If My Past Self Could See Me Now

“What would our first-year selves think if they saw us right now?” my friend asked as we set up a camera and tripod to film an interview.

“They’d be amazed at our confidence,” she said, answering her own question.

“I would definitely be amazed,” I echoed.

It was a short conversation, lost in the bustle of the interview, but this moment stood out in my mind because it is something I’ve been thinking about lately—what my past self would think of my current self. I know for a fact that my friend was right: my first-year self would think it’s crazy that I am so much more confident in all aspects of journalism.

I wrote last year about the fact that studying journalism forced me to jump out of my comfort zone; and as the year went on, I became comfortable with being outside of my comfort zone. I know that if I feel nervous about an assignment or task, that’s a good thing—because it means I am going to learn from it. This is a mindset that I didn’t always have during my first year, but it is something that I think my first-year self would really admire now.

But let’s take it back further than my first year of university. My high school self might be surprised that I’m still blogging. She’d also be surprised, I think, at all of the amazing friendships and opportunities that have come out of my experiences at university. I have an incredible group of friends who encourage me to be a better journalist and a better person. They help me expand my comfort zone both in writing and in other things, like trying new foods. I tried octopus the other week (OK, one bite, but still). Trying new foods at new restaurants in the city with friends is something my high school self would think was super cool.

I also think my high-school self would also be surprised at how hard her work paid off. At the end of my grade 12 year, I found out that I received a major scholarship to university because of my academic, extracurricular and creative achievements throughout high school. If my past self could see me now, continuing to work hard to maintain my scholarship and achieve new things, I bet she’d be proud.

And my elementary school self? Well, sixth-grade Sherina would be pretty amazed that the article I had published in the local newspaper as a result of joining my school’s writing club had resulted in a desire to pursue journalism as a career. She’d also probably think it’s pretty cool that her future self is writing for thousands of people on the Internet to read. Back then I could only dream of sharing my thoughts with the whole world—so I’m pretty lucky that I get to do that now, through this blog.

So, to answer my friend’s question: What would my first-year self think if she saw me right now? I dare say that she’d be happy and proud—and, strangely enough, that makes my current self feel the exact same way.

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It Started With a Sunrise

My day yesterday was bookended by pink skies. I woke up early to do some work before class and saw, through my blinds, colourful clouds. I haven’t seen many sunrises recently, so I eagerly opened my blinds and soaked in the sky as I worked on my assignments. It was a lovely beginning to my day.

I met up with a few of my friends for breakfast. I ate what were quite possibly the best pancakes I’ve ever had in my life. We all laughed when our one friend learned that orange pekoe is not a tea flavour, it simply makes the tea orangeshe discovered this after sticking her nose in her mug, trying to sniff the flavour.

Then we went to our journalism lecture and to our lab afterwards. I spent my afternoon editing a video with my partner for an assignmentit was time-consuming, but I learned a lot about the video editing process, and we had a lot of fun while doing this. I didn’t expect that we would finish the video today, but we didand crossing it off my assignment planner felt amazing.

After exporting the video, I went shopping with one of my friends and then had dinner while watching this week’s episode of Riverdale on Netflix (if you haven’t watched Riverdale, I would highly recommend it). Then I did some more work planning an essay and brainstorming topics for a journalism assignment.

As night fell, I looked down the street and noticed a pink huejust like I had seen in the morning. With a darkening sky, bright headlights from passing cars and a colourful background behind tall buildings, it was a gorgeous scene. Watching the sky, I thought about how lucky I was that I got to see a beautiful sky not just once, but twice over the course of a day.

I saw a quote recently that has stuck in my mind: “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” Being a student, my days tend to be filled with classes, assignments and writing (I am studying journalism, after all). And in between these things are co-curriculars, going to the gym, hanging out with friends and, of course, relaxing. In the midst of all of these things, my life happens.

Sometimes I feel like life is moving too quicklynot necessarily that it is passing me by, but just that it is speeding along while I am busy with school and other things. But that quote reminds me that those things are my life. The essay and article writing, the laughing with friends over delicious pancakes, the learning how to edit videos and watching Netflix in bedmy life is made up of these moments. If I acknowledge them, then I feel less like life is moving too quickly and more like I have a solid grasp on it.

