I don’t often write book reviews, and I certainly don’t write them before I’ve finished a book.
I first heard of Shrill by Lindy West when one of my Facebook friends mentioned it, and when I saw a copy in the store I opted to pick it up. And when I started reading it, I could not have wished more that this book had been around when I was a teenager. So I want other girls who are currently teenagers to be able to read it too and feel less alone.
When I was a teenager I felt surrounded by popular culture that told me menstruating was this super great adventure marking the path to motherhood. I feared my period. I didn’t want anything to do with growing up. It was bad enough I was the first girl in my class to have to buy a bra. I didn’t want to spend a lifetime worrying about how hairy my legs looked or whether my eyebrows were thin enough. I didn’t want to wonder if people were judging me for not wearing makeup or wonder if I looked like a fool in makeup.
And in all of this I felt alone. It felt as though every girl around me was blossoming and thrilled about it and I was missing out on the excitement because I was so scared of what came next.
I cannot imagine what it would have been like to read Lindy West’s words instead of Seventeen Magazine. To know that at least one person out there knew. That one other person felt it too. It feels life-changing now. It would have been life-changing then. It would have set into motion all of the things I’ve found out for myself along the way to adulthood. Along the way I have managed to find friends who have made me feel less alone, less different, less wrong.
And so I thank Lindy West for this book. For giving me a book I can hand to my daughter when she’s 14 or 15 knowing that she’ll understand that there are all sorts of girls out there. All of them becoming all sorts of women at their own pace.
We went to Washington and I have so many good things to say about that city. I also have many good things to say about the way in which we travelled there.
Joe was on his way to DC for a business trip – he had a conference to attend – so he had a hotel room there and paid for, meanwhile my classes are done and what’s one week of senior kindergarten? Off we went in a CMAX that Ford Canada graciously lent us – a CMAX Energi, which means it is a plug-in hybrid. In fact, we left the house on a full charge and we paid about $40 for gas the entire time we were away…
I already talked a bit about the CMAX and how much fun Fords are to drive, but I had such fun with this car I wanted to talk a bit more about it. And talk a bit more about how great Washington was – Ottawa could take a few lessons in capital-ing.
Now, Joe is not a fan of GPS, but he never gets lost. I am a huge fan of GPS because I have a terrible sense of director. (North means nothing to me unless I’m in Ottawa and I know which way the Peace Tower is). The CMAX had GPS, but it didn’t have to be giving directors, Joe could set it so that it was just a map of where we were and what direction we were going in. It also tells you the speed limit of the road you’re driving on. Because of this same lack of any sense of direction and space, I also very much appreciate the rear camera that helps you back up.
Now, again because of the aforementioned terrible sense of direction, I was nervous about leaving the hotel with my kid and getting lost in Washington, even though everyone speaks English there. But here is how great Washington (and Google Maps on my Android phone) is – I found the Lincoln Memorial BY MYSELF with minimal panic.
Now the Lincoln Memorial is directly opposite the Washington Monument.
And if you walk pretty much straight down the street – lined with trees and benches so there’s plenty of shade and places to rest – you find ALL THE MUSEUMS.
We went to see American History, Natural History and Air and Space, the National Zoo – all free. I also got to explore the Newseum while the kid and her Dad walked up to get some gelato.
I’m a fan of museums. I was very lucky to grow up in Canada’s capital where we happen to host many national museums and I have been to all of them – except the Diefenbunker, maybe this Summer of Awesome…
But there is so much history in the United States. There is so much that has happened there that their museums get to share with us. Like Elmo. We saw the original Elmo.
Never have I been to a city that thinks of its walkers so much. Its tourists.
I also did some cross-border shopping while we were gone – I wanted to explore both Torrid and Lane Bryant, and the kid misses Target desperately. I should really write about plus-size stores at some point, I have many opinions. Now, add clothes shopping to the luggage and souvenirs and you’ll see why I’m a fan of the power liftgate – kick you leg out and the trunk understands you need it open. It’s genius.
I think it’s fair to say we all had a good time driving to DC and back – with a short Delaware detour.
Working with business coaches, the first thing they’ll ask you is about your why – why do you do what you do and why should people hire you to do that instead of anyone else.
I have struggled with this question. Why do I do what I do? Because I love doing it. I love politics, I’m interested in policy, I’m passionate about creating change and doing good.
I bought that in Washington and it now sits on my desk, reminding me.
The reason that I’m passionate about creating change and doing good? Because I worked for Jack Layton, and Jack Layton taught me that we can create change and we can make the world a better place, and the reason we do that is because we owe it to the next generation.
That’s my daughter. She’s six and she’s full of rainbows and big ideas. I love everything about her, and I want her to know good. I want her to keep having big ideas, and believing in them.
