Tagged: writing

This post is a test

- by Alyson Shane

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

(Hi, Florence!)

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!)

Tags: Life Writing


Started writing a short story yesterday

- by Alyson Shane

I'm sharing it here because mentioning it in public means it's real and makes me a lot more likely to actually stick with writing it.

I haven't written any fiction in a looooooooong time and writing those few words and watching them appear on the screen was terrifying. 

Here's my opening sentence:

"Mark's headache was getting worse."

I don't even think I like it but it's what's there and it's better than nothing.

There's more, but not much, and I re-wrote the intro sentence seven or eight times because I wasn't sure if I wanted the main character's name to be Mark

even though I over-prepared for this exercise by putting together a persona for Mark, whose full name is Marshall "Mark" Campbell, that included his weight (240lbs) age (31) height (6'1) education (dropped out of high school) and some other details that are relevant to the story

and to be honest just the act of talking about a character I've created is making me second-guess all the details I made up about him.

(Creative writing make me squirrelly if I haven't done it in a while.)

I used to write stories a lot more often. I got into trouble for writing in class at school. I stayed up late writing very, very bad fanfiction when I was a teenager. I wrote and wrote and wrote for university because that's what you do when you're getting a degree in Rhetoric, Writing & Communications. 

And I was thinking about all the writing I used to do and all the writing I do now and I realized that the area I've been neglecting is the part that's the hardest:

creating stories out of nothing.

It's easy to write about my opinions or write about what I know or put together documentation or social media content. Psssssssh.

I can basically do that in my sleep at this point.

But creating interesting characters and a plot that keeps the reader entertained and dialogue that isn't horrible and ohgodohgodohgod all the other details and elements I know need to go into writing a decent short story?

It's intimidating. But yr girl needs to start somewhere.

Tags: Writing


I hate Q&A style interviews

- by Alyson Shane

I find them meandering and too long and just a bore to read.

One of the habits I've picked up from reading Hemingway and dealing with clients from NYC is brevity.

I used to be verbose af but these days I can't handle articles that tell me they have facts in them but make me dig through a bunch of "Oh, so you think..." questions and long, meandering answers that circle around the actual answer.


I'm sitting a Barn Hammer on my second beer (Coffee Black Rye Pale Ale) and I just finished putting together questionnaires for this year's TEDxWinnipeg speakers.

One of my jobs as a volunteer on the Social Committee is to coordinate doing these Q&A's with our speakers and as I was sending them out I realized I couldn't remember the opposite of a "Q&A style interview" and remembered that back in the day when I wrote for Spill Magazine I had to do an interview with a local band that I really, really struggled with.

So I looked up the email thread from 2014 and remembered that "narrative style interview" is the name of the interview style that I prefer these days.

I also realized that when I wrote the article I hated narrative-style interviews because I still wasn't confident in my abilities as a writer.

At the time I pushed back at my editor, Stephen, who is a magnificent human being, and said that I was really struggling with doing an interview where I didn't just transcribe what the musicians had said verbatim during our chat.

He told me:

Alyson, you're selling yourself short. You are a great writer and what you put together makes for great music journalism. All I ask is that you don’t close this door on yourself just yet.

Which blew me away because the part I remember is how anxious the exchange made me feel, not what his response to my anxiety was.

(Ain't that always the way?)

I wrote for The Spill for several more years and did heaps of album reviews and interviews, including the time I interviewed Thomas Dolby from his houseboat The Nutmeg of Consolation where I was so nervous that I thought I would swallow my tongue during the interview.

It taught me that when you know good people who push you and support you, eventually you start to realize that you can do anything you put yr mind to.

And with some luck you, too, can be as concise as Hemingway.

Or at least you can give it the 'ol college try.


How to Pull Yourself Out of a Creative Slump

- by Alyson Shane

Let's face it: even those of us who run our own businesses doing what we love for a living there are days where we feel more lukewarm than red-hot about it. It's normal! Not every day has to result in bubbly feelings, 110% productivity, and heaps of creative new ideas to jot down.

But what do you do when that dip in productivity becomes a lull... and then the norm?

This totally happened to me recently.

