The Best of Sherinaspeaks: 2017 Edition

With the end of 2017 just days away, I thought it would be fun to revisit some of my favourite posts from this year. As I scrolled through my blog, jotting down post titles, I realized that narrowing it down to nine posts (as I did in 2015, based on the “Instagram top nine”) would be difficult. I wrote a lot of blog posts this year—over 60, in fact.

Looking back, I’m amazed that I was able to write so much while being in school for most of the year (and having a 9-5 job when I wasn’t in school). But I love writing blog posts, so throughout the year I always made time to write—meaning I have lots of posts to choose from. It wasn’t easy to pick, but here are nine of my favourite posts from this year!

beingajournalismstudent

This post was one of my first from this year. I wanted to use my personal experiences as a journalism student to give some perspective on Trump’s attitude towards the press. As I wrote, “Being a journalism student in the age of Trump means a lot of good discussions and valuable learning experiences. But it also means preparing for a profession which the president of the United States of America frequently bashes, and one in which the public does not have a great deal of trust.” The post was also published on HuffPost.

towriteabouttrump

A common theme for my political pieces this year was Donald Trump. After one of my friends remarked that I often write about Trump, I took a step back to reflect on why this is. Although I’m not even American, I’m deeply interested in U.S. politics. In this post, I essentially write about writing about Trump—and I conclude that because his words and actions matter, I will continue writing about him.

aglimpseofspring

After driving through the end of a rain storm and witnessing a beautiful rainbow, I arrived home to see that Mother Nature was not done. The setting sun made for a beautiful sky, so I grabbed my camera and started photographing the sky and flowers, which were still wet with rain drops. I compiled my favourite photos into this post; my first-ever photography gallery on my blog. After the success of this post, I made a point of continuing to take original photos—you can check out more of my photo galleries by following this link.

fleetingmoments

Speaking of photography, this post was inspired by witnessing beautiful scenes and feeling unsure if they’d be captured on a camera. I wrote about the tendency that some of us have to try to make moments “immortal” when really they are fleeting, and how our instinct to take photos impacts this. This was a fun post to write because I tied together a few moments—a stunning sunset, an impromptu fireworks display and a serene day on the lake—and tried to tell a bigger story.

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When Trump didn’t immediately condemn the white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, I knew I wanted to write about his reaction. “Shouldn’t it be easy to condemn these people and their racist viewpoints? Shouldn’t we be able to, unequivocally and without hesitation, say that their actions are wrong?” I wrote in the opening of the piece. This post was another one which was featured on HuffPost.

whathappened

While reading Hillary Clinton’s memoir What Happened, I started thinking about how, despite the time that had passed, some people (including myself) are still so curious about the 2016 U.S. election. I wrote about my interest in the election, as well as some of the reasons why it has a lasting impact (like the fact that Trump still holds “campaign rallies”). This was another piece featured on HuffPost.

thepathlesstravelled

When my family and I ended up on the wrong path during an autumn hike, I immediately thought of Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken. In the post, I wrote about trying to find the right path in life. The post also features another photography gallery, because the trees, lake and fall leaves I saw on the hike were too pretty to not share.

itstartedwithasunrise

This was another post inspired by nature. On one Thursday in October, I woke up to a sunrise, and saw a sunset as the day dwindled into darkness. I wrote about the colourful skies that “bookended” my day, and talked about what I did throughout the day. Sometimes, life feels like it is passing by quickly—but this post was a reminder that taking the time to treasure small moments, like sunrises and sunsets, can help ground you in reality.

igotmynewsexclusively

This post was my first “experiment” on my blog, and it was so much fun. As the title suggests, I relied on email newsletters as my only form of news consumption for a week. (I subscribed to 34 of them.) It was an interesting experience, especially relying on newsletters to update me on the Alabama Senate election and net neutrality vote. At the end of the week, I had a lot of insights about newsletters, to say the least. And in case you are wondering, I’m still subscribed to all 34 newsletters. Whether I read them all now is another story…


There you have it! Nine of my favourite posts from this year. While looking through my blog to narrow down posts for this list, I was reminded of how much fun I had this year, challenging myself with new post topics. I’m so proud of everything that I wrote in 2017 and I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings!


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If My Past Self Could See Me Now

“What would our first-year selves think if they saw us right now?” my friend asked as we set up a camera and tripod to film an interview.

“They’d be amazed at our confidence,” she said, answering her own question.

