December 31, 2012

New words for a new CreComm year


Is it just me, or did 2012 suck as far as years go?
But look at us; we're here. We're alive (we must be if we're reading this post). We made it! The obvious conclusion is that we rock. And who are we to argue with the obvious?
Here's eight new words to kill off the year. Die MMXII. Die.



Double-bouncing - working multiple radio edit suites to convert audio files simultaneously

Forgotchya - gift card or trinket purchased as a last-minute present

Industrese - hilarious communications industry gossip, deadly dull to outsiders trapped in the conversation

Zoner - erection that comes from being inspired

Burnover - rate that an organization/business loses workers due to stress

Facehole - nice enough in person, but a total jerk online

At bloggerheads - state of tension between yourself and the blog you know you should be updating

Inappostpriate - unprofessional or risky social media content that shouldn't be posted for fear of negative impressions made on future employers... this blog post, mayhaps?



HAPPY NEW YEAR!

December 21, 2012

A Working Vacation


Are you one of those people? Do you have a hard time switching from workaholic mode to relaxation time?

Because I do. I've found when I have "downtime" I'll either fill it up with work or restlessly pace the room, unable or unwilling to do something just for pleasure. It's unnerving to have a free day stretching before me and not know how to fill it. I don't remember having that problem as a child, when going to the moon, painting an epic masterpiece and catching a frog were all decent options to waste the day.

And now I'm going out to the countryside for a few days, where relaxation is more or less enforced. Ye gods.

How do you deal with downtime? Do you find the switch between work and play easy? Any sweet plans for the holidays I can copy (or enjoy through you vicariously)?

December 15, 2012

Heartbeat To Go

My independent professional project Heartbeat is well past the halfway point. January is going to have tremendous guests and with an easier class schedule, I'm hoping to bump production quality up too.

I'm also hoping to market the show more, reaching out to the young, hip, cultural consumers of Winnipeg who are on the go and don't have time for an hour long podcast. Hence, Heartbeat To Go - the chopping up of my regular episodes into byte-sized chunks (See what I did there? It's that kind of wit which will propel me to the heights of the media landscape).

Here are some of my favourite stories from the past three months, served in e-shot glasses. Cheers!

November 25, 2012

Tropical Chili


Tropical Chili
aka "Fight Winter with Fire" Chili

  • Half red onion
  • 2 garlic pieces
  • 1 can black/navy beans
  • 1 package Yves ground round (or meat, if that's your thing)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can pineapple (less juice, which you drink like a bauws)
  • Handful of frozen corn
  • Handful of raisins
  • 1 diced red pepper
  • Half jar of salsa
  • 3 dashes chili powder
  • 1 dash cumin
  • 1 diced hot pepper


  1. Dice the red onion and garlic. Throw into large pot on medium heat to sweat for about 2 minutes.
  2. In the can, mash up about half the navy beans. Then throw into the pot, stirring occasionally so they don't burn, again for about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the ground round and let cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. It's go time! Add everything else, turn on to medium/low heat and cook for 20ish minutes, stirring occasionally and spicing to taste.
That's all, easy-peasy. Chili with a tropical twist (and yes, John Conklin, you can add guacamole after to give it yet another twist).


November 23, 2012

A meal made of gold


Meet the powerhouse behind Wasabi Sabi — Chef Östen Rice, who just won the Winnipeg Gold Medal Plate for an inspired Scandan-asian dish.

You can read up on his life, experience at the competition and hopes on the Going Places Blog in a piece written by some so-and-so.

November 21, 2012

A Creativity Wrangler





Meet Maeghan Heinrichs, a Winnipeg creative light. Dayna Robbie, Priya Tandon and I filmed this quick interview with her (and the Vantage Team in action).

And listen with care to her parting wisdom - do what you enjoy. It's a simple suggestion, but what a difference it makes when you start living it.

Thanks Maeghan!

November 15, 2012

Tuesday's Mission: Save a Life

You can save a life this Tuesday.

Actually, you can save a life any day by donating blood. The bonus to doing it on Tuesday, November 20th is you'll be joining some of the most fun people this side of the Manitoba escarpment - the great team behind Red River Radio's Rally for Red.

All day long, Red River Radio will be bringing you up to speed on Canadian Blood Services in Winnipeg - who they are, what they do and how a little prick (giggle) can save a person's life.

Get on board folks - it's gonna be a par-tay.


November 11, 2012

Waiting for Remembrance



A year ago, I attended the Remembrance Day service at Bruce Park Cenotaph, then wrote this story for my first year creative communications journalism class.

***

Over 400 people are waiting on the grassy hill beside Bruce Park’s cenotaph. The sun is shining; a few drifts of snow are on the grass. Clumps of friends, young families and solitary people mix on the hill. Uniforms dot the crowd.

A woman leads a boy by the hand, saying, “You’ve got ants in your pants, so we’re taking a walk.”

In the distance, bagpipes and drums strike up a march and the crowd’s chatter stops.

Six pipers and twelve drummers, blue kilts and regalia flapping in the breeze, lead flag-bearers, a party of veterans and members of 402 Squadron Winnipeg. They march around the crowd, circle the memorial, and then halt at attention.

As the service begins, grey clouds hide the sun.

The Assiniboia Concert Band plays “O Canada” before listeners realize what’s happening. The crowd catches up, however, and quietly sings the national anthem.

Major Brian Slous prays, asking God to be near those whose lives have been affected by war, who have lost loved ones, or who suffer pain and injury due to conflict.

“What we value is preserved by a very thin line. Many standing here have stood on that line. Many have died on that line. Some bear the wounds of having stood on that line. If we gathered here fail to stand on that line... their sacrifice is in vain.”

The last post.

The piper’s lament.

Two minutes of silence are announced. Halfway through, a young boy in a suit looks around; he doesn’t break his silence, but he can’t stop himself from looking at the crowd.

Representatives lay wreaths at the foot of the cenotaph. A hymn plays, a benediction is given and “God Save the Queen” is sung. The people are still waiting.

The veterans and 402 Squadron turn for their march down Portage Avenue to the St. James Legion. Now the crowd pushes forward. Men, women and children take poppies from their coats and start adding them to the cluster of wreaths at the foot of the cenotaph, covering the green with red.

This is what they’ve been waiting for.

