Our Turn with Kirstine Stewart

Monday 30 November 2015
This article originally appeared on the Hamilton Media Guild blog. 

“We have to stop thinking about how other people define success,” said Kirstine Stewart, VP Media at Twitter Inc., addressing a crowd of mostly students at McMaster University on October 22. The event, which coincided with the release of Stewart’s book, Our Turn, gave the audience a chance to hear about both Stewart’s personal and professional experiences as a woman leader.

Stewart oversees Twitter’s North American media partnerships, including television, sports, music and news. She was previously the executive vice-president of CBC’s English Services, CBC/Radio-Canada, where she was the first woman and the youngest to hold the job.

Stewart’s talk at McMaster, an in-conversation with journalist Carol Toller, was part of the AWSM Lecture Series, aims to “stimulate an inclusive and wide-range dialogue that can engage a broad diversity of students, faculty, alumni, and community members in conversations about women’s leadership, mentorship, and strategies for gender equity.”

“Being myself is what got me to where I am,” said Stewart, who shared her own experiences working her way up the corporate ladder, starting her career as a “Girl Friday,” doing clerical work. She credits knowing her own values as a key to her success. She also recognizes the critical role mentorship has played in her own career and continues to play today in the career trajectory of women.

Among the issues faced by women in the workplace, Stewart highlights pay parity and access to the workforce; however, despite these obstacles, Stewart thinks the future looks bright.

“We’re seeing different kinds of leadership than we have in the past,” she said, noting that millennials have a different mindset than previous generations, making their own rules, wearing hoodies to the office, and embracing technology.

“My book is about optimism and trying to see the challenges as opportunities,” she said about Our Turn, which “shares ideas and strategies that are both original and crucially important for anyone interested in setting a course for success today. Among the advice she provided to her McMaster audience was, “We live in a world that is so fast changing that you can’t rely on that five-year plan,” noting that as industries change and technology changes, so must our goals. “You may have a goal in mind,” she adds, “but you can’t plan it step by step.”

The best tool to overcome obstacles and to propel one’s career is to do good work, said Stewart. “If you do good work, how can someone argue that?”

“Be brilliant. Be bold. They can’t ignore you.”

#AGHayx: are you experienced?

Wednesday 25 November 2015

When I first started this blog, my intention was to write mostly about books, with an emphasis on local literature. For a while, I did just that, but slowly things started to evolve, especially with so much to do and see in Hamilton. Even still, my passion lies in literature, so I get really excited when I see other disciplines embracing the literary arts.

On Friday, I was invited to the Art Gallery of Hamilton’s Social Media Influencer’s Night, giving me an up-close look at are you experienced, a series of “immersive and interactive installations, photography, video, painting, sculpture and sound art, the artists engage viewers and invite participation.”

After an hour of wandering the exhibit, taking photos, and connecting with other “social media influencers,” I attended a talk with artists Hadley+Maxwell, in conversation with writers Jennifer Fisher and Jim Drobnick, who spoke about their incredible work, When That was This, which was created using cinefoil, steel, magnets, 6-channel sound, LED light-programming.

The history junkie in me was immersed in the story of the story of the work, “a reflection on masculinity and the transformation of a public into a war machine as was the case at the turn of the 20th Century.” But what most stunned and gripped me was how the artists brought together the literary and visual arts in the most innovative way:

From the artists’ website: 
“The soundtrack features vocal recordings by writer Lisa Robertson, who reads a passage from Gertrude Stein's Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and actor Kai Meyer, who reads a passage from Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. The sound is composed of extended processing and editing techniques to create various acoustic atmospheres and disembodied voices that, combined with the programmed LED lighting, illuminate the curiosity and anxiety common to the shifting social, political and perceptual sense of humanity of the time.”
are you experienced? is on view until January 3, 2016, and is made up of “spectacular installations by six internationally renowned artists: Nadia Belerique, Jessica Eaton, Olafur Eliasson, Dorian FitzGerald, Hadley+Maxwell and Do Ho Suh.”

