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I wanted to tell a story

This week, I was invited to be a guest blogger for a blogging carnival run by a canadian organization called kickaction.ca. Kickaction is an online community of young women acting for social change across Canada.

There were three themes to choose from, and I decided to go with HERstory. Check out their website to read everyone else’s contributions over the next three weeks. Below is my original text, and in the coming days, I will be posting more of these directly on here.

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I wanted to tell a story, HER story to be exact. I spent some time thinking about who would make a good storyteller, which woman would want to share her life with us. It wasn’t long before I realized we all have a story, so I decided to make this a Canadian HERstory. During my cross-country meanderings, I asked women from British Columbia to Newfoundland to answer a series of questions.

The whole purpose of this post is to show that we all have deep and varied histories, but we all have similar struggles and dreams. The original plan was to come up with a blog post that synthesized all of their stories into one, a Canadian HERstory of sorts. It turns out that ultimately, these stories are too rich, these experiences too varied, and these ladies too insightful, to be reduced to one tale. I’ve decided to merge the answers into one voice for the purpose of this blog post, and it broke my heart to have to shorten these answers – these women are genius. Make sure to check out my own blog in the coming days, as I will be posting each woman’s individual HERstory at WHERESALEX.WORDPRESS.COM

1. Where are you from, and how has it shaped your life?

Newfoundland. Ontario. Somalia. Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Northern France. Saskatchewan. Québec. New Brunswick. Prince Edward Island. British Columbia. Not really “from” anywhere.

How can where you’re from not shape your life?! You are the sum of your experiences. And experiences depend a lot on where you live.

At the age of 19, I left all I knew and moved to Québec to learn French and start MY life. I became independent at an early age. I have always felt a little ‘different’. This has helped me stay strong during tough times.

The places my parents and I come from shaped my life in many ways. To be honest, I struggle with the Canadian identity.

I grew up in an isolated French community where people had to fight not only for survival but also for services. Transpires in everything that I do and am. I’m a fighter.

I was born in Northern France, in a city where unemployment, immigration and alcoholism are sky rocketing, and it gave me only one goal in life, get out of it… And I did!

I am from a province full of individuals who appreciate every little thing.  They see blessings in everyday occurrences.  This is the kind of person I want to be. This is the kind of life I want to live.

2.     What is your greatest achievement?

My greatest achievement to date is remaining positive and curious about life despite the hardships I have encountered.

Graduating university. I really didn’t think I was gonna make it through.

Great is living your life to the best of your abilities and, in the process, not ever willfully doing something to hurt another person. Humans aren’t perfect and spending a life trying to achieve perfection is futile. Just do the best you can and be honest with others and yourself.

My children! (Interesting – every responder who has kids has named their kids as their greatest achievement)

Being able to get away from really toxic family history and making a better life for myself.

I’m 28! Give me a break! I’m only starting to figure out life… And you’re asking me what my greatest achievement is? I don’t like this question! Living in itself is an achievement. Putting one foot in front of the other. Not giving up. Fighting. Being out there. Trying to figure out what to do with one’s life. I guess that’s what I’ve achieved so far!

The fact that I’ve been married to my husband for over 31 years.

This summer I hiked for one month in Vermont. I was completely unprepared.  But I did it.  And I kept doing it.

3.     What is your greatest regret?

My greatest regret is forgetting to put myself first.

That I started smoking cigarettes when I was 16 and have struggled with quitting, so far unsuccessful after many attempts, for most of my life.

I no longer believe in mistakes. Everyone takes a different route to get to their ultimate destination.

I’m learning now that one of the hardest things anyone can ever face is making the decision to try harder or walk away.

Although I try my hardest to live without regret, I definitely give myself a mental kick in the pants every once and a while for not spending more quality time with my father. I imagine almost every person who loses a parent feels that way.

Greatest regret? I have no regrets. There are some things that I’d probably do differently if I’d known then what I know now, of course. Regrets are negative energy that pull you back. What many people carry as regrets, I try to learn from and move forward.

4.     What would you tell a young girl who is struggling with something like her identity, bullying, not fitting in, etc.?

Believe in yourself. That is the starting point. This is the best advice I can give. It’s not always easy, but if you can get up in the morning, say these words and believe them, all will be okay. Don’t let others put you down or make you feel worthless because they are wrong.

Be what you want to be, and go where you want to go. If doing so means certain people will stop caring about you, good! You’ll find real friends along the way, trust me.

Be strong. I know that it’s not easy, but so many beautiful things are in your future. Find someone you trust, and talk to them. It’ll take time for you to find who you are, be patient and gentle with yourself. You have more to offer than you will ever know.

My mother said it to me, and I will say it to you now that I am 60: do not waste your precious, vital, young energy worrying about how you look! Adjusting your unique look, personality, interests to fit in with how others think you should be, just makes you an anonymous sheep in the flock. Stay true to yourself. The world needs those individuals who know who they are and appreciate their unique individuality.

I wish I could give kids a handbook on how to survive bullying, but you really can’t survive it without others’ help. My only advice to everyone who faces bullying is to stand your ground. It is hard and it might feel like a mountain, but please, be strong. It was never your fault, and don’t feel like you brought this on yourself. You exist outside of a small classroom; so don’t feel like it is the end of your journey. The journey has just begun.

