Fleabag: Funny Feminist Television

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If you’re into TV shows about confused, messed-up, funny, thoughtful, complicated and endearing white women in their early 30s then the show Fleabag might be for you.

The site Jezebel.com had a review of the BBC series Fleabag up a few weeks ago, so I downloaded the 1st season. There’s only 6 episodes and I burned through them right away. Then I watched them all a second time over because of how comforting and entertaining I find the series to be.

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Writer and star of FLEABAG Sophie Waller-Bridge

The series protagonist is Fleabag played by the outstandingly talented Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Waller-Bridge is 31 years old in real life and she is responsible for writing all 6 episodes of the first season. Fleabag, the televisions series, is the end result of a fringe play that Waller-Bridge originally performed in Edinburgh.

Anyways, while I now feel like my life is coming together (I’m 32) in terms of having a satisfying relationship with my boyfriend and a new job that I feel passionate about, most of my 20s (after I broke up with my first serious boyfriend in 2006) were spent binge-drinking alcohol and smoking tons of weed, and hooking up with random men who either weren’t interested in me, or if they were, then I immediately became repulsed by them. Once I quit drinking I continued to pursue womanizers who’d bounce from female to female and insult my physical appearance…and just generally contribute to why I felt like a piece of shit.

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Due to my own history, which was mostly spent as a single female looking for and rejecting any chance of finding love, I gravitate to stories about women who are going through similar experiences to what I went through for so long (editor’s note: That is not to say my relationship is perfect, and it started off in a highly dysfunctional manner, but I am much happier at this point then I was 2 years ago when I turned 30…I hate when people are in a relationship and present their lives as free of problems).

Anyways, Fleabag has an on-off boyfriend named Harry. During the 1st episode Harry and Fleabag are in bed. Harry wakes up to Fleabag masturbating to a video of President Obama she’s watching on her laptop, and he is offended and disgusted. The sensitive and giving Harry stuffs a few of his things into a bag and breaks up with Fleabag. Fleabag assures the viewer (she regularly speaks directly to the camera/viewer to give us the inside scoop…and while this approach is at first slightly disarming, it eventually made me feel like Fleabag and I were tight) that Harry will be back. Since Harry is fully into Fleabag, she tramples all over him and uses their short-term break-ups to fuck some real douchebags.

This show made me (and my friend and my boyfriend when I showed them some episodes) laugh a lot! I don’t want to spoil all the hilarious moments, but some of them centre around sending out mass vagina-shot texts to try to find a date, Fleabag discussing how heavy her period flow is when she randomly runs into a hook-up while shopping for tampons, and uncomfortable anal sex. I’m not expecting you to laugh here, since any of these situations could end up being written and portrayed in a way that is stupid and offensive, but in my opinion, these situations made me crack-up without brushing off the underlying emotional desperation Fleabag is experiencing to say and do the things she does.Image result for sophie waller bridgeFleabag operates her own tiny cafe, and she is heavily in debt. Once upon a time she ran it with her best friend Boo, but I can’t share anything more without giving away too many good plot details to ruin your viewing of the show (if you so choose to watch it). I think that Fleabag is a feminist show because Fleabag aims to be an independent, confident business woman who has a loving partner and a positive self-image, but the sad events that have occurred during the last few years of Fleabag’s life (some of which might be partially due to her own making) are causing her to harm herself, and lash out at everyone around her.

The show makes some very accurate feminist observations about how women are sexualized and treated as sexual objects, without ever pretending that women don’t often do the same thing to men. Fleabag favours the good looking guy over the man who will support her, and this is just one example of how Fleabag is a highly imperfect protagonist. Since all people are imperfect, I think this also makes her relatable. Feminism can take many forms, and while I don’t have much fun reading feminist theory, I do enjoy seeing a female try to figure out how to balance wanting to be desirable with respecting herself and chasing her ambitions.