“I would definitely be amazed,” I echoed.

It was a short conversation, lost in the bustle of the interview, but this moment stood out in my mind because it is something I’ve been thinking about lately—what my past self would think of my current self. I know for a fact that my friend was right: my first-year self would think it’s crazy that I am so much more confident in all aspects of journalism.

I wrote last year about the fact that studying journalism forced me to jump out of my comfort zone; and as the year went on, I became comfortable with being outside of my comfort zone. I know that if I feel nervous about an assignment or task, that’s a good thing—because it means I am going to learn from it. This is a mindset that I didn’t always have during my first year, but it is something that I think my first-year self would really admire now.

But let’s take it back further than my first year of university. My high school self might be surprised that I’m still blogging. She’d also be surprised, I think, at all of the amazing friendships and opportunities that have come out of my experiences at university. I have an incredible group of friends who encourage me to be a better journalist and a better person. They help me expand my comfort zone both in writing and in other things, like trying new foods. I tried octopus the other week (OK, one bite, but still). Trying new foods at new restaurants in the city with friends is something my high school self would think was super cool.

I also think my high-school self would also be surprised at how hard her work paid off. At the end of my grade 12 year, I found out that I received a major scholarship to university because of my academic, extracurricular and creative achievements throughout high school. If my past self could see me now, continuing to work hard to maintain my scholarship and achieve new things, I bet she’d be proud.

And my elementary school self? Well, sixth-grade Sherina would be pretty amazed that the article I had published in the local newspaper as a result of joining my school’s writing club had resulted in a desire to pursue journalism as a career. She’d also probably think it’s pretty cool that her future self is writing for thousands of people on the Internet to read. Back then I could only dream of sharing my thoughts with the whole world—so I’m pretty lucky that I get to do that now, through this blog.

So, to answer my friend’s question: What would my first-year self think if she saw me right now? I dare say that she’d be happy and proud—and, strangely enough, that makes my current self feel the exact same way.


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Real Talk: Honesty, Audiences and Online Identities

I have a question for you bloggers and online content creators: do you ever think about who is viewing your posts? I do, all the time. I pour over my WordPress statistics, trying to paint a picture of my audience. I’m mostly curious about the country and referrer statistics—because they can tell me, among other things, if people I know (people from Canada who, say, find my blog through Facebook when I know I’ve just shared a link on my page) are reading my blog.

I’m intrigued by the concept of having an “online identity” and I’ve often wondered what it means for me, as someone who started blogging because of a school project which involved many people in my school community reading my blog. I know, for instance, that friends, family, teachers and acquaintances follow my blog—but most of my followers do not know me in real life.

This makes my audience an interesting combination. Do I write for the people who know me personally? Or do I write for the large majority of my followers who have never met me? I think the simple answer is that I write primarily for neither of these groups—I write for myself. I sprinkle tidbits of my life across a page, strung together with a narrative and leave my words here for myself to come back in a few weeks, months or years; to remember a moment in my life, a thought that captivated me or simply an idea I deemed worth sharing.

Of course, while I write for myself, I don’t share my writing entirely for myself. I do write quite a few things that never see the light of day. I let these stories sit on the tip of my tongue (and the depths of my leather bound journal). Maybe someday I will craft them into blog posts, articles or (who knows?) a book. But for now, I like to let those words linger in the shade, away from the spotlight of the Internet.

Those places are just for me—here, on my blog, is a place for other people to read my writing. The over two-hundred SherinaSpeaks posts I’ve written and published are all authentic; but they are also all part of my so-called online identity. They are the parts of myself I choose to present to the world, both for the people I know and the people I don’t.

Sometimes when I go back and read my old posts (because, after all, right now I am the future self to which I once wrote) I am surprised by what I’ve decided to publish. Probably because I love the freeing feeling of writing and sharing true, honest words, I’ve blogged about some really personal parts of my life, like moving away for university. I’ve also blogged about a lot of random, seemingly mundane parts of my life; I often enjoy rambling on about these little details.

There’s a liberating feeling in leaving even these little details about my life on the page. If you added them all up, you probably wouldn’t get a complete picture of my life; if you know me in real life, then you’d be closer to it, but still. That is, I guess, what I find strange—that depending on whether my readers know me or not, they could interpret my posts in different ways. It’s not, per se, a bad thing; it’s just interesting. Even people I know in real life but don’t talk to me frequently could stay quite updated on my life through reading my blog. With the exception of comments, blogging can be quite a one-way conversation; I can write and write and write about my life, and whoever wants to read it and not respond is free to do so. I guess, really, it’s the same with any social network—but I share the most on WordPress, I think, so it’s what piqued my attention.

