Happy belated birthday, Matt Good. Thanks for writing so many songs that somehow resonated with me even though we've never really met
(signing a CD on a tour bus after a show doesn't count, I don't think)
and for being the first musician to say something that moved me.
Matthew Good Band (MGB) played a lot on Much Music when I was a kid and like any good Canadian kid I owned and wore out the CDs for Beautiful Midnight, The Audio of Being (and the Raygun EP which is still a personal favourite.)
But as good as the alt-rock stylings of MGB were they didn't hit you. Never washed over you and made you go
In 2003 Avalanche, his first solo album, was released and though everyone went nuts for Weapon and In a World Called Catastrophe (a great song) I'd go nuts for Lullaby for the New World Order and While We Were Hunting Rabbits (which still gives me goosebumps every time I listen)
and, predictably, Avalanche.
Oh my god that song.
I self-harmed as a teenager and I'd sit in my bedroom and feel hopeless and cry and cut and silently scream along to that song. I was sad and I didn't understand why and there was something about that song that said
I know. I know. I know.
and I thought he knew. I felt like, in some abstract, messed-up way, Matt Good understood what it was like to feel alone and not understand how or why you felt so hopeless. So miserable.
And then Hospital Music came out.
This was in 2007 when I was living in Hamilton and was a hot, hot mess. I was in the wrong relationship and didn't feel like I had any supports and didn't know how to cope so I drank and got fat and would daydream about coming home to Winnipeg and getting wasted with my party crew because everything felt horrible and out of control and getting messed-up felt like the only way to smother those feelings.
And then this musician I'd admired and respected for years came out with an album he wrote as the result of a mental breakdown, suicide attempt, and his subsequent time in a psychiatric ward and I realized that he actually did know those hopeless feelings.
Someone else out there knew the profound, isolating sadness I'd been carrying around and didn't have the words to convey.
And of course that didn't magically make things better.
My bad relationship still fell apart.
I still had to move back to Winnipeg.
My home life was still a mess.
I was still miserable and confused.
But at least I could turn on my iPod and listen to songs like Champions of Nothing and 99% of Us Is Failure and lose myself in someone else's explorations of their own misery and confusion.
And this weird and foreign feeling that I wouldn't really discover or understand for another several years would wash over me. And for a few minutes, sometimes even just a few seconds
I'd feel like maybe things would eventually be okay.
In years to come I'd fall in love with the music of Leonard Cohen, John K. Samson, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, and others, but Hospital Music stuck with me, even though I rarely listen to it these days.
Some albums are like that. They're for a specific time. Place. Feeling.
But sometimes, when no one's around, I'll pull out the Hospital Music vinyl and look at the familiar cover: blue with the orange and red and brown. Colours I've stared at so many times before.
I'll put it on the turntable
and I'll have a good cry to the soundtrack of my many heartbreaks.
It takes stones to ask the White House Press Secretary to leave your restaurant because her presence, and what she stands for
an administration that is systematically dismantling all of the progress that has been done in America over these last few generations
hates LGBTQ people
is racist and bigoted
promotes the kind of small-minded, partisan, xenophobic thinking that undoes the fabric of a national economy
undermines and attacks the CIA, FBI, and the Department of Justice
and works to systematically dismantle and disrupt global and unilateral organizations and treaties
rightfully made some of her staff upset.
It must have been a tough decision because to be honest Trump supporters are scary. They're like rabid dogs and will bite you and try to pass on their poisonous hate to anyone and anything they can sink their teeth into.
Not to mention the fact that the person who is supposed to be in charge of running one of the largest and most influential countries on the planet
(okay, maybe not that part anymore since they're basically abandoning the rest of the world)
is so thin-skinned and uninterested in focusing on governing effectively that he'll weigh in on anything that gets his political base fired up.
If I were you, my heart would have been pounding as I walked up to that table. I can't imagine having to put myself and my business which employs other people at risk because a woman who thinks lying to the American people every day is just part of the job decided to stop by for a cheese board.
But I completely agree with your decision (especially since you have several gay people on staff who I'm sure were uncomfortable with her presence) and when you said:
“this feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals.”
Because we do. Maybe now more than ever.
