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My Big Fat Life: Tired of Saying Goodbye

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, June 18, 2012

I have wished many people well in my career, and have been wished well by many. At the CBC and here at NBCC, I’ve said hello and goodbye more times than I would like to count. People have said ‘so long’ when I’ve moved jobs or locations, and I’ve said ‘see you soon’ to many who have retired or changed jobs.

The difficult farewells happen when someone becomes more of a friend than a co-worker.

It will be hard to say goodbye to Andy Leblanc.

Two years ago Andy was hired to teach television journalism at NBCC Woodstock.

Andy is a powerhouse of knowledge and has an abundance of drive. He’s a lifelong journalist, honing his skills as a young ATV reporter in New Brunswick. Back then Andy was passionate about politics and had a head full of questions and hair. (Sorry Andy, I couldn’t resist!) He went on to manage locations for CTV, and came back to his native New Brunswick a few years ago to allow his wife to pursue her career dreams.

Goofing around in the television lab at NBCC Woodstock. Instructor Andy Leblanc is ready for his close up as journalism student Geoff Stairs captures a candid moment in class.

He was only with us two years, but what a two years it was.

We pushed students to strive for excellence and found more platforms for their work. Andy recreated our website. The students worked hard making www.jschoolnbcc.ca a place where local people came for breaking news they couldn’t get elsewhere. We operated like a newsroom; students created multimedia series, we took trips to Fredericton and Juniper, students produced weekly television shows, covered breaking news, mastered social media, and they shared the news they collected with regional papers and television and radio stations. We tried to mimic the industry as much as possible in our classrooms. I know we succeeded, and provided the best education possible for our young journalists.

Once a reporter, always a reporter – it’s a saying I’ve heard many times from colleagues who have left the business to pursue other avenues. Just because we’re standing in front of a classroom doesn’t mean we’re no longer journalists.

While I worked at starting a magazine, Andy continued to build his “ultra-local” concept. His vision would provide an avenue for small communities to share local news. On more than a few evenings Andy was doing what our students were doing – covering events in his community and publishing stories to his local website. Andy also became president of RTDNA, a national organization representing Canadian Broadcasters, while he was with us. I think we both related to our students better because we were still ‘doing it’ – still chasing, and writing, and working in journalism.

Andy will leave NBCC this month to become the news director for CTV Atlantic.

I will miss him more than he realizes.

We have the same ‘got-to-know’ character flaw that turned us on to reporting in the first place. We love our craft. We respectfully argued about politics and law, we discussed the latest news and current events, and we debated how stories were approached and covered. We both viewed the world differently but similar when it came to the public’s right to know.

We were good for each other – in the teaching sense. His constant drive and work ethic inspired me and made me push my students a little harder. I, in turn, was able to (sometimes) get him to slow things down a bit, getting him to see the need to give students a little more breathing room; reminding him that television was not the only medium they needed to master.

Many (all) students considered him tough (“a hard-ass”), but they also respected him. They understood his ultimate goal was to their advantage – he wanted to see them succeed beyond his classroom.

Working with Andy made me feel like my old, reporter-self again. I have beautiful co-workers at the college, but no one who loves news like I do. For the last few years there were few I could debate politics and news coverage with on the same level as I could with Andy.

Andy was a breath of fresh, overachieving, journalistic air.

In the end I am thankful for his new position at CTV. Our journalism program was cancelled last month and Andy’s lack of seniority would have probably meant a pink slip in June of 2013, just as the last NBCC journalism grads cross the stage.

I can’t talk about the loss of my program just yet. The feelings are still too raw. But I am glad that Andy’s talent will not be lost or misplaced. We can still debate news coverage over the phone, and I will continue to tease him about the hair he used to have via email and Twitter.

While it won’t be the same as having him in our NBCC newsroom, it will make the departure of my co-worker and dear friend a little easier to manage.

Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and writes in Woodstock. You can email her at theresa@mybigfatlife.ca, or join her group, Big Fat Life, on Facebook.  You can also follow her on Twitter @MY_BIG_FAT_LIFE

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My Big Fat Life RETURNS: Apologies, new ventures and the realization you can’t have it all

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, April 16, 2012


I have missed this – this beautiful and direct line to so many readers each Monday. I have been away, but have tried on a few occasions to get back here.

