Real Talk: Creativity

Real Talk: Creativity

I was recently thinking about the worst advice I ever listened to, which sounds like a pretty negative downward spiral to go on, but this story ends good.

What brought this on was my noticing of some serious job envy going on inside of me the last year or so. This was strange because I actually really liked my job, especially when I was making money writing, which I always thought was what I wanted. But whenever I would come across an artist, or a graphic designer, or an interior designer, or an illustrator, or a photographer, or anyone that did anything related to the visual arts, I would be all like, “I want that!!”

The shitty advice that I listened to came from my art teacher nearly ten years ago, God bless him. I know it was spoken with good intention, but I wish I had been like a typical teenager and not taken anything my superiors said seriously.

I was eighteen, and he had just given me an A+ in his highest level class. I was about to meet with a career counsellor and decide what I was going to do for post secondary. 

“Don’t go to art school Katie.”

Huh?

He elaborated and told me to enroll in something that would make it easier for me to find a job after university.

So what did I do? I majored in English Literature.

Just as useless.

But nevertheless my art teacher (and parents/friends/relatives) approved because at least if I majored in a core subject, I could surely land a job as a teacher, something my art teacher (and parents/friends/relatives) all thought I would be very good at.

I liked the idea of having summers off, but that’s about all that excited me when I envisioned my life ten years down the road standing at the front of a classroom.

I am not belittling our educators – I applaud them. It just wasn’t what was calling me.

It may have taken me a decade, but I feel myself circling back to what was tugging at my heart all those years ago. Art, creativity, paint brushes, colour, writing, texture. 

I wanted a studio, not a desk.  

It took me a decade to get really clear on something important to me. I was red wine drunk sitting on my couch in my condo for one of the last times before it sold. I was with a friend talking about my strange job restlessness when it hit me like a blinding flash of the obvious. I thought I was being really profound so I even typed up my words in my phone and quoted myself.

“I don’t want to be the one managing other people’s stuff, or critiquing other people’s work, or writing about other people’s creations. I want to be the one creating the stuff.” – Katie Tetz

I was drunk, and incredibly clear.

It’s a deceptively simple thing to want, and really easy to fall astray from.

Managing people was where the “status” and money was. I couldn’t be satisfied with being a visual merchandiser in retail; that wasn’t good enough. Writing about other people’s companies, creations, and chasing celebrity gossip – that’s where my words could pay the bills. And I couldn’t call myself a writer if I couldn’t pay my bills.

But that’s not what I truly wanted either. 

Which brings me to what spurred this rant – another Real Talk question.

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I’ve read a lot of good this-changed-my-life-books, but my newest favourite is Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. (Eat, Pray, Love lady).

This book is a creative person’s dream.

She’s (almost) totally got me convinced to let go of the external results that can once and awhile come from a person’s creativity. She makes an amazing argument that those results are not the point. I say almost because I guarantee that if I write my book and some big mean critic tells me it’s shit, I’ll be a little upset.

Of course I like it when someone tells me they like my blog, but that validation cannot be why one makes stuff. Of course it would be great to make a living through art, but reading Big Magic left me feeling like it just doesn’t matter. And because it doesn’t matter,  I won’t feel like I’m not a “real writer” until I cash a giant book advance. I won’t feel like I can’t pick up a paint brush just because I didn’t go to art school. This book reminded me that the only way we can live a happy creative life is to do it for the love.

I’m not sure exactly what all this job envy is pointing to, but when I look at my coworker’s photography, or my cousins paintings, or when I snuck upstairs to a distant relatives art studio in Germany three summers ago…something tugs at my heart. Every time. Without fail. And while my unintentional career in retail has it’s ups and downs, the one thing I continue to love is the thing that lets me play with colour and design and texture, visual merchandising.

It’s been a decade and I can’t shake it. I like being the one creating the stuff. Period.

So as much as I wish I hadn’t listened to my art teacher’s shit career advice, I know better now. And I hope I’ve lived enough to recognize that advice next time I hear it. Of course it won’t be in those exact words, but the message is always the same: That thing you want, whatever that thing is, is only worth pursuing if it’s going to make you money.

What a lie.

I like Elizabeth Gilbert’s thinking: “We still have enough space left in our civilization for the luxuries of imagination and beauty and emotion – and even total frivolousness. Pure creativity is magnificent expressly because it is the opposite of everything else in life that’s essential or inescapable. It’s a gift. It’s the frosting. Our creativity is a wild and unexpected bonus from the universe.”

I am finishing a book this year and I bought some paint brushes a few weeks ago. If I ever sell a book or have an art show, that’s cool, and it’s also okay if those things don’t happen.

But if they do, I will most definitely be sending my old art teacher an invite.

