There’s an unspoken deal between me and my Sunday school students: If they’re doing any sort of craft or activity, the Frozen soundtrack needs to be playing in the background. It’s important to them. They adore the songs, and so do I (or maybe I just like seeing how much they adore the songs). And, of course, they belt out “Let It Go” with the passion that can only be found in a Disney-infused 8 year old.
For those of you who haven’t heard the single (and suffered the inevitable weeks of song-in-head syndrome) or seen the movie, it goes something like this:
“Don’t let them in, don’t let them see Be the good girl you always have to be Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know” Well now they know
Let it go, let it go Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go Turn away and slam the door I don’t care what they’re going to say Let the storm rage on. The cold never bothered me anyway
Context: Queen-to-be Elsa is cursed to turn everything she touches into ice. She lives in hiding for years and years to spare the world from her so-called destructive quality. When the curse which she has suppressed for so many years is unleashed, she “can’t hold it back anymore” and begins a process of embracing who she is and the curse she has (first by running away, then eventually by using the power of love to use her so-called curse to save the day).
My girls sing this song, and I can’t help but smile. Not because I think running away and locking yourself away with your problems is a good move, but I am so grateful that they’re learning this definition of the words “let it go.”
Because you know what definition I learned?
I learned that “let it go” was synonymous with “behave.” These were words I heard when I happened to be sad about something longer than I was supposed to be (God forbid!).” Or when I cared about something more than I should. When I was suffering. When I needed to pretend something wasn’t bothering me.
“Let it go” was always about hiding. For those three words to become a call to emotional honesty and an empowerment of true identity…that’s huge. It’s huge for my students, and it’s huge for me.
Essentially, the “IT” in let it go has changed.
When I was growing up, let it go = let go of your feelings, let go of your history, let go of your dreams, let go of your true self.
For the Frozen generation, let it go = let go of expectations, let go of trying to please everyone, let go of hiding. Oh, and love everyone else through their truth, too.
Guess which one is a way, way better message for our kids?
Watching those same words which used to assault me into “moving on” encourage my students to move inward and to express themselves? Beautiful. Just beautiful.
Frozen soundtrack, you are welcome in my classroom any day.
I’m a total fangirl for great marketing campaigns and above-and-beyond customer service.
So, no surprise, I was really into it when this video of WestJet’s epic Christmas miracle went viral.
(If that made you shed a holiday tear or two, it’s cool. The internet feels the same way.)
Part of the appeal of this video was how genuine it was. This was a good company doing a good thing, and it got peoples’ attention…including mine.
But WestJet should have had our attention a long time ago. Why?Because they’re basically the Mr. Rogers of Canadian airlines. Seriously.
Here are 7 stories/facts to back that up. (Note: I have no affiliation with WestJet. Or with Mr. Rogers, for that matter. Zero. I’m just being a total fangirl here.)
1) WestJet employees helped a customer grieve the loss of his family dog.
If you’ve ever lost a pet, you can relate to the heartbreak this blogger felt when his 7 year old family dog, Hunter, passed away unexpectedly last month. He bought a ticket for the first flight he could find–a 10 am West Jet departure–and headed to the airport. When he got there at 7:55 am, he realized there was an 8:15 flight about to leave. Twenty minutes. Never gonna happen, right?
That’s when things got amazing.
One of the WestJet check-in people must have spotted me. She immediately came from behind the counter and asked if I’m OK or needed help. I told her my dog had just died and I needed to just get home as soon as possible. I remember I had tears at this point. She then did the one thing for me I needed most at this point. She gave me a big hug of support. She then told me I will be on the 8:15 flight. She called the gate and told them to hold the flight as they had a family emergency coming, rebooked me onto the flight seating me in the front row, and escorted me to the front of the security line. With a final hug she wished me well and sent me towards the flight.
You guys. You guys. I’m melting right now. How sweet is that?
Oh, and this wasn’t just one nice lady. It gets better.
During the flight I was trying to hold myself together as I had a bit of travel to do as yet. One of the flight attendants noticed my tears, offered me some kleenex and asked if it was allergies. Again I explained my dog had just died. Immediately he stopped what he was doing and spent the next 10 minutes with me (it was only a 40 minute flight so that’s a lot of time!) The flight attendant and I shared stories and pictures. It was nice to be able to talk about Hunter with someone.
He goes on to say that it only took him only 3 hours to get from that first Ottawa airport encounter to his doorstep in Kitchener. I live in Ottawa, and my family (including our dog, Ella) lives in Kitchener, so I know how fast that kind of travel time is. It’s fast.
I can only imagine how devestating and “I NEED TO GET HOME NOW NOW NOW” it would be if Ella passed away suddenly. I’m sure that compassion and solid service meant the world to this guy.
2) WestJet found a customer’s lost cat…then took her to a vet and flew her home for free.
When WestJet employees found Willow, a customer’s missing cat, her grieving owner had already left the airport with a heavy heart. The WestJet response? Totally spot on.
1) They contacted the owner, and gave her updates every step of the way.
2) They brought the cat to a vet immediately to make sure she was okay.
3) They flew the cat home free of charge.
