street cred

A question of perception, part 2

Part 1, written almost 4 years ago.

Last week was not a great week for celebrities, was it? First Kate Spade, then Anthony Bourdain. Both deaths were unexpected. Both deaths saddened. Cue the endless posts about suicide help lines and knowing one is valued and matters. Which is nice, but mostly beside the point. Most people don’t kill themselves on a whim. Knowing there is a 1-800-number out there is nice, but is unlikely, MOST OF THE TIME, to deter someone who is too exhausted to live. Someone who commits suicide might be very aware that they matter, they are loved (or not), but that isn’t what they are trying to avoid. They are trying to end the sustained misery and agony that their brains are inflicting on them. Incessant pain, physical or emotional, distorts reality to the point that suicide becomes an act of mercy – granting oneself peace and saving friends and family from the burden of worrying about the one’s sickness.

Anyhow.

MommaBear who is part of my dance school shared an article about Kate Spade’s death, with the following comment, “Euh, WTF… So you’re successful and suicide… so much energy, hard work, notorious… no…”. I like MommaBear, I do. She is fiercely protective of her cubs, be they her own children or girls she meets on the dance floor. Given her deep capacity for love and loyalty, her comment struck me as one of ignorance. Some ppl really don’t get depression and suicide. My uncle doesn’t: he made a very similar comment following Robin Williams’ death. So, I commented, gently, that success has nothing to do with the burden that a person may be called to carry, or the demons they must deal with.

MommaBear: I know, but so much work, all that energy… If a person was doing fuckall, I might get it (the impulse to kill oneself). Nobody admires a person that doesn’t succeed, nobody will listen to the advice of a person that doesn’t stand out in society. If you succeed, you can latch onto that success as a life jacket to get you out of the current.

Vanilla: No, not really. Success can become a burden in and of itself. A responsibility that suffocates you even further.

MommaBear: I’m a single mom that got played by her husband and has 6 children, of which 2 are autistic. You can betcha I will fight till the end to do my best.

Vanilla: Yes. There are tangible demons and burdens, like the experiences you just described. But there are also demons and mental health burdens that are intangible, not easily identified, but just as hard to manage. We must never deem monetary or societal success as a reliable indicator of the mental health of an individual. Never.

MommaBear: So, based on what you’ve just written, you are comfortable hanging out with people that have not succeeded in society? People that in no way stand out in society? You could spend time with a man that looks like a hobo, and not care what people think of you? (P.S. I would have preferred to talk about this, but I guess Facebook will have to do 🙂 )

Now. I’m extremely wary of Facebook bitch-fests. I don’t want another pointless repeat of this incident. Sides, I was aware that MommaBear had attempted to diffuse the situation with her little P.S. addendum. MommaBear is good people. I like MommaBear.

But.

Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut.

But. But. But.

Her comment pissed me off. SO MUCH.

That one comment made it very clear how she perceived me. A spoiled, well-off, white girl condescendingly preaching empathy from her comfortable ivory tower, blissfully unaware of what suffering could possibly feel like. Who was I to talk?

Never mind that the last 2 guys I’ve dated do not have university degrees. Hell, Beaut barely finished high school. Beaut came from a broken childhood, foster homes, poverty, worlds apart from my life. He worked HARD to make ends meet with that kind of background, stopped at nothing to gainfully and legally provide a comfortable existence for his daughter, a loving and devoted father… But he didn’t have a kitchen table. He can’t write one sentence without making grammatical or spelling mistakes. Doesn’t have the traditional indicators of success, yet has managed to carve out a good life through sheer stubbornness and struggle. I was proud of him, proud of his perseverance, his unwillingness to let life, and all the shit thrown at him, stop him from doggedly pursuing his goals. I’m impressed by the life he is building for himself, bit by bit, patiently.

Never mind that my mother with her poor health couldn’t hold down a job from the moment she had me, for the rest of her life. The knowledge that she was a drain on society weighed heavily on her conscience. Her health was so bad, she could barely walk, and as a result, her physique shamed her. Most days, she could only summon the energy to put on baggy jogging suits. I’ve witnessed people speak to her as though she was mentally impaired, because apparently walking slowly with 2 canes is correlated to one’s intelligence. #goodtoknow. A cop once threatened to have her do a drug test because he thought she was some druggy, with her wheezing breath and sweaty face (brought on by the extreme pain attack she was undergoing). Was I EVER ashamed of her? No. I prided myself on being her bodyguard, physically protecting her from oblivious people, and ensuring people addressed her with the respect that was her due. As an adolescent, its true, sometimes I would dread running into schoolmates, but that was only because I kept my family life a secret. It was too complicated, too painful and private to share. So I hoped we didn’t to run into people. But never, not ever, because I was ashamed of my mother.

