Category Archives: Big Picture

Crafters for Climate

I’ve done something a bit mad, and I’ll talk about why I’ve done this to myself more in another post, but for today I’ll just tell you what it is:

I’ve committed to creating, hosting or participating in one public Climate Change event connected to each of my hobbies, ideally before the Canadian election in October but if that can’t be arranged ASAP.

Sewing was first: two small workshops held at Needlework here in Hamilton, using scrap fabrics to make small climate action banners and support the youth strikers, while I spoke a bit about what the climate emergency is and how it connects to our much loved hobby.

So great to see a bunch of kids out on Friday!

I’ve put it all together in this post as a toolkit that you can take to your favourite local sewing space and do yourself (or with a friend!).

Approach

I absolutely did not have this well thought out to begin with: I just went to my favourite local fabric store with a hugely sketchy pitch:

With the climate crisis being so much in the news, and the UN climate conference coming up again, and a federal election being faught over the carbon tax–and with Greta Thunberg and the youth strikers asking for adult support and participation in the Sept 20 and 27 climate strikes–wouldn’t it be great if an unexpected community like crafters and sewers were to speak out in support of climate action? We could fabric scraps, I suggested, and maybe piece them into a banner for the shop window or the protests–or people could make their own–or iron slogans on t-shirts, or make tote bags–or, I don’t know, what do you think?

Fortunately Kate and Liz were super enthusiastic and supportive and had the much better and easier idea of using fusible web to make banners, but yes, out of scraps. And I’d talk a bit about climate change while we all make our masterpieces, and we’d raise some money for a local environmental group, and in short, it would be fabulous. Liz and Kate did most of the work: making the blank banners, setting up the event on their website, and collecting donations. (A huge thank you again!)

If you missed this event and you’ll be in town for Supercrawl, drop in! They’re planning an impromptu version of the activity on the street.

Agenda

After everyone arrived, Liz and Kate gave a basic introduction to the event and a how-to on the fusible web. Attendees brainstormed a slogan, sketched it out, and started tracing and cutting. About an hour in, after everyone had their slogan planned out and was focused on getting it done, I jumped into my talk.

It was very short–just a few minutes–and we were all working on our projects at the same time, so it was very informal.

Afterwards we kept chatting while we finished up our banners.

Here’s the one I made on Saturday morning, hanging at home on the living room wall.

Talk

Do any of you remember seeing the headlines about “twelve years left to save the planet” from a year ago? And if you do, how many of you feel like you have a really solid understanding of what that means? What is it we had twelve years left to do, and what happens if we don’t do it?

Here’s the basic rundown:

If we want to be reasonably sure that the planet can continue to support human civilization in something mostly like what we’re used to, we need to limit total warming to 1.5C.

We’ve already experienced 1C of warming, so there is very little margin left, and the global carbon cycle is so slow that what we’ve already emitted will get us to 1.5C some time this century whether we continue to emit carbon or not.

That sounds bad, yes? So when global leaders met and signed the Paris Accords saying they would try to limit warming to 1.5C, it led straight away to the question: ok, great, but how?

The IPCC commissioned a study on that question: how do we do this? CAN we do this? And about a thousand climate experts from around the world collaborated on putting together the information that came together in last October’s report. What they concluded was:

  • If we cut emissions roughly in half by 2030
  • And completely decarbonize by 2050
  • And then go into NEGATIVE emissions in the second half of this century

We have about a 66% chance of keeping warming to 1.5C, though we may overshoot it for part of that time before negative emissions have an impact.

That twelve years is how long we have to cut our emissions in half. Of course right now emissions are still rising, so that’s a big challenge.

AND! It will affect our beloved hobby, too. Let’s talk a little bit about how: we’re sitting in a space where just about every product started out as a plant on a farm, and which will be affected by a changing climate. Textiles and fashion have environmental implications beyond climate of course, like water use and transportation and fertilizers and chemicals during processing and dyeing, but I’m going to limit myself to climate impacts today because that’s what we’re here for.

Climate change—impacts on cotton:

  • higher temps a mixed bag, depending on geographic region and how close they already are to upper tolerance levels
  • drought, storms, all decrease yields
  • yields in some countries already declining
  • during the 2011 Texas drought, 55% of cotton fields were abandoned
  • even in low-warming scenarios, yields in America expected to decline 30-46%
  • solutions include GMOs for heat and drought tolerance, using more wild varieties and cultivars that tolerate extremes better, and changing farming practices to better conserve water etc. Even so, yields will almost certainly decline.

https://www.greenbiz.com/article/why-climate-change-material-cotton-industry

https://www.bizcommunity.com/Article/129/358/172950.html

http://www.insidecotton.com/jspui/bitstream/1/2600/1/Bange%20and%20Constable.pdf

Linen/flax

Not as much research or writing, but yields are declining for now and expected to continue to decline; however, not as severely as cotton (because it uses the entire plant, not just the seed?)

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329655637_Flax_crop_production_and_climate_change_from_diagnosis_to_solutions_for_the_future_Philippe_GATE_and_Olivier_DEUDON

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25796897

Polyester/synthetics

A single polyester t-shirt has carbon emissions of 5.5kg, (about double that of a cotton t-shirt).

https://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2019/02/26/textile-industry-and-climate-change/

Bamboo & Rayon

We also have a solution here too. There are definitely sustainability concerns with the production of rayon, but bamboo was described by Project Drawdown as having significant potential to sequester carbon because it’s a perennial plant that grows very quickly.


So there you go. Everything in the world, including this shop, affects and is affected by the climate crisis.

And of course, it’s not just textiles, is it? If it were, we might be less concerned, though I personally have no interest in living in a global nudist colony.

Reports on climate impacts expected for Hamilton this century include: more extreme weather events, more precipitation in the spring, winter and fall; more drought in the summer; more ice storms; more extreme heat, leading to an anticipated 2 months or more of extreme heat every year by the 2080s ; more invasive species; new pests and diseases to our region (like Lyme disease).

At the same time, these impacts are going to be worse for vulnerable and marginalized communities: women, racial minorities, people with low-incomes or disabilities, are all going to feel the effects more.

But this also means that just about anything you do to make the world a better, fairer place will help on climate change. For example, the same people at Project Drawdown found that if you combine the mitigation impacts of education for girls globally and improved access to family planning, women’s rights have as much impact on climate change as wind turbines.


You’ve probably already heard about the things you can do as an individual or a household to reduce your carbon: drive an electric car or take transit, avoid flying, avoid meat, change to LED lightbulbs, set your thermostat to use less heat and air conditioning—and those are all great, but if we need to decarbonize, we need societal change. Our province shutting down all the coal-fired power plants was, at the time, the largest climate mitigation project in North American history, because at a stroke we all emitted less carbon in our electricity regardless of our personal choices.

We need a lot more of that, which means action from all levels of government and business and industry leaders. Which isn’t going to happen unless they hear from a lot of us.

Which is where our lovely banners come in, and the school strikes and demonstrations. It’s amazing to me that even the conservative party has a climate policy for this year’s election. It’s crap, and it would make emissions go up, but they’ve got one–they’ve conceded that it’s real and accept that the public wants to see action. This is a direct result of increasing public visibility and pressure from things like the youth strikes. So the best thing for all of us to do is get more involved.

Other Ideas

You weren’t at the workshop, you aren’t going to a strike: how else can you be part of mobilizing and publicly supporting action on climate change?

It is uncomfortable and new territory for a lot of us, but so much is at stake.  Please find a way to be involved!

Theory

For the climate nerds, here’s the theoretical background: climate communications research shows that conversations about the climate emergency are more successful and lead to better outcomes when:

1. They are in small groups or one-to-one, rather than mass communications
2. They come from a trusted member of that community, rather than from an outsider
3. They are built on shared values and priorities
4. They tackle solutions and a vision of a desired and desirable future

These workshops put that theory into practice in the Hamilton sewing community.

(Don’t) Panic: A hitchhiker’s guide to climate anxiety

In late March, I gave a presentation on fear and hope and helplessness in climate communications at a local Climate Change summit. There was supposed to be a video at some point, but I’ve (temporarily) given up on ever seeing it; but here’s what I said, with a picture of me saying it, in a handmade dress no less.

I’d love to hear what you think . It seems to be a bit of a Rorschach test: people hear what they think they’re going to hear, so far. Something like, “I loved your speech! It was about [climate communications preconception,] and that’s awesome!” And I say, “Thank you!” And I think, “Interesting, that’s not what I was trying to say.”

