Monday, May 12, 2014

The Privilege Superpower

Lately the subject of privilege (especially white privilege) has been been generating a lot of discussion.  There was the ivy league kid who wrote an essay on it that went viral which in turn generated a lot of smart responses from smart people. Now since I have both very liberal and very conservative people in my FB news feed I get to read a whole lot about the subject of privilege.  Some insist it's real, others insist it's a myth and some feel hurt at the very mention of privilege, taking it as a personal insult.
 
and then some of it is conspiratorial to the point of racism
Clearly there are a lot of misconceptions regarding the idea of privilege.  I don't claim to be an expert, I still have a lot to learn but I do know enough to know that a lot of what people seem to hate about it is completely mistaken. Privilege is not so much an insult as a fact of life.  It's not something you're supposed to feel guilty about or apologize for and it definitely doesn't mean you didn't work to get where you are and that you got everything in life for free.  Let's look at it in a completely different way, maybe that will make it clearer:

Imagine you are living in a comic book universe.  You are still you but you share this planet with the like of Superman, Green Lantern and the rest of the Justice League (or Spiderman, the X-men and the Avengers if you prefer).  You are a human but they are SUPERhuman.  How would you feel about that?  Would you demand that Superman apologize for being born on Krypton?  Would you want him to feel guilty for his ability to be faster than a speeding bullet?  I'm guessing you won't.  I know I wouldn't mind them because while they have abilities I don't, they use those abilities to do good things.



But say there was this apple orchard that advertised a free apple picking day.  Gates open at 8 AM and you get to keep all the delicious apples you pick.  So you show up at 7 but find that Superman and The Flash are also in line and the second the gate opens they run in at super speed and pick all the apples in a nanosecond.  Would you be OK with that?  How would you feel if you confronted Superman about the ton of apples he was carrying out and he said "Well I just picked apples as fast as I could with my friend here, why didn't you do the same?"?  That would be a dick move, wouldn't it?

OK!  Now you understand privilege!

See, we don't live in a comic book universe but we still have a world where some people have superpowers.  Sure they're not as spectacular as being able to leap tall buildings in a single bound but they are real and they do offer real advantages.  Let's take a very easy one that's easy to overlook - having parents that are alive and who love you (and for the sake of this example live above the poverty line and have disposable income).  Now that will most certainly make your childhood a lot easier than those who either do not have parents or those who have parents that are around but are indifferent or abusive.  But it doesn't stop there though, this is a superpower that can empower you for years.  If this is a superpower you have then you probably have help getting through college and you don't have to clear the hurdle of doing it all by yourself.  Of course you're still going to have to study and work hard to get through it, no one is trying to deny that, but you have people in your corner who are supporting you in every way they can, emotionally and financially.  Then when you are done with college this gives you the power to start a business in your parents' garage (because you have parents and they have a garage).  Or maybe you don't, maybe you go out there and try things your own way and you get to, because if you over reach and it all comes crashing down then you have a place to go back to.  The superpower of parents means you are never going to be in freefall all the way to the gutter, you have a home to go back to and regroup (free of charge).  It may be humbling, it may be downright humiliating but it's a damn sight better than ending up on the street.  But maybe you don't start a business, maybe you get married instead and that marriage turns bad.  Having parents that would take you in can make all the difference in the world.  You don't have to stay in an abusive relationship because your options are not stay or starve.  You have parents, you have a safety net, you have a superpower.  It's not something to be ashamed of and it's most certainly not something to apologize for but surely you can see that this is an advantage to have?  Fact is, not everyone has this advantage.

That is how privilege works.  It's not about getting everything for free, it's about having less hurdles to clear in the game of life.  You still have to work, you will still have to overcome, but you have certain superpowers to help you out.  Imagine your life as it is and as an able bodied person.  Now imagine how your life would have been if you had been born disabled.  Still the same life or would the road to getting where you are now have been much harder?  Having sight or hearing or the use of your limbs don't seem like much when you've always had them but they allow you a certain level of ease in life that you don't even realize.  Sometimes the superpower you have can even be as simple as the ability to fit in.  When you belong to a racial group or a gender or a sexual orientation or a religion that is different from the majority of people around you then fitting in is harder while fitting in perfectly just streamlines your voyage through life.  Not very spectacular I know but not even having to consider the obstacles others have to overcome just to be on the same playing field as you is pretty much a superpower if you think about it.

