- 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.
- 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.
- 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."
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.
- by Alyson Shane
Went to bed feeling like hell last night and woke up feeling worse today. Aches, pains, lethargy, you name it I've got it.
Except nausea. Thank god I rarely get sick to the point that I throw up.
The last time that happened I was working in a small office and I took (gasp) two days off in a row because I was honestly just puking everywhere. It was awful.
When I went in on Wednesday the office manager said "hey just so you know our boss noticed that you took two days off and you're on his radar."
Apparently he had calculated that if I kept taking sick days at 2 sick days per month (this was in January) omg I'd wind up taking 24 sick days that year.
So I walked into his office and said:
"Hey, if you have an issue with the sick time I'm taking please speak to me about it directly. Making assumptions about my sick days isn't cool and if you're going to start accusing me of abusing my sick time in advance of me doing so I'd appreciate it if you didn't go through the only other person in the office to let me know you thought it was a concern."
Which I thought was reasonable. I like to think of myself as a relatively reasonable gal.
It didn't go over well.
A few months later when I left and started running Starling full time I promised myself that whenever I felt sick I would take the damn sick day if I needed it, and I've been doing pretty good so far.
There have been a few days when something unavoidable is planned/due, but overall I handle them pretty well, I think.
Usually my sick days look like this: sleep in as late as I need, tackle as much necessary work as I need (responding to emails, reviewing copy, reviewing reports, etc) and then I make lunch and engage in a low-energy task like reviewing ad performance or adding to a content library.
If I need to lie down and nap or something, though, I do it so I can get back into the swing of things in the AM. No sense over-exerting myself if I'm going to be useless for the next few days as a result.
I don't kill myself if I'm feeling sick, and I don't expect the people who work for me to do so, either.
Like I said, I like to think of myself as a reasonable gal.
Now if you'll excuse me I need to go have a little lie-down. My head is killing me.
- by Alyson Shane
I went with Carlene and Katrina yesterday and bought too many things including honey, art, and a large air plant.
Mostly art though, and most of it is 204-related.
Which was an accident, I swear, but served as a really strong reminder of how into my city I've become over the last few years. I'm proud of it, in a weird way. When I go to events like Third + Bird and see all these local vendors selling items made with love and effort and the outpouring of support from the community it really just fills up my old grinch heart.
Later in the evening we went out with one of John's friends to Ye's Buffet and I inhaled way too many chicken balls with plum sauce, and gave myself a stomach ache from the too-big bowl of vanilla ice cream with chocolate and caramel syrup.
I can't be a trendy hipster all the time, y'know?
- by Alyson Shane
I've always had a soft spot in my heart for musicals.
I like this one, especially, because of the ending.
(and if you haven't seen it by now then I don't feel bad for spoiling it - it came out in 2016, after all.)
Don't get me wrong: I'm a sucker for a good romantic story, and it's always nice when the characters end up together. There's really something to be said for a nice happy ending.
But that's not always how life goes, is it?
Most love stories don't have happy endings. We often need to go through a few sad endings in order to get to our big happy ending - and that's assuming that you find one at all. Some people don't.
Or they have it, and they lose it.
They let it slip through their fingers like sand.
Which is what La La Land is about. Two people who have a chance at a happy ending together, but they lose it because they stop putting in the effort. They let arguments, disappointments, and their own ambitions get in the way of their relationship with one another.
They stop seeing each other, and they drift apart.
Do you know what I mean by seeing? Like, the person who used to make everything you did together interesting and fun has just become a person who also lives in your house/condo/apartment with you and sleeps on the other side of the bed. They go from being that person to just a person.
Which is terrifying, I know.
But it happens a lot. It's how tons of real-life romances end. Most of us have probably experienced it (if you haven't, you're lucky, because it's awful) but most of us have because - let's face it - it can take a few tries to figure out how a relationship is supposed to work.
But usually we don't make movies out of those failed tries, which is why I love La La Land. It's a story about heartbreak and failure wrapped up in bubblegum colours, tap dance, and jazz.
It's also why I love 500 Days of Summer, but we can talk about that one another day. It's on my list.
The epilogue scene - the one where Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone imagine what their lives would have been like together - makes my cry like the intro of Up! does. Every damn time.
I can't help it.
It makes me think about how fragile our relationships are. How quickly they can fall apart if we let them; if we stop seeing each other and making time in our lives for our partner.