(As presented)

So climate experts are sniping at each other on Twitter again.

What about, you ask? The remaining carbon budget? Sea level rise? Hurricane projections? Oh no. None of that. There is only one subject I’ve seen continually spark fights between distinguished climate scientists on twitter, and it’s this:

Should we do everything we can to scare the bejeezus out of people to get them to act on climate change? Or, if we want people to act on climate change, must we do everything in our power to avoid scaring the bejeezus out of people?

I used to be on Team Fear, partly because fear was key for me. I grew up in a house stacked with books about Armageddon, full of lurid details about how the world was sure to end in fire in the 1980s, proof being Mikhail Gorbachev’s birthmark. Which meant I grew up thinking I wasn’t going to high school.

It’s not so different from Greta Thunberg and the school strikes. That’s it, folks. At the same age I was when I had my daughter, you will see human civilization begin to irretrievably crumble. We messed up. Sorry. Also, here’s a large student debt. And are you saving for your retirement? The seniors’ colony on Mars is not going to be cheap, so you wanna get started.

As it turned out, Gorbachev wasn’t the antichrist. He was just a guy who tried really hard to bring democracy to Russia. Climate models, however, consistently underpredict impacts, so the wildfires and hurricanes and sea level rise are all ahead of schedule.

You would not believe the number of people in the last year who, when I tell them I work in climate change, say, “tell me the truth. Are we screwed? Should I just get drunk and wait for the end?” The titanic comes up a lot.

Fear got me into climate change, just like fear got me into church. So if other people weren’t engaged, they must not be scared enough. So I scared them.

We haven’t had this much carbon in the atmosphere for millions of years! I said. Hundreds of thousands of people are dying from climate impacts every year! YOU HAVE CHILDREN! If you’re not doing something, YOU’RE KILLING THEM!

No, I did. And it never, ever worked.

Why weren’t people responding with more enthusiasm to my terrifying mountain of facts?

Because fear doesn’t work, the research said. It paralyzes people. They hide from the issue instead of engaging with it.

Huh. Really? That’s weird. It didn’t do that for me.

Or, well.

Am I the only one who hasn’t yet packed an emergency kit for the next major blackout or extreme weather event?

I’m a type 1 diabetic. Ask me how many cookies I’ve eaten this week.

(The cookies here have been delicious, by the way, as always–so I guess you know the number’s not zero.)

Friends, I’ve had 100% cookie-based meals.

The complications of type 1 diabetes are objectively terrifying, and this means nothing in the face of a homemade chocolate chip cookie straight from the oven. Which I take the time to make myself. Partly to manage the stress of working in climate change. I should see amputations sliding off the cookie sheet, instead, I see endorphins.

OK. We’ll scrap fear. We’ll focus on hard work, optimism and hope. Hope is big. Hope is printed in really big letters all over this Summit, for instance.

I tried really hard. It went something like this:

Don’t give up! If we pull together and have some lucky technological breakthroughs, things will only get worse for another 50-100 years, and then, assuming we don’t skip merrily past any invisible tipping points, we can stabilize at a level that supports human civilization! Take transit!”

That didn’t work either!

When I tried to scare people, they called me an alarmist; when I tried to inspire people with hope, they called me an alarmist. Then Greta comes along and sparks an entire mass climate movement with five letters:

P A N I C

I give up. Or, no, I don’t give up. That’s incompatible with hope-messaging. Wait, what are we doing again?

The facts of climate change are objectively terrifying. What kind of hand-waving could we do to make that disappear?

Susanne Moser is a climate communications expert and the author of a textbook on the subject (that I read for fun). Here she says there are seven parts to an effective climate communication:

“a minimum amount of information, a realistic assessment of the threat, a sense of personal control, a clear goal, an understanding of strategies, a sense of support, and frequent feedback.”

What do they get?

That it’s possible we are ending the ability of the planet to support human civilization. Doomed cities, doomed countries, doomed cultures, deaths numbering in the millions—or more, the loss of entire branches of the tree of life within our lifetimes, wars and mass migrations caused by human desperation. –information and threat

That if we don’t decarbonize by 2050, our goose is cooked. Literally. —goals

That strategies like renewable energy and electric cars exist, but we haven’t been able to deploy them at sufficient scale.

That carbon levels are still going up. —feedback

And that it’s all in the hands of people they don’t know, don’t trust, and have next to no influence over.

It isn’t just that people aren’t given a sense of control in these media messages, but that they’re actively told that they’re powerless.

No wonder people so often tell me they’ve already given up.

Or I hear: “Andrea, I’ve changed my lightbulbs. I can’t afford to fly. I tried the community garden and everything died. The gardening class was $800. I already vote. I’m not an expert—I don’t know what to say—there was a community meeting at 3 pm and that’s when I pick my kids up from school. I’m terrified. I need to do more but what?”

We in this room are in a position of immense privilege. Working in climate change is, yes, stressful. I have a whole new appreciation for bourbon in my forties. But it’s also a gift: when climate news is scary, we can use it to fuel our work. It isn’t just that fear got many of us here, but that being here gives us a tool to manage that fear.

Most people don’t have that.

Still, isn’t it odd, that citizens of first-world democracies feel so powerless? How have our imaginations failed so badly?

What if stop worrying about whether we’re scaring people not enough or too much? Can we talk instead about this pervasive powerlessness?

Because they’re not. Social and economic transformations have always depended on political will, yes, but it isn’t a thunderstorm, arriving out of a clear sky, leaving a new world in its wake. Citizens acting collectively produce political will.

Every project we work on does two things: it reduces GHG emissions or makes our communities more resilient, and that’s critical, that’s why we’re here. But each also tells a story about whose work this is. Does the community have a role to play, or are they observers only?

Here’s what excites me about the Bay Area Climate Change Council: it tells a story about our community’s agency. Community feedback, community priorities, and representatives from community organizations created the work plans. Action is local: we will see and touch it. It widens the road to action for more people, which boosts the climate conversation, too. Someone who sees and knows they can help create the political will needed to make change won’t—hopefully—need to ask if they should give up before they begin.

Political Will is a Quilting Bee

Why progressive politicians with majority mandates don’t pursue more aggressive climate policy is one of the great mysteries of our time.

Apparently. Or not. Because to me it makes perfect sense. This conundrum comes from a complete misunderstanding of what political will is and where it comes from.

Political will is not like iron ore.

It is not a pre-existing resource that you need to look for, and, once found, can be used to make things like policies or new law.

And political will is not like a thunderstorm.

It isn’t a mysterious, difficult to predict source of energy that just shows up and dumps a bunch of rain and wind that you can then use to power change.

Political will is more like a quilting bee.

It is produced by people in groups acting together, in public, towards a common end.

You cannot make it on your own, and you cannot make it in private, but YOU CAN MAKE POLITICAL WILL.

Voting is one way of creating political will, but it is very weak due to its substantial flaws: it’s only semi-public, for one. No one knows who you voted for unless you tell them. And it’s dispersed: no one knows why you voted for someone unless you tell them that, either. Political platforms generally contain dozens of policy proposals or promises, and you probably didn’t like all of them, or all of them equally–so what are your priorities? And how are you communicating those priorities to your elected officials?

You should still vote, because that is your best chance of having elected officials who are open to your priorities and concerns; but it’s not enough, not by far. As a bare minimum, you should reach out to your representatives after elections to tell them what your priorities are, what changes you are counting on them to make, and what changes you are completely opposed to (particularly if they ran on those changes). It’s an email. You can write an email.

The public, declarative process of creating political will is why sustained protest movements have such a history of success: you have many people acting collectively in public who are very, very open about their priorities. Not any one person is single-handedly responsible for the political will created but, like a quilting bee, each one of them is contributing a square or a stitch.

Petitions, letter-writing campaigns, civil disobedience, organizations and organizing efforts, strikes, speeches, public meetings and events–all of them work. Ideally, you have a bunch of all of them as part of any sustained movement for change. If they happen often enough and there are enough people participating and they have a common-enough message, congratulations, you will create political will.

The politicians are the last stage in this process.

I don’t know how we ended up with the idea that politicians need to display leadership. Oh hell no. Politicians, particularly in democracies, have always been and will always be followers. Politicians who lead are consistently punished in elections. For progressive politicians, the line of doing the utmost of what is possible with the political will that’s been created without overstepping such that you lose elections–a la Wynne and Notley here, most recently–and see the incoming parties dismantling your legacies is particularly fraught.

