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.

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

A Tale of Two Cities and One Suburb

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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…

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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).

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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

Now You Know… No You Don’t

Shelby-Blonde

How do you deal with a friend’s suicide? How do you move on when a person that you have slept with, have been your most intimate self with, decides it’s no longer worth it? You could do what I did and run away, again and again and again. In the span of a year, I ran away to Barbados, the other side of Canada, Montreal, Antigua, and took a five-week train trip across the USA alone. This week marks a year since his death. Here I am, back where I was when he kissed me, sleeping in the bed where we watched movies from and sipping coffee on the balcony where we would gaze down to stare at the drunks walking by.

I’m just as stuck now as I was then, or possibly more so. Beating myself for walking on that plane in San Francisco where I ended my USA adventure instead of staying in a place that filled my lungs and allowed me to breathe. Coming back from my last trip to the USA, I never expected how painful it would be to come home again. There is nothing for me here. When you’re away from home you sometimes feel that way, but deep down you know it’s just the vacation talking. When you come home, no longer on vacation and still feel there’s nothing for you, that’s when depression sinks in. No job, no boyfriend, at times feeling like not even a friend in the world since everyone is all caught up in their own lives. Everyone is out spending their well earned money and you’re left alone, at home, because you don’t have a job, you don’t have a man… why are you here. Then you think about him. That friend who saw it was no longer worth it and you’re at home, looking at nothing, feeling nothing and you just don’t know what to do.

After I came home from my five weeks on the road, everyone has been asking me how it was, wanting to see photos and expected me to tell all. It was amazing, it was perfect, I will say that. It was also an immense healing process, one that I don’t want to share. My trip was a personal journey and not something for me to make light of or present with a slideshow. You don’t know how depressed you are until you leave your comfy bed and face the world head on. I was depressed before I left (my counselors could tell you that), and I can say I am doing better now that I’m back. While I was gone though, I was never so happy. It felt like that’s how my life should be, a lone wanderer. Since I was a kid I could never keep long nails; I have a nervous nail biting habit. On my travels my nails have never been so long in my life. Back home, it would be impossible for them to be any shorter.

How do you deal with the suicide of a friend? I have no idea. I know sex is now more terrifying than it was when I was a virgin. It will probably remain terrifying until I find the answer to my question. I keep pushing away any man that tries to touch me, since I have no idea what that touch means anymore. Eric wasn’t the first man I had been with and we weren’t romantic when we were together, but he left me with so many unfinished conversations. I’m left not wanting another man, not trusting another man, though still longing for another man. Why did I ever come back? How do you deal with the suicide of a friend? I don’t know. I don’t even know if we’re all in this together anymore. I do know suicide can’t be the answer. If you have ever been left behind and know how this feels, then you know also, it can’t be the answer. Apparently the strong prevail. I’ll let you know if that’s truth or bull shit.

Shelby Monita is a freelance writer living in Toronto. Her writing mainly focuses on music, more specifically underground and punk rock. She welcomes the travel bug with open arms and loves to share her stories. You can read more of her work on her site casamonita.com.