Two Swedes and a Scot take on New York

I miss my Swedes. To remember our awesome time together, this post is dedicated to our trip to New York. The adventure that I never recorded here on Scottawa.

Near the end of last semester, my friends Oskar and Rebecca and I decided to go to New York. We talked about it for months and finally got everything booked and our bags packed. We would bus over night and stay in a hostel in Brooklyn.

We arrived at the Greyhound bus station on the last Wednesday of November. The station was quiet and broken, which was exactly what I had expected from Greyhound. But the bus was different. Our journey was cosy and comfortable and I soon fell asleep. We had to wake up every couple of hours for stops and border security and more stops. But then, in almost a blink, we were there.aSAM_2117

American Thanksgiving was taking over the city when we arrived. And we were perfectly on time for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Giant balloons of American characters flooded the streets and people of all ages cheered and chatted and took photos.

My favourite part about being in New York was the feeling that I had seen it all before. I recognised places and streets and stores as if they were part of my own memory. I would say This parade was in Jingle All The Way!…This park was in Home Alone!… This library was in The Day After Tomorrow… This building was in Godzilla… Spiderman… Ghostbusters… Independence Day…

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Walking around New York was like wandering through my childhood memories. The extent of my movie knowledge is enough to make my parents proud. We have this joke in my family that if you don’t get a movie trivia question correct then my Mum and Dad would exclaim We have failed as parents! What uneducated children we have! And I love those moments, they illustrate the wonderfully relaxed and culture-orientated way I was brought up. Movies, movies, movies. Old, new, action, romance, sci-fi, ’90s, Disney, etc etc etc. And New York embodies so many of these memories for me.

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Central Park was even better than I had imagined. Beautiful. Magical. And memories of Friends episodes sprung to mind. We visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and I was reminded of When Harry met Sally and my friend Rebecca exclaimed These steps were in Gossip Girl! We saw the Statue of Liberty, which I’m sure everyone has seen in a few movies. King Kong being the major one. One evening we drank at McGee’s, the bar which inspired the hangout place for How I Met Your Mother. That night we got tipsy Barney Stinson style and partied all over the Big Apple. Our Luxembourg friend Anne-Sophie and German friend Matti joined us on our late-night adventure.

The next day we found a secret burger place hidden inside a hotel. Down a marble corridor and behind a red curtain lay a small wooden room. The walls were covered in writing and drawings from previous customers. And they sold the best burgers I have ever tasted.

We spent hours wandering around New York, seeing the art and the beauty and the ruggedness in the everyday. On our last day, we skated in Central Park. And I had this flashback of a young Macaulay Culkin sliding across the ice with an angry Harry and Marv running close behind.

I looked around me, at the black and gold city and it’s bright lights, the skating couples and horse drawn-carriages. And I thought to myself, this is New York… Where memories are created years before you even step inside the city.

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Love Jill

The Vagina Monologues

For all who know me personally, or have seen my many activist posts on Facebook, you will know that I am a staunch feminist.

I believe in equal rights for everyone. I believe that no man, no woman, or anyone of a gender-in-between, should be afraid.

I believe that we should all be aware of our privileges. We should all make ourselves aware of the different forms of oppression which holds others down. We should educate ourselves on all the many forms of sexism, racism, ableism, classism, cissexismageism, slut-shaming, heteronormativity, sizeism, misogyny, misandry, and queerphobia (note: more inclusive than ‘homophobia‘). Not to mention the intersectionality that can exist in all of the above.

And if some of these words are not familiar to you then see my definition fact sheet at the bottom of this post. Expand your understanding of the worlds that others live in.

One thing which made me fall deeply in love with Canada is it’s romance with human rights.

I couldn’t believe it when I found out all the wonderful things Carleton has to offer. A Womyn’s Centre, a Gender and Sexuality Resource Centre, a human rights group, and (possibly the most exciting of all) the Vagina Monologues.

