Love Language Reflections: On Not Buying Gifts

This is a fitting topic for my birth month! Gift giving is such as well-known gesture to showcase thoughtfulness, affection and meaning, but it can get complicated at times. Then the act of gift-giving is muddied with feelings or anxiousness, resentment, burnout or the pressure of expectations. That is when, in my opinion, the positivity stops.

May is also the month of Mother’s Day, so for the the first two weeks of the month, there’s a wave of relentless advertising about products and services that people ought to purchase to make mother feel special.

Man wrapping a gift box, tying the ribbon.

For couples, I suppose there are three occasions where it is usually expected, or anticipated, by people that they will receive a gift. Birthdays, wedding anniversaries (or equivalent) or Christmas (or equivalent). For quite some time know, my husband and I don’t buy each other gifts for every single holiday and birthday.

I didn’t always feel good about it, especially in the beginning. It’s something I gradually got used to, and eventually appreciated as I got older. The more I get attuned to the constant, and frequent ways of showing care, concern, commitment, and affection to each other, the material goods mattered less and less. Any day, I’ll take my husband saying “I love you” a dozen times a day, than a shiny piece of jewellery every anniversary that will surely collect dust.

We are not super materialistic to begin with and we are both independent in nature as well.. So when there is a product or service that we need, we don’t wait for the next gift-giving occasion, or make someone use their money to buy it. We research, check our budget if necessary, and make the purchase in a way that works best for us.

I needed a desktop computer, since I have only been using a tablet (that I can connect to a monitor) for the past five years. But I don’t need or want it to be completely brand-new. For this year, I got a “half brand new” computer, meaning, I inherited some of his computer parts that he needed to upgrade, got a new case and new components, and got my own machine for half the price! That was actually an experience we treasure, because going out to stores during the restrictions due to COVID19 is quite an experience.

The peace of mind and financial freedom is actually quite incredible. The holiday season every December is so relaxed, because there’s is no need to scramble to buy or make a gift.

One way I have given him gifts is through my arts and crafts skills.I’m fortunate enough to be a crafter, so many of my gifts for him are artistic, one of a kind and also practical items. I first made a quilt, using our old Tshirts as material. As the years go by and we cohabited longer, it became apparent that it’s easy to run out of ideas for meaningful and utilitarian gifts. The quilts and pillow cases seem to be doing well in terms of longevity. And now, while using these items on a typical day, he would exclaim how much he appreciates these gifts “made with love”. I would exclaim how long ago these items were made, and they unexpectedly became mementos in their own right.

Living room couch covered with a quilt and pillow cases that were DIY.

For my brother, over several years, I have been giving him cash, and that seems to work well. It would be in an envelope with a heartfelt message and the dollar bills. Due to COVID-19, I know that many businesses don’t accept cash as payments anymore, so I sent it as an e-transfer, and included my heartfelt message in the message box. He is the only exemption to the rule, and I think in some ways it still counts, since I managed to escape the agony of choosing and buying an item he may not like or use, but instead, give something that would really of benefit as a young man. Maybe, the love language in that one, is that I trust him enough to know the best way to manage his finances.

“Do You Want a Ride?” The Captive Transit User Series: Part 1

What is a Captive Transit User? I learned about the term for the first time from the City of Edmonton’s website. The easy definition is: someone who takes public transit because it’s the best (or only available) option for them to travel around. The part about feeling ‘captive’ comes from the restriction that sometimes comes up, perhaps because one is too poor to own and maintain a vehicle, one does not know how to drive, or for medical reasons, cannot operate a vehicle. In many ways, I relate to this a lot. Though I’m pretty fortunate to afford the occasional taxi ride, and with my husband having a car.

I try my best to take transit to where I go. Just like most adults, the most frequent type of commute I have is to go to work, and I take transit almost every day to do that. However, my extracurricular activities throw a wrench in this routine. Edmonton is indeed a big, wide city, and depending on how you contribute to the community, that can involve some additional travel.

When my activity’s location goes beyond downtown, or further south of Whyte Ave, I get into a bit of trouble. And frankly, I see the immense value in helping out at organizations and activities beyond the region of the city I am a part of. If the activity or meeting is planned ahead of time, it might be okay. If there is time between when I leave for work and when the event starts, I take the bus and/or the train. It’s usually for the going-home part that I get into a pickle. When it is 9:45 PM or later after a board meeting, or it is almost 4 AM after a casino volunteer shift, taking a bus is not an option.

