A lot of people tell me that they don't get nervous or excited before a trip until they're in the car or on the plane, but not me.
My favourite part of doing anything is thinking about doing it in advance of doing it.
We're going to Thailand and Cambodia in a few weeks and I've been daydreaming about beaches and big bowls of noodles and night markets and tuk-tuks for months, now.
But more than my excitement, I can feel that we're going away soon in how I feel about my day-to-day life.
I'm enjoying the small things a little more. Like how the winter sunlight looks in the afternoon, or how Toulouse curls up between my legs when I'm sleeping
even if this does trip me up almost every time I need to get up in the middle of the night.
Today we did our usual trio of errands: Shopper's, the LC, DeLuca's.
We put on backpacks and brought extra bags and laughed and tried liquor samples and bought a bunch of fancy cheese and artichoke hearts and fresh bread and a vanilla bean soda.
Tomorrow we're making a special dinner together and I'm going to make a nice mulled wine to serve with the pizza we're making from scratch and all the fancy cheese we're going to eat.
Tonight we're going to Thida's Thai with some friends and I'm ordering the super-spicy chicken pad Thai, my favourite
which I know is nothing like what I'm going to be eating in Thailand in a few weeks
and in a few days we'll be ringing in New Year's in our pyjamas with our best friends eating fancy cheese and drinking wine and popping bottles of bubbly to celebrate spending another year together.
The family I've built for myself in the city I love.
How sweet it is to be together
and how fleeting our time together is before we leave.
I didn't used to be. I feel like I'm developing an affinity for mornings as I get older though.
During the week we wake up at 7:30 AM but if I could manage waking up earlier and not be a giant grouch who hates her life I'd get up at like 6 AM or even 5 AM if I could.
I do my best work in the morning when my mind is clear and every time we travel or I find myself randomly up super early in the morning, even if I'm tired I still start my day feeling like
yeah, I got ahead of all that shit I had to do today.
I've been up for about an hour and have already snugged John and Toulouse in bed, fed the cats, took a photo of the street because I love quiet winter mornings
and made a cup of tea which is also something I've started doing as I've gotten older.
We really do become our parents in weird ways.
My mom is from England but she moved to Canada when she was 18, probably to get as far away from her mother as possible, which is also the reason I moved to Ontario when I was a the same age.
She's British in the ways you expect British people to be British:
she has a gap between her two front teeth, which I also have
she subscribes to a "know your place" and a "stiff upper lip" attitude when it comes to work and talking about your feelings
and she drinks tea like water.
My mom used to drink Tetley Orange Pekoe tea, and there was a whole area of the kitchen dedicated to the cups and plates and sugar containers and other paraphernalia needed to make it.
I don't remember if she took sugar and cream, but I do.
It seems like the older we get, the more we search for things that take us back to the feeling of safety we had when we were kids. Maybe that's why I drink so much tea these days.
It makes me feel safe and the smell has an old familiarity to it. Like a well-read book or an old leather jacket or a hug from your favourite uncle.
Tea was for the times in-between fighting. When my mom and I would watch Star Trek or some HGTV show together, or sit on the deck while she did crossword puzzles.
Sometimes I dream about her. I'm not sure if it's a memory, or just something I've dreamed enough times that it's real.
I'm sitting at the dining room table and my mom is looking out the kitchen window in our old house on Murray Avenue. It must be early morning because the air feels filled with light. She's wearing a long housecoat in a soft colour, and the kitchen smells like orange pekoe.
It's so vivid that it feels like I can reach out and touch it, but it's just a dream. A memory. Some whisper from a long time ago.
I think about her when I make the same tea during these early mornings by myself.
It's like a ritual; an homage to the parts of my mother that aren't stained by her words or behaviour.
I wish I could go back through time to that golden morning and talk to her. Ask her questions over the old, heavy dining room table over multiple cups of orange pekoe.
Who are you, Mom?
Why are you so angry all the time?
What are you so afraid of?
I've spent so much time asking myself those same questions, but I don't think I'll ever know what her answers are.
Most of the time it feels like the closest I can get is making myself a cup of tea in the early morning light
thinking about all the ways we're so different, and the small, quiet ways that we're the same
and how maybe that's enough.
And frankly I think we're worrying about the wrong thing.
What worries me isn't whether a song that was written 74 years ago is sexist
what worries me is that our society is moving to a place where our first instinct to something we don't like is to ban it outright.
That's some Ray Bradbury-style shit right there, folks.