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For years I have heard about the feminist show The Vagina Monologues. The play was written by Eve Ensler and first performed in 1996. My only real experience of the show was a ten second clip in a really old Friends episode where Joey takes everyone to see it. Their reaction was not positive. But when I saw the first sign of the play postered up on a hallway in Carleton, I was excited.

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My friend Caroline and her boyfriend Josh invited me along to see the show. And it was far more than anything I had expected. It wasn’t funny; it was hilarious. It wasn’t sad; it was deeply moving. It wasn’t well-done, it was perfect. I laughed. I cried. The talent was awesome and the audience loved every moment.

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The show is made of a dozen or so monologues with different people in each one. There was lingerie, moaning, angry voices, and witty stories. Each piece had a rhythm like spoken word. Each were crammed with emotions and stories of  rape survivors, genital mutilation, and victims of war. And sex-positive women, men who love vaginas, women who love to make other women moan, naming ceremonies for genitals, and women learning to love their own vaginas.

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The Vagina Monologues was beautiful and funny and surprising and heart-wrenching at times. I loved the whole show and I applaud the courage and talent of all those who performed. And I am seriously considering bringing the show back to Scotland and maybe getting something set up at my university in Glasgow.

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Love Jill

  • Mini Definition Fact Sheet…
  • Ableism: Discrimination and/or hatred of people with disabilities. The belief that able-bodies are the ‘correct’ or ‘most desirable’ way to move around in the world.
  • Classism: Prejudice and/or discrimination on the basis of social class.
  • Cissexism: Belief and treatment of transgender and/or transsexuals as inferior to cisgender people.
  • Ageism: Discrimination and/or stereotyping based on age.
  • Slut-shaming: The act of shaming and/or attacking a female for being sexual.
  • Heteronormativity: The assumption that heterosexuality is the ‘default’ sexual orientation.
  • Sizeism: Discrimination against a person based on their physical size.
  • Misogyny: Hatred of women.
  • Misandry: Hatred of men.
  • Queerphobia: Hatred of non-heterosexual people.
  • Homophobia: Hatred of homosexuals.
  • Intersectionality: The concept that all forms of oppression cannot be seen as separate from each other. All are interconnected and experienced in different combinations. For example: If a black woman experiences racism and sexism, she is not experiencing them separately. She experiences sexism differently from a white woman.

 

The Weekend at Jonny’s Cottage

With new friends in a hand-built cottage surrounded by snow. This is how I spent my best weekend in Canada.

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Classes are almost over and Spring is nearly here (though you wouldn’t know it). For the last weekend in March, I went on a mini adventure. My journalism friend Caroline invited me to her friend’s cottage with her boyfriend Josh’s group of friends. I was told to pack warm and bring food.aDSCF0533

The adventure began in Kevin’s car. The guitar riffs from Hotel California played in the background while Caroline filled me in on everyone’s stories. Who does what, who dates who, and who did that funny thing that time.

The group is made up of mainly high school friends. They are all about three years older than me and most have full-time jobs in technology. Of the people I met, there are three couples and four singles.

And then began the stories of the cottage. For six years they have visited the cottage bi-annually. For Christmas and summer holidays. In the winter everyone skis, builds igloos, has snowball fights, and drinks to stay warm. In the summer they roast food on bonfires, swim and canoe in the lake, eat endless hot-dogs and never sleep.

We drive up snow-covered roads and over countryside hills and along a dirt path hugged by trees. And then we arrive at the most beautiful wooden home I have ever seen. I meet Jonny and he shows me around his family’s cottage. The place was built by Jonny’s father over thirty years ago. It is beautiful. Everything is wooden. Upstairs is made up of six bedrooms filled with three or four beds each. Ladders are everywhere and bunk-bed’s appear to be carved into the walls. A log fire in the living room keeps the whole home warm.

The cottage is rented out to large groups all year round. Sometimes students, or middle-aged friends, or big families. Sometimes the place is left in a mess and sometimes it is left cleaner than when a group first arrives.

