I Knew John Maguire.

[Guest post by Ian McMillan]

This piece is very hard for me and has been a month in the making. When the original story broke in early December, I wanted to write something, but couldn’t find the time or frankly the words to express what I wanted to say properly. But now I feel I have to say SOMETHING to the world.

At 9:20 pm on January 14th 2015, I saw an article claiming that John Maguire, the young Canadian man who left his life behind him in 2013 to join ISIS, was killed in Kobani, Northern Syria. To those of you that don’t remember, John (who went by the name Abu Anwar Al-Canadi when he entered Syria) was the young man who was all over the news back in December when he made a video for ISIS threatening attacks against Canada and Canadians. The news was sensational because he seemed like a normal Canadian kid who wanted to play in the NHL, a smart kid, a kid and loved the outdoors. But something changed in John, who started to go by the name Yahya on Twitter and Facebook. He converted to Islam, became radicalized and abandoned his country and way of life, to fight the Jihad, against the infidels, in Syria.

It seems like a huge leap for me and you, right? To be honest, it even seems weird for me to be writing about him since he is “just another terrorist” and “a traitor”. Why should we even think, let alone care about him? I understand that most people will view Yahya’s death as sad, but quickly move on from it since it is a very small story in the grand scheme of the overarching tale of ISIS. Also I understand that people will frankly not care that he died and feel that he got exactly what he deserved based off his actions and words.

But for me there is a reason to care. I actually knew Yahya.

I am not claiming to be some childhood friend, or classmate of Yahya’s. I worked with him for almost a year at a grocery store in Ottawa. Ya, weird, I know right? The young man the world saw as a terrorist used to be a stock boy.

I met Yahya at 5:00 in the morning one cold miserable day in the winter of 2012. I was a little hesitant to meet him at first. The group that we had at this grocery story were mostly non-religious (or else very quiet in our convictions). Not only that, we were a group of younger guys who would get together for a beer or two after work. Yahya was different. He looked like the rest of us, in the sense that we were mostly white Canadians, but from the very start we all knew he was deeply religious. There was a fear that this might change the workplace, that we might need to censor ourselves. Still, I figured that as long as he did his work, we would get along.

Quickly, though, Yahya endeared himself to the group. Not only was he nice, easy to get along with and a hard worker, he was funny! We would talk about dumb things, crazy stuff that was happening in our lives, the scores of hockey games and other trivial matters. The group all thought he was a good guy and a valued member of the team. I saw a lot of him because we worked the 5:00 am shift together every day. He was always polite, willing to offer a hand if I needed it; the definition of “solid” guy. I also quickly realized that behind his easy going nature there was a deep intellectual side to him. Now, I’m not going to claim I’m some deep philosopher, but I like to have good conversations and debates with people about the issues of our times. Yahya seemed to be that type, too.

The first time I ever had a deep conversation with Yahya was in the lunch room. We were both sitting across from each other having our hour lunch when he started to ask me about my beliefs. I shared that I was raised Catholic, though I am no longer practicing. Normally I would keep this very private because it is something that I was raised to NOT talk about, but I felt the need to talk to someone of a different faith superseded the way I was raised.  The conversations that the two of us had about religion, faith and morals fascinated me. As a student of history I could talk to Yahya about the early church history and its relationship with the Islamic Faith. We talked about the crusades, the religious justification for them and the morality of killing in the name of God (for his part, Yahya shared his personal belief that killing in the name of God was only justifiable if an innocent life was at stake). We talked about the similarities and differences between the two religions. It was all very civil, very respectful and always informative. I pictured this as how any religious conversation should be.

This went on for almost a year, every day the two of us talking to each other about what is truth and what is just. Not only did we work well together, we had some of the most intellectual conversations that I have ever had. But then one day Yahya was quitting. He had an internship that started in January 2013, and couldn’t handle the workload of both jobs. While we were sad to see him go, we were all happy for him. He was a hell of worker and a good guy. I can remember shaking his hand, giving him a hug and wishing him the best of luck. He wished me the same. This was December 2012, his last day. If you have been following the news you know that this is point that Yahya bought a one way ticket to Turkey so he could slip into Syria and join ISIS. According to every news source I have read, no one close to him knew he was planning on leaving. This is now the second hardest part of Yahya’s story for me (the first being his death).