And as business owners we have a responsibility to use our business to support and promote the values we believe in, even if that means taking a financial hit.
We're lucky enough to be in a position where we can channel our passions into something that adds to our communities and makes the world we live in a better place, and sometimes that means making hard decisions so we don't compromise our morals.
Stick to your guns, girl. You'll get through this.
And, for what it's worth, you just made me into a lifelong customer.
The easy answer is: everyone.
But humans are trash sometimes, and we don't always think that way.
Mostly because a lot of people lack empathy, especially when it applies to people we don't know, or people we have beef with, or people who have hurt us.
Empathy means you give a shit about other people. You care about their life experience, how they feel, what they care about and what motivates them.
Loving someone is just empathy amplified.
Because when you really love someone - I mean really love someone - then you start to act weird. You put their needs and wants before your own. You start making changes in yr own life because you care so much about their wants, needs, and ambitions.
You're willing to look at yr own behaviours and go
"shit, are the things I'm saying/doing negatively impacting the person I care about?"
and if the answer is 'yes' then you try and correct course to the best of your ability. Because that's what you do when you love someone. Even though it can be tough to put down your pride, prejudice, or assumptions about that person, you do yr best and try to act with empathy.
And if we're willing to do that with people we care about, why is it so hard to extend that same caring and thoughtfulness to other people
even if they look
or act differently than we do?
It seems obvious if you ask me. Empathy can heal our broken society.
Maybe not everyone thinks this way. But maybe we should.
Maybe the world would be a little nicer if we did.
Because on one hand there are so many things I want to say about my father.
Some good. Most not-so-good.
It used to be the other way around, but the distance and time has highlighted the ways in which I compensated for his failures in my own mind. How I built up this image of a person, some broken-down dude who was just trying his best in an unhealthy marriage, to fill in the space created by two individual parents who fundamentally weren't any good at what they were doing.
Deconstructing that idea has been the hardest part of the last few years.
Thank god for therapy, loving relationships, and good friends.
Growing up I spent a lot of time in my Dad's office for a lot of reasons. Sometimes waiting. Sometimes crying. Sometimes just hanging out because I had nowhere else to go.
During those times I always seemed to find myself staring at one little print-out on his wall in particular. It went something like this:
"Kid, age 3: My daddy can do anything!
Kid, age 9: Dad? Oh, he knows some things I guess.
Kid, age 16: My dad doesn't understand anything that I'm going through!
Kid, age 25: My dad knows some stuff, sure. He's got some good advice.
Kid, age 45: Let's ask the Old Man for his thoughts on this one.
Kid, age 65: I wish I could still ask Dad about this."
At the time I'd read it and it would make me think about the fleeting nature of our relationships. How quickly we grow and change, and how soon my dad would be gone, and how important it was to make the most of the time we both had together as parent and child.
I don't know what he thought when he saw that poster, day in and day out.
I don't know if his thoughts about it changed as his kids got older.
As he got older.
After he told his oldest child and only daughter to "have a nice life."
On Father's Day I think of that poster, and of my dad.
I wonder what he would ask me, if he could.
Because I have a laundry list of things that I'd ask him.
Every year on Mother's and Father's Days I make a donation to Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Winnipeg. If you also have family issues that get you down, or if you feel like your parents failed you and wished you'd had some better role models growing up, please consider donating.
Mostly because it scares people.
They don't know what to say, do, how to react to the reality that someone they love and care about has seriously considered removing themselves from existence because
the weight of the world is just too much to bear, sometimes.
And if you're not the kind of person who can look at suicide and say
"yeah, that makes sense. I can see how that can feel like an option."
Then it can be hard to understand where those feelings come from.
For me, suicidal feelings have come and gone like the tide. Sometimes they're stronger; when the tide is in. When the tide's out, they're just a nagging thought in the back of my head. My darkest fears are out to sea.
But, like the ocean, they're always there.
John and I talked about Kate Spade last night, and this morning as we were talking about the news of Anthony Bourdain's suicide, and how the news made me feel, and he said:
I think your suicidal thoughts are a holdover from your family. You went through a lot of trauma and you can learn to put these thoughts and feelings down, just like you've put so much of your trauma down in the last few years.
