Tagged: winnipeg

Pop-up tree shop

- 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.


 

There's a coffee shop in my neighbourhood

- by Alyson Shane


(image via Simone Noronha)

called The Neighbourhood Bookstore and Cafe.

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

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

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

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

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

And it's almost always packed, too.

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

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

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

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

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

(not to mention the big, old elm trees)

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

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

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

"We are unequivocally, unabashedly, open!"

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

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

listening to The Tragically Hip, writing this.


 

Hit up the Third + Bird Christmas Market yesterday

- 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.


If you're curious where I spent all my dollars I recommend checking out Cree Ryan, Bearface General Store, Beeproject Apiaries, and Happyland Print Shop.

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?


 

In My Community: Gracie at the Prairie Theatre Exchange

- by Alyson Shane

I have a confession: I'm a little obsessed with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and its polygamous culture. Weird, I know, but bear with me.

I grew up in a largely unreligious household; I somewhat recall my mom mentioning Sunday School to me when I was a kid, but her big selling point was hot dog days and camping trips, not a deep, personal connection with some higher power. In fact, the closest I remember getting to any sort of organized religion growing up was seeing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) commercials on the American cable networks.

Partially as a result, I now identify as an Atheist, but that hasn't stopped me from developing a weird obsession with religion, especially the more "fringe" versions of beliefs like Christianity like the Mormon LDS faith. It started with Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican Presidential nominee who apparently wore magic underwear, and became exacerbated when I started watching the HBO show Big Love, a fictional narrative about an LDS polygamist and his three wives.

I'm fascinated by sub-cultures, so it probably comes as no surprise that I was thrilled to discover that Gracie, the first play in the Prairie Theatre Exchange's new season, is all about Mormons and polygamous relationships.


The Play

At it's core, 'Gracie' is a play about self-discovery, rejection, and acceptance. Written by playwright Joan MacLeod, it follows a young girl from the LDS church as her family moves from America to Canada to live on a polygamous compound in British Columbia.

When we first meet Gracie (played by the incredible Samantha Hill) she's eight years old, sitting in a van with her mother and siblings on her way to their new life in Canada. Her mother is getting married, and when they arrive in their new community they're greeted by a group of individuals: boys on bikes, teenage girls carrying their babies, and her mother's new husband, to whom she will be the 18th wife.

(Please excuse me while I shudder for a moment)

During this introduction Gracie meets a young girl named Allie, and they become fast friends, and throughout the course of the play Gracie grows up right before our eyes. By the second act, which takes place four years later, Gracie and Allie are practicing for the exaltation. At school, Gracie bemoans the fact that she has to learn arithmetic in addition to other subjects like English, "science" and "social studies" where half the class studies Jesus Christ and the other studies Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon faith.

During this time Gracie's brother gets a job, and her sisters are both married off and begin having children with their assigned husbands. At this point, during the final segment of the play, Gracie is about to turn 16 - marrying age in her community.

During this time Gracie struggles with her changing feelings about her beliefs, culture, and circumstances, and this one-woman play quickly transforms from charming-yet-unnerving overview of a religious subculture to a moving and powerful story about the complex private lives of LDS women which we rarely see beyond TV shows or court testimonials.

Exploring Perspectives

One of the things that struck me about 'Gracie' was how MacLeod used to play to explore uncomfortable subjects like polygamy, religion, and alternative lifestyles and beliefs in a way which felt nonjudgemental; in fact, the play often felt more like a serving of reality than a heavily-researched theatre production.

As a non-religious person I find it's often all-too-easy to dismiss the complex, three-dimensional experiences of women raised in the LDS church. It's easy to say: if it's so bad, why not leave? but plays like Gracie do a tremendous job of reminding us that everyone is an individual with complex, nuanced views and experiences.

One moment which struck me was when Gracie refers to the 'grannies', groups of older women who protest outside the LDS compound with picket signs, outraged at what they perceive to the atrocities being committed within the community:

"They don't like the way we live even though they know nothing about us," Gracie says.