Last night I sat down and looked at the lyrics, and at first glance I could totally see why some people think the song is concerning: on the surface it sounds like guy trying to pressure a girl into staying the night, and that kind of behaviour, rightfully, deserves some scrutiny.
So let's dig into the historical context of the song a little bit:
"Baby, It's Cold Outside" was written in 1944 by the songwriter Frank Loesser (who also wrote Guys and Dolls) so he and his wife Lynne could perform it at parties. He sold it to MGM for use in the film Neptune's Daughter and it was a huge hit, winning an Academy Award in 1950.
It's a duet sung back and forth between male and female singers, and the plot, basically, is that a man is trying to get his date to spend the night and she's demurring.
By modern dating standards that seems, at first glance, problematic.
Obviously a man pressuring a woman to stay the night is inappropriate, right?
Except when we consider the song in the context of the time it was written:
In 1944, women were under a ton of pressure to appear modest. Being labelled as "a slut" could have serious social ramifications, so women were expected to put up a fight regardless of whether they wanted to engage in sexual activity or not.
Which is what seems to be what's going on when the female singer says:
"I ought to say no, no, no, sir, at least then I can say that I tried."
I could dig into this further, but there's a great Medium post that breaks down a lot of what I'd say anyway that I recommend you check out instead.
It's also worth noting that the expression "what's in my drink?" was a popular phrase people used when they were getting tipsy, as noted by Frank Loesser's daughter in an interview.
When the song was written the expression had nothing to do with date rape, or drugging someone's drink; the lyrics only become problematic when we view them through the narrow lens of the present.
But whether or not we agree on our interpretation of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" doesn't matter anymore, because banning it from the radio eliminates the opportunity for constructive discussion.
Worries About Censorship
Banning a song, or a book, or a film, isn't how societies solve problems; it's how we repress discussion and silence alternate viewpoints.
And, frankly, it scares me that this is where we're at as a society.
I've struggled to talk about this publicly, and have been afraid to do so because I'm scared of the political blowback I may receive.
I've watched people's lives get upended, their social standing destroyed, and their friends and colleagues turning their backs on them because they expressed an opinion that was unpopular, or that people didn't want to hear.
But the honest truth of it is that censorship doesn't help us, it hurts us.
I know this because I've studied it. I have a degree in rhetoric. I've studied oral history. I've spent close to a decade of my life dissecting how we convey our thoughts and ideas, and how our communication has changed over time.
I've taken a deep anthropological dive into how words can be weaponized against us
(which is the biggest reason why I find Conservative rhetoric scary and problematic, but that's a topic for another post)
and what scares me the most isn't what we say, it's when we stop people from saying it, and who does the censoring.
And because this censorship is coming from The Left it's easy for those of us who identify as left-leaning to hand-wave away how concerning these tactics are because we assume we have a moral high ground.
I mean, who wouldn't want to get behind ensuring that women are protected and respected in our society? That's an easy sell, right?
Except when we assume we have the moral high ground we stop looking critically at the larger implications of the actions we take.
When we demonize people who disagree with us as being "out of touch" or "dated" we hand-wave away the important discussions that need to take place in order to get everyone on the same page
(or, at the very least, reading the same book)
which is actually how we move forward together as a society.
Censorship is problematic because when we draw a line between "right" and "wrong" we leave no room for context and nuance.
We eliminate the opportunity for discussion and exploration because we've already decided (through censorship) that something has no place in our public discourse.
As our society continues to grow and change, we need to be able to have ongoing discussions about what is, and isn't, appropriate in our modern context, but censoring something we don't agree with isn't how we have healthy discussions.
The ugly truth of it is that censorship is a slippery slope to a totalitarian state, and I worry that because we've begun censoring things under the guise of "equality" and "feminism" we're ignoring the deeply troubling ramifications of adopting these kinds of tactics.
Because censorship seems OK as long as as you're not the one being censored.
But if history tells us anything, it tells us that the people we need to be the most concerned about are the ones who think the have the moral high ground
because it's those people who will turn on you the fastest.
If you're like me, or even like a lot of other people out there, then you probably have a somewhat complicated relationship with your parents.
These conflicts and complications happen because dynamics are difficult to navigate; it's hard to be emotionally connected and love someone who may be vastly different from you, or who hurts you, confuses you, or struggles to connect with you emotionally.
As children, it falls on our shoulders to try to understand and unpack our parents:
What decisions and life experiences led them to this place in life?
How did these experiences shape their personalities and parenting style?
What can we do to bridge the gap between their values and beliefs, and those of a new generation?
(I think about these things a lot, in case you haven't noticed.)