I only knew Yahya for about a year but in that time he was a good friend who could be counted on in the workplace. He never complained and always did what was asked of him. The news of his death saddened me, but honestly didn’t surprise me. In early December, when the video of Yahya surfaced, I commented to my girlfriend that “he is never making it out of there alive”. I didn’t want that statement to be true, but I knew that was probably his fate. A very small percentage of young Muslim men and boys join terrorist groups (even fewer white men from the West), making Yahya’s story extremely odd. But to me, what made his story odd was this: Yahya went from someone who could debate about religion civilly and respectfully, to calling for attacks against innocent people. I’m truly am saddened by his death but am more saddened by how someone who was so bright and so strong in his beliefs could be twisted into something so evil and unrecognizable to those that knew him.

I end this piece with what I truly wish I could have done for Yahya. I wish that me and him could be put in a room by ourselves. Just two chairs, a table and us. Just so we could talk again. I just want to listen to him, hear his thoughts, his fears. I just want to be reminded that the different religious groups of the world can sit together in the break room and enjoy each other’s company.

When Love (and Christmas) Looks Different

On the surface, it’s not particularly Christmas-y in this house. We spent last night watching the Biography channel and eating leftover pizza. My youngest brother and I did a puzzle together, aren’t we the coolest, and I fell asleep pretty quickly after midnight. No twinkling lights lit the pathway to my “bedroom,” a small mattress in the corner of my mother’s attic office. There is no snow on the ground. After a month of ugly exam-time eating habits, eggnog just seems like a bad idea.

The house isn’t decorated this year. It just isn’t.  My mother dragged a cheap, small tree into the bare living room yesterday. My brother proclaimed “It was only ten dollars!”. And I smiled because, oh man, this calm and relaxed version of Christmas is so much better than any National Lampoon-esque stressball.

The extent of our Christmas decorating this year.

That brother is seventeen now. Another brother is twenty (twenty!) and the youngest, the baby, he’s fifteen. I joke that he’ll never be older than seven in my eyes, but really, he’s taller than me now. His shoulders are wide and his voice is deep and his mind is razor-sharp. He can tell a story and have the whole room crying from laughing. All the boys can. We were taught by the best.

No, it’s not Christmas-y in this house, not the way it used to be. We aren’t little any more. We have competing job schedules, friendships, health-stuff, plus ones. Maintaining the same old traditions would just be a headache.

There’s joy, though. It’s here, I can feel it. Sure, it’s not colour-coded in the usual green and red. There’s less of a soundtrack, less of a menu (though I did insist on sausage rolls, because how can you not?). The choreography is limited, though it never really went to plan anyways, did it?

No–the joy, this year, is in simply being able to get together for a little while and sit around and be grateful for those pesky jobs/friendships/health/plus-ones. And be grateful for the fact that, even as those come and go, we are still here. The joy is quieter, time feels different, but we are still here. 

So let’s be here, shall we?

Let’s be together in a place where expectations are small, smiles are genuine, and “Christmas magic” can be simple and quiet. Where we surrender control. Where we laugh in the face of “This wasn’t how it used to be.” It’s okay. You’re okay. You are here. We are here. God is here (in a pretty big and amazing way, or so the story goes).

Love looks different, it looks different every year, but we are still here. 

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Work and Play Aren’t That Different. Really.

I wonder when life stopped being a game.

I wonder when I stopped playing.

I wonder if I could start again, somehow.

I was sitting at a friend’s orchestra performance. After a few rounds of clapping, I had become acutely aware of the red spots on my raw hands. “Why does that-freaking-conductor keep leaving the room and coming back in?” I wondered, irritated. Because seriously. My hands, guys. They don’t need to take this abuse.

As the applause died down for the fifth (sixth?) time, I clasped my hands and remembered the games I used to play as a kid.  My teeny-tiny hands perceived a round of applause as a call to competition. I would concentrate on being the loudest clap or, more frequently, the last clap–quietly tapping my hands together after everyone else had finished showing their appreciation, feeling a proud, silent victory when I was responsible for the last small sound from the audience.

That was the game.

Everything was a game back then.

I don’t want to be unreasonably nostalgic, but I think it’s a fair reflection. The line between fantasy and reality, which now feels so concrete, was blurred when we were kids. I don’t know whether it was from lack of experience, or dreamy imagination, or unrefined perception, or something else. But the line was blurred. We were self-centered, obnoxious, pushy…but we were also a lot of fun. The way we looked at the world was fun.

