The End

(This was originally written for the Centennial Reader, a magazine that bought this article, then immediately went the way of other Literary Magazines before it. I will try my best not to take it as a sign.) 

“Good morning.” I wave to my neighbour, a man who does not seem to have a job – or perhaps he just works as I do. Part time. Slip shod. Between depressions and times when my brain runs tickety-tock smooth.

He makes the inhale face that real smokers have mastered. It says that, despite what we have learned, smokers are cooler than the rest of us. He nods. He does not talk very often, just glimpses over the fence as we garden, or half smiles when his son plays.

“Morning.” He mutters, shifting the cigarette in his mouth.

“It’s a nice day.” I say, and it is. It is March and it is atypically temperate. Blue crocuses spot neighbourhood lawns, defying the nightly chill.

“Too nice. I guess this is the beginning of the end.” He says without humour.

I can feel my heartbeat in my neck. I try to count the beats to calm myself as I keep walking, now reduced to my own silent, nodded reply.

The beginning of the end. Did I bring my medication with me today? The little, white, powdery pill that dissolves on the tongue like old Popeye cigarettes and takes the panic with it?

I want the calm or, at very least, the numbing. I know if I think too long, if I linger on our warming planet and our disappearing resources, I will lose myself, maybe for weeks or months.

I pull the pill out of a small plastic container that is always in my bag and slide it under my tongue. I know that in fifteen minutes, the panic will start to fade and I will be able to work my job. I will be able to watch the children and smile and play and give no sign that I am imagining the end of the world while I prepare cheese and crackers.

The end of the world is not new to me.

I first met it in church, between choruses of hallelujah and bible verses memorized for pencils or candy. My earliest memories involve the end; films, humming through ancient projectors, showing flames and death, dragons and monsters, chasing us because we did not love god properly. The only way to avoid the end was to escape to somewhere else, up in the sky. A heaven that was perfect and sinless. A place that our human mistakes could not destroy.

When I would run childhood fevers, I would hallucinate the end so vividly that I would scream and wake my sisters.

Even when I walked away from the god that never was, I could not walk away from the end. When my doctor asked me how a teenager develops ulcers, I did not tell him the truth. I did not tell him about television reports of global warming and deforestation. I did not tell him that I had read John Wyndham and Margaret Atwood and William Golding. I did not tell him what I knew – that if the planet did not devour us, then we would surely devour ourselves.

Then I lost my mind and the doctors pondered whether it had been broken all along or whether it had collapsed under all the thoughts that I could not exorcize. They gave me the little white pill, smaller than a sunflower seed. It ate away the edges until I could be cynical, rather than terrified.

I went to protests. I beat on empty oil drums and took pictures of girls with flowers in their hair. I met a boy and smiled sometimes and imagined a future of gardens and kisses and essays and babies. I saw only beginnings and pretended it was not following me.

Some men from England drilled a hole in the ocean floor.

“This may be the one.” Said my good friend. “If they kill all the fish, we have maybe a year. It’s the beginning of the end.”

He kept driving, using one hand to sip the gift I had brought him: soda pop in a glass bottle. He seemed oddly pleased that they were so very stupid; pretending it could not happen. Perhaps, like me, the end had followed him and it was a relief to stop running.

He was still the person I had know for a decade, but suddenly I could not breathe the air. Suddenly there were not enough little white pills in the whole world.

I was gone for a year that time, buried underneath the fallen supports I had so carefully built. I chose ignorance, until I could learn to tell the voices apart – the ones who preached hell and the ones who preached hell on earth.

I did not want to be stupid and pretend it was not happening. I did not want to be smart and fall apart.

We have started looking up, they say on the news (even Mr. Hawking says it.) Looking for other planets. Other places to make a home. Somewhere else, up in the sky. A heaven that will be perfect and sinless. A place that our human mistakes will not destroy. We have given up on earth.

To try to save it would require us to change and we do not change.

I try to change. I do yoga. I read books with happy endings. I debate egalitarianism online. I distract myself with friends whose questions I do not answer. How are you? What’s new?

I am afraid of the dark, I do not say. I am afraid to close my eyes. I cannot shake the ideas. I cannot sheep-count them away. I save the pill for bedtime so that I do not remember my dream-filled sleep with its earthquakes and fires and buildings falling in.