4) When the story got press, they made sure to send out a tweet acknowledging an Air Canada agent who helped to coax the cat out.
The lost cat was not WestJet’s fault. The kennel was not properly secured, and two cats escaped “after ground handlers picked up their kennel and the bottom fell out of it.” They had no obligation here, not really. But they did everything they could anyways. Why? Because they’re awesome.
3) Not a cat person? Don’t worry. WestJet helps find missing kids, too.
WestJet has a partnership with the Missing Children Society of Canada. That means they cover the flights of investigators traveling to find lost kids. It means they reunite families free of charge. It means they help with fundraising events.
And, it means that (like many MCSC partners) they have their employees out in the field looking for missing children. WestJet employees are active users of the CodeSearch app:
[Codesearch] allows MCSC the ability, with the help of local law enforcement, to send out geo-targeted alerts to individuals in the area where a child has gone missing or is expected to be located. Along with notifications, CodeSearch participants can also provide local expertise and resources.
Since abductors are likely to come to airports after taking a child, this kind of front line action is a big deal. They even had a month long campaign in 2011 called Give hope. Take action. where they “invited guests to write messages of hope to families of missing children.” Gold star, WestJet, gold star.
4) WestJet has a partnership with Disney Vacations. That means they have a freakin’ Mickey Mouse plane. Yeah.
As an Ottawa tour guide, my bosses constantly reference Disney Vacations for its f’amazing customer service and general attitude…so the fact they’re trusting the airline to deliver the magic of Disney is serious business. WestJet even had a Mickey Mouse themed unvieling for staff, which is about the coolest internal marketing event I’ve seen ever.
Also, they serve Disney-shaped cookies on board, so you’re welcome.
5) WestJet provides free flights for sick kids and families in need.
From donating flights to the Make-a-Wish Foundation, to providing the David Foster Foundation with transportation to offsite medical care, WestJet is there for sick families and kids.
To me, this is not just solid corporate philanthropy–it’s also knowing and understanding customer values. In Canada, where we so value our universal healthcare, it’s amazing to see a company like this stepping in and doing their part to make sure that a sick kid never, ever means unecessary family expenses.
6) What, an airline with an environmental commitment? Really?
They invest in technology and procedures that enable us to maximize operating efficiency and safety.
They invest in infrastructure to mitigate the environmental footprint of their ground operations.
They work in good faith with government agencies and regulators to develop rules and policies that further drive our operating efficiency and our ability to grow sustainably.
If that sounds vague, check out the technlogy they’re rocking: a lithium polymer-powered baggage tug, blended winglets, and one of the continent’s youngest and most fuel-efficient fleets. Their Corporate offices in Calgary are even designed with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System in mind. If you want to fly green(er), this is probably your best bet.
7) They treat their employees right.
As this Toronto Star article details, WestJet’s great customer treatment can be traced back to great employee treatment. Some highlights?
They call their employees “Westjetters.” Their HR department is referred to as “People.” (You know who else talks to/about their workers that way? Google. And who doesn’t want to work for Google?)
Employees are also called “owners,” thanks to WestJet’s generous profit-sharing program. Over 85% of employees own shares in the company, and WestJet matches employee stock one for one.
Front liners are given the freedom and trust to go the extra mile (according to one employee: “If there’s a guest coming in on a flight, and I see that we have an earlier flight going through, I can use my empowerment to see if I can find them something earlier.”)
Also…I mentioned the Mickey Mouse plane launch party, right? #swag
I can’t believe it, really. It’s exciting and celebratory to look back, but it’s weird to think “Wow, that happened. That’s over.”
Of course, nothing is actually over. That’s just my brain playing tricks again. A year well spent is an achievement, not a loss. Note to self.
As some of you Shaunanagins Facebook fans know, this is slightly old news. My official “blogoversy” was September 13, which the calendar tells me was over a week ago. My excitement that day was pretty intense, which was awkward to express. Sure, a year is a long time and a blog like this is hard work…but also, how do you go up to someone and say “Yeah, I have this website where I write about myself. I’ve been doing it for a year. So no big deal.”
But it is a big deal, at least in my teeny-tiny reality. I wrote stuff! People cared about it! Sometimes, they even cared enough to share it. I remember when Sex, Lies, and Storytime , a ranty essay written covertly on my office computer, was Freshly Pressed in February. When thousands of people read it. When they liked it. And I just jumped up and down in the bathroom, letting my inner six year old take over because validation! validation! validation!
I was, and am, unforgivably amateur.
Emphasis on the “am.” After this year, my resume is full of four month internships and my head is full of ideas and itty-bitty optimisms–starting points, all of it. Traveling alone, living in a new city, test-driving jobs and instruments and beliefs and people-stuff. A semester here, a semester there.
So very amateur. A year of blogging and exploring hasn’t changed that. But I do feel like it has made me more aware, and that’s a gift I can’t take for granted.
The first kind of awareness had to do with other people. I learned what they wanted to read, what they did with it afterwards. I learned what they were willing to share, too, once the conversation was started. The Taboo Tab project constantly amazed me. I couldn’t believe how many people were willing to tell their story. It is beyond inspiring that so many people were brave and articulate enough to rise up and put a face on grief and sexuality and eating disorders. I was equally amazed by how many more people were willing to read and care about what the sharers had to say. Every time someone thrust their story into my hands and said “Here, have it. Edit it. Show it to the world.” they made an active decision to share themselves with this project and this community. And, thanks to the amazing nature of this community, it became a safe place to talk and to learn. So much trust. So much love.
