One of the fantastic things about my job is the opportunity to work for and with youth. When you get a group of engaged youth into a room together amazing things can happen.
After a full day of engagement this week, we had a performer come in, one Cody Coyote. Cody is a young Indigenous man who has taken the hardships of his own childhood and youth and turned it into music, and when he performs he breaks between songs to talk about the hard things we all face.
During his performance for us, he asked a room full of young people to raise their hand if they had a friend who had committed suicide.
A lot of hands went up. Way more hands than I was prepared for.
I am not shy about admitting that I was suicidal as a teen, but I never got to the place of attempting. Cody did, and he talks openly about it. I know of one friend from high school who didn’t make it to 34 and I don’t know why. I saw her not long before she died and we talked about what was going on, and what was happening next in our lives. It was the same strange way we would run into each other every now and again. Every time I think about her, I don’t understand.
And all of these hands went up.
I didn’t know what to say. I still don’t. I know that I was in that place once. I know that it took a lot of work to get out. I know that it took a lot of work to believe that I should try to get out of it.
All of these kids raising their hands who think that maybe they could have said or done something, will wonder why all their lives. Maybe never realizing that there is no why. Not really. And if you haven’t been there, you just feel like someone left behind who could have said something or done something, no matter how many people tell you you’re wrong.
All you can do is be a friend, all a friend can do is be there, all an adult can do is listen. All we can do together is try. Build a community and try.
I was listening to What’s the T? – The Rupaul podcast, which I regularly enjoy in addition to my viewings of Drag Race recently. It was an older episode, but Michelle Visage was talking about taking her daughter to see Hamilton.
Her daughter ended up sobbing her way through the show because she has been going through a deep depression and Hamilton was her one thing – that thing that kept her going.
And I remember that one thing.
One thing that you hold on to a little too tight because it matters to you and nothing else does and it’s keeping you alive.
I think if you’ve been depresses and you’ve had suicidal thoughts you’ve felt that pull to that one thing. For me it’s been hockey, it’s been specific bands and specific albums. It’s been the musical Wicked.
When I was in high schools I told myself I wouldn’t die until I saw the Ottawa 67’s win the Memorial Cup, and by the time I did I was okay again.
When I was living in Northern Ontario I saw Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth perform on the Tonys and I told myself I had to see that show. And I took myself to Toronto for it.
When I was unemployed and living in Saskatchewan away from my new husband I listened to Keane’s Under the Iron Sea on repeat.
I don’t know why I always found that one thing, but I know to search for it. And I can tell others to search for it. One thing is not hard to find. When you can’t get excited about anything, you can find one thing.
I had a conversation a few weeks ago about women in politics. The conversation was started by a very smart woman, she runs her own business, she’s engaged in the community, and she happened to hear how few women are involved in American politics. She was surprised, and that low number made her question how few women might be involved in Canadian politics. The answer in the federal parliament is 26 per cent at the moment, which is the highest it has ever been.
She started asking questions about why women don’t get involved as much, and I engaged, because I have read about the issue, and discuss it in classes, and, in fact, took an entire class about women in politics in North America.
And then on Saturday I spent the day with women who are interested in maybe, possibly getting more involved and listened to some presenters who are very, very involved in politics. And then on Sunday, the City of Montreal elected its first ever female male in its 375 year history.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about women in politics.
I know that women have to be asked, usually more than once, to run. I know that when women run, they have just as much of a chance of winning as men do. I know that having women in a legislature, in committee and in cabinet makes politics different, and different is better in this case.
My wish is that more women would think more about politics, talk to each other more about politics and care more about politics, because virtually everything is political.
I have taken to listening to podcast that teach me about cultures different than my own.
I’ve loved podcasts for a long time, and they’re a great place to learn. I listen to Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, which keeps me informed on the news of the week. I used to listen to This American Life, which offered a bit of storytelling. I listen to No Such Thing As A Fish, which teaches me completely useless facts. I’ve listened to a few true crime podcasts, because they’re fascinating, and landed on Casefile as my favourite.
