December 2017

There's a coffee shop in my neighbourhood

- by Alyson Shane


(image via Simone Noronha)

called The Neighbourhood Bookstore and Cafe.

Which is such a charming name I can't even.

I hang out here a lot since it's right in my 'hood, and all the walls are lined with books and I think better when I'm around books.

They sell good coffee, board games, used books, and little sandwiches and snacks and bananas. Their London Fogs are pretty stellar, too.

There's this little patio-style area next to it where they put out tables and chairs and fairy lights, and there's often live music there in the evenings, and sometimes inside, too.

Book clubs and student groups and writers circles meet here on a regular basis and it's about as perfect and quaint as one would hope a neighbourhood coffee shop to be.

And it's almost always packed, too.

Which makes me happy, because for a while it didn't look like the The Neighbourhood Bookstore and Cafe was going to stick around.

The city was trying to enforce a bylaw that requires restaurants to have grease traps installed, and since all they make here are sandwiches and deserts (not exactly "restaurant" food) the owner was fighting it in court on the basis that installing one was an unnecessary and unreasonable expense for his business.

I think they fought it a bunch of years, actually.

And shortly after I moved into Wolseley The Neighbourhood Bookstore and Cafe started having weird hours, and then closed for a period of several months.

It broke my damn heart because the reason I live in the part of town I do is because I love the small businesses and mixed-use space

(not to mention the big, old elm trees)

Small businesses are the heart of our economies and communities, and it always saddens me when I think we're going to be losing one - especially for such an unnecessary reason.

But then earlier this year it reopened! The news reported that then owner had come to some sort of deal with the city that allowed him to reopen.

The old, familiar whiteboard started popping up on the side of the building, saying:

"We are unequivocally, unabashedly, open!"

And though I try not to blow all my money on fancy coffees, London Fogs, and nice snacks

sometimes it's nice to come back here and listen to the chatter of a bunch of people having a good time,

listening to The Tragically Hip, writing this.


 

Eating soup slowly

- by Alyson Shane

I'm bad at rushing through my workday.

I try like hell to sit and sip my coffee, read the news, catch up on some articles, etc, before I start my actual workday, but even when it's stuff relating to my business or industry I still have a hard time sitting still in the AM.

There are emails to respond to. Profiles to update. Trello checklists to check-off. Copy to write, review, publish. Tasks upon tasks upon tasks.

Y'know, regular workday stuff.

I'm my most productive in the mornings and it often feels like I'm "wasting" my time taking things slowly in the AM.

Which is why it's nice to force myself to slow down for real, sometimes.

If I need to dive headfirst into work stuff in the morning I try and take a breath at lunch. Come up for air, peel away from my desk, go into the kitchen and make myself some lunch.

I try not to listen to anything; no music, no podcasts. Nada.

Just spend some time alone, clearing my thoughts, making something tasty.

Most days I just make a smoothie or a snack plate or leftovers so I can get back into the swing of things and eat as I work (told you I have a problem)

but some days I eat soup.

And soup days are the best days

because you have to eat soup slowly.

You can't rush soup or you'll burn the roof of your mouth, which means taking a little extra time to sit and enjoy it. Take slow sips. Wait for it to cool. Dig out the noodles or veggies or other goodies. Gauge overall heat. Repeat until done.

No music. No work.

Just me, my thoughts, and a bowl of soup.

Oh, and toast for dipping because I'm clearly not messing around.


 

5 amazing books I read this year

- by Alyson Shane

Last night I was checking out a post on the amazingly well-named "Gates Notes" blog, run by Bill Gates, where he shared 5 of the best books he read in 2017. Of all the "roundup" type posts that tend to pop up this time of year, I like literature-related ones best because it gets me thinking about all the books I've read, and all the books out there that I've yet to add to my collection.

I definitely don't read as much as I used to (except that time I read all of Alias Grac's 564 pages in a week on vacation*) but I still manage to make my way through several books a year. However, seeing how much Bill Gates manages to read while also, y'know, being Bill Gates definitely acted as a reminder that I ought to spend more time with my nose stuck in a book.

* My god I can't wait to get down to Belize in January, read a shit-ton, and plan this wedding.