When I was small, I didn’t know much about life (hell, I still don’t), but I was pretty sure it was supposed to be fun.

“Play” is often considered frivolous recreation, the opposite of “Work.” But perhaps this isn’t totally true. Perhaps work and play are not mutually exclusive. A worldview that favours joy and laughter and a heavy dose of “don’t sweat the small stuff” sounds like a healthy move. A little less stress and a little more giggling and running around (endorphins, anyone?) has to be a good thing for your happiness and relationships. Challenging yourself in a joy-filled way sounds like a pretty good habit. And it’s certainly easier to see the world humbly and honestly when you aren’t busy taking yourself too seriously.

My favourite definition of play is this one:

Play – the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving.

Translation? Play is basically how every cool innovation ever has ever happened. Toying with ideas. Playing around in the workshop, playing instruments, wordplay.

It’s pretty simple, really. Play is experimental, constructive, innovative, competitive. It can exercise your imagination, (pretend that there’s a monster after us!), your problem-solving skills (how do we hide from the monster?), and your ability to collaborate (let’s build a fort!). Games make you push yourself, and trick you into actually enjoying it.

And they make hands red from overclapping into a fun challenge, apparently.

I could learn from that. Maybe we all could.

In kid-land, we played house. We played school. We played dress-up. Now we just “do” those things, somehow forgetting that they used to be games. And forgetting that in many ways, they still are.

The stakes are higher, our awareness is (ever so slightly) stronger, but life is still full of games, just waiting for us to uncover them. We’re still allowed to play.

In fact, if we aren’t playing, maybe we’re doing it wrong.

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God. (Ecclesiastes 9:9)

Yep, the East Coast is still wonderful. I checked.

My time exploring this country, in all its beauty (imperfect, tree-and-rock-and-tree based beauty, but beauty nonetheless), is far from over. Last week, I found myself on the East Coast of Canada once again. This time, though, I was exploring THE BEAUTY OF FRIENDSHIP.

(I also just threw up in my mouth, dun’worry. )

I share enough of my ridiculous awkwardness with the people who read this blog that I figure it’s worth throwing up some of my happiness, too. This one is profound, in the most simple way. I have friends, lovely friends. To me, they are home. They moved. I visited. They’re still home. And that’s awesome. It’s just awesome.

I repeat: I am also throwing up in my mouth.

With the right company, I imagine someone could be anywhere in the world and be happy. But the seafood, fall colours, ocean, and calmness of the East coast made the experience next-level relaxing. This was vacation. After the last post, there’s no doubt I needed one.

It’s different, traveling with friends. My last Canadiana experience was selfish…because, well, traveling alone is selfish. It’s supposed to be. That’s the point. That trip was all about experiences, about learning and bucket-listing; short-term connections, life lessons, et cetra. And I loved that. I’m sure I still would.

But last week, I was visiting old friends. I was traveling with my plus-one. This trip was all about people. It was about sharing experiences and sitting around the table. It was just friendship. Not the one-week-long Hostel kind of friendship (which is beautiful in its own way, no doubt), but the kind that makes you think “This. Is. Home.”

Of course, there is nothing, nothing, like experiencing a brief breeze of “This. Is. Home.”  while sitting around with a bunch of strangers in a new place. It’s literally worth traveling around the world for. It’s emotional tourism. But sitting around with people who have been there for awhile and just drowning in the “Home” feeling–even in a someone else’s  “house,” even after a long flight–that’s new.

And I could get used to it.

Hopewell Rocks. Why you gotta be so gorgeous, New Brunswick?

Overwhelmed.

It’s nearly October, and I’m tired.

I’ve been writing a lot of “advice-y” posts lately…where I try to sound wise or knowledgeable, where I share so-called insight. I know what I’m doing! I organized it into a list! Read me! Read me!

That seems strange to me this week.

I haven’t written since August 11th. I’m not apologizing; I’ve never liked the idea of churning out meaningless article on a weekly basis (I did try it once, but it felt disingenuous). I’m not apologizing, but maybe I should explain.

The readers of this blog have followed me through so many periods. You’ve joined me for ridiculous commutes, new jobs, viral rants, self-doubt. You’ve followed me through awkward holidays, musical train rides, and SO much “AHHH ADULTHOOD WHAT IS THIS?!?!” (seriously, like every other post).

