martedì, settembre 13, 2016

Mantras for the land that wasn't quite promised but will do

To hark back to something a cousin-by questionable-marriage said to us several years back, F-word and I indeed spent a good chunk of our lives looking for the Promised Land, and we didn't find it, and that's fine, and we're done looking, and that's fine too. Here is a good place to end up, with all its great schools and reasonably priced groceries and hospitals with low caesarian rates (BTW the German word for caesarian or c-section is "Kaiserschnitt". Isn't that awesome? I need to use "Kaiser Schnitt" as somebody or something's name in some work of fiction at some time). We aren't moving. Or at least, not until we're old, or until we have to.

All the same, once a week or more, I have to employ a specific calming mantra to reconcile me to life here, beyond my typical go-to of "two tears in a bucket, motherfuck it" (thank you, you beautiful woman, and goodbye):

People like you are the reason nobody likes Germans.

The mantra works because it's true. No one likes Germans. There are historical reasons for nobody liking Germans and those historical reasons all come back to the present reasons nobody likes Germans once they spend time with a certain type of German who seems to illustrate those historical reasons, because they do illustrate those historical reasons, and it has to do with a strange relationship to RULES.

And it's something that resonates with me as a Canadian, because Canadians have this reputation for really enjoying doing things by the rules, but almost everybody likes us (even though there are a lot of reasons they shouldn't). And the reason nobody likes Germans is because they really enjoy rules too, but perpetually seem to be using them as a stick to beat the people around them with.

It's on my mind today because usually I only have to pull out the mantra once a week, but just now I've had to do it three times in 24 hours, and in between those times I listened to part of Dan Carlin's "Blueprint for Armageddon" Hardcore History* podcast about the first World War. The bit in question is when he talks about how clueless the German state was about the brutal collective punishment of civilians during the 1914 invasion of Belgium affecting opinion in countries like Britain and the US that hadn't yet involved themselves in the war, and weren't obliged to by treaty. Carlin argues that since the idea of collective punishment was popularly accepted as a reasonable way to wage war within Germany, there was no serious thought given to what the rest of the world was going to think of it. That is, the Germans were obeying the rules, so no problem was envisaged.

Which would be fine - except rules are NOT. FUCKING. UNIVERSAL. They're applied as the powerful choose to apply them, and that means sometimes rules are transparently instruments of oppression. And you don't make something okay to everyone by making a rule about it. The Roma and Jewish genocides of the second world war were by the rules. The way the German political and business establishment has been choking the life out of Greece for the last several years is by the rules. Murder is "against the rules", and credit being extended with zero risk to the creditor is also "against the rules", but when the rules are enforced by the powerful - in these cases, the Germans - they can cherry-pick, and still feel like the are OBEYING THE MOTHERFUCKING RULES SO WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?

Anyways, nobody has been oppressing me that badly. I just have a bad cold and a massive, massive pregnant belly with all the attendant physical and mental discomforts, so the little things that happen get magnified and I need to pull out my mantra to calm down. In this case, the trifecta of "people like you are the reason nobody likes Germans" was:

a) trying to take my lightly-sick son to a local playground to get some fresh air (and myself some peace) but having to turn tail almost immediately, because there was a festival this weekend, complete with weird traditional shorts and oompa music and banners. That meant the playground was festooned with broken beer glasses and bottles. Even the sandboxes. Fuck knows how those pigs managed to break glass in a fucking sandbox.

My neighbourhood, statistically, is one of the most "German" in the city. And the amount of sheer fucking BITCHING I've heard from these true-blue Germans about how filthy Turks, Arabs and Roma people are in their public habits is what makes this particularly frustrating. There are RULES about public comportment, rules that don't apply if you're native German and having a good time, even when it means filling up a fucking PLAYGROUND with jagged glass.

b) taking the bus home late last night from a local hospital, where I plan to hatch the next baby, the driver blew past my requested stop. I'm sort of an absent-minded idiot at the moment, what with being seven months pregnant, so it took ten or fifteen seconds for me to realise what had happened. And then when I started yelling at the driver, he didn't pull over - instead, he continued on at speed for a good half-minute, yelling back at me that I should have reminded him to stop immediately.