In any case, below is my roundup of 5 amazing books I read in 2017:


On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

This one was hands-down my favourite. It's been a while since I've sunk my teeth into a good Stephen King novel; he kinda lost me with From a Buick 8 onward and I've never really gone back since (I think the trick is to go back and figure out which of his old works of horror and fiction I haven't read pre-Buick 8, and work my way up from there.)

As the name of the book implies, it's about writing. Not just why writers write, but an in-depth analysis of the challenges of being a writer, of struggling to have people accept your craft, and why you feel compelled to do it. It was nice to read about my craft in the words of someone who, arguably, is a much stronger wordsmith than I am, and who has been at it much longer than I have.

I also enjoyed being reminded of how funny he is; how quippy, with those weird little sayings that always made his characters that much more believable. His was a refreshing perspective on the art of writing, and reminded me that I should read more about what I do, not just the ways I do it.

Our Revolution

Obviously I read Bernie Sanders' book, which was released in November 2016. I was pro-Bernie from the moment he appeared on the political stage (ask me about my views on climate change, free post-secondary tuition, or the need for universal health coverage.)

Since I was already pretty well-versed with his political ideas, and why he believed them to be true, the book served as an opportunity to develop a better understanding of how he and his campaign managed to harness the sentiment of a growing, engaged Millennial class of voters and capture the imagination of people like me to the point where he was able to, with no campaign money, no political organization, took on the Democratic Party establishment.

Lady Oracle

I haven't read any Margaret Atwood since my binge on Alias Grace a few years back, and it was refreshing to return to an author who spends so much time analyzing her character's motivations and fears.

The novel's main character, Joan Foster, is an author who lives secret lives from the people around her, constantly worried that she will be "found out" as being less than she is perceived to be (as someone who regularly deals with anxiety and impostor syndrome, this book was often like having my own worries read back at me.)

I felt like Joan was symbolic of contemporary womanhood: trying to be everything to everyone, all the while hiding, deliberately ignoring, or shaming herself for her fantasies and talents, and it was lovely to immerse myself in Atwood's witty and often surprisingly sharp prose.

Colorless Tskuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Okay, so technically I haven't finished this one yet, but I'm close.

I haven't picked up a Murakami novel in years (I voraciously read through several of his novels in my late teens, my favourite being Norwegian Wood, which I highly recommend) and his brevity was an interesting contrast from Lady Oracle, which I finished shorty before starting this novel.

Like many of Murakami's novels, Colorless Tskuru is a Bildungsroman (hi, Rhetoric degree) though significantly less whimsical than some of his other works. The novel focuses on "colorless" Tskuru Tazaki, who is nicknamed as such because all of his childhood friends have a colour as part of their last names. One day during his college years he comes home and learns that his friends have cut all ties with him, seemingly with no reason. This devastates Tskuru, and leaves him feeling empty or "lacking in color and identity" according to Murakami. The novel begins when Tskuru is 32, and follows him as he travels to visit each of his former friends to discover why they cut ties with him in order to gain a sense of closure.

Since I haven't fully finished the novel I won't delve too deep into what I like and don't like about it so far, but I wanted to include it because reading work from non-English speaking authors is always an interesting experience. I mentioned Murakami's brevity above, and I'm continually impressed with his exploration of heartbreak, loneliness, and the human psyche without delving into the flowery language that tends to gum up English authors when they start delving deep into a personal or psychological problem. I'm really looking forward to seeing how the novel concludes.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and A Culture in Crisis

I started reading this memoir shortly after the 2016 election which left me, like many other people, reeling and feeling as though they fundamentally didn't understand the surge of white anger happening in America. I was grasping for some sort of understanding of the kinds of people who would vote for someone like Donald Trump, and J.D. Vance's memoir about growing up in a small Appalachian town was exactly what I needed to broaden my horizons.

The memoir is part reflection, part sociological analysis of the "hillbilly culture" he grew up with, which acts as both a source of pride, and a social mechanism which keeps people firmly in their socio-economic place, unable to (and in some cases, unwilling to) do what was necessary for a better life for themselves. It was a stark, eye-opening analysis of what's happening in rural America, and how the social rot encouraged by "hillbilly culture" has affected the United States.

Did you read any amazing books this year? Tweet at me and let me know!


