Friday, October 24, 2008

On job searching

So today I spent the day applying for a job. The whole day. One job.

It's often been said that job searching is a full-time job in itself, and never have I felt the full weight of that statement until this week.

Earlier this week, I spent a whole day trolling through various media job sites looking for open (and interesting) postings. I found 7. Now, it's not that I'm picky or anything - in fact, I even put far away jobs that I am borderline qualified for on my "must apply" list. And often, I start the process and stop it promptly, when I realize I have no clue what the acronyms in the qualification questionnaire stand for.

Of course, I don't just apply for anything. I don't apply for jobs I am under-qualified for, unless I really really really want it. Even then, I don't expect to get called for an interview. It's also a waste of time to apply for too many jobs, since writing cover letters can get to be a tedious task. However, I do still apply for jobs I know I can do but am over-qualified for - like the ones requiring a high school diploma and good people skills.

Yeah, somehow, I don't get called for those interviews either.

Job searching in journalism is not easy right now. Not only is the economy in recession - and therefore everyone's cutting back - the media industry has been in its own recession of sorts for a few years now. That means newspapers are cutting local staff (like at the Montreal Gazette, for example - sign the petition here!) and consolidating resources by producing less content and operating from one central location. Some broadcasters are under hiring freezes which means that although they have a number of open positions, they can't actually hire you in the end... This is also the cause of vanishing job listings - the ones that mysteriously disappear although the application deadline is still ways off.

In other words, it's a tough life, and you've got to spring on anything that comes your way, no matter how under or over qualified you are. It's also a very depressing situation.

The solution, or so I've heard, is to reach out to your network of contacts, and ask, push and even beg for a job - paid or unpaid - so you can learn, build more contacts, and hopefully eventually get a real position. Just don't fall into the endless internship scenario - I've known a few smart people who have - where you work hard for free and never have an honest chance of getting hired simply because there are no jobs (because there's no money) whether or not an extra hand is needed.

All in all, there's nothing to do but try everything. Again, over and over, and hope it produces results. Until then, try to balance the job search with the voluntary work... and perhaps a bit of a personal life.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to write a cover letter for this kick ass job I'm applying for.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Election Day

If you live in Canada and haven't noticed yet, we've got an election happening on this side of the border too. Sure, we don't have charismatic, groundbreaking candidates like Barack Obama or VP wannabees that light up screens and fire up debates like Sarah Palin, but it's an important event nonetheless.

Faced with choosing from the usual parties - Liberals, Conservatives - we're lucky to have strong contenders in the NDP this time around. And thanks to a poor political decision by the so-called main parties to dismiss Green leader Elizabeth May, our most environmentally conscious party is also attracting some attention - though they probably won't win any seats. And the Bloc, is, as always, present, but barely.

To me, this campaign has been a fight on several levels. Not only did Stephen Harper, Stephane Dion, Jack Layton, Gilles Duceppe and Elizabeth May have to battle each other on the silver screen and on the streets, they also had to fight for the attention of Canadian citizens. While this is always the case - Canadians do vote, but tend to have a defeatist attitude as to the importance of their choice - this campaign was especially tough due to the stiff competition south (and north west) of the border.

In fact, I'd say most Canadians are more concerned about the American elections than the Canadian ones. They care more about the issues, candidates and platforms in the US of A than those in their own backyards. Indeed, CBC did a fun piece asking students who they were voting for, and most said they would vote for Obama (or McCain, in rare occurrences). Most of them didn't even consider that a reporter from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation would be referring to the Canadian elections. A large portion of respondents couldn't name our country's Prime Minister, let alone the leaders of our main political parties. Not to mention that many weren't even aware that we were having elections of our own.

Now that's freaky! How can we trust others to elect the right leaders to promote the causes that matter to us as individuals and as a country when most of the population don't know these people exist... and couldn't care less?

Yes, I agree that what happens in the USA is important to Canada, and it is on many levels - political, economical, environmental, geographical, military-wise and trade-wise... But when a Canadian chooses to watch a debate between US Vice Presidential candidates over the one and only English-language Canadian leaders debate, how can you not be a little shell shocked?

I mean, sure, there are replays and extracts and loads of analysis - but you'll get the same for the less-relevant-to-you USA VP debate. Just tune in to CNN Headline News any time of day and you'll get your fix. Browse the Internet, watch the morning shows or daytime talk shows. Or late night comedy shows, for that matter. You'll be caught up in no time.