(Also, I have more stories waiting to be posted on the Taboo Tab in the coming weeks. This “awareness” thing ain’t over yet!)
Self-awareness also happened. Sometimes it was invited, other times not so much. I audited my relationships, sometimes more than I needed to. I tried really-really-really hard to listen and face some realities.
Like, say, the reality that you shouldn’t go around making people feel guilty just because you had a bad day, or even they hurt you once. I call this guilt-machining. It’s basically the manipulative cousin of nagging, and has about the same success rate.
Or the reality that some questions are caring and inquisitive, but some are born of un-loving intentions–loaded, insecure, unfair, generally toxic.
Or the reality that no one’s perfect. Even when I tried to write a sign to remind myself of these things, I brutally misspelled a word. The reminder of “You’re human!” stares me down just as much as the other, more intentional messages on this piece of notepaper. Every morning and every evening: “You’re human! It’s okay! Now be good to people!” The reminder is taped messily beside my bedroom mirror, so it’s hard to miss.
This is all part of the game, I guess. A year into blogging and this is what we have: me whittling away, trying to carve out some kind of worldview. Collecting your stories and piecing them together in the Taboo Tab because, hopefully, then I’ll understand you too.
(And reminding myself to BE NICE AND LISTEN AND LOVE HARDER, for goodness sake.)
I think I have more to say, but to be totally honest…a wasp just flew into my apartment and stung me right on the pad of my middle finger. I’m icing it, sort of, in between key strokes. To the wasp’s credit, it was only fighting back. But dude. Ouch.
I should probably take care of my hand. So I guess I’ll leave this entry at this:
THANK YOU for an amazing year. Thank you for reading. I love all the comments you leave me, and they make my day (actually, now they make my year). You rock. Seriously.
Found this in an old journal from grade 8. So, so typically my Dad:
“My dad read the article about how I feel all plain and stuff and he told me it runs in the family. He said “I was always considered one of the ‘smart’ ones. I guess you got the know-it-all gene from me, Shauna.”
Later, he showed me old high-school report cards. I couldn’t believe my dad, respectfully one of “those smart kids,” had these low averages, just like me! He told me that once he got to University, he learned to “chill a little.” He said first impressions WERE hard to overcome, but however I act is how people will slowly come to know me. He said when he started “chilling out” a bit, people were like “Oh, cool” and just came to see him in a different view. A better view.
I hope the getting over it part is in my in my blood too. My dad is a pretty cool guy–growing up to be a bit like him wouldn’t be that bad. He always makes me laugh. He’s like a big brother sometimes cuz he teases me and pokes fun at me. But he’s still my dad, which is what he does best. He’s just so hystarical and I love him so much.”
Oh, 13-year-old Shauna. Growing up to be a bit like him is one of the best things you’ve ever done.
(Also, dear 13-year-old Shauna, he’s not actually that funny. He just plays air guitar and quotes movies in weird voices and re-hashes Seinfeld jokes. Don’t encourage him like this.)
Not the kind of rough week that results in a long list of things-gone-wrong and a sigh of “Girrrrl, I need to VENT!”. Nothing tangible like that. My sighs sound more like ‘Well, you know, it’s one of THOSE weeks’: First word problems, chocolate cravings, untimely nostalgia, “I’m probably just under the weather.”
‘Merica is an acquired taste. The best things always are. This past week, I was knowingly halfway there; Washington and I were on a half-hearted, confusing fourth date. The novelty of “going to a new place” had worn off, but I still didn’t quite fit in. It’s not unlike that third day of kindergarten, almost-but-not-quite able to colour inside the lines. Or, being at a concert, trying to sing along to that song everyone knows (you think you know it too, but you’re barely mumbling along to the lyrics all the same).
Basically, a big load of self-imposed awkwardness followed me around last week.
At times like these, my Facebook-self usually stays perpetually optimistic: “Have you seen my blog? Have you seen my life? It’s cool. My hair is brown. I read the newspaper. I have attractive friends. Please like me.”
(Between you and me: my roots are coming in, the only physical paper I read is Street Sense, and no, I’m not dating the guy next to me in that picture. But please don’t tell Facebook. Those people knew me in middle school.)
This Friday, it felt like it was finally (finally, finally) time to crowd source some cheer:
I knew warm fuzzies were all over the internet. What I didn’t know was that my friends and readers could bust them out on demand like that. And I certainly didn’t know that they worked so well. Turns out, there is a way to line up some of the internet’s better offerings and (hopefully) make for a better day. Or a better week. Really, just a better outlook, period.
And so, based on these suggestions, I present to you: 10 Steps to a Better Day, Courtesy of the Internet
Let’s start by addressing a point one reader/friend made after last week’s post – “You gotta stop stomping on all your prized possessions, dude.”
As much as I would like to defend my trademark…he was right. Here’s how that one ended:
[If you missed part one of “Things I Couldn’t Live Without (and the lessons they taught me),” you can read it here.]
