Thursday, April 10, 2014

Choosing to Speak Up

The Morgentaler Clinic is making an announcement at 10 am, which many believe will be a sign that it is shutting its doors. This would be a devastating loss not only to New Brunswick but to people all over the Maritimes, especially Prince Edward Island which does not offer surgical abortion services at all, despite the best efforts of many.

Many asked me why it was so important to me to create bus ads for a pro-choice organization. Simply put, if the abortion debate must still be fought, it should be through accurate information, not through access. Less clinics performing the procedure does not lead to less abortion, but simply to less safe abortions. 

I am no stranger to how vicious online commenters can be. Nastiness is inherent to large platform that where power can be gained without visible consequences to anonymous people. I have also never had an email that has shaken me to my core and I’ve received a lot of them: from simplistic remarks about me being too ugly / too pretty / too smart / too dumb for this to some truly perverse ones suggesting I take out actions of violence on myself. They come randomly; yes, in flurries when I’ve made a recent media appearance but at any time doing any thing I will suddenly get a capslock and mistake laden not-quite-threat reminding me that there are people out there who I will give maybe a second but never a third thought to who stew all over my words.


So it’s with this context, this context of knowing how scary speaking up can be, that I ask you to do three things:

  1. Pay attention to what is happening to The Morgentaler Clinic.
  2. Speak up about it.
  3. Consider the appropriate action when the time is right.

Typed out, these are not revolutionary actions. Many people will ask you to do the same to save this, prevent this, etc. Still, I think it needs to be said so that Canadians do not sink back into a state of passive pro-choice. I appreciate that the bus ads that South House worked so hard on were considered a rallying call, but the thing about rallies is they happen over and over again. This is another one.

Follow #nbprochoice to participate in the conversation.

Friday, April 4, 2014

A race of stubborn little things

"So, where does that leave us then, in our present? 

Maybe all any one of us can do is push against the baseline as it shifts.

We can be a tiny counterweight. We weigh almost nothing but generation after generation, that weight ads up. Sometimes in some places the baseline starts to shift in the other direction; in the direction of more beauty, not less, but that happens incrementally too. It can be hard to notice.

So picture that scene at JFK again, all those turtles. When Hornaday was born, they were closed to extinction, being hunted because they tasted so good in soup. We’re like those turtles: a race of stubborn little things that barely notices as the wilderness it migrates through, fills up with villages and lights and swells into an airport runway. Just keep migrating across it anyways, tucking the eggs of the next generation into the sand.

And we’re like the airplanes too, 'cause we have changed, we changed into something Hornaday could never have imagined: a species that at least tries to slow down, try to stop.

I like to think about those airplanes powering down, the lines of them parting like a shiny metallic sea, so this tiny tribe of turtles can pass through.

I get it. It looks funny in the present. But squint into the hazy panorama of history and those airplanes idling in place, that little moment of not moving forward, looks, unmistakably to me, like progress."

-Jon Mooallem from his book Wild Ones

You can hear an excerpt of it on 99% Invisible. I have listened to these final five or so minutes of that episode so many times since its release when I feel lost in all the future that is happening around me.

Like today.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A quick little post of feelings

I tried reverse googling this image. No luck. Thanks, person.

As a woman who thinks women are important and underrepresented, I think International Women’s Day is a great day but I frequently find myself a bit disappointed with the conversations that end up happening. I’m still working at what feminism is & isn’t, but here are a few things I’ve determined over the past year.

Feminism is not slut shaming, protecting “virtue” or any rigid set of “values”, or any kind of hate. Feminism is not divisive, but it’s also not calling intersectionality and other entirely valid critiques divisive when they try to expand the conversation. Feminism is not just a series of inspirational quotes by sassy women of eras past. Feminism is not derailing conversations to inject the views of those in a position of privilege into them. Feminism is not wonderful, well intentioned, privileged, smart, capable white women giving their ‘solutions' to wonderful, less privileged, smart, capable women of colour overseas. 

