(Right around the time I started freelancing, in 2014. Photo via Rachael Hosein.)
I've been thinking a lot about values recently.
Earlier this week, I got an email stating that Starling Social was awarded the title of "Best Boutique Social Media Marketing Agency in Winnipeg" by the Canadian Business Awards, and it's been making me reflect on what that means to me. Not just in the quality of the services we offer, but about my business in general and the kind of boss I strive to be.
I didn't want to become a businessperson. Hell, even after I started freelancing full-time I was very resistant to the idea of running an agency. I'd worked for a few agencies, both big and boutique, and every experience I had left me with a sour taste in my mouth in one way or another.
I worked at a big agency right out of university. I was over the moon about it even though I struggled in my role.
(Anyone who knows me knows how much I rely on process + documentation, and this job had none of that structure.)
Despite this, I was happy to come in at 7 AM, an hour and a half before my day started, just to stay on top of everything we had going on.
One morning the President of the company walked by and noticed me working away by myself. We started talking and he said he'd noticed me coming in early and he was impressed with my work ethic. We talked about my future in the company, and I asked if he would mentor me and he said yes.
The next week I was fired. I don't even know why — when I asked, one of the people in the meeting said I'd "made a mistake that cost the company $1000" but when I asked what it was, he said he couldn't remember. I'd been there for over a year and they let me go without providing any documented or legitimate reasons.
(Told you there was no documentation there.)
Losing my job was devastating, but what felt worse was knowing that there was such a huge disconnect within that company that the President of the company saw me one way, and middle management saw me in a completely different way.
After that I started freelancing for a small, boutique agency. I loved that job, even more than the agency job because I got my first taste of remote work and having the flexibility to "work from anywhere". The owner seemed like a cool, interesting person and even though the pay was garbage, and ad-hoc, I trusted that they had my best interests at heart as a member of their team.
Then one day I logged into a client's Twitter account and noticed that there were a bunch of posts and replies that I hadn't written. I followed up with my boss, and here's what he said back:
That wink turned out to mean that he'd hired someone new to manage the account and gave them the go-ahead to start without notifying me. When I asked for payment for the time I'd worked, I was told that the last few week's worth of work I'd done wouldn't be compensated.
I was told "I'll give you $60, which should be enough to buy a few 12-packs of beer" and shown the proverbial door.
A few years later as my freelancing business was starting to grow, the owner of a local agency called me up and asked if I wanted to join the team at a management level. It sounded promising, but I took issue with how the workload (and budget) were divvied up:
Essentially, there were only so many paid hours available per project and since everyone was a freelancer they were all competing for the same narrow pool of hours/money. I'd be coming in at a senior level, which meant I'd be getting a guaranteed retainer that would be taken from the pool of money otherwise allocated to the team actually doing the work.
When I brought this up, the owner said "the girls will figure it out, don't worry about it"
(did I mention this was an agency run by one guy who seemed only to hire pretty, skinny women? Ick.)
Needless to say, I didn't take the job. I wasn't comfortable being complicit in screwing over these other women and working with someone who cared so little about the people he employed.
By this time I was already working for myself and starting to scale up a team to help me manage my workload. I know I wasn't great at managing people at first, but the experiences I'd had showed me a lot of what not to do and I was able to start being the kind of boss I'd always wanted to have.
I got to become someone who goes to bat for my team and puts them first. I fired our first "big client" out of NYC and lost us 1/3 of our monthly revenue because he was being abusive to my copywriter. That was a blow, but I'd do it all over again and probably sooner if given the chance.
(Nobody messes with my team.)
I got to become someone who put effort into supporting the people who work for me. I remember how lost I felt at the big agency, so I obsessively document every step of everything we do; internally, and for our clients. I make myself available for support, clarity, and advice, but my team can work confidently on their own because they have a documented framework that helps them be better at what they do.
(Protip: giving people a framework for success is how you guarantee a high degree of quality and attention to detail.)
I got to become someone who leads with their values. I'm honest with my team, whether it's good or bad feedback, because I remember what it felt like to have the rug pulled out from under me when I thought everything was going fine.
(Trust in your people and they will trust you, in kind.)
