The Bystander Effect


I’m entering month two of my 9 months of writing this thesis and I’m, well to be kind to myself, a tad behind. Why? Life swirls on around me and I’ve decided I’m not going to miss a chance to breathe it in. Why write about the potential politics of affect if that’s the case? I simply need loneliness to follow me around and we’ll map out some sort of longitude and latitude together until one of us gives out. High noon. Or late afternoon, depending upon what time I get to bed.

To attempt a recap, as much for me as for you, I’m trying to argue that loneliness is an everyday feeling that touches each of us. Neither unique, special, spectacular nor cataclysmic loneliness dips in and out in fits and starts and often settles in like a flea to fur, or, a nicer analogy, chocolate chips to cookie dough. No, I’m not calling you fat.

Because of its everydayness loneliness travels unnoticed much of the time. As common as the breeze coming in the window, or as a marshmallow melting in your mouth on a summer’s night loneliness has the quality of inevitable thereness. Not intent on blending into the background so much so that it is silent it pops up in the oddest of moments and seems to hide away when one might expect it to bring the wine to the party. It works to mobilize a stir within, a shake or rattle that is loud enough to wonder about and yet calm enough to stave off panic. In this way, no matter how it is conveyed to us by the media, loneliness is not a threatening disease that can overcome our social graces; loneliness is that gentle whisper in our ear, that soft kiss on the neck, that our social graces are currently shyte.

The fact that in the West we’ve had to actually create a Good Samaritan Law to encourage bystanders to ‘do’ something instead of turn a blind eye to people in need, and a separate “duty to rescue” law, is sad. And today, as I read about the baby girl in red stockings who was killed in China by a hit-and-run driver and left there to die by 18 passersby I want to throw up or throw down. But my loneliness is ever present, begging me to ask the larger questions that pull me away from singular blames and judgments and push me to question how this could happen? Has society lost its “moral glue” as one source said? Have we all become assholes? Has money, success, greed made us indifferent to simple compassion?

Quick to place the blame on an other, in this case China, news media outlets seem to forget our own tragic examples of utter, inhumane indecency. A friend of mine today drew a comparison to the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese, a New York woman who was stabbed and left for dead while 34 neighbors heard and watched and did nothing. 10 minutes later the same attacker returned, stabbed her again, raped her, and stole the 49$ she had on her person. The case got so much media attention the phrase “the bystander effect” was born: “the tendency to not help [another] when other people are present.”

Examples of witnesses who do nothing when they see horrendous crimes taking place are not limited to the US and China. We in Canada are certainly willing bystanders to a litany of oppressions and the violence we continue to hear about, witness, and participate in concerning Aboriginal people for instance. How it is that it took B.C. police so long to track some 49 missing women (and growing in number) to Robert Pickton, a pig farmer known to police as violent, seems shocking. More shocking is that these women disappeared one by one from a tiny area of Vancouver’s Eastside and no one heard or saw anything. Disturbing as well is the reality that we Canadians are daily bystanders to the oppressions that continue to face the misfitted: sex-workers, the homeless, many queer identities, bullied children, impoverished single-parents, underappreciated immigrant new comers, differently abled-persons and so many others. The oppressive behaviors we wage might be dissimilar, but the bystander effect holds court.

No wonder we’re lonely.

I want to reiterate here that for me, my loneliness has nothing at all to do with feelings of exclusion. I do not feel like a pariah that has been kept from the social. At this point in time, as I look at the ways in which we are treating one another I could only wish for exclusion. Being anti-social is one thing, but being asocial is impossible no matter what the DSM tells us. There may be those who do not care for others, who are selfish, insensitive, so pathologically cruel that they only seem happy when hurting people they meet, or so completely out of touch with others’ feelings we call them sociopathic. I’ve met a few; they are awful and terrifying. But we are, all of us, social, even if we’d like to be otherwise.

As Judith Butler says in Giving an Account of Oneself: “there is no ‘I’ that can fully stand apart from the social conditions of its emergence, no ‘I’ that is not implicated in a set of conditioning moral norms, which, being norms, have a social character that exceeds a purely personal or idiosyncratic meaning.” Even if we want to be singular more than anything, even if we move to a treehouse and talk to no one for years, “the ‘I’ has no story of its own that is not also the story of a relation.”

We are born into the social; we’re hailed as social beings the second we are ripped from our mothers’ private bits and we’re inflected and implicated in the social every day for the rest of our lives regardless of the number of facebook friends won or lost, or days spent alone in the basement playing World of Warcraft. We exist in “the plural” as Hannah Arendt calls it, so that “even if we are by ourselves” we are still “in the company of others.” If we are human, we are social.

The only moment that we are actually alone, really, truly, alone is when we die. As Jacques Derrida (sounding relieved to find out he’s finally gonna get a social respite) so happily tells us in The Gift of Death: “death is very much that which nobody else can under go in my place” and so “by means of the passage to death the soul attains its own freedom.” When we start blurring the lines between human and something else, that elsewhere that seems to take us into darker quarters where the human does inhumane, monstrous things, this is the only possible time that the social becomes disconnected. But you’re no longer human then. You are nothingness.

What does this mean for the lonely gay? Well, as much as I’d love to claim that I am not a part of this social system we are living through, a social network that values money over people, Prada bags over food for children, that would walk by a dying baby on the street, that would turn away from statistics that say Aboriginal suicide for women in Canada is three times the national rate as though that were someone else’s problem, I am implicated in all of it by the very definition of being human.

So it’s not that the lonely are not social enough, it’s perhaps that our social is not something we are proud to admit we are a part of all of the time. I’m not saying this same social doesn’t attempt to exclude, bully, and bludgeon many of us. Oh, it does, but unfortunately for us we are still very much of it, stuck not being able to actually get away from it even if at times we feel only loosely assembled. Loneliness, then, becomes that necessary reminder that there is something that feels really wrong with the current ways in which we are relating to one another. And we are haunted by it.

Our sociality does not make us fabulous people, communities, nations, and worlds. Being a part of the social does not mean you are a part of an ethical mode of relation. I try to keep this in mind as I attempt to figure out what to do with this overwhelming sense of disgrace I keep feeling as I find out what we are doing to each other.

Still, I have to ask: what the hell is wrong with us all? Can we simply attach our lack of ethics to neoliberalism, capitalism, a need for more money and less feeling? Are we that certain we can do nothing that we literally do nothing? Or is it more? Does the fact that we live within the confides of totalizing systems mean that we have no room to move, change, shake things “slantwise” as Sara Ahmed would say? That we can’t be the thorn in the side of our social, constantly demanding more compassion and less indifference from ourselves, others?

