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The Loss of the Retirement Party

At the college where I currently teach, two high administration officers recently have announced their retirement.  They have made the decision that their contributions to the field of education will soon cease and they will move their lives into a different direction, I suppose.  Retirement parties have been planned for these two officials, and as I wonder about the future of retirement parties, I wonder if I will ever have one.

For the past ten years, I have been a professor in the liberal arts and the humanities, teaching on contract. I have been an IT, an itinerant teacher. Before my child was born, I was teaching at two separate colleges simultaneously each term: fall, winter and spring/summer.  Every term, many of us – and there are many – await teaching offers that determine the number of subjects we will teach, based on our qualifications, and the number of sections. In the Fall semester, many of us usually get that temporary union status allowing us to reap some of the benefits of the full-time faculty such as basic health expenses, but come the Winter term, the hours fall and those of us who are more experienced network with other colleges and universities to ensure that we have enough hours to pay the mortgage, bills, transportation (gas, car insurance, bus tickets or passes) and all other life expenses like food.  In some cases, we end up teaching more subjects per term than the average full-time professor  who has no more than fifteen hours a week, a limit on the number of students per section, and two months off in the summer, sometimes four if a professional development training or upgrading is taken. When summer arrives for the contract professor, some of us aren’t even teaching as “there are not enough hours” as we are told but then we see our fellow contract professors with an overload of work between two colleges, maybe even three. There is no fair process in the way the selection of contract professors are chosen. If one is liked, then there is a likelihood that there will be continued work. If not, then he or she is expelled by the lack of a contract.

Teaching full-time in higher education has its perks, and I will admit that it is a lot of hard work to teach approximately 180 students per term. Plus, the department I teach, there is a lot of marking, particularly essays.  But even when the full-time professors decide to retire, as four did this past Winter term, a wonderful gathering was planned with presents purchased with contributions from their colleagues, including some contract faculty. Their worth is much appreciated as shown by the speeches and anecdotes, and perhaps a cameo by the President of the college or some other high official if He is not at hand. Finally, a memorable souvenir of their time in the field of education goes on with them. But, will I have a retirement party?

The idea of a retirement party comes along when a person, in this case a full-time employee, makes the decision to cease working and collect their pension plan through the government as well as the pension plan managed by whatever union mutual fund, or corporate plan in which they have decided to place their additional money.  The employee makes the choice to retire, not the employer. However, with the increasing practice of contract employees in many fields (not just education but in hospitals, municipalities, provincial and federal government), the free-will of determining one’s time has, as Elizabeth Gilbert would say, attraversiamo; it has crossed over.

It’s not that I have not tried to be a full-time employee.  I have gone through at least eight or nine interviews (apparently not an abnormality) for various positions, some of which I had little interest to teach even though I possessed the qualifications. However, my full-time colleagues, particularly those with power – otherwise known as coordinators –  encouraged me to keep applying “just to get in” and once in, I would be able in a few years to direct my way back to my current position. Recently, I did apply to two positions in which I had been interviewed in the past, except in this case the degree requirements of the position differed and I was not called for an interview. It was a heartbreaking moment and as I told my boss, I feel like an Enron employee .

In my contract career, I dedicated to continuously upgrade my teaching skills by enrolling in professional development courses, even those enrolled by new employees, learned how to teach and convert subjects into online courses.  In addition to what I have learned, I have shared my knowledge by leading workshops and presenting at faculty start of semester meetings.  I have developed two subjects, and a third one is in the works (but is it worth it?).  I have been consulted by full-time employees to review exam and assignments, provide guidance and mentorship to new contract faculty, and even my Chair has forwarded my name to faculty to acquire information on how to develop course packages. I keep wondering, why am I constantly being hired back as a professor on contract? If I am not the candidate who cannot  make it into the “community of future retirees”, why hire me back in the first place? Hence, will I have a retirement party? Will accolades of my contributions to students and my community be spoken? Will it be my decision to have a retirement party?