If there weren't other people watching my pregnant belly sway around the bus, I'm sure the fucking bastard would have just continued on to where the fucking "rules" said there was another fucking bus stop.

c) this morning, I was biking Godzilla to school. On the route, there's a section of about 60 metres were the bike path disappears, the road narrows, and cars go fast around a roundabout as they anticipate the speed limit being about to rise. And at that point, at least when Godzilla is on the bike with me and I'm massively pregnant, I go on the sidewalk. The fuck I or anyone remotely sensible will do anything else. I've had too many near-misses there, and that strip of road is notorious for near-misses and not-misses not only of bikes but of pedestrians using zebra crossings. I go slow, watch out for pedestrians, and give them a wide berth, up to and including stopping for them, because I'm not an asshole.

This morning, I stopped for a pedestrian who was walking his dogs, to promptly get fucking jawed at from him about how I'm on a footpath. I gesture at the roundabout and start explaining why I'm on the footpath, but he interrupts, saying to me, my three year old on the back of the bike, and my big, pregnant belly, while we're stationary to let him pass - "you're on a footpath, and that's that."

It's one of those times where at the moment I deeply regret not knowing enough German to argue with him, but ultimately saying "okay, you don't want an explanation" and biking away from him was the best thing I could have done. He had the rules on his side, and I had my mantra on mine:

People like you are the reason nobody likes Germans.

People like you are the reason nobody likes Germans.

People like you are the reason nobody likes Germans.

*It's fun. Conversational, interesting, and I can follow it whilst pregnant and exhausted.

mercoledì, settembre 07, 2016

All these blow jobs will be lost in time, like tears in the rain

So I'm about 53 years late to this question but "Please Please Me" is totally about oral sex reciprocity, right? All these questions, answers lost to history, mouldering eventually in arts programmes in universities where strange pasty scholars spend whole, deeply unsatisfying and poorly paid careers speculating about the motives of the dead.

My undergrad college is celebrating its 20th anniversary in a couple of weeks with a big reunion do. It's funny; while I was there I was sure I was going to be a professional academic. There was a tug-of-war over me between the history section and the comparative lit section, over where I should go for my master's. Berkeley? U of T? And then - what? Lots of marijuana, a move to Europe - which at the time just felt like a way to put off a decision over the two to a clearer season - and then Spliffe's Wild Years, which I rounded off doing a master's in something completely different and much more . . . useful? That's arguable. But I'd probably be pretty good at taking over other people's countries now, compared to most people, which feels like a skillset that might be handy in these turbulent times.

So obviously I'm not going to the reunion. I'm in my last trimester, in the wrong hemisphere, and I'm not sure I'd go even if it was around the corner. We were a tight-knit group in a college that had just been founded - we started in its second year - and we did about 40% of our classes together, mostly lived together, mostly hung out together. And some of my dearest enduring friendships are with other people in that college. Which is probably the main reason I don't want to go to the reunion. I didn't lose touch with or drift away from anybody I want to be in touch with. Except the professors, and the ones I'd want to see again are no longer there.

But while it's happening, I'll think about it. Raise some sort of mental toast to Spliffe That Was, a curious young poser who expected to be underpaid and precariously employed most of her adult life, and who thought that Petrarch's influence on John Donne was a burningly important question relative to whether or not John Lennon was yelling at some woman to actually go down on him, for a change. She was fine, that Spliffe. But I'm glad she turned into me. 

martedì, agosto 30, 2016

Tax time, fuck you time

I needed a tax receipt from Lufthansa for a business trip I made to China last year, so I called them up and asked for one. My son, who was two at the time, came with me as he was still breastfeeding. I explained to the people at Lufthansa - more than once - that I only needed the tax receipt for my portion of the trip, not for my son's, as he is a small child - whose age was apparent in the booking, not least because he was charged less as a small child.

When the receipt came, to my email address, which contains my full name in it just in case there was any lingering confusion who it was for, it was addressed to Herr Godzilla. My son. Who is now three. 

I needed a tax receipt for extra payments to my son's kindergarten - we pay a little more than the normal monthly city costs, since it's an outdoor kindergarten with one extra teacher, and a supplementary music programme. All of these payments have always been made from my personal bank account. 

I personally requested the receipt - a few times because they have been taking their sweet fucking time issuing it - and once again these requests came from my email address, which contains, once again, my full name in it just in case there was any lingering confusion who it was for.

It was not only addressed, but SOLELY addressed to Herr Baby Daddy.
In both cases, I was making these requests to other women. 

STOP. JUST FUCKING STOP. FUCK. You know? It would be one thing to be getting this bullshit from men. They have a hegemony to defend. I wouldn't accept it, but it wouldn't grind my gears nearly so badly, because at least there is something logically self-serving about unreconstructed, unthinking sexism when it comes from a man. 