Once the mini-tour was over, it was time for me to meet the people. So far we have Caroline, Josh, Kevin and Jonny. Then I meet Marta, Ian, Victoria, Shawn, Sophie, and Mikael.

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We spend the rest of the night drinking, eating chili and playing games. Over the weekend, there is a never ending flow of food as everyone takes it in turns to make meals for the group. 

On  Saturday we feast on eggs, bacon and hash-browns. Then venture out into the wilderness. We investigate igloos made by the last group of cottagers. A snowman is built and named Arnold for his American-football shaped head. 

We amble over to the frozen lake with beers in one hand and snowballs in the other. The lake is beautiful. I look around and all I can think is how perfectly Canadian everything seemed. The snow, the deer, the hiking hills and the canoeing lakes.

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People tell me stories from past summers; of snapping turtles, catching tadpoles and being Kings and Queens of the lake.

That evening we played Sardines and it was awesome. Sardines is similar to hide-and-seek except one person hides and everyone looks, when you find the person you have to hide with them. The last person to find everyone is the loser. And in a cottage filled with hidden spaces and secret rooms, the game was one hundred times more difficult and one hundred times more fun.

Eventually everyone was sweaty from searching and cramming into tiny places. We played cards instead. Kevin made dinner for everyone, he called it ‘a modern aboriginal meal’. We devoured our food and continued the games late into the evening.

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The games ended in the early hours and one-by-one we fell asleep. Caroline says they used to stay up all night and drink heavy and party loud. She says there used to be more people but many have come and gone over the years. The group dynamic at the cottage has changed as often as the leaves on the trees outside. Everyone has grown up and is dealing with the realities of adulthood; heartbreak, uncertainty, paying bills, and feeling lonely.

But the beautiful thing about this weekend was that it didn’t matter what everyone was feeling about their lives or relationships or jobs when they arrived. The cottage thawed everyone. And for a couple of days everything was more than okay. Everything and everyone were perfect.

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Love Jill

Adventures in Québécois Land (The Photos)

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I loved the whole experience. We had bubble tea and pancakes in the Underground City, took photos of ourselves with a disposable camera for an art project, came across a wonderfully accepting Church, saw the stadium for the 1976 Montreal Olympics, and made friends with a Porcupine and a Beaver at the Biodome.

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Love Jill

Montreal: The Weird and Wonderful

Railway tracks are the veins of Britain and speeding trains are the pulse of the Kingdom.

Canada does not have railway veins. Canada has sporadic blood cells of buses and metros. Cells are dispatched to locations when they are needed.

Greyhound buses have become my way of exploring the vast landscape of this country. So I was surprised to discover that Ottawa has a train station. On arrival, I was no longer confused as to why nobody talks about the station. The building wasn’t ugly, the people weren’t rude and nothing was disorganised or dirty. But the place was bare and quiet and lacking. Back home, train stations are crammed with places to eat. Here, I was struggling with the decision between a crappy pastry or two hours of hunger.

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But I was not in a state to be let down easily. I had good company and exciting travel plans. I was gallivanting to the Canadian-French city of Montreal in the South of Quebec province. And I was with one of the most wonderful people in my life; my Mum.

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She arrived on Monday evening with four bags of British marshmallows and a huge grin on her face. At dinner that evening we planned our adventure to Montreal for the next day and one sleep later we were on the train zooming off to another world.

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Montreal is unlike any city I have been to. It was big but quiet. The walls were busy with graffiti but the people were subtle in appearance. Everything was understated and dramatic at the same time. Art is everywhere and in everything.

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The best example of this would be our meal in the evening. We had dinner in the dark.

Now, I don’t mean we ate by candlelight or outside underneath the starry sky. No. We ate in the pitch black darkness. O. Noir is a restaurant in Montreal where you can experience what it is like to be blind. Your waiter is blind and he guides you through the dining room and tells you where everything is on the table and then he disappears, saying to call his name if you need him. Then there is just you and your companion in the nothingness. You cannot people-watch but you can people-listen. Unfortunately for us, everyone was speaking French which added to the isolation of the whole thing.

