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The Handmaid’s Tale: Faithful

This post includes spoilers for “Faithful” (Season 1, Episode 5) of The Handmaid’s Tale. As usual, the link on the left has full summaries of all of the episodes that have aired so far. This post is my reaction to what happened. 

I was happy to see the pacing pick up this week after the slower storytelling we saw in Nolite Te Bastardes Carbundorum. Offred was finally back to her usual routine after her long punishment.

This episode has been my favourite one so far. None of the storylines have ever felt discordant, but they were woven together especially beautifully this week.

I particularly enjoyed seeing Offred run into Ofglen at the grocery store. Ofglen – who is now known as Ofsteven thanks to her reassignment to a new home-  wasn’t a character I was expecting to see again so soon after her clitoridectomy, so it was pleasantly surprising to have her suddenly show up again.

We knew there was some kind of underground resistance to the society that Gilead created, but this week we got to learn its name: Mayday. Now that Ofsteven is considered too risky for them to use to pass around information anymore, I’m guessing that Ofglen will take her place if she can figure out who else is part of Mayday and how to get an invitation to it. No, I haven’t been reading spoilers for future episodes. I avoid them as much as is humanly possible. This is pure conjecture on my part.

Speaking of Ofsteven, her character development was excellent. She was so quiet, stiff, and subdued in her first few scenes that I never would have guessed the violent turn she’d take later on in the storyline. After she stole the car of one of the men guarding the market and ran over another guard, I remarked to my spouse that I thought this was a suicide attempt instead of an escape. There was nowhere for her to go due to the tight quarters of the market, and she didn’t seem calculating enough to get away even if there had been a convenient side street for her to drive down.

I liked the contrast between Ofsteven and the new Ofglen. (I will call her Ofglen2 to make this less confusing). I never would have guessed that any Handmaid would be content in her position, much less be desperate to hold onto it. Ofglen2’s story about being a prostitute who had to scrounge up a few dollars to afford fast food after turning a trick was brutal. Was it true, though? At first I honestly wondered if she was an Eye who had concocted this story as part of a plan to gain intel on Offred. Offred has already been questioned and tortured, though, so at this point I’m going to assume that Ofglen2 is telling the truth until or unless new facts emerge.

The Ceremony was as brutal as ever this week. I genuinely don’t understand how Commander Waterford can perform sexually with a Handmaid who doesn’t consent and a wife who looks traumatized every time it happens. These aren’t scenes I ever want to watch again, but the acting in them is brilliant.

While I already knew that Offred’s husband was married to someone else when they first began dating, seeing them together in flashback scenes gave me mixed feelings. She is a character I’ve grown to love, but watching Luke cheat on his spouse with her made my stomach turn. They were so flippant and unapologetic about it. They also had a lot of chemistry. If that act hadn’t been a violation of Nick’s vows, I would have been cheering for them.

I’m hoping that this will be explored in more depth either in this season or in a future season. Will we get to meet Luke’s first wife, Annie, and maybe even find out what happened to her? I sure hope so.

My thoughts about Serena Joy remain as complicated as ever. She is stuck in what seems to be a pretty joyless marriage,  she hasn’t been able to get pregnant (although I’m pretty sure that the Commander is the infertile one at this point, not her), and she seems incredibly bored and frustrated with her life.

And yet she treats the other women in her household so coldly. Based on how she’s spoken down to and treated Offred in the past, I get the impression that she’d turn on anyone in an instant if it benefited her. There is no real sense of camaraderie among any of the women in the house unless you count Serena Joy arranging for Offred to sleep with Nick, the family driver, in an attempt to make a baby. Even this act was selfish, though, and would never have been allowed if Serena couldn’t gain something priceless from it.

The sex scenes between Offred and Nick were my last surprise of the week. I winced during the first one because Serena Joy decided to stay in the room while it happened. I suppose she did it to protect them from anyone who might have come to talk to Nick while he was inseminating her, but it made the whole thing almost as awkward and creepy as the Ceremony itself.

Then there was their late night tryst. After 5 episodes of Offred being raped, it was bizarre to see her having consensual sex. I also thought this scene was a nice complement to the first time she slept with Luke. Both of those experiences would have gotten her in deep trouble if anyone had discovered them, and yet both of them gave her a lot of pleasure.

We are halfway done with season 1 of this show now. I am so grateful that there is a second season in the works. As much as I like what they’ve done with it so far, I get the impression that there are going to be many loose strings remaining after the season finale.

Previous posts in this series:

5 Things I Want from The Handmaid’s Tale

Introducing Offred’s World

Gender Treachery

Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum

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3 Reasons Why You Should Meditate Outdoors

I’ve slowly been trying to incorporate more meditation into my routine after the long break I took from it earlier this spring.

