Along with the home baking phenomenon I’ve noticed during the pandemic, I’ve observed another trend among those of us privileged to be staying home. There’s been an explosion of nostalgia, whether it’s digging up and scanning old photos, or reconnecting with older memories in other ways.
Thinking about this gave me the idea to share a memory of my own.
In 2019, I took a big break from public speaking at conferences. I’d decided that outside of my job itself, the entire year of my sabbatical would focus on taking care of personal things. While a lot of what needed to be done wasn’t fun at all, I was determined to get on stage at least once for something that was unequivocally fun. And I did.
In October I was thrilled to nab a spot in the Montreal edition of a show called Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids. It’s a super entertaining event and podcast, in which people read stuff they wrote as young people, whether a journal, a song, a poem, or in my case, a teenage diary. Here’s the podcast version of the show, in which I recount my high school grad-night antics. In case you want to skip ahead, I’m on at 24:00.
11:30am – Two “older” women enjoy their crepes (one savoury, one sweet) and caffeinated beverages in the downtown Chocolate Restaurant.
12:15pm – They pull out a couple of knitting projects, and peer through glasses while one repairs the other’s dropped stitches and gets her Scarf That Took Over Five Years to Finish back on track. (Maybe 2020 will be the year it’s actually completed?)
1:30pm – The brunch table is now strewn with a PC, a NexDock 2, a Mac, and a Raspberry Pi serving up the Ngnix server software. WordPress back ends are loaded up on multiple screens, and there’s talk of choosing Gutenberg blocks, creating child themes, programming robots, and using Raspberry Pi to block web ads at the network level.
Zero idea what the restaurant servers thought of us, but I do hope we defied at least a few stereotypes today.
The original version of this post mentioned two PCs, but my friend has clarified that there was only one PC, with the other being a NexDock 2.
I watched French television and enjoyed it. There, I said it.
Now this may not seem like a surprising admission to most, but as someone who’s lived all my life in Montréal, it sometimes still shocks me how divided the anglophone (English-speaking) and francophone (French-speaking) worlds can be, especially when it comes to entertainment and pop culture. Someone will mention the name of a Québec celebrity, and my face will be completely blank. And I’ll have to admit that I’ve never heard of the super-famous “vedette” in question.
I went to French immersion schools in the English system, and came out of high school “sort of bilingual.” My friends are a mix of anglo and franco, but mostly anglophone. I watch English TV, go to English theatre and storytelling shows, and read English books, magazines, and websites.
My French is pretty good. Good enough to live in French in places like restaurants, stores, or services, but not good enough to express complex thoughts or emotions to a friend. Good enough to answer WordPress support questions in French, but not good enough to read a French novel comfortably.
But when my friend Marie-Josée recently mentioned being hooked on a Québec-made TV show called Épidémie (Epidemic), I was suddenly intrigued. For some reason, I’m drawn to shows about viruses and pandemics, and despite the eerie timing, I thought it could be fun way to improve my vocabulary. I started watching it with the closed captions on and inhaled the first four episodes, looking up terms I didn’t recognize. I can now say stretcher, ferret, ignore, trigger, and sneezing in French. And I’ve been introduced to fabulous expressions like: “passer dans le beurre” (to go unnoticed) and “te traiter aux petits oignons” (to take good care of you). I can’t wait for new episodes – dang network TV with its weekly releases!
Speaking of languages, last week I was lucky to be in Panama City with my team from Automattic. It was my first time in Latin America, and I was surprised at how much Spanish I could understand, considering I last studied it 30 years ago, and never put it into use after that. While I was thrilled to be able to make myself understood in a few casual situations like restaurants, I was also very grateful to have three Spanish speakers on my team, who kindly did a lot of translating for us.
The trip did make me want to travel to more Spanish-speaking countries. When I took two years of Spanish at university, my thought at the time was that with English, French, and Spanish language skills, I could get by comfortably in many countries. While that level of travel never panned out, what I’ve learned in the last couple of years is that it’s never too late for almost anything, so we shall see what the future holds.
Back in what truly feels like another lifetime, I made a bunch of short movies, most at summer camp, CEGEP or university.
After spending most of my youth determined to pursue an acting career, discovering filmmaking felt like a revelation. Now I could tell my own stories! No one judged me on my appearance! Good riddance to all the discouraging casting calls!
So I produced a slew of short films and videos on Super 8, Hi8, SVHS, 16mm, and other now-obsolete or prohibitively expensive formats. I graduated with a Communication Studies degree, and had a career in the industry. I felt a particular passion for documentaries. While I had no problem getting work as an associate producer, production coordinator, assistant director, and script supervisor, it turns out I never loved working in film and TV. In fact, at times, I hated it. The interpersonal politics were sometimes stifling and the work could vary wildly between stressful and exhausting, to mind-numbingly boring. Government tax-credit applications, anyone?
Eventually, the World Wide Web (yes, we called it that in the 90s) became a thing, and I taught myself HTML and started building websites on my own. The rest, as they say, is history.
During my recent sabbatical, I decided to get my old film and video productions digitized before the tapes deteriorate even more. Rewatching them now makes me cringe for many reasons – Why did I put myself in so many of them? Why is the editing so awkward? Why did I often pick such cheesy music? – but some are also fun to watch.
Here’s one I made about the then-obscure Drawn & Quarterly comic publisher, produced as a demo for a CBC show I was trying to get onto – an English version of Course destination monde, if anyone remembers that from the 90s in Québec. I made it to the final round, but ultimately wasn’t chosen as one of their globetrotting videographer-journalists. (I cannot for the life of me remember the English title of the show, so evidently it didn’t become a hit.) Instead I spent the next two years working as assistant director on Iris, The Happy Professor for TLC, alongside a wacky local crew and a cast of raunchy puppeteers. But that’s a story for another time.