Saturday, November 5, 2011

Stars of David

This morning I picked up a book I haven't read in a little while, but one that has made a huge impact on my life.

It's called Stars of David, by Abigail Pogrebin and it's a compilation of interviews she did with a group of "prominent Jews" (as is written on the cover). I don't remember exactly what made me actually buy it in the first place, but I very vividly remember seeing it at Chapters and being immediately drawn to it. After seeing it a few times, I picked it up and started reading it on a car trip to Olds to meet my cousins who were vacationing in . I remember opening it and reading the introduction and reading "... I consider myself a journalist, not a sociologist..." and thinking, as the questioning natural science major that I was at the time "I've done it again". Around the same time, I had seen a movie called Mixed Blessings at the Calgary Jewish Film Festival and I was very drawn to the film (it's about interfaith marriages between Jews and non-Jews, something of which I am the product of). I emailed the film maker, Jennifer Kaplan, and asked her what she studied in school, and her answer (which was no surprise to me at this point) was that she had studied sociology.

Anyways, these two pieces really made me think about where my university life was going. I had no interest or passion for the natural sciences and felt just on fire by this book and movie. I had always felt less than whole when I heard people say things like "just do what you're passionate about" or "follow your passion" or whatever, and I was always so disappointed in myself that I didn't feel that way about anything. I guess that's when I discovered what that passion was. I'm still not sure if I could explain it or do justice in mere words what I'd say my passion is. The best I can do is "Sociology" and "Judaism" - two things that I think are increasingly difficult for me to define, even as I feel I learn much more about both every day (which is how it goes, I think).

What's interesting to me now, looking back at that year when I found a book and a movie that would change my life are a few things. One is that I don't really think I realized that sociology and Judaism in Canada were interests of mine that could coexist as easily as I have since realized: that studying sociology could be a way that I learned about who I am as part of a bunch of different communities (Calgarian, Jew, Canadian, woman, feminist, etc). I guess that at that point, I didn't realize that school could be a way to do the things you love, not something that keeps you from those things. I think I also didn't realize the extent to which who I was would change. I think it's why I'm so drawn to writing and to films, because I'm very aware of how much they can change another person you don't know and will never meet. And because I'm so grateful to Abigail Pogrebin and Jennifer Kaplan for putting themselves out there and starting these projects that would change my life in what I perceive as very profound ways.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Oh Canada....

I know that we Canadians have our quirks and there are lots of things we do well and lots of things we do not so well, but I've been thinking about how lucky we are. There's lots and lots of things we should be grateful for, like freedom, the right to vote, and lots of other things that we are truly very lucky to have, but......

I guess I've had a couple of very Canadian experiences the last couple days that I really enjoyed. The first one was being on the bus coming to Edmonton and I brought a bunch of DVDs to watch on my laptop on the way up. I, in my infinite wisdom, forgot that my laptop has no DVD drive. Luckily the bus has wireless internet and I started watching Fubar on Netflix. Now, not that Fubar is necessarily the best example, but I was thinking how cool it was to be going from my Alberta city to another Alberta city and watching a movie that was made right here in Alberta. I know this seems kind of silly, but I just so enjoyed all of my Albertan-ness in that moment.

My other very Canadian moment was today when I took a jog in Edmonton's breathtaking river valley.

So, Edmonton isn't so bad after all (even though most of us Calgarians won't admit it happily). Anyways, while I was experiencing some of the most beautiful urban nature that we are so privileged to enjoy, I was listening to Stuart McLean podcasts from The Vinyl Cafe. For those of you who aren't aware, The Vinyl Cafe is a long running (and wonderfully fantastic) radio show on CBC. I first fell in love with The Vinyl Cafe in my high school best friend's parents' van, in which I spent a lot of time. Kate and I were totally inseparable and I used to be invited along to a lot of their family events and even a few great road trips. I'm pretty sure that the only radio stations that that van received were CBC stations. I remember listening to The Vinyl Cafe on Sundays and to CBC from Tofino, BC all the way back to Calgary after being on the island for three weeks. Anyways, I decided that one thing I could do while I jog is listen to The Vinyl Cafe podcasts (thank you CBC :) - I can't really listen to music because it ruins my pace). So today I enjoyed a Vinyl Cafe show helping commemorate the CBC's 75th anniversary (way to go CBC!). I'm not totally sure I've had many happier experiences; I can't even explain how much I was enjoying myself. Nothing like enjoying some amazing Canadian scenery and enjoying something as Canadian as The Vinyl Cafe. And I will be doing that again.

