Stagnation

TTW-Summer-2016It’s not something we talk about too much in the international community. It’s the closest thing we have to a taboo subject. But it’s something we all struggle with.

Staying put, settling down, finding a home.

Some of us want nothing more. We’re tired of always having to make new friends, chart new territory, break down barriers. It’s exhausting. We’re ready to grow some roots, relax, find a strong circle of friends. But who do you relate to in a town where no one else has your background?

Some of us never want to stop. We love re-inventing ourselves, starting fresh, finding new challenges, new adventures, expanding our infinite friendship circle. We’re never more at home than in an airport. Thriving on the winds of changing, and always searching for where to head to next. But what happens do we do when we run out of places we can go?

I have always been in the latter category. I can’t keep my feet still, they always end up following my head into the height of the clouds.

Yet here I am. Stuck. Reaching year 4 in Toronto and the inevitable “thousands of reasons I can’t leave.” Everyone has their own list, or their own inhibitors, when it come to the place they settle down. Everyone has their own pattern and their benchmark for what a long time somewhere is. So I won’t bore you with my own. What I will say, though, is that it’s much more difficult than I ever expected it to be.

We’re not supposed to talk about it because it’s a “poor-little-rich-kid syndrome.” It’s a problem of the privileged. We were raised to adapt, adjust, fit in, camouflage. We’re malleable to our circumstances, whatever they may be.

Except when you become so malleable and mutable that you no longer feel comfortable holding a shape for too long. Like river water that has been captured into a tank. Your flow and energy disrupted, seized… stagnated. tree-roots

It IS a privilege. It IS “poor-little-rich-kid syndrome.” But that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. Somehow it’s perfectly understandable for a person who has never moved in their life to experience culture shock when they find themselves somewhere new, and yet the same rule does not seem to apply in reverse.

Really, I’m just wondering if there’s any else who’s felt the same. Who has struggled with staying put. What made you stay? What made it ok? Or are you on the other side of the spectrum, whether as a 3CK or otherwise? Where is home? How did you figure out where to find it?

I guess I just need to know I’m not alone.

Why We Should Stop Trying to Label Each Other’s Sexuality

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I’ve been reading up a lot on queer culture and sexuality lately. My curiosity was originally sparked by a conversation I had with a friend about the “guidelines” for gay sex. From our very ignorant cis-gender perspective we were attempting to posit about the sexual role of each partner, and whether or not some people would have the same consistent role, as most often happens in heterosexual relationships, or whether both partners would alternate and the experience would be more flexible and versatile.

The first obvious answer to this question is that really it’s none of our business and who cares. However I’ve always been a firm believer in the importance of open, non-judgmental communication as a way of breaking barriers. By informing yourself and actively overcoming ignorance you make ever progressing steps towards acceptance, compassion, and equality. And isn’t that really the ultimate goal?

In any case I went off to do some of my own research after this discussion and came across the second obvious answer. Each person is so unique in their personalities and personal preference, and every relationship is so unique in its emotional and sexual interactions that of course there is no “standard practice” or “rule”.

I came to realize that the discussion my friend and I were having was much like the

conversations kids have in high school before their first real sexual experience. When you still imagine there’s some sort of magical trick, or rule, or key to making you good in bed. That there is some sort of secret to sex that everyone knows about but you.

The truth is there really are no rules when it comes to your intimate relationship with another person, whether sexual or not. The rules of interaction are much like those in every day life; they are established as part of a fluid process of experimentation and communication, on the basis of mutual respect, and enjoyment.

That is why I find, more in more, that I tend to reject terms like transgender, cis-gender, homosexual, poly-amorous, and so on. Not because I think they are insignificant imaginary constructs. Quite the contrary, I believe they are extremely important to the process of research, and education on sexuality. However I do think the terms should be read and understood both for their uses as well as they’re inadequacies. At the end of the day, any term used to define sexual orientation is a rigid, concrete expression for a very fluid and abstract concept. One that will ultimately signify something different to each
individual it relates to.

