All posts by Andrea McDowell

love

Would you believe that this is the first thing I’ve embroidered for myself, for my own room, ever?

I started it last January or February, and got about 1/3-1/2 of the way done in a year, and then the pandemic hit. Every night I would stitch for an hour, and count little colourful squares to distract myself from how strange the world became. It was both meditative and productive and would reliably take all the stress of the day and park it, at least for an hour.

It’s also been uncomfortable. 2020 has been a hard year to think about love every day. We’ve seen the best of it–society closing down the economy to try to protect vulnerable people–and we’ve seen the worst of it–angry entitled jerks demonstrating with guns to demand that those vulnerable people cut their hair, for instance. That hour of stitching was calming, but sometimes also heartbreaking.

In my family of origin, “love” meant letting someone hurt you without complaint. It meant no boundaries and no limits. It meant if someone punched you in the face, you would never bring it up, because that would be MEAN. (“Kindness” was the shorthand used for enabling; we must be “kind” to the abusers by never holding them accountable! Accountability is MEAN.)

You could boil down their definition to an equation:

Feelings > Lives

Or slightly longer:

The feelings of those with power/status > The lives, safety, or well-being of those without power/status

That my safety was continually jeopardized was an acceptable price to pay to take care of my mother’s feelings, who would have been sad if she were held responsible for her actions. Do you see? Love meant she could hurt me and I could not protect myself.

The same dynamic that results in abuse on a micro scale is at the heart of oppression and bigotry on the macro scale:

Feelings > Lives

Men’s feelings of entitlement to women’s bodies and services > Women’s bodily autonomy, freedom, and lives = Misogyny and Patriarchy

White people’s feelings of freedom, competency, comfort, and normality > BIPOC’s freedom, safety, health, and lives = White Supremacy

Abled’s feelings of normalcy, aesthetics, and entitlement > Disabled’s freedom, health, welfare, participation in society & lives = Ableism

Wherever you can see the feelings of a demographic group take priority over the welfare and lives of another demographic group: structural, systemic bigotry. This is how you end up with people reflexively and without irony complaining that if someone accuses you of sexual assault, racism, etc., “your life is over,” even though no one’s life is ever over and at most they have an uncomfortable year and some diminished income. All of the actual lives lost are the victims’, but they don’t matter as much as the feelings of the people who hurt them.

This will feel normal and be mostly invisible to the people in the high-status group. As Kate Manne pointed out in her amazing book on misogyny, Down Girl, misogynists do not think of themselves as bad people; their absorption of the message that their feelings and entitlements are naturally more important than women’s lives is so complete that any suggestion that women’s lives have value outside of their service relationship to men triggers a genuine moral outrage. I have no personal experience with this, but observing from the outside, white supremacy looks pretty much the same: How dare anyone suggest that black lives matter! You can’t call me a racist! That’s MEAN.

There would be no way, absolutely no way, to communicate with these people about the wrongness of their beliefs and actions that also takes care of their feeling, because the centering of privileged people’s feelings over everyone else’s lives is exactly the problem.

I remember watching United Shades of America a few years back, where W. Kamau Bell, a black comedian, visited KKK leaders.

Not a single one of these KKK members admitted to hating black people. Goodness gracious, no! I don’t hate them, why, I love them! I love so much in fact that I am going to forcefully push what I perceive as their best interests on them over their objections, their best interests apparently being to be as far away from me as possible. How can you suggest that I hate them? That’s so MEAN!

Feelings > Lives

Because of where I came from and my over-riding life ambition of Not Becoming my Mother, I try to flip the equation:

Lives > Feelings

Of course feelings are wonderful and it is a joy of human relationship to prioritize the care of feelings for those we love most. But that natural instinct has been hijacked in the service of bigotry in the public sphere for a long time: the powerful, those with status and privilege, have endlessly demanded that society cater to their (our) feelings. Don’t be mean!

I think about all of the times in my childhood when adults around me should have seen, or did see, what was going on, and looked the other way.

After all, they didn’t want to be mean to my parents.

They wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt. Surely my parents didn’t intend to cause harm (they did). There must be another explanation. Probably I deserved it. Maybe they’d had a bad day. My parents were very nice-seeming, respectable, upper-middle class white professionals. They could not be abusers. They were so polite!

They centred my parents’ feelings over my life. (And my dad centred my mom’s feelings over his own life. It was a choice with tragic consequences. He seemed to believe, right to very end, that if he only kept letting her hurt him without complaint, one day she would value him, and stop. That never happened. She just kept hurting him.)

If we are going to show up in the world today with love as a core value, those of us with structural power and privilege, it is going to feel bad.

It requires the opposite of self-care: the recognition that becoming a self worth being will require dismantling many parts of us that we were told were so natural to our entitlements that we don’t even see them.

It is not just marching in the streets for an end to police brutality against black people. It means understanding that we have received too much benefit of the doubt, that our sentences have been too short, our fines too light, because our white skin causes law enforcement and the justice system to see us as innocent even when there is substantial evidence to the contrary. It is not just advocating for fair hiring practices for people of colour; it means understanding that our own professional advancement has been artificially accelerated at their expense, that much of what we own is not rightfully ours, that opportunities we badly want would rightly go to someone else. That we are not as competent nor as qualified as we’ve been told.

It is not just advocating for accessible buildings for disabled people. It is understanding that the discrimination against disabled people is based on a hierarchy of bodies, with some bodies worth having and others not, and that your own physical advantages would become meaningless if discrimination against disabled people ended. Your body size would not matter. Your attractiveness would not give you an advantage. Your thick hair would not be a point of pride. Height would not earn you a better income. Youth would not have more status. Thinness would not equate with self-control. And yet you would have to advocate for disabled people anyway.

Our advantages, our own unearned privileges, would first of all, need to become visible to us: and that is uncomfortable because it challenges us to accept the extent to which our successes were unearned.

We would then have to follow through on dismantling those privileges, which is going to feel like putting our most beloved belongings in a pile and deliberately setting them on fire.

People like to argue that privilege is “not pie” and more for others doesn’t mean less for you/us, and to some extent, that’s true: there’s enough dignity, respect, kindness, food, water, air, and shelter for everyone to get a good piece. We can all have decent work and live in a society that sees our lives and our contributions as worthy and real. But in other ways, it’s not true: not everyone can be a CEO, not everyone can be president or prime minister, not everyone wins elections, not everyone becomes a movie star, and in those domains, more for groups that have been discriminated against will mean less for the currently privileged. It is pie. You still have to share.

It is going to feel like a domestic abuser who didn’t even recognize their actions as abuse because they so thoroughly internalized their entitlement, being told they need to go to anger management.

It is going to trigger a tsunami of moral outrage, a knee-jerk demand that people talk to you very nicely about all the ways you’ve harmed them. You will automatically and without reflex lean heavily on your privilege and demand that your intentions and feelings be centred and cared for, as they always have been.

It is going to feel like being an alcoholic or addict in the first stages of the 12 steps (privilege, as they say, is a hell of a drug; and most of us don’t realize how addicted we are), and you’re sitting in a room full of “real” alcoholics, telling yourself you’re not actually like them, you’re different, better, and your “searching moral inventory” and process of making amends won’t take too long, after all, because you haven’t hurt that many people.

It is going to be wanting to leapfrog right past the moral inventory and making amends and go straight to sponsoring a new member–because hey! You’ve got it! Alcoholism is REAL, you’re one of the good ones, gold star!

I’m beating this horse pretty thoroughly, I know. Believe me, it’s not from a sense of my superiority. What I’ve mostly gained from a few decades of reading about racism, for example, is a profound sense of my complete ignorance and how unlikely it is that I will ever fully address it.

Collectively, none of us will ever fully know. And it is from the position of accepting our near-total ignorance and searching out appropriate leadership that, I believe, we can begin to move forward in dismantling structural privilege.


The love in my family, growing up, never felt like love. But I had to pretend it did and act like it for the belonging that was available there. It was a kind of gaslighting: we are hurting you and denying it because we love you, and you will put up with it because you love us, and if you step out of line, you will lose everything.

I did step out of line, and I lost a lot, but not everything; there is always a world outside the fiction.

I don’t know what love means, or if it can be worth anything, if we can’t see what’s going on right in front of our faces and work to change it.  Maybe love prefers to be gentle, patient, and kind; but when harm is being done, it can’t be cowardly; it can’t insist on one-directional patience and kindness based on lies.

I often say when talking about social justice that empathy goes up the social hierarchy: our culture routinely empathizes with men, with white people, with abled people, with straight people, and prioritizes that empathy over empathy with people who are marginalized or outcast. It was, for example, the empathy of bystanders for my parents that caused them to overlook the harm that was caused me. But it’s the same for all these social goods: empathy, kindness, generosity, and love, tend to go up the social hierarchy, and those of us at or near the top tend to accept this as our due. It is not only right and comfortable that others treat us as more worthy than we are, but in fact we deserve it, and will demand it when it’s not forthcoming.

Instead, we need to re-train ourselves, consciously work to send empathy, kindness, generosity, patience and love down the social hierarchy.  We need to do this so regularly and so well that the hierarchy itself flattens. No one’s feelings should ever be worth more than anyone’s life.

#SolidarityChic, plus #SewcialDistancing

Dear Readers, here is the Prime Minister of Canada during a recent physically distanced question period:

Please take note, if you will, of our fearless leader’s very noticeable lack of a recent haircut.

You’ve already noticed the lack of recent haircut. Maybe you read an article on his lack of recent haircut. Maybe you saw that video meme of him sweeping his hair back from his face during a press briefing.

Of course Trudeau hasn’t had a haircut; all the barbers and hairdressers are sitting at home waiting out the pandemic, like so many of the rest of us.

Yet I keep hearing from friends about their hair growing out and how badly they need a haircut.

Friends, if the Prime Minister can go on camera in front of millions of people every day and reassure them with hair that is at least two months’ past its trim-by date, you can sit in your house in your pajamas and facetime with your aunt or boss with shaggy hair. Particularly considering both your aunt and your boss and everyone else you know also badly needs a trim.

And hair isn’t half of it, for some folks: body hair, eyebrows, facials, massages, gym time, sports practice: our bodies, in function and appearance, are maybe for the first time radically out of the control of their proprietors.

Of course, for some of us, that’s been more or less true all along. The one thing that is radically different is that we are all going through the non-control-of-our-appearance-ness of this at the same time. Which means it basically doesn’t count. No one can hold your haircut or your eyebrows or your roots or your reduced fitness level against you when our entire society is experiencing exactly the same thing. (Or they can try, but they’ll be dicks.) You have a once in a lifetime pass to let yourself go.

I don’t know. I personally am finding this part of it kind of amazing. Like: “oh hey, grey hair! And I can’t do a single fucking thing about it! That’s fantastic!”

I guess I could buy a box of hair dye, but I DON’T WANT TO.

This does of course reflect some privilege: for some of us, hair (for example) has been used as an active tool of discrimination and exclusion for a very long time (eg. black hair, and all the ways rules around it have been used to exclude and silence black people). And yet, it’s mostly white people I’ve seen complaining about their hair.  So consider this directed solely towards those people who, like me, are at worst experiencing mild discomfort around lack of aesthetic services:

We can just collectively declare spring and summer 2020 the year in which it is trendy to look like you’d just been rescued by park rangers after being lost in Banff for a couple of months. It’s cool! It’s totally in style. It’s what everyone is doing, including the Prime Minister, and god knows he of the Vogue cover is not immune to vanity.

Let’s call it #SolidarityChic, and be done with it.

In that spirit, I share with you a few anti-vanity recent sewing projects, in all my shaggy, non-make-up, what-is-the-sun glory.

Masks, because it’s gone from fringe accessory to public participation necessity. I used the Marfy pattern and made it 1000% more complicated for myself by insisting on screen printing, stenciling,  and stamping them in such a way that they match up across the centre seamline, for no reason whatsoever except that it sounded like an interesting challenge. This inspired a few cursing fits but I think they turned out pretty well in the end.

I also embarked on a large collection of stretchy pants with pockets.

For the first time in my life, I’ve needed them.

Tailored wool pants are not a great choice when you’re working 8 hours at the kitchen table with a puppy who insists on being on a lap and who sheds–not sparingly, but in a fluffy cloud that follows her like Pigpen’s dust. I have leggings of the “can wear them for an hour for a workout” variety, because their lack of pockets means I have to take off my insulin pump, which I can only do for so long.* I had two nice-ish pairs of non-stretchy jeans that are great for going out shopping or for casual Fridays at the office, but that I don’t generally wear for just hanging out.

And I had exactly one pair of stretchy jeans with pockets comfortable enough to sit at my new kitchen-table-office for hours at a time, but also seven years old and starting to wear through the knees.

So I ordered myself some leggings fabrics from Discovery Fabrics and went through the stash for any stretchy bottom-weight stretch cottons I could make into pants and went to work.

First up: two pairs of Jalie Eleanore jeans.

I have never, ever before in my life owned or wanted pull-on jean-like pants. But these were desperate times. I quickly drafted a simple pocket in the front seam (the one that looks like a pocket, but isn’t) and made one pair from an extremely stretchy blue twill with a snakeskin like embossed pattern on it from Downtown Fabrics, and another in a fantastic huge floral print with less stretch but just enough to make these work (from another Queen W store, but I forget which one).

God, I miss Queen West.

It is Jalie, so of course the sizing is impeccable and everything lines up. I can’t comment on the instructions since only partial ones were included with the pattern (which directs you to their website for the rest). But the partial directions get you through to the faux fly just fine, and if you’ve made pants before, you know what the rest is anyway.

Continue reading #SolidarityChic, plus #SewcialDistancing

Welcome to the Anti-Racism Movement (reblog)

Entire libraries are filled with scholarship and wisdom about anti-black racism. Consulting companies exist to educate white people about anti-black racism. Free online anti-racism training is widely available and easily searchable. Poets, novelists, dancers, composers, film-makers, singers, bands, have devoted their careers to creating art that explores anti-black racism. I have nothing new to add. (And the reason why racism is still so prevalent is not because white people have had no one to teach them what to do about it. An Amazon’s worth of trees have been felled to make the paper on which books have been printed about anti-black racism.)

But I do have a gentle nudge: if you are looking for an entry point, start with this essay from 2017 by Ijeoma Oluo:

Your privilege is the biggest risk to this movement.

That’s right: the biggest risk. The compromises you are willing to make with our lives, the offenses you are willing to brush off, the everyday actions you refuse to investigate, the comfort you take for granted — they all help legitimize and strengthen White Supremacy. Even worse, when you bring that into our movement and refuse to investigate and challenge it, you slow down our fight against White Supremacy and turn many of our efforts against us. When POC say, “check your privilege,” they aren’t saying it for fun — they are saying it because when you bring unexamined privilege into anti-racist spaces, you are bringing in a cancer.

