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How Do We Change the World? and other problems


I’ve been fairly silent about the Kony fiasco, mostly because everything worth saying about it has already been said by people who know way more about the situation than I do. (Here’s one of many blog posts worth looking at:

But since this whole thing started, I’ve been thinking a lot about why these kinds of videos get made, and why these are the videos that end up going viral. While we can all sit back and think how nice it would’ve been if the video had been a little more informative, a little less patronizing, a little more nuanced, and a little less culturally insensitive, there is probably no way that this New and Improved Video would ever infiltrate our collective cultural consciousness. This makes me very sad.

I don’t want to antagonize anyone who jumped on the Kony bandwagon, because I know they meant well. The video is undoubtedly moving, and it’s easy to get caught up in all the powerful emotions it evokes – and it’s very easy to act on those powerful emotions. There’s something a little bit wonderful about so many people exercising compassion, so many people wanting to make a positive change, and I hope I never discourage noble feelings that might lead to noble action. But we need to remember that the process doesn’t end there.

The most important thing I’ve learned about any situation that involves people is that nothing is ever black and white. Even in one-on-one relationships, situations can get messy and misunderstandings can occur. When you add more people (like, say, an entire African nation, or the entire international community that affects it), the mess only gets bigger as the stakes get higher. Armed with this bit of information, I’m ready to doubt any bit of media that tries to sell me the idea that things are simple: that there’s the Bad Guy, and there are the Victims, and we need to stop the Bad Guy, and then all will be As It Should Be. Repeat after me: nothing is ever that simple.

But emotions don’t handle nuance well. Emotions want to take down the Bad Guy.

But emotions sell.

That’s why World Vision sells the idea of African children with bloated bellies and flies on their face, and why “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was a huge hit, and why Invisible Children makes a video about Uganda starring an American and his child. The people giving to these causes may be missing the point completely, but at least they’re giving. That’s better than nothing, isn’t it?

I’m really not sure it is. For one thing, it encourages disengagement. “Slacktivism.” The notion that adding our names to an online petition or even donating a bit of money to a charity is enough for us to consider ourselves good, moral, socially-conscious people.

For another, it encourages ignorance. It feeds oversimplified, condescending (and even racist) views of other countries and cultures; while these views may be profitable in the short term, they come at the expense of important long-term goals, like having an active, informed citizenry.

For another, it leads well-meaning people to participate in harmful activities, while tacitly discouraging them from finding the information they would need to make better choices.

I’m an optimist. I believe that we can create the kind of generous, thoughtful, concerned world that takes this noble, compassionate impulse one step further; that investigates; that looks critically at the global structures in which atrocities take place; and that realizes that how we all act on a day-to-day basis (and how we vote, and how we buy food, and how we read the news) makes far more of a difference than any $20 donation could.

But – how? Where do we start? Would millions of people watch that video?

New plans


As of 10:30 this morning, my Reading Week has officially begun. And, for some reason, all I want to do today is schoolwork.

I’m waiting for my hair to dry and for my e-reader to charge, but, after that, I’m off to the library. My computer’s on the fritz, which could have something to do with my newfound studiousness: if I can’t waste time searching for cute things on etsy or watching YouTube videos, then, really, I might as well check as many things off my to-do list as possible. Whenever I have computer problems, I feel a little ambivalent. Obviously, I miss the convenience. If only I could have both a working computer and sufficient will power! That will be my next self-improvement project, maybe.

But that’s not the only reason for my studiousness. Rachel’s Plans for the Future have now been updated to include a rather more significant academic component than the last few drafts have done. I don’t really want to say what it is, because, as you probably know by now, I have a tendency to change my mind; regardless, I’m re-excited and re-inspired. I’m feeling like, in the past, my indecision has kept me from really investing myself in any one thing, kept me from achieving everything I can – and I’m feeling like I’m ready to fix that.

