Love Language Reflections: On Listening Without Judgment

Sometimes, we hesitate talking to the ones whose advice, support, and approval we value the most: our love ones. Whether that is our significant other, family members, or treasured friends, we are most afraid to be vulnerable to these wonderful people in our lives, because we are also afraid of judgment. A disapproving look or reaction from them would hurt so much more than one from a stranger.

The skill of listening without judgment is a very difficult one, and for our loved ones whose well-being we are very invested on, it sounds like not showing outward reactions is counter-intuitive.

I remember when my brother was dating someone who, looking back now, is not a great fit. The fallout of the breakup was pretty rough on him, he had to scale back the classes he was taking that semester. It took all of me to not tell him how he is “stupid” for staying or how “bitchy” she is for behaving like that. Making him feel like a failure is not going to help with recovering at his own pace and moving on. I told him more that once that in my first relationship in Canada I experienced through the exact same thing, the breakup was too much for me mentally, I dropped one class during the semester of winter 2009 and made up for it through an online course in the spring. By connecting what he went through with a similar experience I had, I aimed to not show harsh judgment for what happened. I hoped I achieved the goal at that time.

Just recently, I told my spouse about a dilemma I have at work. As someone who works in the nonprofit sector helping vulnerable people, gut-wrenching stories about people’s suffering is something I hear about all the time. As I shared to him my dilemma, I was very relieved that he did not mock me for my ‘over the top’ idea on how to possibly the client. He acknowledged how emotionally invested I have become for clients sometimes, emphasized the value of setting some separation between work and personal life, and suggested alternate ways to channel my frustration about the flaws of society.

A tactic to curb this almost-impulsive tendency to judge what we hear is to ask more questions. When our love ones vent about their situation, by asking them to rehash certain details, it can help them let off steam. It becomes evident that a reaction or advice from the listener is not even necessary.

Another thing I have learned, speaking of the idea that advice is not what they are seeking, is to actually listen to cues that prompt you to give feedback. Something like “what do you think” or “what should I do” or “any suggestions or thoughts?” And if this does not come up at all, perhaps they just want to vent. I think that people in general are more hesitant to say “I don’t need advice, just a listening ear and maybe a hug.”. Many times, this is actually the default. So I’m working on paying attention to this detail moving forward.

For my spouse, when I want to run something through him, I actually start by saying “baby love, I’d like your thoughts about something“. So, when I start my talk by jumping to the story, or even making complaining mumbling noises, he knows that all I need is a hug, a moment of sympathy, and a listening ear.

In many conversations, in many relationships we have, we take turns doing the role of the giver and the receiver, the supporter and the seeker for help. This form of love language is vital for all these valuable people in our lives, and also for ourselves.

Sexual Assault Survivor Gets a Boudoir Photoshoot

By: Giselle General

CONTENT WARNING: Sexual Violence, Sexual Assault

Back view of woman sitting on the edge of a bed.

One’s bedroom should be a place of rest, escape, peace and comfort, after a long day of exhaustion, activities and responsibilities. The darkness of the night should be an opportunity of calm solitude, an end of a long day, a pathway to a new morning with the hope that the new day will bring about new adventures and experiences. One’s womanhood and the journey to become one can be uncertain and confusing, but should be one that is filled with discovery, curiosity, and optimism, as one transforms physically into adulthood.

Sexual assault, rape, abuse, molestation, however you want to call it, regardless of how it happened, not only defiles one’s outlook in their life and their bodies, but also taints one’s soul with an indescribable amount of fear and pain.

There were roadblocks to be had, that dragged on and weighed me down for months and years, and clouded the vision of myself, my body, my behaviours, and motivations. From having difficulty articulating how I’m feeling physically, emotionally, and sexually in my romantic life, to feeling uninformed and afraid to learn about reproductive health. From nightmares about being raped with scenarios more gruesome than what I have experienced, to daydreaming while taking transit on what I would do if I get assaulted again, but this time in public.

