Biography 4: Annie

Annie was a real pre-teen bitch. Queen of the mean girls. We were nine and she was our Empress. I remember meeting Annie on our first day of grade two. In actuality we had met at age four in the playground between our mom’s two co-ops but grade two was the first time I actually remember meeting her. She was sitting on the floor at the front of the classroom with her boyfriend’s legs straddled around  her. I was in immediate awe. How this girl was mature and confident enough to have a boyfriend in grade two astonished me. We became fast friends and by the time grade three rolled around we had formed a girl gang, although we didn’t really consider ourselves that. It was the teachers who called us “Les Cinq Filles”(the five girls) they were concerned about our impact on the other students, accusing us of being exclusionary.  We shrugged it off and kept quiet during our regular Principle’s office stare-downs.

Les Cinq Filles may have looked like a “group” from the outside but inside there was a well discerned hierarchy. Annie at the top, obviously, Jules and Kelly next tier, then me and Lea holding up the pyramid.  We would call dibs on who got to sit next to Annie at lunch, if me or Lea asked and then Jules did, our earlier bids were forgotten. Annie could and would get us to do anything, often times to our own humiliation. I was the minute keeper (as I was the best in school) and kept the book of tallies on our scores for these “friendly” activities. I remember one time I chickened out on a dare and Annie told a boy at lunch that I liked him, which was especially tragic because I actually did like that particular boy but hadn’t told anyone. Keep your cards close to your chest is some thing I must have learned at a young age.

As the grades moved up we stayed friends and Annie somehow blocked out our grade three days from her consciousness (to mine, Lea, Kelly and Jules’ disbelief). It turns out I hadn’t moved past it but had buried it deep. A few months ago Annie and I were having a chat in her living room while her daughter Cindy played on the floor.  I had just moved back from New York and I guess something had changed in me. Like I learned how to not take any bullshit in New York and had brought that skill home. Annie was dissecting my latest relationship and criticizing all my major life choices when suddenly it went like “nope” in my head. I told her “I respect your opinion but I’ve had enough of it for one day” and walked out. Cindy said “bye” whilst Annie stayed silent. We haven’t spent time together since but sometimes I’ll text her just to keep things light. We have after-all known each-other a long time.

This story is part of: “10 Bios in 10 Days” by Jane A. F.


Biography 3: Diego

Diego hit on me at the coffee shop. I laughed because he is 21 and I’m 32 but in the times of Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron that’s small potatoes right? Diego is a fellow descendent of Jewish-European refugees to South-America, which is rare because we are in Vancouver BC. His dad is from El Salvador and his mom is from Hungary? I think. He also shares this similar heritage with his “twin,” or “arch-nemisis,” or “ex-girlfriend” as he likes to call her. For a guy who was in the process of hitting on me he sure liked to bring up his ex. But I guess we talked a lot as I have material enough for his bio and we only met once. We tried to meet up again after that but he never texted back, flaky 20 -something.

Diego’s dad being a revolutionary and his mom being a hard-go hippie, Diego never went to school, like not any; not high school nor elementary. He said he “read books” and there was evidence of this as a Foucault text protruded from his backpack; “I’m reading everything he’s ever written” Diego said. We had a casual chat about History and Philosophy of Science, the only philosophy I ever took in school since I could convince my dad/pay-day it was a science course. Diego said he was about to start University. I asked how this was possible without a high school degree? He said he had found a way. I didnt press but I believed him, he had the air of someone who gets things done despite the conventional barriers in his way.

This story is part of: “10 Bios in 10 Days” by Jane A. F.

Biography 2: Lenny

My step-sister won’t like me writing this but I have no loyalty to her.

Lenny wasn’t always my step-sister, “my dad’s girlfriend’s daughter” is what I liked to call her but she was my best friend, in a sisterly kind of way. We would go on holidays together and lived in the same house for three years part-time until she got sent away. I was ten, she was thirteen. On moment she was gone. Poof. Vanished. Being a ten-year-old this is the story I got:

One afternoon on the way home from school at the back of the bus my would be sister and her friends were approached by a man, an 18 year old. He told Lenny she was beautiful and they began to date. He got her to try things, drugs and sex. “If you love me you’ll have sex with my friends” he’d say. I imagine her chained to the radiator in a dingy drug den downtown Vancouver but I don’t actually know the details, this is all second-hand information.  Eventually her mother got wise to it and with the help of a private investigator Lenny was found, drugged and dragged across the border. You see there are no rehabilitation boarding houses in Vancouver, apparently. So Lenny was shipped off to Portland and spent the remainder of her teens doing chores on a farm and getting clean.

