The Power of Naming

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9girl_on_the_beach_in_frameNaming is a prominent theme in our religions, our mythology and our legends – to name something is to have power over it. It removes the thing from the unknown, makes it familiar and therefore manageable. I feel that the scene in the Bible here Adam is given the task of naming the animals in order to have dominion over them is an prime example of this.

The unknown is the largest human fear there is, which is why naming holds so much power. Without an identity you don’t know how to handle it. Without a name it’s part of that terrifying blackness, or blankness that haunts us – the moment after death, the bogeyman in the night.

But once a thing has a name it becomes something else. It has edges, definition and with those comes all the information that others have gathered over the years.

Which is why a chance encounter with a single word was such a relief to me: dysthymia. For years I just figured I’d been affected by things that had happened to me, that I was permanently – not broken, but damaged. It didn’t occur to me that I had a form of depression, because I could still get out of bed in the morning and go to work and interact with other human beings in the fairly normal, if limited way of an empath. But reading the article I stumbled across online entitled “high-functioning depression” made a light come on in my brain. I wasn’t alone, and the black dog that sometimes sits on my chest making it hard to breathe, or think, also visits other people.

I’d purposely avoided reading about depression because the literature I’d seen up until that moment had focused on major depression and suicide prevention. I didn’t think about leaving this world in dramatic ways or that everyone else would be better off without me. Depression in that frame didn’t apply to me. I wasn’t there, I just felt low, worthless, anxious to the point that sleep eluded me. I gained weight. I stopped writing; something I truly enjoy. I spun in little circles trying to chase the black dog off. Some days I felt like I succeeded. Sometimes that feeling would last for weeks so how could I be depressed?

For a while I thought it was just my backwater job, or the weight of student debt, the general anxiety that has dogged me since childhood, or some external force that weighed me down. And they did, certainly, but the fact that I can tackle my feelings as ‘depression’ is a relief. I’m not a pretender to the term – if you know what I mean. It’s not a capital D depression, but no less legitimate for its form because now it has a name. The more reading I do, the more talking I do, the better handle on it I get. Some days are still better than others, but having that one piece, that name, makes such a difference.

So if you feel that something isn’t right, I encourage you to keep going, keep reading, there’s a name out there to give you power over the dark.

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Bye-bye 2016

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baw035Many have said that 2016 was a shitty year. In terms of celebrity deaths and US politics, I can honestly concur.

We lost some bright lights this year. Some bright, formative influences on my childhood and the adult I became. David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, George Michael, Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen, Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher. (And so many of them so shortly after Robin Williams and Leonard Nimoy.) All of them had some part in my popular culture formation. And then there were others; Elie Weisel, Fidel Castro, Richard Adams, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Alan Thicke, Ron Glass, Florence Henderson, Ursula Franklin etc, etc who nevertheless helped shape the fabric of the world that shaped me – and others of my generation. This is why I think the year felt like such a blow: our childhoods are starting to fray into the electric threads of memory and nostalgia.

And then the perpetual stress of the US election bombarding us from TV and internet feeds, only to have the worst possible result at the end of it all was depressing, if not downright frightening. ‘Murica has elected a TV repairman as a brain surgeon believing that the skills are similar and therefore transferable. (I suppose this is what happens when you think a country should be run like a business, forgetting that it’s primary purpose isn’t to make money. But the idiocies of capitalism are the contents of another rant.) Some ask me why I give a crap what happens south of the border, but don’t forget – what happens to our closest neighbour affects us because we’re inexorably tied by trade, by borders and by history. Talk of walls, terrorism and sheer stupidity in the White House (as evidenced by the loose-cannon tweeting by The Toupeed One) is enough to set anyone’s teeth on edge. I, for one, am going to miss The Obamas.

But.

2016 wasn’t all bad. J and I had a bunch of adventures on the island, exploring parks and trails from here to Jordan River, Lake Cowichan and lots of places in between. We did a lot of things we hadn’t done before, including attending a monster truck rally. We also gardened for the first time in a rental plot in a local community garden. We ate a lot of our own home-grown vegetables which was amazing. I’d missed home grown veggies for a while, so our accomplishment, as total garden-noobs was fantastic.We also got a fish tank, which is something I had never had before. Fish are not as easy to care for as one might imagine, but their little colourful lives are worth it. And yes – they do have personalities.

I also changed jobs after five years at my previous place of employment. A step up in responsibility and income. While I miss some of the coworkers, I do not miss the endless cycles of stupidity – or the fact that I had solutions that no one would take seriously. It was stressful and futile – and while I enjoyed the actual work, there was a limit to my patience and sanity.

So while the year has been characterized as pretty terrible, take time to highlight the positives in your year and cherish them all the more. Happy New Year, friends.