Complicated Positions

As a non-religious person, I often struggle to understand the appeal and value of religious beliefs, and I appreciated watching a performance which didn't pander to my preconceived notions about the LDS church and polygamy in general.

In fact, the play was so well-written that Gracie's experiences, interpretations, and reactions to the events happening to her family and within her community felt more like reading a young girl's diary than a fictional exploration of an unusual religious subculture.

Though I often felt gut-based reactions to certain experiences (such as her mother being someone's 18th wife, and all of the ways it aggravates and upsets my 3rd wave feminist views of the world), MacLeod does a tremendously good job of exploring Gracie's world in ways which feel authentic and realistic, without the bombast which often accompanies literary works which explore religious subcultures.

Evoking Empathy

If anything Gracie acts as a terrific opportunity to explore a secretive, unusual religious subculture without feeling like a voyeur. While the play presents a myriad of uncomfortable and unusual situations that the modern girl (religious or not) doesn't experience, it does so without judgment; it really does feel like a honest, authentic exploration of one girl's perspective on a community which initially makes sense, but which ultimately she (and we) fail to understand and accept.

Gracie runs at the Prairie Theatre Exchange until October 29th, and I highly recommend catching it before it's gone. Not only is it a tremendously good play, but it's a fascinating and highly entertaining exploration of a lesser-known religious subculture.


 

TEDxWinnipeg photo essay

- by Alyson Shane


Yesterday was TEDxWinnipeg.

It was amazing. It was a whirlwind. It was so much more than my tired, fried-out brain can describe right now.

Instead, here's a photo essay:

Of course I woke up at 4:45AM

a full hour before my alarm was supposed to go off

as evidenced by my unimpressed post-shower face (was I even awake then?)


Much better.

Does that look like the face of a girl who got 5hrs sleep? I hope not.

Luckily I was able to pull myself together within a reasonable time frame.


Winnipeg looked gorgeous during my bike ride to the convention centre, of course.

I left a bit early so I could bike there slowly and collect my thoughts and feelings

and to try and get in a little "me time" before a whirlwind day.


I got there for 7:15AM and the space was largely empty except for the volunteers and organizers running around getting everything ready.

We took a bunch of group shots of all the speakers, organizers, tech peeps, and etc before the crowds started milling in, and then it was ready to go!



There were a bunch of fun activities for guests to do, including this fun board which I kept coming back to look at throughout the day.

I was busy as heck, but I managed to squeeze in a few selfies with some lovely people before the day got started.


TEDxWinnipeg people unite!

That's me with Ed, Mike, and Dr. Joel above, and Rana and I below:



This guy was an amazing support, of course.

Halfway through the morning Brent pulled me aside to let me know he had something for me:


It was a vintage AOL trial disc! Anyone remember these?

My talk touched on my high school years spent using the "Trial" button on our NetZero install because my parents refused to pay to get dial-up internet at home (don't even get me started on that gong show), so this little trinket was super thoughtful and hilarious. Thanks so much, Brent!

(Side note: I'm so thankful for high speed internet)

Then it was back into the swing of things.


I spent most of my day with two of my fellow presenters, Jon and Andrea, hanging out, watching the talks, rehearsing together, and trying not to be too nervous about everything.

I spent a lot of time in the green room backstage, but I made sure to make it into the crowd for Jon and Rana's talks. We'd spent so much time rehearsing together that I really needed to be in the crowd to experience their talks.

Spoiler alert: they both knocked it out of the park. I was in tears!

Before I knew it, it was my turn to present.




Photos via Heather Hinam, Doug McArthur, and The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

What can I say about speaking?

It was intense. It was exhilarating. It was fun and stressful and amazing.

I was nervous leading up to my talk and was so worried that I was going to forget something, or flub my lines, or, well... anything!

