Election Night, a month late

I delayed writing about the election in the post-November 8 period simply because the barrage of news reports, blog posts and protests became stifling, and my take didn’t seem important. It still doesn’t, but I’ve retold it all in little parts to many people, and it feels easier to write it all down. It felt important to inject some humanity into it all. 

November 8 began innocuous enough for me: I woke up late, walked to Dough for an iced coffee and gourmet doughnut, then took an Uber to the Brooklyn Bridge so I could walk across with hundreds of other tourists. I caught my first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty and felt sentimental for a country I wasn’t even from. This was my first time in New York and the excitement of visiting allowed me to forget about the increasing political tension across America, and truly, across the world. 

Exiting the Bridge into Manhattan brought me crashing back into the election frenzy, down from my East River high. In addition to the typical throngs of men hawking Empire State Building magnets, young people selling bus tours and distracted pretzel propetiers chattering on cell phones, a new type of sidewalk salesman had appeared: buttons and posters with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s slogans and faces were $2, and if you wanted, the Chinese man selling the election paraphernalia would take your picture next to a cardboard cut out of either candidate. 

After wandering through the City Hall grounds and stealing some wi-fi at Starbucks to message my mom, I stumbled upon Trinity Church. I had never heard of it, but it seemed like a popular spot. I sat down in a pew, finding Trinity calm and quiet after the madness of Election Day New York. Here, like the Brooklyn Bridge, was a strange marriage of tourist buzz and spiritual rest. Most people in either place were like me, travellers and tourists, just passing through, headed towards Times Square or Wall Street. But whether in the chilly open air on the Brooklyn Bridge, or in the quiet, dusty silence of the old Episcopalian  sanctuary, there was a moment of stillness. 

That night, Times Square was madness like I’ve never experienced. I went to Times Square earlier that day, marvelling at the bright lights, eating street food and enjoying the strange delight of being alone in a city you still don’t know yet. But that night, it was truly something else. People chanted anti-Trump slogans, women raised pink signs proudly declaring themselves Trump supporters, hollering “talk to us tomorrow!” when someone told them they were hypocrites. While I had moved comfortably enough through the streets before 4pm, the Square started to overflow around dark, New Yorkers and tourists alike desperate to see what would happen. 

As the night progressed, and a Trump presidency seemed imminent, I stared up at the results pouring in, projected onto the side of a building. A foreign news reporter zoomed in on the Clinton button on my purse, my disappointment sharply contrasting the smug look worn by the woman next to me, in her Make America Great Again hat. The reporter asked me about my political beliefs, and I told her I was a Canadian but I supported Clinton. The Trump supporter next to me smirked. 

I left Times Square before 9, back to my AirBnB in Bed-Stuy where things were quieter on the streets, if not on my newsfeed. Friends from Canada and the US alike were transfixed. I posted my pictures and videos from Times Square and my friends begged me to be safe. 

“I’m in bed now, I’ll be okay,” I commented and texted friends.

I fell asleep hoping, without truly believing, that an impossible number of swing states would magically turn blue, that a fascist couldn’t truly be president – a fear-mongering, pro-war consumerist? Certainly. They all were. But someone with rhetoric so closely tied to Nazism? With no political experience and a history of sexual assault? It seemed unthinkable. We’d left behind the era of Bush and Cheney, of Stephen Harper here in Canada. That’s the past – the future is female, if still neo-liberal. This is how I sung myself to sleep.

But I woke up to long message threads from distraught friends struggling to comprehend what had transpired while I slept. Friends thrown into panic by what the Trump presidency symbolized to them. As I got ready for the day, messages and status updates poured in as more North Americans woke up to the same news I had: the unimaginable had happened. 

November 9 I spent with a friend. As much as the conversation strayed to “Let me come back to Canada with you”, that wasn’t in the forefront of my mind. We ate brunch and shopped and complained about more banal things than fascism and xenophobia – we had to complain about work, and the fact that rare books at the Strand cost so much money. A villainous orange figure loomed in our minds, but he wasn’t completely there. 

The aftereffects in Brooklyn felt like ripples from a stone tossed into a still pond: small, noticeable but inconsequential: the man boarding the B46 grumbling about Donald Trump; the man in the bookshop chatting with a customer about the parallels to Brexit; jokes over brunch about the rush to get an IUD before it became impossible; an MTA employee telling us after the train stalled “just remember folks, it’s Trump’s fault!”; an Uber driver asking us what we thought as we drove into Manhattan. But mostly, things were not all that different than they were the day before. Old men smoked cigarettes on stoops and mothers pushed toddlers in strollers and teenagers bought sodas at the deli like it was November 7, or November 6, or any other day of the year. 

