❤ I can't always make up my mind, but I am boldly undecided. ❤

10 July 2015


Cause of ambivalence: 

Glasgow (or an ephemeral moment)

Note contents: 
"Dear Glasgow, you were everything but always temporary. AY❤"

Place left:
In the tourist information display case that was in my airport hotel room, where I stayed the night before I left Glasgow.

 PS:(Read more here) 

26 January 2015


Cause of ambivalence:
My emotions (or being dismissed as an emotional woman)

Note contents:
"Dear emotions, I love how you make me feel. I hate how you make me look. AY❤"

Place left:
In a tissue box display at the pharmacy.

I often try to deny it, but I’m a crier. I feel my emotions so physically that it is virtually impossible for me to repress them. Intense feelings come out of me in ugly bursts of anger or wet blubbers of tears. My face is never a mask, it is a jumbotron of emotion. I hate to be written off as the emotional girl, so I have learned to experience my most extreme emotions privately, and by privately I usually mean in the nearest bathroom. Women’s restrooms are like a safe heaven for tears. There was a time in my life when I would try to learn from books like If You Have to Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You, written by stone-faced fashion reality star Kelly Cutrone. While the book ended up being more of a memoir than a guide to being a badass, I bought it for the title because part of me wanted to be like Kelly Cutrone who (according to reality TV) shows no fear and takes no bullshit from anyone. It seemed like a better alternative to being the emotional girl.

Alas, real emotions are messy and hard to curate. When asked what themes she would be exploring in the Julie Ruin album, Run Fast (2013), Kathleen Hanna answered: “Anger. A lot of anger about things I haven't been able to express and how anger is usually just hiding sadness so after I write an angry song, I usually write a really sad song.” Hanna’s statement made me wonder why anger and sadness are so difficult to express, so linked, and so interchangeable? I often cry when I’m angry and I yell when I’m sad. The crying makes me look fragile when I want to appear strong; the yelling makes me seem irrational when I want to be taken seriously. This seemingly uncontrollable reversal in the expression of my emotions is frustrating for me and confusing for others. Yet, I wonder if emotional control and transparency is worth coveting or if something else is at stake here.

Human emotion is an affective state, a reaction to something or someone. Thus, controlled emotions imply some sort of performance, manipulation or repression of a reactive state. We spend our days watching emotions being performed on television, in advertisements, and even in our daily lives. Daily common courtesies, pleases and thank you’s, smiles to strangers, are all performances of happy states. No one questions the performances that are polite and mild, it is the loud outbursts that make us uncomfortable.

As I mentioned earlier, emotions are often misinterpreted, especially when they come out of a woman. Feminine emotions are dismissed as irrationality or hysterics. The unpredictability of the emotional woman makes her untrustworthy. When she tries to stand up for herself, a negotiation takes place that usually begins with sentences like “well you know how women are.”

Rebecca Solnit expressed this perfectly in her article Men Explain Things to Me: “I objected to the behavior of a man, only to be told that the incidents hadn't happened at all as I said, that I was subjective, delusional, overwrought, dishonest -- in a nutshell, female.”

Honest emotion is seen as subjective, yet controlled emotion is seen as truth. Truth, it seems, should be expressed politely, calmly, and by men.

In the documentary The Punk Singer, Kathleen Hanna talks about the skepticism she faced from doctors when she would complain about debilitating physical pain, only to be told she had anxiety (another word for you’re just an emotional woman). It turns out she had lyme disease that went undiagnosed until someone actually decided to listen to her. As Hanna tells this and other stories of emotional skepticism, she states: “There is this certain assumption that when a man tells the truth, it's the truth. And when as a woman I go to tell the truth, I feel like I have to negotiate the way i'll be perceived. Like I feel like there's always the suspicion around a woman's truth; the idea that you're exaggerating.”

So what is the solution? Should women try harder to be less emotional/ more “rational”/ more like men? Is that the only way we will be taken seriously and treated equally?

When I was in grad school, I almost had to repeat my third semester because of my aversion to public emotion. It was a difficult time for me personally and I felt emotionally overwhelmed. In other words, all I wanted to do that week was cry. Yet, it was an important time in my academic career and I really wanted to be taken seriously. The last thing I wanted was for my professors to see me in tears, so I repressed them the only way I knew how: I stopped talking. I shut myself off completely; I nodded quietly through my evaluations like a good little girl, only to be told days later, that the faculty felt I lacked confidence and direction. Meanwhile, I had never been surer of my work, but had failed to convey my own certainty by shutting myself up. I had tried so hard to control my emotions that I ended up being my own worst enemy. So I did the only thing I could to fix the mess I made: I had a complete and utter meltdown in front of the program co-chairs, and cried like I had never cried before, fighting for my work between every snotty sniffle. When my final exhibition opened the next semester, one of the co-chairs ran up to me and said: “You were right, you were ready to graduate!” I guess, sometimes, you just have to suck it up and let your inner crying girl take the lead.

