Privileged Parsnip: white and wealthy

“Ooh this one’s hot!” says one turnip bum to her husband while entering the tranquility of the outdoor spa steam pool in her black frilly bathing suit that a saleswoman said was slimming. She continues, unabashedly breaking the silence with her nasal drivel, “When Carol said that to me, I just didn’t know what to do. You know I’ve tried to be nice but this really – (blah blah blah blah)” She continues jabbering for another five minutes straight. The people around her don’t say anything, they just sort of glide away, like good long suffering Canadian mermaids.Unknown

I seethe, directly opposite, trying to make eye contact so I can give her an icy glare. No going. Her husband nods, eyes closed, as she raves on. He’s comatose, wearing an incongruous leather hat on his bald head in the hot pool. After a while he leaves her mid sentence and swims towards the water fall. He removes his hat, gentlemanly, presenting himself  like a burnt offering, sticking his head under the water fall, the stream crashing over his ears and shoulders. That’s what it takes to drown out his wife.

The Scandinavian Spa in Whistler is very good about signage. I appreciate their effort to protect the tranquility of the sauna, pools, sunrooms and gardens. Silence is so rare in today’s society. My Fellow and I try to come here for our anniversary for the calm. Every door says, “Silence”, and every station has a sign with a gentle finger against closed lips, “Shh” “No talking” “Please respect spa etiquette”.

However, this is the first time we’ve come on a weekend in the summer. The place is packed and big fat white porpoise after big fat white porpoise just has to break my expensive quietude and reverse the relaxation of my one hour massage with their incessant high pitched jibber jabber. While separated from her mate, I wanted to swim up to this one and stuff one of the complimentary white fluffy towels in her flappy gob and shout, “Honestly! What can be so important that you can’t shut your damn trap for an hour or two?! You are the living embodiment of the adage, “those who speak much know little”!”

But -at present – she is silent. She is alone. She looks lost without her husband. Her light blue eyes are darting around a bit frantic, to be honest. Is she afraid of silence? Did her bottom always look like a turnip? She was probably quite fetching in her twenties and perhaps nobody corrected her for jabbering on because she was just so adorable and blonde and blue eyed it didn’t really matter.images-1

Or perhaps her jabber is new. Perhaps it started when her children grew up and left her in a big empty quiet home. Perhaps she retired before she felt she contributed enough to society or lived out any of her passions. Perhaps her husband hasn’t touched her in years and if she doesn’t keep talking she might disappear completely? Or maybe she’s just simply a wealthy indulgent loud American tourist who never learned to consider the feelings of others.

Hm. Interesting how I am being so mean spirited and a wee bit racist to top it off. I remind myself I know many quiet generous Americans and many loud obnoxious Canadians. I continue staring right at her and she hasn’t met my gaze once. That’s unusual. Most people can sense when they’re being spied on. I bet she knows I’ve been looking at her. I bet she’s avoiding my gaze on purpose, sensing my unkindness. She stuffs her sunglasses on. I am finding it hard to be compassionate towards this one. Maybe because I could possibly turn into her if I let myself go.

No! God, no!

I get up and fling myself into the cold pool in order to completely wash off the horror of that last thought. Then I wrap myself in my white robe so nobody can judge my bum, and I sit by the outdoor fire pit in a shady chez lounge.  I wonder if I look remotely like a rutabaga.

Who walks up towards me? My dear friend, Donna-lea, with her most excellent sun hat and her delicate little ankles. She gasps when she sees me. We had no idea we were both coming here on our wedding anniversaries. She has that mixed look of “how wonderful to see you my dear friend whom I love” and “shit, I wanted to be anonymous, I’m too exhausted to visit”. I chuckle, completely understanding all. Now, we would have a lot to say to each other, but we’re good girls. We say nothing. We respect the “shush”. She kisses me on the cheek and I smile with eyes that I hope say, “Don’t worry, I won’t invade you. I know you’ve come here to unwind and be alone. You look fabulous, you deserve this break. I am well and my husband is also here somewhere and he won’t bug you either.”

