Archive | December 2015

Overhaul of the ESA

I’ve talked about this before, and I am probably a broken record on the topic by now. But this is such an important topic that I can’t help continually bring it up.

Work, that’s important. We spend more than 8 hours of our day doing this thing called Work, and the money we earn from it is what keeps us alive, feeds our families, houses us and clothes us. It also determines our lifestyle, our ability to be happy, and is a enormous factor in our health and therefore the quality and length of our lives.

Steve Jobs Work Quote

I say its more than important, and very worth talking about.

You see, in 2009 I made a huge decision for myself. After working crappy jobs for almost a decade that I hated and paid miserably, I looked at a career change to turn my life around. I knew I wanted to help people, that I was a great communicator and wanted to work for a non-profit. I learned about the Career and Work Counselling Program at George Brown and thought to myself “Hey, what better way to help people than to teach them how to find work. I’ll be supporting them in one of the most important areas of their lives! That’s pretty meaningful. I can do that.”

Even back then I sensed that the world of work was broken in many places. If I was miserable, and faced many barriers to a better life, I was sure others were going through the same thing too. And deep down, I wanted to be a part of fixing that.

Six years later and I have sound knowledge and stats to back up my gut feeling from back then: the employment world is truly broken and I can hold up the X-Rays and point out the multitude of fracture points and explain what causes them. And no shocker, Karl Marx was right all along and this does not bode well for the 1%.

I can write about what’s wrong with the labour market for days, but today I want to focus on one of the fracture points, and this one relates to a problem in our own backyard (lets leave Global Factors for another day): The Employment Standards Act (ESA) right here in Ontario.

So back in 2014, when the Liberal Government was re-elected into Parliament under Premier Wayne, one of the promises in the Throne Speech was to focus on employment, and in response the Minister of Labour, Kevin Flynn (this guy), decided to launch on February 17, 2015, a full public consultation on the ESA under what they called The Changing Workplaces Review.

The purpose of this review was to evaluate the changes to the workplace due to globalization, advances in technology, the surge in new job roles, etc, etc.

 

The Toronto Star has actually been covering this topic and I have been faithfully following along. In fact,   has been running a series on the ESA and how it affects workers in our city (read her work here, here and today’s article here).

What I find most interesting, in fact even laughable, is that we really don’t need to update the Employment Standards Act to reflect today’s times or 2016.

We need to update it to reflect, umm, I dunno, the 1970’s, or the 1920’s.

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Decades later…still relevant!

Here’s a favourite quote from the Employment Standards official government webpage that further illustrates my point:

“If you are employed in Ontario, you are PROBABLY protected by the ESA”.

Probably. As in “maybe”. Oh, also, good luck navigating all the different guides on the website to figure out if you are covered based on the type of employment you have, or what the ESA even covers in terms of protections and all the different exceptions and loopholes that employers use all the time to take advantage of and exploit Ontario Workers.

probably

We are in a wealthy country, we have a huge workforce and companies in Canada profiting billions upon billions every year, yet somehow our employment policies don’t even protect us from being fired without cause, being paid for overtime, allows all workers the rights to unpaid, let alone paid sick leave, all workers access to minimum wage, or even a minimum wage above the poverty level, and the few protections the ESA does boast, it doesn’t even properly enforce.

The worst part is that Ontario’s weak policies actually ruin lives. And I wouldn’t doubt for a second costs our government billions on the social and health spending that are consequences of this.

We complain about all the taxes we pay in Ontario, and how we worry about all the Government spending we do to implement social programs and anti-poverty initiatives, but what if there are actual ways of reducing poverty and improving our economy that doesn’t involve spending a lot of money? What about improving our policies?

living_wage

You see, we’ve made amendments to the ESA before, but during the vast majority of public consultations and recommendations and reports by advocacy groups, we don’t need more amendments, we need a complete overhaul.

Back in March 24th 2013 I wrote “Me as a Number” , a blog post about precarious employment and in it referenced a very popular study conducted by McMaster University, PEPSO and United Way entitled “It’s More than Poverty: Employment Precarity and Household Well-being”.

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To my excitement PEPSO released a new study this year, a follow up to “More than Poverty”, that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on. The new study, “The Precarity Penalty”, focuses on not only the damages precarious employment has on our healthy and on society in general, but also features an in-depth, detailed list of much needed recommendations not only on the Employment Standards act, but for all levels of government, for government agencies and programs and for employers as well.