My second Vinyl Cafe podcast I listened to was the show from Oct. 8, and it included The Arthurs, which is described by the website as "awards that recognize acts of kindness and generosity that, too often, go unnoticed". The only one I actually heard before I reached my hotel was a nomination from a man whose father bought a vacation home when he was four years old and had sold it 46 years later. Every time they would leave the cabin, they would say goodbye when passing under a set of Christmas lights that had been there the whole time they had been vacationing at this property. This man wanted to nominate the person who had strung and maintained these Christmas lights through the years, whoever it was. I really can't tell the story right but I was completely crying on the street in Edmonton, but would highly recommend that you hear how the story pans out ( - it's the one from October 8th - The Arthurs).

So thanks to this amazing country and for all my fellow citizens who make this country what it is. I know that there are lots of things that we can and need to improve, but I'm very thankful for this wonderful, beautiful, diverse, cooperative (and polite) nation and our fabulous people.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

I Will be a Hummingbird

A few years ago I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Professor Wangari Maathai speak at a "Power of Women" event. I had never heard her name before and have to admit I was a little more excited to hear Barbara Walters and Erin Brockovich (both of whom were pretty darn cool to see too). However, when Wangari Maathai stepped on to the stage and started talking, I was mesmerized.

Please, please watch the video below to hear the story she closed with.

There's literally nothing that I can say that even does justice to some of the other amazing things she shared that day, but I would definitely recommend reading some of her books, especially her memoir, Unbowed. Here's a link to her books that are available at the Calgary Public Library.

She was an amazing woman and an amazing human being. Reading her memoir and getting just a taste of what she went through in her lifetime was completely inspiring. I think the most amazing thing about reading the memoir was how she never seemed to lose hope that she could really make change happen (or perhaps just that change is possible).

The basic background that you need to know is that she started an environmental organization in Kenya called The Green Belt Movement, which plants trees in Africa to help protect against the erosion that makes it difficult if not impossible for the people there to grow food (rather than cash crops like coffee) to support their lives, create firewood for fuel and provide jobs for women. She was also the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize.

Here's a New York Times article that was written when she passed away on September 25 this year. I have to say that though I'm not sure a lot of us understand how much impact this one person had on our earth (I know I don't), it is a true loss for the human race.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Judaism and Vegetarianism

I'll be quick here because I'm on my way to a family brunch, but I just wanted to post some really quick thoughts that I had last night when I attended a talk called "Eatin in Eden: Judaism and Vegetarianism" last night at the Calgary Jewish Community Centre as part of a series called "Just Jew It" (funny, no?)....

I have spent a lot more time in Christian churches than the average Jew has, and I think I discovered something more that draws me to Jews and Judaism last night. And it's something more thought-through than just feeling like this is a place that I (at least kind of) belong. Last night, the speaker was Rabbi Michael Skobac, from an American organization called "Jews for Judaism".  I'd like to post some of my thoughts about the content of his talk (like all the other talks that I've skipped over but still would like to share thoughts about, like 3-month-old thoughts about TEDxCalgary... but that's another story).  Aside from loving the fact that the crowd had to be shushed a million times and that multiple conversations go on between small groups of people and all the other, more superficial observations, I feel like in Judaism you are kind of enough, if that makes sense.  I feel like you should try and be the best you you can be (and not think that you are inherently a sinner) and when you bring your best version of you to the proverbial (or actual, I guess) table, you will be enough to take on Tikkun Olam (which is repairing the world). For instance, the Rabbi said that he didn't want to tell us what to think, just give us some points for consideration.  I remember hearing the message (whether these were the words or not) that certain things are dangerous roads to go down. And I feel like that is someone else ("Christianity", or my own head, or something) telling me what and how to think. I feel like so many roles are like a shepherd and his or her sheep, which is such a control-based relationship.  I've never felt that way from a Rabbi, which is probably a function of my very limited experiences with Rabbis, but I think they tend to provide points for consideration rather than rules or guidelines or... boundaries.

