Alyson Shane is an idea of a person that I got from my parents, originally. I was almost a Jennifer (thanks for nixing that one, Dad) but instead I got an unusual name with a "y" in it which has served me well because Alyson Shane works well together and people notice when your name is spelled differently.
It helps you stand out.
My last name, Shane, doesn't tie me to any historical significance. Beyond a few other people who share it we have no collective family history, no looking back on forefathers. No great-great-great grandsomethings. It was a name someone chose, or was chosen for us, when a generation once or twice removed came to Canada.
So that's out.
I can call myself a lot of things:
But none of those things actually apply to me. Those are things I do. Ways I spend my time and energy. How I make a living. The stuff I do in my free time. The ways I direct my energy.
Sometimes I look at my cat and I think What are you to you? Do you self-identify? What do you think about?
And while my cat's thought process is probably something like: food food food water sleep sleep pets pets pets jealousy jealousy jealousy pets pets pets sleep sleep sleep
it's probably happening in the weird nonverbal ways our bodies tell us to go to bed or that it's time to have a snack. My cat doesn't have a sense of self or an identity to speak of. He wants food and pets and doesn't think about his religion (or lack thereof) or which type of bread he prefers (sourdough) or the stuff he likes to do in his spare time (write, paint, garden, cycle.)
Homeboy just hangs out.
But us weird humans, we layer on all these meanings and ascribe all this significance to things that, at the end of the day, are just ideas and labels.
My business could fold. My partner could leave me. I could lose both my hands in a freak laundry accident and never write or blog again.
Stripping away the labels I apply to myself or have had applied to me is scary because when you stop identifying with labels and actions you get left with... what?
Your weird, messy insides.
Your meat sack that carries around all these ideas that have been assigned to you, or that you've applied to yourself, or that you continue to carry around and identify with because it makes things a little less scary.
Which is why taking the time to create art and amplify yr creative output are so important.
Real creative output can bypass all the bullshit ideas and labels and just put yr shit out there, the real, inside-out fear and stress and struggle and joy stuff.
So like Jim Carrey says "you just play your part as best you can" and go about your day trying to shape the ideas you have about yourself and create stuff whenever possible without getting too wrapped in your self-judgment, idea-based BS.
For me that's writing a blog post about the ideas that make up who we are as people and how much it freaks me out
and not worrying about the end result feels like.
And if you didn't know that - surprise! - I've never taken a road test to receive my full license.
But since I'm 30 and it's a useful skill to have I figured I should probably start pulling my weight and learn to drive so I can pay people back for all the times they've dd'ed my around.
And if I'm being totally honest with you I really don't get the hype.
But I've never been a "car person" if I'm being honest.
One time when I was 17 or so my friend Nat and I took the bus to Polo Park which was was over two hours away from our house in the dumb suburbs on the bus.
(Probably still is, too, given at the rate our transit has improved. Geez.)
And we took the bus and went to the mall and had what I thought was a good time hanging out to and from the mall. But when we got off the bus back in our suburb she told me
"That was the worst experience. I'm never taking the bus to the mall again. From now I'm only going to drive to the mall."
And I remember thinking girl we just spent the last several hours hanging out and you're saying they sucked because you had to sit on the bus? And that made me feel like trash, because I'd thought we'd had a good time hanging out and not having to pay attention to the road or other drivers. We'd actually hung out with each other.
It was around then I decided that driving turns a lot of people into assholes.
It was also around then that I decided that I didn't want to risk becoming one of those assholes so I moved downtown and never got around to getting my license as a result. It's a surprisingly easy thing to put off doing when you can walk, bike, or take public transit anywhere you need to go.
Besides once you hit 21 or 22 everyone else around you has their license, so even if you moved downtown and didn't actually need a car like I did, I still knew someone with access to one in case I ever needed a ride or help getting something from IKEA.
