So, York Students, do we have any hindsight yet?

Are you still fuming about being "York'd"?

Are you still fuming about being "York'd"?

Now that the “Winter Semester” has finally ended, the widespread animosity at York University seems to have dissipated…a bit. Yes, having our school year extended into the summer months has been painful—especially for the professors who are still bitterly reading our bitterly-written assignments—and we must all lament the fact that finger-pointing became the new hand-shaking on campus. Still, now that we’re free, perhaps this article I co-wrote in March will be well-received. In it, Andrew and I re-examine the 11-week strike of 2001 and interview those affected in order to benefit from their hindsight. Although our own strike lasted 2 weeks longer than did theirs, let’s try to imagine what we will feel in the not-so-distant future.

Back to the Future||Your Thoughts on the York University Strike Seven Years from now?


Siobheann Leahy still remembers feeling guilty as she stepped off of the bus and looked toward the picket lines. Head down, she walked in the direction of the Seymour Schulich Building, an oasis of activity on a largely dormant campus. During the 2001 strike, Leahy was in her first year of a Bachelor of Business Administration, one of the few programs that continued even as the strike dragged on.

“I was in a conflicted position,” recalls Leahy, “It was an awful feeling, crossing people who were standing up for their rights.”

Jessica Shumake might have been one of those people. During the 2001 strike, Shumake was a first year PhD student in the department of Philosophy, a teaching assistant, and a fervent member of CUPE 3903. Nearly seven years after the fact, she still thinks about the eleven-week strike.

“That strike marked the first moment I began to think of myself as an activist. Graduate school can feel really individualistic and competitive,” said Shumake, “It was powerful to learn that I could put my energy into collective action with the same intensity that I could my academic research and professional goals.”

Nevertheless, the exuberance of the critical mass, as it were, did not come without a price.

Continue reading

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For the Love of Hello Kitty

Michael Whealen, a brilliant and unorthodox York University faculty member, suffered a fatal heart attack in early March. Days passed before his body was discovered. Due to the delay, York did not lower its flag to half-mast until Friday the 13th–a freaky fluke that Whealen would have relished.
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If you think this is inappropriate, you didn't know Mike Whealen

If you think this is inappropriate, you didn't know Mike Whealen

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On Monday March 30th
, I stared at the kaleidoscopic ceiling of the chapel in Scott Religious Centre. Although the memorial service for Michael Whealen had yet to begin, it already seemed too quiet, too conventional, for a man who had been anything but. A small picture frame at the front of the room, leaning against a potted plant, served as the simple indicator that, yes, mourners had come to the right place. Like the man himself, the set-up was deceptively humble.

Whealen was a fascinating person. During his 57 years of life, the waif-like teacher with the foghorn voice had survived impossible ordeals. For instance, he narrowly escaped a fiery death in his father’s home and, after being rescued by firefighters, he was nursed back to health with experimental drugs. There was even a time during which Whealen had lived on the street. Perhaps more widely known, however, was Whealen’s uncanny love for the Japanese icon Hello Kitty, or his habit of blasting rap music from his office on quiet Friday afternoons.

Although he was the incisive son of a Harvard-educated journalist, Whealen could not boast a doctorate or a six-figure income. The childless divorcee was no stranger to the life of a vagabond, an iconoclastic existence that refused to apologize for itself.

While waiting, I wondered if I should have worn a Hello Kitty t-shirt instead of a sombre and professional outfit.

As apparent strangers trickled into the room, I wondered who each might be: A former student? A co-worker? An estranged family member? Some exchanged glances of familiarity, but most looked like they had come alone. At first it wasn’t even clear who would preside over the ceremony.

An Anglican Bishop sat in the front row, wearing his holy garbs and waiting patiently. Nearby, a gawky girl with porcelain-white skin and ink-black hair slumped forward, reading something on her lap. Near the back of the room sat a Whealen-look-alike, but with a more youthful air and the posture of a salesman.

Finally, James Robertson–a fellow staffer at York’s Centre for Academic Writing–emerged from the periphery and stood behind the podium. Right away, he acknowledged the irony of celebrating Whealen’s unorthodox life in a religious centre.

“Michael was often, well, vulgar. He questioned everything, often joking about wearing a tin-foil has so that the government couldn’t read his thoughts,” he said.

Indeed, Robertson later informed me that he used the word “vulgar” intently. The origin of the word is deeply class-based, referring to the “common people” that would routinely offend the sensibilities of the bourgeois. Whealen didn’t like hypocrisy or pretence.

“I think Michael took pleasure in being profane,” he said. Audience members nodded and smiled.

Robertson went on to admit that he’d been quite surprised to learn of Whealen’s Anglican roots–he had come from a lineage of priests–and that Bishop Arthur Brown wanted to say a few words at Michael’s memorial.