Someone else who clearly thinks about these things a lot is Tetsuro Shigematsu, the performer behind the play Empire of the Son, which is currently playing at the Prairie Theatre Exchange.
Image via the Prairie Theatre Exchange
Empire of the Son is a one-man show written and performed by Tetsuro Shigematsu (former host of CBC Radio One’s The Roundup) which employs a variety of mediums from monologues, to video, recorded audio, to live-action video using miniature sets, and more, to explore the complex relationship between himself and his father, also a CBC broadcaster.
Or, as the poster so aptly put it: Two Generations and the Silence Between Them (how perfect is this description, by the way?)
The play focuses on Shigematsu's emotionally distant father, Akira, and his struggle to reconcile his father's lasting impact through his work as a radio broadcaster for the BBC and CBC, and how emotionally distant and reserved he was with his family.
I'll be honest: I typically have a hard time getting into one-man shows as I tend to find the disconnect when an actor switches between characters to be rather jarring, but there was a distinct physical difference between when Shigematsu was "Tetsuro" and when he was acting as "Akira" that may have turned me into a one-man show convert:
Shigematsu's impressions of his father seemed to take over his whole body; his posture changed, his facial expressions changed, and his inflection and pronunciation were so dramatically different from the jovial person telling the story that it often felt like there was another person onstage, entirely.
At the same time, you could tell that these impressions, and his ability to deliver them so effectively, were crafted with the kind of love and intimate knowledge that only very close family members and friends tend to have with one another.
As Shigematsu led us through his father's life we came to understand the contradiction he felt about his father: for someone who broadcasted to the world and regularly talked to people across the globe, he struggled to open up to and connect emotionally with his own children.
It's revealed that though his father was an influential figure and led a storied life which included some astounding moments (having tea with the Queen, being present in the room when Marilyn Monroe serenaded JFK, and - most notably - being in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped) Shigematsu only began to 'real' conversations with his father when he began interviewing him towards the end of his life.
This contrast hit home, and served as a reminder that, often, the most we know of previous generations is what they choose to share, and unless we take the time to tease it out of them, their stories and experiences may be lost forever.
(As someone who studied oral history in university, I found this fascinating, by the way.)
Image via the Prairie Theatre Exchange
This intimate solo performance was enhanced by Shigematsu's larger-than-life stage presence and his interesting use of a camera and miniature props located on a long table onstage. A DSLR camera (I think) was strapped to it, and at times Shigematsu would move casually over to the table, arrange some of the tiny props, and stream the live video camera footage to the screen behind him.
If this sounds strange, it was - but that only enhanced how effective this method of adding an additional visual layer was to the overall story. Personally, I've never seen someone manage to imitate two different people and move around on a miniature skateboard with just their middle ad index fingers, have you?
At the outset of the performance Shigematsu shares that he hasn't cried since he was a child, and shared his hope that performing this story in front of an audience would help him do so.
Personally, I shed enough tears for both Shigematsu and myself.
This poignant, captivating and strikingly funny memoir is one that I highly recommend seeing.
Additionally, we were lucky enough to catch Empire of the Son on the night of the Prairie Theatre Exchange's Leap Series, a new event in partnership with Manitoba Music focusing on out-of-the-box plays and music from local artists. If you're looking for a date night, or an opportunity to dive into the world of independent theatre, make sure to check out their next Leap Series event happening in February (and say hi to me if you do!)
**Big thanks to the folks at the Prairie Theatre Exchange for giving me free tickets to see their 2018/2019 season in exchange for these posts. It's a wonderful treat to be able to support and promote Winnipeg's independent theatres.**
I walk a lot most of the time, really, but recently the temperature plummeted to something ridiculous like -20C for a few weeks and nobody wanted to go outside, myself included.
But the last few days have been way more mild, to the point where I didn't even wear a toque today. In late November!
But I digress: I've been walking a lot lately in a variety of headwear and a very sharp blue jacket courtesy of the recent Thrive Thrift Shop clothing swap
(I've finally fulfilled my lifelong dream of owning a winter jacket that isn't black!)
to and from different meetings, and appointments, and what have you.
It's been nice to be outside again.
The part I like most about being outside is having the opportunity to see other people going about their day. I'm endlessly fascinated by other people and can sit in one spot watching people all day long if left to my own devices.
A lot of people think people-watching is boring, but it isn't. People are incredibly interesting if you think about it.
Consider this: every single other person around you is walking around in a big skin bag with internal thoughts and feelings, worries and motivations, deep personal histories, baggage, anxieties, hopes and fears... all of the weird stuff you go through every day, everyone else is going through at the same time.
