Needing a Birth Control Prescription Screwed Me Over (and if you pay taxes, it probably screwed you over, too).

When I saw that Colorado recently made it possible to get birth control without a doctor’s visit, I cheered.

Then I read the comments. To be honest, they were well-intentioned. People were worried that this would allow women to take birth control (and therefore take on its associated risks) without a medical pass. Who would tell them which kind to take? Who would tell them if it was okay for their bodies?

I think a lot of this discussion comes back to a misunderstanding of how birth control is prescribed. Perhaps critics believe that that there are major tests involved with approving and monitoring a woman for birth control. That our hormones are measured before choosing a particular brand, or that we are tested for blood clots or other side-effects when we renew our prescriptions. That doctors offer tests or medical insights that a properly trained pharmacist couldn’t replicate.

In my experience, that is far from the case. In fact, as a very mobile young woman without a steady family doctor, needing a prescription was an expensive, time-consuming, and sometimes health-threatening situation. Here’s my story.

2009.

I’m seventeen. I walk into my doctor’s office, alone. Two years ago, she whispered ‘just holler if you need the pill!’  in my ear and winked as my mother left the room. Today, I’m nervously cashing that cheque.

After checking my vitals, the trustworthy doc hands me a box of birth control pills. I ask why she chose that one. She answers frankly, “Because that’s the free sample I have lying around right now. You just kinda have to try one and see how your body reacts. Call me in three months if gives you problems.”

September 2010.

The pills have changed my life. Besides the usual suspects, the pills regulate I-can’t-function cramps. I happily throw out the massive painkillers I used to take, which I referred to as “horse pills.” It is a welcome change.

I’m leaving for University. My new school is in Ottawa, a six hour drive from my hometown. My doctor gives me a prescription for my birth control pills and sends me off. For the next year and a half, I get refills over the phone without incident.

Early 2012.

My doctor retires.  I don’t live in the same city, so I don’t qualify for the new doctor she’s sending patients to. At first, it doesn’t seem like a huge deal. I’m a healthy young person. I’ll figure it out later.

Late 2012.

My birth control prescription runs out. I don’t have a family doctor. Shit. I need to start my new round tomorrow, and I am leaving for a 3-month work term in another country in a few days. Double shit.

With this tight timeline, the campus walk-in clinic is my only option.

I wait several hours to see a physician, who shakes his head at my request. He scolds me, saying that I am wasting his time. Something so “silly” should be done by appointment. I hang my head, agreeing that I should have planned better, and hastily take the prescription without answering a single medical question. It is enough for 3 months, leaving me less than two weeks after my return to Canada to figure out a refill.

Spring 2013.

I return from my trip and head straight to an appointment with a nurse practitioner in the campus clinic. She asks only one medical question: “Have you had a pap smear recently?”

I say that I had one about a year ago, and she writes a prescription for 28 days worth of pills. She tells me I need to have a pap before she will let me have any more. I ask if a pap smear has anything to do with birth control. She says no, but it’s motivation. She holds my medication –  which I need for cramping – hostage until I get the elective exam.

One month later.

The campus clinic connects me with a new doctor so I can get the pap smear. He raises an eyebrow when I share my experience with the NP, proceeding to write me a 6-month prescription for birth control.

Like every doctor before him, he asks no real questions about my health before giving me the pills. There are no questions to ask, really. He knew I’d been taking them for years without side effects. What else could he need to know?

Six months later.

I am now working five jobs while going to school. I’m busy. More importantly, after so many awkward experiences with prescription refills, I’m gun-shy. I stop taking my pills. I have violent mood swings for weeks, but the cramps don’t come back. This works, I guess.

One night, I talk to a friend who has moved to a remote community in another province. She, too, has gone off the pills. She tells me she faced challenge after challenge with switching over to the new provincial health system, eventually running out of time to refill her prescription. Going off of the pills has risks for her, too, but she feels there are no other options.

2014. 