What it taught me: Don’t underestimate “amateur.”
This is the latest and greatest lesson I have picked up. Seriously, if you only read one of these, read this one.
The record company I’m interning for has the single greatest outlook on music, art, and culture that I have ever experienced. The people who have made Folkways what it is (guys like Moe Asch, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger) are wholly inspirational. Take one of Guthrie’s famous quotes: “Anyone who uses more than two chords is just showing off.”
W.G. keeps it real.
A few days ago, the interns all started talking about their musical backgrounds–the instruments they played, the classes they took, even the degrees they held. I tried to slide in under the radar with this one, but we’re a small group. The conversation eventually turned to me.
“How about you, Shauna? Are you a musician?”
Awkward. “Well…I mean…I play music, sometimes. I picked up the keyboard, and I sing I guess, and I’m learning guitar. But…I’m not any good.”
You know that feeling in the air when you’ve just said something out of line? The chatter stopped. One of the interns, a guy who had gone to college for music, turned to me sharply.
“Don’t say that. Seriously. Don’t say you aren’t ‘Good.’ Do you love music?” I started to answer, but he did it for me. “Yes. Do you play music? Yes. Do you love it?”
“Absolutely. Yes.” I rubbed my thumb over my fingers, blistering from practice the night before.
“Then you’re a musician.”
You know what? He’s probably right. Sure, I have only had a guitar for a month now. I learn how to strum from YouTubers with cute accents. I know a few songs… if you count slamming down G & C chords over and over while reciting the lyrics to Thrift Shop.
It’s perpetual amateur hour in my bedroom, and that’s totally okay.
The fact is, I listen to, learn about, and talk music all day. I get inspired. When the clock strikes 5, and I race home so I can get to my own instrument. I play, and it’s good for me. It’s sometimes even good for other people–I recently received an anonymous message from someone who was at a New Years party where I played the keyboard :
A friend of mine from the New Year’s party (you haven’t met him) wanted me to tell you that: “[you are] really talented and really made [his] new years to hear [your] performance.[you] resparked [his] passion for music, [he’s] re-picking up piano again… after a 12 year break”
Is that not the most beautiful thing? I guess that in the end, loving and sharing music is what it’s all about.
6) Curling mousse
What it taught me: Embrace what’cha got.
My hair. Oh goodness, what to say about my hair?
Well, I guess the first thing to say is that I have hair at all, which hasn’t always been the case.
Yeah, I shaved my head in high school. We’ll call it an exercise in philanthropy, since I raised a bit of money and donated the hair to charity. Mostly, though, the head shaving was a result of the same “Well, why the heck not?” attitude that landed me in DC. It’s a repeat of why I dyed my hair brown: I told someone in passing that I would totally do it. The opportunity presented itself. I totally did it.
Most. Freeing. Thing. Ever.
The whole process was a pretty big deal for a 15-year-old girl, especially one with braces and glasses (the word you’re looking for is “teenage heartthrob”). Up until that point, I had all but hidden behind long blonde locks. If my haircut was half an inch shorter than necessary, there would be tears. My 9th grade email address was busy_being_blonde (heh. this was also my creative peak). Not surprisingly, the head shaving was liberating. My hair doesn’t define me. Imagine that.
Since then, my hair has been just about every length. It has been most styles, too. One of the many things I’ve learned from all this is that my hair is irrevocably curly. I mean, it’s really, truly, naturally curly. It’s not going to be un-curly without a fight…and I do not have time for a fight. All I have time for is a mousse.
When it comes to my curls, I can’t beat ’em, and I’m no longer in the business of shaving them right off. The only option left is to join ’em.
7) ‘Senorita Margarita’ body wash
What it taught me:Smell is associated with memory. If you’re moving on, change it up.
New body wash is my #1 weapon against homesickness.
I first discovered this trick in high school. I was headed to France for an exchange, and was terrified of myself. I figured France would be awesome, but it was my first time away from home and I didn’t want to mess it up with my emotions. I wanted to be able to take advantage of all that awesome. I needed to make sure I didn’t get homesick.
I knew smell could trigger nostalgia, and I wasn’t taking any chances. I very deliberately left my collection of vanilla soaps at home. It was a great call.
Smell and memory have the craziest relationship. I know you cannot completely hide from scent-triggers, but when you move to a new place, it could be worth it to smell like a new you.
(And hey, you never know…maybe I’ll end up bringing Senorita Margarita home with me.)
Remember, this is the second in a series of three posts on “Things I couldn’t live without (and the lessons they taught me).” What would make your list? Comment below with your list, or blog your own version and throw up a link!
This is the first in a series of three posts–I actually have a top ten (pictured above) but dividing it up seems like the best way to go.
Yes, “couldn’t live without” is an overstatement. Basically, these are the items which would make it into my suitcase no matter what (or where). There are reasons and stories behind these things, most of which translate into serious “lessons learned”…lessons which pretty much explain why these items are even with me. After all, I haven’t even had most of these things for more than a couple years.
Too bad. I could have used them.
1) Cucumber cleansing milk (from The Body Shop)
What it taught me: If it’s the right product, and the right price, you should probably buy two.