But when these bits of absurdity float up while I'm dealing with other women - as though something as ridiculous as addressing a tax receipt to a toddler or to a man who did not request it and did not pay for it makes more sense than a woman having Financial Agency and Tax Things to Sort Out even to other women - I start suspecting society is this giant stupid cult we all need fucking interventionist, Scientology-level deprogramming to deal with. 

venerdì, agosto 19, 2016

When needs and convictions align

I always have stood up for more social attention to families - better access to better childcare, better parental leave - but because of the circumstances of my own charmed, work-from-home-with-flexible-hours life, my convictions have always been abstract. I took six weeks off when Godzilla hatched, and things never got too desperate even with the precisely zero family support we got in Australia (besides my mother flying in for a month), since by the time he was mobile we had the money to get a couple of lovely girls coming to the house to help us out during my work hours and since the F-word was working part time while we were there.

But now my convictions are frightfully concrete. I'm still a week shy of my third trimester, and wondering how the fuck I would manage, as the baby mamma of a man who is now holding down a full-time middle-school teaching job (which is a surprise to us; we thought he'd be on two-thirds time this year; the hours will be difficult for me, but the money will be fabulous), if my son - who wouldn't be starting kindergarten until next month in Canada or Australia and wouldn't have any affordable quality childcare options preceding that - wasn't in 35 hour kindergarten at an awesome public institution already. It would be so painful to start settling him in now, while I'm so big, and tired, and enamoured of naps.

And oh my god - the future would be so much more logistically frightening.

This past trip to Canada already nailed it down for me, TBH. To see people having to empty their pockets for summer daycare, and see people - usually women - put their careers on hold because it made more financial sense to spend the first few years of their kids' lives not working. To see bullshit between couples over how the woman should probably not work because "half her salary will go to childcare" - as if the childcare is something that benefits her personally, and her baby daddy has no particular stake in it because of course he'd be working anyways.* To see families just sort of gritting their teeth and dealing with generational childcare - a blessing in so many ways, yes, but NOT EASY for anyone. It is NOT THE EASY OPTION. Sometimes paying for services, or contracting them, makes them so much easier to enjoy . . .

Anyways. I'm reaching the stage of my Krautland experience where I've started complaining a lot, because that's just the sort of person I am. But knowing that the new baby will be able to be in a well-resourced kindergarten of my choice from the time it is two, and knowing my first child is already well-settled in such an institution, and knowing that there are subsidized childcare options before then for the new hatchling if we need them - besides just the experience of being middle-class with a middle-class income (which is what would make life possible, if not easy, in Canada or Oz) - this is all making me sigh with relief that all those years of abstract principles and convictions have really worked out for me, in that they helped us choose to live in this wonderful, WONDERFUL country.

And nap. Nap with relief. Which is what brought this word onslaught on. I just had the most delectable nap and when I woke up I reflected that in Australia or Canada I might not have been able to afford it.

The horror. The horror.

*And in defence of the Not All Men movement, I will say that nine times out of ten, when I heard that disgusting notion voiced, it was by women.

domenica, agosto 14, 2016

Oh hey there, cancer

Is this an age thing? I guess, but it feels weird how cancer has got to be like this fuckup but inevitable family member that I'm always having to think about and ask about. My father is doing really well, from all metrics. It looks like his treatment may be winding up with a great prognosis, which is all I could have asked for.

And about two weeks after getting that news, the F-word's lovely stepfather has told us he's got it all over. Last year his medical team found what they thought was a contained, if malignant, tumour in one of his kidneys, so, out came the kidney, but in, apparently, stayed the cancer.

I am tweaking about him in the same angrily political sense I tweaked about my father having to spend three hours a day travelling to his radiation appointments for months - furious over substandard regional resources and care in Australian, Canadian, etc., public healthcare systems. And my brain is doing a really great job focusing on that whole "one thing at a time" thing of "what can we do from here?" It is doing a great job of not imagining how my stepfather in law is actually feeling. It's doing an amazing job of ignoring mortality in general.

One thing it is not able to do, however, maybe because I've watched Blade Runner whilst high a few too many times (if such a thing is possible), maybe because my stepfather-in-law and I both got upset about David Bowie dying and it's so easy to imagine him, a gay working-class Catholic Irish kid in Buttfuck Nowhere Australia listening to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust when it first came out, seeing that skinny ginger freak on his television screen, and it being some sort of transcendent experience - anyways, my brain has been having a hard time not having these two things on constant repeat all day: