“What should I be when I grow up?” she asked, crossing her ankles and looking at me hopefully.
I smiled at the question. She smiled back.
“I dun’no, mom. What do you want to be?”
My mother asks this question every now and then, in different forms. I always like when she does. It’s sweet, and it’s vulnerable, and it makes me feel like we really aren’t so different.
We are different, of course. She’s an employed, secure, middle aged woman; I’m brand new to the big girl scene. She’s rocking the house/husband/kids/dog combo while I bounce between internships, roommates, and take out in the fridge. Maybe that’s why it’s nice to have something so simple and juvenile in common: Neither of us can see the future. Neither of us “know” what we want to “be” when we “grow up.”
I remember the first time she shared this.I was young, still under the impression that “my parents have everything together all the time!” (even if I liked to disagree with them some). I was sitting on my mother’s office floor with a Fisher Price boom box, interviewing her onto a blank tape. “When you were a kid,” I asked, putting on my best TV voice. “What did you want to be when you growed up?”
She laughed. “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”
At first, this terrified me. What do you mean you don’t know yet? Will you ever know? Will anybody ever know?
Answer: Probably not.
[Insert prepubescent panic here.]
As I get older, however, that answer feels less and less scary. At this point, it’s practically comforting. “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.” Of course you don’t. Of course I don’t. Look at those loaded words, momma, look: “know,” “want,” “be,” and *shudder* “grow up.”
A few days after the conversation with my mother, I turned the “want” “be” “grow up” question loose on a 7 year old friend of mine, a bubbly little girl who had stayed late to help me clean up the Sunday school classroom.
“I dun’no what I wanna be,” She responded, then shot me a goofy smile. “Something where I can sit in a hot tub and relax with my friends sometimes.”
I briefly thought about responding with something moralistic; ‘Oh honey,it shouldn’t be about material things.’ Maybe I should bring Jesus into it somehow, because that’s what a Sunday school teacher is supposed to do, right? But honestly, Jesus didn’t say much about 7 year olds who think hot tubs are kinda cool (which they are). So I just smiled back at her. “Maybe you could sell hot tubs for a living, huh?”
“Hey, yeah! Lots of people buy hot tubs. My mom has one.”
“You wanna be like your mom when you grow up?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, she has a hot tub.”
“Awesome. In that case, I want to be like your mom when I grow up, too.”
It wasn’t the deepest conversation, but it made me think back to my own mother; beside me on the couch, half watching TV, crossing her ankles and asking me what she should be when she grows up. We all have little moments like that, I think–whether we’re 7 years old kids, 20 something college students, middle aged mommas, maybe even as we trek through the much later years. Wondering what comes next. Working through what we do, but optimistically unsure of where we are going.
Maybe we never “know.” Maybe the process of figuring “it” out can take a whole lifetime or longer.
I was sitting on the train; alone in my section, as far as I could see. I had given up wrestling with the strings, and was resting my head on a soft area of my backpack. An older woman came by, saw the instrument and asked if I wouldn’t play a song. “It’s super out of tune,” I explained, sitting up and fiddling uselessly with the knobs. “My little brother got a hold of it.”
That was a lie. My little brother hadn’t touched the uke. The screechy, stringy sound was entirely my fault–I had tried to tune it by ear in Toronto, and failed miserably. But, oh ego, I didn’t want to admit that. “Maybe I’ll just get the musician to help me tune it when she’s done her set, if she knows how.”
“The musician?” The lady asked. I smiled and explained. Along with wine tastings and trivia-filled talks, Via Rail hosts Canadian musicians who perform shows throughout the commute. My train had enlisted a retired postwoman from Kingston, Ontario who played folksy guitar.
I found the musician sitting in the “Activity Car” after her set, and approached her cautiously. “‘Scuze me. Can I ask you something, maybe?” As if she could say no. As if we weren’t stuck on a train together for two days.
