Catching Up!

Dear Ceanray,

What do you want to do next year?

Being a senior student in high school, I’m asked this question on a regular basis. It seems that everyone I meet, from my dentist to my friend’s parents, is curious about my future. I don’t mind answering the question, because I know what I want to do next year. I know what university I want to attend, what program I want to take, and what I want to do after I graduate. I also know, though, that many teenagers have no clue what they want to do after high school – so for them, this question can be tricky.

American poet Mary Oliver poses the question in a different way, one I actually prefer: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” If someone asked me this, the first words out of my mouth wouldn’t be the school I’m going to attend, or the subjects I’m going to study. I’d eventually explain my career aspirations, but I would start by talking about my hopes and dreams. I’d say that I want to meet new people and see new places; that I want to write and publish books, not necessarily as a career but for fun; and that I want to address inequalities in the world and make a positive difference in the lives of others.

I’m extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to further my education. However, education – at least in a formal sense – is only one aspect of my wild and precious life. It’s the aspect that many people choose to focus on, and ask me about: and it’s the one that I see many of my peers at school stressing out about. The imminent unknown of the future is scary, certainly, and being constantly questioned about it doesn’t help. But you can feel slightly less stressed by deferring to the second aforementioned question. What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Life truly is wild and precious – and we only get one chance at it. Use your one life to get educated, and to find something you love and make it your career if you’re able to, but don’t forget to make a life outside of school. Think about the things you want to accomplish over the course of your life, education-related and otherwise, and dedicate yourself to making those things happen.

What do I want to do next year?

I want to go to university to pursue a career in journalism: that’s the answer people expect me to give. But my more detailed answer? I want to go to university and pursue a career in journalism so that I can make the most of my one wild and precious life, while achieving the goals I stated earlier in my letter. When you think of the question in a broader sense, it seems a bit less daunting and a whole lot more exciting.

Here’s to our futures!

Sherina

 

Dear Sherina,

I can’t wait to see how your wild and exciting future turns out, which brings me to what I’d like to discuss with you: The fact is that in today’s day and age, everyone has access to instant information. Is this a blessing or a curse? We’ll see. In the meantime, it means is that information that might not have otherwise been widely known, is. This also means that misinformation can spread like wildfire – and often, it does.

A few days ago, an image which depicts dozens of dead bodies began to circulate among several of my social media ‘friends’.. The caption for the photo was something along the lines of “86 killed in Nigeria and Western media isn’t reporting it. Share to show that you care.” As it turns out, the photo was not current nor was it taken in Nigeria. It was taken in the aftermath of a gas tanker explosion in the Congo in 2010. It was, evidently, a tragedy and may those shown in the photograph rest in peace.

However, the danger here is that anyone can take an image and manipulate it to fit their desired narrative. When this is shared a million times, you have a legion of people angry that 86 Nigerians were killed and no one took notice. These people, who would be justified in their anger if this were in fact true, trusted the individual who posted the image. Most did not bother to authenticate the image for themselves – and herein lies the modern dilemma of instant news.

Now, more than ever, we need reliable sources of information. In a world that is evolving at every turn, we must know where we stand in the midst of it all. The news media cannot have their own ideological agenda that they feel obligated to advance at every possible opportunity. Although I am Canadian, I’ve been following the American presidential nominee race on both sides. I am routinely put off my media outlets with evident political bias, whether it be rooted in the political left or the political right.

Journalists have an obligation to be unbiased and critical for the sole purpose of informing the public, thereby enabling the public to make informed decisions for themselves.

As for your question – I would like to work in government because I strongly believe in its power to be a positive force in people’s lives. I sincerely hope that I will one day earn the opportunity to do this.

Ceanray

 

 

Formation

Dear Sherina,

You know as well as I do that I’m not really a sports person. I did, however, tune into the Superbowl halftime show last week. I thought that Beyonce’s performance was pretty standard for what you can usually expect from her. It seems some people thought otherwise. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani dismissed it as being anti-law enforcement. While I did notice the definite black empowerment theme of her performance, I certainly didn’t find it to be anti-police.

I was intrigued by his comments and by the comments of others who thought Beyonce took things too far, so I decided to watch the music video for the song behind the controversy, ‘Formation’. As a Beyonce fan I may be a little biased, but I thought the video was phenomenal. At first glance, the viewer definitely takes note of the subtle themes being explored while she sings “I just might be a black Bill Gates in the making”. After watching it several times, I had a page full of notes on what I took from the video. She managed to get several themes across; let me explore a few.

