October 12, 2018

The unbearable sadness of home

There have been two instances in the past year where I have seriously questioned whether or not we chose the right neighbourhood in which to live.

The first of these instances came a few months ago, after the recent provincial election, when I learned that 29% of my neighbours voted for someone who was open and loud in his hatred for people like me. It was a time when 29% of my neighbours told me, whether they realized they were saying it or not, that they hated me and wanted to deny me my own existence.

The next instance came last night, also during an election-related event.

I had the pleasure of organizing and hosting an all-candidates meeting for our ward’s candidates in the upcoming election, and the room was packed. I was, at first, heartened by just how engaged the people in my community were, heartened by how much they care.

The opening question of the night, as has been the custom in all the all-candidates meetings held by Women & Politics, the Urban League of London, and the London Community Foundation, was about inclusion and belonging. It asked:

The 2018 Vital Signs report has identified that many in our community feel like they don’t belong, especially newcomers, marginalized groups and the Indigenous community. What do you believe needs to be done to ensure everyone feels that they belong?”

This is an important question—perhaps one of the most important questions we should all ask ourselves in our current fractious world.

This is also where I was reminded of just how disappointing—and downright exclusionary and racist—my neighbourhood really is.

Not only did a few of the candidates come out and boldly say I don’t think that’s accurate, I think everyone in this city feels like they belong,” or some version of this isn’t an important thing to think about, we should be talking about construction and traffic,” but the murmurs from the audience confirmed the sentiment: people in my neighbourhood don’t care about those they exclude.

As the night went on, I became more and more disenchanted with the people in the room—candidates and audience—as questions about indigenous relations were dismissed as, we already do a good enough job dealing with indigenous people” and questions about poverty were argued away as, we need to help poor people but what’s more important is how to turn Oxford Street from two lanes into four.” These responses were met with loud applause by the audience; responses that tried to talk about housing first, systemic inequality, and pervasive racism were met with groans.

At one point in the night, a woman in the audience muttered that indigenous territory recognition was pointless and who cares about them anyways,” and another man in the audience audibly sighed that, the people in this neighbourhood don’t care about people like that so let’s stop talking about it,” when the conversation turned to marginalized populations.

It was very telling that I was the only person of colour in the room of almost 150 residents. It was clear by the conversations and by the reactions that a large majority of the room had no interest in discussing how to make the city better for everyone—they were only there to ask how they could further mobilize their already-sizeable privilege to make the city better for themselves.

I thought the 29% was an anomaly, a product of a particularly vitriolic provincial election campaign. I’m learning now that it wasn’t an aberration, but instead a clear indication of how so many of the people around me think and live.

I love my home, and I love the life I have carved out here in Byron. Despite all that, I came home with an unbearable sadness; a sadness that comes from knowing that so many people around me are actively excluding those that don’t look or live like them.

I have a lingering sadness now, when I think of my home, because I know so many of my neighbours don’t care about the betterment of others, but would rather make things worse for others in order to make things better for themselves.

A poem for you this breezy October afternoon, published by Lucille Clifton in 2004:

the angels have no wings
they come to you wearing
their own clothes

they have learned to love you
and will keep coming

unless you insist on wings

I’m learning to not always insist on wings.

A few things to read and explore:

Fourteen people have sent me this article about snail mail in the past week. I guess my habit of regularly writing letters to my friends seems to resonate with them; for that, I am glad.

Whereas emails are something to rush through on the way to Inbox Zero, cards and letters are something to cherish; to set on a desk, to stick to a fridge, to bind into a book for future generations.

In On overworking, disposability, and feeling (un)worthy of kindness,” Lorraine Chun asks a very important question that weighs on my mind every day: What does it take for people of colour to see themselves as they are?”

I wonder what it takes for people of colour to see themselves as they are. I wonder why it is so difficult. I took up a hobby of taking portraits for friends a few years ago. I consider it a privilege to photograph them, people of colour who are kind and beautiful humans. But it is bittersweet, watching their delighted expressions as I let them preview some of the photos on my camera. Often, they are surprised to see their photos, saying something like: Wow, thank you for making me feel beautiful. As much as it is heartwarming, it also makes me angry. You were always beautiful! I want to scream—not at them, but at the world who conditioned them to think otherwise.

