Monday, December 14, 2009

Once again, Foster provides wisdom on the run. Today he reminded me to enjoy the scenery, to stop and smell the roses... as he stopped nearly every block to smell the yellow snow. Soon I really was noticing flowers, in particular a few purple sedums freshly frozen in bloom along Primrose Street. And in my running bliss, I felt thankful that I'm learning all these new words, via my partner Alex and his horticulture friends.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Everything I needed to know (about running) I learned from my dog

Okay, so Runner's World and The Running Room have also given me lots of good advice over the years. But as I struggle with my running life -- to race or not to race, how to keep things moderate and avoid injuries -- I'm finding Foster, my new 1-year-old collie, is providing a lot of answers.

Firstly, it's a great way to channel angst. I've started to notice an increasing irritability with my partner (we live in a small apartment and he is, for all his strengths, a slob). It seems I always want to control where he puts things like underwear and dirt (he's in horticulture so there's a lot of soil around the house). While Foster doesn't care about tidiness, he does like to play with his Kong, and when he doesn't get his play time he gets jittery and whiney.

As I write this, after a snowy run by The Parkway, I'm feeling laissez faire and Foster is asleep by the door. Relief for all.

Secondly, well, you can't race with a dog or even (really) bring him out to watch. And I'm done with stress for the day. So there!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Another Big Day: the Batizado

I got my first belt in capoeira over the weekend, and, as Mestre Chocolate was addressing the group, talking about the day he got his first belt, I realized I was experiencing all that nervous energy people expected of me on my wedding day.

In fact, ever since I got knocked on the head with a couple of flying legs in class a few weeks ago I've been second-guessing the role of capoeira in my life, and my future with it.

Maybe I take it too seriously, these sports. But I wasn't exposed to a litany of extra-curricular activities when I was a kid. There was skiing in the winter, canoeing in the summer, and I took up running 'cause it was cheap and an easy way to get out of the house on my own. I thought about dance and soccer, but by then sports were so tied up with identity I was a bit scared to shake things up. So I stayed within my boundaries and pushed on in my respective sports.

Fast forward to the present, and I've largely worn out my enthusiasm for the sports I really know. I skied my brains out in British Colombia, but because I tried to make a living out of that passion, whenever I visit the slopes now I just get over analytical, and over ambitious about the whole industry. Plus, I live in Ottawa so skiing means long travel, big money, and short runs.

Then there's running. SImilar story. Went at it with gusto, enjoyed an incredible few years of personal bests and finish line crossings, and now, well, I can't really "go for a run." It has to be part of a training schedule. And that training schedule often has to be modified for my chronic plantar fasciitis and shin splints. Gusto? Yes. Moderation? Notsomuch.

And canoeing? Every time I go to Hawaii I try to convince people to take me out on an outrigger. I'm holding out hope that it will be my athletic and social savior when I one day move to Molokai.
Maybe it's not completely landlocked, but again, paddling is not the easiest thing to access when you're broke in Ottawa.

So, after attempts at breakdancing (er, b-girling), ultimate Frisbee, soccer, and a few triathlons under my belt, I found capoeira offered the physical, spiritual, and psychological challenges I need in a sport.

Or did I?

Emotionally, it's tough. Hard to feel you're getting somewhere. Do I really want to invite this in my life? What if I never want to do it again, but I have this belt, this responsibility, to keep up?

I'm a runner, a skier, a mild-mannered paddler.

But here I was, getting my belt!

And then next day, after partying with my fellow capoeiristas, I went back for more, and I feel it in my system like never before.

So maybe I just have to follow my gut -- worked on the wedding day!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Missing the pitch

Sometimes it happens: you see the perfect story for a publication you're familiar with, at a time that hits the zeitgeist in a way that's a touch provocative, completely relevant, and yet not so out-there that it doesn't have mass market appeal.

And yet, something holds you back. It's a busy week. There are other stories. Or worse, you develop the pitch but decide to look at it again in the morning, with fresh eyes.

And then, when the morning comes and you step out to the porch to get the paper, you see your idea on the front page (teased -- I'm a "lifestyle" writer, after all).

It's easy to curse these moments, and yet, with more thought the situation can be seen in a more positive light. While I missed the byline and subsequent paycheque, in this biz I have to be a bit of a Pollyanna. So I've developed a few ways to remain optimistic at the whole missed pitch:

1. Confirmation of news judgement: If someone else thought of it, and you thought of it, and the story ran, then you're doing something right. (Just not enough of it.)

2. Getting on with the 'geist: Sometimes a story/ issue engages the writer so much that they think it marks some pivotal moment in humankind. It's rarely true, and often leads to fruitless searching for new ways to explore the issue, so missing a story might just a be an efficient -- if not financially productive -- way of avoiding all that.

3. No need to wait for that cheque: OK, I'm reaching here. A late cheque is better than no cheque at all, right?

4. Motivation for the next time I'm up to bat: Don't let it happen again! Fire off that pitch, follow up if you don't get a response, but don't let it happen again.

