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“It is hard to visualize someone as a leader if she is always waiting to be told what to do.”

- Sheryl Sandberg

What I’m about to write is an act of bravery, the first, I hope, in a long line of things that I’ve been afraid to do. It is one thing to be honest with oneself in the quiet of her own mind, where she can gently push things aside when they get too much to handle. But to put something out there, to face things with world holding you accountable, is different, and much scarier, but also sometimes necessary. So here is my act of bravery for today: 

I’ve been waiting to be told what to do. Not just on a small scale, either - not just on a day-to-day basis at work or even in the bigger picture of my career. It’s more than that. I’ve been waiting for the universe, or God, or whomever you think gets things done around here, to tell me what to do with my whole entire life. I’ve been waiting for some sort of instruction manual, a step-by-step guide to success. When it comes to my relationship with myself and my own sense of purpose, I have not at all learned to put in the effort - something that I am seeing now in myself for the first time in my life. I haven’t taught myself to create opportunities or pushed myself into being a leader. Instead, I have been waiting to be told what to do, and barely scraping by as I follow whatever vague directions I am given. This is the source of practically all the frustrations in my life - I constantly feel lost and uncertain, and my view of myself is, as a result, more negative than it should be. When people ask me about my plans for the future, I get annoyed with the question and then brood for the rest of the day, convinced that I am an utter failure because I don’t have an answer. The problem, though, is that I haven’t done anything about it; I sulk for 24 hours or so, but then go on living my life as aimlessly as before, still passively waiting for some external directive. But the onus is on me - no one is waiting to teach me how to live, to show me how to be a leader, to create opportunities for me and then place them neatly in my lap. I need to find a way to do these things for myself. 

This is partially a result, I think, of the course of my life so far: when it comes to direction, from birth to age 23 things were always laid out for me. Work hard in school, volunteer, be involved in your community: get into university. Go to class, study for your finals, write papers a week before they are due rather than the night before they are due, work hard, volunteer, be involved in your community: graduate. I even managed to extend the step-by-step manual by another year in doing my MA, so by the time I graduated from the system, I was 23 years old and had absolutely no idea of how to direct myself in the big picture. I had learned plenty; discipline, critical thinking, creativity, and flexibility are all things that were cultivated by my education. But when I was set free from the structure provided by the education system, I felt completely lost: all my life, the next step had been clearly laid out in front of me. Everyone knows that after kindergarten comes first grade, after junior high school comes high school; for me, it was also assumed that after high school would come post-secondary education, and it did. But I didn’t do an education degree, get a diploma in human resources management, or become a journeyman carpenter; I did not have a career, a pay cheque, and a sense of purpose waiting for me at the end of it all - and I know I’m not the only one. I know that even people who have more ‘practical’ education than an arts degree sometimes end up wandering and wondering. So now what? No wonder I have been waiting these past few years for the universe to place a road sign in front of me, clearly indicating which route I should take. Today, it finally occurred to me that this road sign will never appear, that I will never be magically filled with a sense of purpose, that my fate will not be handed to me. I cannot just sit back and wait for something to happen. I need to take matters into my own capable hands and, more importantly, to remind myself that they are, in fact, quite capable. I need to stop underestimating my own ability to make things happen.  Because maybe, if I have the attitude that I am capable of anything, I will see more opportunity in the world; I will cultivate my creativity, my curiosity, and I will stop waiting to be told what to do, and start doing. Perhaps, if I change my perception of myself and my purpose, I will be an active participant in my own life, not just going through the daily motions, but diligently and enthusiastically creating my own future success. I’m not exactly sure how I intend to do this, but I am not going to let fear stop me from at least trying; this is too important. 

So this is my first act of bravery, a statement of my determination to hold myself to a higher standard. I’ll let you know how it goes. 

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The other day, I was sitting in a waiting room filling out a form, and I came to the question that asked for a name, phone number, and relationship for my emergency contact. As a young adult, I had always put the name of a family member - one of my parents, or my sister, depending on the situation. This time, though, the question threw me for a bit of a loop. About six months earlier, I had moved in with my boyfriend of over a year, so I put down his name and phone number. However, when I got to the part that said “Relationship: ____________” I was at a bit of a loss: what exactly is this person to me? It feels too silly and teenage to put “boyfriend,” too gooey to put “love of my life,” too minimal to write “roommate” - even though he technically falls into all of those categories. However, we are definitely not married, so I’m obviously not writing “husband” or “spouse” - besides, “spouse” gives me the heebie geebies.  So how am I supposed to fill this space?

