A Defence of Modern Theory

During my stint as a homeschooler, I lived and breathed ancient history, literature, and material. I remember studying the Ancient Greek, Roman, and British empires over and over. I read the Illiad and Herodotus in Grade 9, the Aeneid and Seneca in Grade 10, and wrote my own poetic epic somewhere in between. I remember reading Victorian novels as part of my curriculum, learning Latin, and memorizing dates of the Crusades.

And then there was modernity.

I never understood the jump between the “old” and the “modern” worlds until this year in university. I couldn’t understand how we went from C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia to Artemis Fowl in the span of a few decades. Up until Tolkien, everything felt familiar; a literary realm of sensibility and comfort. Past that, I was a fish out of water. How did we get to post-music and post-internet again??? (I do love vapourwave though)

One of the most enjoyable experiences of my university education has been connecting the dots between “then” and “now”. Every time I read a theorist or a philosopher and connect it to a modern theory, that has an actual belief basis today, I get a bigger dopamine rush than when I eat chocolate.

For example, I remembering learning about the Magna Carta in elementary school. The codification system does have implications for modern society (and that blew my mind), but you don’t often see heated debates about the implications of a unified set of societal laws. With a few exceptions, I’m sure, people tend to generally accept it as a good thing.

Fast forward 800 years, and suddenly, these revolutionary ideas are still sending shockwaves through culture today. When the “confusion” and lack of “absolute truth” are mourned at the dinner table by your grandparents, philosophers Nietzsche and Derrida have a direct relationship to those sentiments. Derrida’s deconstruction of hierarchical terms, and theory of deferral of meaning definitely has influenced more relative thinkers, while Neitzsche is almost as famous as he is misunderstood, if not as passionate.

Or to take another example, feminism is a hot and fiercely divisive topic. Exploration into mainstream feminism leads the reader into topics like intersectionality, white feminism, or the essentialism debate. These are just shy of “common knowledge”, or well-explored and widely spread theories. They’re present in the push to accept marginalized bodies in body positivity movements that has been taken up by major brands like aerie, the “free the nipple” campaigns, the “me too” movement, mental health advocacy, trans rights advocacy, and so many more cultural and social debates.

All of these mainstream movements have their roots in theoretical backgrounds. Reading each cornerstone work, and seeing the chain of debates, writings, and responses to it has been an incredible process. Reading “The Second Sex”, and seeing the quote “One is not born, but becomes a woman”, and realizing that de Beauvoir is one of the very first writers to articulate the social influences on the feminine identity was mind blowing. Or Gilbert and Gubar and reading about the anxieties of authorship. Or watching the essentialist debate hash out exactly what it means to be a woman, and realize that this exact debate is in the comment section of every Facebook article about trans people. If each party went back far enough into the theoretical framework of their arguments, someone would end up here. In modern theory.

It blows my mind to be reading material so relevant to today’s anxieties.

This is not, obviously an attack on studying the times gone by. I am coming from a place of having not extensively studied the modern world, which makes my wonder with it all the more acute. I have lived and breathed the ancients and everything up to the modern world for so long that I doubted if there could be anything else to astound me. Of course we need to turn back into the past to learn about the present and future. Of course. Like Eliot, I find so much richness in the “Mind of Europe” (problematic and Eurocentric as it is), that there is no way I can prioritize one over the other.

I just had no idea how exciting it is to read a theorist, literary critic, or philosopher, and connect their work with such immediacy to the present day.

It gives me hope because the gaps in theory become immediately present, and the intersection of these theories with others give rise to a deliciously beautiful field of possibilities for expansion.

-Hannah

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Periods

(Let’s Talk is a new mini series here on my blog! Please comment if you have any ideas about future topics.)

I hate getting my period – it’s four days of the month when everything gets harder to do**. Harder to sleep, get up in the morning, feel good; harder to eat, feel beautiful, work, feel happy, concentrate, find motivation.

This period, something really strange happened. Like really strange. I woke up with my period FIVE days ahead of schedule. I track my period using an amazing app called Clue and needless to say I was a little more than confused. I realized in hindsight that the PMS I had dismissed as NOT PMS (because it was too early) was actually indeed PMS. (“That explains a lot!”-  the rallying battle cry of women everywhere.)

My new, early period happened to coincide with the New Moon (in Aries) that we just had. The experience of having my cycle snych up with the moon, no less, was way too cool for me not to think about.

