Monday, March 25, 2013
There is something distinctly Canadian, to me, about these epic treks. I engaged in my own personal version last September on my HarvestTrek2012 tour from Vancouver to St. John's on the Trans Canada Highway. I felt so fortunate to join history as someone who was able to take in this country, from coast to coast, in a way that few have done. In a short space of time I was able to move from the fresh raw mountains of Canada's Rockies over to the gentle older slopes of Newfoundland. I was able to do this fairly cheaply by using a drive away service that pays you nominal costs and you get the privilege of having someone else's car. I feel quite fortunate that the conditions in my life were ripe to avail of a cross country trek in a little sports car (with an epic stereo).
This summer my plans include seeing more of this fine country by getting to Labrador. I want my Canadian explorations to be expanded vertically now that I have seen the country along the East-West highway that mimics the historical Trans Canada Railway. I quite enjoyed seeing the rail cars beside me as I drove along this summer. I didn't like them so much when I woke up in the middle of the night to their horn blasts (one of the perils of guerilla camping along the TCH, fyi).
The reflections I have been making since my own personal cross Canada trek are still quite muddled and today I feel a responsibility to share some of them. Specifically the ones centred around my personal passion regarding wanting to leave the world a better place rather than just the bare minimum of leaving no trace (or leaving the world a worse place). This is what the Nishiyuu walkers are doing. They are leading by example so in my small tiny way I am hoping to pay it forward with these reflections.
This focus of my 'leave the world a better place' passion allows me flexibility of interests yet also has driven me to reexamine some things that I thought were personally sorted, long ago. One of the items under cross examination at the moment is feminism. Not if I am one (I am). But what that means, for me personally, and with respect to how I wish to leave the world a better place.
I am a woman. I am well educated in a field where few women are (math, engineering) and yet I feel like a novice to the subject of feminism. To be fair, a lot of that was by choice. After Daughter was born and I realized that the wholesale outsourcing of child rearing didn't match my value system, I no longer found any support in the feminist circles I was familiar with. This timed perfectly with the rise of the internet. Fortunately? Not for me.
In the early 2000s the loudest voices online were feminists telling me that I should be climbing that career ladder. They had fought for my right to do that. They had fought for the right for me to go to university and study math and engineering. In fact, when one very well known Canadian feminist voiced her disregard for my thoughts on her blog (when I was at my neediest) I turned all of the online feminists off and in real life conversations started to use the 'f word' as a phrase when discussions of feminism came up to soften my commitment on the issue. I was wounded. As a single mother I was exhausted. In isolation and in desperation I had reached out online to engage in discourse about what a young feminist single mother might want instead of climbing the career ladder (and how society could help support choices for all mothers and all families) and I was completely shut down. Part of me is still wounded by that action over a decade later.
But last summer's trek galvanized me into an awareness that makes me see that I have to go back and reexamine feminism. As the mother of a new adult daughter. As a human being. I am compelled and yet I enter cautiously. I recently waded into an online discussion of sex work/prostitution and was rebuffed, again. I was told that I wasn't a real feminist if I didn't have an opinion. This reminded me of that blog interaction. But I'm stronger now and wiser. I see the power of these misunderstandings and flare ups to educate and illuminate. And, tellingly, I was supported by others in the thread. Differences allow variety. Variety is not the spice of life but biodiversity and evolutionary theory show us it is unequivocally the essence of it. All voices need to be heard. Not just the ones at the 'top'.
Feminism isn't owned by white woman who've climbed corporate ladders. Just like Canada isn't owned by white men answering to corporate mining interests.
As a feminist and as a Canadian, I am Idle No More.
Friday, March 1, 2013
It's actually kind of amazing when you manage not to do this 'boxing' or pre-judging of people. Humans are surprising. Including myself.
The box I was thrown into happened at a major turning point in the life of the modern day human in the so-called developed world. It happened a couple of months before my 40th birthday.
This pre-40th birthday box is something I struggle with. I've blogged here about it and in fact this box is responsible for me reactivating this blog. The box is labelled Multiple Sclerosis and it is still just as uncomfortable as it was six years ago when I was first thrown into it.
When I first received the diagnosis I reached out to the society for people with this disease. I found out that their purpose was to streamline the delivery of the medications. I was put in touch with friends of friends that had MS. All of them were on an assortment of medications that I had also started to accumulate: various muscle relaxants and painkillers. One young man was on sixteen different types of pills with half of them prescribed to counteract the effects of the other half.
