This question has circled in my head more often than in my 20s, as I think about - morbidly, perhaps - my death, what I'll leave behind. More often than not, I'm so damn proud of what I've accomplished in my 37 years, such as creating Toronto Poetry Slam with my TPP collective, reaching millions of readers with my journalism, being there for friends and my family.
Sure, doubts linger and regrets surface but I try to stiff-arm those voices.
I think it's a worthwhile exercise to think about what you're doing now and what you'll be known for when you've left this world. Did you work your 9to5 too hard to miss out on fun, passion, laughter? Did you spend too much time on hedonism you didn't nourish your spirit with more fulfilling pursuits? Did you eat enough cheesecake?
I'm always curious what other people find important in their lives. So tell me...how do you want to be remembered? Hit me up on Twitter.
So I'm writing this from my hotel room at my 13th Canadian Festival of Spoken Word, a national poetry slam tournament celebrating spoken word and poetry competitions with nightly bouts and showcases and daytime performances/workshops. It's often the week I look forward to most on any given year, since it's provided me with such an energizing reunion of the many friends I've made coast to coast.
Rather than rap poetic about what makes CFSW so awesome in general, I wanted to take you all on a trip to the many festivals I've attended, and for each fest/year I'll note what stood out to me most. It might be related to the poetry on the stage or something off-stage, unrelated to the bouts or showcases. For those who haven't been to many CFSWs, this post will also provide some history and context on how spoken word has evolved over the year.
Let's begin where it all began...
CFSW, er, Wordlympics 2004 in Ottawa
Fun fact: CFSW was fist dubbed Wordlympics before those Olympics big-wigs got wind of our tournament and forced us to change the name before the fest headed to Vancouver, in light of the 2010 Olympics coming to B.C.
What is imprinted in my mind is a very special moment of comaraderie in 2004: On a Friday afternoon, poets were invited to do some guerilla poetry in Ottawa and at the Rideau Centre, a mall that wasn't too busy that day. Poets from all over were rocking poems in the mall and we defiinitely stood out from the tired-looking shoppers dragging their Zellers bags (yep, Zellers was around then). When Toronto poet Leviathan stood up on a food court table, things took a turn for the ugly: security guards claimed he was waving around his water bottle in a menacing way, and proceeded to forcibly place him on the ground, handcuffs and all. Police were called. He was charged with causing a disturbance, if memory serves me right. Thing is, he was doing a poem about water! Krikey. And oh yeah, he was the only black poet performing in the food court at the time. To quote David Delisca...suspicious!
What happened next was remarkable: When Leviathan got released from the clutches of those overzealous cops, he came back to the main venue to announce he got a $200 ticket. Immediately, and I mean IMMEDIATELY, our scene stepped up and everyone came up to Levi to give him whatever money we all had, from loonies to $10 bills. Within five minutes, he had the cash for this bogus and racist fine and I saw him get verklempt and start to tear up. And it was then, so early in CFSW's life, that I realized the points are truly not the point...the poets are the point.
CFSW 2005 in Vancouver
There was one performance everyone who went to CFSW '05 will never forget: the late poet Steve Sauve, repping Ottawa, debuted to the national scene his piece "Heart" about his near-death experience and living every day to its fullest. When Steve left us in 2009, it's that poem that I always associate with Steve, and it's that poem that resonates big when I think of those early years of CFSW. Forget the scores he got; we all stood up and applauded the potency of his words, the conviction of his voice. It was just...wow.
CFSW 2006 in Toronto
I have a personal link to tihs festival of course, since this was the first time I and my Toronto Poetry Slam crew organized a national fest. A huge learning curve, sure, but it really was a magical experience. It was also the first time I collaborated with the godfather of spoken word in Toronto, Dwayne Morgan, and I think we did a kickass job in making the fest run so smoothly. What really struck me as holy-spit was seeing our Poets of Honour on the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts stage: Shane Koyczan and Lillian Allen. Yeah, they're kind of a big deal. Both of these gurus have inspired countless poets then and thereafter, and being able to see such powerhouse voices displaying their talents was truly unlike anything I had witnessed live.