Through all of it, all of it, I have been busy. Disgustingly busy. Here’s a confession, friends: Between internships and capital-J jobs, I have worked for twelve different organizations in the last three years. Twelve. Not one at a time, either. Jobs have been stacked like pancakes–four, five, six at a time. And that’s not including writing gigs, community service projects, tutoring, babysitting (counting those, my commitments are nearing the twenties). It isn’t counting this blog, either.

Oh, and it’s not counting school…which I attended full time.

This isn’t a braggy point. It used to be. The full schedule–being needed, being professional, knowing how to organize my time–it used to lend me a lot of confidence. I used to be really proud of my superhuman job-juggling skills, but now I’m not so sure.

Now I’m tired. Just tired. And I’m wondering exactly how long I’ve been tired; how long I’ve been ignoring the more unhealthy aspects of my commitment-a-holic ways because doing anything different is frightening.

So healthy, I know.

Don’t get me wrong, the opportunities have been phenomenal. It was exciting to grow in my faith enough to become a church youth leader. It was exciting to have writing deadlines to meet. It was really-freaking-cool to turn from a goofy history geek to a historical tour guide (aka professional know-it-all). And being paid to go on Twitter? Kind of the best.

But there was a problem. There was a big problem. I didn’t just like my full inbox and ringing phone–I defined myself by it. I measured my value in reference letters, scheduling conflicts, social media stats. I cared about klout at age 20 (Why. Why.). I said things like “I’ll pencil you in” and “Can we push this deadline out?” and “Hold on, let me grab my blazer.”

It was nice to be needed. It was affirming to watch my hobbies turn into volunteer commitments, for those to turn into paid jobs. But the lifestyle that came along with it was less-than-ideal. I developed fears, ridiculous ones: An empty schedule is frightening. Not being needed is frightening. Not moving forward actively, obsessively…well, that must mean I’m moving backwards, right?

Faulty logic. I’m learning that now.

Perhaps we spend too much time and energy building an “identity” and not enough time just building ourselves. Yes, sure, I was really good at being a blogger, a workaholic, a stressball. But I got too busy being those things. I didn’t smile at people in the elevator. I ran for the door after class ended, instead of staying a moment to socialize. I ate fast food, drank too much coffee, snapped at tech support.  I got really good at being “Shauna Vert, Communications Professional.” But that got in the way of being “shauna.”

Sometimes being “shauna” will mean writing, or working, or juggling. But sometimes that will mean going on long walks or cooking a lasagna or watching football and holding hands. Hell, sometimes it will just mean sleeping. It’s not just my title. It’s not just my job.

Of course, it will always involve doing-stuff-for-people. It has to. But that’s because I love people and I love doing stuff…not because what I’m doing defines me. We should honour our commitments, but we shouldn’t morph into them.

So, yes. It’s nearly October, and I’m tired. But I had a day off yesterday. I have a vacation in two weeks. I love my jobs–all four of them–and I like my classes. It’s getting better. I’m getting better.

I didn’t take a break from this blog because I was “too busy” (though, sure, that was a factor). I took a break because a) I didn’t really have anything important to write about, and b) I didn’t want to write anything, really. I didn’t want to, and now I do, and that’s fine.

That’s fine.

5 Truths That Will Change the Way You Think About Arguments

My best friend and I had a fight a couple weeks ago. The curse of neither-of-us-are-backing-down reared it’s ugly head, and we were yelling. We were yelling. We weren’t listening to each other, we weren’t giving benefit of the doubt, we weren’t keeping things in perspective–hell, we weren’t even arguing about the same thing in the end.

The unnecessarily intense interaction made me think about how to do conflict better…a little more grace, more love, more not-being-a-dick. It took a lot of reflection, but here are five important things I learned:

1) Start by assuming good intentions.

If you go into a disagreement feeling like a victim, you’re going to argue like a victim. And while victims are great at accusing and ranting, they’re pretty bad at actually coming to a solution. Don’t get me wrong– if someone has betrayed you in a major way, victim it up. But if you’re actually trying to solve something? Going in with a defensive attitude is totally unproductive.

Very rarely will someone intentionally do something just to make your life harder (and if they do, you should probably cut them loose). So why confront someone as if they are purposely trying to hurt you? Instead, talk to people as if you know they care, you know they’re on your team…even if there are some issues to address. It’s much easier to bring things up (and to be receptive when issues are presented to you) when you can always count on a side order of “benefit of the doubt.”

