Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Why I changed my mind about being a Beyonce-hater

The bigger a celebrity is, the less likely I am to like them.

So you can imagine how I feel about everyone from Drake to Nicki Minaj to Queen Bey.

When Lemonade dropped it was the topic of every discussion I had, overheard and avoided. I dreaded having to answer the question “Why don’t you like her?” because I knew people wouldn’t understand my indifference towards celebrities who I felt were overrated.

But it wasn’t until I asked myself why I really didn’t like her that I realized that actually, I really did.

It all started when I stumbled into work the other day just before seven in the morning, groggy-eyed and not nearly prepared for the day ahead. My vivacious coworker was blasting Beyonce from her phone. I had half an hour before the safe would beep, so I paced around the room trying to avoid the music.

Before I knew it, I was singing, humming and doing all the ad-libs to Halo.

“I thought you didn’t like her,” my coworker said to me.

“I don’t, but I used to have this song on my iPod.”

Then, songs from Lemonade started playing. And I listened. I really listened.

A few weeks ago, my friend and fellow writer Talia Leacock wrote an amazing piece about celebrities who risk it all to be what she calls, and what I have also come to call “black black”. You know, unapologetically and fearlessly black. Like what Colin Kaepernick is doing with his anthem protest. And what Beyonce did with Lemonade. Here is an excerpt from her piece so that you know just what I’m referring to:

Remember when BeyoncĂ© put out Formation and white people realized Queen Bey was black? I mean they obviously knew she was black. Her pretty brown skin and the occasional slang term in her lyrics were dead giveaways. But after she sang, "I like my negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils" and sat on top of a sinking New Orleans police car, they realized she was black black. The kind of black that doesn't bite their tongue and hide their accent and pretend they don't agree with Black Lives Matter. They realized she wasn't Stacey Dash black, or Raven Symone black. She was black-looking and black-minded and she was here for black people. Remember how pressed they were about that?

I was so turned off of Beyonce by the time Lemonade came out I never really gave it a chance. I watched it mindlessly, so pre-occupied thinking about the things on my to do list that I really missed the point that she was making in that very powerful and political release. A release that featured the mothers of slain black men who had been killed by cops. A release that had dealt with some of the most recurring issues head-on.

But when I heard it this time, with no choice but to listen to it, I realized that I had no right to dislike her. I also realized the damage that it does to pretend not to like her, especially as a black woman.

Questions fell from the sky like fat raindrops on my head.

Why are we so quick to celebrate women like Taylor Swift? Even after she lied outright on Kanye West?

Why are we not aware of the double-standard of her being able to couple up with whoever she wants in Hollywood, knowing that if it were a black woman she’d be slut-shamed?

Which brings me to my next point.

See that new movie coming out with Bridget Jones? The one about her not knowing who her baby daddy is? I wish I had a nickel for everytime someone said “Maury is for black people.”

Why are we so quick to idolize Lady Gaga for her outlandish and avant-garde style and music, when we have black women who do the same damn thing and receive little to no recognition?

Why are the Kardashians always trending when they bring little to no political or social awareness or contribution to anything, ever?

And why is there only one Beyonce? The obvious answer is because she’s Beyonce. But if you think about it, she’s one of the only black female powerhouses in Hollywood because Hollywood says there can only be one at a time. Meanwhile, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, Ellie Goulding, Kelly Clarkson and all the rest of them can co-exist.

Certainly it’s not because there aren’t an abundance of talented black women. Ask Fantasia. Ask Jennifer Hudson. Ask Jazmine Sullivan. As a matter of fact, sit in on a church service, a black black church service on a Sunday and tell me you don’t have enough singers to make the whole of Hollywood black.

As I paced around the room, listening to the lyrics and the voice ooze out of this superstar, I realized what my real problem was.

Being a Beyonce fan meant I also had to stand by her political messages, her social messages. You can’t like someone’s music but not the message. Not when it’s that powerful. In denying her, I was denying my people and I was denying what needed to be said.

In all honesty, Beyonce put her fame on the line when she released Lemonade. She put her fame on the line when she decided to be black black.

