Sunday, January 29, 2017

Social media experiment: Good vibes all around

In an effort to recognize good humans doing good things, I have decided to set myself a little task…

I will post a memory about every single one of my friends on Facebook, and reflect on their impact, on me or on the world at large. It is my hope that in doing so, I can make better use of social media to achieve what the technology was intended to do... strengthen human connection.

Okay, I always knew she was a bit of a weirdo... Why?

Social media is a strange phenomenon. I often wonder about its power and influence on our lives and our perceptions of human existence. How can it be that it is simultaneously so simple to connect and yet so distant from anything resembling actual social interaction in real life?

Stay in touch! Don't forget to write!

I am bad at staying in touch. I always have been. Friends come into life because of circumstance or shared interests and then fade away towards other things. Life evolves. New chapters open. People move on. The strange thing about modern life is that people who would have blurred into foggy memory in previous generations now stare through my screen every day in sharp relief.

I look at Facebook every day. Sometimes, after my kids are asleep, I sit on the couch and scroll through on my phone, clicking through news articles, blog posts, videos, photos, and anything else that the algorithm knows I want to see. I click on things that make me angry, or make me laugh. I always feel afterwards like I have wasted valuable time. I could have done something more productive, or more useful.

Now, more than ever, we all need a digital hug

I wake up now to news I don’t like. What used to feel like a casual meander through the news feed while sipping my morning coffee has turned into a cloud of blind rage. People in my echo-chamber are pissed, and with good reason. I could just stop. Log off. Delete my account. I’ve seriously considered it; bunker down and wait for the storm to pass. That doesn’t feel right. I need to see, to learn, and to be involved in any way I can.

It isn’t all doom and gloom. I also see work and dedication and beauty and progress. I see people I met a decade and a half ago who have become active professionals, and parents, and are working everyday to fix problems. That’s not gloomy, it’s inspirational!

My little social media experiment

I don’t want to share negativity. I want to recognize grace. If I am going to be dinking around on social media, I want to change the way I use it so that I can actually build a social connection through more than “liking” posts.

I have been on Facebook for about fourteen years. In that time, I have gathered just about 800 friends. Some of them I know very well and speak to on a regular basis. With others, our lives touched in person only briefly, over a summer or at a party, or some other random chance.

In an effort to recognize good humans doing good things, I have decided to set myself a little task. I will post a memory about every single one of my friends on Facebook, and reflect on their impact, on me or on the world at large. It is my hope that in doing so, I can make better use of social media to achieve what the technology was intended to do... strengthen human connection.

Mary Frances

(Side note re. privacy: If for any reason you are reading your name attached to this little experiment of mine and would rather not be included, just let me know and I will remove the post asap, no hard feelings)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Parking in Iceland: A Primer

I like to consider myself a reasonably well-traveled lady. I have been fortunate to enjoy a fair few places in my three decades on this earth. I have seen and experienced a range of languages, cultures, food, celebrations, music, dancing, and the daily grind from South East Asia to Europe, to Saharan Africa, and the Pacific Islands.

My point in bringing this up is not to brag or rub it in your face how lucky I am to have seen all these amazing places, but rather to lend myself credibility in your that you will believe me when I tell you that in all my relatively vast globe trotting adventures, I have never seen more atrocious parking than in my dear adopted nation of Iceland.

When I lived in Seattle, seeing a parking guard writing a ticket used to fill me with a sense of compassion mixed with a twinge of sadness. I would think, "Oh, that poor guy. Getting a ticket sucks! He's probably right around the corner, and he's like five minutes over the meter, and that mean cop is giving him a ticket. Shitty luck."

It wasn't until moving to Iceland when the sight of a parking guard writing a ticket put a smile on my face. Now it makes me gitty. It's exhilarating. A thrill. I want to go up and shake the ticket writer's hand and give him a pat on  the back. "Keep up the good work, buddy! You're doing great!"

Icelanders follow their own rules about parking. I have taken the liberty of writing them down for you, so you may better understand the ways and customs of our people.

