- by Alyson Shane
You never know when yr last conversation with someone is going to be.
I have an Old Grandma so I think about that a lot.
It's why I try not to go to bed without saying "I love you"
or end a phone call without saying the same
but people fight and have disagreements and not everything can end on a positive or constructive note every single time.
People are people, after all.
Which is why it's important to say those things when you mean it
like when you feel like you could burst because you're so happy to be talking to someone, and you're sure they can hear how happy you are in the excited pitch of your voice
- or at least, you hope they do -
and you know in that moment: this is fleeting.
That these are the best days of your lives
because they're spent together.
It's hard to remember that sometimes
until it isn't.
So consider this yr reminder to hug everyone you love real tight tonight.
And tell the people you love that you love them.
(I love you.)
- by Alyson Shane
I wasn't at my best over the weekend.
I woke up on the wrong side of the bed and from the minute I got up everything felt overwhelming, negative, and frustrating. I snapped at John and I snapped at my friends and I posted some dumb shit to Twitter that I later deleted because I looked at what I'd said and realized that even though it felt good to call out some shitty behaviour I'd been made aware of in the moment, imitating that toxic behaviour didn't actually make me feel any better or help the situation at all.
We were planning to go to Electric Six on Sunday night and I spent most of the day in an anxious panic worrying that I wouldn't be able to handle being in a crowded public space trying to focus on a band I like and would spend the whole time
standing with that tingling, tight feeling in my face and stomach and throat
kind of like the numbness that hits you just before you throw up or when you get some really bad news
and I kept saying "I can't, I can't, I can't" because I believed it.
Luckily John is an understanding and patient person and he said "babe if you need to stay home that's okay, but I want you to know I was really looking forward to seeing the show together"
which was hard for me to accept because of the baggage I have from years of having my feelings and needs invalidated and thrown in my face
but I wanted to try
so I said "let's go to dinner instead of hanging around the house" and we went to Elephant & Castle and I had a really good burger with bacon and BBQ sauce and we laughed and talked about our super-secret project over pints of Guinness.
We talked to some ladies in town from Calgary sat down next to us and started chatting with us which seems to happen every time John and I go somewhere
and I deleted all the dumb shit I said online and reflected on it publicly
(because it's good to 'fess up to when you're being a tit, I think, which I was)
and maybe it was the beer or maybe the music but when I started dancing in the crowd at Electric Six the numb feeling that was sitting in my gut and throat and face started to melt away, and it was nice to have a break from that feeling for a little while.
- by Alyson Shane
which is a weird thing to ask someone who just publicly admitted to being depressed but what else do you ask someone in my position?
"Hey, still feeling like a human dumpster fire today?" isn't a great opening line.
The answer is Fine, I Guess.
As Fine as I can be, I suppose.
I saw a new therapist last week and she's very into these visualization techniques that psychotherapists use to help people who have experienced traumas like PTSD overcome their issues, which I'm down to try but to be honest makes me feel a bit silly.
She had me picture a jar with a lid and had me describe the jar in crazy detail, then she told me to talk about an upsetting experience I'd had recently and how it made me feel, and to feel my feelings and allow myself to cry, which I did.
Then she told me Put your feelings in that jar and close the lid so you can't feel them anymore. So I did.
And you know what. I felt better.
Not one hundred percent better, but a bit better.
That's how it works, my therapist said.
So there's that and we'll see how it goes.
I spent the weekend taking it easy and working a bit and last night John and I went to this dive bar in our neighbourhood and ordered some local craft beer and a slice of lasagna to share
and we talked about the future and the things we wanted and the people we know and the things we're hopeful for, and the place was bathed in the glow of some hockey game on TV nobody was actually watching and everyone was wearing toques and comfortable sweaters and looking very Canadian.
It was very familiar and comforting and it was nice to feel that way.
We stayed for two beers and burnt our mouths a little on the hot cheese because we can never wait for the lasagna to cool, and today we spent some time planning the garden and working on projects, and I've been trying to catch up on the mountain of emails and DMs and text messages I've been receiving since Thursday.
