Thursday, April 26, 2012


Austerity (Cheryl Ives, Kitchener, 2012)

If Corporations are the producers of goods and services in the economy, responsible for the economic benefit of their shareholders, Households are the consumers of those goods and services, responsible for the livelihood of their members. And governments are the arbiters of the arena.

Corporations maintain a budget to allow for the operations required to be able to produce goods. Ideally, corporations would pay nothing for activities related to transforming materials into value. Ideally, they would have slave labour or all-purpose machines, so that their only cost would be materials. Ideally, they would have no need of marketing, because their products are so critical to the customer that all the marketing dollars can go into profits. That is the state Corporations would achieve if they could. They would maximize profit by reducing operational costs and owning the market. As it is, Corporations allocate budgets for marketing, accounting, transportation, legal, etc., and they pay people for their work.

Households maintain a budget to allow for the consumption required to be able to live in the society in which people find themselves at birth or by choice. Ideally, people would not require food, water, shelter, clean air, medical attention, emotional attention, teaching or caring. The fewer needs a household has, the more resources can be allocated to consumption. Ideally, they would have no need of learning – like so many species, so much more could be instinctual and learned through observation. Ideally, they would not require particular kinds of consumption (basic food and shelter, etc.) and could maximize consumption for an otherwise safe, happy and healthy lifestyle. As it is, Households allocate budgets for shelter, food, utilities, transportation, etc. Unlike Corporations, however, they do not pay people for their work.

Like a charity, a Household expects you to work for free. Like you’re a volunteer. No one pays me manage the budgets. No one pays me to go grocery shopping, plan nutritious meals, prepare and serve them, clean up afterwards. I’m not paid for my hours of reading and talking with other parents to remind myself every day how to coax the genius out of each of my children. I’m not paid to be here when the bus arrives, to help them think through the emotional upheavals of their days and remember the lessons they learned in class so that they can progress in education and emotional intelligence into productive adulthood. These are all activities I would not be doing if they were not required for participation in society and responsible parenting of new human units for the world. Yet, no one even acknowledges that any of this is worth anything, is of VALUE at all. 

If I don’t do these things that the household can’t pay me for, the household will grind to a stop or become disfunctional. The employment that earns money could be affected. The kids behaviour and learning could be affected. Their long term mental health. If my household grinds to a stop, if my kids become criminals or fail to thrive in society, it may not be that big a deal. But if thousands of households experience the same thing, the entire economy, and the thin veneer of society that rests gently upon it, will collapse. 

Women needed economic freedom and the only way to get it in the industrial age was to demand entry into the male arena of “work.”  We did that with a vengeance, so that now we have more education among us and participate in workplaces in record numbers. Many of us are financially independent from men (or have the capacity to be), but we can’t forget that most "women’s work" - the work of Care and of Households - is still low paid and treated as though it has low value. Many of us are not financially independent in this world of work. And we still work ourselves to the bone, serving the household.

I'd like to see a change to how we value work in this culture. Entering the private or public sector workforce cannot be the only path to financial recompense for work of value to society. I would like to widely acknowledge and validate the vast amount of critical work that no one is willing to pay for, but without which, we perpetuate poverty, crime, and general human failures to thrive on so many levels. 

Emerging from the Household into the wider community, there is an entire army of volunteer workers propping up our under-funded hospitals, schools, health centres, our mental health system and the widespread food and housing insecurity that keeps so many people on the razor's edge every day. All this work is of value, not just to one household, but to society as a whole. Neighbours helping neighbours. People having the time, energy and capacity to take on what matters to them. We are not building this up, but squeezing it out. 

Unlike Corporations, which exist to earn profit, Households do not exist to consume. They exist so that people can live, and try to make happy, safe lives for themselves, together.  There is a lot of overhead in the running of a consumer household, and a lot of overhead in creating a safe, happy family environment that produces humans (child and adult) capable of learning and becoming productive. We don’t pay for any of that overhead. It’s all slave labour. And not everyone does it well, nor can.