Fleabag’s relationship with her older sister Claire (played by Sian Clifford) reminded me of my own relationship with my sister. It’s hard for us to open up about personal topics with one another, and sometimes it’s even awkward for us to hug, but Fleabag also captures the undeniable and unbreakable bond that exists between sisters since nobody knows you better than your own sister. Claire is married to a lecherous man named Martin (played perfectly by Brett Gelman), and Claire’s dedication to a man who treats her poorly, but who makes her laugh, is an issue between the sisters.Image result for sophie waller bridge fleabagFleabag and her sister Claire (played beautifully by Sian Clifford)

Fleabag and Claire’s father is in a relationship with a woman they despise, and the
“stepmom” character (though their father is not actually married to her) who is only referred to as “Godmother” (played by Olivia Colman) is the only character in the series who is presented as one-dimensional: she is threatened by Claire and Fleabag’s relationship with their father, and “Godmother” constantly makes passive aggressive jabs at Fleabag and Claire. The one-dimensional nature of “Godmother” allows the actress playing her to go wild and take her artsy-fartsy character all the way to the top.Image result for sophie waller bridge

Olivia Colman as “Godmother”

By the final episode of the series it all becomes apparent why Fleabag is so screwed-up and why she is struggling to like herself, let alone love herself. The show is dark, sick, twisted, and so very special. If you’re looking for something to watch this weekend that isn’t mindless entertainment, give Fleabag a try!

Socially Awkward and Sober

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It’s been close to 8 years since I’ve drank alcohol. I’m an alcoholic and as such I choose to abstain from alcohol because, for a variety of reasons, I was never able to “handle my alcohol” and often ended up making a fool of myself while in a blackout state.

I don’t want to drink again. I don’t like the taste of alcohol, so I don’t miss alcohol. I think I abused it in part because of how damn socially awkward I am, not because wine is delicious or anything like that.

As a kid I was really confident, outgoing, and never thought twice about what I was going to say or do. For most of elementary school I was popular, but as puberty hit my confidence plummeted. I had a strict mother, so flirting or dating boys was something I was taught not to do, and that affected my social status. By grade 7 how sexy a girl was started to become what the boys were interested in, and so since I didn’t look or act sexy my social stock was weak and I felt like a loser.

Anyways, by the time I hit high school I was full on uncool. I remain that way to this day. I didn’t have my first kiss until I was 18 years old. Due to my negative relationship with alcohol via how I saw it affect my father (he went to rehab multiple times during my childhood and struggled to stay sober) I took the perspective that I would never drink. Then one day when I was 19 my impulsive brain changed its mind and I decided I wanted to drink.

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I thought I’d throw this in because I love this pic of myself.

The first night I drank I got totally out of control, which lead to my house getting trashed during a party, and the cops getting called. My mother and sister hated me when they came home from Toronto the next morning to find their home in quite a different state than they’d left it the day before.

I could only remember bits and pieces of my first night drinking and that night was definitely an indication of how almost all of my future drinking experiences would unfold.

The thing is I have a lot inside of me that I’d like to let free. For example, by dancing like a ma-ni-ac. But since I was uncool and didn’t feel confident, I was incapable during my early 20s of letting myself go wild while sober (for the most part I’m still incapable of doing this in front of anyone who isn’t a close friend or my boyfriend). Also, since I viewed most other people as more attractive than myself, anytime I was in a party or social environment with any people who weren’t close friends I immediately started drinking copious amounts to try to help myself relax and feel more comfortable around the people I was intimidated by.

Then I’d act a fool and feel very ashamed the next day. Then I’d feel even more self-conscious and nervous the next time I entered a social environment, especially if the same people I’d been blackout drunk of in front of before were there, so the cycle would continue and the need to use alcohol as a social lubricant, or more appropriately social flood, carried on.

Eventually, I reached my breaking point and was able to admit to myself that I was an alcoholic and the only way to ensure that I didn’t get super drunk ever again was by stopping drinking entirely.

The plan worked because I haven’t had another drink of alcohol since I quit at age 24. I still continued to have an addiction to marijuana that only came to an end 2 years ago, so it’s not to say I  abstained from drugs after I quit drinking, but I didn’t have a substance to rely on that took away from my self-consciousness and stopped my incessant stressed-out internal dialogue like I did with alcohol.

I think I thought that the longer I was sober I would suddenly become relaxed and totally at ease when going to a party or meeting new people.

But that hasn’t been the case. I still feel minor levels of panic when entering a party or entering situations where I don’t know the people. It might not seem like that on the surface because my approach is to push on through and be openly friendly and enthusiastic, but I’m usually feeling a lot of fear at the same time.

One thing I was able to overcome 2 years ago was my fear of dancing in public. Now I’m able to go out to clubs sober with other people or alone and dance my heart out.

It’s the social situations with groups of people that still really freak me out.

