On the one hand, I’m very surprised that I haven’t written in these pages since Bremen. On the other hand, I’m not.
I came back from the Aquarius at the very end of July of last year (can’t believe it was a full year ago!), had two small contracts right off the bat, and then went to a few festivals to enjoy summer in Montreal. Then I spent a very long, long winter in freelance purgatory. Until the very unsettling early morning of January 30.
As anyone who was in the province at the time will know, on the freezing night of January 29, a young Quebec-born man walked into Quebec City’s largest mosque, the Centre culturel islamique de Québec in Ste-Foy, and opened fire, killing six people and injuring 19. The six dead were all middle-aged men, immigrants from Morocco, Algeria or Guinea. The suspect was a 27-year-old university student who was apparently inspired by the French Front National party, driven to take those ideas to an extreme. Police sirens spinning in the night through frozen mist, an electric shock through everything, sitting in the dark (can’t remember why I was sitting in the dark) until one or two in the morning as information started to flood in. The morning after, at about 6:30 in the morning, I get a call from a researcher at ABC News in New York who found me on Google.
“Are you in Quebec City?”
“No, I’m in Montreal, but from a professional standpoint this kills me because I want to help you.”
“When can you be in Quebec City?”
“I don’t know, three or four hours from now?”
“OK, my crew won’t be here until later this afternoon. Get there!”
So there I was, back to working as a researcher, in Quebec City in the dead of winter, feeling my way around the hole in my city while ushering around a few underdressed, harassed, but very professional and friendly American reporters.
It was my first real experience with the Vulture Paradox*. On one hand, an adrenaline-pumping assignment, lots of learning about the job, one of the best CV lines you could want, and two months’ rent for two days of work, not to mention a chance to use my own insider knowledge and a birds’ eye view (link in French) of a community coming together after tragedy. On the other hand, six people were killed, and you could almost see the shock and pain ripple through the city I love most in the world.
*(For those non-journalists who don’t know what the Vulure Paradox is…it’s named for the iconic, terrifying photograph of the starving child in Sudan being eyed by a hungry vulture. The image was taken by a South African photographer named Kevin Carter, and it made his career– it even won him a Pulitzer Prize– but the doubt over whether he could have done more to help the girl, instead of just shooting her suffering, eventually contributed to his suicide. As a journalist, especially a freelancer, tragedies are your bread and butter. You swing into action and often produce your best work when other people are dead or suffering, in shock or in mourning, and to put it in the bluntest possible way, more tragedies mean more work, more prestige and more income. Even when the contradictions are far less stark and painful than those that Carter faced, it’s a delicate balance.)
After two days spent booking guests for ABC in Quebec City, I popped back down to Montreal, got my adapter and a few extra Euros, and flew off to Germany where I spent three days reminiscing and helping refine strategies for SOS Méditerranée.
When I got back, things started to unblock, like ice cracking in spring. A logistics contract for an Indigenous film festival, research for a documentary, increased responsibilities with a magazine project that I’d already been working on for a long time, a few pitches accepted and several other new clients, and old clients popping up to throw me commissions or calls for pitches. “Every email you’ve written up to now is a seed,” said an older, wiser freelancer when she read my 15th negative comment in a networking group; now I have to concede that she’s right. I’ve been rushing almost nonstop since February, with trips to Quebec City, Ottawa and Saguenay, and I have another couple of trips coming up. The only reason I have the opportunity to write such a long blog entry at all is that everyone seems to be on vacation, and my laptop, which has several works in progress on it, is getting repairs done to its screen. Repos forcé!
There are two other catch-up blog entries where this one came from; stay tuned. If you’re curious about what I’ve been doing professionally — covering homelessness, drug policy, food security and a surprising amount of history — see my portfolio here.