The journey to healing started online, thanks to the increased discussions about sexual assault. Simultaneously, my current relationship played a huge role, from being believed after I shared my story, to having a voice and being heard when talking about issues related to sexual health and sexual activities. And then a few years ago, the healing became more professional-based, when I finally went to therapy to address the mental and emotional entanglements caused by this particular traumatic event, as well as others.

But there was one thing I mulled about for a very long time, and that is addressing how I view my physical body. The conventional assumption of “she must have looked or dressed a certain way which is why she got assaulted” is one of the key messages I wanted to debunk in my mind and heart. Mind you, during the assaults, typically I was wearing pajamas and clothes of my deceased parents as my sleepwear back then. This is the biggest reason why this assumption enrages me.

Finally, after some time hemming and hawing, browsing through several photographer’s websites, and convincing myself that my budgeting skills are on track, I finally booked the appointment. I chose for the photoshoot to be done on a rented studio, with a wide variety of backdrops for various effects. Many of the backdrops depicted typical parts of a house, just more glamorous looking: the bedroom with pristine sheets, a fancy bathroom with a clawfoot tub, elegant couches and plush chairs, and brick and pastel painted walls. I purchased a few outfits to help me have a theme in the photos, I had my hair done by a hairstylist but chose to not have makeup on. Finally, I told the photograher I’m okay with being a bit of a daredevil with some surprise poses.

It was hard to articulate how enjoyable and empowering it is to feel calm while practically semi-nude in front of a stranger. It is particularly freeing given that my sense of trust was broken by someone who is definitely not a stranger. I felt a bit awkward when I was asked to do certain movements, because part of the approach is not holding still for a certain pose, but instead, to do things such as move your arms and hips in a sexy way while standing, or play with your hair while imagining that you’re feeling like a superstar on the bed right now. But soon enough, the awkwardness transformed into playfulness.

The biggest surprise of all for me, is how I looked like in the photos she captured. When I was doing a ‘movement pose’ such as walking into the door ready to ‘have some fun’, she was pressing the shutter button non-stop while saying ‘oh wow! yes that’s good!’. Fierce, confident, alluring, vixen, all womanly, and not even needing to act like a skinny model while doing so.

When I picked up the printed photobook that was part of my package, I had a bit of a chat with the photographer. I was amazed at how many of the clients the photographer had, were indeed, survivors of sexual violence. Our conversations touched on perception of women in general, the “male gaze” and how it impacts our own perception of ourselves.

In the very visual way we live our lives these days, I figured, using that to my advantage is worth it. It was pretty neat to turn something used to objectify women, professionally photographs, into an opportunity to challenge unhealthy views about one’s self. I feel inclined to do this again, perhaps in five to ten years, to celebrate any transformations in my body, while celebrating my personhood and womanhood. This is something I definitely would encourage other people to consider, particularly if their trauma affects their outlook of their physical bodies and their vision of themselves.

How Romance and Community Service Intertwine

By: Giselle General

My significant other is born-and-raised in this city we call home. He hasn’t experienced living anywhere else, not counting the times he had to go out of town for work, his travels, or when he came with me to visit and tour the Philippines. Staying in those places are temporary and that was very clear, and at the end of that short timeframe, it will lead to going home again to Edmonton.

While in my case, I grew up in a small mining village in the Philippines, and even continued to live there after my parents and sister passed away. It was unexpected circumstances that prompted me to move to the nearby city to finish high school, and then I was told I’m moving to another part of the world. When I came to Canada, I thought that I will be able to build relationships and set roots in St. Catharines, Ontario, when an abrupt move to Edmonton changed things again.

We had conversations about our future. and it is established that we will be in Edmonton for the rest of our lives. This is not something I wasn’t “over the moon” about exactly, but I’m not actively opposed to it either. It is a good city to live in, with decent opportunities and ways to have an enjoyable life, and I get the benefit of being with people who have lived here for much longer than me. I know that for some couples, location and mobility are key factors in their relationship, and I’m more than happy to be swayed by his desire to build roots here, or in his case, keep and grow the ones he already had.