And though he meant well, I felt like I was hitting the same wall that so many people who struggle with these feelings come up against: the people we love rationalizing away our irrational feelings for us because they love us, and because they're scared.
Telling us that suicide is cheap, cowardly, and selfish.
That the people who take their own lives have no regard for how it impacts other people.
That we should want to cling as desperately to life as they think we should.
That if we just worked a little harder, tried a little more... then we wouldn't feel this way.
And maybe they're right. I don't know.
But hearing those things doesn't make me want to reach out. It makes me want to retreat further into myself. To not confide.
Because hearing someone - anyone - say "you can get rid of those thoughts if you just worked harder" makes me feel like a failure.
Because hearing someone - anyone - say "your life is so good, though. You have no reason to feel that way" makes me feel like I don't deserve what I have.
Because hearing someone - anyone - say "suicide is a cowardly move that doesn't take how other people feel into consideration" makes me feel like - well, I'm guess I'm a coward for feeling this way, so what does it matter?
Which, I assume, is how people like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, who were so famous, so loved, so admired, and so cherished by thousands, maybe even millions of people
could feel so profoundly alone and misunderstood
to the point where they made that final decision.
It's got me thinking that maybe addressing suicidal thoughts isn't about "fixing" people. Maybe the people who have suicidal thoughts aren't "broken people" who need to be "fixed."
Maybe they're just other people who are wired a bit differently, and who need our support.
Just like our society is working to support people with other types of mental illness, LGBTQ people, and people with mental and physical disabilities, maybe it's time we started working to just support the people who struggle with suicidal thoughts.
Not fix them. Not make them better.
But just accept that some of us just are this way. This is our reality.
It doesn't make us bad people
or cowardly people
or selfish people.
At least, not any more so than the average person.
When we reach out we're not asking for someone to solve our problems.
Hell, we're often not even looking to "solve" it, ourselves.
We just need a life raft when the high tide comes in.
If you're feeling suicidal, please talk to someone. Call your mom, your boyfriend, your best friend, or, if you're feeling too overwhelmed, the Manitoba Suicide Line at 1-877-435-7170 or call any of the other 24-hour crisis hotlines to get help.
and when I was talking to the radio host he mentioned this 'lil blog here, and a couple of posts, specifically, and it threw me a bit because blogging is dead and also because most people these days know me from Twitter, or my business, or my TEDxWinnipeg talk
not the weird little blog I've been running for like a decade now that is actually just a continuation of a multitude of other blogs I've had over the years
because sometimes I forget that people I don't know still read this thing
so if that's you, hello!
and it reminded me that not only is this a place to share my thoughts about my city and the things that matter to me, but also to use it as a place to highlight some of the really cool and interesting things that I somehow wind up getting to do in this weirdly charmed life of mine
The other week I discovered one of the coolest gems in our city: the RTMF bike jam, which is actually a testament to how un-cool I actually am because this thing has been going for a few years now and I only just got around to going
(thanks Carlene for the reminder)
but holy hell guys are bike jams ever the best thing ever.
Not only does it involve one of the best activities ever - riding yr bike - but you get to do it as part iof a massive group of people who are all slightly buzzed, listening to music which is pumping from a bike with speakers attached to it, and riding super duper slow so you can take selfies and laugh at dumb jokes with yr friends.
We met at the muster point in Central Park before the jam kicked off and we met a dude whose name I forget, but he was riding a pink child's bike that said "Cream Soda" on it and was giving out handfuls of cotton candy
which was a bit soggy and gross from the humidity
obviously we had some, and participated in yelling "CREAM SODAAAA" whenever he drove by and pumped his fist and yelled his bike jam chant because that's what one does when one is bike jamming.
Because when you attend weird, fun, interesting events you get to meet all the weird, fun, interesting people that make the place you live something special.
And take it from me: the RTMF bike jam is one of those things that makes Winnipeg really special.
Even though there was a vendor stop around midnight and we grabbed a few more road rockets John an I were exhausted by the time we got to the final party location which was some random side street in The Exchange District
where a DJ and a hot dog stand were waiting for all the partygoers
but instead of partying until dawn John and I rode our bikes to Johnny G's and devoured a plate of chicken fingers and shoestring fries before taking a slow, safe bike ride home
because life's about balance, after all..
