My grandmother laid in her bed, curled up beneath a crocheted blanket, with plastic tubes connected a machine that loudly pumped oxygen. She had become so small I could wrap my hand around her thigh. I called to her a few times quietly, but her eyes were glazed to the TV like they had since I since I entered the room a few moments ago.
She was “the incredible shrinking woman”. Every time I had seen her in the last five years, it seemed as though she had shrunk a few centimetres. Since she had only peaked to 4’9 in her adulthood, her shrinking-ness seemed even more exaggerated. I outgrew her when I was just twelve years old, and towered over by the time I was fourteen.
My Grandma wasn’t sick, but she was sick with age. Her 92nd birthday had just passed not too long ago. She used to go to my house every Sunday evening as a sort of tradition; we’d turn on the TV to a golf game and pour her a glass of wine. She would eat a full plate of dinner, plus a little dollop of desert and end the night with a cup of tea. A few years back that tradition waned as her appetite decreased. Each time, her servings became smaller, her bites a little more conservative. And just over a year ago she had stopped coming altogether.
“Grandma,” I said again, coming closer to her bed.
Finally, she looked up and for a moment I thought she didn’t recognize me. And then a smile spread across her face. I saw a spark of something before she had gotten so small, like she had never started disappearing.
“Well,” she answered. “Look who we have here.”
The Incredible Shrinking Woman
Dorothy Link was born in 1925, just a bit younger than the Queen, just a bit younger than Betty White, and literally older than sliced bread. She orbited the sun 93 times, lived through the second world war, seen the moon landing on television, and to her demise, witnessed the creation of the cell phone.
I was born in 1996, and grew up on Sherry Lane, a few houses down from my Grandmother’s home. The same home my father and his siblings were raised in.
Sometimes I wondered if she would have ever expected to have had a granddaughter like myself. Throughout a good portion of my childhood, I switched between dressing Barbies, to looking at bugs through magnifying glasses in my basketball shorts. I put my elbows on the table, and talked back to my mother. And then, I hit my adolescence and got all of these opinions.
My Grandma didn’t grow up with much. She lived with her parents until she married my grandfather in her mid twenties. She was a mother and a wife, and then our family matriarch; sitting at the head of the table at each family gathering.
Topics of conversation never strayed too far from what was comfortable, but my Grandmother often asked my opinion about what was happening in the world and just the world itself.
We would often disagree but I think we both understood that it was because we had gained two different perspectives on the world – we were, after all, a product of our times.
While I was accepting of most things, she wasn’t accepting of all things; while she had seen so much, I had seen so little.
We were two women from two completely generations. But, almost every week before I moved away I’d go to her house with my Dad on Wednesday nights and share a pot of tea. As I got older she listened to me and my slightly radical opinions, toned down enough as to not give her a heart attack. And in exchange, I became less indifferent to her old, and sometimes repetitive, stories and started listening.
She told me…
She told me about her parents, who at times had barely enough money to feed their family as the result of the war, but did anything they could to give them the best life.
She told me about her father who used to drive down the county road to an apple orchard and load the back of his truck with baskets of its red fruit, and sold it to the families in their neighbourhood.
She told me how the kids at her school would call her a skeleton because sometimes she didn’t have enough to eat.
She told me she would be scolded after playing with the only black boy that attended her school, and never understand why until she got older.
She told me she met my grandfather at a her best friends house, and they danced in the living room until her curfew.
She told me one morning she got frustrated at my teenaged father, and while trying give him a little kick, he caught her foot and fell right on her bottom.
Most things my grandmother told me were stories I heard before. Sometimes she say them out the exact same way she always had, word by word as if it were a script. Sometimes she’d add little details that I hadn’t heard yet, layers upon the layers I would get a little picture that was her life.
“Bill always stayed up so late,” she said out of the blue, speaking of her late husband as she so often did – a grandfather who passed before I was born: “I’d always be asleep by the time he came to bed.”
