They asked me if I liked it in Petra

They ask me if I liked it in Petra.
I said no, because Petra was the five year old boy sitting in the sand
Clothed in the dust
Selling stones for a dollar
No one gave a penny all day.

They asked me if I liked it in Petra.
I said no, because the five year old boy
Didn’t know how to smile
He’d never had a reason to try-
Or maybe, he had one before
But dehydration and lonely erased it.

They asked me if I liked it in Petra.
I said no, because when I gave the boy juice
I saw his eyes and how they were empty
How they hadn’t seen enough to ever get full
Like the sight of strangers in sombreros and sundresses wasn’t quite enough to give him

They asked me if I liked it in Petra
I said no, because next to the boy was another
That one was throwing sticks and laughing
And people were yelling
And my boy didn’t didn’t care
And I was scared the sun would take him for a pile of sand and scatter him away with the rest of it.

They asked me if I liked it in Petra.
Hell no, I didn’t like Petra
Because I loved a little boy
And I left him behind
And if you perchance ever go
Maybe you could do me a favour
Instead of looking for desert treasure

Look for his smile instead.

*** I recently was able to visit the beautiful country of Jordan. my least favourite part of the incredible trip was going to Petra, the place I was told to be the most excited for. I was stunned and heartbroken by the number of children, some clearly as young as five, who were not only working in the desert but also doing so without any apparent source of water or protection from the blistering sun. My heart goes out to them and to the families that can’t afford to let their children to go school because they need the income they bring. And I am saddened by the fact that, in one of the “seven wonders of the world” that hundreds of thousands of tourists visit every year, nothing is being done about such painfully obvious child labour. It is not my intention to guilt anyone who did enjoy Petra, because its beauty should one hundred percent be enjoyed. Beyond that, I have no proposition for a solution, and I am aware that this is a tiny example of a wide-scale problem. So why am I sharing this? I am sharing this because this is of all of the worlds problems this is the one that I saw, and what I can do other than be sad about it is refuse to be silent and choose to create awareness of this issue in my tiny corner of the world. And even if it doesn’t make a difference to him, I couldn’t let the little boy in the desert remain invisible to the world. I couldn’t make him smile, but I can share a page from his story. So this is for him ❤


Soulless Murderers and Woman Haters

I have been spending my afternoon reading about heated debate between the supporters and denouncers of the Alabamian law passed yesterday. I am indignant, angry, heart-broken, and deeply disappointed. These feelings do not include my response to the law itself, which are entirely unrelated. My disappointment (and that is much too weak of a word) is the result of the fact that, in the middle of a debate centred around human rights, both sides are acting in ways that completely dehumanizes the other. It’s not a surprise- the nature of abortion is intensely personal and provokes the fiercely protective side of people, whether that be the protection of a woman’s inherent right to choose or a baby’s inherent right to life. But it continues to sadden me that in the middle of an issue that is so incredibly significant regardless of how it is approached, so many are still failing to refrain from the name calling, slandering, and stereotyping that both draws away attention from the heart of the issue and prevents any kind of rational and constructive interaction between the two sides.

I understand where the fiery words come from. If you believe that a fetus is a precious child inherently deserving all the rights that any human should receive, it might make sense to throw out the name “child-murderer” to a woman who has had an abortion. If you believe a fetus is not a human, then forcing a woman to permanently alter her own life and body is both senseless and an utter violation of her rights- calling a pro-life supporter “woman-hater” is a logical progression. But the issue is not black and white. Abortion is not straightforward- what may seem abundantly evident as true to you may be abhorrently false to someone else. The issue of abortion is messy, multi-faceted, intensely personal, and full of implications crucial to millions of individual lives, regardless of how you define ‘life.’ And the issue is far too important for us to further poisoning with the kind demonization and otherizing that is happening constantly.

While I do not support all of her views and methods, Jameela Jamil has become one of my heroes in the last months. She is an outspoken advocate for representation in the media of all people groups, whether that be in terms of body type, race, gender, or age. She is calling out and exposing a toxic media culture that has put forward one specific prototype of man or woman that is acceptable, a culture that is adversely affecting far too many people and that has had an incredibly destructive influence in my own personal life. Instead of doing as many in her place have done and taking advantage of this culture for her own personal benefit, she is denouncing it, pioneering for change, and doing unspeakable damage to what has been a long-accepted noxious norm. In addition to being an advocate for body-positivity and diversity, Jameela is also an abortion advocate. For this, she has been called- amongst many other things- the “lowest kind of human being there is…willfully ignorant, soulless, and selfish”, as well as a “baby murderer”.