For this same readefining-sexualityson I don’t believe in the adage that any single person can be “amazing in bed.” Sexual enjoyment requires a level of comfort, consent, and intimacy that no single person is able to have in every sexual encounter they experience, whether with the same person or even different partners. This is also why the idea of rape is so vile and horrid. Because it’s ultimately a corruption of such a pure, beautiful, and intimate moment between  two (or more) people. A moment that is such a pure expression and exposure of your self in both beauty and ugliness.

That’s not to say that sex defines you in any way. Again, this is why I so heavily reject a rigid use of sexual labeling. Your sexuality isn’t a definition of who you are, it’s merely an instance of self-expression. Just like your preference of sport or cuisine don’t define you, rather it is a collection of these things, and your relationship to them, that does.

So why am I saying all this? Why does it matter? Because it matters that we have these discussions. It matters that we speak openly about these subjects whether they relate to sexuality, race, culture, ethnicity, or any other taboo topic you can come up with. It matters that we speak about the elements that make us more complete, diverse, and unique human beings. It matters that we analyze these things. Because it is in this analysis and discussion that we generate acceptance. That we are able to co-exist without the repression of hate and political correctness. Because it is only by understanding our own selves, as well as the world around us, that we are able to truly embrace each other and celebrate our differences.

But of course this is all just my own opinion, with recognition of my privilege and my bias. You’re more than welcome to disagree. And in our disagreement I hope we can find our own acceptance, and friendship.

She Wore a Veil

This is a piece I wrote a while ago, in my Freshman year at University for a creative writing class. I recently read an article that talked about how there are not enough positive images of veiled women in Western society, so I decided this was worth publishing. This in honour of one of the most inspiring and beautiful women I know, and in honour of the strength veiled women show every day in the face of so much racism. The name in this piece is fictitious and has been altered in order to protect the privacy of those involved.

Her veil spoke for her before she ever said a word. In my prejudiced mind it told me she was conservative, religious, naïve and timid. I had always prided myself in having an open mind, in not judging books by their cover, in paying no heed to things as superficial as race and religion. I always told myself that the international lifestyle I had been brought up in had taught me better. Yet here I found myself in an international school, in a classroom where around 40% of the students were either Muslim or devout in their own religion, and I found myself judging them, before we even had one conversation. I had never realized the strength of the influence Western culture had on me until I left the Americas.

Suddenly the world I had known and everything I had unwittingly taken as gospel was was not the same. As if I had fallen into a Lewis Carrol novel, where right was wrong, up was down and my mind had to rearrange itself in order to understand this new world I was in. This was not a case of adapting to life in a developing country; this was a case of adapting to an entirely new set of ideals, priorities, beliefs and lifestyles. And Malika, the girl with the veil, opened my eyes to it all.

I would be lying if I had said that Malika and I instantly became friends. It took me almost a year to even have a proper conversation with her, which only actually happened thanks to a mutual friend. I still remember when I first heard her point out that she thought Johnny Depp was attractive, or “hot” in her own words. My first thought was that she should not be saying, or even thinking those things. Somewhere in the back of my mind I imagined it was against her religion to do so. A few minutes later I realized the absurdity of that thought and it was only then that the true scope of my prejudice occurred to me. If I had to guess, I would say that this was precisely the moment when I began to look at Malika, and everyone else I had met thus far in Tanzania, as a girl like any other. This was the moment I began to understand that her veil did not silence her mouth, or her thoughts, that it didn’t make her any different from me. Not in any significant way at least. It was like putting on a brand new pair of glasses after you first learn you need them, when you realize the world you’ve been looking at has so much mroe beautiful detail that you’ve been missing all along.

