Losing My Religion: Foreword

I’ve been thinking about the future of my page. In the days to come, I’d like to dig deeply into self care and spirituality. But before I move forward, I really feel the need to take a look at what I’m running away from.

I’m going to begin by offering an honest look at my thoughts on religion. And I’ll be frank with you–a part of me is terrified. For one thing, I know that what I have to say is bound to upset people. I can think of certain long-lost friends who will be offended. Once I speak up, I know that I risk ruining some personal connections.

(On the other hand, some of my people will read what I have to say and go, “Uh huh. Uh huh… NEXT!” I salute them in advance.)

Spiritually, right now, I’m in an interesting place. I agree with the idea of God or a Higher Power. But I don’t subscribe to popular religious teachings surrounding man’s universal purpose, or the way that said Higher Power operates within society.

A part of me can’t help but feel bad. I still admire certain people that I’ve known who are traditionally religious. Meanwhile, I’ve been completely put off of others. Either way, folks’ religious leanings are tied to their values. And in our current political climate, I notice that some have used their faith as an excuse to uplift their fellow human beings. Still, others feel content with oppressing them.

It feels weird to give myself this space to share what I think. I feel the weight of the fact that spirituality can be a very personal and controversial thing. But the more I free myself from religion, the more I value myself. Deep down, I know that I have every right to give myself room to breathe.

Now that I’ve had my say, I’m bracing myself. Let the release begin.

This post’s image is from a photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash.

Very Necessary: Rob Bell’s Book

Over the years my thoughts on religion (Christianity) have evolved. I’ve been working on putting some of my feelings into words.

Meanwhile, not too long ago, I’d heard that Rob Bell had released another book. And then I discovered this interview.

I listened to it in podcast form, and I’m sure it’s worth watching.

Religion has a disturbing amount of influence in our society. And that influence begins with how people choose to interpret the Bible, and how seriously they choose to take their interpretations of its ideas.

In addition to self-care and other topics, I know that I’ll write about religion again. In the meantime, I’ll see if I can resist going too deeply into my thoughts on Christianity’s favourite book until I’ve read Mr. Bell’s.

Handwringing and History

Every time I feel like going off on social media, I remind myself that I ought to channel my energy into a blog post. This is one of the rare times when I’m attempting to follow through.

Have any of you seen this?:

I was following a contact’s thread on one of the confederate statues that was taken down the other day, and that’s when I saw a question. This isn’t an exact quote, but someone asked

What makes a statue historical, vs racist?

Immediately, I was furious. And stunned. I don’t want to waste time arguing with strangers, but it took everything in me not to respond.

Oh, I don’t know. Maybe the fact that the so-called heroes of the confederacy fought for people to remain enslaved?

Honestly.

If America was Germany and the confederate monuments were of Adolf Hitler, would there even be a question?

So long as people insist that everyone has a right to everything, and that their bro’s feelings are worth more than actually doing what’s right, racism, sexism, islamophobia, homophobia and other evils will continue to have a place in this world.

The Handmaid’s FAIL?

Millions of years ago when I was in school, I read The Handmaid’s Tale. And I’ll confess–as with all of Margaret Atwood’s works, it gave me the creeps. I don’t remember every precise detail of its story. However, I still have enough of it with me to recall its overarching themes. It deals specifically with women’s reproductive rights and the horrors of living in a society where our agency has been removed.

Flash forward to today. A TV adaptation is about to be released. And something is amiss in the way the actors are discussing their material.

Last night I read some tweets* by a reporter who was present at a screening. Her words made me do a double-take. Then earlier today, I read this piece on Vulture’s web site. Elizabeth Moss, who plays Offred said

“Honestly, for me it’s not a feminist story — it’s a human story, because women’s rights are human rights. I never intended to play Peggy as a feminist; I never intended to play Offred as a feminist. They’re women and they are humans…”

(Emphasis added.)

