It's Time To Speak Up

I’ve been trying to sort out why I was so affected by this story and the honest and candid telling of it by Canadian journalist, Sunny Dhillon. When it came across my feed, something compelled me to read it. I wasn’t previously familiar with Sunny’s work, but as I made my way through his words I felt something loosening inside of me. I think the issues he addresses have been whispering at me for a long while, asking me to step out from behind the role I am most known for in this space. Stories of my present life have been safe stories to tell, and I am glad to tell them. But as my children inch closer to adulthood, the whispers are getting more persistent. “What are you doing about the other stories you can tell?”

On which issues do you weigh in? On which issues do you not? What do you pretend you didn’t see or hear? When that isn’t possible to what do you cowardly chuckle along?

The world has gotten uglier in recent years — I wasn’t exactly thrilled with how we were doing on race before that — and for me it has become more difficult to let things slide.

~ Sunny Dhillon

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I have been discriminated against. I have chuckled along politely. I have been ashamed of my ethnicity, and I’ve made good-natured fun of it, too. But I have finally come to a place of deep love and respect for my culture—especially after becoming a mother and realizing how much it mattered to me that my children knew who they come from. As they try to find their own places in society, I’ve become more intolerant and outspoken about prejudice against any marginalized people. They need me to be that role model for them. There’s no way to shield them from the ugliness, and we welcome them to ask questions. I don’t want to raise them in a way that quiets their compassion or robs them of their power to bring much-needed change.

We have reached a crucial time of reckoning, when voices of the other need to be louder than ever. Being biracial, and especially carrying my father’s last name, means I have to take a hard look at the ways I have aligned with my white identity—which I also love and deeply respect—to protect and/or makes things easier through my life. It’s time for the harder experiences I’ve had as an other to make themselves known, too.

The world feels like it’s burning in all the wrong places. I was deeply affected by Sunny Dhillon’s story, because it made me feel like he was lighting my fire and asking me to turn and light the fire of the person next to me. His actions reminded me that it starts with me and continues with you.

Here are some more pieces that really resonated with me this year:

“What is White Privilege, Really?”

“Why I’m Not Racist Is Only Half the Story”

“Nanette is the Most Discussed Comedy Special in Ages. Here’s What to Read About It”

It’s time to teach ourselves, look at closely at the issues, and speak up for others.

A Space Of My Own: Motherhood & Creativity

The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt

~ Sylvia Plath

After seeing the success I was having with my writing and the positive changes in my self-worth that came with it, my husband surprised me one weekend by giving up a lot of sleep and time to disassemble and empty our walk-in closet and mark out a new space that would become a hidden office and writing hideaway for me. I came home from a weekend away and walked into a transformed room — it was the most beautiful gift he’s ever given me.

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As is the way when raising young kids, the ongoing renovation and steps to completing that space were long and drawn out. But every one of those steps, like when he chose the wood that would become my desk top and then sanded and stained it or the window he found someone to cut into the brick wall so I would have natural light, were tokens of love and appreciation extended to me by him, and I felt each one as a vote of confidence. I had every intention of showing him that it mattered to me and would make such a difference in my productivity and creativity.

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But for the past few months, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about my fear that I’ve lost my creativity. I worry it’s been buried under my responsibilities and the grind of parenthood. And I don’t mean that in a way that implies resentment; I’ve made my choices, and I know they were right. But I do feel a sense of loss, and pretending otherwise is not fair to me or anyone one else who is trying to parent while finding the space to create.

I feel like I’m failing to show him how much it meant to me and that’s taking up a lot of space in my brain, too. What does motherhood do to creativity? It’s a different experience for everyone (read this article for a good start). For me, writing began as a justifiable way to escape and now it threatens to smother me with its expectations — and that’s the simple answer. I know there are a lot of factors playing tricks on me, and some may have nothing to do with being a mother.

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Right now, I’m stuck somewhere between guilt and frustration. It’s important for me to continue to do work that helps support our family, and because I’m doing that work at home, I feel responsible for all the other day-to-day business of family life. But it’s hard to do all those things with purpose when I don’t give myself time to focus on what inspires me as an individual, separate from those responsibilities.

Around and around I go, shaking my compass and willing it to show me which way to go.

I don’t know why it was easier for me when the kids were younger. I’d look forward to being relieved by their dad and taking a couple of hours to do some writing or explore others’ written words. Somehow, when the work of parenting shifted away from hands-on care to helping my kids find their way in the world outside our home, I got lost.

Two weeks ago, I had a pocket of time hidden in all the other things I needed to get done, and it happened to be in the neighbourhood where our town’s record shop is located. Knowing I wanted to get a gift for my husband’s birthday, I went in determined to check it off my to-do list. There was a long lineup at the cash, so I wandered over to the vintage record bins. Nothing is in order; records are placed there as they arrive. It takes time to flip through each one, lifting any that catch your eye. I found Tapestry by Carole King and knew I had to have it. When I got home and played it, it took me back to the girl who sat on her bed filling journals and notebooks with words. And I wondered why I let her get away.

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I have wanted (for a long while now) to share photos of this incredible gift, as both a thank you and reminder that I am deserving of my own space. Initially, I imagined it would come together as a feel good home decor post about a cluttered closet becoming a bright writing space — but that doesn’t feel right anymore.

It’s a story about a transformation that’s waiting to happen. And I’m the only one who can tell that story. It’s waiting for me.

And you have treasures hidden within you — extraordinary treasures — and so do I, and so does everyone around us. And bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small

~ Elizabeth Gilbert

So today, on the morning after my birthday, I looked at it with new eyes and I let my compass show me where I need to go: through the door, to my desk, and wherever the words take me.

