My whole life, I’ve been an avid reader, and my whole life, I’ve wanted to be a writer. I attempted journalism school at 19 and failed miserably. I wasn’t motivated. I had no idea who I was. I had no ideals, no convictions, and only a little life experience. I called myself “The Writer Who Doesn’t Write.” At 26, after working clerical jobs for almost ten years, I went back to school and came out with an Honours degree in English literature. In that program, I woke up. I became an academic writer, a critic, an advocate, and part of a community I loved: a community that supported me and bolstered me and encouraged me. I got into grad school in Saskatoon, but due to being a 31 year old woman with a husband that also just graduated from university, and both of us being crippled with a mortgage and student debt, I permanently deferred. At that time, I fell into proposal writing for construction companies. I was good at it, I tried to make a career of it, but it was meaningless and my migraines made optics a continual issue and a major stressor for me.
When I was pregnant with Fitz and off early on maternity leave (those dreaded migraines again), we decided that instead of going back to proposal writing, I’d return to school to be an English teacher (instead of a professor as I’d originally planned). I longed for the sense of community I felt at MacEwan, I longed for the intellectual stimulation, the critical debate, the purpose. I wanted to impact people’s lives and I wanted to write. But then, after Fitz was born, we realized that we couldn’t afford to pay for school and pay for childcare, so I abandoned that dream as well. Amidst this ongoing struggle, probably three years ago, my mentor, Prof. Thompson, suggested I write about food. “You’re always talking about it,” he said, “Why not write about it?” That seed took a long time to grow roots, but eventually, after agonizing over a name and a concept, I started The Salty Almond. That was a year ago.
At first, it was simply a creative outlet for me. I’d gotten a lot of compliments on my food photos, I was always raving about the local food scene, and this was my chance to share that passion and to begin writing creatively. While the response has been overwhelmingly positive, I am still low in the page views/followers department. I have 212 email subscribers and my most popular post had just fewer than 700 views. But I have made some small waves in the local food scene, forged some friendships, I guest posted and did recipe testing for Eat This Poem, and I have written almost daily for the first time in my life.
Last August, because I’m a food blogger, my editor Sydnee Bryant at Yellow Pages Canada approached me and asked if I’d write Smart Lists for them (e.g where to eat in YEG on a restricted diet, best places to get pie). I was stoked that someone wanted to pay me to do something I was pretty much already doing. In January, after I had eased into motherhood and needed more of a creative challenge, I asked my editor if they had any other writing opportunities and she told me about the Neighbourhood Business Story project. My first story was on Hillaby’s Tools for Cooks. I was so nervous to interview the owner, Lynn Hillaby, but the interview was so interesting, so invigorating, so inspiring. I loved learning about Lynn and her life, her passions, her business. I left that interview wondering why I was so turned off journalism 16 years ago, because I love talking to people. My editor praised my first story, and has continually praised my writing and interviewing prowess since.
That same month, my newborn photographer, Kelly Marleau of Fiddle Leaf Photography, posted an invitation for creatives to join the Edmonton #TuesdaysTogether meetup of the Rising Tide Society that she was starting up. I had never heard of the Rising Tide Society, but wanting to find a way to make my blog more successful, I hopped on board. In February, we had our first #TuesdaysTogether meeting. I was nervous about it. I felt like I didn’t really belong there. I wasn’t a business owner and I felt like an imposter. Even while I talked and shared my views and experiences, my body betrayed my anxiety, sweating up a storm, filled with self-doubt. But following the meeting Melissa and Carla asked for my business card, Lindsay proclaimed her love of my outspoken honesty, and I thought, “Maybe I do belong here.” As I drove home that night, I felt revived. I hadn’t realized it, but creatively and professionally I was like a small houseplant, tucked away in the shade and forgotten. I’d dried up; I was fading away, barely making it from one day to the next. My #TuesdaysTogether group is the water that animated me, the sun whose glow I now bask in. I’d found my community. I’d found my kin. I’d found my people, damn it. The next day, as a gesture to myself, a declaration of my own validity and worth, I added The Salty Almond and Freelance Writer to my Linked In profile and I updated my CV.
