School’s Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.