I'm not perfect — hell, nobody is — but the reason my company does such good work is because I'm value-driven, and leading with my values has attracted people who share those same beliefs. We believe in going above and beyond for our clients, in being data-driven and process-focused, and most of all we believe in each other and in our collective ability to raise the bar on what a digital marketing agency can be.
Every day I feel lucky as hell to run this business and to work with such amazing people.
This award recognizes my agency, but I want to end this (somewhat rambly, stream-of-consciousness) post by saying to my team:
I see you. I see your hard work, your dedication, and your passion, and I feel privileged to work with you. I've become a better person for it, and I appreciate the opportunity to build a company that's built such a strong reputation for creative, high-quality work with you.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
or at least it feels that way. I joke that days have no meaning and in a way they don't, because even though my job requires me to know which day it is there's no difference between "weekend" and "weekday" or, now that it's winter, much difference between day and night.
Cases in Manitoba are clocking in between 350 - 450 new cases most days.
The positivity rate in Winnipeg is over 14%.
As of earlier this week, 1 in 100 Manitobans have gotten sick.
It feels scary to go outside since studies have shown that respiratory droplets hang around longer in cold, dry air
and we live in a province with cold, dry air.
I bundle up and go for walks as often as I can. I go midday when there's fewer people out, or if it's the end of my day I'll walk down to the riverbank and stand against the big, concrete bridge or lean against a tree and drink a beer and have a smoke and enjoy the feeling of not being surrounded by
the same four walls day in and day out.
Yesterday I walked along the riverbank, which is lower because it's winter, and got mud on my boots and crunched the icy, frozen snow and listened to the sounds of the city coming from the houses and roads and bridges
it's quiet but it isn't. An un-silence filled with the sounds of the city.
When it gets super cold in February I like to skate along the river. There's something soothing and beautiful about seeing my city from a new angle. It feels like a secret, and yesterday, walking behind all the riverfront properties, alone, felt like that.
I haven't felt that way in a long time and it was nice.
The last few days have felt like releasing a breath I've been holding in for a
long, long time
feeling it empty my body in a way that's almost
but I gotta let go of it slowly because — god forbid — something happens
something goes awry
I don't wanna lull myself into a false state of feeling good, feeling secure
that's what the past four years have felt like
the slow erosion of the feeling of
that I used to feel.
Saturday felt like a step
a small one, maybe
but an important one
back in that direction
a sharp 90-degree turn away from
the erosion of
and the slow, creeping threat of authoritarianism
infecting so many places right now.
I cried before Kamala Harris spoke, when they said
"the Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris"
because I never thought I'd see a woman
let alone a woman of colour
up on that stage
in motherfucking Suffragette White, no less.
I cried when Joe spoke
because even though he's not quite progressive enough for me
I think he's a kind, decent person, well-intentioned person
and maybe that's what we need right now
but because it was so,
to listen to politics and not hear about Donald Trump
and for the rhetoric of politics to (finally, thankfully)
swing back to goodness
and the belief that we all get better by working together
(which has honestly never seemed like such a crazy idea if you ask me)
I don't know what's gonna come. What chicanery's going to go down
and part of me is scared that this victory for
will somehow get ripped from me
(because it's 2020 and Mercury is in Retrograde and who knows what else)
or maybe it's that I haven't felt this way in a long time
and I'm scared to let these feelings back in?
I guess we'll find out.
It's snowing outside and despite myself, I like it. I hate winter and being cold but I love the cozy feeling of being inside and drinking tea or eating hot soup or sitting in a big, warm blanket and watching the snowflakes fall. It makes me feel safe, somehow.
The snow falling makes me realize that I really only blog seasonally these days, or at least it feels that way. Things are good and calm and stable for the most part, but it's harder to pull something worth writing about from calm placidity
though I suppose that's the point, really, and what kind of asshole is gonna complain about life being calm during a pandemic?
Not me, that's for sure.
A few weeks ago Toulouse had a health scare and needed a trip to the vet and we learned that he has a fragile little heart
(which, if you've met my cat, is so on-brand it hurts)
but beyond a scary-but-manageable problem we've been lucky. Our friends have been safe. Our families have been safe. Both of which are especially calming to know considering that Manitoba hit a 7.5% test positivity rate today and it basically feels like the province is being led by a bunch of people who care more about "the economy" than the health and well-being of the people who live here.
But I don't wanna talk about politics too much right now.
Right now I wanna think about the garden we built in the living room to keep the winter blues at bay. A few weeks ago we bought a big metal shelf, some LED lights, and planted a bunch of seeds that are well on their way to feeding us fresh vegetables all winter long.
Here's what we've planted so far:
- Basil (regular)
- Cherry tomatoes
- Green leaf lettuce
- Hot peppers
- Thai basil
Next time I'll post photos since it's truly a thing of magic and it's making me so happy right now, but right I've gotta jet because my tea is cold and my teapot is empty and if there's one thing that is guaranteed to keep this cozy, happy feeling going
it's a cup of tea.
is the name of a song by the band Counting Crows. It's one of my favourite songs because it reminds me of a moment in time that feels
like one of those snapshots you take in your mind of a moment, a feeling, a smell, a sound so you can come back to it forever.
In that moment I'm sitting in the passenger seat of a rental car and John is driving. It's a cloudy grey day and we're on the 401 driving into Toronto to go see my Grandma before we catch a flight home to Winnipeg from Windsor, where we'd been for Christmas.
We're both deathly hungover from staying up late and having a dance party with his family so we crank the music to boost our energy. We put on August and Everything After and John tells me about how much the album means to him. His memories of singing the songs in the car with his friends when they were younger. He tells me about road trips and old friends and drunk adventures and
the everyday stuff of life where the album served as a backdrop, playing through all those times that didn't seem important in the moment but mean so much when you start to get old and have kids and can't get up to shit the way you used to.
I don't have memories of this album but I have memories of the 401. Of being in a different car with a different man in a different lifetime. The way the cities bleed into one another through the rolling hills feels soothing and familiar in a way I wasn't expecting.
We're talking and he's holding my hand and I'm thinking about how I used to feel on this highway
the sense of excited independence I felt living away from my hometown mixed with fears of
not good enough
gonna mess it all up
that poisoned what I had and what I could have done with it in a way that I can only see now, looking in the rear-view mirror.
I turn and look over at John, who's belting out every word to Rain King and looking at me with that
incredible way he looks at me
and he smiles and squeezes my hand
and I start crying
because I was happy then, but I wasn't content
and things are different now.
Apparently October starts this week which means time has officially lost all meaning. There's a presidential debate tomorrow and usually I'd be excited as hell since I'm a huge politics wonk, but I'm so run-down with the pandemic and Trump's bullshit and
not-so-secretly afraid of America slipping into a totalitarian state and/or civil war, and us being right next door
that I'm getting heart palpitations just thinking about it. Someone pass the wine.
Over the weekend I made a bunch of art. I've been working with my hands a lot lately through origami and acrylic and gouache and origami and collage
(the last of which is really my favourite)
and listening to podcasts about history and cultures and politics (of course) at the craft table John helped me set up in my office a few weeks ago. The space is a work in progress but it's nice to have somewhere I can spread out and not worry about tidying up all the time, which is especially good considering that collage is a lot messier than I was expecting.
I also wasn't expecting collage to be so much work up-front. Think about it: in order to have enough little cut-up bits to make into larger collages, you need to spend a bunch of time cutting up all the little bits.
So that's what I've been doing, mostly. Snipping, and waiting.
Yesterday I painted some abstract backgrounds on watercolour paper with my gouache paints and tonight imma start gluing and creating my firs collages.
I don't have a hot clue how they're going to turn out, but that's half the fun imo.
But before that we've gotta hit up the store and I've gotta throw together some tortellini soup for dinner so I've gotta run.
Missed you, xo
P.S. Big a very big "thank you" to John, who gave my website a fresh redo!
I can feel it in the air when I wake up and when it rains. The coolness that
came too fast this year, it seems.
Even without Folk Fest and Rainbow Trout the summer flew by, every day
heightened by the fact that
winter is coming
and with it more staying inside and cozying up and baking and
other things I like and enjoy, honestly
but I'm not ready for it yet.