I do not read the news, though it follows me. Headlines discarded on bus seats, radios tuned and turned up loud, click-throughs on Facebook feeds. Do you want to be ignorant? I ask myself. Oh god yes, I answer.

I do not want to live in interesting times.


Goodbye Fred

Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and every news source with an online presence would like me to know that Fred Phelps is dying. Who is Fred Phelps? He’s the guy who pretends his family is a church and enjoys all of the benefits of being a horrible, abusive patriarch with tax exempt status.

In case that doesn’t trigger your memory, he looks like this:

From Wikipedia.

From Wikipedia.

I first heard about his illness via my super-awesome imaginary Facebook uncle, George Takei. His take was simply this:

Picture 12

There’s a really, really good chance that George Takei is a better person than me.

Lots of other people have used words like “pity”or “forgive”. They have even said that they hope Fred will “find peace.”

I am not that generous. I can’t feel pity for him. He has accomplished exactly what he wanted to with his life. He wanted to spread hatred on a small scale and on a large scale and he succeeded. He abused those he should have loved. He attacked those who were beyond protecting. He did it with a smile on his face and a song in his heart. He’s said as much.

I don’t pity him. Being twisted and malicious does not also mean unhappy or unfulfilled. So he was a monster? I don’t pity the monster. Not while it tries to burn down my town. Not while it eats its own children for lunch.

Too hyperbolic? Dude said I was going to burn in hell. He had a graphic on his website of Matthew Shepard literally flailing in flames. When I saw that image, the year I came out, it ripped me up.

And don’t feed me that line about how mentally ill he must have been to be so evil. There are a slew of symptoms that come with schizophrenia and he wasn’t sporting any of them. If, down the road, we find out what causes folks to behave like this and we fix it, I’ll be right there pushing for a cure – but until then, it’s crash positions, because evil still destroys lives.

So no, I don’t pity him. Not one iota.

Do I forgive him? He’s not looking for my forgiveness. He’s probably still sincerely hoping I burn while worms eat my flesh and scorpions sting my eyeballs or something. Do I carry it around with me on a day-to-day basis? No, because he’s not the religious extremist who tried to ruin my life. That was someone else. And he’s still doing fine.

What of Fred’s 13 kids, and their kids? What about them? Should they forgive him? If they want. If it makes their lives better. But just to be a better person than him? Honestly, most of us have reached that just by waking up in the morning, so no, forgiveness is not a forgone conclusion.

There’s this idea that only base, low, uneducated people rail against the ugliness they see (complete with hyperbole and, I’m sure, other logical fallacies.) We love the high ground. It’s so easy to look down on folks from up there. I try to spend time on the high ground when I can. In this case, though, I’m down here, bellowing at the walls. When Fred is gone the world will have less hate in it and I will celebrate that.

Maybe someday, when I’m older, I will find another way to think about this, but for now I will not pity him, I will not forgive him and I will never wish him peace (I’m an atheist so I suppose there’s no point in that one anyway.)

Goodbye Fred. I hope to never, ever hear about you again.

The Sprint to Spritz

Hey Blogosphere,
You’ve not been this excited since Miley decided she wasn’t daddy’s little girl any more.

How fast are you reading this? Pretty fast, right? I mean, you’re reading the words probably somewhere around the pace you’d be hearing them if I were speaking. It’s possible you read faster, and I’m all chipmunk fast, but it’s probably somewhere in the neighbourhood of 200 words a minute.

There is a magical software that promises to boost that. It’s called Spritz and the interface is clever. It works like this:

You see one word at a time.

The center of the word is red.
Like this.

The word is centered in a box.
The red letter is always in the same place.
So your eyes learn to expect it.

As you read each individual word, your speed will jump dramatically. Mine did, almost instantly. It’s a fun brain trick to watch the numbers soar and realize just how quickly you are reading.

But I don’t like it.

Red Reading by Melissa Venable (Click image for artist's page)

Red Reading by Melissa Venable (Click image for artist’s page)

I don’t like it because it so isolates each word that I lose my sense of context. I’m forced to gorge a meal I’d rather savour. I like to read a book languorously. I like to play over phrases. Roll them around in my brain. I like to look back to the top of the page and re-experience a salacious piece of dialogue or a brilliantly descriptive term. I like to repose in bed or on my sofa and hold a book (or even my Kobo) and spend minutes more than necessary on one phrase.