I guess at the end of the day, my online identity is just, well, me. No matter who I imagine is reading my blog (whether I know them in real life or not) I still strive to be genuine. Maybe that’s the best online identity you can have—I certainly believe that writing honestly about my life online has made me a better blogger and more reflective person.


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My Four Year Blogiversary!

Sometimes I meticulously plan out my blog content; other times I just sit at my desk and write. It was the latter when I got home from work one Friday night in June and starting writing about my life in the post that became “Writer’s Block, Rainy Days, and 1,000 Followers.” I wrote about where I was sitting, what music I was listening to and seemingly random and mundane things like my cat and my cacti. I soon started doing something else and forgot about the document until I noticed it on my laptop the next day. I kept writing, keeping the same thread of a stream of consciousness about my life.

I ended up writing about writer’s block. I had just reached 1,000 blog followers, and I wasn’t sure where to go from there in terms of blog content. When I just sat down and started writing, “I found the words I wanted to say,” as I wrote. I ended the post on an optimistic note, because I was happy with my life and happy with my blog.

Overall, I didn’t how I felt about the post; I wasn’t sure people would care that I was listening to Harry Styles, or about any of the other things I mentioned in the post. But I really liked something about the honest nature of the post, that I had just written exactly what was happening in my life and, in the process, captured some thoughts about writing. I added a photo I had taken of storm clouds, because in the post I wrote that thunderstorms were in the forecast, and published the post.

Around a week and a half later, I received an email that made me jump with excitement. A WordPress editor had selected my post to appear on the Discover tab. I couldn’t believe it, because I remembered that I almost didn’t publish the post. When it appeared on Discover, I started receiving a flood of comments; so many people related to my thoughts about overcoming writer’s block.

The exposure to my blog means that my follower count has grown to over double what it was when I published the post. This means that I have more regular readers, which is something that makes me incredibly happy. I’ve written before that when I started my blog, the only people who read it were my family and teachers at school; of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. I believe you should write because you have something to say, not just because you need people to listen to you.

However, the fact that people do read what I write is amazing; and having my blog featured on Discover reminded me of this. I consider myself so incredibly fortunate that people read what I write; and not just read it, but critically consider and engage with it through comments (or discussions in real life). If blogging has taught me anything, it’s that there is a lot that I want to say—and that there are people who are willing to listen.

Today is my blog’s four-year anniversary. I couldn’t be more proud of how far my blog has come, or more thankful to the people who have supported me along the journey. Here’s to more content, more conversations in the comments, more jumping for joy moments. Here’s to this little community we’ve created. Here’s to many more years of SherinaSpeaksI can’t wait to see what is next.


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An Ode to Summer

Was it just four months ago that I stood in my room at university, surrounded by boxes, having finished my last exam? It feels like it was both five years ago and only yesterday that I was celebrating the end of my first year of university. After moving all my boxes back into my house, I started printing resumés and applying to summer jobs. I ended up accepting a position as a summer student at a local not-for-profit in the communications department. I’m so glad that I did. I loved spending my summer interviewing and writing, especially because it’s been for a cause that I really believe in. I’ve also made some amazing friends through my job.

Although this was my first full-time job, I still made a lot of time this summer to have fun. I took trips downtown to visit friends. I tried Thai food for the first time. I saw two concerts. I visited Starbucks countless times (so many, in fact, that I wound up getting a Starbucks Gold card in the mail). I laughed until I cried and smiled until it felt etched on my face.

This summer, spans of working 9-5 were interspersed with weekends at the cottage. There, I saw beautiful sunsets, roasted marshmallows over the campfire, kayaked through calm waters and fell off the tube with my sister, laughing hysterically. Cottage weekends meant unplugging from the Internet and tackling the stack of books in my “to-read” pile; they also meant lying out in the sun on the dock and eating ice cream.

Being home from school meant that I reunited with many of my friends from high school, and visited some friends who I haven’t seen in a long time (in one case, since high school graduation). It’s always nice to reconnect with old friends, reminisce about memories and create new ones.