Perhaps it is the undefined and unpredictable nature of emotions that make them so easy to dismiss. Perhaps it is the fact that emotions are so linked to femininity and frivolity that they are not taken seriously in our society. Human emotions are so mutable, changeable, unexplainable, but does that necessarily make them irrational and worthless? It will take a long time for our society’s gender norms to be equal enough to allow for emotional women to be taken as seriously as their male counterparts. Yet, we are not doing ourselves a favor by trying to act like the guys, who aren’t any happier in their repressed emotional states. There may be value in learning to appreciate the messiness of emotions without needing to control every single tear or outburst of rage. For me anyway, it was a better alternative to being the well-behaved silent girl who failed out of grad school.

After all, emotions are hard to curate but a terrible thing to waste.

17 November 2014


Cause of ambivalence:
My boobs.

Note contents:
"Dear boobs, I love how you fill out a dress, I hate that you could be a ticking time bomb on my chest. AY❤"

Place left:
In a pile of melons at the market.

It was a Thursday evening, I was watching Veronica Mars on Netflix, I must've had a cramp or an itch on my right breast, because that's when I first noticed lump. After that, I spent hours fondling lump, trying to remember if he had always been there, trying to figure out if I should panic.

For the next few days, lump and I coexisted. I took him out with me. I wore my best cleavage enhancing dress, just in case my cleavage days were numbered.

On a Saturday, lump and I went to a clinic. We sat in the waiting room trying to read the 5th Game of Thrones book. When a character named lump was introduced, I closed the book. A woman across the waiting room was leaning her head against a wooden box fixed to the wall, seemingly unaware that people kept depositing urine samples into her head rest.

Eventually lump and I were called into the doctor's office. We sat there alone for a long time, staring at the water stains on the ceiling, fighting the urge to yell: "My wallet's gone! My wallet's gone" like Morty Seinfeld.

The doctor was nice. I pointed out lump to him. It wasn't until the doctor confirmed that lump was actually there that I started to panic. He told me that lump was probably nothing, but he was also something. Something was enough to make me panic.

The panic started in my eyes, I cried a little, then I got angry at an unanswered phone call, then I biked for 10 minutes in the wrong direction, then I drank too much apple juice, then I got angry again, then I cried like a baby while cleaning my office and then I called my mom. She told me not to panic.

I wondered why lump decided to pick the right boob, when there is so much more room in the left one. I was instructed to make an appointment for a sonogram on Monday. As I waited for Monday, I went back to watching Veronica Mars.

On Monday I called the radiology clinic, and was given an appointment 11 days later. 11 days is a long time to wait when you’re lugging around a lump.

I debated whether to tell my brother and my dad, but I was unsure of how to talk to them about my right breast without making them uncomfortable. The next day was my dad’s birthday, so I decided to wait; no one wants a lump spoiling the party.

I caught a man staring at my chest. I wanted to say: "did you know there's a lump in there?" But I didn't, because the more people I tell, the more real lump becomes.

The day of the test, I drove to the clinic in a torrential rainstorm, I had a meltdown in the car and I arrived at my appointment soaking-wet.

The first doctor told me I needed a sonogram, the nurse on the phone told me I needed a mammogram too, the nurse in the waiting room wasn’t sure because mammograms aren’t as conclusive on younger breasts. I wanted certainty, they were confused, I was annoyed.

I sat in the waiting room with a dozen much older women. We all wore the same backless teal gowns, we were all ushered into the same dimly lit rooms, and we all waited, starting at the ceiling, listening to elevator music. I felt like I was waiting for a bikini wax, except I was more nervous and I was allowed to keep my pants on.

I think the nurse could sense my fear because she assured me that the doctor was very nice. I wanted to tell her that I didn’t care about the doctor, and that I was much more worried about this lump in my breast, but instead I said thanks and kept staring at the ceiling.

The doctor was not nice he was just busy. He came into the room, asked me where lump was, put some cold gel on my breast then scanned it silently while staring at a screen. Then all he said was: “does it hurt” and “It’s nothing to worry about, just a cyst.” and got up and started to leave the room. I caught him in the doorway and made him explain to me what a cyst was, I asked him why it was there, I made him tell me a few more times that it was nothing to worry about, then I asked him three more times if he was sure. He seemed a bit annoyed, but I needed certainty. 