Minutes later, the elderly bishop rested his weight on the handles of his four-wheeled walker. Taking a decidedly less-ceremonious and more-conversational tone, it seemed the clergyman was no stranger to Whealen’s antics.

“Michael comes from the Hebrew Micael which means ‘resembling God’. He’s also the archangel who got Lucifer out of heaven.” He paused, then continued with a twinkle in his eye, “But I guess he would have had to get to know Lucifer quite well to manage that.” More smiles. More nods.

Whealen was full of such contradictions.

In an article for Arts & Opinion, an online magazine based in Montreal, Whealen once wrote of “danc[ing] on the razor-fine edge between life and death, sanity and madness, acuity and hallucination, historical fiction and facticity.”

In this vein, Matt Pfaff, described Whealen at the memorial as a man with the physique of Skeletor and the wit of Hunter S. Thompson. In a further allusion to Thompson–a journalist known for his cheeky disregard for authority–Pfaff referred to his email exchanges with Whealen as “The Gonzo files.”

I thought about the fact that I almost didn’t make it to the ceremony. I hadn’t recieved an email from my department. I hadn’t heard through word-of-mouth. Actually, I’d almost missed the sidebar about Whealen’s passing in our school newspaper, Excalibur. In the article, Carl Hiehn quoted Robertson in saying, “[Whealen] was a person of the people rather than a person of the academy […] it was Whealen’s unique position as an outsider that made him accessible to those York students who also feel outside academia.”

The pale girl was suddenly summoned to the podium. She’d scooped up the paper she’d been reading and walked slowly to the front of the chapel. As she read her speech, eyes lowered, I noticed her outfit, as black as her hair, and her knee-high leather boots. She has a soft accent that I could not place.

“I failed Michael’s class” she confessed, immediately locating herself as an academic outsider. “But if it wasn’t for Michael, I may not be here today.” The room was still. She then smiled as she read an email from him “He said he’d be ready to go after seeing a black man elected president.”

It was one of Whealen’s most interesting tendencies to perpetually reflect on life and death. Somewhere in the middle of his article for Arts and Opinions, Whealen embarked on a clearly demarcated “excursus.” His words are intriguing enough as to quote him at length:

“We are stuck here on this godforsaken stage (Isaiah Berlin called Earth the “insane asylum of the universe”), and forced into these outrageous roles by [. . .] the fortuity of our birth, and the inevitability of our death. This is, I think, the bare ontology of the world [. . . that we . . .] all inhabit, and must negotiate. Dreams are dead. The landscape is littered with bones; the earth, drenched with blood.”

But Whealen wasn’t necessarily pessimistic, nor was his humour always dark. His friends described his generosity, his kindness, his playfulness. Robertson reminisced about the small Hello Kitty figurine that Whealen had placed in his office. “This is a mini cam, a vigilante that will watch you when I’m not around.” Again, the mourners smiled to themselves.

What had started as a conventional memorial began showing signs of the cheeky nuances that Whealen would have loved. Patrick O’Neill played an acoustic tribute on his guitar, including a chorus line that went, “It’s a wonder the wind don’t blow off your skin.”

Another colleague, Phyllis Rozendale, offered the attendees Godiva chocolate, a treat which Whealen used to buy en masse from a “secret supplier”. Although there were tears, there were many more grins. The Whealen-look-alike, who turned out to be his brother Bryan, looked nostalgic and contented. There was something more than mourning in the air–perhaps it was exuberance.

After the ceremony, I searched my inbox for my own email exchanges with Whealen. Ironically, our last set bore the subject line “Alive and Well.” In one of his messages, he shared this poem with me:

“The is a little-known poem by the 20th Century Boston poet Robert Lowell that, in part, goes:

Weep (It is frequent in human affairs)
Weep for the magnificence of the means
And the pathetic, shabby tragedy of the ends.”

The flag that had flown at half-mast couldn’t tell passers-by who Whealen had been. Upon questioning, most students who had known him admitted they didn’t know he had passed. He had no children, and no lavish inheritance to forward. His characteristic tremor had simply stopped one day in his downtown Toronto residence, marking a humble end to a fascinating story.

Want to read some of Whealen’s own words? Check out the addendum to this post: Whealen’s Witticisms

You are not a Special Snowflake

 

Hold your head high ... but don't forget to mind your step. (Photo by my sister Beatrice)

special

When our boomer parents decided that we should never feel bad about ourselves, did they do us a disservice?

 

We, the youth of today, have been raised on a steady diet of self-esteem supplements and ‘you-can-do-it’ rhetoric.

Since childhood, we’ve been told that we need only believe in ourselves, like the-little-engine-that-could, in order to reach the top of any mountain. We’ve collected gold stickers and decorated name cards, watched feel-good movies and expressed ourselves in crayon. It was the stuff of dreams.

