Why things stay the same

So this happened:

Last September, I started a degree course at Dundalk Institute of Technology. It’s a great college, and I’m very happy here. But there’s always a but.

Part of the (mandatory) orientation included all of us being addressed by a Catholic priest. I left the room before he started speaking, I happened to have a legitimate excuse, but if I hadn’t, I’d still have left. It felt so, so wrong to have an address by a religious figure included in the orientation for a course at a secular college. But that’s just my own, private, personal feeling so I aimed to handle it discreetly, and I think I succeeded. I just want to keep my head down and get my degree, then move on.

Then boom, I got these emails from the priest. The first one was understandable, he had to let everyone know he was there if they wanted to confess something, right? But the second one was not okay. Nor was the third. By the time I received a fourth email (this at a rate of about one a month), I asked very politely that I please be taken off their mailing list. That was not possible. The priest, in this college, has blanket access to every single student email, he has licence to inject his religious invitations into your inbox if you study here, whether you like it or not. He couldn’t exclude me even if he wanted to.

I tried to block emails from his address. It was not at all an obvious process, and why should I have to be the one to have to actively resist this spam? Why is the onus not on the person actually sending this stuff? But hey, I just wanted to quietly and privately opt out of this, so I figured it out and changed email settings to make sure I at least didn’t have to see this ridiculous assumption of entitlement stuffed under my nose into my inbox every month.

What do you know, it didn’t work. So in January, I emailed the college president, explained as politely as I could why I had a problem with the current state of affairs, and got a great, understanding response. That is not sarcasm, my faith in humanity was restored. In February, I got another feckin’ email from the priest. And again in March. I replied and asked him to please stop spamming my email account.

Finally, an email from an administrator, offering for me to go to her office for her to help me set up my email to no longer receive these emails. They had changed back-end stuff since December, so now it was in fact an option to send such crap directly to the shredder. This doesn’t solve the fundamental problem that the college assumes by default you want to receive all the priest’s news every month, and that you have to jump through hoops to get it to stop. It doesn’t solve the problem that the RCC is given outrageous privilege in access to students who never asked for it. It doesn’t change my extreme discomfort that something that’s not exactly secret but also most certainly not public – my student number, which is part of my student email address – was given to the RCC’s servant. But by now I just wanted to get this over with and I was exhausted after a rough week. Just… whatever.

So finally I’m in the admin’s office, and I tell her I’m ragged but am going to try very hard not to swear. Just so’s you know, I don’t think this solves the problem. I mean, how can it be right to send religious emails to people through an academic communication channel? What the fuck?

POUNCE! I swore. Bad girl, to quote her, “watch yourself.” Fair enough. Because, I then realised, firstly I was wrong to swear, no matter how many months I’ve had to struggle to get the extremely simple request met to not be spammed, no matter how frustrated I was, no matter how outrageous the situation seemed to me. It was not on.

But also:

Reason One why things stay the same:

When you point out something that has always been done this way is wrong, you’d better make sure you’re perfect because The Powers That Be are going to nail you to the floor for every single flaw you show. I decided at that point to be courteous and under no circumstances to try to argue my point. Just to emphasise, I was wrong to swear, I don’t deny that, but the “watch yourself” was a reminder how the game is played. I just had to shut up and get the priest’s spam to be dealt with then leave.

So. When she said our student email is not an academic communication channel, I didn’t argue. This:

not_academic_comm_channel

…is not an academic communication channel. Which brings me to:

Reason Two why things stay the same:

When you dare to complain and they can’t fault your arguments, we’ll start getting extremely technical about definitions, for instance, to create, out of thin air, a way to invalidate your complaint. So God for instance may get redefined until they claim when they pray to Jesus to open a meeting, when you hear Jesus you should understand it to mean some vague deity which totally can include whatever you believe. Wink wink.

I saw the light. Of course, this email with the college logo and which has your student number and the college acronym as part of it, through which you get notifications about classes changing or being cancelled and when your assignment has been submitted successfully and through which you’re notified when an assignment has been marked and through which lecturers notify you of changes in deadlines, it’s not an academic communication channel, therefore presumably it’s okay for it to be used to circulate the RCC’s notifications and invitations and shit.

How could I not have understood that from the beginning.

Reason three why things stay the same:

Bad, bad me! The chaplaincy is a requirement for all academic institutions in Ireland. How can I ask anything to change that is required from on high?

So that was indeed new. Wow. The state actually requires SECULAR academic institutions in Ireland to have a chaplaincy for students*. But her next sentence blew me away:

“We can’t afford to pay for representatives of all faiths, so we pay the priest and he covers all religious needs.”