Part of this is because I am definitely not a “chilled out” person. I’ve got A LOT of energy, which is both a gift and a curse. What sucks is when I’m around people either at a new job or at a party and someone tells me to “chill out”, “relax”, “don’t be nervous”, “don’t let them see your fear” (this last one was told to me by a work supervisor before I started to teach a new, high-level class and it immediately caused my stress level to spike because it indicates that I am showing my fear and somehow need to make it immediately disappear–not possible). Also, before I was okay with dancing sober it used to make me so uncomfortable when I wouldn’t be dancing and the dancing king or queen who seems to have no fear of dancing in public (but I also noticed the only people who ever tried to force me to dance when I wasn’t up to it were drinking themselves…coincidence? I think not.) would point me out and try to get me to dance.

Ahhhh…I would wonder, “Can’t you see I’m incredibly self conscious? Everyone isn’t a social butterfly like you…please leave me alone so I don’t feel even more weird than I already do”. I don’t think anyone had bad intentions in these situations–they’re enjoying themselves and probably just want me to enjoy myself in the same way they are–but it only lead for me to feel even more like a sober loser who is way too uptight and not easygoing like everyone else.

My body language is rigid, and I know that. I never know what to do with my hands. For example, I took a counselling course at UBC this summer. We had to videotape ourselves with a “client” (another classmate) and practice being a “counsellor” and critique how we moved and spoke and then receive feedback from the instructor about the same things. One of the first things my instructor focused in on during my first critique (thankfully I was able to greatly improve and “lean in” more by the last assignment) was how my body language was awkward and closed-off. I wasn’t surprised. I know that this is the way I appear to others and it was a minor consolation to have my instructor confirm this, because at least it shows my perception is not all in my head.

The point I’ve reached now though is I’m no longer entering situations like this and constantly repeating “relax” over and over to try to seem calm. I am hyper. I do have an excess of energy that doesn’t always flow out of me in a perfectly dispersed way. My body isn’t free-flowing and that’s OKAY.

I’m sober and I’m a socially awkward geek. I am who I am and I’m happy to have reached the point where I’m no longer trying to be something I’m not. Oh, and when it comes to the supposedly chilled-out people who have told me to slow my roll, are they really all that chill themselves if they’re telling someone else how they need to behave when I was just doing my own thing?

Peace!

Sonja Larsen: Her Memoir Red Star Tattoo Is A Life-Changing Read

This summer my friend Nessa passed along a copy of her friend Sonja Larsen‘s impeccable memoir Red Star Tattoo: My Life As A Girl Revolutionary and I was hooked from page one. Larsen’s past is full of lots of different topics that are both fascinating and painful, such as being part of a cult and experiencing sexual abuse. Sonja’s talent lies in being able to appropriately delve into her shocking and painful past experiences without making them too heavy or going to the opposite end of the spectrum and presenting them in a salacious or tabloid-like manner. The book is educational without taking itself too seriously. It’s fun to read too! These are just a few of the reasons as to why I highly recommend that you take the time to read it.

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I am grateful for Sonja’s decision to turn her life into a memoir, because it reminds me that I need to let go of my own shame and there is nothing in my past that should ever prevent me from moving towards a more enjoyable future.

Thank-you Sonja for sharing and for taking the time out of your day to let me interview you!

Sonja Larsen: “If I ever felt like a freak or an outsider…well if you’ve read my book you’ll know that I was definitely a freak and an outsider in lots of different ways, so often in my life. You know, my Dad was a pot dealer. My mother was a communist. You know, but I think part of my growing up was that I actually kind of was raised to believe, because my parents were a little bit hippies at first, that being an outsider was not such a bad thing, that if you were questioning the system that was good. But I think really what has got me through it is sometimes realizing that you’re not alone. That everyone is sort of making it up as they go along.”

Mount Pleasant Mural Festival: Oksana Gaidasheva

My friend and talented artist (and past VANISREAL interview subject) Emily Gray (@emilygrayart) started working on a mural in the alley behind my apartment at Main and E Broadway today, so I decided to go down this afternoon and take a look at what she was creating. Emily and her friend Oksana Gaidasheva (@oksana_gaidasheva) went with the theme of drawing different animals (like mice and crows) that would be in an alley on bikes: AWESOME!

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Emily Gray and Oksana Gaidasheva: Visit these ladies while they showcase their mural at Main and E Broadway next Saturday August 20th for the Mount Pleasant Mural Festival!