Seeing a beautiful skyeither a sunrise, or a sunsetalways grounds me in a moment of reflection and awareness. Yesterday, seeing both helped make me mindful of all of the moments in this life that I am so grateful to be living. Life may be what happens while you are busy with other things, but you can be fully present in your life if you embrace the moments that make every day special.

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The Path Less Travelled

There’s a certainty to nature, I think to myself as I walk along a trail with my family on Thanksgiving weekend. So many aspects of the outdoors are unpredictable—grey skies can brighten in seconds and, similarly, a sunny day can turn stormy before you even have a chance to produce an umbrella—and yet, something about nature does seem so inevitably grounded in an unchanging reality. Maybe it’s the way that, year after year in the fall, the leaves turn crimson and flutter to the ground; maybe it’s the way I watch the fiery leaves every year at this time with the same awe.

Roots cross the path I walk, creating a kind of haphazard staircase covered in pine needles, fallen leaves and the occasional fern. Massive, mossy rocks line one side of the trail; the sparkling shoreline on the other side is framed by red and orange leaves. It is beautiful, and fleeting, because while the forest hasn’t completely turned to fall—many of the tall trees are still green—in the grand scheme of time I’ll blink and the trees will be skeletons sitting in pools of coloured leaves. But it is in that certainty, that time will pass and the trees will do what they do every autumn, that I find solace as I walk.

Somehow on our afternoon hike, my family and I have traversed off the trail we meant to walk. We planned to take the short route, soak up the scenic sights before heading into town for a bit. But we’re on the longer route now—something we discovered only when we realized that the walk was taking a lot longer than we had thought it would. We laugh about this as we continue walking, past a little waterfall trickling into a stream, past fallen birch trees with white bark.

Nature might be sure of itself, certain that the sun will rise in the morning and set in the evening and life will carry on—but as humans, we aren’t always as certain about our own lives. Sometimes we end up on the wrong path (both literally and figuratively). When this happens, we have to look at where we came from, figure out how we got to where we are and decide where to go next. Because sometimes, we’re actually on the right path—we just, for whatever reason, doubt that it is truly what is right for us.

We’ve all had those moments in life where we feel as if we are standing at a crossroads, looking at two paths, imploring one of them to show itself to us as the correct one to travel down. There is no way to be certain in life that we are going in the right direction—we have to trust ourselves and the decisions we make, and be brave enough to turn back when we’re wrong or forge ahead when we’re right. As poet Robert Frost wrote, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.”

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Real Talk: Honesty, Audiences and Online Identities

I have a question for you bloggers and online content creators: do you ever think about who is viewing your posts? I do, all the time. I pour over my WordPress statistics, trying to paint a picture of my audience. I’m mostly curious about the country and referrer statistics—because they can tell me, among other things, if people I know (people from Canada who, say, find my blog through Facebook when I know I’ve just shared a link on my page) are reading my blog.

I’m intrigued by the concept of having an “online identity” and I’ve often wondered what it means for me, as someone who started blogging because of a school project which involved many people in my school community reading my blog. I know, for instance, that friends, family, teachers and acquaintances follow my blog—but most of my followers do not know me in real life.

This makes my audience an interesting combination. Do I write for the people who know me personally? Or do I write for the large majority of my followers who have never met me? I think the simple answer is that I write primarily for neither of these groups—I write for myself. I sprinkle tidbits of my life across a page, strung together with a narrative and leave my words here for myself to come back in a few weeks, months or years; to remember a moment in my life, a thought that captivated me or simply an idea I deemed worth sharing.

Of course, while I write for myself, I don’t share my writing entirely for myself. I do write quite a few things that never see the light of day. I let these stories sit on the tip of my tongue (and the depths of my leather bound journal). Maybe someday I will craft them into blog posts, articles or (who knows?) a book. But for now, I like to let those words linger in the shade, away from the spotlight of the Internet.