Jameela Jamil is an advocate for diversity in representation, body-positivity, and woman’s rights. She is pro-choice. She is not a soulless baby-murderer.

I don’t care if people agree with her or not. What I do care about is that the people who disagree with her are letting their hatred for this one aspect of what she stands for morph into hatred for who she is and, apparently, all the incredible good that she is doing for our society. This is just one prominent example of a widespread pattern- how passionate people are painting other passionate people with general brushstrokes of hatred because of one aspect of who they are and what they believe. A pro-choice person might be selfish. He or she might be ignorant in his beliefs and biased in his or her opinions. Or, he or she might be well-informed, motivated by reasons completely outside of his or herself, and self-sacrificial. You can’t always know what a person is like based on one of their beliefs. You definitely can’t know that they are “soulless”. And you don’t have to say so to argue with what they are saying.

On the other side of the spectrum are the pro-lifers who are even more often on the receiving end of destructive name-calling, otherizing, and stereotyping. Just in light of the Alabama controversy in the last couple of days, prominent pro-choicers have been calling the decision “blatantly demonstrative of a hatred of women”, “waging all-out war on women”, designed specifically to “control women”, and as a one element of a ” fight for rationality and compassion and autonomy over sheer insanity.” (Ironically that first quote is from Jameela.) I do not know the senators who voted for the Alabama law, and I can’t defend their motives behind the decision they made- nor do I want to try.

One of my dearest and sweetest friends. She is an encourager, a confidante, and a ray of sunshine in the lives of many. She is a pro-lifer. She is not an oppressive woman hater.

But I do know many pro-life advocates, and I do want to defend them. Many of my closest and most respected friends and family members are pro-life. And I can say with the utmost indignation and finality that they do not hate women, that they are by far the most compassionate people that I know, and that their war on abortion is not fuelled by a desire for control over women, but by their convictions based on research, faith, and their belief in the sanctity of life. Some pro-lifers are not well-informed. Some pro-lifers may not be well-intentioned. But the ones dear to me are, and countless more are like them. And I refuse to stand by as they are slandered because of their beliefs.

I’m not here to ask you to change your convictions on abortion. That is an entirely distinct topic, and I’ve tried to write as neutrally as possible for that very reason. What I am pleading from you is that, as you are giving your thoughts on what you believe in (whether that be abortion or LGBTQ+ rights or religious freedom or environmental issues), you would remember that the person you are engaging with on the other side of the screen is a person just like you with their own set of convictions and opinions that have been shaped by their own unique life experiences. Just like you, they do not deserve to be demonized for what they think. Just like you, they are more likely to listen to arguments when they don’t include defamations of their character. Just like you, they are passionate, and they want to be heard and to make a difference.

Bottom line: being pro-choice doesn’t make you soulless. Being pro-life doesn’t make you a woman-hater. And if you are unable to keep your beliefs from poisoning the way you talk about someone with a different opinion, then do yourself and everyone else a favour and take your destructive words out of the equation.

a chronicle

yesterday when i woke up, i saw the world in sunshine

it was all inspiration and dandelions and that fresh feeling after it rains

today when i wake up, i can’t see past the web of shadows

they are shaped like my fears and insecurities and other people’s judgements

yesterday, i danced without music because i felt it inside

i shut the curtains and i danced and i laughed, because i am hilarious.

today, getting out of bed is impossible because i’m pinned down by depression

depression is heavy because it’s an exhausted elephant sleeping on my chest.

yesterday, my playlist was “Happy Music”

i blared it out my rolled-down window and i jammed out on the highway

today, i put “Anxiety” on replay because right now i don’t need happy

i need raw and real and cynical and vocals that rasp because that’s how angst sounds

yesterday, i made the cashier’s eyes light up

i told her i love her style and where did she get that dress and i hope her day is fantastic

today i think my cheerful voice is broken

so instead i stick to monotone and forget to say please and thank you

yesterday chatting in the kitchen was sunny

talking over the chopping of salad and the washing of dishes was light and breezy

today i have to hold on to the fridge door to keep from dissolving into the tile floor

standing is hard and talking would mean crying into my orange juice

yesterday i made the barista laugh

i can tell he thought I was funny and friendly and a generally cool person

today i know he’s wondering why i would order hot chocolate, being too fat for that

and also why such a socially awkward person is attempting to make conversation

yesterday i loved humans

they were creative and inspirational and connected by some invisible thread of knowing

today i hate everything

and people suck and our society is screwed and the kardashians are stupid (

yesterday falling asleep was delicious because i was sleepy and my mind was fuzzy

and the pillow was soft and my bed was a safe haven for dreams

today falling asleep is not a thing until 6 am because my thoughts are Olympian marathon runners playing tag

and my bed taunts me because i’m so exhausted from the thought tag that all i want is to go to bed- but wait, i’m already here.

