Singalong! Ambulance by TV On the Radio

If you ask me to tell you one of the cutest love songs ever, chances are I will mention this one.

by TV On the Radio

Your slim frame
Your eager eyes
And your wild mane
Oh they keep me where I belong
All wrapped up in wrong

You're to blame
For wasted words of sad refrain
Oh let them take me where they may
Believe me when I say

Oh I will be your accident
If you will be my ambulance
I will be your screech and crash if you will be my crutch and cast
I will be your one more time if you will be my one last chance
So fall for me

Your slime frame
Your simple stare
And your wrong wrong name
They keep me where I belong
All strung out in song

While I so tamed
Where we can shoot other vines through your good name
Sip sweet from nights deep wells
And watch are garden swim as our seeds are soaked
While overgrown
You will see
Hearts colors change like leaves

Oh sweet sweet dream fall for me
Fall fast fall free fall for me
Oh I will be your ambulance
If you will be my accident
I will be your screech and crash if you will be my crutch and cast
And I will be your one more time if you will be my one last chance
So sweet dream fall with me
Fall fast fall free fall with me

Learning! Dance your way to a happier heart

I love dancing!  I have long been convinced that nothing makes you happier than moving your body around to music - it's the best way to let go of your brain and not only get your heart pumping but also (to embrace the corniness) get your heart smiling.  Turns out, I was right!

According to science (aka numerous studies individually credited in this article), dancing lifts energy, eases tension, increases creativity and may even help reduce symptoms of depression and Parkinson's.  It increases the longevity of motor skills throughout life and boosts cognitive performance.


Me & Ryan Gosling With Fire Fighters

Remember that Portland trip where Ryan missed me so much he just had to surprise-visit? Well, at one point we came across some of the city's fine fire fighters. We took a picture with them, and Ryan wasn't supposed to be in it, but then he jumped in. I think he was a little jealous.

Inspiration! Target gets it right again

My attitude towards large, multi-national corporations, especially ones that market themselves based on the extremely discounted nature of their products, is skeptical at best.  We all know that things shouldn't be that cheap (or maybe they should be, but the wrong people are taking a pay cut to make that happen), that they treat their employees like moving pawns, and are usually terrible for the environment and society in general.

Yet, sometimes they do really good things.  Like Target.  Target already got it right once by removing the gender labels from their toys aisles, and now they've done it again!  I know Halloween feels like eons ago, but it's worth noting that their Halloween flyer included a girl with a disability modelling the Elsa costume.

Photo Credit: Adweek

Now every child with a disability who saw that flyer feels immediately like they belong just a little more.  See how easy that was?

Sure, like I said yesterday, creating real diversity in an organization is a lot of hard work.  But sometimes the hardest part is getting over our mental barriers that tell us silly things like that every child in a catalogue must be able-bodied.

Dealing With Diversity? Some tips for my fellow privileged white folk.

Recently I've been confronted with the systemic biases and lack of diversity for an organization I run.  It wasn't a total surprise.  I, and the rest of the board, were already aware of the problem and taking some steps to fix it, but when it became a public conversation we suddenly became truly accountable.  As a a result, I have had more conversations about diversity than I ever have in my life, and I have learned a lot.

So let's just say you are a bit like me: white, middle class, and educated.  Let's say you are involved in any group (a workplace, church, volunteer organization, whatever) that, despite the best intentions of everyone involved, remains conspicuously dominated by your fellow white people.  What next?

Well, the learning is an ongoing process, and so with full knowledge that I might later be taught something new that changes how I approach diversity, here is what I have learned so far.

1) It's not about me.  Or you.

The first thing that we feel compelled to do when confronted with a racial imbalance in our lives is defend how "not racist" we are.  Guess what?  That doesn't even matter.  It's not about you and your racism, or lack thereof.  That is kind of beside the point.

If your organization is not reflective of the society you live in, that probably means there is some kind of systemic bias or barrier keeping people away.  Recognizing this, and using the word "racism" when discussing it, is simply not the same as calling you a racist.  Spending all your energy defending yourself distracts from the real work that needs to be done.

2) Get comfortable identifying people based on race.

Those of us raised in non-blatantly-racist societies were taught growing up that merely identifying a person's skin colour verges on racist, and certainly doing anything based on the colour of a person's skin is wrong

In theory, that's true.  It shouldn't matter what colour a person's skin is, and since we're all of equal value as humans, then we shouldn't need to worry about it.

Unless, of course, you live in a society where countless structures and systems were put into place with racial segregation and oppression in mind and you want to try to correct that imbalance.  Then you kind of need to be able to talk about it.

This discomfort talking about race in frank terms is a side-effect of privilege.  One great article that helped drive this home for me is I, Racist, where the author describes, among other things, how Black people have no choice but to identify based on their race.
"To understand, you have to know that Black people think in terms of Black people. We don't see a shooting of an innocent Black child in another state as something separate from us because we know viscerally that it could be our child, our parent, or us, that is shot...  Black people think in terms of we because we live in a society where the social and political structures interact with us as Black people."
- John Metta, I, Racist
This made me realize that my discomfort with identifying people based on their race is entirely a result of my ability to feel "raceless" in the world, and my discomfort identifying and talking about race is a direct offshoot from that privilege.

