Why I Want to Travel

When I was thirteen years old, a substitute teacher came into my class, dressed in second-hand skirts and foreign scarfs wrapped around her bald head. Rather than covering the curriculum, she spent the day showing us pictures from Thailand, Japan, Egypt – any and every country where she had visited. I listened to her enraptured. When the bell rang, I followed my peers to the front of the room, but I stopped on my way and I mentioned to the substitute that I had enjoyed her presentation, and that I would love to travel the world when I grew up. She told me that I could, and that the trick was being smart about where I organized my money.

It has been nine years since I met her. In that time, the only new place I have travelled to is Florida. And I’m not complaining about that – I love Florida, Florida is lovely. But Florida is just one place, and there is still so much out there.

 

The thing about the world is that it is just so vast. There are millions of people in it, all of them different. All of them raised into different schools of thought. All of them coming from different backgrounds, influenced by different histories. We tend to think that our world is the world, but there is so much more to it than that. There are people out there who have never even heard of the sorts of things that we take for granted as regular, everyday, mundane experiences.

I want to go everywhere. I want to go to New York. I want to go to the United Kingdom, to Germany, to Italy, to Greece, to Japan. I want to go somewhere where I don’t yet know the name of, but that I will fall in love with the moment I go there because it will just be so different and so incredibly massive. It will be another world, another culture, filled with another people and the capability to teach me so much. And I hope that when I go there, I will be willing to keep an open mind. I hope that I will allow myself to learn everything that they have to teach.

And I know that, right now, I am limited. I am a child – a cocky one, maybe, one who thinks that I understand this playpen and the way it works, but the moment you open it up, I will be awed by the amount that exists outside of it. I will continue to learn and grow and develop. I will revel in the art and the history that I am clueless to right now. I will sit in cafes and watch faces pass me by that tell stories that I could have never imagined. I will get lost and I will be scared and I will be overwhelmed, and then I’ll find the path again and continue right on in this journey. I will end this life better and more experienced than I began it.

And I need to make sure that that happens. If I don’t, if I just remain where I am all my life, then I am sequestering myself to this tiny little bubble forever. I am experiencing one experience. I am thinking with one mind. I am learning one lesson. And there is just too much out there for me to allow that to happen.

Should LGBT+ Characters Be in Children’s Films?

In 2012, an animated children’s film called ParaNorman featured an openly gay character – a stereotypical jock character named Mitch Downe, who reveals his orientation at the end of the film when he says “You’re gonna love my boyfriend. He’s like a total chick-flick nut!” Also in 2012, an animated children’s television series called The Legend of Korra featured as its titular character and hero, Korra, a bisexual woman who shares a romance with another woman named Asami. And more recently, in 2017, the live action Disney film Beauty and the Beast featured an openly gay character in Lefou, the villain’s sidekick.

Slowly but surely, LGBT+ characters are making their appearance in children’s media, and people are fairly divided on the matter. On the one hand, we have those who support the idea, saying that children need to see LGBT+ people represented in media because LGBT+ people exist. Maybe the child in question will grow up to belong to the LGBT+ community, and if they do, then the process of coming to terms with themselves will be that much smoother if they have grown up feeling like they are valid and like they are allowed to exist. As a bisexual woman myself, I grew up seeing bisexual people in the media, but they were always represented as morally inferior, dirty, and incapable of fully loving or being loved, and so these were the ideas of bisexuality that I grew up with, and the ideas that I applied to myself when I began to realize what I was. Perhaps the process would have been a little bit easier for me if I had grown up watching The Legend of Korra. And if a child does not grow up to belong to the LGBT+ community, this type of media continues to be of use to them, because chances are, they are going to meet an LGBT+ person at some point in their lives, and this media normalizes this community for them. A gay boy is not “weird” or “effeminate”; he’s just like Lefou.

But then again, on the other hand, we have the people who are opposed to LGBT+ people appearing in children’s media, and this is the perspective that I want to speak to. For the most part, the argument that I hear to support this perspective is that, if children are surrounded from a young age by LGBT+ people, then this will lead them to become LGBT+ when they grow up.

There are two things that I want to state toward this: first of all, being surrounded by a particular sexual orientation at a young age does not influence your future sexual orientation. Both of my parents identify as straight, most of the couples that I saw in movies and television  were straight, all of my friends’ parents growing up were straight, and I still wound up being bisexual, and I imagine that this is the case for most LGBT+ people. The majority of people identify as heterosexual, and more than that, the heterosexual narrative is the one that is most focused on in our society. So why would a child who would identify as straight have their orientation changed because there was a queer couple in their favourite movie growing up?

But even saying that, I’m going to continue on to make a somewhat contradictory statement here: maybe it will influence them a little bit, and maybe that’s okay. I’m not saying that a child who would have otherwise grown up to be a completely heterosexual, totally masculine cis-gendered manly man will now be a homosexual drag queen because he grew up watching ParaNorman (I mean, if he did, that would be awesome too), but maybe he’ll grow up to be a little bit more open, a bit more fluid with his identity. Maybe he’ll question gender roles a little bit. Maybe, if he does feel even the slightest crush on someone of his own gender, he won’t be ashamed to pursue it, even experiment if he wants to. Or at the very least, maybe he will support LGBT+ people, when he could have hurt and bullied them otherwise. And what’s wrong with any of that?

