- by Alyson Shane
It's like if I have an abundance of it I get overwhelmed with the possibilities. Or I feel guilty for having free time at all since there's always business stuff I could be doing instead of stuff I enjoy, including:
- Playing video games
- Reading a book
- Writing for this blog
- Writing for myself
- Writing for the Starling blog
- Taking a bath
- Finishing Wormwood
- Taking a bath and finishing Wormwood
- Making snacks
you get my point. The possibilities are basically endless.
Usually when this happens I try to get out of the house and go for a walk somewhere, which doesn't always work during this time of year since I live somewhere where the air can freeze your skin in a matter of minutes.
When I lived in Hamilton I used to go for a lot of walks because you could go outside and only be moderately uncomfortable during the winter. This worked out well because the guy I was living with often worked weekends, which meant I had a lot of time to myself.
I lived at the bottom of The Escarpment (which is basically a cliff that keeps going after the drop) in what I presumed at the time to be a pretty dumpy area because a bunch of the neighbours in our U-shaped apartment building would get together and drink in the parking lot in the middle all day.
(Nothing says "good morning!" like country music blaring from a semi truck at 9AM on a Tuesday.)
There was a park nearby that nobody used, and a set of train tracks with a spooky-looking underpass that always gave me the heebie-jeebies.
I always remember it looking like the underpass Michael Caine is too scared to take at the start of Harry Brown:
But if I sucked it up and walked through the underpass and down a bunch of streets with mostly buildings and parking lots on them I'd eventually wind up on King St E which I loved because of the weird mish-mash of stores and shops.
Record stores and lounges and boutique clothing stores. Coffee shops and places that sell stripper shoes. Hair salons for every ethnic background. A specialty foods store (my favourite) that felt like a cool, secret little grotto where you had to duck underneath stuff hanging from the ceiling.
But I had to pass through this scary af underpass reminiscent of where the clown from IT came after young people in order to get there.
I'm trying to find it on Google Maps but I'm having a really hard time remembering where things are in this city.
I forgot my address a long time ago, and I haven't been back to Hamilton since I lived there. Once you've been to a few Ontario cities they all start to blend together:
red brick houses with large, stout porches
pools in everyone's backyards
(I always forget how flat Manitoba is until I'm in Ontario.)
Oh my god I found it.
It's basically as creepy as I remember except now it's pink and has positive affirmations spray-painted on it, which is great because GIRL POWER but also at the same time
I'm not sure there's much anyone can do to tszuj up a scary underpass, to be honest.
- by Alyson Shane
There's something comforting about the familiarity of doing the same things from time to time, and Christmas seems to bring that out in people.
The best Christmas I can remember was when I was really small. I don't really know how old.
Maybe we were in the old house on Murray. Maybe not.
Doesn't matter, really.
My dad was working a half-day, so my mom, brothers, and I bussed to his office in the park across town. I don't know if I remember taking the bus before then. The city felt new from this angle, and bigger than I'd realized. The ride felt like it lasted forever.
My dad's office was down a bunch of winding roads in a lonely-looking building surrounded by trees, and he worked in a long room that smelled like cigarettes, with a window at the end.
The places my dad worked; offices, clubhouses, tended to smell old and it always made me feel safe to be in them.
We piled into the car and my parents took us for lunch at the nearby Pizza Hut. We continued that tradition for years, even after my dad's office moved downtown, and after we all stopped bussing there together.
(I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for those greasy, gooey slices.)
So tonight we're making pizza from scratch.
Because 1. Pizza Hut is expensive and not really worth it quality-wise and 2. there isn't one nearby and half of the tradition is sitting in that tacky lounge with the stained-glass lamps overhead drinking Diet Cokes out of plastic cups with straws.
So instead we went a little crazy at the Italian special food's store up the street.
Fresh pizza dough. Salami. Capicollo. Prosciutto. Mozzarella and omg mini mini bocconcini. Maybe toss some artichoke hearts or anchovies or crimini mushrooms on there - who knows.
The possibilities are endless.
And even though it won't be exactly the same as I remember, that's okay.
Because that's how new traditions start.
- by Alyson Shane
There's a pop-up Christmas Tree store down the street from my house.
It's next to the convenience store that I never go into, which is attached to a hair salon which is also offers sensory deprivation tank experiences
(a strange combo, if you ask me)
and 1958, which has one of the best breakfast bennies of all time.