The answer to the above question is if this pattern continues, none of us who are contract employees in any field will know what it feels like to be the retiree at his or her own retirement party. The melancholy of this dying ritual is this: the one who is no longer needed, decided by the powers that be (the administration) or even by our own free will, will simply disappear. In the shared faculty contract rooms where three to four contract professors share a desk, one will simply ask the other, “What happened to Z?” to which the reply “I don’t know. I think Z stopped teaching.” We stopped and we are no longer present and working. Already, there is language in these rooms like “Remember A? and do you recall when G had this type of class,” and “do you know where U is teaching now?” Contract professors are becoming non-corporeal entities called up by the wigi board of Chairs, Associate Deans and other powers that be only to be cast back into a realm where we wait and wonder about our usefulness.

What Today’s Girls Can Learn from Traditional Fairy Tales

Every since the feminists literary critics began their assessment of fairy tales like “Little Snow White” and “Cinderella,” the general opinion of these tales have been overtly negative primarily calling them sexist,and rightly so. The main female protagonists are characterized as naive, tolerant and almost voiceless females and the only females who express themselves with any authority are the evil step-mothers and their accompanying daughters. As well, the only road to salvation for these helpless maidens is to marry the man, the prince. In all, these fables connote the idea that a young woman experiencing a harsh life is caused by jealous females in her family, thus promoting distrust of the gender, and she is helpless until the male comes along to rescue her from her oppression. Many mothers with daughters may feel like they need to avoid telling such tales to their daughters, but these “old fashion” stories may have a new relevance today.  They can teach young girls how to recognize the lack of confidence in a fellow female and themselves through both the main and antagonist characters. While the endings stay the same in these forms, the “happily ever after” can provide mothers with an ability to discuss with their daughters whether Cinderella or Snow White would truly be happy as voiceless females and  suffer the Feminine Mystic.  What can be seen as “bad stories” for girls and women can be an educational tool to direct girls to  become an autonomous individuals by showing how not to be.

While these stories appear to have good girls and bad girls, all these female characters rely on beauty as their means of survival. As much as I wished Cinderella waited until she was old enough to move out, and child labour was not so much an issue in the era it was written, she could have taken her independence by opening up her own cleaning company: but that was not to be.  Both Snow White and Cinderella are voiceless females never questioning whether they could turn their oppression into prosperity, at least for Cinderella.

While I only have a three year old son, the female representations in shows he watches like Bubble Guppies and The Octonauts have more positive characteristics and roles than the female characters that were read to me as a child. Deema from Bubble Guppies has spunk. Whenever a dragon or colour monster goes beyond the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, she asserts herself without hesitation, and unlike many females of my era, she has no fear about not being seen as nice.  The Octonauts have two female crew members: Tweet and Dashi. Tweet serves as the Engineer of the crew and Captain Barnacles calls upon her in quite a number of  episodes to check or repair a Gup or the Octopod. In fact, the Octopod would not run without Tweet.  In one episode, she constructed a mini-micro webcam for a sea worm to help align the holes in his sea rock home. Dashi, less active in the episodes, recalls a Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek. She scans the radar for underwater traffic and presides over the Octopod’s computer system, another engineering position. While these female characters are the backdrop to the trio of male adventurers, they nevertheless are contributing members of unit. I can’t wait for the mutiny.

Compared to the traditional fairy tale, Deema, Tweet and Dashi are the complete opposite of the female protagonists like Snow White and Cinderella. While readers may be sympathetic toward these characters, growing girls – and boys – can learn about the consequences of subjecting themselves for vanity. In the original Snow White, she is tempted by her evil step-mother in disguise by items of beauty: a comb, a bodice and an apple.  The first two association with beauty is more obvious, while the latter one relies on perhaps Christian religious association recalling back to Eve in Genesis. In the first two cases, Snow White’s acceptance of the comb and bodice may illustrate her naivete but it also illustrates her inability to resist items of beauty. A woman’s beauty has been taught to be her power: the seductress in literature (and movies) relies on her beauty to dominate her male prey.  In this story, by submitting herself to her beauty, Snow White loses her life, her metaphorical self.  Ironically, it is her beauty that saves her, when the prince serendipitously in the forest sees Snow White in her glass case and pleads with the dwarves to give him her in her case. While Snow White is portrayed as an innocent victim, her beauty is part of her identity. Like the feminists note, she is an empty character.