Don't blame your gumption (or lack of). Don't analyze the freelance budget. Just pitch, and pitch often.
(And always take your own advice.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Good Hair

On the table today: Researching the new "So In Style" (black) Barbie and Chris Rock's documentary Good Hair.

Hoping to write a piece on hair weaves, chemical relaxers, etc. I've come a long way! Just last year a friend "revealed" to me her hair was a weave. I felt sooo naive. Or maybe I just wanted to believe it was real, and avoid all those questions that aren't a part of my particular ethnic make-up.

It is sometimes awkward, writing about a culture you're not a part of. But we do it all the time. And it would be cowardly to not pitch the story just because I'm afraid of some political incorrectness. So here goes!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Marketing Me

I'm finally getting a made-to-order website. I like to think of it as an online portfolio, but I can't avoid the fact that it will be my face to the online world. A freelancer can hide out in PJ's, communicating primarily by email and thus avoiding stylish office wear; but a website takes away some of that anonymity, and recently I've come to think of it more as a virtual office.

People will (hopefully) come by this virtual office and expect some representation of what me and my work are all about. They'll judge, and they'll do it quickly. How do I make the perfect first impression?

After my first meeting with my website designer, I thought we had a plan: put my bio and this very blog front and centre on the homepage. Work would be displayed by category, separate buttons would take visitors to my page on various social networking sites, and there would even be fun interactivity goings-on, like flying seagulls and a pronouncer for my name.

Displaying scans of my work was hard enough (newspapers are big, and for some reason I chose to organize all this in the weeks before my wedding). Now, my homepage doesn't look so hot. Plus, this blog isn't something I see as front and centre to my writing. So, back to the drawing board...

We need something simple -- for one, because I can't afford to cough up too much more cash for a redesign. And as a generalist who hopes to write for American markets, Andrea and I decided simple and sleek was best. Usually I would just go on Google Images and search like mad 'till I found some inspiration (a little, illegal trick I learned from a former boss). But this time, I need to keep it legit.

I have to admit I spent way too much time looking for quotes about writing and journalism. Unfortunately, there aren't too many positive quotes about journalism out there, and besides, I always think those inspirational posters are a cheesey aspect of office culture, so I've decided against that direction.

My dog continues to inspire me -- even if it's just to get out of bed or out the door -- so his pretty, perky face is on the table. I'm imagining a Photoshopped image of young Foster throwing his frame into the air, catching a ball with his mouth.. kind of what I feel like I do when I get an assignment letter!

Then I found a very intriguing website. Or at least a thumbnail of a website design. On Design Licks, a previous winner (Nov. 16) showed a black and white aerial map of a city, with little blue Twitter-like flags marking.... well, I don't know, because apparently I don't have the version of Flash required (or the memory to support such downloads). But it's for a German site called "Gent," and I'm thinking of ripping it off (even if it's a porno mag).

Monday, November 16, 2009


An interesting article in Psychology Today brought back memories of graduation, specifically the morning after a rousing party with some of my peers in J-school.

The hangover had firmly set in, and a friend popped by to pick up ... okay, here's where the hangover-cloud comes in ... a cake? Yes, I believe it was the tray on which a celebratory cake of some sort had been consumed from the night before.

This friend, who shall remain nameless, always held a very esteemed place in my mind. The go-getter, the organizer, the one with lofty goals. AND she was NICE. (One time I even revealed my envy -- I mean, esteem -- for her to one of my teachers, who kindly said that this student had a lot of support from family in the city and we're not all that lucky. I've tried to hold on to that consolation in the years that followed, but as I watch her Skype location dart from one exotic locale to the next, it sometimes feels like just that: a consolation.)

So, in my alcohol-induced half-day depression, and with a bright-faced go-getter at my door, I collapsed. I let this girl hear my sad story about how I don't think I'll actually make it out there in journalism 'cause I"m just not... her. Not willing to file innumerable forms and put in countless years for a permanent position with a national media company. Not willing to volunteer my summers away in the hopes that I outshine the other unpaid interns. Not willing to trust that the future will all be fine if I just buy a pantsuit and keep my nose to the grindstone.

I can't remember what she said but it really didn't matter. She was nice, the hangover wore off, and I continued on with my own, unique career path. It hasn't been completely boring, but it's not a bio that would rock anyone's world, either.

But Psychology Today came at me today with some good news: the bad economy doesn't foster skyrocketing success, so we should just lay back and enjoy ourselves!

In A Vacation From Your Dreams, Judith Sills, PhD. argues: There's a hidden bonus in our mass loss of net worth ... It's a respite from ambition.

For Sills, the news her own competitor (well, a slacker she knew in high school) had lost his job meant a relief from the rat race:

"My own practice has felt the sting of this economic downturn and, if Marty has it worse, maybe I don't have to scramble so hard. Maybe I can just be grateful to be where I am."

