You know how you have that friend who makes you feel like a total underachiever? They’re not only constantly doing a million cool things, but they’re excelling at them. They’re world-changers, go-getters, creative geniuses, and probably just plain old regular geniuses too. They’d be completely insufferable if they weren’t also damned hilarious and kind.
My friend Alice Irene is one such annoying genius. Just hearing about the things she has on the go at any given time makes me want to take a nap.
A couple of years ago after meeting Veronica Kettle of the African Women Education and Development Forum, Irene came up with an idea to address the challenges many women around the world face due to harmful taboos attached to menstruation in their communities.
For many women around the world, menstruation is considered an actual curse, to the point where, in some cultures, they may be banished to a tiny isolation shed, offering inadequate shelter from the elements for the duration of their periods so that they will not contaminate their own homes with their “impurity.”
Even when not taken to such extremes, the taboo, shame and mystery around menstruation, combined with the prohibitive cost of feminine hygiene products, often means that women are forced to use ineffective methods to manage their periods, which can in turn endanger their health.
It’s not difficult to see how women in developing countries being prevented from working for several days every month, all while feeling ashamed and confused about their own bodies could have a hugely negative impact not only on their physical and mental well-being, but on their economic security and that of their families as well.
So how do you go about empowering women living in a culture with such stigma?
Well, if you’re my amazing friend, you start a partnership with the African Women Education and Development Forum, send 350 reusable menstrual cups to women in rural Cameroon and invite them to take part in workshops where information about menstruation and female reproductive health is distributed and discussed by/with health professionals. For many of them, it was the first time they had access to this vital information about their own bodies.
The response from every woman who took part was so overwhelmingly positive. Reading their feedback and realizing what a huge impact something as simple as a small, sustainable tool and a little bit of knowledge would have on their lives got me more than a little choked up. I immediately volunteered to help with whatever needed doing for the next phase of the project.
The next phase, as it turns out, will be taking the project to 5000 more women in Cameroon, a number we will be able to reach in part because the Mother Nature Partnership, it was announced this week, will be one of the (over-the-moon thrilled and grateful!) recipients of the Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations grants!
We still have lots of work and fundraising ahead of us to make this happen, and I’ve taken on the task of trying to drum up some interest through social media, which is where you, my internet savvy friends come in.
Or, if any of you bloggers are interested in the project, and feel like writing about it or how to go about taking something like this from an idea in the shower to an actual living, breathing organization, please-oh-please feel free to drop me a line!
I was fortunate enough to grow up in an absurdly beautiful little theatre town. Of course, I was fairly immune to its charms as a kid and too busy rolling my eyes as a teen (seriously, there’s a traffic jam because a swan is crossing the road right now and 50 tourists have abandoned their vehicles to photograph it???) to really look around and appreciate it.
So it’s always fun to bring a friend home for the first time and see the place through their un-jaded eyes. This weekend I brought four of them. We had a blast strolling through the park, paddle boating on the river, browsing the little shops downtown, creeping around backstage at one of the theatres, eating spectacular meals and just breathing the small-town air (which, I kid you not, smelled like flowers everywhere we went. Ridiculous.)
My parents were kind enough to put us up for the weekend as well as being super charming and extremely generous with food and drink and are now more popular with my friends than I am.
I was worried it might be a difficult trip as at one point, not so long ago someone suggested we make it our wedding weekend. I was just optimistic and crazy-in-love enough to agree. I’d be married in the park with the lilacs in May.
My words were plans and promises. His were just words.
But I think facing that wedding-less date side by side with some of my beautiful, hilarious friends and family was exactly the right thing to do.
Of course there were moments that nipped at my heart. Little glimpses of the weekend that wasn’t revealed themselves. An empty marquee, lace, the lilacs.
But I went to sleep on our last night, filled with visions of blue sky, bumblebees and sparklers, exhausted from laughing, eating, playing and lying in the sun.
I went to sleep feeling nothing but peace.
I love to write.
Shocking, I know. You probably all thought I was writing this blog as some kind of hair shirt until now, but I promise you, it’s true. I love to write.