This scared me into rustling around the academic journals I had access to where I learned that the pharmacy industry invented the term 'disease modifying medication' in order to be able to sell a whole new line of very expensive drugs that, when tested on rats, showed that they might stop progression. The notion of what exactly progression is was also quite spurious in the medical literature. Astoundingly, lesion damage and progression was fully acknowledged to be an area that was not understood, at all. One series of articles identified that the placebo effect was remarkably high in nearly each and every study of MS 'treatments'.
So, I climbed out of the box that my doctors were putting me in and climbed into a new box. Yes, I have MS but no, I am not doing it your way. I follow a very rigid diet that has substantial amounts of research that makes sense to me. My lesions went down, my neuro was impressed. That's enough for me.
Except, when it's not. This week has been a painful reminder that I need to take care of some of the realities this box contains for me. I spend much of the time forgetting that I'm in this box. I feel very fortunate in that. But it's always there and my acceptance of this is taking a very long time coming. I am loath to spend time discussing this box and now see that perhaps this is not the healthiest approach. It's time to perhaps decorate this box and get comfortable and reach out to others in a similar box. It's not going away.
Thursday, February 21, 2013
Daughter is home for reading week. Unlike the holiday break, this visit has no sense of frenzy. It is like the old days. Except. It's. Not.
I've always felt that I've been about one or two steps emotionally ahead of her. This is to say that yes, I'm an emotional misfit and most parents I've observed seem to have a lot more maturity than I've ever felt.
This feeling was driven home last night and in fact I am now suspicious that Daughter's emotional maturity is starting to catch up and even surpass mine.
During last night's rather heavy dinner conversation I found myself unable to offer anything resembling answers to her questions. I hit the 'parenting wall'. I suggested that she try to nurture the type of relationship with her father in which she could ask him these same questions for I had no idea what to say. All I could do was listen and then offer the physical support of a long hug that seemed to acknowledge my failure to provide adequate guidance as well as provide the soul soothing comfort of physical closeness that used to be so central to our relationship. Our physical need for one another seems to have been misplaced during her teen years, as is healthy and normal.
Daughter, at 18, is now an adult. And she is facing adult concerns. As a fellow adult that also is her mother I think the most mature thing for me to do is step back from my parenting pulpit and remind her that sometimes all we can do for our fellow man is offer a hug that reminds us that we are - fortunately - not alone facing life's trials and tribulations.
Inside, I am swirling with chaotic protective emotions that are screaming to protect her. Demanding me (and my inner annoying maternal perfectionist) to seek out answers that will better my vacant "I don't know what to say" responses from last night. I have to squelch the urge to email or text her father and make demands on him that will fall on dead ears (history is a brilliant teacher).
I was told recently by a wise man with more than four decades of parenting experience that conversations with my young adult child would start to get very interesting. What I didn't realize when he said that was that the interesting bit was not necessarily just on the surface but would hit me in a place inside that until last night, I didn't know existed.
Thursday, February 7, 2013
I write this blog from the second floor of a bus looking out onto the bleak salt stained tarmac and the barren trees that typify a typical mid-winter day here in Southern Ontario. I just spied an old stone mill beside a river. I think we just passed Port Hope.
I am pondering the event I'm hosting on Valentine's day next week. The idea for this event surfaced at the end of a course I just finished at the Academy of the Impossible called Getting Paid in the Knowledge Economy (strongly recommended and I say that not just because I'm a new faculty member there either).
Being single is something I've written about before on this blog. Happily. People generally don't know what to make of the person who is single despite the fact that science is disproving the notion of everlasting love and there are record numbers of single person headed households in Canada (lone dweller households now surpass married couples!) there remains a stigma associated with the act of being single. And there are financial discriminations too.
Not too long ago I met up with someone who condescendingly said to me at her engagement outing 10 years ago: "Don't worry Orla, you'll find someone." I remember this vividly. I can almost feel the touch of her hand on my arm as she said it. That was possibly the first time I connected how patronizing society was to someone who is single. At that point in time I had over 7 years experience as a single mom, Daughter would've been 8. So many thoughts came crashing through my head at that time and now, a decade later, I am sifting through them.
