Foxy Insights: On New Years Resolutions

I decided to stay in for New Years Eve, this year, and do some good, long thinking. While I love a good party as much as the next person, I’m tired and alone in a new city, and you know what? No excuses – I just don’t feel like it. So here I am. I just finished unpacking my life out of my suitcase and into a closet (or at least it feels like one – lucky I’m not claustrophobic!). It’s starting to look more like me, down to the balls of yarn on my floor. I’ll have a nice long roam tomorrow and celebrate the new year with a morass of people I don’t know (because I prefer hung over strangers to drunk ones), but tonight is for thinking.

New Years resolutions are a tricky business. I don’t think it makes any sense to store up resolutions just to save for this day, because if it’s something that needs fixing, then fix it right away. I think we should always be watchful and employ careful introspection. That being said, sometimes markers in the sands of time are a good thing, so we don’t get swept away by the flow of time.

So, at this giant marker in time, December 31st, 2014, I’ll make my first resolution. I will spend more time being consciously mindful of what I do. I will set resolutions at the beginning, and I will retrospect at the end.

So, since it’s the end of the year, I should retrospect, at least a little. 2014 was not my most successful year, if you want to measure my years against one another. As silly and arbitrary as the scale seems, the statement rings true to me. Yes, it was very fulfilling on a relationship level, but it wasn’t that fulfilling on a professional, personal, or interpersonal level. Considering the disaster that was 2013, however, I will take it – not falling totally flat on my face is an improvement.

But I can do better than recover in 2015. So, 2014, you were my baby step, my stumbling block, my getting back on the horse after breaking every single bone in three places. 2015, leggo.

So, one resolution down, and all the other ones to think about.

It’s really not easy to come up with resolutions, but I think there’s one thing I can definitely can say. I don’t want to be a whole new person in 2015. I’ve put 20-odd years of work into the person I have been, and I rather like her, weaknesses and flaws, strengths and talents alike. So, let’s chuck out the whole nonsense about being a whole new person in 2015 – I don’t want to start 2015 as a fraud.

I try to practice the fix it when it’s broken philosophy, so I already have some resolutions that I made in 2014 and now I’m doing my best to stick to. I’m trying to lose weight, by watching more carefully what I eat, controlling my portions, and going to the gym more regularly. I’m trying to be more financially savvy, by considering what purchases I really need, delaying purchases by at least a week to avoid impulse buys, and by actually looking at my credit card bill every month. I gave blood, I’m getting more organized (in fits and starts) and I’ve made a conscious decision to take care of my appearance and take pride in looking good, not out of insecurity but out of growing up.

That tends to cover a lot of the standard New Years Resolutions that silly web articles push in your face. Two of some of the more popular ones have been Elite Daily’s resolutions for 20 somethings (I think the article and the website are both full of condescending pap) and Buzzfeed’s real list of resolutions for 20 year olds, which is a little more sensible but also fairly standard. So they’re no help – I’ve already got those bases covered.

Instead, I think I’m going to turn to my list of things I want to be, and draw strength and ideas for that. It was inspired by a  quotation (probably by the zen quotation goblins who lurk in the bowels of the internet and slap random people’s names on it)

When I was 5 years old, my mom always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down “happy.” They told me I didn’t understand the assignment and I told them they didn’t understand life.

This is my list:

  1. Happy and Content
  2. Leader, CEO, Role Model
  3. Competant, Knowledgeable, Aware
  4. Charitable, Kind, Understanding, but not Naive
  5. A Mother that my kids will fight over who will have me for Christmas
  6. Constant Friend, Valuable Associate, and Good Networker
  7. Personable, Socialable, and Articulate
  8. Artist, Author, Creator and Designer
  9. Never complacent, never done learning

Meditating on that, I think I have a few more solid ideas of more resolutions for the new year. So, in no particular order:

  • I will continue making more specific resolutions at the beginning of the month, week, and day, and I will reflect at the end of each of them.
  • I want to stop feeling guilty about taking time to embroider, to write, to crochet or knit, or to just game, but I want to put a better fence around those activities, so they don’t take time that I should be focusing on my studies.
  • I already said I wanted to be more organized, so to elaborate on that, I’ll resolve to have the foresight to plan and block off my time more effectively and the willpower to stick to that plan.
  • I will make five more professional contacts, and I will renew five professional contacts that I have already made
  • I will donate time to a soup kitchen, and I will donate blood
  • I will finish at least one actuarial exam this year, and be studying for a second by the end of the year
  • I will take three courses, through school or Coursera, that are purely for my academic interest.
  • I will hang out with someone who is not my significant other at least once a week
  • I will write for ten minutes a day, every day.