Don't get me wrong: my dedication to my clients hadn't faded, but my creative side - the side that feels like it shows when I write, for example - seemed to be taking a backseat to everything else that was going on in my life.

This is totally normal. It's normal for creative people to go through a dip in productivity, or a drought, but when you depend on your creativity to make a living there's a unique sort of pressure to get yourself together and get producing again.

With that in mind I wanted to share some of the steps I've taken to "get my groove back" so to speak, because you never know when a creative dry spell may occur:

1. Acknowledge there's an issue

This is the worst. When you're in a creative slump it's easy to brush it off and say "I just don't feel like it right now!" or "I'll just get to it later" but you've got to be honest with yourself or you'll never snap out of it. You need to take a long, hard look at your screen (or canvas, or whatever) and admit: I haven't been working as hard at my craft as I usually do, and I need to snap out of it.

It's normal to feel guilty here; just let yourself feel bad for a few minutes... then let it go! The easiest way to make those guilty feelings go away is to do the thing that's making you feel bad, right?

2. Do it even if it sucks

The biggest hurdle to overcoming your creative slump is just sitting down to do the damn thing and not getting overwhelmed to the point where you're too in your head to produce anything of value. So what should you do instead? Sit down and create something of no value.

If you're a writer like me, do some free writing and experiment with different ideas, word combinations, and see what emerges; if you paint, just paint some stuff and let go of the expectation that it has to be your next masterpiece; you get the idea. Getting back into the habit of doing your craft will help you get back to feeling comfortable with it instead of intimidated and anxious.

3. Get active

When my anxiety flares up or I get super busy I'm the worst for letting my trips to the gym fall by the wayside. I try to go 2-3 times a week and I notice a definite slump in my mood, sleep, and creativity levels when I'm not exercising regularly. Recently I "scheduled" GAINZ time into my calendar Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings; that way it's just scheduled into my workday.

On days when I can't make it in the morning I try to go in the afternoon, but if all else fails I make a point to go for a walk, ride my bike somewhere, or do yoga at home (I'v also started doing this 10-minute yoga flow video in the afternoons to clear my head - it works, I swear!)

4. Read

Like I said, I've been struggling with a creative slump recently and when I sat down at my laptop today I hadn't intended to write blog post. I've been struggling to write consistently recently, but I still spend a lot of time online reading articles about a wide variety of topics because 1. I'm a voracious reader and 2. I have to in order to stay on top of my game professionally.

In any case, a few days ago John showed me a terrific series of posts on Derek Sivers' blog, one of which is called How to Be Useful to Others. One of the points goes as follows:

3. Share strong opinions.
Strong opinions are very useful to others.
Those who were undecided or ambivalent can just adopt your stance.
But those who disagree can solidify their stance by arguing against yours.
Even if you invent an opinion for the sole sake of argument, boldly sharing a strong opinion is very useful to others.

While it didn't really strike me at the time, those statements have been gnawing at me for a few days and were one of the things that inspired me to sit down and start trying to work past my writer's block. However, you can read whatever inspires you in order to get your spark back: novels, autobiographies of people you admire, or even some articles on Hacker News - whatever leaves you feeling inspred is stuff you should actively be seeking out and reading (or re-reading).

5. Write it out

Sometimes when I find myself struggling to put my thoughts to paper I do "free writing" session. Free writing is a technique where you literally just write whatever comes to mind without stopping to correct spelling, grammar, or focusing on a specific topic.

After reading the aforementioned Derek Sivers article I started typing... and oddly enough the bare bones for this post started to emerge. I wrote about feeling anxious about not writing as much, and as the words appeared on my screen I realized that I was stuck in a cycle of guilt over not creating which was actually stopping me from doing it.

I find this technique is especially helpful before I start writing something a bit more technical (like one of these blog posts) because it really clears out whatever's floating around in your head. Often whenever I find that I'm stuck on an idea or problem a little free writing clears out that mental clutter in no time!

6. Watch & be inspired

I don't usually work with the TV on, but sometimes when I need a little creative background noise (like right now) I'll pop the TV on in the background and half-watch while I work on something. I find that it's best to put on something a bit soothing or slower-paced because watching stuff like action movies can be distracting (hint: don't try to focus on your craft while watching Deadpool).