I worked at the Body Shop last year, and quickly learned that their skin care lines are amazing. My best find during my time there was this cucumber cleansing milk. It was $4, it smelled fresh, and it softened my skin instantly.
Oh, and they discontinued it.
I don’t wear a whole lot of make up, so it takes me awhile to go through my perfect shade or find the right skin care product. After I run out, I almost always discover that my products are discontinued. With this moisturizer, it was a double heartbreak–come on, $4? When will I find that again?
Needless to say, I’m making this bottle last.
The cucumber toner is still available through their website’s outlet section (presumably on a “while supplies last” basis). I would get one if I were you. Maybe two. Then go to the mall and buy your favourite lip colour, if you have one, or stock up on your foundation shade. Because if your skin is as pale or annoying as mine (sexy, right?) then you probably don’t want to lose your secret ingredients–and you probably will.
2) Homemade, wood burned Canada flag
Lesson learned: Appreciate other people’s talents.
Think about how hard it is to draw a maple leaf. Now imagine wood burning it.
Let us all have a moment of silence to remember the Canada flag drawings we have effed up in our lifetimes.
(Thanks for the Christmas present, bro.)
3) TiCats hat
What it taught me: If you want to connect with someone, you need to find a way to care about the things they care about.
It was Christmas break. As my family gathered together, my mother turned to ask me a rather out-of-the-blue a question. You could tell this one had been bubbling up for quite some time; Limited segue, loaded tone, genuine curiosity.
“Okay, Shauna. I know you do, but…when exactly did you start watching sports?” She turned to my father, adding: “I watched Football with her, like, a few months ago and she seemed to really know what was going on.” Back to me. “How did you learn that? When did that start?”
I offered several explanations. I played touch football for a couple months in middle school, didn’t I? The neighbor boy and I used to throw a basketball around sometimes, and “Well, mom, I’ve never missed a Superbowl.” But as I traced back in my memory, I could find only one explanation: because I love my brother, that’s why.
I’ve always enjoyed watching sports, but I have only been following actual teams for a few years. I think it started with some uneasy phone calls back at the beginning of my University life. Time after time, conversation fell flat with 3/3 of my brothers. I missed them terribly, but we had nothing to really share. The only lead I had was with the youngest, who kept trying to talk about sports.
Sports. I like sports, right? Watching hockey is fun. I’ve always been interested in football. We could totally connect over this. So I turned on Sportscenter, Googled some NFL stats, watched a few games. I gave him a call.
Then he started calling me. We messaged each other during a game. Now, our relationship sounds less like “So, what’s new…nothing…yeah…okay…” and more like this:
Clearly, he cares about this. I found it to be something I could care about, too–there were sports I liked, I fell for a franchise, I started following up. I was already interested, but I honed in on the interest because it was something he loved. Our relationship has never been better.
After helping me to build a friendship with my little brother, football helped me build yet another bridge–this time, with my grandfather. For the first time, here we were: same city, same team, same ability to be glued to the game. Quick visits turned into NFL/CFL marathons stretching to 8 hours.
The best part? I ended up having inside jokes and a solid relationship with my grandfather, who I barely saw for the first 20 years of my life. My grandmother’s sighs of “This is a silly game. Why don’t they just give them all a ball so they stop fighting over that one?” in the background were hilarious. It was so easy. We just had to share something.
Truthfully, I inherited my TiCats fandom from my dad, who inherited it from my grandfather. I carry it through not just because I like it, but because the people I love like it–my brother, my dad, my grandfather, even a couple childhood friends. I carry it because it matters to my relationships. I’m clinging to commonality. It’s one of the best calls I’ve ever made.
(…also, I’m more than a little emotionally involved when it comes to my teams.)
4) Red lipstick.
Lesson learned: It’s called “classy is as classy does.” And it works.
Okay, so maybe not everyone is a fan of red lipstick. But please, try to understand: this is no ordinary lipstick. Pictured here is a lipstick infused with lady superpowers.
This lipstick is my secret weapon. If want a productive, no-nonsense, superwoman day, this is step number one. Then comes a pencil skirt. Then a pair of pumps. The hair goes up. The coffee comes out. Being an attractive, busy, shit-together lady is a go.
I will forever defend the power of red lipstick and a little black dress. And no, I’m not talking about its powers in the MRS department. The red lipstick isn’t for dates. It’s to signify go time for me–red lips and heels happen when I’m doing homework, doing dishes, filling out applications, and working through to do lists. Things just get done when my ladyself comes out.
Yeah, I’m kind of a lipstick feminist. Classy is as classy does, friends.
As I mentioned, this is the first in a series of three posts on “Things I couldn’t live without (and the lessons they taught me).” What would make your list? Comment below with your list, or blog your own version and throw up a link!
Here’s some faulty middle school logic for you: I was a super dorky kid. Super dorky kids are supposed to be intellectuals. Intellectuals are supposed to read impressive books. They are also supposed to care about politics, listen to interesting music, know stupid trivia, dig computer culture…and understand physics, I suppose, though I knowingly fell flat on that one.