The evil stepmother is no different from Snow White, as reliance on her beauty is illustrated by her repeated questioning of her magic mirror. In the original, she asks the infamous questions twice before she learns that Snow White has surpassed her step mother in beauty, surprisingly before Snow White hits puberty.  When the step mother’s plan to have Snow White killed by the huntsman fails, and takes on the task herself succeeding with the apple, she again asks the mirror after the deed showing she needs the confirmation that she is the most beautiful. Constantly having to ask the same question to check for the same result shows the step mother has no confidence in herself and relies on external sources to validate her identity: to be the fairest of them all.

The story of Cinderella, on the other hand, rooted in the theme of beauty shows the dysfunctional dynamic synonymous with today’s reality shows of Desperate Housewives of some North American city, the Kardashian sisters, and other spin offs. Even in the Emmy award wining show Modern Family, Claire and Sofia’s relationship seems to be rooted in some form of female  jealousy. After Sofia gives birth to her and Jay’s son, Claire remarks “Oh look. You’re already skinny.”  Like Mean Girls, a class system allocates young women based on their beauty and popularity, both being intertwined: the more beautiful a girl is the more well known (and desirable) she is. In Cinderella, the original version, the step mother and step daughters’ jealousy over Cinderella’s beauty results in her oppression in the household.  Sanctioned to the kitchen and deprived of her possessions, Cinderella who has very little dialogue in this story allows herself to be subjected to this oppression.  The only way she can free herself is to request from her magic tree dresses that will make her beautiful, which it successfully does three nights in a row. As told in the story, the prince would dance with no one else other than the incognito Cinderella. Her physical appearance is what made her desirable.

Like the evil stepmother in Snow White, the step-sisters’ jealousy of Cinderella illustrates their lack of confidence in their own self. Beauty is their means of self value, as shown when they request material items from their step-father (Cinderella’s father) and command Cinderella to comb their hair prior to the ball. Even when there is the chance they could marry the prince, they follow unquestionably their mother’s command to cut off a part of their foot to fit it into the glass slipper. While the step mother and step daughters assert themselves more (aggressively) than Cinderella, how they assert themselves by lessening Cinderella’s beauty to increase theirs show that these girls have no self-esteem.

As a professor, I like to speculate with my students what would happen if? Thus, traditional stories like Cinderella and Snow White and their step family offering opportunities for little girls to critical think about whether their sense of self and self-esteem is reliant on the debasing of others, and allowing oneself to become subjected to such bullying.  While I won’t necessarily be reading these stories to my son, would you read these stories in a new light to your daughters?

Thanksgiving: No Time for Family

To Canadians, Thanksgiving occurs in October without much fanfare, especially with no Black Friday since it falls on a Monday. But to Americans, Thanksgiving is a holiday like no other next to Christmas’ Boxing Day: a day to spend and a day for businesses to reap what has been sowed. With the recent news of Black Friday sales extending to American retail businesses in Canada, and corporations like Target, Toys R Us, and the Marts (Walmart and Kmart) opening earlier in the U.S., it seems that American consumer traditions are exposing a hypocrisy in American values: the value of the family.

Recently on The View, Whoopi Goldberg criticized companies opening at midnight stating it seemed like they were taking advantage of their employees during this holiday of thanks and gratitude as opening earlier affected retail workers’ ability to enjoy their family on a guaranteed day off. Taking time to give thanks and to feel gratitude amongst family is being forsaken for the almighty  In God We Trust dollar. On the seventh day, His Almighty did take a break from his hard work to enjoy his creation and enjoy the feeling of relaxation, but when a holiday comes to America and western and westernized cultures follow suit, family seems to be the almighty sacrifice for that great bargain.