Kathleen Stewart, author of Ordinary Affects says: “The terms neoliberalism, advanced capitalism, and globalization that index this emergent present, and the five or seven or ten characteristics used to summarize and define it in shorthand, do not in themselves begin to describe the situation we find ourselves in.”  And what is this situation?

A fucking lonely one, that’s for sure.

Somehow we need to find an optimism, even if it is only a “cruel” one as Lauren Berlant says, one that is not kind to our indifference and one that certainly holds us accountable for the cultural conducts we have fostered together.


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The Vagueness of Occupy Wall Street


I’m trying to write my thesis on the politics of loneliness. I am, really! But I’m preoccupied with the incredibly socially enabled Occupy Wallstreet movement in Zuccotti Park, Manhattan New York. I’ve been following the movement through my friends who live in New York and who have been protesting daily alongside the thousands of others who are marching for change. A change in what? The answers vary which I think is delicious and political.

However, the critical masses who are against the movement, or those indifferent or upset with how the movement has been organized, or “not organized at all” as many have been saying, are also gaining a strong voice throughout the social media. In the beginning stages the movement itself got little attention from the established media: newspapers, TV broadcasts, Radio. The reason is that the protest itself seemed unimpressive to these sources. As The New York Times reporter Ginia Bellefonte put it, “with a list of demands as schizophrenic as ending joblessness, “the modern gilded age,” political corruption, and capital punishment” protesters are thought to be young, wayward anarchists or pseudo communists, “pantomiming progressivism rather than practicing it knowledgeably.”

Judging the protesters’ efficacy on the appearances of the people who have shown up (colorful hair-streaks, Doc Martin boots, no ties), their ages, their class positions, and their political affiliations, many have dismissed the movements participants as a group of immature, out-of-touch kids looking for a party and a place to wreak havoc. “Get a real job,” many passerbys on their way to work on WallStreet have shouted, as though activism or even voicing one’s concern about the established “norms” of society were child’s play. As the ever poetic presidential candidate Herman Cain stated of the protesters: “Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks, if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself!”

What I find most interesting is not the outright antagonism against the movement itself. Those people are predictably angered because they are resolute that the work they do for corporations and within the capitalist structure is important, necessary, and the only way to keep the economy in the US from collapse and their own pockets full. Their feelings of entitlement to a bare-minimum upper class existence is obvious even if maddening. I am equally as unsurprised by the reactions of people who fear the inconvenience of protesting in general. Their inability to comprehend that sometimes one’s personal pleasure and comfort needs to be interrupted to get change to occur is telling. As one enlightened blogger quips anxiously, “Planning to visit many of the key attractions in New York. Will the campers at wall street interfere with our enjoyment? Been planning this first ever visit for 6 months. Now worried it’s going to be a nightmare.”

For me though the surprise reactions come from those of us who profess to be political leftists, are well educated, are young and seemingly fired up for debates, and yet who are incredibly pessimistic about the protests. Likening the movement to a useless drop in an empty can that will only be heard by the few who bend down to either listen or shut the lid on the entire operation, many have dismissed the efforts completely.

How have we become so skeptical? My friends and colleagues, neighbors and family know there is something very wrong with the way that the west (yes, us Canadians included) treats what we patronizingly call “underdeveloped” countries.  We know that with the money that we make as Canadians there is no way that entire Continents should be suffering from famines, poverty, and illnesses when we get the privilege of heath care, insurance, and the potential that is ours simply by being born Canadian. In graduate school, for instance, in the Humanities, we sit in our offices and classrooms daily and debate the fact that the ways in which we live in the world with others today is directly influenced by our own greed and desire for more and more of everything. And yet, when a movement such as Occupy Wall Street comes along there are still a vast majority of us who are pessimistically indifferent, or problematically critical of the efforts of so many.

Why? Well, not sure exactly. An easy answer from me when I’m cranky is that we have become complacent in our ability to unsee that the everyday things we do and the ways in which we do them–shopping for back-to-school clothes, eating, raising our kids, writing papers, reading books, showering, going to Loblaws– in fact make a difference in the lives of many others we cannot see. We seem happiest to believe the blame for the unethical treatment of the majority of the world stems from some morons in government, or the very rich and greedy who refuse to give up their wads of cash. The idea that we are all implicated in this process of colonization and globalization seems unfathomable and too much to get our heads around. We need to live our everyday lives and concentrate on the things we can actually change, right?

Yeah, ok. But why though would we get upset at the group of people trying to make changes on our behalf? Those who get up off of their arses and show up at a park in the middle of Toronto, or who occupy bridges in New York, or who march down the streets of France seem threatening to us in some way. They evoke our contempt and negativity, enabling us to reduce these protesters to a bunch of dreamers who don’t know their politics from their pointy fingers.

I have no idea to be honest about why this might be. Jealousy perhaps, or a longing for that kind of blind-passion for a change. What does strike me about the criticisms of the protesters (other than people’s fears of violence, being inconvenienced by late buses, or upset with the spectacle of distraction) is the recurring complaint that the protesters are “planless.”

According to so many, a protest is ineffective and useless if it does not have a clearly stated point and message. Some protesters are chanting, ““Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!” Others carry signs that say things like: “Like Cairo we stand united,” or “don’t be a douche,” or “Ignore me, go shopping,” and my personal favorite, “I won’t believe Corporations are people until Texas Executes one” (which I originally read as “I won’t believe corporations scare people until Texas Executes one.” Oddly both work!

The fact that a leader of this movement cannot be found, the notion that when interviewed about why they are there each protester seems to have only a vague idea, or many ideas, and the reality that a lot of the protesters themselves are confused about the ramifications of their actions seems to be disturbing us the most.  As one socially conscientious blogger states, “After weeks of protests I am no more sure of what they stand for, or what policies they hope to create than before this all started.   There are too many disparate interests coming from clearly discontented people that makes the message muddled and confusing.” (For more information about this argument you can read this blog post here:

What I want to suggest here is that the undefinedness of the movement itself might be one of its largest assets. This lack of knowing about what it is that is making us upset, but the acknowledgement that we are, indeed, upset is a huge step to making change happen. The realization that the feelings we have that something is very wrong about the way we are treating others globally coupled with the fact that these “bad feelings” are getting people to show up at parks, streets, and gatherings of variously like-minded and confused people is encouraging. Change cannot be made without first recognizing that we are feeling shitty about the way we are living, treating others, and being engaged with. These lonely realizations are what can get conversations started about what we need to do next, no?