November 10, 2012

Library



It's 9:50 am. I need back issues of the Winnipeg Free Press for research. I'm at the Millennium Library, waiting for the iron cage that protects thesauri, microfiche and periodicals to be rolled back by the five - five - security guards on the other side.

There's a strange mix around me. The unoccupied elderly; jittery students; street people looking to fill their hours with warmth and infotainment. There are subdivisions within these groups: the unbathed, unshaven man who naps with his head lolling back, gently mocked by his peers. There's a long haired goth hiding under his hoodie and clutching a briefcase.

The crowd is milling, restless. At five minutes to the hour, on cue, they form a line. I'm an outsider here. These are regulars, chased out at end of day and returning at first opportunity.

The hour comes and passes by a few seconds. No movement from the guards and the lineup's temperature shifts. The aura has changed. It wants its due.

And a guard notices. He groans, poor lamb. Slowly he reaches for the gate, then slams the slats together to push the thing open (the noise is clearly a pleasure). And the line heads in, not quite running, not quite walking, fanning out to pre-claimed nooks.

I love it. I love that there's still somewhere (anywhere) where some people (any people) will politely stampede for books.

November 3, 2012

Heartbeating


Have you ever found that life has sped up to point of detachment? That when you think about your day, your week, the past month, not only does it seem like events happened a lifetime ago, but they happened to someone else?

I'm in that season right now, it seems. And I'm deeply grateful I chose the independent professional project (IPP) for college that I did, because nothing pulls me out of the blurring race of life like a great conversation. You know the kind; the ones that slow time down as you openly, honestly connect with another person; the ones that set off thoughts in your head to the tune of "Oh my god, here is this intelligent, funny, beautiful human being who is trying to answer the big questions, just like me."

As much work as my radio show/podcast Heartbeat is (and will be), I wouldn't trade the conversations I've had for anything. They've been an anchor in a stormy three months.

I could ask you to head on over to Heartbeat's website, Twitter and Facebook to see what I'm up to (the first episode is now podcasting).

But before you do that, grab someone (a friend, an acquaintance, someone you barely know), clear an hour of your time and have an open, honest, emotionally available conversation. Tell them something you've never told anyone and ask questions that leap over barriers of polite manners and awkwardness.

Trust me - it's worth it.

October 28, 2012

Ma mere

Photography is easy when the subject is beautiful - and sassy!
Presenting Anne TenBruggencate. Together we should do well on the "editorial photo shoot" assignment. If not, I'm taking the fall.




October 19, 2012

We were born to glory

Royal Wood kicked off his We Were Born To Glory tour this past Monday at Winnipeg's West End Cultural Centre. Happy travels, man. Thanks for starting in the heart of the country - it suits your music perfectly.


October 12, 2012

Manila. Kuala Lumpur. Paris. Winnipeg.

Tomorrow (Saturday, October 13) the Downtown Branch of the YMCA-YWCA of Winnipeg is joining Ys from around the globe to set a world record for the largest basketball game.


Show up at 11am and join people from New Zealand to the Philippines to Iceland to South Africa to Chile in celebrating activity, youth and empowerment. All you have to do is bounce a ball and have fun. (You can get more details at the YWinnipeg International Blog)

Not convinced? Just click play...


October 11, 2012

Be a better writer by being a better reader

Having trouble with your writing? Perhaps you're stuck for ideas. Perhaps the words are flowing but the final product reminds you of a Dickensian orphan - sickly, underfed and poisoned by mercury.

Put down your keyboard, drop your pen and pull up your favourite chair, because - and I'm not the first person to say this - reading great writing will improve your own work. It will inspire you, expose you to different writing rhythms and remind you of grammatical rules you mothballed ages ago.

The great fiction writers are easy to find at your local bookstore (while those last) and library or online. My tastes tend to the non-fiction side, though it's harder to find a starting place with non-fiction's more modest reputations. Here, then, are some of my favourite online non-fiction articles.


Illustration by Jaff Seijas
Anatomy of a Divorce
by Pat Conroy

Written in 1978, an insightful personal account of the "dark country" of divorce.


Welcome to Cancerland / Adventures in Cancerland
by Barbara Ehrenreich  / Mike Celizic

Two personal accounts of journeys through another country - cancerland. The first by a widely published American columnist who was ahead of the curve criticizing the hijacking of breast cancer as a "dream cause" (she's in this clip of 2011 documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc.) and the second by a TODAYshow.com / MSNBC reporter who was killed by lymphoma in 2010.

Photo by Phillip Toledano
Why Women Still Can't Have It All 
by Anne-Marie Slaughter

This recent article made waves and caused great debate - which is great - though I don't know if the systemic changes Slaughter is advocating have gotten the traction she clearly hopes for. Great read and blueprint for the future.


Letters of Note
curated by Shaun Usher

Not one piece of writing, but a logophile's attempt to bring attention to some of the very best letters on record. Usually from (or to) the famous, though not always. The "random letter" button and the near daily posts will satisfy any logophile's craving.


Nearly 100 Fantastic Pieces of Journalism
compiled by Conor Friedersdorf

A collection of 2010's best journalism as picked by The Atlantic staff writer Conor Friedersdorf. A sharp journo pointed out the list's imbalanced favour of men (of the 105 identified authors, 20 have feminine names), but I don't think this detracts from any of the individual pieces.



Can you recommend any great non-fiction reads for me? Any thoughts on the articles I linked to in this post? How's your Thursday going?

October 6, 2012

Giving a speech? Be sure to stretch first...

A professional athlete (or even a semi-knowledgeable amateur) warms up before sending their body out on the track, into the ring or up into the air. It's common sense; asking your body to deliver a great performance without warming it up would be foolish, right?

Well, when you're speaking in front of an audience, you're asking a special group of muscles and body parts to deliver great performances: your diaphragm, vocal chords, throat, face and tongue. Most people don't take the time to warm up these parts before a speech, however. I suspect due to a belief that, "It's just public speaking, anyone can talk."



True. And anyone can run. But marathoners still stretch before jogging.

Next time you know you're going to speak in front of a crowd, the office team or your boss, take 15 minutes to run through the following warm ups and see if it makes a difference - if you stumble less, if you're more expressive, if your voice doesn't crack. You might be impressed by the improvements a good stretch can bring.


