Montreal Elections - What Is This?

The Montreal elections are currently underway, giving candidates about 6 weeks to campaign to the public before the November 5th elections.

I know there are stark differences between how Americans and Canadians campaign, how the rules of campaigning are much shorter for Canadians (and much stricter). However, it's not an excuse to leave voters in the absolute dark about what a candidate stands for.

Aside from Mayor Denis Coderre, who clearly has a heap load of articles and announcements because he wields the power of the city, I'm very frustrated at the second mayoral candidate, Valerie Plante from Projet Montreal. In the day of social media and the internet, it's one thing to have a good looking website but content is king.

And....where's the content?

I get that Projet Montreal doesn't make much headlines, and that's fine! But I want to know as a voter, is what a candidate stands for. Where are the promises and mandates that you would implement at City Hall if you're elected? What budgets are you planning to make your projects come to fruition? Currently Project Montreal's website is severely lacking on information on any platform. I hear wind of Ms. Plante's stance on public transit, but it's nowhere to be seen on Project Montreal's website. Instead, we're treated to 6 forms asking the public "what do you guys think?" From experience, any time you ask the public what they think about one very general topic like transportation, you will have a million different answers and no closer to any solution. Instead, the party should be establishing their own stance and their own ideas clearly and in some greater detail. Are we supposed to think that the party will take all these suggestions, hand pick a few and then try to pursue them at City Hall? That is a recipe for failure.

While I'm not a huge advocate of Coderre, at least he's made one proposal clear so far, and that's to invest in green alleyways. He didn't ask the public about it, he just went ahead and threw his idea out there - you like? Or you don't like? Very clear choices for the voter. At least I have some idea of where he stands.

Also, you only have 6 weeks to campaign before election day. How is it that none of these candidates have it written down on their website what their proposals are for the future of Montreal? If I were a candidate, I'd be out there guns blazing with my proposals, have a budget set, how to get that budget, who my backers/sponsors are, etc. I have zero information on either candidate. Sure Coderre says he'd pledge $1 million, but where is it on the website? Is this just news for the press or is this really something he's going to pursue on behalf of his party? Complete mystery.

US system is much more democratic
It doesn't matter whether it's municipal of federal elections, Americans have more leeway in spelling out to voters what they stand for. For one, their system lets the public decide on sweeping municipal, state and federal laws (not the MPs). For example, in Montreal, it was the MPs who voted for the ban on pit bulls and pit bull-like dogs from being owned. It was not the public and in fact, a large number of citizens opposed such law. Had the law been passed during elections, where they had a chance to vote on the matter, it would've been a truly democratic process on whether that bill should be adopted or not. Unfortunately Canadian politics suffer under MPs who are supposed to vote on behalf of the people, but really are just voting for their own party. That's why you have oddball MPs who have zero experience in politics run and win because you just want the leader of the party to win, but you don't necessarily agree with the MP winning your riding. It's weird.

Anyway, another thing I liked about the American political system is the overloading clarity of the candidates. What's incredibly impressive are the non-party affiliate businesses who set up websites about candidates for states and federal elections. Take for example, Voter's Edge, a comprehensive profile website that had put together all the sponsors, money, and background on a candidate for several states.

In this link, you can see Kamala Harris's profile, her experience, educational background, her beliefs, her sponsors, her statements, etc. SO informative. She eventually went on to win as Senator for the State of California. As an American citizen, I received my ballot in the mail and looked up every single candidate that was running for Senator through Voter's Edge. I got to learn what they stand for and who sponsored them, and based on what I learned, I voted accordingly. THIS is what I'm talking about for Canadian elections! Why am I faced with 6 forms asking for opinions when I get a meager paragraph of ambiguous promises that doesn't mean anything?

Where's a Voter's Edge for Canadian elections when you need one? Where is the transparency?

Valerie Plante, ok I know you're name and you're from Projet Montreal. She talks about the metro project and putting families first, why isn't any of that on the website? Other than that I have no idea who she is. It's the same thing for Denis Coderre. Is there a rule somewhere that you can't divulge any plans on a website? On social media? Do they do this on purpose to keep voters in the dark? They probably do that so as to not involve the Millennials in the elections. They're still doing it the old fashion way.

It also bothers me that there isn't a single Canadian company out there who has the incentive to build a website about every single MP (that's not a party website), and give the public more information than a paragraph, a phone number and an email address. How embarrassing!

Americans create websites for initiatives all the time. The most recent and most successful was the legalization of same-sex marriage. Marriage Equality USA has a stunning website that, for two years, was keeping track of the status of every state on the legalization process. There was an interactive map, details on ballot initiatives and whatnot. Incredibly comprehensive, with passionate individuals who pooled together resources of lobbyists, activists and donors. Same-sex marriage was a hot topic, though not all American campaigns are as successful or initiate as much fervor. Canadian politics are not as passionate because they're only allowed 6 weeks to campaign, but I feel voters aren't given much to go on. Relying solely on news media to spoon-feed us with the information, because finding out the information on your own is not easy and requires a lot of digging - and nobody got time for that. Hence, we elect bozos to City Hall and we reap what we sow with their wacky laws and never ending complaints.

I am frustrated with the Canadian political voting system, voters are not as involved in the city's decision at all. These public consultations are just another check box to have under their belt but I really doubt it would make a huge difference in decisions made behind closed doors. And I feel it's sort of moot point to vote, because you're voting for a political party not the MPs that are in your riding. God knows what the MPs in your riding decide on, it's not for you to decide on any of the laws they vote on, and that is incredibly disempowering.

When I moved to LA, I was still vague on how the US political system worked, but it was incredibly easy to learn. The municipalities gave you booklets for free to learn about the bills being proposed, the candidates who ran in your city, where your polling station would be and more. Campaigners left soliciting pamphlets and brochures in your mailbox, but informative ones. The people really did have a say in political candidates and the bills and laws that would pass through. In Montreal? We don't get to have a say on anything except during municipal elections that go by so quickly that most people aren't even aware that there was even an election that was going on! That's how sad the state of politics are in Montreal, you don't even know it's even happening in your own back yard.

Adventures in Camping

View of the lake in Mont-Tremblant at dusk.

View of the lake in Mont-Tremblant at dusk.

If there's one thing that I never figured I would engage or enjoy, it would be the outdoors. A self-proclaimed bug-a-phobe, I've avoided spending time with mother nature simply because I didn't like the possibility of being attacked and eaten alive in the woods (and trust, I am the type who will get bitten when no one else would). My first foray in outdoor excursions in North America happened last year in BC, camping out for the first time in 8 yrs (my first time camping was in Japan in 2008) near Cowichan Lake and then in Tofino. It wasn't a bad experience, and wasn't quite what I had thought it would be. When I thought of camping, I thought it was about roughing it in the woods sans running water, bathroom or shower stall. But then when I went to an actual camp site, there were tons of people everywhere with their cars, campers, running water and toilets. I was expecting backpacking into a remote place and it would just be me and my husband. I thought that was camping in the truest sense, but I guess that's just too hardcore for normal people, so they go to camp sites instead.

Now that the knowledge of camping has been demystified for me, we went on our first solo camping trip last month to Mont-Tremblant. Honestly, I didn't know the first thing to pack for camping nor was I sure we had all the gear we needed for this trip. In BC, his brother had kindly loaned us camping gear, while in Montreal, we were left to whatever we had. Luckily for me, my husband is well prepped man, he had pretty much everything we needed on the most basic level. We agreed to stop by the small downtown area in Tremblant to get supplies like firewood and food at the grocery store before setting up camp.

We camped in Mont-Tremblant National Park, and rented a one-night site near a private lake and tiny beach. The tent we had was a quick 5 min set up, and I was surprised how fast we were able to put it together. Everything else was basically setting up our little camper stove, getting water in our jug and starting the fire in the pit. While he was gone to get water, a deer popped up on our site. A rather large one too! We had come across that deer just 10 minutes before getting to our site when we saw it casually grazing on the side of the road, not even 2 meters away. This time, the deer was so close I could practically touch it, though I didn't. I gently shooed it away when it got too close to our picnic table and it moved along to eat mushrooms nearby. Cory came back and I urged him to come over quickly to take photos. It was a surreal and magical little experience on our first time camping alone together in Quebec. During our brief time there, we looked at the starry sky at night, so utterly stunning without having city lights in your way. I felt completely at peace and the stress of city life just barely starting to ebb away. Definitely would need more time out there to unwind.