But I grooooaaan like a waterlogged old door in a haunted house whenever I have to write one particular thing.
The dreaded “short bio”.
By rights it should be easy. I mean, what subject am I more of an authority on than me? And Heaven knows I’ve written enough of them, from dating profiles, blog About Me’s to professional cover letters.
Why is it so hard to write about ourselves, to get ourselves down on paper? Does anyone like writing these? Is it possible to write one without spiralling into some kind of ridiculous existential crisis?
I breathe deep, and try to bring it back to the basics. The solid facts about me.
I know that I am a 27-year-old 5’2”-ish woman with brown hair and green eyes.
I know that I have a journalism background, I am competent in photoshop. I have buckets of administrative and customer service experience.
I know that I try hard to be kind and loyal and compassionate and honest. I think that I usually am.
I know that I talk a lot.
I know that I laugh a lot.
I love words. I make terrible puns and delight in nerdy wordplay.
I’m messy, I’m curious, I’m friendly, I’m affectionate. I’m goofy. I’m strange.
I’m an activist, feminist, karaoke enthusiast.
I make dove “coo-ing” sounds unconsciously when I’m excited or content or bored.
I have amazing friends and family whom I love fiercely.
I like to travel. I like to bake. I enjoy theatre and music and television and crocheting and indoor rock climbing.
I am opinionated and often, I think the world would run better if everyone just did what I told them to do.
I live my life guided by a fine balance of intuition and logic and maybe a little bit of magic.
I love to cuddle when I’m awake but almost never when I sleep.
I’m far from blind to the evils of the world, but I’m determinedly optimistic.
And of course, I’m introspective and navel-gazey and apparently utterly incapable of writing a comprehensive and succinct autobiography.
Am I the only one who finds this a totally daunting task? Do you find it easier or harder to describe yourself in a limited number of words as opposed to others?
Sometimes, when I talk with my mom, I get the strange sense that I’m talking to my older, wiser self.
We are so similar in so many ways, from the way we speak, the colours we wear and our political beliefs, to the way we press a hand to our chests when we laugh uncontrollably.
There are a scrillion things my mom has taught me. Both deliberately, directly and by example.
She’s taught me to be an activist, partly by example and partly by actually bringing me along to help with Amnesty International fundraisers from a young age. Trying to help muffled voices be heard appealed to my strong little girl sense of justice, and it’s stuck with me ever since.
She’s taught me to value education, but that it needn’t be traditional to be valuable. My mom is the definition of a lifelong learner. She’s constantly acquiring new skills and information, using whatever means are available to her, creating a personalized curriculum that covers exactly what she is interested in, in turn making her a passionate and dedicated student.
My mom (and dad) have taught me to choose a partner who I admire, and love but also who I can be my goofy weirdo self around and laugh and play with. Their love for each other is something to see, and hopefully it will help me to recognize mine, should it come along.
There’s a reason I’m such a hit at potlucks, and it’s almost entirely my mom. One of her career reincarnations when my brother and I were kids was as a professional baker. She made exquisite, elegant little pastries, cookies, tarts and beautiful, beautiful wedding cakes. I tried to resist learning as a young teenager, (you know, because of the angst and all) but I picked a lot up by pure virtue of the fact that our kitchen was constantly a hive of baking activity, and when I eventually grew out of resisting, she was gracious enough to teach me how to make a few of my favourites. She also insisted that both my brother and I become competent at cooking for ourselves as early as possible so that we’d never be reliant on fast food or a microwave.
I was never prone to thievery, (recent accusations and that time toddler Sarah stole the Toblerone bar and the change from our Swiss Chalet chicken dinner where it was later discovered in her toybox aside) so I forget how it started, but when my brother or I left the house, the last thing my mom would say, after “love ya! have fun!” was, “don’t steal!” and it’s been a running joke in our family for years, but more importantly, I’ve never taken up cat burglary. So. Ten points mom.
She’s taught me how to take care of people, to have empathy, to be generous.