When women joined the workforce, we agreed that paid work was of value and the rest was menial. We let the work of Caring and Household Operations continue to be devalued and ignored in the economic system. We just piled on more work for all of us, men and women alike, by expecting two incomes per household and setting up society on the basis of an accidental red herring called “full employment.” We let our governments get convinced by corporations that their only role was to arbitrate the consumer society, not to protect or support citizens' lives. Because we didn’t actively or vocally disagree. We went along with it because we couldn’t imagine another path to equality.

It’s time now, for society to re-evaluate. It’s time for Government to take responsibility for some of the overhead, or force employers to pay enough that no families live in day-to-day terror of whether they can pay the utilities, rent and feed their kids on what’s in the fridge. Begrudgingly I see that maybe there was some merit to the idea of paying a family man more than a single, after all - but it didn't have to do with the man. It wasn't fair, but neither is ignoring those costs. It’s time for all of us to take a look at the Same-Old-New indentured servant/slave class of Household Workers. It’s time society considers the costs for propping up our crumbling economic system. Maybe if we do a good job on the foundations, the rest won't topple over. 

4 Minutes to Go (another Bad Mom post)

4 minutes to go. 

We need to be out the door and walking down the hill in time for the bus. I'm expecting to put on my shoes and GO! But no.

S. has boots on but no splash pants. B. is taking off his boots because the pants aren’t in right. They are not ready to go.

He doesn’t want to wear rain boots. They hurt his feet. They rub his legs when the pants ride up. He wants to wear his new shoes. I tuck his pants into his socks, complaining that we don’t have time for this. He agrees to wear the boots and bring the shoes, but Daddy said they are too heavy for his pack so he will carry them. I don’t like that idea, and I’m surprised Daddy would agree to it. I grab a plastic bag for the shoes.

Time to go. He’s not wearing a hat. She has removed her boots so I can tuck HER pants into her socks and help her put her boots on. More high pitched “Oh, come ON, we don’t have time, we’re already late…” from me, I’ll admit.

3 minutes after time to go, I push them out the door in front of me. Daddy’s behind with the backpacks, and he’s saying something about the shoes. I just want to get out of here! Give B. the pack and the shoes and let’s GO! But they are tusselling and Daddy has said B. can’t take the shoes and B’s crying and melting into a full pool of disappointment, not just because he can’t have the shoes but because he thought he had a deal, he thought this was SETTLED already and now Power is interrupting at the last possible second and taking away what he thought he had accomplished. Or maybe that's me. 

I want to talk with him about it but I can’t. He’s getting more worked up, he can’t think let alone articulate, and it’s getting worse. He’s in no fit state to talk. I tell Daddy that I already agreed to the shoes and it’s up to B. to handle the heavy load. Daddy is worried (rightly!) that boots or shoes will be left at school or lost. To me, that is B’s responsibility, but now is not the time to be trying to talk with him about responsibility when he’s in full meltdown and it’s now 5 minutes past time to leave.

Daddy tells me that we’re just teaching him to whine and complain for what he wants. I try to explain the bigger context of the current emotional firestorm that is brewing on the other side of the screen door, how quelling it is currently the primary goal, but there just isn’t time, and he’s not up to listening anyway. I tell him I agreed to the shoes and we have to go, NOW.

I think Daddy’s mad at me, but he puts the shoes in the bag. I’m already out the door and taking a brisk pace down the hill so the kids are forced to run to catch up. B.’s calmer. They both hold my hand.

“So, that could have gone better,” I say.

“Yeah,” B. replies, and I feel him take a deeper breath, relax his grip. I’m a little afraid of how tense he was, too tense for a small child to be allowed to feel. I realize he’s often like an animal in flight mode, ready to duck and repudiate whatever he said to offend, just in case. I feel terrible to create an environment where he feels that way. The world of adults must seem brutal to small children, where their perceived needs and wants are so often subservient to those who are bigger and more powerful.

“It could have gone a lot better if you would have asked Daddy reasonably to talk about it, instead of freaking out.”

“Yeah. I was upset.”

“Daddy thinks you made a bad decision.”


“One: he told you the shoes are heavy. Two, he’s worried you’ll lose one. Three, he’s worried you will forget your boots at school.”

“I won’t!”

“How do you know that?”

