Monday, 10 August 2015

The Life Lesson I Learned at My First Hindu Wedding

This weekend, my boyfriend and I attended a Hindu wedding ceremony.

On Friday night, we went to the Vedic ceremony at the Hindu Sabha Temple. The room was full of circular tables for the guests to sit at and witness the marriage of the bride and groom.

My boyfriend and I stood at the back of the room, carefully contemplating which table to occupy. I saw one table that was empty and offered a great view because it was close to the front. I pointed to it and we headed over.

We sat down, and the ceremony began shortly after. But as a first-timer, I was so excited to see the ceremony that we moved a few seats over to get a better view. When I moved, I heard some huffing and puffing going on behind me. I turned my head to see that I was now in the way of a little girl’s view. The girl, about 11, gave me a series of dirty looks, making it obvious that she was annoyed with me.

At first, I felt bad for impeding her ability to see, but as she continued to huff and puff, obviously trying to make a point, I was reminded of a book I read in grade eight.

The book was called The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey. One of the seven habits that stuck with me throughout the years was how to be proactive instead of reactive. Essentially, had she had read the book, she would have known that in this case, rather than huffing and puffing and readying herself to blow a house down, she should’ve simply got up and switched seats.

With this reminder, I was able to watch the bride and groom perform the rites and marry each other-guilt free. My boyfriend and I even joked about it; every time we shifted in our seats we looked at each other, as if we feared for our lives and listened for her loud, exhaustive sighs.

The second night of the wedding was the reception. It took place in a beautiful banquet hall. After dinner and a few speeches, the DJ asked the crowd if we were ready to party, to which everyone in the room replied a roaring yes. But when the music started, I was reminded of just how much my boyfriend hates dancing.

Despite being ready to fly over to the dance floor, my date needed a couple drinks in his system before busting his moves. I learned very early on in our relationship that this is just how he is.

I was annoyed. I sat there wondering when on earth he was going to be ready, because I sure was.

“Go dance,” he suggested. I rolled my eyes. “By myself?” I shot back.

Just as I was about to huff and puff, I remembered the little girl from the night before. Just as fast as I was able to diagnose the problem of her being reactive instead of proactive, I was able to realize that I was being reactive, too.

I asked myself, “Are you upset that Renaldo isn’t dancing? Or are you upset because you’re not dancing?”


The issue the first night was that the little girl’s view had been blocked. Rather than get up and move to one of the many empty seats, she made a commotion to get our attention and hope that we would pity her and unblock her view.

The issue the second night was that I was ready to dance and my partner wasn’t. And so I too, sat there, getting ready to huff and puff, hoping he’d feel bad for me and get up and dance. But what type of dancing would that be?

On that second night, I headed over to the dance floor. I didn’t know anyone, but I knew how to dance. So I did. And after a few more drinks, he came and joined me and we danced together.

So many times, our emotions cloud our ability to identify the real issue. We’re unable to see what it is that’s really bothering us. And more importantly, we’re unable to see that the solution lies within us, and certainly within our control.

In both cases, the solution, and the lesson, was the same.

Sometimes, all you have to do is get up and move.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Why is My Music Collection Your Problem?

Today, I made the long-awaited switch from a Samsung Galaxy 3 to an iPhone 5s. I had switched from Rogers to WIND last year after being up to my neck in expensive phone bills with not enough data to justify the monthly expense. But when I switched, iPhones were unavailable with my new carrier.

Great, I thought, and settled for the cheapest thing I could find.

When I finally got to unite my new phone with my iTunes, all my old music came back, and I decided to throw some more songs on there. But as my old music played in the background, it reminded me of the long road I travelled to arrive at such a diverse-and problematic-taste in music.

Growing up, my dad was the most culturally confused guy I had known. He was a black guy that rode a motorcycle, wore cowboy boots, spoke a little bit of Portuguese and Hindi, and only listened to 80s new wave.

