Reading… but not for homework

Before writing this, I watched a video by John Fish in which he explains the horrific truth about our educational system. I instantly felt inspired to write about my experience with reading. I highly recommend watching it here. He’s a Canadian too!

Remember those dreadful days of high school when your English teacher presented the class books for the semester and no one was allowed to complain? No one could suggest a different book, because it had to be a part of the curriculum list that hasn’t been updated since Shakespeare was alive. The teacher would sometimes even hate the book she had to discuss with us. What’s wrong with this picture?

When I was a young child, reading was my escape. Morgan le Fay would wisk Annie, Jack and I away on an adventure in the Magic Tree House series. I still recall how excited I was when my mom bought me a new Geronimo Stilton book for Christmas. Authors like Beverley Cleary, Laura Dower, Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen, Cornelia Funke, Jeff Kinney, I could go on…. So many books were dog-eared and bent out of form because of my obsession with reading. It was like words could transfer me to a new environment even though it was just black and white on the page. So then, how come when I got to high school and suddenly my favourite thing to do was being graded, I fell out of love?

My bookshelves got dustier, my brain got cloudier, and I felt forced into reading classic novels. As well, my classmates and I had to agree on specific opinions about a book or else we would get a bad grade. I probably would have eaten up these literary gems if it had not been required by my school board to like them. Due to the fact that we knew our book studies ended with us writing an essay, I started to develop demonic strategies when I read. I became less interested in absorbing the lessons in a certain book, and more worried about making sure I could find sources for my argument. Suddenly, I had to read on a deadline, and my comprehension suffered in some ways. I read faster, but more messy. Constantly having to memorize page numbers so that the teacher knew I had actually read the book. What’s silly now is that I can’t let go of these habits when I try and read for fun. I shudder to think of how messed up my brain is from the intensities of my high school learning. I am not even going to talk about the redundancies of MLA citing.

Without getting too dramatic, there were benefits to reading in the way my high school asked us to. I am able to back up an argument by laying out clear examples from primary sources. I am confident in reading out loud with added character traits if needed. I am capable of reading multiple books at one time. Finally, I know the context of the famous Hamlet quote “To be or not to be”. So, not everything about high school English was bad. My Gr. 12 English teacher was one of my favourite educators ever. She taught me to be creative in my writing and take chances outside of the typical essay format. I could even tell that she, herself, didn’t agree with some of the curriculum standards.

If I am going to reflect on the impact of reading, I need to look at a timeline of my obsession with books, starting with the younger part of my childhood. My mom says I started reading chapter books at age 4. That means that before I was instructed to read, I loved books. This is of course due to the fact that my parents scheduled reading time before every goodnight. It is embedded in my brain as a positive and relaxing activity for my mind.

As I mentioned above, the Magic Tree House books were so special to me, and they probably were the first series I ever grew a crush on. I think I must have read at least 25 of the books in a line-up of 58. They were like medicine to me. Mary Pope Osbourne, I owe it to you to begin a reading addiction that would last my whole lifetime. Then, I believe I moved onto wittier books like Elisabetta’s Geronimo Stilton, Dav Pikey’s Captain Underpants, and Megan McDonald’s Judy Moody. Unlike anything I had ever seen, these three series gave me more colour and imagination. The words could suddenly be painted onto the page rather than typed. My expansive mind was taken to new worlds and I got to laugh more along the way. This period of ages 4-6 is what I like to call “The Simpler Years”.

When I turned 7, I knew that I wasn’t just a child anymore. I was a REAL person. So naturally, my interests shifted to books about history, philosophy, and boys. I remember taking trips to Chapters and leaving the children’s section behind. I wanted to read what my mom was reading, but she guided me to fiction novels that would suit my maturity more sufficiently. Dear Canada is a series of very educational books that showed me the saddest historical events through the eyes of a child. It was written by use of fictionalized diary entries from children who lived during times of war and poverty. Although the topics were deeply profound, I was able to learn about Canada’s history in an honest way. As well, I found solace in a book called Chicken Soup for the Pre-Teen Soul. Written by real-life pre-teens, Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen compile an master list of anecdotes that prepared me for growing up. I read this book from a pre-mature philosophical standpoint and the whole series was my first self-help books. Then, my friends, came a HUGE obsession with a series titled From the Files of Madison Finn. These books held me captive while I learned about Madison stumbling through middle school. Funny enough, she has a sort of “blog” where she uses her laptop as a diary. I started my own diary on my sister’s old laptop, and I had to make it a private folder (to which I lost the password for). I wonder what sort of crazy stuff is lost in cyber-space now! Laura Dower’s series also gave me a chance to read about the confusing stages of having a crush. Madison’s crush is on her classmate Hart Jones. He is a mystical creature that still gives me butterflies. I mean his name is HART! Let’s call this period of ages 7-9 “The Mature for My Age Years”.