Now, several of us are twenty-something and trying to thrive in the real world–a world that doesn’t always cash the cheques of our childhood reveries. Many of us are seeing a divide between our dreams–the beautiful home, the great career, the meaningful relationship–and our nightmares–mounting debt, a competitive job market, a high divorce rate.

We are left negotiating between our brightest hopes and our biggest fears.

But before I get ahead of myself, I should outline who I mean by “we.” If you grew up in North America during the 80s and early 90s, you can count yourself in. We are Generation Y, also known as the echo-boom, iGeneration, and the millennials.

Although social trends are always complicated at the ground level, a growing body of research is making some interesting generalizations about our particular cluster. The very titles of several texts are suggestive of the way we’re being perceived: You Raised Them, Now Manage Them (Fortune Magazine), Ready or Not, Here Come the Net Kids (Workforce), Generation Y’s Goal? Wealth and Fame (USA Today).

The implicit message: brace yourself world; these kids are expecting you to provide the goods.

In the New Jersey Law Journal, Tricia Kasting says Gen Yers place heavy emphasis on our interpersonal connections, our achievements, and our need for constant stimulation. She describes us as ‘special’, in that we have been told that we are all our lives; ‘sheltered’, in that we have led relatively protected and highly structured lives; and ‘confident’, in that we expect good news and believe in ourselves.

Bruce Tulgan affirms Kasting’s statements in a more hard-hitting fashion. His organization, RainmakerThinking Inc., hinges on the understanding of young people and generational differences. According to him:

“Gen Y has been pampered, nurtured and programmed with a slew of activities since they were toddlers, meaning they are both high-performance and high-maintenance […they are also] much less likely to respond to the traditional command-and-control type of management still popular in much of today’s workforce”.

High maintenance? Are we really?

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high on life

Well, we are the children that challenge our parents, not accepting “because I said so” as a final answer. We are the students that question our teachers and have the audacity to barter for A’s. We are the new employees who push the limits of dress code, valuing our personal comfort over formality. What’s wrong with that? We’re just trying to speak our minds, love ourselves, do our own thang and pursue our dreams. We are young, ambitious and ready to collect. Right?

Well, whether or not all of this applies to you, the point is that it is much more widespread than ever before. Many claim the exception has become the rule. But how did it get this way?

Explaining the socio-cultural influences that shape entire generations is nothing if not daunting; however, I’d like to touch on two of the commonly cited forces: our educational system and our media influences.

Dr. Jean Twenge dedicates great portions of her 242-page book to discussing these factors; a book which is provocatively titled “Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled-and More Miserable than Ever Before.”Although her data is mostly American, she states, “many of the changes here can be generalized […] particularly [to] other Western Nations such as Canada…”.

Twenge asserts that our upbringing was not accidental. Beginning in 1980, “there was a pervasive, society-wide effort to increase children’s self-esteem. [Boomer Parents] apparently decided that children should always feel good about themselves.”

Such a focus gave way to a curriculum which placed unprecedented importance on self-esteem and self-expression — as opposed to stressing other principles like obedience, hard-work and respect for authority. Self esteem has become widely institutionalized, even mandated in school mission statements, thus moving it past something that is encouraged to something that is taught, ingrained and even required. I fell victim to one such requirement in seventh grade, when Mrs. Petrinov assigned a poem with only one stipulation; it had to begin, “Mirror mirror on the wall, I’m the greatest one of all.”

Couple this kind of pedagogy with a media environment that doesn’t exactly encourage altruism and you get a potent blend.

Sut Jhally- Executive Director of the Media Education Foundation-asserts that we live in an individualistic consumer culture and, as such, the vast majority of messages we hear treat us as individuals living here right now. These messages require us to narrow our thought parameters and focus on our personal affairs–what some refer to as having market mentalities. This statement is not very avant-garde to a generation that has grown up with these kinds of messages. We are used to advertisers bypassing our parents and marketing to us directly.

What happens if we don’t get our way?

The flip side of being too high on ourselves when we succeed is that we are also too hard on ourselves when we fail.

But couldn’t one argue that knowing what we want, having a high self-esteem and focusing on ourselves are just our driving forces? If we’re so confident, won’t we do better in  the long run?

Well, this is where we must factor in the other part of the equation. As Twenge notes, the flip side of being too high on ourselves when we succeed is that we are also too hard on ourselves when we fail. When things don’t go our way, we are disproportionately crushed. Our sense of resilience often suffers at the behest of our sense of entitlement.

