I will always love you

On September 28, 1987, something monumental happened. Something that would change the world, and would begin one of the most profound love affairs in my entire life. Star Trek: The Next Generation aired its premiere episode.

I was only eleven years old, but I was instantly hooked. TNG aired for seven seasons which means I was eighteen when it ended but by then Deep Space Nine had begun and soon, Voyager would come onto the scene. These three shows carried me into my twenty-fifth year, so Star Trek was a part of my life during my pre-teen years, my entire adolescence, and the formative years of my young adulthood. It is not hyperbole to say this franchise had a huge effect on me and helped to shape me into the woman I am today. I would even say these shows were partially responsible for raising me. That’s a scary thought when you rewatch the early seasons of TNG today, and realize how racist and sexist they were (I’m looking at you,  Code of Honor), but for the time, the show was revolutionary and the ’80s version of woke.

I’ve already written about how TNG came into my life at the exact right time; I was lonely and looking for something to believe in. Even though I didn’t have many friends in real life, the crew of the Enterprise D became my new friends – my surrogate family. They were a group of people who cared about each other, and all supported one another. They were the dream team and I wanted nothing more than to be part of that team. From the first moment I was instantly enamored with Deanna Troi because she was empathic – the premiere episode even implied that she was telepathic – and at the time I was so insecure and fearful of people that I wanted nothing more than to be able to read their minds, just so I could get an idea of how I was supposed to behave. In time I developed a crush on Data and I realize now that this is because he represented something safe. As someone incapable of emotions, he’d also be incapable of hating me, as I hated myself.

For young me, TNG was a beacon of hope, something for me to rely on as my life got increasingly difficult to deal with. As I fell into a depression during my adolescence, TNG was often the only thing getting me through the week, and cliffhangers like The Best of Both Worlds got me through entire summers. Looking for more of the same, I attempted to watch the original Star Trek series, hoping it would hold some of that magic I longed for. Unfortunately, it didn’t, and I was sadly disappointed. Just as the spin-offs don’t always hold up when viewed through a modern lens, teenaged me from the ‘90s couldn’t handle the overt sexism of the ‘60s series. (I’ve rewatched TOS as an adult though, and found it quite fortifying).

Still, I remained profoundly protective of the franchise, and deeply in love. Even as, throughout all the shows’ runs, I was often annoyed, (mostly with the lack of gender parity and meaningful stories for its rare female characters), I was also consistently moved, and watching the shows mostly remained a joyful experience.

As time has gone on, I’ve come to accept other shortcomings of the franchise, like its spotty understanding of science, and inconsistent ideas about future technologies. Writers from the 20th century can’t be blamed for guessing wrong about the future, and how our species would evolve, but watching the show now isn’t so much nostalgic as it is hilarious. And that’s fine. It’s still fun to watch, even if every episode needs to be taken with a grain of salt, and a gigantic helping of suspension of disbelief. And when watched within the context of the time it was made, the show can still hold valuable lessons, and serve as a teaching tool. Star Trek, as with all good science fiction, has always been its best when the storytelling was an allegory and not simply shoot-em-up space battles.

So I can’t blame fans for wanting to revive the franchise but I would argue that the modern reboot absolutely did NOT recapture that old Star Trek magic. They’re passable movies in their own right, but they are not Star Trek movies. They actually hold more in common with Star Wars, in that they are more action-oriented than allegorical. Again, that’s fine for people who are into that sort of thing, but for me, it’s not enough. What I’ve realized though, is that it’ll never be enough, that the old Trek magic simply cannot be recaptured because modern audiences are now too smart.

Ok, maybe not everyone is too smart, but generally speaking, as a culture, or at least for those of us who follow advancements in science, we’ve come to see that the tech as shown in Star Trek makes no sense. Some of it is way too advanced and some is not advanced enough. Today, in 2017, we have smartphones that seem more advanced than the PADDs the crew of the Enterprise walked around with. Why are crew members constantly seen walking around to deliver information when even today a simple email will do? And you’re telling me that in the 24th-century people still only live into their hundreds? And genetic engineering is banned? There’s no cure for blindness? And nanotechnology is seen as novel? And women are still expected to take their husband’s names?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

Again, a lot of this comes down to the time in which the series was made, but that’s exactly why it can’t still be made today. We know better. Handcuffing writers with the limitations of the established Trek tech seems like a particularly cruel form of torture. I would actually argue that writing any sci-fi today is similarly difficult, and current space-faring shows like Dark Matter and Killjoys are also laughably unrealistic, but at least they aren’t also hampered by decades of highly limiting (and sometimes internally inconsistent) cannon.

The only wise and merciful, thing to do is to let Star Trek die. Let it rest in dignity as a much-loved franchise that was good for its time. Leave it the hell alone! But no, much as there was coffee in that nebula, there is money to be made, so of course, they’re taking another kick at the can.

Which brings us to my ultimate purpose in writing this blog post. I am deeply apprehensive about the new Trek series set to premiere this year, Star Trek: Discovery. We all know it’ll be a shit show because how can it not be? The producers have already admitted that they are redesigning the Klingons yet again, because hey, if the Klingons need anything it’s even more confusion regarding their turtle heads or lack thereof.

I am hopeful about the black woman lead but disappointed by the continued lack of gender and racial parity. A bit of intertronning reveals that the show is still 69% white and only 30% female. *sigh*

I’m not reading up too much about Discovery in order to avoid spoilers, so I can’t say much about it yet except to say that yes, I will of course be watching it. I’ve even started rewatching older Trek in an effort to get back into that Trek mood, and so far it’s working. I’m very much worried about what Discovery will do to a franchise that has already taken way too many hits, but two things are certain: I will absolutely love it and absolutely hate it.

star-trek-discovery-logo

What makes me different, and why do you care?

“There are those whose own vulgar normality is so apparent and stultifying that they strive to escape it. They affect flamboyant behavior and claim originality according to the fashionable eccentricities of their time. They claim brains or talent or indifference to mores in desperate attempts to deny their own mediocrity. These are frequently artists and performers, adventurers and widelife devotees. Then there are those who feel their own strangeness and are terrified by it. They struggle toward normalcy. They suffer to exactly that degree that they are unable to appear normal to others, or to convince themselves that their aberration does not exist. These are true freaks, who appear, almost always, conventional and dull.”

This is an excerpt from the novel Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. It is a quote by Arturo, a charismatic and intelligent but manipulatively malevolent boy in a carnival freak show with various deformities who becomes the leader of a cult of people eager to mutilate themselves to be part of his posse. It’s a great book and I highly recommend it, but this passage, in particular, stood out to me as I read it when I was musing on exactly this topic. I recently wrote about whether nerds are born or made, and questioned if it was even valid for me to consider myself a nerd since I’m not really that far out of the ordinary. I often decry what I perceive as mainstream and basic, but in many ways, I conform to standard norms.

So am I a “normie” shouting into the wind, trying to convince others that I’m interesting, or am I a freak, painting on a happy face every day and pretending to blend in? I suspect that for me, and for most people, the answer is a bit of both.

