Tag Archives: Toronto

On Finding Unexpected Clarity

Here’s a super quick summary of my last year for a bit of context: Completed the most indescribable arts degree. Spent the summer applying for jobs and volunteering for projects around Calgary, trying to figure out what to do with my life. Decided to “courageously commit” to an organization I already loved. With help from friends, convinced the organization to hire me as a Communications Intern and moved to Toronto. This work resulted in lots of compliments, but no job. And that’s how a small-town Albertan ended up unemployed in Toronto…

I suspect that everyone who gets a degree without a straightforward label struggles to figure out what to do with their life post-graduation. Ever since I realized that I did not want to sacrifice my youth to become an architect, I’ve been trying to find another career that would fill me with the same passion without architecture’s “sleep is for the weak” culture. However, the months of cumulative informational interviews, research, and testing out ideas have led to one inevitable conclusion: my soul refuses to accept the confines of the cookie-cutter jobs available to me. If only I could be a Designer-Entrepreneur-Storyteller-Community Builder-Artist-Adventurer!

Amazingly, a friend forwarded me an application that looked perfect. A town in Pennsylvania has this Changemaker-in-Residence program, where they pay for driven, creative young people to come to their town and do cool shit (aka social innovation). They have an interesting theory of change:

“We believe that the more creators and trend-setters we can encourage to play in our community, the more others will want to move here. So your one and only expectation is to create, create, create. Be a positive force for change that serves as a magnet for others to join you.”

It sounds like a dream-come-true! Creative work, with mentorship and housing included, in a town surrounded by incredible natural beauty would be amazing. But as I filled out the application I butted up against a painful contradiction. I truly believe that brain-drain poses a serious threat for the social and economic vitality of rural communities, and educated young people can have an outsized impact on the health of these towns. The problem is that, with a population of 80,000 people, State College doesn’t seem rural in comparison to my own hometown. Winfield has a shrinking population of about 250 people. No joke! I looked it up.

I’ve spent my whole life thinking that I would get out of Winfield and never look back. Yet I’m faced with the uncomfortable knowledge that, if I truly care about creating social change, there is nowhere in the world that I can be more valuable than in the very place that I fled. So I will go home.

Of all the careers I’ve imagined, this is the most terrifying. I don’t know precisely what I will be working on, or how I will fit into the small town culture (I wasn’t exactly popular in school), or what it will mean for my future. All I know is that I have to try to create change close to home before I take on global challenges, or it will haunt me forever.

On the bright side, Winfield offers the same perks of natural beauty, freedom to create, easy access to mentors, and affordable housing that the Changemaker-in-Residence program does. Who knows!? Maybe I can entice some of my big-city friends to come play in Winfield, and it won’t be so bad 😉

Until next time.

(un)Ambiguously yours,

jm

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ON STORYTELLING – “FOUR FORTY-FIVE AM”

A little while back I wrote this blog post about…being sad, and stuff. Then, in January, I took part of that story and added some things, changed some other things, and told it live at an event called Stories We Don’t Tell, a monthly storytelling event in Toronto.

You can hear that live recording using the Soundcloud player below. If you like what you hear, there’s a podcast available with all of the evening’s stories, available here.

Happy listening!

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On Water, Soil, and Sun

When I was born my parents planted a tree in our front yard. They don’t live at that house anymore, though on occasion I walk by it to wallow in nostalgia and to see how my leafy counterpart is doing.

A little while ago my Mum stayed with me, and my housemates, for a week. She’s in her fifties and doing a master’s degree. Each spring her program offers an intensive, week long in person course and as her school is just a few blocks from my house it’s a convenient, and rare, opportunity for us to spend time together, to share in each other’s lives in an intimate way

I moved out of my parent’s house when I was eighteen to a different country for school. Since then I’ve spent one summer with them, but otherwise our close relationship is sustained by a few phone calls each week, holidays, and one-off weekends either here in Toronto or at their home.

You could say I’ve spent my formative years with them, but I’d argue that my “growing up”, my most painful and most important learning, has happened without them. Which makes week long living situations particularly interesting, because the versions of ourselves we think we know today, right now, in this moment, aren’t necessarily the ones others hold on to.

