Stop and Smile

My mom stops and talks to everyone. It’s embarrassing, and inspiring.

There are roughly seventy thousand people in Sault Ste. Marie, and my mother seemed to know every single one of them growing up. Each trip to the mall took for-EVER. Stopping to talk to her third grade teacher, then someone my uncle dated in high school, then someone who used to work at the restaurant she worked at.

Seriously. All of the time, stopping and talking to people. It drove me absolutely crazy.

It’s something I still bug her about to this day. In fact, I relished in touring her around Nipissing University on the day of my convocation. At that time, our roles were reversed. It was me stopping to talk to a person I had a history class with, someone I met at a hockey game, a former student and their partner. A big flip-switch-reverse I pulled on my mom.

Now I kind of get why she did it though. The more I look back on why my mom would and still does always stop, it makes more sense. People love to feel connected.*

*Editorial note: I’m 24 and 5/6ths. I’m not a wise old man. I have no idea what the meaning of life is, what I’m even doing, or how to properly calculate my taxes. This is just something I’ve picked up on.

She always remembers the details. She remembers kids names and even birthdays. My mom remembers jobs, passions, interests. Everything. And it could just be a northern Ontario thing to do, but she makes people feel important. Needed. Welcomed.

Isn’t that what we all want? It’s why a simple smile can make someone’s day, as opposed to walking around with a frown in desperate need of being turned upside-down. Why we should ask “how’s it going,” and actually want to give a crap how it IS going. It’s why it can feel somewhat devastating to be alone, but can be turned around when you feel that connection with someone.

The human connection is what we can all work towards. It’s a smile, a wave, a conversation. It’s holding the damn door.

I have days where I’m miserable too because surprise, I’m a human being and not a vertically-challenged, pun-spewing robot. When I do, a simple connection with another person through any of those means can start to turn that day around.

My mom, to this day, tells me to go “be brilliant.” I used to believe that was about being smart. It’s not, really. It’s about being a person that can brighten the days of others, just like she does.

So the message, if I have one, is this: Wave at a neighbour. Make a funny face at a baby. Tell your friend their hair looks nice. Call your grandparents. In the end, it’s all about the connections we make that make us feel like humans.

Oh, if you couldn’t tell, I’m a momma’s boy. And my mom can so beat up your mom.

Thanks, Obama (For Real)

The first leader to ever grab my attention is on his way out. So a bit of thanks is in order.

Look, I think we can all pretty much agree that the 2016 American election is like a dumpster fire where the dumpster is also made of fire and things keep catching fire. We just sit here in Canada, eating our better bacon and hoping that the fire doesn’t spread too far.

So instead of talking about that and my fears of this incoming hurricane on Tuesday, I’ll instead talk about the guy on his way out and why he’ll always be one of my favourites.

Freeze frame. “Evan, I don’t believe Obama has been that great. He hasn’t done X, missed out on Y, and don’t even get me started on Z.”

That’s cool. That’s your opinion, and that’s cool! For me, Obama is and always will be more than the results of his presidency.

For me, he’s the first public leader that I was ever really invested in. The eleventh grade was when politics really stuck for me, and Canadian politics were the tame northern neighbour of whatever was happening south of us. The hilarious-in-the-wrong-way George Bush was on his way out and I was curious as to who my parents would make fun of next. Then I heard Obama speak.

Hearing this man speak of certain values to hold dear like hope and integrity struck a nerve. This man had poise, a natural charisma one can only dream of in a leader, and spoke with honesty and intensity. So, I tracked his campaign.

I became an election junkie. The TV at home went from watching sports highlights to coverage of the democratic primaries. A CNN time limit had to be instituted in my house. I stayed up, alone in my basement, to watch his historic election and skipped school to see his inauguration. He became someone I looked to as an example of how to be a leader while I was trying to become a better one.