Here we see our Prime Minister, Sigmundur Davið Gunnlaugsson, following the basic rules for Icelandic parking to the letter. You're an inspiration, Simmi D. A true inspiration to us all!

1. If there is not already a car there, it's a spot. 
This is the basic principle that governs all parking logic in Iceland: I am in a car. I want to go to place "X" so I drive as close to X as my car can take me, and then I find a place where there is not already a car, and put my car there. Voila! Parked! All other parking rules fall under the umbrella of rule #1.

2. Signs and markings are more like suggestions 
When witnessing the effects of  rule #1 of Icelandic parking, an outsider might be inclined to point out to the driver in question that there are signs indicating where society has deemed it appropriate to park and where it has not. Moreover, there are often painted lines on the ground to serve the same purpose. Here we see the trump effects of rule #1 in action. Assume that the "but I wanted to go there" logic will win out in every case.

3. The rules are for other people. 
So why the signs and lines mentioned in rule #2? Comeon! We are not barbarians! We understand that if everyone just parked wherever the hell they wanted, society would fall into chaos. We would all be stuck in a constant traffic jam; a confused mess of dented doors and honking horns and congestion. We absolutely need the signs and lines so everybody can get the places they need to go and do what they need to do. Just not me.

4. The bigger your car, the more important it is, and by extension, the more important you are. 
Let's be real, people. I have a teeny tiny penis. I mean, we're talkin' hung like a double A battery kind of small. To make myself feel more important and domineering, I bought a ginormous Land Rover on credit. I earned the right to put my giant cock SUV wherever I want to put it. I can drive through rivers. Can your little car do that? I'd bet not. My car is so big, I basically need two spaces anyway, so I will just park in the middle. I'm actually doing a favor to the other cars, since if I tried to pull into one of those tight little spots with all my massiveness, I might hurt your unfortunate small car.

5. If your wheels can drive on it, it's "road" enough to park on. 
There's a fine line between "sidewalk" and "street." This line is typically called a "curb." As we learned in rule #4, the bigger your car, the more important you are, and the concepts of curbs start to matter less and less. If your wheels are large enough to carry your car up the curb, you've got yourself a parking spot! The same principle applies to areas bearing zero resemblance to a "road" as we commonly use the word. By which I mean, fields, highlands, beaches, the median, streams, glaciers...if your wheels can take you there, it's for driving, and thus...parking!

*Note: If you are confused about the basic Icelandic parking rules, or find yourself asking the question, "Really? Do Icelanders park like that?" I refer you to the sterling guidelines provided on the facebook page "Lærðu að Leggja!!" (translation: "learn to park!!") where you can peruse some excellent crowd-sourced examples of the Icelandic parking rules in action, executed precisely as intended.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

2 X @ 65°N

Iceland is one of the best places on the planet to have a pussy. Or, I should say, one of the best places to be a woman, since we all know that our junk doesn't have as much to do with our gender as folks used to think (thank you Caitlin Jenner and Buck Angel). 

It's not just a hunch, this is science, people. The gender inequity index is used by the United Nations Development Program as a way to measure the health of a society when it comes to things like reproductive health services, empowerment, and access to the labor market...There are a whole bunch of indices like this that aim to categorize, measure, and rank developmental progress over time. When applied to nations, Iceland kicks ass every time. Safe to say that on a global scale, Iceland is way ahead of the game when it comes to treating women like people. 

Keeping in mind that I come from a country of transvaginal ultrasounds, legitimate rape, victim-blaming, and an equal pay amendment that has been shelved so often my grandmother burned her bra fighting for the damned thing when she was my age…anything above a burka on the whole gender equality spectrum can sometimes feel like moving to a post-feminist utopia. 