 

 

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Crystal Healing

Crystal Healing

On a late Saturday afternoon in October, I walked out of a new age shop with three of my friends.

One had just purchased a handful of crystals that were supposedly going to aide her in gathering courage. She was just about to quit her day job in order to pursue her passion. For myself, I had purchased a couple of gemstones that would hopefully bestow some clarity and inner peace on my fluctuating mood swings. In other words, I was hoping they’d stop me from being such a bitch. Our single friend, frustrated with her dating life, held a giant piece of rose quartz in her hand, “If I’m still single in six months, I’m returning this.”

The pursuit of harmony

As you can see, we all had our issues. After stuffing our faces with formaggi pizza and gabbing about our problems, a form of therapy in and of itself, we half-jokingly decided that we were in need of some crystal healing, a growing curiosity of ours.

No matter where you are on the scale of practical realist to crystal loving-fire-walking-yogi, as a human being, you’re on the hunt for harmony. Or courage. Or a soulmate. Whatever it may be, you want something. There’s a reason why there’s a plethora of books, seminars, and business’ built on this idea that through positive intention and affirmations, we can change our lives and find what we ache for.

Yvan Duban, owner of New Age Books & Crystals, explains that in our search for balance and harmony, affirmations and positive intentions go a long ways, “There’s serious potency in that. Affirmations are a frequency – this is scientifically proven.” Besides verbal frequencies, we also communicate in subtle ways on a telepathic level; this communication also has a frequency.

Think about those times when you’ve met someone and for no apparent reason, you got a ‘bad vibe.’ Or perhaps you’re aware enough to notice how certain spaces make you feel, whether it’s energized, calm, or creeped right out.

Crystals communicate with us in the same kind of way. It’s on a subtle energetic level, an intuitive kind of communication that takes quieting your head noise to hear, “There’s a reason why humans like walking on sand or climbing mountains,” explains Duban. It’s not just for the view; it’s how we feel in the presence of what could be considered a colossal sized stone, or billions of mini crystals beside the ocean. And though they may not be able to magically manifest you a boyfriend, it’s on that subtle energetic level that crystals can serve you.

The science of intention

Scientifically defined, crystals are a constituent of atoms, ions and particles that come together to form crystalline structures. In fact, the basis of the technology that we use every day is founded in crystals. Our iPhones, laptops, microchips – they are all a simplified use of crystals, quartz, and minerals, all of which hold information and reflect it back to us.

On another level, Duban explains that crystals can be defined as “the essence of life manifesting on earth.” He admits this definition is more grandiose, but when you realize that you’re interacting with crystal forms every day, and that you already communicate on telepathic levels, in a sense, crystals are just another form that bring these two worlds together.

Aside from their medical and symbolic use throughout history, if you want proof of the power of positive intentions in crystals, science can give that to you. Japanese scientist Masaru Emoto conducted experiments in which he took jars of water and used either positive or negative affirmations to influence them. He wanted to observe the physical effect of positive words, prayers, and music on the crystalline structure of each jar of water. Not surprisingly, positivity gave way to beautiful geometric crystals whereas negativity created disfigured crystals.

 

A crystal is not a prescription

After spending an afternoon talking to Duban at New Age, I realized that my friends and I had it all wrong. Though they may have powerful energies, a crystal is not a prescription; it cannot fix you. Of course we weren’t quite that naïve, but in a sense, that’s how we were shopping that afternoon. I had picked up a tiny blue gemstone and read the description of it; it said something about helping its holder stop being so judgmental.

“Alex – I think you need this one.”

Similarly, my best friend couldn’t walk two feet without adding another stone to her shopping basket.

“I have a lot of issues.”

Duban explains that it’s our western culture that feels the need to prescribe a medicine when something is wrong, rather than looking for an answer or healing from within. Crystals, with their subtle energies and ability to hold onto information, are designed for us to get in touch with our own intuition.

“Crystals don’t do anything to you,” corrects Duban. “What they are is a reflection of that which is already in you; they are illuminating something in you.”

In other words, they cannot give you something you don’t already have. Think of them like little mini affirmation assistants. Like how the feel of sand brings you joy, and the mountains help you feel grounded, those feelings are already inside of you. Sometimes it just takes a catalyst to bring them out.

Choose a crystal like you choose a lover

Unlike some of the other shops that sell crystals, New Age does not display explanations of the healing properties of each stone. Duban leaves those details out for a reason. He’s not interested in prescribing a crystal to the people that walk into his store. Though that might be easier for us, he’s much more interested in facilitating our intuitive process.