Feminism is acknowledging that public transit is a women’s issue because across Canada a disproportionate amount of women rely on it to get to low wage shift work jobs (filled once again, disproportionately by women.) Feminism is being critical in a productive way. Feminism is finding your space in your government, your community, your neighbourhood, and then removing barriers so others can access that space too. Feminism is wearing lipstick if you feel like it and not if you don’t. Feminism protects all expressions of gender identity. Feminism is fighting for improved mental health resources. Feminism is child care, pharmacare, and caring. Feminism is showing people younger than you the books and music and movies that defined your feminism while still noting what’s changed, what’s not appropriate anymore, what you’ve learned since then. Feminism is art. Feminism is girl gangs. Feminism is creating and sharing opportunities.

Feminism is so little to do with what you say and so much to say with what you do. Feminism is not the values you hold but how you express those values in real life. Feminism is nuanced. Feminism has context. Feminism is wonderful. 

Thanks so much to the countless people who have inspired me this past year. With all of this behind me I can now actually say Happy International Women’s Day!

Monday, January 27, 2014

"So Polite."

In the past week I have given over 30 interviews about my solution to some anti-choice bus ads that are currently on my city’s public transit. I lived off steak and weird ending with -atte drinks I’ve never had before that I felt compelled to buy whichever coffee shop student journalists directed me to. I had to correct reporters with the wrong information on air, I read hatemail laden with the word “cunt” on request, I watched as hour long interviews turned into ten second lines. It was an intense, interesting experience. The crux of it seemed to be a radio show where both “sides” of the “abortion” issue gave their perspective one after the other in prerecorded interviews.  

“I loved it,” I was told by a mentor minutes after it was played. “It was so polite.”

I like polite. Polite is both nice and strategic; everyone involved in this debate knows that everyone except those with sick obsessions with car crashes and bull fighting will tune out if the becomes a mudslinging mess typically wrongly associated exclusively with the Southern United States. Acknowledging this subtle, strategic decision that both parties in this debate silently made does not mean I don’t like the anti-choice people at a personal level nor does it make it less authentic, but at the same time, ‘polite’ posed a new set of problems because the conversation around removing a person’s rights to autonomy over their bodies is not polite.

You can’t rely on the media to tell your story, but I am still curious at the story they told; the 30 seconds of me that they deemed worthy always seemed so strange. From both sides the focus of the story always ended up being more about the methods of information than the actual cause. This isn’t a criticism; I was happy with the various people in the media that I worked with, but I question the climate when the conversation is more rooted around the presence or lack of trash talk than the actual issue itself. With something like abortion, the conversation seems so hot topic that it can only ever be referenced so people can feel comfortable in one of the only two boxes that are apparently acceptable to sit in.

The reality that isn’t quashed into sound bites is there are people who believe in access to more information and people who believe in access to less. There are also lots of people in between who represent many other views, sometimes passively. Everyone believes theirs is the answer. I think that when we give people access to good, proven information they can make the decisions that are right for them. Others answer to a power that defies understanding; they very nature of some peoples’ perceptions of God is that you do not need to know the answers to continue doing good. As someone who believes in God, I too try to occasionally be inspired by the wholly illogical urge to do good, but as someone who is just empathetic enough to realize that I can never truly empathize with people in situations, all I can hope for is that they have access to everything they need to make their own decision. Lacking this level of empathy is not about a lack of respect; it is insulting to pretend we could ever actually put ourselves in the shoes of someone who has been sexually assaulted, someone facing a healthcare crisis, or even just someone who is not ready to have a child and might never be. We could all benefit from not passing off our theorizing about others’ real lives as some sort of common experience.

Still, I think we can have a polite conversation about abortion; a conversation that discusses more sexual education in school, a conversation that leads to more access to birth control, a conversation about Plan B, a conversation with real solutions. 

Because here’s the reality: medical procedures in general are frequently physically uncomfortable. Less abortions would be great! Birth control is so much more convenient than a hospital visit. As long as we accept that the right to choose isn’t going anywhere, at all, ever, I’m all for being pragmatic to help the person whose condom broke as long as it’s not at the expense of the needs of the rape victim.