My partner was waiting in the lobby; I gave him the thumbs up then ran out of the clinic before they changed their minds. I cried in the elevator then I felt silly. Of course it was nothing, I am young, healthy and there is no history of angry lumps in my family. I spent the rest of the day feeling like a drama queen.

Weeks and months went by. Until, during a daily peruse of my facebook feed, I saw the status that could have been mine. An ex-coworker, an out of touch friend, who is young (younger than me) healthy, with no family history of cancer, someone similar to me in so many ways, who found a lump sort of like mine, except hers was bad. I wanted to tell her that I knew what she was going through, but I didn’t. I just knew what it felt like to be afraid; I didn’t know what it felt like to have your fears confirmed. Instead, I sent her my best version of “if there is anything you need…” , then donated to a charity drive for her, then felt sad, relieved, ashamed and helpless all at once (it could have been me).

Often, I hate my body because of how it looks on the outside. This was the first time I hated my body for what could have happened on the inside. This was the first time my body actually scared me. I was scared enough to get lump checked out. In a way, my fear was an act of self-love. I guess love and fear are always a little intertwined.

Every once in a while I check for lump. I always find him in the same place, feeling both familiar and foreign, comforting and threatening, the thing that could have been a thing but wasn’t. My fear and my love nestled into a cyst, living in the top left corner of my right breast.

16 February 2014


Cause of ambivalence:
The clothes in Tokyo (or that my feminist ideals did not quite fit).

Note contents:
"Dear Tokyo,
I am in love with all of your amazing fashion but I hate that my western body does not fit into any of it. AY❤"

Place left:
In a tourist magazine, in the airport shuttle bus.

A few months ago, I travelled to a city I’d spent a lifetime wanderlusting over: Tokyo. My longing to visit this far away place was mostly motivated by Tokyo’s dedication to forward fashion and teen girl culture. I just wanted to walk through the streets of Harajuku: one of the richest and boldest lands of teen girl fashion frenzy. When I finally did, my city of teen dreams did not disappoint. All the kids looked so good. The fits of their clothes, the colours they wore; everything was different, in the best possible way. I could not wait to shop and give my wardrobe a much needed Tokyo-teen inspired makeover. Alas, to my dismay, my North American body never quite fit into the Japanese fits. I tried and tried to squeeze myself into the beautiful slender styles, but each time I ended up looking like a grotesque pink-clad pork sausage. Heartbroken by my unsatiating fashion fix, I found comfort in just about everything else the city had to offer. Tokyo the amazing was so full but never excessive, so refined and flawlessly designed. Food, design, art and fashion all felt so far ahead of anything I had seen anywhere else, yet for every advancement there was a traditional counterpart. Gender roles seemed especially strict and constructed. The clash between forward and backward left me in a state of perpetual ambivalence throughout my entire trip and inspired me to leave behind this note.

One night, I was invited to party with a group of wealthy western men who worked in high finance, and their beautiful Japanese wives. I sat awkwardly and listened to them discuss rich people concerns such as the proper amount of cases of wine one should bring back from Napa and watched their eyes glaze over when I told them I was a modestly remunerated visual artist. Eventually, one of the rich men attempted to empathise with my devotion to art by talking to me about his failed venture in the music industry. After bashing Justin Bieber for half an hour and name dropping all the mildly interesting musicians he knew, he explained to me that since he never made much money in the music biz, his wife forced him to return to finance, so that he could adequately support their family. This led to a monologue about the highs and lows of being an American living in Japan. He explained to me how “addicting” it was for him to live in Tokyo, because, as a white male, he was shown unconditional respect. For example, since his wife had no older brothers, upon marrying her he became the head of the family and was always seated at the head of the table during family dinners, an honour he seemed quite proud of. Yet, despite his superior status, his resentment for his wife’s lack of support of his ridiculous musical aspirations was palpable. Meanwhile, his wife was giving me the stink eye from across the room, no doubt unaware that to me her husband was just some horrible person I one day wanted to write an essay about. Yet, there I was, a pawn in this old guy’s pity party, playing the part of the good listener who makes the evil dream crushing wife jealous.

Later, that evening, I noticed another rich white man get agitated when his Japanese wife was talking too enthusiastically with one of the other wives. It seems he preferred his partner to be silent and pretty, and sit by his side at parties, like a well trained show dog. Then, the crowning moment of the evening was when the two women whose birthdays we were celebrating, were each offered novelty aprons with a series of husband obedience commandments printed on them, as birthday gifts. I sat in horrified silence as all the men at the party then insisted the women model their gifts so that they could take pictures to post on facebook.

