An op ed about my disappointment with current election coverage

Every day I have been going to the CBC’s main news homepage and every day the headlines leading up to the election are frustrating. Every day the headlines are politics that, in my opinion, appear to be an attempt to skirt around politics. Maybe it’s just that in this exceptionally long election campaign, suddenly everything is fair game – well, everything with the exception of actual important campaign portfolios and issues.

Since a photo of a dead refugee boy surfaced, all day every day the news is full of refugee headlines. I recently wrote about the refugee crisis, so I don’t mind all this new information. But it does feel like pandering.

Now there’s the Niqab. After the Federal Court of Canada ruled that it is unlawful to require new citizens to remove their face coverings during the oath swearing part of citizenship ceremonies. As Rex Murphy pointedly articulated in March, 2015, “it’s vastly overinflated, politically inspired, media driven and a diversion from issues of braoder consequence and genuine signifiance”.

The “so-called Niqab debate”, as Murphy puts it, is an absurdity in the middle of this election, where freedom of religion is seemingly posited against an assumption of guilt – that the future citizen would refuse to actually utter the oath under the secrecy of her hood. But this is not an election issue and my opinion on the subject is irrelevant because that issue is one of legal prowess alone. Leave it to the courts. It’s not an election issue.

Then we have the name calling. Today, we can read that Justin Trudeau was “subtly racist”. Journalist Desmond Cole seemingly exercised a preference to have flash in the pan fame rather than to ask the follow-up. Cole is a well-respected journalist and I don’t opine on his analysis. But a news story about his Twitter feed Storify where analysis is presented as solid journalism is frustrating and adds to the general tenor of this election: say what you want, when you want. What happened to all of the sides? All we get from Trudeau on this story is presented as a one-liner from the CBC. This isn’t on point. There’s no depth here.

Then there’s a story about Harper denying that his “campaign pledge to support the Terry Fox Foundation” was not done to garner traction in the election, but rather was to honour an agreement made with the charity.

We can read a story about Mulcair’s promise to freeze the same EI premiums that Harper is going to cut. We can also read a story about Mulcair having to apologize for using the term “Newfie” in 1996.

Meanwhile, all I want to know is what any of you have to offer. I don’t care who did what else. I do not care what somebody did 20 years ago. I don’t care about somebody’s awkward handling of discussions about a cultural realm that he has no idea how to discuss. I don’t care about a party leader manipulating a charity because ploy or no ploy, the charity will have more. What’s more: if people can’t tell by now that refugees and charitable work aren’t really the concerns of certain parties, it’s because you’re planning to vote with that Party.

It’s frustrating to read the news because instead of becoming informed about campaign issues and election platforms I feel like I’m watching three kids bickering and fighting for teacher’s attention. Not one of them has anything to say for themselves that would suggest they deserve to be her favourite pupil, they just keep piping in about how so-and-so did this, and so-and-so did that.

I’m dying to hear about some real campaign issues, so here’s my request: stop bashing each other and start showing why you’re awesome. Give the media something to write about so we can stop reading about the mean things you’re saying about each other. I’m sure you each must have some reason why you want to lead this country other than a desire to pummel the others.

…right?

The origins of our refugee crisis are not found in a photo

I first became obsessed with refugee law and policy when my friend Mary came home from a semester studying in New York. We were both going to the MUN School of Music at that time, but that semester Mary had taken a series of courses in human rights and humanities. When she got back, she started talking about this one course she had taken about refugees. She talked about a book she had read several chapters from: Human Cargo. I asked if I could borrow it.

Then my life changed. I didn’t become an opera singer, I didn’t know what in the world to do but it had to involve refugees. I decided to try law school, writing a personal statement that was, little to my rural-Newfoundland, opera-singing knowledge,  more about policy-making than practicing law. In any event, I got accepted to law school where I took a series of courses about human rights law and in particular focussed on refugee law and policy.

The United Nations 1951 Refugee Convetion defines a refugee as a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” The widely shared picture of a three-year old boy dead on a beach is known to be a Syrian refugee. This photo has clearly shaken even the sturdiest of souls. The photo is shattering. It shatters your mind, because you can’t stop seeing it in everything. It shatters a piece of your soul you hadn’t gotten to know yet. It shatters your heart. It shatters the little bit of hope you may have saved up for the world today. It shatters justice, because we must be damn full of certitude that this little person’s sole crime was being born in the wrong place.

A Turkish rescue worker carrying the young boy. Source: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/if-these-extraordinarily-powerful-images-of-a-dead-syrian-child-washed-up-on-a-beach-dont-change-europes-attitude-to-refugees-what-will-10482757.html

A Turkish rescue worker carrying the young boy.
Source: The Independent (UK)

The Conservative immigration minister, Chris Alexander, was apparently quite moved in this, the “wake” of the Syrian Refugee Crisis. He has commended Canada’s immigration and refugee program to date, and has taken to blaming the Canadian Broadcasting Company for their laziness and apathy when it came to reporting on refugees, for failing to do their duty to make a better informed public.

I seethed when I watched him on a panel on the CBC blaming the public broadcasting company for this fault. I seethed with anger because I hate lies. I seethed with disbelief because the current government’s reign of rancid refugee law has been particularly cruel and unusual. I seethed with sadness that became so physical I felt it in my temples, behind my eyes, in my forehead. Somehow, somewhere, somebody must have told Alexander that it would be fine to blame someone else. They must have urged him: “Scapegoat. It’s fine. Don’t worry. Be sad, but you don’t actually need to take the blame.”