And then somewhere I heard about a podcast called Another Round, hosted by two young black women who talk about race and feminism and intersectional feminism in ways that I know I need to hear. What I love most about Another Round is the interviews they do and the people they’ve introduced me to who I now follow on Twitter (like Joy Ann Reid and Stacy-Marie Ismael) that teach me more.
They also introduced me to a podcast that I have just recently starting listening to – binge-listening in fact. It’s called The Nod, and it is incredibly entertaining. I have already told two people about what I learned in the Whole Hog episode, and shared the Cowboy of the West Village episode on social media because why shouldn’t everyone learn about an awesome woman with a great story who was an LGBTQ activist?
Now that I’m working from home, I don’t get a lot of time to listen to podcasts, but I’m making time for The Nod, and soon I’m going to add UnCivil and See Something, Say Something to my subscription list. Cause if I’m stuck in traffic, I might as well take the opportunity to learn something about people who have a right to be better understood by people who look like me.
I read a snippet of a column this morning written by a well-known, and apparently still widely read, Globe and Mail columnist. This snippet was from a column about public perception of Jason Kenney, former federal minister and newly elected leader of the United Conservative Party of Alberta.
The UCP. Reminiscent of the CRAP. (The Conservative Reform Alliance Party).
In this snippet – as I will say again, I have not read the whole column, nor will I click to – the columnist states that people don’t like Jason Kenney because – and I quote from the snippet:
“Mostly it’s because he is a middle-aged, slightly pudgy white man who is also a devout (Catholic) Christian with deeply held personal beliefs. In other words, he belongs to the most reviled demographic in Canada. Many people simply don’t accept that he can keep his personal beliefs out of politics.”
Now, there are, in fact, middle-aged slightly pudgy white men that I am quite fond of, and I know devout Catholics who are able to be quite lovable, but it’s the last part of this statement that I find the most confusing.
Why would you want to elect a politician who would keep their personal beliefs out of their politics?
We build our politics based on our personal beliefs. The people who can separate the two are the ones who freak me out a little. Even believing that your beliefs shouldn’t be laws that everyone has to follow is a personal belief.
For example, I am of the belief that information is power and that children in Alberta should receive sex education that gives them usable facts. I am of the belief that a parent has the right to know that their child is gay, bi, trans or whatever if an only if that child feels safe giving them that information – because it is their information to bestow.
I believe that being what Kenney and his ilk call politically correct means treating people with respect they deserve and avoiding racist, sexist and homophobic language.
You know, treat people like human beings with feelings.
And I believe that teaching actual Canadian history – including the bad stuff – instead of sanitizing it is the right way to go, because not repeating history etcetera etcetera.
But just because I disagree with some of Kenney’s beliefs doesn’t mean I want him to try to separate himself from them when he governs. Not only do I not think that’s possible, I think it’s the opposite of what government should be. I want politicians who are driven by their beliefs, and I want Jason Kenney to not govern at all.
Like most people, I was confused when I first started using Twitter. It seemed ridiculous, communicating in short bursts like that. I didn’t even really text at the time.
Very quickly I figured out that Twitter was a place I needed to be as someone who was working monitoring the media. The Parliamentary Press Gallery was all over Twitter, and many of them were posting their stories there before I ever would have seen them otherwise. Being on Twitter became a place I had to be.
And even when I went on mat leave, I kept using Twitter. I credit it with helping me through post-partum, because even on days when I couldn’t get myself together to get out of the house, I could still connect with people online and have conversations. Not just conversations, but understanding.
Slowly but surely the people that I met on Twitter became friends. I met many of them in person, I’ve worked with some of them, volunteered for others, and had playdates with many. I even went to blogger conferences to meet and talk to these wonderful women in person. I have had the chance to see some of them change their lives.
One of these friends once told me that she wished she could be confident like me. I thought no, you’re thinking of online Amy. Online Amy expresses herself much better than in-person Amy. But, in fact, who I can be online has changed the person that I am day to day. That person, I think, is who I have always been when I’m alone.
She’s still more articulate though. The ability to edit does that.