So what makes me different from the norm, and why does society at large even have an opinion on those differences?

  • I’m a nerd
    • Or am I? I don’t know, but what I do know is that any stigma I’ve felt throughout my life for being nerdy has been self-imposed. Anytime anyone has tried to bully me I’ve shut that shit down quick, and even those few attempts had nothing to do with my geeky interests. I think I internalized the 80s and 90s pop-culture message that sci-fi was dorky and therefore I was a dork, even though no one in real life ever gave me a hard time for it. If anything, people have admired me for it, although in a rather patronizing “you like the Star Trak, how cute!” kind of way.
  • I’m an “artist”
    • I always feel like I have to apologize when I use the word artist, hence the quotation marks on the word above. Referring to myself as an artist makes me cringe because I find it pretentious and self-aggrandizing. And yet, I’m unfulfilled unless I’m creating. I’ve just written a huge essay exploring my so-called artistry, but I’ve now pasted it into a separate blog post for another day because I felt I was veering from the topic at hand. What is relevant for the moment is how our society seems to simultaneously admire and deride artists. We are celebrated for our innovation but also punished for colouring outside of the lines. Creatives are seen as bright and original, but also flighty and impractical. Again, I’ve been a victim of my own perceptions in this matter, as I quit art school because I found the environment too hippy-dippy for my taste. I also recently ran as far as I could from an employment opportunity at this same art school because I know that the art world is disturbingly political. As with every single other industry in the world, it’s not what you know, but who you know that matters, and for some reason, I can’t accept that when it comes to art. So I am constantly torn between wanting to be a part of that world, feeling unworthy of it, and feeling disdain for it.
  • I’m unmarried and I don’t have kids
    • I live in Quebec, where, perhaps due to the Quiet Revolution, there is very little stigma to being unmarried. There is still a stigma to being single, but living in a common-law relationship without being married isn’t really that big of a deal. I’ve had to deal with many questions about my marital status, but I’ve never felt harshly judged for being unmarried. Since I have access to the internet, I know that the pressure to be married is much higher in the rest of Canada, and certainly the rest of the world. Still, the wedding industrial complex is alive and well here, and I know I’m outside of the norm for being unmarried.
    • What I don’t know is why I’m so adamant about remaining unmarried. Is it because there’s no such thing as a feminist marriage, or because I simply like being different? I tend to assume that people who elope are getting married for the “right” reasons, while those who have massive, elaborate weddings are only doing it for status, and that’s an unfair assumption. It’s rather hypocritical of me to be annoyed by society’s judgments towards my marital status if I’m going to be so smug about those same choices.
    • As much as Quebec culture seems cool with me being unmarried, no one seems cool with me being childless. I’ve written about this before, so I won’t rehash it here, but the question remains: why do people care about other people’s procreative proclivities? I believe part of the answer is that having children is a natural instinct. We are biologically hardwired to spawn, so anyone who is able to overcome their programming is a threat to those who can’t. It’s the same reason people get so upset when you call them out on their ethically questionable behaviour. When people are behaving in ways that feel natural to them, they get offended when you point out the problematic nature of such behaviour, because it feels as though you are attacking them as a person, rather than the one act you had a problem with.
  • I’m an atheist
    • Again, living in Montreal, this isn’t that big of a deal. For a city renowned for it’s abundance of churches, we are pretty chill when it comes to religion, or lack thereof. I actually went to Catholic school as a kid for reasons of convenience so various people, from fellow students to staff nuns, have tried to convert me but they were never overly aggressive about it. In fact, I’ve found it more amusing than annoying, like the time a former boss forced us to pray in what was essentially a staff meeting – the sheer inappropriateness of this action was so unbelievable that I had to laugh. Yet even though I’ve never felt personally attacked for my atheism I know that in other parts of the world, even the developed world, like the States, atheism is not just taboo but even illegal, and this stuns me. Much like with spawners, I think this comes down to the fragile egos of the believers. If you feel secure in your own beliefs, why would you even care what others believe?
  • I avoid the sun
    • I have pale skin. Between my Scandinavian/Anglo-Saxon/Germanic heritage and my anemia I’m about two shades paler than transparent. So why is everyone always so shocked that I don’t sun-bathe? I cover-up in the summer as though I’m entering a situation where one might be exposed to cancer-causing radiation, which is EXACTLY what one is doing every time one goes out in the sun!!! Why don’t people get this? Not one single summer has gone by in my life where someone hasn’t felt the need to comment on my vampire gear. But at least once I explain the situation they seem to understand, if not agree.
  • I’m a teetotaler
    • The term teetotaler isn’t quite right to describe what I am, because teetotalism is abstinence from alcohol, while I abstain from all recreational drug use, even caffeine. In the past I’ve called myself straight-edge for lack of a better term but that one carries a lot of connotations I don’t jive with so I can’t really use that label either. No matter, the point is that I don’t do drugs.
    • Interestingly, of all my personality quirks, or personal life choices, the one to abstain from drugs and alcohol has caused me the most problems in my life. It really, REALLY seems to bother other people that I don’t get shit-faced every night. Every time I’ve gone out with friends or coworkers, they have asked why I’m not drinking, and when I say I don’t drink alcohol, they get very befuddled. I could now explain why I don’t drink but honestly, I don’t see why it matters. Why do people need a reason? Why can’t they just accept it? I think the answer is similar to why religious people want to convert non-believers, and why parents want the child-free to hurry up and spawn. Misery loves company. Whenever people feel somewhat uncomfortable with their own behaviours they work extremely hard to get others to jump on that bandwagon. Everyone who drinks, I’ve observed, feels slightly ashamed about it, so when they find out that I’ve managed to go my whole life without indulging, they feel like they have somehow failed, and they, in a projecting kind of way, feel as though I am judging them. Honestly, I am judging them, just as I, and everyone else, judges everyone for everything all the time, ’cause that’s what humans do. But I don’t have some sort of alcoholics burn book where I decry all drunks as baddies or something. I honestly don’t care that much about your habits, and you shouldn’t care that much about mine.
    • I will admit however, that peoples’ extreme reactions to my teetotalism have lessened over time, and this might be due to my age. As women age, we become increasingly invisible. Women are primarily valued for their sexual availability and submissiveness, so a sober young woman is a problem, whereas a middle-aged woman is of little interest regardless of her sobriety. But it could also be that society is chilling out on judging other’s proclivities. Apparently, according to some younglings I know, kids today don’t really judge each other based on what they’re into, or at least not the way they did back in my day, when we had to walk uphill to school in the snow and whatnot.
  • I’m fragile and sickly
    • I’ve talked before about my anemia, and my resulting inability to travel because of it, but aside from consistently being picked last in gym, it hasn’t caused me any social problems. My supposed mental illness however…
    • I’ve always sort of privately believed that anyone who claims to be mentally ill couldn’t possibly have a real problem, because people who are genuinely mentally ill seem to be unaware of it – aggressively unaware – in the sense that they deny, deny, deny because they are so desperately clinging to their perception of normalcy. It’s like the quote from Geek Love, which opened this blog post: those who are different just want to be normal, and those who are normal just want to be special. My point is that I’ve never fully allowed myself to acknowledge any mental illness on my part because I’m not that bad, which by my own logic means I am ill, except I feel like a poseur when I say I am. I’m not medicated, and compared to most people I know I’ve definitely got my shit together, so I’m fine, right? Yes, I get depressed on a regular basis, but it’s situational rather than clinical depression. I most certainly have social anxiety, and yes, this has caused me much strife in my life, but I don’t get panic attacks or anything so really, I just should shut up about it and move on. But this dismissiveness about my own issues is perhaps evidence that I remain a victim of my stoic upbringing which equated any emotional, mental, or physical vulnerability with weakness. My mother has role-modeled the belief that the best way to treat a broken bone is to put increased pressure on it, and my father seems to be incapable of understanding that it is normal for humans to express emotions, and that mental illness is even a thing. He doesn’t get that people who are not him have different capabilities from him, and that just because he can do something doesn’t mean other people necessarily can.