Her speech faltered and paused, sometimes out of a daze and sometimes out of breath.
“Bill loved music,” my grandmother gushed. “I realized later, he stayed up listening to it… writing about it.”
I had spent the entire afternoon in her small room at the old age home, which had been more time I than in the last two years since I moved away to University.
Like with everything else – telling her to breath a little deeper, eat a little more, have one more sip of that drink – I pressed my grandmother for more; I hadn’t heard this story before.
The stories she told about herself, her husband and her kids now grown, felt like I was unlocking secrets about where I came from. Learning more about them felt like I was also learning more about myself.
I learned that something like the love of music could’ve been passed down from a man I never had the pleasure of meeting.
“Oh, he was such a good man,” my grandmother added. “A good husband.”
I smiled softly. I heard her say that many times.
Life and Death
In the time that I spent in her room, I thought about so many things. But I mostly thought about death.
And there she was still living. Clinging onto life in a body that was breaking down.
I cursed my pretentious adolescent self who thought she knew enough about life to have any idea about what happened after. Now, I felt like I know absolutely nothing.
I wondered if it was some sort of betrayal to have thought of her absence was she was still here. I tormented myself enough sadness for the weeks after I saw her that when she was actually gone I thought I wouldn’t have any left.
But that wasn’t the case. The news hit me a month later when I had reached some sort of plateau; enough time had occurred in between my last visit that my Grandmother was a worry I placed in the back of my mind.
I was at work and talking to a customer. I excused myself, let my heart unravel in bathroom.
Ironically, while experiencing her death, I thought about life. I thought of all the life she had lived in her 92 years and the small fraction of that I got spend with her.
She might’ve not done anything extraordinary, like win a Nobel Peace Prize or climb Mount Everest, but she impacted the lives of her loved ones in profound and subtle ways.
One thing about the “incredible shrinking woman” is that she was no small woman. Her personality, her snarky, hilarious comments and one liners filled the room. As did her laughter. But the biggest thing about her was her gratitude. Towards the life she was given, and the family that surrounded her.
Loss is an unfamiliar feeling to me, so while I figure that out, I’ll continue to save her seat at family dinners. And perhaps I’ll pour an extra inch of wine in my glass… in her name, of course.
To be quite honest, I was at loss for words when everything went down in Charlottesville this week. But one thing I wasn’t, was surprised.
Racism is as American as apple pie. The country was built by the sweat of slaves and the genocide of indigenous peoples.
Somehow, the moment Obama was elected in 2008 we suddenly existed in a post racial world. Racism ended. No one saw colour.
But, of course, we know that was far from the truth.
In Trump’s America, racism can be uncloaked and confident. It can spill into the streets carrying torches, bearing flags with mythical histories, and recycled symbols whose messages have murdered millions.
I’ve allowed myself to mull over everything the last few days; I’ve straightened out the facts as well as my anger over the entire debacle. I’m still angry, but now I can actually form some coherent thoughts.
1.Terrorism is the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims. Charlottesville was a domestic terrorist attack, by definition. A car sped into a throng of counter protesters, killing one and injuring nineteen others during a scheduled gathering called “Unite the Rally” by a group of white nationalists, supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and KKK members.
2. President Trumps rhetoric during the election empowered white nationalists and his ambiguous morality after the attack has empowered them even more. Neutrality helps the oppressor, and instead of calling terrorists for what they are, he claimed there was fault “on both sides”.
3. White supremacy is not native to America, it does not exist in a vacuum. It has existed since European powers started colonizing the world, and has left its prints everywhere they went. Charlottesville was not a solo act. It would not be surprising if we witness a rally on Canadian soil as our history is not as nearly as untarnished as most people would like to think.
My initial reaction to the news was a sense of hopelessness much like I had felt when Trump was elected eight months ago. It feels like we’ve been peeling back layers of the world and finally seeing its true colours. But I realize that I’ve been able to silently neglect this reality because of who I am, how I look, and where I grew up that has allowed me to live in a comfortable little bubble.