And who am I to object to that?

Here is a woman who has never been involved in a scandal. She’s been with Jay-Z, another black powerhouse, for almost twenty years (and they even went to the Trayvon Martin rally together in 2013). She dedicated herself to her career, married the love of her life and even had time to have a daughter, who became the centre of a media witch-hunt at the age of two for the way her hair was styled.

I know I'm way late to the party. But this isn’t just about liking her music. This isn’t about judging the extent that her fans go to let her know she’s love and revered. This is about giving respect to one of the most-deserving women in Hollywood and arguably in the world.

This is about a black woman who has truly risen to be an artistic voice, but also a social and political one on an international stage for black people. And there are a ton of people who will probably refuse to listen to her music now. Or they’ll say they liked her old stuff better. They’ll say they don’t understand. Maybe someone else will pop up and take over shortly.

But there can only be one Bey. And whoever musters up the courage to try and compete with the success she’s acquired will fall short. Shorter than Britney Spears’ performance after Beyonce’s at the VMAs.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Why Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer are one big mess

This weekend, Lena Dunham issued a much-needed apology to NFL star Odell Beckham Jr.

The apology came after social media users expressed outrage at her comments during an interview with Amy Schumer for Lenny Letter, a weekly online feminist newsletter. During the interview, Dunham recalled the 2016 Met Gala, where she sat next to Beckham Jr.

In the interview with Schumer, she determined that the football player was “confused” and “determined that [she] was not the shape of a woman by his standards.” She went on to say that he appeared to have a conversation with himself about whether he wanted to have sex with her, and opted instead to scroll through Instagram “rather than have to look at a woman in a bow tie.”

The issue that most people have taken with this is her projection of “white feminism” onto a black male body. People, including Dunham herself in her apology, are acknowledging her narcissistic assumptions, misogyny and over-sexualization of the football player.

But this is just one layer of this complex, multi-faceted issue that seems to plague our society over and over and over again.

Just a few days prior to this Lenny Letter interview, Amy Schumer was doing a show as part of her world tour in Stockholm, Sweden when she got heckled by a guy wearing an “I love pussies” t-shirt and yelling out “Show us your tits!”

Schumer didn’t hesitate to pause the show and publicly shame him for his remarks, to which the audience roared with applause until the heckler got kicked out.

So a few days later, when Lena Dunham made her very sexist, very narcissistic and very, dare I say, unfeminist remarks, the question—one of three that I intend to ask—becomes:

Why didn’t Amy Schumer do anything?

The simple answer is probably because they’re friends. Probably because it would’ve screwed up the interview. Probably because it would’ve resulted in a loss of money. Who really knows? The possibilities are endless. But in this case, “possibilities” is really just a substitute for the word “excuses”. 

Or maybe the real reason she didn't say anything is because neither her or Lena Dunham are real feminists. 

The interview with Schumer continued on and they got to talking about how much people ragged on her for not speaking out about comments made by a writer and comedian who had been on her show named Kurt Metzger. Metzger had made really inappropriate Facebook posts in the past; the one they were discussing particularly dealt with women who had been raped and assaulted. Their conversation expressed Schumer’s frustration at having to answer for things like this, and in her own words, “Why this week?”

Imagine that. You, a big time feminist and role model for women all around the world don’t want to answer for a man you hired who had awful things to say about women who have been raped and assaulted.

Needless to say, this is what happens when two white women who call themselves feminists with no real understanding of intersectionality sit down to talk about how feminist they are.

If Amy Schumer can interrupt a world tour to call out a heckler for saying “Show us your tits!” why on earth was she not able to pause an online newsletter interview with her friend and call attention to what those remarks really conveyed? It was her golden opportunity to change the conversation.

Dunham’s apology, posted to Instagram, followed a post of her Facetiming with Michael B. Jordan, who was also a topic in the interview. She stated that she “tried to grind [her] ass on him” and then left.

The picture was captioned, “MBJ & I are still chill after I danced on him, kids.”

