taking sides. part two.

Less than twenty four hours after I wrote a blog post about not taking sides, I’m going to take sides. I re-read my post and realized, with a small amount of horror, that some might view it as holding as possibility that I would side with an abuser. And that is so far from the truth. It was more of an attempt to get the people who were blindly siding with Jian Ghomeshi to stop, take a breather, and think for a second. But it didn’t totally come across that way and I apologize.

I am fully, truly, and with confidence taking the side of the women. I have eaten this story up, read articles, Twitter feeds, and blogs galore, trying to wrap my mind around where everyone’s opinion is at. I have always been interested in stories like this, regardless of who’s involved, more for the reaction of society than for the original actions of the accused. While the seriousness of allegations in cases like this cannot, and should not, be ignored – it is how the rest of us deem the situation that is nearly as equal to them in importance. This becomes even more true when one of the parties involved is well-known, much loved, and has built themselves on a persona completely opposite from what they have been accused of.

There were two posts that made me realize that I had to amend my post from yesterday: here and here. What they, and I, want to make clear is that what we believe we know about a person must be obliterated from our minds to objectively look at what is actually happening. In this case, Ghomeshi has been accused by not one but three women for physical and sexual abuse. I, along with many, had a hard time reconciling these accusations with the man I heard on the radio, the man who wrote the enjoyable 1982, the man who I assumed I knew despite not knowing him at all. But I cannot go on supporting someone or even remotely thinking he is innocent in this situation.

I referenced it briefly yesterday but I want to make something very clear: consent is not a one time deal. Consent is something that continues throughout your interaction, that can change at any time. If I say yes to something and then later said no, it not only should be, but must be, the latter statement that is respected. Especially in relations that are involving BDSM or any sort of rough sexual play this is crucial to understand. This is precisely why safe words, prior negotiation, and full understanding of your partner’s limits is of utmost importance.

And from the sounds of it, these three women agreed to these acts via text or email but reneged on that when things were rougher or not as desirable as they expected. This means there was no longer consent. This means that assault occurred.

Basically this is an apology and a final taking of sides. What Ghomeshi once was in my mind, he can never be again. And I hope, for once, that society will restore a little faith and not perpetuate the victim-blaming rape culture that has become all too prevalent especially in cases where celebrities are involved. We need to think about things rationally and understand that there are three women who have been violated, three women who were subjected to things they did not ask for, and that is what matters more than anything.

speculation, sexual assault, and taking sides.

Taking sides is a dangerous thing. The moment you have publicly declared your position on something, it’s difficult to gracefully change it afterwards. Depending on the forum in which you have announced your decision, the backlash from altering it can be anything from a friend rolling their eyes to a few Facebook comments to the entire internet declaring war against you. Up against a variety of social media feeds that almost demand you pick a team, it’s hard to keep quiet until the proper time to do so and unfortunately that time usually coincides with the releasing of far too many private details about the lives of others.

If you aren’t aware yet, Jian Ghomeshi was fired from the CBC yesterday. If you live in Canada and you weren’t aware of this I am both shocked and in complete awe and I commend you. Let me give you a quick recap: he was fired and CBC made no comment other than being in possession of information that led to this decision. Ghomeshi responded with a $50-million lawsuit and an open letter. Basically, Ghomeshi is saying that he was terminated due to the consensual, albeit rough and salacious, sexual acts he enjoys – BDSM, roleplay, and generally rough sex.

Now, if Ghomeshi’s letter is 100% true then he has every right to be aggrieved – we have no business in his bedroom and his sexual preferences should be no matter to us. Agree with his preferences or not, as long as it is consensual and legal there should not be a problem. It should not be a matter of termination and we should never have forced anyone to give us that much information about his private life.

