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Marie’s Lives

Marie is Cat‘s mum. That’s right – I’ve reached the age where I’m friends with my friends’ parents, and I love it. Whenever Cat and I are both in Gatineau, I love going to her mum’s house to catch up. These days, Marie and I mostly talk about knitting. In fact, you can go to her blog and see what she’s been working on.

1.    If someone wrote a biography about you, what would the title be?

Why would anyone write my biography? I think the title would have to be something like Marie’s Lives.

2.    Where are you from? How has where you’re from shaped your life?

I was born in a small asbestos mining town in Quebec, called Thetford Mines. It is halfway between Quebec City and Sherbrooke, and very close to the Maine border. Thetford was small, and still is, with a population around 26,000. I started going to boarding school in Sherbrooke at age 7, in grade 3, until I finished High School. So I grew up in 2 places…and if we count the family cottages (uncles on both sides of the family, we didn’t have one) on lake Aylmer, half way between the 2 towns, I grew up in 3 places.

The defining influence of growing up in the Eastern Townships, is bi-culturalism. The Anglophone part of the Townships population were descendants of Loyalists during the American Civil war. Villages and towns still have English names:  Disraeli, Thetford, Stratford, Kinnear’s Mills are a few examples.

So growing up there was being called a Frog by the anglos, and a «assimilée» by the Francos. Ican discuss the bullying and hatred part of that reality later.

My parents were both half and half. Dad had a pure French-Canadian mother, and an anglo father of British descent. Mom’s father was of French descent, from Normandy, and her Mother was from and Irish family. That’s why I’ve always described myself as 2-quarters/2quarters.

Since the Anglophones were a minority, most of them were bilingual. That was not the case for the Francophones. The situation was pretty much the opposite of the situation in the rest of the province at the time. Now, many Anglo Montrealers are fluently bilingual.

3.    Where do you live? How has where you live shaped your life?

I live in the Outaouais. After CEGEP in Thetford, I wanted to go to a University as far as possible from home. So I came to the University of Ottawa, in September 1970, and got a degree in translation. I stayed on, got a job as a FSL teacher in the federal government. I worked as a federal public servant, in various departments, for 32 (!) years. The Outaouais is my home, now. It is where my children were born and raised.

It also is a bilingual region, my Smith ancestors, those who emigrated here from England, are buried in the Buckingham cemetery. So my roots are here as much as in the Townships.

Working for the federal government, meeting people from all over Canada, traveling across this vast country is a great opportunity. As I child, when I was too young to know what it meant, I said repeatedly: «I am a citizen of the world». The nationalist/separatist debate drove me nuts, and that is part of why I chose Ottawa!

I don’t think I would be as open-minded as I am had I stayed closer to home.

4.    What is your greatest achievement?

My greatest achievement? My family, the privilege of having and raising 2 wonderful children who have become awesome adults. Everything else pales in comparison.

On a truly personal level, pulling myself out of a burnout with hard spiritual and physical work is an accomplishment. It is also a gift because it brought me to Reiki and to who I’ve become.

5.    What is your greatest regret? Or what is your greatest fear?

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.

Biggest fear? Ok, fears I have a lot of. My father was afraid of everything, and was over-protective of me, his only child. He would not let me do anything on my own and what I ended up learning from that as a child, was that I was incompetent, unable to do anything on my own. I’ve grown out of a lot of that, and some fears have become «discomfort».

What I dread most is the invisibility of  old age.

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

To a young girl/woman struggling with who she is, who she’ll become, I say: 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. Try to understand and learn from everyone that crosses your path. DO NOT tolerate injustice done to you or to others. Speak up for others, ask for help for yourself. (I wish I’d had some guidance like that growing up, trying to fit in, to belong in a polarized Anglo/Franco, High class/low class world).

During the formative teen years, and early 20s, for many, fitting in is a big issue. Many young girls (and boys) haven’t found who they are yet, their style, their likes and dislikes, and become chameleons to fit in a group. The Street gang phenomenon is an extreme example of this. I don’t know what I’d say to a young girl talking to me about her situation. It depends on who she is. I’d probably share some of my experience with her and show her how our teenage experiences shape us, but they do not define us.