Your privilege is the biggest benefit you can bring to the movement.

No, I’m not just talking nonsense now. Racial privilege is like a gun that will auto-focus on POC until you learn to aim it. When utilized properly, it can do real damage to the White Supremacist system — and it’s a weapon that POC do not have. You have access to people and places we don’t. Your actions against racism carry less risk.

You can ask your office why there are no managers of color and while you might get a dirty look and a little resentment, you probably won’t get fired. You can be the “real Americans” that politicians court. You can talk to fellow white people about why the water in Flint and Standing Rock matters, without being dismissed as someone obsessed with playing “the race card.” You can ask cops why they stopped that black man without getting shot. You can ask a school principal why they only teach black history one month a year and why they pretty much never teach the history of any other minority group in the U.S. You can explain to your white friends and neighbors why their focus on “black on black crime” is inherently racist. You can share articles and books written by people of color with your friends who normally only accept education from people who look like them. You can help ensure that the comfortable all-white enclaves that white people can retreat to when they need a break from “identity politics” are not so comfortable. You can actually persuade, guilt, and annoy your friends into caring about what happens to us. You can make a measurable impact in the fight against racism if you are willing to take on the uncomfortable truths of your privilege.

Start there, but don’t stop there. Keep going.

So. Uh. Have any of you found yourselves sewing through your fabric stash a bit faster than you’d anticipated when making your New Year’s Resolutions?

Oh, not asking for any particular reason–just–you know. Around the time I published that last post, I stopped looking at my closet full of fabric as an Embarrassing Monument to Lack of Self-Control and started seeing it as a fabulous sandy beach in which I can bury my ostrich head. Which might work better if I weren’t refreshing the John Hopkins site and three local news sources approximately once every three minutes.

It’s been three weeks of school closures here. And since that announcement, we’ve seen the near shut-down of the provincial economy, with all in-person non-essential workplaces closed down, as well as colleges and universities, border closings both external and internal and now all public gatherings limited to five people max. No visitors to hospitals or long-term care homes. All outdoor public spaces closed. Grocery stores only letting in one person per family, and only a small number of people at a time.  Everyone swimming around in their own little home fish-bowl.

You will be shocked to learn that I am sewing things I don’t need. You will also be shocked to learn that I have been making more mistakes while sewing than I normally do. I have finally found the time to sew up Frances’s rain jacket (Jalie City Coat) with some breathable waterproof fabric I bought from Discovery Fabrics last year. The jacket is sewn up and hemmed and pretty much done except for the zipper, which is on its way in the mail. Your guess is as good as mine as to when it’ll actually get here.  (The pattern is meant for buttons, but I think a zipper makes better sense for a waterproof jacket, so I’m going to try a replacement.) But I guess at least now Frances has a waterproof cape-like garment.

Otherwise, I have been sewing myself completely frivolous and unnecessary jersey garments; honestly, who knows when I’m going to leave the house except for daily walks and occasional grocery visits?  What use are tailored wool pants in these circumstances? Maybe it’s time to finally make myself a pair of leggings with a pocket for the insulin pump. … Actually, that’s not a bad thought.

I’d post my latest projects, but that would require getting dressed, and possibly wiping the stunned look off my face. What are the chances?

Tell you what: if I look in the mirror and see a facial expression that isn’t some version of “WTF?” I’ll consider taking pictures of the new projects and doing a proper post.

It’s not just the hoard that’s become a sudden advantage.

Frances’s medical condition is extremely rare; fewer than fifteen people have been diagnosed with what she has. We’ve had years of practice in navigating symptoms and syndromes that doctors don’t understand yet.  Those medical issues often mean cancelling plans and not going out much. And I work in a field where exponential growth in something has catastrophic public health consequences (among other things) and that’s just … Tuesday.  So while everything is different, nothing is different, if you know what I mean.

But weirdly, the same things that have been sometimes very costly disadvantages–being a chronically ill single mom to a kid with a very rare condition, and no family support–are the very reasons why I am now working from home with my regular job for my regular pay, when all of my colleagues are working weird schedules and overtime on the front lines.

Our dog has gone from bug-eyed ecstasy every day because her humans are staying home again to taking us completely for granted and sometimes hiding in the basement.  Still, she’s the clear winner of our current situation. Playtime on demand and endless laps for naptime and walks every day.

So much of this is so incoherent and formless still that I can’t think of a way to tie this post off with a neat bow. It’s weird, and yet its deeply familiar. It’s excruciating, yet marked mostly by unending tedium. My day to day is largely wonderful, spending lots of time with my favourite human and the Impossible Puppy and watching spring unfold, but in a town and world that is holding its breath and wondering how bad this is going to get.  I think all we can do right now is let this be wide open, and hold our uncertainty and others’ very gently.

Covid Comfort

Last Update: April 1

There’s almost 70 stories here now of people acting from their best selves, and my sense is most people have found the thing they’re going to do, whether it’s organizing virtual dinner parties or finding ways to express care during isolation and quarantine or thanking front-line workers or supporting their community tangibly by sharing goods, it’s becoming a habit.

If you’re looking for opportunities to help (or to receive help), check social media for caremongering or kindness groups in your community. They’ve spread like wildfire.

I don’t feel this needs daily updating at this point, but rather than just let it tail off, I wanted to share a few articles that tie this all into a point about what comes next.

Ben Okri, in The Guardian:

The panic, driven by fear, ought to be replaced with a passion for a better life for the planet and its people. We will not acquire the calm we need to deal with this pandemic through a fear of death. What we need is a respect for death and a new hunger for life. We could begin now to create the best chapter in the human story. It could be said of us, in the future, that faced with a viral catastrophe we did something amazing. Imagine if the leaders of the world chose at this moment to put in place policies that could reverse climate change, bring health and education to all its people, and kill off the virus of poverty that has spread untold misery.

Michael Valpy and Frank Graves, in Maclean’s:

They may see a dark side, like the ordered authoritarian populist outlook vividly seen in Viktor Orban’s power grab in Hungary, or the fuelling of xenophobia reflected in depictions of the pandemic as a “Chinese” virus. But mainly what we are witnessing in the country has all the appearances of a seismic shift in collective behaviour and attitudes, and maybe a new sense of direction and innovation—the acceptance, even the welcome acceptance, that Canada and the rest of the world could be enveloped in a great disruption, leading to a fundamental transformation of the role of the state and a re-balancing of the forces of societal power.

This is not the apocalypse you were looking for, by Laurie Penny in Wired:

Shit-hits-the-fan escapism—a big part of the alt-right imaginary—never predicted this. I have lurked in countless stagnant ideological internet back alleys where young men excitedly talk about the coming end of civilization, where men can be real men again, and women will need protectors. How inconvenient, then, that when this world-inverting crisis finally showed up, we weren’t given an enemy we could fight with our hands (wash your hands).

The end of the world has never been quite so simple a mythos for women, likely because most of us know that when social structures crack and shatter, what happens isn’t an instant reversion to muscular state-of-naturism. What happens is that women and carers of all genders quietly exhaust themselves filling in the gaps, trying to save as many people as possible from physical and mental collapse. The people on the front line are not fighters. They are healers and carers. The very people whose work is rarely paid in proportion to its importance are the ones we really need when the dung hits the Dyson. Nurses, doctors, cleaners, drivers. Emotional and domestic labor have never been part of the grand story men have told themselves about the destiny of the species—not even when they imagine its grave.

