Tag Archives: Ethics

Getting Philosophical about Bad Writing

I’m reading a badly-written book. It’s also one of the books I think I most identify with as a life philosophy. This is where my ability to read between the lines and extract only what I like comes in handy, because the majority of the book is the kind of trash I hope I’m never reduced to writing.

I suspect most “readers” have books they love that they secretly have a hard time defending.

For me, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged fall into that category. They’re complete crap, from a writing point of view. She’s tedious, redundant, overly dramatic, black/white in her characters, arrogantly simplistic in her views of how the average person is. Even her philosophies are so ridiculously black/white that they’re just laughable, and it’s why the book has met with such disdain for seven decades.

Arguably, if I ever had a drink with Ayn Rand, I’d pitch my drink in her face. She seems wholly unlikable in her ridiculous in-book dialogue, if it’s any kind of reflection of who she is — and given the monotonous voice in which all her characters speak, it’s absolutely reflecting her.

And yet…

Probably no book has defined my values in life creatively or professionally more than The Fountainhead has. (Or, as some I’ve known would argue, the more literary approach to the ‘selfishness as a virtue’ concept, aka egoism, is found with more palatable shades of grey in Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion.)

***

I’ve been going through a “thing” in the last couple of days. I’m tired of people, not from a “let’s hang out” point of view, but from an ideological point of view. I’m tired of flip-floppy sorts I see everywhere in the media, in social media, and in daily life. (Flip-floppy — ethically, I mean, not, say, being vegetarian then not. Consistency in ethical behaviour is everything, IMHO.)

There are those who cannot be painted with that brush — they’re people I admire, enjoy, and am more inclined to see than most others (if I suggest doing things with you EVER, you’re in this group) — but there are many who leave me exasperated at who and what they are.

I’m under no illusions of how many people like or dislike me. I’d like to say I don’t care who doesn’t like me, but that’d be a lie. Everyone wants to be liked.

But there are indeed people whose opinions mean shit to me. They’re the folks whose opinions are easily bought and sold, or who worry about being seen at all the right places all the time, seem scared to be alone with their thoughts, or who have elevated fake sincerity to brand-new heights.

It’s understandable such people might find me hard to take. That’s fine; it’s mutual.

The trouble with being in the modern world, living a 24/7 plugged-in life is: You see people more often, whether in digital form or in the flesh — and, when it comes to online, who they are lingers on-screen for so much longer. As does my ability to judge them.

And the more I see people, the more they’re out there trying to be seen/heard/loved, the more I find them being insincere or full of platitudes — and not worth my time.

I’m being reminded as I skim through The Fountainhead just how socially ill-equipped I can be at times. People like me, sure, but they dislike me just as often.

I don’t have that internal censor most people have. I blurt things out. It’s terrible. I seldom mean things as brashly as they sound, but lord knows it gets misconstrued. At least I’m honest and I say the things I really think, so anyone who doesn’t dig me generally does so for arguably valid reasons. And if they dislike me for being myself, being honest, then I figure they’ve saved me the time of getting to know them, since they’re obviously Not My Sort.

Also, the older I get, the more I think I won’t be bought, and it’s beginning to make me question my desire for self-employment, given the Schmooze Factor required.

***

Trivia? I made the mistake of selling Filter Queen vacuums for about 2 weeks when I was 18. It became a lesson in who I never, ever wanted to be. Filter Queen vacuums might come with a lifetime warranty, but it was 19 years ago & then were priced $1498. For a vacuum. Yeah. About $400 was commission.

I can sell. God knows I can sell. I can almost smell who has money to blow.

Example: I once worked at a toy store (’96-97) and had an $8 “train whistle” sale with this lady, and while ringing it up, got into small-talk with the customer, who owned a special private preschool in South Korea. 45 minutes later, I got to charge $1900 on her card as I sold her toys from all around the store.

Did I feel guilty? No, she had the money to spend.

