I’m going to play the role of old Luddite lady for a moment and wax nostalgic. 20 years ago, I wrote with a pen and paper, and then I typed it all up on my crummy computer, and then, if the occasion called for it, I printed it out. That was about as digital as my writing got.
These days, words I write usually make it onto a screen first, and the page second. What’s more, readers get to play with them, in addition to reading them. My characters aren’t just drawings, they walk and talk, and explore. I still use a pen and paper for initial drafts, but that’s about it, and to be honest, I don’t miss the paper-only days at all. I love this brave new world, in which people hang out with language and ideas in amazing ways. I’m the luckiest writer in the world, having smart people around me who know how to conjure this sort of magic.
And on that note, here’s my latest project, twenty-plus years in the making, and currently the digital apple of my eye (no, that’s not a nod to iOS fans). Please enjoy playing it with your kids as much as I enjoyed writing for it.
Remember that burning question you had as a kid, the one that drove your parents nuts, the one that made your teachers make “the face”? It wouldn’t go away, would it? It flew out of your drooly little mouth as fast as your mind could think it. It applied to just about everything you saw, everything you touched and everything you felt. You were are a tiny, overall-wearing, fact-finding machine, and although a definite answer would have been nice, an ongoing conversation would have also suited you just fine. You just needed to know. Something. And you just wanted to be part of the finding out of this something.
It was a hard one to answer, even for a big person. The big people around you probably felt like prize idiots when they didn’t have something to clever to say about it, and they didn’t want to look stupid. Fear of looking stupid is something of a disease with big people. They probably also didn’t want to admit that someone the size of a foot stool might have better ideas than they did.
So, at some point, someone probably tried to put a lid on your Why. They shushed it and told you to go hide it somewhere, that it was icky and weird and annoying. Your Why probably reminded them of their own long-lost Why, the one they’d starved out a long time ago, the one they still missed. Maybe their lid worked, and you lost your Why too. Maybe, years later, when your own drooly, overall-wearing kid showed you theirs, you got a little scared too, and told them to go stash it somewhere unobtrusive.
Or maybe you didn’t listen. Maybe you kept your Why fed, and it grew. Maybe you welcomed it back, again and again, as you grew older. Maybe you didn’t let anyone tell you that it was stupid, or pointless, or annoying, and it became a constant companion. Maybe, after a while, it started feeding you too. Your Why may have made your world a little richer, other people a little more interesting, and your own self a little more understandable. Maybe you passed your Why on to your kid and watched as it grew with each iteration.
Today is World Philosophy Day, and it’s when we celebrate Why. We celebrate the people who never let their Why be squashed, but also those who lost theirs, and who found it again. We invite people to come back to their Why, and to share it with others.
Why do we do this? Because Why is the most important thing a person, big or little, can ask. Why helps things to change. Why helps people to feel smart, and that they’re in charge of themselves. Why makes the world a little less scary. It’s not the most convenient question, for sure. It takes time, and it takes patience, and it takes a lot of listening and reflecting, but a lot of great things have been done, and can still be done, because of it. Why makes us human, and as luck would have it, there’s an unlimited supply of it.
It’s never too early and it’s never too late. Cheers to all of the thinkers out there!
Humble brag…nah, just regular brag. I’m really proud of this newest creation. I partnered up with a wonderful photographer, a super-cool illustrator, and for the first time, I wrote something for little kids, and I wrote it in verse. It was something a little bit different for all of us, and the process of bringing it to life was a joyful one.
“Zoom In, Zoom Out” is a guessing game that challenges wee kids to question what they see, which I think is a pretty important skill to develop as early as possible. It’s light and fun, but also visually rich and thought-provoking. I’m hoping it finds its way into bedtime routines, cuddles on the couch, classroom discussions, and family vacations.
Authors don’t generally go into projects with the expectation of becoming rich, but we do rely on book sales to help pay the bills. This one’s really good, and I think you’ll like it. You can find it here in print form, and also on Google Play and iTunes.