George Monbiot, in The Guardian:

You can watch neoliberalism collapsing in real time. Governments whose mission was to shrink the state, to cut taxes and borrowing and dismantle public services, are discovering that the market forces they fetishised cannot defend us from this crisis. The theory has been tested, and almost everywhere abandoned. It may not be true that there were no atheists in the trenches, but there are no neoliberals in a pandemic.

The shift is even more interesting than it first appears. Power has migrated not just from private money to the state, but from both market and state to another place altogether: the commons. All over the world, communities have mobilised where governments have failed.

And if you’re looking for some books to read to pass the time on similar themes:

Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell

Frans de Waal, The Age of Empathy

Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Mothers & Others

Fact is, The Walking Dead is a story that could only be told in a highly individualistic, neoliberal, gun-loving society like America’s South. Just about anywhere else, people would have banded together to slow the virus and preserve community.  Hell, even in the deep south, in a pandemic, people are cooperating and sharing and not, by and large, shooting each other over toilet paper.

We’re better than we’ve been told.

New for March 30

I can’t believe I’m still finding new stories every day!

Storytime from Space: Astronauts in space reading children’s books online.

A four-year-old’s birthday party was cancelled; the local fire department and RCMP drove a small parade by her house to celebrate.

A Toronto man is “climbing Mt Denali” by climbing the stairs in his apartment building  55 times in one day to raise money for health care in developing countries.

Please consider supporting the United Way’s Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund!

New for March 29

Missing theatre? Check out some new online plays.

Victoria Police drove a parade at a local hospital for health care workers.

Dyson, manufacturer of hair dryers and vacuum cleaners, has developed a new ventilator for covid-19 patients and is producing them for the UK government, and plans to donate 5,000 internationally.

Our local municipal government has put together a website to help people buy from local businesses and restaurants while social-distancing.

Emma  Teitel at the Toronto Star wrote an article including a bunch of stories like this, including a dog shelter that has adopted out every single one of its homeless dogs, a hockey manufacturer that is now making face shields for health care workers, and a Covid-19 Toronto app that connects people who need assistance with resources.

Clothing manufacturers retooling production for gowns and masks.

This lovely article about tiny acts of solidarity, also including stories like kids starting up a neighbourhood newspaper, and people volunteering to shelter and feed truck drivers whose restaurants and rest stops have closed.

Far from withdrawing from one another during this period of physical distancing, Canadians have come to recognize their dependence on each another and that recognition is reflected in “millions of tiny acts of solidarity,” says Mervyn Horgan, a University of Guelph sociology professor who studies the interaction of strangers in public spaces.

“It’s been quite beautiful to watch it happen and to be part of it amidst the crisis.”

A Hamilton company that normally sells 3D printers is now using their 3D printers to make PPE for health workers.

Westdale Theatre here in Hamilton is starting an online film club through Facebook Live.


New for March 27

A hotel manager was forced to lay off half of her employees due to Covid-19–but then she found them new jobs.

Only one new story today! I think we’re hitting saturation on these stories, so they may slow down. I hope you’re all well and experiencing some kindness in your daily lives in these trying times.


New for March 26!

Toronto restaurants have joined together to form Feed the Frontlines, which collects donations for the restaurants to prepare free meals for front-line workers.

The Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) is going ahead–online, and for free.

From Escape from Florida, a Maclean’s magazine article:

I suspect that when we have eventually run this virus into the ground, and we try to understand what worked and what didn’t, we will find that societies with high levels of social solidarity did better than societies where citizens mistrust one another.

Social solidarity—the sense that we are all in this together—is what makes retired nurses volunteer to go back to work in the frightening hospitals, and what makes healthy young people stay home to flatten the curve.

I think social solidarity is why the curve is so flat in traditionally collectivist East Asian societies, and rising so sharply in the United States.

Home is where the hearts are: People are decorating their front windows with hearts and putting hearts up around their neighbourhoods.


New for March 25

We’ve got fifty stories as of today!

Teachers at Robertson Elementary School driving in a “parade” through the neighbourhood so they could see their students.

Canadian celebrities helping spread the word to #stayinsidesavelives through instagram and lots of namedropping/tagging.

A restaurant in Toronto providing free meals to those who have lost their jobs in the shutdown.

A birthday party parade!

 


New for March 24

The best part of doing this so far is waking up every morning to messages from people sharing stories like these. It’s a nice little buffer before seeing how all the numbers went up. Here’s a short list of new stories for today; it’s my birthday and I’m going to try to spend most of it off the internet.

Canadian children’s writers and illustrators are reading their books online, or doing online drawing lessons.  (If you’re getting tired of reading books to your kids, this might be a welcome break.)

The Honest Lawyer in Hamilton has started handing out free Sunday lunches to people in need.

Vets, taking measures to continue to be able to provide care to our fur-babies.

Little free libraries in Peteroborough turning into little free pantries to provide food to neighbours who need it.


(I’m going to start putting the most recent stories at the top instead of the bottom. So:)

New for March 23

So far, the best part of doing this has been waking up to messages from friends telling me about fantastic stories they’ve seen. What a gift right now! Thank you. ❤ ❤

Our local newspaper has put out a call for people to write or draw hopeful or happy messages on their sidewalks with chalk, and is asking people to send in photos.  It’s already taken off enough that a friend of mine, Leah, sent me photos of messages she’d seen yesterday taking the dog for a walk:

Local sewers are organizing sewing drives for masks, scrubs, gowns, etc., for health care workers. Here’s a nurse organizing home sewing of scrubs, gowns, etc., and a friend organizing home sewing of masks.  Feel free to participate in the one that makes the most sense to you and uses your own resources best.

Food4Kids is fundraising to provide grocery gift cards to kids who normally count on school meal programs.

Cuba is sending 50+ doctors to Italy to aid in the Covid-19 response.

Indigenous girls and women all over North America are jingle-dancing to offer prayers against the pandemic.  Here’s one:

 

And our most famous local band, The Arkells, has been holding free online music lessons for people stuck at home, and recently posted this video:

Last but not least for today: An article written from the perspective of 2050, about how we all used the Covid-19 pandemic to come to our senses and fix a lot of broken parts of our societies.


New for March 22:

A local businesswoman, Kate DeJonge, has started Hamilton Helpers, to connect people and businesses during the shutdowns and find innovative ways for businesses to support residents, and vice versa.

A small family scholarship held a fundraiser to purchase laptops and buy internet access for nursing students who could not afford their own during a school shutdown.  (Thanks, Rachel!)

Stores have hours dedicated to vulnerable shoppers, and neighbours are working together to care for their neighbours.

A restaurant in Squamish is providing free meals to families who need one during the shut down.

Politico published an article on some positive outcomes we might see from this time.

Loblaws, a grocery store here in Canada, has increased the pay of their “front-line” employees, both full-time and part-time, by $2/hr in recognition of the importance of what they’re doing and the risks they’re taking. (It’s not enough, but it’s a start!) Metro followed suit after the announcement was made.

#Cheer4HealthWorkers is a hashtag for people literally cheering for front-line health workers and posting videos of it online.

A friend sent me a video of her apartment neighbours in Italy getting playing bingo on their balconies: One person calling out the square to everyone, others repeating it so all can hear.  Someone else I know is setting up Zoom calls for their friend group to play Risk together online.

