Home For Mom

Photo: Rob Bye
Photo: Rob Bye


While I lived in Ontario for a year, I came back home every month. It was not for a boy, but rather for my mom. She has terminal lung cancer. She won’t do chemotherapy. At the point where she was, there was no use- it could have killed her rather than saved her. Yes, her slow demise is really painful, and it’s been on my mind every day for more than a year.

I learned that my mom was sick in February 2014. Even before that, I had a feeling that the news would probably be gloomy because my mom warned me that she was going through a series of tests.

I was also worried because in December 2013, we went for a four-day trip in Quebec City and I realized that she was more tired than usual. She was dragging. She needed more coffee breaks.

I was fearing the worst while hoping that it would not be lung cancer. I’ve had the intuition that she was going to die from lung cancer for years. It was not a death wish but rather a strong intuition. I also have an amazing yet disturbing intuition, and it’s mostly right- precisely what makes it disturbing.

My mother smoked cigarettes for years. When we lived together, she would go outside, mostly, or smoke under the hood to mask odours. Sometimes, when I would come back from my dad’s place, she would have had opened all the doors and windows to ventilate the apartment. She would also often try to hide this because she knew that smoking in the apartment, and in general, was not a good idea. Still, she kept doing it, despite my many pleas. I even made no smoking signs in a heart-shape, imitating a Health Canada campaign from the 1990s.

When my mother told me about her illness, I was devastated. I kept it inside and went to my father’s place to pick something up. It was towards the end of the afternoon that I started crying and I couldn’t stop. At the same moment, my father and his girlfriend came back. They were shocked, but not as much as I was. They dropped me off to yoga class. I went because I thought that it would change my mind. I spent half the class crying, to finally breathe. 

A couple of days after this, I got a call: I was accepted in the master of journalism at the University of Western Ontario.

I felt guilty. I didn’t want to leave my mother in Montreal, yet I knew I had to go. One of my dreams was coming true. It was my second and last attempt to get into one of the few master of journalism programs in the country.  Again, my intuition was kicking in, this time telling me that I had no choice but to go.

Discussing it with my dad, he understood my dilemma. ‘‘There are times in life where you don’t know what is waiting for you, but you know that you have to go,’’ he said.

My mom wanted me to go, telling me that I had to. She didn’t want me to feel guilty. That being said, I also always felt that I had to be back as often as possible to Montreal to visit, and I wanted to. 

In February 2014, the doctors gave my mother six months to a year. I did feel guilty at times for choosing my future over my mom, yet I didn’t choose. I managed to give as much as I could to both. It was not easy because it required tremendous energy. I often felt discouraged, anxious, angry or sad, but I did it.

In the months prior to graduating, I applied to a bunch of jobs all around the country, not knowing what was coming up. I would have loved to move to a new city, probably Toronto, get a high-paying job, find a new apartment and buy new clothes. I would have loved to start anew. I would have loved to become a real adult, to enter middle class, to reap the fruits of my labour. 

Despite my lofty goals, it’s not what life has in the cards for me right now.

On Easter, I had breakfast with my mom and she told me the result of her last scan: she has six months left to live. While she has exceeded her original life expectancy, I know that she won’t this time. It’s more or less six months.

Over coffee, my mother told me that it was fundamental that I’m there for the end of her life. I knew it, but it confirmed it. Time is finite and life happens and then it’s done or as Nas would say, ”life’s a bitch and then you die.” Time with loved ones is precious and it’s probably the most important thing in the world. It’s something that can easily be forgotten in this individualistic and workaholic society.

I’m my mother’s only child and closest family member. While the responsibility can be a burden, it’s also an opportunity to prioritize what is really important. In a nutshell, life and death. In a word, love.

My mother is not the easiest person to take care of. She suffers from borderline personality disorder, which means that emotions are heightened and days unpredictable. Add to that the physical suffering that is worsening as days go by.

As she outlived her life expectancy, she stayed seemingly healthy for months, although inside she was losing every day. She doesn’t seem as healthy anymore. She coughs constantly, and it is harder for her to go to public spaces or to walk outside.

On Mother’s Day, we were walking on Blvd St.Laurent and she was coughing so much that a 20-something guy gave me a concerned glance. I will have to get used to those glances now.

As much as I love my mom, I hate life for giving me such a hard time. My favourite aunt (her sister) already died from cancer in 2005. Why is it happening all over again?

