Mission statements are supposed to be short and succinct, but I often find by doing so they don’t appropriately explain their meaning.
So instead, I summarized mine with a lyric (not my own) and then wrote out a long-winded explanation, hoping readers would take the time to do so.
I also tried to succinctly describe the goal of this project and, for those that don’t want to read the whole page here, what I hope you take away from it.
“Believe Your Voice Can Mean Something”– Jimmy Eat World
To inspire and encourage others to share their stories in a safe and honest way.
Your story matters. Your voice matters. You matter.
There’s a popular song by Canadian rock outfit The Barenaked Ladies you might’ve heard called “If I Had A Million Dollars“. It’s effectively a love song, stating that if they had all the money in the world they’d do whatever it takes to get the girl.
Crooked Forest’s mission statement is probably the opposite message of that song and I’ll pose it in the form of a question:
If you had no money at all, how would you choose to spend that time to make a difference in the world or your community?
Mission statements start with small steps towards a goal.
So what’s the goal here?
To bring awareness and to connect people.
Awareness to what? Connect people, how and why?
For me, those are not simple questions, so I want to talk instead a little bit about why and when I started this project.
When It Started
In February 2020 I had a sinking feeling in my stomach almost every day I went into work. News of the global pandemic COBID-19 were spreading fast and I spent a significant part of every day watching the news to see how other countries were handling it. It hadn’t quite made its way to Canada yet, but we knew it wouldn’t be long.
By March 13th I got official word from my then-employer Osgoode Professional Development – York University, that we would officially be transition to remote work. This all happened so quickly (read: rushed) that they forgot to remind us to bring all of our things home that day. So I had to return on Monday March 16th for my work laptop and other belongings that I’d need to continue to do my job effectively.
That was a weird experience, making my way into what was now a ghost-town Toronto, Ontario by Go-Train from King City, Ontario. I’ve never in my life seen Union Station so empty.
What Happened Next
At OsgoodePD (silly nickname, it makes it sound like a police department and I assure it couldn’t be further from), I was the Assistant Operations “Manager” and Events Co-ordinator. We were basically a conference centre but with ties to Osgoode Hall Law School and York – University so our courses were for lawyers who required their yearly accreditation to continue practicing, as well as new lawyers entering Canada for the first time.
Because much of our programming was already mostly online (I previously was an Audio-Visual Operator in control of the live web broadcasts and video conference courses before being promoted to the above position), the transition for us was much easier than most institutions.
And because the scope of my job in particular focused mainly on ensuring a high-quality guest experience at the facility, managing things like catering, supervising our part-time staff, and getting the rooms ready for the conferences, this meant my work load slowed significantly.
In addition, with upper-management so busy trying to figure out how to make the best of this terrible situation (which in reality worked out to their benefit because we had yet another record-breaking revenue year, woo-hoo! This is meaningless to a union-worker like myself whose pay is not in any way affected by their success), this meant I was already quickly spending a lot of time sitting on my thumbs waiting for e-mails to crawl through.
It also meant I went from seeing my co-workers every single day, some of whom I was friends with (or so I felt at the time), to talking to virtually nobody from the office.
We had daily operations meetings set, but they were never attended.
I was alone in King City without much work to do, but I had a job that I was careful to stay on top of while I thought about my next steps.
Can we back up a second?
In February 2020 I got a phone call I had frankly been dreading for years. My then-husband had gotten a DUI. I swear I could feel it in the air the day it happened.
He had gone out around 1PM to see a friend who was going to help him fix the brakes on his SUV. When I hadn’t heard from him by 4PM, I knew in my hear they’d been drinking. That’s fine, take your time getting home; sober up.
When I didn’t hear from him by 7PM I called asking where he was. He said he had gotten lost on the GPS, which I found odd, he wasn’t terribly far from where we lived. But he sounded sober, so I said okay, see you soon, and got off the phone.
Around 9PM or just before, I reached out again; he really should’ve been home by now. He told me he had gotten the car stuck in a ditch, but he was okay, it was just stuck.
We live in Canada so these things can happen but I knew there was a bigger problem.
While we were on the phone, he told me someone pulled over to offer help. I said great, and told him to call me afterwards assuming this person was going to be able to help tow him out.
