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.

Parallel Lives

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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

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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.

Beyond the Grain

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The art affected me almost instantly. We went to the gallery to support Adrienne, a Toronto-based artist who was exhibiting the work she completed after spending a few months in Syracuse, New York. She left to take part in the artist residency program and came back with a large body of work, most were pieces painted on wood bearing feminist and lesbian messaging, the lines in some designed to look like vaginas. Some of the pieces were colourful and abstract, while others were subdued and sad, exuding a feeling of loneliness and loss.

It was the latter that inspired us to buy a piece, our first real art. As we stood in the gallery two summers ago tipsy off complimentary wine, another friend offered to give us a tour. She was familiar with the work and had a way of describing the paintings in a manner that made you fall in love with each one. Not that the work wasn’t great in and of itself, but the stories played a quintessential role in our decision to buy the art. There were these intricate details behind each of the works that resonated deep within me. Story after story, I felt myself admiring each piece in a new way.

But when we came to the one we would buy something stopped both of us. The piece contains five pieces of wood, each one found somewhere in Syracuse, assembled in such a fashion to create one larger work. At first glance, all you see if the five pieces of wood, but upon further inspection it is clear the grain is actually painted on and stained. It is a work of five paintings of wood, painted on wood, against the grain. It is an illusion and a lie. It is control and chaos. It is beautiful and dark. It is haunting.

I loved it before I knew the story, but I loved it after I knew the story more. Adrienne felt a deep isolation in Syracuse. A college town, she was there on off months when almost everything was closed and no one was around. The town, my friend described, was broken and lonely, a series of abandoned homes with nobody to love them. Adrienne was staying in a room in a house that was shoddy at best. One night, she noticed a perplexing repair. It was painted wood, maybe along a floorboard, but whoever painted it had done so against the grain. Adrienne couldn’t understand why someone would do that; make such an obvious mistake. She felt like it summed up her trip perfectly.

TJ and I had just returned from a trip our selves. We had left Toronto for Saint John, New Brunswick in a hurry upon news that a dear friend of mine had been in a horrible accident. The ATV she was a passenger on had flipped and landed on top of her, crushing her beneath it. She was alive, but the accident left her paralyzed from the waist down. When I heard the news I was devastated. I could not stop crying and I called everyone in tears, TJ, my mother. It was hard for me to breathe. Shyla and I had been friends since middle school and she was like a sister to me. I felt like I was mourning her. I felt like she was dead. The news hit me so hard I had to keep reminding myself that she was alive.

Seeing her meant going to Saint John, a town that sounds to be much like Syracuse. On the way to New Brunswick we got delayed at the airport in Montreal. I cried into TJ’s lap for what felt like hours, devastated that we would arrive in Saint John too late to visit Shyla in the hospital. I hated the airline. I hated the feeling I felt in my stomach, this horrible knot of despair that turned and coiled until I felt so sick inside I thought I could die.

By the time we made it to Saint John it was pouring rain and midnight. The cab driver asked what we were doing in town and when we told him, he already knew of the accident. It had been all over the news. The scenario of seeing her in the hospital played out in my head over and over like a broken film reel with missing frames. The emotions were so strong they overrode the images. I couldn’t see her smiling in my visions. I couldn’t see me smiling in my visions. I saw only unparalleled sadness. I felt this sense of complete and utter loss even though she was alive.

Visiting hours were over and so TJ and I had little else to do but waste time in Saint John until we could see her in the morning. We grabbed an umbrella and decided to check out area. It was so late and we were exhausted, but we thought we’d better grab a drink somewhere down by the water and experience a taste of the town while we were there. We were also hungry, but nothing was open. Saint John is a port town, a place for cruise ships to stop through. But it felt like a ghost town, the rain sinking inside our bones and forcing us to confront the shiver we felt inside.

We weren’t able to see Shyla in the morning. She had a rough night and barely slept, finally resting her eyes some time after the sun had come up. So TJ and I decided to explore Saint John in the daytime. Even in the sunlight, the town felt desperate. The buildings and houses were so old and evidence of a fire that wiped out half the town many years before still remained. Nobody was around. In a coin and collectibles shop, old men talked about wars of the past. We walked down streets that were so empty we could hear our footsteps on concrete. It was a place without many sounds. As a city girl used to the noise of the streets, the silence disturbed me. I don’t remember hearing any birds.

When we finally saw Shyla, the experience was hardly the depressing scene I had been imagining and instead she possessed this unworldly acceptance of the accident, of her fate. I never saw her cry and she never once looked like she might. Everyone else, including me, was a total mess, but Shyla was calm. She knew something we didn’t yet. She knew that everything, including her, would be okay.

Back at the gallery, our experience in Saint John still haunted us. While our visits with Shyla turned out to be beautiful, the town itself had left scars on our souls. It felt like the painting knew this, that it recognized this inherent confusion, this suffering and intensity that we had experienced in the days leading up to our visit to Saint John, and the kaleidoscope of emotions that came with it. Some people don’t understand why we purchased art that reminds us of something so depressing, but the work continues to speak to us each day, forever its meaning just slightly evolving. These days when I look at it, it reminds me not to take things for granted, that everything can be taken away from you. Whether it’s in a minute or gradually over the span of a few months, you can lose things you never knew you could lose.

But more importantly, it tells of the power of turning something painful into something meaningful, and of seeing the beauty beyond the grain. It inspires me. It reminds me that everything is going to be okay.

Four Girls, a Car and a Flood

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My best friend was turning 25 years old on April 10th this year, and to celebrate, we left to her mother’s cabin situated between Trois-Rivières and Quebec City.

The plan was to drive from Montreal early on Thursday morning with my three closest childhood friends, and then two other cars packed with other friends would come in, one at a time, one on Thursday night and the other on Friday night.

Gab had told me to meet her and Raph at the grocery store at 10, after me and Gab each got out of our distinctive yoga studios.

My class ended at 9h30, I changed and I went down St.Laurent to the grocery store.

I arrived there, I came, I saw, I shopped and I waited outside for a good half hour.

I ran into an acquaintance who told me that the girls had been out partying the previous night.

Oh dear, I thought.