But when it was a few years earlier, my Filter Queen bosses demanded I pressure a family of five living in a 2-bedroom rented condo and barely making ends meet, to buy this ridiculously overpriced vacuum — “always make the sale,” very Glengarry Glenn Ross-like — and it went against every value I ever had.

So, I sold one, not to Condo Family, then quit.

***

These days, I can’t do it. I can’t do product reviews out of expectations, just for free crap. I can’t do sponsored tweets. I don’t want to avail myself for free shit at restaurants just so I can tweet about it, etc. Do I begrudge those who do? No, not in the least. Everyone needs to eat.

But I can’t do that. Not right now. I’m done.

I want to go out of life knowing I met my standards, knowing I never compromised myself for your benefit, or anyone else’s.

Doing “swag” reviews, for example, are just not my bag. Lord knows I’ve tried. Life would be easier if my stupid ethics didn’t get in my way, but they do, and to deny them would be foolish, to live without them would be denying everything I am.

Will I make it to the other side of life without compromising? Ever? Probably not. Probably not even close. But I can avoid major concessions. I can avoid the things that make me wake up with the durrrty morning-after feeling.

***

And no matter how ridiculously extreme the character of Howard Roark is made in The Fountainhead, I “get” him. I get the idea of never compromising your art. I get the concept of “any means necessary” being too high a price to pay if it means losing what makes your work you. I get the concept of not using one’s name for others’ benefit, especially when others’ ethos aren’t meshing with my own.

The older I become, though, the more I find I’m inflexible about what my values are and why. Does it make me the perfectly moral person? Jesus, no.

Does it make me a better writer? Hmm. Good question. I would hope so. Less and less, I find myself writing because you should have something to read. More and more, I find myself writing only when life inspires me to do so. This is good. Too bad it’s so infrequent.

I should write more. I would like to do just that. This recent picking-up-of-books-and-even-reading-them thing is a big change for me, after years of barely reading. I hope it rekindles my love of words.

***

In a way, I’m going back to The Fountainhead because it was the start of something for me. Out of everything that was in my life when I was 18, the only things that remain are writing and photography. Only, I write far more now, and far better.

But, when I read The Fountainhead, something about Howard Roark’s idea of architecture, and the metaphor it could be for all things in life, resonated with me then and screams in agreement with me now.

I want to be a more streamlined writer. I want to be moved to do things in life because they take me closer to goals — likely not what you think; a bungalow on the ocean would do me fine & allow me the simple life I crave, the life that gets lost in this city.

Like Howard Roark sees architecture, I kind of see life and creativity right now:

Rules? Here are my rules: what can be done with one substance must never be done with another. No two materials are alike. No two sites on earth are alike. No two buildings have the same purpose. The purpose, the site, the material determine the shape. Nothing can be reasonable or beautiful unless it’s made by one central idea, and the idea sets every detail. A building is alive, like a man. Its integrity is to follow its own truth, its one single theme, and to serve its own single purpose. A man doesn’t borrow pieces of his body. A building doesn’t borrow hunks of its soul. Its maker gives it the soul and every wall, window, and stairway to express it.

I realise I’ve come to despise ornate architecture, people who incessantly overdress, haughty writing, and intellectuals who think their degree is some sort of validation of who they are just because they’ve got paper to prove it.

I want simple, real things. Simple, real people. I want ideas that are whole and expansive, that don’t come with qualifying, egos, and justification. I want people who are endlessly authentic and can’t be bought, quiet conversations and zero flash.

I want to feel like I write for the sake of writing — not to sell ads, not for your fulfillment, not to make the world a better place, but for the most pure reason of all: To explore ideas and give voice to thoughts. My voice.

I want these things.

Unfortunately, I live in the real world where such ethos don’t pay the rent. The balancing act between how idealistic I can be while still putting food on my table, well, it’s a struggle. It will probably remain a struggle.

And part of the life I want, part of the goals I’d love to achieve, might require I rethink what I’m willing to do for success or not.

I’ve been lost in thought on these struggles for a couple of weeks now, but it’s escalated this week. Tomorrow is my birthday. I’m hoping some great epiphany dawns tonight in which I finally realize how I can reconcile both professional and personal values into one amazing existence.

