In Pursuit of Happiness, #3: Games, Sightseeing, and Home Cooking

With it being the holidays, as well as first Christmas I’ve spent with more than two other members of my family under one roof, I’ve had a lot to be happy about this past week – but I haven’t had much time to write about any of it, because…well, it’s our first family Christmas since 2009!

While this week’s edition of In Pursuit of Happiness will be short but sweet (like everyone in my family, with the exception of my six-footer brother-in-law whose extra height just means more space for total awesomeness), the rest of the good things that I’ve experienced during this holiday will provide more than enough material for the next few posts I’m working on.

Have a great and happy week!

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Playing games with my family: All of the adults are over twenty-five and the child among us is eleven-almost-twelve-but-really-going-on-forty, but in this family age has never been an acceptable reason to stop playing. My nephew taught my oldest sister and me how to play Ticket to Ride this afternoon, and as I’m writing this he’s reading through the instructions for Risk in preparation for a family showdown. My brother, nephew, and I have been packing Nerf heat all around the house to defend ourselves against ambushes from one another.

As an adult, I think play is a refreshing and integral part of my vacation routine – especially when my version of a vacation is hauling off to the middle of “flyover country” to spend time in suburban Ohio with my nephew, middle sister, and brother-in-law. Good, clean, wholesome family fun that makes memories for when we’re old and grey is always an excellent way to pass the time on vacation, especially if it’s been raining buckets all day.

City tours with my brother-in-law: Ever since our first family trip to Montréal in 2001, my brother-in-law’s skills as a tour guide have been indispensable to our family fun time on any trip we’ve taken.   This guy is an excellent tour guide, and even during today’s bout of rain he managed to make a car-bound tour of downtown Cincinnati and Hyde Park pretty interesting. What makes his tours so special is that he knows exactly what to say about the city that will interest the passengers in his car, which means nobody has a chance to doze off to some long litany of census information.

Home-cooking, sister style: My favourite second sister is a complete and utter magical genius fairy in the kitchen. Those of you who follow me on FaceTwitGram will be well aware of this fact by now, but I can’t resist tipping my hat off to her here.

Eating while on vacation is something that tends to affect most people by causing either complete abandon or paralyzing fear, especially when it comes to going on holiday to the United States. But whenever I come to Cincy to see my sister and her family I know that, with the exception of literally only a couple of restaurant options, the food I’m going to be eating under her roof will be wholesome, homemade, and perfectly aligned with my diet. I never have to worry about sacrificing exceptional food for the sake of my food plan, and I never have to worry if my annoying food photographs will turn out, either.

In Pursuit of Happiness, #1: Fitness, Aunties, and Podcasts

One of my current favourite podcasts, NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, finishes with a segment called “What’s making us happy this week.” The presenters go around the table to share the little things in today’s culture and society that, as the segment title suggests, make them happy.

Inspired yet again by NPR and in another attempt to keep my writing somewhat on track, I’m getting a bit of a jumpstart on my blog resolutions (‘tis the season!) by adding a new ongoing series: In Pursuit of Happiness. I’m aiming to have it be a Monday post, just to add a little bit of love and cheer to the day of the week that inarguably has the worst rep ever.

So, here’s what’s making me happy this week:

Early-morning workouts:  Every Monday morning since September, I’ve been getting up at 5:00AM to make it to the gym in time for a one-hour circuit training course that starts at 6:15. It’s a combination of strength and cardio training, usually done in two half-hour segments of a Tabata-style warmup followed by a CrossFit-style workout. I actually do this twice a week, the second round being on Wednesdays, but there are a few reasons why I’ve learned to love my (brutal and ridiculously) early morning workout.