After I got my newest volunteer position I was a teeny bit worried because this means I am likely to take a taxi three more times in a month. It is not cheap, but still much cheaper than driving. I feel lucky that as a couple, we communicate about money very openly. As I shared my concern, my husband asked “well, love, is it within the budget?“. He is referring to the budgeting system we both use, which allows both of us to plan targets on an annual basis. I said “yah, so far, yes.” Then he said, ‘well, then it’s all good!”

Now, I’m attending more board meetings at different places, evening workshops and town halls. The more I attend these events, I see familiar faces more repeatedly. There are more of them who know how I get around and it is not by driving my own car.

I realized that there is usually at least one person who offers a ride, which I find both awkward but also really nice. Whether it is a ride right to my home, or at the very least, the closest LRT station that would help me take the rest of my trip home. I’m starting to learn how to be gracious and NOT ashamed when someone offers a ride. A technique I have learned is to ensure that the request is not very cumbersome. So if I know it’s someone from my neighbourhood, then asking for a ride home from our casino volunteer shift at 4 AM is not demanding or imposing. If someone who, like me, came from a different part of the city, and I know they would have to drive through a major road with a transit centre, I would ask it I can tag along at least to the transit centre, and not beyond that.

An unexpected silver lining to this, is the one-on-one opportunity to speak to the person who participated in the same event as I do, and has kindly offered me a ride. It is quite known to many people that I don’t drive, and I comment (diplomatically most of the time) about the gaps in our transit system. I also realized that commenting about how we got to the venue prior to an event is a neutral topic for small talk. So while people are complaining about the traffic, bad drivers and potholes, I’d comment about the poor transit service and how costly it is to get there.

I can say that I learn a bit more about the event or activity on the ride home, than during the event itself. Perhaps because my introverted nature shines more during these conversations in the car.

During the one-on-one chat in the car, the driver and I would comment about the event, and any other related topics that come from the activity or organization we are a part of. I spoke to a fellow board member who drove me home one day about our involvement with the said board. With the fellow columnist for a local Filipino community newspaper, we exchanged stories about coming to Canada and our respective families in the Philippines. The one time an elected representative offered me a ride home after a town hall, we talked about political campaigns, the differences between the neighbourhoods in the constituency, and hostility on social media towards politicians.

What’s the back-up plan when it seems like there isn’t someone whom I feel comfortable asking for a ride? It’s not really a back-up plan, it’s more like “Plan A”! Calling for a taxi and apps like TappCar had made calling for a ride pretty convenient. Thanks to the budgeting skills I learned from my spouse, I am able to keep an eye out on my spending and make sure it doesn’t go out of control.

So, it is unlikely that I will get a car anytime soon, but there are certainly lots of improvements that can be done from a policy and infrastructure side to make sure that other modes of transportation are feasible and desirable for many people.

My Contribution to Sexual Violence Awareness Month

By: Giselle General

May is Sexual Violence Awareness Month. It seems like every week, month, or day is dedicated towards something that it can be hard to keep track, this is something I’m not complaining about at all. Sometimes it can be something fun and casual like National Puppy Day, or something deeply important like Black History Month. I feel fortunate that in Canada, Alberta, Edmonton and other places worldwide, there were opportunities to talk about this important (and terrible) issue, give support to those affected, and have conversation on how to be aware and put an end to this.

The issue is a bit personal to me, since I myself have been a victim/ survivor of sexual assault. I purposefully used both words because these horrific act definitely have harmed me, and that should not be discounted one bit. At the same time, similar to the other life hardships that life threw at me, it is something I have survived from and changed who I am, hopefully for the better. The month had provided me with tangible opportunities to meaningfully participate.

Attending a Fundraising Gala

It seems like fundraising galas are everywhere, and attending them is actually pretty cool. I attended the fundraising gala for the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton at the Edmonton Convention Centre. While giving a hefty donation or a regular monthly donation is not within my budget at the moment, I figured that doing a one-time activity and donation is still something.