This spring has been a chilly, wet one so far here in Toronto. We’re only now beginning to have a few days in a row where it hasn’t rained and the temperature has been above 10 degrees Celsius (or 50 Fahrenheit for those of you who live in the United States).

Along with continuing to meditate in noisy places, one of my goals for this summer is to sit and meditate outside once the weather warms up a few more degrees and it’s no longer quite so uncomfortable to sit still on a cold bench on a cloudy day.

I’ve been meditating during long walks in the meantime. It’s actually the first technique I used when I began meditating years ago, and it’s still something I find soothing when I’m having trouble staying focused while sitting down.

There are three basic reasons why I love outdoor meditation so much, and today we’re going to explore them.

Reason #1: Natural Background Noises Aren’t as Distracting

When I’m meditating at home, I might hear thumping music from the apartment next to mine, a distant argument from the other side of the hall, the thud of something heavy being dropped on an uncarpeted floor, the ding of an elevator door, or any other number of other miscellaneous noises. The building I l live in is wonderful in many other ways, but preventing sound from travelling is not one of them.

Can I filter these things out when necessary? Absolutely, but I find the rustle of leaves or a bird singing to be much less distracting than the sound of other humans living their lives. If I’m already struggling to focus on clearing my mind of all thoughts, it’s nice to remove that extra layer of stuff that is competing for my attention.

I don’t know about you, but I also find it easier to tune out the sounds of nature in general. My brain might register that birds are tweeting, but I don’t consciously think about them the same way I would if I heard a conversation happening in the background that I could almost – but not quite – make out.

Reason #2: Nature Is Soothing

Few things lift my mood faster than going somewhere where there aren’t any buildings, roads, shops, or billboards to be seen. I love taking a brisk walk on a shady path or watching squirrels run around looking for food.

There is something incredibly relaxing about being surrounded by so many different species of plants even if they have been planted, manicured, or kept up by humans in some way. Visiting a large national park where everything there looks more or less the same as it did a thousand years ago is exciting, but I also find joy in visiting parks that have sidewalks, benches, and large fields of recently-mowed grass.

This is one of the many reasons why I love trees. Other than trimming off the occasional dead branch, there aren’t a lot of things you can do to a tree to make it less wild. A mature oak is going to look roughly the same no matter where it’s growing or what has happened around it. There is something beautiful and soothing about that.

(I’ve joked about being a friend of the Ents in the past. Maybe there is a kernel of truth to that in the sense that i have a strong affinity for trees.)

Reason #3: It’s a Smart Idea to Practice Meditating Under Many Different Circumstances

The biggest reason why I began occasionally meditating in noisy places last winter is that I wanted to expand the number of places where I could meditate.

You will not always be able to meditate in a cool, clean, quiet room that is free from every distraction.

While no one in my family is currently ill, I want to be able to meditate in a hospital waiting room if necessary while we wait to hear word from the doctor.  I also want to be able to meditate in cramped airplane seats, hard park benches on warm summer days, dusty rooms, and anywhere else I could possibly need to slow down my thoughts and live in the moment.

Meditation isn’t something that’s only supposed to work when you’re having a good day. The benefits of it extend to every part of the human experience if you do it regularly.

Hopefully I won’t have to meditate when I’m feeling physical or emotional discomfort anytime soon, but I’d like to be well-accustomed to breathing through all kinds of different circumstances when that does happen again in the future. Think of it like practicing a speech over and over again before you present it to your audience. You’ll probably still feel nervous when the big day comes, but at least you’ll know the material inside and out.

If you haven’t tried outdoor meditation yet, I hope this post has encouraged you to give it a try. It is a wonderful addition to all of the other forms of meditation out there. I can’t recommend it highly enough, and I’ve only just begun to explore its possibilities!

 

Suggestion Saturday: May 20, 2017

Here is this week’s list of short stories, encouragement, and links from my favourite corners of the web.

Stop Doubting Your Greatness via ‪aford21‬. I loved this.

Summoning Demons with Sandwiches. What a creative idea for a story. I can’t stop giggling at it. No, it isn’t frightening at all for those of you who don’t like the scary stuff. Think of it more like a sitcom that happens to star a few demons who are nothing at all like the traditional depictions of them.

When You Can Only Do a Little via ‪zenandpi‬. This is an excellent thing to keep in mind on days when you can’t accomplish as much as you’d hoped.

I’m a Hill, You Can Roll Down Me. This sounds like a Pixar movie song.

Decades After Foster Care, I Found My Long-Lost Brother. If only this could be a full-length book. What a story.

Exercise Cuts Appetite for Fatty Food. It will be interesting to see if this study can be replicated in the future. I had never heard of this theory before.

From Stop Standing On Our Feet via ‪the_author_‬:

Imagine something with me – you’re standing in a crowded space, and someone steps on your foot. It’s not the first time someone has stepped on your foot that week, or even that day. In fact, people tend to step on your foot a lot, and always have. Sometimes you even avoid going certain places or engaging in certain activities, hoping to reduce the frequency with which your foot gets stepped on.