The new plan will take a fair bit of time, and I’ll need a little patience. But, so far, it’s making me want to work hard, take charge, do better. I’m feeling all fired up again, and I love that.  No promises, but I just might stick with this one.

As always, I am nothing but optimistic about the future.

What’s in a name?


I really thought I’d made the decision. Even before Bruce and I thought about marriage, I knew I wanted to keep my own name. I mean, if the man I married had a super awesome last name, then I’d consider it, but Rachel Russell doesn’t sound good at all. So no, not a chance.

It was only last week that I actually began to reconsider, and it’s because I really started to think about how it would feel after we had children.

No offence to any of you hyphenated people, but I’m not a fan. One last name is enough, I think, and I wouldn’t want to stick my children with the aesthetic evil of a double last name. In any case, I’d come to terms with the fact that any children I had would take my husband’s last name, not mine. Is it fair? Hell no. It sucks. But it’s no more fair for me to insist on them taking my name than it would be if he insisted on them taking his. There’s really no fair way to make this decision, so I’d take one for the team.

Long before last week, I’d thought about all this, and I dealt with it, and it wasn’t going to affect my own decision to keep my last name. But then I really, really thought about it, and I realized a whole new level on which it sucks to be in this position.

My family is going to be the Russells, and I won’t be a Russell.

For some people, that’s not a big deal. A name is just a name, and it definitely can’t dictate what it means to be a family. For people who see it that way, good for you. But, in my experience and from my perspective, names have meaning, and seemingly superficial qualities can have enormous symbolic weight. Maybe studying English makes me see metaphors in everything, but it occurred to me that I just can’t deal with not being a part of my own family in this way.

The night I thought about this for the first time, I got really upset. I had been so confident that I knew what I wanted, but suddenly I felt stuck in an impossible situation. Why do I have to surrender a part of my identity in order to feel like a part of my new family? And my wonderful, well-meaning fiance doesn’t really get it – because, as a man, he’s never had to seriously consider this problem. He’s allowed to assume that our children will take his last name, because that’s just how it is. We will receive mail addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Russell, and there will always be people who call me Mrs. instead of Ms., but his identity is in no way compromised by his decision to marry. I’m grateful that my gender doesn’t often determine my life in worse ways than this, but I refuse to pretend that this is insignificant, and it’s clearly symptomatic of broader social issues.

I’d really appreciate anyone’s thoughts on the matter!

Wedding planning


Weddings are hard.

I mean, I’m not complaining or anything. I get to wear an awesome dress, throw an awesome party, and marry an awesome guy. I have little to complain about, but still: weddings are hard.

There are so many choices that seem to demand immediate attention: the venue, the guest list, the food, the officiant. These choices aren’t easy, but they’re aggravated by the big questions of what-can-we-afford? and will-anyone-we-know-have-a-problem-with-this? Many decisions are as much about politics as they are about preference.

Oh, the guest list. The guest list, which should be easy, is proving to be the most exhausting endeavour so far. I’ve always imagined myself having a very small, simple wedding, but I never realized that having a small wedding is anything but simple. Extended family is the trickiest of the grey areas. I’m still not entirely sure what I’ll do, but I’m almost certain I won’t be able to do it without offending someone I care about, which really, really sucks.

I read a book the other day, called A Practical Wedding (based on the website,, which really helped me think about my plans in a different way. From the beginning, I was ready to cut from the wedding all of the Normal Wedding Things that I didn’t want – but that doesn’t mean I didn’t scour the internet for table runners and chair covers. But the book served as a good reminder that a wedding in no way requires all of the things that are marketed towards brides these days; a wedding requires a couple, an officiant, and a license. So, instead of starting with all of these expectations and slowly making cuts, I get to build from the ground up. Because, once the necessities are covered, everything else will only be there because we want it to be there. We are free to draw from tradition, but we are in no way confined by it. Even if that doesn’t actually change a single detail of how I plan my wedding, it certainly changes how I feel about it.