Peter Silsbee, Vice President of research company Roper Starch, states, “These kids have extraordinarily high expectations. They are going to have some trouble with long, drawn-out apprentice periods”. This view is echoed by author Claire Raines who agrees that we are “showing up for work with pretty high and probably unrealistic expectations”. When we throw our graduation caps up into the air, a frustrating job hunt is probably not at the forefront of our minds. Many of us don’t even know what we want to do with our spiffy new diplomas. If we procrastinate on writing term papers, you can imagine how we postpone long-term planning. Writing for Fortune magazine, Nadira A. Hira states:

“Upon graduation, it turned out that a lot of Gen Yers hadn’t learned much about struggle or sacrifice. As the first of them began to graduate from college in the late 1990s, the average educational debt soared to over $19,000 for new grads, and many Yers went to the only place they knew they’d be safe: home”.

The implication: we are only ostensibly independent. Hira quotes Jeffrey Jensen in calling it “emerging adulthood.” No previous generations have been able to put off ‘growing up’ for as long as many of us have. Whereas most people used to get married in their very early twenties, they are now making such large commitments closer to their thirties. Jensen says we now look at our 20s very differently, as a time that is much more volatile and unstructured.

So, what about our hopes and dreams?


When the camera pans over entire line-ups of jubilant young faces, all convinced that they will be anything from Canada’s next top model to Trump’s newest apprentice, the reality is that most won’t be. If you separate the reality out from TV, you can expect that, at some point, you’ll be the one who was this close to the prize – but didn’t make it.

Of the latest 1,900 applicants to UofT’s law school, only 180 ended up in first-year placements. Most people with PhD’s in English and History struggle to find a University position, never mind obtain tenure. Harvard sends the bad news to 50% of applicants with outstanding SAT scores.

The result: many people, who are often qualified and deserving, do not obtain a seat in the grand game of musical chairs.

Ask yourself: do I expect a reserved seat at every one of life’s special ceremonies? If so, perhaps you should consider the words of Dr. Polly Young-Eisendrath, who asserts that:

“[in order to] develop into emotionally mature adults, we have to give up fantasies that once sustained us–such as, ‘There are perfect people in the world with absolute control of their lives and I will become one of them'”

Such emotional maturity may require us to walk the thin line between our dreams and our nightmares, and it’s fair to wonder how exactly we expect to do that without self-esteem.

The thing is, the point of this article isn’t to debunk the value of self-esteem per se; It is merely to suggest we reassess the type of self-entitled and sometimes rootless esteem that we’ve been raised with. I would argue that self-esteem is not a fixed, one-time achievement but an ongoing process of cultivation and moderation. As  the popular Sunscreen song notes, “Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself, either. Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s.”

When we wake up as adults, we find a world in which we can still defiantly hope for the best while boldly preparing for the worst–all the while knowing that we’ll probably get something in between.

I originally published a version of this article in the March 2008 Issue of MacMedia Magazine

Anything But Business as Usual

How a Little NGO named Kiva is Changing the World in a Big Way

You never forget your first loan

You never forget your first loan

Serenita Mikaele and I are both 23-year-old females–other than that, we don’t have very much in common. She is a wife, mother and entrepreneur living in Taufusi, Samoa; I am an idealistic student living in Toronto. Her day typically consists of selling crafts at her local market and providing for her family; mine revolves around reading, writing, and drinking too much coffee. Although we live continents apart, I know of Serenita because I am a shareholder in her business.

Before I tell you how exactly this came to be, I’ll start with something more familiar.

Many of us have grown up with the knowledge, and guilt, of relative privilege. We in the West have heard stories about “the rest”: accounts of rampant exploitation, starvation, powerlessness. We have also seen the images: swollen bellies, pleading eyes, decaying houses. We know that the majority of the world’s people are living on a few dollars (if that) a day.

Despite the immense diversity of impoverished communities, we somehow sweep them all under the umbrella term “third world” and agonize about how we can possibly affect something so big.

Last year, in my first critical development course, I began to question the often well-meaning but (let’s face it) condescending ways in which we talk about the majority of the people on Earth. We send coalitions of the concerned to areas that are “out there” with preset models, worn-out ideas and condition-laden aid. In most mainstream development work, locals speak but are not really listened to. They are manoeuvred into feeling that their ideas and opinions are uninformed. How often do we hear their ideas?

It is against this backdrop that I learned of Kiva–the first person-to-person micro-lending website. Kiva makes it possible for ordinary people, like me, to lend as little as $25 to other ordinary people in underprivileged regions that have their own ideas about how to better their living conditions.

Instead of the pitiable images of beggars, we can browse through fairer depictions of individuals and groups in need of small loans to fund their initiatives. Picture a tailor in Tajikistan or a florist in Peru–suddenly, it is possible to offer them a hand-up instead of a hand-out. We can interact on a more level ground: partner to partner, not noble rescuer to charity case.

The more I learned about Kiva’s structure, the more I liked this small San Francisco-based NGO. Its founders are a young couple, its processes are very transparent, and its objective is quite simple: Kiva aims “to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty”. As New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof writes:

“Web sites like Kiva are useful partly because they connect the donor directly to the beneficiary, without going through a bureaucratic and expensive layer of aid groups in between.”