The refugee situation in Syria is not now in its “wake”. Waves have wakes, that you lazily roll around in after you’ve swam through the break and the crashing water. A crisis that is marked by 4,000,000 refugees presently known to the United Nations is not in its “wake”. It is a catastrophe. This is not the new outcome of a wave that crashed and broke. The world is up in flames. There is nothing new about this.

In 2012 I wrote a paper for my Immigration and Refugee Law Class about the then-new refugee legislation, Bill C-51, which received royal assent in June of that year. The legislation, Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, appeared to breach the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention. Under that Convention, Canada, as a signatory, has agreed to non-refoulement, or the promise to not return a person in need of protection to his or her persecutor. The legislation made lawful detention that was by all accounts arbitrary and thus contrary to the Charter, arising on account of a person being a refugee and arriving in a large group. Secondly, the detention was so excessively long that it became unrealistic and likely tortuous for a refugee to stay in Canada long enough to get status. Most refugee claimants can only afford one person’s passage at a time, and the lucky claimant is usually the father of the family. Is that person really going to stay in Canada for up to six months before even having a second review of his detention, when he has a family to protect? What if he’s gone for so long they believe he has abandoned them? Or worse, so long that they perish from the very cause from which they were trying to escape in the first place. These kinds of pressures seem likely to convince a refugee he would be better off returning to the place of his prosecutors. Et voila! Refoulement disguised as non-refoulemenet.

To now hear a conservative immigration minister opine that the real failure here is that of the CBC is offensive.

The refugee crisis did not begin with a shattering picture of a deceased child on a beach. Canada’s lineage of poor refugee choices is rich. There was the Head Tax of $50 imposed on Chinese Immigrants in 1903, which eventually reached $500 in 1918 (note that this range in current Canadian dollars would be approximately $1,078.81 to $10,788.14 (based on the Bank of Canada’s inflation calculator which goes back only to 1914)). By 1918, $18 million ($257,460,674.16) was collected from the Head Tax. In 1907, Japanese immigration to Canada was limited to 400 per year. In 1910, the Immigration Act was amended to prohibit the landing of immigration “belonging to any race deemed unsuited to the climate or requirements of Canada, or of immigrants of any specified class, occupation or character”. Between 1914 and 1920, only one Indian was admitted to Canada as an immigrant.

That all looks quite grim doesn’t it? Well, today, we have a government that skirts around non-refoulement and blames the media for our lack of awareness. We have a minister standing up at long last and saying there is an issue – but the truth is this: no matter how tragically, endlessly sad that photo may be, it is not the origins of nor the end of this crisis. We’re citizens in a country with a government that at least appears to hate refugees – provided they’re not dead. Our crisis is as old as confederation itself.

Human beings cannot be born with characteristics that may be unsuited to a particular place. Human beings are not cargo, nor collateral nor a Head Tax. Human beings shouldn’t be washed up on beaches trying to find a better life. How can we fix it? A good start will be on October 19, 2015, when we can vote for leaders that treat all humans like the important, equal beings that they are.

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You can join the cause by making a donation to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees by clicking here or click here for more information about the UNHCR and the work it’s doing. 

Canada’s Next Top Prime Minister: This just in – you’re boring us to death

The Huffington Post recently shared a video comparing the US Republican debate with the first Canadian leaders debate that aired on Thursday August 6, 2015. The video basically shows how well behaved and civil we are as compared to the shit shows that make up the top half of the Republican presidential nominees. Professional heatbag Donald Trump even announced at the very beginning of the debate that if one of the other hopefuls actually won the nomination he refused to say that he wouldn’t run as an independent. What. A. Douchebag.

The two debates were hilarious in their contrast. The US debate was set in some sort of football stadium with the candidates on a brightly lit stage with famous talk show hosts, and was assumedly adjudicated by an applause’o’meter borrowed from the Saved by the Bell set.

Then, there was the Canadian debate. Our host was respectable political editor for Maclean’s magazine, Paul Wells. There was neither cheering nor applause. The craziest thing that happened was Stephen Harper’s insistence on saying that the budget was balanced (which I suppose it is if you live in a glass cage of emotion instead of real life where the Parliamentary Budget Office suggests that Canada will run a deficit of $1.5 billion for 2015-16).

Where Stephen Harper lives with the balanced budget of his day dreams.

Where Stephen Harper lives with the balanced budget of his day dreams.

Anyway, while I was watching the YouTube video with the radical differences between our two elections I got to wondering whether we Canadians – especially young Canadians – would care more if our political sphere was more like an episode of Jersey Shore? In the last federal election, 38.8% of people in my then-age bracket voted. A further 45.5 of Canada’s 25-34 year-olds also voted. Our apathy knows no bounds.

So then, the question: would amping up our election into a reality television spectacle improve our impressively unimpressed voter turnout?

It wouldn’t be that hard. There’s Elizabeth May: super likeable hippie chick who accidentally got blitzed and gave a speech a few months ago but it turns out she’s actually completely bright and on point. Remember The OC? Elizabeth May is Summer from The OC.

Then there’s Father Christmas, Tom Mulcair, who literally had St. Nick’s twinkle in his eye during the debate. Who is the nicest person who was ever on television? I’d say it’s Marshall from How I Met Your Mother. That’s who Mulcair is except that also in a surprise turn of events Mulcair decided he was sick and tired of people saying this kinda stuff about him so when he announced his campaign he didn’t even take ONE question from reporters. He just dropped the mic and left the stage like Eminem at the end of Eight Mile.