It's been humbling and strange to receive such an outpouring of support and what's funny is that for a person who never shuts up and writes for a living, figuring out what to say back is really hard
so if I haven't replied to you I'm sorry and I'm working on it
but I see you and I appreciate you
and I appreciate that you keep asking.
- by Alyson Shane
I've been staring at this blank screen like a page waiting to be filled and I have this pit in my stomach, round like an avocado pit and heavy-feeling, dragging me down into my chair and the floor and the ground. I wish the earth would swallow me whole.
People ask me to talk and I have nothing to say. My words are like ash in my mouth and they feel caked on my tongue. Nothing I say has value. Makes a difference. Matters.
I wake up in the morning and I want to go back to sleep so I don't have to feel this way and so I don't have to fake being happy and smile and be loud and enthusiastic and pretend like I don't have this
hole in me
that keeps growing larger no matter what I do.
It got real bad after VoteOpen but this lack of feeling has been there for a while, or maybe it never really went away and I was just covering it up. Like a hole in the floor that you put a piece of wood over, and then you put a really thick rug on the wood so when you walk over it you don't feel the emptiness underneath your feet. Or at least you pretend you don't.
I regret being involved with that campaign. The city ground me down and I saw an ugly side of it that I can't unsee and I don't know how to love the place that I used to love
anymore because I don't feel connected to it. I've lost my sense of place, and with it a portion of my identity that was so, so important to me, and it feels like that hole is getting bigger and deeper and more complex and I'm losing myself in it more every day.
In the winter I needed to hustle so I could take time off so I barely had time to acknowledge it. I poured myself into my work and hauled ass and accomplished a lot but I did it so I could have an escape from my life and pretend like I was fine for a little while
and I felt fine in Thailand. Most of the time, anyway.
But then we came back and at first I tried to chalk it up to being incredibly jet-lagged, then being incredibly sick, then one thing and another thing and then another thing but the truth of the matter is that
I don't feel much of anything these days.
Just a hollow ashy feeling in-between bouts of profound sadness and red-hot anger. I yo-yo between being angry at everything and everyone, to feeling so sad I can barely get out of bed, and in-between I feel numb. I walk and I talk and I feel myself going through the motions of living my life but it's like watching a movie because the things that are happening have no meaning. They just happen. They don't matter.
John asked today me if I was excited about anything. Folk Fest. Rainbow Trout. Summer and gardening and riding our bikes. Our wedding. Any of the dozens of things going on in my life that I ought to be excited and happy about.
But I'm not. There's that hole in my chest where my feelings should be and it's deep and dark and grey and it feels like if I stare into it for too long I may lose myself and fall in and never come out. I could get lost in it like a series of hallways that lead nowhere but go on forever, empty and dark and endless.
If I were someone else I'd tell me to talk to someone. Anyone. That's what John tells me to do.
"See a therapist" he says "get some help."
So I'm getting help.
Tomorrow I'm seeing a new therapist and maybe that will make a difference but I'm nervous and scared, because the last time I saw a therapist it was to manage the emotional baggage I was carrying around from my relationship with my parents and for some reason I'm okay being a victim of abuse but I'm absolutely terrified of being depressed even though that must be what this is, right?
Is this what depression feels like?
Am I depressed?
I don't want to be. I want to be someone who overcame some shit and maybe still has some anxiety, but is pretty okay now and working on it but can do normal things like talk to their friends and partner about their feelings and get excited about getting married and the future and all the amazing, positive, special things in my life that should be making me feel anything but exactly how I feel right now.
But I'm not okay
and I need to do something about it before this hole in me eats me up and there's nothing left.
Wish me luck.
- by Alyson Shane
Well, John is. I'm blogging because he's in the process of editing a photo of the island of Caye Caulker, Belizem with little notes and arrows and Xes like
X <-- The Split
X <-- Wish Willy's
X <-- Wedding
and watching him is the most charming thing.