So what then do you do about this superpower?  Well if you have one or more superpowers the good news is that you don't have to feel guilty about it!  Not at all!  You don't have to apologize either!  Rather, be like those in the comics who have superpowers and use your superpowers for good.  Great news!  Using the superpower of privilege doesn't require you to fight giant robots or monsters from outer space.  You don't need to go save anyone.  Through the simple act of acknowledging your own privilege superpowers and noticing how that changes your world as opposed to those who do not have them can be a pretty radical act.  In our world some voices carry more weight than others.  You don't need to swoop in like a mighty hero and speak on their behalf, just give those voices space to be heard.

But fine if you don't want to do that then at the very very very least, don't be a ass about it.  Don't be like Superman and Flash at the apple orchard and pretend like the playing field is equal and that everyone else in the world can do what you did if they just weren't so damn lazy.  Seriously guys, don't do that.  It's a dick move, don't do it.  You (probably) have (some) superpowers in life in and if you're not going to use it to help then at least acknowledge the fact that you have them and have some compassion for those who do not.

But whatever you do, PLEASE do not use your superpowers to oppress those who do not share them.  That makes you a supervillain.  Don't be an asshole but especially don't be a supervillain.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

The light in her eyes

Sometimes you can see the future.  It doesn't require anything supernatural, sometimes the dominoes are just stacked so clearly you can see exactly were they are going to fall the moment one gets pushed.  That's how on Monday I could see where I was going to stand on Friday.  I didn't know it was going to be Friday but I knew it was going to be soon.  I tried to stop the dominoes from falling but some things move with far more force than I have the strength to push against.

I wrote before about my dachshund Jackie (who is not technically "my" dachshund) and how the people who do actually own her have been talking about having her put down because of her age.  I would hear none of it because while her body may have been aging the spark of life was still burning very strong in her.  So I've been doing everything I can to make sure her age doesn't manifest in ways that gives anyone ideas.  I made her a big landing pad of pillows and blankets by my bed so she can sleep there and still jump off the bed without injuring herself.  When she started having little accidents in the house I made sure everything was cleaned up nicely before anyone else could see.  When she didn't want to chew her dry dog food anymore I started adding some wet dog food to it so it goes down easier.  Stuff like that.

Lately though it's been getting harder.  It's like she suddenly became a lot older the last couple of months.  I think she was getting dementia because I found that the reason she was having accidents in the house was not because she was incontinent but because she seemed to get lost in the house.  She would walk towards the doggie door and then take some wrong turns or get turned around and just end up going in the wrong place.  Last week she wandered into the garage and got locked in there accidentally and usually we would know because she would start yelping until someone came to rescue her but if I didn't go look for her she might have stayed there all night.  So I started carrying her outside and turning on a light whenever it looked like she needed to go, and then carrying her back to bed when she was done so she wouldn't wander around the house and end up sleeping on the cold floor.

So this Monday afternoon when she started throwing up everything she ate I could see the future.  I knew that I was going to have to take her to the vet and that once we went to the vet she was never going to come back home again.  So I did everything I could to stop that first domino from falling.  I got her some puppy food, figuring it would be both nutritious and easy to digest and for a little while it looked like it worked.  She perked back up a little and kept it in.  But only for a day.  By Wednesday she started throwing up again regardless of what I fed her and by Thursday night she showed no interest in food at all.  Not even her favourite treats, not biltong, not cheese not peanut butter could get any reaction at all from her.

Friday morning I left her some milk before going to work, hoping that she would at least get some sustenance that way but I could read the writing on the wall.  I knew that my choices came down to either taking her to the vet and risk having her put down or keep trying to fix her on my own and watch her slowly starve to death and as much as I hated the first option I couldn't bear the second option at all.