As the proud owner of both a pussy and rational common sense, I have been a feminist as long as I can remember. Even if I was not, I think it is impossible to move to this country and not incorporate a staunch feminist perspective into your worldview. For instance, when receiving her/his kennitala and residence permit, each new Icelander is automatically linked to Hildur Lilliendahl's twitter account, and then receives a militant feminist starter kit, complete with the collected works of Gloria Steinem, a 'this is what a feminist looks like' tee-shirt, a round of Plan B, a butt plug with "patriarchy" written up the side, and a pair of woolen red stockings. 

In truth, living here, working here, parenting here, gender is just a part of the conversation. It's in the air, and deeply ingrained in the culture. This has developed over time, and it has been a struggle for people here for generations. This week we celebrate the 100 year anniversary of women's suffrage in Iceland. Offices and schools are closing so we mothers, sisters, and daughters and friends can go march downtown and pay homage to the women who marched for rights before us and battles we are still fighting.

It wasn't long ago that daily life was drastically different for women in Iceland. What fascinates me is how quickly things can change when people decide to take a stand for what's right. Parallels can be drawn with the gay right's movement, which within a generation moved from serious taboo to one of the largest points of national pride. The size of the place must have something to do with the speed at which social progress can take place here. We all know somebody who is gay or trans, and of course we all have mothers. In a small society, the wrath of public opinion cuts deep. 

I have some theories about why Iceland is so progressive in terms of gender equality, which basically boil down to the fact that the women are fierce and the men are smart. And also, the people here are practical and must realize that equal treatment is good for everyone in the long run.

Let's start in 1975. On a regular, boring (probably cold and windy) October day that year, 90% of the women in Iceland went on strike. They refused to cook, clean, take care of kids, leaving bewildered husbands to fend for themselves. Women from all ages and walks of life gathered together for a quiet protest. If the Icelandic women I know are any indication, this must have been simultaneously the classiest and most rational protest in history. It was also massively effective. Five years later, Iceland elected Europe's first female president, Vigdis Finnbogadottir. 

(Vigdis, btw, is a serious bad ass. Personally, I fell head over heels for her when I heard about the time during the campaign for the presidency when Vigdis, a cancer survivor, was asked if having only one breast would make the job of the presidency harder, responded, "I had not planned to breastfeed the nation." Unleash the dragons, Khaleesi is coming to Westeros!!!)

I imagine that some of the women who made the decision to strike (or, take a "day off" as they chose to call it back then) had a hard time making the decision to do so. When you push back against a culture representing all you've ever known, the thought process and decision to take action must be terrifying. 

The thing is, young Icelandic women are still at it. And it's like witnessing a force of nature to watch the mountains these fearless, empowered women can shake! In the past few years, Iceland has seen the emergence of slut-walking, nipple-freeing, fadu-ja-ing. Women here are still pushing the conversation. Still illuminating for the rest of us the cracks in our societal structure. 

As Emma Watson likes to say, gender equality isn't a women's issue. It makes me wonder about Icelandic men. What did they think when they were left with armfuls of laundry and a bunch of screaming, hungry children? I imagine that if it were me in that situation, I would be furious....and then really fucking humble really fucking fast. Evolution in thought about big issues like equality and justice has to take place in minds and hearts of all people for progress to manifest. Icelandic men must have felt the struggle, too.  They must have appreciated, and empathized in a real, tangible way, how hard it was to walk in a woman's shoes. And not just because of the pinchy toes and high heels.

So, here's the bad news...the uncomfortable little irritation in our collective progressive, chart-topping pussies. We know Iceland leads the world in this whole gender equality stuff, but we are still not there. The Gender Gap Index of 2014, scores total equality at 1.0, and Iceland (best in the world, mind you) scored (drumroll) a whopping 0.895.

We have a pay gap. Even here, in my post-feminist utopia. In 2015. I hear so many stories of unfair treatment in the workplace or in business that make you stop and think, "No! Not in Iceland! You are supposed to be better than this!" 

Even one orange or yellow facebook profile picture is too much.