Dropping the birth control makes me safe from awkwardness or judgement of doctors, but it also makes me feel vulnerable. What once sounded like a far-fetched statistic (as if 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted!) becomes a reality I cannot avoid. Friends share stories of close calls and full-out violations. Women around me struggle with abusive boyfriends, party drugs, and date rape. I have my own uncomfortable incident.

I decide to get back on the pills. I realize they not only keep me from the monthly mood swings, but also safeguard me from a very unwanted pregnancy.

My stomach is giving me grief, so I regularly see a physician now. For once, I am able to get a prescription easily. I laugh to myself. It is easier to get birth control when I am sick and under medical supervision – a higher risk candidate, likely – than it was when as a healthy young person who didn’t have a doctor on speed dial.

June 2015.

I graduate University and move to yet another city. No local doctor once again. Every few months, I pay a fee to the clinic back in Ottawa to sign off on another supply of birth control pills. I never talk to the doctor when I have the prescription refilled. There is no reason to. We don’t even live in the same place.

Late December, 2016.

I am two days from embarking on a road trip in the United States. With 3 months left on my prescription, I run into the pharmacy between holiday commitments to stock up for the trip.

The pharmacist tells me my prescription is actually empty. Shit. I call Ottawa, but my doctor is on vacation and no one else is allowed to sign the prescription. Once again, a walk-in clinic is my only option.

The wait is 2 hours this time. I apologize profusely to the doctor. This time, he apologizes back. “I mean, these visits are easy money for me, but they’re a cash grab. I get paid by the appointment either way. You as a taxpayer gets to foot the bill.” I half-laugh while eyeing the clock, late for a family event. He takes pity on me and writes a prescription for one year’s supply of pills. It feels like a miracle.

The moral of the story.

“Hey, just check in with your doctor once a year, why not?” might sound harmless. But for women who don’t have a family doctor, that’s easier said than done. Ditto if your doctor retires, moves, or takes a sabbatical at an inopportune time. Or if you change locations, especially to a remote community and/or a new province.

Maybe you think it is irresponsible of me and other women to not plan ahead for these things. In my case, you would be right about that. I should have gotten a new doctor. I should have kept track of what I had left. But the fact is, the times I had the most trouble accessing birth control prescriptions were the times I was least stable and least prepared for a pregnancy. Women who are young, flustered, doctorless, or “irresponsible” should have more access to safe, effective birth control, not less.

For women like me, requiring a prescription for birth control is a major hoop to jump through, an appointment that has no medical purpose. A doctor never once asked a question besides “How long have you been on your brand?” and “Any issues with it?” before renewing my prescription. They took my blood pressure, but a pharmacist could do that easily. In fact, I learned quickly to direct any questions about birth control to pharmacists, who seemed to always have more insights into the medication.

Not only is this system a challenge for women without a steady address or doctor, it can also be expensive. My most recent doctor’s office charges $20 to rubber stamp a renewal. And that fee is nothin’ compared to the pretty penny the government pays every time I go into a clinic for a new piece of paper. This isn’t what an effective, fiscally responsible health care system looks like. This isn’t what caring about women’s health looks like.

(…now if you’ll excuse me, I just lost another family doctor because she moved. And I myself relocated to another new city a few months ago. Better go find a doctor before my prescription runs out. Again.)

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Dear Women On My Facebook Feed

For International Women’s Day, I want to let you know that I see you.

We all know how social media works. An exciting trip will always, always get a thumbs up. An engagement ring? Oh man, that will break records. And so we share those things, because that’s what people want to see.

But that’s not all you are. And when you share more of who you are, I don’t always say something.

So I’m saying something now.

I love the art you create. I am SO jazzed about the plays you are in, the drawings you make, the music you play, the poetry you write. I can’t believe you find the time and dedication in this busy life to create.

Sometimes, I feel guilty I can’t come to your show, and I don’t tell you how much I admire that you’re making the world a more colourful, culturally rich place.

I love your mind. When you post an article with a thoughtful comment, I am grateful for your perspective. When you share what you are learning, reading, and working on, I immediately want to learn more about it myself.