Those of you who know me are well-aware that I’m so not a morning person, but my crazy work schedule means that 6:15AM at the very beginning of the work week is the only time I’m going to get in an hour of gym time on Mondays. However, nobody else seems to be driven by this particular circumstance, so I’m the only one who shows up. I essentially get an extra hour per week with my personal trainer, which means the Monday session is usually tailored to complement my regular training program (and she even works out with me sometimes to help keep my motivation up).  This blast of intense physical activity right at the beginning of my work week energizes me and gets me into the right mindset to keep up my fitness journey through the rest of the week.

And, oh my goodness, all the “body gains” that I’m starting to see from this are all so freakin’ worth it. I’ll be making a separate post about this entirely, but for now all I’ll say is that until last week I had never in my entire life experienced the utter joy of trying on a fitted dress and having it zip all the way up the back.

My “aunties” in Montreal:  It’s easier to refer to my brother-in-law’s mother, my brother-in-law’s aunt, and the neighbor lady in my mom’s building as my “aunties.” They’re all women of respectable age who have lived fascinating lives, and I’ve found that one of the simplest but most fulfilling little pleasures of my life is spending some time with them. Two Sundays ago, Auntie S (my mother’s neighbor) and I spent an afternoon looking around the arts centre where I do pottery, followed by exploring a new gourmet grocery in Griffintown called Le Richmond and then a quick coffee-and-croissant at Mamie Clafoutis on Notre-Dame. This weekend, my oldest sister and I had lunch with Auntie N and Auntie K at our family’s favourite Greek restaurant, Nostos (where they serve best fried calamari ever).

Most Millennials I know find it weird that I would willingly spend some of my few precious free hours with “old people,” but if you spent even just an hour with any one of these three women I think you’d see why I do it. Their lives are rich and full to bursting with stories – stories of another time and another world, and of women born between the World Wars who defied convention to establish successful careers, live independently, and see the world.  Having lived and grown in the midst of social upheavals and cultural revolutions, and in spite of gender-based barriers, these women are living examples of the advice found in one of my favourite TED quotes:

“Forge meaning, build identity, and then invite the world to share your joy.”
– Andrew Solomon

Welcome to Night ValeIt’s a known fact by now that I don’t listen to music at my desk job – audiobooks and podcasts are my aural entertainment of choice when I’m working for The Man. I thoroughly enjoy soaking up knowledge and culture through NPR’s many projects (TED Radio Hour, TED Talks, Pop Culture Happy Hour, Ask Me Another) and I always discover something new when I listen to any given episode of any given podcast. In fact, Ask Me Another led me to Welcome to Night Vale a couple of weeks ago, and I simply cannot get enough of it.

It’s difficult to explain Welcome to Night Vale in so many words. The premise of the show is that it’s the community news bulletin for a desert-bound town – but it’s a town where the outrageous, paranormal, and unconventional are, in fact, completely normal. When something out of Night Vale’s version of ordinary happens, however, listeners will discover that the weird, odd, and quirky people of Night Vale are strangely just like us in many ways. They live, laugh, love, and learn; they come together as a community in the face of threats and adversity; they adopt cats and go on dates and deal with family dramas and live in barely-masked fear and wariness of all levels of governmental authority.

You kind of have to experience it for yourself to understand the extent of its awesomeness.

As a plus, the “Weather” segment of each podcast episode is a song from an indie or underground musician, and I’ve discovered some pretty cool tunes as a result. And, as an even bigger plus, there’s also a Welcome to Night Vale novel out now.

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So, there you have it – the things making me happy this week! I hope you all have a lovely one ahead, and I’ll see you back here next Monday to share more small steps taken in the pursuit of happiness.

Don’t stick up your heels, girls

((or, a young urban professional’s rant on the world’s oldest profession))

According to Reuters, the hottest headline from Wall Street is all about an intern who gave up her position in the world of finance to assume many new ones in that of porn.

Before you follow suit and trade your office pumps for stripper heels, you can read all about it.

Quite frankly, there’s nothing wrong with quitting a soul-sucking job to pursue something more fulfilling and meaningful — something that you love and can truly define you. I don’t have a problem with that.