I'm hungry for more summer, more heatwaves
more riding bikes and drinking beers in parks and waking up to water the garden
and going for long walks and BBQing and
The other weekend we went camping in Spruce woods
(it was the last time we'll probably see our friends for a while, given how much
Brian Pallister and the Conservatives fucked this up)
so I'm glad we got to get together again
we went hiking and swimming in the river
and made amazing food and laughed until our faces and stomachs hurt
listening to The Boys Are Back in Town
again and again for the lulz.
On Saturday around 2 AM I walked to the bathroom, up the winding path up the hill
the night was clear and still
I could see the Milky Way and satellites going by
there was nobody around, all the campsites nearby were quiet
it was just me and the frogs and toads and crickets
and my friends laughing in the distance
enjoying the night.
Calm, serene, (almost) silent
free of worries and fears and anxieties
for a while I stood there, looking up at the sky
breathing in the cool air and thinking
and feeling almost
for feeling so happy
in all of this
but if there's anything the pandemic has taught me
it's that happiness is
and not guaranteed
because those moments when you can
pretend, forget, ignore
that there's a dangerous world out there
look around and feel normal and content and
like the vice grip in yr chest has unwound
you can take a deep breath in again
those moments are what you'll cling to when shit hits the fan.
(Please don't let shit hit the fan)
This morning when we were in the garden John noticed a bumblebee sitting on a leaf on our raspberry bush.
We got worried because we've never seen a bee so chill. We accidentally brushed the bush when we walked by and he didn't move or make a sound except a little frantic buzzing that was cute as heck but concerning.
We didn't know what to do so we left him alone, but I took a picture of him and asked my friend Heather through Twitter what I should do because Heather's the smartest person I know when it comes to
bugs or animals or nature, really
and she suggested I leave him a little spoonful of sugar water to see if he needed a little pep back in his step.
So after my morning meeting I went outside and he'd fallen to the ground (!!!!) and was buzzing like crazy on the patio stones we use as a walkway and I started
because he didn't look like he could fly and I was worried that the little dude was a gonner, so I picked a big leaf off the raspberry bush and waited while he took his time slowly climbing on, buzzing with stress the whole time
and he was stressed and I was stressed for him, but I picked up the leaf and moved it to a safe place where the dude who comes to mow our lawn wouldn't step on him or jostle him while he got his strength back. I moved the bee/leaf to the deck and put it on the table so the leaf dipped gently in a little container of sugar water I'd made.
The bee was buzzing and scared and obviously not cool what what was going on, so I backed off and went inside and
well, my day kinda went off the rails from there.
Somehow I managed to pop both tires on my bike on the way to an onboarding meeting with a new client which meant that on top of walking my flat-ass bike home in +30C heat with a backpack with a laptop on my back, I also needed to bum a ride there from Rose (bless her heart) who came and picked me up and
(seriously, bless her heart)
after our meeting drove me to The Exchange with my two popped tires so I could get them fixed at Natural Cycle and,
wouldn't you know it
right after the guy working there told me he could fix them, and I'd sat down on the (socially distanced) patio at Amsterdam Tea Room and the sun was shining and my
jaw, hands, shoulders, heart all started to relax, after I ordered a fancy negroni and breathed a big sigh
my phone rang and it was the guy from Natural Cycle saying that, oh shit, his coworker had just sold the last two tire tubes in my size and he didn't know how long it'd be until they got more. He suggested I call around and see who had anything and warned me that because of the pandemic everyone was low on supplies because
(who'd have guessed)
during a time when people don't want to be in close quarters together everyone wants to be on a bike.
(Which as a cycling advocate I love and and happy for
don't get me wrong, but
this timing really sucks.)
My fancy negroni came and I sipped it as slowly as I could while stress-calling other bike shops around town and trying to play it cool. I cancelled my evening plans and considered the cost of cabbing my tires up past Polo Park and realized
wait, dummy, you have friends
so I did something I almost never do: I called a friend and asked for help.
I was lucky! Tineke (bless her heart) picked me up and not only drove me to the other bike place, but stayed with me and made me laugh and cry from laughing and hugged me and drove me to the liquor mart after so I could buy some wine to decompress with at home after my stressful day and
brightened my day with her sweet heart and soul.
I'm so lucky to have the friends I do.