Those places are just for me—here, on my blog, is a place for other people to read my writing. The over two-hundred SherinaSpeaks posts I’ve written and published are all authentic; but they are also all part of my so-called online identity. They are the parts of myself I choose to present to the world, both for the people I know and the people I don’t.

Sometimes when I go back and read my old posts (because, after all, right now I am the future self to which I once wrote) I am surprised by what I’ve decided to publish. Probably because I love the freeing feeling of writing and sharing true, honest words, I’ve blogged about some really personal parts of my life, like moving away for university. I’ve also blogged about a lot of random, seemingly mundane parts of my life; I often enjoy rambling on about these little details.

There’s a liberating feeling in leaving even these little details about my life on the page. If you added them all up, you probably wouldn’t get a complete picture of my life; if you know me in real life, then you’d be closer to it, but still. That is, I guess, what I find strange—that depending on whether my readers know me or not, they could interpret my posts in different ways. It’s not, per se, a bad thing; it’s just interesting. Even people I know in real life but don’t talk to me frequently could stay quite updated on my life through reading my blog. With the exception of comments, blogging can be quite a one-way conversation; I can write and write and write about my life, and whoever wants to read it and not respond is free to do so. I guess, really, it’s the same with any social network—but I share the most on WordPress, I think, so it’s what piqued my attention.

I guess at the end of the day, my online identity is just, well, me. No matter who I imagine is reading my blog (whether I know them in real life or not) I still strive to be genuine. Maybe that’s the best online identity you can have—I certainly believe that writing honestly about my life online has made me a better blogger and more reflective person.

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My Four Year Blogiversary!

Sometimes I meticulously plan out my blog content; other times I just sit at my desk and write. It was the latter when I got home from work one Friday night in June and starting writing about my life in the post that became “Writer’s Block, Rainy Days, and 1,000 Followers.” I wrote about where I was sitting, what music I was listening to and seemingly random and mundane things like my cat and my cacti. I soon started doing something else and forgot about the document until I noticed it on my laptop the next day. I kept writing, keeping the same thread of a stream of consciousness about my life.

I ended up writing about writer’s block. I had just reached 1,000 blog followers, and I wasn’t sure where to go from there in terms of blog content. When I just sat down and started writing, “I found the words I wanted to say,” as I wrote. I ended the post on an optimistic note, because I was happy with my life and happy with my blog.

Overall, I didn’t how I felt about the post; I wasn’t sure people would care that I was listening to Harry Styles, or about any of the other things I mentioned in the post. But I really liked something about the honest nature of the post, that I had just written exactly what was happening in my life and, in the process, captured some thoughts about writing. I added a photo I had taken of storm clouds, because in the post I wrote that thunderstorms were in the forecast, and published the post.

Around a week and a half later, I received an email that made me jump with excitement. A WordPress editor had selected my post to appear on the Discover tab. I couldn’t believe it, because I remembered that I almost didn’t publish the post. When it appeared on Discover, I started receiving a flood of comments; so many people related to my thoughts about overcoming writer’s block.

The exposure to my blog means that my follower count has grown to over double what it was when I published the post. This means that I have more regular readers, which is something that makes me incredibly happy. I’ve written before that when I started my blog, the only people who read it were my family and teachers at school; of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. I believe you should write because you have something to say, not just because you need people to listen to you.

However, the fact that people do read what I write is amazing; and having my blog featured on Discover reminded me of this. I consider myself so incredibly fortunate that people read what I write; and not just read it, but critically consider and engage with it through comments (or discussions in real life). If blogging has taught me anything, it’s that there is a lot that I want to say—and that there are people who are willing to listen.

Today is my blog’s four-year anniversary. I couldn’t be more proud of how far my blog has come, or more thankful to the people who have supported me along the journey. Here’s to more content, more conversations in the comments, more jumping for joy moments. Here’s to this little community we’ve created. Here’s to many more years of SherinaSpeaksI can’t wait to see what is next.

