Wandering Helsinki

I’ve been in Helsinki for a little over two months, but still, one of my favourite days is my first one. With check-in at my hostel several hours away, I had nothing to do and nowhere to go. My phone was dead and I had no knowledge of the area, so instead of sitting around and waiting for it to charge, I decided that my first few hours in this city would be better spent wandering. 

The nice thing about a trip to Europe from Canada is that even the simple things seem to be beautiful and interesting. It’s hardly a boring walk when you’re getting used to cobblestone streets, or marveling at architecture that you’re not accustomed to. Helsinki is no different, and I found myself stopping to take picture after picture of things that locals wouldn’t even blink an eye at.


After a little bit of walking, I found myself at a cemetery. While it’s not your go-to tourist destination, I had just had a long day of airports and crowded planes and overflowing public transit, so it was the perfect place to go to be far away from cars and bikes and people and let myself surrender to some tranquility.

I’ve always had a certain fondness for cemeteries. Looking at the gravestone that someone chose and the mementos and flowers that were left by family members really makes you think about these people and the lives they lived. And as you read the names on the graves, you read the names of those who held this city dear enough in their hearts that it was chosen as their final resting place.

I don’t know Helsinki as well as these people did, but I can definitely see its appeal. The whole city has a wonderful peacefulness to it, while still managing to buzz with the liveliness of those who walk the streets. There’s a juxtaposition of empty, calm streets, frozen in time, a few blocks from bigger and busier areas with plenty of shops and restaurants. 

My favourite streets are the ones where it seems almost comical that there are tour buses moving through the city. These are the spots where it seems like just any ordinary European town, and you can sit and people watch. And on this day, still new to the city, the children head off to school, people grab breakfast, friends chat on a bench, and I take it all in.



First year tales of emotional soup and favourite places

I found this in my drafts and I really liked it. So here I am, in my last year of university, publishing it, even though I never wrote a conclusion. 

I am about a week out of my first year of university, and my days have mainly been filled with napping, eating, unpacking, and spending time with hometown friends. Starting university has definitely been the biggest period of change in my life thus far; it’s hard to believe it’s only been eight months since I started. I’ve learned so much, met so many people, discovered a future career path, and had so many cool experiences and adventures.

The problem with such a big change is that no matter how good it is for you, it’s not always going to be easy. Some parts of the year were great. I felt like nothing could be more perfect than the friends I had made, the amount I laughed, and the adventures I found within such a small campus. But I also had serious slumps: some days I would just stay in bed and eat whatever I could find in my fridge, others I would go on long walks in the forest trying to clear my head, and then I even got the days where I kept looking around the internet for somewhere less miserable to be. Someone should have probably told me I was depressed… and anxious… and a little bit of a mess, none of which would be fixed by transferring schools or moving to another country.

There’s obviously a tiny little stories and intricately connected situations that lead me down the emotional tidal waves of these past eight months. It is too long to tell, because to truly understand you’d have to go through my life with me, which we don’t quite have time for. So make up some story in your head, and I will let you know that eventually, I found my balance. I got help for my mental health problems, which lead to me actually feeling good about my future and my degree. After my mid-year wade into the deep end, I was getting involved in things again with a better focus on where I wanted to go. I made plans, I got my self-confidence back, and the feeling of dread was finally gone from the pit of my stomach.

None of this happened in a way that was remotely linear. I try to pinpoint a time when everything seemed to click into place, and I can’t, because all of the sudden I just looked up from the busy life I lead and things no longer seemed hopeless. Although, to clarify, it’s not like my problems just suddenly went away, but any negativity or lethargy or lack of confidence I feel now is manageable. And I think a lot of this year was about me learning to find a way for my problems- for my life- not to drown me.

The difficulty about talking about the bad times we have is they often negate the good. I write this and know every word to be true, but at the end of each line I want to add “but it wasn’t that bad.” This is something we often do to stop people from feeling sorry for us, but it’s also because it’s hard to convey the complexity of emotions that you can feel all at once. Yes, I had some struggles sprinkled through the year, but when I tell relatives and friends that I had an amazing year, I’m not lying or exaggerating. I found myself knowing so many different people in all different majors and friend groups, I had adventures with said people on and off-campus, and I took on every opportunity that came my way. I left this year with so many great friends, a long list of places to eat, a bucket list of activities to complete before I graduate, a job lined up for next year, and so much more knowledge and passion of politics then I could ever imagine.



Bad Days, Bookstores, and Happy Places

Whenever I’m upset and there’s a bookstore nearby, that’s where I usually head. They’re pretty easy to find, free (unless you have an awful spending habit like me), and honestly one of my favourite places to be. That’s why today, with the pressing need to get my mind off some blood-work and icky needles, I ended up at a nice two-story Chapters.

bookstore image

This is definitely not Chapters but it’s kind of weird to take pictures in chain bookstores, so I don’t have any. This is from The Last Bookstore in LA.

I love bookstores. There’s a handful that I’ve been to often enough that I have the layout memorized, which makes it calming to be able to walk from shelf to shelf, knowing what to expect. I like knowing where the discount books are, where to find my favourite authors, what recommendation tables to pay attention to, and so on and so forth.

I also like bookstores I’ve never been to before. I like figuring out the maze and seeing the little organizational changes they’ve made. It’s interesting to go from chain bookstores to independent ones and seeing the differences in recommendations. Or you can go to used bookstores and relish in the old covers of your favourite books.

Maybe you can tell I’m a book nerd. But I have other favourite places too, I sweat! Outdoors and indoors and across the country and in other countries altogether. Any time I feel happy or like I’m home, I want to hold on to that forever, and some piece of that joy stays infused in that place for me.

Take, for example, my school.


This is the prettiest building at my school. Also one of few buildings. My school’s small.

This is where I learn and grow and laugh and make memories. And I chose it. I decided to live in this little secluded forest (we have trees everywhere) within a much larger city and I love everything about it. There’s something about my chosen homes that makes me happy. I can escape into the rose garden or the forest by the gym or the basement of the CoE and these are the places where I feel comfortable. It’s routine, it’s familiar, it’s where I belong. I get to call this nature-filled campus home. It’s pretty cool.

kasper christmas

First-year me and my dog in the forest that I like to walk through on study breaks.

And this is how we get to the nature, outdoors-y part of my happy places post. Because as much as I like to sit in my room with Netflix or a book, I love being outside. Mountains and trees and rivers all give me major heart-eyes. Also cute little woodland creatures.

Beyond the park I played in when I was younger and the creek by my grandparents house, the first time I really appreciated being outside just for the sake of being outside was when I went on a three month exchange to Switzerland.


This view was approximately a five minute walk from my exchange family’s house.

At fifteen, this was the most independent I had ever been. I could go anywhere I wanted on my own, since the town and the nearby city that I went to school in were both small and safe. And as someone who was much less social in my early teens, I found myself spending a lot of time exploring on my own. I have so many fond memories of just sitting in a silent nook of the town and reading or writing or listening to music.

It was in Switzerland, as well, that I found myself loving mountains. Not only looking at them, but climbing to higher places and seeing the world from above.


So pretty. Like… I’m going back now after looking through all my pictures. Bye.

Now, I find myself trying to get that picturesque view again and again and again.


Banff this past spring.

muir woods

Muir Woods over the summer.

plane toronto

Planes are also one of my favourite places. I’m rarely ever as happy as I am when I’m looking out a plane window.

When I get sad or feel kind of stuck in life, I find myself venturing to these happy places. It can be as simple as heading for a walk, or maybe if I’m in a month long slump I’ll plan a trip to somewhere new and carve out a happy place in the world for me to attach great memories to. There’s no happier place for me than a city I don’t quite know yet. I love having adventures, being slightly lost, and letting stories be created as I walk down an unknown street.

So, those are a few of my happy places. I hope this has gotten you thinking about yours, because I’m a firm believer that everyone needs a million happy places. Maybe that’s an exaggeration… how about a handful? Or a dozen? Two Dozen? You can never have too many! Here’s more of mine to finish off this post.


Museums. And art galleries. Places where I can find Van Gogh.


Boston. Just the entire city.


Theatres. Sit me down for a musical and you will make me happy forever.


And to be honest, now that I don’t live there much anymore, I find some comfort in my home  town

Moving Quickly

September’s almost over: my first assignment for second year is almost due, I am settling into my new job, classes are starting to fill themselves with familiar faces, and my room is slowly transforming into an organized mess. And I find myself stuck here, trying to slow the tide as it rushes in. It feels as though everything is moving far too quickly around me yet I am just starting to get my bearing. Where did all the time go between moving that first box into my dorm and now, four weeks later?

I have always been perplexed by the concept of “now”. This probably has something to do with how I fill my head with daydreams and giant fantasies of how my life will one day be. And the thing is, there are little steps and goals that I have attained, but it doesn’t have the same electricity to it that I often imagine. Life, in its present moment, never feels quite like how you imagined it. Or at least it doesn’t for me.

There’s a different kind of beauty to the present. It’s much calmer, mainly because instead of this imagined reality of excitement and feeling, you are caught with all the little actions as well. You experience every single step to class and the long minutes spent waiting for a bus and the lulls in conversations. As silly as it sounds, I often forget that life has more to it than what sticks in my memory. (What do you mean I have to wait for the water to boil or the play to start? How rude of my computer to take longer than a minute to boot up!)

A few weeks ago I was at team training for my job and as part of an exercise I ended up breaking down how I spend all my time. Here’s the thing: even though I always feel busy, when I wrote out all the things I do in a week, I seemed to have an abundance of time at my disposal. And I couldn’t quite figure out why.

My problem is that I just don’t think about the little ways I use my time:  silly conversations with friends on facebook, phone calls with my parents, cleaning and organizing files and folders and clothes, or simply letting myself lay down, cozy in my bed, as I wake up in the morning. And as much as I want to chastise myself for wasting time on useless websites or just staring at the ceiling because I don’t want to do my readings, I don’t think I’d change how I’ve used my time all that much… unless I could take back some of the Netflix binges. That would be nice.

The point is that no matter how effectively I use my time, or how quickly I move from task to task, the present will never be how I imagined or anticipated it to be. So really, why should I try to live up to those unreachable expectations I set for myself? It’s been about a month since school started and I’ve been more or less keeping up with my courses, I’ve spent some good time with quality friends, I’ve worked, I’ve volunteered, I’ve explored, and I’ve been happy. What more can I ask for?

The answer is this: not much. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by how fast the world seems to move while I continue to add tasks to my “to do” list. But life’s like this: you keep doing things and prioritizing and living, then relaxing when you can, and as long as you enjoy it, so what if you’re not getting everything perfect? I hope that’s what it means to grow up, realizing that you don’t have to have your life together to be relaxed and happy. Because there are so many things to do, but I can’t help but enjoy sitting at my computer, feet on my desk while I eat homemade soup that took me an hour to make. I’ve decided to let things slow down sometimes, and I encourage you to as well.

Love, etcetera

I find it hard to tell people exactly how much they mean to me. This is probably because I have two sides to me that seem to be constantly fighting: my over-emotional loving side, and my reserved, anxious side. Sometimes I just want to collectively wrap all my friends up in an Elastigirl-esque hug and appreciate the eff out of them. But in the actual reality of the moment, I find myself not wanting to engage in the actual awkwardness of such a situation.

The way we’re brought up has made most people exceptionally bad at taking compliments and that’s basically what it is to tell a friend you love them. It means a lot when someone enjoys spending time with you, cares about your well being, and would willingly listen to every story and complaint you ever have. That’s a small part of what my love for my friends is. I just kind of sit around and hope it’s understood by my friends that I care about them, but I guess it’s also nice to say it. It’s nice to tell someone you care and you love them and you appreciate them. It is, however, easier to keep that unsaid, rather than making a moment gushy or potentially being that overemotional friend or “showing your cards” so to speak, and letting someone know that you care without knowing how they feel.

Is it weird to feel that way about friends? With work and school and generally busier lives, I find myself without the regular hangouts that elementary and high school allowed for, whether it be on the playground or at lunch or working on projects, and now there are those friends with whom a little too much time goes by without even talking. But I still care about them. And when so much time goes by and when we don’t have those late night confessionals that preteen sleepovers allowed for, it’s harder to be open and honest and pinpoint what someone else is feeling. So I get self conscious- if I haven’t seen a friend in a while or they live in a different country or our text convo has petered off or we only see each other once a month or every few months, do they still care about me? What will happen if I tell them I care? Will they have thought that our friendship has disappeared and wonder why I’m so lame to still be hanging on to the past? Am I Gatsby?

I get into these thought-spirals a lot. I know it’s ridiculous. And now, it’s Esther Day, when you’re supposed to celebrate the platonic love that I know exists so deeply in my friendships. There’s so many unique people that I am lucky to call my friends and I am eternally grateful for that. I love that in our busy lives, so much time can go by and we can still come back and be our authentic wonderful selves with each other. Our conversations range from thought-provoking to witty to the stupidest stories. And spending time with the people I care about makes me remember why I’m so happy to live this life.

So why is that so hard to say that to their faces? Writing this, feeling so happy and full of love, I don’t know. I’ll probably shoot off some messages later tonight telling my friends how much I love them and find myself writing all in lower case and abbreviations and adding in emojis to mask my vulnerability.

Love is a tricky thing. But what a wonderful problem it is, not knowing how to properly express the love I feel for my friends. I hope, even if I fail to send each of them a message, that they know how much they mean to me. So much love exists without being expressed, so I hope everyone knows how much they’re loved.

Happy Esther Day!

Send me to live in the mountains

This past weekend, I went on a whirlwind of a road trip to Banff National Park in Alberta. We left from Saskatoon, and with the stops, it took about 9 hours to get there. That, plus the time spent traveling from place to place within the park throughout the weekend, equaled way too much time for way too many young adults in a far too purple bus.


On the endless voyage to Banff, I was undeniably cranky. People were playing the ukulele, guys in the back were making bad jokes, and, worst of all, so many people simply dared to exist. (How rude of them!!) I practically ran off that bus when we got there. But after unpacking, grabbing my camera, and walking to the lake, all my bitterness disappeared.


We all have those things that make our eyes light up like a child, and, well, I’m completely mesmerized by mountains. Not pictures of mountains, no, but rather existing in a place where I can look around and at every turn there is a mountain to be seen. When I was in grade ten, I lived in Switzerland for three months. From the plane landing, to the drive to my host families house, to the days that followed, my eyes gravitated towards the mountaintops. I fell in love with being surrounded by nature; a scenic walk or a hike in the mountains was never far away. I missed it a lot when I left and being in Banff brought me back to the serene feeling I had during that period of my life. Small towns, plenty of trees, and an endless amount of trails meant an endless amount of adventures.


The downfall of hiking is the heights…

I love living in a city because there’s always so many events and friends and experiences. But I don’t miss it the way I miss places that are still rooted in nature. You don’t need a fast paced life or a full calendar to make you feel alive. Just breathing in the air, climbing a new trail, or simply sitting down in a secluded spot to read or write or sketch makes me feel happy and fulfilled.

This short-lived trip brought me a dose of that. It reminded me how much I love to explore and enjoy nature. I got to revel in the excitement of adventure with people who were just as happy to be there. I slept curled up in a sleeping bag in the frigid cold, I enjoyed all the touristy spots, and the closest thing to a shower I had over three days was being sprayed by a waterfall. It was amazing.

See the little cave on the right? You can climb through that and be face to face with the waterfall.

See the little cave on the right? You can climb through that and be face to face with the waterfall.

Is it possible to be both a city girl and a nature freak? Can you dream of living in New York City and living in the mountains on a goat farm at the same time? Apparently yes. I love contradictions, like constantly being busy and moving slowly through life. Small towns in the middle of nowhere and cities with subways and trains and planes at the tip of my finger. I want to live and see it all and travel the world, but I will always gravitate towards the mountains. Home doesn’t have to be the building in which you live, but a place that you fall in love with, a place where you grew, a place that makes you feel like you can do anything, and for me, home is where the mountains are.

Mountains! Blue skies! Take me back please.

Mountains! Blue skies! Take me back.

This is getting a bit too wordy and reflective for me, so let’s sum it up and end this reflective life crisis fest. In short: Banff was cold and pretty and wonderful. I hiked and shopped and sent postcards and took pictures. I love mountains and nature and I want to live in a cabin surrounded by trees… or maybe in a tiny apartment in the middle of NYC. I don’t know yet. So I’ll just keep traveling, seeing the world, and living my life and see where I end up. Cool? Cool.

Living Openly, Defying Haters, and Complete Pictures

Pretty early on in life, I learned how judgmental people can be. There will always be someone who needs to see others at their worst in order to solidify their own happiness. As a result, these people only see and share the negative. If you don’t frame what you tell someone just right, they’ll jump at the opportunity to misconstrue your words as they talk behind your back.

I’ve never been good at filtering, so I am absolutely awful at protecting myself from those who are going to use what I say against me. Unless there’s a good reason to present only the very best parts of me, I’m always going to be more or less “myself.” If I’m at a job interview or having a five second conversation or talking to a former enemy or a teacher who was always particularly cruel, I will happily paint my life as a field of sunflowers and myself as the brightest star in the sky, but otherwise I don’t have the energy nor the motivation.

I’ve learned not to care if people talk behind my back, because those kinds of people aren’t very nice anyway, so it doesn’t really matter what they say. When someone’s cruel or petty and they’re known for it, their opinions generally don’t hold much weight with those they talk to. Instead of valuing the weight of their words, I choose to value connecting with people and telling stories and sharing experiences. It’s so much easier to get through life when you can talk openly with others. We grow through hearing stories, both real and fiction, and by taking down barriers and better communicating our own lives and the lessons we have learned, the relationships we form will be that much more meaningful.

If we filter what we say and how we act and teach others to do the same, it just creates shame, which is ridiculous because then we can’t talk about things that so many of us go through. We shouldn’t have to be silent when we fail or do something embarrassing or experience any human emotion other than happiness. When I talk to my friends and family about my life, I don’t want to leave out the bad, because then the picture they form of me is incomplete. I’m not going to shut up about half my life just so people won’t talk behind my back. If I do that, it means that people won’t get to know who I really am, and the same will happen in return, and I won’t get to learn from the lives and wisdom of others.

I want to share my flaws and blunders and the experiences I’ve had that I look back at and cringe. Not only does adding a few sarcastic anecdotes and a sprinkle of self-deprecation to my stories totally fit my brand of humour, but letting people see that side of me is so much less work and so much more fulfilling. I want to be friends with people who like the person I actually am, not someone I pretend to be.

Obviously there’s some sort of a filter to put up in order to make good impressions and not over-share (please don’t talk about all your problems with someone you just met… unless they’re a therapist, then go ahead), but to go beyond that has always seemed like too much work to me. I want other people to know me and I want to know them. I want to live as if life is a more-grownup version of an elementary school sharing circle. I’m all about sharing and feelings and openness. So I encourage you to live openly as well, because then maybe we can create a nice culture of openness and take over the world… with feelings… and kindness. Wouldn’t that be nice?

(Slightly unrelated, slightly related: since we’re speaking of shame, I totally recommend Monica Lewinsky’s TED Talk)

Fear, Uncertainty, and Failure

(It’s exam period here in university-land and the lack of sleep  has gotten me a little loopy, which lead me into a pit of self-reflection. I thought a lot about fear and failure, so I’m going to bring you on that journey with me)

Here’s something you have to understand: I’m over- emotional,  cripplingly sentimental, and painfully indecisive. Despite all this, I like to convince myself and others that I have my life nicely put together. Being vulnerable can make me feel weak, so admitting that I’m feeling anything other than perfectly okay is hard. I have a million bundles of hearts on every exposed part of my body and I get hurt so easily, but it’s easier to pretend I’m indifferent.

I have found, however, that this has caused me to live in a way that is disingenuous to who I am. It has stopped me from pursuing things I love and lead me down paths that I have ultimately “jumped ship” from, because I realized it was leading to a life that I didn’t want.

I’ve switched career plans so many times. I started out wanting to be an author, which is something I still really want, but as someone with so many interests I realized I wanted to get an education and live a life, and then write about it.

In school, the idea that got stuck in my head was that smart people major in science. I loved animals so I drew up this great plan about how I was going to major in zoology then save the tigers and elephants. I later realized that I liked the idea of being around the animals more than actually learning biology. After this, I think my problem was looking up career opportunities based on who was hiring and what the salary was, and then I went for the relatively safe bet of speech language pathologist. The problem is, I have a passion for so many things, but I didn’t have a passion for this career that I had so carefully planned out for myself.

Through this jumble of figuring out what I wanted to be (otherwise known as high school), I didn’t get involved at all. I showed up to clubs and extra-curriculars then found a reason why I wasn’t going to go back, even if it was something I really liked.I had so many doubts and fears that can simply be summed up by this question: what if I found a career path I was attached to and realized it would never work out?

I made up for this lack of involvement by getting involved in online communities and, through this, passion found a way of sneaking up on me. I was in grade twelve and I found that I was slowly being molded into a person I was proud to be. I had opinions, talents, and drive to make change in the world. I found myself falling in love with politics, wanting to be a leader, and looking for ways to help people. Nearing the end of grade twelve I changed my major for the upcoming year from Linguistics to Political Science, and I was scared.

I would say that I have effectively stumbled through first year. I came to the first day of classes knowing very little about politics. For the first time, I didn’t have a set five-year or ten-year plan. A lot of my year has been me trying to find things to get involved in, having new opportunities, and stressing out. I think I lost myself for a little while in a pit of anxiety, but I clawed out, brushed myself off, and found new things to try. I’ve gone to events and activities even if I couldn’t find someone to go with me, I’ve applied to opportunities even if I thought I might be rejected, and I’ve come to terms with the uncertainty that comes with following my passion. There’s not a giant sign with a definite dream job at the end of my university journey, but there’s so much room for me to learn and build myself and find opportunities in a field I actually like.

I hate uncertainty and not knowing where my life is headed. I hate knowing that I might fail something. I hate the idea of not being liked or not being good enough. I hate putting my heart into something and admitting that I care, because then someone can so easily hurt me and failures become even more apparent. Success has so often been measured by knowing exactly what you want to do, and I don’t have that any more. Instead of having a path, I now feel like I’m free falling. And I’m terrified. But I’ve come to be more comfortable in this place of uncertainty, because it’s better to acknowledge that I’m afraid and move past that rather than play it safe and not be the person that I want to be. Acknowledging that has opened my life up to so many opportunities. So here I am at the end of first year, unsure of where my life is headed and shaky as a leaf, but still feeling more sure of myself than I ever have before.

What I Wish I Had Known Five Years Ago

(This post was inspired by the #DearMe campaign on YouTube and is a letter to myself five years ago on April 8th)

Dear Isabel,

First off, happy birthday! I hope you’re having a pretty good day. I know that birthdays can be pretty disappointing because they get kind of hyped up and nothing happens with the sense of excitement that you envision. You’ll get used to appreciating things for what they are as opposed to constantly wishing things would happen the way you planned.

This letter has many drafts with so much more detail about the last five years, but it never ended up how I wanted it. I think the problem is there’s so much that has happened since I turned fourteen that it’s hard to condense my advice to you into anything less than a novel, then at the same time I’m not entirely sure I would want to send that novel to my past self.

You’re going to be angry and sad and happy. You’re going to make bad decisions and take chances and have regrets. You’re going to say stupid things and dream of a future that is never going to happen. And looking back, I’m glad that I had those experiences. Making mistakes and figuring things out for yourself is the best way to grow. It also helps you realize who you want to be and what kind of people you want by your side. (One thing I’m going to tell you: you have good friends. Hold on to them.)

Hey, little me, let me tell you something: the experiences you’re going to have and the places you’re going to go and the people you’re going to meet are amazing! It’s hard to find a feeling better than looking at your life and realizing you could have never imagined yourself at that point. I wish I could tell you all about it and help you avoid the hard times, but I honestly don’t think I would have been the same person if I had a field map on how to get through life.

If I could actually send this letter into the past, I wouldn’t want to go without some words of wisdom though, so here are five pieces of advice for the next five years:

  1. You will always build things up in your imagination and they will never turn out quite the way you expected. Don’t mourn the loss of an imaginary experience when you could be enjoying something just as good, if not better.
  2. Being vulnerable is hard and scary, but if you are open with others it makes for better relationships. It doesn’t make you weak to show you care. It also doesn’t make you weak to be hurt by someone who doesn’t care as much about you as you care about them.
  3. You don’t have to have your entire life figured out. Stop staying up late and planning out the next ten years. It’s going to change and you need your sleep. You’ll find your passions and what you want to do in good time.
  4. Wear whatever you want to wear. You’re beautiful and wonderful and deserve to believe that. Walk with confidence because if you start to realize how amazing you are, others will too.
  5. You can’t always be the best at things, you can’t always win, and you’re going to fail. Don’t let that stop you from enjoying yourself and taking risks.

So there you go. Advice from five years in the future. Enjoy being young, enjoy the classes where you don’t pay attention and still get amazing marks, and don’t worry so much. You’re going to be okay. I’m proud of you.

Happy Birthday!


Isabel, age nineteen


“Laverne Cox: Ain’t I A Woman” – My Reflection on Privilege, Intersectionality, and Creating A Better World

On Tuesday, I went downtown to the beautiful Elgin Theatre to hear Laverne Cox speak. I was first introduced to Cox when I started watching Orange is the New Black and her character quickly became one of my favourites. At a time when I was becoming more involved in feminism and developing an understanding of the many privileges I have, as well as the misogyny and homophobia I face as a queer woman, the diverse conceptions of womanhood it portrays made me fall in love with this show.

Laverne Cox is a “proud African American transgender woman” (to quote her talk) and, as I learned in-depth Tuesday night, she faced a lot of adversity growing up. It was very humbling to listen to her reflect on her many challenging experiences in such an eloquent and thought-provoking manner. Everyone faces struggles and different types of oppression, and while I’ve had issues in my life, I have always been aware that I am fairly well off. It’s one thing to know this, but it’s another to sit in a room and listen to the first hand account of someone who faces so much violence and hatred in their everyday life. It made me realize that so many people live with the reality that they must be fearful of violence and persecution simply for being who they are, and I can never fully understand how that feels.

It’s hard to find an adjective for how awful I find the injustices that still exist in our society. I often say I am filled with fire because there’s always so much anger burning inside of me knowing that the world is not fair. I hate that our institutions favour some while causing others to live with violence and poverty and prejudice. There’s an emotion that I was once told there is a word for in another language, but not in English, so I will simply define it for you as “an anger that pushes you towards action.” I often feel this when my expectations for people or the world in general (or even myself) are not met.

The problem with this anger is that so much of my frustration is about forms of oppression that do not affect me, and while I want to take action, I have to realize that these stories are not mine. While I can speak to some forms of homophobia, misogyny, and sexism, I have not experienced oppression in the form of physical violence, threats, or the racist encounters people who are not white have on a daily basis. I am privileged to be well off, white, able-bodied, and able to attend university. And while I want to spend every moment ridding the world of injustice, I am faced with the reality that there are many spaces where my voice is not needed. There are so many people to whom these stories and struggles do belong that are already doing a wonderful job to make this world better for themselves and for everyone.

It’s inspiring to see this first hand at events like this one featuring Laverne Cox. I left with a new understanding of confidence and femininity, as well as an admiration for her journey to loving and accepting herself. She also drew lessons from those who have inspired her and shared the impactful words of others. The quote that stuck out for me, which was referenced a number of times, was Cornet West’s quote “justice is what love looks like in public.” This stuck with me as something that makes so much sense, because fighting for justice is not easy and it comes from a place of caring about others, because why else would you fight for it?

Not only did Cox share her story with us, she also talked about the deep-rooted problems in society, such as oppression and the binaries that are placed upon gender and sexuality. She also emphasized how important it is to have empathy and to think about intersectionality and the multiple identities we all have while talking about these issues. So much of what she said was relatable and resonated with me. In my life, I have been affected by the widespread ideas of what a person should be like simply because of the situation they were born into. Many differences are not celebrated, and Cox spoke about how we live in a culture of shame, and I think that shame that we’re so often taught to feel is something everyone can relate to.

The impact that this event had on me didn’t stop with the guest of honour. From the moment I approached the line that curved through the streets of downtown Toronto, I knew that I was going to spend the night surrounded by people who cared. When we got inside, some of the students who had put this event together came to the stage and they spoke of intersectionality and pointed out that the land we were on did not belong to us, but rather to First Nations people, and I could tell by listening to the passionate way they spoke that they have the same anger and drive that I often feel. And as cheers rang through the packed theatre when Cox mentioned revolutionary people within struggles for equality and spoke in words that related to the variety of experiences people have with oppression, I realized that so many people want to make a difference and shape the world so that others don’t have to grow up with society forcing them into a box or making them live in fear. There are so many people who want to show their love in the form of justice, which is comforting to know, and helps me to take a deep breath and realize that I do not have to carry my anger alone.

There is so much diversity in every single person’s experience and perspective. The prejudice-laden society in which we live gives us all stories to share of the experiences and oppression we have faced. We all have a unique view of the problems that still exist in society. It’s important to hear each other’s stories, exercise empathy, and work together for justice. There are so many voices that deserve to be heard and we each hold the responsibility of leveraging the ones who are not represented in positions of power. Showing you care is not about being the loudest, it’s about listening. In seeing how many people care, I have so much hope that we will be able to work towards a society in which the ideas we have held as truth for so long are challenged and the diversity and intersectionality of our world is embraced.

I am adding this on as a footnote, but it doesn’t mean that I mean the words any less:

I’m so glad that I had an opportunity to attend this event, and I would just like to thank the Student Unions of Ryerson University, George Brown College, University of Toronto, and my school, York University, for bringing this to us. I’m really happy that we have student leaders who care about bringing such a meaningful talk to our community.