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Challenging White Privilege

25 Jul

So you’ve heard the phrase white privilege (possibly with the words ‘check your’ or ‘thank Christ for’ preceding it), and you’re wondering what’s going on and why those kids keep egging your house.

I’m here to help you, but you should know from the start that my goal will be to encourage you to challenge white privilege. So if you’d rather stay blissfully ignorant, stop reading right now. Here’s a short film to keep you entertained while the grown ups are talking.

Okay, now first, let me clarify something.

I’m speaking to white people here. Why? Because in many places, just being a person of colour is in itself a challenge to white privilege. What do I mean by that? Did you know that in some parts of Mississippi the police have added ‘driving while black’ to their official list of misdemeanors? Of course, they haven’t, but for a moment, you wondered. The experience of people of colour is different than white people’s in many arenas of life. If you want to know more about what their lives are like, you really shouldn’t be asking me. Instead, you could try listening to them. Here are some you could listen to right now.

So it’s whitey to whom I’m writing. I don’t intend to blame you for slavery or call you a racist. Acknowledging white privilege is not a slur on your character, any more than it is on mine (and we all know that my character is entirely slur-proof, unless my promiscuity is the topic and quite frankly you should praising, not criticising, me for that). Nor does it mean that everything about your life is perfect and carefree. I’m sure it’s not. Lastly, it doesn’t mean that you’ve not experienced inequality yourself. You probably have, because sadly, there’s plenty of bigotry to go round (I’ll address how to destroy the patriarchy and win the class war in future posts).

White privilege is just a fact. If you look at the historical context of either of my home countries, you’ll see that being white has had quite a few benefits. Or maybe you don’t see that. Let me show you what I mean.

I come from a wealthy, white family. We got that way because my great-great-great-great-great grandfather was involved in what was, in retrospect, a somewhat dodgy deal involving China and a shitload of opium, through a contact he had made in college. He died a very, very rich man, which meant my great-great-great-great grandfather was a very, very rich son of, let’s call him what he was, a dead drug dealer. That grandfather fattened his bank book through his work as a physician. His son, thanks to his inheritance, trained in Europe as a pianist and once played for the President, and his son was able to travel as an archeologist and dug up something which he earned him big dollars. Basically, my whole family has done pretty damn well for itself money-wise; even when they’ve been failures (my great-great grandfather’s young adult sci-fi novel went nowhere fast), they’ve been frugal failures, and as a result, I’ve never been without a penny or two in my pocketbook.

Why does this matter? Well, besides being an interesting historical tale, thank you, it matters because hundreds of Whitt-Wellingtons have reaped the benefits of one man’s successful networking during his college years. Years in which the great-great-great-great-great grandfathers of African Americans were slaves, and thus unable to set up shop with a classmate who had ties to the Chinese opium market.

Now, stop yourself for a moment if you’re thinking, Agatha, my white family has never had the financial benefits of yours. I appreciate that. Many haven’t. Yet I’m guessing that your white family has done a variety of things that, at the time, your black neighbours’ families were not able to do. Those freedoms have their consequences, and many of those consequences have meant good things for your family or for your community, either directly or indirectly.

And if the benefits of those freedoms are still being felt today, it makes sense that the lack of those freedoms still has repercussions. You don’t have to feel personally responsible for that. But you do kinda gotta acknowledge it.

And we also can’t pretend inequality is a thing of the past. When I drive through a town in America and a cop pulls my car over, I don’t worry the event will end with my being dead. I don’t. Because, although I’ve been pulled over a few times, I’ve never once been shot dead — not even the time I was holding Truman Capote’s gun in my lap (long story, remind me to tell you another time). I have received one $20 ticket and zero police bullets.

So white privilege exists. What should we do about it?

If you’re really interested in making substantial change to the current system, perhaps you should be reaching out to more appropriate and less sarcastic sources. There are plenty to choose from. Visit your local library, check out some websites, and get involved in political action.

However, if you’re looking for some starter suggestions delivered simply by a charming international mover-and-shaker, you’ve come to the right place.

There are three easy instructions: think, decide, own. Let’s break those steps down a little.

