I Told a Story at True Stories Told Live Toronto!

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Storytellers Charlotte Blake Alston, Erin Rodgers, me, Karima Armin, and Marsha Shandur

I’ve trekked in the Andes & Alaska and moved to the Arctic by myself. I’ve taken risks for love, even though I wasn’t sure if it would work out.

Telling a story at True Stories Told Live Toronto was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done.

Why?

I’d been to TSTL several times and the storytellers are always engaging and entertaining.

At school, students fall asleep in my classes all of the time…even during gym…

The last time I tried to tell a story to my friend at the bar, she excused herself after five minutes to go to the “bathroom”…

Plus, my story was scheduled during the Toronto Storytelling Festival so I was in the line-up with Charlotte Blake Alston and Karima Armin, ACTUAL storytellers who’d traveled from out of town for the event.

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My storytelling début at TSTL Toronto!

True Stories Told Live Toronto is a fantastic monthly storytelling event held at The Garrison. It’s organized, curated and hosted by Marsha from YesYesMarsha.com.

Although the bar is packed for shows–I’d estimate 200+ people were in the audience for my story, it feels personal, like your at a family gathering.

It’s a fresh space for connection and intimacy in a city that can sometimes feel cold, lonely, and isolating.

Somehow, I pushed through my fear and sense of impostor syndrome and told my story. It was really fun, and while of course there are things I would change for next time, my first live story definitely went better than expected. I feel proud of myself for standing up and doing something that scared me.

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Stephan wearing his Cavs jersey on the frozen Arctic Ocean

Click here if you want to watch my story, Arctic Basketball Team. Join the Facebook group for info about future TSTL events!

Inspiring Women Series: A Conversation with Louise Johnson

 

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“You have to stay authentic to what you really love, like when you were a kid, when you didn’t care what people thought…those weird quirky things…I think you should always hold onto those.”

For the sixth episode of the Inspiring Women Series, I had an insightful conversation with Louise Johnson, a Toronto-based writer and blogger.  I’ve known Louise since we were kids, as both of our families spend the summers in the beautiful cottage region of Norway Bay, Quebec. I’ve always been inspired by Louise’s love for her family, her way with words, her creativity, and her courage to put her thoughts into cyberspace.

Louise grew up in Oakville, Ontario, a suburb outside of Toronto. As a young girl, her  parents encouraged her to become  involved numerous activities, like dance and soccer. Louise believes her incredibly busy upbringing has helped her to learn how to balance her day job with her dreams of being a writer.

As a business student at the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, Louise spent her summers interning for Elizabeth Arden in New York. After graduating, she was offered a full-time job to work on the new Taylor Swift fragrance and starting making plans to relocate to New York City. However, two months before she was set to move, she was offered a position at Elizabeth Arden’s Geneva office and ended up moving to Switzerland for two years.

When she first moved to New York as an intern, Louise started the blog, Manhattan Maven, as a way of sharing her adventures abroad with her friends and family. She quickly realized her passion for writing and documenting, and the desire to pursue writing more seriously began to gnaw at her.

“It’s this invisible drive or voice inside of my head that I feel like I’ve always had. Sometimes it’s quieter than others, but it’s always there…and I just have to get it out.”

So, when she returned to New York after living in Switzerland, she assembled her writing portfolio and applied to grad school. Louise ended up getting into Harvard University’s Master’s of Journalism program and moved to Boston, where she fully committed herself  to the craft of writing.

Currently, Louise is living in Toronto and working full-time as an in-house writer for an advertising agency. This allows her to pay the bills, write creatively on the side, and live closer to her tight-knit family after six years of living abroad.

“I value my family so much…I am just in a constant state of ignorant bliss when I’m with them.”

On top of her day job, Louise is freelancing for several websites such as Normale MagazineGlamping Hub, and the Boston Day Book. Although she currently loves Toronto’s energy and social scene, she dreams of one day moving to a little cabin in the woods to write a novel.

In this episode of the Inspiring Women Series, Louise discusses why she left her incredible life in New York to pursue her dreams of becoming a writer, her obsession with her family, and the importance of living authentically.

“It’s hard to put yourself out there and take judgement, but when you do, it’s so freeing. You just stop caring what other people think and you just do things that make you happy… It’s the best feeling.”

The Inspiring Women Series is a podcast dedicated to sharing the many stories of women who have inspired me in my life, or who have inspired others.

You can subscribe to the podcast series in the iTunes store or listen to Louise’s interview here:

 

Don Valley Cable Car: Inspiring Vision? Lessons From Medellin, Colombia

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The Metrocable in Medellin, Colombia is part of the city’s public transit system and has carried 30 000 people per day since starting operations in 2004.

I’m re-charging in my hotel room after a jam-packed day of being a tourist in Medellin, Colombia when a Tweet catches my attention.

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The Don Valley Cable Car would connect an environmental community centre and ravine trails with Toronto’s public transit system. Photo: Don Valley Cable Car

I click on the Globe’s link and read about the Don Valley Cable Car, a private initiative to connect the Evergreen Brick Works, an environmental community centre, with Broadview-Danforth Subway Station.