The tongue is a muscle like any other, so it needs to stretch before doing some heavy lifting. Before and after each of the following exercises, shake all the tension out of your tongue by sticking it out of your mouth and blowing a great, big raspberry (it's the mature adult's chance to rip a really great fart).

Tip of the tongue: Stick the tip of your tongue slightly out of your mouth and then slap it one corner of your mouth to the other in a horizontal motion. Do this until the tip of your tongue feels slightly tired. Relax, then do the same thing but up and down, moving from the top lip to the bottom. (Try to do this without moving your chin, so just the tongue is doing the work. You can put a fingertip on the point of your chin to help remind you not to involve your jaw).

Middle of the tongue: Say "Yah!" Now five times in a row say, "Yah-yah-yah-yah-yah!" Now say that again, but don't breathe out, so your tongue makes the motion but you don't make any sound. Feel how the middle of your tongue is getting a work out? (Again, try to do this without moving your chin).

Back of the tongue: Say "Hung-HAY!" Now do that five times in a row, then do it again without any sound, feeling how you're drawing the back of your tongue up into the roof of your mouth. Go until your tongue feels tired, then blow the tension away.

Now let your tongue go crazy, sticking it out, rolling it back, making noise like any child knows how to make. End with a great big raspberry that can be heard out in the hallway.



The lips are also muscles and crucial to forming sound. Again, do the exercises until your lips feel tired, then blow the tension away in your best imitation of a horse.

Kiss-smile: Pout your lips out as far as they can go, then stretch your lips into the biggest smile you can make. Go rapidly back and forth until your lips get tired, then relax.

Bottom lip drop: Place the tip of your finger just under your lower lip. Now use your lower lip to push against your finger. Don't move your jaw, don't move anything except your lower lip. When you can feel the muscles that you're isolating, move your finger away and keep dropping your lower lip.

Upper lip sneers: Like the previous exercise, place your finger on your upper lip, then use only your upper lip to move it up. When you take your finger away, it'll look like you're doing mini-sneers, revealing your two front teeth. (For this exercise, try to not wrinkle your brow or involve any other face muscles - just the upper lip).

Peanut butter cleanup: Keep your lips together and send your tongue for a trip around the front of your teeth, imagining that cleaning up peanut butter. Do a couple full circles in a clockwise direction, then go counter-clockwise.

And end it all by blowing all the air in your lungs out through your lips.



The diaphram is the big gut muscle that controls the lungs and should be the main focus of your breathing. Many North Americans work their shoulders and their chests too much when they breath; you see this especially among "valley girl" speakers, who talk until they run out of air, then rapidly draw in a breath with a sharp gasp, sending their shoulders flying up.

That kind of breathing adds a lot of tension to your shoulders and neck. It also doesn't draw the deepest (and quietest) breath you can, so you'll spend your speech struggling for air, getting tenser as you fight to keep going.

Breathing from the belly: Place your thumb on your belly button. Now place the palm of your hand underneath your thumb on your belly. Take a breath by pushing your belly against your hand and feel how the air gets drawn into your lungs. Now breathe out and let your hand ride your belly down. Keep breathing this way for 30 seconds, taking deep, full breaths of air. (Your shoulders shouldn't be moving when you're breathing this way - not that you're holding them tightly in place, but they shouldn't be rising and falling like the sea)

(Note: If you doubt how much better this style of breathing is, switch to just moving your shoulders and your chest when you draw in air. See how shallow your breath is by comparison?)



The vocal chords are not muscles, but flaps of tissue that can still be warmed up to give you full access to the range of sounds you can make.

The scales: There are a slew of voice warm up videos on YouTube (with the usual range in quality) but I'll point you to this quick exercise. Sing "la" with each of the notes on this scale, starting at the lower end your scale and stopping when it goes too high for you. You don't have to sing very loudly, but do work your diaphragm enough that your throat starts to feel warm by the end of the run through.

Sighs: If your voice box is feeling tight, relax it by doing a few sighs with a nice "Ahhhhh" that starts on a high note and ends on a low note. Don't push hard with your breath - your not singing - you're just letting out a full body sigh.



The whole team needs to work together for the last few exercises, pulling all the elements together.

Give yourself a shake: Put your hands together and interlace your fingers. Now raise your hands to head height and start shaking them forwards and backwards, so the whole top of your body shakes. Let your neck go loose, shaking out the tension. Let your jaw go loose so your face, lips and tongue can shake out their tension too. (Make sure to keep your tongue in your mouth or you might give yourself a bite.)

A stream of water: Breathing from the diaphragm, start humming - just a nice, constant "Mmmmmm." Feel the buzzing on your lips. Now keep that buzzing going but open your mouth, so your humming becomes an extended "Mmaaaaaaaa." Take another deep breath and this time, as you say "Mmaaaaaa," imagine the sound coming out of your mouth like a stream of water, hitting the back of the room your standing in. (Sometimes it helps to point with your arm to imagine the jet stream.) Now do the same exercise, but choose a line from your speech. Keep the buzzing going on your lips and imagine the words streaming out of you, hitting the back wall.

Tongue twisters: There are a ton of tongue twisters that work different part of your mouth. Some will be easy for you and some will be hard depending on how your mouth is set up. Here's an online resource listing a bunch. Try saying them five times fast on the same breath. Try over enunciating - something you won't do when you say your actual speech, but this is just warming up. And have fun with them! Play around, try emphasizing different words and don't beat yourself up if you trip on a word or two; the point isn't to be perfect, it's to be fully engaged with what you're speaking.

******


This is only a quick warm up routine and there are many more exercises you can find online. Find the ones that work best for you and develop your own routine. A personalized warm up can be part of your mental prep too, just like an athlete listening to a favourite song before game time. Routines are proven to calm nerves and help people get comfortable in the space they're in.

As a final bit of advice that someone else once gave to me: everyone in your audience is cheering for you. No one wants to see you do poorly, they are all rooting for you to give the best speech you can. Everyone is on your side. So warm up, smile, have fun and go for it.

September 28, 2012

A pleasant distraction (aka Heartbeat test trailer)

There are three major writing projects on the go this week: a marketing brand analysis, a case for support for a non-profit and a public relations strategy for a recently launched online radio station. And while I'm interested in each and every one of those projects, I find I can only write continuously for so many hours before my brain and my output devolves into mush.

