Why Donald Trump Scares Us: A Letter to American Voters From a Concerned Canadian

Dear American Friends,

A recent poll shows that, thanks to political rhetoric and false sentiments, 49% of Americans don’t think the United States has the largest military in the world.

This is shocking to those of us who are only too aware of the Unites States’ military might. It is also telling. It suggests that many Americans feel vulnerable. Maybe they feel  like they’re losing control. Based on who you have running as the Republican nominee, many Americans must feel angry, too.

Those are bad sentiments to combine with the largest military in the world. And while you might not know you have that kind of strength, let us assure you: You do. That’s why we pay so much attention to you.

Sure, Hollywood makes some nice flicks, but we don’t pay attention to the USA’s breaking news because you can sing and dance. We don’t pay attention because America is exciting and bold and free, either–the majority of countries around the world are democracies, and many arguably do a better job at it than the US does.

No, we pay attention to you because you have a lot of weapons and influence. Because you have a veto and you can blow us up. Because what you do affects all of us.

Every country you invade. Every industry you invest in. Every dollar of aid that goes into the wrong (or right) pocket. Every weapon you dole out. Every international plan you back (or back out of).

We don’t pay attention to you because you are a role model to our budding democracies.  We pay attention because you have nukes that could destroy everything the other 95.6% of us in the world have built.

I can’t speak for everyone, but as one of your next door neighbours (you know, the ones who spell “neighbor” wrong), last night really scared me

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PS. I love you, let’s stay friends no matter what happens, k?

When I judge a leader, I look at their job description. In Canada, our Prime Minister is just a glorified Member of Parliament–someone who shakes hands and does Buzzfeed shorts more often than the average politician, but whose vote is the same as that of the rep across the aisle.  The Prime Minister is part talent scout, assigning MPs to departmental leadership roles, and part host/diplomat.

Your vote for President is a little more intense than our MP picking party. Your leader has much more power in your country. Your leader has much more power over other countries. And so, when you vote for your President, I urge you to also consider their job description.

The President of the United States is Commander in Chief of the largest military in the world. Not kinda-sorta-maybe the largest military in the world. You might not believe it, but you have the absolute, no-kidding, borderline ridiculous largest military in the world. So naturally, it would make sense to pick the person who best understands defence, alliances, and global politics.

Yet yesterday, one of your candidates suggested that China invade North Korea, totally ignoring their alliance. He said he “hasn’t thought too much” about NATO. He believes multinational organizations make decisions based on offhand comments he makes during TV interviews.

The President of the United States represents your country on the world stage. Your international relations are in his or her hands; with a global economy and international debt, this is a more important and delicate a role than ever.

Yet yesterday, one of your candidates insulted the international community so incredibly that his opponent turned to the camera for on-the-spot damage control.

The President of the United States is responsible for presenting policy priorities, and for managing the celebrations and reparations which shape your nation. A solid knowledge of your history, economics, and laws are critical to lead it in the right direction.

Yet yesterday, one of your candidates championed trickle down economics, a system which has consistently failed throughout history. He went on to suggest protectionist trade policies, paying no attention to the bad track record of such policies and refusing to consider jobs outside of the manufacturing sector as real options for growth. He paid zero attention to very real and well-studied precedents.

I’m being generous here by picking at the policies he presented. There weren’t many.

The majority of his talking time was spent spewing factually inaccurate nonsense. He claimed that Clinton has both been fighting ISIS her whole career, and that she started ISIS. He couldn’t even get his personal history straight when questioned on Iraq and his involvement in the birther movement. His concept of timelines and basic American history is skewed, which is hugely disconcerting for many people in the international community. It feels like you’re on the verge of electing someone who knows less about American history and politics than a 10th grader in another country, and that’s scary to watch.

No confidence in Donald Trump
Some Pew research, for what it’s worth.

I admit, this article is like a neighbour hearing yelling next door and giving unsolicited marital advice.  I know it’s out of place. I know our dissent will only fuel some opinions that Trump is in America’s best interest (because if it’s bad for the rest of the world, surely it must be good for you…or so the fallacy goes).

Normally, this would prevent me from writing anything. It’s why I haven’t said anything yet. Your election, your country, your problem.

But when the well-being of that neighbour threatens your own livelihood and security, I think it’s fair to say something.

I purposefully left out some of my private concerns about Trump, including his taxes, policies on domestic crime, and remarks about race/gender. I hope Americans talk about those things, because they are important to discuss. But I don’t think it would be right for me to wave around my opinion of them in this article because my opinion really, really doesn’t matter there.