We are all familiar with the adage that recommends we walk a mile in another’s shoes to understand their experience, but most of us are unwilling or unable to do this because we literally cannot. Unless you’ve been through something it is absolutely impossible to truly understand what that experience feels like. And even two people who have been through the same thing have experienced it differently based on their previous life-experience and personality. In the end, we’re all unique, singular snowflakes, who are all exactly alike. We’re all human and humans are all basically the same, yet within that sameness is a world of difference. We’re all going through shit that makes us ponder our existence and drown our sorrows in our vice of choice. We all do things we feel ashamed of and think are weird, that are actually completely mundane, and then casually do other things that we don’t even realize are aberrant.

So, what about you? What’s your thing?

Are nerds born or made?

Are nerds born or made? I guess the larger question is: Is anyone/thing born or made? But at the moment I’m wondering how the classic debate of nature vs. nurture applies to people who enjoy fringe interests. Nowadays, the definition of a fringe interest is getting more specific and things that were considered geeky in my childhood have since become fairly conventional. Back in the day, reading or watching fantasy stories was dorky but now Game of Thrones is a completely mainstream TV show. Same with science-fiction. I definitely felt like I was on the outside of what was “normal” back in the 80s and 90s for my devotion to Star Trek, but today it’s not really that big of a deal. There are plenty of sci-fi properties that have achieved mainstream success, such as Westworld. Some might argue that these once off-the-beaten-path interests have been sanitized for the masses and aren’t really what they once were. The reboot of Star Trek is really just a bunch of action movies, while the source material was much more cerebral but I digress.

I want to know if I became obsessed with sci-fi (and Star Trek more specifically), because I was an introverted, shy, awkward kid, or am I a bit of a weirdo because I took to Trek? Do the unathletic kids start playing Dungeons & Dragons because they get picked last for dodgeball or do they stay indoors and thus avoid exercise because they are so into role-playing games? Perhaps a bit of both.

I was a somewhat sickly child, and I’m naturally clumsy so I always preferred indoor activities… wait, no, this isn’t true. Now that I’m really thinking about it, I did a lot of playing outside when I was young. I always disliked disgusting things, like climbing trees, or difficult things, like climbing trees but I did plenty of swimming and bike riding and running around and building snow forts, like any regular kid. I also did a lot of drawing and playing other indoor games, but it’s only when I became a teenager and started to retreat from the world that my activities became predominantly sedentary.

And yet my interest in sci-fi and fantasy came about way before that. Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered in 1987 when I was eleven years old and I was instantly hooked. But I was already very fond of my Princess Leia action figures and was wild about movies like the Dark Crystal. Then again, what kid didn’t like The Dark Crystal and Star Wars? Now that I think about it, Star Trek debuted at pretty much the same time my best friend moved away. I had a couple of other friends but none I felt a strong connection with. As an introvert with social anxiety, it’s always been very difficult for me to interact with others. When the friend I’d known since we were toddlers left, this might have pushed me further into my own world. TNG came along at the exact right time to fill the void left by my friend. Would I have become equally enamored of Data and Deanna if my best friend hadn’t disappeared?

I’d like to think so. After all, my friend didn’t completely disappear. Though she’d changed schools, I could still see her on weekends, as she’d only moved to the next suburb over. So surely I was born a little on the geeky side and her presence in my life was irrelevant. And yet… I’m trying to remember what appealed to me as a child, and how much of it was innate, and how much was influenced by external factors, such as my mother. I remember once in kindergarten, my teacher making some sort of comment about the way I dressed. I didn’t understand the comment and asked my mother about it when I got home. She explained that my teacher was teasing me for always wearing very elaborate, girly dresses. I remained confused because I wasn’t dressing myself, my mother was dressing me, so surely it was invalid to mock me for these sartorial choices. I liked those dresses just fine, but I wasn’t choosing them. But what would I have worn if I could have chosen for myself? The same things perhaps. Maybe I’m wrong to blame those dresses on my mother. My wardrobe has changed much over the years, and I was quite dedicated to grunge in the ’90s, but today my closet looks like the Zooey Deschanel starter pack.

soul-of-wednesday-addams

But is my interest in pretty dresses authentic, or a result of my mother’s programming? I don’t know. What’s more certain is that she influenced my literary tastes. As a kid I read things like Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, and Judy Blume’s oeuvre because those books were in the house. I never read fantasy or sci-fi as a kid, and still don’t, even though that’s my go-to when it comes to television. Is this because I associate books with my mother the librarian and therefore veer towards more classic choices, while I associate TV with no one other than myself, thereby making those choices more authentically?

not-nerdy-enough

I can’t be sure. I can’t even be sure that I really am a “nerd”. There is a meme currently going around that perfectly encapsulates this issue. People who aren’t geeky think of me as a geek. I distinctly remember a coworker once lamenting her own lackluster geekiness and wishing she could be as truly nerdy as me. I was struck by how odd that was as a comment, not only because it seemed strange to admire someone else’s inability to be normal, but also because I’m not really that nerdy. The truly hardcore nerds would likely deem me a poser. Really, other than watching shows set in alternate universes, what do I do that is truly unusual? In this day and age of the unconventional becoming conventional, do I even have the right to think of myself as out of the mainstream? Of course, no one should have to prove how “nerdy” they are. And it shouldn’t be a contest. Who cares how much someone likes a particular thing? It’s as though the hardcore nerds have absorbed mainstream society’s programming about how they are losers, and therefore, in order to win at something, anything, they shame others who aren’t as hardcore as them. If they can’t win at football, they’ll win at nerdiness.

I guess I suffer from this programming as well. I often criticize people or fiction for being pretentious and too try-hard but aren’t I myself, a try-hard when it comes to being “different”? Much of my self-identity, and self-worth, is built on the idea that I am not mainstream, that I am not plugged-in to social norms. That I am not that most dreaded of traits: Basic! But aren’t I? I do plenty of things that conform to modern society’s standards; I have a 9 to 5 job, I pay my taxes, I own property, I watch reality television, I shave my legs, I am in a stable, heterosexual, cisgendered relationship. And yet I don’t have kids and I’m not married. I tell myself I reject marriage because it is an institution built on the enslavement of women. But do I truly object to it this strongly, or am I just overcompensating to seem cool, if not to others, at least to myself?