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Lonely Lady Gaga


New day new mood. Fuck. Sometimes it’s harder than others. But the ‘scope assures me I’m okay to feel a bit off kilter today. Comfort from the cosmos:

Horoscope for Sagittarius, October 12 2011.

Your mood will be fairly unpredictable today, but you shouldn’t have too much trouble keeping it under control. Your sense of who you are and how you function is right on target — so trust it. Listen to yourself when you get that ‘I want to be alone’ feeling. You know yourself better than ever, which means that you know what will set you off. Watch out for people exhibiting annoying childishness or pettiness — you will have little patience for them today.

This advice is hilarious because it paints the picture that I’m an oddly placed explosive device ready to implode, explode, tipsy-turve at any moment. And here I thought I was a patient person. But the advice: “listen to yourself when you get that ‘I want to be alone’ feeling,” gives me a smile and a pause. It’s as though this feeling is supposed to be a rarity that crops up only barely ever. Um, I wear that feeling like a tarp.

So, I’m writing this thesis on loneliness and queerness and, without fail, when I tell people this is my topic, two questions come my way: Do I need a case study? And, why are you writing this?

The fact these two questions get asked with the same frequency illustrates for me what I see as the paradox of loneliness. It is both readily recognizable and wholly invisible at once, especially when queerness gets chucked into the batter.

I just heard recently that Lady Gaga outed herself as “married to her loneliness.” She says loneliness is her entitlement and her plight as an artist, stating, artists “wallow in loneliness and solitude our whole lives in search of the answer to hundreds and millions of questions that run through [our] mind. Yes I’m lonely, but I’m married to my loneliness.”This odd declaration seems fitting to a conversation about loneliness and sexuality, where even Lady Gaga (the supposed advocate of the strange, opaque, and queer) cannot help but romanticize loneliness as her lover and marriage partner. Turning loneliness into a material thing, a person in this case, one can actually picture Gaga showing up at the next awards ceremony not in a meat-strewn dress but with a tangible loneliness draped all over her. And what would loneliness look like to Gaga? I’m thinking it would involve a lot of height, a lot of make-up, and a lot of bad romance. Sorry.

The idea that we need to visualize loneliness is intriguing to me. I can’t hep but think about the UK, Canada, the US and the level of surveillance the powers that be in our homes believe is necessary to make people feel safe.  I actually got my picture taken by a surveillance-cam in a bathroom in Tennessee while I struggled to pee. I hope I was just peeing at least.

Gaga, though, doesn’t paint loneliness as monstrous like the scientists (like John T. Cacioppo) who claim it is contagious and has the power to unravel the social network, ruining the world as we know it. Instead, Gaga romanticizes loneliness furthering the narrative that loneliness is special and only begets the unique (whether they be uniquely artistic, or uniquely depressed). “Im an artist” Gaga reassures us and so her loneliness is what she reconfigures as her muse. An affect to “wallow” in, Gaga collapses solitude and loneliness into one, suggesting that loneliness is only justified for those heightened enough to understand its virtues. Or for those special enough to be chosen to use it in order to create.

Another group of gents believed the same about solitude. Writing about solitude in their poetic reveries John Keats and his Romantic merry men (Jean Jacques Rousseau, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and more) argued that their solitude was, in many ways, divine. It separated them from other people because of their gift of creativity.

Here’s Keats talking about his solitude:

O SOLITUDE! if I must with thee dwell,
Let it not be among the jumbled heap
Of murky buildings; climb with me the steep,-
Nature’s observatory – whence the dell,
Its flowery slopes, its river’s crystal swell,
May seem a span…

Keats wants his solitude to help him escape the everyday, leaving the realities of the big industrialized city behind him. He wants solitude to get him in touch with the pretty once again, nature and its calm. He is entitled to such thoughts because he is famous.

In Ed Gant’s Australian show “Amazing Feats Of Loneliness,” loneliness presents itself as a grotesque and “fantastical” feature of marvelously bizarre people. A host of lonely characters are staged in such a way that you fall in love with their out-of-touchness with the everyday around them. They are, as one reporter puts it, the freaks with “deformed minds” who evidence the spectacle and madness of loneliness and a society that judges it. I watched the show and it is wonderfully magical. Here’s a taste:

But what troubles me about how loneliness is being taken up here and by celebrities like Lady Gaga (and many other artists such as Taylor Swift, Nicole Kidman, Sarah Michelle Gellar to name only three of a trillion) is that these understanding of loneliness reify that it is a spectacular emotion. That it is a carnival for the asocial; that it is chosen; that the lonely dip their toes in aloneness only until they decide to reemerge, fall in love, get a band, write a book. These understandings prompt the idea that loneliness is not an everyday, ordinary, plain as punch feeling.

So do I need a case study? Well, technically there are too many out there. What I need is less of a case study and more of a loneliness that is not aghast with broody faces or colorful hats.

Posted in humour, lesbianism, loneliness, popular culture, queer politics, queerness, sexuality, social justice, writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rescuing Geena Davis


I rescued Geena Davis in my dream last night. I have no idea where she came from or why she was there, but I was on a very important mission (again, a bit hazy) where I had to do a lot of running, diving under tables, and falling off roof-tops, and when I saw Geena Davis (at least 7-feet tall with red hair in my dream) I was like, “OK Geena Davis. Here we go.” And we ran and ran with something or someone (a bit of both) chasing us. It was fantastic.

I will confess I ate a Snickers before bed. I also drank a bottle of red wine. I also watched a film called Dream House that was both creepy and action-packed. So I can piece the dream-narrative together without Freud’s help on this one, but Geena Davis? No idea. I haven’t seen her in a movie since I was wearing a training bra and using hairspray to keep my bangs up.

Why am I talking about dreams? Well, I noticed in this one a pattern that keeps recurring. I’m in some violent dream where I am both the heroine and perpetrator in an oddly twisted, Pan’s Labyrinth type plot–talking dolls, Gingerroot that cries, hands with eyeballs in them, walls that turn into tunnels. But at some point I realize that I am dreaming and that I already know how the dream ends, usually not well, but I feel this persistent need to play along.

For me and Geena, the moment happened when we began running along a murky, grey river. I knew it then that I’d been along that way before and that nothing good was coming our way, and yet ran I did and pulled Geena along behind me. That girl is slow!