2) The most important question of all: “Wait, what are we really fighting about?”

So often, petty arguments aren’t really about what they seem on the surface. They are symbols of deeper issues. And that makes for a whole lotta miscommunication.

Example: The argument “You never do the dishes” could be about doing the dishes. But it could also be about “I don’t feel like you respect my space” or “I feel like I’m doing more of the work around the house” or “I don’t feel your support right now” or “WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME?!”. And none of those things are about the dishes, really.

BUT, if the argument focuses on those stupid dishes, then none of those actual root issues are addressed. Or worse, when they are addressed, it comes ten minutes into the conversation with a burst of hot tears and accusatory language and geeeeez, that escalated quickly. That’s how shit gets confusing and angry, folks. Simmer. Make sure you are both arguing about the same thing (so often, people are not). And when an argument goes in a weird direction, stop and ask: “Wait, what are we really fighting about?”

3) Avoid blowups by recognizing when you’re “collecting evidence.”

In an attempt to be right and not look like we’re overreacting, we have a tendency to “build a case” and legitimize how we feel before attempting a confrontation. When we do that, we skip the calm, loving “Hey, this is how my world looks right now,” conversation, and silently build up to a cold, grudge-filled trial.

“You did these 7 things in the last week that pissed me off. I have been writing them down, and they are now alphabetized in this list. What do you have to say about THAT, hm?”

Naturally, when we put someone on trial, they defend themselves against our evidence because that’s how trials work. We end up arguing over individual instances (“I’m working overtime! And I did the dishes three days ago!”) instead of the actual issue at hand (“Oh, you feel overwhelmed? How should we work this out moving forward?”).

By approaching conversations with “Hey, I just caught myself collecting evidence on you, can we talk?” you are taking responsibility for your expectations and feelings, rather than waiting for enough ammunition to put all the blame on someone. You make it about being real, instead of being “right.” Obviously, that’s a much better strategy.

4) People yell because they want to be heard

Ah, the good ol’ screaming match. When we start arguing with people, especially if we refuse to see their points or perspective, it’s only a matter of time before they raise their voices a little. Or we raise our voices a little. Although it seems like an emotional response, maybe even irrational, yelling actually makes a lot of freakin’ sense.

It’s pretty simple, really: We learn from a very young age to speak up when someone can’t hear us. Talking louder is a very natural response to not feeling heard. Mix that with a little bit of frustration and you have a high-volume warzone (where, ironically, no one is listening to anyone).

While your body assumes that TALKING LIKE THIS will help you make your point, experience tells us that it really won’t. The best way to be heard is actually by being clear, honest, calm, and timely…not by bringing the roof down. So take those deep breaths (they really work, guys) and remember that when someone raises the volume in your general direction, sometimes THEY JUST REALLY WANT TO BE UNDERSTOOD AND IT IS THE ONLY WAY YOU WILL HEAR THEM, OBVIOUSLY. They may be wrong, but this isn’t your cue to talk over them or defend yourself—it’s your cue to listen better.

5) When it gets competitive, no one wins

There is a point in every big argument where a simple disagreement turns into a capital-F Fight. And who wins capital-F Fights? Um, no one.

Learn to recognize when things are getting into a competitive space, and cut it off then—because in relationships, “winning” an argument by brute force is rarely a true victory. Here are a few signs your disagreement has turned into a showdown:

  • Your body temperature rises, your body language becomes aggressive, and your focus narrows
  • You lose sight of all your initial goals (to be understood, to be legitimized, to find a solution to an issue) and take on short-term goals (to have to other person give in, to be “right”).
  • Displays of emotion (tears, yelling, etc) from the other party seem like a victory, rather then a sign that you’ve crossed a line
  • Oh, and you cross lines. Because YOU’RE RIGHT, dammit.

Any game that is won by someone you love bursting into tears is not worth playing. Period. So when it goes there—and it can, of course it can—give it a break. Disagreements can be productive. Capital-F Fights rarely go anywhere positive.

Not the best role models.

Not the best role models.

So, as always, let’s be good to each other.

(I know I say that almost every post, but man, it’s so worth repeating.)

5 Things I Learned About Canada After Traveling From Sea to Sea

It’s Canada Day(!!)