In the end, I decided to write “partner,” because that’s what he is to me. The thing that I like about describing him as my partner is that it suggests equality within our relationship, which is something that we have both intentionally tried to cultivate as we have committed to one another. The term “partner” makes me feel supported, loved, and less alone as I take on the world - and isn’t that the purpose of being in a relationship in the first place? I think, if and when I ever get married, it would even be nice to maintain the title of partners, rather than taking on the terms “husband” and “wife,” with all the nuances and associations - the baggage - that those terms come with (and someone please kill me if I ever use the word “hubby”). I also like the fact that the term leaves gender - and therefore those pesky gender roles - completely out of it. Now, I don’t know how realistic that is, since marriage is so embedded in our society as an institution, but it’s a nice thought either way. 

In spite of all my idealistic daydreaming, there remains a bit of a problem with the “partners” terminology when it comes to perception, at least in North America. When people hear the word “partner” they generally picture one of two things: either business partners, or, even more commonly, partners in a homosexual relationship. The word, of course, doesn’t necessarily “mean” a homosexual partnership, but, since homosexual couples are often not able to use the legal “husband” or “wife” because of marriage inequality, it has been used to describe homosexual relationships for a long time; the association of the term with a particular kind of relationship is embedded in our collective conscious. Similarly, we have been defining heterosexual relationships in terms of boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives, for so long, that even when none of those terms really fit, we use them anyways. Recently, a woman in her late forties introduced her partner to me as her “boyfriend” - a label that did not fit the friendly, fatherly countenance before me whatsoever, with his salt-and-peppered hair and his suit and tie. Thinking of a man such as this as someone’s boyfriend seemed inappropriately teenage, and also somehow reduced the significance of their commitment. And that is the problem with “boyfriend”: my boyfriend is more than my boyfriend. I want a word that will express to a listener that I am more than just casually dating this person - that we have a house, a dog, a commitment to one another - and “boyfriend” just doesn’t do the trick. Instead, it conjures up images of fifteen-year olds holding hands and making out behind the bleachers. And besides, he is not a “boy” and I am not a “girl” - we are both adults, each of a suitable age to make a serious commitment. We just so happen to be one male and one female - a gender distinction which, in my view, should have no bearing on the seriousness of our relationship in the first place. 

I also dislike “significant other” - maybe this is because I have a bit of an academic background, but to me, the “other” seems to suggest alienation, which is the exact opposite of “partner,” with all its lovely associations with equality and companionship. Even the nicer part of the term, “significant,” just doesn’t do it for me - significant, sure, but just how significant are we talking here? Significant to the point of partnership? Well then, why not just call it a partnership?! I guess what I’m saying is that, much like “boyfriend,” “significant other” just isn’t enough for me.  

In a world where choosing not to get married is more and more common, wouldn’t it be nice to have some socially-accepted, universally-understood terminology to reflect that? Why does the terminology have to be political, announcing to the world whether one is married, common-law, gay, or straight? The terms we use to describe the ones we love and have committed to should say simply that: this is my partner, in love and in life, no qualifications or specifications necessary. 


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So my sister Jamie and I did an exciting thing yesterday: we donated blood! WOO! I know it seems like a pretty boring pastime for a Wednesday evening, but it was actually a really great time. You should try it.

Jamie is the Official Blood-Donating Superhero Champion Queen of Blood Donations. Long title, but she deserves every syllable. She is the reason that I started giving blood in the first place, and always motivates me to get my buns in gear to join her when she donates. Young women are commonly iron-deficiency anaemic, so she and I like to stock up on broccoli and iron supplements to increase our iron levels and make sure that we can donate (if your iron levels are too low, they send you home, which has happened to both of us before). Yesterday was Jamie’s 11th time donating blood (my 3rd time), and she literally spurts the stuff out like it’s NBD. She finished her donation in just over five minutes and then sprinted off to chug some apple juice and munch some Oreos - yay for free snacks! I, on the other hand, inherited the fainting-gene from my mother, so the process takes a bit longer for me. I’m pretty proud of myself for pumping out all 450 millilitres of my donation, but as soon as they removed the needle I was suddenly nauseous and woozy. The sight of blood doesn’t bother me, and I am not afraid of needles; I’m also well-hydrated, healthy, and made sure to have a big lunch. As such, I have no idea why the dizziness makes an appearance, but it seems inevitable - last time I actually straight-up fainted. Dramatic, hey? Anyways, because I’m Woozy Wanda I get the spa treatment - they put my feet up (like at the dentist!) and bring me snacks and a cool cloth for my head. Also, the nurses are ADORBS. They are all sweet and chatty, and take great care of you; if you’re Jamie, they sing your praises for being such a bountiful bestower of blood (ten points for the alliteration on that one, if I must say so myself. Except I don’t think ‘bestower’ is actually a word, so never mind) and if you’re Woozy Wanda they check on you every five minutes to tell you you’re awesome/make sure you haven’t passed out. Oh, and did I mention the free cookies? Yeah. It’s the best.