With simplicity in mind, though, I have a feeling that, once a few of these early decisions can finally be made, the rest will be a breeze. Regardless, I’m super excited; however the wedding goes, I’ll be happy as long as we’re married by the end of it.



This evening, I sat down and wrote.

Bruce visits his mother on Wednesday evenings. As much as I love having him around all the time, he can be a distraction, especially when I’m working on things I don’t need to be working on. So, today, instead of spending a few hours doing homework, I pulled out my story.

It’s been a while since the words have flowed from my head to my hands with that kind of speed or relative ease. I get distracted by editing, or I spend an hour searching for the perfect word. This time, I just wrote. I mean, I’m still unbelievably slow, so I won’t even tell you how many words I spat out. But still. I felt good. I like what I’m writing. It’s silly and funny and not particularly brilliant, but it’s honest. The way a Taylor Swift song is honest, basically, but honest nonetheless.

And Bruce is still so encouraging. I decided to drop one of my classes, because I was thinking that I should probably get a job; Bruce agreed that I should drop the class, but he thought I should use the time to write, instead. I wish I could be that confident, and I love that he is. His confidence in me makes me want to be worthy of it.

I continue to disappoint myself on a semi-regular basis, because I try to change all of my bad habits all at once, and I inevitably fail. I still bite my nails, and I still eat ice cream when I say I won’t, and I still haven’t cleaned my side of the room, and I’ve skipped a few days of exercise. But I also have moments of success, like tonight. Moments that remind me what I’m capable of. I can’t wake up tomorrow morning and suddenly be not-me, but I can become better-me. So, for now, I’ll just keep being grateful that my life is so much better than I deserve, and keep trying to become a person who deserves it.

And I’ll keep writing.



This year, I will both graduate from university and get married. So, yeah, I’ve been thinking about the future a lot. Even more than usual. I’ve been thinking about what I want my life to look like, what I want to fill my world with, what kind of adult I want to be. And I just can’t separate who I want to be from what I want to do, career-wise. Like it or not, my job is doomed to be a significant part of my life, so this choice matters.

I’ve been thinking about how I often feel like I’m a natural critic. In some ways, I’m totally oblivious – sorry to everyone whose new haircut or cute outfit has gone completely unnoticed by me – but, in others, I’m constantly analyzing, nitpicking, and observing. Even in English classes, I sometimes feel like a fraud: give me a poem, and I’ll skim it, and I’ll see nothing, but the second anyone else starts talking about it, I’ll be able to come up with a detailed argument about why they’re completely wrong. My opinions seem to develop as criticisms of the opinions of others – and, I guess, that’s natural. But, even when I’m doing something as simple as writing an essay, I often struggle to even have an opinion unless I’m reacting critically to someone or something else. This approach is, by definition, negative, and I can’t help but wonder if that negativity is affecting my mind in other, potentially troubling ways. I want to posit, not negate.

I worked at a non-profit organization in the summer of 2009, which was definitely an illuminating experience. I was an intern in the philanthropy department, which meant that my job was to help bring in donations to fund the organization. Slowly, it became clear that, in an office of about fifteen or twenty people, a good half of them were also working to bring in donations, or maintaining a donor database, or doing prospect research, etc, etc. Essentially, a good portion of the donations made to this organization were devoted to paying the salaries of the people securing these donations, and very little money was left to fund any actual projects. I don’t mean to single out my employers, and I definitely don’t mean to criticize all charities, but it’s an unfortunate reality. We brought in money in order to pay ourselves to continue bringing in money.

I don’t want to do that.

Yes, I do have a point. My point is that I want to create. I don’t want to be a critic, and I don’t want to work only to get paid. I want to do something, and I want it to be positive.

I haven’t come to any conclusions about what this means for my future career. But I have been working on creating lately. Just – making things. I applied this principle to my Christmas presents this year.

I’ve been learning how to bind books, and here’s one of the first that I finished:

And the inside:

I’ve also been crocheting, so here are a couple of projects:

It’s a start, anyway.