A few stories about some of the women who support and inspire me.
I met Helen when I was 18. I was fresh in from Huntsville, Ontario, a small town about two and a half hours north of Toronto. I was excited and nervous to leave a town of less than 20,000 people for a city of over a million.
I’d been accepted into Ryerson’s School of Journalism and wasted no time trying to justify my acceptance there. I wanted to prove to myself, and to others, that I was a writer. One of my teachers called me out in class as “an example of an exemplary student” because I had already taken it upon myself to start writing for the Ryersonian, the student run campus paper. I was published my second week of school. I liked talking to people and learning their stories, but I didn’t like the digging around that seemed to go with it.
I loved music as much as writing, which led me to Helen. She ran a record label and management company, Six Shooter Records, with her business partner, Shauna — another woman I admire fiercely. Helen had earned a business degree and had worked her way up through the music business in various positions. My favourite was hearing her repeat, “Zomba Jive” whenever she talked about working for them as a receptionist.
She was working SIX JOBS when she met Shauna (right around the time Shauna had her first daughter, Fabienne, who was a regular fixture in the office, to all of our delight). It wasn’t long after their meeting and working together sporadically that the two of them officially joined forces. As I will explain, Helen is awesome.
The more I worked with them, the more it became clear that I wanted to be around these women as much as possible: Shauna was fearless, with boundless energy, a visionary; Helen was young, smart, organized, accomplished. I was in awe of her, as she wasn’t that much older than me. I was eager to be a part of the community they were building and nurturing. I feel like “The Future Is Female” was a term I learned years and years ago; they were both supportive and empowering as business people and feminists.
My intern duties included organizing mailings, helping out at live shows and calling around to independent record stores and college radio stations, all over Canada. It was often intimidating to continually have do things I didn’t really know how to do. But when I watched Helen working, she didn’t seem intimidated by any of it, which was in itself also somewhat intimidating to me. I tried my best to learn from her, despite my being a little sensitive.
Helen is English, and in those early days, I would sometimes misinterpret her tone when she was explaining something to me; I felt that maybe she didn’t like me. I could not have been more wrong.
It didn’t take long before I was fully immersed in Six Shooter. I was working with artists directly and spending my days talking to people about music. All of those things that once seemed hard became easy. Soon the record store buyers and college radio directors knew me by name and began taking my calls with pleasure. (One of them now does my taxes and another bought a copy of my book.) Learning about music and art with these women made me realize I could seemingly do anything I wanted to. So I quit school after only a semester of study. I was going to work in music.
Unfortunately, I still owed about $500 in fees to the university. Even though a friend had helped find me a job to supplement my income (I worked for free as an intern), I didn’t have the money to pay my debt and quickly lost my composure figuring out how to pay it. I think I cried in the office. I was 19.
Helen didn’t like crying in the office and asked me what was the matter. When I explained, her reaction was, “Is that all?” It was as though she had foreseen this situation and had already, amazingly, figured out a plan to save the day (something she is infamous for).
“I’ll loan you the money,” she said as cooly as a high-tea cucumber sandwich. And she got out a pen and wrote me a cheque for the exact amount. “Here. You can pay me back in instalments,” she said handing me the cheque. She wasn’t sentimental or patronizing about it. She was matter of fact and non-judgemental.
I think I cried even harder because I was so relieved. Five hundred dollars was all the money I had in the world at that time. I was as gracious as I could be in accepting it. I was 19, alone in a big city and scared shitless that I was making a stupid decision to leave school. This gesture from this woman, whom I’d only known a handful of months, was huge. It made a big impact on me, one which I obviously still remember very clearly 13 years later.
There is a common saying that we change every seven years or so. But I believe the only change in Helen has been the compounding of her wonderful traits, if you can consider that a kind of evolution.
Nowadays, I don’t see her quite enough but I know this to be true: her generosity and willingness to help others is unwavering, even when faced with those who are selfish, nasty and desperate. She is unassuming and unfussy about her good deeds. She never brags or boasts about them, because to her, helping your friends is as natural and commonplace as sleep or putting your shoes on before you go outside. She remains unwavering in her support of me, as is evidenced by the years of birthday cards, loving messages and brief but meaningful in-person connections.
A few years ago, she married a man with many of the same qualities. They just welcomed a son into the world last month. I can’t wait to meet him. I have no doubts, whatsoever, that Luis will grow up to be as warm, generous and accepting as his mother is, because, in a sense, I, too, have grown up with her. I have learned from her as she has lead by example.
The fact that Helen helped 19-year-old me, without my having to ask — and without her even thinking twice about it — was a bold reminder that there are good people who exist in the world. I am lucky enough to call her a friend. She has reminded me of this fact, time and time again. Most recently when she contributed to my book, a gesture that said simply, “I believe in you. I’ve got you covered."
There are some people in life who you meet and who seem to understand you better than you do yourself. For me, that person is Shauna de Cartier.
I could easily write a book about her but at this juncture in life, that act might liquify me into a solemn reflective pool of inaction because I cannot write anything about this woman right now without crying.
I know that many of you who know her will understand that line as it stands; for the others, I will add that it’s only in the best of ways.