Lots of politicians want to make positive change in society, but they can only do so if they have the political will required for the scale of change proposed–and that is the responsibility of the public to create. We can argue while the world unravels about us whether or not it should be that way, but it is; the public’s responsibility is to hold elected officials accountable for their decisions, publicly, in groups.

It doesn’t need to be terrifying. If you have an unholy fear of protest marches or have been completely indoctrinated that marching down a street with a sign is a sure way to be arrested, great, don’t do that. Go to a public meeting, a book reading, a speech, a fundraiser. Put a sign up in your window. Start or sign a petition. Write emails or make phonecalls. Send a cheque to an organization working on the issue.  And make it public. Don’t do it quietly. Let people know–friends, families, and your representatives. Do as much, as often as you can. In this way, you help to stitch the quilt of political will that our democracies need to create legitimate, lasting change.

Losing the Plot (and maybe finding it again)

Those of you who have met me in the last few years, particularly online, especially particularly through the blog, may not know that I used to write. A lot.

As in, I started reading novels when I was five, and started writing them when I was seven. As in, I have an overflowing bankers box full of journals from elementary school through university. As in, I’ve published short stories, essays and articles.

And then, a few years ago, blogging aside, I completely stopped.

Occasionally I’d get an idea and write it down, but that was all.

What happened was–I lost faith in the narrative arc.

Doesn’t that sound weird? Who has faith in the narrative arc? But as it turns out, that’s the one thing I needed to have if I was going to write. Even non-fiction has a kind of plot, a series of events that link causally, a conclusion whether hoped-for or actual. Epiphanies. Breakthroughs. Progress. Injustice or obstacles overcome, whether internally or externally. Battles won, or lost. Something the book is trying to accomplish. Not just a series of  random, unconnected data.

And I lost the pattern. I lost the plot.

Everything was random and nothing meant anything. People didn’t change, not really; or if they did it was so rare, so obscure, so hard, so impossible to pinpoint, and so difficult to describe, it wasn’t really worth talking about.

Professionally, the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference just about broke me.  Nicknamed Hopenhagen, and widely discussed at the time in climate circles as the world’s last chance to prevent catastrophic climate change, which it ultimately failed to do. So here we are in 2019, with raging wildfires and hurricanes that maybe should be in a brand new category 6 and climate refugees and a political order that is barely doing the things it should have done 20 years ago but with so much pushback that every climate gain is constantly contested and under threat.

Copenhagen broke my heart. It felt like the world had died, or maybe that the world had been admitted to palliative care and I was waiting for either a miracle or the final passing.

Part of that was family stuff. Do you know what it’s like to watch people, for decades, determinedly entangle themselves with abusers? Who defend the people who abuse them? Who scrounge around on the floor for crumbs of attention from people who hurt them–who talk about this as “love” or “kindness”?

Watching someone cling to those who have been a source of immense pain and no pleasure would challenge anyone’s notions of change or progress or insight or epiphany. Not everyone wakes up “one day” and leaves an abuser, whether that abuser is a parent or a spouse or a partner or a sibling. A lot of people stay forever, by choice–and spend a fair bit of energy and time trying to get other people to stay too.

I used to think that I had changed. Yes I had a crummy childhood, and that crummy childhood left scars and quirks a mile wide and a mile deep, and yes it caused me to make a series of disastrous and destructive romantic choices, but I’m learning–right?

Oh, change.

No. As it turned out I wasn’t. Or I wasn’t learning as much as I thought, not changing as much as I thought, still had blindspots and quirks and scars nearly a mile wide and a mile deep. As hit me over the head like a concrete 2×4 when I broke up with a man who’d assaulted me, bugged the apartment of his ex-wife and hired a PI so he could keep tabs on who she was fucking, sold his house and moved to an apartment halfway between where I live and where I worked after we broke up, stalked me so well that I knew exactly who it was and yet had no proof.  Why did I ignore the signs? Had I changed or learned or grown at all?

Now. This may not be clear to you already. But I have treated change as something between a part-time job and a significant hobby since my teens.

I wrote lists of new year’s resolutions, with milestones, deadlines, checklists. I talked to therapists. I read self-help books and psychology books and neurobiology books and philosophy books and parenting books and how-to books of all kinds. I was never, ever going to turn into my mother. Not only does she hurt people as reflexively and easily as most people make a sandwich, but she is as a result almost completely isolated; there is no part of her life that I want. Change was more important to me than God, for the period in my life in which I was religious; change, overcoming, learning, and being a better person, was the single most important thing in the world to me before Frances was born. Nothing was too hard or too much in my quest to be and do everything she wasn’t.

And at 38, in the wake of this relationship, I was hit like a brick in the face with the realization that what I really needed to worry about was becoming my father.

It is very difficult to make change and progress your life goals and then realize at 38 that in some important respects not only have you not changed or progressed, but you were aiming yourself at the wrong finish line.

And the point of this isn’t actually to depress any of you, but to provide some insight into my state of mind beginning in 2009 and then building over the next several years. Climate depression (a real thing now, and nice to have more company, though I’d obviously prefer the alternative) meeting up with a terminally dysfunctional family and a personal crisis of faith, causing a killer case of writer’s block, and the inability to compose a single prose sentence except for sewing and book reviews for several years.

None of these facts have changed: the climate is still an actual global dumpster fire, and it’s possible–and even likely–that none of the work I do will make a measurable difference; my family on both sides is still a mass of enablers, abusers and mental illness; that I will almost certainly remain completely oblivious to at least some of my own blindspots, and damage myself or others in their shadows; and that no one wants me to talk about any part of this.

Everything I really want or need to talk about makes people extremely uncomfortable. You can hardly get people to nope out of a conversation faster than if you mention climate change, unless it’s to talk about a petite attractive well-educated well-spoken nicely dressed wealthy white woman completely lacking in empathy or conscience, especially when that woman is your mother. Both upend everything people want or need to believe about how the world is or works, and I get it, but also, I’m at a place and in a life where survival means looking at what’s there, actually there, not the pretty picture that was modge-podged on top of the festering rot.

Honest festering rot can be useful, if it breaks down into soil and feeds new life. Slapping a glossy photo on top, besides being a lie, prevents growth.

Anyway, here’s the thing:

Nothing I ever said to my family made a difference; it’s possible, even likely, that nothing I say about climate change will make a difference. Life is indeed meaningless and the values we assign to ourselves, our place in society, nature and the world are arbitrary.  I talked to my dad a hundred times about how he was being treated, and he still stayed, and he still died. I’ve been yakking my head off about climate change and what it means for us as a civilization, a species, and a planet, for twenty years, and scientists as a group have been talking about it since the 1800s, and CO2 levels are still going up and things are getting worse.

This was meant to be an environmental blog, once upon a time, though even back then I wrote a lot about sewing and I can’t see that not continuing. These days, it looks like half the world is freaking out about climate change in the same way I did in 2009, and I find that there are things I want to say. That it is possible to look at the future we’ve made and say, maybe there’s no hope, but there’s still a point; I can’t solve this, but there is so much good that I can do in this crisis, good that only I–or you–can do.  That there is a huge difference between 1.5C and 2C, even though both are terrible, and another huge difference between 2 and 2.5; hell, even the difference between 1.5C and 1.6C can be measured in lives lost, and every single one of those lives matters, and one of those may be the one you save, whether you ever know it or not.

There’s no point. I grant that. I have no control over how my words are received or the impact they have, if any. Our world is engineered to strip almost all of us of most of our power, and then convince us that the powers we still have are irrelevant: boring, pointless, trivial, and weak, confined to our wallets and the periodic drama of the voting booth, nothing in the face of a new Netflix special or whether or not Jennifer Aniston is pregnant for real this time. I know it. You know it. And nevertheless. I’m going to speak, if only because if I don’t, I won’t be able to live with myself.

There’s no plot. We’re all sitting around like climate change is some Hollywood drama or Marvel movie and a hero is guaranteed to arrive in the 11th hour with a foolproof plan so the rest of us can sit back and wait, but we are not guaranteed a hero, and we’ve had plenty of plans offered to us over the decades, and we’ve decided none of them are to our liking.  Ok. So maybe out of some combination of hubris, denial, laziness, skepticism, neurological hijinks, unfettered capitalism, historical flukes, democratic erosion, colonialism and greed, humanity goes extinct and takes most of the world with it. Hell, trees almost did that, once upon a time.

There’s no narrative arc. The western story of social progress built on economic growth is, like Wile E Coyote, marching on thin air while the ecological basis of our species disintegrates beneath us, and will eventually plummet–is in some cases already plummeting. Maybe we’ll dash madly back to solid ground in time, and maybe we won’t, and in either case my words are unlikely to make a real difference. So be it.

