RIP @howwon


aka, the #pizzafriday guy.

Howard was one of the first people I met on Winnipeg Twitter after I started "getting into" the platform. One of the first times he tweeted at me was a reply to a tweet I'd shared of a photo of a hot dog I'd just bought for lunch. Howard wrote:

"would have been better if it was pizza for #pizzafriday"

Howard was obsessed with pizza and let everyone know it, and #pizzafriday became one of those weird inside jokes that small towns and tight-knit communities have. He'd tweet "what's your position on #pizzafriday?" at local politicians, and reply to pretty much any tweet about anything other than pizza with a statement about pizza, like:

"I can pickup pizza at -24C or +24C"

"Eating pizza would never give you sore legs"

and

"I can eat pizza with or without pinkeye"

We only met in person a few times but every time he mentioned pizza. A few times I saw him actually eating pizza and BOY did he look happy.

Twitter has changed from when I first started using it. There's way more fighting and drama, and even though I'm lucky that the algorithm serves me up the best and brightest in my city, it's become less fun some days. Howard was one of those people who made our community a nicer, funnier, and more pleasant place to be.

Howard and his dry, pizza-loving sense of humour was the perfect example of someone who leaned into what they were into and brought joy to other people as they did it. He was a nice guy who wanted to spread happiness through pizza and especially double pepperoni slices (so I hear).

He was a fixture in the Winnipeg Twitter scene. It seems like everyone knew Howard, even if they hadn't met him in person, and based on the tweets I've seen about him today he was probably a lot more admired and appreciated than even he knew.

(I hope he knew.)

Tonight I, like many other people in Winnipeg, will be ordering pizza for #pizzafriday in his honour.

RIP Howard. If there's a heaven, I hope there's pizza there.


 

Every day is the same


that's hyperbole but only somewhat.

We're in the part of the winter where it always feels like night time and every day feels the same, and it's normally the time when I'd go on vacation somewhere warm but there's still that pesky pandemic so we're staying put and as a result every day I go from

my bed, to
the room next to it, to
the kitchen, to
the living room (maybe), back to
the room next to my bedroom,
back to
my bed

things could be worse but the days have been slipping by in a weird way they weren't before. I've worked from home for years and kinda go into a "fugue state" around this point (which is why I take a vacation) but not even leaving for meetings or meetups is really blurring everything together.

Luckily John and I anticipated this happening so back in the fall we booked a private cabin out at Falcon Lake and we're leaving in a few weeks and the concept of, omg

leaving my house
seeing other places
sleeping in a different bed

almost doesn't feel real.

We had a lil panic the other day when we realized the cabin doesn't have wifi, which was something we should have considered but when you haven't left yr house in pretty much a year you forget about basic stuff like how cabins in rural parts of the province tend to not have great wifi

but you know what? I'M PUMPED ABOUT IT.

Pandemic aside it's been a crazy-busy year for my agency and I spend my days in meetings and working on it and then break for dinner and spend my evenings working on HeyAlfa

(which is so crazy and going to blow you away I promise)

and part of my infinite-loop-life really just comes down to working so much and I know it. It's fine to love what you do but when it's all that you do that's not healthy.

I love my work and try to find a balance but living where you work and working where you live makes things bleed together
so I'm looking forward to forcing myself to take a break

even if it's just for a few days in the middle of snowy nowhere.

Tags: Life Random

 

A weird thing happened last night

I was having one of those "stress dreams".

You know the ones: something's wrong, and it's stressful, and you spend the whole dream trying to manage or resolve it and wake up feeling anxious or stressed-out or out-of-sorts. I get them when I'm under a lot of pressure, or when I have a deadline looming, or when I'm about to go back to work after an extended break

(which is what I assume this one was about.)

For me, these dreams typically centre around a few themes:

- I'm in school and I have an exam and I've forgotten to study for

- I'm in school and I've forgotten to do an assignment

- I'm trying to get to school/work but stuck somewhere

What's weird about these dreams is that even though I'm in school (usually it's high school though sometimes it's university) I always know I'm not actually in school in real life, so I spend most of the dream trying to convince people that I've actually graduated, or that I'm working full-time, or whatever.