The Toronto Star published an article today chronicling the research they have been doing into claims three different women made against Ghomeshi. They claimed the acts were not consensual, that they had been bitten, hit, and verbally abused by Ghomeshi. No safe words were involved and prior negotiation did not happen. They cite fear of public humiliation and backlash, and also that Ghomeshi would be in possession of texts that previously stated some level of consent to rough sexual acts, for not approaching the police with the situation earlier.

Now, if their story is 100% true than they have every right to do with their stories as they wish. This includes going to a large newspaper, launching claims with his employer due to the fact that he sexually assaults women, or going to the police if they feel that they can. The CBC was also 100% right in terminating Ghomeshi.

The problem with this story is that we actually don’t know anything, though. It’s a lot of “ifs” and a lot of “maybes”. Your feelings on the actions thus far of parties involved depends entirely on the story you believe which quite simply results in an increase of emotions and a loss of objectivity. It results in victim blaming, whether intentional or not, and possibly smearing the reputation of someone who, prior to yesterday, was widely loved across Canada. The way you feel reading the articles, stories, and blogs relies entirely on who you think told the largest amount of truth.

And this is not the way we should be reporting the news.

Given Gomeshi’s status in Canada, the CBC could not have terminated him without some explanation. The truth is, however, that they didn’t explain much. Ghomeshi did. And then the Toronto Star did. And both of those sources have their own (emotional and completely biased) reasons for doing so. And now we’re all watching as everyone debates who is really the victim in this situation and whether or not BDSM is enough of a reason to fire someone.

That’s not the point. At least not yet. The point is that we simply do not know enough to take sides. I was a fan of Ghomeshi’s and of Q, his radio show on CBC. Now I’m not so sure. What I do know is that my personal feelings about Ghomeshi have been put aside as I wait for this to play out. I know I need more information to understand what’s going on and the rest of us do, too. I can say that I am most definitely leaning towards the side of the women but I also know that is my natural inclination. That is my personal bias and part of my politics and that, to me, it’s not so much a text message consenting to acts but consent during the act that I care about. But I am rational enough to understand that sometimes things aren’t as they seem at first.

We all need to stop speculating. It’s enough that we have far too much information about someone’s sexual preferences, and it’s enough that we have already begun the debate about whether the women were really and truly assaulted in these situations. Let’s all stop taking sides, sit back and (for once) let the story unfold on its own, as we all know it will, before we really start the circus.

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham.

A brief note before this post: I recently had a discussion with my boyfriend as to why I haven’t done any book reviews lately, despite continuing to read at a rabid pace. I reasoned that I do not desire to read anything I don’t have an interest in and therefore my “reviews” come across as incredibly one-sided. I lack objectivity in most things in life and this is no different. Since I am not being paid to review, and therefore really do not have a reason to read anything I don’t want to, it is difficult for me to say anything besides how much I adored something I read. Therefore, the reviews I am going to do from this point forward are much less critiques than they are a simple discussion on something I’ve given my time to for the past little while, just as I would speak about any experience I have.

I had the absolute pleasure of attending a Q&A and book signing with Lena Dunham on Thursday. She is, without a doubt, a hero of mine for a variety of reasons. To simply be in the same room with her was thrilling, but to hear someone so candidly speak about her life, experiences, and work, including her missteps and personal issues, was incredible to me. I left there with an even greater respect for her and a copy of Not That Kind of Girl in my bag, autographed to me, my name in her handwriting.

I even managed to get out about five words when face to face to her and this was a personal victory.

I know I am a little behind the times given that the book came out a few weeks ago now but I have an intense desire to talk about it. I picked it up this morning and have hardly put it down since, resenting having to make food and shower during this time. It is a beautiful book, as candid and thought-provoking as Girls and, as I recently discovered, as she is in person. Covering everything from sex to school to work to her struggles with mental health, it was as much of a cathartic experience to read it as I could only assume it was to write it.

