Are you a Feminist?

I learned the power of this question when I was about fifteen years old. I was at a friend’s house and I overheard my friend asking her father if he was a feminist. Thereafter came a long, parched and silent pause. He did not want to say ‘yes,’ but he also did not quite want to say ‘no.’ This was many years ago, and I do not remember his ultimate response, but what stuck with me was that pause.

I am about to use a tired and cliche writing crutch, and for that I apologize to all the wonderful writing teachers I have had, but as there is often confusion and misunderstanding around this word (as well as outright aversion to using it) I think it is necessary. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of Feminism is: “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.”

Last month Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, as he has done numerous times, made comments about the importance of feminism. “We men have to be feminists too.” The internet went nuts. However, he went further, saying that not only should men be feminists, but they need to say that they are feminists: “And it’s about time we said that more often.” Mr. Trudeau has backed up his words with actions by choosing to create gender parity in his cabinet, and when asked about justifying this choice he said, simply: “Because it’s 2015.”  I cannot applaud his actions in this area enough, but I want to go back to his call for men to self-identify as feminists, and encouraging them to talk to their daughters and sons about feminism. He credited his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, with helping him consider the example he sets for their son.

This got me thinking.

I grew up in a family with daughters, and we were raised by both of our parents to think that the sky was the limit. There was no profession we should not aspire to, no class we could not excel in, no activity we should not attempt because we were girls. I learned how to drive a pickup truck and stack cord wood. For Halloween, my sister dressed as a princess one year, and batman the next. My mom is strong (literally, guess who showed me how to stack wood?) and always pushed my sister and I toward our own strength and independence, and my dad pushed just as much for our careers and self-reliance. My dad has also commented, on more than one occasion, that he is happy he had girls and would not have known what to do with a boy. It is a joke, but I think he really means it.

This brings me back to Mr. Trudeau’s comments on men and their relationship to the word feminist. My dad is wrong about one thing, he would have known what to do with a son … teach them the same things he taught his daughters. Why not talk about equality with boys? We should be talking about what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a man with everyone, because if women are set up to fulfill specific gendered roles, then men are too. And no one wants to be limited. We may not all be Canadian Prime Ministers who can take steps like cabinet appointments of women, but we can all start using language that reflects a commitment to feminism and not shy away from a term that simply means we are equal.

I understand that just using the word feminist will seem like too small a step to some – this post does not even begin to delve into the complexities of intersectionality and how race, sexuality and many other factors bear on inclusive feminism. However, I think  given the celebration over Mr. Trudeau’s comments, and the sexism rearing in the current Presidential Race, identifying as a feminist is a good place to start.

So if your daughter asks if you are a feminist, do not be afraid of the question, say YES!


The Week I let NPR Experiment On My Mind #Infomagical

Last Monday when my phone buzzed and I had text from an unknown number wishing me “Happy Infomagical Day!” it took me a minute to remember that I was not being hacked. The week before I had heard an interview with Manoush Zomorodi of NPR’s Note to Self, discussing a week-long program to help people use technology more “mindfully” and reduce stress by information overload. I’m not usually a joiner, but it’s the time of winter where not much is going on, work is busy and having a little project sounds appealing… so I texted Note to Self my number.

Day One: No Multi-Tasking

Day One Infomagical sent me a text with a short podcast explaining how multitasking is not only cutting into productively but exhausting my mind with pointless and constant redirection. If we are not being interrupted by some external distraction, we start interrupting ourselves. My first assignment was to do one thing at a time all day – no multitasking.

My usual Monday consists of checking email, answering the phone, running to the fax machine, drafting documents and finishing whatever did not get finished on last week’s to-do list. I typically change focus about every four minutes, not to mention checking my phone randomly for texts or refreshing my email for no reason at all.

I decided to cut my time into blocks. 15 minutes in the morning to check emails and return calls, then I would spend an hour on an unfinished writing assignment. I closed my internet browser, and decided against playing background music. One. Thing. At. A. Time.

Several hours later I got a text checking on me. “Are you managing to do one thing at a time today?” it asked. I replied yes, and was rewarded with a photo of a cute puppy. Later that night I got another text asking me to rate how I felt and how well I stuck to my goal.