Some may start their year on January first, smarting a little after an night (or a month) of excess. Maybe it’s followed by a day of atonement, or comes in under a zodiac animal, or is marked with the end of the harvest. For me, the beginning of a new school year is it. Having sat on both sides of the desk, this time of year always feels like the end of something, and the start of something else.
Before you start thinking I’m weird, I was born into a family of teachers. I started school at a fairly early age, and stayed a student for a pretty long time. Then, I was a teacher. Then I worked with teachers. Then I had a little person of my own, and I became a parent of a student. When you’ve been dancing to a certain rhythm for this long, it’s hard to imagine any other.
The beginning of September, for me, brings a lot of new year-ishness. I get the same feeling of momentousness, the same mental listing of everything I did and should have done in the months before. I make resolutions about how things will be in the next twelve months, all that I’m going to accomplish, bad habits I’m going to break. I can sleep through a midnight countdown and Auld Lang Syne, but the night before school resumes, I’m staring at the ceiling, willing my eyes to close and my brain to turn off. I feel compelled to stock up on notebooks, new shoes, and snacks that come in bar form. I don’t know if I have very many clear memories of New Year’s Eve, but I can still taste the fruit punch my mom packed in my lunch on the first day of kindergarten, still picture the sensible brown shoes with buckles, the blue sweater, and my hair tucked back with plastic barrettes.
I don’t think a person has to be from a teaching family, to feel all of this. There are parents and kids, of course. This morning, social media was plastered with sweet, still-tanned little faces, toting backpacks and holding signs with grade levels. I imagine that there are a number of parents who dropped their kids off, then skulked back to the privacy of their car to cry a little and think “How did another year get by me like that?” There were notes in lunches with a reassuring “You got this!”
I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that even those who aren’t involved in school anymore, who aren’t rushing a student out the door in the morning, still feel something. Maybe while they’re stopped at a crosswalk, waiting for a dozen little feet to scurry across, they have a flashback of a worn, dog-eared copy of Lord of the Flies, or they remember the way a basketball sounds against playground pavement. While picking up printer paper, they secretly wish they had occasion to buy one of the cartoon pencil cases on display. They miss sandwiches with the crust cut off, just a little bit.
Happy New Year to everyone. May it be one of big ideas and much learning, inside and outside of school.
I am fiercely proud to be Canadian. No doot aboot it. Yeah, it’s a tad on the chilly side here at times, and we’re not perfect, but this country is pretty amazing. It’s sufficiently amazing that our 150th birthday is reason enough for us to overcome our trademark shyness and brag a little. Becoming your own country is a big deal, and staying together in a relatively peaceful manner is also a big deal. Go us! Put on some Tragially Hip, eat some poutine, get dressed up in red and white, and light some sparklers!
I do, however, think it’s important to point out (as many Canadians online have been this past little while), that who we are as a country spans a whole lot more than 150 years. We don’t want anyone patting us on the head and telling us we’re an adorable baby nation without having a deeper understanding of what went on long before the BNA (important document, look it up) was signed.
Here’s a small, but important sampling of Canada, pre-1867:
First Nations: There’s a reason the word “first” is used to describe our indigenous cultures. According to the archaeological record, they ventured over here a good 20-30,000 years before anyone else. There are over a million Canadians with this as part of their heritage, forming 634 nations, and speaking 50 distinct languages. I mean, come on, the name Canada itself is First Nations in origin. If this isn’t the right time to (finally) show a little respect, I don’t know what it.
Vikings: Our rocky shores called to these guys over 1000 years ago. Okay, they didn’t stay all that long, but it’s still pretty cool to think that Canada was an important stop on their illustrious journey. Some of them (my family included) found their way back again eventually.
The French: They got a fair bit earlier than the English did too (mid-1500’s to be exact), and a whole lot of what’s amazing about Canadian culture stems from the fact that we have two official languages. It’s so much more than having two sides to the cereal box.
