Since May 2014, I live and study in the mid-sized city (for Canada, that is) of London, Ontario. Most months, I head back to my hometown of Montreal, Quebec. Right now, I am in an extended stay in Montreal that started with vacations and is ending with a month-long internship.
In less than a week, I will head back to London to finish my master. Even if both cities are in the same country, they couldn’t be more different. I’m happy that I’m leaving my hometown, but at the same time, I know I’ll miss it. It’s always like that. I’m often caught between leaving and staying, fight or flight.
I felt ill at ease in London at first. I tend to feel uncomfortable when I’m trapped in a sea of conformity. Worse than that: I feel alienated. But one thing is for sure: a good solution to feeling trapped and limited in one’s own circumstances is being able to lead parallel lives.
I like to experience different realities through activities like acting and reading. But I also really love experiencing the world firsthand. I’ve always leaned towards a bohemian lifestyle. It probably happened intuitively. I moved weekly between my mother and my father’s place until I was 18 years old and spent all my summers in the countryside growing up.
For my generation, it’s easier than ever to leave one’s hometown to pursue other ventures. I’ve lived in five cities and my best friend Raph has travelled to all five continents. We made it happen. It seems as if we can almost trick ourselves into thinking that we can seamlessly pass through time and space without a scratch.
Being able to lead parallel lives means that I can indulge sometimes. But of course, I can’t have everything at once. When I’m in Montreal, I love being able to hang out my many fabulous friends. It’s home for me, and I love that art and culture is part of everyday life. I love walking everywhere and the fun lifestyle. I love running into people I know all the time. I also find it annoying.
When I’m in Montreal for too long, I feel trapped in time, like I’m going back to where I was years ago. I feel like I’m collecting dust, as if nothing has ever changed. I am staying at my dad’s place, rummaging through the fridge and watching cable TV. I walk the same streets I’ve walked thousands of time. I have memories all over the place: oh, this is where I did a show, this is where I used to work, this is where I had a date with this guy. It seems as if I almost travel back in time, except I can’t.
When I’m in London, I love attending university on a scenic campus and living near the river. I love spending time in my two-floor apartment. There is a sense of space and tranquility that I can’t find at home. I love being able to focus on the task at hand, whether it’s a court story or a yoga class. At the same time, after a couple of weeks in London, I get bored. I miss the diversity in people, style, activities. I want some movement, big-city energy and never-ending events. That being said, I can be as happy in the middle of the woods as I am in an art opening.
The more places I live in or visit, the wider my understanding of life is. That goes hand-in-hand with speaking different languages. I need to speak French and English on a daily basis because it means that I never get bored with words. Once, when I was in an hospital in Germany, a male nurse spoke to me in English (my German is too limited to have a proper conversation). He knew that I was from Canada and so he assumed that English was my mother tongue. I could barely respond to him as I had a swollen mouth but I vehemently protested ‘‘no! French is my first language!’’
”That’s good,” he said. ”You speak two languages, you have more ideas.”
What the nurse told me made sense. I always have new ideas. Speaking different languages opens the mind and breeds creativity, just like travelling places does.
The moment in-between places is always an introspective time for me. I feel like I’m in suspension, like trapped in mid-air. I get to stare out the window and think. I listen to the quiet rhythm of cars passing. I appreciate the light, the trees, the sights. I tend to go through a lot of emotions about what’s going on in my life as transit allows me to reflect. My body gets strained from sitting for so long, even though I practice yoga at pit stops.
Even I’m not specifically fond of public transit and garage bathrooms, the feeling of being in transit to go somewhere else has always been exciting to me. It makes me feel alive. Like a shark, I need to keep moving to live. Coincidentally, I have the word ”SHARKS” tattooed on my right bicep.
Leading parallel lives can be schizophrenic sometimes, but it’s especially thrilling. It keeps me on my toes. I don’t take people or places for granted but rather I become more appreciative. I’m conscious that things change quickly. That’s the beauty and the challenge involved in leading parallel lives.
Photo: Raphaëlle Brault
Lili Monette is a multidisciplinary entertainer and writer, and the Associate Editor of Blonde. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre & Development from Concordia University and is currently a student in the Master of Arts in Journalism program at the University of Western Ontario.