Unbound: What You Can Tell From A Wardrobe


T’is the season for the changing of the wardrobe. Around this time of year, when the temperature drops a little, I say a bittersweet goodbye to the wispy garments of Summer, and pull out the chunky polar fleece numbers. This twice-yearly ritual concludes in me arguing with my vacuum cleaner and a couple of those air-tight storage bags (last year’s squabble ended with a dent in my forehead), and then I’m ready to face the coming Canadian winter.

So, hey, what’s the point of completing a chore like this without a quick, introspective dip into something deeper, right? One’s wardrobe is more than just layers of warmth and protection. It’s an opportunity to examine a world view. Here’s a quick synopsis of mine:

  • There are no high heels.
  • There’s nothing that requires a second person in order to zip up or undo.
  • My clothing is decidedly wedgie-free, and fits without the aid of spanx or other major scaffolding.
  • There are only breathable fabrics, ones that don’t make me sweat like a teenage boy.
  • Tags are quickly yanked and anything scratchy is either reconfigured or chucked.

Okay, just so you don’t think I dress like a nun (I don’t), it would be accurate to say that my clothes are eclectic. I love weird prints and jewel tones. I proudly parade around in bold graphics and sarcastic t-shirts. I feel no need to “dress my age” or be “appropriate” in any other sense. One might even call some of my stuff weird or tacky. My wardrobe stands not only as a sampling of my personal tastes and interests, but also as a testament to a dearly-held belief:

I am entitled to be comfortable.

It’s a lesson I learned from my mother, who, throughout my young life, insisted that I be allowed to get dirty, get changed in a hurry, climb, roll around, run, jump, and not sustain any clothing-related injuries. This same wise woman also refused to French braid my hair, teach me how to put on make-up, or make getting in and out of a car in a ladylike manner a priority. She made it very clear to me that although it was fine to want to cultivate my own style, look presentable, or make a statement, torturing myself with the contents of my closet was just stupid. I remember her smirking ironically as she uttered the words “One must suffer to be beautiful.”

Fast forward a few decades, and now I’m the one stocking the cupboards for a little girl. I’m the one making choices about whether she should “look nice”, or be able to go about her business unencumbered. Maybe it’s a remnant of my own upbringing, somehow passed along genetically, or a product of my endless rants about the perils of pink frilly crap, but my daughter’s made it easy for me to pass along my mother’s teachings. At age three-months, she shrieked in agony as we tried to stuff her into a frilly frock. At two, she told me to throw out a pair of stiff jeans because they were keeping her from lifting her legs high enough to climb. Once, during a shopping trip to a vintage store, I held her hands and steadied her so she could try shuffling around in a pair of stiletto heels. She gazed frantically into my eyes and told that she wanted out of them before she broke her legs. Fancy barrettes and headbands seem to slide off in a matter of minutes, as if her hair itself is rejecting the inconvenience they present. This little grasshopper learns fast.

I am entitled to be comfortable.

I could (and often do) rant about the vile messages little girls are delivered via the children’s clothing industry. Everything (and I mean everything) has pink on it, even if it’s just a bow or a set of buttons. Most items are covered in lollipops, fairy folk, or insipid messages like “Daddy’s little this or that”. The way little girls’ clothing looks is disturbing, but I think  I could suck it up and deal with it if it weren’t for the way it actually functions (or doesn’t). Clothing for girls is thin. It’s short. It requires tights and belts and ribbons to hold it all together. It bunches, and creeps up, and requires hand-washing. The shoes sometimes have heels, for Pete’s sake. It’s bad enough that my rug rat might have to apologize for being a girl by sporting something cute and sparkly. The fact that she might not be able to move, breathe, or even think straight while wearing these tot-sized contraptions leaves me worried.

For the time being, she doesn’t fight me when I put out leggings and a t-shirt for her, and is more than happy to slap on a pair of runners. But I know the time is coming (maybe sooner than later), when she’s going to fight me on this one. It’s likely that one day, she’ll feel compelled to stuff herself into something uncomfortable for the sake of social acceptance.  She may spend formal occasions unable to exhale or eat much. Her feet will blister and ache in horrible pumps. There will be chafe marks and pit stains. If truth be told, I too went through years of this nonsense before I figured out that my mother was right.

Outfitting a wardrobe, whether it’s for an adult woman or for a little girl, is a political statement. That’s probably not the first thing on a mother’s (or father’s) mind in the midst of wrestling a squirmy little kid into their clothes before breakfast, but it’s there in the footnotes of everyday parenthood. There are deeper, darker notes to comments like “Suck in your stomach so I can zip this up.” and “You won’t be able to run in these.” I’m desperate for my daughter’s version of style, whatever that turns out to be, to include both literal and figurative freedom of movement, of being able to accomplish what she needs to accomplish. When her friends and associates think of “being in her shoes”, I don’t want any of them to cringe.