But this hasn’t been the conversation I’ve been having. Journalists’ questions and research has come out to show that this is a conversation based in medical inaccuracies like cancer scares and anti-birth control comments.

The conversation I’m willing to have is one where we acknowledge the rights that people currently have as long as it is without shaming, without judgment, and without valid but intangible missions trumping the needs of people who may not have the same beliefs. Right now, this conversation can happen through bus ads.

South House is always going to have less money for marketing than an anti-abortion group because South House actually provides resources and services for all people. The information they provide is based around choice, not abortions, but also acknowledging abortions. This campaign will not keep the ads on the bus forever, but raising this money will make the statement that Pattison Advertising and Metro Transit are afraid to make: that misinformation, especially pertaining to health, is unacceptable even if you find it offensive.

So I’m going to keep being polite because I prefer it, because I like feeling better than the people who contact me or the news source anonymously to tell me some variation on deserving a coat hanger to my vagina, and because it keeps people tuning in, but I need you to understand how impolite the reality of this conversation is.

“The public is on our side,” everyone involved in this campaign reminds ourselves (they are). “We just have to get them to do something tangible about it.” You do that by donating.

Here I am trying to get you to donate in a very honest, largely unedited, definitely not a soundbite, definitely ‘controversial’ way. I think you’ll agree I’m still very polite. Statistically, I think you agree with me. I need you to show us that this way works, because the pro-choice message is not going to die down.

You can also:
  • Share our donation page or this post on your social media
  • Share something in support of choice in a post of your own
  • Set up a similar campaign in your city
  • Volunteer at South House
  • Donate by cheque
  • Donate again

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Racism exists and other things Nova Scotia ignores

When people talk to me about Nova Scotia, they usually speak of lobster, sea breeze, lighthouses, and racism.

The last one took a while for me to understand and even longer for me to confront, because I, Allison Sparling, left leaning white girl, was decidedly Not A Racist Because I Have Watched Do The Right Thing And I Think Michelle Obama Is Cool am not racist and I am from Nova Scotia. Also, I am friends with people who Are Not Racist Because The Same Reasons And Maybe They Like Basketball (Right?) and they are from Nova Scotia. I mean, maybe there are racists in Nova Scotia but they are not in my social circle so I am a good person. (Right?)

Racism is so infrequently addressed in Nova Scotia because it is always someone else’s issue; someone who is less sophisticated than they are because sophisticated people aren’t racist. People from cities blame people from the people from rural communities and people from those rural communities blame other rural communities until the only racist in Nova Scotia is the one guy who lives on a dead end road in Meat Cove who hasn’t had a radio for the past 30 years. Oh, Fictional Stereotype, you devil you. Stay in your sea shanty. PROBLEM. SOLVED.

The polemic that has made me ignorant for much of my life is englightened white person that I was, I wrongfully assumed that a person was or was not racist. Racists are like old timey bad guys in comic books; they dress funny and talk slick. In reality, people do and say things that are racist, and the only thing that separates us from actually being 'a racist' from 'doing something racist' is acknowledging it and learning from it. I get that it isn’t exactly fun to admit that the potential for racism lives in all of us (just like the spirit of Christmas!) but white people, listen up, you gotta stop pulling the “it’s just a costume!” around every major holiday. It wears thin.

Earlier this evening, my MLA tweeted a picture of him celebrating aspects of his Dutch culture that involved someone in black face. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many “nuances” to this specific, historic blackface, but he posted a picture of himself and his children celebrating Christmas next to a guy in blackface. The tweet was then retweeted by the provincial account for the Liberal party, and then promptly ‘unretweeted’ when someone realized that maybe they shouldn’t drink and do their work’s social media, I don’t know, whatever.