But where economic realities, international relations, and military action are concerned, the international community has a stake in what’s happening. And while we don’t have a vote, it would be wrong of us to not tell you that we’re scared. We’re confused (so, so, so confused). We don’t understand how it got this bad.

Dear American friends, we want the best for you. Our economies, our people, and our politics are so intertwined that what’s good for America is almost always what’s good for Canada.

And based on what we saw last night, Donald Trump is not only bad for you–he’s dangerous for the rest of us.

Sincerely,

A concerned Canadian

 

I’m a University Success Story, and I Think Undergraduate Education is Completely Broken

I’m an unlikely person to be writing this article.

In many ways, I could be considered a university success story: I used co-op to break into the job market, became bilingual, made great contacts, and earned a degree that (combined with experience) has seen me steadily employed since graduation.

What’s not to love, right? Results as advertised.

But the system that helped me achieve these things is deeply, deeply flawed. It fails students every single day, and despite the fact I came out armed with a half-decent education, it failed me on the regular as well.

One of the things my BA taught me is how to write an essay. And while that is not so useful in the “real world,” I think it could be useful here. So here we go.

My thesis is “Undergraduate Education is Broken.”

My proof is:

1)      Students don’t give a shit.

2)      Professors don’t give a shit.

3)      The return on investment just isn’t there.

If you’ve been to University recently, you probably can see where some of these arguments are going. If not, please join me on a journey into the land of postsecondary education. Keep in mind this is all based on getting a Bachelor of Arts at a middle-of-the-road Canadian University. I’m sure students from other faculties and institutions have different experiences.

(I hope they do, anyways. Maybe you’re doing it right, and can help us fix this.)

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There are a few reasons students don’t give a shit.

It starts in high school, where we’re all told we need to go to University because that’s just what you do. Students who aren’t particularly cut out for academia, or who are unsure of their true interests and goals, apply. They get in.

Why do they get in, you wonder? Because it’s a fucking business transaction, that’s why.  Schools spend tons of money on recruitment, piggybacking on the university=job security myth. Once they convince kids to apply (because what else are they gonna do?), they squeeze as many students as possible into the freshman class. Admission decisions are usually based on grade 11 and 12 grades, which mean very little. Case in point: My grade 12 English teacher was a total hardass who (rightfully, in my opinion) gave me lower grades because she knew I could do better. Meanwhile, I met plenty of people in University who had high English marks but couldn’t string a written sentence together.

This truly sucked for both parties. Overprepared and underprepared kids generously admitted on the basis of super subjective grades is not a great start.

Here’s what happens after that:

Students who aren’t academically inclined go into crazy debt pursuing a half-interested “education” when they should be pursuing jobs or entrepreneurial ventures which actually match their young talent.

Students who are academically inclined have their passion stifled as they sit through (and pay for) required basic essay writing classes.

We all lose here.

This, combined with coddling in high school and cynicism about education in general, means a good chunk of students don’t give a shit from day one.

It may take a while, but (most of) the rest will stop caring, too.

Maybe they’ll stop caring when they first watch an employer scan their resume, and realize that coursework doesn’t cut it. Maybe they’ll be focused on hustling through 3 jobs to make their tuition payments. Maybe they’ll have a mental health issue and be discouraged with the lack of support.

Personally, my breaking point was when I was repeatedly forced to choose between the challenging courses I truly wanted to take and the bird courses that would allow me to keep my scholarship or get into grad school. Sure, trial & error may be an important step in learning, but GPAs don’t really make room for that. Higher education is often sabotaged by the pursuit of good grades (or, if you get jaded enough, the pursuit of a passing mark).

You know how this story ends. By the end of their education, many students just don’t care about school and quite probably haven’t learned a whole lot. The power of the degree is weakened by the low standards needed to achieve it (sing it with me–Cs and Ds get degrees!), and once passionate learners are now serious cynics.

I can only imagine how much that sucks for professors.

Unfortunately, some of them don’t care either.

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There’s a story I sometimes tell about first year University, one that always makes people smile. During a 5:30 pm intermediate-advanced French grammar class, some fellow students and I started bringing long island iced teas in coffee tumblers to class. It was a perfect solution–our professor spoke terrible French, and the booze made us giggle at the many “etre” and “avoir” mixups on his powerpoint slides. When he didn’t show up, we would have a drink together and chat. He was late to nearly every class and missed a couple with no warning, so this was an important bonus.