I relish in moments where I do not feel alone. It is a rare and beautiful time when I connect with another person in a way that makes me feel that while I may be going through life blindly, I’m not necessarily the only one doing it in my quirky, sometimes ill-advised way. In this past year I knew I found one of the greatest friends I would ever know when I admitted to her that, given the opportunity, I will look through anyone’s things. She did not laugh, she did not judge, I just watched her eyes light up as she said, “Me too!” and we embarked on a conversation in which we found a mutual understanding that we were not trying to snoop, we simply wanted to know. Everything.

Every single page of this book held a moment like that for me. I had moments of such deep and utter recognition I felt, without jealousy or resentment, that Lena Dunham had written my story long before I ever got the chance to. The undesirable sexual situations, the difficulty in dealing with life and death, even right down to naming a black and white hamster Pepper – these were all things I knew already and had no idea someone else did, too. As she starts recounting her experiences with anxiety and the things she fears I felt a large wave of relief wash over me. Only this morning I listed for my boyfriend the reasons jumping off of anything was terrifying to me which included full paralysis or ending up catching your foot at the last second and smacking your body off the structure rather than making it safely to the ground. To me, this made sense yet his facial expression told me that it was possible my reaction was overblown. Only a little while later I read about Dunham’s anxiety and reminded myself that even in the craziest of things I am not alone.

It is difficult to write about your experiences without coming across as overly self-involved. Who is anyone, really, to write about their life as if the rest of us want or need to hear about it? It is a tricky thing to do, to show that while you are attuned to yourself enough to want to share your story, you are doing it for the benefit of others as well as yourself. Dunham does this with such grace and such depth of understanding it is difficult to believe that she was meant to do anything other than tell us her entire life story. A person who can write the way she does, with such passion yet somehow still maintain a level of emotional distance to allow the reader to get what they need out of it, is a person that needs to be allowed to continue to write.

As much as it seems she needs it to help herself survive, I know I need it for the same reasons. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

Not That Kind of Girl is brave and refreshing. She never apologizes for mental illness, for her past mistakes, for anything she has ever said. But she also makes it very clear that it doesn’t necessarily make it easy, it’s not frivolous, and the things she has experienced (and still does) are, at times, incredibly serious and require special attention.

I would prescribe this book to anyone who has ever made a mistake. Anyone who has ever been young. And especially to any girl or woman who has ever wondered who the hell she is and where the hell she’s going.

a love letter.

I think about Ireland like I would an ex-lover; it changed me, taught me, got to know me, and then, at the precise moment when it became irreversibly part of me, we both realized that we had to leave each other. In the way that a whirlwind romance can alter everything you ever thought you wanted, Ireland took me, tore me up, and pieced me back together in a better, more concrete version of myself. On my last afternoon in Dublin I sat on the steps of a building at Trinity College and cried. It wasn’t dramatic or attention-seeking, they were simple tears running down my cheeks. I was grateful, saddened yet still a sort of happy, and completely in love with my life. And, knowing we were going to part, I thanked that country for giving me all of itself in exchange for no promises of the same from me.

I have spoken about Ireland many times since I have come home. But what I have never dared to mention were the moments when I sat completely alone and completely absorbed myself in everything I had been running from for what felt like forever. Those moments where I stared down at my itty bitty tattoo and felt the meaning catch in my throat, remembering everything it signified. Those moments where I felt like I was standing on top of the world, staring at rolling green hills that seemed infinite despite being in a country so small, and ultimately surrendering to the loneliness I had been feeling for so long. Those moments where the shuffled songs forced me to recognize how I felt, from “Transatlanticism” during my first fight with homesickness, and then, on my last weekend as I sat on a beach staring at the ocean, “Broken Open”.

Ireland made me realize that I wish life had dealt better cards for my uncle so that I could have known him better before he died and so that my mom could have had her brother the way she remembered him as children. It made me accept that my grandparents were gone and no matter how many times I said I was fine or moved on like it was over, it was definitely not over. It showed me that I was worth adventure, and love, and mystery, and pushing past my limits.