Imagine that this time, though, you decide to say something.

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The Handmaid’s Tale: Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum


This post includes spoilers for “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum”
(Season 1, Episode 4) of The Handmaid’s Tale. As usual, the link on the left has full summaries of all of the episodes that have aired so far. 

While this episode included several important world-building moments, it wasn’t as action-filled as the previous episodes have been. The picture on the left is one reminder of just how out of the ordinary “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum” was, but we’ll talk about that more in a few minutes. Let’s stick with the slower pacing for now.

You see, Offred had spent the last 13 days banished to her room as punishment for not being pregnant. Women in Gilead weren’t allowed to read or write, so she had absolutely nothing to occupy her time during those long days and nights.

It was only after examining every last square inch of her room that Offred noticed the phrase nolite te bastardes carborundorum scratched into the wall in her closet. I loved the way they showed her staring listlessly at this phrase as she tried to figure out who wrote it and what they were trying to communicate with her. She had found out in the first episode that the Commander and his wife had a previous Handmaid, but she didn’t know what happened to her predecessor.

There was an important clue to the first Offred’s fate that was revealed to the audience when Martha discovered our Offred lying on the floor and assumed she was dead. Offred lied and said she had fainted in order to prevent anyone else from finding what she’d found in the closet.

The doctor’s visit our Offred was sent on to make sure she was healthy made my skin crawl.  Not only was the doctor creepy in a sad sort of way when he told Offred that he could try to get her pregnant, the rows of pictures of Commanders and Wives holding healthy babies in the waiting room made me wonder exactly how many Handmaids there were altogether out there. For some reason, I thought there were far fewer of them than all of those happy portraits hinted there could be.

They also made me wonder how many of those babies were genetically the doctor’s offspring. Once again I’m glad that I’m only recommending this series for the 14+ crowd. The failed ceremony scene was even more disturbing this week in light of the doctor’s comment about many of the Commanders being sterile. Assuming this is true of Offred’s Commander, then all of the trauma of those nights happens for no reason at all.

My favourite scene, though, occurred at the end of this episode when Offred decided to take the Commander up on his invitation to play a forbidden game of Scrabble after everyone else in the house had gone to bed. Knowing what his intentions were this time didn’t make their interactions any less strange. She was his property. He wanted her to be happy with the arrangement and with her unorthodox relationship with him. In fact, he couldn’t get an erection this month without the illusion that they had some kind of connection.

The nice thing about Offred realizing this was that she was able to use it to find out that the previous Offred committed suicide and that “nolite te bastardes carborundorum” jokingly translates to “don’t let the bastards grind you down.” It was through pretending to have a connection with the Commander that she was also released from her confinement to her room. His fear of another Handmaid killing herself was stronger than Serena Joy’s desire to keep punishing Offred.

Some of the other reactions to this episode that I’ve read have talked about feeling sorry for the Commander in light of how concerned he was about Offred. Given how much power he holds in this world, I had a lot of trouble feeling that way for him. He was so far up the ranks in Gilead that I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d played a key role in creating this world. No, I haven’t read any spoilers about the future episodes. It is pure speculation on my part, but he struck me as someone who fought for something that only sounded good on paper. Once he actually began to experience the world he helped to create, he seemed to feel some buyer’s remorse.

The thing is, the Commander hasn’t had anything important taken away from him. He still has his name, his identity, his family, and as much freedom as anyone can reasonably expect to have in this world. It will be interesting to see if my opinion of him changes in the future, but for now all of my sympathies lie with the Handmaids and everyone else who lost everything to this system.

I have not decided yet if I have sympathy for Serena Joy (who is pictured on the right). The way she treated Offred was abusive and abysmal in this episode, but I’ve also seen the men in her life treat her terribly, too.

That’s not an excuse for her behaviour, by the way. It’s simply an acknowledgement that all of the women in this society have been dealt a crappy hand.

The fact that she has stubbornly refused to help the other women in her house unless it directly benefitted her in some way makes me dislike her intensely. I also hate the fact that she feels so entitled to stealing and raising someone else’s child.

While I have sympathy for her inability to get pregnant when she so clearly yearns to be a parent, wanting to separate a baby from his or her biological mother when the mother has done nothing wrong and has zero history of harming children is horrific.

This is something I hope will be explored further in the future. There have been multiple examples of this sort of thing happening in recent human history, from the Plazo de Mayo mothers to the Baby Scoop era of the 1940s-1970s.

Overall, this was not my favourite episode of this series so far. It was still very good storytelling, but I’m hoping that next week’s episode will have more action in it for Offred’s sake as well as for ours.

Previous posts in this series:

5 Things I Want from The Handmaid’s Tale

Introducing Offred’s World

Gender Treachery