“I have this ukelele, with me, I’m trying to tune,” I stumbled, repeating the lie about my brother. “Do you know what notes the strings are supposed to be?”
She looked confused. “Oh! Um, well, the bottom string is an A, and…hold on.” She dug into the seat beside her, pulling out her own small ukelele case.
“I could bring it here, if that’s easier?” I offered. “It’s just in my car, back there.”
She nodded in my direction. I power-walked to my seat, snatching the pale brown uke. I gave it a quick strum–wow, that is really, embarrassingly bad. Like, I can’t believe I’m even going to show this to someone bad. I braced myself for condescension, the way I do when I’m going to the dentist and haven’t really been flossing, or when I go for a haircut with major split ends.
“Oh, wow, this IS out of tune,” she said, twisting the strings into sanity. I sheepishly agreed and apologized because, well, that’s what you do when someone smarter than you shakes their head and tells you what you already know. She just laughed at me. “No, I mean, it’s fine, it’s just really out of tune. It happens.” She finished screwing a few knobs and handed the uke back to me. I exhaled, relieved to have a working instrument. I strummed a C, then a G, then an A. In response, the musician produced her own ukelele–the same type as mine, a Mahalo, but hers was green. She picked a few strings. “Wanna jam?” She asked.
Shit. I DID want to, of course, but now I really had to paint myself amateur. When I told her I was new to the insturment–really, really new–she smiled at my insecurity once again. “So then, you want to learn something?”
And so we sat, for thirty minutes (probably longer), patiently strumming through folk songs. She sketched out chord diagrams and we played and replayed. I finally mastered “Home on the Range.” We hi-fived.
“You know, George Harrison always traveled with two ukeleles.” She said. “He would just hand one to someone in an airport, or something, and they would play. Can you imagine that, being that person, doing this kind of thing with George Harrison?” She grinned, satisfied that we were somehow part of a great tradition. Later, I would hear her recount our lesson to another passenger and cite the same Beatles story.
Beautiful meals, on board wine tastings, champagne and h’ors d’oeuvres, live entertainment, and now a free music lesson…that train ride was the real deal. Most of this was because I was traveling in “sleeper class,” which is a big step up from “economy class.”
When I told her about my trip, my friend Caitlin all but demanded that I travel in sleeper class, because “Shauna, it’s SO worth it.” I refused at first, my budget was too tight, but there was a sale and the trip from Toronto to Winnipeg included two overnights, so I splurged for that portion of the trip. I’m riding Economy the rest of my trip (en route to Saskatoon as I write this!), and it’s more than fine. Still, “sleeper class” was a serious experience.
When we reached Winnipeg, I really didn’t want to get off of the train. I was having way too much fun aboard, and the city outside looked dingy and construction site-esque. I struggled to find a Tim Horton’s upon arrival (somehow, I thought it would be easy), and struggled more to find a place which sold bus tickets. Finally, I made my way to the bus–I was staying with a woman from Couchsurfing, whose house was about a 10 minute ride from downtown.
I sat myself down at an empty seat near the back. The bus was nearly full, and it wasn’t long before someone sat down next to me: a young boy, maybe a year or two my junior, with sharp aboriginal features and faded brown skin. He struck up a conversation by showing me his hand, which had scabs all over the knuckles: “See this?” He grinned. “Don’t drink and drive. Not any vehicle.”
“Oh. Dear. Ouch.” I threw him a polite smile, then looked out the window as the bus tumbled down a rough-looking Main Street.
“Yeah, yesterday was a shitty day for me,” He continued, clearly wanting a conversation. I motioned politely to his hand.
“Because of your accident?”
“No, no, that was last week. Yesterday, I was about to smoke a bowl, right, and I had it all packed and everything, right, and then, like, I just dropped my bong right there on the floor,” He mimed the accident.
“Oh. No. That…sucks. Was it expensive?” I had no idea what else to say. The woman across the way shot me a look; you aren’t from around here, are you?