Obviously the most interesting personalities involved in this year’s election are Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper who I’m sure have never actually been friends. BUT, let’s imagine that they were for one second. Come with me if you will, and let me tell you just how their twisted saga began.

Basically, Justin Trudeau (“JT”) and Stephen Harper (“Steve”) were on Big Brother (the original) together. They met on the first day and upon falling in a deep bromance (‘cuz don’t forget that opposites attract) they decided they would band together and form an alliance for all the voting and whatnot. And week after week they did…until week 6 when, suddenly and without warning, JT made a sneaky switch to The Hot Girl’s team and didn’t vote in concert with Steve. Steve got booted off the show that very same episode, and then JT went on to win the whole thing. So now, Steve really has it out for him.

And so now, in this extra long election season, Steve’s a bit mad. This could even be the real reason why Steve has decided that it would be appropriate to call JT the familiar “Justin” instead of Mr. Trudeau.

You can’t make this stuff up!

The new cast of Jersey Shore Photo: CBC

The new cast of Jersey Shore
Photo: CBC

May’s outstanding performance as cool and smart chick has made her the winner of Twitter momentum: she gained 3,300 new Twitter followers – more than any of the other parties. With that said, JT earned the spotlight of being discussed on Twitter. Quandary whether gaining followers or being tweeted about is the better postive indicator of Twitter success.

Try not to get too excited about your favourite new Twitter account though: May has not been invited to any of the following three debates, so the next chance you have to see a little head to head action about who should get voted out of the house will only be featuring The Boys.

Never fear though because the campaign is set to be 11 weeks long and that means lots of time for the four stars of this show to get all up in your faces. With Harper’s parade of new legislation, the ongoing debate about the oil sands and the pipelines, and what’s sure to amount to lots of name calling, the drama will be at its finest. I  think we’re set to see the best reality television since Flava Flav’s Flava of Love.

However, even without any of the foolish parody and I’ve set out above, this should be on your radar. Why? Why does it matter? Well it matters because you live here and you have an option to exercise some amount of control over your life. It matters because democracy – real democracy, with real votes and real outcomes – is one of the most beautiful social structures we have decided upon. And on a really practical level: it matters because we have to pay for it.

You may not yet be paying taxes, but believe this girl – who recently used up the last of her tuition credits – that you will, and that’s when it has the greatest potential to sting. Stephen Harper has been in power for an entire decade, which means that plenty of people who didn’t have to actually pay taxes when he went into power now pay them. How many of those people wouldn’t have voted for him? Don’t let someone else buy something on your behalf that you don’t like.

Not voting is like going on a first date with a person who orders your meal for you when you’re in the bathroom. When it comes out, you don’t like it. Don’t spend the next four years on a series of bad first dates accompanied by food you don’t like when you could have had something different. Vote. Vote. Vote.

Next week I’m going to review the new Fair Elections Act (and discuss the uber drama of non-Conservatives calling it the UNfair Elections Act) and tell you every nuance you need in order to make sure you get your say on October 19th.

Hey one last thing! If you liked this blog, make sure you follow me by clicking the “Follow” button in the bottom right corner of your screen, or follow me on Instagram at emstockley or on Twitter at @EmsMaggie.

The main thing the 2015 election has me feeling: stop messing with my crap

With the upcoming election, I can tell based on my Facebook feed that people are irritated by what appears to be Harper’s absurd gimmick to win the election through effectively being the richest kid with the richest parents who can throw the biggest party at high school. I tried to put my finger on exactly how I felt about this. Am I mad that this pompous dude who’s been in power for a decade is being manipulative? Am I disappointed in all the people who are somehow nodding and smiling and telling him it’s a good idea? Am I embarrassed to be Canadian?

Nope. I’m none of these things. What I feel is possessive.

I feel like the rich kid in high school is in the process of making moves on my boyfriend, flashing all kinds of money and making promises of all the sweet, expensive booze that her rich parents have at her sweet, expensive house. And at what cost? None apparently! Only good things to come. Well, I’m feeling really possessive.

Stop messing with my crap.

Stop overcoming the airwaves with embarrassing negative advertising that is so passive aggressive it makes me purely aggressive with an urge to smash my radio.

Stop making up nonsense about your new child care benefits that are just cleverly worded because the reality is most everyone benefits less now.

Stop posing in this picture with this cat. I like cats. STOP MESSING WITH THE THINGS I LIKE.

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Stop creating laws that are contrary to law and thus a waste of tax payer’s dollars and of the time that you could be productively working at Parliament. Stop making legislation that you know is contrary to the Charter, like Bill C-51, the new anti terrorism legislation. Did you know that this piece of legislation was only law for like five minutes before it had its very own Charter challenge? Has it crossed your mind, that in defending this Charter challenge a whole bunch more time, money and resources will be wasted?

And while we’re on the subject, have you considered that this Charter challenge will probably make it to the Supreme Court of Canada? And if you have, maybe you don’t know the statistics about just how difficult it is to get a matter in front of the highest Court in Canada. I know first hand, because I drafted an application for the Supreme Court and despite the fact that the case should have probably been heard, it got rejected. And now here you are, just messing with my crap again! Taking up time in courts left, right and centre. Can you just stop drafting Charter challenge centric legislation? Jeez b’y.