CFSW 2007 in Halifax
The Word Iz Bond crew pulled off a slick festival, with some innovative additions to the daytime programming such as a poetry challenge combining spoken word artists, musicians and visual art on display at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. But what really stuck with me was the afterparty dance funnery. I believe it was the first time we had such a dance-heavy afterparty, and to see Eddy da Original One cuttin it up next to Krystle Mullin next to Tomy Bewick next to Shauntay Grant next to Iz...that's a different side of community that comes out when the lights dim and the bass gets pumpin. The competition is long forgotten. What matters is the sweat of dancing, the high-fives, the hugs, the feeling of "Oh fuck, I don't want this festival to end just yet!"
CFSW Calgary in 2008
Calgary saw a lot of firsts for CFSW: the first time Lanark County competed at the tournament, the first time a Last Chance Team had to be formed. But in my mind, I saw another first, although it was slowly dripping into the fest: strongly-written and performed humour pieces. I'm thinking of Up from the Roots' team piece about two sperm cells battling it out, courtesy Tomy Bewick and Dwayne Morgan. I also remember great pieces from Halifax, TPS, Victoria. And I think some of the most memorable poems to me are ones that expertly blend humour with politics, a rare feat for even the most seasoned poetry teams.
CFSW Victoria in 2009
Another legend of spoken word left this mortal coil a few years ago, and in 2009 I was introduced to him in all his poetic glory: Zaccheus Jackson made the last-chance team with Truth Is, Magpie Ulysses and Made Wade, and it remains to me one of the most fun wild-card teams ever formed at CFSW. They all had such range in their voices and styles, and you can tell they got along so well as friends...the positivity just shone from their presence on and off stage. Zac especially moved me with several of his poems, and I'm honoured to have known him for as long as I did. RIP, buddy.
Also: CFSW '09 will always be the Year of the Recipe. Team pieces always elevated champ teams above others, but there was something special about this team of Ian, Komi, Ikenna, Brandon and Rusty. The team pieces were next-level sharp and on-point, in both the writing and execution. I hosted Finals night so I can say with confidence the energy on stage after their team poems was thunderous. Unreal. And it's been dope to see how each of these artists have progressed since the Recipe was formed in '10.
CFSW Ottawa in 2010
For slam nerds like me, it's been interesting to see cities make runs over a few years, like Vancouver winning 3 in a row to begin the CFSW era of spoken word. In 09 and 10 it was all about Ottawa, with poets like Ian Keteku, Prufrock, Chris Tse and many more turning heads across the country. CFSW '10 gave us one heckuva championship team as Ottawa took home win #2 in as many years: Prufrock, Chris Tse, John Akpata, Ikenna and Brandon Wint. I've seen how those amazing poets, including the big voices coming out of UL, influenced many voices just starting out in the Cap Slam or UL scenes.
CFSW Toronto in 2011
When I was at the U.S. National Poetry Slam in Boston in Aug. '11 my buddy Lishai Peel joined the TPS Team there, and we checked out their Underground Indies competition. Soon after that late-night event, Lishai turned to me and said, "We have to do this in Canada. And I'll run it." And so she did, and Undies was born in at CFSW Toronto, at the back-alley venue Cinecyle. You could tell the poets were jonesing for this type of event: poems performed without scorecards but applause, no mic no sound system, just raw words and $1000 on the line. Respect to Lishai for taking on Undies that year and creating the backbone for an annual tradition unlike anything else at CFSW.
CFSW Saskatoon in 2012
I've spoken a lot about the poets and poetry in the above CFSWs, but rest assured this one will be dedicated to some bricks n' mortar love: first, the hotel chosen by Charles Hamilton and co. was truly standout, thanks to the water-slides (!) in the hotel pool. I think I spent more time on those water slides than I did as a kid hittin up Wild Water Kingdom. Then there was the venue Lydia's, now closed alas, that proved how poetry venues can make or break a tournament. To have two floors of prelims going down at the same time made everything easier for both poets and the audience. And correct me if I'm wrong, but I felt like this CFSW went off without a hitch, with everything running clear and bright, all 10s, no splash.
CFSW Montreal in 2013
This CFSW remains a close one to my heart for one main self-serving reason: it was the first time TPS won CFSW. And a first on other levels: it was the first win for coach Ian Keteku, and the first win for long-time TPS Team member David Delisca. I know how hard all the poets worked, and I was on perma smile all month afterward as the kudos kept coming for the winning poets David, Optimus Rhyme, IF, Kliggy and Philosofly.