Visually stunning, each piece was a photographer’s dream, and getting the opportunity to snap photos in a museum setting (without worrying about the wrath of security guards) was a joy. I lack the lexicon of the visual arts, so I urge you to enjoy are you experienced? for yourself.

Works by Dorian FitzGerald are daunting in scale. They're captivating in different ways depending on where in the room you view them. 

When That was This

Giller Light 2015

Sunday 15 November 2015

Last year, at gritLIT's pre-festival event with Lit Live, we hosted AndrĂ© Alexis, who read from his then brand-new novel Fifteen Dogs, which was released by Coach House Books just two weeks before. At the event, I handed Alexis a cheque and thanked him for reading for us. On Tuesday, he received a much, much bigger cheque — the $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize cheque.

I celebrated the Giller Prize as I do every year, at Giller Light, the party that takes place in major cities across Canada in support of Frontier College. As always, it was a wonderful evening full of wine, temporary literary tattoos from Litographs, and catching up with publishing folks I haven't seen in a while. This year, also had a red carpet, some flashy CanLit pants, and a survival-kit-esque swag bag. I'm already looking forward to 2016!

With the fantastic Ashley from Wolsak and Wynn.

Somehow my eyes managed to be closed in every single picture at the Indigo photo booth.

This year's Giller Light was co-hosted by Evan Munday who rocked CanLit leggings, complete with the faces of all the Giller shortlisters.

The Giller Light swag bag was less of a loot bag and more of a survival kit this year, complete with a full bottle of water, condoms, chocolate, and a lot of reading material. I challenge a short story writer out there to craft a short story using only materials found in this bag. 

Hamilton Feminist Zine Fair

Sunday 8 November 2015

Saturday was the second annual Hamilton Feminist Zine Fair, organized by SACHA, the amazing organization celebrating 40 years of supporting survivors and working to end sexual violence. The zine fair "celebrates and creates spaces for marginalized groups to have discussions about feminism through do-it-yourself publishing." Pictured is my haul, which includes a few issues of Static Zine by the fantastic Jessica of one of my favourite blogs, Paper Trail Diary. I also scored a Tavi Gevinson, and since she's the person I wish I was at 19, I'll wear it proudly.

Review: Gratitude by Oliver Sacks

"I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure."
— Oliver Sacks, Gratitude

I received a perfect gem in the mail on Friday. At 45 pages, Gratitude by Oliver Sacks may be compact, but it's large in impact, as the author and neurologist reflects on the life he knows he's leaving behind as he nears death. I read Gratitude in one sitting, and I'll read it again, because despite Sacks' diagnosis of fatal cancer, this book brims with optimism and grace.

Gratitude includes four essays: "Mercury," which was written as Sacks' 80th birthday loomed; "My Own Life," which was shared widely after it was published in the New York Times in February; "My Own Periodic Table," which reflects on the author's tie to metals and minerals, which he calls "emblems of eternity"; and finally, "Sabbath," which was published in the Times a mere two weeks before Sacks' death

Gratitude wasn't enough, so I spent much of this morning reading other pieces Oliver Sacks published in the New York Times in the years leading up to his death, including "This Year, Change Your Mind," an essay that, among many other things, speaks to loss of sight. Even long before Sacks' himself became partially blind, a result of his cancer, he wrote at length about blindness. The pocket watch photographed above was my great-grandfathers, and family lore tells me it's one of the first braille pocket watches, useful to my great-grandfather who suffered sight loss after the First World War. It seems especially fitting to a book about time running out by a man captivated by metal and who himself wrote some of the most beautiful text about blindness.

It's a cliche, but good things come in small packages. Gratitude is proof of that. 

Great Event Alert: Hamilton Feminist Zine Fair

Thursday 5 November 2015

The Hamilton Feminist Zine Fair, organized by SACHA, celebrates and creates spaces for marginalized groups to have discussions about feminism through do-it-yourself publishing. HFZF will have people tabling, selling and chatting about their zines, workshops, a calm chill out space and a six hour zine challenge.