I've found a pleasant distraction, however, that's allows me to take a quick creative jog around the block before returning to word crunches. It's my independent professional project Heartbeat, an arts-focused interview show that launches this November on Red River Radio. True, when November arrives and the dangling Sword of Deadlines quivers just over my head, Heartbeat may become less a pleasant distraction then a fountain of problems. But for now, I'm tooling around, there aren't consequences and the results please me.

Like this video trailer. You like? Does this mini-ad catch your fancy? Or not? Your honest feedback would be appreciated as well as invaluable.

Happy weekend!


September 21, 2012

Express yourself

Not much to say today, being in the middle of a heavy slog at school. Where first year in Creative Communications was difficult for it's sharp (occasionally cutting) learning curve, second year is hard for it's heavy workload. So it seems, anyways. Evidence: being a day behind the news cycle

Matt: Mel, did you see this video of Romney?
Mel: (yawns) The one where he says being Latino would make winning the presidency easier and calls 47% of Americans entitled for wanting housing and food?
Matt: ...

So a short blog post, pointing to this lovely video on YouTube. This past week I was sitting at Frozen Comfort, meeting with the owners to talk about rebranding their business and marketing online. I hope I made a good case for the Twitter and the Facebook, but this video does it better (my pie charts don't have the impact they used to).

And below a low-quality video of high-octane Winnipeg band Yes We Mystic, belting out Odessa Steps. These kids (and now I'm thirty, I can call anyone in their twenties "kids") are smoking, stompin', achingly good. Be advised.



September 14, 2012

My hAPPy place

Last night, a machine ate my tape, possibly destroying footage I won't be able to replace. My voice recorder failed to capture an interview, leaving me to struggle and scribble quotes from memory. My appointment for this morning cancelled, so I'll have to push plans back.

And I'm feeling groovy.


If this series of unfortunate events had happened on the same day last year, I don't think I would've held up so well. But the past few months have been filled with lessons of keeping perspective and mindfulness. I'm not claiming to be above stress or conflict (which may not even be a worthwhile goal), however, a number of activities have brought me to a place where I can maintain some amount of calm.

Perhaps it's no surprise, as I am a creative communications student, that these activities come with apps? Where once a guru, trainer or mentor guided you on a quest of personal growth, mobile applications now make it possible to carry around a pocket-sized coach who will encourage you to keep a level head.

Here are some of the apps (not miracle cure-alls) helping me find balance these days.

RunKeeper

I'm a casual jogger with hopes of running a marathon one day. So... just like every other casual jogger. RunKeeper might make that happen, though. It's my coach, trainer, cheerleader and one of a host of running apps (do you have one you like?). Using GPS, it tracks my running, calling out directions if I'm using a preprogrammed route, letting me know how many kilometres I've gone, mapping my pace.

But it goes further, connecting me with other local runners so I can encourage them (and they can encourage me) when we complete activities. The Facebook integration is seamless. And it's free, unless you'd like to pay to take one of the classes devised by RunKeeper instructors (I haven't tried one yet, though I might in the new year as local marathons approach).

If you check it out, add me to your "Street Team" and we can go jogging together, even if we're miles apart.

Overdrive

This is the app used by the Winnipeg Public Library to download it's ebook collection - the rapidly growing future of libraries. By logging in to your online account, you can view the available titles and create a wishlist. Anytime a book/audiobook you want to enjoy becomes available, you download it and it's yours for a set number of days. No travelling to the library, no late fees, no problems.

I'd like to recommend Wherever you go, there you are by John Kabat-Zin et al. It's a discussion on mindfulness, as well as exercises to help you build meditation and awareness of the beauty of life into your daily routine. Ever take seven minutes to eat a raisin?

Are there any ebooks on Overdrive you'd recommend? I'm busy these days, but that's where the wishlist comes in handy.


Instagram

Right, right — the app that makes everyone think they're a professional photographer. Why would you jump on the bandwagon of a sure-to-fade fad?

First, Instagram doesn't seem to be fading, growing at the rate of a user a second in the spring of 2012.

And while it certainly isn't guaranteed to make you a better photographer (though the practice it promotes can't hurt), it does offer you a chance to see the world around you in a new light — literally, with the use of filters. Three months after joining Instagram, I've found more beautiful sights in Winnipeg than I did after 12 years of living here.

A large part of mindfulness is slowing down to appreciate the wonder and beauty of the world around us. Instagram has helped me do that with a couple of clicks.

Are you on Instagram? Follow me (mtenbruggencate) and I'll follow you back.

September 7, 2012

Reflections on the Newsroom

No, not this newsroom...
THIS newsroom.

This summer I peeked behind the curtain of the great and powerful Winnipeg Free Press, working as a copy editor on the night shift (editing the "news" segments of the paper, as opposed to sports and arts). Now it's autumn and I've returned to school, it's time to talk smack about my former employer, right?

Wrong - I'll leave that to the buzzing horde of online commentors who live to criticize (abide to deride, remain to disdain...).

Because I think the Free Press usually does a pretty good job covering the many, many events shaking up Winnipeg and/or Manitoba. Do they miss sometimes? Widely. They'll admit they do. But they regularly are the leading (if not the only) coverage of breaking news, political subterfuge and artistic events.

So the following is not a townsfolk-with-a-pitchfork-style rant. It's just three nuggets I picked up that might come in handy if you ever need to interact with a newsroom yourself.

Downtown, viewed from the distant offices of the Winnipeg Free Press.
1. The newsroom is in a rush

There may be moments when a reporter is waiting to hear back from a contact, an editor is waiting to hear back from a reporter, a copy editor is waiting to get a page from the editor (etc). But in the meantime, everyone is following up other leads, scanning the competition's tweets, reading the wire. The newsroom is always busy - and it switches to a rush in the evening as the print deadline looms (10:50 PM for the Free Press). It gets super quiet in the newsroom as everyone races the clock to put in the best performance possible.

Moral: Don't waste the newsroom's time. I witnessed a PR person call at 10 one night to deliver some not very important news. As soon as he was hung up on, he was cussed out for calling near deadline. On the other side of the coin, I've heard editors muttering under their breath, "Please be writing the story on the road, please be writing the story on the road," as they wait for a photographer to drop a reporter back at the office. (They were often disappointed.)