That feels like a lot. Maybe it’s too much, but I won’t know until I try. I will do it, though. 2015, I am ready for you now.

Happy New Years all!

Foxy Insights: What Makes a Student

Iron enough to make a nail,
Lime enough to paint a wall,
Water enough to drown a dog,
Sulphur enough to stop the fleas,
Potash enough to wash a shirt,
Gold enough to buy a bean,
Silver enough to coat a pin,
Lead enough to ballast a bird,
Phosphor enough to light the town,
Poison enough to kill a cow

This is a verse I first read in Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett (very much worth a read), called “These are the Things that Make a Man.” It refers to the spirit of Winter, who searches for these things because he’s fallen in love with the protagonist, Tiffany Aching. He wants to be a human so he can court a human. However, all this creates is a body, not a human. The Wintersmith has just the trappings of humanity, not the substance.

I feel like society has its own version of this list, a list of things that make a successful person, like:

Money enough to live in style,
Sex enough to brag about,
Face enough to take a picture,
Body enough to be a model,
Friends enough to never be alone,
Power enough to be invincible,
Personality enough to be unique,
Confidence enough to be an ass.

Something like that. Pretty much all the marketing, all the messaging, all the social conditioning that surrounds us tells us to want this ideal, and exists to help us achieve it. Nearly all industries are out to help us become a successful person, provided we conform to their idea of successful. It’s overwhelming, and nauseating if you think about it, which is why we try not to. But just like the Wintersmith, this list is only the trappings of success. Success is a complex concept that is twisted with happiness, honed by maturity, and unique to each individual, but it’s hard to pursue uniqueness. So society simplifies success, and people pursue the wrong thing, out of fear of failure.

I see this a lot in university, where people use their grades to approximate their future success. You have a 90+ average? You’re golden. An 80 will still probably get you places. 70s you start the worry and 60s, you really start to panic. Failing means you’ve failed as a human being, because you’re never going to be successful in life with a fail on your university transcript. Or at least that’s how the story goes.

For those of you who’ve been reading my blog before, you might remember that I failed before. Even if you haven’t, you can still see how ridiculous the story is from an emotional distance, but to the kids who face failure for the first time in their lives, it’s their reality. I see it a lot, especially in academically rigorous programs that have really incredible alumni and a reputation for being tough. That panic, that fear, is part what’s going through their head when they’re facing down the first 60 or 50 or 40 or 30 or 20 or whatever.

It’s not just the students, either. We, as a society, have put too much emphasis on marks to simplify the narrative, to make it glamorous, to make it a story. After all, no one wants to read the thousand rags to rags stories when there’s one rags to riches story. It’s lead to this delusion that good jobs are equal to marks, marks are proportional to effort, so if a student works hard enough, they should get a good job. As a result, students feel entitled to be rewarded for process and not results. Anyone who’s worked a real job knows that results, not process matters, which I think, is the only real lesson to be had from taking grades so seriously. But using them to measure a person? It’s like telling someone that all 6″2′ blond guys with blue eyes are equally attractive (which they’re not).

Don’t get me wrong, aside from teaching and storing a lot of information, universities still will sculpt good corporate citizens. It’s not as hand holdy as high school, which is scary, but in the end, university still provides plenty of support for fledgling adults that doesn’t exist in the real world. The classes give structure to learning that doesn’t exist in the workplace. The tests check if you know how to use a concept or an idea before you risk millions of dollars or lives on an application, and the grades tell you what concepts you don’t quite understand yet, when your boss would just fire you for a mistake.