Gab was supposed to come by car so we could carry the groceries and leave, but she arrived on her bicycle. She hadn’t been home.
I was quite frustrated to be stood up in the middle of the street by my best friend, who was in charge of the whole operation.

‘‘I’m so sorry Lili, I know it’s what pisses you off the most, when people keep you waiting’’.

As I sipped ginger kombucha and waited a little more, Gab stormed into the grocery store and came out with another box full of food.

We hailed a cab, putting the groceries in the trunk. Because Gab was cycling, I was alone in the cab, chatting with the cab driver as usual. We were in a sea of orange cones, with works happening on Rachel St., among others.

In the cab, I called Raph again.

‘‘Yes, I’m leaving soon!’’, she made clear, before her phone died.

I can never be pissed off at Gab for too long, and as soon as we went back to her place and had breakfast, I wasn’t angry anymore.
We sipped coffee and talked, and she told me all about the previous night.
She also told me that our friend Elyse was really drunk by the end of the night and was being over-the-top, so they left her at the bar.

I was really worried about her, so I called.

”Elyse? Are you okay?”

She replied with the most cavernous voice I’ve ever heard.

-No… I’m sick.

-Okay. Drink a lot of water, dress up, maybe take a shower. We will be there in about half an hour, I’m calling you back when we are on our way.

-Okay. Thank you Lili.”

Gab said:

”Lili, you’re gonna be such a good mom.

-I know.

-You know, right?

-Yes, I’ve had a lot of practice to say the least!”

In the meantime, we were still waiting for Raph. She arrived in an a sporty outfit and sneakers, her long mane tucked into a ponytail.
She rushed in and told us about her night: she had hung out with a good guy buddy of hers and they did drugs, MDMA included. ”It was way too much fun!”, she kept saying, to my disapproving eyes.

Me and Gab looked at each other in complicity.
‘‘Raphie!’’, we said as we told her not to banalize the situation, since she is prone to like more toxic, performance-enhancing drugs. This always worries us.
Raphie still had work and packing to do before leaving Montreal, which made us a little impatient due to the lack of consideration. Finally, we were ready to leave.
I called Elyse again, who agreed to wait for us outside.

She still had dark makeup on her face and was crying and holding a pillow.
”Oh boy,”, we all said when we realized that the girl had indeed a terrible hangover.
She embarked into the car in the back along with her miniature greyhound dog Sigur (as in Sigur Ros) on her lap.

Raphie had to send papers for her taxes and so we went to the pharmacy on Mont-Royal ave.
Me and Gab went out to grab coffee as Elyse stayed in the car. I gave Elyse and Gab their respective coffees, and sat in the passenger seat. But by the time that Raphie went back to the car, Elyse started feeling like throwing up again. We made it onto a side street, where Elyse found a narrow lane to throw up in. It was so bad that it was funny, and we all laughed about the situation. After she did her deed and fell better for it, we left for real.

Being four girls on the road, we felt that we were inside an episode of Girls, and we indeed talked about the TV show exhaustively. Raphie and Elyse processed to explain thoroughly who the four characters were to Gab, who never watched the show.
Of course, we were all awarded a character that fitted with our personalities. The girls decided that I was Hannah.
-I see you as the main character’’, said Raph.
‘‘Yeah, me too, I see you like a main character’’, said Gab.
‘‘Yes!’’, I replied.

We all erupted in laughter. But it made sense, given her knack for storytelling and writing, and her sometimes kooky personality, Hannah was the character that suited me the best.
Basically, we all wanted to be Jessa, the cool girl. The role was awarded to Raph. It was especially fitting because of her long hair, what she had done the previous night, and her tendency to not always know what she wants to do, but having fun while at it. She is also the most mysterious and travels a lot. Sometimes, she hurts her friends and looks down on people, but that is also because she is fiercely independent.

Shoshana was awarded to Gab because she’s funny, is a very good friend, can be silly but at the same time has a head on her shoulders. She is simple and down-to-earth.

Marnie was Elyse since she is the one most likely to doubt her feelings. She likes to experiment, but is not always happy. She has the most beautiful body of the group, and is a go-getter.

We were listening to amazing up-and-coming bands like the Allah-Lahs, Mac Demarco or Blouse in the car, courtesy of Raph’s iPhone. It was the perfect breezy soundtrack for our escape.

Gab gave plenty of coconut water to Elyse, but she could not drink any. ”It makes me want to throw up.”
But then hunger stroke her. ”I want poutine!”, she kept saying.

As we were driving through the countryside, we went to a little snack bar held by a tiny blonde lady.
It was typical countryside Quebec, a white and blue wooden shack.

We asked her to take a picture of us with an iPhone, and she didn’t know how to use it. It was not the best picture, but it was a funny moment in time.

We had poutine sitting on plastic benches while Sigur was chilling outside.

After poutine, we wanted beer, so we made a quick stop at the gaz station to buy a multipack of beer.

We made it to the countryside, and when we pulled onto the tiny road leading to the house, there was already a flood in the making. We passed with the car feeling as though it was a boat. We barely made it on the other side.

We went into the house, put the stuff into the fridge and cracked open a beer. Even Elyse had one, and we proceeded to play Scrabble.

We went outside and talked to the elderly neighbour, Jacques, who was a lovely man, and he told us that around that period every year, there was floods, especially on top of the farm fields.

A little later, Jacques came back, waving through the window.
‘‘Whose birthday is it? She’ll be surprised’’.
When Gab came back from her walk, he gave her a small treasure hand-made wooden chest in wood.
‘‘I have a lot of time on my hands in the winter,’’ he said.

We left the countryside to go to Gab’s mother place, in a small town near Trois-Rivières. It was luxurious compared to the damp cabin. Two of our friends (a couple) came to meet us and we had plenty of amazing food, wine and even a gluten-free cake.

The next morning, I was the first person to wake up in the house. I slept badly with Raph on a inflatable mattress.
I went upstairs and had coffee with Gab’s mother, who is like a second mother to me, and whom I haven’t seen in ages. I was taken care of with coffee and breakfast, and it was lovely to hang out with her and her boyfriend in the morning, catching up before we became a group again.

Around twelve, we went back to the countryside and this time, the water levels were dangerously high.
Jacques told us that when our other friends were to come by, he would pick them up on his pick-up truck, as it could wreck a car completely.