Never mind that my father worked his whole life in a blue collar job, 38 years of exhausting physical labor with no social distinction whatsoever, to ensure that his wife and his baby girl could live a comfortable life.

Never mind that when I met MommaBear I was in the throes of the worst depression of my life, a few weeks away from my upsetting diagnosis. Never mind that I HAVE A BLOG DEDICATED TO MY MENTAL HEALTH STRUGGLES. Which obviously MommaBear has never read, as is her right.

None of that mattered. Because despite spending anywhere from 5-15 hours with me every week for 5 months, MommaBear couldn’t see past my skin color and my professional title.

I’m upset, deeply, not because I got misjudged according to another person’s bias. Nah, that’s cool, I’m aware I get to live my life mostly immune to that sorta thing, so when it happens, I really can’t be that offended.

But.

I’ve always naively clung to the belief that for social change to successfully occur, for racial bias to be dismantled, yes policy matters (which is why Trump is so worrisome to me) but that really, change would be inevitable the more people interacted with individuals that are not part of their socio-ethno-econo demographic. One on one interactions increase the likelihood of recognizing an individual’s humanity, which is something we all share, and to the extent that humanity is present, it creates cognitive dissonance with wtv prejudice and false beliefs are held about that person’s demographic, and thus change in opinions and a broadening of world views are possible. Schindler from Schindler’s list was a Nazi sympathizer. This has been my core belief for as long as I’ve lived, the result of my upbringing. I recognize that it is not a perfect solution (mingling between demographics is not always possible or probable, or else #whiteprivilege wouldn’t be a thing). But, to the extent it occurs, I remained hopeful.

Y’all. I live in Montreal. My dance school has every possible nationality amongst its students. And yet. On a Facebook post about suicide, we failed at recognizing each other’s humanity.

I feel defeated.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about how Vanilla I am

Hey Nene! Hey Coach! Clearly your work is unfinished, because while you made serious efforts to render me less Vanilla, and a little more hip/urban/ratchet… I am still vibrantly vanilla.

Context: Teacher is in Baltimore for a kizomba-salsa-bachata congress. Guy calls me up to ask me a question, and in true ADD fashion, gets distracted mid conversation.

Teacher: “(…) oh look, I just saw an oreo cookie babylon.”

Me: “a what?”

Teacher: “Oreo cookie. You know, 2 black 1 white.”

Me: “I know that, but what’s an oreo babylon?”

Teacher: “babylon. It means police.”

Me: “ooooooooooh”

Teacher, turned away from the phone, answering the people he is with (the event organizers are Indians): “yeah, I know! A white girl. SO white.”

That obvious, huh?

#nowIknow


I gotta give it up for Teacher. The dude, on top of being a mind-blowing dancer and artist (check out this post which includes many of his videos) is also a blogger. His life is stranger than fiction, and he has seen and lived much from his travels for dance. It’s a good thing he documents all his stories, because otherwise nobody would believe the shit that happens to him. Take, for instance, his recent trip to NYC earlier this month. You don’t have to know him to get a laugh out of his stories.

I might be biased, but I definitely recommend bookmarking his blog: drkizomba.com/blog .

The advantage of a digital trail – fighter style

Those Facebook memories, yo. Sometimes, they annoy. Sometimes, they make me sad. Sometimes, they remind me of struggles past, and how far I’ve come.

Behold a memory, 7 years ago. December 18th, 2010.

I was in my 2nd year of kickboxing (savate – french boxing, assault – point based scoring system, minimal power). This was my very first competition. I was sooooo nervous, so scared of messing up, disappointing my coach, or getting injured, or just looking stupid. I lost, but I fought really really really well. Out of my 8 years of fighting (4 years of kickboxing, 4 years of boxing), this remains one of my top 3 favorite fights. Because I faced my fears with honour. I didn’t hold back. I claimed my spot in the ring. I fought for real, with dignity.

I remember finding my kickboxing coach (“KC”) a little silly, over-the-top dramatic with his inspiring speeches, and cinematographic flourishes. “Its just savate, yo.” He’d get irritated. “No. This is life. This is passion. You are part of a team. We fight with pride. We work hard, people will know us for our skill, our style, our dedication. This is who we are.” I’d roll my eyes. I’m an accountant, not a fighter. This was just a game, play-fighting. I felt superior.