A part of me feels terrible. I don’t want to make assumptions about Ms. Moss. If that’s how she feels about The Handmaid’s Tale, that’s her right. But from what I read on Twitter, she wasn’t the only cast member attempting to disown her show’s heritage.

At this point I’d like to offer the film and television industry’s PR people some advice.

Firstly, “feminism” is NOT a dirty word. It is nothing to be ashamed of. The people who think it’s divisive are probably the same people who think that it’s wrong to talk about racism.

But that’s another rant for another time…

I agree completely with the Vulture piece’s opening. We’re at an interesting point in human history. A reality-TV star is president. Still, even before he was elected, people were taking to the streets–and their keyboards–unafraid to take a stand against injustice. In that light, I’d like to argue that it is more than safe for an individual to own who and what s/he is.

The same can be said for our works of art. Reading Ms. Moss’s words, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Tale’s actors were coached to deny the production’s feminist overtones. I’d like to know why. Are producers afraid of offending their audience?

Take it from me as a Black person: Not everything is for everyone. There are folks out there who will reject you for your inherent traits. Why not revel in your production’s uniqueness? Downplaying something that is so obvious to onlookers, such as The Handmaid’s Tale’s feminist elements makes you look cowardly and dishonest.

Furthermore, it’s not necessary. Your work will draw the audience that it is meant to have, period–regardless of their gender or political stance.

Denying The Handmaid’s Tale’s feminist themes is like saying Roots has nothing to do with Black people. I don’t see what the point is in dancing around the obvious, other than an attempt to win over a disinterested audience.

If that’s the case, I have the feeling that the Tale’s producers are in for a very rude awakening. And like those who regret voting for you-know-who, when certain folks have an epiphany, it won’t be pretty.

*In case you think I’m weird with my,”Someone on Twitter said something….” check out this Vanity Fair piece. I Googled after I wrote my post and the title says it all.

The struggle is real.

A few days ago on my Instagram account, I spoke about facing yourself. Last week I was really moved by Pepper Brooks’ latest blog post.

In case you don’t click to read, in “It’s easier to be a Workaholic” Pepper wrote a bit about one of the masks that she wears. I was struck by how familiar it was to me.

Currently, I’m in a curious space. During the day I’m looking for work. But at night instead of sleeping, I waste time chasing information. To explain exactly what goes on, I’ll give you a slightly edited version of what I shared with her.

Photo by Hernan Sanchez

I’ve struggled with self-care for years. Specifically, with the foundation of it all: Sleep.

I know that if I slept better, I would have the energy that I needed in order to take care of myself properly. But lately, whenever I try to go to bed on time, I don’t.

Over time, I’ve followed a pattern of staying up for hours, satisfying my FOMO by shoving information into my brain. (I live in a small town. By itself that’s not problematic, but I have transportation-related issues. To add to this, I’m an introvert and I love being alone…Yet I’m also pretty lonely.)

I satisfy my need for contact and information by checking up on everyone and everything on social media instead of relaxing and shutting my eyes at night. When I have my laptop in the room, I’m looking up something or other.

But for what?

I’m attempting to satisfy some sort of ache. I know it.

And I also know the truth. I know that “I am enough” isn’t merely a cliche. But a part of me keeps resisting it.

I tend to feel and do better when I give myself a chance. Mediation helps. But really, I need to give myself room. I have to tell myself to ignore distractions.

Needless to say, I’m tired. (In more ways than one.) I’m sharing my thoughts because I know myself. I really need to breathe.

Some people don’t get enough rest because of their obligations. They have to stay up into the wee hours because of a job, or their children. But what’s my excuse?

The quest for a “good night’s sleep” is more than a cliche. So many of our body’s systems get the chance to repair and restore themselves when we go to bed.  When we don’t sleep properly– or specifically, when we run from the chance to do so–I believe we need to think. Take a look at our culture. It’s trendy for people to call themselves information addicts or night owls. But what’s really going on?

