Re-Schooled

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Kindergarten

I’m going back to school. That’s it. It’s happening. No matter how big a challenge the next two years are, I’m going back to school. Specifically, I’m taking a Library and Information Technician program. I’m cautiously jazzed about this. Cautious because it’s a big investment of time and money and – if I’m being honest – because no dream that a person has had for 30 years can ever be as good as what they’ve imagined. Jazzed because holy damn, I’m going to school!

 

I understand that for a lot of people, school was hard. But for me, it was my oasis. Every day, from 8:30 to 3:30, I was in my element: a place where books and art and ideas were valuable and questioning things was often encouraged.

If I’m being honest, it was also a place I was safe. It was my escape and I loved it, even when it was harsh or I had trouble with other kids or I got something less that an 80.

I remember clearly every teacher I’ve had, starting with Ms. Crouch in kindergarten all the way up to Mr. Piercey, who taught me Grade 12 English online after I returned to high school recently.

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Grade Two

To be clear, I didn’t leave school because I wanted to. The year I left, I had obtained the highest mark in all three of my courses for that semester. I still have the letters of congratulations from the principal. I was thinking about taking English in University and my grades meant that despite my poverty, I had a chance at making it. But just before exams, my abuser found out that I had “told” what had happened to me. I ran within minutes of finding out he knew, taking with me just what I could carry. His threats were a stronger motivator than any hope I had.

 

I still managed to attend most of my classes, while crashing on the couches of friends or staying up all night and catching sleep at school or on the subway. Then a spot opened up in a transitional group home. Since I had nowhere else to go, I took it, but that meant moving outside of my school district and starting again (not for the first time) in a new space with new challenges. As soon as I was out of immediate danger, I fell apart. I was bowled over by my own emotional combustion.

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Grade 8

I wonder if I could have fought it out then – but I just can’t look at back at the person I was and fault her for taking a job and focusing on surviving.

 

Since then, I’ve tried to go back to school a few times, with varying success. There was always something else that needed my focus, and that’s okay. That’s how life is. But a few years back I caught a bug that totaled my system. One day I had a seizure and, internally, I thought – oh, this is it, the end of my life. I realized that I was happy, in that moment. Happy with my love and home and the family and circle of friends I had built. I realized that I only had one regret and that was not finishing school.

So almost immediately, I started completing high school using TDSB e-Learning courses. They are fabulous, by the way, if you’re thinking about going back. I found that school was still very much in my blood. In my first course, the aforementioned English with Mr. Piercey, I received my first 100%. In all my courses, I never once dipped below a 98%. It’s something I’m proud of, as I was working and healing that whole time.

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Grade 12, the second time around.

More than that, though, I loved it. That passion to share and learn, to strive to communicate and to listen, it felt like a homecoming, even if it was a virtual one.

 

That brings us to December of last year when I was laid off from work and injured myself pretty badly all in a few short days. In the time since then, two big things have happened: I had surgery, which I’m still recovering from (but quite well, thanks!) and I applied to go to college to become a Librarian!

If you know me, you know books are my heart (well, books and my love Graeme.) You know that with my years of work with kids and work with words, I’m suited to do this gig. But even more than that, it will be the final stage in my return to school.

I’m applying for some bursaries and assistance, but even with that, it’s going to be a massive cost. We will become a one income family and that’s going to be a shock to the system, for sure. But we will make it work, no matter what. I need to see that piece of paper with my name on it. Need need.

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College!

We’ve set up a GoFundMe so folks can help if they’d like. We’re asking only insofar as you have it to give, because we realize that most of us are in a tight place right now. Give what you can, if you can and if you want to. And know that no matter what, you’ve all helped me get to this place and I am so, so grateful.

My plan is to post videos and updates as I go, so you can see what you’ve helped accomplish.

Thank you all. So much.
See you in September!

Heather

 

 

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Boys on Bikes

(Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault)

There is a habit we, as a culture, have of reframing experiences via the male perspective. When a she-identified human is assaulted by a he-identified human, we are trained to ask about her past and his future. What did she do to deserve it? What will it take from him is he’s convicted? We’ve seen this played out vividly in the case of convicted rapist Brock Turner. I’ve never met the fellow, but thanks to the tone employed by some media coverage, I’m now aware of the scholarships he’s lost, the times of his most successful swims and how very, very hard it will be for him to enjoy his life after he was convicted of the crime he committed. His future is the window through which we were allowed to watch this story.

We have also been given the story of the two men who interrupted the assault and held convicted rapist Brock Turner until police arrived.

Despite the fact that, again, this means I’m seeing the story from the male perspective, I want to dwell on this for a bit.

When I was a child, I was sexually assaulted. For the most part, it was just the two of us in the room. But once.

Once someone walked in.

There was a moment. It was dark, my memory tells me. It was dark and maybe she didn’t see my nightgown up around my armpits. Maybe her brain hiccuped, swallowed the whole memory. Maybe there was shock. Shock can do that, right? Shock can make you delete the things that frighten you. I remember that she backed out of the room. She backed out and he left and it was never mentioned. It was dark. It was dark. Of course she didn’t see. She didn’t feel the fear radiating off me like heat from a fire. She didn’t ask why he was in my room late at night. It was dark.

Doing nothing is, like the male perspective, often our default. Anyone whose been on a bus when someone starts loudly and verbally attacking a stranger knows what I mean. We see heads drop. Earbuds go in. Books raised higher against the call to interfere. It’s a weird instinct, but it’s one our species clearly has.