But it's prudent to have yr license in the event of an emergency, and if I ever have kids I'm sure I'd want to have a car around and not wait on a cab or Uber or whatever if we need to get to a hospital asap.
So I've been driving here and there and everywhere and while it's not the worst thing it's still not this omg thing that people seem to love.
People tell me that it'll get better when handling the car is just muscle memory but
I don't want to start feeling like driving a car is routine and boring because that's how accidents happen. I've never been in a car accident and I'd prefer to keep it that way thank you very much.
Gotta stay sharp af behind that wheel.
Wish me luck, folks!
We've been together for almost four years but we've actually known each other a lot longer. 2010, I think, back when we were dating other people. We met at a baby shower for a mutual friend and he was wearing a sweater vest. I thought he looked sharp.
He's a very silly person and I've always liked being around people who can laugh at themselves and who can take a joke. Ribbing people as a form of endearment is one of my favourite past times and it's always nice to encounter another fellow pest in the wild. I always liked having him around.
One of the things you should know about John is that he will always keep you honest. He's very blunt and to-the-point which can really rub some people the wrong way. Heck, it rubs me the wrong way sometimes but I know he means well so I let it go.
There are worse things in life than your partner being as honest with you as they can, I figure.
That unflinching honesty has helped me grow a lot as a person which is something I think we should look for in a long-term partner. If you're going to be with someone for as long as you can you don't want them to stay the exact same, right?
It's also super inspiring to be around someone who works as hard as he does. Dude is super-motivated and lives and breathes whatever he's into.
Sometimes it can be exhausting but honestly I envy his ability to sink suuuper deep down into a problem and really lose himself in solving it. I need to get up and stretch and pee and take coffee breaks and pet the cats too often. I write in lots of short, intense bursts of a few hours max but John can put his head down and work all day and just give 'er.
He works super hard and really believes in what he's doing and it's honestly the coolest thing to be able to spend my time hanging out with someone who is so motivated.
He makes me want to do good stuff, and in turn I do good stuff, too.
He also pushes himself to try new things and not turn down an adventure. Because of him I've held a crab at the ocean floor, climbed to the top of a Mayan pyramid, taken busses across foreign countries in the night, and pushed myself mentally and emotionally farther than I wanted or expected to could go.
It's pretty crazy to think of the impact that someone can have on your life if you think about it.
Honestly though, I just feel thankful that he wants to spend his free time hanging out with me even though I'm moody and difficult and I always drink the last sip of club soda when we're sharing. It's nice to spend your days with your best friend, and to continue to be best friends after all these weird, wild years.
He also calls his mom a lot and tells her he loves her, which is another a sign he's a super-solid dude.
Happy birthday to John, my super solid dude <3
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.
a high school kid asked me that when I was speaking to his class the other day.
It's been a while since I've been in a high school or even around a lot of teenagers at once, and I was impressed by how smart and thoughtful they all were because I remember most of us being stupid af back in high school.
I was in there to talk to a senior math class about how I use math in my work which was weird to me at first because if there's one thing I really hate, it's math.
But when the math you do is wrapped up in something else that you like to do it's not so bad.
I spend a lot of time calculating acronyms like ROI and CAC and CPC and CLV and it's not my favourite thing but it helps me make informed decisions and become better at what I do.
And it's probably good to hear about math in a real-world context vs. only using it in school like most of us did growing up.
So yr girl put some slides together and we talked about the wonderful world of marketing formulas, which wound up getting more laughs than I'd expected, but not for the reasons that I'd anticipated.
But overall it went well and when we'd wrapped the presentation we did a Q&A session. They asked me about my career, my degree, my plans for the future. One kid asked me how much I made which I sidestepped because it's none of his dang business.
But I did tell him that being a business owner has changed my earning potential, and that not relying on a single job snd paycheque wasn't as scary as I used to think it would be.
Which I hope some of them really heard, because I could have used hearing something like that at their age.
Mostly though we just talked about social media.
