Oh, The Places You’ll Go (Maybe … Someday)!

standing at the crossroads


Upon meeting me for the first time, this lovely, elegant South African lady looked me in the eyes as she shook my hand and said with utmost confidence, “You’re going places. You’re going to go so far.”  

Of course, as an intern at a news show, a summer student at the local newspaper, and a soon-to-be editorial intern at a national magazine, I had stars in my eyes. I was a recent English grad smugly proving my professors and cynical classmates wrong by landing so many wicked gigs so soon after commencement, laughing in the faces of those who said drearily, “Good luck finding a journalism job in this economy!” and “Have fun being a greeter at Walmart with your English BA!”  

There was no limit to what I could do. The world was my oyster, baby, and I was riding high on the waves of rapid success. Clickety-clacking down Queen Street East in my heels and new duds to the editorial internship with the other well-dressed and terribly important nine-to-fivers, I remembered what the sagely South African lady said and believed every word. I remember having a Mary Tyler Moore moment with my head held high as the chiming bells of Church Street ushered me into my latest adventure. You might just make it after all …  

so what now?


 Funny how things change, how nothing has gone according to plan, how the life you imagined for yourself is nothing like the one you’re living. It gets a little hard to believe you’re going places when the place you’re in, at 25, is back with your parents and you’ll go far when you’re back at the job you had before university. You can’t help but wince thinking of all the money and sanity it cost to obtain a degree and further yourself when you’re back at Square One.  

Make no mistake: I’m eternally grateful to my parents for welcoming me back in the nest while I figure stuff out and the coffee shop gig certainly isn’t dreadful and frankly, pays more than an industry internship or a freelance journalism career when you have less than 5 years of experience. And health and dental is nothing to sneeze at (pun intended). But what about all of those dreams that once seemed so attainable?  

I know I blog about this subject a lot — being an educated twentysomething and trying to make it in this economy — but right now it’s a little difficult to be romantic about a potential career when you keep hitting brick walls, and I’m beginning to wonder if my university degree is enough. Right now, my BA is doing little else than trailing behind my name in my e-mail signature and sitting in a folder on my bookshelf. Also, to be completely honest with you, the more jobs in journalism that I don’t get and the more self-aware I become, the more I’m starting to rethink the whole journalism thing in general …  

There. I said it.  

I just don’t think I have a journalist’s personality. I always knew I wanted to be a writer in some capacity and was led to believe a journalism job would put food on the table. Well, maybe if you’re successful at it … and have the personality for it (my friend, who’s a photojournalist for The Montreal Gazette, says the job is 80% personality). I think there’s a pretty good possibility that I’m too passive, borderline phone-phobic, non-competitive and laid-back for such a cut-throat position. And my “get-up-and-go” usually clocks out around 4 p.m., EST. Not ideal for a deadline-driven profession.  

Long story short, I’m looking into alternative careers (which may mean more education … sigh) and trying not to feel like a fool for not having everything sorted out already. Perhaps, over time, dreams change. Those of us without the Grown-Up Career and/or a spouse and children and the white picket fence could be failures by the standards of earlier generations … or we could simply be carving the best path we can in this economy and with our expendable university degrees.  

failure is always bigger in your own eyes ...


 So what do we do, us Millenials with lots of schooling and little to show for it but financial debt and dampened dreams? Those of us who were once promised adventure and gleaming futures but are now marooned on the island of uncertainty (and bad metaphors, apparently)? Some of us flit from thing to thing like dizzy butterflies, flaking off at the first sign of commitment, while others throw away their dreams with both resentment and nostalgia, like dusty childhood toys.  

So we continue to write soul-baring blogs, and let meaningful music become the soundtrack and backdrop of our lives. Like Zach Braff in Garden State, we measure our lives by good music and photographic moments, a cinematic romanticization of disappointment, ennui and despair as we look upward. We envy the flight of monarchs.


Marching Forward

mmmmmmmmm ....

The title of this blog is obvious and cliché, but what can you do?  I just wanted to give you all a quick update about what has been going on lately and why things are looking up.

First of all, I have a job!

It’s not what I went to school to do, but it’s something for right now and the situation I’m in.  I’ve worked there before, but since it’s been about 3 years and things have changed there, I have to be re-trained, beginning today!