NPR is definitely experimenting on me.

Day Two: Tidying My Phone

On the second morning I got a text directing me to an Infomagical interview with Marie Kondo, author of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The podcast suggested ways in which Ms. Kondo’s philosophy on tidying and joy can be applied to digital spaces in my life, like my phone. I was skeptical. But, not wanting to be a quitter, I deleted several apps from my phone that I have not used in weeks and consolidated the rest into folders. It is nice having everything on one page. I also added this photo as a background to make my phone more friendly.

I was disappointed that day two’s assignment did not come with a cute animal photo reward. NPR if you want me to follow directions ,send more adorable photos!

Day Three: No Memes

Day three’s assignment was no memes, no trendy topics, no useless internet fluff. The morning podcast, texted to my phone thankyouverymuch, used the dress as an example of the classic meme that everyone is talking about but that really adds nothing productive to your day. You know, that dress. It’s totally white and gold by the way… but I digress. See what memes do? They distract me!

By the time I listened to the podcast at 8:15am I had already checked twitter and my email twice. Oops! I vowed to do better for the rest of the day and avoid the cute animal videos, election op-eds, the 20 things to eat in order to live forever lists, the snarky community forums and every other irresistible but unnecessary topic the internet enticed me with on Wednesday. I only opened one browser window – research for work – and minimized it when I was not actually researching. Oh, and I set my phone to silent and left it in my purse. And guess what, I was crazy productive on Day 3!

Toward the end of the day the text questions started coming again – how do you feel? How did today go? Then, I was rewarded with a Yoda meme.

Day Four: Talking, Talking, Talking

Day the fourth of infomagical was all about having a conversation with someone in my life. A conversation that was a minimum of seven minutes long, to be precise. On the phone or in person. No texting, g-chat or messaging. Sounds simple enough, but if you really think about it, how often do you have a conversation about one topic (out loud) lasting more than seven minutes? Most of my daily interactions involve quick phone calls – Did you receive the paperwork? Where is the email you promised? Can you pick up bread from the store? What time should we meet? And I usually carry on one long conversation throughout the day with my most excellent friend who lives in Chicago – via text.

Lucky me, the long conversation assignment arrived on a day I was scheduled to spend four hours in the car with my dad. We had many conversations. Was this cheating?

Day Five: Life

The final day of Infomagical was all about how to use technology to enrich our lives instead of being trapped by all the information out there that we may be missing. Instead of feeling like we have to consume all the information out there – perhaps only reading half an article, skimming a news story or ingesting sound bite after sound bite – we should be thinking about what we want to achieve from the information and reading accordingly.  

The assignment was to write your own #infomantra as a note to self. This felt silly, but I had come this far, so I wrote the note.

Stopping myself from multitasking had, by far, been the most helpful advice all week so I based my #infomantra on focus. Silly as I felt having a sticky note on my keyboard it was helpful to have a concrete reminder to ignore that fleeting thought telling me that I should refresh my email mid-sentence, or make a call before I had completed the paragraph I was drafting.

Conclusion: Try It

I went into last week quite skeptical. How could following a list of tasks for only five days make me more productive and satisfied with work, and less stressed in general? No way. However, I have to admit that it worked. I got a lot done.

Cannot wait to see what Note to Self is going to do with all my data though.

Everything in the podcasts is pretty common sense advice, but sometimes it takes someone else telling you to put down your phone and get to work to, well, put down your phone and get to work. I work in an environment where internet access is constant, there are continuous excuses for interruptions and everyone wants everything from you immediately. It is common to talk to someone on the phone while checking your email or reading a document. I never considered how much this hurts my ability to get things done, since multitasking has become the new standard for busyness, and busyness is good. When you ask someone how they are, the usual response is “I’m so busy, I’m doing this, I’m doing that…” When did being busy become synonymous with being productive?

Tomorrow is another Monday – everyone’s favorite day right? I will not have the podcasts or the cute texts, but I’ll try to remember when I start interrupting myself – to check email, check twitter, check on that other assignment, call that person – to stop it! Stop and ask myself, is this actually helping me accomplish what I need to accomplish today?



