Being a psychologist: not always a walk in the park… or is it?

Forget about lying down on a couch; it is time for walk-and-talk therapy

“I don’t have time for therapy.”

I wish I were able to convince myself otherwise. Actually, I wish everyone was able to make time for therapy.

I stopped seeing my psychologist five years ago, thinking I couldn’t afford to spend an hour of my time (and $100 of my mother’s salary) every week just to sit on a couch and complain about my life. It was too late when I realized that I should have kept going, but as someone who later sought and received urgent professional help, I can safely say that therapy is absolutely worth your time and money.

I am doing way better now (thank you for asking) but I still struggle with the idea of going back to therapy. I must admit that I have always had a teeny-tiny negative bias towards it, and to be quite honest, I am broke and busier than ever.

But I recently learned something that almost convinced me to go back …

Sticking to online therapy during the COVID-19 pandemic was not enough for two private psychologists from the Centre de Psychologie Behaviorale (CPB) in Ahuntsic. That is why they started offering outdoor consultations as an alternative.

One of those two psychologists, Serge Drolet, has been working at CPB for 30 years.

On April 17, 2020, the Quebec government issued an official document instructing mental health service providers to limit their in-person activities and opt for teleconsultation whenever possible. At the time, all of CPB’s operations had already shifted online.

Since March 2020, about 25 per cent of Drolet’s clients have consequently abandoned therapy because they were not interested in Zoom consultations.

“Some very good patients left, and sadly, I don’t know what they became,” Drolet explained.

This inspired him to experiment with “walk-and-talk therapy” instead.  Since June, about 15 per cent of Drolet’s patients have chosen to bring their therapy sessions outdoors.

During the winter, the Marcelin-Wilson park and the small woods near the clinic are often deserted. On March 2, it might have been -17 C outside, but the most courageous of Drolet’s patients were able to enjoy the calm and tranquility.

However, since the office is surrounded by many other primary care services like a drugstore, a radiology centre, and a dialysis clinic, there is a lot of traffic on the sidewalks despite the centre being located in a quiet neighbourhood.

“Stuff happens when we find ourselves in these kinds of situations,” Drolet said. “[A patient and I] were walking and an old man tried to shove us aside because we were not walking fast enough for him. There was a lesson of self-assertion management, and that’s great because [this patient] is a person who, when alone, is submissive when it comes to confrontations. I gave this man a piece of my mind — while remaining professional, of course — and I was glad that she [the patient] could see that I, myself, do [what I usually advise her to do].”

According to Drolet, this new type of consultation also adds a dynamic component to the therapy.

“There’s a small wood not too far away and there are three directions we can take,” Drolet said. “On the right, we can see perfectly well; on the left there are a couple of young people that seem rough; and in the middle, it’s the woods. I don’t decide which way to go. You choose where we go. Just the fact that the person makes decisions like that during the session, somewhere along the way, it helps them make decisions in life,” Drolet said.

Being stuck alone with ourselves can be challenging, and many people’s mental health problems were exacerbated because of the pandemic. However, Drolet noticed that his patients had become more invested in their therapy; they have more free time to self-examine and to reflect on their patterns. Moreover, now that psychologists are being exposed to the same worries and deprivations as their patients, they can now empathize rather than sympathize with them. In fact, Drolet said that being on an equal footing with his clients in such a way has allowed him to help them better.

In the end, with all of COVID’s difficulties, it has also opened the door for new possibilities for how mental health service providers can treat their patients. Now that many people have more free time to focus on themselves and that it somewhat became easier to find a psychologist we can relate to, combining therapy to the health benefits of getting more fresh air gives us one more reason to consider going to therapy.


 Photo by Christine Beaudoin

Sorry to burst your bubble — the “COVID talk”

These are some points to hit when you have the COVID talk

As the Quebec government extends the province-wide curfew to curtail the COVID-19 transmission rates, it’s become increasingly important that we start engaging in the difficult conversations with ourselves and our loved ones.

“Are you being safe?” and “Did you see anyone?” isn’t enough. We need to have frank, honest and clear communication as a matter of public health and common sense.

Certain people experience a higher risk of exposure to the virus simply from their job, their household, or their context. It’s important to turn up the compassion, turn up the curiosity, and turn down the judgment. It’s your business to know the facts so you can assess what risk you’re comfortable exposing yourself to, but that’s not a free pass to look down on other people’s risk assessment.