I’m excited to be making money again and yes, working somewhere that forces you to deal with people.  Constantly.  It’s good practice and an invaluable skill; I found that in my latest journalism jobs, it was so easy to retreat behind the computer screen and dread having to pick up the phone to call somebody.

With this job, retreat is not an option and neither is shyness, really.  You have to forget about yourself and focus 100% on the customer.  It’s a lot like acting in a way, and I was always a pretty good actor.

Plus, you can’t go wrong with tips and health benefits. You really can’t.

Even though ideally I would have had a steady job in the journalism field by now, I’m learning to have a positive attitude about everything and remembering Colossians 3:17: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

I’ve also been getting a lot of driving practice in lately and am building my confidence in that regard.

Yesterday, I went to the second-hand shop downtown and couldn’t believe my luck.  I got used copies of Not Wanted on the Voyage by Timothy Findley, In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje, Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson, and Beauty by Robin McKinley for just 40 cents!  Not that I need any more books, but come on.  40 cents!  And all four are amazing books. I haven’t read the Findley title or the Winterson title, but I’ve heard great things.

And here’s another reason to smile today: the sun is shining and there is a hint of spring in the air!

Je T’aime

the city of my dreams

This has to be short because I’m still job-hunting and don’t have any leads yet, I’m in the library and I want to apply to one more job and have a work out before dinner … but, I will soon have a meeting with a former professor who writes for The Hamilton Spectator about embarking on a freelance journalism career.

Good things are still to come!

In other news, remember those 2010 Decade Goals I made awhile back? Well, I had said I wanted to learn a couple languages, including American Sign Language and German. ASL is going pretty well … I know how to sign the alphabet and the signs for mother, father, brother, sister, etc. But German? Not so much.

I decided it would be more beneficial and practical to learn French instead. So many of the jobs I apply to, or want to apply to, require bilingualism in French. If you ask me, that’s a tall order considering only 23% or so of the Canadian population actually speaks it. Whenever I had to make calls to Quebec for my internship, I simply asked the person if they parlez-voused Anglais? and they immediately switched over to English.

In my opinion, if being fluent in French is so crucial to landing a job in Canada, then the education system should make it a requirement for students to take French classes all through high school instead of providing it as an option after grade 9. Trust me, I would’ve taken French classes every year, except the new curriculum made it impossible to take any courses that didn’t match your post-secondary education and career goals. Plus, when given the choice between continuing in French classes (which were hard and not very enjoyable) or taking Music, English Lit., Art, Drama and History, what do you think I chose?

Anyway, I want a job in this country — possibly in Quebec if there are any opportunities — so I guess I should just brush up on my French, which has gotten ridiculously confused in my brain with the Spanish classes I took in university.

I also dream of visiting Paris one day so it would be nice to be able to speak a bit without getting laughed at in the face. Plus, it’s romantic. I dig romance.

That is all.

Quotes for Friday

Hey, blogosphere.  I’ve missed your pretty face.

Sorry I haven’t been blogging as frequently lately but I’ve been trying my darndest to find a job in the city, whether that be Hamilton or Toronto or Montreal.  It’s not that I don’t love and appreciate the support of my parents for welcoming me back into the nest without a second thought, but there aren’t many journalism/writing/editing/publishing opportunities in this one-horse town, and I don’t want to out-stay my welcome.  I miss the vibrancy of the city and I feel like I need to be out there again, making it on my own.

One month without work has made me restless.  Oh, I’ve had a couple freelance assignments here and there, but they aren’t reliable, and I’m pretty fond of the 9-5 workday to be honest.

I’ve also been battling this sinus/throat/cold thing.  Funny how my superhuman immune system shuts down as soon as I get out of the city.

Anyway, here are some cool quotes and pretty pictures for your Friday afternoon!  Enjoy the sunshine!

" ... the round heads in the square holes ... "

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The trouble-makers. The round heads in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status-quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do — Jack Kerouac

sleep all day if you have to

I must learn to love the fool in me — the one who feels too much, talks too much, takes too many chances, wins sometimes and loses often, lacks self-control, loves and hates, hurts and gets hurt, promises and breaks promises, laughs and cries. It alone protects me against that utterly self-controlled masterful tyrant whom I also harbor and who would rob me of human aliveness, humility, and dignity but for my fool — Theodore I. Rubin, MD

" ... know that there will always be girls ..."