(I'm glad John held my hand in the theatre during this part, btw)
He held my hand throughout most of it, actually, which was nice because I get emotional during musicals.
Especially ones where Ryan Gosling plays such mean piano.
- by Alyson Shane
Over the moon.
So, so lucky.
- by Alyson Shane
It's nearly here. My 30th year.
Part of me almost didn't expect to get here, if I'm being honest.
Because for most of those 30 years, I didn't feel like my life was worthwhile.
Sure, there were pockets of happiness; moments that shine. But for the vast majority of my life they were few, and far-between.
I was never excited about my future. As far as my parent's vision for my life was concerned, I wasn't good for anything other than a "safe" job. That the best I could (and should) hope for was to find a union job (so I couldn't get fired), and to "keep my head down" until I retired quietly.
(and look - that's a great path for some people. No shame in a unionized job. But it didn't exactly leave me feeling as though I could possibly do anything else.)
I struggled in high school as a result of a messed-up home life. I was often too anxious to go to class, so I'd skip. Then, because I'd already skipped 2, maybe 3 classes that week, I'd just skip the whole week because it made me too anxious to go into class, be singled out by the teacher, and be reminded of just how far behind I was.
I was told I was stupid and I felt that way, and my grades reflected the assumptions I made about my own intelligence.
I was told by my parents, and as such believed, that I was a fundamentally bad person; lazy, selfish, self-centered, and a liar. For a really, really long time.
As a result, I assumed that my life would be, as Thomas Hobbes so aptly put it: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
(Ironically I'd go on to study Hobbes in a Social & Political Philosophy class while competing my B.A., something that, even at the time, I didn't feel smart enough or capable enough of achieving.)
But things are different now.
I don't believe those things anymore.
I'm still dealing with the fallout of those beliefs, though. Not a day goes by where I don't have to unpack something in some small way.
Watching my tongue when I get upset with someone.
Not getting defensive during a difficult or challenging conversation.
Never giving the silent treatment or "punishing" my partner when I'm upset with them.
Learning to say "I'm sorry. I was wrong."
Repeating these sentences every day to myself like a prayer:
"You're good enough."
"You're smart enough"
"You deserve the good things in your life."
Some days I believe those things more than others. But I'm getting there.
Most days I look around myself with incredulity, amazed at the life I've somehow managed to build for myself:
A business that challenges and fulfills me
(sometimes more the former than the latter, but it ebbs and flows)
a partner who loves me, bumps and all,
and this incredible group of friends who love me, too.
I still have a hard time believing that I deserve it, sometimes. Even though they tell me all the time.
Like I said, some days I believe these things more than others.
It's weird to be here, at an inflection point. Or maybe "reflection point" is more fitting. Either way, looking back on the three decades I've been around, and seeing where I've gone in such a short time, is incredible.
I've made it so much farther than I ever thought I was capable of going.
I'm an engaged member of my community. I go to fun events, festivals, and throw rad parties. I speak at events and conferences about my industry and experiences. I share good, deep laughs with the people I care about on a regular basis. I tell my friends and partner how I feel, and how much they mean to me. I've moved away. Moved back. I quit my safe desk job and put myself through university. I earned a B.A. I've backpacked through three countries. I've seen a squid that glows in the dark.
I run my own company.
I run a fucking company. That has clients, pays people, and pays for my lifestyle.
(That one still surprises me.)
But yet... here we are.
A few months ago my therapist asked, what would say to my younger self, now?
What would I say to the little girl who was told, from the start, that she would never amount to anything? To the teenager who was told that she was a fundamentally bad person? To the woman who spent most of her adult life fighting back against that engrained belief?
I started crying.
"I'd tell her that it gets better. So, so much better than she could have imagined."
(I really do believe that, you know.)
It got better.
A lot better.
And I'm really, really excited to see where it goes.
Happy early 30th birthday to me.
- yr girl, Shaner
- by Alyson Shane
Stunningly accurate image via iam-kerri on DeviantArt
I'm addicted to social media.
Most of us don't want to say it out loud, but we're addicted to the info/updates/likes/comments cycle that social media and mobile technology has brought into our lives.
As someone who spends the majority of her time thinking about branding and generating social content (both personal and professional), I may be a bit hyper-sensitive to this reality, but it's true: most of us are addicted to our smartphones.
I've known this for a while, but earlier this summer I read an article on CNET that really bothered me. The TL;DR is that our phones make us stupid. Whether they're on, off, turned face down... whatever; having your smartphone in the room with you decreases your ability to think and concentrate, making you less productive and inherently less capable overall.
With this in mind, I decided to run an experiment of sorts: I made a commitment to myself to find opportunities to physically distance myself from my phone in order to be more engaged with the world around me throughout the summer.
It's been an interesting few months, and here are the takeaways:
I Read More Books
On average, I read maybe half a dozen or so books a year.
I'm not sure what you read on an annual basis, but I've always been a voracious reader and could easily power through a whole novel in a few sittings (I read all of Stephen King's "The Shining" in a day when I was a younger) so I've definitely noticed my declining ability to sit down and read a book in the last few years.
I do most of my reading before bed, which is problematic because I use my phone as my alarm clock (a bad habit that I'm not ready to let go of, if I'm being honest) so I had to set aside time to read during my days instead, or make a point to leave my phone in another room while I was reading.
Here's how many books I've read and finished in the past 4 months:
- On Writing - Stephen King
- Lady Oracle - Margaret Atwood
- Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffenegger
- Women - Charles Bukowski
As you can tell, I averaged about a book a month, which is well beyond my annual average. I'm still significantly slower than I used to be, but it reminded me that in order to enjoy and make your way through a novel you have to sink down into it, which is something I struggle to do whenever my phone is present.
I honestly thought that it wouldn't be as noticeable as the CNET article made it out to be, but I was floored by how much more easily I could enjoy a book when I couldn't just reach over for my phone.
**I should point out that I read on average 6-12 articles a day; some for work and some for leisure, so I don't think how much I read has decreased; only what I read, and in which format.**
I Was Fully Present
This one was the hardest.
We go to a few festivals a year, and do some camping with friends in addition to those events, and I promised myself that I was going to keep my phone in my tent and on airplane mode (because I still have to check work from time to time) instead of keeping it on my person.
I realized that I'd been using "taking photos" (something I do, but not as regularly as I used to) as an excuse to keep my phone - and the comfort it gave me - around even when I didn't need it.
The hardest part of this exercise was "memory FOMO" or, worrying that I wouldn't have anything to populate my social feeds with when I returned to my everyday life. I saw people taking photos and videos on their phones around me and would often self-judge for not doing the same, which was a new and unpleasant feeling.
Instead, I'd just take a deep breath and experience as much of the present moment as possible. It was hard but, you guys, it was so good.
I Enjoyed Myself More
The biggest change (and challenge) was allowing myself to live in the present moment as fully as I possibly could.
Because of what I do for a living, I often frame content (photos, and the like) with a plan in mind: how do I want this to look? How does it reflect my personal brand? Which hashtags can I use to connect this with a broader community?... and so on.
Not having my phone glued to my palm the urge to check updates, post photos, and record my life for future social media content didn't entirely eliminate my FOMO, but it did act as a reminder that the only way to hold onto my memories was to immerse myself in what I was doing, or what was happening around me.
In a world dominated by Snaps, Boomerangs, and hashtags, it was nice to find a few moments of solitude where my digital life didn't interfere with my physical one.
Wanna Try, Too? Here's What You can Do
Going "unplugged" doesn't have to be a totally terrifying prospect (as it was for me before I started this experiment) but here are a few things that I did to help lessen my dependency on my phone that you can try, too:
- Keep your phone out of sight, or in another room, when not in use.
- Don't browse before bed! Instagram black holes steal your sleep. Read a book instead.
- READ MORE BOOKS. I prefer fiction but choose the topics you love best.
- Leave your phone in your tent while camping.
- Alternatively, leave your phone in your car, or in your purse/bag, while out with friends.
Of course, there are lots of other ways you can go "unplugged" for any extent of time, but these should set you on the right track!
Do you have any experience "unplugging" or ditching your digital device? Tweet at me or tell me in the comments!
- by Alyson Shane
What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was small I wanted to be a golfing farmer. Then I wanted to be an artist. Then I wanted to be a writer. Of course, nobody took the first one seriously, but pursuing a career in a creative field was strongly discouraged. "There's no money in creative pursuits" I was told, over and over again.
So imagine my surprise when I found myself sitting on the Roost rooftop patio a few weeks ago celebrating my second anniversary as a full-time business owner.
Not only do I get to do the creative work that I love to do (writing) every day, but I get to leverage the thing I love to do another thing that I love (helping people) while building the life that I want for myself. That's pretty incredible.