When it comes to food, I’m not picky anyways, and simply welcome the opportunity to have something different from my regular routine. This gala was a bit special as well, as I managed to join a table with other people who are actively involved in Edmonton. Some people at the table were familiar faces and names, which is thrilling! The keynote speaker, a gentleman who is a lawyer, was wonderful! What I appreciate most about the keynote speaker is that he addressed head on some of the misconceptions that surround sexual assault, from the act, to how survivors behave, and to how a perpetrator can look like. As someone who is part of the legal community, I also appreciate how he humanizes the flaws of the legal system. ‘These are human institutions with people who care‘ he said. I think that when we don’t get the results we are seeking, this is something that we forget in the midst of our anger, pain and discouragement.

Attending an event with a host who is also an auctioneer was a first for me, and seeing how the on-stage sign language interpreters keep up with the host was entertaining! I was blown away by the generosity and disposable income that some people have. Hearing the thousands of dollars being announced during the live auction bids made me gawk, and the tables of items available at the auction tables made me hope that lots of funds are indeed going to support the organization. After this, I definitely feel more inclined to make time and attend more fundraisers like this.

Educating Myself and Learning More Stories

There are lots of ways to make this convenient, specifically through social media. Simply following a few pages that talk about feminism, social issues, storytelling/artistic ones like Humans of New York, give a steady stream on my social media feed about stories and insights that people have. It can be heartbreaking, empowering, informative or hopeful depending on the story or the article. What I know for sure is that it is a reminder of how these experiences are common and universal. My goal is to spread awareness, reduce stigma and victim blaming, and seek out comfort for myself and others.

Evaluating What I Learned from Therapy

It has been almost two years since I went to therapy, and the effort to diligently apply what I have learned is going well. Other positive and healthy habits are being integrated in my life day by day, which also feels very promising. One thing I know is that it will take the rest of my life to remind myself to not be so outcomes-focused in my approach in life, and that is okay.

Also, as it turns out there are times when these calming or self-regulating techniques do not work and I’m not panicking about it. That really is the bigger victory. The calm that comes from accepting that I am a person that grows, changes and that have some weird quirks is liberating. I’m as messed up as anybody else, and this is not a crippling idea anymore.

The dictionary definition of internalize is “to incorporate (the cultural values, mores, motives, etc., of another or of a group), as through learning, socialization, or identification.” This is the biggest victory of my therapy experience, to internalize that it was okay to feel angry and sad and hurt about being treated poorly, to internalize that is is okay to set aside time to acknowledge these feelings, to internalize that there is a way and I deserve to process these feeling and release them, to internalize that I deserve all those good things I life that I didn’t have for a while.

I encourage anyone to find a cause you care about that has a date/ week/ month dedicated to spread awareness, and take it as an opportunity to spread awareness, provide support, and improve ourselves.

How to be an Ally: Edmonton-Style

By: Giselle General

When people are being asked to be an ally, based on what I have seen, it is usually in terms of these two:

  • asking men to support women in their fight for equality
  • asking straight people to support the LGBTQPIA2+ community

Being an ally resonates with me, perhaps due to my inclination to be helpful in whichever way I can.

The more I learn about the different ways that people are marginalized, the more I feel motivated to figure out how to do my part. Interestingly enough, in some ways I actually fall under some of these categories. If I would list a few, I am:

  • An immigrant
  • An orphan
  • A woman of colour

But at the same time, I fall under many categories of privilege, of being in the ‘majority’ so to speak. If I would list a few, I am:

  • Straight and cisgender (and I look the part)
  • Educated and literate
  • Able-bodied and neurotypical
  • An immigrant (because in some instances, Indigenous people have more challenges that I don’t necessarily face)

So, what does being an ally look like for me, especially here in Edmonton? Here is how I do it.

Educating Myself

It can be as simple as reading stories and news articles in my own time. I see the point in discouraging those who are already marginalized to explain themselves over and over about the hardships they face. Placing this burden on them can be quite re-traumatizing.

The Power of Social Media

I have curated my social media to help me be more informed and aware. A few recommendations I have are below. And many of these are local content which helps me understand contexts of what is going on around me.