But I'm pleased to say that I nailed it. I did better than I could have expected and I'll be sharing more thoughts on my experience in an upcoming post for the TEDxWinnipeg website (so stay tuned for that).


Then it was over!

I posed for a few quick snaps at the end of the day (this is my speaker buddy, Amanda, who was an incredible help and support throughout the entire process) before heading out.

I was utterly wiped after such an emotional, busy, and exhilarating day.


(But not too tired to go for pizza and drinks at my favourite local pizza joint Super Deluxe Pizza.)

Now if you'll excuse me I need to go and sleep for a week.

Want more info about my TEDxWinnipeg expeirence? Check out my blog post series on the TEDxWinnipeg website what it was like to be selected as a speaker, and preparing to present my talk.

Update: the TEDxWinnipeg live stream is still up! My talk is around 3:20:10 in the 'Afternoon Talks' section.


 

My TEDx Speaking Experience, Part I

- by Alyson Shane

(Image via TEDxWinnipeg)

Recently I announced that I had been selected as a speaker at this year's TEDxWinnipeg event. This was amazing news to share, but prior to applying to speak I had a lot of unanswered questions:

What was the application process like?

What would happen if I was selected as a speaker?

How would I prepare to deliver my talk in front of a room full of hundreds of people?

What kinds of supports were in place to help me hone my talk and meet TEDx standards?

... and so on. The questions seemed endless.

With this in mind, I was thrilled when the TEDxWinnipeg social team contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in a series of posts about my experience. As a writer and a advocate of knowledge-sharing, this felt like the perfect opportunity to share what I'm learning as I go through this process, as well as the challenges and hurdles come with being selected to speak at a TEDx event.

Below is an exert from my first post in the series:

I’m a writer, and I own a digital marketing agency, so I spend a lot of time thinking about how people interact online. I’ve also been deeply influenced by the people I’ve met online throughout my life, and wanted to speak to those experiences and share them with the audience.

That being said, a good talk isn’t just about telling your own story; it’s about sharing information and ideas with your audience, so I made sure that my talk also focused on the positive power of digital communities in broader, less personal examples, as well. Because while a compelling story is great, a good TEDx talk needs to also introduce an idea or concept, because the talks are about sharing ideas, not just stories.

Check out the rest of my blog post about being a TEDxWinnipeg speaker here.


 

Elle at the PTE

- by Alyson Shane


There are few things as powerful as a strong one-person performance, and while Severn Thompson's performance in Elle wasn't completely solo, the 90 minutes that she spent on the stage, almost entirely on her own, were appropriately gripping and moving.

Exploring French-Canadian History

Elle is a theatre adaptation of the Douglas Glover’s 2003 novel of the same name which is currently playing at the Prairie Theatre Exchange. The story focuses on the tale of harrowing survival in pre-colonial Canada, and weaves in themes of feminism, magic, and terror into a gripping performance that demands to be seen.

The play, and the novel upon which the play is based, are an interpretation and expansion of the incredible story of Marguerite de La Rocque de Roberval, played by Severn Thompson, a French noblewoman who travelled to Canada and was marooned on the Isle of Demons, a phantom island, an island off the coast of Newfoundland. She was marooned by the captain of the ship, her relative, who dumped her overboard as punishment for taking a lover during the voyage.

Marguerite is joined by her lover Richard, her maid Damienne, and a boat full of broken tools. Discovering that she is pregnant, she struggles through a series of hardships as her pregnancy progresses: Richard becomes ill and dies; Damienne, too, eventually succumbs to starvation and sickness, and, pregnant and alone, Marguerite's spirit begins to break.

A character who began as a confident and aloof young woman is suddenly left to face the harsh Canadian winters alone, and Thomson's portrayal of a woman whose spirit is breaking in front of you is chilling take on dark humour, to say the very least. As she climbs inside the skin of a bear, worn-out, cold, and ready to give up, she is discovered.

