Category Archives: Inspiration

5 lessons from travelling to Greece, Italy & Croatia

It’s an odd feeling, stepping off a plane – that pseudo time machine when you aren’t really anywhere; just a sterile vortex with hours to kill. You can’t quite believe the sun, palm trees and inspiring architecture when you land. The same holds true when you snap back to the familiar.

Rome was my favourite, Split came in second, Dubrovnik third (we were getting tired and did not stay in the city centre) and Venice came in last – it was way too touristy and didn’t feel authentic.

Besides freeing myself from the shackles of the internet and learning about ancient times, I loved living in a postcard and strengthening my new relationship. But there were some things I wish I had done differently…

Lesson #1: Pay Attention to Practicalities

Trekking through Rome’s cobble-stone streets and Dubrovnik’s medieval city walls highlighted the fact that I probably would not have survived in ancient times. Sore feet got in the way of enjoying the sights. So next time, I will forgo fashion and pack some real running shoes. For ladies with small feet, size 35 is a rarity so don’t expect to find nice looking, affordable shoes while you’re there.

And another thing: don’t forgot your camera charger because you will spend your days rationing battery life in order to catch the most important moments.

The Dubrovnik City walls walk takes 2 hours & has a million stairs.

Lesson #2: Spend more time in each city

After traveling all the way to Europe I gave into the temptation to pack as much in as possible, after giving up Plitvice National Park in Northern Croatia and Postojna Cave in Slovenia (one day!).

We had 2 – 3 days in Rome, Split, Dubrovnik and Venice. It was frustrating to have to constantly learn where to eat and shop and how to get from point A to point B. Just as we grew familiar in a place we had to say goodbye. We also never made it to Murano near Venice, or Trogir/Bol near Split, or Montenegro near Dubrovnik because we didn’t have time to explore the surrounding areas.

Not only that, but I felt the same time pressure I feel in Toronto to go go go. I kind of felt like I needed a vacation post vacation.

View of the coast in Split Croatia

Lesson #3: Don’t worry before you really have to

The sky was full of thick, dark clouds the afternoon we were slated to fly from Split to Dubrovnik via Zagreb (Croatia’s northern capital). After hearing from a cab driver that flights sometimes re-route to Split due to bad weather, I started to panic. Maybe I would have to take the 5 hour bus ride I was desperately trying to avoid (I get car and boat sick).

Years ago, a flight to the Bahamas gave new meaning to the word turbulence (I pray I never have to experience that again). But even if the flight was delayed and turbulence was avoided, I would surely miss my connecting flight and get stranded in Zagreb (= vacation ruined). I called Croatian Airlines. I called my dad. I couldn’t eat.

And in the end, everything worked out fine. The panic was for nothing, as it usually is. Sometimes we scare ourselves out of something before we begin. Fear must be managed in order to live well!

The menacing sky in Split, Croatia (Austrian architecture)

Lesson #4: Don’t expect your new partner to morph into your EX

I was actually really scared to take my 9 month old relationship on this epic trip. I worried that once he saw the real me, he would run for the hills. I didn’t want history to repeat itself because I knew I would have to let him go and start over.

Did we fight? Yes, of course. We had one bad fight and other bouts of bickering but all were short lived. We did not go to bed angry. He was calm when I panicked. He made me laugh many times each day, mainly at my own expense (instead of yelling at me). He let me pick off his plate without complaint and ordered Sprite instead of Coke so we could share (soft drinks are so expensive in Europe). He let me rest in the shade, while he searched in the sun. In the end, it felt romantic and we had fun.

So two great people may not be great together. You just have to find compatibility, whereby the other person doesn’t annoy the sh*t out of you. In fact, they find you amusing.

Close up shot of us at the top of cable car in Dubrovnik

Lesson #5: Overcoming your fear is easier when you do it with someone you love

So back to the topic of fear. I was afraid of taking a Gondola ride due to the potential for motion sickness. While the water was calmest at night, it was too dark to see anything. During the day, the canals were uber congested with taxis & gondola jams (least romantic, most choppy). We decided on dusk because traffic was minimal and it was still light enough to be awed/distracted by the surroundings. After all, who goes to Venice and doesn’t hit up a Gondola? I knew I would regret it.

After nearly drowning as a kid, he was afraid of putting his head under water. After encouragement and tips from me and some hand holding, he did it! Taking one for the team for the sake of the other person pushed both of us outside of our comfort zones. And in the end, it felt kind of good. Click here to read about about my biggest regret (it has to do with family).

Me with the gondola man

I’m already scheming how to use my 3 weeks wisely next year. Probably Greece again due to family, plus its Turkish neighbour (Istanbul and Cappadocia look amazing).