I want my family to be healthy and I want to get on with my life. But then, I’m conscious life is not only about me and the most important thing right now is to take care of my mom.

I find the situation increasingly difficult as her health is disintegrating. I have a guy friend who went through a similar situation with his mother and he told me that despite it being the hardest thing, it is very important to be there constantly, especially in the last moments.

It is fucking painful. I want my mom to revert back to a healthier state. Instead, I’m seeing her lose strength as the days go by. She is scared, she is sad, she is constantly living the full spectrum of human emotions.

I’m trying to ease her pain and help her out as much as I can. I help her clean, I bring her food, I listen to her talk, I record her voice so I can keep memory files.

It’s difficult to know that for me, my mother will disappear soon.

I will never see her become an old lady with a full head of grey hair. She will never meet my future children. That is one of the hardest realizations to have.

Also, the worst is that everyone wants to believe that things are looking up, that she will heal. She will not. She will lose all of her energy. She will die. So many people ask me dumb questions about her state, about whether or not she is doing chemotherapy. People hope for the best. I understand. But the best doesn’t always happen. 

My mother’s illness has made me realize everything that she has given to me, everything that she passed down to me in my lifetime. I wouldn’t be as smart, critical, funny, sensitive and artsy if I had another mom. Despite her difficult childhood, she gave me everything that she did not have. She worked hard at being a mom. She worked hard at being an artist. She gave me everything. The list is infinite.

I will never forget that. I will never forget her. And when I eventually have children, I will make sure to tell them who their grandmother was.

 

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Bye-bye, Baby

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Learning to be in a relationship again after being single for a few years is no easy feat. When I started seeing my now-boyfriend, I was not sure if I should give my heart away, especially because my heart had been crushed several times in a row. That being said, I knew from the get-go that he was a caring guy and that he had a heart of gold, so I learned to trust him.

Even if I wanted a relationship when this one began, I forgot the efforts it required. Of course, I knew that every relationship (friends, work, family, love) requires efforts from both sides in order to work, but being in a relationship after being single for months feels weird.

I’m used to being very independent, so I find it difficult to be in a relationship sometimes. There is more compromise involved in being together than in being alone, but providing the partner is good, there is a lot more fun too.

I know that a good man is hard to find but even harder is finding one that is a good fit for me. I’ve dated a lot of great guys that were just not right. That is why I’ve had more lovers than boyfriends. Finding a good fit, and a man that I can actually love, seemed like looking for a needle in a haystack, because love is not about finding the man, and then done, happily ever after! Both parties need to be genuinely interested, hold common interests and/or goals and make significant efforts for the relationship to flourish.

My boyfriend is a little bit younger than me and I originally thought that it would be an issue because of the discrepancy in life experiences. He is from small-town Texas and I’m from Montreal.

We are worlds apart and yet, we can understand each other. Being with him taught me much more than I expected at first. I tended to see myself as superior because of my many stories and globetrotting life, but I’m not. We are just different, yet similar. The great thing about being in a relationship is to teach each other how to be better people. We also get to share life together, and the company’s always good.

I find that being in a relationship teaches me to be patient in other aspects of my life, such as in my relationships with others and especially with myself. Sometimes, I get annoyed at my boyfriend and at other times I get pissed off at myself. Being in this relationship has made me aware of my limitations, of his, and then of every other human being. Limitations can be overcome with courage and curiosity, things that we both have. Everyone can get better, but at the same time, people are who they are and that is why finding someone who is on the same wavelength and willing to grow with me can seem like a never-ending quest.

Accepting somebody’s love is difficult too, as it is something that grows with time. I love my boyfriend more now than I did at the beginning of our relationship because I’ve learned to accept him the way he is, and he does the same with me. I used to be bitchier around him. I guess it came from giving up my independence or rather, not wanting to give it up. It also came from a resistance to change and openness. It also came from past fears, fights and feelings.

Even though being in a relationship is hard work, I wouldn’t trade it back for singledom. I’m not saying that being single sucks, but I was ready to be in a relationship when it happened and I got into it because he was worth it. I was not looking for just about anyone. I actually wasn’t looking anymore. And then, it happened. Life has its ways.