I’m saying it anyway.

The Age of Angry Women

I’ve been keeping journals since elementary school, and they are, generally, what you would expect from journals: hard-back notebooks filled with lined pages covered in a not always legible scrawl of to do lists, New Year’s Resolutions, goals I had or things I wanted to try, quandaries I was trying to work through, and of course, what was going on in my life and how I felt and what I thought about it.

Or, often, what I thought I should think about it. What I thought I should feel about it. In my first journal from elementary school, I’d gotten the idea that girls were supposed to write about their crushes in their diaries, so I invented crushes so I could write about them in my diary, but not all of the things I thought I should think or felt I should feel were so entertaining. Often it was things that made me sad, or angry: I wrote about those feelings in the hope and expectation that by getting it out I wouldn’t be sad or angry anymore. It never worked.

In January 2017, I stopped writing in black and blue ink and brought out the coloured pens. I started to make charts, draw sketches, record dreams I’d had, write down quotes from books or poems I’d read.

This is one of those things that’s very awkward to say, and which I’ve been told is scientifically either implausible or impossible so I don’t mention much, but: I don’t have many memories of my childhood. I remember some friends, some teachers, school trips, other kids’ birthday parties, summer camp, the cottages. I have a handful of memories of my Dad and my brother. Of my mother, I have one clear memory before the age of 14, and a handful of other extremely unpleasant memories of things that involve her or where she was present–I know she was present–but her presence in that memory has been wiped clear as a white-board. For me, narrative memory starts sometime in middle school. Before then, I have my journals, and things people have told me, and weird snatches, and lots of stuff that doesn’t involve my family, and that’s it.

This image, for instance, does not resonate with me at all. I don’t have a childhood self to return to–though if you do, that’s great, and I’m happy for you. Apparently it resonates with a lot of people because it is all over my FB feed.

So early in 2017, in addition to watching the world slowly side into a dumpster-fire the size of Jupiter, I also was tired of trying to figure out what was in those missing years, who I would have or should have been, how I turned into who I am. Unlike most other people, I’m not tethered to a remembered history. It’s odd, it’s often uncomfortable, but it’s true, so I may as well make myself up. And my journals became a way to do that: to construct myself.  I still wrote to-do lists and plans and quandaries and what I thought I should think and how I thought I should feel, which still never worked, and pages and pages of — questions, quotes, the bits of myself that I inherited from trauma and wanted to keep (eg. loving nature), the bits that I inherited from trauma and wanted to change (eg. fearing people), the bits that might actually have nothing to do with trauma at all (eg. sewing), and what exactly I wanted to put in the empty spaces between them (eg. dancing).

We all engage in self-construction somewhat. The difference is, if you had parents who loved you, you had people from your earliest memories mirroring back to you a version of yourself you could flourish in. You might outgrow it, you might need to stretch or bend it, but there was part of that mirroring you could live in. When your parents hate you, the version of yourself they give you is ugly and contorted. If you try growing into it, it kills you.


In October of last year, I read through Adrienne Riche. Here’s some bits I wrote down:

it’s your own humanity you’ll have to drag
over and over, piece by piece,
page after page
out of the dark.

Which was as good a description of my project as I could ask for. But then, in relation to all those feelings I was trying to write away, this:

Anger and tenderness: my selves.
And now I can believe they breathe in me
as angels, not polarities.
Anger and tenderness: the spider’s genius
to spin and weave in the same action
from her own body, anywhere–
even from a broken web.

Maybe, I thought, I didn’t have to write them away. Maybe the anger isn’t the problem. Maybe I can let the anger be?

This, of course, is not a problem unique to me: We live in a world that delights in convincing women that we don’t have the right to feel our feelings, and if we do, we don’t have the right to express or act on them, and if we choose to anyway, we can’t expect anyone to take them or us seriously. We are hysterical, we are emotional, we are too sensitive, we are irrational, we are illogical, we are hormonal: if we want to be taken seriously in almost any context, we need to strip ourselves of any evidence of emotion, and then be labelled “cold.”

On the one hand, my upbringing made this worse: I lived in the same misogynistic culture, and was brought up in a misogynistic fundamentalist Church, and had a deeply abusive family. From all quarters, I got the message that I was not valued, and not valuable. It was awful. I won’t sugarcoat it. I’ve struggled with suicidal depression since elementary school (for which I was also blamed).

On the other hand, it’s meant I had nothing to lose in walking away.

Oddly, I’ve come to view this as a gift. Though maybe that’s the wrong word, because it came with a very steep bill.

Regardless, when I came across the message–and when it then proliferated across the literary landscape like a climate change-fueled wildfire–that my anger was not the problem, I could embrace it, without facing unpleasant pushback from people in my life who would tell me that the anger was ugly and uncomfortable and I should shove it back in its box.

In June of this year I fell into Jan Zwicky again. I don’t know why she isn’t a better-known or more-loved poet. Here’s some bits from Beethoven: Op. 95:

…You were right: stupidity
surrounds us, and our own
splits the skull most sharply.
Also: that nothing
is achieved without the grimmest labour
on the slenderest of hopes. …

…you were right
about discipline, and politics,
the steep well of fury, and finally
what the fury goes through to: love
like a hand through the wall of the chest,
like a hand in fire, fire
tearing itself, in the hand’s flame
a heart, in the heart’s fist
an ear.

That image!

What the fury goes through to: love like the hand through the wall of the chest.

There’s been, also, approximately a hundred books written very recently by women about women being angry and getting shit done using that anger as fuel, and I’ve read three of them: Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper, Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister, and Rage Becomes Her by Soraya Chemaly. I recommend all three, and I recommend reading them close together because they bolster and complement each other beautifully. Rage Becomes Her is approximately 250 pages of all the shit making women angry followed by 50 pages of what to do with it; Good and Mad is a historical and present-day journalistic narrative account of women using their anger to achieve positive change for society; and Eloquent Rage is a personal exploration of the uses of justified rage in the life of one Black Feminist activist. As well, all three provide an intersectional viewpoint that, while not complete, at least makes a conscious effort to broaden the scope beyond the most privileged.

Spoiler: they’re solidly pro-anger. Anger is justified, anger is fuel; anger tells us what’s broken and gives us the energy to try to fix it; and we live in a world that veers between discomfort and vilification where angry women are concerned, where it is hard to believe in the validity and uses of our anger. Where we still feel the necessity of bottling it up and slapping a smile or a joke on it. Where if you aren’t angry whatever happened didn’t bother you that much and if you are angry, you’re the problem.

Chemaly, Cooper and Traister would all like you to be angry, to express that anger, and to use that anger to propel activism in service of making a better world.

Cooper:

“This is a book by a grown-ass women written for other grown-ass women. This is a book for women who expect to be taken seriously and for men who take grown women seriously. This is a book for women who know shit is fucked up. These women want to change things but don’t know where to begin.

“To be clear, I’m not really into self-help books, so I don’t have one of those catchy three-step plans for changing the world. What I have is anger. Rage, actually. And that’s the place where more women should begin–with the things that make us angry.”

Chemaly:

“See your anger not only as a possible symptom but also as a way to recover yourself. If you are among the millions of people who have experienced abuse in childhood, for example, or physical and sexual violence in adulthood, anger is inevitable. Women who suppress this anger suffer more deleterious effects related to that suppression. Recovering from these assaults and their memorizes is hampered by ignoring what your anger represents as an agent of better health.”

“Anger is an assertion of rights and worth. It is communication, equality and knowledge. It is intimacy, acceptance, fearlessness, embodiment, revolt, and reconciliation. Anger is memory and rage. It is rational thought and irrational pain. Anger is freedom, independence, expansiveness, and entitlement. It is justice, passion, clarity, and motivation. Anger is instrumental, thoughtful, complicated, and resolved. In anger, whether you like it or not, there is truth.

Anger is the demand of accountability. It is evaluation, judgement, and refutation. It is reflective, visionary and anticipatory. It’s a speech act, a social statement, an intention, and a purpose. It’s a risk and a threat. A confirmation and a wish. It is both powerlessness and power, palliative and a provocation. In anger, you will find both ferocity and comfort, vulnerability and hurt. Anger is the expression of hope.”

Traister:

“‘It’s so powerful and kind of reminds me that the other side of the anger is the hope,’ Morales wrote to me. ‘We wouldn’t be angry if we didn’t still believe that it could be better.’