I’ve recently started a garden. It’s the first one that’s all mine (there were a few years as kids I think we “shared” a garden with Dad) and it is unbelievably satisfying. My tomatos are well on their way to yielding what I hope is endless jars of sauce, the lavender I planted from a shop around the corner is so aromatic you can smell it from across the room, and my bean plants look so much like the picture perfect bean plant I wish there was a fair I could enter them in.

The satisfaction though comes from tracking their growth – they follow a pretty straightforward pattern, and with some research, a just as straightforward plan for care. There are enough variables to keep things interesting (motherfucking raccoons), but at least I know the kind of growth that’s going to happen. Water, soil, sun and one day in a few weeks a tiny little bean, or the beginning of a tomato.

People are less predictable (surprise!). If you had mentioned to my Mum ten years ago that she might think of doing a master’s she would have laughed before you could finish your thought. If you said that being laid off from my first job would shatter my innate sense of confidence, I would have stared at you in confident disbelief. We’ve come a very long way from who we were yesterday, and the day before, and the year before that.

Spending a week with my Mum reminded me of this. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking of her in a very specific way – as the her I knew when I was nine, or eighteen, and not taking the time to see her as she is now. We are different people and that’s made clear when looking at career trajectories or even our gardening habits (she grows flowers, and I veg). With so many shared moments between us, I couldn’t pinpoint the most important transitions in her life or even map what I think her career trajectory has been. It’s the little things in between our Christmases and week of visiting that may have had the most impact. It’s that time that boy said no, or that sweaty drunken dance party to old eighties anthems. But she doesn’t know those things, and I don’t know those things, and instead what we have is just who we are.

Maybe what’s most surprising to me is that personal growth doesn’t stop. Maybe we only notice it in fits and starts. Maybe we don’t know we’ve grown until years and years have passed and we look in the mirror one day and see someone else, someone new, looking back. Maybe we turn fifty, go back to school, spend a week with our adult daughter and get to grow with her by learning new ways to relate to one another. Maybe it’s all of this and nothing at all.

A lot has happened since my parents planted that tree twenty-four years ago, and I imagine in another twenty-four years I’ll have just as inconclusive reflections on change and growth. While my plants are growing, and my Mum is studying, and I am figuring out what I’m doing right (and wrong), I will forever wish there was a clearer plan.

Then again, maybe the answer for people, as for plants, is just some water, soil, and sun. Summer is here in Toronto and we’re all likely to grow as it turns to fall. It’s surprising how much can happen when it’s happening.

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on storytelling

I’m breaking the theme a bit here. This blog post is not about ambiguity (GASP). I know. Shh, shh…it’ll be okay.

If you’ve followed this blog since it’s creation about a year ago now, you may remember that it started with me talking about The Storytelling Project. It’s something that I put a whole bunch of energy into around this time last year, and intended to make into “a thing”. Then life happened and after an initial story project with Toronto band First Rate People, it sat dormant for a while, buried under the weight of life’s other priorities.

WELL, lovely reader, I’m happy to announce that I’ve blown off the dust, polished the edges and am ready to share another story. This time, with Winnipeg musician Rayannah. Check it out:

http://bit.ly/1gObBLi

Don’t worry, we’ll get back to our regularly scheduled programming soon.

 

-t

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On embracing change

*Jumping on this trend of writing a year end recap, as inspired by my fellow writers here at EA, I want to try and switch it up a bit and look right at the ambiguous space that has been left in front of me from the end of this past year

As 2013 comes to a close, so did several chapters of my life as well.  One of the most notable things is I FINALLY slayed the beast that was my master’s degree.  It took me 4 months longer than I was planning or hoping, countless hours more than I’d thought, with extra bumps along the way, and nearly throwing my dying laptop at a wall; but I finished it and submitted to my University.

Another major part of my life that has taken up the former 8 months of my life was the National Conference I had been working on with an incredible team of individuals across the country. Okay, so technically, this didn’t happen until after the New Year, but it ties in with the whole theme of things, trust me.  With that, I’ve also decided I am going to give myself a bit of a break from the organization I’ve been working with for about 4 years now.

