My (Ongoing) Battle with Body Positivity

The body love movement is just so freaking happy, bubbly and pastel coloured. Seriously… check Pinterest. Go ahead and search “body positive” there. I’ll wait.

Did it look something like this?Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 8.40.51 PM.png

Gosh there are some great messages but it’s just sooooo pastel. Nothing wrong with pastel, in and of itself, I like pastels… but there’s something missing in this movement and these messages. Something I need.

My mom and I spoke not long ago about how it seems so ridiculously easy to be kind and see the beauty in others but when it comes to ourselves it seems impossible.  Working in retail I used to be someone women I didn’t know confessed their insecurities to… they’d tell me “I love this dress but I can’t show my legs…” or “That top is adorable but there’s no way it’d look good on me.” I was there for them, more than happy to encourage them to let go of those negative ideas and embrace wearing whatever the f*ck they wanted.

Retail is a notoriously menial job but damn did I feel proud of myself when customers walked away glowing because they found a bit of confidence in the outfit I helped them pick.

Then I went shopping and passed right by the shorts, skipped the crop tops, and wouldn’t even look at anything fitted because my mind told me don’t you dare – you’ve gotten too big for all that!

How was it so easy to embrace the positive and help other women fight the very same demons that I would let win me over? Why did I tell them to go ahead and buy the short shorts while I searched for a way to hide my body?

It took a few days for it to click but I think I’m beginning to realize what makes Body Positivity so illusive in how I think about myself:

I see my body as a personal (and public) failure.

I can’t be skinny, even just for a second. I can’t look a whole lot smaller than I am. I can’t show people what I intended to look like or wish I looked like… I can’t make them not see all the things I pick on myself for.

In that sense, my body is public.  Whether it’s the figure I want or not, it’s part of my public image and how I’m viewed.

And I haven’t made it a secret that I wanted it to be a small, toned imitation of what we see in literally all our media.  I have an instagram account @fitishkitten which is public – anyone can follow it – and 850 or so people do. They’ve all seen me, in my underwear taking “before” pictures… and 6 months later taking “before” pictures again because time passed but the pounds stayed. And the process just repeats.

I’ve never posted “after pictures”.

I’ve written about it on this blog… not a lot, because I don’t always have the right thing to say, but none the less. I’ve written about wanting to lose the weight. I’ve written about the excitement of losing 4 pounds.

4 pounds didn’t make my jeans fit. I am still down those 4 pounds but I haven’t lost more (yet?).

So that I want to be smaller is my very personal relationship with myself, but it’s also very public knowledge.

I know that doesn’t need to be past tense. I know I can still (and will still) continue my efforts to lose weight.

But I realize that not being where I wanted to be, where I said I’d be, is a big part of why I can’t seem to make my thoughts more positive.  It’s not as simple as telling myself that I can’t wear this or that, or that I’m unattractive because of my size. In telling myself that I can’t have this or that because of my size there’s also a narrative of you could have had that, could have been better but you weren’t good enough on your diet or at the gym. This is your fault.

I know the way I think about myself and body positivity is flawed. I love reading the posts of body positive icons and I understand the message that nothing needs to change for us to love ourselves. I know I’m supposed to love myself at any size. I know that I’m allowed to love myself even if it’s not the way I planned.

Yet here I am – spreading a message of body positivity that I let myself believe doesn’t apply to this body.

This shit is so much harder than it looks

Real. Talk.

I love the messages in the pastel pinks and purples. I love the illustrations of girls loving themselves and I am HERE for the insta-babes rocking their rolls, their swimsuits, their everything and not giving a f*ck who finds it “attractive” or “insta-worthy”.

But if it was as simple as being told “love your body” and “size is just a number” or “Don’t let your mind bully your body”… well if it was as simple as that I wouldn’t be so far in to this post.

Some days I put on my stretchy pants and my fave comfy sweater and I enjoy being able to just breathe. But other days I need to leave the house. I might have something to do where I want to look put together, polished even. Or I might be going out with my beautiful girlfriend who has style for days. I want to feel good about how I show who I am to the world.

This is where it turns out that the quotes on pinterest don’t help very much. They don’t make my jeans fit. They don’t take away my dislike for that gentle collection of pudge around my midsection. They certainly don’t make it look less violent when that pudge is squeezed in the wrong way creating some god-awful muffin top.

The idea that I cannot be seen to have such a soft and chubby body is so deeply ingrained that it’s like if I just searched harder or adjusted my top this way and my pants that way… maybe I could somehow fool people looking at me in to just not seeing the 100 pounds of body I wish I didn’t have. Right?

Like a little well placed draping of the fabric fools everyone.

These demons know how to protect themselves better than I know how to fight. These demons don’t just tell us that we are fat, that we are unattractive or that we don’t deserve certain styles or experiences because of our body.

These demons tell us that body positivity doesn’t apply to us. That the “chub rub club” is a punishment, not a babe squad, and that this body can’t have my love. So even though I might surround myself with body positive messages my mind is a fortress against their positive effects.

It is the thing that body positive messages aren’t equipped to help us with; we need a body positive movement of leather wearing, mohawk rocking, force weilding badasses with better advice than “have a bubble bath” or “repeat “I deserve happiness” until you’re happy”. Sorry girls – I love the girly, pretty, bubble bath image but I’ve sat in that bath-bombed water until it was cold and when the bubbles disappeared I still hated the body they hid.

I need a movement that answers the demons of negative self talk and the crippling effects of low self esteem with equal force and fury.

It has to be bigger than the industry selling me my skinny self one pill and one protein shake at a time.

So let’s band together and create it. We can still sparkle. I will still love pastels. But let’s make our edges sharper, let’s get sassy and crazy and be bold.

Let your inner tough girl beat down the inner bitch who calls you fat

How do you make your body love louder than your doubt? I wanna know 😀

‘Till next year, Thanks for a great Pride Month

This month I’ve talked about what I mean when I say I have three unique relationships and shared some of my thoughts and excitement around Pride.  I hope everyone enjoyed the photos. =)

Does anyone else feel like we just sort of blinked and the month is over? Summer needs to slow down right now!

Anyway, if there was a theme to this month or a final reflection I could offer, it would be this:

Practice Pride Every Day. And not just when it comes to your sexuality or relationships. Take pride in yourself.

Get ready because next month I have a lot to say about body positivity, stemming from the idea that we should take pride in our bodies, our accomplishments, who we are as people and our relationships.

Live your life! Live with pride, and love, and don’t let anyone steal your sparkle. 

Carmen

Maggie: My Best Friend

This month I have enjoyed telling our love stories. From explaining what it means to me to call Ben my high school sweetheart to the personal growth I’ve found with Tom as my partner in adventure – it’s truly been a joy to reflect on and share our stories. Finally, I’m excited to share the story of falling in love with my best friend: Maggie.

Maggie literally found me when I was lost in the rain in Arlington cemetery. God only knows why my friends wandered away and didn’t inform the tour guide that I was still in the washroom. Or why the staff thought it was a good idea to send a 15-year-old into this massive cemetery alone to search for a group of other 15-year-olds. As strange and crazy as this chain of events was, it lead Maggie and I to each other and for that, I’ll always be grateful.

I mean, who else could have met me crying my eyes out, lost and frustrated in the pouring rain and decided to keep me around?

Ten years later we have escaped the cemetery, survived University, student organizations and volunteering together.  She did a lot of driving around to help me put my wedding together and even helped me pick my wedding flowers – a meeting Ben had zero interest in. I’m pretty sure my florist thought we were marrying each other – kind of funny, now. Maggie and Tom even picked those flowers up and delivered them the morning of my wedding.

Ben and I drove to Nashville to stand by her and Tom when they married each other. From drinking moonshine that should have killed us (I mean, too drunk to effectively eat french fries or form sentences – just embarrassing) to putting ourselves back together and getting down the aisle. We’ve seen each other through a lot.

I’ve confided in Maggie, always. When I faced turbulence in my friendships and when I needed advice on developing myself as a person and reaching my goals.

Looking back I should have known there was something between Maggie and I. I’ve always admired her. Since high school, she’s been a powerhouse for whatever cause she chooses to champion. When I met her she was rebuilding homes in disaster-struck areas on her holiday. Seriously – I was trying to make it to Canada’s Wonderland when I had a break from school and she was counting down the days till she could literally improve the world.

She then came home and developed events like 24 Hours for Hunger and connecting students with veterans. To me, it was like she never stopped. Now, being even closer to her, it’s still that way.

Maggie’s ambition to improve the world around her, from her hometown to the global community, has always inspired me. It has shown me that my own dreams are possible. It has given me something to aspire to.

How could I not fall in love with her?

Then, getting the chance to know her more it seemed in so many ways we fit together. We found comfort in each other when we discovered we had the same values. When the world didn’t make sense we could console each other. When we needed sound advice on almost anything, we always seemed to find just what we needed in each other.

Falling in love has changed our relationship in subtle ways. It no longer feels entirely appropriate to vent about everything our husbands or boyfriends do to bother us – I mean, those relationships are shared after all. It’s a little awkward to tattle on your boyfriend to his wife or to tattle on your husband to his girlfriend.

Still… she gets it.  She knows when I vent it isn’t because I want to tattle on anybody or even tell her something about her husband or boyfriend. Our relationships with the boys are separate. We actually use the phrases “girlfriend treatment” and “wife treatment”.  It just means that there are traits in Ben’s personality which have more influence on her relationship with him, and less influence or prominence when he’s interacting with me. At the same time, there are traits that Tom has which define his and I’s interactions but don’t play a big role in how he interacts with Maggie. It’s not always a bad thing – in fact, it’s what allows us to develop unique relationships.

What this means is that if I do need to get something off my chest about a bit of friction between myself and one of the boys, Maggie can listen and be my best friend. As much as she’s also in a relationship with these people, the relationships are different. The moments of friction, and the moments of joy – moments that give the relationships character – are different. That makes it easier to avoid the feeling that I’m simply tattling on her husband or boyfriend to their wife or girlfriend.

It’s taken a while and it’s still a work in progress to figure out what it means to fall in love with your best friend. She doesn’t stop being my best friend – she never has, and I can’t imagine that she ever will. I mean, we literally share everything.

The relationship changed: it became more than it was, I fell in love with my best friend.

