When I first started writing this blog, 4 1/2 years ago, I had just signed up for a leap in the void. I knew I was going to work in communications in Switzerland, and then volunteer in Burundi, and then teach in France. I dreamt of a “pure” journalism career, but I didn’t have the self-confidence and the technical skills to get there. Fortunately my language skills and a six-week TESL certificate I had done right after Russia opened doors that my amateurish WordPress and sound editing skills could not. I was off to Europe, then Africa, then Europe again, with no idea of what was coming after or if I would come back to Canada. I felt like I was skydiving.
I had no way of knowing that I’d come back to Burundi twice and co-host a live talk show in French on Burundian radio, that I’d research a master’s project in Belgium, that I’d see Addis Ababa and Tangier and Tirana, and that I– the girl who avoided sound and video editing like radioactivity– would become a “radio person”. I had no way of knowing that I’d end up as a full-time freelance journalist in Quebec City, one of the voices of our small but mighty English-speaking community, rubbing shoulders with Olympic athletes, chasing after politicians and ministers, clinking glasses with actors and talking to everyone from homeless people to teenage magicians to First Nations activists.
I love it here. But now, I’m leaping into the void again. I am leaving Quebec City to take a job at a French-language community newspaper in Winnipeg.
My job in English radio in Quebec City worked well– extremely well, even– for 14 months. I worked with an incredibly talented, smart and funny group of people who gave me the confidence-boosting kick in the behind that I so badly needed. I went on air and managed a remote (a three-hour live broadcast from a community event). I was part of a team that fulfilled a key service– uniting English-speaking Quebecers across this huge province through news stories, call-ins and friendly banter. People from Quebec City, Abitibi, Gaspé, the Eastern Townships, the Lower North Shore, the Magdalen islands and the Cree Lands– from all across the massive expanse of Quebec– were brought together by what we did. Our show takes a whole bunch of tiny bright stars– English-speaking communities across the province– and made a constellation. We were and are unique.
But we lost two full-time positions in the latest round of cuts. The producer who hired me lost his job. The rotating researcher position which I filled as an on-call person also ceased to exist. I last worked a shift about six weeks ago. The show is being asked to do more and more, with fewer and fewer people. And logically, if there’s no place for you, what do you do? You go.
About three weeks ago, with no radio shifts to look forward to and my computer in the shop, I went to the university library, dogged by an unsettling feeling of walking in place. How much had I advanced in the past two years if instead of working, I was spending an afternoon twiddling around on Facebook on the very same computer where I’d formatted my master’s project–sending CVs which seemed to disappear down the proverbial worm hole?
On a Facebook group for graduates of my program, a professor I vaguely knew had posted the name and number of an editor in Manitoba who was looking for a journalist for a French-language weekly. My former producer had lived more than 10 years in Winnipeg and kept talking about how great it was. I’d seen similar postings before, but always assumed my lack of a car and my being an Anglophone would be deal breakers, and there was also the radio to worry about.
Qu’importe. I stepped out, called the number, and, in my most polished, official French, told the woman I was calling about the job.
“Were you already moving out to Manitoba?”
“Well, it had crossed my mind…”
“Can you write in French?”
“I wrote my masters’ project in French…”
“What’s the most important thing about weekly journalism?”
“Choosing stories so they’ll still be relevant in eight days.”
“We’ll get back to you.”
They almost immediately called my current boss and my Manitobaphile former producer– I know this because I called the latter less than an hour later and he said he’d already spoken to them.
And the next day I got the job. As I write this, I have five more sleeps until I leap into the unknown.
Quebec, how do I love thee, let me count the ways? I’ll miss my friends, first of all. I’ll miss singing and playing music on Tuesday. I’ll miss my neighbourhood, with its blocks of used bookstores and coffee roasteries and communal herb pots, and its amazing chocolate shop, and the elegant little library that was once a church. I’ll miss my radio and newspaper colleagues. I’ll miss fresh strawberries from the Ile d’Orléans, the view of the enormous St. Lawrence river from the Terrasse Dufferin, the old grey stone of Petit-Champlain under the snow, and getting drunk on free samples of hard cider at the Vieux-Port market. I’ll miss *being* near that mighty river, ‘Le Fleuve,’ Quebec’s backbone and compass. I’ll miss poetry slams and September street ceilidhs and microbrews and really good pulled pork poutine. I’ll miss Leclerc and Vigneault and La Bottine Souriante and les veillées du chant. I’ll miss the local accent. I’ll miss going out in the country for music events.
Professionally I’ll miss my network, MPs and city officials and activists and community leaders and fellow journalists who know who I am and what I do and can connect me with the right person or the right data in a couple of calls, or at the very least give me valuable context.
“Hi Jeanne, you’re a teacher, can you tell me why the teachers are threatening to strike?”
“Hi Simon, I think your mother would be a good participant on this panel, could you text her and ask her to call me?”
“Hi Pascal/Édith/Joanne…do you know anyone who could speak to me in English about their experience? Who would be the best person to talk to about this?”
“Hi Laura, does [name of community group] know anyone personally affected by this issue? They do? Fabulous!”
“Hi Émilie, do you think you could get the candidate on the phone?”
And on the flip side,
“If you want to cover this issue/talk to this person, you should really go to this event.”
“If you want a story, you should try talking to the police about such-and-such. It happened to my friend and I don’t think he’s the only one.”
“My sister is having a book launch/art opening in a week that might interest you.”
All that, which took about three years to build, would burst into a million pieces and need to be rebuilt by hand.
There will be a tiny little me-shaped hole in Quebec City and a huge Quebec City-shaped hole in me.
But I think it’s time. Besides me, only five of my former master’s classmates are here, and three of them have only stayed because they’ve gone back to school. The festival calendar is starting to seem like Groundhog Day– someone with fresh eyes would cover these rituals better. Highland Games with the same athletes? Carnaval again?
Every day I walk past the storefront that used to be a used bookstore, past where a classmate used to live, past where another classmate used to live, past the bar where we used to watch Camille perform her poetry. And when your mental map of a city is dotted with “used to’s,” it might just be time to, as they say in Quebec, “sacrer ton camp.”