And if it gets better in part because of women’s ability and willingness and need to feel their anger and to let it out into the world, then what we would be living through right now would not be a trend or a fad or a witch hunt, but an insurrection–a righteous revolution, led by angry women.”

These books are fabulous and necessary and inspiring and, yes, enraging. I graduated from tea to wine to whisky while reading them, because believe me, they made me want to burn the world down. Traister, Cooper and Chemaly are right: women have a lot to be angry about; and our anger is not only justified and useful but necessary if we are going to fix the mess(es) we’re in.

But they missed one thing.

Anger isn’t just accountability and revolution and hope and optimism and power and independence and motivation and clarity and purpose and the place we should begin. It isn’t just good for our health and our souls to feel and own our anger.

Anger is love.

Fury is love, the hand going through the wall of the chest to the heart.

What you are angry on behalf of is what you love. If you are only ever angry on your own behalf, you only love yourself. If you are never angry on your own behalf, you don’t love yourself. Everyone I know who is never angry is a victim of abuse, usually starting early in childhood, that convinced them that they’re not worth defending and it’s selfish to defend themselves and it’s hopeless to even try. My father never got angry at the way my mother treated him, or very rarely, because he’d been convinced and then continued to convince himself that it was wrong and bad to value himself enough to feel anger on his own behalf. There are others in my family who are much the same–all women, mind you.

Think of when you have been angry in your life, and why, and look behind that anger, and you will find what you were defending–what you love. Anger on behalf of the poor, the exploited, on behalf of victims of assault or abuse or misogyny or racism; anger on behalf of children, of the environment, of the future, is a positive expression of love. You can’t love those things and not be angry when they’re threatened.

(And yes, the white man who only ever gets angry when his comfort and position are threatened only loves himself, and his comfort and position. It is absolutely a reflection of a person’s values and their heart.  Similarly the person who only ever gets angry on behalf of victims who live on the other side of the world, and can’t be bothered to react emotionally to victims in their own life.)

Anger is an angel. Anger is tenderness. Anger is what allows us to spin and weave a better future, even from a broken web. Fury goes through to love like a hand through the wall of the chest. Be as angry as you need to be.

Love Your Haters

Hello lovely readers. I’m sorry for my long absence. Partially sorry. I know there are blog readers who hate those kinds of apologies–you’re not waiting on tenterhooks for my next post! no one cares if I take a break! just get on with it!–and that’s fair, but I’ve yet to find a better way to begin a post after a long absence. Think of it as filler, like “how are you doing?” or “did you watch the superbowl?”

So I’m sorry for the long absence. This winter has been a succession of things that interfere both with sewing and with taking pictures. Car troubles–I got sick–my daughter got sick–our beloved little Simba passed away quite suddenly. I have lots of posts written up and waiting just for photos, but who wants to see my bleary-eyed, tear-stained, red-nosed face on top of a sewing project? Not me and, I’m guessing, not you. It will pass, eventually, as will this interminable winter which felt two years long on December 27th and by now feels like the winter in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. As if it will never end and I will be shoveling my driveway every three days for eternity.

So I thought, what better way to ease myself back into blogging then to write a non-sewing post that is sure to piss off everyone?

I mean, if you thought the fitting post was bad, or if you were offended by my feelings about the white supremacist sexual assaulter bigot who currently occupies the Oval Office, just wait.

I used to write for publication a fair bit. Mostly small pieces in mostly small publications, and it all ground to a halt a few years back for reasons that are largely incidental to this post, but which you may hear about the next time I feel like alienating my readers with a non-sewing post.

One piece, an essay about being a single mom and a type 1 diabetic, I placed in Brain, Child magazine. I was pretty thrilled. I wrote about how hard it was to take care of my chronic illness when meeting the needs of a small child without any in-house assistance, and how often what I needed to do for myself took a backseat to what I needed to do for Frances.

I didn’t think this was particularly controversial, but it inspired my first ever hate-reader.

My boyfriend at the time found her blog post, and for reasons that will remain unknown forever sent the link to me. He was very concerned for my state of mind on reading it.

This blogger–who was neither a mother nor a diabetic, by the way, let alone a type 1 diabetic single mother–took extreme issue with my prioritizing my daughter’s needs over my own. She’d never had to do it, but she was sure that if she did, she would definitely be able to make her diabetic care needs a higher priority than her daughter. I was doing it all wrong.

“Are you ok?” boyfriend asked. “You know she’s wrong, don’t you?”

“Are you ok?” friends asked. “You don’t deserve this!”

“ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?” I replied. “I wrote something with a big enough audience that I got a HATE READ! This is amazing!”

I didn’t enjoy what she had to say, and I still think she was wrong. But good lord, if there’s one thing that divides the successful from the try-hards, it’s that the successful have very large audiences, and in that very large audience is *guaranteed* to be someone who thinks you are the worst.

Some people hate Shakespeare.

What kind of hubris does it take to think that in a world where people hate Shakespeare, every good person of sense is going to love you?

There is a landmine directly under my right foot, and here I am, about to step on it. Ready? Here goes.

GOMI:

There is an undercurrent of internalized misogyny to the site as a whole that really gets under my skin. And no, it’s not because “women need to support women, always, in every circumstance, no matter what.” Women are humans and have the inalienable human right to like and dislike anything they please for any reason whatsoever. What bothers me is that it’s almost exclusively women who come in for criticism on GOMI, and much of it is incredibly sexist. “She’s a terrible mom because I saw a picture of her kids eating cheetos” and “she’s too fat to wear that” etc. I tried to start a thread once on the execrable “dating coach” and noted misogynist Evan Marc Katz (wisdom includes: sure rape is bad, but don’t let it bother you so much!) and basically no one posted in it. They were much more interested in whether or not a mom-blogger’s kids were allowed to play in an apartment hallway unsupervised for a few minutes one afternoon.

But I’ve found that undercurrent largely (though not entirely) absent in the craft section. Intersectional feminism is a Very Big Deal to most of the regular posters there and there is little tolerance for fat shaming or racism, for instance. Generally–though not always–if you’re being criticized in the craft section on GOMI it’s not because the women there are awful sexists who hate other women.

Generally it’s because they have very high standards. And I’ve gotten to know many former and current posters there, online and in the flesh; they’re not basement-dwelling life-ruiners. (I realize that all associates of basement-dwelling life-ruiners would say that.) Most of them are exceptionally skilled sewers who are very, very irritated at seeing sewing bloggers become renowned seemingly because they’re pretty young white girls who take good pictures, rather than producing clothing of actual merit. And obviously there are pretty young white girls who take good pictures and also sew well; this is the one and only time I’m going to come close to #notallmen-ing in this post.

Before you get huffy and unload on me: I don’t post there anymore. Now I hate-read it, and how’s *that* for irony? I didn’t stop posting because they’re So! Mean! though. They’re not (most of them).

I am going to suggest an alternative way of looking at GOMI to those who receive criticism there:

For god’s sake, how arrogant do you have to be to think that everyone is required to like you, love your blog, and if they don’t, never mention it where you can see/hear it?

No, wait. That’s not the tone I was going for. Let me try again:

Otherwise good people dislike each other ALL THE TIME.

Do you know which films get the worst reviews?

The big ones. The blockbusters. Because they get the most reviews.

And which books get the most negative reviews?

The bestsellers.

Seriously.

Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing was nominated for the Booker and the Women’s Prize for Fiction, won the Giller, won the Governor General’s Literary Award for English Fiction, and more. It has 51,394 adds on GoodReads as of today, with 277 one-star reviews. And another 687 are two-star.

Naomi Alderman’s The Power was one of the most-recommended, most-buzzed books of 2017 (and I personally loved it). 111,136 people have added it on GoodReads. 562 of the reviews are one-star, and another 1,701 are two-star.

Twoism, a book of poetry by Ali Blythe, has been added on GoodReads by 89 people.

There are no one-star or two-star reviews.

(I did enjoy it. This is not a criticism of Blythe’s book, only a demonstration of scale.)

Now tell me: which of those books would you prefer to be the author of?

The ones that won prizes, were written up all over the world, discussed endlessly, and sold tens or hundreds of thousands of copies?–and which also garnered hundreds or thousands of bad reviews on GoodReads, some of them probably quite mean.

Or the one with no bad reviews and 89 readers?

And can you imagine, really, either Madeleine Thien or Naomi Alderman reading those one- and two-star reviews, and going on their websites to complain about basement-dwelling meanies or haters?

Like it or not, when you write a blog, you are creating a cultural artefact, like a book or a movie, with an audience.