Carmen

Celebrating Love at Pride Toronto

 

This is the first pride month that I’ve been out as a bisexual woman, and of course, the first pride month that I’ve been out as polyamorous.  We started our pride festivities with a wonderful Women in Power event at TD. A little while later we attended Pride Night at the Aqueerium at Ripley’s Aquarium and then danced and partied on Church Street.  A day later we were back to march together with TD in the Pride Parade and enjoy Church Street by day.

All this is well and good but pictures tell our Pride story better than words ever could so check out all our photos below =) Especially the last ones.

Carmen

 

Women in Power event at TD – #ForeverProud 

Night at the Aqueerium & Dancing in the Rain on Church Street.

All ready with Rainbow make up, a renewed attempt at body confidence re: crop top style, and the best of friends. Even the rain couldn’t stop our smiles. Also, how adorable is it that google maps showed the parade route in rainbow when I opened the map!?

Just being cute together and celebrating our love after the parade 

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We’re so cute we even made Brett Kissel’s instagram story – how awesome is that? 

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And of course, we answered hate with love.

 

Tom: My Partner in Adventure

 

Last week I talked about Ben as my high school sweetheart and everything that means to me.  Now I want to share a little bit more about my relationship with Tom in this ongoing Pride month series.

Maggie and I spent years joking that we could trade husbands on date night since Tom and I had a shared taste in movies (Ahem, we’re both big Harry Potter fans), while the same can be said about Maggie and Ben’s shared interests.

So it wasn’t entirely surprising when Tom and I took time to discover our shared interests for ourselves.  I think what was most surprising was that Tom and I have very similar relationship styles.  We had the same ideas about the goals of the relationship. We both knew that if this was going to be a thing, we wanted it to be serious. We weren’t looking for a fling and we were both cautious and guarded at first.

Since then we’ve found it easy and natural to support each other in various adventures and exploring different interests.  My  favourite example is my increasing interest in Tom’s demolition derby hobby.  I had been watching his runs for a couple years – Ben and I liked coming out to support him and Maggie.  I knew from watching that it looked like a lot of fun and I’d love to be more involved. I didn’t really know how to make the jump from the stands in to the ring, though. With Tom, I’ve been able to explore this interest.

We’ve also found a shared interest in hiking and exploring the area around us.  While our partners love a high paced weekend Tom and I like our weekends interesting, but not stressful. We’ve found this balance in each other.

Where I talk about my relationship with Ben being one where we grew together, Tom has shown me a different side of my potential and encouraged me to pursue things that interest me with less consideration for what fits with who I thought I was. It’s been easy to support new interests for each other and give each other space to change our minds about how we think of ourselves.

This has allowed us to explore a shared interest in hiking. If you don’t know me personally you might not realize but I sunburn basically as soon as my skin becomes aware that it’s sunny and I’ve left the house. I also attract mosquitos at an alarming rate and am somewhat allergic to their bites. I was perfectly fine being “indoorsy” and relating to the outdoors mostly through the “Planet Earth” series from the comfort of my couch.

With a little help from sunscreen, bug spray and google maps Tom and I have slowly begun exploring our local hiking trails. I am finding I really enjoy it. I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised since I was a girl guide but I guess I left the “loves hiking” part of myself as a childhood memory, until now.

I think when we were monogamous we had both settled on the idea that we knew ourselves and the lives that we had created. I was indoorsy, kinda nerdy, really liked creative activities even if I never showed a special talent for the visual arts, and at heart, a crazy cat lady.

All of those things are still true but when I reconsidered my ideas about love and relationships I found a bit of a cascade effect that helped me constructively reconsider my ideas about my identity and interests.  I discovered that I still really want to learn and the adrenaline junkie in me (a long standing relationship with thrill rides), is a little crazier than any of us thought.

Tom also has new or different ways of addressing how I need to be supported. When I talk about Polyamory I talk about having the opportunity to let partners who excel at meeting certain needs help you with them, and not forcing them to be something they aren’t for other needs. I should say that what Tom has shown me is that he can address the same needs as Maggie and Ben, for example, but he has his own way of understanding and addressing the need. It’s helpful to have this kind of support – really helpful.

I’ve talked before on this blog about struggling with self consciousness and weight loss efforts.  If I’ve said something negative about myself Ben has always been quick to tell me I’m beautiful and deny the negative charge. This has always been helpful and I’ve always appreciated his support. Tom surprised me with a slightly different phrase – he never denied the size of my body but he reminded me that he finds me attractive. I never really thought about what positive comments I need to hear from people supporting me because really, I hated needing help from others to build up my confidence. I always wished I never needed their reassurance instead of thinking about what kind of reassurance I needed. Both are needed and valuable and having different perspectives or ideas of what to say when I’m struggling has been a blessing.

Falling in love with Tom has taught me to embrace and explore so much more than a new way of thinking about love and relationships. He’s supported and encouraged a new way of thinking about myself and my identity. He’s been my partner in adventures big and small, so I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Thanks for reading the 2nd of 3 relationship reflections. =)

Carmen

 

 

Learning to Practice Pride Every Day

The hardest part of coming out, for me, was realizing that it’s not quite the grand leap out of the closet that you expect. Even with social media, the message doesn’t reach everyone. Even if it did, there’s meeting new friends or colleagues and the assumptions they make (about me at least) are that I’m straight and monogamous.