As it turns out, John is very good at wedding planning because he
is an A-type, and we both like to take charge of a situation.
We have very specific and well-researched and strong opinions, so it's good we agree on most things. Like:
waffles are better than pancakes
wet cold is better than dry cold (but no cold is best)
inequality and climate change are the two most pressing issues of our time
new Weezer sucks.
the best way to decorate is with plants and books
dogs are superior to cats (sorry T and BJ)
steaks should only be eaten rare
punk's not dead.
Y'know, the important stuff.
It's also good that we agree on wedding stuff because I don't want to fight about our wedding.
I once dated a guy whose brother and his fiancée nearly broke off their wedding because they had an argument about the colour of the candles they wanted to have on the tables at the reception.
But I get it. Weddings are stressful and expensive and that shit gets to ya.
So I'm thankful we haven't had a dumb wedding fight yet, though this hasn't been a stressful experience so far.
The wheels are in motion, and now that we're back from Thailand we're shifting our future-planning, A-type attention to this
the next big thing.
One of the Biggest Things.
I know it'll be different than what I expect, so I'm trying not to expect anything specific.
We're gonna get to the island, get off the plane, and it'll all work itself out. Even if the weather is trash or someone sprains an ankle or I cry so hard that I can't wear my contact lenses.
It'll work itself out.
I'm still nervous, but that's more because our buddy Adam is officiating the ceremony
and I know he's gonna steal the show like he always does.
I should really go see if John needs help with those maps.
- by Alyson Shane
but I'm indoors and cozy underneath a warm blanket with my cats nearby
and a glass of wine
and a couple of dried figs
and a big 'ol mason jar of water
(gotta stay hydrated for our flight)
listening to ASMR videos and reading Hacker News articles.
Even though I'm pumped to leave on an adventure tomorrow
it's nice to be home curled up with our cats in the living room
hearing John laugh every once in a while from the kitchen
(he's on the phone with his mom; they are talking about dog breeds)
maybe with a slight buzz, lulling myself to sleep for our 3AM wake-up time.
(Send thoughts and prayers, folks.)
Tomorrow we have a 24-hour travel day to get to the other side of the world
but for now I'm happy to be safe and warm here in my winter city
feeling excited for what's to come.
- by Alyson Shane
There comes a time in every person's life when they experience a fundamental shift in how they view their parents. A moment when the veneer is peeled away, revealing the flawed, real people our parents are underneath all the assumptions we make about them as their child.
In the most recent episode of Hidden Brain (a great NPR podcast I can't recommend enough) the host was interviewing a woman whose view of her father changed when she was twelve years old.
Someone had called the house looking for her dad, and she answered the phone to say he wasn't around. She remembers that the caller sounded old; his voice shaky. He was upset. He said:
"Your father stole my life savings! Your father is a crook!"
Those few words fundamentally changed her relationship with her dad. She no longer saw him as a charismatic, charming artist. She saw him for who he really was: a liar, a con man, and - it seemed - a thief.
My moment of reckoning with my own father didn't happen until I was in my mid-twenties. I was going back through some old emails, looking for something I'd intended to reference at my next therapy session, I think, and I came across an email exchange from July of 2010.
My dad was upset that I was quitting my government job to attend university. Over the course of several he emails made it clear that he was angry at my decision, and took issue with my reply, where I told him (in so many words) "I'm an adult and you need to respect my decisions and not speak to me so disrespectfully."
Seeing his response, which follows, shook me to my core:
Wow, in nut shell, write me off. You never contact me unless you want something from me. You've forgotten my birthdays, never see me on father's day, etc.* You obviously are very self absorbed and unless I serve some purpose you have nothing to do with me. When was the last time you called to see how I was doing. Can't remember can you. How is my back, don't know do you. Don't care do you, typical.**
I include the text above because, until that moment, I hadn't been presented with an example of how my dad handled conflicts in our relationship. Sure, I had memories of angry emails, and of him hanging up on me when he got worked up, but I'd never been faced with real evidence of how my father treated me and spoke to me since we'd become estranged a few years earlier.