People of colour have been living this reality each and everyday, they have lived with constant disappointment, that the colossal disappointment that occurred in January wasn’t a surprise.
So I refused to let this surprise me and let the disappointment hit me full force. I spent hours the past few days, watching footage, reading articles, and personal accounts of what happened on that day. I’ve been flooded motivation to do something though I’m not sure what.
While we could all focus on pointing fingers, calling out the racists and problematic behaviours, we should have been doing this before.
I think what all of us, but especially us white folks, need to do more self reflection. Ask ourselves, why does talking about race feel political? Why is it so hard to say white supremacy? Why can’t I call white terrorists for what they are? Why is your response to “black lives matter”, “all lives matter”? Why do I let my friends and family continue to say and do problematic things?
And mostly, ask ourselves what more we could be doing.
It’s so easy for those with privilege to not look at the headlines, go for a walk and live your life just as you had been living it before.
There’s not more time for inaction. It’s time for us to see the broad spectrum of colour and do something about it.
In the meantime, if you’re looking for something you could do, here’s a very helpful resource that can help you catch up on some very necessary reading:
Mainstream feminists seem to think that the be-all and end-all issue to fight is the wage gap. However, studies show that, for the most part, the wage gap exists but not for the reason that people typically think. It has less to do with women getting smaller paychecks than men in similar positions, and more to do with how many women are not going towards those high paying careers.
Again, this doesn’t mean that the wage gap is a myth. In fact, the recent annual data shows that women working full time in Canada still earned 74.2 cents for every dollar that a full-time male employee made. And in some cases, highly educated women aren’t getting paid as much as men who have the same, or even less, credentials.
The main flaws in those numbers, is that researchers don’t consider different employment choices between men and women, or the number of hours they work. Almost none of them take into account the pressures women have on childbearing, and how pregnancy and motherhood can detract from a woman’s employment status.
In summary, within the Western world, the wage gap isn’t actually just as result of rampant discrimination. This belief leads to governments attempting to aid the situation with affirmative action. Thus, many men plead in defiance that they work just as hard, and women’s wages are still stagnant. This means that the issue is much more complicated than that.
I wanted to know why.
Why are so many capable women avoiding those high paying jobs? There are countless reasons, and multiple online threads attempting to convince me that women simply don’t want to do those jobs, that they aren’t that good at bargaining for a better wage. While some I deemed completely laughable, others seemed quite fitting. The actual fault can be traced to the psychological effects of living in a legacy of women being excluded from professional spaces in the modern world. And the one that hit close to home for me, was the concept of Imposter Syndrome.
So, what’s Imposter Syndrome?
Individuals who have Imposter Syndrome, “experience intense feelings that their achievements are undeserved and that they’re likely to be exposed as a fraud,” as written in a report created by the International Journal of Behavioral Science.
Mind you, this isn’t a gendered phenomenon. High achieving millennials and graduate students are plagued with this mindset no matter what gender they identify as. But it is inarguably and disproportionally afflicted by women – including myself.
My Experience with Imposter Syndrome
I found myself looking at the accounts written by female professionals, and connecting words that perfectly explained what I have been experiencing ever since I was a young adult. Like ever since I set foot on my university campus I have felt out of place amongst the academics and keeners who did everything on time and seemingly without flaw. Or when people offer me compliments, and tell me that I seem to have everything put together, I can’t agree with them. I immediately think of my messy room back home, the dirty dishes on my desk, and the piles of readings I have yet to finish.
In classrooms, where male students offer their opinions freely and confidently, I take time to repeat my answer over and over in my head until perfection, to the point where I still kind of stutter on my words, or the class has moved on to completely different discussion point.