For four weeks I took an official break, letting editors know I needed some time.

When my break was over, I did send along a few things. One column was too late, one was too long, and one couldn’t be printed. I got discouraged, and took another break. I tried to write again, but there were weeks I was just too tired to write; sometimes I couldn’t come up with a clear focus, and other weeks I was just too busy.

I think this is the longest I’ve been away from the paper in the five-and-a-half years I’ve penned a piece here.

I am not sure I am able to write here as regularly as I used to.

I have come to the realization I cannot do everything I want to do.

My mother was right.

Like most kids growing up, I had a long list of “I wannas.”

I clearly remember I wanted to do so much and be so many things. The list, especially in my pre-teen years, was endless.

I was one of the first generations to see my future as something I could choose. Society began to tell me I could do anything I wanted to do if I tried hard enough.

I’d verbalize my dreams to my parents and many times my mom would tell me that sometimes you can’t do everything you want to do. Sometimes I understood her thinking, but other times I reasoned with inexperienced kid logic, believing her explanations were about what she could not do because she was a parent. I saw her as a woman with responsibilities, which meant she couldn’t always sit back, and read a novel when she wanted, or have a night out with the girls if she felt like it, or serve us potato chips for supper.

I didn’t realize that her warnings were about making choices – sometimes-hard choices – about what you have to leave behind in pursuit of a dream.

I am beginning to worry that this column may be something I have to choose to leave behind.

Many of you know I’ve been working on a new venture – a magazine about the people, places and history of New Brunswick. (www.agelessnb.ca) agelessNB has consumed all of my free time lately. My Big Fat Life has always been big and full.

My plate used to include my regular home responsibilities with my husband and children, my job teaching journalism at the college, my role on Woodstock town council and my writing. Now my plate also has heaping spoonfuls of busy lunch hours filled with phone calls and planning, early mornings where I rise before everyone else so I can write, evenings where, after kids are in bed, invoices are filled out and paperwork is completed, and weekends where hockey, church and cadet activities are intertwined with interviews, advertiser meetings and more writing.

That plate has also been filled with a lot of wonderful feedback. People like what I’m trying to achieve, and I really believe agelessNB can make a difference.

Peggy Martin of Woodstock called me last week. She had been wondering where my column had gone and discussed my possible whereabouts with friends. A neighbour dropped by with a copy of the magazine over Easter and it was only then she understood why I wasn’t in the paper.

She loved the magazine and missed the column. She called me her “Monday morning friend.” I felt elated and saddened all at once. I was happy that she loved agelessNB, but sad that I missed out on being with her each Monday.

Another ball dropped. I took a hiatus from the column and failed to let readers know.

Sometimes I wonder what kind of example I’m setting for my kids.

What my children see lately is a mom consumed. Some evenings I’ve missed bedtime tuck-ins, I’ve been absent at more than a few supper hours leading up to the printing of each issue, and I’ve missed spending simple, basic downtime with their dad.

I try and remind them this will (God willing) get better. Once the magazine is established further, once we cultivate contacts, once the word gets out, the hard work of distribution, advertising, and getting freelancers will be something that happens with little effort.

I really believe the goal of connecting people, of telling important stories and sharing our journey is something that will become important to many – not just this crazy, stressed, tired mom. But until then, the dream of success in this venture is far-off.

My father always told me that things worth doing are things worth doing well. But doing some things well comes at a cost, I’m discovering. What costs I’m willing to pay are obvious.

My kids and husband are the most important parts of my quality-of-life equation. My students are a secondary part, with the community and the magazine coming a close third. What gets ‘dropped’ in the future to achieve the goals I feel are important for my personal happiness and fulfillment will need to come down to what I can afford to lose and what I can’t.

As I struggle to find balance this spring, I hope that My Big Fat Life gets to be a part of my quality-of-life equation. If it isn’t, I am thankful that many of you – my beautiful readers – will understand and support me.

Sadly, that won’t make it any easier if I have to say goodbye.

Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and writes in Woodstock. You can email her at theresa@mybigfatlife.ca, or join her group, My Big Fat Life, on Facebook. You can also follow her on Twitter @MY_BIG_FAT_LIFE


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