What I do have a problem with is the fact that this young woman — who is described as being “promising” in her field, clearly has some kind of ambition, and comes from a background privileged enough to afford higher education — feels that pornography is where she will find that kind of life-changing gratification.

Why does this incite today’s post?

It means we live in a world world where a young woman who has social and professional advantages feels that her true calling is to give herself away to an industry fuelled by people who don’t care. They don’t care about who she is or where she’s coming from: they care about her body and the fact that in her search for her own gratification, it’s ended up available on the Internet for them to use for their own gratification.

It means we live in a world where women who have never had to fight for women’s civil rights believe that they’re in the moral and social right to act promiscuously, either on a personal level through recreational sex or on a more public level such as through pornography. They think this because society places the wrong kind of importance on sex, because popular culture has made women’s liberation all about morally and socially legitimising the exploitation of women.

It means that despite being able to share in all the advantages and privileges that were once exclusive to our male counterparts at all stages of life, some women today still feel that their sexuality and their bodies are the things that will make them truly successful. That’s because the adult entertainment industry is worth billions, and makes those billions by twisting the ambition of bright young women to perpetuate business.

It means we live in a world where a line exists between a hooker on the street and an adult entertainer on the screen. In other words, ours is a society that looks down its nose at some forms of prostitution while simultaneously praising others. Because in the end, trading one’s body and sexuality for money is prostitution, and therefore porn is probably the highest rung on the career ladder of the world’s oldest profession. Young women who work in pornography think it’s alright simply because the porn industry has taken sexual exploitation off the streets, prettied it up, and marketed it as entertainment.

Before I step off the soap box, I’ll leave you with this: would any of you who support this young woman’s decision be so keen to do the same if the person in question was your sister, daughter, girlfriend, or cousin? Because that’s who every girl in the pornography industry really is, once the clothes are put back on.

Reflections of a Former “Doormat” Girlfriend

As far as relationships go, in the past I’ve tended to really suck at them.  Let’s face it:  we all tend to suck at them at one point or another in our lives, and even good, solid relationships have their fair share of rough patches.  The trick is to start learning from our past mistakes before they become habits – easier said than done, I know, but it’s only once we’re finally able to look at ourselves and accept that we’ve screwed up that we’re able to grow.

I remember that, on the night of first-ever breakup, my mother asked me, “Why did you break up with him?”  And even back then, my seventeen-year-old self knew the real reason:  forget that he was living in Europe at the time, or that he had a female friend with whom he’d been getting a little too cosy, or that we were teenagers who thought they knew more about life and love than anyone else in the world.  Our two-year adolescent relationship hadn’t been working well for the better part of a year, and I had finally seen it for what it was:  a dead end.  I ended it with him because I knew that he wasn’t going to be able to give me what I wanted, which was the kind of love and life shared by my parents.

Call it old-fashioned.  Call it naïve.  Call it wishful thinking.  Call it whatever you want but that’s the truth.  My parents had an amazing life together and, as saccharinely Disney as it sounds, they really had a once-in-a-million years kind of love.  And who doesn’t want that?

I had gone into that first relationship with the faith of a child because I was a child, and it wasn’t exactly the easiest first relationship to deal with either.  I had spent most of my time with him trying to change him from who he was into what I thought he should be, and that was my contribution to the eventual demise of our relationship.  I thought his professions of love (or perhaps it’s more apt to say “love-like feelings”) included an inherent desire to make sure I was always happy, and that he would go about ensuring my happiness by giving in to each and every last one of my petty, childish demands.  (Naturally, my chosen adjectives here are bestowed in retrospect:  at the time, they all seemed reasonable.)