Somewhere around 10PM I fell asleep on the couch watching TV, and around 11 or so, I think, I got another phone call.
He was at the police station and had gotten taken in for the DUI.
I knew it.
“Do you need me to come get you?” – I don’t have a car, but I could’ve asked someone in my family to help.
“No, they’re going to let me leave later and I’ll take a cab”.
Somehow, I fell back asleep, and I knew I’d have some difficult conversations ahead of me. I hadn’t made up my mind fully yet, but I knew this was going to be the last straw for us. Before this, I had already stopped letting him drive me around, or our dog Dakota, because I knew I couldn’t trust him behind the wheel.
This is when I started writing music again for what would become the first Crooked Forest releases.
The Initial Stages
I hadn’t written lyrics in years, and I hadn’t touched my electric guitar in years either. But I was home all day every day with no one to talk to and so few e-mails to tend to; the words flooded out fast and when I read them back to myself, for the first time in a long time I was proud of my work again.
I wasn’t getting any sort of creative or personal fulfillment working at OsgoodePD, frankly I hated to job and culture of it all.
I had no intention of starting to perform again, and certainly not as a solo artist, but that started to change quickly for me.
One day while scrolling around Twitter I learned about the Crooked Forest in Poland and I was struck with an idea; I can bridge my Polish roots with my Canadian experiences and tell my life story through these lyrics if I can manage to turn them into melodies. And then maybe I can tour Europe, even just busking; a lifelong dream of mine.
For the first time in years I was asking myself what I wanted to do to make myself happy instead of what I could do to make other people happy. And hell, I thought I had something important to say.
On March 13th, my last day in the office, I invited one of my coworkers out for a drink. We were both anxious about everything going on and it was something we’d been talking about doing for literal months. I had a feeling it would be the last time we saw each other in person, so there was no time like the present.
We invited a couple others, 2 of the part-timers that were closer to his age. I was the oldest.
This ended up being my last 2 beers; Coors Lights, Draft, from Shark Club.
I made the decision on this day, even before we got to the bar, that they’d be my last.
My thinking at the time was that this was a serious issue (the pandemic) and I had no way of knowing how much the world might change in that moment. But I was about to be on lockdown, with job uncertainty despite being in a union (they have a loophole for everything, trust me.) and I knew that if I was going to make a serious stab at the music thing again, I’d need to have as clear a head as possible.
On Learning To Be Sober
The one nice thing about the pandemic is that everything was closed and we weren’t supposed to see our families or friends, which meant the pressures I’d aced every other time I’d tried to quit drinking were now far less (almost everyone I know is a drinker). I had tried to quit many times before but I could never make it stick.
There were several times I wanted to crack. After all, my then-husband, despite his DUI, was still drinking and there was always something on hand. I took this as a personal challenge of my will power. Of course, I was still at the time smoking a little bit of weed every day, which helped curb the cravings.
Since I was home more, I was also watching some of the livestream by my favourite artists. In particular, I spent every day for a week or two watching Benjamin Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie perform for about an hour in the morning and answer questions.
This is where I started to formulate my game plan.
The thing is, despite having so much experience in the music industry (see my credit roll), this was the first time artists worldwide were going to have to adapt to an almost exclusive livestream format. I understood live streaming well and what made a good experience, so I felt fine about it on a technical level, but I knew what mattered most to listeners is the message behind the music.
So what was my message?
To answer that I had to think back to why I ever started writing music in the first place and why I was drawn to guitars, drums and bass above all other instruments.
I was drawn to writing from a really young age, writing short stories in elementary school which I’d then bring to an artist friend of mine who would draw pictures to accompany. This was all for fun, but I really felt like we could’ve made that into something, too.
When I got really into music somewhere between ages 8-11, I knew I wanted to start playing guitar; all my favourites played it, and my best friend at the time had a Fender Stratocaster that I’d marvel at when I was at his house.
I started writing lyrics around 12 years old, the same time I was getting my first guitar; an Ibanez GRx40 I saved up all my pennies for and bought the summer of my 13th birthday. My 13th birthday was also the infamous Sarstock music festival that my dad took me to to see The Rolling Stones and AC/DC. I talk about this a bit in another post where I also explain my Wayback Wednesday acoustic cover song series.