Over the course of our stay, it was clear we needed to prepare a little better the next time around (i.e.: no paper plates, better food ideas, get better floor pad). Despite us having 3 sleeping bags, the area became quite cold at night at about 5C. I was freezing and my sleeping pad barely gave me any cushion against the hard floor. So I ordered a new sleeping bag made to resist the cold for up to -18C and a thicker sleeping pad. Most would probably opt for an air mattress, but maybe if we were to go on a week-long camping vacation, we would probably opt for that. As we like to keep things simple, we think RVs, cots, and other types of glamping (glamourous camping) is overkill and defeats the purpose of living with just the essentials. I've professed my love for stoking the fire with a stick, keep it burning hot and making sure the logs are used up entirely.

In the process of finding better camping gear, I came across a company I had read about at work called Biolite. Initially, I thought Biolite only made wood burning stoves for third world countries. Their technology removes the toxic smokes from their stoves, giving users clean energy to cook their food, along with an internal battery that is heat powered to power cell phones and other electrical items. I've heard of them back in 2012, but since then, they've developed a whole gamut of consumer products for westerners that relies on the same technology, with a part of the proceeds going to the Biolite HomeStove for third world countries. They've since developed a few rocket stoves, LED lights and solar panels for camping.

Biolite HomeStove

Biolite HomeStove

Upon reading about the Biolite CampStove 2, we knew we had hit something that we absolutely loved. It's a stove entirely powered by biomass such a sticks and twigs, the moment you light it up, a fan comes on to blow on the fire and heat it up. You don't need propane at all, just thick twigs to keep it going. The CampStove is self charging, meaning the fire powers up an internal battery that powers the fan. It can boil water, light a lamp and charge your phone at the same time too. Watch the neat video below.

I also ordered a stick breaker, which I know sounds incredibly silly, but I would challenge anyone to break half inch wide branches into 6 inch long twigs with their bare hands (remember you need a rather large pile of twigs to feed your fire), your hands and knees will hurt. We just received our CampStove 2 this week and are excited to use it this upcoming weekend for our trip. I've seen enough videos and read the instructions to know what it can or can't do and how to handle it. We ordered the matching Kettle and Grill to make cooking a little easier. I'm super excited to use it and can't wait to see how this thing works. The goal of it of course is not to actually replace the fire pit or propane grill. However, in the case of emergency and power outage (or lack of propane fuel), this is a great device to have on hand as it doesn't take much to power it and generate alternate forms of energy to recharge our electrical devices. I'm super tempted to get the site lights, as it's a great way to light up our camp site in the pitch blackness of night when you're not yet ready for bed. These can also be recharged via Biolite CampStove while the fire burns. Without propane, we don't have to worry about lugging around any fuel, only spend time picking up dry twigs (and in a forest, how hard can that be?).

My next challenge is to simply find ways of making better food while we eat. Most sites suggest to bring along cast iron pots and skillets, which is great for camping, but a headache on weight and a bitch to clean. We had roasted hot dogs last time, with bacon & eggs for breakfast, but we definitely could do better. I don't think we'll go as far as pizza grilling (apparently this is a trend) but pasta would be interesting to try out in camping.

As we've discovered this summer, we highly enjoy having a monthly getaway plan. It's something to look forward to instead of an actual vacation, it's relatively inexpensive (even if we're renting a car) and you don't need to travel very far to enjoy time outside the city. As we hope to stretch out these excursions to 2 nights, we can opt to do more activities like hiking or exploring our surroundings. Winter getaways are a bit trickier and more expensive, so we may just lay low in the winter and plan more for the late spring/summer/fall.

Pray for Tampa

Hi, it's me again. Asking for another hope and a prayer about Hurricane Irma about to hit Tampa, Florida tomorrow. And you guessed it, I have family that lives there too. I called my mum again yesterday asking whether or not my uncle (her brother) will be taking precautions to evacuate. No such thing. He has to take care of his mother-in-law who lives by herself in a house where the children take turn sleeping at her place to make sure nothing happens to her frail health. She refuses to go anywhere and even invited everyone to take refuge at her place (which is said to be in bad shape, not made to withstand a hurricane). I told her that maybe they should just force her out of her home and bring her with them before the hurricane hits. I have no idea where she lives exactly. My uncle's house is a modest one story home, and though he is a former architect, he doesn't strike me as a plywood window boarding kind of man. My mum said he never experienced flooding before and if he refuses to leave, he'll soon learn.  

My cousins who live there, are also blazé about it. Though I'm pretty sure Hurricane Andrew should have rung a bell with them in '92, but I get the impression it's such a distant memory that they probably didn't get hit as badly and they're thinking the same with Irma. However, the projection cone has shifted that the center of the storm has Tampa in the middle of its path. While I expect Irma to weaken upon landfall, it will strike as Category 3 at the very least with crazy storm surges. While everyone says the roads are busy, why is it that I see on Google maps that the roads are clear and green? Another issue was that many gas stations were empty, which is problematic in trying to travel further. But right now the roads are clear, save for one patch of highway north of Tampa, the 75. But otherwise, clear of traffic. I personally wouldn't stay to risk my life for my material things (which can be replaced). I would rather just leave with essential prepping supplies and bring my pets with me. But again, I suppose if you've never been through a natural disaster, you're more reluctant to leave, no matter what experience you've had. Just because something has never directly hit you before, doesn't mean it never will. It's disappointing to hear that my relative won't be evacuating, so hopefully they would have at least taken some precautionary measures.

**UPDATE**

My cousins and aunt & uncle have evacuated Tampa to neighboring Georgia state. Thankful for their smart decision to leave in case it gets bad!

Houston Update

As it's forecasting to be a hot sunny day in Houston, I thought I'd give a proper update on what's been happening with my family.

The relatives in question that I had mentioned earlier who were rescued were my aunt and uncle (my mum's sister and brother-in-law). They are Katrina survivors. Once they had safely made it back to my mum's house, a friend of my uncle's posted on his Facebook timeline an article written by my cousin, Ylan, for the Washington Post about their ordeal in Katrina. It's been 12 years since, and I had long forgotten the details of their harrowing experience, but I reread it and am still amazed and weirded out to see that this was my family and that "the aunt" she wrote about was my mum, and the soldier cousin who was deployed to Iraq was my own brother.

Read: Rebirth of the Phoenix

The staircase we had photographed in 2001 in New Orleans.

The staircase we had photographed in 2001 in New Orleans.

Family photo in Houston in 2008.

Family photo in Houston in 2008.

The article details the experience of my uncle, a family doctor, who was stuck in a flooded hospital for several days with no power or running water, and very little phone reception, while simultaneously trying to care for their 50 or so patients. It also talks about the aftermath, trying to access their two-story home to salvage what they could, and details of their past escape from Vietnam by boat and forged papers. All stories of boat people are unique and as extraordinary as the next. But I feel that there aren't many stories that are quite like my family's.

As I sit back and reflect on the current situation at hand, one can't even begin to imagine what it would be like to lose your home, now twice, due to floods and hurricanes.

As most media outlets would say, Hurricane Harvey is different from Katrina. First, the amount of water that poured down into Houston was 3 times that of Katrina's, over 4 ft of rain (equivalent of their annual rainfall) fell in just 3 days. Second, typically hurricanes dissipate after making landfall, however Harvey's rain bands lingered instead, causing the massive floods that we've seen on television. Third, there was no call for evacuation. There is much debate about that last point. The lesson learned from Hurricane Rita (which happened just a few weeks after Katrina) was that Houston did issue an evacuation. The problem was that 2.6 million people tried to evacuate at the same time. For all of Houston's love for highways, their highways were blocked bumper to bumper. One woman accounted her experience that it took her 9 hours to evacuate to nearby Austin, which is typically a 3hr drive. More people died during the evacuation than the hurricane killed.

