Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Beautiful Mind


I was walking home after work last night, looking up at the constellations. I have always been able to find the big dipper before the little dipper, and I want to eventually find my zodiac sign in the stars (Cancer). Star gazing reminded me of the scene from A Beautiful Mind when John Nash (Russell Crowe) and his girlfriend and future wife trace the shapes of an umbrella and an octopus in the sky. I saw A Beautiful Mind when I was in high school; I’m pretty sure in psychology class. The story profiles the early life and descent into schizophrenia of famous American economist John Nash. Although incredibly intelligent, he suffered from a crippling mental illness. His brain was both a blessing and a curse. Schizophrenia is an illness in which the individual loses touch with reality. Sufferers are often unable to act normally in social situations (demonstrated in multiple scenes of the movie,) think logically and experience delusions. There is a thin line between genius and insanity and many of the world’s most brilliant people walk that line.

Renowned German physicist and scientist Albert Einstein is often considered one of the smartest people who ever lived. His brain was donated to science and has been studied extensively trying to pinpoint what made Einstein smarter than the rest of us. The “Father of Physics” also won the 1921 Nobel Prize. He is the epitome of a “mad scientist” although he never demonstrated any sort of mental illness.

Legendary Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh toed this line most of his life. At an early age he was distant from his peers and had few close friends. While his works are now amongst some of the most recognized in the world (Starry Night, Portrait of Dr. Gachet, Night Café, The Potato Eaters, Irises), it is his eccentricity and his notorious cutting off his ear that many associate with the artist. He loved to do portraits, as the people in his paintings helped to fill the void of actual human contact. While filled with an artistic aptitude that few could touch, he was a very troubled and disturbed man. He suffered with anxiety, extreme loneliness and mental illness, taking his life with a gun before the age of 40. He died penniless and unknown and it was only after his death that his influence on the art world would be noted. I watched a wonderful documentary: The Life and Death of Vincent Van Gogh on CBS. For those of you who are interested, I encourage you to check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPQo4eSgZwU

There has been keen interest into the minds of serial killers. Most serial killers have above average IQ’s and yet have deviated into malice. This combination is what makes them so cunning and difficult to apprehend. The book: My Life Among the Serial Killers: Inside the Minds of the World's Most Notorious Murderers details the exploration of the author into the minds of these criminals. Being compulsive liars, having an underdeveloped emotional capacity, and lacking empathy are all characteristics of these social deviants. From Wikipedia: the Organized type of serial killers are usually of high intelligence, have an above average IQ (105-120 range), and plan their crimes quite methodically, usually abducting victims, killing them in one place and disposing of them in another. They will often lure the victims with ploys appealing to their sense of sympathy. Others specifically target prostitutes, who are likely to voluntarily go with a serial killer posing as a customer. They maintain a high degree of control over the crime scene, and usually have a good knowledge of forensic science that enables them to cover their tracks, such as by burying the body or weighting it down and sinking it in a river. They follow their crimes in the media carefully and often take pride in their actions, as if it were a grand project. The organized killer is usually socially adequate and has friends and lovers, often even a spouse and children. They are the type who, when captured, are most likely to be described by acquaintances as “a really nice guy” who “wouldn’t hurt a fly.” Most of the most prolific criminals fall into this category.

I consider myself a pretty bright person. I have always excelled in school and averaged 120 on the three IQ tests I took. While I am grateful for having the brain I do, it this same organ that reeked havoc on my life for about a year. After having a massive panic attack while in my second year of university, something flipped in my brain. I was worried constantly, mostly about dying. I was paranoid about being alone, for fear that something bad would happen and no one would be there to help me. I was unable to sleep at night, for fear of the dark and the belief that there was someone out there who was out to get me in the night. It consumed my life and was absolutely crippling. During those months I wound up calling 911 on a couple of occasions, thinking I was dying. I don’t even want to know what my blood pressure was like during that time. Trying to explain this to someone who doesn’t have anxiety is very difficult and before I was diagnosed I thought I was going crazy. I didn’t have a name to put to what I was feeling and experiencing – a thought that was even more frightening. As it turns out G.A.D. is very common, affecting nearly one in ten people. I wound up doing 12 weeks of psychotherapy treatment, as I’m not a big believer in taking medication because it doesn’t actually fix the root of the problem. Honestly one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. While the process was painful, I’m far more self-aware now (how I tick), which I think can only make me a better daughter, sister and future girlfriend.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Juno


I watched Juno when I was in my first year of university with my roommate at the time. It had gotten rave reviews in the theatres, so we torrented it and had a girl’s night in complete with popcorn and chocolate covered almonds. Starring Canadians Ellen Page and Michael Cera in the two lead roles, the film tells of the struggles of a teenage couple with an unplanned pregnancy. Ellen Page totally deserved an Oscar nod for her performance. She is smart and witty and totally lovable. Like many teenage couples, they consider adoption because they cannot support this new life and want to give the baby the life that they could not provide. While moments of the film are humorous, unwed teen parents is far from funny.

The MTV series Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant tell the stories of teens all across the United States in this same predicament. While each girl’s story differs (from her family situation, to the length of time she has been with the father of her baby, to how supportive their family is to keeping the baby, to the status of their relationship with the baby daddy) – they are all unprepared, financially unstable and naïve in life. What I find the most disturbing is that there are enough girls across the US who get themselves into this predicament to have three series and counting. It’s a massive responsibility that no teenager needs – and once you have a child, your childhood is over. Having a baby changes everything (not that I would know from experience). I enjoy the series a lot – I find that they don’t sugar-coat the tensions and struggles that teenage parents go through (though I know that they do get paid to be on the show). Growing up is scary enough, and by having unprotected sex teenagers take the chance of being thrust into (no pun intended) adulthood far sooner than they need to.

Bringing a child into this world is difficult even in the best of circumstances. My parents had been together for 4 years and married for 1 year before they had me. They had bought a house, had a car and had all their finances in order. But she suffered from severe postpartum depression with me and had to endure a cesarean section and the pain/ recovery associated with that. Throw in a screaming baby that disrupts your day-to-day life and you have a recipe for emotional ups and downs. They are fully dependent on you and as much as they drive you crazy you have to provide all their needs. My parents planned me, my brother and my sister. No child should be a mistake. With all the contraceptives out there, there really are no excuses. Considering a box of condoms costs around $10.00 and a child is around $10 000/year (including food, clothing, toys, doctor’s appointments, etc) – it’s easy to do the math.

The rise of teenage pregnancy across North America is another reason why I believe that abstinence should not be taught instead of a sexual education class. While abstinence is good in theory – it is rarely ever practiced. Teens are curious and their hormones are raging. Encouraging abstinence also contributes to more teens engaging in oral and anal sex, as they believe it is safer than vaginal penetration. Teens need to be educated and given the tools to deal with this unknown territory; both sex and in their relationships. I never dated when I was in high school and didn’t have my first boyfriend till I was 19, so my parents never really had to deal with any boy drama with me. I didn’t suffer any heartbreak or pregnancy scares, no teen should have to deal with that.