My mom, on the other hand, was a white woman who was so into funk and disco that her parents “rolled in their graves”, as she called it. She had a thing for Shabba Ranks, and Flow 93.5 was, for as long as I can remember, her favorite station.

So when people asked me what I listened to, I would tell them, “everything”. They would often laugh this off, in the way someone would laugh off a person thinking having a few Shania Twain songs in their iTunes meant they listen to country.

It was just one of those things. I was mixed, but too black to be white, so I was just black. And that determined the type of music that it was “okay” for me to listen to.

Maybe I’m being very sensitive, but I recall making playlists to listen to for the different hallways in my high school. My Chemical Romance couldn’t be blaring when I walked past the cafeteria. And if I was stopping to chat with the white kids, I didn’t want them asking me what it meant to “roll up de tassa.”

I thought this wasn't such an issue anymore. But a few weeks ago, I was bartending at a rugby club when Blink 182's "What's My Age Again?" came on. I sang all the lyrics as I poured drinks and the people on the other side of the bar, mostly white, looked like they'd seen a ghost. 

But truthfully, I was never a fan of rap. Or hip hop. I listened to it, but it didn’t get me going in anyway. And for the longest time, I was made to believe that this was because I was “whitewashed”, or “not from the hood”. People tried for the life of them to figure it out; to come up with a reasonable, logical diagnosis for this thing that they likened to an illness, a disease.

Why don’t you listen to your music?

So one day, I asked my dad this question.

“Dad,” I said. “Why don’t you listen to your music?”

“This is my music,” he said, acknowledging Tears for Fears on the radio. He may have even played the imaginary guitar to the solo that comes towards the end of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”

I found my mom in the kitchen. She was hopping and bopping to the music on the radio as she cooked us dinner that day.

“Mom, why don’t you listen to your music?” I asked.

She laughed a hearty laugh and looked at me. “Honey, trust me. This is my music.”

I had no further questions. In that moment, I understood.

I was part of the same school of thought that had inspired the confusion in my own musical taste. I had heard so often that certain music wasn’t for me, that I was beginning to believe it. This was the same type of ignorance that had me mislabeling my dad as confused, when really, he seemed to have it all figured out.

When I scrolled through my music today, I saw everyone from Foster the People to Mac Demarco. I saw the Cold War Kids and Krosfyah and even some Ashanti (back when she was good). There was rock, there was reggae, there was a lot of soca and a lot of good music.

Imagine being told that the only thing, universally, that unites us more than food, I would argue, has its own target audience, and those audiences are based on skin color.

And imagine growing up and actually believing that. Because I did.

But I don’t anymore. And thank God for that.

I’ve come to realize that this constant over-compartmentalization of things and people and music and food and experiences is just a way that people come to terms with their own discomfort; their own misunderstanding.

It’s a way for them to organize grey areas into darker greys and lighter greys.

Because people fear what they don’t understand.

And an open-mind is one of the scariest things a closed-minded person might ever face. Because it poses the challenge of having them, too, open their minds, and see life beyond their black and white disillusioned realities that got them here in the first place.

I don’t listen to the music I do because I “must have suffered some traumatic experience to this specific genre that has me turned off of it for life,” and I don’t listen to it because “my parents obviously didn’t raise me right.”

I listen to it because it appeals to me. I listen to it because it’s my music. Its not up for questioning, and its not up for debate. This is the music that speaks to me.

Every so often, my dad and I compare our music libraries. He introduces me to bands I have never heard of, and songs that become my favorite, and I do the same for him. But there’s this really beautiful thing that happens sometimes where he’ll tell me he has a song that he’ll know I love and I already have it. And I already love it.

Art is art. And music is music. And like all the universal things that unite us, it’s meant to be enjoyed by everyone and for everyone.

Open your minds. And open your ears. You might really like what you hear. 