But as with most things with hurricanes, it's all about luck and timing. Houston has flooded before, but never to this extent.

My aunt and uncle's house was in gated community, bordered by a creek. Sunday night, they were debating whether to stay or go, as the water rose to their sloped driveway. They decided to stay, yet the creek swelled with the pouring rain. If you refer to the WaPo article, my cousin teases her dad about looking at a two-story $600,000 house in Houston. It turns out, their preference for a two-story home is well justified and in fact, saved their lives. My mum told me that they had spent all night bringing items up to the second floor. But they are now 12 years older than they were during Katrina, they were officially senior citizens, their bodies took a toll. My uncle's feet were painfully sore and he could barely move. By early Monday morning, the water had risen to 4 feet into their home.

I called my mum that morning, she sounded rushed and busy. She gave me little detail, "You're aunt and uncle are stuck in their house." She had pleaded with them earlier to leave the night before while they still had the chance. "I have to go," she said, "I need to find a boat for your aunt and uncle, I'll pay whoever has one, whatever it takes." Meanwhile on Facebook, their eldest daughter informed family and friends of their ordeal. They had already contacted the Coast Guard, but there is a back log from other flood victims. Again, I felt like an outsider to a world I was not familiar with.

During Katrina, I repeatedly asked my mum if I should come down to help. But she said that there was nothing to help with. Unlike my cousin, my mum didn't allow me to see the disaster that had happened. I haven't asked her much about her experience in Katrina, much like she and my dad sparsely shared details of their escape from Vietnam. My brother is the same, sparse detail on his experience in Iraq. It seems like the less I knew, the better. The only information she had shared was that the new house she moved into was washed out. I remembered her saying she found one of her tops in the mud and decided to take it back with her. I laughed and asked why. "It's still good, I can just wash it," she said with a chuckle, knowing how absurd it sounded. Whether she was able to salvage much, still to this day, I don't know. We rarely talk about the past.

My aunt and uncle were now trapped on the second floor, not knowing whether the water would still rise. But another emergency crept up on them, there was a carbon monoxide alarm that went off and a weird smell. They had to open the windows or suffocate. This time though, they had a working cellphone. Houston had made telecommunication preps in the wake of Katrina. Now with social media, cries for help were public and numerous. In 2005, Facebook was in its infancy, Twitter wasn't yet born and Instagram was non-existent. Cellphone reception was shoddy at best.

In Houston, there was constant communication between my aunt and uncle. My reporter cousin, unfortunately had to hang back in Washington covering stories for CNBC. It was the eldest daughter who took helm, kept everyone informed and contacted the Coast Guard. My mum made it out to their community gate, waiting for their rescue in the rain, the water raging at her legs. By noon Monday, my aunt and uncle made it safely back to my mum's and great aunt's house, just a 10 minute drive from their place. Mum's house has a leaky roof, but otherwise dry.

On Facebook, my cousin announced that they were safe and thanked everyone for their support. Monday afternoon, I call my mum. Her voice hoarse and tired. "Yeah they're ok. But now we have to find a way to get your grandparents out." They weren't flooded thankfully, despite living on a ground floor apartment, but they have limited mobility. Monday evening, I call again, grandparents are safe and sound, everyone is staying in the same house.

It is now Friday, I call to check up. My mum sounds energetic again, the water has receded completely from my relatives' neighborhood. They spent all Thursday cleaning it out. Neighbors along the street piled garbage and damaged furniture on their lawn. The house is a total loss. Earlier this week, I asked if they were going to stay in Houston after this ordeal. "Of course!" my mum replied. But what about the flooding? "There are lots of areas in Houston that were untouched by the flood," she responded. But my confidence isn't particularly hopeful. Inside the house, I asked about the smell - it's putrid. The stainless steel fridge is toppled over, it's difficult to move around. But they're able to save more things this time, including the hanging pictures.

Be Like Aziz

aziz.jpg

I randomly came across Aziz Ansari's interview in GQ this month and learned an interesting aspect of him. First off, just reading the headline that he quit the Internet was basically all the click bait I needed to read the article.

After the success of the second season of his show Master of None, he's pretty much in a perfect zone that he doesn't feel the need to rush to do a third season, nor take on a billion projects to keep that high going. In fact, he's damn near ready to retire and live a good and simple life in Italy. It's really a road that few successful actor/writer/directors have taken. I like a person who knows his own limitations and isn't ashamed to not pursue further than he feels like it.

My favorite bit, of course, was his take on quitting the internet. Which is something that I have struggled with for more than decade. Perhaps a part of me simply can't stop being on the internet, surfing whatever site for new stuff. But I really liked that he got rid of the internet on his phone (gasp!). He removed email access and has an app that limits his internet usage to 30 mins a day (kind of like those complimentary Wi-Fi access at some airports). It's an incredibly smart move. It's limiting the addiction and forces you to do something else instead.

Inspired by his no email on his phone, I have work email on my phone and pretty much removed it straight away.  It's a reason why that I'm never fully unplugged from work, I read work emails even after work and before work, it's ridiculous. I'll get to my emails at the office goddamnit, why torture myself for more work during my off hours? Now Aziz only allows text messages on his phone. Brilliant.

It's also great to see that he enjoys the simpler life in Italy, which is what I love about Europe, that they have kept their simple lives as the secret to a happy life. While I feel in North America, we slave and kill ourselves for more money, more materials, more vacation time, bigger houses and better cars, without ever truly being satisfied or happy. There's never enough time to enjoy life as it is, it somehow always need to be this adrenaline, heart pumping activity to get that "high" on life. Just like drugs, except the high never lasts and you're always craving for something more. Aziz definitely realizes this and I wouldn't be surprised if he just drops everything and lives in Europe for the rest of his life. Good for him!

I'm also thinking to stop posting on Instagram. While I did post a few things the last couple of days, I think I may just truly limit it as my own personal photographic portfolio and call it a day. I am proud to say that I only have 22 friends on Facebook, 95% of which are family. It was good platform to keep in touch with them, especially during Hurricane Harvey. My cousin kept everyone informed of what was going on. I don't like that Facebook owns Instagram, so I'm also reluctant to post on either platforms these days.

Anyway, back to Aziz, I hope he finds himself a nice girl and settle down with her. I know that in everyone's life, we're always missing something in our lives. While I believe love is a blessing and I'm lucky to have someone who cares about me, it should be noted that romantic love could really fuck you over. Just read this post by Mark Manson, this will really give you a doozy.

Now excuse me while I quit the internet for the rest of the night and try to read a book to end my night.

Pray for Houston

It's been a bewildering 18 hours since I got back from my weekend camping trip where I didn't have phone reception for 24 hours. As I was leaving to go to Mont-Tremblant, I had heard news of Hurricane Harvey making landfall by Friday at Rockport, but didn't know the extent of what the storm would do to Houston. I had figured they might get pummeled by some hard heavy rain for a day and then the storm would move on.

But it hasn't moved on. In fact, the storm is stationary and won't move on until Thursday. Hence by Sunday, and this morning, it had dumped feets of rain onto the city and has generated catastrophic floods.

My family doesn't live in Houston proper, they live in the north of the city in the suburbs, but they're also facing several home challenges already. My mother has a leaky roof, and just a couple of weeks prior, their water heater in the attic burst and flooded the top floor to the bottom floor and were in the midst of getting it fixed. Now they have a leaky roof that can only be stemmed by towels, but with the storm going on for another 3 days, I'm crossing fingers that a leaky roof will just stay that and not worse. It's difficult for my family at the moment because it all seems like déjà vu, as they all went through Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans 12 years prior with similar flooding devastation. Katrina devastated the town they lived in as the oil refineries in the area contaminated the soil, thus made the homes there deemed unlivable for several years. In their escape from New Orleans, my family went to Houston to start over. They had a few friends there and were able to start their life again, and for a long while I thought they would be ok. You have to give it to them that they're quite hardy people as their previous experience was escaping from Vietnam by boat during the war.