Grades 5, 6 and 7 were a different story, pun intended, because the thickness of the books got WAY bigger. Now, I was double digits and ready to tackle the big guns. I want to call this period “The Twilight Years” for the obvious reasons… Stephanie Meyer had my full attention. Suddenly, I was reading about sexual vampires with lust and confusing emotions. I read all four books, plus the novella The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner, and saw all the movies at least twice. Team Edward all the way!!….. yeah, it’s so stupid when I think about it now…. But, I cannot lie when I say I don’t remember reading much else when I was ages 10-13, except for maybe The Hunger Games or The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. These years set me up for hardships of relationships.

Here is where it gets depressing. During the years of 2011-2016, I barely read for fun. Generally, if you saw me reading, it was because I had to read it for school assignments. Shakespeare, Harper Lee, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Agatha Christie, Arthur Miller and others became the only authors on my radar for a long time. Additionally, I had less time to sit down and read because my schedule with competitive dance heated up and the internet grew as a cultural phenomenon. During the summer, I focused on dance training more, but I would never take that back. I just feel so sad that most of my teenage years did not involve leisure reading. To be truly honest, I am wondering if maybe my mental state of mind collapsed because I let go of meditative reading sessions that clear my thoughts and sooth my psyche. This period is unfortunately called “The Lost Years”.

In conclusion, I want to renew myself. I can see that reading has been a positive part of my well-being and I am hoping that the school boards across the globe will take a different approach to literature so that more young adults will be inclined to read instead of reluctant to read. If I take the time to close my laptop and phone, I believe it will send me towards a genuine path to happiness.

For some fun, please enjoy Carrie Hope Fletcher’s song that I love. Click here.

Be good at everything.

Wrote this while applying for post-secondary scholarships and I actually think it is some of the best writing I’ve done so far. Who knew?

July 15, 2016:

A very multi-dimensional person once told me that to be named a great thinker, you must dive into various strands of human intelligence. It is boring for humans to be great at one thing. Moreover, it is ignorant and narrow-minded. Using the shoes on my feet and the curiosity in my soul, I remember that when you learn with an optimistic view, your experience will result in more discoveries, and more opportunities for success. I pack my schedule with classes in mathematics and science for concrete ideas to store in my brain. I regularly attend classes in the arts to find my voice in my community. Not only that, I know that learning never stops, and so I look towards my future years as a student to take on new journeys of revelation.

Piano Man (Last time dancing it version)

I wrote this parody song for my dance partner, Chris, when we competed with a duet back in highschool. It was our first year as a duo and every time I think back to it, I smile with delight. We got to dance to “Piano Man” by Billy Joel and it was some of my most enjoyable moments onstage. Video link here.

May 30, 2015:

(to the tune of Piano Man)
It’s (around) 9 pm on a Sunday,
The younger tappers shuffle in,
There’s a special boy sitting next to me,
Making love to his rum and gin.
Now Lisa is hard core teacher,
Who never has time for fun,
And she’s talking with Ginette,
Who’s new to the scenète,
But knows that it’s not for life.
Now Ashley is practicing fouettés,
As her mom calls her on the phone.
Yes, she left at the studio with loneliness,
But it’s better than being at school.
(Instrumental music)
Now the bow ties look like a carnival,
And the lifts look like we’ve had some beers,
But we move to the song, and laugh the whole time, and I say “Man, I love dancing here.”