Monday, 20 July 2015

#CyclistProblems: The Difficulty of Cycling in Scarborough

There is nothing more annoying than driving in Toronto. The constant traffic, the inescapable sound of horns honking and being flipped off often leads me to question why I spent money on a vehicle in the first place. It is then that I remember the convenience of being able to get anywhere in the city-as fast as traffic allows me to-and remember why I signed the papers.

The arrival of the Pan Am games has made traffic even more of a nuisance. The lane restrictions, the jam-packed streets and the surplus of cars on the roads has made Scarborough residents feel like they’re Downtown.

A recent class project about an issue that needs some attention got my partner, Asha and I thinking about cycling. I thought about how common it is to hear news stories about the latest cyclist to be hit by a driver at a big intersection, like Neilson and Sheppard. In the last year, I can personally recall Immanuel Sinnadurai being killed there while on his bike.

On a recent trip to Montreal, my boyfriend and I rented what’s called a bixi. You pay $5.00 for a bicycle rental that lasts you 24 hours, and you can drop it off at any bixi station set up throughout the city. I was mind-blown. I couldn’t believe how easy it all was. When my friends told me that we had these in Toronto, I felt silly for having to travel all the way to Montreal only to try out something I had in my own home and native city.

As we cruised down the Old Port of Montreal, I felt inspired to reconnect with my own bike. Then I wondered why I hadn’t ridden it so often anymore. But when I came back to Toronto, to the traffic, the honking, and the fingers, again, I was reminded.

For some, this may have been even more of an excuse to hop on a bike, but for me, I saw red flags and danger signs all over the place.

Quite frankly, cycling in suburbia is not the same as cycling in Montreal. Its not even the same as cycling in Downtown, Toronto. The bike lanes that allow cyclists their own space just do not exist. In fact, the bike paths that they are given aren’t well-lit enough to make even the bravest soul feel safe.

To combat this issue, we’ve contacted two Scarborough MPs, Mitzi Hunter and Raymond Cho to ask that they spend some time and resources trying to resolve the ongoing issues that exist for cyclists. We seem to live in this paradoxical world of telling people to save the environment, carpool and cycle, but fail to realize how impossible it is for them to do so without the essential resources.

Suburbia often gets a bad rap. My aunt that lives in Yorkville always jokes about how people who live in suburbia are more prone to being overweight because we drive everywhere. And she’s right. People of the suburbs love their cars. But I’m sure that people in suburbia would love their bikes, too, if only it were safe enough for them to ride them.

Bike riding in Scarborough would be an absolute pleasure. We’ve got streets like Morningside that allow for virtually uninterrupted riding for stretches of road before a traffic light pops up. But safety is a huge issue. There’s no doubt that it’s time for a change, Scarborough. Lets get on our bikes and prompt an increase in our safety. Once you learn how to ride, you never forget. But lets not wait long enough to get back on our bikes to have to test that theory out.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

What I Learned About Beauty After Straightening My Hair

Deciding to start my natural hair journey had been long overdue.

My hair had been so damaged from heat and the overuse of products not meant for it that I could hear it laughing at me every time I ran my fingers through it, contemplating to just let it be.

It was hard at first. It was in this awkward transition stage of being both dead and alive. It was kind of like that awkward stage women go through with their eyebrows when trying to grow them out.

Somehow, I managed. For months, my hair went untouched by straightening devices like flat irons, blow dryers, even serums and hair treatments that were designed to take away from its naturalness. My curls were making a come back!

Before embarking on my journey, I agreed that once every six months, I would straighten my hair to see how my growth was progressing. This week marked the sixth month. So I pulled out my flat iron, blew the dust off, and prepared to be amazed at my growth. But boy, was I disappointed. It went nowhere near as straight as it used to, and my ends were deader than I knew what to do with.

Maybe its time for a trim, I thought to myself. The very next day, I was in my hairdressers seat asking Leann to keep it as long as possible while trimming away the lifeless ends that really hadn’t looked that bad when my hair was curly.

I walked out of there feeling great. My hair was healthy and it looked good.

