- by Alyson Shane
There comes a time in every person's life when they experience a fundamental shift in how they view their parents. A moment when the veneer is peeled away, revealing the flawed, real people our parents are underneath all the assumptions we make about them as their child.
In the most recent episode of Hidden Brain (a great NPR podcast I can't recommend enough) the host was interviewing a woman whose view of her father changed when she was twelve years old.
Someone had called the house looking for her dad, and she answered the phone to say he wasn't around. She remembers that the caller sounded old; his voice shaky. He was upset. He said:
"Your father stole my life savings! Your father is a crook!"
Those few words fundamentally changed her relationship with her dad. She no longer saw him as a charismatic, charming artist. She saw him for who he really was: a liar, a con man, and - it seemed - a thief.
My moment of reckoning with my own father didn't happen until I was in my mid-twenties. I was going back through some old emails, looking for something I'd intended to reference at my next therapy session, I think, and I came across an email exchange from July of 2010.
My dad was upset that I was quitting my government job to attend university. Over the course of several he emails made it clear that he was angry at my decision, and took issue with my reply, where I told him (in so many words) "I'm an adult and you need to respect my decisions and not speak to me so disrespectfully."
Seeing his response, which follows, shook me to my core:
Wow, in nut shell, write me off. You never contact me unless you want something from me. You've forgotten my birthdays, never see me on father's day, etc.* You obviously are very self absorbed and unless I serve some purpose you have nothing to do with me. When was the last time you called to see how I was doing. Can't remember can you. How is my back, don't know do you. Don't care do you, typical.**
I include the text above because, until that moment, I hadn't been presented with an example of how my dad handled conflicts in our relationship. Sure, I had memories of angry emails, and of him hanging up on me when he got worked up, but I'd never been faced with real evidence of how my father treated me and spoke to me since we'd become estranged a few years earlier.
Until I rediscovered that email I'd been under the impression that I was in therapy largely due to my relationship with my mom. That it was her abuse, gaslighting, and manipulation of everyone around her that was the primary contributing factor to why I had severe anxiety and extremely low self-worth.
Like the woman in the Hidden Brain episode, seeing those words changed how I viewed my father.
Until then I'd always viewed him as a tragic hero. A guy who got married too young, was tricked into having too many kids too young, and was trying to do the best he could in a marriage where his spouse would routinely brag to her kids that "your dad can never leave me because I'll take everything."
The idea of my dad as a tragic hero was the prevailing impression I'd gotten from talking to our family, and the impression I developed as I became the target of my mom's anger as a teenager and my dad tried, again and again, to stand up to how she treated me.
Until I read that email I'd assumed that my dad was, at worst, a cowardly hero.
Someone who tried and failed to do the right thing. A man who got stuck in a bad situation and was trying to make the best of it because he didn't have the willpower to man up and leave.
I remembered my dad as someone funny and kind. With a temper, sure, but as someone who was more likely to start crying during an argument than to hurl insults and lash out angrily.
Despite everything that had happened, the teenage years spent largely in the counsellor's office because I was to distressed with my home life to go to class; his inability to convince my mom to let me move home so I could attend university and not sink into debt; and even the estrangement because he refused to have a relationship with me where my mom wasn't physically present... I still saw my dad as a hero.
Maybe a tragic, or cowardly one, but a hero nonetheless. Because he did the best he could to be supportive and to help me become a happy, well-adjusted person.
At least, that's what I'd told myself and fully believed until I discovered this series of emails.
The last time I communicated with my father was earlier this year. My mom had decided to run for school trustee in the recent civic election and my dad was struggling with the basics of setting up a website, social media profiles, etc. - so he reached out to me.
"Not as my dad, but as a potential client."
I don't want to go deep into my feelings on this issue, but suffice it to say that my mom is about as unqualified to hold public office as they come, and I had no interest in helping her.
So I wrote him back.
I wrote long email explaining how I felt, reiterated the situation that had caused us to become estranged in the first place, and laid out the things that needed to happen for me to feel comfortable re-engaging in a relationship again.
I ran it past John and a few people whose opinions I respect, who told me I sounded reasonable. Firm, but reasonable.
My dad, for what it's worth, never wrote back.
What I've learned in the years since I found those emails is the ugly truth that every child eventually discovers about their parents: that they aren't perfect, and they're just as capable of being petty and mean and immature as anyone else.