Were I the type who needed to consume large quantities of data for my work, say a lawyer or an engineer – this could change my entire day. Utilitarian reading suits a utilitarian  method. Spritz’ pitch, however, has been to splash across social networking just how fast you could ream through a 1000 page novel (about a day for me, a mere hour or two for a spritzer.)

I could also listen to music on high speed, watch only Vine videos and consume all my food in pureed liquid form.

I want to savour a book. I want to immerse myself in it.

I’m fascinated by where this technology may go. I could see it being useful for LD students, ones for whom conventional reading is problematic. By isolating individual words, the possibility of mixing words is eliminated. If they weighted the font (thinner at the top, thicker at the bottom) so it wasn’t flippable vertically and coloured it to indicate a front to back flow (light to dark) so it wasn’t flippable horizontally, they could change reading for kids and adults who find it challenging. It could be a big help for those with low or limited vision who have a smaller field of usable vision

Who knows, this may be where we are headed. I am not opposed to change. We are machines and our efficiencies are amazing.

Still, if this is where we go (and we might) I think I’ll be glad I was born before it. After all, as a child of the 80s, I lost out on the beauty of a slow cooked meal in favour of the wonder of instant packaged portions and fast food.

I’m glad that I learned to read in the era of slow words. I think they will always suit me best.

Does Oprah’s O Magazine Need To Go On A Diet Diet?

I have a confession to make: I love Oprah. Seriously.

This love started in the 90s when Oprah had a talk show. It’s easy to be dismissive of television daytime talk shows from this era (“Am I the father, Maury??”)  but Oprah broke major ground in her time. The first time I heard the word bisexual was on Oprah. She discussed her sexual abuse and its aftermath in an accessible way long before almost anyone else. Just that fact that she was a women – a Black woman – a plus-sized, intelligent, well-read, inspiring Black woman on TV – broke new ground. Sure she went in for fluff in the later years, but damn if she didn’t rebuild the landscape at a time when any one of her intersections would have presented a massive challenge to her.

Yep, I love Oprah. I love book club Oprah. I love major corporation Oprah. I love controversial Oprah. I love flawed Oprah.

I’m a bit miffed with her magazine, though.

I don’t usually buy magazines, but I found the January issue of O Magazine at the Value Village and it was still January! I thought that was pretty cool. Plus, as I mentioned before, I love Oprah. I generally dislike magazines aimed at women (the lipstick, weightloss, sexy-time ones, not the other kind.) But Oprah! She would balance it all out right? Um, no.

Take a look at these pics from covers of O Magazine, all from the last year:

I'm spotting a theme here...

I’m spotting a theme here…

  • Can the Right Breakfast Make You Thin?
  • Take Our Diet Quiz!
  • Diet Or Exercise?
  • The 6 Desserts You Meet In Heaven (And Not a Grain of Sugar in Sight!)
  • The Guilt-Free Snack
  • Decoding your food labels

and my favourite:

  • Love + Kindness = Thinner Thighs

Love + Kindness = Thinner Thighs?? Really?

There is nowhere that article could go that would make me happy. Nowhere.

It’s pretty clear that O Magazine is obsessed with what I put in my mouth. Of 12 issues, 9 had diet or “healthy eating” articles (code for diet, trust me) right on the cover. The rest had at least one article inside. I get that this is a typical “women’s magazine” and will include a cooking feature and probably some make-up tips or whatever, but does every issue of this magazine have to have the word diet in it?

Here’s my challenge to O Magazine and Oprah Winfrey (who will never, ever see this, but I forbear):

Do an entire issue without talking about diet. One issue out of twelve that doesn’t tell me how to get thinner thighs through kindness or teach me (yet again) how to read food labels so I don’t accidently eat something tasty. If this seems impossible, maybe it’s time to re-examine the messages you are sending. After all, 20 years ago you were breaking ground for bisexuals. You were bringing Black history and current issues to a clueless audience. You were changing the way women work in your industry. That’s your legacy. Not advising women on what breakfast can make them thin (I’ll bet it’s quinoa. Is it quinoa?)

One issue. No fat-talk. No body shame. No “healthy” tricks. Nada.

I know you can do it. You’re Oprah (and affiliated corporations) and I have faith in you.