Years ago, I was working at a retail store in Montreal when the provincial government passed a law allowing for Sunday shopping. Quebec at the time had been one of a few provinces that closed their stores on Sunday, but when the law passed, my coworkers and I felt that the one guaranteed  day of the week where we could just relax and do stuff or nothing was taken away  because the nine to fivers needed time to do their necessities like grocery shopping, clothes shopping for their children, etc.  Also, in Canada, many stores are open during holidays like Thanksgiving, Victoria Day, and the new Ontario February holiday, Family Day. While most retail employees get holiday pay, how is money suppose to  compensate from time away from their loved ones.  If the corporate worker wants to know what it is like to be busy and not have enough time with the family, try working retail.

The government, however, cannot be blamed for instituting this practice. Like any democratic government, they appease to the public’s demands (and lobbyists).  People who push for Sunday shopping forget is that the time it gives  them to spend with their family, it takes away the time spent with a retail worker’s family. Imagine working Christmas Eve to only go back to work two days later for Boxing Day, and let me say that Boxing Day is not fun. Imagine working the day before Thanksgiving Thursday only to be scheduled for work on Black Friday at  four or five in the morning to prepare for the crazy crash of consumers at six.  In between, there’s the turkey dinner to prepare, the children to entertain and the guests to greet and host. And if traveling to a relative’s, there’s getting the kids ready, traffic, and travel time there and back home. Whether the retail worker’s scenario is the former or the latter, what’s on the mind of this forsaken worker is the coming onslaught of madness that consumers have been wanting – all due to because the main dominant demographic consumer base needs that time to shop, or do they?

One quote stood out for me from a news report about the sales and early openings of Black Friday was “It’s worth it to see the smile on their faces when they open the present.”  I commend the parent for following the desire to give what they can to their child in order that he or she is happy (and who is the he or she I am referring to in this pronoun usage? think about it!). When I remember Thanksgiving holiday of my childhood, it has nothing to do with Christmas (forget that it was in October), and I remember my parents, aunts and uncles at my grandmother’s house in the Eastern Townships and my cousins and I in my mother and aunt’s old bedroom upstairs talking about stuff, laughing about stuff, looking through our mother’s old books, my cousin wanting the old wooden vanity (which she now has). But the strongest memory is the feeling of that memory. I cannot describe that feeling but there was no anxiety about getting back home or shopping for bargains the next day. The feeling is best explained by this: it felt good to be with my family.

Attachment Parenting for the Working Parent

A few months back, Time Magazine published a photo of a mother breastfeeding her three year old child. Another attachment parenting supporter, Mayim Bialik, came out with her book Beyond the Sling about which she was practically overtly criticized in her television interviews on The View and Anderson to name a few.  How the interviewers, and audience members, shriveled their brows at her parenting style made my body cringe especially at the fixation on the topic of sex. The intruding questions about where she has sex if she and her husband bed share with their sons illustrates at least two absurd and limited social attitudes of the typical American: that delving into someone’s personal life so intrusively is a useful strategy to refute a parenting technique and that sex should only happen in the bedroom when children become part of a family. One point that was completely misunderstood was the idea that mothers (or fathers) need to stay home and not work. While continued closeness is part of the attachment parenting philosophy, closeness and connectedness is necessary between parent and child, even if the parents are working. It is possible.