The fact that I wear wedding rings and have a husband definitely gives people reason to make that assumption. None the less, it can be a bit jolting when casual conversation turns to family life and it turns out, mine isn’t quite what they expected.

In the few weeks or months after officially coming out on social media I wasn’t quite prepared for the situations where I would fine myself inadvertently in the middle of another “coming out” conversation. Especially since the people I had to “come out” to in these odd after-thought conversations were usually co-workers at my old retail job or someone else on the outer rings of my social existence. I don’t usually talk about my personal life at work – I make it a general practice not to – but from time to time it would slip. Now it isn’t strictly the conversations with coworkers specifically that were awkward, it’s the fact that in the grand scheme of my life and coming out these people weren’t important to me.  Once it was a nail lady who asked about my weekend plans and was super confused when I told her I had plans with my boyfriend while she was holding my ring finger and admiring the bling.

When we decided to come out we all created lists of who needed to know. Our parents and family of course.  Then there were the close friends who we wanted to tell personally, rather than letting them find out on social media. After we had these conversations to the best of our ability we figured out how to post and went ahead with the big leap of coming out publicly.  Truthfully we could of gone on forever with the private conversations and there were probably a few people we missed or didn’t contact in time but we were so excited to make our announcement. I took a lot of back and forth for us all to decide exactly how we wanted the announcement to go – we had to figure out what coming out meant to  us and what that looked like. When we finally felt ready, we weren’t patient.

After making it public on social media there were a few follow up conversations and messages from friends and family members we didn’t speak to previously.  Beyond that, it was relatively smooth. At least, none of the turbulence we experienced was completely unexpected, even if some of it was a little more intense than we anticipated.

Then sometimes the moment comes up where you’re about to say something and you hesitate because you don’t want to come out and explain everything. For example, when someone asks my weekend plans and I want to say “I’ll be at a derby with my boyfriend.” but I don’t want to get in to the whole thing.

True story: When I had that retail job I once bunch of underwear at the end of my shift. The coworker ringing me out said something about how happy my boyfriend would be when I got home and another coworker yelled over “Husband – she’s married!”. I laughed all the way home.

Seriously though, moments where being honest about something unrelated could lead to coming out are silently awkward.  There’s a lot of guilt about avoiding a conversation or avoiding having to acknowledge your relationships fully. It felt unfair to Tom or Maggie that I would acknowledge my relationship with Ben but potentially not talk about them the same way because it was easier.

I’ve gotten over that now, clearly.

For this month I promised to reflect on Pride month and come up with some musings.  As I was thinking about how to do this I’ve been thinking about how excited I am that this is my first Pride month being completely out. In that string of thoughts it occurred to me that coming out was a plural experience. And a plural experience that I was not always prepared for, at that.

Having that unexpected series of conversations and experiences has helped me come to practice pride every day. It’s made me realize that when we decided we wanted to come out on social media we really wanted more. We wanted the openness and honesty that had always been part of how we lived our lives and related to others to continue being part of our lives. With this we committed to pride as a daily action.

Almost a year in to it though, it does get easier. When I decided to blog about this life I think I had to commit to practicing pride every day. I love my life so much, how can I avoid celebrating that?

Carmen

Ben: My High School Sweetheart

I said at the beginning of this month that I wanted to do a bit of a series for Pride. I also said that in that series I’d talk a bit about the different relationships in my life. Since I always refer to “my three unique relationships”, let’s talk a little about them.

Ben is my husband and the person I’ve been with the longest.  We met and began dating in high school – I know it’s a cliche but we are high school sweethearts. I even changed my university plan to stay with him. I know that changing your big life decisions to make a relationship work isn’t normally recommended when you’re 18 but it worked out for me.

Because of this, Ben and I have grown up together.  I was only 16 when we started dating.  In a practical sense he’s seen me through a lot.  Right away there were big decisions about university and the logistics of applying, registering, etc.  Then there was dorm life, figuring out how to feed ourselves, managing classes, getting jobs… until we mastered living together and planned a wedding … well, I planned the wedding and he showed up at the agreed upon time 😉

From graduating to jobs and everything in between we really have transitioned from teens in love to partners in life together.  People always get really excited and happy to hear that we are high school sweet hearts. We get a chorus of “awww – that’s adorable!” And I do like to think that we are.

When reflecting to write this post though I realize that we tend to think high school sweet hearts are special because they found their partner at such a young age and when many people spend their 20s on an emotional dating rollercoaster we’re already living together and committing to each other. (I walked down the aisle and married Ben when I was 22)

I think what’s really special is that we manage to grow together.  The truth is that it meant choosing our relationship at really critical moments in our lives.  It meant choosing Ben instead of pursuing an interest in moving to Newfoundland for university. That changed my major from journalism and creative writing to English and History.  It also meant moving to Oshawa because that’s where Ben’s career opportunities are and he was in the workforce ahead of me.  It means that the first thing I decided about my identity, values and lifestyle as an adult was that everything about me is connected to him.

I don’t mean to make myself hard done by – let’s be clear.  It has also meant that through really big and intimidating decisions like pursuing grad school and then dropping out of it, making a career of  being a freelancer and transitioning to a polyamorous lifestyle I have had an amazing support system. In these moments where I have designed my adult life and worked to define myself I have always had him, like a lighthouse in moments of uncertainty, he has given insight and lit my way.