We started drinking early and played games of Scrabble and Monopoly. We also went for walks, watching the geese come back and the snow melting, creating rivers.

There was a huge snowbank in front of the house. Raphie was walking on top of it when she got stuck, up to her waist in the sticky snow. I tried to help her to get out, but I was stuck as well. Gab came to help, and had her head into the hole. She could barely breath when Raph got her out. I became frozen and panicky. Nature had too much control over us. I went inside for a bit, recovering for the nature but feeling that whatever happened, my girls and I had each other’s back.

Later that night, people came from Montreal, eager to party but we were exhausted.

We could now barely get out as there was snow and water everywhere.
We were stucked in the cabin, like we were on an island in the middle of a lake.
It was surreal, to be confined to a small house consisting of one large room.
We were eleven colourful, loud and unique individuals sharing the space.
We had dinner together (Mexican food!) and played games, until it was too late.
We had an argument since some people wanted to sleep and some wanted to party, and we were crowded in a small space. It was difficult to fall asleep that night, because there was nowhere to go.

I ended up cuddling with my gay best friend, breathing deep, finally able to fall asleep.

The next morning, a couple left early, but not before we were able to call the trailer to tow the car.
We were lucky that Jacques knew the guy working there, since otherwise they would not have done it.

They left, and then we had breakfast as a group of 9.

We then went outside to watch the river go by and talk, coffee in hand.

Most people left, and then we were, the four girls once again. We were happy to be together, because it was exhausting to be as many for hours on end. It felt like coming home. It underlined the fact that we were an amazing team.

We finished cleaning and packing up, and we had Jacques drive us to our car.

He kindly kissed our cheeks and said goodbye. He said that he was lucky to have been around young and pretty girls all weekend, that his friends would be jealous.
He got back to his dirty pick-up truck and went back to his normal retiree life.

We left in the sunshine and stopped for gas and M&Ms on the way back. Two kinds, peanuts and pretzels.
We were happy to be the four of us again, snacking away, and dreaming about an eventual road-trip. The conversations were flowing, and we were all on the same track. Whatever happens, nature catastrophes or arguments, we know that we always get each other.

We went back to Montreal completely out of touch with reality, to the point where we were surprised to see a black man. I went back to my tiny apartment, crawled into bed and slept away, in my own little boat.

Photo: Lili Monette

Lili Monette is a multidisciplinary entertainer and writer, and the Montreal 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.

Lonely in London

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So many times I have packed and unpacked, moving along to new cities in a effort to constantly feel alive, to make my dreams come true and to fulfill my inner free spirit. Every time I move to a new place to live, there is a big reality check coming along with it. Effectively, I need to learn how to live all over again. I need to understand the city and its culture. I need to meet the right people with which I will have meaningful relationships. I need to know the spots to buy cheap and tasty groceries, the cool cafés, the best parks, the splendid street art. It might seem easy and of course, it is blissful to stroll through new cities to discover new haunts. Alas, it is quite another thing to settle down in an unfamiliar place.

I just arrived in London, Ontario to start a Master in Journalism. I will stay here for one year and I already knew before leaving that it would be quite a challenge for me as a big-city girl that feels comfortable either in the countryside or in the city. I’ve always had trouble being in a small town or a suburb, as I feel that difference is more or less accepted. Despite having lived in London UK, Vancouver and Erlangen in Germany, moving somewhere else is always a challenge, even if it is the tenth time you’ve done it. It always means starting over.

Before leaving Montreal, I felt heavy, as though my past was weighing on my shoulders. As I was sifting through drawers of stuff from my twenty-five years on Earth, I reflected upon the fact that in life, nothing is forever and objects eventually have to live another life or disintegrate. I also pondered upon past trends, old friends, and my very identity.

It took weeks to sort things out. I had to make sure that I didn’t throw away useful stuff, or worse, keep too much. I have been moving apartments every year and downgrading in size, but I knew that this was my ultimate move. I’m going away to study now but I don’t plan on coming back to Montreal after I’m done. We’ll see where I’ll find my true calling (New York?).

Right now, I feel torn between missing my friends and my city and knowing fully well that I need to move forward in life and that my time in London will not exceed twelve months. I am now living in an apartment without internet (a devastating misunderstanding with the girl I rented the room from) which makes me feel insanely alone, helpless and empty. It makes me realize that this is a wonderful opportunity to stop and breathe but especially, reflect.

When I arrived in my first apartment in Vancouver at seventeen, I had constant insomnia despite being an usually sound sleeper. I could not fall asleep because I was highly receptive of the melancholy and sadness of life, and the fear of being alone and starting anew was keeping me awake at night. I felt miles away, physically and psychologically, from my loved ones. I still feel the same kind of restless anxiety years later as I’m trying to calm my nerves by myself, without being able to call anyone or say anything. In that case, writing is the only thing that really helps, in an effort to open up a conversation.

I remember when I was living in Erlangen and my bedroom was by the window. Evidently, as it was summer and that there were picnic tables just outsides, engineering dudes used to drink beer and speak loudly when I was trying to sleep. A similar pattern was happening last night, as my apartment was vibrating from loud music and that shouting from drunk dudes was coming across. When times are though and that I feel grumpy, I’m trying to be grateful nevertheless, otherwise life would be too melodramatic.

Yesterday was rainy and I walked kilometres in the windy and rainy weather to go downtown. I stopped at the river where I watched the geese swimming and listened to the water flowing down. I also saw street art under the bridge. I kept walking to see a clothing store that I was surprised had an outlet in London. I was in much need of retail therapy although it had to be a cheap session, given my financial circumstances. I got a new shirt, earrings and a badass women of hip-hop colouring book. I paid for my items and left the store to spot, right across the corner, a lady in front of Wine Rack with a sign written ‘‘Free Tasting’’ on it. What better way to invite people in? I came in and started talking to Megan, as her name tag suggested. She made me try two wines and a cider and listened to my newly-arrived desperate tale. She helped me with directions and encouraged me to come again on my way back.