Think
This guideline should come as no surprise to regular readers; there’s very little in life that wouldn’t benefit from thinking carefully first (Russian Roulette is one exception: with that, always go with your gut). Consider the situation in which you find yourself and think about what role white privilege may have played in getting you there. Sometimes its impact is large (you are able to vote despite not having your ID on you); sometimes its impact is negligent (you’ve tripped over a crack in the pavement). Think carefully, and beyond that precise moment in time.

Decide
If white privilege hasn’t played a role in your current quandary, your decision is probably quite simple. Brush yourself off, get up, and pay more attention as you walk down the street. If white privilege is involved, though, you have an important choice to make. One reason white privilege still exists is because white people benefit from it. Are you going to play even a small role in perpetuating inequality? I can’t tell you what to do in any situation (however, I don’t recommend that you ever voluntarily try to get shot by police, just to prove a point). Ultimately, you have to decide for yourself.

Own
Whatever you decide, own that decision. If you make a choice that feels like a bit of sacrifice, it’s okay to feel good about yourself (but for fuck’s sake, don’t post on Facebook trying to prove how woke you are). If you make a choice that takes advantage of white privilege, own that, too. Even if someone challenges you. Own it. Promise yourself you’ll keep thinking and questioning.

Let’s look at a few practice scenarios:

  1. You and a black man exit a store simultaneously as an alarm goes off. The clerk stops the black man but waves you away. Do you walk off?
  2. You are a white woman who has thoughts about Beyoncé’s twins that you’re sure the world needs to hear. Do you write a blog post?
  3. You’re at a business event where a colleague makes a racist comment you do not agree with. How do you respond?

What did you think about? If you’d really been in these situations, would have been able to own whatever decisions you made?

Please do not misinterpret my confident tone and excellent taste in eyeglass frames as evidence that I have perfected the three step programme. There are times when I don’t think enough until it’s too late, and there are times when I regret my decisions. However, I do try and you can, too.

Making it all the way to the end of this post is a good start, but let’s face it, it ain’t your good deed for the week. It’d probably wise now to continue learning and thinking and challenging.

It’s all right if you need to eat something first. Are you hungry? You look hungry. I worry about you, you know. Eat first.  And then go from there.

 

The Last Piece of Cake

26 Oct

Punishment: it isn’t all bad. We look at countries where those who steal have their hands cut off, where those who betray are thrown out of the community, where those who murder are murdered themselves, and certainly, those of us living in a civilised world would never approve of such measures. However, while our punishments may be different, they serve the same purpose: a wrongdoer must get her comeuppance. Our society would fail to function if we could not be assured of this belief.

I first witnessed this precept beautifully illustrated many years ago. I will never forget the date: it was sometime in April when I was anywhere between seven and fourteen years old. My mother and two of her bridge-playing girlfriends had insisted that I come with them to see a young artist who was giving a talk at the State Museum. My mother had won the tickets through a radio contest (I believe she had correctly guessed the weight of the DJ’s recently shaved beard clippings). I was dragged along to make up the foursome (my father had refused to go as he believed it was bad luck to be the only man walking with a trio of women).

I have always loved the State Museum; even as a child, I could see myself in so many of the breath-taking exhibits that have been on display there. However, I had not been keen to attend this afternoon, only because it meant spending an afternoon with Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters. On the way into the building, I caught my reflection in the window glass—I was wearing a particularly nice hat —and decided to just keep as much distance between them and myself once we got around other people.

The gallery was quite packed (luckily, there were only eight other radio prize winners there and, believe you me, they were easily recognisable). My mother and her friends sat in the front row (so obvious), but I chose a seat closer to the back, where the lighting more subtly accented my striking features. The artist—she went only by the name Melinda—was beautiful. I can see her now in my mind’s eye as clear as if I had seen her yesterday. She had long blonde hair, gorgeously tanned shoulders, penetrating eyes, and shades of midnight blue paint staining her fingertips. I was transfixed by her and hung on every word of her speech on whatever it was she was talking about. When she finished, I gave her a standing ovation. As people began milling out, I was horrified to see that my mother and her cronies had cornered Melinda. Although I had hoped to speak to her myself, I could not think of anything worse than being identified with those three so I did my best to sneak out of the room unnoticed. I escaped to the bathroom, where I splashed some water to cool my reddened cheeks.

