- by Alyson Shane
But maybe writing something here would be a better use of my time than laying on my side on the couch in this warm patch of sunlight and playing Final Fantasy VI on my OpenEmu emulator.
I was going to take an internet break because I just learned about a community in my city that appears to be intentionally self-contained. It's got a "Town Center" and sprawling lawns and enough driveways and garages for all the cars you'll ever need.
And your household will need at least two cars, since you have to take a highway to get in and out of it.
I spent some time on the website and frankly it depressed me. Not just the community itself, though I didn't get any joy from looking at the boring, cookie-cutter houses, sprawling unused front lawns, manufactured-looking meeting spaces, miles of paved street and sidewalk and more garages than I cared to count.
The thing that depressed me was that people actively choose to live there, and probably think they like it.
They think they like it because we grow up believing that the best thing we can achieve in life is buying piece of property with a cheaply-made structure out of particleboard and stucco. And why wouldn't we? Our capitalist society forces everyone into a race to the bottom, so good craftsmanship and design go out the window in efforts to pump out as many replicas of the same house each quarter while still maximizing profits.
Did I ever tell you about my parents house? The one we moved into when I was in the sixth grade after living on Murray Avenue since before I was born?
It was a dump compared to the house I rent now, but at the time I didn't know any better. I thought we were getting a shiny, new house and was too young to realize that the fact that my father was going to the site after-hours to double-check the workmanship so he could follow up with the builders was probably a large warning sign that it wasn't going to be a winning specimen. It certainly won't be standing a hundred or more so years like the house I'm sitting in today, I'm sure.
But anyway back to the house. At the time I loved the house. New room! New basement! New backyard! New neighbourhood! But as it turns out the neighbourhood wasn't what I expected it to be and in fact it turned out to be a profound disappointment in a way that I didn't realize until years later.
When I was small the house on Murray Avenue had a tiny backyard compared to the new house that backed onto an unpaved back lane, but beyond it stretched a few miles of undeveloped field that acted as an extension of my back yard, and in fact the street itself was surrounded by undeveloped fields if I remember correctly.
I spent god knows how many hours out there running around exploring the wild reeds in the spring when the field would flood and sometimes be too deep, and I'd soak my pants and socks and keep wandering around because there was no sense in putting dry clothes on just to go back out again, anyway.
In the wintertime the ploughs piled up snow at the end of the lane and we climbed over it and slid down it on toboggans and crazy carpets and sometimes old cardboard boxes if we were lazy.
There were parks nearby and a Tempo gas that I would walk to with my mom and brothers and the daycare kids so she could buy packs of Players Extra Light Regular and buy us pieces of hard Double Bubble gum if we didn't act up.
There was a community center and baseball diamond and hockey rink nearby at the end of the road, and an old wooden playground with a tire swing that I accidentally launched myself from more than once.
The houses had variety and were close together and nobody had garages in the front so you could see people and interact with them and get to know the names, birthdays, and personal details about everyone on your block, at least, but often several blocks over because everyone knew everyone's business. It takes a tremendous effort to be private when you live within a few feet of your neighbours' house and have to leave the house to get into your car every day.
And so we moved from this old street with its big fields and close-together houses with back lanes, and into a new stucco house with a garage in the front and a backyard that barely got used and nowhere to play unless it was a designated playground or recreational space. I liked it at first, and eventually it simply became the reality of where I lived, but I didn't like it as much as my old street and missed Murray Avenue.
One day not long after we'd moved into the new house my dad made a comment to me about the neighbours. He said that they'd gotten to know the people on Murray Avenue and was surprised that by moving into a "higher class neighbourhood" he wouldn't have "higher-class neighbours" who would be equally as friendly.
He had bought into the idea that buying a house in a new subdivision was the ultimate middle-class goal hook, line, and sinker, and couldn't figure out why he was unhappy with his new surroundings, which in hindsight was okay because at the time I didn't know why I was unhappy there, either.
It took a few political science courses and reading some Jane Jacobs to help me realize what was wrong, but I doubt my dad has figured it how and I doubt the people in that pre-planned community have, either.
At least that was the impression I got after I wound up on a couple of the Facebook Groups for the various neighbourhood associations there. So many people complaining about each other anonymously, shaming one another over how they parked their cars or how they don't mow their lawns often enough. Awful, petty stuff.
The saddest part of all of this is that eventually all the field surrounding my old house on Murray Avenue were filled in with the same cheaply-made cookie-cutter houses, street-facing garages, and wide car-centric streets as the neighbourhood my parents moved into.