I realize that this sounds rather weird, particularly because Jews are the "people of the law" and they really do follow so many rules in a literal sense than Christians do, but I feel like those rules are suggestions for how to be a better you.  If you don't follow all of the kosher rules, I don't feel like there's a lot of judgment. Certainly this is not everyone's experience of Judaism, and mine is so limited it isn't fair to say, but that's just how I felt about it.

Finally, I don't mean to say that Jews are good and Christians are bad or that Jews are better or whatever, it's just the basis for comparison that I have. I always enjoyed being part of my old church and the people were so nice and welcoming. 

Hopefully more details to come later. Just had to say that I really enjoyed myself.


Friday, August 5, 2011

You Belong Here

So, here's the background: my gym membership is expiring pretty soon and I've been thinking about looking elsewhere. One place that I am very interested in is the Jewish Community Centre, even though I hadn't set foot in it since I was in daycare there (if that phrase even applies; I think I was brand new when I was in daycare there). I'm mostly drawn to it because I'm interested in getting in touch with the Jewish community (as you probably have read already) but I'm a little weary to just jump into a synagogue, mostly because I don't speak a word of Hebrew and always feel lost when I'm at a synagogue. Anyways, so yesterday I went to drop into the JCC to see what the fitness centre is like (it's gorgeous, by the way).

I've also been reading Dreams from My Father by now-President Barack Obama (who celebrated his 50th birthday yesterday!). I'm only about halfway through, but I can say for sure that it's stunningly honest and wise and inspirational. A definite must-read. I've also found it interesting thinking of a few things while I've been reading. The first is wondering if the Barack Obama who wrote the book (it was first published in 1995) would have imagined that he would become President of the United States thirteen years later. I also wonder how he negotiates who he was when he wrote the book with who he is now. The other thing that has been kind of central in my mind while reading it is wondering how many other Presidents or presidential candidates would feel comfortable baring so many of their experiences in the way that he has. For instance, the book talks about his high school and college experiments with drugs, sleeping in an alley in his first night in New York City and some comments that he was ashamed of. I guess I just don't see a lot of them baring all in that way (though that comment is made from a very uneducated perspective - they may have and I just don't know about it). I suppose I also really like it because it doesn't feel laced with rhetoric. To me, it's a really authentic telling of how he got to be where he was at that point in 1995.

I also like it because it is a chronicle of a search for a personal (ethnic) identity that is "mixed" (I use that word cautiously; I just don't know what else to say). Barack Obama is, as many are aware, the child of a white American mother and a black Kenyan father. I also recently read a great book called Black, White and Jewish by Rebecca Walker; who is the daughter of a black, famous feminist mother (Alice Walker) and a white, Jewish father (both American). I suppose that, as the product of a "mixed" marriage myself, I recognize these questions of "who am I?" and "where do I fit?" in these memoirs.

I do think that now it doesn't matter so much that I come from a mixed ethnic background. Damn near everyone else does anyways, but I suppose that for me it has been a somewhat poignant fact of my life. I also think that I'm drawn to the Jewish half of me because there are lots and lots of people in this world (and even in this country and this city) who would have preferred it if all of the Jews just didn't exist anymore (a synagogue in Toronto was vandalized last night or today unfortunately, much like Jewish sites in Calgary were about a year ago). Perhaps the thing that makes these questions of "mixed" identity important to those of us who ask them is that the "halves" are linked to oppressed minorities.

However, the interesting thing that I really wanted to mention is that when I was putting Barack Obama's amazing book away, I caught a glimpse of my receipt from my dropping in to the JCC. At the bottom of the receipt is their slogan: "You Belong Here". The logical part of me says that it's a coincidence, but I definitely felt like the universe or God or whatever was trying to tell me something. And at worst, it was still a nice, comforting coincidence.

Friday, July 1, 2011

TEDxCalgary Intro....

I realize this post is nearly a month late, but out of thought-sorting (as well as pure laziness and procrastination), I haven't been able to copy this out of the Word document I had this saved in. But in any case, here it is; and what better day to post this than on the birthday of a wonderful nation that allows us to be who we are and share ideas like those that were presented at TEDxCalgary. Happy birthday Canada! 

On Saturday, June 4, I was honoured to be able to attend TEDxCalgary.  It featured nine remarkable speakers in about four and a half hours and was, in my mind at least, a game changer.