The idea of inevitability and recurrence seems apt on Thanksgiving, as does loneliness. I’m not from this place, so I miss home. I also can’t cook, so I am eating burgers from Wendy’s for supper. A holiday for some it has to become simply another day to many others.

So today, I think about this loneliness thing. It is increasingly evident that as Westerners we are all deeply imbedded in a paradoxical world full of lonely selves who are concerned with our single life histories, and yet scrambling to find ourselves through our relationships to other people. Just go to any self help section and you’ll see a book that tries to tell you both to find your authentic self and to also get yourself a good job, a family, a dog. There are so many such narratives in fact that there are now complete sections for Memoir, Selfhelp, Autobiography, Psychology, New-Age Spirituality. And still, strangeness is ostracized. It seems that while finding oneself is on the rise, finding that oneself is normal and surrounded by other normal people is most important.As Richard Sennett so crankily observes, “treating someone else as a ‘real person’ [. . . ] [is] like a market exchange of likenesses; they show you a card, you show them one” (10). Sounds like voting!

In a culture that delights in belonging, the fact that only certain people make it into the clubhouse remains somehow beyond reproach. Feelings of loneliness are inevitable and recurring. But before we whip out the tissues, my loneliness still doesn’t feel sad or awful. It just makes me acutely more connected to the other people. Like today,  I’m hanging with the people I see wandering around the streets with no turkey or stuffing in their backpacks, and who have no tense family moments to prepare for. I shared a great second with the guy at the 711 today who offered to buy me a donut (two for one all the time!), and laughed with the cafe group I go to where I ran into non-Ontarioians who were all commiserating Air Canada strikes, or the lack of vegetarian options at the restaurant they are heading to tonight for dinner. Even the happily predictable marriage proposal from Frank (my name for him), the guy who lives on my corner who asks everyone to marry him seemed more special today. It makes me love my neighborhood and accepting of the knowledge that something does feel missing today and that’s ok.

I actually think that I am supposed to feel like something is not quite full, that there is a void inside the nether regions that could use some exploring. Okay, that sounded sexual. But isn’t that what life is all about? Searching and searching again, finding and smiling as opposed to having and having and having it all? Isn’t that what keeps people running along rivers towing Geena Davis behind them?

Leo Bersani asks: “For those of us interested in some other kind of sociality, what do we do?” It’s a damn good question. One I cannot answer alone. I think we all need to do something, but that this doing can’t simply mimic the doings that have been done. If loneliness continues to be seen as a defect, and the lonely the pariahs, the Debbie-Downers of the socially happy, can we ever really begin to reimagine how we all relate to one another?

So in this movie Dream House a guy, played by Daniel Craig, has everything. He feels full. A wife, two great kids, a job that he quits to pursue his dream of becoming a writer. But then one day he wakes up and realizes he has nothing. Without giving the plot away, the film could have easily taken us (me and the four other people in the entire theatre) to the black dog of despair. Seriously, it’s a flippin’ miracle that it didn’t. How the film saved us from that cliche; however, was not by creating a happy ending where the man retrieves everything back that he had lost, or an ending where he gives up and gives into his sadness. Instead, we get a character who actively decides that the best thing to do is to keep going. He recognizes the perils in his life, finds some irony there, questions his mental state, realizes his misfittedness is just fine, and he emerges as someone who sees the sadness in other people and finds it within himself to help in any way he can. Not to fill him up. Not to replace something he had. Not to assuage his loneliness. But to go on.

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The Globe and Mail

What a beginning to my day. I have spent the morning cheating on you thesis and on you, blog. I’ve been hiding in a corner of the cafe I frequent watching as people read the recent issue of The Globe and Mail. Why the hiding and the creeping? Two reasons: I’m in it. A column I wrote made it into print. Miracles do happen kids. Reason #2: What I say in the piece makes me afraid someone might boot me in the face with the Old Testament. That shit’s heavy!

I’m actually not serious about the Bible concussion. Not sitting in this cafe anyway which is certainly Melissa friendly; however, the responses online to my article have already made me think about the Witness Protection Program. Oh, not for me, but for the people out there who still feel the need to hate others because they themselves feel so sadly insecure. I want to find them. Each and every one. And give them a big, gay, kiss. Wearing Saran Wrap of course.

Homophobia. My work concentrates on this for sure but experiencing it outside of a text- book definition and in the world– in the hallways, in the shopping mall, at the Burrito stand–this is where homophobia really makes its mark. We need to keep talking about it though, because I don’t want to see any more queer kids feeling as though they have nowhere else to turn but to death.

Homophobia is defined online as “an intense hatred or fear of homosexuals.” Nothing new there. My professor, who I dearly miss, once told me that homophobia was actually simply “the fear of an inherent possibility.” I thought him brilliant. The idea that future feelings of queerness were always lurking within, around, atop of the individual made me smile. Not because queerness is an albatross, but because it is pure potential.

Now, however, a new definition has found its way into my head, and this one comes from my pal Freud and his pal/nemesis Judith Butler. Freud and Butler see homophobia as the “‘afterlife’ of prohibited desires.” Beautiful that.

I want to think about the difference between my professor’s definition and this one. One argues that a hatred of queerness arises from a terror of that which might come, of what we convince ourselves is almost inevitable. The other, much more compelling to me, speaks to an anxious melancholia, the knowledge that a shot of the gay, and our queer desire, is always already within everyone. Going nowhere. Part of you from the start.


Maybe the next time someone makes some homophobic comment to me, or you, or your friend, or loved one, or neighbor responses and reactions can start turning towards pity rather than sadness, fear, or anger. Homophobic people are repressed and, as we know, the repressed have a real hard time pooing, have headaches, are headaches, and, really, can’t be that dynamite in the bedroom. Just sayin.

And here is my article. It’s getting some angry, homophobic comments online. Feel free to pity, or, in Freud’s words, congratulate these angry folks on finally finding their afterlife.

Posted in activism, bullying, humour, lesbianism, loneliness, queer politics, social justice, suicide, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Freud and Butler in situ


I went to bed last night at 8:30 p.m. and woke up today at 8:30 a.m. and you know what? I feel like a bag of dicks. Gary, my coffee shop counsellor, told me that it was because I slept too long. He’s right but my eyes were rolling back in my head at 7:00 p.m. which either makes me a huge loser, or sick. Than again, I was reading Judith Butler so there we go.