“It’s the same way in which you choose your partner, your girlfriend, any important thing in your life. It’s through your own guttural intuitive process.” Rather than telling you, “This stone will help with anxiety,” or, “This stone will nail you the love of your life,” it’s more effective to see which crystals you are drawn to. “Physicality is important,” says Duban. “But more so, it’s the intuitive draw.” If you like purple, you like purple. But if you choose a crystal because you are drawn to it, “this allows the crystal to have a more potent impact,” says Duban. Like choosing a lover or a career, “The mind should be secondary to what your heart is saying.”

Since buying one crystal has led me to buying a whole bunch, I want to know if it’s possible to have too many, like shoes. Or do certain crystals not like other crystals? “This is the human condition we try to put on everything,” explains Duban. In our own lives we’ve had experiences of “too many cooks in the kitchen” or certain people clashing with one another. But crystals are not human. Unlike us, they all get along fine.

The best place to keep them is near you or on you, which is why you’ll find them in a lot of jewelry, “Some I party with; some I travel with,” says Duban. It’s all up to you and that intuition of yours.

When we’re willing to listen to our intuition and believe that our affirmations have power, we begin to live with more ease. The use of crystals is simply a vehicle to explore that deeper.

Back to my girlfriend who is counting on her rose quartz to facilitate her in finding love. Duban points out, “If you’re going to manifest something, the first thing to do is say it.” Whatever it is that we want – balance, love, direction, or courage – the pursuit of those things all begins with a willingness to say it out loud. Affirmations and intention hold power, and evidently, so do those beautiful little stones.

Read Branded Magazine online here.

Creating Space

I’m standing still for a moment, which is good progress. – Bertlott Brecht

I was getting ready to go explore another neighborhood in Sydney but was taking my sweet ass time deciding what to wear. Half an hour behind schedule, my boyfriend and I left my apartment.

“I feel very laissez-faire in this outfit,” I said.

“Totally,” he agreed, not even sarcastically.

“I don’t even know what laissez-faire means,” I confessed.

“Me either.”

We continued to use this phrase over the length of his stay without ever bothering to find out if we knew what we were talking about. Finally, weeks later, he sent me the definition: a policy or attitude of letting things take their own course, without interfering. 

I’ve sort of taken a “laissez-faire” year for myself – some time out to sit still and ponder what’s next. I just happened to do so while also putting the entire ocean between me and my life. I gave myself space, quite literally.

In my short twenty-nine years on earth, I have learned the importance of making decisions and subsequently felt the amazing snowball effect when those decisions are in alignment with what I really want.

Enter happiness.

Letting things take their course, or standing still for a minute or two, is surprisingly a lot harder. Especially with the beast that is social media constantly reminding me of all the amazing, inspiring, world-changing things everyone else is up to. Whether it’s making change or making babies.

Sometimes it completely overwhelms me. And sometimes it really is inspiring.

Either way, it always reminds me that the world is moving very quickly and that there are millions of people out there taking action, building businesses, crushing goals, taking photos of doughnuts, getting into calligraphy, etc, etc.

I feel lazy because I still don’t know what I should be “hustling” for. It’s the way in which the word hustle has been glorified that annoys me, particularly when I see things like, “Good things happen to those who hustle.”

No. Anxiety, break-downs, and stress related illness happen to those who hustle.

I am not opposed to working hard. My teachers in school and my employers in adulthood have always gold-starred me. What I am an advocate for is self-care and presence in between all the hustling so that one doesn’t forget to enjoy one’s life as well.

I just want to sit still for a minute. Go for walks until I maybe or maybe don’t stumble upon some answers.

An actual excerpt from my diary:

“In the best way, not that much has even happened. I found a job, an apartment, and walk the coast over and over and over again with my backpack. I have a couple of new friends that I meet for pizza and wine about once a week. I like sitting in bars knowing no one I know will walk in. I’ve found a coffee shop that sort of knows my name (Kelly), and a liquor store with good wine deals. I’ve organized my inbox, finished some books, blogged, gone to bed early, eaten well, and I always have enough time. I feel like I hit pause. And in doing that I also feel like I’ve taken some giant steps forward.”

I suppose there is a time and a place for everything. And right now, evidently, is a time of not much action, which means my tarot card lady was freakishly accurate.

“You’re going into your hermit year.”

Sorry – what? I don’t hermit.

“You may not understand what’s going on with yourself, and that’s okay. You’ll find you only want to spend time with really important people, or you’d rather just be alone.”

And dammit she was right!

It’s quite startling how much I’ve enjoyed the hermit lifestyle the last four months. My coworker started referring to me as “Mom”.

Six months ago if someone called me that I would have grabbed a bottle of tequila and proved them wrong.

I know that being in action is important, but what about taking some time to stand still and bask in where life ended up, or time to be really thoughtful about what’s next, and what’s here now.