Yesterday I went on a bit of a tear in my Instagram Stories where I compared Wolseley (where I live) to the awful suburb where I spent most of my younger years.
I pointed out some of the key differences that make my current, older neighbourhood a good place to live, and how the newer development I grew up in is a barren wasteland not designed for people, or community.
After I posted it a few people messaged me asking why I "hate the suburbs" because, hey! I live there, man. How dare you!
And since it doesn't seem like a lot of people have ever really stopped to think about why the lonely, winding, suburban, sprawling nightmare of a "neighbourhood" that my generation was raised to believe we should want
was even a thing we should want in the first place
and it doesn't seem like a lot of people have stopped to ask why a suburb like the one I just described above would be bad for us both individually and as a society
I posted a bunch of facts on my IG Story and it kinda blew up overnight, and a few people suggested that I re-share the facts I'd posted on my Story publicly online somewhere so they wouldn't be lost after 24 hours.
And, well, I have this little blog here
perfect for the handing out of fast facts and sharing of ideas.
So here they are, for reference:
Suburbs prioritize vehicles over people. Neighbourhoods built to facilitate driving (wide roads, no sidewalks) create a landscape that actively discourages people from using it on foot, bike, skateboard, whatever.
Suburbs are unsafe. Those winding roads sold as "safer" actually aren't; you're actually more likely to be in a motor vehicle accident in a suburb than in the city. (Source: "The Car and the City" by Alan Thein Durning.)
Suburban landscapes don't prioritize safe, efficient public transit. Those "safe" winding roads make it harder to design effective transit routes, and as a result even more people rely on vehicles vs. public transit, increasing the probability of a car hitting a pedestrian or cyclist. (Source: same as above.)
Suburbs are expensive to maintain. Continuing to spread outwards is expensive, and the money needed to build and support all of the infrastructure associated with suburban sprawl takes money away from other essential city services.
Suburbs don't facilitate mixed-use space. "Mixed-used space" is a blend of residential, commercial + other types of buildings. Traditional neighbourhoods (Wolseley, West Broadway, Fort Rouge, etc.) often have mini centres of commerce which facilitate easy socialization (important for human happiness.)
Suburban houses aren't built for people, they're built for cars. A "garage first" home puts the home, and the people who live in it, farther away from the street. The loss of the back lane and the resulting private, fenced backyard reduces opportunities to interact regularly with neighbours and other community members, making them feel less like connected communities.
Suburbs don't facilitate natural socialization. If the place you live requires you to get into a car to go to get groceries, or get a coffee, then it reduces the likelihood that you'll interacts with others in your community on a regular basis. This can make us mistrustful, anxious, and sad.
... so those are just SOME of the reasons why I'm "anti-suburb" and will continue to advocate for smarter city design, downtown living, and making choices as a society that keep us happy, healthy, and safe.
(Also: screw car culture.)
Thanks for reading!
P.S. Want some resources to learn more about healthy and sustainable urban design? Check out some of the reads that influenced my way of thinking:
The Death and Life of Great American Cities - Jane Jacobs
Geography Of Nowhere: The Rise And Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape - James Howard Kunstler
Circulation and the City: Essays on Urban Culture - Alexandra Boutros and Will Straw
Earlier today Tony shared this image on his Facebook and asked: "am I really part of the problem?"
And I've been thinking about this image and comment and concept and here's what I think:
No, you aren't part of the problem. None of us are.
We live in a society guided by principles of capitalism, which means that our economic model rewards businesses who can keep costs low and profits high.
And you know what costs a lot? People.
The median salary for a bagging clerk in the US. is $7.25 - $10.00/hr, which means the average bagging clerk makes $15,080.00 annually to start.
A self-checkout machine, on the other hand, costs an average of $125,000, which means that a grocery store can make a one-time purchase equivalent to the annual salary of 8.28 bagging clerks.
These bagging clerks, mind you, need to be paid their hourly wage regardless of how productive they are. Most will take time away from work at some point (sick time, family leave, vacation time, etc.) They may also need health benefits. Depending on where you live (I'm not great with U.S. business policy so forgive me) employers also need to pay federal taxes towards unemployment benefits for each employee.
Even if a self-checkout machine sits unused for an entire business day, it doesn't matter because the company has already made a one-time investment in the machine, meaning they don't have to pay it for doing nothing. Sure, the machine may break down from time to time but the cost of repairs is still significantly lower than supporting 8.28 people's salaries and additional costs.
Long story short: a one-time investment in a self-serve checkout machine eliminates the ongoing costs of having multiple bagging clerks. It's cheaper and more economical for companies to invest in machines and automation because our economic model rewards fast and cheap.
"Duh, Alyson!" I hear you saying "I know how capitalism works."
Which is all well and good, but when we start getting into the business of discussing how someone's livelihood is being automated away before our eyes, people start throwing around words like "unfair" and "irresponsible" and "cruel" which misses the point entirely.
Here's why: low-skilled jobs are going away whether we want to face it or not.
In fact, automation is expected to eat away at 1/3 of low skill jobs by 2022.
That's only 4 years away, folks, and automation hardware and software is becoming cheaper every day, which means companies that have a business incentive to keep costs low (like we discussed earlier) are going to keep replacing bagging clerks and other low-skill jobs until - guess what - they're basically gone from first-world countries.
It's not "cruel" to look at the facts pragmatically and say "this job is going to be automated away."
It's not "unfair" for low-skilled workers to be replaced by cheaper and more efficient methods because that's how technology, progress, and capitalism all operate.
It's not "irresponsible" to accept that fact and choose to advocate for social support systems like a basic guaranteed income, worker re-training programs, and other services instead.
You know what IS irresponsible?
Pretending like a future that is basically at our doorstep isn't coming and blaming "evil corporations" for replacing low-skilled human workers with automated machines that yield a higher ROI, and acting like choosing a bagging clerk over a self-checkout machine makes even the tiniest bit of difference in the long-term.
It doesn't, and it isn't going to.
So how can we handle this transition responsibly?
Having frank discussions about what automation means for people who can't compete in the labour market because they can't learn high-skilled job functions like the elderly or people with disabilities.
Having honest conversations about how our society treats people who aren't able to work because their jobs are being automated away, and how we can implement a social safety net that allows them to lead rich, safe, and fulfilling lives.
Having real dialogues about the damage that the perception of "job = worth" has on how we react to a changing job market that - sorry to say - is never going back to the way it was.
Because a lot of people are going to be out of work really soon, and more people will lose their jobs to automation in the coming years and find themselves permanently unemployed because they don't have the skills, training, or education necessary to fit into a job market that's becoming increasingly specialized. No amount of "choosing cashiers over machines" is going to change that.
So we can keep pointing the finger pointing at "evil" corporations and placing blame, or we can have some grown-up discussions about what life is going to look like for all those people who don't have the skills to compete in the job market.
Does that sting to hear? Sure.
Is it harsh? Absolutely.
But you know what's also generally pretty harsh?
And we're not doing anyone any favours by ignoring it.
(me, a few days after changing my life)
which is a weird thing to say, when you think about it. There aren't a ton of opportunities for us to point back at and say "that was a thing I did that fundamentally changed my life forever," but I'm lucky enough to have accumulated a few by this point.
One of those times was seven years ago when I got my breast reduction.
Which means my breast reduction is old enough to be in the 1st grade.
You know what's also weird? Going for elective surgery, which was also free because I live in Canada and my huge boobs were causing me a lot of mental and physical strain
(I still have back problems and am very careful about my posture)
is super, duper weird.
Because we always think of going for surgery as this big, scary thing. Usually if we're going for surgery there's something wrong with us. We have cancer. We had a heart attack. We fell off our bike and our Fibula is sticking out of our leg.
Gross, awful, not-pleasant times.
But going for elective surgery is FUN. You get to have something done to yr body that's going to enhance your life experience, and you get to get loopy on some crazy drugs in a safe, controlled environment. It's actually a pretty sweet deal assuming everything goes according to plan, which in my case it did and I'm forever thankful for it.
After it was over and I was finally able to walk to and from the bathroom and pee by myself (which the metric they use to determine if you're okay to go home, I guess) I went home, and the guy I was seeing at the time (bless his heart) got me a bunch of Double Cheeseburgers from McDonalds and I lay on the couch in our living room in a Fentanyl-induced haze slowly mowing down DCB after DCB.