She also points to an increase in the barter system and a genera 'giving up' when it comes to meeting annual sales. All of which sidelines the sideways glances. Sure, it's being replaced by communal fear -- but at least we're in this together.

Of course, it can't all be R&R, especially if you're the type to read Psychology Today. Use the extra mental space to do some big-picture planning. Go back to school. Or just step up to plan the Christmas party.

I do love the way she finishes this advice:

"Being forced to stand still can help you figure out if your ambitions truly coincide with your strengths and passions, or if they represent a younger, different you -- a restless you who will always want more.

Now, I've already changed career tracks once in this decade, so I'll stick with journalism (for now ;). But within these slow(er) afternoons, there's definitely room for cogitation.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Enjoying the down time

Is it possible? I used to be able to take the ebbs and flows of freelance life with ease, trotting off to the coffee shop for a session of reading and window-gazing on days like today.

The work keeps coming, this I know. But I haven't pitched a solid story in months, it seems, and I'm out of practice so I should be boning up on the cold emails and the perfectly crafted pitch. And the coffee shop doesn't feel appealing.

Maybe it's my new status as wife and dog-owner? I do feel a twinge of guilt when I spend money on myself, knowing my guy carefully calculates how many colour copies he can make with the bit of change in his pocket. And the guilt upon leaving Foster for anything that doesn't directly relate to filling his bowl (or meeting his vet appointments) ... well, that's a given.

Maybe it's just this new office. What's different? For one, I can't stare out the window at passersby. I thought that was a good thing, an attention-saver.

And another thing: we don't have a kettle, which means tea time is a confusing task of boiling water, standing by the stove (dont' want another *accident*), and then re-heating said water after the first cup is done. Might as well have taken the dog for another walk, with all the walking and impatient looks.

Lastly, the house is a mess. The last house was also often a mess, but this room is smaller. Fewer places to look.

That's it. This afternoon, I'll clean. It's the only way to justifiably use my time and energy in an act that will benefit all -- and hopefully feed my writing life.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Just say No -- to work

Not that I'm adopting a slacker lifestyle, or encouraging anyone to do so, but I've recently realized that I have a bit of an addiction (if it's possible to be mildly addicted -- is that a contradiction in terms?). To work.

I've never said no to a story, and this Friday I almost cancelled plans with a friend (not to mention my dog) in order to do a casual catering shift for a person I've never met, for a wage I didn't know, during hours undisclosed.

And I'm not even sure it's the money, though I do love depositing cash into my account. We just made rent, and all signs point to another month of steady work with my usual publications -- and maybe even a few new ones. Plus, we have this back-up account that we can access in case of emergency. It even earned us $23 last quarter.

So what's the deal with my penchant for work? I think it may all go back to my inhibitors -- or lack thereof.

See, back in my college years (and I mean that literally, not as some Americanized version of university), I drank quite a bit. Heck, I even enjoyed imbibing with gusto in during university, and for some years after. But my partner isn't much of a drinker, and my body says no, but during these years I often wrestled with the whole "why do I do this?" (often while wrestling w. a porcelain altar), and a friend in psychology offered some advice on the subject.

He said some people are born with more inhibitors than others, or should I say more "inhibitory neurotransmitters."
We all have both inhibitory neurotransmitters and excitatory neurotransmitters, but some have more than others. The later spark an action; the former tells the brain NOT to do an action.

The idea makes sense to me. It wasn't that I wanted to get shitfaced or really liked the taste of alcohol -- but saying no felt like a lot of work. And now, saying no to work seems like a lot of work. I'd rather take on the task and deal with the consequences than make the mental leap and say No.

But life is changing. My husband curbed my enthusiasm for booze, and now I have to think of him (and my dog) when I make decisions. I already made one big leap this year; maybe next year I'll try scaling back my workload.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Writing about sex

It's weird, that's for sure, to call up a sex therapist at 8:30 in the morning and ask for details about her weight loss and libido gains. And when she launches into a description of how women try to get in on while ironing or applauds the invention of sex toys, well, you just better have your nimble fingers ready to record these jems...

The story appeared in Saturday's Life section, allowed me to use the word proverbial in a lede, and opened my eyes to the world of a sex therapist. You can read it here:

Buy a big cake -- Nov. 18 is Libido Day

Somehow, even at 8:30 a.m. my fingers were able to record plenty of Sue McGarvie's quotables, but the fact is I censored her a bit. Though I mentioned her book chronicles her own sluggish sex drive, I didn't push her for details.

Why? I'm still trying to figure that out. I already know I am somewhat more prude than the average editor.

I know this from an interview for a position with a school newspaper some years ago. I thought it had all gone pretty well, and was looking forward to slicing down my student loan, when the editor-in-chief (/teacher) laid before me a hypothetical situation.