In all of this, it made itself the pinnacle of love, the benchmark for all future relationships.

So much has changed since I flew back home. I moved out, cut my hair, made new friends, and started forging ahead.

Then I met him.

And everything changed again.

In the last year I have had the greatest man by my side and he has changed me, taught me, got to know me, and pushed me. He has shown me my true worth and has given me more than I ever thought I deserved. He has been there for so many dreams coming true and, for many of them, was the reason behind them happening.

I have changed friendships and jobs and read better books and finally tried to learn the difference between lay, lie, and laid. I have come back to what I am truly meant to do. I have discovered that love can be the easiest thing in the world and then, suddenly, become so terribly hard.

I have realized that I can make myself really difficult to love, but that the right person will love you anyways and still make you feel that it is because, not despite.

I do not credit him for everything that has changed within me but I do know that, without him, I would be a different person right now and that is upsetting – I really like who I have become.

What I never knew then, when I was on that final plane into Toronto, was that there is a big difference between arriving and coming home. I never knew that sometimes you will come back to where you’re from and feel like you’re not quite done yet. I never knew that travel could break your heart as much as it could heal you.

I never knew until someone came along and proved it to me that I could truly love another person as much as I loved Ireland, and he could love me just as much.

And now, after everything that has happened, I am finally home.

“how to build a girl” and everything wonderful about Caitlin Moran.

I just finished Caitlin Moran’s new book, How to Build a Girl. Just finished as in I turned the last page less than two minutes ago and I’m still trying to clear the tears and mucus from my face. I haven’t done a book review in a very long time. Yes, it’s true, I haven’t even written here for a very long time, and I’m not going to do a review this time, either. There is a moment in this book where Johanna Morrigan is told that she is a critic, not a fan, and to write like one. There is no way that a review of How to Build a Girl would be anything but an overly lauding piece of work, full of insanely supportive adjectives and professions of love.

Instead I want to share here a chapter in the book that I read twice so far and will likely go back to again and again. It is the cause of the tears and mucus and is something I wish I had five, ten, fifteen years ago. It is a short chapter that contains so much wisdom, one that should be shared with every daughter, mother, aunt and grandmother.

“So what do you do when you build yourself – only to realize you built yourself with the wrong things?

You rip it up and start again. That is the work of your teenage years – to build up and tear down and build up again, over and over, endlessly, like speeded-up film of cities during boom times and wars. To be fearless, and endless, in your reinventions – to keep twisting on nineteen, going bust, and dealing in again, and again. Invent, invent, invent.

They do not tell you this when you are fourteen, because the people who would tell you – your parents – are the very ones who built the thing you’re so dissatisfied with. They made you how they want you. They made you how they need you. They built you with all they know, and love – and so they can’t see what you’re not: all the gaps you feel leave you vulnerable. All the new possibilities only imagined by your generation, and nonexistent to theirs. They have done their best, with the technology they had to hand at the time – but now it’s up to you, small, brave future, to do your best with what you have. As Rabindranath Tagore advised parents, “Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.”

And so you go out into your world, and try to find the things that will be useful to you. Your weapons. Your tools. Your charms. You find a record, or a poem, or a picture of a girl that you pin to the wall and go, “Her. I’ll try and be her. I’ll try and be her – but here.” You observe the way others walk, and talk, and you steal little bits of them – you collage yourself out of whatever you can get your hands on. You are like the robot Johnny 5 in Short Circuit, crying, “More input! More input for Johnny 5!” as you rifle through books and watch films and sit in front of the television, trying to guess which of these things that you are watching – Alexis Carrington Colby walking down a marble staircase; Anne of Green Gables holding her shoddy suitcase; Cathy wailing on the moors; Courtney Love wailing in her petticoat; Dorothy Parker gunning people down; Grace Jones singing “Slave to the Rhythm” – you will need when you get out there. What will be useful. What will be, eventually, you?

