#Canadiana

Upon arrival from Paris I knew I had landed in my home, within my nation, with my people because of the apologies.  You’d be surprised the number of “sorrys” you hear from the time it takes you to disembark, walk on the flat escalators, and line up at customs.  It’s a common stereotype that Canadians are polite, accommodating, and accepting and thank goodness that some of it is true.  I would be nowhere without your rights, privileges and political freedom.  As an immigrant I just want to thank you for being gentle with me, being kind to my family and allowing me to cultivate a sense of belonging.

Being a land of people from somewhere else, it’s as if we’re all figuring it out together.  I’m not sure if I’m imagining this feeling of solidarity but Canada has earned her reputation because you allow all of us to co-exist with dignity and respect.  My husband always asks me if it’s cold outside and I tell him not to ask because he knows that I’m an immigrant.  If it doesn’t feel like a sauna, I will be wearing a jacket.  Perhaps it’s because my mother made me wear thermal underwear well into April, but I’m perpetually cold.  God, she continued to buy me thermal underwear well into my twenties.  She used to tuck it into my luggage after Christmas break when I was about to return to Queen’s.  You see, this is just the kind of stuff that immigrants do.  But I appreciate that in my country you are not considered to be strange and crazy.  If it’s not thermal underwear another newcomer is probably obsessing about wool toques.  There’s comfort in that.

My parents were always strategic about my education and social circle.  When we first moved to Toronto I attended a very diverse school in the downtown area where we learnt about Black History every week, not just once a year, young girls wore head scarves and we were the children of parents who worked way too hard.  It is here that a teacher named Mr. Kennedy changed my life by encouraging me to write, attend enriched classes and told my parents to move to North Toronto.  I still remember the moment when during a parent-teacher interview he literally wrote it down on a piece a paper: the “good” schools, having attended Lawrence Park CI himself.  That’s the thing about my parents, they are the best.  They packed our life into boxes, we moved to the neighbourhood and began a new phase in our life.  I can never repay them for their sacrifices because these schools led me to my university, my friends, my life.  That’s what makes Canada so special.  It has raised a generation of people who have seen their parents create something from scarcity and difficult times.  It’s not the immigrant story, many of our parents do the exact same thing.

I’m not only Canadian but a Torontoian, which in my mind is one of the best cities in the world.  It’s here that there’s always something to do, people to meet, perspectives to change.  So, as I leave you I just want to say, Toronto, you gave me my husband, my kid, my education.  I love you and I’ll see you when I see you.  Alright Boston, I’m game if you are.

Happy Canada Day.

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The rebound

Like death and taxes, failure is a constant part of life.  These disappointments, however painful, are completely necessary because those upswings wouldn’t be nearly as sweet without these lows.  I picture what I call the “craptastic” moments to be very much like the rebound in basketball, when you don’t score the points but the ball makes contact and there is potential for it to go in many different directions.  The challenge is to not get lost in the self-doubt.

Failure makes you feel very small but after you have a drink or twenty, kiss a couple of boys and stay in bed for a few days, it’s time to just get on with it.  This is the point when I start to retrace my steps.  I evaluate my actions and try to find the point when it began to go awry.  Funnily enough, the feeling of shock from falling on your face starts to lessen precisely when you wonder how you didn’t see it coming.  This also helps to contextualize it as a part of your history, literally a blip on the radar when things weren’t so great.  It is here that you have to put the feelings of lack or worthlessness aside because you are neither of those things.  Failure is not an inherent part of who you are, it’s just a part of the story.

Plus, we garner hope in the fact that there is always something to do.  Whether it’s getting yourself out of your pajamas or building up the courage to start on your next endeavour, they are steps to healing and preparing to try again.  Writer Calvin Trillin always emphasizes that faltering is an inevitable part of being human.  It’s the grace with which you pull yourself together that matters.  When you get past all of the Vince Vaughan and vegas, baby, vegas, the film Swingers  actually suggests a similar approach to returning to the living.  Jon Favreau is mourning the end of a long-term relationship and when Ron Livingston comes to visit he not only brings him a sandwich but some advice.  You want to feel it?  Sure, go right ahead.  But with every day that passes, the hurt will marginally shrink till one day it will be gone.  It’s true you know, time is everyone’s contingency plan.  Better luck next time.  No, seriously, you might have better luck next time.