"There's a cleaning company called Rent-a-Wife. They have these small ads, with cartoon women dressed in french maid outfits. But they're a legitimate business and they want to advertise with us. Do you accept the ads?"

I said no, and I didn't get the job. Learned later, in said teacher's Ethics in Journalism class, that he's a stickler for freedom of expression -- and that turning down an ad like that would breach that company's freedom.

Now I've strayed far from Sex with Sue, but I'm just getting warmed up... the new D will write unabashedly about underwear (I'm going back for more plain white cotton... comfort is sexy, I learned at the steam room... except not with capoeira pants, then it's thongs all the way). I'll dig for details from sex sources and pitch more stories about whoopee...

Just don't ask for first person.

Friday, October 16, 2009

My first correction

That's not to say I've never written an article that included disputable facts or statements that might be seen as sweeping, presumptuous, or even inaccurate. But I've never been called on it. (In fact, in a few cases I've actually called editors before the article has run, informing them of an error. Often these realizations come to me in dreamland or in the wee hours of waking-ness... but thats another post.)

No, when I got a message with the subject FW: possible error -- and filled with messages from colleagues and supervisors tracking back from the weekend when some irate reader had called the newsroom to complain -- it was a first, most humbling experience.

The error came from some hasty research I did on HER2-positive breast cancer tumours, and the survival -- I mean recurrence -- rates of the women they affect. Yes, I switched up the terms survival and recurrence, which is especially bad because the whole article was about a website aiming to dispel the 'death sentence' reputation of HER2 breast cancer... and survival rates and recurrence rates are sort of like opposites. A low recurrence rate is good -- a low survival rate is bad.

In my defence, the study did compare these two rates. As reported in Science Daily:
"Our findings show that women with early stage HER2 positive breast cancer have a 23 percent chance of recurrence. In contrast, the five-year survival rate of all women with such early-stage breast cancer is more than 90 percent."

This made the correction tough to write, because I couldn't compare apples to apples. But I got some help from my editor, a few harsh words from a managing editor, and came up with this

And because I'm ever the optimist, I'd like to add on a positive note: at least people are really reading. The experience definitely connected me to my readership and, of course, humbled and warned me -- especially as I continue down the heath beat.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Health Beat

As mentioned in an earlier post, I'm writing more about health issues these days. Weird how these things turn out: I wanted to diversify, and I like tackling complex problems and making them accessible to a general audience, so I thought I'd start contributing to this small health publication.

That should get my health chops working, then I'll pitch to larger, better-paying mags, I thought.

But then, about a month before I got my first official letter of assignment I got TWO health-related assignments from one of my regular editors. Coincidence? Maybe they knew I was ready for a change and open to doing the extra research the beat demands?

Either way, proud to say two article appeared in this weekend's new Life section!

Tellher2 -- about a new website that aims to help young cancer patients connect


Shake it -- about a fitness device that claims you'll lose inches in weeks (but it's not an all-in-one, or a weight loss regime, or..)

OK, so my party of coincidence and celebration about getting into a new beat is over. This beat holds plenty of important stories, like the state of smoking in Nunavut. This guys' face broke my heart this morning.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Editors: Aim to please or stand your ground?

A comment made on my Facebook page today, made by a former journalism teacher, made me remember one of my favourite lessons of freelancing.

I was a fourth-year journalism student with a hefty assignment on green roofs. He was a senior editor who made quasi-promises about printing (and paying for!) said article.

But after weeks of sending him well-crafted, overly-polite emails -- one of which included the full 2,500-word article -- I started to get scared. In his first email he expressed sharp interest ... so why didn't he return any more emails?

Finally, I changed my tune. I wrote and said I was scared I'd made a mistake sending the article. Though I prefaced the note by claiming ignorance on the finer points of freelance ("they don't teach us this is J-school"), I ended with the aggressive "I hope I don't see this article, with the same sources but under a different byline, in a future edition of your newspaper."

Well, that got a response!

"I'll give you some advice about freelancing," the editor wrote, "don't go around accusing senior editors of stealing your story."

Whoa. Was i shut down or what?! I took his advice, and got more comfortable in my powerless freelancer position.

The thing is, just year later, I was on staff at that publication, and of course it wasn't long before I ran into that editor. Yes, he remembered me -- he even remember my article.

And a couple months later he recommended me for an article that dealt with some of the issues my original assignment had schooled me in. Because I was a copy editor at the time, I was able to earn some extra cash writing it, put my knowledge gained from the previous article to use, and give my freelance hopes a boost.

So did I make a mistake that day when I made such an accusation? I'm still not sure. I think I'd rather be remembered as someone who stepped out of line than forgotten among the heap of freelance pitches. And it remains a favourite story ... 'cause it helped lead me to give up the copy desk and write many more stories.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

On Rewrites

Life's been pretty good in the freelance game, wiht editors regularly sending me quick-hit type stories and cheques coming in a few weeks after. I was getting into fashion writing, to the surprise of my rubber-boots-and fleece-wearing mom, and I was never short of work. I even took a month off!
(Well, sort of. On my honeymoon I wrote on the opening of a new Michael Kors store in Ottawa and contributed to KMKK radio/ MolokaiNews on Molokai).