Another great study that further drives home the need to make significant policy changes is “Still Working on the Edge” by Worker’s Action Centre and Parkdale Community Legal Services in Toronto. This study has a more dedicated focus on the deficiencies of the ESA and has some real, solid recommendations. It was presented during the public consultations this year for The Changing Workplaces Review.

What I wouldn’t have given to have been able to attend those public consultations and listen to all the stories shared. I would have had many to share on my own as I have been hearing examples from friends, family, and most of all clients who have fallen through the cracks left behind by the current ESA.

Here’s a question for my readers: How well do you know your rights as a worker in Ontario?

Who do you think is covered, or not covered by the ESA? What protections do you even have under the ESA?

When your rights as a worker are violated, whats the process to make a complaint?

How does the Ministry of Labour enforce their own laws, and punish employers who break it, what are you entitled to in restitution if you win your case and how does the Ministry of Labour ensure you get compensated?

Walmart_615_330_90

Because here’s what I think: most of you don’t know. 4-5 years ago I didn’t know; I was under the impression that because I lived in Canada I automatically had rights and was protected by the government if anyone tried to treat me unfairly. That 100 years ago, when workers fought their employers for the right to unionize, and all the laws that changed since then, that we had resolved a lot of these issues.

But I was so wrong, and blind, and I bet many Canadians still are. And I’m sorry but we can do so much better.

 

We can implement a living minimum wage above the poverty line. 

We can eliminate exceptions so that all workers no matter the industry have access to the same benefits, whether they are farm labourers, restaurant workers or temporary foreign workers.

We can make sick days mandatory for all workers.

We can protect workers from being fired without cause.

We can make all workers eligible for overtime pay without spreading out the hours over a month.

We can implement harsher penalties for employers who steal wages from their workers, and create a better enforcement unit at the Ministry of Labour so  its easier for workers to make complaints and see their cases resolved sooner.

We can eliminate the loopholes that allow employers to pay different wages or offer different benefits to different employees for the same work.

We can enforce advanced scheduling for jobs that aren’t emergency or essential services, or minimum hours a week for all part time workers.

We can do all of that, and probably a whole lot more. I mean, all of these seem like just basic essentials for a healthy workforce, why is it that hard to implement this?

We work really really hard, I’m pretty sure we deserve it.

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Living a life of non-judgement: unlearning the legacy of poor bashing in Canada with Bif Naked

Animal Voices

Bif Naked, Canadian singer-songwriter, writer and motivational speaker has been quite active in speaking out against poverty.

Partnering with Vancouver Raise the Rates, she recently participated in The Welfare Food Challenge, sun-mth-day01-welfarefood-sqnwhich aims to demonstrate the reality of living on $610 of social assistance a month.

She wanted to get involved to raise awareness about the plight of our poor, to promote understanding, and to educate the public to dispel the myths about welfare and welfare recipients. The idea is to encourage change and to try to get the attention of those with power to make those changes: your provincial government.

Having been on welfare earlier in her life, the reality is that in today’s society, folks on welfare right now in B.C cannot afford shelter. Doing the math, it is impossible to live a healthy life after shelter, transportation, personal hygiene, clothing, household supplies, and bills are paid for…

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For People Raised in Chaos, Risk-Taking (and Law Breaking) is Hardwired

The Thresh

Crime SceneBy Matthew Hutson

Nautilus

Robin Marvel was never supposed to succeed. By the time she was a teenager she’d watched her mother be violently beaten by her father and a number of boyfriends, been sexually assaulted herself, moved haphazardly around the country, become an alcoholic, and gotten pregnant by her boyfriend.

“There was never any stability at all,” Marvel says of her life with her mother. “I was always homeless, we were always being evicted or moving, the lights would be off for weeks. We would get kicked out of domestic violence shelters because she would break the rules.”

Sometimes Marvel would come home to find cocaine and mounds of marijuana on the table. “My mom was extremely unstable. She would just wake us up in the middle of the night and say ‘We’re moving to Michigan.’ Then the same thing would happen in Michigan—we’d just move back. I missed…

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The elusive University Education

 

graduation cap

You know, I spent most of my twenties not knowing what I wanted to do, or having a general idea but not knowing how to get there. I also didn’t have the right resources, not just financially but socially or mentally.