And you will be quite on your own when you do all this. There is no academy where you can learn to be yourself; there is no line manager slowly urging you toward the correct answer. You are midwife to yourself, and will give birth to yourself, over and over, in dark rooms, alone.

And some versions of you will end in dismal failure – many prototypes won’t even get out of the front door, as you suddenly realize that no, you can’t style-out an all-in-one gold bodysuit and a massive attitude problem in Wolverhampton. Others will achieve temporary success – hitting new land-speed records, and amazing all around you, and then suddenly, unexpectedly exploding, like the Bluebird on Coniston Water.

But one day you’ll find a version of you that will get you kissed, or befriended, or inspired, and you will make your notes accordingly, staying up all night to hone and improvise upon a tiny snatch of melody that worked.

Until – slowly, slowly – you make a viable version of you, one you can hum every day. You’ll find the tiny, right piece of grit you can pearl around, until nature kicks in, and your shell will just quietly fill with magic, even while you’re busy doing other things. What your nurture began, nature will take over, and start completing, until you stop having to think about who you’ll be entirely – as you’re too busy doing, now. And ten years will pass without you even noticing.

And later, over a glass of wine – because you drink wine now, because you are grown – you will marvel over what you did. Marvel that, at the time, you kept so many secrets. Tried to keep the secret of yourself. Tried to metamorphose in the dark. The loud, drunken, fucking, eyeliner-smeared, laughing, cutting, panicking, unbearably present secret of yourself. When really you were about as secret as the moon. And as luminous, under all those clothes.”

I suppose that what I’m trying to say is a huge, warm, and absolutely heartfelt thank you to Caitlin Moran. Thank you for writing what you do, how you do, and without shying away from what needs to be said. Thank you for making girls and women everywhere see worth, beauty, and independence in every single one of us. And thank you for making me love you too much to properly review anything you write.

“the notebook” has destroyed real love.

I am about to say something that could very well get me killed. It could cause intense displays of anger, complete and utter withdrawal of support towards me, and, quite frankly, ruin my reputation. I have learned, however, that if you want to share your opinion you have to be ready for the backlash and this one is important enough to reap what I sow and then some:

I hate The Notebook.

I hate it. I hate the idea of it, I hate the execution of it, I hate it. I’ve been taught in my life that hate is a very strong word, reserved only for those people or things that truly deserve it, and oh, does The Notebook ever deserve it.

Before you go shutting your laptop in fury or yelling obscenities, I ask that you hear me out on this one. I also ask that you understand that The Notebook is a really great example of something that exists in many other works, as well, so unfortunately in this case it has become a bit of a martyr for the cause.

The thing about it, and any other Nicholas Sparks novel-to-movie adaptation, is how confidently and unabashedly it manipulates those viewing it. If Sparks could have feasibly added a few more disease-riddled characters and a dying animal or two, I’m sure he would have. It is like it is trying to take those tender heartstrings and not just play with them but shred them to pieces.

I have a problem with that. I have a problem with it in that my emotions are not someone else’s to manipulate. I am okay with being made to feel all the feelings – rarely do I read a book and not feel something – but I don’t want it to be obvious. I certainly don’t want it to be a ploy. And I definitely do not want it to be done through a completely unhealthy, unrealistic, and abusive relationship that everyone now holds up as the pinnacle of true love.

Has anyone ever stopped and taken a good hard look at the never-ending love of Noah and Allie? Do you understand how fucked up their example of true romance really is?

They fight all the time. Oh, but they always make up so it’s okay if it’s yelling, screaming, tearing their faces off sort of fighting – in the end, love wins everything! They break up, go on to live separate lives for awhile. But, no, wait! There he is, Noah the hero, buying the house and fixing it up and ensuring that Allie sees it. Then they fight in the rain, they make love, and basically everything is set in stone. Throw in some snooty parents who will just never understand and a few more tense moments of near-abusive arguments and you’ve got yourself a love story. Oh, and don’t forget the Alzheimer’s and the patient daily storytelling of Noah to the woman he’s always loved.

