I often think about how children, and young adults now view their future in a post Covid-19 world. Much like the world changed when I was a kid, before and after September 11th, 2001. I believe it has similarly been rocked on its axis by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) pandemic announcement of March 11th, 2020. In a world of social distancing, global vaccines, and increased job automation, I ponder how our younger cohorts are envisioning their futures? Are their career aspirations as unrealistic as mine were in grade school (based solely on my hobbies, toys, or favourite shows)? Or, as out of touch and limited in choices, as the aptitude tests I received in high school? Or has the advent of social media, ever faster internet service, and smartphones, allowed their dream careers to be much more in line with the current and future employment sectors than ours could have ever been?
One thing that I don’t think has changed in our rapidly evolving, technology-driven society, is our youthful assumptions of being settled as adults. Regardless of whether the top dream job has shifted from being an actor or a doctor, to that of a social media influencer or reality TV star. Children and teens still assume that by a certain age, they’ll have their lives pretty much figured out. My generation sure did, and so did our parents’ and so on. For example, when I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to grow up because I thought growing up would be just like it was portrayed in popular culture. Everything that was awkward about you in your youth would magically straighten itself out. Transforming you into this beautiful, well-balanced finished project of a person, that made the world “your oyster.” Those are some of the nonverbal messages I took in from the popular makeover teenage movies, magazines, and TV show segments of that time.
What you eventually figure out is that being a well-adjusted adult is a continual balancing game. You get older every day, and you keep being faced with varying challenges to overcome, while maintaining the accomplishments you’ve accumulated so far. May they be professional achievements, such as a new position, promotion, or business endeavour. Or maybe they’re personal feats, like a new relationship, marriage, or expansion of your family unit. Or even emotional milestones, such as; the loss of a friend, family member, or acquaintance. Or, the deteriorating health of any of the former.
Being an adult really means, constantly learning how to maneuver and withstand the challenges that life will continue to throw your way. All while staying on an either steady or upward path of professional and personal development. It isn’t always easy to manage. And, not being perfect at it, or always successful at juggling all the “balls you have in the air,” doesn’t make you a failed adult. It just makes you human. Adulthood, also means remembering the child you once were, and giving yourself some grace. It means being kind to yourself, especially when things get tough. While being self-aware enough to acknowledge when you are not sufficient. Identifying the situations where your team-of-one isn’t strong enough to manage it alone, is an important part of growing up. Figuring out what aid you might need to eventually “turn the tide,” is a skill you never stop sharpening. As, the hurdles you’ll clear may require wildly different solutions from one to the next.
Despite being much older, and no longer as easily impressionable, part of me still wants to turn into a more glorious version of myself. I think that it’s okay to continue to strive for growth in every aspect of your lived experience, to really get the most out of this life. And yet, I still have to consciously fight the small corner of my psyche, that somehow believes that a Hollywood version of myself could show up, at any moment, to save me from actually doing all of this self-work. I know that it’s silly, and unrealistic, but I also understand that that’s my inner child. Before I could grasp all these more adult concepts of self-help, and sustainable growth, I just dreamed, hoped and pined for the moment when I would feel that I’ve arrived. That I’ve finally moulted into the person I always fantasized I could be. With maturity, and understanding of societal marketing and consumerism culture, I’ve changed. Not in where I want to be as a person, but in the steps that are required for me to get there. I have veered away from dreams, and wishes, influenced by popular culture. Instead committing to goals, actions, and effort that I expect to bear the fruit of an accomplished personhood, and a fully realized life.
I hope that today’s teens and young adults are able to come to these realizations ages earlier than I did. So that they can really enjoy every part of their transition into adulthood. Without discounting experiences, as I once did, just because I wasn’t quite who I wanted to be yet. Along with the difficulties that growing up can engender, today’s youth also has to contend with the changes that Covid-19 brings, and the negative impacts of social media. That is quite a tall order, but I’m confident that our future generations are smarter, and even more capable than those that came before it. What might seem to be a huge feat for someone in my generation, will likely just be a “rite of passage” for those coming into their own.
How do you know when a Netflix documentary is groundbreaking? The answer is when it’s available for free for everyone on YouTube.
I never planned on watching “13th”. That’s actually because I never knew it existed. Now, what matters is that I have watched it and I cannot not share what I’ve learned from it.
“13th” is not just a documentary about the prison system in the States and racial discrimination prevalent right now. It is a plea in disguise asking for people to remember and learn from history. What exactly was so elemental about it? You see, the history of the North American continent is not very pretty. While most of us all have somehow decided to move forward towards the future, we are still carrying the wounds and scars from the past that have never been addressed, critically read and discussed. The struggles of our Black communities in the US are inevitably reflected in Canada and many other countries. To overlook the impact and connections of this would be incredibly naive and harmful. 13th, whilst painting us a heartbreaking reality, didn’t shy away from connecting pieces of traumatic pasts to what people have/are facing today.