Don’t Bring Roses to the Churchyard



Today would have been my Nana’s 95th birthday.


If I close my eyes I can see her entire apartment. The plush, swivel, baby blue armchair near the television. The dozens of photos and cards lined up along the top of the miniature organ. The bathroom smelling of rose soap. The half dry geraniums leaning about the window above the kitchen sink.

This is not the room where my grandmother lived out the last few years of her life, or the house she had before, which I cannot remember. It is the apartment where she moved after my grandfather died. The place I went for sleepovers and holiday visits. It is the apartment that I still pass occasionally in my car, craning my neck to see if the new tenants have their lights on.

In this apartment she had exactly three children’s movies on VHS: a video of the Ringling Brothers Circus, the Muppets Christmas Carol, and a Looney Toons cartoon medley. I would sit under a knobby pastel afghan, watching TV with my sister, drinking cokes and sneaking extra peppermint patties from the glass candy dish beside the couch.

She never drank milk, but she always had some in the fridge with a tin of ovaltine in the cupboard. Her dining room table was the only place I ever drank ovaltine – I would not even know where to buy it now – stirring the swirls of powder round and round in her brown plastic tumblers. Of course, she bought the milk and ovaltine for me.

She was allergic to roses, but not any other flowers. At least that is what she said… a little puzzling given the rose soap affinity. But every time we brought her flowers we were careful to specify “No Roses!” to the florist, or to pull the rose-stems out of a grocery store bunch.

I should have showed her my wedding dress. For ten months, it hung wrapped in plastic and tissue at the back of the closet and I did not show it to her.

I wonder if I parked outside her apartment tomorrow, climbed the gray-carpeted stairs and knocked on her door what I would find. Would there be buttery green beans on the table, the local news blaring from the other room, and her enormous tabby cat glowering at me from under a chair?

Here is the recipe for her sandtart cookies… I don’t think she will mind if I share:

  • 3/4 Pound of Butter
  • 1 and 1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 2 and 1/4 cup Flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pecans

Cream the butter & sugar & vanilla, then add the eggs and mix. Next stir in the flour. Roll and cut into squares. Cover with sugar and cinnamon and place slivered pecan on top. Bake at 325 for approximately 10 minutes.


‘About’ this Blog from 3 years Ago

As I think about starting 2016 with a fresh blog-theme, new photos and aspirations for a more regular posting schedule I realize that it has been three years since I wrote the “about me” section. Time for an update! However, being the packrat that I am, I cannot throw out even this little scrap. So I’m saving my old About page here for posterity 😉


This is a blog for people who like to read a bit of this and a bit of that, written by an indecisive person.  I know it would make more sense if all of my posts fell into categories like ‘food’ or ‘fashion’ or ‘art’ … but guess what? All of those topics and many more interest me, so I won’t pick just one to focus on!

I used to be a night owl in every way – relishing the quiet calm at 1am, the often terrible television after midnight, or reading late late late into the dark.  Then I got married, started a job and life changed in otherwise very grown up sounding ways. I now rise early, a feat I have never maintained more than three days in a row during my college existence.  But there is something to be said for early birds and worms – so I’m going with it for now!

I’ve been pretending to write for several years, thinking when I have more time, I will have more time to write – an elusive and frustrating fallacy.  So let’s just skip the brainstorming and writer’s block of fiction for a while and try a new format by putting a few unedited ideas out there into the world.

Thank you for stopping by!

AIM: Typing Tutorial for a Generation of ’90s Kids

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A door creaks open. A door slams shut. A robotic man claims that I have mail. That is the sounds of fourteen year old me talking to my friends. On AIM. If you grew up in the time of NSYNC, beanie babies, and walkman tape players, you know what I’m talking about. America Online Instant Messenger, for all you kids out there. As I will one day tell my future children and grandchildren, back in the days of wooly mammoths, ‘texting’ could be done only from a desktop the size of a microwave. You also had sit out in the open, typing in your family’s living room when no one needed the phone.