What fear did you conquer this summer? And what’s next on your travel wish list?

What Gen Y can learn from the elderly: Inspired by Still Mine & a 90 year old Greek Immigrant

I wish I spent more time in my mom’s Greek village so I could soak up more stories and affection from my 90 year old grandma (yia yia) and 80 year old grandpa (papou).

She  got married in her early 30’s after she spotted papou on the street, trailblazing the path for cougars everywhere. I’m convinced that remnant fears of spinsterhood and infertility colour her well intended advice to get married and have kids STAT.

They were poor and grew up in a very small town, nestled between mountains. All the clichés of walking 5 miles to school, lacking shoes and fighting siblings over small luxuries rang true for my mom.

Their story is a typical immigrant one – my grandpa came to Canada alone at first, to assess the scene for his family (secured by the landed immigrant status of his sister). One by one, his three kids and wife joined him; my mom was 15 and her mom was well over 50. The boldest decision they ever made.

Their collective potential was shunted by their late-in-life arrival. Yia yia cleaned office buildings for a time and never did learn English. She probably could have been a kindergarten teacher, narrator or even an actor, possessing the gifts of storytelling and theatrics.  To this day she recounts memories with animated detail, requiring infrequent murmurs from her audience to carry on.

Had circumstances been different, my papou could have been a world traveler and adventure seeker, with an online oriented business, blog and all. He loves technology (literally has a facebook profile) and dances to English music at weddings like no one’s watching (true story). He also enjoys going out for daily coffee jaunts, observing life go by.

Nowadays, he doesn’t get out as much because he takes care of her. Her limbs are ransacked by arthritis so he cooks, cleans and makes sure she takes her pills three times a day. She is afraid to be home alone, so he completes his daily excursion before 9 am, while she sleeps.

Despite daily bickering and feelings of frustration (she mourns her youth), they have been married for 58 years and counting. For all our fears of commitment (of settling and getting a divorce), they illustrate: it can be done. And they have done a good job of avoiding favoritism and other forms of poison in the process, retaining a close knit family beneath their wings.

The result of my mini makeover. Happy he got to meet them.

They didn’t get caught up in vanity or materialism. They grew a lot of their own food (still do). They did not strive for special dreams, screenwriting and the like. If sheer survival was their past, then living in a rundown apartment in Toronto was success (it’s all relative).

They are content with simple. They are grateful for what they have. We could learn a lot from them.

The lovebirds and moi

What Michael McGowan’s film Still Mine can teach Gen Y

On Monday night I had the pleasure of watching the world premiere of Still Mine at the Toronto International Film Festival, the latest feature from Toronto-based writer and director Michael McGowan.  He previously wrote and directed a sweet little movie called One Week – one of my all time faves.

Based on a true story, the plot centers on a married couple in their 80’s, who live in New Brunswick and fiercely cling to their independence. Craig Morrison (James Cromwell) plays a stubborn, traditional farmer who decides to build a more suitable home for his ailing wife (Genevieve Bujold) on his own land. Unfortunately, he does not comply with recently passed building regulations and takes on the local government and possible jail time, all in the name of love for his Alzheimer afflicted wife.

When a look speaks 1,000 words

We see him build an entire house with his bare hands, only asking for help out of desperation. The TIFF synopsis says “Craig and Irene’s relationship is far richer because of the past they have shared. Their conversations are charged, direct, and laden with subtext.” I could not agree more and wholeheartedly recommend this movie.

Unlike the characters in the film, my grandparents have been blessed with a full and thriving memory. They can remember how far they have come; they call on birthdays and anniversaries. If you are going to get battle wounds from the war of life, you might as well remember them. Otherwise, what’s the point?

The Moral of Both Stories

My visit was anticipated for months and over in 5 days.  When it was time to say goodbye, I realized there was a chance I might not see them again.

My yia yia uses two canes now, more hunched over than I remembered. She has outlived most of her siblings, neighbours and friends. As a result she is constantly aware of the shadow of death lurking and spends most of her time alone in the village with her own thoughts and fears.

If you have the good fortune of breathing, kindhearted grandparents near or far, make sure you see them as much as you can. Make them feel special.

They don’t quite make them like they used to.

How she looked as we pulled away, Athens bound

Why Girls is the most authentic show on TV: Season 1 Review

I finally caught up on the full season 1 of Girls this week. Like most of the world, I started off hating it; a lot darker and less relatable than I expected. I gave it a shot, however, seeing that Lena Dunham achieved my life dream before I ever will.

The fact that it is a half hour dark comedy speaks to time pressed Gen Y; even the format of the show is innovative and tuned to its demographic.