I hope that she chooses well. I hope that she wears her clothes, and not the other way around. I hope that one day, while she’s putting away her summer clothes and she surveys her wardrobe, she smiles to herself, takes a full, uninhibited breath, and utters the magical words:

I am entitled to be comfortable.

Is TV All Out of Happy Endings?


“You ain’t ready.”

“No one is safe.”

“You’ll never be the same after this one.”

This is now common lingo in promos and previews for a lot of television shows, at least the dramatic ones. As viewers, we’re no longer invited to come along on an adventure, or to become invested in something deep and meaningful. We’re basically warned…no it’s even more blasé than that, we’re informed, that the brown stuff will be hitting the proverbial fan. Again. This time for serious. No really, not kidding. It’s no longer a plot twist to have someone die (usually for ridiculous reasons), to see lives ruined and to generally have the world crumble into a big steaming heap. It’s just par for the course in television these days.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m by no means Little Susie Sunshine when it comes to what I watch. Syrupy sweet, cartoony endings make me throw up in my mouth a little. I despise when I’m moved/manipulated into happy tears when everything works out just right. I like conflict. I can take a little darkness in my entertainment. I am, however, worried that some producers (and maybe some viewers too) have abandoned the notion of a happy ending. It feels like one has to dig pretty far into a plot in order to find even a tiny nugget of hope, and even then, one must resign one’s self to the fact that said nugget will probably get stomped on as well.

Here’s why I think, even in the midst of ennui and malaise, television can’t be all corpses and thunderstorms:

  • People watch shows, at least partially, because of the characters. We see ourselves in them, even when they’re fighting zombies, developing telekinesis, or performing the world’s first brain transplant. We like them, and we get attached. The minute an audience starts to assume that their favourite personage could have a piano dropped on them at any second, the deal is off. If I’ve got one precious hour of quiet to spend on a show, I’m going to go for one in which players I care about are likely to be there again next week.
  • The whole issue of desensitizing people to violence thing-yeah, that. I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t even watch fight scenes or gratuitous violence anymore, and it’s not because I can’t take them. It’s because it’s been done and it’s boring. I’m an adult with a pretty decent set of critical thinking skills, and a more than acceptable level of empathy, and I’ve still gotten to the point where someone getting blown up, run through, or squashed is just background noise to me. In real life, I’m appalled by human cruelty and misery, but on television, it doesn’t even register. I know I’m not alone in this, and it’s not only an unfortunate side effect of having the worst things happen in shows, but it’s a dangerous mindset to develop.
  • I’m not convinced that having everything go wrong is all that realistic. Admittedly, I’ve lived kind of a charmed life, one in which my safety and well-being isn’t up for debate on a regular basis. But even when I’ve spoken to people who’ve experienced thirty-one flavours of hell, they’ve still had stories to tell about things going right, about laughter and celebration, and hope. Perhaps life really is cruel, and we’re just wired to see rays of light because we need to get out of bed in the morning, but so what? If that’s what life is really like, if that’s how human beings function, then shouldn’t television plotlines reflect that?

In truth, the way people consume media is shifting constantly, and with things like alternative broadcasting, online viewing, and binge watching, television is becoming a meritocracy. Our behaviour as viewers is telling showrunners that we’re not willing to wait a week or sit through commercials unless there’s a really compelling story to be found. In my mind, the “everything is going to go wrong” approach to storytelling is not much more than a series of cheap parlour tricks. It’s using shock instead of creativity and careful planning. Really, it’s just sloppy and lazy, and I’m kind of done with it. My eyeballs shall be reserved for programming in which, just every so often, my favourite character isn’t used for target practice, not everything goes to hell in a handbasket, and once in a while, something interestingly nice happens.

All Hail The Bots!

retro robot

Anyone else visit Tomorrowland at Disney as a kid? Anyone else a little disappointed that, contrary to predictions, we are not currently zooming around in flying cars, chowing down on food pills, and plugging our brains in to our computers at work? Okay, maybe I’m not so disappointed that the last one didn’t happen, but I distinctly remember being excited at the notion that technology would one day make life idyllic. I was an adolescent when I made the pilgrimage to this magical place, and menial labour was about as appealing to me as dental surgery. I couldn’t imagine any human being turning down an offer to have something else take care of all the stuff we couldn’t or didn’t want to do. I had rosy visions of Rosie from the Jetsons, squeaky-wheeling around my house, with her marvelous New York accent and her purely-decorative apron.