I kept walking with the humidity making my bones shiver. The mix of bad weather, sadness and poor architecture was putting me in a bad mood again. In a shop window on which was written ‘‘free henna tattoos’’, I saw a girl rocking multicolor dreadlocks. I thought she looked cool but especially, that she looked like an individual in a city where people tend to look the same. I was tempted to go in but she was busy with somebody else. I thus kept walking, failing to find a grocery store.

I was downtown and there was a lenghty line-up to enter a comic book store. People were either disguised or wearing normal attire, and it made for quite a scene. As I kept walking, I ran into heaps of hobos, and I felt that I had hit rock bottom for the day. Despair was seizing me, and I knew that I had to head back. Walking on the same street again, I finally entered the elusive store, where I was greeted by two sunny ladies. I sat down with the dreadlock girl for a henna tattoo and we started to chat. It did not take long to realize that we were both from Montreal and felt quite different here. That conversation brought about a much-needed feeling of acceptance and relief. I knew right then and there that I was going to be friends with that girl. We spoke French and it was so comforting to let my guard down. She invited me to an 80s night tonight and even if I have school tomorrow, I’ll probably check it out.

Following that moving encounter, I went to the Covent Garden Market and got quite long-faced when I realized that organic food in London was way more expensive than in large cities such as Montreal or Toronto. Upon talking to a lady in the store, I got a list of other organic stores in the area. She winked at me when I was walking around, and I was so thankful to her for understanding the situation and sending positive vibes my way. It calmed me down to realize how people could be lovely. I know that I will make friends here, but I’ll just have to find my tribe, like anywhere else. I might be alone right now, but it’s an occasion to reflect and open up headspace for new experiences.

If I do feel lonely, I can open up a box of photographs, look at the pictures on my walls, or else at the henna tattoo on my hand. I’ll have to be brave, but I’ll be able to go through this, once again. Hopefully, the dudes downstairs did quiet down around eleven and I slept like a baby for twelve hours. I woke up to a sunny morning. As a French saying goes, ‘‘après la pluie, le beau temps’’.*
*After rain comes beautiful weather. 


Lili Monette is a multidisciplinary entertainer and writer, and the Montreal 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.

Photo: Autoroute 10, 2013 by the talented Olivier Gariépy. http://ogariepy.tumblr.com/

A Canadiana Christmas & A Happy New Start

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In the month of November of my seventeenth year, I left the Canadian metropolis of Montreal to go inhabit the lunar landscapes of Northern Alberta. My knack for adventure had propelled me to subscribe to a youth program where locations were picked for the participants after their acceptance into the program, which was aimed at a bunch of 17 to 21 years old who were about to live three months in three different Canadian locations for a total of nine months. It was not the first time that I ever left home without any family, but this time, it was about to be a long and far-flung adventure, and anything seemed possible. At the Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, I instantly recognized two girls from the same program as me because of their badges sewn onto their backpacks and tuques, and so the three of us embarked on our first flight of the day together. We landed in the snow in Calgary, quickly grabbed a coffee and boarded another plane to Grande Prairie. The plane was noticeably smaller that its predecessor, and its passengers consisted almost exclusively of fellow young participants and their accompanying authority figures. We talked, laughed and interviewed each other. Me and the girls even did rounds to get a view from the window. Of course, we were a very excited bunch, deserting our hometowns, starting ourselves anew. It was the beginning of what already seemed like a year-long summer camp for late teens.

We arrived in Grande Prairie at night in the tiniest airport, one without chain stores, long corridors or hundreds of people. Instead, the airport consisted of one huge room and a snack bar atop a mezzanine. There were now about thirty to forty participants hanging out there, clustered on leather seats in the common public space next to the greasy spoon. The bunch of young folks, waiting to depart to their respective destinations, was sprawled in different directions, speaking French or English, and more rarely both. One of the purposes of the program was that the participants would become bilingual by the end of it, which was bound to happen, but as nerves were sensitive and travel exhaustion felt, most people kept to themselves.

A couple of minutes later, I embarked on a couple of charter buses and, while the first group was dropped in Grande Prairie, mine stopped at Falher and the other group was bound to settle in Peace River. The first thing that really hit me was the lack of light: there was not a single spot in sight in the few hours of bus after Grande Prairie. The only lights came from oil tanks at the side of the road and even more rarely from garages and convenience stores. The moment was quiet and kind of scary. I felt like I was about to live in the middle of nowhere (which wasn’t that far from the truth, come to think of it), while also feeling incredibly tiny in the infinite land.

We finally made it at the house, bleary-eyed, and were divided into three different rooms: three girls in two rooms, and the boys downstairs. The beds, made of white-painted metal, were noisy and uncomfortable. We were just about to start our own family in this house as we got accustomed to live together in it, doing various volunteer jobs during the day, and coming back at night. There were always a team of two that had to clean the house and make food daily, and we even learned how to bake our own bread.

The times were the most joyful with the group. There wasn’t a city to discover, and that helped us to bond. We were always playing in the snow like there was no tomorrow: having snow fights, making angels in the snow, going for walks. At one point, we even witnessed white and green Northern lights on a nightly walk. The sky was gigantic in proportion to the flat land and the connection to it was primordial in a way that doesn’t happen when surrounded by tall buildings.  The sense of space was all-encompassing, as if the sky could dictate our moods and lifestyle.

The program was a moment of togetherness, despite our differences of language, culture and hometown. We were always traveling in a mini van, doing various activities such as swimming or thrift-store shopping. Alas, the summer camp for late teens also came with a downside and its share of boredom:  the volunteer work I was doing involved too much time spent on MSN chatting with my friends back home and not enough time being challenged.

I learned to become happy in everyday life, with such small events as coffee breaks with fellow coworkers, but my gut was telling me that I needed to get out. As days went by, I realized that although I loved the group, I didn’t like how the organization was ruling our lives. I increasingly started feeling like an inmate living by strict regulations instead of living a grand adventure. I thus announced my departure and then, two days before Christmas, I was officially kicked out of the program. Luckily, I was taken under the wings of my lovely coworker, Yvonne, who had the same age as my dad’s but was already a grandmother many times over. Yvonne and her retiree husband’s André lived in huge house and they even had prepared a plush guest room for me. After sleeping on a bunk bed for weeks, the queen-sized bed felt like a dream.

