- by Alyson Shane
Alyson Shane is an idea of a person that I got from my parents, originally. I was almost a Jennifer (thanks for nixing that one, Dad) but instead I got an unusual name with a "y" in it which has served me well because Alyson Shane works well together and people notice when your name is spelled differently.
It helps you stand out.
My last name, Shane, doesn't tie me to any historical significance. Beyond a few other people who share it we have no collective family history, no looking back on forefathers. No great-great-great grandsomethings. It was a name someone chose, or was chosen for us, when a generation once or twice removed came to Canada.
So that's out.
I can call myself a lot of things:
But none of those things actually apply to me. Those are things I do. Ways I spend my time and energy. How I make a living. The stuff I do in my free time. The ways I direct my energy.
Sometimes I look at my cat and I think What are you to you? Do you self-identify? What do you think about?
And while my cat's thought process is probably something like: food food food water sleep sleep pets pets pets jealousy jealousy jealousy pets pets pets sleep sleep sleep
it's probably happening in the weird nonverbal ways our bodies tell us to go to bed or that it's time to have a snack. My cat doesn't have a sense of self or an identity to speak of. He wants food and pets and doesn't think about his religion (or lack thereof) or which type of bread he prefers (sourdough) or the stuff he likes to do in his spare time (write, paint, garden, cycle.)
Homeboy just hangs out.
But us weird humans, we layer on all these meanings and ascribe all this significance to things that, at the end of the day, are just ideas and labels.
My business could fold. My partner could leave me. I could lose both my hands in a freak laundry accident and never write or blog again.
Stripping away the labels I apply to myself or have had applied to me is scary because when you stop identifying with labels and actions you get left with... what?
Your weird, messy insides.
Your meat sack that carries around all these ideas that have been assigned to you, or that you've applied to yourself, or that you continue to carry around and identify with because it makes things a little less scary.
Which is why taking the time to create art and amplify yr creative output are so important.
Real creative output can bypass all the bullshit ideas and labels and just put yr shit out there, the real, inside-out fear and stress and struggle and joy stuff.
So like Jim Carrey says "you just play your part as best you can" and go about your day trying to shape the ideas you have about yourself and create stuff whenever possible without getting too wrapped in your self-judgment, idea-based BS.
For me that's writing a blog post about the ideas that make up who we are as people and how much it freaks me out
and not worrying about the end result feels like.
- by Alyson Shane
a high school kid asked me that when I was speaking to his class the other day.
It's been a while since I've been in a high school or even around a lot of teenagers at once, and I was impressed by how smart and thoughtful they all were because I remember most of us being stupid af back in high school.
I was in there to talk to a senior math class about how I use math in my work which was weird to me at first because if there's one thing I really hate, it's math.
But when the math you do is wrapped up in something else that you like to do it's not so bad.
I spend a lot of time calculating acronyms like ROI and CAC and CPC and CLV and it's not my favourite thing but it helps me make informed decisions and become better at what I do.
And it's probably good to hear about math in a real-world context vs. only using it in school like most of us did growing up.
So yr girl put some slides together and we talked about the wonderful world of marketing formulas, which wound up getting more laughs than I'd expected, but not for the reasons that I'd anticipated.
But overall it went well and when we'd wrapped the presentation we did a Q&A session. They asked me about my career, my degree, my plans for the future. One kid asked me how much I made which I sidestepped because it's none of his dang business.
But I did tell him that being a business owner has changed my earning potential, and that not relying on a single job snd paycheque wasn't as scary as I used to think it would be.
Which I hope some of them really heard, because I could have used hearing something like that at their age.
Mostly though we just talked about social media.
None of the kids use Facebook. Hardly anyone's on Twitter. Instagram is huge. Snapchat is dead
(and if high school kids are saying it, you know it must be true)
but everyone knows about LinkedIn all of a sudden even though it "used to be super lame" before.
They like the idea of using Vero but are worried that it's going to go the route of every social network and become monetized and ruined by changes to their algorithm, and then they'll have to move on to the next new app or social platform and go through it all over again.
Told you they're smart.
A few of them like writing but don't know how to be writers for a living, so I told them that in the age of the internet there are more ways to be a writer than being a journalist or trying to be the next Stephen King. We talked about copywriting and how my company works, what we do, how we help our clients.
I talked about how much I loved writing, and blogging, and rhetoric, and I feel super duper lucky that I stumbled my way into doing something for a living that allows me to do all of those things and then some.
And when that boy asked me what my favourite part about my job was it felt really nice to say
"doing stuff like this. Talking to you guys."
Because it's true.
