Author and CNN journalist Marissa Miller sees a glass half-full

Her book Pretty Weird highlights all of her experiences

An eating disorder, a miscarriage, and mental health issues: Marissa Miller has persevered through all these, and more. Now she has collected all her negative experiences and used them to create something positive.

In her book  Pretty Weird, Marissa highlights all of her painful memories to let her readers know that they are never alone.

Marissa studied journalism at Concordia from 2010 to 2013. Since then, she has grown a large platform and hopes to use it to act as a beacon of hope for others who are going through tough times.

“I’ve always been very much an open book in the literal sense, and I use that to my advantage to make others feel less alone in their struggles,” Marissa said.

Knowing that she is helping people allows her to get past the difficulty of publicizing her experiences. “It becomes less ‘things that have humiliated me in the past,’ and more so ‘things that I can use to be a beacon for other people,” she explained.

One such experience was her struggle with impostor syndrome. But transforming her negative feelings into sentences helped her overcome them, while also comforting her readers. “It really robs the pain of its power,” she said. “It’s almost like using my mental health issues as a way to masquerade the fact that you can be broken and imperfect and also of service to others.”

She started her career as a freelance journalist, working for big outlets such as CNN Style, The New York Times, and NBC News. Now, she works full-time at CNN as a contributing editor writing mostly product recommendations and lifestyle advice. She is also a certified personal trainer and outlines all her work on her blog.

Sheldon Miller, Marissa’s father, admits that her determination and affinity for writing not only gave her confidence, but allowed her to always excel in her work. “I don’t know if she is always the most aggressive-type person…but when it comes to her career, she’s on top of everything.” 

Many people have reached out to Marissa since her book’s publication to tell her that she took the thoughts right out of their heads. “These are universal feelings that I’m putting on the page,” Marissa confirmed. She is very direct in discussing her rejections, fears, anxieties, and relationships in her book. “They might seem very crude and maybe a little bit too raw at times, but this is the human experience that we are all going through,” she asserted.

One of the biggest lessons that Marissa has learned from everything she’s gone through is that there is always something better out there. “That rings true for everything, not just your relationships,” Marissa explained.

“A lot of our depression and our anxiety will tell us that we are only deserving of what’s presented to us and what’s in front of us. But really one of the best things you can do for yourself is aspiring for more and aspiring for better because you deserve it,” she said.

On top of helping others, Marissa was also thinking of her younger self when writing her book, attempting to give herself the “older sister figure, best friend figure” that she never had as a child and teenager. Though her younger sister, Michelle, is one of the only people who knew about Marissa’s experiences.

“I’d say 90 per cent of it I knew about, either as it was happening or she would open up to me a few years later,” Michelle said. Marissa consulted her sister throughout the writing process to ask for her opinion on editorial choices. Michelle was the only person who knew about several moments mentioned in the book as the two sisters have always been extremely close. “We were so tight and open about everything,” Michelle added. “We’ll be on the phone [for] hours a day. Sometimes we’re not even talking on the phone. It’s just on, but we know that [the other person] is there,” Michelle continued.

Marissa’s parents were always very loving and attentive towards her, she mentions in Pretty Weird, but they were not as informed on her experiences as Michelle. “A lot of the stuff in the book, I didn’t really realize,” Sheldon said. “We knew as she got a bit older, there were some struggles and this and that…but until I read the book, I don’t think I realized it [to that extent],” he continued, adding that it was difficult to read about Marissa’s troubling moments. 

More than anything else, he wants Marissa to write the truth, which is what she did. This included some unfortunate stories about Sheldon’s sister, who was close with Marissa and passed away due to health issues related to long-term drug use. But Sheldon wanted Marissa to keep those stories in her book. “I knew she was writing an honest account of her experiences and thoughts,” he explained. “If Marissa was able to grab onto something in a good way or a bad way…for someone to maybe enjoy the book or learn from the book, that’s part of journalism,” he said.

While Marissa always has her family at home, she often chooses to work alone. She enjoys working on her own more than working with a team. “It makes me doubly proud to reflect on my accomplishments because I didn’t have to rely on anyone for them,” she affirmed. Marissa always took charge of group projects when she was in school, so being the only one in charge of her career “is a continuation of that.”

Much of her work as a journalist focuses on lifestyle advice and mental health. She says that she enjoys doing service journalism the most. “One of the only things that give me a sense of purpose is giving advice to other people,” Marissa explained.

In her career she has covered a wide variety of topics, such as finance and real estate when she was starting. As time went on, she gravitated toward lifestyle topics and product recommendations. “People need to know that the products they use in everyday life have more of an impact on their well-being than they think,” she asserted. Marissa is currently doing service journalism for CNN and loving every moment of it.