CFSW Victoria in 2014
From the amazing poets of honour Moe Clark and Ikenna to the invigorating workshops to U.S. poets like Regie Cabico bringing their good vibes to the fest as performers, CFSW Victoria had it all. What I noticed, though, and which I haven't mentioned previously, is how lovely rehearsal spaces can be in the right city. The TPS Team rehearsed many times around the coastal areas of Victoria, with sparkling water as our backdrop. I encourage all poetry teams to get out of your hotel rooms and practice your pieces outside, weather permitting. A different kind of energy invigorates poets when they are outside, allowing the public to see (and sometimes comment) on the poems that will soon be in front of hundreds of people's eyes. Just watch out for those barking dogs interrupting a key line.
CFSW Saskatoon in 2015
The only CFSW I've missed! So I can't say much about this one but I did appreciate the livestreaming of Finals, something I'd love to see happen at every CFSW. But as a former AD, I know how many balls the organizing committee is juggling and how difficult it might be to get videography from the back-burner to the front-burner.
CFSW Winnipeg in 2016
This festival had many many new voices, especially younger voices, which is something I always dig seeing. But what really stood out to me was the first time our community has ever played some basketball! Thanks to Brad and Holly, we all got together one afternoon at the YMCA and balled hard...so hard, some of us got fouled like we were in an NBA Finals Game 7. Balling together also brought us together as a national scene, something I've seen in the U.S. when they play softball at their annual NPS. Let's hope we can get this to be an annual tradition!
I've shared my memorable moments of CFSWs through the year...what are yours? Comment below or let me know on Twitter via @SilverbergDave
Organizing your business life as a freelancer can get heady. To best account for the many moving pieces as a writer and hustler means being smart about how you record everything you do.
Primarily, I’ll focus on pitch count in this post. While it’s a baseball term, related to balls or strikes thrown by the pitcher, I’m using pitch count here to refer to the pitches you send to editors/prospective clients. To paraphrase Glengarry Glen Ross, always be pitching! It’s a tactic I’ve practiced for the past 18 months and with great success: half of my pitches get greenlit.
But I wouldn’t stay on top of those pitches, and the requisite follow-ups, if I didn’t make a database of all those pitches. Step one was formatting a Google Doc spreadsheet to list the outlet, editor’s name, editor’s email, pitch description and a field for accepted or rejected. It’s as simple as that.
For every pitch I sent, I filled in that data so I can stay on top of pitches that go unanswered. If I haven’t heard from an editor in two weeks, I usually follow-up with a two-sentence email to inquire whether or not they liked my query. Otherwise, without that database, the pitch would float into the ether, likely forgotten by a brain occupied with new ideas and assignments.
If my pitch count is particularly heavy in one week, I might ease up on another week, seeing how I can get the chunkiest ideas to send to editors of, say, outlets I’ve always wanted to work with at some point. If my pitch count is filled with more rejections than acceptances, I’ll try to figure out why, and glean any trends in the types of pitching I’m sending to editors.
If you freelance in an industry that doesn’t require the kind of pitching I’m illustrating here as a journo, then make a spreadsheet of your clients, assigned projects, pay, key details, etc. I’m sure this idea of pitch count recording can be applied to any ‘lancer with a slew of projects and ideas on the go.
For other advice on freelancing, read this blog post on making an hourly schedule.
A few months ago I was grabbing dinner with my friend and former /newsrooms colleague Dan Hebert when we got talking about downtime. Dan told me something I rarely hear, "When I'm lying on a beach, on vacation, I just lay back and think." I interrupted, "Wait, you mean you don't listen to music, podcasts, or read, or play on your phone?" He replied "No, I just think. About stuff. About strategies for work [he's in marketing]. About anything really."
I shouldn't have been as amazed as I was. After all, we all let thoughts run rampant in our head. Yet I was still surprised by Dan's thought-sessions because I rarely visit my mind palace when I'm walking around downtown, on the subway, waiting in line. I'm usually checking Twitter or Insta, listening to podcasts, bumping to Kendrick.
So I shifted my entertainment habits. No, I haven't given up Spotify or my fave podcasts. But I'm finding more time to simply think when I'm walking to my work-sharing space. It's already proved a valuable decision: three days, while walking headphone-less to my gym, I thought of a great way to sharpen a grant I'll be applying for soon. Would I have come up with that idea another time? Maybe. Maybe not.