I can’t imagine deciding that the only reason a person might not like your blog, and might say so publicly, is because they are composed of 100% hate with no good thing to recommend them.

Yes, of course that happens sometimes. There were a lot of reviews on The Power by white boys absolutely outraged by a portrayal of a world in which they were systematically disadvantaged, and who spectacularly missed the point (that being that power corrupts whether it’s held by a man or a woman). But not all of them. Compare these two one-star reviews, both by women:

“It all sounds ok, right? Well, it isn’t. I don’t care one bit about Alderman’s link with Atwood, her ability to write a good sentence, or the fact this book has sold and sold and sold, been broadcast on BBC radio 4, and will probably end up as a movie. It’s sick. I get that the world would alter considerably if women became the big kahunas. I get that things could go wrong. I also understand that there could be a real backlash against men if women suddenly became so strong that they could do whatever they wanted to a man, but I don’t believe women would become so feral and so insanely cruel.”

And this one:

I think the beginning of The Power was a lot stronger than the middle and the end (minus the last few pages, which I actually really enjoyed). I think with some more editing, or perhaps a few stronger or harder hitting scenes, the book would have been better. Unfortunately it kind of drifted off into a sea of blandness and I stopped caring about any of the characters and their shenanigans.”

These two reviews were written about the same book. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it?

I understand the first reviewer’s reaction, though I didn’t share it. I frankly don’t understand how someone could ask for harder-hitting scenes in a book that describes rape, torture, genocide, and the slaughter of children, but that was the second reviewer’s reaction and she’s entitled to prefer books composed of 99% atrocities if she wants. Both of them are entitled to share their opinions on GoodReads, which does not exist to reassure authors and sell books but to help readers find books they’re more likely to enjoy reading, and critical and negative reviews are a part of that.

It would be completely wrong, in every sense, to say that these two women are “haters” or “losers” who live in a basement somewhere and don’t have lives and are just jealous and like to tear successful authors down. They read a book, they are sharing their opinion, it is a critical opinion.

A blog can be a wonderful tool to build communities and make friends, just like a book.

Like a book, it is intensely personal, a long-term effort by a single person who puts a lot of themself into something that feels like an extension of their very soul.

And also like a book, it is a cultural product in the public domain which people are allowed to have and express negative opinions on–even really stupid negative opinions.

You wouldn’t support an actress going on TV to complain about how all the negative reviews of their last performance hurt her feelings and undermine the cause of feminism.

You wouldn’t support an author taking to the press to complain that criticism of their latest actions or writings meant they were jealous haters who lived to tear others down.

(Atwood tried that recently in the Globe and Mail, and it didn’t go well for her.)

You wouldn’t support a musician posting on FaceBook about how negative reviews of their last album must have been written by trolls who don’t understand the first thing about music.

So please, for the love of god, stop posting on your blog about those awful basement-dwelling GOMI trolls who are anti-feminism because they don’t like your blog. It’s childish, it’s unprofessional, and it’s deeply unattractive.

(Although I suppose if Margaret Atwood got money from the Globe to do that very thing, it is quite likely that there will always be people willing to provide an audience for mindless positivity and uncritical acceptance of every god-damned thing on the internet, so long as the ‘content creator’ is well-known. It’s not like she’s been fiscally penalized for her insistence of her every word being treated as Feminist Gospel by everyone. Yet.)

The only way to avoid negative reviews is by having no readers.

You get negative reviews because you have a lot of readers. That’s a good thing.

Since I myself have almost no readers, no one I’m talking about will see this. Alas.

Happy New Year (Please)

I think we’re all still here.

If not, this is a weird and frankly crappy version of an afterlife.

It’s an odd observation, I’ll grant you, but after this year we’ve had, even finding out that I’m actually dead and this is life beyond the grave would not surprise me.

How about you? Do you greet each day now with a “what fresh hell is this?” Do you log on to the internet braced for news of catastrophes? Do you find yourself sitting with friends in stunned silence from time to time, asking each other, “That happened, right? That was real?”

Look, if you’d gone back two years and told me that one day, I would be grateful every time the American president failed to start a nuclear war with North Korea via twitter, I would have thought you were smoking something.

But here we are, and this is a daily reality, as reported on in the press.

Other daily questions:

Does the GOP have a spine?

If so, where did they put it, and can they find it in time to prevent the destruction of all life on earth?

If not, can one be found for them? How?

North America experienced three historically unprecedented hurricanes and forest fires all over, so how is it we keep talking about climate change as something that’s going to affect us “one day?” Is today the “one day” people are talking about? Because that’s some serious and scary shit and people used to say that we’d take climate change seriously when it started affecting us and killing wealthy people in first world countries and here we are and no one seems to be taking it very seriously. Which I personally don’t find surprising, but when I said this previously, people called me a pessimist and a Cassandra. Yet here we are.

How many men who have been held up as cultural icons for decades are we going to learn have been preying on women in not-so-secrecy?

When will this (painful, potentially genital) rash of disclosures end?

When it does, how many people are going to try to shove us back in the box of “it’s not that bad” and “but why didn’t you come forward before” and “it was just a misunderstanding” and “really if you don’t want a superior at work to lock you in an office and show you his penis you should be swaddling yourself head to foot with three layers of chenille blankets every day”?

Will it work? Or is this something new?

If it is new, when is going to trickle down to those of us with predators and abusers who are not famous? Because there are absolutely some men in my history who should be in jail and aren’t, and no way no how do I yet feel like I could come forward with those stories and expect anything but excoriation and grief.

And the whole Russia thing is super weird, yes?

Did America’s former defining enemy actually buy the American election?

Are we sure that isn’t just a le Carre spy novel?

I mean, does it seem credible? Would you have gone to see a movie with that plotline, two years ago?

And Nazis?

Really, 2017? You had to bring back actual Nazis?

Strutting around in public with their faces showing giving Hitler salutes?

In America, in Europe, here in Canada?

Oh plus “I’m not a Nazi” Nazis. “Alt-right” Nazis. “Proud Boy” Nazis. “Nazi sympathizer” Nazis. I’m so glad we’ve found so many creative ways to make Nazis feel less judged about being Nazis. Meanwhile using the preferred pronouns of trans people is, apparently, an assault on freedom of speech. Because it’s good to make Nazis feel comfortable but extending the same courtesy to transgender children is special snowflake SJW ridiculousness, or somesuch.

Will I feel better if I drink more tea?

Was it just not enough tea yet?

How about wine?

Ugh.

~~~~~

Not everything is global doom and gloom.

(It just feels like it too much of the time.)

For instance, we got a (knock on wood) diagnosis for Frances.

Prenatal ultrasounds showed something was up with her bones; and here we are, 14 years later, knowing which funky gene is to blame.

It is a newly identified mutation and Frances is the ninth person in the history of humanity to be identified with it.

This is, perhaps you can imagine, really Big News. I’m still a bit wary of it. That particular rug, the “we’re for sure this time really certain about what’s up with Frances” rug, has been pulled out from under our feet many times. So I’ll believe it fully when the study is published next year and an anonymized Frances is indeed in it and I can see it all for myself. Frances, however, feels much better knowing what’s up, and that is good.

She’s taken to highschool like she was born to it, mastering the hallways and lockers and increased expectations and social demands like a pro. She’s kicking ass and taking names in art and languages, with a midterm 97% in French, as I expected; she is loved by her teachers and her friends, which of course. But it feels like a gift. The school is committed to inclusion and human rights and it is reflected in the way they’ve approach accessibility for her, and what a difference it’s made.

Good things happened this year, but I suspect that in years to come what I’ll mostly remember about 2017 is the constant daily unending stream of global yuck.

But hey, it’s January and we’re all still here.

(Acknowledging that “we” leaves out a lot: the fortheloveofgod American refugees showing up at the Canadian border, the ones Trump deported or who were never able to arrive at their destination, the diabetic guy who died for want of insulin after he aged off of his parent’s insurance, the victims of gun violence, the Rohingya, those displaced by natural disasters–all those who aren’t where they used to be, aren’t where they were allowed to be, or aren’t anywhere at all anymore. That “we” is a pretty lucky group, the ones who are still “here.” So.)