Looking back at this video, I remember the other emotions I tried so hard to ignore back then. The amazement that KC believed we were a family – that I was part of this family. The thrill of wonderment that I too, might be one day considered something approaching an athlete. That he felt I had what it takes to be a fighter. That he owned his diva showbiz side. That maybe, perhaps, I might belong. I so wanted to belong. To belong in a family that was bound by a thirst to live fully and deeply, to push themselves as far as they could, to face challenges that they might not successfully achieve. I craved this but was also scared of looking foolish.

I look back with much fondness on my years as a kickboxer. Many friendships date back to those years. Kickboxing was my therapy as I put myself through university, first as an undergrad and then as a full-time grad student while working full time as an auditor. I got my title during those kickboxing years. I grew up, somewhat, through kickboxing.

Kickboxing lay the groundwork for most of the breakthroughs and personal growth that I experienced in boxing. I did, eventually, own my identity as an athlete, shedding decades of insecurities from my crippled youth. I did explore what it means to be a fighter. I did find my family – my gym, my squad. None of that would have been possible, had I not first spent years training with KC.

I’m so grateful KC was inclined to produce these celebratory, grandiose videos. As a sport, savate (assault) might not be as impressive as boxing. My boxing friends giggle when they watch videos of savate. But nevertheless, it requires its fighters to face their fears, pursue excellence, develop mental toughness, and believe in themselves. Surely, that is worthy of grandiose treatment? I certainly think so. Had I not been introduced to those concepts in kickboxing, I would have never been inclined to step into my boxing gym.

My life would be so much less than it is.

If you have trouble recognizing me… it’s because I have long curly dark hair, and weigh 15lbs more than I do now. 🙂

Who knew M&Ms could wrap?

While in Toulouse, FroMan invited me to join him and his friends for supper. I had a great time. Somehow, while discussing Ramadan, multiculturalism and the pros/cons of accommodating vs assimilating vs integrating minorities into society, CAD vs Southern French weather, Trump, kizomba, sleep patterns, work, hair styling, annoying neighbors, I found myself on a rant about how Eminem is the greatest rapper of all time. Yes, Kendrick Lamar is an artiste, but Eminem! Eminem is just in a different class. True, he does not speak to the struggle and plight of a specific demographic; rather, he owns the individuality of his emotions, which can broaden his audience because emotions are universal and do not depend on specific circumstances. His lyrics are a form of vulnerability, and while he can be ugly, shocking, so angry and violent, his honesty is refreshing and is what allows his auditors to relate so strongly to him. His musicality is not lesser than Kendrick’s and… and somewhere after the 5th minute of my monologue, I noticed a blank look around the table.

Tentatively, I asked… y’all DO know Eminem, right? Oui, bien sĂ»r. M&Ms. No. Eminem, bro, the rapper. You guys know who he is, in France, right?! Oui, we call him M&Ms here. M&Ms… as in the candy? Oui.

FroMan continued, “He’s the dude that sang, I’m Slim Shady yes I’m the real Shady all you other Slim Shadies are just imitating…” No. NON. ArrĂȘte. STOP IT. THAT is what you associate with Eminem? Not Rap God, where he raps 1560 words within 6:04 minutes, averaging 4.28 words per second? Not “mom’s spaghetti”, the lyric that spawned some of the most ludicrous memes ever, and is the reason why he won an Oscar? Not Love the Way You Lie, a song so powerful that even though radios overplayed it more than Despacito, it never got ruined and was a catalyst in lessening the taboo around domestic abuse, bringing that important topic out into the open?  Not any of his early underground freestyle rapping? Not that he is the only person in the world that can rhyme “orange” with “porridge”? Like seriously, watch this:

Y’all. Eminem is a wordsmith. A modern day poet. A genius.

FroMan listened to my outraged exclamations in silence for several seconds. Possibly a full minute.

Tu rĂ©alises qu’il rap en anglais, oui? On ne comprend pas ce qu’il dit.

You do realize he raps in English, yes? We don’t understand what he’s saying.

So, I asked, how do you distinguish good music from bad? You guys are French! The epitome of good taste! If you don’t understand the lyrics, what do you do? Just listen to the beat, the groove and the melody? WAIT, YOU GUYS DON’T THINK JUSTIN BIEBER IS GOOD MUSIC, DO YOU?! “En fait, il n’est vraiment pas si pire, le petit Bieber. Son album est trĂšs propre./ Actually, he really isn’t that bad, that little Bieberito. His album is quite on point.”

OMG.

OH MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM GEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.

I cannot live in a world where Eminem is less appreciated than Bieber.