ANYWAYS. The point of this whole thing is that giving blood is awesome. One blood donation can save up to three lives, and helps cancer patients, accident victims, patients in need of a transfusion after surgery, and a bunch of other really grateful people. Canadian Blood Services makes it really easy to book an appointment: you can call 1-800-2-DONATE or book online, and they take great care of you from there on out. Their website is chock full of info if you are a first time donor and want some details about eligibility or the process of donation. Oh, and don’t be freaked by my fainting incident; most people breeze through their donation with no problems at all.

I wanted to post about blood donation because that little sister of mine has officially motivated me to inspire former donors who have fallen off the wagon (like myself) to hop back on and save some lives. So, whether you’re a first-timer looking for a thrill or a slacker who hasn’t donated in a while, let’s do this! I can donate again in mid-October, so let’s make a date of it.

http://www.blood.ca/centreapps/internet/uw_v502_mainengine.nsf/page/Home?OpenDocument

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This summer, I am trying something new: not wearing makeup. I spent the month of May backpacking through France and Italy, where I wore little to no makeup 100% of the time. I was travelling with my boyfriend, who is ready for anything in 5-10 minutes, and it was just easier for me to be similarly low-maintenance. This was a lovely little break from putting on ‘my face,’ but I sort of assumed that I would return to my usual foundation-blush-mascara morning routine upon returning home … but I never did. And really, why would I? It’s summertime, which means freedom and frolicking and fun, all of which seem quite at odds with standing in front of the mirror for an hour every morning.

And besides, I am not a teacher in the summertime. There are no students staring up at me, and therefore no worries about my pores or my lip colour. Don’t get me wrong: I love my job! But is hard not to be just a little self-conscious while standing in front of a group of curious almost-but-not-quite-adults (most of them, anyways), and I can’t imagine doing so with a completely naked face. After all, I am supposed to look like an adult, right? And adults who happen to be women are supposed to wear makeup, right?

So I am supposed to wear makeup, apparently. Here is the funny (and awesome) thing about that: since I have stopped, no one has even noticed! My boss has never mentioned it, my boyfriend hasn’t said a word, even my mom has remained mum – and trust me, if she had noticed, I would have heard about it.

I go out into the world with nothing but a smile on my face, and I am accepted, enjoyed - found beautiful, even. It probably helps that, rather than my usual pallid face and uneven skin tone from not having seen the Edmonton sun in months, my face is tan and my cheeks are freckled and rosy … but either way, it is nice to be found beautiful the way that I am. It turns out that a month of boyfriend-inspired makeup-less living has made me feel differently about my appearance: I am beautiful from the moment I wake up in the morning, just like he is. He doesn’t have to alter his skin tone or worry about the length of his eyelashes even for a moment – and neither do I, unless I decide to. Not that there is anything wrong with a bit of blush, but I am finding a certain freedom in leaving these things behind for the time being, a freedom that I don’t think could exist were I bound by the necessity of reapplying lipstick every two hours. I know that once classes resume and I am back in front of 38 anxious English 110 students, talking about pentameter and hoping they like me, I’ll pair some Ballerina Pink blush with a cute skirt and a pair of sensible heels to kick off another eight months of teaching. For the moment, though, I’m happy feeling a little naked.

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One thing that I love about technology is that it is so easy to inhabit; each of us personalizes our device in a particular way, making something that is practically universal, at least in this tech-saturated Western world of ours, into something intimately individual. When I say ‘inhabit’ I don’t necessarily mean the colour one chooses for her iPhone case or the desktop background set on a laptop. While these things certainly characterize the owner of a device in some way, I’m more interested in the tinier details, the little idiosyncrasies, like the way someone organizes his apps, that speak to how we occupy the devices that help us navigate, understand, and connect with the world. 