Some of the loans I've helped fund

Some of the loans I've helped fund

In an interview for Social Edge, co-founder Jessica Flannery joked about how Kiva was born of her passion for Microfinance and her husband Matt Flannery’s passion for innovation on the Internet. The demand for their service turned out to be much larger than either partner expected. Matt admits that the site began as a hobby but, after being featured on a popular blog, the website’s traffic picked up significantly-and I won’t even get into how it skyrocketed when it was endorsed by Oprah.

Now the Flannerys have much higher hopes for how big Kiva may actually get. In fact, Matt hopes to contribute to what he hopes will be “a fading distinction between what we call the ‘third world’ and what we call the ‘first world'”.

Citing examples of lenders in Mexico lending to other Mexicans, or lenders in India supporting Cambodians, Matt goes on to assert that we are now blurring the lines between the traditional givers and benefactors of assistance.

Such global partnerships are blossoming on Kiva. After lending to Serenita, my picture appeared in a gallery of international lenders, such as Fabian from Germany, Toin from the Netherlands, Beth from the USA, Alberto from Italy and Christopher from the UK. My own $25 loan wouldn’t have done much but, collectively, we helped Serenita reach her goal of $825.00-money that the big banks would have almost certainly denied to her and on which local lenders would have charged debilitating interest. Over the next 12 months, she will use those funds to buy new handicrafts, grow her business and repay us.

When we get the money back from Serenita, we can withdraw it, lend it to another entrepreneur or donate it to Kiva. This kind of philanthropic flexibility is a brand new concept to me. Instead of funding a night of binge drinking, my small but sturdy first loan is now helping Serenita help herself. All of this made me think: Serenita may have fewer financial resources than I do, but she has just as much human dignity.

The fact that I’m in a position to lend is mostly just luck of the draw. I don’t pity Serenita; I admire her. I’m not giving out of guilt, but investing in good faith.

I know Kiva isn’t a universal remedy but it is a viable option that very few Canadian students know about. According to Alexa, Americans are taking a leadership role, comprising almost 30.1% of Kiva lenders. Behind India, Peru, Germany, Indonesia, Thailand and South Korea (in that order) Canadians account for a mere 2.8% of Kiva lenders.

So Canada, how about forgoing your Tim Horton’s coffee for two weeks and putting the money towards something new? I promise the good feeling will last longer than a caffeine rush; and there’s potential here for a much healthier addiction.

A version of this article was published in the December 2008 issue of MacMedia magazine

The Finch Bus

ttc

Amid a long procession of cars, the Finch bus lurches westbound in increments. The whole structure creaks under the weight of awkwardly positioned bodies, which seem vertically heaped in the limited space. Aside from the drone of the engine, the rush-hour bus is eerily quiet. There is exhaustion in the atmosphere.

An elderly woman clings to a poorly-conceived rubber loop, which winds around her wrist and twists her wrinkles into layers. She stares irately at a student slumped in the seat below her. His ears are pierced with silver rings and plugged with headphones; his bloodshot eyes trace the large flowers on her dress.

Through the cracks in the crowd, a timid-looking man also sees the flowers, but only in glimpses. He watches them jolt as the woman struggles to keep her balance. He seems hesitant to offer his seat . . . perhaps reluctant to rupture the silence.

Beside him, a frizzy-haired woman sleeps with one hand on her over-sized baby carriage. The carriage, which holds nothing but groceries, bounces back and forth between various body parts, including the knees of a petite young woman who struggles to balance a large textbook on her lap. Her head jerks forward, almost independently, as if reacting to motion sickness.

Leaning in above her, a man coughs. He draws back a long, exaggerated snuffle and uses his fingers to wipe his inflamed nostrils. This seems to alarm a bony man reading a newspaper, who angles the pages to shield himself.

A headline reads: TTC Hikes Metropass Fare.

 

This descriptive piece was written for my literary non-fiction class on Sept. 13th, 2007

Join the Green Party! 10 tips on how to make your next fiesta eco-friendly

cyo21

My quirky friend Mark

My name is Fabiola Carletti and I have a problem: I am severely afflicted with chronic-hostess syndrome. I thoroughly enjoy inviting hordes of people over to my house to eat, drink, schmooze, sing, dance, and (eventually) go home.

Last summer–for a “choose your occasion” party–I instructed guests to ignore the dictatorial calendar and dress up for their favourite holiday. Jasmin, celebrating Mother’s day, waltzed in with a faux-belly. Jeff, in a red shirt and wings, hoped to make some Valentine’s Day magic. Mark showed up in a white plastic one-piece zip-up suit . . . to the bafflement of us all.