It occurred to me to suggest FroMan use Google Translate, much like I did to understand how ridiculously over-the-top kizomba lyrics can be (for a prime example,  check out this music video of one of my favourite songs, Vai by Calema. Stirring music, heartbreak, but whyyyyyyyy must he flop about like a goldfish in a puddle of mud? That won’t make her come back to you, bro, and significantly decreases your odds of landing yourself a rebound chick.) But Google’s habit of mildly inaccurate translations (“Pinch me now, yes/ Good afternoon, no/ You are very crazy/ Kiss me in the mouth“) can’t do justice to Eminem’s wordplay. The site Genius is the way to go… but even so, Eminem’s greatness is rather dependent on one’s fluency in English.

How sad. How very sad. FroMan’s life, and that of most of the world’s population, is incomplete.

#noiamnotbeingadramaqueenATM

#Eminemisbae

#andthisiswhytravelisimportant #myhorizonsjustgotexpandedAF

 

Paris, ville de l’amour & l’irritation extrĂȘme 

I just wanted to take pictures, y’all. Really.

I am in Paris for a 10-day work trip. (Check out what happened the last time I was left unsupervised in Paris.) Not complaining at all, but it remains I am not here to visit, I am here to put in 12+ hour days. When I leave my hotel in the morning, it is dark out. When I leave the office, it is darker. I gave myself an objective to try walk 30-60 mins every day, and find something worth taking as a picture. I’ve never really explored Paris at night, this trip would be my opportunity to see the usual landmarks in a different “light”.

Monday night, I met up with a former colleague of mine from my auditing days who has recently moved to Paris. I hadn’t seen him in two years. A delightful evening, bien arrosĂ©e, because we accountants = alcoholics and French wine is bae. By the time we said goodbye, it was 11pm. The resto was located in a safe part of town, approx 35 mins from my hotel – perfect opportunity to squeeze in my daily walk and pic quest. My walk brought me to the Louvre, which I needed to cross to get to the Seine bank, where I would need to walk for 15 mins, before crossing over the river.

As I stood on the street corner waiting for the light to change, a man approached me asking me if I was lost, because I looked confused. I answered him (in French) that I was debating if the open gate on our side of the Louvre would allow me to cross the entire courtyard, or whether the gate would be closed on the other end (on the river-side); I did not feel like walking about for nothing. He reassured me that the Louvre gates remained open all night, and that in fact he was walking in that direction himself, to reach the south bank. Perfect.

I really wanted to be in my bubble and enjoy the peaceful Parisian night – it is rare to find a moment where the city is quiet, almost sleeping. Chatty stranger watched me take pics of the Louvre, despite my hints that I did not want to delay him from joining his friends. This is the only pic I managed to squeeze in before Sir Annoyancealot ruined my mood.

Having crossed through the Louvre courtyard, I noticed the normally busy Seine bank was deserted. Great. I said goodbye to Sir Annoyancealot, who insisted on giving me a goodnight hug.

I did not want this hug. It was an impertinence, which he knew – he is French: they have the best manners in the world when they chose. That he was asking/insisting on a hug meant he was up to no good. I was faced with a dilemma: tell him to fuck-off and risk an escalation, or appease him. Boxing experience notwithstanding, I’ve been trained to handle a situation smoothly, just in case. Especially on a deserted street. Guy didn’t seem dangerous, more of a low-key creep trying his luck, looking to boost his male ego. Choosing safety over bravado, I let him hug me, but with arms flexed so that he couldn’t pull me close, and he would feel my strength. He attempted la bise, which he technically achieved, despite me successfully keeping him at arm’s distance.

You’d think he would be satisfied with that, no? No.

Sir Annoyancealot offered to walk with me a little more, even though I told him I wanted to be alone to enjoy the view. He continued talking to me, oblivious (or perhaps enjoying) that my conversation had gone from politely chatty to monosyllabic. I lied about where I was headed, and he insisted on re-saying goodbye, this time holding me firmly by either arm (payback for me having stiff-armed him: he had noticed my strength, and now it was my turn to notice his) with another bise. When his first kiss on the cheek landed on the corner of my mouth, I shoved him away such that he had to take 1-2 steps backwards.

He smiled at me, “Non, mais t’es tellement mignonne, j’ai envie de te croquer, tu sais.” Dropping all semblance of manners, I gave him my boxer look, “Tiens, mec, t’es vraiment mieux de ne pas t’essayer avec moi.” (“But you are so adorable, I just wanna eat you!” followed by “That’s nice, buddy, you better not try to.”) I walked away, and he didn’t follow me.