I guess it is good to do things from a place of love. Because I associate my spouse as being part of this city, I feel more inclined to actively love and care for this place as well.

I told him, if we are going to live here forever, might as well do something to make improvements or keep the good things as they are. In my younger years, getting involved in clubs is something I always enjoy. It is pretty rewarding to be part of a group, with a positive and productive goal, even if it sucks up part of one’s spare time. Turns out, finding ways to do community service here is very easy, given that there are lots of choices. In fact, it can be too easy to get overwhelmed!

That is what inspired me to volunteer for the community league. It is pretty neat that there is a formal organization, that has a structure, funding mechanisms and established processes, for people whose affiliation is just one thing: that they live near each other and want to do good things for their neighbours. It has been three years since I started volunteering, and my spouse and I have a specific tasks that we diligently fulfill.

That is what motivated me to find my happy medium of getting involved in my cultural community, and with the city at large. He knew that writing and journalism is an interest of mine, and he cheered me on when I started writing columns for a provincial cultural newspaper for the Filipino community. He has even helped me with topics or phrasing, when the annoying ‘Writer’s Block’ hits me at unexpected times.

Being conscious of how your significant other navigates your city can encourage you to speak out in ways you haven’t anticipated before. For example, my spouse was very concerned about the changes in the transit system because of how it will affect me, as someone who does not drive. While a typical person who drives might not care as much, he was inspired to answer the online surveys, come with me to the in-person engagement sessions, and half-jokingly asks me whether we should sell the house so I get the same frequent bus access that I currently have.

The River Valley System of Edmonton is a huge part of our relationship. A few of our first dates consisted of walking through these beautiful natural trails. A longer hike is an annual tradition for us. Naturally, when we discovered that there is a formal organization that focuses on preservation of the River Valley, I considered participating. Oh, if only I have more hours in the day! Or maybe, there will be an opportunity or schedule when this will work better in the future. For now, when we are wanting a more casual date, we’ll continue to use this network of trails and doing our best to be responsible users of this incredible natural resource. We are subscribed to the newsletter of this conservation society, and we try to keep up to date on relevant news and research.

I guess it is good to do things from a place of love. Because I associate my spouse as being part of this city, I feel more inclined to actively love and care for this place as well. I hope that more people feel the same way about where they are living right now.

Community Resource Article: Resources on Family Violence

By: Giselle General

This article was also submitted by the author as a contribution to the Alberta Filipino Journal (a cultural/ community newspaper in the province of Alberta, Canada) in March 2018

Family violence is defined as the abuse of power within relationships of family, trust or dependency that endangers the survival, security or well-being of another person. It takes many forms including intimate partner abuse, sexual assault, child abuse and neglect, child sexual abuse, parent abuse, elder abuse and neglect, and witnessing the abuse of others in the family. Family violence may include some or all of the following behaviours: physical abuse; psychological abuse; criminal harassment/stalking; verbal and emotional abuse; sexual violence and abuse; financial abuse; and spiritual abuse. 

The definition above is taken from the report called Family Violence Hurts Everyone, a Framework to End Family Violence in Alberta

This is a range of resources that can serve as a starting point when faced with this situation.

