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A Language Epidemic

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.

Some of my favourite online language tools: Linguee and Bon Patron

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.

Épidémie - photo of doctor wearing face mask

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.

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Found Film

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.

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Soundtrack of a Sabbatical Summer

While on sabbatical I’ve had a few songs on repeat as I’ve been reflecting on the past, processing the present, coming to terms with some big changes in my life, and trying to just be. Hard stuff, but this music has helped.

Alanis Morissette – Unsent

I was inspired to give Alanis another listen after seeing Tranna Wintour’s homage Dear Alanis: A Musical Comedy. Theme song of this post.

Sara Bareilles – Armor

I’ve loved this song since I first heard it on CBC Radio and realized it was a new track from one of my favourite singer-songwriters. In a strange twist, I only first watched the video this week, and it clicked that the song shares the title of one of my favourite posts from last year, and echoes similar themes.

Tegan & Sara – Where Does The Good Go

Theme song for my Year of Big Change. Also my Year of Binge-Watching Fifteen Seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. (Still have several seasons to go. Holy moly they made a lot of episodes.)

Pharrell Williams – Happy

A new, but welcome, feeling for me lately.

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Lessons Learned from a Lost Cat

As a longtime indoor-cat mom, my worst fear is one of my cats escaping outside. It’s something I’ve always been paranoid about – my front vestibule is called “the kitty airlock,” and I watch visitors like a hawk when they open the back patio door to make sure no feline slips out.

About a month ago, my nightmare scenario became an awful reality.

When I was forced to leave my house with my three year-old tabby Sophie following an exterminator visit, street construction noise caused her to panic and throw herself repeatedly against the sides of her carrier. She literally broke the plastic door hinge, and it popped open. She immediately took off like an elite parkour athlete. I watched her dash down the street, darting into people’s open doors, through houses under renovation, onto balconies, and most horrifyingly, along narrow window ledges. I immediately dropped everything I was carrying and went after her, but I simply couldn’t catch up, and she disappeared. A neighbour came out to help, bringing cat treats as an enticement. Construction workers stared at me like I was an alien.

I was utterly devastated, filled with guilt that I’d failed her. I’ve had cats before, but Sophie and I have a special bond. She’s offered steadfast companionship and affection over the last year, always by my side as I’ve made my way through a difficult personal transition. And I’d let this happen to her. Many tears were shed.

I won’t keep you in suspense. Early one morning, Sophie sauntered in the door I’d been keeping open, after four days of outdoor adventuring – more likely four days of hiding, terrified, tucked away in some nook under a nearby neighbour’s deck or shed. More sobbing ensued as Sophie stared at me, looking perfectly fine, if a tad confused at my outburst.

The experience was a surreal and harrowing one, but it did spark several intense epiphanies that I can’t stop thinking about, and that’s really what compelled me to write this post.

Community of Caring

Over the course of the ordeal, I experienced the most unbelievable support from friends, family, and acquaintances. People brought food and drink – and reminded me to consume it, since I had no appetite. They went out searching nearby streets and alleys – early in the morning, in the scorching midday heat, and even taking a bus to my place at 3:00am, when a local vet said people tend to have the most luck finding missing cats. They made posters and put them up, talked to strangers and neighbours and shopkeepers. They brought flowers, hugged me tight, and rubbed my back while I cried. They slept on my couch so I wouldn’t wake up alone. People who couldn’t be with me in person sent heartfelt messages, checking in on and encouraging me, expressing their sadness at my loss, sharing their own stories of cats lost and found, telling me they’d be there if they were closer. They reminded me it wasn’t my fault, even though I felt I’d utterly failed a creature I love with an intensity that’s hard to describe.

The outpouring of support floored me, and I was and am so grateful. People I knew only casually stepped up to help in ways I never would have imagined. Their warmth and caring and hands-on efforts were the silver lining that helped me get through the devastation of losing Sophie. I am incredibly lucky to have these people in my life. Not everyone does, and I will try to never take it for granted.

Why Worry

To say I’m a worrier is an understatement of immense proportions. Anyone who knows me reasonably well would probably describe me as an anxious control freak. I worry about logistics, minute details, things I can’t control. Little things, mostly. But a lot of little things.

In the middle of the ordeal I felt two giant hands reach down and grab my shoulders. Although I was alone in the house, there was also a voice. And it said something like this:

Stop worrying about all this stuff! It’s not important and things will work out somehow. You’re wasting so much energy. Life is short!