I obsessed over the 2010 emails for a while. I read them and re-read them, almost unable to comprehend that the person I had believed in and loved unconditionally could also be the same person accusing me of not caring about them and being self-centered because I pushed back and asked for respect and boundaries.
I brought the emails to therapy and I cried like I was in mourning.
Which I suppose I was, in a way. I was mourning the loss of the idea of my father. The loss of the idea that he was the person who always believed in me and stood up for me, and who respected me and wanted me to be happy.
As kids, we idolize our parents. We look up to them. We believe them to be infallible, and when the ugly truth of who our parents really are comes crashing down on us it's our responsibility to grapple with those feelings.
It becomes our job, as their children and as adults, to make sense of the contradiction between who who we believed they were, and the person our parents really are.
Like the woman in the Hidden Brain episode I had to come to terms with the fact that my dad, like most people and most parents, was not who I believed him to be.
In the episode, the daughter eventually reunites with her father, though their relationship is strained. They only talk by phone, and after her dad suffers a fall and winds up in an assisted living facility, she visits him only once before he dies.
During their last meeting he tells her "I'm sorry for all the things I've done" and the daughter is left wishing she'd asked her dad: "what things? What were you sorry for?" before he died.
When she recalls this to the host, she sounds distressed. Like there's something nagging at her; something unresolved lurking beneath the surface. She's struggling with the fact that her dad is gone forever, and all she's left with are the remnants of who she thought he was, who he turned out to be, and a series of items and leftovers from his life that she must piece together to start to fill in the blanks.
I know these feelings. My dad is middle-aged; his health has never been great. He has back problems and high blood pressure and high cholesterol and drinks and smokes too much. I'm acutely aware that he could have a heart attack or a stroke at any time, leaving me with only the scraps of his life to glue and stitch together to create an image of who he really was.
Sometimes, when I find myself becoming consumed with this looming reality, I feel an urge to pick up the phone and say:
"What are you sorry for, Dad?"
But maybe I don't want to hear his answer after all.
*I forgot one birthday/Father's Day when I was 16 and not living at home because of conflicts with my mom.
** What my dad stated here is also untrue; I regularly called and emailed him, and we went out for lunch together every so often right up until we stopped speaking.
- by Alyson Shane
It feels like 2019 both snuck up on me and couldn't get here fast enough.
Not because 2018 was bad personally - not in the slightest. In fact, I'd say John and I both had banner years on pretty much all fronts.
We, like many of the people we know, are lucky.
But it was an exhausting year for lots of other people, both for people we know and, it seems, for the world at large.
There seemed to be way more bad news than good news, which I'm not even sure is true but when all the bad news feels like overwhelmingly bad news it's hard to not focus on the stuff that makes you want to sign off of the internet permanently and go live in a secluded log cabin on a mountain somewhere.
I get those feels, man.
But I'm trying to be more positive these days, so in light of that I thought I'd share some of the stuff I've been reflecting on in the wake of the final days of this The Year of Our Lord 2018.
Here's what I'm planning to work on in the coming year in no particular order:
I want to use social media with more intentionality.
I use social media pretty much all day every day because I run a digital marketing company
(shameless plug, heh)
but just because I use it and read about it all the time and think about it from a strategic perspective doesn't mean that I'm using it in a way that adds value to my personal life.
I plan to spend less time aimlessly scrolling through Instagram while I watch binge-watch something on Netflix, and more time painting or drawing while I binge-watch, listen to a podcast, or work through an audiobook.
I plan to spend less time RTing and Liking, and commenting instead.
Taking the time to answer those question boxes on Instagram stories and having small conversations with real people more often.
I plan on ReTweeting fewer white men.
Someone on the most recent Pod Save America episode pointed out that lots of influential journalists and politicians are white men, and that they were going to make a point to RT more diverse perspectives than those of the de-facto white guy in the room.
I liked that point, and am going to try and do the same.
I want to read more books.
I read a lot of articles, but I don't read as many books as I'd like. This is problematic for me because, while reading lots of articles helps me construct a well-rounded model of an idea or concept, sinking down into a book offers me the chance to go much deeper on a subject than stringing together a bunch of articles tends to offer.
There's a great article about how reading books makes us more human that's informed my thinking a lot in this area.
I read a lot this past year, but I could have read more books if I'd put more effort into it. I got a bit lazy around summer, I think, since things were so busy.