(Trying to get people to listen to/believe what I say is another recurring theme in my dreams which tells you a lot about the trauma/baggage I'm still trying to work through I guess.)

Anyway. Last night I'm having this super-vivid dream about my old high school, Garden City Collegiate

(except it wasn't actually GC since that's just how dreams work sometimes)

I'm sitting in a classroom with all the girls I went to school with, Candice and Dyan and Kaitlin and Kristen and Meaghan and so on, and I'm feeling stressed because we're all about to take a giant test and (surprise surprise) I'm not ready for it.

We're all sitting on the floor for some reason and I get up to go talk to my old guidance counsellor, Mr. Loeppky, to tell him that, hey, there's been some mix-up because I don't even go here.

But since it's a stress-dream obviously he isn't listening to me and keeps walking away, and I'm running around the school dodging students and shoving past people to keep up with him and explain the situation and then I bump into my ex, who looks at me and just

pukes all over himself

so I stop chasing Mr. Leoppky and take him to the bathroom and try to help him wash up, but he's covered in vomit and it's all over his black shirt and it's squicking me out so I leave to find Mr. Loeppky again

but instead I wind up back in the original classroom, because dreams.

I'm sitting on the floor again, talking to the girls I grew up with, and this other girl Jessica (who bullied me abit when we were kids) comes up, points at me and starts screaming about how much I smell.

I look down and realize I'm also covered in puke. Oh hell.

I start trying to explain myself but because it's a stress-dream she isn't listening and is teasing me and everyone around is turning to stare and ohgod now they're all judging me and ohgod they're sneering at me and ohgodohgod

BUT WAIT

instead of panicking and getting upset and embarrassed and stressed out, I stand up and say:

"I smell because I was helping Ty wipe puke off himself, and I don't even go here so fuck you and fuck this."

... and I walked right out of the school and into a busy street where I caught a streetcar and rode it to a park where I ate macaroons in a park in the sunshine and thought about how much I love running my own business and not being in school anymore.

I know this all sounds stupid (because dreams) but I have never ever EVER resolved a stress-dream that way. I woke up feeling happy and confident and secure and GOOD about myself, which isn't how those dreams have ever gone at all.

I'm not really sure what to make of it. Maybe I'm moving on past some sort of baggage or maybe it was just a fluke, who knows.

Either way it felt good, and I'll take it.

Tags: Random Memes

 

Goodbye 2020, hello 2021


Last night we rang in the new year from the comfort of our living room which is where we do 100% of our social interactions these days. I curled my hair and did my makeup and put on a cute outfit because even though I wasn't going anywhere I like to look cute for myself. We made a charcuterie board with meat and cheese from DeLuca's and cheersed with fancy champagne at midnight, but also chugged a couple of PBRs

(shitty beers for a shitty year)

and at 3 AM before we went to bed, we sang Auld Lang Syne.

I don't know all the words and probably won't ever learn it by heart beyond the chorus but it makes me want to cry every time I hear it. It's heavy and sad, and singing a heavy, sad song felt like the best way to say goodbye to a year that's been overwhelmingly heavy and sad.

2020 didn't turn out to be the year I wanted or expected, but looking back it could have been a hell of a lot worse. Our businesses didn't go under (and are both actually doing better than ever), we saved a ton of money because we didn't take any big trips or go to music festivals or go out like at all since March, and and I learned that (thankfully) I married the right person because there's nothing like being cooped up in the house together 24/7 to learn if someone's gonna get on yr nerves or not.

Oh, and we managed to squeeze in our wedding in Belize and a trip to Toronto and Windsor on the way home right before things started to go off a cliff.

But outside of our little bubble of "doing ok" everything else has been a hellscape and it's been stressful and upsetting to watch our provincial government totally fumble the pandemic response, see the cases spike in Manitoba and elsewhere, and be worrying constantly about friends and family members who are high-risk or who don't have the luxury of working from home throughout all of this.