Jump ahead almost six months and I have done over 15 Neighbourhood Business Stories for members of #TuesdaysTogether, with still more scheduled in the next month. With each interview I’ve not only told their stories, but I’ve made genuine connections with them. I’ve forged friendships and I’ve made money doing it. As I wrote Kelly’s story, I felt, for the first time, like my writing was making a real, tangible difference. I was helping a woman I admired: a talented, beautiful, genuine, passionate woman who is compelled to tell people’s stories too – albeit visually – but just as honestly and with beauty and grace; a woman whose purpose in life to show people that their lives are perfect in their imperfections, and that they are worthwhile; a woman who started this group in Edmonton, with the aim of lifting up other creatives, of supporting and caring and inspiring. Kelly will never know how much I appreciate her. Not only as this brilliant, talented photographer who has documented the most important days in my life and done it with authenticity, creativity, and empathy, but who has lifted me up and given me something I’ve craved desperately: belonging and self worth. And with every story I write, with every new connection I make, I try to tell stories that resonate, that truly illustrate who these people are and what compels them, what drives them to do what they do. I’ve never felt more fulfilled, more driven, more hopeful, or more motivated. I’ve never felt so bloody happy.
I recently was interviewed for a freelancing job by a local company who found me on Linked In, and I owned that interview, I nailed it completely, and I left there with a sense of pride and hope and success that I have never felt before. Between this writing gig and the Yellow Pages gig, I have enough work to start my own business. And the work just keeps rolling in. Because of my blog and because of the Rising Tide Society, I am now a creative entrepreneur. I am not an imposter, I am a real writer, and I am successfully working doing something I am good at, something I love, and something that is giving me both freedom and fulfillment – something that I’d never even dared to dream of achieving.
This experience, this fear of being an imposter, a hesitancy to rightfully claim our careers as legit, this new feeling of belonging and being understood, isn’t just my experience, it’s happening to everyone in our #TuesdaysTogether group. In the first six months of its existence, our group has become a tightly knit, and yet wholly welcoming group of people who genuinely care about each other, who applaud each other’s successes. We’re close but not cliquey, always eager to bring new entrepreneurs into our loving fold. Every member I’ve spoken to has been positively impacted by being a part of this group, whether it was a small piece of advice, a bit of brainstorming that made something click and come together, or whether it was a major “Aha!” moment triggered by an interaction with the group, we’ve all benefited by being in this remarkable community.
For example, while we were all nervous and apprehensive about pulling off a styled shoot, we beautifully collaborated together on a pineapple themed party and had a blast doing it. Watching everyone pitch ideas and unite our work was so satisfying: everyone brought a talent to the table, and we all celebrated our unique creativity in a photoshoot that truly reflected our family-oriented group. From that event, other collaborations between members were born, including my jumping on board with Lorraine Stephanyshyn of Lorraine Marie Fotography to create and publish a local magazine for moms – an endeavour that has me chomping at the bit, eager to get started creating something beautiful and purposeful for other moms.
Because so many of us have young families, we decided to put our meetups on hiatus for the summer. But to give us a chance to get together, I planned a backyard pool party for everyone and their families. Being able to give back, even just a little, to the community that has markedly shaped and guided my new freelancing career was so amazing. Seeing Kelly’s daughters with perpetually sticky fingers sneaking donuts, and Shauna’s boys splashing around in the pool, and to see our newest member, Mélanie, holding Melissa’s son the first time meeting all of us – all the smiles, all the laughter, all the fun – was such a gift. As time goes by, we become more of a unit, a stronger community. While we aren’t all parents, I often call our #TuesdaysTogether meetup my mompreneur group: so many of us are moms who work from home, juggling our kids and our careers. Needless to say, #TuesdaysTogether is unlike any other professional group out there. We aren’t using each other to get ahead, we’re lifting each other up, we’re building real relationships, we’re connecting in real and meaningful ways, and all with such profound results. We are all benefiting, not only as businesses, but also as people, from being members of the Rising Tide Society, and I know I’m not the only one who is eternally grateful.