“Naw, it was maybe like 30 bucks but like man, I was about to smoke a bowl and then–” He acted out the accident again. I watched as others on the bus nodded sympathetically, and tried to nod the same way. Unfortunately, I am a terrible actress.
“Well, I guess, I mean, that gives you an excuse to buy a new one?” I offered. The world’s most house wife-y response to a broken bong.
He shrugged. “Guess, but it sucked. Where you from?” At this point I was pretty sure this kid was high, or drunk, or something. Even through his haze, he could tell that I was no local.
“Ottawa,” I said, then quickly added. “I’ve been here before, though. Visiting a family friend. Just busing to her house.” The lie slid off my tongue and covered me uncomfortably, like a heavy invisible armour. I hate lying. Between the uke story and this, I was up to two falsehoods in one day. I contented myself that this was just a safety precaution, that didn’t want to publicly proclaim my vulnerability. The woman across the way finally spoke up.
“Well, be careful ’round here. Like, y’shouldn’t go walking down Main Street by yourself any time of day, especially at night.” She said. I looked out the window at the street in question. Her advice was pretty self evident. “Winnipeg isn’t the most dangerous city in Canada anymore, but like, I’m pregnant right? So I’m still pretty nervous walking down the street after I babysit my niece.”
I wanted to congratulate her on her pregnancy, or thank her for her local insight, but instead I just sat there looking like a frightened kitten. I pounced off the bus like one, too, scurrying towards the street my host lived on. I saw the street sign and turned.
Houses. Pretty little houses. Cut grass. Laughing children.
You guys, I have never been so excited to see suburbs. It was ridiculous.
A French couple opened the door upon my arrival. They were staying under the same roof–live in travel buddies!–and had actually been on the same train as me. The host had left a note and snacks for the three of us in the kitchen. My room was cosy and comfortable. I felt safe. And when you’re traveling around, talking to strangers, STAYING with strangers, and sleeping on a different air mattress every other night…feeling safe is something you never take for granted.
You don’t take showers for granted, either. And you certainly don’t take live-in travel buddies or beautiful, free-spirited hosts for granted. Getting clean and walking about was just about all I did in Winnipeg, but I was fine with that (most of the time, anyways).
Now for a series of confusing images which sum up my time in Winnipeg:
I never did fall in love with Manitoba. This sucked more than it should’ve, mostly because I have silly expectations and want Canada to be magical and beautiful and happy all the time. Sometimes, though, it’s just real. Or weird. Or even a little dangerous.
But I wanted to see all of Canada, even the STI ad campaigns and rough streets and suburbs and shopping malls. And it’s nice to know that, no matter where I seem to go in this country, no matter how comfortable (or uncomfortable) the place, I always seem to find somewhere to temporarily call home. For that, I am incredibly grateful.
I’m a sucker for clicking on blog posts ordered into “lists.”
It’s so bad, you guys. I hardly ever like them. Those “how-to-be-twenty-something” lists from Thought Catalog are particularly tempting. “Yes! A guru! Go ahead, stranger on the internet, tell me how to do this right!”
I know they capitalize on my insatiable desire for direction. I know these things are rarely entertaining, never mind enlightening. I know I’m being lazy, looking for life lessons in bite-sized, unemotional lists. I know all that, but I still give the articles a shot every time because–“What if they know something I don’t know?! What if they have the secret?!”
Unfortunately, the list-ers rarely give me the shot back. They don’t leave room for another right answer. Lists are facts, rules, and deadlines. They are filled with fluffy and contradictory advice, seemingly thrown together by the same eighteen year old on ego-steriods:
Be vulnerable and emotionally available in everything…but don’t go falling in love or expressing your feeling, kiddies. Get your shit together, and do it now…or tomorrow, tomorrow works too. Screw society…oh, but be gentle, you might need to use it later.
To save you the reading, I’ll sum ALL the articles up for you:
Build yourself, and be self-aware. Keep calm. Everything in moderation. Be good to people. Be good to yourself.