Do you remember the first time you realized that about other people? I do.
I was in the bathroom in my childhood home, washing my hands. Or rather, I'd washed my hands after using the bathroom and was thinking about something, and as I looked at myself in the mirror I realized:
every single other living person out there is having the same experience as I am.
I actually stumbled back a bit and had to catch myself on the towel rack, and stared at myself and for the first time connected with the fact that all of the other people around me were as equally complicated and had the same internal monologues and experiences, and it scared the living daylights out of me.
I'd never felt so small before. I felt insignificant because, after all, if what I'm experiencing is just "default human" and is the same thing everyone else experiences, does that mean I'm less unique?
After that I developed an obsession with psychology and sociology and anthropology.
I figured: I dive as deep into these topics as I can, maybe I can figure myself out.
But what digging into it (and, subsequently, into how totally infinitesimally small and unimportant I am in the grand scheme of the universe - deep breath) wound up accomplishing was that I developed a strange fascination with other people.
(The jury is still out on whether I truly understand myself though - I'm a work in progress)
I want to know everyone's backstory. Their hopes. Their fears. What it's like for them for look out of their eyes from their body and look at me knowing that there's a consciousness in there looking back at them from a separate sack of skin and bone and muscle and gut bacteria and atoms and neurons firing.
I wonder: what's it like for them to know that there's another person in me, too?
So it's nice when it's warm enough for me to walk outside because I get to experience other humans going about their days, absorbed in their own and thoughts and feelings.
They're going about their lives, thinking their own internal monologues.
Worrying about what to make for dinner
what to get Jenny for her birthday next Thursday
that wall in the kitchen they still haven't painted yet.
I walk by other people and I marvel at how unique everyone is.
How strikingly complex and interesting and special they all are.
And I walk to and fro and back and worth watching people, and I wonder:
Does anyone else realize this about me, too?
Don't worry I'm not going to spoil it for you. Mostly I thought it could have gone deeper with some characters and kinda copped out at the end there, but that's fine.
This is still the first season of AHS I've finished in a few seasons so that's a plus.
I just don't like gore that much. Horror that leans too much on gore feels like cheap scares and though I love a good scare I'd rather have spent the last several minutes feeling tense and stressed out before a jump scare than some big gory death scene.
Come to think of it, I've always preferred ghost stories specifically for that reason: less gore.
Plus ghosts are spooky af.
When I was a kid I could have sworn I'd seen a ghost.
It was in our old house on Murray Avenue. We had a U-shaped stair with a big heavy mirror handing above a table on the landing.
My mom had these weird, round portraits of a small French children hanging on either side. I thought they were fancy when I was little because they had on nice clothes, but I've seen versions in vintage stores in the years since and they always give me the willies, now.
Of course when I thought I saw the ghost I thought I saw it in the mirror.
I was going to the bathroom in the middle of the night, walking back from my parents' bedroom
(we cut through their bedroom at night for some reason even though the bathroom had two doors - one to my parents' bedroom, and another to the hallway - I forget why we kept the hallway door closed at night, though.)
which meant standing at the landing at the top of the stairs to the main floor of the house.
It must have been a clear night with a full moon, because the hallway wall was bright. That eerie blue-white things get when it's dark and the moon is full.
It looked odd against the other dark shadows that contrasted against the soft orange light of the nightlight my parents kept plugged into the outlet in the hallway so my brothers and I didn't fall down the stairs going to the bathroom in the dark.
I've always been a jumpy kid but for some reason I stayed there and watched the mirror instead of scurrying back to my bedroom like I usually did. I think the downstairs hallway looked so bright. That's why I stopped.
Of course I thought I saw something move.
Some fast shadow. A bird, most likely. Or a small cloud.
Whatever it was it scared me so hard that from then on I kept my eyes glued to the hallway ahead of me when walking back from the bathroom at night.
Maybe that's why it's always been the jump-scares, not the gory scenes, that I gravitated towards when figuring which horror movies and TV shows I want to spend my time watching.
I prefer to be stressed out and waiting for the other shoe to drop - to find out what the hell is going on - than watch someone get hurt for fun.
Which has really been AHS' go-to tactic for a few seasons, I think. Especially the ones with the terrifying clown, which I did my best to watch and finish but definitely opted out of watching them as soon as we got busy.
Maybe I would have liked it better if there'd been more ghosts.
Yesterday as I was on my way to a meeting my toque blew off my head because it was windy af and I had to chase it down the street like a chump
which wouldn't have been so bad, except as it was blowing away my toque blew into some dude's legs as he was also crossing the street, and you know what he did?
He laughed and kicked my toque off his leg and I swear I could have chewed him out for being a tool right then and there but I was worrying about catching up with my toque and also getting my hair, scarf, and glasses which slipped off my face as I was hustling in place
(I must have looked like a hot mess)
then as I was bending down to snatch up my hat my phone went flying out of my pocket and wouldn't you know it
the damn thing hit the pavement and the screen shattered into a bazillion horrible and depressing shards.
It was heartbreaking.
But I had to go to a meeting with a new client and my account manager so I had to keep my shit together even though I was freaking out internally because now I needed to get a new phone. There was no way I could use this broken POS. Ugh.
So after my meeting wrapped I headed to my friendly neighbourhood Rogers kiosk to get it replaced. As I was going through the transaction I mentioned that I was heading to Thailand in a few months and the dude said
oh no way, I just got back from Thailand and Indonesia!
and gave me a ton of tips and tricks to traveling through Thailand including making sure we do some scuba diving off the islands on the southern part of the country
(which we were planning to do)
and also to take as many night trains as possible since they're affordable and beautiful and offer lots of chances to actually interact with real Thai folks and not just dumb tourists like us.
(we're now booked on a night train to Chiang Mai which I am PUMPED about)
"Sorry about this" he said "but it's gonna be $300 to buy out of your contract and get a new phone" and I said well, that sucks but OK. I'm not a baller but my corporation can afford it so I'll just buy it now and get money back on my taxes since it's a business expense.
And he said, oh you run a business, what do you do?
And I said I run a digital marketing agency blah blah and he said are you looking for copywriters?
And I said, why yes I am
and he told me his gf was a CreComm grad and is a copywriter and is looking for more work and I thought THIS IS PERFECT because I have lots of work I need done and I'd rather pay someone to do it than do it myself because yr girl is busy af
so I left him my card and have a potential new hire without doing any work.
What's weird about that whole exchange is that if I hadn't been chatty and pleasant and probably bordered on over-sharing what my company does, what our Thailand plans are, etc.
(luckily for me I live in a city where everyone is unusually nice and talkative with strangers)
I might not have gotten those travel protips or had the potential to meet a new person who can help me grow my company and do good work for my clients.
The moral of the story I think is: be chatty and pleasant and good things will come to you.
It always seems to work out that way for me, anyway.
"Happy Place" is playing at the Prairie Theatre Exchange right now and John and I checked it out on opening night last week. I try not to do any research into the shows before we see them so I don't go in with any expectations, and to date it hasn't done me wrong.
"Happy Place" is a play about a group of women who, for one reason of another, all find themselves in an in-patient centre as a result of various types of trauma.
Based on that description you'd probably expect to cry more than you'd laugh, but I don't know if that's quite the case with this play.
The play begins by introducing Samira, a young woman who starts out being withdrawn and quiet around the other patients, and around their doctor, Louise. Over the course of the play we learn that Samira has been sexually abused, at one point through a gut-wrenching monologue that was, honestly, hard to hear.
Other characters include Mildred, the shit-disturber who provides a lot of the comedic relief through her sassy, no-bullshit personality; Rosemary, who is reserved and somewhat condescending; Kathleen, who has also been sexually abused; Nina, who is tightly-wound and whose psyche feels frayed; and Joyce, who spends most of her time being a nosy busybody who one-ups everyone so thoughtlessly that it almost seems like she does so without thinking.
The set was simple: a raised platform with areas off to the side representing the "rooms" the women stayed in. At first it almost felt too simple, but as the play progressed the use of lighting created a surprisingly dynamic and engaging stage setup.
I feel like "Happy Place" is important for several reasons.
The play explores the various ways women can be abused, manipulated, overpowered, and the deep underlying sense of shame and low self-worth that these experiences breed inside of us.
The short scenes and choppy, fragmented way in which the story was told reminded me a lot of what it was like in therapy: short outbursts of extreme emotion that often left you feeling more empty than whole and fulfilled.
There were several group scenes which stood out, including one where Louise asks the women to create a collage of their "happy place" which - I won't go into too much detail here - but this also hit home in a surprisingly profound way as the characters discussed their reactions to the concept of a "happy place".
I cried so hard while watching "Happy Place" that I started to worry about my mascara and eyeliner giving me raccoon eyes.
As each of the characters began to process her own trauma, and the role she played in creating or enabling the issue I, and other people in the audience, started to break down.
At one point Joyce, whose constant need to one-up everyone around her had reminded me so much of my mom and my Nan (my mom's mother, ironically also named Joyce) floored me by saying
"I'm not depressed because my husband left me... my husband left me because I'm depressed."
It's not often that a character in a play puts words to your deepest, darkest fear.
I don't think I was quite ready for it. I started crying and had to work to restrain myself from flat-out ugly-crying in the middle of the theatre. I held onto John's hand so tight and saw that he was crying, too.
Most everyone in the theatre was full-on crying by that point, I think.
Which speaks volumes about the play, and its playwright Pamela Mala Sinha. Being able to peel back layers of fear and self-judgment for the things we are ashamed of, or wish we could undo, or forget onstage is a magnificent (if not somewhat off-putting for how personal it felt) feat, and a deeply powerful and moving experience to watch acted out onstage.
"Happy Place" is playing at the PTE until November 25, 2018, and even though I've spent most of this post talking about how sad it was, and how much I cried... that's precisely why you should grab a ticket (or two, it's good to cry with a friend) while it's still playing.
It's not every day that a play touches you as deeply as this one touched me, and based on the sniffling and tissues going around the venue, I doubt I was the only one who felt that way.
**Big thanks to the folks at the Prairie Theatre Exchange for giving me free tickets to see their 2018/2019 season in exchange for these posts. It's a wonderful treat to be able to support and promote Winnipeg's independent theatres.**
I'm sitting at the Fyxx on Broadway and eating lunch: Tandoori's Box sandwich (pretty good) and some chicken gumbo soup (very good) and a glass of water because I have a thermos of coffee in my bag that John made for me this morning before I left the house.
He makes coffee in a Chemex during the weekdays and has a system of pouring the water, waiting, and pouring that it part Chemex-specific, and part his own process.
On the weekends he makes coffee using the Aeropress but the coffee also includes tasty stuff like a shot of Jameson's or Baileys or Kahlua if we're craving something sweet.
John's coffee is one of the highlights of my day-to-day and I will be the first to admit that I am completely spoiled in this regard.
I only make my own coffees when he's travelling for work or out of town and I can tell you that even though it's hard to fuck up coffee, whatever I make isn't nearly as good.
Back when I worked in an office he would make me a big thermos to take with me so I didn't have to drink the Maxwell House that every office seems to defer to.
(We do not drink Maxwell House. We drink fair trade coffee from our local coffee shops like Thom Bargen and sometimes Parlour Coffee or Little Sister).
(Though we often cut our fancy beans with flavoured beans from Bulk Barn which means my coffee is half French Vanilla or Hazelnut or whatever, which is isn't as fancy but is way more delicious).
When I started running Starling a few years back I switched from going into an office every day to working from home and I'd assumed for some reason that my thermos of coffee would go away
after all, if I'm at home with all the coffee stuff why would John bother making extra for me?
But every day for the past three-plus years John has not only made me a thermos of coffee every weekday
but he brews it, mixes it, and drops it off at my desk in the morning before he leaves for the office
so by the time I'm finished getting ready I have a cozy office with a big 'ol thermos of coffee waiting for me on my desk.
A while back we had a big fight in the morning before work.
I forget what it was about, but it was one of those stupid fights where you're probably too emotionally volatile (and fully not awake yet) so everything is a problem and the other person makes you so mad you could spit.
I said to John "just go away. I'll see you later" and I started getting ready like I usually do
and that wonderful man, you know what he did?
He went upstairs and made me my usual thermos of coffee
and then he dropped it off in my office as usual
even though we were in the middle of a fight and I was, in hindsight, probably not being my best self
(I'm not a morning person)
he still went out of his way to be kind to me.
Later in the day after we'd calmed down and had a chat and things were back to normal I said
"why did you still make me coffee this morning?"
and he said
"just because we're fighting doesn't mean I get to be a dick about things. I love you."
Thank god I'm marrying that man.
Just kidding, I never stopped using the internet.
But in the weeks leading up to the election I found myself dreading looking at social media, and at the deluge of inflammatory comments, straw man arguments, and overall negativity aimed at the Coalition for Portage and Main (aka 'VoteOpen') of which I was a spokesperson during the recent election.
I'm going to talk about that experience as frankly as I can because that's what I've always tried to do. Maybe this will hurt your feelings. Maybe this will piss you off. Maybe you'll agree with me. Maybe some of this will ring true to you.
As a member of VoteOpen I got to know some of the most passionate and dedicated people I've ever met.
As a business owner I have the privilege of regularly meeting interesting and motivated people as part of what I do, but it's not often that I've had the good fortune to be in a room with so many people who fit that bill on an ongoing basis.
The VoteOpen committee meetings each Friday afternoon became one of the highlights of my week (especially the post-meeting cocktails). I got to know smart and thoughtful people like Adam Dooley, Ian McCausland, Anders Swanson, Wil Belford, Glen fucking Murray, Adam Duguay, Brent Bellamy, and a whole lot more who brought creativity and great ideas to every meeting.
I met dozens of volunteers who weren't on the committee, but who donated time on evenings, weekends, and during their workdays to advocate for a cause they believed in.
I spoke to passionate Winnipeggers on a daily basis who believe that the best downtowns are accessible, pedestrian-focused, and who share the same vision of my city as I do.
I got to be on podcasts, on the radio, and on the news multiple times as a spokesperson, which sharpened my chops and helped me become a more confident public speaker.
I tabled at my alma mater and got to engage with university students about the civic process, and talk to them about the kind of city they want to live in.
I gave a talk at Design Winnipeg's 10x20x20 where people cheered for our message.
That one felt good.
A local "journalist" (heavy quotations) blocked me on Twitter after I repeatedly asked him why he was going after a group of volunteers instead of holding City Hall accountable for keeping the public uninformed about the impact of the plebiscite vote.
Instead of explaining his reasons, he blocked me.
Does that one get me a badge? I feel like it should.
Then, near the end of it all, I got to attend OpenFest, a free public concert where my favourite local band played my favourite song in support of a cause I believe in, and which I campaigned for.
That was a really good night.
At the end of the day, the city voted 2-to-1 to keep the intersection closed. Obviously I'm disappointed with the outcome; how could I not be, really?
But the thing that disappointed me the most was how little our elected officials did to keep the public informed about an issue that will continue to shape the future of our downtown.
Instead of leading the discussion, our Mayor (who initially campaigned on reopening the intersection, by the way) and City Council left it to a group of volunteers to try and do their work for them.
This would have been a great moment for the incumbent (and now second-term) mayor to lead the discussion and showcase the vision of the 'City of a Million' he led with during his initial bid for mayor back in 2014.
It would also have been a great opportunity for City Council members to - at the very least - make the information regarding the Portage & Main more readily available and understandable so the people living in their wards could make informed decisions about the future of the city they live in.
Unfortunately that would require some vision and consideration for their electorate, neither of which I've seen around City Hall recently.
Dan Lett wrote a wonderful piece in the Winnipeg Free Press articulating what a farce this entire plebiscite vote was, so I won't repeat it here, but suffice it to say we were fighting an uphill battle from the start, and one that was deliberately stacked against people who support and believe in our downtown.
Honestly though, the worst part was watching my city turn its back on progress.
As a recent New York Times article pointed out, all over Canada and elsewhere cities are revamping their downtowns to focus on pedestrian foot traffic, transit and cycling infrastructure, and business development to reinvigorate decaying downtowns and wean ourselves off of our dependance on single-person vehicles and fossil fuel.
Except here in Winnipeg.
In Winnipeg, the car is still king, even though it shouldn't be.
(Don't give me any blowback about the "cold winters," please. I've lived in this city for most of my life and I've never owned a car. I walk or bike when it's warm enough [which is actually most of the year] and in the winter I take transit, or a Tapp Car, and I get by just fine. So do many other people I know. So that excuse is moot as far as I'm concerned.)
One of the most frustrating parts of this experience has been the repeated accusations and insults hurled at a group of people who are volunteering their time to try and effect positive change for our city.
I repeat: we were volunteers with no political experience doing the best we could with limited time, resources, and information.
We did our best to convey information from sources like 90-page reports, documentation about local transit, etc. in a succinct and effective manner, but that shit is hard, and doubly so when the majority of "no" voters we engaged with continued to accuse us of deliberately trying to mislead the public, or of "not providing them with enough information."
Because here's the thing: we had all the same information as everyone else in this city. We just took the time to read through it all (or most of it) while the majority of voters decided not to.
(And if you didn't, that's fine. But people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.)
Specifically, however, I want to touch on a troubling component of this campaign, which is that the VoteOpen folks were held to a significantly higher moral standard than the "no" side and our local politicians.
A local politician called us "elitists" (which is laughable - I rent my home and don't own a car. I'm hardly "elite" by anyone's standards), our local smear "journalist" called us "arrogant," and I've had more people accuse us of being condescending or of "talking down to people" than I've ever heard in my life.
(And I grew up in an abusive household, so I know what it feels like to be talked down to, or to be made to feel small or stupid on purpose.)