Law & Order
I’d never heard about it before I saw Trump rage-tweeting about it randomly, multiple times. I always found it comedic because I believed that he just didn’t want to type out complete sentences. Turns out, thanks to the 13th, the phrase is actually dating back to the Nixon-era in America and was used with a malicious intent to paint communities of Black people as being dangerous to the peace and harmony of America. The phrase was a clever way to talk about other races in a negative light while being completely ambiguous.
My issue is that the phrase is not ambiguous anymore. Considering this part of history took place 50 years ago, we would have learned something. But it turns out many haven’t. If you use this phrase now and fail to acknowledge the baggage or somehow are unaware of it, history has failed us. Not only that, it’s not just the words that can be twisted but actions too. If you see a person talking viciously about how to punish people today and paints the imagery from violent, racist incidents from the past, you can tell that he is doing so with no fear because he knows many won’t understand. The alarming part is, those who he wants to understand, surely will. When someone tells you to look back at the “good ‘ol days” it’s important to know the history he is pushing you towards.
George Bernard Shaw famously quoted,
“ We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.”
I never liked this quote because I always found it to be pessimistic but now that I look back at it, it’s not mistaken.
My love of history makes me realize that the collective ignorance towards our past and I mean not just knowing something, but rather the very intentional absence of critical thinking and reading has somehow made our history books just a bunch of boring textbooks with thousands of words stringed together. While some may find them interesting, interest is not enough. Students haven’t been taught to look at subjects through a critical lens and that reflects in various aspects of our societies.
To make that G.B.S. quote just some rambling, there needs to be a collective initiative. While I know very well that I can’t change the education systems all around the world or how we teach history alone, I believe that documentaries like the 13th tell a very persuasive argument to rethink and relearn all that we have learnt. Don’t think that it’s only just the history of the US that is up for discussion, apply this to everything that you have seen happening today and try to trace it back to your books or wherever you learnt from for similarities and differences.
History isn’t boring or redundant. It is the key to our present and very directly influences our actions of the future. Our failures to not want to think critically will often times come back and bite us. It won’t be very tolerable in the future.
I’ve always had a very strong bond with my grandmother. Since my parents always worked when I was a child, it became my grandparents’ responsibility to take care of me and my siblings. I’ve spent countless hours at my grandparents’ house, even to this day. While my grandmother mainly speaks Italian (and I cannot), we still have fun together and keep each other company. One thing my grandmother is famous for (at least in our family) is her pasta. I think she has cooked pasta almost every day for dinner for the past few months. She usually uses store-bought pasta for dinner, which is quick, easy and tastes fine, but she sometimes makes pasta from scratch, which tastes so much better. It was for this reason that I got excited when my grandmother invited me to help her make pasta today. I would like to recount my experience to you guys as well as give you some instructions to follow so you too can make some pasta at home.
Before starting, you will need:
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1/3 cup of water
Around 2 cups of flour
A pasta maker, pot, bowl, spoon, and measuring cup
Okay, so I will now explain what I did (with the help of my grandmother) to make some homemade linguini. First, I put 1/3 cup of water, 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and 2 cups of flour into a mixing bowl. I then mixed it all together so it became a sticky homogenous mixture (see photo). Once the ingredients were mixed, I then began to knead the dough in the bowl, which basically means I gave the dough lots of punches and squashed it a bunch. I also slowly added more flour during this process. Going forward, the dough shouldn’t be sticky. Instead, I added flour until the dough was smooth and firm. I am not exactly sure how much flour I added at this step, but I guess it was around ½ a cup. Once I was done kneading, I took the ball of dough and cut it in half. This recipe makes 2 large plates of pasta, but as I was the only one that was hungry, we only used one half of the dough I made for the rest of the recipe. Anyway, next we took the cut ball of dough and flattened it a bit with our hands, and then flattened it further using the pasta maker.
Our machine has a hand crank that turns the rollers and flattens the dough. My grandmother showed me how this step was done. First, she pressed one side of the flattened piece of dough onto the roller and then rotated the crank. What resulted was a longer and thinner piece. After the piece was flattened, she proceeded to fold the dough onto itself, and then repeated the processes of flattening it. Once I was familiar with the technique, I took over. My grandmother and I continuously flattened and folded the dough until it became as long and thin as seen in the picture. Once the dough was sufficiently rolled, my grandmother cut the dough into 3 different segments. We then put these segments through the linguini part of the pasta maker. This cut the dough into long strands of pasta. Finally, I put the strands of pasta into boiling water for 10-15mins. Once the linguini was cooked, I strained it and put some of my grandmother’s homemade tomato sauce, cheese and basil on top. And there we go, a great plate of pasta!!