I am unable to fully describe the fury I felt, a recent art school graduate with a degree in feminist art, rubbing shoulders with the expat patriarchy club. (It should be noted that I am fully aware that I am coming off like a total jerk right now. Obviously, those men were probably not as bad as I am describing them. My goal here is to give an accurate portrayal of what was going through my head that night.  And also to finally say all the things I wanted to say, but didn't.) It upset me that these men would go to a place like Japan and take advantage of the traditions that worked in their favour. Nonetheless, I held my tongue that night. I was a guest in this country, a guest in the home of the people who greeted us. The well brought up nice girl inside of me did not feel it was her place to say anything. Yet I worried later if my caution, which began as politeness, was nothing more than lack of courage to stand up for my beliefs. Then again, was it even my place, as an outsider, a traveller and a guest to force my so-called progressive world views onto others? What fits properly at home, might not fit as well on people elsewhere, and vice versa. Just as it was naïve of me to assume that all the clothes in Japan would be made to fit my north American body, it was as equally naïve of me to assume my political views would be a perfect fit there too. Wasn’t it?

Fashion is a place where cultural assumptions are often made. Every season, imagery and symbols from various cultures are borrowed, mimicked and reduced to seasonal trends. Native and Aztec prints, feather headdresses, black face, turbans, bindis, keffiyehs, have all been culturally appropriated in the name of fashion.

A recent example of these trends is the knitted turban trend popping up on so many Caucasian heads this winter. Meanwhile, in Quebec, a raging debate over the Quebec charter of values, drags on. Proposed by the provincial government, this charter, if passed, forbids government employees of wearing any religious symbols in the workplace, such as head scarves, turbans, etc. The argument is that the goal of this charter is to make everyone equal, going as far as saying that it will help liberate oppressed women forced to wear head scarves. But to be equal, must we really be all be the same? Why can’t we be different, but still have equal value? Why do we have to strip things of their meaning, dumb them down and mass produce them and call them fashion for them to be socially acceptable? Why isn’t there ever room for nuance, for debate, for exceptions? Shouldn’t we learn to take the time to tailor things to fit individual bodies instead of trying to fit everyone into the same pair of Japanese style skinny jeans?

Endless questions, yet the most important one is still: how do you stand up for something you that isn’t directly happening to you? This seems to be a progressively taboo concept in the world of academia; the desire to help “the other”. Perhaps rightly so. Can the unoppressed really help the oppressed? How far can empathy really be extended? How deep an understanding of the other is required for real empathy to exist? Or is being different perhaps not such a problem, but rather a strength, that can extend a conversation, a debate, a fight, into something bigger, something more political, something other than the objectification of the “other”, something other than one size fits all.

16 July 2013


Cause of ambivalence:
A sheer pink t-shirt (and the consequences of wearing it).

Note contents:
"Dear distressed pink t-shirt,
I love how comfortable you are but I hate that when I had to go report a case of online sexual harassment to the police, my first instinct was to replace you with a top that was a little less sheer. AY❤"

Place left:
At home, with my unworn t-shirt.

A few mornings ago, I logged into my work email to find that I had seven new emails from a former employee I hadn’t spoken to in months. He had always seemed a little odd to me, but in a completely harmless way. Our contact had been brief in the few short months we worked together, so I never thought much about him after he left. Needless to say, I was not prepared to see so many emails from him waiting for me in my inbox that morning and I was even less prepared for what they contained. The unexpected correspondence started off with an email that contained an up-close and personal selfie of his manhood. In the next six emails he expanded on his original offering by writing about the voices in his head that told him that he and I should engage in sexual relations. My first reaction was to be grossed out but not completely shocked. Any avid internet user, who has spent time in chat rooms or scrolling down a tumblr dashboard has had to suffer through at least one or two unsolicited phallus images along the way. Yet, when I shared these emails with my partner and saw the look of terror on his face, I decided that maybe I needed to take this situation a little more seriously. It occurred to me that this wasn’t some unknown internet cyber-pervert, this was someone who knew my name, my phone number and where I worked, which meant that his online advances could easily escalate into an in-person solicitation. Furthermore, this person’s actions were being motivated by the irrational voices in his head, and if they could convince him that exposing himself to me online was a good idea, it was terrifying to speculate what else they could convince him to do. Suddenly every episode of Law & Order SVU, I had ever watched started playing in my head and before I knew it I was angry and afraid. I finally decided it was best to report this incident to the police, but before I did, I needed to change my shirt. My partner and I were supposed to leave for a ten hour-long summer road trip that morning, and I was wearing a pair of short jean cutoffs and a distressed fitted pink t-shirt in anticipation of the long, hot car ride ahead. Once we decided to delay our plans to go talk to the police, my first instinct was to change from my sheer deep V t-shirt into something a little more opaque and modest. I realized as I was changing how sad my instincts were, as though anything I wore would/should make me seem any less credible or any more deserving of what had happened to me. Yet, after hearing about so many incidents of slut shaming and victim blaming in the media, I was afraid of how I was going to be received at the police station. According to a recent Canadian poll of people aged 18 to 34, one in five stated that women who get drunk or dress provocatively encourage sexual assault: “The belief that women are responsible for sexual assault because of their actions or appearance is still common in our society,” said Anu Dugal, Director of Violence Prevention at the Canadian Women’s Foundation, in a release, “and can cause women who have suffered abuse to stay silent and often feel responsible for what happened to them.”