At the end of the day, if your organization has no people of colour involved, then the only way to find out what is keeping them away is to ask them.  You can't do that if you never recognize that a person has a different background than you.  No, you don't force one person to be "the Middle Eastern representative" in your life and to answer for all Middle Eastern people everywhere, but you do recognize that you might need to ask some Middle Eastern people what it's like to be Middle Eastern.

3) Just stop with the "merit" talk.

One of the first things that comes out of most peoples' mouths when confronted with diversity in their organizations is "well I can't hire a person just because they're [insert race/ability/religious/gender/sexuality-based identifier here], I want to hire the best person for the job."

Once again, let's get over ourselves an look at the world a little differently, shall we?  There are more options than "hiring the best person for the job and it's only a coincidence that they're all young white guys" and "hiring anyone who ticks a diversity box regardless of merit", and if you truly think that there are no people who are qualified to work with you who aren't white, able-bodied, young men, then maybe you actually are a bigot and that's a different issue.

Honestly, when people talk like this, what I think they are doing is looking for an excuse.  They don't want to make a change, and so they blow it out of proportion using the most extreme example of the opposite problem to give themselves a pass.

Besides, if you think every white person got their job based on merit, you clearly aren't paying attention.  In most industries, opportunities come from who you know, not what you know.  Ask yourself what background a person might need to have to know the "right" people.

4) Get ready for some actual hard work.

We do things the way we do them because it's easy and reliable. We know what we're getting when we buy another Apple product, read books by the same authors, hire people we know.

At my organization, we recruited people mostly based on personal recommendations.  It was straightforward, familiar, safe, and required the least amount of effort, all valuable qualities for a volunteer-based organization.  We never intended all the people we recruited to be white, but that generally wound up being the case.

Honestly?  Changing the way we recruited was hard.  I had to question every instinct I had, and that was exhausting.  Sometimes I wanted to stop caring about it and just go back to the easy way because I was busy and tired and had a lot of other things to do and couldn't people just materialize out of thin air for me, please?

More honesty?  Working with the new board has, occasionally, been hard.  New people are bringing new perspectives.  They are forcing us to question the way we do things and stand by our choices.  They are holding us accountable to the kind of organization we want to be.  This is welcome, and it is not easy.  I am grateful it's happening and sometimes I wish I could just go back to business as usual.  I want change to happen, and I wish it would kind of just happen without the sticky part in the middle.

Unfortunately, this isn't the kind of thing you can half-ass.  I'm not trying to scare you, but it's worth being honest about.  You can't snap your finger and fix years of systemic biases, barriers, and racism.

5) Know your motives.

No matter what, in the world, in life, in running an organization, you are going to piss people off.  You're never going to do everything right, especially when it comes to diversity.  You could do all you can to recruit a diverse board or staff or volunteer team, and find that you still wind up with a majority white staff, or that you don't have enough women, or that there are no people with disabilities.

There will be an ever-changing roster of what is considered "diverse" and we will always be a step behind because there will aways be a privilege that we don't realize exists until we see who is suffering under it.

If you are embracing diversity just to get people off your back, then this will sound like a reason to not even bother.  If it can never be perfect, if someone will always be offended, then why try to do anything?

Because it's the right thing to do.  If that's your reason, then that's all that matters in the end.  If it's not, and you are doing this to make other people happy or to look good, then you might still do something positive, but you're going to feel angry and defensive every step of the way.

Cute! The dog of Kingsgate mall

The other day I was in Kingsgate Mall, Vancouver's favourite confusing little shopping centre. It's got the most random of sad little shops next to two powerhouse tenants (Shoppers Drug Mart and a liquor store) that we can only assume is the only reason it hasn't been transformed into shiny condos.

The other day I walked in and who was sitting there by the doors? This sweet little dog! Look how cute.

Singalong! Misled by Celine Dion

This was not only the first Celine Dion song I ever knew, but it was more-or-less my first foray into "secular" music.  I grew up in a Christian household, and while my parents weren't nutty about the whole thing, we pretty much just listened to Christian music growing up (hence the love I've shared for Amy Grant).  I remember around grade three, beginning to experiment with our radio.  Perhaps influenced by friends at school talking about songs I didn't know, perhaps subtly pushed by an older sister who undoubtably had gotten into a wider array of music already, perhaps fuelled by an innate desire to learn what else was out there, I turned the radio dial and stopped when I heard some new music that I liked.  The station was Z95.3FM (in its original glory).  They were playing Celine Dion's Misled.  I loved it.  My life would never be the same.