But in Canada, where coverage is not as extensive due to more limited resources - and lets not kid ourselves, limited interest - how can you not watch the debate live? The way the leaders interact, the tone of their voices, when they choose to get angry and when they choose to remain calm... That says a lot about them as people, as party leaders, as politicians, and as potential leaders of our country. Of YOUR country. How can YOU not take that seriously?

I bet that in most news-watching households in Canada, the US election is more prominently featured as dinner-time programming then our Canadian equivalent. I know this to be true in my area, at least. Sure, the Canadian election gets its air time as well... but as soon as we've got the latest update, it's time to click back to analysis of Obama, McCain, Biden or Palin's latest speech. Every day, 24/7.

Even today, on election day, most people are still thinking about whether or not they'll vote. I can't say I've decided who I'm going to vote for, but I'm most definitely going to get my lazy butt out of my pyjamas and walk to my polling station to mark my ballot. Because it's important for me to have a say, even if I don't think my voice will change anything. Especially in a riding like mine, which could be considered an automatic seat for one of the main parties. Still, if I don't vote, then I can't complain about the results, can I?

Did you know that political parties actually get cash for every vote in their favour? So whether or not you can change anything in the short run, you do have a direct impact on your favourite party's future influence and activities.

What if you can't put your faith in a certain leader? Then vote for the platform that seems most deserving to you (do your research thanks to this great tool, courtesy of CBC).

Even that option can be tough when you don't agree with a party's stance on all the issues, but as always, politics, and any kind of democratic system, really, is about picking the lesser of two evils. Think back to your class president elections in high school. It's the same deal, but on a bigger scale. And even if you didn't care who would lead your class to greatness back then, chances are you cast your vote anyway so you wouldn't feel left out. Just to go through the motions.

So why not here, why not now, when your voice is so much more important?

You might not concern yourself with the outcome of the elections, or maybe you really, truly believe that no one party or leader fits the bill. Then spoil your ballot. Spoil your ballot to make it count. Did you know that if enough people spoil their ballots - and in doing so declare that none of the choices are suitable - the results in that riding can be refused? We'd get another chance to have our say - and hopefully, our little rebellion would cause the parties to change their stance or offer better alternatives.

No matter how you see it, voting is not just a right. It's a responsibility. By not voting, you're letting down your neighbours and your riding, your fellow citizens across Canada, the populations in countries around the world that depend on Canada for food, aid, funding and development, the scientist and artists here at home who also need funding for research or to work... Or simply to survive...

By not voting, you're not only letting everyone else down, you're also letting yourself down.

And how, may I ask, can you live with that?

Please. Go vote today. It's your only chance to have a say, on a small or big scale. Embrace your Canadian citizenship. And don't forget... if you don't vote, you can't complain!

Find your polling station - and register to vote on location! - at

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Kingston: Canada's Original Capital

This past weekend, I went to Kingston to visit my friend and army recruit, Ryan. He assured me that I would love the city, and guess what? I did.

The only disappointment I had was the weather - but then again, all of Eastern Canada had a cold spell. Stupid lack of jacket.


I took the train from Montreal to Kingston mid-day on Friday - from one former Canadian capital to another. It was scenic, sunny, and flat. Like the Prairies. And there was hay and cows and I am always amazed at that kind of scenery... especially when it's so close to home and not on the other side of the country.

When I arrived in Kingston, I really had no idea where I was. Honestly. Even when I took the train back to Montreal on Monday, I had no clue where the taxi was taking me. My image of Kingston is really just two parts of the base, downtown and the waterfront. Though that's not all I saw.

The cab driver I got on my way in was a lot of fun to talk to. A former member of the Armed Forces, he was a vehicle mechanic. He told me about being stationed in South Africa for a peacekeeping mission and the racial tension that existed there. He mentioned how he left the Forces because they wanted to transfer him to Shilo, Manitoba... as his daughter was entering Grade 12 in Kingston. He would have had to leave his family behind, and that was not a pleasant thought. So he left at the end of his contract. Turns out that about a year later, the Army started offering early pensions in order to reduce the size of the Forces. Bad timing, tough luck.