The cycles of the moon mirror the feminine reproductive cycle, with the darkened sky of the new moon corresponding to the period.  Around two weeks later, the full moon is bright and high in the sky,  and in the body, estrogen levels (and desirability) soar during a woman’s most fertile stage.

While not every woman’s cycle will coincide with these lunar stages, the overall waxing and waning of the moon of the moon can be a powerful symbol. Just as my experience with synthetic birth control put me way out of touch with my body’s rhythms (another story for another day) the phases of the moon put me more in touch with myself.

Having my period during a new moon was a very powerful experience because I really got a new way of thinking hammered home. I realized what I had “known” but not practiced or believe previously; that part of the feminine experience IS this waxing and waning.

Because of periods, women aren’t sexually available every single day of the month. On the flip side, women bloom with such intense sexual energy during ovulation that men literally rate ovulating women as more attractive than their non-ovulating counterparts. Besides changes in libido, the list of period symptoms are well known to its sufferers: hormone changes are responsible for changes in mood, water weight, weight gain, sleep patterns, skin texture, and more.  And all these changes happen within a mere span of around 28 days. That’s something unique and powerful.

Women’s cycles of change are literally reflected in nature. Knowing that my time of introspection and withdrawal from the world was reflected in the night sky gave me a sense of legitimacy that I had only experienced in solidarity with other women. I gained a greater appreciation for the changes in my body, and it was a lot easier to accept my sorry state.

So why has it taken me 10 years of periods to think differently about them?

Arguably, today, there are a lot of societal pressures for women to be the same day in and day out. Women can receive pressure for not being sexually available every single day, or be stigmatized for being on their period and needing basic hygiene products. Physical changes like cramps and bloating are not taken seriously, when for some women, painful cramps can be on par with labour pain. In fact, the pain from serious medical issues can be dismissed as just cramps- a dismissal that intersects with different factors such as race. Even the emotional and hormonal differences that crop up around PMS – women are called unstable with little leniency or compassion for the immense changes their bodies are going through.

We don’t need to go back to “The Red Tent” (set in ancient Mesopotamia where women marked different aspects of their reproductive lives with intricate and often stifling rituals) to expand the conversation.

Though a complete overhaul of social structures, customs, norms, etc wouldn’t be unwelcome to me, I think a basic place to start would be to try and cultivate respect for the feminine cycle at ALL points.

Not just the times when women are desirable to men. Not just the times when everything is easy and you’re extroverted. Not just the times when you’re un- bloated and cramp free. The turning from fertile to barren, from lush to frozen to lush again, is reflected in many aspects of nature, like the seasons, the moon, even human development from birth to maturity to ageing. You as someone on a period are part of not only a community of other period-ers, but a force of nature yourself.

This isn’t about finding masochistic pleasure in the horrors of those couple of days, nor is it about ditching the pain meds, nor ceasing to complain to your girlfriends (or boyfriends) about how much you hate your period. It’s not about free bleeding under the moon, or ditching hygiene products. Nor is this about essentializing womanhood with periods.

Instead, I’m suggesting a paradigm shift where period are respected as part of the ebb and flow of nature.

There is precedence for the general dismissive view of periods (they really do SUCK), and if you have no need or desire to challenge the dominant worldview, that’s totally fine too.

To examine further –  who is perpetrating the current paradigm? Is it people who see the true nature of what it means to be on your period or is this Hot Take coming from a Group of People who might be disappointed that you’re not sexually available 24/7? Is the disgust towards periods perhaps fuelled by a de Beauvoir-ean shrouding of the “other, SO mysterious sex” and their foreign experiences? (I’m half joking; it seems that attitudes towards periods are adopted by men and women alike, though these norms definitely benefit men).

For example, not to get TOO nsfw, there are many gross aspects of sex. Yet the overall act, while it can involve discomfort and bodily fluids, has not been essentialized to the grossness. Sex is not the sum of its biological parts, and my argument is that a period does not have to be the sum of its parts either.

Thus a helpful paradigm shift might acknowledge that it’s okay not to be a certain way all of the time, that there is presidency in the natural world for the ups and downs.

There is feminine power in change and cycles. It’s okay to be introverted and withdrawn during your period. Take all the meds, have sex on your period, go to work, do whatever you would like to do, but don’t let yourself believe that you’re failing to meet a standard on your period. Your period is a Time and a Half and that’s okay.