One of my favourite shows is Chef's Table (it's available on Netflix - go binge-watch it when you're done reading this post!) because not only is it beautifully framed and shot, it also interviews highly creative people who have completely dedicated themselves to their craft and it's pretty impossible to not feel inspired while watching it.

Do you have any tips for getting that creative spark back? Tweet at me or tell me in the comments!


Why I Haven't Been Around

- by Alyson Shane

Things have been difficult lately.

Not life; life overall has been incredible. In the past few months I've had amazing opportunities fall into my lap, made new connections and friends, and started to take some serious action in terms of my own personal growth.

My mind has been difficult lately, though, which is why you haven't seen much of the "real" (non-professional) me on this blog recently. It's easy to crutch on my Crowdfunding Crash Course project, or to whip an article about content marketing together because it's knowledge that I can easily make sense of and put into words.

Anxiety doesn't work that way. It makes you mute. It makes you hole up inside yourself and just dig deeper and deeper, and you don't even realize you're doing it until someone points it out.

The other day, after a full-blown anxiety attack John said to me "have you been doing any writing therapy lately? You used to write all the time - when was the last time you wrote about things?" and I realized that I haven't. Going back through my posts, the last time I wrote something "personal" was March 5th, when I wrote "To My Family, Who Read This Blog."

It occurred to me, then, that that's what has been eating at me: since my family cut me out I've been allowing my anxiety to build inside of me because it's always in the back of my mind. It's hard to land speaking opportunities, new clients, meet new people and not be able to call my dad and say

"Hey Dad, guess what just happened!"

It's even harder not to be able to call and say

"Hey Dad, how are you? I love you, and I really miss you, and I wish that you were able to have the kind of relationship with me that I'd like us to have."

It eats at me some days.

I think about my brothers a lot. I think about how they're younger than I am, and how they grew up with this idea that I'm this weird black sheep who just can't conform to what my parent's expectations are. I worry that they think that I'm a bad person because I'm not around to show them otherwise, because I know that that's the narrative that they're hearing: that I'm selfish. That I'm blaming everyone except myself. That I should just "suck it up."

I think about my mom a lot. My mom who refused to speak to me after I reached out to her; who stepped away from me and cast me out because I finally stood up for myself. My mom, who taught me so many negative behaviours and who has been the cause of so much of my stress, anxiety, and unhappiness. It's hard to disentangle myself from her influence, especially when she holds the keys to the cage in which the rest of my family resides, and manipulates everyone within it.

I think about my dad a lot, especially. I think about my dad every single day. I try to be objective and realize that, ultimately, the decision to not speak to me was, and continues to be, his own. But he's my dad. I'm his only daughter and I always assumed that, no matter what, he would be there for me. However he's also a person, one with flaws and issues just like everyone else, and it's unfair of me to put him up on a pedestal just because he's my father. Honestly though, that's been the hardest part so far.

The problem with thinking, and anxiety, is that it gets you caught up in these negative thought loops - your thoughts spiral downward and you get stuck running over the same comment or situation over and over. Everything suddenly becomes a really big deal.

Which explains why every small issue that's come up in my life has also become a really big deal: because I have this huge issue looming over my life constantly which amplifies everything else. Every good thing is really, really good, and every bad thing is really, really, tremendously bad.

Which leads me to this post. These words, on this page, the over-sharing and stream of consciousness writing that, as I type these words on the screen helps lift that giant weight up off my chest. I need to remember that writing is therapy, and that I have a safe place, here on my blog, where I can write as much and as often as I need. That it's okay to be going through this and talking about it openly.

Thank you for being here, and for listening.


Why I Blog

- by Alyson Shane

Chris Brogan wrote a post the other day about not quitting blogging, which I loved. 

He didn't mention older blogging platforms like GeoCities and Livejournal, likely because he didn't used them but it made me think back to my early "web logging" days and discovering that I could chronicle my life online.

I purged my Livejournal years ago, thankfully, but a quick google search brought me back to many of my old high school friend's still-intact LiveJournals. 

It was weird, seeing those memories from over a decade ago all in one place. Now we have a plethora of ways that we share information: Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, LinkedIn, SnapChat... to name just a few. Now we're scattered all over the internet.

