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/

Valley of the Dolls: How Pamela Des Barres’ Writing Workshop Changed My Life

GTOs

You never know what to expect when you go to these things. You know it’s a writer’s group, so it will be intimate and there will probably be tears, maybe you’ll discover something new about yourself, reveal some hidden truth. But you can’t ever actually prepare for the way these things unfold. For the stories you’ll hear, you’ll tell. These things have an organic, electric current that flows through them, one that is beyond body and mind.

For the uninitiated, Pamela Des Barres is a god among girls, at least girls with penchants for bearded boys and bad decisions, girls who grew up listening to records, chasing bands, making stories. A member of the GTOs, she’s one of the world’s most famous groupies, and before you jump to conclusions, you must realize her role in your record collection. For she pulled on the heartstrings of Mick Jagger, Keith Moon, Jimmy Page, and Paul McCartney, for starters. She is the original wild child, tied to no one, lover of the moment. She wrote memoirs documenting her adventures and affairs, and she wrote them, somehow, with an elegance to her raw prose, never sparing a detail, so you could almost imagine yourself in a thin white dress, flowered headband, on the bus alongside her in the California sun.

I first borrowed her book I’m With The Band from my friend, and Blonde contributor, Allison and I liked it so much I didn’t return it for two years. It was also Allison who, through some higher power or spiritual force or intention of being, convinced Pamela Des Barres to come give one of her writer’s workshops, infamous in LA, here in Toronto. She picked Pamela up herself from the airport and hand delivered her to us, a group of lost girls, sharing a common bond of music and words and boys and stories. Pamela came to us and when she left we weren’t the same.

Something happened in that room. Pamela gathered us around and we sat in a big circle for two full nights. There were twenty of us, most were from Toronto but some came as far as Edmonton. First we shared some details about ourselves, the simple things, our names, a little morsel about our lovers. It didn’t take long before we were sharing secrets, there were moments so quiet you could hear the hair rising on arms, you could feel the intensity, the honesty. Girls bravely told stories they hadn’t even told their closest friends. I told stories I hadn’t (still haven’t) told my closest friends. We wrote about lies, sex, regrets, innocence, death, childhood, our parents, our hometowns, our dreams, and our records. We laughed. We cried. We wrote about the people that made us, the people that broke us, and the strength that allowed us to continue despite this.

But what I never expected to find were the Dolls, the very girls themselves. When you reveal so much about yourself to a room full of strangers you are making an unspoken pact. What happens in the room, stayed in the room, but the friendships and connections that were made in that room transcended it.

We became confidants. We became friends. We became part of a group so unique we call ourselves the Toronto Dolls, as Pamela does to the girls who attend her workshops.  We became part of each other, in a deep way, constants in messy lives. We help each other through struggles, through writer’s block, through pains and gains. We encourage each other when we’re down and send accolades when things are up. We support each other’s businesses, bands, and, most of all, writing. When we confess our sins, there is no judgment.

Because of the Dolls, I have realized things about myself I’m not sure I would have realized before. I have been encouraged to do things I’m not sure I would have before, to take leaps and risks and to start saying yes. It’s one of the reasons I started Blonde, and one of the reasons I am inspired to build it into something beautiful and raw. Blonde simply wouldn’t exist without the Dolls. I’m not sure where I’d be without them either.

Sheena Lyonnais is an editor of Blonde, as well as many other things, and first and foremost a writer. You can follow her on Twitter @SheenaLyonnais.

A New Dream

As a kid, I had some pretty outlandish dreams of my future. First I wanted to live in the Holiday Inn, with a gold swan faucet and two kids, Ariel and Eric. Then it was to live in a loft with huge windows in New York City, writing for a magazine. So to get to New York City; I became consumed with writing. I wrote short stories, poems and essays and editorials. I pursued journalism at the University that I thought was the best pick for me and there, my dream stalled.

Everything fell apart; I didn’t get the amazing grades or support I thought I would, drama plagued me and most of all I lost my writer’s voice. It was just gone.

So I gave up on writing. I just focused on working, and living way off in the boonies. Then I got an invite to move into a place in downtown Toronto. I jumped at the chance, and even though the place was a bit shabby, I loved it. I was living in the city, one step closer to NYC.

I applied to TV jobs, writing jobs, anything I thought I could do with my shiny new degree, but nothing happened. I desperately turned to temp work, sitting in cubicles with passive aggressive co-workers and corporate rules that never quite made sense. I kept telling myself, that someday it’ll happen, New York and my big star as a writer. Meanwhile, I only wrote a handful of articles/reviews for a friend’s music website and I sank deeper into 9-5 monotony. I tried to write more after hours, mostly short stories, but would get really bad writer’s block or psych myself out of the story.

Then one day, I went to the Art Gallery of Ontario by myself and wandered around for hours. I wound up sitting in front of the Monets, just staring at them for a long time. I realized that I had been so focused on pursuing writing that I was missing out the other part of my goal. I didn’t need to devote myself to writing to make my dreams come true, the city is my dream.

Rather than stare at a notebook and try to force words to flow, I can go to St. Lawrence Market and buy too much cheese and bread. Instead of stressing over plot points, I can have a glamorous Sex and the City day with my Aunt where I can shop vicariously through her credit card.  No more worrying about trying to make my life about writing, I’m going to just enjoy the life I have. However, a part of me will always want to write even after all of this, so I’ll take it one page at a time. If I do get stuck, there is always the AGO, High Park or even my skyline view to try and inspire me, but I won’t let my writing define me anymore.

This article is one step back to writing and someday, I may write that novel or short story, but for now, I’ll put up with working 9-5 to live in the city that I love 24-7.

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Erin Fahy is a corporate drone by day and a Blonde Mag contributor by night. You can follow her on Twitter @rockurworld16