I also turned 19 this summer (and wrote about all of the things I’ve learned this far in my life). My friends at work threw me a little surprise party, complete with photos of cats, streamers and a chocolate cake. I also celebrated with my family—we went bowling, and I was terrible but had tons of fun anyways—and spent a day with my friends from school, eating and shopping downtown.

And in the midst of the having fun and working, this summer I found time to focus on my own projects. I’m really proud of the blog posts I’ve written this summer and the growth that my blog has experienced. As always, I feel fortunate that I have people reading, and responding to, my posts. I’ve also had some blog posts published in the Huffington Post this summer, which is always exciting! Beyond my blog, I’ve been writing and editing my first novel. As I wrote in a previous post, I’ve started waking up early to write and edit before I go to work which I’ve really been enjoying.

I wanted to write a post about the summer because I want to be able to remember all of the memories in a few months, when it’s snowing so hard that outside my window is a sheet of white. I want to remember the time my friends and I tried a vegan restaurant for lunch; I want to remember eating ice cream by the lake and playing board games with my family (although I may not want to remember the time my dad creamed me at Scrabble, getting a seven letter word on his very first turn).

There’s a quote which goes, “And all at once, summer collapsed into fall.” I don’t see this transition happening, as the quote says, all at once—I see it occurring gradually. The weather will eventually get cooler and the leaves will start to turn. When they inevitably do, I will remember all of the fun times I have had this summer—and look forward to everything that autumn will bring.


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Writer’s Block, Rainy Days, and 1,000 Followers

It’s Friday afternoon. It’s hot outside—almost unbearably so—but inside, with my ceiling fan whirring away, it doesn’t seem so bad. I’m sitting at my desk, Harry Styles blasting as my cat is curled up against the side of my laptop. Beside my laptop, my phone sits, silent, and on the floor near my feet my purse is still packed from my day at work. The moment, though peaceful, is fleeting. Now Michael Bublé is playing; my plants have caught my eye, and it has occurred to me that I need to water them.

My cat was fascinated with the way the water poured from the cup when I watered my cactus. Maybe she recognized the water as the same liquid she sips; or maybe she was wondering why I was paying attention to my cactus and not to her. In any case, my plants are watered, Spotify has turned to advertisements instead of music, and my cat is now asleep in a wicker basket on my floor.

This week has been busy for me—enjoyable, but busy nonetheless. Now that I have an entire weekend stretched out in front of me, I’m not sure what I’ll do with my time. I’ll tackle my to-do lists, of course, and try to relax.

It’s the next day now—I forgot I started writing this last night until I saw the untitled document sitting in my Google Drive. It’s still hot today, but the forecast is calling for thunderstorms for the next three days.

I’ve been thinking about this blog a lot recently. I have so many ideas, but, to quote John Green, they are stars that I can’t fathom into constellations. I got a custom domain last week—changing my URL from sherinaspeaks.wordpress.com to sherinaspeaks.com—and I guess for some reason I thought that when I got a custom domain, I’d become a blogger extraordinaire. But while the domain has made me incredibly proud of the progress of my blog thus far (I recently hit over 1,000 followers, something which is still sinking in) it hasn’t catapulted me to a place where I have gazillions of blog ideas, or even the motivation to write those ideas.

The reason for my aforementioned busy-ness is that I’ve been working full-time hours as a communications assistant at a local not-for-profit organization. I love my job—it allows me to put into practice all of the things I learned this year in journalism school. But the fact that I am writing all day at work makes it that much harder for me to come home and write more for this blog; switching my “work brain” off, and my “blog brain” on, has proven difficult for me.

So, yesterday, as I stared at an empty document, I decided to get over it and just write. Something is better than nothing; as many writers have noted, you can’t edit a blank page. Sometimes you have to get over the expectation that amazing sentences are going to pour out of you, that you’ll write the best thing you’ve ever created. Sometimes, you just have to write. Write, when you think you are too busy to write. Write, when you feel like your blog is growing but you are standing still because you haven’t written a new post. Write when the world doesn’t make sense; write when it makes perfect sense. Write, and write, and write, and eventually, you’ll find the words you’ve been looking for.

Somehow through writing this jumbled post, riddled with life updates, blog updates and minutiae details about my day, I found the words I wanted to say: which are that life is pretty good right now (on this blog, and also outside of it). Thank you to my 1,000+ followers, thank you to my 2013-self for starting this blog, thank you to you for reading this. Now that I’ve written this post, I am itching to write more—but first, I will enjoy the sun before it turns to rain (as I am editing this, it has started to rain—making me glad I wrote about the sun while it lasted).