Sometimes, I feel like I don’t know enough to comment on the things you share, and I don’t let you know how much I appreciate your ideas.

I love your hustle. I love seeing simple glimpses of how you get through those busy days. I admire the unique combination of JOBS SCHOOL RELATIONSHIPS DREAMS that you have created, that you own, that you are always working to make better.

Sometimes, your hustle makes me self-conscious about my hustle and I don’t cheer you on like I should.

I love the posts you write. I love reading your stories and understanding your worldview. I love your perspective and appreciate your vulnerability in sharing even the simplest inner thoughts. I love the ones I see myself in, and I love the ones that show me a new perspective.

Sometimes, I get so lost reading that I forget to tell you how much I enjoy your words.

I love what you share. Not everyone is a creator, but when you take the time to curate the things which you find important, entertaining, or enlightening, it makes my life fuller. So much of the content you share makes me laugh, learn, and think.

Sometimes, I get so caught up showing the video or article you posted to the people around me that I never tell you how much I appreciated you sharing it.

Most of all, I love the amazing things you show me when we hang out offline. 

When you start talking about something you are passionate about and your eyes light up.

When you talk about work. When you are strong in the face of challenges. I admire how you approach barriers, personal and professional, with focus and poise because nevertheless, she persisted.

The little things you do that make your house a home, things you probably don’t even realize you are doing.

The creations you don’t show the world – that photo on the wall which you took, the wonderfully researched paper collecting dust on the shelf, the incredible meals that you concoct “for fun,” the work you have done to become a better person.

But you don’t get a “like” for the hundreds of little things you do to make the world a better place. In fact, chances are you barely share those things (because a lady shouldn’t go around bragging, dontchaknow).

Please, my friends, keep bragging. Tell me how you make the world better. Show me your awesome style, tell me when your show is, start conversations. Keep challenging me to be better, stronger, and more compassionate.

I see you. And I thank you.

Our Big (Scary) Announcement

It’s a ring!

It’s a house!

It’s a baby!

No, it’s…two unemployed twenty-somethings living out of a used Pontiac.

20161229_174333
Our last night with a fixed address…for now, anyways!

Our announcement seems a bit different than other “settling down”-themed news from couples at this age and stage, but I think a lot of it comes from a very similar place. Like many people, my boyfriend and I met, dug each other, and started building a life together. We got big kid jobs. We decided what our goals were. We saved, saved, saved. We planned and replanned.

Then we gave notice on our lease.

Then I quit my wonderful job in marketing.

Then we sold our furniture (not that we had much, anyways).

And now, here we are. No babies, puppies, or mortgage payments in our near future. But still—trying to build a cool life together, investing in solid goals.

The only difference is our goals look a lot like this:

map

Yeppers, turns out when two history students hook up, it is only a matter of time before they leave reality behind and attempt a big Civil War themed road trip.

(We. Are. Huge. Nerds.)

This is about more than a single trip, of course. Long-term, I’m taking the plunge into fulltime freelancing. Essentially, I’m starting my own business. Rest assured: I’m terrified.

“But you had a job-with-benefits-and-RRSP-and-and-and…”

…and I loved that job. I loved almost everything about it, but I needed to try this. Maybe fail at it, maybe not, but I needed to try.

I don’t know much at this point in the game, but it seems to me that getting super-skilled at the (lucrative) things you love is a good way to go about career building. So even if I fail, I want to spend at least the next couple years becoming amazing at what I really enjoy–writing, content strategy, digital marketing, and back again.

It’s half entrepreneurial, half sabbatical, and all scary.

This is a we decision, of course. A bit more career mobility on my end gives us the opportunity to live closer to the Niagara farm my plus-one runs with his dad–he can actually come home at night, and I can awkwardly pretend to help. It opens us up for future winter trips before we actually set down roots. It’s a step towards the life we want to build together, which is pretty freaking cool.

Admittedly, this isn’t what I thought partnering up and creating a career would look like. My mental image growing up was a little more white picket fence and a little less laptop-wielding nomad. And maybe we’ll do that someday.