And when it feels like you’re imploding, like you’re the only one who wants to lie down in the street, know that there will always be girls who stream through this city with their mouths slightly open, trying to breathe and waiting to be kissed — Nicole Blackman, from “Girls”

“Thirty Days and Nights of Literary Abandon”

NaNoWriMoDay One of NaNoWriMo has been completed.  I’m sitting at 2229 words after one night, which is a bit over the suggested goal of about 1667 words per day.  

I probably won’t update this every single day to discuss the writing process because I don’t want to bore you out of your skulls, but because I’m a NaNo virgin, I thought I’d give you a little update about the writing of Unlovely thus far.

Day One thoughts:

Writing is tough. Well, writing creatively is tough.  After so many years of essays and journalism, creative writing is a somewhat awkward transition, made even more difficult by not writing any more poems or short story snippets.  Although I’ve always tried to infuse my professional writing with creativity, writing fiction is so much tougher than I imagined it would be.  

For years I’ve filled my dollar store journals with novel ideas, dreaming that someday I’d be able to seamlessly transfer these mostly abstract ideas from head to paper (or more specifically, Microsoft Word).  A perfectly painless journey from conception to, ideally, publication.

Yeah freaking right.

Writing the first chunk of my novel last night reminded me of writing some particularly painful essays in university, minus the extensive research and detailed annotated bibliographies.  It’s like trying to draw water from a stone.  You know you’re writing a bunch of crap but you keep going because the deadline looms above your head like an ugly bird (and the metaphors that you come up with under this kind of pressure are also rather dreadful).  I can say, with no small amount of smugness, that I’ve never missed a deadline.  In some special cases, I’ve asked for an extension, but have never handed anything in late.  The thought scares the bejeezus out of me.  Despite all the crap, there are some rare gems and you surprise yourself with some of the things you come up with.  Lots of authors talk about characters doing things without their knowledge and plots taking unexpected turns.  This happened to me last night.  One of my characters became half French-Canadian.  Who would’ve thought?  Looks like online English to French translators will be my new best friends!

I know this is probably not how real novels get written in the real world–that is, in 30 days (although there have been some novels published as a result of NaNo), but like I’ve said before, if I don’t try this now, when will I?  

This article has been very inspiring to me while writing this horrendous first draft and trying to get my Inner Editor to shut up (she’s a very vocal one).  I know that what I’m going to come up with this month will probably be five layers of crap, but hopefully, hopefully, there will be something worth working on in the months or years ahead.

Onward ho!

Skinny Love

This post is brought to you by the musical genius of Bon Iver.

A magic typewriter

A magic typewriter

There I stood, clutching a plastic wine cup, my Nikon heavy around my neck, my face Merlot red, sweating in places I didn’t know could sweat (now’s not the time to go into details or haul out the dictionary of anatomy), dizzy and overwhelmed by the prospect that I went from freelance and unpaid to employed and paid in less than a week.  In my field, nonetheless.  In a downtrodden economy.  In a world where the newspaper is supposedly dying. 

I cold-called on a Monday morning after being offered jobs at Tim Hortons and Subway for the summer.  I had to suck up my pride and feeling of entitlement: I got my diploma to do this?  I went in to the office of the local newspaper as soon as it opened, said: this is the degree I have.  This is the experience I have.  Please let me volunteer for you.  I can copy-edit and I can also write.  Turns out my timing was perfect.  I left with three story assignments to have done by 6 p.m. that night.  Was hired for a full-time summer job that Friday. As a reporter/photographer for the local paper (journo/photog if you’re hip).  And I haven’t even thrown my graduation cap in the air yet. 

What is happening? 

Back to the art gallery volunteer committee soiree, where I’m hopelessly out of place in my shirt that doesn’t want to stay on my shoulders, baring my awkward teethy smile, looking all of 18 in a place full of oldish artsy-ish ladies with faint English/Scottish/Welsh accents and eclectic jewelry they probably made themselves.  My high school friend’s mom, who is a Big Deal at the art gallery, tries to make me feel more comfortable, but when you’re naturally awkward and on your first “photo assignment,” you’re kind of beyond hope.  I snap a few pictures which are probably horrible and leave with the plastic cup of wine in my hands wondering how this all came together. 