Decades later, I still wouldn’t complain if someone told me I didn’t have to clean, lift, manufacture, maintain, or venture into anything I didn’t want to. And yet, on a regular basis, I read things like “Robots are taking our jobs!” My fellow humans are terrified of being usurped by machines, of being unceremoniously bumped from their place on the planet by gadgets of their own creation. How deliciously Frankenstinian, and a perfect opportunity to ask why robots make us so very uncomfortable. Yes, let’s, shall we?

I have several thoughts on the presence of our future robotic overlords:

  • Robots are cool, shiny and slick. Humans are sweaty and awkward. Robots aren’t whiny, argumentative, or entitled like humans are. Robots not only do all kinds of stuff that we usually do, but they look awesomely composed doing it. And herein lies the rub, or at least part of it. They make us look pretty inept. What’s more confidence-ruining than having someone shine a big ole’ spotlight on our derpiness? They do things faster, more accurately, and in the process, they make work look good. Sigh.
  • Those menial things we want robots to do might mean a lot more to us than we originally thought. In our primeval, larval stage (like, when we’re kids), we revel in dirt and activity. It feels really good to do stuff. The other day, I hauled about 10 wheelbarrow loads of dirt into the back yard. And I kind of liked it. I also like getting to the bottom of a basket of laundry, and assembling sensible, Swedish-made bookshelves (please, please don’t judge me). What if physical exertion and general hard work are a bigger part of who and what we are than we originally thought? Are we giving up something essential in having machines exert themselves on our behalf? Might we actually miss doing things for ourselves?
  • With robots doing the menial, dangerous stuff we don’t want to or can’t do, we’re forced to find something bigger to do with our new excess of spare time. With our hands now free from toil, we might be expected to be inventive, creative, or perish the thought, rational. We might be required to use more of our brains. Scary.
  • With robots taking over physical labour, we no longer get to put a stigma on humans who do it. Okay, we can still look down our noses at machines, but in truth, they give very little in the way of a satisfying reaction to our air of superiority. In the presence of worker bots, humans who still choose to work with their hands may become recognized as artisans, craftspeople, and historians.  We already praise things that are “hand-crafted” or “hand-made”, so why not admire “hand-shoveled”, “hand-driven” or “hand-scrubbed”? Maybe robots will remind us to value all kinds of effort, all kinds of work.
  • Ever noticed that a lot of the robots who do our physical work aren’t built to look human? I’m not sure we could bear having them pick up after us if they actually looked like us. We’re assured over and over again that robots don’t have thoughts or feelings of their own, but what if we’re afraid they might someday evolve to have these things? Can you imagine becoming dependent on an automated workforce for just about everything, only to have it turn around and give us the finger for making it do our dirty work? How deliciously robo-marxist!

I’d like to close with something that should go without saying. As cool and shiny and pervasive as robots may be, we do still have the power to say no to them, at least in our everyday lives. Okay, maybe we can’t personally fire the ones making our cars or scanning the bottom of the ocean, but it’s not to late to eschew things like automated coffee makers and the little hubcap-shaped dudes who clean the floor. Perhaps our nail biting over robots taking human jobs is largely because their presence reminds us of what we have that they do not- free will. We make robots. We put them there. If we don’t like the idea of them taking over our jobs, we can stop being apprehensive about them and choose to not have them there. We won’t even hurt their feelings if we make them go away. In the end, robots are things we create and use to make our lives easier, better. Believe it or not, this is kind of the point of most technology. If having robots work for us just ain’t working for us, we have the power to just say no. There’s probably even find a robot who’d do that for us too.


Living On Spec: Why Don’t We Like To Pay Artists?


There isn’t a creative type on the planet who hasn’t heard at least one of the following:

  • “It’s a hobby, right? So, what’s your real job?”
  • “If you’re so passionate about it, then why does it matter if you get paid?”
  • “Why don’t you do a sample for free, and if I like it, I’ll pay you for the next one.”
  • “Aren’t artists supposed to be starving? Isn’t the romantic part of it?”
  •  “How do you put an hourly rate on creativity?”
  • “We’ll pay you in sample copies.”
  • “Isn’t exposure enough of a reward?”

Yup, this is going to be another whiny blog post from an artist who would like to be financially compensated for her work. If you’d really rather look at pictures of kittens, or read about the latest antics of a reality TV family, feel free to click off (that sounded ruder than I expected). But I’ve got a few decent points I’d like to make, if you can spare a few minutes. This one’s on the house.

Here are a few reasons why we don’t like to think about paying artists:

1. We don’t see artists as having skills. Being able to put someone’s guts back together in surgery involves skills. Doing someone’s taxes  involves skills. Building a basement rec room involves skills. However, when it comes to creative stuff, not so much. Let me tell you first-hand that creative work does not get produced by chance. Artists go to school. They train. They learn from mentors. They practice (oh, do they practice), and they produce a lot of crap in the process of perfecting their craft. Are there crummy artists? Well, yeah, but there are also crummy surgeons, crummy accountants, and crummy contractors. Whether you wield a pen, a paintbrush or an instrument, it takes skill to produce anything good.

