How to keep writing during a recession

Where did the last couple of months go? With many of us unemployed due to layoffs, or having contracts suspended/delayed, there is definitely an air of uncertainty. Atop of this, we’ve also seen the world protest for racial justice and true equality, a flame of solidarity we have never captured on this scale since the post-9/11 anti-war protests.

With all this instability, my mind became creatively clouded, oft feeling like my creative spirit was slipping through my fingers. So I decided to come up with some measures to help keep grasp of this, and in essence myself. I also realized almost everything I write is so damn serious, so here’s a meme to start us off.

Since that’s out of the way, here’s my 4 tips to maintaining creative space.

1. Warm-Up

Good god this is important. I have to stretch my body and mind to get into the groove. I’m not going full-Richard Simmons but my daily routine starts with deep stretching, deep tunes, deep meditation, and deep vibes. If I’m not tapping into myself, the real me is not going to translate on to paper / screen / in conversation.

2. Space-Making

It’s important to find somewhere you can rely on for safe creativity. A space that is free of distraction and free of judgement to allow for a free train of thought.

I wrote and recorded a poem earlier in the quarantine that was all about battling creative anxiety and undue pressures.

Tune into it here and take some of that weight off your shoulders, Atlas.

I live in a basement with housemates (one being a 2 year-old) and this was huge for me. I needed to create a space that didn’t have to contend with a screaming child, casual conversations, and everyday stomping upstairs. I bought a desk and stool so that I didn’t have to work in the main area, and headphones to muffle out the noise. Depending on the day, I relocate to the balcony since the street noise never gets as loud as the house.

Does that mean you can’t come up with ideas elsewhere? Absolutely not. I would argue most of us come up with ideas away from our traditional creative spaces, like the toilet or in the shower (S/O to The Hustle’s Shower Thoughts). We then tote these ideas along with us until we can develop them from our established creative spaces.

“We Bleed What We Feed”

3. Do Stuff

Nothing is better than doing stuff. Just do it… bleh, did I just do that?

But seriously, doing stuff is an important way to get your brain to function from multiple perspectives. This is key for anyone working in copywriting or marketing: one of the best ways to understand various audiences is to walk in their shoes. And no, this won’t lead to having multiple personalities.

Split (2016)

When I’ve experienced new things, I’ve approached old concepts in a refreshed way. If we aren’t constantly questioning convention, how are we developing ourselves?

Think Jazz is weird? Listen to some Coltrane, Mingus, Brubeck, or Hancock. They’re all Jazz musicians but all have completely different approaches.
Haven’t read a book since university? Think about most of the content that you listen or watch, and there’s probably a book that talks about it too.
Drive everywhere? Start walking and taking in the fine details of your neighbourhood. Bricks may be laid in a way that you’ve never seen before or trees may twist at unique angles.

I like to say, “We bleed what we feed”, meaning that everything that we consume will find its way into our work, so just the act of exposure will be reflected on what we produce.

4. Take a Break

I guess the chocolate bar was on to something. This is probably one of the most difficult things for me: TAKE A BREAK OR BREAK YO’SELF!

excerpt from Friday (1995)

And it’s true. With all this anxiety from wanting to live up to my own expectations, and the sheer passion and energy I put into everything, the fear of burning out is definitely a reality. Check out Leah Bae’s The Burnout Project to learn more about burning out.

Taking a break away from what you love is hard, it’s your baby. But if you don’t take, at the very least, a couple hours off, you’ll be toast.

Mentally fried. Psychologically flambéed. Brain braised. You get the picture.

I noticed that when I don’t take breaks, even the slightest 15-30 minutes, my stress levels go through the roof (tbh, I’m still kind of fried right now while writing this). Life is hard enough already and we need to take moments to appreciate the things that we have achieved, to be happy, and treat ourselves kindly.

I know it’s easy to focus on the things that we’ve yet to do or are out of our possession (that’s how capitalism works) but being grateful for what we do have can help ease our minds and thoughts.

Creativity is necessary to keep the world ticking and going, and it’s important that we create space for it mentally and physically. Whatever it is that you do to fuel your creative fire, I commend you and appreciate your talent, even if I don’t know you or your work.

There’s still much to do in the world but it’s important to not forget about yourself and your gifts. By giving yourself the chance to hone in on your talents, you’ll be able to show up in the world even stronger than ever before.