That was not a shot at Butler. I love her, of course. And love her partner Wendy Brown even more. But reading her at night is dangerous. I was trying to be a good graduate student and not watch Bridesmaids so that I could enter sleep with theories of gender and sexuality in my brain. I wanted to dream in thesis. Seriously. I was told when I was 7-years young that if I wanted to remember my “spellings” for the series of weekly spelling tests we had in Elementary school I had to do the following:

1) write the words out in pencil. 2) sleep with that same pencil under my pillow. 3) the day of the test use that very pencil to write my spellings out. Why? “Because the pencil remembers,” my teacher said.

Confession: I can’t spell worth shit.  To this day. A PhD who can’t spell English (Engilsh comes out often) is ironic. But, the superstition that the words will seep into my head, through my pencil, still resonates. And so I sleep with Judith Butler.

Hence, going to bed at 8:30. p.m.

Butler and I have an on and off again relationship. Mostly on, but there have been moments when I thought, really? But, the return is always sweet and she got me through many a lonely night in grad school as I was stuck reading Keats, Wordsworth, Richardson, Vassanji, J.K. Rowling (sorry kids, Harry Potter’s a fuckwit). My favorite Butlerian mind-twirl has always been The Psychic Life of Power. I still understand absolutely nothing in that book, and I’m not sure Butler gets it either, but the ways in which she tumbles across the pages, twisting and turning Freud and his masculine pals makes her delicious.

I am reading about Narcissism still (send sniper now!) and this journey has taken me through a montage of Sexology texts and Psychoanalysis. I’m trying to figure out how homophobia is antiquated in narcissism. Why narcissism was and still is considered a trait of homosexuality over and above heterosexuality. Aside from the very obvious, and therefore trite reason that two people of the same sex are loving one another, I don’t see the connection.

Mind you, to be fair, I am a tall, slender, lonely gay who is always attracted to tall, slender, lonely women. Oops. Am I trying to date myself because I’m gay? Or, am I just a narcissist because I am? Am I attracted to versions of myself? Or am I attracted to women who are not like me in the least? Who knows.

In this chapter I’m writing I have been trying to figure out if contemporary understandings of narcissism are simply about the physical traits. Does a man loving a woman exonerate him from narcissism while two women get the label because they both have vaginas (lovely ones at that)? That seems silly. I know many a hetero female friend who is dating their male likeness, and who, furthermore, buys and walks dogs in the park that look like her– Just sayin’ curly headed people should never buy poodles.

I also know many people who profess to date their opposites: tall men with tiny, elfish women. Curvy, sexy ladies with bean-pole guys on their arm. And yet, you meet the couple over drinks and realize that emotionally, mentally, intellectually, financially, they are SO similar.

Which leads me again to Freud and Butler. Two mismatched but incredibly similar thinkers. Of Freud’s views on narcissism Butler muses for a very few pages. Which is odd, because if you know anything about Judith, it’s that she can write entire books on one topic, forever losing us in her sentences and italics. Kinda like me! Funny that. But I think that the fact she wrote so little does speak to the possibility that Butler is unsure why Freud chose to attribute homosexuality to narcissism, especially since he thought homosexuality was, at various points in one’s growth, completely normal.

I’ve decided instead of quoting at length, I’m gonna make Butler and Freud interview each other. Because it might me sexy.  This is my version of paraphrasing…my advisor should look away now:

Butler:  So Sigmund. It seems that you are a bit all over the place when it comes to how you understand homosexuality’s connection to narcissism.

Freud: whatever do you mean Judith?

Butler: Well, you say here that the repression of the libido is a good thing, because it leads to self-regulation.

Freud: sure does.

Butler: But, you also say that we all desire one another’s likeness, that like attracts like.

Freud: yep.

Butler: But you say too that when our same-sex longings turn desirous we need to quash those feelings, repress them. Even though they are normal?

Freud: precisely. We need to suffer.

Butler: Because we need to gain, what you call, social recognition, from our parents, society?

Freud: you got it.

Butler: So, let me get this straight (!). We are all born with wonderful feelings of sexual desire for the same sex, but we, in order to fit into society, procreate, be hetero and accepted by the Church, Republicans, the State (whose members also have same-sex desire within them) we have to become hetero, forcibly sometimes.

Freud: Bingo.

Butler: That sucks!

Freud: Yep.

Butler: But doesn’t that speak to a hetero-type of narcissism? The narcissism of narcissistic attachment. Or, to be unclear: being obsessed with our own need to be accepted by others and have them attach to us?

Freud: ummm…

Butler: And wouldn’t that make hetero-sociality narcissistic? Consumerism, capitalism, patriotism, homosocial bonding, HOMOPHOBIA, all evidence of narcissistic tendencies outside of homosexuality?

Freud: Well, the ego-ideal has a social side. It’s the side that is loyal to the Nation, the Family, a Class. We need acceptance into these so that we feel socially connected.

Butler: We sound like robots. If the Class, the Nation, and the Family is so exclusive, why don’t we tell them to fuck themselves?

Freud: we can’t.

Butler: Why not?

Freud: We’re too narcissistic.

Butler. Oh.

Freud: We need the love of our fellow man, even if that love is based on homophobia and judgment.

Butler: well at least gay men have sorted that one out.

Ok, so that’s what I got from that interview. Here’s my scope for the day:

Horoscope for Sagittarius for October 5, 2011

You’ll get an unforgettable rush from searching out new sights and people today — exploration will really get your juices going! And the best part is, you don’t have to step too far out of your comfort zone in order to get the experience you’re looking for. Simply by choosing a different spot for lunch, a new mall to go shopping in or a different route to work, you will uncover a hidden gem you never saw before. Integrating this new discovery into your life will be fun and wonderfully easy.

Time to go shopping!

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Nuit Blanche


Two confessions: I went to Nuit Blanche last night in Toronto. I saw many an identity and many a queer. Aside from the fact that the weather was so cold my pseudo-balls shriveled and left me wishing for hot water bottles in inconspicuous places, I loved walking around the city at night with all of the wayward wanderers. Watching all of the people with their itineraries and various heart’s desires it felt easy to be one among many, happily snuggled into the mass of mobile dots wearing toques.

I was lonely. And all of the Furries with soothers in their mouths, pierced Doms, life-sized nests, paper-mache fish, purple-headed ravers, walls of star-doilies, and delicious street meats could not change that. Nor could my amazing friends or that guy I saw standing in his own vomit while his pal held his head up and laughed. My loneliness keeps me warm, and I was calm in my feeling of “being disappeared,” as my nephew would say, in this city of Art walks and police-busts.