She’s taught me to love books, to be creative in every aspect of my life, and to choose my words with care.
And every time I see her, she teaches me and reminds me what it means to walk out into the big bad world with unwavering love and support at my back.
And that makes all the difference.
Whenever I hear a woman putting down her appearance or talking about excersising or dieting or “cleansing” with the specific goal of changing the way she looks, my instinct is to model the opposite behaviour.
Suddenly I’m terrifically confident about or indifferent to my own appearance. I’ll talk about how much I love food and how I really only exercise so that I can continue to eat large amounts of it without dying, (and for the endorphins and an excuse to wear stretchy pants).
I tell my friends they’re stunning brilliant and amazing and they don’t need to worry about their looks. I genuinely mean it and I genuinely think it’s insane when any of them lament some aspect or other of their physical appearance.
And yet, I understand it too.
I understand that the cosmetics and fashion industries rely on our insecurities and dissatisfaction with ourselves, our looks or other aspects of our lives to make their money.
I understand that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, making the standards of beauty we are all supposed to strive for just totally crazy. Who decided unibrows weren’t sexy anyway?
You’d think that because I understand that, and because I understand that focusing and convincing women to focus so much on their appearance, not only undermines their acheivements, but can keep them from even trying to achieve in the first place, because I have strong, smart un-superficial role models it would be easy for me to say no thanks, throw out all my cosmetics, buy only ethically manufactured, comfortable, durable, functional clothing and just opt right out of that system.
I want to be a stronger person, to be secure and happy with who I am, to have enough going on in my life that I’m not left with any time for trivial vanity, and often, or at least sometimes, I am that person. But sometimes I’m not.
So on top of feeling ashamed of the way I look now and then, I also feel ashamed that I care, for being so susceptible to advertising and societal pressure, for being distracted by superficial crap like how long my eyelashes look or what my waistline measures. Double the guilt! Lucky me.
But there are undeniable advantages to being considered conventionally attractive. Beyond the praise that comes along with a trim figure, a pretty smile, or carefully styled hair, studies have disturbingly shown that “good” looks can have an impact on your career, with thin, pretty women earning more and being promoted over women outside of that category.
How do we teach kids or ourselves that it’s what’s inside that counts, when the society we live in and the media we consume are so determined to convince us otherwise?
I don’t really have a solution, beyond teaching children to value kindness and intelligence, loyalty and determination, to prize deeds over looks, to worry about health over hairstyles.
We can teach them to turn the critical eye advertisers would have them view themselves and their bodies with back on to the media and the advertisers themselves.
And maybe they can teach it back to us.
The city really came alive this weekend. It felt like we jumped straight from winter to summer as flowers and windows popped open and people shed the drab outer layers of winter in favour of florals and stripes and colour, colour, colour. Except me of course, I wear nothing but black rompers. I felt like Dorothy, waking up in vibrant Oz after a winter of sepia tones on the farm.
It was a working weekend for me, but I still managed to pop out to Friday Night Live at the ROM, had dinner out and a slumber party with my wonderful mom and took a Sunday stroll down graffiti alley (that’s me hanging out with some of Poser’s bunnies in the top left corner).
What did you get up to this weekend, pets?
The cherry blossoms have begun to spring open in Toronto this week, which means that this weekend, scores of people will flock to High Park to stroll around under the breaktakingly lovely, delicate trees in the gorgeous sunshine we’ve been waiting so long for.
I love that no matter how much incredible technological entertainment we come up with, nature still has the power to astound and delight us, to stop us in our tracks and inspire us.
I’m stuck in the city working this weekend while my friends dash off to enjoy the weather at cottages and farms, but my mamma and one of my aunties are coming to stay with me, AND ROM Friday Night Live is back for the season. Drinks and dinos here I come!
Fabulous Hanna, over at Excelsior Lady wrote a beautiful, thoughtful post last week about letting go of judgmental habits and looking inwards to our own attitudes and actions rather than trying to force that growth and change on others, (or at least that’s how I understood her post) because as she most emphatically states: “There is no point in trying to control anyone else.”