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The Right Words

journalism

Because it's January, I have once again succumbed to the pressure to purge and get organized—though neither of those activities can be listed as a strength of mine.

And because going through the more mundane objects like outgrown clothes and unused kitchen gadgets does nothing to help me stay motivated, I always end up breaking ALL the KonMari rules and going straight for the bins of sentimental stuff.

Letters, cards, loose photographs. All of the treasures that remind me of days past. I devour them and get lost in the nostalgia of remembering myself the way I used to be.

Last week, I made some real progress and uncovered a long-neglected box of some of my school papers and projects. I did a lot of school, I wrote a lot of papers. It was fascinating to look inside and find the pages I must have decided were worth keeping. There are projects from grade school, book reports from high school, research papers from my undergraduate years, as well as the very last academic paper I wrote (for a course in Investigative Journalism). And the theme that ties all of them together is found in the written comments, made by the reader and grader of those papers. 

You have a gift for words.
You are a wonderful storyteller.
Louise, I don't know what your career plans are, but I really hope you find yourself working in print journalism. 

What are we supposed to feel when we read words like these about ourselves? I was almost blushing as I let the pleasure of seeing those comments written about my work wash over me. I felt like I should look away embarrassed. I probably knew I'd feel that way when I came upon them again; that's why I kept them. 

I don't know how much my teachers and professors thought about the weight of those words. Surely, they wrote many over the years and had little time to dwell on their impact. But their weight has indeed stayed with me. 

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Two months ago, I was invited to be a guest speaker in my cousin's grade five classroom. She is a dedicated and awe-inspiring teacher who has been teaching in an inner-city school for over two decades. She was one of my first teachers (running a mock school in her parents' basement for all her younger cousins every summer) and makes such a difference in the lives of the many children who rely on her comments to lift them up. 

She wanted me to come in and talk to her class about what it was like to study journalism and pursue work in the field. She hoped my visit would open the students' eyes to less mainstream career ideas. And like most teachers, she never shies away from an opportunity to emphasize the importance of communication.

I was terrified, to be honest. 

I'm the parent of a grade four and grade six kid. I know it's a tough crowd. I worried about holding the attention of a room full of kids whose families likely consider a newspaper or magazine subscription a luxury beyond their means. I brought print clippings and books to which I've contributed anyway. And I structured my lesson plan around my more recent publications on the Internet, hoping it would be something they could relate to.

I was on the right track. Before I had a chance to launch into my talk, some of the students offered up my social media statistics for the rest of the class. And though I consider myself a very small fish in a very big ocean, my numbers were deemed high enough to lend me some street cred.

But it was the moment I asked them to raise their hands if they were storytellers that our song and dance really began. I watched them look at one another and at their teacher, unsure of what I meant. I waited only a moment before pointing at each of them and saying, "You and you and you and you, too." 

And I watched their faces light up with understanding. 

They raised their hands enthusiastically, videotaped me, and asked really savvy questions. They all watched me carefully and listened well. The only groan came when I told them I was leaving them with a story assignment. 

The envelope filled with those stories arrived over the holiday break, and I've been regarding it like an unopened Christmas gift since. I know it's more than a completed assignment for some of the kids. I wondered how many of them imagined themselves a storyteller while working on it, and I knew I might see something special in those ordinary stories. 

I opened the envelope today and began the work of reading their words and writing my comments. What do I want them to feel when they read my comments about their words? I hope I can help them blush with pride, too. And whether or not they keep this story in a box for safekeeping, I would be glad if the weight of my words stays with them for a long time to come. 

 

 

 

 

 

Self-Portraits and Stories

LouShedOne

{Self-portrait}

Maybe it was the ocean that convinced me to go. 

So I could stand at the edge of a place it was okay to be still. 

Pack layers, she said, ocean weather is unpredictable. 

I rolled up sweaters, pulled a wooly hat from a closet, and hoped she was right.

I wanted to hide in layers and folds.  

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We met for the first time, over a home cooked meal, in a welcoming, warmly-lit room. 

Each of us carried there by our own reasons.

For two days, I would spend my time among strangers learning how to use my camera to find a story

I went in knowing we would use one another as subjects.

I understood we would have to be vulnerable to do it.

But our teacher, she knew more.

She understood we would have to share our stories, before we could find them in front of the lens. 

She called out our names one-by-one, and then paired them with another.

She asked us to sit face to face and eye to eye.

She told us to speak and listen. 

Who are you?

We asked each other in turn. 

LouShedTwo

 {Self-portrait}

And I thought of the last time I had been so honest in answering those words and how long it had been since I laid myself bare and let real words like scared and sad, instead of good and fine, tumble from my mouth.  

Who do you think I am? 

I asked him while focusing my eyes on the wall over his shoulder; I was afraid to catch the look on his face when he answered. We were together for a few months by then, and I knew something important was happening between us.

We were beginning to share our stories, and we were at the beginning of our own.

I had done some hard work to move past my childhood insecurities and embrace my biracial heritage. I had reached a place of gratitude for who and where I came from. And yet, because I wanted him to feel about me what I felt about him, in those earliest days together, I told myself it was easier to pretend I was whoever he wanted me to be. 

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But we can't stay hidden in layers and folds.

Who are you?

She asked again, before telling us we could only find the answer if we asked ourselves, too. 

So we stood and posed and stared into the lenses of our cameras, while daring ourselves to peel away layers and encouraging others to let go of theirs. 

Because life is as unpredictable as the ocean where I went to stand.

And though we dress in layers to insulate against fear and pain, we can undress and heal again and again. 

LouShedThree

{Self-portrait}

My guess is Polynesian princess, he said, because that makes a good story. 

But if it turns out you're not,

if you're just you,

I'll take you just the same. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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