I wish all children were brought up by loving and respectful parents who encourage them to discover who they are and guide them to become self-confident, happy and competent persons.

7.    What’s next?

Who knows what’s next?          I’d have never guessed I’d be who I am now. What’s next is today. I am so grateful for this wonderful life, to be financially stable and comfortable without having to work every day. I hope to travel more, to stay close to my family, to stay healthy. ¸

I am open to life and to what the Universe will send my way. I will continue to grow is what’s next!


Vanessa – No idea… but something saucy!

Vanessa originally didn’t get an intro because I was late for work, and I only just realized that I forgot. If you’re reading this for the first time, of course, you’ll never know the difference. I met Vanessa in my good ol’ bookseller days – we were both cashiers at Chapters, and I just loved her instantly. We’ve reconnected lately over the blogosphere, and it’s been such a pleasure getting to know her better over the interwebs, and through the answers that she wrote below. Make sure to check out her blog – she’s full of great travel advice!

When you finish reading this, make sure to check out the comments. Vanessa’s husband added to the story. 

1. If someone wrote a biography about you, what would the title be?

No idea –and I’m open to ideas! Something saucy, please!

2. Where are you from? How has where you’re from shaped your life?

I was born in a rural area of Cape Breton Island, in a small coastal village. While the majority of in the inhabitants were fishermen, my father worked in forestry. This was just one of a number of subtle differences between me and my classmates. I lived on the gravel back roads, while they lived “in town”. My family’s heritage was part Acadian and part English, descended from “homechildren” orphans, whereas my classmates were 100% Scottish. My parents and I attended the local United Church, whereas 90% of the community was Catholic. I was an only child – everyone else’s parents seemed to breed like rabbits! In a town where fitting in was everything, these differences were enough to make me feel like an outsider. While Cape Breton is renowned for its beauty, hospitality, and music worldwide, I still feel ill at ease when I return home. Oh, I’m also not musical at all.

On the positive side, I have a lasting attachment to the ocean. I seem to seek out water no matter where I am and believe that there are few things that a long walk or sit by the ocean cannot cure.

3. Where do you live? How has where you live shaped your life?

I live in Ottawa now. I’ve been here for 9 years now. It was mean to be just a 6-12 month stop over when I returned from an internship in Africa, try to earn a little money and then move on to the next stop. Unexpectedly, I met a boy and was engaged within 3 months. I never pictured myself as the kind of person that anyone would love, want to build a life with, and so it was very unexpected for me. But it’s worked out nicely

The difficult thing about Ottawa? Career wise, it’s been a challenge. My skills as a unilingual political scientist are a dime a dozen and it turns out I have no skill or confidence at the schmoozing game. Combined with a self-esteem crushing starter job that I stayed in for several years too long, it seems that I’m not where I thought I would be. Trying to focus on new opportunities and pursuing my passions for writing.

4. What is your greatest achievement?

Funnily, I think it’s happening right now. I’ve been chasing my dual passions for travel and writing and have taken a simple wordpress blog into a fully functioning website with thousands of hits a month and I’m starting to get approached for writing editorials in exchange for travel experiences. I feel like this is the start of something great.

5. What is your greatest regret? Or what is your greatest fear?

I’m learning now that one of the hardest things anyone can ever face is making the decision to try harder or walk away. I once tried harder when I KNEW I should have walked away. It was during graduate school and, while everything was good on paper, it just wasn’t a good fit for me. Work wise, socially, academically – it just wasn’t what I expected, it was not taking me in the right direction. I had the option to shorten my program, take an “easier” way out. I didn’t, and pushed forward with harder work that I wasn’t ready for. Relationships disintegrated, I left feeling very unhappy, and – worst of all – it killed my self-confidence and dampened my love of learning. I doubt myself in ways I never did before. And it’s been a decade since I left! And I think my greatest fear is feeling like I’ll never get over it, I’ll never get my old self back.

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

Find an activity where it’s hard to lie to yourself. I can’t lie to myself when I run. It takes too much mental and physical energy to just get one foot in front of the other! And I can’t lie to myself when I’m by the ocean. I think because I’m a water girl at heart, because I feel so much like myself, I 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.

7. What’s next?

I’m doing a 3 ½ week trip around the world in November, putting my writing and travel skills to the test. And I can’t wait!