So with that revelation in mind, I wanted to touch on a few things that I've been reflecting on over the past few days as I ponder what got me here, and how things have changed in these past two years:
Outgrowing Corporate Life
The advice I got the most often when I was growing up was "find a job and keep your head down" which - in case you haven't met me - is the polar opposite of who I am as a person.
I'm not a lady who keeps her head down and her mouth shut, and it always proved challenging in work environments where I didn't have the control or opportunities to experiment, try new things, and get creative with problem-solving.
For a long time I thought it was character flaws that were keeping me from being a happy employee. Why couldn't I just fit in? Why did I have to challenge my supervisors when I thought I knew of a better way to do something? Why did I continue to lose motivation after the first few months of doing the same tasks day in and day out?
Mostly I wondered: why did everyone else not seem to have these same challenges?
It was crazy-making, and it wasn't until I started freelancing in 2014 that I started to experience the kind of control and freedom that I'd been looking for and failing to find in my corporate life.
I realized that the problem wasn't me, it was the work I was doing and the places I was doing it.
Let me be clear: there's nothing wrong with a corporate job if that's what you want, but for some of us it feels like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole every day.
It's nice to not feel that way anymore.
Finding Amazing Opportunities
The one thing that I don't think I was prepared for was the amount of opportunities that being a business owner afforded me, and how much those experiences have enriched my life.
I used to wile away my days at my desk, watching people on Twitter share talks and presentations and workshops and all these fun and exciting-looking opportunities. I wanted to be doing those things, but I didn't know how to get there.
Here's the thing about being a business owner, though: in order for your business to be successful you have to put yourself out there.
This is where that whole "being unable to keep my head down / mouth shut" aspect of my personality really acts as a blessing: I'm comfortable putting myself out there and getting up in front of people, so I'm comfortable with the hustle associated with promoting and building a business.
These days I write articles, run workshops, speak at conferences, and I even have my own print column. While, yes, I could have certainly leveraged my personal brand to find these opportunities, having a business gets me in front of other professionals in a way that being an employee at someone else's company didn't afford me. And honestly? That's probably the coolest part.
Learning to Manage Others
In 2016 my business grew enough that I began working with outside contractors to help manage my workload. By the time I rebranded and launched Starling Social earlier this year I'd already been working with contractors for a while, but formally announcing that we have a team felt like a huge accomplishment. Looking at our About Us page and seeing more faces than just my own is still a bit mind-blowing, and I'm so thankful to work with the passionate and dedicated people that I do.
On one hand, having someone help you manage your workload is a huge boon. On the other hand, sharing my thoughts and developing the processes needed to effectively on-board others was scary. My anxieties make me afraid of failure and "being wrong" and it was intimidating to open my business up to other people and let them in.
That being said, being forced to take a long, critical look at how and why I did things helped me gain a much deeper understanding of the value of using the right tools, processes, and documentation to run my business and serve our clients.
They say the best way to understand something is to teach it to someone else, and that applies in business, too.
The single biggest change in the last two years is the confidence that I've developed as a result of being a business owner.
I can feel it permeating every conversation I have; there's a security, a solidarity in my sense of self that just wasn't there a few years ago. Of course, I still have moments (or days, or sometimes even weeks) of doubt and struggle, but overall working for myself and managing both clients and contractors has helped me grow into a significantly more confident person, both personally and professionally.
I have anxiety, and until recently I was seeing a therapist who was helping me work through some traumatic childhood experiences that contributed to those feelings. While therapy was invaluable (really, I can't recommend it enough if you feel like you need it) it was the daily practice of getting up, working by myself all day and facing my problems and challenges head-on, and reflecting about those challenges in a safe space that really contributed to my increased overall sense of well-being and confidence.
I really do believe that being your own boss is one of the best things you can do to build up your self-confidence. It pushes the boundaries of your comfort zone in so many small ways every day.
Business is growing and these days it feels like I have more stuff to do than hours in the day, but that's okay. I'm learning to develop and maintain a work/life balance, which can be hard sometimes when your work is the thing you love to do.
I believe that people create their own luck, though to be perfectly honest most of the time it still feels like I stumbled into this amazing, stressful, and challenging opportunity even though I can look back and see the years of work and dedication that it took to get here, even if I didn't know that this was where I was going. And honestly, that's the coolest part: not knowing where this adventure is going to take me.
I'm really excited to see what the next few years bring my way.