But why should people hire me? That’s harder to answer. Because I want to earn money and help support my family and give that little person up above all of her needs and some of her wants. But that answer doesn’t mean anything to the people who might hire me.
So why hire me?
Because I am good at what I do. Don’t take my word for it, I have lots of colleagues who have been willing to speak up for me. It feels really good asking three people if they’ll act as references and getting back three quick replies of “Absolutely.”
I am good at what I do because I love to work. I love delving into a problem and not stopping until I find a solution. I take criticism and I adjust. I work efficiently and get things done quickly. I lose myself in work.
You should hire me because I will not stop until the job is done. Jack taught me that.
Why do I do what I do? Because I believe in politics, and I think other people should too.
I have been struggling on two fronts lately – the first is work related. All the where do I go now questions now that courses and internship are almost all complete.
The second is much more personal.
I cannot tell if I’m heading back into a bad place in my depression or not.
Yesterday I made a list of things that I used to enjoy doing that I don’t do as much or at all anymore. These activities include cooking, knitting, painting and drawing, going for walks. Lately I have had a hard time getting going on anything. I’m running on automatic it seems.
I can’t decide if I’m so far passed the point of burnout that this is just where I have ended up, or if it’s the stress of everything I’ve had going on for months now and the stress of the future, whatever comes.
I’m tired. So tired. I forget to feed myself during the day. I forget or I just don’t go to the effort.
I’m tired and easily distracted.
I’m tired and stressed out and my kid keeps asking me questions I don’t have answers for, like why she can’t have a baby brother or sister.
But none of the usual signs for me are there. I’m not sleeping all day, I’m going out and being social. Well, more than usual. We were just in Washington and instead of being terrified to leave the hotel room without Joe at my side to make sure we didn’t get lost I took the kid and found the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Museum of American History. Me and Google.
Every bit of it was hard – she didn’t want to walk, and I worried that I was getting us lost, and she didn’t want to see the things in the museum that I wanted to see. But I was the cheerful, optimistic one. Normally I can’t push myself to smile and carry on like that. Not when things are bad. I still laugh and make jokes and I’m not putting on a front when I’m around other people. At least I don’t feel one.
I’m definitely scared of the future right now. I want to do the right thing, despite my constant reminder to myself that nothing is necessarily right or wrong. I just have to do SOMETHING. I have to move in a direction.
The problem is that I’ve moved in the wrong direction before. After journalism school. My first job after journalism school – the first job I had been offered – was a really, really shitty job. I was put in a bad situation, I was lied to. When I think about how the person I am now would deal with that situation. I would stand up for her so much better. My first job after my BA I was in a shitty situation with a shitty boss and the person I am now would have done that all differently too.
I think that’s the main focus of my worry. Two times I thought I was going to be alright and I was wrong. Two times I didn’t stand up for myself and I wish I had known better.
I do know better now. I think.
I went to visit my Dad today. Joe wanted to go for a drive and that led to a plan and we ended up in Pakenham meeting my mom and my Gramps for ice cream (at Scoops, the best ice cream place in the Ottawa Valley). Dad is buried in Almonte with his parents, my grandmother’s parents and my great-grandmother’s parents.
My Dad’s father died in 1956, 25 years before I was born, but I’ve been learning a lot about him through papers we found in my dad’s house. Grandpa Scanlon – Jack – fought in both World Wars and wrote a daily diary. The more I learn about him the more I know I would have liked him.
I mean, God knows how much I have benefitted from my relationship with my Gramps, and how much I love watching him love my daughter.
This is the second time I have gone to visit my Dad’s grave. The first time I just felt like I needed to, today it was Father’s Day. He didn’t actually care much about Father’s Day. The crafts I made at school usually ended up as gifts for Gramps or for my Mom, both of whom were a lot more present in my life growing up than my Dad was. But still, we were nearby and it seemed like an appropriate thing to do.
It’s funny, when I go I’m never sure what I’m going to do there, but generally I end up talking to him a bit. When I was by myself I just sat there next to the headstone, and I talked to him.
Today, while I talked to him – which is something I’ve been fairly desperate to do these days, what with classes ending and finishing my internship and trying to figure out what comes next – I realized something.
I always assumed that someday I would have all the answers. Someday the path would be clear.
The path has never become clear.
Just about everything I’ve done in my life has been something I’ve sort of fallen into. When I’ve thought about something and made a decision over a period of time it’s almost never worked out. When I hated my job I applied to university to get out of it, when I impulsively invited Joe over we kissed and ended up married.
We bought the house we live in over the course of a week. The kid was not entirely planned…
I will never know all the answers. Dad would not have known the right answers. There are no right answers. I go with my instinct and seem to end up in the right place.
I had two very different conversations today on two different mediums. One was with someone who is just starting his career and trying to figure out the right path, the other was with a former colleague who has moved onward and upward. Talking to one about the other, talking about our career paths and where I’ve been got me thinking.