Watching balloon structures dance on Queen, or grown adults huddled inside artistic Outhouses roasting marshmallows, made me recognize my place in Toronto more acutely than I’d done before. This city is not P.E.I. Not simply because of the buckets of people and their various montages of spectacular self-presentations–tattooes on faces, white masks, paints and numbers all over backs and breasts, hipsters in hipster wear, tourists hoarding IPhone cameras– but because of the feel.

P.E.I. feels small, secretive and unsustainable.

Toronto feels like a place where a lonely gay can sleep.

One of the exhibits I saw at The Gladstone Hotel was a pile of post-its that everyday people had written their everyday secrets upon. With leading questions like, “what would you like to see before you die?” written at the top, inky-reveals were everywhere. There were the cliche answers: Paris, Machu Pichu, World Peace. And the intriguing confessions: AIDS, my mother’s ghost, a decent recipe for low-fat chocolate cake. Then there were the impossible desires: “I would love to see Rob Ford and his brother enter a library.” What I adored, though, was that each reveal was written in kid’s marker, taped side-by-side to one another, anonymous voices in tandem, becoming a longer narrative about sociality.

Thinking about this thesis, my sometimes friend, sometimes enemy, I am left wondering what it is I want from it. What my reveal would look like. What do I want to see in The Lonely Gay, through it, under it, before it dies? If given the chance in one, quick statement, written in green Crayola, what would I declare?

When I was in New York a year ago last I came across a memorial art-piece. Paying homage to the people who lost their lives on September 11th, 2001 a wire fence had been constructed to display thousands of tiny, beautifully painted tiles that people had made in order to commemorate a moment that seemed unfathomable to grieve.

New York 2010

Again, I found myself lonely in a big city, enveloped in the hugeness of the buildings and the freshness of the people’s faces and breaths as they laughed their way along, eating bagels, walking arm in arm in the rain, not noticing their to-do lists or their crooked teeth.

I had the same moment then, staring at these tiles, when I tried to summon a response to the question: what will you write? The question then became: What can you write about mourning in a city you have not lived in, do not think of as home, and are unconnected to?

Nothing came to mind then as nothing came to mind last night. I seem deficient in responses, recognitions, and reassurances. A lot of Rs. These are also, I think, the things my thesis is waiting for from me. Or my professors. Or my dad. Or me. We’re all waiting for something to say when nothing is sayable enough.

Okay I’m hungover, so please forgive the abstract thought process here, but I think that in a way writing this thesis has given me a perspective on responses and the expectation of reciprocation. I began this PhD with the expectation that finishing it would give me something. A return, a pride, a headache, whatever, a something. In a way that’s also what I wanted from Toronto. Looking at the art pieces last night I again had this sense that I needed something, that I was owed entertainment or, in the very least, a beer. But when I saw the canvas of peoples’ secrets sprawled before me, their personal revelations laid bare, what happened to me was that instead of feeling a connection to them, I missed P.E.I., my home, and its repression, whispers, and silence.

Sometimes I think Cordelia, King Lear’s daughter, was on to something. When Lear, her King and father, asked Cordelia to tell him she loved him in front of his Court she chose, instead, to say said nothing. For that she was imprisoned. Then she died. And maybe that’s a part of what people fear about loneliness, that sense that you are locked up with or to or because of something you’re not sure you actually deserved or wanted. Or worse, the possibility you’re locked up alone. Not sure but I think after Nuit Blanche I see this city in a new way. A lonely way, as always, but a lonely way that is reassured by stillness. So today, I will let my horoscope speak to itself:

Horoscope for Sagittarius for October 2, 2011

There’s a deep well of self-confidence inside of you — but you have to consciously tap into it. Today, put yourself in challenging situations that require a bit of boldness. Give yourself permission to shine, and you will shine brighter than you ever have before. As far as love and romance are concerned, this is an opportunity to try a new technique or a new idea, and to move things to the next level.

Sounds nice. Too bad I’m staying in bed.

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Freud’s lesbians


Damn Girl! You’re hot!

So, I’ve been absent from myself for a few days now. Today, I blame narcissism. Yes, my own and also the books on it that I’m sifting through like a pigeon bobbing its beak in street-shit for this chapter on, you got it, lonely gay narcissism.

Happy times.

The fun thing about writing on gay narcissism? Well, there’s nothing really. You feel self-absorbed no matter how far away you sit from mirrors, and people give you the stink eye as they pass your table at the cafe and see books like: “I’m Fantastically Queer, and You all Suck,” and “Super Gay: Super Great!” on your lap. Ok, those are not real books, but you get what I’m saying. It’s not a conversation starter.

And with queer advocates of narcissism like Jay Manuel (is he actually alive? His lips have never moved so I’m not sure if he’s breathing) and characters like Shane from The L-Word its hard to get away from the notion that we gays adore ourselves, have endless sex with gorgeous copies of us and our sculpted abs. Umm, my abs are less sculpt and more plushy pillow, but whatever.

Here’s the thing about narcissism that is sending my face into closed windows these days. Well one thing really: Freud. I know he’s famous. I know he was a mastermind of puzzles and symbols for all things genital. But I’m still trying to sort out how gayness and narcissism got sutured so perfectly onto us queers by someone who prescribed his pals cocaine for their anxieties, professed to be the father of sexuality, and argued that the self is triply multiplied. I mean, the Superego? He makes our psyche look like an episode of True Blood. And yet I run into Freud time and time again rummaging inside of my depleted jewelry box, emptied of phallic symbols, broken dreams about bats, and wayward seductions concerning my father. Oh, and my wandering womb.

Here are his thoughts on parents for instance:

“Being in love with the one parent and hating the other are among the essential constituents of the stock of psychical impulses which is formed at that time and which is of such importance in determining the symptoms of the later neurosis.”

Relax Man! What the hell did this guy tell his kids about Santa?

I do respect Freud. I visited his creepy house in Vienna once and saw all of this “hysteria relieving” water-gun sex toys, and sat in the room that he practiced Psychoanalysis on his daughter. But let’s be clear: the man has no business talking about lesbianism or narcissism. Not only was he notorious for knowing absolutely nothing about female homosexuality, or women in general really, he even openly admitted it. Which makes me kinda love him.

For instance, he refused to continue seeing his only lesbian patient, a 19 year old girl, after four months because he had no idea why she loved women. And he really didn’t care either. She was not ashamed of her sexuality, was never going to become heterosexual, and so he told her he could no longer handle her “negative transference towards him” (TRANSLATION: she was not in the least sexually attracted to him and so was a bore) and she was outed.