Until I rediscovered that email I'd been under the impression that I was in therapy largely due to my relationship with my mom. That it was her abuse, gaslighting, and manipulation of everyone around her that was the primary contributing factor to why I had severe anxiety and extremely low self-worth.
Like the woman in the Hidden Brain episode, seeing those words changed how I viewed my father.
Until then I'd always viewed him as a tragic hero. A guy who got married too young, was tricked into having too many kids too young, and was trying to do the best he could in a marriage where his spouse would routinely brag to her kids that "your dad can never leave me because I'll take everything."
The idea of my dad as a tragic hero was the prevailing impression I'd gotten from talking to our family, and the impression I developed as I became the target of my mom's anger as a teenager and my dad tried, again and again, to stand up to how she treated me.
Until I read that email I'd assumed that my dad was, at worst, a cowardly hero.
Someone who tried and failed to do the right thing. A man who got stuck in a bad situation and was trying to make the best of it because he didn't have the willpower to man up and leave.
I remembered my dad as someone funny and kind. With a temper, sure, but as someone who was more likely to start crying during an argument than to hurl insults and lash out angrily.
Despite everything that had happened, the teenage years spent largely in the counsellor's office because I was to distressed with my home life to go to class; his inability to convince my mom to let me move home so I could attend university and not sink into debt; and even the estrangement because he refused to have a relationship with me where my mom wasn't physically present... I still saw my dad as a hero.
Maybe a tragic, or cowardly one, but a hero nonetheless. Because he did the best he could to be supportive and to help me become a happy, well-adjusted person.
At least, that's what I'd told myself and fully believed until I discovered this series of emails.
The last time I communicated with my father was earlier this year. My mom had decided to run for school trustee in the recent civic election and my dad was struggling with the basics of setting up a website, social media profiles, etc. - so he reached out to me.
"Not as my dad, but as a potential client."
I don't want to go deep into my feelings on this issue, but suffice it to say that my mom is about as unqualified to hold public office as they come, and I had no interest in helping her.
So I wrote him back.
I wrote long email explaining how I felt, reiterated the situation that had caused us to become estranged in the first place, and laid out the things that needed to happen for me to feel comfortable re-engaging in a relationship again.
I ran it past John and a few people whose opinions I respect, who told me I sounded reasonable. Firm, but reasonable.
My dad, for what it's worth, never wrote back.
What I've learned in the years since I found those emails is the ugly truth that every child eventually discovers about their parents: that they aren't perfect, and they're just as capable of being petty and mean and immature as anyone else.
I obsessed over the 2010 emails for a while. I read them and re-read them, almost unable to comprehend that the person I had believed in and loved unconditionally could also be the same person accusing me of not caring about them and being self-centered because I pushed back and asked for respect and boundaries.
I brought the emails to therapy and I cried like I was in mourning.
Which I suppose I was, in a way. I was mourning the loss of the idea of my father. The loss of the idea that he was the person who always believed in me and stood up for me, and who respected me and wanted me to be happy.
As kids, we idolize our parents. We look up to them. We believe them to be infallible, and when the ugly truth of who our parents really are comes crashing down on us it's our responsibility to grapple with those feelings.
It becomes our job, as their children and as adults, to make sense of the contradiction between who we believed they were, and the person our parents really are.
Like the woman in the Hidden Brain episode I had to come to terms with the fact that my dad, like most people and most parents, was not who I believed him to be.
In the episode, the daughter eventually reunites with her father, though their relationship is strained. They only talk by phone, and after her dad suffers a fall and winds up in an assisted living facility, she visits him only once before he dies.
During their last meeting he tells her "I'm sorry for all the things I've done" and the daughter is left wishing she'd asked her dad: "what things? What were you sorry for?" before he died.