I crack open my book. I don’t often get a chance to read for pleasure. I read so much while I’m writing and researching and certainly when I’m teaching. I have a pile of books that have been penned by esteemed colleagues that I’ve wanted to tackle for years. Today, I am giddy to finally dig into Carmen Aguirre’s memoir, “Something Fierce.” God, it’s terrific! It’s brutally honest and it reveals a bloody revolutionary struggle. But it’s also full of tenderness and humour through an utterly accessible POV.Unknown-1

The poverty, passion, vibrancy, violence and political strife of South America in the 1970s is in sharp contrast to the spa I currently swim in. I chose the contrast on purpose. How do I feel on one of my most indulgent days of the year, going to a spa for a massage and a day of lying around, then to an expensive dinner, then to an overpriced hotel? How do I feel about this while being reminded that there are children out there starving and dying of curable diseases and people being tortured and killed for their beliefs? Am I to feel guilty for being born into this white privilege and capitalist western world wealth? Am I to be callous? Am I to throw breadcrumbs? Am I to not worry about a disparity that I didn’t cause in the first place?


One thing is for certain: I have to stop being oblivious to the fact that I’m white and that I’m privileged. I suspect I am to be grateful, first and foremost. And then I suspect I am called to a great responsibility to do the most I can with the privilege and wealth I have instead of skulking around being in denial or a bit embarrassed by it. Certainly it is not admirable to waste time being peevish when my paradise is slightly disturbed by a verbose vegetable shaped woman in a one-piece.

I place down the book. I feel it is changing something in me. It’s a similar feeling to when I was a teenager, aching from my bones growing quickly.

It isn’t okay to just “exist’, to lounge, however modestly. I get caught up in “living simply” and proud of “stretching a dollar” and “leaving a small footprint” and not being “materialistic”. There is an arrogance to being a struggling artist as opposed to a middle classed one or God forbid, a wealthy one someday. My husband has been reading about the eight richest families in the world and musing over what he can do to maximize his wealth. I’ve tended to turn my nose up at these conversations. He’s been talking about his great grandfather who created wealth and thus he continues to posthumously contribute to charities and how can he also be a great man like that…

Hm. Well, that’s true.images-4

Why have I assumed that creating wealth would be a selfish thing? It doesn’t have to be about me keeping it all. Have I put enough effort into creating opportunity and resources so that I can somehow contribute to empowering the impoverished and the discriminated? How am I doing anyone any good by skating by barely making my bills, with the odd little day here and there at the spa? Look, I know I contribute to other white privileged people (largely) through my writing and my teaching, but what do I do for the rest of the world besides sponsoring a little girl in India?

Not much.

On a related side note, my friend Lisa Ravensbergen, has been dialoguing this week about the need for white people to stop being absent/silent in the wake of discrimination, but to speak up. To act. To risk saying the wrong thing, to risk causing a ripple in the workplace or the grocery store, or on the bus or what have you. It’s all been on my mind. This idea that I’m called to action WITH my whiteness and my privilege.

Now…how to do that in a way that is useful. As Eduardo Galeano wrote, “I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.”Chilean Coup-40 years out copy

“Hmph” I say out loud and paddle over for some complimentary ginseng tea. I contemplate something I haven’t really contemplated before. I’d love to be more useful to the majority of the world. Why not? Why not try? I might have forty years left. I don’t want to spend it yacking away to my husband about some Carol who gave me the cold shoulder at church.

I head into the steam room and lie down on my back, scheming. Another two women come into my sanctuary and sure enough, one starts jammering on in a loud whisper, as if I can’t f’ing hear her three feet away. I hiss like a venomous snake, “Shhhhhhhhh!!!!!” Don’t mess with my silence, you parsnip. I have to rest up. It’s a lot of hard work shifting my paradigm. images-2

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  1. Jeanne Fahlman

    My son is a fan of your writing – well you, actually and he sent me your blog this morning. He knows you from Rosebud. You now have another fan!

    1. Lucia Frangione

      how lovely! welcome to the stories, Jeanne!

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