We dated for a month before I had to go home for the holidays and an internship. He was going home and then back to school. The long-distance relationship actually brought us closer together. Because we were not physically together, we had to communicate through words only. We talked for hours online. He sent me a paper he wrote. Seeing the extent of his intellect made me fall in love with him, and kept me looking forward to our reunion.

When he went to pick me up at the bus station, he brought a big bouquet of flowers. Our relationship became stronger after that, and eventually cemented into something official.

I love having my boyfriend around me. Being together makes life easier and more exciting. We laugh a lot. We have fun even in a small town because we go on dates or we talk and chill out at home. In tough moments, we have each other’s backs, we talk it through, we make each other feel better. He takes care of me and looks at me with loving eyes. We cook for each other. I got him into cooking more, and I’m always pleasantly surprised when he whips up a new healthy recipe.

I got him into quinoa, tofu, eating more veggies, going to yoga and drinking herbal tea before bed. He got me into following music, scholarly ideas, space and learning how to be more patient.

I went home with him for Easter. Actually, he drove me there. He met my parents, who absolutely adore him, despite the language barrier. That trip made us realize that we could live together in the future. If you’re able to go through such a trip together, support each other and come out stronger, it’s a good sign.

On the road, he waited in line for food while I got us coffee. We sat down together and ate breakfast before going on to new adventures.

In the car, I read him stories to make sure that he was awake and entertained.

On the way back, I was exhausted and had a deadline the next day. Despite our intention to go sleep at my friend’s place in Toronto, he suggested going straight home and it was such a relief to know that he was willing to go the extra mile (literally).

He is extremely patient, kind and affectionate. All of this positive energy really helps me to keep going. We encourage and support each other in our endeavours. We are both intellectual and active people, so we always have something new to talk about. We keep our bodies and our minds in good shape. We always have smart conversations. We are both immensely curious.

We tell each other ”I love you” many times every day. We call each other a lot of silly nicknames, which I won’t reprint here, but let’s just say that there’s a lot of baby animals involved. The difficult part now is that despite all of this, life is not a Disney movie.

In a few days, I’ll be going home to Montreal for a few months and my boyfriend will be staying in London, Ontario. The good thing is that he’ll drive me home and that we’ll get to spend a couple of days there together. The bad thing is that he’ll have to come back to London.

When I wake up next to him in the morning, I always feel blessed. I’ve got a good, fun and smart man to hold. I don’t take it for granted, and I know I’ll miss him. At the same time, I know that I’ll carry on being both a good girlfriend and an independent woman.

When we’ll see each other, it’ll be a celebration. In the meantime, we will have to communicate over phone, text, email, Skype. We are setting up a two-people book club to deal with the separation, reading the same books at the same time.

Although it’s hard to say bye-bye baby, it’s also nice to have this time to write and figure my adult life out. I’m still an independent woman and it’s important for me to remember my individuality when I’m in a relationship. I don’t want to lose sight of the single girl because my inner independent woman is what keeps me going. Being alone for most of my life shaped who I am and where I’m going. That being said, it’s also nice to share.

School’s Out

The ladies of #thelastmaj at Western University
The ladies of #thelastmaj at Western University

Having been in school for most of my life with a few delays, I have trouble believing that this is my last week of school, ever. Well, that is unless I choose to do a Ph.D., but I highly doubt it at this point. This is the last time that I’m bound to an academic institution, one where professors grade my work and where I have to hand in assignments.

There’s a folder on my desktop titled ”Journalism” that now contains countless articles, essays, pictures, scripts, slides and Pdfs. It makes me realize the exhaustive body of work that I’ve accomplished over this past year.

I’ve been on deadline so many times for a number of reasons, and while it was stressful, it was also a constant thrill. I can’t count the hours spent writing, transcribing, interviewing, hosting, reporting, shot listing, editing, producing and other similar tasks.

This one-year program was the most intensive one that I have ever done. It was grueling yet life-changing. It gave me the skills that I wanted to have, yet I’m conscious that there is always more to learn. This program gave me wonderful opportunities and learning experiences that I could not have had otherwise.

It’s the end of an era in my life. It all started in May 2014 when I first moved to London, Ont., and met all the people I would see most days for a year.

Over the months, we got closer. In a few days, everybody will go their own way, and it will be a while since we reunite as a group.

