Friday, 16 January 2015

Why I did better in university than college

When I switched into the joint program for journalism at University of Toronto, I was heart-broken to discover that I’d have to spend three semesters in college.

I’m not even too sure why to be honest.

I guess I felt like it was a downgrade. Maybe a lot of people go from university to college, but that was never in my plans. My parents were so proud of me for making it into one of Canada’s most high-ranked and elite universities, would they look down on me for being in college? Would my degree equate to less because some of my time in post-secondary was acquired in a college?

And, why am I still paying university tuition if I’m doing college-level courses?

The first day I got to college, I was so unimpressed my eyebrows couldn’t sink any lower into the middle of my face if I had been photoshopped. The campus was a bit smaller than my high school. It was a huge square with a small outdoor space in the middle and monotonous paint colours that made me nauseous after a while.

But the teachers were surprisingly lively.

In our first semester, we learned news reporting, copy-editing, page design, and imaging. The classes were so unlike anything I’d ever taken in university. We learned so much about the theory of journalism, the elements of journalism and transnational issues in university that I thought it would take me getting into the workforce to do things like this.

Our assignments came quickly and piled up even faster and challenged my peers and I in a way we hadn’t been challenged before. We had class discussions just as we had in university, but we did work. A lot of work.

After receiving high 70s and high 80s in university on essays and written assignments and 90s for my participation, I expected to be even better in college. After all, college is so much easier than university isn’t it?

The truth is, it’s not.

It might even be more difficult. For journalism anyway, and a lot of other courses that require serious hands-on training.

The thing is, university is all about theory. We sit in lectures for an hour or two and listen (perhaps) to the history of our field. We learn about the famous people who paved the way for the men and women hoping to make it, and we write essays, reflections, midterms and exams.

But in college, we write. We learn. We read. We talk to each other. We debate. We discuss. We engage. We indulge in news every single day. We write draft after draft and it still isn’t good enough. Our teachers are hard on us. They cover our paper in red pen and tell us we should know how to spell these words by now, commas don’t go there, and didn’t your copy-editor teach you this already?

I did better in university than I did in college because I was pushed in college, whereas whatever I handed in was "good enough" in university, and "good enough" gets you good grades.

A lot of people take the easy way out because it’s, well, easy. But there is nothing to be gained from easy. If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you. You don’t make it to the highest level in a video game by selecting the easiest level each time you play. You don’t improve at a sport by ensuring your opponents are less qualified than you. And you don’t make it anywhere, and I mean anywhere, by refusing to challenge yourself when necessary and even when not.

Sometimes we judge books by their covers. Sometimes we think we’re too good or too old to learn some of the simplest lessons that are relayed via Disney movies or Robert Munch books. But sometimes, if we just open our eyes we see the message that we missed the first, second and maybe even third time.

University may have taught me to open my eyes, but it was college that helped me to see.

Friday, 9 January 2015

My problem with Netflix

Whoever invented Netflix is a genius.

I would suppose that’s why a ton of other programs, like Shomi and Crave TV that provide bulks of movies and television series to be watched from the comfort of our home, computer-or TV-are now booming. Right in time for winter, too.

Not so genius, however, are the people that get sucked in to the $7.99 warp of over-consumption of what these programs offer. But at such low costs, it’s hard not to. Less than $10 for unlimited access to entertainment? Sign me up.

And I did sign myself up.

When Netflix first came out, I avoided subscription as if it were the plague. I thought, why on earth would I pay to sit and watch marathons of television shows when I barely use my television?

Why would I sacrifice precious hours of my day that I could be outside, you know, doing actual stuff, as opposed to being inside watching people do stuff for me?

But on second hand, that didn’t sound like such a bad idea.

And that, precisely, is my problem with Netflix.

Netflix has preyed on the weakness of many North American and western world inhabitants-boredom.

Boredom is what makes social media the big deal that it is. It sells itself to us as being “social” and “progressive” when all it’s done is allow everyone to have a say and then argue over who’s opinion is the most correct. They call it social but true, authentic communication doesn’t happen through a screen.

Boredom is what makes people fat. It’s what makes us believe that eating is productive, and junk food is a real activity, a past-time of sorts.

Boredom is what makes people shop. It reminds us of all the things that we could use in our house like a potato peeler and maybe another mirror for the hallway and ou! Another jewelry organizer!

Boredom is what makes kids play unhealthy amounts of video games, so bored of playing them that they don’t even recognize that their boredom is now dressed as a habit.

Yet, the convenience of it is marketed to us in such a way that we come to believe that it truly is the greatest thing to happen. What’s better than a night in with Netflix and snacks? What’s cheaper than that?