I embraced this so-called intellectual thing pretty hard growing up. I could be the smart kid, right? Never mind that my report card was mediocre at best. Never mind that it took me until the end of high school to even hit the ever-elusive “honour roll.” Never mind that, quantitatively speaking, I did not always live up to the intellectual side of my super dork image. I could still be the smart kid, right? I could compensate for these set backs by hiding failed math tests and regularly using words like “compensate” and “quantitatively.” NO ONE NEEDED TO KNOW.
I played the part pretty well. For one thing, I often claimed to read books that my intellectual alter-ego would be totally into. I was an honest kid, don’t get me wrong, and my attraction to my dad’s heavy non-fiction wasn’t exactly untrue. I was really interested in Pierre Berton’s collected works, and I did really read “Guns, Germs, and Steel” with enthusiasm. Well, I read the first part…of the first chapter. But eventually, these books were all sentenced to hang out and collect dust on my side table.
In my defense, I was fifteen, and bubbly, and dorky. Drinking my weight in diet coke and playing Guitar Hero with my friends took precedent. Looking back, “Vimy” was a cool book and I wish I had given it more of a shot, but otherwise I hardly regret how I spent my teenage years. Best laid plans, carpe diem, etc etc.
I have grown up a bit since then, of course. Developments include me limiting diet coke intake (see also: discovering coffee) and learning to play music on a real instrument, though I still maintain I was far better at caffeinated guitar hero (see also: the glory days). My bedside table of good intentions, which featured a few smart/neglected books, has been upgraded to a full-sized good intentions bookcase headboard. Sure, my record of following through with the reading is much higher, but so are the stakes—this is now a major part of my academic career. I have surrendered to the power of the textbook.
Do I like reading these non-fiction books? Sometimes. Sometimes, they’re dry and awful. Other times, they are in my second language and it makes my head hurt. Mostly, they’re just sorta things I have to read because school says so. But every now and then, I will pick up an academic book on my own accord and ACTUALLY read it through (yes, really). Every now and then, I will find something interesting enough that I will seek to learn more via size 10 Times New Roman print. In, you know, a book. From, you know, the library.
Yes, really. It isn’t common. Most of my reading time is consumed by school. But there are four particular books that I have read through in the last couple years that I can vouch for. These books are genuinely interesting and page-turning despite being super non-fiction. I know for many of you, the distinction of “super non-fiction” isn’t exactly a bad thing. Still, I find that it can so often be boring. These books are anything but.
4) A woman’s place: seventy years in the lives of Canadian women, compiled by Sylvia Fraser
I actually first discovered “A Woman’s Place” in high school, back when I wrote my first paper on Chatelaine magazine. Chatelaine, which you may know as “That magazine my mom gets ’cause it came with our cable plan for some reason,” has been around and appealing to Canadian women for almost 85 years. By Canadian standards, this qualifies as a long-ass time. I’m more than a little partial to anything about Chatelaine, having spent hours marveling over microfilm of the magazine at the archives. No, I’m not still gunning for “smart kid” position, I just like the friggin’ archives. I like seeing history in raw form. But even if your idea of a good time differs from mine, I still recommend checking out Fraser’s timeline of oldschool Chatelaine articles. Reading how women saw themselves, their families, their country, and each other? Really interesting stuff.
The bad news is that “A Woman’s Place” was compiled in 1997, so it’s currently lacking about 15 years of interesting Chatelaine history. The good news is that for what it does cover, this book is amazing. Fraser successfully compiled top images and articles in this book, creating a resource that does more than just tell you how Canadian women lived in the 20th Century– it shows you. If you’re anything like me, you’ll get totally addicted to reading up on the 1940s housewife scene. Relationships, health, employment…not to mention the period when feminist Doris Anderson acted as editor. This woman was so hardcore that she actually turned down the opportunity to publish Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” article because, and I quote, “we had already written about all that stuff.”
Excerpts of Chatelaine are, in my opinion, the most easy-to-read and interesting first-hand account of Canadian women’s culture. After all, this stuff was written with the purpose of entertaining the nation’s ladies. I’m definitely still entertained.
Just like that. Exactly like that. (Sorry, had to.)
3) The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media by Ilana Gershon
I can actually confirm that reading this book has led to so many amazing conversations, ideas, and writings that I’m losing track. After one such conversation the other party, my friend Niki, headed straight to the library to check this book out. She agrees that it’s good. It’s really, really good.
The fact of the matter is that lots of young adults suffer breakups. Older people suffer breakups too, I know, but I can’t really speak to the volume or complexities there. What I can speak to is that in first and second year university, I was surrounded by the pieces of several teenage hearts literally scattered all over the floor. Then people started new relationships, or flings, or whatever worked in between. Lots of falling and hormones hanging around. In short, early twenties relationships can be messy. And the internet only makes it messier. Ilana Gershon seeks to answer the question that so many of us are asking: how does your efacetwittertumblrbook respond when the shit hits the fan in your relationship, exactly? How do relationships, nevermind breakups, even WORK in this new media environment?