There’s lots of voices and opinions floating around, some my own and some others.

“It’s time to decide honey.”

“Don’t worry about it – you don’t have to make a decision right now.”

So laissez-faire it is. Turns out happiness can come in that door too.

The Spinster Wish: A Book Review

“I was twenty-eight. It was the year 2000. Nobody was making me marry anyone. But the pull toward it felt as strong as an undertow, the obvious next step in a mature and orderly existence. And when I thought about being alone at forty – the inconceivable far future – I froze.” Spinster (100)

Whether you’re engaged, comfortably coupled up, or so single you can’t remember how to talk to boys, you can probably relate to Kate Bolick as she describes what it feels like to be twenty-eight. If you’re on the cusp of thirty and marriage still feels like a big fat maybe, your grandparents have definitely expressed concern and you’re likely having terrifying thoughts of the title of Bolick’s book, thoughts of becoming a Spinster.

I turned 29 yesterday – I can absolutely feel ‘the pull’ and have for a long time. I’m not single, but I am far from living out a “mature and orderly existence.” There is no stable career and no foreseeable engagements or pregnancies. Instead, I’m getting everything in order to move across the ocean and work abroad for a year. 

When the people in my life found out about my travel plans, the number one question asked was, “What about x?” where x denotes my amazing, handsome, kind, sexy, supportive, perfect boyfriend.

Of course that’s their number one concern; I probably would have asked that same question if roles were reversed.

Surely my decisions must hinge on the fact that I am in a relationship. And here is why:

“Whom to marry, and when will it happen – these two questions define every woman’s existence, regardless of where she was raised or what religion she does or doesn’t practice. She may grow up to love women instead of men, or to decide she simply doesn’t believe in marriage. No matter. These dual contingencies govern her until they’re answered, even if the answers are nobody and never.” (1)

This is how the book starts. I knew I was going to dig this half-memoir/ half-history lesson as soon as I finished reading that sentence. It came as a blinding flash of the obvious to me; it was true, from the moment boys no longer had cooties, this had been the heart of the matter for myself and the females in my life in most romantic encounters, give or take a few nights of careless debauchery.

It’s always a question of whether or not you want to date them, followed promptly by the question of whether or not you think they are it, a conversation that gets really old, really fast, the longer you’ve been on the hunt. Eventually, we get sick of the search for stability and soulmates, and that’s when thoughts of spinsterhood become a regular occurrence.

In Spinster, a title that seems to turn a lot of people off when I suggest they read it, Bolick dives into the lives of five women in history who weren’t necessarily spinsters as the term is defined, but were women who definitely took the road less traveled. Fused together with her own refreshing perspectives on marriage and the single life, Spinster reveals all the ways in which the world around us makes remaining single seem like a terrible existence. She simultaneously offers up examples of the complete opposite – women who remained single and were happy anyway. This is not an angry feminist rant but side effects may include loving your single status more than ever – maybe even wanting to keep it more than you want a diamond ring. 

After revealing the story of one such woman, Kate Bolick writes, “Finally, here it was, the conversation I’d been looking for.” What she had been looking for was a conversation that I didn’t know I had also been looking for, until, of course, I found it in her book.

In her own life, Bolick grapples with a desire to be alone, even when coupled up with seemingly amazing men. Her willingness to tell the truth about her feelings pulled me right in – I underlined the shit out of that chapter.

Here it was, the conversation I’d been looking for. Nowhere have I ever found the conversation that let me know I wasn’t crazy for not remaining in perfectly stable relationships.

Once, back when I thought I was letting go of a pretty great relationship, one that seems painfully mediocre when I compare it to the one I’m in now, I remember thinking, “I know why so many people just stay together.” It hurt so much to walk away, and I was doing it to myself. But in that case, the only thing that felt more impossible than leaving was staying when deep down I wasn’t happy. And so once again I found myself single.

I always thought the problem was that I wasn’t with the right person. Otherwise, why would I have this strange desire to be alone? It wasn’t about wanting to keep playing the field; trust me, dating is not my sport.

The truth is, after a breakup I would always feel incredibly free, almost blissful. Colors seemed brighter, I’d play my music louder, I’d get more excited about my future… Often I’d be pulled back into the comforts of him one last time, whether it was his friendship, company, the sex, or something else. The comforts of relationships can be hard to say no to; I have not yet mastered the art of letting go. But I have always instinctively known the final outcome.

What I realized reading Spinster was that relationships always feeling stifling to me was never about the guy – it was about me. The huge success of self-help has taught us to always point the finger at ourselves. So I used to think that meant there was something wrong with me, some fucked up beliefs about marriage that needed to be sought out and let go of.