To get a sense of safe contact, let’s talk geometry. In terms of COVID contact, the safest shape is a circle, not a line. I’ll explain.

A “COVID bubble” is a closed circle. Meaning, if you are in a bubble of three with you and your two roommates, you see each other exclusively. Otherwise, it would no longer be a closed circle, but instead a chain.

It’s also important to communicate clearly and honestly when choosing a person to bubble with. That way everyone can make an informed decision.

For example, if I live alone, and plan to see my “one person” who also lives alone, before going to see them, we need to have a conversation about exposure to make sure we’re both on the same page.

To start the discussion, try and lead with setting your goals and intentions for having this hard conversation. Something like, “I know it’s awkward, but I appreciate that we can have these hard talks. I’m hoping to get clarity about our contact levels recently so that we can make sure that it’s safe and responsible to see each other. I completely respect your decisions, and I hope you respect mine, even if it means we can’t see each other at this time. ”

Then ask questions. Keep it short and simple. Be honest.

Asking if someone is “low risk” or “being safe” is perception-based, and relies on assumptions and personal opinions. This leaves room for miscommunication as folks may define “risk” or “safety” differently.

Replace “Are you being careful?” with “Who have you seen in the last two weeks?”, “Were you wearing masks the whole time?”, “Were you 2 metres apart?”, and “Were you outside?”

Replace “Do you trust the person you saw?” with “Did you have a conversation with the person you saw?”, “What questions did you ask?”, and “What was their reply?”

Replace “Are you taking risks?” with “What is your job?”, “Do you see children who go to school?”, and “Do you see people who have children in school?”

It’s about eliminating mystery and assumption from the conversation, and normalizing the conversation. This isn’t personal, it’s practical.

This is the kind of situation that forces change, and ultimately growth. Bestselling author and therapist Lori Gottlieb says, “Change and loss travel together. We can’t have change without loss, which is why so often people say they want change but nonetheless stay exactly the same.”

In this time, we are acquiring the skills to advocate for our own health and safety and that of others as well. We’re learning how we best receive feedback and how best to deliver it. We’re deepening our relationships with loved ones, and forging new ones as we endure this strange and complex hardship together.

This situation is forcing loss on everyone. It’s also forcing change. It’s uncomfortable, it’s scary, and it hurts. But we can choose to change for the better.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam

Isolate happiness when working alone

While many Canadians suffer the toll of social isolation, one man spends six months working in near-total solitude every year, and loves it. Experts explain why.

“I’m able to see in my six months of ‘solitude’ something super positive. It takes time. The first weeks when I’m alone here, it’s strange,” says Gabriel Lanthier, in his fourth year as manager of the University of Montreal’s Laurentian Biology Station. In this role, he spends November until May working alone at the rural site, managing, repairing, and maintaining the 16.4 square kilometres of land.

In turn, during the summer season, it’s all hands on deck, as Lanthier manages a team of eight who run the site that houses many active research experiments and University of Montreal classes, hosts students who are writing theses, and rents the space out to private events.

Lanthier monitors an ongoing research project that assesses the impact of a 3 degree increase in soil temperature on vegetation growth long-term, as compared to the present soil temperature levels. In 2009, the Quebec Government announced that a 28 square kilometer plot of land, which includes the Laurentians Biology Station, would become a protected territory as a “biodiversity reserve”. Here, researchers mainly in biology and geography, conduct experiments. Between 1967 and 2014, researchers concluded 33 doctoral theses and 164 masters theses at the site.

Why does he love solitude?

“We underestimate in everyday life our need for space, for tranquility. We’re all on a rolling train.” He continues, “People often stop at the point where they’re about to break. The hard end.”

Lanthier was hired to work in an isolated region in the Lower Laurentians, 75 kilometres north of Montreal, where he lives with his partner and their two children. His lifestyle for the winter months — quiet, solitary, and slowed down — reflects the “new normal” introduced by social distancing laws enforced in Quebec, especially for remote workers, to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Lanthier cuts down trees that obstruct a trail in the woods of the site. “Working alone, the job is super varied,” says Lanthier. “If it’s a problem with personnel, if it’s a problem with clients, if it’s a problem with scheduling, or a problem with the machinery we have, doing reparations. All year I solve different problems. That’s my job.”

