Shazaam Poetry Slam at St. Teresa School

On May 31st, the students from St. Teresa Catholic School threw down a most epic in-class poetry slam. These grade eights, after six days of brainstorming, writing, and practising created a repertoire of poetry. Topics ranging from sports, moving away, their favourite pet rock, hunting, overcoming fears and going to high school. It’s always a pleasure running these types of workshops and with my fabulous co-facilitator-in-crime, Ebti Nabag we were able to explore both written and visual arts so students could express their fullest selves.

St. Teresa student writing their spoken word piece

St. Teresa student writing their spoken word piece

The Shazaam! program is a unique spoken word and photography initiative within schools through Lakeshore Arts which allows professional arts to work with students and teachers to examine identity through in visual and performance arts. Lakeshore Arts really hosts incredible workshops for the community.

 

Emotions were high on that final day of the program: some students were beyond enthusiastic, and ready to show off their stuff. Others, a bit more intimidated by the stage were nervous but still confident and determined to share their story. Once all the pencils were used up, all the words written, all the prep and practice was complete, they were ready. The slam was on!

 

It was an honour to be the host and our judges were blown away by the talent, performance and the content of the poems. Some of the highlights from our winners include:

 

“the insecurities we have

do not define us

the colour of our skin

should not divide us.”

 

 

“once you find who you are

don’t think you’re forsaken

be yourself in this world

because everyone is taken.”

 

Congratulations to our slam winners: Elijah, Dominika, Natalie and Mackenzie.
Special mention to: Szymon, Raquel, Sarah, and Zach.

Our slam champs right here!

Our slam champs right here!

It was a very special day. After the slam, the students were buzzing and celebrating, and most importantly, supporting each other throughout the whole process. Sometimes I can be sceptical about the whole “art as competition” thing, but these young artists were like a small community, uplifting one another instead of fighting to be number one. That was the real highlight for me, to see how unique and special each poem and each person was and how all the students made space for their peers to shine.
 

Much respect to the Shazaam crew, Thom & Alessandra for their incredible support and Kate for the photography. Big up Ms. Fortades for allowing us the opportunity to work with her students AND for her amazing rubric rap (so fly!).

If you are a teacher or principal interested in have a Whitney French Writes workshop in your school, book a workshop HERE. Or, if you are interested in the Shazaam program, check them out at www.lakeshorearts.ca

 

 

Immature -- I'm Mature

I'm mature
(
Im)mature
Immature


I made it to another decade. Give thanks. It's a blessing, and yet I feel like now is the time to level-up and adult-up hard now that I'm 30. I look to the sky, to my ancestors, to Creator for guidance.

I'm a kid at heart!
How am I gonna pull this off?

And who are the ominous "they" with their societal expectations of me now that I've been breathing on this planet and took thirty trips around the sun? What does this say about my small business? What does this say about my writing? What does this say about how I interact with people...or my returning Tetris addiction?

It's self-imposed pressure but pressure nonetheless. I feel like all my clothes are things that a twenty-something wears, or a teenager wears, or a really small senior citizen wears. And it's not just the perception of looking young that I'm insecure about its the perception of acting young. 

I'm so over my twenties very much excited to join the Dirty Thirties but there's a lingering feeling that I'm not mature enough. This all came up on me so suddenly, although I've been calling myself thirty since I was 28. 

Some musing I suppose. It's weird writing about age because it's just a number.

And I'm not "freaking out" about aging. Hell, my first gray hair was celebratory in my household (ask my sister) because it means I made it! As someone who lives with chronic illness and has visited too many hospitals, trust me when I say, thirty is a milestone and it's survival. 

But I can still be a kid, right?

I need validation, darn it! (how childish)

 

Tree Sessions — First New Moon Workshop

We got really creative during the last Tree Sessions Vernal Equinox Workshop. Now I'm inspired to do another one in honour of the New Moon in May

We got really creative during the last Tree Sessions Vernal Equinox Workshop. Now I'm inspired to do another one in honour of the New Moon in May

I’ve adopted a New Moon practice of writing down the things that do not serve me, and burning them in my toilet. Surely, I’m not the only one playing with fire in my bathroom on a Wednesday night. This ritual for cleansing was showed to me by a woman who goes by the name of Healthy Diva and later I saw different iterations popping up in various blogs and books on transitions. Some call it ceremony, others call it witchcraft, some even refer to it as gypsy tricks but either way, I cannot deny the magic in watching the fire peel at the material holding the things that I fear. Those negative thoughts, the self-talk curl and sizzle under the flame. That moment of release is what I now long for as the next New Moon approaches. I get amped. I get to press that refresh button. I get to start a new cycle.

