Thoughtful Minds United

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I was so flattered and surprised that Felicia, the creator and administrator of Thoughtful Minds United (TMU), liked my writing enough to include me as a contributor to this community blog. I wrote my first post, “Taking the Leap into Writing,” last month and I’m glad to see that it has inspired other writers with their journey.

I never thought that I would be able to join a team of writers just months after rebooting my blog. I know that it’s a sign that I’m supposed to be doing this. I am so excited to get to know my fellow bloggers and write more in order to help our community.

I hope to see you on TMU! 🙂

My Favourite Stories: Harry Potter

Image from fudgeflies, tumblr

Image from fudgeflies, tumblr

It took me a while to figure out how to even begin this. But then I could hear a Captain Obvious-like voice inside my head saying, “at the beginning.”

I’ve mentioned the story of how I got into the Harry Potter series in the post called My Leading Ladies. Since grade four, I’ve always looked forward to a new book or a new movie. It was like that until the summer before my third year of university when Deathly Hallows Part II was released.

You never truly realize just how much something or someone has impacted your life until it’s close to the end and you know that they will leave you. It’s common for people my age (20s) to admit that the Harry Potter series has helped to shape their lives for the better. There are even studies on how the series makes us better people: specifically, it makes us more empathetic and aware of sociopolitical issues, which makes increases our likelihood of civic engagement. There’s even a book called Harry Potter and the Millennials: Research Methods and the Politics of the Muggle Generation. There are countless ways I could talk about Harry Potter, but I’ll take a page out of JK Rowling’s book(s) and keep it to seven.

1. Imagination

Harry Potter was my gateway into fantasy. Yes, I’d watched Disney movies and watched anime beforehand, but actually reading about another world was, well, magical. It was so cool to imagine hidden neighbourhoods, sending letters via owls, waving wands to transform pretty much anything, and living in a friggin’ castle. I was enthralled. Not to the point where I cried over not getting a letter at age 11, but enough to always hold onto the belief that you can find magic anywhere.

2. Empathy

Imagination and empathy actually go together. In order to be an empathetic person, you need to have to identify with them, or put yourselves in their place in order to understand what they’re feeling. Harry Potter has allowed me to gain more empathy for others. Dobby’s plight as an enslaved House Elf (and how others react, reject, or accept it) reflects slavery in real life; Sirius Black being sent to prison without a trial is a reality in many parts of the world; Harry being forced to stay in the closet because of who he is can represent the struggles of the LGBT* community. JK Rowling had actually worked for Amnesty International, and much of what she had witnessed at this job was revealed throughout the series.

Learning about atrocities and human awfulness can really affect your worldview. Thankfully, I’ve learned that there is so much goodness and love in the world that it can drive out evil and hatred. And we don’t need to look further than the mirror to realize how we can bring about such goodness.

“We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”
– From JK Rowling’s commencement speech at Harvard University, 2008

3. Storytelling

Being able to tell a story really well is a gift. I learned from reading the Harry Potter series that you don’t need pretentious language and complex imagery in order to move people with your words. Harry Potter isn’t an impossible read; in fact, I think it’s pretty accessible. However, it’s not that simple or elementary. I gained a larger vocabulary, an understanding of plot devices – the amount of hints and foreshadowing was riddikulus, and a deeper appreciation of just how much effort authors put into their writing. And I actually enjoyed learning about all of that.

The books have inspired me to share my own story and become a better writer. I’m not quite up to the Rowling standard, but I’m always learning and practising my craft. And it’s become a part of who I am.

4. Personal Growth

Since I started reading the books at age 9, I had to patiently wait for the new ones to come out. Along the way, I was growing up and learning how to be a decent human being despite all of the pressures that come before, during, and after puberty. Once you hit double digits, it’s like a switch goes off and caring about things is no longer cool. Apathy is cool. Not giving a shit reigns supreme.