A newsroom, sans power, is a tense room. Happily, the sun was still up.
2. The newsroom is depressing

Newspaper people are stereotyped as cranky, cynical, angry, or just bitter. And it's true.

OK, OK, it's not totally true. But when a person wades through murders, thefts, stabbings, beatings, dismemberments (which happened a LOT this summer - eep), abuse and cataclysms on a daily basis for their work, it takes a toll. For me, the most depressing aspect of the newsroom was the police scanner. Every media outlet is equipped with a scanner to listen for breaking emergencies; it's kept on all night, at a high volume. The most frequent call? Young female with lacerations to wrists.

Moral: Cut news people some slack if they're grumpy; you don't know what story they just covered.

Hey look - it's tomorrow's newspaper, today!
3. The newsroom loves a great story

News people got into the business because they're junkies - they love a good story, they love a scoop, they love uncovering the truth and sharing it with the world. Even on the busiest day, a really great, well written story would cause colleagues to gather around a computer and quickly read. If you've got a story - as a journalist or a PR professional - with emotional impact that affects a wide audience, it will get picked up for love of craft alone.

But that isn't the only factor. The truth is, many days of the week the Free Press looks for content to fill its pages. The wire services (Canadian Press and Associated Press being the biggies) have been noticeably cutting back on staff and resources - they're no longer a reliable source for "filler" stories. Local reporters are being trimmed down to keep costs low, while the advertising department is trying to keep the page count up to maintain salable space. The result is any night there isn't a murder, fire, high-profile legal case or emergency, the newsroom is hungry for a good story.

Moral: If you have a story to pitch, especially one that isn't time sensitive, you can probably get it in the paper. Read the stories that do get picked up - the ones with legs, the ones with impact - and see if your story can be framed the same way. Controversy can be a good thing to include (so long as it doesn't hurt your organization deeply, of course). Struggle, sacrifice and resilience in the face of opposition - throw in a cute dog (if you can) and you're the front page.

August 14, 2012

Why the Olympics rock

Usain Bolt fist-bumps a volunteer.

Do you know why the Olympics rock?

At work over the past two weeks, we've had the Olympic Games on the TV in the background. I found it difficult to concentrate, actually. By craning my neck slightly, I could see the greatest athletes from around the world competing together in one city. Each athlete brought a story; there's no way to reach that level of athleticism without etching a novel in blood, sweat and sacrifice. God, the drama.

Some of my co-workers didn't care for the Olympics. "Whatever." "They're just some games." "It's an exercise in sponsorship, advertising and government-self-congratulation."

Perhaps that last one is true if we let it be true. It's possible to miss the message of a ritual (any ritual, from Christmas to a funeral to a debut) for the packaging that accompanies it. There is no doubt the Olympic Games are tainted commercialism.

You can focus on that taint (hah!) or you can focus on the heart of the ritual. And the heart of the Olympic ritual is an invitation for humanity to rise to excellence, both physically and spiritually. Really, I find the mental fortitude, commitment and peace in some of the athletes a thousand times more moving and desirable than their athletic prowess. And it's achievable: These young women and men prove it is every four years.

Does that make me a sucker? Perhaps. To borrow someone else's phrase, I'd rather be a sucker than a cynic.



August 13, 2012

First comes love, then comes...


When James asked me to give a speech tonight - to toast him - my first reaction was happiness, pleasure and pride. What an honour.

My second reaction was fear, timidity, impotence and, yes, hate. How dare you ask me to try and sum up your diverse, wacky, adventurous life. Ask me to eloquently summarize a true renaissance man in five minutes? What a tool.

 And he is a renaissance man. In the 13 years I've known him, James has been:

·         a legislative assistant
·         a pizza delivery bicyclist in Northern Ireland
·         security at a Scottish football club
·         a sandwich artist
·         a translator
·         a lecturer
·         a bankruptcy counsellor
·         a political candidate
·         a fry cook
·         an upholsterer
·         a furniture delivery man
·         an editor for a Korean airline's magazine
·         a trumpet player
·         an actor for stage and screen
·         a director
·         president for the Centre for the Advancement of Steady State Economics
·         a master's student at Cambridge
·         and a concert pianist

And those are just occupations. Jobs. That list doesn't include his travels, his hobbies, his many, many volunteer projects. The full list is something I can only guess at. I think if the two of us were in a plane crash together, in some remote part of the world, like Siberia, and we survived and made our way out of the wreckage, some fur-covered man would find us in the snow, take off his hood and go, "F---in' Jaaaaaaaaames!"

James told me when he applied to Cambridge and had to list out his background, he included a note saying "You'd be forgiven for thinking I'm an amateur addicted to novice pursuits. But what I actually like to do is learn something, conquer it, do it perfectly and then move on." That's pretty good. But my favourite quote about James came from our university dance teacher. Actually, it wasn't really a dance class. We didn't learn any dances or choreography. It was a Movement for Actors class, where we learned to move around a room theatrically. I can't explain it better than that.

James was having trouble getting the class, understanding what the teacher wanted. So one day, during an exercise, he just let loose; he did what he wanted, he vocalized and flailed and had fun. And when the exercise was over, the room was quiet and the instructor looked at James and said, "You are the victim of your own enthusiasm."

Perfect.

James is the victim of his own enthusiasm. His love for action - for setting audacious goals, for achieving big things, for helping people - has pushed his mind and body to the limit (sometimes further). James is the victim of his own enthusiasm. And the world is better for it. And so are the people, like me, who are lucky enough to have him in their life. I've seen James, with 15 balls in the air, make time for me in his schedule, help me, listen to me when I needed a friend. And when I'm done talking, he rushes off to save the world or write a novel or perform a Chopin waltz. How can I possibly sum a guy like that up?

James is a victim of his own enthusiasm and so are we, the people who get swept along with him. Mel tells a story about when we were all in university and James decided to go biking across Europe on a low budget. The lowest budget. The "sleeping in a churchyard under cardboard in shifts so the muggers don't stab us" budget. Mel was working at the same place as Tristan, James' brother, and when they were on shift together, they would compare notes. "Have you heard from James?' "Is he still alive?" "Should we send him money so he can afford to eat more than just bananas?" We are all victims of your enthusiasm.