I saw them putting it up the other day as I walked by on the way to a meeting
It's so hip and beautiful.
All greenery, gorgeous old wood, hay bails, and charming string lights.
One thing about us Millennials I've noticed is that some of us have, like, crazy-good style.
Maybe that's what happens when you spend all your time scrolling through highly-curated Instagram feeds. Maybe become hip by osmosis.
A few days ago I was sitting sitting next to the window at my favorite used bookstore and cafe and all these families from the neighborhood keep walking by as I'm sitting there with my London Fog.
Parents in big vintage jackets and lots of plaid. Fur-lined hoods. Cute kids in little knit scarves and hats. Dogs of all shapes and sizes. Everyone's bundled up, smiling and having a good time.
On second thought, maybe it's just that Canadians are hip af.
- by Alyson Shane
(image via Simone Noronha)
called The Neighbourhood Bookstore and Cafe.
Which is such a charming name I can't even.
I hang out here a lot since it's right in my 'hood, and all the walls are lined with books and I think better when I'm around books.
They sell good coffee, board games, used books, and little sandwiches and snacks and bananas. Their London Fogs are pretty stellar, too.
There's this little patio-style area next to it where they put out tables and chairs and fairy lights, and there's often live music there in the evenings, and sometimes inside, too.
Book clubs and student groups and writers circles meet here on a regular basis and it's about as perfect and quaint as one would hope a neighbourhood coffee shop to be.
And it's almost always packed, too.
Which makes me happy, because for a while it didn't look like the The Neighbourhood Bookstore and Cafe was going to stick around.
The city was trying to enforce a bylaw that requires restaurants to have grease traps installed, and since all they make here are sandwiches and deserts (not exactly "restaurant" food) the owner was fighting it in court on the basis that installing one was an unnecessary and unreasonable expense for his business.
I think they fought it a bunch of years, actually.
And shortly after I moved into Wolseley The Neighbourhood Bookstore and Cafe started having weird hours, and then closed for a period of several months.
It broke my damn heart because the reason I live in the part of town I do is because I love the small businesses and mixed-use space
(not to mention the big, old elm trees)
Small businesses are the heart of our economies and communities, and it always saddens me when I think we're going to be losing one - especially for such an unnecessary reason.
But then earlier this year it reopened! The news reported that then owner had come to some sort of deal with the city that allowed him to reopen.
The old, familiar whiteboard started popping up on the side of the building, saying:
"We are unequivocally, unabashedly, open!"
And though I try not to blow all my money on fancy coffees, London Fogs, and nice snacks
sometimes it's nice to come back here and listen to the chatter of a bunch of people having a good time,
listening to The Tragically Hip, writing this.
- by Alyson Shane
I'm bad at rushing through my workday.
I try like hell to sit and sip my coffee, read the news, catch up on some articles, etc, before I start my actual workday, but even when it's stuff relating to my business or industry I still have a hard time sitting still in the AM.
There are emails to respond to. Profiles to update. Trello checklists to check-off. Copy to write, review, publish. Tasks upon tasks upon tasks.
Y'know, regular workday stuff.
I'm my most productive in the mornings and it often feels like I'm "wasting" my time taking things slowly in the AM.
Which is why it's nice to force myself to slow down for real, sometimes.
If I need to dive headfirst into work stuff in the morning I try and take a breath at lunch. Come up for air, peel away from my desk, go into the kitchen and make myself some lunch.
I try not to listen to anything; no music, no podcasts. Nada.
Just spend some time alone, clearing my thoughts, making something tasty.
Most days I just make a smoothie or a snack plate or leftovers so I can get back into the swing of things and eat as I work (told you I have a problem)
but some days I eat soup.
And soup days are the best days
because you have to eat soup slowly.
You can't rush soup or you'll burn the roof of your mouth, which means taking a little extra time to sit and enjoy it. Take slow sips. Wait for it to cool. Dig out the noodles or veggies or other goodies. Gauge overall heat. Repeat until done.
No music. No work.
Just me, my thoughts, and a bowl of soup.
Oh, and toast for dipping because I'm clearly not messing around.
- by Alyson Shane
Last night I was checking out a post on the amazingly well-named "Gates Notes" blog, run by Bill Gates, where he shared 5 of the best books he read in 2017. Of all the "roundup" type posts that tend to pop up this time of year, I like literature-related ones best because it gets me thinking about all the books I've read, and all the books out there that I've yet to add to my collection.