I absolutely loved the university I attended and couldn’t have dreamed a better university experience for myself.  I loved living close to Toronto and exploring the GTA.

I love him.

My relationship with Ben, I think, is unique for the history and the safe space we have created for ourselves – hey look, a buzz word! Seriously though, there is no space safer for me then beside Ben. He has seen every side of me. He allows me to talk his ear off, or to be silent. He encourages me to write while he practices bass and takes me on adventures when I need to get out of the house.  He is familiar with the complicated balance required to look after someone who may be extroverted or introverted depending on the day… and he can always, always make me laugh.

He knows me to my bones because he watched me build myself.  He never asked me to choose him – he never did anything to limit my growth or push me in a direction I was unwilling to go. He has always loved me with such certainty and kindness that I knew wherever life took us I would be happy, so long as I had him.

Yes, I am a super cheesy girl, through and through. It’s Pride month and I won’t hide that side of myself anymore than I hide anything else. =)

Hope you enjoyed this little reflection on my relationship with Ben. It’s only the first of three relationship reflections. Watch out for some other pride-related thoughts I’m musing on.

Carmen

Sincerely, Carmen in Canada

When I write about working from home I caution my  readers not to romanticize the reality – I give up stability, normal working hours (although I am slowly building towards normal hours, more on that another time.), and many of the perks of a “regular job”. I always acknowledge that I’ve traded these things for the convenience of staying at home and pursuing a flexible career.

Let’s talk a bit about what I get in return for my trade.

Who I work For and What I Do

I work for three different companies.

Company one, the company I’ve been with for the longest, is a Chinese company focused on educating Chinese children. It offers one to one classes and they have designed the curriculum. Students book me at the time they prefer and I try to make the process of learning English fun and interesting with games and lots of smiles, virtual high fives and rewards.

Company two I am new too. It offers one to one classes as well as group classes with as many as six students. This company focuses on adults, however, and they take student from all over the world. In a class I might have a few people from Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, or Germany! These classes are also focused on teaching the art of conversation by supplying students with useful sentences, natural back and forth examples and pronunciation guidance. They will have already studied the basics like vocabulary and grammar on their own – I’m just there to help bring it all together.

Company three is the leas formal. There is no powerpoint or directed class goal. Really it’s skype built in to a web platform where the minutes spent on a call can be easily tracked. This offers a one to one video connection and the goal is unstructured conversation practice. Think of it this way – someone in a foreign country has spent a lot of energy learning English but doesn’t know if they can take what they know in theory to the real world with effective conversations in English. This company is their way to connect with native English speakers, practice, have interesting conversations and get some advice along the way.

Why I Love my Job(s) – Seriously!

What all of this means is that I spend my day talking to people around the world, literally. They tell me about their homes, the culture and the politics, their travels and their experience with travelling.  They tell me what they do for work, why they like it and what makes it difficult. I learn about and sometimes meet their families.

Secretly, I think I learn so much more than I teach.

I am so lucky to genuinely smile throughout my time working.  Even in hour 12 I am still smiling my face off listening to a 6 year old describe their day at school.

I could work less. Twelve hour days, even if they only happen once or twice a week, are undeniably overkill. Nobody is forcing me to open my availability and allow that many bookings. But its so hard to resist when I know I will more than likely enjoy all 12 of those hours!

I mean, the paycheques don’t hurt either.

My Work Identity: Meet Teacher Carmen

Don’t we all have that person we are at work? That personality we fold up and tuck away in an office drawer when we’re done for the day? I sure do.

She likes tea – and need a  lot of it. But she’ll drink diet coke if there’s no time to make tea. She is obsessed with her planner and anything organizational.

She’s got a bit of a sticky not problem/addiction, and she’s not seeking help.

Sometimes her pets make guest appearances in class.

Her favourite students are the ones that laugh with her or tell her about different cultures.

The practice platform does not require me to send formal feedback to the people I meet but the other two are more formal education platforms so my students always receive feedback. That is how my teacher identity got her name – from my introduction:

Hello, my name is Carmen and I live in Canada.

… to my sign-off:

Sincerely, Carmen in Canada.

 

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Happy Pride Month!

close up photo of a hedgehog beside rainbow curved frame
Photo by Amber Faust on Pexels.com

Before we even start – yes I did pick this feature image because look at that little hedgey…he’s so cute I couldn’t resist him and his rainbow <3

I love pride month – I love watching my social media feeds fill up with rainbows, conversations about acceptance and love stories.  It’s a generally happy time with lots of celebration and people embracing who they are without apology.

Don’t mistake that opener for ignorance – there’s lots of serious conversations and realities to be recognized when it comes to Pride. One of the best things about Pride Month, in my humble opinion, is that its an excuse for us all to make room for both the celebration and the reflection required.

I knew that I wanted to find a way to bring that to my own little corner of the internet.  over the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about what that might look like.  Since Pride Month is happening throughout June, I’ll be doing a bit of a pride series – my first series!

I don’t want to admit how many times I get an idea that I realize is worth more than one blog post, mentally plan out an awesome series of posts, and then never write them…

Not this time!

I always say that I’m in three unique relationships but I usually only say it in passing reference to something else. This month I want to spend a little time sharing and celebrating what makes each of my relationships unique.