As a working mother in Canada, I was able to take maternity leave for fifteen weeks which then changed to parental leave for the remaining weeks of the calendar year that could be divided between me and my husband. During my maternity and parental leave, I did practice attachment parenting techniques like co-sleeping/bedsharing. I cannot say how much I loved sleeping beside my son. Plus, the pictures I have of my husband with our son snoozing in our bed are positive evidence that we did not think of him just as an individual person with his own space. He is part of a family and taking a nap together is not a terrible thing, even when the child is four months old. While my husband and I no longer bed share with our son, we stay with him until he goes down and if he happens to get up in the middle of the night crying, we will sleep with him because we are tired too. The purpose here is to ensure that our son feels safe and crying it out, as we have tried, is not always the best solution as the perspective taken on a crying child at night is they are or will become too dependent on the parents. This is definitely not the case, since my son is already exerting his need to do things by himself and running ahead stretching the symbolic umbilical cord that I still bear whenever he steps more than two feet ahead of me. When children feel safe and secure with their parents, they are more willing to take risks, to try certain independent behaviours. While I do feel the traditional WASPy mother angst of a child asserting their independence, I enjoy more the pride I feel for my son when he smiles that he cap flip-flop over the top his jacket.

As Mayim Bialik said in her appearance on Anderson, there is nothing in attachment parenting that dictates what a mother should do between nine and five. While I can hardly call myself a full fledged  practitioner of attachment parenting just like I can hardly call myself a Catholic anymore, since my son was nine months old, he has been part of a wonderful daycare. While it does not and cannot provide attachment parenting techniques to the children it cares for,  I am also lucky to have found a job that allows me to spend more time with my son than some of my mother friends. In the daycare where my son attends, there are children who are dropped off at seven am for breakfast and picked up at five thirty before supper five days a week.  Calculating the time these children spend there, eleven and a half hours five days a week, for me, is too much time to be away from your children.  Being able to work online allows me to work from home, so if there is an issue at the daycare I am a ten minute walk away and I can feed my son breakfast every weekday (and weekend) and have time to cook meals for him before I pick him up. My son spends no longer than seven hours at the daycare four days a week, and Thursdays are mommy and son days. As I continue to teach/work online, I am seriously considering taking my son out of daycare one of the days so that I can spend more time with him. I just wish that my husband could do the same, but he cannot. Having an extra day with my son would mean the world to me as we could do so much more like go to the library, make a snow mountain and slide down, nap together (which I still love and he recently has taken to napping in our bed, no problem for me).  The wish to be able to do more with my son needs to be fulfilled because as I stated previously, the connection between parent and child is important.

Today, the practice is to afford and maintain the material dream and that cost is coming at an expense to the family. Parents are spending less time with their children. Recently on Canada AM, the host remarked how parents are now hiring individuals to teach their children how to ride a bike because they are too busy. Apparently, this is a rising industry. Also, parents are no longer eating dinner together. The family dinner is only practiced when visiting the grandparents. Early drop offs at school and daycare and late pick ups are disconnecting family members. If something needs to be sacrificed, why is it the family?

So what does all this have to do with attachment parenting?  As Dr. Sears said on The View, it is about spending as much as possible with the child(ren). Parents and extended family need to be connected with their children so that they feel safe and secure, and most important stability. With daycare becoming pseudo foster homes for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, what will these children feel when it’s time to move onto kindergarten, which unfortunately is now full day kindergarten in the Province of Ontario. As I always tell my son, mommy and daddy are your home. We will always be here for you and we will always be with you.  It’s not the home, it’s the family that is home.

Support Gay Marriage: It’s Good for the Straight Guy

NOTE: Please note that this blog is satirical in its nature and while I support gay marriage, the stereotypes used to support the argument are purely for satirical purposes.

The straight male is slowly becoming a less desirable life mate than he once was. No longer is he seen as marriageable material to the single female.  With homosexuality becoming more acceptable in society, and rightly so, opponents to gay marriage are giving straight females greater options  on the type of man that makes their dreams come true and apparently it’ s the gay man.  As a result, the straight male is now becoming afflicted with the once single straight female anxiety disorder that afflicted the ladies all through the series of Sex in the City: eternal singlehood. To bring him back into the marriage market, opponents to gay marriage need to lend their support so that straight females have no other choice of than the straight man as their husbands.