Sometimes I feel guilty for getting by and for all the time the pandemic has given me to work on Starling Social and HeyAlfa. I beat myself up about stuff a lot so I've tried to channel these feelings into working like crazy and making the most of the opportunity I've been given. All this work and focusing on a post-pandemic future has given me something to focus on and look forward to in a year where distractions from the news have been welcome and much-needed.

Maybe I'm a dumb optimist but I'm hopeful for 2021. I don't want to put a label or some weird expectation on the year itself

(years are just how we mark time, not the thing that dictates what happens during that time, after all)

but hunkering down over the past year year taught me a lot about myself and I feel more, I dunno

mature?
prepared?
focused?
driven?

all of the above?

What I'm trying to say is I feel like I'm in a good place and I'm excited about what the next year will bring.

On my desk next to where I work (and spend like 90% of my time these days) I have a little letterboard and I change up the sayings from time to time. Right now it's got one from the poet Robert Frost.

I've likes his work since I was a student at Garden City Collegiate and would read the words to The Road Less Travelled every day as I went up and down the stairs in the West Building. His quote on my letterboard is one of my favourites, and it's also something I've found myself saying and thinking often this past year.

Here is what it says:

"The best way out is always through."

Whatever 2020 was like for you, I hope 2021 is even better. For all of us.

Cheers to the year ahead, friends.

Tags: Life

 

The COVID Carols [Lyrics]


It's been a hell of a year and we miss the people we love, so yesterday John and I booked a Peg City Co-Op car and took our band "Big Trouble in Little Wolseley" on a whirlwind tour of Winnipeg to sing some (masked, socially-distanced) carols to our friends and family.

We didn't just sing any ol' carols, however.

Since COVID-19 has made 2020 an "extra special" year, we re-wrote two of the three songs we performed to include lyrics that reflect all the weird stuff we've been through, with a few dashes of Manitoba-specific lore thrown in for good measure.

The Winnipeg Free Press recently published an article about how Manitobans are going carolling (though they clearly missed out on the carolling story of the year if you ask me) and we figured — hey, if you're doing some socially-distanced carolling, maybe you'd like  these extra-special lyrics, too.

Below are the lyrics to our two "original bangerz", and at the bottom of this post is an extra-special cover of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" dedicated to Manitoba's Premier (and resident Christmas-stealer) Brian Pallister. 

Enjoy, and stay safe out there!

---

The Twelve Days of COVID

On the first day of COVID my true love gave to me
A Costco shopping spree

On the second day of COVID my true love gave to me
Two rubber gloves and a Costco shopping spree

On the third day of COVID my true love gave to me
Three face masks, two rubber gloves and a Costco shopping spree

On the fourth day of COVID my true love gave to me
Four marathons, three face masks,
Two rubber gloves and a Costco shopping spree

On the fifth day of COVID my true love gave to me
Five Zoom calls,
Four marathons, three face masks,
Two rubber gloves and a Costco shopping spree

On the sixth day of COVID my true love gave to me
Six feet of distance, five Zoom calls,
Four marathons, three face masks,
Two rubber gloves and a Costco shopping spree

On the seventh day of COVID my true love gave to me
Seven fundamentals, six feet of distance, five Zoom calls,
Four marathons, three face masks,
Two rubber gloves and a Costco shopping spree

On the eighth day of COVID my true love gave to me
Eight hands a-washing, seven fundamentals,
Six feet of distance, five Zoom calls,
Four marathons, three face masks,
Two rubber gloves and a Costco shopping spree

On the ninth day of COVID my true love gave to me
Nine rolls of T.P., eight hands a-washing, seven fundamentals,
Six feet of distance, five Zoom calls,
Four marathons, three face masks,
Two rubber gloves and a Costco shopping spree

On the tenth day of COVID my true love gave to me
Ten extra pounds, nine rolls of T.P.,
Eight hands a-washing, seven fundamentals,
Six feet of distance, five Zoom calls,
Four marathons, three face masks,
Two rubber gloves and a Costco shopping spree

On the eleventh day of COVID my true love gave to me
Eleven online orders, ten extra pounds, nine rolls of T.P.,
Eight hands a-washing, seven fundamentals,
Six feet of distance, five Zoom calls,
Four marathons, three face masks,
Two rubber gloves and a Costco shopping spree