Learning guitar is hard, but I was eager to learn. I started biking to school in 8th grade instead of taking the bus so that I could leave at lunch and sneak in 20 minutes of practice. I played a lot of sports then, so my after-school hours were already limited. In retrospect it would’ve been wiser to just bring the guitar in, but I was really shy about playing in front of other people for years; I never really felt like I fit in at my school among a sea of rich Italian kids. Even then, my closest friendships were beginning to fade as we all began to discover who we really were or who we wanted to become.
Early Home Life
I wouldn’t say I had a bad upbringing per say, in fact I was afforded many opportunities I know so many people don’t ever get even in their entire lifetime. But I had a really difficult time relating to my family and feeling seen and heard.
I started experiencing depression as early as 8 years old in my mind, although when I look back on pictures of me as a girl I think it started much earlier.
Of course I didn’t know it was depression then. And what’s an 8 year old have to be depressed about anyways?
On of my childhood friends that grew up on my street with me died of leukaemia at 7 years old. I was 6 when it happened, all my friends on my street were a year old than me.
I didn’t understand the disease of course, and I found out in about the worst way, with a new neighbourhood kid running up to my friend and I in the street and letting us know the news in an almost excited way; apparently the news had come to the school. I didn’t understand that part either; he went to a different school than us.
I remember his funeral like it was yesterday. Walking up to the open casket, an adult sized one, and seeing his tiny frame within it.
I can never forget what he looked like then.
And I remember looking at all the pictures they put up on the casket; only 1 featured me. I thought this was strange, we hung out all the time. I don’t know if there are any other pictures of us and I’ve never seen that one again.
In 7th grade when I was 12 years old, a new student joined us for a few weeks. She had leukaemia, too.
I don’t remember if she finished the year with us, or even her name honestly. I remember her smile. She was brave as hell. She wore a bandana because she had lost her hair from the chemotherapy.
At home I always felt like a bit of a lost soul. My parents gave a lot of attention to my brothers in those days; they both played hockey and my dad coached my eldest brothers team for years. Everything seemed to revolve around their schedule.
My mom had big expectations of her daughters that never, even to this day, matched her sons. For example I was told to help clean the house from an early age, to learn to cook, and start my own laundry around 13. On the contrary, to this day, my brothers still have their laundry done for them, even bringing it over from their own houses.
We were also told not to speak up too much, and I got in trouble for mimicking the boys’ language often.
I was also a tomboy, which meant all my friends were boys too. Hard to stop speaking the way you always do, and the way you feel most comfortable expressing yourself.
I didn’t know it then but my self-esteem was shot by the time I was 13. I had been a binge-eater for years which nobody really knew about because of all the sports I played, and I was always told I “carry the weight well” which is a nice way of telling them they’re fat without saying they’re fat.
I’d find that every time I reached out to my parents for help, whether it was for school work or otherwise, they just didn’t have the time or patience for it, so I got used to doing things on my own often. I was a big reader, so I was smart enough to figure most things out on my own, fortunately.
I got my first job at 14 because I knew I wanted to move out of my hometown as soon as possible. Two of my favourite songs during this time were these other Jimmy Eat World songs; one had the lyric, “packed my bags and headed west” and the other, “How long would it take me to walk across the United States all alone”.
I wanted to go to California; Blink 182 and Green Day are from there and it looked like “the place to be”.
I felt like I’d have to make this trip alone, even then.
I started my first band in high school and we tried hard but didn’t get too far. It’s really hard to make it as a Canadian band, by sheer size and distance alone between cities, it’s a challenge unless you have a team on your side.
In my band, I took charge of almost everything, from driving, to bookings, all the writing, singing (I didn’t even necessarily want to be a singer then, but when you’re the one that’s writing the words, it sort of just happens) and whatever else. I was the one with the aspiration, and the one that had to encourage my band mates to stay on top of things. Practice was at my house, and I was always ready well before anybody got there.
The reason I’m sharing this part of the story now is that the one thing that’s clear to me about this phase of my music career is the one thing I was severely lacking was direction.
A Big Dumb Rocketship didn’t have a message, it had a goal: play shows & get to California.
So, does Crooked Forest have a message yet?
When I made the decision to divorce my husband last year (we’re still in the final paperwork stages and playing the waiting game as to when it can be made legally official; November 1st, 2021), I already knew what I wanted to accomplish next and knew that I could do much of it alone, but of course again it would be far easier with the right teammates.