And maybe it's true that "if people don't shop, people lose their jobs," but I was starting to feel like I shouldn't be placing all my eggs in one basket (no matter how fashionable that basket may be).

So I'm looking to health issues. I love physical activity, and I enjoy writing about that stuff, but medical issues are a bigger challenge, and probably a bigger market.

I should have known that this noble challenge I was taking on would mean going back to J-School, if just in terms of CP stylebooks and asking big questions about what the heck I'm really writing about. Yes, I got a big, overwhelming note from an editor saying that I hadn't answered some big questions and, worst of all, was writing in a promotional style. Maybe it was the year of fashion writing, because in J-school I think I was more inflammatory than promotional, but I took her comments to heart and ripped the article apart.

So last weekend, Saturday morning no less, saw me jotting down the gist of each point I wanted to make, then arranging them, then taping this arrangement to the wall in front of my desk. Of course, once I got my steam going I hardly glanced at this arrangement, but it helped me ask important questions about the subject at hand: the T-Zone machine, and exercise device that uses vibration technology to strengthen muscles.

And I still wasn't 100 per cent satisfied -- but my editors were. And I got more satisfaction out of answering basic questions about anaerobic exercise and muscle atrophy than I did finding the right descriptor for silk dupion (which I understand is made with double cocoons!)

PS -- I'm also hoping that rewrites lead to a better, more collaborative relationship with my editors. I know they're busy, but if I were an editor I'd try to make the time for this sort of thing. A springboard, a writing coach, a person to vent to. Once trust is there, it will make me work faster (and even for less. shh).

Saturday, October 3, 2009

I"m falling in love with my new neighbourhood, and today was one of those winding, romantic days that often follow a night out and that brought me and my new beloved 'hood closer together.
A few memories:

Brightly dressed kids! And men in suits getting out of cars everywhere. A dressy birthday? Well, we did see balloons on one corner but it was the wedding that everyone was suited up for. Bagpipes and we were metres away from the processsional: bride in cocktail white and pretty veiled hat, two girls and a guy.
And htey got married right there, at the intersection I don't even know the name of yet.

And just now, as the bells of St. Francis of Assisi ring six o'clock, a trio of tweenies in orange, paper plate masks. Heading to the festival at the Patrick John Mills gallery, likely Yay Hintonburg!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Free Stuff: a rebuttal

There's been a spark of discussion in my own media circles about the conflict of free stuff. Whether it's the packed calendar of the fall season or the new marketing plans of the NAC, I've had to ask myself if I'm too accepting of swag bags.

So here's where I come clean -- in a blog no one reads! I do accept the bags, usually with a humble smile and not a peak to what's inside until I'm home and/ or the heat of the deadline has passed. Usually I don't want the stuff, I cringe when the crinkly paper and pretty bag gets pulled out from behind the desk or between shots for a photo spread.

But I just can't be bothered to explain. Maybe I don't like their stuff that much, or maybe I just don't need more samples (though pretty bags do come in handy when birthdays come around). But I'm too ... polite? humble? awkward? to decline, especially since it would involve explaining journalistic ethics.

Speaking of which, journos have opinions aplenty when it comes to this situation. In a recent online discussion among Toronto freelancers, suggestions were made about where to draw the line. Apparently some newsrooms say if it can be consumed in a day, it's okay (though I hear this was in an era where heavy drinking in the newsroom was also okay, so 40 oz. bottles were passed around for swigs. Needless to say, a lot has changed).

And what about free lunches? The coffee'n'donut table at a conference? A ride home on a rainy day with an important source?

Okay, so the last one was made up. But I have to admit, I was left feeling like a very bad, very compromising writer by the time the talk dwindled.

Since then, I've developed a devil's advocate rebuttal:

I've said it before and I'll say it again: this economy is fucked. I don't mean the stock market or the way mortgages work (both of which are probably fucked, but I don't totally understand how either work). I mean the whole way that society evaluates work, paying huge amounts to bureaucrat, people who, over dinner, can't seem to convey exactly what they do all day, while others, like customer service people who really have to ability to impact others are kept at very wages. Or people with tangible skills, people who cook or fix or do the jobs that no one else wants -- they're at the bottom, too. Artists? Just live in your own mind, be thankful, shut up.

And as a writer, especially one for lifestyle pages that usually feature stuff that's only accessible to people who make 100K+, I can't really experience much of what my readership lives with -- except through swag. There are stores I walk by everyday, glancing in at the unique fabrics and wishing I was at least dressed better so I could feel comfortable doing a walk through. And then I get the opportunity -- an interview with the designer!