Itslk, played by Johnathan Fisher, is an Indigenous hunter who believes that Marguerite is a spirit, having watched her emerge from inside the bear. He teaches her how to hunt and cook meat, and the real and spirit world begin to blend as Marguerite becomes more in touch with her newfound home.

Intimate and Gripping

Being the sole (or largely solo) actor on stage can be daunting, and often falls flat, but Thompson's depiction of a woman going through a traumatic experience and surviving managed to be both alarming and darkly funny. At times, when Thompson is describing their dire state on the island, living off of “books, bird bones and tennis balls” you almost feel bad for laughing as she trounces around the stage.

The most striking part of the performance, however, was how the stage was integrated with the story. The entire play takes place in front of a large structure which resembles a rib cage (an homage to the bear Marguerite finds, perhaps?) and is the perfect play to see at the Prairie Theatre Exchange because of the smaller stage size and the intimate setting.

By using a long sheet and wrapping it in various ways around the structure the stage is transformed from a ship, to a tiny tent, to the belly of a bear, and more. At one point, while Thompson wound herself up inside the sheet, crying out, it could almost be believed that she was truly losing her sanity.

Elle is a play worth seeing, and a reminder of the hardships that faced both colonists and Indigenous peoples alike all those centuries ago.


 

Why I Marched

- by Alyson Shane

Before I go further, I want to acknowledge that the march I'm discussing was held on Treaty 1 territory.

I mention it because it's important for me to acknowledge that I marched for treatment, rights, and freedoms that many Indigenous people, particularly Indigenous women and girls, still do not receive despite the fact that we marched on their traditional lands.

I also want to preface my post by saying that as a white cisgender female, born in Canada to a middle-class household, with a post-secondary education, I understand and accept my privilege. I do my best to be aware of that privilege and to be respectful and accepting that there are gaps in my perspective, knowledge, and understanding. I want to be clear that my perspective can't (and shouldn't) be representative of, or exclusionary to, others. I also apologize in advance if I unintentionally exclude a specific group from this post - it's not my intention to do so, I am just going to write what I can from the heart in the best and clearest way that I know how.

Without further ado.


Why I marched

I marched because I believe in equal rights. I believe that everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, place of birth, skin colour, mental or physical ability, and religious beliefs should have a place within our society. Everyone has the right to feel safe and respected, and I support a movement which makes equality one of its core principles.

I marched because I stand as an ally behind the LGBTQIA community. I recognize that there are struggles and issues that I can't possibly start to understand due to my privilege as a white cisgender woman, but I stand behind these groups as an ally because I believe that we should be able to love whomever we want, and to have our sexual and gender identities respected and supported by our families, communities, and governments.

I marched because I value our sexual and reproductive rights. I believe that everyone deserves to have access to medically sound, high-quality sexual information and counselling, reproductive care including birth control, and access to safe, legal abortions regardless of their income, sexual and gender identity, race or religious belief. I support helping individuals make well-informed and medically sound decisions about their bodies and sexual and reproductive health.

I marched because I stand as an ally behind minorities and POC. As a white woman I accept that there are struggles that I will simply never face due to my skin colour. With that in mind, I do my best to be an ally to movements like Idle No More and Black Lives Matter. I acknowledge that it is not my place to fight on behalf these groups, but to express my support in the ways which are appropriate.

I marched for our planet. I believe that we have a responsibility to take care of our planet, and to stop putting our convenience and comfort before tackling issues like climate change. We need to end our dependency on fossil fuels and transition to green, renewable energy sources which won't cause further damage the planet and put the future of our species and the rest of the life on this planet at risk.

I marched because I have made mistakes. Opinions grow and change over time, and I know that in the past I have made thoughtless and hurtful comments, and have acted in ways which could have been more kind and well-informed. I am continually doing my best to learn to be an ally, and to learn from my past missteps and do better moving forward.