 

But I’ve noticed something. These deeply personal practices rarely involve elements of my writing practice. Despite being a person who uses words not only to create a career but also to create a sense of the world around her, I’ve overlooked the things that do not serve me in my art. And let me tell you, there are a lot of things I could write on that paper: imposture syndrome, inspiration anxiety, financial stress, deadlines, picky clients or your run-of-the-mill work crisis. None of these things have made it to the blaze. That changes tonight.

 

Yes, the New Moon was yesterday, and I celebrate with lessons and dialogue with friends and community. Tonight is the burning.

Photo credit: Noah Silliman

Photo credit: Noah Silliman

 

Tree Session has had three fabulous runs: Autumnal Equinox, Winter Solstice and Vernal Equinox, all in which I’ve met and shared space with such unique writers in the city. Usually, I’d wait until the Summer Solstice to run another workshop but I was so fired but from the last one, I can’t wait. I’m cheating. Shout to the lovely Nerissa who inspired me with the idea to follow the moon. Hence, New Moon in May:

 

 

On May 28th I invite new and returning writers to celebrate New Moon in Gemini. This lunar cycle begins in deep spring burgeoning on the cusp of summer. It is my intention for us to move deeply into our writing practice. Here we will honour the subtle transition, observe that space of not-quite-spring-not-quite-summer. We will gather in the company of each other and warm to the in-between.

 

When I started Tree Sessions, I made a commitment to self and community to ease into the magic of such transitions. I made a contract with self and community to replace productivity with patience. Replace schedules with cycles. Replace timelines with transitions. I admit it started off ok, but old habits need constant ritual to keep me grounded. I need this Tree Session just as much as my participants do (maybe more!). To stay true to my commitments, I’m branching off into new territory, and it feels natural to want to explore not only the unique energies of the solstices and the equinoxes but to hold space for lunar rhythms also.

 

Use this New Moon phase in Taurus as a month marker. A celestial save the date if you will. We are one full cycle away from the next Tree Sessions. Get yourself geared up, mentally prepped, spiritually engaged to come together and refresh our writing practice. It’s not easy work. But I guarantee it’ll be fruitful.

 

Let’s burn up what’s holding you back. I hope you’ll join me.

Registration is now open
Email for inquiries: whitneyfrenchwrites@gmail.com
RSVP on Facebook for updates

Jot it Down: Journalling For Success

Part of “A Very Valuable Series” — SELF DETERMINATION

 

Ok, ok. Maybe it’s too soon to say if Whitney French Writes is successful with a capital S just yet, but humour me if you will. All I wanted to do as a kid was be a writer. Nowhere in my seven-year-old little Whitney mind did I imagine running my own business. Business class in high school sounded like hell on earth and now I really wish I took a course or two.

It all started with journal entries. If you don’t keep a journal, you are missing out. I am not the biggest fan of unsolicited advice. If you want that 147 bullet proof ways to make 60k in 10 days with your small business blog post…this ain’t it. I’m not your small biz entrepreneurial ninja, Jedi, guru, boss-lady monster-face millionaire.

Sorry (not sorry).

However, the one thing I would strongly suggest and the basis of this entry is to keep a journal. No way in heck could I have pulled off this business without one.

 

let me explain

 

March 2010

— life sucked.

 

I had basic necessities (food, water, oxygen) but I lived with my parents (a reality I promised would never happen once I left at 18) in Bradford Ontario no less, with no job, no direction and not a whole lot of positivity. I was struggling with a lot of personal pain also.

 

I only knew one thing for certain: I wanted to be a writer and I wanted enough money to move out of Bradford.

 

Early journal entries had nothing to do with a business but had everything to do with confidence. I had to constantly remind myself in my “I’m a fucking loser” state that I was, indeed, a writer.

 

This is pre-book.

This is pre-publications.

This is post-drop out (from creative writing program no less)

 

External signifiers of success where nowhere to be found. I had to look inside and believe…
then the name emerged…

And at that time in March I had about four job interviews for work that had nothing to do with writing. I got a job, made more money but kept journaling about this WFW thing.

 

I still wasn’t convinced writing could make me money, but I also couldn’t shake off the urge to pursuit this thing. Like a lot of folks I imagine, I had multiple ‘business ideas’. One I was obsessed with was called Kid-trition (and by all means please steal the name from me, it's too cute to not actualize) which was a workshop based program to educate parents on how to make healthy, easy and creative meals for their children. Lots of picture of animated radishes playing guitar and recipes. But a lightbulb went off. When the food idea got a bit stale (you know I had to throw in at least one pun) I realized the thing that stuck was the workshop. I really like the workshop model.