2. Along similar lines, we think anyone can produce art. Okay, this one involves a lengthy philosophical discussion about what art actually is, but seriously, have you ever watched the audition rounds of a talent show on television? It’s pretty clear that some are better at it than others, and wanting to “be a star” is not sufficient. We wouldn’t expect that just anyone could be a scuba instructor, sushi chef, mathematician, or zookeeper. Whether it’s because of a lack of natural talent, inclination or training, I don’t think I have any of these careers in me, and I praise those who do. I hope that those who aren’t adept with language will show similar respect to my writing.

3. We think all artists want to be rich and famous, and maybe the ones who are don’t always set the right example. I like not being recognized at the grocery store. I’m cool with not being asked to headline at festivals. Don’t get me wrong, I love knowing that people read my work once in a while. It’s thrilling to share ideas, and I don’t care if my work gets me a villa in Tuscany or a bronze statue somewhere. “Steady” is a word I would like to associate with my paycheque, not “gargantuan.” If, by some stroke of cosmic luck, I someday make a lot of money from my art, I promise I’ll behave myself and do something useful with it.

4. We’re really not sure what we get when we pay for art. You go to a baker, and you get bread. You go to a salon and you get your nails done. You go to a mechanic, and your car run stops making noise. Art is a little more slippery, a little less tangible. What do I take home after a concert (besides a souvenir t-shirt)? When I’m finished with a book, is it really just a wad of paper that lingers? What do I point to after I’ve left an exhibit? Art is a business of producing ideas and experiences, of calling forth emotion and memory. It’s much more difficult to box up and sell, and we can’t return it if it bugs us. From a product standpoint, it is admittedly ethereal, but we have to keep in mind that everything we love that’s artistic, from the music on our devices to the pretty shoes on our feet, had to come from somewhere, with a creative, talented person putting themselves out there.

5. We think artists have chosen a lifestyle that involves poverty. We think they secretly enjoy it. Nope. This wordy, idea-ish stuff happens to be what I’m good at (most days). I’m also good at eating, and would like to be able to pay for that. I’m good not living in the rain, and would like to have a roof over my head. I’m good at leaving my house and going out into the world, and I’d like to be able to afford a little of that too. Okay, you could say art is my calling, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t make a living from it, and let me tell you, between time and supplies, it ain’t free.

6. We see art as a luxury, something we don’t need or deserve. If there was ever a time when art wasn’t a luxury, it’s now. We’re in a little bit of pickle these days (thanks a lot, 2016), and while booze, weapons, and other distractions may provide some sort of outlet for our angst, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that whether you’re an artist or an art appreciator, there isn’t anything else that helps a human being deal more effectively and productively than art. It’s our collective soul. It’s universal. It’s primal. My human friends, we all deserve art. It’s not amusing or adorable. It’s freakin’ important.

Okay, now’s the part where I’m supposed to come up with a plan for how we should pay artists, who should pony up the dough, and I’m so sorry, but I’m still working on this. Could it be considered a civil service job, with the government footing the bill? Should we take a tip from Shakespeare and get wealthy patrons on our side? Do we just go on strike, and leave the world a little uglier and more dull until we get our point across?

My guess is that art needs to undergo a massive re-branding. We need to put our assumptions about art and the people who make it through the ringer. Before making one of the comments mentioned above, perhaps ask yourself “Would I say that to a lawyer, or a school custodian, or a daycare provider?” If the answer is no, and you feel guilty (or if the answer is yes, and you don’t feel guilty), consider paying some creative type for their hard work, even if it’s just giving a busker the price of your morning latte, going to see an indie film, or buying something locally-made to hang over your sofa. Don’t ask your musician friend to perform at your wedding as a favour, don’t ask a graphic designer to give you a freebie, and don’t balk at shelling out a few bucks for an eBook when you’re reading it on a $200 device. The more an artist is able to actually live off their art, the more time they’ll have to devote to it, and the better it’ll get.


The best hashtag I’ve seen in a long time is #enough. It’s short, it’s poignant, and it expresses what a whole lot of people are thinking this week. Enough violence. Enough discrimination. Enough hatred. We probably reached the “enough” point thousands of years ago. According to a couple of famous political thinkers, history is littered with moments of “enough”. It fuels great literature, music and film.

So here I am, in 2016, sitting at my desk, and I really, really want to help. Besides trying hard not to be violent, discriminatory, and hateful myself, I’m not sure how my one pair of hands, my one little brain, my one squeaky, sarcastic voice can make a meaningful contribution to all of this long-needed, long-awaited “enough”.