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Flying solo

Traveling alone is one of the best things you can do as a woman.  It’s almost as if the positives and negatives go hand in hand.  You have to consider your safety but that mindfulness forces you to build some character.  Not having anyone to rely on, you learn to do things that you normally would have relegated to your partner, friend or mother.  For example, I used to be awful at giving directions and it was a better option to ask a stranger on the street rather than have me read a map.  Now, I am quite proficient at orienting us when we travel because I was forced to practice.  I learnt to navigate street names and intersections because I had to find my way around in a strange place, often in the dark, slightly intoxicated and alone.  The other benefit is that you challenge your preconceived notions about who you give the time of day.  Being in a foreign country bonds individuals from different backgrounds together and it’s from these friendship that you recognize how distinctions enrich your life.

Being on my own also gave me the freedom to call all of the shots.  I no longer had to consult another person and make concessions on film choices or the plans for an evening.  Having been in a relationship since the age of 16 it was quite liberating.  I ate alone and did not feel like a loser.  But with all of that freedom from familial obligations came a whole lot of time and at some points boredom.  Just like nothing good happens after 2 am nothing good comes from being idle.  Lets just say that I went looking for some drama when it didn’t come a knocking.  After I got that out of my system, I read a lot of books, drank some coffee, and sat in some air conditioned theatres to fill up the spaces and silences.

Within this context I spent many hours on my own.  I still had my family of close friends with whom I connected with on a regular basis but this didn’t account for when I was traveling from site to site, researching and writing.  Reflecting on it now there were several instances where I could have easily disappeared to never again see the light of day.  But like with anything in life we roll the dice and hope for the good outcomes.  I even took a romantic trip to Bali solo and ate breakfast in bed every single day.  All of this is fine and good till several months into my time abroad I started preferring this state of solitude.  The upside is that it’s rather peaceful to go days at a time not speaking to anyone.  It was a whole lot less work that’s for sure.  But when I started to view human interaction as a source of fatigue I knew I was on the precipice of some not so healthy tendencies.  But there is a middle-ground between the extremes.  There’s nothing worse than someone who cannot be fulfilled without some sort of social affirmation.  The balance is just hard to achieve.

Please let me demonstrate the dangers of a hundred years of solitude.  I recently saw a documentary called Guys and Dolls about men who buy life-size love dolls to serve as their companions.  They speak to them, shower them with affection, perform sex acts and buy children’s clothes to dress them up.  So, basically Lars and the real girl without Ryan Gosling to take the edge off.  Now, there’s a politically correct reaction and a more honest one that I felt.  Why don’t I give you both.  PC: “well, that’s interesting.”  Honest: “that’s some weird shit.”  I have no problem with men owning dolls and I’m even fine with them assigning personality traits like meek, standoffish or traditional to them.  We all have desires and enact them in various ways.  Truly, I believe that as long as you’re not disrespecting or physically harming anyone there’s enough room for all of us.  I am more uncomfortable with the motivations behind the ownership.  Research indicates that many of these men have not been rejected by women and could probably have actual relationships, they would rather have a woman who will not speak back and whom they can fully control.  They can’t achieve this with actual human beings with their flaws and multiplicities.  I think that’s when your fantasies cross over to the slightly delusional and unhealthy side.  When the uncertainty of life is a source of fear rather than excitement it might be time to ask yourself a few pertinent questions.  In this life you cannot make anyone reciprocate your feelings or remain in love with you.  Yes, people do leave but when this debilitates you it becomes kind of sad.

These stories are not be fetishized or gawked at.  It’s a reality that we are continually becoming more disconnected and feelings of alienation can isolate the best of us.  But perhaps instead of withdrawing completely to material cultures to cope it might be more fulfilling to try to make some contact.  Join a drum circle, Amnesty international, a house league.  Anything, just open the door and step outside.

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Paris

I hope that if I am a very good person I will be reborn as a Parisian.  Seriously though, how does anyone get anything done in that city?  If I was living there I would be too busy choosing my next outfit or kissing the beautiful, beautiful French men to do normal, mundane things like holding down a job or filing my taxes.  My girl-crush began about a year ago when I started reading travel accounts, parenting and fashion guides by those lucky enough to call Paris their home.  I’ve assigned the place a gender because I imagine her as a tall, willowy woman who does not give anyone the time of day.  When we bought our tickets to visit, I told Andrew that my obsession with French culture had come full circle and that I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I know that when you like and want someone so much, it always ends badly.  Surprisingly my expectations were not shattered and I fell even harder.  As if that’s even possible. I’ve put off writing this post for a long time because I find it difficult to articulate my affection for a place that mostly makes me see feelings and colours.  So here is my attempt to express my love for a city where I will never ever belong.