 

fast forward 2012
— launched 3 Cities!

Early doodles of my book title: 3 Cities. Journaled in November 2011. Launched in April 2012. 

Early doodles of my book title: 3 Cities. Journaled in November 2011. Launched in April 2012. 

 

Working an internship in publishing, feeling more like a “writer” writer but also feeling like a broke writer. Also, 2012 is the year I got the hell out of Bradford (woo hoo!) and I was living in Toronto. More opportunities and you guessed it, I was able to do my first ever workshop. Someone was sick. I was asked to fill in. Workshop got did!

 

Jan 2013
— registered my business.

 

Seems like a big leap, but it felt right. I wanted to host workshops (and I still had my full-time gig but this time my work was aligned with literacy, poetry and social justice) and the gap between “I don’t think I can do thing” and “Oh! I’ve BEEN doing this” was closing in. Gloriously so.

 

But now, because I threw sixty bucks at the government of Canada to feel official, I actually had a business. Which means I had to do business things. Like:

 

+ develop a business plan (yuck)
+ make a price list (a what?)
+ print promotion and pamphlets materials (come again?)

 

...and I had no idea how to do these things. I felt like that Whitney from 2010 with no direction, again.

 

Enter Jennifer Lee, simply bask in her greatness and discover how dope she is. This amazing entrepreneur cracked open a truth for me: you can be creative minded and business minded. Totally possible.

 

Her Right Brain Business Plan kept me on track and skyrocketed me to being an adult about this business thing.

These two books are my business bibles: "Right Brain Business" by Jennifer Lee and "Creating Money: Attracting Abundance" by Sanaya Roman & Duane Packer

These two books are my business bibles: "Right Brain Business" by Jennifer Lee and "Creating Money: Attracting Abundance" by Sanaya Roman & Duane Packer


May 2014
— bookings, bookings and more bookings

 

So many bookings I had troubling balancing my day job. This all sounds good, right? Well, it was except that I was undercharging for my services. Big time. I didn’t know my value. I didn’t know how to manage a business. Running a workshop, that was a blade striking stone getting real sharp real quick. Tracking invoices? Booking prep-time? Ummm…not so much.

 

I figured, I got the business plan done and I can just cram as many gigs as possible and I’d be good. Strategy? What’s that?

 

Enter —
THE BIRTH OF THE BINDERS

From top left: January 2017 - Present | Sept 2016 - December 2016 | Oct 2014 - Feb 2015 |  Feb 2015 - Aug 2016

From top left: January 2017 - Present | Sept 2016 - December 2016 | Oct 2014 - Feb 2015 | 
Feb 2015 - Aug 2016

 

& defining professionalism for myself

 

...and it was hard! again, high school Whitney would totally roll her eyes at all of this. I had to understand these terms that were super isolating, I had to get business cards, I had to know my clients base and network and organize and structure my work. And think about why what I was doing was different and worst of all…prove it!

I thought I was determined, but let me tell you 2014 was a steep learning curve.
 

“professionals have a practice, not a job”

This ‘business stuff’ had to be a part of me. I had to stop calling it ‘business stuff’. I had to stop treating it like a smelly chore of garbage that I’ll take out only when the whole house stinks. I had to be proactive and do what I had to do to get paid!

 

But back to the binders: I actually love them. Except at the end of the month, and then I hate them.

 

let me explain:

 

The binder represents a full business year (usually). The first page is a breakdown of my quarters:           

+ goals
+ gigs
+ income/month
+ total and annual earnings (gross)
+ and they’re colourful and pretty (thanks Jen again!)

A super transparent summary of the moneys made during early years of WFW and how I broke down the quarterly dollars and the corresponding quarterly goals. This would be on the first page inside one of my binders

A super transparent summary of the moneys made during early years of WFW and how I broke down the quarterly dollars and the corresponding quarterly goals. This would be on the first page inside one of my binders

The tabs in the binder are specific months. Each month has a page of goals and on the back are actionable tasks for me to reach those goals…with checkboxes. I don’t know about you but checkboxes are magical empty squares that are crying to be checked off and somehow you simply obey. It’s so gratifying to check it off. Mmmm gratifying checkboxes.

At the end of each month in a plastic sheet is where I dump all my receipts and I add up all the monthly expenses in a spreadsheet (again, another colourful one!) It’s hella basic but it works for me. Never took a single business course (it shows) but I’m doing alright I guess.

