cultivating & crashing

an organic collection of notes, observations, and thoughts

Category: thoughts

The Mystics of Mile End

I am reading The Mystics of Mile End. I tried to finish it quickly so I could move on to something else because I didn’t like how it started. But between yesterday and today it got weird and picked up and now I am enjoying it. In it, a young woman is losing it after her father dies. She tries to understand kabbalah through a manuscript her father had just finished writing before he died, finding clues and symbols in everything she sees, most of which are not what she’s looking for, but it’s all still a mad journey in pursuit of the answers she needs.

Mike wrote to say he loved me because was getting on a small plane and he was a bit scared. For an hour and a half, while I read, he was Shrodinger’s cat, and there was nothing I could do about it but wait. Reading the book exaggerated the surreal nature of the wait.

It’s been several months — maybe years? — of having a very profane existence, and I suspect it is in large part due to the fact that I have been reading non-fiction. It’s fiction like this book, the kind that warps your feeling of reality, the immersive kind that distorts the myths pertaining to and sensations of what it’s like to be alive, that transport me to a space that I know so well that it is comforting, even as it is discomfiting. That distortion, that suspension of belief, has somehow been more constant in my life than any other part of it. The plasticity of the world around me has been such that I know that no place that I know is fully true. Not the perfect sunshine of San Diego, not the vast flatness of the Pampa, not the verdant humidity of Maryland, not the subzero overcast grey of Montreal winter. Not the ways I’ve felt over the course of my life, not the languages that I have spoken, not the way people are in the places I have been. Everything is relative and subject to change when you change the scenery, if you do something different, or even if you just wait long enough. But the sweet, seductive confounding of your senses, of your grasp on the world and what it’s about, that will always happen when you get caught up in any book, song, trip, movie, or story that you become engrossed in.

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Vulnerability

These past few days I’ve realized that I have passively considered myself marginalized for most of my life. When I lived at home, I was non-white (according to US standards), in an abusive home situation, low income, came from an uneducated family, I took care of younger siblings. As a student, I was struggling like mad to get over these things and also to make ends meet to be able to keep studying. I had been depressed and struggled emotional, and was unemployed and unable to provide for myself.

Suddenly, I find myself graduating and emerging into the real world with a new job and a new life. I realize I am now educated, not a visible minority, gainfully employed, emotionally stable, living with  supportive and loving partner, no messy family situation, taking care of only myself. I feel that I’ve left a vulnerable status and been accepted to a non-vulnerable status. It’s a strange transition, but a welcome one. I always knew I had a great deal of privilege relative to the rest of the world, but it was never such that it provided me enough stability to feel better off. Today, being better off is very palpable.

With this new phase of privilege comes greater responsibility to use it for good, and to help bring up those who are not here yet.

Terror

Last night we had a terrorist attack in Quebec City on a mosque, just a few days after Trump’s Muslim ban. Five people are dead and six are seriously injured after a shooting. And today it strikes me that I finally understand what terrorism feels like. I was living half an hour away from the Pentagon when September 11 happened, but I watched the events and observed the mourning in others the same way I did when it happened in Ankara or in Nice. This had nothing to do with me, those were not my people. Today, I am thinking of the acquaintances, roommates, and friends that woke up to the news that people like them had been killed for being who they are. These are my friends, my people, that have been attacked, and it is horrifying.

Turtle Island Reads

I attended the very first edition of Turtle Island Reads tonight at the Kahnawake Survival School, and it was really wonderful. Over the weekend I read Children of the Broken Treaty by Charlie Angus, and on Monday I found out that McGill was holding a week of events focused on First Nations people and issues, of which this event was a part.

We took the bus across Montreal, over the bridge to the South Shore, and into the Kahnawake reserve, which greated us with a painted boulder that read “THIS IS MOHAWK LAND”. We arrived at the school after driving on a road that cut through forest and was lined with stores with names like “Four Winds Trading Post”, “Little Chiefs” and “Big Bear”. A car in the parking lot of the school had a bumper sticker of some school whose sports teams were the “Mohawks”, only they actually are. The school’s insignia was an enormous line drawing of an eagle with a large circle around it that bore the school’s name.

The event felt incredibly exciting because it was the first edition of Turtle Island Reads and a historical moment for indigenous literature in Canada. It felt like a moment of recognition, validation, and appreciation for the indigenous experience in Canada was unfolding before our eyes. And while this was exciting for me to be a part of it, for some people it was far more poignant. The woman who was sitting next to me was the mother of a former student of the school. She cried quietly as she listened to the presenters speak of how pivotal it was for each of them to read books about indigenous people, to hear their own stories told, and how much they wished this could have been something they had had earlier in their lives.

While the centuries-old problems between the Canadian government and the First Nations communities are not even close to being well addressed, I think Canada is experiencing a watershed moment in its history with its indigenous people. I look forward to watching the story develop.

Turtle Island Reads

L’intelligence

L’intelligence ce n’est pas ce que l’on sait, mais ce que l’on fait quand on ne sait pas.

Jean Piaget

 

Lest our measurements of intelligence be confounded by knowledge!

I find this really interesting, because he is not stating what he would consider intelligent to do. Strict epi would have you say you don’t know and back away from the problem, but we need to make decisions all the time for problems on which we don’t have data. So does that mean prudence or daring?