Also, revisiting this song I not only see that the video is one of the finest examples of early-90s pop culture, but that this is one of the best breakup songs of all time!  Go Celine!

by Celine Dion

I tought I knew you
Tought that I knew you well
We had a rhythm
But I guess you never can tell

Oh I learned early
Never to ignore the signs
You'll be forgiven
It ain't worth that much to my mind

Lovin' you (was) so easy
It's hard to say goodbye
But if it's the way it goes it goes

Just a page in my history
Just another one of those mysteries
One more lover that used to be
If you think you're in my head
You been seriously misled

Loving somebody ain't your average 9 to 5
It takes conviction it takes a will to survive
I'm not somebody who commits the crime
And leaves the scene
But when I've been dissed
I don't spend much time on what might've been
I'm not about self-pity
Your love did me wrong
So I'm movin', movein' on

Just a page in my history
Just another one of those mysteries
One more lover that used to be
If you think you're in my head
You been seriously misled

Learning! Adults need vaccinations too

Look at this lovely stock photo of a doctor given a man a vaccination.
We all (or most of us, anyways) get a whole load of needles when we're kids.  There are many places to read about why kids need vaccines that I won't get into, but if you want to read about that, maybe start here or here.

As adults, we kind of tend to forget about vaccines.  You may get the flu vaccine every winter, but that's pretty much it unless you go on a trip to Sub-Saharan Africa and need to get some boosters.  But the fact is that grown ups need vaccines too!

Sure, your immune system is stronger than the children or elderly, and so even if you get whooping cough it probably won't kill you, but still, do you want to get the whooping cough?

Here are some vaccines that adults might want to get boosted on: tetanus (no point in waiting until after you step on a nail), pertussis (whooping cough), and chickenpox.  If you're a pregnant woman, get the TDap vaccine (pertussis, tetanus, and diphtheria) to boost baby's immunity.


Me & Ryan Gosling Berry Picking

I grew up in Abbotsford, a major berry picking town, so I love going berry picking in the summers when I can. Ryan came with me last summer, but seemed a little more interested in looking sexy than picking berries. I would have been annoyed, but dang if he isn't good at looking sexy. I forgave him. Wouldn't you?

Inspiration! No fear, just hugs

This is a truly beautiful video.  Posted on Facebook by a man named Saf Adam (I don't know if he's the one in the video or not), a man stands blindfolded on the sidewalks of New York (I think).  He has two signs - one says "I am a Muslim, I am labelled as a terrorist" and the other says "I trust you. Do you trust me? Give me a hug." He stands with his arms out.

MUST WATCH .... speechless
Posted by Saf Adam on Tuesday, February 10, 2015

It is beautiful to see stranger after stranger hug this man, some quickly and tentatively, others with purpose. The video ends with a man who actually stopped his car in the street and ran over to hug him.  Awesome!

A Week Without a Phone: An Accidental Personal Challenge

Sometimes I like to give myself personal challenges.  They are fun and I get to learn new things about myself.  Last month I imposed a month where I took no photos, to see if that would change the way I encountered the world.  This month I am invoking my annual "No Fun November" where I don't drink any alcohol (I thought about also banishing sugar, but then I ate a bunch of Halloween candy and decided I didn't care).

These are the challenges I plan for myself.  Of course, as John Lennon said, "life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."  Sometimes I plan a personal challenge, and sometimes life (or my technology) forces one upon me.

Last weekend, my phone effed off.  Like, straight up died.  I updated the OS on my iPhone 4S (I know, I know, but I asked my friend who works for Apple and he said it should be fine) and it refused to turn or respond to any interventions.

It took from Sunday until Friday for me to wade through dealing with Apple Support and then Fido (my cell phone company) to get a new phone.  It was... interesting.


1) Phones and computers are practically the same thing.

The most interesting part?  In many ways my life was no different.  Turns out that these days we can do everything we do on our phones, on our computers, and since I have a job that keeps me on a computer all day, I was pretty well connected.

Short a couple of apps, I had it all with some slight variations: I texted from my computer (although only with people who also had iPhones), and could even FaceTime or Skype from my laptop if I wanted to actually talk to someone.  Email, Facebook, checking the weather, all on my computer.

The main difference showed up the moment I walked away from a computer and was suddenly thrown back to 1999.  I had to know where I was going before I went out and trust my friends to show up where they said they would be.  I couldn't check my bank balance before buying something or quickly text a friend to ask their opinion on something.

I certainly couldn't take any photos, which is kind of hilarious given my "no photos" challenge just ended and I was feeling super shutter-hungry.  Oh the humanity!

2) Time moves SO SLOWLY.

You know those moments waiting in a long line up when you browse your Instagram?  The boring meeting where you use the time to reply to a few emails?  The five minutes you're waiting for a friend when you scan through your Feedly stream?  Well I couldn't do that!

It felt like that Doctor Who episode with the little boxes where he can't travel to the future to figure out what's happening and has to wait and experience time like everyone else and he starts going bonkers.  You know why he goes bonkers?  Because time moves SO SLOWLY and it can be SO BORING!

I know it's good for our brains to be bored sometimes.  I've read the articles about how constantly filling our thoughts with distractions is bad - we need to be idle sometimes so our brains can process things, come up with solutions, and just plain old rest.

Yet what I wouldn't have done to fill those gaps.  I guess technically I was more engaged in each moment, but maybe some moments don't deserve to be engaged in.

Ugh, just kidding, every part of life matters, even the boring parts.  It was just annoying, okay?

3) What time is it Mr. Wolf?