I also want to talk about some of my thoughts and things learned over the past 9 months or so since deciding to trust my heart and fall in love all over again.

Really this is just a little intro to the idea of a pride series and a teaser of what’s to come.

What are your burning questions about one or all of my relationships and the general experience of being out in my poly relationship? =) Now’s the time to ask!

Happy June 1st everyone =)

Landing that Online Job

So a couple weeks ago I landed two jobs in one week – both of them working strictly online through specific platforms.  So now I want to share a little bit (actually, a lot) about searching for and landing that elusive online job.

My specific jobs (and in case you’re counting, I’m now working with three companies) are all based on teaching English and supporting English learners.  So that’s the experience I’ll be speaking to. There are some general truths that will carry over if you’re looking at other industries online.

Teaching English is a huge online industry simply because the internet is such an excellent way to connect teachers of a language with learners while everybody has the benefit of staying comfortably in their home.

English is the dominant language of business so if you are a native English speaker you have a crazy advantage as many around the world are scrambling to learn our language in order to maximize their business, work and travel opportunities. I have spoken with people from France, Saudi Arabia,  Turkey, Syria, Brazil, South Korea, Taiwan, India, and China.  They are all different age groups and their reasons for learning English range from personal interest and a sense that it would just be good to know, to learning for academic pursuits like attending an international University to learning for travel and work.

There are a lot of companies out there that you can teach with – hence why I work with three.  It’s a good thing for both teachers and learners that there are so many platforms with similar services and job opportunities because it drives each of them to be competitive.

So, Where do I apply?

There are a few different ways that you can apply. You can research individual companies and apply directly to them or you can seek a recruitment group that will consider your resume and suggests companies you may be a good fit for.

I caution that free websites where you send your qualifications and they match you are probably not worth your time.  I tried it and they sent me an email saying they thought I’d be a good match for a company that was already on my resume.

That was the only company they sent me a notification for, despite the fact that I am a good fit for many companies.  Furthermore, they do not support you through the application process.

So really, you’re no further ahead than if you found the company on your own.

It sounds too simple to be true but I recommend starting the way I did: Google search “Teaching English Online” and consider what companies come up.

You want to understand their target client in order to determine if they are a good match for you.  For example, one of my companies targets students in China exclusively.  China is 12 hours ahead of me so if I want to teach them in their preferred time, after dinner and through the evening, I need to get up and start teaching around four or five in the morning.

I don’t mind but I do encourage people who want to do this kind of work to consider how time zones may impact their schedule and availability to work.

Other companies I work for target students around the world.  They have stronger demand from some regions and therefore still have hours where they highlight demand. However, because they do invite students from all over to learn on their platforms they are able to provide some opportunity to work throughout the day for me.

Company requirements range from preferring a long list of certifications to only requiring that English is your native language.

In summary for where to apply:

  • Research companies yourself
  • Understand the impact of their target clients and timezones for your schedule
  • Do you meet their requirements

The Application Process

How many people would love to work online? And why is that?

Because many people consider working online or from home to mean that the work is easy, low commitment, and open to anybody.

Therefore companies looking to hire English teachers and other online contractors are working hard and developing processes to discourage non-serious applicants.

Assume that competition is tough and ensure that your resume and application answers include relevant keywords. If you’re applying to teach English for example, you should be the kind of candidate that can have the words “teach, taught, tutor, children, adults, learners, English” on their resume.

Assume that your first challenge is to be filtered through an algorithm and use appropriate language accordingly. Don’t write something that would only matter to a human reviewer or a human reviewer may never see it filtered through the system. Straight forward, clear language that relates to the position responsibilities is best.

Furthermore, be prepared for multiple interview and training stages.  You’re going to have to jump through some hoops.  Jumping through hoops both demonstrates your seriousness about and commitment to the position and provides additional assessment opportunities for the company to feel confident they are hiring contractors who are a good fit.

In this process, one of the keys to success is staying organized.  Many companies will have developed their own platform that you would be working through and from the interview onwards they will be trying to teach you to effectively use this platform to meet their performance goals. You want to have clear notes on how to use the platform, all related requirements, and what the performance standards are.

Save any documents they provide you during the process all together in one folder; the documents may be provided through email and through the training platform so collect them in one place where you can access them at a moments notice.

Succeeding Online

Most online companies I have worked with, from transcription to teaching, rate contractors on a 5 star or 5 point system.  Most consider 4.85 and higher to be a generally acceptable range for contractors performance.  Aim higher, always, but especially aim for 4.88-4.95 if you are seeking advancement and bonus opportunities.

The most successful contractors are the ones who treat their opportunities with the same respect, commitment and care that they would be expected to give in a formal office environment. They follow instructions to the letter, follow up on all recommendations (If the company says that something is helpful but not required successful contractors are the ones who go ahead and follow that recommendation!), attend workshops and access all the support offered to them and they take pride in doing good work.

The reality is that it doesn’t matter where you’re working – a more traditional environment, somewhere with a startup vibe, remotely for a brick and mortar company or strictly online – every company favors employees who work hard.

Be that worker.

Developing a Career

I wrote a while ago about diversifying yourself.  I want to reiterate that the downfalls of working online necessitate diversity and maintaining contracts or opportunities with multiple companies.