When I listen to a speaker (or a professor, or whomever), I am a furious note-taker. I like to write down as much of what they say as I can, and often I end up with my own questions or thoughts sprinkled in in the margins as well. I've never really been able to collect all those thoughts or synthesize something new from what I heard and what I jotted down before, and I am going to attempt to do so here. I think the difference this time is that (while I have certainly heard amazing speakers before): I think that at this point, I know that I need to make this count; the speakers were so remarkable that I think real, true attention needs to be paid; and yesterday I kind of had what I'd call an artistic epiphany (I use the word "artistic" loosely as I wouldn't consider myself an artist).

Since I was a young teenager, I've written randomly in journals about random things. While some (or maybe most) of these journals are filled with mundane teenage details or friend drama or silly crushes, there are some entries that I felt I had to get something out (not out of frustration; I just felt that there was something that needed to be said) and so I would just write. And I think that there is something in some of these. Yesterday, during our lunch break, I had a moment that I just felt that I had to let something out. So I wrote. And I guess what I decided while I was writing was that I don't need someone to tell me to write; I can just do it on my own. And while I may not have any audience at all, maybe one day, one person will stumble across a collection of my thoughts and they may be able to expand upon it or use it or even just agree with or be inspired by it to continue what I would consider a synthesis or collaboration aspiring toward knowledge generation.
Maybe the best thing to introduce my "series" about TEDxCalgary is to copy out what I wrote over lunch break. Perhaps I can consider this my personal reasons for writing and follow some of the quasi-rules that I thought up. Maybe quasi-rules is the wrong way to say it; maybe it's about following my thoughts about removing some of the limits that I had placed on myself in the past and writing anyways. Anyways, decide for yourself what these guidelines should be called. Here it is, with some edits so that it might make a little more sense:

It came to me in that moment that the itch I feel to put pen to paper is a creative process. And maybe it doesn't need to sound good or make sense or inspire someone today; or tomorrow. (Or ever). But maybe one day it will inspire one person. So I should scratch that itch when it arises. It's likely that I may never produce anything that anyone else will read, but in some way, the ramblings I commit to endless patchwork notebooks is the way that I contribute to the grand "so what".
I would never call myself a "creative" person. Probably because I don't think I've really produced anything that I deem valuable but I don't think that's any reason to give up.
Last night, I decided that it would be my goal to be open to what today would bring. And I think that I have been, at least until now. Maybe instead of "I want to go to McGill", it should be "I want to create something of value" or "I want to inspire others" or "I want to pay [the knowledge and inspiration] forward". It is a real honour to have been chosen to be here out of nearly a million adult Calgarians. I want to make it count.
Maybe I don't need the approval of an educational institution to do the things I want to. Maybe I can pave my own way. Really, it would be a missed opportunity not to. I am fortunate enough to live in an age where I can "self-publish". And while I don't have any "readers", there's no reason to think that writing is fruitless. And there's no reason that I should keep all the thoughts that race through my head from others. While I don't necessarily think that those random thoughts are earth shattering or inspirational or meaningful to others, it's those observations and the gears that they inspire for me that give the world meaning to me and convince me everyday that this earth and this version of civilization is worth trying to save (or fix where necessary). And if sharing these thoughts can convince just 1 person of that, I would be humbled because that's all it takes. Just paying it forward once is enough for me to feel like I've made some impact. Then I think it would be worth it.

So there it is. That's what I scribbled down in my lunch break.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Calgary Jewish Community

A great question was asked in the comments of my last post about what the Calgary Jewish community is like.

Essentially, I'm the wrong person to ask because I just don't know very much about it yet. However, I'm interested to learn about it myself. So I'll do my best to find some good information! Might as well report back, right? :)

Toronto has the thirteenth largest Jewish population in the world and the largest in Canada, then Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg (where my parents are from; so this is my dad's Jewish community), Ottawa, and then Calgary. At the workshop, they said that there are 9,000 Jews in Calgary. Edmonton has a slightly smaller Jewish community, but my table-mate (who is from Edmonton) says that the communities are pretty similar.

Calgary has a Jewish Community Centre, four or five synagogues (depending on how you look at it), and two Jewish day schools.