I am forced to ask, what truly makes me different? And of those differences, which ones are charming quirks and which ones actually cause strife in my life? This is a topic worthy of further discussion, and I shall muse more at a future date. In the meantime, what do you think about my initial question, before I spiraled into my patented navel-gazing? Are nerds born or made?

Get in shape gurl!

My boyfriend’s answer to everything is to work out more. Insomnia? Work out. Depression? Work out. Creative block? Work out. Lethargy? Work out. Boredom? Work out. Annoyed with your significant other? Work the fuck out. You know what though? He’s not wrong.

I’ve mused before about my apathy, wondering if it’s a lack of motivation or lack of energy. I’ve never been athletic and as a kid, I was embarrassed about my lack of coordination and decided I hated sports because I wasn’t good at them. I figured it was simply my lot in life to be a couch potato and never really questioned it.

badass-ninja-warrior

Now I know that sports can be fun if one is allowed to play at one’s own pace. I’ve also gotten over the assumption that sports must be competitive. I dislike competition because I find it detracts from the fun of games, and ultimately leads to anger and resentment. As an adult, I’ve discovered that there are plenty of cooperative versions of sports/physical games.

As I was nearing my thirties I began to take my health more seriously. As happens to us all, I found that my metabolism was not what it once was, and I started half-heartedly working out. First I worked out at home with the Wii fit, but that eventually got boring. Then I started going to a gym, but this was tough because as an introvert, having a lot of people around me can be annoying. It’s also difficult to work at your own pace when you keep having to stop to wait for bros to be done sweating all over the machines you want to use. Sometimes I’d go to the gym with friends and I found this to be entirely counterproductive. Working out with friends is really just half-assing a physical activity while gossiping about life. Unsurprisingly, I need to be alone to work out. As I was approaching my forties I got to the point where I was financially capable of buying a property big enough to accommodate a home gym, and this space has been a revelation. I use FitnessBlender as my personal trainer and work at my own pace, doing the easy, or hard, versions of exercises depending on my energy levels at the time.

working-out

I don’t know if I can blame my anemia or my laziness, but unlike the promises of every exercise enthusiast, it doesn’t really get easier over time, or at least it hasn’t for me. I haven’t seen any improvements in my strength, flexibility, or agility, but that’s ok because I’m not trying to be Ronda Rousey, I’m just trying to be me. I work out for my health, and I don’t just mean the physical.

About a year ago I started taking walks during my lunch hours. I’ve found that this not only helps me stay in shape, it’s invaluable in terms of maintaining my sanity. I have no idea how I managed my stress before I implemented this ritual into my routine. My office recently moved into an upscale suburban neighbourhood, and while I miss the convenience of being downtown, and close to the underground city, which was great for continuing my walks even in harsh weather, I really appreciate the slightly more rural environment. It’s nice to be surrounded by trees and impressive architecture. It helps to clear my head and reinvigorate my creative juices (studies have shown a link between walking and creativity), and my ability to tolerate interaction with human beings for another four hours before I get to go home.

And when I do get home I work out some more. Usually, after a long day of sitting on my ass at the office, I’m too tired to work out, but I force myself to do it anyway because I know once I get going I’ll get an endorphin rush and enjoy it. Working out is like taking a bath when you’re a kid. You try to avoid it at all costs but once you’re in the water you never want to get out. Ok, maybe working out isn’t always like that. Sometimes I’m in agony, counting down the seconds until my virtual trainers announce workout complete, but other times working out is simultaneously fun, relaxing, and energizing.

I’ve also gotten into hiking recently, which is surprising to anyone who knows me because I’m stereotyped as hating nature but it turns out that all that advice about getting out in nature to de-stress is fairly accurate. It’s very calming to be in the woods, and even though I need to go through an entire box of tissues during any given hike, it’s worth it for the way I feel afterward. I’m not one to use the term “spiritual”, because I believe it’s just a froo-froo way of saying “mentally fortifying”, but for all the hippies out there, yes, communing with nature is a spiritual experience. Even more so in the winter, for a snow enthusiast such as myself. I can think of nothing more beautiful than the twisted branches of a leafless tree covered in snow.

nature-hates-me

In the end, my boyfriend is right about exercise. It pretty much is a cure-all. Recently my father’s doctor told him that his health wasn’t doing so great and since he was already eating his prescribed diet the only thing left to do was to exercise. I work in a healthcare-related field so I know that most people will try literally anything before turning to exercise. So I was proud of my dad when he actually started working out and managed to successfully improve his health. A lot of people complain that they don’t have enough time to work out, but I would encourage them to make the time. You don’t need to be a professional athlete to reap the benefits of exercise, and it doesn’t take much. Just a half-hour a day is enough. I know it can be difficult to find the motivation, especially if you suffer from depression. But by integrating regular workouts into your routine, your bouts of depression may be less frequent and less severe. But don’t take my word for it! The science bears this out. I don’t really have any advice on how you can get yourself out of bed and on a walk when you’re depressed, but maybe you can ask a trusted friend to literally drag you out. A depression buddy, if you will.

Exercise is also good for anxiety. I got nervous recently when my boyfriend suggested some friends join us on a hike because I jumped to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with a normal person’s pace, but that’s probably a hang-up of mine rather than a real problem. And the best way to overcome that fear is to go on said hike.

20-years-ago

As long as I’m having fun it doesn’t matter if I’m keeping up with the Joneses. In spite of all my progress over the years, I’m still not athletic but as we age we realize that our lives don’t exist for the entertainment of others. When I first tried yoga nearly twenty years ago I was nervous about doing the poses wrong and felt embarrassed about my incompetence. Now I know that no one is looking at me because they’re all too worried about their own form. And even if they are looking at me, who cares? I’m doing it for me, not them.

Am I a bad friend?

When I was about fourteen, my best friend Charlotte was jealous when I went on a summer vacation to Europe with my family. When I got back I never called her, even though I kept telling myself I should. The reason I didn’t call had nothing to do with her jealousy, or my feelings for her, I’m simply afflicted with social anxiety. Picking up the phone has always been, and continues to be, extremely difficult for me, even if I deeply care about the person on the other end of the line. I figured that when we got back to school in the fall, our friendship would pick up where it had left off. I was wrong. Instead of welcoming me back with open arms, Charlotte ghosted me, or did the 1990 version thereof. She basically ignored me until I got the hint and stopped trying to talk to her. She had found new, cooler, friends to hang out with and I wasn’t worthy anymore. I had been friend-dumped.

This wasn’t surprising to me. She’d always been a bit on the shallow side and she’d clearly found a step up by ingratiating herself with the cool kids over the summer. What’s more interesting is that being friend-dumped wasn’t particularly distressing for me. I was embarrassed, but I wasn’t really upset at losing Charlotte. When I say she was my best friend, I mean it in the sense that she was the person I spent the most time with, not in the sense that I cared about her most, or really at all. I actually found the entire situation fascinating. That someone could be so determined to increase their social standing that they would enact such cruelty upon a one-time friend was rather intriguing to me. And I was forced to ask, as I ask again now, what exactly is friendship?