I still love Twitter, though many people have moved on. I love interacting with the news there, I rant there, I still have great conversations there, and I get to hear voices that I don’t necessarily hear anywhere else. But.
But Twitter is often a hateful, awful place. There are people there that spew racist, sexist, homophobic trash day in and day out. There are people who threaten to hurt, maim or kill other people. There are women who can’t look at their mentions because they are filled with angry, idiotic men who are threatening to rape and murder them and their families. Because she said something they didn’t like. Because she had an opinion at all. Sometimes just because she existed.
Honestly, if Twitter has taught me anything recently is that there are people who will hate you no matter what you do or don’t do, and Twitter has become their arena to speak hate and display their total idiocy without fear of reprisal. I mean, there is one obvious example.
And something else that has become clear is that Twitter really doesn’t care about the abuse being hurled at members of their community. Well, that’s not true. Sometimes they do act and sometimes they ignore, and it seems that often when they do act it is against someone whose actions pale in comparison to what others are doing.
Now, this is not just a Twitter problem, lord knows Facebook is filled with racism and misogyny and hate, but this one step, boycotting Twitter today, is just the first step.
If we don’t call them out on this, then we’ve done nothing, and I can’t do nothing any more.
There are people who say they don’t like to talk about politics. People who complain that athletes or actors should stay out of politics. People who don’t want to get political. These people fascinate me, because as far as I’m concerned life is political.
Movies and TV shows are political, sports is political. The weather is political. How you choose to spend your time is political. The fights you choose to stay out of or ignore, how you choose to spend your time – those are political decisions you’re making.
I don’t believe that a person exist who does not have opinions on something. Who does not have beliefs about right and wrong.
I do believe that by ‘not being political’ you are doing just that. Staying silent is the choice you’ve made. When I stay silent it is to listen to the voices of those who know better than I do. When I stay silent I’m not actually silent, I’m trying to amplify the voices that need to be heard.
Some days that’s all I can do. Some days I spend educating myself. Some days I protest.
Some days I lie in bed wondering what the hell is going on. But never do I stop caring. I am unable.
In fact, I am so unable that I can’t fathom those people who seem to walk around in ignorant bliss. Is it really easier to ignore it all?
On August 22, 2011, I lost a boss and a mentor. Someone I could look to and say yes, this is what Canada needs right now.
Last week we did a tour of Parliament to show off the best of Ottawa to a visiting niece. As we stood in the hallway outside the House of Commons chamber, Joe turned to me and ‘this is where they had Jack lying in state.’
I knew this, of course. I have seen pictures of colleagues mourning there, and videos. But I was not there. Shortly after Jack died I went to Regina to visit family. The trip had been planned, the tickets purchased. I missed the lying in state, I didn’t go to the funeral with my friends and colleagues. I didn’t get the communal mourning. I will never stop regretting this, even as I know I made the best choice. I should have been a part of it. This dedication to a man who was so important to me.
Of course, my life is now, at least partially, dedicated to this man. To what he taught me, what he made me believe and what he stood for.
What would he say now? What would he think of where we stand?
He left us with advice, at least. He believed in us enough to share with us that Canada can be a better, fairer, more equal country. I believe it. I am hopeful, but I am not optimistic. I am loving, but also filled with hate.
I am fearful. I am tired.
We are now fighting battles that we have fought before. That some have been fighting constantly, for generations.
I want my daughter to never have to battle for her own rights and the rights of her friends. She is being taught that she is not above anyone else, that she was born lucky being white, Canadian, middle class, but she does not deserve to have an easier life just because of this luck. That she will sometimes have to speak up for her friends, get uncomfortable. The because of who she is and where she was born she has a duty to listen, to amplify others, to stand up.
But I can’t begin to explain to her what’s happening out there. We tried to explain racists to her, and she knows that they don’t make any sense. She knows that LGBTQ people are just people who should have the same rights as other people.
I am doing as much as I can for my daughter. But then there is the boy in her class who tells her she can’t play with the train because it’s not for girls. There is the girl at the park who says two women can’t get married – which is factually incorrect as well as being wrong. She knows. But they don’t know.