When I finally got home John helped me put my new tires on my bike and we ordered sushi and cracked the wine I'd bought with Tineke. After we'd finished getting the tires in place and reattaching the chain and adding my new streamers
(yes I'm a 32 year old woman with streamers on her salmon pink bike)
I walked my bike into the front yard to take it around to the shed and remembered
oh, my little bee pal
who of course as long gone.
Buddy was just going through a tough time, but he managed to pick himself up and go back out into the world fuelled by the sugar water and the kindness of others
I get that.
As far as news consumption goes I guess you could say I obsess a little bit, but I'm a wonky person who likes to be well-informed and finds politics and rhetoric interesting and important and so I listen to multiple podcasts, like
What a Day
The New York Times Daily
The NPR Politics Podcast
Pod Save America
Pod Save the World
just to name a few
and every day I read articles from the New York Times, the CBC, The National Post, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, The Los Angeles Times
just to name a few
and as a Canadian who attended a Black Lives Matter protest that was 20,000 people strong and managed to go off peacefully and without a hitch being bombarded by media coverage of how badly things are going in America is
horrifying, to say the least
and this morning on NPR I heard about the 52-year old Navy vet named who showed up and was beaten by police for
literally just standing there
trying to talk to the officers
and that was scary and awful but then I came across a video of what happened on my Twitter feed and I wasn't prepared for what I saw
you don't have to watch the whole interview (though you should) but at least watch the part that starts around 1:00 where a federal officer just WAILS on him for several seconds before they douse HIS FACE in pepper spray
and yes I've read news reports and listened to pundits talk about it but somehow still wasn't prepared to see it play out on camera, and as I scrolled through the Portland news in my feed and watched videos of federal agents in riot gear shoving people and beating them up and barrelling into groups of moms peacefully protesting, tears started rolling down my face and I became a big, blubbering mess
because I'm terrified for the people in Portland and Chicago and Detroit and for
all of America, really
because this is what the slide into fascism looks like.
Being Canadian and watching this go down just south of the border is complicated because, on one hand, thank god that's not happening in my city, in my country, thank god I don't have to put on a helmet and a mask every night and go out and march until the morning light just to get police to stop killing black people
but on the other hand I can't do anything. All I can do is sit in front of my screen and cry and get upset and blog and hope against hope that things turn out ok in America
but I'm not holding my breath.
6 active cases, no new cases this month, no evidence of community spread.
Today I put on makeup and packed up my laptop and walked to a meeting with a potential client, my first face-to-face meeting since before the pandemic began.
We sat at opposite ends of a long table that was disinfected before was sat down and after we left, we didn't shake hands or get that close to each other and I found it hard to focus on what I was saying because I was in a room with OTHER PEOPLE for the first time in months
and it felt awkward and weird and though I feel much more myself
happy, energetic, upbeat
after being around other humans I felt weird and apprehensive and I think we all did because even in a province that by all intents and purposes is (for now) relatively COVID-free
we're still in a pandemic and the world is a dumpster fire around us.
After my meeting I had lunch at Wall St Slice with Tineke who I also hadn't seen IRL since the pandemic began and even though the entire experience felt safe and clean and socially distanced
the whole time I was worried about how close people were
how long we were sitting
if our sitting was inconveniencing other people who wanted to sit
and a plethora of other socially anxious feelings that I managed to smother with slices of pizza and a beer and laughing and smiling and catching up with someone I love and haven't seen in
too long, honestly
the uncomfortable, anxious feeling of not knowing what to do, or knowing what other people around you are doing, and feeling like whatever you're doing is the "wrong thing" didn't feel so bad for a while.
Winnipeg has been lucky because (bless us) we're a big-small prairie town with low density and a high level of personal vehicles, so managing community spread seems to have been relatively easy compared to other places. Our cases started out low and stayed relatively low and have been low for weeks.
Things (almost) feel normal again.
But today Colin came over and a bit and as we sat a safe distance apart we talked about the precautions Sookram's is taking to reopen the taproom and about how other businesses are handling things and it was a reminder that
there's still a pandemic out there and until there's a vaccine life isn't "back to normal"
no matter what it feels like when yr out and about
and no matter how many slices of pizza or beers I have.