When I came home, she looked terrible.  She had lost so much weight so fast, she was just skin and bone and a potbelly.  There was some kind of green puss coming out of her eyes and she hadn't even touched the milk but she had somehow managed to throw up even more even though she clearly had nothing left inside.

That's how I ended up on the exact spot I saw myself a standing at the beginning of the week.  With Jackie on a cold table while a sympathetic vet is explaining how dire her condition is.  Apparently she had developed pretty severe diabetes, her blood sugar was off the scale - the scale only went to 34 where healthy is under 6.  The diabetes had led to some infections and complications.  To save her would take a week of hospitalization while they tried to save her liver and kidneys followed by 2 shots daily for the rest of her life.

That is how it all came down to me.  See, Oom Eddie may be her technical owner and he is from the generation where euthanasia is the default treatment for all canine maladies but he's not a forceful or a decisive person so he asked me what I wanted to do.  I have owned 4 dogs in my lifetime, 3 of which had to be put down for various reasons, but I never had to make the call.  My parents took them to the vet and just informed me afterward.  Back then it seemed harsh but now I wished I could make this someone elses problem.  I couldn't though, I was the one who was there, I had to make the call.

So I had to be honest with myself, that the light in her eyes was not what it was a year ago.  The happy little dachshund who would jump out of bed at 5 am on the coldest morning even when she had been sleeping very snuggly had started to not wake up anymore, even if I turned the lights on.  The Jackie who would shamelessly and insistently beg for a piece of whatever I was eating, whether it was a sandwich or an apple had become less and less interested in food.  The spark of life in her that I cherished so much had started to dim, leaving her slow, confused and lethargic.  So should I save her?  I wanted to. So much.  But I knew no amount of treatments would give her more than just a few months more.  I didn't want to save her for her sake, I wanted to save because I didn't want to say goodbye.  I tried.  I saw the future, I saw how increasingly inevitable it became, I tried to tell her goodbye but the words would never come out.  So I made the call and told the doctor to put her to sleep.

It was one of the worst days of my life, hugging my dog for the last time and trying not to openly weep in front of a vet I just met.  She was nice though, she gave me some tissues.  The procedure took so long at first.  She was so old that it took the vet 5 tries to find a vein.  Jackie, tough girl that she was, didn't cry out once.  Then, right before she got the shot, she looked right at me for the very last time.  How I wish I could say that it was something cliche like that she gave me a knowing look or a comforting look or a look of understanding but it was none of that.  She looked at me with her eyes full of green puss and the best I could say was that she didn't look scared.  Maybe just a little confused.  Less than a minute later she had fallen asleep for the last time and the doctor confirmed that her heart had stopped.

I don't know if I made the right call.  Losing Jackie has left me with a big open wound inside and when I think about her the sadness and loss suffocates me.  As I have descended into an increasingly hermit like existence lately (I have a beard now!) she was the once small piece of warmth in my life.  Even when she snored loudly when I tried to sleep, or farted noxiously when I was trying to work on the computer, I loved her.  Loved her when she pestered me for the corner of my toast and I loved her despite all the stains and puddles I had to clean up and the fact that she was constantly licking everything.

She would have been 15 this coming Saturday.  Still feels like it all went by way too fast.



Sunday, February 2, 2014

The dreaded Friend Zone

I usually really enjoy the videos by Cult of Dusty on youtube but recently he posted this video which really annoyed me for several reasons:



Now one of the big reasons this video upsets me is that if I saw this 10 years ago, I would be cheering and endorsing it for finally telling the TRUTH and I'm ashamed of that.  Honestly I'm not sure which stole more quality from my youth, being stuck in a crazy charismatic cult or being stuck in the "friend zone".

The other big reason this upsets me is because I like Dusty, I like his style and most of all, I like his insistence on using logic.  This video, while featuring a lot of memes about "evil women" exploiting "nice guys" didn't actually feature much logic.