“I’ll TRY hard to remember. And if I do forget I’ll get them tomorrow.”

“What if it rains tomorrow?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, if you forget your boots and it rains, I guess you’d have wet feet!”

He laughs. “Yeah, my feet would be SOAKING!”

“So, are you going to be responsible for your shoes AND your boots?”


“Okay, I expect to see them when you get off the bus tonight.”

Poor little S. doesn’t get much conversation or attention this morning. But she’s had her tantrum mornings too.  Listening is probably good for her.

We get to the bus stop, and within a minute the bus pulls up.

“He’s early today,” says B. I laugh.

“No, we’re late!” I tell him. I kiss them both and put them on the bus. I wave goodbye.

Phew. I feel my breath let out, another morning rush accomplished.

I start back up the hill, practicing my kung fu sideways movement until I lose my breath, then walking slowly, taking deep breaths in and letting them seep out. I think about what my husband said, and I know it’s the conventional wisdom, but I’m not sure about the cause and effect. When B. cried today, he wasn’t whining or complaining, at least that's not how I saw it. I saw him expressing the outraged disappointment of a person being wronged in a deal they thought was made. And I do want to teach him to stand up that way, against unfairness. I hope he will refine his definitions and learn what battles to pick, but I don’t want to stifle or punish that impulse.

I also wonder what he can possibly learn when he’s all freaked-out worked-up. It seems to me that continuing to hold back what he wants and just say NO, done, finished, when he’s already upset, just erupts the volcano and directs the anger and upsetness outward, at the Power that is withholding. If we hold out to avoid teaching him that crying works, is he also learning that standing up against Power is pointless and he should just shrug his shoulders and give up? Is he learning that he is not responsible, because Power will just decide what it wants even if he is willing to take the consequences of a different decision? Is he learning that you can’t be responsible for something just because you’re not good at it yet?

I think we need to be careful to understand the unintended teachings that come with the lessons we think we’re giving. We can’t know the child’s context for receiving the intention of our action. What we are transmitting may be very different than what they receive. Just last night, I lost my temper and my words and told S. that I wanted her to stop doing bad things on purpose. She started crying uncontrollably. I asked her why she was crying, and she spat at me “Because YOU said I was a BAD GIRL!”

Not only did she hear me say SHE was bad, not that what she was doing was bad, but it turns out that just that afternoon, a “big girl” at school had told her she was a bad girl and to stop always bugging her. The raw hurt she expressed scraped my heart. We never know their context. And the world looks very different on the receiving end of Power than on the initiating end that sets or fails to set intention.

If we're trying to teach independence and self-sufficiency, I'm afraid we will have to take the smaller risks that don't affect their long-term health and well-being, and let them take those risks. If his pack is heavy, it's him who will carry it. It won't kill him. If he loses a shoe or forgets a boot, we can hold him responsible to rectify it - look in the lost and found, scour the school yard, check with the bus driver, etc. It's a pain for us, especially if we have to replace something lost (and I DO understand that worry, too), but it's practice. If he doesn't get to practice what he's not good at yet, and feel what a pain it is to lose something, I'm not sure how he'll learn to be accountable.

But we can't let him rule us through tears. We can't let him make decisions that are too far beyond him. We can't let him take huge risks or put himself in danger. Not yet. One day, we will need to let go even of those protective power applications. The lines are not clear nor steady. The answers are not black, nor white. We're navigating rocky waters with a partially-functioning compass each. Different answers apply to the same questions in different contexts. Learning doesn't happen in one, single incident, it happens over time through practice and observation that reveal patterns to our sub-conscious and conscious minds. 

I don’t know the answers. This parenting thing is like an immersion course in being human. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Butterfly Nature

Butterfly Nature
Yesterday my yard was filled with Red Admiral butterflies (so I'm told). Twenty or more dined in my dandelion yard, flitting here and there. When the kids ran back, they all took off at once into the forest behind - amazing!

I went into my yard with my camera. I sat very still and comfortably on the ground. I closed my eyes and focused on my breath. Breathe in the worlds's nature. Breathe out my separation from the world. After a few minutes, I opened my eyes and saw a butterfly drinking on a dandelion beside my knee, posing from side to side like a model.