As I got older, he became someone I looked to as an example for lots of other things. I saw him and Michelle as relationship goals long before that phrase peppered our Instagram feeds. He’s a man who continues to exude poise through any attack on him, and managed to raise two wonderful kids.*

*I assume they’re wonderful, I haven’t met them. They seem super cool though, and if they’re reading this let’s be friends.

White House photographer Pete Souza shared some of his favourite shots of Obama, which spurred this train of thought from me. They depict a caring father and husband, quick with a joke and also a man who has endured serious challenges through eight years. I’ve added them to the end of this post.

So thanks, Obama. No really, thanks. For inspiring me to be a leader. For giving me a goal to shoot for in terms of being a family man. And for just being so cool. Whoever gets elected on Tuesday, I know it won’t be the same.

Photos courtesy Pete Souza, White House

Rest easy, friend.

To one of the most authentic, genuine, and hilarious people I will ever know.

It doesn’t really make sense when things are left unfinished. It makes a lot less sense when it seems like a person’s work isn’t done before they are gone from us. It doesn’t seem possible that Brook Doseger’s work was done here.

I’ve been tossing the words around in my head for a couple days now, trying to describe the feelings that are all present; It’s been even harder to find the right words to describe Brook and all she has done for people.

The feelings started as shock and anger, followed by just an overwhelming sadness. How could the hilarious girl from my geography classes be gone? How could such a terrible thing happen to a wonderful person? As days passed, a tremendous amount of stories of her made way for celebrating the person she was and always will be.

Touching tributes continue to flood social media about her, and it swells my heart. All of these people influenced by one woman who was just doing her best every damn day. To those who knew her best, her family and closest friends, my sincerest condolences and thoughts. In a world with too few bright spots at times, Brook was always a light.

Talking with people who knew Brook well in the past days, the same things come forward to paint a picture of her so vividly. She was a kind soul who did all she could to support and help those in need. An invested and dedicated teacher. An unmatchable energy and passion for life, she lived with a song in her heart. A caring friend, and on top of all of these things, was authentically herself.

It was her writing, and her consistent prodding about “why the hell not” that had me start writing in the first place. I was inspired by her writing. It’s honest, hilarious, and deeply touching. Her authenticity was always at the forefront. She was herself, nobody else, and it made us all love her. There are lessons she was learning for us, and telling to us. Those will always endure.

I went to Boots and Hearts this year, where Brook was working. Once she found out I was going, she messaged me country lyrics I hadn’t actually heard before and promised my first beer would be iced and ready when I got there. I never got that beer because we lost touch that night. I know though that when the time comes, there will be a cold beer and a loud laugh waiting on the other side.

Thank you Brook, for being yourself and sharing that with the world. We miss and love you, and keep that drink on ice.

If you can, please donate to the GoFundMe in Brook’s name:

And please share in her touching writing as well:

Playing Pretend

I’m 24 years old and still play pretend by trying different things. It’s actually really fun.

This weekend I got to see my four-year-old brother be a baseball player, a construction worker, a cop, and a “bad guy.” All in the span of about an hour. The kid has a wonderful imagination.

I realize as well that my imagination is pretty good too. It’s something the two of us have in common. And with that, comes my desire to be and do a million different things.

Depending on the day my mind can wander to wanting to fulfill many different careers. Right now, I’m indulging in the part that wants to be a writer. The need to create is a constant in my life, but it takes different forms.

Sometimes I put my teacher hat on and want to influence the next generation of minds. Student affairs is a branch of that tree that fulfills me in so many ways. I work with talented and ambitious student leaders. And you know what? Sometimes I still want to be some ridiculous things as well.

There are days I want to tour the world and tell jokes. There are days I want to fast forward to starting a family and having my own kids. There are days I sit down, eat 20 chicken nuggets and play video games till 4 am. It’s a scattered version of balance, but it is an attempt at balance none the less. That’s because I’m letting myself try. And there is no doing without a try. (Sorry, Yoda)

Learn to embrace the chaos and the desire to be everything at once. I try to build different parts of myself every day, and some days I don’t build anything. That’s alright, because becoming yourself is a lot of playing pretend until the things you love just stick.