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4 Things I Learned In My First Year of Journalism School

I recently wrapped up my first year of journalism school. It went by so quickly, and although it was challenging I had a great year. In some other blog posts where  I’ve mentioned my journalism experiences, some commenters have been curious about the program. And, seeing as I’ve interacted with some bloggers who are also either aspiring or current journalism students, I decided to write a post about four of the many things I have learned this year. If you’re curious about anything else, feel free to ask in the comments!

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I took these photos in the morning of Nov. 9, just before I went out to interview people for my article about the election results. 

1. As a journalist, you have the opportunity to witness history.

I didn’t have any journalism exams this year; instead, we had “Story Days”; four or five days throughout the semester where we had to conduct interviews, take photos, record audio… to file by 5:30 p.m. the same day. One story day in first semester fell on Nov. 9, the day after the U.S. election. I was planning to write about Hillary Clinton becoming the first female president; but I ended up getting people’s reactions to Donald Trump winning the election.

Even though I wasn’t able to add my personal opinion in my article (I saved that for a blog post that I wrote a few days later) it was still an incredible feeling to be writing the same story that other journalists all over the world were writing. Witnessing Trump’s historical victory through writing an article about it was a really cool moment in my first year of studying journalism.

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I took tons of pictures of the CN Tower this year, but this is one of my favourite shots. 

2. Get photo composition right in the moment.

I learned pretty early on this year that heavy photo editing is frowned upon in journalism because it means altering the reality of an image. Not relying on editing or filters after the fact means it’s important to pay attention to compositional elements when taking the photo. I took most of my photos horizontally, and tried to remember elements like rule of thirds, lines, and framing. Thinking of these things when taking photos — and taking multiple shots instead of just one — helps you take good photos, without needing to edit them afterwards.

IMG_3951
OK, this photo is vertical (and slightly edited). But, hey, artistic rules are meant to be broken… right?

3. Forget “Less is more” when it comes to gathering material.

The adage “Less is more” may be true for word counts due to readers’ increasingly shortening attention spans, but it doesn’t ring true for the process that comes before writing. My journalism professors gave us guidelines on how many voices to include in our stories; often we’d need at least four.

However, this didn’t just mean going out, interviewing four people, and calling it a day. Four voices means four good voices who have interesting stories to tell. This means getting more interviews than required so that you can narrow it down to the best ones. As one professor said in our last lecture, you know you’ve done your job well when you have good quotes on the cutting board.

The same thing can be said of research, and even emailing sources; I remember one story day where I was looking for an expert in war journalism. I reached out to several war journalists, but ended up only hearing back from one. If I had only contacted one person, I probably wouldn’t have had a quote to include in my article.

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Toronto has no shortage of cool buildings to photograph!

4. You can do so many cool things with a journalism degree — and you don’t have to wait to graduate to get started.

When I reflect back on this year, I wrote a lot of things that I’m really proud of. For one of my last story days I pitched a story about press freedom on campus since there had been some incidents where student journalists were denied entry to on-campus events. This was a story that was important to me, and it ended up being my favourite article that I wrote this year. Having that opportunity to choose the story I wanted to cover has made me even more excited to branch out into other types of news writing and to continue pitching my original ideas.

And that was just for an in-class assignment — outside of class, there are so many interesting opportunities, from writing for on-campus publications to working on your own journalism-related projects. Working towards a degree in journalism is exciting because you don’t just get to do “real” journalism once you graduate; you get to do it while you’re in school!


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To Write About Trump, or Not?

“You write about Donald Trump a lot,” my friend told me. I paused, thought about the the homepage of my blog, which I knew featured several posts about Trump. Then I thought about the drafted articles saved on my laptop—many of which are about Trump—and I nodded.

“You’re right,” I said. “But is a lot too much?”

Speaking of drafts, I have one called “To talk about Trump, or to not talk about Trump?” So let’s talk about talking about Trump (confused yet?).

A few weeks ago, Toronto Star’s Washington correspondent, Daniel Dale, came to speak at my journalism school. Dale fact-checked Trump throughout the election, and continued to fact-check him after he took office in January. He is, in other words, no stranger to writing about Trump. During his speech, he said, “Pretty much anything with Trump in the headline gets a ton of readers.” I nodded my head and laughed, because it’s true. As a news-consumer, I am quick to click on articles about Trump. And, lately, the articles I have written about Trump have outperformed non-Trump articles.