Learning about Indigenous Issues: Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, Rise in Solidarity Edmonton, CBC Indigenous

Learning about the LGBT community: Gary the Gay, Lizzy the Lezzy, Pride Centre of Edmonton, George Takei, Assigned Male Comics

Learning about challenges of people with disabilities: Voice of Albertans with Disabilities

The Principle of Compassion

From therapy, I was encouraged to be compassionate towards myself. I think it ended up being an ongoing positive cycle. That encouraging myself to care for myself as much as I care for others, resulted into being more caring towards others, especially those whose hardships I don’t (and will never completely) understand.

The next in my to-do list in the journey is understanding and applying practically what it means to stand in solidarity. I think when it comes to making positive change happen, there will be times when I will have to ask other groups to stand in solidarity with me, and that I will stand in solidarity as other groups fight their battles. I’m sure that there will be lots of opportunities to do either, which I’m looking forward to.

The Quest And New Options for “Belonging”

By: Giselle General

With all the conversation about social isolation, mental health, and disconnectedness these days, I have been thinking more about the concept of belonging.

My explorations range from simply thinking things trough, mulling through my head various things I read or hear about and reading books on the matter. I read a few books by Brene Brown on vulnerability, shame, and the idea of ‘daring greatly’ and ‘braving the wilderness’ which on the surface sounds really isolating.

As someone who immigrated to a different country, the concept of belonging gets a bit more muddled. One challenge is the labels we use to identify ourselves can mean not belonging to other groups. Or that more effort or clarification is needed to make the broad connection.

Perhaps it is just a sign of getting older, that I am faced with more paradoxes in life, it’s making my head spin. Assertiveness and collaboration, boundaries and openness, vulnerability and courage, sharing and preserving.

It wasn’t until a few years in university that I discovered a term that resonated with me: introvert. It is a part of who I am that I have learned to embrace and even let shine. I laugh whenever my colleagues and volunteers claim that they don’t believe me since I seem to be so social and cheerful when I interact with them at work. But most of my work is done well within the confines of my closed office door. And that at the end of the day I crave isolation while writing a blog, reading a book, or browsing online. I have attended a ‘Paint Nite’ event with a friend, where we were in a bar following instructions from an instructor on how to make a certain painting. That is fine and neat, but I felt greater satisfaction and artistic expression by doing arts and crafts in isolation, making a mess in our dining table all by myself.

There are times when I feel unease – not as intensely as guilt though – over the fact that I have not really spent time socializing with my relatives. I feel conflicted on who, when and how should we really hang out. Should I ask first? Should I wait for them to reach out? I feel that those gatherings are not as fun as they used to, or was that because I haven’t seen them for a long time? Is the fact that we are related by blood, enough reason to find time to meet up, despite differences in schedule, preferences and values?

Then there is technology. There are now plenty of online communities to connect with like-minded people, even over just that one thing you may have in common. In my opinion, these types of connections are still under-valued. The great benefit of these online forums is how specific they can be, and that specificity of common interest is what makes it difficult to find in real life sometimes. Currently, I am a member of online groups for bullet journaling (essentially a DIY planner/ diary/ scrapbook/ notebook hybrid), sex education and positivity, and being childfree by choice.

One thing I am trying to remind myself is that there is no such thing as feeling like you belong 100% in every single location or setting. And that IS okay! It seems like the excessive pressure to hang out with people is the very reason why social interactions can be unpleasant or not satisfying. Being present, and mindful, and curious are a few things I’m trying to integrate in my life. On in other words, rolling with the punches.

The last thing I am trying to remind myself in the quest of belonging, is that its imperfections and impermanence is not something to be afraid of. It is okay to have a childhood friend for a decade, be disconnected during the adult years, and perhaps, rediscover the kinship upon retirement age. It is okay to take a break or unflollow online groups if it seems like the right thing to do. It is okay to formally break a friendship or let it fade away by not corresponding. It is okay to mumble and be awkward and focus on your group’s activity, taking extra time before disclosing personal details.

The two statements I heard not too long ago that resonated with me is “I feel complete in an empty room” and “You are amazing, just the way you are”. I think that convincing myself of the first statement, and viewing other using the second statement, will be valuable guides in navigating the colourful, unpredictable, messy, journey of connecting with fellow humans.