So two men on bikes stopped and halted a crime in progress. A crime that, statistics tell us, isn’t treated like a crime. We wink it away. We rarely test rape kits. We rarely press charges. We rarely see convictions. It’s barely treated like a crime at all. But they stopped despite the overwhelming casual message that what was happening wasn’t a real crime.

There was a moment. It was in church. The head pastor – a man who had, once, in a sermon on forgiveness, talked about how he could imagine no worse crime than rape – told me that I needed to forgive the youth leader who had sexually harassed me while offering me a ride home from church. It was about forgiveness. He had repented and now it was on me to let it go. He didn’t feel the shame radiating off me like heat from a fire. He didn’t ask me what I wanted. It was about forgiveness.

So, you see, we are a bystander species. Doing nothing is our default. We strive for homeostasis and our norm is to close our eyes to sexual assault. I sometimes try to suss out why. I come up with a thousand explanations and reasons. In the end, I land back at: It happens because we let it. It happens because we back out of rooms, we offer forgiveness instead of justice, we mourn for the lost future of rapists.

Two men on bikes did not back away.

I’ll hold on to that.

A Small Bit of Good

I made a decision early on that when it came to my writing on this blog, I wasn’t going to ask for money. Partly, I made that decision because I suck at fulfilling obligations and as soon as someone has paid me, I feel obligated.

Don’t worry, I’m not asking for money now.

But I am telling you about somewhere a small part of your money could go that would do a huge amount of good.

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The chicks love him

First, some history: I am a gosh-mama. A gosh-mama is like a godparent for folks who don’t believe in anything (except our mutual ability to do good things.) I am gosh-mama to a wonderful kiddo who I love very much and don’t see nearly enough.

Part of the reason I don’t see him is because his wonderful parents, Nick and Deni, moved out to the sticks to start a homesteading and educational facility.

I love the city. I love being able to stumble out my door and see at least three convenience stores. Nick and Deni wanted something a little different for their brood. They wanted to discover sustainability in a world of waste. They wanted to learn to grow their own, while raising their own. They wanted to reach out to a community and pull it close and help that community’s kids learn about food and sustainability and the ways we were, are and could be as a Canadian society.

It was noble and pretty and, well, they’ve been hit by every possible piece of bad luck one could imagine, from basement flooding to spinal surgery (kid you not) to a neighbour who decided to off their livestock.

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Apparently not pigeons.

Here’s the thing about Nick and Deni, though. They are more stubborn than all the bad luck in the world. They are more loving than all the fates can chuck at them.

I am cynical as f*ck, but when I’m with these guys, I feel hope. So I’m hoping that maybe you can help.

If you can spare even $5, go to their Go Fund Me page and chip in. If you can’t, share this blog or their Go Fund Me page and hopefully we can help them restore their homestead and grow it to include a whole community of kids who will be able to learn about farming. There are way, way more details of their plan on the page. It’s pretty kick-ass, just like they are.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

I promise to go back to complaining about injustice and moping about crappy life stuff very, very soon.

Outside In: Cookie Monster Edition

I feel like I need to fill in a lot of blanks here. In case you’re new to this, my name is Heather. I am a writer (in that I write, not that I am widely published.) I work in arts and culture. I have a mental illness. I am also short, but that makes for far less interesting blogs. Besides, I’ve dealt with the challenge of my shortness. I am not shy about asking strangers to reach my canned goods in the grocery store.

Every year, around this time, I face the more serious challenge of seasonal depression. It’s not a massive change from good old regular depression, but it’s more intense and, when I try to tango with both at once, I usually trip over all the feet.

I fall down, is what I’m saying.

This year, I’m being proactive about it all. I have a list of things I know might boost my mood. I give myself a stamp every time I do one of those things. Seven stamps in any one column and I get a treat. It’s a bit pavlovian, but lest we forget, he was a Nobel Prize winning scientist, not just a guy who ran goofy tests on puppies. He made some really terrific discoveries about how we train our brains and…

None of that really matters because when it comes to my brain, I do what works.

As to what works, well, it’s a pretty short list at present. Knowing that, I’ve taken a sort of low-key poll to find out what others do to boost their mood. My goal is to try them all and see what I can add to my list.

The first one I tried was the simplest. I watched a video on You Tube.

This video:

It made me smile, which is something. In fact, it makes me smile every time I watch it. It does not seem to be getting any less sweet. Even better,though, is the comment that came along with it:

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There’s a lot going on here. I’m asking for help (and not just to reach the cream corn.) I’m being heard. Someone is sharing what matters to them. They’re teaching me a bit about keeping my eyes open for the good stuff happening around me.

Whether or not this video gets added to my go-to list of mood ticklers remains to be seen. But Sara’s advice, to look for the bits of the world in which people are being good to each other? That I’ll try to do more of. And if that fails, I’ll try the Patton Oswald solution:

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Take that depression.

(Also, if you were wondering what you get if you google Crime and Punishment and Cookie Monster, wonder no more. It is this:

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A truly tragic tale where Rashkalnicookie tries to justify his cookie theft by explaining that those with a natural inclination to steal cookies are, in fact, right to steal them. He is eventually convinced by a loving Prairie Dawn that he must confess his crimes. He is exiled to public television, but their love pulls him through.)