However, the humiliation was far from over. I was galled to hear that my mother had arranged for Melinda to come over to our house later that evening. This meant that the next few hours were spent in a rushed panic, my mother desperate to stage a scene which implied she was a more interesting woman than she was. She stopped at the most expensive florist and bakery in town. Once we got home, I hoped my father would put his foot down, but, as usual, she disregarded him completely. In fact, she forced my father to shave (despite the fact that it was a Saturday) before Melinda’s arrival, as she had the nerve to claim “we artists find stubble repellent.” She put me in charge of hoovering (her not giving me the responsibility of arranging the flowers indicates her level of ignorance). By eight o’clock, we were ready to greet Melinda.

My, how the time flew by! Melinda entertained us with incredible stories of her adventures across the country, doing everything a bohemian artist should be doing. I was enthralled and felt I was getting a glimpse into my own future. Luckily, Melinda’s fascinating chestnuts—peppered with details of colours, sounds, and smells—kept my mother silent for the majority of the night. This fact alone, I think, helped charm my father, who was quickly as seduced as I.

Around midnight, Melinda was clearly tiring. She had explained when she first arrived that she was flying out the following morning to show some work in an offbeat gallery in Trois-Rivières. However, my mother, it seemed, was not ready to bid the artist farewell. She dragged out some of her own paintings and asked Melinda for some constructive criticism. It was torturous.

In an effort to wrap things up, my father began tidying up the dishes. My mother admonished him for “rushing our guest” when there was still a piece of cake left. The room went silent. I wondered whether my father would take his usual, easy route of surrendering to my mother’s vicious tongue or if Melinda’s presence had changed his life in the way I already knew she had changed mine.

However, before he had a chance to decide what to do, Melinda stood up. “It’s a wonderful thing to have such a conscientious husband,” she said to my mother. “He’s right, though, it is time for me to go.” She stepped over my mother’s canvases to make her way to collect her coat.8233290109_4ecb53e9b8_b

“But Melinda,” my mother cried, “Please eat the last piece of cake.”

My father sat back down. I was frozen in the tension of the moment.

“No, Mrs Whitt-Wellington, I will not eat the last piece of cake.”

Melinda came over and gave me a peck on the cheek. She walked over to my father and extended her hand. I silently prayed that he would grab her, wrap his arms around her slender figure and the three of us would walk out of my mother’s house forever. But he didn’t. He shook her hand. Melinda passed my mother on her way to the door, gently touching her shoulder. And then she was gone.

Seeing my mother receive her just desserts for once in her bloody life has stayed with me all these years. I shall never forget that moment (probably because I replay it in my mind at least twice a day). She did wrong, and wrongdoers must eventually reap what they sow. I am so grateful that I was there to witness it.

Punishment where punishment was due.

Over A Thousand Children Will Be Born In The Time It Takes You To Read This

15 Feb

Recently Pope Francis announced that “the choice to not have children is selfish.”

Far be it from me to disagree with the Infallible One, but I’m afraid he’s got things just a bit wrong.

In truth, a very good percentage of those who have chosen to release their spawn into the world have done so to ensure that a little piece of them will carry on even after they’re gone. Um . . . a little self-centred, no? Others feel their life philosophies (or genes) are just so super-duper, humankind needs more of them, so they spew out smaller versions of themselves to help spread the word (or the DNA). Again, you’ve got to think pretty highly of yourself to assume humankind needs more of you in it.

Others, of course, have children without having actually “chosen” to do so. Instead they chose not to take two seconds to roll on a condom and now the rest of us are paying for that choice. And we’re the selfish ones, Francis?

He also condemned a “greedy generation” that doesn’t surround itself with children and considers them a worry or a risk. Okay, now, hold up there, Holy Father. Have you looked around recently? Everywhere I go, I’m surrounded by children (particularly on the No. 43 into the City Centre). Without a single one passing through my birth canal, I still can’t get away from kids. And while I’m not saying no one should ever reproduce, kids can be a worry and a risk. They could get poorly or caught up in the dangers that seem to lurk behind every corner or they could vote Tory or support Man United. These are real concerns, good sir, and to pretend they don’t matter is unfair.

