Where for art thou poetry stigma

For those of you who’ve been following my posts, you’ve probably come to realize that I often talk about digital media within the context of health, beauty, fitness, and the occasional nail polish idea. These aren’t particularly offensive topics – at least I hope they aren't. That’s why I have been hesitant to talk about poetry, because once you throw that into the mix, people run for the hills and start occupying Wall Street, or worse, shaving Miley Cyrus mohawks in protest.

And understandably so – there is nothing safe about poetry. There is nothing comforting about it. There are no CP Style or AP Style guidelines telling you to do things a certain way. You could write % instead of per cent and get a round of finger-snapping applause while the audience at your poetry reading murmurs along to your free verse thing about hummingbirds at dawn and you will feel like you don’t deserve the praise because you invented your own writing rules, you went hard on that line enjambment, you inventimavized words, you went CRAY on spacing, your poem is to be read in a Norwegian­ accent, so how could you be right? Being objectively wrong about a syntax rule is soothing. There is no wrong in poetry, unless you're one of those angry kids in my former poetry workshops. 

Oddly enough, promising not to talk about poetry is only turning me into one of Freud’s little “repression leads to fixation” projects. I used to write poetry all the time, either to get published in anthologies or to tell my friends things that I was too shy to say sans the guise of obscure language. It was my platform of choice, my language, my Snapchat (ps: Snapchat is the worst but I use it religiously). Being a journalist and a poet is a difficult thing for many people to contend with because they pull at opposite sides of the brain.

You’re probably wondering, How can she tell my story accurately and fairly if she’s feeling so many feelings? This is a good hypothetical question. The tools I’ve learned as a poet have helped me immensely as a writer in that I’ve developed a linguistic fearlessness, almost a feeling of being invincible. More so, I think it’s helped me connect with people I talk to on a very human level. I get attached to the stories I write and the people I interview, but that’s because poetry has helped me care.

Even so, telling people I write poetry is often met with visceral reactions. It's like coming out of the closet. Eyebrows scrunch into unibrows, mouths go ajar, nostrils flare in panic. The digital age – aka all of society, aka our governing force – doesn't make the world very comfortable for poets. Every verse is a Survivor challenge and few of us get that Immunity (#TBT). People are threatened by its fluidity, its ability to emancipate both physically and spiritually. Incorporating SEO into poetry is not a thing, and the moment it is will be the moment it is tarnished forever.

In 2008, police arrested a Jordanian poet for incorporating verses of the Quran into his love poetry without approval of the Jordanian government. He was charged with harming the Islamic faith and violating the press and publication law for combining the sacred words of the Quran with sexual themes. If this weren't a fairly outdated example, I’d say that a breach of freedom of expression in this seemingly harmless manner (stemming from either political or religious sources) is a world I’m ashamed to be a part of. 

I hate to say “poetry is everywhere” because that is probably something I learned from Sesame Street, but it really is. Find your poetry. Do that one weird thing that totally conflicts with your career and make it work for you. We’re all anomalies. 

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Sprinting, running and getting it done

Let’s play a game of Would You Rather.



Would you rather spend a month doing passive leg workouts with minimal resistance and range of motion because that’s all your hotel room and schedule could afford, or abandon your blog like a lost child in the abyss of a Target store only to find it weeping and begging for your attention, all sad, yanking at your pant leg with metaphorical mascara running down its eyes?

Neither of these! (Spoiler alert: I just played a round of Would You Rather with myself. Separate issue, separate post.)

I get it. These are all major #firstworldproblems, but there is something about losing momentum that is so eerily debilitating. In many cases, stepping away from a mentally exhausting project or creative endeavor can help you breathe new life into something once you revisit it, but in my case, the opposite tends to usually ring true.

I like to think of the types of momentum I experience in my life as mental inertia. Whether it’s torturing myself at the gym six days a week to sneak in a full-body workout (trust me, it feels so good) or vowing to complete a feature in under two days, time off removes me mentally and physically from my work to the point where it feels like a foreign entity to me. Fear of the unknown, or rather the forgotten, sets me back. 

Trainers always tell me to take rest days. I don’t refrain from taking them because I’m particularly maniacal about working out (white lie #1), but because the comfort in doing something one day and then again the next at the same time creates structure and flow in a transitory world. The same goes for writing. I looked at this blog thing after a month of not touching it like it had 12 hands and googly eyes. Who are you? Why are you looking at me like that? You’re making me uncomfortable. Stop it, I said to this blog.