To say that you don’t want children watching media with LGBT+ characters in it because it might make them grow up to become LGBT+ implies that there is something wrong with that. It makes it sound like growing up to become LGBT+ is a) a choice that people make at some point in their development and b) a wrong choice. It is a mistake that must be avoided, and that just isn’t true. There is nothing wrong with growing up to enter into the LGBT+ community, and there is nothing wrong with learning more about the world around you, and there is nothing wrong with experimenting with and questioning your identity. And although I say this, I know that there are people who are going to disagree with me, and there are going to be people who continue to keep their children at home when the newest animated film comes to theatres featuring an LGBT+ character, but personally, I think that’s a shame, and specifically, it’s a shame for the children in question. Films that are willing to tell the stories of LGBT+ characters are offering children a gift: the gift of understanding and open-mindedness, the gift of questioning and learning about the world around them and the identity within them. This is a gift that should continue to be given, and it is a gift that I wish everyone could experience.

Change and Destruction

I have had plenty of reasons for the goddess Kali to come to mind lately.

If you are not familiar with her, Kali is a Hindu goddess, frequently representing change. If you look up images of her, you might think of her as a malevolent figure, because she does strike a very gruesome image. In a Christian theology, she’d definitely be interpreted as a demon, between her necklace of severed human heads, her skirt made of severed human arms, and the man’s head that she holds in one hand, catching the blood that drips from his neck in a bowl that she holds in another hand. Not only that, but Kali holds many weapons, and she is depicted as standing on top of the Hindu god Shiva. To the casual observer, one who does not know a whole lot about Kali or what she represents, she might appear to be terrifying – and in some ways, she is. But she is not a malevolent figure in Hindu mythology. In fact, she is quite the opposite.

As I said, Kali represents change, and the thing about change is that it is never easy. Kali comes into your life and destroys everything that needs to be destroyed, and it might be painful. It might be hard to bear. But Kali only does it because it needs to be done, and afterwards, she creates something new, something that you might not immediately recognize to be better, but that is in the long run. Maybe it’s better because it allows you the chance to learn. Maybe without it, you would never have grown the way you need to, never would have developed the strength and the resilience that you didn’t realize you were capable of. Maybe it simply is better, but it will take some time for you to realize that. Or maybe you realize that it is better right away. Either way, it is something that needs to happen. It is change, and the only thing that we can guarantee in this life is that things will change.

This representation of difficult change is not unique to the Hindu theology. The phoenix, for example, must burn itself to ash in order to be reborn into a new life. Only by dying can it become something new, something with a whole future ahead of itself.

Change is difficult. Change can be crushing, heartbreaking, destructive even. Sometimes we will wish that things could just stay as they were, but they simply can’t. Life progresses, whether we want it to or not, and sometimes all we can do is have faith that Kali will serve us well – or at least that we will be reborn like the phoenix. And we are not entirely powerless in this either. As much as change is hard, we can make it that much easier by learning to accept it. We can mourn for the things we have lost, but at the same time we can take our steps in letting them go, in moving forward. If we hold on to the past, then it will constantly drag us back, but if we allow it to slip away the way that it wants to, then we can start moving forward. We can guide our future into place. We can force this change to serve us for the better, and the first step in doing this is by accepting that all things must change. Once we do that, once we stop resisting, then we can fight alongside Kali to put the things we need in place before us.

Who Am I?

Who am I?

I think a lot of people around my age start to go through this phase, this question of who am I. We want to know. We want to define ourselves. And it’s never enough to merely say I am me. I am a person with blood in my veins and a universe in my soul. I am a series of endless possibilities, a limitless creation. I can do anything and be anything. I am who I am. As much as all of that is true, we still feel the need to set these definitions up for ourselves. We still need a solid ground to stand on, a place to build off from.

So who am I?

Am I a lover? Am I a friend? Am I a daughter, a sister, a mother? Do I need to attach myself to people? Can I exist alone?

Am I a woman? Am I a man? Do I exist in between? Do I exist in neither space?

Am I kind? Am I cruel? Am I a slippery serpent hidden beneath a kind word and a smile?

Am I ambitious? Cutthroat? Willing to do anything and everything to get what I want? What do I want?

Am I a scholar? A worker? A layabout? Am I someone who can be satisfied with all this? Am I someone who craves more, who needs more? Am I someone who can ever be fully satisfied?

And what does all of this mean? Man, woman, child, good, evil, intelligent, hard-working, what do all these words mean in relation to me? Am I any of them? Am I none of them? Can any of them ever fully apply to me? Can I ever receive answers? Or is that all that life is – questions? Just an endless series of questions, a continuous attempt to fill in the blanks until it’s all over and there’s no more you left to be defined?