Clark vs Stark: Finding Your Inner Hero

Superman movies suck, and it’s because goody-two-shoes is just too damn perfect.

This blog originally appeared on the Nipissing University Student Learning & Transitions department blog in June 2015, while I worked for their department as an Orientation Assistant. It was a fun, challenging, and extremely beneficial summer for me.

Do you know why it’s so hard to make a good Superman movie?

Superman is essentially perfect. He has more superpowers than any other superhero. He historically gets the bad guy, gets the girl, saves the world and does it without a hair from his iconic front curl getting out of place. He’s the Alpha superhero, unflappable and unbeatable.

Which also makes him unattainable and hard to relate to.

Superman is what I aspired to be in all of my University experiences. I attended Nipissing for 5 years, graduating this year after attaining my two degrees. I was involved in campus, specifically in Residence Life. As a Don and a Community Advisor, I attempted to be Superman. I wanted to give off the appearance of being able to complete all of these difficult tasks and balancing my time with no visible stress. I thought since people looked up to me, and since I was in a position of influence on first-year students, I should present myself in this way. I had seen my Don while in first-year and she seemed superhuman. Constantly smiling despite a chaotic and high stress lifestyle. It was what I aspired to model myself after. I was going to be Superman.

Mind you, this was not a conscious decision that I made. I didn’t wear blue spandex and try to fly. I did, however, not let those around me into what I felt was my human side. In private and only with my closest of friends was I able to let down my guard and talk about any issues or problems I had. The rest of the time I was busy attempting to put out fires in my student’s lives, or helping my friends and forgetting about everything else.

Being Superman is not a very productive way to live your life as a University student because Superman doesn’t need to learn anything. He has all of the tools he will ever need right in front of him and is able to save humanity without expanding his knowledge. I can’t do that. None of us can do that.

In the summer before my fourth year I had Residence Life training like every other year. A new session being run that year was ResTalks, a version of TEDTalks that were given by returning staff members about topics they felt important. One stood out to me about how all Dons want to be Superman, but how it is so detrimental to their learning and to their own mental well being. I very quickly realized the parallels between this presentation and myself.

The presenter went on to talk about how instead of aspiring to be Superman, all of the Residence Life staff should aspire to be Iron Man. Tony Stark (the alter ego of Iron Man) is flawed, like all the rest of us. His hubris is his achilles heel, and his alcoholism his crutch. Yet despite all of these things that are seen as his flaws, Iron Man still does good for the world. He still sacrifices his own happiness for the betterment of the world, but also faces the repercussions. Stark accepts his shortcomings and asks for help.

For a long time, I continued trying to be Superman. It was what I had done, and I felt it was totally attainable for me. The message of the speech refused to leave my mind though, no matter how hard I had tried. I started to accept that maybe, just maybe, I was more Iron Man than Superman. I had flaws. I had gaps in my knowledge. I had lots of other great things to offer to Residence and Nipissing students, but I was quickly learning that it was okay to also need things from them too.

I also quickly learned how relatable and enjoyable the Iron Man movies were. You could see yourself in him. He tries hard, he shields himself sometimes, but in the end he is a vulnerable hero. Most of us also fall into that category: strong and capable, but fragile.

Once you accept your inner Iron Man, your journey into constant education is considerably smoother. No longer is there a fear of being seen as less than perfect, instead there is an acceptance of that as a human condition. I know I can bring different experiences and ideas to the table in my next interactions with students.

Embracing your inner Iron Man allows you to find your own Avengers. People who compliment you, bring things to the table that you are learning, provide you with direction and education, and appreciate your talents and skills. There is mutual learning, mutual caring and mutual understanding of the overall goals.

Over time, we all find our Avengers. Sometimes it takes like nine movies though. We all have skills, talents, goals, ambitions, dreams, and fears. On these teams, there is support, and no fear of not being perfect. Failure makes us stronger, and our flaws make us our own. Our strengths and our passion define us, and will allow us to save the world. Avengers, assemble.