This one really threw me: I didn't realize how much I depended on my phone as a clock.  I don't have a watch (well I have one, but it's broken, so only useful as an accessory) and so was left to move through the world unable to check the time.  It's weird.  I used to do it all the time, but of course then I was a teenager, and so not knowing the time had much lower consequences.  Nothing terrible happened, but it was weird.

Another fun thing?  Alarms!  Hands up if you use your cell phone as your alarm!  Me too.  You know why?  Yes, it's convenient and yes it's an excuse to keep your phone next to your bed even though you know you should have it in another room under five pillows to keep its blue light from destroying your brain.

You know why else?  Traditional alarms are like waking up to a heart attack.  Every day.

The first night I was without a phone I was being all zen about the whole thing.  I was sure I would be a superior being.  Heck, maybe I would just not get a phone at all.  I would live in the moment.  Life would be so authentic.  Then I realized that I needed to wake up on time the next morning.  Luckily, I do have an old wind-up alarm clock that I keep in my living room because it's pretty, so I was able to use that.  And wake up the next morning to such a jarring sound I felt like I was in a platoon that was under attack.

We used to wake up with the sun.  Since we've screwed that all up, gentle ring tones to ease us out of sleep are vital to our advancement as human beings.

4) Put the NO in notifications.

You know when you travel out of country and don't get notifications because you don't want terrible roaming fees, and how you feel so free the entire time?  Like you can just live your life?  It's blissful, right?  This was my week.

I always assumed that this kind of bliss would be unmanageable in real life: emails and texts and Facebook messages and everything else would add up and there would be too much catching up to do every time you sat down at a computer.  But just like the sweet disappointment of crossing the border to return home and seeing that there wasn't a hoard of people clamouring to get ahold of you while you were gone, so is a life without a phone.

Sure, with my days spent working on a computer, the only time I was left unconnected was when I went out for a few hours in the evening.  Still, let me tell you: not once did I check my messages after being out and feel like I had missed out on something.

None of the texts, Facebook messages, emails, or other notifications I would have gotten while I was out were so urgent or interesting that I wished I had received them while I was having dinner with a friend.  It was just plain nice to be out, with whoever I was with, without thinking about who might be trying to reach me.

There is, after all, something dangerous about always having a phone available.  About knowing that there's something in your pocket (or worse, on the table) that could come to life at any moment with something exciting or urgent or funny or that will just make you feel special.  While I resist a lot of claims that technology is destroying us as a people, I do feel very strongly that this does take us away from the moments and people that make up our lives.

Moving On.

I have a phone now.  After using the relentlessly-encouraging Apple chat support, visiting a Genius Bar, and a lengthy battle with my cell phone company over the ridiculous fees they wanted to charge me just for getting a phone (THAT is a whole other ball of bile), I sorted it all out and I am reconnected.

Mostly, it's great.  When someone invites me and my boyfriend to an event, I can actually contact him right away to see if he's free.  I can check where I'm going when I get lost (which is a lot), maintain my ongoing to do lists, check my calendar, and snap photos of things I want to remember or share.

I have, however, taken a lesson from my notification-free bliss.  I turned off notifications for everything except text messages, phone calls, and work-related tweets on my phone (because when you run a company's twitter account, you kind of have to be responsive).  No longer will my screen light up when I get a Facebook message or an email or a comment on Instagram.  I can look at those in my own time.

So far, so good.  Sure, I look at my phone more often than I'd like.  I check semi-neurotically for messages I know aren't there, partially out of a desire to keep on top of everything and partially out of a good old fashioned need for validation through the attention of others, but all in all, I've found a new balance.

For now.  Everything changes, especially technology.

Cute! Gertie the podcast star

Last week, Gertie tried to be a guest on my podcast!  Okay, okay.  I admit it.  What actually happened is that while my co-producer was figuring out some technology thing, I was setting up my microphone in front of Gertie to pretend she was trying to be a guest on my podcast.  But then see how much she liked it?  She clearly is meant to be famous.

PS: Have you checked out my podcast yet? It's called Life, Right? and we've got five episodes out and it's great! You can subscribe on iTunes and like us on Facebook.

Singalong! Only Happy When it Rains by Garbage

Remember Garbage? When I was recently in London there were ads for Garbage everywhere with that familiar pink feather pile and burnt out "G". At first I was confused - isn't London supposed to be super ahead of fashion? Then I realized that - oh no - it is the 20th anniversary of Garbage's self-titled debut album. Well, there you have it, age has snuck up on all of us once again.

This song was perfect for jumping around in your bedroom and yelling along to with your friends while putting on too much eyeliner and wishing you could afford Doc Martins.  It was a sweet time when there was some kind of rebellious joy in being a miserable teen, where we would feel all the angst and badness and then revel in the fact that nobody understood the depth of our souls.

by Garbage

I'm only happy when it rains
I'm only happy when it's complicated
And though I know you can't appreciate it
I'm only happy when it rains

You know I love it when the news is bad
And why it feels so good to feel so sad
I'm only happy when it rains

Pour your misery down, pour your misery down on me
Pour your misery down, pour your misery down on me

I'm only happy when it rains
I feel good when things are going wrong
I only listen to the sad, sad songs
I'm only happy when it rains

I only smile in the dark
My only comfort is the night gone black
I didn't accidentally tell you that
I'm only happy when it rains