This, I think, is exactly the way Trump wants things to be. The adage “All press is good press” seems to embody Trump. Even in the days before he entered politics (the good old days, if I do say so myself) Trump faced negative news cycles. Still, they always seemed to work in his favour—more people watching The Apprentice, for example. I imagine the inside of Trump’s head is a chaotic place. The word “ratings” probably still bounces around a fair bit in his mind. After all, Trump did brag about the viewing statistics for his Inauguration. The presidency is like a reality TV show to him. Negative news about Trump is still good press to him.

So maybe we shouldn’t feed this. In January, I thought it would be cool to go a week without reading Trump-related news and then write an article about the experience. I imagine it would have been a bliss-filled week. I have to complete a weekly news quiz for my journalism class, though, so ignoring Trump-related news unfortunately isn’t an option for me (and, besides, another like-minded journalist ended up doing this experiment and writing about it). I have also considered what would happen if, for one day, news organizations just stopped talking about Trump and American politics. The problem is that, speaking of ratings, theirs would likely plummet. But a Trump-free news cycle would be so refreshing; and I think that’s what my friend was hinting at when she said I write about him a lot.

To say that a Trump-free news cycle would be refreshing, though, is an indication of my privilege. Unfortunately, many people can’t ignore Trump. To them, he isn’t just an incessant topic on CNN. He’s the reason they’re fearful to go outside, the reason their community is facing increasing hate crimes. Trump’s executive orders, policies, and actions affect real people—not just in America, but around the world. If you are privileged enough that they do not have a directly negative impact on you, then I believe you have a responsibility to speak up for those who are affected.

Beyond the fact that, as Dale said, posts about Trump are popular, this is one of the reasons why I refuse to stay silent about Trump. I want to think critically and write carefully about him, and I want to spark conversations and critical thinking for my readers. Maybe I am preaching to the choir—I have no evidence that any of my posts have, for example, made a Trump supporter change their mind about him. But if I’ve made one person think about him differently, or think about his policies and the people affected, then I think I’ve done my job as a blogger and as a journalist.

As I read and write about Trump, I am cognizant of the fact that so many other people are also writing about him. I am just one of the many voices, shouting Trump’s name into the void. Except it’s not really like that, because it’s not a void. I consider myself fortunate to be in a position where people read my blog, consider my words, and sometimes add their own perspective. I am not, by any means, a “definitive voice” on Trump or American politics. But writing about Trump challenges me, and it matters to me.

I know I write about Trump a lot. Maybe it is too much. Maybe we all write about Trump too much—because it is, after all, giving him the attention that he seems to crave. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that our words matter, because the impact Trump has matters. I am going to keep writing about Trump, the people he is impacting, and the ways we can help them. And if you are also a blogger, writer, or journalist, I would encourage you to do the same.


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A City of Stories

Today was a dark, cloudy Tuesday in downtown Toronto. As I was walking along a busy street, trying to make it to my class before rain spilled from the clouds, I noticed that the person walking in front of me was holding a camera, gazing around. He seemed to be looking for a photo to take. Watching him gaze at the blinking billboards, the cars whizzing past, and the dark sky, I thought of the way I view the world.

Just like that person was looking for a photo, I am always looking for a story. Not everything is a story, but I’ve learned that anything can be woven into a story. I am constantly filing away things I see, conversations I have and often these things emerge—months, years later—in some sort of story that I am telling. For example, a few weeks ago I saw this haiku about Donald Trump on a crosswalk button.

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On its own, a haiku isn’t necessarily a story. But when that one haiku is woven into a story about the larger movement, like the other haikus the group #HaikuForYouTO has put up, then it becomes a narrative. It becomes a story that a blogger or journalist like me would tell. But I can only tell the story if I am aware of it in the first place.

When I created this blog, all the way back in Sept. 2013, I made my tagline “The world as I see it.” Although I don’t feature this tagline on my blog anymore, I still think it’s an accurate summary of what I do as a blogger. I  don’t write objectively about the world—I write about the way I view the world. What makes the way I view the world special, in my eyes, is that I am constantly looking for stories to tell. I get my inspiration from all over the place.