As the doorbell continued to ring, revellers streamed in, celebrating everything from Christmas to Mardi Gras. I beamed, adjusting the crown of plastic flowers on my head and modelling my leaf-print dress. “I’m celebrating Earth Day” I explained.

The next day I forced heaps of waste into a big black garbage bags. Every imaginable surface had been covered in plastic cups, burnt-out sparklers and Styrofoam plates. As I flung my Earth Day wreath into the trash, the irony began to percolate. A morbid thought occurred to me: I would probably decompose before most of the plastic remnants of my party. Yikes.

Although I consider myself a nascent environmentalist, I realized then that I was making unconscious exceptions for a whole lot of “special occasions”. I am proud to say that at my recent birthday party I implemented several of the suggestions you will soon read. People responded incredibly well!

Unfortunately, our cultural norms don’t pressure us to celebrate sustainably (yet). As students, we have a reputation for indulging ourselves in festive excess-but maybe we should re-think our expertise and party what we preach.

Here are ten ideas to get us started.

(1) Plan an eco-potluck

The good news is that we youngsters already tend to make our invites paper-free. Taking our virtual networking one step further, it’s really easy to organize the “who’s bringing what” online. If you’re not a fan of Facebook, there are funky alternatives that you can use for free. I highly recommend mypunchbowl –it’s easy-to-use, funky, and has a special application specifically designed for organizing potlucks.

Let’s get all the benefits straight: You don’t have to foot the entire grocery bill on your own or spend the whole day with your eye on the oven. You can gently steer your guests in the right direction by creating a list that casually drops words like “locally-purchased”, “organic”, “veggie”. And you don’t have to worry that you will have too much (or *gasp* too little) to eat because the more people that walk through the door, the more goodies will magically appear.

(2) Make “left-over love” take-home packages

Instead of automatically recycling (or tossing!) jars and containers, why not store them to re-use? Potlucks tend to produce leftovers but that doesn’t have to mean waste.  You may find yourself scooping potato salad into an empty relish jar and sending it home with a friend. Consider it a practical party favour, one that your friend will thank you for when they wake up hung-over and hungry.

Even If you didn’t pre-plan to package, many of your guests will have brought their potluck dishes in containers of all kinds. Instead of bringing the containers back home empty, encourage your guests to help themselves one last time.

cyo1
(3) BYOC-Bring your own cup!

At parties, people go through drinks like it ain’t no thang. Questions like “where did I leave my rum & coke?” and “Is this even my cup?” are usually treated with a simple answer: “Cut your losses. Pour another!” Unfortunately, these losses add up — quickly! — and all the resources that went into producing the temporary chalices were for naught. What’s more, depending on the material, one-time use cups can take anywhere from 50-450 years to decompose!

Why not challenge your guests to bring their own funkiest cup/mug/bowl and pledge monogamy to it for the night? At the very least, it would make for much more interesting toasts. At the end of the night your guests will either wash their cups and take them home (less work for you!) or make impromptu donations to your kitchenware collection. I’d raise a glass to that.

(4) Encourage Public Transit. Failing that, Organize Car Pools.

This one is a no-brainer. I know I don’t need to tell you how our gas-guzzling habits harm the atmosphere. If public transit is a viable option, encourage your guests to take the better way. If they are worried that transit will stop running before your party does, or that no one is driving to their corner of the city, let them sleep over (if you can). As for designated drivers, ask if they are willing to give someone else a lift. Ask the riders you match with them to pitch in some money for gas. Fair deal all ‘round!

(But it goes without saying that you shouldn’t let anyone get behind the wheel drunk.)

(5) Dim the lights, baby, but brighten up with LED

Natural daylight would be great!–if we weren’t night-owls. Luckily, harsh lighting isn’t popular at parties anyway. To save energy, turn off or dim most lights. Make things visible with eco-friendly candles (ex: pure bee’s wax or soy-based) in creative candle holders (like some of those jars you saved). I’ve also seen the charming idea of placing long-stemmed candles in beer bottles -appropriately, at a hidden gem called The Green Room. It’s a quirky way to instantly reuse some of those empties.

If you’re nervous around flames, create a magical atmosphere with light-emitting-diode (LED) lights. When compared to conventional bulbs, these lights use 1/10th of the energy and last twice as long! Also, they do not get hot, so fret not about the fire hazard. LEDs are widely available at mainstream retailers (such as Canadian Tire) at reasonable prices.

(6) A little Flush goes a long way

One thing that’s virtually guaranteed at a party: a line-up to use the washroom. According to Environment Canada, every flush of the porcelain express uses 15-19 litres of water. That’s several litres that have been through the municipal filtration process, only to carry a relatively small stream of tinkle right back out to Lake Ontario.