After high-school she returned home “good as new” and the whole family pretended nothing happened. This didn’t sit well with me; it gave me anxiety so I just ignored her.  We don’t have a relationship to this day. We’ve never talked about what happened, not just me and her, not as a family. I reached out once but she didn’t see the value in it. So my dad has a wife and step children I never see.

This story is part of: “10 Bios in 10 Days” by Jane A. F.

Biography 1: Gaby

My grandma Gaby is as fucked up as they come. We summarize the gist of it by saying that she’s made suicide attempts roughly every two years since she was fourteen. When I stop to think about it, it actually gives me pause. Like a real physical pause where I put my chin on my fist and take a deep breath. It’s hard to differentiate my grandmother’s story from those of characters in holocaust books, memoirs my dad made me read as a kid.

My grandma Gaby was born in Berlin in the nineteen thirties, a jew obviously. At three years of age the family got spooked and set sail for America, leaving their riches and their fashion factory behind. My great-grandmother had chosen America as the destination because she had a cousin there, whilst other relatives set their sights on Australia. When the family got to America though they were stopped at the gates. The States wasn’t accepting Jewish refugees yet and my grandma and her parents were sent to a detention facility on the island of Cuba. She spent her fourth birthday there. Eleven months in, and one before they were to be sent back to Germany, my family received a visa of welcome to Chile. This was before the internet and modern globalization so you can imagine the exoticness of their anticipation.

The family arrived in Chile with the shirts on the their backs and not a word of Spanish, ready to rebuild a fashion empire, which they did. My great-grandfather was an exceptional business man. But with great success came attention, the wrong kind of attention. My great-grandfather cheated on my great-grandmother with Gaby’s childhood friend. They later got married but not until after Gaby’s second marriage to her soon-to-be step-mother’s brother. Yes, my great-grandfather married his daughter’s sister-in-law, they had four kids. My dad played with them, his tios they were called despite being chronologically younger.

Later my great-grandfather got married for the third time. My grandmother’s youngest sister is my age. I think most of her issues stem from her relationship with her father, not that her other relationships were easy.

Gaby’s relationship with my grandfather was also fraught with betrayal. A few months after my aunt Janet was born, my grandparents went to visit their friends who had also given birth to a baby girl, Francisca. When they arrived, an awkwardness fell over the room as baby Francisca looked unequivocally like my grandfather. Francisca’s parents separated and my grandfather left Gaby with the baby and my 8 year old dad. That’s how I have two aunts born three months apart.

After sagas of broken hearts it’s amazing  Gaby is still standing. With help from a fistful of pills and retirement housing she keeps going. She won’t quit I gotta give her that. She isn’t weak. Staying alive is already an exceptional feat.

This story is part of: “10 Bios in 10 Days” by Jane A. F.

Too mundane to have a title..?

Yesterday I passed a man pushing a shopping cart on the way to a car2go. Car2go is a carsharing program that I use when I need to transport stuff around the city that is too bulky or heavy to take on the bus. As we passed each other, both towing our respective belongings, pushing or pulling our basic necessities in white plastic bags, we had a moment. Or at least I did. It was a weird strange sort of kinship, that I felt guilty about. Guilty because although I was lugging my belongings from place to place I did have roofs to sleep under, and electricity, usually. I felt like a fake, a hack but at the same time strangely honest. Like, this is my life, it was been for awhile but I don’t think I really saw it until that moment. The moment passed and we went on our respective routes; it was just, so normal.