I think we are unanimous in realizing that it’s not an easy hurdle. Inspired by Gershon’s investigation on the subject I’ve personally written at bit on the subject. The internet is an exciting tool, but it has a major impact on our interpersonal relationships, especially as they develop. I am increasingly seeing it as a rather big, huge, seemingly overlooked deal–a deal which I am so grateful that Gershon was able to shed some light on. Her insights, based on a large sample of case studies and qualitative research, have definitely placed this book high up on my recommended reads list.
2) “Gods and Guitars: Seeking the Sacred in Post-1960s Popular Music” by Michael J. Gilmour
I was actually really excited when I found this book. My favourite places are usually either music-y and spiritual-y, so when I saw that someone had ventured to write about how the two relate (and I know they do), I was all over it. This book actually had me texting my friends all summer with things like “Dude. You have to read this. I have never considered Bat Out of Hell this way before.”
I am always down for new ways to consider Bat Out of Hell.
For me, the most impressive thing about this book is that Gilmour is strikes an impressive balance of intellectualism and humility in his analysis–basically, the guy is is honest. This sounds really simple, but I have read so many pretentious books in religious studies classes that are so over-the-top opinionated that they actually go full circle back to making no point at all. Gilmour, meanwhile, recognizes the broadness and possible controversy within his topic, the subjectivity of music and religion, and the many lenses through which one could analyze the relationship between the two. He also recognizes his strengths and limitations as a scholar and a music fan–and believe me, Gilmour definitely, definitely has strengths in this department.
Gods and Guitars is remarkably well-researched, with so many references to different songs and texts that my insight on post-1960s popular music pretty much tripled after reading it. By connecting the role music plays in peoples’ lives to spirituality, Gilmour is able to analyze how popular music has shaped our cultural understanding life/death/love/other things that religion has historically addressed. In my case, these connections lead to a whole bunch of “WOAHH” moments during reading. And, of course, those text messages that start with the word “Dude,” which are always a good sign.
1) “Me Funny” and “Me Sexy” by Drew Hayden Taylor.
I could claim to have always had an interest in Native studies, but the reality is that I have several incredible teachers to thank for teaching me to always, always consider Aboriginal perspective and background when looking at Canadian/American history and culture…not just academically, but as a day to day Canadian, period.
I do this pretty actively. I take the classes. I keep up on the news. But after preparing a heart-wrenching high school presentation on Residential Schools, my post-secondary self decided it was time to do something (anything, really) other than chronicle genocide when faced with writing papers for Native studies/Canadian studies/post-colonial history courses.
So I turned my research to jokes and sex. Why not, right? It turns out that Aboriginal heritage in the Americas has lot to offer in both of these fields. In first year, I began the long road of comparing Euro-Christian ideas about sexuality and humour to the cultural ideology held by Aboriginal groups.
Enter books “Me Funny” and “Me Sexy,” which feature essays compiled by Ojibwa humour writer (and generally talented guy) Drew Hayden Taylor. “Me Funny,” is essentially a collection of intelligent, insightful people being funny ABOUT being funny…and you LEARN STUFF, too. I learned a whole lot from this one. My grade 12 Native studies teacher constantly impressed upon us that a truly beautiful and intriguing sense of humour is embedded in indigenous culture, but “Me Funny” brought that realization to a whole new level.
Of course, after “Me Funny” I just had to read “Me Sexy.” Also amazing. “Me Sexy” presents brilliant first-hand essays that are poignant, interesting, controversial and incredibly telling of the many perspectives on the diverse subject of aboriginal sexuality. We’re talking about ideas and identity regarding the body/sexuality/gender which fall so far from the realm of my otherwise Euro-centric perspective that a 13 page paper I once wrote could barely scratch the surface. This book, even, can barely scratch the surface. But it’s one heck of a brilliant 101 course. Overall, these books are a way to gain cultural understanding/appreciation by reading about jokes and sex. Can’t go wrong.
Are you at the library yet?
I know I’m not the only one with a favourite non-fiction read (or four). Almost everyone knows of a page-turner that also qualifies as “learning material.” Like I said, it doesn’t happen everyday–at least, not for me. But when it does, it’s awesome.
For me, the best part is that these are the kinds of books that fuel the most interesting conversations. Here, I’ll start one right now: Read any good books lately?
Recently, I read a tweet claiming that there are more Subway sandwich shops than McDonalds(es?) in Canada. I was surprised by this, but upon Googling it found that it was actually old news–Subway has been ahead for awhile.
Why not, right? The lunchtime Subway line on campus is rivaled only by coffee shops in the morning. From where currently sit, I’m about a 10 minute walk from four (yes, FOUR) highly popular Subways. The reason I know this, of course, is because I frequent them. I frequent ALL of them.
The appeal is simple: The food is affordable. It’s quick. It’s addictingly good. It’s a lot less guilt-inducing than other fast food options. Most importantly, though, it’s highly customizable. Companies in almost every sector have realized that, courtesy of the 21st century, people want and expect to pick their own path. Heightened sense of individuality-cum-entitlement? Check . Welcome to the iWorld, folks. iDig the iWorld (sorry, iWill stop writing like that now…), but us first world kids are undoubtedly spoiled by all this access to options.