I marched for my future children. I want to bring children into a world where they don't have to feel ashamed of who they are, what they look like, what their mental or physical capabilities may be, and who they love. I want to be a part of a movement which encourages the best in our society, and which is pushing for a future that I can be proud of.

What can we do now?

Naysayers on the internet and elsewhere have tried to downplay the importance of this movement, saying that it will "die out", "go nowhere" after the initial march has ended, but don't believe them. The cause will only die out if we stop caring about each other and putting in the time and effort to make our voices heard, and that won't happen.

Here are some ways that we can do our part to keep this movement alive:

Acknowledge our privilege

It took me a lot longer than I care to admit to come to terms with my privilege. It's hard and uncomfortable to look critically at yourself and realize the ways in which society treats you differently than other people, but being able to is essential to being an empathetic ally to other groups.

If you aren't sure what any of this means, BuzzFeed has a handy and easy to understand quiz which breaks down some ways in which you may be more privileged than others.

Speak out + listen back

Talk to the people around you about politics and issues that you care about. If you don't feel like you care about any issues, read a few news articles and make a list of the things that you agree and disagree with. Now, google those points and learn as much about them as you can.

Next, ask the people around you what their thoughts are on those topics. Don't be afraid if they're different that yours: instead, look at it as a chance to learn about a different perspective than your own. Ask questions and be curious and respectful, even if you disagree.

Don't be afraid to be wrong, or to admit that you don't know something. Everyone is learning all the time, you and me included.

Get out there

It's easy to be an armchair activist, but until we start getting out from behind our computer screens and showing up to events in our community we can't really begin to understand what other people are thinking and feeling.

Show up to town hall meetings, political debates, free lectures and rallies when you can. It's okay if you don't feel comfortable, and don't know what to say or do. Just showing up and listening is more than a lot of people are willing to do.

If you live in Winnipeg and want a friend to come with you, let me know and I'd be happy to join you.

Did you attend any the Women's March rallies? What were your experiences like? Tweet at me or tell me in the comments, because I'd love to hear from you!


 

In My Community: Mom's the Word at the Prairie Theatre Exchange

- by Alyson Shane

I'm not going to lie to you: I had some reservations about seeing this play (for those of you that don't know, I've been no-contact (NC) with my parents since February of 2015.)

As a result, the idea of seeing a play about motherhood - something that I have yet to experience, and have thus far only really had negative experiences with - gave me some anxiety. I wasn't sure if I wanted to see the play because I worried that listening to stories of motherhood - of love, of unconditional caring and support - would hurt too much.

However, I also realized that it would be a good opportunity to face a fear (and support the Prairie Theatre Exchange*, which I'm always happy to do), so off we went to check out Mom's the Word.


Image via PTE

A play by moms, for moms

Mom's the Word was conceived by a group of actresses and moms living in Victoria, BC in 1995, who all came together to share their stories of the trials and tribulations of motherhood. Together, they pooled their experiences and stories to form a cabaret-style, musical-ish play of sorts which touches on a variety of issues, including: postpartum depression, diapers (and diaper bags), panic, discipline, sex, changing bodies, and much more.

The play opened with a monologue from Jill (played by Yumi Ogawa) about childbirth which was... terrifying, to say the least. I've never had children, but I hope to someday, and seeing such a raw performance of the anxiety, stress, and sheer animalistic power of birthing was a bit unnerving. But, at the same time, it felt oddly inclusive; like this was a trial that every mother goes through, and an experience that is uniquely female.

One of the other mothers, Robin (played by Lisa C. Ravensbergen), gave a hilarious monologue in which she described how she and her equally foul-mouthed partner accidentally taught their child to swear at an early age.

"I tell people he's just saying 'truck' and can't pronounce it properly" she laughs, looking exasperated and embarrassed. This hit home: both John and I include "colourful words" in our everyday vocabulary, and have no shame about it, but the outside perception that we may teach our kids "bad words" too soon in their lives, and be judged for it, is something I've thought about. It felt like such a relief to hear someone addressing it!