Culturally, the expectation is if you have a child then it is best if there are two parents. Somewhere along the road of moral progress the notion of "it takes a community to raise a child" was lost. So this young newly engaged woman probably had her biological clock ticking and was proud to share her hope that I too would find a replacement father figure for my child and perhaps let some of his sperm get into my womb to gift him with one of his own procreation. Biological clocks are funny like that. In our modern age they seem to presume that once you're educated and employed the next task is to breed.
Also, to be fair, a decade ago her patronizing sentiments mirrored exactly what my own expectation was for my life at that point in time. I was then 35 and was dating extensively hoping to still find The One so that I could breed again. The funny thing was that every single guy who dared mention the "M" word (as in marriage) got quickly removed from the dating card line up.
And now, with my newly minted middle aged wisdom, I see myself as a person that might have a philanderer gene and I have no desire for long term monogamy. I hate cleaning my own knickers let alone a partners. And I'm wise enough to realize that the gift of choice vis-a-vis being single is afforded only to those of us able to be financially independent. We have come a long way baby. Or some of us have. I consider myself quite fortunate.
In Newfoundland they have a curious expression that captures what I and possibly many other singles strive for: a comfort. Essentially it is a fuck buddy with very few strings attached. As someone who has had fuck buddies I like the term much better but there was precious little comfort in the ones I had while my clock loudly clanged.
And one final thing. When I saw that now 30 something woman with her two small children recently I asked after her husband. Divorced. I admit to a sweet moment of revenge "karma" followed by the sincere hope that she finds the support and comfort she, like us all, need.
Thursday, January 31, 2013
The perpetual learner in me is thrilled for the new content I am pouring into my brain but I also feel that I am drowning in the bleak reality of 21st century slavery. I'll do a future post on prostitution after becoming better informed and will just focus on the Migrant Worker issue in this post.
It struck me this week that technology and our world's increasing reliance on it is managing to divide humanity in new and creative ways. The improvements in the technology of getting one human to another place and the cost of travel relative to income in the Global North have created a global marketplace for human trafficking that is unprecedented in scope and destruction. We are excelling in technological progress while regressing in morality.
Here are some facts I've amassed after absorbing lots of new info this week:
- Migrant workers are not allowed to form a union. They work 7 days a week and well over 8 hours each day. Labour laws do not apply.
- Recent immigration changes have increased the number of migrant workers in Canada to 350,000. That's 1% of our population. The 1% that have no rights (see fact 1) as opposed to the 1% that own our corporations. The perverseness of this dichotomy is elegant to my mathematical mind.
- If a migrant worker complains to their consulate they are told to behave better. Consulates are for corporations. When will we get that, finally?
- If a migrant worker complains too much they will be refused a renewal by their 'owners'. Yes. That's what one of the farm operator's called them in that documentary I linked above. Some farm operator's call their workers "Little Donkeys". For every migrant worker that gets kicked out of the program there are many more people waiting behind them for a position. The politics of poverty and our food system is clearly evidenced by this sad reality.
- Migrant workers pay EI but claim no benefits. Instead of removing the requirement that they pay these benefits, why don't we work towards paying them during the off season like the fishery workers receive in Newfoundland?
One of the many powerful ideas Mr. Esteva discussed was regarding Corn (Maize) and it's relationship with people. Corn does not grow well on it's own. It needs cultivation by people to prosper. Humans, over millenia, have created a knowledge base around corn in Mexico. This knowledge involves hundreds of varieties of maize and the best environment for their growth. The campesino movement, which is expanding globally, wants this knowledge base to be preserved. There is a deep understanding of people in the campesinos of the symbiotic relationship between maize and humans. The corn needs people and in turn the people need corn. If we do not preserve this symbiosis, our species will die.
Ironically, he also noted that scientific research is showing that North Americans contain more corn in their bodies than Mexicans. Corn additives are everywhere in the North American diet and many additives in our medications are derived from corn too. North Americans are, literally, people of the corn while the people of the Campesinos are more metaphorically people of the corn. More importantly, the people of the campesinos know that the need to fuel our bodies with pure healthy food trumps corporate interests. They have managed to survive the development binge of the late 20th century and defy chemical 'progress' when it comes to agri-business. This leaves the people of the campasinos, who grow 70% of the food consumed on this planet in non agri-business conditions, well suited to teaching the rest of us how to return to the land. Return to the maize.