I had been two months without a paycheque and was trying really hard to keep the anxiety and depression at bay.  I had a sweet internship at a TV show but I was feeling panicked about not having any money.  Or a job.  Any job.  Even though I applied to 27 McJobs in my town and over 50 journo jobs in Toronto.  I held on so tightly to hope and believed that God would work something out.  I repeated Romans 8:28 in my head like a mantra: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Somehow, everything came together in a way that has my head spinning.  My head has been anywhere but here this past week as I’ve done 9-5 every day between the brand-new job and the internship.  I feel confused and can’t quite shake this feeling that I’m forgetting to do something, that there’s something I’m not giving 100 per cent of my energy to.  I feel these random bursts of creativity and joie de vivre, like when I was tripping home after gulping down the local wine and throwing away the plastic goblet, taking pictures of old buildings and graffiti, finding a new passion, wanting to photograph the downtown denizens, young unsure girls in ridiculously short shorts, skin glistening in the evening sunlight. 

I barely have the energy to fully commit myself to these creative urges and words that flit in and out of my consciousness like multicoloured hummingbirds; I lie on my bed listening to Bon Iver when I’m feeling introverted, MGMT when I’m feeling extroverted.  Trying to wrap my mind around this new reality.  This new life I’m somehow living.

Welcome, my new and improved world.  I’m embracing you with shaking arms.

Plug Me In

If you know me, you know how critical I am of “social trends.”

the cutest wee iPod you ever did see!

the cutest wee iPod you ever did see!

If you read my blog for Listen Up TV, you’d know I’m wary of “doom and gloom” journalism, the kind that bases reports and articles on current trending and casts a Jeremiah-like gaze on the future of human civilization.  (Oh?  Didn’t read it?  We’ll it’s still available at: http://yourblog1000.blogspot.com/2009/05/kids-are-alright-by-alison-potstra.html).

This kind of journalism is founded on the depressed belief that the world is going to Hell and tells us how we’re going to get there.  Unfortunately, fear sells more than sex, and Chicken Little headlines grace the covers of many prominent magazines.  In the past decade or so, the Big Bad Monster that will seductively, singlehandedly bring humanity to a ruin is Technology.

Technology, they report, will cut everyone off from face-to-face interactions to the point where our social skills are nonexistent and we lose the ability to live in a healthy community with one another that is unmediated by social networking sites and automated voices.  ATM machines have replaced bank tellers, robots have replaced human workers, the impersonal e-mail has replaced the personalized handwritten letter, instant messaging has replaced actual conversation, and video games have replaced playing outside in the backyard.

Kids these days, they surmise, are going to end up as sedentary couch potatoes who live their lives online and therefore have a less rich life than we did, having grown up with personal computers, cell phones, and Wii consoles.  In the year 2015, the world will closely resemble that of Marge Piercy’s dystopian novel, He, She and It.  Cyborgs will live among us and robots will rule the earth, and the line between online and offline will blur into oblivion.

For the culturally-enlightened sci-fi lover, that future looks exciting.  For the rest of us who have a nostalgic, simplified outlook on life–who cannot watch a movie set in an historical period without feeling a romantic sense of yearning–that future fills us with fear.  And it is that exact fear on which sociologists and journalists alike tend to capitalize.

I wouldn’t say I have a love-hate relationship with Technology (or I wouldn’t be writing this on my laptop!), but I’m neither an avid supporter nor a backward dinosaur.  I’m not singing, “I love technology,” like Kip in Napoleon Dynamite, but I’m not suffering from Old Woman Syndrome either: “back in my day, our Word Processor was a black screen with a blinking neon-green cursor and our printer paper was perforated!”

To a certain extent, I think you have to embrace Technology, the immovable beast, if even a little bit, in order to make it in your profession.  Otherwise, you’ll be as outdated as a fax machine and quickly be replaced by someone more tech-savvy, or something, if you look at it that way.  If The News is going online and the newspaper is slowly dying, it would make sense to find out how people are getting their news and use it to your advantage.  If the Web is the Way, than work with it rather than recoiling in fear and retreating to a log cabin in the woods.

At the same time, to be constantly in front of your computer screen, constantly checking e-mails, constantly playing RPGs, is to be missing out on the simple joys of life.  You need to unplug yourself for awhile, enjoy the vast and colourful world offline. 

Despite what journalists say, Technology is neither a blessing nor a curse.  It just is, and that’s just fine with me.