Even at 22 I feel that I would be nowhere close to being ready to have and support a child, let alone 16 years old, like many of the girls from the TV series. I’m having a difficult time as it is supporting just myself and getting by, let alone another life. I’ve noticed recently that the trend seems to be having kids really young (before the age of 20) or quite late (over the age of 35). I come from a small town in Ontario and there are over 60 girls that I went to high school with that now have babies. Another handful are married, and even fewer are both. It’s scary. I think of where I am in life, and I’m nowhere ready to be settling down and having a family. I’m not done all my schooling yet and don’t even have a man in my life for that to even take place. I’m just living my life for me right now. Not that I don’t want those things in the future – it’s just not a priority.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


This movie, based on the book by Steig Larsson, is one of my new favourite series. The late Swedish author created a novel centered around an unusual heroine, Lisbeth Salander – a tattooed, pierced and anti-social personality that has a photographic memory and incredible hacking abilities. The Millennium trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire, and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) is an action packed, suspense, mystery and romance genre all rolled into one. Lisbeth Salander (the aforementioned girl with the dragon tattoo) is described as having multiple body modifications which renders her even more of an outsider by her peers and co-workers. In the book she is said to have a large dragon tattoo tracing down her back, a tattoo of a wasp (after her nickname on the internet) on her neck, an eyebrow piercing, and nose ring just to name a few.

Body modification has been happening for centuries, and is for aesthetic, affiliation, or religious reasons. The most common type of body modification include piercings and tattoos. Ears, noses, and navels are very common areas to have pierced in today’s society. Other areas one can have pierced are extensive: tongue, lip, genitals, nipples, etc. One of the newer types of body modification are microdermals and transdermals which are placed under the skin and held in place by a type of anchor so that they don’t come out/ move. More bizarre types of body modification include tongue splitting, foot binding, tooth filing and ear gauging. I’m all for the freedom of expression and we live in a free country, but for those people who have extensive body modification when they are young probably aren’t thinking what they’re going to look like in 30 years.

I, like thousands of other people, have piercings and tattoos. I have 6 piercings: 4 in my ear lobes, my helix and my nose done. I also have 3 tattoos: my zodiac sign with 3 stars (representing me, my brother and my sister on my left shoulder), a French quote on my foot that reads: “La vie est un défi à relever, un bonheur a mériter, une aventure à tenter.” French is super important to me – I did my university degree in French and when I become a teacher, it will forever be a part of my life. My last tattoo is a Stephen King quote: “Be brave. Be true. Stand,” between my shoulder blades. King is my favourite author, but the quote also has special meaning to me as it is my motto as part of my recovery from G.A.D. (generalized anxiety disorder). There are 3 more tattoos that I would like to get eventually, but gosh darn they are expensive so I’ll have to be waiting (and saving my money) for a while yet.

I am very supportive of those who wish to get piercings and tattoos, permitted that doing these things won’t prevent future job prospects and that they have meaning (more so the tattoos in this case.) I love the TV series LA Ink, Miami Ink and NY Ink. Kat von D is absolutely incredible. She is a wonderful artist and if I could afford it, I would love if she did one of my tattoos. I’m not a great artist, so I have the utmost respect for artists that are able to transfer artwork onto the skin with only one attempt to get it right. That being said, some of the things that people decide to have permanently put on their skin astounds me. Even Kat von D, as gorgeous as she is – I can’t help but think about what’s she’s going to look like when she’s older. Tattoos that are done in memory of someone I think are a wonderful display of your love for that person, and that is something that is never going to change. Getting the name of your girlfriend on your wrist is not a terribly bright idea. Those people who get Chinese characters don’t strike me as very smart either.

While tattoos are removable by laser, it is an expensive and painful process, so before you get inked you should consider a few things.

a) Check out the prices and shops in your area, look through artists portfolio’s to make sure you feel good about your choice.

b) Colour or black and white? Colour tattoos are more expensive and some tattoos look better in greyscale.

c) Bring a friend with you if it’s your first tattoo (and make it smallish if this is the case). Everyone has a different pain tolerance and it’s always more comforting to have someone there to hold your hand and support you.

d) Think about what you want to have tattooed for a couple of months. Don’t get an impulsive tattoo – you will likely regret it.

e) Placement on your body. Where do you want your tattoo? Will it affect you getting a job if you plan to work in a professional environment? If this is the case, make sure that you get tattooed in a place that is coverable. While not all workplaces discriminate against those with tattoos, take it into consideration.

Happy Inking!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bacon, le film


This Québécois film, directed by Hugo Latulippe follows the social impact and consequences of the mass-produced meat products here in Canada. The film garnered major recognition being an official selection at film festivals in Barcelona, Montreal, Halifax and Edmonton. The globalization of the meat market but also of the food industry is quite disconcerting. Food rarely comes home-grown on the farm, as it is not profitable. Instead factories and farms are becoming a sort of assembly line, mass producing food for the world and shipping it thousands of miles away. Taking the 200km challenge is incredibly difficult, meaning not eating foods that come from any further than 200 kilometres from your place of residence. The quality of food and meat has decreased immensely. Organic and free range products are still available, but they are harder to find and more expensive. Due to all the pesticides, hormones and treatment of animals in these factory-farms, many people have turned to being vegetarian or vegan.

I was a vegetarian for just over two years. I was a lacto-ovo vegetarian; someone who refuses to give up eggs and dairy products – I could not live without my yogurt, cheese and milk. I also figured it can’t be that healthy to be eliminating major sources of protein and calcium from your diet. I avoided all meat, including seafood (which proved to be my vice). Not eating meat exposed me to a variety of new foods and forced me to get a little creative with my cooking. I tried lentils, bean salads, tofu, ground round, and soy milk for the first time. I would substitute the ground beef in lasagne with sliced zucchini and eggplant, chicken slices with refried beans, sour cream and salsa in fajitas, and traditional beef burgers with Portobello mushroom Swiss ones. It really wasn’t a major ordeal for me. I love all veggies, from broccoli (steamed and smothered in cheese sauce) to celery (with peanut butter and raisins on top) to radishes (with ranch dip) to Brussels sprouts (with butter, pepper and salt).

I didn’t become a vegetarian for moral reasons. I have nothing against eating meat. My father has been a hunter for as long as I can remember and I have eaten most meats known to man from duck to rabbit to venison. I didn’t become a vegetarian even for health reasons. I could probably afford to lose another 10lbs but I’m in pretty good shape and on my multiple doctors’ visits my blood pressure is normal. I became a vegetarian sort of as a challenge to myself. In university I had 4 close friends who were all vegetarians, and I challenged myself to give up meat for just a week, to see if I could do it. The first week was actually pretty easy. I have never been a picky eater, so I didn’t even miss meat in my diet. One week became two weeks, which became a month, which turned into a year. My family wasn’t terribly supportive of this new lifestyle I’d adopted, largely because we were always an omnivorous family. Coming home to visit was always a little touchy just because my mother didn’t cater to my not eating meat, and the main course usually comprised of something chocked full of it.