As usual, my love for this country is on overdrive.

Despite the dark parts of our history (there are many, no doubt), I do hold a lot of hope and pride in my heart for good ol’ Canada. It’s nuanced and critical, but it’s there.

This is my first Canada Day since I did my cross-country train tour last August. I suppose that should make me feel like I have some level of insight on this country. Not so much. The more I have learned and seen of this country the less I want to make general claims about it. Even writing this seems a bit strange.

BUT BUT BUT, there are five things that I observed that felt pretty solid. So here goes. Just for you, just for Canada Day. Let’s listicle this bad boy.

1. Canadian humour? I think it’s a thing.

I met a lot of funny people on my trip. Good storytellers, great attitudes. At the Just For Laughs festival, I tried (with little success) to crack the code of Canadian comedy. While that experiment fell flat, the people I met as I traveled across this country gave me more of a clue.

The humour in Canada seemed to be a really unique mix of joy and sarcasm. I know satire is often characterized as a dry, cold humour, but the sarcasm I felt throughout Canadian seemed almost warm. I met so many people across this country who looked at everything with a wink of “Eh, this is life! And it’s ridiculous!”

Which it is. Living in Canada is kind of ridiculous. The weather, the empty space, the strange array of cultural indicators (a leaf and poutine and hockey and whatnow?).  Canada also has the unique position of having a lot of rural spaces, small towns, and harsh winters…while also having a literacy rate of 99% and high scores on international education rankings. I’m sure the doesn’t hurt the development of a unique kind of outdoorsy wit.


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2. Community is everywhere.

Everywhere I went in Canada, the communities I visited seemed to offer community in relatively the similar ways–survival, sports, music, food, drink, repeat. Obviously events varied based on size and geography, but generally it was pretty status quo–downtown parades and fireworks on special occasions, community theater in the warmer months, concerts in the park, sports bars with hockey specials. In Halifax, the experience made me seriously question why I didn’t just do more of these things at home.

That said, I found that community often wasn’t a super important value for folks in Canadian cities.  I’m guessing that’s because “survival,” which is historically at the heart of most Canadian communities, has become less and less an issue (thanks, indoor heating and modern medicine). We all are relatively free and mobile and proudly different, so sometimes it feels like we don’t seek each other out as much.

But we do still need each other. And the lucky thing is that community is available, and it is worth pursuing. I found it literally everywhere I went, and it was awesome.
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3. Oh, and French is also everywhere.

My whole life, I was fed this ugly lie that there are only French Canadians in Quebec. No where else.

Turns out, that is so very wrong.


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Seriously, if I ever have kids, I’m raising those buggers to be bilingual. I underestimated the Frenchness of this country so much. It’s everywhere. When I went to the French quarter of Winnipeg, no one was speaking a lick of English. Not to mention New Brunswick, or Northern Ontario. I even met a tour group of French first language kids from British Columbia recently.

Yes, Quebec has a lot of French people. But it also has more people, period. I loved Quebec culture and deeply enjoyed my time there, but I was wrong to assume that different versions of French Canadian language and culture didn’t stretch from sea to sea.

 

4. So. Much. Patriotism.

Oh, you thought Americans were proud?

Hah.

omg we're so great look guys here's an infographic

omg we’re so great look guys here’s an infographic

Yes, the United States is known for having overzealous residents who are patriotic to a tacky degree. But when I worked and lived in the States, it turned out that I was the one who patted myself on the back for my citizenship on a daily basis. Gay rights? Medicare? Cool looking federal police officers on horseback? Canadians think they are the coolest.

It can be annoying, I’m sure. I was basically like that pretentious friend everyone has who proudly collects records and forces obscure music on everyone…except instead of indie tunes, I was dealing out ketchup chips and maple syrup.
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5. We don’t really go to church.

Empty pews are certainly a major theme throughout the country. I don’t totally know how I feel about that–the United Church of Canada is a big part of my life, and I think the church can be a wonderful and remarkable space for people (see point #2). But I’m not necessarily disappointed in our emerging “churchlessness.” I’m mostly just curious about it.

I’ve heard a whole host of reasons for people moving away from the church, most of which are not only confined to Canada: Corruption, postmodernism, the perceived conflict between science and religion (or between social justice LGBT/women’s rights and religion), individual spirituality over community practice. I get all those things, I do.

