Reading Toronto

I read Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson a few weeks ago. I don’t know how to recommend it without sounding silly. It’s really good. It has so much action in it. About a quarter of the way in, I wondered why the author had gotten to the climax so early in the story, but then it just kept building. Every time I thought things would start to settle down and end, more action happened. And then more happened. I felt disappointed when I ran into someone I knew on the bus or the train on the way to work because it meant I couldn’t read. And the ending felt cathartic and open. Nothing got wrapped up too tidily. No cheesy epilogue explained how well (or how poorly) everything turned out. It ended with tragedy, but also with hope. And the prologue probably has the best description of Toronto I’ve ever read:

Imagine a cartwheel half-mired in muddy water, its hub just clearing the surface. The spokes are the satellite cities that form Metropolitan Toronto: Etobicoke and York to the west; North York in the north; Scarborough and East York to the east. The Toronto city core is the hub. The mud itself is vast Lake Ontario, which cuts Toronto off at its southern border.

That’s my city. A wheel sticking out of a murky puddle.

When I heard the Book City in the Annex was closing this spring, I got really sad. I won’t make it back there before it’s gone. I feel bad, because I prefer reading off my e-reader, and I buy a lot of my e-books through a major corporation that I don’t like supporting. I still like the feel of actual books, and I’ll miss going into Book City to pick them up, feel their covers, their pages, their weight. I used to buy books there all the time. I liked it better than the large Chapters (or Indigo or whatever) because I could see everything there at once. I liked it better than used bookstores for almost the same reason. I could find things in that Book City. And if I couldn’t find something, I could find a person to ask really easily, and I’d get a straight answer right away. If I could buy e-books at Book City I would, especially if it meant I got to go inside, walk around, and feel the physical copies first.

My city’s changing and I can’t see it. It might not turn into the dystopian version from Brown Girl in the Ring, but it’s still changing.


Why Angel Doesn’t Work

I really like this piece on vampires as privilege. It reminds me of something I meant to write last summer but didn’t. It might be something that everyone has already figured out, but I haven’t read it anywhere, so I’m gonna write it.

Some Buffy and Angel spoilers below.

I watched a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel last summer. I had already seen most of Buffy, but I caught up on some of the episodes I hadn’t seen, and I watched in order story arcs that I’d seen before in bits and pieces. It was good. Buffy generally is. I mean, it isn’t close to perfect – it’s super racist, to start off with – but has some good messages about gender and it nicely critiques the helpless damsel trope that used to be so prevalent in horror movies. (Has that trope actually gone away some or do I just not watch enough movies to notice it?) I hadn’t watched as much Angel before. I knew the overall storyline, and I wanted to know how those events actually happened. I figured I would enjoy it the way I always enjoy watching Buffy. Instead, I decided that Angel just doesn’t work the way Buffy does, and there’s a very good reason for that.

If Buffy (the character) is the shallow, helpless, blonde cheerleader who finally learns to protect herself, Angel (also the character) represents white, straight, cis, male privilege, and its resulting guilt. He spends about 150 years living as a metaphor for sexual violence, and then when a pissed off family curses him with a soul, he feels guilty about all of the horrible things he has done. I think he works as a character on Buffy. It makes sense to me that they would fall in love with each other (a teenage girl who grows up too fast in a way that no one else can relate to and a guilt-ridden man who hasn’t really grown up yet sort of fit well together, if not in the most healthy way). On Buffy, Angel tries to fix the problem he used to be a part of by working with the Slayer. The minute he experiences true happiness, he loses his soul. This also makes sense. When people with privilege forget about their privilege, they become part of the problem. On Buffy, Angel is an ally, but most people don’t fully trust him, and Buffy makes the decisions.

On Angel, Angel’s the boss. He briefly puts Wesley in charge in the second season, but the show still revolves around him and he generally ends up being the hero. The audience is supposed to identify and sympathize with Angel, the guy who is one moment of pure happiness away from switching sides. I think Joss Whedon forgot, or maybe never realized, that this isn’t Angel’s fight. It’s Buffy’s fight. It’s the Slayers’ fight. It’s the humans’ fight. It’s the fight of the people that actually suffered as a result of the things that Angel, and others like him, did. Angel can help, but he can’t be the solution when he caused so much of the problem.