I wanted to do a couple things:
- Show young musicians like myself that you don’t need a million dollars to make a record or perform art (in my case, music). You can do it anytime, anywhere, even without an instrument; Use your voice, use your words.
- Even if your story has been told before on a basic level (in my case, struggling alcoholic turned sober going through a divorce), nobody can tell it from your perspective. Your story matters, create art whatever way you feel it.
- Build it, and they’ll come. Don’t wait.
When you read about the Crooked Forest in Poland, or at least when I first did, a lot of the articles talk about how mysterious it is. How they have no idea why a small cluster of pine trees would formulate the way they do. They make it sound so interesting.
Click bait is funny that way.
The reality is, like anything else there’s usually a logical explanation. And this is where the message behind my art comes from.
Anything learned can be unlearned.
For years I felt silenced; nobody wanted to listen to me to the point where I stopped trying to be heard.
This happens to a lot of people in abusive relationships or otherwise just bad situations. They begin to feel hopeless, like they don’t matter.
They turn to drugs and alcohol and food to curb the pain, but it makes it worse.
I did that, too. All of it.
Things will keep getting worse until you take a step back and try to make them better.
It starts with one thing; a willingness to try.
Believe in yourself. Believe your voice can mean something.
So that’s the mission?
No matter your situation, the circumstances that led you either to reading this today or picking up a paintbrush/guitar/pencil/pen (insert whatever your passion is here), you alone have to make the first step to improve it. My mission is to help show you that.
No matter what anybody has told you before, you matter; you’re important.
And your story can be the one that helps someone else, too. So tell it, as loudly or as softly as you feel you want to. You can change the world.
That’s the premise behind A Quiet Place To Scream. When I was sat alone in a house feeling like nobody understood me or cared about me, I chose to create art. And I started to feel better about myself which meant I started to believe in myself again.
Today I’m 1 year, 4 months and 23 days sober from alcohol. This is the longest I’ve ever been sober, from the time I was 12 years old.
I quit weed, too (again) around May 2021. I’m less fused about weed use personally, but it turns out I’m allergic to so many strains and it just makes me feel like garbage, so that was an easy one to stop.
I try every day now to set a good example, just in case somebody else is watching, and it’s no good for my vocal chords either.
Somewhere along the way I made the choice to put my all into this project, and it takes a lot out of me but it helps me stay on what I feel is the right path for me.
Hopefully that helps sum up the message and the reason behind this project. It’s a work in progress and things are changing every day because it’s still just me doing all of this alone, and as I learn new things I try to adapt them to my work to make sure I’m proud of every piece of the puzzle.
Your message is curtailed to being about bringing people up and helping them achieve their own goals in some way, but sometimes your comments about others are combative and outright abrasive (on twitter for example). Can you explain that?
I’m not sure when this became an interview, but totally.
I don’t always say the right things, and sometimes I speak before I think. A lot of things get me riled up pretty quickly and if I don’t take the time to pause before getting carried away with it, sometimes what I saw comes out in a way that even I don’t intend.
At the same time, when you’ve been silenced for so long, when people have been throwing their opinions onto you without consequence for so many years, sometimes enough is enough and you have to tell them to get fucked.
I apologize when I’m in the wrong, and I make an effort to do better; I’m not perfect, but nobody is.
Beyond that, we’re facing changes in the world right now that quite frankly doesn’t have time for us to be “polite”. There are seriously corrupt people trying to make a buck off of this pandemic right now, and if we don’t rise up against that, there won’t be a world to create art in at all. So yeah, sometimes I’m a little rude. If you don’t like it, tell me why, we can talk about it anytime.
But don’t expect a reconciliation just because you reached out, because some things are outright unforgivable in my eyes.
I make myself as open and available as possible because it’s important that I offer an honest representation of my character. I don’t delete things anymore, just edit them.
I can’t tell my stories without being honest and true to myself, and some of the people and experiences I talk about are frankly more than a little fucked up. I won’t apologize for sharing them the way I feel them every day.
At the end of it all, I have to live with myself, and I accept the consequences of all my actions and words.
Date: August 5th, 2021, approximately 1:23PM EST.