Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sister, Sister

Yesterday I helped to pack Middle Sister's life up into our parents' van and sent her away. She is headed back to school next week, pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in Toronto. Her program is interesting (it's a Scholar Practitioner program for people who already have undergraduate degrees) that focuses on placement hours. Her placements are with Toronto Public Health, which is perfect for her and will hopefully allow her to continue the kinds of work she's been doing here with safe needle exchange.

It's such a fantastic opportunity for her I almost don't feel sad that she's leaving me. Almost.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Jack Layton

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.
--Jack Layton, from his "Letter to Canadians"

Jack Layton's funeral isn't until tomorrow, but as I won't be in Toronto, I thought I would take a few moments today to remember one of the greatest leaders our country never had.

Jack Layton took charge of the NDP in 2002 at a time when its stock was pretty much at its lowest, with only 14 seats in Parliament. This was not a kind time for the NDP: the West was a lost cause, Ontario was gun shy after its provincial experiment with leftism resulted in Rae Days, and even the East had brought diminishing returns for the party. There did not appear to be much hope that the Canadian public would turn away from the Liberals and the Conservatives, but that didn't matter to Jack. In both 2004 and 2006, he fought the good fight for his party; even when his horse was lame, he was still there, smiling, slugging it out. And then things began to change. Earlier this year, the NDP made considerable gains in Quebec, resulting in a record number of seats in Parliament and the mantle of Official Opposition. These gains were very much because of Jack's quiet charisma.

I didn't necessarily agree with Jack Layton politically; he was often more left than my generally centrist beliefs. However, I admired him enormously: He had compassion, conviction, and commitment in a way that no other leader has had (at least in my voting lifetime). He was personable, charismatic, and...well, normal. His commitment to our country was incredibly; no matter how bad the NDP's fortunes seemed, he was always working, always committed to his vision of his party and our country.

It's heartbreaking to know that he lost his battle with cancer so soon after the greatest victories of his political career, to know that he'll never get the chance to explore his new position to its fullest.

Friday, August 19, 2011

On Why Knitting Is Bad Ass

I usually don't respond to inflammatory things on the internet, mostly because I doubt that I have anything relevant to add to the discussion, and also because I don't believe in baiting trolls. Peg Aloi, over at the Huffington Post, writes one of the most condescending and insulting articles on feminism that I've ever read: it's irritating enough to bring me out of my self-imposed blog hiatus. The article laments the rise of a performatively 'femme' feminism coupled with a return to the domestic. I knew the article was going to be bad from the fourth sentence, which reads, "Even BUST magazine is sponsoring a craft fair in NYC." I'm not entirely sure why this is news, since BUST's E-i-C is Debbie Stoller of Stitch'n'Bitch fame, and Stitch'n'Bitch happened nearly ten years ago, but apparently putting some effort into researching her topic wasn't something Aloi wanted to do.

Aloi's central point seems to be that being interested in anything feminine or girly makes one unable to be a "badass, strong, tough woman." Cupcakes are out, as are heirloom tomatoes and Hello Kitty; these are seen as signs of complacency. Being interested in these things apparently means that we have given up the fight, and that when the revolution comes, we'll be lolling around eating bonbons in our high heeled shoes. Our time would be better spent "learning how to shoot a gun, hot-wire a car, and manipulate our way into a bomb shelter." My first question there is why those particular skills would be useful (in fact, I'm pretty sure basic survival skills, like gathering, shelter building, and fire starting would probably be more useful, come the apocalypse), but I'm also not sure how knowing how to knit impedes my ability to do *any* of those things.

Aloi's arguments bother me in general because they're built on lazy generalizations and pat explanations, and they also bother me in particular because my idea of myself as a feminist (and, accordingly, the way that I negotiate the world as a white, middle class feminist) is so central to my identity. (In fact, one of my student evals from last year took issue with my "feminist viewpoint".) Despite the fact that I have completed16 different knitting projects this year, I am not complacent about the obstacles that women face in society. I'm a young woman with a sizable chest who teaches at a university; I've had men say to me, "Oh, if my college professors had looked like you, I'd have paid more attention." I have to work hard to be taken seriously. Being a feminist is important to me; I believe that I have an obligation to interrogate the world as I find it and to work towards a society that is both more equal and more just. And I'm one of the lucky ones--I come from a position of privilege, and I know it.

Where does knitting fit into this? A better question to ask might be, Why is knitting an UNfeminist thing to do? Because it's "old"? Because it's domestic? Because it privileges the home? For my part, I've actually learned more about women's bodies from being a knitter. I've also learned a lot about discourses of power through the various groups that I'm involved in on Ravelry. Knitting isn't an inherently feminist act by any means, but I choose it as one. A big part of feminism for me is defying people's expectations of who and what I should be: a knitter who is a gamer who is a writer who likes to cook who used to blacksmith who would like to take up get the picture.

If it's not her kind of feminism, that's fine. What's not fine is this reductive feminism (descended, perhaps, from the second wavers?) that wants to limit the value of women to certain occupations and hobbies that are deemed "worthy" of our time and attention purely because they are masculine and therefore "bad ass".

Here are 5 knitting projects that I think are quite bad ass (some NSFW):

Sunday, August 14, 2011


I feel physically and psychically ill from the last two weeks.

I'm probably going to lay low for a while until I can figure out where I'm going.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Well, my grandfather died within a half hour of my last post.

I am mostly relieved that his suffering is ended.

