(Metaphorical) Masks, Monsters, and Music: Take Your Pick at the Fringe

The Vancouver Fringe Festival is upon us again and this year I have been fortunate not to see my usual one show (or none), but to have seen three! Which is pretty big for me. Each show offered something completely different and depending on what you are looking for I am certain at least one of the following three is worth getting up off your couch for. (Remember, art is something that makes our community special, and the intimate, innovative art that you find at the Fringe can’t exist without your patronage.)

And so, in the order in which I saw them, I would like to tell you about the three Fringe shows I saw this year:

Show #1: The Masks of Oscar Wilde, by Shaul Ezer with C.E. Gatchalian

Company: MatchMaker Productions in association with the frank theatre company, Vancouver

In this experiment with what the playwright calls a “lecture-in-play”, two performers (characters A and B, played by Sean Harris Oliver and Tamara McCarthy respectively) tell the story of the celebrated career and devastating fall from grace of the renowned Irish playwright, Oscar Wilde. While Harris Oliver and McCarthy each have several parts to play, the “masks” in the title are metaphorical, referring to the different facets of this extraordinary man, including those parts of himself he stove to keep hidden. (Though Oscar Wilde was married with two children, he sought the company of young men, fell in love with the young Lord Alfred Douglas, and was subsequently convicted of homosexuality and sentenced to two years hard labour. After having once been the toast of the London theatre scene, he died destitute in France at age 46.)

MoOW puppet bannerI quite enjoy lectures about interesting things and so I am predisposed to enjoying a play like this. That said, more captivating than the lecture pieces absolutely are the tellings of Wilde’s children’s story “The Happy Prince”, and the actors’ merciless performance of a scene from one of Wilde’s three infamous trials.

As I left the theatre, an audience member behind me said, “Well that was a good little play”, and while he was right, I can’t help wishing it could have been a great little play. I believe that audiences can get on board with a form like a “lecture-in-play”, especially about a subject whose work and life almost speaks for itself. Granted, I was there on opening night when nerves and expectations run high, but I did feel there were moments in the performance, and in the text itself, that felt a little forced or pitched, as if the artists involved did not quite trust that their subject and his work were enough to enthrall us, without little embellishments like hamming up a scene from the already-hilarious The Importance of Being Earnest, or throwing in contemporary references now and again. Based on the reactions of the audience members seated around me, we were entertained, and the energy of the show could, I feel, be contained just a bit to leave the audience some space to meet the artists half way as they learn about this brilliant and tragic figure.

One thing I thought was new and different about this production was the presence of an ASL interpreter, and the ways in which the actors acknowledged her imbedded presence on the stage. If you are hearing impaired or would like to visit the theatre with a companion who has a hearing impairment and uses sign language, you may wish to inquire with the companies to see which nights this interpretation will be available.

You may like this show if: you like to learn, you are interested in Oscar Wilde or Victorian attitudes towards homosexuality, you want to see a relentless Victorian-era lawyer corner and skewer his witness, or you want to see enacted the sad and beautiful story of love and sacrifice that is “The Happy Prince” (it really is very sweet).

You may not like this show if: you have difficulty keeping up with a lot of text/information coming at you very quickly, or if you are looking for something a little more active.

Tickets for the remaining performances of The Masks of Oscar Wilde can be purchased online here.

Disclosure: I was invited by one of my friends to review this show courtesy of the frank theatre company. The content is my reviews is my own.

Show #2: Aiden Flynn Lost His Brother So He Makes Another, created by Morgan Murray and Nathan Howe, score by Derek Desroches and Nathan Howe

Company: Theatre Howl, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

10087746When lonely Prairie boy Aiden Flynn’s little brother is stillborn, he decides to make a new playmate for himself. His creation is a kind of Frankenstein’s Monster, loving, loyal, and surprisingly cute while at the same time disturbing and grotesque. This sparse but beautiful story is told entirely without speech.

The bleak colourlessness of the set and of the shadow puppet scenes immediately places the audience somewhere recognizable (if you’ve ever been on the Prairies when the sky is grey), somewhere that looks like home but feels empty. The loneliness of the young Aiden is palpable, and his ingenuity admirable. We understand his good intentions, but from the first breath his “little brother” takes we are sad, because we know that what Aiden has done is monstrous, and we start to recognize, perhaps, the selfishness involved in creating a being that cannot be included in your family or community. Given this conflict, the conclusion is as beautiful as it possibly could have been.

You may like this show if: You like physical theatre, innovative storytelling, simple stories, or are interested in the slightly creepy.

You may not like this show if: You really prefer spoken text, or dialogue, and are not the kind of person who is comfortable watching silence.

Tickets for the remaining performances of Aiden Flynn Lost His Brother So He Makes Another can be purchased online here.

Disclosure: Nothing this time, I chose this show based on its description on the Fringe website and just really liked it.

Show #3: The Chariot Cities by Harrison Mooney, music by Bryan Binnema

Company: The Chariot Collective (ad-hoc group of artists, based in Vancouver)

Screen Shot 2014-07-27 at 7.44.04 PMAfter folk-musician Wendy Brownlee meets the irreverent but charismatic musician Jack Stackhouse backstage at a late-night talk show, she is warned by the host not to marry him. She falls in love anyways and the family the couple create with their two children (who grow up to be musicians in their own right) is a family deeply scarred by Jack’s infidelity, drug use, and selfishness, and by their mother’s baffling and painful capacity to forgive him. Told over a period of 22 years, The Chariot Cities is a story of the ties that bind families together–not only ties of love and blood but also ties of hurts and resentments and of course, of music.

The story itself is painful enough in its ways, but it is through the songs that we get a sense of how keenly these hurts are felt, and how impossible they are to escape. Bryan Binnema’s music is excellent throughout but the piece that really stands out for me is the one belonging to the family’s daughter, Beata. Performed by actress Shantini Klaasen (vocals and piano), the song “You Let Me Down” is a suffering young woman’s heartbreaking cry for her father, exquisitely performed (I also felt the lyrics in this piece were the most sophisticated of the play).

I do wish this play was a little longer, a little more fleshed out to bring to the surface more vividly some of the undercurrents of messed-up relationships that run throughout the show, but one can always hope for a remount. Besides, there is something to be said for not sharing everything, and perhaps the play is better for it.

You may like this show if: You like music, and are interested in the dynamics of musical families such as the Wainwrights.

You may not like this show if: You don’t like folk music, or the interspersion of song and scene onstage. This is also not a play for children.

Tickets for the remaining performances of The Chariot Cities can be purchased online here.

Disclosure: A friend of mine is involved in the show and I was able to see this performance through her comp. I was not asked for a review.

I hope I have encouraged you to attend at least one performance at the Fringe Festival this year. There is really so much more that I didn’t see so haven’t mentioned but it is worth exploring. Remember that you will need to buy a $5 Fringe Membership in addition to the tickets for the shows you are seeing (you only need to buy the membership once and then you present it with your tickets when you attend each show). Happy Fringing!

Posted in Arts and Culture, Theatre | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stop whining about the teachers, start shouting about your government

Disclaimer: I am not a teacher and I am not married to a teacher. I do not have children currently and have absolutely no stake in the outcome of this labour dispute, financial or otherwise. Though I was a member of a CUPE union for several years, I am no longer in a unionized position. I am, however, the daughter of teachers (in Saskatchewan) and am incredibly passionate about this issue.

Photo: Brayden McCluskey

Photo: Brayden McCluskey

Like many people in BC, I am sick and tired of the teachers’ strike. I’m sick of the anxiety underlying every news story, especially as the first day of school has come and gone and public schools in BC remain closed. I am sick of parents needing to worry about how to pay for childcare/time taken off from work. I am sick of the idea that kids are missing out on their right to education. I am sick of the mudslinging, and the politicking, and the animosity, and the general bad pissy vibes hovering in the air, dividing friend groups and workplaces and social media and turning usually cordial conversations into rants.