If you are a Girls virgin, here is what you need to know: Aspiring writer Hannah gets financially cut off from her parents, who had previously funded her life in Brooklyn, New York. Left to her own devices, she and her friends navigate their twenties, “one mistake at a time”.  Based loosely on Sex and the City, with a focus on careers, friendships and growing up, we meet Shoshanna (a naive virgin), Marnie (Miss Perfect) and Jessa (rebellious bohemian nomad). SPOILER ALERT AHEAD!

15 Plot Points that make Girls the most Authentic Show on TV (at least for Gen Y)

  1. The normal looking main character: for once we see an average woman on TV. Not only is she chunky, but her face is pretty basic too (unlike Plus Size model types). She seems to purposely avoid makeup and wear unflattering clothing (or no clothing) to hit you in the face with this statement. For the record, I do find Lena attractive, especially her real world appearances.
  2. The portrayal of an only child: I have never seen this character trait displayed so prominently in the plot before. Being an only child really does colour a personality (I would know). PS the main character in my screenplay is also an only child.
  3. Money discussions: People don’t seem to discuss financial difficulties much in real life or on TV. Hannah’s financial strife really drove a major story arc.
  4. A sense of entitlement: I admit that Gen Y is a bit more coddled than generations past. We believe in dreams and doing what we love and we want it now.  Girls puts this belief system center stage.
  5. Being late for your own abortion: a really unique and unexpected ending to the episode where Jessa discovers she is pregnant and fails to show up at the clinic. PS unexpected pregnancy is a Top 5 fear of mine.
  6. Gross Sex: Hannah’s parents and Hannah herself get involved in some eye brow raising sex scenes. I felt like a fly on the wall (do people really do that?) and we rarely see old people f*cking.
  7. Marnie’s character: not only because she is me (ha) but because she is Charlotte amplified: risk averse, tightly wound, beautiful, responsible and unhappy.
  8. Marnie masturbation at work: a brave and unexpected portrayal of something that happens.
  9. The end of Marnie’s relationship: The 4 or 5 year mark in a relationship is critical, especially when you start dating young. Marnie and Charlie were going through the motions, but she wasn’t committed to ending things. In real life, relationships can just run out of steam – they aren’t always broken by cheating, distance, family drama, drug abuse etc. I could relate to this portrayal.
  10. The Break Up After Math: We get to see Marnie vulnerable: she looks gross, pities herself and stalks Charlie on facebook (for once social media is mentioned/shown on TV). She is shocked to learn that he has moved on after 2 short weeks. She shares this ludicrous finding with anyone who will listen.
  11. Texting: how often do you see characters checking their cell phones for texts? What’s that you say, never? Such a simple way to portray the realities of 20 something life.
  12. Impromptu dance party: when Marnie and Hannah dance together at the end of an episode, my heart sang. Us Girls really do randomly dance around a room sometimes (light and fun).
  13. Real Girl Shit: Female friendships can be marred by resentment and jealousy that build up over time, slowly poisoning the bond. Marnie talked shit behind Hannah’s back until she exploded, which led to hurtful insults and assessments.  We’ve all lost a friend the hard way and this break up felt worse than Marnie and Charlie.
  14. Comparison / Passive Aggressive Dialogue: I loved the opening scene of Episode 9, where Hannah and her former classmate (turned famous author) exchange passive aggressive dialogue. It is so difficult watching someone else live your dream, especially when they seem less deserving. In the age of facebook, it is easier than ever to feel like shit about yourself.
  15. Adam and Hannah: I love and hate their dynamic.  His personality is pretty bizarre and complex but I suppose it is possible for someone like him to exist. I hated seeing Hannah settle for less than she deserved and acting the fool. That being said, I liked watching them evolve throughout the whole season; normally TV dating lasts a handful of episodes and doesn’t seem so real.
The cast of HBO series Girls

As Enrqiue says: “let me be your (writer)”.

Now onto the…

8 Plot Points that Hampered Girls Season 1 Ability to Deliver a Fully Honest Story

  1. Jessa: seems too wooden and unreal with her too cool for school personality and back story. A spark of realness shone through in Episode 8, when she bonded with Marnie for the first time.
  2. Shoshanna: why is she treated like an accessory? She is so good! Why is her only goal to have sex? What about her other ambitions? Why are Hannah and Marnie friends with her, beyond her relation to Jessa? She seems too one dimensional.
  3. Hannah’s job interview: she made a rapist joke about her interviewer in the interview. I know the show is about making mistakes but sometimes it seems too heavy handed.
  4. The crack party: it seemed extreme and out of character for Shoshanna to randomly smoke someone else’s crack at the warehouse party. On a side note, the whole subject of trying crack was treated very lightly.
  5. Jessa’s Wedding: I know she is impulsive and all but a wedding after two weeks? Yay for Chris O’Dowd.
  6. Marnie’s final kiss: I didn’t buy Marnie’s attraction to the wedding officiant. Not just because of how he looked…maybe she had too much champagne, felt weird seeing Charlie and lonely, but still…
  7. Does everyone in this series have to be white and Jewish? Just wondering…it is New York after all.