Pretty Weird, which is still available on Amazon, has been a huge success for Marissa. She hopes to write another book in the future. She is looking towards that, but doesn’t think that now is the right time. “I feel like I have so much I want to say. I need some breathing room,” she asserted. For now, she is very happy where she is. “I do hope to rise the ranks at CNN and stay there forever.”

Student Life

Concordia’s annual used book fair is set to be EPIC

Books for a cause

For those who prefer books with yellowed pages and broken spines, mark your calendars for Concordia’s annual Epic Used Book Fair, which takes place in the EV building atrium on Oct. 29 and 30. The sale is perfect for uncovering rare literary finds at accessible prices, and it supports Concordia’s student body and the wider community.

Event coordinator Luke Quin believes that selling secondhand books has the ability to enrich the lives of students by not only raising money towards scholarships, but also by repurposing ideas. “It’s entrepreneurial, but socially driven,” Quin said. “We’re raising money and providing a new home for books that would probably end up in the garbage.”

The event, hosted by Concordia Alumni, raised $25,000 last year, and Quin has even higher hopes for this year. “With support from Concordia and the community, the event has only gotten bigger.” The money raised is funneled into two or three direct scholarships, as well as an endowment that ensures there will always be a Used Book Fair scholarship available. Another portion of the money goes towards the Multi-faith and Spirituality Centre’s Student Emergency and Food fund, which gives grocery cards to students in need.

Encore books and records is a hole-in-the-wall store on Sherbrooke St. W. that sells books, both used and new, records and other collectibles. Photo by Alex Hutchins.

“We’re also giving experiential opportunities for the volunteers, a lot of which are international students looking to engage and network,” Quin said. “We’ve really built an event that is students helping students.” He said the great location in the EV building atrium gives the sale a lot of traffic potential from shoppers passing by on Saint-Catherine St., as well as students. The books are priced at $3 and up, and will be sorted by subject, so there is sure to be something for everyone.

Many of the donated books come from professors and students, past and present, but Quin said that more and more donations are coming from outside the university. “Many smaller charity organizations don’t accept books because they’re cumbersome and difficult to sort through,” he said.

Donations for the Epic Used Book Fair are accepted year-round. For those who have large donations, boxes of books labeled “Concordia Used Book Fair” can be dropped off at the receiving dock of the Hall building downtown, or at the receiving dock of the Richard J. Renaud Science Complex on the Loyola campus. If you have a few old textbooks or a smaller amount to donate, there is a pink book bin on the Hall building mezzanine at the bottom of the escalator.

For more information on the book fair, follow the Concordia Epic Used Book Fair on Facebook. The event already has over 7,000 RSVPs, so go early to get the best pick. The sale runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. both Monday, Oct. 29 and Tuesday, Oct. 30. There is also a pre-sale on Sunday Oct. 28 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. with a $5 entrance fee. Stop by and see what you can find!

Feature image by Alex Hutchins.


Concordia alumni bring a dance show to Montreal

David Albert-Toth and Emily Gualtieri are dancing their way across the city with their show La Chute

Dance, like any art, is constantly evolving, and that’s a driving force for Concordia alumni David Albert-Toth and Emily Gualtieri. Their award-winning show La Chute is currently touring Montreal and being performed at various Maison de la Culture venues until Oct 28.

La Chute’s creation began back in 2009, and Gualtieri said its purpose “has complexified over time.” The show draws inspiration from various sources, like Eugene Ionesco’s play Rhinoceros, as well as a person’s journey through life. “We knew early on that the [character] was not English, and from another time,” said Gualtieri.

“We really wanted to play with ideas of life and identity. Your sense of identity—sometimes in life you’re so sure about it, and then suddenly you’re not. And we wanted to play with it all in one piece, in a non-obvious way,” she said. The character navigates through various stages and emotions, changing abruptly from innocence to anger to fear and vulnerability, all the while on the verge of insanity trying to define his identity.

This character which the audience watches struggle through different emotions and stages has been seven years in the making. Albert-Toth and Gualtieri have been working on La Chute in installments since 2009, and what audiences see today is very different from the original version. “This is version two that you are seeing,” said Albert-Toth.

The original piece was expanded on after being a part of a mentorship program with Canadian choreographer Melanie Demers, who helped morph it into this new show. “We are always thinking about how can we update [the show], and it’s always evolving,” said Gualtieri. “But sometimes you have to go back to that original idea and remember what the idea is,” she added.

While going back and expanding upon the themes of older  shows is something that Albert-Toth and Gualtieri are always doing, they also are always creating new things. They said they are most excited about their new shows that are coming out very soon. “There’s always a desire to reuse old ideas that you’re not quite done with yet, kind of like re-listening to old albums,” said Gualtieri. “I agree,” added Albert-Toth. “It’s like I want to re-watch Seinfeld but I also really want to finish Stranger Things because I’ve only got one episode left.”