Outside of those pseudo-commandments, I’m beginning to think that there is very little deep advice that we can fit into lists like that. I also think that one-size-fits all advice is rarely a good call, especially in the twenty-something circuit. After all, this is the period in your life where you’re supposed to be learning how to question rules and step-by-step guides, not blindly march towards them. This is the time to realize how different everyone is, and how the same everyone is, and how relative everything is.
How do you list out the ideal reaction to any of that?
You don’t. You twist through your own complicated, beautiful story of “LET’S JUST TRY THIS.” Sometimes you will find friends to join you, even if it’s just for a night. Sometimes you’ll like them, sometimes you won’t. Sometimes you’ll like yourself, sometimes you won’t.
And sometimes it will work. And sometimes it won’t.
These lists try to make things logical, when they are not. I think that’s what kills me. They try to sell us on the idea that there is a right and wrong way to do things, when there are about a million of both. The ambiguity of “twenty-something” territory is far better suited to awkward songwriting, 2 am storytime, uncomfortably honest prayers, and radically number-less blog posts.
So what, then, are lists good for? They certainly make sense for practical stuff. Studying tips. How to navigate University. Finding an apartment. Cleaning your kitchen. Planning a trip. Getting a job. Quick tips, man.
I have a few of those myself. Perhaps I will write a list some time.
But it won’t be a list that tells you how to feel about your life. It won’t be a list of premature “tips” which are really just jaded rants, personal regret, and #humblebrags.
(Unless the regret is genuinely practical. Like, say, don’t go a year without glasses if you really need glasses. Or, don’t buy a shitty laptop.)
I hope that you can be a blogger without having to pretend you know everything–or worse, having to pretend you can put that “everything” into a list. I hope imperfect people and listless lifestyles can fit into the conversation, because…well, because imperfect people and listless lifestyles are the definition of Conversation. And Conversation is what we really need, isn’t it?
I’m not too interested in telling anyone else how to live their lives anymore, let alone in six steps with a pinnable graphic.
Yeah. I’m not too interested in that, either. But I sure am interested in talking about it, and hearing about it, and writing about my tiny/young/fallible/idealistic corner of it. And maybe, sometimes, that will fit into a list.
But, mostly, my life isn’t about quick tips. Neither is yours. It’s about celebrating and mourning, sometimes at the same time. It’s about getting confused and getting the giggles. It’s the word “Oops,” and it’s the word “Love,” and it’s feeling unsure.
And I’m sorry, but there’s no number on any of that.
Like yet another church abuse cover-up coming to light. (Thaaanks, Sovereign Grace Ministries. Ugh. Luke 8:17, anyone?)
Like the fact that just talking about rape brings up awful, confusing, violating memories for about a third of the women I know. The fact that “trigger warning” is no formality. The fact that, whether you’ve been told or not, You know a rape victim. You probably know a whole bunch of them.
Yes, there are things to be pissed off about. Raging, raging mad. And while some people are getting mad for the first time, feminists and rape survivors have been getting mad for years.
This marks a critical moment for feminism. People are with them on this one. People are listening to what they have to say about rape culture. We can’t hide from it anymore. Even to some of the larger skeptics, feminist ideas and stats and language don’t seem so crazy anymore.
Do feminists have a right to be mad? Yes.
Do they have a reason to be mad? Yes.
Should they shout it from the rooftops? If they’re willing, yes, perhaps they should.
But I have to be honest: Jaded rooftop shouters scare me, especially when I can’t quite understand what they’re shouting about.
I tend to tune them out. Even if they’re right.
“Rape culture” is a powerful term. No one wants to be an active participant in such a culture (even if many of us are). In fact, to the untrained ear, the words “you are a part of a rape culture” can sound suspiciously like “you are predisposed, as a member of this society, to rape and/or be okay with rape. Especially if you’re a dude.”
Anyone who sees themselves as not okay with rape might just leave at that point.