Here is how I see this incident going:

  1. Joachim Stroink will say he is sorry ‘if you were offended’
  2. Someone who is not white will attest that Joachim Stroink is a ‘solid dude’ or something
  3. Everyone who has a problem is a negative hater
  4. Fin

Generally funny and very insightful Chad Lucas added: “2b) Some defender says "Why are you making this about race? I guess *you're* the real racist here."

Well, that kind of sucks.

Because here’s the thing. I can’t even begin to try to convince you why even ‘traditional’ blackface is a terrible idea. I am not the right person to do that, although maybe @RedLightVoices is, so consider that.

Instead, I have a modest proposal: instead of accepting when at 8 am people paid to distract and stir up stuff on social media try to dismiss this conversation as partisan rhetoric, you ignore them because they are being ignorant.

I work with government in my job and I deal with my MLA in my life, and I AM one of those people who asks their MLAs for stuff all the time. (Joachim, why don’t you return my calls, by the way? November 20th, 7 pm, according to my phone. It’s cool, you’re busy, but you or some intern is reading this now, so maybe find that message because my number is in it.)

It’s much, much easier for many, many people, myself included, to sweep this under the rug and pretend this didn’t happen until the next time, and then the next time, and then the next time until we wonder why new immigrants don’t stay here very long and our culture suffers and the province shrivels up like the lobster industry, but here’s the thing: I really like Nova Scotia, and I’d like it a lot more if our leaders didn’t give fodder for hundreds of white people with time on their hands to defend Julianne Hough on Facebook because local media thinks race is a surefire way to page hits.

Now, with my weird little corner of the internet, after the dust is settled and a bunch of people have tried to subvert the gaze from the original picture with questions to stretched from the actual issue that they sound like a rejected plot line for Quadrophrenia ("But what even IS racism, guys?), now I can collect this moment and say “Yes, this actually happened” when someone tries to pretend it didn’t in approximately 4 years.

It is now almost 11 pm. In the morning, something will happen.

I suggest you ask yourself:

  • Is this acknowledged?
  • Is this acknowledged respectfully?
  • Is there an apology? Is it actually an apology?
  • Is anyone trying to change the subject?

And then I suggest you ask yourself:

  • Does this bother me? Why doesn’t it?

A bunch of things are partisan issues, like the Maritime Link unfortunately. I don’t think racism is one of them, and I don’t think calling it out should be. How the people we have elected react to what has happened is far, far more important than what happened. And even if nothing does happen, officially, on the record, at the very least you and I right now are finally thinking about race.

Monday, October 28, 2013


There is a park near my apartment to commemorate Sir John Sparrow(???!) David Thomspon. You know, the former Prime Minister. Yes, on a little, residential street. It is a few meters of grass behind a store that sells wood chippers, chain saws, and bubble gum, so I think we can all forgive ourselves for not noticing. Except we can't, because there is a plaque.

Nova Scotia is a province of plaques. I have seen plaques for spots where the Queen has stopped to admire the view, plaques for where beer was brewed, plaques for where important works of literature were written, and plaques for where people have gotten the crap kicked out of them in bar fights.

Started by 99 percent invisible & The Atlantic, READ THE PLAQUE was not a project created with Nova Scotia in mind, but it should have been. Let's be super nerdy in the best possible way and honour the drinkers, fighters, lovers, etc. who made our hometowns great by submitting photos of local plaques. Seriously, if there's one thing my province excels at, it's putting weird words on weird metal to commemorate the weirdest people ever. To all the non Scotians: I'd love to see if your immortal beer tales could rival ours. (Doubt it.)

» Put your plaque on the map.
» Hear the funny story that started the project.
» I've submitted a few from our neighbourhood and Cleveland that I hope will be on the website soon. I've decided I will find the 5 best bronze Halifax history hotspots and will have them sent in by next Sunday. I'd be happy for your suggestions, as well as nearby places to eat, because that's one of my favourite parts of any adventure.

Finally: name your kids Sparrow because that's awesome.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

When Rape Culture & Outrage Culture Collide

When dealing with issues regarding institutions it’s important to remember the people within them to find the best solution. Although in Saint Mary’s University (SMU)’s case, it remains critical to look into the culture that allows a chant about rape to go for years and years and not just the current leaders, it’s also important not to alienate the students, especially new students, who feel pride for their school in general but are unsure of what to think about the current, and very rapid, negative media attention surrounding their school.

