Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Other Ones

Since undertaking this ridiculous quest, the question that I've been asked most often, hands-down, is "what are the other girls like?" Sometimes there are judgements and assumptions attached to the question. Sometimes there aren't.

When I first started rehearsals, I felt like I was undercover. I would stealthily start my tape recorder in my bag and make sneaky notes in between dance numbers. I was like that character in one-too-many romantic comedies. You know the one--the struggling journalist who disguises her identity to get the inside scoop? Sort of like Hunter S. Thompson, but replace the drugs with makeover montages. (See: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, 27 Dresses, Never Been Kissed.)

It helped justify my participation, I guess, both to myself and to everyone else. But those movies teach a valuable lesson. In the end, the protagonist always discovers the err of her ways and comes to the ultimate realization--sources are people, too!

Okay, you know where I'm going with this. I don't think I need to continue this analogy much further.

I will admit that I now have a stock of hilarious anecdotes about this experience--my favourite of which is about one individual who I think may actually be actively campaigning for Miss Congeniality. But every time someone asks me that question, I'm reminded that I am one of them. And every time someone asks that question, I'm reminded that someone is being asked that same question about me.

So, the answer? If you know me, you know what the other contestants are like. They're all different. They can't be pigeonholed. And they don't fit neatly into any stereotype that can be succinctly summed up in a one-sentence response.

I'm still taking notes, though.

(Oh, hey there. Here I am at the salon, fact-checking, while my hair processes. Does anyone else ever do work while getting their hair done? Or does this make me really nerdy and over-committed?)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Panic at the Pageant

With less than six days until showtime, it suddenly hit me: What have I done?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Suck it, Trebek!

After a week of losing expensive sunglasses and transit passes, having no heat and no hot water, and prying other dog's shit out of my puppy's mouth, I was worried that trivia night wouldn't go according to plan. It hasn't exactly been my week, to say the least. No one would show up, the trivia would be too hard (or too easy) and people would leave early.

But karma must have realized that I should have some good coming my way, because last night went ridiculously smoothly and I think everyone had a good time. A total of 10 teams participated, which made the fundraiser a huge success. (We actually ran out of tables and everyone stayed until the very end.)

Team Accuracy & Integrity's team name was a self-fulfilling prophecy. They took first place and went home with $150 worth of prizes.

It may have had something to do with their fifth team member--Flat Stanley. My Flat Stanley from Saskatchewan met Amy's Flat Stanley from Nova Scotia. (Only at trivia night hosted by Chloé and I would two people bring Flat Stanleys.)

Last night's trivia was subdivided into four categories: Strike a Pose (questions about modelling and beauty pageants), Beauty & Brains (academic trivia), Miss Canada (Canadian questions) and Miss Universe (global questions).

For those of you who weren't able to make it out, here are some of the questions we asked:

1) In the 1999 film, Drop Dead Gorgeous, beauty contestant Amber Atkins’ mom advises her, “Don’t ever eat nothin’ that can carry its house around with it. Who knows the last time it’s been cleaned.” What food item does Amber not eat, enabling her to advance to the next round?

2) The Spanish Influenza killed an estimated 20 to 50 million people worldwide between 1918 and 1920. What fictional character both died and began a new existence due to the Spanish Influenza?

3) Dolphins swim in a pod, crows fly in a murder and lions belong to a pride. What is a group of eagles called?

4) This year marked the 20th anniversary of the Oka Crisis, a land dispute between developers and this aboriginal group near Montreal. Name the Aboriginal group.

5) In the Robert Munch book Thomas’ Snowsuit, what is the colour of Thomas’ snowsuit?

6) From 1912 until the Chinese Civil War in 1949, China had five time zones. How many internationally recognized time zones are there in China today?

You can find the answers at the bottom of this post.

Thank you to everyone who came out and made the night an amazing success! If you weren't able to make it yesterday, we may be hosting another trivia night in January. It will likely be a lower cost ($10) for the same amount of fun.

Also, thank you to our sponsors: Czehoski, Steam Whistle, Capital Coffee & Pastries, The Toronto Star and Crumpler Canada. Finally, a big thanks to Jane Baldwin and Jessica Scott for helping with prizes, Jay for creating the flyer and, of course, Chloé for co-hosting.

1) Shellfish
2) Edward Cullen
3) A convocation
4) Mohawks
5) Brown
6) One

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Two Cold Lakers

I've referenced another girl I know who is also participating out West. Her identity is finally revealed in William's Cold Lake Sun article:

(You can click this little bitty jpg and enlarge it if you'd like to read the article.)