I definitely don't read as much as I used to (except that time I read all of Alias Grac's 564 pages in a week on vacation*) but I still manage to make my way through several books a year. However, seeing how much Bill Gates manages to read while also, y'know, being Bill Gates definitely acted as a reminder that I ought to spend more time with my nose stuck in a book.
* My god I can't wait to get down to Belize in January, read a shit-ton, and plan this wedding.
In any case, below is my roundup of 5 amazing books I read in 2017:
This one was hands-down my favourite. It's been a while since I've sunk my teeth into a good Stephen King novel; he kinda lost me with From a Buick 8 onward and I've never really gone back since (I think the trick is to go back and figure out which of his old works of horror and fiction I haven't read pre-Buick 8, and work my way up from there.)
As the name of the book implies, it's about writing. Not just why writers write, but an in-depth analysis of the challenges of being a writer, of struggling to have people accept your craft, and why you feel compelled to do it. It was nice to read about my craft in the words of someone who, arguably, is a much stronger wordsmith than I am, and who has been at it much longer than I have.
I also enjoyed being reminded of how funny he is; how quippy, with those weird little sayings that always made his characters that much more believable. His was a refreshing perspective on the art of writing, and reminded me that I should read more about what I do, not just the ways I do it.
Obviously I read Bernie Sanders' book, which was released in November 2016. I was pro-Bernie from the moment he appeared on the political stage (ask me about my views on climate change, free post-secondary tuition, or the need for universal health coverage.)
Since I was already pretty well-versed with his political ideas, and why he believed them to be true, the book served as an opportunity to develop a better understanding of how he and his campaign managed to harness the sentiment of a growing, engaged Millennial class of voters and capture the imagination of people like me to the point where he was able to, with no campaign money, no political organization, took on the Democratic Party establishment.
I haven't read any Margaret Atwood since my binge on Alias Grace a few years back, and it was refreshing to return to an author who spends so much time analyzing her character's motivations and fears.
The novel's main character, Joan Foster, is an author who lives secret lives from the people around her, constantly worried that she will be "found out" as being less than she is perceived to be (as someone who regularly deals with anxiety and impostor syndrome, this book was often like having my own worries read back at me.)
I felt like Joan was symbolic of contemporary womanhood: trying to be everything to everyone, all the while hiding, deliberately ignoring, or shaming herself for her fantasies and talents, and it was lovely to immerse myself in Atwood's witty and often surprisingly sharp prose.
Okay, so technically I haven't finished this one yet, but I'm close.
I haven't picked up a Murakami novel in years (I voraciously read through several of his novels in my late teens, my favourite being Norwegian Wood, which I highly recommend) and his brevity was an interesting contrast from Lady Oracle, which I finished shorty before starting this novel.
Like many of Murakami's novels, Colorless Tskuru is a Bildungsroman (hi, Rhetoric degree) though significantly less whimsical than some of his other works. The novel focuses on "colorless" Tskuru Tazaki, who is nicknamed as such because all of his childhood friends have a colour as part of their last names. One day during his college years he comes home and learns that his friends have cut all ties with him, seemingly with no reason. This devastates Tskuru, and leaves him feeling empty or "lacking in color and identity" according to Murakami. The novel begins when Tskuru is 32, and follows him as he travels to visit each of his former friends to discover why they cut ties with him in order to gain a sense of closure.
Since I haven't fully finished the novel I won't delve too deep into what I like and don't like about it so far, but I wanted to include it because reading work from non-English speaking authors is always an interesting experience. I mentioned Murakami's brevity above, and I'm continually impressed with his exploration of heartbreak, loneliness, and the human psyche without delving into the flowery language that tends to gum up English authors when they start delving deep into a personal or psychological problem. I'm really looking forward to seeing how the novel concludes.
I started reading this memoir shortly after the 2016 election which left me, like many other people, reeling and feeling as though they fundamentally didn't understand the surge of white anger happening in America. I was grasping for some sort of understanding of the kinds of people who would vote for someone like Donald Trump, and J.D. Vance's memoir about growing up in a small Appalachian town was exactly what I needed to broaden my horizons.
The memoir is part reflection, part sociological analysis of the "hillbilly culture" he grew up with, which acts as both a source of pride, and a social mechanism which keeps people firmly in their socio-economic place, unable to (and in some cases, unwilling to) do what was necessary for a better life for themselves. It was a stark, eye-opening analysis of what's happening in rural America, and how the social rot encouraged by "hillbilly culture" has affected the United States.