I tell that story in a way that makes people laugh, but the reality is that it wasn’t funny. We each spent almost $800 on that course. Many of us had moved to this city and attended this school specifically to improve our French. It was my first semester at University, and this experience set the tone for how seriously I was going to take my education moving forward. We discussed making a formal complaint, but a couple senior students in the class were worried about losing the credit. All we could do was give him a bad review on our student evaluation forms. Following this experience, I dropped the French class I had signed up for the following semester.

Another particularly memorable communications prof often searched random theories from the textbook on YouTube, selecting the first relevant-seeming video that came up and treating the auditorium of students to what was definitely a high school student project lazily thrown together on Windows Movie Maker. A few other classes featured slides directly plagiarized from a textbook. Many students saw this as a “good thing” since they could skip the class. Personally, I wish I could have skipped paying the tuition and just bought the book.

To be fair, these were outliers. What was perhaps more common and unfortunate were the professors who were good researchers and terrible teachers–who had written great books and had stunning resumes, but had no interest in teaching and certainly no talent for it. Whether it was a heavily credentialed professor from afar who barely spoke English or a disinterested book smart scholar, we met a host of characters at the front of the classroom who were not overly interested in our education.

I should stipulate here that most of my professors were wonderful, though I’m sure a few struggled with the system themselves. A system which often keeps profs perpetually part-time, regardless of their teaching talents. A system which sees teaching as a side project. A system which churns out apathetic students who thwart any effort to be innovative. A system which often overlooks its obligation to undergrad students, focusing instead on graduate programs and research grants.

In so many ways, we are ripping both kids and their teachers off and fumbling a valuable piece of continuing education.

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The graduation face.

Now we come to the part about ROI (return on investment). I know corporate buzzwords suck, but I think this is the way we need to frame the conversation for it to make sense.

The first question we need to ask ourselves is a simple one: Does education need to be correlated with employability to be valuable?

My answer is no, education is valuable in and of itself.

Whew. I can already hear every dad at every University Open House loudly crossing their arms at me.

“If we’re going to be sinking 30k into this institution, my kid sure as hell better come out more employable than they went in.”

Guess what, worried parent #52? You’re right. Of course you’re right. We’ve already established that students are often apathetic, that solid course content and professors’ attention is a gamble, and now you’re telling me that the kid is going to graduate with shitty job prospects. How is that worth an average debtload of 26k?!

It isn’t. Unless you’re super dedicated to your field of study, it just isn’t.

And here’s where ROI comes into play: Education is worth an investment of time and money. But it just isn’t worth that much, not when students don’t even have that much to give and they need to create a life afterwards. Not when online and experiential learning offer plentiful alternatives to the University stream. Not when so many of the students aren’t even interested in a job in their field.

That’s not an exaggeration, by the way. Once, during a Q & A, I asked a class of second year History majors how many of them wanted to pursue a career in a History-related field.

Only two people in that classroom raised their hands.

Now, I think it’s awesome that people want to learn about History even if they don’t want to make it a career. I think that’s great news for democracy and society. It promises us more knowledgeable lawyers, politicians, and citizens in general.

But the price those kids are being forced to pay for their curiousity is way, way too high.

…Oh, right, this is an essay. I guess this is the conclusion. In University, I would have copy and pasted my intro to the bottom, reworded it, and made it punchy. But honestly, I don’t want to drive these points home. I don’t want to “reaffirm my thesis.”

I just want this shit to change.

I’ve written about why undergraduate education is broken, because it’s a subject I know well. But what I wish I could write is why, and how, we should fix it.

As someone who wholeheartedly adores education in all its forms, I just want this to get better. Ideas welcome.

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Why We Should Care About Paris. Yes, Especially With Everything Else Going On In the World.

I want to write about Paris.

I want to write in particular about the discomfort some feel with the attention this tragedy is getting, at least compared to other larger-scale violence in the world. Aren’t people dying violently every day? Isn’t there a refugee crisis on our hands? Where’s the outrage there?

I hear you. And while I don’t agree with all the discourse, here is what I hope we can all agree on.

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First: A human life is a human life is a human life. Country of origin does not make your life more or less valuable.

Second: Death is, excuse the word, total shit. As someone who has dealt with her fair share of it in the last month, I know the heartbreaking ripple of pain any death leaves. And deaths which are particularly senseless, or violent, or bred out of hatred? They’re the worst. They’re so bad, we have laws and systems in place to stop people from causing those deaths.