Dunham’s response to this entire issue, except for maybe the apology, just maybe,
seems to be that of a person who is always right, and therefore has no idea what to do when they’re wrong. She’s had this air of arrogance, as if she needs everyone to just calm down, this isn’t a real issue. Referring to all the people that took issue with her remarks as “kids”, really? She’s one of those annoying people we all hate who feel like one apology outweighs the initial act, the initial hurt. Once the apology is made, everyone should just get over it.
Second question. How does one get over something that plagues them everyday? The idea that Michael B. Jordan is someone that you feel the need to “grind” your ass on rather than sit and talk to. The idea that Odell Beckham Jr. is just some guy who’s not interested in your vagina. That’s not us. That’s not our men. You had no right to speak for him. You had no right to speak for us.

Third question. Is Lena Dunham not a feminist for her remarks? Is Amy Schumer still a feminist for kicking out the heckler but refusing to stand up for an entire population of people plagued by issues so insensitively mocked by her good friend? The two are still feminists in the same way that cops are still cops after publicly revealing that their racial biases govern how they do their job.

We’ll never know why she said what she said. And we’ll never know why Schumer didn’t call her out. But for now, it’s probably safe to say it just wasn’t their week.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Five things you should know about paying back student loans

It hadn’t even been a week after my graduation before the National Student Loans Centre (NSLC) kindly let me know it was time to pay up.

The Monday after my graduation, a brown envelope arrived for me in the mail with red letters that said: IMPORTANT. As much as I hate to admit that for the next x amount of years, I’ll be forking out some serious cash, the NSLC is right; repaying your student loans, and any loan for that matter, is important. 

Not paying an outstanding loan can be detrimental. Besides paying unnecessary interest, being in debt stops you from achieving true financial freedom. No matter how much money you have saved, if what you owe is more than you have banked, you’re still in the red. Here are a few things to keep in mind when that dreaded time comes.

Interest still accrues during the six-month grace period

I was so relieved to be offered a six-month grace period where monthly payments were not necessary. The relief quickly turned sour when I realized that despite payments being suspended, interest was still accruing. Contact the NSLC to find out how much your interest during the grace period is, and consider staying on top of it by paying a lump sum.

The grace period actually begins when you complete full-time studies

Prior to graduating, I noticed my loan was already in “grace period” status. When I called the NSLC to ask why, they informed me that the grace period actually begins when you are no longer enrolled in full-time studies. 

During the last two semesters, I, like many students, had a conflict with my work and internship schedules and course availability, and therefore enrolled in part-time schooling.

Knowing that your grace period starts when your full-time studies are over is something to keep in mind when registering for courses. Depending on your situation, it might be better to enroll in that third course to delay repayment, or you might opt for getting a head start on the payments. Even if you can’t afford to make the full monthly payments, gathering enough to stay on top of the interest (about $1.90 a day for a $22,000 loan), can make a difference in your total repayment amount.

Don’t believe the hype; the Repayment Assistance Plan (RAP) just keeps you in debt for longer

A lot of graduates, while looking for full-time jobs in their field, take advantage of the NSLC’s RAP program. It calculates your monthly income and expenses and allows you to make much smaller payments. While the idea might sound like it provides relief, it ends up costing you more in the long run.

The longer you take to pay off your student loans, the longer you’re in debt, and more importantly, the more you’re spending on interest. It might sound great to make $60 monthly payments instead of $160 payments, but it’s costing you exponentially to maintain the debt, and repaying it is inevitable so you might as well get it done.

Go with floating, not fixed
Repayment gets a little tricky when words like “floating” and “fixed” come into play. But to make it simple, always go with whatever is going to cost you the least money. In this case, the floating interest rate is the way to go. If you’re ever unsure, call an NSLC representative to ask for clarification or speak to a financial advisor at your local bank branch that you trust to ask for a second opinion.

Make as many lump sum payments as possible
My plan was to pay off my loan as aggressively as possible, and considering I was living at home, I was able to do this. I took thousands of dollars out of my savings and paid down my loan. It left me with almost nothing to count on in the event of an emergency but that money would’ve sat there and collected dust (and maybe a few cents in interest monthly) anyway.