Okay. Right. So I’m not even going to begin to try to begin to START discussing everything that’s wrong with looking at religion that way. I mean, I’m an atheist, but I used to be an evangelical Christian and I can give you a written guarantee I would not EVER have turned to a Catholic priest for my religious needs. We viewed the RCC as a corrupted version of Christianity and the Pope was speculated to be the antichrist. I remember my mom being very progressive and controversial when she said, years ago: “You can find true Christians even in the Catholic church.” That statement blew me away back then. What a novel thought, that you’d find an actual real Christian in the RCC.

But yes, sure, great, I’m sure all students of all religious persuasions are just grand to have a one-size-fits-all priest. I wonder does he have a collection of signs in his drawer, and he pops one around his neck to just let whoever is with him know today he is an imam, tomorrow he is a guru, day after that he is a shaman.

And there I was fooled by that black outfit. Looks just like a Roman Catholic priest, but you learn something new every day. No doubt nobody would ever feel reluctant to go see him fearing he’d either deliberately or uncosciously steer them towards his particular religion. The RCC is after all not known for indoctrination.

So now we have to go back to that little sentence and have another small inner explosion. I’m sorry but WHAT THE FUCK is this time totally justified: the college has to PAY the priest???!!! I… let’s just move on before I sprain something.

Reason three, summarised, is that if you complain, you create problems for often already overburdened organisations who are just doing their utter best to comply with the demands made of them. This is usually true. You may not be a villain, you may just want to stop receiving spam, for instance, but you will end up feeling like a villain and chances are if you make more of a fuss you’ll look like one, too.

Reason four why things stay the same:

You may not need this service, but others do.”

How dare you object to 100% of students being subjected to an intrusion by a religious organisation through a non-academic communication channel mandatory for all students, with no opt-out possible unless you email the college president and eventually make an appointment with an admin to show you how to implement the instructions secured from the IT department? How dare you feel it’s not right for a representative of religion A to be paid and given an office on campus to minister to people from religions A through Z? You’re so selfish.

Things stay the same because if you dare complain, you always end up feeling like the sea couldn’t wash you clean.

Reason five things stay the same:

“Really?” said my husband when I told him about the one priest to rule them all, one priest to find them approach to ministry on campus. “Why don’t you make an appointment with him, tell him you’re a satanist and you need religious guidance. Ask him to have the Satanic Bible on hand, you really need an expert’s advice. Go on, I dare you.”

I laughed. “Nah.” Because I just don’t have the energy or time. Reason five things stay the same is because It’s Always Been Done This Way is like a huge blob of… let’s say jelly. If you try to push it, it doesn’t really resist, but it’s also not moved. You end up covered in it, exhausted, possibly ruined, and the jelly will be exactly where it was before you started.

Not for me, thanks. I just wanted to stop some spam.

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*A friend asked a legitimate question: really required? By the state? I realised it was an assumption, she didn’t specify who required it. So now I am puzzled and intrigued. I can find no explicit info online. It would be interesting to know. If I find out I’ll update this. 🙂

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Anatomy of a troll

This blog post follows on from one I wrote to reflect on the experience of being “the angry cyclist” about a year ago, which I posted on my cycling blog. I should declare upfront that I rewrote this to more clearly stick to the topic, on 4 September 2014.

One fine day, a textbook troll, more specifically, a kind of non-anonymous concern troll, with whom I’d had dealings during the Angry Cyclist episode, posted a photo to the Dundalk Cycling Alliance page. Note the comment that he’d posted it to another page, where it was removed, then posted it to his own and several other pages – classic trolling:

a_tailgating_photo_nonames

Let’s analyse what happened next.

Continue reading

Case in point

This is a classic example of the more subtle gender discrimination that is so prevalent, and so devoid of intent to harm, that we mostly just don’t see it. The fact that we’re so used to it we hardly notice, doesn’t lessen the harm it does, the message this view of women drills in over and over again. It’s actually heartbreaking to use this example as it’s from an article highlighting a lovely song with a touching accompanying video. Even so, I cringed when I read this:

The heartbreaking yet understated video has Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino on the piano as a svelte Aguilera, clad in a little black dress, lends her soulful vocals.

Did you miss it? Let me rewrite and try to show you what’s happening here:

The heartbreaking yet understated video has a trim Ian Axel in figure-fitting casuals and dreamy Chad Vaccarino in a fetching suit on the piano as Aguilera lends her soulful vocals.