(Also, the show just doesn’t deliver on the same critiques of gender in fantasy and horror movies that Buffy does. They have, like, a zillion mystical pregnancies and don’t handle any of them particularly well, and I then I just stopped watching when I got to the episode in the third season where Angel fully prohibits Darla from terminating the pregnancy she doesn’t want to have. Awful awful awful.)


Ugh.

I really try to avoid writing clichés. I don’t like it when people roll their eyes at me and I don’t think I should say things that other people have said over and over again (unless it’s something really important that I think I need to repeat, but those aren’t really clichés). However, right now I need to write something that I see as a cliché in personal blogs.

This really sucks. I have to work myself up to actually say it.

I need to post more.

Ugh. It just sounds so disingenuous. If I actually thought I needed to post more, I would post more, right? Apparently not. I don’t know if posting that I need to post more will actually make me post more. It might just make me feel worse when I don’t follow through. But this is my second post in less than a week, so I should at least get part marks.

The worst is that I sometimes have an idea of something that I want to post, but then I just don’t do it. I don’t write it, and eventually enough time passes that I feel silly thinking about writing it. I have a post that I started writing a few days ago. I better post it soon before it gets stale. I’d do it now, but I wrote it up in a notebook and I can’t get at the notebook because I have a kitty on my lap. I can’t disturb this!

This is my excuse for not doing a lot of things.

I’m stuck.

Anyway, I’m gonna aim for at least one thing a week. Maybe more. We’ll see if I get anywhere close.


Imagine.

Today, I heard a(n old, White) man say to a group of people that he’d never met before, “He lost his mother at a young age and went to live in an orphanage,” (about a dead man they were supposed to look up to) “and you can imagine how difficult that must have been.”

It struck me how little imagination this (old, White) man must have had, to think that they would have to imagine. To think that none of them had ever gone through something similar. To think that everyone’s experience must mirror his own.


Missing in London

Some of the trees in London have really big leaves, and they cover the sidewalk because it’s fall (autumn too) and I step on them on my way to and from work every day. But they don’t crunch because the air here has too much moisture, I guess, so it feels a bit like biting into stale potato chips (crisps, not fries). I didn’t think I would miss the feeling of leaves crunching under my feet, and I don’t know if I would miss it so much if the sidewalks didn’t have such beautiful orange and yellow leaf carpets, but every step feels just a little unsatisfying and it makes me think that things are just inherently better in Toronto.

I think I’ve only read Canadian books since I got here. I love the way Dionne Brand writes about Toronto, but I didn’t like the end of What We All Long For. The timing just worked out a little too well and wrapped some things up a little too nicely, which felt weird considering how much she left unanswered. The rest of the book was so good, though. It’s exactly the kind of story I like to read. Green Grass, Running Water is also a really good book. I wonder if I would have liked it ten years ago.

Sometimes you only see a part of something and it looks really beautiful and majestic.

All pretty and black and white.

All pretty and black and white.

Then you see the whole thing up close and realize it’s actually a weird mix of hilarious and creepy.

Woah, those feet!

Woah, those feet!

Dinosaurs still live here.

(There’s no metaphor up there, in case you tried to look for one.)

Sometimes birds have awesome names.

I spend a lot of time with people younger than me.

I spend a lot of time with people younger than me.

Actually, many things in London have great names. I’ve taken the tube to both Cockfosters and Tooting. And speaking of transit, I don’t always get a table on my morning (or evening) commute, but getting one sometimes is a huge improvement over getting one never.

I took this picture two and a half weeks ago. I don't approve of Christmas-themed coffee cups coming out that early.

I took this picture two and a half weeks ago. I don’t approve of Christmas-themed coffee cups coming out that early.

Transit here is infinitely better than transit back home. I hate having such a long commute but I don’t mind the scenery on the pretty trains I get to ride. And, while I would rather not wake up as early as I have to, I never wake up and wish I didn’t have to go to work. I miss my students in Canada but I also really like the ones I have here. I guess I picked the right job for me.

I’ve wanted a pet goat since I was 16. They’re friendly and funny and they have great butts.

No idea what that puddle is, though.

No idea what that puddle is, though.

Great smiles, too.

Kisses!

Kisses!

Don’t ever believe that elephants aren’t cool.

More kisses!

More kisses!

I’m a little annoyed that my finger got in the way of this picture, but it might have actually made the colours look more vibrant?

Splash!

Splash!