When she recalls this to the host, she sounds distressed. Like there's something nagging at her; something unresolved lurking beneath the surface. She's struggling with the fact that her dad is gone forever, and all she's left with are the remnants of who she thought he was, who he turned out to be, and a series of items and leftovers from his life that she must piece together to start to fill in the blanks.
I know these feelings. My dad is middle-aged; his health has never been great. He has back problems and high blood pressure and high cholesterol and drinks and smokes too much. I'm acutely aware that he could have a heart attack or a stroke at any time, leaving me with only the scraps of his life to glue and stitch together to create an image of who he really was.
Sometimes, when I find myself becoming consumed with this looming reality, I feel an urge to pick up the phone and say:
"What are you sorry for, Dad?"
But maybe I don't want to hear his answer after all.
*I forgot one birthday/Father's Day when I was 16 and not living at home because of conflicts with my mom.
** What my dad stated here is also untrue; I regularly called and emailed him, and we went out for lunch together every so often right up until we stopped speaking.
- by Alyson Shane
I had a rough day today and I was carrying it around all night even though I didn't mean to. We went to the mall and I bought my foundation from Sephora and John shopped for shoes and even though usually I don't mind going shopping my head was in the clouds the whole time.
I kept forgetting where we were going and where we'd been and kept losing track of what John was saying and losing my train of thought as well. I stopped mid-sentence more than a few times because I'd lost what I was saying.
John even commented that I was quiet which, if you know me, is unusual.
I just have a bad habit of letting small anxieties pile up and not knowing how to talk about them, I've realized. Some things aren't blog appropriate or public-facing appropriate because they're just wishy-washy stress things. Those up-and-down stresses that you know are fleeting but still eat you up inside anyway.
I'm getting better at talking about big-picture stuff but those things are still a challenge and nowadays I have to pep talk myself so that I can do something as simple as open up to my partner, who I live with and share my life with and spill my guts to regularly.
Today I sat on the floor in my office and pep-talked myself when I heard John get home: "it's okay, he's not mad at you for being anxious."
And we talked and I got everything I was carrying around, big and small and stupid and dramatic and hurtful and upsetting and inconsequential and over-reactionary, off my chest but it was all still bouncing around like a tennis ball inside my head for the rest of the night.
But luckily I have a good man who loves me and takes care of me, so after a nice but quieter shop than usual he ordered some butter chicken and vegetable korma from my favourite Indian place and put on The Sopranos and made me a cozy spot on the couch.
Then halfway through the episode he paused it and looked me in the eyes and told me that no matter what ever happens to both of us, no matter where our lives go, how stressed out or overwhelmed we may be, he's always proud of me for getting up and giving everything my best every day.
I cried then and it's hard not to cry now thinking about it, because sometimes you don't even know the words you needed to hear to start to feel better until someone says them.
- by Alyson Shane
I first moved into Spence St with Gordon. I needed a place to live that was closer to the University of Winnipeg and also that didn't cost me an arm and a leg. Until then I'd been living in a tiny and beautiful but wildly overpriced one-bedroom apartment in The Roslyn in Osborne Village, and I had to worry about putting myself through university so my gorgeous apartment had to go.
I moved in with Gordon and promptly realized that while he was a wonderful and charming human he was also a bit of a hot mess. Which isn't saying much, because I was also a hot mess at the time.
Inevitably our hot-mess-ness (especially me; I was a horrible, anxious mess at this point) spilled over and our brief, dramatic, sometimes wonderful but mostly stressful time together came to an end.
Then Ty moved in and the place I lived became my home. It was our home for a while and I made some of my best memories there.
I loved the gymnasium flooring that was beat to shit but still beautiful. Especially around the doorway to the living room where the wood had seen the most wear and tear. It showed the signs of lives lived there, moving in and out.
The vines grew over the bedroom window during the summertime and I loved how bright and green the room was on the weekend mornings when I'd sit in bed with a coffee and the front page of The Washington Post in my laptop.
