Wednesday, 16 May 2012

My Silver 2004 Nissan Altima 2.5S

I totalled my car last Fall.  It was a nice way to wrap up her brief existence.  The last time I saw her was when she was towed away from the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania to somewhere further into the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania.  I was headed home to Toronto for a job interview, totalled the car, got the job, and well, the rest is history.

For years, that car was my only 'home'.  It was the only stable thing in my life.  Furniture came and went; as did houses, lofts, and apartments.   But that car didn't.  It was the one thing that was mine, that didn't suck me dry with unexpected expenses, that didn't leave me sleepless with noisy neighbours, and insane landlords.  In fact, it did the opposite of all of those things.  It symbolized opportunity for me: so long as I had it (and gas and parking money), I could go anywhere.  It was the 'vehicle to my freedom', both literally and figuratively.

Now, I was raised a commuter.  We didn't consistently have a car growing up, and living in a city like Toronto, I didn't feel like it was in any way practical to have one.  The way I saw it, it was a huge expense for just a little bit of comfort and convenience.

But some things are just impossible without a car.  When I first got that car, I had intended to use her only for weekends and trips, and otherwise take transit to work.  Then you work out the numbers, and realize that being a transit user/car owner isn't cost effective.  It felt like I had to go with one or the other.  ...and since I already had the car, I just scrapped my train passes in favour of parking ones.

I'm older now.  I've learned to share, can find cheap car rentals, and know better than to equate owning a car with freedom.  If I need one, I know I can arrange for one.  In fact, and perhaps not surprisingly, I have felt ever so slightly more liberated without having my own car than when I did when I had one.  It was like the biggest piece of baggage I owned; the child whose whereabouts I had to constantly be conscious of.  I loved her.. but..

Times change, and with them, perspectives.  I used to see not having my own car as a disadvantage.  Now I see that it is a choice.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Growing Up Poor

Whenever it comes up, and I mention to someone that I was "poor" growing up, no one ever really understands what I mean.  They think I mean "poor" as in "not rich", and tell me that they were, too.

But I don't mean "poor", as in "I couldn't afford a car when I was a teenager".  No, I mean "poor", as in "I was so poor we couldn't afford socks".  We were so poor, consignment clothing was too expensive for us.  We were so poor, we went weeks without eating because it was a choice between eating or paying rent.  Often, I walked the 4 km to, and 4 km back from school because we couldn't afford bus fare.  In winter, we couldn't afford heat and toughed it out in warm clothing.  We were so poor, my elementary and high school wouldn't accept even a $10 cheque from my parents.  The administrator would call me down to the office to ask me if I could bring in cash because she didn't want to have to deal with a bounced cheque.  I've lived without furniture; I didn't have a real bed to sleep on.  I slept on an air mattress that got punctured, so I slept on a pile of sheets.  We were so poor, we were evicted I don't even know how many times; so poor that my sister and I did all of the heavy lifting when were children because we couldn't afford movers, my parents' friends deserted us, and my parents were sickly and in and out of hospitals. The longest place we lived in was filled with rats and roaches - it was over a restaurant that blasted music until 4am while I tried to sleep.  So, I would sleep in the library at school during my spare and then I'd get accused of partying too much.  Heh.

When that landlord was going to raise rent, we made a bargain with him: give us a good reference so we can at least get into a Co-Op and we'll leave without trouble.  After a few years of waiting, we got into one, thinking it would help because of the rent-geared-to-income, but even that didn't work out.  If it weren't for tenant laws, we would have been homeless: we fell half a year behind on rent, and they took us to court.  There was always something; constant damage control.  Someone died; someone in the hospital; social assistance denied/cancelled; unexpected bills.  Something.