I think about how social media has allowed me to curate a very edited version of myself; from the articles I share on Facebook, to the highly selective photos I’ve posted on my Instagram. Sometimes I am extremely thankful that I was born in an era where people can take a picture of themselves with the right lighting, angle, and dress so that those candids of double chins, belly bumps, or big foreheads don’t have to presented to the world. But then sometimes I scroll through my feed and feel like I’m lying to everyone. If one of those candids came to light, it isn’t that it’s an ugly representation of myself, but it’s actually the true version of myself.
There are even times where my friends send me links to entry-level summer jobs they think are a perfect fit, but I feel deep down there is a better candidate for those positions. So I don’t apply. I take away any chance of myself gaining more than minimum wage.
That, combined with my knack of belittling every achievement I have had, makes it seem like I simply have some poor self-esteem, except it feels like more than that.
It feels like I’ve built a small empire – of confidence, beauty, and success – on shaky infrastructure; a castle made of sand.
Why does it matter?
Imposter Syndrome is a complicated concept and it definitely cannot independently explain why women don’t allow themselves to go towards high paying careers. However, it should be examined much more than it is, when female law students, professors and CEOS “find innumerable means of negating any external evidence that contradicts their belief that they are, in reality, unintelligent.”
I do call on it when people condescendingly claim that the wage gap is a myth, or when people try to reason through that specific issue by explaining that women are just less ambitious. Both of those reasons are just examples of people attempting to continue the narrative that women are inferior.
I know I’m not. I know women aren’t, but I think we all have that voice in the back of our heads that makes us question our worth.
Back to the Wage Gap
While millionaire actresses and celebrities stand with signs in their hands about the wage gap, uneducated as to why it actually exists, it makes their fight seem unworthy, and often exasperating. Not only to they stand with misguided signs, but are probably standing next to images of pink vulvas with the thought that all women are connected by same genitalia, and not mention, are all probably white. These acts are excluding many people and specifically disregarding how the wage gap disproportionally affects women of colour.
It’s extremely difficult to live in a time where everyone feels like everyone else is living better. It’s also extremely difficult living in the legacy where women have been excluded from the work force and academic spaces. Hopefully, the end of that legacy is closer than we think.
It is important to note that issues such as these cannot only be explained with numbers. It the lived experience that should be taken to account as well.
And in the meantime, we should create a mantra when those dirty, little thoughts sneak into heads, repeating over and over, “I can, I can, I can.”
Just over a year ago, I read an article that changed my life.
Maria Yagoda, an author from The Atlantic, wrote about the generation of young women who have been living undiagnosed with ADHD. She explained that the disorder had been stereotyped, associated with the hyperactive young boys who disrupted elementary school classes. And the “women with the disorder tend to be less hyperactive and impulsive, more disorganized, scattered, forgetful, and introverted”, and they had been left wondering what was wrong with them.
Immediately, I was enamoured. My eyes were peeled to the screen, and I kept reading. It felt as though someone had been explaining exactly what I had been dealing ever since I could remember, and especially since I started University. And now, skipping to just over a year later, I’ve officially been diagnosed with ADHD.
The road to a diagnosis
Trust me, the process in being diagnosed was not easy. I spent the next few months letting the information sink in and wondered if I actually wanted to be tested. Why would when I had already managed to live an exceptional life without one?
But then I realized I wasn’t… not technically.
In Elementary school I blended in with the other kids who didn’t focus, drawing when I wasn’t supposed to, but never disrupting the class. My lack of responsibilities in my youth let me live carefree.
At home, my mother and I fell into arguments about daily tasks that she would remind me in numerous ways at the beginning of each day. Simple chores like unloading the dishwasher or putting my clothes away, would slip my mind by the time I got home from school. She thought I was entitled, and that I didn’t appreciate the life she had given me. It was hard to explain that small domestic tasks were something that did not come to me naturally, that forgetting was not something I intended to do.