Boy, do we all want to fit it. We all want to be normal. Skinny. Beautiful. Smart. Lovable. Perfect. Truth is, we’re all flawed. Because we’re all human. With time, you learn to choose where you want to fit in. What you are willing to compromise to fit in. You choose your friends more wisely. And you slowly learn to accept that you can’t please everyone.

You’re beautiful just the way you are. Surround yourself with nice people and positive people that see the real you.

Find an activity where it’s hard to lie to yourself, where you feel so much like yourself, you can’t pretend to be anyone else. If you need to know who you are, if you need to figure out where you are going, if you need to make a decision or come to terms with something, put yourself in your own “lie-less” situation and there is no other option than to let the truth come to the surface.

I know it probably seems unbearable right now, and that it will take forever, but it will pass. Growing older is the best thing that happens to mankind.

Many people do not know who they are or what their passion could possibly be. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to find answers to these questions, just keep moving forward. Find something that appeals to you and do it.  Do it unashamedly.

You are beautiful and perfect. Try to be brave and don’t let other people make you feel bad about yourself. Things will get better, they did for me. Make the best choices you can, based on what you know and feel and try not to regret those choices in the future.

With the risk of sounding cliche/like your mother, it really does get better.

You already are a person, important and unique. Be who you are, truly, and you will become an amazing woman. Respect who others are also, and do not judge. DO NOT tolerate injustice done to you or to others. Speak up for others.


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Day 3 : 2130 Kilometres

2350 to go.

It has recently been brought to my attention that what I am doing may not be considered normal by a lot of people. Right before I left, I had breakfast with a friend, who expressed concern over my 6 day, solo road trip. I hadn’t really thought about it, I just saw it as a series of six days of driving for 8-10 hours. I guess that most of what I do isn’t what a lot of people would do (drop everything every six months and move to England, Africa, New Brunswick…?), but I don’t notice anymore, because I’ve just been surrounding myself with like-minded people, and so my lifestyle hasn’t seemed extraordinary (my friend Jason just completed an overland trip from Zambia to Egypt!). I understand everyone’s concern, but this isn’t just something that I’ve always wanted to do – this is something that I’ve always known I would do one day. So that day has come, and I’m doing it. Pretty simple, yes? Well, it is to me anyway. I’ve flown across the country, I’ve taken the train from Vancouver to Halifax, and now I’m driving it. Maybe one day I’ll be really fit and I’ll ride a bike across. (Ha!)

The other things I’m hearing are incredulous comments about how long I’m spending driving. Believe me, I get it. I used to HATE driving. Just ask the girl that I went to Cape Cod with last year – I made her drive for the entire 8 hour trip back. And now, 8 hours seems like a breeze! Let me be very honest. I don’t always enjoy the driving. When it rains for 8 hours straight, I want to punch myself in the face. More than once, out of sheer boredom, I’ve wanted to pull over for a nap, only to find that it’s impossible because all of the stuff that’s in my car. My back hurts on and off, and when it’s really bad, I want to just leave my car somewhere and fly to Vancouver. I drive myself crazy because I can’t make up my mind about what music I want to listen to. I get angry at annoying drivers. Have I mentioned the rain?! When it rains, I want to punch the world in the face (which, on another topic, has me a bit worried, considering the weather patterns of my final destination…). 

But you know what? I’m so happy that I’m doing this, especially solo. Believe me, I’ve spent some time wishing I had a partner in crime, but about 90% of the time, I’m super happy with my own company. I don’t have to talk, and most of the time I don’t even think. I can listen to whatever I want, and sing along in stupid voices and accents. I can listen to the same song on repeat 10 times, or skip songs every 25 seconds. I can say “Ooh! My boyfriend!” every time a Darren Criss song comes on. I still get really excited that my car only has one windshield wiper. I’ve named him Carlos, and he makes the rain slightly easier to bear. It’s like he’s waving at me every time he swooshes by. I can stop 10 times a day to stretch my back or go shopping or just look at the scenery. The scenery! When it’s not boring trees, it’s beautiful. I just got to the Prairies, and there’s so much sky! And old abandoned farms, and bales of hay everywhere. And because I’m by myself, I can stop and take pictures. I can take 100 selfies and not feel stupid, because no one is there waiting. I can take pictures of Carmen (my new car) and not feel weird that I’m taking pictures of a car. (To be fair, I’ve only taken two. Here she is, hiding in some tall grass. Hey, I never said I wasn’t bored.)

So, just so you know, things are great. Tomorrow, I’m heading to Regina, and I’m hoping to see more giant roadside attractions featured in the movie One Week. In the meantime, here’s a picture of me with my driving face on. (This was me being really excited to finally be out of Minnesota and back in Canada!)

See you in Regina!


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Day one : The Big Nickel

When I was planning my itinerary, I got really excited about going through Sudbury, for one very specific reason : The Big Nickel. Most people don’t get it, but for me it definitely was a highlight. This movie is why :

I’d like to think that my journey across Canada is my very own ‘One Week’, obviously without the whole cancer diagnosis thing, and not running away from anything, but towards an exciting new job!

In order for you to feel like you’re a part of this journey, here are a few more highlights :

– I managed to leave on time! I left Ottawa at just before 9 this morning, and arrived in Sault Ste Marie just before 7 tonight!

– It was a beautiful fall day, which made 10 hours of driving through tedious Ontario forest so, so beautiful!

– I saw two llama farms!

See you tomorrow!