A weekend in the Big Smoke
It's been almost a month since I've blogged because October has been busier than expected.
Between going to Leigh's cabin at the end of September
leaving for Falcon Lake the following weekend
then going to Toronto last weekend
I've barely had time to breathe or focus on anything else other than
prepping to leave
and prepping to leave again.
The weeks blurred together in a way that makes it hard to remember when one thing ended and another began, but last weekend was one for the record books because John, Adam and I were in Toronto to see Loop Daddy aka Marc Rebillet.
I scored us a super cute AirBnB in the heart of Trinity-Bellwoods
(my favourite part of Toronto besides Kensington Market)
and we spent our days walking around the city, soaking up everything there was to see
(RIP Adam's feet)
We landed late on Thursday night but managed to skip over to Bellwoods Brew Co. for a nightcap and I fell back in love with the city and how late everything in Toronto stays open.
We cheers'd and tried sours and stouts and IPAs laughed until our faces hurt and it felt like coming home.
The next morning I woke up early so I could go visit my Grandma
usually I only get to see her once a year, maybe
but over the past two months I've seen her three times
and I'll always be thankful for it
since she's 100, now, and I'm more aware than I've ever been that every visit might be our last.
(Hug your loved ones close.)
It was a hot, sunny day so I grabbed a coffee and walked the 2.5 hour walk from Trinity-Bellwoods to Yonge & Eglinton where she lives.
Sure I could have taken the subway but I wanted to soak in the city.
I listened to the new Taylor Swift and CRJ albums
walked through parks where old Asians were doing tai chi
past a skate park where a bunch of dudes were practicing on the half-pipe
next to a dog park filled with doggos of every shape and size
skipping over streetcar tracks
peering into all the little shops and stores
and getting a booty workout because (holy heck) I forgot how hilly my favourite city can be.
I had lunch with my Grandma and Aunt and held my Grandma's hand
and hugged her
and told her I love her
over and over and over
because I do, and I miss her.
After we'd said our goodbyes I met up with John and Adam at Bar Volo that was doing a cask tasting event and drank too many tasty beer samples
(or just enough depending on how you look at it)
before we walked to Kensington Market and I hagged for $50 off a stunning leather jacket with faux fur that gives me big 90's vibes.
We stopped in for a couple more beers in the Market then gorged on Thai food at a place in Chinatown before catching an Uber to Meridian Hall to see Jim Gaffigan
(whose intensely white sneakers almost blinded me.)
Even though John fell asleep in the Uber back to our AirBnB we somehow managed to find a second wind and stayed out wandering around and soaking up the city until after 2 AM.
On Saturday we engaged "maximum tourist mode" and went to see the fishies at the Ripley's Aquarium before heading back to our AirBnB to get dressed for Marc Rebillet
(Us, being chuffed)
The show was at a big bar called REBEL which was in a part of Toronto I'd never been to before
(it's apparently where Drake hangs out? Weird flex but ok)
so we snapped some photos of the skyline before filing into one of the biggest bars I've ever been in. It had
a crazy lighting system that moved up and down
stripper poles everywhere
huge bird cages to dance in
a crazy AV setup behind the stage
these jets that sprayed cold air onto the crowd as we danced
which is a revolutionary idea that all bars should start doing.
After the show we swapped our housecoats for jackets we prowled around the city again, splitting some beers in Trinity-Bellwoods Park
(one of my traditions since forever)
walking to The Horseshoe and catching a terrific cover band and going for late-night dim sum at one of my favourite spots
(which I can find while under the influence in the dead of night but never during the day, it seems)
and we made Adam try cuttlefish and a bunch of other stuff I'm sure he didn't like as much as we did.
(Sorry/not sorry, Adam)
On Sunday, our last day, we slept in (understandably).
Adam went for a burger and we went for sushi before meeting up to check out some breweries and some incredible live blues at The Rex
where we split some nachos that would put Carlos & Murphy's to shame
(sorry/not sorry Winnipeg)
before grabbing some teppanyaki, more craft beer, and finally crashing early to wake up at 3:30 AM (uuuugh) to catch our early-morning flight back to Winnipeg.
As our Uber rolled through the streets of the big city I tried to stay awake and watch the buildings go by.
Remember the shapes, colours, and weird facades on all the mixed-use space
the brick exteriors and front porches
the looming towers made of steel and glass.
I'm always to happy come to Toronto. It's been my favourite city since I was a kid
but holy heck am I glad to be home.
Said goodbye to a someone important last week
He's been gone since February but his birthday would have been last Friday,
so a bunch of us got together for snacks and Rocket Fuel (his signature boozy beverage)
and shared stories about our larger-than-life friend.
I've never dealt with a loss
so personal and unexpected before
and the process of grieving has been
than I would have expected.
As part of his celebration of life John and I both spent some time writing about what he meant to us and it felt
cathartic, like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders
to speak and write about someone I loved and who was such a fixture in my life for so long.