Lesbian? Love to see the Superego on her!

Of women in general he summed up his career by saying:

“The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is “What does a woman want?”

Oh buddy, no worries there. I have no idea either.

What seems problematic to me is this: even after giving us such gems as “penis envy” to explain female sexuality, even after calling any woman with an independent thought a hysteric, we still actually accredit him with our understanding of feminine sexual experience. Penis Envy. Really, is that all this being a woman thing is about? Fantastic. I’ll just craft one of those shafty-things out of Play-Do, marry my dad or mom– depending on whose penis I think is bigger– and then PRESTO CHANGO HOMO: my voice will drop, I’ll grow a hairy lip, and I’ll magically find women unattractive. But then what? Not only will I now be stuck being attracted to men, but I’ll have this hardened, crazy glued phallus stuck to my women bits and bites. And if I rip it off, I will have castrated myself, a mega-no no  in Psychoanalysis, but I’ll have set myself up for evermore penis-envy. What’s a gal to do? Well, I became a lesbian. And apparently a narcissist.

Thanks Freud.

What I figured out today:

Freud? Not a lesbian. Of that, I am sure. If he couldn’t even handle one woman’s drama, I can’t imagine him ever being able to leave his closet and deal with a succession of beautiful women and their feelings. Imagine Freud sitting down with a woman who says to him, “you know? I think we need to talk about our relationship. You are just not a very good communicator.”  Excellent. I want to cast Winona Ryder as Freud and Justin Bieber as the lesbian who shows up after two dates with a wedding dress and a U-haul, for the movie

The good news is that my scope is a bit clearer now that I’ve ruminated on Freud’s general lack of influence in my life:

Horoscope for Sagittarius for September 29, 2011

There will be a tough decision for you to make today — are you going to do what you know you should do, or are you going to do what you want to do? Take a step back and look at potential problems that could develop if you take the easy route. The longer you delay doing the necessary work, the bigger these challenges will grow. The best attitude for you today is to focus on getting things over with. Tomorrow you’ll have more flexibility to do what you want.

Ok, so I’m either congratulating myself today on making the “tough decision” to stay a lesbian in spite of Freud’s enticing theories against such fun, or I’m congratulating myself for not quitting the PhD today, day 22 of the process, a day like any other where I often have to talk myself down from the ledge of academia. Walking back up a stack of self-serving books on me and my own dependency on my lovely image, I’m going for it. The lonely lesbianism ride, and if I could I’d pick Anna Freud up and take her along too. Poor gal. Imagine dating her and having to meet her dear old dad?

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It’s Not Getting Better

In the Saturday, September 24th issue of Globe Focus entitled: “We’re Not Going to Sit in Silence,” Erin Anderssen explores teen suicide from the point of view of the victims’ families and friends. What follows is a heart wrenching series of interviews with the surviving parents of six boys in the Ottawa area who died by suicide this past year. Anderssen takes great pains to represent the unimaginable emotional turmoil bestowed on parents who are left with the loss of their children, and raises important concerns about youth suicide and its effects. What troubles me about the piece itself, however, is that the narrative makes specific claims about suicide that markedly misrepresent and sidestep particular facts, speaking to what I see as The Globe’s attempt to avoid the relationship between youth suicide and queer sexuality.

So why The Globe’s queer omissions?

Painting teenaged-suicide as both an uncontrollable and “maddening enigma,” Anderssen paradoxically speaks to the mysteriousness of youth suicide while at the same time fashioning “mental illness” as its general cause. Rife with suggestions that each of the teens in this article were suicidal because of mental illness, Anderssen and the experts chosen for the piece spend much time putting the onus of suicidal thoughts on the teens themselves while doing little to mention the cultural and social contexts these teens were battling daily.

Psychologist Darcy Santor, quoted in this article, states: “at least 91 percent of victims are suffering from some form of mental illness at the time of their deaths, though it may not have been diagnosed.” This declaration is not only bloated with uncertainties and obscure opinions surrounding psychological problems but it troublingly exonerates each of us as Canadians from our social responsibility to create safe spaces, policies, and programs for all youth regardless of their sexuality, gender, class, or race.

Furthermore, by suggesting suicidal youth would benefit from more professional care and “psychiatric beds,” this prognosis overlooks the overwhelming evidence that there are other, clear risk factors for teen suicide that look beyond mental illness. For instance, Canadian studies consistently have cited LGBTQ youth to be one of the most at-risk groups for suicide evidenced by a 32% rate of attempt compared to the cited 7% for heterosexual teens. In Quebec alone, studies have shown that gay and bisexual youth are 6-16 times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual teens; studies in British Columbia have purported as much as 18.5-42% of the LGBTQ persons assessed described attempts on their own lives; in Alberta it was found that 28% of completed suicides were carried out by LGBTQ youth, while 37.8% of queer teens reported being physically or emotionally affected by blatant homophobia. Finally, in Ontario, 77% of trans youth have admitted to contemplating suicide while 43% have tried. Terrifyingly, The Trevor Project’s ( statistics concerning queer youth suicide are much, much higher.

And yet, Andersson does not mention these statistics choosing instead to write around sexuality, refusing to name queerness anywhere in the article. At times the refusal is luminescent. In the discussion about Jamey Rodemeyer, the 14-year-old boy who jumped off an overpass in Buffalo, NY, there is no mention of his gay identity. While Anderssen does suggest that the boy suffered years of “bullying,” the term homophobia does not present itself anywhere. Anderssen even mentions that Rodemeyer posted a video to the “It Gets Better Project”— a now famous initiative started by Dan Savage, an openly gay writer and activist, in order to combat the staggering amount of gay-teen suicides that began throughout 2010— and yet fails to include the vital fact that the site is primarily for homosexual youth and their allies. Calling it an “anti-bullying (anti-suicide) web-site” the absence of the terms homophobia and homosexual is scathing.

The lack of discussion concerning queerness seems deliberate especially in light of the fact that there have been tragic Ontario queer youth suicides in the recent past including Shaquille Wisdom (2007), and lesbian couple Chantal Dube and Jeanine Blanchette (2010) who were found last October kilometers away from where 14-year-old Daron Richardson, the only female victim discussed in Andersson’s article, died by suicide in November 2010.

I am not suggesting that queer teens are the only ones at risk for suicide. Of course, this is simply untrue. I’m also not saying depression, anxiety and alcohol abuse are not viable contributing factors to suicidal ideation. But to omit other known triggers is to do youth and the goal of this expose on suicide a dangerous disservice. Pointing out that some youth are depressed, anxious, drinking, and lonely is a step; however, the larger question remains why? What are we as a community and culture not addressing?