For years now, most nights, I’m up way past my bedtime. I have to order myself to put my electronics away. As much as I try not to, I can’t help but feel haunted: Whatever I want is out there. Meanwhile, there’s reality.

Whatever I think is going to satisfy me won’t come to me any faster by staying up late chasing air.

Given the reasons that we need sleep, I’ve come to a grim conclusion: I think that a part of me has been convinced that I don’t deserve to be whole.

These days I’m trying to work out the details of exactly what I deserve. Some of them are hazy. But I know that I’m worth more.

Sweet dreams.

Mission? In progress.

The air around me is rife with people talking about their purpose. A couple of weeks ago my mentor Krista Foss encouraged me to write down my mission. I left our meeting thinking. As a writer, what am I passionate about? What do I want to achieve?

I, Claire would like…

  • To honestly discuss topics of my choosing
  • To uplift women, people of colour, and especially Black Canadian women
  • To promote spiritual healing

These three points are true to who I am. I look forward to seeing where they lead me.

Photo courtesy of CreateHER Stock Photography.

Flashback Friday: HERstory in video

I’d heard there were videos that captured the HERstory in Black experience, but I’d completely forgotten. Then one day, I caught a clip on on How She Hustles’ Instagram account. Jully Black led the ladies as they sang “This Little Light of Mine”.

I can feel the sisterhood in every frame of this video. Be sure to check out How She Hustles’ YouTube channel for more content.

 

Introducing: Erin Dunham

If, like me, you live in Paris, Ontario, you probably know the Arlington Hotel. But do you know Erin Dunham?

Erin is the Co-Founder and CEO of The Other Bird Restaurant Group . The Other Bird owns our beloved Arlington, as well as five Hamilton-based restaurants: Two Black Sheep, BurroThe Mule , Black Sheep Snack Bar , and Rapscallion Rogue Eatery. Recently I touched base with this busy lady and learned a bit about what makes her tick.

Who is Erin Dunham?
Erin Dunham is a CEO, a writer, a friend, a wine connoisseur, a lover of good food and better conversation. Erin Dunham does not take herself too seriously, but takes her dogs very seriously.  

Where are you from?
Hamilton, Ontario, baby!

How did you start working in the restaurant industry?

When I was 13 I started as a dishwasher at the Philip Shaver House in Ancaster. And I’ve been in it every since.

Were you always interested in the restaurant business?

I was, but I spent my entire life trying to get out of it. Historically we’re all under-appreciated, treated like second rate people and underpaid. But it turns out, I love what this industry has become.

As a businesswoman, what drew you to Paris?
The opportunity to own the Arlington. We always wanted to do a boutique hotel, but we didn’t think it would be for another five years. The opportunity presented itself when the current owner came to us. When we saw it, we fell in love with the town and it was the easiest decision we ever made.

What’s next for the other bird?

By the end of this year, we are planning to expand to another city and we’re partnering with a local band to open a cool concept in Hamilton which I think everyone will love. That will happen in the next year.

Is there a chance Paris will get a taco restaurant?
There is never a zero chance of anything with us.

If you weren’t a restaurateur, what would you be doing?
I would be a writer and painter on the coast of France.

What do you like to do to unwind?
Mostly, because of how I was raised in the industry, I drink and hang out with my friends and talk about nonsense. When I think about having alone time or down time, what I think about doing is writing and painting and having philosophical conversations and walking my dogs on beaches. But there’s no time.

If you’d like to keep up with Erin, be sure to follow her on Twitter.  

A taste of HERstory: Reflections on an unforgettable evening

In December, all I knew of HERstory in Black is that it was an idea. Emily Mills, CEO of How She Hustles had decided to step out on faith and share her vision: she wanted to create a digital photo series featuring 150 Canadian Black Women.