It's these kind of stories that make us wonder what kind of live we'll lead in the future. No matter our training, education, and employment history, we could all be cab drivers someday. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I have a lot of respect for the good ones - those who drive you around, talk if you want to but give you space if you need it, and are happy to do the job. But lets be honest - it's not really anyone's first choice of employment.

This guy gave me a recommendation for a small restaurant called Copper Penny, which he said is his favourite place to dine. Why? You can dress any way you want, and go with any company, any night of the week, and have a great time. Oh, and the food options are varied.

So on Friday night, Ryan and I decided to test his theory. I'd spent the afternoon reading on his perfectly made bed in B7, and all that work made me really hungry! Sure enough, we had a grand time. We also explored Princess street a bit, but it was freezing so I was happy to get back to my temporary home - B58 in the McNaughton Barracks.

Saturday consisted of more downtown exploration. We'd asked the cab driver for a good fish and chips place on Friday night and he recommended The Pilot House so we headed there first to actually, you know, find it. When we were confident that we could find our way back - aka, locate City Hall and the Market Square - we wandered off, waiting for the place to open and air the hockey game(s). Up and down Princess Street we went, hopping into random shops... and Kingston's got a lot of those!! Lots of cool, retro spots and some quirky niche ones too...

Once again, it was freezing so we took advantage of everyone else's heating. Ryan bought a jacket at the S&R Department store - lucky him!

The Pilot's House was actually a fish and chips place, primordially. The menu featured a variety of different options, from tilapia to cod to halibut and sole, which is what I ordered. Ryan was a bit of a loser and ordered the same thing... instead of choosing a different fish and sharing! Silly Ryan! We also both got a pint of Strongbow (mmmmmm... Thanks, Kali, for introducing me to this beer alternative!) and shared an apple crumble for dessert. How quaint!

I couldn't catch most of the NYR vs. TB commentary but the game itself was really not that bad... The whole time, I was trying to figure out whether CBC had a truck there or not - a technical glitch answered my question: it was the MSG feed. Hence me not recognizing the reporter. Also couldn't hear much of the intermission segments but I did like the apparent on-screen chemistry during Coast-to-Coast... though the desk looks a wee bit too small for three people. In true geeky fashion, I was once again amazed by Kelly's use of the Telestrator and yes, I could hear the audio fades in and out of segments, and that made me giggle.

We then continued our touristy day by taking the Historical Trolley Tour of Kingston. We went all around town, seeing Fort Henry, Martello towers, Kingston's many penitentiaries, its large collection of park sculptures, and Queen's University. The tour also featured about a gazillion of Sir John A. Macdonald's former homes, as the first Prime Minister of Canada was a citizen of the town. I'd definitely recommend the tour to anyone visiting Kingston... It's a great way to get to see a bit of everything without investing too much into it.

It also proved to me that Kingston is a runner's town. It feels like just about anyone who lives in Kingston goes for runs, and at all hours of the day. Maybe it's the beautiful scenery or the fact that Princess Street, aka the main street through the downtown core, has benches scattered every few feet for seemingly no other reason than to stop and stretch.

After a bit more wandering through the Market Square and Confederation Park (where Ryan stretches when he runs), Ryan and I headed back to base to change for a night on the town - er... lake, I mean. We got two tickets for the 1000 Islands Sunset Dinner Cruise and made it to the ship just in the nick of time - literally. We were the last two passengers to board, and didn't get our picture taken. Not that we would have bought it, really, but it's always funny to laugh at later. Instead, we took our own pictures - successfully, I might add, though only having charged the camera battery for oh, 10 minutes.

The cruise itself was lots of fun. We sat next to two conventionners from Calgary, which brought on conversations about the weather. And members of the Quebec Association for the Blind were also on board. The tour guide had a smooth silky voice - very charming in his explanation of which islands made good real estate investments - and he also ensured the rest of the entertainment for the night, singing classics and favourites while accompanying himself on the guitar, and eventually, getting people to dance along. The food was also way better than I expected, given that it's a ship and all. And the sunset was beautiful.

We called it an early night after we hit land around 9pm, especially since our Sunday was full.