I recall a school field trip where she was one of my roommates. She would wake up every morning to pray, just before sunrise. I would watch her with my eyes only half open, entranced by the repetition of movements and phrases and the concentration and devotion with which they were performed. I asked her about her religion, her personal beliefs, her family’s views and her culture, and each time I was met with an honest and uninhibited response. She would never speak as if this was the only solution, the only way of thinking; she would simply state her belief without any imposition, you were free to disagree. She told me why she prayed, and why she fasted during Ramadan. She explained her views on dating, and how she would never marry someone who was not Muslim, simply for the lack of connection she felt she would have. She would tell me all this unabashedly, understanding and feeding my every curiosity.

Of course Malika was not the only close Muslim friend I had in Tanzania. She was not even my only deeply religious friend, of which I encountered more in that high school than I had ever before. I quickly discovered different sects of the Muslim religion, and the differences between them. There was even a significant difference between the personal beliefs of those within the same sect, just as there are between those of the Catholic sect of Christianity, or any other sect of any other religion.

To me she remained the symbol of a broken barrier; a shattered prejudice. Her veil taught me that no matter how open minded I imagined myself to be, there would always be a few preconceptions left to tear down. She showed me that a veil can give women just as much strength and independence as its absence. That veiled and muslim women are not passive. That they are not victims. And perhaps most importantly; that they want the same things as the rest of us; freedom, respect, and understanding.

Why I Write

Ever since I was little languages came easy to me, as they do, of course with most children. By the time I learned to talk I had picked up Mandarin from my nanny, Dutch & English from the other adults and children, and Portuguese from my mother. Being the child that I was, I would regularly pick out the easiest words to pronounce in each language and mash them together into a sentence that could not be understood by anyone other than myself and my brother.

Over the years I’ve forgotten all of my Mandarin and Dutch, but my interest in languages persisted. After I had some trouble in school my teacher suggested that I start a journal. I took to it like a bee to honey and filled an entire notebook in barely a month. Mind you, one line of my writing took up most of the page at the time, but I never stopped craving notebooks since. I could spend hours in a stationary shop, drooling over all the different notebooks, wanting to take all of them home and fill each of their pages with my still horrid handwriting. In fact to this day, when I need to express my feelings to someone I would much rather write it in a letter than I would confront them face to face.

Catharsis means different things to different people. Some people prefer to paint, others scream into a pillow, others exercise. I write. I let every word I feel flow onto a page and release it from the eternal chaos in my mind. I write because it clears my mind. I write because I’m happy, or sad, or angry. I write because in many ways it’s the purest way that I can be myself, express myself, and open myself to the world around me. I write for me, in the hope that you’ll find yourself somewhere between the lines.

“Do You Have Any Advice For Those of Us Just Starting Out?”

Ron Koertge

Give up sitting dutifully at your desk. Leave
your house or apartment. Go out into the world.

It’s all right to carry a notebook but a cheap
one is best, with pages the color of weak tea
and on the front a kitten or a space ship.

Avoid any enclosed space where more than
three people are wearing turtlenecks. Beware
any snow-covered chalet with deer tracks
across the muffled tennis courts.

Not surprisingly, libraries are a good place to write.
And the perfect place in a library is near an aisle
where a child a year or two old is playing as his
mother browses the ranks of the dead.

Often he will pull books from the bottom shelf.
The title, the author’s name, the brooding photo
on the flap mean nothing. Red book on black, gray
book on brown, he builds a tower. And the higher
it gets, the wider he grins.

You who asked for advice, listen: When the tower
falls, be like that child. Laugh so loud everybody
in the world frowns and says, “Shhhh.”

Then start again.

from Fever, 2006
Red Hen Press
source: http://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/007.html

Is University Really Worth the Cost?

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I recently watched an interview with Mike Rowe that I wish I had seen 5 years ago. As the host of “Dirty Jobs”, Rowe learned a lot about the American job market & economy. Most often he mentions how much happier and more fulfilled people in the who work ‘dirty jobs’ are, not because they followed their passion, but because they learned to love the work they did every day.

