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Unfunny

This is not going to be a jolly sort of post.  I’m also going to include a trigger warning.

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It’s freaking 2am again, and I can’t stop thinking about an email I received two days ago.  I’ve been tossing and turning, needing to write about it, so figured I’d give up on sleep until it was done.

The email in question was from a book reviewer, who was requesting a copy of Pickles and Ponies to review.  He also mentioned that he’s compiled a book of reviews, and would appreciate my review of that in turn.  This is the pertinent part of my reply:

“Dear [Author], I downloaded and started reading your book this morning, and it was hilarious (though I’m concerned for your rage levels!) – right up until I reached the point where you said you hoped a 10-yo boy got raped.  Wtf is that?!  I mean seriously.  Rape jokes absolutely sicken me.”

His reply?:

“I’m sorry, but that stupid kid in The Wasp Factory needed to be raped. Okay, rape jokes aren’t funny to those who’ve been raped, or to those who even know someone who’s been raped. I know this. But that kid needed to get raped, goddamnit. He was a filthy murderer. And he bored me to tears. And yes, rape jokes crack me the fuck up, even though I know it’s insensitive. But I really don’t care.”

…what a piece of shit, right?!

I once had a conversation with a friend where I pulled him up on his use of rape jokes.  I pointed out that they affect those who have been assaulted, they’re not funny, and they enable, you know, rapists.  Because it’s all in good fun, right?

Okay, seriously—last chance to turn back.  Things are only going to go downhill from here.

 

All right.  So I’ve alluded to it quite a few times (eg here), but fact of the matter is, I was raped by one of my best friends when I was 19.  And I don’t find these jokes funny at all.  And despite the red pill misogynistic bullshit which is associated with the word ‘trigger’, you know what?  People can be triggered.  And even if those millions of men and women who have been sexually assaulted and raped don’t suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and aren’t triggered by your ‘jokes’, you’re still fucking making light of the terrible things they’ve been through.  That’s sick.  It’s messed up.  It is not the fuck okay.

I’ve mentioned it before, but 1 in 3 Australian girls is sexually assaulted by the time she’s 18.  I don’t know the figures for other countries, but that is a lot.  That’s not funny.

In reading this author’s collection of reviews, the same complaints kept coming uphe wanted more torture porn, more rape, [I deleted the rest of this sentence because it was fucking abhorrent.  That bad].  He really seems to think that using the language of sexual violence is okay, is hilarious.

What is not hilarious is what I have to go through every day.  Honestly, the number of times I’ve wished I could just go back in time and not live through itthat’s how difficult this is.  You feel dirtied and broken and like it’s your fault.  The people I grew up with told me not to tell others, because I shouldn’t upset them.  I’m still incapable of having a normal relationship, or even of picking up, because it is terrifying.  One of the many of the ‘worst things’ of the whole situation was the way the guy was looking at me: adoringly, obsessively, like he cared about me.  Now, if a guy gets all googly-eyed, like he likes me, I feel panic.  I want to run away.  I do run away.  I leave the city, leave the state, leave the country.  Because this is something I associate with fear.  And yes, yes I’ve had therapy.

What else?  Well, there’s the part which a lot of people go through, where you start binging on self-destruction, drinking or drugs or whatever, sightlessly hooking up with anybody—because if it doesn’t mean anything, then what they did to you doesn’t matter.  It can all be undone.

There’s the part where, even if you’re with someone you trust, something you can’t even define happens, and you’re instantly back thereyou’re terrified, you don’t know where you are or who you’re with, and you’re trapped in this experience from which there’s no escape.  And you feel like a fucking crazy person, and on top of that, you feel bad for inconveniencing whomever you’re with.  It’s even more fun when they treat you like you’re making things up (“but were you really raped?  like [description]?”), or you should magically be over it, or like you have any control at all over what you’re going through.

There’s the part where, because you can’t handle these ‘nice guys’ who are into you, you instead date a string of cheating douchebagswhoohoo for avoidant behaviour!

There’s the part where you’ll be out with friends and they’ll joke that you should make out with whichever guy, and all you can feel is terror and loss of control.  Needless to say, I address this with friends, ie to never joke about or pressure me into hooking up with anybody.  It’s pretty great not being able to have the love/sex life you want, because it’s simultaneously the most terrifying thing you can think of.  Add in a couple of assaults and guys who don’t understand “no” on top of all of the former, and really, it’s a fucking struggle to keep going and not give up.

None of this is funny to me.  It’s pretty much the exact opposite of funny.  And then when I think of the statistically hundreds of millions of men and women who have been and continue to go through all of this, it just makes me so sad.  It’s not even slightly okay to me that rape or assault is something that somebody would joke about, or something they could say somebody ‘deserved’.