Something tells me that’s a birthday gift I won’t be receiving just yet. Fortunately, I’m not hung up on deadlines.

No Fatties: The Ethic of Funny

People urge me to try stand-up comedy. A natural, they call me. A funny girl.

And, hey, they’re right.

What, it’s wrong I should know I’m funny? I shouldn’t acknowledge it? Right, like I’ve spent my life cracking jokes so I can play the fool now.

Jokes are hard. Funny is tough. Humour’s a fine line.

I pride myself on a having higher funny “ethic” than I think most people ever will. There are things I won’t touch: I don’t insult people for their size or weight, or for their colour or abilities.

Your job, clothes, where you live, how you act, what you do with your time — those are all choices, and I feel absolutely fine about ripping them apart and going to town on ’em for jokes. It’s commentary on who we’re opting to be as a society. Get on the bus in thigh-high rubber fuck-me boots and a LaToya Jackson studded-special leather jacket? Sure, yeah, I’ll use it for humour. Your choice.

But I don’t hurt people with nasty public jabs made about a weight problem, or vision issues, or a goiter, or anything like that.

You think people wouldn’t change those things about them if they could? You think they’re not aware of how outside the norm they might be?

Somehow “fat” is different from all the other discrimination out there, because people “choose” to be fat. That’s another argument for another time, considering the modern food industry, media, how government’s been bought and sold, and more — so I’m not going there.

This whole posting sprang up because I got all pissed off about some remarks a young guy was making about “fatties” on Twitter today, mocking overweight girls trying to glam it up for a profile shot — saying how they’re just getting fatter and fatter, and he wants to puke.

Who the fuck does he think he is? He’s perfect? Does he KNOW what it’s like to be 300 pounds and feel like losing weight is the hardest thing in the world? Um, no.

Know who does? I do. I know what it’s like. I’ve weighed that. Note the past-tense.

I’ve hauled my 275-pound body up a 30-floor highrise’s stairs and back down again, I’ve cycled 70km in a day, lived through the hellish pain that comes from waking up a body that’s long been hibernating. I know.

I know the looks a girl gets when she’s pushing 300 pounds and has the audacity to enter a gym — the skepticism, the obvious wondering about how long she’s gonna last.

Fat people are NOT encouraged to change. When they try, they’re largely scorned and mocked just for even attempting that. Trust me, I know.

It took watching my father almost die from diabetes to wake me up; I didn’t want to die like THAT. And it was the hardest road I’ve ever travelled.

Mocking fat people clearly hasn’t been working. Look at our world.

Insulting the disabled removes them from our world, while denying us the possibility of another Ray Charles or Stephen Hawking because of shame felt from having to endure the mockery that comes from a large portion of the public.

Making a non-specific insult about a body-type or disability or skin-colour doesn’t have to have an intended recipient — without one, you’ve broadly painted everyone. They’ve all been struck by the ignorance of that comment.

Have YOU ever been that person behind the computer screen when an insensitive generalized remark is made, and you react with “is he talking about me?” because it could totally be about you?

Passive-aggressive hate is everywhere on the internet. Its passivity should in no way suggest it is impotent. It rises up and harms many.

My tweet about it said it best: Being mean isn’t cool. It’s never been cool. And if you make it funny, it’s still not cool. Grow up. High school’s over.

We’re an unhappy society. What’s causing it? Is it the ever-present derision and commentary about each other that sets us constantly on edge? People are less secure than ever, and some are striking out at others as a result. Suddenly, it’s no longer a grown-up world, but a return to all I loathed about being in grade 10.

Seriously, what’s going on?

When I hear waif friends panicking about calories, “oh, god, I’m getting fat!” and they’re a size four, I wonder where the fuck we all went wrong.

Maybe some people still haven’t gotten over their elementary-school mocking and want to take it out on everyone else. I don’t know.

What I do know is, in an age where we have greater glimpses into other people’s lives than ever before — their pains, their sorrows, their struggles — I find that we’re getting crueler, more ignorant, and more insensitive when we’re supposedly civilized.