Post-breakup reflections led me to the following conclusion:  I wouldn’t be pushy and bratty in my next relationship.  (Obviously, this occurred after enough time had passed for me to believe that my poor broken heard really could mend enough for me to think about making another attempt at love…but I digress.)  I was determined to never be “that girl” ever again.  My next boyfriend would enjoy a nagging-free experience with me, and I would be a girlfriend who wouldn’t need to be told to “chill out” all the time.  No, sir!  I would be the girlfriend that would make his buddies wish they had girlfriends like me, simply by being selfless enough to cater to his needs – and, in turn, he would totally return the favour and be accommodating of all of mine.  Naturally.

Naturally, those of us who have gone around the proverbial block know that none of this happened.  To quote my mother, we all know none of this happened because

“the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

I assure you, although “Hell” might seem a tad melodramatic here, that’s actually a pretty good description for my second relationship.  Being the “cool” girlfriend quickly spiralled down, alarmingly fast, into a place where I became the “doormat” girlfriend.  In our on-again/off-again relationship (a two-year ordeal during with our time together was punctuated by increasingly worse fights and “being on breaks”), I was so desperate to please him.  I was, in fact, so desperate that I actually ended up giving him the power to deconstruct me, piece by piece, until I was emotionally small enough to be completely beneath him.  Or wrapped around his finger.  Or under his thumb.  Or completely out of sight (but nonetheless always available).

Essentially, I allowed one person to manipulate and sweet-talk me into compromising my ideals, my self-worth, and my entire self.  And, by the time I realised it, I was not only desperate to keep him, but desperate to do so in order to prove everyone wrong.  Because by this time, everyone in my life who genuinely cared about me could see that he did not.

Ancient Greek mythology is rife with stories that deal with the concept of hubris.  It’s one of those foreign-language (not to mention ancient) words that has no direct-to-English translation.  Often mistaken as pride, hubris is actually the dire consequences of pride – the lesson, if you will, or perhaps the fall that cometh after.  And in an agonisingly twisted way, I still had some pride – albeit the wrong kind – when it came to the sorry state of my second relationship.  I didn’t want to admit that I’d failed again at being a “good” girlfriend.  For starters, I’d done everything differently this time, so how could it be possible that things weren’t working out?  My pride decreed that I stick with it as long as necessary.  It told me that it would not end because of any lack of trying on my part.

In short, I had to go down with the ship.

My tale of hubris began with a horrific fight (the worst night of my life, actually) that preceded the revelation that nobody in a relationship ever wants to have:  despite all my efforts, he had been seeing somebody behind my back ever since our last break-and-make-up some months before.  In a strange way, though, our last fight had been so emotionally raw that this discovery was oddly cathartic.  In its wake, I actually realised several things about this relationship, as well as about its predecessor.

First, it hit me that despite these two different experiences, I would eventually be able to muster up the courage to allow myself to fall in love again – I just needed to figure out my own self and deal with my own issues before that could happen.  Second, I realised I’d had all the right nuggets of ideas in both relationships – it had been my approach in both that had helped derail everything.

I’m not saying that either of these guys is blameless:  evidently, neither can be described as such.  But yes, I was a contributor in my own right – a catalyst to a host of problems.  Instead of trying to find a common ground or agreeable midpoint with either of them, I polarised myself.  Yes – a good relationship includes wanting the other half to be happy.  Yes – a good relationship changes you in many ways.  Yes – a good relationship has a lot of giving in it.

But these things have to mutual, and constantly so; none of them are the exclusive, sole responsibility of one half.  To expect and to demand that a relationship operate on the grounds of the latter is both selfish and cruel.  A good relationship is not a 50/50 deal or any other division of effort that totals 100.  A good relationship is two people each giving 100% of themselves in order to make things work.

Being in love is sometimes equated to being drunk:  you do and say things that you wouldn’t under sober circumstances, and sometimes things seem beyond your control.  But maybe you’ve heard the advice that when you’re drunk, you should try sleeping with one foot on the floor because it’ll help with the dizziness (and yes, this totally works).  The same goes for being in love:  you have to keep one foot firmly planted on a solid foundation, and if your other half really and truly cares for you they won’t demand that you change what that foundation is made of, or ask that you jump off it altogether.  Nor should you expect that of them.