The care and consideration that the French assign to their food is inspiring.  It’s not just their emphasis on eating fresh, locally grown products but also in their practice of consumption.  Many Parisians are trying to maintain a healthy weight because really, their exceptionally cut clothes would not fall the same way otherwise.  As a result their portions are smaller but very flavourful.  It’s as if they know that the first taste is the most enjoyable and what remains on your plate is filler.  By introducing various dishes to their palate throughout the course of a meal, the process becomes much more of a sacred ritual, rather than to fulfill the caloric intake for the day.  And surprisingly for someone whose weakness lies in sweets and pastries I did not eat them every hour.  Perhaps it was because it was plentiful and ever-present, they became almost banal and I did not desire it as much.

Their relationship to material and sartorial cultures is equally as meticulous.  Much of the clothing in Paris is fairly expensive, with sales only occurring a few times a year, so I wondered how there were still so many well-dressed individuals on the street.  It’s because they do not take trends at face-value but rather invest in good-quality but classic pieces that plays on their strengths.  This also goes hand in hand with being within a certain weight range because you cannot buy a new wardrobe annually.  I’m pretty sure that you would go bankrupt.  There also seems to be a social expectation to be well-groomed when entering society, not just to respect those around you but yourself.

Having produced some of the most influential theorists like Foucault, De Beauvoir, Derrida and Bourdieu engagement with the cultural and social milieu is encouraged.  Now here comes my problem with Paris, one that I hope to address prior to returning to live there for an extended period of time.  You need the language to even stand a chance.  Every account I’ve read has detailed how difficult it is to breakthrough socially but at least by speaking broken French there is still the potential for encounters and perhaps friendship.  Why do you think I want to reincarnated as Parisian and not just immigrate there?  I’ve never felt more powerless than when I was stringing together nouns and verbs, and the only impression I gleaned was that they were being rude to me.  Please, you find impolite people everywhere and they’re not worth wasting your mental energy over.  Still, I wish I could know how annoying they find us “Americans.”  But overall, Paris is a lovely place with some kind, considerate and fascinating souls.  Truly, you do not disappoint and what is more seductive than a city that makes you want to put your best version forward, a community that makes you want to be better?

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Let go

Didn’t Joni warn us that “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?”  See, when I hear it in my head it’s Janet Jackson’s version and you can catch Q-Tip reply “Joni Mitchell never lies.”  And she doesn’t.  But I’ve always thought that nostalgia was probably the least productive thing that you can choose to wallow in.  What is more futile than fighting change?  I’d rather not struggle against the wave, I’d like for it to take me to shore.

I’ve never been afraid of letting go but then again maybe it’s because I’m an immigrant.  It’s like I got a lifetime’s worth of saying goodbye done and over with when I was 6 years old, when I left my loud, affectionate, beautiful extended family.  When it broke a part of me.  I’ve shed enough tears in all the visits since then and I’m sick and tired of it.  Now I keep my goodbyes short and sweet, I get on with things and just plan on buying some plane tickets.  What is it with you Burma?  You keep drawing me back in.  Even if I wanted you to remain, you too have changed, with all of your tall buildings and politics.  

The best thing that transformation offers us is that life continues, even after people have left us, even after you have moved on, even after you make new meanings.  All of my friends are moving away and so are we.  We were once sheltered by the university campus, classrooms, and nights out.  Then we got jobs or went to grad school, slowly accumulating more duties and responsibilities.  Now many of us are packing up those exact homes in the city that protected us to start anew.  It’s hard for me to define the way I’m feeling but grief is definitely part of it.  Perhaps it’s because we’re older and we’re not approaching this point of transition as we did former ones.  After high school you promise that you’ll keep in touch and remain friends.  After university you say the same things but actually mean it and try your best.  Now, I know, with slight regret that it’s going to be harder and harder to maintain these bonds.  Time, distance and busy lives will start to diminish the ties, but however frayed these friendships become I know that a part of them remain.  No, they won’t be the same but a different version does not undermine the love at its core.  I’m not going to let them dissipate because I’m also mature enough to know that profound connections are not that easy to form.  I’m not twenty and feeling like everyone will be my best friend.  I have my best friends already.  They’re my people.  We’ll just see each other when we see each other.

I’m rather thankful for Joni’s words and they don’t make me sad.  They shake me up to not take a single thing for granted.

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Becoming Kate

I hate having such an unusual name.  It’s a pain in the ass.  Even at the age of 32 it is still a source of anxiety and it’s one that I can’t escape because it literally allows me to exist.  This is the marker that signifies your relationship to the state through your citizenship, rights and privileges.  It also impacts your personal life.