Kendra, you are about to become the chief victim. The sacrificial lamb. I remember the first time I met Kendra, when she served me a drink from a box of wine that had been heating nicely over a vent for several hours. She looked at me, daring me to be upset and immature, assessing me, analyzing me, forming an opinion of me when I was supposed to be forming an opinion of her. When we were back in the car, James asked me what I thought and I think I said something that sounded like "good luck." In a much nicer way, of course, but I wasn't too sure about Kendra.

James, however, is not as timid as I am. So here we are today. And I have found that Kendra's sharp mind is matched by a soft heart, a passion for the arts - good choice - and a genuine concern for the people around her. James, Kendra - you're both insane. And absolutely wonderful. I hope you continue to be victims of each other's enthusiasm, plans, dreams and love for the rest of your lives. It won't be easy, but it will be great.

If you'll all join me in a toast to one of the best people I know.

To James.


August 8, 2012

Our Winnipeg secret

I've finally been able to write an article for the Winnipeg Free Press during my internship there. The following appeared in the Sunday, August 5th edition, with a great photo by Ruth Bonneville.

I know the Freep is looking for other Our Winnipeg stories (looking at you, fellow CreComm students). Do you have a nook in the city you cherish? Drop me a line and I'll try to connect you with the publishing powers that be.

Photo by Ruth Bonneville.

The flip side of our bizarre city

'Lovely little park' shows what Winnipeg could be


Mel and I aren't from Winnipeg. She's originally from southwestern Manitoba and I'm a base brat from everywhere and nowhere. When we moved here about 12 years ago, we had the same thought: What a bizarre city...

August 3, 2012

Lessons in copy editing #4 (Final)


Sometimes it turns on a word.

On Friday, July 20, a young man walked in to a Colorado movie theatre and opened fire on the audience. 12 people were killed and 58 were injured.

The shooting was, unsurprisingly, a top story that weekend in newspapers across North America, including the Winnipeg Free Press. I was copy editing that weekend and I remember the editors searching the news wire services with urgency, looking for stories to move in time for the print deadline.

One piece that came over the wires was by Eli Saslow and Marc Fisher, two Washington Post journalists, who managed a pretty good piece within a day of the shooting: expert opinions mixed with reasonable conjecture and, importantly, details on the deceased, the injured and the alleged shooter. Their piece was picked up around the world.

Give this section a read:


"The suspected shooter, James Holmes, surrendered to police without a fight. He was armed for war, outfitted for terror. His hair was painted red. He told the cops, "I am the Joker."
His past, so far, seems more a riddle. Unlike some mass shooters, Holmes, 24, does not appear to have much of an online or written trail. The world of social media is now such that anyone can find Holmes' description of his genitalia, but no one has come forward to explain his departure from the realm of the rational.
The evidence at this point is sparse; the clues, tantalizing. Jimmy Holmes was an accomplished student, a "brainiac," something of a loner, some said; others called him witty, even nice. For four months, he'd been receiving a high volume of packages at his Aurora apartment, yet no one said anything.
Over and over, people who studied, worked and lived near Holmes sheepishly acknowledged they didn't know his interests, friendships or much at all. At his high school, his college, in Aurora and back home in San Diego, acquaintances recognized his face on TV on Friday morning, but beyond that, mostly a blank.
"He's one of those people. I had classes with him but never talked to him," said Abel Maniquis, a high school classmate.
A longtime neighbour of Holmes's parents, who live in the Torrey Highlands section of San Diego, didn't even know the couple had a son.
Arlene Holmes is a registered nurse. Her husband, Robert, is a senior scientist at FICO, a nationally known financial services company where he works on identify theft and online financial fraud. The father has three degrees in math and statistics.
James Holmes ran cross-country in high school, spent summers in science programs, was a counsellor at a camp for poor kids in Los Angeles. He graduated with honours in 2010 from the University of California at Riverside. From his undergraduate years on, his studies focused on human behaviour. This spring, he delivered a presentation in a University of Colorado graduate class on the biological basis of psychiatric and neurological disorders. Then he left school.
Mostly, he's left questions. Had he been on a psychotropic medication he had stopped taking? Did his recent departure from a neuroscience PhD program at the University of Colorado represent the kind of sudden, traumatic break from his career's forward motion that has been cited as a spark for violence in some previous shooting cases? Did his teenage passion for online fantasy games morph into a break from reality that culminated in him assuming the identity of the Joker, Batman's eternal nemesis?"

The writing is a bit florid, but there's pretty decent detail given the tight time frame. They strike me as good writers and journalists. But a phrase caught my eye. Did it catch yours?

"Mostly, he's left questions."

I disagree. Mostly, Holmes (allegedly) shot and killed people. From a journalist's perspective - with a deadline looming and immersed in a news industry that's fascinated by psychopathy - unknown details about Holmes' life may be important. But questions aren't his largest legacy. Saying so insults the dead while trampling the journalists' credibility.

At the Free Press, we changed it to "He's also left questions."

Sometimes it turns on a word.

August 2, 2012

Lessons in copy editing #3

6) Keep a list of your errors

When you make an error more than once, it goes on The List - a collection of your frequent errors and slips. I hate doing this, to be honest, because fixating on my errors (which I tend to do) makes me feel about this big:

O-|—<          (actual size shown)

BUT I find I need to write down my mistakes to absorb them; just looking at the red ink doesn't cut it. Keep the list by your desk for quick reference and once you can reflexively spell/conjugate/modify that swatch of the English language correctly, cross it off The List.

8) Keep historical copies of articles you edit

Like running out a line of string behind you as you enter the dark woods (none of that breadcrumb garbage, we all know how that turned out), keeping previous copies will let you backtrack in a hurry. If you don't do this and your editor comes to you, asking you reinsert material you cut, you'd better have a good tap dance ready, Gene Kelly style.

7) Get ready to be unsung

Reporters get the credit. Fair enough, they do most of the leg work, ferreting out stories, interviewing people,  drawing it all into one compelling narrative...

Except for the times the narrative isn't compelling, interviews are missing, facts are wrong or words are misspelled. Then copy editors step in. On a number of occasions, I've seen Free Press copy editors take an average (or worse) story and massage it into good journalism.

And they don't get any public recognition for it. Every now and then a headline will elicit a remark, but that's about it. And a sense of a job well done.