I like law. I like all the rights we are afforded under the Charter. I like thinking the Supreme Court might have time for a few civil matters. Stop messing with my crap!

I’m possessive about all of this stuff: cats, and laws, and the money that Canadians pay every year so they can have things like health care, reasonable law and policy, paved roads, education, fire stations, and parks. I hate to see you cleverly launching a campaign because you know you’re the richest kid in class and that you have this theory you can bulldoze your opponents.

Can’t you just be chill for a minute? Or on second thought, how about for 37 days more.

Study finds Newfoundlanders most masochistic people in world (Satire)

In a study to be released by two international students from Memorial University, Newfoundlanders have been found to delight in forcing themselves to live in what just might be the most hostile climate west of the Changtang region of the Tibetan Plateau.

The students stated that they originally came to Memorial solely for the cheap tuition, before realizing that they had stumbled upon a “gold mine” of “profoundly self-destructive people”.

“At first we thought maybe they had been sent here by court order from somewhere, like, you know maybe Manitoba or something, but then we realized they live here by choice”, said one of the students.  “Then we realized it was more than a mere choice, this was the bottleneck effect at work!”

The other piped in, “well, maybe it’s the founder effect…we haven’t actually taken a bio or stats course yet but ultimately, It’s like a really cold Galapagos Island over here.”

One local who wished to remain anonymous stated that “I tried to move away to South Western Ontario a few years back, they have warm summers and huge lakes for swimming, but I was so happy and content all the time.  Something was missing in me. Something important.  I came home to Newfoundland for the Blueberry Festival there back in 2011 and the weather was miserable and foggy and I just felt so at ease in my deep disdain for being back on the Island.  I knew I could never leave again.”

A report also came in about an anonymous Facebook friend who said that she “liked” the current weather because she could simply “put on a sweater when [she’s] cold but when it’s hot [she’s] useless”.  Sources advise her positive attitude and genuine self-love was intolerable, and that she is now alone on her Facebook account save for certain people posting “you can’t sit with us” memes on her Timeline.

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Ryan Snoddon, local celebrity, was reached by phone for comment.  “It’s a double-edged sword being in charge of the dissemination of weather information in Newfoundland” he said, while the faint sound of eggs cracking on a glass surface was heard in the background. “I know who these people are, I know what they want to hear. The graph in my most recent blog has been misrepresented as an historical view of temperatures alone, but really it’s got way more information than that.  The bars also speak to the self-loathing of the population as a whole.  Honestly, it’s some of my best work”.

At time of press, sources advised that Snoddon had been forcefully deployed by Tourism NL at the St. John’s International Airport amid rumours that passengers were trying to book flights out of the province, ending their Newfoundland vacations three weeks early.  A spokesperson from Tourism NL would not return calls but sources say Snoddon was seen chasing a German family up the escalator shouting that he just heard the caplin had started rolling down at Middle Cove Beach despite it being only 11 degrees out.

When asked whether they would stay, the student researchers stated that “no, we’re definitely getting out of here as soon as this degree is done” said one.

“Unless we get jobs,” piped in the other, “I mean, it’s pretty hard to get jobs anywhere nowadays and honestly the culture here really makes up for the weather”.

With files from the BS Press.

Follow me on Twitter at @EmsMaggie

Of little girls and hurt fingers and rising again.

I grew up on the northeast coast of Newfoundland, Canada.  As is common along the eastern seaboard in this part of world, during the falls of my childhood we would get hurricane related weather, be it hurricanes or tropical storms.  One fall day as a young girl, there was a late hurricane.  During lunch hour I went with my father, my elementary school gym teacher, to the post office before the afternoon session started again.  I hopped out of the car – eager as an eight year-old to be the one to unlock our post office box – and the hurricane-power winds took the car door out of my hand and slammed my eight year-old finger in the door.

That hurt.  I could be mistaken, but I believe we did not bother to get the mail the day.  My dad, my hero, hockey coach, all around favourite guy, took me up to my small town’s hospital.  I don’t remember there being an “ER”, as such, in the Twillngate hospital, though I’m sure there was.  He took me up there and we went to see the doctor who put a little needle into my fingernail and all the blood came pouring out.

I don’t remember if we were late for school.  I know we went back there: me, the little grade two or three, and my dad, the gym teacher, and we both went about our days.

That evening, I went to hockey.  At the time, I was the only little girl who played hockey in the area, thanks to my progressive mom and dad who, when I said my feet were cold during figure skating, put me in hockey to see if that ice sport would be any better for their winter baby who loved to be on ice.

Here I am, age 7, with Leafs star Gary Roberts.

Here I am, age 7, with Leafs star Gary Roberts.

I went to hockey that evening and most of the practice was a scrimmage.  To this day, my dad talks about how I went to hockey that night and I scored two goals.  I was the only girl, and I scored two goals.

As a little person, you don’t think about being a boy or a girl.  As a little person, that night, I didn’t think about how my finger had gotten slammed in hurricane-force winds.  I have no idea what I thought about.

I might have been thinking about the Lime Crush I knew I was going to get after hockey, because every night after hockey practice my dad used to take me to Champion Charlies and he would get me a soda pop.  In my house, we didn’t get pop very often, but I always got one after hockey that I would drink in my basement while my dad helped take my hockey gear off.

I might have been thinking about my friend, Nick Styles.  Now that I’m 28, I can tell you that Nick just loved life.  When I was eight, all I could have told you was that Nick was hyper.  He used to score goals on the wrong team.  During scrimmage, he would score goals on his own goalie.  But he was my friend, and my dad, who was my coach, usually put Nick on my team.  So maybe I was thinking about Nick and how I really needed to score some goals.