🙂

S

I’m sitting on a stone ledge that saves me from falling into the rocky sea. I have never felt more lost. S just left. He feels lost too. He was asked to come out and dance with everyone but his life is so messed up right now, he really didn’t want to go anywhere. I feel for him like he was the personification of my own soul. Walking with him was all I needed for tonight. I didn’t need sex, I didn’t need to dance, I just wanted real genuine connection with someone who understands how hard life is. I feel so happy with S. I want to know his troubles and learn how to take care of him. I really wish I had more time with him. I leave the island tomorrow and all I can think about is how timing is such a beach.

I want to spend days and nights with S talking about divorce, suicide, purpose, work ethic and other deep topics that can only be discussed with the right people.

Although, I can’t expect him to fix all my problems. He is still figuring out his own. I want to be involved in his thought process and know him through the pain.

I met you at a time when I was certain a genuine connection meant sexual interaction. I thought that having a one night stand would help me plough through my problems better than a conversation about mental illness. As if a penetration of body parts could solve a calculus equation so complicated in my heart. As if the way you moan had anything to do with my happiness.

I should have remembered that you were sad and fragile like a wonderful teenager. You couldn’t have had enough energy for both of us. Life takes so much from us. How would I feel if someone older than me tried to depend on me at that age? But regardless, when I sat next to you on the boat ride into town and my head nudged into your shoulder blade as you watched the lights fade on the sea, I had hope. Your back was a million miles long. I saw definition in your spine that caused me to define myself differently. Better. A better me with you there.

You let me hold your hand in mine. You never said no, you never pushed away. Did you want to or was it weird? Was my energy helpful to you? I have hope that I helped in some way.

And you asked to walk the rest of the way home by yourself. But I knew that something was changed in you when we sat in silence. I knew that my life was changed for the better when you let my neck seep into your collar bone. I have hope.

Bring the light that you felt next time you have someone in your arms. Bring hope. I know I will.

WW1: A War that was Out to Get Women

A woman of today’s time could easily be labelled as an independent force, due to the advancing freedom of expression and changing workplace conditions. However, a century ago, this was definitely not the case. In the early 20th century, a woman was not yet able to vote and had only just begun working alongside her male companions (Dodd 330). These modifications created a complicated divide between the sexes and put women at risk for being viewed as second place to the men fighting on the front line. As well, it is worth mentioning the extreme pressure women faced to withhold the demands of their respective countries while armies marched elsewhere. The major inequalities women faced while the First World War was in bloom caused historians to reflect differently on the development of feminism. In comparison to the modern day woman, the governments’ regulations around the world manipulated how women were to feel and be treated as to cater to the intensities of the First World War. Women felt helpless in secret services, felt lonely due to the diminishing population of men, and were likely unaware that the government was using them as puppets for war propaganda.

When looking at the historiography of how women are portrayed during the First World War, there is a distinct contrast when the 1970 revolution became a place for American and British women to speak out about the issues surrounding sexual harassment and the objectification of women. Writings published from then until now, have brought about critical discussions on the subject of women being mistreated in the First World War, helping to initiate feminism as a significant social movement (Metinsoy 19). For example, an article written in 1975 by Oxford University openly argues that although women were finally allowed to work in occupations other than a mother, their positions as munition workers, typists, janitors, or railway employees were simple, low-level jobs at the bottom of the economic hierarchy (Greenwald 156). As stated in a more recent publication by Canadian author Diane Dodd, wartime meant that men would be away from these duties and thus, women had to step up, although paid less than what men would have earned (Dodd 328). Therefore, it was only until the last quarter of the 20th century that sexist workplace conditions were brought into the light of the public eye. Before then, as the Second World War and Vietnam War finished, women were still depicted, by the United States and United Kingdom governments’ standards, as less than men (Redmond and Farrell 331). The portrayal of women has transformed over the past century in historians’ eyes, helping more women to speak out about the inequalities between men and women.