When I say four or five synagogues, that just depends on how Beth Shechinah would prefer to be classified:
  • Orthodox (very traditional - House of Jacob Mikveh Israel)
  • Conservative (moderately traditional - Beth Tzedec)
  • Reform (very liberal - Temple B'nai Tikvah)
  • Ultra Orthodox (these are Hasidic Jews - they're the guys who wear black suits and hats and grow out their hair and beards - Chabad Lubavitch)
  • There is also a messianic Jewish centre (I'm not sure if they'd rather be called a church or a synagogue) - those are the Jews for Jesus - Beth Shechinah 
 For me, I think if I were personally involved with Beth Shechinah, I would consider myself a Christian, but that's an area of Judeo-Christianity that I definitely just don't understand.

As far as the two day schools go, one (Akiva Academy) is affiliated with the Orthodox Synagogue, and the other (Calgary Jewish Academy) is not affiliated with any specific synagogue.

There are a lot more organizations in Calgary, but I guess those are really just the "major" ones.

To answer the question of how community is built and what kinds of events are around, I only know some of the events that I've been able to attend. There are many, many more events and lots of great sounding fundraisers (there's a sports dinner coming up for the Jewish Community Centre in a couple of weeks, for instance). The workshop on the weekend was presented by the Youth Leadership Division of the Calgary Jewish Federation. All of the synagogues and the JCC have lots of great classes for all ages. My dad and I have been going to Jewish Learning Institute classes at the Chabad and a few high holy days services there as well. Beth Tzedec hosts an awesome Jewish Film Festival every year.

Really, those couple of events that I've attended are a drop in the bucket. A good place to look, if you're curious about what else is going on (which is honestly so, so much), is on the Calgary Jewish Federation's website, on their main calendar.

I just have two final comments that are more from me as a newcomer or outside observer, I'm not sure which.

The first thing is that I've been wondering recently if religion will continue to be important in the future or if I've kind of missed the boat on becoming involved in a religious community. I'm a little bit haunted by how Karl Marx, who was born a Jew, referred to religion as the "opiate of the masses". I guess I'm still sorting out whether I think religion is a uniting or dividing force, and whether it's worth it. So there's my disclaimer.

Secondly, and maybe in an answer to my other comment, is that there is something special about the Jewish community in Calgary for me. Maybe it's because I feel like I could fit in or because I do like to be involved in religious communities (I was involved in a Lutheran church for about 5 years or so when I was a teenager). But, what I'm getting at is that there's something special that I feel when I go to an event and I love the loudness and the multitude of conversations that I get to overhear, especially the ones in Yiddish and/or Hebrew that I don't understand.

Sorry for the long, drawn out answer.

L'chaim! (That means "to life", it's what Jews say when they make a toast!)


Sunday, June 5, 2011


I just wanted to post something here about my amazing weekend. I think there will be many, many posts to follow this one, but I wanted to just put something out there quickly to say I'm still processing (so, to say nothing at all...)

On Saturday I was honoured to attend TEDxCalgary. The ideas that I got to experience were truly remarkable. I was originally interested in going to see one of my professors from university, Dr. Mark Durieux, speak; but it turned out to be even more. Dr. Durieux was great to hear again, and he was accompanied by 8 other absolutely amazing speakers.

Today I participated in "It's Up 2 Us", which was a community building workshop put on by the Youth Leadership Division (YLD) of the Calgary Jewish Federation. It was a group of 25-45 year olds trying to come up with ideas to make the Jewish community in Calgary the best it can be.

It was a really inspirational weekend; one that made me want to really get involved.

For now, I'm still trying to process and come up with my thoughts, which I'm dying to share here. However, I still am neck-deep in a bunch of different, confused thoughts.

In the meantime, the YLD is putting together a committee to write a report about today's event and I've put myself out there to be part of it, so hopefully that goes well. In other exciting news, I met a couple of really nice girls today and I think we'll be staying in touch, which I'm really stoked about.

I'm working on my first thoughts about yesterday's event and hopefully I'll have that post dusted off soon (as well as my thoughts about the specific topics and today's event) so that I can share them!

Finally, I see that I have a follower! Thanks for joining me on this journey to share some of my thoughts; I'm really humbled to have a follower, so I hope I can provide some context of my life that you might find interesting.



Friday, May 20, 2011

Would you rather...