To most online companies you are an independent contractor.  That basically code for them not owing you anything. No overtime – no matter how much you work, no sick leave, maternity leave or any other leave expected in most Western work environments, no health or wellness benefits, no paid vacation, and no guarantee of work or pay.  You work as much or as little as you want within the limits of how much work they have.  If students don’t sign up for classes my wide open availability means next to nothing. I might open eight, or even 10 hours of availability in a day and still only work 2-4 hours.  The company I work for doesn’t owe me anything for available hours that go unbooked.  The deal is that I work, they pay me, and in all other aspects, I am responsible for myself.

Many people are attracted to working online because of the “set your own schedule” ability and the idea that it is flexible. As I mentioned above though, don’t expect to be paid for any time that you aren’t actively working. You don’t have to open your availability if you don’t want to – but you are going to end up wanting to work as much as possible because otherwise you’re not getting paid.

The Impact of Policy and Culture

There is generally some understanding of uncontrollable circumstances.  For example, a large windstorm took down some power lines near my home and left me without power for 24 hours one weekend.  I messaged my company and was forgiven for canceling my classes because the circumstances were beyond my control and beyond what I can reasonably be expected to cope with while maintaining quality work.

I add the caveat about coping while maintaining a reasonable level of quality in your work because if your online employer is based in another culture you may find they have a different level of tolerance for personal issues than you’ve come to expect.

Some workplaces in Canada have very open and lenient policies for things like sick leave and mental health, for example. You can not expect this from an online company.

Realize this: Your manager might support you staying home from work because of that wicked head cold but it isn’t because they feel bad for you – they just don’t want you getting them sick.  When you work from home your head cold doesn’t affect anyone else.  My sick days with my companies are extremely limited.  Not feeling well is not a reason to not work when you work at home in your PJs.

Even more prominent – mental health and what should be done for people struggling with mental health issues is a cultural knowledge.  In Canada, we have a very empathetic attitude about mental health.  Most workplaces recognize it as a genuine concern and have varying levels of support. I know many companies still fail their employees completely, however, most have good and improving policies.

When working for a company based in a culture like China, I have found that mental health is considered a nonfactor.  It falls under looking after yourself, which is considered separate from your work life and not their responsibility.

Harsh – yes, very much so. However, it is a sacrifice that comes with developing a career that ignores physical borders.  You must work fluidly between cultures and learn to meet expectations that differ from what would be expected of you if you worked strictly within your own culture.

Working from home has its own unique set of benefits – there’s absolutely no doubt about that, for me.  However, those benefits mean mentally letting go of the benefits we may have expected from a more traditional workplace.  It’s a personal decision to favor one set of benefits and deficits over the other and figure out what kind of career is going to bring you the most satisfaction.

Carmen

 

 

Unsolicited Relationship Advice

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I know I grew up lucky, in some (ahem, many) ways. Many of my friend’s parents were divorced, and they moved between two separate homes.  My parents were together.  Perhaps even luckier for me, my parents were happy to be together. Parental yelling matches, dad on the couch or threats to leave are all unfamiliar stereotypes to me.

Perhaps it is because my childhood home was so happy that I find relationships and relationship advice to be such an interesting subject.

I also got married young. In fact, I fell in love young. I’ve been with Ben since I was 16 and got married when I was 23.  Young for my generation in both experiences.

Now, as many of my readers will know I am in three unique relationships and navigating life with five romantic relationships under one roof. Each of us values strength, stability and functionality in our relationships and we work hard to build our relationships around these values and our personal needs.

It must be a combination of all these factors that makes me feel entitled to provide some form of unsolicited relationship advice.

But you know that feeling when you see people struggling with something that comes naturally to you, and you just want to help and provide your knowledge and see if you can make their struggle less, their day easier? Yeah that happens to me a lot.

What the Advice Columns Miss About Fighting

I’ve seen all kinds of advice columns reassure their readers that fighting is normal. There’s a couple thoughts I want to  unpack here, so bear with me.

Let’s remember for a second that normal doesn’t mean necessary. It might not be all doom and gloom for your relationship if you argue from time to time but if you don’t fight at all, that’s okay too. (I’m assuming you don’t fight because you aren’t disagreeing; please don’t bottle it all up just to say you don’t fight. Remember, it can be normal!)

But then don’t the relationship columns also tend to tell us that if we’re fighting about “the big things”, like money, children or lifestyle, we should run for it because there’s no way to build a relationship when you can’t agree on the foundational aspects of a life together?

So, do we fight and stay because it’s normal or fight and run for it because we want different foundations for our life together?

Go ahead and argue, but not about the big stuff.

If you were a fly on our wall and you could catch us in a rare moment when we’re feeling off-kilter, you know what it would be about?

Food.

Yeah, you read that right. Like is it okay to have fries with dinner? Should my husband have brought home the bag of chips I requested or should he have said no because he knows I’m trying to lose weight?

Or can the meal plan be changed, and can anybody spontaneously stop at a store and pick up something that wasn’t on the grocery list?

What’s healthy enough for our healthy lifestyle goals and what’s healthy but not healthy enough?

How do we handle cravings?

Food.

We decided to have talks about what getting serious together meant fairly early on. We didn’t want to come out and fight off all the negativity just to find out we couldn’t really build a life together if we wanted to.