I won't be around online for a few days while we travel to the funeral and spend time with family.

Monday, August 08, 2011

As I approach my 30th birthday in the next few months, I've been spending a lot of time thinking about what it means to get older. I never felt my age until a few years ago: in adolescence, I always felt older than (read: superior to) everyone else; in my twenties, I often felt very young (I'm the youngest person in my department by a good 15 years). Now I feel 29, whatever that means.

My grandfather is dying.

He has been really sick for about 18 months now. Things took a sharp turn for the worse about two weeks ago. Grandpa had been falling a lot, and one morning he was found on the floor of his bathroom in his nursing home. At the hospital, they determined that he'd been having a series of strokes, and that he'd sustained a number of lumbar compression fractures. After about a week or so, it became apparent that the waiting game had begun. We are now at the point of days, maybe hours.

My mother, grandmother, and the sister-aunts met yesterday to start to put together plans for how we could proceed when he finally passes. My mom has asked me to do a reading at the not-funeral (my grandparents had a very bad falling out with their church in the late 70s, so there won't be a formal church funeral service), and to think of stories to tell afterwards, when we go to my grandparents' farm for drinks.

Nothing has ever made me feel as old as this.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Trip to Stratford

I had high hopes for August. The rest of the summer has had some pretty memorable lows for me, and I'd hoped that this month would turn things around as I head back to work into a new academic year. Unfortunately, four days in, August is mostly like a kick in the teeth.

Rather than focus on the various pieces of friends and family drama that are going on around me, though, I wanted to share a much more cheerful story.

First, I must confess to a small shame: I had never been to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, ON. It probably sounds like it isn't really a big deal to you, but when you are a bibliophile like me and you teach university English courses, this is tantamount to being a Beatles fan who has never listened to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It's just silly.

(In case you don't know, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival is kind of a big deal: Tyrone Guthrie was the first Artistic Director and Sir Alec Guinness starred in Richard III that first season; more recent actors include Christopher Plummer, Colm Feore, William Shatner, and Brian Dennehy. In addition to being the premiere locale for classical theatre in Canada, Stratford is also the hometown of Justin Bieber.)

When I had the opportunity to snap up some tickets to this year's production of Titus Andronicus for a paltry $10 apiece, I jumped on it, and Youngest Sister, our friend Ryan, and myself headed down to Stratford. We had a delightful picnic on the banks of the river Avon, which afforded me the opportunity to take approximately one hundred pictures of various swans, ducks, and geese, and then headed up to the theatre.


The production was excellent. I've only seen one other Shakespearean play performed (a version of Much Ado that had it transplanted to Mussolini's Italy) and I'd never imagined that Titus was one of the plays that I would get to see. The theatre uses a thrust stage, and the production did not shy away from the violence of the play. Watching the actress who played Lavinia was heart wrenching. Aaron the Moor stole the show, though: he was very athletic and evil in his movements around the stage.

On the way into Stratford, we'd passed a pub called The Boar's Head, which seemed like an optimal place to go for dinner after the show. As we were walking up towards the restaurant, I noticed a head that looked vaguely familiar...and then realized that the head was not just familiar, it actually belonged to my friend Greg. Greg, whom I'd actually seen in Ottawa just a few short weeks ago, was down in London visiting his parents with his wife, and had come up to see a high school friend of his perform the role of Chiron (one of Tamora's sons) in Titus. They had come up to The Boar's Head for dinner as well, and they invited us to join them. It was a lovely serendipitous moment, and it was unbelievably cool to have dinner with one of the actors from our play.

This might be the only good thing for a while, so I'm going to hold on to it with all I've got.

Monday, August 01, 2011


It's been just over ten years since I moved out of my parents' house to attend school, and just over four years since I stopped coming back over the summer breaks to work at the historic site.

Every time I come home, it seems like something changes a little bit more, and it becomes less and less home and more and more my parents' house.

Over the last two years, my parents have replaced all of the windows and doors. The new door in the front hall has a much bigger pane of glass in it; it lets in so much more light now that, for the first few times I was home, I kept going into the hallway to close the door because I thought it was open. We also used to have an old church pew as a bench in the hallway, but it's gone now.

The living room has had its carpet torn out and replaced by a beautiful auburn hardwood floor. Less than a year ago, my parents finally threw out the camel brown velour couch they bought shortly after they were married (in 1977) and replaced it as well. Now there's a new couch and a fancy La-Z-Boy that's more comfortable than most beds I've slept in; there's a vintage crystal chandelier and beautifully framed art prints.

The biggest change is the kitchen, which my dad gutted completely. Gone are the cheap cupboards and drawers of my childhood. Now I have no idea where anything is (to be fair, the redesigned kitchen is sufficiently awesome that the increase in storage space means that no one knows where anything is anymore). The appliances are fancy (the convection oven in particular) and the granite countertop is a thing of dreams. Our big kitchen table (scarred by years of less than careful activity) is long gone; there is a tiny table with two chairs just for my parents.

One of the hardest things about growing old for me is not that I don't need my parents, but that they don't need me.

Don't get me wrong: I don't begrudge them this beautiful space that they're building together. My parents have been together for 40 years this year (married for 34 of them) and I'm old enough now to see that their life together hasn't always been easy or simple. It's more just that every change makes this place more unheimliche (unhomely), familiar but also strange. And eventually it isn't going to be my home any more, for real.

Though I have to admit that on these 30+ degree days, I am grateful that they broke down and put in central air conditioning when they replaced the furnace.