My grandmother, brothers and I tasted it and we all really enjoyed it. It was so yummy! My brother proclaimed that the flavour and texture of my pasta were much more superior than store-bought ones. He could even taste the eggs we added and said that it greatly improved the flavour. I personally have store-bought pasta almost every day, and I agreed that my pasta tasted much better than usual. I am quite proud of myself. It was also pretty quick and easy to make.
However, I will say that cooking with my grandmother was a bit difficult. She is quite the perfectionist and never wanted me to make any mistakes. Especially at the beginning of the day, she wanted to control my actions and maybe even do most of it herself. It was a bit stressful honestly. Yet, by the end, my grandmother saw that I was capable enough and performed well, so she relaxed a bit. We ended up making a pretty good team. I am very glad that I had this opportunity to cook with my grandmother. It was nice to spend some quality time with her while making a dish so tied with the Italian tradition.
“It’s okay to rest.” These are really simple words and yet they hit me like a ton of bricks. It was February 21, 2020, and I was attending a short-doc event during black history month, that was part of the Fade to Black Festival. This initiative, sponsored by the Fabienne Colas Foundation, gave these budding directors funding for this project, as well as a larger public platform to release it on. There were five short films being shown, each shot by a young black filmmaker, exploring the given theme of: “Being Black in Montreal.” Each movie portrayed this shared subject matter differently and was individually wonderful. But the documentary “Rest is a Right,” by Sara-Claudia Ligondé, hit me like an uppercut to the chin.
Her doc interviews and showcases Shanice Nicole, a local young activist, educator, writer, spoken artist and McGill staffer (the latter title being her full-time job). She explains the pressure she feels to fill her days with projects, and goals to reach, in and out of the workplace. Whether it’s devoting herself to her professional career, her art, or her community involvement. For the rearmost, she facilitates and fundraises for disadvantaged POCs (People Of Color), and LGBTQIA2S+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and/or Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Two-Spirit, etc.) POCs. She explains that the black female role models she had growing up (her mother and grandmother), worked so much in the workplace and in the home, that she knows no other way to be. Intellectually she understands that this way of living is unsustainable, but she finds it hard to make time for respite. Things being easier now than when her predecessors were her age, makes it difficult for her to quantify the need to take it easier than they ever did.
This movie touched me because her narrative, which the director shared, feels very much like mine. I consider myself less successful than Shanice Nicole and Sara-Claudia Ligondé. In that, they have already put forth art that lives on in others, in their distinctive disciplines. Which is something I have always wanted to do, outside of my full-time job. In Shanice’s case her level of community involvement is incredible, and giving back in this way, is something I have dreamed of doing since I was sixteen. But I always feel that I am running after professional accomplishments that must be prioritized over personal projects, or even personal enjoyment. Like both the interviewee and the filmmaker, I am a black woman. My parents and I were both born on the continent of Africa, and, my mother worked hard to ensure I would grow up in the West. So likewise, ‘rest’ being a right, sounds sacrilegious to me somehow, although intellectually I also know it to be true.
Women in my culture are the rock of the family. We work in and out of the home to ensure matters run as smoothly as possible. We give of ourselves so that our children can reach higher than we could. We are expected to be all things, and to handle everything, on our own if need be (the rearing of children included). I find that the trope of the black woman is similar (in qualities and responsibilities placed on her shoulders), from one continent to the next. Regardless of, whether one comes from the continents of Africa, the Caribbean or America, it creates this endless wheel that we exhaust ourselves on, trying to make the previous generation proud. While carrying just that bit further, our own descendants.
‘Rest’ being a right, was a lie for our ancestors since all black people originally came from a colonized continent (Africa). Before, being dispersed in the Americas and the Caribbean as slaves for hundreds of years. Slavery and colonial rule are over now, but the effects of historically being “beasts of burden” remain for black folks to this day. The global social activism that rose to record highs during the second half of 2020, is in direct relation to this issue. Under the banner of BLM (Black Lives Matter) and local social activism organizations worldwide, our youths are seeking to rectify the modern remnants of the legacy of slavery in our societies.
