Life advice from a wide-eyed 20-something

— CN: DEATH AND MORTALITY —

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barcelona…Charlottesville…what can I say?

What is it with all these rogue vehicles?

A runaway car, or a similar attack out of nowhere, could strike anyone, anywhere. It could hit me, or you, or anyone, walking down the street on our way to work, to school, to a party or to the corner café. It could hit us when we’re alone or with people, drunk or sober, happy or sad, focused or lost in thought, in an unfamiliar neighbourhood or a block from home. It could be Islamic State  or someone who calls themselves Islamic State. It could be neo-Nazis. It could be a single profoundly twisted nihilist trying to destroy themselves and take as many people and things along with them as possible. It could not be an attack at all, but rather a confused person who rammed on the accelerator instead of the brake. It could be exploding oil drums which send a ball of fire roiling into a nightclub– remember Lac-Mégantic?  It could be a fucking falling tree.

Life is dangerous. Is it more dangerous than it used to be? Maybe, maybe not…maybe we in the First World have just traded death from infectious diseases or dangerous working conditions in for death by rogue van or cardiac arrest at the gym. Maybe life is more dangerous, or maybe it just feels that way. I don’t know.

My point is, we might feel more scared, but we shouldn’t stop living. Although the risk is there, we shouldn’t stop flying, or exploring new cities or countries, or visiting people we love, or trying new things. We need to keep living full, brave lives, not in spite of these risks, but because of them. If you were to get hit by a runaway car, what would you regret?   Not seeing the Eiffel Tower or the Grand Canyon or the Forbidden City or a zebra in the wild or whatever landmark lights up your dreams? Not flying over the Atlantic at night? Not learning Spanish or basket-weaving or CPR? Not volunteering to tutor kids in need? Not going to the same karaoke night you go to every week with your friends, only this time saying “fuck it, sign me up” and slaying that Billy Joel song you’ve sung in the shower 75 times? Not spending your next day off experiencing your own city like a wide-eyed tourist? Not going to visit the introverted friend of yours who lives in the far suburbs? Of course, any one of these could get you hit by a car. It’s a risk. Bur how would you feel if you never did it? It would make the eventual end of your life that much sadder and more full of regrets. Better to have lived and lost than not to have lived at all, no?

Now I have to close this laptop and get out of this café. Too many bucket list items to check off.

 

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Not a Montreal Tanka

Not a Montreal Tanka

There’s something larger-than-life about

walking down a busy sidewalk

between a beggar shaking a cup

at the end of a jury-rigged fishing-rod like thing

and a posh Italian restaurant

with diners on the terrasse tasting tartare

fragrant wine, garlic and multisyllable mains.

Feels like a balance beam.

#mtlmoments

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Photo of the….

Back in Montreal and completely exhausted from a night of attempting to sleep in a train seat that was screwed to a wall.

I’m not much of a photo poster, but I took this in Ste-Anne-des-Monts in the Gaspé.

That’s not the ocean, that’s not a sea or a bay, that’s our Fleuve St-Laurent.

Breathtaking, isn’t it?

IMG_0486

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Québec, explained…or not

Checking in from a train somewhere in Nova Scotia, to relate a funny conversation I had in a youth hostel in Ste-Anne-des-Monts in Gaspésie (rural northeastern Quebec) with a young, bilingual Montreal Anglo photographer who had been in my rideshare, and an even younger, slightly naive Dutch tourist on a cross-Canadian tour.

Dutch girl: Good evening.

Photographer: Good evening.
Me: Hi!
Dutch girl: You speak English!
Photographer and me: Mm-hm…
Dutch girl: I didn’t realize people spoke so much French here.
Me: Well, that’s kind of the way it is, especially in this part of Quebec.
Dutch girl: But I asked a woman in a shop a question in English and she didn’t understand a word I said.
Me: This is Quebec and people speak French… if someone walked up to you in Amsterdam and asked you a random question in German, you’d be kind of caught off guard, right? *grumbling internal monologue about how no one does research before they travel anymore*
Dutch girl: But in Amsterdam, everybody speaks English.
Me: Amsterdam is part of the global economy; I wouldn’t say the same for rural Northeastern Quebec.
Dutch girl: But this is Canada. And people speak English in Canada.
Photographer: Yes, but people speak French in Quebec.
Dutch girl: But it’s not as if it’s a different countr— (Before the photographer or I can explain how it very nearly became its own country, a look of dawning comprehension crosses her face)
Dutch girl: Well, you speak English beautifully.
Me: It’s our first language.
Photographer: I was born in England.
Dutch girl: But you live in Quebec.
Photographer: Yep.
Dutch girl: And you speak English.
Me: Uh-huh.
Dutch girl: but I thought you just said people speak French in Quebec.
Photographer: We do speak French. It just isn’t our first language.
Dutch girl: But I thought you said French was the first language in Quebec.
Photographer: It is, but not for the anglophones.
Dutch girl : Angl— *gives up, shrugs, goes back to packing.*
Actually, it’s not just a question of research, this province can be pretty confusing when you think about it!
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“À la rescousse des naufragés”

À la demande de plusieurs (et pour primer mon cerveau avant d’entreprendre un autre projet d’écriture en français…) je mets ici des liens vers l’intégral de la série que la correspondante québécoise Agnès Gruda a écrite à bord de l’Aquarius. À lire absolument.