Relying on trite stereotypes surrounding the school and the students in it is one of the best ways to ensure that we will not end rape culture. It is possible to be both critical of and sensitive to the nature of dealing with frosh students who are just approaching adulthood, frequently living on their own for the very first time, some from areas that have never put the terms ‘rape’ and ‘culture’ together. University is a time to expand your mind, and right now Halifax has the opportunity to be part of that experience instead of mocking them.

I do not think any individual should be absolved of their choice to chant pro-rape lines. I do not think we should “go easy” on SMU. I do think any responses given by students on social media should be addressed directly with gravity.** I do think relying on digs about an institution’s reputation is counterproductive. It’s not that these taunts are any worse than the horrible chants; honestly, quite the opposite. This struggle cannot be an “us against them”; for the actual goal to be achieved it must be us against a mentality. This can be resolved through discussion with, not about, the students in the school, especially those who did not participate in these activities but are still being labelled as the age old "dumb jock" stereotype.

I have nothing against anger; it is a natural reaction to adversity, but I question when it is undirected, making more of a mess in the process. It’s critical that the city make the decision between whether we want a solution or a reaction. I know which side I’m on.

I drafted this up last night, getting this strange feeling I might need it today. I find that an interesting fact. Information about the annual ConsentFest will be found here.

* I find it reprehensible that CBC won't call this what it is; rape. But it's one of the best pieces without a paywall thus far.
**I really, really urge everyone, especially university students, to imagine saying what they post on social media to their parents, their boss, and an elected official before posting.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Embracing Monday

Top photo thanks to Emlyn Murray.

We painted each room in our apartment one after another, taking relatively little time to think if a lime green bathroom was really what we wanted. (It was.) The bedroom, on the other hand, took a little bit longer. I debated between moody greys, one vivid purple, and tried to find the closest thing to a colour I could only describe as "modern navy" before I finally found the perfect hue (I feel I owe the salesman a link after how many questions I asked him.) Armed with a fast food dinner and the determination not to have to sleep on the couch for too long, Luke & I cleared out the room and finished it in a little more than a day. I absolutely love the dark, deep colour that looks bright in the light. Although we still have a bit more trim to touch up and plenty of stuff to move back into the room, I can already tell it's going to be a great place to relax, write, and research that new clean eating thing...
  1. When I discovered that Daria: The Movie wasn't actually being made I might have cried more than a little bit. Still, love Aubrey Plaza.
  2. A dress too wonderful for words. 
  3. While researching a potential autumn road trip to Cleveland I found this lovely vintage poster. It seems I've missed it by 77 years, so... any recommendations?
  4. I've only recently learned that lobsters are almost immortal until we Annie Hall them. Now I discover they're cannibals. Yep. Nope. Not okay. Sea freaks...
  5. My iPhone background is always a series of either lines or dots. My current favourite.
  6. This house fits perfectly into surroundings & I think that's kind of magical.
  7. I don't think social media makes people dumber; I think dumb people are revealed by social media. (Hilarious.)
  8. Planet Money explored plans that failed Detroit while Fresh Air talks plans that can succeed
  9. The Real Dazed and Confused of the 1970s.
  10. A gentle reminder as I try to get rid of my stuff instead of cramming it back into my bedroom.
  11. This interview with Amy Poehler can only be described with this series of Parks and Recreation gifs.

"Well, Offerman and I would be great “mama” and “daddy” of a cult. He would do all of the hard work and I would be good at keeping up morale."
-Amy Poehler, teasing about my dreams coming true

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Few Favourites: Relaxed podcasts to learn from

The obsession begins...
I am an anxious person masquerading as someone who is laid back. Only those close to me see that my toe starts tapping within the twenty minutes of having to catch the bus mark and the weird stress faces I make when forced to do something unproductive when there are deadlines. Living in a house where CBC was always on, I grew up with serious sounding jingles as a means of telling time. (As It Happens meant supper soon!) In fact, my early meanderings of the Internet were mostly spent seeking clips of Peter Gzowski’s wonderful voice in its hey day, before he became a guest on other up and comer’s shows and eventually passed away.