I spent Christmas Eve with the couple’s family: their children and grandchildren came along for an evening of fun, gift-giving and card-playing. The whole family made me feel more than welcome, and it was the best gift I could have received that year, miles from home. It was another kind of Canadiana Christmas, not the typical Québécois one I was used to, but still one where food was abundant (there was a chocolate fountain!) and laughs galore.

On Christmas day, I returned to the group’s house to hang out with everyone. It was beyond frozen, and energies at the house were low as we watched movie after movie. I felt a tinge of melancholia as I saw the group together for the last time, while simultaneously feeling ready to face loneliness, challenges, and independence.

On December 26th, around 5 AM, Yvonne dropped me to the bus stop, direction Edmonton, where I had a plane to catch. I was so lucky that, when transferring my ticket booked by the organization to my hometown, an engaging young man decided to give me a first-class seat, with the explanation: ”it’s Christmas, right?”. In the bus, sunrise was starting to work its magic. For the last time, I got completely immersed in the boundless landscapes of the Northern part of the province.

I made it to the airport, and it was the first time that I was boarding a plane on my own. I remember writing in my notebook, sitting in the luxury lounge, feeling so many emotions at once, something that was to become frequent in following trips. The plane ride was short and sweet, under an hour and a half and filled with fresh coffee, crudités, the Vancouver Sun and a warm towel to watch my hands. I felt like I was becoming a grown-up.

I arrived in Vancouver in a overcrowded airport, and got picked up by a friend of my mother’s, who lived there since years. That night, at his place in the suburbs, I went to sleep with a smile on my face, proud of such a huge change in a matter of days. The next morning, I woke up at dawn armed and ready with a considerable pile of CVs. I walked outside, looked at the lush West Coast vegetation, embarked on a bus and went on exploring. It was a brand new day,Vancouver was just about to be discovered and I was learning (somewhat intensely) how to be a grown-up.

Lili Monette is a born-and-raised Montrealer and an artist by DNA and by choice. She holds a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Theatre and Development from Concordia University and can be found around the world entertaining people and gathering stories.

Fortune Telling In New Orleans

Shadowscapes Tarot

I started crying when I asked her the question. I don’t know why I thought a fortune teller in New Orleans could tell me something I didn’t already know. I’ve had many readings in my life and none have been particularly revealing, though I have learned a few things about what makes one better than the other. A good fortune teller has the gift of reaffirming all your worst fears without you having to tell them the gritty details. Some seem to further have the ability to look into your soul (or your eyes…eyes are very telling), to see something that you don’t—or rather something you don’t want to see—and then tell you for the cost of a couple twenties. This particular fortune teller was named Fairy, recommended to my friend and I by a painter in Jackson Square. She told us Fairy was the only fortune teller she would see in New Orleans. She said she was the best.

It was sunny and hot and it was the beginning of November. November is usually the month I attempt to swear off drinking, burdened by ten months of bad decision-making and gin. In November I realize how close or far I came from actualizing my new years resolutions, which for the most part constitute doing less of something rather than more. Less vices. Less sadness. I don’t like to admit I am sad. I work hard and have a decent career as a writer, it’s tough but I do it well enough that it pays most of my bills and takes up the majority of my resume. I am in love and I have the best of friends and I have support, three quintessential tiers of happiness. At 27 though, I know sadness and happiness are not mutually exclusive. I know that what you have on the outside cannot make up for what you lack on the inside.

I looked at Fairy part way into our reading and I heard myself say, “I just don’t want to be sad anymore.” I have been sad for so long I am exhausted by it and no amount of prescriptions or talk therapy seems to have changed this. When I looked at Fairy and said those words, I realized it wasn’t so much a question as it was a declaration. I just wanted someone else’s opinion that wasn’t my mother’s or my therapist’s or 3 am versions of advice from my friends. I wanted an outsider opinion from someone who didn’t know anything about me. I wanted someone to tell me something new.

She looked at me and she said I’m not sad. At first, I found myself rejecting the words that she claimed came to her from the universe and exited through her lips. What do you mean I’m not sad? I found myself rejecting these things because I have blamed so much of my sadness on all those blips on my lifeline that I’ve attempted to bury under passing years and empty bottles and new accomplishments designed to make me feel something other than this dull ache. She said I am not sad. Then what am I? I felt mad so imagine my surprise when she said I am angry, but my anger manifests as sadness.

It’s a weird thing to have a stranger tell you that, someone who has no idea of the things thing you’ve been through, your fears, your regrets, your failures, or your desires. It’s strange to have someone tell you that you’re angry and then when you want to hate them for it, to actually find yourself becoming angry with those words and realizing that those words are perhaps then at least partially true. It’s weird to realize that you never realized this before. It’s such a simple truth, why couldn’t anyone see it? Why couldn’t I see it?

What I do next is up to me and no oracle or tarot cards can point me in the right direction, no amount of meditation can calm this, none of those crystals I’ve bought while drinking whiskey out of coffee cups on cold Toronto afternoons can find me salvation. I need to do something about this anger and I need to take responsibility for it starting right now. A while ago I interviewed someone, a role model of mine, someone who has been through hell and back, and I asked her how she’s handled everything with such grace. She said she’s taken responsibility for it. She says she has a life to live. This is the blurry part, the part I need to take some time to figure out. I thought first I’d write about it, but what I do now remains, for the time being, a mystery.

Fortune tellers can’t tell you anything you don’t already know. I placed American tens in Fairy’s donation box and walked away with a heavy heart, but it was no heavier than it had ever been. I had a sunburn on my arms and chest from sitting in the heat listening to a stranger tell me all the secrets I had been keeping from myself. Then, I felt lighter. I remembered it was November and I closed my eyes for a minute, listening to the flurry of jazz music that surrounded me in the hot New Orleans air. I opened my eyes and looked at all the fortune tellers lining the square, all the people wanting so desperately to know their truths. I thought about the nights I had spent on Bourbon Street that weekend, I thought about the city I was in and the city and the boy I missed back home. I let myself feel the sun on my skin and the wind in my hair.

I felt happy.

Sheena Lyonnais is the founder of Blonde. Follow her on Twitter @SheenaLyonnais.

New York, New You!