I am looking forward to Season 2 – each episode is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you are going to get. And every episode is painted with a pulsing energy that makes it impossible to turn away.

So tell me, what did you think about Girls? Will you watch Season 2?

On producing creativity: The War of Art Book Review

I was literally handed The War of Art by my screenwriting partner/mentor, after weeks of thinking “I really should buy this book” (why hello there Mr. Universe). I’ve since read it twice and can see this affair continuing for years to come, like an annual friends with benefits tradition (meow).

A breezy, witty, encouraging read

This book is short and to the point with many mini chapters lasting a half page to 2 pages. You feel extra productive as you zoom through and avoid procrastinating under the guise of self help reading.

I enjoyed Pressfield’s no nonsense approach, sense of humour and gratuitous curse words. He also incorporates some of his own creative struggles so you feel as if you are mates at war.

I think anyone with a dream, be it any art form, entrepreneurial/non profit idea or whatever could benefit from reading this book, especially if you’ve been holding yourself back.

The cover implies the simple, clutter free, interior

Highlights: On Victim Mentality, Tribal Coding and becoming a professional

Recognizing Resistance

  • Feeling like a victim is a form of passive aggressive resistance.
  • Rationalization prevents you from feeling shamed by the sight of your own fear; it obscures your fear in the form of legitimate reasons why you can’t do your work.
  • 1000’s of years ago, survival was guaranteed by being part of a tribe. This tribal mentality lives on in our DNA. Pursuing a creative endeavour requires isolation and breaking from the tribe. Fear of rejection or ridicule for putting yourself out there also stems from this tribal mindset.
  • Others in your tribe (family, friends) may give you flack for abandoning the herd. They are grappling with their own inability to break free from the norm.

On a tangent, this tribal mindset gave me a whole new perspective on why childhood bullying can be felt so acutely and why it lingers on the psyche for years to come. Children often ridicule peers for being different – they ostracize them from the popular tribe, sensing the weak and the primal need to be part of a group. At a young, impressionable age without enough life experience to combat primal urges, this plain sucks!

Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris Movie Poster

Time Travel like Owen for Inspiration or read this book. PS this film is magical – rent it!

Overcoming Resistance

Pressfield’s main solution is to quit thinking like an amateur in relation to your dream and pretend you are a well paid professional. Show up every day no matter what the conditions, don’t get overcome by love of the craft – pretend you are doing it for the money. Don’t take criticism personally, learn and grow from it.

I still don’t think I own my screenwriting dream and fully believe it. I don’t hold myself to the same standards as I do when I am dutifully completing responsibilities handed to me by someone else. I like to have a whole day or large chunk of hours before me in order to write (all Sunday) but momentum is lost in the days between. An hour or two a day can go a long way.

Don’t expect miracles

I’ve heard some people claim this book transformed their life. I can’t say I’m there just yet but I do think it is a very strong, low cost option to kick your butt into creative productivity. Ultimately your results will be based on your ability to overcome resistance each and every day. Love may be a battlefield but so is dream chasing.

5 Inspiring Canadians share less typical views on how to CRUSH IT

Last weekend I attended an event called Inspire Toronto, geared towards 18-25 year old Italian Canadians (all were welcome) during the recently established Italian Heritage Month. Before you click away, I’ve highlighted key learnings from 5 incredible Canadians (artists and business people who are all equally passionate and family oriented) that will resonate with you regardless of your heritage, where you love or your life dream.

Nick Di Donato, President & CEO of Liberty Entertainment Group

Growing up to immigrant parents who owned a restaurant, his father warned him to never get into the business. Nick never wanted to work on the restaurant floor, but he always loved clubs, culture and going out (a passion for some). With the business in his blood and early jobs as a waiter, he eventually built an entertainment empire, by diverisfying the location, clientele and concept of his properties. He also chose to invest in historic buildings like the Courthouse (complete with jail cells) to really stand out. His advice:

Get an Education (in anything) and experience in the corporate world first

After getting an engineering degree to please his parents, Nick believes school taught him how to think and adds intrigue and credibilty to his current pursuits (i.e. a surgeon turned painter). I personally don’t think you NEED university to be successful (it isn’t for everyone), but I do think taking something you like or something challenging in school is worth it.  