I thought about how butterflies are lovely to watch. Colour flitting about, on a creature we know cannot harm us, captivates old and young. Most everyone smiles for a butterfly. When a butterfly landed on my arm, just briefly, I felt honoured, blessed. Would I feel that way if a wasp did the same? Or a harmless spider?

Like us, butterflies build a reputation on show. They don't actually care if we think they are beautiful. We don't see their little alien faces, their fuzzy-spiked black backs, their strange proboscis tongues wielded like spears to efficiently suck the lifeblood from the flowers. We see their beautiful wings.

Without the wings, they are still just fuzzy caterpillars on spindly legs after all. Caterpillars who can suddenly fly! They revel in the boon of their newfound superpower as transport, protection and menace to predators. But they can't see their own wings. They don't know they are beautiful. They only know they must flit flower to flower, feeding their life with life. Like us.

What is the human nature?

To see more from that shoot, visit http://www.ivesagency.com/Butterflies.html

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Blanket of Consolation
What grows over the wound
Can also be considered

But nothing beats being a tree.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012



Believing myself unworthy,
squirmy, unwantable
So afraid to burden, I didn't dare offer my love
as a gift

a kindness
a sweet compliment

what else can I do, but offer what is mine
to give?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Nature does

On fire
Do we blame a tree growing where the sun's rays cannot touch?
Do we say, you have failed to attract the sun - wither! die! 
We do not, but Earth's nature does so judge. 

Do we praise a bush that basks in sun's glow?
Do we say, you deserve your abundant foliage, you sun-catcher you!
We do not, but Earth's nature does so reward.

Sun and wind and rain don't watch where they are going. Trees don't take responsibility for each other (at least, not that we can see.) Life happens to them as they grow there, in place.

What is the human nature?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Take the morning to write the post. Take 45 minutes to force Blogger to format it. Post. Share. Done.

But it nagged at me. I went back to read it after lunch. Damn. There it is. They're going to think I'm boasting. Again.

I said good things about myself in my post. That's apparently a no-no, and I understand why - people are apt to interpret it to mean you think you're better, or your accomplishments make you special.

As if accomplishments are what make any of us special. But they can make us proud, can't they? And that's where the confusion always comes in. Because I don't think my accomplishments are as good as most people's, but I'm still proud of them for me, and that comes out in spite of me.

I himmed, I hawed, I debated taking it out, and in the end added a clarifying line to make it clear that I realize I'm not the only special person on the planet. And then I decided there must be more to this, for me. Why do I feel the need to be clear about my pride in my accomplishments? Why can't I just be content with secret self-praise like a good person would? Why do I seem to want to boast?

I spent some time with it. I'm not done, but it's time to pick up the kids and life's like that. I hope you will forgive me if you find me boastful, as a sort of blanket apology since I am likely to do it again. And here is my quasi-poem from my self-work on this today, in case it's interesting.

Boast (nature)

A boastful nature born of deepest dread
That how things are might not match how they seem
That one might ever escape notice
When notice could change everything

(Could convince one of one’s sanity, quell the overwhelming wish to be of worth and deep suspicion that one is, after all, completely alone)

A boastful nature born of deepest shame
That how things seem might impact how they will be
That one might ever be dismissed
When serious consideration could change everything

(Could change the course of history, quell the overwhelming wish to join and deep suspicion that everything is pointless)

A boastful nature born of deep respect
That how you are, is as amazing as you seem
That you might never be diminished
As your proud shine could not diminish mine.

(Could join together, grand and bright, to light the world, if only we had no deep suspicions)

In defense of public pensions (sort of...) (or, A Call Back to the Real Conversation)


I recently spent a year with an amazing, dedicated group of 12 local citizens examining the budgets of our city. It was eye-opening on so many levels. The most important thing I took away is that that we have a lot of people doing a great job talking about how to stop the hippo's back from getting wet in the rain.

For example, all this debate about public pensions. I predicted the waste but "I told you so" doesn't do much to quell my oil-fire frustration. So I'd like to take a minute with some approaches to this issue that I haven't seen talked about much.