Even now (no longer a vegetarian) I don’t eat much red meat and I despise pork. I read an article in a magazine talking about how whatever an animal eats turns to meat on their bones. Pigs eat everything, including their own feces – hence all pork products are laced with viruses and e coli. As soon as I found that out, I was completely turned off ham, bacon, and pork chops. I do eat a lot of chicken and seafood. Chicken and seafood contain far less saturated fat than red meat, but still have the same protein content. Both are pretty versatile too. Chicken can be used in fajitas, stews, sandwiches, salads and soup while seafood is awesome in stir-fries, with pasta, and on crackers with cream cheese. Seafood is probably one of my favourite food groups and I cannot imagine being allergic to it. Sushi is divine (anyone who wants to win major brownie points can take me out to a sushi place anytime), scallops are incredible and shrimp are so tiny and yet so tasty.

As it turned out, seafood turned out to be the reason why I didn’t continue being a vegetarian. I caved one day and splurged on seafood lasagne. My mouth exploded with flavour and my resolve collapsed. I started eating fish on a weekly basis, so I could no longer call myself a vegetarian. Fish turned to chicken, which turned into the occasional beef hamburger *gasp*. Even now, I toy with the idea of going back to being a meat-free individual, but I grapple with having to give up seafood again. I really have no issue with not eating beef or chicken again. I don’t eat a lot of foods that are processed – you won’t find sugary cereals (Lucky Charms, Fruit Loops or Count Chocula) or white bread in my cupboards. I do however love a good dark chocolate bar. My last grocery trip consisted of: pumpernickel bread, hummus, giant stuffed olives, yogurt, Cheerios, milk, eggs, 2 cans of condensed mushroom soup, 3 pints of blackberries, ground chicken, chow mien noodles, frozen veggies and almond butter. Food really is the fuel that you put into your body to keep it going. Garbage in, garbage out. I love eating and I love healthy food. While buying organic is not always practical or possible, you can still read the packaging. If you can’t pronounce some of the ingredients, you should leave it on the shelf. Period.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bowling for Columbine


Bowling for Columbine was the making of director, producer and writer Michael Moore (same man who brought us Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sicko). The focus of the film is the prevalence of guns in American culture, focusing on gun violence and youth; the easy access that anyone has to these deadly weapons and the need to enforce gun control laws. The title references the tragedy at Columbine High School in April 1999, where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on a shooting spree, killing a dozen students and injuring dozens of others with stray bullets. While violence occurs in other countries, the number of gun-related deaths in the United States is ten times greater than any of the other countries mentioned. For those of you who haven’t seen Chris Rock’s stand-up skit about gun control should check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OuX-nFmL0II

The whole Columbine incident has fascinated me for a number of years. I’ve watched a couple documentaries on it and read a book that came out about a year ago: Columbine by Dave Cullen. In fact, any criminal activity, namely serial killers have mystified and intrigued me for a long time. What possesses people to commit these horrendous acts against other human beings? What makes these individuals tick and how can they possibly think that doing those horrible things is ok? I have never taken a psychology course and I’m no expert in the field but I have read piles of serial killer biographies and the whole field of criminal psychology really peaks my interest. As I consider myself a “normal” person with a conscience and morals, the factors that shaped these people’s lives must have been monumental in their development as young adults and also later in their lives. My life is still being written and only within the last couple of years (and several hours of psychotherapy) have I realized that events in your childhood definitely wire you the way you are.

I have read the biographies of: John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Richard Ramirez, Gary Ridgeway, Aileen Wournos, Andrei Chikatilo, Paul Bernardo, Robert Pickton, Levi Bellfield, Albert Fish, Jerry Brudos, Henry Lee Lucas and David Parker Ray just to name a few. In all these cases, they suffered turbulent childhoods, from fetishes, to a severe dislike of women, to abusive fathers, to violence against animals, to abandonment by one or both of their parents. Seeing how important childhood is to the development of a person makes me want to make damn sure I’m ready to bring another life into this world. I really did have a great upbringing. My parents were emotionally, and financially stable. I’m not saying that I’m without my flaws because that’s simply not true. Of course events in my life shaped who I am but I was spared any severe deviations and trauma largely due to, I believe, a stable home life.

TV shows such as the CSI Franchise: Miami, New York and Las Vegas tap into this unnatural way it seems that thousands meet their end. While forensics is often the way that serial killers are brought to justice (either with DNA or fibre matches) and linked with their victims, the way that this evidence is miraculously found irks me. Some of the actors annoy me too, most specifically David Caruso (Horatio Cane on CSI: Miami). He is a horrible actor, and the sunglasses and red hair make me nauseous. He is an absolute joke, as you can see from multiple parodies: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NCTUwfTq2I&feature=results_video&playnext=1&list=PL82ADD1E6D99BE672

I know that I cannot be the only one with this unusual fascination with the deviated brain. Criminal Minds takes this idea even further, delving into the psychology of humans on a wide scale. Detective Reid (Mathew Gray Gubler) also provides some delicious eye-candy. Each person is unique and their life experiences aren’t the same, but sometimes some of the story-lines and scenarios I find to be a little far fetched (I know it’s a TV show and for entertainment purposes but still.) I’m sure many people have twisted and violent thoughts in a moment of rage, but there are only a small fraction of those people that actually act on those. People who are able to take the life of another have no empathy for others, and no conscience. This is such an unusual concept for me, as I have always had a very guilty conscience, ever regarding the most trivial of things. I feel bad if I’m five minutes late for meeting a friend for coffee, or having to cancel appointments last minute, whereas psychopaths seem to show no remorse or issue with taking the life of another person.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mean Girls


There are very few people my age that cannot quote parts and pieces from Mean Girls. The film is a cult classic and is chocked full of memorable quotes:

“Four for you Glenn Coco, you go Glenn Coco!”,

“I’m kind of psychic, I have a fifth sense.”

“If you’re from Africa, why are you white?”,

“...and on the third day, God created the Remington bull action rifle, so that man could fight the dinosaurs…and the ho-mo-sex-uals. AMEN!”

The film’s focus is the socialization, cliques and girl on girl victimization in high school, with Lindsay Lohan playing new girl Cady Heron. The movie came out nearly 10 years ago and though I’ve seen it over seven times, it never grows old. One part of the movie that I can relate to is the claim that Cady joining the Matheletes would be “social suicide” in the eyes of both Damian and Regina.

There was never a competitive math team at my high school (and frankly I was never a stellar math student), but there was a trivia team. I have always loved (and been pretty good at) trivia game shows: Jeopardy, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Are You Smarter that a 5th Grader?,etc. My long term memory has always been good, which is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, I breezed through school and found studying for tests and exams pretty easy. On the other, it is very hard for me to forget painful memories or irrelevant information. My brain is like a sponge, it is constantly absorbing things. I read all the time, so I’m constantly learning things without even really trying.

In Canadian high schools, the principal academic competition circuit is called Reach for the Top. I played for my high school all four years. We never did particularly well as a team, but it was fun and my teammates were all friends of mine. I even got to go on TV three times because of these trivia competitions. The team really didn’t have a coach, so none of us took it very seriously or even practiced to be honest. Our teacher supervisor was incredibly lax about the whole scenario, simply encouraging us to watch Jeopardy every night, and that would count as studying. I loved trivia because it was social, it was a place where I could hang out with my friends and share a pile of laughs over some of the ridiculous things people would answer to the questions. I wasn’t particularly competitive or serious about it, trivia was simply another extracurricular that I did in high school.

