Xenia in an Age of Assault

When a handful of people start doing something together, sooner or later someone will think:

“Hey! This is cool. We’re all doing this fun thing together. I bet there are other people who would love to do this with us. We should get the word out, plan a meet-up, meet more often, invite new people.”

And because the internet exists, this reaching out and sharing is relatively easy and inexpensive. A Facebook group is made. Emails are exchanged. News travels fast to those with a finger on a particular pulse. Soon more enthusiasts join the original handful of people. They bond over their love of the shared activity. Good times ensue.

When your group gets enough momentum you become something invincible: you become a community.

Now say that your community’s life blood is some kind of event. A sizeable event. Lots of old and new friends to meet and do your community’s activity with. Lots of time and energy is added to your activity, enriching your experience. Perhaps funds are raised so that you can all do your activity more often/in grander settings. All to the good. You all benefit from the group’s cohesion. You all learn things and gain beautiful memories.

Until some of you have hideous memories too…

When I learned this week that a prominent member of the large Lindy Hop social dance community had sexually assaulted a female community member, my calm was damaged. Then the echoes of other women with similar experiences came. Because of course they did. This is how this story goes. we know this; 2016 was made up of these stories.

And now my dance community has a “Assault by Authority Figure” story of its own.

I cannot say that the resultant hand wringing and hesitation on the part of community organizers was particularly surprising. That is part of this story too. Every. Single. Time.

I will never understand anyone who’s first reaction to yet another assault story is to cover their own ass. If, as organizers, you are afraid of legal retaliation, Google what libel is and what it is not. Also look up negligence while you’re at it. Because ignoring the fact that someone you hired has a reputation for assaulting people strikes me as fairly negligent. I dream of the day when a court of law actually asks a negligent organization or employer or institution the question on all our minds:

Why did you not do anything to protect the people you were responsible for?

You are responsible for your community members. If you invite people to attend an event you’re hosting and they come from other cities or countries, they are your guests. You are responsible for your guests. You would not invite someone into your home and not advise them of the balcony door that automatically locks behind you, or that one dodgy power outlet, or the missing stair on the fire escape. You would warn them. Or fix your damn house so that it wasn’t dangerous to visit.

You should care for guests because while they are with you, they are one of your household. Anyone who has read the Odyssey is familiar with this idea. In ancient Greece the term Xenia was used to describe the relationship between a guest and host, especially a guest who had come from away. The relationship, though not always easy, was considered sacred. The Gods would send retribution if you did not care for and protect your guest. It was a matter of honour because without it you could not experience the world fully. No group, no matter the size, can last without trust.

We need to enforce Xenia in our communities. Organizers should never tolerate behaviour that poisons their communities. We cannot tip-toe around the missing stair. We must not allow the few assholes of our small worlds to get away with their assholery. There must be consequences when a community member breaks the group’s code of conduct. The Gods will not strike offenders down for you.

(Note to event/community organizers who don’t have a code of conduct: make one. No group is so magical that there will never be a need for one. It’s a hope-for-the-best-but-plan-for-the-worst decision that can make or break your community. And nothing makes it clear that you expect the best of your members like saying so in writing.)

If you want people to want to come out to a community event (spending time and money while they’re at it) they must be able to trust that they will be safe enough to enjoy themselves. If you have no interest in creating that kind of environment and or building that kind of relationship with your members, you’re just another shady, money-grabbing event where newcomers are at risk and regulars become jaded. Your group will shrink as people leave.

Because a community that doesn’t look after its own isn’t worth much.






A Haunting Safe as Houses: a Halloween Reflection on Fear Itself

One cozy autumn evening I sat down with several friends, a heaping plate of turkey, and full wine glasses to commune in front of the Netflicks. A scary movie was called for. The Conjuring was recommended and chosen.

I’m no connoisseur of such films, but I rather enjoyed it. It used that effective tactic of showing little or nothing of the danger to let the viewer’s mind create something much worse than any CG monster. It’s also an interesting period piece; I enjoyed the 1970s fashion and vehicles. More interestingly, The Conjuring has that money-making flourish: “Based on a true story”. That last bit struck me to my core, but not for the reasons you might think.