 

Shouting into the void

- by Alyson Shane

Recently I've been struggling to figure out what to write here.

When I was writing content specifically for my industry it was easy; I just picked a topic, found some supporting articles, and wrote to my heart's content. I'm good at breaking down complex ideas into easy to understand written documents, posts, or essays.

Writing has always been my superpower.

These days, though, it often feels like it fails me. Not because I don't have the words, but because I often worry about the repercussions of what will happen if I say anything. If I open myself up, again and again, as I examine new and old wounds, learn from my mistakes, reflect on the past, figure out who I want to be... all that good shit writing has always helped me do.

But I've been stifling myself recently because I've been trying to avoid instigating any contact from my family. My brother, in particular, tends to reach out every few months in some sort of angry, nasty, or passive-aggressive way. His words don't hurt, but it's difficult to know that he's clearly grappling with some narrative of what happened between my parents and I, and why I'm not in his life, than what actually happened.

So I'm just going to lay it out here, simply, and put it to pasture:

In February of 2014 I asked my parents for space from my mom for a while. I was starting therapy and my therapist suggested I put a some distance between my mom and myself while I started to unpack the abuse I'd experienced growing up, and the anxieties and issues I still experience as an adult as a result of what I went through.

My dad suggested I write my mom an email explaining my reasons, so I did. My mom never wrote back. My dad, when he did, told me to "have a nice life," and said he hoped I was never in a position where "I had to choose between my spouse and my child."


That's it.

Since then I haven't spoken to my father. The only other time I've heard from my mom is when she left a series of comments here, on my blog, to let me know what a selfish person I am because I chose not to be present when my nephew was born.

(And really... oh well, if that's what she thinks. Not like I was ever winning her over, anyway.)

But my brother. The one who follows me online, reads my updates, and is clearly upset with me to the point of sending me multiple messages, comments, and tweets over the past few years. What does he want? An apology? Some sort of explanation?

Maybe he, too, is just trying to be heard in a family that doesn't actually listen to one another.

Sometimes I lie awake at night and I think about my siblings. So close, yet so far away from me. I say words, I type thoughts, but talking to them has always felt like I'm talking to a brick wall.

Like I'm shouting into the void.

It always has, honestly.

A few months after my parents stopped talking to me I received an email from my aunt in Toronto. She said "I would just have to say that it is extremely unfortunate that your distain for your mom has resulted in such complete alienation from the rest of the family" which came as a shock to me at the time because my aunt witnessed firsthand the abuse I experienced growing up.

She, more than probably anyone else in my life, should have been able to remember how things went down when I asked for space. She, of all people, should be able to look a lie in the face and say "no, that's not what happened." But she didn't, or couldn't.

And at that point I realized that, maybe there's just no going back.

I'm just never going to make any of them, my dad, my brothers, my aunt... any of them, see me for who I am. To them, I'm an idea of a person. A ghost version of myself who does and says things with a completely different set of morals and values than who I am.

The longer I keep my distance, the longer my mom has to gaslight, manipulate, and convince my family that I'm what she always told them I was: some selfish, horrible person who doesn't care about anyone but herself. The longer I'm away the easier it is for my brothers to believe it. It's easier for my aunt to believe that this is the way I wanted things to be. It's easier for my dad to believe it, and keep refusing to stand up and do what's right; to say "I'm sorry. I should have stood up for you."

Because at the end of the day all I've ever wanted is to be heard. To feel like my emotions, experiences, and thoughts have value. To not have to constantly battle against the false narrative that was created about me, and which persists to this day, stronger than ever, in my absence.

It's why I started writing.

It's also why I stopped. Or have mostly stopped.

I started feeling like here, too, anything I said was going to just get twisted around or misinterpreted. My blog, a place where I once felt I could be completely and utterly myself... became the void I've been afraid to look down into. To shout my thoughts and fears into.

But, y'know... fuck it. The truth, my subjective truth based on the actual facts and events that happened, is out there now. There's not much worse I can do to draw any ire than state the facts as plainly as I see them.

So now it's time to get back to the business of why I've always written: because it helps me as a person, and is something that I love, long for, and can't help but do.

I'm so ready, and happy, to get back to this place.