There is still a big problem here with micro aggression (good theoretical framework...look it up. Basically, it is a "brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership") Like the time at my work when I told an older male colleague that I was going to a conference with him and he said, "Oh, are you going to be there to get my coffee?" 

OR, the time a fellow pussy-owner and her male partner expressed interest in the same (exact) car and the same (yes, the same exact) dealer offered it to him for 50 thousand cheaper. Why, my friend asked. "It is an automatic, so it is more desirable for women to drive, since it is easier" (ack! where's my patriarchy butt plug when I need it?!)

OR another friend, who was offered a one of three open positions with the same employer. The other two new-hires were offered contracts to sign immediately, and she was told she would need to wait to sign hers until after she comes back from maternity leave. 

My mother in law says it will take generations to change. I don't doubt it will. It's never over; it is an evolution of thought and attitude. It is changing a culture. It is progress, development of humanity. The battles this generation has to fight are different than the ones our mothers and grandmothers faced. The spirit and sacrifice of those women and men should reverberate in all our hearts as we mark the anniversary of women's suffrage here in Iceland. 

But when my Icelandic five-year old daughter busts out in song, belting out a feminist anthem (Afram stelpur) at the breakfast table last weekend, I am proud to live in a place where she has the power to speak up. In Iceland, we women mother-loving do! 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Tyrany of Tiny: Viking heart in a cute little package

Be warned, Iceland, your toes are about to get stepped on by a loud, pushy American. 

Any conversation about life and culture in Iceland exists against the backdrop of its size. By which I mean, it is impossible to move discussion forward in a meaningful way without a nod to the size of Iceland and the impacts that size has on its people and culture. So bear with me a moment, while I respectfully and with the deepest love possible, tear this tiny little island to pieces with my big-bossy-loud-mouthy American perspective on things.

Most of the time, Icelanders could do with a big bite of Humble Pie. There is an inflated, Viking-like sense of self-importance that has often landed our cute little nation in some seriously hot water. I mean, if you look at a map of the world, Iceland is in the center at the very top. No wonder we think we're The Shit. 

Truth telling time. 

To begin with, more people live in Wichita, Kansas than the whole of Iceland. There are roughly 320,000 people living here now, about two-thirds of whom are in the “capital area” which includes Reykjavik and the surrounding municipalities. You could drive around the whole country in 24 hours. To do that, you would just hop on Highway 1 (you know, because there is just the one, really, and it’s pretty much all paved…mostly….) and then drive either clockwise, or counterclockwise (if you are feelin’ freaky) and go until you end up where you started. So, both in terms of population and geography, Iceland isn’t all that big. 

Living here warps your perspective of space and time. I grew up out in the boonies, with chickens and pigs and sheep and whatnot. When we needed to go to the grocery store, it was a 20 minute drive. I commuted 45 minutes each way in rush hour to get to my high school. If you were to start in any populated space in Iceland and drive for 45 minutes in any direction, you would end up in the middle of a lava field, up a glacier, or deep in a fjord somewhere. In Iceland, the “other side of town” is never more than a 15 minute drive, but because it is as far as you can possibly go before you it barren wilderness, it feels like the other side of the planet. The result is a distorted sense of distance and the time it should take you to get to the place you want to go. I have been in an Icelandic traffic jam. It feels just as frustrating as sitting in traffic anywhere, but I contest that unless you have been in a *real* traffic jam, say on a five lane highway stuck for two hours in the US, you don’t get to bitch about a 10 minute delay on your way to work. 

Icelandic traffic jam.

Also, sorry to bust your bubble, folks, but Reykjavik isn’t a city, it is a town. And a cute one at that. My first ever trip to Iceland was in the summer of 2006. As I wandered the streets of Reykjavik, I kept commenting, “Oh my gosh, look at how cute that house is!” and “Oh how sweet, there’s a little square with people playing games, cute!” and “Awe, there’s a little cute pond with ducks and stuff!” Much to the irritation of my companion, who turned to me and said, “Stop saying everything is cute! We’re VIKINGS!” Riiiiight. Noted. And all these years later, I still think this is the most adorable little town I have ever seen. And also very tough. You’re a tough witto Weykjavik, aren’tchoo? Sweet colorful woofs. D’awwww.