Here's what I said:
I’ve known Connor so long that I don’t really remember how we met.
It was probably at some party, or rave, or MixHard event, but regardless of how and when we met, from about the time I was about 20, Connor’s presence felt like a fixture in my life.
He was always there, telling some unbelievable story, cracking a weird joke, or filling up my wine glass to at least double what I should have been drinking that night.
We all called him “The Enabler” because he loved to party, but Connor wasn’t just a “party friend” for me — he was someone I could be myself around; who I could talk to about literature, poetry, philosophy, or whatever stupid bullshit and gossip I was consumed with that night.
No matter what we talked about, Connor always found a way to add his unique spin on it with a quirky story, joke, or larger-than-life anecdote.
As a fellow anxious person, Connor always felt like a safe space where I could share what I was struggling with and not worry about being judged. He was always there with a hug and some reassuring words like
“Alyson, you know we love you no matter what.”
“You can make it through anything, you’re Alyson Shane!”
or my personal favourite:
“Fuck the haters. Life’s too short to worry about other people.”
I didn’t get to see Connor as much after our wedding in Belize because of the pandemic, but as things started to open up I’d run into him when I’d work down at Hargrave St Market, and I often went out of my way to walk though or pop in just to see him.
I loved how his face would light up when he realized a friend had come by, just to say hi.
Last fall he and Amber moved into our old rental and I was so excited to see him more often. John and I would see him sitting across the street and run over with a bowl and a beer and just shoot the shit about how life was going.
It felt like we were at the start of a new chapter together.
One of the last times I saw Connor was the day after a big blizzard.
He was outside shovelling the front walk, so I threw my parka over my pyjamas and ran over to remind him that, actually, snow shovelling was included in his rent.
“I know,” he said, “but they’ll just do a shitty job and I want to make sure it’s done right.”
That’s Connor, for me. Particular to a fault. Always needing to do things his way.
We stood out there for about 45 minutes, shivering and talking and smoking j’s (of course), and before I went back across the street Connor hugged me and said:
“Thank you for coming over. Seeing you was the best part of my week.”
I told him I felt the same and I meant it.
I still do.
I miss my friend and I wish we’d had more time together, but I was lucky enough to share 15 years of my life with a wonderful, larger-than-life person and there won’t be a glass of wine, a j, or late night where I won’t think of him and wish he was still here.
I know that if Connor were here right now he’d do what he always did when I was sad: He’d throw his arms around me, give me a big hug, and pour me a glass of wine and tell me to smile. So that’s what I’m going to do.
Cheers to The Enabler.
Wrote this the other day
I’m writing this on a plane from Winnipeg to Toronto. We’re going to celebrate my Grandma’s 100th birthday and I’m thinking about death.
I’ve been reading Slaughterhouse Five despite my own efforts to distract myself from writing.
I start wanting to write as soon as I get on a plane. As soon as it starts to taxi, as soon as I see the tarmac beginning to move, that little voice in my head starts talking.
The voice has been with me for as long as I can remember. I think it’s how I knew I was supposed to be a writer: words flow through me and out of me whether I want them to or not.
I read somewhere once that a certain percentage of people don’t have inner monologues.
That sounds like a lonely existence if you ask me.
So here I am, sitting in a tube in the sky listening to the hum of the engines, reading a book about the war and thinking about death.
I’m thinking about the characters in Slaughterhouse Five, dying
about how, almost every time I talk to my Grandma who turns 100 tomorrow she says
“I wish I was dead”
and maybe that should upset me but it doesn’t. I get it. I understand her perspective.
She lived most of her life as an independent, able-bodied person who took care of herself and lived her life on her own terms, and as she’s gotten older and older she’s lost more and more of what made her feel like herself.
I feel for that. I fear it.
So now I’m looking out the window at nothing and thinking about death and what I’ll say at her funeral.
I think it will go something like this:
“My Grandma was the only person I know who thought about death more than I do.
One of my first memories of her is standing on the back step of her house in the North End. I’m in kindergarten or one of these early grades, in elementary school for sure.
I’m looking at my Grandma’s feet, slacks, shoes, and she’s saying
“I’ll be dead before you graduate high school.”
As I got older she kept moving the goal posts on me:
“… by the time you graduate from university”
“… by the time you get married”
“… by the time you start a family”
I guess she figured that if she kept moving the deadline out into the future, some day she would be right.
When I went to visit my Grandma for her 100th birthday I read Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut on the plane.
It’s an anti-war book and darkly funny in the way you’re not supposed to laugh at, but makes you want to anyway.
In the book the main character suffers a head injury and comes to believe that he was abducted by aliens who can see in four dimensions.
As a result, these aliens don’t perceive time the same way we do. They see a dead body as just a way that person is existing at that moment in time, but that person continues to exist in throughout all the other moments in time before, too.
So when someone dies they aren’t sad about it because that person isn’t really gone. They’re just not existing in that moment of time anymore.
They shrug and say: “So it goes.”