And I'll start with this question:

Doesn't is seem strange that we don't expect employers to take any responsibility at all for their employees' later years when calculating profits?

It's like we think, "You are buying my hour but otherwise, I'm free." That's just not true.

Employees are at a significant power disadvantage in a business contract with an employer. Have you ever tried to get anything changed in an employment contract before you sign it? To me, that alone makes the fairness of a contract meaningless. And essentially, all the contract does is insist that there exists no relationship between us, employer and employee, just an exchange of value. Very Ayn Rand.

But the deal sucks for employees. They must stake all their good years of labour for another person's profit, just to eke out the level of lifestyle they can, faced with an increasingly expensive society. IF they can get a job. It's not as though there are choices. You can't just go live off the land somewhere - someone owns it. You must participate in this game you were born into, and all you can do is try to win. The trick is to do it with your soul intact. 

Yet, the employers pay for our precious hours, our labour if you will, as if it were nothing. They earn sometimes thousands (or millions) of times what they pay a person on the labour of that person's year. I held a $95k job that had one key goal - to earn the company at least $1 million dollars. Pretty good return on investment, for Someone. And that doesn't account for all the value they got from my creativity, unique perspectives and relationship-building, or the subtle part I played in helping create leaders throughout this community and the world just by spending time with them in conversation. And they, me. So what is the value of that? What is the value of what you bring to your workplace that is utterly unique and special? It's more than they are paying.

That is a year of my rare and precious time, my most valuable "golden" time between 25 and 65 (oops, 67), that I cannot get back. But later, I won't have those choices, to work or not, to earn more or less, to be reliable or unreliable. I will not be strong, like now. I will have medical concerns and costs that I can't think of today. I will not have five kids looking out for me, nor a pension to rely on.

I will be at the mercy of this society I'm helping to build. Do I want it to be mean?

Those later years of mine are NOT just my responsibility. They DO need to be built in, somewhere and somehow, when we calculate the actual costs and values above the profit lines. Labour and resources are sold too cheaply for the common good, even when they are expensive. Everything we've accomplished as a civilization and society has been accomplished at a cut rate for Someone and a tremendous cost for Everyone Else. We've achieved great things as a species, at the cost of many people's lives wasted on toil and stress, just trying to make ends meet all along the economic stratum. Why do we think we are owed nothing but meager pay? How does one price a priceless hour of human life? 

Why should employers only pay for my hour when they derive benefit far beyond it, exponentially into the future, and I derive mostly a loss of my vitality and decreasing value with age? Perhaps they do bear some responsibility to my aged self, who no longer can work if she wants to. All profit is an extraction of resources from public ownership to private, at the end of the day. Part of the value of those resources is MINE. If my employer earns more by paying too little for water, electricity, wood, oil, labour, shouldn't they contribute something to the full life cycle costs of the human machines they are using to do it? Like the disposal taxes on electronics. 

I'd like to consider together that maybe the employment relationship is more than just a financial contract - it's a social contract that allows society to move forward together with innovation, instead of lagging behind. If employers aren't paying enough salaries and taxes to allow us to solve poverty, improve health, reduce the stress of the population and ensure a comfortable end-of-life, maybe they aren't paying enough. Maybe some of the businesses we're in are actually unsustainable when they are not subsidized by human willingness to undercut each other. Cheap labour actually subverts the Market's "natural" ability to implement Survival of the Fittest by under-valuing and externalizing the true life-cycle costs of the human machine, and thus supplementing unsustainable businesses. That's why we have 79 kinds of gum. 

Let's face it, friends: we've built a fast and easy society, but it's just facade. No one wants to sacrifice what they have or admit that maybe, just maybe, having what we have actually isn't fair. Whether "fair" is the goal may be the real question, but that's not the debate I hear out there. I wish it were!!!

We allow corporations and individuals to amass and hoard resources that used to be public, until our governments sold them cheap. And now those corporations say they can't afford to keep up their end of the social contract. Well of course they can't! Not if they expect to extract and exact the levels of profit that have been possible under our highly subsidized ever-growth systems. We're finally coming to the point that our "unlimited" natural resources are limited, and that means they simply ARE worth more. They have higher value to you and me. Oil, water, forests, animals, human hours - these are our public resources and we trade them so cheaply, then ask each other to suffer in old age rather than accept responsibility or insist on acknowledgement of that fact. 