Within three months, I have paid off almost $11,000 of my student loan. By living at home, juggling two jobs, putting a majority of my income towards my loan and doubling the pre-authorized payment from the NSLC, I’m more than halfway to being debt-free.

And you can get there too. 

Student loans suck. But in reality, they help hundreds of thousands of students afford the opportunity to go on to post-secondary and multiply their earning potential throughout their lifetime. While student loans may seem like a burden, try to look at debt as something that builds character, discipline and financial responsibility.

Remember when you got your acceptance letter? Remember when your school let you know you would be graduating? 

Now imagine the feeling you’ll get when the NSLC sends you a letter letting you know your loans are paid in full.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

15 Reasons You Should Visit Portugal

Deciding on which country to visit to celebrate my university graduation was a tough choice. Would I eat baguettes in Paris while gazing at the Eiffel Tower? Would I visit the pyramids in Egypt? Or would I follow Alexis Bledel’s character in Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants and be surrounded by Santorini’s traditional white houses in Greece?

Interestingly enough, the answer was none of the above. I wound up in in Europe’s westernmost country: Portugal. And very shortly after landing in the capital, Lisbon, I realized there was no place I’d rather be. Here are 15 things I loved about Portugal, and 15 reasons you should book your ticket.

1. The affordability

With the weakness of the Canadian dollar, any traveller wants to be sure their money will stretch as far as possible. Luckily, flying to Portugal is surprisingly affordable. Our flight cost roughly $600 (CAD). And the bargains don’t end there. I was amazed—and relieved—at the low cost of meals and tourist attractions, and in some cases, hotels. Our hotel for three in Evora came up to $120 euros for two nights—that’s unheard of!

For just a few euros, you can feed yourself and get admission to several museums, churches and towers.  No matter your budget, there is always something within reach to keep you entertained and your tummy satisfied.

Tip: If you’re travelling to different cities and planning on doing a lot of sightseeing, look for discount cards that offer reduced or free admission. Only get the card if it will save you money!

2. Food

If you’re like me, food matters even more than accommodations. I can stay in a rundown hotel. But just like the commercial says, I’m not myself when I’m hungry.

In Portugal, there is no shortage of tasty and affordable restaurants, cafes and cafeterias. Most restaurants were made with vegetarians, vegans, and those with other dietary restrictions and preferences in mind.

It’s customary for places to have their menus posted outside for you to browse through before deciding. It’s also typical for restaurants to have some sort of daily special—mostly their fish of the day. If you’re open to trying it, you get a good meal at an even better price.

Tip: Most servers will drop off appetizers such as bread, cheese, olives and olive oil at your table before your meal. Even though you didn’t ask for it, if you eat it, you pay for it. Kindly say no thank you or leave the items untouched and always double check your bill to make sure you haven’t been mistakenly charged.

3. Azulejos (tiles)

In Portugal, you can’t help but notice the traditional and ever-present decorated tiles that can be found throughout neighborhoods and cities and in some of the most well-known and long-standing buildings. Some designs are huge and intricate, often making up larger images that represent anything from historical battles to religious art. Others are smaller, and just used to line houses or buildings.

In Lisbon, there is actually a national museum of azulejos (they’ve got museums for everything!) Have fun with spotting them and don’t forget to pick one up for your own home in a market or artisan shop.

Tip: Visit the Sao Bento train station in Porto for a lovely display of azulejos. You won’t regret it.

National Tile Museum, Lisbon

4. Igrejas (churches)

Nothing made me feel smaller than the churches in Portugal. Historically, Catholicism has been the dominant religion of the country, and nothing indicates that more than the amount of churches in even the smallest towns.

Visit the local historic churches to see just how much work went into creating, building and most importantly, preserving the most important structure in Catholic faith.

Tip: Most churches have a small admission (usually 3 euros). If not, look for a donation box and drop spare change in.

Church of Santa Maria, Lisbon

5.  Museums and monasteries

Lisbon had some of the most amazing monasteries. And scattered throughout the country are equally fascinating museums. Before you travel, look up a list of the museums you’d like to visit.