My recent post “What would you do if you were stuck in an elevator with Donald Trump?” was inspired by, well, an elevator. You probably wouldn’t automatically come up with that post idea just from riding in an elevator—but if you had previously had an experience where the elevator alarm went off, as I had, and had considered what you would say to Donald Trump, given the opportunity, as I had, the idea for the post may come more naturally.

I consider myself a curious person, so this is where some of my passion for discovering and telling stories comes from. I think it also comes from my parents. My mom is constantly showing me pictures of architecture she finds interesting, or the pretty flowers in the lobby of a building she was in. I find myself taking pictures of buildings I see downtown because I know that they have a story attached to them—and if I can’t find the story online, I can make it up.

Making up stories is something I get from my dad. He is always making up funny, fictional explanations for situations we are in. Traffic stuck on the highway? There must be an ice-cream truck blocking the way, promising to give everyone free ice cream after the accident is resolved. This penchant for creative thinking has influenced my passion for telling fictional stories—because fictional stories are, in my opinion, equally as important as non-fictional ones.

Through blogging, I have the opportunity to tell my own stories, which I love. But through being a journalist, I have a platform to tell other people’s stories and I love that, too. Being in a busy city like Toronto, there is no shortage of stories to tell—as long as we are looking for them.


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Why I’m Happy My Editorial Calendar Failed

I tried to make an editorial calendar in January; I had it all figured out in my planner. On Martin Luther King Junior day, I would write a post based on one of his quotes. On the day of Donald Trump’s Inauguration, I would write about supporting people in these precarious and uncertain times. The next week, I’d write about education and civics. After that, I’d write about freedom of speech and the importance of conversing with people who share different opinions than you.

If none of these posts sound familiar to you, it’s because I didn’t write them. I wrote other posts in January, about being on the right side of history, people’s reactions to Donald Trump, my thoughts about studying journalism in this political climate, and opportunities that arise in life. I’m really happy with the posts I wrote in January. I think it’s funny, though, that my editorial calendar did not work out.

In all other aspects of my life, I use my planner religiously. Some mornings, I really don’t want to go to the gym, but if my planner says “Gym” with a checkbox beside it, I’ll find myself lacing up my running shoes. I get so much satisfaction from crossing things off my ever-growing to-do lists, and I love making new lists, planning out my life in a series of checklists. And yet, I’ve already made it clear that my editorial calendar for January didn’t work. Why?

I think part of the reason is that blogging isn’t like the other things I put down in my planner. My reminder to write a blog post is often written beside a plethora of other tasks: to work on my politics essay, to finish reading chapter seven of my textbook, to take my weekly news quiz for journalism, to read a book, to read the newspaper. Those tasks aren’t terrible, but in fulfilling them I don’t exactly get to be as creative as I wish I could be. So when it comes to the task of writing a blog post, I don’t really see it as a task, the way I would view something I need to do to pass a course; it’s more like a fun thing that I’m passionate about (of course, this isn’t to say that I am not passionate about my school work, because I am. There is, however, a difference in my mind as my blog is completely separate from any other responsibilities).

To me, this distinction is important — it is, perhaps, the key reason why my editorial calendar failed. I don’t see blogging as a rigid, structured task. Although my blog does directly relate to what I want to do in life (to be a journalist) blogging is not my job. And so, I relish the opportunity to be creative, to stare at a blank document on my computer and try to fill it with words. The way I view blogging isn’t compatible with a strict schedule of what I will post and when I will post it.

That doesn’t mean I don’t plan ahead, though. The “Sherinaspeaks” folder on my computer is filled with documents, some containing half-written posts that I’ll polish up, some containing mere dot jots of inspiration. I have lists — in my planner, on my phone, in my head, on sticky notes littering my desk — of posts that I want to write, topics I want to explore, questions I want to delve into. In other words, I have passion for blogging. Beyond aiming to write one post a week, and interacting on the blogosphere on what I aim to be a daily basis, I don’t want to plan out anything else.

Looking back on the calendar I made for January, and the spreadsheet I created in hopes of reconciling the experience with yet another editorial calendar (spoiler alert: I’m not using that one, either) I am kind of glad my calendar failed. Because, although the calendar failed, I didn’t. I still wrote posts I am proud of, and I still made lots of lists of future blog post ideas. From my failed calendar I simply learned that, for this specific blog, for this passion which is not a job, I enjoy being spontaneous and creative with my posts. And who knows? I’m sure someday in my writing career I will need to make an editorial calendar. But until that day comes, you can find me blogging sans calendar.


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