When I told that story to my colleagues yesterday, one dude shook his head and remarked that no French woman would have let herself be in such a scenario. That comment enraged me. It reminded me of the comment my Arab friend made, after I got lewdly propositioned in Beirut. It implies it is my fault, or perhaps that the women of my nationality aren’t as savvy as the locals. Wrong. I’ve been micro-aggressed in Canada too. This is what it means to be a woman; these are the kind of trade-offs I have to make every damn day, all the time: evaluating if I am willing to put up with possible unpleasant encounters in order to not deprive myself of a beautiful solitary nighttime walk. Evaluating if politeness will be a gateway to a dangerous situation. Evaluating the risk of escalation vs the need for appeasement. Evaluating just how far to react, if the guy is an actual dangerous person or just a creep. Having to be grateful that I have 8 years of fighting experience, because otherwise that would have been a much scarier experience.

I just wanted to take pictures, y’all. Really.


Last night, I left work “early” at 8:30pm so as to give myself plenty of time to walk the 1hr walk from l’Arc de Triomphe to my hotel near Notre-Dame. It wasn’t peaceful, bc 9pm is prime social time for Parisians, and les Champs-ElysĂ©es are always crowded, but it was nighttime and I did get my pics.

Behold, Paris at night.

Time for a little humble-bragging

My plane leaves in 7 hours… Other than my opera ticket, and the train tickets to get from each of the 4 towns I’ll be visiting, I’ve got nothing planned. And that feels GREAT. I don’t have any travel-books or tour guides. I am planning on winging it.

There is so much freedom in travelling alone, especially when I can speak the language of the country I am visiting. I like waking up in the morning, and seeing where my feet take me. Sure, I have googled Strasbourg and Reims a few times, so I have a vague idea of some of the things I’d like to do (a few cathedrals, 1-2 champagne cellars) but otherwise, nope, I don’t want to plan anything else. I want to talk to the waiters at the cafĂ©s, and hear their opinions (95% of which I will disregard); sit on a plaza, people watching, and strike up a conversation with a random person; get lost as I walk about town, discovering fabulous and not-so-fabulous views around every corner and stop and ask for directions.

I haven’t packed a single article of work-out gear. 10 days without stepping inside a gym. I have my walking shoes, and I intend on walking 4-6 hours a day. That is good enough for me. No stress about making it to boxing on time. No regimented schedules, other than the 3 day conference – but even that: it is all outside of my control, I just need to wake up in the morning, and my day will be planned for me. All I need to do is show up. 10 days of eating whatever I want. 10 days of good food. I packed my stretchy pants.

The weather forecast for the portion of this trip that is personal is rainy and cold. Of course. So I’ve packed sweaters, jackets, an umbrella…

But get this.

10 days. I managed to pack everything into 2 carry-on bags, one of which is my work laptop bag. No checked luggage for this girl!

Yeah.

I know. It’s impressive. I was going to humble-brag, but really, I think that feat deserves a full-on brag. Vanilla the Great. I packed 3 pairs of shoes… as well as all of the items mentioned above. Imma have the freedom to galivant between the 4 towns without being weighed down by unwieldly suitcases. AND I will look good doing it.

That is why I am awesome. I can act and look like a princess, and I can cut corners and be practical too.

#humblebragfail

#boastingcomesnaturally

#baskintheawesomenessofmypackingskills

#IamSOexcitedforthistrip

 

Somehow I never pictured Jesus as a micromanager 

As per my promise to Coach to maintain my fitness levels despite my frequent travels, I have visited in the past 3 months a boxing gym in Beirut, San Diego, and most recently, Denver. My motivation was high this trip, as I will be fighting in a tournament in a week’s time. Never mind my usual concerns with American cuisine (crazy portions, salt, and so many nasty chemicals and preservatives), I was eager to train to keep my cardio, power and eyes sharp. With 7 days between my return to Montreal and my fight, there is no time to get back into shape. I needed to be in better shape than when I left.

I spent an hour googling Denver boxing and MMA gyms before settling on one that seemed combat oriented (I’ve no interest in the fitness cardio-boxing stuff). Monday, I  was warmly greeted by 3 coaches. They worked me hard, or perhaps that was just my body adapting badly to the elevation in Denver. They pointed out weaknesses in my boxing that are similar to what Coach harps on about. For example, to convey that I don’t move my head enough, one of the Denver coaches told me, “don’t be taking the time to admire your work. Don’t be a fool. If your opponent is any good, they’ll make sure you don’t have any time to do so.