Online dinner parties! (I’ve been having online tea dates with friends.)

 


New for March 21:

Dan Mangan’s second Toronto show was cancelled on March 13, but they already had the gear set up and ready to go, so … he went ahead and had the show for an empty concert hall, recorded it, and released it free for people to see on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjQ80Njm96g

It’s an idea that’s taking off: There’s a whole series of shows (called URGNT) in empty venues planned in Toronto in the coming weeks, live-streamed for audiences stuck at home.  Donations will pay the skeleton crew & performers a small amount while they are otherwise out of work. Additionally BandCamp is also making things free or lower cost (note: I have no idea wth BandCamp is; just passing on what I’ve heard in the hopes that it is more intelligible to other people). Here’s a recent Wayfarer’s concert that has been released in full: https://wayfarer.bandcamp.com/album/live-at-mills-hardware

Local bookstores are offering free delivery to local customers.

Sublime Stitching is sending out embroidery patterns and supplies at reduced cost to those who really need something calming to do and can’t afford the regular prices.

During municipal budget deliberations a few weeks ago, Hamilton Council voted down a motion to ensure that all City employees were earning a “living wage” (rather than the provincially-mandated minimum wage; a difference of just over $1.5/hour). On the 20th, while passing the 2020 budget, they held the vote again and passed the motion, at the same time endorsing short-term property tax deferrals for those facing covid-related financial difficulties.

Local restaurants are donating perishable foods to food banks.

Here’s a whole episode of Front Burner on similar stories: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/frontburner/a-few-moments-of-joy-during-the-pandemic-1.5504011

An article on how to support local businesses right now, including my favourites, spending your grocery money at the small stores and tipping delivery people well.

Netflix has announced a $100m fund to support their arts workers affected by pandemic shutdowns.


 

Original:

I don’t want to say I’m not scared. I am. I’m not afraid of social distancing–I’ve had 45 years of practice at social distancing–I’m used to working from home; I have a stack of unread books as high as the armchair, a closet full of fabric, a few embroidery projects half-completed, and a smart phone. Social distancing I can do. What scares me right now is the prospect of being redeployed to support the pandemic response in a way that can’t be done from home, because the schools are (rightly) closed so Frances is at home full time and while she is doing better, she can’t be left here by herself for weeks on end. Or months. Or whatever this turns out to be. So there is some uncertainty around here.

And I’m not not-scared of getting sick, either. I’m not in a high-risk age group, but I’m in a high-risk medical group, and I need to be able to be well enough to care for Frances. So I am being very careful.

It is scary, and for reasons beyond the medical, and we’re all scared. At least, if we’re sensible, we’re scared. There’s plenty of people yammering on about how they’re not scared of a virus fergodsake and they’re going to continue living their regular lives, and those people, if you’re sensible, probably make you angry.

But they’re a minority.

When this is over, I want you to remember this: in a time of crisis, most people looked around themselves and asked what they could do to help. Most people acted quickly and decisively to protect the health and safety of elderly, disabled and chronically ill people they’ve never met. Most people directed their care and concern towards economically vulnerable groups.

Think about it: If the neoliberals were right and humans were all innately selfish and made decisions in their own self-interest, then our business leaders and politicians and most regular people would have looked at the virus and its fatality rate, shrugged, left the elderly and disabled to their fate, sequestered themselves until it was all over, made a lot of nice speeches about the sacrifices doctors made, and just cleaned up when it was done.  (In other words, I guess, we’d all be Trump.)

But instead, when a crisis hit that would affect (to be blunt) people of limited economic or productive utility–people who largely require support and don’t pay much in taxes–the entire economy willingly ground to a halt to protect them.

Take a minute to think about how remarkable that is.

Yes, some people and some companies refuse to do so. And everyone else is shunning them.

Some monkey experiments, famous in certain circles, are relevant here: capuchin monkeys were “paid” to complete tasks by either a piece of cucumber (ho-hum) or grapes (yum!). Everyone willingly completed the tasks when everyone was paid cucumbers, but the moment some monkeys got grapes, those who were stuck with cucumbers threw tantrums and refused to complete their tasks.

Related experiments with humans show much the same, and the data for foraging societies and pre-history largely agree: humans are wired to be cooperative, collaborative, and egalitarian. Foraging societies survived the lean times because when one person was hungry, they were all hungry; and there were social repercussions (like ostracism) for anyone who attempted to accumulate more goods than their peers.

This is a hard and scary situation. But I am still reassured at how quickly our competitive, capitalist, individualist society made a decision to pay the price together and protect each other.

This is not the only crisis we’ll be facing this century, and if even some of the climate change projections hold up, it will be far from the worst. When Covid-19 is over, remember this: This is who we are. This is how we can always be.

Here’s proof. I’ll update this with new stories as I find them. Feel free to share your own in the comments (doesn’t have to be a news story; something you saw or did counts!). Let’s keep this focused on stories of compassion and cooperation.


Care-mongering: Hamilton non-profit Disability Justice Network of Ontario creates a FaceBook group for Hamilton neighbours to take care of each other, and the concept is quickly copied by other communities. We are big fans of the DJNO in regular times, and this just makes us love them even more.

The federal, provincial and municipal governments are cooperating and collaborating seamlessly across party lines to provide support to vulnerable Canadians, including those ineligible for EI, small business owners, parents affected by school shutdowns, homeless Canadians, etc. (It frankly amazed me how quickly we mobilized to find the money to protect people that progressives have been saying we need to do a better job of protecting all along.)

Local businesses–including my favourite local fabric store–closed their doors before government action mandated it and before government supports facilitated it.

Banks are offering mortgage deferrals for up to six months.

Evictions have been suspended.

Community and recreation centres have been repurposed into shelters for homeless people who are showing symptoms and have no earthly way to self-isolate.

Local restaurants are offering free delivery.

Local gin distilleries are now producing free hand sanitizer for health care and frontline workers.

Local internet companies are waiving overage fees for this period.

Our local bus network is offering free rides.

Everyone and their Aunt Myrtle is offering free online classes on a wide variety of subjects. Here in Hamilton, one of our local organizers has created a FB group collecting on-line dance lessons so people can get their fix at home.

Teachers are offering free education for kids stuck at home during school closures.

This TV baseball host is using his mandatory down-time to call fans quarantined at home.

McMaster University health sciences students volunteering to help front-line health workers who need assistance with running errands, groceries and babysitting.

Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer is becoming a fashion icon, and people are selling t-shirts with her face on them.

Andre Picard: “For every toilet paper hoarder and I’m-gonna-cough-my-lungs-out-on-the-subway guy, there are probably 10 others doing good deeds – shopping for an elderly neighbour, taking in the neighbour’s kids so she can go to work, walking someone’s dog if they are sick, making a donation to the homeless shelter.”

Never argue with a conspiracy theorist

You can’t work in the climate field without regularly talking to people who think organizing 99% of the world’s climatologists into a mass conspiracy of fake-consensus is no big deal. I can only assume that none of them have ever managed a project, or even tried to get a group of 12 people to agree on a restaurant for dinner. Dear Readers, let me tell you about the amount of time I’ve spent this week trying to get half a dozen well-intentioned adults who all want the same thing and agree on the goal to produce a logo slide that all could agree on.

Yet a good chunk of functional adults (between 10 & 20%, depending on how you define it) dismiss a scientific field over 150 years old that is directly pertinent to their and their children’s survival. It seems like “this could kill your kids” should make it salient, but no.