See, when I listen to music, I really like to listen to the tracks. I spot some creative layers in songs I may have missed the first few times around. The same with podcasts: they provide some fantastic mental nourishment when I want to bone up on history, politics, culture, etc. My mind is focused on what I'm listening to and I'm not giving myself the space to wander in a forest of idea and pitch a tent to find something worthwhile.
I'll challenge you to put down the phone, take out the earbuds and just let your brain do its thing. You'll be enamoured with what you'll dream up.
One of the most toxic feelings that can blunt your emotional well-being is regret. I've been afflicted with regretful thoughts, which I've worked hard to push from the front-burner of my brain.
Regrets do nothing but fill you with negative emotions. You took a certain path and that's that; you can't go back and change history. You might think regrets can teach you how to not make the same mistake twice, but who knows if going down that other fork in the road would have lead to success or happiness? That's a prediction no one can confidently make.
Instead of letting regretful anxiety run rampant, appreciate all you've accomplished so far. Isolate what has made you happy in all aspects of your life. That kind of exercise will do much more for your emotional health than wondering what could've or should've happened years ago.
At the annual Canadian Festival of Spoken Word, I often like hosting shows or events that will get poets thinking differently about the art form, or just plan having fun after bouting for hours.
This year, I pitched a unique idea to the Peterborough team running this year's fest, taking place Oct 23 to 29, and they luckily accepted it. And that idea is SLAMILY FEUD!
Picture the game show Family Feud but tailored to poets and slam poets, with questions focused on poet behaviour. Everything remains the same from the show, including the Fast Money Round. We'll be surveying poets in the next three weeks.
I'm stoked to have on the programming team the programming talents of Brent Peers aka Same Difference and the hosting skills of Britta B.
It all goes down Oct. 26 at The Spill Cafe in Peterborough at 11:30 pm. I know, kind of late, but all the fun stuff happens after 11, right?
Thing is, we need families to compete and by families/teams we mean you. Anyone can compete as a team or solo (we'll mix solo registrants with each other to form a team) as long as you know you'll be in Peterborough on that date.
This is going to be unlike anything that's gone down at CFSW and I can't wait to bring this to Peterborough. I hope you'll join us, poetry lover!
The registration form is below:
The number isn't massively jaw-dropping but it's a big deal for me. I'm a dude who loves his food, from sweets to greasy diner goodness, and my relationship with late-night snacking has taken a toll on my body since my 20s.
But this year I was determined to be healthier. I lost 15 pounds in 2017 thanks to, in part, to eating better, exercising more, using my slow-cooker more and, most importantly, embarking on a freelance career.
How did I do it? Here's what I discovered:
I'm always open to hearing how other people have lost weight or lead healthy lifestyles. Let me know in the comments below or via Twitter @SilverbergDave
On my to-do list this summer was a one-liner: "Go to Montreal for a long weekend."
Since I freelance, I can make my own weekends long, whenever I don't have deadlines hovering over me. Last week I did just that and went to Montreal for five days, a city I haven't visited for four years. I was so due to get outta dodge, to treat myself to a vacay.
I sometimes get stressed I don't go on more trips overseas, as I did with a European sojourn three years ago. I enjoy travelling but I can't overdue it for financial reasons. So I often wonder if I had a more secure line of work if I would be able to experience what so many of my friends enjoy when they check out South America, Asia, Africa.
Thing is, I love the mini vacation life too. Going to Montreal was such a refreshing trip I came back with a smile plastered on my face. I soaked up the art scene, visited friends I haven't seen in a minute, saw another poet friend perform at a fantastic fundraiser for a native women's shelter. And I ate well. Very well (tip: Treat yourself to a lavish dinner at the fine-dining resto La Chronique on Rue Laurier).
I'm now not going to beat myself up over the gap between my big vacations. Instead, I'm going to value the little weekenders that take me away from Toronto and everyday responsibilities. I recommend you do th same if you haven't yet: you'll be awash in a glow that will nourish you long after your plane's wheels touch down on the runway.
With the school year beginning soon, I wanted to share with you my reflections on what I found most valuable during my four years at Ryerson for journalism.