But of course, there are exceptions to every rule. My friend called me yesterday, lets call him David to protect the innocent (his real name is also David), to ask me how I developed my strong work ethic. I told him two things. A strong work ethic is really nothing to admire. If you are a human being you will naturally be so passionate about something, at least one thing, that there is really nothing you’d rather spend your time doing.

The second thing I told him is that it’s important to get invested in multiple projects at once so that you don’t feel suffocated by one in particular. Like interval training, sometimes it’s more effective to imbue short bursts of energy into a certain project than to test your endurance, yield lackluster results, and come out drained and hating yourself and the thing that you once loved, on the verge of murdering an innocent bystander for the nearest Gatorade. 

David has so many ideas that he often isn’t sure where to start, and I think that if he were to spread his little videojournalism wings (am I giving away too much info? Were we off the record?) he would view each of his projects with a newfound sense of excitement and maybe even first-date butterflies.

That’s all I have to say about momentum for now. Some people are sprinters and some are marathon runners. Where do you fall?



Digital girl in a digital world (like Madonna, but not)

I’ve been thinking about magazines a lot lately. Not that I haven’t been thinking about them before, too, but I've been consumed with the idea of magazines being unable to exist on their own like an eight-year-old child in the cavernous bedding section at Ikea.

I am not worried about the survival of print as a species. Come on, they are not zebras or pandas! Give them more credit than that! An iPad doesn’t look as Instagram-appropriate illuminated by the flame of a fireplace and a glass of Pinot. Neither does the blue light of a Macbook Air you got for grad. There will always be a place for print in our lives, but not at the extent of eschewing their digital counterparts altogether.

It has come to my recent attention (oh boy, I sound like a professor about to call out a student for copying off another kid) that most major media outlets have a print and digital product that are FRATERNAL TWINS. You’d think you’re getting the same stuff, but consuming them is a wholly different experience.

One of my favorite women’s magazines offers an incredible digital product that’s catered to an entirely different demographic and is essentially an entirely different experience. Why they chose to deliver these two products under the same name is something I had to mull over for like 30 minutes in the bath. To me, it’s interesting how they’re trying to be every place in the world at once. They want to be political but they also want to be sassy and they want to speak to your mom and they want to speak to your little sister. It’s an ambitious endeavor, but are they succeeding? Of course they are.

Why? I think it’s pretty simple. You have two entirely different people opting for print vs. digital media. You've got your old school, seemingly conventional kids who get off on flipping ACTUAL REAL TANGIBLE pages, the ones who haven’t yet been contaminated by the Gen Y zero-attention-span syndrome. They can stomach the “dreaded” long-form journalism, unadulterated by breast enhancement ads and viruses (how you got your computer virus is not my business).

Then we have self-diagnosed ADD/ADHD/Just, like, really eccentric millennials and “cool moms” who subscribe to the notion that if you can’t tell a story in 140 characters, you don’t know your story at all. These are the types of people who will click on an article based on its feature photo (we are visual creatures and there is no refuting that) and opt to continue reading whether or not the lede is cool, grabby or profane enough.

Publications shoot themselves in the foot if they don’t consider this dual reality. Transferring print content online isn’t enough, and demonstrates laziness and insensitivity. While creating a new online brand is costly, there are other alternatives start-ups can look into to get in with the “cool moms” of today. Of course, these two demographics are not mutually exclusive, but it's important to factor in how you can maximize the satisfaction of both.

Reformatting long features can be as easy as turning them into click-through galleries that divide content into little bite-sized-Ritz-cracker-blocks of cuteness. Paired with a photo in each block, reading the content will feel like a linear string of headlines. Clicking on things has become this Tourrets reaction we have towards everything digital, so flying right through a gallery won’t feel so laborious. And within minutes, you’ve conned your site visitor into reading a whole 2,000 words! Ha! Manipulation at its finest. Sorry not sorry this blog post isn't a gallery. #meta

Flowery stuff is cool on the web, but it’s not for everyone. Cut down huge features by getting only to the meat of it. Anecdotal ledes are my favorite things in the entire world and they get me PUMPED, but they can often be somewhere around 1,200 words long. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Tell me what you want to say in the time it takes for me to decide to leave your site and go play Tetris.