Tomorrow I wake up and I don’t feel the sunshine or see the shadows but the absence of them both

Tomorrow I wonder what you’re supposed to do when your emotions flatline

Tomorrow I’m disoriented by the dissolution of feelings that were never resolved

Tomorrow I can’t answer “how are you” because I truly don’t know

So Tomorrow I don’t answer, I write a poem instead

frozen yogurt and dandelion wishes

I wish

I wish my thoughts ended in periods instead of question marks

I wish reading my textbook on world history made me proud instead of making me cry

I wish the person I see in the mirror looked like Me

I wish I could eat frozen yogurt

I wish people with cystic fibrosis could hug each other, because it would be the not hugging that would kill me before the disease

I wish true love would just come to you, like delivered by a stork

I wish babies were delivered by storks

I wish Victoria’s Secret had plus size models and that on the runway there would be a little more Secret and a little less Victoria  

I wish everyone treated kids like the precious, insightful, feeling individuals that they are

I wish some of those kids didn’t die in house fires like the one in vancouver

I wish people understood Ugly isn’t a joke, but it’s also not a curse word.

I wish I could leave my house without feeling obligated to look pretty. Because that’s failure too early in the morning

I wish I could think about dating and marriage and kids without wanting to hurl my phone at the wall

I wish socks wouldn’t disappear in the drier

I wish feminism wasn’t so often equated with women objectifying their own bodies instead of letting men do it for them

I wish for a meet cute

I wish the anxiety didn’t gather in knots of tensions in my shoulders because there’s no one to massage them away

I wish Ariana Grande didn’t have a song about how she wastes her money cuz girl everyone follows you. be an example

I wish I didn’t have flashbacks to the Hunger Games, because I was never there, and you shouldn’t have flashbacks to something that never happened to you

I wish I never read the Hunger Games

I wish cancer didn’t take your hair along with everything else because how is that anywhere close to fair. Take the hair away from the healthy or rich or happy people, not the dying ones

I wish I didn’t find myself eating my feelings, or that I didn’t have so many feelings to eat, or that I wouldn’t find them later on my stomach and face and neck

I wish I could buy the coffee I don’t need without thinking about that kid in Africa whose forearms are smaller than my wrists

I wish my guilt was more productive

but mostly I wish that kid had more food and stronger arms

and also that i could share my own fat with him because that would work out well for the both of us

I wish the thoughts would stop doing laps in my mind like Olympic swimmers. I wish they were novice level kids still paddling around in life jackets

I wish for wishes, the fairytale, genie-in-a-bottle kind that come true.

I love

I love dandelions and making light wishes in the breeze

I love the three dollar ring I found in Panama that’s worth a year of looking

I love Spanish and how it’s dancing and laughter and Christmas crackers

I love how my sister is one hundred and ten percent personality

I love the sidewalk after months of ice

I love tattoos that mean something special

I love that my brother is like no one else I’ve ever met, in the really good way

I love squeals and hugs and chattering from children who missed you

I love words and how they paint pictures without a canvas

I love the feeling of a toothless baby gnawing on your finger

I love the kind of hugs that try to squeeze the hurting out of you

I love watching the stupidest of movies with the best of friends

I love the Unfiltered section at Indigo

I love that my grandma is my kindred spirit

I love poetry that makes you stop to catch your breath and read it again

(and again)

I love the smell of rain

I love a fresh batch of white bread with butter

I love the kind of laughter that hurts in the pit of your stomach and is undignified as anything and makes people turn and stare but you don’t care cuz you’re laughing

I love children playing hopscotch

I love sickeningly sweet candles that make everyone else wrinkle their noses

I love a song you can belt out in the shower three times in a row

I love that my sister sends me pictures of cats every. single. day.