Thanks to all my latest sponsors:

Jesse Castle
Kaydi Pyette
Ashley Spegel
Sarah Boesveld

And don't forget--if you'd still like to support me and are in the Toronto area, you're invited to match your wits with the finest at the Quiz Masters' Trivia Night. (I'm also still accepting Paypal donations.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Call of the Cattiness

Want to see 15 beauty queens throw a hissy fit? (Myself included in that blanket label.) If America's Next Top Model is any indication, a number of things will probably do it. But try this one: after they've spent all morning volunteering for you and are super hungry, stick them outside on a random street corner on the first cold day of the year. Leave them there for nearly an hour and tell them to wait for the bus. Then once you've done that, put the nail in the coffin by nearly forgetting to send the bus because you're too busy eating pizza. That ought to do it.

Okay, clearly my hissy fit isn't over yet. But apart from that little incident, I actually enjoyed volunteering at the parade this past weekend. (I don't particularly like big crowds and I'm terrified of mascots. Since I managed to avoid both, I rate it as a success.) But rehearsal was another story--this weekend the claws finally came out.

I'll admit that it's kind of fun to watch the slow decline of facades that were so carefully built. I've seen it many times before in all-female situations. (Anyone remember the mayhem that ensued while working on little publication called the Ryerson Review of Journalism?) But for some reason it's so much funnier in a pageant context. I suddenly understand why it makes for great reality television fodder--although I really don't want to know what would happen if we had a "confession" room.

On the plus side, I'm finally making friends. Since everyone else's disguises are wearing away, I'm no longer guarding my tongue so carefully. I am, however, trying valiantly not to get sucked in by the Call of Cattiness, which is kind of like the Call of the Wild, but with more giggling. Basically, I'm fine with being annoyed about particular girls and their complete lack of professionalism. (This is not pageant specific. All people in life who lack professionalism annoy me.) However, I draw the line at making fun of what someone's wearing. But sometimes that's very, very hard.

So on that note, here are some amazing conversations I thought I'd never legitimately hear in my life:

-A girl greeting another girl by acknowledging they had met one another at The Lakeshore auditions.
-Two girls discussing just how short Pauly D. is in person. (He's short, apparently. Neither girl was particularly impressed, from what I could gather.)
-A girl with something noticeably fake claiming that she is "all real".
-A dude at the parade checking out one of my pageant-mates who was wearing four-inch heels. "Man, I really love those shoes," he told his buddy. "But they look so expensive." (The funniest part was he was being quite literal. The implication was completely unintentional.)

(And yes, the act of writing this on my blog may just be catty behaviour. But it's just too funny not to share.)

In closing, I seriously just had to Google image search "g-string" to figure out what exactly a "g-string wax" might look like. As a first-timer, I think I'm sticking with the bikini wax.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Class Photo

One of the girls at rehearsal today let me know about this video. "I didn't watch it though," she said, "I wasn't really in it."

Fair enough--I wouldn't want to watch it if I wasn't in it. (It's kind of like your school picture, right? You never used to check out other kids in the photo. You'd always look at yourself first.)

However, you can spot me in this video way more often than I was in my high school yearbooks. And that's saying a lot, because although I wasn't "popular" in high school (apart from possibly being the most popular target to throw garbage at in the agora), I belonged to every non-sport related committee or activity possible. Like the honour roll. (That does count as a non-sport related activity, right?)

In total, there are six photos of me in this video. The first is at the 0.10 mark. Props to anyone who can find me the other five times and actually manage to tell me apart from all the other girls who are also wearing gaudy earrings and loads of makeup.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

No joking matter

Yesterday a reporter from the Cold Lake Sun (who, for the record, I also went to university with) contacted me to ask if he could write a story about my quest for the crown.

As a former journalism student, it's always strange being interviewed. You know how your quotes could be used, misused, taken out of context and (mis)appropriated. However, I think it's even stranger for the interviewer. "And, of course, you know the last question I'm going to ask you," William said. "Is there anything else you would like to add?"

No. But the one thing I had the most difficulty articulating and the one thing I keep thinking about is how this has turned from somewhat of a joke into, well, this. Whatever this is, anyway.