Although Africa and the Caribbean are still rich in resources, their majority-black populations are somehow permanently disadvantaged, under (often violent) authoritarian governments that do not benefit them. So the members of their population that can immigrate to the West, for a better future for themselves and/or their children, do so. For many, our ancestors were slaves, so in that sense, ‘rest’ was not permitted, and that is what was passed on. Those whose predecessors were not slaves, still initially grew up under colonial rule, or totalitarianism, in a system that did not repay their endless labour with much more than survival. For them too, ‘rest’ was impossible, and that experience was passed on.
Coming from that history as a people, regardless of the continent your ancestors got their specific experience of subservience from, ‘rest’ was not a right for our parents or our grandparents. In my generation, systemic inequity based on race, religion, gender, and/or sexuality is still rampant, even in the West. So ‘rest’ being a right, remains somewhat of a dream for me still. One which I hope becomes mine to enjoy someday. Not because, I’ve gotten too old to work as long or as hard as I did in my youth, but because society would truly have changed. And my efforts as a black woman would have equal impact, unaffected by my gender, race, creed, or sexuality. Because a lifetime of exhaustive work is a legacy I hope to be the first in my family (and immigrant social circle), to not pass on to the next generation. All the while, continuing to forge the path to success which my mother opened up for me, for my future offspring.
For the past few months, I haven’t had the motivation to go outside much. I do go on the occasional walk, but it is not unusual for me to spend an entire week indoors. In order to fix this slump I’ve found myself into, I decided to partake in my favourite winter sports this week, including skating, cross-country skiing, and sledding. I discovered that the sole act of deciding to do these activities actually gave me the motivation to do them. It was hard to get myself to go outside, but after I did take that initial step, I found myself having lots of fun. I would like to tell you guys about my experience.
A kilometre away or so from my home is a soccer field surrounded by a running track. During the winter, the track is transformed into a very large skating rink. There are speakers and lights placed along the rink, which light the area at night and play music throughout the day. And so, on February 8th I went skating for the first time in two years. I left my home at around 3:15 pm, and even the five-minute walk to the rink was exciting. I haven’t set a goal for myself in a while. The fact that I had somewhere to go and something to do was exhilarating, especially since I haven’t had much to do in a while. The experience of skating itself was a lot of fun. I was surprised that I was still able to stand and move myself forward. As I glided along the ice, I could feel the cold wind against my cheeks and hear the crackling of the ice beneath me. My legs hurt as I pushed myself along the rink. I had fun skating as quickly as possible, then stopping, and letting my momentum take me forward. I tried to skate backwards and in circles, but that was too much for me.
While I do enjoy skating, I do find it monotonous at times and my mind sometimes wanders elsewhere (usually to negative thoughts). I used this time skating to practice staying in the present moment by focusing on my body movements, the sound of my skates on the ice, and the scenery around me including the snow, ice, trees, sky, buildings, and people. It felt nice to finally move my body after months of inactivity. I definitely recommend it (although I would suggest bringing lots of tissues, which I, unfortunately, did not). If you guys want to check out this rink, it is located at 5300 Boulevard Robert, Saint-Léonard next to the Saint-Leonard library and the Martin Brodeur skating arena. If you are not from Saint-Leonard, and would like to find a skating rink closer to your area, you can find a list of all outdoor skating rinks using this link: https://ville.montreal.qc.ca/portal/page?_pageid=5977,94954214&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL
On February 10th, I went cross-country skiing at Maisonneuve Park for around 40 minutes. The sight of the park covered in snow was lovely. There were skiing tracks throughout the park that extend into the botanical gardens. As with skating, I haven’t been skiing in almost 2 years. I also never had any professional cross-country skiing lessons, so I had no idea what I was doing. Still, I had a lot of fun that day. I tried to copy the other skiers I saw, pushing my skis forward and digging my poles into the snow in the same way as the others. It was hard to coordinate my legs and arms so that I could properly ski. I was a bit embarrassed by my lack of skill, but I pushed on. The park itself was beautiful. I had chosen such a nice and sunny day to ski. The skiing paths were set up nicely throughout the park. There were multiple routes a person can take. It made me feel as though I was going on an adventure and in control of my own destiny. There were some small downhill sections, which were fun. I loved skiing quickly down them. Although, this experience was much more exhausting than skating. I used much more of my muscles. At the same time, using my body made me feel more alive. It made me feel more connected to myself. Weirdly, as I was so focused on the activity itself, I actually completely forgot about the pandemic and Covid-19 for that brief time. It felt like a nice escape from my daily fear. Only when I passed a family wearing masks was I reminded. If you have cross-country skis, I highly recommend going out this winter. You might be reluctant to (I sure was), but I know you will not regret it. Going outside this week has made me want to go out more often. I can’t fully describe this experience; you will need to experience it yourself to fully understand. A complete list of parks that allow cross-country skiing can be found at this link: https://ville.montreal.qc.ca/portal/page?_pageid=5977,94954226&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL
And you can rent cross-country skis at the following parks:
And finally, later on in the day, I went sledding at Park Pierre-de-Coubertin. It seemed like other sledders had created bumps on the hill, which were hard to navigate through. If you hit a bump too quick, you can fly off your sled. I noticed a few families sledding alongside me. I was a bit self-conscious about my age (I’m 24), but it was still fun to quickly slide down the hill. Some places you can go sledding in Montreal can be found at this link: https://ville.montreal.qc.ca/portal/page?_pageid=5977,94953630&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL
I was made to reflect recently on the many souls that have departed in the past year. Perhaps naively, I’ve grown accustomed to being lucky enough to go numerous years without suffering much personal bereavement in my immediate social circle. Maybe it’s a sign of my getting older, combined with the unique circumstances brought on by the pandemic. But never in my life (growing up in the West) have there been so many casualties all around me. An experience mirrored in their own social circles, by my friends, family, and acquaintances.