I love that my dad can’t stay awake during movies

I love that my eyes are green

I love how we can always smell mom’s love cooking for us in the oven

I love perfect harmony that’s so beautiful it makes you want to cry

I love sunny days with breeze and trees and birds singing louder than me

I love salad, the real kind that doesn’t leave you hungry

I love when my room is clean

I love when you wake up and look at your phone and know you can sleep more

I love celebrities who use their fame to break the norm and hold out reality and build us up instead of tear us down

I love old couples who hold each others hands and each others history

I love that one day I might be half of that old couple

I love messy buns that work the first time

I love the pictures on my wall colored in crayons and purple and love

I love love.

an i love you

pc: Deborah Keller

The other day, I was in the middle of one of those moments- the kind of moment where you feel really warm inside, and you feel so safe that the tension in your shoulders is gone, and you’re smiling because you’re so utterly content that you just have to. I was nestled into the couch of a dear friend, and her daughter had scrambled over to me curled herself up into my lap, chattering on in the way that only a precocious five year old can. I wasn’t following everything Yasmine was saying, just soaking up the moment and basking in the smell of sizzling chicken and watching the different expressions light up her face. But at the end of her train of thought- whatever it was- she looked up at me with her serious expression, ran a tiny hand through my hair, and said matter-of-factly, “You’re so pretty. I love you.”
I squeezed her into a hug and ran my own fingers through her hair, but suddenly the golden moment was on pause, because those words latched onto me. And later in the day, away from the warmth of her arms around me and the glow of her heart-shaped face, the words were even harder to shake off. It wasn’t that I don’t like being called pretty, and it definitely wasn’t because I have a problem with being the recipient of an “I love you”. It was how she said those two phrases, in sequence, with causality. It wasn’t, “Natasha, you’re so pretty.” New line of thought. “I love you.” It was, “Natasha, you’re so pretty- that’s one of the reasons why I love you.” And that made me sad.
          It made me sad because here is a little girl who is so small that she stumbles all over her words and still can’t quite count to twenty, and yet she has already formed the connection that our society makes between beauty and love, or better put, beauty and worth. She’s already learned that an expression of love to a girl must at the very least include some affirmation of her physical beauty, and more than that, that beauty is one of the reasons to love her in the first place. That beauty is part of what makes her worthy of that love. 
          The kid is only five. And that makes me more than sad.  
          It might sound like I’m overreacting, and I would agree if I hadn’t already heard this kind of thinking from kids too many times to ignore. Kids pick up on way more than we think they do, and tragically, they are perceptively absorbing our culture’s twisted doctrine of beauty, love, and worth. It is being pounded into us, ad by TV show by Instagram story by song by billboard, that your beauty is what makes you acceptable, what justifies your place in society, what makes you count as a valuable human being. If you’re not beautiful in the way that society dictates- if you don’t fit into the narrow box constructed by hypersexualization and objectification and resting on arbitrary standards that can only be achieved through the luck of genes- then you don’t count. In a nutshell, that’s what our society is telling me, that’s what it’s telling you, and that’s what it’s telling our kids.
          There has been so much real beauty in my life, beauty that I hope Yasmine tastes and feels and experiences just as deeply as I have. But there has also been ugly in my life. It’s the kind of ugly that I’ve been terrified my sisters will experience, the kind of ugly I now hope with all my heart will not become a part of Yasmine’s life. I hope she doesn’t find herself meal after meal sitting on the bathroom floor in utter loathing, staring into a toilet bowl and trying desperately to force out whatever food she’s just consumed. I hope she doesn’t let her brain become a calorie-calculator that constantly whirs and has no off button. I hope she never curses the girl in the mirror and beats against the wall with her fists because she hates herself so much that she doesn’t know how to stand it. I hope she doesn’t end up having nervous breakdowns in the kitchen before 8 am, because the prospect of trying to find something to eat that’s “okay” is so utterly overwhelming, her calorie-calculator brain is just plain puttering out. I hope she doesn’t put food in her mouth to get the taste and then spit it out in the garbage when no one’s looking. I hope she doesn’t learn contempt for the beautiful girls she passes on the street, and her thin friends, and everyone pretty, because she just knows that their lives are so much better than hers, just by the way that they look. 
       I don’t want those things for Yasmine, or for my sisters, or for any other little girl growing up in our beauty-obsessed culture. But my optimism is not high. I was raised by incredible parents who affirmed me and encouraged me and protected me in every way possible, and it was because of them that my disordered eating and mental health issues didn’t turn into something deadly. But even so, with the best support system I can imagine, I spent too much time in my life consumed by a crippling obsession with a struggle for beauty. More than that, I know my experience pales in comparison to the struggles of countless young men and women who were not as fortunate to find their way out of the eating disorder maze when I did. The struggle, as they say, is real. And that struggle is a direct result of our culture and the values it is perpetuating. 
        I don’t want to overlook the strides that have recently been made in this area, because there have been significant ones, and I am thankful for the people who have worked hard to defy the convention and make those changes. But if we want something different for the Yasmines of this next generation, we have to do more. We have to expose and eliminate the disparity between reality and the distorted picture of of women that the media paints. We have to teach girls, actively and explicitly, that their bodies are not currency, that they are worth more than the sum of their parts. We have to foster a culture that shows girls their worth is not contingent on how sexy they are, that rallies women together instead of pitting them against each other, that celebrates a woman for all that she is. I don’t know how we get there, and least of all do I know what I can do to instigate change. But for now, I’m trying to do my part to continue the battle in my own mind and to speak truth to the girls I know who need to hear it. And maybe one day, when Yasmine has her own little girl, that comment will no longer be a “You’re so pretty- I love you”. 
          Maybe, one, day, it will just be an “I love you.”