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Unicorn Store and the Importance of the Journey

This week, I was lucky enough to go to the Toronto International Film Festival for the first time. My friends and I watched Unicorn Store, actress Brie Larson’s directorial debut. The movie centers around Kit (played by Brie), an eccentric woman who has loved unicorns since she was a child. In one of the opening scenes of the movie, we see Kit, covered in a multitude of colours, painting away. It is only when she takes a step back that we see that she has messily painted the wall around her canvas; and that there are a trio of black-clad art judges behind her, who shake their heads as they write negative critiques on their clipboards.

After this experience, Kit attempts to conform to the society she sees around her; she sees a commercial for a temporary hiring agency, applies and lands a position in a PR firm. Soon after, she begins finding elegant notes with her name spelled out in extravagant cursive letters. The notes lead her to an address—the “Unicorn Store,” where a brightly dressed salesman (Samuel L. Jackson) informs her that she can have a pet unicorn, if she adheres to several criteria. Through her journey of fulfilling the criteria, Kit makes a new friend, strengthens her relationship with her parents and begins to embrace the creative side she had previously attempted to stifle.

Towards the end of the movie, Kit receives a call that her unicorn is waiting for her. She sees her unicorn and, as is clear from the awe-struck look in her eyes, she loves it. However, she ultimately decides not to take the unicorn home; there is another woman on the waiting list, and Kit realizes that this woman may need the companionship and love of the unicorn more than she does (as she has found those things through fulfilling the initial criteria to get the unicorn).

You’ve probably heard the quote about the journey being more important than the destination; I can’t state enough how true this is. As I typed that quote, I thought of the journey I’m on now at university. I wouldn’t want to just be handed a degree; though that is the destination of my four years of studying, I would completely miss the valuable journey to get there. The journey of working, learning and growing is one that I think is irreplaceable. When I graduate, I’ll treasure my diploma; but I will know that my experiences are more rich and meaningful than a piece of paper that says my name on it (I realize, of course, that university degrees are prestigious; but there’s a reason you have to work so hard to earn one).

What I thought was especially powerful about Kit’s journey in Unicorn Store was that, in the end, Kit made the selfless decision to give up the thing she had been working so hard to secure, for the benefit of someone else. Because, really, while the “thing” she was working towards was the unicorn, she was really working towards creating a better life for herself; she just didn’t realize it at the time. Sometimes goals that we have may cause us to do this, too. We may inadvertently improve our lives along our journey to achieve a goal; and while achieving that goal will still feel great, we’ll have the extra benefits we gained throughout the journey.

I think as well, though, that sometimes reaching that destination can be a great way to cap off a journey. Yes, my university experience has been shaped by all of the things along the way to graduation; but walking across the stage to receive my diploma will be an acknowledgement of all of those things. In this way, Kit giving up her unicorn was the final stage in her journey; allowing her to move on from her obsession with the destination and realize the progress that had been made along the way. Focusing on the journey instead of the destination is advice I think we can all apply to some area of our lives—even if our end goal isn’t to own a unicorn.

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Algonquin Escape

As I write this, I am sitting on an empty bag of firewood with my back up against the base of a tall, twisted tree. I’m writing in a notebook, my cursive letters tripping over each other like the tangled roots of the trees around me. By the time you read this, I will have typed my words; but I don’t want to think about that in this moment. Right now, I am content where I am—on a hill facing a lake, listening as loons cry out and waves gently lap against the rocky shoreline.

I go to school in a big city, and I love the skyscrapers and bustle. But I also love where I am now; camping in Algonquin Park. Here, tall glass buildings are replaced by soaring trees and the craziness of the city is replaced by, well, the solitude of fleeting nothingness. I say fleeting because I will not be here forever—tomorrow, my family and I will pack up our tent and canoe back to where we started out from. But for this moment, I am here, and I am happy.

Now, a week later, I am on my couch, typing the words I wrote as I sat against the tree at my campsite. I could write about my camping trip all day, but I think photos capture the essence better. Since I’ve been getting into photography recently, I brought my camera on the trip. I wanted to capture a bit of everything; the big lakes which reflect the trees in the water, and the small branches and water lilies. 