The best way that we had to share information at that time was huge, text-heavy posts or quizzes. 

(Remember quizzes?)

It was weird, going back through people's memories and noticing that they all started to drop off around the same time (2007-2008). Except me. I kept blogging, largely fueled by my friend Kira and my recent discovery of the best blog of all time, the busblog

Back then, though, my blogging sucked.

I had no voice and no way to distinguish myself from blogging powerhouses whose lifestyle blogs I creeped to no end other than I hadn't yet figured out how to do what they did, yet.

But I kept at it because a writer will write even when nobody reads - and for a long time (longer than I'd care to admit) nobody wrote a damn word.

But part of the secret to blogging success is to not give up. I've had comment dry spells, I've been trolled to no end, I've written trash and masterpieces and been called out and praised for all of it. It's been a magnificent ride.

Andrew Sullivan said in one of my favourite pieces from The Atlantic that the blogosphere is a giant conversation, which is true, though I'd argue that everyone posting anything online these days is a participant - this isn't exclusive to the blogging community.

We're all shouting out into the void, linking and commenting and sharing in an attempt to make our own voices heard. He also said:

"[to blog] is to let go of your writing in a way, to hold it at arm’s length, open it to scrutiny, allow it to float in the ether for a while, and to let others... pivot you toward relative truth."

Yet, just last week, Andrew Sullivan stopped blogging

One of the biggest proponents of blogging shuttered his blog and gave up.

Which left me wondering: if Andrew Sullvian quit, if all my old friends quit, if blogs die and are left abandoned every day... why do I keep doing it?

Because, as Tony said in a recent post: this is the best time to blog.

The fakers, the half-assers are dropping like flies and the ones of us who are here for the substance and the experience of sharing get to reap the benefits of an audience who are more interested, more engaged, who and will quite happily pivot us towards that relative truth that we all seek.

Blogging is scary. Blogging is beautiful. Blogging is how writers, like me, explore ourselves.

Before the internet we had to scribble in diaries or publish 'zines or write in to newspapers or journals or magazines or publish books hoping that someone somewhere would find them and fall in love with our words and our hearts, which we poured out through pens just as much as I type them out to you, now.

I was lucky enough to be born into a time when my words can exist digitally. 

My digital words, like those of my old friends, like those of Andrew Sullivan, can reach untold numbers of people. We can shape each other's realities through what we say online with words that never fade, never get lost, and that's amazing.

How could I ever stop, knowing that truth?

I can't.


Our Digital Selves

- by Alyson Shane

I'm watching Serial Experiments Lain which according to Wikipedia is an avant-garde anime from the 90's that explores ideas like identity, consciousness, reality and communication. 

I started watching it over a decade ago with my friend Eric, who also introduced me to Star Trek and Arnold Schwarzenegger movies and the film The Thing and the Fallout video game series. 

This was also around the time that I started blogging, back in the days of GeoCities and eventually LiveJournal and (sigh) DeadJournal which was about as emo as you can get. After that I moved onto Blogger where I stayed for several years and iterations of my blog and also of myself, and then to Wordpress, and now to the blog you see before you.

I've been living my life online for more than half of the time I've been alive, which is both fascinating and slightly terrifying.

It's weird to think that there are snippets of ourselves scattered around the internet, these little scraps of ourselves that we leave littered in comments or status updates or blog posts. 

Like a trail of breadcrumbs leading from our past to future selves. 

In an email the other day my aunt, bless her heart, said "I hope you aren't too personal online because it could come back and bite you in the future" which is true but there's also a level of curated-ness that goes into who we are online, at least most of the time.

We have to be careful of how we represent ourselves and what we say because those words stay with us forever. The internet never forgets. 

On the other hand we've been handed this near-limitless tool to share and communicate and store memories, which is what a blog is when you get right down to it.

"Weblog" - remember that word? I barely do. 

So we walk this weird tightrope using these various tools which allow us to we curate these finely-tuned versions of ourselves, masquerading as "authentic" and, for people like me, attempting to do so without over-sharing too many personal details that could damage us or those around us.

Because we still have secrets from the internet. At least, for now.

But will we be able to, in the future?