Even though my own experience was not a physical assault, and I had email proof that the advances I was receiving were completely one sided and fuelled by mental illness, I was still afraid of being belittled or shamed. My experience at the station however, was nothing like I had feared. I definitely felt awkward when I was escorted into a small room with charcoal walls and asked to make a formal statement. There was a stack of pamphlets near the door for a local woman’s clinic, each one with the words PRO-CHOICE handwritten on the front with a black marker. I wondered how many other women had been in this room, women who had been through something a lot more terrifying than I had. Suddenly my discomfort felt unimportant, and I proceeded to tell the officer about the emails, in full detail, without even bothering to replace the word penis with any cutesy alternative. While the officer was no Olivia Benson, he was kind and reassuring, and never once made me feel as though I was overreacting or asking for it. Within hours, the police managed to track down the man who had emailed me and warn him that if he ever approached me or tried to contact me again he would be criminally charged, (apparently emailing someone a picture of your penis is not illegal unless you are formally asked not to do so beforehand).

When questioned, the man told the police that he thought that the sexual feelings he expressed in his emails were mutual, and that his enthusiasm was a result of his extreme loneliness. This made me sad. It made me sad that he was struggling with mental illness and will probably end up with a criminal conviction before he gets any actual medical help. According to Statistics Canada only a third of people in need of services for mental illness actually receive them, so what happens to the other two thirds?Yet, it also made me sad that I had to be afraid before I could be compassionate. The terrifying statistics for sexual aggression in North America, where one in four women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, make it hard to be anything else but afraid. And although I felt unaffected by the incident at first, I still, days later, catch myself lying in bed late at night, trying to remember if I’d ever told my emailer where I lived and jumping at every unidentified sound. There is such a fine line between productive fear and paralyzing hysteria. There is also a fine line between being brave and being carelessly stupid. I am sad that I changed my shirt, that I let my fear and my assumptions stand in the way of my principles. I am sad that I don’t even know how relevant or accurate all of these terrifying statistics I’ve been quoting here actually are. Is the world actually that dangerous for women or is research data being manipulated to scare women into dressing more modestly? I am sad that I still can’t decide if I’m overreacting or not, if I should just get over it, forget about it and move on. But maybe overreacting is ok. To quote Audre Lorde, “Your silence will not protect you”, so if no one overreacts, nothing is going to change and we will have to keep buttoning up our blouses out of fear. While showing emotions like fear or sadness is thought of as a sign of weakness in our society, I think that it takes a lot more courage to share these feeling than to hide them. So I am sharing because I want to be braver, I want to stop being afraid at night, I want to be daring enough to wear a sheer t-shirt without feeling like I'm asking for it.  What doesn’t kill you just makes you a stronger feminist.

13 June 2013


Cause of ambivalence:
Money (and the frustrations of being a woman working in a creative field)

Note contents:
"Dear Money
I know you can't buy my happiness, and I knew that pursuing an artistic profession meant that I'd never see much of you, but I can't help but wonder if I'll ever get to cash in without having to sell out.  AY❤"

Place left:
At a bank machine.

I’m a woman working in a creative field. I am a woman (the weaker / more underpaid / more irrational sex) working in a creative field (“how fun! creativity is fun! You get to draw all day! you love doing that anyway! sorry we can’t pay you that much for it though, we could probably do your job ourselves if we tried, and you are having fun anyway, right?”)

I am a woman working in a creative field. I was raised to think my creativity was a skill I could enjoy during my spare time, meanwhile I was told to study math and science so I could one day get a real job.