I’ve heard people say that in childhood friendship is 90% proximity, but I would say that holds true at any age. We are “friends” with the people we spend the most time with, and for most of us, that means our schoolmates or coworkers. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, provided we have any genuine interest in these people. Google defines a friend as a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations. So the keywords here are “mutual affection”.

Did Charlotte and I have mutual affection for one another? I can’t say. I think we both used each other because of the convenience more than anything else. Neither of us had many other friends at that time. I don’t really have that many memories of her, so I’m not sure if I actually enjoyed her company or her mine. I don’t know if I was a bad friend, or if she was. Was she being a mean girl by ghosting me or did I begin the ghosting by never calling after that summer holiday?

I’m still neglectful towards my friends even today. But this isn’t due to a lack of interest so much as a lack of energy. As an introvert, I only have so much energy in any given day for social interaction. A few years ago I shared an office with a woman who was going through a divorce. We became friends because of, you guessed it, proximity, and she confided in me about everything going on in her life. I didn’t mind hearing these things and I genuinely liked her as a person, but my god was she exhausting. When she moved on to another job I didn’t bother to maintain the friendship. I still feel bad about this, and worry that she thinks I don’t like her, but honestly, I just couldn’t handle the amount of work it took to be her friend.

But even when I do want to maintain friendships, I put no effort into doing so. Social anxiety prevents me from reaching out to people, and introversion limits the amount of time I spend with them. In my adult life, I’d say my only friends are my colleagues. I like them and care about them, and we often have lengthy conversations, but these conversations usually revolve around office gossip. Does this still count as friendship? Sometimes we get together outside of work, so that counts as friendship, right?  Yet I’m also aware that these same people see each other outside of work much more often without me. Does this mean they like each other more than they like me? Perhaps. Or perhaps they’ve learned enough about me not to invite me to things I wouldn’t enjoy.

I recently felt pangs of envy and self-pity when I saw two colleagues go out for lunch together, and wondered where my invite had been. But then I remembered all the times I’d turned down lunch invites and realized that I was my own worst enemy if my goal was to be queen BFF. I reminded myself that friendship is a responsibility and one that I usually can’t handle.

introvert-problems

So I’m a bad friend, right? Well, I guess this depends on your definition of friendship. Is a friend someone you simply hang out with, or someone you entrust with your deepest, darkest secrets? Other people have examined this issue at length. Mobinah Ahmad has categorized six levels of friendshipJeremiah Creedon lists nineteen kinds of friends, and other articles have listed so many types that I’ve lost count and interest. Then there’s the science. Dunbar’s number suggests that humans are only capable of maintaining social relationships with 150 people, and that limit drops to five when it comes to close relationships.

I must admit that while I’m extremely attentive when I’m with people one-on-one, once most people are out of my sight, they are equally out of my mind. I think back to when we were kids, and Charlotte wanted, as all teenagers do, that nebulous thing called popularity. She wanted to be at the center of a large group, or at least on its periphery because this represented success. Adolescents are naturally insecure and therefore preoccupied with what others think of them. Having a lot of friends means validation. But this need for external validation from a large social circle clearly persists into adulthood for many. For me, this is the folly of choosing quantity over quality, and with Dunbar’s scale in mind, I imagine that what other people consider friendships are really just glorified acquaintances.

Then again, just because I can’t handle a lot of social interaction, doesn’t mean others are similarly afflicted. My partner is an extrovert and while he doesn’t seem to need a lot of friends, he puts a baffling amount of effort into maintaining relationships with an equally baffling variety of people. I’m being flippant, as obviously these relationships aren’t baffling to him. When I ask why he stays friend with the woman who always cancels on him last minute, he explains that she’s worth it because she’s a great conversationalist when she does deign to show up. When I ask why he’s friends with the man who can’t string two words together he explains that they enjoy practicing karate together. Fair enough.

But I place no value on such interactions. They’re fine for someone with infinite energy but a waste of time for me. If I’m not going to be seeing someone on a regular basis I don’t see the point of investing in them. Sometimes even when I do see people on a regular basis I don’t bother to get to know them because why would I? I’ve often found while hanging with so-called friends, that most people aren’t really interested in having meaningful conversations, they are merely waiting for their turn to talk about the most mundane subject of all: themselves. (Hypocrisy alert!) But I want my friendships to have purpose. Interestingly, a day after I wrote a first draft of this post, my boyfriend posted a video on Facebook from the Book of Life, about exactly that topic. (Scroll down for the video). Here was vindication that I’m not wrong for wanting a concrete reason to hang out with people.

Don’t get me wrong; meaningless hangouts can be fun but I’m not sure I would define those interactions as friendships. For me, a true friend is someone I would die for, someone I would kill for. Some recent self-analysis has led me to the conclusion that I only have space for one such person in my life at any given time. Currently, my one true friend is my partner. I’d say there are maybe four other people who’ve been my best friends in the past, for whom I’d still bury a body no questions asked, but I don’t see them very often anymore simply because we no longer live near one another, and our lives have followed different paths. And it’s probably a good thing that I don’t see these people that often anymore because maintaining so many true friendships would be a lot of work! One of the things I really value in my one true friendship is that it’s a relationship wherein interacting doesn’t feel like work. Which is not to say that I don’t put effort into my relationship with my partner, it’s just that I can sit in silence with him and not feel anxious about it, as I would with nearly anyone else. Even though the definition I quoted at the top of this post doesn’t want me to think of a significant other as a friend, I maintain that everybody should strive to make their life partner their best friend. Honestly, what is the point of sharing your life with someone if you’re not the best of friends?

With this in mind, I am definitely a good friend to my partner, as we are extremely well bonded and would both do anything for the other. But I am perhaps a bad friend to everyone else. If I’d been a “good friend” to Charlotte back in the day, then maybe she would have brought me along on her quest for high school popularity. If I’d been a “good friend” to my divorced coworker then I’d have been invited to her second wedding. But would my life have been enriched by high school popularity? Adolescence is when I began my journey of rejecting social norms and standards. Popularity would have only increased that pressure to conform.

So yeah, I’m a bad friend according to most people’s definitions. I’ll never be the one who throws parties or organizes lunch dates or shopping trips or whatever else normal people do together. If I’m invited to said events I’ll go and I’ll have fun and I’ll listen to others complain about whatever’s wrong with their spouses, (which seems to be THE topic of conversation no matter who I’m with), but I won’t commiserate, because there’s nothing wrong with my spouse. My best friend is amazeballs and so is our friendship.

music

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth tracking

I put a lot of thought into everything I do. Ok, well, maybe not everything. I don’t agonize over which body wash to use when I hop into the shower or give much consideration to which pajamas I will wear to lounge around the house each evening, but generally speaking, most of my actions are well thought out. Even though I didn’t agonize over that body wash, I did think about it. I bought the store brand because it was cheap and has the exact same ingredient list as the fancy one. And the reason it didn’t take me ages to choose my pajamas is because I have a formula for which ones I wear. It’s an algorithm based on cleanliness and coziness.