In Serial Experiments Lain a girl kills herself and claims that she is able to live on in the Wired, which is the show's version of the internet, because she uploaded her consciousness prior to her death. I remember thinking about that while reading an article a few years back that discussed a statement made by Google's Ray Kurzweil, who made the claim that we will be uploading our minds and essentially becoming digitally immortal. 

There's something about that idea that terrifies me and I don't know what.

Maybe it's the idea of losing my physical body.

Maybe it's the idea of bearing all of my consciousness to the digital world.

Maybe I'm just too attached to my analog existence

at least for the moment.


An Ode to the Playground of my Youth

- by Alyson Shane

The Red River Community Centre
down the street from my house, a few short blocks away
on the corner of Murray Avenue and Donan Street
surrounded by ditches, a baseball field
hockey arenas lay empty and stinking of piss and sex in the summer.

Made with wooden beams and pillars
rough to the touch, watch out for splinters
picking them out of hands, feet, knees,
until there were too many and ignoring them became easier
than pausing a game to squeeze them out.

The slide that was removed before I can clearly remember
the empty wooden tower where it used to be
where I vaguely recall hot, silver metal glinting in the sunlight
the burn of it on my bare legs
sliding down towards welcoming, outstretched arms.

Sand instead of little pebbles
which got in your eyes when you fell down
or got kicked up during a game of Grounders
while scrambling to get from one surface to another.

The big, fat tire swing that was the beacon of summer
suspended by three thick chains in a plastic coating
sticky and black from hands and sweat by mid-June.

Under-ducks and spinning until we were nearly sick
almost hitting our heads on the overhead beams
grabbing on and spinning, suspended in the air
that time my brother kicked someone in the mouth.
Thank goodness they were all baby teeth. 

Monkey bars, hot to the touch in the afternoon light
seeing who could jump the farthest
past the first, second, third bar
each summer we got farther until we were too tall to jump
and could walk from one side to the other.

Riding our bikes in circles around the parking lot with no lines
just gravel and broken glass and prickly weeds
the occasional car with frisky teenagers in the back parked at the far end
tucked away from us and our raucous noise
exploring new landscapes with the windows half rolled down.

The community centre, barely a shadow of a building
made of white brick and smelling like used sports equipment
the crowded area where I would lace up my skates
and drink cheap, watery hot chocolate with my dad for .50 cents.

One year my parents signed me up for daytime summer camp
where we played sports and did arts and crafts
went on weekly trips to Kildonan Park or Fun Mountain or Oak Hammock Marsh
and I spent a furious afternoon trying to cut through a recycled paper plate
carving it into a snake which I decorated with markers and sequins
and lost while chasing frogs on the way home.

The park, like most of my childhood haunts, is gone
replaced by a monstrosity of steel and glass
which encompasses almost all of the green space where I roamed,
a skate park where the soccer fields and their empty metal nets used to be
fake palm trees where I laced up my first pair of cleats. 

I mourn for these places, now.
I wish that I had understood the humble, fleeting magnificence
of the happy, blissful, sun-drench days I spent there
eating gummy candies acquired from the gas station up the road
shaped like blue feet, kissing lips, fuzzy peaches
worrying about nothing except how late it was getting
and when I would be able to make my way back tomorrow. 


The Suburbs

- by Alyson Shane

The place where I lived my childhood is gone.

The street is still there, but the deep ditches where I used to watch tadpoles and, later in the season, scoop frogs into my tiny hands, are gone.

The bridges that extended over them where I spent hours on my tummy, watching the water rush through the long grass with my friends, have been dismantled and taken away.

The fields on either side of my street, which connects Main Street to McPhillips Avenue, have been swallowed up by cheap particleboard, concrete driveways, and houses in pale, inoffensive shades of beige and grey stucco.

In the spring we would put on our too-big rubber boots and wade through the flooded plain, chasing each other through the tall green and orange plants. We used to pull bulrushes, fat and bulbous, apart above our heads, showering everything in their soft wool and watching it drift away in the wind.

We spent our summer afternoons climbing around an old, small hill covered in trees at the end of a dirt road that ran parallel to a ditch which ran parallel to the train tracks. There were old, large pieces of concrete that we, using all of our collective strength, pushed into "couches" and "chairs" to sit on in place of the long grass, which had spiders hiding in it.

