Why People Who Don’t Fit In Should Never Fuck Off

As I roll to a stop at a red light after a particularly long day, the bumper sticker assaults me, throwing itself into my mind with the finesse of your average line backer.

“Fit in or Fuck Off”, it shrieks, as if fitting in is some sort of gold-medal status we should all hope to achieve. All I can do is wonder what kind of ass has this emblazoned on their vehicle, and if they realize how horrible the world would be if everyone who didn’t fit in fucked off.

I suspect the bumper sticker refers to those who come to Canada from other countries. It’s become a bit of an ugly refrain, the litany about how “those people” should just “fit in” and leave their culture behind.

How quickly we forget.

Other than the indigenous peoples, who have been here for considerably longer than the rest of us, every single one of us originated somewhere else, and we did so since the 1600’s – or in terms of time and history, not all that long ago. And as we came we brought with us our customs, our cultures, our beliefs, our languages – and we formed a nation.

These pieces of our past continue to be seen today. My own family history is strongly German, and I can assure you that even after decades we continue to uphold certain traditions that go right back to those roots. We didn’t fit in when we arrived, and we didn’t fuck off; we contributed to the developing culture of our country by adding our own spice to the blend. And yet here we are, generations later, trying to tell others how to fit in, and how to fuck off if they don’t.

But the whole “fit in or fuck off” refrain has far wider ramifications than some ugly xenophobia as exhibited by the driver of that truck (one driven badly, I might add, pulling a u-turn in the middle of a street, apparently oblivious to anyone but themselves).

The best part of humanity is the variety. Can you imagine the absolute tedious nature of everyone “fitting in”, being the same and expressing the same thoughts and having the same goals? It sounds like some horrible science fiction movie plot, and in fact serves as the basis for some novels that use this scenario as the background for a tale of humanity gone wrong. 

Thank god my father didn’t feel the need to fit in to the sentiments of the small farming community where my sisters were born and sent them all to university, opening the world to them as young women when his fellow farmers thought this was absurd. Thank god he showed me the joy of never conforming, allowing me to tolerate a young adulthood peppered with bullying but coming out of it Teflon-tough, impervious to peer pressure and a lifetime of just not really caring what others think of me.

Thank god I’ve had a lifetime of knowing and loving iconoclastic individuals, each and every one eccentric and different and truly unique and, for me, life altering.

Fitting in – whether it’s your culture, your race, your sexual orientation, your anything, has to be the most over-rated ideal on the planet. History remembers those who dared to be different and make a difference; history celebrates those who rose above and never feared to take an unusual path; and it rarely celebrates those who strived only to be part of the “fitting in” pack.

What a depressing world it must be to think others should conform to our definitions of fitting in. What a limiting view. 

And what a hideous attempt at bullying others into conformity and uniformity.

Please don’t fit in. And don’t you dare fuck off. The world needs your brand of unique and different and unusual, whatever it is. Be proud you don’t fit in. And be strong enough to tell those that think you should to just plain fuck off.

Be the Media You Want to See in the World

It can be very easy to become disheartened. 

The past week has been a nauseating week for media watchers, as we dive deep into terrorist attacks in France and the murder of a little girl far closer to home. Many friends despaired of seeing or finding the good news (any good news), the snippets of good that can counteract the bad. And as I interacted with them I realized a couple of things.

First, let’s not be too harsh on professional media, because media does nothing more than hold a mirror up to us and catches our reflection. It’s tough to look at it sometimes, particularly when it is an ugly image of death and pain, but the truth is that we encourage media to cover those stories with every “like”, comment and share. They are telling the stories that over time we have told them we want to see – the dark and scary ones, unfortunately. 

There are so many stories of good out there – uplifting, soul-feeding wonderful stories – but media tends to only focus on the big ones of that nature, while the small acts of kindness rarely make the news; and yet the small acts of hate and anger often do. There is an imbalance there, and it’s one we can’t look to media to address: we need to do it ourselves.

Take a look at your own social media. Now, you might not be a radio host or a journalist, but in today’s world you ARE media. Every story you share is amplifying it, giving it a broader platform and wider reach.

Now, what are you sharing? Is it mostly recipes or cat photos? Is it mostly stories about amazing people doing remarkable things? Is it about acts of kindness and generosity?

Or is it mostly dark and scary stories about the unpleasant, the unfortunate or the tragic?

We all have a role to play now. Once upon a time we exerted little control over the types of stories we saw printed and aired, but now more than ever we can have a tremendous impact on how others perceive the world – just by what we choose to share and the stories we choose to tell.

Acts of kindness don’t need to be grandiose to count as good. And they don’t need to be found in professional media alone, as many of us can find examples in our own lives, and we can quickly share them on our social media, contributing to a positive feeling about our planet.

And we can also share fewer of the dark and scary stories – not because we are ignoring them but because the continual sharing and resharing of such information amplifies it in such a way that one could easily begin to despair for the good in our world. And it’s not because the good doesn’t exist, but because we have chosen to amplify the bad instead.

The truth is that we have tremendous opportunity now to be the media we want to see in the world. If we want to see more good then we need to share our own good news stories and amplify those shared by others. We can choose to acknowledge the bad news, but we can refuse to let it dominate our hearts, our minds and our social media feeds. And once you do this, it’s remarkable how the darkness seems to lift a bit and light begins to poke through.

So the next time you are feeling disheartened, convinced there is no good to be found in this world and all is lost, take a look at your own social media and see what you’ve been sharing. And if it’s dark, then share one good story from yourself or a friend instead. Find just one small good story in the news and share it. Or share a funny video, a cat photo or a really great recipe. 