None of the kids use Facebook. Hardly anyone's on Twitter. Instagram is huge. Snapchat is dead
(and if high school kids are saying it, you know it must be true)
but everyone knows about LinkedIn all of a sudden even though it "used to be super lame" before.
They like the idea of using Vero but are worried that it's going to go the route of every social network and become monetized and ruined by changes to their algorithm, and then they'll have to move on to the next new app or social platform and go through it all over again.
Told you they're smart.
A few of them like writing but don't know how to be writers for a living, so I told them that in the age of the internet there are more ways to be a writer than being a journalist or trying to be the next Stephen King. We talked about copywriting and how my company works, what we do, how we help our clients.
I talked about how much I loved writing, and blogging, and rhetoric, and I feel super duper lucky that I stumbled my way into doing something for a living that allows me to do all of those things and then some.
And when that boy asked me what my favourite part about my job was it felt really nice to say
"doing stuff like this. Talking to you guys."
Because it's true.
If there's anything better in this world than being a well-loved house pet, I don't know what that is.
Yes as a human of course you get to eat amazing things. Mussels and oysters and lobster and sushi. Garlic toast and fresh sourdough and croissants. Spaghetti and meat balls. Fresh doughnuts.
And you get to drink coffee and beer and rum out of a coconut. You can make iced tea on a hot day or have a cup of Chai on a cold day. You can make hot toddies when you get sick.
As a human you get to ride your bike and marvel at the big trees in your neighbourhood. Or go fro a car ride and listen to Leonard Cohen on the radio. Or sit next to a big dam and watch the sun set and listen to the water roaring by.
You also get to read books and blogs and literature and if you're lucky you have a wifi connection thanks to the computer in your pocket that lets you look up any dang thing you want.
We have Wikipedia, for chrissakes!
But if I believed in reincarnation
(which I don't, but y'know)
I'd try to come back as a well-loved house pet.
Because food and alcohol and literature and adventure are great and all.
But on-demand belly rubs just can't be beat.
I'm on a flight right now.
Sitting in a middle seat between a quiet dude and a lady with a baby with big brown eyes. The baby keeps grabbing my hair a bit and pulling, which hurts but not too much, so I'm not too bothered.
We've been in the air for a few hours and I've finished reading The Handmaid's Tale, which is the book I brought for the trip. I've read it before, but it's been nice to revisit it given the current political climate and recent tv series starring Elizabeth Moss.
Margaret Atwood manages to be so quietly sinister in her writing. I forgot how upsetting this book was.
But now that I'm done I have nothing to do, so I'm writing this and looking over the dude's shoulder out the window.
(I covet window seats, but I didn't book these so it wasn't up to me.)
We're descending into Pearson Airport right now and I can see Toronto in the distance. The sun is setting and it's misty. I can see the dim outline of the CN Tower against the misty lake.
There's a big, wide highway that leads from a suburb
(Mississauga? Brampton? Oakville?)
into the heart of the city. Like a big, thick vein.
An artery for cars.
I used to know the names of these streets, once. I pored over Google Maps, memorizing the streets and picturing myself walking down their sidewalks.
Once upon a time I daydreamed about disappearing into this big, noisy metropolis. Forgetting my name, history, family.
All the things I knew or believed about myself.
Every city has that appeal for someone, I suppose. People looking to start over. For an opportunity. A big break. A culture shock.
Or just to get out of their own damn hometown.
Toronto used to be that to me, once. I was obnoxious with how much I wanted to live there. How I compared it - unfairly, of course - to Winnipeg.
(How annoying I must have been.)
It's weird to see it now and feel that same familiar pull. Like a fish hook in my navel, pulling me towards those towers of glass. The possibilities.
But we're about to land and if I'm being honest I can't wait to get back to Winnipeg.
I miss home.
On our second-last night on the island we finally decided to go to Pippy's restaurant.
Pippy (pronounced Pépe) spends his days hanging out in front of one of the Chinese grocery stores with a menu in his hand heckling people to go eat at the restaurant where he works, telling them about the day's specials.
It was getting dark and we'd just finished watching the tarpin over by Tarpin Watch, which is a dock on one end of the island where a bunch of huge tarpin congregate
where you can buy bags of anchovies for a few bucks and when you pinch them between your thumb and forefinger and hang your hand over the dock the wild fish will jump up and take it from your hand
and I was ready to eat, so when we walked by Pippy and he hollered at us about the conch soup we were like
"fine, okay. Take us to the restaurant."
He starts walking us down a residential street with no restaurant signs to be seen and it's getting dark and I'm wondering where the heck this restaurant is
and we round a corner and find a picnic shelter with a few picnic tables and some rowdy folks enjoying some amazing-smelling food.
They were finishing up but stayed around to chat for a bit. Their names were Jen, Brian, Zane, Nick, and I think we also met another Jen and Shawn that evening, and an older lady named Kale and her husband Ricky Lee, and we all bonded over being from cold places.
Jen and Brian were on the island to get married and invited us to their wedding the next day which of course we agreed to. They went on their way and we stayed at Meldy's (the restaurant's name) to finish eating some of the best damn curry shrimp I've ever had.
Afterward we were treated to a series of rum punch drinks courtesy of a young Belgian couple we ran into while buying beer from the store. Her nipple piercing was infected (!!!) and we helped them buy Hydrogen Peroxide so they made us drinks as a "thank you"
(people are so nice on vacation!)
But after a few of those I was feeling tipsy and needed a snack so we walked up Front St to a street vendor selling the best damn burrito you'll ever eat, and a golf cart pulls up and we hear
"Hey John and Alyson!"
and it's Jen and Brian and Nick and Zane on the golf cart and Pippy's on the back and we hop on and go up to the street and party with them all night. Pippy rapped and we did way too many shots and had the blurriest night filled with so many laughs.
The next morning we slept through as much of our hangover as possible and spent the day wandering around the island, soaking up our last day and hunting for lobster to eat.
At 5pm we walked to The Split where the wedding was supposed to start and noticed some local police officers driving up on a golf cart behind us. Over by the bar were all the friends we'd made the night before, as well as some of the locals from the island and some of the expats Jen and Brian had met during their stay.
It felt like a weird, beautiful culmination of many of the faces that had started to feel familiar over the last few weeks. Even Thug Taxi was there!
We grabbed beers and waited for Jen and Brian to arrive and since the weather was getting dark and the wind was picking up Nick decided to get things underway.
I took video and John snapped photos and everyone formed a semi-circle around the couple as Nick officiated. One of the police officers on the island, Lieutenant (or was it Constable?) Terrance played Charlie Pride and George Jones.
Pippy, the unsuspecting catalyst for all of these amazing memories and new friendships was Brian's best man.
When the ceremony was over we saw Jen and Brian off in their "chariot"
(a golf cart with a plastic cover to guard from the rain)
with beers in hand and walked up Front St. to a restaurant called Hibiscus where we drank martinis and ate amazing food and laughed until our throats felt raw.
It was a nice reminder that weddings don't have to be a big hoopla.
That they can be about you and a couple of people you love and some random people you invited into your life.
That it can be a chance to make new friends and help other make great memories, too.
Honestly that wedding was the best possible way to end our trip.
P.S. Hi Jen, Brian, Nick and Zane!
For most of our stay we rented an AirBnB in a place called The Bahia which is a thirty minute walk or so from the village of Caye Caulker.
When we arrived on the island it was after dark and the golf cart taxi that we caught at the water ferry dock almost got lost because he took the long way around, which didn't have street lights or signs.
As we pulled up to the big yard the security lights came on and three friendly dogs came running up to us. These dogs would become good friends in the coming weeks, despite one of them chewing up one of John's shoes when I moved them outside to sweep.
Our AirBnB host was waiting to walk us through our space: two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom, living room, and two-tier deck that we would call home for the next 10 days.