There were small burned-out areas where older kids tried to start fires every summer, and the black, charred remains of the trees fascinated us. Especially when, against all odds, they would begin to bloom again in the following year.

The city would come and re-tar our back lane in the middle of the summer and our naked feet would get sticky-black as we chased each other on bikes or on foot over the newly-filled potholes.

One summer we had mice in our attic. I remember my dad pulling one, stiff with rigor mortis, out of a trap that he had set and saying to my mother, who was delirious with anxiety "we live next to train tracks and have fields on both sides of the street. What did you expect?"

In the winter more City workers came in huge plows to clear the back lane, pushing aside the snow to form a jagged, uneven wall along the lane that we would climb over in our thick snow pants. At night we would toboggan in the glow of the streetlights.

I would to fall asleep to the sound of the trains going by. The sound still soothes me.

I used to look out from my parents' bedroom window, over the lane and over the field behind our house. Before I was born you could see right to the Perimeter Highway, but slowly newer developments began popping up and creeping ever-closer.

We moved when I was ten, before the suburbs crept nearer and took over. There had been talk of a wall to divide the new subdivision with my old back lane; now there is a tastefully-high fence that runs along the outer edge of the yards. 

My old street runs like a vein between two new subdivisions, which flattened the hill and cast big, imposing shadows over the little houses on Murray Avenue. It once felt worlds apart from the suburbs, but in recent years has become consumed by it.

I've heard people talk about having to drive up my old street to get to their identical, perfectly-paved streets which lead to their identical stucco houses with their identical yards with a single tree in front.

They talk about the old, dated duplexes with brown wood features and chain-link yards; the useless, weird, vacant space in front of their property where the ditches used to be; the back lanes that spoil their view.

They can't see it for the beautiful place that it was because the suburbs have consumed what made it so magical. 

On the surface it feels like I've lost that place forever. That it was surrendered to the inevitable march of progress, to urban sprawl,  to hastily-constructed homes with no soul. 

But Murray Avenue still has a heart. You just have to know where to look.

Come with me, sometime. I'll show you.


The Illusion of Being Busy

- by Alyson Shane

Last Friday night I found myself alone. 

John was with the Campers at the screening of the Innovation Alley movie, my plans had fallen through, and I had a few hours to spend however I wanted. 

Sitting in Second Cup in Osborne Village, plucking away at my laptop and sipping my London Fog, I got to thinking about how busy we all "appear" to be all the time - always going places, seeing people, sharing pictures and thoughts and experiences. 

It started to feel a bit overwhelming, to be honest.

Since I've started my #Project365 Instagram project I've tried to make a point to go out and have an experience, or find something interesting worth photographing every day.

It's not that I lead a boring life - far from it, I'm actually quite busy day-to-day, but a lot of that revolves around my 9-5 and being on my laptop doing freelance work.

Not exactly glamorous, and I'm pretty sure that if I Instagrammed my computer screen as often as I find myself parked in front of it, working, I'd have zero followers pretty freakin' fast.

So I started thinking about the idea of "looking busy" and figured I'd ask you guys what you thought, and if you feel social pressure to "look/be busy," through what you post online.

Some of my favourite answers are below & honestly really surprised me:

Not busy, no...I think everyone knows I'm busy! I make an effort to look thoughtful in what I share. No junk.
Kendra Jones

"I'm always busy. Sometimes that's just busy laying down on YouTube, sometimes it's work. I'm busy with my time and that's fine."
Brett Enquist

Busy is a choice, but some do see it as a badge of honour.
Claudine G

Nope. I live for me not others. Took a while to learn that though.
Terri F

Everyone (or almost everyone) has a day job that keep them occupied. I'm more interested in how people spend their non-work hours, whether it's going on vacation, reading a great book, cooking or playing outside.
Shel Zolkewich

Hell no. I'm as busy as I wanna be. And you can quote me on that.
Jeope Wolfe

No. I am busy a lot, but if I'm not, I'm not gonna lie about. That would be dumb. #TrimbleDoesntConform
Adrian Trimble

What about you? Do you ever feel pressured to "look busy"?


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