Canadian Inventions: That’s right kids, lacrosse, hockey, the fog horn, the odometer, newsprint, kerosene, and oh yeah, a little thing we like to call the telephone, were all invented in Canada, before it was officially its own country, and these are just modern examples. Let’s not forget the contributions of indigenous people and early settlers to our proud technological history.
Can Lit: For more than 150 years, people in these parts have been slaving away, sticking together words and ideas, putting pen to paper, and churning out some pretty influential stuff. Long before there were “official” Canadians, there were writers and storytellers galore, and what’s even more cool to me is that a nontrivial percentage of them were female. Our literary tradition gained its footing at a time when women were also finding their voices.
150 really isn’t all that meaningful by itself. It’s a symbol, a landmark, but it doesn’t really speak to who we are and how far we’ve come as a nation. It doesn’t say anything about the diversity of our population and our culture. It’s not a big enough number to express how we’ve managed to stay united. It’s way too small a number to indicate how far we still have to go, and how much we still have to learn about one another.
Yes, on July 1st, I will be wearing a dorky t-shirt, fake tattoos of maple leaves on my cheeks, belting out our national anthem and doing a myriad of other hokey things. But it won’t just be the signing of a document that I’ll be celebrating. I’ll be raising a glass to tens of tens of thousands of years of human beings learning to be happy and fruitful on a big, frosty chunk of land. I’ll be congratulating the ones who stayed (including the more recent additions) and who made us who we are. I’ll be appreciating the fact that this country took my family in, and that it continues to do so for others. I’ll be waving a banner for our artists, our thinkers, our leaders and our makers. On Canada’s birthday, I’ll be thinking what I think every year on my own birthday: it’s just a number. Now, let’s have cake.
This song is corny AF, and it in no way reflects my version of being a girl. I don’t do any of this girly stuff. I pretty much despise doing all this girly stuff. I’ve never even seen this musical. Yet, whenever I find myself in despair at being a member of the fairer sex (sorry, threw up in my mouth a little as I typed that), I find myself singing this tune. It’s mostly in an ironic sense, but at least the title itself rings true.
Lately, I find myself having to sing it more, now through gritted teeth and my eyes rolling dangerously far into the back of my head. Lately, I have to sing louder, placing a whole lot more emphasis on the last word. Lately, it feels like we’re sliding back downhill (more like we’re been pushed), and singing corny crap like this has become more of a battle cry than a cute little ditty. It’s not like we were at the top of the hill to begin with. The little bit of foothold we do have took forever to gain.
It’s been hundreds, if not thousands of years, and we’re still having to apologize for being female. Yeah, that’s right, I said apologize. It’s 2017, and there’s still this stinky, floating cloud of “Oh, you’re a chick? Wow, tough break.” We go into science with the caveat that we’ll be working exclusively in healing and education, you know, the nice, friendly end of science. When we set foot in the business world, we do so with cutesy terms like “lady boss” and “femmepreneur” on our name badges. Want to go into politics? Be prepared to prostrate yourself over everything from the colour of your shoes to your choice of haircut. Are you kick-ass at sports? Don’t expect to be allowed to sweat or wear practical, comfortable clothes. If you’re lucky enough to get a voice in the media, it’ll be with the understanding that you’ll have to appear half-naked in a push-up bra, your squishy underbelly exposed. Sorry, sorry, sorry.
We suck it up and keep walking when we get cat-called on the street. We foresake stuff we like to eat- even really, really good stuff. We tint our language with hearts and flowers. Worst of all, we apologize for our daughters being female by basically sending them out in gooey pink halloween costumes, and telling them they’re princesses instead of queens. Again with the sorry, sorry, sorry.
As we bow our heads in shame over being female, we get to watch other people apologize, because if half of the population has to do it, why not smaller groups too? If being a girl is a source of remorse, why shouldn’t people who are different colours, different sizes and shapes, different nationalities, who are of different economic statuses, who have different ways of loving, and who have different types of abilities all be expected to say sorry as well? All kinds of sorry, sorry, sorry.