Because in the end, any relationship is built on the foundations that come with both parties involved…and any good relationship combines those foundations so that each half of it can build up the other.  And yes, while all relationships have their own problems the difference is that in a good one, both sides are on equal footing and work together to sort it out.

I mean, life is had enough – why make it harder?  Why let the one person who should always be in your corner go to the other side of the ring?

My Father’s Month

February is a month that will always remind me of my father.  For my parents, Valentine’s Day was “their” day (no surprise, what with five children squawking in the nest) and my father, the great romantic, always had something special for my mother.  February was also the month of his birthday (which, in 2004, he came to share with my nephew).  And February was the month in which he passed away in 2012.

My father was 57 when he passed away, and many people have asked me if it was a sudden passing, such as an accident or heart attack – to which I must sadly reply, no.  He went peacefully in his sleep after a long and arduous battle with both Parkinson’s and Ankylosing Spondylitis.  It was so long, in fact, that I do not remember my father as the healthy, spry, and vivacious man that started our family in 1974.  To me, Poppie was always stooped, shuffling, and shaking.  However, to me he was no less a man or father than any other out there.  Poppie was a man of great faith and wisdom.  He had a strength of character than very few people in this day and age could hope to claim, and he was utterly selfless and entirely devoted to his family.  And for somebody suffering from debilitating diseases, Poppie never uttered a word of complaint out loud.  He never used his disabilities and illnesses as an excuse for anything, not even when most people would probably say that he had every right to do so.  Surprisingly, he remained rather self-sufficient until quite literally the day he died, working slowly through unimaginable pain each day to bathe, clothe, and feed himself just so that he would not overburden my mother.

And while his physical strength had never been enough to carry me as a child – and, towards the end, to even embrace me for longer than a few fleeting moments – my father carried within him an inner strength that was able to shoulder the weight of my world, and that of everyone else in his life.  My father had the courage and the faith to find something truly wonderful and good in the midst of his physical suffering.

At a euthanasia hearing here in Montréal in 2011, my father gave the following speech.  This is his legacy to me, and it is not one of despair and self-pity, but one of hope and great dignity.

I’ve had Parkinson’s Disease since 14 years ago at age 42; shortly thereafter I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, a form of arthritis that among other things, fused most of the upper vertebrae of my spinal column. Last summer I had an MI—otherwise known as a heart attack.

I know the physical pain and the mental suffering that go with those medical conditions: the feeling of not being useful anymore, the humbling reality of not being able to do the activities of daily living, the prospect of getting worse (especially with chronic and degenerative diseases) and being a continued burden on the family.

That said, I empathize with those who are in terminal stages and in severe pain. They face hard choices and at times are alone in their plight or feel they have lost or are going to lose their dignity and have become intolerable burdens for their families. But perhaps, a different outlook is needed to find meaning behind all this pain and suffering, a more positive outlook that I believe has already helped others to look at death in a new light and discover that euthanasia is not the only alternative to preserve one’s dignity.

These medical conditions are blessings rather than punishment. The pain and suffering are opportunities we get for offering them up for the intentions of our loved ones and friends.

Let me explain: It is a basic human instinct to help anyone in need, more so if the one in trouble is a loved one. The help can be either material or non-material, sometimes both. A non-material help can be just simply good wishes and keeping in mind the one in need of help. Whatever form it takes, helping someone requires giving up or offering up something of value because we have empathy, the desire to be united with the one who is in need. Even if we are disabled, and perhaps because we are disabled, we can be of much help to those in need by offering up for them the things we have that are valuable: our pain and suffering, the sense of isolation and desperation—and the greater the pain and suffering, the more valuable and effective our offering up becomes.

We can become an inspiration for our family and friends. Remember John Paul II – who also had Parkinson’s – and was universally acknowledged by the world which witnessed the last minutes of his life still doing his work for which he had great passion. Perhaps having the courage and the strength to live to the end without resorting to euthanasia would be the best legacy we can bequeath to our family. This is genuine dignity.

