I've always found it most amusing that my inspirations for writing can strike at the most inconvenient of times. For example, I'll usually be most inclined about write about something very pressing when I'm down to the wire studying for an exam, about to go to work, or at the gym (and my current state can be described as a combination of all three). I've been off the grid for a while. No blog posts since November isn't something I planned for when I was initially churning out a good volume of content, 1-2 blog posts a month. Writer's block will get the best of you sometimes.
One of the things most people are curious about finding in their lifetime is what their passion is. And to be honest, for a while, that whole concept was lost on me. My life rarely had any consistent notes of achievement or greatness in any sort of field. I participated in everything, excelled at some things, but rarely enjoyed anything. "Follow your passion" was my least favourite sentence because it was prompting me to chase a ghost- how could i follow something I didn't even know existed. There were many things I was interested in when I was growing up, but nothing that seemed to strike a chord when it came to passion. Passion, for me, wasn't something I could construct. It was an inherent, gut-feeling type of deal. It was also something I really had yet to experience, or so I thought.
Looking back at it, writing was something that was always there. In a life that consisted mostly of being dynamic and constantly in motion, writing was my rock. When I was about 5 or 6, I started writing poems. Usually little 3-4 lines, filled with nonsensical babbling and imagery I would add in to make a rhyme scheme work. My kindergarten teacher had gifted me with a little orange notebook for writing my poems in, which is something I still have today- really great reading if you ever need a dose of comedy in your life or just want to revisit poorly drawn elementary school stick figures with triangle-shaped bodies. My mom used to buy a lot of journals (still one of her habits to this day), so naturally it became a habit of mine to steal one or two of them for myself as use them for my own personal musings.
I was around 11 years old when my uncle first introduced me to the concept of a blog so that I could start sharing my writing with others. The blog, entitled "Confessions of a Chocoholic" is filled with some powerful thinkpieces that really reflected the maturity I had at such a young age. My personal favourite is a piece entitled "Hot and Sweaty". It reads:
For more inspirational nuggets such as this one, please visit http://mayaksblog.blogspot.ca/. Note my affinity for pizza at such a young age that has never really lessened over the years...I guess you could say that's my other true passion. Around the same time, I was gifted a journal, and decided to write one entry about my life, every month for as long as I could. I still keep it! One of my favourite things to do when I'm bored is to go back and read my entries from when I was 10 years old and my biggest problem was having a solo in my school's Christmas concert, and now I have to adult and I haven't got the slightest clue how.
I started writing a couple more blogs, one in 2011 and one in 2013. These ones started to move towards a more mature direction. I even had a catchy sign-off phrase, "Stay Contemplative!" that I would use for my later blog. However, both these blogs met their untimely ends and never really had a chance to blossom into the blogs they could have been.
Around the same time, I was introduced to The Book of Awesome, as well as the blog "1000 Awesome Things". I became a huge fan, religiously following the blog and buying ALL the merch. The best part about all this was, even though the author of the blog, Neil Pasricha, was an internationally acclaimed, New York Times bestselling author, he was still a pretty average, down-to-earth guy. So down-to-earth in fact, that he worked at the Walmart Main Office in my hometown. He also worked out at the same gym as me. I finally got the chance to meet him when I was around 16 years old. I told him that I really enjoyed writing but that I also found it hard to start a project and also finish it. His advice to me was that no matter what, I just had to keep going. Through bad days, through sickness and laziness, through days when I had no inspiration or drive to write whatsoever, I had to keep writing.
To be honest, that's what the past few months have been for me. 0 will to keep writing. 0 inspiration whatsoever. I honestly could have stopped this blog and put all of this aside and allow yet another domain to sit and collect dust. But I couldn't do that to myself. Because I truly do believe writing is my passion. In a life that still consists mostly of being dynamic and constantly in motion, writing is still my rock.
I also wouldn't have had the motivation to write this if it weren't for my readers. Back when my last three blogs came to their abrupt ends, no one noticed. No one sounded the alarms. No one was following me or my thoughts. But this time, people did notice. Constant questions of "Are you still writing your blog?" "You haven't stopped writing have you? "When will you publish your next post?". My readers held me accountable. Often times I have engaged them in controversial topics, ones that aren't easy to discuss and hurt to think about. I've engaged debate and discourse. And I can't let all of that come to an end. So to my readers who have been following this blog (as well as all my work) for the past year and a half: thank you.