I just can’t get this to not bother me anymore. It is wrong, and it has to stop.

Hooking in Strange Places: Church

My visit to St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dundalk, Ireland, was frightening. I’d been there before, to show visitors around, once or twice when the kids and I were about just before noon. We’d tiptoe inside, go and stand at the bottom of the belltower and listen to the awesome duff! duff! accompanying every peal when the bells sang their tune and rang the midday hour. There’s something about knowing the small room you stand in is not small by any stretch of the imagination – if you count the space above the ceiling – and hearing the strikes against the bells far above your head.

Today my purpose was different. No foreign accent and discreet camera clicks would announce my goal of admiring the beauty of the building. No hushed children’s whispers would leave a door open that we’d come to pray, disguising our true aim of enjoying the thrill of the bell tower. Today I was, in a way, abusing the church. It wasn’t built for people like me, or for my purpose. In fact, a few hundred years ago the organisation it represents actively hunted down and killed my kind. A good few long-dead faithful no doubt did some revolutions in their graves as I stepped over the threshhold.

I’m not only not Catholic, I’m not Christian. Or Muslim. Or Buddhist, Sihk, Jain, Hindu, nor a follower of Quetzlcoatl. I don’t believe any gods exist. I couldn’t help but feel I walked into the church with a huge sign over my head, in neon lights, that proclaimed my disbelief. A kind of anti-halo. Even if whoever waited inside missed this, me walking in and getting busy with a hook and wool would be a rather large clue that I didn’t belong here. Continue reading

Dopers

Doping in the world of top cyclists is in the news again, after Floyd Landis gave interviews to two television stations, one German, one French. He’s claiming that Lance Armstrong, darling of the cycling world, used banned substances as much as anyone else at the time, and that everyone else was doped up to their eyeballs.

I don’t know that much about the whole issue, as much as I love cycling, I have little interest in watching the Tour or reading about top cyclists. I did have a very interesting chat to a guy who’s been in the cycling world for years a few weeks ago, and learned a lot from it. He thinks that doping in as rife in the higher levels of other sports as it is in cycling, and he wasn’t talking athletics or the other usual suspects. He was referring to sports such as football.

Whatever the case may be, I find the whole mess sad and frustrating. It casts a shadow of doubt over every achievement by cyclists over the last thirty years, and makes you look in a new way at the top guys. My feeling is that a win accomplished by doping yourself to the gills is a hollow, worthless thing. I suppose you have the money and the glory, but you can’t possibly hope to have any respect for yourself. And who else’s respect really counts, if you don’t have your own?

Bringing the body to the party

That’s a misleading title for this entry, it sounds more like an episode of Dexter than a blog post about physical exercise. My body is on my mind, though. I’m thinking a lot about training, about my natural adoration of exercise and how it can and should slot into my life and my desires.

This is partly because I’ve been seeing my friend Jo. She’s a chartered physiotherapist, and she’s studying some very exciting new techniques and approaches in her discipline. As a result of her input, I’m starting to learn to listen to my body, and it’s a journey full of surprises.

One key Jo gave to me – perhaps unwittingly – was the remark: “People think their bodies are there to serve them.” I turned that statement over and examined it from many angles. With the holistic approach Jo takes in our sessions, it made sense. Yet how could you think any other way of your body as something to serve you, when you’re training for difficult, demanding races?

This morning in the pool I might have hit upon the answer. When you’re training, your body needs to be on board for the experience. You shouldn’t push it, you shouldn’t have to. It’s difficult to explain, but here’s my experience this morning: I aimed to do 1:45. By 1:20, my left shoulder muscle started aching – just a little bit, but I noticed. I might have noticed because I’ve been learning to listen to my body, to not only hear her when she starts screaming for attention with an injury, but to be tuned to the messages she gives me as I train. I took the sore shoulder as a message from my body that this was as far as it was prepared to go, stopped swimming and got out of the pool.

Now, this can be a dangerous way to look at things. There is a degree to which we might need to push through pain. I have no doubt that doing an endurance race, you’ll have no choice but to do so. But for now, I’m not going to set goals according to some schedule. I’m going to look at what Imy body is comfortable doing right now, plan for something about 10% higher, and swim/cycle/run until I hit that extra 10% or until my body tells me it’s gone far enough. I’ll continue aiming for that previous comfort zone + 10% until my new comfort zone includes the addition. Then it’s time to add 10% to that, and aim to bring my comfort zone up to that.

I’m not sure if this really is different from what people do already in their training. However, I think even if I don’t change much in my training programme, a big change has taken place in my mind.

I learn something new every week.