When I went to university, I wanted to keep playing trivia. As it turned out, there is no Reach for the Top at that level. There is however NAQT (National Academic Quizbowl Tournaments), often shorted as Quizbowl. I was pretty confident going to my first university trivia practice, after having nearly 4 years of experience playing in high school. I didn’t answer a single question. The structure and difficulty of the questions was substantially different that what I was used to and was pretty overwhelming. I debated whether even or not to go back, but decided that I needed an excuse to meet people outside of my residence and that maybe with time I would get better. This was the case, and once I adjusted to the new system of playing I enjoyed myself a lot more. I wasn’t a particularly strong player that being said. My area of expertise in school (French) is so specific that the opportunity to answer a lot of questions wasn’t there. I guess I consider myself like that athlete in the Olympics who finishes 23rd. Compared to the average population, I’m pretty darn good, but if you throw me into the ring with a bunch of other Quizbowl players, I’m not even a blip on the radar.

I quickly realized my strengths lay in the administrative end of trivia. There are people needed to organize tournaments, moderate the games, score keep, purchase the trophies and prizes, book the rooms, write the questions, and make the schedule for all the teams attending. I was president of my university club for two years. I worked my tail off, ordering team jerseys, hosting and writing questions for 3 fundraiser tournaments to help cover the costs of going to tournaments, staffing the clubs tables to attract new members, and a whole pile of networking with other clubs on campus and the local high schools to promote trivia within the university and the city. It was all voluntary but I did it because I loved it. I was important in the success of the club and the team, and ultimately as president, was in charge of a lot of aspects.

I have also moderated (read and score kept games) at Reach for the Top Nationals for the last two years and plan to do it again in 2012. I fully support any sort of academic competition and to see the best teams in the country is very humbling (I was certainly not that good at their age). I got an official press pass each year, a free t-shirt, a couple of lanyards, as well as an entire weekend in Toronto free of charge (the organization covers the cost of hotel and meals for all moderators). Currently I am also on the executive for the Ontario Quizbowl Association, which promotes Quizbowl to high schools across the province; so that when they encounter NAQT in university it isn’t such a shock. It is interesting to note that Reach for the Top does not like people involved with NAQT. They see Quizbowl as stiff competition in the academic world and don’t want to get pushed out. Reach is a purely Canadian thing, whereas Quizbowl circuits are established all over the United States, Canada and parts of the United Kingdom. All the Ivy League schools in the US play Quizbowl (and Harvard has won Nationals for gosh only knows how many of the last few years.)

There is a large trivia circuit out there, but unless you are involved in it, it remains very much underground. I love learning, which is why I suppose I love trivia. My brain is stuffed full of useless information that no one cares about. But no matter how much I know, there will always be things that I don’t. It is a continual learning process. Like life.



Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Whale Rider


I watched Whale Rider in my first year of university, while taking a Women’s Studies course. The film actually happened to be my midterm exam, we had to watch the film and write a short essay as to whether we believed the film to be feminist or not. It tells the story of Pai, a young aboriginal girl trying to find her place in her tribe. She is next in line to become chief after the death of her twin brother, but her traditional and patriarchal grandfather believes that role is reserved for males only. Her grandfather is devastated with the death of her brother, and angry that he was left with a “worthless” female heir. He disregards her inheritance as chief and starts a school for the local boys and will choose a leader from among them. Pai, against her grandfather’s wishes eavesdrops on the lessons, besting the tribe boys in fighting stick competitions (which only angers him further) and learning all the traditional songs and rituals. Her persistence pays off at the end of the film when her grandfather asks for her forgiveness and she assumes her role as chief. The film is truly inspirational and portrays the difficulty women face living in a patriarchal society.

I am proud to be a woman. In Canada and other first world nations, as women we often forget the rights and privileges that women in other countries are deprived of. We have the right to choose who we get to marry. While arranged marriages occur in Canada, it occurs only in some cultures and the vast majority of women are able to date whomever they would like. We have the right to vote and select which party will be in power in our constitutional democracy. We have the right to an education, which is a major step towards being financially independent and successful in life. "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."~ Nelson Mandela. Many economists believe that much of the world’s poverty could be eliminated with the education of women. Educated women are able to have jobs and better provide for their children, husbands or extended family. These new skills can be shared with others. Jobs promote the economy, further stimulating growth.

It is unfortunate that in some countries (namely India and China) women are not valued the same as men. Due to the one child policy in China to curb the population, families wanted only sons, someone to carry on the family name and to inherit the family estate. The only two options for families are to kill the baby (often drowning them in the rice paddies) or put the child up for adoption and try again to have a son. As a result, the orphanages in China are flooded with healthy baby girls (who through no fault of their own had the misfortune of being born female). This practice has resulted in a deficit of women, which has resulted in woman being auctioned off to the highest bidder because there are not enough women to marry the number of men in China.

As is custom in India before a marriage, the father of the bride must provide a dowry to the husband’s family. This is very expensive to many families, as poverty is rampant in India. Many young girls are abandoned or killed by their families in order to avoid losing family funds. Simply put, girls are too expensive to feed and clothe, let alone marry and therefore in the eyes of many, do not deserve to live. Another issue concerning the desire to have sons is related to religion. Parents believe that they will not reach Nirvana (heaven) unless they have a son to light the funeral pyre. Couples in poverty who already have five daughters will continue to try to have a son, solely for this purpose.

The “Honour killing” of women occurs mostly in the Middle East and parts of Asia. Women are killed because their husbands, brothers or other male family members believe that they have acted in a way that shames their family. Often this involves dating outside their race, having an affair, having a child out of wedlock, or being homosexual. This act of honour killing occurs in mainly patriarchal societies, where the man is the head of the household and has the ability to control women, simply because he is born male. Due to the absolute dominance of men in these societies, women are rendered powerless. Often honour killings are committed with no rational or justifiable reason, such as in 2008 when a woman was killed in Saudi Arabia by her father for "chatting" to a man on Facebook.

I do consider myself a feminist, but not a radical one by any means. I believe every woman should have the right to their own body (deciding who they have sex with, marry, and when they want to have children). They should also have the right to education. The Because I am a girl campaign addresses gender discrimination around the world. Being a woman, and being aware of women’s issues in other countries, I tend to give to women’s organizations and support the female gender. My sponsor child last year was a 12 year old girl from Bangladesh, and all the Christmas shoe boxes I filled were always for girls aged 10-12. I fully support organizations that promote women’s rights and help thousands of girls get out of poverty. Anything that can be considered a woman’s issue should be a human rights issue, and any transgressions should not be tolerated.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Wimbledon


Wimbledon, starring Kirsten Dunst and Paul Bettany came out in 2004, right before I really started following tennis. This rom-com tells the story of budding tennis star Lizzie and the should-be-retired former star of the male circuit Peter. An expected encounter between the two gives Peter new hope that he may stand a chance at the title this year. Sparks fly, much to the dismay of Lizzie’s father as she is neglecting her practice. The usual communication problems occur, as with any romantic comedy flick, and Peter finds himself in the finals. He confesses his love for her during an interview, Lizzie returns says all is forgiven; Peter wins his title, proposes to her which (of course) she accepts. They have two children (a boy and a girl of course) and watch them play tennis at their new home. It’s all a little fairy taleish for me. In fact, there are very few tennis couples on the ATP or WTA circuit, and none of them have met like that.