I still managed to read quite a lot, though: I read and was devastated by Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms which I read while we were in Belize. I read Ubik and Little Brother and a bunch of Ted Chiang short stories and others through book club; I read Crossing the Chasm which took me way longer than I'd have liked and Fire and Fury which was infuriating and scary, and a couple of others, too.
I also just finished reading Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald, which was terrific.
Making time to read is hard even if you love reading though. Life gets in the way.
But I need to make more time for it because it helps me be a better
version of myself.
So this year I'm planning to carve out more time for reading books, which bodes well since we'll have a lot of free time during our flights to Thailand, and I can read quickly af.
If you have any suggestions for books I should read, tweet them at me.
I want to forgive more readily.
The older I get the less I want to hang on to the angry things that kept me from happiness when I was younger.
I have a lot of things I can be angry about; plenty of things I can hold onto and wield like weapons. Things to keep me fired up, feeling angry, churning over thoughts and feelings.
And sometimes that happens, don't get me wrong.
But I want to put those things down more quickly in the years ahead.
Not just as it relates to my loony family, but as it relates to how I feel when I disagree with someone, or when I feel slighted or unheard or misunderstood.
I've realized in the past few years that being intentionally happy and focusing on the positive things on purpose has only made me more happy over time.
It also seems to have a positive impact on people around me, which is something I'd like to continue to foster.
There's a neat segment on the latest Hidden Brain podcast that talks about "contagious compassion" which relates to this concept that influenced how I think about this idea.
I plan on continuing to build on that because that seems like a good quality to cultivate in myself.
I want to spend more time with my food.
John and I already garden aggressively each summer, but finding new ways to cook, can, make jam, or otherwise do stuff with the food we buy and grow is something that gives me a sense of comfort and pride.
There's nothing quite like filling the house with the smell of simmering veggie scraps or chicken bones for broth
(except the smell of soup made at a later date)
or spending an afternoon listening to Frank Sinatra and the old classics while slicing up cucumbers for pickling, or tomatoes for a salsa.
Bonus points if there's a mojito or a well-garnished caesar nearby.
But there's more we can do to eat better, waste less, and be more creative with our leftovers and combining the odds and ends into our meals.
So this year I'm gonna figure out some "kitchen hacks" and become an even better, less wasteful cook.
I want to write more.
I've pigeonholed myself with my writing in the last few years, I think, and it's time to start exploring how to express myself using writing in other mediums.
I've downloaded Google Keep and am going to keep a list of notes, thoughts, phrases, and quotes collected as I go about my day. I've been using it over the past few days and it's been really rewarding to capture those little narrative moments as they happen.
Maybe I'll write a book with them someday. Who knows.
I'm planning to experiment more with writing poetry, and not judging my poems so damn much. Most poems suck, anyway, so it's absolutely fine for mine to suck as well.
I'm also planning to start hashing out some short stories. Making sense of some of the ideas I've had rattling around in my brain since I read Stephen King's On Writing a few summers ago and promptly got "too busy" to expand on them.
It feels like the right time, so I'm planning to capitalize on that feeling in the future.
I want to do more crossword puzzles.
John and I do crossword puzzles on our phones together and it's become one of my favourite in-between activities that we do together. You know what I mean:
In-between prepping a meal and waiting for it to cook.
In-between getting ready for a ride and getting picked up.
In-between waking up and getting out of bed on the weekends.
It's a nice little mental stretch, and fun to do.
We use Redstone Games' free app Crossword Puzzle, and so far have liked the collections from D. Diebold the best, I think.
Whether 2018 was your best or worst year, I hope 2019 brings you the best of everything: friends, family, and personal and professional success.
It's always nice to have an opportunity to reflect and plan for the future; thanks for reading!
Do you have any plans for the coming year? Any ideas you're planning to work on, or goals you've set for yourself? Tweet 'em at me and let's chat.
- by Alyson Shane
A lot of people tell me that they don't get nervous or excited before a trip until they're in the car or on the plane, but not me.
My favourite part of doing anything is thinking about doing it in advance of doing it.
We're going to Thailand and Cambodia in a few weeks and I've been daydreaming about beaches and big bowls of noodles and night markets and tuk-tuks for months, now.
But more than my excitement, I can feel that we're going away soon in how I feel about my day-to-day life.
I'm enjoying the small things a little more. Like how the winter sunlight looks in the afternoon, or how Toulouse curls up between my legs when I'm sleeping
even if this does trip me up almost every time I need to get up in the middle of the night.
