Have Patience with Life

I am often the person my friends come to for sage advice. I apparently have a way with words and I make my friends feel good about themselves. They feel safe, secure and comfortable in my presence. I always took this to be the highest praise that anyone has ever heaped upon me. Often though, I don’t listen to my own advice. Today is one of those days where I gave some advice to a friend, but also a day when I am going to try to heed it.

 

My good friend, a beautiful, gentle and genuinely sweet individual who has suffered greatly in the last few years with the loss in close succession of both her parents messaged me because she was feeling quite low and disappointed. The reason: having taken two years out following her completion of college (and coping with loss and getting things in order) she had her application for the master’s she had set her sights on rejected. She was stuck, unsure if she should give up on the idea altogether or take another year. She was impatient.

 

My advice, which is very poignant for me at this time in my life, career wise, and passion wise and in terms of love, is something I hope to take aboard from now on.

 

I said: Make it three, or four, or five, it doesn’t matter. We are only young. And even if we weren’t we only have one life. Society teaches us that we have to do things at set ages but it is all a load of hogwash. Before modern times we would be married with a rake of kids by now because of society. Now it is finish school, get a degree, get a job, meet a person, settle down, have kids, work until you are 65, retire, have grandchildren, get old, etc etc etc but this is all formulaic and life is anything but formulaic. In the words of Andrea Gibson, Life is Poetry, not Math. We all have paths and desires and needs that are as different as the variance within the pigment of our eyes. We need to do what is right for us, what we want, no matter how long it takes, and not because we are conditioned to be impatient and do things quickly and in line with life blocks. Take two or ten years but never give up because of time.

Have patience with yourself. Have patience with life. You will only get one chance. Take heed and benefit from this once in a lifetime opportunity of living. Don´t sell yourself short and don´t give up because of how you feel things SHOULD be. Just be. And enjoy.

Trip to Paris

One of the best things about the location of Brussels as a place to live and work is that it is right bang in the middle of Europe and thus an excellent springboard for travel!

This weekend past me and some friends got the Eurolines bus from Gare du Nord at the cost of €57 return to Paris. We left on Friday and Returned on the Sunday. It was four hours each way. Not too shabby. It was a pretty awesome trip. We made use of AirBnB to rent an amazing apartment in the Montmarte district of Paris aka the Red Light District. Colourful and far from sexy it is lively and definitely a place I would love to explore more next time I am in Paris.

This is what we got for our money, a really really comfortable and massive apartment for the weekend complete with 2 double beds between 5 people. And a little silver fish that I volunteered to feed. I should have named him. We left one of the beds to our friends who are enjoying sexy-times together at the moment and drew cards for who would get a double bed for themselves out of the three of us. Highest card wins. I drew a two. Balls.Image:

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The benefits of staying in a place like this was that firstly for the cheapness you get an amazing place and secondly the comfort factor means you settle in much quicker and it is homey from the start.

After this we went exploring. Friday at the Louvre is amazing. It is open late and it is EMPTY. If you are going to go, go on a Friday afternoon and stay until late. You won´t regret it and if you are under 25 you will get in free, just don´t pay at the machines!

To be honest you would need weeks to properly explore the Louvre. My personal favourite areas are the Greek and Roman Sculpture areas, I could spend days there. But if you are going, pre-plan and use your map. You won´t see it all in a day and actually be able to appreciate it. This place is a maze and it is much much bigger than it looks. I have been twice and I have still only scratched the surface.

 

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After this there was a drunken night of debauchery and laughter. Your standard Friday night really with this gang. But the morning, oh the morning we sat in our Parisian apartment listening to the Amelie soundtrack while indulging in an amazing breakfast and really strong coffee. Made in a French Press. There was also baguettes, French jam and French cheese. And French Pastries. Did we over do it? Never.