Take, for example, my laptop. My intelligence is contained in my documents folder; the events that have shaped me and the people whom I most cherish live in iPhoto; the particulars of my daily life - the details that make it my own - are all found in my calendar. No wonder, then, that we value the technology that has been integrated into our lives as we do: these are not simply objects that belong to us, but rather that become a part of us - allowing us to express our thoughts, helping us to document and remember, and enabling us to share ourselves with others. 

The other day on Twitter, someone tweeted that the last wish of a dying man was that his friend ‘close his apps,’ which reminded me of the old ‘if i die, erase my browser history’ joke. Really, though, it’s not a joke. As ridiculous as it sounds, if I were hit by a bus while crossing the street this afternoon, any complete stranger curious enough to go through my phone or computer after my death would literally learn enough about me to give the eulogy at my funeral. Between my hundreds of tweets, the photos on Facebook, the ridiculous number of virtual post-it notes that live on my laptop and phone, the lists in that file titled “Random” on my hard drive, and the meticulously detailed events in my iCal, practically anyone could rattle off my favourite foods, my romantic history, my To-Read list, any possible travel destinations, the contents of my bank account, where I am supposed to be at 2pm next Tuesday, and my every little whim, hope, dream, or wish - it’s all there, in some form. For example, the Top Sites on my computer consist of the following:

The Food Network: because my laptop is less a laptop than a kitchen-counter-top, as I am perpetually combining six different recipes from four different websites to create my own concoctions.

Facebook: because, cool or uncool, I love to keep in touch with the people I love who just happen to live in Ontario, BC, Britain, or Jordan. 

The New Yorker: to keep me on the up and up with what is happening in the world, and because I love reading absurdly long articles. They also have funny cartoons. 

Air Canada: my love of travel and chronic “itchy feet” syndrome has me searching for international flights at least once a week. 

Feministing.com: to round out my understanding of current issues and events from a feminist viewpoint and to provide a good laugh (much thanks to the feminist influences of both Virginia Woolf and my sister Jamie for this one).

Tetris: because I am an overstimulated product of that evil technology age, a Millenial, and/or an eighties baby, which means that I can’t watch TV without also doing something mindless.

Diana Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference: for the grammar freak in me, so that I can easily access exercises for my students and clear up any MLA misunderstandings. 

Even if I hadn’t provided any explanations for the above, it would be easy to glean at least a little something about who I am just from that list; imagine if you had access to my entire hard drive or my phone! We would be BFF! 

While some people might find it terrifying that so much of me can be found in one place, I find this fact comforting. Technology is commonly seen as impersonal, inanimate, superficial. We have nightmares and make scary movies about robots coming to life and taking over the planet, eliminating the need for human intelligence. Parents and grandparents shake their heads at the young’uns in their households, accusing them of being unable to have real conversations or create real connections with real people, because they are so busy text-messaging. While these are all valid concerns, technology is no longer simply associated with scientific knowledge and machines (as my mother lovingly - and perpetually - asks about her iPad: “How do I turn off this machine, again?”). In fact, the most practical application for technology is not so practical - it is personal. The ‘P’ in PC is not for ‘programming’ or ‘productive,’ but for ‘personal,’ and our relationships - that’s right, I said it - with these devices are integral to the other relationships (I mean the ones with people this time) in our lives. Though the gadget itself is simply aluminum, glass, and an Internet connection, we settle down to get comfortable in it, making it a home within a home, a place where we can get some work done, find entertainment, or roam around naked. My laptop is as much a part of the landscape of my bedroom as is my bed or desk, and part of the cozy feeling of coming home is knowing that I can pull my computer on to my lap, snuggle up in bed, and have everything that makes me me at my fingertips, whether I am in the mood to hunt for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe or spend some time with Hank Moody. 

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Add oatmeal cookies to this list, and it is complete!

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"‘That proves you are unusual,’ returned the Scarecrow; ‘and I am convinced that the only people worthy of consideration in this world are the unusual ones. For the common folks are like the leaves of a tree, and live and die unnoticed."

- L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz (via pavorst)

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"I hope to reach the stage where I can stop begging for more and find myself giving regardless of what I get…"

- Anne Sexton, Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters (via bookoasis)

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