I’m very excited to leave London and to get on with my life but at the same time, I know I’ll miss this. I have been part of many groups throughout my life and once they break, I miss seeing everyone united as a group even if in the process they can get on my nerves.

There will be things that I’ll miss about school, such as the mentorship, the time that teachers spend to help with assignments and to generally give good advice. In the working world, people don’t always have that kind of time.

I’ll miss having a space to learn, grow and make mistakes.
I’ll miss the student lifestyle although I won’t miss the low income that goes along with it.

Being in this journalism program has really helped me to carry through with my ideas and to work efficiently under pressure. The fact that I was constantly working, producing and getting results got me farther than I could have imagined. It has also set a pace for my future. I am more disciplined than ever, which is a great thing, considering that I will keep that quality going forward. I feel especially proud of myself because even as a CEGEP dropout, I managed to finish my master (well, almost). I am looking forward to producing more work in the months and the years to come.

I have trouble realizing that it’s the last week. It hit me in the head yesterday when my professor got us all beer and pizza after class to celebrate. Earlier today, everyone was showing their final projects in the television studio and the table was full of snacks and coffee pots.

One thing that makes me realize that it’s the last week too is that I’m exhausted and I still have work to do. It’s not time to celebrate quite yet.

As my yoga teacher/friend told me tonight after his yoga class, ”you don’t taste anything anymore at the end of the semester, and music doesn’t feel as good.” True that. Things are more difficult because fatigue and stress take over.

Time spent for cooking seems like time lost, and don’t even get me started about cleaning.
My room is so messy right now that I don’t want to step in it unless I have to change or sleep. It is hard to walk. There are newspapers, magazines, books, clothes, bags, pieces of papers and beauty products scattered everywhere.

At the end of the semester, I can often be found in a café or at the library so I can escape my self-created mess and focus on the task at hand.

Unlike when I finished my undergraduate degree, now I feel fully ready to go into the real world and to leave school for good.

I know that it won’t be easy. I suffered from anxiety in the last months. I worked hard on dozens of job applications and despite putting my heart and soul into them, I heard nothing but radio silence. That being said, I did find a part-time job and I know that I will find something else eventually. In the meantime, I can relearn how to be a human being again and not only a stressed-out performing machine.

I’m ready to be out there in the real world. Freedom is of utmost importance to me and I’m looking forward to claiming it back.

Right now though, I’m on the line. I feel the adrenaline rush that comes with a lot of hard work but I’m also starting to see the end of it.

I’m really looking forward to sleep for days and to listen to Alice Cooper’s song over and over again. For now though, I’ve got to get back to my final assignments.

Lili Monette is finishing her master of arts in journalism this week. Watch this space.

Talking Trash

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‘’I say too much sometimes…’’-Lindsay Lohan

In one of my classes, we all sit in a rectangular shape, with the dozen or so students staring at each other from across the table. This class focuses on feature writing and is taught by one of the most engaging and funny (not to mention stylish) professors that I’ve ever had the chance to encounter.

In total, there are 25 students in the professional master program that I am in. That means that by now, everybody knows everyone pretty well and we tend to debate and joke around a lot in class.

In one feature writing class last week, we were commenting on a sublime piece of writing about depression. My colleague who was facilitating the conversation paused on a passage, which for me as for others seemed out of place in the story. I was the first to comment, and I said the first thing that crossed my mind.

Bear in mind that I was born in 1980s Quebec, where feminism was strong and religious beliefs dwindling. My parents grew up with the Catholic religion and then grew out of it. Because of their experience that was transmitted to me and of the fact that I’m an atheist, I don’t innately understand religious beliefs. That being said, I respect and admire people who have a strong faith and a great relationship to religion.

Anyhow, what I said was an inappropriate comment about that passage. Before I was going to say it, I said, out loud, ”I can’t, it’s offensive.”

‘’Oh, go ahead!’’ My professor said.

So I said, half laughing nervously and half looking at my Christian colleague with one eye, ‘‘it was, for me, the Jesus Freak part of the story, if you will.’’

While I was pronouncing the first sentence, I saw my Christian classmate rolling his eyes.
I realized that I had gone a little too far.

My colleagues laughed, but then I explained further (and smarter) that the excerpt seemed out of place. It took me out of the story because I could not relate to it and the tone drastically differed from the rest of the piece.