All that to say, if you're going into journalism and you're packing a substantial ego, you definitely want to avoid copy editing. But do thank your copy editor! I've also witnessed rare occasions when a reporter/columnist has wandered over to the pagination area to thank a copy editor for catching an egregious error or typing the perfect headline. Gratitude will get you a lot of traction.

*****

Thank you Lara, Laurie, Stacy, Andrew, Pat, Ron, Bud, Ben, Scott, Kelly, Greg, Steve, Mike, Darron, Dave, Chad, Randy, Jill and any other copy editors I haven't met in person. You've been very kind in putting up with me. Four more weeks darlings, four more weeks.




August 1, 2012

7 new words from the Fringe

In the spirit of CreComm instructor Kenton Larsen (who I'll be seeing in less than a month — wow, summer flew by), I offer you seven new words/terms generated by the Winnipeg Fringe.


Show-blindness — inability to see the glaring faults of a show you are acting in

Samosoma —  deep-fried, potato-stuffed coma

Star-sighted — inability of a Fringe-goer to look past star ratings

Reviewsal — when a patron informs a handbiller that star ratings don't matter (awesome!)

Cuetaclysm the total derailing of a show by a technical/actor snafu

Thespensity — tendency for crowds to become emotionally volatile after seeing Fringe shows

Embuskassed  feeling when you pass a busker who's trying and failing to build an audience


Now, on with August!

July 14, 2012

A leaf on the wind

I've been trying to keep my stress level down lately, actively forcing myself to be calm. Why? Well, I've discovered I'm not a very good copy editor. What I thought was a fairly strong grasp of grammar and spelling turns out to be... lacking. And, as they say in copy editing, one mistake ruins the whole article.

So there's been a lot of critical feedback at my interning gig (as there should be when the standard is perfection) and it's been getting to me. I don't like being the weakest link.

My tactics for fighting stress so far include deep breathing, listening to nature soundtracks via Grooveshark (yes, those terrible CDs that are sold at knick knack shops, I know, I know) and taking five minute breaks to view the sunset through the Free Press office's impressive windows.

And dwelling on past experiences when everything worked out in the end.

(Wayne and Garth time travel segue)


In spring 2006, Mel and I were in the early days of cohabitation (ah, the youthful days of living in sin), on eclectic, occasionally exciting Kennedy Street. Between theatre gigs, I was brewing and stewing at the late Portage Place Prairie Ink. Mel was lifeguarding at the YMCA-YWCA's downtown branch.

And she was up for recertification as a lifeguard; a charming gauntlet of breathing into plastic dolls and swimming until you're a prune. The day before her testing, Mel took her carefully preserved original certificates to the U of W for photocopying, then skipped back to our apartment.

On arrival home, one of her important certificates was missing. Drat! It was probably left at the university on the photocopier. But no, it wasn't there. And it wasn't turned in at security. And it wasn't dropped in the apartment. Which meant it was dropped on the street - a wee certification the size of a business card loose in windy downtown Winnipeg.

This is about the time when I arrived home. Mel wasn't err... happy... because lifeguarding certificates aren't kept on file somewhere - lifeguards are responsible for keeping their own papers intact. Meaning Mel wouldn't have to do a recert - she'd have to get certified all over again (many more hours, much more work, much grief). And it was possible she wouldn't be able to work until she got her certification again.

Mel had already searched the four blocks from our apartment to the university, but I thought I'd give it a try. She said it was hopeless, what with the wicked wind. But there wasn't anything else I could do.

I checked the route. It wasn't anywhere to be seen. But I walked past the University, following leaves kicked up by the gusting air, looking where the rushing traffic swept shopping bags and styrofoam cups.

Two blocks on, in a downramp full of debris, I saw a little rectangle of paper pressed up to a brick wall. It was Mel's certification.

Did I act like a smug son of a gun when I got home. Yes. Was Mel shocked and happy beyond belief? Yes. (A phrase she used when she told people this story: "He was born with Jesus up his sleeve.")

It all worked out, just by being a leaf on the wind.



July 11, 2012

Fringe Review: Unseen

I was considering applying to join one of the major local review teams for this year's Winnipeg Fringe, but my anti-Fringe work schedule (3pm to 11pm) and cowardice got the better of me.

BUT I don't want to deprive you of my opinion! Please tailor the following review as suits your needs.
Best,

Matthew



REVIEW: A Fringe Show As Yet Unseen





Unseen is the hilarious/harrowing show of love/business/a squid gone awry. The tale/musical/collection of skits is presented by a local/touring/Lithuanian company who more than earn their keep/miss the mark - I'm only sorry the show couldn't continue/suffocate and die.

The script has some sharp writing, though it could definitely stand tightening. The young/old cast put in a noble effort - particularly the stunningly attractive lead. The director's tight/heavy direction is felt throughout the piece, particularly in the closing number/dramatic climax/banana dance.

While the run time of 90/60/45/10 minutes is overlong and the given circumstances make it impossible to suspend your disbelief, a quixotic blend of spontaneity, energy and humour/pathos/projections are what save/doom this show. The audience couldn't stop talking about it on the way out!

I only wish every play with similar content could be Unseen.

(Word of warning: the uncomfortable seats and hot venue distract from the show un/fortunately.)

June 30, 2012

My Peasant Project


I have spare minutes at work every now and then. I usually fill them with online reading, picking my toes and decorative origami, but I'm also working on my writing skills. Specifically, pumping out 140 ironic characters.

Yes! My years of education and experience have finally born fruit in a fake Twitter account! @Mom will be so proud.




@PeasantTweet is written by an 11th century Bulgarian peasant. He's married, usually has 8 children (depending on mortality and market rates) and loves to dig.





Is this a great big waste of time? Yes (though I'm sure the three bots following me would be devastated if I quit). On the other hand, taking my daily problems and filtering them through a snarky medieval serf helps me stay cool, yo. 




So follow @PeasantTweet. Or better, start your own fake Twitter accounts. Who knows, maybe one day you too can proudly stand beside my favourite comedy accounts - @CobraCommander, @Sockington or even @PMHarper (a person who tweets just like a bot - love it!)

June 28, 2012

Lessons in copy editing #2

5) The find function

You can scan for a word as hard as you wish, you still may miss it. Your computer, however, will not. If you come across a word that's misspelled (and will likely be misspelled throughout the rest of the piece) or you're looking to strike superfluous "that"s, use the find function. It's usually activated by hitting ctrl + F (or Apple + F). It's not the alpha and omega of editing, but it will help you find those words in a snap.

6) Edit out orphans

"Orphans" or "widows" occur when a paragraph's final line contains only a few characters. In an editor's battle to cut a story down to size, fitting it between advertisements and art, paragraphs containing orphans are the first place to look for possible trims. Why delete an entire paragraph when knocking off a few orphans accomplishes the same feat.


Not this one...                                              this one.


7) Be a news junkie

Finding spelling and grammatical mistakes is relatively easy compared to catching errors of fact. Having not conducted the interviews, seen the scenes or attended the events, a copy editor is fantastically limited in their ability to catch factual errors. What they can do to compensate is read all the news, all the time. If a reporter deviates from accepted facts, the copy editor will be able to spot it. A deviation isn`t necessarily wrong, of course, and news that refuses to say anything not already said is hardly worth the pixels it`s printed on. But you need to be able to identify new twists (or contradictions) in emerging stories and consult your reporter to make sure statements stand on solid ground. There`s no other way to do that than keeping up to speed.

June 22, 2012

Lessons in copy editing #1

I've been copy editing (writing headlines and editing stories) for three weeks at the Winnipeg Free Press and the learning curve remains vertical. Any perception of myself as a good speller and/or grammarian has been washed away. That's fine. I will learn and improve.

And I've learned a lot already. So here is the first in a series of posts on what I've picked up from the copy desk. Let me know if they're useful.


1) Grow a thick skin

Your brilliant, witty, insightful headline only looks that way to you. Or maybe it is super tasty. Guess what? It just got replaced. Get over it; you have ten headlines to write and seven pages to edit.

2) Bring the book

The spelling authorities still use analog. Can you find the definitive Canadian spelling of "half-full" (or is it "half full") online? Yeah, didn't think so. Set a dictionary and a CP stylebook by your computer.

3) Triple-check

Do go over your own writing, comparing it to your CP stylebook and dictionary, but beware the conceited human brain tends to overlook its own mistakes. Copy and paste your work into a program with an automated spell check (if the layout program you're using doesn't have one) and catch some easy errors you missed. Then get a colleague to read over your work. And when they point out obvious mistakes, do a face-palm, then write them down.

4) Be sensitive

You will be inundated with stories of larceny, wrongdoing and loss - those are the stories that make up the news. It's a natural response to distance yourself, through apathy, cynicism or dark humour. Those are legitimate responses to a whole lot of mess. But don't let it come out in your writing, because people who do care will read your paper. The punny headline you wrote about yet another Winnipeg homicide? That's someone's loved one. Ask yourself how the people involved in the story will perceive your headline. Don't write to please them and don't write in a world devoid of them.






June 18, 2012

Man cold

I have no idea what evil doorknob I licked, but I have caught something that is absolutely draining my ki. Typing is an effort. Breathing is an effort. Whining is... easy. But breathing is an effort! Woe!


June 1, 2012

Here there be Dragons (New Commute)

On Monday I'm starting my internship at the Winnipeg Free Press as a copy editor on the night rim shift. Yes, the official term is night rim. I've thought of five jokes since starting to write this sentence, but I'll keep this blog classy... until my term is over.

I'm going to try biking to work everyday as a 1) path to better health and 2) path to not waiting for the bus. The  WFP offices are a little ways away, but I think I've mapped out my course:


May 31, 2012

Reflections on Festival Season


Summer is arriving in Winnipeg; festival season is about to bloom. Winnipeople will soon flock to the many festivals that fill this city’s sweet, sunny months, enjoying our town’s neighbourhoods, cultures and arts. It’s rich living for the Heart of the Continent – especially for Winnipeg’s artists.

Because even if they aren’t the sole focus (they often are), artists make up a huge chunk of a summer festivals’ programming. They’ll be strutting the stages, painting the buildings, playing music in the parks with the blessings and backings of established, branded events.

And audiences will come. Not just the season subscribers, culture vultures, and die-hard enthusiasts who attend the arts all through the year (If there is a god, may she richly bless each and every one of you). But crowds of people. Masses. Sometimes the whole city shows up. That’s what festival season is for artists: a chance to bite into the sweet fruit of all out, balls-to-the-wall support. It’s not guaranteed, but festival season is the best chance to be celebrated – really celebrated – as an artist.

I’m looking forward to festival season, even as I plan a career change away from ‘artist.’


Almost seven years ago, I cofounded Theatre by the River with a number of young actors, mostly new graduates from U of W. We looked at Winnipeg’s theatre scene and saw (rightly) that there wasn’t much work for young, local actors. So we made our own, showcasing our talents in the hopes of eventually moving from occasional gigs to full time careers. We’ve produced some fantastic shows in seven years (he said so himself) with deeply relevant messages for Winnipeg audiences. I have a treasure chest of memories from each production and I’m hoping to gather some more this summer (TBTR is presenting a staged reading of Transit of Venus at U of W on June 5 and 6 – shameless plug!).

But I haven’t snagged the career I hoped at. Which I’m willing to chalk up to lack of talent or effort. But I look around at the undeniably talented dancers, painters, musicians and actors I know and see very few wearing the title of full time, professional artist. Winnipeg only has a handful of people under that banner (most working in arts admin). That’s the reality. And now, approaching my 30th birthday, it’s hard to pretend otherwise.

There is a window of opportunity for self-exploitation; a handful of years when the sleepless nights can be shrugged off, the small turn-outs celebrated for their intimacy, and your empty wallet made into a useful prop. You’ll work yourself hard and outrun the consequences. Throttle the living daylights out of this time.


Because the window narrows, then shuts. You will, eventually, get tired of working hard for few material rewards. Your inability to make a living solely doing what you love (your ‘calling’ you’ll say among sympathetic friends) will become frustrating. You won’t want money, but the nice things money buys...

There are ways of propping that window open, however, and the real point of writing this piece is sharing that advice. That treasure chest of memories you fill as you go about your business? Go through it, not just once or twice, but often. The young boy, the teen goth and the senior, laughing together at a Shakespearean joke; the friend who references your play as he copes with a new group home opening on his street; the normally quiet kids shouting down the bullies as you hold an extended kiss with a man – these are victories. They’re worth remembering.

And when summer comes, bite into it. Happy festival season.

This piece first appeared in The Uniter.