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.