The video opens with her standing atop a New Orleans police cruiser sinking in a flood of water, while a voice says “what happened after New Orleans?” The video further explores treatment of African-Americans, black culture and police brutality. Beyonce’s own southern ancestry is explored through an African-American lens – something we don’t often see. Afros are celebrated as well; the vast majority of the women shown have one.

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At the end of the video we see a young African-American boy in a hoodie dancing in front of police officers. This could be interpreted as a reference to the death of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. If there were any doubts about one of the themes of the video, a shot of a graffitied wall which reads “STOP SHOOTING US” pretty much clears them up. The video ends with a shot of Beyonce drowning on top of the same New Orleans police cruiser shown at the beginning.

A lot of folks were upset that Beyonce chose the Superbowl, which is a “family show” to share her message. Many are upset that she even released the video at all. “Why does everything have to be so political?” They ask. I urge those people to keep this in mind; according to The Guardian, unarmed black people are twice as likely to be killed by law enforcement as unarmed white people in the U.S.

No one is saying that all law enforcement officials are bad, because they aren’t. They are the ones who put their lives on the line to keep us safe and we are eternally grateful for it. However, the fact that black people are disproportionately affected by police brutality still needs to be addressed and an event that was watched by an average of 111.9 million people seems to be a good place to start.

There were many who felt uncomfortable after hearing this song and watching the video. In my opinion, that’s a good thing. Change is never comfortable.

What were your thoughts after watching ‘Formation’?

Ceanray

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Dear Ceanray,

I am also not a sports person. In fact, a day after the Superbowl, one of my friends mentioned the Denver Broncos and I said that they weren’t in the superbowl at all (when they actually won it). I digress… I did not watch the Superbowl, nor the halftime performances. I did, however, hear quite a bit about the show – specifically, Beyonce’s performance.

Many people praised her performance, pulling out the crown emoji because she is #QueenBey; but many others, as you said, thought she took things too far. People who believed her performance was racist protested outside the NFL headquarters, and took to social media to share their disdain for Beyonce. Was their disdain justified? I, like you, don’t believe it was.

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I watched Beyonce’s performance on YouTube and read through the lyrics of Formation, and I couldn’t see what came across as “racist” or “anti-police”. The song is about a serious issue, and that many people choose to remain ignorant of that issue is frightening. There are, as you mention, a disproportionate number of black people killed by police officers. I don’t know how anyone could look at the statistics and evidence and not come to the conclusion that something needs to change.

Part of the problem, I think, is that too often people equate fighting for black rights to being against white people. Some people try to change #BlackLivesMatter to #AllLivesMatter. All lives do matter, but that’s not the point of the hashtag. The point is that black people have been seriously oppressed throughout history and still face inequities today.

I completely agree with you: change is not comfortable. People are entitled to their opinions – and when the topic is Beyonce, there are lots. However, I believe it is important to look not at what is a comfortable, convenient opinion but what is actually a truthful reflection of the dire needs of a marginalized group in society.

I applaud Beyonce for using the platform of the Superbowl (and her signature dance moves) to speak out about police brutality and black culture. On behalf of Beyonce fans everywhere, let’s get in formation and take a stand.

Sherina

Never Suppress a Generous Thought

Dear Ceanray,

The other day at school I paid for my lunch with two five dollar bills. The total of my food was $9.10, so this wasn’t unusual. What was unusual was what happened after the women at the cash register asked me if I had a dime. I was sure I did – I always have an abundance of change in my wallet – so I told her I would check and see.

My hands were full with my food, so it was difficult for me to maneuver what I was holding in order to open my wallet. When I finally did reach it, there was no need – the girl in line behind me had given the cashier a dime. I was completely taken aback by her act of kindness. I found a dime in my wallet, and tried to repay her with it, but she insisted that I keep it.

Even now as I type this, I can’t get over how kind that simple act was. It didn’t take much effort on her part, but her humility in refusing my dime (worth only ten cents, but still) struck me as incredibly generous. In an age where bad news seems to be everywhere, it is amazing to experience positivity.

One of my favourite quotes is, “Never suppress a generous thought.” I love this quote because of the simple reminder it gives, and also because it highlights the unfortunate fact that sometimes we do suppress our generous thoughts.