Be the media you want to see in the world – and start changing how you and others see our planet, one small story at a time. The power is right at your fingertips.

May, Moments and Memories

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then these photos are worth much more than my words ever could be. This is a brief glimpse into my life, beginning on May 3, 2016, when I fled Fort McMurray with only the things that fit into my car, like 3 cats, and the things that fit into my heart, which threatened at times to burst from carrying all of it.

The moment when everything changed…

The first hotel room…

The kind gifts from the hotel in Calgary, designed to sooth a weary soul (and some cats, too)…

The realization that my community was a front page story – as a natural disaster…

The moment when I realized I thoughtfully evacuated with my lunch bag…

When they began realizing hotel beds are very comfy…

When he refused to sleep anywhere but my suitcase…

When she refused to sleep anywhere but my bed…

When he just didn’t care where he slept…

When the smoke began to clear and I got the first glimpses of my neighbourhood…

When they continued to dazzle me with their cuteness, despite the close confines of one hotel room and three cats…

When I realized they had all taken over the bed entirely…

When I knew things were going to be okay…

When I got home and knew my house was okay, but my beloved ten-year old bonsai tree was not…

When they got home and knew it was going to be okay…

When kind strangers mowed my jungle of a lawn…

When one month after the fire in early June I found a paper box holding a paper dated May 3, 2016, with the prophetic headline “Up in smoke”…

And this little blue-haired dazzler? She is what kept me going before May 3, 2016, during that fateful day and every day since, because what I learned in the end is that what matters is family, friends, furry companions and love.

Lost Together

I will never look at photos of refugees the same way again.

I don’t mean for this to sound as if I have ever lacked compassion for those people who are displaced from their countries, as that has always been present. In the weeks since May 3rd, though, my compassion has been augmented by a new understanding of the expression you often see on the faces of refugees, regardless of their nationality, because on May 3rd I was one of 94,000 people displaced by the wildfire that ravaged Fort McMurray.

We were not called refugees, but rather evacuees as we were under a mandatory evacuation notice that saw tens of thousands of residents flee our community. And while we were not political refugees or thrown into displacement by war or civil unrest, we were most certainly displaced and we shared more with refugees than we may have ever wanted to admit.

There was that thousand-mile stare you would often see in the faces of other evacuees, the look that showed they had seen things they would never forget. There was the general sense of weariness and exhaustion that emanated from us, the rapid turnover of our emotional state, quick to weep at the slightest provocation, good or bad.

We may not have fit the classic definition of refugees as we did not need to flee our nation, but in our hearts and minds there is no doubt: we were refugees driven from our homes by a natural disaster beyond our control.

Perhaps our lack of control was the most difficult part. All of us, no matter our nationality, want the ability to control our lives and our destiny. Whether we live in affluence or poverty, the desire and need to be able to direct our own path is critical to our functioning as human beings, and when it is wrested away from us I think it leads to a distinct breakdown in our mental health.

We could not control where the fire went, or how many homes it took. We could not control how long it lasted or when (or if) we could return to our homes. We could simply sit there, in hotel rooms and campers and houses belonging to friends and families and all the other places we found ourselves and watch as our destiny played out in front of us, without any ability on our part to control it.

I cannot speak for anyone else, but for myself it may well have been the part that made me feel most like a refugee.

I used to see photos of refugees as they stared off into the distance, and I wondered what they were thinking. Now I have an uncomfortable sense that I may know too well the thoughts running through their minds, although in my case at least there was some sense that I may have a home to return to. For most refugees this is not knowledge they hold, instead knowing they can never return to the place they once called home.

But even if our experience is not the same as that of refugees, the similarity is striking. A recent conversation with a friend reminded me of how difficult it was to accept help from others during those early days of evacuation, as it was a stark reminder of how our lives had changed in such a short time. And I recalled too how after about 3 weeks I stopped telling people where I was from as I found myself unable to handle the look in their eyes and their sympathy because it was overwhelming to me.

I remembered how it felt to realize I had “no fixed address”, and how suddenly that label which I thought always applied to others now applied to me, living a nomadic life as I travelled from city to city and hotel to hotel. I recalled how I felt homeless to some degree, feeling as if I was a visitor in my own life, and how attached I became to my car and my cats as they were the only pieces of home I still had with me.

It was, if you will pardon the expression, a mind fucking experience.

No wonder we struggled so much, no wonder we were (and still are) so traumatized; it wasn’t just the sight of the flames and the fire and the fear we felt, but the sense of being lost and without roots, yanked out of our homes through no act of our own and thrust into the wind, spreading far and wide across the country.

On July 3rd I celebrated one month of being home, and two months since I left it on a day when I did not know if I would have a home to return to. I have come to realize that far from being “over” this experience I am still very much processing it, feelings that I had pushed down surfacing on a regular basis and finding myself coming to a fuller understanding with each passing day. It was on July 3 that I realized that I and tens of thousands of others had experienced a taste of life as a refugee, and that I suddenly had a new perspective.

There was perhaps one good thing about the entire experience, besides the many kindnesses shown to me by those who might not understand what I was experiencing but who empathized regardless. It was the realization that while I might be lost for a while, I was not alone. With me was almost every single person in this world I love, all the refugees and evacuees just like me from a place in northern Canada called Fort McMurray.

And in that simple realization I found the strength I needed to get through.

If we were lost, we were lost together.