Now, they're once again challenged with a threat that could make them lose their home. There are some safety measures I can see that they could escape north to avoid the storm, but knowing them they might just stay put for the time being. It's also difficult to assess just how flooded the roads are in their area, as from the images I see of downtown Houston, it looks horrendous! I can't do much from Montreal either, when Katrina hit, I repeated asked if they needed me there, but my mum said no and there was nothing to go back to. My brother at the time had just returned from Iraq from his round, and basically had nothing left to go back to. My cousin helped what she could with her parents' home and did a cover story, but again, very little could be saved of their life long possessions.

It's difficult to feel so helpless. Airports are closed. Roads are closed. Ambulances frozen. Helicopters grounded. You can't do anything unless you had a boat. That's pretty much the gist of it. I could donate to emergency relief, but there's only so much that an agency can do at this point when everything in the area is inaccessible.

So I'm hoping this week will be ok for my family, I hope that a slightly flooded base house and a leaky roof are the only things that they have to deal with. They don't need to leave their house again, I hope they don't, because there's nothing worse than starting over YET AGAIN for the fourth time.

**UPDATE**

This is devastating news. My aunt and uncle's home is now flooded with 4ft of water, and are currently waiting for the Coast Guard to rescue. But obviously there's a backlog and my mum is trying to find a boat in the area to carry them out, they're on the second floor now with a window open. Thankfully, my mum's still dry in her home. Hoping better news will come about.

**UPDATE 2**

Great news, my relatives have been rescued, everyone is safe and I think Houston's raining ordeal is finally over. My poor mum had to endure harrowing hours standing in rushing water, watching a rescue ensue. Let's hope that that was the worst of it. I'm just really thankful that everyone is ok and that my life in Montreal is truly a gift and blessing.

The Mental Burnout of Millennials

I've hesitated writing this post, eventhough I know a very small amount of people will actually read it. But I thought it was important to put it out there, because I feel like I'm not the only person who has been feeling this way for a long time. 

I am mentally burnt out.

It's been building up for years and I've tried my best to tough it out as long as I could by slogging myself into my work, tried to find myself through self-help books, read numerous articles online, have somewhat breached the topic with my spouse, but not sure he really gets it. 

I've had this kind of career crisis before 5 years ago, all it generated was an emotional meltdown in front of my mum with a dream of a one year sabbatical to figure things out. Instead I moved to LA, but it served more as distraction/escape route from my problems rather than the solution. You could say LA was my sabbatical, but I think I would've had the same issue to face regardless.

I've been shedding and moving away from normal expectations from what an ideal Millennial should have (high paying job, getting married, buying a house, investing, having babies, lots of friends, and a large following on social media). I've so far failed to achieve all of those things except for getting married, and that wasn't even my list of priorities to have in my life. But after reading a few books, why should I even compare myself to other people's salaries, houses and babies? It does nothing for me except feel bad about myself. If there has been one thing that I was determined to achieve in my 30s, was to give less shit about what was expected of me and what other people should perceive of me. My whole life, I've tried to avert myself from a racial stereotype, I didn't realize that I also needed to avert from stereotypical life goals as well.

So I'm back to the same issue about what to do with my life. I'm clearly not a career person, and I've come to a point where perhaps office life is not for me. I've worked 10 years in an office making decent money, but nowhere near happy as I would like to be. I have no interest in climbing the corporate ladder and I'm tired of not having the freedom to take off when I choose. Unfortunately my experience in working in a non-office job can only be traced back to a 3 year stint as a hostess for my uncle's high end sushi restaurant. That was also ok money, lots of drama, and late night shifts, but at least I could go on vacation whenever I wanted (it was easy to find someone who would cover my coveted weekend shifts). It would work for 20-somethings (as I was), not sure if I would enjoy a job like that now that I'm older, nor would make enough to sustain my expenses.

It's on my bucket list to leave a cushiony office job to go freelance or a non-office job. A part of me has yet to taste the trials of going freelance, but I think the time has come for me to take this leap. It's also been nice to do the background acting gig, it's been such a great stress reliever where I didn't have to think too hard and I was still earning a paycheck. I really want take Laura and Eric's advice in trying to do background gigs, but I'm not a trained actor nor have I earned enough days to be part of the union, but it's desperately tempting every time I go on set. It's like I'm so close yet so far (6 days to ACTRA Extra) to get decent pay on this thing. So maybe I should go for it. Heck, why not? Also, it's a good way to meet new people regularly, eventhough my socializing skills aren't the best, but at least people on set are game to make new friends. Plus, it's different. Laura put it succinctly that she loved being creative and that when she worked in finance for a non-profit (!), it was not the worth the mental stress.

And this is the mental burnout I'm talking about. We are not our parents' generation that we should just put our heads down and churn through the daily grind. WHY? As a married, childless, skilled worker, still relatively young, I have lots of stuff going for me, so why waste it on the daily grind? I can't. I won't. I refuse to waste my time further. This should never mean that I "deserve" better. That is entitlement and I am well aware how entitled my generation feels about a lot of things. I'm cognizant that I've been given the best chance to succeed in life and eventhough I've stumbled in finding happiness, I will never ever for a single moment think that I should deserve anything without putting my blood, sweat and tears for it. I am unworthy. I've always felt unworthy, no matter what came through my door - stroke of luck on getting married, having a great family, a rare few good friends, a good job, great co-workers, etc. In fact, I've always felt the opposite of "deserving", I often feel that I am undeserving of my good luck. Call it humility if you will, but I take nothing for granted. I know the risks I take could very well land me in the pits, but somehow I've been unafraid of those kinds of possible results mainly because I know I won't let myself sink that low. So the chances of me becoming homeless, penniless or a drug addict are pretty slim. Jobless, maybe, I've erred in joblessness for 2 months in LA, and quite frankly I was bored stiff, so I found a job to relieve my boredom, not necessarily because I needed the cash.

So, I was thinking of taking a career break to prioritize myself, I have enough to last me a couple of months. But I need a serious recharge, find my creative center and pull away from the grind. I'm not even talking about a vacation, that costs too much money, and I want to be close to home anyway. I just don't want to have responsibilities or get stressed in getting work emails and never be fully "off." Because even on weekends, I'm still "on". Working from home, still "on". Now that I've shed my anxieties over social media, I don't post as much even on Instagram anymore, so I don't need to put on a pony show online either. I don't want my life to be about making money and more money to save for this and that, because I really don't care about that. I want to earn enough to have a decent living, have a low stress job, and have time to take a long weekend to do something. I feel like that background acting thing seems to be ticking off the right boxes, except for the uneven schedule, but I find that I don't mind that at all finally. So who knows.

Change is about to come.

Body Issues

You can always count on the kitty to love you no matter what.

You can always count on the kitty to love you no matter what.

I admit that I have not been immune to female body issues. It's unfortunate that I live in a society in which women's bodies and faces are so heavily scrutinized and picked at, it seems impossible to be happy with just the way you are. As I started my journey into the no makeup routine for 8 months now, I've felt pretty comfortable and confident with a bare face. 

My body on the other hand is another issue. Or is it? I was born lucky, with a somewhat minimal maintenance body, and a thin frame. I had no problems with my frame until I turned 30 and then everything started to change. I thought to myself I should be so lucky to fill out a little more and become more womanly so. However, Instagram made me feel bad about my body. 

Yes, my beloved Instagram. It's not to say that the work out guru Kayla Itsines has had a negative impact. She's a great motivator, has a loyal following of women who work out and achieve incredible results. Heck, my own cousin who regularly appears on TV (a work out fiend and mother of 2) follows her. It's just that by liking some of her inspirational posts, Instagram now like to add to the mix of  "Transformation Tuesday" of other before & after photos in my feed. I started to feel self-conscious of my non existing abs. Flabs. Not abs. 

What's funny is that my stomach is the only part of my body that I dislike. I'm fine with everything else. When put into perspectives, it sounds so incredibly petty and silly to dislike one thing, but there you have it. So I've had fits and starts with a workout plan but after a while, let's face it, unless I have serious health issues, I don't think there's an urgent need for me to work out.