I’ve been an avid follower of tennis since I was 16, the same year that my high school decided to hold tryouts for the school tennis team. I’ve played badminton since I was about 9, and I figured the two were pretty similar (the lines on the court, serving cross-court, etc). The racquet is substantially heavier than my 30 gram badminton racquet. A tennis ball actually comes into contact with the court before you hit it as well, unlike a badminton birdie. I made the school team, and went on to place 4th at Regionals.

Roger Federer was number one in the world at that time and even those people, who are not huge fans, cannot help but admire certain qualities of his. He is a great athlete. Anyone who is able to stay in the top ten in the world in their sport is in remarkable shape. Federer is now 30 years old, and is still 4th in the world. He has great sportsmanship and has won the Laureaus sportsman of the year award over Tiger Woods and other great athletes multiple times. Born in Switzerland, Federer is fluent in English, French and High German. As a person who loves languages, I find this admirable. He has won every Grand Slam (Wimbledon, French Open, US Open and the Australian Open) at least once. As if there wasn’t enough to admire, he is also a family man now, marrying his long-time girlfriend Mirka Vavrinec and having twin girls. Federer was my favourite player for nearly a year until I stumbled across the likes of Rafael Nadal. Their rivalry has been one of the best on the ATP circuit, and although they meet in the finals often, they are good friends.

I have been smitten with the Spanish tennis star for over 6 years. Anyone who knows anything about me can attest to this. One look in my bedroom and I suppose it’s pretty obvious: every wall is adorned with posters, pictures of him and one wall even has the Spanish flag. I have his Vamos Rafa ball cap, a “Got Nadal?” t-shirt, and a copy of his biography which I have read cover-to-cover. I suppose initially I liked him because of his looks, but over the years his talent is undisputable. He has won the French Open six times in the last seven years (earning him the nickname “King of Clay”), won the gold medal at the 2008 Olympics and completed his career grand slam in 2010 by winning the US Open at the age of 24. Currently ranked 2nd in the world after Serbian Novak Djokovic, Rafa is without a doubt my favourite athlete. There’s really nothing that’s not to like: he’s humble, he’s talented, he’s Spanish (and has the most gorgeous accent in interviews) and he’s a philanthropist. I actually got to see him play live at the Roger’s Cup in Toronto in August 2010, a small stop on the ATP circuit. I wound up getting tickets to one of the semi-finals and luck was on my side apparently. Though he wound up getting beaten by Andy Murray, the entire game was so surreal. I WAS IN THE SAME BUILDING AS RAFAEL NADAL! I took dozens of pictures as you can imagine; probably the best day of that entire year.

Back to couples on the tennis circuits…as I mentioned before, it doesn’t really happen. Most couples are from different walks of life, and if they do happen to meet through tennis, one of them has usually already retired. A relationship of two active players is not likely to work, as both circuits have their own schedules and destinations for tournaments. Roger Federer’s wife Mirka was a tennis player too – they met at the 2000 Sydney Olympics but she soon retired due to injury. Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf are another tennis couple – meeting after they won their respective titles at the 1999 French Open, but Graf retired a few months later and she continued to support him in his career. For those of you who have not done so yet, I encourage you to read Open by Andre Agassi. I really didn’t know much about Agassi, as he took his retirement in 2007, just as I was really getting into the sport. Even if you don’t follow tennis as closely as I do, it is an engaging, at times disturbing and eye-opening account of the life of one of the greatest tennis players in the Open Era.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Gladiator


I never have fully understood what draws people to any given interest. Since Grade 8, the history of the Roman Empire has completely fascinated me, most specifically the period of time revolving around Julius Caesar. Caesar was truly a remarkable character from what I’ve read in multiple history books and also the myth built around him. He and his heir Octavius can be held responsible for the transformation of Rome from a republic to a monarchy. The roman statesman and general was born into a wealthy family and quickly gained notoriety on the battlefield with his conquests in Gaul which extended the borders of the empire (during which he wrote his own accounts of his victories) and his political manoeuvres. He, along with Pompey and Crassus formed the first triumvirate in 60BC. With the death of Crassus at the hands of the Parthians, the relationship between the two remaining men became strained and a power struggle began. Pompey who held power in the senate was forced to take up arms when Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his troops, resulting in civil war. Caesar’s power was unrivalled and he assumed his authority over the entirety of the empire. He was declared emperor for life, though his dictatorship was cut short by a group of senators who conspired to have him murdered in the Senate. Even in death, Caesar’s legacy remains; the Russian word tsar and German word kaiser both take their meaning from the root of caesar. We still use the Julian calendar, and the month of July (my birth month) is named after Caesar himself. I’m not entirely certain how Caesar salad got its name, but it is yet another example of something that bears the name of the Roman emperor.

Ridley Scott’s Gladiator takes place long after the assassination of Caesar on the Ides of March, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the last of the “Five Good Emperors”. Aurelius was not murdered by his son like in the film. However, the film accurately portrayed the eccentricities of his son Commodus, from his extreme paranoia to his desire to be a gladiator and be worshipped by the masses. He was an egotist (who thought of himself as a demigod and had several statues created depicting himself as Hercules) with neurotic tendencies and his rule as Emperor was highly criticized. Commodus was not politically nor military savvy which resulted in multiple conspiracies and attempted coups by other members of the administration. He participated and put on lavish gladiatorial shows in an attempt to remain popular with the people, but this did not win him much praise. He charged the people outrageous amounts to see him appear in the arena and would slaughter hundreds exotic animals. Commodus was eventually poisoned and strangled in his bath by those closest to him.

The character of Maximus (Russell Crowe) is based on several military men in Rome and gladiators of that time period but never existed as a historical figure. Gladiators in Rome did achieve celebrity status after winning battles and in a way can be viewed like movie stars today. They drew large crowds and were the objects of desire of many women, who would sneak into the lodgings of the gladiators after hours to have rendezvous’. The movie, which came out in 2000, not surprisingly won the Best Film Oscar. It was relatively historically accurate and the story of good triumphing over evil is always a crowd pleaser. Maximus did eventually get his vengeance for the slaughter of his wife and son, succeeding in killing Commodus and joining his loved ones in the afterlife. The movie is visually stunning, and the immensity of the Coliseum is overwhelming. I have every intention of visiting Italy at some point to see the ruins of the Roman Empire. It is remarkable that remnants of this iconic period still remain standing to this day.