When it was his turn to speak, my colleague explained to me, and the others who commented on the religious aspect of that excerpt, that he really hated when people looked down on religion, because it was really important for him and really helped him to strive when he was struggling. What he said was so powerful, the whole room went silent.

I remember last summer, when the same professor was in grief, he would sometimes be in a very weird mood. He taught a very intense class about the odds of getting ill. He was quite aggressive, saying that we will die one day and explaining the odds of getting cancer.

As I have a close relative who currently suffers from the illness, it was too much to bear for me on a weekday morning. And this happened twice. So I stormed out of class. My Christian friend was one of the few friends to check on me and give me a hug.

As I was thinking about that, I felt ill. The incident left a bad taste in my mouth. That night, as I was walking to yoga, I felt that I had disrespected him and that I had not thought enough about what I was going to say before I said it. I texted him, apologizing for my words. He thanked me for doing that.

Everybody comes from a different background, and it’s not because I grew up with a mother who has a very sarcastic, third-degree sense of humour that everybody gets the joke.

As I was leaving a friend’s place for dinner later that night with my boyfriend, I explained what had happened to him. I told him that I tend to over-share rather than under-share.

That being said, I’m pretty outspoken and I believe that it is important to share and to foster conversations. I pride myself on being a good communicator and a critical thinker. A presentation I did on Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons this week reinforced the point that freedom of expression and independence of thought is not only important, it’s necessary.

The problem with being bold is to own your statements.

A few days ago, my dad was telling me that he was going to read all of my stories on this very website.
”I don’t know how I stumbled into this…’’ he began.
‘‘Probably Facebook,’’ I said.
‘’Ah, maybe.’’
‘’I don’t want you to read all of my articles dad… There are some I wrote about boys and stuff.’’
‘‘Well if it’s there, I’ll read it. Freedom of expression. It’s all good, Lili,’’ he said.

And it made me realize that it was all good. If somebody does not agree with me, they can tell me that. I don’t need to be afraid of their opinions, but rather open to their feedback.

Recently, my boyfriend pointed out that I was saying ‘‘f*** off’’ a lot. The other day while grocery shopping, I was tired and impatient. I was trying to find a certain product, and when I realized that I couldn’t find it, I said ‘‘f*** off!’’ loud and clear. As I turned my head, I saw a kid looking at me, wide-eyed.

In this case and in the other one in class, I felt terrible. I am a well-educated woman, and I know that there is a wide array of words to choose from, and swear words are not necessarily the best to get to the point. Once in a while, it feels good to let it go, to be open, and to swear (especially when tired, stressed or sick), but it shouldn’t become the norm.

That being said, life is absurd and real and humans are not robots. It is important to have honest conversations. At the same time, I need to take a breath and think about what I’m gonna say before I say it sometimes. I’m very spontaneous, which is both a blessing and a curse.

As careful as I am, sometimes I’m oblivious to swearing or saying it like it is. No filter.

Photo: Ellen von Unwerth, 1996

Lili Monette is a creative spirit and the Associate Editor of Blonde. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre & Development from Concordia University and is currently finishing the Master of Arts in Journalism program at the University of Western Ontario.

Fitness Freak: From Baby Whale to Beautiful Biceps

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Looking at my reflection in the floor-length mirror at Victoria’s Secret, I was wowed by my own body. I was trying on a pink and black sports bra, which made my boobs look amazing and gave me a surfer girl look. For a minute, I felt like one of the Victoria’s Secret Angels, only curvier and a little shorter. That wasn’t always the case.

Shopping used to bring up body issues. I often thought that those three-way mirrors (a staple at H&M) were put in fitting rooms not to give a better look at a garment, but rather to destroy my self-esteem.

I have never been fat, but since I developed hips and breasts, I’ve never been skinny either. I am a rather tall (for a girl), slim, athletic and curvy woman in my mid-twenties, but the athletic part wasn’t so visible before. And that is precisely what makes me feel so confident now.

In my late teens and early twenties, I cared about being active and made a point of moving every day, but I mostly just biked, walked… and partied. Dancing while going out would be counted as exercise. I definitely had a beer belly, so much that one of my ex-boyfriends used to tease me and call me baby whale, which was simultaneously insulting and endearing.

Being active was something that I had to teach myself because I don’t come from a sporty family.
Even if my parents enrolled me in swimming lessons and dance classes for years, having to discipline to be (and to stay) active was something that I had to learn over time.