According to Statistics Canada, the percentage of Canadians experiencing poor mental health has tripled to 24 per cent since 2018, and young people are hit hardest over recent social distancing measures. Further, “Over half of participants report that their mental health has worsened since the onset of physical distancing,” according to the study.

Burnout culture is not a new phenomenon. In response to a rise in stress and burnout among Canadian labourers, Quebec has been working to expand its legislation protecting worker’s health to include mental health as well, according to Canada’s Occupational Health and Safety Magazine.

Recently, experts have warned of the psychological strain that essential workers face during this time, which can ultimately lead to greater risk as employees, facing exhaustion, are more susceptible to mistakes.

According to a Statistics Canada report, those with the most education are more likely to hold positions that can be done from home, illustrating that “The risk of experiencing a work interruption during the pandemic might fall disproportionately on financially vulnerable families.” Further, it poses the dilemma for those working in low-paid, high contact industries, such as the service industry or factory work, whether or not to absorb high risks by working in person.

So, is solitude really the culprit of this swelling unwellness, or is it merely a symptom of something else?

Lanthier attributes his wellness in the face of solitary winters to three things — he likes his job, he works outside, and he slows down.

Lanthier walks along the trails of the site, which has 7 lakes, and multiple rivers and streams passing through. “I think we underestimate in the everyday life, our need for space. The need for tranquility,” says Lanthier. “The only advice I’ve got: go outside, take in the air, and especially during Covid, put on your running shoes and go jogging 10 minutes. 10 minutes will change your day.”

Meaningful work is a central factor to job satisfaction. That and “mastering, leadership, balance, influence, achievements and colleagues,” according to the Happiness Research Insititue’s 2019 Job Satisfaction Index.

This research studies Danes’ work satisfaction, identifying three main issues that workers faced in 2019 — managing the “work-life balance,” “stress,” and fostering a “sense of identity from their job.” The research found that meaningful work offers labourers a stronger sense of job satisfaction, which in turn heightens their happiness.

“Me, I’m in paradise,” says Lanthier. “I’m sure it’s not the same situation if you ask me to work in a four-and-a-half, no windows, semi-basement, for eight hours in front of a computer. I would not have the same appreciation of isolation than what I have.”

According to the theory of logotherapy developed by psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Frankl, humans derive happiness from meaning — through purposeful work, relationships, or suffering, as explained in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” first published in 1946.

The connection between human happiness and meaningful work has a long history, with a body of research behind it. Sustainability is a welcome recent addition to the conversation by experts in happiness.

“I really think a sustainable economy needs to be built on meaningful work,” says economic historian Dr. Kent Klitgaard. “I don’t think you can have this kind of degraded job that everybody hates and you do it just to buy consumption goods that wear out quickly and don’t make you happy.”

The principle that we can be happier if we work less and slow down is on the rise amongst professionals working to scale back human consumption and invest more in well-being.

“We can have better lives, I’m convinced, with a lot less material and energy consumption,” says environmental economist Dr. Christian Kerschner.

The connections between slowing down, engaging in environmentally sustainable activities, consuming less, and happiness are detailed in a United Nations commissioned Sustainable Happiness report, conducted by The Happiness Research Institute.

According to the report, “The literature on voluntary simplicity provides abundant illustrations of persons who, by virtue of engaging in simpler lives, experience increased feelings of satisfaction and meaning. In other words: less stuff equals more happiness.”

“We have been very comfortable materially, but also if you look at our society’s emotional and psychological health,” says Kerschner, “we are not doing so well.”

What does meaningful work have to do with consumption? Since technology has replaced many — largely manual — jobs across industries, economies have found new uses for this labour force. These jobs tend to be mundane, dead-end, monotonous, with tight deadlines.

“I ask myself at what point is it healthy for the human mind? Something very routine — like a recipe — already established. Every day, 40 hours per week, for 20 years?” Lanthier asks. “Put it in an isolating mold, all alone, I would go crazy.”

Among his varied duties, Lanthier is responsible for doing office work, such as bookkeeping, managing staff during the summer, and confirming reservations with clients. “I’m a bit of a hybrid between intellectual and manual and that’s what I found in this job,” says Lanthier. With an undergraduate degree in psychology, and a master’s degree in biology, Lanthier finds this position taps into both studies. “I believe you don’t just learn things in school. In touching, in trying, in failures also, that’s all a part of learning. When things don’t work, we learn,” says Lanthier. “My work gives me the opportunity to touch on very diverse things and I learn every day.”