PS. I suggest subscribing to The Hustle’s newsletter. They bring business news straight to your inbox, but in a fashion that is way more relatable and hilarious (dare I say more credible too) than your evening news. Think pop culture, memes, and gifs balled up with economics and current events.

And no, I am not getting paid for this…but I’m open to it.

Embers: Keeping the Creative Alive Amidst Covid-19

I wrote a poem once about keeping my spirit alive – my creative spirit and my spirit of determination.

It can be difficult at times to channel into that aspect when we need to constantly think about all the other real world issues. For the last couple of weeks, covid-19 has ceased regular operations for many of us. This brought various challenges that some have never seen before, and for others, made them worse. Challenges like food insecurity, housing instability, and social isolation.

For those of us who work within the creative sphere, when the hard times hit, we’re often the first affected. We may be on short-term contracts, looking for the next gig, or be a part of a mass lay off.

Sometimes it feels like it’s hard enough justifying why someone needs a creative on their team. Then add on the fact that organizations are being hit with newfound strained budgets; they’re just trying to stay afloat to see a post-coronavirus light. The reality of the creative just got a bit more difficult.

It’s in these moments I find myself asking “Why am I a creative?”

“Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”
– Bruce Lee –

Sometimes I have to really dig for this answer. I’ve surrounded myself with many types of people growing up, working in various industries alternative to myself. It’s easy to be dragged by their successes and have that weigh against you. Some work in insurance and government, others in banking and real estate. Though I’ve tried my hand in many of those industries, they don’t quite mesh with me.

After each lesson learned, I repeat the exact same question I started with, “Why am I a creative?”

Under self-induced scrutiny, I try to decipher this map-of-life and figure out the best way to navigate through it. I’m trying to do something I love, pay my bills, and live a fulfilling life. This pulls me in every which direction.

My favourite composer, and jazz great, Charles Mingus said, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

Armed with this statement, I boiled down my answer. My sole responsibility is to keep my creative ember crackling.

During ancient times, in both nomadic and civilized senses, there would be a fire keeper – someone responsible with keeping the embers alive, the flame of society alive. Even for nomadic tribes, as they moved from site to site, the fire keeper would tend to the ember throughout the journey.

In those times, the flame was seen as a symbol of life. It gave us the ability to cook and stay warm, thus extreme care was needed to ensure that it never extinguished. The flame was oft revered as a point of praise and religion.

That is our job as creatives, to keep the ember alive within and wherever we find ourselves. Embers can easily burst into full flames and start a fire but it is difficult to start a fire from nothing.

“Write while the heat is in you. The writer who postpones his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with. He cannot inflame the mind of his audience.”
– Henry William Thoreau –

Our work is not something to be lost and dealt with haphazardly.

We are not direct sellers, we are not accountants, we are not a part of the legal team.
We are storytellers, illustrators, and capturers of the moment.

Creatives are community builders.

Creativity is not simply a skill used to drive economy, though it very well does. It’s a skill used to connect and unite. Without community, our society is nothing. Without creativity, we talk about nothing.

Our job is to stay grounded in reality but also tap into the endless potential of the world around us. We don’t work in silos, we don’t work unilaterally – we are collaborative with others and the wonders that are encapsulated in the world.

This is why we’re so important – we connect. This is the fire we bring into the world.

Oh and that poem? Here it is.

Ember Ember Ember
Do I feed it and let it burn bright
Or do I let it burn out and meet its plight
What is it about fire
It creates and destroys
Provides fuel and sight
Poof to ash or proof of life
Or life that once was
To produce life once again
Crop over, turn over – my heart’s pounding once again
That’s another flame
But the same game
No shame, this is my own lane
It collects and protects, from crash and collision
You can enter my lane but to exit… That’s imminent
I ride on my own, towards the fireball
No clouds even on a rainy day
I say once again what I said before
Feed it and let it burn bright

Dream on and dream more
If I let it burn out, there’s no bringing back these dreams
It stays alive in me like an alien being
Plant this and care for it
Catch it and keep moving like stairs forward
I can’t afford — to move back
Dreams were caught in this dichotomy
You see, what I sought was what I ought to be
You see, these dreams bring sight to be free
To be a dreamer, brings up the flames inside of me
To which it stays
It tears down the world everyday
To leave a bigger, better, and brighter way

Self-Centredness: Focus on Others, Focus on Yourself

Lynde Shores Conservation Area – Whitby, ON

I find myself being more and more as a person of extremes… Sitting in one emotion at a time… Really feeling the wholeness of each pole.