Knowing that something is bad for you is one thing, but stopping doing it (or starting a healthier habit) is where the real change happens. As much as I hate to admit it, I briefly smoked socially, mainly when I lived in London, England because it was the norm (and the only way to get a break at work).

Stopping smoking socially was an easy decision to make because I would barely smoke anyway, it made me feel sick, but also because I knew that I didn’t need that shit in my life. It was causing me more harm than good, which is something that I was fully aware of before I started. Over the years, I stopped many bad habits and got into healthy new ones.

It helps that in recent years, there has been an increased enthusiasm about healthy living. Some of the things that I started eating (like kale) were the result of friends’ influence but also of the trends going around. The same can be said for the fitness crazes or other healthy habits.

I started eating organic food, doing yoga, going to the gym regularly and eating a wide array of foods that include hemp seeds, kombucha and sprouts.

I stopped smoking tobacco, taking hard drugs (which barely happened anyway) and getting drunk every weekend.

I refrained from eating meat, dairy and gluten.

I took a piece of advice mentioned in many magazines: I bought quality athletic outfits, which made me perform better. It is way more motivating to train with a cute gym outfit. Nowadays, on any given day, there is at least one sports outfit drying on top of my staircase.

At the same time, I know that I should not freak out too much. I work very hard, both with my head and with my body, and I need to find balance.

The hard work pays off and I do realize when my health craze gets too obsessive. I still enjoy a pizza slice sometimes and the odd day happens when I really can’t make it to the gym or to yoga.

Still, I’m pretty good at taking care of what I do with my body and what I put into it. This ethic of care has helped me to stay balanced, happy, confident and healthy.

My close friends and family tend to tell me quite often to calm down. I’m constantly in movement because my ambition knows no bounds, and so I end up constantly doing something.

That’s where exercise comes in. Yes, it might tire me out but it also calms me down. It helps me to put things back into perspective and to unwind. It’s an occasion to calm my never-ending train of thought and to let go of the 24-7 business that is my life.

Besides the mental benefits, exercise helps me to feel better physically. It’s kind of silly: when I didn’t exercise as much, I realized that I wasn’t as fit as I could be, but at the same time, it was comfortable and I didn’t know where to start.

But as my fitness fascination got more serious, I realized that once you start, you can’t stop.

I don’t want to go back to having a beer belly anymore, and I take the steps necessary in order not to. Nobody can call me baby whale anymore.

That’s where the balance and the discipline come in. Without fail, I need to set up high standards onto myself in order to stay disciplined. At the same time, I know that I need to give myself some slack when I’m overworked.

Focusing on health and fitness makes me feel good happens every day, like last Saturday while admiring my reflection in the mirror.

In that moment, I was grateful to be healthy, fit and beautiful because I knew that I didn’t always feel that way.

Being fit makes me more vain but also enables me to be more confident in other areas of my life.

My clothes suit me better when I’m fitter. I feel hotter when I’m having sex. I feel ready for any physical challenge that comes my way, whether it is helping a friend move out or carrying groceries.

Ultimately, I’m learning not to envy other women’s bodies, but to be perfectly happy with my own. And while I’m at it, I smile at my reflection in the mirror.

Lili Monette is a journalist, artist and writer, and the Associate Editor of Blonde. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre & Development from Concordia University and is currently finishing the Master of Arts in Journalism program at the University of Western Ontario.

The Newsroom

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”The newsroom smelled, as always, of cold coffee and yesterday’s air.”- Elizabeth Renzetti

A newsroom is an unattainable place for most people. It is intriguing precisely because it is one of those places where the magic happens (another one is the stage, but more on that later).

I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to enter that world and to witness what goes on behind the scenes.

In January, I made my way to the newsroom every weekday, coffee in hand, knowing fully well that I was probably going to need more throughout the day. I arrived at the tall tower, said hello to the security guard who seemed bored out of his skull, scanned my card and passed the control rooms.

The morning routine in the newsroom consists of skimming through newspapers to have a sense of what’s happening, even though story ideas don’t necessarily stem from there. There is also a need to know what’s happening inside of the newsroom and on social media. In less than an hour, my brain is already flooded with information.

News lives in the newsroom. Days are filled with important conversations about what is happening, where is it happening, what the coverage should be depending on sections and shows and to which outcome.