I was slightly taken aback when the coaches gathered up the students at the end of class, formed a circle and led a worship prayer. I’m not at all opposed to end my training with a coach beseeching our Heavenly Father to watch over the health of all the boxers at the gym. I’m just used to stretching my muscles instead.

I trained at the gym all week.

On my last day there, as I was working the pads with one of the coaches, he told me that I’m too loud when I exhale: it is a tell, which warns my opponent of an incoming punch. He suggested that I learn to exhale by my nose instead. I was pretty sceptical, especially when he told me that all the good Ă©lite & pro boxers breathe by their nose. I’m by no means a true boxing aficionado, but I’ve spent a fair bit of time watching my teammates and all the pros at my gym, and we all exhale through our mouths. I guess the pros at my gym have a ways to learn?

So I tried breathing out my nose while doing pads. Like a lot of people, when I train intensely, my nose is runny. And boy, was it runny that day. My first exhalation produced a 3 foot long and 2 foot wide stream of snot.

Side note: I just googled images of snot, to insert into this blog post. Having done that, I feel a little queasy and will NOT share any of those pics here. You’re all welcome.

Ok, so I lied. Still less gross than what actually happened to me at the gym.

Denver coach encouraged me to keep trying. During the next combo, I exhaled once again through my nose. Another stream of snot sprayed forth. And another. It was DISTRACTING me. What if my snot landed in his eye, or worse, in mine?! After 3-4 tries, I stopped doing pads, wiped my nose on my sleeve (#classy) and told coach I couldn’t do it, I really wasn’t comfortable with switching my breathing so close to a fight (#diplomaticandtactful). To which he replied,

What do you mean you can’t? Of course you can! Do you believe in the Lord Jesus? Yes? Well then He will help you breathe through your nose.

And that is how I learned that Jesus is a micromanager.

http://www.kcbob.com/2013/02/is-god-micromanager.html (a blog post that opines on whether God is a micromanager)

P.S. If at any point in my fight next week I get the impression that I am losing, I will not hesitate to snot-spray my way to a victory in round 3. My poor opponent will not have the defensive skills to combat Snotzilla.

 

As Featured on News Cult: How to Throw Shade

As it is my mission to become less vanilla and more urban/clatchet (classy ratchet), this post, written by the masterful Only Bad Chi, is very relevant.

#brilliant

only bad chi

Throwing shade seems to be the thing right now, right? Like, it’s trending or whatever. So I thought I’d give some tips on how to do it. Because I’m nothing if not relevant.

My understanding is that throwing shade is basically insulting someone, but in a really passive aggressive way. Which is our craft. See, you were already doing it and you didn’t even know! So the key is to make the person you’re throwing shade on (at?) not know you’re doing it, until it’s too late. #bobandweave #stealthasasnake

Like, if you’re trapped in a conversation with someone you hate/has done you wrong, like any given coworker/receptionist/police officer/customer service phone rep in the history of coworkers/receptionists/police officers/customer service phone reps, say something such as:

♩”I can totally see you being in a Sears catalogue. I think there’s something to be said for being basic.”

♩”Nice haircut! How on earth were you able to get an


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On race and racism – Vanilla’s perspective

Perhaps because #OscarsSoWhite;

Perhaps because it is Black History Month;

Perhaps because Beyoncé turned black, and Kendrick Lamar owned the Grammys;

Perhaps because of the relentless stream of hatred spewing from our neighbor below’s Republican presidential candidates directed at anyone who isn’t a middle-class WASP;

My social media has been awash in all kind’s of posts related to racism, and specifically racism against blacks, or as Americans call them, African-Americans.


Perhaps because when Jimmy Kimmel shared this skit, I sent it to my friends, and most of my white friends sheepishly admitted they didn’t have any black friends;

Perhaps because one of my friends once told me that it wasn’t her fault she was unaware of racial issues in MontrĂ©al since she didn’t hang out with black people, the way I do – she didn’t belong to a boxing gym;

Perhaps because at the accounting firm I worked at for 5 years, which employed close to 2,000 people, I only ever saw 3 black people;

Perhaps because in my graduate accounting program at a university renown for its ethnic diversity, out of a class of 160 students, 4 were black;

Perhaps because in my first year of mechanical engineering at one of Canada’s best universities, in a class of 125 students, 2 were black;

Many of my white friends have told me that racism isn’t an issue here in Canada (*), or at least, “it isn’t as bad as the States”.