So here is what I wish I could tell my 20 year old self about the dreaded friend zone.

Firstly I'll grant Dusty this, he did give one piece of solid advice: Stop being a coward!  If you are romantically interested in someone, tell them.  If they're not interested and you are not interested in them in any way other than sexually/romantically then be brave enough to walk away.  Being rejected hurts but not nearly as much as pining for someone for years while they are completely oblivious to your feelings.  You're just making yourself miserable and you'll probably end up making them miserable by being all passive-aggressive about it.  Be brave enough to be honest with them and if you can't then at least be brave enough to be honest with yourself about the fact that you don't actually want to just be their friend.  Which brings me to my next point...

Stop whining about how "nice guys" are always stuck in the friend zone by those evil bitches.  Just stop.  If you're in this position then you're not a nice guy.  There is nothing "nice" about pretending to be someone's friend while in actual fact you're trying to gain enough emotional leverage to become something else.  You're being disingenuous and there is nothing nice about that.  This is not a video game.  You don't get to level up to sexytimes by investing a certain amount of friendship points.  That's not how real life works.  And you already know that because...

You don't apply this kind of reasoning to your life, so why do you expect that from others?  If someone you are not attracted to at all tells you they are interested, would you say "Well I don't like you that way but you seem like a nice person who will treat me well so sure, lets date!"?  You wouldn't.  That's not how attraction works.  So why expect it to work that way for others?  Here is some hard truth: you are not entitled to love or sex or relationship or intimacy.  Just because you like someone romantically that doesn't obligate them to like you back the same way.  And again, you already know that because you don't feel obligated to be attracted to people you find unattractive.  So stop with this idiotic double standard.

So if you're stuck in the friend zone here are 3 easy steps you need to take to get out:

Step 1: Stop feeling sorry for yourself.  If you keep seeing yourself as a victim that's all you'll be.

Step 2: Start being honest with yourself.  Chances are you already know if this person is clearly not attracted to you so stop trying to change that by wishing really hard. The Secret is bullshit.  Attraction doesn't work that way and you know it.

Step 3:  Be honest, if there was absolutely no chance of a romantic relationship of any kind (ever), would you still be hanging around this person and acting like a friend?
Step 3a:  If NO then either tell this person how you feel and bear the consequences or end this "friendship" because you're not doing anyone a favour by hanging around.
Step 3b:  If YES then maybe stop trying to make this something it can't be and just be a friend for real without expecting anything more.

But for fuck's sake, stop acting like being nice to someone entitles you to getting in their pants.  That's just fucking childish!  If that's your game plan then you're not a nice person, you're a fraud.  LOGIC!


Thursday, September 26, 2013

No one should have to feel this way



This video leaves me heartbroken and sad. Also very very angry.

It hurts my insides to listen to this lady's story.  No one, and I do mean no one, should ever have to feel the way she felt. Not ever, not under any circumstances.  But it does.  All the fucking time! I don't have the words for how sad that makes me.

But mostly I am angry.  I am angry that we live in a world where this happens all the time.  I'm angry that society is apparently pretty OK with this being the case.  I'm angry at myself for the time spent as part of that culture.

This is why Modesty culture and Purity culture pisses me the fuck off.  I cannot just live and let live, those things are not harmless.  How do I hate it? Let me count the ways!  I hate the way it divides people into good and bad based purely on whether they've had sex or not.  I hate the way it makes you ashamed of your body and your hormones and everything that is completely natural about sex.  I hate the way it always finds ways to side against the abused and with the abuser.  I hate the shame spirals and the psychological trauma of calling good, harmless and natural things sinful.  I hate that it teaches men to hate and fear the female body.  I hate that it turns women into things, not people.  I hate how it degrades men and teaches them that deep down they are uncontrollable sex monsters.  But more than anything I hate how it teaches us that we are supposed to be like his. 

This is the one thing that (as a guy) makes me insanely angry about purity and modesty teachings in the church.  It tells guys that they are animals.  That they are slaves to their every urge, that they simply cannot help themselves.  Men are not in control of their behavior, it all gets outsources externally.  Girls have to cover up because guys just cannot help themselves when they are aroused.