I helped manage the VoteOpen social accounts, so I can say with certainty that we always strove to be respectful in our messaging, and to rely on facts and data whenever possible while also trying to paint a picture of what our downtown could be.
However, the one talking point that seemed to really incense people is this:
The general public are not informed enough to vote directly on matters of public policy.
This one confused me, because here's the thing: it's OK to be uninformed.
Being "uninformed" doesn't mean someone is stupid - which is what a lot of people seem to think it means for some reason - it means we haven't learned as much about a subject as we could, and that's totally okay.
But the impact public policy projects - from The Forks, to The MTS Centre, to The Floodway (aka "Duff's Ditch"), just to name a few local ones - is hard to convey because it's hard to get people to think "big picture" at a civic and multigenerational level if they've never had to before. And that's okay. We all start somewhere (and I can say this from experience).
That's why VoteOpen consistently linked to relevant data, facts, and opinion pieces from urban planners who spend their lives studying the effects of areas like Portage & Main whenever we could.
We did this not to make other people feel small, but because we were trying to avoid getting into rhetorical arguments, or from using logical fallacies whenever possible.
We stuck to the facts whenever we could because the facts are how we make informed decisions, both in our personal and public lives.
The "no" side, however chose to hurl insults at us, leave negative or rude comments, or tell us that they hope people die if the intersection is reopened.
Here's a small sampling:
These two stand out:
"When car accidents increase and people are killed if and only if the road is open... then your group should be feathered."
"Im hoping it does open and every pedestrian DIES lmao"
I heard this sentiment a lot: people commenting and saying they hope people die so VoteOpen will "learn a lesson" or that they can't wait to see the bodies at Portage & Main.
What the actual fuck, people. These kinds of attitudes and comments are extremely alarming. Would you want to live in a city where people think this way about you?
But my point is that we were repeatedly dragged over the coals for engaging in what was always intended to be respectful and civil public discourse, while the "no" side had a field day and wasn't held to the same moral standard.
We weren't perfect, of course - this was an emotional election and both sides got worked up - but I can say with certainty that everyone officially associated with VoteOpen always did their best to be respectful to everyone we engaged with.
I know from experience that that wasn't the case on the other side of the aisle, and seeing such an ugly and repulsive side of my city really started to wear me out as the campaign dragged on.
Despite the result of the plebiscite (which is non-binding, by the way) I doubt that the discussion about Portage & Main is over.
We already know that millions still need to be spent to repair the underground concourse, which is infested with mold and decaying (as concrete tends to do after 40 years) so the barricades will come down anyway... and frankly it seems stupid and small-minded to simply put them back up again after we spent millions taking them down.
I guess we'll see.
At the outset of this whole debacle I said that the Portage & Main debate is an embarrassment to Winnipeg, and even after being called "arrogant" I still stand by that statement.
It was embarrassing to have to work so hard just to try and get people to say "yes" to opening an intersection.
It was embarrassing to hear people in my city dismiss people with accessibility issues who stated that the intersection didn't let them cross the street with dignity.
It was embarrassing to hear people make fun of and dismiss women who expressed concern for their safety while navigating the underground concourse alone or at night.
I felt embarrassed of my city when I spoke to individuals from elsewhere who didn't understand why people were fighting to keep people from crossing the street.
The most embarrassing part was seeing firsthand that many people who live in this city don't care about the health and well-being of the place we call 'home' if it affects their commute in any way whatsoever.
Actually, that was equal parts depressing and embarrassing.
Our downtown deserves better than to be a thoroughfare between one suburb and the next.
Still Feeling Hopeful
Despite all of the negativity, what this experience taught me was that the tides are changing in my city. Things are changing slowly, and from the centre out (as is typically the case with cities, it seems), but things are changing.
This is especially true among the younger demographic, who are spending more and more time downtown, and in the surrounding areas like The Exchange District and The Forks.
When tabling at the University of Winnipeg the majority of the students I talked to were open to the idea of a walkable and vibrant downtown, and saw Portage & Main as a key point to making that happen because they wanted a city that they could be proud of.
That was inspiring.
Because here's the thing: you can't stop progress.
Sure, you can slow it down. You can try and get in the way. But progress always wins out because eventually people will want to start replicating the success stories we see and read about in other North American cities.
Hopefully we can get some real leadership and vision in City Hall sooner than later, and the next round of politicians in the civic election will do a more effective job of communicating a vision of the kind of vibrant, safe, and accessible downtown that we and future generations deserve to be able to enjoy and experience.
Winnipeg will get there, eventually.
And I, for one, am happy to keep leading the charge for progress.
See you around, Winnipeg.