But before long, there were a series of unusual remarks, stares, and whistles that got me thinking about society’s standard of beauty, who fits into it, and what it means for those that don’t.

“Its like having two girlfriends,” my boyfriend said to me when he saw me that night. This was something I had heard before from men whose girlfriends alternated between straight and curly hair. I was tempted to ask him which girlfriend he liked better, but opted not to.

Before I met up with him that night, I had several clients compliment my appearance. Three of them asked for my number, and one of them told me I look “Spanish.” He seemed startled that I wasn’t grinning at his lame attempt to flatter me by essentially encouraging me to identify with something I didn’t.

It was strange. These were all clients I had served before. They had seen me on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. They hadn’t said any of these things to me when I wore my hair naturally. Where was all this attention coming from?

Walking to grab tea from Tim Horton’s, an older white man said “How you doin’ beautiful?” I note his colour only because I haven’t been hit on by a white guy since the last time my hair was straight.

Strangely, my treatment from women also underwent a shift. The female clients I had that were typically quite rude or standoffish were either extra nice or extra quiet. Why? I wondered. Be rude to me! I can handle it. But then I thought about it.

Personally, when I am face to face with a woman who fits into society’s standard of beauty better than I do, it can be intimidating. I find myself to be either extra nice or extra quiet. Hm. Was I being paranoid or was this an inferiority complex? If so, does this mean our treatment towards people depends on how they appear? How well they fit into the “skinny with white features” depiction of beauty?

For the six months that I wore my hair curly, I felt confident. I felt like I had been a one-girl revolution who walked with purpose, making a statement with every step. But when I wore my hair straight, I felt safe.

What’s the difference?

With curly hair, my sense of approval, the validation of my beauty, and my self-love came from the inside. It meant that even without the series of remarks, comments and whistles, I knew I was beautiful because damn it, I felt beautiful inside.

But with my straight hair, I felt safe. I felt like I looked racially ambiguous; maybe Spanish, maybe mixed, maybe straight white with a tan. Or maybe even full-black, but light enough to escape the dreaded implications of what that might mean in today’s society for my success in a job interview or the preferential treatment that men or women may have towards me because it was validated to me.

The truth is; natural hair represents an absence of fear. And for a lot of men, especially the men who specifically go after a woman based on her closeness to “beauty”, nothing is scarier than a woman who publicly displays an absence of fear. Natural hair represents an ability to ignore the media’s messages about what beauty is. It’s like wearing a fluorescent yellow t-shirt that says, “Yeah, I saw the commercial for that new L’oreal crap and I’m not interested.”

Last week, I had to hand in something called a privilege diary for my Women’s Studies class. We had to detail how privileged or unprivileged we were in certain cases. I noted that the fact that I am a woman of colour makes me less privileged than a white woman. But the fact that I am a lighter skinned woman of colour makes me more privileged than a dark skinned woman. The fact that my hair can transition, naturally, from kinky curly to bone straight makes me more privileged than women who have to use artificial hair, relaxing treatments and the like, to be more like what the media tells us is beautiful.

Despite all of that, here’s one thing I know to be true: I am not my hair. But society sure has a way of making us feel differently. Especially women of colour.

Why is it that when women wear their hair naturally they are complimented by being called “unique” or “brave”? When I started wearing my hair naturally, people joked that I had “tamed the beast.” I still have no idea which beast they are referring to. But when women have straight hair, or straighten their hair, they're “sexy” or “beautiful.”

So to all the men, especially the black men, who felt the need to compliment me on my “remarkable beauty”, ask for my “digits”, or tip toe around my temporary whiteness, thank you. But men like you are a huge part of the reason black women have taken so long to begin embracing their natural hair. You are a huge part of the hostility that exists between light-skinned women and dark-skinned women. You are a huge reason the media hasn’t changed the message.