Perhaps because my friends assumed my parents would have a problem when my first serious boyfriend was half black;

Perhaps because my ex-boyfriend grew up living in Alberta, where he and his brothers were the only black kids in high-school. One day after school, on his walk home, my ex was ambushed by the “cool” kids in his grade, who held him down, and sucker-punched him in the nose and broke it, because they didn’t like his “punk-ass black attitude”;

Perhaps because my ex’s mother (white, anglo-saxon Canadian) confided in me her doubts about successfully raising mixed children in a white environment;

Perhaps because I remember the day when my ex and his roomie walked into the appartment, and his roomie, a Canadian Persian, was shaking with pent up outrage, while my ex looked blank. Walking in downtown MontrĂ©al, my ex’s roomie had been blatantly smoking a joint, while my ex walked beside him with his bike. My ex wore long dreadlocks; his roomie was clean shaven. The cops pulled up beside them, and searched my ex for pot, even after the roomie, outraged by the obvious racial profiling, yelled at them that he had all the pot on him. The cops ignored the roomie, and told my ex not to have so much attitude.

Perhaps because one time a (black) bouncer was rude to me. My ex started to speak up, and the bouncer looked at him with scorn, “what, you think you black? with your white girl, and your nice jeans? Shut the fuck up.”

One friend told me she didn’t understand why black people had to make everything about race. Sometimes, it could just be a case of bad manners, you know?


Perhaps because of 3 of my ex’s cousins moved to MontrĂ©al from Jamaica, in their early teens, and were taken in by their white cousin – a lovely man, who’d grown up in Barbados, and understood the culture shock of moving to Canada. Quebec’s education system forced them into a french high-school with remedial french lessons, and held them back academically due to their difficulties learning the language. Bored, they started acting out, fell in with a bad crowd made up of other disenfranchised non-white (mainly black) teenagers, and got into serious trouble. Their guardian pleaded with the principal and guidance counsellors to allow the boys to join the regular academic stream and the school athletic teams, so that the boys would be exposed to a wider variety of youth, with less behavioural problems and more ambition. The school replied that due to their poor french skills and bad attitude, it would be inappropriate to reward the boys with those privileges.

Perhaps because one of the boys got recruited by a gang in MontrĂ©al, and eventually got shot and killed. Perhaps because the cops shrugged and never bothered investigating. “What do you expect? He should have known better.”

Perhaps because at the boy’s funeral, I showed up in a charcoal suit. I was outraged when close to 50 young black kids showed up wearing hoodies printed with the boy’s face. How dare they show such lack of respect in their attire? I sat next to one of those kids, who cried so hard his body was shaking. He didn’t own a hankerchief, so he’d brought a facecloth, which he soaked through and through. When I tentatively gave him a hug, and patted his back soothingly, he hung on for dear life. I wondered how many of these kids would make it to 18.

Perhaps because a few month’s later, the eldest boy got arrested and sent to juvie, for shoplifting $10 worth of cheese from the local grocery store. The youngest boy started running away from home. Perhaps because I never found out what happened to them.

My friends tell me White Privilege is “not a thing” here in QuĂ©bec.


I don’t have any answers. I don’t understand why racism is so easy, and why specifically racism against blacks is such a polarizing issue, even here in Canada. I do however know that to deny the problem because it is subtle; to relativise it into meaninglessness; to blame the victims for being oversensitive is not the solution. To listen, even when the arguments are awkwardly phrased; to acknowledge the hurt and rage coming from the people with the courage to speak up; to keep an open mind as to the causes and the solutions; to be kind – THAT is part of the solution.

I leave you with this article: The Cost

#BlackLivesMatter

 

(*) One of my readers pointed out that Blacks make up only 2% of Canada’s population, and the stats I gave about my workplace and schooling are consistent with that %. True. However, in MontrĂ©al, Blacks make up 9.1% of the city’s population. In which case… my point that blacks are significantly under-represented in Professional settings/university degrees still stands. (stats taken fron the 2011 Canadian census).

“I’m so glad you are part of my family”

It was Cap‘s surprise birthday party last week. The young spring chicken turned 40. It was a great party, mixing in equal parts his boxing life with his non-boxing life. Cap walked around, mildly under the influence; he hugged each person, looked deep into their eyes, and told them, “I’m so happy you are part of my family.” Sometimes he’d even tell them twice!

As 2015 wraps up, what better way to close out the year than by giving thanks for this gym that has given me so much happiness, sexy summer legs, and yes, an extended family.