Maybe I was thinking about the boys on my team who were in my class, and how I wanted them to think I was cool or a good hockey player.  Maybe I was thinking how I didn’t want them to tease me, the only girl on the team, who had to dress in a different room, and who wore glasses and had a mushroom cut.  Maybe I wanted Nathan, and Jason, and my cousin Kirk to think I was actually cool.

Like I said, I have no idea what I thought about.

However, now that I’m 28, I know what I didn’t think about.  I did not think I am too hurt to do it.  I didn’t think that I was a girl, and less good in any event.  I didn’t think I was broken now and that I had never been quite good enough, and now I was just extra not good enough.

I didn’t tell my dad, No, I’m actually not able to go tonight. I didn’t tell the rest of my team – the boys – that I wouldn’t be any good tonight.  I just went.  I did the job that I had to do.  And I survived it.  Go figure.

Tonight, I slammed my finger in the door of a room in my home.  It really, really hurt.  It didn’t fill with blood that needed to be drained, but it did hurt. When it wouldn’t stop hurting, I decided I would watch Netflix and I would ice my finger and I would drink a beer – as if the alcohol would go straight to my digit and cure the stupid pain that was resonating in my fingernail.  I proceeded to tell my boyfriend, my sister, and my friend Melissa.  I committed to a night of catching up on television.

Then on Facebook I saw a post about a  friend’s child who has diabetes.  Tomorrow, the child will be getting an insulin pump.  The parents have a Belle doll ready who also has an insulin pump to help the daughter through it.  To help her think, this is ok and normal and fine even if it’s painful.

And then there’s me, watching Netflix on the couch because I hurt my finger.  When I did the same 20 years ago, I scored two girls during a game of scrimmage when I was the only girl on the ice.

It’s funny.  When we’re children, it’s not even that we’re resilient.  I think what it is is that we keep seeing all the things that we want to do.  In my case, I wanted to play hockey, I wanted the boys to know I was just as good even though I had to change in a different change room (and this, even though, at the time, little girls and little boys don’t even know why they were changing separate and apart from one another).  When it came to be being a little girl in minor hockey, I only knew I was different because I was told I was, and I didn’t want it to matter.  I didn’t care that I had a hurting finger, even though you hold your hockey stick with your fingers – be they hurting or not!  I just wanted to go and live my life, unimpaired by this stupid thing that had happened, this stupid hurricane that had blown the car door on my finger.

How different.  How different from when we are grown and we become willing to be hurt.  Hurt by bad grades, by bullies, by broken hurts.  We tell ourselves we are, in fact, less beautiful, less likeable, less intelligent, less able than someone else.  We let metaphorical fingers get slammed by metaphorical door – the bad grade on an exam, the broken heart by someone we love.  And, instead of rising – instead of finding love for the person that teaches us a lesson of survival, of not winning every time, or of being free to realize what you can be and who you might love – we curl up on the couch, and we watch Netflix, and wait until tomorrow and we think: maybe tomorrow the pain in my finger will be all gone and we can start again.

But there is no “starting again”.  And that pain is permanent – but it is the fertilizer of our becoming.  That scar is the proof of being able to get up.  The memory of the ER is the evidence of you rising and later knowing how to rise again.  The bandage on your broken heart is the story of a heart that knows how to beat, and that doesn’t simply sit in your chest dormant, hoping for a prince or princess to come through, innocent yet deep, young yet wise, and overall non-existent.  That permanent pain is muscles forming muscle memory of how to climb a mountain or maintain a forearm stand.  The callous on your fingertip is how to play the violin or a guitar or sing with a beautiful, colourful, ringing tone through whole forests.

That little girl in me who got her finger slammed in the car door in hurricane-force winds, who went to the doctor and had the fingernail drained of blood, and who scored two goals during an otherwise boys-only scrimmage, is me.  She’s a cool kid, she’s a fighter.  That cool fighter didn’t know there was a difference between her and little boys.  She knew that at the end of hockey practice – goals or no goals – there would be Lime Crush, so hurt finger be damned! Simply put, with her unassuming strength as a little kid, she just decided to get up.

So today, I decided to do some blogging, with the third finger on my right hand throbbing.  If a little girl can get up again, so can I, reminded of how strongly we are intuitively formed when we enter into this world. Despite the heartbreaks, the bullying, the bad grades, we’re still alive here after all.  There will be more fingers slammed in doors yet.  Take this as a reminder that you can still score goals even when that happens.

I hate to brag, but what a strong chick former-me was.

A love story about June 27, 1981

Today I have a personal story for you.  Well, really it’s not even my story.  But it’s a good one.

Once upon a time a beautiful young woman from the city moved to a small, fishing town in another province.  She was young and sweet, oozing with creativity.  She wrote plays and musicals and directed choirs.  She was the new music teacher for the small town.

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There was a handsome man living in the town.  He was a hockey star, ocean lover who had a navy blue van with a heart shaped window that he used for travelling.  He was the gym teacher in the small town.

(Far left.)

(Far left.)

The young man saw the young woman on the first day of school.  “Hi,” he said, “if you ever need anyone to show you around let me know”.  At some point, the young woman stole the young man’s sandwich lunch from his gymnasium office and replaced it with a hamburger.  The young man took, by all accounts, a terrifying trip to the young woman’s family home at Christmastime to meet her family.