Did you read any amazing books this year? Tweet at me and let me know!
- by Alyson Shane
Recently I've been struggling to figure out what to write here.
When I was writing content specifically for my industry it was easy; I just picked a topic, found some supporting articles, and wrote to my heart's content. I'm good at breaking down complex ideas into easy to understand written documents, posts, or essays.
Writing has always been my superpower.
These days, though, it often feels like it fails me. Not because I don't have the words, but because I often worry about the repercussions of what will happen if I say anything. If I open myself up, again and again, as I examine new and old wounds, learn from my mistakes, reflect on the past, figure out who I want to be... all that good shit writing has always helped me do.
But I've been stifling myself recently because I've been trying to avoid instigating any contact from my family. My brother, in particular, tends to reach out every few months in some sort of angry, nasty, or passive-aggressive way. His words don't hurt, but it's difficult to know that he's clearly grappling with some narrative of what happened between my parents and I, and why I'm not in his life, than what actually happened.
So I'm just going to lay it out here, simply, and put it to pasture:
In February of 2014 I asked my parents for space from my mom for a while. I was starting therapy and my therapist suggested I put a some distance between my mom and myself while I started to unpack the abuse I'd experienced growing up, and the anxieties and issues I still experience as an adult as a result of what I went through.
My dad suggested I write my mom an email explaining my reasons, so I did. My mom never wrote back. My dad, when he did, told me to "have a nice life," and said he hoped I was never in a position where "I had to choose between my spouse and my child."
Since then I haven't spoken to my father. The only other time I've heard from my mom is when she left a series of comments here, on my blog, to let me know what a selfish person I am because I chose not to be present when my nephew was born.
(And really... oh well, if that's what she thinks. Not like I was ever winning her over, anyway.)
But my brother. The one who follows me online, reads my updates, and is clearly upset with me to the point of sending me multiple messages, comments, and tweets over the past few years. What does he want? An apology? Some sort of explanation?
Maybe he, too, is just trying to be heard in a family that doesn't actually listen to one another.
Sometimes I lie awake at night and I think about my siblings. So close, yet so far away from me. I say words, I type thoughts, but talking to them has always felt like I'm talking to a brick wall.
Like I'm shouting into the void.
It always has, honestly.
A few months after my parents stopped talking to me I received an email from my aunt in Toronto. She said "I would just have to say that it is extremely unfortunate that your distain for your mom has resulted in such complete alienation from the rest of the family" which came as a shock to me at the time because my aunt witnessed firsthand the abuse I experienced growing up.
She, more than probably anyone else in my life, should have been able to remember how things went down when I asked for space. She, of all people, should be able to look a lie in the face and say "no, that's not what happened." But she didn't, or couldn't.
And at that point I realized that, maybe there's just no going back.
I'm just never going to make any of them, my dad, my brothers, my aunt... any of them, see me for who I am. To them, I'm an idea of a person. A ghost version of myself who does and says things with a completely different set of morals and values than who I am.
The longer I keep my distance, the longer my mom has to gaslight, manipulate, and convince my family that I'm what she always told them I was: some selfish, horrible person who doesn't care about anyone but herself. The longer I'm away the easier it is for my brothers to believe it. It's easier for my aunt to believe that this is the way I wanted things to be. It's easier for my dad to believe it, and keep refusing to stand up and do what's right; to say "I'm sorry. I should have stood up for you."
Because at the end of the day all I've ever wanted is to be heard. To feel like my emotions, experiences, and thoughts have value. To not have to constantly battle against the false narrative that was created about me, and which persists to this day, stronger than ever, in my absence.
It's why I started writing.
It's also why I stopped. Or have mostly stopped.
I started feeling like here, too, anything I said was going to just get twisted around or misinterpreted. My blog, a place where I once felt I could be completely and utterly myself... became the void I've been afraid to look down into. To shout my thoughts and fears into.
But, y'know... fuck it. The truth, my subjective truth based on the actual facts and events that happened, is out there now. There's not much worse I can do to draw any ire than state the facts as plainly as I see them.
So now it's time to get back to the business of why I've always written: because it helps me as a person, and is something that I love, long for, and can't help but do.
I'm so ready, and happy, to get back to this place.