But you know what I’m also really sick and tired of? Ignorant people blaming the province’s teachers. Whether or not  you agree with everything the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) has asked for at the bargaining table, blaming teachers for labour disputes deliberately provoked by the BC government is completely misguided (note that when chief government negotiator Paul Straszak was asked in court whether the BC government’s objective prior to disputes in 2011 was to “increase the pressure on teachers to have them go out on a full-scale strike”, Straszak answered “Yes. I’ll say that’s correct.”, and no contradictory government testimony was offered in court).

I know a lot of people are anti-union by default, and I know from experience that it is difficult, if not impossible, to convince people who are anti-union to shift their position (though I personally think that’s nuts–if you enjoyed your Labour Day weekend, or even the fact that you get weekends at all, you have the labour movement to thank for it). I also acknowledge that it must be difficult and frustrating to miss work or have to pay for childcare or watch your child’s potential squandered because a union and the government can’t get it together.

But before you believe the government spin, or jump to anti-union rhetoric, or bad-mouth teachers in general because of that time you had a bad teacher in high school, there are some things you need to know about this dispute:

  1. The BC Liberals broke the law. Twice. In 2002, Bill 28 removed teachers’ right to negotiate class size and composition as part of the collective bargaining process. This legislation was not part of a negotiated new settlement with the BCTF. This was the government essentially ripping up a contract and deciding they would not honour parts of it anymore. After a lengthy court battle, the B.C. Supreme Court agreed that the BC government had acted in bad faith, and had violated teachers’ constitutional rights. Bill 28 was therefore unlawful and the BC government was given a year to rectify the situation. Their response was Bill 22, an essentially identical piece of legislation which was again struck down by the B.C Supreme Court. Instead of saying sorry, what the BC government is now asking the BCTF to do is simply ignore that this has happened, and sign a contract based on the other stuff (wages, benefits, etc.) while they launch an appeal. Let me put it to you this way: if YOU signed a contract that stipulated the conditions under which you’d work, and then one day your boss said, “Nah, I don’t wanna give you that stuff anymore”, would you want to keep working for them without a clear and binding commitment that the conditions and compensations you fought for would be honoured? Probably not.
  2. Teachers are highly-trained professionals with an incredibly precious resource in their care (the province’s children) and they should be paid that way. I am so bloody sick and tired of people saying, “If the teachers don’t like it, they can just quit!”. Would you really want that? If all of the teachers quit and went to work for, say, private schools, who would teach your kids? You? Do you have at least five years of post-secondary training, including training specific to education? Do you attend conventions and professional development sessions several times a year to keep up to date with advances in educational techniques and philosophies? Do you enjoy the idea of having everyone in the province know about it when you are having a dispute with your employer, or having to do without pay for weeks or months to defend the rights of other people’s children? No? Then button it. Quit your own job if you think it’s so easy to do.
  3. That said, it’s not all about the money. Yes, teachers should be paid fairly (it’s worth noting that their demands regarding wages basically keep up with inflation, and besides, the BCTF and government negotiators aren’t really that far apart on this issue), but class size and composition are a vital linchpin of this dispute and the government currently refuses to allow this issue to be a binding part of a new collective agreement. Class size and composition is all about the students. When classrooms contain 30+ students and unmanageable ratios of students with special learning or language needs, as they have since 2002, teachers simply can’t pay enough attention to all of their students. Struggling students fall through the cracks. Good students miss out on opportunities to be great students. And average students are unable to maximize their potential and discover where they truly shine. Teachers work with their students day in, day out, and have for years. Teachers know how many students of various needs they can reasonably teach. Any piece of legislation that thinks it knows better robs your children of their right to their teacher’s time and attention, and robs them of their potential for a better future.
  4. The BC government currently funds PRIVATE education to the tune of just under $300 million per year. That’s right. The same government that swears up and down that they cannot afford to abide by the Supreme Court’s ruling and reintroduce class size and composition to teachers’ collective agreements gives YOUR tax dollars to private schools so that their well-to-do students don’t have to share a classroom with your non-rich kids. Why on earth do private schools need to receive up to 50% of their operating budget from public funds? I have no idea though many are now saying the BC Liberals admire the U.S. “voucher system” and are hoping to bring the system to BC (which it frankly terrifying–there’s a reason the United States isn’t known for its great public schools). I’m not sure about this voucher system plan (I hope it’s just paranoia), but I do get the strong feeling that if Premier Christy Clark truly believed the public education system could adequately teach kids on the pittance her government wants to give it, she wouldn’t send her own son to a private school. It seems to me that the Premier believes what’s good enough for your kids is not good enough for hers. And is that attitude good enough for you?

[Update on point #4: It has been (likely rightly) suggested to me by readers that the point above may be misleading, especially the statistic that up to 50% of the a private school's operating budget comes from public funds. This refers to up to 50% of what a public school in the same area would receive for their operating budget, according to government policy on Grants to Independent Schools. This is obviously a much smaller amount than I may seem to have been implying, and yes, I am aware that $300 million is actually not a large percentage of total education funding in the province. Even so, $300 million is still $300 million and I believe that any education funds that come from the public purse belong in public schools where EVERYONE is welcome, not only people who can either pay tuition or are part of a certain religion or speak a certain language. I apologize if the above point was misleading; that was not my intention. ]

In addition to the above points, I am also annoyed by the claim that teachers somehow “have it easy”. After working with educators (primarily public school educators) for most of my post-degree career, I feel there are some things you may not know about teachers that you should:

  • Most new BC teachers spend years on Teacher On Call (TOC) lists before landing longer-term or permanent contracts. They don’t leave their teacher education programs and start making some kind of mythical big bucks. They wake up every morning hoping they get a call telling them they have work that day. They won’t know what school or even necessarily what district that work will be in. Most of them have huge student loans to pay off and no steady source of income to pay them off with. In short, despite their education and qualifications, they are no better off than any other young person when they leave university, and are occasionally worse off since a lot of teacher education grads are older and may have young families already.
  • Teacher certification costs money. To enter the profession, new teachers must pay $245 to be certified. They must also pay a yearly fee of $80 in order to keep their certification valid (NB: these fees are entirely separate from the dues teachers pay to the BCTF). These fees must be paid whether they actually have a job or not. In the past, these fees went to the BC College of Teachers, but the BC government dissolved the BCCT a few years ago and brought in the Teacher Regulation Branch of the Ministry of Education to regulate and certify members of the profession. This means that these fees go to the government. Which means that these very same teachers who are on strike actually pay a yearly fee to their employer so they can continue to be teachers. Do you pay your employer for the privilege of being able to work for them?
  • Most teachers, especially elementary teachers, spend hundreds of dollars of their own money to make their classrooms inviting and engaging places for your children. At the end of June, many teachers decided to remove their personal belongings from their classrooms, including the classroom supplies they had paid for. The impact is startling.
  • Teachers aren’t perfect, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve respect. Is every teacher a great one? Nope. But neither is every doctor, and doctors make a lot more money than teachers and have a lot more respect. Almost everyone I know has a tale of being misdiagnosed by a doctor, or of being shunted through the healthcare system like piece of trash, or being prescribed the wrong meds, but people seem to understand that the system is the problem, not the doctors themselves. You don’t see internet commentors virtually shouting about how doctors who point out flaws in the healthcare system should just quit already. Teachers have been working within a flawed system for years (in addition to taking years of net zero wage increases) which means that sometimes they aren’t good at their job, even when they really want to be. Besides, people in government aren’t always good at their jobs, but that didn’t stop Christy Clark from giving her top aides raises of up to 18% (these raises were pulled back one week later after backlash from the province, which just goes to show that well-directed outrage sometimes can make a difference).
  • Teachers worry about your children. They do. They are upset when bad things happen to their students, they wrack their brains trying to find ways to reach struggling or disengaged students, they are furious when the system fails a student. They hated having to short-change your kids for the past 12 years. They are trying to make it right and are going without their own wages to do so.

