Where I spray-paint my thoughts…


Six Possible Things Before Friday: A Thank-You Note to Feminism

Another day, another argument with a conservative friend on social media. The recurring themes of 2017 — outrage and polarization — continue into 2018, and hopefully most of us have learned to pick our battles so we don’t self-immolate on a pyre of righteous indignation. Because you certainly could; there’s more than enough out there to be indignant about.

But there’s one battle I will always fight, and that’s anytime a woman says “I’m not a feminist; I don’t want to be considered a feminist; I don’t respect the feminist movement.” Mind you, if women say that in a private conversation, in their own homes, that’s fine. But if they say it anywhere in a public space, if their words are uttered aloud in public or published in paper or online, then yeah, I’m gonna tangle with them. Because they are standing on a platform that generations of feminists fought for them to have, and using that very platform to deride the movement that made it possible for them to be there.

I’ll try to get a couple of caveats out of the way as quickly as possible: Yes, you can live your life however you want. If you want to reject feminism and live the life of a typical woman in an earlier century — focused on home life, submissive to your husband or father, choosing not to pursue higher education or work outside the home — you certainly have every right to make that choice. Your actions are consistent with your beliefs.

For that matter, if you are a feminist and you want to make home and family your main focus, that’s cool too. I chose to quit work for seven years to stay home with my kids when they were small; I believe feminism is about creating a world where every woman can make the choices that are best for her (and her family if she has one). My issue is specifically with women who enjoy the advantages of feminism while distancing themselves from the movement, or outright repudiating it.

Also, I don’t have to agree with every statement every feminist on the planet has ever made in order to call myself a feminist. Feminists can and do disagree with each other. As with any “ism,” there are real and important debates within feminism. But the fact that I might disagree with other feminists about how to achieve the goal of equality for every woman (which is what feminism is; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise) does not mean I am not a feminist, anymore than my intense disagreement with Franklin Graham or Jerry Falwell Jr makes me not a Christian.

Feminism is about equality, plain and simple. If you say “I don’t believe in feminism; I believe men and women should be equal,” you’re talking gibberish. To continue the analogy from my last paragraph, it’s like saying, “I don’t believe in Christianity; I just believe that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the World.” Oooo…kayyyy, you can make up your own names for things if you want, but you’ve just described the exact thing you claim not to believe in.

So, why am I so proud to be a feminist, and why will I always go to battle with any woman who enjoys equal rights but claims not to be a feminist? Because I’m grateful for feminism. I’m grateful for the things it allows me to do. Here are just a few of them — things I’ve been able to do this week, Jan. 28 – Feb. 3, 2018, here in St. John’s, Newfoundland, because of feminism:

1. I went to work. At my job (teaching at an adult-education centre), I’m one of the better paid instructors. Why? Because I have two master’s degrees (one in Education and one in my teachable area, English), and over 20 years of experience. At various times in the past:

Without feminists, I wouldn’t have gotten my university degrees, or been allowed to continue in my job, or been paid based on my experience and qualifications rather than my gender. I’m grateful for trailblazers like Grace Annie Lockhart, who in 1875 because the first woman in the British Empire to earn a bachelor’s degree (and to Mount Allison University in New Brunswick for giving it to her). I’m grateful to everyone who ever fought for pay equity legislation and anti-discrimination laws that make it illegal to pay a woman less than a man for doing the same job.

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What? No Christmas Post This Year!

In past years I have gotten pretty creative, even philosophical, about Christmas. This year … well now. No post for the entire month of December. You know what I did in December? I released a new book, and our family adopted a new dog. If you follow this blog you know our beloved old dog Max passed away at the end of October, and I had a dog-shaped void in my heart. Just before Christmas, Gal came along, a one-year-old husky-mix shelter dog from Labrador, and she has done a wonderful job filling that void.

With all that going on — well, we did have Christmas, in that we had presents and a tree and Christmas dinner, but a lot of things, like Christmas cards and letters, fell by the wayside. New book and new dog just a couple of weeks before Christmas kept us pretty busy, but those were both good things, and honestly, the planet keeps on spinning even if I don’t write a clever, creative Christmas blog post or send out a Christmas letter.

So, life rolls in into 2018 for our family. Jason and I are now the parents of two young adults, practically. Emma will graduate from high school in 2018 and, according to her current plan, move to Nova Scotia for university. Chris is still here in town, but living with friends, hoping for his big break in the music industry. We are loving them the best we can but recognizing that most of our work here is done. 

2018 will be the next step in this gradual shift towards being a couple with grown-up kids instead of a family of four living at home. Seems appropriate that we have a new dog (and some new hobbies like snowshoeing, which Gal, Labrador snowdog that she is, enjoys doing with us!) as we move into new phases of our lives. 

Whatever phase of your life you’re in now … may 2018 bring you blessings.

I’ll be back with more blog posts in the new year now that things have settled down a little!