I've abandoned working out and I'm ok with that. I'm not vegan and I don't always eat 100% healthy, though I avoid most fast food tropes like McDonald's, and I try not to buy packaged goods. It's always a struggle to eat healthier, but I've gotten much better at it since I turned 30 and changed my life around in cooking more for myself.

Women are so harsh on themselves and others. It's hard enough dealing with every day problems, why exacerbate it with body issues? I've gained a couple of pounds and I know I'll never go back to the rail thinness that I was in my teens and 20s. I'm trying to love what I've become. I mean I've already accepted the gray hairs, the slight wrinkles, and the bare face, why not a slightly flabby stomach? I'm not 21 anymore. But I still get carded at the SAQ - so there's an up side, right?

All this to say that as much as I appreciate Kayla's army of fantastic transformations, work out life simply isn't for me. I don't want to concern myself with the way I look unless it's seriously impacting my health. I get that her workouts also transform your self-confidence, but her way isn't the only way to build confidence. It's a mindset. It's the way you look at your life. Some people need directions, but I think I'll work on my mental health for body issues rather than a physical one.

So here's to the women who are comfortable with themselves and are fine with the way they look. It's one less thing to worry about. It's less gym membership worries and it's more carrying yourself with confidence in a bikini when you're 70 years old and not give a crap about anyone else. As I get older, I want to grow more confident with the way I am and really not sweat the small stuff. Such is the life of a perfectly imperfect person.

In Response to Bridezillas

I just read this opinion article in the NY Times, A Feminist Defense of Bridezillas, defending brides who throw temper tantrums on their wedding day when things don't go as planned. First of all, the opening paragraph was enough to frustrate me. 

For many of the thousands of American weddings that have taken place so far this summer, there have been two unspoken requirements: 1) that the events be stunning, awe-inspiring, love-filled, unique and fun all at once, and 2) that they appear to have occurred miraculously, with zero effort or emotional output on the part of the bride.

Who said that your wedding needed to fulfill rule #1? And why should you give into that rule if you know it's going to stress you out and put you in a financial hole? I don't get it. What's even more crazy is that eventhough Canadian couples spend an average of $25,000 on a wedding, the average American couple spends $35,000USD 😱 which is INSANE. You can buy a Tesla Model 3 for that much and it would be much more useful. 

This is why I had a minimalist wedding, there's already a stigma and heap loads of advice that tell women to not freak out on their wedding day. I was told on two separate occasions that I should let other people take care of any issues and it's "my" day and I should just focus on having fun. I didn't have the heart to tell them that our wedding was crazy small and that it was also a glimpse of what other brides had gone through. Jesus. I'm so glad that wasn't me. Isn't it strange that weddings are basically trying to mimic a royal wedding for a day? Down to the white gown, a trend set by Queen Victoria and has since been repeatedly and endlessly copied for over a century. 

Although I can see how stressful a wedding day can be, especially if you're the person who has planned everything, but you're really setting yourself up for taking the blame if something goes wrong. Not everyone is a meticulous event planner, and it takes a certain type of personality to not crack under the stress. It's why I would encourage women to think outside the box of what's already been done and throw a party that would befit them, not the norm.

I'm a terrible party planner as it has been shown to me over the years, and even now, the party in Houston, I'm half heartedly thinking about it. I have still yet to send out invitations out of laziness 😅 and my mum seems to be stressing over it more than I am. I was going to be happy with a regular fold out table with a cloth on top of it and a display of food (Viet and Texas BBQ), but she seems keen on having a wait staff, a cake and other things. I figured, let them figure it out. I just want to eat in a pretty dress with my family. As long as I have a place to sit with a table, I don't care how the house looks or what flowers are on the table. I don't care about name tags or assigning tables or wedding favours.

Let's remind ourselves, we all think we're special, but on an every day basis, we're really not. I'm no different than the other brides out there who got married, why should I try to outdo them? I have nothing to gain from throwing a lavish wedding party because it's not any different from other weddings, unless you're Sean Parker. But, to each their own. If people want to spend $25,000-$35,000 on their wedding day, by all means. I've seen broken friendships over a wedding from bridezilla behaviour, or worse, reading about a woman being sued for breaking off an engagement (this story is hilarious and crazy). 

Thankfully, weddings are typically a one-time event, and you never have to go through it again. You just have to deal with the baby shower expectations and then you're home free. Though in this day in age of social media, I'm sure some other rite of passage is secretly being written down somewhere to pop up later in life that you have to spend lots of money again. But I'll be sure to ignore it.

Terror In The Womb

Thanks a lot Ali Wong, you've effectively given me nightmares of post-pregnancy body transformation in more detail than anyone has ever said out loud - you are a unicorn. Keep shining that light of truth forever!

So this past Thursday, I attended Ali Wong's show at Just For Laughs and it was worth every penny, eventhough I probably overpaid when I learned she was doing shows on Groupon a couple of years ago when no one knew who she was. But whatever, it was AMAZING. 

Not only for the raunchiness and dirty jokes, but also how I'm sure most of what she says about her pregnancy and birth experiences are terrifyingly true. The shredding of your body, the blood, the poo, the boobs, it all sounds primal and very animalistic. 

However, when I rewatched her special on Netflix, Baby Cobra, I came across a passage where she said that even in her very early 30s, she and her husband still sought fertility treatment to get pregnant. Ali is actually just a month younger than me (!) and this past show she was already pregnant with her second kid, the first she had at 33. And I was like "Jesus! If she's seeking treatment at less than 33, where does that leave me?" I mentioned before that if I were to have a kid, I'd rather have it naturally and would stop trying at 38. My husband actually has reservations about whether to have a kid or not and I'm still sort of indifferent on the matter.

It doesn't help the fact that I've been watching The Handmaid's Tale, based on Margaret Atwood's novel. I've never read the book and vaguely heard of Atwood in passing but had no idea she was an author. I'm currently on episode 4.

...

WHAT THE HELL WAS MARGARET ON WHEN SHE WROTE THIS?!

This is some pretty oppressive shit! Not only that, but Atwood is known to write very dark books. Dude, I had no idea she wrote stuff like this. The TV version is so shocking in content (perhaps not in the thriller kind of way, but just the concept is batshit crazy), that I can't help but wanting to watch more episodes, as twisted as that sounds. The reason I mention The Handmaid's Tale, without spoiling too much of it, is the emphasis on the blessings of being able to become pregnant and, if you're really lucky, give birth in a world where fertility rate has plummeted à la Children of Men. Coupled that with Ali's graphic description of child birth and breastfeeding, I'm not sure which side to swing on whether I should have kids or not.

So on one end, yes, it's a miracle to give birth. Especially when I read on the news that fertility in men has dropped 60% in the last half century. Working women are delaying in having kids to make room for career but have higher miscarriages as they get older. I'm already in the high risk bracket just by being 35. It doesn't sound terribly old, but there's a marketed reason why they say "Women are in their prime in their 30s," it's a Hallmark card saying "Hurry the f**k up and get pregnant before your eggs expire." In terms of physicality, your 30s are not your prime at all, in fact, it is the very last decade you're able to have a fighting chance to have children, and even then it's a struggle. Your body's on the decline, it's the white flag decade of pregnancy. Did I mention the beating your body takes on when you have kids when you're older? I have a first hand witness account at work of a co-worker who gave birth at 35 and 38 and she said her second pregnancy was much tougher to deal with and needed a longer recovery time. Imagine at +40. My body's already showing signs of age with body parts hurting here and there and just not feeling as energetic as I used to.

Given the fact that I don't like the whole thing of "what are my chances, doctor?" nor have any interest in going to the doctor to find out, may be a sign that I'm not inclined to have children. At the same time, a part of me feels like I would be missing out on something since having a kid is basically what my body was made for, right? Also seeing co-workers give birth in their 30s gives some hope that something could happen still, but I'm on a time block, 3 more years and I'm closing my business for good. My chances of miscarriages are also pretty high, so pregnant does not mean giving birth. I know, it's getting so complicated I'm thinking of just fostering orphaned kittens instead, lol.