Which seems like a flippant thing to say but when I think about it, it’s true: the universe and time works in ways we don’t understand and even though Slaughterhouse Five is a story, I figure maybe those aliens who see in four dimensions may be onto something.
In some ways my Grandma isn’t really gone.
She won’t be in my present moving forward, but she’s in my memories and in moments of time in the past.
She’s still sitting in her sunroom on Mountain Ave with me on her lap as I eat an ice cream out of a crinkly plastic container with a wooden spoon.
She’s still buzzing around in her kitchen making me perogies for lunch when I’m a university student working on my bachelor’s degree.
She’s still walking around the basement of The Bay in her determined, thorough way, chatting with all the clerks who know her and talking about how much she likes having “the groceteria” so close to her apartment.
She’s still sitting across from me at The Paddlewheel Restaurant, picking away at a cheeseburger and saying “I’ve never been much of an eater”
(A sentiment I’ve never truly understood if I’m being honest.)
My Grandma is gone and I’m devastated. I have lost one of the only people who made space for me, listened to me, and made me feel seen and heard and loved when I didn’t feel like most people did.
Losing her feels like there’s a part of my that’s missing and that I won’t ever find again.
But my Grandma will always exist because she existed once, and she still continues to exist in those moments in time.
She continues to exist in our memories of her, which are also snippets of time.
She exists in my dad, my aunt, my brothers, and in all the lives of the people she touched.
She’s gone right now, but she isn’t really.
Time isn’t linear just because we perceive it that way. That’s just us, being humans, making sense of a universe that folds and expands and works in ways our mammal brains can’t comprehend.
That doesn’t make losing her any easier, but it does give me solace to think that she’s still around in the annals of time, watching baseball and Wheel of Fortune and wearing slacks with perfect creases in them.
But my Grandma won’t be around moving forward and I’ll miss her for the rest of my life.
So it goes.”
The pilot just announced that we’re starting our descent and now I’m back here up in the sky, thinking about death.
My Grandma is probably asleep right now, but in a few hours it’ll be her 100th birthday. I wonder what she’ll thinking about but I think I know.
I’m sure that tomorrow when we all get together she’ll find some way to slip it into the conversation. Remind us that life as a centennial may not always be what it’s cracked up to be.
She’ll say she’s ready. That she wants to go.
It will upset everyone but me and I’ll feel bad and guilty the same way as I do now, looking out the window for signs of the city and still seeing nothing but a red light blinking in the darkness, thinking about death and time.
So it goes.
This post is a test
I'm testing a theory I have that goes like this:
Whenever I sit down to blog I get maybe 5-10 minutes into it and John finishes whatever he's doing and wants to come hang aka interrupt me and pull me away from writing here, which isn't a huge deal but also UGH I haven't had the mental bandwidth to sit down and write this month and it's kinda eating at me, y'know?
So instead of trying to write some big, prose-y post like I sometimes do I'm gonna sit here and barf out as much of my stream-of-consciousness bullshit as I can before the inevitable happens
aka, John wants to watch an episode of The Sandman which we've both been obsessing over.
Summer's basically over and I'm sad about it even though by anyone's standards (including mine) we did a pretty good job of making the most of it.
We camped or went to a cabin or a music festival basically every weekend
which is both exhilarating and a bit chaotic since every Thursday night is Prepping to Leave night and Sunday/Monday are Unpacking and Endless Laundry nights
but even though it's felt overwhelming at times we made memories that I know I'll cherish so it's worth a little low-level anxiety in my view.
(Omg I hear his chair moving what did I tell you.)
Speaking of never being home, we're leaving to go to Ontario on Thursday night and though Manitoba is a big, stunning province I'm so excited to go literally anywhere else for the first time since 2020.
Friday's my Grandma's 100th birthday so we're celebrating with her and some fam in Toronto and spending a few days in the city before catching a train to Windsor to stay with John's fam and catch up with all of them.
I'm excited but also very much looking forward to coming home and spending more than one consecutive weekend in my actual bed, cuddling my cats and making art.
This past weekend we managed to stay in the city and it was GLORIOUS. We biked to the Beer Can on Friday night and had drinks with my friend Florence and her cool husband
and on Saturday I remembered that there was a vintage sale happening at the hippie bookshop up the street so we hustled over there and I scored a bunch of cool things, including:
- A nice wicker basket
- A cheese board that says "SAY CHEESE" on it
- A mug with an illustration of a cat that looks like Toulouse
- Like 20 cards (they were $1 a pop, how could I say no?)
- A cool hanging ornament of bright fabric elephants
- A battery-powered "galaxy" light for the bedroom
- A necklace holder that was white but I painted gold to match the bedroom
Everything came to like $80 which was an absolute steal and I'm over the moon about it.
We wandered past a few yard sales, too, and I snagged some outdoor lanterns that are currently white but that I'm also planning to paint over at some point in the future (colours tbd).