But for now, this is what life looks like. After months of saving and preparing, we’re here. I couldn’t be more excited.

The World Has Changed: Here Are 15 Things We Wish Educators Knew

When I left school and entered the “real world,” I had no idea what I was doing.

I mean, no one really did. Maybe no one ever has. Still, I can’t help but feel that despite the best intentions of our educators, my peers and I felt lost in a lot of avoidable ways. Our concept of career focused on a dwindling supply of Occupations, as opposed to centering on Skills. Skills which, frankly, a lot of us lacked.

The world has changed since the last time a lot of our educators had to get started. And since we spend the majority of our time before age 18 being prepared for “life” by adults, I think we owe them – the teachers, curriculum creators, parents, and role models – some feedback on what we face in the big bad world.

So I turned to communities of friends, entrepreneurs, and job-seekers on Facebook (through personal and Bunz networks) and asked for their feedback on what they think educators should know about the “real world these days.

These are their experiences.

  1. We have no idea how to do our taxes. We live in a world where 15% of people are self-employed, where side hustles are the norm, and where deductions are all over the place. Doing taxes is simple enough if you have one revenue stream, one home, and no major deductions. But add in being a self-employed person, a student, someone who depends on tips. So many of us are playing a losing game with taxes, and that’s wrong. This is such a basic part of our civil responsibility and financial lives, and it isn’t even mentioned until our first return is due.
  2. Also, our personal finance knowledge leaves something to be desired. Often, we teach kids a big fat nothing about money management, then hand them a credit card and student loan and 18 and say “be smart!” In a world of bank fees and buying on credit, an unprepared young adult can make some bad decisions. And in an economy like this, those bad decisions can cripple a person for years and years (and years and years) to come.
  3. We can’t cook (and it’s sucking the life out of us). The year after I left middle school, they scrapped Family Studies class in favour of more English and Math. The result? A lot of people simply never learned how to cook. If schools won’t step up, this should be a priority for parents, after-school programs, and really anyone who helps prepare young people for adulthood. Our physical, mental, and financial health depends on it.
  4. For many of us, the answer to”What do you want to be when you grow up” is “It doesn’t exist yet.” Slotting students into traditional occupations (doctor, teacher lawyer, tradesperson, repeat) ignores the very real changes in our technology, society, and marketplace. Shifting the focus to marketable skills instead a small selection of Jobs will prepare students for the unpredictable future. Career & Salary negotiation coach, Kathryn Meisner, worded it really well when she wrote “I think it could help everyone involved if we acknowledged that careers are not really linear anymore, post-secondary education may not always be relevant (gasp!) and shifted to facilitating career exploration.”
  5. What we can do/make often matters more than what we know. Sure, knowing how to use certain programs and perform basic tasks is desired by employers, but most are hiring you to do something, not just know something. A couple tangible examples of our talents and abilities would go a long way in winning over potential interviewers. Many of us graduate with nothing to show for our practical skills (or worse, no practical skills period) and that’s a problem.
  6. Experience matters. Volunteer opportunities, co-op, and any other resume-ready experiences are pretty much necessary to get your “foot in the door.” Getting something interesting on a young person’s resume (mine was volunteering at a local TV station in high school) can save some serious scrambling later on.
  7. We need to be good at more than one thing. For those of us who went to University, the idea that we need to hyper-focus on one subject is often burned into our brains. The rest of the world, however, is much more suited to a multi-disciplinary education with a lot of soft skills sprinkled in. So sure, young people should find what they like and become GREAT at that. But unless it is highly in demand, tunnel vision can kill off many social and professional opportunities. Stay curious and well-rounded.
  8. Stories, mentors and role models make a difference in our lives.  Growing up, we are exposed to the stories of our teachers and family members every day – which is great, if we want one of their careers. But if we want to do something different, it can seem impossible if we have no one to look up to for direction. Having uncles and aunts in Communications and Marketing influenced my decision to study those things. Meeting a blogger at age 20 is the reason I am a blog. Real people, real stories, and solid advice show us what is possible and how to get there. Being exposed to mentors from many different backgrounds would make a big difference for many otherwise aimless young people.
