How Suburbia (Almost) Makes Me Love Winter

For ten years we lived downtown Montreal. Not on the outskirts, not tucked away in a quiet neighbourhood. We lived at one of the city’s biggest, messiest intersections. In a spot like that, winter is about slush and wind tunnels and snow banks and the beeping of snow removal vehicles all night long. I loved living in the city and I miss it in many, many ways. But when I lived in the city I didn’t love winter – I abhorred it. I dreaded the frozen brown of November. I detested the deep freeze of February. I hated never knowing what footwear to put on. I avoided things like…well, anything outdoors I suppose. I felt primitively designed to hibernate – from the first sub-zero temperature until the last. In Montreal that generally means from the first of November until the middle of April…in a good year. It got to the point that even the anticipation of winter sent me to a miserable place so that by the time the leaves started changing colour, I was already bracing myself for winter. It was like I was losing the joy of two seasons. In our last year or so of downtown living, we added a vehicle to our household. A street-parked vehicle downtown in winter…this misery has no name.

When we moved out to suburbia I anticipated feeling isolated, I worried about never walking anywhere anymore, I was sure I’d never eat good food again…And while some of that happened (I did feel isolated for a long while), it didn’t feel like I thought it would. It took about a year for me to realize how much I loved the quiet. It took me another year to realize I was probably walking even more than I had downtown. And it took five years for me to realize that I’ve grown to love (some parts of) winter. It’s been a fierce winter over here on the Eastern side of the continent. It’s been cold and windy and snowy. But it’s also been a winter of showing off. Here in suburbia, our street stays white and snow-covered all winter.  Here in suburbia, someone cleans out my driveway for me every single time it snows. Here in suburbia, I walk down the block and out onto the lake almost every morning. Here in suburbia I watch the sun rise against the white plain of Lac St. Louis and I hold my breath for fear of breaking the spell.

Here in suburbia, I have children. And so here in suburbia we toboggan and build snow forts. We make snow angels and have snowball fights. Here in suburbia we skate on the outdoor rink across the street from our house and here in suburbia Kate discovered ice-fishing. Here in suburbia we start the day by jumping in the sled while Mom pulls the kids to the bus stop. Here in suburbia we still get cold. We still use heating pads to warm up our beds. We still flirt a bit too much with the wind.

But here in suburbia, winter is a lot more charming than it is downtown. It might just be winning me over.

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The Hangover (Birthday) Part 37

My birthday is exactly ten days after Christmas. Which makes it three days after New Year’s. And often enough, the first day back at school or work. Every year these holidays cast a long shadow over my birthday – so long that I’ve taken to calling it My Hangover Birthday.

All the energy and excitement and financial investment that goes into celebrating Christmas and then New Year’s Eve is spent and over and done by January 4. Add to that the general suckiness of January weather and it’s a really hard sell to party hard on the 4th. My closest family members loyally rally their energy to wish me a happy birthday but the truth is, no one, perhaps even me, has the wherewithal to ramp it up again for yet another round of festivities.

I think maybe, instead, I’ll adopt my half-birthday as the day of celebration. Heck, the entire United States of America is already celebrating on July 4th, maybe they’ll let me join the party. I’ll pretend all those parades and fireworks are for me. And then I’ll have the best birthday celebrations ever!

Watch out Fourth of July, I’m joining in!

Plus, since I found out that Ryan Gosling got all dressed up to wish me Happy Birthday, the hangover isn’t quite so bad!

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Teaching in Montreal

It’s grading season here and while the mountains of exam booklets seem high, there are good things happening. Of the many, many things I love about my job, chief among them is the joy I experience by teaching Montrealers – students gathered from across the globe, sliding in and out of languages with great ease, and well-versed in Quebec History.

A sample from this morning’s marking (aka – how you know you teach in Montreal!)

Montreal teaching THE ONE

Remembering

Samuel Lewis Honey

Samuel Lewis Honey

My grandfather, George Blaisdell Honey, returned from the First World War. He was injured but he returned. His brother, Samuel Lewis Honey, did not. Uncle Lew, as he was known by the family, joined more than 60,000 other Canadians killed on the battlefields of Europe.  For his actions he was awarded a Victoria Cross – posthumously. Though my grandfather, who was younger, returned home from the war, married, had four children and a successful law career, he spent his lifetime not talking about the War.  The stories he did hesitantly tell were of camaraderie and adventure, never the stories of trench warfare or unmitigated fear. Like so many other soldiers, even his diaries at the time never revealed the horror he lived through.GBHoney

I never knew my Grandpa Honey. He died before my eldest sister was born. But I wish I had known him.

I try not to celebrate or romanticize war. I consider myself a pretty staunch pacifist. But today, on Remembrance Day, I feel a strict duty to remember.

Today I’m pausing to remember the deaths of family members I never met. I’m pausing to remember the nearly 620,000 men who enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces – their families and loved ones who sent them across an ocean to the killing fields of Europe, the children who never met their fathers, and the broken men who returned home never quite the same. I’m pausing to remember the more than 16 million people who lost their lives across the globe because imperialism and militarism and nationalism collided in a conflict beyond the scope of imagination at the time.

We live in the aftermath. We’ve seen the land beyond the scope of imagination. And that’s why we pause to remember.

Mea Culpa

When I first heard about the Jian-saga, my reaction was much like other people’s: I didn’t know what was true and what wasn’t true but I felt sorry for Jian on some level. I’m a regular Q listener and though I am not crazy about his interview style, I’ve often been moved and challenged by his opening essays. If I had run into him on the street, I likely would have been a wee bit star-struck and I may even have swooned. I didn’t want the accusations to be true. And I asked the question I’m now desperately ashamed of asking – why had a single report not been made to the police if these women had experienced such violence?

Let me be frank: I am a woman who has been raped. I am a woman who never once made a report to the police.

As that person, I questioned the validity of claims because they had never been officially reported.

And I realized that I have grown up in, lived in, consented to, and participated in a social contract that judges women for the violence against them based on perceptions of choice. I, a woman who has been silenced by this fucked up paradigm, perpetuated it.

I was a fourteen-year-old girl who was skipping catechism classes to hang out with a secret older boyfriend. I yearned for excitement and rebellion and the feeling of being special. What I got spoiled every ounce of those normal adolescent urges. For the last twenty some odd years I have struggled and battled with the decisions I made that night. For the last twenty years I have owned the horror of that night as something I invited, as something I allowed, as something I chose.

It’s dominated the folder I’ve labeled “bad decisions”.

When I first wrote publicly about my experience of rape, I ended it this way: “In a long list of bad decisions that night I obeyed.  I got into the truck with an inebriated rapist.

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Choice is a tricky thing. Both in what it actually means (how does “choice” unfold in moments of such huge power differences?) and in feelings of ownership. We teach our children empowerment and maturity by offering them choices. We teach them to feel connected to their world by employing the act of choice. We teach them that choice equals power.

The act of choice.

We don’t know yet what will happen in the days and weeks to come with the Jian-horror-saga. But I do know that at the very least, it’s begun a conversation that might just chip away at the false-beliefs we’ve built around sex, power, choice, and consent.

For that alone, I’m grateful for this moment in time.

#BeenRapedNeverReported.