Today we did our usual trio of errands: Shopper's, the LC, DeLuca's.
We put on backpacks and brought extra bags and laughed and tried liquor samples and bought a bunch of fancy cheese and artichoke hearts and fresh bread and a vanilla bean soda.
Tomorrow we're making a special dinner together and I'm going to make a nice mulled wine to serve with the pizza we're making from scratch and all the fancy cheese we're going to eat.
Tonight we're going to Thida's Thai with some friends and I'm ordering the super-spicy chicken pad Thai, my favourite
which I know is nothing like what I'm going to be eating in Thailand in a few weeks
and in a few days we'll be ringing in New Year's in our pyjamas with our best friends eating fancy cheese and drinking wine and popping bottles of bubbly to celebrate spending another year together.
The family I've built for myself in the city I love.
How sweet it is to be together
and how fleeting our time together is before we leave.
- by Alyson Shane
And frankly I think we're worrying about the wrong thing.
What worries me isn't whether a song that was written 74 years ago is sexist
what worries me is that our society is moving to a place where our first instinct to something we don't like is to ban it outright.
That's some Ray Bradbury-style shit right there, folks.
Last night I sat down and looked at the lyrics, and at first glance I could totally see why some people think the song is concerning: on the surface it sounds like guy trying to pressure a girl into staying the night, and that kind of behaviour, rightfully, deserves some scrutiny.
So let's dig into the historical context of the song a little bit:
"Baby, It's Cold Outside" was written in 1944 by the songwriter Frank Loesser (who also wrote Guys and Dolls) so he and his wife Lynne could perform it at parties. He sold it to MGM for use in the film Neptune's Daughter and it was a huge hit, winning an Academy Award in 1950.
It's a duet sung back and forth between male and female singers, and the plot, basically, is that a man is trying to get his date to spend the night and she's demurring.
By modern dating standards that seems, at first glance, problematic.
Obviously a man pressuring a woman to stay the night is inappropriate, right?
Except when we consider the song in the context of the time it was written:
In 1944, women were under a ton of pressure to appear modest. Being labelled as "a slut" could have serious social ramifications, so women were expected to put up a fight regardless of whether they wanted to engage in sexual activity or not.
Which is what seems to be what's going on when the female singer says:
"I ought to say no, no, no, sir, at least then I can say that I tried."
I could dig into this further, but there's a great Medium post that breaks down a lot of what I'd say anyway that I recommend you check out instead.
It's also worth noting that the expression "what's in my drink?" was a popular phrase people used when they were getting tipsy, as noted by Frank Loesser's daughter in an interview.
When the song was written the expression had nothing to do with date rape, or drugging someone's drink; the lyrics only become problematic when we view them through the narrow lens of the present.
But whether or not we agree on our interpretation of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" doesn't matter anymore, because banning it from the radio eliminates the opportunity for constructive discussion.
Worries About Censorship
Banning a song, or a book, or a film, isn't how societies solve problems; it's how we repress discussion and silence alternate viewpoints.
And, frankly, it scares me that this is where we're at as a society.
I've struggled to talk about this publicly, and have been afraid to do so because I'm scared of the political blowback I may receive.
I've watched people's lives get upended, their social standing destroyed, and their friends and colleagues turning their backs on them because they expressed an opinion that was unpopular, or that people didn't want to hear.
But the honest truth of it is that censorship doesn't help us, it hurts us.
I know this because I've studied it. I have a degree in rhetoric. I've studied oral history. I've spent close to a decade of my life dissecting how we convey our thoughts and ideas, and how our communication has changed over time.
I've taken a deep anthropological dive into how words can be weaponized against us
(which is the biggest reason why I find Conservative rhetoric scary and problematic, but that's a topic for another post)
and what scares me the most isn't what we say, it's when we stop people from saying it, and who does the censoring.
And because this censorship is coming from The Left it's easy for those of us who identify as left-leaning to hand-wave away how concerning these tactics are because we assume we have a moral high ground.
I mean, who wouldn't want to get behind ensuring that women are protected and respected in our society? That's an easy sell, right?
Except when we assume we have the moral high ground we stop looking critically at the larger implications of the actions we take.
When we demonize people who disagree with us as being "out of touch" or "dated" we hand-wave away the important discussions that need to take place in order to get everyone on the same page
(or, at the very least, reading the same book)
which is actually how we move forward together as a society.