The young man was smitten with the young woman.  The young woman was smitten, too.

The young man decided he wanted to marry the young woman.  He proposed and the young woman decided she wanted to marry the young man, too.

On June 27, 1981, the young woman and the young man went to the hill behind the hospital in the town where they lived.  The land was owned by the young man’s grandfather.  The young woman wore a beautiful dress she had made by hand: a long, flowing dress with little flowers on a white backdrop.  The pair made a heart of rocks at the spot where they would be married.  They were joined by their close friends, the reverend and his wife, who presided over and witnessed the marriage.

Before their marriage was underway, the young man spotted a familiar silhouette in the distance: the young man’s grandfather happened to be taking a walk over his land on that beautiful, June day.  The couple asked grandfather if he would like to stay.  He said that he would.

So, the beautiful, artsy, city slicker young woman eloped with the handsome, hockey star young man from the small town, getting married in front of their two friends and the young man’s grandfather.  The pair continue to return to their heart on the hill and fix the rocks into the shape of a perfect heart, an eternal, natural monument to their love.

What a beautiful story.

Photo credit: Cecily Stockley.

Eleanor Cameron Stockley and Cecil Stockley, 30-something years after eloping.                                         (Photo credit: Cecily Stockley)

Maybe the reason you won’t quit your job and move to an island is actually because you’re insane

Sometimes when I think of me and my friends and all the people I know, I get to thinking a lot of us are insane.  I mean that literally.  I think of the various people who say they are unhappy at their jobs, with their lives.  Sometimes, you get so many people like that in a room together that everyone accepts that it’s normal and proceeds forward thinking it will be better tomorrow, it will be better when I’m richer, it will be better when I have a more a beautiful home.  I hear the young grads with their tens of thousands of dollars in debt being told don’t fret about that, soon you’ll have a mortgage, too, and your current debt load will look like pennies – as if a life heavily laden with debt is one’s only option.  So we all mourn this inevitability, accepting – for some bizarre reason – that it IS an inevitability.  We accept that we must all march forward in a pattern designed by someone else that we may not even want, and almost certainly do not need.  We commit our energy and ourselves to jobs we may hate, always with the hope that in the end it will all be worth it, and in the end we’ll surely be happy.  It just makes us all sound so insane to me when I think about it like that.

This potential insanity found its way to the internet in early May when two articles effectively went head to head on the subject.  The first article was shared widely on my Facebook and was called “Why I Gave Up a $95,000 Job to Move to an Island and Scoop Ice Cream“.  The author of this article, Noelle Hancock, felt uninspired, disconnected and alone living in the concrete jungle.  She took a chance on an old dream and made a quick decision to move to the Caribbean.  She is ultimately happy, living a simpler life where she doesn’t fixate on her work after the workday has ended and where nobody cares about the make of the car she drives.

The retort surfaced mere days later and was called “Sorry, I Don’t Want to Quit my Job and Move to an Island” with the subheading “It’s just not a luxury I can afford”, written by Anna Breslaw.  The author’s thesis is set out in the first paragraph, the disdain of the assumption of privilege palpable as she writes:

It’s no surprise that posts like this one have been going viral, usually complete with a beautiful #NoFilter shot of a girl in a bikini cartwheeling on a white beach. But there’s a sanctimonious, bourgeoisie attitude simmering just beneath the surface of stories like this—and there’s a stark contrast between their outward eschewing of wealth and the fact that wealth is necessary to make this kind of decision.

I personally found the article hard to read as it dripped with something that I think is best defined as “envy”.  Breslaw opines that not everyone is fortunate enough to abandon the steady income and an insurance plan to go live on a beach, because not only is not everybody rich but also because she would get bored without hustling.  She takes a stab at beach goers doing cartwheels, which is a clear comment on the inclusion of the handstand photo in the first article (as if handstands aren’t a difficult and beautiful example of strength and hard work).

The two articles are a timely, organized discourse of the unfriendly banter these days about generation Y being privileged, about wanting more for doing less.

One thing that should be stated about the second article is that Breslaw allegedly does not want the life the Hancock has opted for.  She comments about growing up poor.  Without knowing more about her, I can assume she wants a certain number of things that this particular society encourages: house, car, maybe kids, retirement at a reasonable age.  She also appears to be a hard worker who would be bored with the life Hancock has chosen – making sufficient money in a small business to get by, not stressing about work when the day was done, having friends that she sees more than once every two months.  The first thing we should probably accept as true is that these women are radically different in the lives they desire.

Breslaw’s article bothers me in its assumption of wealth or privilege on the part of Hancock or people like her.  It’s not necessary for a person to be rich in order to be debt free and thus able to simply abandon a corporate life.  Between scholarships, working jobs to pay for school or working hard to pay off one’s debt like the speaker in this awesome Tedx Talk, “Sell Your Crap.  Pay Your Debt.  Do What You Love” advises, it’s possible to be debt-free without being a member of the despised “bourgeoisie”.   In any event, an assumption of privilege is such an easy and loaded argument nowadays – an argument that is used as a trump card.  It shouldn’t be allowed in civil conversation, if you ask me.

As I was thinking about this discourse, I got to thinking about love.  Not just for other people, for your children and partner and parents, but about a greater, deeper love for your whole entire life.  Yes, I accept that there are days that will suck, but generally it would be nice to think that the good days outnumber the bad.  It echoed with me that Hancock noted various things that would point to her deep unhappiness: she was lonely, distracted, overscheduled, stressed, uninspired, disconnected.  She had no boyfriend and was considering a new job. In her own words, she was “completely untethered”.  That life sounds horrible and like one that could be easily given up if the desire existed.