I got a real job after school, working in a creative field. I got paid to draw, but not much because I like drawing anyway so I was lucky to have such a job and thus they would not pay me so much for it. And when you go to art school you learn that money shouldn’t matter anyway. Capitalism is bad, and embracing it is bad, and there are more important things in life than the things that money can buy… so you go along with these “creative” jobs that suck you dry and send you on your way with barely enough to pay the most basic bills that come along with living in any North American city. And yes I followed my dreams, yet sometimes it feels like I spend more time using my skills to help other people follow their dreams. But I am a WOMAN working in a CREATIVE field! GRRRRRRR hear me roar, but not in anger, women should not get angry, it makes them seem irrational, then again, I am a women working in a creative field, an artsy/hormonal type, so maybe irrationality is to be expected.

I am a women working in a creative field and I wish I was making more money than I am, not because I care that much about money, but because I see my male counterparts doing the same work as me and making so much more, and that makes me angry and my anger then becomes an excuse not to pay me more. And besides I will probably just go and have kids soon anyway, so I’m not worth the investment, but don’t say that out loud because you could get sued. “We’ve just cancelled your position due to company cutbacks” they will say, but don’t get angry, anger is so unbecoming.

I just want a little more money, so I can stop getting paid like a high school drop-out even though I have a masters degree. I also have work experience and an extensive portfolio and great references, but none of that matters because I am a woman working in a creative field, and if I start making too much money I won’t be a real artist anymore. Is it better to work for nothing at a crappy minimum wage job and stay true to my art? Because it doesn’t really feel better. Uh-oh, I’m getting angry again, roaring and grumbling and I am told that I look so much prettier when I smile.

I am a woman working in a creative field, I have to work on my brand, my public profile, meanwhile my hair is starting to go grey and my boobs don’t perk the way they used to. And my art is girly, so girly that most boys or men tell me privately that they like it but it’s too girly to buy or share, I’m too girly to invest in, clearly my love of girliness is a sign that I am a product of social constructions and pop cultural brainwashing. Nice to look at but nothing more. Feminine = pink = frivolous = worthless = a woman working in a creative field. Be sweet, work hard, be grateful for what you have because “you’ve come a long way baby”… “you are so incredibly lucky to have the job that you have”, I am told while I am asking to be paid what I am worth, and apparently that is what they thought they were doing.

And of course it’s sad to try to measure self-worth in monetary terms, but I want to be treated like the boys are treated. Actually I take that back, I want to be treated like a girl, but the kind of girl who is equal to any boy. And maybe I am acting like a spoiled brat but I want to sit at the grown up table and have real conversations, I want to travel, I want to buy the good kind of drawing paper and have a studio space and the luxury of time to make the work I actually want to make, instead of exhausting myself working for nothing for others who see me as nothing more than some woman working in a creative field.

So am I selling out or cashing in? I work hard, I’ve worked hard, and I’m unattractively angry now, so please pay your invoice as soon as I send it, because I don’t feel like being nice about it anymore. Is it better to be pushy than to become a pushover, or am I still pushing in all the wrong directions? I don’t want to become an asshole but I’m too angry to be nice. Because I am a woman working in a creative field and this lady wants to get paid, even though it was never about the money anyway.

13 May 2013


Cause of ambivalence:
Cape Cod (Or more specifically the connection between money, clothing and power)

Note contents:
"Dear Cape Cod,
You were the perfect getaway, but the pairing of expensive accessories with cheap and tacky vacationwear was a reminder that while money may buy power it does not buy class. Ambivalently Yours❤"

Place left:
In a clothing donation bin, at the edge of Cape Cod.

I wrote this note last spring after dining at a Cape Cod seafood restaurant. As we were being ushered to the back of the restaurant to the bathroom-adjacent table, I realized that my partner and I did not quite fit into the scene we had just entered. The majority of the clientele in the restaurant, mostly retired wealthy women, were dressed in their Cape-Cod-casual best (colourful fleece sweaters with the names of their preferred Cape beach embroidered on the front paired with casual slacks) juxtaposed with very expensive handbags. Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Chanel, all the big names were proudly displayed on the tables amongst the lobster bibs and oyster crackers. I looked at my own nautical inspired striped canvas bag with fake leather trims and realized that even in a casual vacation setting, the lack of a proper couture label on the front of my purse was a huge social faux pas. This made me resent these rich ladies, their expensive purses and their ugly Cape Cod casual style. How dare they fashion shame me and make me sit by the bathrooms.