Lastly, he said, that life “is enriched, not impoverished” by children. I know he was speaking metaphorically, but it’s expensive to have a kid, especially if you plan to kit it out in a way that will keep other ‘unselfish’ people’s kids from bullying it on the schoolyard. Children are notorious bank breakers, and we mustn’t pretend they’re not.

baby-popeWhile I take umbrage with the practicalities of some his points, I’m not unaware that ultimately Pope Francis wants people to get it on to help create more people for God, saying a child is “a life created by us but destined for Him.” I’m going to leave that one alone as its target audience is probably not the same as mine. However, this is also the man who criticised some large families’ “irresponsibility,” clarifying that “some think, excuse me if I use the word, that in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits. But no.”

Whatevs.

As popes go, Francis seems to be one of the best. And I know his timing probably wasn’t coincidental; what with all the condom adverts thrusting their Valentine’s Day specialties our way this week, he probably just wanted to put in a good word for shagging without protection.

But it’s not really fair to criticise people who choose not to contribute to overpopulation. They all have their reasons — some might be sensible (they aren’t in a position to properly care for a baby), some might seem a little less so (they were chosen to be God’s representative on earth), but the decision must be theirs.

And lots of childless people still see children as gifts to the world. That’s why they care for them in hospitals or schools or work to keep them safe in the community. It seems to me that the best guidance should be about looking after children, rather than just encouraging people to squeeze them out willy-nilly.

That’s why whenever I push a kid over in the street, I always stop to help them back up. Being kind — it’s a selfless act and the most important message of all.

Are You In A Cult?

3 Nov

As I’m sure most of you are well aware, the world changes.

When I was younger, life was different. We described things we enjoyed as “groovy” rather than “rad” or “bitchin'”; we had a devil-may-care attitude about beef and fried foods, which we ate with gay abandon. There were no paedophiles, only tv presenters. I’m not claiming it was a better time, just a different one.

We didn’t relate to each other in the same way either. We would get together for “rap sessions,” where we shared our true feelings and a decent amount of bodily fluids with people who gathered together to celebrate and challenge the world around us.

I was a part of a community named the Sunshine Happiness Alliance Group with whom I briefly lived in a large barn in the middle of a dense woods hundreds and hundreds of miles away from the comfort and familiarity of Trenton, New Jersey. There were about forty of us in the “family” — we each held responsibilities (work and emotional) to ensure the group’s success; we grew, made and smoked everything we needed to stay healthy, happy and really, really high.

There was nothing untoward about our little group; the fact that six weeks after I left, the rest of them committed mass suicide I’m sure was purely coincidental. However, these days — these different but not necessarily better or worse days — though, some humans have evolved into borderline beasts who willingly abuse others through mind manipulation and control, which are surprisingly easy to master. 34647345

These people create cults, and you may be a member of one.

Do not panic. Keep your face completely neutral: they’re probably watching you right now, and any look of concern on your face is going to raise suspicion among the cult’s leaders. Stay cool, Jack, and read on.

First, we need to be sure. Consider these questions about the group with whom you identify:

If you’ve answered yes, you may be in trouble. Again, DO NOT PANIC. Now we’re going to look at how you can break free and rid yourself of any residue of brainwashing.

  • Interact with people outside the group — even if they look, think, worship or do sexy-sex in ways you do not.
  • Drink at least a litre of water a day.
  • Stop watching Fox News and reading the Daily Mail.
  • Decide what you think is right and good, and be loyal to that.

It is nice to be a part of a group. In fact, not only is it nice,  it’s also good, because people who are only ever on their own can tend to be a bit on the creepy side. Whether your group is based on politics, lifestyle or mutual admiration of a sports team, actor, musician, writer or hobby, there’s a real sense of warmth when you are with those with whom you have things in common.

But remember that you are an individual with the ability to think critically, and you must never let no one take that away from you. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.

 

 

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On a completely unrelated note, have you joined the thousands who have already purchased my newest book? Don’t be like those other losers; what are you, a traitor or something?

Tell Me A Little Less About Yourself

20 May

Bronson CollageOne day when I was a young girl, I happened upon an unusual scene in the street. A friend and I were walking down the avenue when we noticed a man dressed in grey crumpled clothes, on the other side of the road. “That’s the actor Charles Bronson,” she said. I wasn’t familiar with his work (let’s face it, at the time, I tended to favour the weedier man — as I still do today). He was just walking along slowly when he stopped and bent down to pick something off the pavement. “Is this your penny?” he called over to us. We shook our heads no. And then he popped the coin in his mouth and swallowed it before continuing on his way.