Recently, someone remarked that my typing is rather speedy. “I grew up flirting with boys online,” I joked. That sounds creepy, but as a tween it literally never occurred to me that I could talk to strangers on the internet. The only people I chatted to were those I met in person, asked for their screen name, entered it into my “buddy” list and then logged on to converse with nonchalantly awkwardly. AIM was a way to flirt with boys outside school, without doing it directly by, for example, (horror of horrors) calling on the phone. Like bumping into someone at the store and having a random chat. “Oh, you’re online too? Just saying hi.”

Then there was the away message. The goal of the away message was to come up with the wittiest quip possible ~ the kind of message that said: If I were here to talk to you it would be the greatest conversation because I’m hilarious, but I’m also so fun and busy that I’m out doing something amazing right now. Preferably worded via a song lyric. The status message has lived on in various iterations, but none so elegant as the AIM away message.

AIM continued as a communication force in my life into college. The away messages migrated from moody song lyrics to moody poetry and movie quotes. Anything referencing Garden State was especially popular. I used AIM with friends to decide what time to meet for dinner. It was a distraction from that English 101 paper of epic procrastination. A way to find someone to talk to late at night if you were both up. And, while we’ve all moved on to new email providers, apps, webpages, and texting, AOL was my first email and online identity and for that, I have a little soft spot for it.

Shakespeare once said: if something is on the internet it’s there forever. That certainly seems true for embarrassing photos anyway. The other day I wondered if everything really is still there. So I logged on to AIM. My flimsy password still worked, but it was evident that in the 8 + years since I’d last used it, AOL had deleted my inbox, sent mail and saved conversations. Somewhat disappointed that a little piece of my past was now in the abyss of the internet, I almost signed off. But that’s when I noticed the AIM contacts list informing me that linzy568 was offline. Scrolling down, they were all there – the high school classmates, college friends, crushes, kids I met at camp – all currently offline. Thanks for the memories AOL!

Just remember, some day we will all sigh at the adorable nostalgia of Siri.


Review: Olive Kitteridge

Recently I finished reading Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout  and am half way through her novel, The Burgess Boys. As I read, I am pulled, bodily, into the character’s world. The people who populate her novels are not always (often not) likable, but damn they are natural. Her books are full of scenes depicting every day moments that feel very real, like spying on neighbors, not reading fiction… A woman is humiliated during a discussion and feels heat spreading over her scalp. Siblings communicate over a family crisis and it feels both warm and strained. Reading these passages, I shout in my head – “so lifelike!” In Olive Kitteridge, there is a moment where a long-time couple is trapped in a dangerous situation, but soon the danger becomes the threat to their marriage as they say aloud the unspeakable things that have chafed at their own thoughts about the other for years. It feels devastating.

Even as I am enjoying Ms. Strout’s novels (and I plan to go buy the rest as soon as I’m finished with these Burgess brothers), there is another feeling pricking at the back of my mind. Jealousy. Her prose is so effortless, her observation so poignant, that I can only wish I were so talented.

HBO recently made Olive Kitteridge into a mini series, nominated for several golden globes. I have not seen it yet, despite my curiosity, and my enjoyment of all things Frances McDormand. Truth is, I’m afraid. Any time I read a book, then watch the screen adaptation too soon, the television images always supplant the experience of reading.

The summer after freshmen year of college I worked at a library, using the opportunity to consume the paperback stacks as well as the more slender DVD collection. It was my goal to spend the summer reading a succession of novels followed by watching the film versions. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, then Memoirs of a Geisha directed by Rob Marshall, and so on. I did this with several titles, but soon realized that, while often beautiful, fun, or intriguing, the movies always left me with a feeling different than the books. Obviously, fitting a two hundred page novel into a two hour film necessitated some abridgment, but the direct comparison left the former feeling like a meal and later like a snack.

So when it comes to Ms. Strout’s enveloping works, I chose to wait just a little longer to let her words cement themselves before I move on to the equal brilliance of Ms. McDormand.

About that ‘Catcalling’ Video…


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I wasn’t going to post about the recent video produced by Hollaback, an organization dedicated to ending street harassment. You know… the one showing harassment of one woman over a ten-hour period. There are already so many opinions about it out there. But then I read some of the comments* about the video and my blood beat a little harder and my jaw clenched a little tighter. The comments that struck me were the ones griping – how is a man supposed to converse with women if not on the street? Shouldn’t she just be flattered? Is no one allowed to talk to anyone or make a pleasant conversation anymore? She is begging for the attention, what with her sexy, plain back t-shirt and jeans! Ugh.