- by Alyson Shane
If there's anything better in this world than being a well-loved house pet, I don't know what that is.
Yes as a human of course you get to eat amazing things. Mussels and oysters and lobster and sushi. Garlic toast and fresh sourdough and croissants. Spaghetti and meat balls. Fresh doughnuts.
And you get to drink coffee and beer and rum out of a coconut. You can make iced tea on a hot day or have a cup of Chai on a cold day. You can make hot toddies when you get sick.
As a human you get to ride your bike and marvel at the big trees in your neighbourhood. Or go fro a car ride and listen to Leonard Cohen on the radio. Or sit next to a big dam and watch the sun set and listen to the water roaring by.
You also get to read books and blogs and literature and if you're lucky you have a wifi connection thanks to the computer in your pocket that lets you look up any dang thing you want.
We have Wikipedia, for chrissakes!
But if I believed in reincarnation
(which I don't, but y'know)
I'd try to come back as a well-loved house pet.
Because food and alcohol and literature and adventure are great and all.
But on-demand belly rubs just can't be beat.
- by Alyson Shane
It's like if I have an abundance of it I get overwhelmed with the possibilities. Or I feel guilty for having free time at all since there's always business stuff I could be doing instead of stuff I enjoy, including:
- Playing video games
- Reading a book
- Writing for this blog
- Writing for myself
- Writing for the Starling blog
- Taking a bath
- Finishing Wormwood
- Taking a bath and finishing Wormwood
- Making snacks
you get my point. The possibilities are basically endless.
Usually when this happens I try to get out of the house and go for a walk somewhere, which doesn't always work during this time of year since I live somewhere where the air can freeze your skin in a matter of minutes.
When I lived in Hamilton I used to go for a lot of walks because you could go outside and only be moderately uncomfortable during the winter. This worked out well because the guy I was living with often worked weekends, which meant I had a lot of time to myself.
I lived at the bottom of The Escarpment (which is basically a cliff that keeps going after the drop) in what I presumed at the time to be a pretty dumpy area because a bunch of the neighbours in our U-shaped apartment building would get together and drink in the parking lot in the middle all day.
(Nothing says "good morning!" like country music blaring from a semi truck at 9AM on a Tuesday.)
There was a park nearby that nobody used, and a set of train tracks with a spooky-looking underpass that always gave me the heebie-jeebies.
I always remember it looking like the underpass Michael Caine is too scared to take at the start of Harry Brown:
But if I sucked it up and walked through the underpass and down a bunch of streets with mostly buildings and parking lots on them I'd eventually wind up on King St E which I loved because of the weird mish-mash of stores and shops.
Record stores and lounges and boutique clothing stores. Coffee shops and places that sell stripper shoes. Hair salons for every ethnic background. A specialty foods store (my favourite) that felt like a cool, secret little grotto where you had to duck underneath stuff hanging from the ceiling.
But I had to pass through this scary af underpass reminiscent of where the clown from IT came after young people in order to get there.
I'm trying to find it on Google Maps but I'm having a really hard time remembering where things are in this city.
I forgot my address a long time ago, and I haven't been back to Hamilton since I lived there. Once you've been to a few Ontario cities they all start to blend together:
red brick houses with large, stout porches
pools in everyone's backyards
(I always forget how flat Manitoba is until I'm in Ontario.)
Oh my god I found it.
It's basically as creepy as I remember except now it's pink and has positive affirmations spray-painted on it, which is great because GIRL POWER but also at the same time
I'm not sure there's much anyone can do to tszuj up a scary underpass, to be honest.
- by Alyson Shane
There's a pop-up Christmas Tree store down the street from my house.
It's next to the convenience store that I never go into, which is attached to a hair salon which is also offers sensory deprivation tank experiences
(a strange combo, if you ask me)
and 1958, which has one of the best breakfast bennies of all time.
I saw them putting it up the other day as I walked by on the way to a meeting
It's so hip and beautiful.
All greenery, gorgeous old wood, hay bails, and charming string lights.
One thing about us Millennials I've noticed is that some of us have, like, crazy-good style.
Maybe that's what happens when you spend all your time scrolling through highly-curated Instagram feeds. Maybe become hip by osmosis.
A few days ago I was sitting sitting next to the window at my favorite used bookstore and cafe and all these families from the neighborhood keep walking by as I'm sitting there with my London Fog.
Parents in big vintage jackets and lots of plaid. Fur-lined hoods. Cute kids in little knit scarves and hats. Dogs of all shapes and sizes. Everyone's bundled up, smiling and having a good time.
On second thought, maybe it's just that Canadians are hip af.
- 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
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