My favourite television show recently is The Good Place, and I’m excited to jump into the third season as soon as I can. This profile of the show by Sam Anderson captures much of what makes the series great. This piece on why The Good Place keeps rebooting itself is also a great reflection on the delights of the show. This conversation with series creator Michael Schur makes me want to meet him and learn more about his creative process and how his mind works; the fact that he’s a fan of the Dan LeBatard Show makes him even more endearing.

Everything Heather Havrilesky writes is excellent, but this essay on gurus and artists is everything I needed to read, this month.

When the gurus on your block outnumber the tradespeople or teachers or artists, surely that’s a sign that the world has lost its footing. Because even as the guru seduces you with his wicked poetry of self-actualization, each lesson is filthy with reminders of your relative shortcomings. […]

The guru is not an expert in happiness or inner peace, although he plays one on the internet. He is not a role model in the realm of fighting injustice or saving the world from disease or throwing his body onto the battlefield. He is a champion of the self. […]

In many ways, the artist might be seen as the polar opposite of the guru. The artist (or at least some imaginary ideal of the artist) leans into reality—the dirt and grime of survival, the sullen, grim folds of the psyche, the exquisite disappointments, the sour churn of rage, the smog of lust, the petty, uneven, disquieted moments that fall in between. The artist embraces ugliness and beauty with equal passion. The artist knows that this process is always, by its nature, inefficient. It is a slow effort without any promise of a concrete, external reward.

This essay by Yoni Appelbaum asserts that Americans aren’t practicing democracy anymore, and I can’t help but nod in agreement at much of the arguments. I can’t help but think that our rapid pace of the world is making the decline of democracy worse, a sentiment that is echoed in this essay on slowness by Lawrence Lessig:

It turns out, certain things humans can only do well if they do it slowly. Eating, cooking, reflecting, thinking, loving: These are the things we need to pace and pause. Culture needs that slowness and reflection. Politics needs it especially.

One of the things that makes me most sad about our upcoming municipal election is that a majority of debate isn’t about how to make transit more accessible for everyone, but instead on the existence of transit at all. (Seriously, how can so many people be against public transit?) This essay by Tricia Wood argues that public transit must make space for everyone, and it’s an obvious argument to me.

We need to think long and hard about any desire to shame people for small infractions, and how that desire might shape the way we discipline people’s behaviour. […]

What is gained by punishing someone who lacks $3.25 for the bus? It might be someone who has just been caught short, and it might be someone who needs to save $3.25 because they are poor.

Punishing poor people for being poor is truly shameful.

In praise of mediocrity:

But there’s a deeper reason, I’ve come to think, that so many people don’t have hobbies: We’re afraid of being bad at them. Or rather, we are intimidated by the expectation — itself a hallmark of our intensely public, performative age — that we must actually be skilled at what we do in our free time. Our hobbies,” if that’s even the word for them anymore, have become too serious, too demanding, too much an occasion to become anxious about whether you are really the person you claim to be.

Most people have read this already, but this story of how an ex-cop rigged McDonald’s Monopoly game and stole millions is worth reading if you haven’t already.

I know it doesn’t mean much, but the fact that I’m the same height as James Baldwin and Shirley Jackson makes me happy.

The Lancet Commission tells the world what those of who live with mental illness have been saying every day: The quality of mental health services is routinely worse than the quality of those for physical health.”

Some of the best meals I’ve had in my life were eaten solo, and still today, I am often found at a nice restaurant with nothing but a book—or in many cases, just my own thoughts—to keep me company. The best establishments know how to make a solo diner feel special, and I’m lucky to have found many of those around the world, now. (I’ve been mistaken for a good critic, by either restauranteurs or other diners, at least half a dozen times.)

Speaking of food criticism, I wrote a blog post last week about falling in love with food through words. It’s worth a read, if you haven’t checked it out just yet.

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