  1. Online Resources to Educate: It can be confusing sometimes to understand what is happening or how to describe it. These are online resources to browse and learn more about the situation that you may be facing before taking steps.
    1. The Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta has a series of videos, infographics and brochures that cover things such as the role of the police, protection orders, financial support, leaving an abusive relationship if you are not a Canadian Citizen, and more:  https://www.cplea.ca/publications/abuse-and-family-violence/#domesticviolenceseries
  2. Domestic Violence Shelters: These can be a starting point in searching for a shelter to go to. Different shelters have different levels of service. While some cater exclusively to women, some can help men or cater to specific demographics.   
    1. The Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters has an interactive map that lists all shelters in Alberta at https://acws.ca/shelters
    1. You can call at 1-866-331-3933
    1. Sage Seniors Association is an organization in Edmonton that helps men and women aged 60 and older. You can contact them at 780-702-1520 or http://www.mysage.ca
  3. Financial Abuse/ Dealing with Financial Aftermath of Fleeing from Family Violence: Leaving an abusive relationship can mean your source of money for daily living will not longer be available.  Some programs and resources to help with the financial hardship after fleeing abuse are:
    1. Alberta Works: Supports for Albertans Fleeing Abuse is a program that can provide a wide variety of supports such as funds to relocate, basic needs, and more. Call 1-866-644-9992 on weekdays, 1-866-644-5135 on weekends or get information online at http://www.albertasupports.ca
    1. You can apply for Child Support and Spousal Support through the courts. Contact the Government of Alberta’s Resolution and Court Administration Services at 1-855-738-4747 or visit www.rcas.alberta.ca for help, especially if you cannot afford a lawyer.
  4. Therapy/ Counseling for Healing Psychologically: Healing from the pain of family violence can be difficult and can take a while. These are some resources, both in person and over the phone.  
    1. Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton is an organization that helps people who have experienced sexual abuse and sexual assault, which is a typical component of family violence. They serve children and adults. The services are free, and they can be contacted https://www.sace.ab.ca/ or at 780-423-4102
    1. The Canadian Mental Heath Association has a list of resources as well for counselling, therapy and support groups. The main website is https://alberta.cmha.ca/ where you can find the webpage for your city or town. You can also access their service by dialling 311 or the Mental Health Help Line at 1-877-303-2642
  5. Child-Specific: There are specialized programs and services to help children as well. This can be valuable since children can process trauma differently, given that they are still growing.  
    1. Zebra Child Protection Centre https://www.zebracentre.ca/
    1. Kids Help Phone Line is an available resource for kids and teens to speak to a counsellor. An online chat option is available at https://kidshelpphone.ca/, through the phone by calling 1-800-668-6868, or by downloading their app called ‘Always There’, available for Apple and Android phones.

While this list is specific to Edmonton or Alberta, an online search that includes your location – if it is a more remote one – can help identify what is available nearby. It is often the case that getting in touch with social agencies for any purpose, if you mention what else you need help with, they can direct you to other resources as well. Websites of specific municipalities also can have a directory of where to get help. Alberta.ca is also a good resource.




Community Resource Article: Legal Resources for Those Who Cannot Afford Lawyers

By: Giselle General

This article was also submitted by the author as a contribution to the Alberta Filipino Journal (a cultural/ community newspaper in the province of Alberta, Canada) in March 2018

It is unavoidable to have some challenges in life where legal advice is needed. There are many people, for understandable reasons, that are unable to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to pay for the full services from a lawyer or law firm. Here is a list of resources that can help inform or mitigate the cost of legal services, or to know about the legal issue before hiring for help.