The public sector debate is only happening now because they always lag 20 years behind the private sector on "how things get done." They must - that's who pays them, and they need to do it to themselves before insisting that everyone else do it too. It took 20 years to reach the boiling point. In many ways, community governments (now municipal governments) are like the original peoples of Canada, listening to the advice of the fur traders, getting involved and staking out their claim on the new wealth, fighting each other tooth and nail, only to find they've been hoodwinked, tricked, left without the soul they had and a system that tramples them under its feet. That's politics - lagging behind and trapped in the systems they created at the behest of Men With Interests. 

The private sector spent the last 20 years whittling away and dismantling the employment relationship, making it just a contract, turning people into machine parts to be inserted and removed from a process at will. Like a foreign species that enters the harbour on a ship thousands of miles from its habitat, the cancer that transformed Canadian employment DNA came primarily out of the U.S. Those years saw an unprecedented number of Canadian companies, and especially Head Offices, purchased and assimilated.  I was a part of that takeover at several companies. I saw the reactions to how our employment standards protected people, to the "ridiculousness" of having to pay severance, to the "outrageous" "profit-sucking" costs of taking care of employee well-being. The goal was to externalize those costs. Which means, they go back to society. 

Over those 20 years, the Corporations did what they did at home - they hired lawyers and lobbyists, and went on a wooing spree. They simply walked into the various governments in Canada and got all that ridiculous paternal shit changed, so now we look a lot like them. Twenty years later, here we are, all of us brainwashed into believing that there is no such thing as an employment relationship, loyalty, security or the expectation that we can go into our difficult older years with some semblance of the lifestyle we currently enjoy. 

Then, we see the public sector still getting all that. So we say, why should we pay for it? And we're right. 

But they say, why shouldn't we have it? And they're right too. 

This is not a divisive issue. We all want the same thing, we just don't think we deserve to have it anymore, and neither do you. We base this opinion on experience and information. Our experience tells us that job stability and pensions are ridiculous pipe dreams because they have been stripped from us. The information we receive comes from research that someone paid for, broadcast over media that someone owns, distilled into its simplest possible terms by people who are paid to create interest, and skimmed over in the cracks and crevices of our busy, stressful lives. Maybe we should hold back on opinions for awhile. 

What is at stake here has nothing to do with whether defined benefit plans are sustainable. The fact that they aren't means the whole castle's about to come toppling down. Can we please, please keep talking about that?

When they get us asking the wrong questions, we can spend years on the wrong answers. 


Sunday, April 8, 2012

King of the Castle

King of the Castle

People love a king.

Why would anyone envy the king? A king is a concept too great, too far above, something to be cherished as possible for man but not necessarily something I can achieve. People feel admiration for a king, not envy. Envy is for the guy up the street with a nicer house. Because, who is he, anyway, to have a better house than you?

People love a king, when a king brings them peace. In days of yore, the king was the guy who could get the most other guys to do what he said, the guy with something to offer. He got to "own" what those men could protect for him, and be king of the lands they could keep safe. Like gangsters, a king's knights offered protection and the people who paid the tributes were subjects.

When kings protected the land, were fair in justice, and let subjects keep enough of their own production for villagers to live in relative peace, villagers worked and lived their lives. They expected their king to live in the lap of luxury. Living in a palace showed what a good king he was. Loyal subjects wanted to feel proud of their king, their champion.

And when the bad guys came, as they always did, the people would call to the king's knights, who would ride out to protect the lands, if not the people. When there was sacking and burning, the people grabbed their belongings and crowded into the castle walls, behind the gates, where they were safer. They came to their king like college kids running back to mom and dad's. They said, protect us. And good kings did.

But humans are what humans are. No king is ever satisfied to be a good king, protecting subjects and letting them have enough for a life of relative peace. Always and always, bigger is better, power corrupts and middle management emerges, filled with people who want to eke out a little more for themselves and their friends at the expense of the rest.