Beginners with no athletic background, Olympic hopefuls and pro-boxers train at my gym. The first time I prepared for a sparring session years ago, one of the pro-boxers walked up to me, and pointed to the helmet I was holding, “First time sparring? Nervous? Yeah, it’d be a pity if you broke your nose.” Nonplussed, I suggested he was not being helpful. He apologized, and continued innocently, “Does it make you nervous knowing that all the people in the gym will be looking at you, when you do your first sparring?” I stamped my foot at him. He laughed, tied my gloves for me, and then watched my pathetic attempts at sparring. I was mortified: here was a pro-boxer – a contender for a title belt – watching me swat my opponent like a kitten pawing a spool of wool. Yet he watched, and shouted tips from the sidelines. I’ve lost count of how often I’ve seen the pros and elite amateur boxers watch, encourage and guide boxers with less experience than them. After winning my first fight at a gala at the gym, the 2-time women’s world champion congratulated me and enveloped me in a big hug. It is always the pros/elite fighters who cheer the loudest at my gym’s amateur boxing galas.

During this year’s Christmas holidays, there was open training at the gym – no classes, anyone could drop in, and work the bag by themselves. Both times I went, there were a dozen or so boxers, ranging from newcomers with gloves that still had the new-leather smell, to a few elite ones. The sound system was acting capricious so we worked in silence, to the sound of the bell, the gloves hitting the bags, the heavy breathing… and the head coach singing the same snippets of White Christmas, over and over again, in his French Canadian-Italian off-key tenor voice.


I consider all of my teammates to be friends, some of them close ones. Yes, I train 6-10 hours a week with them. But that doesn’t explain the statistical anomaly of me liking 100% of my teammates. I work 8-12 hours a day with my co-workers, and while I might like (most of) them, few ever reach the status of friends – people I’d confide in, and see socially outside of work. So why the immediate connection to my teammates?

Everyone who walks into the gym is looking for an escape from the outside world. Yes, the same can be true of a yoga studio. But here, people are looking for a reprieve from the tangle of thoughts, emotions, and frustrations that is a necessary by-product of being alive through the action of hitting an inanimate punching bag over and over again. It’s a safe haven that allows a person to work through whatever they need to work through, surrounded by people doing the exact same thing. The particulars of each individual’s tangled mess is irrelevant; everyone has preoccupations, and the gym is our way to work through our shit. People who walk through the door are looking for the freedom of a few hours when socially acceptable constraints are no longer required. The punching bags become the recipient for every harsh word that was bitten back through the day, every slight that was received, every injustice, every worry. For a few hours, the world stops pushing, and we can push back as hard as we want, without any consequences. Bliss.

Boxing is an unforgiving sport. By stepping into the ring, every boxer tacitly accepts to show their true self to their opponent, coach and whoever is watching. You can’t mask cowardice or fake bravery when getting punched in the head. Every hesitation, fear, bluster and cockiness is blatantly obvious to anyone who watches. There IS no socially constructed mask to hide behind. To step into the ring, every boxer, no matter their level of experience and proficiency, has to be willing to be vulnerable, and to be seen. As such, I’ve noticed that most people at the gym don’t cling so tightly to their social personas – there is no point, when we’ve all seen their true colors in the ring. As a result, everyone is more authentic at the gym than they otherwise might be. Vulnerability + authenticity = key ingredients for friendship.

Also, it doesn’t hurt that my gym is full of good dancers who are witty, funny, party-animals. Eye-candy is NEVER a bad thing when chosing one’s friends. #priorities


Every possible nationality and demographic is present at my gym. 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation immigrants of every background train here. Atheists will swap tips with practicing Muslims trying to survive Ramadan while training. Liberal arts students discuss career possibilities with a PhD in neuroscience or an engineering fellow. Lawyers talk to handymen and graphic designers. The political spectrum is just as diversified, as are the income brackets: the necessarily-frugal to the big-spending jet-setters. It is more likely than not that someone will have a musical accent. The amount of Franglais conversations is endless: one person speaking all in Québecois, the other responding all in English, and a Frenchie from France sprouting expressions no one has heard of before, du coup!

In a world climate that loves to label everyone and promote segregation, differences and hatred, I hold my gym to be a role model for what multiculturalism, integration and tolerance looks like in practice. On days when our planet is going to shit, when Paris gets bombed, Trump poisons peoples minds, and it is so easy to despair, I step into my gym and feel peace. I look around, and I feel hope.

Not bad for a gym that focuses on a combat sport, yeah?

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I love my gym, and my people. My family. My New Year’s wish to all my readers is that you may find a similar safe haven in 2016 that brings you the same joy that my gangsta gym brings me.


Here are all the other posts that involve the gym, or its central characters: