Tag Archives: career

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

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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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My Big Fat Life: Tragedy in aboriginal communities: Many don’t understand

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, May 23, 2011

CLICK HERE FOR THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE

There is something special about living in Canada’s aboriginal communities. In my career, I was blessed with beautiful experiences – many were the direct result of living among Inuit, Métis and Innu for 14 years.

I have vivid and beautiful memories of Iqaluit, Nunavut. I hunted caribou and warmed my hands in the carcass as the meat was being cut, making bright-red swaths of blood on the pristine snow. I have danced until midnight, feeling the floor of the community hall bounce under me as we step-danced to fiddle music, grabbing the soft and weathered hands of elders, watching their sometimes toothless smiles flit by our faces as we swung our partners.

I have been invited to special birthdays where the feast included raw and partially frozen caribou, fresh char and muktuq (whale), and where spontaneous throat singing ensued.

I have been blessed with beautiful selfless gifts – sealskin mittens sewn especially to fit my hands; lovely Pang hats crocheted with my son and daughters’ names in syllabics; caribou legs, still steaming, handed to me in my doorway after a successful hunt, and a chunk of million-year-old ice harvested from a trapped ‘bergy bit’ near Bylot Island after a friend’s trip to Pond Inlet. I still remember how it snapped and hissed when the ice was put into drinks.

These are amazingly beautiful and rich memories that only the Inuit community could provide.

But there were some horribly sad and unnerving memories, too.

There was the loss of eight men when a walrus hunting expedition went horribly wrong. It was 1994 and the tragedy shook me. Eight men vanished – some old, some young, all experienced – when the ‘Qasaoq’ went down. The boat was laden – heavy with walruses – and only two survived the sinking.

The men were trying to feed their families and died trying. I remember the off-handed remarks about the men and how they should have known not to be out in this weather; how they were shown up by another man who had brought back a load of walrus meat for the community the week earlier; how they had to go out to ‘save face.’ It physically hurt to hear these comments.

There was the mourning of a young girl who wandered too close to a dog team and was killed. It was 1998 and she was just six years old. I remember watching from the road as RCMP officers wandered up from the ice where the girl had died. Many were crying, some were physically sick; all were unable to contain their grief. I can close my eyes and see the funeral; the wailing, the unspeakable pain – the look on her mother’s face. I also remember the quiet ridicule … people whispering, questioning why a young girl was allowed to wander without an adult. My stomach hurt at each question.

Then there was the woman who froze to death on her way home from a local bar. She had been drinking – was known to have a problem with alcohol. It was mid-winter; she fell into a snowdrift. Police figure she probably passed out and never woke up. She died just steps from my church – found before Sunday mass by someone who lived nearby. We prayed for her that morning – this woman I never knew in life, but yet knew the horrible circumstances of her death. That day, after mass, there was talk of her addiction and the failure of society to help people like her. There was other talk too – about the fact that this was so common, brushed off by many. Churchgoers drank coffee and nodded their heads in agreement; smug in the knowledge that something like this would surely happen again.

I remember thinking that if someone walked in mid-conversation they could have easily have thought they were talking about someone getting pregnant or someone locking themselves out of their home because they lost their keys again.

Talk like this has always bothered me.

People who have never connected with an aboriginal community will never truly understand the impact tragedy has on a community. They will never be able to understand the lives behind the headlines, or the thinking behind actions before tragedy struck.

Many of the people I’m talking about were southerners, ‘quallunaq’; white people who tsk-tsked situations they’d hear about – openly wondering why ‘people never learn.’ They may have lived in the community but never truly became a part of that community.

When people questioned the lack of life jackets and the thought process that went into five people travelling in a small boat on the St. John River near Fredericton last week, I got pains in my belly again – pains of sorrow and anger.

I was heartbroken to hear of the death of two beautiful men last week; horrified to hear that one was still missing somewhere in the river, and overcome by emotion at the thought of a family torn apart – all anxious to find their missing loved one, relatives frantic to locate his body – needing to say goodbye …

But I was also angered by people’s lack of compassion at a very difficult time. Yes, they should have all been wearing life jackets, yes, maybe that was one or two too many in the boat that day, but life isn’t perfect for many people in aboriginal communities. They are not you.

Many native communities deal with horrible unemployment. Many men and women depend on things like logging or fiddlehead-picking or fishing in order to make ends meet. Many more families have to jump at the opportunity to make more money when those situations present themselves.

When you struggle financially, opportunity sometimes doesn’t give you the chance to completely think things through. Not everyone can afford every bit of safety gear required for these kinds of outings if the purchase of that equipment means someone in their family goes without. Many times these men and women have been lucky – they’ve been in these situations before and nothing has happened.

Will there be regret? Most definitely.

Does it help when people question why no one was wearing life jackets, or why someone wasn’t watching a child closely enough, or why someone decided to go hunting when they knew bad weather was on the way?

Not at all.

We don’t need to drive home the importance of safety or vigilance in these circumstances because the tragedy stands as a constant reminder.

Everyone in St. Mary’s knows what happened, everyone is wrapping their arms around a grieving family, and an entire community is in mourning.

These two beautiful lost lives stand as a painful reminder.

When tragedy happens, I pray for the families involved with the knowledge that my prayers are already being answered. While the tragedies I’ve covered in my years with CBC-Radio were, at times, some of the most horrific circumstances imaginable, what came after those tragedies were some of the most beautiful expressions of love and hope I’ve ever witnessed.

What you don’t understand about most aboriginal communities is the fact that the people who live there truly understand the meaning of support and healing and forgiveness. No matter how things transpired, no matter what ‘should have happened,’ people truly help each other get through the most difficult of times.

Aboriginal communities are filled with some of the most beautiful, resilient and loving people on the planet. I consider myself blessed to call some of them friends.

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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