Saturday night we had a bonfire with my brother and his gf out at her place where she made us dinner
(lemon pasta with scallops and beet salad with beets she grew, yum)
and I nerded out waaaaay too hard over her chicken coop and super large garden setup. It was nice spending some quality time with both of them since we're all so busy and you know how life can be.
Sunday I spent most of the day cooking since I've recently become obsessed with that style of Asian cooking where you have like 4-5 dishes instead of one massive dish on a single plate
(this website has been a huge inspo)
and a lot of the dishes require some meal prep which is honestly fine with me. I like cooking and trying new and weird stuff so pre-steaming spinach and yam leaves and letting 'em sit in a sauce all day in the fridge is my idea of a good time
(when did I become a real adult? Please call my 20 year old self)
and we FINALLY booked our flights to Asia this winter which means I get to do my favourite part of travelling: creeping on AirBnBs and daydreaming about all the food I'm going to eat.
This time we're meeting up with Adam and Britt to hop through Vietnam and Japan after John and I spend a few weeks in Thailand and Cambodia
(Adam may join for part of this but it's all tbd right now; all we know is when we're leaving for our leg of the trip and I am seriously losing my mind with excitement)
so all in all we're looking at being gone for about 8 weeks which makes me thankful that I work for myself and can bring my laptop and do as little work as possible/monitor things from afar while still exploring temples and shrines and taking night trains and lounging on beaches and swimming in the Andaman Sea.
(I keep hearing John's chair moving and it's making my ears perk up)
Anyway back to travel: I'm a big believer in unplugging as much as possible when travelling
so while I'm technically always tethered to my business, I spend a lot of time working/planning ahead so I can basically check in once a day
(more for my own sanity/anxiety than anything really)
usually all I need to do is fire off an email or assign a task to someone on my team
(who are amazing bless them)
and then get up to whatever shenanigans I have planned for that day. I miss being in places where the air smells like lemongrass all the time and walking until I feel like my feet are going to fall off.
This time I'm bringing my laptop and not just John's lil Chromebok so sorry/not sorry if this turns into a travel blog for a few weeks while we're out there. My biggest regret from last time was not documenting the trip in more detail so I'm gonna work harder to share/post more so I can look back on it someday
which is what this blog is supposed to be about anyway, I guess?
It's not always just a place for weird rambly posts
or pretty thoughts
or work through things
it's also supposed to help me remember who I was and what I was doing, thinking, feeling at that time.
So even this has been a bit all over the place I'm glad I snuck in some time to write this down.
(Omg his door opened... I think it's happening?!
Aaaaaand here we go! CALLED IT. Night folks!)
A year here
A year ago on Monday, John and I biked to our mortgage broker's office, signed some paperwork, picked up our keys, and walked into our house for the first time.
I'll never forget that experience.
Opening the heavy wooden front door, looking down the main hallway that opens onto the library, living room, dining room, and kitchen. Rooms that felt
waiting to be filled.
We wandered through them, running our fingers along the walls, the heavy doorframes, the wainscotting, the bannisters, holding our breath.
"this is really ours?"
our voices echoing off the 11-foot ceilings as we talked in hushed tones
as if a sudden movement or noise would break the spell this old, beautiful house had cast on us
as though we'd blink and be back in our rental; everything we'd gone through just a dream.
It all happened so quickly. A conversation, then two, then a house tour.
Intense conversations about money, savings, affordability. Turning over records and statements and exposing my life, my business, my finances and my savings.
We bought our house during the peak of the housing crisis when other people we knew were looking at 15, 20, 25 houses. Bidding on all of them and winning none. Houses going for $100,000 over asking.
I'd read Twitter and Reddit threads about competition in the market with a pit in my stomach. Home ownership felt like a distant, unattainable, unaffordable dream.
But we saved anyway. What else could we do other than
As we toured the house with the previous owners I tried not to picture myself here. I didn't want to get too attached, to picture
hosting dinner parties in the dining room
soaking in the claw-foot tub
reading in front of the wood fireplace
eating breakfast on the porch
cooking and singing in the kitchen
building a life in my dream house.
A three-and-a-half storey built in 1912
original wood floors
wood panelling, doorframes, high baseboards
Queen Anne-style with a big porch
a large, spacious kitchen
and more rooms than I thought I could fill
The weeks after the tour were brittle and tense. I'd catch myself holding my breath while we waited for emails, approvals, and confirmations to come through.
Somehow, through the miracle of planning and preparedness, we were approved for our mortgage. I felt like a stone had been lifted off my chest. I was floating,
if John didn't grab me by the ankle I might have just drifted away, blissfully happy at this turn in good fortune.
We sent in our offer and after a little back-and-forth it was accepted.
Signed on the dotted line.
We negotiated for and bought the house directly from the previous owners
no realtors, no go-betweens, just adults coming to an agreement
I'll always be proud of that.
The house we bought is right across the street from the rental we lived in for over a decade
(11 years, in John's case)
and because we'd agreed to be flexible on possession our actual move-in date was a few months out
so I'd sit across the street, looking at the house, wondering what it would be like to make it my own.