I wanted to go to University. Since I was a little girl. My parents were uneducated and struggled with poverty. They were raised to make money with their bodies by working hard labour, not use their brains, but because they started really hard labour at the age of 12/13, as adults their bodies were breaking down. They couldn’t work anymore, struggled to pay the bills.

My dad lost the use of his left arm after a bad car accident, yet still worked construction with his bad arm just to get by. My mom had a bad back that would leave her paralyzed in pain for days. She took up a sales job when my dad had his car accident, but the stress of the job and her struggles with a debilitating depression led her to give up that job too.

This was my childhood. It was stressful, I had to live with parents who were stressed out, constantly had problems they didn’t know how to solve, and mother with a mental illness.

As a child you don’t understand “my mom is sick”. What you understand is that my mom hates me, yells at me, calls me names, and hits me. And that coming home is a nightmare everyday.

School was the one thing I was good at, and it was my one hope to get out of my hopeless situation.

I remember in elementary school telling my best friend that I had every plan to go to university right out of high school, because I wanted to be somebody. I wanted to not have to worry money, like my parents did all the time. Yet here I am, at the age of 30, and I have yet to step into a University as a student to this day.

How did that happen?

My parents dragged me from my home in Toronto to Portugal to live at the age of 15. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to leave the house I grew up in that they put up for sale. I didn’t want to have to start over in a new country. But I was 15, and had no freedom. I had to do what they said.

My brother, on the other hand, was 19, and told my parents point blank that he wasn’t going. So my parents still went, leaving him behind. At 19, to fend for himself alone. That’s something my brother has resented for a long time.

On the other hand, I started my new life in Portugal and ended up falling in love with it. I decided to take art in high school there and it led me down an amazing path of creativity and learning. I made amazing friends.

I wanted to study art, go to a Portuguese University, worked hard to get my grades high enough to get into the best Art School in the country (succeeding mind you). But my family problems once again got in the way. Those three years I was living in Portugal, we spent half of the time separated from my dad. He kept going back to be with my brother half the year. My mom’s depression got worse because the family was split up.

By the time I was graduating high school in Portugal, my mom was planning to move back to Canada. I begged them to let me stay behind so I could go to University in there. Begged. They said no. They didn’t have the money to send me to school. And I wasn’t “mature” enough to be on my own.

Nine days after my exam marks and final grades were posted, boasting a really high grade point average needed to get into my University of choice, I was on a plane back to Canada.

Suddenly I was 18, told I had to look for a job, and I had no idea how to even apply to University or how anything even worked in the city.

I was a passionate drawer in Portugal, I had a sketch book and was always drawing, writing stories. Moving back to Canada was so traumatizing for me that that part of me just died. I never drew much again.

I was 18, with no work experience, no education, no direction in life, and I lost the passion and drive for the one thing I wanted to do. So I spent most of my twenties struggling through part time, crappy jobs I hated that paid little money and were never permanent.

I’ve been working for 12 years in Canada, to this day I have never stayed at one company for 2 years.

At one of my part time jobs someone told me about a College transfer course that would help me get into University. I applied to Humber College and started in 2006. But things at home were so bad, I never finished the program.

I remember receiving my conditional acceptance letter to York U in the mail, and I threw it out, because I was already failing my classes and knew I wasn’t going to finish. That was so hard to do, throwing out that letter.

I wanted to find a full time job so bad because I hated being at home, living with my parents, and I just wanted to move out so much. Again, no skills, no post secondary education, I bounced around more jobs. I just wanted to get ahead, get a stable job that could pay my rent.

I never found that job.

Of course the recession in 2008 hit, and I kept getting laid off all the time. I considered school again, but I knew I could never go back to school for 4 years, to a University, taking out a meager OSAP loan that wouldn’t be enough to live off of so I would need to get a part time job to supplement my income.

Working and studying full time and living in a toxic home environment, I knew it wasn’t going to work. I was struggling with being overweight, I was depressed, and was just diagnosed with Diabetes and my medications alone each month was a huge expense. I couldn’t stand to live like that for 4 years, having to depend on my parents while hating them. I doubt my brain would have functioned enough to do assignments or pay attention in school.