More people chasing the middle-class "dream" without stopping to think about what it means.
Now I need an internet break.
- by Alyson Shane
The easy answer is: everyone.
But humans are trash sometimes, and we don't always think that way.
Mostly because a lot of people lack empathy, especially when it applies to people we don't know, or people we have beef with, or people who have hurt us.
Empathy means you give a shit about other people. You care about their life experience, how they feel, what they care about and what motivates them.
Loving someone is just empathy amplified.
Because when you really love someone - I mean really love someone - then you start to act weird. You put their needs and wants before your own. You start making changes in yr own life because you care so much about their wants, needs, and ambitions.
You're willing to look at yr own behaviours and go
"shit, are the things I'm saying/doing negatively impacting the person I care about?"
and if the answer is 'yes' then you try and correct course to the best of your ability. Because that's what you do when you love someone. Even though it can be tough to put down your pride, prejudice, or assumptions about that person, you do yr best and try to act with empathy.
And if we're willing to do that with people we care about, why is it so hard to extend that same caring and thoughtfulness to other people
even if they look
or act differently than we do?
It seems obvious if you ask me. Empathy can heal our broken society.
Maybe not everyone thinks this way. But maybe we should.
Maybe the world would be a little nicer if we did.
- by Alyson Shane
Earlier today Tony shared this image on his Facebook and asked: "am I really part of the problem?"
And I've been thinking about this image and comment and concept and here's what I think:
No, you aren't part of the problem. None of us are.
We live in a society guided by principles of capitalism, which means that our economic model rewards businesses who can keep costs low and profits high.
And you know what costs a lot? People.
The median salary for a bagging clerk in the US. is $7.25 - $10.00/hr, which means the average bagging clerk makes $15,080.00 annually to start.
A self-checkout machine, on the other hand, costs an average of $125,000, which means that a grocery store can make a one-time purchase equivalent to the annual salary of 8.28 bagging clerks.
These bagging clerks, mind you, need to be paid their hourly wage regardless of how productive they are. Most will take time away from work at some point (sick time, family leave, vacation time, etc.) They may also need health benefits. Depending on where you live (I'm not great with U.S. business policy so forgive me) employers also need to pay federal taxes towards unemployment benefits for each employee.
Even if a self-checkout machine sits unused for an entire business day, it doesn't matter because the company has already made a one-time investment in the machine, meaning they don't have to pay it for doing nothing. Sure, the machine may break down from time to time but the cost of repairs is still significantly lower than supporting 8.28 people's salaries and additional costs.
Long story short: a one-time investment in a self-serve checkout machine eliminates the ongoing costs of having multiple bagging clerks. It's cheaper and more economical for companies to invest in machines and automation because our economic model rewards fast and cheap.
"Duh, Alyson!" I hear you saying "I know how capitalism works."
Which is all well and good, but when we start getting into the business of discussing how someone's livelihood is being automated away before our eyes, people start throwing around words like "unfair" and "irresponsible" and "cruel" which misses the point entirely.
Here's why: low-skilled jobs are going away whether we want to face it or not.
In fact, automation is expected to eat away at 1/3 of low skill jobs by 2022.
That's only 4 years away, folks, and automation hardware and software is becoming cheaper every day, which means companies that have a business incentive to keep costs low (like we discussed earlier) are going to keep replacing bagging clerks and other low-skill jobs until - guess what - they're basically gone from first-world countries.
It's not "cruel" to look at the facts pragmatically and say "this job is going to be automated away."
It's not "unfair" for low-skilled workers to be replaced by cheaper and more efficient methods because that's how technology, progress, and capitalism all operate.
It's not "irresponsible" to accept that fact and choose to advocate for social support systems like a basic guaranteed income, worker re-training programs, and other services instead.
You know what IS irresponsible?
Pretending like a future that is basically at our doorstep isn't coming and blaming "evil corporations" for replacing low-skilled human workers with automated machines that yield a higher ROI, and acting like choosing a bagging clerk over a self-checkout machine makes even the tiniest bit of difference in the long-term.
It doesn't, and it isn't going to.
So how can we handle this transition responsibly?
Having frank discussions about what automation means for people who can't compete in the labour market because they can't learn high-skilled job functions like the elderly or people with disabilities.
Having honest conversations about how our society treats people who aren't able to work because their jobs are being automated away, and how we can implement a social safety net that allows them to lead rich, safe, and fulfilling lives.