Parts and Labour_danse’ show La Chute is currently on tour around Montreal. Photo by David Vilder

The pair recently performed at Concordia’s Studio 7 event, and they said being back at Concordia felt a little bit weird. “Being in an institution again was a little bit jarring,” said Gualtieri. However, they believe it is important for both students and alumni to show each other their work. “We’re all creating and all learning, and it’s important to remember what it’s like to be there,” Gualtieri said. “I want to be more involved with having a discussion [with current students].”

Albert-Toth and Gualtieri officially formed their company Parts+Labour_Danse back in 2011, and since then, their choreography has gained recognition within the Canadian dance community. La Chute won the Audience Choice Award at Toronto’s dance: made in canada festival in 2015, and the duo also won awards for another one of their shows, In Mixed Company.

Visit their website for the various dates and locations of their upcoming performances. All performances presented with the Maisons de la Culture are free.


Concordia alumnus documents lack of human rights in Bolivia

Former JMSB student films child labour and lack of aid for those with disabilities

John Molson School of Business alumnus Fernando Barbosa spent two years in Bolivia filming a documentary about the lack of aid for both children and those with disabilities in the country. As Barbosa grew close to the communities he documented, he received threats from the Bolivian government and police, as his work shed a greater light on the country’s neglect of human rights, he said.

Barbosa—who is originally from the town of Cochabamba, Bolivia—first began filming in 2012 on the topic of working Bolivian children in Cochabamba. He said the children faced police brutality, discrimination, hunger and yet, “at the same time, they have a lot of strength and courage.”

Barbosa said he was eager to begin documenting the social and financial issues that he had been unaware of for so long. “Living and growing up in Bolivia, I was not aware of [the child labour] that happened,” he said.

According to 2008 statistics from The International Labour Organization and Bolivian government—850,000 children from ages 5 to 17 were working in Bolivia. It was found approximately nine in 10 were working tough labour jobs—recognized as underground mining and sugar cane harvesting.

Barbosa’s interest in the subject of child labour first sparked during a visit to his family in Bolivia in the summer of 2010. One night, he passed out in the street while intoxicated, but somehow woke up in his own home the next morning. His sister later told him that a young boy named Willie, who worked in the parking lot of a club downtown, helped put Barbosa in a cab that took him home.

“They make almost nothing,” he said. “[The] money he made that night, he put me in a taxi and brought me home,” he said.

Barbosa later returned to the club to find the child who had helped him home. “After I met him, I started to meet other working kids on the streets,” he said. Many of them were orphans and needed money to pay for school and food, he said.

Barbosa returned to Bolivia in 2012, and he began documenting the issue of child labour in the country.

Before he could begin documenting their lives, Barbosa said he needed to gain the children’s trust in order for them to open up to him. Barbosa said this was due to the presence of exploitation of the children by non-government organizations (NGOs) and government-related organizations—who would first provide aid to these children. However, some would disappear once there was enough footage to share on their website and social media.

Barbosa said initially the children were skeptical of him. “Many kids working on the streets are aware that government officials receive a salary for the job they have to ‘help’ these kids,” he said.

The police and the Bolivian government took a special interest in Barbosa’s presence with the children—cautioning him to instead help the children through a government program, he said.

Barbosa noticed that some police posed a threat to the children. Some would follow their orders, but others took advantage of their power. He said while there are some good police, “the bad cops are the ones threatening, and also beating up street kids.”

After returning to Concordia in 2012 once summer ended, Barbosa returned to Bolivia after his graduation in December 2014. “I initially was going to stay for 3 months,” he said. “But while I was there, there were new things happening, so I ended up staying for two years.”

In February 2016, a protest for people with disabilities started in Bolivia. Barbosa said those with disabilities in the country were asking the government for a monthly benefit of $70 to aid with basic needs, such as healthcare.

Barbosa came to realize not only children faced a lack of essential human rights in Bolivia—which is why he began working on a second documentary project.

Documentary filmmaker Fernando Barbosa discuss the subject of his second documentary.Barbosa said he believes people with disabilities are the poorest group in Bolivia. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found in 2010 the employment rate of people with disabilities was reported as 44 per cent. “They don’t have access to jobs—they don’t have access to medical care,” he said.

At the time, Barbosa reconnected with a group of documentary makers from Australia. The group was inspired by those who struggled with disabilities in Bolivia and wanted to document their stories. This included filming a six-month period of protests between those with disabilities and the government, Babosa said.

“They decided to go all the way to [La Paz], walking on mountains,” he said. “It took 35 days to cross all the mountains.” Once they reached La Paz, Barbosa said the government was waiting for the protesters with police barriers and water tanks. “It was just 85 days just in La Paz of police repression, police brutality—to the point that six people died in this process,” he said. “And still they didn’t get the pension.”