Though there are hundreds of historical sources pertaining to the Roman Empire, written by philosophers and thinkers of the time, many people still have the typical images of Rome in their heads. Eating grapes while lying on lounge chairs, with servants fanning them, all wearing togas with a crown of laurel leaves is often the first image conjured up. I took a Roman civilization course in university, which was a combination of the history and culture of the empire, starting with the founders of Rome (Romulus and Remus) to the fall of the empire with the evasions of the Germanic tribes and eventual sack of Rome. It was an interesting and enlightening history of one of the greatest periods in human history. Not to mention my professor was amazing. Part of one class was dedicated to showing us how to properly put on a toga (which is far more difficult than you might think). We covered things from all the different types of gladiators there were, to the interesting fact that many of the “bad” emperor’s names start with the letter “C”: Caracalla, Commodus and Caligula. I think I only missed one class all semester just because it was so interesting. I love learning new things. Though I was not a history major, much can be learned from the mistakes of the past – not just in the world but in our personal lives.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Carrie


There have been two different versions of the movie Carrie made. The first one starring Sissy Spacek in the lead role came out about a year after the publication of the book of the same name by Stephen King. The other was a made-for-TV-movie released in 2002. I have seen both, despite greatly disliking horror films. The more recent version followed the structure of the book, flipping frequently between the present and past which I can imagine would be hard to follow if you had never read the book. The original film which came out in 1976 followed the story of Carrie White chronologically from the beginning of her getting her first period in the shower to her eventual demise after destroying the entirely of her little town. I enjoyed how the first film in my opinion more accurately portrayed her religiously fanatical mother with all the hidden symbolism (most specifically her final pose in death resembling that of the Jesus statue that Carrie was forced to pray in front of.)

Carrie was the first published novel of the great American horror author Stephen King. He has been my favourite author since I was 14 years old. My Nana’s (dad’s mom) always had an entire bookshelf covered in his novels, but my mom discouraged me from reading them as she knew how poorly I responded to horror films. In Grade 9 however, I needed to pick a book to do a book report during the winter semester. I wound up stumbling across a yard sale and a beaten copy of Firestarter by Stephen King. It cost all of 50 cents so I figured even if the book was garbage; I hadn’t spent a large sum of money on it. Firestarter (also a movie starring a young Drew Barrymore) wound up being the best book I had read in a long time. It was an intriguing story about a little girl named Charlene (Charlie to her father) who had the uncanny ability to start fire with her mind, often when she got angry. She and her father were on the run from a group of scientists who her father feared were going to capture her and perform experiments on her, to test her limits and treat her like a lab rat. After that, I was hooked. I checked out Christine, Rose Madder and It from my high school’s library the day I handed in my book report.

Paranormal activities, the supernatural and the unknown are all common trends in works of King. While Carrie is telekinetic, Charlie is pyrokinetic, Christine is a possessed car, Salem’s Lot is about a town gradually all becoming vampires, It is about a murderous clown that haunts a group of children, Needful Things has the devil as a shop keeper who sells people’s lives for pennies, and The Tommyknockers has an aspiring writer who is able to channel vibes from the alien spaceship she discovers in her yard. I have read all 56 of his novels, with the exception of his three most recent ones: Full Dark, No Stars, Lisey’s Story and Duma Key. His autobiography On Writing provides a very enlightening account of his early ventures into writing. “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write,” is my favourite quote from the book. His persistence at becoming a published author was absolutely admirable – even he, the great Stephen King received thousands of rejection slips from magazines and publishing companies.

Mr. King also didn’t have the easiest life growing up. His father was out of the picture at a very young age and he was raised by his mother who worked multiple jobs to put food on the table. He was an awkward and goofy kid in school, but he was well-read and well-educated and for that, the other kids respected him. He did his degree in English at the University of Maine, where he would meet his future wife Tabitha Spruce. Although a certified teacher, he was unable to find work and wound up having to work several garbage jobs, including at a laundromat just to prevent the heat from being turned off. He continued to write, getting articles and short stories published in Playboy, Cavalier and other men’s magazines. King and his new wife were juggling two young children and were barely making ends meet when he finally succeeded in getting his transcript of Carrie approved for publication.

The publication and success didn’t remedy all his problems however. With money came access to drugs. For many years King was heavily addicted to cocaine and alcohol. In his autobiography he wrote that he had no memory of writing Cujo (one of his favourite novels) because he was so intoxicated. He truly is a fascinating character and a wonderful author. For those of you who haven’t watched it yet, you should have a listen on YouTube with Stephen King bashing Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, it’s absolutely hilarious. When a man of that caliber and experience level says you’re garbage, you likely are. He has read more books than I’m sure most people could even imagine and as an acclaimed and decorated author, he has penmanship and writing skills oozing out of his pores. I would love to get a chance to meet him and have him autograph a copy of either Christine or Needful Things (my two favourite books). I have been to Maine (the birthplace, current residence, and state where the vast majority of his books take place) and would love to go back.

One of the most useful writing tips I took away from King’s autobiography On Writing was to write about what you know. This blog pertains to things in my life that I know only all too well. You won’t be seeing blogs about football, the economic crisis or computers I’m afraid. When people write about things they know nothing about, it shows.

The Little Mermaid


I am a ginger. Admittedly with age my stunning ginger coloured hair darkened, so now I am more of a cinnamon colour, but that is not the point of this blog. Even when I was little I recognized that not many other kids had the same colour hair as me. In fact, redheads make up only about 4% of the population worldwide, the rarest colour by a substantial margin. My favourite Disney princess has always been Ariel from The Little Mermaid, as she was the only one that had red hair. The Little Mermaid also had some of the most catchy and well known songs: Under the Sea, Part of Your World and Kiss the Girl.

Redheads endure piles of stereotypes. Due to the propagation of pop culture, namely several episodes of South Park, redheads are supposed to have no souls. We are all supposed to be short-tempered and crazy in bed with insatiable libidos. I have been hit on by many guys, largely based on the colour of my hair. We are rare and elusive which makes us a hot commodity I guess? In the middle ages, women with red hair were singled out as witches, as they had the same colour hair as Satan himself. They were seen as using their red hair to tempt and seduce men, further propagating the sexual connection to women with red hair. Redheads have a whole slew of nicknames as well, from Carrot Top, to Firecrotch. The whole “does the carpet match the drapes?” has been far too over asked.

Another interesting tidbit I discovered more recently was that there is genetic link between red hair and pain tolerance. Scientists are still working on the exact cause, but for whatever reason, people with red hair have a higher threshold of pain. Redheaded women experience less pain during labour than their brunette and blonde counterparts. While I have never given birth, I can attest to this pain tolerance. I have three tattoos (and hopefully three more to come), two on my back and one on my foot. I nearly fell asleep while the artist was doing the ones on my back and the while the foot is supposed to be one of the most painful areas to get a tattoo, I didn’t even flinch. I remember this even when I was little, being able to endure Indian rug burns, the game of mercy and friends yanking on my hair. That is to say we still feel pain, but we are able to endure more of it I suppose.

Red hair is a recessive gene, that is to say it is a gene that skips generations. Neither of my parents are gingers, nor is either of my siblings. My family roots (if you trace them back dozens of generations) are in Scotland, where my family was a part of the Gordon clan. I have always loved my red hair and can’t imagine having any other colour. I think it’s pretty cool that in the Netherlands, they have a festival dedicated to those with natural ginger hair which lasts two days: Redheadday. I would love to go and take part in the future. Red hair should be celebrated and not mocked. The recent trend of “Kick a Ginger Day” spread like wildfire and although was perhaps initially seen as funny, became just another form of bullying. I was never picked on when I was in school for having red hair – in fact it was just the opposite, many girls told me that they wished they had my coloured locks.