In Britain, espionage was a useful tactic so that secrecy could remain a part of their offensive strategy. Considering this, it is vital to delve into the remarkable imbalances between male and female spies. In Tammy M. Proctor’s book, she examines the way British women in espionage were seen as too emotional to be taken seriously for the job, adding in that the government thought women would fall in love with the enemy due to their “romantic natures” (Proctor 43). Indeed, this speculation that women are more emotional than men has been floating around society for many years, and continues to be an issue in current political situations (Ladkin 402). On the other hand, it is unintelligent to diagnose all women with this problem. This stereotype classified women as unfit for the secretive role and caused women to face disadvantages against the idolism of men in espionage (Proctor 50). When a woman missioned to double-cross an enemy line, she could use her sexuality to pre-maturely gather information for the government, but was then pushed aside (Proctor 149). It seems, that men were actually the more emotionally-driven workers due to the fact that they could be persuaded by a woman merely based on her sex appeal. Thus, women were wrongfully judged as too sentimental for an occupation as perilous as espionage because they were the most successful at the tasks they were given. Emotion should not be historicized as a weakness that kept women from performing their duties as intelligence workers. As mentioned above, female sexuality was used in British spying as a tool for targeting a man’s pleasure for having sex. Not only is this an extreme case of the objectification of women, but female spies agreed to pose as prostitutes because it was the only way women could exercise their patriotism. According to Proctor, the British media’s portrayal of women caused their secret service work to be demoralized and ineffective to their constant battle for equality: “Media portraits of women as virtuous, martyred heroines or avaricious spy-prostitutes made it difficult for real women to assert patriotism… without suspicion. Official secret service work for allied governments was one route to validation as “true” patriots, but even then, women’s work was suspect and their loyalty to their nations questioned” (Proctor 125-126). Further, these women who worked so desperately to be treated in a serious manner wanted their government to succeed in the war, and that meant accepting the profound sexism in this domain of military forces. British women everywhere, but particularly in espionage, were deemed similar to prostitutes with diseased reproductive organs leading to a strong regulation of women as a marginalized group (Kiere 250). This included curfews, and police officers were given the freedom to conduct strip-searches whenever they pleased (Proctor 31). All in all, female spies were unfairly treated as over-emotional prostitutes, causing their accomplishments as secret service workers to be viewed as invaluable.

Another example of how the First World War made the government act differently towards women stems from the population on the home front. Moreover, the women in the United States of America had to make do with the diminishing population of men who left for the battlefield. This is clearly stated in a book titled Singled Out, written by Virginia Nicholson: “The anguish of the surplus two million was exacerbated by the sense that they were unwanted by men not only as wives, but also as competitors in the workplace and social stakeholders” (Nicholson 24). It was standard, at this time in society, that the woman performed house work and motherly tasks, so that the man could provide for the family and greet his wife when he arrived home (Dodd 331). As men started to leave their families to fight for their respective countries, women began to feel a sad solitude because the normal household needed a mother and a father. American women became the majority in their communities, and that meant single women were not as likely to find a husband who could raise a family with them (Nicholson 83). Due to an extensive divide of the sexes, women were solely educated in areas such as needlework and languages rather than trades or economics (Nicholson 28). So it was not the woman’s fault that she could not handle a family by herself, but the control that the government had over their female civilians. This societal belief is to blame for why women on the home front had such a difficult experience living without a partner (Kiere 248). Equally, marriage as a whole became an implausible choice for women because they would just be left alone anyways. Nicholson exclaims that the mental health of women, as a whole, started to decline because they were stuck between choosing a life of poverty or a miserable marriage (Nicholson 147). The thought of marrying out of a loving relationship disappeared during the war, and depression arose throughout the minds of the surplus woman. Some women tried to use their allurement skills as a way to make money, leading to men in local nightclubs to treat them like prostitutes (Kiere 260). Consequently, this led to more oppression of women wanting to be open about their sexuality. In sum, there was not enough men to go around for the amount of women that stayed home to take care of the family, making the home front a very depressing place for American women.

