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Dear person who called seagulls dirty birds,

I overheard you the other day, disgust dripping from your voice as you watched a seagull eat a French fry: “I hate seagulls. They’re dirty birds.”

We have been over-fishing, urbanizing and polluting their habitat for as long as we’ve been around. We discard our fast food on the ground and atop over-flowing garbage bins, leaving it to rot. And we have the balls to call the birds that pick at our litter dirty?

Seagulls aren’t dirty. We are. They’ve simply adapted to the food source readily available to them. They’re actually cleaning up after us (and to their own detriment).

I love seagulls. They are beautiful birds with mournful cries. They remind me of the sea, of boats clanking and of freedom.

On the other hand, people who litter and people who call seagulls dirty birds remind me that we are not taking responsibility for what we’re doing to our own planet.

So, dear person, don’t hate seagulls. Look at the source of the filth – humans! – before you start pointing fingers at the creatures that have to endure us.

Love Shannon.

 
 
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I heard a story recently about a couple who married and then divorced six months later. Though they lived together, he bought their new home and she kept her previous home. They played it safe. They weren’t sure, and so they created a safety net that ultimately made the split logistically easy for them. 

Their story made me wonder if emotional safety nets are reasonable? And how do we best use them? The purpose of these nets is to create a safe place to land if we fall. Good examples might include:

  • Saving enough money to quit your job
  • Making sure you understand what you and your partner want out of life before committing for life
  • Nurturing relationships with family and friends who will support you when you succeed and when you fail

So, yes, it’s reasonable to create a safety net. They allow us to take chances because we feel safe knowing even if we fall, we have a soft place to land. 

But how do we know the difference between a good and a bad safety net? We’re so good at convincing ourselves that we’re making smart decisions, especially when we can back up our choices with a “better safe than sorry” mentality. We sometimes use safety nets like a blanket, wrapping ourselves inside safe and warm, tangled up in our own fear of falling. 

And by falling, we mean failing, right? For example, we might stay in a job or relationship that isn’t satisfying because we’ve convinced ourselves we can’t do better. We’re afraid that if we try, we’ll fail. 

That’s not a safety net. That’s not even playing it safe. It’s something much more destructive than just being afraid to fail – we are creating an environment that ensures we’ll fail before we even try. 

I’m more afraid of being safe than I am sorry, more afraid of not learning from my failures than I am of failing. I have a deep fear that when I’m old, I’ll look back on my life and think: “Meh.” 

We’ve all read some Internet version of the top five regrets of the dying from Bronnie Wares book. If you haven’t, the moral of this book is to live your life fully, and it hits me right in the gut each time I read it. 

So this is the question I ask myself when making a tough decision: “Will I regret it when I’m 92?” And the answer is almost always no. Of course I won’t know if I’m right for another 52 years, but at least it’ll be a good conversation. Or I’ll be dead. Either way I hope there’s wine. 

 
 
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Oh, how we love to get our way, don’t we? We have all these self-imposed personal rules about the right way and the wrong way to get things done. And I’m not talking about the big stuff (murder, working on Wall Street, etc). I’m talking about inconsequential things like how to do dishes, respond to an RSVP, take a photo. 

Not like that, but like this. If we have decided that things should be a certain way – and let’s be honest, that way is our way – and those things turn out to be some other way, we pout, stomp our feet, and fight to get our way.  

What’s wrong with another way? Nothing. Nothing at all. It’s just not our way. 
I have two stories about this. 

We’ll call the first one dishes, my dad and who can sigh the loudest. So there I am doing the dishes at Dad’s place. My father, forever the supervisor, comes over and tells me I’m doing the dishes wrong.
  • Me: (Annoyed sigh.) What are you talking about? 
  • Him: (Sanctimonious sigh.) You should do the glasses first.
  • Me: (Smug sigh.) I hate doing the cutlery, so I get it out of the way.
  • Him: (Chiding sigh.) But that’s not the right way.
  • Me: (Super annoyed sigh.) Who cares? As long as they’re clean, it doesn’t matter. 
  • Him: (Super chiding sigh.) It does.
  • Me: (Whiney sigh.). Why?
  • Him: (Super sanctimonious sigh.) Because it’s the right way to do them. 
  • Me: (Defeated sigh.) I love you, but go away, Dad. 