I'm surprised in retrospect how easily we settled into quiet days in our house.
Most mornings the sunlight and heat would wake me up before 7AM and I'd spend quiet mornings on the couch working, or laying in the hammock with a book and petting the dogs while John snoozed.
Waking up and standing on the deck and looking at the ocean while I sipped my coffee filled me with a sense of contentedness that I don't often feel.
It's surprising how at peace one can feel when close to water, or the ocean.
On the first day we biked into town and got breakfast, but in the following days we ate most of our breakfasts at home. John would make eggs and sausage and I cut up fresh tomatoes, papaya, and slices of thick cheese. We ate sitting across from each other, our legs brushing under the table.
The AirBnB came with two cruiser bikes and most days we rode our bikes into the village in the morning and rode them back in the early afternoon after we'd gone swimming, kayaking, or scuba diving.
In the evenings we would shower and walk back on foot to get dinner somewhere, dodging potholes and petting the various dogs that lived in the neighbourhood.
At night we'd walk home or catch a golf cart taxi if it was raining, or if we were too tired. Whenever we came home the dogs would be there to meet us, running up to our bikes or jumping onto the back of the taxi to say "welcome back!" when we arrived.
One night when it was storming we retreated to our little home and listened to music and talked and drank beer as the rain pelted the house. I spotted two geckos on the walls that night.
The following morning I woke up and there was a man breaking up seashells and debris in our yard using a machete. I watched him for a bit from inside and we waved at each other when I stepped outside to set up the hammock. He had two little boys with him, one of which was his son, and I enjoyed watching them chase the dogs around the yard while he worked.
Since The Bahia is still in development - there are several streets that are planned, but not built, and the area is undergoing a surge with new houses and AirBnBs bleeding into the area - it was far enough from the village that most of the people around weren't tourists.
Around 8AM every morning one of our neighbours - I use this term loosely because there were several feet of swampy mangrove roots in-between our houses - would start playing music. Loudly. Usually it was some sort of salsa or Spanish fusion.
Within a few hours one of our other neighbours - this one was further up the street, I think - would start blaring his music (usually Top 40's hip hop) and the two of them would wage a war of attrition against one another all day. Each one slowly turning up his or her music to drown the other out.
I found this exchange to be particularly hilarious coming from our stuffy North American "too polite" standards.
Heaven forbid someone else hears your music!
In the mornings when I would stand on the deck the construction workers across the street would wave at me and shout "good morning!" and I enjoyed watching them get deliveries of sandwiches and Fanta throughout the day.
At night we would walk home and pass people's houses with doors wide open, usually with the TV on or sometimes playing the radio. We experimented with different streets to see which way was the most efficient (and had the fewest potholes), and got to know all the local landmarks which helped us find our way home in the dark, or the rain, or after a few drinks.
Our location allowed us to immerse ourselves in island life in a way that isn't available with a hotel or resort.
There's an ebb and flow to neighbourhoods and cities, and I deeply miss the early mornings, busy days, and quiet nights that we experienced in The Bahia.
One night we were hanging out at the Windsor pizza place and the guy managing the restaurant decided to bike home with us as we walked. We passed by the convenience store with its bright, fluorescent lights cutting through the darkness and he pointed at one of the wooden houses on stilts across the street:
"See that place?" he said "that's my home. I own that place! I moved here from Belize City and now I own my own home on this beautiful island. I'm living the dream."
And I realized: maybe he actually is.
One of the things I love about travelling are the people you meet.
I've met heaps of Aussies. Brits. Belgians. Puerto Ricans. French. Italian. Spanish.
Canadians upon Canadians upon Canadians.
And of course tons of Americans. Most of whom are nice, thoughtful, and really interesting and intelligent people with unique perspectives and lots of stories to share.
This story is about Americans who were none of those things.
We met them when we were sitting in The Penalty Box which is a bar where Canadian expats on the island get together to drink beer and watch hockey.