If your toilet doesn’t have low flush mechanisms, there is an easy do-it-yourself method that anyone can complete in a few minutes! All you need is a plastic bottle, some sand/gravel, and a willingness to peak into your toilet tank. Step-by-step illustrated instructions are available at wikihow.com.

While we’re being potty mouths, let’s think about the accompanying toilet paper. According to Adria Vasil (a.k.a Now Magazine’s Ecoholic) if each household in Canada switched one roll of toilet paper from virgin-bleached to recycled, we’d collectively save about 48,000 trees and prevent 4,500 kgs of air and water pollution — with ONE roll. How many rolls do you go through at a party? And, seriously, considering its simple function, why does anyone need extra-fancy three-ply “cashmere”-like toilet paper anyway?

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(7) Recycle, Reduce, Rejoice!

At most parties, there’s one option when it comes to waste: a huge black garbage bag sitting somewhere out-of-the-way. Give your guests some better options by setting up clear recycling/compost/garbage containers in one area. Aim to make the garbage can the last resort. Go ahead and stick a sign on it (ex: “I’m on a diet: Please don’t feed me unless you absolutely have to”) or variation thereof. Also, designate a space for collecting empties and be sure to bring them back to the LCBO/Beer Store . You’ll not only earn a few bucks for your efforts but you’ll ensure that the materials make it to someone else’s happy hour.

(8) If they insist on bringing a gift for the host(ess)

Many people were raised with the idea that it’s polite to bring a small token of appreciation to the host. That said, they may try to figure out what you might like to receive. If they insist you give them clues, suggest one of the following items:

  • Locally produced/organic wine
  • Eco-friendly/fair trade substitutes of staples like chocolate or coffee
  • A small plant instead of a dead bouquet
  • Something unwrapped or responsibly wrapped in recycled paper/placed in a reusable gift bag/or even simply cloaked in newspaper! A surprise is a surprise, skip the bells and whistles.

You can insist that “re-gifting” and thrift gifts are cool by you. Something lightly-used may end up being exactly what you need.

(9) As long as you’re telling them to BYOC, why not show solidarity and DYOD?

Thanks for reading!! Love, the hostess with the mostess.

Thanks for reading!! Love, the hostess with the mostess.

Yes, doing your own dishes instead of using plastic can be a pain–but if Terry Fox could undertake a cross country marathon at the age of 22,  you can get your hands soapy. Offer up your own plates and utensils and you’ll be diverting a significant amount of waste from the landfill. If you are hand-washing try not to run the tap continuously; also, look for earth-friendly dish soap.

If using an electric dishwasher, make sure you’re doing full loads, and using the shortest cycle possible. Also check if you have a conserver/water-saver cycle. Long after the dishes are done, the feeling of accomplishment will linger.

(10) Use those captions for some grassroots awareness-raising
We all know the maxim that a picture is worth a thousand words. If you’ve had trouble explaining the benefits of going green, why not show people in images? If and when you post the party pictures–on Flickr or Facebook, etc–make sure you mention your eco-efforts in the captions. Drawing attention to these differences will get others thinking about how they can enjoy themselves more ethically.

You may be more inspiring than you think.

A version of this article was originally published in the February 2009 issue of MacMedia magazine

The CBC–It’s Kind of a BIG DEAL

The CBC building in Toronto

The CBC building in Toronto

The ratings pretty much deny my existence. Broadcasters assume that I will skip over lively political debates in order to shriek about the latest hissy fit on The Hills. Is it so hard to believe that I’m interested in the richness and complexity of my cultural landscape? I just don’t care as much about celebrities, scandals and shopping. Sorry.

To the bafflement of pollsters, I am a young person who happens to value the content provided by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. My devotion may even be baffling to many of you readers out there. How often do you hear, “Did you listen to CBC radio last night? You missed some very clever dark humour—Gregor Samsa wakes up to realize that he has turned into a cockroach, so he writes to Dr. Seuss for advice. . .” (No, I’m not making this up. Kafka and Seuss are a brilliant blend!).

Yes, I happen to enjoy commercial-free radio programming; it provides sanctuary from the watered-down infotainment on every other dial. I am regularly stunned by the musical brilliance of Canadian artists that are virtually ignored on commercial channels. I’m a huge fan of The Hour—George Stroumboulopoulos’ youth-oriented news show—because it actually gives young people the benefit of the doubt. I’m telling you, the CBC provides the goods!

Canada is a huge country with a long list of needs. According to the Mandate Review Committee, an independent body tasked with assessing the value of the CBC, it is “the only medium of information, education, enlightenment, culture and entertainment, which operates all day from coast to coast, on radio and on television, in our two official languages.” They go on to remind us that, over the decades, the CBC has provided everything from children’s programs and indigenous television drama to comedy programming and forums for debate. All of this, crucially, has been provided without “geographical or financial barriers to listening”.