Or maybe the problem is that we keep asking these questions because we cannot define ourselves. Maybe it doesn’t work that way. Maybe others can define us – they can look at us and make decisions about who we are based on the way that we act, but we can never be fully satisfied with the definitions that we place upon ourselves because we are constantly changing. We are not simply one thing, we are ever evolving, always growing, always becoming different from the definitions that we place upon ourselves. One day we are kind and nurturing, and the next we are angry and all-consuming, a destructive force, our own villains that must be overcome by the hero within us. By the goodness and the contemplation that we are equally as capable of.

So who am I? I am all and everything. I am what I want to be. That’s who I am.

Moving Through Fear

I was about ten years old when I decided that I wanted to lead a fairly difficult life. I was sitting in my school’s library at the time, listening to my librarian read to my class some story about a little girl who wanted to be a writer more than anything in the world, and it dawned on me then that that was something that a person could be. That at one point in their lives, J.K. Rowling and Stephen King were once sitting where I was sitting, listening to their librarian tell stories to their classes, and that someone somewhere would have to take their place someday. Why couldn’t that person be me? Why couldn’t I be the next great writer?

Twelves years has passed since then, and I think that it’s needless to say that a lot has changed. It’s a hell of a lot easier to say that you’d be willing to live on a diet of cold beans straight out of the can if it got you to a writing career eventually when you aren’t actually faced with it, when you’re ten years and still dependant on your parents to tell you if you can even leave the house. But twelve years of standing by the belief that I am going to be a writer, whether I like it or not, has strengthened my resolve quite a bit, and brought me to a place where I know that I absolutely cannot give up on it, come what may. Which is an amazing gift to have, because the twelve years that has passed since then have not gone by without an immense amount of fear and moments where I completely lacked any motivation.

I always knew that I wanted to be a writer. That was my goal, the thing to which I set my mind, that I was going to do. And there have been many points in the last twelve years where I found myself wondering why?

I found myself wondering why when people began pestering me about my progress – or, in many cases, lack thereof. “Have you submitted anything to be published yet?” “Have you set up a website for yourself yet?” “Have you talked to this person? How about that person?” “Do you really know what you’re doing?” No. I had no fucking clue what I was doing. I wasn’t born into a family of professional writers, I didn’t know anyone who had ever done this before, and more than that, when I was being asked these questions, I was either a) a teenager, or b) immensely, cripplingly depressed, either state of mind translating to the simple fact that I wasn’t emotionally ready. And not being emotionally ready and being constantly bombarded with questions of why haven’t you done this yet made me wonder if I really could do this. There was just so much, too much for me to do. It overwhelmed me. It made me wonder why bother, because I wasn’t doing anything, I would never do anything, and my dreams of being a writer would never amount to anything because I was such an utter and complete failure.

But I kept on writing, and in my own way, I kept on making my personal progress. Not because I was brave or because I was intentionally overcoming any fears or anything like that, but because when I was ten years old, I decided that I was going to be a writer, and so what else was I if not that?

And again, I found myself wondering why when my high school teachers questioned my choice constantly.

“So what do you want to be when you graduate?”

“Well, I’ve always wanted to be a writer.”

“That’s not very practical. You realize that, right? Writers don’t make a lot of money. Maybe you should consider something else, something like journalism, maybe?”

I had this conversation again and again, all throughout my high school career, and there were times where I could easily ignore it. Sometimes I’d tell my teachers that they were right and that I’d consider other career options, but I never really meant it – I only said it to make them stop pestering me. The truth was that I was going to be a writer. I was going to be broke and working another job for what would most likely turn out to be the rest of my life, but I was going to be a writer nonetheless. There were moments where I’d have confidence in that. And then there were moments, especially as my depression worsened and my motivation waned, where I seriously considered maybe giving writing up, maybe focusing my energy on something that would make me a bit more money in the long run. After all, that would make the most sense, right? We live in a society run by money, where nothing is available if you do not have it, not even food, so why would I choose not to do everything in my power to get it? That would be the logical thing, right? Why was I subjecting myself to such hardship when the option not to was available?

But still, I kept on writing. I kept writing because when I was ten, I decided that I was going to be a writer, and that thought was enough to keep me going. I pushed through, I forced myself to make progress, and little by little, I started to take steps forward. Though my fear tried to hold me back, to keep me stationary, I had one thought to keep in mind, one belief that I held so dear that I would not let anything keep me back from it. Not my depression. Not my lack of motivation. Not even my fear.

I was going to be a writer.

But not everyone has a belief that they hold that strong. Many people find themselves confronted with fear, and they have a very difficult time moving around it. Sometimes they can’t move around it. Sometimes they remain stationary for long periods of time, unable to overcome their fear, because they have nothing telling them that they should. But the thing is, people cannot live their lives that way. As human beings, we need to grow and learn and develop, and in order to do that, we need to accept change that is scary. We need to move forward.

And I get it – it is difficult to accept change sometimes, especially if we are not emotionally prepared. Sometimes, we do need to make our progress slowly, to take our lives at our own pace. But we still need to keep moving. Because if we stay where we are, then nothing ever changes. If we stay where we are, we can never grow. I can be a writer even if I only take tiny steps toward it every day, but I cannot be a writer if I never try.