Inasmuch as there are as many kinds of journalists out there, they generally are smart, witty and quick on their feet. By journalists here, I include everyone working in a newsroom (besides the bored security guard).

Journalists report on stories and then producers or editors decide what goes on the air, the airwaves, the page or the Internet. What goes on in a newsroom is serious business, but not always. As people who talk about car crashes and war zones every day, the newsroom is renowned for its dark humour. The newsroom is also one of those few places where long conversations develop over grammar or the meaning of a sentence.

The news doesn’t happen at a regular pace. Sometimes, too many things happen at once and it’s hard to keep up. At others, journalists need to desperately seek a story for the next paper, show or newscast. This business seems to have as its motto: ”hurry up and wait.”

Getting into a newsroom is no easy feat. It takes perseverance and a good occasion, such as an internship. There is an air of mystery surrounding it, and for good reason: a newsroom is an information church, a sacred place where stories are told and decisions are made.

It was daunting to enter the newsroom for the first time. It appeared complex and scary because it is corporate and people seemed serious. Not only do they appear busy, but they also know what they are doing- and they get stuff done. One of the hardest things for me as a young journalist is actually figuring out what I am doing- and how to do it. Observing helps a lot in those situations.

I needed to know the basics before stepping in a newsroom, which is why I am forever grateful to my studies in journalism for showing me the way. We got a sheet with tips on how to be ”the best intern in the world” and words of encouragement from professors.

A newsroom may look like any open-concept office with people behind computers frowning their eyebrows, drinking coffee and wearing blazers. The difference here is that these people make a big difference in the world: their job is to deliver the news. It takes many journalists to research, post, write, host and produce (among other things).

People don’t necessarily sit next to each other in a logic order in a newsroom. It is common to see people walking over to their colleague’s office, asking for information, advice or confirmation. Most people seem to get along in the newsroom, and some look more friendly than others, just like at school.

Some people look imposing because of their innate authority or position (often a mix of both), but mostly, everyone looks busy and focused, and always on to the next one.

In the newsroom, the week tends to start with a bang. Mondays sets the standard for the week. My first day in the newsroom this year was the return to the office post-vacation. Office chatter could be heard, the kind of conversation you overhear but don’t participate in when you don’t know anyone. “Oh hey, how was your vacation?” I hoped that I would be able to have such conversations soon, to feel that I was part of the team.

A newsroom is not necessarily the healthiest place. There are a lot of bleary-eyed people who look like they could deal with some vegetables, a yoga class or a few more hours of sleep. The problem is that they are often over-stressed, over-worked and their time is limited.

When people bring food to share, it’s always super sweet (literally). Most the time, the food consists of cake and donuts. The sugar rush can be welcomed as it helps to keep going. There was a fabulous lady who baked homemade cakes filled with fruit, such as pineapple or blueberries. Definitely a newsroom highlight.

Not surprisingly, I like being in the newsroom, but I prefer getting out in the open. Being out reporting on the field is more exciting to me because it is real life happening in real time. I like interacting with people and learning from them- that’s one of the biggest draws of journalism for me. Of course, a balance of both is ideal.

By the end of my month in the newsroom, I got to know most people and had the chance to work with many. People knew my name and I knew theirs. The weather forecaster brought me espressos in the afternoon, warming my heart and giving me a necessary kick to finish the day. When the time permitted, I had lunch with a bunch of journalists, and being part of their fun conversations made me feel like I belonged.

The newsroom is depressing these days as cutbacks are becoming the new normal. There are too many empty offices, and dust is accumulating everywhere. Sometimes, the size of the newsroom itself shrinks. It is bad news for journalism because everyone working in the newsroom has to work harder with less. This is obvious and not an easy thing to swallow. There are many tales of burn-outs, lay-offs and precarity. It seems as if life is dwindling with the funds. Less money means less opportunities and more stress. I sometimes wonder why I decided to go into this stressful business.

As a young journalist working in my first newsrooms, I feel the pressure. I also feel the need to come up with creative ideas and solutions to make journalism richer and jobs better. I don’t claim to have the solution, but I do have ideas and thoughts that I share with fellow journalists on a regular basis.

A newscaster came to speak to my group at school recently. She said that the younger generation is more focused on balance. It seems logical to me and my peers because we see how working 60 hours weeks is detrimental to mental and physical well-being.