However, there was a small victory for human rights in Bolivia, Barbosa said. One of the leaders for the disabled people in Bolivia was able to travel to Switzerland to attend an event held by the United Nations on people with disabilities.

“The [Bolivian] government was at the event saying how good Bolivia is doing for people with disabilities,” Barbosa said, but then the protestors’ representative presented the footage that Barbosa and his teammates had filmed. “The UN now gave Bolivia a 12-month period to give an explanation and look for those responsible for all of the police brutality and all that happened,” said Barbosa.

Barbosa said compared to his encounters with the authorities during his first documentary, during the filming for the second, the police followed him more intensely during the filming of the protests—even threatening to detain Barbosa and his teammates.

“I think [the government was] trying to scare us so we stopped filming and we stopped showing what was happening.”

Barbosa believed the authorities and the government were scared the footage would be viewed by people outside of the country—showcasing the alarming lack of human rights and the degree of poverty that some groups faced.

“Bolivia has signed international agreements to fight for human rights,” he said. “And [what I had documented] was violating these human rights.”

Barbosa said he wants to share both of his documentaries with high schools and universities. He wants to share his experience and shed light on the human rights issues in Bolivia, while also showing how strong and courageous these children are. Barbosa said it’s vital to share his documentary so people can be more aware and thankful of the privileges they have. “We sometimes are not aware of that,” he said.

To find out more about Barbosa’s documentaries visit the “Pinches Gringos” Facebook page at


It’s bigger than hip hop

United States of Africa (2012). Photo by Yanick Létourneau

“Yes we can . . . ” and “I have a dream . . . ” These famous words echo through the opening scenes of Yanick Létourneau’s film United States of Africa (2012). The Concordia University graduate’s latest documentary explores the stagnant and corrupt socio-political climate of Africa and the dissatisfaction felt by many of its inhabitants. The film follows hip hop artist Didier Awadi, who has set out on a mission to educate African youth, both at home and abroad, of the growing problems facing their continent. Along the way he recruits a talented host of politically-active and socially-conscientious musicians to help spread his message.

Awadi travels around Africa, Paris and New York, recording songs for his upcoming album Presidents d’Afrique. He features artists such as Smockey (Burkina Faso) and the young Zuluboy. For Awadi, hip-hop is merely the medium, education is the message. He intends to offer a constructive critique of his society and its crooked politics, while above all making “conscious music.”

The lands of Africa are rich in natural resources such as oil, diamonds, gold and minerals, thus they continually attract foreign interests. Former colonial powers circle like sharks, and many former nationalist leaders who have upset the status quo are simply eliminated. Assassinations include those of revolutionary leaders Patrice Lumumba; the first elected Prime Minister of the Republic of Congo, and Thomas Sankara; the young, charismatic Prime Minister of Burkina Faso. Both called for a unified Africa free from outside influence. Their coup d’états were allegedly orchestrated by the powers that be, namely France, Belgium and the United States. When Awadi travels to New York City to record a song with M-1, from the influential hip-hop group Dead Prez, it seems almost too fitting.

According to the film, such assassinations have allowed the wrong men to rule, leading to devastating effects on the economy, the unequal balance of power and the low standards of living in most parts of Africa. Smockey argues that “this poverty is maintained because it serves the interest of some and it provides access to a certain form of power.”

From the onset of the film, it’s quite apparent that Létourneau is a highly creative and stylish visual storyteller. With Awadi as his steady narrator, the director frames some wonderful shots of the joys, anguish and everything else in between residing in restless Africa. He also incorporates concert footage along with black and white historical speeches to add flavour to the film.

United States of Africa screens Monday Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. in Room H-110, 1455 de Maisonneuve W. Director Yanick Létourneau will be in attendance. This screening is co-presented in collaboration with Black History Month and with the support of the Concordia University Alumni Association. For more information, visit


Once upon a dare… a household name in the making

Photo by Norm Edwards.

For comedian and Concordia University graduate Andrew Searles it all started with a challenge. One night a friend dared him to open for comics Joey Elias and Ryan Wilner at a John Abbott College comedy show. At the time, he thought it would be a fun experience, nothing more.

Now it’s ten years later and he’s one of our city’s most dynamic comedians, entertaining crowds from coast to coast.

For Searles, comedy allows him to be himself, only more so. “I’m on stage, cracking jokes, hitting on girls in the front row, shooting down the jock who’s being a douchebag.”

And at the end of it all?

“After you do an amazing show, and you get off-stage, they say it’s better than any drug you could ever take in life. The rush you get…nothing beats it.”

Searles has worked hard to achieve the success he experiences today. For years he would analyze videotapes of his shows, studying everything from the way his audience reacted to his body language. All his hard work has made comedy a seamless extension of his personality.

“People say we make it easy. People say comedy’s a quick thing, but it takes years to become seasoned.” So what makes a professional comedian? Many things: improvisation, knowledge of crowd psychology and brazen confidence.