Again, I know I might not convince you, and if you still want to be angry at BC’s teachers it is your right. But I hope you are also angry at the BC government. Because you really, REALLY, should be–this is, after all, a government that was proven TWICE in court to have violated teachers’ constitutional rights. What makes you think they won’t come after yours someday?

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Our Giant Walk (Giant’s Causeway to Carrick-a-Rede)

Bird_CliffsWhenever you travel, there are always things you planned to do, things you hadn’t planned to do but ended up doing, things you didn’t plan to do but should have, and things you planned to do but sadly couldn’t. There are things you planned to do that you shouldn’t have bothered with. There are things you didn’t plan to do that were amazing. And then there are the things you planned to do, absolutely HAD to do, so you did them, and they were as awesome as you’d hoped.

One of the things I wanted, absolutely HAD, to do on our honeymoon was walk the Causeway Coastway in Northern Ireland, between the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Amazingly enough, the one day we’d set aside for doing this was sunny (which for Northern Ireland is nothing short of miraculous) and all in all, TC estimates we walked upwards of 25 km that day.

Believe it or not, the walking was the easy part. In order to give us as much walking time as possible, I decided that we should stay someplace quite near one of the two attractions we were walking between. The community I settled on was Bushmills, an adorable bunting-filled town a couple of miles from the coast and the Giant’s Causeway (also home to the Bushmills Distillery, a plus for TC). We booked a room for two nights at Finn MacCool’s Guest House on the main drag (I describe their awesome friendliness at the end of this post), and then just sort of forgot about it.

Until we realized that there is no rail line to Bushmills, and no line between Galway and Coleraine (the nearest train station to Bushmills), or even Galway and Belfast. We had to book a train from Galway to Dublin Heuston (opposite side of Ireland), catch a tram to Dublin Connolly, take the train to Belfast, and hope we could buy a ticket for Coleraine there before the next train left. Once in Coleraine, we would ask about the next bus through Bushmills and do our best to be on it.

Though we stayed up later planning on our last night in Galway and had to wake up earlier than I would have liked the next morning (some cries of “But we’re on our honeymoon! We’re supposed to be RELAXING!” may have been uttered), our crazy, multi-train + bus travel plan actually went off without a hitch. We JUST missed a Bushmills-bound bus in Coleraine, but the next one was only 25 minutes later which gave us time to regroup and eat a sausage roll.

Once in Bushmills we needed maps and bus schedules (helpfully provided at the guest house which is good because the websites for such things were somewhat hard to use), and we needed to figure out where to start, how to get there, and how the hell to do this big long walk anyways. We discovered that part of the cliff-top walking path had been blocked by a landslide and that we would need to detour between Dunseverick and Portbraddan (luckily, the walking map we had, issued by WalkNI, was really more of a booklet with smaller maps of each section we were going to walk and descriptions of where to turn, etc., including for the detour section. It’s worth noting that their published literature was more useful than their website. Huh). We also checked the high tide times for White Park Bay to make sure that stretch of coast would be accessible when we wanted to reach it (it was). TC made the call that we would walk from Bushmills to the Giant’s Causeway and go towards Carrick-a-Rede, as opposed to busing to Carrick-a-Rede in the morning and not getting to start our journey until likely past noon.

So that is what we did. At the suggestion of the lovely Tracy at Finn MacCool’s, we walked to the Causeway by way of the old Bushmills Railway (there’s a good path along the tracks) and from the end of the railway went past the spendy visitor’s centre and down the long and winding road to the Giant’s Causeway. Which is really effing cool. We could have spent a good hour climbing all over those hexagonal rock stacks and taking photos but we had a long day of walking ahead of us and we wanted to get going.

There was a bit of panic and swearing and furious fast-walking (mine) when we realized that the Shepherd’s Steps path, which connects the Giant’s Causeway to the Coastway above, was closed, and that we would need to do a couple kilometres of uphill backtracking to get back to the clifftop. We weren’t sure how to join up with the rest of the walk and I was getting a bit weepy at the prospect of potentially missing out the ONE THING that I had REALLY wanted to do (and the thing I had put the most planning and effort into). Luckily, I remembered that the walking guide mentioned that you don’t need to go down to the Causeway to do the Causeway Coastway, which meant that obviously the path should be accessible from above, and it was. Glory be.

Of all our experiences on our honeymoon, this was by far my favourite. After that little bit of morning adversity, the sun shone warmly on our faces and the sea was blue as a jewel. Topped by farmers’ fields (with the occasional sheep or cows), the cliffs were sometimes sheer, sometimes craggy, folding into islets and inlets that were breathtaking at every turn. It was important to remember to look behind us every once in a while so we would not miss the equally impressive views unfolding at our backs. Very little (almost none) of what we saw that day would have been visible from the motorway. No sirree. This kind of North Irish beauty is reserved for those on foot.

And so we walked. And walked. And ate bananas. And walked ever so much more.

Eventually our feet and knees and hips did begin to get tired and sore (especially when we had to detour onto asphalt roadways, ouch) but once past Dunseverick (where the last bus stop is before the rope bridge) we really had no choice but to continue on to Carrick-a-Rede and to be honest, it would have taken a lot to make me to give up my goal of walking from the Causeway to the bridge.

And so it was that we reached the car park at Carrick-a-Rede just before 5 p.m., feet like hot lead and joints like old wicker chairs. We could have caught the bus back to Bushmills right then and there, especially when a little signpost pointed towards the rope bridge, still a kilometre away. We thought, is it worth it just to see a rope bridge? And then we thought, we’ve come this far.

So we went to the booth and paid our admission and walked the kilometre and stood in the line and walked across the bridge and looked around the little island (and at Scotland, about as far away across the sea as Vancouver Island looks from Vancouver) and stood in the line again and walked back across the bridge and back along that kilometre of path to the car park and had a scone with jam and cream (well, I did) and at 6:10 in the evening caught our bus back to Bushmills. And all that, TC estimates, was more than 25 km of walking. We did it!