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I grab every chance I get to whisk away on an escapade. I tend to plan out big on a tiny budget (and also, unfortunately, to max out my credit card) but nevertheless, I make a lot of mileage out of my trips. This summer, my vacation was short and sweet: a total of nine days. The first part, and the one this story is about, concerns a fabulous four-day trip in New York City, where I was heading to see a queer show performed by a couple of great friends and to stay with a friend of my best friend’s.

The following Friday, my exhausting work week finally came to an end. I went straight from the car of my cool-cat colleague to a gigantic red van packed with luggage and five colourful individuals: three French girls, a French young professional as well as our dedicated driver, a Belarusian piano player undertaking a Ph.D. in music. Given the plethora of my fellow passenger’s visa situations, we were held in the stark little gray room with stinky lavatories known as the American customs. An hour and a half later, we were handed back our passports and our verdict (the French had to pay seven US dollars to cross the border), and we were finally free to go and grab the van’s keys. We rolled through the idyllic hilly Adirondacks with the sun slowly fading and the sunset creating undertones of pink and orange. We made it to the Big Apple at the very classy time of 2: 30 AM in the heat wave on garbage day, which made me smirk: I forgot about New York City’s difficult density. We were dropped off on the Upper West Side at 163rd Street station/Amsterdam Avenue. I had to go all the way down to NoHo (North of Houston) but at least I had company: the three Frenchwomen, who tried elegantly but surely to find their way by pointing on the Subway map (as French tourists tend to do anywhere in the world). The lost tourist effect worked like a charm. The following stop, an ultra-glamorous black woman came into the wagon, wearing a long red dress and a bejeweled turban of the same cloth. She assured us, in a very elegant French (she was from Benin, Africa) that we were in the right direction. She talked to us in that soothing voice of hers for a couple subway stops until disappearing into the night, wishing us a fantastic evening.

A couple minutes later…

I start to feel fabulous despite my exhaustion and I am psyched to be here. I am already in a New York state of mind (talking to everyone and being willing to see and be seen) when I get out of the subway station around 14th street with one French lady. Drunk boys keep bugging me and my new friend, asking obnoxious drunk questions and saying silly sexual sentences like ‘’oh, you are French! Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?’’ . Seriously, dude!

I cross wonderful Washington Square, feeling knackered but insanely free and awestruck by the massive white arch, a very common feature in large European cities (Paris, London, Barcelona, to name a few) but very special nevertheless. I am on my way to Gregory’s apartment, my new host, a man I have yet to meet and greet. The only information I have from him thus far comes in the form of a text-message on my new friend’s cheap phone explaining that he is gone to an after-party in Brooklyn and that I shall find the keys under the rug. Next thing I know, I am in the hall of an apartment building rummaging under the carpet looking for keys. I am worried that some tenants will think that I am a hobo (cue the traveller’s backpack, the bandana and the double denim short-and-shirt combo) trying to break in, but there is no one around. I find a single key, which takes me into the block. I find the apartment’s door and I push it slightly to find it unlocked. The apartment itself is a classic New York City closet apartment. It consists of a small kitchen and a large bedroom filled with amazing drawings, paintings and collages. There is art material all over the place and a library well stocked with a myriad of contemporary art books (from Drawing with Children to Street Art in Berlin). It smells of weed interlaced with Air Conditioning and I have a feeling that I am going to like this guy. I am just falling asleep on the badly inflated mat on the floor when I hear the door opening. I get up to greet my new host and we hug instantly. He tells me about his night

‘’-Oh! It was terrible. We went all the way to Brooklyn to this warehouse party and it was fucking empty and I just spent about sixty dollars on cab and tickets… But whatever, it’s over now. Now, do you smoke weed?’’

The next day, we start the day with a healthy breakfast in Washington Square. We grab coffee and watermelon, food we eat while people-watching and listening to some fellows playing percussions. Our initial activity of the day is to go on the hunt at flea markets. My mission: to find a decent soul record (by a black artist, specifically) for my co-worker. We get lucky right away: there is an outdoor flea market with milk crates full of records. I find one produced by Quincy Jones, so I assume it is mind-blowing: Right on Time by the Johnson Brothers. We are on our way out when Greg runs into somebody he knows: a very stylish black guy around his mid-thirties. The reaction is sudden: ‘’this record’s good!’’ I know I made the right choice right there and then. I am thankful I picked a quality record and I return the compliment when I see that he is wearing dapper black leather boat shoes.

”I love your shoes! Very dapper!”

”Thank you!”

As we are on our way to the second market of the day, I am walking with Right On Time on top of my head. Two handsome and muscular black men, the packing crew, are chilling in front of the opened garage doors where the market takes place. One of them yells: ‘’now, walk back!’’. I walk backwards and do a 360 degrees turn to everyone’s cheer. Without missing a beat, I ask them: ‘’are you guys able to do this?’’. I show them the panda face, where one’s hand go around their eyes upside down like funny-shaped glasses. They do it instantly, and we all share a belly laugh before entering the market. This moment is so fun and these men make me very happy with their wonderful enthusiasm. This is exactly the kind of moment that underlines the sense of no-frills encounters that permeates New York City life.

Leaving the second market, we stroll along the Highline, a unique perspective of the city where sidewalks and skyscrapers are seen from a different perspective: for once, one is between high and low. At some point, we go down the track to wander around the Chelsea gallery district. We pop into this gallery with a desk dedicated to ‘’create your own mandala’’. Being the super-crafty people that we are, we sit down and start drawing. Both our mandalas showcase our personality: Greg incorporates graffiti art and I leave a love note ”from a Montreal lady”. We wander around a couple more exhibitions, read artist statements and comment on the technique used: it is a pleasure to check out galleries with an amazing art connoisseur.

As the sun is slowly fading out, we stop by Greg’s pad to subsequently go out: we decide to do a bar tour to go drink and dance. First, we go to this cool bar full of young professionals where I try the Blue Moon for the first time, a refreshing white American beer, then to a gallery where we watch art and dance to Get Lucky by Daft Punk (among other joyful hits), and finally to this low-key bar filled with pool tables and young people. We meet two enthusiastic cousins from Queens and we kid around with them, sipping on two dollar beers. We finally get back to the apartment knackered and pleased with our entertaining evening. We talk some more and finally fall asleep at five o’clock in the morning.

