15 til John Green

Hey there!

I recently learned that there is a name for the condition I suffer from. It is tsundoku: the tendency to buy books and leave them on the shelf, unread. I always get so excited about reading books that I’ll buy four at a time and only end up reading some of them. And now that I have a name for this terrible habit, I feel like conquering it. More on that in a moment.

I have also recently discovered the vlogbrothers, the greatest nerds on YouTube. John and Hank Green are two brilliant, immensely thoughtful, creative, and influential brothers who created a YouTube channel to communicate with each other from opposite sides of the continent. A community of nerds, or nerdfighters, has sprung up around the vlogbrothers and their mission to decrease world suck. I bring these guys up because 1) if you’re reading my blog, you will probably enjoy their insightful and silly videos, and 2) because John is an author of a handful of books that I desperately want to read.

However, I couldn’t justify buying four new books with so many unread books already in my possession. So, I challenged myself to read 10-15 of the books I already own before I buy John Green’s beautiful box set. Luckily, fifteen rhymes with John Green and I’d rather read 15 books anyway. Thus, “Fifteen til John Green” was born!

My progress so far:

  1. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood is set in Kingston, the town I live in September to April. It’s based on the true story of a famous woman convicted (possibly wrongly convicted) of murder and sentenced to life in the women’s penitentiary in Kingston. Psychology was a budding field back then, and people didn’t really understand how our brains worked all too well. So, Grace Marks claims to not remember the murder or how it happened, many people believed she was just lying. A young psychologist wants to discover the truth behind it all and spends the majority of the novel interviewing her and listening to Grace’s version of her story. A long, but very interesting novel.
  2. Stumbling On Happiness by Daniel Gilbert was fantastic. It’s a non-fiction book about how truly bad people are at predicting what will make them happy five minutes from now and five years from now. I’d heard this book mentioned so many times, but I forgot about it after I bought it. I guarantee that you will have a small identity crisis reading this book, and you will most definitely say “Other people may think like that, but I sure don’t!” at least once. It definitely lets you know that you can loosen up a bit when you’re trying to make the ‘right’ decision…because you’re probably making the wrong one either way. It’s not too long a book, and it’s absolutely worth every second.
  3. I also read a small collection of Sherlock Holmes adventures. All I will say on the matter is “WAY better than the movies, almost as good as the TV show”. I can’t wait to read the whole collection.
  4. Pride and Prejudice is one of those books I can’t believe I hadn’t read (or finished) yet, especially since I wrote an essay on it in April. I’d seen the movie and heard teachers analyze it before, so I was always like “Yea Lizzie! Yea Lizzie’s dad! You guys are awesome!” But then my English teacher last year turned the whole concept of the book on its head and made me think about all of it in a totally different way. It is definitely worth it to critically analyze this book as you go through (even if that sounds about as much fun as stabbing yourself in the eye with a fork). It really gives you a new perspective on love and social relationships.
  5. The Waterproof Bible by Andrew Kaufman was short and brilliant. I could hardly bear to put it down, so I finished it in one very interesting day. It’s such a weird book that asks you to just let go and accept things as they are told to you, even if they seem really weird. Even as I finished the book, I realized that I didn’t know what it was about, but I had enjoyed every page. I still don’t really know what it’s about. I guess I’ll have to read it again!
  6. I finally finished The Fellowship of the Ring! Some people warned me that I wouldn’t like it because it’s super detailed and historical and geeky, and I was like…do you know me but at all?? It was bloody flippin’ incredible! (I don’t think I actually have to say it was better than the movie, right?) The only problem with it is that I only bought the first one along with The Hobbit (which, to my horror, didn’t even match!), so now I’m dying to buy part 2 and 3. But that doesn’t really go along with my “finish 15 books before you buy four more” thing. Maybe I can do this challenge again. Something like… “Ten more til Mordor”? …okay, I’ll work on it.
  7. And I’m currently reading The Power of Why by Amanda Lang, which, so far, corroborates everything I know about the suckiness of school, but backs it all up with scientific facts! My day is made!

I have really enjoyed all of these books, but if I had to recommend one….I couldn’t do it. I can recommend two though. Read the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It’s incredible. And definitely read The Waterproof Bible. Kaufman is a Canadian writer and the book takes place half in Toronto, Ontario and half in Morris, Manitoba, so it was fun for me to recognize all the street names and the horror of being in downtown TO in traffic. I think that was redundant…downtown Toronto and traffic are synonymous, right?

That’s all for now folks! Enjoy your week and DFTBA,
Kenzie

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Question everything.