You'll get the message by the time I'm through
When I complain about me and you
I'm only happy when it rains

Pour your misery down (Pour your misery down)
Pour your misery down on me (Pour your misery down)
Pour your misery down (Pour your misery down)
Pour your misery down on me (Pour your misery down)
Pour your misery down (Pour your misery down)
Pour your misery down on me (Pour your misery down)
Pour your misery down

You can keep me company
As long as you don't care

I'm only happy when it rains
You wanna hear about my new obsession?
I'm riding high upon a deep depression
I'm only happy when it rains (Pour some misery down on me)

I'm only happy when it rains (Pour some misery down on me)

Learning! The neuroscience of happiness

We are kind of obsessed with happiness right now, aren't we?  And while I'm not convinced that happiness (an emotional state) is the ultimate answer to life, I do think that it's an awesome idea to embrace the things you can do to be happier.  Especially since our crappy mental patterns tend to verge on destroying us.

There was a great article in Business Insider summing up four areas that neuroscience has tested and proven to increase our happiness.  My Cole's Notes is below, click through to the article to see all the fun research behind it.

1) Gratitude - this is one of my favourite spiritual practices.  Asking myself what I am grateful for is the main thing that turned my depression around in a noticeable way.

2) Label your feelings - instead of just wallowing in feeling crappy, name the thing you are feeling.  Lonely?  Sad?  Angry?  This helps you avoid suppressing your feelings and see them for what they are - and what they are is not all-powerful.

3) Make a choice - if you are avoiding making a decision, that's probably taking away from your happiness.  Whatever it is, just making a decisions - any decision - will make you feel better.

4) Hug it out - or generally get some positive touch with another person.  Hugging, holding hands, a shoulder rub, and the like, let us know that we're not alone and connect us to others.  A nice, long hug is the bomb for well-being and health.


Me & Ryan Gosling with a disappointing cat

I'm a cat person. TWICE in my life I have tried to be the kind of cat person who takes their cat out on a leash (not to walk it per se, but to let it be outside and experience freedom and safety at the same time). This was the first time it failed miserably. I was so disappointed, but Ryan was there to goof around and cheer me up.  He's so great that way.

Inspiration! A teen Instagram star quits

This story has been making the rounds for the past week, but in case you've missed it: an 18-year-old Instagram star has quit social media and edited the captions to all her photos to reveal how fake they were.  She describes her life as being "lost, lonely, and miserable."  Now her Instagram account is shut down and she has started a website called Let's Be Game Changers.

Okay, so I am not on board with blaming Instagram (or other social media) for all our woes.  They are simply tools that we use to our benefit or detriment (or probably a mixture of both).  If we are insecure in ourselves or vulnerable to pressure then yes, it will become a big problem.  It's not that way for everyone.

What I find inspirational in this is that she was able to A) recognize that she was living a lie and it was making her miserable, B) do something to change it, and then C) use her platform for more positive change.  A lot of people can't do that.

The inspiration here isn't to throw out Instagram or to judge everyone who uses it for fame.  The inspiration is to be aware, in our own lives, of the things we participate in, why we're doing it, where we're getting validation from, and what that is doing to us.

While the cynic in me could say that she's still seeking attention, just a more positive kind of attention, it also doesn't matter.  Even if she continues to be famous as a result, she will also help a lot of good causes in the meantime.

from Essena O'Neill on Vimeo.

Cute! A kitty's ennui

This picture of Gertie is, to me, the perfect representation of bourgeois ennui, don't you think?  Perfectly annoying in a person, but in a cat?  Cute!

Canadian Politics Bonus: Why it matters to appoint a Cabinet with gender balance (Elizabeth May's perspective)

Last week Canada's new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the Cabinet Ministers.  For you non-Canadians out there, basically, each elected representative is a minister in the House of Commons, where government happens.  There are a handful of ministers (in the governing party) who get to be Cabinet Ministers.  They are special because they are in charge of portfolios like Defence and the Environment and Scientific Research and Health Care.  They don't call the shots, but they make sure things get discussed and bills proposed and all that jazz.  It's kind of important to have good Cabinet Ministers.  Cabinet Ministers are also appointed, not elected.

When Trudeau was elected he said he would make a gender-balanced Cabinet.  Immediately people got all "what about merit?  Shouldn't people earn the position?" 

I would say more on that, but Elizabeth May wrote a wonderful article that she sent out in her newsletter the day before the Cabinet was announced that sums up all the best arguments on the situation.  Take it away, Elizabeth!

Why it matters to appoint a Cabinet with gender balance
November 4, 2015 
I don’t know about you, but I have been astonished at the many media pundits who question Justin Trudeau’s decision to appoint a Cabinet with gender parity. The CBC panel on November 1 with Walrus editor Jonathan Kay was a real low point. Suddenly a hue and cry is raised that having 50% women will entail incompetent appointments. Kay even kidded that it was unfair to his “people.” It reminded me of the Parks and Recreation episode where men rallied for their rights crying out “we have not been treated fairly -- really recently.”