I put on my best, take a tour incognito beforehand, and spend more time than necessary with the source -- 'cause I actually like fashion and design and enjoy my job.

And then, the offer. The stuff is kind of weird, I want to try it on again, with the help of the designer's eye... and I'll never be able to afford it.

Fast forward to now, and I'm feeling bad about my choice and I won't do it again. It's my resolution and I've already tested it (though it was a swag bag and I did take a cupcake!).

Tuesday, March 24, 2009



I'm now writing at a new place... on my desktop. There's a document I have called 'Desktop Diary' and only myself and people who break into my computer can read. I also have a real, paper journal that I keep by my bed.

So I'm still writing, just not expecting people to read it (just the oppposite, in fact, for now).

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Interviews ... I mean ... meetings

So I had an interview yesterday. Or at least I think it was an interview -- the interviewers had copies of my resume, I brought work samples, and we talked about future work possibilities.

But it wasn't an interview in the traditional sense: there was no coveted job on the line, and my expectations were (and remain) fairly low.

Now, I have gone for many an interview. Some have been fantastic, leading to successful stints and professional relationships that lasted long after I left the employer. Others ... notsomuch. I remember one particularly awful experience in the basement of a ski lodge that left me crying, broken down by the sheer struggle of working in a field that didn't fit. Needles to say I didn't get the job.

As a freelancer I have a much different frame of reference when it comes to dealing with higher-ups. When I meet or speak by phone with editors it's mostly about content, results, projects. We try to find what will fit -- we don't try to find that elusive bi-weekly paycheque. And I've been told (I believe it was by Craig Silverman at a PWAC event last year) that face-time really counts when it comes to getting gigs as a freelance journalist.

I could definitely have been more prepared for this 'meeting,' but I took the advice of a contact who has worked for years with this organization. She said be yourself -- so I was. Doesn't mean that self -- skill set, and all -- can't change, but they should know the truth about where I am now. I don't need to fake enthusiasm or sincerity, at least with this employer. I feel it's my dream employer and I feel like I've entered some other, better world when I consume their content.

So I will do more of this, and get better at it. I will take what I've got and see what they have, and see if we can't make something fit.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Montreal Discoveries

Went to Montreal yesterday with Kirstin the Materialist and one of her stylish friends. A few discoveries:

Jeans by Bedo!
Mission: accomplished. It has literally been years (over five) since I have purchased a new pair of jeans. I've been wearing one pair from Tristan that I scooped at a clothing exchange, but even those are only for 'skinny' days. This new pair, though ... wow. High-waisted without being extreme, dark denim, front seam adding shape and sophistication... and only $50! Yay.

The Joys of Shotgun
Usually I don't get this front-row seat, or it comes at the expense of personal sanity, as I instinctively brake on an imaginary wheel everytime the driver lacks what I deem appropriate caution. But Endeman was cool ... so cool were we, in fact, that we missed the exit to Montreal while we caught up. I know our backseat passenger was miffed, but I took it as a sign that I can relax, enjoy the scenery. After all, Montreal turned out to be experiencing quite the blizzard, so this was part of our 'strolling' approach to the day.

Breakfast Breasts

A less enjoyable aspect came when we tracked down a breakfast joint. It took three or four blocks of somewhat anxious searching around St. Laurent and Rue Arthur, but we soon found a place that was not too expensive and still gave us that chic-we're-in-Montreal feeling. Unfortunately, it also gave us that don't-look-now-but-you-can-see-that-girls-thong feeling. American Apparel dresses on breakfast servers? AND WHERE IS OUR BILL? Perhaps it got lost somewhere in between the cleavage and the smiling, well-dressed men ... w. the potential of thick tips. In any case, we were relieved to get out of there, despite the fact that the poached eggs were near-perfect.

Deep now, deep thoughts
After an hour or so of Montreal strolling (so quiet as the snow piled up on the side streets), we got into Montreal/ Quebec politics. One suggested that the city was in a better place before the language laws pushed out big business; I mused that maybe Montrealers are happy with the trade off, that preserving culture, as they see it, is worth the decreased national and international position.
Then we took a right, through a sweet little snowy park en route to Arthur. We continued to gape at turrets and fantasize about a life in downtown Montreal. The politics continued but we also made room for stiletto complaints and price-point comparisons.
While the other girls talked shop, I considered snow removal. Who gets more snow, Ottawa or Montreal? Who has better snow removal? And how would this be judged?
Of course this train of thought was spurred by a snow removal vehicle, and as I came out of my speculative trance I saw the vehicle's driver staring at me. I stared back. I swear we were having a stand-off of stares, when finally another vehicle came around and he was forced to change his focus. But what's up with that?
The only answer I could find was a by-product of the earlier conversation. I thought he was staring at me, the nerve! But maybe I was staring at him, and he was like, 'who does she think she is?'
And maybe, just maybe, it's an uncomfortable trade-off of a free society.
You can stare at me, and I can stare at you.
We might not like it, or we might. We might even find ourselves blogging about it nearly 24 hours later! Though a Craigslist missed connection it is not.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The atheist bus ads

So -- perhaps not surprisingly -- Ottawa said no to the atheist bus ads that read:

There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.