I recently took a general business class and the instructor was pretty fascinating, actually - one day he mentioned an ice breaker that he is familiar with for business meetings: Would you rather meet your great grandfather or your great grandson? Of course, my first reaction was wanting to point out how one might be interested in meeting their great grandmother or their great granddaughter as well, but let's put that aside for now. He said that most often, people would choose to meet their great grandfather because they'd be too afraid to see what they'd created. I would definitely have to respectfully disagree with his theory though.

It got me thinking about who I'd rather meet, an ancestor or a descendant. I would absolutely choose an ancestor, but I think and hope that it's not out of fear. It's for a few reasons, actually. One is that I have a pretty good feeling that an ancestor has greater wisdom than I do and, while a descendant might as well, I feel like an ancestor would have more wisdom to share that could make sense in today's context, whereas wisdom from the future may not be as applicable.

Today, I was curious after seeing an commercial and decided to go online and check it out. I typed in my paternal grandfather's name and found his burial information (which I already knew), but it was really cool to see his name online like that. And then I looked for my mother's maternal grandfather and I didn't find as much about him (he was born around 1870), but it definitely was pretty fascinating. There are a lot of people who are very, very interested in genealogy and I guess I can kind of see why.

For me, as cool as it is to see their names online and on old census forms and stuff like that, I wish there was a way to hear about who they really were. I remember my grandmother (whose 89th birthday would have actually been today) telling me a story about her father once. He died when she was very young (he would have been 54 years old when she was born in 1922, which was pretty darn old then, I think) and my mother never knew her grandparents. But my grandmother remembered or had been told a very beautiful story about him that she told me when I was younger. He used to own a grocery store in small town Saskatchewan (I guess this would have taken place in or near Kinistino). A family that they knew who was disadvantaged had purchased a stove from him. Knowing they needed it, he included a full set of dishes in the stove for the family. When this family opened the stove and found the dishes inside, they had assumed that it was an error and, not having paid for the set of dishes, returned them to my great grandfather. I don't exactly remember the end of the story but the idea is that he told them that he had meant to include the dishes and for them to keep them. It's an absolutely beautiful story of generosity, community and respecting the dignity of one's neighbours.

My dad told me once that his dad sent him to get change for their grocery store (I come from a very long line of small grocery store owners). My dad came back with the nickels he had been sent for and when my grandfather counted them up he found one extra, which he sent my dad back to the bank to return. I realize that we tell stories to others, specifically our children and grandchildren, to instill in them the values and social norms by which we intend for them to lead their lives. I love those stories because they give me a feeling for who these men were and why their children (my grandmother and my dad, respectively) had so much love and respect for them.

I am very lucky that I get to have the kind of parents about whom it's really easy to say a whole bunch of nice things. And my dad and my grandmother seem to have felt the same way about their fathers (they did feel the same way about their mothers as well, these are just 2 stories that kind of stick with me and are easy to share). I love how these things can help shape who we are, even though in some cases they are about people far removed from us by generation and time and even location in many cases.

There are such riches in the stories of our parents and grandparents and I fully realize that many times we miss out on the chance to ask what those stories are, probably out of the hubris of youth. I often thought that it would have been wise to ask my paternal grandmother about her stories. She was born in Poland and came here, well to Winnipeg, at the age of 12 in 1926 (I think) with her mother, maybe to start over. She had a lot of painful experiences in her lifetime but I have to believe that there were a lot of good times as well. Even the stories of the challenges she faced though, would have shed so much light on who she became, who she was (and who I knew). Unfortunately I never got up the courage to ask her for her stories.

Also, I realize that I'm very, very lucky to have a family that I know, love and respect. A lot of people don't. I don't think that this is limited to family, though. I think that the stories about your friends are stories about the family you choose and reflect the kind of people with whom you elect to associate.

This long, rambling blog post does have a point, I promise. To me, there is something very valuable about knowing where you come from. I am who I am because of the generosity of my mom's grandfather, the honesty of my grandfather, the tenacity of my grandmothers, my parents' rejection of the way things "should" be and their wild intelligence, my sister's challenging questions, my roommate's love for animals, and (of course) many, many other things I connect with or admire about others (and all of the thoughts and experiences in between). I realize that the sphere of influence of one person is vast and that many people's influence overlaps in one viewer such as myself. Identity is complicated and unique for each person.