In Manhattan, things were different. Not so different that I couldn’t enjoy the museums and parks and shops – there were magical moments interspersed in those days – but people were restless. They were angry. The subway station next to Whole Foods contained a constant stream of young, white New Yorkers carrying home-made signs. My friend and I rolled our eyes and caught the 4 train back across the river. Surely the people here in Brooklyn were more affected by what had happened than the 20-somethings in Union Square? We didn’t know how big the protests would get, but I am still waiting to see a material benefit from the protests, waiting to see what they change, waiting for them to become more than a performance of ideology. 

My final day in New York, I ate breakfast at Clementine Bakery and read Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things, which I picked up at a small shop in Cobble Hill a few days before. His words felt more real to me than the strangely idyllic scene of the Clinton Hill bakery where I sat, eating a vegan muffin and sipping expensive coffee. All over the city, I found pockets where it seemed like nothing had changed. Yet the tip jar at Clementine had a small sign that reminded me just what was going on:

“Help us buy a DeLorean so we can stop Biff from becoming president.” If only.

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Travelling (and doing everything else) On my Own

In ten days, a friend who has graciously offered me a ride, in exchange for Tim Horton’s breakfast, will drop me off at the Edmonton International Airport and I will board a plane, by myself, and land, 8 hours later, in New York City. This is not my first trip alone, but it is my first time going abroad alone, and I can’t bring myself to be afraid.

Part of it is that I enjoy doing things on my own: I like taking myself out for dinner, seeing shows by myself, and shopping on my own. Maybe it’s that I’ve been single my whole life that I’ve never felt I was missing out when I saw a new movie by myself. Really, it’s an ideal situation to do things on your own: you never have to worry whether the other person likes what you’re doing, you never have to coordinate schedules with someone else. The only happiness I’m worrying about is my own, and that’s a burden enough.

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I won’t be entirely alone – I have plans to spend a day with a friend and I will no doubt chat with a few strangers as I go, but I’m not going to be social. I’m going to see a city, not people. I’m going so I can read books and turn off my phone, to see something new and to actually enjoy being 22.

A few months ago, I decided I was going to do things that make me happy, and not worry myself about practicality, or what I think I should be doing. This commitment is pretty easy when I don’t have to wait on other people to decide whether or not they are down for a last minute Starbucks date, or whether or not someone else wants to go dancing with me.

It started for me when I wanted to see a movie midday and everyone else was busy – why not just go on my own? You aren’t supposed to talk in the movie theatre anyway. And I ended up having a great time – it was a break from worrying about the post-movie conversation about whether or not I liked it, or what my favourite scene was.

My love for doing things on my own has only grown. I gave up trying to get other people to come with me to Rocky Horror; instead I go have a blast all by myself. I go to the theatre by myself and happily run in to other people I know; I sit in a coffee shop by myself and enjoy watching strangers, rather than worrying about performing for the person I’m with. We all perform some version of ourselves for our friends and family. It’s a relief, sometimes, to let go of the performance and just be a spectator in the world.

So when I decided a couple Saturdays ago, that I wanted to go to New York, I asked for advice, ignored the advice, and booked an AirBnB. I know the things I want, where I want to go – not so clear on some other things, but that’s okay.

Makeup and Me: an Adventure in Ambivalence

 

Over my desk I have three photographs, all of which capture great memories for me: a picture with my sorority sisters at our chapter house, a spontaneous selfie with a university friend in the library, and one of myself with my sister and Carrie Fisher at a fan expo. I look happy in each of these photos – I was happy. In a couple of them, I was wearing a full face of makeup, but in one, my face is completely makeup-free. And when I look at these photos, I realize how much it doesn’t matter to me which photos I tried to look nice for, and the ones I didn’t.

I started wearing makeup pretty late. Apart from messing around with orange eye shadow and lip smackers in grade six and seven, I didn’t really wear makeup until university. Even then, it was mainly because I wanted to look like I had eyelashes when I was onstage for a cappella concerts (I’m very pale and looked kinda scary under the lights). But at some point, my desire to have a visible face onstage bled into the rest of my life, and I developed a serious obsession with all types of makeup.

For a while, it was an unquestioned interest, something I never unpacked or considered. But around a year ago, I began asking myself, why? Who do I wear makeup for? Who even told me to?

I know that I don’t wear makeup for male attention, and many women say they wear makeup for each other – I’m not sure it’s that either, although being complimented on my lipstick is nice. Many people also say makeup makes them feel empowered – I don’t think it’s that either, but I have more to say about empowerment later.

I make these comments as someone who feels more like herself in Kat Von Dee’s Ink Liner than without. But I’ve begun asking myself why something outside of myself is so necessary to looking (and feeling) like myself. When did a $25 dollar tube of pigment start to be as important as putting on my glasses and combing my bangs every morning? I have created an image of myself, with big glasses (which I need to see) and a hairstyle I’ve barely changed since high school, and the makeup I wear is part of that image. So why is black eyeliner so important to me? Why is covering up a zit necessary when we all have imperfect skin anyway?

Makeup companies are owned by people who don’t care about me, or my friends. They don’t really care if I’m happy or not – they just care that I’m uncomfortable enough to keep putting money in their pockets. Women have been pressured into wearing makeup for centuries, and the pressure is all implicit. But it matters. In a study from 2011, researchers at Boston University found that wearing makeup makes women seem more trustworthy, and another study suggested that women are more likely to get hired and advance in careers when they wear makeup.

While many feminists today embrace makeup as an “empowered choice”, it’s a little ignorant to reduce it to a choice. When makeup affects how others perceive us in professional settings, when companies like Sephora profit from our insecurity and obsession, when applying makeup together is part of female social interactions, it is not such an easy choice. The choice exists – but what exactly is behind that choice?

Why I chose to embrace the word millenial

Everyone hates millenials. The word is virtually everywhere. It dominates research and cultural discourse. It has inspired countless articles, appearing in publications from Macleans to Rolling Stone – or, more likely – you find an op-ed online about them (I read a lot of them while writing this piece, and I’ll be happy to never read one again). Even millenials hate millenials: according to Pew Research, only 40% of millenials would even call themselves millenials, mostly begrudgingly. The New York Post published this article a few months ago, an exhausting piece detailing the writer’s hatred of everything from 90’s nostalgia to Instagram filters, and anything else fun people our age enjoy.

I am definitely one of these author’s loathsome millenials: I take selfies (oh god! So did Allen Ginsberg), I prefer online to real life dating (more on that in a future blog post) and I text and snapchat more than I call.

aaaa-2 (Look at that! Selfie king and winner of the Lifetime Literary Achievement award. Ugh! Kids these days.)

Millenials are characterized by more than their social media obsession and alleged narcissism: there’s also the constant stream of comments on our work ethic, sensitivity and laziness. What many of these authors fail to notice is that many of the things millenials are criticized for are actually created by the environment, economy and culture we were born in to, not the one we created. We grew up during the time of Columbine and 9/11, we were teenagers during the 2008 recession and the rise of the social media, and we’re now launching careers and navigating the post-college life in one of the worst economic downturns in recent history. (Sceptical? The White House published a report on the economic conditions of millenials)

When other 20- and 30-somethings fire back at what older adults are writing about us, it’s more often to say “I’m not like them!”, when I think it would be more beneficial to talk about harnessing millenial’s collective strength. We are building communities online where there were not communities before; our peers are using the very social media we are demonized for to organize and promote radical politics. Why would I deny that I am part of such a generation, one taking steps towards a new political landscape?

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I’m not saying we’re perfect by any stretch. Despite our organizing, we have low voter turn out and we’re weirdly terrified of telephone calls. Every generation has flaws and strengths shaped by the times they were raised in.

I cannot change that I was born in the early 90’s, or that the constant presence of violence in the 90’s and early 00’s coloured my perception of the world. And older generations wonder why we’re so anxious! I don’t want to pin the problems of this generation on the parents who raised us in homes with computers and TVs or the teachers who negotiated the awkwardness of explaining the events of 9/11 to children. A lot has gone in the 22 (nearing 23) years I have been alive, and there have been great shifts in technology, culture, economics and politics in that time.

And all this is exciting to me! We are comfortable negotiating constantly changing online and technological worlds, we have more access to information and we have incredible opportunities to be politically engaged.

This is why I love being a millenial. We are coming of age (we have come of age) in a rapidly changing world that we have the opportunity to shape if we acknowledge it. And I’m pretty excited to show the world we aren’t as entitled and narcissistic as NPR wants you to believe.

I know we’re broke and neurotic and a lot you are reading this from the couch at your parent’s house. We’re a little cynical and a little bit hopeful too. I feel that way, too. It’s like we’re barely treading water when we’re expected to be swimming. But what an exciting place to grow from. We’re in the perfect spot to become greater; to learn to swim in choppy waters, and become better swimmers than anyone expected.

Maybe I’m more hopeful than cynical, but at least that makes me a little more interesting than the Boomers writing about us.