Subway definitely knows what’s up: It’s a sandwich. It’s a GOOD sandwich. Most of all, though, it’s YOUR good sandwich. Subway, along with many other companies that are really rocking it right now (Freshii, for example), know how to appeal to our semi-newfound “BTCHPLZ, I DO WHAT I WAAANT” mindset. Clearly, combining choice with cold cuts SELLS.
It sells to me, at least. Subway and Freshii are easily two of my favourite lunch spots. Recently, I’ve found myself drawn to other businesses running from that same formula: serving a simple favourite with lots of options on top. I’ll chat about specific places around downtown Ottawa, but almost every city will have at least one place specializing in…
Gourmet Grilled Cheese. Recently, a little place called Melt opened up at 399 Dalhousie. I went for the first time last week with my friend Rebecca, who shared my opinion that a sandwich shop dedicated to grilled cheese is “such a GREAT idea!” She was very impressed with her “Herbivore” sandwich, while I was psyched to pack a grilled cheese full of onions, mushrooms, red peppers, and prosciutto. The taste was okay, though a bit too buttery (that one kinda comes with the territory) and slightly dry (“I’m thinking this needs some ketchup”). All in all, though, this is such a cool concept that we will definitely be stopping back in.
Oh, and Gourmet Grilled Cheese? It’s TOTALLY a thing. It’s huge in Toronto (because everything awesome is huge in Toronto), while Vancouver has a popular grilled cheese truck. “Say Cheese” in New York even hosts “cooking parties” for kids’ birthdays. Yup. Totally a thing.
Poutine. When I first moved to Ottawa, Smoke’s Poutinerie literally became something to write home about. A place open until 3 am that puts onions/mushrooms/bacon/sausage on a poutine? Sold. Game over. Cue my first year of University–and, of course, the first meal I presented to any out-of-town visitors when they came to the capital.
Smoke’s Poutinerie has since exploded across the country, so I can no longer claim it as a reason people should really (really…REALLY) come visit Ottawa. I never actually could–Smoke’s started in Toronto, a city which now boasts a monstrous SIX locations. There’s probably a location in your city, too, so I suggest you go. Now. My favourite dish so far is the “Nacho Grande”; Chili and guacamole make for one hell of a poutine.
Burgers. Okay, we all know this one. Harvey’s, right? Personalizing burgers is their game. And I agree with that, I do. I don’t seek to de-throne the fast food joint responsible for any and all bacon-covered veggie burger cravings (if you haven’t done this, you really should. Both the burger and the irony are delicious). I do, however, wish to point out that there are some other major players taking burgers and their toppings to another level.
Enter the “gourmet burger bistro.” When I first heard of The Works, I was immediately enthralled. Initially, I was drawn to the restaurant atmosphere: picnic tables, drinks served from measuring cups, salt & pepper shakers crafted from lightbulbs…cool stuff everywhere. The menu fits that “cool stuff” category too, with six patty choices and over 70 topping combinations. Topping burgers with anything from peppercorns to pineapple to peanut butter, The Worked has earned itself a local reputation of being the pinnacle of everything a burger joint should be. That might sound over-the-top, but I’ll stand by it. I’m a really big fan.
I should backtrack a bit, though: The Works’ reputation is no longer local. It recently expanded to Guelph, Toronto, Waterloo, Kingston, London, Peterborough and Oakville…basically, yet ANOTHER of my Ottawa selling points is no longer exclusive to the city. On the bright side, there are a lot of happy people in Waterloo.
Mexican Food. Sorry, I know I should be more specific here. Basically, I’m talking about tacos, burritos, quesadillas…stuff that, strangely, Ottawa really knows how to serve up. Specifically, stuff that Corazón De Maíz in the Byward Market really knows how to serve up. The owners are known for providing some of the best customer service around, and they always offer GREAT suggestions as to what to put into a taco. Ultimately, in true pick-your-path fashion, it’s still your call. My mind was blown when I was first offered pork as a meat option alongside the traditional beef/chicken deal, and it continues to be blown every time I go there.
I know other cities have great, independently-owned vendors in their market(s) serving up traditional fare, and I think it’s always worth supporting those companies (bonus points: the food is almost always fantastic). As for Corazón De Maíz? Well, this is one place that I can definitely claim for Ottawa…at least for now!
Pitas. One of my closest high school friends used to work at a small pita shop outside of Kitchener’s Stanley Park mall. I have more memories of Mega Pita than I do of even my own teenage work places. So many late nights were spent waiting for my friend to get off work as I “helped,” mopping/sliding across the floors. I once rushed a cheap dollar store fan to her while she sweated in the non-air conditioned kitchen, and we shared it as I kept her company on a boring and blistering hot Sunday. I even called the Mega Pita owner “The Boss,” a title I denied even my own high school bosses. As far as I’m concerned, that guy is still “The Boss.” He will always be. He is ESPECIALLY the boss because his business is the reason my friend can make a damned good pita. He is also the reason why I continue to frequent pita spots like Byward Market’s Pita Pit–that is, when I’m not at Subway.
How about you? What’s your favourite “I DO WHAT I WAAANT”-friendly spot? Anything I missed? I’m pretty sure I could live off those five foods for months (re: last summer. Sorry, mom.) but if any other central dishes are getting amped up, I would love to give it a shot!