La périlleuse traversée (début d’un sauvetage)

Journal de bord 

Trois visages de l’Aquarius 

Fuir à tout prix la Libye 

Des enfants à la mer 

Femmes prises au piège 

L’Europe et la tentation du repli 

Voir l’Italie, et après?

 

 

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In Chicoutimi (Catchup blog 4 of 4)

A few weeks ago, I was in Saguenay working on a couple of stories. Sitting in the ruins of the old Pulperie on a sunny day, I wrote this little reflection on my upcoming immigration limbo:

 

In Chicoutimi on business

I stand on a viaduct

overlooking La Petite Maison Blanche

and a skate park.

A shirtless kid, white as a fish’s belly, rides a rail

And his wheels hit the ground with a crack.

I’m reminded of the skate park in the bud-shaped shadow of the Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg.

Winnipeg! As distant as Jupiter, but still…here.

It dawns on me that I’ve seen more of this country than that kid, who was born here, probably has…and much more of this country than I ever have of my own.

Where else could home be but here?

That is, if such a thing as home exists

For someone like me.

 

 

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When the letters stopped (catchup blog 2 of 4)

Despite all of the blood, sweat and tears in Winnipeg, I did meet some people who I liked and respected deeply. One person in particular, who I knew from work (I’ll call him Bruno) left an impression on me. We had an unusual relationship, conditioned partly by the pressure cooker of working in a small newsroom, where three or four people did the work of seven or eight, and partly by being two very atypical people in a community where the walls had eyes. Sometimes we would argue– I did cry in his office on more than one occasion. We shared our fears. Sometimes we would go out for pizza and talk about our personal philosophies and favourite secondhand store finds as if we’d known each other for decades. He saw me off at the train station when I went back east, and drew a pencil sketch of me in men’s formalwear that I treasure to this day. He keeps his own internet use to a strict minimum, but I hope if he sees these lines, he won’t feel as if his closely guarded privacy has been violated.

Once I moved back out east, he would call me or write me, once or twice a month at most.  In March, the letters stopped, and I just assumed he was busy.

Recently I was in Quebec City for a few meetings. One of my close friends from Winnipeg had moved to Quebec City, and I had hired her to do a bit of freelance writing for a project I worked on. The project lead wanted to meet her in person.

When she arrived, the project lead was busy, and so she and I went into another office and started catching up, putting our heads together like schoolgirls. “How’s Bruno?” I asked.

“You haven’t heard? He had a stroke.”

I lost a beat. My first thought was, “Oh no, not another Guyot.”

Jean-Claude Guyot was my supervisor when I was working on my master’s degree in Belgium. He had made many trips to Burundi, and once I mentioned to him that I’d worked there, I was immediately in his good books. He was also a breaker of moulds. Where other Belgian professors, and even teaching assistants, seemed to walk around with steel rods up their spines, to put it politely, and acted almost offended when students asked questions, Guyot wasn’t afraid to backslap or high-five people, to tease, to reassure or to engage in long conversations on equal terms. Half admirative and half mocking, our Belgian classmates called him tonton (uncle) Guyot. Around the time of the 2015 coup in Burundi, I wanted to work with him on a radio capacity building fundraising project. He said he would see what he could do. Then I heard very little. Since the Belgian academic year ends in late June, I just assumed he was busy. Six weeks later I saw a link pop up on my Facebook feed– Guyot’s obituary.

Guyot, my old colleague Jean-Claude B. from Burundi, my old boss Vincent, Bélinda…Melissa, my best friend’s ex who died mysteriously in her sleep when we were 21…not to mention the two people who I learned I could have lost.  If I didn’t hear from those people within a month, I would have just assumed they were busy…I learned almost by accident that they were in difficulty. Not again if I can help it, and certainly not with Bruno. I emailed him as soon as I could, and three hours later his name showed up on my call display. We had an actual conversation two days later– he had had a minor stroke, he had lost some mobility in his left side, but he was definitely himself. To say I was relieved is an understatement– I had that same shaky feeling you get when you stand safely on the pavement after almost getting knocked into the next block by a cyclist.

After that incident, I started writing and leaving phone messages to people I hadn’t spoken to in months or years. I had two great conversations with people whose voices I hadn’t heard in a long time and who I’d begun to worry about. I felt a bit stupid saying, “I was worried you were dead!” so I just said “Checking in, sorry it’s been so long.”

I’m still not used to being at a stage of life where your friends start to pass away.

I am the queen of long silences. My father has been known to call every once in a while to make sure I’m still alive. Before this week, I hadn’t written in this blog for four whole months. So this is a bit rich, coming from me. Very rich, in fact. But if someone you’ve been corresponding with disappears…check in.

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