What came as a more pleasant discovery was the editorial by Atheist Bus proponent (and Freethought Association of Canada president) Justin Trottier in today's Citizen. Expecting a confrontational tirade on Ottawa's conservative approach and the slippery slope of censorship, I was surprised to find a relaxed, fact-based (23% of Canadians don't believe in any god?) argument that called for continued discussion (and some talk of free speech, rightly so).

So here I am, Justin, trying to keep the conversation up.

I took interest in the mention of public transit as an ideal space for moving this discussion into the mainstream, and the suggestion that the United Church and other groups are in support of this dialogue.

Good defence on the money-well-spent front, and I've never really heard atheism summed up so succinctly:

"While atheism is not itself an ethical system, secular and humanistic values are crucial to an open society. They are the values of individual autonomy and universal human rights. They include the belief that evidence, reason and free inquiry form the best way of seeking solutions to shared problems. Try fitting all that on the side of a bus."

I've been following most of said discussion, but I'm still left wondering: how did you come up with the text for this ad?

I know you couldn't fit all of the above on the side of a bus, but as a Christian I'm confused. My belief in God doesn't make me enjoy life less. Rather, the exact opposite. I worry, sure, but doesn't everyone, regardless of their worldview? And I don't worry that much. Maybe that means I'm not a real Christian.

In any case, in all the debate I haven't heard where this text came from -- and I'd love to.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Work/ life balance

Following my last post on the career/ marriage balance, I've been re-assessing priorities and taking stock of what really matters. Lots of 'in the moment' thinking and dishwashing daydreams.

While part of it accompanies the whole seven-months-before-I-say-I-do phase, these contemplative thoughts are also a result of a recent mini-tragedy in my home: my roommate broke her arm.

It's a pretty bad break and they don't know if she'll need surgery. She's doing acupuncture and Chinese medicine, not to mention legal action. This all adds up to a pile of appointments, plus the usual cooking, cleaning, opening and closing that people do with their right arm.

Being the stay-at-home freelancer that I am, I not only have the flexibility to help out, but I also have the financial "situation" that made me quite open to her mom's offer of compensation for running my roommate -- and good friend -- around town. (Basically, she paid off the debt I owed to said roommate.)

While I might not be the most cheerful of fetchers, I'm actually enjoying the process. It makes me organize my time (up earlier, at my desk later), but perhaps more importantly, it has made me think about my priorities.

When we're sick or hurt we can't help but put our life first. We can't type with a broken hand, we can't speak coherently on heavy pain meds. But if we're so removed from putting some importance on 'life' stuff like health and food and fitness and laughing, when we're blindsided with sickness or injury it's easy to panic, unable to imagine life beyond work.

But it's out there!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Writing as a right

With my roommate's mom here tending to my spunky pal's broken bones and bed-ridden blues, I'm getting an extra dose of mothering -- a kind of parenting that includes more opinions and boy talk. Over wine and pizza at 3 in the afternoon yesterday she gave me her two cents about my plans to move to the U.S. in support of my fiance's education plans.

"American's are different"
"You know what they say about when one partner moves to be near the other, with no social network"
"What about your career?"

I finally stopped her relentless critique, yet something stirred inside. Perhaps it was the wine or the white-flour pizza, but I was feeling uneasy about the status of our plan. We hadn't fully explored the options within Canada -- a country that would offer us health care and interest relief on my substantial student loan.

I hemed and hawed over this notion for the rest of the day, looking for signs. There were signals that the U.S. market would be fertile ground for my journalism career -- like the environmental blog I'm about to start contributing to, based in NYC -- but there were also signs I should stay here in Ottawa. Assignment letters. Responses from new editors. Neighbourhoods blossoming with community spirit (that make Ottawa less like a city and more like a bunch of towns and a stable #1 employer).

I broached the subject with my fiance and it turned into a bit of a squabble, but I didn't tell him where the subject initiated from and I ended the conversation surprising him with the news that I'd be down for Valentines Day. As with all our plan-making, we're taking baby steps and keeping our options open.

In any case, with my career on the line and the love-or-money question raised, I settled down to write about what it is that keeps me tapping away at a keyboard, scrawling in the dark, composing poems on long runs. It came down to a fundamental feeling that I had a right to write. That I would feel somehow less human, less myself, less connected to the world, were I to give up the ghost on writing (and making a living by it).

And then I slept, and dreamt like never before. At one point, on the verge of tears, I shut my eyes and saw a book, it's pages urging me to write.

I woke, recalling my dream for pages in the half-light of dawn.