When we took possession on August 1st of last year I found out:
it's a lot of hard work. And expensive.
Over the course of August we spent almost every night here after work, cleaning or painting, listening to podcasts and music and staying up until 1, 2 AM sometimes just to get things done.
We were exhausted but elated.
Slowly transforming every room into spaces that reflected us and our tastes and our vision for what they would become filled me with a joy I'd never felt before.
The house felt like it had so much potential, then, and though it still does it isn't quite the same.
We've nestled in. Nested. Built a sanctuary out of chairs and couches and beds and desks and books
(so many books)
that feels safe and warm and welcoming.
A place we love to come home to.
I spend my days working in my bright second-storey office, a far cry from the basement where Starling Social got started
or making art in my "art room", a whole space dedicated to exploring my creative side
or in the garden, a project that's still not quite finished but will yield years of enjoyment and food for years to come
or on the porch, watching the neighbourhood go by and witnessing our old rental change and evolve.
We've hosted parties, dinners and board game nights
had friends from out of town stay over
strung up lights, planted seeds,
and weathered the ups and downs of life within these walls.
I feel at peace. I feel at home.
I feel like we're still just at the very start of an amazing chapter in our lives.
Things have felt in flux lately
Change is the only constant, as they say
but sometimes a lot of things change at once
and it feels like the ground starts shifting beneath your feet.
People change. Relationships change. Everything changes.
The tectonic plates of yr life shift beneath you and it always seems to happen when you least expect it.
Whether it's a good or bad change remains to be seen I guess.
Last night I went out with my Google Ads guy and we got a bit blasted which we haven't done before together.
We had a meeting with a friend of his who might become a client of Starling's and originally we were going to have drinks at a distillery downtown (who are also clients of mine) but they weren't open so we went to the brewery next door.
I got there early and sat down in the lounge that's filled with suede furniture in deep blues and greens. The tables have tassels hanging off of them and the ceiling has tassels hanging down in ombre patterns of white, grey, and blue and the whole space feels like a throwback to the 1950's or 60's.
It's one of my favourite spots in the city and neither my Google Ads guy or his friend had been there before and they both loved it and that made me happy. I love helping people be tourists in our city.
We had a great meeting and laughed a lot and eventually the friend-slash-potential client said he needed to go, so we stuck around and had another beer and my Google Ads guy said
"Let's drink some tequila"
and I said
"Okay but I need to eat first. Let's get some food."
My Google Ads guy suggested the Earl's on Main St and even though Earl's isn't really my go-to kind of restaurant
(I tend to prefer either really bougie spots or a grimy hole in the wall)
once we sat down and ordered a seafood platter with crab, oysters, prawns, ahi tuna, sushi, and lobster
it honestly wasn't so bad.
He ordered us a shot of tequila that was so smooth it didn't need a chaser
(which is my favourite kind of tequila)
and we talked about life while gorging on fish.
A few times during our conversation he said "I've only told a handful of people this before
why am I telling you this?"
and I told him that a lot of people say that to me, that I seem to have this knack for getting people to open up and tell me things about themselves that they normally hold close to their heart.
That despite being a chatterbox, people seem to like talking to me.
He agreed and cracked open a lobster tail.
We talked about politics and life and what it's like to watch someone you think you used to know, change in front of you. How jarring it is to lose the sense of security and safety you used to feel from someone.
"It's hard" I said, and he said "I know. Being an adult is the shits sometimes."
Once we'd had a glass of wine and polished off another seafood platter we said goodbye and I went home and talked to my dad for a bit. We're going to Toronto in a few weeks for my Grandma's 100th birthday and after we got off the phone I thought about how many times her life has changed.
Getting married, having kids
losing friends and family members
losing my Grandpa
rediscovering herself as a single woman
defining her life on her own terms
then getting old
becoming reliant on others
losing more friends
moving away from others
100 years of figuring it out as she went along.
After I talked to my dad I laid on the bed in the guest bedroom and talked to one of my best friends on the phone.
We talked about love and heartbreak and what it's like when someone we love changes and we don't understand why. How stupid and duped we feel when we realize we've made a mistake in giving our heart to someone who doesn't want it
or has stopped wanting it.
He cried because he was sad and I cried because I was sad for him and we both wished we could be there to hold each other
which I think is the mark of a good friendship and I told him so. I try to tell him often that I'm glad we're friends.
We've known each other since we were teenagers and have witnessed each other fall apart and get back up over and over and over again
moving from one crisis to another through the years.
We talked about the phases of life and how
being rejected by
people we love or used to love takes its toll. How it wears and grates at you and can make you jagged and angry if you let it.
"Where do I go from here?" he asked me, and I said I didn't know. I told him that the best advice I could give was to focus on making healthy choices and not destroying yourself Bukowski-style and self-immolating with alcohol and drugs to try and forget the fact that
change is the only constant in life, as they say.
I had a dream about you last night
It wasn't about you at first which I guess is how these kinds of dreams always start.