I watch television and see people say they don’t hate anyone and call for racial “purity” in the same sentence. They tell immigrants to go home while standing on stolen land. They don’t want to hear any different. They pray to a Jesus that they clearly don’t understand. And they are teaching their children.
How do you reach those people, Jack? Those people just want to believe anyone who tells them they are superior, while ruining their lives at the same time. How do you educate those who don’t want to be educated and how do you reach the next generation when intolerance prevents it?
How do you keep believing that, overall, people are inherently good?
That is the lesson I wish you had left us, because six years later it’s more of a struggle than you might have ever thought possible.
I haven’t had the will to post recently because there is too much going on. I have started multiple posts and been unable to finish them. I have been trying to spend time lifting up the voices of the people we really need to hear from right now – those whose experiences are perhaps the most important right now.
We have actual, modern day Nazis marching in the streets. People who claim to speak for the white race and proclaim that they don’t hate anyone, they just want what’s best for their children. Meanwhile, I had to sit down and tell my daughter that there are people in the world who hate other people for no real reason. And I had to remind myself of the privilege of being able to have that conversation on my own schedule.
I was born privileged in so many ways, and so was my daughter. We are white, middle class, Canadian, urban. We do not have to be afraid where we live. We have the privilege of being able to escape from the horrors that we see on the news every night. We have the privilege of turning away. But I can’t.
The fact is that these racists are almost fascinating – the denial that they’re Nazis, even while surrounding by Nazi paraphernalia, denying that they hate anyone while referring to the black woman interviewing them as a “mongrel.” The misuse of religion, biology, language and whatever else they need to distort to justify themselves. These people who will stay in their little, miseducated bubble, thank you very much.
You’d think it would be exhausting to hate that much, but I have a feeling that many of them are too stupid to realize. And one of them is the President of the United States.
I mourn for the ignorance I had before the past few years, the last election, when I thought racism was only alive in small pockets. But really, I should think of all the times I thought to myself that there was no one something was going to go the way it eventually did – the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, Ferguson, the election itself.
When the election results came in I felt a little bit of what it’s like to be so hated as a woman that people would vote for this fool. And that’s not even close to what it feels like to be black every day in America. Or Muslim. Or an immigrant. LGBTQ.
I fear this from my neighbours. The vile ignorance, the willful misunderstanding. I fear that my bubble is about to be burst and we will see these people in Canada more than before. These people who have never cared about the facts about Indigenous peoples and the land they’re living on. These people who didn’t care what the actual facts were about how citizenship ceremonies are conducted, they just want to see Muslim women controlled their way.
These people who would refuse desperate refugees for fear of terrorism, all while ignoring the fact that most terrorist acts on this continent are committed by white men with a history of domestic abuse.
Those people who are more numerous than I care to face.
I raise my voice, I add it to the chorus. It is wrong, it is ignorant, it is shameful and I will not allow it. Never again.
When I was 17 or 18 my father turned to me after a dinner at his house and asked me, point blank: “When was the last time you thought about killing yourself?”
I was shocked into just answering, honestly. It had been about a year before.
By the time he asked I was over that particular hump, but my depression has ebbed and flowed for years. The very, very worst was when I was in my early 20s, having graduated at or near the top of my class and managed to only one job – a terrible one that I left after just a few months when the paper shut down.
I felt as though I had made all the wrong choices and it was just going to keep going that way. I would collapse in tears, sleep all day, hope that somebody could offer me a better solution that just disappearing. But I’m still ebbing and flowing. It’s been much better and at its worst.
It does not surprise me that people like Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington suffered from depression. There is a reason that I connected to their music. There is a reason that driving around with the windows down blasting Hybrid Theory and singing along made me feel better – like someone understood.
What surprises me is that they couldn’t beat it, in the end.
Because why me. Why could I fight back against that demon and these artists, these successful people, these respected people, couldn’t?
Does this mean that there are no answers, no solutions, no magic potion to make the darkness disappear. Does this mean that to be a great artist, you really do have to descend into that darkness? Can I never be my most creative self AND be taking the anti-depressants that keep me level?
And I drive myself crazy.