Having real dialogues about the damage that the perception of "job = worth" has on how we react to a changing job market that - sorry to say - is never going back to the way it was.
Because a lot of people are going to be out of work really soon, and more people will lose their jobs to automation in the coming years and find themselves permanently unemployed because they don't have the skills, training, or education necessary to fit into a job market that's becoming increasingly specialized. No amount of "choosing cashiers over machines" is going to change that.
So we can keep pointing the finger pointing at "evil" corporations and placing blame, or we can have some grown-up discussions about what life is going to look like for all those people who don't have the skills to compete in the job market.
Does that sting to hear? Sure.
Is it harsh? Absolutely.
But you know what's also generally pretty harsh?
And we're not doing anyone any favours by ignoring it.
- by Alyson Shane
(me, a few days after changing my life)
which is a weird thing to say, when you think about it. There aren't a ton of opportunities for us to point back at and say "that was a thing I did that fundamentally changed my life forever," but I'm lucky enough to have accumulated a few by this point.
One of those times was seven years ago when I got my breast reduction.
Which means my breast reduction is old enough to be in the 1st grade.
You know what's also weird? Going for elective surgery, which was also free because I live in Canada and my huge boobs were causing me a lot of mental and physical strain
(I still have back problems and am very careful about my posture)
is super, duper weird.
Because we always think of going for surgery as this big, scary thing. Usually if we're going for surgery there's something wrong with us. We have cancer. We had a heart attack. We fell off our bike and our Fibula is sticking out of our leg.
Gross, awful, not-pleasant times.
But going for elective surgery is FUN. You get to have something done to yr body that's going to enhance your life experience, and you get to get loopy on some crazy drugs in a safe, controlled environment. It's actually a pretty sweet deal assuming everything goes according to plan, which in my case it did and I'm forever thankful for it.
After it was over and I was finally able to walk to and from the bathroom and pee by myself (which the metric they use to determine if you're okay to go home, I guess) I went home, and the guy I was seeing at the time (bless his heart) got me a bunch of Double Cheeseburgers from McDonalds and I lay on the couch in our living room in a Fentanyl-induced haze slowly mowing down DCB after DCB.
It was so gross and glorious at the same time.
And then just like that my life changed.
Over the years I'd become accustomed to just being a pair of tits because that's how most people treated me. Strangers would comment on the size of my chest. Other women would ask probing questions like
"omg, what cup size do you wear?"
(38HH most of the time, but nothing really fit properly)
"you must get SO much attention from guys!"
(Yes, I did. A lot. It sucked. Being objectified is even worse when it's about a part of your body that you don't like.)
"don't those things make your back hurt?"
(Yes, they did. I still have back and neck problems, and am very careful about my posture because I used to slouch my shoulders pretty badly because of the weight.)
Calling them "those things" always felt appropriate though, since I guess that's actually how I felt about them. Like they were these things attached to the rest of me that I didn't identify with, or want. They didn't make me feel the way women are told our breasts are supposed to make us feel: empowered, beautiful, and feminine.
And to be honest for a long time I still didn't think that way.
I don't think I've really become comfortable with myself and my body until the last few years or so, so it's not like I can point at my breast reduction and say
omg my breast reduction completely changed my life!
because that wouldn't be entirely true. But I can say:
I'm glad I did it because it gave me a sense of control over my body, and that it encouraged me to make more choices that made me feel empowered in the years to come.
It was one step of many
but dang if it wasn't a big step.
R.I.P. old boobs. You won't be missed.
- by Alyson Shane
On Saturday we went to Mega Flora, the annual fundraiser for Art City
which if you aren't from Winnipeg is a really very cool nonprofit that makes a very positive and important impact on our community in a big way
(it's also the coolest-looking building for miles so check it out)
it was in The Exchange District in this old warehouse decorated to the nines with flowers and leaves and grass and so much crepe paper. There were food trucks outside and craft beer and cocktails inside. There was a photo booth. There were amazing bands and Begonia wore a giant flower on her head. There was a huge craft table to keep all the drunk people busy. Everyone dressed up in their most flowery outfits and it was just fucking magical
and like a lot of events happening in my city lately I was blown away at how much my city
which is still a weird feeling tbh.
Because longtime readers of this blog will remember that back in my late teens and early 20's I was pretty insufferable about wanting to move the hell out of Winnipeg
to Toronto, preferably
and would recite the same tired old refrain that I'd been hearing from basically every adult around me my entire life:
"Winnipeg is a dump and the best thing you can do is move away and never come back."