When you live here, it is easy to slip into the feeling that Iceland is the whole world.  Iceland has a big heart in a cute little package. The best way I can describe the Icelandic pride is to compare it to Small Dog Syndrome, which according to Urban Dictionary is, “A disease usually exhibited by those of small stature, in which they constantly threaten to 'beat the shit out of' people many times their size. The name is derived from the fact that many breeds of small dog (ex. chihuahuas) are usually vicious, yet they can do no real harm.” 

Maybe because it is small, maybe because it is young, Iceland is like a teenager that finally has the keys to the car, and is fiercely determined to do whatever the fuck it wants. As anyone who has read Halldor Laxness can attest, independence is one of the most fiercely guarded virtues of the country, even when it is to the detriment of people here. 

When paired with national pride, this stubborn independence can have preposterous effects. We Icelanders will proudly tell you all about the time we defeated the British Empire back in the Cod Wars of ’73.  We think that there is a chance that maybe this time, just maybe, we could beat Germany in football. Stranger things have happened. We think, “Hey, this international banking thing isn’t so hard. We can make a shit-ton of money!” (aaand, cue total economic collapse and ensuing disaster) We think, “Fuck you, European Union! Eat me, IMF, I don’t wanna pay you back! I can hunt whales if I want to! Don’t tell me what to do! I don’t even want the Euro! It totally makes sense for an isolated island with less than 400,000 people that survives on international trade to have its own unique currency! Fine, I am going to my room, I wish I was never born!” You get the picture. 

Then there are the effects of living in a tightly knit community, which can be good or bad, depending on your perspective. I choose to like it. In a small place like Iceland, there is essentially no privacy. No anonymity. Everybody knows everybody else, or at least knows a common friend or relative. The first thing Icelanders ask when they meet one another for the first time is where they are from. This is an attempt to map out a common relation. “Oh, you grew up in Isafjörður. My cousin moved there. Do you know Siggi Spess?” It might also be why some Icelanders find it so difficult to connect with foreigners, and why some others are drawn in like magnets. I am convinced that this is the only place on earth where a chick from my neck of the woods could possibly be considered “exotic.”

If you live here, you will always run into someone you know, bump into an acquaintance, stop and chat, get invited for a coffee, catch up on gossip, so on. Here, mistakes are forgiven, because we are all one another has. You could decide to hold a grudge against your neighbor forever, but really? Who has the energy? Hate is so exhausting. Much easier to just move on and tolerate one another. Since everybody knows everything about everybody else, a polite veneer covers social interactions. You don’t say what you actually think (unless you know your companions share your views, in which case, Icelanders can gossip and bitch like nobody’s business!) for fear that someone in earshot may be deeply offended. 

My first experience of this was in a class in which we were discussing if Icelanders should, as recently occurred, shoot polar bears who float over from Greenland and stumble, confused, onto our shores. Someone said that, no, it is wrong to shoot polar bears because they are not doing so well in the wild, and we should explore another solution. To which a lady in the class said, “Hey! It was my brother who shot that bear! He was a danger to his children! What was he supposed to do?!” Whenever you open a door in Iceland, you see yourself on the other side.

And finally, when it comes to professional life, in a small society like Iceland, ambition and work ethic actually mean something. Since there are so few people here, if you decide that you want to learn how to do something, you simply find a way to learn it. If you do well and work hard, you can pretty quickly become a national expert. So, basically, if you want to live the American dream, move to Scandinavia! Or not.

Personally, I choose to revel in this tiny place. Though it is sometimes hilarious to watch, the pride of the Icelanders is endearing. The stubbornness to survive this harsh place is part of what makes Icelanders who they are. And having lived through the winters here...I can say they earned it. Rage on, little Viking. Rage on!

Happy 17th of June :)