The duality of Lanthier’s job — a busy summer followed by a quiet winter — taps into his need for a challenge, change, and allows him to grow his skills manually as well as interpersonally.

While routine is a very healthy practice to maintain both bodily and mental health, Lanthier has a point. A job where you do the same thing every day limits how much you can learn or be challenged. “For work to be meaningful, it needs to stimulate me, fill my life,” says Lanthier. “My work needs to help me grow, evolve, progress.”

“There’s studies that show people in the U.S. are working more hours on average than any generation before. So that leads

As part of his duties, Lanthier walks the trails located on the reserve, taking note of any evidence of animal activity, such as canine tracks. He also searches for evidence of human activity, which is forbidden, to ensure the preservation of the land and protection of any research taking place.

to the question,” Kerschner elaborates. “Is this really life? Is this really wellbeing?”

Some are finding their wellbeing comes from an active engagement with community and sustainability.

One collective-living community in Denmark began to examine the food waste in their home. With a separate trash can for food, the residents can see “direct proof of what food waste costs them each month and what they save by reducing such waste,” according to the Sustainable Happiness report. With less waste-based financial strain, workers need to earn less money and work less hours to afford a high quality of life.

Kerschner hopes that through this experience in social isolation, collectively, society can work to strengthen community ties, and register how important connection is for our health and happiness. When we liberate our time by working a little less, we create more time for the things that matter to us, connecting with our communities, and helping each other.

There is an understanding in mainstream social consciousness that sustainability is incompatible with abundance. On the contrary, cultivating abundance does not need to be expensive.

The Sustainable Happiness report stresses, “To completely unleash happiness potential, it is important to dispense with myths and misconceptions such as the false choice between sustainability and happiness.”

Through community initiatives, sharing, and connecting, abundance can be very cost-efficient, sustainable, and joyous.


Photos by Simona Rosenfield, taken on December 2, 2020

COVID’s silent toll on mental health

Are we equipped to address the mental health crises brought on by the virus?

The day before Montreal entered “code-rouge” I found myself running errands with my roommate in preparation for the lockdown. Under the overcast sky of a Wednesday evening, we trekked from one business to another, preparing for the looming uncertainty. From the bakery, to the kosher butcher and fish market — the mundane task of collecting groceries became a mission, not entirely unpleasant. In fact, after a few purchases we developed a system: from outside I monitored our accumulating groceries as my roommate ventured forth into each business.

But, in a quiet moment outside a fish market with a collection of purchased meats as my companion, an unfamiliar feeling crept into my psyche. As I watched the denizens of Montreal go from one place to another, some into stores, others in the metro, a devastating despair intensified.

As the gloomy clouds passed the sky, an anxiety reminiscent of the night before grade school swirled and enveloped me. The anticipation, insecurity, and recognition of a looming drastic change in daily life grew into a miserable and melancholic force with distressing fortitude. A completely foreign anxiety grew in my chest as the world around me contracted into a sea of looming and dystopian doubt.

Yet the anxiety soon shifted into a deep shame. After all, how could I complain? I live with amicable roommates and am financially stable. It felt wrong to grieve for the world before the coronavirus from my fortunate perch outside a grocery store full of food many could no longer afford. I considered my grandmother alone in her New York apartment waiting for a phone call, or the loneliness of those suffering from mental illness or trapped in the brutal cycle of substance abuse. Compared to those who lost jobs, homes, or even loved ones, I hated myself for wallowing in misery.

On a greater scale before COVID-19, suicide plagued Canada. According to Statistics Canada, over the last five years, the second leading cause of death among 20-24-year-olds is suicide — and the trend is increasing. In 2014, 267 Canadians killed themselves, and in 2018, the number increased to 336. Such disturbing figures reflect a national mental-health crisis that existed before the pandemic, and unsurprisingly, COVID-19 is exasperating the crisis.

Last June, the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 25.5 per cent of Americans between the ages of 18-24 had seriously contemplated suicide within the preceding 30 days — an increase from 8 per cent the year prior. Likewise, the study revealed that 24.7 of respondents started or increased abusing substances due to COVID-19.