But finally, thanks to this book introducing me to a different conversation, one that had apparently been happening for centuries, I finally felt like maybe there was something right with me. Or that, at the very least, I wasn’t alone in my mixed up desires. This isn’t, and never was, about the guy in question.

Unlike the five women she writes about in history, as far back as the turn of the last century, the choices I am making are far from radical, These women were actually doing something worth writing about; they were, as the subtitle suggests, making a life of their own.

Bolick also gets us to consider the similarities and differences between her 5 single women of the last century, to the single woman today:

“Transport Edna to our own era, and she’s a lot like the rest of us – a woman who wanted to enjoy her youth as long as she could … with one crucial difference: How many of us today are able to unlace our contemporary corsetry of received attitudes? …I suspect she’d have told us that if there is a point to all of this, it’s to take life very, very seriously, and to love whomever you want, as abundantly as you can. Her legacy wasn’t recklessness, but a fierce individualism that even now evades our grasp.” (152)

Though we’ve come a long way, the single woman today doesn’t have it easy. We express worry for the thirty-two-year-old woman alone at a wedding, we half-jokingly make fun of ourselves for not being able to keep a man, we walk home from bars feeling lonely and fed up. Bolick pulls back the curtains and looks atwhy.

All my single ladies – please know that in my opinion, both existences can be wonderful and the grass is never greener. I love love and I love the man I’m with. He lets me be me, even if I’m kind of an asshole from time to time. I feel free to choose for myself, be myself, and create a life for myself. There’s this strange understanding between us mixed up with all the love. That we have to let one another be, to grow into who we are as individuals. We love each other independent of being in a couple; it’s quite possibly the best kind of love. 

It’s not that he, or any of them, were not the right guy. Any one of them could have been “the one,” but this was my part to play – this rather inconvenient wish to be in an incredible relationship, and to also be free.

I suppose I have what Bolick calls the “Spinster Wish”.

Sometimes I wish I was like the ‘vast majority’ that she references. I think life would be a lot easier that way. I wish all I wanted was to follow my boyfriend wherever he may go, never questioning my life and my love for him. To be a wonderful wife, and someday a wonderful mother.

Bolick eventually comes to the understanding, and allows us to do the same, that we don’t need to justify our lifestyles. We can decide which measures of adulthood we want to take up, and which to leave behind.

Kate Bolick helped me find my tribe, women whose “personal freedom is more precious to them than the protection of the best men” – Josephine Redding, 1895.

I just had no idea they’d been around for so long.  My overwhelming feeling after I had finished the book, the feeling that makes literature so beautiful, was, “I’m not the only one that feels this way.”

Read Spinster. It will make you rethink why you want what you want, and if anything, will make you see that it’s okay if you happen to want something different. 

Real Talk: Wolf Packs

Real Talk: Wolf Packs

“Do you think it’s more important to have a diverse group of friends or a wolf pack that you roll with for life?”

Friendship.

The older I get, the more I have to say about the topic, the more I value it, and the more I see how complicated it can be. When I was growing up, my friendships were the only constant – they were the relationships that I ran to and knew would be there like I knew the sun would rise. Everything else in life was where the fluctuation was. Boyfriends, jobs, family dynamics, life decisions. But my BFFs? Solid.

Then, I got a little older.

To answer the question, I prefer to have my cake and eat it too. I would always choose both, but what do I think is more important? I might ruffle some feathers saying this, but I have been surprised over and over again at the impact the different people who have come in and out of my life have had on me. So I’m gonna go with option A.

#diversityforthewin

I value growth. I want to become more and more awesome the older I get. Or rather, more fully myself. And how I’ve gotten closer to that has everything to do with the diverse group of friendships I’ve had along the way. Some remain and some fade away, but they were all meaningful and if I wanted to overthink on it a bunch, I could tell you that every single one of those people taught me something different.

I’m taking “diversity” to mean that you are open to, and make friends with, a wide array of people. They don’t necessarily become a wolf pack, nor do you necessarily roll with them through your entire life. On the flipside,  I’m taking “wolf pack” to mean the same friends, all together, all the time.

Luckily we live in a universe that doesn’t make us choose between one or the other. But to be honest, sometimes I’ve felt like I had to.

Sometimes I feel like a shitty friend because I can’t keep up with all of the rad people that have made their way into my heart. It’s an awesome problem to have, one that I’m sure my awkward thirteen-year-old self would be proud of. Oh you’re that popular that you feel like you have too many friends?

Cry me a river.

But that’s when friendship got a little more complicated. When there started to be more than one wolf pack, when I started to value different things, or moved, or grew, or changed, or couldn’t keep up. Friends I met at school, friends I met traveling, friends I met in the workplace, and then another workplace, and then through friends of friends, and then I even become friends with an ex’s ex.