I’m intrigued.

I’ve lived in Toronto on-and-off since 2009 and never owned a car. For me, the more options to get around the city without a car, the better!

Yet I’ve never imagined a cable car as a method of urban transit. (The only gondola rides I’d ever taken were to get me to the top of a ski hill!)

In fact, when I lived in London, UK, after a few early-morning frustrations with the Tube, I wondered, “If Only I Could Take a Chair-Lift To Work…At the time, I didn’t realize that people living in Medellin, and several other cities worldwide, already do!

The Don Valley Cable Car is just beginning community consultations at a time when Toronto’s SmartTrack transit plan is getting smaller and cheaper. Although the Don Valley Cable Car is being proposed as a method of connecting both tourists and residents with urban greenspace, rather than at connecting low-income communities with better transit access as Medellin does, it’s a reminder that alternative methods for urban transit are possible.

According to research from York University, there is a “transit inequity” in Toronto, as the people who are most dependent on public transit, particularly those living in low-income, inner-suburb neighbourhoods, referred to as “transit deserts,” get the worst service. The study suggests that more recent transit infrastructure expansions have primarily benefited the rich living in areas of the city which are already thriving, while neglecting the inner suburbs.

Ironically, I’m learning about the proposed Don Valley Cable Car immediately after spending most of the afternoon riding Medellin’s Metrocable. All of my previous knowledge about Medellin has come from watching Narcos: crime, drugs, violence and Pablo Escobar.  So I’m surprised by the city’s innovative approach to public transit, for which it won the 2012 Sustainable Transport Award (tied with San Francisco, USA).

The Metrocable opened in 2004 in response to significant spatial inequalities in transit access in Medellin. It connects low-income neighbourhoods located in the surrounding mountains, many of which had high rates of violence and crime, with the city centre. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Transport Geography, found that the Metrocable has doubled access to employment opportunities for residents living in low-income neighbourhoods. Another report, found that the neighbourhoods affected by the Metrocable Line K experienced a 66% faster decline in homicide rates than in the control neighbourhood. (Although both violence and homicide rates decreased dramatically for both groups).

These studies suggest that expanding public transit through alternative means can transform a city’s poorest and most violent areas.

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Prior to the opening of the Metrocable, residents of the neighbourhood of Santo Domingo would have had to walk several hours or depend on infrequent buses to reach the city centre.

Medellin has also targeted several social interventions in the neighbourhoods linked with the Metrocable. This includes support for social housing, schools, micro-enterprise, libraries, and implementation of additional lighting in public spaces. In addition, the city has involved local residents in participatory budgeting to determine how to allocate the funds designated for investment in their neighbourhoods.

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I traveled efficiently from a downtown metro stop to Santo Domingo Metrocable station at the end of Line K for about $1 CAD.
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A quick cable car transfer to Line L and an extra four thousand pesos (about $2 CAD) brought me over farms and forests to Arvi station at the top of the mountain.

 

As the world’s first modern urban aerial cable car transport system, the Medellin Metrocable presents an inspiring vision for how a city’s transit plan can be re-imagined to create stronger, healthier communities, and better life-opportunities for its residents.

It is an example for cities, like Toronto, that bold visions for affordable and sustainable public transit are possible and are already being lived out in cities around the world.

 

 

 

 

Wasn’t ‘the plan’ to settle in Canada?

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Manizales, Colombia: my new home!

I could hear the surprise my Mom’s voice as she reacted to the news that I had accepted a last-minute teaching position in Manizales, Colombia. She was right. “The plan” was to stay in Toronto where I had been living for the last year.

Since 2007, I had lived in seven different cities: Kingston, Ottawa, and Toronto, Ontario. Banff, Alberta. London, UK. Fort St. John, British Columbia. Pond Inlet, Nunavut. After years of being away from home, I was feeling a strong pull to put down roots in Toronto where I’d lived on and off since 2009.

However, things in Toronto weren’t really coming together as I’d hoped they would. By the end of the summer, I was feeling frustrated, heart-broken, and restless. So when my good friend messaged me out of the blue to tell me that her school in Manizales was looking for a grade five teacher, I began to wonder if life’s really meant to be lived according to a specific plan. As my friend reminded me, “Toronto will always be there”. Thus, I abandoned “the plan” and opted instead for a more uncertain path, the  “the one less traveled” that Robert Frost wrote about.

Maybe the pressure to “have a plan” and follow a linear path prevents us from taking risks on the spontaneous opportunities that could lead us in the right direction (or maybe I’m just trying to justify a foolish decision).

This all being said, it was never part of my plan to live in Colombia, but here I am.

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Checking out the sights of Manizales!
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Coffee plant. Manizales is part of Colombia’s “Coffee Triangle”
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Posing in front of some wax palms on the Vallé de Cocora hike on a trip to Salento
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Picking my first aguacate (avocado)
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Its mountainous terrain makes Manizales a cycling mecca in South America.