I’ve worked really hard.
I don’t spend time thinking about it. I worry more about the future than thinking of the past, but talking to my friend about the whole ‘start from the bottom, work your way up’ thing I realized that I did.
I didn’t just start from the bottom, I restarted from the bottom three times. I thought I had the answers three times and ended up flailing. Seriously flailing – like moving home from Toronto two days after I left to start university there flailing.
And then I found a job and fought my depression and changed my plans. I spent two years doing great at college, convinced I actually had all the answers now, this time. Graduated, went out into the world and flailed again. Journalism is a tough career path that demands a lot of time and energy and doesn’t pay well. I loved it, but I was far away from home and being pushed hard and eventually I cracked.
And so I started again, and that was the time.
My friend asked me tonight, as I explained to him the many times I struggled to kickstart my career, if I would change anything along the way.
I was 23 and I decided to take the degree program with the most courses that sounding interesting, because planning my degree around whatever career would result wasn’t working. I ended up back at Carleton, where I still had three years left of free tuition thanks to my father’s professorial career. There was a job opening at the student paper which I was well qualified for, given my diploma in journalism. The man who interviewed me then is currently asleep beside me.
During my BA an opportunity came along to work some volunteer hours with an MP and I jumped.
The combination of that volunteer experience, my background in journalism and my understanding of politics made me the best candidate for a 8-week contract that turned into a four-year career and one of the best experiences of my life.
If I hadn’t balked at going to Toronto, if I hadn’t chosen journalism, if I hadn’t taken that job in Northwestern Ontario that pushed me to switch things up again, if I hadn’t chosen to use my three years of free tuition to just go and get my BA. I wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t have a great resume, I wouldn’t have my husband and my daughter and my dog.
If I had changed any of those bumps in the road I wouldn’t be here.
And all the way through I worked hard. Even doing the shittiest parts of the shittiest jobs I worked hard. Even when I hated everything about my job at the Fort Frances Times the thing I hated most was that I knew I wasn’t doing a good job, so I kept working harder. Even when I got my first job out of university with the terrible boss who tore my confidence to shreds I worked hard trying to figure out what I could do better.
At every step, even when it wasn’t quite right, even when I wasn’t quite right, I have worked hard. Since my first job when I realized that I love to work – I really do, and I’m not afraid to work hard. In fact I, apparently, tend to forget how hard a job was when it’s over. Like that one time I worked an election campaign while doing my Masters and working two other contracts.
So when I actually sit back and think I can remember a little bit about how hard it all was. Emotionally hard, physically hard sometimes. But here I am. About to finish my Masters, in control of my own destiny, a great education, a great CV with great experience.
And the knowledge that bumps in the road can lead to the best things.
When Sandy Hook happened I spent the day crying in front of the TV. My daughter knew I was really upset but I couldn’t bring myself to tell her why. When we went to the Museum of American History I didn’t take her to the African American history section because I didn’t know how to start explaining slavery and segregation to her. I have not told her that 50 men were slain this week because they were gay.
My daughter is six years old. She doesn’t like movies that have bad guys. I don’t have the heart to tell her that bad guys are real.
At the same time I know I have to prepare her for reality. I have to break that childhood trust in the good in the world. Not everyone feels the way we feel, not everyone loves. Some people choose hate. Some people express that hate in the worst ways. Some people decide they have the right to be judge, jury and executioner because they don’t like the way someone lives.
How do I tell her what her own ancestors have done to people who were different?
How do I tell her what risks she faces just growing up female? The laws men will make about her body, the things they’ll think they have a right to say, or worse do to her? The questions they’ll ask her if and when something happens. How will I give her the confidence to fight back and the knowledge that it is not her fault? How to I empower her to fight back when it comes? Unapologetically fight back.
What if she’s gay? What if she’s trans? How will I explain that people will hate her without ever knowing her? That will assume the worst of her because of who she fundamentally is. No, no, I’ll have trouble even explaining that to a little girl who would never understand why some of her friends are afraid, unsure of where they’re allowed to fully be themselves and where they’re not.
How do I tell her that if and when something happens to her it will not be her fault and she cannot ever believe that it was her fault despite all the people sending her that message.
I cannot change history, but for my child I will work to change the world. I will believe survivors. I will stand with the LGBTQ community because love is love and human beings are human beings. I will not stand silently when someone is wrong. I will not allow bigots to go unchallenged.
I will stand and listen to all those people who are fighting to be just as important as those of us who were born privileged – western, white, middle class, cisgendered.
I will cry over the senseless loss of life, but my tears will not be the end of my actions.
This week has been a week of pain for a lot of people. From watching people jump to the defence of a man who brutally attacked a young woman while she was unconscious and put his life and future ahead of hers – 20 minutes of action – up to this morning when gay men were attacked and killed in yet another ‘worst mass shooting in US history.’