(Side story! Sighing in my family is an art form. For example, the first sigh in the dialogue was rich with history, and meant “oh no, here we go again – what am I doing wrong now?” And he knew it, that’s why his sigh meant “for crying out loud – why do you have to argue with me? Just do the dishes properly.”) 

But I digress. We were talking about how my Dad was totally in the wrong, right? He was. But so was I. I could have easily changed my routine, but doing the cutlery first was my rule and I was sticking to it. 

Now, let’s call the second story OMG. I’ve turned into my father. So there I am, 15 years later, in my fourth or fifth year of marriage. I’m away on a business trip. I call home to see how my husband and step-son are doing. My step-son answers the phone and immediately tells me that they haven’t eaten any vegetables since I left and that the house is a mess. My husband gets on the phone and says there were green peppers on the pizza, but that the rest of the story is true. He adds: “It’s nice when you’re not here because we don’t have to follow all of your rules.” 

I was devastated. It’s nice when I’m not there? Ouch. But I also felt I deserved it because I did have a lot of rules and I was sanctimonious about them. I thought my way was right. I had turned into my father. I decided right then and there to knock that shit off. 

And I have struggled with it ever since. I watch people doing tasks and squirm from the effort to keep my opinion to myself. It is deep within me to point out what people are doing wrong. I grew up being told I was doing things wrong. I grew up surrounded by people who were right, even when they weren’t, and so it’s no surprise that I turned out the same way. But I don’t want to be that way. 

I don’t want to be so weighted by my own rules that I bury myself under them. I want to care that the dishes are clean, not how they got that way. I want to be open to new ideas and ways of doing things. I want to spend more time caring about the big things, not the little things. And I want the people around me to think it’s nice when I’m around, not when I’m away. 

 
 
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I’ve read a bunch of articles on dating and relationships – from top 10 lists to carefully weighted research papers. The commonly cited reasons for why relationships fail? Lack of trust, reality, communication and commitment. 

That feels right. We’ve all experienced those relationship problems first or second-hand. 

But long before we’ve even bought into a relationship, we’ve spent time shopping around for the right partner and here’s the problem: 

We can be terrible, terrible shoppers.

Our insecurities and baggage lead us into making shitty selections from the shitty section of the shitty partner store. Over and over. And that's why many relationships fail. 

Example? You betcha! 

For a long time, I was attracted to jealous men because their possessiveness made me feel loved. But I also hated feeling controlled, and I didn’t fully understand the situation, so it never worked out. 

But because I was attracted to jealous men, I unknowingly narrowed my choices. Even if I chose the very best one, he was still going to be jealous and …

I was still choosing a shitty guy from the shitty guy section of the shitty partner store.

It’s dangerous when we don’t see the pattern for what it is – a clue to the real problem – because we see the pattern as reality and we condemn ourselves to repeat it. We’re all insecure in some way. We all have baggage. True. But we don’t have to keep repeating the same mistakes. 

It took me a while to figure out that I was the only common denominator in my failed relationships, that I was looking for jealous men, and not that all men were jealous. It took me even longer to figure out why I needed men to prove their love for me in this way. But I did. (Fucking YAY that day. Seriously.) 

It’s so easy to blame the other person, but …

That won't help. The answers aren't out there. They're inside. We need to look at ourselves. Which is scary, right? Because we have to accept our own flaws. 

But if we're at the point where we’re routinely making grand statements like "men/women are all cheaters! There are no good men/women left! Men/women never commit!" then we need to do the work. We need to ask why we keep choosing the same type rather than blindly blaming the other person. 