I know that’s not the kind of unproductive thinking that feminists are trying to promote. But I also know that it’s the message a lot of people are hearing, and naturally, what they are rejecting. And when they reject that, they reject a lot of other things. Really, really, important things.
Sometimes, fingers need to be pointed. I get that. I agree with that. But when the finger-pointing feels scattered, confusing , or overwhelming, the people on the other side sometimes respond with a resounding “Ungh, what did we do wrong this time?” followed by “I’m gonna go hang out over here with the people who don’t condemn my gender and my world and my jokes and my favourite tv show, thankyouverymuch.”
We are getting away from the main message entirely, aren’t we? The constructive message of trying to create a safe and equal environment for women. The effort to address the prevalence of rape and gender violence in our world. Feminists are trying to empower and protect future generations of women. Everyone should want to get on board with that.
This is a reasonable message. There are solid stories and data, being broadcast to mostly reasonable, if sometimes ignorant, people. So where’s the disconnect?
Most reasonable people want a couple things when presented with a new and somewhat radical worldview (yes, feminism, that’s you!):
1) They want to feel empowered to be part of the solution, not just part of the problem.
2) They want to be able to ask questions in English—yep, good ol’ patriarchal English. And they want to get an answer that does something, anything, other than just attack their question.
3) They want the freedom to play the devil’s advocate. Because that’s what people do when exploring a new idea.
There’s something dangerous about leading with anger (however justified), instead of stories. Or with accusations instead of ideas. Don’t get me wrong, passionate people willing to call out society’s bs are AWESOME. But they’re way more awesome when they come with a side order of compassion, a willingness to gently guide people to awareness.
And if you disagree with that, then you have probably never spoken to my father.
My father is honest, loving, stubborn and somewhat sheltered (I mean this in no negative way, dad, je t’aime). He’s sheltered in the way many of us are–or would be, if it weren’t for the internet or certain parts of our education. Sheltered in a way that ends with questions and comments which are sometimes well-meant but poorly phrased. I remember one such comment. It was a genuine idea, a devil’s advocate stance, but it included the words “asking for it.”
“Dad, ugh. When you question feminism, you can’t do it in English. You have to do it in feminist.”
“But I don’t speak feminist…”
“Then you should learn. Or you shouldn’t talk about these issues…unless you want to be eaten alive.”
But that’s not fair, he says. Screw feminism, then. “What did we men do this time?”; “I can’t say anything right!”.
Should he be saying things like “asking for it”? Absolutely not. And he doesn’t think I or any other woman would ever be “asking for it.” During that particular conversation, he wanted to talk about safety, and understand consent, and help prevent rape. He just couldn’t think of any other language to discuss complexities he saw. And when the word “Feminist” came into the conversation, he got really uptight. His mind jumped to the most radical version of that ideology. He got defensive.
When it comes to his actions and ideas and values, my dad is a feminist if I ever met one. Yet there I was, watching him walk away into the comforting arms of “can’t deal with these ‘feminists’ right now.”
You know what? Sometimes, I find myself walking into those arms, too. I just can’t be outraged about everything that feminism wants me to be outraged about. I can’t.
But I know for sure that I can be outraged about Steubenville, and everything that surrounds it. I know for a fact (just called home to confirm!) that my father is outraged, too. He wants to address this. A lot of us do.
Feminism is going to play a major role in the ensuing conversation, a conversation that a lot of people are on board with. And that’s good. Especially if we go about the conversation the right way–if we lead with stories, ideas, examples, courage, and real talk. After all, whether you identify as a feminist or not, there’s a problem here.
Consider this your official invitation to be part of the solution.
We don’t talk about death and grieving much, do we?
Spoiler alert #1: Everyone dies, eventually. And most leave loved ones behind when they do.
Spoiler alert #2: Sometimes, things happen that we can’t explain, control, or “move on” from on command. Sometimes, the worst happens. Sometimes, it’s not okay right now. We need to be allowed to share that.