And if you want to take some time to mark your period, there are a couple of things to think about:

  1. Track your period using an app or journaling. Notice the changes before, during, and afterwards with the hope of becoming more in tune with your body. Even if you don’t have dehabilitating periods, you can still learn more about your body.
  2. It can be a good time to journal, reflect, read, and generally turn inwards. I’d suggest some reading material like “Man’s Search for Meaning” or other suffering-oriented literature if you want to explore your own discomfort. (Supplemented with as much ibuprofen as you want).
  3. If you are in a position of privilege and want to do so, adjust your sleep to match your period. I have no idea what other people go through but I personally lose a lot of sleep during my period. If I don’t work or am able to, I’ll catch up on sleep during the day or whenever my flow isn’t as bad.
  4. I love making teas and taking baths to soothe my stomach. Baths are a must – being surrounded by hot water and herbal smells can really uplift and soothe you. I love lavender essential oil and Epsom salts in my bath.
  5. Being outside and connected to nature can remind you that your period is something natural, something you don’t have to hate on principle. (Supplement this with your favourite ways of “dealing with” your period, because even though it’s something natural, you still have autonomy to do whatever you want with it).

*a feature which is not essential to be a woman, nor a defining trait of a woman, nor exclusively limited to women!

** Also, I am aware that my experiences with my period come from a place of privilege, and that intersecting qualities lead to people having much, much worse experiences with their periods and not being able to have the (financial, temporal, etc) luxury of embracing them. So while this article is probably somewhat outside the norms of a general blog post (maybe?), I would argue it’s not really a revolutionary argument, but more of a starting point to change views about periods.

Life Lessons | The Pursuit of Happiness

A few weeks ago, I started a list of things I’ve learned through having been there, done that (I think it was brought on by the horror of turning 21 and realizing how much older I am than when I first thought I was old – 14 year old me had no clue what she was talking about!). The list got out of hand, and weirdly gave me peace because it solidified how much I’ve changed and grown over the years, even though it feels like I’ve been in the same place.

Life Lessons by Hannah Law, age 21

  • Sometimes instead of worrying about what the future holds, do what needs to be done, now, as well as you can, and the future may fall into place.
  • Be prolific, you will eventually produce something good if you do it long enough. If you don’t, you’ll definitely get better at it.
  • Watching from the sidelines is NO FUN if you refuse to play because you’re scared of being bad or losing.
  • When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.
  • Assessing every bad situation, from annoying to disastrous, in an objective logical manner can do wonders for growth.
  • Sometimes, there is no good v.s bad decision – there are just two decisions with two different outcomes. If you like one outcome more than it’s a good decision.
  • And sometimes you’re just left with two bad decisions and neither outcome is better.
  • Procrastination leads to pain – unless you thrive in the last minute (like me). In that case just make sure you leave enough time in the last minute.
  • The best way to make your day better is to make someone else’s day better.
  • It’s okay to like yourself, now, where you are, even if there are things you want to change about yourself.
  • If you hate doing something, make it at least a little more enjoyable. Play loud music while cleaning the bathroom – study in a coffeeshop – make yourself a coffee to take to school – have a bath after work. No need to make something harder for yourself than it already is, especially if you need motivation to do it a lot.
  • After highschool, you are in charge of what you share with the world. You’re not in a fish bowl anymore. If you don’t want people to know about your grades, love life, or anything else, you don’t have to tell them.
  • The definition of success is completely up to you and it may change based on all things- getting out of bed may be a success today. Getting all A’s may also be a success.
  • People have been through what you’ve been through. Nobody feels good all the time – Instagram is lying to you.
  • Being kind in the face of injustice or pain is so good for the soul.
  • You can’t hate yourself into someone that you love.
  • You’re allowed to eat; you’re allowed to reject food morality & “guilt”; you’re allowed to eat.
  • Aristotelian virtue ethics are the answer to everything – from personal dilemmas to career paths to relationships. Ask yourself “what kind of person do I want to be in this particular situation?”
  • No knowledge exists in a bubble – everything is connected.
  • Self care is absolutely freaking important and can include any and all things that make you feel good (chocolate), feel recharged (baths), or just make your life better (like doing laundry).
  • Creating beautiful spaces makes me feel incredible.
  • Understand how you work; are you introverted or extroverted? Seek out situations that recharge you, either social ones or alone ones.  If you are introverted, realize your strengths and let go of trying to conform to the “extrovert ideal”. (As an aside, read Quiet by Susan Cain – it will literally change your life)
  • Follow whole heartedly your interests. Listen to them. If you’re crazy about writing, reading, and philosophy, then maybe a BSc isn’t for you (ahem, me).
  • Don’t settle, especially in relationships. It’s okay to take the focus off men and onto yourself if you feel burnt out at the dating game. It’s okay to put the focus on yourself, period.
  • Call your mom!!!
  • If you will regret not going to get ice cream at 2am, not rocking that cute bikini at the beach, not seeing your friends, not going to class, not dying your hair, not switching your major, not going on that roadtrip, not making those memories – then do them.
  • Life is too short to spend unhappy.
  • Don’t be afraid to work hard and go all out.
  • “Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul in fire”. Jennifer Lee