We have to face our insecurities. We have to unpack our baggage. And that sucks. But to paraphrase Edison: 

You've not failed. You've just found 10,000 ways that didn't work. 

Only when we've done the work will be able to see our choices for what they are – shitty. And then – after a lengthy road to being a better shopper – we can deal with all the other regular relationship issues. : ) 

 
 
According to University of Arizona psychologist Matthias Mehl, small talkers are happier than non-small talkers. But meaningful talkers are the happiest of them all.  

Mehl and a team of researchers eavesdropped on people to see if what they talked about could be linked in any way to happiness. Based on 23,000 conversations that were analyzed for “the interplay of personality, conversational style and happiness,” the findings were clear:

“Happy people spend significantly more time talking to others in general, but engage in much less small talk (than dissatisfied people) and have about twice as many meaty conversations.”

Meaty conversations? Yes, please!
We interact with strangers pretty often – at parties, at work, when travelling. People we have to connect with on some level surround us, and that level is often superficial (weather, traffic/travel routes, how busy/tired we are). Snore.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Of every conversation you are part of, you own 50% right off the bat. Talk about what matters to you.

I get pretty deep with people right away (my grandmother always said I was nosy. I like to think I’m curious). At parties, I ask about politics, philosophy, human behaviour or whatever else comes to mind. At work, I ask about what people love about what they do. When travelling, I ask about where people have been and what they’ve learned.

Maybe it’s you?
I asked a small talk expert, my hairdresser, what she thought about it. She said that she actually quit at one point because she couldn’t take the small talk anymore. She just didn’t give a shit about what people were doing for Thanksgiving anymore. She was bored of the boring people. Fair enough. But then five months later, she realized she missed the interesting people and the social connection.

She might be on to something. Mehl’s study showed that “the happy life is social rather than solitary.” So, sure, there are boring people who will small talk you to death. But sift through. There are some interesting folks out there.

And if you haven’t found them yet, maybe try being more interesting yourself to make up for it. Become the happiest, most-meaningful talker in town. And then come visit me. : )

 
 
Monogamy is a form of relationship in which an individual has only one partner. This can work well if both partners honestly discuss and agree to the terms. But I think reality shows that this isn’t happening – neither monogamy nor the discussions around it.

Monogamy is just sort of assumed for the most part. And for those of you who have tried to bring up the idea of something other than monogamy, you know the reaction can be quite severe. You are accused of being immoral and you are judged for being different. 

I know because I’ve tried. And I’ve tried because I’m not sure how realistic monogamy is within the confines of our expectations, which include being together forever. And I’m not sure all of the reasons for monogamy have anything to do with two people loving each other.

I’m about to simplify the situation. I know. But I do believe these are the core tenets that have allowed monogamy to flourish unchecked in the Western world for many years:
  • Tradition. My parents’ parents’ parents (etc.) got married, stayed married and were faithful to each other. 
  • Ownership. I love you therefore no one else gets to have you and vice-versa. 
  • Insecurity. If you are allowed to be with other people, you will find someone better and leave me. 
  • Fairytale. The foolish belief that if you are in love, you will not want to have sex with other people. 

Monogamish
Dan Savage talks a lot about monogamy being ridiculous, and one of his ideas really hits home for me:

We view monogamy like virginity. You can be monogamous, but once you fuck someone else, you’ve broken your monogamous hymen. We should view monogamy like sobriety. You can fall off the wagon a few times, but still be mostly monogamous.

And that’s where monogamish comes in – it’s a form of relationship in which an individual makes one partner a priority, but may have, from time to time, dalliances outside of the relationship.

I participate in a monogamish relationship, the terms of which are this:
  • We cannot have affairs
  • We cannot have serial one-nighters
  • We can be human

It’s that last term that most confuses people. But for us, it’s simple. We have permission to be human. To be imperfect. We have permission to fuck up; not permission to fuck.