Here’s the only thing I know how to do:  I’m adding more “enough” to the list.

First, enough pretending that being a thinker is something that can be left to academics. Enough shrugging our shoulders when asked about something important, something like justice, equality, identity, and saying things like “I dunno. Whatever.” Enough excusing ourselves from big questions because they’re difficult, or uncomfortable, or because we’re afraid that our ideas won’t matter. If there’s one thing that’s become clear over the past few weeks, it’s that the way we discuss questions about justice, equality and identity (and a whole lot of other important things) really does matter. It matters as much as cutting the grass, getting a haircut, watching TV, or the myriad of other things we spend time doing every day. It matters so, so much more than any of these things. Enough letting a day go by where it’s not important to think about these things.

Enough allowing ourselves to think things like “Well, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion.” We can no longer put stock in just opinions. Our new currency has to be arguments- reasonable, well-explained arguments. I’m not saying that there are concrete, clear-cut answers to difficult questions like these, but it should be pretty obvious from the events this week that some answers are better than others. Some answers clearly aren’t working for us. Enough with the “anything goes” approach, and of being afraid to challenge what’s already there.

Enough of not doing everything we can to encourage our children to ask these questions too. I’m not proposing that we sit them down in front of gory news footage or present them with vivid descriptions of recent events. We fuss over what our kids wear, what they eat, what they play with, how long they brush their teeth, but their reasoning skills, their ability to think critically, their insatiable drive to know “Why?” are often considered cute distractions, even annoyances.  Enough putting this on the back burner because, let’s face it, we’re not sure how to tackle these questions ourselves, as grown-ups. Yeah, parenting is hard, and awkward, and exhausting. If I’m going to finish the day completely spent, I’m okay with it being because of my kid’s incessant questions. Enough assuming that these questions don’t belong in their daily routine.

Enough assuming that I’m not part of the problem too. Yeah, if I turn over rocks, I’m going to find creepy stuff. While asking these really difficult questions about justice, equality, and violence, I’m probably going to find I’ve contributed, even if it’s just in very small ways, without realizing it. But I can’t fix something unless I know that it’s broken.

Enough wishing and hoping that everything just fixes itself. We’ve had a long time as a species to smarten up, and we haven’t. In fact, we seem to be making an even bigger mess. What’s different about this particular moment in time is that technologically speaking, we now have the capability to share. Sometimes the sharing is of the bad news itself, the shock and the horror, the disbelief. Maybe this in and of itself is a good thing, at least a catalyst for change. It’s much more difficult to excuse one’s self from difficult questions when there’s video evidence that they need to be asked. Enough thinking we don’t have a means to talk to one another about these things. Enough bemoaning social media or other mass communication for being vapid or unsubstantial. Let’s actually learn to use them for something important. What’s more, enough using these tools to be violent, unjust, or hateful.

Here’s my humble suggestion: once a day, after you’ve cruised Twitter or Facebook, after you’ve read the paper or watched TV and you’re properly horrified by what’s been happening, take a few minutes and formulate a question. Make it a big one, one that begins with “Why?” and one that doesn’t have an immediate resolution. Think of an answer. Turn it over and over in your mind for a bit and see if you can find holes in it (you probably will, so don’t be alarmed). Sometime later in the day, try another answer, and another, and another. Then ask someone else the same question, and be patient and respectful when they give their answer. Patiently and respectfully turn their answer over and over, looking for weak spots, just as you did with yours. Repeat the process. A lot. Like, all the time. Share. Discuss. Listen. Respect. Keep going with all of this, knowing that even though you’ve had your fill of tragedy, when it comes to asking big, important questions, you will never reach “enough”.

What I’ve Learned From Spam (Both Kinds)


There was a time when Spam was just gross, pre-chewed meat in a can. It was survival food, something to be tolerated and consumed almost against one’s will. Okay, in discussing this version of Spam, I’m revealing that I’m older than the internet, but stay with me. I’m working on a metaphor here.

Enter internet/email spam. The more platforms and new forms of media we’ve created, the more different kinds of spam have oozed in. Like its canned predecessor, internet spam is disgusting, devoid of taste or class, an eyesore among meatier, more nutritious options. However, like my predecessors, who made peace with having to co-exist with protein that jiggles, I am choosing to take my spam in the form of teachable moments. Just as said predecessors would have preferred to have steak or rack of lamb, I would much prefer to have real comments on my blog (hint, hint), and real messages in my inbox. Just as spam-sufferers of the past dressed up their mess of pre-chewed meat with pineapple, fried eggs, and various condiments, I am making a silk purse out of a pig’s ear (see what I did with the pork theme?).