The day we brought Toulouse home. He and our other cat, Ford, didn't get along at first, but his dopey and persistent personality won through and they became bros in the end. Eventually I wound up with T. and Ty took Ford when we split, but in the end I think it was for the best since Toulouse was always my baby, anyway.
That April day when I spent a spring day in-between university exams listening to NPR and painting the kitchen. Those old walls were so beat-up and stained. I must have painted for over eight hours to get it all done.
One time during a horrible winter blizzard we spent the weekend huddled inside playing Final Fantasy IX, eating grilled cheese sandwiches and drinking spiked hot chocolate.
I miss how the street looked as the seasons changed. The way the canopy of leaves looked over the street in the summertime. I loved learning the patterns of the neighbours, the cars, the people.
I had a raised bed in the community garden behind my building. I gardened there the first summer John and I were together and he biked over from his house in Wolseley with a bunch of gardening supplies hanging from his handlebars for me.
I remember putting together IKEA furniture on the floor in the living room. John and I drank caesars and listened to Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect by The Decemberists and I think I cried.
I must have cried.
Because just like the neighbourhood, my apartment on Spence Street changed.
Ty moved out and I went back to having a roommate. Jamie moved into our old bedroom and I moved into our old office down the hall; my old room when Gordon and I had lived together. I felt like I'd come "full circle" in my strange, old little space.
At this point my memories of Spence Street started to change.
What stands out to me most now is the way the wind blew through the window next to the bed, and how it smelled at night before we went to sleep.
John read to me before we went to sleep at night and we read a devastating book called Reunion by Alan Lightman. I started re-reading Cities of the Interior by Anaïs Nin, but got weary with her flowery prose and started reading Hemingway instead.
Jamie and I had opposite schedules so most of our interactions were comings and goings. A wave in the hallway. A "good morning" as I left for work. A few sessions spent binge-watching The Knick on the couch in the living room.
I gardened throughout the summer, had friends over as usual, and ate too many samosas from the Rubbermaid Tote that usually sat on the checkout counter at the sketchy corner store.
But I didn't live on Spence Street much longer after that.
Eventually it became apparent that the amount of time we were spending together didn't warrant the commute between our homes, so I moved in with John and we've lived together here ever since.
I love living here in our hippy neighbourhood, with our garden and our bedroom and our sunroom and our mornings spent singing songs and cooking breakfast together in the kitchen on the weekends. I wouldn't trade this for the world.
Yet every time I walk by Spence Street I feel a tug in my heart. Sometimes I walk by my old building just to feel the familiar pull of home.
It's still a little strange to look up to see the living room light on and know it's not mine.
- by Alyson Shane
I'm finishing up The Geography of Nowhere by James Kunstler which is a history of urban design and development in America from the time of the first settlers.
I've just started Garden of Eden which is Hemingway's final, unfinished novel and spoiler alert it's amazing.
I recently finished reading Ubik by Philip K. Dick for our scifi book club.
John and I are reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH as our bedtime book.
I regularly read census documents, stats, peer-reviewed papers, and annual general reports as part of my efforts to understand policy and build well-informed opinions on the topics I'm passionate about.
I just finished reading an amazing manifesto called The Great CEO Within (formerly 'Founder to CEO') which is a terrific read for anyone running a company.
I'm about to start a new business book called Crossing the Chasm that I'm pumped about.
I review our client's content and proofread major pieces of copywriting, contracts, and internal documentation.
I have Feedly lists of articles and resources from businesses websites relating to Starling's industry, tools, and platforms, as well as business and professional development feeds.
I read articles from HackerNews several times a day.
I review articles in other neurotically-organized Feedly folders for all our clients' industries for new content ideas and trends.
It can be hard to find enough time to read all this stuff, especially things that aren't related to clients or running my business. But I carve out the time because being informed is important, dammit, and there's no sense in having an opinion if it's not going to be a well-developed one.
You guys already know how I feel about that.
Oh, and I still read the only blog that truly matters.
Because you gotta stick with the classics.