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Then we left to our wanderings which involved Notre Dame (watch out for the fake charity volunteers trying to get you to donate money to a fake homeless and children´s charity. Ask for ID, none of them have it and they are all young and do not look legit) and then a trip to Shakespeare and Company, a wonderful, wonderful bookshop that has a famous history and that stamps your books with a Shakespeare and Co. stamp when bought. I found the books to be a bit on the pricey side but I did buy a book of Adrienne Rich´s poetry. The one thing I have always said to myself is to never regret spending money on a book. It is a souvenir and I will get much more out of it that I would an Eiffel Tower keychain. They also have a small second hand collection. But the main seller for this shop is the upstairs reading room, complete with piano, sofas, old typewriters, knick-knacks and books for you to peruse. These are not really for sale but just for your general reading pleasure. A book shop with a library. I think I just swooned.

After leaving Shakeapeare and Co. we journeyed to the Pantheon to visit the tombs of some French Occupation heroes and of Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Alexander Dumas and Marie and Pierre Curie. All in all that was pretty awesome. And free if you are under 25 and European. If not expect to pay between €3.50-€7.00.

After this we picnicked in Jardin de Luxembourg. It was a beautiful day and people were sailing little wooden boats in the large pond at the centre of the park and a Gay choir were singing songs like “It´s raining Men” and Michael Jackson numbers along with French songs. The were awful but cheesily wonderful. It made for a wonderful afternoon. The alcohol was also nice.

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 That night we again painted the town red but to be honest I mainly loved the exploring and the new experiences. I loved the books and the lovelocks on the bridge. The people picnicking by the river and along the wide bridges. The booksellers and the general hustle and bustle.  This was my third trip to Paris and I still have so much more I want to see.Paris is a city with a lot of history and you can feel its heartbeat. The only recommendation I can make is to wander a little. Don´t follow all the tourist maps. Use maps as a guide but cut corners and roam. You won´t regret it. It is the best way to travel.

 

Solidarity with Turkey

**Warning this will be a post with random tangents. But in order to be a tangent shouldn’t you be random?

An important opportunity that I have delighted in indulging while interning at one of the central institutions of European Politics is the ability to be consistently politically aware and engaged.

Numerous protests are held in the public square of Place de Luxembourg directly in front of the European Parliament. I have seen Iranian protest, transport protests and today a protest in solidarity with the Taksim Square protesters in Turkey and against the brutality they have been treated with by Turkish law enforcement officials. Without the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and protest then no government can claim legitimacy as a democracy. Especially a country that had made so many gains in the last decade towards entry into the European Union. Turkey has managed to pay off all its debts to the IMF and has experienced great economic growth while  us PIGS of Europe are still counting our pennies and tightening out belts (unwillingly in most cases).

Priding itself as the only secular state with a Muslim majority Turkey has  been lambasted before and recently for it’s women’s rights abuses (I had the opportunity to question the  Turkish Ambassador to Ireland about the prevalence of Honour Killings within his country, and he ‘regretfully’ told me that while he must represent the whole country and does not want to point to any particular segment  that this was a Kurdish practice and problem. Yeah totally owning your whole country there…), corruption, recent restrictions on the sale of alcohol and denial of the Armenian Genocide (or as the Turkish ambassador said to me -paraphrased for effect as to how weak this argument was, as any argument denying genocide is -“we didn’t mean to walk them to death, they were just marching them, to the SYRIAN FRIGGIN DESERT without any supplies. We didn’t know they would die!”.)

Okay so I might have a bone to pick with the Turkish administration.

However, what I don’t have a bone to pick with is the general Turkish population and their attempts to safeguard their quality of life in the face of accelerated urbanisation and commercial construction. This is a population fighting against the economic and material avarice of a government that is verging on authoritarian in its disregard of public opinion and protest. Prime Minister Erdagon in his statements since the Taksim Square brutalitisation of protesters has proven that he has no respect for the demonstrator or for the demos that make up a democracy.* He has vilified social media and denies allegations of the usurpation of Turkish democratic power structures in attempts to set himself up as a Sultan-esque dictator.

I’d say him and Putin would have a gay old time together. Only Putin wouldn’t call it ‘gay’. That would go against the anti-propaganda laws currently before federal legislators.