Here are suggestions for deep thoughts that one may glean from online sludge:

  • I will not send my bank account information to an exiled prince in a faraway nation. I will, however, take note of the fact that there are others in need of my help, both in faraway nations, and in my own backyard.
  • I am not in the market for a mail-order bride or questionable photos of underage women. Nonetheless, I will remind myself that even in 2016, my fellow females are still considered by many to be property to be sold and traded.
  • I do not need knock-off athletic shoes in mass quantities. But I do need to put the runners sitting idly in the front hallway on my feet, and walk my desk-chair-decrepit body around the block more often.
  • I will not be requiring assistance in monetizing my social media feeds. Regardless, I will remember that what I do for a living has value, and that I deserve to derive benefit from the hours I put into my work.
  • I shall not absentmindedly hit delete or block, even though the vast majority of what rolls in isn’t even generated by another human being. Instead, I will seek the useful needles in the haystack, the small bits that actually mean something. Doing so will make me a more critical, discerning thinker, and man, will it ever train me to scan effectively!

When you think about it, Spam is actually kind of funny, sublime in its ridiculousness. The canned stuff seems to be the rubber chicken, hand-buzzer, whoopie cushion version of nutrition. The online stuff is also pretty much clown shoes, a reminder of the great stupidity of which human beings are capable when handed a useful tool. Just imagine what future civilizations will think of us when they did up our email accounts thousands of years from now.

Perhaps spam, whether in canned form, or as electronic pestering, is the universe’s way of asking us to be patient. We turn the key on the ham substitute with the hope that better days with real ham will follow. Online, we sigh as we empty our trash folder, or banish an unwanted message with deletion, in the hopes that an actual message, one intended just for us, will fill its spot.

Emojis and Our Return to the Cave Wall

cave drawing

Every so often, a new crop of emojiis is released, and there are typically two reactions:

1. Hooray! Finally, I can express my love of giant squid, while telling the world I’m craving tacos and that I have a cramp in my big toe, all without typing a flippin’ word!

2. What is the world coming to? Are we so lazy that we can’t use real language to express ourselves? I mean, I know texting isn’t supposed to be long and verbose, but seriously? Are we witnessing the death of language as we know it?

I’m not exactly on board with reaction #1 (I still use punctuation-based emoticons, dusty relic that I am), but I want to address reaction #2.  I’m decidedly old school when it comes to language. Even in texts, I still try to spell things correctly (although auto-correct seems to work against me), I still use full sentences, and I do try to avoid major slang or short forms. When I heard that “LOL” and “YOLO” were on their way out, I wasn’t all that disappointed. I maintain that it won’t kill us to think carefully about the words we choose when we’re on our devices, and to express ourselves in language of which our 9th grade English teachers would approve. I don’t, however, think the ubiquitous presence of emojis is reason to pull a Chicken Little. Here’s why:

  • Humans like language. We’re kind of fueled by our inability to shut up. How we communicate has changed over and over again since we climbed out of the trees, but the fact that we like to chat hasn’t. I’m not sure that emojis will ever satisfy our need to blab.
  • Communication through gadgets is limiting. Short forms may be time-efficient, but they make it very difficult to convey the deeper stuff. Seriously, how many times have you been offended or shocked by a badly-worded text that really wasn’t intended to be nasty? I can live with a little smiley face or cartoon critter at the end of a message, if it means it’s less likely that someone will misunderstand.
  • Not all humans are verbal thinkers. I live to flap my gums and wave my pen, but I recognize and even enjoy the fact that there are those who rely on visuals. If emojis ring true with these kinds of brains, then so be it.
  • You’ve probably noticed this, but emojiis aren’t exactly new, at least as a concept. Remember neolithic cave paintings? Hieroglyphics? Runes? Yeah, we started using visuals quite a while ago. You’ve probably also noticed little pictures of people on washroom doors, pictures with lines through them in no-smoking sections, along with arrows, squiggles and hand signals on road signs. Is working them into our texts and social media really such a coup?

What if our fascination with emojiis is a symptom of something bigger (as these things usually are)? Modern mainstream media presents us with a lot of information, bite after bite of words and ideas, and even if you’re a wordy person like me, it gets overwhelming. There’s a lot more to read than there used to be, a lot more to process. Can you blame us for wanting to go back to something a little more simple and direct, back to the scribbles on the cave walls that told us food was here and danger was there? I’m by no means advocating for doing away with complex thoughts expressed in words, but what if emojis are merely representations of our need to take a little breather now and again? Is civilization really going to come to a grinding halt because of cartoon poops or a little thumb’s up? At the very least, we should take comfort in the fact that these ready-made cartoon doodles are meant to convey emotion (it’s kind of in their name). In an age of virtual communication and geographic distance, we’re still trying to tell each other how we feel. We’ve just run out of cave walls.