At 1:30 these inspirational women were just starting to sketch their mural, and when I got back home at 5 the mural had been transformed into a work of art. These ladies work fast! Talk about dedication to their craft.

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Please check out Oksana’s interview:

If you’ve ever felt like a freak or an outsider, what helped you through it?

“Yes, I have felt like a freak and an outsider. I’m an immigrant, but that really wasn’t the thing for me ‘cause I was in an immigrant part of Vancouver in Burnaby.

My big thing was I am quite tall and large and loud and I felt like an outsider from the general population of small skinny girls because of my general height.

And what helped me through that was discovering that there is a thriving industry in plus-size modeling, so it’s women that are like a healthy size, healthy lifestyle, kind of revolutionary paradigm thought—women around the world from all over the globe being hired by top modeling agencies.

I guess it’s my vanity too being able to compare myself to women that are working in the fashion industry. Saying, hey, they’re fashion models too, and they’re like killing it in the professional arena.

So that helped me, like stalking them on Instagram and following their personal lives has helped me feel comfortable and feminine in myself. All those plus size models like they’re out there, you know.”

I totally agree with Oksana about the fact that it’s easier to gain confidence in yourself when you can see yourself in those who are valued as attractive and successful! As much as people hate the Kardashians, the major reason why I watch their show religiously is because of their bodies…I’ve struggled with accepting my wide hips and thick thighs, and seeing the women in the Kardashian family (particularly Kim because she’s 5’2 and I’m 5’1 and it gives me hope that my hips are hot not unattractive looking) make me accept myself a little more (though I don’t want my face to be all Botoxed-up or anything like that).

 

Paul’s Not Afraid Of Getting On His Soapbox

Some friends took my boyfriend and I to a weekly event (once a month on a Saturday night) at a closed coffee shop on Commerical Drive called SOAPBOX. The premise is that you go up and take the microphone (there is no actual stage though) at the front and talk about whatever issue or topic you want to (I was told there is usually a theme each night…I’m not sure what the theme was last night, but unsurprisingly most of the debate centred around Black Lives Matter for good reason).

Anyways, I really enjoyed it, because I don’t feel comfortable getting into arguments on Facebook. I love arguing with people though (I am still very proud–and inclined to show off at any time I can work it into a conversation–of getting 99% in grade 12 philosophy), so I enjoy being able to discuss my viewpoints with people face to face. I think it leaves less room for unnecessary misinterpretation, and it requires a certain level of accountability, since you’re not “hiding behind a screen” as they say…even though your name is attached to your comment on Facebook…Soapbox felt more personal to me in a good way. Yes, I am veering into that annoying real life is so much better than social media cliched argument that I hate, so I apologize for that.

Paul stood out because he shared some insightful points and he was really funny too. His style is very fun and very rock!

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New Music: All Failures by Isomers

Artist: Isomers. Song: All Failures.

This is the first video I’ve directed, and it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

The Furniture’s Aramis Starfish

I consider myself a onesie-connoisseur, so it is no small feat that Aramis Starfish (far right) was wearing the best one I’ve seen so far last night…and yes that is a challenge to all you onesie-wearers. Aramis on bass and her bandmates-Lana on the drums, and Johnny Wildcat on guitar-took over the stage as The Furniture at Lana Lou’s and the crowd went wild (almost everybody was up and dancing to the music).

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The Furniture‘s songs are so much fun, full of unbridled energy, and raw. One of the people who watched the show with me said his favourite thing about Aramis’ stage presence was that she totally relished in being the frontwoman…complete with sexy eye rolls, intense stares and tempting smiles for the audience.

If you’re going to ask for people’s attention, you gotta offer them up something special (I think) and Aramis and the rest of The Furniture surely did. Check out Aramis’ interview below:

I love the diversity of Vancouver. I love that anyone is everyone. Everyone is anyone, and, I don’t know, I’ve always really loved the inclusiveness of the neighbourhood. Especially the Downtown Eastside, which I’ve been a part of for about 15 years.”

“I’ve always felt like a freak and an outsider, which brought me to Vancouver which made me feel included in the beautiful world of freakdom that is here. Let your freak flag fly. I think music is probably what has gotten me through all of my weirdness. I’m not sure why but people seem to be open and responsive to us individuals sharing their uniqueness or their weirdness or whatever. I’ve always had a pretty positive response.”

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