If the girl in line behind me in my school cafeteria had suppressed the generous thought she had, the consequences wouldn’t have been dire. I would have found my dime, paid with it, and been on my merry way. However, the fact that the stakes weren’t high and she still acted on her generous thought says a lot about her character.

Our world can be very cruel, but every so often we are touched by kindness and our faith is restored. Because of that one girl’s simple action, I am inspired to act on my own generous thoughts and be that person for someone else. If we don’t suppress our kind thoughts, we can create a ripple of positivity.
Sherina

 

Dear Sherina,

I love that quote,  “Never suppress a generous thought”. This is important for us to remember, especially given the events of this past week. When I heard about the terrorist attacks in Paris, my first reaction was anger. The people who lost their lives were innocent, all they wanted to do was to enjoy a concert or get a bite to eat. They were not soldiers, nor high-ranking government officials. What did they do to deserve this?

After hearing about Paris, I then saw the news about a suicide bomber in Lebanon and yesterday, the hostage situation in Mali. With everything that’s going on in the world, it’s important not to lose hope, and to acknowledge the brighter side of humanity.

In everyday life, simple acts of kindness are underrated and, more often than not, cost nothing. Don’t underestimate the power of asking someone how their day was, or how work went. If someone looks sad or unhappy, asking if they’re feeling okay can make a difference – even if they don’t want to share what’s causing their sadness –  it’s reassuring to know someone cares.

I’m a firm believer in leaving the world a better place than it was when you got here, whether that means volunteering at your local animal shelter, food bank or senior’s home. It could also mean getting involved in the issues you’re passionate about. Even the smallest impact on another person’s life can make a profound impact.

Ceanray

Happy Birthday Sherina!

As I’m sure some of you will notice, I’m not Sherina. My name is Caliesha and I’m her younger sister. Ceanray and I have decided that we wanted to write a special post this week to celebrate Sherina’s birthday. Hope its a good one, Sis!

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Dear Ceanray,

When I think of Sherina, I think of a beautiful young woman who is an excellent writer and a fabulous big sister. She is determined in everything she does, and is usually quite successful. One of these things was starting a blog. I remember when she first started her personal blog, as well as this one. I am so proud of how far the blog has come and how passionate she still is about it. Her first newspaper article was in sixth grade and I’ve known since that day that she was born to be writing.

I also appreciate how easy going Sherina is. From time to time, we have been known to engage in literary arguments (because who doesn’t?). None of these arguments last, since she is always willing to accept that I’m right (just kidding) and move on. But seriously, she is always willing to overlook any spats we might have had and just accept that people have different opinions. Chances are we’ll be back in talking about Harry Potter conspiracies minutes later.

Sometimes I think my sister must be psychic. No matter the situation, she always seems to understand the point I’m trying to make. In other words, she gets me. Not that I’m a difficult person to understand per se, but it only takes a few words and some meaningful glances for Sherina to know everything I’m thinking. She’s also an incredible listener. As someone who likes to ramble on about books and bands a lot, I’m surprised she can stand me. Or maybe shes just good at hiding it. Either way, thanks for listening Sher!

If you’re reading this, I want to wish you a happy birthday and thank you for everything.

Lots of Love,

Caliesha

Dear Caliesha,

First of all, let me say that you and Sherina are the cutest sisters – ever. It’s as if the two of you are on the same wavelength.

Many things come to mind when I think of Sherina, her intelligence, sense of humour and fierce determination chiefly among them. I also feel a kinship to her because she’s just as as accident-prone as I am.

Remember last summer when she couldn’t hear properly for two weeks? We had done so many pool handstands that her ears became almost completely blocked. Over those two weeks, talking to Sherina usually consisted of her politely nodding as you spoke because she had no idea what you were saying. Alternatively, you would be greeted with “WHAAAT?” or “I’m sorry, I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” Patience is a virtue, one that she most certainly has been blessed with.

She must be tired of hearing this by now, but she is probably one of the smartest people I know. I also agree with her on just about every social and political issue under the sun. She is already a devoted sister, daughter, cousin and feminist.There isn’t a doubt in my mind that she’ll become a wildly successful journalist.

I don’t know what I’d do without her. She understands me better than most people and I’m eternally grateful for that, and her. Both of you are more like sisters to me than cousins, and we’re pretty lucky that we have someone like Sher looking out for us.