There are also many celebrities that have increased the popularity of red hair (both natural and dyed): Nicole Kidman, Rhianna, Alyson Hannigan, Marcia Cross, Christina Hendricks and Geri Halliwell. Many memorable characters from books and TV also have red hair: Pippi Longstocking, Anne of Green Gables, Daphne from Scooby-Doo, Jessica Rabbit, Yosemite Sam, Wilma Flintstone, Poison Ivy, and the Weasley Family. Blondes apparently have more fun, but redheads are remembered.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bon Cop/Bad Cop


This Canadian comedy-action movie is likely one of my favourite movies of all time. It’s funny, it’s a creative concept, and for me especially – it mixes both French and English dialogue together (with subtitles of course for those who aren’t as fortunate to know both languages). When a dead man’s body is found slumped over the sign dividing the province of Quebec from the province of Ontario, officers from both forces must join together to find the killer. The underlying issue that the film addresses is the cultural and language differences between the two provinces, with Colm Feore embodying Ontario and Patrick Huard as the stereotypical Quebecois man. The two men despite their linguistic barriers (which results in many hilarious scenarios) learn to compromise and work together and ultimately solve the murder case.

Growing up in Ontario, a predominantly English-speaking province, knowing how to speak French was not essential or even really encouraged. When I was 9, the opportunity to go to a bilingual school arose, and my parents took advantage of it, placing me and my two siblings in the program. I really had no say in the matter, but as a 9 year old I really no trouble making new friends and adapting to a new school. Even at the age of 9, I had an aptitude for the language. I thrived in the new French environment and even got the opportunity to go into a gifted program in Grade 8. Unfortunately in Ontario (I don’t know about the rest of Canada) French in high school is only mandatory in Grade 9, every year after that it is an elective credit. There were 6 classes of 25ish students each in Grade 9. By Grade 10 there was one class of 30 students, which dwindled to 12 students in Grade 11 and down to ten pupils by Grade 12. I was one of ten students in a graduating class of around 300 that took French all the way through secondary school.

My hometown is an entirely English speaking Caucasian population. My family is completely Anglophone. My dad believes that French is comprised of sticking le or la in front of English words and saying them with a French accent. So instead of: Veux-tu des oeufs pour le petit déjeuner, his version sounds like “would you like le eggs for la breakfast?” I decided to pursue French in university, and was one of maybe 30 students who studied French as a Second Language (Français langue seconde). French is not a particularly popular major for native English speakers. I studied French in the nation’s capital. Ottawa is an entirely bilingual city with French and English signs everywhere, which helped me fully immerse into my program. I volunteered at the bilingualism centre on campus, working with an exchange student from France to improve her English. I took many courses over my four year degree where I was the only native English speaker in the class. I was teased occasionally by friends who were in science programs about being an Arts major; my retort was that they weren’t doing their entire degree in their second language.

I am very pro-bilingualism as you may have guessed. Living in a country with two official languages, I personally believe that every Canadian should be able to communicate in both. Unrealistic perhaps, but I don’t believe the expectations of Anglophones having to learn French is anywhere the same as Francophones being forced to learn English. I dated a Franco Ontarian for nearly 2 years, and he needed at least three English credits in high school, whereas I only needed one in French. As part of my program, I needed several French history and culture credits, one of them on the province of Quebec. I understand why the French are fiercely proud of their language and culture and are not terribly receptive to the English-speaking world. «La langue est la gardienne de la foi» The French language is the root of French identity.

I am proud to be a Francophile and find much of the Québécois culture fascinating. Cultural events like Cirque de Soliel and Bonhomme Carnaval, and foods such as poutine, pâté chinois, Montreal smoked meat sandwiches, and tortière all have their origins in the French province. They have their own unique history from the Battle on the Plains of Abraham, to the conservative regime of Maurice Duplessis, to the Quiet Revolution (la révolution tranquille) in the 1960`s, to the actions of the FLQ (Front de libération du Québec) during the time of Pierre Elliot Trudeau. Montreal was the host of the World Exposition in 1967, which put both Canada and Quebec on the world map. They underwent two referendums to decide whether they would remain part of Canada or seek independence as their own nation. Quebec and its people have definitely fought to protect its culture and identity, which has gone so far as to exclude English speakers. They fear assimilation and go to (sometimes) extreme measures to prevent it from happening. But for those who have made the effort to learn Canada’s second official language, an entire other culture is there to discover.

Precious


About two months ago I watched the Oscar nominated film Precious. I put off seeing the film for several months because from what I had heard on TV and seen in the trailers disturbed me immensely. I hate to see people hurt, and the visual images of things (animals or people) suffering burn into my brain and I can’t seem to shake it. I love pets and children dearly and hope to have my own eventually. I work with children and have for the last two years, and the thought that anyone could physically, emotionally, verbally or sexually abuse a child breaks my heart. Those people must have no souls and no conscience. I believe children are born a clean slate and that it is mainly the environmental factors that shape who that child becomes. It goes back again to that nature vs. nurture debate again, but that is my belief.

Precious is a victim of sexual abuse multiple times by her father, with whom she has two children (the first of which has Down’s syndrome which brings on more verbal abuse from her mother). She is bullied by classmates because of her weight and learning disability, and the verbal abuse only worsens when she goes home to her mother. Her mother does nothing but degrade her, hurl objects across the room at her, and sit in her chair and bark out orders and various profanities. She takes the anger about her own life, out on her daughter. She holds her daughter responsible for her husband leaving her.

I think I have always been a compassionate person, but only realized more so once I started working within the school system. Children really are the world’s most valuable asset and we must do anything within our means to protect them. I fully support the Children’s Aid Society and have looked into becoming a member. I want to be a teacher so that I can be a positive influence and figure in the lives of children. I was blessed to have had a great home life growing up, with a stay-at-home mom and a hard-working father who were (and still are) best friends. I have no memories of my parents fighting. Not all children are that fortunate. I always loved school and for some children it is an escape from the nightmares at home. They can see their friends and not have to endure the unimaginable things they do under their own roofs.

Every day I get to see joy on kid’s faces, after doing well on the most recent test, finally figuring out that math problem that has stumped them for the better part of an hour, or learning a new way to checkmate their opponent. I love to see them proud and succeed. They are so innocent and naïve about the great wide world out there. I wish sometimes I could go back to being that age – life was so simple and carefree. I’m only 22 and sometimes life is overwhelming; bills to pay, work to go to, friends and family to keep in touch with, budgeting for groceries and maybe a social life and hobbies all mixed in there. I don’t have a husband, or a house, or children, or pets yet but those things will no doubt come in time. Even now, before all these other responsibilities, there still never seems to be enough time in the day to get everything done.

There are many ways to help children, both here in Canada and abroad. Join your local children’s aid and see how you can volunteer/ get involved/ donate. The YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, and Girl Guides/ Scouts of Canada are always looking for volunteers. Samaritan’s Purse does Christmas shoe boxes every holiday season that are sent to third world countries. I did them with my church for several years, filling them with goodies that I had purchased with my own money. Sponsor a child overseas – a year of sponsorship costs around $412.00, less then one month’s rent for me. It’s crazy how much farther our dollar stretches abroad. Most cities have a toy drive around this time of year for less fortunate families. A teddy bear or new book is under $20.00 and will put the smile on the face of a child you have never met.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Last Song


I have a weakness for Nicolas Sparks novels, I admit it. Most people however are probably more familiar with his movies: A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John and the one I most recently watched The Last Song. Miley Cyrus plays the protagonist Ronnie, a rebellious and moody teenager who is forced to spend the summer with her father and little brother. Though I am not the biggest fan of Cyrus, I thought she did a decent job of covering up her southern drawl. It was difficult for me to watch however because I couldn’t stop thinking about her in the role of Hannah Montana. I decided to watch this movie while at home alone one night – a bad decision on my part. As with all Sparks’s works that are tear-jerkers, someone dying is usually involved. At the end of the film, with Ronnie playing the last piece of music her father composed, he finally passes away from cancer.