  9. Collaboration is everything. All day, every day, I have to work with someone else. My partner. My parents. My co-workers. Some account manager in Chicago. All of us need each other to reach our goals, and it isn’t always easy. Learning  patience, communication, and accountability will help in every aspect of your life.
  10. …but so is knowing your boundaries. In this collaboration-centric world, knowing what you are able to handle from others and what you are able to give of yourself is hugely important. There are toxic workplaces and relationships. You do have the right to move on from a bad situation. Socializing kids to have respect for authority or to work in difficult groups isn’t terrible – my teacher needed to corral us somehow,  and learning how to handle hard situations is worthwhile. But long term, finding workplaces and relationships where you feel comfortable and respected should be a priority.
  11. We don’t know our rights. When the boundary thing gets really ugly, this is important. Many of us don’t know our rights as tenants and we don’t know our rights as employees. Even if we do, we don’t know how to go about defending those rights. Since we are thrown into a world where we have to find an apartment and a job, a working knowledge of this basic legislation would be invaluable to many.
  12. Social media is a part of our life – for better or for worse. I was warned a great deal about the dangers of social media growing up, warnings that were very important. But I quickly learned that while posting the wrong things could stunt my career, posting the right things would jumpstart it in a big way. Networking and self-expression online is neither fantastic nor horrible. It’s just different, and we should be taught about both the opportunities and the challenges it presents.
  13. We really, really, really need to be able to write emails. Applying for an job? How about a grant? Trying to network? So much of that happens online now, and being able to express yourself through a keyboard is a big deal. My parents used to roll their eyes at all the time I spent on MSN messenger (remember msn!?) but chatting with my friends online taught me how to communicate in writing. This has been invaluable in making and maintaining good impressions and just plain getting things done.
  14. We know mental health matters, but we don’t always know how to cope or find help. We learn most of our coping skills at home. That’s great if our role models at home have experienced similar challenges and know how to cope themselves. Otherwise, it can cause more harm than good. This issue isn’t unique to our generation, but the fact is we know too much now to ignore it any longer. By addressing these issues early and working to provide resources, young people can identify mental health issues and know address them. That will save lives, build empathy, and create a healthier society.
  15. We need to be able to negotiate. In high school, I questioned a grade for the first time. It was scary, but soon I started asking for explanations for grades regularly. I realized that opening a dialog and taking interest in how I was being graded always ended well for me – it gave me information on how my teacher marked, taught me how I could earn more, and made sure I wasn’t losing out unfairly. I am incredibly grateful to the teachers who engaged in those conversations with me, because out here in the real world, negotiating your worth is kind of a big deal. Encouraging students to engage with authority over things that matter can lead help them negotiate for fairer compensation in the future.

A note to any teachers reading this: Wow. I am amazed that you do this job, especially with all the crazy people like me trying to tell you how to do it. It can’t be easy getting us ready for this crazy world. For all the things the education system gets wrong, you get a lot right.

Thank you to the teachers who break through the BS to teach us the important stuff that may or may not be in the curriculum.

Thank you for the people working tirelessly to create a better system and keep up with this ever-changing world.

Most of all, thank you to everyone – inside and outside of education – who continues to talk about this stuff. The ones who question what is going on. The ones who keep an eye on the changing world and care about how young people are being prepared for it. The ones who share their triumphs and challenges in hopes of a better experience for the next generation. Thank you, especially, to those who responded to my awkwardly-worded questions on Facebook. I love that together, we get a far clearer picture of what’s happening (and how to make it better).

I am scared of this real world thing. I am ill-prepared for it, in many ways. But I am also ready in many ways, too. And for that, I am grateful, grateful, grateful. We all should be.

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

flags-of-usa-and-canada
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

 

Well, this is new.

I’m not busy anymore.

queenston
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.

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.)

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.

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I could get used to it.

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