Tips and thoughts and other things if you want to do the same walk we did:

  • The walk between the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede bridge is just a section of the much longer Causeway Coastway. You don’t necessarily have to begin or end where we did (or travel in the same direction), but you should make sure you know where you can catch a bus, etc. at the end of your day or if you need to abandon your walk early. We kept a bus schedule with us along with our maps. People who walk the whole Coastway do it over three days or so and stay in accommodation along the way.
  • Dressing in layers is strongly recommended. It’s generally cool and cloudy in (Northern) Ireland, even in the summer, but we found the weather changed hour by hour during our trip, sometimes minute by minute. You definitely need a shell that can keep out the rain, preferably one that has a hood. I started our walk wearing five layers on top, at some point was down to two layers, and ended the day at four. Layers are the bomb.
  • We were SO tempted to just hop the fences and scramble across the land-slide blocked trails. We chose not to for our own safety of course, but also the safety of anyone below. How terrible would it be if you hurt someone (or damaged the beautiful natural landscape) below you just because you couldn’t be bothered to take a little detour?
  • If you are staying in Bushmills and don’t have a bunch of money for the fancy Bushmills Inn, I heartily recommend Finn MacCool’s Public House and Guest Inn. The rooms are fairly spartan but they were clean and warm (or as warm as it gets in such damp climes) and I can’t praise the hospitality enough. Though Finn MacCool’s has a pub and does breakfast, they have no restaurant of their own so they let us bring our take-out into the pub, gave us plates and cutlery and napkins, and cleared up after us as if we’d bought the food there. TC got to try a 16-year-old Bushmills single malt on the house and after we checked out on our last day, Tracy let us leave our bags behind the bar and continue to hang out in the pub and watch TV and use the wifi for a few hours while we waited for our bus. We’d bought strawberries for lunch and she gave us a bowl of whipped cream for them (I assume they had it for Irish coffees). We didn’t want to take up a table for nothing so I bought and soda and TC had a cup of tea but when we rose to leave Tracy just waved us off and wished us well. Thank you Tracy!
  • The Giant’s Causeway is amazing (and free, as long as you don’t go into the Visitors’ Centre), but the Carrick-a-Rede bridge is a little underwhelming, especially as you have to wait in line for a lot longer than it takes to actually cross the bridge. If you aren’t going to do the long walk we did the trail from the car park does have some nice views but honestly, we saw better!
  • The websites for Northern Irish transit and transportation are not as good as those in Ireland or North America. It’s best to organize travel in Northern Ireland ahead of time and find up-to-date hard copy published material if you can. On the flip side, people are so nice there we had help and suggestions at every turn.
  • White Park Bay (and the 2km of beach pathway on it) is not accessible during high tide. You should definitely check high tide times before going out; we found them on a surfing website.
  • The train between Belfast and Coleraine is not very fast. There is a bus that goes from Belfast right to the Causeway via Bushmills but only once a day. We used it to get back to Belfast and it is much faster.
  • Bathrooms on the walking path are few and far between (I believe Ballintoy Harbour maybe had one, and there’s one at Carrick-a-Rede). The cliff path is mostly wide open, with fields on one side and a sheer drop on the other. The Emerald Isles are not known for having an abundance of trees and the low bushes along the trail were so thick and prickly they were a definite no-go for bathroom cover. There were some taller grasses along the cliff edge, but I didn’t fancy falling to my death with my pants around my ankles. You might just have to make sure no one’s coming along the path and go for it, which is more or less what I did.

And on that note, happy trails.

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Killarney, Galway, and Connemara – Ireland is very pretty

A few days ago, I was sitting on a low stone wall by the side of the river in the little village of Cong, in County Mayo. As I was sitting there enjoying the rare Irish sunshine, I saw two ducks hurrying along the bank towards me.

The first duck said “Quack! Quack!”

And the second duck replied, “I cannae go any quacker!”

This is my favourite joke of the many told to us by Michael O’Malley, bus driver and tour guide extraordinaire, with the Galway Tour Company (he told this joke as we were leaving Cong by way of a road which passed the aforementioned low stone wall and river). But I am getting ahead of myself.

Before Galway and our lovely bus tour through Connemara, we were in Killarney, touring ourselves through the beautiful Killarney National Park on rented bicycles. In 1932, Arthur Bourn Vincent donated Muckross Estate, which was comprised of his parents’ 19th-century mansion and extensive property, to the country of Ireland. The mansion, Muckross House, has been restored and the public can tour inside for a fee (we didn’t do this but we did eat our lunch and take a walk through the massive and well-maintained gardens). The grounds were eventually substantially expanded through further land donations to create Killarney National Park, Ireland’s first national park.

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The bike tour suggested to us by the tourism office in Killarney had us on a nice day trip around Muckross Lake and down then south of Killarney town for a detour to Ross Castle. In total we probably put in about 20 km, occasionally on the roadway but mostly on the bicycle/walking/jaunting car trails in the park. Though the park as a whole is quite hilly (with mountains I’m sure would be gorgeous to explore by car or on foot), our trip was quite easy and relaxing. We stopped several times for pictures, to eat, and to look around. Apart from having a sore behind at the end of the day, the fact that I don’t cycle much in Vancouver didn’t seem to matter much–the bike paths are not hard and the bikes we rented were great.

Though there are nice walking paths accessible from the town of Killarney (Ross Castle and the jaunting cars there are not far away if you want to take advantage of them), if you don’t have a car and want to see the park I really recommend renting a bicycle. There are bicycle rental shops all over town and most give out free maps (the one we used also gave us helmets). As I mentioned before, you don’t need to be a hardcore cyclist, but it does help to make the couple more boring patches (when you’re on a roadway, for example) go faster. It’s a fun and relatively inexpensive way to sight see around Killarney.

After spendy Dublin, we decided to do Killarney on the cheap and booked a couple of beds in Neptune’s Hostel. We were in a 6-person dorm room in a brand new section of the hostel. As hostels go, I thought Neptune’s was pretty great. The room was clean and comfortable (with real duvets, a hostel first for me). We had a big kitchen in the hostel and a Tesco supermarket across the street, so apart from some late-night fast food after a night at the pub, we didn’t eat out in Killarney.

What we did do was go to a pub for a couple of pints and to take in a session of Irish music. Of the live music we’ve managed to catch on our trip to Ireland, this was the first session and probably the most casual. Three musicians sat around a table, drinking pints and playing on a guitar, fiddle, and accordion. When the fiddler got up to go the restroom, a local in the pub took over his fiddle for a song or two (the same thing happened with the guitarist as well). There were some traditional Irish tunes but also songs that people in the pub seemed to know and could sing along to (like You Are My Sunshine). It was relaxed and homey and musically great. And I got drunk without meaning to because in Ireland, the pints are really pints.

After Killarney, we were on a bus and off to Galway on Ireland’s west coast. We stayed in the Forster Court Hotel, just off Eyre Square. Galway itself is a very pretty albeit touristy town (like Killarney in that way), and it was here that we finally did some shopping (great High Street for that). I was tempted to buy a Claddagh ring since they originate in the area, but apart from the rings related to my marriage I’m really not much of a ring wearer so I was able to resist. I was not able to resist a tin whistle.

Our/my real reason for visiting Galway was to see if we could find a day-tour into Connemara, which our Lonely Planet refers to as a “kaleidoscope of rusty bogs, lonely valleys, and shimmering black lakes.” This beauty was surrounded by grey and red-tinged mountains and stone walls, and liberally dotted with old stone cottages and sheep. As it turns out, there are several options for tours and we decided to go with the Galway Tour Company. Our guide/driver was sweet and funny, and kept the landscape alive through his funny and knowledgeable commentary. I learned how peat bogs were formed, what happened to all the trees in Ireland (they were cut down, which is why people started burning peat), where the fairies went (underground), and a plethora of jokes with which to regale my friends and loved ones.

We stopped at the impressive Kylemore Abbey, the cute village of Cong, and the ruins of an old friary, but for me the best part was just the drive through the interior of Connemara. The beauty of this region cannot be overstated. As the clouds (and there are so many clouds in Ireland) pass overhead, the sun dapples the green and red valleys. The mountains with their grey peaks and empty slopes encircle the landscape and create an effect that feels at once spacious and cozy, timeless and firmly rooted in the passage of the seasons. I highly doubt the farmers who live in these valleys have an easy life, sheep’s wool being an almost zero-profit industry at the moment, but I do envy them the beauty in which they live and work.

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Sadly, we did not really enjoy dining in Galway (we ended up in an underwhelming and expensive tourist trap the first night and in a pub for basic pub fare the second), but our night at the pub did give us a chance for TC to watch Chelsea beat Burnley in the English Premier League (on the TV, obviously) and for us to listen to some more live music (two fiddles and two mandolins, three or so tables over). It’s so nice to watch people who are really good at what they do in such a casual setting. The musicians seemed quite young this time and I began to become terribly jealous of anyone who can play an instrument well enough to make such satisfying music. Oh well. I’ve got my tin whistle.