These photos bring me back to where I began this post: breathing in the scent of campfire mixed with pine. In that moment, I was peaceful and content. Even if you’ve never been to Algonquin Park, I hope looking at these photos of the floating fields of lily pads and fiery flames of a nighttime fire fill you with that same feeling.

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An Ode to Summer

Was it just four months ago that I stood in my room at university, surrounded by boxes, having finished my last exam? It feels like it was both five years ago and only yesterday that I was celebrating the end of my first year of university. After moving all my boxes back into my house, I started printing resumés and applying to summer jobs. I ended up accepting a position as a summer student at a local not-for-profit in the communications department. I’m so glad that I did. I loved spending my summer interviewing and writing, especially because it’s been for a cause that I really believe in. I’ve also made some amazing friends through my job.

Although this was my first full-time job, I still made a lot of time this summer to have fun. I took trips downtown to visit friends. I tried Thai food for the first time. I saw two concerts. I visited Starbucks countless times (so many, in fact, that I wound up getting a Starbucks Gold card in the mail). I laughed until I cried and smiled until it felt etched on my face.

This summer, spans of working 9-5 were interspersed with weekends at the cottage. There, I saw beautiful sunsets, roasted marshmallows over the campfire, kayaked through calm waters and fell off the tube with my sister, laughing hysterically. Cottage weekends meant unplugging from the Internet and tackling the stack of books in my “to-read” pile; they also meant lying out in the sun on the dock and eating ice cream.

Being home from school meant that I reunited with many of my friends from high school, and visited some friends who I haven’t seen in a long time (in one case, since high school graduation). It’s always nice to reconnect with old friends, reminisce about memories and create new ones.

I also turned 19 this summer (and wrote about all of the things I’ve learned this far in my life). My friends at work threw me a little surprise party, complete with photos of cats, streamers and a chocolate cake. I also celebrated with my family—we went bowling, and I was terrible but had tons of fun anyways—and spent a day with my friends from school, eating and shopping downtown.

And in the midst of the having fun and working, this summer I found time to focus on my own projects. I’m really proud of the blog posts I’ve written this summer and the growth that my blog has experienced. As always, I feel fortunate that I have people reading, and responding to, my posts. I’ve also had some blog posts published in the Huffington Post this summer, which is always exciting! Beyond my blog, I’ve been writing and editing my first novel. As I wrote in a previous post, I’ve started waking up early to write and edit before I go to work which I’ve really been enjoying.

I wanted to write a post about the summer because I want to be able to remember all of the memories in a few months, when it’s snowing so hard that outside my window is a sheet of white. I want to remember the time my friends and I tried a vegan restaurant for lunch; I want to remember eating ice cream by the lake and playing board games with my family (although I may not want to remember the time my dad creamed me at Scrabble, getting a seven letter word on his very first turn).

There’s a quote which goes, “And all at once, summer collapsed into fall.” I don’t see this transition happening, as the quote says, all at once—I see it occurring gradually. The weather will eventually get cooler and the leaves will start to turn. When they inevitably do, I will remember all of the fun times I have had this summer—and look forward to everything that autumn will bring.

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Reclaiming YA Novels

When I picked up a young adult novel from the library a few weeks ago, I thought I knew what to expect. It seemed like what my sister and I call “YA fluff”; a typical teen romance story. But as I started reading the book, Once and For All by Sarah Dessen, I realized that there were some more complex themes underlying the story. First of all there’s nothing wrong with just a classic teen romance story. But I think it’s worth noting that so many YA stories are more than that.

This book, for example, dealt not only with love, but loss (spoiler alert coming up). As the story goes on, we learn that the main character Louna’s previous boyfriend was killed in a school shooting. This alone made the book so much more than a fluffy romance story.

Two other YA books I’ve read recently, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, are also about more than romance. The former is the story of a teen boy who wins an enormous lottery; it asks thought-provoking questions about luck, money and philanthropy. The latter is a layered story of family, the bond of sisters and high school. These are no small themes; and they are ones which are, in my opinion, fascinating to readers of any age.