Review: Doctor Strange

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456I did not really get into comics as a kid. I was into the nerdiest stuff I could get my hands on, but comics were still sort of off limits. For one, the cost was a little prohibitive, and for 2 there was that insidious ‘comic books are for boys’ or ‘for people who didn’t read as well as others’ floating around in the back of my brain. Of course we know both those ideas are total BS, but me being the sensitive little shit I was, I didn’t need one more thing to be teased about. And so I missed out on comics. Oh I secretly coveted the brilliantly coloured covers and longed to look inside them – or to go inside the comic book store that was frequented by the nerdiest of nerds, the uncoolest of the uncool – a social suicide if ever there had been one.

But now is another story. I preface this review with this little factoid, because I waned to show that I knew little about the story of Doctor Strange before I walked into the theatre beyond the fact that Benedict Cumberbatch and Mads Mikkelsen were in it. It may just be that I like saying Benedict Cumberbatch’s name, but it isn’t. Truly. I am a Sherlock fan – have been ever since I read the Sign of the Four when I was eleven, so Cumberbatch came into my sphere that way. When I found out that he was cast as Doctor Strange, a figure I had seen in passing, I felt the movie was going to be worth seeing for more than just the visual fest it was undoubtedly going to be. And let’s face it Mads can convey incredible amounts of emotion without saying a word so I had high hopes for a complex villain.

So J and I went to the theatre with our popcorn and were prepared to be entertained. And we were. Mostly.

Cumberbatch did a good job being Steven Strange – the arrogant surgeon crumbling before our eyes and the becoming a slightly less arrogant, but still cocky sorcerer. I loved the visual effects, but there were a few things I had issue with. One; that Tilda was the Ancient One. I mean, kudos to the production for trying to up the lady count, but why a white one? Why could the ancient one not have been a TIBETAN female? I don’t know the white washing was deliberate, but it’s something I see over and over again and it’s old.

The second was Mads character: Kaecilius. Perhaps some of his motivation was left on the cutting room floor, but I felt like he was not given the attention he deserved to be a true threat. The Dark Dimension was the real threat and Kaecilius the mere messenger but it was frustrating to see Mikkelsen explain, with tears pooling in his eyes, that he was trying to save humanity with this cataclysmic dimensional invitation he’d given to the cosmos and we don’t know why. We’re told he lost his family, but that felt like an afterthought. It would have been better to have a flashback, however brief. The conflict with Kaecilius was not nearly as interesting as the potential conflict with Mordo that came to a head at the end. Perhaps it’s that I didn’t know the story going in, but I’m sure I’m not the only one that felt the potential was missed.

US Election 2016: Trump’s win.

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red032I can’t say I’m shocked, because I’m not. I’m disappointed, but not shocked; after all Mr. Trump was nominated in the first place. A lot of us thought that was a pretty funny joke to start, but obviously he wasn’t in on it. And if that wasn’t insulting enough to my Canadian, feminist sensibilities, he ran against Hillary Clinton: a qualified, educated woman who has worked her whole life for the opportunity only to lose it to some business tycoon with a bad comb over and verbal diarrhea.

America, you voted in a black man for 8 years of sisyphean politics, in which he struggled to give you universal health care, to care take your environment and promote equality for people of any race, gender, creed or colour. He managed, even with a divided House to do some of the things he promised. He and his wife, both educated and eloquent speakers, made your northern neighbours feel that they had the best interests of their people at heart and worked to keep America classy.

And then you pull Trump out of the box; the antithesis of Barack in possibly every way. This is not to say that there are not things that Trump can accomplish for the states. I’m being generous here, because the man himself makes me want to vomit, but I was taught to look at every angle before making snap judgments. If he has half the business acumen he says he has, there is a chance he can boost the flagging American economy – but I fear for the people, the environment and international relations as he does so.

I am embarrassed for America, that your system is so broken that a man who threatens the peace and safety of more than half your population is the one who won -over a woman who was infinitely more qualified (and infinitely less likely to threaten to nuke a foreign diplomat over dinner) in spite of what she may or may not have done that no one can seem to definitively prove. (This shit reeks of the ‘birther’ movement during Obama’s election, so forgive me if I remain skeptical.) I am disappointed because so many people voted for him for uninformed reasons and gut reactions in regards to having a woman as president. I am disappointed because the electoral system didn’t really seem to reflect what many people actually wanted.

I knew, like everyone knew, that America has a racism problem. This is painfully evident with the rise of Black Lives Matter, with the distrust and hate directed towards Syrian refugees, and the general “terrorist’ rhetoric. (etc.) I also knew there was a sexism problem, since planned parenthood is still – incomprehensibly – a topic debated in government for example. Because Brock Turner barely got a slap on the wrist… I could go on. But what I didn’t realize was just how big the sexism issue was – even worse than the race issue. I can’t fathom either of these because I am fortunate enough to have been brought up in a country that (for the most part) values people for who they are and what they can do rather than how they fit in a dated world view based on physical attributes and unquestioned, ingrained attitudes.