I watched friends struggle to work and go to University Part time, doing all-nighters and dealing with that stress. I already noticed in college I was struggling with concentration and completing assignments. I knew it would be impossible. So I chose a 2 year college course instead, hoping it would get me somewhere.

I hated my corporate, retail jobs so much, they went against all my moral values, and I wanted to have a job I could be proud of, that I loved. I didn’t want a job that would make me sicker.

By the time I started my course at George Brown in 2010, I was struggling with clinical depression that I couldn’t shake. I started taking anti-depressants. I still had a retail job to supplement my OSAP loan while in college. I still lived at home with my parents. It was a 2 year course.

I only got my diploma a few months ago, in 2015. What happened?

While I was in school again my life did two things. It started coming together, but it also completely fell apart, at the same time. My group of friends I held in my twenties, the ones I escaped to so as not to be at home with my parents, those relationships got really toxic. I watched someone die slowly of cancer. My job investigated me for fraud (which was committed under my account by someone else) and then fired me. I missed so many classes from my depression I failed a whole semester. This all happened in ONE month, by the way. I had a meltdown, one that took months to recover from. I continued with the program, barely passing, but I didn’t get to graduate with my colleagues. That was really hard on me. I had to return the following summer to re-do the semester I failed. And it took me until early this year to complete some final minor courses.

For me, I realized, I need to take things really slow. I cannot take on too much at once. University life is structured in a way that forces you to cram your life filled with assignments, classes, part time jobs, go go go go and be able to function under time constraint and pressure. My mental health won’t allow me to do that. I would love to go back to school, get my bachelor’s degree part time. But guess what, OSAP loans are only for Full time programs, and I can’t afford to take it part time.

I’m finding it really hard to find jobs with my college diploma. My contract at work is ending in January 2016 and I’m being replaced for someone with more credentials. I know I sound like I am ranting about all the negative in my life, and going on about “I can’t this” “I can’t that”. I know my limitations and I know what I can sacrifice. But I also know how much I can accomplish when I do go at my own pace.

Everything happens for a reason, and everything happens at the right time. When I started College again in 2010 it was a trans-formative time for me. Like I said, not only did my life crumble around me but it also set itself in place too. I found a new purpose.

When I got fired from my retail job I took an oath to never work another crappy corporate retail job ever again no matter how badly I needed to pay the bills. I spent some time on welfare just to get by while I looked for a job that wouldn’t damage my mental health or hurt my soul. I’ve been working in non-profit ever since.

I want a career, and I want one that involves helping people. I’m passionate about social inequality, poverty, mental health, because I’ve lived all these problems. Because I personally know that having a mental illness gives you so many barriers to being able to have a normal life. A financial stable life. Because society is only designed to benefit those people who have no problems at all.

University programs aren’t designed to accommodate for those with mental health issues, social barriers, disabilities. Yet how else are we suppose to get ahead and build a life for ourselves?

If I can, I want to be able to bring about change. I want to help other people like myself that they too are entitled to dignity, to jobs they love, to having a meaningful life.

I am 30 years old, and the one thing I want the most is a Bachelor’s in Social Work (BSW). At this point in my life, if I’m going to get that, it may mean giving up the chance to ever have children.

Family or a University Degree, I want both soooooo badly, but my biological clock is ticking. I refuse to have a family without having the financial stability to raise them. I don’t want my kids to have to experience or go through what I did. But achieving that means going back to school. By the time I achieve my goal it might be too late to have children.

Ryerson Photo.jpeg

That all being said, yesterday I sent out my application for the BSW program at Ryerson for Fall of 2016. If I find a decent job by then, I can attend the advanced placement part time program and get my degree in 2-3 years. If I’m not working full time, they have a full-time 3 year advanced program. And Ryerson is known for its anti-oppression perspective on Social Work. That’s if I get into the program (fingers crossed).

So I think back to that 13 year old, standing in line after recess, talking to my best friend about my intentions of getting a University Degree. That elusive piece of paper, ridiculously expensive piece of paper that will hopefully open up more doors for me.

Again, fingers crossed.

“I am one of the 1 in 4”

 

Ruby Wax

Some years ago, during one of the many long weekend afternoons of binge watching TED talks, I came across this talk by Ruby Wax, an American/naturalized British actress and comedian, where she talks about mental illness.