I love devising these algorithms for my life, setting up plans and routines, and then tracking their success. I even track everything I do. I downloaded an app called ATracker which I use to keep track of all my activities, from work to sleeping and everything in between. I first got the tracker to help motivate me to spend more time on my personal projects, and less time in front of the TV, but now I mostly use the tracker because it’s fun. I like being able to review my day/week/month/year and find out how much time I spend doing various things. One of the activities I track is picking outfits. Because I don’t just hop out of bed each morning and throw on whatever’s convenient, oh no, I put careful consideration into everything I wear.

I organize my outfits primarily based on weather – which is one of the reasons I also obsessively keep track of the forecast – but also on colour, style, mood, and what I’ve recently worn. Every morning, after I get dressed, I take a selfie to document my outfit and then put these pics into an album on my iPad, so I can quickly access every outfit I’ve worn that year. This way I avoid duplicating an outfit too often. These albums also serve as outfit inspiration, as there exist so many possible combinations of my clothing items that I often forget ideas, and even forget what I own. When I bought my most recent condo, I insisted on having a dressing room which serves as an immense walk-in closet, where I can see all my clothes, organized by colour, which helps in visualizing outfits. Some might ask why I put so much time and effort (and money?) into such a thing, noting that it seems frivolous at best, and an utter waste of time at worst. But again, for me, it’s fun. And I’ve reached a point where not doing it seems weird.

Other things I diligently track are my exercise and diet. I use an app called MyFitnessPal for that. I started using it about three years ago when I wanted to get a bit more fit, and I figured it would help motivate me to work out and eat healthier. It has worked fantastically in this regard, but like my time tracker, I mostly use it at this point because I’m compelled to. I just can’t not. A while back I got bored with all the food logging and thought about taking a break, but I couldn’t stand the idea of not having a ledger of this information. Being able to look back at these stats on my life is very interesting to me.

time-well-spent

I guess what it comes down to is that I really love statistics. I’ve never been overly fond of math, so when I needed to take a stats course at University I was worried. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised to find stats fascinating! I still track a lot of stats at my paid job, even though I don’t work in the data department anymore, simply because it’s interesting to me. So much so that I find it a bit weird when others aren’t similarly fascinated.

Most people, when they find out about this obsessive tracking, are shocked, and perhaps even appalled. They can’t imagine spending so much time doing such a thing. And it does, indeed, take time. My significant other jokes that it’s all well and good for me to track what I do, but he’d be curious to know how much time I spend just tracking. So I added planning to my list of tracked activities, which includes any time I spend inputting or analyzing data, as well as the time I spend mapping it out, such as on the hard-copy agenda I also log information into, because sometimes it’s nice to have a tangible visual of things. So I can tell you with certainty that I’ve spent roughly twelve hours this past year just tracking all this stuff. But that number is likely much higher since I don’t track multi-tasking, and if I’m moving while planning, then that counts as working out.

When I tell my S.O. tells people about my life stats they admit that they too would love to have such data about their own lives, but they don’t want to do the work of gathering such information. I always agree that they are correct in believing it would be too much work. So far I’ve never met anyone that I think would enjoy this tracking the way I do. I’m sure such people exist though. I mean, the app wasn’t invented specifically for me. So what do you think? Are you a kindred spirit? Do you want to track your time so obsessively? Or am I wasting my time?

I’m not a caregiver

When we were ten years old, my best friend’s father died, and I did the worst thing anyone can do in that situation: I made it about me.

We’ll call this friend Genevieve, as that’s how I refer to her in my “this day in” posts. I’d actually always been a little bit afraid of her father, so when he died I had mixed feelings. I felt horrible for Genevieve of course, but I felt some degree of relief for myself, though thankfully I never admitted this to her. At my twelfth birthday party, a few of my guests let me know that Genevieve was huddled in a corner, crying. I went over to her and found out that some of the other kids had been talking about their fathers, and it had made her sad. She told me she felt stuck because she couldn’t talk to her mother about this great loss they’d suffered, as every time she tried, her mother would burst into tears. Obviously, I should have offered to be Genevieve’s sounding board. I should have told her that whenever she felt sad, or whenever she wanted to talk, she should come to me. But I didn’t do this. I didn’t do anything helpful. I sat dumbfounded and tried to think of something to say. The best I could come up with was something along the lines of how when her father died it made me think maybe my father could die, and that made me sad.  I mean… ????? As soon as I said it, I knew it was wrong. I was taking her grief and making it about me. And the worst part is I didn’t even truly feel that way. I simply didn’t know what to say, because I’m just not good at consoling people, or taking care of them. I’m not a caregiver.

I actually think I’m a pretty good listener, and I’m good at giving advice, but equally good at noticing when people don’t actually want advice, but just want a sounding board, or just want someone to agree with them. (Not that I always accommodate this wish since I’m honest to a fault). But I am absolutely horrible at taking care of people. This comes to light whenever the boyfriend gets sick. When I’m ill he’s amazing and becomes a sort of super-caregiver. He gets me buckets so I can vomit from the comfort of our bed, and he washes up any puke that might have missed the mark. I can’t even count all the bodily fluids he’s washed off of me and various surfaces in our condo. But when he gets sick, I’m useless. I want to help, but I just don’t know what to do. When people really need me, I freeze.

when-im-sick

Boyfriend suggests this is a result of the way we were raised. When he was about six years old, his mother fell ill. So ill that she became bed-ridden. He and his sister grew up taking care of her, nay, being forced to take care of her, and their house. I’ve read enough articles about caregiver burnout to know that growing up in this way must have taken quite a toll and in some ways, Boyfriend is still traumatised by his childhood. For instance, he’s a great cook but refuses to do so because he associates cooking with his mother berating him for incompetently prepared meals. Yet he is also a product of his programming and can’t help but jump to action when someone he cares about needs him.

I, on the other hand, was never expected to care for anyone when I was young. Quite the contrary, as a kid I was often the one in need of help. I was a somewhat sickly kid, getting constant nosebleeds and frequent colds. I remember one time staying home from school and vomiting all over the couch. Then I did what any child would do in that situation: nothing. I walked away from the sofa and waited for my mother to get home and clean it up. Yes, I was left home alone as a sick child. It was the ’80s and that was fine back then, but also speaks to a certain level of neglect that was normal in my household. My siblings and I were never abused or neglected in any physical way – we always had food on the table and a roof over our heads – but we were never coddled, or offered much in the way of emotional support. I never thought it was weird because it’s all I’d ever known, but a few people over the years have commented on how oddly cold and distant my family is. An ex once complained that my father and brother were emotionally stunted (he actually used a much more vulgar term that I’ll spare you) and I’ve often been accused of being a bitch big ol’ meany pants. Perhaps this is why I was so useless towards Genevieve when she needed me most. I just don’t understand how to help other people, either physically or emotionally.