Originally, we'd planned to meet up with Ryan's roommate and hook up their Internet - but instead, we relaxed, went to one of the many Timmy's in Kingston for breakfast (mmmm... Pumpkin Spice doughnut), and headed back to B7. The plan at this point was to visit the Communications Museum which was located accross the street. After sorting through some computer issues, we finally made it outside - but not inside the museum. Since it's closed. On weekends. Despite this latest setback, we were still ready to make the most of (what was left of) our day, and headed back downtown.

We stepped into the Tea Store for the second time this weekend, and after exploring all the different scents and options - this place is worse than Lush. Honestly. - I settled on having a cup of Minty Sunrise. It was the most peaceful yet refreshing smelling herbal tea - and since I don't drink "regular" tea except for green teas, I was thrilled. It was hot. Served in a glass cup too, which probably wasn't a good idea. Despite me wanting to warm up, I'd much rather be able to hold my cup without burning my hand. Either way, the tea was stunningly perfect. Exactly what I was looking for in my, oh, probably 15 minutes of sniffing. Needless to say, I brought some home with me. Also noteworthy, the warm scone was to die for. Next time I'm in Kingston or in Ottawa, I'm definitely taking advantage of their free Wi-Fi offer too!

The teas were still too hot 10 minutes later, so we took them to go... to the movies, next door. We saw Burn After Reading, which was utterly confusing but totally hilarious. Just... don't really expect it all to make sense. It is a parody of sorts, after all, and not a storyline that you can just escape into. Still, it was insane in a good way, and I'd recommend it if you're looking for something out of the ordinary.

We settled on sushi and a movie for the night - yes, another one. But got the sushi to go from TA-KE. Delicious, really, and a varied selection. Some sushi combos that I hadn't seen before, like salmon, apple, pumpkin, avocado and more in a maki roll. Delicious. But we bought way too much, and army guys aren't really keen on late night sushi, it seems, so some of it went to waste.

While we were waiting for our order, we went into the most amazing shop. Ever. It's called Minotaur and is basically a games shop. It's everything Capitaine Quebec should be but isn't. It has board games and D&D dice, novelty items, cards, figurines... Everything a gamer and geek could want but items anybody and everybody can enjoy. It was in this store that I spotted my first ever GRUPS game, though I'd heard loads about it from Wil Wheaton. I also spotted Munchkin, and almost bought one of the many versions on the spot - save for the fact that I'd have no one to play with. Which made Ryan and I muse about both buying the game and playing long-distance, at the same time, through Skype. A virtual games night, in a way. Which sounds like an awesome idea - except for the lack of in-person interaction and the possibilities of cheating on dice rolls... Minotaur also had a whole lot of cool pirate gear, and other items that made me think of Christmas gifts.

After picking up our massive order of sushi, Ryan and I retreated to his bunk so that he could multitask and do laundry. We watched Labyrinth, which is another crazy-insane-hilarious-but-in-a-good-way movie. It was my first time seeing it though having heard a lot about it, and I wasn't dissapointed!

And that's about it for my trip. I took the train home on Monday morning, happy but maybe a little sick from all the cold nights - doubling up on the sweaters didn't quite work as planned. Silly lack of jacket.

On the train ride home, contemplating the multicoloured trees, I realized how happy these little trips make me. It's nice to escape from "real" life and shed your responsibilities for a weekend every now and then. And though these trips are fun to daydream about, it's important to actually go through with it. Minimizing the costs, like staying in army-sponsored accomodations for $30 a night, also helps ;)

The point is that I won't always be able to do this. I'm lucky to make a decent amount of income right now with relatively few expenses so that I can afford little escapades like these. But soon enough, I'll have a full time job that will perhaps require me to work overtime and/or weekends. Maybe I'll have a family to take care of, and kids with activities I wouldn't want them to miss. Or any kind of responsibility I just can't temporarily abandon. Now is really the only time I can do this without facing too many consequences. And it makes me realize how important it will be to make the time to take a weekend off now and then, to find myself, centre myself and be happy still and again.

I figure a good rule is to escape once a month, but that's probably too optimistic. If, once I've settled into responsibilities and commitments, I can take one weekend off every two months, I'm sure I'll feel thankful for the break, relaxed and rejuvenated when I come back. Taking time for yourself is not a crime by any means, and I think it's time that I realize that. I now accept that it's a need that must be fulfilled, and if a weekend in a world different from my own is what it takes, then that's what it shall be.

Ya know, if I can pull myself away from work and all.