“You have to be 110% confident you’re ready for what they’re going to say next. I have to show that I’m ready to handle anything that’s being thrown at me.”

Despite steadily touring across the country he still maintains strong ties to Montreal’s comedy scene.

“I still go back to open mics to work on new material. Montreal definitely has camaraderie. We all help each other.”

Recently back from his latest tour, Andrew isn’t as narrowly defined by his comedy as one would think. He’s also making steady forays into the acting world. In the year and a half since graduating from the John Molson School of Business with a degree in marketing, he has quit his part-time job and is now pursuing acting alongside his comedy.

“Acting has always been my main goal, the end result. Comedy was something I fell in to. Between juggling school and comedy and acting, I could only do two out of three.” As his marketing degree was more of a fallback plan, comedy was the option that made the cut. “Now I’m at the point where I can focus on my comedy and my acting. Now I’m ready to push both of them to the next level.”

His upcoming projects are as numerous as they are different. In February, as part of Black History Month, he will participating in the second annual run of The Underground Comedy Railroad, a showcase of black Canadian comedic talent.

“A lot of black comedy we see is from the U.S. We’re often overshadowed by the American black comedy scene so I think this show is a way of showing off black Canadian comics,” he said.

Screen wise, he’ll be featured in a soon-to-be-released web series as well as having some face time in a new Roland Emmerich (director, Independence Day) film alongside some big Hollywood names.

With such ambitions, where does he see himself in the future?

“I’d like to live in Los Angeles, juggling the comedy and acting careers. And Jessica Alba. Maybe live in a jet at some point and fly around.”


Of flies and men

Carnival by Rawi Hage

A good piece of literature should always leave one feeling that each page was worth the time it took to turn it.

Unless it’s truly horrid writing (or has been penned by anyone with a reality television show), most books will accomplish that. But a great book will see the main character reaching their arm out of the pages to grab yours and let you feel everything they’re feeling.

That’s the case with former Concordia graduate Rawi Hage’s latest novel, Carnival.

The son of a trapeze artist and flying carpet pilot, Fly is a taxi driver who likes to wander but doesn’t like customers who smell. Or puke in his car. We meet him just as the carnival arrives in town, attracting hordes of tourists and bringing with it a sense of the strange and mysterious.

Fly identifies with a group of drivers that are called, well, “flies” because they like to drive around to pick up customers, unlike the drivers he calls “spiders” because they simply sit at a hangout called Café Bolero all day and wait for customers to come to them.

It’d be easy to peg Fly with the timid loner archetype – after all, his mother is dead, his father is gone and the bearded lady who raised him is also dead. But that’s not the character Hage presents. Fly interacts with many people throughout the book, has friends and, for lack of a better word, is a total badass. He beats up steroid-heads, works for a dealer, goes to an S&M dungeon and says gems such as, “I could substitute their cocaine lines with fishing ropes that sailed up their nostrils and down their brains.”

That’s not to say he doesn’t have his hang-ups. Interspersed among the novel are lengthy passages describing what he fantasizes about when he masturbates, which he does lying on his father’s old flying carpet, in the middle of his book-filled apartment. While they show his creativity (he often imagines himself fighting wars and rescuing maidens), they hint at a desire to escape from his life, or to have done something else with it. “It is always a pleasure to meet dirty novelists,” he tells a customer. “I once contemplated becoming one myself…but instead I stopped trying and picked up another creative habit that has kept my fingers busy ever since.”

The story is told through little vignettes with titles such as, “Dogs” and “Guns.” Fittingly enough, the passages evoke the feeling of being at a carnival – catching glimpses of strange faces and acts in quick succession and becoming entranced in the atmosphere. Coupled with the lack of quotation marks, it’s an interesting format that, as one works though the five acts that make up the story, makes sure the reader is paying absolute attention.

It’s easy to see why Carnival made Hage one of the finalists for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Although Fly doesn’t belong with the spiders who work around him, the strands of the story weave tightly around the reader, leaving one tangled in a web of enchantment.


Video game princess

Olivia Kowalski graduated from Concordia’s Fine Arts dept. two years ago. Photo by Madelayne Hajek.

“Working at Fido was the worst 8 months of my life and I would not wish it on my worst enemy,” said Olivia Kowalski, a Concordia University fine arts graduate who struggled to balance her desire to be an artist with her need for a stable income following her graduation two years ago.

She has found a middle ground, however, returning to school to study 3D animation for video games at Campus Arts et Divertissement numérique and working as a Disney princess performer on weekends to pay the bills.

“I am not cut out for a 9-to-5 job. I need a certain creative outlet on a daily basis, but I do not think I am cut out to be a starving artist either,” she said.