That's fucking bullshit.  There's no nice way to say it.


Friday, August 30, 2013

Drunk Family History

If you're the type of person that doesn't find Drunk History funny then you're probably not going to enjoy this post.  Also, I don't think we can be friends.  Drunk History is awesome!  So when I recently learned some dark and awesome family history I knew I had to try doing a bit of drunk history myself.  Obviously since this is going to be typed, not told and since there will be no actors acting it out it's not going to be nearly as good.  On the other hand, this concerns the Irish half of my family so in a way NOT doing it after a whole lot of Guinness would be disrespectful!  I should probably put a warning here somewhere that there is a good chance this post will feature more profanity than usual.  If that bugs you then you probably shouldn't be reading this blog.

Here goes.

At my grandfathers funeral, someone suggested we try to find the grave of his grandfather, the original Gillingham patriarch Solomon Gillingham.  My first thought was Solomon Gillingham? Am I Jew-Irish? And is that even a thing? (Its not and I'm not which is too bad because again, the Jewish section of the cemetery is clearly primo real-estate!)  Long story short, I heard a couple of rumours about the man, googled to see if I could corroborate any of that and ended up finding a story* better than I could have dared hope for.

So at first the only thing I knew about my great-great-grandfather was that he was a pretty successful guy with a big house and his own carriage and he owned a bakery here in Pretoria.  Except the successful part was kinda weird because according to family legend his baking was incredibly shitty**.  How shitty?  Well it was so shitty that even the president allegedly commented on how terrible his bread was.

That's right, the guy on the Kruger Rand!
THIS president!
Well it turns out bread wasn't what his bakery was really about.  Turns out the "bakery" was actually the headquarters of the local Fenian cell. (Go on, click on the link.  I had to look up "Fenian" too!)  So basically this was where all the local Irish would hang out and talk about how the British sucked and how awesome it would be if Ireland could be an independent republic and how you should buy some cake to help Ireland punch stupid England in their stupid faces.  Stuff like that.  That's right, my great-great-grandfather was an Irish radical.  The professor I talked to called him "shadowy" and "dangerous".  What do historians call your great great grandpa?  Yeah... that's what I thought.

So life was pretty sweet, selling crappy baked goods and rallying support and funds for the Irish Republican Brotherhood but then they discovered gold in the Transvaal.  Actually they discovered ALL THE GOLD.  Seriously, there was like a million cubic fucktons of the stuff and then Brittain was all, "ooooh that's shiny, we'll take it" and the Transvaal was all like, "Oh like hell you will" and Britain was all like, "Fine, we invade countries all the damn time, we'll just come and take your gold" and the Transvaal was like, "Oh it's on! It's on like Donkey Kong!"***  So the Anglo-Boer war broke out.

This is where Solomon stepped up.  He started going around to all the Irish immigrants saying, "Hey, you know how England totally sucks right?  Well now they're coming here to suck right in our faces and that's not cool.  They think they can just come over here and fuck shit up and take the gold and that is messed up man.  Seriously, fuck those guys! Lets go punch them right in the fucking dick"  And all the Irishmen were like "Dude, you had me at hello.  Lets do this.  Lets go punch those Brits in the dick."  So they did.  They formed their own commando unit to help the Boere and pretty soon they were joined by some other Irish guys from America who had exactly the same dick punching ideas****.  So Solomon was the organizer and his friend John MacBride was the guy who actually led the commando.

So the fight actually goes pretty well for the home team for a while at least.  Solomon sends this letter to his friend and Fenian chief in Ireland saying how awesome they are and how they are just fucking up the English wherever they go and how the Boere are just cheering them everytime they see them and how they just wanted to make him a colonel right on the spot because he was so awesome.  So his friend reads this and goes "Holy shit, this is awesome!  The people of Ireland need to hear this!" so he publishes it in the Irish press and the Irish just lose their shit. They think its awesome, Irish people dickpunching the English is just the best thing since whiskey as far as they're concerned so this gets circulated far and wide.