We aren’t comfortable with affairs or serial one-nighters, but we aren’t comfortable with how unrealistic all-out monogamy is either. So we have agreed to love and trust each other and to make our relationship a priority, and we’ve agreed that if we sleep with someone else and it means nothing, then it means nothing, and does not have to ruin a perfectly good relationship.  

Do we have it all figured out? Nope. And that’s okay. What we do have is an honest relationship where hopefully we can talk it all out. Today monogamish works for us as we’ve defined it together. The definition may change in the future, but as long as we keep talking about it, I think we stand a chance of nurturing a pretty fantastic partnership. And that doesn’t have anything to do with monogamy, ish or otherwise.

 
 
I've been railing against anti-feminism sentiment and action for a long time now. I know most of the hard work has already been done – to the suffrage and bra-burning women I say thank you. But there is still work to do.

  • We still don’t earn equal pay for equal work. On average, women make 20% less than men.
  • We still don’t have equal education or career opportunities. Women currently hold 5% of Fortune 500 CEO positions and 5.3% of Fortune 1000 CEO positions. (And 95% of Fortune 500 CEO positions are held by Caucasians.)
  • We still suffer from sexual harassment and sexual assault on the street, at the office and in our homes. We are still too often blamed for the abuse.
  • We still have Miss America for fuck sakes.

And I’m only talking about the western world. These are just some of the things happening in our own backyards. We still have a long way to go.

But I have an easy ask. I've been wondering what one specific change we could all take on that would help elevate respect for women in general. And it came to me: stop calling women girls. 

I think it’s something we can all do. It may seem small, maybe even pointless, but it’s not, because women are not girls and to call them girls is belittling.

When you call a man a boy do you mean it as a compliment? Not likely. 

So the next time you are about to call a woman a girl, stop and correct yourself. If you just called a woman a girl, take it back. Correct yourself.

That’s it. That’s all I ask. 

Thanks. 

 
 
There are hundreds of stupid idioms – more than you can shake a stick at (see what I did there?). But these seven get on my nerves the most because they are wrong, long-winded or just downright confusing.

So, from least annoying to most annoying, here are my top seven irritating idioms:

7. When it rains, it pours
No. It doesn’t. Sometimes it’s just a sprinkle.

6. The blind leading the blind
That’s just mean to blind people.

5. Six of one; half dozen of the other
It’s such a cumbersome way to indicate your indifference. I have a much faster, less verbose response for you: “I don’t care.” Try it.

4. No room to swing a cat
What sort of cruel measurement system is this?

3. To make a long story short
This is always a lie. Always.        
                                                                             
2. ‘Til the cows come home
Cows don’t go anywhere. You never see a cow get dressed up to go to the theatre. They don’t go on vacation. They mostly stand around chewing some grass they started eating four hours ago. Cows are always home.

1. Small World
This idiom has been my least favourite for a long time. It's often used when two people discover they both know a third person they didn’t know they both knew. How this affects the size of the world, I’m not sure, but we’ve all heard the story:
  • Person 1: Blah blah blah at some fucking wedding or something.
  • Person 2: My cousin Steve was at the same fucking wedding or something.
  • Person 1: Steve? Oh my god – I went to basket weaving class with him in the 90s.
  • Person 2: Oh my god – I’ve known him since he was born. And you know him, too? Small world, eh? 
  • Person 1: Totally. I feel like this connection we’ve just made is really impactful, like, on a global scale, therefore I agree and also claim the world as officially small.
  • Person 2: I actually just felt the walls around me shrinking. 

I’m not a scientist or anything, but I’m pretty sure the network of people you know or don’t know has zero impact on the size of the fucking world. Idioms, as with most things related to humans, are a little narcissistic. 

So, in short, don’t be that guy. Just say what you mean and mean what you say. Mum’s the word on idioms – don’t use that mumbo-jumbo. 

And no swinging cats, okay? Use a measuring tape. 

 
 
Our stories make up who we are. They are about what and who inspired us, changed us, scared us, amused us, opened our eyes and our hearts and turned us into who we are today.