It's turned into working out every day--or at least thinking about it seriously. It's turned into a guy named Bobby doing my hair. It's turned into being way too preoccupied about the post-Guyana rash that's appeared between my thighs. It's turned into considering whether I should go get a bikini wax for the first time ever. (I had only planned to get my toes waxed, but maybe my priorities should be realigned now that I know that I'll be performing a dance routine in a bikini.) It's turned into daily sponsorship requests for my upcoming trivia night. It's turned into my Mom flying down to Toronto for the show.

So what was the joke again? I feel like I'm starting to forget.

I'm so close to my goal it's ridiculous. Only $200 more to go! Thank you to everyone who has voted for me!

And thanks to my latest sponsors:

Monique Haugen
Andrew Lockhart
Teri Lefebvre
Kate Welwood
Helka Lamminkoski
Rachel Bokenfohr
Lindsay Strang
Judi Florence
Bev Williams
Graham Florence

Monday, November 15, 2010

Vogue & Vote

Girls are weird creatures. Weirder still is the anomaly that is the straight male makeup artist. "You have such nice lashes," Steve told me, applying mascara to my upper eyelashes. "They're so evenly spaced out." (Uh. Okay.)

It only took three hairstylists, four makeup artists and three men to dress me before I was rendered unrecognizable. Easy as pie. "I wake up looking like this every morning," one of the girls joked.

Participating in a photoshoot, complete with a team of hair and makeup artists, was like living out a little girl's fantasy--and a bit of a grown woman's nightmare. It was like finally getting that pony you've always wanted, only to discover that you have to shovel up horse manure to keep said pony.

Okay, maybe that wasn't the best analogy--but I did feel like a bit of a show pony today. In fact, it was the first time in the process that I've kind of felt like a commodity. (Except in this particular case, we're all actually paying to be commodified, by way of registration fee.) That's not to say that prancing around in heels and a bikini has made me feel like a scholar. But up until now, I've just thought of it as like being at a dance rehearsal, where the reward at the end of the tunnel is a really pretty costume.

I'm not sure what was different today. Maybe it was being told that my eyebrows aren't spaced properly. (Makeup can fix that.) Or that my stretched ears cause gasps of disgust. (Fair enough, but giant fake crystal earrings made by a 15-year-old in China can cover that up.) Or maybe it's that my hair isn't big enough. (More hairspray and a guy named Bobby are the answer.) But hey, at least my eyelashes are evenly spaced. That's something, right?

Despite having my hair teased to new heights and my breasts inadvertently groped by people adjusting my dress, I kind of loved it. I loved having a makeup artist clog my pores and I loved choking on the fumes of hairspray. I loved being told that I look like a young Ann-Margret and overhearing the pageant director talking about how he wants to bring out my eyes. I couldn't help but feel glamorous, even if it was just so someone at the end of the line makes a dime.

On the subway ride home, I tried to ignore the stares. Under the TTC lights, I looked like Tara Reid the morning after. As soon as I got home, I changed into yoga pants and a flannel shirt. And let me tell you--there are few satisfactions greater in life than cooking Hamburger Helper while wearing fake eyelashes.


Voting on the Miss Universe Canada website is now live! The delegate with the highest number of votes will win the "People's Choice Award." Just in case you're not clear on this, I'm your favourite. You can vote up to five times per IP address here.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Competitor's Edge

In lieu of an actual update, the MUC 2011 website is now live. Please vote for me here!

Check out the competition here. (For the record though, my hometown is definitely not Toronto.)

Thanks to my latest supporters:

Craig Belanger
Tanya Van Luven
Alice Uribe
Adrienne Knowlton
Brandi Lasure
Amanda Stephens

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Search is On

(Click to enlarge.)

If you are interested in attending at the family and friends' discounted rate of $55, please send me a message before November 20, 2010.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Life Saver

This is my new permanent uniform: yoga pants, Rogers corporate-branded sweatshirt, glasses, moccasins, greasy ponytail, yesterday's mascara smeared all over my face and dog in hand. This is the same outfit I was wearing last night when I was locked myself out of the building at 3:30 a.m. This was the same outfit that I wandered down the street in to beg a cell phone off a cabbie so I could call Jay to let me.

Chloé came over last night to send out the invite for our trivia night. "I don't know how to talk to the other girls," I told her.

"Jessica, didn't you watch Miss Congeniality?" Chloé chided me. "You just need to do what Gracie does--she brings them pizza and beer and then save their lives. That's all you need to do."

Why didn't I think of that? So, anyone want to put the lives of some beauty queens in danger so I can save them and subsequently make friends?

Monday, November 08, 2010

You're Invited!

(Click to enlarge.)