I love a good story, true or not, so after the movie was  over I delved into the internet. This site takes a fascinating look at the history of the farm house and its past inhabitants. Any history nerd will enjoy learning about the generations of people who lived on the farm and the way that their historical moment shaped their lives.

A history buff will also balk at the detail of the chief spirit/demon/adversary in the movie being a witch. “Witch” was shorthand for any woman who was considered suspect or deviant particularly in colonial America. A local woman whose child dies in an unusual way might very well have been considered a witch – not that children dying young was at all unusual for the period that the real Bathsheba Sherman lived in. Any woman who was unlucky enough to be unusual was fair game for title of Local Witch, First to Burn if Things Get Bad or Weird in the Village.

The neighbours gave Bathsheba Sherman the side eye, so now she gets to be the unholy child-murdering villain in a movie that she will never see. It makes me shudder to think how one’s life story can be distorted so long after one is gone. It seems terribly unjust that the real people whose lives are being retold for Hollywood fright flicks have no say in the matter. Here’s hoping that no one I know becomes a ghost story.

However, it is worth noting that the family and the paranormal investigators  who are portrayed in The Conjuring did support the movie being made. The latter, Ed and Lorraine Warren, opened their home up to be an occult museum. Their paranormal experiences are well-documented and their files were researched for the film.

Speaking of houses, I feel the need to mention the fact that I have lived in apartment buildings my entire life. House-noises scare me greatly and I could not live in even the most beautiful historic house. Houses, especially old houses, make sounds that are very different from the vague sounds of someone next-door turning on the shower or closing a door. I am used to the creak of steel beams expanding as they warm in winter but houses sound alive. I sympathize with the pain of anyone who finds themselves creeped-out by the breezy attic, old plumbing, and creaky floors that come with old houses.

And that is what I thought about when we had finished watching the movie: pain. Pain and fear.

Regardless what you think about the experiences of the Perons – whether or not you believe in the paranormal – The Conjuring shows you what it must be like to live in constant fear. Imagine being perpetually afraid in your own home. Knowing that the whole family felt that way is heart-breaking.

I know that feeling. It was a long time ago and I was very small. For reasons I didn’t then understand I started feeling afraid all the time. I was afraid to close my eyes at night. I constantly sought reassurance from my folks that there are nothing to worry about – I was home and safe with them. What was there to worry about? Nothing at all – but that made no difference.

I listened for unfamiliar sounds as soon as the lights went out. I stared into the shadows of my room and was appalled when the stacked boxes seemed to create a (very unrealistic) profile of a person. My heart would be racing as if I were running a race. I slept little and badly. No sleep leads to poor health and my folks were worried.

I my memories of this time are vague; going without proper sleep will muddy the mind. But I do know that the fear started after a bout of ghost stories and possibly a séance with my then-friends. Young girls playing at mediums seems to have been a thing in the nineties. Or was that just in the teen movies I was watching?

Regardless, what I can now call an Anxiety disorder latched onto the idea of invisible assailants being all around. Nightmares would have been better; at least then I would have gotten some sleep. A mild, non-prescription sedative (the herb St. John’s wort, used in sleepy tea) was my doctor’s recommendation. The herb helped me drop off properly for a week or two. Somehow the terror subsided, though I was wary of horror movies. Why open Pandora’s box right after you’ve closed it?

Am I credulous? Do I believe in ghosts in this day and age, as an grown adult?

Well, I do still love a good ghost story, such as those told by The Haunted Walk. However, given that most ghost stories centre around deeply unfortunate events, I certainly hope none of the characters are still around.

The best example is the Ask a Mortician Deathstination: Savannah Georgia episode. The long-deceased “trusted servant” (by servant the story-teller means slave) gains nothing by haunting a historic house in the afterlife to thrill and terrify tourists. If anything, that would just be another kind of servitude. I hope she’s free to rest.

But even a normal, ghost story-less house is of little comfort to those who constantly suffer from Anxiety or other mental health troubles. Every house is haunted, to those who live fear.