I do not recall anyone questioning the merits of male ministers being appointed as the vast majority of cabinets – forever. Were all those stellar choices under Stephen Harper (Julian Fantino, Vic Toews, and Pierre Poilievre to name a few) just so unquestionably well-prepared for the job that the matter never came up? Or is it beyond obvious that questions of merit never surfaced when the expected men were put in their usual spots – known as positions of power?

The satirical publication, The Beaverton, skewered the response in a brilliant little column: “50% female cabinet appointments lead to 5000% increase in guys who suddenly care about merit in cabinet.”

With Prime Minister designate Justin Trudeau preparing to announce a cabinet that is 50% women, researchers have discovered a sharp 5000% increase in the number of men who suddenly have strong opinions about how cabinet appointments should be a “meritocracy.”

Across the nation statisticians are at a loss to explain a recent and drastic jump in the number of men who have spontaneously developed hard opinions about the qualifications of Federal Cabinet Ministers.

“This is affirmative action, and even though it has been statistically shown to improve working conditions over time, I don’t like it,” said longtime man Thomas Fielding.


Several noted political scientists agree that Trudeau’s female quota is a controversial move. “I suddenly and inexplicably find myself very concerned about this issue,” added Dr. William Harkin of the University of Calgary, also a lifelong male. “Unlike Trudeau, Prime Minister Harper only chose the most qualified people for his cabinet posts, like a climate change denier [Peter Kent] as his Minister of the Environment. Or his numerous Ministers of Defense who never once held military positions.”

I write this on the eve of the unveiling of the new Cabinet, so cannot offer any opinion on the individual choices of ministers, but I believe this move to be one of the most significant actions for equality of women since we got the vote.

My enthusiasm largely stems from knowing how much a gender-balanced cabinet changed – for decades – the political role of women in Norway. The first woman prime minister of Norway, Gro Harlem Bruntdland, may be best known to Island Tides readers for her chairing of the World Commission on Environment and Development. The landmark report “Our Common Future” is often just known as the “Brundtland report.” It was in that period that I had the great honour of working with her. She also made dramatic changes to Norwegian society when she appointed 40% women to her government in 1986. It was not an easy move to make. One of my friends who worked most closely with Gro Brundtland said she had to consciously sacrifice a generation of strong male leaders to take a meaningful step for women’s rights.

Today in Norway, the government still reflects gender parity. And the move to equal rights did not stop there. Norwegian women are by law 40% of corporate board rooms both in government-run enterprises and in the private sector.

Women in positions of power change a society. Gender roles and expectations shift in profound ways. One of my favourite anecdotes demonstrating this reality also relates to Prime Minister Brundtland. When she stepped down after many years in office, a Norwegian friend’s little girl was watching the news about the leadership contest to replace Brundtland. Several men and women were running for the post. Her daughter was startled and asked her mother, “You mean, a man could actually be a prime minister?”

Oh, for the day a little Canadian girl can ask that question.

This article was originally written for publication in Island Tides.
A fun thing to point out after the fact: our Minister of International Development is a former foreign aid worker and CIDA officer, our Minister of Foreign Affairs is a political science professor, our Minister of Science is a scientist, our Minister of Status of Women has run a shelter and is, actually, a woman, our Minister of Health is a doctor, our Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities is an award-winning athlete in the Para-Olympics, our Minister of Defence is a veteran, our Minister of Infrastructure is a former bus driver (who knows infrastructure better?), and our Minister of Transportation is, indeed, an astronaut. Do you really think Stephen Harper's "merit"-based Cabinet was this qualified?

Finally, let's look at the pictures:

Which group seems better qualified to run a country like Canada?

Singalong! Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell

When I think of this song there are two things that pop into my head: one is Love Actually and the other is the Vancouver Olympics.  Random, right?  Well I think everyone with eyeballs has watched and loved Love Actually every single Christmas (it's not just me, right?) and knows that this song (and album) are key to the heartbreaking Emma Thompson/Alan Rickman storyline (who cares about their character names, really?)  So that makes sense.  But why the heck do I think of the Vancouver Olympics?  Because for some reason in the opening ceremonies, when they were showcasing Canadian talent, they used the most depressing stuff that has come out of our country, including a beautiful but sad aerial dance to this song.  Seriously, guys?  We've got Shania Twain, Celine Dion, and even Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi, and you opt for Both Sides Now and then KD Lang singing Hallelujah (one of the other saddest songs in the world)?!?  I mean, great artistically, but really odd choices for the Olympics.

I think most people hear this song and think of something to do with the actual, beautiful, content of the song.  Something about how we really don't know anyone or anything else at all.  The beautiful tragedy in how "something's lost and something's gained in living every day."  I feel kind of bad that the awesome poetry of this song has been overwhelmed in my mind by two pop culture references, but it's okay.  I think Joni Mitchell is stronger, in the end.  She will prevail.