I know that in my music choices, I’ve really sat with music as a whole, listening to very immersive experiences. I’ve been called out that my shit isn’t uppity and happy – true facts.

Super dark, super emotional, super experiential, super complex, super dense… synonyms of the like… super duper.

I’ve repeatedly come back to listening to Clams Casino as his beats and production takes me to the deepest depths of who I am –  reflecting on losses and successes, joy and pain. It helps me to rip myself to the finest ribbons and reconstruct internally to being a stronger more aware person.

I played the single off his latest album, Moon Trip Radio, nonstop when one of my closest aunties passed away (listen below, I suggest listening to it while finishing this article). I moved away from Ontario last November and to be away ate me alive. I constantly questioned, “Is this the right thing? I can’t even be there for my family and friends… what about when they need me the most?”

It was through this experience I became more self-aware; I couldn’t stop life from happening, for myself or others. I learnt that I must continually build and grow, even pivoting away from everything I once knew. If I stayed home, I would have been there for the family but being away, resulted in living fuller and building new relationships necessary for a stronger present/future.

I routinely cry to music – something I don’t admit to a lot. I think it’s good to release; let go and feel “alllll da feeeeeelz”. A spirit can be trampled and broken many times over but if given the chance to repair and reform into a new, truer form – true to who you are now – the pain will subside and a new path will appear from the bushes.

Follow your heart above all else; give it your 100%. No one wants to be given partial effort – no one deserves that, even yourself. If you’re showing up, SHOW UP. When you only show up for obligation and not for the love of it, innately it’s just an act; a ruse.

Authenticity is one of the most beautiful things in this world and I find, more and more, it becoming a rare thing. There’s a lot of trauma behind much of our partialness, but if we don’t have a serious introspective conversation, we are cheating ourselves and the ones we love the most. 

Find focus in centring yourself everyday; whether that be meditation, prayer, going to the gym, poetry, music, etc. Take 5 minutes or 2 hours but it’s time to make authenticity a habit.

Take a deep breath and reach into your pocket. You had the map all along.

Eat if You’re Hungry – How Community Gardens Grew My Perspective


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“I keep feeding you and feeding you and feeding you…”
Wu-Tang Clan

Okay, the quote was a little out of context but hear me out.

I am a part of a community garden that has been around for over 6 years, so we know a thing or two about feeding. It’s a place where we learn about food, sustainability and each other.

Our garden is located in Malvern, an area within Toronto (Canada) that has had a rather unsavoury reputation in the past.  Despite what labels may have been attached to the neighbourhood, the residents persevere and thrive within the marginalized circumstances that affect them daily. One of the ways they are redefining the community is through communal gardening.

Malvern is the most culturally diverse neighbourhood in Toronto with nearly 90% of the community being a visible minority, according to a 2006 survey. Many of these residents are newly emigrated or first generation Canadian, bringing their own stories, recipes and “backyard” innovations to the table. I grew up and lived in Malvern for the first 25 years of my life and it was through the garden I felt the most integrated into the community.

But what is a community garden?

It is a common space, which can be divided in two ways, allotments or communal. In the allotment system, plots are assigned to individuals while in the communal system, all crops are shared and the space is maintained as a collaborative effort. Littles community garden, the garden in which I am a member and coordinator, is mixed with roughly half of the garden being communal.

But it’s more than just growing and harvesting. We donate roughly 10% of our crop yield to local food services and participate in various community events, bringing community members together through the medium of food. Also being community-based and a relatively young concept, a lot of times the imagination is the ceiling and you can experiment with many skill sets. I took what I was passionate about and honed in my media communications and marketing skills. Now we are on our way by innovating new communication methods, outreach and rebranding! <<check out my Portfolio>>

If you have access to a community garden, I urge you to visit, ask for a tour or participate yourself. It’s one of the greatest places to access organic vegetables and learn about the food systems that affect our globe. Feel free to comment below with any questions!

If you are in Toronto, reference the Toronto Community Garden Network for more information on gardens near you!