What’s next? Brunch with my ex-boyfriends?

ENOUGH FRIENDS ALREADY.

I know what you’re going to say to me: “It should be about quality not quantity.”

Save it.

My pushback will be that unlike all of the terrible boys I dated circa 2014, I happened to find a shit ton of quality platonic relationships.

In all seriousness, I think the older we get the more clear we get on who we really connect with, and that shifts and changes too depending on what’s going on in our lives. But I think the mistake we make is labeling that shift bad. Those “friends for a season” people aren’t necessarily shitty friends. Maybe you can just love them for what they gave you in those moments of friendship, and that’s enough.

I know there’s not a single friend that I’ve drifted away from that I don’t cheer for from afar. But being okay with that is where the growing pains are.

Letting in all that “diversity” has been so worth it for me. The mentors, the party animals, the single-girl companions, the older & wiser, the young & borderline insane, the ones I had the time of my life with and the ones I cried my eyes out in front of – I wouldn’t trade all those experiences for anything. Maybe they could have happened with the same wolf pack, but they didn’t in this girls journey.

My current friend roster ranges from age 22 to 66. And that’s not including family.

The 22-year-old literally just does whatever he wants and doesn’t overthink anything. And by “does whatever he wants” I don’t mean partying with reckless abandon. I mean he’s an Instagram famous self-taught photographer, he’s started his own brand and magazine, and he even makes candles. He’s inspired me to just start whatever it is I want to start. Zero overthinking.

The 66-year-old is my absolute favorite coffee date. Nothing beats the wisdom behind her twinkling blue eyes. It’s such a unique experience, listening to someone with that many more decades of life experience than you. It’s both humbling and encouraging. I trust her like I’ve known her my entire life.

I absolutely love letting people in for this reason: I believe the universe gives you what you need when you need it; it just takes a keen eye to notice this phenomenon (and a belief in something other than coincidence).

I think that letting people – all sorts of people – make an imprint on your heart is an amazing way to spend your life.

The handful of girls that I have carefully curated as my best friends, yes they are my wolf pack or tribe or whatever you want to call them. But they are not my wolf pack by default. They are the result of me loving everybody up that’s come into my life, some long ago and some more recent. I know I’ve really chosen them, and they are most definitely diverse.

 

When it comes to friendship, sometimes keeping one another in each other’s lives is harder than letting each other go. But maybe all we need to do is cherish that carefully curated wolf pack, and send love to the friendships that have come and gone. They weren’t bad friendships; maybe they were just meant for other things.

Friends for a reason, season or lifetime, everybody is invited to my party.

On The Grind

On The Grind

“It’s kind of like dating. Once you’ve tried something of high quality, Tim, Donald and Buck just don’t do it for you anymore.”

Originally published in Branded Magazine: The Drive

The first cup.

The first time Jessica McCarrel tried coffee, she was repulsed. The beautiful aroma that filled her childhood home was a façade. By the time she was in post-secondary, the ‘shit-coffee’ that her school’s cafeteria served was just a way for her to stay awake.

Similarly, the first time Phil Robertson of Phil & Sebastian ordered a cup of coffee, it wasn’t any better. He just needed a way to stay focused in his engineering classes, “It tasted awful, but it worked,” said Robertson. And when Cole Torode of ROSSO was sixteen, he just wanted to find out what all of the fuss was about at Starbucks. So he ordered a vanilla latte.

“I hated it,” said Torode.

Most of us have come a long way since our first sip. We no longer order a triple chocolate frappuccino and call it a coffee. Now, it’s become much more about connecting with each other than getting our caffeine fix. When someone says to you, “Let’s grab a coffee this weekend,” you know that this means more than the words themselves; it means you’re going to connect, catch up, or gossip about last weekend. McCarrel’s cafe, Kaffee Klatsch, literally translates to ‘coffee’ & ‘gossip’.

But that doesn’t mean the quality of what we’re drinking doesn’t matter; it matters a whole lot, especially to these roasters and baristas. This is the story of the individuals at the helm of ‘Coffee Culture’ in our city. Whether they forged the path or are just getting started, they’re ensuring that we no longer settle for ‘shit coffee’ while we send emails or get our gossip in. Jeremy Ho of Monogram explains that these days, “People’s standards are higher about what they put in their mouth.”

That’s what she said.

Where them good cups of coffee at?

Pre-Beltliner, McCarrel was always on the hunt for good coffee. “Straight up, I didn’t like anything that anyone made,” said McCarrel.

A few more years back in time, Phil Robertson and Sebastian Sztabzyb, two engineering lab buddies, were also lamenting the fact that good coffee was so hard to find. Eventually, rather than just loving good coffee and complaining about having no where to get it, the two of them decided to step up and create such a place.