Tip: Pay a visit to Jeronimos Monastery. It’s ranked the second best attraction in Lisbon!

Jeronimos Monastery, Lisbon

6. Hills

Okay, maybe not the hills, but certainly the views. Portugal is a hilly country. No matter where you go, you’re bound to encounter some sort of incline. While the hills were particularly brutal in Alcacer Do Sal and Sintra, it always led to a wonderful sight.  Don’t be discouraged. Indulge in the climb. I promise you, the view will always be worth it.

Tip: Wear comfortable shoes. I bought a new pair while I was there just to help deal with the hills.

Views from Sintra

7. Fish

With a bulk of the country’s coast lining the Atlantic Ocean, fresh fish are in abundance. Several of Portugal’s national dishes include fish—bacalhau (salt cod) and sardines, sardines, sardines.

Tip: The salt cod can be very salty. If it’s a bit too much for your taste buds, get some bread on the side. And water. Lots of water.

8. Fado

This is traditional Portuguese music that you will hear in many restaurants, shops and city centres. The word translates to “destiny” or “fate”, and listening to it makes you feel like you’ve found both. It’s very soulful and passionate and is something worthy of being seen performed live. If you miss out on seeing a live performance, visit a local shop and buy some CDs by famous Fado artists such as Amalia Rodrigues, Carminho and Ana Moura. They cost about 10 euros and it’s the next best thing to seeing a live performance.

Tip: Live fado often happens in bars or cafes on Fridays and Saturday nights. If you happen to be in Tavira, visit the Fado com Historia for their daily performances, complete with a brief history of fado music, as well as a traditional 12-string solo.

9. Diversity of the cities

In my 12-day stay, I managed to see six cities. I was amazed at how different they all were. If you’re planning on travelling to Portugal (or anywhere for that matter), do yourself a favour and move around. Don’t stay in one place. Each city had something different to offer, and the wonder of travelling is discovering the uniqueness in each place.

Tip: If you’re not sure which cities to visit, do some research. The Lonely Planet gives great (and accurate) impressions of each culture. Find what you’re looking for and fit it in to your itinerary.

10. Pastries

One of my biggest regrets in life is not eating that last pastel de nata before coming home. The pastries in Portugal are nothing that can be put into words.

Tip: Throw away the diet while you’re vacationing. You’ll climb plenty of hills to make up for it.

11. Sidewalk patios

One thing I really loved about Portugal was how each restaurant made space outside for people to sit, eat and chat. Whether it was a coffee shop or fine dining, the option is almost always there and people certainly take advantage, so long as the weather permits. You’ll also notice that cell phones are typically out of sight during meal time. Portuguese sidewalk patios remind you of the importance of unplugging—if only for a while—and indulging in the people (and food) around you.

Tip: If you want to sit outside but it’s too hot, restaurants typically leave the door to the restaurant open. You can sit near there and have almost the same experience.

Sidewalk patio in Sintra

12. History

I never thought I’d say this but that course I took last summer on the crusades really came in handy. Portugal is one of the most historically rich countries in Europe, if not the world. As the site of settlements, invasions, and historic battles, there is so much to learn. Pick up a book before going to connect the dots between the Roman ruins and the Arabic influence.

Tip: Pick up a book before or during your stay. Be sure to keep an eye out for the Roman ruins.

Roman ruins, Evora

13. The Lisboa card

Perhaps the best purchase of my entire trip (besides the floral wedges that I brought home in my carry-on) was this card that cost about 40 euros. The card allows you discounts to some of Lisbon’s most high-ranked tourist attractions. The card also comes with a book full of coupons that offer anywhere from 10% off to entirely free admission to towers, churches and museums. And if you’re not sold just yet—you can ride the metro for free with this card.

Tip: Other cities have similar cards. Be sure to visit the tourist information booth in each city to find out about good deals and activities.

14. Wine

One thing I looked forward to most about this trip was wine.  The best place to buy wine is in Porto. Most places let you taste the wine before buying it. Quinta do Noval had an amazing selection.

Tip: Always double check your allowance for carrying alcohol home and make sure it’s wrapped carefully!