That long-winded profile you did with some B-list celebrity? No one *really* cares about an eight-page spread devoted to the ins and outs of their walk-in closet or their diet down to the very last calorie (actually, I totally care, but that’s just me). Instead of copy pasting the whole thing onto WordPress in all its daunting glory, why not retain it in its organic, natural, oh-so-easy Q&A format? Sure, we’re less likely to get a glimpse into your writing chops, but strong journalism is more so about asking good questions. Show off in the meta-description, just to whet our appetites, and then let your source’s badass responses stand as a testament to your skills as a reporter.

Do you guys get your news on print or digital platforms?

On a kind of unrelated note, this Buzzfeed article sooo gets my dad-joke-inspired word humor. If you love it as much as I do we should be friends forever. http://www.buzzfeed.com/regajha/puns-for-english-nerds

Turns out Madge is more than just a material girl.

Turns out Madge is more than just a material girl.

Be an artist and be damn proud of yourself

This. This is why I do what I do. I never doubted arts/creative writing/reporting as my career path, but several people a day throw arguments at me why I shouldn’t do it – not because I’m not qualified, or passionate enough, or ready – but because they fear for me and they care and they are worried and they are my "friends". They’re worried I’ll live on canned tuna alone or not have an overflowing supply of Bath and Body Works exfoliant like I do now. Because the latter would be an ultimate tragedy. A girl’s gotta exfoliate. There’s virtually no going around it.

I tell them they should be way more worried having me do their taxes or perform open heart surgery on a loved one. For me, poems can mend hearts. Magazines are medicine. Do you know how much money I’ve saved on therapy just from reading Cosmo alone? Not that I need therapy, because I absolutely don’t (not that there is anything wrong with it at all if you need it).

Speaking strictly on preventative terms, my psyche and overall well-being would be a lot different had I not had the authoritative final say of the magazine to have my back during iffy times and even not-so-iffy times while getting a pedicure (which is more often than not Fiji by Essie, in case you were wondering. Baby pink on toes still works for fall, and I'm living proof!). Anyone who tries to argue the validity and importance of women’s magazines can meet me in the schoolyard at 3 p.m. We’ll duke it out. Come at me, bro.

When you’re passionate about something, the money follows. I send all the hugs in the world to those of you who have chosen a certain field strictly for money or stature or whatnot. Own up to what you love and stop putting yourself down for enjoying endeavours people don’t conventionally deem prestigious. You are great and you will be successful.  So, for all of y’alls who think you’re doing me a favor by requesting me to rethink my career choice, I invite you to read this quote by my man Kurt Vonnegut. I’m sure you’ve heard it, but I’d like it to come from me. Love to all.

"Here is a lesson in creative writing.

First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college.

And I realize some of you may be having trouble deciding whether I am kidding or not. So from now on I will tell you when I'm kidding.

For instance, join the National Guard or the Marines and teach democracy. I'm kidding.

We are about to be attacked by Al Qaeda. Wave flags if you have them. That always seems to scare them away. I'm kidding.

If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don't have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something."


Higher education made me a better person. You?

Okay so today I went to this weird ceremony called “graduation.” It was this anti-climactic gathering that happened four months after I actually finished my final Quebec Anglo Literature class, so receiving my diploma (with distinction, holler) felt so unwarranted, out of the blue.

School is a very weird thing. It feels like an obligation to me, a basic necessity to survive, something like food, water, and nail polish. Getting rewarded for it and having my whole family watch me shake hands with old men and pose in pictures with my hair done all nice because I completed something so essential to the basic function of what it means to be human felt very off and boastful.

I understand in many countries, education is a luxury. In Canada, where tuition is like buying a couple pairs of designer jeans (I’m not kidding), it’s something that we honestly have no excuse for not doing. School isn’t right for everyone – I know plenty people who haven’t made it past the first year of their undergrad before realizing their heart lay in entrepreneurship. And this is a very noble feat. For the most part, kids who chose an alternate productive, practical route are doing very well for themselves. I am just saying that lack of funds is a poor excuse to not pursue higher education. There are bursaries, student loans, heck – go set up a lemonade stand! – that can help you along the way.

I was raised in a household where going to school and trying your ultimate best and receiving no less than top grades was not an option. This sort of atmosphere was oddly not oppressive at all. It is comforting to know your parents are behind you 100% when it comes to expanding your knowledgebase and as a result, allowing you to have a more informed foundation of ideas upon which you can build your future.

Did I change over the past three years? Heck yes. For the better? I hope so. Three years ago I certainly couldn’t write a news feature without sweating the Niagara Falls out of my armpits. Today, I only sweat the Saint Lawrence River. Cheers, to Higher Education!