  1. Online Resources to Educate: It can be valuable to read these booklets or watch the videos they offer. The language in these resources are meant for those who are not lawyers, making it easy to understand. In each website their resources are sub-categorized into different areas of law.
    1. Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta: https://www.cplea.ca/publications/
    1. Native Counselling Services of Alberta: http://ncsa.ca/resources/  
  2. The Government of Alberta Website: Information about legal processes, as well as about the different levels of court are available right on the website. A few key links are below.
    1. https://www.alberta.ca/rights-justice-law.aspx
    1. https://www.alberta.ca/waive-filing-fee.aspx
  3. Legal Centres in the Area, by Independent Charities: These are non-profit organizations that provide legal help to those who are low-income in the area. Criteria may vary depending on someone’s financial situation and the area of law they need help with.
    1. Edmonton Community Legal Centre: www.eclc.ca 
    1. Calgary Legal Guidance: www.clg.ab.ca
    1. Lethbridge Legal Guidance: www.lethbridgelegalguidance.ca
    1. Medicine Hat Legal Help Centre: www.mhlhc.ca
    1. Grande Prairie Legal Guidance: www.gplg.ca
    1. Central Alberta Community Legal Clinic (Red Deer): www.communitylegalclinic.net
    1. Community Legal Clinic – Fort McMurray: www.facebook.com/communitylegalclinicFortMac/
  4. Legal Centres in the Area Ran by Law Schools: The law schools in Edmonton and Calgary also offer legal services, that are ran by law students. These services are for also for those who cannot afford legal help.
    1. Student Legal Services of Edmonton: http://www.slsedmonton.com/
    1. Student Legal Assistance Calgary: http://slacalgary.ca/
  5. Legal Aid Alberta: Legal Aid is a province-wide program that helps eligible Albertans with different areas of law such as serious criminal charges, family law, child welfare, and more. Their website is www.legalaid.ab.ca
  6. Alberta Limited Legal Services Project: For those that may be able to afford some of fees that a lawyer would charge but not the whole amount all at once, this is a service where a lawyer can be hired on a limited scope. The website is: albertalegalservices.com/

If someone is needing legal help but lives in a more remote area like a small town, it is worthwhile to contact the nearest organization geographically. There may be other services that are also available right at the courthouse as well. Hopefully this is a valuable starting point in resolving one’s legal issues while considering financial limitations.

The Bliss of Language-Switching

By: Giselle General

One evening, as I was taking the bus on my way home, sitting at one of the seats on the upper back level, I hear the person behind me talking to someone over the phone. This scenario itself is not new, but something caught my attention that made me smile.

He was language-switching. During the first three minutes of the call, he was talking in straight English. Then afterwards, he started speaking a language I don’t understand, but still, he has used certain phrases in English like “oh my gosh” and “yah exactly” and “only a few followers on Instagram”. I cannot remember much else of what he said in English, but one’s intonation indicates whether what the person is saying is a statement, a question, a story, or a comment. The tone of voice indicates also when the person is usually done speaking that particular sentence. Given that understanding, I was able to get a sense that over the next 10 minutes that I was seated in front of him, he eventually was speaking half the time in English, and have the time in the other language.

Given that I can speak more than one language, and that English is my second language, I totally understand the appeal, the convenience, and the comfort of language-switching. I’ve read a number of articles that lists different terminologies that don’t have an English translation. If the person you are speaking to can understand the hybrid statement that accurately gets your point across, it works out so much better.

Person speaking to a can with a string as a pretend telephone.

I’ve seen it myself in many occasions, especially with talking to fellow Filipinos here in Edmonton. The wary and shy look on their faces lifts up as soon as I start talking in Tagalog, which usually happens when I answer their question in the polite way, adding the word ‘po’, since that indicates that I know what that word is used for. When speaking to clients at our office after my cowokers call me in because they have hit a communication barrier they cannot overcome, there’s a sense of relief when I tell them, feel free to speak in English as much as you like, and you can switch to Tagalog anytime and I’ll translate it for you.

Having a communication dynamic that allows language-switching is also an indicator of how special your relationship is with that person. My brother and I do this on a fairly regular basis. Given that my spouse speaks only in English, and my brother’s girlfriend’s first language is actually not Tagalog, but Bisaya, I usually speak in English with them. With my brother though, I describe our language combination as “English with Tagalog with Ilocano expressions”. As in swear words, yes. It’s a more fitting array of language options for us, given where and how we grew up, and what we’ve been through.

My bet is that this is a common dynamic of every immigrant person, so it is not an unusual scenario. Just noticing this a few days ago made me feel nice which is why I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge it. It’s time to feel pride, not shame, at having a slight accent when speaking in English. I encourage people to start imagining “how many languages does this person speak?”. I think so far I know of one gentleman who speaks seven languages which is incredible! Being multilingual is a freaking superpower!