Sometimes we remember our stories; sometimes they are remembered for us.

For example, my brother remembers the story of when we were about six and four and a neighbor busted us for dancing on the roof of our four-story building completely naked at 5:30 a.m.

The way my brother tells the story, our logic was this:
  • Mum is sleeping and we don’t want to wake her to ask if we can go the roof.
  • Mum wouldn’t want us to get our pajamas dirty. 
  • Therefore, we should just go on the roof naked without waking her. 

The way Mum tells the story is with a sense of pride and wonderment for having such kids’ll-be-kids kids who managed to stay alive despite having no rational fears of heights or getting into trouble.

And the way the neighbor tells the story might be different, too. She obviously felt distressed enough to get dressed and come across the street at a god-awful hour to ring our bell and chastise my mother for sleeping while her kids were dangerously careening upon the roof and, she added, for raising hippy kids.

Why do the differing perspectives matter? Our stories influence who we become, because they are biased by each story that came before. Had my mother’s reaction been different, had we been micro-managed after dancing naked on the roof, our story would be different, and importantly, so too would every story have been different afterwards.

If this story happened in another family, the story might be told as a cautionary tale – never let your children out of your sight/lock all the doors and windows at night.

But in my family, it’s told with love and amusement, and it is that attitude that shaped us, that attitude that permeates our  story. Certainly we were told to never go on the roof again, but we were still allowed to explore and wander and come back with tales of adventure.

Mum often sums her story with a wave of her hand and this statement: “No harm done. After all, they were just dancing.” And I love this declaration because it kind of says as long you're dancing, you'll be all right.

 
 
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Steve Martin in The Jerk is the only acceptable jerk.
The following four jerks are getting on my nerves, and I thought I'd share it with you in the hopes that sharing my irritation will alleviate it. Or maybe these jerks will read this and stop their jerky behaviour. Or maybe I'm just venting to vent. In any case, and without further adieu, here are my top four jerks (of the moment):


1. Uber-mini, frayed jean short-wearing jerks. Stop accosting me with your bushy-beaver-styled shorts, ladies. You know that right? That the frayed bit looks like a bushy beaver? It does. And it’s terrible. Knock that shit off.  

2. Jerk hairdressers. You know the type – when you show them a picture of the haircut you want, they say: “You know you won’t look like her, though, right?”

Oh – you mean a new haircut won’t make me look like Michelle Williams? I won’t suddenly be 5'3” with the perfect pout and a B cup? My eye colour and face shape won’t change? So you are saying this $90 haircut isn’t a total fucking makeover?

Oh. I had no idea. I guess I won’t bother then.

Or … you can cut my hair to look like Michelle Williams’ hair and let’s quietly assume we both know you aren’t a:
  1. Plastic surgeon or 
  2. Psychologist 

Just cut my fucking hair.

3. “I’m not a racist, but …” jerks. Yes – you are. Starting your sentence off with a denial does not make the rest of your racist comment less racist. Go on home and watch Fox News, your preferred corporate-purchased media creation with its news models sharing gorgeous stories about how minorities created the financial crisis and rah-rah white America. Yay racism, oops, I mean news!  

4. Jerks who say “first world problem” when you complain about stuff. I get it. My car breaking down is not as bad as the incarceration of Palestinians right now or the mass bigotry in Ferguson, but a broken-down car still sucks and I think I’m allowed to vent for five minutes.

Also, you’re an inconsiderate dink. Why don’t you go take another selfie and post it with the tagline: “I don’t actually know what’s happening in the world. LMAO!” Which actually is a first world problem.

And speaking of venting ...
I feel better. Do you feel better? Or do you feel like I missed important jerk categories?

Indeed, there are a billion kind of jerks, but in an effort to not spend my entire week writing about them, which would put me in a foul mood and turn me into more of a jerk than I normally am, I focused on four. Trust there are more coming, people. Trust.