She starts off her talk by saying “1 in 4 people suffer from some sort of mental illness.” She then counts off the first 4 people she sees in the front row, then jokingly points to the one in the middle and says “Its you sir. Yeah, you.”

She’s funny and insightful, and quite worth the watch:

After doing a little bit of reading on her, turns out she’s more than just a comedian, she knows her stuff. She majored in Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, earned a postgraduate certificate in psychotherapy and counselling from Regent’s College in London, and a master’s degree in mindfulness based cognitive therapy from Oxford University.

She also has lived experience with Mental Illness. She says it herself: “I am one of the 1 in 4.” She has been very open about her struggle with Depression and has worked with many mental health charities, and was awarded an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her work.

It’s safe to say I truly admired her after watching that video. Not just her aloofness when talking about her mental illness, but the fact that she had the courage to stand up in front of an international audience and even talk about it. Thanks to the stigma attached to mental illness, disclosing you even have one can cause a lot of barriers for a person. You loose friends, create problems in your professional life, alienate people. Ruby talks about that shame.

A particular quote in the video above really brings it home for me:

“I took to my bed for a month and when I woke up I found out I was institutionalized.When I saw the other inmates I realized I had found my people, my tribe, because they became my only friends. Very few people that I knew…well, I wasn’t sent a lot cards or flowers. I mean, if I had a broken leg or I was with child I would have been inundated. But all I got were a couple of phone calls telling me to perk up.

Perk up. Because I didn’t think of that.”

The challenge of having a mental illness is that it is very hard to understand what it is like unless you have lived experience, and even then its difficult. That lack of understanding makes it very hard to get rid of that stigma. People make generalizations, create stereotypes and constantly misjudge due to this ignorance.

Anyone is susceptible to it. I’ve met staunch mental health supporters and advocates who have still gotten it wrong and made statements so erroneous they made me cringe. And I’m no expert either.

But what many mental health advocates  know  is that the best way to fight the stigma is to be open about mental health, to talk about it. The more people willing to share their experiences, willing to tell their stories, willing to open up and talk to the public despite all their fears, the better chance there is of seeing some change.

And we need change, because despite the fact that 1 in 4 people will suffer from a mental illness, we don’t have the resources or social supports to help them. And society is not designed to accommodate those 1 in 4. In fact, there exists nothing but barriers that make people with mental health issues struggle just to live normal healthy lives.

I work as an Intake Worker for a Community Health Centre. We have a primary care model that goes far beyond just having a family doctor, we have a whole team of specialists and a holistic approach to health care. We don’t just treat illnesses, we treat the social problems that cause and aggravate them. We have Social Workers who provide counselling, and Community Health Workers who connect clients with social supports around income stability, housing, child care, legal issues, immigration, you name it.

I manage the wait lists for these services, and I can say there is a huge demand for support around mental health. We currently have 3 Social Workers at our centre but they are so busy and swamped with clients who need counselling that their wait list got to almost 2 years in length. We had to actually close our wait list. For every client who calls desperately looking for help dealing with their Mental Illness, it was my job as the Intake Worker to turn them away, and direct them to other services elsewhere. And it is not an easy job, because the reality is that I don’t really have that many options to give them. We aren’t the only agency with a long wait list. And it breaks my heart to turn these clients away.

Most people I talk to don’t even know how bad it is to get help for a mental illness. When go to the hospital for surgery, or for a broken leg, a hospital won’t discharge you unless they know that you have the supports in place at home or follow up care set up with other professionals ensure you don’t need to come back. If you need wound care, they connect with Community Care Assess Centre and a nurse comes and visits your home.

For someone who gets hospitalized for a mental health crisis, for example someone who survives a suicide, they get sent home with a list of organizations they can call to get counselling. And every single one isn’t taking on clients for at least a year, if at all. Imagine being sent home with an open wound from surgery, and being told a nurse will only be made available to change the bandages a year from now.

How do I know that this happens? Because I’ve talked to suicide survivors recently let go from the hospital. And had to turn them away.

Also, from all the advertising  that CAMH does, you’d think that they provide amazing care. Yet most clients I’ve talked to that have been to CAMH don’t have very many good things to say about it.