First, I never thought I'd get into that school. My high school average wasn't remarkable and I heard around 10 percent of applicants to Rye High's J-school program got in. But thanks to an article I got published in The Toronto Star, I made it into the hallowed halls of Ryerson and I was all smiles that first day.
One of the main lessons I took from getting accepted into such an exclusive program is not to waste the opportunity. I rarely skipped classes (even the dreaded Media Law) and I dove into unfamiliar territory such as radio and TV production. I didn't want to get myopic and only pour my energy into print journalism; I wanted to see how my talent could extend beyond my comfort zone.
Related to the above, another key thing I learned is identifying your skills after you've dabbled in various platforms. I knew radio and TV wasn't for me; writing was my first passion, even before I came to J-school, and I doubled down on that bet. I took more magazine courses, freelanced for student papers and mainstream outlets, and read all I could about writing, journalism in Canada, pitching editors, etc.
What I also found valuable at Ryerson were my friendships, some of which still continue today, and some which shifted into more business relationships. The latter has proven extremely valuable thanks to the freelancing gigs I've landed with editors who were once my Ryerson mates. Admittedly, I'm not the most extroverted dude but I'm social enough to be friendly will all kinds of folks, and I kept updated on where my former Ryerson colleagues landed post-graduation.
Finally, when I worked at The Ryersonian newspaper the final year of the program, I found valuable the group dynamic of making something happen out of nothing. I had to assign articles, edit other sections' features, and collaborate with my colleagues on headlines, visuals, marketing. It was an excellent prep for my later work as editor of Digital Journal and artistic director of Toronto Poetry Slam. Working with teams isn't easy from the beginning; it takes open mindedness, strong listening skills, confidence and high-octane time management. And Ryerson gave me that in heaping portions.
A debate continues to rage in Canadian media on the value of journalism school and whether today's journalists need such a formal education. Learn from experience, not from professors, the argument goes. But I'll counter that position by stressing how my profs and classmates inspired me every week. Without guidance on what works as a lede, for example, I'd be making many more errors as I went (which some find crucial while I find it frustrating).
I'm curious what your education means to you. Let me know below or hit me up via Twitter @SilverbergDave
Contrary to popular opinion, if you think positively, you might actually be doing yourself more harm than good.
According to research from Gabriele Oettingen, a professor of psychology at New York University, the more we think positively, the less we actually achieve. Why? "Positive thinking impedes performance because it relaxes us and drains the energy we need to take action," Oettingen says in Aeon.
She goes on to explain: "Such relaxation occurs because positive fantasies fool our minds into thinking that we’ve already achieved our goals – what psychologists call ‘mental attainment’. We achieve our goals virtually and thus feel less need to take action in the real world."
I can relate. With my current poetry project, a book I'm aiming to complete by December, I envision all the good things that come from a published book - the launch, the touring, even how I'd design the cover. I'm proud of a few of the poems I've written so far, but I can feel myself relax too easily. These days, I feel like I'm behind on tackling the bulk of the work, and I can see how my positive thinking may have had that affect on me.
Instead, what I should be doing, what we all should be doing, is mental contrasting. Oettingen explains it like this: "Combining positive fantasies with thoughts about the realities in their path might do the trick. If we could ground positive fantasies in reality, perhaps we could negate the soothing, lulling quality of these fantasies and stir people to action."
This type of thinking primes us to tackle challenges that seem possible to overcome, and to shy away from obstacles that we believe are insurmountable. It comes down to realistic vs unrealistic goals, and snagging those achievable wins.
So in my case, instead of the daunting task ahead of completing a book of poetry, I'm chipping away at it. I'm aiming to write a new poem every week, even if it's a shitty first draft. Even if it's a haiku. I don't want to feel defeated by the overwhelming task ahead of writing dozens of poems by December, so instead of carving up the coming weeks to make this goal achievable.
And I'm refraining from fantastical thoughts of book launches and goodreads.com accolades. I'm focusing more on what's stopping me from writing more, whether it's journalistic tasks or social outings or just laziness. Heck, I've watched every episode of Party Down in the past two weeks but haven't written a poem I'm proud of...and that kind of behaviour needs to change.
I'm curious what you think about positive thinking. Feel free to comment below or tweet me @SilverbergDave
About David's Blog
I write about journalism, freelancing, the arts, Toronto, technology, sports and why egg nog is under-rated.