It was so gross and glorious at the same time.
And then just like that my life changed.
Over the years I'd become accustomed to just being a pair of tits because that's how most people treated me. Strangers would comment on the size of my chest. Other women would ask probing questions like
"omg, what cup size do you wear?"
(38HH most of the time, but nothing really fit properly)
"you must get SO much attention from guys!"
(Yes, I did. A lot. It sucked. Being objectified is even worse when it's about a part of your body that you don't like.)
"don't those things make your back hurt?"
(Yes, they did. I still have back and neck problems, and am very careful about my posture because I used to slouch my shoulders pretty badly because of the weight.)
Calling them "those things" always felt appropriate though, since I guess that's actually how I felt about them. Like they were these things attached to the rest of me that I didn't identify with, or want. They didn't make me feel the way women are told our breasts are supposed to make us feel: empowered, beautiful, and feminine.
And to be honest for a long time I still didn't think that way.
I don't think I've really become comfortable with myself and my body until the last few years or so, so it's not like I can point at my breast reduction and say
omg my breast reduction completely changed my life!
because that wouldn't be entirely true. But I can say:
I'm glad I did it because it gave me a sense of control over my body, and that it encouraged me to make more choices that made me feel empowered in the years to come.
It was one step of many
but dang if it wasn't a big step.
R.I.P. old boobs. You won't be missed.
On Saturday we went to Mega Flora, the annual fundraiser for Art City
which if you aren't from Winnipeg is a really very cool nonprofit that makes a very positive and important impact on our community in a big way
(it's also the coolest-looking building for miles so check it out)
it was in The Exchange District in this old warehouse decorated to the nines with flowers and leaves and grass and so much crepe paper. There were food trucks outside and craft beer and cocktails inside. There was a photo booth. There were amazing bands and Begonia wore a giant flower on her head. There was a huge craft table to keep all the drunk people busy. Everyone dressed up in their most flowery outfits and it was just fucking magical
and like a lot of events happening in my city lately I was blown away at how much my city
which is still a weird feeling tbh.
Because longtime readers of this blog will remember that back in my late teens and early 20's I was pretty insufferable about wanting to move the hell out of Winnipeg
to Toronto, preferably
and would recite the same tired old refrain that I'd been hearing from basically every adult around me my entire life:
"Winnipeg is a dump and the best thing you can do is move away and never come back."
Seriously. People say that about the place they live
and where they continue to live, which is just that more confusing because why would you live somewhere you hate
especially if you're a Gen X or a Boomer and you say stuff like that. Seriously. Why do you still live here, then? Go away already and let us "lazy" Millennials re-open Portage and Main, revamp our public transit, and install some goddamn protected bike lanes on Portage Avenue
and keep starting small businesses and volunteering for nonprofits and throwing omg so much time and money into a fundraiser for a nonprofit that most of us have probably never used just because we see the value that nonprofits like Art City bring to our communities.
Because clearly we're not stopping anytime soon.
... omg guys I think I just figured out what's making Winnipeg a hip place to be:
Most of our coolest local shops and startups are owned by: Millennials.
The majority of the innovation in our tech sector is being built by: Millennials.
Most of the hottest events and fundraisers are hosted by: Millennials.
The coolest local festivals are being started by: Millennials.
You get my point. Winnipeg is becoming sosososo great, and it's largely because of the Millennials who live here.
I mean, of course all the work isn't 100% Millennial-driven. I know lots of Gen X and Boomer-types who do a great job of helping our city become something amazing, and props to them.
But it's kinda crazy to live in a city that seems to be undergoing some sort of cultural renaissance and to be a part of the generation that's driving that positive change in a really meaningful way.
It's almost as if a generation of us grew up being told that the place we lived sucked, and by extension if we chose to stay there instead of moving away we also sucked, and instead we decided "fuck that" and decided to make the place we live not-suck instead.
Now if only some of us young social democrats would run for political office and fix our damn provincial health care.
Not me, of course. As much as I love politics I also don't have that kind of chutzpah
but maybe you could?