Okay, I think I’m all written out enough to sleep now.  But please oh please, next time you hear someone who thinks that our experiences are hilarious and should be repeated, pull them up on it.  Because rape jokes Are Not Funny.

Excellent argument at this link.

Colombiana Blanca

I received one of the greatest compliments of my life the other week.  It was, naturally, at the hands (voicebox?) of a Colombian.

I’ve said before how much I love Colombians [eg here and hereColombia blog posts].  I admire them for so many reasons: their friendliness, their hospitality, their passion, their overwhelming loveliness.  I feel like, with Colombians, you can walk around with your heart out, and nobody’s going to trample on you.  It’s honestly a great way to be.

As such, you can imagine how I felt when after a night drinking, two of my Colombian friends here said I was Colombian on the inside, that I was their “white Colombian”.  This has even persisted into sobriety!

Last Friday night we had a ‘Colombian dinner’, which I didn’t end up leaving until well after five in the morning.  My friend Sandra’s dad gave the most beautiful speech. welcoming me and us to their family.  He also told me, more personally, how hard they find life here.  Belgian culture is not at all that of Colombia.   It’s not that of many countries—I had a late-night conversation with one American guy, who told me thankfully how nice it was to speak to a ‘normal’ person.  Because a lot of non-Europeans find it hard here.  Hard and cold.

This perception is, of course, not limited to Colombians and Americans.  Even my housemate Mr Belgium has commented before how difficult he finds things here, and that most of his good friends are ex-pats, as he finds the people of his own country too cold and too difficult to get to know.  I’ve had a lot of conversations with a lot of people from different places, and when they drink enough wine they all start saying the same thing—Brussels is a very lonely  place.  A very meaningful one, sure—granted, there are some people here to be career bureaucrats, but a lot of people want things like ‘world peace’ and a resolution to climate change.  But, as one girl said to me in a bar recently, “people’s careers won’t keep them warm at night”.  And given how difficult it is to meet open-hearted people here, it’s only our careers that we have.  No wonder so many people here seem so sad.

On the upside, I’ve officially called it—it’s finally summer!!!

Week of Colours

It’s been a while—I’ve been extremely busy writing papers and having fun.  It’s a hard life, right?  Seriously though, working on my papers has been fascinating (though sitting on my ass in front of a screen all day every day is not what I am built for), and I’ve been having a lot of adventures while doing it.  And quite a lot of pancakes, actually.

The past couple of weeks in particular have been sheer insanity, with just so, so, so much going on my personal life.  On the upside, this has been interspersed with some incredibly colourful experiences—namely, the green of the Zonienwoud, the orange of Amsterdam for the king’s birthday celebrations, and the brilliant purple of the bluebells in Hallerbos forest.

Zoniënwoud

The Zonienwoud is only around 45 minutes’ walk from my house (which I still freaking love and adore), so I like to go hiking there occasionally.  On this particular occasion there was an event on, with world music installations set up on officially designated hikes.  It was a bit of a damp day to be honest, but it was lovely to see all of the green bursting through—spring has finally arrived!

Koningsdag

I was sitting and doing some research for my papers, when suddenly an item from Nat Geo Travel popped up on facebook.  It was about mad world festivals, one of which just happened  to be in Amsterdam, and just happened to be happening three days later.  I immediately jumped on messenger and asked who else was keen for a break, and I’m pretty sure I sold it to Ciara with “Dutch men are tall and have good bone structure”.  And we were off!

We used blablacar ride sharing to get to Utrecht in the Netherlands, with a German hockey player who was an *extremely* efficient driver.  We then caught the train to Amsterdam in an absolutely packed carriage, full of people wearing bright orange.  The festival was Koningsdag—King’s Day—and seemingly the entire population of the Netherlands turned up in Amsterdam wearing orange to celebrate.  It was quite bizarre, actually—you don’t really think of Dutch people as wearing bright colours and getting wasted in the streets.  Stereotypes?  You betcha.

We spent the day walking around the city, having the occasional drink, and going on an epic quest to find a Japanese restaurant which served ramen.  It was Ciara’s first time in Amsterdam—and after all, why not travel more than 400km to spend 6 hours in a city?  We were really lucky in that it was an absolutely beautiful day, though we were altogether wrecked by the end of it.  We made some unintentional friends on the street and in bathroom lines (one guy kindly leaving a trail of saliva on the back of my hand—cheers, mate), and stopped to taste things everywhere.  The streets were full of people and food stalls, and so we basically had to try all of them.  There is a surprising amount of delicious Vietnamese food in Amsterdam.  Another highlight (?) was a bloody mary stall, where the guy making the drinks was very clearly wasted.  To the point where he forgot to put vodka in, which is kind of the point.  Eugh so we went back and asked him to add it, and actually the drink was so gross that we didn’t make it through even half of the cup before having to throw it out.  That’s right, it was bad enough that even students wouldn’t finish it.  Yuck!