Thankful Thursdays | May 18th

Copy of Instagram Post – Untitled Design

Today I am thankful for:

  1. The sunshine and the beautiful weather! It’s supposed to be so hot today, which is such a change from the gloomy rain that’s been the norm for the past few weeks.
  2. The people in my life who contribute to “the opposite of loneliness” – friends, family, my boyfriend.
  3. A renewed sense of hope and excitement towards my academic career. This year I switched from Biology/Psychology to just Psychology and then again to English. I’m excited to pursue English because I know it’s where my strengths lie and where I’ll get excited for whatever comes after my undergraduate, instead of getting burnt out like I was in other programs.
  4. Having a full time job waiting for me on June 3rd!
  5. The fact that my sore throat and mini sickness is temporary and that I’ll be back to feeling 100% soon.

This post was inspired by Addie van Rijn’s Thankful Thursdays series on Instagram!

Ex Libris | Note to Self

This article is going to be the first in the “Ex Libris series” of book reviews.

“Note to Self” is Connor Franta’s second venture into book writing. Connor, a content creator out of Los Angeles, is best known for his successful Youtube channel, but also has extended his entrepreneurial spirit to projects such as a lifestyle brand called Common Culture, a music label, and severa; compilation albums. Connor’s first book, “A Work in Progress”, an autobiography of his life, remained a New York Times bestseller for 16 consecutive weeks.

 

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Note to Self  has a completely different feel than the polished, optimistic “Work in Progress”. Instead of chapters, the book contains a reflective and intimate collection of poems and essays. Each addition conveys a musing about life, as Connor records his struggles with depression, his devastating breakup, and his slow and gradual healing process. He writes to his younger self, his future self, and he reflects on growth and humanity and happiness. Throughout, personal photography acts as interludes to accompany the heaver poems and essays.

Even with all these potentially grandiose topics, Connor’s voice is honest and compelling. There are no pretentious sweeping statements about life, nor does he shy away from his failings and humanity. This isn’t a carefully edited and poised self presented between these pages, but an emotional and vulnerable one. We’ve all been there.

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I especially loved “Frames”, a poem which is an exploration of the emptiness of a falling out. “photographs fly down/where we used to lie down” – intimacy turned to emptiness.

Apropos as well was the poem “somebody else”: “I want the old me back”. This semester I found myself struggling with depression and anxiety, due to a number of factors. I missed being full of energy, missed being able to put in 100% effort, missed succeeding and being proud of my work. I wasn’t myself this semester.

“I saw a boy in Larchmont” reminded me of the familiar panic of seeing an ex in public. It also reminded me of how I’d been convinced in the past that I was over something only to unexpectedly realize I wasn’t.

Other poems, though, felt awkward, as if the words wouldn’t come. Some felt so full of emotion, almost choked by it, so that not else remained – and that translated onto the page; a set of words conveying jumbled despair but not much else. Others felt juvenile, like a 10th grader’s first attempts to voice their experiences through poetry – focusing too much on the weight of the words themselves, not the images they portray.

Similarly, in some of the essays, interjections and notes to the reader took away from the point of the essay. It felt immature instead of personal.

Those are the weaknesses, but the strengths of this book far outweigh them. Each piece, written during or immediately after the precipitating feeling, holds humanity and emotion as securely as if it were cold pressed. Remember the kids in highschool who flaunted the fact they have it all together? Constantly were sharing and bragging on social media? Note to Self is the opposite of that – it is humble and authentic. It’s the writings of someone who gets it.