But Canada is an interesting study simply because recent generations have been so privileged, so lucky, so educated and connected, so blessed….and so secular. I often wonder if there is a connection. Either way, it will be interesting how churches and people transform in this environment.

- – -

Basically, I learned that Canada is the True North strong and free…and funny…and diverse…and proud…and changing all the time. All the time. Like, right now.

So, I guess we should probably go out and look at it pretty seriously and take good freakin’ care of it. Because whatever this country becomes…we’re a part of it.

Happy Canada Day, everyone!

We Get Second Chances (and it’s awesome)

I’ve reached the point in my life where most of the “firsts” have come and gone. My emotional life is currently a mishmash of seconds, of thirds.

Last week, my best friend and I sat on my second bed, in my third apartment. We were laughing over our middle school journals, pages of smeared gel pen filled with trite “firsts.” We empathized and rolled our eyes at the little girls we used to be, before we even knew each other. Back when we were doing everything for the first time. Back when it seemed like the first time was all there was.

The world is bigger now, I guess.

Nothing is a first anymore, not even our friendship. We’re happy, we’re close, and it’s awesome. But it’s certainly no first. I met her in adulthood, after all. My trial-and-error timeline was already well on its way by the time we joined hands.

Firsts are important, sure, but I think we sometimes downplay our seconds, thirds, fourths. Maybe it’s because they’re less of a learning experience and more of an experience, period; they can rock your world, but they don’t rock your worldview. They just happen, they just are. I’ve put together a bed before, signed a lease, called a girlfriend in hysterics. Caring and craving and crying are officially somewhat-familiar territory. Circumstances will change, but I am at least aware of my basic emotional range. When big things happen again (and we all know they will) I will have an emotional compass established, a moderate understanding of how I respond to these things.

Perhaps that makes them seem like less profound follow-ups. But that can’t be true, it can’t. The fact that we even get second chances is incredible. We can hurt, and love, and be passionately interested with our whole selves. It can feel massive and real. But when things end, if they end, we get second chances. We can give ourselves permission to continue the story. We can move forward, we can try again. And again. And again. We can tire ourselves out so fully, yet still have more to give the next day.

That’s amazing. We get to fail, and life still goes on.

I think that’s worth recognizing, don’t you?

So here’s to the seconds, thirds, and fourths. The feelings we’re kinda-sorta familiar with. The stuff that happens after we learn from our mistakes. The ones we meet a little further down the timeline.

Because anything that reminds us of our personal capacity for resurrection? That’s pretty awesome in my books.

Saying “I Have A Boyfriend” Isn’t A Good Move…But We’re Wrong About Why.

It’s always scary to question something that people appear to be passionate about, but…if we didn’t, nothing would ever get done. Nothing would ever get better. I would never learn if I’m dead wrong, and neither would you.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I want to talk about THIS:

boyfriend1 boyfriend2

There is a very well-written article that explains this thinking, and on some level, I get where it comes from. I see the arguments, and I don’t even disagree that lying to people so they leave us alone is something we should change. But look at that tweet. Look at how over-simplified that is.

“Yep, it’s the patriarchy. That’s it. That’s all.”

Really? No mention of peoples’ feelings, or egos. Of our cultural norms. Of, say, the fact that the word “boyfriend” is actually a relatively new term.

Yeah, that. Let’s talk about that.

The very concept of being able to have a boyfriend comes out of the feminist era. When you say you have a “boyfriend,” you are not referring to some ancient tradition of men-owning-women. You are referring to a relatively new tradition of people-being-committed-to-people.

This chart shows when the terms “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” entered our vocabulary (based on the contents of Google’s digitized books).

ngram

This may sound strange, but in some ways, it’s actually progress that people accept the “boyfriend” excuse. Today, we generally respect peoples’ commitments to one another, whether they’re gay/straight/young/old/married/dating. We are past the days where an unmarried woman was considered fair game. Now having a boyfriend or a different sexual orientation are very legitimate reasons to reject someone.

Of course, “I’m not interested” or “nope” should also be considered legitimate reasons to reject someone. And I think they usually are. But I get that it isn’t always perfect. I just think we’re wrong about why.