I just don't want to be one of those women in their 40s who would look back and regret the decision I've made if I didn't have a kid. I want to be comfortable with that and not look on with envy nor want to feel smug if I did have one. Women can be terribly snide and haughty against one another, as some sort of weird unwritten rule of who has "made it" and who hasn't. We all measure our successes differently. I feel parenthood is a special category, but not really a signal of success for me. I believe parenthood can be a path to achieve success in personal growth as it would change you forever. That, I see value in. That's why, in part, I would be on board to having a kid. Because nothing else will compare to this level of change. Physical, mental, emotional - a special bond and challenge to yourself. It's one thing to have a pet, it's another to have children. Whether the universe agrees on me having one is another matter. I don't want to play God by going through in-vitro, or any other kind of fertility procedure. Call me old-fashioned, it's just easier, less stressful and won't put me debt before the baby is born. If it's not meant to be, then so be it. I will focus my life on other things after 38. Probably save money to go on a sabbatical or something. 

 

Dunkirk - An Experience

So I finally watched Dunkirk with great anticipation, despite the fact that I'm not typically a war movie fan, but went because it was a Christopher Nolan film. 

Personally I really liked it, I didn't love it per se, but it was fairly consistent with Nolan's style of bending timelines. Ever since Memento, most of Nolan's standalone films (disregarding the Batman trilogy) have a concept of time attached to it. Whether it's moving from the end to the beginning in Memento, or going into people's dreams for 15 mins (yet seemingly lasting hours within) in Inception, or like Interstellar where the characters are going through time space, Dunkirk makes use of different time frames to converge in the middle of the movie. I think this is why I like his films, it's because he doesn't really do it in typical linear fashion.

As for the story of Dunkirk, little dialogue is actually said, in fact it was thanks to Hans Zimmer's intense music that had me on the edge of my seat, or at least generated a lot of tension in my jaw and neck, lol. While the scale of the war isn't anything like bodies falling left and right like Saving Private Ryan, I liked the different focus of land, sea and air. As I've mentioned, switching between each focus, which themselves were on different timelines, made you piece together the whole picture as you went along. In this regard, I felt it was more of an experiential film rather than a gripping story, as most characters didn't have names, and the big stars of the film felt more like cameos (except for Tom Hardy, who had his face covered again for 99% of the film, and Harry Styles had more lines than anyone else). It was the unknown actors who stole the show, they looked more shell shocked and stoic, half expecting them to breakdown in some fashion, but strangely they never did. It's why you don't feel much attachment to any of the characters because you don't know their back story, you don't know where they're from. You're basically there taking a glimpse into the last days, hours, minutes of their lives. 

The film is shot on location at Dunkirk in France, so the long stretches of beach are absolutely astounding, imagine with 400,000 soldiers lined up in the sand like that. The capsizing of ships, the oil slicks in the water, the fleet of civilian boats coming to rescue them, all well done with minimal CGI. Obviously they won't hire 400,000 extras to be on the film, so they cheated a little, but I don't think scale and size were the focus of the film. It's not Saving Private Ryan and I don't think it would be fair to expect another war film of the same vein, it's not like Nolan was trying to do a British version of Saving Private Ryan (how boring would that be?).

I equal Nolan's approach to war movies as Wong Kar Wai's approach to kung fu films, you're expecting the mainstream formula of it being a certain way, but they present you something completely different. I like directors like that! Not for the sake of being different, but this is just the way they've always done it. I personally find Nolan's thing is the concept of time, or a non-linear film. He shows us that no matter what the subject - dream invasion, murder mystery, war, and sci-fi - can all have his concepts of time applied to the storyline. This is what makes his movies interesting and different. Tarantino's films also has non-linear plot lines, but clearly his style heavily pays homage to vintage films. 

Anyway, I'm looking forward to Hans Zimmer's concert this weekend as it so happens, and hoping to hear some of that suspenseful soundtrack from Dunkirk!

Little Surprises

The Broad (lower right hand photo) featured in a Lonely Planet spread.

The Broad (lower right hand photo) featured in a Lonely Planet spread.

I just randomly found out that one of my photos that I've uploaded to Unsplash was used and credited in Lonely Planet's Summer in America 2017 sample issue! Eventhough I've done so voluntarily to submit photos for free, I haven't really used Unsplash too much as a portfolio site since I haven't had any plans to go pro in photography. But it's nice to see that my Broad Museum photos have been well liked and the Maison de la Littérature has also been used on a couple of occasions.

In other news, I've been watching The Bold Type and still can't get over seeing the crew working in MY office building! They definitely worked during the weekend to get those shots done. It's funny how they turned the outdoor staircase into a lounge area, when there's actually nothing there. The show has been getting a lot of positive reviews from the NY Times to Refinery 29 so I'm pretty sure they're banking on a season 2. If they're up for shooting early next year back in Montreal, I will definitely try to make time for it!

There's a trio of movies that I'm dying to see in theaters this summer. My #1 pick is oddly enough, Dunkirk, the war movie by Christopher Nolan, with stars attached like Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy, both whom I loved in Peaky Blinders and Taboo. Luc Besson's sci-fi saga Valerian is also another film I want to watch. It's been 20 years since he released the Fifth Element, so I'm pretty eager to see a new alien world he's created with this film. Finally, Atomic Blonde with Charlize Theron and James McAvoy, though it does seem like Wanted 2.0. But I'm typically drawn to strong female leads, especially in action films and I like Charlize enough to go see it. Though, who can beat Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2? She had arms like guns and didn't need to wear five inch heels or mascara to kick ass (just sayin').

The Last Shoot

My favorite Cate Blanchett dual role in Coffee and Cigarettes. #idol

My favorite Cate Blanchett dual role in Coffee and Cigarettes. #idol

After sitting for 5 hrs in holding since 7pm, we finally filmed our last scene and wrapped up for good at 3am. Last week there was already a wrap party, but for some reason we got called back the following Sunday to finalize everything. I was thankfully sleeping in my seat out of camera range during the last bits of filming, when I heard "Aaaand, that's a WRAP!" everyone cheered and clapped for a job well done. The director and Katie thanked everyone for their hard work, and the extras got a special shout out from Katie, which was very sweet of her. 

After 3 1/2 months of shooting nearly every day, the set did begin to feel like a work family, like most productions do (or always talk about). I can see why it can get pretty emotional for a crew and cast to go on for several season with the same people, and then finally say goodbye. I didn't spend nearly as much time on set like the others, so it was still difficult for me to adjust and bond with them (I technically only ecked in 7 days), but I found the crew was very nice and chill even when extras made mistakes like having a cellphone ring on set.

Everyone was asking each other what they had planned next, a couple of them were already working on the set of the new X-Men film. I'm sort of kicking myself for not submitting anything when they emailed me, but we'll see what happens now that I've sent them something. If not there's another big production in the pipeline in the fall. I'm trying to get 8 more days to qualify for background union and I'd be set. 

However, working a late shift is significantly brutal, and I can't imagine how much tougher it would be with outdoor conditions. I was also thinking of how I can kill time in holding. As far as I've observed, other than reading, talking to people and sleeping, many others brought in sketch pads, card/board games, and some even their laptops (despite no internet). It's like a preview of what retirement home life could look like. You have limited resources and you can't really leave the premises. I don't know how retirees don't go crazy from being locked inside a place day in and day out. The light inside the holding area are fluorescent, so it's not the best light to read a book in as it can really tire out my eyes. The moment we stepped on set, they had fake lights imitate golden hour and it was like an instant mood booster - also, I wasn't freezing to death on set unlike the holding.

Anyway, as I've mentioned before, being an extra is more about physical endurance, and some mental adjustments. You don't need to think too hard, but you also need to keep it engaged while you wait. It's tricky for sure. At the same time, you wonder if you're really being productive by just waiting around, so I always feel conflicted whether to continue the gig or not. For the time being, I need the extra income and it's really helped pay my debts of a little faster. Once I get in the black again, it would be good to save up for another vacation and finally get the bed frame, lol.