My biggest regret about our time in Galway is that we did not give ourselves more time enjoy the area. What we saw was only a small fraction of the amazing scenery and experiences Ireland’s west coast has to offer. We also needed to get from Galway up to Northern Ireland, which meant a lot of our evenings spent planning this leg and an early morning after our second night. Luckily, Northern Ireland had more than enough to offer.

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In Dublin and Well-Fed

On Saturday, my TC were wed by the sea on Salt Spring Island. Though our wedding day was perfect, it was sandwiched between days of preparation and recovery, and two full nights during which I did not sleep. In my infinite wisdom, I had long ago decided that I wanted us to leave on our honeymoon directly after our wedding. This is why, not five days after getting hitched, I am sitting in the Fleet Street Hotel in Dublin, preparing for our second night in Ireland’s capital city but also for our onward journey to Killarney tomorrow. So far, married life is a bit of a whirlwind for this happy couple.

What drew us to Ireland for our honeymoon? For the both of us, the country’s reputation for beauty, charm, and friendliness. Additionally for me, my love of folklore and the fairy stories of my youth. For TC, his love of whiskey (or whisky, but here in Ireland it’s always with an “e”).

_DSC0216.JPGThough jet lag and exhaustion have prevented us from venturing out far (or late), Dublin is an incredibly walkable city with most attractions crowded south of the River Liffey (with a few places, like the Old Jameson Distillery, situated on the north side of river). Upon our arrival in Dublin around noon yesterday we made napping our immediate priority, however, we were still able to sneak in a walk through the Grafton shopping district and down to St. Stephen’s Green (my favourite part was the ducks) before dinner.

This morning we made sure to tick off something on TC’s Ireland wish list by taking a tour of the Old Jameson Distillery on Bow Street (we booked our tour online which is good because by the time we arrived it was sold out). No distilling actually occurs on Bow Street anymore (the new massive Jameson Distillery now operates in Cork), but with our amusing guide and some scaled-down models of distilling equipment, I was still able to learn a lot about how whiskey is made (TC already knew everything but since he was picked for the special comparison tasting at the end and got a certificate with his name on it I think for him it was just about fun). Did you know that the smoky taste you get in a Scotch whisky is from using peat to malt the barley (versus Jameson whiskey which used odourless coal and now uses natural gas)? I didn’t (well, I knew peat was involved though I wasn’t sure how), and now I do. The tour itself is pretty quick for what you pay (14€ for an adult ticket, cheaper online), but you do get a drink of Jameson Original at the end (either straight, or, if you prefer, with gingerale and lime), and the building itself is kinda cool.

Our next stop was at the campy museum, Dublinia, just across the street from Dublin’s Christchurch Cathedral. At this point in our trip, this is the attraction I probably could have done without. Though our Lonely Planet: Ireland had mentioned that the museum was decent, “at least for kids”, I sort of ignored the “for kids” caveat and dragged the jet lagged TC through three floors of kitschy interactive displays about Vikings, medieval Dublin, and archaeology (where the kids can try on hard hats and boots!). Though I like to think we’re young at heart, my new husband and I did not have the energy for posing in pretend bearskins and writing our names in runes (I tried and got frustrated). The medieval level with its re-creations of Dublin’s quayside, markets, and merchant home life was actually pretty impressive, but I think the museum maybe overdid it a little with their mannequin displays (like the cart of dead plague victims or the man sitting on a latrine seat, accompanied by an audio feed featuring his groans of satisfaction on the crapper). If you ever travel to Dublin with kids they’ll probably get a kick out of Dublinia, but otherwise I’d give it a miss.

Not being much of a city person (or a James Joyce fan), I can’t say I’m blown away by Dublin but I think it’s fair to say that both TC and I like it and are enjoying ourselves, exhaustion aside. Our hotel is within walking distance of everything I want to see, the shopping (if I were here to shop, which I’m not) appears to be excellent, the streets seem safe and the buildings quaint, and our dinners have been superb. Taking Lonely Planet‘s advice and steering clear of the Temple Bar area with its faux-Irish tourist traps, we have ended up eating at French restaurants on Exchequer Street both nights and have not been disappointed.

Last night we took advantage of the “pre-theatre” 2-course menu at Fallon & Byrne (a fancy restaurant above an only slightly less fancy grocery store). Despite being part of a deal, our evening was not cheap, though it hardly matters when the food, cocktails, and service were so excellent (despite our being obviously underdressed, wearing what we’d been wearing on the plane). On something special like the first night of our honeymoon, I don’t really mind spending a lot of money if the food is worth it, and it was: chicken terrine with mango chutney, fresh bread and butter, roast chicken with red onion relish and shrimp butter, mango sorbet with pieces of mango, pineapple, and meringue, topped with whipped cream–it’s fair to say we waddled back to our hotel last night.

This evening we decided to try more French fare at the Green Hen. Slightly cheaper than Fallon & Byrne (though with a tighter interior and busier atmosphere), the food on their “early bird” menu (I guess a reward to tourists and locals who feel like eating early) is just as good. We should have made a reservation, but we didn’t, and were lucky enough to be seated at the bar. We started with cocktails and smoked salmon with capers before moving on to vegetable risotto (for me) and duck confit with blackberries and melt-in-your-mouth butter, I mean potatoes, for TC (I think the duck was better but my risotto sure wasn’t bad). TC declined dessert but I went for the passion fruit cheesecake with shortbread ice cream and it was even better than I hoped it would be. I would never say that TC and I are foodies but we do appreciate good food, and this food was very good.

So good, in fact, that for the sake of our wallets it’s probably for the best that we are moving on to Killarney tomorrow, where we will be staying in a hostel and partaking in natural, i.e. free, attractions instead of fancy French restaurants. Not that there’s anything wrong with French restaurants in Ireland. Evidently not.

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It’s almost here…

Cropped_Lauren&Brayden

Illustration by Sonja Kresowaty

It’s happening.

And I am so excited.

My Travelling Companion and I reached Salt Spring yesterday afternoon and time is now moving both heart-racingly fast and excruciatingly slowly. How can I possibly get everything done in time? And how can I possibly wait so long? After a nearly two-year engagement it is surreal to me that all the pieces are moving now, that we will be decorating our reception venue tomorrow, that cupcakes and catering are a go and my gown is in my future in-laws’ closet and my parents and sisters are here (here!) and we’ve picked up our marriage license and told our officiant what we want her to say and that any remaining preparation must fit into the next two days (two years of prep into two days!) and that after all of this hoopla life will go on as before.

Because life doesn’t stop or make accommodations for people’s weddings. Though both the sun and the well-wishes of friends and co-workers have been beaming down on me for the past few weeks, there is, in the words of Bob Marley, “so much trouble in the world”. Trouble that jeopardizes our environment and humanity. Trouble that is so much bigger than my current biggest problem, which is that I have had an allergic reaction to a necklace I was wearing and my neck is now covered in hives (which won’t look nice in wedding photos, sigh). In the midst of such uncertainty and grief and violence and pain, how can the wedding of two privileged people possibly be relevant or significant? How can this event, into which we (and our families) have poured so much time and money and energy possibly be worthy?

I like to think that celebrating love is worthwhile. I like to think that if everyone could have the love and generosity that I have received the world would be a better place. I like to think that some traditions bring us closer to our families, and that this makes them worth observing. While preparing for our big crazy day has been stressful in many different ways, offers of help and congratulations have poured in from all directions and this is both gratifying and humbling. People can be good, and it is important to know that.