On the twelfth day of COVID my true love gave to me
Twelve Bartley’s tweeting, eleven online orders,
Ten extra pounds, nine rolls of T.P.,
Eight hands a-washing, seven fundamentals,
Six feet of distance, five Zoom calls,
Four marathons, three face masks,
Two rubber gloves and a Costco shopping spree

---

God Rest Ye, Merry Winnipeg

God rest ye merry gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Don’t see your friends and families
This year on Christmas Day
You’ll save us all from getting sick
So we can hang in May
Oh tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
Oh tidings of comfort and joy

In Winnipeg, in Canada
You may be feeling torn
We’ve all been locking down so hard
Can’t we just have this morn?!
We’ve mailed all our letters
To give our leaders scorn
Oh tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
Oh tidings of comfort and joy

Fear not then, says Brent Roussin
Let nothing you affright
This day comes new restrictions
But they’ll be gone by night
Follow the fundamentals
And you will be alright
Oh tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
Oh tidings of comfort and joy

---

And, finally, here's our rendition of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" dedicated to Manitoba's least favourite grinch/person, Brian Pallister:


 

On my agency and values


(Right around the time I started freelancing, in 2014. Photo via Rachael Hosein.)

I've been thinking a lot about values recently.

Earlier this week, I got an email stating that Starling Social was awarded the title of "Best Boutique Social Media Marketing Agency in Winnipeg" by the Canadian Business Awards, and it's been making me reflect on what that means to me. Not just in the quality of the services we offer, but about my business in general and the kind of boss I strive to be.

I didn't want to become a businessperson. Hell, even after I started freelancing full-time I was very resistant to the idea of running an agency. I'd worked for a few agencies, both big and boutique, and every experience I had left me with a sour taste in my mouth in one way or another.

I worked at a big agency right out of university. I was over the moon about it even though I struggled in my role.

(Anyone who knows me knows how much I rely on process + documentation, and this job had none of that structure.)

Despite this, I was happy to come in at 7 AM, an hour and a half before my day started, just to stay on top of everything we had going on.

One morning the President of the company walked by and noticed me working away by myself. We started talking and he said he'd noticed me coming in early and he was impressed with my work ethic. We talked about my future in the company, and I asked if he would mentor me and he said yes.

The next week I was fired. I don't even know why — when I asked, one of the people in the meeting said I'd "made a mistake that cost the company $1000" but when I asked what it was, he said he couldn't remember. I'd been there for over a year and they let me go without providing any documented or legitimate reasons.

(Told you there was no documentation there.)

Losing my job was devastating, but what felt worse was knowing that there was such a huge disconnect within that company that the President of the company saw me one way, and middle management saw me in a completely different way.

After that I started freelancing for a small, boutique agency. I loved that job, even more than the agency job because I got my first taste of remote work and having the flexibility to "work from anywhere". The owner seemed like a cool, interesting person and even though the pay was garbage, and ad-hoc, I trusted that they had my best interests at heart as a member of their team.

Then one day I logged into a client's Twitter account and noticed that there were a bunch of posts and replies that I hadn't written. I followed up with my boss, and here's what he said back:

;)

That wink turned out to mean that he'd hired someone new to manage the account and gave them the go-ahead to start without notifying me. When I asked for payment for the time I'd worked, I was told that the last few week's worth of work I'd done wouldn't be compensated. 

I was told "I'll give you $60, which should be enough to buy a few 12-packs of beer" and shown the proverbial door.

A few years later as my freelancing business was starting to grow, the owner of a local agency called me up and asked if I wanted to join the team at a management level. It sounded promising, but I took issue with how the workload (and budget) were divvied up:

Essentially, there were only so many paid hours available per project and since everyone was a freelancer they were all competing for the same narrow pool of hours/money. I'd be coming in at a senior level, which meant I'd be getting a guaranteed retainer that would be taken from the pool of money otherwise allocated to the team actually doing the work.

When I brought this up, the owner said "the girls will figure it out, don't worry about it"

(did I mention this was an agency run by one guy who seemed only to hire pretty, skinny women? Ick.)