Now this was before the Internet so I couldn’t rush home to Google some information about his upcoming role as a numismatic or how he suffered from a copper deficiency. Instead, I just found the episode quite intriguing and when his next film came out, I went to see it to find out what other charms he possessed.

Had this happened today, though, I would have discovered all I needed to know about him within a half hour. Then I probably wouldn’t have gone to the cinema and just think of all the vengeance killings I would have missed out on.

That’s the problem with celebrity today: it’s just too much. Whether via social media, gossip sites, or just their stupid faces showing up on every television screen twenty times a day, there’s no mystery or intrigue these days. Think about it — the more we know about someone, the more we tend to despise them (see recent divorce statistics as science-based evidence for this claim).

If I were a celebrity, which I’m not (I’m an international mover-and-shaker and there is a difference), I’d spend all my time holed in my mansion, lounging poolside, drinking spritzers and having my toenails painted by foreign boys whose silence I’d buy with cash from the piles I’d have stored underneath my bed. To guarantee my fans’ devotion, I’d appear in public no more than twice a year and I would always refuse an interview.

You stay a star by making us want to see you. Forcing us to see you all the time everywhere is nothing but career suicide.

Never make a death wish because a death wish always comes true.

The Internet Is Tricking You

19 Feb
Come for the click-bait; stay for the advice.

Come for the click-bait; stay for the advice.

You may have arrived here because you like Benedict Cumberbatch. That’s fine, no reason not to, just because he once refused to share a cab with me, claiming he was allergic to my perfume. I don’t hold grudges; if anything, I pity him if it’s true that he can never enjoy the smell of lilacs (though I wonder if he’d have been so insistent had he known the bottle of scent was given to me by Terence Stamp).

Regardless. Here’s the thing. You won’t find anything here about Benedict Cumberbatch (excluding the anecdote above, obviously). You were led here under false pretenses. Because, my dears, the Internet is lying to you.

I am terribly sorry to be the one to tell you about this.

Now let me ask, what do you think of when you think of the Internet? What visual image appears in that little head of yours? Perhaps it’s a big ‘ol mess of wires connecting countries on a map. Wrong. That’s not the Internet.

Maybe you prefer to think smaller and simply picture your own little device whenever you think of the Internet. I like that you’re keen on synecdoche, but I’m afraid that is not appropriate either.

If you insist on my suggesting a concrete image for you, I’d have to say the Internet is most like a big ass, fire breathing dragon. Not unlike the dragon in those Hobbit films (hold on there, didn’t one Benedict Cumberbatch provide the voice and motion capture for that dragon? Oh my, it looks like I’ve accidentally mentioned that name again!). Anyhoo, get your mind off him for like two minutes of your life, please, and listen up. The Internet is a most specially greedy, strong and wicked worm who is fucking with your head, even as we speak.

Benedict Cumberbatch does not approve of being used like this. Unlike you, he doesn't have any choice.

Benedict Cumberbatch does not approve of being used.

Every time you “log on” to the Internet, you are giving away a little piece of your soul. This most frequently takes the form of your privacy or your self-control. And what’s worse is that the Internet is trying to trick you into believing you want to do this. In most other circumstances (excluding the minds of many high school male athletes), this kind of trickery would be considered criminal coercion. Not so here. The Internet can get you to do most anything it wants you to by almost any means whatsoever (say, by misleading you into believing you’ll learn something new about Benedict Cumberbatch).

It’s a dirty business really, and we should all be ashamed of participating it. I know I’d be ashamed if I weren’t so sure the stats for this blog post will be exponentially higher than any of my previous ones. That’s the thing: at the moment, most of us are pretty happy with the situation. We may lose some things because of it, but we gain others. Yes, our personal details got hacked but we were able to buy something from Target without having to actually go to Target, so it’s swings and roundabouts, isn’t it?

I’m not suggesting you stop using the Internet (in fact, why not subscribe to this blog? I won’t even ask for your mother’s maiden name). I’m not even suggesting you stop telling strangers your mother’s maiden name, if that’s the kind of thing you’re into.

All I’m saying is this: be aware of what’s going on and the role you’re playing. The Internet is using you. Google is aware of that purchase you just made. The NSA knows you. I know they know you because yesterday when we had lunch together, your name came up in the conversation. It’s likely your identity will get stolen, your sex tape made public, or a good year of your life lost to Candy Crush Saga. Tread carefully.