During this vacation I was reading a book called Should We Burn Babar?: Essays on Children's Literature and the Power of Stories by Herbert Kohl which included a critical analysis of the story of Babar the Elephant. This is the type of text that ruins everything you love about your childhood storybook heroes by making you realize that their stories glorify colonialism, capitalism and all the other bad “isms”. One of the points Kohl addresses in his essay is the shift of identity that happens to Babar when he goes to the city to live with the rich lady and starts wearing human clothes. According to Kohl, this sartorial transformation is a symbol of Babar’s assimilation into “civilized” (white) society. This shift becomes more significant when Babar returns to the jungle and keeps his city clothing, differentiating him from the other “nude” elephants and acting as a symbol of worldliness and superiority, which lead to him becoming king of the elephants.

Kohl’s analysis reminded me of my own interpretation of the rich Cape Cod ladies and their status symbol purses. I began thinking about the use of fashion as a a symbol of power and upper class domination and started to wonder if perhaps Kohl and I were oversimplifying a much more complex expression of personal identity.

Andrew Bolton, curator to the Met’s Costume institute, was quoted in the New Yorker saying that: “There’s nothing so immediate as fashion, in terms of an expression of one’s values and one’s state of mind. Even the negation of fashion is a statement.” Expanding on that thought, fashion can become a form of communication, an outwardly way of expressing something without words. The performance of one’s personal style can be a conscious act that represent ones inner self, associates one to different subcultures or create social cues about one’s status, education or ethnicity. As Kaja Silverman writes: “Clothing is a necessary condition of subjectivity - that in articulating the body, it simultaneously articulates the psyche.” More than just an expression of vanity, the act of putting on clothes becomes a complex expression of one’s relationship with one’s body and environment. With this in mind, it seems that because there is value in learning to use a language properly in order to ensure the clearest form of communication, it should be equally important to learn about the impact of dressing certain ways. Yet people who invest in their sartorial selves are often thought of as shallow individuals being duped by dominant social paradigms, instead of individuals who are concerned about what their sartorial self is saying to the world.

As a feminist who pursued her higher education while working in fashion, I’ve always felt a sort of push and pull between my desire to dress the part, and my inability to decide which part I actually wanted to play. I became aware that dressing like a fashionista and dressing like a feminist meant two different things and that my desire to be both at once was seen as a contradiction. In 1997, feminist literary critic and a professor emeritus at Princeton Elaine Showalter wrote an article for Vogue Magazine entitled The Professor Wore Prada in which she wrote: “If fashion is free speech, why do we feminists get stuck with a pitifully small vocabulary?" Ten years later, after receiving a great deal of backlash from the Vogue article she expanded on this thought in a New York Times article stating that in academia the complexities, social cues and joys of fashion are “very much denigrated. The academic uniform has some variation, but basically is intended to make you look like you’re not paying attention to fashion, and not vain, and not interested in it, God forbid.” 

Fashion has a dark past and a complicated future. I have written about my own conflicted relationship with fashion on this blog many times before and I wont deny that my relationship with clothing is full of ambivalent contradictions. However, I get frustrated when fashion is over-simplified. My own simplistic first impression of the Cape Cod ladies is a clear example of how it is an easy trap to fall into. Maybe these women weren’t only trying to showcase their financial power. Perhaps their purses were part of the uniform of their own rich lady subculture, a way to find other rich ladies to be friends with during their stay in Cape Cod. Maybe these fashion accessories acted as a type of safety blanket to help them feel connected to a home from which they were displaced. Maybe Babar just wanted to dress the part so it would be easier for him to fit in to his new urban life. Maybe the ladies and Babar just liked dressing up because its fun. In both circumstances, I would argue that it is possible that certain sartorial decisions are more motivated by personal desires than a result of political assimilation.

Fashion is just a language and like any language fashion can be misused. Just because some people don’t know how to speak properly, does not mean that the entire English language is without value. Sure, it has limitations and is prone to misinterpretation, but it is also a key element of communication. It is embedded in how we coexist, and it is something worth considering and questioning. I have concluded that fashion is perfect for the ambivalently inclined because loving and hating it in equal measures is the only way to understand the pain it inflicts without giving up the joy it can create.

Recommended reading:

23 January 2013

Ambivalently Yours Ph.D.

Cause of ambivalence:
Academia (and the idea of apply for a Ph.D)

Note contents:
"Dear Academia,
I kind of feel like spending more time together, but I worry that if I’m with you too long our relationship will become paralyzing. - AY. ❤"

Place left:
In a couch, in a University conference room.

A few months ago, I was accepted to participate in a grad conference about resistance and I presented this project there. At the end of the conference, inspired and ambivalent from my weekend spent flirting with academia, I left this note between the cushions of one of the couches in the conference room.