The starving artist thing might be a common stereotype, but Kowalski felt like that was the road she would have to take after graduation in order to fulfill her childhood dreams of being a painter, a dream which she defined as a “bohemian vision and romantic ideal.”

She painted a couple of things here and there after receiving her diploma but, slowly, realism and disillusion started to creep in. She couldn’t see herself dusting off paintings in an art gallery but she said she didn’t have the self-discipline needed to thrive as an independent artist either. She decided to take time off to reflect and in the meantime took up a position as a Fido customer service representative.

Working on the phone got her so depressed she started secretly perusing online job offers during her shifts. Which is when she found a Craigslist posting for the princess gig, which sounded a bit shady. Luckily, it turned out to be a legitimate job offer and she didn’t hesitate to trade in her headset for a tiara.

So how does a girly girl like Kowalski end up studying in a video gaming program?

“I was never a gamer. My boyfriend is and instead of complaining about it I enjoyed watching because I was mesmerized that people could draw like this on a computer. The graphics were so realistic and beautiful. I knew there were artists working behind that,” she said.

This prompted her to do some research and find out that Montreal is an animation mecca. She got accepted at Campus A.D.N with a last-minute application that required her to produce a portfolio of video game characters in a weekend.

And although she doesn’t regret getting her Bachelor’s degree in fine arts with a major in painting and drawing, she expected to learn more technical skills in the program, which she found too heavily oriented towards conceptuality. Nonetheless, she feels the program gave her some background and credibility.

“I just wish I had found the school and program that I am in, sooner. I have been there for two weeks now and I already see all the possibilities I can have as soon as I graduate.”

Student Life

Get Sweaty and Get Social

Concordia grad David Sciacca co-founded Training Mobs in 2011.

While lifting weights at the gym to a personalized playlist may be the ideal workout for some, others need a little change in pace and scenery – a feeling David Sciacca and Jonas Caruana understand all too well.

What started as a long distance friendship eventually grew into a shared apartment and a business plan. With a mutual passion for fitness, Sciacca, 30, and Caruana, 29, launched Training Mobs in January 2011, a fitness community website that lists and promotes great local group workouts.

“We really wanted to bring back the social aspect of fitness,” said Sciacca. “Make it easy for people to go to whatever workout they want and not have to be members there.”

Aside from being extremely practical for the fitness community, Training Mobs gives that extra nudge of encouragement to its members, a sense of inspiration that Sciacca and Caruana were searching for themselves not too long ago.

After graduating in finance from Concordia University, Sciacca worked three-and-a-half years in investment banking, a job he had no desire to keep.

“I realized very quickly that I wasn’t doing something I was in love with and I got tired of that,” he said. “To be completely honest, I had no idea what I wanted to do.”

His epiphany led him to Costa Rica where he extended an invitation to his Australian friend, Caruana, who shared the same dismay for his management job. The two had met seven years ago during a university exchange program in Budapest.

“We were surfing and we started complaining about how hard it was to find a great workout wherever we were and how hard it was to coordinate workouts with friends while we were working,” said Sciacca. “We thought maybe there was something out there that would help fix this. When we looked into it and didn’t find anything, that’s when we said, ‘Well this doesn’t make sense.’ So we created Training Mobs from that.”

Committed to finding great workouts for their members, Sciacca and Caruana reach out to independent studios and gyms that offer more intimate experiences bigger gyms sometimes fail to provide. Apart from the free exposure, Training Mobs allows smaller autonomous gyms to connect with their target audience all the while offering a variety of workouts to their members.

“People who have opened an independent gym tend to do it out of passion because everyone knows that opening a studio is probably not the fastest way to get brilliantly rich,” said Sciacca. “When you’re doing something you love, you’re more committed to it – you build a community around you and people enjoy that kind of experience.”

Everyday, Training Mobs offers a fresh list of diverse social fitness classes at a discount rate, from circuit training on Mount Royal to hot yoga in the West Island. No matter the time, location or workout preference, anybody can sign up for a workout on a whim.

While Training Mobs continues to spread across Canada and the United States, Sciacca and Caruana are creating new ways to connect their studio and gym partners with their members. One in particular that is gaining some attention is the MobPass.

“We think the MobPass has potential to change the way people think about fitness,” said Sciacca. “We believe in group fitness because it’s more fun and there’s that social accountability.”

With a monthly purchase of $9.95, the MobPass offers access to every Training Mob gym, studio and trainer at a ten-class-pass rate. Suitable for travelers or anyone with a hectic schedule and an interest in trying new workouts, Sciacca describes the MobPass as being a universal gym membership to all the best independent studios from Montreal to Toronto to San Francisco.

“Why are we preventing people from getting access to these small studios that are specialized by restricting them to one type of workout?” he said. “There’s got be people out there that like variety, that would appreciate flexibility.”