The fact that the dragon’s got a voice that gives you fizzy knickers shouldn’t permit you to forget that ultimately what he wants is your gold. Or your soul. Both of which you should remember are the precious (yes, I know that’s Gollum, but work with me here, people, I’m trying to make a point).

No Raccoon Has Ever Lied To Me

2 Feb

Raccoons-bite-baby-sleeping-in-cribI’ve never seen a raccoon in England. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re furry grey animals with fluffy tails. A bit like squirrels except less squirrel-ish and more raccoon-ish. Their most distinct feature is the black mask across their face, making them look like fluffy bandits. Cute! What I like most about raccoons, though, is that they are incredibly trustworthy.

This may come as a shock to you, but as a child, I lived for eight months in Canada. My mother led me to believe that this location change was due to my father’s draft dodging. Alas, I was too young to realise that not only was the draft not enacted at the time, the US was not even at war. Nonetheless, to this day, I still see my father as a conscientious objector, and I look back at those months with great fondness.

One afternoon I decided to head out for a long walk in the Canadian wilderness. I went out with one of my brothers (or sisters, I don’t remember exactly, and does it really matter?). We hiked through the woodland, making small talk and pausing frequently for me to capture nature with my Kodak Instamatic.

It was mid-July. While most of us tend to think of cold when we think of Canada, I can assure you it was well hot. After an hour or so, my brother (or sister) and I were regretting not bringing drinks with us and decided to head home. However, we had lost our way and raccoon-wallpaper-10-752390neither of us had a compass with us. As we were plotting out our plan back to safety, I noticed a little raccoon with her kits in a nearby tree. I stood up to take a snap (even in times of danger, I am committed to my work as a documentarian) when I swear the mother beckoned me towards her. I cried out, and she and her babes scuttled down the tree and took off. We ran over to where the raccoons had been, and spelled out in pebbles at the root of the tree was the word “wow.”

“What do you think it means?” my puzzled sibling asked me.

I walked slowly around the message. From a different angle, it spelled out “mom.” So I determined that the raccoon was either directing us towards something worth seeing or leading us to our mother. Either way, we decided to follow and took off in the direction in which the animals had fled.

We quickly caught up with the raccoon family, primarily because they had thoughtfully stopped to wait for us. Again the mother used her little paw to urge us forward. As we made our way through the trees, we began to hear the sounds of a waterfall and then of gleeful laughter. We were almost home safe!

As we rounded a corner, though, it quickly became clear that we were not at the Whitt-Wellington homestead but rather the raccoon had led us to a park for nudists. My brother (or sister, whatever) and I stood transfixed as we watched the nudie grown-ups frolicking in the water, lying in the sun and bending over to pick flowers. For a few moments, we were frozen in our tracks. Then, we turned our heads away from the spectacle and saw the raccoons running away, so we followed again for quite some time until we ended up behind a police station. We went in, our folks were called, and eventually we got home. Neither my sibling nor I mentioned the nudists to the cops, our parents or each other. That day I learned what a naked man looks like, and all I could say was “wow” (read whatever tone you want into that). The other thing I learned was that raccoons can be trusted.

I bring this up today because it is 2 February, also known as Groundhog Day in America. In Pennsylvania, a whole bunch of people get together to listen to a groundhog called Punxsutawney Phil predict Groundhogs are Liarsthe weather. (If you’re not familiar with groundhogs, they look nothing like raccoons.) If Phil sees his shadow, it means six more weeks of winter; if he doesn’t see his shadow, an early spring is coming. The problem is, of course, that groundhogs are notorious liars, and Phil’s predictions are usually wrong.

Don’t go to groundhogs for your information. If you want the truth—however harsh, wrinkly or dangly it might be—a raccoon will lead you to it. If you want to know the weather, however, simply look out your window.

What Your Christmas Card Reveals

19 Dec

Christmas_Mailing_1921_0When I was a young girl growing up in Trenton (NJ), sending Christmas cards was a good citizen’s duty. Thanks to an overzealous mayor with good intentions but a serious drinking problem, mailing cards was actually required by law for most of my career as a child (which at least gave the ACLU something to do over the holidays). The tradition was less about Christmas itself and more about community building — reminding friends, family and neighbours that they were in our thoughts during the season of giving.