Censorship is problematic because when we draw a line between "right" and "wrong" we leave no room for context and nuance.
We eliminate the opportunity for discussion and exploration because we've already decided (through censorship) that something has no place in our public discourse.
As our society continues to grow and change, we need to be able to have ongoing discussions about what is, and isn't, appropriate in our modern context, but censoring something we don't agree with isn't how we have healthy discussions.
The ugly truth of it is that censorship is a slippery slope to a totalitarian state, and I worry that because we've begun censoring things under the guise of "equality" and "feminism" we're ignoring the deeply troubling ramifications of adopting these kinds of tactics.
Because censorship seems OK as long as as you're not the one being censored.
But if history tells us anything, it tells us that the people we need to be the most concerned about are the ones who think the have the moral high ground
because it's those people who will turn on you the fastest.
- by Alyson Shane
I walk a lot most of the time, really, but recently the temperature plummeted to something ridiculous like -20C for a few weeks and nobody wanted to go outside, myself included.
But the last few days have been way more mild, to the point where I didn't even wear a toque today. In late November!
But I digress: I've been walking a lot lately in a variety of headwear and a very sharp blue jacket courtesy of the recent Thrive Thrift Shop clothing swap
(I've finally fulfilled my lifelong dream of owning a winter jacket that isn't black!)
to and from different meetings, and appointments, and what have you.
It's been nice to be outside again.
The part I like most about being outside is having the opportunity to see other people going about their day. I'm endlessly fascinated by other people and can sit in one spot watching people all day long if left to my own devices.
A lot of people think people-watching is boring, but it isn't. People are incredibly interesting if you think about it.
Consider this: every single other person around you is walking around in a big skin bag with internal thoughts and feelings, worries and motivations, deep personal histories, baggage, anxieties, hopes and fears... all of the weird stuff you go through every day, everyone else is going through at the same time.
Do you remember the first time you realized that about other people? I do.
I was in the bathroom in my childhood home, washing my hands. Or rather, I'd washed my hands after using the bathroom and was thinking about something, and as I looked at myself in the mirror I realized:
every single other living person out there is having the same experience as I am.
I actually stumbled back a bit and had to catch myself on the towel rack, and stared at myself and for the first time connected with the fact that all of the other people around me were as equally complicated and had the same internal monologues and experiences, and it scared the living daylights out of me.
I'd never felt so small before. I felt insignificant because, after all, if what I'm experiencing is just "default human" and is the same thing everyone else experiences, does that mean I'm less unique?
After that I developed an obsession with psychology and sociology and anthropology.
I figured: I dive as deep into these topics as I can, maybe I can figure myself out.
But what digging into it (and, subsequently, into how totally infinitesimally small and unimportant I am in the grand scheme of the universe - deep breath) wound up accomplishing was that I developed a strange fascination with other people.
(The jury is still out on whether I truly understand myself though - I'm a work in progress)
I want to know everyone's backstory. Their hopes. Their fears. What it's like for them for look out of their eyes from their body and look at me knowing that there's a consciousness in there looking back at them from a separate sack of skin and bone and muscle and gut bacteria and atoms and neurons firing.
I wonder: what's it like for them to know that there's another person in me, too?
So it's nice when it's warm enough for me to walk outside because I get to experience other humans going about their days, absorbed in their own and thoughts and feelings.
They're going about their lives, thinking their own internal monologues.
Worrying about what to make for dinner
what to get Jenny for her birthday next Thursday
that wall in the kitchen they still haven't painted yet.
I walk by other people and I marvel at how unique everyone is.
How strikingly complex and interesting and special they all are.
And I walk to and fro and back and worth watching people, and I wonder:
Does anyone else realize this about me, too?
- by Alyson Shane
Yesterday as I was on my way to a meeting my toque blew off my head because it was windy af and I had to chase it down the street like a chump
which wouldn't have been so bad, except as it was blowing away my toque blew into some dude's legs as he was also crossing the street, and you know what he did?
He laughed and kicked my toque off his leg and I swear I could have chewed him out for being a tool right then and there but I was worrying about catching up with my toque and also getting my hair, scarf, and glasses which slipped off my face as I was hustling in place
(I must have looked like a hot mess)
then as I was bending down to snatch up my hat my phone went flying out of my pocket and wouldn't you know it
the damn thing hit the pavement and the screen shattered into a bazillion horrible and depressing shards.
It was heartbreaking.