Slow, check. Working on steady.

It took me four hours and thirty-odd minutes to write two paragraphs with a total of five citations. This is progress!

I used to think grad student stereotypes were grossly exaggerated and only applied to sissies. And so this is the year of Learning To Eat My Words And Not Judge.

For next time I panic and don’t work: it’s not difficult to write. It just takes time and moderate concentration. Just follow the directions, make sure to check off all the boxes and it will get done, slowly but surely.

Watershed

Bought expensive salt today. Feels like a turning point in my life. Brb, figuring out how to use finishing salt while still being punk rock.

Edit: expensive salt is an emperor with no clothing. I guess it goes to show you can sometimes turn around after a watershed moment. Or that one should be more judicious about labeling events as such.

today we’re back in northern north america for the first time in a
month, and the difference is stark.

yesterday we were in a country that fights to survive every day, today
we arrived to a country that works.

yesterday there were places to eat everywhere (almost chaotically
so), and always something I wanted to eat, but the infrastructure was
in shambles. today the infrastructure was pristine but the food
choices were mcdonalds and tim hortons.

a week ago i visited a house that is built on 8 ft stilts so the
waters that rise every night dont flood the house. its source of water
is a water tank that sits on the roof, but the bathroom still
had a bidet. today, lavish washrooms without a single cockroach but there is no bidet to be found. (I don’t understand the priorities here:
what are you trying to keep clean, the bottoms of your shoes or your
bottom?)

yesterday there were brazilians, bolivians, mexicans, colombians and
lots of tourists everywhere but none could be called visible
minorities. today there are indians, natives, blacks, and lots of
assorted “white” people that look very different from argentine
“white” people. these are french, polish, english,
ukrainian, scottish mixes. many of the ones yesterday had dramatic
iberian and mediterranean features.

yesterday the hair colour predominantly dark. today is a sea of blond hair.

architecture yesterday varied between classic parisian and shanties.
sculpted and polished marble, lots of tin. today it’s large
box buildings that are efficient and sturdy and brutal on the eyes.

yesterday the news was about the ongoing prison escape drama of three
drug traffickers connected to the head of the cabinet of the outgoing
government. today was a full-page obituary to a hard hitter of the
stratford theatre scene.

yesterday was women and men of all ages casually carrying infants in
one arm while holding the hand of another. today I have yet to see a
baby, much less hear one crying. there abortion is illegal and having
children is no big deal. here having a child is a big deal, and the
role of reproductive literacy and rights mean a higher proportion of
those children are wanted.

yesterday it was conversations with literally everyone: the doorman,
the lady in line, the taxi driver, the shopkeeper that sees you
walking by in front of his store, the young children of distant
relatives. everyone who talks is super excited to do so (especially
when they’re angry). today you can walk around in a bubble of peace
and silence, like a bunch of monks walking around.

yesterday it was flat expanses next to striking mountains, and lots of
palms and trees in the balmy summer sun, today it’s lakes and
rivers along long stretches of farmland blanketed in quiet snow.

in montreal we hear rap blasting from car speakers, in buenos aires
we hear cumbia.

glad to come home after having visited home.

Things I’ve learned this year

As 2015 draws to an end, here are some things I have finally learned in the past little chunk of life. Most of these are super obvious, pero más sabe el diablo por viejo que por diablo.

  • When making sharp turns on your bike, you’re supposed to extend the leg that is on the side toward which you are turning. For example, if turning right, lean right and extend your right leg.
  • Cotton really does suck to sweat in. This year I befriended wool and synthetics.
  • Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you can’t line dry your clothes anymore — just do it inside. No idea why this had not occurred to me until I read that Germans do so.
  • When in a bad mood, listen to metal.
  • Once you have an emergency stash, do NOT save money unless you’ve paid off your loans (unless your savings interest exceeds your loans interest, which is highly unlikely). This is basic math.
  • It is more enjoyable to have fewer things. Not sure why.

Sexual assault prevention, The politics of —

From the Globe and Mail: RCT shows that self-defense courses lead to less sexual assaults.

Last week I took one such 12-hour course offered through McGill, and I have nothing but good things to say about it. It is difficult to explain just how empowering it is to feel — and have seen in action — many new tools and options that you have when someone is trying to get you to do something you don’t want to do. Or, a bit more morbidly, to realize just how much pain and damage you can inflict on someone who is a threat to your safety, no matter how big or strong they are. From losing the fear of seeming impolite, to firmly yelling “No” while delivering a knee to the groin, there are many ways to stop a coercive situation that every girl and woman should be familiar with.

It may seem politically incorrect to suggest that teaching women to defend themselves is an important way to reduce assaults, but I would suggest that empowering women is part and parcel of dismantling the idea that assaults will end when perpetrators stop attacking their would-be victims. What if those supposed “victims” were seen as too dangerous to target? What if attacking a female represented a tricky and high-stakes risk to the assailant? What if we played in such a way that the field were more equal? When it came to education, we had no compunctions about offering all those weapons to women so that they may be intellectual equals of men. Why not extend that logic to our physical bodies? If we made a priority of showing girls and women just how unhelpless they are, then no one would think of us that way, starting with ourselves.