14 Questions that Zamboni Drivers are Sick of Answering: A Critique of Lists

Lists! The Internet loves lists. If you have something to say, and you want people to read it, put it in list form… and add a few GIFs.

Teachers, you might want to consider framing all of your lessons this way. This formula is fail proof.

Admittedly, I too have a fondness for lists.

But, there is one particular genre of lists that are making my eyes roll pretty hard these days…

Lists that instruct us how *not* to talk to people. Here are some examples:

“12 things not to say to new parents”
“6 things that childless people hate to be asked”
“20 things not say to a pregnant woman”
“14 questions that Zamboni drivers are sick of answering”
“Never ask a PhD candidate any of these 10 questions.” (#1-10 – “When are going to be done?”)
“10 things not to say to teachers” (#6. “Have you considered framing your lessons using lists?”)
“4 things not to ask a Torontonian”
“8 phrases that should never be said to professional clowns”
“1 thing not to ask a large crane operator” (spoiler alert: it’s “what do you do when you have to pee on the job?” Another spoiler alert:they pee in a Tim Horton’s Cup- this is the only question anyone ever asks them, and I think that it’s safe to assume that they’re getting sick of it.)

It’s not that these lists don’t contain some great advice. It is a good idea not to ask a pregnant woman if it was planned… or who the father is. There’s no doubt about that. And some of them I really appreciate, especially those produced by members of groups that are routinely mis/underrepresented in popular culture/politics, and who systematically face the same ignorant and deeply hurtful comments and intrusive questions every day.


do we really need The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, or those hyperbolic saps at Upworthy (“You’ll never believe the Four questions that will drive every Librarian to the brink of suicide!”), to tell us how not to be an asshole in every specific social situation?

Ok, so I know what not to say to a trombone player, but now I’m speaking with a flautist. How do I navigate this social situation? Shit, I’m really going to fuck this up… and I can’t find a list to guide me. Maybe I’ll just ask her if her disproportionately hefty upper arms help or hurt her fluting. Yes, that seems like a safe bet. ”

I think that I find these lists annoying because we have to accept that we are going to be offended, and be in a position where we are forced to answer annoying questions, repeatedly. This is part of life. We cannot possibly expect that everyone we interact with should have considerable knowledge about who we are, and intuitively know each of our personal triggers.

I am a bitter, underemployed feminist, which means that for me, feeling offended is my baseline emotion. When I’m happy, I’m happy AND offended. When I’m excited, I’m excited AND offended. When I’m hungry I’m… mostly just angry. And if I started to write a list of things not to say to an underemployed feminist, I don’t think that I would every finish it…because it would be huge… and probably my next post.
When people write, repost and share these lists, I feel like they are saying ‘All of you are now responsible for dealing with the annoyances, sensitivities and insecurities that I am experiencing in a particular role that I have taken up in my life.’  Don’t put that on the rest of us, you need to find a way to deal with that.

Perhaps there is something to be said for feeling a little offended sometimes. I come up with some of my best ideas when I’m feeling offended, but then again, as I said, I’m never not experiencing offense. Feeling offended is like breathing air at this point.

And another thing, shared offense is the most solid foundation of any relationship. If the same things get you riled up, you will be friends for life.


Stats, Lies and my Irreparable Relationship with Job Banks

Lies, Damn Lies, and Jobs Numbers: Canada Edition <– this came across my feed the other day, and it got me all fired up.

Basically, the post highlights how the Canadian Conservative government manipulates statistics to mislead potential voters into thinking that they have created jobs. However a more rigorous analysis reveals this rhetoric to be “damn lies.”

Sure, the stats nerd in me (well, the one that I once aspired to be, but never really managed to go full nerd, because I’m awful with numbers) was offended, due to the misrepresentation of statistics, and general lack of transparency.

But, the part of me that is chronically underemployed (which I guess is technically the whole me) is far more perturbed.

I have this theory that deep inside, whether they would admit it to themselves or not, some fully employed folks find themselves a little envious of my position. While many of them have been working hard and steadily, in a more or less linear field, here I am with buckets of education, and no discernible future, navigating my career like a gibbon swinging from contract position to contract position. I’m sure that they recognize that this is an absolutely terrifying career path (if you can call it a path. I feel like that’s a bit of a misnomer, considering that neither of my feet are planted on the ground, and there is nothing really guiding my career trajectory), and that the financial insecurity and general existential and identity problems that go along with it are a real drag.  But, I also think that it opens up a space for some fantasy about their own lives… similar to how a securely and happily coupled, monogamous person might scope out some of the attractive faces on OKCupid, some fully employed people might engage in a similar form of vicarious tourism. 

Just like every other un/underemployed person actively looking for work, I know exactly what they see- they see awesome jobs posted everywhere.

Let’s take Charity Village, for example.

Early in my search for a new career, this was my favourite job bank. For any un/underemployed lefty, who is intent on finding a do-goodery job, this place is magical. They advertise awesome titles like, “Philanthropy Coordinator”, or “Women’s Efficacy Director”, or “Child Achievement Facilitator.”  They are posted by companies with provocative names like “Girls Rule”, or “The Equality Network”, or “(random woman’s name)’s Place”. 

The job descriptions list sexy qualifications like, “having an intersectional lens is mandatory”, or “candidates must adopt an anti-oppression framework”. Some of the potential employers even required online applicants to write responses to complex essay questions. I would spend hours, optimistically and carefully writing responses. I would actually enjoy crafting my answers and cover letters.

But, this love affair with charity village didn’t last very long. Despite the 100s of resumes and cover letters I submitted, I failed to elicit one response prepared by a human being. I learned very quickly that many of these employers probably had no intention of hiring an Internet rando… but likely had an internal candidate in mind. 

In any case, job banks consistently irk me because they give the impression that there are plenty of opportunities, when in reality, these opportunities do not exist. These create an illusion- the illusion that there are 1000s of jobs out there, available, begging for applicants. This is dangerous, because it undermines people who are under/unemployed. It makes it look like our employment issues have less to do with lack of opportunity, and more to do with individual laziness, lack of resourcefulness, or some other personal failures.

So, when I hear the inauthentic rhetoric around job creation, I know that it validates the false impression that the economy is healthy and that jobs are available. The stigmas that I, and people like me already face are given more credibility by shitty skewed statistics presented by the Harper government.

Finally, just to bring this conversation back to ‘vicarious tourism’ and online dating profiles, I’m sure that there are parallels to be found here. I’m sure that like Charity Village, OKCupid also helps bolster the fantasy that there are more shining ‘opportunities’ out there for single men and women than exist in actuality.

That said…

In my experience, I have always found it way easier to find a boyfriend on the Internet than it is to find a job. I often think about how this is so bananas- I can find a human being who is willing to be physically, emotionally, intellectually and even financially intimate with me and no one else but me, and ultimately fall in love with me, but I can’t find a company, who is willing to spare 20 minutes in the form of a job interview, to discuss potentially paying me slightly more than minimum wage to answer phone calls for them.