I thought that I was weird or different for caring about my grades, about what my peers and parents and teachers thought, about what was happening in the world. I thought that reality TV and celebrity gossip was the norm for conversation topics. I thought that having a boyfriend and going to parties were what you had to do to be not just popular, but relevant. But, as I kept reading about Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s journey through adolescence and becoming heroes of the wizarding world, I thought to myself, “Now that’s cool. That’s what I want to be.” And I began to align myself with these characters, and realize that I wasn’t weird for wanting to do good.

5. Identity

Like I’d said before, I really identified with Hermione (big hair, big teeth, big bookworm). I thought that she was The Girl I could look up to and eventually become. And I thought that I was well on my way to becoming Hermione: I learned more about human rights, I loved being in the library, I loved being right and getting good grades, and I became the person in high school asking people to sign petitions. The problem, though, was that I was not and am not Hermione. I didn’t really have a rude awakening or anything like that, but I gained a subtle confidence in who I really was. I have to say that a lot of this confidence came from within, and I had to fight hard for it. I had to really reflect on what made me me. However, I would not have this confidence without the love and support of family, friends, teachers, and peers.

6. Community

I am not exaggerating when I say this: Harry Potter fans are among the nicest people on the planet. I’m sirius; every single person I’ve met who even remotely likes the books – or even just the movies – has turned out to be a kind, funny, and awesome person. I’ve made really good, lifelong friends; friends who reference the books and movies, who can manage to slip in a quote at the most opportune and inappropriate time, who just get it.

7. Fan Activism

A few years ago, I learned about an organization called The Harry Potter Alliance. I was blown away that an actual non-profit is using a story that I love so much and using it as a way to make the world a better place. It’s a real life Dumbledore’s Army! It was like I finally found my tribe: honest to goodness nerds who want to make a difference and have fun doing it. I’ve been with them ever since.

If you’re currently scoffing at fan activism and require a scholarly approach, here’s a great read by Henry Jenkins about cultural acupuncture. If you’re still scoffing, might I suggest that you Disapparate out of here?

Dear Me

I realize that the #DearMe campaign was for International Women’s Day, but I still wanted to write a letter to myself because I want to see just how much I’ve grown and how happy my younger self would be to know that. So here goes:

Dear Me,

You will be happy to know that future you is happy, right now, in this moment. Future you tries your best to be present in the moment, to be happy with what you have while wishing for that happiness to intensify. You might not understand this right now, but you will.

You’re worrying about a lot of things right now: school, grades, the future, boys, fitting in, and allowing yourself to just be.

You’re gonna laugh, but school will become the last thing on your mind in the future. You’ll have other things that are actually worth your time: work, writing, spending time with family and friends, and educating yourself on things that matter.

You might hate to hear this, but you will receive a C during your first year of university. It will undoubtedly crush your spirit, but you’ll still be alive. In fact, that C will propel you to choose courses that you will actually like. You’ll even learn that grades should take a backseat, especially since you’re not going to grad school (spoiler alert).

You’re not going to work for the UN. In fact, you’ll lose interest in geopolitical problem-solving altogether – and realize that you were never that interested in the first place. You’ll be focused on other ventures, like non-profits who prioritize empowering youth, or writing a blog about why you don’t want to work for the UN.

And – get this – you’ll still be single, and you’ll be okay with that. Nuts, right? I know! You’ll learn to nurture your relationship with friends and family, and, most importantly, with yourself. You shouldn’t worry about finding a guy who likes you, because frankly, teenage boys are kind of idiots. You know this, deep down inside, but you won’t admit it. And you know you want to have a loving relationship with a man who appreciates the things about you that make you different from your peers.

You’ll find other people who will appreciate those things, too! Your nerdiness for pop culture and fiction, your compassion for others, your yearning to make a difference and bring peace to the world, your preference for words, your hesitation towards technology and reality TV – all of it. You are so loved right now (past and future).

You’ll become confident with your body. All of the hangups about fat, hair, scars, shapes, and size will diminish. Not quite disappear (I think that’s for your 40s), but that’s okay. You’ll feel beautiful, and others will notice.

And you’ll be doing things that are good for your health. You’re going to become one of those spiritual junkies who practices yoga, meditates, and loves Elizabeth Gilbert and Pema Chodron. And you won’t care what others have to say about that. Why would you? You’re awesome!

You probably feel that this seems so far away from right now. You’d be right about that. But I want to let you know what you shouldn’t worry too much about the future. Don’t plan too far ahead. Don’t let what you think others think of you mess you up.

Stay in the present moment, because you won’t be able to be a teenager for much longer. Your body will grow sideways. You won’t fit into your teenage clothes anymore (and thank God for that, really). Your youth will be a thing of the past. So stay smart, focus on the things and people who matter the most, and you’ll be just fine.

See you on the other side!

Love,

Future You

Organic Solidarity

I recently watched Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk called, “Bring on the learning revolution!” It’s interesting and empowering, because you’re made more aware of how the education system just doesn’t work. This talk may not be as big as his first one called, “How schools kill creativity” – although I highly recommend both – but it does touch on a few important points about how the world works and how there is so much more potential within ourselves than we’ve been made to realize.

One of them is that life is not linear; it’s organic. We create and shape our lives as we go along. We can’t see straight ahead, because there is no straight ahead. There are detours, roundabouts, one-way streets, freeways, broken paths, and no exit signs. It’s scary, yes. But it’s also liberating. It makes us think about what we want, where we should go, and who we are. And we learn all of this along the way.

Shouldn’t education reflect that? Shouldn’t our schools teach us that there is no clear, direct path to success? Or, for that matter, that success is different for everyone? Sir Robinson mentioned that schools take on a fast-food approach: everything is standardized, everything is the same, and drifting from those standards is wrong. In his book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, he writes:

One of the essential problems for education is that most countries subject their schools to the fast-food model of quality assurance when they should be adopting a Michelin model instead. The future for education is not in standardizing but in customizing; not in promoting groupthink and “deindividuation” but in cultivating the real depth and dynamism of human abilities of every sort.

I actually love how this reminds me of what I’ve learned in my sociology classes. Thank goodness I’ve remembered something from school! Seriously, though, this just rings true for me. While I may have succeeded in the fast-food framework of the education system, I still felt a bit off. I didn’t feel like me while I was in the school system. In fact, it was only after being out of school for a year that I felt like I was truly getting to know myself again. Imagine how somebody who’s dropped out would feel.

It goes to show that Sir Robinson and Émile Durkheim were right in that advanced (and honestly, better – that’s me and Ken Robinson, not Durkheim necessarily) societies feature people with individual talents and aptitudes, with specialties that serve the community as a whole in order to move it forward. “Organic solidarity,” is what this is called. Now that I’m away from my sociological theories class, I can fully appreciate that term. We’re all different and special, and we need to nurture that. But, we’re all in this together. We need to work together, make use of our differences, and create a better world.

It’s a truth that I’m working towards.

My Favourite Stories: Project Introduction

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while. As you can probably tell from my posts, I’ve mentioned several fictional stories that have inspired and shaped me to become a better person. With this project, I’m going to take each story and write a post (or two or seven) on my relationship with that story and why it’s one of my favourites.

Here’s a list of what I’m going to write about:

  • Harry Potter
  • Parks and Recreation (I kind of already did this, but there’s so much to add that it won’t be like a double post.)
  • Naruto
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender
  • The Legend of Korra
  • The Hunger Games
  • The Lord of the Rings

I’m going to start with Harry Potter – be on the lookout for that post within the next couple of weeks!

Note: You can also hold me accountable and send me reminders about this project, since, well, I need the push. 🙂

On Honour and Shame

I found this video from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Facebook page. Liz was joined by her dear friend and fellow writer, Rayya Elias, who shared her story about self-discovery. Rayya starts off with a letter she had written to her stumbling block, her head. Right away, I liked her. Here was an honest, raw, sincere, and passionate woman who just gives off a sense of wisdom and love (am I making sense here, or have I delved into yoga/new age/spiritual territory?). She talked about mental health, creativity, failure, fear, and many other significant things that we all experience but hardly every talk about. There are so many quotable moments in this video that I can’t possibly include all of them, so you might as well hit the play button.

One thing that I do remember, though, is Liz saying that honour is the opposite of shame. Which, of course, being a nerd and an Avatar fan, led me to think about Zuko’s journey of self-discovery. The word “honour” is definitely associated with Zuko (which is an understatement). He’s out to regain his honour. He must capture that Avatar to regain his honour. He needs his honour. He believed that honour was something that his father had taken from him. Zuko came to learn that honour is something that you hold within yourself.

Zuko_with_his_swords

An aside, if you will — Avatar: The Last Airbender is such a beautiful story of love and redemption and forgiveness and growth and compassion that I kind of forget how people dismiss it as a children’s show. If you’re reading this and feel that way, please take some time to reconsider. Children’s stories are often dismissed as unrealistic and fluffy and utter crap, but they’re also universal and true. People tend to forget that.

Anyway, back to honour and shame — I thought it was so interesting that they can be opposites. Shame is like a subtle undercurrent of icky shit that sticks to your gut and weighs down your soul. It is triggered by a disapproving look, a word of caution, a smack on the arm, a billboard ad, a vote. Basically, it’s anything and everything that makes you feel unworthy, and it builds up into that undercurrent. You don’t truly realize that it’s there until something significant happens that makes you suddenly feel it.

For a while, I had felt shame about who I was, as somebody who loved books and stories and could not pull myself away from them. I was ashamed of being such a fan of all of these stories (most of which were categorized as children’s stories), of fantasizing about the characters, predicting what comes next, spending hours looking up fanart and fanfiction – all of it, I kind of hated it. It took some time for me to come to terms with it. I also gained the ability to live with that aspect of myself, to be able to set aside space in my head and my heart with set expectations and boundaries. That way, I could contain this fan without it taking over my life.

It turns out that it wasn’t just the fan taking control; it was the shame. I had let it affect my thinking and how I spent my time. I didn’t sulk for hours on end, though. But I do remember feeling sad and worthless for being myself, which was definitely not healthy.

And it did take time for the honour, or a sense of worthiness and self, to come in. Honour came in the form of the Harry Potter Alliance, and with that a group of people who adore stories and proudly claim that stories have shaped their lives for the better. These people use these stories and the power of fandom to better themselves and the world around them. I was amazed that there were other people like me. They (and yes, Zuko) taught me about honour.

Honour is a source of light and energy that you carry inside yourself. It can grow or fade. It feels clean and centred, lightweight and grounded. It is confident, courageous, and calm. It can also be incredibly fragile, which is why we should constantly work to feed that fire and keep it alive.

Easier said than done, right? Well, we will all feel both honour and shame throughout the course of our lives. Just like we feel intense honour, we can feel intense shame. Neither will completely disappear, and that’s okay. It’s something that we have to remember and learn to appreciate. And we can always change things if we’re not content; we have that choice.

What choice will you make today?

My Leading Ladies

I’ve been highly influenced by important women in my life. Today, on International Women’s Day, I want to highlight the fictional ones. These ladies have helped me come to love and accept myself, and to strive for success and improvement.

1. Matilda Wormwood

From Roald Dahl’s beloved book, Matilda was one of my first childhood heroes, simply because she loved books. I had thought that my love for reading set me apart from my classmates in a bad way, but Matilda showed me how you can be yourself and take charge of your life to make it better.

2. Hermione Granger

I saw a lot of myself in Hermione from the Harry Potter series. When I was 9 years old, my grade four teacher read to us Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (still not sure why she didn’t choose the first book), and I was instantly hooked. Yes, the story was engaging and magical and all kinds of amazing, but what stood out to me was Hermione’s book smarts, her bushy hair, her large teeth, and her confidence in being the top of her class. I had the first three characteristics, and I struggled with the fourth. I secretly wanted to be more like Hermione, to save the boys, save world, and occasionally give people a literal/verbal/intellectual smackdown.

3. Anne Shirley

I discovered Anne before Hermione and after Matilda. You can sense a recurring theme here of heroines who love to read books and aren’t afraid of being smart. With Anne, though, she went through a lot of charming mishaps and her mouth got her into trouble – which I loved. She wasn’t perfect, but that wouldn’t stop her from exclaiming about her emotions or sharing the importance of creativity. And it certainly didn’t stop her from working hard to get to the top of her class (although her rivalry with Gilbert Blythe might have helped).

4. Mulan Fa

The one Disney princess/heroine (I know she’s not technically a princess but she deserves to be one) I really identified with. Belle from Beauty and the Beast might have loved books and shown great compassion, but Mulan showed so much bravery that I can’t help but want to be more like her. Well, maybe I won’t use a sword to cut off my hair, join the army, be able to climb a pole, or defeat an evil villain. But Mulan does motivate me to fight for my values and remember what is most important in life.

5. Katniss Everdeen

We’re definitely straying from bookworms here. There’s not much Katniss and I share with each other, but The Hunger Games heroine has motivated me to be more resourceful and brave. And yes, I did start to like braids and archery more, and wondered about taking wilderness survival classes. But the one thing that I admire most about Katniss is how her love for the people in her life fuels her sense of justice and her contribution to the fight for equality. That is definitely something that I want to remember as I make my way through this life.

6. Korra

It took me a while to warm up to her, probably from the not-so-smooth transitions between seasons. Ultimately, though, I came to love how a woman of colour with noticeable muscles could be so compassionate and just, flawed and fiery, and accomplish so much for the good of the world. Korra just feels so real, and she represented a group of people we don’t really get to see on television. A lot of the show’s audience appreciated and identified with that. I know I did, and I especially found solace in her quest to find balance within herself.

7. Leslie Knope

As you can tell from my previous post, I definitely want to be more like Leslie Knope. She’s incredibly passionate and hard-working, and this extends beyond her career into her personal life (or vice versa, depending on what you think defines her more). The lessons I learned from her really confirmed what I had gathered from the previous ladies: it’s okay to be smart. It’s okay to be passionate. It’s okay to care. It’s more than okay to be yourself; in fact, it’s necessary. I learned that you really need to follow your dreams and work your butt off to make them happen. And if you fail, you get up and keep going. Because who knows what else life has in store for you.

There are the big 7 for me. Which female characters have inspired or influenced you?

100%

In a post from last month I gave my opinion that relationships are either 1 + 1 = 2 or half +half = whole. For a while after that, I honestly believed that the healthy relationships follow the first formula. You have two complete, independent people who come together in an equal partnership. You share successes and failures with each other. You team up for life’s adventures. You’re happy together, but happy on your own. And it all works out.

Recently, though, I’m not sure when I’ll ever get to that point in my life. I felt incomplete, and that I’m missing something. And now, instead of reverting back to the fact that it’s because I’m not in a relationship, I’m looking at the big picture. I’m asking myself whether I feel complete with my work, my other relationships, my passions and interests, and with myself as a being. The scary thing is that the answer is no, I don’t.

It’s weird, though. Before, I saw this as a matter of my eventual growth and maturity into a whole and complete person. I was just becoming, instead of being. And lately, it was getting more difficult to find ways to propel that growth and put myself back into the perspective of being on an evolving journey. Because life is a journey, and we’re all going to continue with our own development. I suppose the difficulty comes with growth.

This lovely article from Tiny Buddha called, “How to Shine Your Light, Even When You Don’t Feel Whole,” has helped me get myself out of the funk of feeling incomplete. It made me realize that it’s okay if I’m nowhere near 100%. I don’t have to feel obligated to reach that level, or a state of completeness. I can focus on what makes me happy and good, and work on sharing that with others.

We all have highs and lows, ebbs and flows. The trick is to find your inner joy, your inner light, during the times you don’t feel whole, and to gain perspective and become grounded during the times that you do. It’s a tough balancing act, and it’s all part of the journey.

I hope that my thoughts have somehow helped you with yours.