I also appreciate that the things I believe in now didn't start with me. I am a feminist because I believe that all people should be equal, regardless of things like gender; ethnic, cultural or religious background; sexual orientation; mental or physical ability; income level; gender expression; and any other factor by which others wish to separate human beings. I am this way, in part, because I know that my grandmothers were both working mothers at a time when that would not have been very popular (from the 40s - although there is definitely an argument that that still isn't popular) and the fact that my dad says that his father opened a grocery store in part because people weren't interested in hiring Jews so he owned his own business. My concern for the environment may come, in large part, from my mother's very conservation-based actions when we were young like growing vegetables and composting; as well as the influence of living in a beautiful natural setting like Bragg Creek, AB when we were little.

I am very thankful for the efforts of my parents and their parents and their parents to create new generations who are better off than they were because I would offer that I have had multitudes more opportunity than any of them. I hope I can make the best of it, to make their efforts worth something to the rest of the world as well. I hope that people of my generation can recognize that the world is unlikely to end with us and it is our responsibility to do whatever we can to make this a richer world economically, socially and environmentally for those who will come after us than it is now. I also hope that that recognition will lead to action on a large scale.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Teach a man to fish....

Well, first, let's pretend that this old saying says "teach a person to fish"..... but all that aside....

Otherwise, I'm watching Secret Millionaire right now and thinking about what these millionaires are trying to do. It is definitely pretty darn inspiring - especially looking at the "average" person who doesn't have the kind of time and money to go to a new community and spend some time getting to know new organizations but those who volunteer in the communities in which they work, live, play, sometimes struggle and try to make ends meet. These volunteers (like the volunteers on the show today) have so much less than so many others (like the secret millionaire on the show) and yet they give what they do have to help make their communities better places for their children and their neighbours.

Now, I think that what they're doing is absolutely beautiful, particularly when there's so much trash (that I enjoy watching.... is this a full disclosure moment?) on TV. And I think that private charity is a beautiful thing also (the "secret millionaire" just gave away $40,000 to a very, very deserving charity). He said, when he gave away one of his cheques, that good things do happen to good people. And I think that good people like him should help make that happen.

That said, I remember learning once that the idea of the very right-wing way that the United States were put together was that the government's role wasn't to help out the people who needed that help the most: that private charities are more apt to help these people out.

Back to the title of this post - I was thinking that, yes, if we teach people to help themselves they will be better off than if we just help them. And that's not saying that these wonderful gifts that these "secret millionaires" and everyday philanthropists shouldn't share what they've been blessed (or whatever word suits you) to have.

I guess my question is, "is it working"?

I don't live in the US, and I think that Canadians are considerably better off than our neighbours to the South (so I really don't know), but maybe it's time to look at making some changes. Doesn't it seem fair that at this point, every citizen should have effective, affordable (or free), accessible health care?

I guess that really what I'm thinking is that sometimes what was a good idea "in the beginning" (even though many would argue that point) may not be a good idea later. I read somewhere recently (I think it was quoted in Transforming Power by Judy Rebick) that neo-liberalism (but this could apply to my thought as well, I think) is like a train that is speeding along tracks and the conductor has fallen asleep with his/her foot on the accelerator - so the train is still speeding ahead but nobody is steering it. I think that's an appropriate metaphor for this - that someone needs to re-evaluate the course of where we're going.

Again, I'm not sure if I came up with any kind of theory or consistent thought, but these were the thoughts going through my mind while watching random Sunday night TV and trying to kick this fever.

Hopefully something to think about.


Friday, March 4, 2011


I'm just finishing up the book Manifesta, by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards. It is an absolute inspiration. It has made me think a lot about who I might be as a feminist. And I realize that it's been two months since my "so what" post about how I won't give up (I gave up for a bit, I realize), but I guess I'm just finding my way a little bit right now. I definitely feel like time is a-wasting though, if I'm ever going to really do something to be who I want to be.

Naomi Wolf would have been 29 when The Beauty Myth was published. Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards were both 30 when they wrote Manifesta. Jessica Valenti was 29 when she published her first book. And these, of course, were not any of their first tastes of activism. I feel like I'm behind already.

In a few months, I will be a quarter century old. And, of course, that is still really young. But I feel like I'm just beginning to find out who I am or who I'm becoming and I have little direction. Or at least little real direction.