I’ve spent about a decade trying to figure this out. I’ve read psychology and neuroscience and sociology and anthropology and political science and cognitive science and communications studies and organizing theory and the history of other mass social movements and more.

What it is not about, is facts.

Lots of people assume that people get into conspiracy theory communities because of a lack of good information; and that, therefore, the thing to do is provide people with good data. Evidence, citations, references, facts, surveys, statistics, etc. If this doesn’t work, obviously the person is a lunatic, probably stupid, maybe never finished high school.

But no. It’s much weirder for people to respond to information that challenges their beliefs.

If you want to fall down a research rabbit hole, google Knowledge Deficit Model. You will find reams of data from almost every domain showing that providing facts and data does not alter opinions or behaviour, and a collective absolute failure to alter our own behaviour in light of it (maybe not surprising). I have been, in my own work, trying to get this point across for years now, and yet whenever a new issue or problem arises in the environmental space, the first thing that happens is someone pipes up with “We need an education campaign!”

No. We do not need an education campaign. We want to believe that people are logical and will reason their way through to an accurate conclusion based on information, but that almost never happens. Maybe–as the experts say–when a person has no pre-existing opinion or perspective, you can get them to form one based on the information you give them. Otherwise? No joy.

If it’s not about facts, what is it?

Identity.

It’s not only about identity, but if you don’t grasp this part, nothing else adds up.

People adopt the beliefs and behaviours that are required for belonging to their community of choice.

Facts that are counter to beliefs espoused by the club aren’t just rejected, but actively resisted as an existential threat; encountering contrary facts, no matter how well-documented, further entrenches the conspiracy or other counter-factual belief, to hold on to an identity that has become central to their sense of self. Any contrary information is perceived as a hostile act.

(I mean, have you ever wondered why they all sound so angry? They are at war with everyone who has a contrary opinion.)

When someone leaves voluntarily, it’s because the cost of membership is too high. In The Cure for Hate, McAleer writes about how his abusive childhood led to his finding belonging in white supremacy, and the conspiracy theories he swallowed to maintain that belonging; he paid a very high price and continued to do so (obviously though not as high as the people and communities he targeted), and it wasn’t until he had children and became aware of the high price they were paying that he was motivated to step back.

Even then, it was hard; he had to leave his entire social circle, everyone who cared about him, and there was no one in wider society waiting to welcome him back besides his mother (for obvious reasons).

You cannot argue someone out of a conspiracy.


Yet here I am: trying to use data to convince you that you can’t use data to convince anyone of anything, if their identity requires them to hold on to their mistaken beliefs. Tell me: is it working?


By coincidence, while drafting this post, I was handed an ARC of Mark Jaccard’s The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success. The introduction covers his recognition over time that data never convinces anyone to act on anything, even when you are a tenured professor of the field in question, and Chapter 2 is about the Climate Scientists are Conspirators meme. It’s unavoidable these days in climate work (though somehow, lots of people keep avoiding it).

In a 2012 episode of his Colbert Report TV show, comedian Stephen Colbert commended on the real-life response of the North Carolina politicians to a state agency’s prediction that sea levels will rise 39 inches by 2100 because of global warming.

“North Caroline Republicans have written a new bill that would immediately address the crisis predicted by these climate models–by outlawing the climate models!” (p. 53)

We are talking wealthy, well-connected, well-educated US politicians; these are not fringe weirdos living in their mothers’ basements who lack access to better information or the ability to interpret it. If providing information reliably caused people to alter their views, there would be no climate deniers anywhere, let alone in positions of power and authority.

Yet when presented with contrary information, these people outlawed the information.

Why? Because it threatens every part of their identity and world view. Because it threatens their membership in an institution, the Republican Party, that has taken climate denial as an article of faith, and which is central to their entire role and identity in the world. It’s not a simple singular fantasy or the feeling of being at war with systems of power–these dudes are the systems of power.


Polls have shown for years now that most North Americans are worried about climate change.

The same polls show that these same North Americans are convinced that no one cares about climate change. Why else would nothing be done?

But the reality is much stranger: almost everyone cares, a solid majority are worried, a significant minority are panicking, and no one is talking about it because our culture of political and social etiquette says it is rude to do so (Eliasoph, Avoiding Politics; and Norgaard, Living in Denial). This, too, is a form of denial, a kind of conspiracy theory; a conspiracy of silence. A conspiracy that says, We must all pretend very hard that nothing is happening. We must all carry on as if nothing terrifying looms on the horizon. We must only talk about sports and beer and television and movies and music and weekend plans. We must build our solitary prisons, we must guard our isolation with silence and false smiles.

This is not rational. It is based on identity, the need to belong to public spaces where the behavioural demand is to never introduce conflict and never bring up anything that makes people sad or afraid. If you “believe” in climate change, and you aren’t talking about it with your friends and family and colleagues in public and everywhere else, then you too are locked in a conspiracy theory. A culture that demands a set of performative behaviours that signal a belief in a set of social and political values that are not based on fact, and which you might not even yourself truly value or hold.


There’s more, of course. There’s terror management, and decades of campaigns confusing people about the economic feasibility of not killing ourselves, and the difficulty of prioritizing realities that we’ve been led to believe are decades away.

But we still need to reconcile the following:

  1. You very likely accept the science of global warming
  2. You very likely are at least concerned, and increasingly likely to be extremely scared, of it
  3. You want something to be done
  4. You avoid at all costs discussions of this outside of a few very careful very private conversations that can have no political consequences whatsoever and will never affect any kind of change
  5. Most likely because you believe that talking about climate change publicly is a social faux pas that will lead to your exclusion from social spaces (and as a person who’s been professionally butting her head against that taboo for over a decade or now–you are probably right)
  6. You have selected group identity over your personal interests, and over the established facts 
  7. It is friendlier than right-wing conspiracy communities, but at heart, quite destructive.

Yes, I know, #notallblogreaders. But most of you, statistically speaking. Less now than two years ago, which is encouraging, but still most.

My point is: you have also adopted beliefs and behaviours to belong to groups that are not factual and which you may not even fully support. This is not because you’re uniquely dumb or uneducated or nuts. It’s because you are a human being, and that’s what human beings do. Conspiracy theorists are different only for having selected groups that are farther out on the cultural fringe; their actual core behaviours are not that weird. And I mean, believing that the earth is flat is probably more harmless than pretending to believe in social contexts that climate change isn’t a catastrophic threat requiring urgent action.


But if you’re interested in countering disinformation, what do you do? If you want someone to leave a pernicious and poisonous identity based on anti-social lies behind, how do you intervene?