When I first converted, I authorized my credit card for the monthly payment thinking of all the money I would save by staying in and binge watching television shows that I had missed out on because I never had any interest in them. But now, suddenly, with the opportunity to watch all six seasons of Gossip Girl, I cared about the rather pathetic series that only grew to be more pathetic and addictive, followed by all four seasons of Pretty Little Liars.

I learned something about myself, and probably many other Netflix subscribers while locking myself in my room under my blankets day in and day out:

It isn’t about enjoying the show, it’s about finishing it.

It’s as if each finished episode was another race I ran, each season was the marathon, and the completion of each show was a trophy I would put on my imaginary shelf of what I did, or didn’t do, rather, with my Christmas break.

The reality set in when I had looked at my crumpled up “Holiday Bucket List” a few nights before school started.

Go ice skating.
Visit the Christmas Market,
Watch a Christmas movie.
Drink hot chocolate. With marshmallows.

Perhaps it was the fact that throughout my entire break, I hadn’t written a thing that made me the most disappointed in myself (and in the creator of Netflix). Here I am wanting to be some big famous writer and journalist, but I was cooped up in a mess of blankets wishing Blair Waldorf and Chuck Bass would just be together already.

“Ariana Huffington didn’t make it laying down watching Netflix,” my trusty inside-the-head-voice mocked.

And for the umpteenth time, it was right.

We live in a world where kids don’t ride their bikes outside as much as they used to. You don’t see children playing double-dutch . And do they even sell chalk in stores anymore, you know, for hop scotch?

There are just so many distractions that don’t require us to even think that we’ve succumbed to a very passive way of living, if we can even call it that anymore. Sadly, we have to remind ourselves not to give in to the distractions that keep us from engaging with life.

We have to remind ourselves there is life outside of other people’s lives, one especially worth living, no matter how cold or expensive. There are memories to be made.

I promise you that in five years, you will not be sharing the story of that time that you laid in bed and watched Netflix and nothing epic happened.

So don’t give up your subscription just yet; watch an episode here and there. But let’s not forget about how beautiful life is, not the scripted in some studio with a shitty cast that didn’t do the book justice. But the life that we’ve created for ourselves, and continue to create every time we do something; insignificant or remarkable.

Perhaps my problem is just that I have very little self-control when it comes to these things. That’s why my life so far has been so memorable. Because I act on impulse, and sometimes it’s the best damn thing ever. Other times it’s the worst. But it’s always a lesson, and it’s always a memory.

There are probably a lot of amazing series out there. Maybe I’m biased because I filled my head with the two most insulting shows. But I guarantee you that there is no show better than the one about your life. Where the cast is your friends and family. The setting is wherever you go. It’s actually unpredictable. And the best part?

You’re the star.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Why protestors in Ferguson have got to do better

Underneath a "Season's Greetings" sign, fire and chaos were rampant. Oh, the irony. But local shops in Ferguson are not the only things that were set fire to Monday night. Hopes, visions of change, and a homegrown community were also set ablaze. 

A grand jury’s verdict released Monday revealed that there would be no indictment for Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown to death.

It isn’t the first case like this we’ve seen. Sadly, it probably won’t be the last. With the American justice system providing visible favoritism for white, male police officers, this is just the middle of a long, tragic phenomenon.

Watching the announcement last night, so many things came to mind.

Today on CBC’s Metro Morning, a freelance journalist named Desmond Cole was spoken to. He was on his way to Ferguson, Missouri.

When asked what he was going there for, he said it was to “bring the story home.” He had been covering it from a far and wanted to go to the direct site of where this was all unfolding. He said he wanted to speak to the people who had been there for months, affected by this endless cycle of disposability in young, black men’s lives. He wanted to see what the police officers looked like, how they were conducting themselves. He just wanted to be there.

But he said something that a lot of people need to be aware of:

“Young, black male lives are in danger,” he said, “if a police officer sees you and perceives you as a threat.”

The media has constantly portrayed young black males as the suspects, the suspects and the victims of shootings of “black on black” crime. But as Cole highlighted, instead of focusing on what needs to be done at this point, people are focusing on the very well justified, but in my eyes, seemingly misplaced, anger of black people.

They condemn the rioting, they condemn the looting, they condemn the fires, but Cole posed a question to these people:

“What other choice do these people feel they have?”

Still, I find myself in a blend of emotions.

I feel disappointed in the handling of the verdict. The riots, the fires, the looting, it’s all just a big spectacle that removes the spotlight from where it desperately needs to be right now, and that is change.

I feel sorry for the Brown family who has continuously asked on behalf of themselves and on behalf of their late son for peace, but still for protest.

And I feel angry.

As a protestor, if I fought for months and months to bring attention to something and not one thing was done, I’d be heartbroken. If, just years after watching the death of Trayvon Martin go unpunished, only to see another young black man die at the hands of an officer, white or black, I’d be crushed.