I refer to the 18-24 age-range because it captures the demographic of the majority of Concordia students. Although the study is from the United States, the data is beyond troubling. The isolation and mental impacts of Montreal entering code-red coupled with the looming winter ought to concern students, faculty, and the administration.

But, the mental health impacts of COVID-19 go far beyond Concordia students. Administrators and professors face similar challenges from this new world dominated by Zoom fatigue and the limitations of distance learning. Nothing could prepare our university for the barrage of health and governmental restrictions. When the computers close at the end of class, who knows what inner turmoil torments a professor or peer?

Although we can count the suicides — assign a number to each tragedy brought on by the virus — there is no system to compare the suffering of living in this new world. Undoubtedly, future historians will quantify certain aspects of our collective experiences such as the number of deaths, suicides, or days under lockdown. Yet comparing the mental toll of one individual to another is impossible.

And in this realization, a sort of comfort emerges as I reflect on that unforgettable eve of the lockdown. Grief and anxiety about the differences between the way we lived and how we operate today is not a shameful reaction. It is possible to remain grateful while remaining cognizant of the issues of our neighbours who face unique challenges. Through this balance, an inspiring possibility of compassion for the other and our own experiences comes into focus.

So, the coronavirus becomes the great equalizer. I yearn for our collective emergence from this crisis with a society built on greater compassion and understanding than before. No matter how distant, the possibility for a silver lining of a better world forged in historic and trying times, could unlock a marvelous societal bond. Losing hope for a brighter future, no matter how tempting, obscures the light of a better tomorrow, a day of a united and shared victory.


Feature graphic by Taylor Reddam

Student Life

Wedding on a diet: getting married during COVID-19

When the pandemic strips milestones to the bone

Oct. 3rd, 2:30 p.m.: Six people are standing in room 2.17 of Quebec’s courthouse. The first is a court clerk, the second and the third stand before the first, the fourth and fifth are witnesses and the last is a member of the audience. The occasion: my wedding.

I have never really been the type of person to spend time with my head in the clouds about what my wedding would look like, but I certainly never pictured it like this.

If anything, I thought the guest count would be beyond one. Even though I haven’t been bathing in wedding fantasies since my childhood, when my partner proposed to me on New Year’s Eve, we knew we had a big party to plan.

Fast-forward to March. It seemed to us like we already had it all: a large expanse of land in Rimouski lent to us for free, a lake, space to camp and nearby accommodation, many talented artist friends to set the mood with music and decorations, family members to serve  as amazing cooks, near limitless access to alcohol, and many, many cherished guests. Set for Aug. 15, 2020, our celebration was going to be a banger.

Then came the big, the bad, the-still-ongoing COVID-19.

April 10: The Legault government announces that all public events are to be cancelled until Aug. 31. On the Facebook event for our wedding, our guests are notified that the celebration is pushed to 2021, or at least until it becomes safe to party again.

We decided that in the meantime, we would still get the legal ceremony done. In response to COVID-19, Quebec’s courthouse allowed for a total of only seven guests in addition to the two mandatory witnesses. This was just enough to accommodate the core of our families, except for my brother and his girlfriend who have been avoiding all human contact since the pandemic hit.

Instead of a proper honeymoon, my partner and I planned for a week of relaxing celebration in Mont-Tremblant with some of the family that had attended the wedding. For the time being, it was the least we could do to underline the milestone.

In late September, as the second wave hit, our nine guests withdrew themselves from the wedding, one by one. Coming from out of town, entering Montreal which was turning into a red zone represented a risk they were not willing to take, even to witness our union before law in-person. Only via Zoom would they join the ceremony.

Sept. 27: Following a difficult phone call with my mother concerning Montreal’s official red zoning, my partner and I decided to forego our stay in Mont-Tremblant for the safety of our family.

Less than a week from our wedding, we were stripped of our guests, our “honeymoon’’ and our witnesses.

Even though we knew a big celebration would eventually come, and that our relationship would survive these relatively soft hardships, a hollow feeling of despair started to creep up on me. Sure, we would find new witnesses fairly easily. Sure we would get married. Sure, we would still have a good time drinking champagne. But, there was a but.