When: Saturday, November 7th from 11am to 5pm
Where: YWCA Hamilton – 75 MacNab Street South, Hamilton ON
Accessibility: The space is accessible, including washrooms.

#GLB2015: Outline by Rachel Cusk

Tuesday 3 November 2015
Each fall, I look forward to the Scotiabank Giller Light Bash. If you're not familiar with it, it's a wildly fun evening where bookish folks gather on Giller Prize night to celebrate Canadian literature while raising money for Frontier College. Read about some of my Giller Light highlights from 2011, 2012, and 2013. Somehow, I failed to write about Giller Light 2014. I blame the wine. 

This year, Giller Light has enlisted the help of bloggers to highlight the five titles that comprise the Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist. Yesterday, Karen of One More Page reviewed Daydreams of Angels by Heather O’Neill. Karen is a tough act to follow, but I'm happy to be today's #GLB2015 blogger, reviewing Outline by Rachel Cusk. 

For eight years, I was a commuter, taking the bus from Hamilton to Aldershot, and the train from Aldershot to Oakville. Each day, without fail, I saw the same faces, each following their own routine to and from work. Many of these fellow commuters became familiar to me, though we would rarely say anything more than "Hello" or "Have a nice weekend," if that. I didn't know any of their names, and I knew nothing about their lives. I was an introvert curious about who they were and what they did, but I never collected their stories. 

The narrator in Rachel Cusk’s latest offering of fiction, Outline, is a collector of stories. We know little about her, not even her name, but when this innovative novel begins, we know she’s en route to Athens to teach a summer writing course. In a series of narratives, each centring on the life of someone Cusk’s narrator meets on her journey, we begin to piece together fragments of her life: She lives in London, her marriage has failed, she has children, but we’re not sure how many. The details of the narrator’s life are scant, but we know she possesses the talent of cultivating the stories of others. 

A writer and storyteller herself, Cusk’s narrator critiques the stories passed to her by strangers. On her flight to Athens, she meets a passenger with “the mannerisms of an Englishman but the heart of a Greek,” but she’s skeptical of the story of his life he shares: “This was a story in which I sensed the truth was being sacrificed to the narrator’s desire to win.” 

Outline is a surprising novel, full of complexity and layers, but it’s a joy to read, and I can say without hesitation that it’s unlike anything I’ve ever read. The Scotiabank Giller Prize Jury called it “compulsively readable and dazzlingly intelligent,” adding that it’s a “novel of breathtaking skill and originality.” It’s clear early in Outline that Cusk is a master of language, using stunning words like "lolling” and “turgid” with ease and without pretension. Her attention to detail is flawless, right down to the sound of an airline attendant’s stockings to the bones of a regal woman’s face. 

I can’t help but share one of my favourite passages in Outline, in which our narrator gathers a story not from a person, but a person’s things. Clelia owns the top-floor apartment where the narrator stays in Athens, and her ephemera share her story. 
“I wandered around the apartment, looking at things. I opened a few cupboards and drawers. Everything was highly orderly. There was no confusion or secrecy: things were in their correct places and complete. There was a drawer for pens and stationery, a drawer for computer equipment, a drawer for maps and guides, a filing cabinet with papers in neat dividers. There was a first-aid drawer and a drawer for sellotape and glue. There was a cupboard for cleaning materials and another for tools. The drawers in the antique oriental bureau in the sitting room were empty and smelled of dust. I kept looking for something else, a clue, something rotting or breeding, a layer of mystery or chaos or shame, but I didn’t find it.”

Outline is a powerful novel that I expected at first not to like. In its early chapters, the holes in the narrator’s story, most notably her name, felt like chasms, but eventually, I couldn’t help but embrace this mystery. 

Tomorrow, visit Padfoots Library for the next installment of the #GLB2015 Blog Tour. Christine will be reviewing Giller shortlisted title Martin John by Anakana Schofield.
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