Just Deleted 10,000 FB Posts

I've spent the last few days deleting over 10,000 Facebook posts with the help of a small extension on my browser. While I was seeing the traces of my past slowly delete itself, it dawned on me how embarrassingly attached I was to this platform. I'm disappointed in myself that it has taken me this long to realize how pointless it all was to share so much about my interests when the truth is no one cared about that stuff except, well, me.

Of course there are way more than 10,000 posts, it didn't count the numerous likes and comments that I've done over time, and that I'm not too concerned about deleting. But it's nice to be able to get rid of everything, so that I don't have some embarrassing "memory" popping up and read through these old posts and opinions I've made over the years. 

No matter what your level of authenticity is, most people just want to read about positive things. And I get it, there's only so much of Debbie-downer attitude many people can take and most people just don't have the time to care about the lives of over 500 people they know, let alone go deep diving into particular subjects, it's just not possible. So we resort to the lighter things, like photos and funny videos. That's about as much most people can take nowadays. So, off they went. 

A Possible Side Gig

So the premiere of the TV show I've been working on finally aired this week. The first episode was more of a pilot, so I found the pacing of it to be pretty choppy and quick, but I suppose as a pilot, it was never meant to be a proper first episode? Anyway, I watched Episode 2 and was surprised at how some bits actually made me laugh out loud. So, yes, it actually surpassed my expectations as when I was on the set, it was difficult to say if anything was funny, or maybe I simply wasn't around enough to catch the funny dialog. 

Anyway, I have one more shooting day to film and then it's a total wrap. I pulled a grueling 16hr shift the other day and it was made worse because I had to stand in high heels the whole time. By the time 10pm rolled around, all the extras that had shown up in heels were kicking off their shoes whenever the cameras weren't rolling. It's one thing to look cute in high heels, it's another to try to stand in them for all hours of the day. Luckily I didn't have to stand the whole 16hrs, but I think I stood in them for a good 6-8hrs total, when midnight rolled around, I was ready to leave, lol. It's one thing if you're a featured character on set, but when you're amongst 400 extras, you're nothing but a spec on the screen.

Which got me thinking, or researching, more deeply into the industry. I delved into that rabbit hole of a background actor/actor's life. I can see the appeal of being part of a union - the higher rates, the privilege of eating with the crew (eventhough technically this whole time we've eaten the same thing as what the crew was eating), and perhaps eventual health benefits (the latter which I don't need, as I'm under my husband's benefit plan). So I suppose it's all about the money.

It's an exciting and sad thing. So many people I met seem to be doing it for the money, they can easily get jaded on what seems to be an exciting project. But after that 16hr shift, no matter if there were limos, sports cars and a red carpet at a hot club, there is nothing glamorous about having swollen feet in high heels, redoing the same scene for 2-3hrs. I wonder how the others put up with this kind of lifestyle for so long. One girl I befriended, Laura, was the absolute social butterfly, talking to everyone. I think some people are in this business because they like the social aspect of it, and, from a certain perspective, doesn't really require you to think much - especially if you're an extra. I think in part why I took on this gig was that it was easy money that didn't require me to think too much, thus a nice change from my current job where brain power and seeking solutions to put out fires are in high demand. Background acting requires more physical endurance more than anything, and obviously something to keep your mind occupied during the dead times.

I did research the pros and cons of doing this full time if I decided to get into it. I read an article in the LA Weekly about background actors doing this for a living and earning somewhere between $80,000 to lower six figures if they were really liked and part of the union. I doubt I'd be making that much to start, but after talking to Laura, she said that after quitting her financial job, she was making nearly just as much as her old job with these gigs as an ACTRA Extra. She also said she was much happier for it as there was less pressure and stress, and she loved talking to people. So I guess it can really work out for certain people.

The cons of these gigs though are obviously the long hours and inconsistent work schedules. Another girl, Karine, kept an agenda with all her bookings. It was colorfully highlighted and had little post-its here and there. While the rest of the city goes into slow mode for summer time, the filming industry goes into full gear during this season. Gigs are plentiful and after a long winter of little work, the industry seems to come back to life. So a major con would be finding work during the winter months, which is dead for film, but bountiful in white collar jobs. Had Montreal had a climate like Southern California, the filming industry would technically be non-stop and much more vibrant. Toronto has that kind of benefit as it does technically have a slightly warmer climate than Montreal, a bigger industry, thus more jobs available. I have a feeling that in Montreal, it's always the same people you see at nearly every major filming project, so the industry does remain small. It's a good and bad thing, good because you know the same people, bad because it's always the same people.

Of course, if I'm non-union, I am susceptible to pretty horrible conditions if I take a random bookings. Although I have to say, the current casting agency I'm with seem to be pretty good, and eventhough I'm non-union, I would rather work on a union project. Granted, I've been spoiled rotten on this TV gig, and can only hope it can be this good every time, but I have to keep my expectations low. Ah la la....

My husband is surprised that I'm accepting so many shooting days on this gig, but I mainly need it to pay my debts and I have been searching for a long while for a side job I could do to get some extra cash that wouldn't encroach on my day job. Graphic design jobs are incredibly labor intensive and lots of micromanaging can happen during the designing stage, and I don't like dealing with clients. I'm already mentally exhausted when I come back from work, it wouldn't be possible for me to devote more brain power to a graphic design gig. So I scratched that off. I thought about going into photography, but after assessing my commitment and my lack of connections and photo projects - it would be very difficult for me to turn this into a paying side gig without a great amount of effort being put into this (maybe when I'm older). A part-time office job or other miscellaneous job would definitely burn me out.

Thus coming to a conclusion I didn't quite expect to get to. I might keep this side gig of background acting in my back pocket. I don't get called every week, so far it's been every two weeks that I've been called in to work a day or two on the set. I'm actually pretty good with that. I did the math, and if I only worked around 4 days a month for a year, I would earn enough days to be part of the union for background actors, thus bumping up my rates. Combined with my current job, I can earn a pretty decent and comfortable living. It's sort of like the best of both worlds. I can also decide not to taking any side gigs if I don't want to or feel overwhelmed with my day job. This would be pretty sweet. Although I have to say, it's not absolutely guaranteed I can even book 4 days in a month either, especially in the winter. And - do I need an agent? Do I want an agent? Agents are the only way they can get you gigs that aren't publicized. I know all of this seems a lot of work for a low paying (so far) gig. But I suppose it's better than nothing. Also if I get tired of it, I can stop at any time.

So, I'm viewing this more as a part-time job. We'll see how this goes!

It's Time To Get Frugal

The past two months have crippled me financially. With extra spending on an unplanned plane ticket and a broken computer, with miscellaneous other spendings, I'm in the red for the rest of the year. I can't imagine if we had a mortgage, a car and a baby hanging over our heads, I would be crying.

So! To reign in my wild spendings, I relied on a couple of my budget apps to see that besides my large ticket purchases, the biggest area that I spend the most on is food. I've seen plenty of budget sites that people don't seem to spend more than $250/month on food, which to me makes me feel like I've been splurging way too much on food (I spend double that amount on myself). Also, how does one only spend that much in a month?? lol Ok ok, I need to pack my lunches, though thankfully I only eat out 3 times a week for work since I'm only in the office for that long. The weekends are a big write-offs, I eat out with my husband and can easily spent a lot of money in one sitting. Plus our grocery bill somehow easily balloons to $150/week, and that's me not making lunch at home, so go figure.

I've rarely splurged on clothes, though for the past two months, I've bought new clothes and shoes, which I thankfully only do once a year. This year was exception for all the wedding gear I had to buy, but next year I should fare much better though. 

We have still yet to buy the furniture I had planned on getting, which was a bed frame and some IKEA furniture to store away all our crap, but that sadly won't be happening this year. 