Winky face, high-five, octopus, everyone.

Another Post About Gorillas, Zoos, And Children Falling Into Exhibits…Sort Of

gorilla hand and foot

I’ve read the recent news reports, and a healthy number of reactions from different camps, and yeah, the fact that an endangered animal who was basically minding his own business had to die makes me feel sick. There’s nothing about that story that makes me feel okay, no possible (or realistic) outcome that wasn’t going to be awful. There was one aspect of it that made me think, though, and given that it’s World Environment Week, I thought I might share.

A certain percentage of those who responded to the incident were outraged because Harambe the gorilla was killed despite the fact that he seemed to be holding the little boy’s hands, as if to comfort him, or at least assure him that he meant no harm. The folks involved seemed to anticipate the worst from him. I know almost nothing about gorilla behaviour, and I certainly have no idea what went on in the mind of that particular animal at that particular time. I can’t say one way or another if his intentions were peaceful. What fascinates me is that human beings would assume that Harambe, or any other wild animal for that matter, would want to be friendly to a human.

We hear stories about animals extending olive branches to people all the time. There are dolphins who rescue lost swimmers, lions who rescue children from kidnappers, pigs who warn farmers of violent storms, and others. Maybe the stories are true, maybe they’re exaggerated, but for the most part, I think they might be wishful thinking. Do I think animals aren’t smart enough to show us deliberate kindness? I think they are. Despite our use of tools and linguistic capabilities, there are many instances in which animal brains seem to think circles around ours. Do I think that all animals are mean, or maybe not as nice as humans? Hard nope. I cling to the notion that there are creatures nicer than humans. Let’s be honest, when it comes to niceness, humans don’t set the bar very high. An animal wouldn’t have to try very hard to demonstrate moral superiority. 

And this, fellow jerky homosapiens, is why I can’t just take for granted that Harambe, or any other animal in his situation, would act in the best interest of a human being, even an innocent young human. Quite franky, I don’t see what reason they would have to do so. We humans assume they will. We even expect it. This is the worst form of hubris. We’re bullies. We’re litterbugs. We’re loud, we’re destructive, and we probably even smell horrible, and yet we assume that non-human portion of life on the planet will put out tea and cookies whenever we decide to show up. On a regular basis, we dump all over other creatures, and we want them to like us for it. 

In my second year of university, we were assigned a novel called “Wacousta”. In one chapter, there’s an epic battle in the forest, with settlers battling native populations, blood and gore and general horribleness, a stellar example of our signature human inhumanity. Amidst the carnage, however, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the local workings of nature continue their daily routine as per usual. As hard as it was to read, that scene stuck with me- nature likely doesn’t care about us, not much, anyway. I’m reminded of it every time a tree branch comes down on a car in a storm, or someone gets swarmed by bees. I remember the story whenever I think of environmental philosopher Val Plumwood’s “Being Prey”, in which she forgives a crocodile for attacking and nearly killing her. There’s a reason why pathetic fallacy is a fallacy

It’s been an awfully long time since we gave any part of nature good reason to be nice to us. When stories like Harambe’s come up, we shouldn’t assume that there are good intentions at work, not because there can’t be, but because we don’t deserve them. Happy stories of goodwill between our species and others need to be earned, and we’d better hope that other animals are much better at letting go of grudges than we are.

RIP, proud gorilla. I hope we can do better. 

These Four Walls…And Then Those Four Walls


About a week ago, I realized I was in mourning. The ink was barely dry on the real estate papers, and we were buzzing with excitement at the prospect of more space, and nice space at that. I was explaining to my little nipper that it was okay to be excited and sad simultaneously, and my husband walked by, smiled and said something like “Are you trying to convince the kid, or yourself?” Deciding to move automatically makes a home less yours. Staging it with all sorts of things that are way fancier than yours and leaving it half-empty certainly helps to cut the cord. Rationally, and maybe even emotionally, I know this house won’t be ours for much longer, but I know when the time comes, there’s still going to be part of me that will think “I live here. You can’t have my key.”

I know what it’s like to live in a house that doesn’t want you there. The last one was infested with carnivorous weeds. Bits of lost toys from previous owners would mysteriously pop out of dark corners. There was a dent in one of the doors that look liked it had been put there by an angry fist. Food never tasted quite right in that kitchen and laundry always came out a little grungy. We often had the distinct impression that our neighbours were whispering about us behind our backs. Okay, I’ve frosted this with a bit of poetic license (just a bit), but it was clear from very early on with that house that we’d landed somewhere we didn’t belong.