The results of a January 2012 survey of New York City singles found single men outnumbered single women by about thirteen thousand. While statistics show that single women have the numerical advantage in finding their mate, one of the reasons why there could be so many single straight men in the latter part of this age group and beyond is single straight female prefer the companionship of gay men, and it’s not uncommon to find gay men married to straight females. Apparently, about 3.4 million women in America are married to gay men.  According to the article, gay men seem to offer more to them than a straight man like being less judgmental and more flexible. Also, don’t forget the shopping!  Considering the options, the gay man seems to be the better partner when it comes to saying “I do”, casting aside any opportunity for the straight man to win her heart.

For the past twenty years, a greater number of women, especially single women have built their own careers and have garnered financial success. Thus, shopping has become the best measure for the single female to judge whether her man is worth a lifetime of companionship, rather than the old “he’s a good provider”.  To a single female, a straight man hangs around sitting on some uncomfortable seat waiting for his girlfriend to strut out of the changing room to give half-heartedly his opinion on her outfit.  On the other side of the fence, with a gay boyfriend and husband, she has found the perfect life mate.  Before she even enters the changing room, he has flipped through the racks choosing outfits that prevent her from looking like the frumpy female she would be with the straight man.  With him, she’s chic, sexy, and oh so confident.

Another benefit the gay man has over the straight man is the value of his opinions.  The moment the single female walks out of the change room, the straight man is placed in an honest dilemma, literally. As much as this straight man would really like to give his honest opinion, he rarely ever does. How often has the straight man avoided saying “your ass looks big” or “you look fat.” Often! Thus, the lesson straight men share with each other is the shopping motto, “that’s looks nice” regardless of how it actually looks. Now how much genuine relationship bonding happens here? From her gay boyfriend/husband, even when he says she’s look fat in that outfit, his honesty is not only appreciated and valued but he becomes her dashing saviour from fashion faux pas.  When considering the pros and cons of choosing who to be her life partner, the gay man wins it hands down.  Straight men are at a loss.  Their lack of shopping skills is not in their jeans or genes.

Not since the days of feminism has the single heterosexual male experienced such a blow to his manhood. With gay men out of the closet, straight single females are leading them to theirs. They are skulking into the gay community, where marriage is legally prohibited to find the man of their dreams, even if he dreams of the same man himself.  The suffering and anxiety the straight male experiences must end. To save him, opponents to gay marriage need to give homosexuals the legal right to marry, for once it happens a whole pile of emotionally dejected females will have no choice other than the heterosexual male.

I Only Have Forty Two Friends on Facebook. Is That Such a Bad Thing?

An individual’s life can be measured not by his accomplishments but by the friendships he or she forms, but does the number of friends determine how worthy a human being is? I remember one of the very first funerals I attended for a very close friend of mine – an ex-boyfriend exactly. The church was packed. Having been with him for three years, I was astounded at the number of people attending his funeral. Even the bleachers were full. Back then, there was no Facebook, so I would assume that those other than close friends and family had been in some way impacted by knowing him in some manner that they felt the need to make time to attend his funeral and pay their last respects. He was a worthy person to remember. To be honest, I highly doubt that I would have that many people at my funeral. And I think, should this bother me?

On Facebook, I have forty two friends, so far. Does this “so far” mean am I looking for more? I’m not sure. However, some of my friends on Facebook have two hundred to three hundred friends. I wonder how can people manage such a large quantity of people involved in their personal life – what do they share with them because they’re all friends? Taking into account the average amount of hours a person works, the average time it takes to sleep and the parts of the day when one needs to do those other necessary things like drive, take the bus, or whatever, when do all these friends fit into that part of a person’s life – that most sacred vulnerable time when they open up to divulge their most personal thoughts? Sometimes I wonder if Facebook has now become a competition or an ego affirming site where the number of friends one has serves to validate their sense of purpose and existence – has friendship become about quantity than quality?