I was in a house, hooking up with someone I used to hook up with
a long, long time ago
and at one point he turned to me and said
"there's an art exhibit happening"
so I walked into the living room and there was a huge, three-sided diorama in the middle of the room
almost as tall as my chest
the kind you see in science fairs, except
built into the diorama were little nooks and crannies
and sections that slid out or folded open
little pockets of memories about us
when we were together, years ago.
I sat down in the middle of the diorama
pulled at a sliding section
and all the words you called me when I left you came tumbling out
your hurt littered like petals at my feet.
As I looked down I saw a light in the diorama to my left and crouched down
pulling back curtains to see our bedroom, back on Spence St
our bed, crumpled sheets
the closet door intact, before you punched it
and realized that I was looking at a history of us
laid out like the set in the movie Rear Window.
I could look from window to window
see moments in our life together
the dinners in the kitchen, the games in the living room
camping at Connect, the drives out to B.C.
how we held each other, the cats climbing over us
our slow weekend starts drinking coffee in bed.
I could open windows, pull out sliding sections
and comic illustrations of our life together would pop out
setting up our Christmas tree
buying snacks at the Marchée Jean-Talon in Montreal
riding our bikes around the city in the summertime
drinking beers in Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto
catching plays downtown at The Fringe Festival
watching the sun set over the mountains in Golden
the first time I said I loved you
and you said you loved me back.
I could flip through this collection of experiences we shared
see how you saw me
an inspiration, then
someone you hated.
Someone you still hate.
In the dream you walked in when I was standing in the middle of the diorama
rifling through the memories of us you had assembled
organized into windows, envelopes, pockets
and as you walked in I felt my knees get weak, my legs almost fell out from under me
with nerves, guilt, sadness, shame
a longing for the friendship we shared that I know
we'll never share again.
"Hey" I said "what you've made is beautiful"
(a city built around your ongoing heartbreak)
and you looked at me for the first time in eight years and said
and in the dream we talked about how you'd built the diorama around
the ups and downs of five and a half years of
"I'm sorry" I said in the dream, and I meant it
and you looked at me and said
"it's okay, I'm doing better now"
and then I woke up and I wished that I knew that to be true
but I don't know if that's true.
I wish I did.
Up and down sort of day
I haven't had one of these in a while. Not bad per-se; just a lot of
to contend with.
John left for California this morning
his first work trip since the pandemic started
and while I'm excited to have a few days to myself, I found my emotions
running high, in an anxious sort of way
throughout the morning, jumping around after he left.
We kissed goodbye before he went to the airport and I went upstairs to keep working
writing proposals, making spreadsheets, comparing benchmarks
(the usual stuff)
but I found myself working at a
frantic, hurried pace
like I was rushing towards something
or expecting something to happen
when obviously it was just another workday.
I went downstairs to make lunch
(salad with tofu, my fav/go-to lunch)
and rushed through that, too
feeling that frantic, hurried tension in my chest
like I couldn't sit still
stop moving, slow down
catch my breath.
So I forced myself to stop.
I ate my lunch, finished my client-facing work and spent 20 minutes doing yoga
breathing in, breathing out, trying to stay present in my body
but letting it go
(to the best of my ability, anyway)
releasing the tension, this now-unfamiliar-feeling in my chest
recognizing that being alone in a new house was weird
that it's normal to worry about the person I love going somewhere with high Covid cases
and that being apart after two years is gonna feel weird no matter what.
After my yoga I read my book club book
wrote some content for the Starling blog
answered some emails
and slowly felt the tension in my chest start to unwind
like a coil releasing its tension.
Later I went for dinner and drinks at One Sixteen with my friend Florence
who is the only lawyer I'm friends with
and the most down-to-earth lawyer I've ever met.
In addition to being a lovely human Florence is also the President of the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, so when she asked me to see their final performance of the season with her of course I jumped at the opportunity.
Despite not being able to read music or play an instrument myself
I love chamber music
like, seriously adore it.
I joke that I'm so chatty that I'll talk forever without stopping if you don't interrupt me
and chamber music is the perfect
it takes me on an emotional journey
and instead of thinking about what to
I can sit back and let the waves of emotion created by the layers of music
wash over me.
It's freeing in a way that's hard to explain.
This concert featured an incredible Dutch musician who plays the recorder
(yes, the "Hot Cross Buns" recorder)
that blew my mind.
I've never seen anyone play the recorder like that
was fascinated by her performance, the intensity of it
how she moved with the instrument
added layers and sounds to the pieces she played.
I felt verklempt in a way I haven't in a long time
and today, I needed it
to get lost in emotion like that
to sit and take a journey
led by hands and instruments and effort.
Now it's 11PM and I'm sitting on my porch watching the sun fade from the sky
I walked home under the big, old elms that I love so much
breathing in the warm, sweet air
(and probably some dandelion seeds, but who's counting)
feeling happy and thankful and full of energy and emotion.