And yet for a lot of people, being a good corporate citizen won’t be success. But what really is success? We’ve try to boil it down to a number, a GPA, a salary, whatever, but that number is not what you learn in university, in any school, in life, nor is it really success, just a sad proxy. And while I can’t define success for you, I can tell you what really makes a human, according to Pratchett.

Strength enough to build a home,
Time enough to hold a child,
Love enough to break a heart.

Foxy Insights: What Canadians (and the Rest of the World) Can Learn From Ferguson

Social media campaigns and hashtag activism have usually been derided as a load of crock by venerable and wise observers, and most of the time, they are right. When raising awareness really can do some good, however, that is when hashtag activism works. The ALS Ice Bucket challenge and Ferguson, Missouri, are two campaigns sweeping social media right now, and both are very successful, in their own way.

The Ice bucket challenge has raised $70.2 million dollars (and counting) dollars for ALS research. Basically, the idea is that if you get challenged, you have to either dump some ice cold water over yourselves or donate 100$ to combat Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, AKA Motor Neurone Disease, AKA Lou Gehrig’s disease (read more and donate here). While I haven’t been challenged (and really can’t right now due to tight student budget plus ongoing surgical complications) and I really want to roll my eyes at the whole thing, it has accomplished its mission of raising money and awareness for a truly terrifying disease (Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom touches on it, and is an excellent read), with the bonus of not being offensive or hypocritical like the whole NFL pink ribbon, so I can’t be too cynical.

Ferguson, on the other hand, has succeeded in a very different way in raising awareness. Again, for those of you living under a rock, Michael Brown, a young black man, was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a white cop, in Ferguson, Missouri on Saturday August 9th. Protests have been on going, and all kinds of conversations have been renewed, over excessive police militarization, and especially systemic racism. What’s really interesting about #ferguson is that we observers get to see the point of view that we don’t usually get to see: that of the black community, the “rioters”, the wronged. They’ve been challenging police reports (keeping them honest? Maybe? Although I suspect the truth, per usual, is somewhere in the middle), and creating a national conversation that very much needs to happen.

As Canadians, we sit very comfortably back and watch, but like the rest of the world, we assume what’s happening in America is a uniquely American phenomenon, made in Murica. That racial strife is something that we don’t have to worry about, not in the civilised regions where we live, because of our charter and great history of human rights.

Oh really?

On August 20th, 2014, 15-year-old Tina Fountaine was found floating in the Red River, like the 1017 murdered or missing aboriginal women between 1980 and 2012. Her body has sparked calls yet again, for a study as to why so many aboriginal women end up dead. If you don’t think 1017 is a lot of people (first of all, screw you), think of it this way: Part of the reason notorious pig farmer and murderer Robert Picton managed to get away with it for so long was because a lot of his victims were aboriginal women, and the Vancouver Police Department failed to act due to systemic bias. Canadian aborigines account for about 4.3% of the population, but account for 16% of murdered females.

Yeah. Let that sink in for a bit.

And yet our glorious leader doesn’t think there’s cause for concern. Nor does his right-hand, sexist unmentionable whose nominally in charge of these things (In case you can’t tell, I’m not a fan of either Stephen Harper or Peter McKay, the Canadian Justice Minister, for various reasons detailed here for Stephen Harper and Peter McKay because he seems incredibly out of touch, in my opinion, which hasn’t been improved by this debacle). They probably just don’t want another report telling them they’ve done something wrong.

Now, admittedly, it’s not systemic violence against a disadvantaged group, like it is in America, but according to the UN, it’s a crisis. It’s systemic ignorance about a disadvantaged group, which can be infinitely more dangerous because we pretend it doesn’t exist. Violence against women is only part of the problem, sadly enough. Aborigines as a whole in Canada tend to be less educated, poorer, in poorer health, lack basic necessities on reserves, more likely to become alcoholics or substance abusers, and more likely to become convicts or the victims of crimes, and we, the rest of Canada, are by in large ignorant of the issues.

I’m not asking you to carry the white man’s burden here, or pay for the sins of our forefathers or whatever. For one thing, I’m not white, nor am I a man, and my forefathers certainly weren’t involved in defrauding natives of their land. I am, however, very proudly Canadian. I am asking you as Canadians to be aware and to be mindful of these issues, and most of all, to be humble. We may live in a country of free healthcare, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and tolerance, but we still have our social gaps to bridge.