Lech Wojakowski, owner of The Roasterie, shared the same problem: a love of good coffee but no where to get it, and so began his 30-year journey. His shop in Kensington was the first of its kind, bringing roasting to a street front cafe. It was the first time a lot of people had tried something other than Maxwell House or Nabob, “People were curious and in a very short time, we had a line up out the door.”

Simply put, it was about noticing that there was something missing in our city and then doing something about it.

Why coffee?

So it’s clear that we needed better coffee, but how does one decide to turn this quest into a career?

“I guess the sexy answer would be, I don’t even know what I would do without this,” laughs Ho.  Four years ago, two of the three Monogram boys were working at Phil & Sebastian, “I found myself researching coffee in my spare time. I was giving so many hours to work, and barely any to university,” said Ho.

Terrible student – but an amazing barista.

McCarrel’s career choice was a process of elimination. “I have like, two interests. The visual arts, and coffee.”

For Phil & Sebastian, their partnership was one of serendipity. After a mix up with his school registration, Robertson found himself with a brand new group of students in year two of Engineering. Annoyed that he was separated from the peers that he had already formed relationships with, he needed a new lab partner, and Sztabzyb happened to be standing beside him.

The rest is history.

“Right away we were fairly inseparable,” Robertson tells me about how more than once the university turned the lights out on them in a lab. They never stopped working until their projects were perfect.

It’s this very same standard of excellence that drives their business today.

Unlike the others, Russ and Chris Prefontaine – better known as The Fratello Brothers – have a long history with coffee that dates back to the 70s. Their father, along with Wojakowski, were the first two pioneers of coffee in Calgary. Their business’ may have been separate but the goal was common – to create a community around independent coffee.

Wojakowski, about to celebrate The Roasterie’s 30th anniversary, tells me that he knew there was a lot of opportunity in coffee, but never thought he would do it for 30 years. That’s the thing about finding the right career, whether you’re born into it or you stumble upon it, the passion takes over, “To me it was never work … it was just a really good ride.”

As I sipped on a latte at Corbeaux, The Fratello Brother’s reminisced about their long caffeinated history, “It’s literally the only job I’ve ever had,” says Chris. “I’ve never thought that we wouldn’t do this.”

Looks like Chris takes the cake for sexiest answer.

Coffee 101

Why are more people buying custom roasted coffee instead of grabbing a Starbucks? If you ask these pros what goes into a quality cup of coffee, you’re going to be there awhile.

“It’s not ever one thing,” explains Robertson, “It’s about all the links in the chain. That’s where you achieve quality.” A little coffee 101 for you: those links he’s talking about are origin, roasting, and brewing, “You need to get all three of those right to achieve excellence.”

Even if consumers don’t understand all of the chemistry behind a good cup of coffee, all of these roasters spoke to the fact that they have a lot of confidence in people’s ability to taste the difference.

“Environment, service, product. It’s gotta all come together,” says Chris. “When you can hit it all, you’ve got something interesting.” Russ adds, “A good cafe should be helping educate the consumer on discovering different flavours.”

Chances are what you’re going to discover is the passion and expertise going into the coffee at these cafes is worth the trip.

More than a flavour.

The quality of the coffee and the bean itself goes with saying, but the community of coffee culture in Calgary is just as important, “We heavily focus on service and creating a warm environment,” says Ho. “It’s assumed it’s going to be good coffee – we don’t have to talk about that.”

Whether it’s the 75-year-old lady who has been a regular since day one, or one of their frequent canine visitors, when these coffee fanatics started talking about their community, that’s when they really light up.

All the coffee connoisseurs spoke to the joy of getting to know their regulars and watching their lives grow. From dates, to newlyweds, to babies and business, “It’s great feeling like we’re a part of that” says Jessie Attrell of Rosso.

Even though they’re all serving the same beverage, you don’t get a sense of tense competition. Wojakowski shares the discussions between roasters at industry conferences are always about the newest bean or innovation, “It’s always this happy group of people together.” They simply inspire one another to raise the bar. “We want to pull from the Tim Hortons and the Starbucks, not each other,” says Torode, “The more vanilla lattes we can transition the better.”

I also asked everyone what their biggest challenge has been.

“I think for me, it’s been working with Ben,” laughs Ho.

For Rosso, it’s saying no to vanilla lattes.

But in all seriousness, they have the same challenges as any small business running on passion.

“You have this idea of where you want to take your business,” explains Robertson. “But you need to have the patience to let it be realized. I always have higher expectations than we ever achieve. I always want it to be better, whatever it is.”

And of course, like in business and in life, the people you surround yourself with are key.