High school was a solid four years of disengagement. At school, I would need more than both hands to count the times I was told by teachers that I would truly succeed, that I would excel, if I just focused. I sat at the back of class, doodling in the margins of my notebook or staring out a window twirling my hair, only looking up when my name was called or times when there was a discussion that sparked my interest. I left everything to the last minute but somehow managed to pull off straight A’s.
In University, I brought the same work ethic, but not the A’s.
I quickly realized I couldn’t write ten page papers worth thirty percent of my mark in one night – especially when I hadn’t done any of the mandatory, and tedious, readings.
The extremely structured schedule I cursed in high school was something I dreamed of having once again. Nothing was grounding me, and in the time that seemed free to use at my will was disposed of by wasting it.
My habit of hair twirling used to be cute, it was something I’d do when I was lost in thought and on the brink of sleep. Now, it transformed into something that I did compulsively, and obsessively. Something that people would stare at when we were conversing, or even told to stop doing at dinner tables, but a few short moments later my hands would crawl up and start twisting and pulling at that one unfortunate strand of hair.
The most frequent occurrence was when my mind drifted in the midst of conversations with professionals and friends. Staring them dead in the eye, nodding, irrelevant thoughts came to to the surface and suddenly the other person sounded like Charlie Brown’s parents. Then, they’d stop and I’d smile and nod as though I heard everything they were saying.
As a result of my inattentiveness, I was given the title of a bad listener, of not caring, of being irresponsible. My grades dropped to C’s and I gave off the impression of being apathetic, neglecting to remember coffee dates or birthdays, or important pieces of information. My undiagnosed ADHD symptoms were clouds, like overcast in my adolescence, and brewed into a storm in my early adulthood.
So no, to answer my earlier question, my life and my habits were not exceptional. For the life I wanted to live, and for everything I wanted to achieve in life, I needed the diagnosis.
The cost of a diagnosis
In the cold, desolate months of the Ottawa winter, my third year of University came to a predictable halt. Seasonal depression hit me like a brick amongst the impending stream of research essays, double digit negative weather, and the uploading of grades that really did not seem to match my level of my intelligence.
I found myself stuck, just like the last two years of school, wondering what the hell was wrong with me.
I watched my friends and peers, with equal drive and ambition, start assignments, go to work on time, and balance their busy social life with punctuality and a “just do it” mentality.
Why couldn’t I just do it?
I laid in my bed, staring across the room at an unopened text book and a Word document with one finished sentence out of a ten-page paper that was due the following day. Next to it, was even more work, dirty dishes, and a pile of laundry that grew and grew with each following week.
It’s hard to explain how it feels living in a vicious cycle of inattentiveness. While there were other factors in my life that caused depression, there had always been a connection to its consistent arrival in the winter of each year, and my inability to achieve the success I wanted in all areas of my life.
It’s even harder to explain what I was experiencing to a medical professional, in the latest hours a clinic that was opened on a Saturday night.
That one, I think I might have ADHD.
And two, I’m depressed.
To which, the white haired man in a matching lab coat scoffed and said the two could never correlated. He scrawled a referral to a psychologist anyway, but it was only for depression.
I left that clinic feeling invalidated and angry, it almost stopped me from taking the next steps I needed. I was incredibly desperate for an answer, and some help, but all he gave me was condescension.
However, I went from referral to referral, using also my University’s tactless resources, and found myself in a place that seemed promising
The cost of ADHD is a shit ton of patience, people not believing you, six hours of strenuous psychological testing, a cheque with a price that I curse.
On May 4th 2017, I was handed some papers with my diagnosis. So, I guess it was worth it.
How can a piece of paper change one’s life?
A piece of paper didn’t change my life, at least it hasn’t yet.
It’s been over a week since my last appointment, and there are still countless steps that I need to take to get back on track.
While I live in a world that has a ticking clock for everything, I’m a twenty year old woman and I have to remind myself that I have time to figure everything out. It’s a world that define’s ones worth by their productivity, I hope to be patient as I work through habits built over a lifetime, and to know that, for know, its okay to just be okay.