The next day, we take over Brooklyn (We Go Hard). Given Greg’s appreciation for markets, we stop in a few where I get great items: a beige blazer for 1$ and red snakeskin sunglasses for 20$. It is time for a pee and an afternoon drink, so Greg makes me discover Sand Bar, an awesome place where sand covers both the indoor and outdoor floors and tiki influence reigns supreme. While drinking our Mexican beers, the waiter accidently spills sauce on the floor and my leg. As a non-fuzzy customer and an ex-waitress, I totally understand. It turns me and Greg’s conversation to past jobs, recalling mishaps and mistakes. The waiter, a funny and sweet fellow in his mid-twenties, comes back with a beer ”on the house, for being so cool about it”. Here’s to having a positive attitude!

That night, Greg goes to his brother’s and I head back to Brooklyn. I get off at Carroll Gardens and walk endlessly. I am strolling, without realizing it, in direction of the Hudson River. I need to pee (story of my life) so I enter this gorgeous vintage-looking bar with sand squares for playing petanque. I change my mind and decide to stop for a beer: the bartender is handsome and they have organic beer. I sit down on a velvet couch to look at my pictures taken during the day when this young and gorgeous Russian lady starts talking to me. She is with her husband, Ivan, and they are both absolutely elegant and soft-spoken. They want portraits of them as a couple, but unfortunately I am leaving soon. We chat for a while and I do manage to take a lovely picture of them before saying goodbye.  I stroll down to the Brooklyn Bridge Park, where I get breathtaking panoramic views of Manhattan. I have had dreams of this exact image before, even thought I never walked at the exact same spot. It is a vivid impression of déjà vu. I see a well-known visual artist, kids, lots of families and an early-thirties black father who gives me the widest smile and the cutest hand wave.

Culturally, people in New York have the reputation of being quite jaded since they see it all on a daily basis. I found this to be a false assumption of people who have to navigate a crazy city and all its packed energy every single day. New Yorkers are actually quite enthusiastic and quick-witted. They are intelligent, sharp and funny as well as street-smart and professional.  The only time I found people in a bad mood, it was all related to one trait: impatience. In New York, people are not avoiding each other because they simply can’t, it is super packed (especially Manhatttan).

I met many more people in New York City that did not make it into the present story, and each and every one of them inspired me to move there and become their friend. They enlivened me to keep working hard with humour and love while staying true to myself. These couple of days completely refreshed my perspective; they made me feel whole and energetic, ready to fight the fight and live the dream. As I am slowly ascending my career ladder, I know that I need to prepare fully well to prove my uniqueness and necessity in a city packed with young hopefuls but walking those streets, I just knew: this is where my career will blossom. I am fully conscious of the harsh reality of the place, but its electric feeling is undeniable and the universe is calling me in New York City. In a couple years, I will learn all the words to New York, New York as sung by Frank Sinatra and I will carol my way out of Canada and into the cultural centre of America. Start spreading the news…

Lili Monette is a born-and-raised Montrealer and an artist by DNA and by choice. She holds a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Theatre and Development from Concordia University and can be found around the world entertaining people and gathering stories.

Photo: Gregory Moncada

Regrets: Just Another Thing I Can’t Afford.

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When I moved to Calgary 7 years ago, I had no idea that my split-second decision to give the West a chance was going to define the rest of my life. At the time, I was a hippie Literature graduate with a spirit I can now only envy while simultaneously shaking my head. I went to University in a small city where I could walk anywhere I wanted or needed to go.  I lived frivolously with my student line of credit. I experimented with clothes, hair styles, music, and, with other undergrads. It was a time of wild excess and freedom unlike anything else before or since.

Calgary was going to be the next big adventure.  There were jobs aplenty; I couldn’t wait to see the mountains, and most importantly, there was a guy who wanted me here. THE guy. You know the one I’m talking about. The two of you are friends who flirt, probably a lot.  He’s always involved when you’re single or vice versa. You go out to a club together with mutual friends and buy each other shots like sex on the beach. In other words your feelings are about as subtle as a flying brick but neither of you does anything about it.

Yeah, that guy.

After graduation he moved away and I went to my small hometown for the summer. We spoke on the phone four nights a week. Inexplicably, I missed him a lot more than I would a mere guy friend. So in typical me fashion I up and bought a ticket for YYC departing a few days later with $800 in my bank account, my measly credit card, significant student debt, and no place to live.

“The guy,” who is now my wonderful husband, offers me a couch and picks me up at the airport.  I don’t need it; I sleep in his bed.

That’s the kind of carefree individual I was.

A few weeks later I’m a waitress at a pizza joint with a bunch of kids who have no idea why someone with a degree was serving iced tea. I can’t give them an answer because I don’t know why either, other than jobs in writing are sparse, particularly creative writing.

The next few years are much the same. I work somewhere I don’t like or don’t fit in, assimilate a little more into the guy’s life, and write on the side. Four jobs come and go and our friends begin to think I’m a little eccentric. They are right, of course. They are also more practical than I am.   I’m broke.

Time passes and soon I begin to realize that a small spark in the always-optimistic me has faded, and, whether it’s simply age or circumstance I get a bit cynical. Bad bosses, bad drama, bills, and small insecurities take their toll.

The refrain remained the same. Be a good person, keep trying, keep writing, and keep looking. Something will turn up, things will turn around.

They didn’t and haven’t.  Still broke.

Writing is a challenging career and is often very isolating. Like many other writers I found that I started to drink a little bit too much and write not quite enough. I would eat poorly and sleep worse. My habits were not those of the successful-though-naïve hippie type I once was, but of a woman who was headed downhill.

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The strange thing is that throughout it all, the question of whether or not ‘the guy’ and I were meant to be together was never once an issue. Sure, things were hella difficult at times, and still are, but as a result our relationship is tighter than a Chinese finger trap.

And really, I don’t mean to sound like these past 7 years have been all bad because they haven’t. It’s quite the opposite, actually. I’ve made some wonderful friends. My family are truly amazing in every sense of the word. I love my husband.  I’ve learned to enjoy camping and hiking.  I’ve read some good books.  I’ve written a (pretty good) book myself. I’ve written some other things I’m really proud of.