Today I heard a term in a seminar on the Arab Spring attended but 150+ international journalists. Turkish Summer. A search of the internet shows that its use is growing. This is no small thing. Summer is a prime time for the spread and incitement of fire.

I stand in solidarity with the protesters of Turkey and so do many many more in Brussels and the world over.

But what is the EU doing? So far it has expressed it’s concern and called for restraint on both sides. Generally when the police force of a state is attacking unarmed protesters it is not necessary to ask those attacked to practice restraint. Especially when the police force possesses tear gas and weapons. But that’s the crux of politics  when it comes to international crisis. Look suitably concerned and walk the middle-line.

*The word democracy comes from the greek words demos meaning people and kratos meaning power.

Dinosaurs! Dinosaurs! Dinosaurs! Need I say more.

Yesterday I had the most amazing day. I went to the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. Personally I dislike Natural History Museums. I have only been to the one in Dublin before and for me it represented a proud and ignorant display of hunting trophies. Many of them are of animals and that are now endangered or extinct. Some might say that it is only through these taxidermied statues that we can see what the animals actually looked like. I raise you photographs, movie reels, drawings and the benefit of actually having living examples over still life, glass-eyed stuffed fancies.

However, like with archaeology (I was an archaeological photographer for several years), I have little problem with the remains of animals or humans that died long ago and which were not killed solely to line the shelving space of dusty museums (and if you have ever been to the Natural History Museum in Dublin, it can get pretty dusty).

So for this reason I went to the prehistoric galleries of this museum. I purposely avoided all the other areas though I did have the unfortunate opportunity to stumble upon a stuffed Tasmanian Wolf. Now extinct.

Yesterday I spent my day with DINOSAURS!

The dinosaur skeletons were found in the later half for the 19th Century (1878) by coal miners in a mine at Benissart in Belgium. They found hundreds of Iguanodon skeletons. Probably nearly an entire herd.

Here is what an Iguanodon looks like!

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 I also touched a meteorite that crashed in Yucatán, Mexico during the Cretaceous Period about one hundred million years ago (After a furtive look around for any curators standing guard). Image

Here I am replicating the stance and ridge of a Cryolophosaurus, about 196 Million years old and we can still rock the same hair-style.

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See, the exact same!Image

They also have your standard T-Rex, Triceratops, Stegosaurus. You know,

all our Land Before Time favourites!

The T-rex is a big draw:

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Yes, this is me faux-running away from the T-rex:

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I mean look at those monstrosities!

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The Stegosaurus was always my favourite though❤

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This museum is incredible. Especially if you love Dinosaurs as much as I do and if you grew up making models of them. It cost me €6 euro entry as a student for the Museum itself which includes the rest of the Museum but not some of the other exhibitions. It is €7 normally. The place is located very close to the European Parliament and is right next to Park Leopold. If you like your prehistory and your kick-ass skeletons, make sure to check it out, it is the best dinosaur display in Europe!

How to make friends and alienate overly proper bureaucrats…like a boss: Also known as Operation Milk Them for What You’re Worth

Okay so I am working in the European Parliament. I am not a Bureaucrat though. I am more of a liberal-socialist-feminist-pacifist-malcontent.There are a few of us here. Mostly young trainees looking to see how the machine works from the inside. I wonder if they know that… we walk among them?

My friends and I have taken to walking around the Parliament on Tuesdays and Wednesdays after work. These are amazing days to do this. There are always committee meetings and talks on, many of the talks are incredibly interesting. Recently, I have been to a hearing on the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence held by the Socialists and Democrats, A talk on Freedom of Religion in External Policies hosted by the European Parliament Platform for Secularism in Politics (It was amazing, I will be writing about this is detail soon), a workshop on human rights in South Sudan which involved several South Sudanese officials and human rights advocates among numerous others. Each of these has been fascinating  Afterwards, there are usually ‘refreshments’. Depending on the event sometimes the ‘refreshments’ are amazing. I have seen chocolate moose in sculpted chocolate bowls, brie and tomato bread, elaborate meat and fish dishes I have no interest in and numerous other delicacies. Other times there are crisps, nuts and cheese. But there is ALWAYS wine. And sometimes beer!