I want to vomit in my mouth.

There is nothing healthy or normal about this relationship. There is nothing to be coveted except, possibly, the determination and resilience they display despite their unhealthy displays of affection. If Allie or Norah were a friend of mine I’d definitely be all, “Look, I know it’s love, but you gotta get out of this one, man – it’s no good at the core.”

As I said, The Notebook is just an overarching symbol of something that has become prevalent throughout novels and movies in the last fifteen years or so. We heard it first when Renee felt completed by Tom and it’s spiraled down from there. Mr. Sparks has made a name for himself in the novel/movie realm of this emotionally manipulative, strangely unhealthy love story (A Walk to Remember, The Last Song, The Lucky One) but he’s not alone in it. Now we’re adding BDSM-based love stories to the mix and getting ourselves all worked up thinking that non-consensual, unhealthy sexual relationships CAN end in true love!

Great.

I’m not knocking arguing with your partner. I’m not knocking the couple that breaks up and gets back together. And I’m not knocking the two people who decide to saunter in to their local sex shop to see about a ball gag. There is nothing inherently wrong with these things and every couple has their own way of making it through the ups and downs of love. What I’m knocking, what I have a serious problem with, are the examples being set by these books and films for women (and men) that show completely off-the-rails displays of misguided affection and we are made to believe that’s what love looks like. And suddenly you are hearing your friend tell you there was just no “passion”, in or out of the bedroom, because he never yelled at her. Or there wasn’t a “spark” because she never raised a hand to him. Or there just wasn’t “chemistry” because she refused to progress beyond what you think is vanilla even though you agreed to use a safe word.

There is a time and a place for overwrought, emotional love stories. To some, they are an escape into a world they have never been a part of. But they are becoming beacons of light, hopeful symbols of what awaits us when we finally fall in love. This has to stop. It will be a hard, lonely lesson to learn when you see that Noah and Allie aren’t real and if you love like they love it will hurt more than you ever wanted. It won’t feel great when you realize that falling in love is hard work, even when finding the person is easy, and every day you learn more about yourself than you ever thought possible. And it will be gravely disappointing when it dawns on you that acting like you are the subject of the next, not-so-great Sparks novel will result in many a destructive break up.

Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux

Title: Strange Bodies
Author: Marcel Theroux
Originally published: 2013
This is a bottom shelf book.

strange-bodiesPicked up based on a vast number of glowing reviews, Strange Bodies was a whim purchase done with trust in others. It sounded unique and strange, both of which I highly enjoy in novels. I’m strange, the world is strange – strange is very good. Sometimes, however, it does not get executed greatly and strange quickly becomes quite awful. You sit, reading page after page, hoping you’re wrong, hoping the storyline will right itself, and upon every flip of the paper you find yourself disappointed.

Marcel Theroux tried, I suppose. There was an attempt to link science fiction, literature, and thrilling plotline, one that almost succeeded but in the end fell short. Questions of consciousness, identity, and death arise with promise of deeper conversations being had but they never seem to reach the desired level of seriousness. It felt forced, contrived, and absolutely ridiculous.

I had high hopes for a book that promised a “literary thriller” that were dashed quite quickly. I could never get into it and was never all too interested in what Theroux had to say. The characters were overwrought and boring. The use of the device of a story within a story plus the addition of excerpts from the psychiatrist’s notes made for muddled, messy storytelling. I found it all so unappealing that it felt physically difficult to get through each page.

If you decide to look up the book and check out reviews you will find them all to be extremely positive. Perhaps I missed something, perhaps they did. Or perhaps Strange Bodies is just not my type of book. What it comes down to is that I could not stand this novel, would not recommend it, and would never lend it out in fear of the angry diatribe that would be coming my way once the receiver had finished the book.