But I had to go to a meeting with a new client and my account manager so I had to keep my shit together even though I was freaking out internally because now I needed to get a new phone. There was no way I could use this broken POS. Ugh.
So after my meeting wrapped I headed to my friendly neighbourhood Rogers kiosk to get it replaced. As I was going through the transaction I mentioned that I was heading to Thailand in a few months and the dude said
oh no way, I just got back from Thailand and Indonesia!
and gave me a ton of tips and tricks to traveling through Thailand including making sure we do some scuba diving off the islands on the southern part of the country
(which we were planning to do)
and also to take as many night trains as possible since they're affordable and beautiful and offer lots of chances to actually interact with real Thai folks and not just dumb tourists like us.
(we're now booked on a night train to Chiang Mai which I am PUMPED about)
"Sorry about this" he said "but it's gonna be $300 to buy out of your contract and get a new phone" and I said well, that sucks but OK. I'm not a baller but my corporation can afford it so I'll just buy it now and get money back on my taxes since it's a business expense.
And he said, oh you run a business, what do you do?
And I said I run a digital marketing agency blah blah and he said are you looking for copywriters?
And I said, why yes I am
and he told me his gf was a CreComm grad and is a copywriter and is looking for more work and I thought THIS IS PERFECT because I have lots of work I need done and I'd rather pay someone to do it than do it myself because yr girl is busy af
so I left him my card and have a potential new hire without doing any work.
What's weird about that whole exchange is that if I hadn't been chatty and pleasant and probably bordered on over-sharing what my company does, what our Thailand plans are, etc.
(luckily for me I live in a city where everyone is unusually nice and talkative with strangers)
I might not have gotten those travel protips or had the potential to meet a new person who can help me grow my company and do good work for my clients.
The moral of the story I think is: be chatty and pleasant and good things will come to you.
It always seems to work out that way for me, anyway.
- by Alyson Shane
I don't know but whatever it is, it's been a weird few weeks and it's not just me. Everyone seems to be going through one thing or another.
There's a weird crackle in the air, bad juju, bad luck, weird happenstance, odd off-putting stuff going on it seems. A conflict. A misunderstanding. Health issues. Mental problems.
Everything feels fucked in one way or another and it's hard not to let it eat at you. Wear you down. Make you feel like what's the fucking point
of anything at all.
Between politics and the planet and interpersonal bullshit I swear every person I know is struggling somehow and I'm not sure if this is what adulthood is supposed to be like
or if this is just the new normal we all get to deal with
or if this is just how we get to feel if we take the time to be a #wokebae in today's messed-up, backwards-slipping world
but whatever it is, it sucks.
And I'm ready for a break.
But being a #wokebae (which is a joke, you guys) is realizing that - goddamn it - if nobody gives a meaningful shit then nothing will get better.
So you wake up and swallow yr feelings and slap a smile on yr face and pretend like, yeah everything's great I'm just overwhelmed because a major world power just elected a guy who committed sexual assault to the highest court in the land
and yeah the president of that same country made fun of victims of sexual assault and people thought that was OK
and the planet continues to be fucked and we're making it worse and what am I supposed to tell my future child about how we messed the planet up for them
and yeah people in this city can't vote "yes" on what should be an easy "yes" and essentially a non-issue
and people continue to be the versions of themselves that they are instead of the ones you wish they were
and all the other ways I and so many other people around me have felt like we're failing ourselves, or others, or both. And pretend like
yeah it's fine.
But it's not fucking fine, is it?
(Tell me it isn't.)
- by Alyson Shane
But maybe writing something here would be a better use of my time than laying on my side on the couch in this warm patch of sunlight and playing Final Fantasy VI on my OpenEmu emulator.
I was going to take an internet break because I just learned about a community in my city that appears to be intentionally self-contained. It's got a "Town Center" and sprawling lawns and enough driveways and garages for all the cars you'll ever need.
And your household will need at least two cars, since you have to take a highway to get in and out of it.
I spent some time on the website and frankly it depressed me. Not just the community itself, though I didn't get any joy from looking at the boring, cookie-cutter houses, sprawling unused front lawns, manufactured-looking meeting spaces, miles of paved street and sidewalk and more garages than I cared to count.
The thing that depressed me was that people actively choose to live there, and probably think they like it.