Let me be clear: When we talk about money, children (how many to have, how to raise them, etc), our lifestyle (financially, where we will live, what is important and what we don’t need, etc.) we all agree. In fact, we agree easily.  There are certainly some compromises but they were all easy to make.

So if you’re asking me (which you didn’t, but you read this far so I’ve got something going for me.), let yourself argue when you’ve got a bone to pick but if you’re not laughing at how silly a bone it was to get worked up over once all is said and done, that’s when you should worry about the fighting.

They say never stop dating, but more realistically, never stop infusing your relationship with the little, every day things that bring you joy.

Okay so “never stop dating” has a ring to it and saying it my way is a mouthful. But hear me out.

I’ve been with Ben for seven years. I don’t want to go to dinner and pretend that he doesn’t know anything about me so we can “date”. But you know what does happen at the beginning of a relationship and should be carried forward?

Finding little ways to brighten each others day. It’s bringing home tea from Tim’s when he knows I haven’t left the house today and could use a pick me up. It’s surprising me with something he saw and bought just because it made him think of me.

It’s different than dating – I think it’s more like showing how successful he was at dating me by showing how well he knows me now.

It’s spoiling each other from time to time.  About a week ago Ben offered to pay for my manicure knowing that dinner out would mess with my diet but still wanting to make me feel spoiled.

It’s knowing when he needs time to be an introvert and not burdening him with extensive conversation and crowded situations.

So by all means, keep dating. Recognize that as humans we grow and change so there’s aways new ways we can “get to know each other”…. but as the years go by go beyond “still dating” and make it about knowing and appreciating each other.

Okay just One More Thing…

Hey you’ve read pretty far in to this bit of unsolicited advice – I appreciate that!

This one’s important: Know the difference between joking and teasing. It’s trickier than you think but here’s the key:

It isn’t up to you.

It’s up to whoever is at the other end. For example if you’re making a joke about something your partner doesn’t laugh about (take me and my weight, for example) you’re just teasing and it probably isn’t fun for your partner.

Stick to things your partner can laugh about too. For me – I laugh at my own sense of style because I have enough confidence in it to take a joke from time to time. You kind of have to when you decide to dye your hair blue. So it’s fun for everyone.

Don’t be the person who leaves your partner feeling sad, self conscious or bad about themselves/something about them. Even if you don’t get why they’re so sensitive about something, respect it. As your partner you should be relied on for that.

 

Well thanks for reading – what are the things you wish you could shout from the roof tops when it comes to relationships?

 

 

 

Discovering Progress

I struggle to think of what I might want to write when it comes to fitness. Mostly this is because I often feel like I’m not really getting anywhere in my weight loss journey and I don’t want to repeatedly write about how it feels to fail.

But today I was working on my fitness notebook – more on that to come – when I realized I am making progress. It’s slow, and a little inconsistent from week to week, but it’s progress. That realization inspired this post with the goal of sharing two things:

First, a friendly reminder (because I needed it) that how we feel isn’t always a good reflection of reality. For example, I feel like I’m the biggest I’ve ever been, and like I haven’t made any progress. I feel like I constantly choose to eat junk food despite knowing that it isn’t conducive to my goals. I feel hopeless.

Part of this is because I track my habits on a micro level. Each meal and snack of each day, and taking my weight every morning… the day to day fluctuations are often times all I see.  This is the down fall of micro tracking.  The benefit, for me, comes in two ways. First of all knowing that each thing will be measured keeps a constant pressure to make better and better choices more often.  It also means that when I take a moment to mentally “zoom out” and see what all this daily tracking is adding up to over time, I have more information to complete that zoomed out understanding.

This is how today I was able to realize I’m down 4.2 pounds this month. It’s not the spectacular progress we all hope for in our first month. Some weeks I lost more than expected and other weeks none at all. However it averages out to about 1 pound a week and that’s better progress than I thought I’d achieved.

I got caught up thinking about all the mistakes. Every spontaneous drive through and indulgent snack… until I realized that while I should continue striving to cut unhealthy habits I do have some progress to celebrate going in to week 5 with the notebook.

Now that’s the second thing I wanted to share today – the notebook.

I’ve attached a picture of my weekly layout because we all know a picture is worth a thousand words. The cover really just reminds me to be a whole person and not let weight be my identity.

I use this place to physically track my day to day weight, food, water and movement. I use a stencil to make it cute and organized.  It’s pretty simple but the process of recording and being able to flip back and look at how things are changing week to week is helpful for me to stay focused.

I’m not following any explicit plan. I spent about a month working through the first 3rd of the Body Love app by Anna Victoria. Ultimately it wasn’t the right program for me. I really want to be the kind of person that can strictly follow a program but I’m realizing I may not be. It’s well known that following a strict workout plan exactly is impractical for many people with busy lives (hello!) but I also struggle to stay focused while being flexible. If i forgive myself for having a busy day and missing a work out the next day I am full of excuses about why I can miss another work out, and so on. If I am not following the plan perfectly I am too lenient with myself and feel like a failure. There’s no big win for me.

Maybe at another time in my life a fully developed program will make more sense.

Since I was reflecting on the last month I brainstormed some ways to get moving in the next month. More on those ideas later!

 

Carmen