And here’s the end to all of this constant, infernal sorry-ing: we get less. Less pay, less safety, less confidence, less room for big ideas, less control over our basic physical being. And as we’ve seen from the previous paragraph, sorry spreads like a bad rash.
I really do enjoy being a girl. I’m happy with the body and mind I was given, not in spite of it being female, but because of it. It’s not a blessing or a curse, it’s just a fact of who I am, and I’m good with that. So I’m done apologizing, for something that is neither in my control, nor a bad thing to begin with. I’m not sorry that I’m smart, or driven, or capable, any more than I’m sorry that I’m loving and sensitive and compassionate. I’m not sorry that I’m funny, or stubborn, or a little bit tactless. Not sorry for my big arms, or my loud Scooby-Doo laugh. I’m not going to apologize for doing this “girl” thing in my own way, nor am I going to apologize for supporting other girls who do the same (even the ones who truly love pink).
I’m tempted to be sorry for those who spend so much time expecting apologies, whose worldviews are tentatively stacked upon others feeling small, insignificant, and generally awful about themselves. But I’ll get over that. It’s their choice to miss out. Those of us who figure out how to stop being sorry tend to do some pretty fun stuff.
My kid still had gills when a friend of ours, who is pretty intuitive about these things, smiled and told us our wee one would be a human BS detector. She had the distinct feeling that our little fish would likely be the kind of kid who refused to be lied to, who wore her heart on her sleeve and spoke her truth, and maybe made a few people uncomfortable along the way. Staring into the great, mysterious expanse of impending parenthood, I considered this good news. I was, and had always been, a little bit guarded. I was the kind of person who would swallow crap with a smile, who chose angry, bubbling silence over confrontation. Putting a child into the world who would manage to bypass all of my passive aggressive nonsense seemed like an accomplishment. I looked forward to meeting the paragon of honesty that I was incubating.
My kid has managed to live up to the reputation that preceded her. She’s now more of a hammerhead than a little fish, but yeah, as predicted, she repels falsity. There are no little white lies in her world, no comforting layer of artifice or pageantry. She demands the truth, from herself, and from those around her, and is profoundly disappointed and unsatisfied with anyone who claims to be more or less than themselves. She loves unapologetically, gives loud, booming voice to her passions, and punctuates special occasions with “Aaaaah! Best. Day. Ever!” I’m at a loss as to how someone like her came from someone like me, but hey, she’s freakin’ cool.
What’s even cooler is that since becoming her mother, I too am bolder, more resolute, far less willing to accept crap. I don’t sit up nights wondering if I’ve sugar-coated my opinions enough, or if I should apologize for things that aren’t my fault. Things I was afraid to say and do seem far more say-able and do-able. Since this little girl joyfully moshed her way into my life, there’s been an addition built onto the wussy, wet noodle parts of my self. She’s given me an additional story that I didn’t even know I needed.
I’d love to understand the mechanism behind all of this. Recent research into genetics has revealed that an unknown percentage of babies leave behind genetic material in their mothers after birth, extra bits that can linger for decades. Did my progeny leave her DNA as a hostess gift? Did she spend her gestation period taking inventory of who I was, and was she born armed with insider knowledge of who I could be, who I should be?
Or maybe it’s just a matter of me having to rise to the occasion. A kid like mine requires parenting that goes up to eleven. She requires stamina and resoluteness, bravery and authenticity. With her, I have the choice of either growing a proverbial pair, or getting left behind as she takes the world by storm. I’ve chosen the former, even though it requires me to be more and do more.
Regardless of how it happened, nature or nurture (of me, not her), there’s been more of me since I had my daughter, and I don’t mean the jiggly stuff I try to get rid of with crunches. With my kid, I am Wonder Woman, wound up in my own lasso of truth. I’m newly-equipped with a megaphone, my brain racing with new an important things to say and the drive to say them. I’m upgraded, re-engineered, Me 2.0. This has been accomplished by a being who doesn’t know how to tie her shoes properly. Pretty impressive.