Third: In some places, you can count on those don’t-kill-each-other laws to make things a little safer. In other places, not so much. The system in place to protect citizens from brutal, unnecessary violence is a little more dependable in some countries than others. That’s one of the reasons we have a refugee crisis right now; people would prefer to live in a country where they have chance to survive, thankyouverymuch.

The fact of the matter is, the whole “law” thing isn’t really working in every country. In many places, there are broken governments, really bad neighbours, powerful extremist groups, and all sorts of corruption standing in the way of peoples’ safety.

Now, I can’t speak for how individuals feel when they hear about people dying in these less-than-safe countries, but here are two things we probably don’t feel: We don’t feel overly surprised. And most of us don’t feel like there is a whole lot we can do.

It’s a little different when people die violently and senselessly in countries that are supposed to be safe. A shock pulses through the world because it is, well, shocking. There is confusion and horror and, oh yes, headlines and hashtags. If that country is democratic and has a decent economy, there is an increased urgency from the general population; a feeling that we can do something, that we should do something, that we have both the responsibility and the resources to keep this country safe.

And if we don’t? Well, then, the fear is that there is no such thing as safety, or law and order. If this brutality can penetrate Paris, where does it stop?

These might seem like hyperbolic questions. I get that. But this is where the outpouring of coverage and discourse is coming from. Everyone feels a little less safe in a place where they are supposed to feel safe. A place sought by refugees because it was perceived to be free of the violence they tried to escape.

After all, if the whole world becomes unsafe, where would these refugees go?

NOW, let’s get back to those things we agree on.

1) Every life is valuable;
2) Death is shit;
3) Some places are, sadly, safer than others. 

With that in mind, it is appalling to me that anyone would use this as an opportunity to keep innocent people out of safer places.

There are serious questions facing our governments right now: How do we separate the victims from the perpetrators when they knock on our doors? When we take people from a place suffering from chaos and hatred, how do we keep them from bringing some of that chaos and hatred with them? Safe countries, after all, have an obligation to keep their current citizens safe. And so I understand temporary measures put in place to find answers to these questions before accepting more refugees.

I understand them, but I do not accept them as a long-term “solution.” Letting countless innocent people die by permanently locking down borders is not the answer. That only adds to the already devastating number of victims.

Let us mourn the deaths of the Paris attack.

Let us work together to keep our countries safe and secure.

But let us not allow our fear to unnecessarily raise the headcount.

Rocking our best "uncertain" faces at my grad.

On Being Uncertain.

So, this is where a few years of obsessive blogging brings you.

I’m back in the marketing world, this time as an office-dwelling big kid. This means that my nine-to-five is consumed by high-fiving puns and dropkicking typos–emails, blog posts, tweets, ads, and back again.

It’s a pretty sweet gig for someone who wrote 141 posts (that added up, didn’t it?) on this not-so-little-anymore blog during University. But writing for work, it turns out, is not the same thing as writing for fun. Not even close.

I missed you, blog community. I missed the idea-sharing, the 2 am brainwaves, the way words can temporarily smooth out the messes (and there are so many messes). I even missed the trial and error; that awkward feeling when no one seemed to read my latest blog, or the joy when the comments rolled in.

I miss not worrying about keywords and metadata and messaging. Mostly, though, I just miss having something to write about. 

The uncertainty that comes with graduation is a bit paralyzing. Turns out, I only know how to write about things that I’m somewhat sure of–and right now, I’m sure of almost nothing. As of the end of September, I will have moved twice and worked three different jobs since I ended school in May. How can you write about your life when it looks like that? I can barely keep up.

But I miss this enough that I’m going to try. I’m going to try to write about the uncertainty a little. We will see how it goes.

Rocking our best
At my grad, trying out my new trademark “uh, what now?” expression.

When my plus-one and I went out for sushi a couple days ago, I was struck by how many young faces were in the usually empty-ish restaurant. “University’s back, eh?” he hypothesized. My stomach sunk a little bit in response. I looked around the room, then leaned over and whispered:

“I…feel like I should still be one of them.”

(To answer your question, yeah, I felt I needed to whisper that information. It was top-secret, apparently.)

“Two years.” He said, leaning back. He sounded so freaking sure. It caught me off-guard.  Also, I had no idea what he meant. Two years what now?