They think they like it because we grow up believing that the best thing we can achieve in life is buying piece of property with a cheaply-made structure out of particleboard and stucco. And why wouldn't we? Our capitalist society forces everyone into a race to the bottom, so good craftsmanship and design go out the window in efforts to pump out as many replicas of the same house each quarter while still maximizing profits.
Did I ever tell you about my parents house? The one we moved into when I was in the sixth grade after living on Murray Avenue since before I was born?
It was a dump compared to the house I rent now, but at the time I didn't know any better. I thought we were getting a shiny, new house and was too young to realize that the fact that my father was going to the site after-hours to double-check the workmanship so he could follow up with the builders was probably a large warning sign that it wasn't going to be a winning specimen. It certainly won't be standing a hundred or more so years like the house I'm sitting in today, I'm sure.
But anyway back to the house. At the time I loved the house. New room! New basement! New backyard! New neighbourhood! But as it turns out the neighbourhood wasn't what I expected it to be and in fact it turned out to be a profound disappointment in a way that I didn't realize until years later.
When I was small the house on Murray Avenue had a tiny backyard compared to the new house that backed onto an unpaved back lane, but beyond it stretched a few miles of undeveloped field that acted as an extension of my back yard, and in fact the street itself was surrounded by undeveloped fields if I remember correctly.
I spent god knows how many hours out there running around exploring the wild reeds in the spring when the field would flood and sometimes be too deep, and I'd soak my pants and socks and keep wandering around because there was no sense in putting dry clothes on just to go back out again, anyway.
In the wintertime the ploughs piled up snow at the end of the lane and we climbed over it and slid down it on toboggans and crazy carpets and sometimes old cardboard boxes if we were lazy.
There were parks nearby and a Tempo gas that I would walk to with my mom and brothers and the daycare kids so she could buy packs of Players Extra Light Regular and buy us pieces of hard Double Bubble gum if we didn't act up.
There was a community center and baseball diamond and hockey rink nearby at the end of the road, and an old wooden playground with a tire swing that I accidentally launched myself from more than once.
The houses had variety and were close together and nobody had garages in the front so you could see people and interact with them and get to know the names, birthdays, and personal details about everyone on your block, at least, but often several blocks over because everyone knew everyone's business. It takes a tremendous effort to be private when you live within a few feet of your neighbours' house and have to leave the house to get into your car every day.
And so we moved from this old street with its big fields and close-together houses with back lanes, and into a new stucco house with a garage in the front and a backyard that barely got used and nowhere to play unless it was a designated playground or recreational space. I liked it at first, and eventually it simply became the reality of where I lived, but I didn't like it as much as my old street and missed Murray Avenue.
One day not long after we'd moved into the new house my dad made a comment to me about the neighbours. He said that they'd gotten to know the people on Murray Avenue and was surprised that by moving into a "higher class neighbourhood" he wouldn't have "higher-class neighbours" who would be equally as friendly.
He had bought into the idea that buying a house in a new subdivision was the ultimate middle-class goal hook, line, and sinker, and couldn't figure out why he was unhappy with his new surroundings, which in hindsight was okay because at the time I didn't know why I was unhappy there, either.
It took a few political science courses and reading some Jane Jacobs to help me realize what was wrong, but I doubt my dad has figured it how and I doubt the people in that pre-planned community have, either.
At least that was the impression I got after I wound up on a couple of the Facebook Groups for the various neighbourhood associations there. So many people complaining about each other anonymously, shaming one another over how they parked their cars or how they don't mow their lawns often enough. Awful, petty stuff.
The saddest part of all of this is that eventually all the field surrounding my old house on Murray Avenue were filled in with the same cheaply-made cookie-cutter houses, street-facing garages, and wide car-centric streets as the neighbourhood my parents moved into.
More people chasing the middle-class "dream" without stopping to think about what it means.
Now I need an internet break.
- by Alyson Shane
The easy answer is: everyone.
But humans are trash sometimes, and we don't always think that way.
Mostly because a lot of people lack empathy, especially when it applies to people we don't know, or people we have beef with, or people who have hurt us.
Empathy means you give a shit about other people. You care about their life experience, how they feel, what they care about and what motivates them.
Loving someone is just empathy amplified.
Because when you really love someone - I mean really love someone - then you start to act weird. You put their needs and wants before your own. You start making changes in yr own life because you care so much about their wants, needs, and ambitions.