I was poor, and not only do people not quite comprehend what I mean when I say this, they don't believe me.  But I understand.  The numbers were against us.  The likelihood of getting any education, and moving outside of those extreme poverty levels was very low.  Social systems weren't developed in a way that made it possible for someone living in extreme poverty to escape it.  They were developed to sustain it.  Example: when I started University, my dad's social worker cancelled his Disability funding (he was severely disabled from his work in a factory) because she contended that I was an able-bodied member of the family who should be contributing to the living costs, and their healthcare.  My scholarship and OSAP barely covered my school expenses, let alone familial ones with elderly, sickly parents.  I tried moving out so that my student existence would not affect their funding, but that didn't help.  I just .. did what I had to do.  I did the only thing that could be done; the thing they basically told me to do.

Anyway, well, I assure you it's all true.  So, that my sister and I are content with our financial statuses, it's because we're miles ahead of where we are coming from.  When we say that we could give away everything we have and live with nothing, it's because we have had nothing.

We're not upset, or even disappointed with life.  Just .. frustrated when it comes to telling people ... when I say poor, I mean poor...

Wednesday, 9 May 2012


Defensive drivers get into more accidents than aggressive ones.  A friend who  deals daily with people in auto-collisions just told me so.  He explained that aggressive drivers cause accidents, but that defensive drivers get into them.  I found this distressing.  He said that he toggles between both manners of driving depending on his needs.  I asked if I should switch, and he said "Nah, don't.  You're better off driving defensively."  But...

Anyway, this brought to mind an article I read a few months ago that was entitled "Upper class more likely to be scofflaws".  It was about a research study at Rotman.  "The increased unethical tendencies of upper-class individuals are driven, in part, by their more favorable attitudes towards greed," said Paul Piff, a doctoral student in psychology at UC Berkeley and lead author of the paper, published Feb. 27 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The first field study in this project was about aggressive drivers.  Upper class folk tended to be aggressive, and do things such as cut people off at 4-way stops.  These 'greedy' people also did other fun things like fail to report observed unethical actions, take more candy than their poor counterparts, withheld pertinent position information when negotiating salaries with new employees, etc...

What happens when you cut people off at an intersection?  You get to your destination faster.  When you take more candy?  You get more candy for free.  Withhold information when negotiating salaries?  You win.  That's taught in any negotiations class.  Not reporting unethical behaviour?  Well, here's the thing...  What is it to be greedy?  Is it really just greed?

Every situation above should be viewed within a game theoretical framework.  It seems silly to describe a greedy/not greedy tactic as either unethical or ethical.  If that's the case, then ... it isn't about being greedy/not, unethical/not.  It's tactical.  It's beyond good/evil; right/ wrong.  It actually becomes the educated best response, and not the intuitively incorrect one.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Hopes and Dreams

I was out of the office sick for all of last week, and spent some time chatting with an old friend to keep myself occupied.  (It gets really boring being home when you'd normally be at work.)  She told me about how she had recently run into a former peer of hers from her elementary school.  It had been about 20 years since she'd last seen him.  She remarked on how surprised she was when he told her that they used to talk all of the time, and hang out together.  She didn't remember any of that.  All she remembers distinctly were the "friends" that were emotionally abusive, and girls that made fun of her, and threw apples at her in the park.  Sadly, memories of the kind young boy with whom she spent a lot of time faded away.  ...why?

It is a fun exercise to think about everyone we do remember, and why.  It's very telling.

If you were to ask me about what my elementary school years were like, I'd tell a heroic tale of a severely under-privileged female visible-minority that fought bullies, and stood up for those who were bullied; how when I was in gr. 4, I scored higher than all the gr. 8's on diagnostic math and language skills testing; how I was unanimously voted in for Class President every year; how I never compromised my nerdiness for popularity; how I eagerly gave everything 100% effort in everything I did.  Maybe there were people who bullied me, or disliked me.  Maybe I was not as kind as I think I was.  Maybe.  But off-hand, and until someone shatters my self-image, this is how I like to remember young-Carolyn.

Every year, I fancied a different career path.  One year, it was volcanology; the next it was archaelogy.  Then I grew older, and the path to survive conflicted heavily with the path to personal interest.  I reached an impasse, and years later, I wound up ... here.

All I ever really wanted was to just travel - dive into cultures, not just visit.  Maybe this portion of my childhood-ever-shifting-dreams is still salvageable.
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