In the end, I found that writing is a right, as fundamental to my existence as water or air. Take it away and I falter, grasping at straws for who I am and what I am here for.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Monday morning (attitude)

Yes, it's Monday morning as I write this, a very cold Monday morning that saw the temperature actually drop after the sun came up. It also saw my alarm clock wake me (from a dream about getting my hair cut, the stylist finding popcorn kernels under my gums) at 7:30 a.m.!

Now, I'm usually at my desk by 9 a.m. ... but that's allowing for a dreamy 20 minutes or so of sheet-shuffling and dream-remembering. Today I had an appointment to keep: a seniors fitness class at the Metro Y.

As with all my fitness initiatives, there was a brief pause in which I questioned -- nay, doubted -- my decision. Do aerobics? For the sake of appeasing a source? Just because he offered a guest pass to his class? When it's -34C?

But alas, my bladder had already been stirred and I knew I had to answer the call. Soon I was bundled up: Gortex pants, puffy red coat, long johns, double layer of socks ... you get the picture (though really I should start documenting these get-ups... they're really something!)

That's not to say my resolve was complete. No, I stuck todays' Ottawa Citizen in my back pack -- just in case my fitness instructor source hadn't made arrangements to get me in the class free, I wanted to have back-up plans for hanging in the downtown Y lobby.

Then, as I walked in the frigid Centretown streets, the moisture from my breath forming a white layer of frost along the edge of my scarf, I realized that I was ready to rock. I had pulled myself out of bed, over the hump of Monday morning, and I was prepared to pay whatever (ok, I was considering a $3.25 limit...) to get into that class ... and receive what I knew would be a healthy dose of inspiration.

Indeed, it was more than I could have asked for. My name was on a sheet at the front desk (spelled correctly!), and the class was welcoming, quick-paced, and funny. It got me 'out of my comfort zone' by verbalizing grunts and 'voilas,' all to the tune of ABBA, Olivia Newton John, and the rest of those aerobics classics.

If you've never seen seniors move it, you're really missing out. There was something goofy, yet focused, about the mood of the class -- and altogether it made me excited for that chapter of my life.

As for this here chapter of my life, I'm meeting my source later today for coffee, where I'm expecting him to tell me the location of the fountain of youth, or at least lead me to some interesting stories.

But if neither works out, as is sometimes the case in this freelance life, I'll know this morning was not wasted. The Y60 class at Metro Y, the -34C, the alarm clock and the bundling, all got me over of the slump that sometimes comes with Monday morning.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Yes, those second-skin garments made the fashion news this week, as menswear designers went for 'toned down creations in the context of economic woes.'

With analysts calling it the most radical change in "fashion consumption history," models touted relaxed trenches, cardigan coats and ... longjohns. For those recently-made-redundant, stay-at-home types, perhaps? Indeed, my first reaction was to cynically wretch at the thought of thousands of men, deflated without a bi-weekly paycheck, but as I pulled on my own long underwear the image in the mirror gave me pause.

Back in my day as a 'ski area professional' (we take offense to 'ski bum') I was given many a compliments for my ability to strut in said garment, my collection of multi-colored and multi-purpose longjohns, even my potential as a model for Mountain Equipment Co-op catalogs. Longjohns hide just enough, smoothing flabby bits and whispering cottage getaway in one, practical wardrobe piece. They take the role of Spanx and the cute-factor of Uggs (the boot we love to hate). And they are now needling their way onto the 2009 runway collections of recession-fearing menswear designers.

And if you're going to stay at home, wearing one item of clothing for most of the day, it might as well be comfy -- and designer-labelled.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Taking advice (my own, and others)

So I left the iPod at home on my run today. I'd already cleared the R3-30 podcasts (hit-and-miss for running beats) and took on some DJ Miles tracks for the road, but then I remembered ... from previous posts (not to mention weird chest rashes from electronic cables) ... that my mind sort of shuts down when I listen to music on the go.

And I really do want to get back to you, blog. (Only upon returning did I realize I'd been gone for a month! Egad!)

In any case, after I started trotting down Lyon Street, eyes focused on the semi-plowed sidewalk and cheeks puckered against the wind, I realized I I would have to take it slow on this run. Winter running is an entirely different sport, involving a testy game of layering (one which I'm losing via over-bundling these days) and a final product that, in my case, looks nothing more graceful than a power-suited lade rushing the morning bus in heels and a briefcase.

Take it slow, I told myself. You're out here, you're taking a stab at it. Slow -- baby steps. (Though in this weather babies would be wheeled around or cozily strapped to mom's chest).

And then, the aha moment. I can take it slow with the blog. I can write in spurts, I can leave it alone for a week of heavy deadlines (or a time when I doubt it's role in helping be get a paying gig).

So I took my own advice a couple times here. But I also want to get better at this, I want to improve and I DO believe it can help me get paying gigs.

So, in the bleak mid-winter, when times are tough all over and neither running nor writing looks appealing, I'm going to read more blogs, research and link, and take baby steps to a new online life.