So eventually Solomon finds out this got published and he freaks the fuck out because he made up a whole lot of shit in that letter.  There were hundreds of Irish fighting, not thousands and while they did a good job they weren't actually the toast of the Transvaal army.  So he writes to his buddy MacBride saying "Heeeeey Broseph, don't know if you heard those horrible rumours about a letter I allegedly wrote that talked all this smack but I just wanted to let you know right now that was a hoax.  Don't know by who, I'm as baffled as you are!  Wasn't me though.  I totally wouldn't bullshit people like that.  C'mon, you know me!"  I'm not sure if MacBride responded but I assume there was some dramatic eye rolling involved...

Anyway, pissing off his bro on the front lines was only half the problem!  The bigger problem was that now the British knew about him and what he was doing since that letter was published with his full name.  And he was right to be worried because once the British finally won the war they hunted him down.  Now lucky for him the Boere were all like "Hey, you know we don't like people who speak the English but you Irish guys are OK" so they made the Irish commandos citizens.  So now they couldn't hang him as a traitor so they had to treat him as a POW.  So they did.

They caught him and sent him to Ceylon - which is now Sri Lanka but used to be Ceylon, where our tea comes from - to serve time in a POW camp.  You know how they say someone was a model prisoner?  What is the opposite of that?  Because it turned out Solomon Gillingham was the opposite of a model prisoner.  He just gave his captors hell 24-7.  Eventually the British were like "Hey Solomon Gillingham, you've been a huge fizzy douche and we don't like you so we're going to keep you here as long as possible" and he was like "Ha ha, the joke's on you! I met this lady here and we've been going at it like rabbits so I don't mind staying here!"  So he was one of the very last people to be released back to South Africa.

So he came back and was like "Sup mofos! War hero in the house!" and his wife was like "So what's this I hear about you starting a second family in Ceylon? I want a divorce!" So she makes legal history by not only getting a divorce in like 190-something but the judge was like "Yeah I see what you mean, this guy is a massive asshole" so he sided with her 100%  Meanwhile Solomon was like "Whatever losers, I smuggled these rubies from Ceylon and this hot chick I met there followed me here so we're going to keep going at it like catholic bunnies"  Which they did.  And that's how I ended up being from a peaceful pentecostal Irish family instead of a radical militant catholic Irish family.

So yeah, as major douchebags tend to do, he totally landed on his feet. He eventually had 9 kids with his new wife so YEAH THAT'S RIGHT I have part Sri Lankan family somewhere out there!  As dark family secrets go, this is pretty brilliant! I think the last time he got recorded doing something was when he chaired an Irish Sinn Fein meeting in Pretoria and posing under a bullet riddled Transvaal flag for the Irish press.  Like a boss.

So here's to you great great grandfather!  You were clearly a huge tool but at least you were interesting!  For all my snark I doubt anyone will be writing about my life in a hundred years!  I mean you pissed off everyone everywhere you went but you were also kind of a badass who fought for your beliefs and I can respect that.  I'm not done with my life but it's a pretty good bet that no historian anywhere will be using any sexy adverbs to describe me one day so don't mind my snark.  Sláinte!


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*Found a book in Google books called "Forgotten Protest: Ireland and the Anglo-Boer War"  by Donal P. McCracken.  It had a bunch of stuff on my great-great-grandfather so I tracked down the author, a professor who specializes in the history of the Irish in South Africa and through our correspondence I learned some more.  Before long the rest of the family were adding to the conversation and that's how I learned what I wrote here.  If you'd like a more factual account, I suggest reading the book!

**I would like to go on record saying that this is not genetic.  My baking is fantastic.  Anyone who has had my chocolate cake with mocha frosting can confirm that my baking will make you cry tears of joy.

***No one actually said any of this, I'm paraphrasing.

**** It was pretty much a worldwide open forum for every young man with a yearning to punch the British right the nuts.  Americans, Russians, Germans, they all came over here to fight.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Fun in Funeral

For someone who doesn't like funerals, I've sure been to a lot.