I often wonder if it’s the culture of the celebrity-gossip blog that’s killing kindness in society.

Instead of pettiness being confined to blogs about celebrities, we’re now visiting it on everyone.

The thing about this whole thing that’s most odd, this little fight with this ignorant kid, is I might consider myself somewhat overweight, but I know I’ve changed a LOT about myself — I’ve lost more weight in the last couple years than most people could even fathom. I KNOW what it takes to lose 3 pounds in a week, I know what kind of hardcore activity is required week-in, week-out. I could probably kick your ass.

There’s a reason most people fail in trying to not be “fat.”

It’s not a two-month course-correction — it’s trying to change for the rest of your life what it took you a lifetime to become. There are years of up-and-downs as you learn about yourself before you one day figure out what it takes for YOU to have success. There are medications and environments that can artificially influence weight. It’s not a black-and-white thing.

And there is no addiction in the world more difficult to overcome than food: We are faced with making choices about it three times a day, at least. Every holiday revolves around it. Every social outing is based upon it.

Overcoming weight issues and other addictions is a massive challenge.

It’s NOT society’s job to fix anyone’s life. It’s on EACH PERSON to improve themselves, and using excuses why you won’t change just doesn’t cut it — because some of us find the strength to change even in the face of our largest adversities.

I don’t accept that being unhealthily fat is a lifetime sentence. I believe every unhealthy overweight person* can change their life and improve their health — because I could, even after a decade of injuries.

And I think we can be better people.

We can be a kinder society.

We can accept that words and actions hurt others.

We can try to understand how it might feel on the other side.

I don’t WANT a world where everyone’s NICE all the time. Do I strike you as a sunshine-and-roses kind of girl?

I just want a world where people are treated with a little respect.

I didn’t need the world to give me a hug and tell me everything was gonna be all right when I was super-fat. But I sure as hell needed less skepticism when I finally had the courage to go to the gym and try to change my life. I needed people to understand and support me when I started on my path of change, rather than presupposing I was just going to be another failing fatty who would give up on everything.

I may have ate the food, but EVERYONE in life around me helped perpetuate my mammoth size that by saying all the things that made me insecure and hurting in the first place — which drove ME to my security blanket of food. Yes, I still take the blame, but at least I understand the reasons, too.

Too bad I didn’t have an emotional dependency on cocaine — at least then I might’ve been a hottie and socially-accepted in my svelte size four. After all, nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels, says Little Miss Kate Moss, who might be confusing how skinny feels with the high she’s riding from her cocaine addiction that fuels her size-zero money-maker.

We’re ALL fucked up.

Don’t try to pretend you’re not. YOU know it. I know it. We ALL have things we’d rather not have come to light at a party.

People with obvious physical issues can’t hide theirs, though, so they don’t get off easily. Instead, they’re publicly hurt.

That’s my problem.

That it’s somehow been deemed acceptable behaviour in today’s world?

That’s our problem.

* “Skinny-fat” is the new phrase out there — people who look healthy ‘cos they’re skinny but their numbers are off the chart, all because they luckily have a quick metabolism so they can hide their true health. There ARE overweight people who are healthy, I’m definitely one — since I can climb/descend 30 floors in a high-rise after cycling 15 kilometres and get my 6 cups of veggies a day — but society still isn’t talking about how health is about internal numbers, not outward appearances. Stop judging on looks or abilities.

RANT: Labels Kill Sexuality

Four years ago I wrote a posting about cheating and in it I had a little rant about being called an “older woman” by the letter-writer when I was only 32. The posting is here, and today I deleted a comment that referred to the rant-within-the-posting with this comment that I’ve chosen to delete for its stupidity:

“The sound of a cougars claws slipping down the slope called age.”

That was the comment in its entirety, aside from quoting the entire paragraph under the blockquote-box’s question.

It pissed me off. Why?

I’m the anti-cougar. Continue reading

Where are the manners?