Intermission-Shaming: a Response to the Diluge of Millenal-Damning OpEds

“Completing school, leaving home, starting a career, getting married, having children – until very recently this lockstep progression was taken for granted…”

-Kate Bolick, Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own

There are a lot of expectations about how we should live our lives. You are probably familiar with the Script for Success – though I like to think of it as more of a checklist. The script is meant to play out like so:

  1. Complete the required levels of your local school system.
  2. Go to post-secondary school (this is especially true of the middle and upper classes and of our current time).
  3. Graduate from the above school. Bonus points if you finish in the discipline you started in for some reason…
  4. Acquire a Real Job. Real Jobs usually involve sitting at a desk and/or wearing business casual clothing. Only Real Jobs ever lead to Careers we’re told. If there is not lots of money involved, then it is not a Real Job.
  5. Move out of the family home. This can be switched places with the above act but they both must happen in quick succession or else.
  6. Find a (preferably opposite gender) partner.
  7. After a enough time passes that your relationship has matured like an inexpensive wine you must marry the above partner. 30 is a magical marrying number. No one can tell me why.
  8. Have huge expensive wedding. Invite all the people you love (and many you do not, but feel obligated towards).
  9. Buy a house.
  10. Fill house with stuff – but only the right kind of stuff. Nothing too childish (read: fun).
  11. Ensure your DNA’s continued existence by having some children.
  12. Set said children loose in the local school system.
  13. Repeat above steps.

Does the above list sound familiar? If you’re a millennial, like me, you probably began to feel aware of the script just as you started to look for work. There we were, set on the path to respectability…and then the economy blew up.

But you probably already know that story already.

There’s nothing like going off script to make you notice the script. When you’re following the checklist it is invisible, like gravity. Deviating from societal expectations gives you the chance to actually think about them. Considering how many people find themselves suddenly swerving off their presumed life path like a car on black ice, I cannot help but question the very idea of there being one script for living your life.

For one thing, trying to live your life like a linear story turns the simple act of changing plans into a crisis. You’ll notice the above breakdown of The Hero’s Journey, the ancient inspiration for most of our Coming of Age Tales, is a straight line. It can also be represented as a cycle – the hero leaves the homeland, journeys, defeats evil, grows, returns, – but  we are most familiar with the linear quest narrative. It bears a noticeable resemblance to the “lockstep process” Kate Bolick identifies. If you find that to be just a little too unnaturally and too restrictive, then you’re not the only one.

More importantly, for many people living in today’s world, this linear script is at best unrealistic. At worst, it’s a stick to beat us with.

Search “millennials” on the web and you will get dozens if not hundreds of articles concern-trolling about how the past markers of adulthood, from moving out to marriage, are no longer fixed points in people’s lives. People have stopped checking things off the list in order. Other people are striking some things off the list altogether, or have begun to re-evaluate their expectations. Many people, whether out of choice or necessity, are not living as the generation before them live. The general conclusion: this change is a bad thing, because change is always bad.

In Life Story terms: we’ve all been hit by an event that we didn’t see coming. Many people feel that they are currently in a rather prolonged Intermission wedged between the proper sequence of life events. Doubtless there will be more such events in the years to come; if you don’t have the Gift of Foreseeing, you can’t plan for everything. There is nothing shameful about re-evaluating your choices or plans when you have to. Shaming people for starting anew or ending up in the same Intermission stage as their peers is just a snide waste of breath and bandwidth.

And an Intermission isn’t necessarily a bad thing. During the Intermission of a show, people stretch their legs, have a drink or two, chat with the other theatre-goers, get to know new people. Some decide that they’ve seen enough and leave for something else. Others enjoy the break and then go right back to the next act feeling refreshed.

We told the story of the Life-in-Linear-Progression so often that we’ve come to believe it. Now we’re going to have to tell ourselves a new story – or rather, a variety of new stories – about how to live life. I look forward to hearing these stories. I hope you do too.

Besides, the old, linear Life Story just isn’t reliable anymore – assuming that it ever was.