Previously, the casualties I’ve experienced have mainly been that of elderly relatives, a few serious ailments, a few accidents, and one missing person spread across my entire lifetime. Rather than, the back-to-back surprise losses of individuals, that just a year ago, I could have sworn would be in my life for many years to come. In the past year, social distancing requirements have made seeing our loved ones difficult, if not impossible. Based on age, medical history, Covid-19 restrictions where one resides, and distance. The latter being, for those whose families live across the country, or across the world. No longer having that loved one in your life, after being unable to see them for much longer than is customary, can be a hard blow to bear.
I have discussed in previous posts, mental health and how much this pandemic can adversely affect this kind of wellness. Humans are social animals, so we suffer from the very isolation that is required, for the safety of others right now. Those who had issues they were dealing with prior to this societal isolation are having to deal with them on their own. Without the physical support systems, they were used to. Others who have never suffered from mental health concerns are faced with this unexpected challenge, without the pillars of support they usually have present. The programs available are being overwhelmed by unforeseen demand and having to be made virtual in order to keep each other safe.
So along with loss due to Covid-19-related complications, I have personally experienced bereavement caused by mental health crises. For some, how intense the world has become, uncertain, and separate has either exacerbated prior issues, or created an imbalance in their psyche that caused them to choose to exit our lives, and this world. For those who knew them, and loved them, the guilt of “not being there” physically for them, is crushing. Because when someone becomes overwhelmed by some sort of mental health concern, it can become hard for them to reach out to you and ask for help. Often you can tell from their appearance, and/or how they comport themselves in person, that something is off. And hopefully, your loved one will then open up, answer your question(s), and allow you to help them. But with the distance, it’s so easy to not know anything is wrong until it’s too late. I understand that legally we have not been able to truly be present in the lives of most of those we care for, since the pandemic was declared. But not knowing whether our presence could have made the difference needed to avert their demise, is devastating. Many around me have either lost persons who chose to leave or had complications combined with the pandemic, which caused their exit. Those left behind have such a hard road ahead of them, with few distractions from the immensity of these personal tragedies.
I don’t mean to make a heavy situation, heavier, but I also don’t believe that “hiding your head in the sand,” and pretending things are not happening if they are, makes things better. Actually, I’m a firm believer that one of the reasons why I am still here, is that I do my best to name whatever it is that is troubling me, at all times. I always have. I drag it out of my mental closet, examine it under the light of day, and share these concerns with either a close friend or (since I’ve been an adult), a therapist. Often a professional can give you insight that maybe your friends can’t. They can offer you hope in the form of programs available in your area that often your friends do not know about. Getting an external perspective on an internal issue helps. Because, often what feels so awful, or hopeless inside your head, isn’t when shared with someone else. Sometimes you don’t know that the burden you carry isn’t your fault, it happened to you. Or that it can be shared with others to alleviate that pain, and work through those issues. It doesn’t have to cost money, there are free hotlines, online resources available for free at your public library (which is open for select services, despite Covid), and so many wonderful programs to help even if one feels they cannot afford to.
My goal with this blog, talking about the heavy issues of mental health, bereavement, and grief, is that hopefully, someone who needs to see this, will. Someone who needs to witness this perspective, this path back to your usual self, even in these uncertain times, will. Or that others that are doing well, might read this, and check on their friends, family, and/or acquaintances, just that little bit more. Even if, they appear fine on social media, or in group chats. Let them know you’re here, that you love them. And that if they need to see your face to discuss something that’s difficult for them that you’ll be there. Even if, it’s from across their yard or balcony.