“You can’t pick your parents but you can pick your friends,” I was told as a teenager by a fellow teenage friend. Whoever it was that told this to me, from what I can remember, seemed to instill the idea that when it comes to friendship, the decision was mine. I did not have to accept immediately any person that came along and wanted to be my friend for whatever reason just because they existed. However, I always found that friendship was never really a choice – like finding a husband, it was just something that happened naturally. I realized friendship was a slow evolution of common interests, matching senses of humours, the ability to tolerate nuances and quirks: in other words, a slow acceptance of all these factors. If heads butted too frequently, there would not be a friendship. As well, fate, luck or chance, the right place and the right time, with all the stars aligned, friendship seemed to have just happened out of nowhere. Eventually, I would discover while washing the dishes, “yea, we’re really friends.”

Also, discovering a friend sends out a reminder about the values and principles within oneself – I would like hanging around people who were curious about life, liked discussing movies and books, and most importantly, felt confident and comfortable with who they were. Those whom I met who seemed confused about life, love, spewed senseless ideas or just liked to complain, I avoided as much as I could. Why would I want to be part of someone’s life that seemed completely ungrounded or unhappy? That’s annoying. I do admit, there are times when I would help out people I knew who were experiencing troubled times but I never wanted to be the saviour figure they frequently ran to for help.

When it comes to connecting with friends, I prefer to meet them over coffee, schedule a dinner at a pub, restaurant, wherever we can agree and that is convenient for both of us, rather than write on some virtual wall. I also prefer to hear their voice, that intonation and rhythm that really tells me that this topic or point they’re making is really important to them. I also like to see gestures and body language compliment a person’s discussion and nothing like a voice with a pleading tone and a hand on the arm to begin a friendly debate over any civil disagreement. When all is over, it’s like the conversation has been recorded in my mind and I can reflect back later on what was verbally spoken: relive the experience. Thinking about some now, I can hear their voices still. Yes, friendship is an experience – it is not a logical process of selection but an experiential, kinetic interaction between two or more people. There is something lost in the definition of friendship when all that is communicated are words, ideas and images shared on a virtual wall.

Today, the idea of “connecting” with a friend seems to share more meanings with “electronic”, “virtual” and “online” rather than something that is tactile and personal. The electronic medium, as culture changing as it has been, has transformed the definition of friend from someone who gives and receives hugs, speaks with their own specific rhythm and intonation to a picture with a virtual “wall” and another e-mail portal to check out whether someone has poked. I’ve had “friends” from the past “poke me” and request to be their friend, but I’ve ignored quite a few. It’s not that I don’t like them; they were okay back then. It’s just too much time has passed and I am not looking to fill a vacant whole of validation. I don’t think I can decide who is a friend and who isn’t. If it happens, it happens and I would rather than it happens naturally rather than electronically.  I have my husband and my friends, whom fate, luck, chance, and time have made it possible to have a friendship.

Thus, I only have forty two friends on Facebook, but I would not call them all “friends.” Some are from work and when friends are met at work, not all stay friends when they leave for the day or for good. How many actually keep in touch and stay “friends” outside of one’s work building? I would say that I have only a few acquaintances on Facebook and time has not yet progressed us to the stage of true friends. Thus it is still possible, or not. But, on Facebook, everyone is a friend. I think we all like to believe friendship is important, but are we really that accepting when it comes to friends? I wonder if dropping a friend is an application on Facebook. What’s done when the friendship goes sour?

In total, not counting my family members, the total of friends I really have on Facebook is around fifteen to twenty. These are my friends and I can instantly remember sitting with two of them in a dinky restaurant drinking knock off martinis talking about dates, teaching, boyfriends parents don’t know about, etc, etc, etc – everything that makes life, life. And having friends around physically, emotionally, to experience is a part of life.  My friends may not fill a church, but I figure if they’ve enjoyed the experience of friendship with me and I with them, then I can feel assured that I do have real friends.


Addendum: A recent article about Facebook friends and stress.

Living without a License

Many are surprised when I tell them that I do not have a driver’s license. I am forty two years old, a college professor, a mom, a wife, to name a few roles.  I have never had the inclination to drive but when it is revealed to others in some odd way that I do not possess a driver’s license, immediately attitudes change. The most common response I get is “how do you get around?” to which I reply “I take the bus.” It seems like life without a license lacks independence and freedom but the freedom one seeks with a license is not really freedom: it is a responsibility.  I admit I do not like having too much responsibility, and taking the bus allows me experiences a different side of freedom than the one that would require me to watch out for what’s on the road.