Breslaw writes “If you ever wondered why older people hate millennials, the fact that “I gave up my 401(k)” now constitutes humble bragging is a good place to start”.  This comment about older people triggered another thought for me, and another article popped into my mind: “The 5 Things People Regret Most On Their Deathbed“.  The article was published by Business Insider and is a brief summary of a book written by Bonnie Ware, a palliative care nurse whose job is to spend the dying’s last few days with them.  They have regrets, the dying.  The top five being:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Many of these are illuminated in the choice made by the Hancock.  Many of these would come into play in my own life.  With that said, I accept without qualification that people are made happy in different ways.  I accept that just because I am not wired this way, doesn’t mean that loving your job over and above all else is meaningless. I understand we are all uniquely constituted with varying loves and wants.  I accept that Brewslaw is really pleased with her own life (though, and potentially better suited to its own post, is irrationally wrapped up in the life Hancock chose for herself).

The regrets of the dying reminded me of a saying we’ve all heard – that insanity is defined by doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  While this saying usually refers to an individual, I suggest there’s no reason it cannot apply to a whole society.  They say hindsight is 20/20.  Well, here we are with the hindsight of the dying, whose last gift to us is potentially the things they would urge us to do differently.  Is it not entirely crazy, then, if we forge on ahead, unhappy in our jobs, tied down by student loan payments, aggravated by the further assumption of debt – of mortgages and new cars – because we think, well, I don’t have the “luxury” to try and make my life more beautiful.  I have been trained to be [insert profession here] and so I must do that, within these certain confines, because here is where I was born and where I ended up.  I cannot remove myself from here.

Of course you can.  If you don’t like where you are, change it.  You don’t need to move to a tiny island and give everything up.  But to continue doing the same thing day after day, and hoping that tomorrow you will somehow feel better or different or happier seems to me to be society’s most blatant example of the definition of insanity.

youre-not-a-tree1

Are we only successful and hardworking if we’re exhausted?

I got two of my wisdom teeth removed on Saturday.  With no trace of exaggeration, I was ecstatic about having the procedure done.  One of my wisdom teeth had started coming up on one side and every day was a battle with a headache and alternating doses of Advil and Tylenol.  My stomach lining was turning on me.  It was time.

I really underestimated the procedure.  After having the headaches for months on end, I thought getting rid of the instigator was both completely worth it and wouldn’t be that big of a deal.  Not to be the bearer of bad news to any soon-to-be-wisdom-tooth-less, but it was definitely worse than I thought it would be.  I thought it was only bad for people who had to have them taken out proactively.  I assumed I was going to be in yoga class the next night.

Wrong.

On Monday, I stayed home from work.  I did this for a myriad of reasons including: horrible pain, chipmunk face.  I spent the morning working, but those pain pills can make you a bit woozy!  So, when the wooziness set in, I put my computer and papers away.  My friend visited me, brought me some apple sauce, and we sat in the backyard and caught up.

I hadn’t seen this friend in at least six weeks.  It was, by all accounts, the first proper day of spring.  I had been advised by my doctor to not go to work, and I even had a note for my employer!  But suddenly: panic set in.

As we chatted, I disclosed that I was feeling completely stressed out and anxious because I was not working.  There I was, finally visiting with my friend (and likely only because I was in chipmunk-mode), the sun beaming down on us, and my anxiety levels shooting through the perfect, cloudless sky.  My friend said it seems that unless we feel completely exhausted, we feel we are not working hard.

How accurate.  How absurdly, profoundly, perfectly accurate.  On that day, when I should have accepted the strange gift of – after four months of headaches, days of pain and an all-liquid diet – being able to sit in the sun with my girlfriend for an hour.  I was genuinely doing everything I was supposed to: taking the pain killers, taking the antibiotics, not practicing law when I was so woozy my memo writing would have limited to “I love law”.

On point.

On point.

It was clear to me that up until the wisdom teeth removal I had been working quite hard indeed: every weekend, evenings.  I had to miss various yoga classes that I was actually really looking forward to.  I hadn’t seen this girlfriend – or other friends, for that matter – in ages.  Up until this moment, I had been working hard.  Somehow it wasn’t good enough.  Somehow, I still did not deserve to sit in the sun, in peace, woozy from pain killers and unable to work in any event, and feel peace.  I didn’t deserve it.  I wasn’t exhausted enough to deserve it.

Her good point begets the question: why?  Why can’t we feel good and valid as professionals unless we are exhausted at the end of the day?  Are we driven by ourselves and some inherent, masochistic sense of duty?  Are we encouraged by money?  Or rather, by the threat of no money?  Are we culturally cultivated to believe in the wheel and the notion that we only deserve to relax after being run ragged?

The deep coldness of answering these questions in the affirmative is apparent.  To be so distracted that we miss all of the moments of a day that are full of peace, beauty, happiness is a dark thought.  To be so self-absorbed and have so much attention placed within you that you don’t notice and can’t get carried away in the peace that’s around you is sad.  It’s not a message I would care to share with my niece and my nephew.  At the same time, there is another, different sadness in how little we are capable of valuing ourselves when we feel we haven’t worked hard enough.  How can so much value be tangled up in the traditional format of success?  How can we balance both the feelings of low self-esteem and low self-worth with the contradictory feeling of narcissism?  No wonder we feel so low and miserable.  These combatting emotions are not friends to us, nor are they friends to one another.