Ceanray

P.S. I would just like to add that this post was Caliesha’s idea and that she is a pretty amazing person as well. 🙂

On Keeping a Positive Perspective

Dear Ceanray,

“We can’t see the world through someone else’s eyes,” explains Laura Oliver in her writing advice book The Story Within as she is describing an essay by Scott Russell Sanders in which he tries to show his son constellations in the sky and realizes he can only point to the stars, but his son can’t see the constellation from his fathers eyes.

"You can't make someone see the world through your eyes."

“You can’t make someone see the world through your eyes.”

I have experienced this so many times, as I’m sure you have too – trying to help a friend see the bright side, only to realize that as hard as you try your words can’t make someone else see the world from your eyes.

You and I are pretty optimistic people – we see on the bright side most of the time, and generally speaking we are fairly happy. So it’s incredibly frustrating to encounter people who pessimistic and upset and not be able to help them, because they can’t see things through your eyes. That doesn’t stop us from trying, though.

I like to think that this blog is a way of us exuding positivity into the world. Even though we often blog about topics that cause unhappiness – gender inequality, racism – we try to keep an optimistic perspective, one of hope that things will get better and that the world will be changed for the better.

We can’t make people see the world through our eyes – maybe we can make them see it through our words, instead. A few positive words can be enough to spark an entire movement of change; let’s keep sparking the movement!

Sherina


Dear Sherina,

I agree, although we often write about topics that can be disheartening; we are both optimistic. In order to spread positivity we must first find it within ourselves to be positive, unhappiness is crippling and destructive in all aspects of life.

I used to be a very unhappy person, and it took me awhile to realize that there is much more to be happy about than to be sad about. Take pleasure in finding the little things that brighten your day – before long, you’ll find yourself lighting up someone else’s day as well.

Although it can be disenchanting to be confronted with adversity that may affect what you want to achieve, consider this; can you imagine what our world would be like if the pioneers of the women’s suffrage movement had given up every time they were told that women would never be able to vote? Can you imagine what would’ve happened if Martin Luther King Jr. had decided that people of colour would never be equal to whites in America, so what’s the point in trying?

I thought I’d share with you one of my absolute favourite quotes by Anna Quindlen; After all those years as a woman hearing ‘not thin enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough, not this enough, not that enough,’ almost overnight I woke up one morning and thought, ‘I’m enough’.

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You are enough, and we are all enough. Let’s continue to spread positivity!

Ceanray

Fabletters on Body Image: Part One

Dear Sherina,

As young women, you and I are both well aware of the pressure that is placed on us to look a certain way. Body image is an integral part of our lives and how we view ourselves. We live in a consumer culture that wants us to be insecure about our looks, so we’re enticed to purchase products that will supposedly help us feel better about ourselves.

This is a topic that hits close to home for me, as I have struggled with body image and disordered eating since I was ten years old. Growing up, I was similar in size and shape compared to most of my friends. However around the age of thirteen,  I grew five inches in the span of six months and began to notice changes in my body that were scary albeit completely natural for someone my age. I became extraordinarily self conscious when I had to start wearing women’s sizes because kid’s clothes no longer fit me.

The girls I watched religiously on television all seemed to look the same way – petite and slender, and I thought there was something wrong with me because my body looked nothing like theirs. A toxic cycle of not eating enough/ eating far too much consumed my preteen and early teenage years.

It took me awhile to realize I was not the only one who felt this way about my body. One of my close friends revealed to me that she was also suffering from an eating disorder. I was shocked — how could this skinny fit friend of mine possibly hate how she looked?

“My hips are too wide”, she told me “I can pinch the fat on my arms and stomach”.

Although we bared little physical resemblance, we had both been trapped in a seemingly endless web of self-hatred and guilt.

The first time I began to form a positive image of myself was about a year ago — and it didn’t come from losing weight. I joined a gym and started exercising regularly, it wasn’t until I started conquering my fitness goals that I realised my body had a purpose that wasn’t purely superficial.

I soon realized that everyone looks different and is built in different ways. If we all looked the same, that would be dreadfully boring and ultimately unfulfilling. Once I stopped comparing myself to others, I became my own biggest competitor in a positive and life changing way.

The scary part is that my story is not unique. A recent study conducted by Dove noted that 40% of girls between first and third grade wish to be thinner. I fear that I may one day have a daughter who feels the way I once did (and still sometimes do). Young girls should be worried about who they’re going to play with after school – not how much they weigh.

What do you think?

Ceanray