Now with all of those things wrapped up, I’m now sitting in my room, all moved back in with my parents, in my quiet city, and trying to figure out my next steps. Yup, I moved home with my parents again.  Yup, I’m unemployed.  Yup, I’m too poor to allow my wanderlust to grab my hand and lead me into the world.

Moving home somehow wasn’t as bad as I had made it up in my mind to be.  My family has been very understanding about the new boundaries I need, and it’s about relearning how I fit in to the household dynamic again.  My time in Toronto for the conference has challenged me about what I’m capable again, that I underestimate how far I can take myself, but I realize I also need to start somewhere, and learn what I can to take me to those places.  And my wanderlust? It probably won’t go away for a lot of my life, but that wanderlust can take me to new discoveries within places close to me as well, if I let it.

This picture is one I found wandering around Toronto when I had some extra time before lunch with a good friend.

 

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I probably stood there on that cold sidewalk for a good 5 minutes looking at the simple graffiti on that wall.  (I disguised myself as being a tourist and was busy trying to decide what filter I was going to use on Instagram to not look like a crazy person).  But I couldn’t help but be moved by this simple piece of art, and it made me start thinking about my life and past year.  And the first thought that came to mind when reading those words was, “I hope I have changed”.  I hope that I am always going to change, and become a better person; to come closer to being that person I want to be.

These words left me proud and hopeful.  It reminded me that through these ambiguous times I’ve struggled with, I’ve learned to change and adapt.  More importantly, I will continue to do so with the next few chapters of ambiguity that are undoubtedly going to come.

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On Motivation…or lack thereof

I am nearing the end of my time as a graduate student.  I’m so close; I can almost taste it (whatever it is that an MSc in Environmental Engineering tastes like…)!

But, I’m having some problems:  I’ve really been lacking in the motivation department lately.  The past 2 weeks have been pathetic attempts at trying to write out my thesis.  A never ending spiral of minimal work, distraction, guilt, shame, avoidance, and oversleeping has taken over my life, and it is frustrating me to no end.

This is really weird, especially in contrast to how I was only 3 weeks ago, when I went to visit friends in Toronto for a week.  I was a little wary of taking a vacation at the time, since I felt that I should be focusing on writing and not leisure, so I brought my laptop with me.  I promised myself 2 hours a day in the morning at a random coffee shop, that I would stumble upon whilst exploring the town so I could go visit friends (who almost all conveniently work in the same office) for lunch, and then back for more personal exploring, work, meetings, or hanging out until friends or hosts would be done work.  I was magically productive.  I wrote out more during that one week than I have this entire time I have been back home – a fact that is not helping how guilty I feel about this whole thing.

How can I enjoy writing for a blog about the ambiguous parts of life, but not write out scientific evidence that I’ve been working on for 2 years?

I have also noticed that I’m growing increasingly distracted as of late.  No, I’m not just talking about the countless hours spent on failblog, imgur, social media sites or blogs I’ve been reading lately (I’m not going to give you the urls, just to save you all from going down that dangerous path into the depths of the internet).  Instead, I find myself distracted with what I want to do again after my degree.  This is partly due to having such a lovely time in Toronto, and wanting to move to start a career there.

I feel as though I am being pulled in all sorts of directions again, questioning issues of my identity, passions, values, and ideals.

Trying to find the motivation to write my thesis has become a larger focus of finding motivation for what I want to do with my life from here on out.

I have been trapped in this situation before.  Am I handling it better? Not completely, but it isn’t unfamiliar.  Am I overthinking things again? Yes. Very much so.  Is it bad I am overthinking things? Yes and no.  Letting it control me like the way it has this week is bad, but being self-aware that this is part of me, helps me manage it and to understand what is going on.

So, having this period of lacking in motivation isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It’s giving me an opportunity to re-evaluate what I want to really do.  It’s letting me look at my short term and long term goals and whether or not they are relevant anymore.  It is almost humbling, in reminding myself that I am someone that is still growing and trying to understand myself.

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