This is why me and my friends wander around, as do hoards of other trainees, looking for all the free swag, munchies and booze that we can get. We get paid a quarter of the standard wage of the lowest paid administrators in the EP. We get enough to live on (barely, unless you are a trainee for an MEP who gets the CHOICE if they want to pay you, don’t get me started…), but still, we are the bottom of the barrel and we are going to get all of the free food we can.  When it comes to free food I have gone with little often enough in my teens and college years that I have no shame. Load me up with sandwiches and champagne because I am only here for five months and WINTER IS COMING.

There was the wonderful event hosted by Northern Ireland which involved free whiskey:

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There has also been the even hosted by Greece that involved 15 Greek chefs, Ouzo, wine, Tiropita, Spanokopita, feta cheese, naxian cheese, cheese from all over Greece in fact, Greek Delight (think Turkish only, it’s the exact same thing only it manages to embody the tense Turko-Greek relations. If you’ve ever been to Cyprus and tried their Cypriot Delight you can now see it as the neutral name. It’s yummy but who needs war over a confectionery?) , rice, Baklava, salads, REAL Greek olives etc etc. I had two dinners. It was amazing.

Usually on a Tuesday or Wednesday we stumble from one event to the other as we Trainees pass information about possible drinks from word of mouth. We pay attention to posters and emails that are disseminated to our departments but might not be to others. It is a very organised scavenging.

We have been here 6 weeks and the faces of the waiters who work and move between the events are familiar. And we are familiar to them. Some look at us with disapproval (Hey, the children are hungry! And like I said, with the amount of food that goes to waste in this place I feel ABSOLUTELY no shame). However, some of the waiters smile and top up our glasses even more. They know the deal. My favourite was the waiter who asked my friend if he was enjoying his sandwich and said with a smile and a wink that ‘Gratis’ makes everything taste better. Amen my friend!

The wonderfully geeky glasses scavenged the other day:

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And if you look behind me and George you will see the wine being laid out and the tables for snacks at an exhibition and talk on the Treaty of Utrecht:

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Unfortunately I missed the talk in which the President of Catalonia spoke about attempts to make Catalan a recognised language of Europe. As a Gaelic speaker, a language recognised as one of the official languages of the EU, I have a lot of sympathy for Catalan speakers who vastly outnumber Irish speakers. I also missed the free tapas and wine😦. I did see the exhibitions itself though:

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One thing to be said about the EP is that the exhibitions in terms of range and display are amazing. There are political, historical, health and environmental exhibitions. I got my hearing tested free a couple of weeks ago and there was the offer to get tested for Hepatitis through an oral swab the same week.( I give blood so I passed as I know I’m good, but seriously, everyone get tested yo, it’s your responsibility if you are sexually active). But also there are art exhibitions. Painting, sculpture, photography, print. I have seen it all and it has made the quiet hours in work a bit more tolerable when I can go for a wander and examine one of the artworks, some permanent, most transient,  that live about the European Parliament. It’s not all suits and submission.The European Parliament occasionally shows some style.

Le Pantin!

Today I am going to talk about my favourite pub in Brussels.

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Located at the bottom of Chaussee d’Ixelles just as it meets Place Flagey it is altogether the best, cosiest and cheapest pub we’ve found in Brussels so far. From the outside it doesn’t look like much, one of the common white and ugly  Jupiler advertising signs that so many of the small pubs have around Brussels. Not the most inviting. But every night you can see a few casually dressed urban twenty-somethings standing outside smoking and the soft glow of tealights from the tables by the window.   You open the old rickety door and you push-past a hanging curtain and you see a long narrow room that never seems to be empty.

Le Pantin has all the comforts of a cafe with the relaxed, warm and vibrant energy of a popular and laid back pub. Here you can make use of one of the numerous chess boards or books and kick back at a table with a beer, wine, spirit or tea and coffee.