To all my fellow disabled, we should not feel useless and unwanted, for we are the treasures of humanity: treasures that are valuable and irreplaceable. We should not allow ourselves to be discarded like objects that have no practical value at all, that have outlived their usefulness and have become instead an unacceptable burden for others. We are the treasures of humanity which remind the world that despite the fragility of human nature and its inevitable mortality, the dignity of every human being is based on his or her right to be of service to others precisely through their pains and suffering offered up for the needs and welfare of their family and friends.

Lost and Found in Translation

This particular headline has been popping up on my FaceBook news feed all evening.  And it is why I am still awake at this hour, writing this blog post for all of you.  In the sprit of this post, if you want translations of the paragraphs that are not in your language of preference, let me know.  It might take a couple of days to get it posted, but if I have to make this entire thing totally bilingual for you, I will.

(NB:  No translators, Internet or Human, were used in this blog post.  Any glaring mistakes are mine and mine alone, but please let me know so that I can improve.  Especially since I tend to offer unsolicited corrections to mistakes made in English.)

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You could probably say I’m used to knowing what it’s like being one of the “others.”  As the youngest child of an immigrant family from Southeast Asia, I grew up as a visible ethnic minority.  I was terribly conscious of the fact that I was not blonde and blue-eyed (and, to add insult to injury, for the longest time I had the Asian-child bowl cut as well).  My daily nourishment was food my schoolmates considered gross and inedible because it wasn’t red meat, two veg, and potatoes, but strange, smelly, saucy concoctions of seafood, pork, and chicken served with mountains of rice.  (Some of you might think that’s actually pretty cool, but most six-year-olds I know wouldn’t agree.  See the problem I had as one?)

And I actually spoke flawless English and read at a higher reading level than what was available in my elementary school’s library – but because I’m a visible minority, it was believed that I ought to be put into ESL classes anyway.  (Luckily, my oldest brother was made the guinea pig for this, and after literally making an afternoon of the entire ESL course, he – and by extension, I too – was deemed to be in good English standing and allowed to remain in the normal curriculum.)  But, little did I know — this was the first of many challenging experiences I would have in my life regarding language.

À huit ans, j’ai eu ma première expérience avec la langue française.  Madame Crockett, ma maîtresse pour la troisième année, était une francophone bilingue qui a eu le désir à amener sa langue maternelle à tous ses étudiants.  Avec elle, j’ai commencé un grand voyage:  d’apprendre une nouvelle langue.  Tout au long de l’école primaire, j’ai pris des cours de francais avec Madame Crockett.

Avant que je continue, je veux vous informer que les cours qui sont disponible pour les écoles primaires à la Colombie-Britannique sont très simple.  En fait, le programme pour les cours au niveau primaire est répétitif et on doit attendre pour l’école secondaire d’apprendre plus que les choses de base (comme les conversations brèves, les chiffres, les couleurs, le calendrier, etc).  Mais tous les écoliers ont l’opportunité à prendre les cours de français à partir de leurs jeunesses.  Donc, mes parents – qui parlent chez nous en anglais et aussi dans la langue philippine – ont pris la décision que ses enfants parlent dans les deux langues officiels du Canada.

Because we were not in Early French Immersion but rather in a totally Anglophone primary school, my brothers and I all had to wait until we were thirteen and in grade eight to begin Late French Immersion.  This program lasted four years, during which we all took at least four of our eight required subjects in French (and in which we all excelled).  After taking an extra regular French course in my senior year to have another Provincial Exam under my belt for university admissions requirements, my classroom education in French was neatly tied up in a final grade of 96% given to me by the provincial government.  I was then accepted to Concordia University in Montréal, and I moved from British Columbia to Québec with a lot of optimism.  I would be going to an English university, but I would be living in a French city.  I would actually get to use the language I’d been learning in school.