It could be that at the heart of every parent-child pairing, if you look closely enough, there’s an opportunity for rebuilding, restructuring, improvement. The world will grind you down, but if you let them, your kid will re-stack all that’s been toppled over, usually in a new and interesting configuration. All the years you spend telling them “You can do this. I know you can”, they will hit back with “Yeah, well you can too” and they’ll be right.
Mother’s Day is approaching. I think I’ll be spending it back in the lab, happily getting my bolts tightened.
This is Simone de Beauvoir. I spent a lot of time reading her stuff as a grad student. Some of it was brilliant, and some of it made me wrinkle my forehead. I also read a whole bunch of stuff put out by the critics of her time, and the forehead wrinkling became jaw dropping, and nail biting, followed by muttering bad words under my breath. What struck me wasn’t the fact that they questioned her philosophy (that’s supposed to happen), but rather that so many of them couldn’t get over the fact that she was female, and a famous thinker’s girlfriend. The very fact that she was a thinker in her own right seemed to not only offend them, but outright baffle them.
Okay, I was reading her work, and the work of her “trolls”, with the bias of someone born decades later. Things had changed, right? Sure. Except they hadn’t. Not that much. As it turns out, they still haven’t, and while I don’t get regular strips taken off me like Simone did, far too often I come across a comment for my own work that begins with “This woman…” as if my being female needs to be declared in advance of any critique of my ideas. I still run into too many people who think that a bad day can be turned around with a pedicure and good cry. I still hear about women who are feted because they are “fabulous women” in this industry or that career field.
Say whatever you like about Simone de Beauvoir, but she never, ever gave up on women as thinkers- not female thinkers, just thinkers. She admonished the patriarchy for practicing bad faith when it came to females, blaming nature for inequality. She also slapped womankind on the wrist for buying into all that rubbish, for not embracing their freedom to think, for feeding a system that not only held them back but required that they hold others back as well. She expected and demanded more from both women and men. I do too.
It’s 2017, and it’s International Women’s Day, and if we’re hoping to level the playing field, the one that should have been leveled a long time ago, we need to start embracing women as thinkers. Logic and reason will be on our side if we (and by “we”, I mean all points on the gender spectrum) decide to use them. In short, I think we’re still in the “that woman” frame of mind because we’re still prone to knee-jerk reactions instead of using our “Why?” “Why?” is the great leveler of playing fields. It’s one-size-fits-all, and can be worn to any occasion. It’s intersectional, multicultural, age-agnostic, and as far as three-letter words go, it accomplishes a whole hell of a lot. We can use it for ourselves, and we can use it on behalf of those who aren’t allowed to use it.
And no, I’m not suggesting being feminine is a bad thing. There are plenty of positive qualities associated with being a woman, and anyone who thinks being female (or male, or gender neutral) isn’t a part of who they are is kidding themselves. Be nurturing, be kind, be sensitive. It’s all great. But also be critical and discerning. Be curious and reflective and outspoken. We should all be on a mission to make asking “Why?” as quintessentially “girly” as shoe shopping or pink cake pops.
So stick “Why?” on your Pinterest board. Write it on the mirror in lipstick, or text it to your girlfriends with coordinating emojiis. Make it part of a collage or get it tattooed on your shoulder. Bedazzle it on your purse. And for the sake of all that’s good, ask it. A lot.
Ahem. Class (i.e. 21st century humans), it’s come to my attention that you’ve been slacking in your studies lately. No, that’s an understatement. Not only have you fallen behind in what you’re supposed to learn, but you’ve managed to un-learn a whole lot of what someone (i.e. civilization) painstakingly taught you. You’ve been half-assing your assignments, turning in work that isn’t your own, making up random rubbish, not playing well with others…it ain’t pretty.
So, I’m assigning you some make-up work, a simple essay to get you back on track. No, it’s not optional, and given the current state of things, there won’t be extra time or extensions.
Topic: Why I Say What I Say and Do What I Do
1000 words- no more, no less. I want to see sufficient detail, but I also won’t put up with pointless rambling. If you use a giant font to make yourself look impressive, if you play with the margins, or if you triple space, you fail. Don’t spend time trying to mess with my perception. Think and then write.