Here is a picture of me and a friend enjoying a game:

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The walls are panelled with folding chairs. Attached to the wall they fold up to let you get if needs be and make clever use of the space.

Upstairs you have cosy low couches where you can sink into oblivion or chat for hours over a drink. (As we did several weeks ago after a trek around a massive forest park and adventures through an abandoned racehorse track and its accompanying buildings. More on this again later.)

Le Pantin is also the cheapest place we’ve found for beer. The cheap stuff, Jupiler, tastier than Heineken(which I hate but is my usual marker for piss-water)  but still not amazing  is €1.90 for a half pint and €3.60 for a pint. Don’t mind if I do.

Also, you can grab food and bring it into this pub as they don’t serve food. So frites, pizza, falafel. Whatever. Make a night of it!

This is now our ‘local’, though I have every intention of exploring as many places as possible but if you’re in the Flagey area and looking for a nice place to drink, especially if you like to chat and chill out with a chilled out smiling crowd and incredibly friendly bar staff, then this is the place for you.

And this is the famous Jupiler, don’t expect much, but it sure hits the spot on a cold day when you only have a couple of euro in your pocket.

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The Darker Side of Brussels

Several months before moving to Brussels a friend linked me to this documentary project  called ‘Femme de la rue’ that explored street harassment on the streets of Brussels. You can see a short clip of it here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2012/aug/03/femme-de-la-rue-sexism-brussels-video

The video shows a woman walking through certain areas of the city and the harassment she receives going about her day, the stares, the sexual invitations and the all around attitude of the woman-as-commodity.

Now, my friend linked me to this and I was made aware that this was a problem in Brussels. Like it is a problem in Ireland ( and everywhere else where men see us primarily as receptacles for their ‘desire’).However, I have been living here a month and had not experienced this side of Brussels at all. I believed that I must be living in an area in which it wasn’t so prolific.

I do remember a comment made to me in passing by a man which I couldn’t understand and a lot of looks and stares from people as I walked down the street. However, I just assumed that these were the usual looks and comments I would get in Dublin for my often Masculine-of-Center presentation and general queerness.

That was until my two friends came to visit me for the long weekend. My two friends are wonderful, intelligent and amazing human beings. I like to say that I choose my friends wisely. They are also feminine presenting queer women. While spending three days with them in Brussels my eyes were opened. For the first time while here, in a group of girls, with no male companions, I experienced a barrage of personal space invasions and harassment.

On the first night in a bar just across the square from my house one of my friends has her hat taken and her ass grabbed by a guy. A guy who later goes  and harasses some women at the bar next to us and creates a cavity around him in which all women have fled to safer areas of the club. This in itself is not an unusual occurrence in any club in Ireland either so while completely reprehensible and bile worthy it unfortunately isn’t anything really unusual to write home about. Though it should be. It should be something written in large glittering letters involving manacles and a hefty dose of social stigma and ostracisation.

Move to our second stop of the night. A small bar that resembled a big wooden conservatory and sells really good, inexpensive wine and Belgian beers. I will be blogging about a couple of these places in time, bare with me. With an authentic air and with feel good vibes we enter. We order our wines and beers from the Barwomen and we grab a seat. The pub is nearly empty, me and my two friends and a few guys over near the bar.

We sit and we chat for an hour or so and then we are approached by this guy, he talks to us, asks our names. Nothing all together nefarious to be sure, he’s just chatting after all. It is obvious that he is interrupting up, it is obvious that he is making a choice to disturb us. His friend joins him. I am sitting on the outside of the table, my two friends are sitting on the inside, away from the two men. At one point the older man puts his arm on my shoulder and says “I am going to kiss you” before placing several kisses on my head. I froze. I am very aware of my personal space and it is not to be invaded without explicit permission. You are my friend/partner, touch away. You are a stranger/acquaintance, keep your distance. This is pretty much how most decent people work.

