, like Kids in the Hall but age-appropriate.

When Jim Henson died I was 7 years old. It was my first crushing experience with the concept of mortality, the first one that really sunk in. But as time went on – as Sesame Street continued and more movies were made – it helped my developing mind build the concept of immortality as well. Creative works remain posthumously to the creator, and legacies of the exceptionally affecting entertainers collectively live on. Even being commercialized and owned by Disney hasn’t ruined the value it played in my life.

This Christmas my sister drew my name from a hat for Secret Santa. She bought me the recently published biography of Jim Henson. It made me cry to open the gift, and will doubtless do so even more as I read it. It was not just the entertainment value of the shows, music, and movies that meant a lot, but the ideologies it portrayed. The values of those creatively responsible for entertainment are entrenched in the final product. Getting to know the life story of a remarkable influence will expose just how much of my grasp of the world, of consciousness, of purpose, and of morality aligns with what entertained my growing mind.

Secret Santa exchanges can leave you with challenges on what to buy, but I’m pretty sure my sister knew what to get me right off the top.

One Giant Leap for Womankind

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The title is an exaggeration – this doesn’t apply to the majority of women (and we should be glad for that), but it applies to the underlying misogyny that can affect any woman at any point in her life. It’s using sex as a means to dehumanize, for perverse reasons of power.

I’ve fallen far behind in catching up with Boardwalk Empire and I don’t know when, or if, I’m going to get back on that track. But the theme of the show – of the era of Prohibition in the United States of America and the way it enabled criminals and made alcohol problems worse – is relevant to this, just as it’s relevant to anti-drug laws. If you ban taboo behaviour you put it in the same arena as outright criminal, like violence and extortion and child abuse. Legalized alcohol means the industry is visible and can be regulated for quality control, and age restrictions can be imposed. If drugs were legalized the income made from them could be taxed, and the purchasing of them could also be taxed to contribute to social programs or law enforcement to control the damage substance use can inflict.

Now onto sex work. “Legalize. Unionize. Regulate. Tax.” I translated my stance on this to those four words a few years ago, as both what should change and in what order. The Supreme Court of Canada ruling against existing laws enforceable in the sex trade gives the Canadian government one year to revamp them into ways that aren’t contrary to the legal framework of Canada including its guaranteed freedoms and human rights codes.

First of all: brothels are illegal. Brothels are organized and contained environments in which the sex trade can be facilitated, and they can provide safer environments both for clients and for professionals. If brothels are legalized in the first step, the workers in them can unionize to ensure that they have a say in the conditions of their work. Their union can also work in conjunction with the brothel employers to provide benefits and services crucially needed by people currently involved in the illicit sex trade – addictions services, legal counsel to go through effective avenues of getting abusive people out of their lives, and family care services among many more useful resources to workers in the industry. Brothels are centralized and can be more easily regulated. Both clients and workers can be required to go through screening processes for health reasons to minimize risks that are hugely present in the illegal sex trade. Age limits can be better enforced when adults can work there legally. And prices can be controlled as well – much like with alcohol and cigarettes (and marijuana and perhaps other drugs if our governments get any sense knocked into them over the next five or ten years), imposing a vice tax on the services can generate valuable revenue to fund law enforcement against what will still be illegal. Sex crime enforcement can be better funded and focused on what are serious problems – child abuse, sexual assault, enslavement, human trafficking, and the rest of the array of crimes that are illegal in their own right outside of regulated sex work.

The world’s oldest profession is a tool of misogyny if it is illegal. Women’s sexuality is governed by the taboo, yet men can participate in these activities without any emasculation because much like in having a faithful wife and chaste daughters it is controlling the body and sexuality of a female as a practice of male power. That women’s groups are speaking against this ruling is surprising to me: feminists should unite in giving dignity to all women and not chastising those who by choice or necessity make their living from sexual services and skills. Male prostitutes can also assert their dignity when their practice is legitimized under the law. They often have the same problems of drug abuse and mental illness brought about by their own persecutions – perhaps by sexuality, by race, or by family abuse. They too are victims of the patriarchy, of being dominated by other men as a means of emasculation and establishment of power.

Lastly, and I will try to keep this contained into a few sentences as it’s a giant issue deeply and complexly woven into Canadian society and elsewhere in the colonized world, there is the contribution this can make to racial equality as well. Sex workers are disproportionately people of colour, of groups subjugated to dehumanizing abuse on a grand unspoken scheme. This is not by things inherent in their own cultures separate from the white supremacy that colonialism imposed. Part of the unionizing and regulating of a legal sex trade should involve supporting ways out of the business for people who never wished to work there. When it’s still illegal and conducted through organized crime, sex workers are prisoners; and much like in actual prisons, it’s very racially skewed. Support equality for sex workers. Support equality for all.

The Mob of Social Media

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Justine Sacco. Privileged as white and wealthy (although she probably denies the second part). Travelling to South Africa and makes a poor taste racist joke about AIDS on Twitter. It goes – and I hesitate to use this word because I detest its use in this context AND it’s a pun in another – viral. She’s mocke and villified. Her employer takes her name off their website. A person looks for her after her flight (which people look up and track with #HasJustineLandedYet added for searchable vigilanteism) lands and takes photos of her at the airport on her phone, perhaps hearing this news. This has turned from calling out someone’s racism into ruining her life, into harassment and stalking.