Having an identifier that is difficult to pronounce and spell has meant that I’ve never been able to graduate without whispering its correct pronunciation to the proctor.  This name has further heightened the already existing tension of meeting new people and building networks.  When I lived in Thailand for a year, many of the social interactions took place in bars.  Most of my friends were expats but do you know how awkward it is to yell over the loud music and repeat my name for the umpteenth time?  Then the questions about my background and the origins of the name begin, which yes can bring forth some great conversation, but it gets a bit old the twentieth time around.

All of these experiences influenced my decision to change it up a bit.  A few years ago I was in a dressing room at Lululemon and they asked for my name to be written on the door.  I replied “Kate” and with that the sales person smiled, spelt it correctly and told me to call her if I needed any assistance.  There were no questions, no switching of letters, she was just on her merry way.  For the first time I understood what the Jennifers of the world always get to feel.  I was riding on a wave of ease and it was addictive.  So I did it again.  Over and over, at Starbucks, The Gap, Club Monaco, basically in any establishment which required this form of interaction.

The best way to rile up a graduate student is to bring up the word “normativity.”  It is this process that people go on and on about for hundreds of pages trying to understand and challenge.  We are trained to feel that there is nothing worse than to fall into the normative trap or to prescribe this existence for others.  The creation of hard boundaries and characterizing individuals as deviants gets you kicked off the team.  I’m just kidding, inclusivity is at the core of critical studies.  You just get shamed and then kicked off the team.  Obviously these theories are extremely important.  I mean the world would still be unbearable without these contentions and the brave souls who are trying to slowly destabilize these systems.  But you know what, it is also so incredibly appealing to be “normal.”  The safety and comfort of fitting in is a situation that is hard to pull yourself out of.  It’s hard to resurface.  But who says everything has to be so difficult all of the time?  If I’m going to fake it and pretend I might as well enjoy it.  There is a threshold to all of this fun anyways because it is not possible to make this a legal reality.  There would be far too many friends to tell, identification cards to change, aspects of my life to dismantle.  I can never actually become Kate because I’m already someone else.  That’s alright though.  You can always play innocent games whenever you want.

Why the name Kate you might ask?  What other name can make you think of fashionable, talented and interesting women in 5 seconds flat?  Winslet, Bosworth, Mara, Middleton.  They also have an air about them that is a bit reserved, calm and composed.  I am not and will never be one of the Kate Hudsons of the world.  You see, when I play dress-up I always use beautiful clothes.

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Fundamentals

My husband likes to pick things up off the street.  I don’t like to pick things up off the street.  You know when people leave their old toys or furniture on the curb for treasure seekers, or in my humble opinion, garbage day, Andrew has no problem inspecting its quality and taking it if appropriate.  I would rather die than touch any of it.  Upon discussion one day I said the following:

 

E:  That is where we fundamentally differ.

A: Right, and that’s why you’ll be bankrupt and I’ll be living in a mansion.

E:  Please, if you’re not living in a mansion by now you won’t be living in a mansion 5 years from now when you divorce me.

 

For a married couple we use the “D” word a lot in our banter.  Hmmm, is it a problem?  I’m not sure so I’ll think about it later.  But what this conversation does illustrate is that we are two very different people.  We approach life in distinct ways that is grounded in our upbringings, histories and personalities.  I almost feel sometimes that we are held together more from our common experiences than our compatibility as a couple.  When you’ve known each other from a very young age your lives begin to build around each other and these roots either serve as a solid foundation or they start to strangle you.  I really dislike binaries because they are so reductionist but for certain aspects of our marriage they actually describe us to a T.  He’s heavy, I’m light; he’s careful, I’m not; he’s emotional, I’m in my head most of the time.  Basically, on a spectrum of reincarnation he’s an old soul and I’m fairly young.  These variances can bring about friction and there is more room for heated debates about our next steps.  Do I think that a relationship with someone with more similar character traits be easier?  Yes, of course.  There are few things more exhausting than feeling like someone doesn’t quite “get” you.  But I think there are positive aspects to this type of partnership.  It all depends on how you frame the resistance that is bound to result from two different people choosing to make a life together.

When you think of your partnership as being a team it’s much easier to smooth out the rough edges.  I honestly feel that we make up for each other’s weaknesses.  If Andrew was not a part of my days, months, years, I would make so many more rash decisions and would be in a continual state of rebuilding and repairing my life.  If I was not a part of Andrew’s world he would be married to his work, be so frugal and not have the levity to also enjoy the simple pleasures.  I feel like we can do so many more productive and exciting things precisely because of our fundamental differences.  Basically, we can get much further together than apart and that’s worth investing in.

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