Aside from expanding their fitness community and spreading the word, Sciacca and Caruana are constantly trying to keep an open conversation with their partners and members. They share a blog with their members and encourage people to post videos and messages of their great workouts, and to show newcomers that working out doesn’t have to be intimidating.

“This is a community of real people that are going out and getting active,” said Sciacca. “Training Mobs belongs to the community and we always wanted it to be that way. If you had a great workout experience and want to tell the world about it, let us know and we’ll be happy to shoot it out to the world.”


Digging deep but coming up short

Available for $14.95 online at

It’s the crack of noon, so roll yourself out of bed, brew a cup of extra strong tea and settle in with the philosophically melancholy characters featured in Guillaume Morissette’s debut collection of stories and poems, I Am My Own Betrayal.

Comprised of five short stories and ten poems, the Concordia student’s first collection is beautifully written but thematically stale. The main characters featured in each piece, are all obsessed with themselves, they wax poetically and philosophically on the staleness that is their day to day, moaning about their relationships or lack thereof.

Although anyone who’s ever suffered from perpetual or occasional depression will be able to relate to these sentiments, the novelty of Morissette’s crafted observational insight into melancholy and anxiety wears thin with repetition.

The writing is of high literary quality. Morissette is a master of the clever metaphor and visual metonymy, offering a unique take on the everyday. He astutely comments on everything from beer cans to the bustling metropolis of Montreal with candor and wit.

“We bought beer earlier and the beer we bought seems to have awarded itself a blue ribbon, for prettiest beer maybe,” writes Morissette.

In Vaster emptiness achieved, a story about a friendship carried out mainly through email, it is punctuated by one liners, reminiscent of facebook status updates. The narrator and his friend Anika, write to each other in beautifully insightful, melodious style, which is fun to read, but makes you wonder whether there are real people who talk this way, or if Morissette has taken literary license in appropriating dialogue to fit his style of writing.

It is Morissette’s style of writing that makes the collection worth reading. He crafts wonderfully vivid and interesting descriptions, such as how the world looks when you’re tipsy from drinking too large a pitcher of beer.

“The room is slowly starting to go diagonal, zig-zags. it comes at you, leaves and then comes at you again, like a game of ball-in-a-cup in which the ball is the room.” This excerpt comes from the story Banhood, which again plays with the theme of a young person feeling inadequate and generally despondent.

Concordia student and author Guillaume Morissette,

Morissette’s poems also play with this theme: in the poem I hate myself, he writes “a purpose is a person but backwards; if there’s a place where I belong I have already ruined it.”

The only poem where the narrator gives a concrete reason for being depressed is Poems are for no one, very long poems are for themselves, where the narrator is lamenting over a failed relationship. Morissette brings freshness to the classic poetry theme by appropriating the narrator’s feelings of longing to the bed.

my bed is a mess, it misses you. it’s been
having nightmares about being suffocated to
death with a red pillow. to calm the bed down
I have read the bed a bedtime story of printed-out
e-zine articles on ways to overcome a heartbreak.

I Am My Own Betrayal, is a collection that clearly demonstrates Morissette’s literary talent, but could use a little thematic variation and maybe a few more rays of sunshine.

I Am My Own Betrayal is available for purchase at Maison Kasini, suite 408 in the Belgo and online at


The way we used to Cut and Paste

Pancakes, collage, 2011.

Amanda Durepos graduated from Concordia this June from the Art History and Studio Art program. The Concordian sat down with Durepos to discuss her new art exhibit and the inspiration behind her fascinating work.

Q. (A.S) What did you take away from your time at Concordia?

A. (A.D) I learned to allow myself to be vulnerable and to worry less about a finished piece and more about paying attention to the process and experimentation. I initially felt pressure to have a coherent and established style but soon realized that I was (and still am) undergoing a lot of self-discovery.

Q. (A.S) When or where did the inspiration for this project begin?

A. (A.D) I’ve always had a bit of an interest in technology, and a few months ago I began reading a lot about Google and how the company has completely changed the way we distribute and receive information. I also was surprised by the results that came up when I Googled my own name and spent a long time disabling and cancelling accounts on various websites; accounts which were long dormant and no longer representative of who I am today.

Q. (A.S)  In your statement you say that your practice often deals with “the paradoxes introduced in our lives through technology”, can you specify what some of these paradoxes are?

Oh, my ears and whiskers! Collage, 2012.

A. (A.D) It seems to me that recent history has been marked by a widespread adoption of technology in everyday life. Our increasingly symbiotic relationship with technology yields a paradoxical influence both on the way experience interpersonal relationships and the ways in which we access and process information.

For example, I am thrilled that the internet enables me to connect to my faraway family members. Although I have only met my newborn niece twice, my frequent video chatting with her has brought me closer into her life than would otherwise be possible. Conversely, some days I get home from work and can spend hours browsing forums, Reddit or countless other black holes of content and in the process completely neglect my boyfriend. In this sense, technology has the potential to bring us closer together from a distance, but can simultaneously alienate us from our immediate surroundings.