People like a king when the king deserves his crown. But when he lets his organization rule, when he lets his people down, they rebel. Time and again, in history, the feudal landholders and the self-proclaimed kings topple when they push too far, take too much, exact too much control and provide too little protection.

Screwing the masses to squeeze out more for the courtiers has never been attempted at this grand a scale, with these high of stakes, and with this much awareness. It's never looked like this before, with youtube and twitter and Colbert out there. There have never been so many people to be apathetic or engaged en mass, or so much advertising to tell them what they think. There has never been this level of control over a society in every facet of life, at the moment when the self-appointed overlords push it just a little too far. The moment when people don't see Kings, they just see assholes trying to steal their very lives.

Morbidly...I'm curious to see what will happen next.
(may you live in interesting times)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Appearance (when you're a WOF)

Forty lets me reduce my exposure to Sexualization, a welcome release, but it does not loosen the grip of Appearance.

Forty is like a magic number, past expected fertility. An age when men's natural survival-of-the-fittest procreative-based libidos check me out and tell their brains, Not An Option. An age when people who find me attractive may actually like my smile or how passionately I speak, rather than more superficial observations.

I am not capitulating beauty. I feel more beautiful today than I ever felt at 29, and I was pretty beautiful judging from my wedding photos (see left). I just didn't FEEL it.

But now, as I age and I see where the crinkles are settling in and the softness around my eyes, I see myself with a beauty all my own.*see note at the end

And, at the same time, I don’t look like some girl who would catch the eye of a stranger wanting sex. Which means:

1) I can be taken more seriously by men

I’ve noticed over the years that I build trust more easily with men who aren’t attracted to my type. I like working with men who are into blonds or tall skinny girls, or guys just out of school who see women as "young" and "old." They treat me like a comrade and we get stuff done. They don’t think I’m flirting with them when we laugh together.

Men who are into my type are a tightrope on a team. It’s nice to notice being noticed and there’s a certain immediate, biological kinship that erupts when those pheromones are in the air. Within that bubble, we can do really creative work, brainstorm and think together. But.

But I’m always dancing, not wanting to give the wrong impression, not wanting my friendliness to look like flirting (I discovered early, to my chagrin, that my natural friendliness looks a lot like flirting).

Now that I’m a WOF (Woman Over Forty) and a MWTK (Mom With Two Kids), the number of men whose natural libidos assign me to a type they want to have sex with must, of course, significantly decrease. I’ll miss the camaraderie that comes with interacting with MANI Men (Mutual Attraction No Intentions), but I won’t miss the awkwardness or the constant throttling that is my responsibility as the female (right, wrong, indifferent).

2) I’m less of a threat to women

Women don’t dislike me all the time. Just…some of the time. And some of that time is if their men are around. They can’t help it – their natural nesting chemicals alert them to any potential threats to keeping their mates. They may feel no threat from me whatsoever on a conscious or even subconscious level, but their chemistry says otherwise, and they likely don’t even know why they feel so cool to me all of a sudden. It's not just me, it's any woman their submerged chemical reactions tell them is at least as attractive as they are. It's almost inevitable that they will find my passion shrill, my emphaticness grating. I’m sure it is.

In any case, I am hardly a threat now (WOF, MWTK). So more women can stop wondering if my friendliness is flirting (easily mistaken, remember) and hopefully we can connect more. I do long for more trusting relationships with women in my life.

So, Sexualization is reducing as a factor in my interactions. I'm very pleased. But that doesn't mean that Appearance has let go her grip. Oh no, not at all.

Now that I’m a WOF, I am questioning the time and irritatingly boring effort I expend on my Beauty Regime. It’s navel gazing in the worst way, but I’m increasingly fascinated by all the effort and products to yield the PRODUCT of Me as an AOW (Attractive Older Woman).

Being an AOW takes more effort and just as many tools and cosmetics as being a beautiful young girl. But it serves a different purpose – the purpose of looking Put Together. Where in the past, I might have focused on my appearance to feel pretty, or to look attractive on my husband’s arm so the other men will know he’s a stud (at some primal level...), now I undergo the constant, thankless effort of Appearance Upkeep so I can signal other humans that I am an AOW to be taken seriously, and not a SAHM (you know that one, right?) to be patronized. Or worse, a woman who Let Herself Go.