I also have to remind myself that the diagnosis isn’t an excuse, and it doesn’t define me. It’s just a part of me, small but impactful on myself and other people in my life.
But I’ll just end for now by saying this: If you feel as though there is a barricade blocking you from the life you want to live, look into it no matter what it maybe. And for others, listen to them, and don’t invalidate the barricade’s existence.
~P.S. If you, or someone you know, has experienced similar things, here’s a link with more information ~
A writer’s job is to create characters and worlds that are inspired by the world they live in; to delve into the mind and see how their cogs and gears turn. It’s a naturally empathetic hobby. But how do these ideas mesh in our world which is so upturned by issues like identity politics, or high tensioned racial disparities? How can a middle aged woman get into the mind of a young boy in a wizarding world? And how could a white man get into the mind of a black woman residing in the south side of Chicago?
Growing up, I’d always work on these impressively complicated soap opera-like plots in worlds that were even more complicated. I’d make these characters that were so deeply thought out they seemed like my friends. But in my teenage years I realized that all of the stories and people I created were white. And by white I mean incredibly White.
YA and its obsession with paleness
In Twilight, Stephanie Meyer found every way to describe Edward’s deathly pale skin, and I found it really interesting for some reason. It found its way into my own writing, describing characters from translucent pale, to peachy, and sometimes tan.
Hermione Granger being described in the Philosopher’s Stone as having: “lots of bushy brown hair, and rather large front teeth”, led a generation of young women of colour to rightfully assume that she probably looked like them. As a reader, I would read of how every character was described, and despite lacking descriptions of skin colour or race, I’d almost always assumed they were white.
Diversifying my own writing
As a writer and and a reader I began to challenge myself. I wanted to diversify the worlds I was creating and reading. For the latter, it wasn’t hard. While reading the Hunger Games it seemed positively certain to me that Katniss was supposed to be a woman of colour with black hair, grey eyes and olive toned skin. However, for writing it was much more difficult.
It’s not so much that I was forcing myself to create diversity in my own writing, I was actually keen on creating stories that diverged from the majority of fiction, television and film that were white. I wanted the stories to reflect my own life and my own friends that had changed when I moved to a larger and more diverse city. But I realized I was breaching into territory that was not my own.
Much like formative years, I was creating stories and worlds that were incredibly endeavouring. I was trying to write stories about people from walks of life and from perspectives I couldn’t actually fathom. Some people’s lives, real or not, take more than the imagination.
When writing in the first person perspective, one has to have confidence in what they’re narrating. They have to do their research. But how can someone like me research the lived experience of a black man, a muslim woman, or a transgender teen?
The answer is, I don’t think I can. It’s just not my place.
So… what’s the solution?
White people just can’t write in the perspectives of people that don’t look like them? I’m not sure if that makes sense. The lack of diversity in the world of fiction, on screen and off, is a problem. Encouraging a white-dominated field to only write within their demographic would create a bigger divide and even less representation.
Third person is a great compromise; writing as spectator, as someone watching but not entirely knowing.
But most importantly, it’s not about encouraging the white dominated field of fiction to diversify their protagonists, but to encourage more people of colour to write their own stories, and for them to create their own characters and worlds that are inspired by the realities they live in.
Empathy in Readers
A Cambridge University study by Maria Nikolajeva, professor of education, said that: “reading fiction provides an excellent training for young people in developing and practising empathy and theory of mind, that is, understanding of how other people feel and think”.
I credit my knack of reading from an early age to my ability to effectively empathize. One is stepping into another’s shoes when they read from another person’s perspective. It comes to no surprise that the people who read on their free time in their formative years ended up following movements like feminism, and stay attuned to other similar social issues.
By encouraging people of colour to write, it will open the doors to many people to see new realities, characters, and stories, and develop an even more empathetic readership.
As for myself, I recommend Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and perhaps even add these to your summer reading list.