Category Archives: Short Stories

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Run Foreign, Run!

Warm Up

How hard can it be do go for a run in India’s international metropolis? Mumbai has a special place in many hearts including mine but that probably doesn’t include the terrible pollution and traffic.

Being from North America’s most liveable city, I grew up being spoilt by Vancouver’s long, straight roads with bicycle lanes and wide sidewalks. The fresh mountain and sea air make the perfect humidity and temperature to run outdoors, and the infrastructure makes it safe and even peaceful to run as long and as far as you can dream.

When I made the transition to living in Mumbai, it meant that I went from running 30 km’s a week to none. More than anything else, I was afraid of committing some social taboo since I didn’t see any female joggers on the roads. The thought of the people staring, the traffic, and the sidewalks kept me indoors. The cost of a gym membership, the gym small-talk, and the monotonous running on a treadmill kept me sedentary.

Living in India, I could handle many eyes staring at me on a daily basis and I only ever managed to let it piss me off about once a month when it would get really bad on a day when I have no patience. Being a caucasian with blond hair, I realized that it would just have to become a part of life. Still, I was conscious of running outside but the thought of sweaty body building men hitting on me at the gym seemed even worse.

After being told to stop complaining and just give it a try, I decided to go for an early morning run in my neighbourhood. I couldn’t imagine running in the afternoon/ evening after the streets had baked in the hot sun all day.

I used to say that the hardest part of exercising is putting on the running shoes but I have changed my mind about that. Running shoes on, I headed out for my adventure.

KM 1

I decided to start out on the beach near my house. At low tide there is usually 2-4 kilometres of good beach to run along but I had only seen it at sunset when it was crowded with cricket players, young couples, and old men. At 7:30 am, I reached Versova beach to find it almost empty at high tide. I ran toward the fishing slum, the only direction I could.

As I was running, I suddenly passed an Indian man squatting in his lungi on the edge of the water and staring peacefully out to the horizon. I didn’t think much of it an assumed it was some kind of morning meditation and continued on. Then, I passed two more doing the same thing, lungi’s hitched up to their waists. One of them sleepily turned his head in my direction as I was approaching and I realized that perhaps this was not just a morning meditation but also a part of the daily morning ritual for all the men and women of the slum as I saw another 20 or so lined up further down the beach.

I decided to give them their relative privacy and headed back to the streets to give test the sidewalks.

KM 2

I was on! Running on the sidewalks of Mumbai was like a full obstacle course. With the music playing in my headphones loud enough to just hear the car horns, I was dodging rickshaws, elderly people, roadworks, piles of dirt and garbage, and complete holes in the cement. I even thought that perhaps this could actually be a better workout than just running and I could become a hyper-alert runner and perhaps even start learning parkour.

That was when I passed a pack of stray dogs sleeping next to the chai-walla stall. They jumped up and started chasing me, biting at my heels. Scared shitless, I growled at them with my wolf-pack dog training yell and ran faster. I don’t know if I intimidated them with my growl or they just lost interest but they left me alone after that. I kept running forward and left behind a group of men laughing at me as they drank their chai.

KM 3

Now utterly conscious of the people around me, I noticed that I was the only person running. I wondered if all the gyms were full and if running outside really was a societal taboo in Mumbai. Some cars swerved closer to me as they passed while the drivers were busy staring at me. Ready to go back, I picked a bus stop 20 meters ahead as my turnaround point.

The bus stop was full of 17-21 year old boys on their way to college. They saw me coming and I knew that they were pointing me out to their friends. Starting to get uptight about the whole thing, I stared ahead and ignored them, putting on my bitch-face. As I reached them, they broke into applause. I stopped to turn around and saw the shock and guilt on their faces. Secretly relishing the feeling, I took out my headphones and asked if the applause was for me. Silence. One of them lamely pointed to some indiscriminate spot across the street as if to displace the blame.

“That’s really not necessary,” I said to them in my hoighty-toighty highschool bitch attitude. I put in my headphones and started back, really proud of myself but not so satisfied with my run.

KM 4

Taking a different route home  to hang up my running shoes until I could afford a gym membership, I passed something that I had always thought was a private garden. I stopped to take a look inside and saw that it was actually a 500 meter running track, full of men and women walking, running, and sitting on the small benches meditating. “So, THIS is where all the runners have been hiding!” I thought.

As it turned out, many parts of suburban Mumbai have these private parks that have been built by private developers in order to get permits to build their boxy, high rise apartment societies. Entry was 2 rupees (4 cents), and it was open mornings and evenings.

A bit of peace and greenery separating opposite directions of traffic in Mumbai.

A bit of peace and greenery separating opposite directions of traffic in Mumbai.

Cool Down

So I had finally found my running-haven. I started going for runs whenever I could wake up in the morning early enough to avoid the heat. I found it difficult to run more than 4-5 kilometres because I would get very tired. I read the weather report and in Mumbai it had been a forecast of “Smoke” for the last 2 months. I heard a rumour that it was recommended to run only in the evenings to avoid the pollution which settled on the ground overnight making the morning air extra-polluted.

I started running in the evening, which turned out not to be the worst thing ever. The park was busier though, and after many runs feeling like an anonymous park-runner I finally had the experience I was really trying to avoid by staying away from the gym… conversation.

Running my laps, I noticed a young guy kept stopping his workout in the stretching area to come watch me run by. Ever damn time I would run past, he would stop what he was doing, walk to the edge of the track, and openly stare as I passed. When I finally finished, I couldn’t see him and was glad I didn’t have to face him. I bent down to touch my toes and stretch my hamstrings and closed my eyes, glad to finally have a peaceful place to work out. I slowly straightened my back and opened my eyes, and I turned around to find the guy standing directly behind me. Oh shit, seriously?

I went to the other side of the stretching area and resumed stretching. The guy tried to do a pull-up on the bar and failed. He then tried to get my attention again, “are you stretching?” he asked?
“Yes,” I replied with my expert bitch-face. I put my headphones in and faced the other direction.

He left. Message received.

I don’t think there will ever be a guarantee of exercising in Mumbai in peace. I’ll just have to keep running.

 

 

Featured image source: http://runangelrun.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/woman-running-beach-sunset-abh-patient-story.jpg

I Want to be a Unicorn, a Boy one.

I describe my childhood-self in two words: Space Cadet. Every moment when my immediate and full attention was not required I would go off in my own world. I had a difficult time with bullying that manifested in ways such as hiding in the bathroom during math class only to be found, ten minutes later, by my teacher while skidding gleefully across the slippery floors in my puppy slippers.

There was even a phase in my young life when I had a couple of friends who would also join me on my fifteen-minute escapades around the park at recess. In full form, our troupe would consist of a tawny owl, a bear, and a black Unicorn with flaming mane and tail. I was the heavy metal Unicorn, and not only did I go for the most flamboyant of the animals but I always insisted that I was a boy-Unicorn. There were a few arguments about whether it was possible to be a boy-Unicorn or if Unicorns were boys and Pegasus’s were girls. I always won with the wise 9-year-old argument that Unicorns were boys because of the phallic horn on top of their heads. I also wanted to have Pegasus wings, but at that time we were not aware of hermaphrodites and I had to settle with the exclusively male Unicorn anatomy. If Disney had been a little more graphic then it would have saved us a lot of time and energy.

This was not where the story ended. I would also make-believe that I was White Fang, the famous folklore wolf (also male), and I had an inexplicable crush on the cartoon fox Robin Hood from that children’s animated film.

I had been unable to dissect this strange tendency towards the male until fairly recently. I tried to theorize that I am really a gay man in a woman’s body but the truth is I enjoy having my lady parts too much for this to be true. When I was 9 I called myself a tomboy. This is also no longer true since I have finally moved past traditional conceptions of male and female thanks to university and living in a modern age with a few good female role models. Now I can happily walk around in a shirt and pants discussing how I would like to have a penis for a day (or week) just to satisfy my curiosity without fear of being judged as sexually confused.

Going through the thick library of childhood photo albums, I can find at least three photos where I was playing the groom in a make-believe marriage. I had three wives, one of them being my own sister and all of them wearing the same dress. For the first time in my life, I wore a real wedding dress in summer 2013 for a bridal photo shoot. I realized I have never once fantasized about having a white wedding dress.

I finally found out the answer to my strange male-fascination by changing my question. It turned out not to be why I wanted to be a boy, but rather why I did not want to be a girl. In my years of physical self-discovery and the social training institute called ‘school’, I was surrounded with kids classified by ideal girls, ideal boys, and the weirdos who fit somewhere in the middle. The girls wore the right clothes, colors, experimented with makeup, and ran away laughing from the boys who tried to kiss them… The boys wore the right clothes, played the right sports, and ran away screaming from the girls who tried to kiss them, alienating them and making them question themselves for wanting to kiss just as much as the boys. Outside of this, there was also the whole world of new media, advertising, and Disney, reinforcing these gender stereotypes that I’m sure we’re all aware of. To be honest I’m tired of hearing about it, but I keep hearing about it because it’s still true.

Don’t get me wrong; I had no problem with girly things. I liked girl’s clothes and I often played with Barbies and horses but I still wanted to be a boy.

In my housing society, there was a group of boys with whom I played street hockey and other games. Kick-the-can, water gun fights, and Nintendo-64 were also some of our favorites. I was the only person of the female gender in the gang, and I was intent on making sure the boys treated me like one of their own. I became a tomboy because I wanted to partake in the same games as them, and it was almost a perfect plan.

I remember one day the boys decided to wrestle. They all partnered up and nobody wanted to wrestle with me. I couldn’t understand why, because unlike the kids in school, my neighborhood boys had never excluded me from anything. At first the argument was that I was girl, but after I became very upset, a short blond boy admitted it was because I was bigger than half of them. Being big and being a girl were my two tender spots, so I punched that boy in the eye and went home very proud of myself but also very angry.

On the other hand, the girls around me were very fond of playing house and that was all well and fine except that I wanted to play the husband. If I was ever asked to be a princess or a wife or a helpless kitten, I flat-out refused to cooperate and be a good playmate. I would then turn into a heavy metal Unicorn and obliterate everyone and everything girly. I think what got to me was the image of the soft hands of the princess trapped in the castle, gingerly lifting the teacup with the pinky finger raised and waiting to be rescued. For some reason, being female had already become associated with being powerless. Whether or not my girl friends enjoyed this feeling of being girly and being rescued, I sensed that it wasn’t for me and decided to act like I was a boy at every possible moment. It empowered me to jump over trees, build forts in the forest, punch a kid in the face, and wear hats in ways they were never made to be worn (like a backwards baseball cap, or the classic sideways, upside down visor). To my child-mind, these things would not possible for a girly girl to do.

Remotely related side story: I was a nail-biter, and to convince me to stop biting my nails my mother had to tempt me with the reward of a remote-control monster truck if I didn’t bite for 6 weeks. It was the only thing that worked since I wasn’t excited enough by the thought of having long, pretty painted nails.

Even now that I am all grown up and can dabble in both ends of the gendered behavior scale without fantasizing about Unicorns and wolves, I come across this perception almost every day. My men’s dress shoes are cool, but my high heels are hot. Somehow, wearing men’s clothing adds a new facet to my personality, while a dress just makes me look good unless it is unusually funky. Again, this is all just how I’ve been trained to perceive it and I can get past it all now as I’m sure many of you readers do as well but I hope you are getting my point.

Of course you might not really care. It’s all just a matter of how important these things are to you. As a child, I didn’t succumb to fitting in one gender or the other and suffered through the bullying until being a tomboy became cool when Avril Levine became famous. However, I like to think that if people had been more open to the idea of girls and boys being similar in taste and behavior, life could have been a lot easier for myself and numerous other children. Also, let’s take a moment and empathize with all the grown-ups who continue to live their lives according what they believe they should be, rather than who they are.

Being a human includes so many interesting and sometimes taboo aspects of our psyches that we should always feel free to explore them in some way that is safe. Whether they are our dark sides, our masculine or feminine sides, or our completely unmentionable sides, we should all feel empowered to explore them without fear of social alienation.

Unicorns can have wings too.

The Hunt for Chocolate Boy

Do I feel guilty about taking 10 months to write part two of my epic story to find Rahul the chocolate boy?
Somewhat…

Enter Mumbai, February 22nd, 2013 – more than a month after posting Finding Chocolate Boy, and still not having found him.

It was time to pull up my proverbial bootstraps and step outside my air-conditioned apartment and into a breezy Bombay taxi heading for Colaba. By breezy, I really mean a low-pressure cyclone contained in a tin can taxicab known as an Ambassador – the classic mode of transportation in the city. To ride with the windows down meant combing the dreadlocks out of my hair for the duration of the ride but to ride with the windows up meant suffocating both the taxi Walla and myself.

I opted for the windows down and tied my hair for the 45-minute, traffic nightmare, 10-kilometer ride South from my nice new apartment in Worli to my old neighborhood in Colaba. Taking this trip in the middle of the day traffic was a big mental hurdle to jump over, but I squeezed myself into the floral upholstered backseat and headed out for the second hunt for Chocolate Boy.

Since my last hunt, I had kept a plastic bag with chocolates, a Canadian flag, and that silly joke breath spray in my cupboard. Now it was with me and I thought of the chocolates melting in the mid-afternoon sun as I walked down a side-street in Colaba. I was on a mission and was ready to document the whole experience for a follow-up blog post as well.

As I was wandering around with my eyes peeled for my Chocolate Boy Rahul, I turned a corner and a short man in a blue and purple striped shirt started following me.

“Yes ma’am?”

Shit, don’t make eye contact. He’ll try and sell me something!” I stopped looking around and focused on my energy on ignoring him.

“Ma’am, yes. Come this way!” he pressed on, unrelenting.

I determinedly looked straight ahead and picked up my pace.

“Do you want hotel? Taxi? Map?”

Not-Res-pon-ding! He kept tailing me and started smiling.

“Can I help you find something?”

I stop.  Perhaps he can…

“Actually, yes. I’m looking for someone,” I said.

He stopped, presumably surprised that I didn’t turn out to be deaf and dumb. I fought back a laugh at his confused expression.

“Someone?” he asked.

“Yes, a little boy. I have his picture here,” I pull out my iphone and show him Rahul’s photo.

After explaining my story and confirming that I wasn’t a pedophile, he took a proper look at the photo. He studied it closely.

“Do you know him?” I asked hopefully.

No, he said he didn’t know him but he knew someone who could help.

Eager to find out who this mysterious Someone was, I followed my guide through a series of streets. While fantasizing about discovering some underground Don of Colaba street-kids, I suddenly thought of what my poor mother would think if she could see me following a strange Indian man I met on the street to an unknown location. I’ll admit I got a bit nervous.

However, my nerve monkeys calmed down when my guide entered into a traditional Indian cloth shop with Kurtas and Salwar Kameez hanging in the windows. Inside were five men lounging around on a mattress that was strangely placed in the middle of the store. Nerve monkeys came back. They hustled to bring out a chair for me on which I awkwardly sat and clenched my butt cheeks tight until someone made a move.

My guide spoke in Hindi to a very large man with two mobile phones. The man nodded and asked me if I wanted chai to which I politely said no.

The guide gestured for me to give him my phone, so I pulled up the picture of Rahul and gave it over. My precious iphone was then passed around the room in silence and I watched the men’s faces to see if there was any recognition. After some minutes of quiet discussion, the large man passed my phone back to me.

“He doesn’t know him,” my guide said.

Looking around, I searched for some cue for what to do next. Perhaps now I was supposed to pay some sum of money which would suddenly jog their memories. Perhaps the meeting was over. However, the men just sat and watched me. The large man answered one of his phones while I secretly snapped a photo and made ready to excuse myself.

I smiled painfully and enunciated carefully, “Well, thank you very much for checking. I should really go and keep looking now.”

“Would you like to buy a saree? Kurta? Do you like Indian clothes? Very nice. Silk, cotton, linen,” my guide almost pleaded.

Of course the end game was to sell me something.

“No, no thank you,” I laughed.

“You don’t like Indian clothes?”

“No, they don’t look good on me,” I lied, eager to extricate myself from the situation.

IMG_2005

I left the shop and the men inside it, and started trying to find my way back to a recognizable street. My guide suddenly came out running.

“Wait, wait ma’am. You’re looking for this boy? What do you want from him?” he asked.

“Nothing, I just want to give him this gift!” I repeated again as I open my plastic bag and pull out the Canadian flag and breath-spray.

“Let me see the photo,” he insisted.

I exasperatedly pulled up the photo again and he looked at it very hard, furrowing his eyebrows.

“I know one person who might know,” he said finally.

“Are they going to try to sell me something?” I ask.

“No, no ma’am. This is my other boss. He has a travel agency nearby.”

“Alright,” I said.

Still not ready to give up the hunt for the day, I was ready to follow my guide to one more store just in case I find someone who might have seen Rahul walking around the streets.

I followed him back to the road where we had met, and then into an alley where I had earlier I had run into some boys playing cricket who claimed that Rahul was ‘gone’. The boys were gone now too, but I was more hopeful that we were in an area where I had once met my chocolate boy.

We entered a tiny travel agency with enough room for a desk and a bench. Inside were four men, younger and thinner than the last bunch. I squeezed in with my guide and the young men got up from the bench and let me sit down. They stood outside with the door open to watch the transaction.

The boss behind the desk smiled and spoke in clear English. “Hello, do you want to book a trip? Elephanta island tour? Alibaug beach vacation?” he asked.

I felt my butt un-clench a little now that I could communicate directly without my guide giving a dubious interpretation of my story.

“Actually, I’m looking for this boy. I met him here about six months ago and he was around all the time. I can’t find him anywhere. But then it’s only my second time looking for him,” I explained.

After checking the photo and confirming that I didn’t have any untoward intentions with Rahul, he showed it to the other men standing outside.

They checked the photo and started discussing animatedly. I smiled as a look of recognition appeared on their faces.

One man carrying rolled up maps under his arm spoke to me in accented English, “From one of the schools in the area. But it’s Saturday so he probably at home today.”

“Where does he live? Can you take me to him?” I ask in excitement.

“No, he doesn’t know him but I can tell that he doesn’t live on the street. A lot of kids from the suburbs come to school here and hang around the streets after class and beg from tourists for fun,” explained the boss behind the counter.

“Where is the school? I just want to find it so I can come back on a weekday and ask there,” I press.

The man in the pink shirt and maps volunteers to show me the way, and I say goodbye to my trusty guide with 50 rupees in exchange for his business card which had three business names on it.

It was with this that we took off up the street and away from the places where I had seen Rahul hanging around before. The man in the pink shirt’s name was Siddarth, and he asked me for more details on the story of Chocolate Boy and about Canada. We finally arrived at Woodside Inn where I used to go drinking on the weekends. Instead of going in, we took a left and went through a small alley that, to my surprise, opened on to a large dirt field with children playing soccer and cricket. I would never have expected to see such a wide-open space in the thick of old-town Bombay, where real-estate was more expensive than downtown Vancouver!

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We went around and started asking schoolboys with backpacks, kids in soccer uniforms, and a group of girls waiting for their turn to practice if they knew Rahul. They all studied his photo and eventually the girls confirmed that Rahul practiced soccer here in the afternoons after school. I asked when he would be there next and they told me probably the next day.

Super excited, I passed them all some chocolate as a thank you. I walked out with Siddarth and he gave me his phone number in case I needed his help next time I came down to find Rahul. I thanked him and tried to give him 50 rupees, but he refused to take it. I asked why, and he proudly proclaimed that he would rather earn his money from work.

“But you were a big help to me,” I insisted.

“I sell maps. Why don’t you buy a map?” he asked.

I smiled and bought a map of Mumbai which now hangs at home.

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The next day I returned at 4 o’clock with the hopes of finding Rahul joyously playing soccer on the dirt field with his friends. To my dismay, I couldn’t see him anywhere.

I found the girls again waiting for their practice to start and they happily waved me over and told me that Rahul hadn’t come that day. In fact, they hadn’t seen him for a couple of weeks.

I sighed and the girls could see that I was disappointed. One of the girls offered to give me a call when they meet him next. So, with a little hope left I gave her my number.

She then took me to the soccer coach and I showed him Rahul’s photo. He again confirmed that he practiced with them but hadn’t been around for the last few weeks. I told the coach to please let Rahul know if he sees him that I am his Canadian friend looking for him from 6 months ago.

Sure that I wasn’t going to find Rahul anytime soon, I proceeded to give out the rest of the chocolates to the school children on the field and walked myself over to Woodside Inn where I had scheduled a meeting with a friend soon after my anticipated grand-reunion. During the meeting, I couldn’t help but think that all this month I had been sitting in Worli, Rahul had been practicing soccer right around the corner. If only I hadn’t waited so long to come back and hunt for him then maybe I would have caught him at his soccer practice.

But if there’s one thing that makes me feel better, it’s philosophizing my life.

“I can’t live our lives with if-only’s and what-if’s. There was something to be learned from all of this I’m sure,” I told myself.

It took me so long to go out and find Rahul because I had been caught up with my own life and was distracted by my work and other, ahem, interests… What was hanging so dearly in the balance that I felt inclined to brave the 45 minute taxi sauna two days in a row on a hearsay that Rahul might practice soccer in the field nearby?

Perhaps I wanted to find an anchor in Mumbai. Maybe I was just looking for a little adventure. In fact, I could have just wanted to write another blog based on the success of Finding Chocolate Boy part 1. There is something terribly addictive about seeing those WordPress site statistics jump up suddenly with every new post.

Regardless, 10 months later I finally got my act together to write the darned thing and now I’m feeling an urge to go to Colaba and look for Rahul just one more time… The only problem is that I forgot the breath-spray and Canadian flag at Woodside Inn that last day after a few too many Jameson’s.

Finding Chocolate Boy – Part 1

Safety Nets and Self-Sabotage: Contenders Magazine

Contenders Magazine has a blog called Little Losers Blog: A Journal of the Perpetually Up-and-Coming. I wrote the kickoff article of their new series called Between Then and Now.
Safety Nets and Self-Sabotage

‘Between Then and Now’ is a series of personal essays that examine the strange distance that separates our past ambitions and our present pursuits. If you’d like to contribute to the series, send your story to submissions@contendersmagazine.com.

It is similar to my first blog I ever wrote last year, What do You Want to Be When You Grow Up? but focuses more on the process of stripping away your comfort zones to find out where you want to be. Check it out!

Safety Nets and Self-Sabotage

Contenders strives to be a premier jumping off point for post-graduate, 20-something writers looking to extend their intellectual investigations into the ‘real world.’ It is a showcase of their talents, their interests, and their aspirations. In our wildest dreams, we are creating a generational idiom–at our most sensible, we’re just writing about topics we think the internet needs to consider a little more deeply. Either way, we hope you’ll come with us.

Contenders Magazine

The F-word and Female Responsibility

There was an ‘incident’ that happened to me recently which made me furious.

Have you ever heard about those stories about groping on Japanese subways? I became aware of this when I was 18 and travelling to Japan by myself for the first time. I had heard that men would often grope Japanese women on trains because the women did not make a scene out of embarrassment. The travel logs never said that western women were groped because they had a tendency to yell at the groper, causing mortal shame for the groping men.

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That was when I made up my mind to be that vocal woman. Fortunately, I never had a chance to practice my scream on the Japanese train and I soon forgot all about the risk of being groped. That is, I forgot until a ten year old Indian boy grabbed my boob four years later.

The mere shock made me stop in my tracks, speechless. I was walking with a friend in Colaba, Mumbai, and it wasn’t a crowded street. The Jr. groper had been walking next to us and asking if we would marry him. Then, he briefly cupped my breast, and we both stopped. There was a strange moment where time slowed down. He looked at me expectantly, to see the shock on my face. It was there alright. He had a big grin on his face when I snapped out of it and cuffed him on the side of the head. He took off running as I yelled after him.

I didn’t think it was a big deal. I still don’t. At least he hung around to receive the punishment he expected. It wasn’t very serious, but I’ll tell you what has prompted me to write this blog.

Just last week, while waiting for the bus in Vancouver, I felt something touch my bum. I took my earbuds out, and turned to see a man of about sixty walking past me wearing a sweatsuit and baseball cap. He had shoulder length and scraggly blond hair.
He smiled at me.
This time I didn’t hesitate.
I yelled at him, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing? You can’t just touch my butt and walk away like it’s okay!”
I caught up to him.
He picked up his pace, and didn’t meet my eyes but turned and said, “Don’t worry about it baby, I’m an international rock star”.
“It doesn’t matter who the fuck you are. You violated me.” I yelled, so that people across the street could hear.
He started to run away, and I chased after him. I caught up and tried to kick him in the butt, but missed because I was wearing high heels.

I will take this opportunity to mention to the assholes who might be reading this, that I was not wearing slutty clothes (and if I was, it wouldn’t mean that I had less right to be angry).

I continued to yell after him as he ran away. A man who saw the whole thing told me that I should file a police report.
I couldn’t be bothered with that. What was that going to do anyway? I didn’t know who he was and he looked like a generic man who hung around the Gastown pub district at night.

I was fuming and felt violated, but was happy that I had had the presence of mind to yell and chase after the guy. I was glad he got scared and ran away from me…
I wished I hadn’t missed the kick to the ass.

My bus didn’t come either.

So, pissed off and riled up I went back to the pub to wait with my friends for the next bus that would come in an hour. After my unexpected re-entrance and grand proclamation that I had just chased a groper down the street and that my bus didn’t come, my friends and I got into a discussion about female blame and responsibility.

Basically, even though we are taught that rape, groping, and verbal sexual abuse is wrong and we should fight out against it, many women I know have been raised to believe that they have some kind of responsibility for the male attention they receive. Whether this attention is wanted or unwanted, there is something ingrained into society that says that men only react to female sexuality.

For a less-extreme example than rape, take a situation where a girl finds out that a boy she has been friendly with has a crush on her. If this attention is unwanted, I know that the first question that will come up for her and her friends will be “what did I do that made him get a crush on me?”

The problem here is the belief that a woman possesses a dangerous power to seduce, and if she doesn’t control it carefully then men will end up falling for her. It’s something we call “leading him on”.

I know that whenever this has happened to me, I feel as if I can change the way I behave around men to avoid any sort of awkwardness. I immediately start to evaluate and mediate all my male relationships to ensure they stay friendly.

For the more extreme example of rape, let’s think of all the times when a woman has been accused of “deserving it” because of her past sexual history, the way she dressed, what neighbourhood and what time, or how much she had to drink. Thankfully a new dialogue has risen out of some unfortunately extreme cases that got a lot of publicity. The new idea discounts all aspects of female responsibility when a woman falls victim to sexual abuse.

For the people who are aware that women are not responsible for the abuses visited on them by men, there is a new kind of responsibility we must adopt. This is not only the responsibility to educate other women, but the need to educate men. It might be hard to tell the creepy man who is gesturing at you on the bus that it is inappropriate and makes you feel violated, but now you know that it’s not your fault you should think of the next girl or woman he will do this to.

Every time you let something slide (because maybe he’s not actually said anything, or hasn’t touched you, or you’re getting off at the next stop anyway), you’re actually sending a message that it’s okay.
My advice? Use your voice. If you’re in public, tell it to them. If you’re not in public, yell it to the world in some other way.

Also, don’t listen to people who call you a feminist like it’s a bad thing. It means you believe in your rights and will defend them.

My question for you:

Why has Feminism become a dirty word?

Edit: I  just discovered this website, iHollaback! which campaigns against street harassment. There is a space to read and share other stories about this issue.

The Biannual Existential Crisis

So I went back in time last week. I drank Jack Daniels and watched the remake of Evil Dead.

I got home from the theatre before midnight. My mother and her boyfriend were out at a friend’s house for dinner and weren’t home yet.

I still live in the same house I was born in. Twenty-three years last week.

I was tipsy and not ready to crawl into bed all alone. My horoscope said that today (Saturday) was supposed to put my life onto a new trajectory and so far it hadn’t been fulfilled. Perhaps that was what propelled me to change into hiking pants and my raincoat and venture out into my suburban neighbourhood in the middle of the night. I had not completed my destiny for the day and I like to check things off my to-do list.

Actually, that’s how Starbucks hooked me into their points scheme. One more purchase and I’ll have a Gold Card. I like to achieve goals.

I’m an over-achiever.

So I find myself walking into the night with my iPhone, keys to the house, and a Fudgesicle (yes, a chocolaty popsicle). It’s raining and dark, and I’m hoping to have some kind of epiphany before the album I’m listening to finishes.

Private music should be illegal. Wasn’t there a time when you could only listen to music in a crowd? When I put on my headphones, all of a sudden the world revolves around only me and I get cocky as fuck, self-absorbed, and emotional.

I am walking around my elementary school and I remember how I had my heart broken by my Internet lover at fifteen. I had put on my running shoes on a dark and rainy night like this and after running for ten minutes I sat down on the swings and cried my heart out. I knew I had to break up with this boy because he treated me like garbage and made me so insecure I still feel the repercussions now, twelve years later.

I finish my Fudgesicle and toss the stick into the grass. It’s biodegradable I’m sure. Only problem is that it’s not a diet Fudgesicle… I’m used to eating these 40 calorie things and my mom accidentally bought the full-180 calorie version.

Well, we can’t waste food or else children in Africa will die. So I eat the extra calories and tell myself I’m burning it off by being outside.

I’m at the gravel field where the majority of my memories of being bullied as a child occur. Being human is a ridiculous thing, isn’t it? On the far end of the school I see a guy who looks like someone I used to go to school with. He stands by himself in front of a classroom; the ground is littered with beer cans.

At ten years old I was given a large (one-meter) blow-up ball for my birthday. I took it to school to show off and try to make friends. The girls who had been bullying me offered to play with me and kicked the ball out-of-bounds on purpose. They told me to go get it, but when I got back onto the school grounds I found the girls with a duty-aid (an adult supervisor) waiting for me. I was sent to the principal’s office for breaking the rules and my ball popped soon after.

However, the day I arrived at school with homemade stilts nobody bothered me.

At the far end of the field, I remember that we had this thing called the Kilometer Club. Student’s were encouraged to get fit by running around the field, and every four laps we would get a popsicle stick which said we had run a kilometer.

I pull out my iPhone and open my Jog Log app. I start the app and begin walking around the field. I didn’t quite believe that four laps around this mini-field was actually a kilometer.

Three-quarters through the first lap I find a small air-filled ball. I reach down and push on it… it’s flat. Still, I kick it and it goes rolling to the other end of the field. I chase after it and kick it around another two laps.

I lose the ball somewhere in the dark corner by the goal posts. I complete my 4th lap and my iPhone tells me I walked 0.92 Kilometers.

Not quite a Kilometer then.

Am I having an existential crisis again? I thought I went through this 6 months ago… It seems I have to go through this on a biannual basis.

I smile as I remember my last epiphany.

I was in South Africa and reminded myself how I was just a mass of atoms, floating around aimlessly and not actually separated from the rest of the world. I had finished a depressing book about The Emergency in India and couldn’t shake the blues. I went for a run and found myself staring at a pod of Southern Wright Whales frolicking at Muizenberg beach. I thought, “why do I have to be a human being? Why can’t I just go play with those whales and not worry about anything but food and predators?”

Then I remembered high school science class. The whales are a bunch of atoms, the water is another bunch of atoms, and the air and my body are other bunches of atoms. There is nothing disconnecting me from nature and the universe except my own stupidity.

“Being human is a ridiculous thing, isn’t it? “

I tweet this, and then I post it on Facebook too because I want to make sure everyone knows I’m having deep thoughts.

I walk through the trails connecting cul-de-sacs with forest and more cul-de-sacs. I go through a path I had never tried before because I never had time to explore it. Turns out that it connects to a road I was familiar with, and is actually a short cut that I had missed for twenty-three years.

The trail is a loop and I end up back at the playground where I cried when I was fifteen… and many times before that I’m sure.

There is a hill where all the students used to toboggan when we were lucky enough to have snow. I lie down on the wet grass and find that I only have three songs left on the album.

The water soaks through my pants and I lie and squint at the purple sky, my vision ringed with the tops of pine trees. I open my mouth and try to catch the rain on my tongue.

It seems to fall everywhere on my face except for my tongue. I stick my tongue out further.

The music fades, and I imagine what it might be like if some kids came up onto the hill and found me lying there, splayed out like a dead person with their tongue sticking out.

I’m too good-looking to be doing weird shit like this.

I stand up and start to walk home. I’m feeling alone and dejected, but I’ve had some sort of catharsis. I look at the other end of the park and the guy with the beer cans is gone. A group of teens walk up the path and are overtaken by some late-night jogger in neon shorts.

Just as I reach the gates to my housing community, I see my mother’s boyfriend’s car pull up. What are the chances of that? Here I am, moping around in the rain like some loner and I can’t even get the peace and quiet of an empty house?

The car window rolls down and I hear my mom asking if I have a key. I open the gate and they drive in.

So it doesn’t even matter how much I want to be alone in this world. No matter what I do, I’m connected. A mass of atoms connected with another mass of atoms.

The only thing keeping me from the rest of the world is my own stupidity.

412_assorted_wood_popsicle_sticks_1000pcs_1

Bad Girl

The following short story is based on a reality that many teen girls I know have dealt with.Stealing

Ah, the rush of adrenaline running through her veins!

She swaggers through the aisles of the drugstore next to her high school in between exams with a bag of books, taking handfuls of lipgloss off the shelf and dropping them silently between the binders marked “Science 8” and “English 8”.

She doesn’t even look at the colours but moves on to the next section and grabs a compact powder and tosses it in among the rest.

Her friends follow behind her at a distance, snickering and blocking the view of the oblivious staff behind the makeup counter.