I apologize for not being more consistent. The truth is, I can't bring myself to write on a given schedule. I know I'm at my best when inspiration strikes (again, usually at a time most inconvenient) and this is the manner in which I will continue to write. My blog post in November was definitely not the last you will see of me.
This August, I was asked to speak to a group of high school students about my blog as part of a program called "Social Movements Through Media". Many of the kids were curious about my writing process, asking if I stuck to any particular schedule. While I could've given the advice that Neil Pasricha gave to me when I was the same age as them, I decided it was probably better to just be honest. "Honestly, I don't really have a schedule. I sort of just write whenever the inspiration hits". Trying to dig a bit deeper, I decided to give them a visual. "It's kind of like surfing. Sometimes you're just floating around waiting for something to happen and it doesn't. But then you hit this big wave of inspiration, and when it comes, you ride it all the way to the end and it's amazing". I cringed at the cheesiness. The students nodded and said "That's going on our quote wall".
In lieu of that metaphor, the last few months have been me, mostly just floating around and waiting for sometime to strike. I woke up early this morning before work and was bored, so I started reading through my old blog posts, and something shifted. November was not the last of me, or this blog. Writing is my passion, and is something I will continue to do for as long as I'm around. I promise I'm not going anywhere.
For those who haven't seen/heard/read the article that was published in the McGill Daily yesterday, please check it out here.
The author of this article cites Molson Hall (and McGill residences as a macrocosm) to be the epicentre of a certain type of drinking and partying culture, one that specifically caters to white, heterosexual, cis-gender, able-bodied males, or, as it's known in laymen's terms, bro culture. She specifically points to her time in Molson Hall as being the least inclusive of all residences. The author writes that she lived in Molson, initially unaware of its reputation for being the party res of McGill, and that it emulated a very particular social hierarchy that resembled something close to what she had experienced in high school. She points out that power is wielded to those people who choose to partake in behaviour akin to Molson Hall (drinking, smoking, and partying) and that she was somehow judged or felt beneath others since she didn't participate in these activities. She never took part in a single party or event at Molson because she apparently knew it would be unwelcoming, due to the proliferating bro culture. She also pointed out that the hookup culture in rez is favourable towards men, demeaning to women, and completely alienates the queer narrative. Finally, she points to the perpetuating of whiteness in rez.
This piece resonated with me for several reasons. Myself and the author are both women of colour and lived in Molson Hall, a year apart from each other. Given the considerations that the author makes in her article, you would think that we would have had similar experiences. However, this is far from the truth.
My first glimpse into the Molson Hall experience came when I had decided I was going to be studying at McGill after all, and I immediately delved into more research to find out what the different residences had to offer. I was drawn into a whirlwind of multimedia sources, through lip dubs and tours on Youtube, Facebook, multiple forums, and of course, the Unofficial McGill guide, which all pointed to Molson Hall as the party res of McGill, leading me to rank it as my first choice. The amount of resources available on the reputations of different McGill residences clearly was not lost on the author either, as she states "Molson is a self-fulfilling prophecy: people choose it because of its reputation for partying, and the partying reputation exists because of the people that choose it. The Unofficial McGill Guide knows this, students know this, floor fellows know this, even the McGill administration knows this". This was definitely more of the environment that I wanted to get from living in residence, however there is a lot of people who don't necessarily go seeking out the kinds of experiences that Molson Hall can offer. That is why it is highly encouraged to do research, not just on the living conditions, but also on the different reputations of each residence. When it comes to diversity in residences, I'd say McGill presents a number of different options. There are residences that are over 50 years old and residences that only opened a couple years ago. Some residences are home to 700 students, while others only house 20 or 30. Some contain all single rooms, while some are shared. Finally, there's even a res that is removed from the rest of the downtown/campus environment, for those who prefer apartment-style living and independence. Not every single res offers the same experience that Molson does by any means, and to typecast the entire res experience as such would be failing to recognize the unique facets that each res has to offer.
It has been commented that if the author didn't enjoy her time in Molson, she should've switched, which isn't necessarily a fair proposition to make without proper knowledge of the author's personal situation and background. Moving residences does cost extra, and can be a hassle, especially for those people who have come from far away and bring a large quantity of belongings with them, all which can be further complicated due to timing issues, especially if the move can only occur during midterms. That being said, it is 100% possible to do, and I saw multiple people moving in and out of Molson in my year there, both to other residences as well as off-campus housing.