Nick worked as an engineer at Imperial Oil for 6 years, before quitting to pursue his dream (wasn’t feeling fulfilled) and was able to apply similar organizational structures and process efficiencies to his own business, especially as it grew. It feels like a lot of people who leave corporate to pursue their own dream describe it as a quasi prison break (more of a negative spin). If you are going to spend the time at your job, you might as well embrace it to get the most out it (or leave, especially if you hear the whisper urging you to execute your dream).

I sometimes worry that if I spend 3+ years in a corporation, I’ll become complacent, lose drive and never leave.  Nick  proved this theory wrong and showed that everyone is on their own timeline. There is no magic tenure formula to take your leap of faith.   Writing, especially, is about drawing from your life experience – the more you live, the better you write.  

Take Planned Risks and start your side hustle before going for broke

Nick didn’t just quit Imperial Oil to start his first restaurant – it was launched one year before quitting and was a huge sacrifice in the short run. If you are like me and need lots of sleep, this strategy may not appeal, but it highlights that it is okay to be pragmatic and take steps slowly in order to build confidence before leaping.

Nick Di Donato: From engineer to Club/Resto Mogul

Enrico Colantoni, Actor (Flash Point, Just Shoot Me, Veronica Mars)

Everything has a lack of stability and there are no guarantees in life so why not risk bigger?

After attending the University of Toronto for one year, Enrico moved to The Big Apple, like many brave souls before him, to study acting formally in the land of  artists. In doing this, he had to withstand the forces of “are you crazy?” and disapproval from his parents, which only made him want to prove himself even more. Enrico basically figured that nothing in life is guaranteed and you have to at least take a shot or live with regret.  

I think the recent recession has proven that many “stable” jobs aren’t bullet proof. Also just because you get a university degree and start at a great company doesn’t guarantee success, in the sense of becoming CEO or Executive VP or even starting your own business (if that is what success means to you). The odds are worse if you stick to something you aren’t passionate about = misalignment.   

Have faith that the powers that be will continue to carry you forward

I asked Enrico how he dealt with rejection, when there are so many budding actors who pack it in before their big break comes to fruition. He simply said he had faith – he focused on the good things from his journey and believed those would continue (more in front of you than behind you). Perhaps that is the key to tenacity? 

Rick the Temp (aka my tween crush) bantering with Enrico Colantoni, TV Star

Rick Campanelli, Entertainment Tonight Host (former Much Music VJ)

Approach any task creatively to stand out / Relish being the gopher

Rick, the gracious Master of Ceremonies, got his start by winning a contest to intern at Much Music, but it took him a year to get on camera, after he zealously fetched coffee and cleaned sets. He also embedded his demo reel inside things like a football and novel in order to get the attention of his boss in a fun, creative, persistent way. When an opening came up, he stepped in and continued to approach his celebrity interviews with a unique spin and the goal to: make this interview memorable for the artist (who does so much press), and unearth new information for the viewer. 16 years later, he is still rocking it.

Anthony Lacavera, Chairman of WindMobile and Chairman/CEO of Global Live

Take on goliath after building credibility & identifying market opportunity. Ignore the haters.

In Business School you study these 5 assessment factors to see if it makes sense to explore entering a business, including barriers of entry, which are high in a monopolistic industry like the Telecomm one in Canada. If Anthony listened to this ideology, he wouldn’t be where he is today – but he saw an opporunity to launch a new mobile brand and persisted to gain financial backing after years of hard work.  Besides, he enjoys being the underdog.

Anthony gained his footing in the communications industry through B2B video conferencing and had years of experience taking on progressively larger loans (from 50k to 200M) while providing a return on investment.

After hearing so many dissatisfied comments re: phone providers, he launched a website that invited all Canadians to give feedback on what they wanted from a wireless service. This was a cheap way to gain valuable market research, while establishing his brand as customer-friendly and fearless.   

Ivana Santilli, Juno award winning singer

Fail at being someone else. Be yourself instead.

With presence, tons of soul and intellect, Ivana shared that when she initially started with her now defunct group Bass is Base , she was marketed in the US as a white girl to African Americans and was successful but really felt like she came into her own when she owned herself as a French, Italian Canadian singing in both languages while maintaining her unique sound.  She released her first solo album independently and has maintained true to her vision of mixing the old with the new. For her, it really is all about the craft and not the celebrity.

I was invited to this event by the Chair – Luciano Volpe, who I also happened to TA for. I’m very proud of his initiative and can’t wait to see this event evolve in the years to come.
What message stands out to you the most?