At no point was this more clear than when we moved to another house, the one I’m presently struggling to leave. It’s not as if it was perfect when we bought it. The kitchen was coated in cow wallpaper three inches thick (only exaggerating a little), and the cupboards were lined with paper doilies. There was a shallow, metal tub that made bathing feel like sitting in a sink full of cold dishwater. It needed paint and flooring that wasn’t linoleum. We redid the kitchen- twice. Regardless, it still felt like the house missed us when we went away on vacation. It buzzed happily when we threw parties, and hummed quietly on lazy Sundays. It lovingly enveloped our dogs and our kid, and the back yard bloomed with wild abandon in the spring.

And then one evening, when we finally admitted that our tiny kingdom wasn’t quite big enough to hold the life we’d built for ourselves anymore, the house seemed sympathetic, maybe even a little apologetic.

So, how does one say goodbye to a house? Do we do what people in cheesy 80’s movies do, and throw one last, righteous bash? Is there enough burning sage to smudge 10 years of my life out of this place? Which wall is the one I hug or high five when the movers lug out the last box?

Maybe a new house is just a reminder from the universe that when all is said and done, modern humans are still nomads, albeit very, very slow-moving ones. There’s no dwelling capable of accommodating an entire lifetime. We grow, we shrink, we grow again, and we’re forever trying on a different home that suits who we are at the moment. Houses are containers, and in a few weeks, we’ll carefully pour ourselves into a bigger one and enjoy the sensation of having more room to slosh around. I’m cautiously optimistic that our next container will welcome us as readily as the present one has.

Stand in the place where you live. Now face north. Think about direction, wonder why you haven’t before. (R.E.M.)


How Big A Leap Is It?


Adrenaline junkies. You know a few of these people, right? They’re the sort of brave souls who like to skydive and hang glide and swim with things that could chomp them in half. They dangle from cliffs and crawl through caves. On a slow day, they’ll strap themselves into the biggest roller coaster and eat stuff that might be poisonous. There are entire industries set up to cater to thrill seekers like these, genres of books, video games and movies established to draw them in. The buzz that comes with this lifestyles isn’t all that mysterious. Call it embracing the id, revisiting one’s inner cave person, or just taking an extreme vacation from the monotony of modern existence. Sometimes life feels a little more special when one plays nicky nine doors with death. I get it. There’s no way in hell anyone would ever catch me doing anything like this, but I get it.

I’d like to suggest, however, that when we think of taking risks, making leaps, being brave, this shouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a certain amount (maybe even a lot) of gumption required to do any of the things mentioned above, but I’d wager that it takes a lot more guts to do other things, things that don’t necessarily involve staring into the jaws of death.

Let’s start with being a stranger in a strange land. I’ve never done this one either (except for vacations), but I’ve known and taught a whole lot of people who have. I can say without hesitation that learning a new language, and committing to speak it, requires a person to “grow a pair” in ways that adventure seekers may never appreciate. To do it properly, a person has to accept that they’re going to look stupid (really, really stupid) on a regular basis. They’re going to be misunderstood, maybe even inadvertently get people angry at them. They’re going to be lonely, and wish there were more people with whom they could share their innermost thoughts without the aid of a phrasebook or a translator. Pretty gutsy stuff, non?

What about being an artist? All those ideas you think people will find silly or obnoxious, perhaps even incendiary? They’re going to come out in the work you produce, be it music, painting, writing, dance or drama. Whether your work is well-received or widely-ridiculed, whenever something creative makes its way out into the world, the creator risks looking stupid. It’s part of the job description, a gamble at best, and perhaps the mark of a good artist is the ability to make educated guesses about risk versus reward, to be able to say with confidence that the product of one’s busy brain is worth being made to feel foolish. Also gutsy.

The list of risky ventures doesn’t end there. We take incredible leaps when we fall in love, become a parent, take up public speaking, or start a business. In each case, there’s a very real possibility that we’ll have our pride mushed up and served to us on toast. So why is it that we oooh and ahh over those who willingly take on physical danger, but other acts of bravery, like the ones I’ve listed here, fade into the noise? What’s the difference, anyway?

Well, the first kind of risk-taking, if everything goes wrong, results in being a blurry splatter somewhere, or at least spending a great deal of time in traction. I’m not denying that it takes a fair helping of gumption to climb a rock face or crawl through caves. The other kind of risky activities, however, require that you actually live with the results. If everything goes wrong, there’s pride, self-confidence, and relationships on the line. What’s worse, one might be required to give it another try, to risk screwing up again, and again…and again. These kinds of risks are undertaken without the promise of an immediate endorphin buzz. There’s no line of gear to purchase, no electrolyte drink to replenish one’s energy mid-task. Some adventures can’t be captured with a GoPro.

Still a rush, nonetheless. Here’s to all kinds of bravery, and to the thrill of the leap, whether it be over a cliff, into the deep, or somewhere a little more metaphorical.