Seriously. People say that about the place they live
and where they continue to live, which is just that more confusing because why would you live somewhere you hate
especially if you're a Gen X or a Boomer and you say stuff like that. Seriously. Why do you still live here, then? Go away already and let us "lazy" Millennials re-open Portage and Main, revamp our public transit, and install some goddamn protected bike lanes on Portage Avenue
and keep starting small businesses and volunteering for nonprofits and throwing omg so much time and money into a fundraiser for a nonprofit that most of us have probably never used just because we see the value that nonprofits like Art City bring to our communities.
Because clearly we're not stopping anytime soon.
... omg guys I think I just figured out what's making Winnipeg a hip place to be:
Most of our coolest local shops and startups are owned by: Millennials.
The majority of the innovation in our tech sector is being built by: Millennials.
Most of the hottest events and fundraisers are hosted by: Millennials.
The coolest local festivals are being started by: Millennials.
You get my point. Winnipeg is becoming sosososo great, and it's largely because of the Millennials who live here.
I mean, of course all the work isn't 100% Millennial-driven. I know lots of Gen X and Boomer-types who do a great job of helping our city become something amazing, and props to them.
But it's kinda crazy to live in a city that seems to be undergoing some sort of cultural renaissance and to be a part of the generation that's driving that positive change in a really meaningful way.
It's almost as if a generation of us grew up being told that the place we lived sucked, and by extension if we chose to stay there instead of moving away we also sucked, and instead we decided "fuck that" and decided to make the place we live not-suck instead.
Now if only some of us young social democrats would run for political office and fix our damn provincial health care.
Not me, of course. As much as I love politics I also don't have that kind of chutzpah
but maybe you could?
- by Alyson Shane
which makes getting positive feedback all that much more overwhelming because inside my head my inner monologue is going:
"These people just don't see you for the real you. If they knew the real you they'd know how much you actually suck as a human being."
Which is kinda true because I have lots of lumps and bumps and character flaws which keep me from controlling my temper 24/7
or from not getting annoyed when something is taking too long, or I'm bored
or from putting other people's needs above my own as often as I'd like.
But last week I ran into a lady from an organization I've been volunteering with and she had a lot of nice things to say about me and what I do and it felt good, and I just want to record it here for posterity because I, like most humans, do a great job of remembering something mean someone said to us in the 8th grade but forgetting the nice things someone said about us two days ago.
And believe me, I have a lot of that negative BS built up from years ago. I have lots to draw from when I want to feel shitty about myself or think dumb things about myself that I know aren't true.
So let's do a fun exercise together, shall we?
Think about a nice thing you did recently.
Maybe you held a door open for a mom with a giant stroller who was struggling with her kid, bag, purse, and life in general and who probably really appreciated that small kindness.
Maybe you called up a friend or sent them a message and asked them how they were doing because you saw that their Facebook posts haven't been super positive recently and you want to make sure they're doing okay.
Maybe you helped a coworker out with meeting a big deadline because they've been feeling overwhelmed with their workload and it's been stressing them out.
Maybe you reminded someone that you love them.
Whatever it is, give yourself a pat on the back for doing it. I'm serious.
It's s easy to get wrapped up in yr own shit and stop putting in the time and effort to pay it forward and do a little good where we can.
I know those feels. Life's busy.
But it's nice to be reminded of the small ways we can make a difference from time to time.
- by Alyson Shane
If death was looking me in the eye here are a few things I'd do:
blog every day and record what a total mindfuck impending death must be
call my Grandma and tell her I love her
book a trip to somewhere crazy like Machu Picchu or Morocco or the Galapagos Islands
take a million photos with the people I love
say goodbye to my clients and my business
cry a lot
watch ghost movies and plan my next moves as a poltergeist
(just kidding - I don't believe in reincarnation)
make sure Toulouse and BJ are in a loving home
listen to a lot of Leonard Cohen
give all my earthly possessions away
(except my MacBook Pro, signed copy of Hospital Music, and photos of my Grandma)
but I know that most of the stuff I have is pretty run-of-the-mill and not all that interesting
but lemme tell you if I had a trove of diamonds, rubies, rare coins, gold nuggets, and expensive stuff I would 100% hide that stuff in a chest and create a puzzling poem and treasure map to go with it
because if yr gonna die anyway you may as well use it as an opportunity to make some people happy, or excited
and heck, maybe some people will even take an adventure because of it
which is the best thing to do while you're still alive, imo.
- 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.