We will not be getting married in a world that is as we would like it to be. There is suffering and there is danger and greed and selfishness. This doesn’t end because we get married. After all of this hoopla is over life will go on as before.

Except it will be different because it will be shared. Which is just so nice to think about.

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Fair is fair: why straight cis people don’t need a “Pride” event

World Pride 2014, Toronto

World Pride 2014, Toronto

Last weekend I came across this troublesome little gem on social media, relating to fake posters for a “Straight White Guy Festival” which were plastered around an Ohio town (during the lead up to the community’s Gay Pride events). “Everyone welcome,” the fake flyers read, “Come help us celebrate our enjoyment of being straight white and male.” The author of the post, Sean Brown,  seems to think the stunt was not only funny but a legitimate shot at “leftists” whose only interests lie in protecting minority groups:

While it may be true that straight white men don’t face the same struggles as gay people do, the fact that they’re not allowed to celebrate their own sexuality in the same manner out of fear of offending someone is reprehensible. Everyone has the right to be proud of who they are, regardless of the color of their skin or who they choose to have sex with. It’s apparent whoever created this flyer did so to point out the hypocrisy in this debate.

True equality is not achieved by stifling others in order to uplift a minority group. It’s done by treating everybody exactly the same way, even if it means some people may get offended.

I hope Mr. Brown won’t mind being offended if a leftist who is interested in protecting the rights of minority groups calls his bullshit bullshit.

It’s bullshit. And this is why:

Straight, cis-gendered people like me get to celebrate and be proud of their sexuality everyday. We can marry whoever we want to and no one can say boo. We can arrange to adopt or foster a child without the extended birth family (who aren’t interested in caring for the child anyways) pulling out at the last minute because they don’t want the baby to be cared for by a gay couple. Western media constantly celebrates heterosexuality by using overtly heterosexual imagery to promote products and a “desirable” lifestyle (anyone seen a beer commercial in the last 20 years?). At home, at school, at work, our lives have been easier in every way imaginable because we were not born queer, or bi, or trans*. I’m sure if you asked an LGTB person, they’d probably take the lifetime of acceptance straight cis people currently enjoy over a pride party once a year. We don’t need a party celebrating our good fortune. Every single day we aren’t discriminated against is our party.

Funnily enough, I’m not shocked that the post’s author could acknowledge this privilege and still think that “treating everyone exactly the same way” vis-à-vis pride events for privileged people is a legitimate position. I remember once thinking the same way about a variety of issues surrounding equality (granted, I was in high school at the time, but still, it’s all part of the learning process). Why couldn’t someone formally celebrate being white/straight/middle-class, etc., I wondered. Fair is fair after all.

Here’s the thing (which I won’t have to tell you if you are interested and active in issues of racial, sexual, economic, or gender equality): fair is only fair if everyone starts from the same place and has had the same advantages.

Let’s say 10 people are running a 100 m race. 9 of these people are “straight white (cis) males”. The 10th runner is gay, a person of colour, and/or not a cis-male. All of the runners are required to start at the start line at the sound of the gun, and run 100 m to the finish line. Fair is fair, right?

Except perhaps the 10th runner was not able to attend track practice in the months before the race because the locker room atmosphere (which included their 9 competitors) was not a safe space to be. Perhaps the 10th runner did not receive adequate training during their formative years because they were overlooked by coaches throughout their life–overlooked for reasons that had nothing to do with their running ability. Perhaps for weeks prior to the race, the 10th runner was subjected to nightly death threats, and a daily barrage of “news” items and opinion pieces constantly questioning whether Runner 10 should have the right to run the race at all, or whether they even belong in polite society.

The other 9 runners, meanwhile, have been supported throughout their training by each other, by their coaches, and by society at large and are on equal footing with one another. As the competitors take their marks, one of the 9 runners gives the 10th runner a shove, completely breaking their focus as the race is about to begin. The race officials pretend not to notice because, you know, that 10th runner, always being sensitive about something, can’t ever take a joke, right?

The gun goes off. All 10 runners sprint towards the finish. Perhaps the 10th runner has managed to train on their own with the support of a close group of friends and allies and they manage to put in a decent showing. Perhaps the 10th runner has been mostly on their own and the stress of the conditions under which they’ve had to compete have taken their toll. Either way, can we really say the race was fair? Of course not.

And given that the race was not fair, can we really say that it’s tasteful for the 9 “straight white male” runners to celebrate the superiority of their circumstances? Of course not. (And don’t even get me started on the qualifiers “white” and “male” in terms of the privilege being fêted in this prank–they just add further insult to, well, insult. And injury.)

But if the 10th runner wants to party with their friends? Absolutely. They deserve as much, don’t you think?

So Sean Brown finds straight white guys “not being able to celebrate their sexuality…for fear of offending someone” to be “reprehensible”. What I find reprehensible is celebrating privilege achieved at the expense of another human being’s rights and dignity. And I don’t find my position hypocritical in the least.

Besides, are Pride events really that exclusionary? Unless you’re there to be hurtful or spread homophobia, the answer is usually no. If you’ve ever been to a Pride you’ll probably notice that people of all sexualities, genders, races, and economic backgrounds are in on the party. Even straight white guys.

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How Pinterest is Crushing My Wedding (and Self-Esteem)

They used to say every girl dreams of a fairytale wedding. I’m not sure about that but I do currently feel the weight of the expectation that every girl must CREATE a fairytale wedding, whether she ever dreamed about it or not. As one of my colleagues warned me about wedding planning, “Once you get on that roller coaster you can’t get off.” And I am definitely riding a roller coaster made of paper lanterns and jumbo popsicle sticks, hastily stuck together with my newly-acquired glue gun.

Maybe I was once one of those girls. Maybe I once wanted a poofy dress and a string quartet and an aisle lined with rose petals (maybe I still do want a poofy dress, a string quartet, and an aisle lined with rose petals but perhaps I am too practical and too poor). Who doesn’t want to imagine a major event without also having to imagine the financial, familial, and time restrictions that will influence the big day? But who can afford that dream when it comes to their own life? Practically nobody.

Which is why, Once Upon A Time, if you were not rich enough to hire a wedding decorator or rent out a spendy venue, you rolled out some plastic runners, threw up some balloons and streamers in your “wedding colours”, and called it a day. I certainly went to a lot of weddings like that in my youth, and I had a great time. NOW, however, Martha Stewart, Pinterest, and craft stores everywhere have conspired to convince less-wealthy women that they CAN have their fairytale wedding after all, and furthermore that it is EASY and CHEAP, so long as they are prepared to MAKE EVERY DAMN THING THEMSELVES.

After visiting at least seven separate stores (Michael’s, dollar stores, Costco, shops in Chinatown, etc.) and spending so many dollars on paper lanterns, LED tea lights, and various wedding-related bric-a-brac, I’m beginning to seriously question how “easy and cheap” DIY wedding decor really is. Looking at the “DIY” page of my wedding Pinterest (yes, I had one) makes me want to cry. Apparently I compiled it in a simpler, more innocent time. A time when I thought perhaps I would learn to make macarons (an incredibly complicated piece of baking I’ve never attempted once, never mind enough times to feed a bunch of people). A time when I thought I was going to cut literally thousands of leaves out of coloured felt and thread them into festive garlands, or make my own lanterns out of mason jars and good intentions.

Sigh. I had no idea how incredibly bad at planning I am until I had to plan a wedding. And I had no idea how much my crafting skills fell short of what is considered a “simple, pretty wedding” nowadays until I tried to make even the most straight-forward of Pinterest-inspired dreams a reality.