Connor’s voice needs to develop, in my opinion,  but he writes on beautiful, painful, and relatable topics which show his great personal growth and relate to all of us in our human experience.

I loved this collection so much that I started a “Note to Self” project of my own.  I can’t take photos to save my life (hi galaxy S5 camera!) but I already have a few pages of material. That’s why I loved this book so much  – it was so inspiring and so beautiful that it made me want to curate my own notes to self.

-Hannah

Beginnings

I started this blog on a complete whim.

Last week, while on a break for studying for exams, I got into a discussion on Facebook about makeup – my friend told me I didn’t need it.

This begged the question: do you fall into a binary of “needs makeup to be conventially beautiful” or the superior “doesn’t”? Or perhaps as your grow into your twenties you “graduate” and don’t need makeup anymore. Or the “need” of makeup to begin with is a personality flaw,  signalling some deeper insecurities?

These points made me reflect on my own journey with makeup.

If you don’t know me, I am the definition of a makeup junkie. I love trying new makeup and using skincare and I have an extensive collection of each. But it’s definitely taken a while to get here!

The first makeup I ever tried was mascara. I was somewhere around grade 8 or 9. I remember looking in the mirror, then going skating afterwards. I still remember how incredible and confident I felt, like the simple act of adding black to my lashes had given me wings to glide over the ice.

Later that year, I got my makeup done so I could learn how to use it. Walking out of the appointment, I felt unstoppable. The picture I took that day was my Facebook profile until grade 12.

When I stopped being homeschooled and went to highschool, my perception of makeup changed. I was surrounded by girls whom I felt were all much more beautiful than me. I felt had to wear makeup. Without it, I felt incredibly insecure; with it I would still check the bathroom mirror incessantly and wish I had a prettier face. There were no more wings or photo shoots.

I didn’t find joy in makeup until I was well into my gap year. I got way too deep into youtube makeup communities and grew to love buying new products to test out. I ended up reclaiming makeup and with it came love for myself.

Each new discovery I made – how to wear blush, how to do your eyeshadow, eyeliner, bronzer, brows- gave me a sense of empowerment and self esteem. I loved being able to change areas of my face that I hated. I’d had acne for years – it was gone. Under eye circles from studying? Nope. Blotchy, discoloured lips? Gone. My brows stood out, my eyelashes were inhumanly long black and fluttery, my skin flawless. Being able to not feel insecure about myself was incredible. I didn’t cringe inside when people looked my way in public.

I remember the first time I ever went to Sephora. A beautiful tall sales associate with a swelling baby bump helped recommend products. To me, she was a goddess. My first ever purchase was the Naked 3 palette. I still use it to this day.

Truly discovering makeup for the first time was life changing.

In first year university, the excitement had worn off. I was (and still am!) in a school setting again where there was no time to fully express myself every morning. I tend to focus more on covering my breakouts and acne scars now instead of creating, instead of shaping my face into one that gives me invincibility. I miss it. I’m excited for school to end so I can go back to playing with eyeshadow instead of slapping foundation on half asleep.

My journey with makeup made me realize that makeup brings me true joy when I’m expressing myself with it. I love transforming myself into someone a little different. I love feeling different ways every day  – sometimes more loud and confident when I wear lots of eyeliner, sometimes more girly and soft when I wear neutral eyes and lots of blush. I am so excited for other people to experience the same thing that I tend to get carried away. I know I’ve scared my sister away. 🙂

But what makes me unhappy is feeling like I “need” to wear makeup. School is very good at bringing that need out in me. I’ve forced myself this year to wear no makeup to school. I ended up liking it just as much as I like wearing a full face sometimes. I didn’t feel as confident, but I didn’t feel disgusting either. It was kind of liberating. No makeup set me free from being distracted, from touch ups, and gave me 20 extra minutes of sleep in the morning. It was more than worth it!

Sometimes, makeup brings out my best self, and sometimes my bare face does. I’ve realized it’s never really been about makeup for me, but more about being free to choose to be my best self. The ability to choose to wear makeup to hide my acne gave me confidence in grade 9. The ability to choose to wear no makeup to school if in second year university set me free. In between, I relish the ability to create myself every time I use makeup.

Will I write this much when I’m not procrastinating for exams? Stay tuned to find out!

~HSL