Needless to say, I didn't take the job. I wasn't comfortable being complicit in screwing over these other women and working with someone who cared so little about the people he employed.

By this time I was already working for myself and starting to scale up a team to help me manage my workload. I know I wasn't great at managing people at first, but the experiences I'd had showed me a lot of what not to do and I was able to start being the kind of boss I'd always wanted to have.

I got to become someone who goes to bat for my team and puts them first. I fired our first "big client" out of NYC and lost us 1/3 of our monthly revenue because he was being abusive to my copywriter. That was a blow, but I'd do it all over again and probably sooner if given the chance. 

(Nobody messes with my team.)

I got to become someone who put effort into supporting the people who work for me. I remember how lost I felt at the big agency, so I obsessively document every step of everything we do; internally, and for our clients. I make myself available for support, clarity, and advice, but my team can work confidently on their own because they have a documented framework that helps them be better at what they do.

(Protip: giving people a framework for success is how you guarantee a high degree of quality and attention to detail.)

I got to become someone who leads with their values. I'm honest with my team, whether it's good or bad feedback, because I remember what it felt like to have the rug pulled out from under me when I thought everything was going fine.

(Trust in your people and they will trust you, in kind.)

I'm not perfect — hell, nobody is — but the reason my company does such good work is because I'm value-driven, and leading with my values has attracted people who share those same beliefs. We believe in going above and beyond for our clients, in being data-driven and process-focused, and most of all we believe in each other and in our collective ability to raise the bar on what a digital marketing agency can be.

Every day I feel lucky as hell to run this business and to work with such amazing people.

This award recognizes my agency, but I want to end this (somewhat rambly, stream-of-consciousness) post by saying to my team:

I see you. I see your hard work, your dedication, and your passion, and I feel privileged to work with you. I've become a better person for it, and I appreciate the opportunity to build a company that's built such a strong reputation for creative, high-quality work with you.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.


 

Day 2957658 of the pandemic


or at least it feels that way. I joke that days have no meaning and in a way they don't, because even though my job requires me to know which day it is there's no difference between "weekend" and "weekday" or, now that it's winter, much difference between day and night.

Cases in Manitoba are clocking in between 350 - 450 new cases most days.

The positivity rate in Winnipeg is over 14%.

As of earlier this week, 1 in 100 Manitobans have gotten sick.

It feels scary to go outside since studies have shown that respiratory droplets hang around longer in cold, dry air

and we live in a province with cold, dry air.

I bundle up and go for walks as often as I can. I go midday when there's fewer people out, or if it's the end of my day I'll walk down to the riverbank and stand against the big, concrete bridge or lean against a tree and drink a beer and have a smoke and enjoy the feeling of not being surrounded by

the same four walls day in and day out.

Yesterday I walked along the riverbank, which is lower because it's winter, and got mud on my boots and crunched the icy, frozen snow and listened to the sounds of the city coming from the houses and roads and bridges

it's quiet but it isn't. An un-silence filled with the sounds of the city.

When it gets super cold in February I like to skate along the river. There's something soothing and beautiful about seeing my city from a new angle. It feels like a secret, and yesterday, walking behind all the riverfront properties, alone, felt like that.

I haven't felt that way in a long time and it was nice.

 

Breathing out


The last few days have felt like releasing a breath I've been holding in for a

long, long time

really slowly

feeling it empty my body in a way that's almost

tense, painful

but I gotta let go of it slowly because — god forbid — something happens
something goes awry

shenanigans
chicanery

I don't wanna lull myself into a false state of feeling good, feeling secure
feeling safe

that's what the past four years have felt like
the slow erosion of the feeling of

safety
confidence
hope

that I used to feel.

Saturday felt like a step
a small one, maybe
but an important one

back in that direction

a sharp 90-degree turn away from 

white supremacy
the erosion of
IGBTQ
BIPOC
and women's
rights

and the slow, creeping threat of authoritarianism
infecting so many places right now.

I cried before Kamala Harris spoke, when they said
"the Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris"
because I never thought I'd see a woman
let alone a woman of colour
up on that stage

in motherfucking Suffragette White, no less.