Death and dying is a natural part of the cycle of life, but that doesn’t make it any less difficult to deal with and overcome. I have always been a very emotional and expressive person. People know when I am happy, sad, angry, frustrated, etc. I have been fortunate to have only had one close family member or friend pass away. I was 16 years old when my grandma succumbed to emphysema and I remember her funeral pretty vividly and how distraught I was. We were never particularly close but seeing my mother all upset distressed me a lot as she always seemed to have herself together. I was only 5 when my grandpa died and I only vaguely remember the reception afterwards and eating the tiny little egg salad sandwiches, sweet pickles and lemon squares that were served.

It’s sad enough when someone dies of natural causes, but something entirely when they are taken suddenly from our lives. Suicide I believe to be one of the saddest things that I have ever heard of. With all the recent coverage of the dozens of teenage suicides, many of them linked to bullying and homophobia, it is amazing how poorly humans can treat each other considering life is so short. I for one am guilty of making my parents lives difficult on more than one occasion, and for many years I resented and wished I didn’t have siblings. I consider myself to be a kind person, but I’m not perfect. I wish I was some days but I’m not. I, along with many teens, was bullied for part for part of Grade 11 by a girl that went on my bus. She was a resident of a local group home, had no doubt been bullied herself and felt the need for whatever reason to single me out. I dreaded getting on the bus every morning and evening after school, knowing she’d be there to taunt me. We didn’t have classes together and we had no common friends so it didn’t last all day. But with that hour a day I spent on the bus, I know how miserable and helpless I felt. The fact that some teens have to have to deal with that all day, from multiple people is absolutely unacceptable. We all deserve to live with dignity and respect, to achieve our personal goals and have a successful and fulfilling life. Any life lost to suicide is one life too many.

People deal with loss in many different ways. Some grieve for months and can never really accept that the person they loved is gone. Others focus on the positive memories and don’t dwell on the sadness, to keep that person’s memory alive. I really don’t know how I will deal with the loss of someone I love, as I never have really had to before. The concept of dying for me is terrifying. It’s something you can’t control. I could die tomorrow in a freak accident or when I’m 80 years old, widowed with 7 grandchildren. It’s this lack of knowing and inability to control it that for me personally is so overwhelming. I can control what I eat, what I wear, my grades in school, the space in which I live. But I have slowly come to realize that there are so many more things that we have no sway over: who we love, how people feel about you, which team is going to win the Superbowl, what the weather will be like tomorrow, etc. I have always struggled when dealing with the unknown. I am someone who loves when things are planned and organized and structured. I am working on this “flexibility” part of my personality but I will never be a go-with-the-flow kind of person.

As odd as it may sound, I’ve already figured out how I want my funeral to be. I guess my logic is that if I can’t control how/ when I will die, I can control how I want my final moments to look. I want to be buried in a white casket, covered in red roses and tiger lilies, my two favourite flowers. I want to be buried with a picture of my family because they are the most important thing to me (all the more strongly recently, finally realizing that they have always been there for me, when most other people turned their backs). I want to have “Remember Me” by Josh Groban playing. The song, while sad has a very positive message in it and I absolutely adore Groban’s voice. I want to be dressed in red, my favourite colour and the colour of my birthstone. I would like some sort of scholarship/bursary to be set up in my name so that there would something positive to bear my name, even years later. I know these things are trivial but hopefully (God willing), I won’t have to worry about this for many, many more years.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Charlie Brown Christmas


I hate to post something about Christmas, with the holiday being more than a month and a half away, but I need to vent. What is with stores pushing the Christmas hype barely a week after Halloween? It makes me want to vomit. A couple of days ago I saw a Wal-Mart commercial advertising Christmas shopping and the possibility of buying things on layaway. Like seriously? Even worse, I was in doing my grocery shopping at Loblaws and there, in the bread/dessert section was Ready-to-Make Ginger Bread House kits. IT’S THE FIRST WEEK OF NOVEMBER. As a kid, I never remember it being this bad. I swear, if I walk into any store and hear “Jingle Bells” I’m going to find the manager and complain. I haven’t even started my Christmas shopping yet; like a normal human being I wait till it’s actually the correct month to start worry about that.

It’s this Christmas obsession that people have that reminds me of the message in a Charlie Brown Christmas. I think in all the hype and stress of shopping for the perfect gifts and the perfect Christmas turkey dinner, the majority of people forget the meaning of Christmas. The holiday season is not about the stuff and the gifts and the materialistic stuff. I love Christmas because I am able to spend meaningful time with my family, both immediate and extended. Yes I give and receive gifts each year. Yes my family have a tree and decorate the house with stockings and wreaths and holly. I’m not against celebrating Christmas at all – but it’s this ridiculous push by marketing companies to get people all worked up about sales and Christmas shopping in November that makes me nauseous. People’s stress levels go through the roof and they rack up their credit cards – for what? One day of the year. Seems a little ridiculous to me.

When Charlie Brown picks the sickly little pine tree over the pretty aluminum ones for the Christmas play, he is ridiculed by the other kids unless Linus speaks up. It is this sense of inferiority I believe that pushes people to go into overdrive during this time of year. They feel this need to have bigger and better gifts, the “perfect” gift for each person on their list. A Charlie Brown Christmas came out in 1965, long before the relatively recent commercialization of the holiday but even then the message rang true. Many people I know who celebrate Christmas do not practice any religion, when that is why we have Christmas in the first place; to celebrate the day that Jesus Christ was born. The gifts we buy are to symbolize the gifts the Wisemen brought to the child in the manger. In recent years, my family has reduced the number of gifts we give to each other. We’re all more or less grown up now and to be honest we pretty much have everything we’ll ever need. My brother and I both have jobs – if there’s anything we want we can go out and by it ourselves.

I love Christmas shopping, I honestly do. There is very little stress involved for me. There are very few gifts I have to buy each year: my siblings are pretty much my entire list. Ever since I was 8, on Christmas Eve, I get to open the gifts from my two siblings as a sort of pre-Christmas thing. It’s fun and heart-warming. I am very close to my siblings especially now that we are older and I love the thought that they put into my gifts last year. My little brother wound up getting me a $250.00 gift card to Chapters (my favourite store on the planet) and from my little sister I got a plush Yoshi doll (my favourite Nintendo character) and a matching ring and necklace set which I still wear everyday. I love shopping for my siblings. I managed to track down the elusive video game my sister wanted last year, and the look on her face when she opened it was amazing. My brother still lives in the American Eagle sweatshirt I got him last year as well. I haven’t quite figured out what to get the pair of them this year, so I will have to do some prying.