The other day, reading Manifesta spun me into a bit of a thought-tornado (or something less cliche-sounding). As much as this is probably unwise, I'd like to share some of these raw, unresearched, completely personal thoughts.

Firstly, feminism is a movement. For me, there's no doubt about this. It always has been and it always will be (for me). However, at this point, I don't know what direction this movement is going in. I suppose that it seems that it's going in many different directions. While I think that this is fantastic, because it means that feminism has become more of an every day reality that touches many parts of life for far more women and men than it maybe has in the past. However, it also opens up the movement for a lot of critique (from both inside and outside the movement, in my opinion).

Also, I was thinking about voting. I don't think that many people my age voted in the last election at all, but do women and men vote equally as often? I also wonder how many women still vote the way their husbands or boyfriends do (although that, like many of the comments in this post, have no basis in fact whatsoever).

Another totally random thought that popped into my head was the whole notion of choice. I realize that feminism is very, very anchored in this idea of choice. My take on feminism is that it has always been about being able to make our own choices - independent from our parents, spouses (maybe even brothers, should we have any), communities, political parties, etc. Not just going along for the ride but really taking part in choosing the course of our journies. One might argue that women and girls are at a point where we are more able to make our own choices than ever (and I would agree in general). But do we feel that we are really free to make these choices (e.g. no pressure from outside sources to stay home and take care of children or work harder than men do at paid work (to compensate?), etc). How can we help others feel free to make their own choices, support one another in it, and then take responsibility for those choices. I don't think that means that we can or should ignore our environments' role in the choices we make (of those that are available to us) but that we can still be conscious of what is expected of us (whether actually or given our perceptions).

When regular women look back on their lives (so far) having identified as feminists, what do they think? Did they do what they wanted to? Did they do it how they wanted? What helped them or got in the way? WHO helped them or got in the way?

Who are some Canadian feminists? I answered this question a little bit from an Internet search. I started following Judy Rebick on facebook, but I know that (or, hope?) she is just the tip of the iceberg and that there are a lot of really radical, cool things going on in Canadian feminism. It does raise the question for me, like in many instances, what is the role of the United States on Canadian feminism? Are we all in the same boat? Is there something counterproductive for Canadian feminists (or women in general) in American Cultural Imperialism?

Really my last random thought/set of questions was about where the girls of my generation fit into this whole big picture. When Manifesta came out, I was 13. I was one of the teenage girls that was sometimes referred to in those amazing pages. If the third wave belongs to Gen-Xers, can we take part as well? Are there enough of us (post Gen-X feminists)? What do third wave feminists (Naomi Wolf's "contemporaries") think of us? They're not that much older than we are, they certainly aren't our "mothers" like second wavers were their mothers (in most cases). Second wavers are our mothers too (my mother would have been 14 when Ms. was first launched in 1971). How does it all fit?

Anyways, hopefully I'll have the guts to post here a little bit more often. I think that for people my age, blogging gives us an opportunity that generations before us obviously didn't have - being self-published extremely easily and for free.

The summary to this terribly disorganized post really is this: who am I as a feminist? How can I fit into this movement?

If anyone ever reads this, comments are very, very welcome. One of my favourite people in the world, my friend Meg, once said something like if you want something, throw it out there. Tell the world, sort of, even if nobody ever hears you. This is my plea: help me find my way in this whole thing. Help me become who I want to be. And help that person help the world: the planet, women,

Sunday, January 2, 2011


I guess I just want to contribute to whatever the big "so what" is. I think that's what grad school was about and what this ridiculous blog was about and why I've spent so much time in my life writing in silly journals in the top drawer of my side table in my journal.

I have a job where I get to write sometimes and even though the topics aren't really of my choosing, I love that. I love sitting in front of a computer and writing and deleting and obsessing over my choice of words. I would like that obsession to be about a subject of my own choosing.

And I realize that there's a reason why I always want to make films when I see one I love. I don't want to be just the audience anymore. I want to be the creator of some of those things that give other people the hunger I feel around inspiring things.

I don't know though, I think it just makes me a little mad about who I've become. I want to write but I want to write about something I care about. I thought McGill was the way to get there. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't; just because they won't let me in doesn't mean I'll quit though.