“The hardest variable to control in all of this is people,” explains Chris Prefontaine. “There are so many hands that have touched every step of the process. What is critically important is that you align yourself from start to finish with people that give a shit. That’s the key.”

Starbucks versus Everyone

Robertson puts it this way: “How do you compare Model Milk to McDonald’s?”

Ho gets me to consider the difference between going to Tim Horton’s and sitting at Monogram. “They are almost like different products. Obviously they still have the same bones, but when you think about the drinks and the experiences that you get, it’s so different.”

It’s not to say that Starbucks is the devil, “They have done an amazing job in terms of consistency,” says Torode. Attrell adds, “People like what’s safe and they recognize a brand. But it’s worth stepping outside of the box to experience something special.”

Wojakowski recalls when Starbucks started, “They brought a large scale of awareness to specialty coffee.” But it’s clear that being a part of a smaller micro world has a certain richness to it and unique opportunities for innovation.

“Independent cafes should always be better. Period.” says Sebastian. “It shouldn’t be a question about where to go. The fact that we have to answer this question means we still have work ahead.”

It’s kind of like dating. Once you’ve tried something of high quality, Tim, Donald and Buck just don’t do it for you anymore.

Attrell at Rosso tells me her favorite thing is seeing people’s reaction the first time they taste specialty coffee. Yes, Calgary wants to see local thrive, but it’s the taste that’s really going to hook us.

Because of these individuals’ high standards, the innovation, and creativity won’t stop anytime soon. In fact, with a research project underway at the U of C, Phil is about to start tackling some of the big problems that the entire industry faces.

(Hey U of C – Better keep that lab open late.)

Our city is evolving, and coffee plays a part in that. Monogram, Fratello, and Lech all spoke about international influences in ‘Cafe Society’ and ‘Coffee Culture’, “We’ve experienced excellence elsewhere and we want it at home too” says Chris Prefontaine.

When I asked our original coffee pioneer what was next for him, Wojakowski didn’t hesitate. “Another 30 years.”

In summary, I can tell you from experiencing the taste and getting to know the people driving this industry, the future of our coffee is in good hands.

Recap: Sydney

The only good reason I had to do this was that I had always wanted to.

And I think that’s a good enough reason to do just about anything.

Stopping and staring every twenty feet, knowing my camera will never do it justice but trying anyways, the coastal walk from Bronte to Bondi continues to make me stand still in awe. Usually when you see something this beautiful you’re a tourist with a camera who snaps a photo and then leaves. But this gets to be my backyard for months on end. If all I ever saw of Australia was this, I’d be happy.

It makes me feel small, alive, and free.

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Watching the surfers catch and crash into waves reminds me of an important lesson, one I hear often but rarely see in action.

Surfers can’t be afraid to fall. And they also can’t be worried about “looking good,” or being perfect every time. They paddle out there for what I imagine is just the joy of it. They fall over and over and over, or miss wave after wave. Then once and awhile they catch one and ride it out, making it look easy. I often find myself holding my breath for them as if I’m the one on the board. I could watch them all day long, thinking about how okay it is to crash and then try again.

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This wasn’t a well thought out plan. I didn’t have a big why behind moving away for a year. The only good reason I had to do this was that I had always wanted to.

And I think that’s a good enough reason to do just about anything.

“I live somewhere I can wear shorts all year round.” I had written that down a few times over the years while making a list of life goals, not knowing how or when or why. I just knew I’d love to live by the sea.

Well they lied – you cannot wear shorts all year round in Sydney. But I love it anyways. Having traveled a handful of times in my twenties, I knew that I still wanted to experience actually living somewhere new, starting from scratch, having no idea where I was headed. The how and the when seemed to figure themselves out. Being here now feels serendipitous, like I’ve landed somewhere I belong.

Australia and I just jive.

 

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Me crushing hard on the Central Coast, my first day in Australia. 

 

Not that moving to a new city doesn’t have its growing pains. I’ve also had to be quite a bitch a couple of times, and though I don’t like being that person and it definitely doesn’t come naturally, they were also proud moments of adulthood. It’s kind of comforting knowing that I can stand on my own two feet, even if most of the time I don’t have to.

Thank you to Australia’s terrible customer service and shitty work ethic for teaching me this valuable lesson!

Which is also probably why I like the place so much. The word “hustle” isn’t glorified here whatsoever. I can say with certainty that there is a better work-life balance here, with “life” being of higher priority.

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I haven’t done very much besides walk a lot of kilometers and watch the surfers, but if this trip ended tomorrow I would be filled up completely. I think all I really wanted was space and ocean breezes and to be reminded of how beautiful the world is, and also that I don’t have to take adulthood so seriously.

Crash, coast, paddle back out; you don’t have to get it right every time.