Every now and then an email comes in that’s the exact right email for what’s going on in my life. That happened Friday. I’d had an incident earlier in the day that had me seething with rage, and his email hit right home. So, first, the email, then I’ll tell you what happened, and then you’ll get my two cents. Sounds like a plan, no?

I was wondering if there was a certain age where teenagers or adults realise that manners are important and can learn to appreciate them? Because I’ve been trying my whole life (I’m still a teenager, but still) to be a gentleman (opening doors for others, asking if the elderly need help, speaking politely, etc.) and to be helpful as much as possible, but it seems that it is not appreciated at all. So far throughout a few years of high school, I’ve tried to help others boost their marks with assistance on their homework, but they can’t seem to understand that others have morals and won’t cheat for them. (again, turning into a rant i suppose..)

I guess I’m really just sending this email to ask another’s opinion about manners and whether or not it is truly appreciated in today’s society. I’ve asked a few teenage girl friends and they say that it is good to have manners and it’s something important they look for, yet I see them going out with lowlife guys who are despicable and need to learn manners. Is this just a teenage thing to do that you overcome later on and realise it’s importance and learn to be grateful for it? Or is it completely dependant on the people’s standards they’ve set.

Now, what happened to me the other day was when I was riding over to my brother’s place. He and I live in absolute opposite ends of the city — he in the most northeastern section, I in the most northwestern section. I work smack dab in the middle, downtown, and between there and my brother’s is 30-square blocks of what’s essentially some of the poorest and most underprivileged in Canada. If you know where to avoid, you can go without ever seeing any of these people.

I don’t try to avoid it, I just go through. I always see really tragic things when I do and it keeps me appreciating the little I have. This time, though, I was stopped at a light and this old guy, about 70, was in a wheelchair, completely unable to use his hands, and could only pull himself forward using the toes on his right foot. He was literally moving about 2 feet a minute. Naturally, the light turned red with him in the middle of the street, and I got a solid green light to go. Meanwhile, he’s stopped, looks like he’s about to cry from exhaustion, just can’t go any further, and all these fucking people are walking past, ignoring him.

I was in a RAGE. I pulled my scooter over, got off, cursed, “You people ought to fucking help! Where the hell are manners gone?” Then I leaned over to the man and said, “May I push you across the street, sir?” And he went soft with relief. He just sighed, “Please?”

I had a bit of an argument with a couple punks on the corner after that, who seemed to think I was flaming them, and yeah, you know, I was. Just fucking standing there, doing nothing.

When I got over to my brother’s place, I saw my nephew standing there, and I sat him down. I said, “If you ever see a little old lady or a little old man who can’t get across the street or they’re taking too long, you HELP them. You hear me?”

I made sure he knew the distinction between “stranger danger” and helping a senior citizen who really does need the help. After all, that’s how I was taught.

In MY world, I was raised to help people. I was raised to give a hand and do the right thing. I was taught to say please and thank you, and I was told to hold doors open for others.

And I KNOW life moves fast, and I KNOW people are more rushed than they used to be. You know what? I don’t give a fuck. *I* find the time to still be polite. I find the time to thank people and make pleasant small talk. Why the hell don’t they?

So, kid, I say keep going. The thing about being a polite person and not behaving politely just because you’re not getting it in return is that you start to get bitter about it. It changes you. Cynicism finds you and apathy makes a home in you. Stay true to the person you are. Help others, be polite. You’ll one day be surrounded by a better class of people, by people who appreciate that in who you are. It will be a deciding factor on the kinds of engagements you’re invited to and the kinds of experiences you have. You’re still a kid, you’re in high school, and you’re stuck in a social world you have little say in. In a few years, that all changes.

I know I will not date a man who has no manners. I will watch how he behaves and treats others, and I’ll note whether he expresses gratitude for the little things I say and do for him, and if I don’t like what I see, I will walk.

Life’s too short to be with people who just don’t understand basic human decency. I figure that eliminates about 60% of the world from eligibility for my bed, but whatever. I’m fine with having high standards. Are you?