It's funny how different we can feel throughout the day
the ups and downs yr heart can take.
I wonder what tomorrow will bring.
Ideas for the 2022 Winnipeg Mayoral election
Several people have asked me if I'm running (I'm not) but talking to others about the kind of Mayor I would be (or the kind I would like to see leading our fair city) has me thinking about what I'd do if I was running things.
Not just from a policy perspective (if you want smart ideas and insights read on that, read the Dear Winnipeg blog) but what I'd do as Mayor to get more people talking about issues in my city.
Winnipeg's Biggest Challenge
One of the things I learned as a spokesperson for VoteOpen (aka The Coalition for Portage & Main) was that most people are too busy living their lives to pay attention to politics.
That's not a criticism — most people don't have the time, money, and extra energy to dedicate to following politics, especially at the civic level that tends to get eclipsed by national and international news in the media.
However, this is a problem. When people don't have the means to learn about civic issues and don't spend time following politics they tend to vote in their own best interests — often at the detriment of the city as a whole.
Even worse, when people aren't engaged they don't think about what "could be" and fall back on "keeping things the way they are" because they see change as potentially impacting their lives. They may also subscribe to outdated facts, ideas, or beliefs that can easily be debunked.
(See my 2018 post about reopening Portage & Main for an example of how easy it can be to debunk these sorts of beliefs.)
A healthy, thriving city can only happen when the people who live there pay attention, are informed, and are given the tools to think long-term about how their vote will impact the city they and future generations of their family will live in.
Right now, that's not Winnipeg.
We're (slowly) moving in the right direction, but that's largely thanks to advocacy groups, nonprofits, and organizations fighting tooth-and-nail against a Mayor and many City Counsellors who lack vision for what our city could be.
Winnipeg's biggest issue is that our leadership fails to
a) convey a long-term vision for our city, and
b) bring the public along with them as they work to achieve it
So that's what this post is about: policies and leadership ideas that I'd enact if I were in charge of our fair city.
I hope these inspire some of the people currently in the running to think more deeply about how we can lead Winnipeg to a better, brighter, and more progressive future.
I'd Start a Podcast
True leadership isn't just about pushing your own ideas — it's about bringing people together, facilitating dialogues, and "leading" people to a shared solution.
48% of Canadian podcast listeners consume podcasts produced by Canadians, and 27% of Canadian podcast listeners consume three podcast episodes of podcasts each week. Additionally, 46% of adults 18 — 49 listened to a podcast in the last month, making it a great way to connect with younger demographics about issues happening in our city.
The podcast would be modelled after shows like The Ezra Klein Show and The Argument (both well-researched and informative shows).
Each week I'd sit down with community organizers, urban planners, and activists to have meaningful discussions about issues facing our city.
The podcast would also be the perfect opportunity for activists to have meaningful public discussions with City Counsellors in their area about disagreements they're having or policies they oppose or want to see changed, all moderated by a wonky, data-obsessed host (me).
We would do two seasons a year: one in the spring, and one in the fall.
I'd Start a Book Club
The book club would be ongoing (no breaks) and focused on topics like urban planning, civic issues, and community engagement and empowerment. I'd work with my PR team to promote the books we're reading on my social media and provide links to audiobooks and e-reader versions, and invite members of the press, City Council, and the general public to read the books along with me.
A book club led by the Mayor would accomplish several goals:
- It would encourage more people to read about important topics we face as a city. One of the challenges with civic engagement is not knowing where to start, so a book club would act as a jumping-off point for people.
- It would fuel public dialogue. My experience with VoteOpen showed me that talking to people is how we change hearts and minds. Giving people facts and empowering them to learn more helps them feel involved and engaged, which helps them feel more comfortable with change.
- It would call out lazy City Counsellors. If a counsellor is against policies informed by books we're reading as a city, we can call that out. Too many politicians (here and elsewhere) make uninformed decisions and this would be a way to highlight intellectual laziness at the civic leadership level.
(Plus on a personal level it would feel soooo good to tell Jeff Browaty to "read a fucking book for once".)
I'd Curb Urban Sprawl and Invest in Infill Development
Urban sprawl isn't the answer to our housing crisis.
Allowing developers to influence how our city grows has caused us to sprawl outward and the city can't afford it.
Literally. Winnipeg is going to go bankrupt maintaining both our existing infrastructure and trying to maintain the sewers, roads, and other necessities residents of all the newer neighbourhoods need as well.
If we want to avoid being the Canadian version of Detroit then we need a Mayor with some balls and the will to stand up to developers and push to curb urban sprawl and replace it with:
- Incentives to infill vacant lots and parking pads downtown and other parts of the city
- Updating our zoning laws to encourage homeowners to renovate and add guest houses, butler suites, and other rental options
- Removing parking requirements for new builds to incentivize smaller-scale development (see the point about zoning above)
I'd Impose a Toll on "Bedroom Communities"
Years ago I was driving around with a fellow business owner who bragged about living just outside the Perimeter.