Carry On

When I went to study Development it was with the naivety of a middle-class, Canadian white girl with a Super Heroine complex. During my first (and last) placement as a Project Coordinator for a British NGO in Suva, Fiji I was quickly disillusioned. All the so called do gooders were driving around in air conditioned SUVs heading from cocktail meetings by the pool back to gated communities and HD TVs. They weren’t involved in local community culture and their interactions were transactional at best. They even had their own suburb 20 minutes out of town called Lami.  No one seemed as interested in working to better the community as they did in dating hotter, younger local men and, well, that was their main priority.  The foreign institutions were a hoax. I’d like to take this moment to shout out to the local Church organizations and the Rotary Club who do in fact follow their mandates in my experience.

Anyway back to me and my total break down of faith. Of course I quit my job. Of course there was a lawsuit. Of course there was a police report, with Interpol (at least that’s what the policeman said, he mighta been trying to get in my pants) but that’s a different story.

By the time I got back to Canada, I was a skeleton of my former self, both physically (my butt bones grinding on the airplane seat) and emotionally.  Of course being my younger self, and unable to process emotions in a healthy way at the time, I dove into my next career. Or let’s call it studies. Advertising, about as far as you can get. Now I told myself some logical throwback to childhood dreams and interests story about why I wanted to do this, and I told other people my back-up justification story (It starts in a laundromat and ends with Colgate Palmolive – a real interview winner) but really I was just tossing myself onto the “next thing” so that I could overlook the trauma of the “current thing.” Solange called me out on it, or at least thats how I choose to interpret her song Cranes in the Sky.

At the same time I threw the baby out with the bathwater – I ditched my whole do gooder mission and sold out to The Man (though I did semi-self sabotage my pitch to Nestle “health” science… it still came in second, cuz I’m a Professional). I now saw Development as self-righteous and just, not my business. Why these people need my help? Who the fuck am I to help them? I later learned from a classic Canadian TV show that this “Heroine” complex is rooted in the heroine’s own feelings of low self-worth. Thanks Dr. Ogden.

Ok so where have I gotten to now? I think that we can still work to better the world without being anchored to white male privilege and his neo-colonial institutions.  We can create positive change in any number of jobs and we CAN make it our life’s work without ever setting foot in a “Development” bank, a non governmental “AID” Organization or any inter-governmental institution dedicated to preserving their own prosperity and self-interest while disguising it as compassion and Human Rights.  There is a way to move forward, put the baby back in his tub, to carry on.

Eye of the failure storm

I just watched an online video of JK Rowling discussing the merits of her failure. How being “at rock-bottom provided a solid foundation” blah blah blah. No disrespect to Ms. Rowling but the speech had no substance. Maybe she can’t remember what it felt like,  maybe she doesn’t want to, who could blame her?  But what I would really like to know from JK Rowling is the nitty gritty of how she got through. How she felt about herself at the time? What kept her going? Did she feel low? Did she contemplate suicide.? Were her friends and family supportive? Did everyone just disregard her?

I feel like a failure right now. What I’ve found most striking is that despite my past successes, i.e. a Masters in Political Economy and International Development, I’m no longer seen as an authority on the subject. In family discussions my opinion is swept aside. Back when I was a student they would hang on my every word. My two ivy degrees, my stint at the UN, all forgotten. Because I haven’t made it. I became a failure because being a good student does not ensure success in the work place. I could blame it on graduating during the financial crisis but the reality is I have no transferable skills. No work place cares about my critical thinking capacity. They have no use for my proficiency in conducting research and essay writing. They don’t care how I score on a multiple choice test. All the things that made me “successful” at school no longer bring me accolades, awards, success. As such, despite feeling like the same person inside, I am treated very differently by those around me. I’m a “failure” now. An object deserving of unsolicited advice, a disobedient child, someone to be reprimanded at every turn.

So how am I getting through it? I’ve cut a lot of people out. People whose praise was superficial. I’ve found there are a lot less people on my side (but for those who are the bonds are stronger). I look for self-worth in my character, something I previously ignored. I’ve found self-worth in my gratitude, in my ability to persevere often times alone. I count success in my survival because I’ve been in circumstances that qualify the use of the word “survive”. I fight every day to believe these new definitions, not to fall back to the old belief that self-worth equals monetary success. It’s hard but I’ve found I like myself better. I enjoy my own company more. I feel more confident as a person.

So I guess I answered my own questions in the end. Thanks anyway Ms. Rowling.