What a more well-rounded argument makes clear is that outside factors such as hatred, homophobia, ignorance and violence are conditioned by adults and are placing “at risk youth” (a group that is growing all of the time) in harm’s way. Also evidenced is that suicide is not a personal problem and it is certainly not a “contagion” you can catch “like a cough spreading a cold” as Anderssen suggests; suicide is a socially supported act that we each need to address in serious, clearly presented ways with all facts on the table.

Is suicide itself a mental illness? This article seems to suggest it is. I am certainly unconvinced. It seems irresponsible to place the blame for suicidal ideation preliminarily and primarily on mental illness, parents and their youth. I think time would be better served discussing ways in which the culture we live in supports homophobia, racism, classism, and sexism and continues to take away the few outlets, resources, and community-based services these kids have to turn to.

When we as a society enable a government that refuses to maintain funding to local, community-based services for troubled teens (such as The 519, Planned Parenthood Toronto, SOY, numerous arts and community organizations for at risk kids), when we endorse leaders who refuse to support inclusive sex education, continue to fund Catholic Schools that are not in accordance with Human Rights laws or equity programs, and perpetuate continued racism, is it any wonder some youth are seriously depressed, feeling alone, or drinking?

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Tim Hortons


Day 15. One, five. Fuck.

I’ve been reading a lot about loneliness and the ways in which we westerners understand it and it’s making me lonely. I have to do it, I know. Apparently if you want to have a well rounded argument you actually have to consider other people’s points of view. This open-mindedness makes for good social skills too I’ve heard, but for the love of pearl is it necessary to write about loneliness as if there were a jagged thorn perpetually being shoved in and out and across your urethra. I honestly would rather watch a million Tim Horton’s commercials (you know the one: the old father sits with his adult son to watch the grandson play hockey and it’s all tension-ridden and familial because the son hates but really loves the old man, and I cry like a moron as they make up for years of abandonment and cheers to their double-double) than read another passage about how loneliness feels like “drowning” in a sea of (insert various descriptions of suffocating crap here). Props to one guy who in the very least got creative when he compared his loneliness to a broken vibrator: “even that doesn’t love me anymore.” That’s funny!

Ok, so while it pisses down rain and I am cozy in this tiny cafe, I’ll share my horoscope:

Horoscope for Sagittarius for September 23, 2011

Today remember that there’s no rule that says only fast-paced lives can be interesting. Just because your phone isn’t ringing off the hook or your email inbox isn’t filled near capacity on an hourly basis doesn’t mean that you don’t have it going on. You must stop looking for outside verification of your value. If you want to know if you matter, ask the people whom you want to matter to — and those who matter to you. They’ll let you know that great things are happening, and you’re a big part of them.

This reads like a motivational speech made by a guru who was once a Hollywood lawyer and now lives on a hill in an 8 000 000$ tree-fort with his dog Messiah. Why is my horoscope so hell-bent on ensuring I’m happy. Christ, it’s nauseating in a way, as though my horoscope is that poor friend who’s stuck telling me, the pathetic girl in the corner in high school, over and over again that I really am good at basketball even though I never make a basket, that I really am excellent at Physics even though 2 terms of it, that I really am pretty even though I have zits all over my face and fang teeth. Ok, enough! Here’s a fact: I wasn’t good at basketball, I sucked at Physics, and I was not pretty, I was 14 and going through my entitled stage of fucking-ugly-awkward-vampire look. Why do we need to be told we’re perfect all of the time? Lied to? Told about my authentic self and  how I need to massage her esteem? That’s gross.

Speaking of motivators, liars and lawyers, let me turn to Emily White and her book Lonely: Learning to Live With Solitude.

What comes to mind when I think about this book? Sharp nails in my eyes. It’s not that it’s poorly written, or that White is a mean person. I’m sure she’s lovely and could even make a damned tasty martini without olives. But the popularity of her book, and the message it spreads like herpes, is terrifying to me as I try to drudge up this mountain of pessimism surrounding loneliness, calling out, “no, really, loneliness can be good! Pleasurable even,” as stoney medications, ECT machines, and Yoga Retreat pamphlets tumble into my face.

I will have many things to say about Emily White’s book in the upcoming months but for now, I’ll introduce her. To be fair, she’s cute and Canadian. And a lesbian I think. And maybe even tall. So what’s not to like? It’s her words and the weight they carry in a moment when we’re filled with our own self-importance that makes me cry myself to sleep. Not really. Only Tim Horton can accomplish that these days, but what I think we don’t need in a world where everyone is scrambling to find out what’s wrong with their lives and why they aren’t happy, happy, happy is yet another book professing to be able to diagnose feelings away. Getting rid of feelings, blood letting them out, didn’t work when we called them “demons” in the 5th century and I am sure as shit it won’t work today.

Here’s how White describes loneliness when her therapist asks her to conceptualize it in words. Attempting to materialize her loneliness in her quest to capture it and exterminate it, she explains: “‘Me, myself, & I,’ I doodled. Always, always me. Why, why, why?’ [my loneliness is] like a wind,’ [. . .] its color is white. It feels rough, like sandpaper, and big, like a blanket spread out. Its edges are jagged. Sometimes it feels like something pressed up against my mouth and nose, as though it were trying to suffocate me.”

So let me get this straight: loneliness feels both like nothingness (a white, ghostly wind), and a beast with sharp teeth, who, like a fumblingly bad or overtly aggressive lover is trying to give you an awful french kiss and who may or may not be trying to murder you in your sleep. Empowered with intention and a consciousness, White’s loneliness is “not a feeling, not a transient mood, but a real object” that becomes for her an “affliction”, “a significant psychological problem” and the reason she can’t sustain any “form of self-nourishment.”

Sounds nice.

Having just looked loneliness up on a variety of online dictionaries I am being informed that loneliness is also a “sadness because one has no friends or company,” a feeling of being “forsaken and abandoned,” a feeling of a “strong sense of emptiness,” and, my favorite, the condition of being “unfrequented.” What a delicious thought. “Sorry, can’t come out tonight Bub, I’m feeling too unfrequented.”

What White’s and these definitions of loneliness suggest to me is an overall notion that to be lonely is to be stuck somewhere not useful and completely self-absorbed. This will take ironing out but I, at this early stage, think this understanding of loneliness is easy, safe, and conservative. And it makes me crave Tim Horton’s donuts.

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