One of the pieces of advice I’ve been getting since I got engaged is to make my wedding “my own”, as if my fiancé, the dozens of people attending, and the family and friends whose time and resources are being generously donated help throw one lavish party, have nothing to do with it. This wedding is far from being “my own”. The photos I’ve pinned on Pinterest are not my own, the crafting ideas are not my own, and the images I carry in my head of what I wish my wedding could look like are not my own. They’re part of some kind of wedding stencil that floats around in the ether, waiting to lay itself on top of all new couples’ best-laid plans and show them how far off the mark they are.

Um...nailed it?

Um…nailed it?

It’s all well and good to try to create your dream wedding if you’re crafty, and patient, and don’t live in a studio apartment where every available flat surface is now covered in boxes and bags. It’s less good when you waste two hours and six sheets of origami paper trying to learn how to make a magic cube rose only to end up with a fist-sized mass of crumpled sadness. Ho hum. I don’t think I was made for this.

I’m not sure where these high expectations for weddings come from (I know our guests are not snobby people and would not judge us based on my origami skills), but I do know they exist. Case in point: yesterday, I went to the dentist for a check up and cleaning. One of the hygienists told me that I have the lightest shade of “natural” teeth (based on the scale they have in the office). Which is great! And then she proceeded to explain how to use a fancy home-whitening kit (normally $100) which my dentist gave me for free as a wedding gift, so that I could really whiten up before my wedding.

And you know what? I appreciate it and I’m going give it a try. If you flip through wedding magazines, you will notice that while more brides nowadays may opt for ivory or off-white gowns, nothing but the whitest of whites will do for their smile. It’s weird to me that a dental office can simultaneously acknowledge the lightness of your smile and offer you free home-whitening, but it’s as if we all understand that weddings are somehow special, extraordinary events, and normal levels of nice-looking just don’t cut it. Subconsciously, we’re all trying to recreate a Pinterest/wedding magazine-worthy wedding, and it’s pretty damn stressful.

And yet I find I’m getting excited in spite of my anxieties. We’re lucky to have lots of help from family and friends, and the closer I get to the wedding the more I remember what it’s all for. It’s hard to make a wedding “my own”, because it’s not just for me, or even for us. It’s to share with people we care about, and part of that sharing is wanting to show off for them.

Or maybe that’s kind of bullshit. I’ve spent an entire blog post blaming Pinterest and whinging about how some evil conspiracy has created unrealistic wedding expectations, but deep down I know that I want things to be pretty because I like pretty things. And I really like folding paper.

Pretty pretty!

Pretty pretty!

[Note: for my origami needs, I have been turning to the amazing website, origami-instructions.com. I made the roses above with the instructions for Origami Rose with Leaf.]

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How to meet women without being a creep

Um...no thank you.

Um…I like that you’re a reader, but no thank you.

Hi there (heterosexual) fellas!

I don’t usually dispense dating advice, but I can only imagine that the dating world is a minefield for you right now. With the #YesAllWomen hashtag taking off and so much push-back against rape culture and the sexual entitlement implied by terms like “friend zone“, you’ve probably been made to feel like an asshole for, or at least have been prompted to question, the ways in which you’ve commonly interacted with women in the past. It may seem like your go-to conversation starters are annoying, insulting, and perhaps even scaring, some of the women you’d like to get to know better.

This sucks. It sucks for those women because they very likely ARE annoyed, insulted, or possibly even frightened by your overtures. And it sucks for you because, to give you the benefit of the doubt by assuming you are not a rapist, you’re making yourself look like a creep, which was probably not your goal.

Though it’s true that a lot of the single male behaviours I’ve observed in my young life are certifiably creepy, it’s hard to lay the blame with you. The same patriarchal, macho culture that has been hurting women all these years has also been hurting you, by telling you that your worth as a man is directly related to the number of women you can sleep with, by telling you that your emotions and vulnerabilities are shameful, and by denying you the right to appreciate all of the different relationships you have with women in your life, even if these relationships are not sexual. The culture that raised women to think they must be thin and have large breasts to be attractive also raised men to think they need to be tall and muscly. For both men and women, these expectations are unrealistic, as is the expectation that you’re supposed to be attracting lots of women, all the time. That the culture that raised you makes you feel like you’re missing out on some amazing elite party whenever you’re not having sex is unfair and totally false. And it’s understandably frustrating for you.

But that frustration is scary for women (if you want to know why, simply look at some of the extreme violence catalyzed by frustrated and misguided feelings of sexual entitlement, like the Isla Vista murders, for example). If you want to talk to a woman without being a creep you need to understand that while you might feel embarrassed or rejected if your interaction with her does not go well, she has very real reason to fear that she might be assaulted or even killed. If you’re talking to a woman who’s never met you, she’s not just assessing whether or not she wants to have sex, date, or continue talking to you. She’s also assessing whether or not you might be a threat to her physical safety, either now or down the road. Not behaving like an entitled creep goes a long way if you’re trying to establish even just that physical trust.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with going out for a night on the town and trying to “get lucky”.  People of all ages and genders are indeed looking for romance, and as long as you’re courteous and respectful about it, no one can fault you for approaching people you’re attracted to. Both love and sexual intimacy are wonderful things and it’s completely valid to want to find willing partners to share either or both of these adventures with you.

In terms of actually finding these partners (either for just tonight or for years to come), I unfortunately can’t help you. I don’t know any superficial “trick” for attracting women (unless that trick is hygiene, in which case, yes, hygiene is a great start). In terms of keeping your approach courteous and respectful, however, I do have some tips I’d like to share with you:

  1. Remember that no one owes anyone else sex, ever. You don’t owe anyone sex, and neither does she. Even if you’ve bought her a drink. Even if you’ve talked all night. Even if she flirts with you, or makes out with you. Even if she goes home with you–if, at any time, the woman you are talking to makes it clear that she does NOT want to have sex with you, that is the end of the discussion. Thank her for the conversation, call her a cab, or put her up on the couch. Then do something else (if you’re still interested in being around each other even if sex isn’t going to happen) or just walk away. No insults. No calling her a bitch or a slut or a tease. And absolutely NO trying to persuade her to change her mind once she has said no. It might not be the outcome you wanted, but a true gentleman seeks freely given and enthusiastic consent, and NEVER makes someone feel guilty for not wanting to provide it. This foundational principle is absolutely essential if you want to be respectful and polite in your interactions with women. Without fully understanding this the rest of my suggestions will be empty gestures, just tricks to make women think you’re a “nice guy”.
  2. Try to make sure you’re not interrupting something. A person who’s been interrupted by a stranger is likely in no mood to give that stranger much of a chance, romantic or otherwise. I’ve been interrupted by men I didn’t know while I was mid-conversation with my friends, and the other day a man on the bus got the woman sitting in front of me to take out her ear buds and listen to him just so he could tell her she had a “beautiful profile” and “nice features”. Not impressive. I’m sure you don’t like it when people interrupt you, and most women don’t either. Even if you’re interrupting or intruding to give us what you think is a compliment, what we really take away from the interaction is that you don’t believe that whatever we were doing (talking to friends, listening to music, or even just enjoying a quiet moment with our thoughts) is as important as your right to approach us as a stranger and say whatever it is that is on your mind. So how to know if you’re interrupting something? Well, if the woman you’d like to speak to is talking to someone else, listening to music on headphones, reading a book, or writing something, this is a pretty good indication that she’s busy. Why not try making eye contact with her before you approach her? If she avoids contact she is probably not interested, however, if she reciprocates she might be open to a conversation. When in doubt, simply ask, “Am I interrupting you?”. If she says yes, apologize and move on.
  3. Ask her to dance. Almost every girl I know has been the victim of some random stranger grinding them in a club without so much as a hello. Ew. Grabbing and frotteurizing someone on the dance floor is invasive and incredibly creepy. Asking someone to dance is not only respectful, it is charming and old-school and provides a gateway not just to dancing but also to introductions and conversation. Which I assume you would at some point want if you were truly interested in meeting someone.
  4. Talk about something besides her appearance, at least to start with. One of my friends recently mentioned to me that she doesn’t actually feel flattered when strange men begin conversations by complimenting her on her appearance. Though obviously a compliment is preferable to an insult, the implication is that physical appearance is the A+, gold standard by which women prefer to be measured. It actually sucks to be measured by your physical appearance, and beginning your interaction with a woman by talking about her appearance just plays into her insecurities. Instead of talking about physical appearance, which people have very little control over, why not talk about her/your job, her/your studies, how her/your night is going so far, etc.? Your continued interest is signal enough that you find the woman you’re talking to attractive. You don’t need to put her on the spot about it (besides, I’ve always much preferred to receive those kinds of compliments from those who’ve also seen me without make up, not just people seeing me dolled up in a club).
  5. On that note, never never NEVER “neg” a woman. Of all the creepy tactics endorsed by creepy players, negging is one of the most sinister and insidious. Insulting an attractive girl so that she’ll feel insecure and sleep with you in order to “regain” your favour and her lost confidence is dishonest, misogynistic, and cruel. If you think it’s okay to say mean things to another human being to trick them into having sex with you, you don’t deserve to be with anybody. Period.
  6. Honesty is the best policy. Lying to get someone to sleep with you is a totally creep move. If you think you need to lie to impress women, maybe you need to do a little more work on liking yourself (or being the kind of person you can like) before you go searching for a partner. Looking for a fun night but not looking for a girlfriend? Just say so before anyone goes home with anyone else and before any feelings get hurt. Believe it or not, women do enjoy sex and not all of us are looking for a “til death do us part” scenario. Being up front about who you are and what your intentions are just saves you from awkward and uncomfortable misunderstandings down the line. Remember, in small cities like Vancouver, it’s not uncommon to see the same single people in the same clubs/bars on any given weekend. Wouldn’t you rather be remembered as a cool fling instead of some lying creep?
  7. Don’t take it personally. Unless you’ve specifically done something to upset the person you’re talking to, there’s no reason to take a lack of interest on a woman’s part as a judgement of your worth. She might not be looking for a male partner right now (either because she’s already seeing someone, isn’t into men, or maybe just wants to be single). She might be out for a night with her friends and doesn’t want to add a strange person to the mix. She might be very shy. Or she might just not be into you, and that’s okay. Think about the women you see everyday that you’re not into–should they take it personally? Of course not. No one’s attracted to everyone and it’s nobody’s fault.
  8. Women are people, which means they’re not all the same. My suggestions come from my own experience, and while I think they are worthwhile as broad strokes, every person is different and will react differently to different approaches.  As with any social interaction, intuition and social acuity are good traits to have. When in doubt, remember that politeness and courtesy are almost always appreciated (even if the lady in question is not interested in pursuing a relationship), and that name-calling and aggressive behaviour are almost always creepy (unless you’re with a lady who’s specifically in to that sort of thing, but that’s a whole other scenario….).

In addition to the above suggestions, I recommend being open to the idea that women might approach you (and remember, if they do, you are entitled to the exact same courtesies that are expected of you). In  my current (and most of my past) relationships, I took some of the initiative when it came to meeting and finding out more about the guys I was interested in and I think it worked out well for the both of us. Society still seems to think that men are always supposed to pursue women but women are capable of breaking the ice too. Relax. Enjoy your night out for what it is. Maybe a woman will approach you. Maybe she won’t. Maybe you’ll want to approach someone and maybe it’ll work out. Maybe it won’t. Either way, remember that your frustrations, disappointments and moments of confusion are shared by most single people, both men and women. There’s no great sex party going on without you–just a few people having sex and a bunch of people pretending.

[Note: My list of suggestions is by no means exhaustive so female readers, if you have anything to add or if you disagree with any of my points, feel free to comment below. Gentlemen, I recognize that creepiness can be a two-way street. Is there anything women have done that creeped you out? Let me know!]

 

 

 

 

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Exquisitely Crafted: Eleanor Catton’s “The Luminaries”

9780316074315_custom-ab2793381053c909c69a0e7d56cac302350a9795-s6-c30To begin Eleanor Catton’s elegant, 832-page novel, recipient of both the 2013 Man Booker Prize and the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, is a daunting task. The Luminaries contains 20 important characters (helpfully charted in the opening pages), follows an astrological structure and is, as mentioned above, an intimidating 832 pages long. To settle into the opening chapter (“In which a stranger arrives in Hokitika; a secret council is disturbed; Walter Moody conceals his most recent memory; and Thomas Balfour begins to tell a story.“) is not a matter of allowing yourself to be swept away (because how can you be with a book this physically heavy?), but of making a conscious decision to begin a long journey in the rain.

This, I think, is Catton’s intention. Her opening scene, set in 1866 Hokitika, New Zealand, finds young Walter Moody rattled from his overseas journey, bogged down by fatigue and rain. Upon entering the smoking room of the Crown Hotel, he comes upon twelve men silently occupying themselves in the kind of “studied isolation” that betrays the secret council in which they were deeply engaged just moments earlier. Both Moody and the reader must decide if the glimmers of intrigue that Catton has left visible are worth the trek into the murky unknown.

The answer for this reader is yes. Though never an easy read, the weight of The Luminaries is one which begins to gain momentum the moment we know something another character does not (which happens repeatedly throughout). Catton is a master of both concealment and revelation, parceling out each in just the right amounts so that our confusion never quite overtakes our dawning understanding, and vice versa. Her style is one which assumes and speaks to the reader, and ultimately rewards them in the incredibly satisfying final chapters.

Despite the mathematical and thematic sophistication of the book’s structure and Catton’s gorgeous, though occasionally high-falutin’, prose (the men in the Crown Hotel “might have been twelve strangers on a railway car, each bound for a separate quarter of a city that possessed fog and tides enough to divide them” their “bodily silence…deadened here not by the slur and clunk of the coaches, but by the fat clatter of the rain”), The Luminaries is, at its heart, a mystery story. Like any good mystery, the beauty of the language and the elegance of the chapter headings and divisions are secondary to the characters’ (and the reader’s) quest to seek out what is hidden and to unravel what seems at first to be hopelessly twisted. The prose and the structure, significant as they are, are the vehicles in which we travel–the mystery is the terrain.

Luckily, The Luminaries‘ mysterious landscape is one the author has mapped well and one she is adept at revealing. Unlike the patronizing explanations of Sherlock Holmes, Catton’s facilitation of our understanding is as emotional as it is rational, as lyrical as it is illuminating, and as wistful as it is fulfilling.

Having quite enjoyed The Luminaries, the only reason I wish the book were not so long is so that I would be more likely to undertake the repeated readings that would allow me to tease out Catton’s carefully crafted design a little more and derive even more pleasure from her skill. Even returning to the book casually (i.e. for leafing through) for the purposes of this review revealed details I hadn’t noticed before: delicious section names like “Tar”, “Tin”, and “The Widow and the Weeds”, and the way that the title of Part I, “A Sphere with a Sphere”, comes full circle (and becomes more poetic) for the book’s final section title, Part XII, “The Old Moon in the Young Moon’s Arms”.

There is so much to notice in this novel and so much to take pleasure in that I hope The Luminaries’ size will not dissuade you. Eleanor Catton clearly laboured long and now has a triumph to show for it.

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