 

2015 was the year of activation
— all this business “homework” was turning into results!

 

Quarterly goals weren’t just things I wrote down, they were things that happened, or didn’t happen, or were reassessed. I began to streamline my workshop prep. I developed a comprehensive workflow for each gig (saves sooooo much time). I broke down a critical path and a price for not only each workshop but each admin tasks so I wasn’t undercharging (which meant a new updated price list). Naming the price for admin was also handy when I had not so much time but a little side cash and I hired my mentees to complete the work for me. It was reasonably priced because that’s what I was already paying myself.

Early attempts at banging out a comprehensive price list

Early attempts at banging out a comprehensive price list

One workshop, multiple tasks. I would break down the hours and the rate for each task to come up with a reasonable and VALUABLE price for my services. 

One workshop, multiple tasks. I would break down the hours and the rate for each task to come up with a reasonable and VALUABLE price for my services. 

 

And I developed my first ever
annual report.

— ok, I’ve worked for non-profits who cringe at the idea of compiling their annual report but when it’s YOUR work for YOUR business, good golly I get amped. Plus, look how cute I am on the cover!

The thing is, this document is for me. Buuuuut it also has the potential to be a document for future investors ( I see you our there reading this post, get at me, oxoxox).

 

THIS IS THE A GAME CHANGER

Yes! A lot of business stuff but again, I was already keeping track with a journal. And by this time I’ve been journaling so hard, I need a separate journal (journals plural actually) just for all things WFW related. And it may be geeky but I really like the ability to track my work. Love love love it.

 

In the annual report its, yes, a report. but I can develop dream workshops and predict when is a good time to execute a new project. I can determine if I have enough money to do it (or better still, when I will have enough money to do it).

 

Enter
Writing While Black

Writing While Black: Unapologetic :: Urgent :: Ours

Writing While Black: Unapologetic :: Urgent :: Ours

My initial mind-map for thinking about what a Writing While Black workshop would look like

My initial mind-map for thinking about what a Writing While Black workshop would look like

Writing While Black isn't my only dream workshop. I've actually done the Character Development workshop three times and done the Zine Machine workshop at least five times

Writing While Black isn't my only dream workshop. I've actually done the Character Development workshop three times and done the Zine Machine workshop at least five times

Been journalled about it in February 2013, planned for it in November 2014 and executed it February 2015. That quickly my dream workshop manifested.

And I did it so quickly  because I was able to strategize a good time to launch Writing While Black: when I actually had extra dollars to fund the initiative. There’s more info on Writing While Black here but basically, all that work made this dream manifest, which by the way, is a keystone workshop that sustains and draws more attention to WFW.

 

2016: the leap!
— taking Whitney French Writes on full time.

 

Bye, bye safety net. Hello self-employment. Can’t really think of too many other things that are more self-determined than that.

 

Like I mentioned at the start of the blog post, DO NOT TAKE MY ADVICE. I am not a consultant or expert guru or whatever you call them. But I'm telling you this journalling thing works.

Last year was all about the money. Tracking money, investing money, getting that money, but also saying “no” to money that isn’t worth.  Still reflecting on 2016 and seeing what other valuable lessons came up for me. But money was the main focus for sure.

Moving into 2017, I have no idea where I am going. Which is ironic since I'm supposed to strategic. The plan is set but I have always been a bit flexible with how I get there. I'm looking forward to new growth, new plans and of course new notebooks.

It's an empowering thing to go back to old journals and read the things that I wanted for myself for so long and then ACTUALLY be doing those very things that seemed at a time so unattainable. WFW with the official business registry was activated after a break-up and I wrote this to myself: 

This is my personal testimonial. My story around how the written word and a few Dollarama notebooks helped me launch a business. Obviously, there was so many other things involved, but there is magic in writing down what you want. There is magic in reading it, writing it, revisiting it, believing it.

 

This is the last entry for the SELF DETERMINATION chapter of the "Very Valuable Series".

Be sure to check out previous blog posts (if you haven't already)
 

Releasing Power & Being a Witness to Others Expressing Self-Determination

Swallowing Frogs and Soaking Feet: Frenchie's Monday to Sunday Routine

A "Very Valuable" Series: Musings on Four Values that Permeate My Business


As we transition into Spring and as Whitney French Writes prepares for its next quarter, I'll be blogging about another value that is of great importance to the business and to me as an artist:
 

— creative spirit!

 

See you in April, until then...

Over and out!