I look around and do not see leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. that can provide a single, solidary voice of the people. I do not see the same love he had in his fight against hatred. I just see the disappointment, the sorrow, and the anger. I see this sad spectacle that lay at the end of decades and decades of racially-charged inequalities and disregard for justice.

The protestors have to do better because it is clear that we have no one else to depend on. The government has failed us. The justice system has failed us. Barack Obama denied that there is any racial favouritism in the policing of the world's most powerful nation. We are all we have. 

Ultimately, there needs to be more organization in these protests. You can wreak havoc for days but yesterday it was revealed to the world that all the efforts from August until then had not changed much, if anything at all.

There is such passion right now, and if that could just be redirected to create the change we need right now, Michael Brown’s death would not have been in vain.

One protestor told Fox news last night:

“This is exactly what they want.”

It reminded me of the schoolyard bully who got enjoyment from seeing their victim get flustered and overcome with emotion. Sometimes, the best way to fight a bully is to refuse to surrender to their expectations. It is to redirect your anger to your work. Remember your goal, and get past them, someway, somehow.

As much as I may think I understand the anger, the truth is, no one except the civilians, the victims, the Trayvon Martins, the Tracy Martins and the Sabrina Fultons, the Michael Browns, the Michael Brown Seniors and the Lesley McSpaddens, and the many before, and the many to come of the world truly understand.

But the one thing I do understand about anger is the potential for change it can create.

I urge you to fight this fight the right way. I urge you to demand and pursue the necessary changes. But most of all I urge you not to give up. Because without the people fighting this fight, there will be more injustices ahead.

If you want to light fire to something, let it be your cause

Friday, 7 November 2014

Jian Ghomeshi: We're not done with you yet

Scandal-plagued radio host Jian Ghomeshi was becoming an international star

Over the weekend, my friends and I celebrated Halloween together. Before we got to the event, my friend’s boyfriend said to me:

“I’m going to harass you tonight. I hope your boyfriend isn’t coming.”

It was easy for me to laugh this off and pay it no mind. He was probably only joking. I knew my boyfriend was arriving at the party shortly after me, so it wouldn’t be a problem. Besides, he didn’t mean it right?

But what if he did?

And what if my boyfriend didn’t show up?

Why did he think he could harass me only if my boyfriend didn’t show up?

Do I tell my friend he said this?

Will she think I’m doing something to attract him?

If I confront him, will he think I’m being too sensitive?

A bunch of questions arose, but for some reason, I didn’t say anything. Not to him. Not to her. And not to my boyfriend.

If I couldn’t speak out about a small and simple issue like this, imagine how Jian Ghomeshi’s victims feel.

As I continued to read articles regarding the scandal, I couldn’t help but feel like there is a huge dismissal of sexual harassment, large and small scale.

The dictionary defines harassment as “(typically of a woman) in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks.” But frankly, this happens more often than we are even trained to recognize. And as this scandal erupted, I hope people realized how untrained we are to fight these instances and provide support for the victims.

It’s always hard for me to negotiate my feelings when situations like this arise because I never know how to feel. Not as a journalist, not as a minority, and not as a woman.

But when I picked up the Toronto Star on Monday and read an article that embodied everything I had been feeling inside, I knew I wasn’t alone.

Jia Junaid writes in an article called “Coming face to face with my unexpected biases” about how she realized her own biases when the story first broke. The lawyer and human rights activist, despite considering herself a supporter of women’s rights and even a survivor of a violent sexual experience, took Ghomeshi’s side at first.

She really did believe it was a “jilted ex-girlfriend”, and doubted her credibility. As she did when more anonymous women came forward, refusing to attach their name to their claim.

It wasn’t until a lawyer and author, Reva Seth, and an actress, Lucy DeCoutere, came forward, that she started to doubt his innocence.

I too felt this way. I refused to believe a personal role model of mine; someone who's radio show I waited around for, lusting after his interviewing techniques, had been this person described by the women.

But I was able to trace exactly where my lack of belief in the claims came from. Besides the invisible lines tracing back to the construction of our society and all the flaws that shape our views, I was biased because I read his post first. He manipulated me in a much milder way than he had these women, but still, used his personality to put in our minds that he was the victim.

In his post, he begins by mentioning the loss of his father. He describes the grief and difficulty of this time in his life. As if the women, too afraid, embarrassed, and terrified that they have to step forward anonymously aren’t having a difficult time either.

Junaid goes on to talk about how problematic it can be when people, like her and I, are more likely to believe a lawyer and an actress because they have good careers and likely have money, than we are to believe women who cannot attach their names to their experiences with Ghomeshi.

She says, “I was part of the problem.”

I think over the course of the next few months a lot of people will be making this revelation. We will realize that whether we are men, women, teens or elderly, we have, at some point, been part of the problem and the reason more women don’t come forward.