I cried when Joe spoke
because even though he's not quite progressive enough for me

I think he's a kind, decent person, well-intentioned person
and maybe that's what we need right now

but because it was so,
so nice
to listen to politics and not hear about Donald Trump

and for the rhetoric of politics to (finally, thankfully)
swing back to goodness
decency
and the belief that we all get better by working together

(which has honestly never seemed like such a crazy idea if you ask me)

I don't know what's gonna come. What chicanery's going to go down
and part of me is scared that this victory for

democracy
decency
progress

will somehow get ripped from me
from us

(because it's 2020 and Mercury is in Retrograde and who knows what else)

or maybe it's that I haven't felt this way in a long time
and I'm scared to let these feelings back in?

I guess we'll find out.

Deep breaths.

 

Winter's here


It's snowing outside and despite myself, I like it. I hate winter and being cold but I love the cozy feeling of being inside and drinking tea or eating hot soup or sitting in a big, warm blanket and watching the snowflakes fall. It makes me feel safe, somehow.

The snow falling makes me realize that I really only blog seasonally these days, or at least it feels that way. Things are good and calm and stable for the most part, but it's harder to pull something worth writing about from calm placidity

though I suppose that's the point, really, and what kind of asshole is gonna complain about life being calm during a pandemic?

Not me, that's for sure.

A few weeks ago Toulouse had a health scare and needed a trip to the vet and we learned that he has a fragile little heart

(which, if you've met my cat, is so on-brand it hurts)

but beyond a scary-but-manageable problem we've been lucky. Our friends have been safe. Our families have been safe. Both of which are especially calming to know considering that Manitoba hit a 7.5% test positivity rate today and it basically feels like the province is being led by a bunch of people who care more about "the economy" than the health and well-being of the people who live here.

But I don't wanna talk about politics too much right now.

Right now I wanna think about the garden we built in the living room to keep the winter blues at bay. A few weeks ago we bought a big metal shelf, some LED lights, and planted a bunch of seeds that are well on their way to feeding us fresh vegetables all winter long.

Here's what we've planted so far:

- Basil (regular)
- Cherry tomatoes
- Chives
- Cilantro
- Cucumbers
- Green leaf lettuce
- Hot peppers
- Kale
- Radicchio
- Thai basil
- Thyme

Next time I'll post photos since it's truly a thing of magic and it's making me so happy right now, but right I've gotta jet because my tea is cold and my teapot is empty and if there's one thing that is guaranteed to keep this cozy, happy feeling going

it's a cup of tea.


 

Rain King


is the name of a song by the band Counting Crows. It's one of my favourite songs because it reminds me of a moment in time that feels

perfect

like one of those snapshots you take in your mind of a moment, a feeling, a smell, a sound so you can come back to it forever.

In that moment I'm sitting in the passenger seat of a rental car and John is driving. It's a cloudy grey day and we're on the 401 driving into Toronto to go see my Grandma before we catch a flight home to Winnipeg from Windsor, where we'd been for Christmas.

We're both deathly hungover from staying up late and having a dance party with his family so we crank the music to boost our energy. We put on August and Everything After and John tells me about how much the album means to him. His memories of singing the songs in the car with his friends when they were younger. He tells me about road trips and old friends and drunk adventures and

the everyday stuff of life where the album served as a backdrop, playing through all those times that didn't seem important in the moment but mean so much when you start to get old and have kids and can't get up to shit the way you used to.

I don't have memories of this album but I have memories of the 401. Of being in a different car with a different man in a different lifetime. The way the cities bleed into one another through the rolling hills feels soothing and familiar in a way I wasn't expecting.

We're talking and he's holding my hand and I'm thinking about how I used to feel on this highway

the sense of excited independence I felt living away from my hometown mixed with fears of

not good enough
not deserving
gonna mess it all up

that poisoned what I had and what I could have done with it in a way that I can only see now, looking in the rear-view mirror.

I turn and look over at John, who's belting out every word to Rain King and looking at me with that

incredible way he looks at me

and he smiles and squeezes my hand

and I start crying

because I was happy then, but I wasn't content

and things are different now.

Tags: Life

 

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