He continued.  “Two years until you get used to not being a student anymore.”

I usually wince when my boyfriend alludes to our three year age difference (I’m an adult, dammit!), but this advice was helpful. I don’t know where he was getting his stats from, but it felt good to have an answer, even if it was kind of a bullshit one. Usually I am all about discourse, debate, questions. Not that day.

That day, I just took his answer as fact because why the hell not? I wanted a fact. I wanted one so badly.

It’s not hard to see why. The exciting-slash-scary thing about adulthood, about diving from an academic background into the subjective land of marketing, is this: Right and wrong answers are almost totally gone.

Not completely gone, mind you. Grammar is still a thing. I could still put a typo in a tweet, forget my keys, press “reply all” instead of “reply.” Sure. But life is loaded with creative decisions–what campaign to run at work, which neighborhood we should move to after farming season, how much money to put away for retirement (cuz hey, that’s a thing now).

And there’s no guidebook. Nope. Doesn’t exist.

This isn’t a brand new thing, of course. I’ve had to make creative, impactful decisions before. We all have. I had to pick whether to go to University after High School, then which University to go to. There was no right or wrong for that, either. I pored over guidebooks, spent hours on forums, tracked down potential professors to ask hard questions.

I made a choice–one I considered the “best” choice.

Maybe it was just a “good” choice. There’s no way of knowing, really. All I know is that I had a helluva time and learned a helluva lot in Ottawa. That’s all that matters, really.

In hindsight, I was probably a little caught up with the idea that there was a right answer, there was a formula that would magically turn into success and forever and ever and ever happiness and that I needed to find it NOW.  But there wasn’t. There still isn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of joy in the uncertainty. It’s rewarding to work for things. It feels good to pick yourself up after a failure, or to see things work out in a way you didn’t expect. At the same time as I’m desperately Googling for answers, I’m reveling in so many incredible learning experiences every day. It’s fabulous. It’s exciting.

But as much as I miss blogging, the truth is that it’s really, really hard to write about. 

And you know what? I think that might be okay.

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Well, this is new.

I’m not busy anymore.

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Though, granted, views like this keep me mighty preoccupied. Oh, Niagara.

I still have the busy brain, of course. The rushing, the worrying, the overthinking…that hasn’t gone anywhere. Still, if a change in scene is going to help me wind down, this is certainly the right place. Everything around me seems to be saying “CHILL OUT LADY. JUST ENJOY THE RIDE.”

And I should, I really should. I live in a little one-room home with a fireplace and a big tub, shared with my hardworking farmer boyfriend. We have a P.O. Box in a teeny-tiny village, the kind that has less than 10 streets. I help out on the farm, and am looking for a job in writing/marketing. For now, I have time to cook dinner, to read, to follow shows and sports. Our place is surrounded by trees and trails. I’m living a dream of sorts, for sure.

It’s not my dream per se, at least it wasn’t originally. Small towns and shacking up were not on initially on my radar. But here I am. Here we are. And my brain, my buzzing, scaredy-cat brain, it’s still adjusting.

But I need to stop buzzing, I do. The overworked, underpaid student life is not sustainable. When I left Ottawa, my health was on the floor. I lived in a basement apartment in Vanier with thin walls and two yippy dogs upstairs (I loved that apartment, but a freshman lease turned into four years underground awfully quickly). I had friends, but the majority of people I’d met during school had since moved on with their lives. In short, I was ready to move on. And so I told my boyfriend I would move with him, back to his hometown. I wanted to leave Ottawa while I was still in love with it, before all the construction and job-hunting took its toll on me. He wanted to work the land with his father.  It was a good move. It made sense. It still does.

Hopefully, my  city-stained self will be able to fully embrace that soon enough.

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Can We Rebrand the Humanities? (Spoiler: Yes. We need to.)

As someone who studied both marketing and history (and who finds her history degree a super valuable part of that mix) the question often crosses my mind: “How can I sell my history degree?”

It shouldn’t be that hard, really. As a history undergraduate student, I just came out of a program with intensive research and written/oral communication training. I can mine through data about almost any topic, large or small. I can draw conclusions. I can organize the information. The list goes on and on.

When I see the words “B.A. in History,” I see all that.

I just don’t think employers always do. That’s a problem.

Employers often have no understanding of the transferable skills embedded in a liberal arts education. It’s like they see my degree and the only thing that comes to mind is their boring high school history teacher from 1971 droning on about the pyramids.