You're willing to look at yr own behaviours and go
"shit, are the things I'm saying/doing negatively impacting the person I care about?"
and if the answer is 'yes' then you try and correct course to the best of your ability. Because that's what you do when you love someone. Even though it can be tough to put down your pride, prejudice, or assumptions about that person, you do yr best and try to act with empathy.
And if we're willing to do that with people we care about, why is it so hard to extend that same caring and thoughtfulness to other people
even if they look
or act differently than we do?
It seems obvious if you ask me. Empathy can heal our broken society.
Maybe not everyone thinks this way. But maybe we should.
Maybe the world would be a little nicer if we did.
- by Alyson Shane
Earlier today Tony shared this image on his Facebook and asked: "am I really part of the problem?"
And I've been thinking about this image and comment and concept and here's what I think:
No, you aren't part of the problem. None of us are.
We live in a society guided by principles of capitalism, which means that our economic model rewards businesses who can keep costs low and profits high.
And you know what costs a lot? People.
The median salary for a bagging clerk in the US. is $7.25 - $10.00/hr, which means the average bagging clerk makes $15,080.00 annually to start.
A self-checkout machine, on the other hand, costs an average of $125,000, which means that a grocery store can make a one-time purchase equivalent to the annual salary of 8.28 bagging clerks.
These bagging clerks, mind you, need to be paid their hourly wage regardless of how productive they are. Most will take time away from work at some point (sick time, family leave, vacation time, etc.) They may also need health benefits. Depending on where you live (I'm not great with U.S. business policy so forgive me) employers also need to pay federal taxes towards unemployment benefits for each employee.
Even if a self-checkout machine sits unused for an entire business day, it doesn't matter because the company has already made a one-time investment in the machine, meaning they don't have to pay it for doing nothing. Sure, the machine may break down from time to time but the cost of repairs is still significantly lower than supporting 8.28 people's salaries and additional costs.
Long story short: a one-time investment in a self-serve checkout machine eliminates the ongoing costs of having multiple bagging clerks. It's cheaper and more economical for companies to invest in machines and automation because our economic model rewards fast and cheap.
"Duh, Alyson!" I hear you saying "I know how capitalism works."
Which is all well and good, but when we start getting into the business of discussing how someone's livelihood is being automated away before our eyes, people start throwing around words like "unfair" and "irresponsible" and "cruel" which misses the point entirely.
Here's why: low-skilled jobs are going away whether we want to face it or not.
In fact, automation is expected to eat away at 1/3 of low skill jobs by 2022.
That's only 4 years away, folks, and automation hardware and software is becoming cheaper every day, which means companies that have a business incentive to keep costs low (like we discussed earlier) are going to keep replacing bagging clerks and other low-skill jobs until - guess what - they're basically gone from first-world countries.
It's not "cruel" to look at the facts pragmatically and say "this job is going to be automated away."
It's not "unfair" for low-skilled workers to be replaced by cheaper and more efficient methods because that's how technology, progress, and capitalism all operate.
It's not "irresponsible" to accept that fact and choose to advocate for social support systems like a basic guaranteed income, worker re-training programs, and other services instead.
You know what IS irresponsible?
Pretending like a future that is basically at our doorstep isn't coming and blaming "evil corporations" for replacing low-skilled human workers with automated machines that yield a higher ROI, and acting like choosing a bagging clerk over a self-checkout machine makes even the tiniest bit of difference in the long-term.
It doesn't, and it isn't going to.
So how can we handle this transition responsibly?
Having frank discussions about what automation means for people who can't compete in the labour market because they can't learn high-skilled job functions like the elderly or people with disabilities.
Having honest conversations about how our society treats people who aren't able to work because their jobs are being automated away, and how we can implement a social safety net that allows them to lead rich, safe, and fulfilling lives.
Having real dialogues about the damage that the perception of "job = worth" has on how we react to a changing job market that - sorry to say - is never going back to the way it was.
Because a lot of people are going to be out of work really soon, and more people will lose their jobs to automation in the coming years and find themselves permanently unemployed because they don't have the skills, training, or education necessary to fit into a job market that's becoming increasingly specialized. No amount of "choosing cashiers over machines" is going to change that.
So we can keep pointing the finger pointing at "evil" corporations and placing blame, or we can have some grown-up discussions about what life is going to look like for all those people who don't have the skills to compete in the job market.
Does that sting to hear? Sure.
Is it harsh? Absolutely.
But you know what's also generally pretty harsh?
And we're not doing anyone any favours by ignoring it.