~~~~~

2018, here’s what I’d like:

  1. Trump no longer in charge of the world’s largest nuclear arsenal. Please.
  2. Whoever replaces him to be an actually better human being, not just a slicker friendlier face on the same venomous snake.
  3. A provincial election outcome that doesn’t undo all of the work of the last 10+ years here in Ontario on climate change and LGBT rights and health care and education.
  4. For Frances’s diagnosis to stick, and for her to be able to begin to connect with some of those other 8 people, and please for them not to be douchebags.
  5. For this long-overdue reckoning on sexual harassment and assault to continue; for the balance of power to shift so that men and women and everyone else share the reins; for women to no longer be safe prey.
  6. For outrage against racism and Nazism to continue to grow, and knock that hydra to the ground.
  7. For my girl to be as healthy, happy and loved a year from now as she is today. For her to keep that miraculous self-confidence. For her to never have a #metoo story of her own.
  8. For continued progress on climate mitigation. Any progress at all, please; no more backward steps.

I have no resolutions. No magic words. I want 2018 to be a year worth living, and I have some ideas of how to make that happen for me and for my girl and how we can do our bit for the wider world. If it ever becomes specific or tangible, it may turn into a blog post.

For sewing, I swore up and down that I wasn’t going to do #2018makenine, but then not only did I do a plan, I did a Plan, complete with drawings, paints, and ink pencils. Sometime in November I’ll look it up and I full anticipate to be posting a #2018madetwo around this time next year.

I spent all day Jan 1 tracing and cutting out patterns; needless to say, not one of them is in that drawing.

At any rate: 2018: oh god, please don’t suck.

I wish you all your very own Happy New Year–a 2018 served up on a bed of thornless roses, which you can look back on with some contentment in future years.

The Old Year

A Year In Sewing

I tend to be wordy even when I try hard not to be, Dear Readers, so no recap. Just a few links to some favourite projects and a couple of duds.

Things I Wear All the Time

Favourite Dress to Wear to Meetings, Warm Weather Edition

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It’s super comfortable, a bit different, eye-catching and–of course–it has pockets.

Favourite Accidental Favourite

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Technically this was a practice project, but I wore it all the time this summer.

Favourite Flounces, Times Three

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I Need A Nap

And I’m thinking of making it again with long sleeves, for the cold weather.

Favourite Floral

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For obvious reasons.

Favourite Dress Maybe Ever

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Which made all of the practicing worthwhile.

Favourite Dress to Wear to Meetings, Cold Weather Edition

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In ponte. Yay for ponte! I wear this one at least a few times a month now that it’s cold out.

Favourite Knit Shirt

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Except not really, because I also like a lot of the altered Renfrews I’ve been sewing, but I haven’t blogged them (yet). Of the ones I have blogged, though, this one gets a ton of wear.

Yes, this is seven; it was still hard to narrow down, and there are so many more I wear all the time and are either too new or just narrowly less loved than these ones.

Duds

Why Is Yellow See Through?

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Size is wrong; needs altering before I make it up again; haven’t worn this version even once. Sigh.

Not the Flounce You’re Looking For

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Maybe in a different fabric; not in this lawn.

 

A Year In Reading

2017 was a fantastic year for literature; this tends to coincide with political and cultural turmoil, so I can’t say I’m 100% wholly happy about it, but I did really like a lot of books. I’ve made a GoodReads shelf for this year’s reads, and below are my top 7 with reviews.

Amatka

Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

The Lonely Hearts Hotel

The Stone Sky (Broken Earth #3)

The Black Tides of Heaven (Tensorate #1)

Her Body and Other Parties

The Break

If there’s one that you must, simply must, make time for, it’s N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, of which The Stone Sky was the conclusion. It was stunningly, brilliantly good and a perfect comment on and antidote to our current moment.

A Year in Greening

This used to be a green blog, and in my actual day-to-day work life I’m still a professional tree-hugger, and this has been a year for environmental issues and happenings. I won’t dwell–in this post–on the climate change clusterfuck of 2017 of wildfires and hurricanes and Trumpster and his disaster cabinet leaving the Paris Accord (lucky you! something to look forward to on zoopolis next year), and will instead dredge up a few moments of hope.

I’m really looking forward to being a part of this initiative, recently announced and long worked-towards.

And I’ve spent a good part of my work time over the last year working on climate change impact adaptation planning in the community, which has been a mostly fulfilling way of combining intersectional politics with my climate change work. We* all know that climate change impacts vulnerable populations the most, globally and locally; but vulnerable voices are notably absent from climate change adaptation plans generally, which tend to be based on assessments by technical experts, who tend to be professionals and engineers, who tend not to be members of vulnerable communities. Starting the process of getting out into the community and finding those voices has been slow and difficult but mostly great.

(*”We” being those people not so stupid as to believe that 99% of climatologists globally have been somehow bought into supporting the theory of anthropogenic climate change.)

A Year in Quoting

One of my (admittedly geeky) habits is to reread A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve, and one or more of the other Dickens Christmas books over the holiday. In all of the fighting over what Christmas is, what it means, and who it’s for, we tend to overlook how singularly important Dickens’ ideas of what it was about are to how we celebrate it today and the importance it has in our modern holiday calendar–and we have almost completely lost sight of the ways he used the holiday and his writings about it to focus on the less fortunate. Dickens’ Christmas books are not about middle-class happy families enjoying turkey and a nice bottle of wine after opening welcomed and appropriate gifts; they are about the vast numbers of people who can only dream of that. Dickens was a Victorian Social Justice Warrior, and he used his Christmas books to affect change in the attitudes of his contemporaries. (Except, of course, notably, for women.)

If I were you, I’d bypass The Battle of Life and The Cricket on the Hearth (the latter of which was more popular than A Christmas Carol in his lifetime), and read The Chimes or The Haunted Man. Here, to round off this year, is a bit from The Chimes, which takes place on New Year’s Eve:

The Year was Old, that day. The patient Year had lived through the reproaches and misuses of its slanderers, and faithfully performed its work. Spring, summer, autumn, winter. It had laboured through the destined round, and now laid down its weary head to die. Shut out from hope, high impulses, active happiness, itself, but active messenger of many joys to others, it made appeal in its decline to have its toiling days and patient hours remembered, and to die in peace. Trotty might have read a poor man’s allegory in the fading year; but he was past that, now.

And only he? Or has the like appeal been ever made, by a seventy years at once upon an English labourer’s head, and made in vain!

The streets were full of motion, and the shops were decked out gaily. The New Year, like an Infant Heir to the whole world, was waited for, with welcomes, presents, and rejoicings. There were books and toys for the New Year, glittering trinkets for the New Year, dresses for the New Year, schemes of fortune for the New Year; new inventions to beguile it. Its life was parceled out in almanacks and pocket-books; the coming of its moons, and stars, and tides, was known beforehand to the moment; all the workings of its seasons in their days and nights, were calculated with as much precision as Mr. Filer could work sums in men and women.

The saddest thing about The Chimes for me is how utterly contemporary so much of it feels. The wealthy assholes who pepper the book with their observations on the low character and ingratitude of the poor can be found any day of the week in a modern newspaper–now together with immigrants, refugees, and millennials. Inequality is rising. We seem so determined to repeat the mistakes of the Victorian era (in some cases literally, eg. the Trumpian’s determined clinging to a coal based economy, ffs); there may be lessons still to learn from the authors who took that society to task.

It’s like this

Your daughter wants to sign up for a fun neighbourhood activity.

She has a disability–she’s scared about how people will respond to it. Respond to her. If they’ll point or stare (it happens). If they’ll ask her rude questions (it happens). If they’ll act like she doesn’t belong there, like she’s lying about it, making things up (it happens). But she wants to go, and it could be a good experience. Making friends, learning new things, being a kid.

The facility isn’t accessible. The facilities are usually not accessible so this doesn’t surprise you. It’s a community with limited facilities; maybe this was the best they could do. You, your daughter and (sometimes) her walker learn to negotiate the stairs that are the only way in.

One of the leaders of the group acts like everything related to your daughter’s disability is an enormous imposition. As if you are lucky she is allowed to be there at all.

She makes stupid arbitrary rules like all the kids need to stand. Your daughter can’t stand for very long wihout her walker or some kind of support. At first she tries to follow this rule and ends up in pain after every meeting. You coach her to advocate for herself–to take the damned chair and sit down when she needs to, because damn it, she shouldn’t be in pain after a fun community activity.

You worry about how off-site trips are going to go. You go around the leaders, communicating with the head office to ensure it will be accessible and she won’t be excluded. You don’t want to make things awkward by making the (adult) leaders (whose job it is to implement accessibility in the meetings and activities) upset (in case they aren’t able to control thesmelves and blame your kid and take it out on her).