I want to age well for the enjoyment of my own eyes and my husband’s, of course. But most of my effort is directed at signalling the right signals to the people around me so they know where I’m coming from. Embodying a particular spirit into my appearance. It’s effort. It’s demanding. I often think it would be so nice to be a bald man, so no one thinks I’m a radical for shaving my head. I often think it would be so nice to be a man in general, and not have to wear a bra or a tampon ever again. I so envy the Dali Lama his robes. I even envy some women their Niqabs.

But in my culture, I don’t dare be a woman who Lets Herself Go. That’s not the right Appearance at all.

*Note:  Finding myself beautiful is not without a critical eye, embedded with gouging accuracy by Mad Men through my childhood and teen years. I can see every flaw the way frat boys would see me standing naked under a spotlight on YouTube (that is the meanest group I can think of as an example). I can hear their jeering attention to my flaws in my very own mind – but that is another post. Hearing that does not mean I agree. I'm aware that the interpretation exists and that to some extent, I internalize it. And, I see that I am beautiful. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Cognitive Dissonance

Another article about the War on Drugs and its terrible toll got me all tense and irritable.

Why do people take drugs?

Because they are looking for something.

Maybe they are profoundly unhappy. Maybe they are bored. Maybe they are afraid. Maybe they want to feel better. Maybe they have an intense, curious desire to try everything in life. But the first time they try a drug, the first time, there is a reason.

They are looking for something that Life alone isn’t giving them.

It’s not a crime against humanity to numb yourself to life’s awfulness, mundaneness, irritating sameness. It may be an immature approach to coping, but in what other ways don’t we legislate that right away? (alcohol, watching wrestling, strip clubs, sedentary lifestyle) It may do health damage, but in what other ways don’t we legislate that right away? (alcohol, tobacco, sex, driving cars, skydiving, overeating, living near chemical plants). Why can I harm the common good this way and not that way? Why can I drown my sorrows in alcohol but become a criminal when I light a joint? It’s a very old question. I’m still waiting for a good answer.

If we really want to stop, reduce or curtail drug use, we need mechanisms to help each individual person find what they’re looking for without drugs. Otherwise, they will use them. We can round citizens up and pay for their jail terms and the rest of their lives on social assistance because they can’t ever get another job with a record. Or, maybe, we can begin to address the high levels of stress and unhappiness boxing people in through the poverty and over-work running rampant through our neighbourhoods. I believe that money would be better spent on wide-scale outreach that meets people where they are and supports them take the next step to where they want to be, instead of judgment, jail and a lifetime of punishment for pasts that can’t be changed or altered no matter what the level of penitence.

If we ever want safe streets, we will need to support and help our fellow humans in learning to be people who make choices conducive to peaceful coexistence. People can’t make different choices when we remove all their resources and close off their opportunities. All they can do is suffer and cost us money. Mr. Harper knows that. He has been presented with more than ample evidence - I was there. So I am left to conclude that he does not want to actually reduce the future criminal behaviour of drug users as much as punish them for an immature coping strategy with a lifetime of stigma and pain that likely leads to more drug use.

I feel unsastisfied with this conclusion. I stubbornly refuse to believe that any group can become the top policy makers in a country like Canada and still be the kind of people who ignore evidence, drown out debate with derision, and steer this country after the U.S.S. Sinker over the waterfall cliff it’s poised upon, brought down by the very strategies Canada is now employing. In the face of all evidence, I want to cling to my belief that the people in government have my best interests at heart, that they won't go too far in tipping the scales to their best friends. I'm beginning to suspect that they count on my desire to give the benefit of the doubt as a means to end my cognitive dissonance. I'm beginning to suspect they laugh at my naivety.

I want to believe in my government, the leaders of our democratic nation. The more deeply I look at Bill C-10, and the larger-scale strategy that feeds both the bill and the War on Drugs, the more I feel troubled and afraid. 

(Doctors are starting to speak up. Check out this CBC story)