However, upon landing here I found a fly in that honey.  You see, Late French Immersion had prepared me best to read, write, and – to a much lesser extent – listen in French..but as far as speaking was concerned, most of what we’d done had been scripted.  That included most of our oral exams, as we were given several questions to prepare ahead of time (and then we’d only have to answer a few of them).  I did not have much by way of ability to speak in French when I arrived in Montréal, and learning to understand it when it was being spoken to me at the speed of an animated chipmunk was a challenge unto itself.  And for the first two years of my life in Montréal, I actually lost more French than I gained simply because most of the Francophones I met would switch to English because “this way, it’s easier for everyone.” (These people then became the ones who would relentlessly rag on me, demanding to know why I “hadn’t yet made an effort.”)

Mais en 2011, une poste dans un environnement francophone m’a donné des nouveaux collègues et amis qui ont remarqué (dans une manière positive) sur mes faiblesses. Malgré la barrière de la langue, ces gens francophones au travail m’ont aidé beaucoup à améliorer mes compétences et à gagner la confiance à communiquer dans une deuxième langue.  Je me souviens une expérience sur la plancher du magasin quand j’ai eu beaucoup des difficultés avec un client qui était un francophone militant (en plus, il était très impatient).  Par miracle, j’ai complété la transaction toute seule avec succès, mais l’expérience m’a laissé découragée et frustrée.

Deux jours plus tard, j’ai pris la bouffe avec un ami, Félix Antoine.  On a discuté la question de la langue pendant qu’on mangé, et quand je lui ai dis de l’expérience que j’ai décrit en haut, il m’arrêté:  “Je t’ai entendu, Angela, quand tu as parlé avec les clients francophones sur le plancher.  Tu as plus des compétences que tu penses.”

So, I hear you ask, what’s my point?

Yes, one culture can point out what’s wrong with the other. Yes, we can all argue that neither side is perfect and that both sides have much room to improve. These are truths about the society in which we, as residents of Québec, live and work and study.  But if we spend all of our time bickering with one another about language and culture, we will all miss the opportunities we have in this unique province to learn and grow together.  It’s the little things that bolster us and motivate us to continue.  There is so much more to be said about acknowledgement of effort and continuous encouragement than of shortcomings and closed-minded criticism.

À tous mes amis francophones qui m’a aident avec l’amélioration en ma deuxième langue:  je vous remercie beaucoup.  C’est grâce à vous que j’étais motivé d’écrire ce blog aujourd’hui.  Et pour ceux d’entre vous qui m’a demandé pour l’aide avec l’anglais, c’est toujours un plaisir.  Quand on partage la connaissance et les compétences, quand on peut reconnaître les opportunités pour l’amitié au milieu des différences — on peut vivre.

Why being asked to make a sandwich (or any kind of foodstuff) doesn’t offend me as much as you think it should

“Wait, what?  She’s posting another entry so soon?  Didn’t she just post one yesterday?”

I know, I know – it’s weird for me to be posting a day after my last one.  But today something dropped into my lap and I felt like I should probably address this one in a timely manner.

If you’ve been keeping up, you know that my first post of 2014 was all about cinnabuns, and if you watched the video you’ll know that the reason why I did the tutorial in the first place was to demonstrate how I made the ones that I gave to a friend of mine for Christmas.  It just so happens that this friend was of the male variety, and that he is a connoisseur of cinnabuns (and most sweets and cakes in general).  It just so happens that his discerning confectionary palate gave the seal of approval to my recipe.

And somehow, this entire scenario sets feminism back 50 years – at least according to a message I received from an acquaintance of mine with whom I had a couple of courses back in the early days of the Classics half of my degree.