That’s the lesson that Ferguson has to offer the rest of the world, Canadians included: this is what happens when you let biases become too ingrained, too systemic. This is what happens when the social gap becomes too wide.

Foxy Insights is a series about a normal person’s view on everything, not necessarily sexy. Read more here.

Foxy Insights: No, You Really Do Need to Check Your Privilege

So the Princeton Privileged Kid op-ed has been circling for a while, and I read it and was pretty much inarticulately angry about it (which, anyone who knows me will to tell you, is rare). Then this article from Jezebel (yeah, yeah, leftist schill, rampant feminist, blahblahblah) finally loosened my tongue, or in this case my fingers. It makes a lot of good points I won’t, about privilege being a macro thing and not a personal one, but it did give me somewhere to start.

I read that op-ed and was this close to snarling, because the author totally missed the point of privilege. While people shouldn’t be shamed or silenced for their privilege, my problem is when people don’t bother to recognize their privilege and then try to offer their opinion on something they don’t fully understand because of their privilege. That, I’m sorry to say, is when your opinion isn’t really worth the air that exits your derriere.

As terrible as they are, your ancestral struggles are second hand. Sure, they’ve probably shaped how you think about your family, and you’ve probably grown up with these values and mindset, but you’ve never experienced them. You have never grown up with parents who don’t value education, nor have you cherished the smell of garbage because at last you have a mattress to sleep on. You have never been told you can’t do something because you’re a girl, or that your appearance is more valuable than your brain is. You’ve never been told that your love, your sexual health, and your identity are wrong, immoral, and illegal. Growing up, you’ve had your pick of role models; Society has told you you can be anything, not just the brainy Asian or the sexpot or the girl next door.

I know my privilege. Just because my uncle had to jump trains to bring food to my grandfather and avoid being shot by communists during the early Chinese revolution, just because my mom’s family could only afford a dozen eggs a year, just because my dad came to Canada with $26 in his pockets and started TA-ing Chemistry with next to no English, doesn’t mean I am any less privileged now. My struggling parents still valued education over all else. I’m straight. My family now is firmly middle class. So every time I talk to a gay friend about sexual politics, every time I meet someone who struggles with learning something I find very basic, every time I meet someone who can’t afford their tuition, I try and stop and realize my biases, and more often than not, I find myself keeping my mouth shut, because I can’t offer anything worth listening to, and I usually learn something.

It’s not to say that if you have privilege, your opinion is not worth listening to. Some of the best thoughts on being Asian I’ve ever had come from my blond, Caucasian boyfriend, because he understood my viewpoint, but also had his own viewpoint to offer.  Those without privilege also should not dismiss insight out of hand because of the offeree’s privilege. A guy with a study about female urinary cones, is still a person with research on female urinary cones. You can question the validity of the research, or the methodology, or the source of the research, or the contradicting source, but check your own privilege as well, the “privilege” that you have as someone with insight in the situation. What I mean by that, is that you need to understand your own biases, and recognize that while you might have insight that the other person doesn’t, the other person might also have something to add. They might not, but they might actually have something to add.

Saying that we should all be equal and thus you’ll act like such is laudable, admirable even. But ignoring the reality, that by an accident of birth, you’re born with advantages, and a certain mindset, is not. When someone tells you to check your privilege, they shouldn’t be asking you to shut up. They shouldn’t be telling you to be ashamed of being white, being educated, being straight, or being anything. What they should be asking you to consider the different backgrounds, values, and advantages you’ve had in life, and then consider your input through someone else’s lens and ask yourself if it’s really valuable. You might find, more often than not, you don’t have much to add.

I guess it’s kind of appropriate to start the Foxy Insight series with a post on this one, because I need to be careful that what I’m writing might add value, and that I consider my own biases and experience. While I think they’re valuable, I think I also need to be aware of them. I’d also like to be aware of the other side, and accept that someone might write me a response telling me that I’m all wrong, and that’s okay.

Foxy Insights is a series about a normal person’s view on everything, not necessarily sexy. Read more here.