And what message does that send to young women? What message did it send to me when I was growing up? Because in retrospect, the media was a big, scary adult that whispered this in my bi-racial ear, “Kid, you’re gonna wanna identify with your white side more if you really wanna make it out there.”

It wasn’t until I saw the Charmsie’s and the Halfie Truth’s and the Lipstick n’ Curls of the world that I realized that curly hair is okay, natural hair is okay.

And it certainly is beautiful. And sexy.

And brave. 

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The Unexpected Lesson I Learned at My First Rave

This past weekend, I learned a very valuable lesson about perspective. And accountability.

It came at an unexpected time, in an even more unexpected place: Beach Club Fest 2015.

Thousands of Toronto’s hottest party animals descended on Muzik Nightclub Saturday afternoon for an all-day, all-night party. Women wearing bikinis and stilettos walked past muscular, shirtless men.

There I was in the midst of it all, wondering what I had been doing there. I had never been into electronic dance music, but when my two friends insisted I would have a good time, I felt compelled to accept the invite.

I lay there in my yellow bikini under a tree, taking in the sun. I realized a long time ago that I have an abnormal obsession and love for the feeling of the sun on my skin, and not for the tan. I just love feeling the warmth of the sun on me. So much so that whenever the sun got trapped in the big tree ahead of me, my smile turned upside down.

I had been laying there for about half an hour when I realized that the sun was diminishing. It was moving very gradually away from me and was almost completely hidden behind the tree.

My friends had suggested moving to the pool where there was more sun. But I insisted on staying where we were. I knew that after a short while, the sun would be back in the open sky and I would feel that warmth again.

Another half hour passed and the sun was still hiding behind the tree. While it had indeed moved, it still had a long way to go before it was out in the clear sky again. Fed up, my friends said, “Stephanie, there is sun at the pool, we just have to move there.”

The idea of getting up, gathering all my belongings, and trying to find comfort at the pool seemed daunting. But I wanted the warmth of the sun more than I wanted to stay where I was. And so I picked myself up, gathered my belongings, and walked over to the pool.

When we got to the pool, I couldn’t believe how warm it was there. The sun was directly on me! People were dancing. Heck, I was dancing. There were beach balls everywhere. But more importantly, there was sun. There wasn’t a cloud-or a tree-in sight.

I was crushed that I hadn’t moved here earlier. I could’ve been feeling the comfort of the sun all this time. Mid-dance move I asked myself what had been stopping me the whole time I was laying by the tree.

Truthfully, I just didn’t want to move. I was comfortable. I knew the sun was going to come back in due time. I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t want to do anything. I was being lazy. I just wanted to lay there and feel the sun.

Then it hit me.

Constantly, easily, and unforgivingly do we make excuses for ourselves to stay in whatever situation we might be in at the time. We get comfortable, we tell ourselves it will happen later, or next time, when really, those are grounds for it, whatever it might be, to not happen at all.

How could I have possibly laid there under that tree for almost an hour waiting for the sun to come back when there was sun elsewhere the entire time? It’s like I was standing in a dark room complaining there was no light and there had been a switch in front of me the whole time. All I had to do was reach for it.

That tree had represented every piece of adversity I had ever faced. It represented the word no. It represented every excuse I had ever made for myself, and every excuse I made for others.

We get so familiar with the darkness that we forget what the warmth of light feels like. We forget how to remind ourselves to look elsewhere when our current circumstance isn't good enough for us. We forget what good enough is.

It is so easy to stumble across mediocrity, unhappiness, or complacency. It’s so easy to fall into a rut and decorate it and call it home. But just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s okay.

This weekend I learned that in life, there is only so much sunlight before the darkness comes. And you’re going to want as much of it as you can get, not only because it feels good but because you deserve it. You have to be willing to get up and move sometimes.

As I stood there on the side of the pool, looking all around me and feeling kissed by the sun, I learned two very valuable lessons. The first is that if you want it, whatever it might be, you have to go after it. The second is that the music of life really isn't so bad once you start dancing.