The best thing that has come out of this situation is the discussion that it has started internationally. And this is a conversation that has to continue on, which is why I write this post weeks after the issue arose, and days after the very article that inspired it was published.

Because it’s up to everyone to keep talking about it. To make sure that the victims aren’t just forgotten and done away with like the missing plane or the missing girls.

We forget things at a heartbreakingly fast pace. But the way that these women must remember their experiences on a daily basis is the way we have to remember the reality and severity of the problem.

More importantly though, we cannot be a part of it. And it is a very hard thing to do when our society is structured in a way that makes it so easy to not even see how our behaviors, responses, or feelings about things might be a problem.

But in the same way that after spending so much time in the dark you can train your eyes to see things, let’s start to see the behaviors and the responses and the feelings that are problematic. Let’s talk about them and correct them.

And let’s find our way to the light. 

Friday, 31 October 2014

What's the Deal with Slutty Costumes and Halloween?

Remember that scene in Mean Girls where Lindsay Lohan walks into the Halloween party dressed as a zombie bride/ex-wife?

In the movie, the only thing more surprising than the scare factor of her costume was that it was not slutty. At all.

She says something really remarkable that highlights a crazy phenomenon in our society:

“In the regular world, Halloween is when children dress up in costumes and beg for candy. In girl world, Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.”

So how did Halloween go from dressing up as our favorite superheroes or fairy tale princesses to dressing up as the sluttiest possible thing we can get our hands on?

And more importantly, why?

TV producer and host Glenn Beck has joined forces with a group to fight the sexualization of Halloween costumes. On his show, The Glenn Beck Program, he spoke with a panel of women to discuss the consequences of gendering young boys and girls so early.

“I think one of the things that we see, Glenn, is that boys are able to run and play with their costumes, and with girls it’s about looking cute,” one of the panel members said.

You see this in the image above with the female and male lumberjacks. The man could actually pass as someone who could cut a tree down at any given time. The woman is not only dressed unrealistically-who goes into the woods like that?-but posed in a way where it is about her being a model rather than a lumberjack. 

The pressure for women to prioritize vanity in everyday life has remained unchanged. But during Halloween, it’s hard to miss the absence of appropriate clothing on women and the hyper-sexualization of rather normal costume ideas.

“That’s why I love Halloween! Because of all the slutty costumes. Slutty zombies, slutty police officers and slutty firefighters…” a coworker said to me when I discussed this blog post with him.

His words highlight the problematic attitude revolving the issue. You might be a lifesaving firefighter, but your sexuality comes first. You might be a heroic policewoman, but your sexuality comes first.

It also illustrates the exact expectation for women. But one thing that needs to be looked at is whether women succumb to it because of the pressure or by choice.

Truthfully, we live in a society where women, particularly young women, are being bombarded with the importance of appearance: what is hot and what is not. Young girls are growing up in a society that strictly revolves around rating the attractiveness of their outward appearance.

Take lip injections for example.  the newest phenomenon as of late due to Kylie Jenner’s recent ‘lip job’. Teenage girls are now under the impression that full lips equate to beauty. But who is setting this standard? And better yet: why are women allowing this standard of beauty to be set?

We are the ones who hold the bar, and we are the ones in control of how high or low we want to raise it – while you can hell as sure wear anything you please this Halloween, perhaps take into account whether or not you allow yourself to become a sexualized object.

The overjoyed reaction from most males this holiday seems to stem from the sexualization of the female body, not about what they are wearing, but rather what’s under it (and before you lash out, note I wrote “most” not “all” males).

I’d rather not be subjected to sexualization this Halloween, just as much as I don’t appreciate having my outward appearance rated by the opposite sex.

Because despite the popular trend of pricing females as “dimes”, we are priceless.

Maybe Lindsay Lohan had a point. The competition between females to constantly outdo each other is a sad reality we face daily. But if this “girl world” we’re living in is now functioning on our ability to “outslut” each other to fulfill the expectations set by men, we have some serious rethinking to do. 

This blog post featured a special guest and friend of mine, Samantha Turchan. Check her out at

Sunday, 26 October 2014

39 Reasons to Love Fall!

I've scratched just about everything off of my fall to do list. I picked pumpkins, I drank hot apple cider, I went on a nature walk and I took photos of the beautiful fall foliage. 

Sure, I'm not too happy about the sad reality of winter's soon arrival. But considering we're in that short-lived period where everything is really beautiful, I thought I'd take advantage of it. I was lucky enough to capture the following stills at the Evergreen Brickworks in Toronto. If you've never been there, I suggest you go and enjoy the summer farmer's markets (in the summer, obviously), take some photos, or just forget you're in the city for a while. 

I sure did.

 (I love this one! Totally worth almost breaking my neck standing under a willow tree to get the shot)