“So it must be hard to get around?” I am asked, but it’s not. To being a juxtaposition to argue such an idea would be full of fallacies. How can I know if getting around without a car is hard if I never experienced life driving a car.  Sure, I had boyfriends and have friends who have cars, and my husband uses his car (I obviously have no ownership to it), but being in the passenger seat is pretty much the same as sitting in a bus, except that I get to talk to the driver – which I sometimes do – and maybe be an extra set of eyes.  Is it hard to get around? No.  Each little discovery on how to get around provides me with a greater degree of freedom than I previously had.

This past winter, most buses in the the public transit system in my area went on strike.  I was lucky enough that the number four bus I take was not affected, but two of the buses that I needed at the start of the winter term were, so what was I going to do? In my suburban area, the metropolitan city buses also run taking workers to a subway in the northern part of Toronto.  The great thing about having more than one public transit company and multiple routes running in suburbia is the discovery those untrodden paths that so many  would not be able to see as they are use to just seeing the path.  During the strike,  I discovered a much quicker way to get to work and home than my pre-strike route.  The discovery of new routes fills me with a new sense of freedom. If to know one thing and to know another means I know three things, then my knowledge of the public transit system is extreme. I can connect in my head a new route to the routes I already know creating web of connections,  for the network of routes works like a web upon which the spider can merely transfer from one divergent string to another to get to its goal. A spider never gets caught in its web, and I never have been without resources to get around. It’s there and I’ve learned how to use them well.

While today’s youth may be connecting socially on the Internet, those who take the bus are connecting socially on the routes.  When I’ve had early morning classes, I’ve noticed on the bus that those who are the veteran riders have formed their own collective.  Stop after stop, a member would step on and they all would be sitting in the same seats they sat the morning before, the week before and the month before.  Each began with smile, said a good morning, commented about the weather and asked a personal query about each other. In fact, each member seemed so comfortable with each other and they were not at all hesitant to collectively work together. One time, a new driver was constantly late, five minutes late which affected some of the transfers to other buses . So, the collective on the bus agreed each would call the company and file a complaint.  The following week, the old driver was back on the route and she was met with an abundance of grateful greetings.

I change campuses and schedules practically every term so I do not form any connection to any public transit social unit, but the one thing that the bus gives me is time for me.  I can read a book within a week or two while taking the bus, and I am not the only one reading. I can text on a bus without fear of a ticket,  and I have even seen people knit. I can listen to music on my smartphone without worrying if I will be distracted and hit someone.  One fun thing is I can listen to conversations, and yes I do. In some cases, the dialogue provides some very good warm up material in class.   Imagine a teacher walking into an 8:00 am class saying “Let me start by telling you about what I heard on the bus this morning?” One great thing the bus gives me is time. The time I have on the bus is the mental preparation of what’s to come or the decompression of what has happened. When the doors of the bus close after I board, I can leave it all behind and not worry about it for about an hour.

Finally, the thing I like most about the bus is it allows me to think. In college,  I had a difficult time trying to come up with ideas for essays and how to organize my ideas.  My college was near a metro so in between classes I would walk down to the station, get on a train and ride to a transfer point to board another train. I would ride the metro for at least an hour.  My boyfriend at the time thought I was really weird, but at the time I did not care and still don’t.  The movement of the train allows me to relax and reflect on how to address and deal with a certain obstacle, small or big. I need movement to think. I am a kinetic learner.  Without movement, my mind is dead.

To me, this is what it feels like to live without a license. To me, this is the freedom I love to have: an existence without worry. There is life in the buses and a little more of a life can be had on a bus rather than waiting in a bottlenecked highway.  In the driver seat, I felt anxious and anger – and this was just during the lessons. Thankfully I failed the test and never went back. I love my bus and would never give it up.

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