I’m not naming names – I’m not into the whole “shaming” trend that’s sweeping the internet these days – but I do feel I need to say something about this.  Now, before I begin, I do think I have to make a bit of a disclaimer:  I’m not going to put on airs and pretend I’m an expert on the entire topic of feminism, simply because I’m not.  I’m well aware that feminism has changed, and that today’s is much more variegated than that of yesteryears.  I am also very aware that, because of the different types of feminism running around these days, there are certain factions that are more outspoken and receive more attention than others.  And that’s kind of the entire point of this entire post, so hang in there, okay?

Whatever the case may be, and whatever your thoughts on the subject are, I’m pretty sure that feminism ought not put down the things that make women who they are.

I would – and do – consider myself a modern woman.  I am independent and well-informed of what’s going on in the world.  I have a university degree and I earn my own living.  I’m conscious of my gender’s social liberties in the twenty-first century and, on occasion, do partake in some of them.  I enjoy the company of both genders, and have a mix of friends from all walks of life, ethnic backgrounds, belief systems, and sexual orientations.  On occasion, I’ve been known to muster up enough courage and gumption to ask a fellow out for a drink – and as long as I don’t leave the pub on a blacklist for walking on a round or two, I really don’t care how the tab gets divvied up and paid.  I know there’s much, much more to being a modern woman than these mere superficialities, but I think you get the idea.

And despite all this, just because I baked a box of treats to give to one of my guy friends for Christmas, and because I called my cinnabuns “boy-approved,” a person’s entire opinion of me drastically changed:  verbatim,

“When we were in class together, you always struck me as a strong woman, one with character, who believed in a feminine ideal.  Now, it seems I was mistaken.  You’d probably make this guy a sandwich at his beck and call.”

So I read that.  Several times over.  And then, I got to thinking.  (“Oh, no.”)

If we women can spend much of our free time challenging the social (mis)conceptions of physical feminine beauty, why can’t we all just be “in for a penny, in for a pound” on femininity as a whole and celebrate the internal things that make us all beautiful and unique, that give us all character and depth and personality?  Because in the same way that there’s more than one face, body type, cup size, hair colour, and ethnicity in this world, there is more than one kind of woman.  And if we as women believe there should be nothing wrong with how different we all look, then there shouldn’t be anything wrong with there being a variety to our personalities and the ways by which we express our femininity.

Feminism should not be about hating on men and hating on those women who still have a more old-fashioned or traditional way of going about our lives.  As one of my closest friends said, “It’s about equal rights and opportunities.”  It’s about being seen as humans, not as objects with purely ornamental functions and value in a barter-and-trade system.  It’s about having the freedom to do what makes us happy without fear of judgment, criticism, and ostracism.  Right?

So, if there’s more to being women than how we look, then we should celebrate, accept, and embrace those non-physical traits that make us human.  And if we live in a world were most of our daily routines are driven by out power to exercise the right to choose one thing over another so as to make ourselves happy, then why should any of us have to be subjected to lecturing and criticism from members of either gender for choosing to do the things that bring us happiness?  And if being a woman is truly not a competition (as a sign protesting a pageant states) then why should any woman take it upon herself to judge another woman’s femininity?  I do not pass unwarranted judgement on women – of any age – who are more career-minded, self-driven, and socially liberal than I am simply because I don’t think anyone has the right to pass judgement on anyone else who has a different mentality, set of values, or point of view.  Variety makes the world interesting and it keeps us all open-minded.

At least, it should.  

So what if some of my more outward expressions of femininity are more old-fashioned than another woman’s?  So what if I think there’s still joy to be found in cooking and baking, and sharing the results with friends?  So what if I choose to show people that I care about them and appreciate their friendship in a way that is unusually personal and strikingly heartfelt in the middle of the capitalist frenzy known in retail as “holiday shopping”?  Is it really so bad to spend some time putting thought into a present for a person whose company and friendship you value?  Pray tell, what exactly about being a modern woman with a few old-fashioned and traditional views and values is so incredibly detrimental to my gender’s overall social status?

Go chew on that for a while as I leave you now to make a sandwich…which I, myself, will eat tomorrow at the office.