Does that mean I don’t have any regrets? Of course not.

When I was younger I thought that regret was useless because feeling it couldn’t change anything. It only referred to the past and the past was beyond our reach; pointless. But then, when I was a kid I had nothing to regret in the first place and therefore no true concept of the word’s actual meaning. For example, I know now that it’s possible to regret things that haven’t even happened yet. Regret for an idealised, fantasy-future that can’t be.

I don’t regret my split-second decision to move here because I probably wouldn’t be married now and that’s something I wouldn’t change for the world.

I don’t regret pursuing Literature in school because as impractical as it may be, it wasn’t just any old option it was the only option. Because that’s who I am, that’s me.  It would be nice if I had pursued my Master’s degree before buying a house. I can’t afford it now and don’t know when I’ll be able to.

In life, there are sacrifices we make every day: for our loved ones, for work, for others, and for our sanity. As a writer my main sacrifice is a financial one. Choosing this life means not being able to afford the things that my friends and neighbors afford with ease. It is also a sacrifice of pride, in some respects, because many people will simply not be able to understand why you do what you do.

But it isn’t a sacrifice of who you are, and that’s why regret is just another thing that I can’t afford.

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Ashley Britten is a freelance writer with a BA in English who has recently completed her first novel in a YA trilogy. Ashley lives near the Canadian Rockies with her husband, their dog, and her betta fish Clyde. Follow her on Twitter @AshDWalsh until her new home on the interweb is up and running.

A Tale of Two Cities and One Suburb

driving 2

When I left Toronto just over five years ago and headed for the west coast, my Dear John letter read, “Dear Toronto, it’s not me, it’s you.” But it wasn’t Toronto at all. It was me. I was blaming a city for everything that was wrong in my life and thought, it’s time to hightail it out of here! Being a city girl, I chose a new city–Van City. I’d never even been there on a visit (I’d never been further west than Windsor, seriously); but when the option to apply for a job transfer to Vangroovy came up, I was compelled to apply. I needed an out. Toronto tasted like a hardened, stale bagel and I need to gnaw on someplace else.

I found myself an extremely cute little apartment in Vancouver’s West End. I had my cat, my dog, a place to learn to cook recipes from Julia Child’s The Art of French Cooking, and the ocean just 90 seconds away from my door. I ate too much butter, drank too much wine, and I buried any sign of the Trellawny who had ever lived in Toronto (literally, my new expanded waistline ate her right up).

But I never felt like I was at home. Three years, a seven-day uHaul drive across the country via the Crow’s Nest highway (I advise anyone against this route, by the way; and wish someone had advised me prior to the longest white-knuckle drive I’ve ever experienced), a parrot attack in a Thunder Bay hotel hallway, and a sublet in an apartment with a problematic amount of scary spiders later: I was back in Toronto. I was “home.”

Well…

Trellawny random city photoshoot

I was renting an apartment in the Beaches with a boyfriend I’d met in Vancouver. The door was on Queen Street and the lock broke; but the superintendent wouldn’t replace it. Not cool. So I bought a house. In the suburbs. I did a test drive; it was only 45 minutes back into the Beaches, where I worked. I could do this. Sing-alongs in the car every day! Hells yes! I was in a financial position to do it. I could pay into the equity of my own house rather than pay a slumlord and help his bankroll. This was a great idea. Homeownership = respect in our North American society. It’s like some sort of status symbol and I was about to be worthy of respect as an adult. Afterall, I wasn’t married, had no kids and no astounding career. But I could buy a house!

So, the suburbs. I grew up in the suburbs, not far from where I bought my house. My house. When I saw the house for the first time, my first response was, “It’s so cute. What a cute house!” But cute houses have lawns that need to be cut. And front porches that need to be replaced (unless you want to fall through them). And every utility bill? Yes, that’s up to me to pay as well. Shovelling in the winter: yes, must do that too. And I’ll tell you, that puts a damper on the drive-to-work sing-along. Also dampening, and not in the sexy good way, is traffic. Traffic. Other people get into a lot of car accidents. They don’t signal. They randomly drive slower than the speed limit…by a lot. And house centipedes. Let’s not forget those.

Other life events unfolded, like the end of my almost four-year relationship with that boyfriend. I started going to concerts again and went on road trips with girlfriends (of note: any trip I took had to be coordinated so my old dog was taken care of. During this time, my cat died, which just broke my heart).

city dinner alone

I lost 25 pounds. I cooked even more than I had in Vancouver–and made better foods. I started hula-hooping in my backyard. I BBQ’d. But everyday I had to drive in traffic: horrendous. Summer ended and girlfriends stopped visiting me.  Road trips stopped. Concerts dwindled. Bills piled up.

Owning a house. Not all it’s cracked up to be. Being a commuter: absolutely not for me. After almost three months of trying, I sold my house. Packing. Now that’s a way to get lost, especially when you are the type of person who keeps far too many items. But I did it. I downsized. I’m back in a city–Toronto–renting an apartment. I can walk to work. I’m just figuring out my routine. It’s just Maggie (my 15-and-a-half year old blind, deaf shih tzu) and me. Talk about feng shui-ing my life.

I have a lovely new boyfriend. He lives across the ocean. (We met at a concert and that’s a whole other topic.) I’m thinking about that move–across the ocean. I don’t know all of the details yet. But, what I do know is I’m a city girl. I know the specific city doesn’t matter. I know I need to walk places and be around people. I can still feel lonely in a giant apartment building, but it’s comforting to know there are people here breathing the same air as me, literally, who also feel lonely, lost, confused, inspired, encouraged, loved, happy… I know that if I see a bug, I can scream and someone will hear me! I know that “home” is not a geographical location. It’s where I can be comfortable. Be me. Be afraid of bugs, drink wine, paint doodles on a canvas, play my saxophone, write introspective pieces, be made love to, cook fanciful dishes or eat cheese & crackers. And where I can walk down the street and pass other strangers who aren’t sure where home is, but for now… it’s here in the city.

Trellawny has been teaching herself to cook for the past few years. She claims neither to be a chef nor a cook, just a girl who makes the most of making meals. You can check her out on YouTubeInstagram and www.distancedish.com