As I’ve gotten older, and my self-awareness has increased, I’ve gotten better. I’m a much more competent listening board for Genevieve now that we’re adults, but I’m still not the person who offers hugs and hand-holds. I still struggle with what to do when people are in distress, mostly out of a sense of awkwardness. My social anxiety contributes to this inability to help, but I think I’ve also, just naturally, got a relatively low level of empathy. I’m no sociopath but I’m rarely moved by the troubles of others. Based on the definitions provided here, I’d say I’m capable of sympathy, but not much empathy.

Boyfriend actually admires my lack of empathy. He offers the following analogy of evidence of the folly of empathy: If someone is drowning in a raging river, jumping into that river is empathy, resulting in two people drowning, whereas compassion is throwing that person a life preserver while remaining dry on the riverbank. We can only help others if we maintain a certain emotional distance from their woes. So fine, I’ve got the emotional distance thing covered. But what of compassion? Am I doing a good enough job of helping others in need? Or should I work harder to strengthen my ability to help others? I guess if I’ve written this blog post I feel a certain inadequacy in this regard. But I also must admit that for the sake of making my point, I’ve exaggerated how bad I am, and how good Boyfriend is when it comes to taking care of each other. He’s been known to kick me out of bed for coughing too much, and I’ve been known to make him soup. But still, perhaps I need to try harder the next time someone needs me. But on the other hand… eww, sick people are gross.

I don’t travel well

I am a broken shell of a human. Bitter and sickly, and an utter Scrooge when it comes to stepping outside of my house for more than an hour, or further than a block away. But I wish it wasn’t so. Like most, I like to travel, in the sense that visiting new and different places is interesting and stimulating. Unfortunately, I’m not good at travelling. I don’t mean that I’m bad at organizing trips, I mean that I’m too physically fragile to ever really be able to fully enjoy vacationing. I’m not as frail as I was as a child, but I’m still, it seems, more prone to illness than the average Joe anytime I’m confronted with climate change. My body seems to be wholly incapable of adapting to differing environments.

I live in Montreal, Canada, and according to official officialness we have a humid continental climate with severe winters, no dry season, warm summers, and strong seasonality. This is all true except I would change the word “warm” to “hot as hell” to classify our summers, and I call bullshit on this “no dry season” nonsense. Ok, technically, we never experience a season without precipitation but our winters feel very arid for someone with extremely dry skin.

My body has ostensibly adapted to this climate, but I still struggle with nature’s animosity, as my body is extremely sensitive. My eyes are prone to infection, my skin will break out in eczema from the slightest provocation, and will burn after literally five minutes in the sun. I’ve got every seasonal allergy imaginable as well as allergies to all mammals with fur, and even with no allergens in sight I’ve got sinus issues. Anytime I move from indoors to outdoors and vice-versa my sinuses are triggered. In fact, EVERYTHING triggers my sinuses. Eating triggers nasal drip. Working out triggers it. Standing up triggers it. Leaning over triggers it. Reciting poetry triggers it. But I’m used to living this way and have more or less adapted (though my S.O. will tell you I haven’t learned not to complain about it!) But when I travel all of these problems are exacerbated. When my body is confronted with a different climate than I’m used to, it rebels, with snot. And thanks to my super fun anemia, I also have a weak immune system so I’m pretty much guaranteed to catch a cold no matter where I go.

When I was a kid I really enjoyed airplane rides, I suppose because of the novelty. But now airplanes fill me with dread because they are literally just viral incubators in the sky. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a trip and not gotten sick. I can’t blame the planes though, I get sick on road trips too. I get sick no matter where I go. I get sick in Europe, I get sick in the States, I even get sick just going to friends’ houses.

When I was younger, I think I felt like there was nobility in this suffering. Or perhaps I was simply ashamed of my own fragility and felt like it was my duty to suffer in silence so as to accommodate others. But as I get older, I grow less tolerant of this suffering. I’ve mostly reached a point where I’m unwilling to go to certain places because I know they will be lessons in enduring hardship. I still go to my mother’s and my sister-in-laws’ for holidays but I won’t go just to hang out because they have cats and dogs. I refuse to feel bad for not staying at the houses of friends with pets. Stop trying to guilt me into spending the night. When I was young I would put up with other people’s allergen-rich homes because I was poor and polite. Now I don’t give a shit. If you’re insulted by me staying in a hotel, so be it. I will not hang out in your cat-infested house of horrors!

allergies

And I’m done with Airbnb! And regular B&Bs for that matter. Regardless of how nice these places appear to be, they are inevitably crawling with something that triggers all manner of runny noses and itchy eyes. And I will no longer tolerate that “Oh, it’s just allergies” attitude from myself or others. These supposedly innocuous allergies have gotten so bad that they are indistinguishable from a cold. It’s now happened to me more than once that I became so headachy, so runny-nosed, so lethargic and fatigued that I was convinced I had fallen ill, only to have this illness miraculously cured the moment I got home and took a shower.

So even though I’d like to travel, because there are a lot of places in the world I’d really like to see, I don’t always have the energy to face the inevitable onslaught of pain and discomfort that will follow. This is why I’m done with all those listicles and pins advocating the ten places you simply must travel to before you turn 30! (Meanwhile, I’m 40 so according to society I’ve already missed the boat). Apparently, you just haven’t lived until you’ve backpacked across Europe and stayed in these amazing hostels. But I can’t stay in hostels! I can’t even stay in chic hotels! I can only stay in 5-star chain hotels that bleach the fuck out of their sheets and have climate control in their rooms. Stop making me feel bad for not going to the back streets of such and such city. I can’t even go to the front streets of such and such city. I can barely handle the front streets of my city! (Thanks, smokers). And stop asking me where I’m going when I take a vacation. I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to stay locked up inside my condo for two weeks straight because those two weeks without any contact with the natural atmosphere will be the most comfortable weeks of my life.

*Update in lockdown, 2020. Turns out I don’t get allergies if I never go outside. It’s amazing. For the first time in my life, I know what it is to breathe properly and it’s a revelation. I will never leave my house again.

Not so big on the smalls

The movie Big came out in 1988, which means I was twelve when I saw it. Actually, I was probably thirteen since I would have likely seen it when it came out on video. I distinctly remember disliking the movie because, though it was fun, I felt it was disrespectful towards children and was offended on behalf of myself and all my fellow kids. The main character was my age and I felt Tom Hanks’ portrayal of a child was horrendously off the mark. I remember reading reviews of the film and being appalled that everyone thought Hanks’ performance was incredible and that he’d perfectly captured the essence of a twelve-year-old. What baloney, I thought! No child of that age would ever behave so immaturely! No kid would act like an idiot when riding in a limo or be so obtuse as to spit out food at a cocktail party. How outrageous!

But then I saw the movie again as an adult and was highly impressed by Hanks’s performance. Children are indeed, exactly that annoying and immature. What a difference adulthood makes.

I did a lot of babysitting when I was a teenager, and I was a favourite of my neighbours’ kids. I couldn’t quite match their energy levels but I enjoyed our games just as much as they did. When I was in my twenties I worked at a children’s library and interacted with children all day, sometimes leading them in storytime or singalongs. And I enjoyed it! In spite of the basically non-existent salary, I thought it was a great job.