Mr. Esteva also noted that the biggest crisis facing humanity is our collective lack of imagination. We need new ways to solve big problems. In other words, we need some moral innovation. Less big business, more subsistence plus (way down on this page). Basically subsistence plus is "a new approach to ending hunger and impoverishment while protecting small-scale farmers and the environment" (from the link). It is a concept developed by prominent Canadian intellectuals and food activists Wayne Roberts and Michael Sacco (who is also the founder and owner of Chocosol). Their approach is truly imaginative and I'll be writing more about it on my Lettuce Connect blog in the coming weeks as part of my newly launched series on the Cupcake Economy.
|Click image to join the newly created Food Justice community on Google+|
Thursday, January 24, 2013
I have had experience in this department myself. The falling in love bit, not the finding a partner bit. And just like when it has happened to me in person, I had that moment of surprise when my heart and mind connected for that magical feeling I associate with love. That falling feeling of euphoria. I remember it distinctly with Daughter (thx birth hormones) and a few other (in person) lovers in my life. But the feeling of falling in love whilst sitting, alone, in front of your computer is equally compelling and even more mysterious because there is no one to touch and when you feel that feeling the first thing you want to do is touch in order to cement the connection, right?
But in the current era falling in love over the internet is unrequitted in that there is no touch available (not until the transporter thing gets a little further along..which it is lol). Let me detail my own story, in brief:
I was sitting in front of my computer in early 2007. A new message came in from some random stranger I had been communicating with furiously for months. This was not on a dating site. This was on one of the first successful communities built online that didn't focus on any particular interest or subject. This was social media before there was social media. Users chose who to follow and what interests to stumble through (you followed anyone you wanted). Yes, people used it for dating. In that fledgling community I made it clear early on that I was not looking for dates.
By 2007 I was already exhausted with online dating efforts (as a late 20s-early 30s woman dating online in the late 90s and early 00s there was a lot of interest so it took bucket loads of time to sift through results...which were paltry, at best, but fun occasionally too - by 2003 I found the whole effort disheartening and still feel much the same). The message I had received that night was so thoughtful and sweet and had been preceded by many many many similar such messages from the same user. I read the message and cupid struck. It was not a romantic message. I did not know how to react to the feeling. It was pleasurable, yes, but baffling. Some random dude in another country had managed to (unintentionally) shoot an arrow into my heart and I didn't know how to deal with it. I felt the same as the moment I realized I had my first serious crush in Grade 8. Awkward. I probably blushed like I did constantly back then and still do on occasion.
At that time (or subsequently) I didn't confess my feeling. Nor have I with the other two internet 'strangers' I met on that site and had similar moments where cupid's arrow struck. I am pretty sure there was a similar spark in each case. If my travels ever land me in their vicinity I will definitely be trying to arrange a face to face meeting. It won't be to try and recapture past feelings but because the spark I felt back then was genuine and based on a deep level of attraction to an intellect and a persona that seemed to care. I don't think their in person behaviour will differ. I am connected to all of them on other social media accounts now and love the occasional interaction we have. They are like a stable of past crushes that remind me of the type of people I'm capable of connecting deeply with. I suspect a lot of interactions like my own happened on that site. The men I interacted with were not looking for dating interactions with me and that's possibly why I felt safe enough in that online space to be real with them (and they with me perhaps). In the flurry of electronic bytes sent between us over a period of a few years, real relationships were formed even though I have yet to meet them offline and perhaps never will.
The internet, she be magic in more ways than one.
Monday, January 21, 2013
The first inkling of a flaw in my internal logic with respect to gender came while I was pregnant for the second time (I miscarried my first). I vividly remember being in the women's bathroom of my engineering graduate school department and looking myself in the mirror and saying to myself: "Wow, being a woman sucks."
Upon reflection I see that this nausea was perhaps a biological reminder that by becoming a parent, you move so far out of your comfort zone that a warm up sure doesn't hurt. Science doesn't seem to support this idea but how could it? How could this idea even be tested?
Yet, if you ask any parent if they believe having children moved them out of their comfort zone I believe you would get 100% concurrence on this sentiment as well as an addendum: "Most rewarding thing I've ever done."
I'm grappling with these questions even as I type these words. Some of the reading I've been doing about the art and practice of writing suggests that if you are painfully extracting words from deep within, you have found your voice. I am all too familiar with this notion yet constantly reject practicing (i.e. like maintaining this blog).