The Fallow Deer, framed print, 2012.

In my collage Dürer’s Rhinoceros, I am referencing a woodcut from the 16th century by Albrecht Dürer. Despite never having seen a rhinoceros himself, Dürer worked from a written description of someone else to create the woodcut. The interesting thing about the woodcut is that although it vaguely looks like a rhinoceros, there are a many incorrect or invented anatomical features. Nonetheless, the woodcut was very popular in Europe, was used in encyclopaedias, copied frequently and considered for centuries by Westerners as being a true representation of a rhinoceros. Today, we access information from a multiplicity of sources on the web and tend to think of the internet as providing democratic and more accurate and immediately accessible access to information. What we sometimes don’t address is the fact that the way this wealth of information is sorted is not always ideal. When one Google searches a subject to learn about it, the result that rises to the top is not necessarily the most accurate but the most popular, which reminded me a lot of Durer’s woodcut. Could it be that even in an age where we have access to many different standpoints, we could still be exposed to inaccurate information?

Q. (A.S) Could you tell me about how the ‘profile’ or, way we represent ourselves online is represented in the exhibit?

A. (A.D) My boyfriend and I met on a picture rating website when we were 15 years old. Because the history of the forum is stored chronologically, I discovered that I could time travel backwards in the forums and read interactions between us before we had met. It was fascinating for me to see the formal way in which we addressed one another, and how this differs drastically from who we are today and the ways that we interact. In this way, I have found that my self from 7 years ago has left quite a trace online. What is notable (and embarrassing) about it is the fact that I can go back and see quite tangibly who I was at that time. Before the internet, our memories of our old selves or old friends are pieced together perhaps through photos or home videos. When we were 15, we all said things we would be embarrassed about today, but I have the misfortune of having that dialogue in a public cyberspace. And as I have discovered, erasing a blog can be more difficult than the ridding of a diary book!

To have an online profile is to define something static about a self that is always in flux. Although we can update our profiles to match the changes that take place in our lives, some aspects remain, concretized in cyberspace. Anyone who has ever Googled themselves can see that there are sometimes things that you wish were not there.

Alter Egos (series), prints, 2012.

As an artist, I sometimes feel pressure to establish an online presence, and to plan for exhibits to showcase what I am working on. However, just as I am constantly growing and changing, so is my work. Collage is very playful and when I work with it, I am without intent. It is a very stream-of-consciousness process, very much like living life or breathing. It becomes complicated when I have to frame it or define it.

Q. (A.S) I found the Alter egos series to be particularly striking because it was done with computer technology and all your other pieces were done by hand, a literal cut and paste. Why is this? What made you choose to do this series differently?

A. (A.D) A struggle I face in wanting to work with original vintage material is that it is difficult to come across very large source material. The initial collages for the Alter Egos series were 4 x 6” and were done manually. It is interesting to me, that upon enlarging them and thereby converting them to a digital equivalent, they are likely to last longer. That is to say, my collages are created with source material which is already mouldy and yellowed, and are likely to have a much shorter life, like a fleeting memory. These prints have been digitalized and are therefore immortal!

Q. (A.S) I noticed that the pieces were displayed with little polish, some of the pieces coming off from their backgrounds, curling etc. Was this intentional, if so why?

A. (A.D) Creating a collage is very spontaneous for me and I can work very swiftly. I do not like to revisit collages I make and do not “touch them up”. Additionally, I like the character of curled and yellow paper and want people to be able to see the pieces as more than just flat images, but rather as objects on paper, wherein the paper is an important aspect. I have fun when I create my collages and I do not want them to be seen as precious images.

Q. (A.S) Can you talk about Slowness Japanese bound-book?

Slowness, Japanese-bound book, 2012.

A. (A.D) The book was created as an assignment for a drawing class at Concordia. I was thinking about the way the internet affects the way we absorb and process information. Before the internet, one would have no choice but to go to the library, take out an encyclopaedia and read it in a linear fashion, and then condense the information later. Linear, and slow appreciation of text seems to be falling out of fashion.

For my piece Slowness, I cut up Milan Kundera’s novel Slowness, using words from the novel itself to piece together the Wikipedia article. I was taking this idea to an extreme and envisioning a hypothetical time in which even pleasure reading (which is necessarily slow and linear by definition) is fractured, a victim of instant gratification. I chose this book in particular because Kundera suggests in it that speed is linked to forgetting and only slow, uninterrupted appreciation can submit something to memory.

This interview has been edited for length.

Amanda Durepos’ exhibit Cut and Paste is on display at Papeterie Nota Bene 3416 Du Parc until June 1, with a vernissage taking place May 31 from 5-8pm.

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