Thursday, Oct. 1: My phone buzzes. Bota Bota, the famous travelling ferry spa in the Old Port of Montreal, is on the line: they are informing me that my reservation for Saturday will be refunded due to their baths needing to be closed, following Legault’s latest announcements. As such, my latest attempt at making a celebration out of my marriage got thrown out the window. Out on a long walk to breathe it out, I took a break to sit on the sidewalk and let my tears flow.

But, at least we have each other. That is what weddings are about, right?

Friday, Oct. 2, 10 p.m.: My partner and I are writing our Goldschläger-induced vows when, all of a sudden, his computer screen lights up. Familiar faces are all over it. Confused but only for a short time, I soon recognize that what I have before me is a surprise bachelor/bachelorette Zoom party — and what will become a nasty hangover on my wedding day.

Saturday, Oct. 3: My husband and I are on the rooftop of the hotel, spending the night drinking prosecco with the witnesses and an extra friend.

Although I could count the number of people present on one hand, I was tremendously grateful for all the little things we had been able to do to celebrate. It was as though the Draconian diet on which our celebration was put on made for every little bit of time spent in good company the most savoury bite of my existence.

I can only imagine the blast of flavours that will bring the big wedding celebration, whenever that may be.


Photo by Christine Beaudoin


28-day challenge: No friends to break COVID’s second wave

A surge of COVID-19 cases bumps several regions into the red zone

The Quebec Minister of Public Health and Social Services, Christian Dubé, announced during his press conference on Sept. 25 that he is putting all yellow and orange zones up to a 28-day challenge to limit social interactions, while the red-zones of Quebec City, Chaudiere-Appalaches and Montreal are obliged to complete a mandatory 28-day quarantine.

The goal of the challenge is to abstain from all and any social gatherings that are considered non-essential. That includes: parties, weddings, and gatherings alongside family and friends. This includes any unnecessary travels to different regions for the next 28-days.

Dubé expressed optimism in his 28-day challenge by asking all Quebec citizens to join the challenge. He explained that while this is an extra effort alongside all that citizens are already doing, he explains that with the three new regions as classified red-zones, they need to be even more restrictive in their measures. Dubé said on Radio-Canada’s talk show, “what we are going to tell people is going to be: stay home.”

“What we are asking you is to make a special effort to limit our social contacts, and I am saying it, for the next 28 days. If we do it in the time that I specify today, I think it will encourage people to understand that yes this is an extra effort, but there can be an end to this. I repeat, what we are asking you to do is a special effort to limit your contacts, what we call social contacts, for the next 28-days. This is for one month; it is not permanent.”

The implementation of this challenge came as a result of an immense surge of cases over the weekend, with Dubé confirming two cities would escalate from an orange to red alert on Radio-Canada’s talk show. According to the Quebec government’s website, as of the beginning of the red zone on Thursday the total number of confirmed cases is over 3,238 in the past three days. As of October 3, there are a whopping 78,459 total provincial cases since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March.

Dubé highly encourages all regions to join in the challenge, no matter if they are in a green, yellow or orange zone, deeming it absolutely essential to kick-start our province’s recovery process. He also took time to state that if the 28-day challenge cannot be followed, citizens should rigorously abide by the newly updated public health implementations during any and all forms of social contact.   

A very COVID Rosh Hashanah

Jewish holidays are fundamentally communal activities, but with COVID, they’ve become a time to reflect on what traditions are most important to us

As the summer started to wane and the pandemic didn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon, I started to wonder how Jewish people around the world would celebrate the High Holidays.

The High Holidays are the most important weeks of the Jewish calendar. Starting with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and ending with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, it’s a time to welcome a new year by reflecting on the past year’s transgressions and asking for forgiveness from those in your life and then, ultimately, from God.

Growing up, Rosh Hashanah meant taking the day off of school, getting dressed up, and attending synagogue with my parents. The services were long and mostly felt pretty boring at the time, minus the sprinkling of cantorial songs that would make the synagogue swell with harmonizing voices. After three long hours, the congregation would be dismissed and all the families would wish each other a “שָׁנָה טוֹבָה” (shana tova, i.e. happy new year) as they slowly made their way out of the sanctuary.

To me, the High Holidays were a fundamentally communal experience. Growing up in a small southern synagogue, it was the time for the Jewish community to connect through Torah study, Tashlich and Yom Kippur break-fast potlucks that served to, well, break our fasts. But, for obvious reasons, these traditions are more difficult this year. Even if I wasn’t separated from my childhood synagogue by over 1,000 kilometres, Rosh Hashanah would still be a fairly isolated activity — but I knew I wanted to celebrate the new year in some way.