The experience was a wake-up call, reminding me that I invest way too much energy in worrying about the little things, and that it sucks time and energy away from what’s really important. I knew this already, of course, but this was such a visceral experience, and it shook me.

Next

Now that Sophie’s back, I’m trying to hold onto what she taught me by disappearing for four days. While I hope never to repeat the experience, the lessons learned will stay with me forever.

Appreciate my friends and family more. Talk to my neighbours more. Sweat the small stuff less. Yes.

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A Liberated Lady

You’re 17. You’re supremely insecure about yourself, yet somehow preternaturally confident about the life you’ve only begun to experience. You ask your close (male) pal’s best friend to go with you to the grad, not because you’re interested in him, but because you think it’ll be fun to have him hang out with your gang of friends. When the one-year-younger guy you actually have a crush on shows up after the main event, adolescent shenanigans ensue.

Some names have been changed. Tortured sentence structure and abominable punctuation presented as is.


June 3, 1986

Dear Diary –

It’s unbelievable! Another year of high school has ended – I remember when I wrote about my 1st day of h.s.! (actually I remember rereading it & thinking about how much things have changed!)

I guess I’ll start with GRAD NIGHT (May 16-17).

About a month earlier I had summoned all my confidence & guts (& with infinite prodding & encouragement from my friends – i.e. Sherry’s “CALL STEVEN” sheet), I asked Mr. Shapiro (shall we say, Steven) if he would like to come with me to Rizzo Hall. “What,” he replied.

“In other words, would you like to be my escort at my grad!”

“Oh,” he said! “Sure!”

He actually said that he was flattered & honoured that I’d asked him.

(Actually, he was going out with someone at the time, but she was going to escort Steven’s best friend to his grad, so I guess they had an open relationship – they (Steven & the girl) broke up a week before my grad.)

Anyway – on grad day, it had to be rainy & cloudy (of course!)

I took the metro to mom’s work & met Steven there. We drove (in my car) back to my house.

There, he played the piano (his primary activity at my house), we got “dressed” (he had a b&w tux & red cumberbund & bowtie), complimented each other – (his 1st comment upon seeing me all decked out (“You’re wearing makeup & everything!”) & exchanged corsages – (he got me, after having asked me what kind I wanted – “It didn’t matter,” he informed me,” they all cost around $8 to $9 anyway” – a large assortment of cream coloured rose buds & baby’s breath.) I got him a simple (classic!) red carnation (the florist’s expression when I had asked him for his opinion on a red & white carnation convinced me that this was not the occasion to try to be avant-garde here!

Then we set off….

Being a liberated lady (besides, his car was to go to the pound that day) I drove.

We were going to Melissa’s cocktail party. Of course, on the way, we realized we’d forgotten both our ticket & the map to Rizzo! But we were later reassured by Melissa that the ticket wasn’t necessary & gave me an extra map.

Music – posing for photos – munching on hors d’oeuvres – punch (non-alcoholic, I later found out) – gawking at the limo & standard chauffeur followed.

The cocktail party
The cocktail party

Then we departed for the Grand Rizzo Hall.

Got there & stood in line for ages to get “professional” photos (free since the same co. botched our grad photos).

Spent time waiting watching people arrive, gossiping about who was with who, who was wearing what.

7 course meal. Pretty decent, not spectacular. Music okay (except too much funk at one point) – danced a bit. Sitting at my table (counter clockwise): *me*, Steven, Rory, Cathy D., Robbie B., Kathy K., Michael M., girlfriend Alissa (now ex-girlfriend – apparently Michael ended up with Kathy K.! Oooh), Tracy L., Dan S. (whose knee was in my leg throughout the whole meal!)

Left Rizzo at around 12:15 – dropped Melissa & Sherry off at Melissa’s house, then went to my house (with – or met everyone at my table, sauf Michael & Alissa & Rob & Kathy).

Changed into downtown clothes (star shirt & earrings, black pants).

Went back to Melissa’s. Met up with Liam & Hoe (& Peter L. & crowd who we later met downtown) who came with us in my car.

When I had found out at Rizzo that Liam was going to come with us, I nearly died! I couldn’t believe it!

Well, we went downtown & saw millions of other grads (alot of French kids actually wore their tuxes & gowns in Burger King! Oh brother…) We couldn’t decide where to go. Bar hopping (we knew we wouldn’t all get in)… Bowling (on grad night? Boring!) Rory tried to get his sister to let us all into DJ’s (she works there) but to no avail.