I hadn’t booked my trip back from A’dam, as I was leaving my options open—to stay the night, or head back that evening?  In the end though, 6 hours of walking, sunshine and drinks had pretty much ruined me, so we tootled off to the train station and hopped it back home to Brussels.  Such a good break from study!

Hallerbos Forest

There’s a lovely Canadian girl on my course, Katie, who’d mentioned some kind of ‘purple forest’ in passing.  I’m always down for forests, so asked about it.  As it turns out, this forest is blanketed with bluebells which bloom for one week each year—and that week turned out to be last week.  As such we got up at a ridiculous hour (for students, anyway) and caught the train out there.  We then spent a couple of hours meandering through the purple woods, not making much progress given that we stopped every three seconds to take photos.  It was absolutely stunning, and definitely something to check out if you’re ever near Brussels toward the end of April.

In writing-related news, you may not have seen that my friend Sorin and I are currently putting together an anthology in memory of Terry Pratchett, with all funds raised going to Alzheimer’s Research UK.  If you’re interested (or know someone who would be), submission are still open—details are at www.explaura.net/call-for-submissions/.  And in other other news, I’ve written another review for the Piece of Shit Book Club, and it will be going live this Sunday.  This time, the book was about the spiritual repercussions of twerking, and I talk about my ass a lot.

I’ve got another big ten days ahead, as I’ve got an exam, work to catch up on, and a PhD to copy-edit.  But then I go to Moscow.  Oh yeah.  Russia, get ready for me!

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Moscow Eve

Tomorrow morning I fly back to Russia, nearly two years to the day since I left.  I’m going for 5.5 weeks, and it should be…interesting.  Naturally I haven’t started to pack yet, but my room is getting extremely clean, so that’s good!

I have very, very mixed feelings about going back.  I guess the only thing that’s changed since my wrap-up love/hate post about Russia is time and perspective—and an annexation or so ;).  Everybody keeps telling me how I must be so excited, and looking forward to going back—but that’s not how I feel at all.  On the one hand, it’ll be great to hear and speak Russian again, to see my former students, friends and colleagues.  It’ll be interesting to see Russia in the summertime (which I’m pretty sure is some kind of oxymoronic impossibility), and to see what’s changed in the intervening two years.  Plus, let’s be honest, Red Square is kick-ass.

On the other hand, eugh.  I’m not looking forward to the stress of it all—the language barrier, given how much I’ve forgotten (cases?  What cases?!).  But far more than that, just the everyday nightmare of people being angry, yelling at each other, using each other, being cruel to one another.  I can never decide whether the dominant emotion in Russia is anger, hatred, despair, or apathy.  Obviously I didn’t have a great time last time, thanks in large part to the asshole company I was working for.  But gosh.  Going back to a country where I’m told to be quiet, because men are talking; where I’m told by strangers that I need to go and ‘fix’ myself to be prettier; where I’m ‘old and stupid‘ because I’m about to turn 30 and aren’t married with kids.  And the godawful food, of course.  So yeah, looking forward to it?  A difficult point to argue.

All the same, I’ve got a pretty fun weekend lined up: tomorrow night I’m going out with Jack, who I studied with in Prague; Saturday night I’m catching up with Hoos, who I worked with for the most epic class in St Petersburg; and then I’m spending Sunday with Artur, who was kind enough to show me around Moscow last time I was there.  From there I don’t know whether I’ll catch the overnight train straight up to Piter, where I’ll be staying with Naz and Mikita (expect a follow-up video with Naz), or go via Nizhniy Novgorod on the ‘mighty Volga’.  Either way, once I arrive I’ll be catching up with people, working on my Russian, and attending a conference at the end of June before flying back to Brussels on the 28th to start a quick summer school on post-Soviet conflict.  Haha.  I guess I can’t be accused of going off-theme.

Be prepared for imminent and inevitable mis-adventuring.

Integration

The other night I was waiting for the bus home from Russian class.  There were two others waiting with me, both brought up in Belgium, and one was going on an anti-immigrant rant.  I’m sure you’ll be familiar with the ‘migrant crisis’ that is currently underway, so I won’t go into too much detail.  Suffice it to say that this girl does not like immigrants, and she does not want them in the country.