The kissing man walks away, probably having felt that I was rigid and that it was a step too far. I didn’t say anything. I was dumbstruck. I have responded to such invasions before without a thought, but I was comfortable, with friends that I had missed, not expecting such blatant attention. Why? Because to be honest I am generally not the target of such harassment when I am in the company of my friends. I am the type often seen as less attractive to the heterosexual cis male gaze. My friends are not. But I was the nearest female within reach so he kissed me.

His friend asks if he can stay awhile. My friend says no, that we are talking. He sits down still. At some point the other man comes by and kisses my head again. I don’t know what to do, I am still processing. Several beers has not helped my processing ability. The sitting man shifts his attention to each of us in turn. I am last. He mentions something I am interested in, something that I am quite enthusiastic about , I ask him about it (Read: Don’t feel the animals) and he answers, then the conversation shifts and he starts complimenting me. I look at my friend and give her a kick under the table and we finish our drinks before we get up and leave. I live two minutes away. I am sure to make sure they are not following us. I would not be surprised. Luckily they do not.

The next morning I lead my friends to breakfast Nirvana a ten minute walk from my house. It’s cold and we are wrapped up in scarves, gloves and coats. We are in high spirits, they had gotten in last night and this was our first full day. We walk side by side, smiling and chatting, happy and comfortable in each other’s presence and looking forward to a good feed. We are nearing the restaurant when a guy walks by us and says something in Dutch that is quite clearly an insult from his intonation. We look it up. Whores. It was like something directly out of the video linked above. Again I was shocked. I had been here a month with no such experiences.

I became more aware. I notice the overly familiar looks, the lengthy examinations and the prolonged staring as we walk down streets and go about our day. At one point I actually see a guy do the most unusual 180 turn in order to check out my friends. It is exaggerated and in the exaggeration the intent is made more stark. Usually I am the kind of girl that lives in my head. I do not pay that much attention to the people around me and when I am focused externally it is usually in terms of architecture, nature and food. I am usually quite oblivious to the male gaze. It is not something I have ever been overly concerned with, though I have had a number of run ins with overly friendly men it is something that  for me is an annoying and unwelcome rarity. This weekend was a real eye opener.

I know street harassment. I have experienced it and I have seen it directed against every single one of my female friends at some point or another. But this weekend it really hit home.

I am the crisis manager, I take care of my friends, I protect them in situations like this and several times in the space of a weekend I had been left stunned. I have not experienced such blatant invasion of my personal space ( outside of reference to my sexuality) since I dared to journey out in a short skirt in Dublin’s city center, five years ago,  to show my friends that it was in fact possible for me to wear a skirt and rock it. That night I had my ass squeezed as I walked down the street and the guy received a tongue lashing that left him standing shocked and open mouthed in the middle of Temple Bar and likely left him raw for a week. But I had forgotten. I had become complacent. I knew how to handle the social, homophobic and the virulent gender police harassment often directed at me. But I had only really dealt with continuous sexual street harassment as an other, as an outsider, when it was directed towards my friends. This was directed towards all three of us, so blatantly and unashamedly that I had no choice BUT to see it.

And now that I have been made aware of it, now that I have seen it, I cannot unsee it. I cannot unexperience it. There is a darker side of Brussels and I have seen its pestilence. It is not alone in this but it has left a bad and bitter taste in my mouth as I realise my own blindness. I was not unaware of this phenomenon. I am a feminist. I support anti-street harassment campaigns in Ireland and everywhere. But I had managed to ignore the less insidious, the more subtle forms of oppression and possessive body policing. It wasn’t happening to me, so while I didn’t think it wasn’t happening I had presumed that because I was not experiencing it that it was not as widespread in my area as elsewhere. I had been blind. And thus I had been one more support propping up the perpetuation of the despicable harassment and gender/body policing of the world that we live in because I had forgotten about its existence while I was not experiencing it.

I will not be forgetting this again soon.

Word to the weary, this goes for everything else too, transphobia, racism, homophobia, sexism, violence,  ableism, ageism and a list of blindspots and self involvement within us that goes on ad nauseum to the great disgrace of human kind.