It's not that I have a particularly big family, it's just that I keep having less as time goes by.  I have now carried the coffins of my grandmother, my mother, my father and this week, my grandfather.  Always a pallbearer, never a corpse...

I would rather remember him as young and strong than as old and frail.

My grandpa died at the ripe old age of 94 and 10 months and I'm still in a bit of shock over it.  It didn't matter how old he got, on some level I always thought he would live forever.  This one cut deeper than I thought it would. He was the last parental figure I had left.  I don't think there is anyone else now who cares how I turn out or what I do with my life and that leaves me feeling so empty.  All I have now is the sadness of his passing.  And the regrets.  So many regrets...  I regret all the times I didn't call, I regret all the times I didn't make the time to talk to him, I regret all the worry I caused him, I regret not being someone he could be proud of.  In his death I see mirrored all my failings, every standard I failed to live up to, all the goals I never reached.  I think it's all the shame that blindsided me.  All the times I didn't call him because I knew he would ask about my life and I was too ashamed to tell him the truth so I never did and I never called and now I will never get to again.

My grandpa deserved a much better eldest grandson than the one he got.

At least he had a lot to be grateful for.  He lived for almost a century and gathered so much love along the way.  He had a long, happy marriage, children who loved him (of which he outlived only one) and a whole lot of grandchildren who are almost all prosperous, well adjusted and happily married adults now.  He even got to meet some of his great grandchildren which is more than most people can say I guess.  His mind stayed sharp his entire life and apart from his sight and hearing going by the end, he was in pretty good health.  He even kept all his hair!

Yeah that's me back when I was still cute...
At least the day wasn't just memorable for its sadness.  There was also some weirdness and some laughs, though now that I'm about to write it down I don't think you'll laugh...

At the grave there was this old guy in a suit and he was hugging and kissing everyone hello and leaning on my cousin all the way to the gravesite.  I never saw him before so I just assumed he was a far off family member I've never met.  Apparently so did everyone else.  He wasn't though, turns out no one knew him!  He was just a random stranger who showed up to a funeral to touch people.  And by touch I mean physically, not emotionally.  Just to be clear, he didn't do anything inappropriate.  Maybe he was just a lonely old man looking for some human contact.  That, or he was just a really weird pervert who gets off on consoling young ladies at funerals.  I guess we'll never know...

I also learned that the graveyard itself is segregated not only by race but also by faith and denomination.  I can only guess that this was masterminded by the department of applied theology so that come the Ressurection we can finally know which church had it right all along!  Telling people "I told you so!" before they go to eternal damnation is half the fun!

Also, just out of curiosity, how hard is it to be buried as a Jew?  The Jewish section was by far the part of the graveyard in the best condition.  I'm thinking that's the place to be after death!

The service was at the same place I had my last fun Pentecostal adventure a year ago and it certainly didn't disappoint.  The pastor managed to tone down the crazy at least though he did brandish an "authentic" shepherd's crook from the Holy Land at one point. He also managed get through an entire sermon without including any stories of his battles against the forces of Satan!  Still, it could just be me but the choice of "The Lord is my Shepherd" did seem a tad odd.  The entire service was wall to wall sheep anecdotes which is weird for a funeral because we all know what happens to a sheep once its life ends and it's never pretty...

I also got some fun pamphlets!  I got one on homosexuality which laid out the case for homosexuality being an abomination and a sin but at least it did include a small paragraph outlining the four simple steps to curing homosexuality.  It's in Afrikaans so if you're gay and were hoping to pray it away but can't read Afrikaans then I apologize to you dear reader.  You're just going to have to stay gay.


There was also a pamphlet on tithes and offerings which was basically just four pages of emotional blackmail to squeeze more cash out of congregants as well as little envelopes labeled ""Aircon" fund".  Not sure if it's a case of unnecessary quotation marks or if "Aircon" is what the pastor calls his new boat...