“I have a boyfriend” is more likely to get a guy to back off than “no,” because they respect relationship structures more than individual opinion/attraction. Not because you’re a woman. Not because your so-called “boyfriend” is a man. But because you claim to have a commitment that can’t be moved. Because people respect monogamous relationships a lot, and they respect peoples’ personal judgment less. Simply, it’s a lot more likely for someone to change their mind or their level of attraction as the night goes on than for them to change their relationship status. Attraction is considered nuanced; relationship status is clear-cut.  That’s why it works.

(Not to mention that this rejection is not personal, so no egos get caught in the conversation.)

I’m not saying it’s a good thing. People should back off if they are asked to, and you shouldn’t need to give them a reason to do so. But if we’re going to talk about a problem, we have to talk about the actual problem. I really don’t feel like the male-female dynamic is at the root of this one. I think “not respecting peoples’ jurisdiction over their own bodies/time” is more the issue.

And yes, I’m using the word “people.” I have also seen men use “I have a girlfriend” as an escape maneuver. Hell, I pretended to be a buddy’s girlfriend when a woman was coming on too strong once. It does happen on both sides.

I have always believed that feminism shouldn’t be about battle cries and blame games. It should be about questioning everything you see, looking at it from all angles, considering whether the patriarchy has seeped in, and responding to that.

Let’s be smart. Let’s think with a little more complexity here. Let’s dig deeper.

And then, then, let’s fix this shit.

How To Be Creative (Without Also Sucking as a Person)

It’s a caffeine-fueled week, folks.

I’ve started writing for myself again—just a little bit, just mission critical stuff. I bought a new journal two weeks ago, and it’s nice to have my own private space to be…well, a writer.

(Maybe it’s better to say “a person who writes.” Sounds less pretentious. )

This isn’t my first journal. In a few months, it will likely join the dozen other half-finished notebooks boxed away in my basement. Yet another awkward testament to my young narcissism. Or to my passion for artistic expression. Or both.

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Narcissism, self-expression. They kind of go together, don’t they?

Here’s a reality I’ve uncovered recently: Being a creative person can be pretty freakin’ self-involved, especially in the share-centric twenty first century. We’re claiming our own little corners of the internet, competing for attention, measuring our value in likes and upvotes. I have a website which is a pun of my own name, guys. That can’t be good for ego control.

And so it goes: I made this. I wrote this. I produced this. Please admire me?

Journalling for myself remedies some of that, sometimes. At the very least, it lets me differentiate between what is (and isn’t) relevant to the public. It lets me organize my thoughts before I throw them at you guys (that’s a good thing, trust me). I also have a private micro-journalling app called Day One, which often takes the place of InstaTwitterBook posting. It means I can caption, organize, and record little memories, without forcing them all upon every person I have ever met. It means I don’t spam you with my daily monotony.

Well, I do sometimes. But the app at least helps with the self-control.

I think having different outlets for expression is really healthy, especially if you seem to have a lot to express. Being creative means that I write articles like this, but it also means I take pictures of everything. I write stupid poems. I record brainwaves, I pen songs, I text weird puns at my best friend.

You don’t need to see all that.

I’ll show you some of it–when it could be inspiring, or interesting, or funny. When it becomes something more powerful, when it could reflect on your life in some way. When I can release it with an assured sense of “Yeah, this doesn’t belong to me anymore. This idea, this article, this story…I can let people have their way with it.

We shouldn’t hold back our gifts. I would be a hypocrite to speak against good ol’ self-promotion. Still, I think it’s fair to commit to creating things worth promoting.  The things we create matter not because they’re a solid contribution to our own “collected works,” but because they’re an important (or entertaining, or enlightening) contribution to the collected works of humanity, period.

And that can end pretty freaking well:

art is

I think the secret to creating without also sucking as a person (or just being annoying to be around) is to be thoughtful with when and how you share. Not everything matters to everyone…but, at the same time, one unexpected piece of art can completely change the game. Be bold. Be real. Remember that a well-crafted personal letter to just one person can be 10 times more powerful than a semi-popular blog post. Remember that appreciating the creations of others, large and small, can have a profoundly positive effect on community.

And remember that as soon as you share something you have created, it becomes a gift. It can be about you, you can put yourself and your effort inside of it, but ultimately it no longer belongs to you.

When I press publish on this blog post, it will go from being mine to being ours. You get to have your way with it.

And I’ll just be here–sipping cheap coffee, privately sketching out my self-obsession, and letting you know if I come up with something worth sharing.

Love.