Women supporting women

The thing that I loved the most about Mom's the Word, though, was the focus on empowerment through storytelling. Motherhood (from what I can tell) seems like it can be a tremendously isolating experience at times, and it was encouraging to see the moms in the story reaching out and supporting one another.

These struggles were covered really well in the monologues delivered by Jill's character. Over the course of the play she narrates 'letters' to her husband, trying to explain and make sense of the different experiences they're both having (staying at home with the kids vs. maintaining a demanding career) which were, at times, utterly heartbreaking.

"How can I explain what my day was like to you?" she asks "most of my day is spent in silence; how can I put the look our baby and I shared into words?" As John, who came with me, gripped my hand I realized that these were going to be very real issues that I would one day have to face and make sense of, myself.

Image via CBC Manitoba

Laughter as medicine

The play wasn't all sad monologues and stressing out about dirty diapers; in fact, Mom's the Word presented the topic of motherhood in unabashed, shameless, hilarity.

In one scene, Alison (played by Trish Cooper) walks onstage jiggling a carrier as she tries to lull her infant (who was born prematurely) to sleep. Her baby falls asleep, but her muscle memory causes her to keep jiggling for several minutes as she addresses the audience. In another, Deborah (played by Jenny Wasko-Paterson) struggles through oral sex (taking bites of a banana onstage) as she says things like:

"I still want you to feel good"

"Oh no, I don't mind. I feel sexy when you feel sexy..." *eye roll*

This monologue is clearly demonstrating the struggles that many moms have with reconciling how tired, worn-out, and unsexy they feel, and the struggle to maintain a sexual relationship with their male counterparts who aren't feeling the same strain. Again, this is an area that worries me as a potential future-mom, and I appreciated that it was addressed and normalized within the context of the play.

The stand out scene for me, however, was one in which Deborah's character took her young son to the local pool. Her interactions with the toddler-age child, the fumbling, the mess, and the hilarious antics which ensued reminded me so much of being a young person, and spending my summers in the daycare my mom ran out of our house, which was always filled with toddlers exhibiting the exact behaviours described in the play.

As someone who doesn't yet have children and has a lot of mom-related baggage, Mom's the Word struck a series of chords that I didn't realize where inside of me. Yes, it was hard to watch some points, but the actors put words to many of the fears and anxieties that I have about motherhood, and presented difficult and stressful scenarios as ones which felt relatable, even to a non-mom like me.

Mom's the Word reassured me that, even if the world of parenting is going to be 'trucking' hard sometimes, at least I'll be able to laugh about it.

----

Mom's the Word is currently playing at PTE until November 27, 2016.

* Disclaimer: I get free tickets to see plays at the PTE in exchange for writing these reviews (it's wonderful)


 

In My Community: Speaking to Red River College's Creative Communication Students

- by Alyson Shane

Earlier today I had the pleasure of speaking to students in their first year of the Red River College's Creative Communications program (aka #CreComm) about the state of social media, blogging, and the future of digital communication with my longtime internet pal Liz Hover.

(Really digging my Neil DeGrase Tyson hands in the bottom left, by the way)

This is actually my fifth year returning to speak to students in the program (my first time was in 2011 - how time flies!) and every year it gets better; not just because I get to see new faces and have brand new discussions, but because as my life has changed I've become better suited to be able to speak on these topics, going from a university student, to a university graduate, to being employed full-time and finally to running a business where I literally blog and do social media all day.

As usual, we didn't have enough time to cover everything that I wanted to speak about, so I wanted to cover a few topics that didn't really wrap up during my time with the students today.


Merging My Personal Brand & Business

I started off as a lifestyle blogger in 2003, back on LiveJournal, and spent a number of years blogging rather aimlessly and not with a lot of purpose. I blogged frequently, sure, but it was usually just about what I'd done on the weekend, or a video I liked, or whatever.