Here’s a short list of what the research shows works, at least sometimes:

  1. Impose consequences. People leave these groups when the costs of remaining in them outweigh the group identity benefits of belonging.
  2. Find messengers and spokespeople for facts who share key identity traits with the person or group you want to talk to. For example, ex-white-supremacists have an easier time of reaching current-white-supremacists. A pipeline fitter in Alberta whose entire economic identity is based on participation in the oil and gas sector is not going to listen to me, a feminist left-voting government bureaucrat from Ontario who gets paid for climate work. It doesn’t matter how right I am. I need to find an ex-pipeline-fitter who found a better job in a green industry.
  3. There needs to be a path back. If there is no way to rejoin society from beyond the pale, no one will try.
  4. Refuse to have the fight over facts. Focus on solutions, and how those solutions will in fact not upend or threaten their identity.
  5. Find shared values, and connect the issue to the values you share.  If I try to have a conversation with a group of conservative moms about climate change that starts with the importance of carbon taxes and emphasizes the social justice implications of climate vulnerability, we will get nowhere. If I want to have that conversation, it’s much more likely to be effective if we connect over love and concern for our kids.
  6. Relationships, face-to-face connection, and empathy are key. Not everyone is up to this, obviously. It would be grotesque to require or expect victimized communities to have empathy and conversation with their abusers. But I recently watched First Contact for a course at work, about six extremely racist white Canadians with pretty horrifying opinions about indigenous Canadians, who signed up to spend, I think, a month visiting different communities and reservations and learning about the history and culture, meeting people, and listening to stories of abuse and discrimination. I have to tell you, my expectations were low. I was frankly amazed by how many of them experienced profound transformations within such a short time, and I think the human connection was key. Not everyone changed, and those whose identities rested more strongly on an unthinking acceptance of existing social hierarchies were more resistant. (You can sign up for a five-day free trial through APTN and watch the first season for free.)
  7. With rare exceptions, this is not something you can do on the internet. Too many key ingredients are too hard to find in a disembodied conversation, and it’s too easy for people to rally the community that shares their perspective to shore it up in order to reaffirm a threatened identity.

If this sounds extremely difficult–well, yes.

I know. We all want Three Weird Tricks to Solve Conspiracy Theories. We would all like Five Techniques to Convince Idiots that Their Existing Beliefs are Dumb and Make Them Sound Bad. It’s not out there. There’s just the long-road, twisting-path of making connections, sharing values, being real, taking risks, having boundaries, and also recognizing where your own group identities are causing you to go along to get along and compromise your values and knowledge for the sake of membership. It has a high failure rate and it takes more time than we have, but there’s no way around it.

Why does it feel like 2020 is half over already?

Would you believe me if I said I’ve written two posts over the last few weeks, both of which were eaten by dying laptop batteries? (More to the point, I suppose: would you care?)

I don’t know about you, but what with wildfires, earthquakes, volcanoes, impeachment trials, and something about the british monarchy, 2020 already feels like it’s a few months old, so writing about either 2019 or goals for 2020 feels irrelevant.

But here is something, before January ends. I’ve given some thought to sewing goals for 2020:

1. As little as possible. I have enough damned clothes.

I’m sure needs will come up over the year and I will make things, but I’m trying to slow it waaaay down, and spend that time doing other stuff that I “just haven’t had the time” for. So far, that’s meant that I finally (finally!) replaced the dining set I hated, and finally (finally!) got window coverings (that I am not sewing because there is nothing relaxing or fun about sewing three miles of straight seams). It’s also meant even more books, not that I needed to read more, but I’ve finished 14 so far in January. Which is excessive, but at least they’re mostly library books, so when they’re done they go back to share with someone else.

I’ve set myself two goals for 2020 that are working a bit at cross-purposes. If you all have brilliant insights for reconciling it, please let me know!

1. Write more, here and elsewhere
2. Focus on communicating in person on issues of importance

I know technically it’s possible to do both. One can both write and speak! If a body starts typing, no one comes along to cut out your tongue. I know. But I am a single working mom, and my favourite human has a lot of medical appointments, and it does affect free time, and if your suggestion is that maybe I didn’t need to read 14 books in January and might have contented myself with ten and done more writing *and* speaking with that time … I probably would concede your point and then say that I spent the first two weeks with a terrible cold (you know the kind where a phlegm monster moves into your lungs, and you spend weeks expelling them one ounce at a time? Yeah), which has something to do with the book count.

Anyway.

The downside with reading research on climate communications and outreach strategies, is that you (I) learn that all the things you (I) would rather do, enjoy doing, and are good at, don’t work. Which is a bit on the harsh side, maybe, but the research keeps showing that, in climate as in other contentious subjects,what works is small group or one-on-one in-person conversations. So I am committing myself to doing more of that (see goal #2), in the climate parties, as well as hopefully organizing some small community groups this year.

But I am much better at writing than speaking. Those of you who have never met me in person will just have to take my word for it.  If a sentence makes it out of my mouth in the same word I order I conceived it in, it’s a miracle.

In fact, if you were going to describe a person who would be most suited to organize small community dialogues, you would look for my opposite.  Ideal community organizer: extroverted chipper sort with a lot of patience and enthusiasm for people and their foibles.  Andrea: highly introverted bookish/crafty person who enjoys spending entire weekends speaking to no one, alone in her house, and who is often driven to slight misanthropy by the behaviour of many humans.

(If you live close enough to be involved in community climate stuff and want to know more, let me know! I’ll probably post about it eventually anyway, but given my blogging schedule the last few months, god only knows when.)

So in my limited free time, besides reading more books than anyone has any need to, I am trying to be more active in person in local climate work, and also, I am trying to spend more time by myself writing things. The balance is hard to find. (“Read fewer books, Andrea.” Maybe I will read slightly fewer books. But still. What is the right mix? How does one approach writing when, these days, it seems all of us pre-select our reading to confirm what we already believe? Is that a good use of time? <–asks the woman who spent a few years sewing more clothing than she could possibly wear.)

At least I am contemplating this dilemma in a living room with blinds.

#SlowFashion2020: Create Your Own Sustainable Challenge — Frivolous At Last

Now here’s a sewing challenge I can get behind completely.

But as someone who already almost never buys clothes, it was challenging to think of a pledge to make! Here’s what I’ll be working with:

1. I’m going to work on appreciating beautiful fabrics with my eyes instead of my wallet: just because it’s gorgeous and would make the perfect pattern-x doesn’t mean it needs to become MY version of pattern-x. Gods know at this point when I add fabrics to my stash it becomes a project at the end of such a long list that it will take me years to get to it, at which point I won’t want to make that pattern anyway.

2. I’m going to find other ways to support the local fabric stores I love besides buying fabrics I don’t need. I’ll take the classes or workshops, or introduce friends to them, or give gift certificates for classes/workshops/products to friends, etc. Because I do want these stores and places to thrive and often that means I am buying things I don’t want and can’t use (even though they are very nice!); I need to find another way.

3. I’m going to work on slower sewing projects. There is this loop I’ve been caught in where, to justify the fabrics I’ve bought, I try to race through the sewing projects so the stash doesn’t get “too much,” which just transfers the excess from the stash to my closet, where I can’t possibly wear it all. So I want to work on slowing down on the sewing: make more complicated clothes, screen print or embroider projects where appropriate, and make more things for other people.

I’m also looking at the 30 Wears Challenge, which also asks you not to buy (or make) a piece of clothing unless you believe you will wear it at least 30 times. This sounds like a good judgement check at the moment of purchase or cutting and I’ll be posting about this and the slow fashion challenge on IG. But, you know, probably slowly.

 

I can’t believe 2019 is almost over! What are your sewing hopes and plans for 2020?


Hi friends! Happy holiday season to you! As we come to the end of another year, how about a fresh new challenge for a fresh new 2020? I’ve started up Slow Fashion 2020, where you decide what challenge you want to set for yourself in terms of being more sustainable with your clothing making/purchasing. As […]

via #SlowFashion2020: Create Your Own Sustainable Challenge — Frivolous At Last

the dance party at the end of the universe

I have a hunch: a lot of people don’t join in collective climate actions (or other kinds) because it looks like work.