Happy Mother’s Day To Those who Self-Parented

By: Giselle General

I was arranging a brunch meeting with someone and hoping to meet them this weekend, and he said that this weekend is hectic because of Mother’s Day. That is indeed coming up again. And I keep on forgetting it. It kind of makes sense since my mother passed away decades ago, my grandmother whom I lived with after my parents’ passing wasn’t the type who remembers holidays like that, especially in the Philippines, and the aunts who were kind of involved in some aspects of parenting were a bit all over the place. They certainly fulfilled some of the parenting duties, but my younger self’s fractured sense of attachment, made it impossible for me to describe any of them as ‘mama’.

To any of you who had a challenging upbringing, when a mother figure was inconsistent and when you had to fulfill these responsibilities for yourself and any other siblings, this is for you.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Kudos to you for doing everything you can to nurture a sense of love, belonging, care, for yourself and for any little brothers and sisters who needed it just as much as you did. You likely had to give those hugs and kisses, the words of advice about the world that you yourself are still trying to figure out, and in silence, have to heal your own hurts.

Great job for trying to hustle maintaining your home, earning income, doing chores, and budgeting even when your heart screams for the satisfaction of a capable adult doing this for you instead.

I would not be surprised if there were some people who came to your life that made you think, ‘Is this gonna be her? Is she gonna be the new mother that I can finally have?’ and finding out that you are wrong. And then you continued to get by, day by day, until you reach that very desirable legal age in your area, which opens up a new set of possibilities. Kudos for making it this far.

For those of you that are like me, who lost their mother through a heroic moment of self-sacrifice, may you be nurture this precious gift and opportunity to continue being in this world, while not being crippled with too much guilt or misguided sense of obligation that it holds you back.

For those of you who lost their mother through the flaws that humans tend to have, like neglect, abuse, indifference, or hostility, may you have the healing and the freedom that you deserve. May you feel empowered to define for yourself the best way to move forward, whether that means removing yourself from the woman who claimed the title ‘mother’ but didn’t quite embody what it means.

And now, when the passage of time has forged you to be perceived by the world as an adult, I hope that you are able to find ways to crate opportunities, permission and space for you to be cared for, fussed over, thought about. Since that need being unmet can be an entrapment of the mind, reaching out to the lonely, hungry child inside of us is crucial to feeling free to live life.

Being a mother is a mindset, a set of actions, the goal to care for a younger person and raising them into an adequate stage of adulthood. Again, to those of you who was pushed to the role too soon, who carry the scars and victories for making it through, Happy Mother’s Day to you.

On Being Politically Involved: Reflections To Date

By: Giselle General

Since I got my citizenship in 2012, I enthusiastically voted in every single election, simply because if feels right. After attending a few leadership workshops and campaign schools since 2015, I warmed up to the idea of being more politically active. I started in 2017 during the municipal election, when I helped a candidate with Get Out The Vote on election day and cleaning up her campaign office afterwards.

And then this year, I volunteered for a partisan election, helping a candidate in the weeks before the election. The I agonized for months on which candidate and which party to volunteer for, and then decided to volunteer for my riding’s candidate for the Alberta Party. She knocked on my door during the very, very painfully cold weekend in mid-February 2019, when it was about -30 degrees. I must say, kudos to her for braving the cold, she was definitely shivering as I make conversation with her while not cracking the door too widely.

Here are some of my thoughts about this eye-opening experience. Since I plan to run in just a few years’ time, I really appreciate every single moment throughout this experience.