 

Releasing Power & Being Witness to Others Expressing Self-Determination

Part of “A Very Valuable Series” — SELF DETERMINATION

 

When I embarked on this blog series I had no idea how personal it would go. I hoped it would, I was ready for it, but I didn’t fully set the intensions to go deep. That’s the thing, we are often told the personal and professional (and even more so…the political) are separate worlds. If you read my past blog posts, I’ve been exploring self-determination as it relates to my business. But as I scribbled “self-determination” on my list of values, I did not noticed the weight of it, the level of commitment to be authentic didn’t hit me right away.
 
In a way, the definition offers guidances, sure, but I struggled (still struggle) to excavate what does it even meet to be self-determined. The best way for me to explore complex ideas and emotions is through storytelling. So here’s are two mini stories will uncover substance and discovery.
 
 (1) Releasing Power: Oh yeah, self-determination means determining my own destiny. Yup, I’m here for that. I have the power to make things happen. Real talk: I was heavily influenced by the boss-lady femmentrpreneurs online who just own their thing. 
 
 They handle business.
 They grind all the time
 & most importantly
 
 they get that money!

Money getting is very important for businesses, apparently.  

Money getting is very important for businesses, apparently.

 

And they rule their own world. They harness power, exude confidence and laught at those who have yet to acquire their own personal power to run their own business (sometimes). Power seems like the key ingredient for success. 
 
As a workshop facilitator, I love the sound of my own voice (true story) — I know, I know, I have the ability to “empower” others and “inspire” a group to write. And this power to bestow power to someone else feeds my insatiable ego. It’s one type of power. The type that I activate as I step into the classroom or community centre or lecture hall has to do with attention. 
 
 All eyes on me. 
 I speak. 
 I run the show.
& most importantly

I get that money!
 
I’ve recently become uncomfortable with the level of comfort I have with wielding this type of power. And especially when working with youth, you can’t be out of control (they’ll eat you alive!) you have to run things. No matter how deep my politic is around decolonizing the classroom, thinking of bell hooks who sees the classroom as a site of violence always — to which I agree — I fall right into that role, I gain power as the facilitator.
 
 
 I’m handling business
 I’m hustling hard
 I’m running things.
 
And there is, despite wanting to “help” or better still “empower” those around me, I recognized the possessive quality my power had. I held so much importance on being a leader. I wanted it. I wanted to hold it. To, most of all, keep it. The more I do this work, the more I’ve come to understand that the role of facilitator is so fluid. Less teacher, more encourager and event if I’ve planned the perfectly executed program, that doesn’t mean I hold all the power.

(2) Recently I had a student say to my face, “I don’t like you.” It was a writing workshop and this new generation artists looked me dead in the eye and said, “I don’t like you,” and began challenging me, my writing, my worth and my qualifications to facilitate.

It was intense and yes, I felt the power draining from me. I was a scared little girl who for a millisecond believed all those doubts — massive imposter syndrome — to be true. So there’s a few things to do in this instance:

(& the first one that came to mind) exert all my power, flex my credentials, challenge right back and make myself BIG!

(& what I actually did) release my power:

“You don’t have to like me. You just have to write. When you’re ready. And I’m here.”

Facilitators inherently have power but are positioned to be flexible enough to de-centre that power, have the option of sharing it. That same student acquired the role of moderator in my same workshop class, allowing them to be ‘in charge’ for a solid thirty minutes of the session and flex their chops. Yes, they were able to exert their personal power.

I released power but I’m not in the habit of doing so. I can admit that. It’s something that takes practice. Like at the beginning of workshops, I have to acknowledge my intensions, recognize that I don’t hold all the knowledge in the room, that there are lessons within the group and each are worthy to be heard.

Releasing power can look like mentorship, it can look like throwing up questions to the group, it can look like allowing an eager (intense) person to take the lead, it can look like simply saying, “You know what, I don’t know.”

 

More mentorship, less Miyagi. Although I am a fan of Miyagi on the real.

More mentorship, less Miyagi. Although I am a fan of Miyagi on the real.

The type of power I so desperately cling to is superficial at best and destructive at worst, and holds no comparison to an inner personal power that’s a lot harder to cultivate, and ultimately take away.

This may be the thing that holds true when thinking about self-determination. Not my own, but being witness to my students “run things” while holding my ground, maintaining confidence, and sharing spaces to speak and impact those around me.

I am deeply convinced that my quest for self-determination is intrisictly linked to this release. Or maybe the femmentrpreneurs got it right and I got it wrong. Either way, I’m going to keep pushing the limits and experiment with that fine balance of facilitating and taking the lead, and opening up space for my students and participants to shine powerfully.