BELLLETSTALK: my days under the clouds

      Depression is something that has borne a heavy mark on my life over the past few years, and I have no doubt that it will do so again.  I know what it is to feel strangled and stifled and smothered and one hundred percent absolutely stuck. I know what it is to cry in public bathroom stalls because breakdowns happen anywhere and to lay in bed all day because nothing outside of it holds any promise and to numbly escape into the world of fiction on a screen because this world just hurts too much. I know all of this and much more. 
      I also know the incredible love and sacrifice of so many people who have held me up and have held me together. I know that in the midst of heaviness that threatened to crush me, the only thing that kept me in intact was the knowledge that people really, really wanted me here. I know that my loved ones felt helpless, because they told me they didn’t know what they could do to help. But they were wrong. They did know. They let me cry on their shoulders when I dissolved into tears, sleep in their rooms when mine was too empty, call them for comfort when the panic set in, sit in their company when my thoughts were too loud, and physically lean on them when I literally could not hold myself up. And when I think back to the time when my struggle was at its worse, I don’t remember the times when I was alone, but the times when my friends and family sacrificed to make sure I wasn’t. I remember a network of people who cherished me and made me know- I was not alone. 
        I’m writing this now for three reasons. First: if you are someone trying to be part of a friend’s battle with depression, what you are doing is monumental. You may feel like your actions are futile and your words fall flat. But your actions, no matter how small, communicate what every person (depressed or not) needs: love. It sounds pat and trite, but sometimes what is simple is what is true. Know that you are doing more than you can know and that what you are doing will. not. be. forgotten. 
       Second: you never know what the next person is dealing with. While my close friends knew what I was going through (because they were good friends but also because I cannot keep a blessed thing to myself), the times that I did share my struggles with others who knew me less profoundly all elicited the same response. Whoever it was would look at me in confusion and say, “But you’re always so happy!” This just goes to show: there is much going on underneath the surface. You are complicated and intricate and unique- so is the person next to you. Treat each person with the empathy you yourself know you need. 
       Finally, if you are currently struggle with depression- you are not alone. Sometimes when I learned that someone else was struggling with depression, it made me feel heavier. The fact that someone was drowning just as helplessly as I was just made me feel justified in my feeling; someone else understood how utterly pointless life was. But what consoled me- what made me feel understood- was when someone expressed what my soul was crying out. When someone else was able to express my heart’s numbness or sorrow or confusion, I felt like I could reach out and point and say “That’s it! That’s it right there!” And my soul rest, could stop trying to sort out its feelings and thoughts and direction and could just rest in what was already being expressed for it. 
        This poem was written coming out of my darkest season, when I was able to look back and put a finger on exactly how I had been feeling. It is dark and a large part of me asks why I would want to share the feeling of heaviness. But I am sharing this poem in the hope a) it will give those who have not struggled with depression a window into the life of someone who does and b) that it will will commune with someone’s soul and express the turmoil they just need to rest in. 

the question. 
the question, it
gnaws at me
whispers to me
curls its cold tendrils around my
my soul, it
wanes in me
unravels in me
threads away and tangles into
the pain, it
strangles me
smothers me
grinds me down til all thats left is
the nothing, it
numbs me.
hollows me.
carves out a vacuum that somehow still holds
the question.

Thank you for taking the time to listen. Whatever you are going through, I know that you are loved and cherished. Do not give up. The storm clouds will not be overhead forever.