Here is the thing, as many have already pointed out, far more eloquently than I, women know, women feel, that it isn’t just a pleasant comment. For example, recently I was heading to a meeting at around 7pm on a Thursday, just five blocks from my apartment. I reasoned that taking my car could lead to parking five blocks away anyway in a different direction, looking for a cab would mean standing on the street for a long time, and there were plenty of street lights so it wouldn’t be that dark. So off I set on foot. Halfway there, I turned down a block and the only other person on it was a man coming the other way. I assumed the usual woman walking alone in the city position, hands in my pockets and eyes on the ground. I assumed we would pass silently, maybe with a friendly nod, or at most a ‘good evening.’ Feet in front of me, he suddenly ducked to look into my face and yelled “Hey there beautiful, what are you up to tonight?”

This is what gets me about this whole debate on street harassment… context can be everything. The words “Hey there beautiful, what are you up to tonight?” are, in and of themselves, fine. Uttered at a bar, they may be a bit cheesy. Sent via text from a boyfriend or close friend they are sweet. Accompanying a guitar in G major and you have a pop hit. But on the street, when I’m alone, they is scary.

The internet is clogged with opinions about why such an interaction shouldn’t be considered harassment. For example, what was I wearing and was I seeking attention through my outfit? There is a blog, But What Was She Wearing dedicated to this ridiculous idea, where women can share their stories. For the record, I was wearing business casual slacks, button down, boxy jacket and my glasses. It isn’t about what women are wearing, but about so much more. Besides being annoying, being yelled at/followed/aggressively come on to in the street reminds women that they are vulnerable, that they may not be safe, because there are many women who have not been safe walking alone in the street. At least in my experience, a woman will not think ‘Gee, that guys thinks I’m sexy, how nice!’ upon hearing comments growled behind her about her posterior. Rather, she may think ‘I hope someone else starts walking here so I won’t be alone in this situation” while clutching her keys and quickening her pace.

But men are just trying to be friendly and connect… WHY IS NO ONE ALLOWED TO BE FRIENDLY ANYMORE?! I’m not saying this is never true, just that it is rarely true. I have never had a man on the street stop me to talk to me, comment on my outfit, tell me to smile, introduce himself, opine on my appearance, or whistle while I’m walking with my husband. So, either there is a hole in this argument, or men on the street are only trying to “connect” to women walking alone, because they don’t yell at women in couples and they don’t make comments at other men.

The sad thing is, it is possible to be friendly and interact with strangers without being creepy. Yet some creepers just ruin it for the rest of us. Obviously, even though I use the general term ‘men’ for this post, street harassment applies only to some men. And some men talk to women they don’t know, give them a compliment and it is taken as such – but again, context matters. To contrast my story above, I was walking to an appointment one morning in the same city when I stopped at a traffic light. There was a man sitting alone at a cafe table on the corner, feet from where I was standing, drinking a cup of coffee and apparently enjoying the morning. We were the only people on that particular corner, but there were people bustling along the other sidewalks. He smiled and said good morning, so I smiled back. He asked if I was headed somewhere important because I was dressed very sharply (in a suit), then told me to knock ’em dead and have a great week. I said thanks, also wished him a nice day. The traffic light turned, and away I went. Now I know that these stories have similarities – I’m alone both times, the man is alone both times, he comments about my appearance. But, the second interaction felt different because it started with just a smile, he didn’t get in my face, he only continued to talk to me after I responded, his comment about my appearance (although I could have done without it) was not sexual in nature but about being dressed to impress (in the business world) and looking confident. There was no lasciviousness, no mention of beauty or any of my body parts, no move to follow me, no intrusion into my personal space to force me to interact with him. It felt like a friendly conversation on a street corner on a sunny fall morning.

Obviously some women/people do not want to be talked to at all while out going about their day. That should be respected. Personally, I do enjoy saying hello to people, at the post office, in a store, or in an elevator – always nice to be nice, ya know? If, however, you can’t see the difference in these interactions described above, can’t tell that one of them is invasive, and imposes on me instead of an interaction with me, then maybe don’t try to talk to women walking alone on the street. It’s about respect.