I know a lot of this doesn’t apply to developing markets, where educated and skilled labour is still in shortage, but in many developed countries there is now a skills gap. Rates of unemployment and job growth are disproportionate; while more people enter the job market only after completing a University degree, the jobs being created are more focused around manual labour.

There is a mentality that the only way to wealth & to progress for those coming out of high school, is through University. Our parents worked hard, so that we could go to University and lead better lives than they did. The problem is, these days, a Bachelor’s degree isn’t special anymore. Moreover, the cost of education is rising at an unbelievable rate, and students are continuously drowning themselves in piles of debt, just to get a degree, no matter the consequences.

I was incredibly fortunate. I was able to study at a relatively cheap, yet reputable University, and graduated with no debt thanks to my parents. I have never taken this position and advantage for granted. But had I known better 5 years ago, I would have let my parents keep their money, paid less than half the price of my University, and researched the skills gap to find a job in a industry where people actually NEED workers. I would have chosen a career where I didn’t have to worry about job security. I went to University for status, because I wasn’t sure what I wanted, and because I was told it was “the only way forward”. Hindsight is 20/20, I don’t resent the hand I was dealt nor the choices I made, but I can learn, study, and research to make the best with what I have now.

What I really want is to end this mentality that University is the “only path forward”. That it is the only way into prestige, status and wealth. Even if you ARE in a developing country the manual labour industry still provides immense opportunities for growth, development, and entrepreneurship. I realize I may sound incredibly patronizing with all of this, but I am simply saying what I wish someone had told me when I was still in high school. University is NOT the only option.

Reflections & Confessions

A while ago I had a very enlightening conversation with my man thing (as I refer to him), and came to quite an interesting revelation. I am a workaholic. 124236_m

I never really considered workaholism as a problem, I just figured it was a term lazy people applied to people who worked hard so that they didn’t feel so bad about their laziness. That logic in itself should have probably been my first hint.

For the last year I have been unable to work while I’ve been struggling through a visa process that will let me live in Canada permanently. You can imagine this has not been easy for me. I piled on project after project just to keep myself distracted. After a while I found it hard to balance my regular chores with all the activities and hobbies I was working on. I found myself just as stressed as I had been while I was working and studying full time. Of course all that culminated in a massive row with the man thing, that led to a deeper conversation about what had started the fight to begin with. And that’s when I realized. The funny thing is, once I brought this up to old friends and family who had known me for ages they all aced as if this was all very matter of fact and something I should already know.

So I stopped altogether. For the last few months I’ve been teaching myself to relax, catching up on all the films and TV shows I’ve been wanting to watch for ages, playing all the video games I’ve been putting on the back burner, just learning that it’s ok to do nothing. Which leads me to why I’ve been missing for so long.

After 4 or 5 months of forced relaxation, I’m ready to ease myself back into action. So be ready for regular posts and updates once again. How about you guys? Do you ever have problems trying to do too many things at once? Or is your problem more to do with procrastination?

Never Stop Dreaming

For a long time I was terrified of starting this blog. To expose my work to hundreds of strangers, to put words, comments, thoughts and ideas out there that I could not take back. I hadn’t seen this cartoon until now, but it definitely gave me comfort to carry on posting, writing and creating. We can’t let our fears keep us from dreaming.

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The Shield of Irony

For a while now, I’ve been noticing a growing trend in society towards irony. Sure, it’s often used incorrectly, but it surrounds our every day lives. From the ever increasing population of hipsters, to the current demand for self-reflexive and ironic media such as “The Colbert Report” and “House of Cards”. We have become a generation of cynics. Even advertisements no longer try to woo us in with what we would automatically perceive as ‘lies’ (regardless of whether or not they are); they emphasize their commercial quality and then finish off with a “but hey, buy us anyway” – think, Old Spice commercials or almost any advert that relates to bacon or beer.

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