Trump’s campaign did a lot of damage before he was even elected. Damage that even a loss wouldn’t have stomped out, which points to this particular festering problem in a huge way. He made it alright for people to be racist or sexist by being overtly so in the endless media coverage these last interminable months. While most of us non Americans see a petulant windbag spouting hurtful and demeaning language at every opportunity, many Americans saw a figurehead for the very things they’d been burying for the sake of public decency.

But this is no reason for Americans to flee to Canada. Stop breaking our Immigration website! (Yes, we need immigrants because we have too few professionals to replace our retiring workforce, but we can’t take you all!) In fact, it’s more important now more than ever to stay where you are. You need to work on loving each other and defeating this culture of division and hate on your home soil. This is the bravest and the best thing to do for yourself, for your children and your country.

Sexism, like racism comes from a place of fear. A lack of understanding of what is classified as ‘other’. We know what we know and we are comfortable with it, but when something comes along and throws that comfortable/familiar world view out of whack, it shatters the illusion that things are the way they’re supposed to be. The first instinctual reaction is fear. Much like if you discover a cockroach in your kitchen: you stomp on it. Over time, you learn that the cockroach is really only in your kitchen because he’s got nowhere else to go and he’s got to feed his kids the same as you.

Honest. Perhaps that’s a bad example, but it’s not wrong per se. I am not a cockroach any more than you are, dear reader, but fear is still ruling how people see each other, and more importantly, how people treat each other.

They are threatened by a faith they cannot understand and do not want to understand because it conflicts with their own. They are threatened by customs and traditions they do not understand. They fear being overtaken by the other, frightened that they will be consumed or destroyed by it. I sort of understand this as it’s the same reason we fear death – because we are terrified of obliteration.

But this implies that the proverbial other wants to obliterate in the first place, which is categorically only something that one does in what one perceives as self defence. A viscous catch-22.

So break it.

Take a deep breath and look at the other people around you. Stop and take a good look. Why do you hate them? Did they all suddenly decide they wanted your job in particular? Highly unlikely. Did they kill your dog or steal your wife/husband? (Steal is a stupid word, by the way, a person’s affections can’t be stolen, they’re given.) Did a Muslim or a Jew tell you that you were wrong about something you were categorically sure was true? Maybe you were right, but then again maybe he’s as entitled to his opinion as you are to yours. Why are you afraid of gay people? Do not assume that because they are the same gender and are gay that they are into you specifically – that’s pretty narcissistic. And even f they were what makes you think that saying ‘no’ wouldn’t be enough? (Oh wait, because you’ve been taught that no is just another form of yes for women, so when the table is turned it freaks you out, am I right?) Are you threatened by a woman being your boss? Why? What pain is it going to cause you to report to her if she is as intelligent and qualified as the job demands? Other than to your pride? Pride won’t put dinner on the table. (I know it sounds like I’m picking predominantly on white guys, but that was not intentional. I write out of my own experiences and cannot truly speak to the experiences of others. Most of the sexism I have experienced has come from a white guy. I know many are not sexist and I know that many poc are also very sexist. There are no hard hand fast lines or rules, which is the beauty of the human race – which is the point I’m trying to make. If you’re sensitive about ‘not all men’ then perhaps you need to do as this post suggests below. )

I have so many questions for misogynists and racists because I simply do not understand. I don’t understand because I have the privilege to get up in the morning and I go to work with people from many countries; men and women both. Many of them have different religions and not all of us agree on the same things. But we all draw on our different experiences and backgrounds to ensure a common goal is met. We use our differences instead of letting them turn us into a useless collection of people working at odds with each other. It’s a country in microcosm. How we treat each other has a ripple effect because we’re happy to go to work, which means we’re happy when we come home, which means we can enjoy our home time with our family, which means that our kids are happy because we are not fighting with each other which means our kids go to school happy and knowing that each person has something to contribute to a community regardless or because of their differences. You may not be able to change the whole country, but you can change yourself and I’m asking every last one of you to reevaluate your views of the people around you.

What stereotypes to you take for granted? Why do you do it? What language to you use to refer to people of colour or members of another religion, or even members of the opposite sex? What limitations do you automatically assume people have based on their appearance? Why? Become that four year old again and question everything. You are a product of your experiences and you are the only one who can make sense of them – and you are the only one who can change things for the better.

You’re right, this isn’t going to stop Trump right now, nor is it going to solve any of the underlying problems over night, but it’s important just the same. Important and achievable. If you won’t do it for you, do it for your kids because they deserve a better world than the one you’re living in right now.