At the same time, the newsroom is still thriving. The public need their information. They want to know what’s going on. More than ever in history, people are hungry for content.

For the moment, I still have a bit of time to spend in the newsroom in order to learn the tricks of the trade.
I did learn a lot already, which is the underlying value of internships and volunteer shifts, but I’ve got a long way to go.

I know that I still have things to learn in the newsroom, but also that I won’t spend my whole life in one. I need change and there is a lot that I want to do outside of the newsroom. For now though, my passion for journalism and my taste for the newsroom’s structured chaos will keep me going back.

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.

Daring to be Different

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‘‘I’m not the girl-next-door. If you want the girl-next-door, go next door!’’-Rita Hayworth

‘‘Accept yourself’’ is spelled out on my yoga scan card that holds my keys. I look at it every day. And lately, I’ve thought a lot about identity.

Of course, accepting oneself is easier said than done. I accept myself more now than I used to, but there is something that never changes: I feel different. Sometimes I get jealous of ‘‘normal’’ people for fitting in seamlessly, but I’ve come to accept that being different is also my strength. I attract like-minded people, inspire others, and most importantly, stay true to who I am.

Despite the positives, feeling different has been both a blessing and a curse. I do what I should be doing and follow my instinct. I don’t think that I’m ‘‘special’’ necessarily, but society makes me realize that I’m outside of the box. Because of my education, I go into the world with an open mind and I can face walls or unexpressive faces. I suffer when I feel that I should behave a certain way, that I should swallow my thoughts or that I should follow the leader.

Learning to accept myself and not trying too hard to be liked has been a life-long struggle. Countless times, I wanted to be normal. I wanted a family with parents who are married. I wanted to have siblings and a dog. I peered through people’s windows with envy when I saw a full-sized family sharing a meal. But as Theodore Roosevelt once said, ”comparison is the thief of joy.” And it is. It’s better to centre on what’s good in my life than on what I could have.

In the past week though, the struggle got to me. I doubted my capacity for finding work after graduating. I was down because I am still waiting for money and have no funds. The future seems uncertain these days.

***

On Valentine’s Day at the restaurant, I started crying quietly. And it was not my date’s fault.

I was feeling disappointed and sad. I thought about my artist family and the struggle that’s still so real. I didn’t want to make a scene, and it was not like my date wasn’t supportive: he was. And it’s not like I wasn’t grateful: I was. But some of the things I’m struggling with were taking over my thoughts, so I excused myself to the bathroom, made sure I didn’t look like a raccoon, and went out again.

-It’ll be O.K., I said as I sat down.
-I know how you feel. It’s like my friend Will. He’s very talented, but it’s not working for him right now because he doesn’t fit the mould. You just have to keep believing in yourself.

The waitress came with the cheque. We started talking about the surprising flavours of the carrot, beet and goat cheese cake, which was delicious. Then she looked at me and paused.

-Are you French?
-…I’m from Montreal

My accent isn’t thick but it is noticeable. I’m starting to get over it, but I generally hate when people point it out to me. It’s as if all those years spent working hard to become perfectly bilingual were useless. And it’s another thing that makes me stand out in the crowd, so of course there are times when I want my accent to disappear. But again, it’s a plus: people tell me that it’s endearing pretty often.

As we went out of the restaurant, a man was looking at the board outside.

-Oh, they have beer here now!
-Yes, and it’s very good, they make it here. We just tried and I highly recommend it.
-Oh! You’re French! There’s not a lot of French people in London.
-I know. I’m one of the few! I answered as I crossed the street.

I can run, but I can’t hide. And I don’t want to hide anyway, although sometimes I need to stand back, think and take a breather. I’ll never be normal and that’s O.K. I’ll keep on doing me. I’ll keep believing in myself. When I start thinking that I should be somebody else or that I should be quieter, I remember compliments I received. I know that there are lots of people who love me the way I am. I understand that I have to tap into my own potential and not somebody else’s.

There is no way I’ll ever be a plain Jane. I love things and people that are extraordinary. I need art. I need conversations with enlightened people. I need creativity. I need outlets for my dreams, visions, and wishes. I need to be myself. I’ll keep on wearing pink shoes, cape dresses and sequined t-shirts. I’ll keep on cherishing the things that make me unique because that is what makes me Lili.

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.