She has now participated in two full years of this group. It is the start of the third. The leaders have had two years to get used to your kid, her physical limitations and her walker. You show up to drop her off and are told they will be in out the neighbourhood. That their route uses stairs. That she cannot bring her walker on foot. That the car is too full to bring her walker. Your daughter cannot come to a two-hour on-foot activity unless she is willing to hurt herself to do it.

Appalled, you turn around and go home.

On your way to the car, one of the leaders asks you to take home some cookies to sell.

The organization, via the head office, has a wonderfully inclusive accessibility policy.

The policy is obviously flatly disregarded by the local volunteers.

It happens. Volunteers are hard to come by. Hard to discipline; if they don’t follow the rules, they can quit. There’s no penalty. It’s hard to maintain oversight. It’s not like head office visits the individual groups to monitor accessibility. They only find out about problems when a parent calls to complain. Most of the volunteers are wonderful, and do everything they can to make sure that every girl can participate in every activity, that this is planned ahead of time and communicated.

But not all.

Some of them act as if they believe that disabled girls should stay home and not trouble people with their needs.

But you and your daughter have paid the registration fee like everyone else, and it’s the fucking law that there be no barriers, so you call to complain.

The head office is going to investigate. They seem shocked and genuinely upset abut the experience your daughter had, and you’re relieved that they’re taking it seriously. You hope something will be done that won’t result in the volunteer resigning and thus breaking the group. But this is a peace you’ve bought with your silence for two years now and you and your daughter can’t pay that price anymore. Pay it with days of sore ankles, sore backs, sore hips, tears, baths with epsom salts, motrin doubled up with tylenol.

Your daughter is a person who is empathetic and compassionate, much tougher than she should be, who tries hard to be good and doesn’t want to be a bother, who wants to follow the rules. She expects to be excluded, stared at, bullied–because she has been. She came home that night angry and hurt. She felt singled-out and less-than. In her words, she felt “degraded.”

The next night she cries on your shoulder.

Not because they hurt her. Not because she was excluded. Not because she missed out on an activity. She expects all of that.

But because she hadn’t been able to advocate for herself in that moment. Because she couldn’t find the words to say that would fix it.

She blames herself for being treated badly, then blames herself for not being able to say the right words that will fix it in that moment.

That is the weight carried by a visibly disabled thirteen-year-old. That is how much she already expects of herself, to be able to participate in the things that other kids do without a second thought. To bear the pain and anger of mistreatment so well that she can respond with perfectly persuasive eloquence.

This is the world we’ve made for disabled people. Disabled kids.

It’s not their job to fix us. It’s our job to fix it.


(And you can apply this, with some changes, to many groups in our society that face discrimination. That they are so often expected and even required to face the pain, anger, humiliation, even violence of being excluded and attacked with grace, equanimity, composure and eloquence–to take on the burden of education and conversion with love and compassion towards people who extended neither–is inhumane and inhuman.)


We live in a province with two pieces of legislation that require organizations, businesses and institutions to remove barriers to full participation for disabled people. The groups always have fantastic policies in place, with wonderfully inclusive language. And yet I know whenever Frances starts something new, or goes somewhere new, I need to budget time to call people about removing those barriers, often more than once. It’s exhausting and demoralizing. And I think about my little girl having to do this for the rest of her life, and–

It’s International Women’s Day, and I don’t feel like celebrating

I did wear red.

Moreover, it’s handmade red. Coming soon to a blog post near you.

I made some small donations  (Oxfam Canada, for their recent report card, and the Canadian Women’s Foundation). I wrote a few emails to politicians. I shopped at women-owned local businesses.

But otherwise:

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Not so much.

If I’m going to feed my daughter, I need to work. And there are no men in my life who can pick up the slack if I drop out of unpaid work for the day. I like to eat dinner–and my daughter also likes to eat dinner–every day, ideally; if that’s going to happen, I’m going to make it.

I considered asking the dog, as the only male in the house. He wagged his tail and barked. Was that a “yes”?

There was Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau’s inspiring call to social media inaction, in which I dutifully participated. It’s awfully selfish of us women to want to centre International Women’s Day on women, after all; and of course we all have a male ally to gaze at adoringly while holding hands.

This cruelly neglects all the male allies who so thoughtfully remind me that women in the middle east have real problems, and that, since I can vote and drive, I have nothing to complain about. I keep forgetting, somehow, that women–and only women–are supposed to be so fucking grateful for basic fucking suffrage that we don’t see, notice, point out, discuss, or try to change, anything else ever, especially if it makes men uncomfortable. The important thing, I try to remind myself, is that men don’t think we’re going too far or asking for too much or asking for it in the wrong tone of voice.

(Please don’t make me #notallmen this. It would be too depressing.)

Our main ally to the south seems determined to erase any progress that’s been made in women’s rights since 1923 and, as often happens with our main ally to the south, many American women have decided this translates to a new and global threat against all women. Outside of the global gag rule, though, not so much. The condition of women globally has not changed since January 2017. I get that you’re an empire and empires do tend to assume that they are the world, and that differences really only amount to local flavour, but actually: nope. Also, I hate to break it to you, but the idea that women globally pine for the rights and freedoms enjoyed by American women specifically and will take this new setback in their rights to heart because American women have reached a pinnacle of freedom we need to aspire to in order to motivate our own local struggles: also nope. We kind of feel sorry for you and have for a long time. The abortion thing, the health care thing, the maternity leave thing, the child care thing, the bible belt thing. Canada’s got lots of work to do and we’re going to do that work here, for ourselves. Thanks for understanding.

I feel for you. I’ll help you wherever I can. But I am not you.


I am angry.

I’m angry about the pay gap and rape culture and how long it’s taken for our country to take the plight of indigenous women seriously and I’m angry that the government has been dragging its heels on the abortion pill forever and that women in rural areas particularly on the east coast still have no access to abortion and I’m angry that at nearly 42 I’m still being harassed on the street by assholes who think women are public property. I’m angry that the feminine is still considered so inferior to the masculine that it is still, for kids at my daughter’s school in her generation, an insult for a boy to be called girly and a compliment for a girl to be called a tomboy. I’m angry that we are so incapable of seeing women as aggressors that abusive women can and do get away with abuse for decades and no one calls them on it; I’m angry that we still have to debate whether men are or are not more often the abusers; I’m angry that when men abuse women we still question why women didn’t leave instead of why men felt free to punch their partners in the face; I’m angry that almost every woman I know has been assaulted or sexually assaulted and only one of their assailants has faced any jail time and he was acquitted at trial; I’m angry that when an ex-boyfriend bragged to me that he bugged his ex-wife’s apartment so he could keep track of who she was fucking and I called the police they told me they couldn’t take a report because “no crime had taken place.”

And I’m angrier because my anger is considered the problem.

Listen: if you can read all that, and all the mountains of bullshit beside it, and not be angry–there is something wrong with you. If you find the anger off-putting, well, there’s the door.

Today, I’m mostly depressed that we as Canadians have become a shining beacon of human rights and equality, not because we’ve accomplished anything in the last 20 years, but because we’ve managed not to regress.

I have to believe that we are capable, as a society, of recognizing that women are people and acting accordingly. Not almost-people. Not people-here-but-not-people-there. Not people-if-they-do-what-I-prefer. Not people-if-they-wear-what-I-respect. Not people-who-are-responsible-for-my-feelings. No conditions. No caveats. Not people-with-a-preference-for-unpaid-emotional-labour-that-I-am-entitled-to. Not people-who-inexplicably-choose-to-be-paid-less-for-reasons-that-have-nothing-to-do-with-sexism. Not people-deserving-of-my-respect-but-only-if-they-smile. Definitely not walking-sex-puppets-who-shouldn’t-leave-home-if-they-don’t-want-my-unsolicited-opinion-on-their-boobs. Or people-who-should-feel-grateful-we-let-them-get-drivers’-licenses. Not people-if-they-act-a-bit-masculine-but-not-too-masculine-god-forbid.

Just people. Complicated, flawed, people–horrible, wonderful, angry, happy, smart, stupid, girly, manly, strong, weak, successful, struggling, maternal, childless, ambivalent, ambitious, contented, resentful, single, coupled, tripled, promiscuous, virginal, slovenly, controlling, relaxed, energetic, tired, depressed, joyous–all of it. The full range of human experience, without any bits chopped off to fit in someone’s frilly pink box. Actual full human people who are here on this earth to live their own lives whether or not it serves someone’s else’s agenda or expectations. People who are, and can, and are supported in, living for themselves.

I have to believe we’re capable of it. We’re not there yet. It’s hard to feel celebratory today–but I celebrate each and every woman, today, who refuses to be less than she is.