I waited until she paused, and then interrupted—”You realise I’m an immigrant, right?”

She paused and looked at me for a second.  “Yes, but you’re white.”

 

 

Wow, right?  She then went on with some standard white supremacy type theories, saying how all the ‘white’ countries are developed and all the others are behind because of some kind of genetic deficiency.  Eugh.

The thing is, while this girl’s obviously at the ‘psycho’ end of racism, being anti-immigration is not an uncommon sentiment here, whether ‘here’ be Brussels, Belgium, Western Europe, the EU…  There was some post on /r/europe the other night saying how there are so many immigrants here in Brussels that they “consider the city lost”.  (I tried to find the post, and ended up spending 40 minutes on reddit… dammit.)  Anti-immigrant sentiment is running very high.

But the thing is, people never apply that to me.  Europeans keep asking me if I’m staying after my course, to which I always reply that there’s the minor issue of a visa.  “Just marry a European,” they say.  Seriously, I don’t even know how many hundreds of times I must have heard that by now.  They tell me how I’m the kind of immigrant they want, and are often surprised that things like visas and immigration controls are something that I’d be subject to.  I’ve never had any kind of anti-immigrant sentiment used against me; on the contrary, people want me to stay.  I did a model UN of the European Council a few months ago, and people kept saying how I’m exactly the kind of person they want working for Europe, to the point where a couple were near-outraged that I can’t actually work for the EU institutions, NATO, etc etc.  Because what country you’re arbitrarily born in is apparently important.

In saying that, it’s definitely not purely based on skin colour/appearance that most people seem to be objecting to the current migration wave.  A lot of people focus on different cultures, on foreign fighters, on lack of integration, on the drain on the social system.  On whether the people are flooding in are entitled to be here as ‘asylum seekers’, or whether they’re just ‘economic migrants’ (because dying by violence is somehow superior to dying through malnutrition or disease because you’re unable to provide for your family).

I really, really, really don’t want to get deep into the politics of it, but to me this is kind of like global warming.  We’ve known for decades that things are heating up and that we are going to have serious problems in upcoming years, but we all keep sitting on our hands or doing the bare minimum.  One day there is going to be disaster, whether that’s from a human perspective in terms of food sources/flooding/desertification, or from an economic perspective in terms of the costs of adaptation/recovery/innovation.  We can see it coming but are focused on short-term goals, on sound-bites and current dramas, rather than on prevention.  Rather than go for ‘a stitch in time saves nine’, we’re opting for ‘better to beg forgiveness than ask permission’—we wait for a problem to become so overwhelming that it overflows, then cope and bitch about it as if we couldn’t see it coming the whole time.

Same deal here.  We’ve known about ISIS, we’ve known about Syria, we’ve known about illegal immigrants and population explosions and malnutrition and disease.  Considering just the first for a minute, there’s been international inaction, with eg the UN (as per climate change) unable to undertake anything collectively.  Within the Security Council itself there’s been mass division, with Russia for example supporting Assad, and the US against him.  The country has been falling apart and we’ve known this whole time.  What else were refugees going to do?  The MENA region (Middle East + North Africa) is already chock-full, and the EU’s member states are signatory to the UN’s conventions on asylum seekers.  I don’t know about you, but if I had nowhere else to go, I’d probably give it a crack, too.  This is all perfectly foreseeable, but no action was taken—it should hardly come as a surprise that a wave of people is now reaching us.  Say all you want about Merkel, but how exactly—with inadequate border security, no EU police force, a lack of proper facilities etc—was anybody going to stop people coming, especially when many of them have a right to do so under international law.  Am I saying that everybody coming into Europe is an asylum seeker?  No.  And definitely, I’ve read the reports of inter-cultural violence in camps, of unhappy refugees (and people are going to die in the cold this winter, that’s a thing that’s going to happen), of people reaching Finland then turning back because it’s cold and boring.  But we know there’s a war on in Syria, and we know that a lot of the people reaching us are, in fact, asylum seekers.

As far as asylum-seeking in relation to Syria goes, it looks like we’re reaching the ‘human/economic disaster’ part—but with some intervention (not necessarily military) or even some simple planning, we would not be in the polemic and underprepared shitstorm we’re currently in.

 

…this got off-track.  I was going to say how much I love Europe, but apparently a mini rant came out instead!  Anyway, I’ll be able to start writing again properly soon, I have a backlog of half-written posts to begin with.  All is well here in Brussels and I’m looking into doing my PhD next year.  Oh, and did I mention?  NEW BOOK OUT THIS MONTH 😀