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I found myself leaning in more, my posture changed and we talked non-stop to reassure that the other person was still there. The funny thing about the dark is that your thoughts become loud. Yes, you can hear and feel and smell and taste. But all your mind has to play with is itself, there are no interesting people to watch or curious wall-decorations to view or any visuals to stimulate conversation. There’s just your mind and your companion’s mind and your words.

Eating was something I had never considered to be difficult for blind people. But it is. I ended up eating the entire meal with my hands because cutlery was far too difficult.

Our waiter asked us where we were from and we told him Scotland. He replied ‘Is that in Canada?’ We were confused until he explained that he had never seen a map before so it is difficult for him to picture or remember where countries are in the world. This is something I had never thought of.

The entire experience of eating in darkness was incredible. At first I thought I would have an anxiety attack but I got more and more comfortable as the evening went on. It was eye-opening (please excuse the irony) and an entirely unusual and unique experience. I raved about the dinner for hours and hours and every so often it pops into my mind and I have to tell someone.

The strangest thing about O. Noir is that I have no visual memory of the evening. But I do remember how it felt. My memory of O. Noir is based on emotions and it truly is a phenomenal way to remember something.

More Montreal adventures coming soon to Scottawa.com…

Love Jill

Everything Always Changes

Anyone who knows us will be aware that Erik and I are no longer together.

Three weeks have passed since we ended our relationship.

Life has not been easy. Breaking up is painful and nauseating. It’s one of those moments in life when you can feel your dreams concave inside of you.

I’m not going to pretend that things are better now or easier or that the pain is any less fresh. I can still feel my stitched-up wounds tearing and stretching when I laugh and move and talk and breathe.

On that Sunday afternoon, I was forced to watch as a piece of my world broke off and shattered in front of me.

If there is one thing I have learned from life it is that you cannot will your innocence to return once it has left you.

Now there is just me. One individual. Just Jill. And there is no going back. No wishing to change the past or unlearn and un-see what you have seen. This is life. And it is a beautiful thing.

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The hurt and grief and sadness, they all remind me that I am alive. I am living and feeling and doing and being.

I am not sheltering myself from emotions. And that is a beautiful, courageous thing to be proud of. I am strong and Erik is strong. We both know that we have learned from this emotional chapter in our lives. We are stronger from having known each other and learning from each other and understanding what it means to love another human.

I met Erik on the bus today. We talked for the first time since the breakup. And it was good.

On saying goodbye, we held each other for a while. Then I walked down my street and he walked down his. After a moment, we both looked back at one another and smiled.

Love Jill

A Letter For My Nephew On His First Birthday

My beautiful angel of a nephew turns one today.

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This past year was filled with his grins and giggles, and of course, his poops and piddles.

And I have loved every single moment that I was able to witness. And I have treasured every photograph and video and Skype date and Snapchat of my incredible nephew.

Sebastian is fascinating and entertaining and funny and adventurous and determined. He is stubborn and strong-willed. He is beautiful and charming. He is comforting and heart-warming.

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My nephew is the light of my family. He shines through every mishap and drama and tragedy. Sebastian brings out all these different parts of ourselves that we have long forgotten about. He reminds my parents of what it was like to raise my brothers and I. And it reminds myself and my siblings of what it was like to be raised by our parents.

We begin to see the relentless hard work and effort that our parents went through for us. And my parents begin to remember the joys of having a bouncing, giggling, smiley baby in the house again.

Sebastian is incredible, surprising, fantastic, enthralling and moving.

He makes every day a little more special and a lot more memorable. I love you Sebastian Carl Duncan Stevens, and I wish you many more years of exploring and evolving and enjoying. It is a blessing and a pleasure to be your auntie.

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Happy first birthday.

Love Your Auntie Jill.

Making Friends at Drag Shows

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A few weeks ago Carleton’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Centre put on a Tide of Pride Week.

A chance to celebrate the queer and transgender community, to make friends and have some fun.

The Resource Centre put on a variety of events: speed-friending, drag show, movie night and game show night. The workshops were on interesting subjects: disability justice, spoken word, sex toys for queers, trans/queer on campus discussion, and LGBTQ+ families.

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As a volunteer for the Tide of Pride Week, I manned the GSRC stall for a few hours between classes. And I made friends(!) which made me very happy. I met a variety of students; queer, straight, different ethnic backgrounds, those with able and (dis)abled bodies, and people from many spans of the gender identity spectrum.

We talked to professors and students, members and allies of the queer/trans community and even those who were not sure where they stand on gender and sexuality issues.

We handed out flyers for the week’s events and advertised the work that the Centre does to support students.

I made friends with a political science student and we decided to hang out at the Pride Week drag show. The exchange student evening took place in the same venue and at the same time as the show. So I was able to multitask with my social world.

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My new friend had recently done his own exchange in France and was happy to join me in mingling with the exchange people. We chatted and laughed with strangers then returned to the show to watch the Drag Kings and Queens of Ottawa take to the stage. They were energetic and entertaining and confident. I loved each performance and I credit all of these photographs to journalism student, Nilanjana Rhea Ray, and engineering student, Akhila Ananth.

I hope you enjoy the photographs! If you are one of the performers pictured and you would like your name/group included in this post then please leave a comment.

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Love Jill

If you still look pretty afterwards you’re doing it wrong…

Carleton is heaven for fitness lovers and a blessing to those who are trying to love it.

There are swimming pools and yoga studios and weight rooms and big basketball courts and ice rinks and football pitches and every other sporting venue you can dream of.

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I want to do weights and swim and skate and play basketball. I want to run so fast on the treadmill and try new yoga moves on the mats and build up muscles on the machines.

I love feeling the air rush through my lungs and my muscles start to ache and my limbs giving way. I love pushing through it and feeling the burn. I love when I go to bed at night and my body falls straight to sleep.

I love pushing my body’s limits and feeling it grow and learn and adapt. Most of all, it feels incredible knowing that my body works properly and appreciating all the wonderful and beautiful things that it is capable of accomplishing.

A body is a work of art; one you can sculpt and decorate or lose interest in and let fall apart. It’s your choice. I chose to make mine something I can be proud of and something I enjoy using every day. What do you want to create with your work of art?

Journalism Students: Breaking the Stereotype

In my three years at journalism school I have often encountered a certain stereotype.

When some people hear that you are a journalist they instantly create this image in their head.

To begin with, there is a nice smiley picture of you in their mind. They’re thinking Oh this person seems really nice. I wonder if we are going to be friends…

But then they hear that horrendously scorned profession… journalism. As this word seeps into their concious, it is joined by a number of assumptions and suspicions and ill-informed beliefs. In their mind you are part of a cult. One that is out to get everyone and anyone. They think this person has no morals! They begin to believe that you will lie and cheat and deceive to get your own way. They believe that you are a snake in disguise, that you care little for feelings and people and more for column inches and front page stories.

They do not see the real you. The honest journalist, the one who wants to do right by the world and to help make it a better place. The journalist who wishes to uncover wrong-doings and bring attention to worthy causes. That is the journalist I want to be.

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And I realise that journalists have been giving our profession a bad name for decades but I have hope for this new generation. I have hope that we can do good and, despite the odd loose cannon, that we can regain the public’s confidence in us.

Journalists are good people. At Carleton, whenever I have needed help or have been panicking over a deadline or simply don’t know how to work technology, a journalist has always been there to help me out. Students at this journalism school have given me their time and patience and support without question, without disapproval, and without any expectation for the favour to be returned.

The competitive, egotistical and uncaring journalism world that you picture in your head, that is not the world I know. And none of those words describe the journalists who I have met or had the pleasure of working with.

Journalism is a chaotic profession and not everyone makes it out with their morals intact. But I have faith that with a little more public understanding and a lot less unfair stereotyping, we can create a media that people will be proud of.

Love Jill