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Worth it?

Creative People Stealing

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I don’t pay attention to most of pop culture – what a bad consumer I am – but I hear about things second hand. It comes with biased commentary, of course, but sometimes it seems…improbable I could sympathize with the other side.

Shia LeBeouf is a plagiarist. A short film he just made, Howard Cantour.com, is criticized as a nearly exact copy of the work of cartoonist and writer Daniel Clowes (of Ghost World fame). I don’t give a shit about either of those people so I don’t feel offended either way, but I have expressed objections to uncredited usage and plagiarism of artists’ work. Allegedly his apology was plagiarized too – saying that as a creative person he gets lost in the creative process and doesn’t realize he’s not creating. Bravo, guy who stumbled upon luck in Hollywood and wants to branch out.

Through social media I follow more independent artists than other entertainment personalities, so my perspective comes largely from a limited range of angles. However, I also happen to think it’s the most solid range of angles – the people who put daily effort into individual or small group creative pursuits and rely on that for a living. Their work is not so widely known that a large portion of the population would be able to spot theft so quickly. It’s also not so widely known that it’s immensely profitable, as so much of what comes from Hollywood and other entertainment marketing meccas is. The breadth of social media’s reach and speed of passing on information makes it easier for someone who does recognize the plagiarism to call the thief out on it and for word to spread about where it really came from. The other side of the coin is that social media spreads unattributed artwork like the plague, and if it doesn’t involve Shia LeBeouf the word that content was stolen might not reach most of the people who have been exposed to it as plagiarized material.

A friend of mine who works in academia shares stories of the number of student papers that fail a computer check of plagiarism – meeting levels of 80, 90, 100 per cent stolen content. Quoting sources will always put the percentage at a certain point, and some sentences will be identical by honest coincidence. (This has also happened in the web comic world when Nedroid Picture Diary repeated the basis of a joke that was already written in an xkcd comic some time before.) Some people are too naive or ignorant to know where the line of too much copying is drawn – but they have to learn bluntly by facing similar consequences to willful and knowing thieves. Fail them. Boycott their stolen work. Raise awareness of the problem.

I really don’t see how someone could take Shia’s side on this.

All Dried Up in There

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The will to write is inversely proportional to the will to live. Wait, that’s a terrible thing to say – it implies all people who write are miserable. The motivation to write is a deeply personal things. Some people need to be happy, or at least not at their rock bottom depression. Other people can’t write when moderately happy and kept fairly busy. Some people can’t help but write when they’re really REALLY happy as they have so much joy to spread with the world. Writing, in any case, is tied to somebody’s emotional state of being.

I can’t complain. It’s been witch’s-teet cold for the past few weeks spare yesterday when the temperature bounced up thirty degrees or so centigrade. Time has been moderately spent with family and friends and moderately spent alone, sometimes drinking alone and sometimes idly alone, but also sometimes productively and soberly alone so it’s a fair mix overall. Things are financially okay, I’ve been eating like it’s Christmas or something, and my health has been reasonable with my immune system overcoming seasonal challenges fairly well. Things are okay!

But the petty shit like buried family resentment that comes out more audibly as somewhat louder and more enunciated muttering around the holidays; like carrying sand and dirty footprints into the apartment from the plowed sidewalks; like still not being an expert at a job I only started months ago – this continues, but with enough contentness to not feel like writing about it. Writer and co-podcaster Mikey Neumann (@mikeyface) tweeted a BuzzFeed article that quotes one of his tweets this year about white people complaining about white people problems even though it was a benign sentence about his cable crapping out before something he wanted to watch. Apparently making small deals out of small problems reeks of entitlement and privilege. Perhaps I shouldn’t go there, then, as my tedious problems aren’t worthy of even micro-commentary let alone several paragraphs of blog space. (You do know that the internet is nearly infinite in its capacity for content, right BuzzFeed? I mean, you should; you post some of the most useless garbage on your own.)

I made a goal at the beginning of the year to write a certain number of posts that is just unattainable at this point. It’s entirely my fault, and I’m the only one to face any superficial consequences. I could make a similar goal for next year, to try to make up for this utter failure, but I can’t guarantee things will be either good enough or shitty enough to write. Even if things are that good or that shitty, it’s relative to my own motivation and what I have to say will be perhaps even more trite to others than predominant topics when my mood is middle ground, like my phone’s ever expanding malfunctions or how obnoxious it gets when people keep telling me I have to watch a TV series.

Like health goals, it shouldn’t be about the numbers – not about the pounds lost but about feeling good! Not about the posts written but about feeling inspired! But if I manage all my other tedious problems, feeling inspired doesn’t make it very high on that list. Keeping myself properly medicated is more important than frustration over the injustice of having a condition to begin with. Getting along with other people to lower my stress is a better route to take than complaining constantly about their chosen ignorance of world problems. Nights of solid sleep are more rewarding than keeping abreast of all the terrible news in this terrible world and picking it apart for the public to find in a corner of the internet where no one has any reason to go.

And I would hate to share these ways I address everyday problems as if I’m a self-help guru with something valuable to say. That is a contradiction of itself on the first level, and against so many of my principles on the next. Things are okay. No news is good news. Please keep your opinions on nothingness to yourself.