Use simple, clear language, and get to the point. If I read “Webster’s dictionary defines x as…” or “Since the dawn of time, mankind has…”, you fail. I’m so very tired of useless rhetoric, and you don’t get to make up your own words either. There will be no “alternative” phrases here.
Your work should be organized into coherent paragraphs, with one following logically from the one before. It’s an essay, for Pets’s sake, not Whack-a-Mole. I need to be able to follow your train of thought, not just what you’ve decided to chuck onto the page at random.
For pity’s sake, proofread your essay before throwing it out into the universe. Remember that once someone reads it, once they’ve absorbed your words and mulled your ideas around in your head, you can’t take them back. “Words, once spoken, like eggs, once broken…”
Most importantly, give evidence and explanation for your points. You’ll notice that the first word in the assigned topic is “why”. If the rest of our essay reads like “because I said so” or “because that’s the way it is” or “because everyone thinks that” or any other fallacious nonsense, we fail. You aren’t automatically entitled to your opinion, at least not if your opinion is a horrible misnomer intended to disguise hatred, fear, or ignorance.
You can stop rolling your eyes now. I’m not giving you this assignment as punishment, or because I enjoy the extra marking. I’m burdening you with this now because all of us have seemingly lost the plot, as of late. At the world seems to be operating as a random crap generator, a veritable blue and green blob of “just cuz”.
We humans have always prided ourselves on being the rational ones on the planet, the ones capable of rising above our baser natures. I have to say, other creatures are lapping us in this race, shaking our heads as they pass us, ready to hand us our asses. We’re falling behind, in danger of failing both ourselves and the rest of the planet.
Clear of your desks, sharpen your pencils, make yourselves a snack and be prepared to hunker down for the night. It’s time to demonstrate that, at some point, you were paying attention.
A few years ago, just a little before the holidays, I was stomping through a grocery store parking lot. It was chilly, and it was crowded, and I was in the festive, stressed-out state many of us find ourselves in this time of year. As I was heading into the store, another woman was heading out, and for a split second, we made eye contact. So I smiled. I do that sometimes, for no particular reason. I reckon my parents done raised me right.
The woman then stopped me and said thanks, leaving me a little blindsided. She said she’d been duking it out with grumbling holiday shoppers for hours, and was relieved to have someone show some sort of human warmth. She told me I’d made her day. I wished her well and we both went on our way.
Before I let this story dissolve into a Hallmark movie of the week, I’m going to tell you that when I look back on that brief, positive encounter with another human being, I don’t feel all warm and squishy inside. I don’t feel like I make the world a better place, one smile at a time (ugh, hurts to even think stuff like that). To be honest, I’m a little disappointed and dismayed that a smile was all it took to make her day. People around her were acting so crappily that me turning up the corners of my mouth for a few seconds was the highlight of her afternoon. It’s not life-affirming, it’s just an indication that we’ve set the bar pretty low for our fellow human beings.
Have we really reached the point as a species that we hold a smile as a gold standard of kindness? Are we really so divorced from one another that anyone who acknowledges our existence in a polite way is seen as doing us a favour? Forgive me, but I don’t think we should be settling for smiles.
Humans, I am holding you to a higher standard. I expect you to stop honking at each other in traffic, and cutting in line at the drive-thru. I expect you to get over this fascination with dumping all over one another online. I expect you to stop uttering phrases like “those people.” I expect you to share what you have, be honest, be sensitive, to listen to what someone else is saying and to try and be reasonable. There will be no more marks for participation in the world. Your perfect attendance counts for nothing. You’re going to have to produce some decent work once in a while.
Okay, yes, keep smiling at other people. Smile at cute babies in strollers. Smile at old men playing chess in the park. Smile at joggers racing past you, and the lady who delivers the mail, and complete strangers who walk past you on the street. It’s all good. It’s just not enough anymore. Not even during the holiday season.