Sometime during this era, I remember having a conversation with a friend who was denouncing children, and how awful it was that they were allowed in public spaces such as the restaurant we were currently in. I took her to task, passionately defending children and their right to inhabit public spaces. I don’t remember exactly what I said but I do remember my friend’s reaction, which was surprise that I felt so strongly about the issue. I have a history of coming across as a rather negative person so I guess she assumed I hated kids as much as she did. Turns out all she had to do was wait a couple decades. Because today, she is the proud mommy of a little baby boy, and I absolutely despise those little snot-buckets.

This drastic change in opinion has taken place rather recently but was also somewhat gradual. When I was in my late twenties and early thirties I was seriously thinking about having children of my own. I was never that person who always longed to have kids, but I never dismissed the idea either. It was at this point that my sister had a baby and so did a few friends, and I started to receive encouragement from all sides to join the club. I did a lot of research about pregnancy, and child-rearing, and still could not decide whether or not I wanted kids. I liked the idea of passing on my genes (defective as they are) but wasn’t too thrilled about how much work it would be.

Even though I’d always been good with kids, I’d never liked babies. When my then-boyfriend and I visited his sister, who’d just delivered a baby, in the hospital, his mother insisted I hold the parasite, no doubt hoping this would trigger some maternal instinct in me. It had the opposite effect. I was disgusted and repelled. When my nephew was born I was flooded with feelings of love for him but wasn’t really interested in taking care of him. Babysitting him was boring at best, and exhausting and time-consuming at worst.

I broke up with my then-boyfriend when I was around thirty-three, and started going out with my current boyfriend. He and I were both in similar places: devastated by our breakups and unsure of what we wanted from life/relationships going forward. He, like me, has a history of being well-liked by children. He was the “fun” uncle to his niece and nephew. But as he and I have grown closer, and developed our two-person rhythm, our uncertainty towards children has grown into antipathy. During our relationship, I turned thirty-five, the age at which a pregnancy becomes “geriatric” and high-risk. Being on the sickly side, I’d always told myself that if I didn’t have children by that age, I never would, as I’d never wanted to risk my health just to have a baby. But there I was, on the wrong side of my thirties, wondering if I should extend my deadline. But now, only five years later, I’ve wholeheartedly decided that the answer is no, no kids for me.

I just can’t stand them anymore. Whenever I’m forced to interact with friends’ kids I always find it a loathsome experience, mostly because I’m so bad at it. I used to be so good with kids but now I’m just awful. I barely have the energy to even acknowledge their existence, much less interact on their level. Recently I yelled at my nephew when he was being bratty and he asked me why I was so angry. I was taken aback because it was such a valid question. Why indeed was I so angry? The kid’s only eleven! I can’t expect him to be perfectly rational all the time. Why did I lose my temper?!

So it’s a chicken or egg situation. I don’t know if my distaste for kids has turned me into someone who can’t relate to them or if as I age I become less able to relate and therefore more hostile towards them. I also wonder if it’s a reverse psychology situation, wherein I’ve convinced myself that I hate kids because I’ve never had them. If I wasn’t forty years old, and over the kid having hill, would I still enjoy the grubby little virus-factories? And then there’s the societal pressure to join the mommy club. My boyfriend faces parental pressure as well, but it’s nothing like what women go through. I’m over 40 and yet people still ask when/if I’m having kids. Does this line of questioning ever end? Am I turning into a hardcore child-free advocate simply to counteract the overwhelming pressure that society places on me to conform? Or is it overcompensation for a latent desire to fulfill the most basic instinct of procreation?

My boyfriend is even more hardcore anti-child than I am, to the point where he often tries to convince others that a child-free lifestyle is superior to a child-burdened one. I’ve accused him of overcompensating in this area, perhaps in an effort to truly convince himself. After all, if someone is fully comfortable with their beliefs, do they really feel the need to convert others?

Am I satisfied with the way things have turned out? Or do I mourn the old me, the one who could play with kids and actually enjoy herself? I certainly don’t want to be hateful. But on the other hand, eww, kids are gross. Keep those fuckers away from me.

Am I a bitch?

I’ve already explored whether or not I’m a hater and concluded that I must be an asshole if people perceive me as such. So I’m certainly a bitch in the sense that people have called me a bitch, and many people think of me as a cold-hearted Wednesday Addams type.

But is it fair to refer to me as a bitch? What have I done that is so bitchy? What does bitch even mean? Literally, it means a female dog, and apparently, back in the 14th century, it meant a woman with high sexual desire, as in a “bitch in heat”. Today it tends to be used as an all-purpose insult for women. Any woman who is bossy, or uppity, or assertive, or daring to behave in ways that are traditionally considered masculine, is called a bitch. And those sexist connotations are why I take such issue with the word. Calling a woman a bitch means she’s acting like a man in a way that is unacceptable in mainstream society and calling a man a bitch is calling him a woman, which is, of course, the gravest of insults.

So I do bristle when I’m called a bitch, even if it’s usually meant jokingly, perhaps because it is meant jokingly. Why is it funny to call a woman a bitch? But there’s also a part of me that embraces the label, as many feminists do, in a “taking it back” kind of way, because a bitch is a woman in control of her life, and bitches get stuff done.

But there’s also the concern that people are calling me a bitch because they think I’m mean. As I’ve discussed, I often come across more negatively than I intend. But once again, I’m forced to wonder if a man behaving in similar ways would be judged so harshly for such behaviour. When a man acts dismissively, it’s the other person’s fault for wasting his time, but when I do it I’m not being open to other people’s opinions. When a man looks at his phone instead of chatting with people, he’s considered busy, but when I do it I’m unfriendly. Could I stand to be more empathetic to others? Sure. But so could most men who have swallowed our society’s programming on how to be successfully male. Why don’t we have a nasty word for men who are bossy, assertive, aggressive, dismissive, and unfriendly? I guess there’s the word “dick”, which is often used as an insult towards men. And that word is indeed problematic because it implies that penises are inherently bad. I take similar issue with the word “cunt” being used as an insult. And I’m especially annoyed by the word “pussy” being used to mean weak, while “balls” denote courage. How does that make sense? When men are kicked in the testicles they act as though the world has ended, while vaginas regularly excrete one’s uterine lining in a rather painful process, and women just get on with it. And yet women are the weak ones?

Now allow me to return to the word “bitch”, and its casual overuse. I especially hate the insult “son of a bitch” because it doesn’t insult the person it’s meant to be insulting. Instead, it insults his mother. I still, for reasons we won’t go into here, watch Supernatural, even though it is deeply problematic in its treatment of both women and men (I think largely due to poor writing resulting from ignorant sexism, rather than malevolent misogyny), but they throw around the term “son of a bitch” like it’s a meaningless adjective. But it’s a very loaded term. It implies that the person at fault is the mother of the villain, rather than the villain himself. It lets men off the hook entirely and places all blame on women. If you think I’m overreacting to a simple word, then you’ve probably used that word before, without fully considering how hurtful it can be. Or you knew exactly how hurtful it would be and your intention was to hurt, in which case you’re the bitch big ol’ meany pants.