PS: OH MY GOODNESS, GO TO JONIMITCHELL.COM RIGHT NOW!  Most celebrity websites are lame and useless, but Joni's is incredible!  She has all the paintings of her life, organized by decade, including childhood drawings on there!  She has all her albums and you can just listen to them on there!  She has the guitar and piano transcriptions for her songs on there!

by Joni Mitchell

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I've looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It's cloud illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I've looked at love that way

But now it's just another show
You leave 'em laughing when you go
And if you care, don't let them know
Don't give yourself away

I've looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It's love's illusions I recall
I really don't know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say "I love you" right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I've looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I've changed
Well something's lost, but something's gained
In living every day

I've looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all

I've looked at life from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all

Learning! The experience of psychosis

The BMJ has a fascinating series where they are talking to patients about their experiences in health care.  It's a really really enlightening window into what it's actually like for patients that is obviously useful for doctors, but also valuable for us regular folk.

This is the first in the series on mental health, where a patient talks about his experience in becoming hospitalized during a psychotic break.

Imagine groping your way up the shallow steps of a cinema auditorium, full of a powerful film that will colour the rest of your weekend. Make it a film that has got your heart pumping, made you sweat or startle. For good measure, an auditorium light has just exploded, showering one row of the audience with pieces of glass. Multiply all this 10-fold, and it’s roughly how I’m feeling now.

He or she describes what it's really like to be interviewed by doctor after doctor, to overhear snippets of conversations, and to wait and wait and wait (without sleep) to be treated. There isn't much practical application for this in my life, but you never know when you're going to encounter someone having a psychotic break, and a little understanding goes a long way in the world.


Final Report: A month without photos

Last month I was inspired by this glorious woman to spend a month without taking photos. So now that month is over. What happened? What did this experiment reveal?

At first glance, not much.  I would often have the urge to take a photo of something, and then realize that nope, that's not what I'm doing right now. Sometimes it was a bit frustrating because there was something I really wanted to capture, but the frustration ended pretty quickly.

 I can't even say that I felt more "engaged" in life. Moments were not more meaningful because I wasn't photographing them. I actually would argue that some moments might have been less meaningful. Looking at and framing something while photographing it forces you to take the time to interact with it even more. To consider it from more than one angle. To find the beauty in it.

Of course, it depends on where you are.  Being at an event, like the red carpet that inspired this whole thing to begin with, and spending the whole time trying to capture every moment and get the best photo (for what reason?  To prove you were there?  Show off that you were close to a celebrity?) does feel detrimental to the experience.

The closest I can come to that is when I'm at a concert or other such event.  If I spend the evening trying to get an awesome picture of Lady Gaga to show my friends later, I spend more time zooming and testing light on my camera and less time enjoying the concert I paid all my money to attend.

In my regular life this month, however, I didn't feel that.  Perhaps there's a difference between constantly trying to capture the perfect image of an event and capturing a moment.

The first photo I took after my photo ban.
A photo posted by Andrea Loewen (@andreaxuaxua) on

Why take pictures at all?

Let's break it down!  There were two main things I noticed while I wasn't taking photos.  One was the things I wanted to photograph, and the other was what I wanted to do with them.

I wanted to take photos most often when I encountered something that I found either beautiful or hilarious in my day-to-day life.  Sometimes I also wanted to take pictures out of support for others: to Instagram the playbill for a show I was seeing to help that show spread word, for example.

In both instances, my urge to take photos went hand in hand with my desire to share them.  I don't think I ever just wanted to take a photo to have it to myself (although I used to take TONS of photos in the days before online sharing, so that may be a newer thing.)

Okay, I realize I'm making myself sound really altruistic here. "I just wanted to share photos to help other people, that's it, I swear!" No. Let's be honest. There is an element of wanting to show off the cool things I'm doing as well. To deny that would be silly. But is that my primary motivation? Let's follow the steps:

1) I encounter something that is beautiful/cool/interesting/funny.

2) I want people to see it.

3) I photograph it and share it.

4) Some of the people who see it like it or comment on it, many do not.

5) Repeat.

The real motivations lie somewhere behind step number two. I want people to see it. Why?

A shot I took on vacation that I thought was both beautiful AND funny, but it only got four likes. Should I feel bad about it?
A photo posted by Andrea Loewen (@andreaxuaxua) on

To share, or not to share

Okay, let's rewind to pre-Instagram days. The days of printed photos kept in albums. We would share our photos back then, too - by hanging them on our wall and locker, gluing them to our binders, sitting down together and looking through albums, passing photos around a circle of friends one by one, and even those ridiculous post-vacation slideshows that were basically FORCING your friends to look at all your Facebook photos, but really slowly as you told stories about the different cool trees you saw in Hawaii.

Why did we do that? Was it to make our friends jealous? To show them our cool lives? To illicit a positive response from them? To simply share our experiences and joys with them?

I'm going to say all of the above.

When we showed our friends the mini-album of photos we'd taken at summer camp in 1994, of course we wanted them to "like" them. We wanted them to see and appreciate our experiences and to express some kind of reaction (laughter, amazement, interest, maybe even disgust or horror) to what we were showing them. We wanted to feel like they were there by proxy, so they could understand this thing we saw or experienced and be a part of it, in some way. It's what sharing our lives with each other boils down to, right? Sharing experiences.