From the girls who brought you the Mobile Kissing Booth and Naked Behind Gnomes: Quiz Masters' Trivia Night Challenge.

Hosted at Czehoski (678 Queen St. W.)
Doors at 7:30 p.m.
Trivia begins at 8 p.m.
Great prizes to be won!

$20 for teams of up to four people. Please pre-register your team.

All proceeds will go to Jessica's Miss Universe Canada registration fee.

And now, a brief poem:

She's been sprayed with chemicals so her skin isn't too light.
She's sacrificed hours of personal time to get the dance moves just right.
She's been cutting back on sweets so her bikini isn't too tight.
But sashes are really expensive.

Come compete for the crown! Bring your talent but no bikinis necessary.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Working Girls

At MUC rehearsals, phrases like "Own it!" and "Work it!" are shouted gratuitously and in full sincerity.

I don't how to work it. And it's because I don't believe that I own it. I am the fish face girl. I feel like I shouldn't be there and it shows.

I spend most of our few short breaks struggling to talk to the other girls. I have few contributions to make to conversations about hair, makeup or shopping.

But I think I've finally found a co-conspirator. "Do you think that the types of conversations people are having here are topics they're genuinely interested in, or do you think that it's just contextual?" I asked her cautiously, carefully making the wording of my question somewhat ambiguous. "I think we're a lot alike," she whispered back at me.

Thanks to all my donors to date including:

Lauren Boesveld
Tim Paulman
Trish Vergo
Trever Schatschneider

I'm officially halfway to my fundraising target. If you want to help me out (sadly, working for charitable organizations part-time doesn't pay big bucks), please consider donating $5 or $10:

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Money CAN buy happiness!

For Christmas one year, my parents gave this great laminated poster that had probably been ordered through the Scholastic Canada catalogue. It quickly found a permanent home on the door to my room--it was like a bargaining tactic about why they should let me get a dog (which they never did).

On it, a yorkshire terrier in a sweater was popping out of a basket. "Anyone who says money can't buy happiness, doesn't know where to shop!" it read in neon font.

It's so true.

Welcome to the family, Brockton!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Jazz Hands

I live in fear of tomorrow--my first rehearsal. I'm covered in bug bites and my post-Guyana digestive system refuses to settle. I've missed the first three rehearsals already and I'm hardly one for choreography. (In fact, after my first-ever jazz dance recital when I was only nine, I overheard my mom talking on the phone. "She just doesn't have it, you know?" she laughed, commenting on my coordination [or lack thereof]. I dropped out of jazz the following year and enrolled in highland dancing, which requires slightly less musicality.)

Bugbites and poor coordination aside, I have another reason to be fearful. Another MUC candidate out West let me know that criticism at her rehearsal wasn't just relegated to dance moves or runway walks. "Of the 14 girls there, three got told to 'tone up,'" she told me. "I was one of them. It hurts a bit!"

This terrifies me. I've seen Facebook photos of the candidate in question in a bikini. If she was advised to tone up, am I going to be advised to have gastric bypass surgery?

It's wild how quickly something that started as a joke has turned into, well, something so serious. (Granted, it remains somewhat of a laughing matter, because I'm sure it's a huge cosmic joke on my behalf. Some omniscient presence is definitely up there, chortling on his cloud.)

So, in order to offset the very serious nature of prancing around in heels every weekend for the next month, I'm offering you this picture as a reminder that if you send $5 or $10 my way, you're supporting this as the face of Miss Universe Canada:

Click on the PayPal button below to donate.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Every Day of My Life

(Originally posted on the travel blog.)

"When I wake up in the morning,
And I lay my head to rest
Every day of my life I am blessed. . ."

It became our unofficial soundtrack. Our theme song. Everyday of my life, I am blessed.

The lyrics quickly got bastardized, as ab-libbed activities were added. ("I am schlepping, I am schlepping, every day of my life I am schlepping," the team would sing, hauling thousands of pounds in luggage heavy with pharmaceuticals up muddy riverside slopes.)

But in the morning, people would quietly sing those words to themselves or loudly as a group.

The words were our mantra, our anthem. We were blessed. We are blessed.

My apprehension was quelled as soon as I boarded my plane for Kamarang. Looking out towards the Venezuela border, the mountains were flat and familiar.

I knew that when we landed, now-familiar faces would greet us on the runway. We'd be able to wash the day's travels away in the water where the Mazaruni and Kamarang rivers meet. It was going to be okay. In fact, it was going to be better than okay.