I’m pretty sure I’ve lived through about five of those now – Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora, San Bernardino and now Orlando. Fifty dead. Fifty.
I am enraged, I am in pain, I am so tired of all this. I am not as enraged or as in pain or as tired as the people who fight and fear every day of their lives. The parents who are still calling to find out whether their sons are okay and getting no answer. The friends who have blood to clean off their bodies, wondering why they have more people to mourn and whether anyone will care this time. The men who are hearing sympathy from politicians trying to score points on the backs of dead whose lifestyles they have railed against.
I’m at a total loss.
I have no words, I have no way to help, there’s nothing I can do but offer my heart and say I’m so, so sorry. I’m sorry that you have to fight for the right to be yourself and that safe spaces are taken from you. I’m sorry.
And so I pass on love. I put love out in the world.
Love and support and acceptance.
I teach it to my daughter – that she may love whoever she loves, that we will accept whoever she chooses to marry, and whether she chooses to marry at all. That she, and any of her friends, will always have a safe space in our home.
We will work to make the rest of the world safer too.
We had a long drive today – though man is it faster to drive through states than provinces – and I took the opportunity to catch up on some of my magazines.
Here is where I tell you – unsponsored – how much I like the Texture app for magazine reading on my iPad.
So I was catching up my magazine reading – like really catching up, post-grad school. I was reading an issue of Real Simple from about a year ago. Yeah.
There was an article in this particular issue about body image and how to help your kids have a good body image. The first part of the article was obvious. Don’t be hard on yourself or make comments about things you’re unhappy about, like how you hate your thighs or you feet are ugly, etc. And then the article said you should not use words like fat around your kids.
And that’s where they lost me.
Hi, I’m fat. I’m fat and aware of being fat and when I tell my daughter I want to exercise more or eat differently she knows that it’s to be more healthy, not to be less fat. Because, you see, fat is not a bad word, it’s not an insult. It’s just a word. It’s a way of being, like thin or tall. It’s a description.
I refuse to be afraid to use the word fat to describe myself because I refuse to teach my daughter that being fat is bad or that fat people are less than her.
My daughter is thin. She’s active and tall and thin. Sometimes I worry about her weight, I worry that she’s not eating enough, except that I know that she is because I’m the one she’s always asking for snacks. Someday someone will tell her she’s too skinny, or call her a beanpole or some such and she’ll feel ashamed.
Someday she’ll grow hips and breasts like mine and she’ll feel so different – foreign in her own body – and along with that will come more comments, more pressure, more appropriate words to use to describe herself.
If I do my job right she will be able to shake off those words.
I am curvy, I am plus sized, I am fat.
Also my feet are not ugly, they are great because I can pick things up with my toes, and so can she.
Tomorrow we are bound for Washington, and we’re headed there in a Ford CMAX. It’s a hybrid, which puts my mind at ease about money and environment.
I love driving this car – quiet, smooth, with extra little features like the rear camera that we don’t have on our car but I find very useful. Today I even used the navigation system to get us from gymnastics to the kid’s hair appointment in the allotted time. It also has that cool Ford sensor thing that lets you open your trunk hands free, which is genius.
If/when I head back to work in a real office or we need a second car for some other reason I am going to want a Ford hybrid. I’ve driven the Focus and now the CMAX and become a fan, despite my family’s Hyundai/Toyota history.
Actually my grandfather owned many, many cars in his life before giving up his license in his 80s. Maybe that’s where I get this love of driving.
Because I love to drive.
I have loved to drive since I got my license and first discovered the freedom of driving with the windows down and your own favourite music playing.
And thus we come to the thing I love the most about being allowed to borrow media fleet cars because I have a social media following: Sirius satellite radio. I love Sirius satellite radio. I love the Broadway station, I love 80s on 8 and 90s on 9, but today I mostly love Lithium. The Lithium station is me in high school. It’s 90s angst and blown out guitars. It’s beautiful.
I took myself to a movie today – Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, totally inappropriate and hilarious with many cameos – and along the route there and back I heard Shine by Collective Soul, Glycerine by Bush, El Scorcho by Weezer, Where it’s at by Beck, In Bloom by Nirvana and Fell on Black Days by Soundgarden.
All those songs that I still remember the lyrics to, that I can still rock out to. I had a Soundgardern Superunknown t-shirt that I wore to pieces in high school because Black Hole Sun was awesome but The Day I Tried to Live was more awesome.
I recently referred to the early-90s as a golden age, but really the early to mid-90s is where my music lives.
I mean, I still listen to new music. Just last year I went to an Ed Sheeran concert and was totally blown away. And I love music from the 80s – the pure cheese that abounds. But the 90s, that’s where my taste in music was really born and where it’s stayed.