I had paralyzing anxiety during my weeks of preparation prior to the conference, mainly due to the fact that I had no idea how my drawings and ambivalent convictions would be received in a group of non-artist academicsI have always felt a little disconnected from Academia with a capital A, mainly because my seemingly low brow interests and undying affection for popular culture are often dismissed by the tweed clad, French-theorist-quoting types.  But when I finally got up to present my work, I became the calm and confident version of myself that often gets lost during first impressions, buried under layers of politeness and insecurity.  What I realized in that moment is that, as cheesy as it may sound, going to grad school helped me find my voice as an artist and also gave me the guts to talk a little louder than I used to.  Before I knew it, I was discussing ambivalence with everyone in the room and feeling totally accepted in this world I once feared.  As I became more and more intoxicated with the hopeful high induced by spending two days surrounded with like-minded peers with active social convictions, I was reminded of how much I miss school.  Soon enough, my ongoing debate of “real life” vs. academia started spinning in my head again, and I began to wonder if maybe I should stop flirting with school and finally go all the way… Ph.D.

As soon as I came down from my high however, my moment of ambivalence turned into a mess of questions:

Do I want to keep studying because I think it would be beneficial to my artistic practice, or am I just feeling discontent in my current professional life and looking for more mental stimulation?  Or do I just miss my art school friends? Am I being motivated by ambition or insecurity? At this point in my career, is it the education itself or the image of having an education that I am craving? Is the dismissal I often face in professional settings due to my appearance, gender, and inclination for teenage iconography and the colour pink feeding my need for more education? Or do I just want to add three letters at the end of my signature in hopes that people will be take me more seriously?  And even if I do have the fancy letters will people just react the same way they do when I tell them I have an MFA and tell me: “wow you must really love drawing”.  Should I have studied something more serious like marine biology or architecture?  Could prolonging my education become completely paralyzing?  Will I stop making and start over thinking everything?  Is there such a thing as too much critique and too much feedback?  Is there a point when it becomes impossible to decipher one’s own instincts and ideas from those of the people critiquing and advising?  Is it more important for artists to learn to trust their instincts, self-motivate their work and surround themselves with an artist community to help sustain their practice, rather than worry about the accolades of academia?  Do I need to learn to be more independent now, before I become completely reliant on academia?  But also, how much further could my work take me if I had an extra little push once in a while?  But is academia the right place to get the kind of push I need, or will it just cause me to become more competitive as I start fighting for grades and funding? What if I don’t get in?  What if I do get in? Am I just trying to fit in?  Feel included?  Feel smart? Get attention? Do I just feel like wearing more tweed?

In conclusion, I don’t know.  I’ve re-written this blog post a dozen times trying to be clever, trying to find a point, trying to write something mind-bogglingly insightful, but all I am left with is: I don’t know.  In school we learn to look for answers and out of school I’ve been spending more time with my questionsMaybe that’s enough for now.

(Added on February  9, 2013)

I've been thinking more about my desire to go back to school for the right reasons, and I think that maybe I have been looking at this all wrong.  I am starting to wonder if maybe I wont ever reach a clean conclusion void of any of the gobbledygook left behind by my long lasting period of indecision.  Maybe final decisions are never clean cut, but always greyed by the unknown that will proceed them.  And if that is true, then so what if I want to go back to school because I want to push my work to the next level AND because I want people to think I am smart?  Does one reason necessarily cancel out the other, or can both co-exist comfortably?

25 September 2012


Cause of ambivalence:
Women's Bathroom

Note contents:
"Dear Women's Bathroom,
I used to hate you so much.  But ever since I became a boy, I really miss you.  The men's bathroom really smells and no one really talks to one another.  Take me back? - Ambivalently Yours. "

Place left:
In the women's bathroom

They say a big part of transitioning genders is "the washroom test".  And it is... for sure!! But once you've passed it (no pun intended), you're stuck there.  For good.  Now, I definitely wouldn't say I loved the woman's washroom.  In fact, my presence in there was often questioned and laughed at.  But I still had my share of fun.  I'd go in with friends, we'd talk, we'd slip unmentionables under doors, we'd giggle... wait... I don't think that last one's true.  But now I'm trapped in the boys' bathroom.  The room school girls look at with wonder (and I was one of them!).  But let me tell you, I've solved that mystery and it's nothing special.  It's a magicless place where fun and socializing go to *read in MAN voice* "take care of business".  Get in, get out.  No "how do you do"... nothing.  And it smells.  So now my transitioning milestone has been made.  I'm a guy.  And no one questions it.  Except why do I always feel a tug in my heart when my girlfriends and I always have to part ways at the washroom door?  Why can't I just go in with them?  And why are we still so attached to those signs on the door?  - Ambivalently Yours