And so it went. Every day at 5:30 am, I'd wake up, use the pit latrine and wash my face. Breakfast would be fruit and porridge, or hot fried bake with cheese. And of course, instant coffee with malaria prophylaxis on the side.

After we were dressed, we start setting up the clinic. It consisted of a makeshift pharmacy, two doctors' offices and one physiotherapist's office. At the reception area, two nurses triaged patients.

Without a medical background, I was limited in my technical contributions to the clinic. Mainly, I stuck to registering patients as they began to line up around 7:30 am. I would note their name, age, home village and weight. And if they only spoke Arawak, I would make note of which family member was on hand to translate.

We worked in partnership with the local community health care workers, like Midwife Corinna, Medex Brenda and Medex Willie. (Pictured above, left to right, learning how to insert an intraosseous needle into a piece of chicken).

Some days the clinics were slow, giving us an opportunity to spend time with the community members and community health care workers. On these days, Glenda, the physiotherapist, would open her beauty clinic.

But overall, we were busy. We were dripping-with-sweat, schlepping-bags-all-over-the-interior, attempting-to-decipher-Guyanese-accents busy. In less than two weeks in six different communities, we saw over 500 patients, spoke at elementary and secondary schools to over 800 students and held public health workshops.

When our time in one community ended, it was again time to schlep onwards to the next community. Into the boat and out of the boat, up the hills and down the hills, with all our luggage in tow and a few precious hours on the water in between to reflect and burn under the intensity of the Guyanese sun. After Kamarang came Waramadong, then Jawalla, before Bartica and Itaballi.

The hours on the boat were spent playing games, huddling under umbrellas and in silence. It was on the boat headed back to Jawalla when the words came to me. I couldn't place them at first. They were more of a feeling. A reminder. "You are an unconquerable libby-bean-eating superman."

They had been written by my high school English teacher, after I returned from Vanuatu. Today I read the rest of the five-sentence email, which is full of other praises, but that particular sentence is what had stuck in my mind all these years.

The second community we visited, Waramadong, was a highlight of the trip. The community has a huge boarding school, where 600 students aged 12 to 17 study.

Flat Stanley made a lot of friends.

Other favourites of the trip: money. Paying for everything in what is essentially $5 bills ($1000 is the highest denomination and equivalent to $5 USD) resulted in carrying around a very hefty stack of cash at all time.

I also loved the HIV/AIDS awareness posters.

I particularly liked the fruit symbolism in this one.

Jawalla was the last community we visited in the interior.

And before we knew it, it was time to board our plane to Bartica.

After nearly 10 days in the Upper Mazaruni, we had considerably less luggage to schlep back to Bartica. Only 1000 pounds. No biggie.

Saying goodbye was hard.

But it wasn't the end. The hands-down, most interesting (and arguably best) day of our trip came during the second week. As we sat at a Brazilian restaurant in Bartica on Wednesday night, I was inundated with questions from the volunteers. We were set to head to the Mazaruni Prison the next day. "Don't worry," I assured them, "we'll receive an orientation when we arrive and I'm sure there will be lots of security guards on hand."

The next morning at the prison, everyone was still with nerves. There was no singing.

"We are understaffed," the superintendent of the prison warned us, "but there will be security guards. We'll bring out the prisoners in groups of 15." Okay, 15 patients at a time and seven volunteers? We could handle that. No problem.

Then the patients started streaming in. At first it was 15, but then they kept coming. Once they had all arrived, it was clear that there was a group of more than 40 prisoners and only two unarmed guards in the room with us. They were long-term sentence prisoners. Thieves. Murderers. Rapists.

We were silent. We didn't know where to begin.

But as the day went on, the atmosphere of the room transformed. By noon, everyone was at ease. By the day's end, we had seen over 110 patients.

It wasn't what we expected. It wasn't just that the prisoners were orderly and obedient--there was another quality they had, which we had witnessed in our other clinics, but not to the same degree. They were appreciative.

And again, I heard the words: I am blessed.

We were a team of different religions and faiths; a Seventh Day Adventist missionary, Jewish women (practicing and cultural), a Christian who follows the Torah, a volunteer who was raised Hindu and another who was raised Muslim.

But even with our different faiths and believes, we could all agree on one thing: every day of our lives, we are blessed.

("I Am Blessed" is a gospel song, which I couldn't find a origin for. However, for a Guyana dancehall vibe, I recommend listening to Mr. Vegas' rendition.)