*I’m not talking about the comments that pointed out the possible racial bias in the editing, even Hollaback has acknowledged the point and promised to do better.


When Sexism Becomes a Joke

“It’s just a joke” is one of the most watertight defenses for a discourteous comment. You can say a lot of things under the guise of a shrug and a smile, claiming it’s just funny. Well, sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t, but making jokes about the opposite gender is a delicate business.

Recently Emma Watson addressed the U.N. on the issue of gender equality, promoting the new HeForShe campaign. One of her many salient points touched on the need to get men on board with gender equality discussions. As with any complex societal topic – often eliciting impassioned responses – there are a variety of attitudes toward forwarding discussion. The impression that issues affecting women must evoke an “anti-man” response from proponents of gender equality in order to further an agenda, is bantied about with regularity on twitter/comment boards/the internet generally. Ms. Watson’s speech directly targeted this idea, and instead invited men and boys to join the conversation. She posited that in so doing, they become better men by helping the world become better for women and thus better for everyone. With all due respect to the many approaches over time toward bringing women’s issues to the fore, I am inclined to agree that bringing men into the discussion can only help.

I was fortunate to grow up under circumstances where I was encouraged to do or be  anything. I not only had the encouragement, but the means through my parents’ support (both personal and economic) to thrive in whatever direction I chose. As Emma Watson discussed, she had the privilege to be raised in a place and a family where gender did not matter. I too experienced this privilege. Perhaps that is why I am always taken aback when I see, or feel, a ripple of the sexism that still pervades in areas of the world as a whole, or my own personal world. Just as an example, I was working on an issue with three male colleagues in my same field of work. (I’ve touched in the past on the occasional disparity  in the ratio of men to women in my field). For the record, we had all met each other for the first time about twenty minutes prior, and they were older than I. Needing someone to take notes as we came to a resolution, the man heading up the project asked me to take down our progress, adding “I didn’t ask you to do that because you are the woman.” Followed by a feeble joke about maybe asking me to run and get them coffees when I was done taking notes. Everyone chuckled.

I, too, laughed off the comment and finished up the project, but later I began thinking about the encounter. Perhaps it was just a tasteless comment, an attempt at humor, from an otherwise, seemingly, pleasant and respectful man. Likely he had just randomly assigned the dictation to me, then perceived that it may have given the wrong impression. In which case, his comments were an apology of sorts. Whatever the intention, I found it all a little uncomfortable.

Here is why the comment made me squirm. First, I had the same credentials as the men in the room and was contributing equally to the conversation, yet drawing attention to my gender dredged up the madmen-esque stereotypes of the past where men were professionals and women were their assistants. Suddenly we were all thinking that 40 years ago, in this setting, I would have been his secretary. Second, making a joke about taking dictation and doing coffee runs, feels patronizing toward those types of assistant roles, which by the way, are valuable in their own right. Third, talking in jest about a more “traditional” role of a woman in the workplace, to a woman working in a profession that, only a mere few decades ago was dominated by men… well, I’m not sure what kind of message that is supposed to send. Are you trying to tell me that you are okay with my presence? Are you still working through the transition from the assumption (safe decades ago) that women are ‘only’ secretaries, to the reality of professional life today?

Through this very small, hardly-worth-mentioning example, I’d just like to point out that even in situations where women are provided equal opportunity, there is still room for a conversation. Jokes like the one directed at me take us from a group of colleagues to a group of men and one woman. We may not speak up at the time, because we feel outnumbered, or don’t want to “make a scene,” or be perceived as sensitive or difficult, but such comments still make an impression.

I remember in middle school, when boys were first noticing girls, and girls were noticing boys. It became very popular to tell somewhat naughty jokes, and some of them were downright sexist. But the girls always laughed, because they liked the boys, and the boys told more jokes because the girls were laughing. Now, of course I love a good joke as much as the next guy (or gal)! There is plenty of humor to be derived from the differences between men and women. But the context, the intention, and the taste level of the joke matter. And just because a woman is smiling at a joke about antiquated gender roles doesn’t mean she thinks it’s funny.