(…I mean, I do also know a whole bunch about the pyramids, but that is beside the point.)

So, here I am. Here we are. Looking at a job market which increasingly demands innovative, engaged, realistic, and skilled employees who can work with people and technology. Wanting to raise our hands and yell “THAT’S ME!” because really, it is. Our degrees should communicate all these competencies to employers. We just spent years building an understanding of processes, politics, humanity itself.

So how do we fix this perception?

It won’t happen right away. But I think there are a few subtle changes that institutions, professors, students, and graduates can make to help us rebrand some of these so-called useless degrees.

Here’s a start:

  • People who studied the humanities and are using skills from those degrees in their jobs should make the value of their education known in the workplace. When someone compliments your writing style, your note taking ability, or your problem-solving skills at work, do not shy away from giving honourable mention to the fact that you honed those skills through a liberal arts education. All the humanities grads making things happen in the world should be walking examples of the value of these degrees.
  • We need to create more portfolio-oriented curriculum. Many of the educational paths which are considered more “valuable” in workland get that reputation because their graduates have something tangible to show employers. Encourage students to research and/or present their research in a way that is accessible to those outside of the discipline. Give them something to show at a job interview.
  • Change the concept of specialization to include methodology and skillsets. Very few employers care that I “specialized” in 20th century North American cultural history…but a lot of employers care that I specialized in using digital tools and blogging to share information, or that I understand how communications and business have evolved over the past century. Did you become an expert in writing, in using a particular primary source, in different types of research or analysis? Consider recognizing these things as your area of “expertise” when speaking with employers.
  • Academic institutions need to realize that not every student wants to continue in academia and that’s okay. Professors automatically assume that their brightest scholars are immediately destined for academic greatness. But what if they are more interested in business, entrepreneurship, or the public sector? If every professor said to themselves “My students are going to come out of this class with one tangible thing to add to their resume” (it could just be introducing students to one new technology or method or communication skill) they would be preparing their students for success wherever they choose to go. Which is very good news, because if we lock all good humanities scholars up in Universities, they will have less of an impact on the world. Who wants that?
  • Speaking of entrepreneurship…we also need to encourage students to create their own projects and jobs. A liberal arts education helps us understand the culture, economics, and needs in our communities. These are certainly the kinds of people who are equipped to see the direction people are going in (and to make money on that direction). Let’s make sure are given the resources to make that happen!
  • We need to encourage interdisciplinary models in our academic institutions. One of my professors recently suggested putting spaces/resources frequented by engineering students (such as 3D printing labs) in liberal arts buildings on campus to encourage interaction. I think he is onto something. I would love to work with software engineering students to develop an educational app, or a design student to create a better website to showcase research. Fostering mutual respect and collaboration between fields should be a priority.
  • We need to connect students with the community. There are so many organizations who could use the skills humanities scholars have, or who could offer unique resources and projects to students. Working with organizations outside of their school helps students establish networks, explore their own career paths, and build their portfolios/resumes (see point #2). It also allows the community recognize the value that these students have, which can translate into a change in perspective for potential employers.

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We have the resources and technology to rebrand the humanities. Through the internet, we have the ability to connect with each other like never before. We can talk about the value of our humanities degrees online. We can teach students to recognize exactly why their degree is valuable, and prepare them to sell it to an employer (or to create their own business). We can develop interdisciplinary courses and programs which will encourage collaboration and help a humanities student’s degree appeal to a wider audience after they are done.

We can rebrand the humanities. We need to. Because it’s not just our students who are missing out on jobs…it’s our employers who are missing out on awesome workers who can take businesses (and society) to the next level.

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Moving.

I’ve been here before, but it still feels new. Slowly packing my boxes as I prepare to leave the place I call “home.” It’s the end of an era, I guess. Finishing college and making this move is a game changer.

I’ve been here before, of course I have. My mind immediately jumps to five years ago, when I took off for University. It’s a familiar story: By the end of high school, I had messily carved a suburban teenage “self” out of high school essays, basement parties, and bad attempts at French cuisine. The time had come to challenge that identity. So I moved to the City (mine was Ottawa; my friends scattered all over). I remember leaving my parents’ house in 2010, taking pictures off the walls as my younger brother prepared to take over the space. The process of packing up your old life, even if you’re truly ready for it, is necessarily emotional. It was emotional then, and it is emotional now.