15. Their metro

One of the most daunting things in any type of travel is getting around. But if you’re headed to Portugal, you will find peace knowing that Portugal’s metro in major cities is similar to Toronto’s. They’ve got multicoloured lines, a simple navigation system, and plenty of fare collectors there to help you out if you’re in need.

Tip: Rather than turnstiles, Portugal metro stations use automated hip-length sliding doors that close very quickly. Get through them fast to avoid getting stuck.

Friday, 23 October 2015

So I Went Out By Myself Last Night

I’m reading The Alchemist. It’s a wonderful book. I’ve learned a lot about what it means to follow my “personal legend”.

So when I was driving home last night, I realized that unlike most nights, I didn’t want to go home and go to bed. I wanted to hear music. And I wanted to dance. That was my personal legend. For the night, at least.

It was Thursday. There were tons of places I could go on a Thursday. “But I’m alone,” I thought. “I can’t go alone.”

You’re probably reading this thinking, yes you can. And yes, I can. But being able to do something and actually having the courage to are two different things. We can run for President. We can go skydiving. We can shave our heads bald if we wish. But will we? Do we?

I drove around thinking about whether I had it in me to go to a party by myself. I had seen other girls do it. There were a few that I always saw when I was out and they were alone. But they didn’t seem lonely. They came, they had a drink, they danced. If they could do it, couldn’t I?

I parked my car in my driveway and left my purse in my car. I knew that if I left it in there and decided to stay home, I would have to go and get it, which is the halfway mark to going out entirely.

So I left my purse. I set up a trap for myself to get me to do what I wanted to do.

I went upstairs, changed into some jeans, tied my hair up and looked myself in the mirror as the Rocky theme song played from a magical speaker in the air. And then I got in my car and drove.

I can’t tell you why I had the thoughts I had while I was driving. But I can tell you what they were and perhaps you can relate.

Do I dance? Like, by myself?

How much should I be in my phone?

Do I buy myself a drink?

Do I look for other losers like me and try and make a coalition?

What time should I leave?

And what will I do with my hands?

When I entered the party, the music gave me a warm welcome and I knew I made the right choice. I walked over to the bar, I ordered a drink and I watched the sports recaps of the week. I sat there and said hello to a few people that I had known. And then I danced. Not in the middle. And not too far out. I just rocked back and forth all night long to the music that brought me there. And it was one of the best nights I’ve ever had.

We live in a society that praises independence while simultaneously discouraging us from being alone. Our culture praises cliques and the grouping of individuals together, even if it is founded upon shallow relationships and hollow principles. The dichotomy is so confusing that it’s awkward and challenging to be in our own company in public, despite our willingness, and even our desire to.

But by reading The Alchemist, I am learning to unconcern myself with those voices, those thoughts and those ideas, and instead listen to the desires of my heart and of my soul.

So last night, when I said and when I felt, “I want to hear some music,” it was louder than the “but you’re alone,” and the “you can’t go alone,” which I also said and felt.

You can feel a bunch of things. But you only have to pick one.

The thing is, I was so close to staying home. I was so close to settling. I was so close to letting the fears that have been pushed onto me by a series of cultural institutions and the ways of social media that I almost opted out of doing what I desired.

But I didn’t.

I even found the answers to my menacing thoughts.

Yes you dance. By yourself.

Don’t go in your phone. And I didn’t.

Yes, buy yourself a drink. But just one, you’re driving.

They’re not losers. Don’t look for them. And don’t make a coalition.

Leave when you feel content. Leave when you feel you got what you desired.

That’s a tough one. Act natural?

There’s a quote that is often repeated in The Alchemist and it reads, “When you want something, the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

I think that deep down inside we all know what we want. But I also think that there are a lot of things that get in the way and confuse us and trick us into thinking maybe we want something else. And despite knowing, we second-guess, for one reason or another. It’s not a terrible thing to second-guess, to think, to analyze and to consider. But it is a terrible thing to let those things get in the way of what you really desire.

So know. Second-guess. Analyze. And consider.

But follow your intuition. It only ever leads us to beautiful places.

Places that we belong.