Along the way, Emily asked the women of How She Hustles for help. I wasn’t sure of how I could be of service, but I knew one thing: I could write. Currently I live outside of the GTA, and my mobility is somewhat limited. But that little voice inside told me to volunteer anyways. Surely I could do something in spite of my location.

A couple of weeks ago, Emily got in touch with me. Oh, how her project had grown. HERstory in Black now had a home in the form of a microsite on CBC Toronto’s web page. There would be an event in its honour on the 27th of February. Thanks to this new development, she didn’t need me to write about the women included in HERstory. But would I be able to showcase the photographers who made the magic happen?

I nearly fell over.

The Saturday after Emily and I chatted, I spent the afternoon with my girlfriends, Krista and Celeste. I told them all about HERstory in Black, including its celebration.

“You have to go!” Celeste and Krista insisted.

I looked at them as though they were made of cheese. I was already stunned by the thought of writing something about such an important project. I couldn’t imagine showing up at an event in its honour.

In the days after I published my post, Ms. Mills and I messaged each other. She asked if I was sure I couldn’t make it out to the CBC for HERstory in Black. Again, I was taken aback. My brain had been in such a blur since writing about Leilah Dhoré and Ebti Nabag, the idea of actually appearing on Monday seemed like too much of a good thing. Plus, there were logistics. Currently I need a car of my own and a new job. I’m used to not making it out to see people.

How would I get there? The next thing I knew, I was thinking of my friend Celeste. Since I didn’t have wheels, she’d offered to take me. I wondered if she could she be my plus one. Apparently God had the same idea because she won tickets to attend.

She was able to bless her friend Janice with her extra ticket. We got together and along with Marla Brown (one of HERstory’s 150 women) we hit the road.

We arrived at the CBC building around 5:30. The celebration of HERstory in Black was set to begin at 6.

In her latest edition of Facebook Live, Emily Mils mentioned something that I had noticed. On Monday evening, I saw some male musicians and production staff. Yet both behind and in front of the cameras, HERstory in Black was clearly women-driven. How many organizations make a point of hiring us to support an event at every level where we are set to be featured as speakers or performers? Kudos to Emily Mills and the CBC for their vision.

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Our beloved host, Amanda Parris.

Among other special appearances, D’bi Young Anitafrika  performed a poem called “Black Woman”.

 

Is it any wonder that in two Instagram posts, I said that she “spoke to my soul”? This clip offers viewers a taste of an incredible piece of art. D’bi is a powerful writer. Her words meant so much to me—to all of us. I can’t even begin to explain their impact.

Jully Black performed various songs, including “Glass Ceiling”. I’d never seen her live before. On Monday, she brought her mother on stage with her.

 

That night, I met people that—until then—I had only seen online. I’m talking about women like Tanya Hayles,  Léonicka Valcius  Nam Kiwanuka  and Jam Gamble  . I reconnected with Bee Quammie  Tashauna Reid, and Chivon John . I even met Eugenia Duodo , the scientist in this segment that appeared on The National:

Now that it’s over, I don’t know if I can capture how deeply HERstory in Black touched me. But I’ll try.

I’ve already written about being one of very few people of colour in my town. I’m currently toying with the idea of moving to a more diverse city. I can only begin to express what HERstory in Black means to me—both the project, and its celebration.

I think of the ladies who came out with me on Monday: Celeste, Janice, and Marla. And I think of Celeste’s 3 daughters. When I was younger, I don’t remember having many home-grown role models to look up to—if any at all. Certainly, the media didn’t seem to want to highlight us.

Emily Mills, centre, along with some of the women who put HERstory together.

When you’re the only one of your background who’s around, or even one of a few, it can be very easy to doubt your own beauty. You may question your power and intelligence. I know Black people who would argue that we need to look for all of those things inside of ourselves. To them, I say yes. I believe in harnessing the spark of self-love, and nurturing it from within. But mirrors matter. The stories and images from HERstory point to possibilities that we otherwise might not have considered.