On the other hand, maybe it was the case that, at the time, women were unaware of the lack of fairness. The legacy of British women, as well as Ottoman and American, has been studied and analyzed by historians in a variety of ways (Jensen 198; Metinsoy 20). Many believe that propaganda was a defining feature in the empowerment of women, in lieu of it being shameful for women (White 52). If it is true that women could not imagine their lives being any better, then it is possible that the government was brain-washing them. For instance, the White Feather Campaign, explored by Susan Grayzel, had an oxymoron kind of effect for women who participated in it because, in actuality, they were not given any real power at all (Grayzel 20). When a British woman gave a white feather to a man who had not enlisted in the army, she was just aiding the government in their twisted way of recruiting more soldiers. Rather than exercising her power as an influential woman, she was being innocently abused by the government by means of propaganda. Likewise, if a woman gave a feather to a military man who happened to be out of uniform on a particular night, she was ridiculed for her mistake (Gullace 202). In addition, the British government meticulously planned that women would never achieve the same status as men, no matter what field of work they pursued. In her book Women and the First World War, Grayzel writes that “women could join the military’s auxiliary corps [to construct ammunitions] and be ‘the woman behind the man behind the gun’” (Grayzel 13). In regards to this, women were never the intended superheroines at all. Instead, they were tricked into being the government’s toys and were perpetually treated as second priority to men. If the White Feather Campaign intended to make women feel less included in the war, it succeeded in more ways than one. This is also exhibited when enlistment posters were filled with women as an excuse for a man to sign up (Gullace 184). Similar to the ways modern advertisers use the sexuality of women to sell their products, the government thought they could market from displaying women in the media so that men would feel more personally connected to the war (Grayzel 10). As a final point, there are many oxymora to be found in the governmental structure of the war, including the fake power that was given to British women in the form of a white feather or a recruitment advertisement.

In conclusion, the First World War took a lot out of the wishes and aspirations of women because the governments of many countries required women to live in a regulated way. Whether it was because of female espionage workers being treated like overly sensitive prostitutes, because of a wife feeling incapable without a husband, or because of the government providing inauthentic ways for women to succeed in social status, the years of 1914-1918 mainly pandered to the needs of the war and the men fighting in it. The historiography of how women were portrayed during this time has evolved over the last century, resulting in authors writing from a modern day perspective. When comparing the treatment of women during the time of the Great War to the progressive movement of the “Me Too” campaign, there has been an extreme shift. It would be foolish to look at the accomplishments of women in 1914 as a victorious milestone for feminism because there were still many issues surrounding sexism. This is similar to the way Christians sacredly follow a book that was written ages ago. More important milestones have come along and shaped how society treats women today. As history constantly evolves, it is imperative to evolve one’s judgment of the progression of society. The years of 1914-1918 are not on par with the forward thinking of today. Simply put, World War One was out to get women.


Works Cited

Dodd, Diane. “Canadian Military Nurse Deaths in the First World War.” Canadian Bulletin of Medical History, vol. 34, no. 2, 2017, pp. 329-363. https://muse-jhu-edu.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/article/671547.

Grayzel, Susan R. Women and the First World War. Pearson Education Limited, 2002.

Greenwald, Maurine Weiner. “Women Workers and World War I: The American Railroad Industry, a Case Study.” Journal of Social History, vol. 9, no. 2, 1975, pp. 154–177.          JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3786250.

Gullace, Nicoletta F. “White Feathers and Wounded Men: Female Patriotism and the Memory of the Great War.” Journal of British Studies, vol. 36, no. 2, 1997, pp. 178-206. JSTOR, https://www-jstor-org.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/stable/176011?pqorigsite=summon&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents.

Jensen, Kimberly. “Women’s ‘Positive Patriotic Duty’ to Participate: The Practice of Female Citizenship in Oregon and the Expanding Surveillance State during the First World War and Its Aftermath.” Oregon Historical Quarterly, vol. 118, no. 2, Summer2017, pp. 198-EBSCOhost, http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ahl&AN=124209916&site=ehost-live.

Keire, Mara L. “Swearing Allegiance: Street Language, US War Propaganda, and the Declining Status of Women in Northeastern Nightlife, 1900-1920.” Journal of the History of Sexuality, vol. 25, no. 2, May 2016, pp. 246-266. EBSCOhost, doi:10.7560/JHS25202.

Ladkin, Donna. “How Did That Happen? Making Sense of the 2016 US Presidential Election Result through the Lens of the ‘Leadership Moment’.” Leadership, vol. 13, no. 4, 12 July 2017, pp. 393-412. http://journals.sagepub.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/doi/pdf/10.1177/1742715017714841.