There are many people who have moulded me into the person I am today, and influenced what I’ve accomplished so far in my life, and what I will accomplish in the future. But there is one person in particular who made this life path of reading, writing, learning, and wondering available to me. Mr. G , my Grade 8 History teacher, offered me a way of seeing the world in which questioning the way things are is both vital and fulfilling, as the way things will be is up to us, the students.

One thing that gets me fired up and frustrated and desperate for change is the approach to education in high schools. Despite this frustration, I don’t yet know how to fix the education system. I haven’t learned enough about how brains learn just yet. However, I do have an idea of where we need to start. And Mr. G has unknowingly provided a foundation for me that has directly influenced the development of this idea in my head.

Firstly, we don’t need better curriculums. Fantastic curriculums exist already. Albeit, they seem to only exist in extremely expensive private schools, but they DO exist! So we DO know what to teach kids. What we need more than that is a different attitude to learning. And that change starts with annoying children…

Note to all parents: scientists confirm your suspicions: each kid can ask dozens of questions every hour. From my own observations of parents and kids, it would appear that after a few rounds of “But, why???”…it is no longer cute or funny. According to Frazier, Gelman, and Wellman (2009), parents only give explanatory answers to their kids’ questions 50-60% of the time — less for younger children. And we know that kids really are asking questions to learn, not just to get attention, because kids react differently to explanatory answers (“You have to stay close to mummy when we’re at the mall because getting lost can be dangerous and scary.”) than they do to non-answers (“Because I said so”, “Ask your dad”, and “Not now”). Explanatory answers cue kids to be more curious and to ask more questions, whereas non-answers force kids to ask the same question again or make up their own answer. Furthermore, kids either learn that asking questions is a fruitful activity: self-directed learning is good!; or that asking questions gets you nowhere: people will tell me things if I need to know them.

Too often, students are encouraged not to ask disruptive questions like “But why did that happen?” or “But what if I did it this way?”. We are asked to learn the information as it is, without questioning it. Parents and teachers: when kids ask “Why?” , they are learning to learn. If toddlers and kids and teens get solid answers and are encouraged to be curious, the cycle will continue and they will learn all the things! If they get shut down every time they ask why things are the way they are…they’ll stop asking. And that alone is utterly terrifying to me.

Back to Mr. G… He once told my class,

“A good teacher is just a student who had a bad experience in school.”

And that thought has stuck with me for 7 years. But it’s been on my mind a lot lately, so I did some research. Mr. G, if you’re reading this, it turns out you were exactly right. Ronald A. Beghetto has done a lot of research on teachers, creativity, and the learning experience. One of his studies confirmed that “prospective teachers who viewed promoting creativity of students as highly important were significantly less likely to report that they enjoyed school” (2006).

Mr. G taught me that being inquisitive is one of the greatest, most admirable traits someone can have. Because the people who ask “Why?” are the people who effect change. They are the people who make all the difference in the world.

Mr. G made it okay to nerd out. He gave the go-ahead for students to be who they wanted to be and learn how they wanted to learn. And (though I was a brat when I graduated from his class) his lessons and encouragement have had the greatest impact on my life, now that I’ve had time to think about them. And I won’t ever be able to explain how grateful I am for that. Because I am now one of the biggest, proudest nerds you’ll ever meet. I love learning. I love going to class. And more than anything, I love sharing what I’ve learned with other people. Before Mr. G, I was one of those kids who tried to dumb it down to look cool (or something approaching cool), who tried to hide the fact that I powered through a book a day, who had stopped asking questions.

Mr. G was a teacher who didn’t just “teach”. He didn’t recite and quiz and discipline and check our notes for accuracy. He did everything in his power to light a spark in students that made them want to learn on their own. Maybe we didn’t see that then, but I can certainly see it now. He gave us permission to question everything, including authority (even his own), because authority is not always right by default. He did an incredible job of giving us the clearest, most accessible, most enlightening answers he could. And that is the greatest gift any student could ask for.

Parents and teachers are teaching kids that asking “Why?” all the time is disruptive and generally a bad thing to do. I propose that we start teaching kids the way Mr. G taught me: Yes, asking “Why?” IS disruptive. And that’s a damn good thing.

What are your thoughts on high school education? Did it work for you? Did you hate it? Did you have your own Mr. G? Let me know in the comments.

I hope you’re enjoying your summer thus far! DFTBA,

Kenzie

P.S. If you’re looking for more on this topic, read The Power of Why by Amanda Lang. It’s going on my newly official list of books teachers and parents must read.

P.P.S. My writing hiatus was longer than anticipated. I got super bored without writing and ideas were starting to get really crowded in my brain. More posts to come!

Free Speech Nonsense

Hey, folks

free speech wall articleMaybe this has been beaten to death already, but I’d like to say my piece. If you go to Queen’s, you’ve almost definitely heard about the free speech wall being taken down due to racial slurs, blah blah blah… There are two main arguments I’ve heard here: One is that people have a right to their opinion no matter what it is, and they should be allowed to express that opinion. I agree. The other is that people also have to right to feel like they are safe and accepted at their university and not feel at risk of becoming the victim of a hate crime. I also agree. How can I possibly agree to both? Let me tell you…

There’s a difference between having a different opinion from others and just being plain offensive. This free speech wall had derogatory slang and offensive remarks (and, lets be honest, a lot of happy-go-lucky “tell someone you love them” crap, too). If political leaders got up on stage and said “Gays shouldn’t be allowed to get married cuz fags don’t deserve that shit. Fuck ’em all”, we wouldn’t take them seriously. We would probably boo them off the stage for lack of tact. On top of that, if you sound like an idiot when you talk by using cuss words and words designed to be offensive, no one will listen to the rest of your argument unless they’re looking for a good laugh. If you have an honest opinion that gay marriage would be disruptive to society or whatever, then fine. If you believe that black people are actually dumber than white people due to genetics, then fine, I guess. It’s not my job or right to tell you what you are allowed to believe. But if you truly want people to take your opinion seriously, then express your opinion intelligently, in a open debate where your opponent can defend themselves. Don’t scribble it on a free speech wall. No one’s going to see it and go “Oh hey! That’s a good point! I’ve never thought of it like that before.”

The people who put the wall up (and who were pissed when it was taken down) argue that it’s not the university’s job to tell people what is offensive and what isn’t, and to make decisions based on personal opinions of what’s offensive. But let’s get real: words like “fag” and “nigger” are intended to be offensive. No one uses those words in an intelligent debate or rational discussion. I can’t think of a single situation in which they can be used in a way that isn’t offensive.

If you’ve read the rest of my blog, you understand that I’m obviously a fan of inclusivity and equality. But, like I said, it’s not my job or right to tell people what to believe. There was one thing that stood out to me about this wall though. The wall was titled “Queen’s Free Speech Wall”. Someone crossed out the “Free” and wrote “FACELESS“. And I think that is pretty damn brilliant. It’s an anonymous opinion. Sure, someone may get to share their opinion that they don’t think would be accepted otherwise, but a lot of people will also write stupid things they don’t really mean because they know it won’t be traced back to them. Have you seen the Internet lately? One YouTube personality once told a story about someone who wrote her a tweet saying, “You should go kill yourself”. The YouTuber retweeted her comment out of shock and confusion. And the person I assumed was a total asshole for telling a stranger to go kill themselves was shocked that she had been called out and apologized for her behaviour, saying she had had a bad day and didn’t really mean it. Have a look at the bottom of this picture below: someone wrote “Abolish Human Rights”. Somehow, I don’t think that was an actual call to action based on sincere beliefs.

So there, I’ve said my piece. Let me know if you have another opinion, or if you think I missed something important in this post. And if you’re someone who’s written something stupid and derogatory because you didn’t think it would be traced back to you, please know that even anonymous words can hurt. And that really sucks if you caused someone pain with something you actually didn’t mean.

free speech wall

What You Say, Pt. 2

Evening folks :)

I recently talked to you guys about how I feel when you say “That’s so gay,” and “Don’t be a fag.” Maybe you took it to heart, maybe you think I’m fighting a losing battle. Either way, I’m okay with that. Because if I made just a couple people feel better or gave just a couple people hope, I’ve accomplished my goal. Today, I want to talk about finding out and coming out, two of the hardest parts for a lot of people in the LGBTQ community. My own ‘figuring out’ story is pretty lame. Someone once asked a teacher what the B, T, and Q in LGBTQ stood for. The teacher explained. Everything made sense. The end.

My coming out experience was (like most people’s, I imagine) was a pretty gradual process. I started by telling a couple friends right when I figured it out, and they thought it was cool. It was a while before I quietly changed my ‘interested in’ on Facebook. No announcement, no spectacle, just a little detail. And then, when someone asked me about it, I just said “Yea, I’m bisexual. So? What’s it to ya?” I’m pretty sure the response was, “Huh. Cool.”

I never told my parents. When I had realized my orientation, I was also going through a kind of sketchy, angry, bitchy teen phase involving stud belts and a lot of Silverstein. I couldn’t stand the thought of my parents telling me that my ‘imagined’ sexuality was just a phase. That it was my way of fitting in by not fitting in. In hindsight, that idea would have been scary because fitting in by not fitting in is so something I would have done then. But I really loved my ‘new’ identity. I connected with it, I understood it. I never wanted it to go away. So I just didn’t say anything to my family.

I moved to Australia (away from the Catholic school) and suddenly the weight of judging stares and guys’ ‘threesome’ fantasies were lifted away like they had never existed. Like I said in a previous post, my sexuality in Australia was just another random fact about me. I finally made some really great friends who didn’t care who I was checking out. I honestly can’t stress enough how much the right crowd can boost your confidence and your sense of self worth. I came home with a new security that made it easier to talk about my sexuality and explain it to the people around me who didn’t understand it.

The last step was telling my closest friend (who is now also my partner), and my family. I’ve found that it’s easy to “come out” to people you aren’t particularly close with. There’s no fear of rejection. I was all kinds of nervous when I told my best friend. He’s a pretty traditional guy, so I had no idea what his reaction would be. As with every other thing I work up to Armageddon magnitudes in my head, it turned out to be totally fine. He said “Yea, that makes sense.” We now have a fantastic, solid relationship and occasionally we bond over objectifying hot, famous women.

I only just told my parents at the beginning of this month. As I’ve said before, my Gender Studies/Minority Studies course is really helping me realize how important this topic is to me.  So, I wrote “Part 1” in a panic because I needed to get the word out: It’s not okay to be passively offensive to the entire LGBTQ community! But then I realized I couldn’t let my parents find out via blog post. So I called my mum and told her. And she didn’t care at all. And then she yelled it out the front door to my dad as he left for the cottage (in my head, she just leaned out and said “By the way, honey, your daughter’s gay!”) And my dad didn’t care either.

I have exceptional parents who are basically the coolest people in the world (love you guys), and my entire coming out experience was basically painless…with the exception of the pain I caused myself by worrying. Obviously that is NOT everyone’s story: everyone’s is different. Have a listen to Hannah’s story. She’s hilarious and real… And you can’t get any better than that.

I dream of a world where no one has to come out. A world where the only time your sexuality has to come up is when someone asks you directly, for the purposes of seeing if you’re interested back. What other reason would we need to know it? Unfortunately, right now I think people do need to know it. I think people (especially those who make the rules we all have to live by) need to know that the LGBTQ community is NOT a tiny, insignificant minority! LGBTQ issues ARE a pressing matter, and to more people than you think. And right now, the only way we’ll accomplish that is to shout it from the roof tops.

There is so much more I want to say about this topic. Now that I’ve got myself going, I think I might end up at Part 12! Until then, if you have any coming out experiences you’d like to share, this is a safe space. Any derogatory or discouraging posts will not be approved, ’cause that’s just not what we’re about here.

That’s it for today folks. Talk soon,

Kenzie

Fifty Shades of Gay

“[I] asked people to quantify themselves on a scale of one to 100 percent gay, and I watched so many existential crises unfold in front of me. People didn’t know what to do, because they had never been presented with the option before.” – iO Tillett Wright

What You Say, Pt. 1

Happy Saturday evening, folks

I feel like this is going to be a long story, so I’m going to start by calling this post “Part 1.” Part 1 is going to consist of some of the most important moments of my life, the moments that changed what I wanted to do about who I am.

I have had two teachers who have completely changed the direction my life went in. The second of these two teachers — we’ll call him Mr. J — probably doesn’t even know he changed me…. On an entirely unimportant day in Grade 10, we were getting ready for last period History, as usual. There was noisy, chatter, and banter, as usual: “What’d you do on the weekend?” “Not much.” “Me neither.” “Hey, what’d you think about that test on Friday?” “Oh my god, it was so gay. What’d you think?” “Oh yeah, it totally sucked.”

And that ended the conversation. Not because everyone was appalled, not because one person said, “Hey, that’s not cool,” and not because whoever said it realized what he had said. You might even be re-reading that conversation because you didn’t see anything wrong with it…. The conversation ended because Mr. J had heard it and was hopelessly disappointed. In response to what was said, Mr. J dedicated a chunk of the class to explaining the emotional consequences of orientation- and gender-related slurs. You use them without really understanding what you’re saying. And sometimes, you need a little help getting into someone else’s shoes. Mr. J said this:

Using a term that many people identify deeply with as a verb to describe everything that is bad, annoying, unwanted, or uncool is as wounding to those people as it would be to you if someone used your name for the same purpose.

How would you feel if someone said “That teacher is so Jake,” or “God, that was such a Sam movie.” Probably not great, but you could laugh it off. But when it happens every. single. day? When people associate a huge part of your identity with everything they hate? It messes with your head.

And suddenly something clicked for me. At the time he gave this impromptu speech, I had known for a year, maybe two, that I was bisexual. Mr. J’s sermon on respect for others may have fallen on deaf ears in that class on that day, but it helped me understand something about myself. I consider myself pretty secure in my identity. And yet, I have always felt a twist in my gut and an ache in my heart when I hear you say “That’s so gay,” and “Don’t be a fag.” Yes, I realize you don’t say it intentionally. You say it because everyone else says it. And you don’t mean it like that, right? I get that. But here’s the thing… I don’t say it. Lots of people just don’t say it. I have found other words to use (and there are other words), because I know it matters, and because I know it can hurt people in the deepest, darkest, and most damaging ways. I know that because I’ve felt it, because I’ve seen other people feel it.

A couple years later, after meeting many beautiful friends in Australia who never saw my sexuality as anything other than a random fact about me, I met a very young, very confused girl on the Internet. Through an anonymous question and answer site, a young girl posted the question, “I think I might be a lesbian. Is that okay?” I was immediately concerned with what other people might answer, considering the anonymous nature of the site. I found links to websites like It Gets Better as fast as I could and sent them to her. Her response changed something in me. She responded that she had looked through the sites and immediately felt more sure of herself. She thanked me profusely, and I never heard from her again. But every now and then, I wonder if this girl or someone like her had continued to struggle with her identity. I imagine her trying to figure things out and hearing you unknowingly associate homosexuality with all the crap in your life, with everything you’re annoyed by, everything you wish would change or go away. Would she feel ashamed of herself for being the way she is? Would she feel like a freak? Would she think, like many others, that people really seem to hate homosexuality based on what you say? Those stupid, meaningless, unintentional things you say.

There was never an opportunity to help or support or even just hang out with other kids and teens who might be going through the same challenges at my Catholic high school. I was open about my sexuality to my peers there, and (for the most part) people my age didn’t really care. I dealt with some whispers that never really went away, but I still got out with my head held high. Now, I’m in university, and everything is different. I’m taking Gender Studies which is teaching me more about the socialization of gender and sexuality, how it affects me, and how it affects others. I’m surrounded by this atmosphere of acceptance. I’m realizing more and more that I need and want to reach out. I want to be here to make a difference for people who are still struggling with their identity, whether it’s with themselves, with their family, with their religion, or with their friends.

I leave you today with three important things:

1) I told my boyfriend almost two years ago. His response? “Huh… Yea, that makes sense.” And I finally told my parents last night. They don’t care. Neither of them think it’s any more important than the fact that they’re heterosexual. This is the kind of equality I want. I want it to be weird that people have to come out and say “I am gay!” It’s just another random fact about you.

2) I promise to write Part 2 soon (maybe subscribe to my blog to read it right away? :D)

3) And finally, this very important message:

If I was gay, I would think hip-hop hates me
Have you read the YouTube comments lately
“Man, that’s gay” gets dropped on the daily
We become so numb to what we’re saying
A culture founded from oppression
Yet we don’t have acceptance for ‘em
Call each other faggots behind the keys of a message board
A word rooted in hate, yet our genre still ignores it
Gay is synonymous with the lesser
It’s the same hate that’s caused wars from religion
Gender to skin color, the complexion of your pigment
The same fight that led people to walk outs and sit ins
It’s human rights for everybody, there is no difference!

A Change of Taste

I go through phases with music. Apparently different years of my life — and of course, different seasons — call for different types of music. I’ll listen to just about anything; no particular genre of music offends me. Some people would say that means I have no personality of my own, some might say it means I have too many. Regardless, my preference of music has shifted once again. And this time, I’ve come full circle.

When I first started listening to my own music (not just whatever my parents and/or friends were listening to) it started with Country. How I went from Country to Screamo in one year bewilders me. Between my scary Screamo phase in grade nine and my current preferences, I’ve been through Rock, Pop, Top 40, Hip-Hop/Rap, Golden Oldies, Indie Alternative, Singer/Songwriter, and a whole lot of “Genre Unknown”.

The point is that I’m back, and I finally feel like I understand the music I’m listening to again. My love for Country is back full-force, along with a fascinating new appreciation for Bruce Springsteen. …And The Temptations, for some reason. My favourite part of Country music is that everyone can relate to 80% of the songs they hear on a Country station. (Yes, that is a statistical and completely accurate fact that I just made up.) Anyway, I thought I’d share a few of my new favourite songs with you. Enjoy!

Kenzie :)