That young adult books are intricate, woven stories about much more than romance is nothing new to most YA readers. I have noticed, though, a tendency in older teenagers to wrinkle their noses at the idea of reading YA books. Why is this some people’s reaction? It may have something to do with the fact that our society seems to deem anything that teenagers, teen girls in particular, enjoy to be frivolous and trivial. YA books centred around romance are just one example of this; but of course, the books are about more than romance because (another spoiler alert) teenagers care about other things as well.

My high school librarian used to say that people enjoy reading books with characters a few years older than they are. I definitely feel strange at times reading YA, when characters are entering high school for the first time and I’m in university; I think this is why, at one point, I stopped reading a lot of YA books. I started reading more adult books, like thrillers, non-fiction and everything by Jodi Picoult. I don’t remember exactly what made me pick up another YA book, but I’m so glad that I did. My overall reading is so much more diverse now, and I have learned a lot from the YA books I’ve read. In this way, I think I have “reclaimed” YA books; I love reading them now.

There’s a quote by P.J. O’Rourke that says, “Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.” This idea, that we should read what we think makes us look good in the eyes of other people, is one that I think we as a society should retire, fast. We should read what interests us, not what “looks good.” Don’t let other people’s perceptions stop you from reading YA novels; and if you think you’ve outgrown the genre, consider giving it another chance. You might be surprised!

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Why Journalism?

It’s been almost exactly a year since I started studying journalism at university. As I’ve written before, I love journalism. However, had I known all of the things I would be doing in my classes beforehand, I may have thought twice about it. It’s lucky I didn’t know, though, because I ended up jumping in headfirst, fears and all. I love so many things about journalism: the process of piecing interviews into a story, the ethical discussions and debates and the actual act of writing, to name a few.

When people ask me why I decided to study journalism, I never really know what to say. I’ve always enjoyed English and writing and I have hilarious short drafts in old notebooks to prove it. I had my first article published in a local newspaper when I was in grade six and then I continued writing regular articles. Some of my teachers and friends started assuming that I would study journalism. I guess I eventually decided that I would study it, too. I can’t recall what I wanted to do before journalism; I think I considered creative writing, teaching and, at one point, marine biology (out of the blue, I know, but I really love sharks and the ocean).

On a basic level, I think I chose to study journalism because it involves writing. Although I enjoy all of the parts of the article writing process, from brainstorming and pitching story topics to interviewing sources, my favourite part is always looking at my list of transcriptions with highlighted quotes and starting to write. At a certain point, the quotes and ideas come together and the words just start to flow. It’s a different kind of writing than fiction or blog post writing; but it’s incredibly fun, and rewarding, nonetheless.

I think another reason I chose to study journalism had to do with the fact that it requires a sense of curiosity. In the essay portion of my application to journalism school, I wrote about how there is an endless supply of stories in the world around us. Anything can be a story—from neighbours rescuing baby bunnies in their backyard to citizens across a town mobilizing for a fundraiser for the local hospital. We can capture all of these stories and tell them to the world; but only if we are curious enough to discover them in the first place.

Being curious means asking questions. It means wondering about why things are the way they are, questioning the seemingly obvious and the evidently obscure. Being curious makes for great journalism. When a journalist wonders why something is the way it is, they ask questions; and then they write about their findings for the rest of us to learn. This applies to investigative journalism especially, but curiosity is key across all types of journalism. After all, if you don’t want to learn more about the world and the people, systems and places in it, then why would you want to write about those things?

While I may not know all of my reasons for choosing journalism, after studying it for one year I can definitely list all of the reasons why I’m now happy that I chose it. Something I didn’t expect was the growing importance of journalists in democracies; as we’re seeing in the States, journalists are incredibly valuable in holding politicians and leaders to account. I’ve loved leaving my comfort zone in doing interviews with strangers, and learning new things like multimedia. Journalism also allows me to draw on my other interests, like politics and law, which makes it even more fun for me.

As I head into another year of journalism, I’m both thankful for my decision to study it and excited for what lays ahead. I’ll definitely be writing more blog posts about my experiences studying journalism in the future, so if you have any questions about my studies, feel free to ask in the comments!

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