The author then comments that after her first few days, cliques formed and the social structure of Molson resembled the social hierarchy of high school. Personally, I found my experience to be incredibly different. There are a number of reasons as to why this could have happened, but regardless, I experienced something that was quite the opposite of what the author did. Coming out of a high school that was very small and had a very pronounced social hierarchy, I have to admit I was worried as to whether the Molson community would emulate the same thing. In high school, I would definitely not call myself someone at the top of the social hierarchy, making my transition into res life a little more precarious. However, the first night of res saw everyone mingling with another and getting to know each other, without many judgements made or cliques formed right away. From what I experienced, everyone was eager to get to know each other and have a good time as a collective residence. I remember remarking several times on the fact that there were people that I became friends with right away in Molson that I felt I never would have been friends with in high school because of all the social constructs that came with that period in my life. However as a res, it seemed that everyone was of the mindset that we were all there to have a good time. Obviously people did have certain friends that they were closer to than others, but I can safely say on the whole, people got along and were willing to all attend events and parties all together, because we knew those kinds of things would be more fun if we knew more people.
It wasn't as though every single resident in Molson was on the same level of partying or did the exact same white, male, bro-y things for fun. I can personally remember certain nights where I stayed in to do laundry while I watched all my friends go out to clubs or parties, and surely there are others who lived in Molson who will tell you the same thing. The Molson experience is not a one-size-fits-all type of deal. And failing to take part in rez experiences and activities because one assumes that they're not going to have a good time is a pretty harsh judgement to make. Again, this could depend on a number of factors, but being a part of Molson Council last year has led me to believe that residences are making greater strides towards event inclusivity. Not all of our events comprised of drinking or party-related activities, and for those that did, we tried to make them more accessible by including elements that everyone could enjoy.
As for the res experience being primarily catered to the while, able bodied, cis-gender,heterosexual male: in case no one has noticed, this is the very small percentage of the population that most, if not every Western world societal structure is catered to. And maybe, down to microanalysis, the res experience is no exception, but to frame it as though it is one of few institutions that is perpetuating this experience is to ignore the way our society functions. Is it right? Obviously not, but neither is somehow attacking res as the university's worst enemy of intersectionality and diversity. Efforts are being made to help educate students within res on such issues, an example of which is Res Project, a workshop designed to teach people in residence about the idea of a safe space and diverse identities. Granted, this is a system that could use some overhauling- my Res Project experience was highly negative, mostly due to the attitudes of the facilitators themselves. They seemed out of touch and disengaged with the material, and setting the stage for students that Res Project is just some obligatory thing they have to get over with at least once in their life is not the proper way to allow students to critically think and learn (sometimes, for the first time in their lives) about these issues. Despite these problems, the concept of Res Project is one that I believe can continue to evolve for the better and engage students with regards to these different types of issues.
It is possible I missed the whole point of this article. Maybe the point is that res experiences shouldn't be homogenous. Why should we have a specific res for people who party, and one for people who get scholarships through McGill, and one where most people are music students? Why can't every res have a diverse representation of different identities and unique experience? Here's why: first year, for many students, is the first time they'll be able to meet people with similar interests, form friendships, and create connections. Granted, a lot of this can be done through extracurriculars or class, but the bulk of time and activities spent in first year are done through res and the people you meet when you're there. While it is important to meet a diverse group of people in your time at university, it is also important for people to feel like they're surrounded amongst likeminded individuals who understand and respect that their first year experience is ultimately what they make of it. A varsity athlete who has to wake up at 5:00 am for practises probably wouldn't want to live with someone who stays up till the early hours of the morning partying and blasting music in their room. Someone who wants to use their room as a social space for friends to hang out at all times probably wouldn't want to live around or with someone who expects privacy and quiet at all times.
Everyone's res experience is what they make of it. That being said, the point of this piece was not to discredit the author or the experiences she had during her time in Molson. It is simply to offer the perspective of a similar person who was placed in a similar situation. I personally loved my time in Molson and looking back on it, would not change a thing.
This just goes to show that everyone's experience with residence life is going to be unique, and whether you loved or hated your time in res, your experiences and your opinions are totally valid as they relate to you. There are probably few things the general res experience gives everyone to agree on- except maybe for the fact that BMH is the best dining hall in the whole world.