It’s good emotional, for the most part: I’m excited, I’m ready. My family and career and soul will all be better for this.  I sat down with a friend from first year yesterday and just vomited out all the cool stuff I want to do with my life: “I want to make this website! I want to make that app! I want to run this Twitter account! I want to make education better! I want a dog and a house and a panini press!”

Sidenote: The panini press has been secured. Thanks, Celine!
Sidenote: The panini press has been secured. Thanks, Celine!

It’s time to challenge the identity again. That’s how I see these big moves. I’m attracted to the idea of putting myself in a new environment and seeing how my outlook and personality change…and how they stay the same.  “Finding myself in college” wasn’t about “doing new stuff” (though that was cool, too). It was about figuring out what parts of my identity were who I was, and which parts were just a product of where I was. Would I still like History when I left the guidance of my high school teachers? (Yes, it turned out, I fell even more desperately in love). Would I still adore my high school friends after a few years in a new place? (We had a wicked party last month, actually). Would I hold on to my lack of religious beliefs, my relationship, my bad habits? (No, no, and I’m sure I’ve traded them in for some more).

The move helped me. It didn’t save me, it wasn’t a one-size-fits-all “solution.” It just helped, for the same reason travelling or “trying something new” helps. It’s powerful to see that there is more out there. And it’s powerful to see how you respond to that. Embracing new space can show you what sticks when you shift the environmental factors—the social pressure, the family dynamics, all that. Whether you love the new place or hate it, the whole experience can give you a much more solid grasp on who you are and what you want.

And what I want now is to move forward with my life, which means leaving Ottawa. It means reclaiming a Southern Ontario “self” (this time as a job-seeking big kid) and shedding some of the capital city student life. Just some of it. I’ll still be me, of course. But with this move, I’m hoping I will get a better idea of what that means.

courage

Courage.

I would say I have nothing to write about, but that would be a lie.

I would say “I’m busy!” but that would be a lie, too. Midterms have come and gone for me. I have one left, an easier one, and work hours remain part time. This is as un-busy as it gets. I’m wearing yoga pants and old t-shirts on the regular. I should probably do laundry. That’s all.

(Being un-busy makes me almost more anxious than being overwhelmed, but how can I complain?)

No, life is happening. Future plans are solidifying. Huge shifts are occurring right under my feet. Everything is growing: My career, my family, everything. I have a partner now. I’m inches away from a University degree. I have more answers and, naturally, more questions than I have ever had before. Also, Football season is over and for some reason I think EVERYONE cares.

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This is basically me just all the time now.

Life is worth writing about, of course it is. But I question if it’s worth posting on the internet.

– – –

At the start of every New Year, I choose one word to shape the 365 days ahead. It’s a cheesy tradition, believe me, I know it. But my resolutions never stick, and I’m a sucker for traditions, so wordplay it is.

This year, the word was “courage.” It needed to be. 2014, especially the latter half, had been pretty cautious. I picked my path carefully, deliberately. I whittled my responsibilities down–part time classes and three jobs (only, I proclaimed. Right. Sure.). I took my young relationship relatively slowly, revealing little to those outside my circle. And I’m glad for that, at least in some ways. I’m glad I didn’t go full throttle into anything. It was smart. But overthinking led to worries, and worries led to a courage deficit.

It was time to make a change.

So my word for 2015 became courage,” and I wrote it everywhere. On the top of my schedule, on my Facebook wall, scribbled in my journal. I wasn’t sure what that would mean for the blog, but I was sure it would mean something. After all, wasn’t fear one of the reasons I wasn’t posting in the first place?

courage

Spoiler: It didn’t. Even when I really focused on honing all my courage, I didn’t write more. I didn’t feel immediately like blogging just for the sake of blogging. In fact, courage made me want to shut up for a second.

And I realized, oh-my, maybe what I really feared all along was not being heard.  Maybe my choice to post more sparingly–for now, at least–isn’t about a lack of courage, or losing self-expression, or even suffering writer’s block. It never was. Just like it’s brave to write or speak when we have something to say, maybe it is brave to sit down and listen and let things marinate when that time comes, too.

I’ll write soon, I’m sure. I’ll write as soon as I have something to say. I’ll try to write it even if it’s hard to say (all together now: courage, courage, courage). But I’m looking at it differently now.

(Sidenote: Thanks to all the readers of this blog for hearing me and seeing me all these years. It means so much. I hope I can hear and see you, too.)

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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 store 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.

The extent of our Christmas decorating this year.

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!