Sending holiday cards is a rather time consuming act, which explains why it has fallen out of favour these days. We live in a world where the only loved ones we’re willing to invest more than ten minutes at a time in are spouses and young children, and this is usually only done to preemptively build evidence for a subsequent divorce/custody court case. I confess that I myself have not sent cards this year; it’s not because I don’t care, because you know I do (especially about you, yes, you). Unfortunately, my address book includes more than two thousand entries and I’m conflicted about giving that much money to Royal Mail now that it’s been privatised (and last year Christopher sprained his tongue licking envelopes and I will not go through that trauma again).

However, there are still a few hold outs who maintain the tradition, and I say good on you. Nowadays, we have more options about the types of card that can be sent and the one you choose says quite a bit about you. You may think you’ve chosen the prettiest or the cheapest, but you are actually revealing some essential aspects of your self-identity. Let’s have a look.

EMAIL CARDS

These say you’re a modern person, you know how the Internet works and you’re not afraid to use it. However, this choice is also quite impersonal because it’s likely you’re copying and pasting the same message into every one you send. While I’m sure the recipients appreciate the thought, it’s bound to sting a little that to you they are clearly just a name on a distribution list. That’s especially hurtful to those out of whose body you came (according to my brother who received a rather spiteful voicemail message from my mother last week).

CARDS PURCHASED FROM CHARITIES

These say that you are a giving, compassionate person who, rather than volunteer your valuable time or make a substantial monetary donation, will only contribute to a charity’s work if you get something in return.

RELIGIOUS CARDS

These show that you are serious about the birth of Jesus Christ which implies one of two things: you are a Christian, which is fine, though you should be aware that these cards will probably not be on display on non-Christian fridges. I mean, think about it — would a good Christian like yourself hang up a Ramadan card with Mohammad’s face on it? (This is a trick question, by the way.) The other possibility is that you are a Fox News viewer/Daily Mail reader who is committed to fighting the war on Christmas. If this is the case, well done you. You’re a twat.

FUNNY CARDS

These show you don’t want to get all heavy during the holiday season. You hope to keep it light — give people a smile. You just want to share your sense of humour because you are a hilarious person. I mean, you’re really funny. Really. Why you’re still on your own, I don’t doubt you’ll never understand.

HOMEMADE CARDS

Fine, you’ve got artistic talent and the luxury of the funds to purchase supplies and the time to waste gluing crystals onto cardstock. Everyone is very envious of you and your charmed life.

FAMILY PHOTO CARDS

BradychristmasIf you’ve had an addition to your family this year (a baby, puppy, housekeeper, etc), it’s entirely appropriate to share a photo, especially with those people who live far away and have yet to meet the new family member. If you’re just showing off your newest plastic surgery results, it is significantly less appropriate.

ROUND ROBIN LETTERS

These, I’m afraid, never make you look good. They are impersonal and no matter how hard you try to make them seem otherwise, they are essentially just a Wikipedia entry for your experience this year. As such, they are likely to be awkwardly worded and full of inaccuracies. They are also usually typed out and no one should be sending typed letters to their loved ones: unless you’re sending a ransom note, you should take the time to hand write things. Cursive writing is preferable.

Of course, I’ve already received examples of all of these this year. I try to fireplacesee the positives in everything so I focus more on the fact that the senders have remembered me and less on the obvious flaws in their personalities. As the cards are delivered, I’ve hung each one along the windowsills, as my mother used to do. Unlike her, though, I do not plan to rip them all down in a drunken, bitter rage on Christmas Eve and throw them into the fire.

Can You Keep A Secret?

22 Oct

Those who know me well (including most of those I’ve slept with) know that I don’t muck about. Faffing is not part of my nature. Among the many things I have in common with Ludacris is that I give it to ya straight, no chase. So please allow me to tell you like it is.

Secrets: they’re bullshit.

There are two kinds of secrets: the ones you don’t want anyone to know about and the ones you want everyone to know about.