What we cannot get from anywhere other than CBC Radio is intelligent programming of a national flavour (and that’s flavour with the ‘u’).–Dave McCormick, CBC radio fan

Still, in what seems like a billion-channel universe, it’s easy to forget about local legends like Peter Mansbridge and Mr. Dressup. But despite the fierce competition, the CBC has a public responsibility to try and represent poorly understood groups. Take Little Mosque on the Prairie for example, a controversial sit-com that stars a Muslim family living in small-town Saskatchewan, post 9-11. As CBC executive director of network programming, Kirstine Layfield, states, “Just doing the series is a risk in itself, but one the public broadcaster should take on if we’re to help communicate [the] authenticity of living in Canada.” Though this authenticity varies between CBC TV and CBC Radio (the former has adopted more commercial tactics in order to compete), the struggle remains an important one. In the words of CBC fan Dave McCormick, “What we cannot get from anywhere other than CBC Radio is intelligent programming of a national flavour (and that’s [flavour] with the ‘u’).”

So why is Canadian-content such a rare bird? Let’s be frank: Canadian programming, particularly on television, is a lot less profitable than the well-established shows produced by American broadcasters. During prime time, Canadian commercial broadcasters—like CTV, Global and CHUM—are simply flocking to where the money is. Richard Stursberg, vice-president of CBC television thus asserts that the CBC is the only big broadcaster that actually has ‘shelf space’ for Canadian programs at a time when Canadians are actually watching. Creating a show like Little Mosque may be far less economically appealing than purchasing a safe and formulaic program, but it may be one of the only places where Muslim-Canadians can actually see themselves reflected. Still, you may be wondering, in a capitalist country, just how important are these non-commercial ideals?

There is no set answer to this question; rather, there is a familiar debate. This debate is much more complex than I can get into, but I can’t help but quote the MRC again on this one: “In this highly competitive environment . . . we believe that there will be an even greater need for a significant part of the broadcasting landscape to be clearly dedicated to public service (emphasis in original).” Plus, our neighbour to the South happens to be one of the most culturally influential nations in the world. Changes in the international media landscape have been so recent, rapid and radical that, taken together, they amount to an entirely new environment of unprecedented challenges—challenges that are global in scope.

The CBC is the only big broadcaster that actually has ‘shelf space’ for Canadian programs at a time when Canadians are actually watching.–Richard Stursberg, vice-president of CBC television

Call me crazy, but in light of this backdrop I think Canada must guarantee a place for a media organization that isn’t solely profit-driven. Remember democracy? Pretty sure it requires, minimally, a publicly funded forum where the diverse peoples of Canada may come together. I sincerely care about what’s happening in Nanaimo, Nunavut and Newfoundland! Broadcast content is extensive, but not necessarily inclusive.

It comes down to the fact that I distinguish between selection and choice—if we cannot choose to access information that is locally-based and reflective of the nation we live in, what can be said about shared imagination? Now, I’m not saying that we should completely change our media diets. I know we’ve developed a taste for imports. I’m merely suggesting that we balance that diet by throwing in some wheaty Canadian goodness (remember the ‘u’ in flavour?). Personally, I don’t want to depend on cultural hand-me-downs from mostly-American sources—especially now that I realize how much creative and intellectual power we have right here at home.

If we as Canadians don’t pay any attention, we are basically depreciating the value of our own voices. And if we continue down this path, we’ll only reinforce the rather depressing observation of our borrowed hero, Homer Simpson: “Canada? Why would I want to leave America just to visit America, Jr.?”

Is that all we think we are?
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Get to Know “The Ceeb”: A Guide to CBC Radio One (99.1 FM)

I met Jonathan Goldstein at the Canadian University Press conference!

I met Jonathan Goldstein at the Canadian University Press conference!

WireTap w/Jonathan Goldstein—Eavesdrop on Jonathan’s telephone conversations with brilliant, bold and bizarre personalities. From hilarious monologues to misguided meanderings, WireTap is an auditory indulgence.

The Current w/Ana Maria Tremonti—No idea what’s going on in the world? Jump into the Current and watch it live up to its name. More informative than sound-bites and more critical than common, this program takes an in-depth look at the important questions of our time.

Definitely not the Opera w/Sook-Yin-Lee—You may remember Sook-Yin from her days as a MuchMusic VJ. This seasoned personality now invites you to sign up for her crash course in both Canadian and international arts, culture and entertainment.

The Debaters w/ Steve Patterson—Featuring the best talents in Canadian Comedy, this program brings a whole new meaning to the idea of a stand-up debate. Enjoy your visit to a place where puns are intended and everyone must learn to laugh at themselves.

**Please note: a simple Google search of the (Program name + CBC) should bring up its up-to-date schedule. If you don’t live in Toronto, check out the podcasts. Happy listening!**

A version of this article was published the April 2008 issue of MacMedia Magazine,