To Wit: To Woo (Part Two)

Last week I wrote about wooing – that process where you fall in love with someone who isn’t exactly repelled by you, doesn’t give you a definite “No,” but also doesn’t see the same future in the relationship you do – and you convince them, by your patient and faithful devotion, to fall in love with you too. It’s a process that has a long an honourable history in literature, folklore, mythology and pop culture.

But it’s also a process that has become somewhat suspect and tarnished by the fact that, so often, men have used “wooing” as an excuse to cover everything from stalking, to refusing to let a woman leave a relationship, right up to rape and murder (for the man who believes that if he can’t have her, no-one else should). 

I said in that last post that I was wooed and won, when I was young, and I still believe there’s a place, within a relationship of mutual respect where you truly view the other person as a person, for a little wooing. A little courtship. A little “winning her heart.” Not every guy who sets out to get the girl is, in my view, a boor who can’t take no for an answer. My husband certainly wasn’t. 

But what about the flip side – the woman who falls in love with a man who’s not as interested? Unrequited love can strike people of any gender (and of course I’m talking here within the paradigm of heterosexual relationships, but there’s lots of unrequited love going around in same-sex relationships too).

For most of my young life, during my high school and college years, I was the victim of a series of unrequited crushes, one-sided love affairs that the guys involved were probably completely unaware of. I was that “just one of the guys” girl, firmly friend-zoned long before that term was popularized.

Years later, when I was raising my own daughter and she played the Taylor Swift song “You Belong With Me” for me, I recognized the voice Taylor was channeling instantly. I was that girl – the happy-go-lucky, easygoing “just a friend” girl who passionately hoped that guy after guy would recognize he was REALLY meant to be with me, instead of with his popular, pretty girlfriend.

(PS — whatever you think of Taylor’s music and what she’s done with her career since those days, I still think this is just the cutest video. Despite the difficulty of making young Taylor look like a nerdy geek girl, this is still the nerdy geek girl’s fantasy for many young women. Certainly it was mine in high school).

Mythology and literature have glorified the man who pursues the woman of his dreams – whether he is in fact the perfect courtly knight, or just an ass who won’t take no for an answer. Mythology and literature have not been similar kind to girls like I was, or girls like Taylor sings about in that song (I somehow doubt Taylor herself was ever one of those girls, though you never know). 

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To Wit: To Woo (Part One)

It’s all getting mixed up in my mind, to tell you the truth: that pathetic guy playing the piano on a sidewalk in England and swearing not to stop until his ex took him back, along with scuzzy old Harvey Weinstein and hundreds of other scuzzy old (and young) guys who think that just because they want a woman, they’re somehow going to get her in the end, even if she says, clearly: No. This is not what I want.


In the end, it’s what he wants that matters, and he’ll get it, whether that involves grabbing her by … whatever body part, I guess, and taking her by force, or persisting until he wears away her resistance she finally says yes … or playing the piano until she takes him back just to MAKE IT STOP.

Because that’s the cultural myth, isn’t it? Faint heart never won fair lady; right back to the days of courtly love and probably before that, you assume that her resistance is token, put on for the sake of propriety, but that of course she really wants you. Or she will want you eventually, especially if you give her no choice 

We no longer live in the Age of Courtly Love; we are starting, I hope, to live in the Age of Consent, the Age of No-Means-No, the age of recognizing that a woman is not a trophy to be won nor a reward for good behavior, but a human being who has her own opinions and desires, her own right to say Yes and No. It’s to be hoped that someday, in our daughters’ or granddaughters’ time, if the world and civilized society lasts, we will see an end to these stories. Someday we’ll have no more of these importunate men who think they can either cajole or force unwilling women into bed or into marriage or into the supply closet with them. May that day come quickly, amen.

But when it comes, will we also see the end of wooing?  

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Good Dog

When our kids, Chris and Emma, were five and three years old, my father in law, who could most charitably described as a little eccentric, showed up our house one fall afternoon with a puppy on a leash. A friend of his had a dog who had had puppies, he said, and they were all going to be put to sleep if they couldn’t find homes for them. He wondered if the kids would like a puppy.

We were going to try out the puppy for a week to see how he blended into our family, to see if Jason and I could cope with a puppy on top of two small kids.

We had a five-year-old and a three-year-old. HOW DO YOU THINK THIS STORY ENDED?

We got Max nearly by accident; we didn’t even get to pick his name. He came pre-loaded with the most common name for a male dog in Newfoundland. We tried him out for a week to see how we could handle dog ownership, and I was never sure we actually DID handle it all that well. Any personality flaws Max ever had, I blamed not on him but on us. He was a good dog; the goodest of good dogs. Except that sometimes he was a bad dog, because the people who were supposed to be training him were also trying to train to small human children, and teaching them to share and not to bite people seemed more important than training a puppy not to jump up on visitors.