It used to be a liquor store called the Liquor Bin but has since changed to an actual bar with tons of sports jerseys on the walls, team photos, and heaps of Leafs paraphernalia all around. It's owned by a Canadian expat. Big surprise.
I'm not a big sports person myself but we needed a rest and Canadians are friendly so we sat down and ordered a beer, said "please" and "thank you" and "sorry" to the dudes watching the TV because we walked in front of the screen.
Typical Canadian stuff.
A few minutes in I was looking out the front of the bar, which is one of those big garage-door types that you roll up during the day and roll down at night, and this girl walked by.
We locked eyes and she screamed
WHAT ARE YOU GUYS DOING?
and jumped right into the bar through the open window over to where John and I were sitting.
Her name was Angela* and she was wasted.
She immediately hopped behind the bar and started taking beers and pouring shots for everyone, us included. So we did a shot with her
(because nobody turns down a free shot while on vacation)
and her boyfriend Josh* walked in off the street and sat down.
Angela said "we got wasted last night and I thought Josh was going to get Advil... but instead he came back with a bottle of tequila so we sat in bed passing it back and forth for a few hours and here we were now!"
And here they were, indeed.
Josh ordered another round of beers for the bar and she ordered another round of shots, and we watched in polite Canadian style as Angela made a scene in the bar for the next 45 minutes.
Now let me paint this picture for you: this girl was stunning. Tall, thin, beautiful with this adorable little nose and huge, long eyelashes. She could have and maybe even was a model. I don't know.
What I do know is that I saw more of her booty grinding on everything in that bar than I saw in all my nights out clubbing as a kid. This girl was waggling her stuff everywhere, twerking all over the place and climbing onto the bar Coyote Ugly style for her boyfriend (who was mortified), a bunch of 40yr old Canadian dudes who just wanted to watch some hockey,
There was some sort of construction happening upstairs where the bar owner lived so she ran up there and was harassing the dudes working, then after a few minutes she would come down and pour herself another beer, write in her "log book" and generally make a giant scene before running back upstairs to start the cycle over again.
Her bf turned to me and said "we've only been going out for three months and when we get back to NYC we are breaking the fuck up"
which usually I would think was shady but if my partner was twerkin' it in booty shorts for strangers I'd probably be re-thinking my life choices, too.
Anyway at some point
(probably after Angela ran down the street and took someone's bike and began riding it back and forth in front of the bar)
he got tired of her shenanigans and went to go pay. We tuned out a bit at this point but a few minutes later Angela's back in the bar asking "where did my boyfriend go?"
After checking the bathroom and looking up and down the street it was obvious he'd left. Just up and abandoned her on an island she'd never been to. Alone. Wasted.
Oh and did I mention she didn't know where she was staying, so she was also completely lost?
Luckily some nice Canadians (us) were on the scene so we settled up and started to walk her home which of course took over an hour because she had to stop and chat with everyone we met, including shaking her booty in front of the local island gangsters on a dock in the ocean, which was an experience in and of itself.
By the time we got her to her hotel room where her bf was passed out it was after dark and we needed to go get something to eat to balance out all those shots we'd had earlier. So we left her in her room with a bottle of water and headed on our way.
Later that night we ran into Josh at the local pizza place where we were indulging in Caesars and Winsdor-style pizza I gave him an earful about leaving his gf behind, because honestly I don't care what a shitshow your gf is being you never leave anyone alone when they're that wasted, especially when they don't know how to get home safely.
Like, c'mon dude you save people's lives for a living and you can't even keep your gf safe?
That's a loser move.
Eventually he went off to go have a threesome with his cousin and his cousin's gf who was feeding him pizza in what I assume was supposed to be a sexy way
and when we saw them both walking down Front St. the next morning Josh and Angela were cuddling and kissing and holding hands like nothing had happened the night before
and didn't recognize us at all.
* Names have been changed to protect the wasted.