"It's great" they said "I get to have a huge property and enjoy the city without having to pay municipal taxes."
This isn't fair to Winnipeggers.
People in "bedroom communities" like East St. Paul, Lorette, and Headingley (to name a few) currently enjoy our city and use our roads and infrastructure without having to pay for it like the rest of us.
If you want to live outside of the city, that's your choice. But if I were Mayor you'd have to pay your fair share just like everyone else.
I'd Open Portage & Main
This is a no-brainer. See my 2018 post.
I'd Allow People to Keep Chickens
This may sound like a weird policy, but hear me out: chickens help improve food security at a local level.
Chickens are quiet* and gentle animals with big personalities, and caring for them can be fun and rewarding for adults and kids alike.
Allowing people (and schools!) to keep a small flock of chickens has multiple benefits, including:
- Providing local and sustainable sources of eggs
- Empowering citizens to take a more proactive role in their food sources
- Teaching people (and kids!) about nature
- Providing great fertilizer for residential and community gardens
* Roosters are the ones who are loud and obnoxious; they would still be banned.
Several Canadian cities including Montreal, Vancouver, and Edmonton (to name a few) already allow it, Calgary just launched a program, and it's time Winnipeg does, too.
So, Why Aren't I Running for Mayor?
Put simply: I don't want to.
I like being a private citizen and I believe that I can make a bigger difference as an advocate and outspoken community member supporting a Mayor who adopts progressive and forward-thinking policies than as the person in the big chair, myself.
That being said, I'm extremely interested in helping my city become a thriving, vibrant place where our leadership takes an active role in bringing the electorate along with why decisions are being made, the data that backs them up, and getting Winnipeggers excited and energized about the future of the city we call "home".
If you'd like my help doing that, just drop me a line. I'd love to hear how I can help.
These are the lives you love to lead
I’m walking by your house and Fall Out Boy starts playing and it's 2005 and I'm in your kitchen
sitting at the lycra table
eating Cheerios you poured for me
while you sit on the kitchen counter in
your white manager's shirt and dress pants
(you were the only person who could make a McDonalds uniform look good)
telling me some dumb joke. We both laugh and smile at each other.
The first time I stayed over you met me at the bus stop to walk me to your Dad's house where you lived
"it's sort of a rough neighbourhood" you said
holding me close.
It wasn't, but I didn't know it at the time.
That was my first time in this part of the city.
None of my friends lived downtown. They lived in
East St. Paul
in bungalows or duplexes or one-and-a-half storey houses.
You lived with your dad on the first floor of a two-and-a-half storey rental in West Broadway.
I'd never been in a house like yours before.
It smelled old, like all the lives that had filled it left a trace of their scent on the wainscoting and tucked in the cracks of the pocket doors.
The rooms were small and bright with tall ceilings and high baseboards and heavy wooden doorframes
"It's not much" you said "but it's home"
I turned and said "I love it" and meant it.
The next day you took me for brunch at The Nook, a few blocks over on Sherbrook St.
I'd never eaten somewhere like that.
We ordered eggs benedict and coffee
while the grizzled regulars at the next table ordered "breakfast beers"
and sat with such a mix of people
hippies and families and late-night partyers with dark, smeared eyes
everyone leaning over their pancakes and french toast and breakfast sandwiches.
I'd never walked around a neighbourhood with trees taller than the houses
I grew up on a street between two fields and then in a new development
hadn't experienced how the light filtered through the leaves of the century-old elms
"it's like the Lost Woods in Link to the Past" I said
and felt giddy that you knew the reference.
Later, in your bedroom, you said
"Listen to this song, it makes me think of you"
and played Our Trees by Tegan and Sara
grinning at me in your impish way
pulling me to you like a hook through my navel.
We'd hang out in the living room and order Domino's
(your favourite, pepperoni with black olives)
playing video games or watching Star Wars or Wes Anderson movies
or in your bedroom listening to music as you told me fun facts about the bands you liked
"Isaac Brock was angry at God when he wrote this"
"Wayne Coyne lost a friend before writing this"
"This one's about getting an abortion"
(I never said you were a charmer all the time.)
As fate would have it, I lived across from your old house when I was in university.
I could look out my living room window
see the stoop where we'd kiss
the spot on the sidewalk where you made me cry
the lawn we'd lie on together
holding hands under the shadow of the elm trees.
I wish I'd understood what you were doing for me, then. How much your casual confidence and comfort with
that were intimidating and unfamiliar to me helped me see them for what they were:
elements of a life I wanted to have someday.
Now I wake up in an old two-and-a-half-storey house downtown, a few blocks from The Nook
(one of my favourite haunts since the day you took me there)
I listen to Ben Folds Five and The Flaming Lips and I've read most Bukowski
I still get giddy at the old elms above me, spread out like lungs in the sky
I walk the same streets
shortcuts you showed me
that now make up my idea of "home"
which is why I'm taking the shortcut across the field to your house
listening to Fall Out Boy and thinking of you.