I don’t know what the answer is.  I don’t know why we encourage and cultivate this feeling of non-worth when we make it through a day and we are not exhausted.  I don’t know why we convince ourselves that some portions of life deserve greater worth than others, especially where those portions don’t necessarily correlate to bettering our lives.  I don’t know why we can be so inward and sad when there is so much beauty to be seen by just looking out and around.

In my favourite song by Shad, Remember to Remember, he says “we only feel better when we feel like we’re better than clever men”.  Perhaps that’s it.  Perhaps, where we believe someone else has grinded through the machine all day, goes home weak, tired, wiping sweat from brow, that they are the better men.  Shad also says “it ain’t a race to win it’s a run to finish”.  So I suppose it must be time to remember that more often: my exhaustion may be feel like my worth, but there will be another day to run tomorrow.

“The place we occupy as human beings in the universe”

These are just my random thoughts as we get closer to tomorrow, Earth Day, a day to celebrate “the place we occupy as human beings in the universe”.  The Dalai Lama said that about Earth.  This is why we must take care of it.  It’s almost spiritual, that way, because without this Earth, this human family of ours has no place to go.

That seems simple that way, doesn’t it?  That we should grow vegetables organically, and compost, and stop having such excess if it means the good of the masses, the good of each other, the good of the place we occupy as human beings in the universe.

It seems natural that maybe we should be natural.  Stop driving so many cars, stop digging so deep in the sea for oil, stop buying so many new, fancy gadgets, that get shipped in big carbon emitting jumbo jets, delivered to our doors, packed in new, fancy gadget wrapping.

I read about a girl in New York, Lauren Singer, who didn’t make more trash than that which fits inside a mason jar for two whole years!  The place we occupy as human beings in the universe thanks you, Lauren.

I was inspired by this girl.  I wanted to start making my own deodorant, stop buying into chemicals and excessive plastic packaging.  So I suggested at my work that for Earth Day we host a “DIY Products” lunch.  I made deodorant.  I admittedly got some weird looks, but two people tried it.

I’m inspired by just looking outside, too – seeing skies and feeling air and more than that, receiving pictures of my little niece and nephew and seeing what they are doing outside.  Skating on a rink in my backyard, climbing on a glacial rock somehow found 200 metres away from my house.  And I always think wow, thank you, Earth!  Because look at these two rugrats.  They love you.  They just love this place we occupy as human beings in the universe.

And so, I think that’s what Earth Day is really all about – we need to save the Earth because we literally need it.  Without it, that’s it for us.  This is our place in the universe.  This is our place to protect and make beautiful.  This is our place to play on glacial rocks that we pretend are whales or spaceships.

But then, today, I also read about a boat full of migrants that sank outside of Malta.  And really, they weren’t migrants at all, they were refugees – scared to death in their own homes so they gave all their money to human traffickers and hoped for the best for when they arrived somewhere.  And now their new home is some sort of afterlife that in times like this you must hope and pray exists, because otherwise…well, otherwise it’s too sad.

But, if they had made it, people would have said “not in my backyard, not when my pocketbook will be affected”.  And they don’t see the poor, unfortunate souls before them as people but as refugees.  But they are people.  And this is their Earth, too.

It’s too sad for humans to not even be able to find a home on the place we occupy as human beings in the universe.  It’s too sad to think it might be too dangerous for people to live somewhere.  The difference in that person who drowned trying to escape death and you is simply this: chance.

The chance wasn’t even that good we’d be born here instead of somewhere more war-torn.  The odds just fell to our favour.  So, now that we have it, then what?  I have to ask myself “then what, Emily, then what?”  Because I can’t believe that I simply get to be born lucky, without worrying about the place we occupy as human beings in the universe without thinking of the less lucky.

I know that Earth Day is about the Earth –  its health, its viability – but that only matters for humans when we consider earth as home.  And so I can’t help but think, we should really try to think simultaneously about taking care of the earth and also taking care of its inhabitants.  But really, it’s not even “taking care” of each other, but it’s loving each other.  All these people that live here on this little blue dot are our human family.  How can some be more important than others?  That’s like loving one sibling or child better than another.  How can economics or a national budget be more important?  That’s like loving a character on a tv show better than your brother, because just like the tv show has made up its characters, the budget and money and eonomics are just a theory of organization that we made up and not at all like your brother who is real and solid and has a soul and is capable of love.

So I suppose I was thinking that on Earth Day it’s no good just to love the place where human beings live unless we decide we will also love other human beings.  And I was thinking we should love any refugees who arrive even if they hurt our economy at first, because later they might grow a garden or save a life themselves or probably at the very least have a job and be self-sufficient, alive and happy, and that would make it worth it.  I was thinking we should make the Earth long-lasting with all of our human family in mind, because that interdependence and compassion will probably make the place we occupy as human beings in the universe brighter and happier and healthier than ever.  It’s like that saying “many hands make light work”.  The work can be living in a beautiful world, on a beautiful blue planet in the sky that one day my niece and nephew can share with their nieces and their nephews.

The Dalai Lama also said this: Destruction of natural resources results from ignorance, from a lack of respect to the living things of Earth, and from greed. 

Love the Earth, love each other.  One is no good without the other.  Happy Earth day, Earthlings.