Travel expenses are another big thing, we both like to travel and I personally never mind splurging a little more for nicer digs. This year we still have two more trips planned, so we're not quite out of the hole yet. Italy will surely put us back in the red, but I will deal with that in October. Next year's plans look to be shaping up to a beach location, we're looking at a Costa Rica/Panama combo. I would've preferred somewhere more in the Caribbean like Anguilla, but it's expensive and there's not enough for my husband to do, as he likes to have more options other than beach activities. We both want to go to Australia/New Zealand, but that would require us to save a lot of money and go for at least 3 weeks to make the grueling +25 hr trip worthwhile. Although I've traveled to Asia for a far shorter a time. But until I have more rights to have longer vacations, I wouldn't be able to go to on such a trip anytime soon. 

Anyhoo, I leave you with a couple of shots that I've been doing in Black & White and after looking up on some tips and tricks to adjust a high contrast, and using just my 35mm lens, I'm liking the new results!

Who says black kitties can't photograph well? I can see the dust and flying fur on this one! Bilbo doesn't clean himself at all and relies on us to brush him, that's why he always seems unkempt, lol.

Who says black kitties can't photograph well? I can see the dust and flying fur on this one! Bilbo doesn't clean himself at all and relies on us to brush him, that's why he always seems unkempt, lol.

Spinach (?) leaf after the rain from our garden.

Spinach (?) leaf after the rain from our garden.

The Winds of Change

Sometimes the universe hears your cries for change and sends opportunities your way. 

So it's been no secret that I've been wanting to jump into something different than my current job, and funny enough, something happened within my work place today that may allow me the opportunity to grow differently in what I'm doing now.

I'm currently an open book and willing to try anything at this point. So, I've been given the opportunity to do baby steps into something new and that would maybe include a business trip abroad (!). Of course I'm kinda scared because I'm not sure what I can bring to the table during a business meeting, but my co-worker seems to think that I'm more than capable of doing it. We'll see how this goes but I'm excited and eager to do something different and out of my element of training. I can only go on personal experience and observations, so we'll see how that goes. If I do well in this and enjoy it, I could be looking at traveling more for business - i.e. more than once a year. It's not so bad if the travel doesn't require much of a jet lag of say 6hrs and less. But the moment that those business trips includes 12-14hr time differences and +25hr flights, we're gonna have some serious jet lag issues. But I've been able to adjust to jet lags and long flights before, the 12hr jet lags are easier to get over than the 6hr ones. There's an easy trick for me, whatever time of day that I arrive in a new location, I try to stay awake until it's night time local time so that I can crash and get a full night's rest before getting up in the morning. That method hasn't failed me yet, so I think I can deal. 

But it's cool that I have the opportunity to grow in this work place and not force myself to leave to find another job at a different company and start all over again. Sometimes as a person, you just need to grow and change, you know? Or maybe my attention span is shorter so I need more stimulation? It's hard to say.

Off topic, I finally got a dongle for an SD card for my new computer, but realized I can't transfer the data without a dongle for a USB-A 🙄 I'm going to have to go to the Apple store again and transfer the data there. The good news is that I'm loving the new laptop, it's much lighter than I thought, and I love the portability of it. The sound that comes out of this little thing is impressive, it makes my old Macbook Pro seem like a dinosaur.

Iceland Photos Finally Up

I finally am able to put up photos I took of Iceland. I think in the future when I travel, I'm going to have to carve out some time to set up my shots better, get up earlier to catch better light and less crowds. However I'm super proud of these considering the crazy weather conditions Iceland has and how they turned out was much better than I had expected. 

I've added a new Portfolio section, where I'll be publishing my photos. I obviously have older ones too and will eventually put those up, but considering that my old computer still needs to have all of its data transferred to this new laptop, I haven't gotten around to doing that yet.

My goal for the moment is to improve my photography skills and really just work with what I have on hand in terms of photo equipment, which is really the lowest DSLR you could get. All pics I took were on a Nikon D3200 with a 18-140mm lens. The camera body is discontinued and I got it at a pawn shop in L.A. for $250. Not bad for a second hand camera. I'm starting to think it's not about the equipment but truly your eye and your creative vision. Lots of photographers don't need fancy equipment to take amazing photos. Just a thought.

Let's See What Happens

I think I've made a personal decision about a certain area of my life, but it will take time for it to take shape. Especially if I'm thinking about making babies, somehow that's just gonna have to be worked around à la Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In, but in a not-so bawse kinda way.

I think that if you don't do something that scares the daylights out of you, then you'll never learn anything. Of course there's a difference in wanting to take a leap at something that scares you than really not having any interest at all. I like to perturb and destabilize my life in grandiose fashion eventhough that scares other people. Otherwise, it feels too easy, too settled, too predictable. I just have these wild life-changing impulses, typically it's a strong indication from the universe that I need to do something NOW before it all goes to shit.

But I'm a calculated risk taker. Meaning, I don't do the drastic stuff without careful thought and planning. My decision to move to L.A. took a whole year of research and savings. My decision to move back to Canada, though decided after a couple of months, still took a good 6 months to get my act together before really taking the leap. So whatever I decide, seemingly on the fly, is usually months if not at least a year in the making. So whatever it is I've decided now, probably won't manifest or come to fruition for another year or so (factoring in a possible baby in the mix). However, this feeling of restlessness has been slowly building up for the past year.

I always thought 2018 would be the year to change things around, and I believe that change will happen for certain now. Call it my intuition. It hasn't failed me when I predicted my own temporary stay in L.A. would be no more than 2 years. In this instance, the moment I came back to Montreal, I gave myself 3 years to stay. Perhaps the staying part was wrong, but the change is real. But let's see what happens. When you plan too far ahead, you're just setting yourself up for disappointment. So I'm doing this with an open mind, ready to learn, ready to grow, ready to jump. 

Explore Canada

Pingualuit National Park in Nunavut, Northern Quebec

Pingualuit National Park in Nunavut, Northern Quebec

It's no secret that I've been wanting to explore more of Canada ever since I made my first trip east to Halifax a couple of years ago. As the country celebrates 150 years, I think a lot of Canadians are reminded that we are missing out so much from our own back yard that we don't even realize it's even there!

It's one thing to always want to go to the major cities and do some shopping, but it's quite another thing when you just want to explore what nature has to offer. After my trip to Iceland, and previously Norway, I realize that nature's landscapes can be so spectacular and amazing. I think the biggest draw to Iceland was that its landscape is untouched and the views so spectacular, and prices are now super reasonable that there would be no excuse not to go and see. However for Canada, going up north isn't like going from East to West Coast in the US, where you can fly there for just $500. Northern Canada is extremely expensive, living there is expensive, anything you do there is expensive. And because it's so expensive and it gets very little publicity, you have a whole 3/4 of the country left unexplored by Canadians.

In some ways, this is a good and bad thing. We want that untouched landscape to stay untouched, but also don't want to miss out on seeing the sheer beauty of it. Yet, we would have to save a pretty penny to see it.

Anyway, I was looking at Air Canada's contest about where I would go in Canada, and instead of the typical big cities or known resort towns, I would go north. Like way north. Then I got to thinking, Quebec HAS to have *something* worth seeing that no one talks about. Sure enough, there is such a place that I found on Google Maps. It's called Pingualuit National Park, where it has this incredible crater called l'Oeil de Cristal! I mean look at the photo above. It's AMAZING! Holy shit, who knew that this was in Northern Quebec? It's exactly that untouched landscape, you're in a completely different world when you see that photo.

Pingualuk Lake is one of the purest lakes on Earth

Pingualuk Lake is one of the purest lakes on Earth

Granted, the trek to this crater is not cheap. I doubt anyone from Montreal would know how to get there without running into some serious issues of booking places to stay, eat, and transportation. The park offers an all-inclusive 9 day package, including a trek to the crater and other sights in the area. It's a whopping $5000 per person (including flights, food, transportation and equipment). BUT, I think it's totally worth it!

As an urban dweller, I think I've completely lost touch with the natural landscape and I don't mean camping in the woods. I mean seeing incredible sights of mountain, water and rugged lands. You miss out on so much in this country, it's really a crying shame. Yes, so what if Canada doesn't have white sandy beaches? It has so much to offer in terms of nature. If I could win a trip here, it would be amazing!