On one hand, I feel myself wanting to edit out the part about crying. On the other hand, being raw and real is part of who and what I am and Shauna has always supported that part of me. She’s never been afraid of it, because she is also that kind of person.
Emotions are a huge part of my life. At times, they have ruled and ruined me. But they also have allowed me to feel things deeply, to see people, places, events and stories in full colour. They have driven me to go out and do things.
Shauna once said to me that I am fearless. Which is something I have often undersold about myself, preferring instead to leave those kinds of conclusions to others to realize on their own. On the contrary, in fact, I have felt at times so afraid of myself and my capabilities that I’ve let them weigh me down, and then it takes me twice as long to do things, compared to other people.
But when I was 18, that kind of fear wasn’t as widespread in my mind as it has been, later in life. And it was then when I first met Shauna.
I’d just moved to Toronto from Huntsville, Ontario, and found out that The Rheostatics (my fave band ever) were to play an in-store at Soundscapes, an indie record shop. The short performance was to kick off their 10 (or was it 12?) nights of music at The Horseshoe Tavern. After they finished their set, I went over to her, introduced myself and volunteered to be the merch-girl, which she accepted with the caveat that they were already well staffed (Hi, Maureen!!) but that I could fill in when Maureen wanted a night off.
In Ontario, the legal drinking age is 19. At 18, I didn’t consider myself a rebel going to bars because I didn’t drink, which was likely one of the reasons why I had no issue attending any of the concerts. So I ended up doing merch every night of the Rheostatics’ residency.
Along with befriending all the barstaff and the band, I got to know Shauna and Helen and their community of fierce, funny and smart women. I made a new family, in a sense.
“You should come intern with us,” Shauna said to me at the end of the run. I was ecstatic and accepted.
Shortly after I started, I remember going on a long walk with Shauna around the office building. She was pushing a then newborn Fabienne in the stroller while I was on the verge of tears. She wanted to talk to me about a mistake I had made. She was fair and understanding and firm. And she was forgiving. It wasn't a big mistake, or anything, but the way in which she handled it set a tone for the kind of work she expected from me and what it means to learn from our mistakes. And over the nearly six years of working for her, even though I tried my best, I made other mistakes. But she never, ever gave up on me.
Shauna is patient. She hired me as the label publicist at 20, without any formal experience except my writing. In fact, I did a lot of jobs at Six Shooter that I didn’t really know how to do when I was asked to do them, but I learned them anyway because of Shauna. She put her trust and time into my growth. She explained things. She led by example. She was warm, friendly, unpretentious.
Shauna is loyal. She has worked with most of the artists on her roster for over a decade. They are family to her. She is inclusive. She welcomes new people into her fold without question. She is a supportive leader. She is a mentor. She pioneered, what I believe, to be one of the first “women in music” groups, East End Babes (and Flohil!), where she would introduce people to each other. She is a connector. She’s a maven. She’s owned and operated a record store, supporting independent labels and artists outside of her own acts. She runs a few different live festivals. She is a loving mother of two beautiful and special young women, who embody their mother’s spirit of giving, logic and joie de vivre. She is a fun and supportive sister, both in the literal and figurative sense. She is a juggernaut. She’s magic. She is a fucking force.
Some of my favourite memories of Shauna involve booze. Her parties are legendary. One SXSW, we rented a house and a margarita slushy machine. Emily and I baked pot cookies and brownies to give to the artists who visited the house. We all pitched in making breakfast for everybody who came through. At one of the old Six Shooter office spaces in Toronto’s east end, we hosted these block parties during NXNE for the music industry types AND invited the whole neighbourhood. She even had a kids tent and babysitters on hand, so families could come listen to the music and have a break. We all took turns BBQ-ing and serving drinks. She wanted everybody to feel included. It’s how she approaches most things in life, I think.
Most of my favourite memories of Shauna, however, are her words: ones she has spoken and written to me over our years of friendship. I have known Shauna for 14 years, so there are a great many of them. These recollections are so deeply ingrained in me that they are muscle memory.
It’s been more than seven years since I moved away from Toronto. There have been long stretches when Shauna and I have not been in touch or seen one another. But no matter how long it has been, no matter the time that passes or the things that have happened, when we do reconnect, it’s always the same. Not even time can erode the intensity of her love, admiration, support, humour, trust, encouragement, bravery and work ethic she has given to me from the start. It breaks my heart, somehow, to feel like I haven’t been able to spend the time with her I’ve badly wanted to. And it breaks because I know how vital she has been in my arrival to my current self of today. I feel like I fail her whenever I fail, yet I know she doesn’t see it that way. She still believes that I am fearless.
She once explained to me how other people see me. I wish I’d written it down because now I have to paraphrase her, and my way of explaining it won’t sound nearly as beautiful or as apt, despite my way with words.
She said that some people are afraid of me because I’m already ten steps ahead of anybody I meet. She said that takes some people a little longer to catch up, in regards to the kinds of relationships I form with people. But that when, or if, they do catch up, they’ll see me the way she has from the start.
Shauna, I can never thank you enough for everything you have done for me but I hope that this is a good beginning. You have my deepest gratitude and admiration. Thank you for your fearlessness and your love and for always being there. You are truly one of the best people I know. You are part of my heart. I love you to the moon.