Georgia had developed a cockiness with her stealing since she started going to the mall with her friends on their lunch breaks and coming back to class with a haul of stolen goods. “It isn’t that bad because it’s not like I’m taking something personal. Corporations can afford the loss,” she thought as she pulled  her jeans over 6 new thongs in the Winners changing room.

She digs in the pockets of a pair of khakis, still on the hanger, and finds one more thong with the tag on it. She takes the tag of and puts the thong in her pocket. She walks out and gives the pants and the plastic sign that says, “1 item” to the change room attendant.

Back at home after her final exam, Georgia locks herself in her room with a roll of toilet paper and tries on all the new shades of lipgloss she bought. Pink, Mauve, Purple, Brown, Gold. There is a rainbow pile of toilet paper kisses on the floor when she is finished.

She takes a small suitcase out from under her bed and opens it. There is a mountain of makeup inside and Georgia dumps the ugly colours inside of it.

She takes off her pants and thongs and shoves 7 new pairs of underwear into her overflowing underwear drawer.

She lies down on her bed and falls asleep with the rest of her clothes on. She dreams about getting into Hogwarts and turning down Harry Potter when he asks her out on a date until she wakes up at 1 p.m. the next day.

~

Georgia is running. Running as fast as she can in a pair of pink flip flop sandals. She’s at the mall again and her best friend Danielle watches her dodge a mother with a stroller. Danielle has been stuck with an oversized shopping bag full of clothes. She pulls out her cellphone and calls her mom.

“Hey mom, Georgia and I are finished. Can you come pick me up?”

Georgia curses her luck as she runs out the front doors only to find she’s still being pursued by the most athletic security guard she’s ever seen.

A portly security guard sits across from Georgia in an underground parking lot office.

“If you had run away from me, I wouldn’t have bothered!”

She is still catching her breath when the guard who chased her comes out from behind the plexiglass booth to inform her that the police have been called.

“I would have just called your parents. Now you’ve resisted arrest and you’ll get a criminal record. I hope you weren’t planning on leaving the country anytime soon.”

Georgia’s throat constricts until it aches. She fights back tears as she thinks about her mother and stepfather shaking their heads in disappointment while they get on a flight to Mexico, leaving her behind.

The portly security guard asks, “Are you sure you can’t reach your parents?”

“They’re both working,” Georgia chokes back.

The guard who chased her, softens a little at the sound of her voice.

“What does your father do?”

“He actually works in the towers next door. He’s a security guard there.”

The portly security guard leans forward.

“Why don’t we just try calling his cell. If he picks up and can come down here we’ll call off the police.”

~

A female security guard enters the room with a rough looking young man.

“Fake bills, we’re going to do a test,” she barks and they pass through to the back room.

Georgia’s father turns back to look at his daughter, sitting in her pink flip flops and matching pink cheeks.

The athletic guard breaks the silence.

“I’m actually pretty impressed. She ran really well despite her shoes. Nearly knocked over a woman and her stroller, but I run triathlons and she kept ahead of me for quite some time before she gave up in the parking lot.”

He leans against the security counter, smiling at her father.

“You might want to put her in track and field. Sports are supposed to be a good way to help troubled teens,” he adds.

Her father turns to the guard and says, “only just a teenager at 14, but that’s not a bad idea… is it Georgia? You could use some exercise to get fit for modelling.”

Georgia looks up at her father and the fit security guard.

“I’m not troubled, and you know I don’t want to model anymore… I’m too short.”

She looks at the security guards, they both smile at her, “Fit and Fat,” she thinks. She smiles back for the first time, her nerves calmed.

Georgia and her father say good bye outside his office building.

“I guess your mom and I won’t have to punish you. Banned from the mall for 5 years and it seems like those guys taught you a lesson before I got there.” He smiles at Georgia and laughs.

“Thanks Dad. I’ll tell mom when I get home then you can talk about it.”

“Love you Georgia.”

“Love you Dad,” and Georgia walks away to the bus station.

~

Three weeks later, Georgia climbs out of her father’s car at the high school track field. A small group of teens and two coaches greet her with smiles, and Georgia recognizes a girl from her class.

The girl comes up to Georgia.

“Hey, how come you’re starting track?”

Georgia takes a sip from her water bottle and grimaces.

“What’s wrong?” asks the girl.

“Nothing. I just mixed some vodka with my water and it tastes terrible. I was afraid I would get tired so I thought this would loosen me up a bit.”

The girl laughs, then goes serious.

“You’re joking right?”

Georgia laughs, “Yes, of course I’m joking. No, I put advil in my water. Now I know why they only have it pill form.”

“So how come you’re joining track halfway through the season?”

“Got caught stealing and the security guard said I was so fast I should do the 100 meter sprint. So here I am.”

Georgia pours out her water into the grass.

“Mind if I share your water today? I can’t drink this,” Georgia asks.

The girl stammers, “sure, but-”

“Thanks.” Georgia picks up her bag and walks toward the coaches who are calling for them to gather around. The swagger is back in her step.