The concept of being an ally is something that has been making frequent appearances on my radar, as of late, so the purpose of this blog post will be to unpack exactly what being an ally means and some of the issues that may arise when considering the implications of this position. Being an ally is a seemingly positive concept, but in truth, there are many considerations we must take into account when aligning ourselves with this title.
Being an ally, simply put, is when someone takes ownership for their privileges and tries to use them in a way that benefits those who haven't been quite so lucky. It might be simpler to explain using examples. If you've never been homeless, but the bulk of your life's work goes towards improving conditions for those who don't have a home, you're an ally. If you're a male fighting for greater gender equality, you're an ally. If you are a heterosexual or cisgendered person who stands in solidarity with those who have faced oppression and injustice because they identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, you're an ally.
Now while this is seemingly a concept that only brings about the good, there is a danger in aligning yourself with this identity. As an ally, you've had privilege bestowed on you, and this is something you must acknowledge and sit in for the realization of your allyship to take place. Not doing so is simply unjust. Because of this unearned privilege, because of this position you've been granted as someone who is not a victim of oppression, your voice is easily heard. Sometimes, even more so than those people you are actually working to improve societal conditions for.
In this powerful spoken word piece by Darius Simpson and Scout Bostley, the dangers of being an ally are very clearly highlighted. As the last line of the poem says, "The problem with speaking up for each other is that everyone is left without a voice".
Are issues of inequality being properly addressed when they are spoken for by people who have never experienced them?
This is one of the many thoughts I experienced two weeks ago, when attending a lecture for my International Development course. The speech in question was given by an obviously accomplished and distinguished international development professor, and the subject at hand concerned isolation onset by poverty and rejection of culture, with a special focus on Canada's indigenous peoples.
The prof spent the first 10-15 minutes of the 1-hour speech telling the audience about her family background. As it turns out, she came from a very well-off family that owned a very profitable business, which had grown over the course of many generations. Learning about her family history was interesting enough, but left me wondering if she was going to connect it to the issues central to the talk.
10 minutes later, I was fuming, as she launched into an explanation of why poverty was so isolating to a person.
Now don't get me wrong- the message that she was presenting was very interesting and informative, especially for the people in the audience who didn't know too much about Canada's indigenous population. In no way am I trying to discredit this particular professor or the important points that were conveyed in the speech. But I have to admit, I left the presentation feeling a little bit peeved. I lamented to a friend that I was tired of rich white people telling me what it felt like to be poor and marginalized. How could they know: It's not like they'd experienced anything remotely similar to that.
Then, I backtracked. Maybe I was being too hard on the professor. The more I thought about it, the more I thought that this professor was simply just being an ally to this community that lacked certain financial privileges. However, an important part of being an ally is recognizing and acknowledging your privileges, juxtaposing them with the experiences you are speaking for. Although the professor had talked about their family background, there was never any indication of acknowledgement of how this affected or related to the subject at hand. There was no "I recognize that I've been lucky enough not to have been in a situation where this kind of isolation could occur" or "I can't speak for myself, but I can speak to those I've been able to meet about their particular situation". There was simply no connection the prof drew between their privileged background and the subject at hand. And this is a fatal error when acting as an ally.
Maybe the prof wasn't intending to act as an ally. Maybe their goal was just to inform the audience of the facts at hand. But I would argue in this field of study, with so many intersecting identities at play, the concepts of social justice and more specifically, ally-ship, should be taken into consideration (said professor also used a phrase and explained that it meant _____ "in Africa". Africa has 54 different countries which have different languages and dialects, so I'm guessing it wouldn't mean the same thing across the continent).
This is where the considerations surrounding being an ally become even murkier. In a way, it becomes a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it seems unjust to speak about specific experiences of marginalization on someone's behalf, especially when you haven't experienced it. On the other hand, sometimes hearing about these situations from someone else is the only way that people will become aware of it. Think about it. We're perfectly comfortable listening to someone who we can identify with about the issue of homelessness for example. But how many people are actually willing to engage with the vast amounts of homeless people we see day in and day out, and learn all about their stories and their experiences?
Therein lies the most powerful ability of an ally- being able to communicate the experiences of marginalized communities to people who otherwise might not listen. And as long as this power of ally-ship is used while the unearned privileges of the ally are acknowledged and accepted by themselves, allies can provide a great amount of support in the fight against oppression. But being support is the glass ceiling in terms of one's potential as an ally. Because ultimately, it is not an ally's experience. It is not their story. And treating it as such actually may end up hurting their cause instead of helping it.