Metinsoy, Elif Mahir. “Writing the history of ordinary Ottoman Women During World War 1”. Apasia, vol. 10, 2016, pp. 18–39. doi:10.3167/asp.2016.100103.

Nicholson, Virginia. Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived Without Men after the First World War. Penguin Books Limited, 2007.

Proctor, Tammy M. Female Intelligence: Women and Espionage in the First World War. New York University Press, 2003.

Redmond, Jennifer and Elaine Farrell. “War within and Without: Irish Women in the First World War Era.” Women’s History Review, vol. 27, no. 3, May 2018, pp. 329-342. EBSCOhost,doi:10.1080/09612025.2016.1223311.

White, Bonnie. The Women’s Land Army in First World War Britain. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

You will bring me home.

My favourite animal is a giraffe. They are so tall. Not only that but they are so lanky. Objects that stand higher than my head have an inevitable power over me. I used to think that was a scary thought, especially while I was a kid. Everyone seemed to cover my entire existence with their shadows and I was frightened by that for so long. Now, I find tall bodies to be the perfect challenger. I can access their instincts better.

Giraffes don’t march through villages like Godzilla on a rampage. They eat grass. Sometimes even reaching all the way down to the ground to eat it. Giraffes have so much power over humanity and yet they choose not to abuse it.

You are my favourite giraffe. Your skyscraper-like stance puts me at ease. I want to dive into your embrace and feel the complete warmth of your arm span. It is special in so many ways. A gentle giant. A sweet creature.

Today, he…

Today, he sighed of relief. The back side of his body pressed against the front door, blocking out the partyers who had just left in chaos.

“I thought they would never leeeaavee‚” he said, dragging out the last part of the sentence as he usually does. It adds emotion, he would explain to me. At this point my drunkenness had reached its max point of exhaustion. I was on my knees on the floor right beside the comfy rocking chair. As he walked past me to sit in this chair, I noticed he wasn’t horny for me. There wasn’t a bulge this time. I would have to work for it, and use my god-given talents as a woman. I hate working at it; I want sex to be easy, like popping a pill. Alas, I found some energy and drove it straight to his eyes.

Looking at him above me in the chair. His body covered it whole with a sense of royalty and dignity. We could have fit in at a bougie brothel like the ones in Game of Thrones. I stared down his gaze and brought my hands to his knees. This triggered him to look at my position and realize where our night was going. Slowly and carefully I brought my face near the inside of his leg, brushed my cheek against his jeans and tried to get an arousal out of him. Nothing. He waited for my next move.

Okay, next move would be to use my hands. So I did that. Grabbing and rubbing in the appropriate places. There was a bit of a change after this but I could still feel his guarded energy. I had to REALLY entertain him. So I stood up and strip teased like the girls in porn. All the tricks and treats that I knew off hand. We were still in the main area of my apartment so my roommate could have come in at any moment. I would have to save some things for the bedroom. There, bra and underwear still on, I checked his body language again and found that he had sat up a bit to rest his head on his hands. He wasn’t particularly amused but he watched.

He could sense I didn’t have a next move. Vulnerable as I was, I still felt like I needed to dominate the experience. Be in charge of how the story unfolds. I came over to him and straddled his pelvis to initiate a direct sensation. Maybe he just wasn’t letting himself relax?

‘That’s all I can do on my end‚” I whispered. He chuckled with his head back.

“You’re missing something, though. C’mon… It’s not that hard to think of.”

What did I miss? I was stunned because usually I can get us going in less than a minute.

“Use that brain of yours‚” he joked in my ears, causing me to fill up with desire for him. He knew how to play with me and get me excited.

“Would you rather my hair be down? I can take it out of my ponytail….”

“Kiss me.”

I suddenly realized we had never before. Three weeks of causal sex and talking but no lip action. Shoot, how could I have missed that? Have I become a monster? I showed him a smile and came close to his face like I was supposed to do. The movies always taught me that. When we were millimetres from making contact, I freezes and pressed my lips together. He was stunned now. Aha. I got him.

“Actually, I think we should just hang out tonight. I’m kinda tired anyways and my legs feel—” but I couldn’t finish cause his hands clasped my jawline like a magnetic pull and we felt each other’s mouths. We didn’t have sex that night.