Secrets that you don’t want anyone to know about are bullshit because they’re usually pretty diabolical. When you killed that tramp. The money you stole out of the charity box. The time you let your employer go out with a ladder in her stockings. Why you neglected to mention that, I will never understand. But that’s what’s behind these types of secrets: you’ve done something or something’s been done to you that you fear others will not understand. Occasionally, of course, you probably should share. Notify the coppers if you’re the victim of a crime. Other times telling might help you heal from a bad experience, but please — rather than post your secret in the comment box below — think about consulting a mental health professional to talk to (choose an ugly one: it makes it easier to open up).

If you refuse my very reasonable advice above, the only other suggestion I can make about these types of secrets is to keep your trap shut and just not do anything like that again. Unlike Bill W, I’m not a big believer in the reveal and heal strategy: going back, confessing your shameful action and demanding that the wronged party accept your apology (and from what I understand, that tramp’s identity is still unknown so you’d have no one to pester anyway). Move on from your secret and just think a little more sensibly the next time you have an urge to push someone in front of a train.

The other type of secret — the one you actually do want others to know about — is equally bullshit. Firstly, it’s not a secret if others know. Duh. Stop calling it a secret and call it what it is: a boast. I myself am not much of a boaster (and if you’ve read any of my critically acclaimed books, you already know that), but some people quite enjoy it. If you’re one of those people, embrace it. I hadn’t planned on bedding you anyway.

vintage-87gThe idea that secrets are seductive is just silly talk. A true secret is usually shameful and if your partner is seduced by shame, consider it a wake-up call about the real reason they’ve chosen you. Besides, if you do feel obliged to share something you had intended to keep private, you’re opening up a can of worms that invites them to share a secret as well — are you ready to hear their confession? I just hope you’ve been using condoms. Relationships that are built on secrets tend to go bust pretty quickly. Unless Josh Homme is involved, but don’t ask me how I know this.

Listen, we’ve all got secrets. Yes, I’ve killed a tramp. Basically, you’ve got two simple options: stop going on about having a secret or post it online like the rest of the world does. Just think good and hard before you do because, remember, there is no statute of limitations for murder.

It’s Your Body

7 Sep

Bollocks.

I hear the word a lot. It’s usually used to dismiss something, to question its credibility or to accuse the person speaking about it of being a liar and/or idiot.

You already know how I feel about liars. And idiots. Now I’m going to tell you how I feel about bollocks. Well, specifically complementary medicine, which is what curly-haired clever clogs currently enjoy dismissing.

Complementary medicine can refer to a wide range of health remedies — from herbs, tinctures and oils to procedures like cupping, acupuncture, and energy therapy. These options are seen as alternative, because they are not scientifically sensible as things like drilling into teeth, putting pigs’ parts into humans and swallowing chemicals in tablet form are.

I am not going to defend complementary medicine. However, I am also not going to rip it a new asshole either. Because, while I have no truck with most of it myself, those who judge should keep a few things in mind.300px-Jekyll.and.Hyde.Ch1.Drawing1

If you think everything scientists get up to is automatically above board, I’d like to remind you of Victor Frankenstein and Henry Jekyll. Yes, they had white coats and medical books but their methods were a little dubious, don’t you agree?

Drink MeAs long as no one is being swindled out of cash or doing damage to themselves, if something relieves someone’s symptoms or worries, who am I to judge them and their gullibility? There is such a thing as the power of the mind, you know.  What about Alice, eh? After drinking a special potion, she went on a pretty magical adventure — is it asking too much to allow a little girl some joy? (Please do not be distracted by my over-reliance on fiction-based evidence.)

Quite frankly, some of what falls under the complementary medicine label is actually pretty clever. For example, making sure you get good nutrients can prevent getting poorly in the first place. Filling your room with some nice smelling lavender isn’t going to cure genital herpes, but it might lift your spirits so you focus less on that painful itch. Sometimes what is actually common sense is banished as bunkum, just because no pharmaceutical company can market it.

Massage is another treatment that often gets unfairly lumped in with alternative therapies. Unless, of course, it’s called physical therapy when all of a sudden it’s medically sound. Whatevs. I happen to know that certain types of body manipulation are extremely beneficial: they can relax stiff muscles, can hasten injury recovery, and, if done in the right alley, can earn you a quick tenner.

All I’m saying is this: I don’t care what you do. Go to a GP with a certificate and swallow her elixirs or go to a herbalist and rub his salve into your chest. As long as you get the facts for yourself before you do anything, you won’t ever hear of bollocks coming out of my mouth. Promise.