Did we also want them to be jealous of our cool lives? Sometimes, probably. Maybe that totally depended on how satisfied we were with our own lives in comparison to the person we were sharing photos with. If we felt kind of insecure around them, then yeah, we probably did want them to think we were cool and be a little jealous.  Then maybe we would "craft our image" a little more by only showing them certain photos where we looked amazing and were doing super cool things.  The photo taken right after we woke up and tripped over our underwear getting out of bed might have been tucked to the back of the pile for those people.

So posting photos online is, naturally, an extension of that. We share parts of our lives and experiences with each other because we want our friends and loved ones to be a part of them. We want them to know what's happening in our lives, to do a mini time-travel and stand next to us as we saw that cool thing and say "that is awesome!" with us.  To be a part of the laughter, joy, and amazement we experience.

Here's a time I was at an event and spent too much time trying to take photos. I got a shot of Elizabeth May (the best Canadian politician of all time) at the pride parade. It's very exciting, but probably took away from my experience of the event. Although I did just get a thrill looking at it again.
A photo posted by Andrea Loewen (@andreaxuaxua) on

What's the difference?

I see three big differences that have shifted things from the day of the photo album to the wall post.

One: we can post photos of every single little freaking thing that we do.  We don't have to economize photos to save film.  We don't have to get things printed.  We don't even have to take the time to plug our digital camera into our computer and upload shots.  We just snap and hit three or four buttons to share.  This ease creates an insane volume of photos for some people, and that sense of oversharing.

Two: we can now quantify the response that would have been only qualifiable in the past.  When I showed my friend photos from my family vacation to Florida in high school, we experienced the photos together.  I told them the stories in person.  We laughed together, they smiled and expressed interest and did all those other things that people do while sharing a moment, and they did them together with me.  Now all we have to go off of in the sharing of experience is the number of likes and comments our photos get (and maybe evaluating who the people are that are doing the liking and commenting).  It's taken our natural desire to share in each others' lives and made it into something you can count and compare.  Comparison, as we know, is death.

Three: because we are sharing with everybody we know (and maybe don't know) and can count and compare how people are responding to our photos versus other peoples', our insecurities are going to shine through more than ever.  Now those "cool kids" that we feel the need to look our best in front of are all mixed in with everyone else.  Unless we're really on top of our share settings or have very private profiles, the people who make us feel insecure could be seeing everything.  Suddenly it matters a lot more what kind of image you're putting out there and you might feel like you can't just be yourself.

I'm going to guess that everyone has a different pitfall that will drag them down the most.  Personally, I think mine is the second.  I want to share photos because I want to share moments, but the only way I know that someone has experienced that moment is if they've done something to show it - something I can count.  Something I can, despite myself, compare to my friends who are cooler or more popular or better photographers or whatever.  This is dangerous!

Here's a shot I took that was pure brag: screenshotting my email inbox with zero emails left and straight up gloating about it. I definitely was aiming for jealousy. Although I just noticed the typo in my caption and now feel shame.
A photo posted by Andrea Loewen (@andreaxuaxua) on

What about the bad?

There is one more factor in this equation, and that is the fact that people have never been in the habit of photographing the bad parts of life.  I would argue, if anything, that digital photography and ease of sharing has actually increased the likelihood that people will share something less flattering.  Back in the day, do you think we'd waste a square of film on a bad moment?  Of course not.  At least with the economy of digital, it doesn't cost anything, and with the volume of shots out there, each individual picture has less weight.

At the end of the day, it's not like photo taking is going anywhere.  It's just going to get easier to share more and more of our lives, and this isn't necessarily a bad thing.  What I learned this month is that I just need to be aware of the context where I'm taking a million pictures: am I leaning into or away from the moment I am experiencing?  There is nothing wrong with trying to get the "perfect shot", but is it taking away from life right now?

When it comes to sharing, I don't know what to do about that.  I think sharing is great and healthy and wonderful, but counting likes and comparing lives is poison.  How to do one without the other?  Got any ideas?

Inspiration! Dancing to save the world with Clark Kent

Okay, I know this is a little bit silly as an inspiration, but my friend posted this on the Facebook event for her graduation party, and it must made me feel a little thrill!

Reasons why this is exciting: one, it's dancing which is awesome.  Two, the middle dance move is one that I think comic book artists use a lot when they're drawing someone dancing, but I don't know how often that happens in real life.  Three: he is dancing to create specific vibrations that will stop a bomb!  Dancing saved the world!

Okay, so this isn't inspiring because we are going to dance and send out vibrations to save the world (even though maybe you kind of will, because dancing creates vibrations that are good for your body and your body is part of the world).  Maybe it's just a reminder to be silly.  To see possibilities where they wouldn't be possible.  To not let the bomb ticking away under the floor ruin your dance party.

Cute! Kitten War!

Did you know about Kitten War?  It's sort of like Hot or Not, but instead of being horribly offensive, it's adorable because it's for kittens!  Just go to and you will find something like this:

Then you click on the one that is the cutest and then you'll see something like this:

Then you pick the cutest one again, and then you get something like this:

And then all of a sudden it's three in the morning and your life is passed you by. But you were in a stupor of cuteness, so who cares?!?

Pro Tip: Click on the Winningest Kittens to see all the kittens that win the most wars.  They are too cute!  Avoid clicking on the Losingest Kittens unless you want to feel awkward and sad.