Personal Responsibility

TW for sexual assault and mention of Dear Prudence’s awful advice

There are many things wrong with Emily Yoffe’s Dear Prudence article on how college women should stop drinking so as to prevent rapists from raping them (I’m not linking to it because it’s awful), but this is the part that really made me want to do something drastic. (Or just maybe want to write a blog post about it). The very last paragraph:

Lake [someone she quotes a bunch throughout the article] says that it is unrealistic to expect colleges will ever be great at catching and punishing sexual predators; that’s simply not their core mission. Colleges are supposed to be places where young people learn to be responsible for themselves. Lake says, “The biggest change in going to college is that you have to understand safety begins with you. For better or worse, fair or not, just or not, the consequences will fall on your head.” I’ll drink (one drink) to that.

(To put that last sentence in context, Prudie goes on a bit earlier about how she only drinks in moderation and still has lots of fun, I guess to imply that people who drink more than she does really have no excuse.)

Right. People go to college (or university, as they say in my country) to learn to be responsible for themselves. Except, I guess, for the people who actually commit any kind of sexual assault. Those people don’t need to learn any kind of responsibility. They don’t need to worry about anyone’s safety. They won’t ever have any consequences fall on their heads, or their toes, or anywhere near them, because we would all rather just blame victims of sexual assault for getting drunk.

This attitude of personal responsibility, the idea that we each need to look out for our own self, and not anyone around us, has screwed up this world so much. It lets us ignore centuries of oppression and structural inequalities. It lets us hold marginalized people responsible for getting themselves out of awful situations that they were forced into. It’s a ridiculous way of looking at the world that privileges the already privileged and screws over the already screwed over. No school should hold that as part of its core mission. We don’t need to teach people to be selfish. In fact, part of what students learn when they first start going to school, in kindergarten, is to recognize the effects that their actions have on other people in their community (at least in Ontario; I don’t know about other kindergarten curricula). It’s called empathy, and we could do with a whole lot more of it in this world. I absolutely agree that university should be one (of many) place(s) where young people learn to be responsible for themselves. But maybe they could try to build on the ideas that students learned in their kindergarten classrooms rather than contradict them.


Living in London: Two Weeks in Schools

I really hate most things that are in any way official. I hate filling out forms. I hate complying with regulations. I hate following specific directions. I understand that these things are sometimes really important and not as arbitrary as they often seem, but I still hate them. I have a difficult time reading instructions all the way through (I generally get about half way through a recipe and then make up the rest), so I worry that I’ll misunderstand or misread something and then mess it up and somehow a ton of money or get arrested or maybe just piss people off. I usually try to ignore official things and hope they take care of themselves but so far that hasn’t worked.

So, I messed up one of the documents that I needed before I could start working in schools here, and I couldn’t actually start work until the day after my contract said I would start. Which wasn’t a big deal at all but I did feel sort of vindicated because several people told me that everything would be fine and then it turned out I actually had screwed something up. I guess I showed them.

Anyway, I’ve spent about the last two weeks in the British school system. It’s different from what I’m used to, which doesn’t surprise me. I’ve spent a large chunk of my life, both as a student and as a teacher, at one school, and I know that it’s unlike other schools in Canada or probably anywhere. I can’t draw any real conclusions about the differences between schools here and schools back home. I’ve seen some things here that I really disagree with but I feel like I would likely see similar things at more conventional Canadian schools. I want to keep an open mind, because I know that the education system I’m used to worked for me, but I also know that I arrived in that education system from a very specific set of privileged circumstances. While I did learn a lot in my first four years of teaching, I had my conceptions of what makes a good teacher or a good learning environment reaffirmed several times. I’d like to see things that challenge my assumptions.

Like I predicted a couple weeks ago, I’ve seriously considered all kinds of things for next year. I really don’t know what I want to do with my life. I know I want to teach, because that really is the best job I can imagine having, but I don’t know where I want to do it and I don’t know if I want to study it more or be entirely practical. I’m really enjoying my current job, because I get the benefit of working and connecting with students without the time suck that is prep work and marking, but I don’t know if I would want this kind of job for longer than a year. I love having time to read about problems with feminism and its lack of intersectionality, but I find that I want to then take those ideas and bring them into a classroom and hear what my students have to say about them. And I can’t really do that in the role I have right now.

So, I guess this is how I’ll feel for the next little while. In flux and unsure. I’m happy, which is good, but I wouldn’t say I’m completely comfortable, which is maybe also good for right now. And I filled out a form all by myself this weekend, so maybe I’m growing up a bit too.


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