Okay guys – let’s hit the Annexe. We’ve got nothing to lose.

So we started walking, I was following Rory into this place & was about to ask him where the bouncer was when I noticed this man with his arms crossed on the sidewalk in front of the place. Could he be him? Oh well, he’s not stopping me.

By this time I’ve followed Rory into the downstairs part. There’s a tiny mirrored dance floor & DJ booth, & small tables & chairs.

I turn around & realise that the rest of the gang hasn’t followed me in! They come in soon & tell us that the bouncer asked Hoe for ID! (no surprise!) Luckily he had Basil Chan’s drivers license & medical card (he’d just turned 18 that night (morning) too! So the bouncer let them all in!

Some of us ordered drinks (beer, screwdrivers – but since Rory & I were driving, we didn’t touch the stuff. Rory, Tracy, me & Steven danced to Tequila (Pee Wee Herman’s theme), Bryan Adams & Bruce Springsteen. Then I was so hot that I went to sit down. I was next to Liam & Hoe & when a slow song came on I summoned what was left of my guts (after I had asked Steven to the grad) and traded a piece of gum with Liam for a dance! Of course he couldn’t refuse…

kp & date formal photo
Awkward.

So we danced slow – & when that song was over, he didn’t let go for the next! (Later Sherry told me she had been dancing with Hoe then, too & Hoe had, weeks later reproduced some of the lyrics of the song in her year book – Howard Jones’ “No one is to blame”. Every time I hear it….)

It was slightly awkward because he’s so tall (& I’m no Kareem Abdul Jabbar myself) but besides that I felt very at ease & comfortable in his arms (so romantic – ahh!) He asked me if I was wearing “Lauren” but I didn’t understand what he was saying until he had said it about 5 times (the music was so loud).

But then when I finally understood what he was talking about I had to say no –

He asked me what it was & I hesitated in answering – I guess it just seemed like an embarrassing thing to tell at the time. But I told him….

It was soon closing time (3:00 AM) & the waitress practically had to kick us out of the place.

After walking about downtown a bit, we decided to meet at Steven’s house, where he’d get some beer (ugh – not again!)

We got the stuff & he told us to go to a certain park near his house in Côte St. Luc.

As Tracy & I were spreading out a sleeping blanket under a shelter in the park (it was drizzling) & Steven was putting the beer in the fountain to keep it cold, Dan said something like “Uh – guys, there’s a cop car over there.” We peeked around the corner & sure enough saw a police car inching forward towards us. Panic!

Tracy, beer in hand, & me – sleeping bag in tow – ran like hell to the car!

(Rory & guys had gone off to make a phone call.)

Soon after, Steven & Dan came back to my car with the case of beer – Steven had told the police his fridge was on the fritz & he had to keep the beer cold!

The police told him to have a good grad but to drink the beer somewhere else.

Ooookay!

We waited for Rory & guys & then proceeded to the Mountain.

There, it was like a giant get-together. Millions of grads were there, all congregated for the same purpose. To celebrate!

I just wanted to sleep! I left my car, popped into the back seat of Rory’s plush machine, & put my head down on Liam’s lap! I must have been in a daze…

The early morning proceeded… no sun rise, but it did get brighter awfully fast!

Lent Melissa my sneakers for a trek up the mountain which I declined to participate in! (found out later that Sherry had ended up hand-holding with Steven – musical grad dates was fine by me!)

Had my arm stroked by Mr. Silver [Liam] – much to my… well I guess I was too tired for it to register fully at the time!

We went back to Steven’s so he could get his car (which hadn’t been sent to the pound yet after all) since mine would be occupied later (out of commission).

Steven & Sherry went off to buy Dunkin Donuts, & I went with the rest of the gang back at my house.

Lying on the living room couch with Liam – he was tickling my arm again – I must have been really out of it!

Then the rest of the gang (Rory etc.) showed up & I got out some sleeping equipment (blankets, etc.). We pigged out on munchkins when Steven & Sherry got there & then we slept a bit (at least some of us did!

Wow, what a day! (night/morning)


Postscript

I don’t think I ever saw Steven or Liam again, but I never had regrets about the evening’s escapades. And I’m still a liberated lady, who’s still no Kareem Abdul Jabbar.