People die. People grieve. People break down at inopportune times. But, as they struggle their way back up, some people share their stories. These are some of those people.
As contributor Caitlin Corbett says in her article “Better“:
“We should not wallow in our sadness, but we should not deny it either. I know that I’m damaged and I make no secret of it, and by accepting this and moving on from it I understand that everyone is damaged in their own way. And that’s okay. It is my hope that I will always be open to accepting other peoples’ damage and that I can give them a safe space to be damaged. That is what we owe each other.”
Some of the most beautiful and insightful pieces on death and grieving I have ever read. Join the conversation.
I didn’t check the time on Friday. I slept in until 2 pm. I’m pretty sure my daily Adventures involved trying to open a can of beans without a working can opener (this turned into a 15 minute, 3-person job) and rocking an hour-long game of Wizard.
If this is the “relaxing” thing all you kids have been talking about…I could get used to it.
We spent the day at a big cottage in the-middle-of-nowhere, Pennsylvania (est. never, really). These cottages, set up as retreats in the middle of state parks, cost about $80-100 a night and give you (in our case, at least) a monster of a house overlooking the lake. There was a full kitchen, beautiful wooden furniture, board games from the 80s, and (most importantly) this awesome lamp.
Frozen lakes are kind of boring to look at, but they’re definitely pretty. I was really feeling the “peaceful” thing. I probably could have stayed there forever.
^nothing like that.
I think my parents were tempted to stay there, too, for fear of leaving if nothing else. The drive in is currently being referred to as “Hell.” “Hell” took us up and down steep mountains in a brutal snow fog. For a good 30 minutes, my ears were popping (altitude problems) and my father was breathing out G-rated cuss words: FRIG. FRICK. DANG. (Repeat).
Don’t worry, I evened the language score by referring to the cottage’s location as “a**-f**k nowhere”–which was totally allowed, because even though that phrase makes zero literal sense, it was (f**king) accurate. Isolated was an understatement. But I suppose that’s what gave the place so much charm once we arrived. (And yeah, yeah, I did just bleep out my own swear words on my own blog. Feeling dainty today.)
But Shauna! I thought you were going to DC to be a big strong, independent young professional! What’s with the stopover in a**-f**k nowhere? And why in the world are your parents in this story, risking their lives (slash being adorable)?
Well friends, it seems that where I come from, “Shauna’s moving to DC!” sounds a whole lot like “ROAD TRIP!!!”
I value my parents’ love of the family vacation much more now than I did back in the day. This is mostly because “back in the day,” family road trips meant being strapped in the backseat with 3 dudes for an 8-hour showdown over whose turn it was with the Nintendo DS (“I don’t even want screens being used on this trip. This is ridiculous.” — Mom, every single time). These days, the road trips are a “whoever wants to go, wherever we want to go” thing, and have more to do with taking a break from routine than corralling four kids. On Thursday, four of us (my parents, one of the middle brothers and I) packed into the car, crossed the border, shopped, chilled at a cottage, and generally burned time/midnight oil/gasoline until my moving day came. January 5th. The move in was quick and painless, which is something I have never been able to say before. I was sad to see them go so soon, but it was amazing to have the company en route.
…and to have a day to relax, which I totally did, contrary to my usual curse of not being able to. I even wrote half of this blog post by hand in a notebook on the cottage couch, because it just felt like the right way to do it in a place like that.
Once I reached DC (yesterday), I wasted no time releasing my awkward self around town. This is my first full day in the city, and I have already gotten horribly lost (Twice. I want you to look at a map of the lovely, grid-like DC and tell me if YOU could get lost twice.). I have also already had a 3 hour political conversation with a Republican from Mississippi (we disagreed on most things, but we listened to each other and we both liked Football, so I think it worked out okay). I also wore a t-shirt outside while everyone else had jackets on because it was 10 degrees and sunny and I’m Canadian, dammit.
With that, I think it’s fair to say: Welcome to America, folks!