If I seem extra hard on the church for the finance stuff, it's because I'm more than a little pissed off about the way the church treated the funeral.  My grandfather was a lifelong, committed Christian.  He gave his time, energy and money to the the church for as long as he lived and yet when he died, the church acted more like a business than like a family.  We were charged for the sermon, there was a fee to open the church, there was a catering fee, etc, etc, etc.

But I'm not going to end this on a bitter note.  If you managed to read this far, congratulations, I know I've been all over the place.  That's kind of what my insides look like right now though.  It's pretty messy.  Despite all the sadness I am also left with love.  I loved my grandfather and I know he loved me.  When I speak of shame and regret, I need to be clear, he did not force those onto me.  He was never anything but kind, loving and interested in my life.  All the bad stuff I'm left with now spring from how I responded to that over the years.  So let that be a lesson to you.  If you have loved ones, let them in.  Let them know you, let them be a part of your life.  I can't tell you that it will make everything better.  I can just tell you that the alternative feels so much worse.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Different Worlds

Men and women live in different worlds.  I'm not referring to that Mars/Venus thing, that's bullshit.  We are all on the same planet, we're just not entirely in the same world.  I'll let Louis CK explain.



See that was funny but also sad, because it's true.  I'm sorry to say it took me way longer to catch on to that than it should have.  I remember what finally opened my eyes.  I forget who said it but I read that what men fear most from the opposite sex is getting laughed at, while what women fear from the opposite sex is getting raped or killed.  I read that and it hit me like a lightning bolt.  I don't live in the same world women live in.  I can walk down the same street as a woman but our experience of it can be so different we may as well be in two different places.  I'm a big, scary looking guy so when I walk down the street people leave me alone.  No matter where I go or what time I go there, at most I might worry about getting my wallet stolen.  I never have to worry about getting raped* or cornered by someone who won't stop hassling me and I most certainly never have to worry about total strangers throwing lewd comments my way.  No woman has that luxury.  We can share the same space and time but we do not share the same experience.

I'm a guy, so I live a privileged life.  I'm privileged because I never even have to think about any of that stuff.  My life is just easier than hers by default when it comes to this.  To me, a guy hitting on me on the bus is a funny story I can blog about.  For a woman, being stuck in a crowded metal tube with a guy that won't take a hint can be anything but funny.

So now what?  What do I do after coming to this realization?  Well, truth be told I don't have it all figured out just yet.  I do think reminding myself of this reality is necessary so I don't unthinkingly belittle those who experience this world differently from me.  I try to be more considerate of their experience.  I try to just be more considerate in general.

For instance, this week I was walking to the store as I usually do.  My route takes me along this big vacant lot.  It's a quiet little side street bordered by this overgrown field with nothing in it but long grass and two horses and it stretches for almost an entire block.  Anyway on this occasion I noticed there was a teenage girl a couple of meters ahead of me.  Didn't pay her any mind, I was listening to my iPod and planning my purchases for dinner, but I did realize after a few minutes that she kept glancing over her shoulder and walking as fast as she possibly could.  Now I could have just rolled my eyes and called her silly for acting that way because I'm a nice guy and I wasn't going to do anything to her and how dare she treat me like a potential rapist?  But I didn't do any of that.  This is South Africa, really terrible things happen to young girls in vacant lots all the time.  She had every right to be wary of me.  So I slowed my pace, crossed the street and hoped that would make her feel a little bit safer.  I don't know if it did.  I don't know if it was the best course of action.  All I know is that it was certainly better than doing nothing and it really cost me nothing at all.

I know I can't change the world.  I know I can't undo an epidemic of violence against women as old as our species.  But I have to do something.  I have to try.  Even if I don't know exactly what to do yet, at least I can try to be more accommodating and compassionate.  Anything, no matter how small must be better than living blinded by privilege and doing nothing at all.


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*Yes, I know men get raped too.  Not denying that.  I'm just saying that getting raped is quite literally the furthest thing from my mind if I walk into a dark parking structure.