Max’s enthusiasm for greeting people, and knocking drinks out of their hands or taking sandwiches off their plates, meant that sometimes he had to stay in his kennel when we had visitors over. He could not have been a better dog; he could have been better trained, for which I entirely blame his human owners, who were so distracted with their own litter of young.

The three pups in our litter, Chris and Emma and Max, grew up together, taking long family rambles where Chris and Emma were carefully trained by Max to throw tennis balls repeatedly so that he could run after them and bring them back. At the cabin in summer, Max’s happiest place, we could throw tennis balls into the water and he would happily jump in and swim to retrieve them. Jason taught him to swim by throwing him off the end of the dock, at which point Max discovered he could dog-paddle. Then Max taught Jason to take him for rides in the canoe, by jumping into the canoe and waiting for someone to get in and paddle him around.

Of the four of us, Jason wanted a dog least. Jason is not a dog person, which is no doubt attributable to that time his uncle’s Doberman bit him ON THE EYE when he was 12. But he knew how much the kids and I wanted a dog, especially this dog. Over the years, Jason developed a growing affection for Max in spite of Max being a dog. Max, for his part, returned this affection with a white-hot devotion that never wavered. He loved Jason like an eighth-grade girl loves the captain of the high school football team, following his every move with devoted eyes, literally dogging his steps, basking in the slightest sign of affection. If Jason tried to cross the room and Max threw himself in front of his feet so that Jason said, “Get outta the way, you foolish old thing!” in accents of affectionate frustration, Max’s tail would wag and his eyes shine with joy. You could practically hear him thinking: “Master spoke to me!! Master loves me!!”

I told Emma when she was about fifteen, “Don’t settle for just any man in your life. Wait for someone who looks at you like the dog looks at your father.”

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Also, twenty years ago…

I don’t mean to turn my blog into a memory-fest, but a lot of stuff happened in the summer and fall of 1997. I was, as you’ll recall, pregnant with my firstborn. The school I taught at closed down (I just blogged about that). Princess Diana died (I didn’t blog about that). Mother Teresa died (didn’t blog about that either). And then, on September 19, a far less attention-grabbing celebrity death: singer/songwriter Rich Mullins was killed in a car accident. He was 42 years old. 

I never got to see him in concert. I’ve never gotten over his death.

I know some folks with disagree with me, but I believe that people who say that “contemporary Christian music” is shallow, banal, and musically/lyrically/theologically vapid, either have not listened to Rich Mullins, or possibly have not listened to Rich Mullins enough. There is probably no-one except Jesus — not even C.S. Lewis or Anne Lamott — whose work has had a bigger influence on my faith than the songs of Rich Mullins. Sometimes his music was all that kept me hanging onto any kind of faith at all. 

When Rich made money from his music, he turned it over to his church. They paid him whatever the average salary was for a worker in the US that year, and gave the rest to charity. On his Wikipedia page you can find this fact coupled with one my favourite Rich Mullins quotes:

Jesus said whatever you do to the least of these my brothers you’ve done it to me. And this is what I’ve come to think. That if I want to identify fully with Jesus Christ, who I claim to be my Savior and Lord, the best way that I can do that is to identify with the poor. This I know will go against the teachings of all the popular evangelical preachers. But they’re just wrong. They’re not bad, they’re just wrong. Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in a beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken-hearted.

He would have been 62 this year. It’s impossible to imagine the songs he would have written, the directions his faith and his art would have taken him. I think he probably would have drifted farther away than he already was from the centre of American Evangelical Christianity and probably be shocked and horrified by the political/cultural directions that branch of Christianity has taken in these last 20 years … but who’s to say? It’s only guesswork. We never know what could have been, only what was. What was, and are, are the songs.

Here are five of my favourite Rich Mullins songs (some are videos and some just audio), with my comments.

I think I probably first heard Rich Mullins sing either “First Family” or “Boy Like Me, Man Like You” because those were his early Christian radio hits. But when I bought my first Rich Mullins album (The World as Best as I Remember It, Volume One), the first lines of “Jacob and Two Women” jumped out at me as being completely unlike anything I’d heard in Christian music and most of what I’d heard in church. When you hear a guy sing “Jacob he loved Rachel, and Rachel she loved him, and Leah was just there for dramatic effect/ Well it’s right there in the Bible so it must not be a sin, but it sure does seem like an awful dirty trick” … well, you know you’re in the presence of a songwriter who is not playing around with a bunch of Christian cliches and putting on a holy face. This was real stuff.

Outside of his hardcore fans, Rich is known for writing the praise-and-worship anthems “Awesome God” and “Sing Your Praise to the Lord.” While I like those songs, I don’t like them as well as his more singer-songwritery stuff. If I want to hear Rich Mullins do a praise and worship song, something to make me lift my hands and go all Pentecostal, it’ll be “Sometimes by Step.” It’s a song about one of my favourite spiritual themes — how God leads us only one step at a time — we can’t ever see the whole way, and the only way to know where the path is going is just to step out and follow it.

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