She goes on to say that this is why she doesn’t get involved in discussions or debates surrounding hot-button political issues such as gun control, abortion, gay marriage, immigration, or religion. As she explains it: “I have absolutely no right to tell anyone else what to do with their life, and the same goes for them…We cannot keep assuming what’s best for ourselves is also best for everyone else.”
It is a lovely and empathetic way to look at things and I admire her very much for recognizing and articulating that simply trying to impose our values onto others without listening to what they actually need as opposed to what we assume they need does not work.
It is for exactly this reason that I think it’s so important for people not to remain silent about these issues. Because the idea of just living and letting live is beautiful, and yes, sometimes it feels absolutely futile and/or presumptuous to try to change a mind, but at some point in reality, that will crash up against the rights and freedoms we believe in. The written-down, lawed-up rights and freedoms that are necessary for society to function.
There will come a point when something impacts us so directly, so obviously, that we won’t be able to ignore it or keep our opinions to ourselves and we’ll wish we’d lent our voices to the cause earlier.
This doesn’t mean screaming our unfounded opinions at the top of our lungs without regard for anyone else’s experience. It means educating ourselves as much as possible about the issues and the laws that shape the world around us. It means listening and participating in discussions and, possibly most importantly, asking questions to do just this. It means carefully considering the opposing viewpoint. It means seeking compromise.
And yes, sometimes it means smiling, agreeing to disagree and moving on.
I think many of us are afraid to add to the noise surrounding these issues, to chime in or make our voices heard if we aren’t sure we have all of the information or are saying quite the right thing, but sometimes saying the wrong thing and having someone explain why it’s wrong or just explain a different perspective to you is the best way to learn more about an issue.
It’s not someone else’s job to make decisions for us and build the society we want. It’s up to us to demand and make the changes necessary to build that society. The one where, as much as possible, people can live and let live.
But we won’t get there if we’re afraid of discussion.
And we won’t change the status quo by being silent.
All right, so to be strictly accurate, there was no actual sea involved in my weekend, but there was seafood, and a trip to the Toronto Islands, by boat no less! And uh, I had to pay a fare to do so. So…the title stands!
I’m determined to spend as much time on the islands this summer as I can. I’d almost forgotten how ridiculously beautiful and peaceful it is over there. It’s so strange to be able to see the whole city, to be so close to it, but without the sound of a car in earshot. One of my dearest, darlingest friends had us over for a lovely, relaxed Sunday lunch and it was the perfect mini-break from yet another busy Toronto weekend.
I made some new friends when my downstairs neighbour invited me to her birthday party. Although, my occasional social anxiety reared its fearful head and kept me paralyzed at the top of my own stairs for a good 20 minutes before I summoned up the courage to walk into a room full of strangers. What is that? I like people so much and am reasonably adept at smalltalk, but every so often I am cripplingly shy.
I also had a great visit with my most entertaining parents on Saturday at Fishbar. I love that they’re waiving their corkage fee on Wednesdays in support of the Ocean Wise sustainable seafood program. And they make a mean fish taco.
How were your weekends? Do you have any summer island-type resolutions? Do you ever get weird bouts of social anxiety? No? Yeah…me neither…
It’s that time of the month again! The wonderful time of the month when it’s my turn to post a little something for the fantastic collaborative blog with the terrible name, Pooping Rainbows.
During a game of truth or dare this weekend (yes, my friends and I are 12 going on 20/30-something – if we play while drinking wine it’s grown-up, right?) one of my friends asked me “Who are you jealous of?”
The game ground to a halt as I mulled this one over. I definitely experience twinges of envy fairly regularly, but let’s face it, sloth and gluttony are more my style than full-blown jealousy.
There are, of course, things that other people have that I would dearly love to have for myself, but there are inevitably flipsides to all of those things. I might envy someone’s salary, but no sooner does it occur to me to be jealous than I realize I wouldn’t want the stress or the hours they go through to earn it.
Click here to read the rest and check out some of the other great bloggers involved while you’re at it!