HERstory in Black has left me determined. I want the feeling that I have from my attending Monday night’s celebration, and writing about its photographers, to never end. I need to find a way to celebrate and share Black Girl Magic, not just during Black History Month, but all year long.

Black women are accomplished. People talk about adding one or two of us to their groups in an attempt to display diversity. Yet I wonder if they understand how truly diverse we are as a whole.

HERstory in Black offers people a glimpse of the wonder of us. And for that I will be forever thankful.

For more information on some of the women involved in this incredible night, check the links below.

Emily Mills – CEO of How She Hustles, Founder of HERstory in Black, Senior Communications Officer at the CBC

Tanya Hayles – Chief Creative Officer, Hayles Creative Elements 

Michelle Berry – Founder, Shelly’s Catering

Amanda Parris – Educator and CBC Personality

Tashauna Reid – CBC News Reporter

Jully Black – Recording Artist & Speaker, Canada’s Queen of R&B  

Halle and Hairplay

Can I confess something horrible?

As a longtime naturalista, over the years, I’ve caught myself judging other Black women. Not in an overtly hostile way. But I fell into a mindset where natural hair was the only hair that made sense to me.  I thought it was the best choice for everyone. And for the life of me, I couldn’t grasp why some Black women would insist on regularly wearing wigs or weaves.

I mean…I could understand getting braids every now and then. However if I saw a pretty girl with a fly wig, sometimes I would actually take the time to wonder why she didn’t sport a ‘fro. (Selfish, I know.) Never mind what she did on days when I didn’t see her. For some reason, I couldn’t help but thinking that every Black woman would be better off wearing her hair natural 24/7.

Now, I’ll admit it. I still absolutely love natural hair. But I’ve become bored. Although my last big chop was in 2009, for a long while my hair has shown no signs of going past collarbone/shoulder length. When my hair was loose, occasionally I would wear a twistout, but 99% of the time, my tresses were in an updo. (Never mind all of the times when I’ve been angry with my hair, but not angry enough to sport a fade.)

Needless to say, I’ve been in an incredible hair rut. For about a year I’d been thinking about cutting off a few inches, but I couldn’t bring myself to follow through.

And then, less than a month ago, a switch went off in my brain. I wanted crochet braids.

My natural hair is now braided up and on vacation. I love this look and could honestly see myself experimenting for a few months, if not the rest of the year.

Wearing extensions has given me an epiphany. As I said, I love my natural hair. But I’m glad that I released myself from the pressure of thinking that I should only do certain things to it. There are deeper issues involved here, but for now I am enjoying my hiatus. I love messing around, aka engaging in what I’ve come to call hairplay. And as I told someone long ago, “This is my hair, on my head.”

Speaking of hair revelations, can I talk about Halle Berry?

This isn’t her Oscar dress. But her hair’s just as it was on Oscar night.

On social media, I’ve seen comments on Halle’s hairdo. Criticism, to be exact. I’ve been bothered by some of what I’ve read.

What I’m referring to didn’t feel at all like your typical annoying awards season chatter. (Cut to a petty entertainment host, whining, “Halle’s hair was a little too big for my liking…”) Rather, the remarks have been downright odd.

I have yet to read a critique of something specific about the way Halle wore her hair. Instead, more than once, I’ve seen vague suggestions from Black women that she or her people should “know better” than to let her wear her hair “like that”. Whether the people who made these statements meant it or not, their words suggested to me that they felt Ms. Berry’s hairstyle was shameful on a personal level. They reminded me of people who complain about natural hair, and see it as culturally embarrassing.

Overall, their statements made as much sense to me as those made by folks who complained about Gabby Douglas’ edges.

We all have taste. I think a bad style is a bad style, period. But why do some of us still feel the need to baselessly police another Black woman’s hair? In my own way I know I’ve been guilty of the same type of behaviour. But I’m thankful that I’m learning. These days, when it comes to hair, I think it’s best to let people live.