And it’s advertised like work. You read things, you go somewhere to get more things to read like pamphlets and reports, you listen to very smart people talk about stuff that uses a lot of long words, while sitting in hard plastic chairs, drinking bad coffee out of tiny paper cups, and then people ask you for money or petition signatures.

It’s fun for me, but I am weird. For most people, this is not fun. This is milling around with strangers who want you to change yourself or your life in some way.

So, what if you could have fun while doing something positive about climate change? I mean, normal-people fun.

 

If you live outside of Ontario–and maybe even if you don’t–you won’t know that this is Diane Saxe, formerly the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario; the Conservative Ford Government, after its 2018 election, promptly fired her and then began rolling back environmental regulations and policy. And Saxe, not one to ride gracefully into the sunset under such conditions, launched a speaking tour in response: about climate change, policy, and how destructive the Ford government’s decisions are.

I went to one of her stops several months back (and took Frances with me), and snapped a pic for IG, as one does (see: fun for me). And:

And that is exactly what Ann and I did: We had a tea party called Climate and Crumpets. There were many, many little sandwiches and pastries–some vegan, some not–and a few different types of tea with fancy tea cups and fabric napkins. We played games, we talked, we wrote ideas on a chart–because you can’t not write ideas on a chart. We fussed over the puppy. People sat on comfortable chairs. There were no petitions. And while I had some notes about things I wanted to say, mostly the conversation had a life of its own.

And, because I am drowning in fabric scraps, I made everyone a handkerchief out of a piece of super soft cotton–in part because it’s a sustainable use of the fabrics, but also because it’s important to acknowledge the feelings we have about the climate crisis, even the messy ones. Especially the messy ones.

It was fun: it was making new friends, having interesting conversations, eating treats, drinking tea out of fancy teacups, cuddling a puppy, and playing games (Ann did a bang-up job of role-playing an oil company executive who was totally sure that her money would allow her to continue polluting indefinitely … until it wasn’t. Then I think she was genuinely surprised).


I posted about the tea party on instagram and FaceBook, as one does.  And some local friends were interested in doing something similar, but this time less tea and more trouble: a local dance friend, Katerina, and I hosted a Climate and Cocktails party with a dance social after. Because as the famous lady said:

Image result for if i can't dance emma goldman

Which she didn’t actually say, but she did love dancing and revolting, so we’ll let it stand.

Anyway, in late November, we talked climate again. There were pastries, Katerina made Pisco Sours, we had Chilean wine, and chatted about climate change with a puppy looking on. We played the same game, complete with moustache-twirling villain, and a near climate-catastrophe. Eventually there was dancing. And it was (dare I say it?) fun.

It’s hard to find space to have any kind of reasonable conversation about any polarized subject, and it’s hard to find a subject more polarized right now than climate change. Getting people to have face-to-face conversations in small groups is, as the research says, more effective than mass one-way communications. But I think it also helps to make it fun: why shouldn’t there be snacks and drinks and games? The easier and more appealing it is to join in, surely, the more people who will give it a try.

I’m hoping to keep this up and see where it goes. If you’re interested in doing something like this (either locally with me or not-locally yourself) let me know; I’m happy to share resources and ideas!

A Citizen Mandate Letter

Ann is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me on the internet.

We met online in the early days of our mom blogging adventures, about (OMG) fifteen years ago. Over the years we’ve participated in panels together, Frances and I have spent wonderful weekends at her cottage, we’ve met up for dinner and coffee, we had that tea party (which I’m shocked to discover I haven’t blogged about yet!), and throughout Ann has always been so generous and supportive. You’d never know from the time she makes available for her friends that she’s a busy parenting author conducting readings and workshops and writing and rewriting dozens of books and I don’t even know how many articles.

And like everyone else I know for more than ten minutes, Ann has been on the receiving end of many of my rants about how important it is for citizens to be engaged in their government throughout terms, to pressure politicians and make their voice heard. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when she wrote a mandate letter on her website about the actions she’s committing to taking between now and the next federal election:

“I wrote this letter to remind myself that the actions citizens take in between elections are even more important than the actions they take during elections. I want the next government to make progress on three complex and interconnected issues — the climate crisis, electoral reform, and income inequality. My plan spells out what I, as an ordinary citizen, can do to encourage them to make progress on all three fronts.”

You should read the whole thing; and also, please consider writing your own! What issues are you most concerned about? How will you engage with our government to encourage them to act on those priorities?

It doesn’t need to be fancy or grammatically correct and you don’t need to share it, though public accountability never hurts. You can put yours on twitter, FB, instagram, or in the comments section here or on Ann’s site.

New cabinet postings were announced today and shortly our new government will be getting to work. How will you use your voice to influence what they do?

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Here’s mine:

Citizen Mandate Letter for Andrea McDowell

During the upcoming session of Parliament, I will be doing everything in my power to encourage my elected representatives to make substantial progress on the climate crisis, recognizing the way it intersects, reflects and amplifies so many other injustices currently faced: income inequality, race and gender discrimination, mental health, and so on. Every bit of genuine progress on any form or aspect of inequality will facilitate climate action, and vice versa, so long as that progress is taken with acknowledgement of the ways it all ties together.

This entails:

1. I will support the work of individuals and organizations in my community addressing climate justice. Financially, where I can afford it; with time and promotion regardless.

2. I will help my fellow Hamiltonians develop skills and knowledge in what the climate emergency means, what climate action we need, and how and when to have conversations with politicians. I know the science is overwhelming, and even among those committed to action, there’s a wide diversity of opinion and strategy. It’s hard to figure out who really means what they say and who’s just bluffing, particularly when you’re not in this space every day. What do government proposals mean? What are the consequences of those proposals? What does the science say? How can we participate?

3. I will write to my elected officials on all important matters of policy. When I do, I will connect those policy matters to the climate emergency; it’s not like drawing those links is hard at this point.

4. I’ll work to find and build the bridges between different political communities in good-faith efforts to move action forward. Climate is an issue that is too important to allow partisan warfare to derail efforts. We all sink or swim on this planet together; I can’t buy my daughter and myself passage out of the climate emergency by engaging in individual good works. So much needs to be done on so many fronts that there is near infinite room for people to engage on meaningful and substantial climate action and policy coming from very different perspectives; all efforts will be less than perfect, because humans are less than perfect, so if we spend our precious remaining time taking shots at imperfect climate proposals and actors we will shoot them all down, and do as much as any oil company ever did to bring about the end.

For years, working in the environmental field seemed like it would be enough of a contribution for me; then, after meeting people who live in remote northern communities already struggling with climate impacts 15 years ago, working to incorporate climate projects into my jobs seemed like it would be enough. After the failure of the Copenhagen summit, switching to a career in renewable energy and building wind farms seemed like it could be enough. I had an “I gave at the office” attitude on climate activism, broadly.

Then last year’s IPCC report came out. It hit me that Frances would be 27 in 2030, the deadline for halving global carbon emissions, and would either be looking forward to a challenging but possible future, or a future where the world just continues to disintegrate for her and everyone else in her generation. Leaving climate work at work no longer felt responsible. It no longer even felt tolerable. So yes, I’m tired and overwhelmed and frankly unsuited to community activism, as introverted as I am, but I’m doing it anyway, because I can’t look my daughter in the eyes if I don’t.

If our elected representatives were hearing from even 100 of their constituents once a month–on any issue–their priorities would shift. If we all could find one or two hours a month to do community climate work, we could move mountains.