Another thing most Ontarians don’t know is that under OHIP, counselling isn’t covered. You can wait a year to be placed with a Psychiatrist if you are lucky, but all they do is prescribe you medications and meet with you on a regular basis. They don’t provide Psychotherapy really, or any alternative treatment other than meds. They just let you talk and they monitor whether you are doing fine or not to adjust your medication. Non-profits offer counselling for free, but you need to be “eligible” and there are so many wait lists. You can meet with a Social Worker or Psychologist sooner, if you can afford a private one, but its very expensive.

We need change and our Government doesn’t do much more than just talk about it. We aren’t seeing any extra significant contributions at all.

But I have to admit that a part of me has felt like a bit of a hypocrite all this time. For all the attention and passion I have shared for issues around mental health, there is one thing I could do that I have been afraid to do all this time. I’ve been living in the proverbial mental health closet. And I think it’s about time I step out.

You see, I too suffer from a hereditary mental illness. Most of my life I have struggled with Clinical Depression myself.

I too am one of the 1 in 4.

 

Blogger, take two!

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When I was 11 years old I came to a realization: I wanted to be a writer.

I have always been passionate about stories for as long as I could remember. I used to read fiction under the covers with a flashlight late into the night so my parents wouldn’t catch on that I wasn’t sleeping. Instead of doing chores on Saturday mornings, I would hide in my room and turn on the vacuum while I stole the chance to read a chapter or two of my book. My parents had a rule of no TV during lunch break from school (I lived in front of my school building which meant I walked home for lunch the whole time I was in elementary school).  When I was done eating, I used to go to the washroom in the basement, and tip toe to the TV in the den to turn it on low volume, just so I  could catch my favourite cartoon before I could go back to class.

By the time I was a young preteen, I had my own stories I wanted to put to paper. I would make up worlds, and characters, and plots. I sat and wrote scenes of my stories and shared them with friends. My favourite lunch hour cartoon? It was Sailor Moon, and I was so obsessed with that show I started to draw the characters on any scrap of paper I could find. Adults started noticing, and encouraged me to get into the Arts. So when I started high school, that’s exactly what I did.

I’m now 30 years old and I have “attempted” to be a writer hundreds of times. I came up with a million different excuses: I lack life experience to be able to write anything of value, I have too many incomplete story lines in my head and can’t choose one to start writing, I don’t have the time because I need to work to get myself out of poverty and have some independence and financial stability, I lack the discipline to be able to commit to writing, and on and on I kept making excuses. I have chapters of stories I have started sitting on flash drives that I haven’t touched in years. The biggest excuse I have used is that I just didn’t feel ready.

I have always been complemented on my gift for the written word. Teachers have praised my writing abilities and even used my essays as examples to share with other students. I know I can write, and I know that I’m adequately good at it. Lately, I’ve been having a lot of people compliment my writing, and ask me why I didn’t have a Blog.

Well, I did (read below) but like any other writing project, I never continued it. I stopped writing two years ago when my job switched to full time. But that urge to express myself never went away, and I haven’t really exercised that urge it the  most healthy or positive of ways.

I’ve focused my growth in other areas. 2015 has been about advancing my learning and improving my health. I’ve been taking steps to address my Diabetes as I’d never been able to successfully lower my blood sugar. Having extra income from finally working a full time decent job I decided to take a course that has been on my wish list. I’m taking Life Skills Coaching to further develop my facilitation skills. This while living on my own, spending time with my significant other on weekends, working Full Time, and I even did a bit of traveling.

My year is coming to an end, and suddenly, so is my job. My contract expires December 31st, and I’m told it’s not being renewed.

So I’m not only faced with no job, limited income, uncertain future for the New Year, but most notably, a whole lot of free time.

So the I’ve been revisiting the idea of blogging again.

I want to write stories. But I’m no longer a child who wants to escape into a fantasy land and write about heroes and villains and overcoming obstacles, learning magic and sword fighting and slaying dragons.

Wait, that actually sounds like a lot of fun, so I take that back, one day I may write about that.

But there is a new type of story I want to write. Everyday in my profession, in my life, I come across real heroes who’ve faced obstacles in life and whose stories are just as interesting, complex, and ultimately just as if not more beautiful that what you read in a story book.

Those stories are what I really want to write about.

So here’s to my being a blogger, take two!

action take two