What I had at the time was a strong personal brand, but as I started to think more critically about my craft I wanted to write about my weekends less and less, and about social media, content marketing, and being a business owner more and more.

Blogging for my business gives my blog a sense of purpose, and has provided me with a theme to tie together a lot of topics and ideas which would have seemed weird to write about as a lifestyle blogger.

During our talk Liz turned to me and said "I like your blog now; you seem a lot more happy and positive" and that's because I am. My lifestyle blog chronicled a time in my life where I was largely unhappy and trying to figure myself out, and as I've grown, learned, and gained happiness and confidence as a result of running my business it's translated into what I write here on my blog.

It's totally okay (and normal, and expected) that your blog will change and grow as you do over time - that's okay! We're in a constant state of self-discovery, and our blogs and websites should be a reflection of that.

On Having Anxiety & Being Open About It

One of the things that we touched on in the class, and which several students asked me about afterward, was how I dealt with being an anxious person, and what led me to decide to share some of my personal struggles with my audience when some of them could be potential clients.

I first wrote publicly about my issues with anxiety for Bell Lets Talk Day in 2015. The post is called Living With the Mean Reds and it was one of the most popular posts I've ever written. Since then I've blogged about my progress, which apps I've used to help manage it, and even written about my falling-out with my family, and creating a family of choice to move forward in positive and constructive ways.

None of it is easy to write about, and one of my other family members cautioned me that writing about this side of my life may actually alienate potential employers or clients. My response to that is: if having anxiety or issues with my family stops someone from wanting to work with me, then we wouldn't have been a great fit anyway.

I'm going to do what I want and the kinds of people who respect and appreciate what I have to say will find me and want to work with me. It's worked out great so far.

Besides that, as our digital world becomes less and less private, the onus is on us as individuals to take the time to craft the narratives we want about ourselves online. Sure, you can't control what other people say (remember The Dirty? Omg) but going out of your way to craft your own narrative is an important part of creating your personal brand because even though we like to paint pretty pictures of ourselves online we all know deep down that there are hard times and dark days, and part of being an authentic and relatable human being is being honest with yourself and your audience about your struggles, even if that's challenging sometimes.

What If Blogging Isn't Your Thing?

Creative Communications students have to blog as part of their curriculum, and during our talk we touched on the fact that - let's face it - blogging may not be for everybody. Which I agree with; writing isn't easy for some people.


However, I do think that it's important that young people who are entering job markets which require them to be creative (eg: digital marketing, advertising, public relations, etc) should make a point to find a way to express themselves creatively online in a way that they can point to in an interview and say "this is mine."

Blogs also don't have to last forever. My good friend Luke is running year24.com a blog about (you guessed it) his 24th year. This project is on the easy side because he set the parameters himself, and there's a concrete start and end date. What matters is that he made a decision to do something creative and challenging, and was successful in doing so.

But maybe you really hate blogging for yourself, and the idea of holding a camera not attached to your iPhone scares the living daylights out of you. What can you do?

There are a variety of things: start a killer Instagram account about your pet like Liz did; reach out to publications online and start writing for them (one of the very first places I was published online was The Spill Magazine, for example); start interviewing local business owners that you admire and compile them on a website; create and grow a killer Pinterest community; you get the drift.

What matters is that you demonstrate that you're constantly learning, looking for new challenges and opportunities, and can present what you know in a fun and accessible way. The sky is really the limit!

Want More?

Do you have questions about blogging, social media, or how the heck I got to where I am?

Are you a teacher interested in having me visit your class to speak about blogging, social media and digital marketing to your students?

Drop me a line! I'm always happy to have a quick email exchange, a lunchtime chat, or even an after-hours pint at the Yellow Dog. Looking forward to hearing from you!

*As always, thanks to Kenton Larson at Red River College for having me!


 

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