I have to embrace the concept of being imperfect. It took internal convincing and a lot of reflection for me to accept that there is no perfect party, no perfect candidate, no perfect platform, and supporting one is still okay. Not gonna lie, the violent and evil portrayal of politics definitely played a role. If you think about it, why be a part of something that seems to be inherently “bad”? I talked to a campaign manager who said he supports most of the policies – not all – and still has dedicated the past six months supporting two candidates. This is what encouraged me to just give it a try. The amount of passion, anger – yes, but also the enthusiasm of making a dent, a bump, a way to push forward the change that they believe in, it is quite infectious.

Discovering my own style is still a work in progress. This is something that I realized, no one else will teach me. Sure, there is the script for door-knocking and making calls, but I have to work on my conflict-averse tendencies, my fear of getting yelled at. Terror is the right word for me to describe how I feel sometimes, and I try to apply the stuff I learned during therapy to be compassionate and understanding towards the most important person in this experience – myself. I would love to walk long distances to knock on doors and talk to people, but my left leg and foot has been giving me trouble for a while, and after about two hours, I just have to listen and get off my feet. I feel awkward about not remembering everyone’s names, but volunteer frequently enough and you’ll see them again and again, and they become more memorable.

I felt out of place sometimes from being a newcomer. I’m not really well versed in our province and city’s political history, but I took it as an opportunity to learn. From learning what Stephen Mandel has done when he was a councilor and Mayor, to hearing people talk about Peter Lougheed or Ralph Klein quite often. It’s fascinating to read between the lines, the anger, enthusiasm or the faraway looks of these people when they share these stories, the first-hand experiences they had. In each crowd, I still can’t help but do a demographic scan on who is in the room, based on age, livelihood, ethnicity, immigration status. Until it happened, I didn’t quite appreciate how thrilled I felt upon meeting a few Filipinos in Edmonton who are quite politically active for many years and decades.

It is much safer than I thought. When my partner and I went to the Philippines last Christmas, we drove by a funeral for a mayor who is recently murdered in La Union. I then realized that the election is six months away and remembered that election season – which always include deaths – has officially started. I knew it would be different here, but I was still blown away. You can stop supporting a political party, announce it on social media, and stay alive. Despite the occasional sassy people at the doors, anger on social media, and the election signs that get vandalized, there has been zero deaths among the candidates. During the campaign schools, I have met former politicians with jobs in various industries, and they seem happy, engaged and overall okay. This is mind-blowing for me, and I will try to never take for granted.

It is a great way to meet people that can be connections to do other good things. In my campaign team, at least two of the volunteers are lawyers, and one is a law student. Because my day job involves pro bono work and helping those who cannot afford lawyers, it became an opportunity for possible new volunteers. This is quite unexpected but I’ more than thrilled to accept. I met neighbours and when I tell them that I also help with our community league, I hear their opinions and comments about how things are. I’m glad to learn – and pass along to my partner – that some of these lovely people appreciate the community newsletter, the primary way that we give back to help out.

It is much easier than I thought. 99% of the time when door knocking, either people are polite, or do  not answer the door. I’m blown away with all the different ways that voting is made convenient for most people. Maybe one day, if the flaws of technology are managed, that online voting becomes a possibility. I’m saddened and confused why the voter turnout around here is not close to something like 95%, but 70% is record-breaking and that’s good!

Finally, making an impact does not end on election day. I know of many people who are not thrilled about the elections results, and it’s great that many of them are organizing and mobilizing to address the concerns that they have. I appreciate being able to call or send a letter to our elected representative. It’s easy to call them out on social media. There are lots of advocacy groups and volunteer initiatives to be a part of to fight for what you believe in, until the next election day. As far as the provincial election is concerned, I’d like to explore ways on advocating for certain social issues and appeal to the elected representatives – not the party leader – to see if they can bring those perspectives when passing legislation.

What’s next for this year since there is one more coming up? Similar to the provincial election, I would have to agonize on which party to volunteer or donate for. I wonder if it is socially acceptable to volunteer or attend events hosted by multiple parties before making a decision on who to actually endorse. In terms of community involvement, 2019 would be the most unique for me to date.

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.