Some like music, but I’ve found conversation has always had more rhythm. I seldom listen to podcasts for information but more for the one excellent story that I can decide whether to further research at a more appropriate time. From Bill Simmons to Ira Glass I have a whole slew of characters for putting on make up to, working to, washing vegetables to, and eventually drifting to sleep. Radio is the best kind of passive, not requiring the attention that an episode of anything on Netflix does. Podcasts can be consumed without so much attention on the screen.

What I listen to every day is too long a list for one post, but these are my perfect part geeky part transcendental experience that will inform you while making you feel. Podcasts are merging art and science in ways I haven’t seen other mediums try to succeed. If you enjoy dreamy synth pop but want a story, all of these are for you.  Although none of the following have anything to do with these actions, all of these podcasts use their voice, their editing, and their stories to evoke emotions in me akin to spending time looking at antiques with no deadline, eating a slightly tart frozen yogurt on a hot day, looking at sepia photographs and, for a reason I don’t understand, the colour orange. It can be tempting to relegate sound based to a lesser form of television, but the artistry in these pieces proves that no, it’s just different.

This I Believe

The 1951 radio show was revived as a podcast in the early aughties. When reading about it’s history, I learned that much of it’s appeal lay in that it “stressed individual belief rather than religious dogma” which adds a different element to it when I listen to the brief, plain segments of people speaking passionately about something that they believe.

Length: roughly 5 minute an episode once a week 
A park ranger talks about building community from within.


Radiolab tells science like stories, frequently by telling the stories of people who work with the sciences. The perfect “NPR mad professor” characters, Robert & Jad present an array of philosophy, anthropology, physics, and lately legal stories in a quirky, otherworldly way.  

Length: either 15-20 minutes or an hour, 2-3 times a month 
‘Ally’s Choice’: A white woman calls herself a negro in a small town, but one of her daughters decided not to.
‘Killing babies, saving the world’: Don’t let the name deter you; this is a fascinating look at ethics and evolution.

The Memory Palace

Spoken like a novel, The Memory Palace is haunting but not in a spooky way. Mini moments of forgotten Americana are given a tone that can only be described as Sofia Coppola’s aesthetic made aural combined with your family’s matriarch or patriarch’s attention to detail. I hesitate to use the word favourite, but….

Length: 5-10 minutes once a month
The Sisters Fox: Sisters convince everyone they can contact the dead with so many twists that will make you gasp.
The Messrs. Craft: A slave dies on a plantation that she owns. In between she dresses in drag to escape across the country and so much more.

99% Invisible

Imagine if they told fairy tales about urban planning and design. They do, his name is Roman Mars, and 99% Insivible will make you acutely aware of your surroundings.

Length: 20 minutes, once a week
Heyoon: The movie Stand by Me only with art instead of dead bodies
The Pruitt-Igoe Myth: Dispelling the myths of public housing
Elegy for the WTC: A look at the world trade centres you definitely haven't heard before.

The Moth

Performers tell their stories. Some are good, some are bad, some are campy, some are inspiring. When they are good, they are very, very good. When they are bad, they are the people who think they are legally entitled to a cronut or some crazy New York crap like that.

Please note that my two favourites for this show are possibly by favourite 40 minutes of anything ever. Both stories make me nostalgic for things I don't understand.

Length: 20 minutes once a week
Stars on the Ceiling: An ode to the resourceful women in our lives who make things okay when everything goes wrong
The Case of Curious Codes: A woman escapes her abusive husband, becomes an author at 70, and finds romance through code breaking. You will cry.

Maybe coming soon:
Badass female podcasts / Reporting to make you feel things / Sports with humour or Why Grantland is the best and nothing will ever compare...