The idea of not being able to celebrate the holidays due to COVID left me feeling helpless. Sure, there would be Zoom services, but watching Torah readings on the holiest days of the year through a laptop screen just felt a tad dystopian. Plus, if there’s one thing I know, it’s that old Jewish people and technology don’t go together well.

So the question became: how can I celebrate Rosh Hashanah in a way that is COVID-safe and fulfills my needs for spirituality and community? I thought about this for a while until one night when I had dinner with my roommate, who was discussing making her mother’s empanadas recipe for Chilean Independence Day. I loved her idea of taking a traditional food in her family and sharing it with us, her Montreal family. That’s when I decided to repay the favour, and make a Rosh Hashanah meal for our friends.

Sharing food is a big deal in Jewish culture. Between the many laws governing food preparation (Kashrut), the commandment to feed the hungry and the several holidays and festivals that rotate around a meal, Jews are very concerned with what and how we eat. Rosh Hashanah is no exception to this rule. While it isn’t as food centric as Passover and Tu BiShvat, there are still specific foods that you’re commanded to eat, such as apples and honey to ring in a “sweet” new year.

All around, I wanted to use Rosh Hashanah as a way to connect not just to my spiritual Judaism, but to my cultural Judaism as well. So, I decided to go all out with the greatest hits of Ashkenazi cuisine. Propelled by what I can only attribute to some sort of generational feminine spirit, in the span of one day I prepared matzo ball soup, potato kugel, tzimmes, a challah and honey cake. Your bubbe could never.

A few wine-toting friends arrived around 7 p.m. Surprisingly, all my dishes turned out even better than planned (which never happens to me). I recited the prayers over the candles and challah, then we sat around my small apartment table and ate, drank and talked for hours. Even though only one of my friends came from a Jewish background, that didn’t matter. To me, ringing in the new year is more about connecting with your Judaism, whatever that may look like, and surrounding yourself with those who can help you be your best self for the upcoming year.

Sharing my culture with those I care about outside of my family like I did this year wasn’t something I would have even thought to do before COVID. Yet, as annoying as so   cial distancing has been, I’m grateful that it forced me to look inward for my Judaism and take my religious practice into my own hands.

Hopefully, next year social distancing won’t factor so heavily into all of our actions, but at this point, there’s no way to know. What I do know now is that it’s okay if my traditions change. Change doesn’t necessarily have to mean a downgrade, just a rethinking of what is most important to me.


Photo by Aviva Majerczyk

Small Steps: learning to value time alone

Though it may seem counterintuitive, forced isolation can help you realize how good spending time alone can be

Throughout my life, there have been many things I learned so late that I kick myself for never doing earlier. There are even more things I have yet to learn. In this new column, I plan on exploring the importance of these changes and asking myself why it took so long to get to the modicum of maturity I currently have.

In my teen years, I was painfully extroverted. Not in the sense that I was loud or especially outgoing — but in the true sense of the word extrovert: I gained all my energy from being around my friends. If I didn’t have some sort of social engagement at least once per weekend I would start to go a little bit insane. I didn’t understand how to use my spare time, and the thought of being stuck in my bedroom on a Friday night made me feel like a social failure. Not that whatever a 17-year-old could do in suburban Virginia would be all that thrilling anyway, but at that time, anything was better than trying to entertain myself for a night.

So why, for so many years, did the idea of spending extended time alone scare me so much? Years of untreated anxiety disorders? Well yes, but we can put a pin in that one. But I think in a more “big picture” sort of way, I valued my time in relation to others, not on my own terms. When you’re so worried about what other people are doing, it’s easy to forget to listen to your body’s alerts that you’re overstimulated or that you need some time alone.

Breaking the cycle of fear-of-missing-out or “FOMO” dictating my behavior came slowly with age and then rapidly with COVID-19, the great social-life equalizer. During COVID, especially in the beginning of lockdown, most of us had no choice but to stay home and entertain ourselves. At first, lockdown hit me with the realization that everything I did for fun involved going outside and socializing — going to bars, shows, or restaurants. But soon, it made me realize how much I had been craving time just alone with my thoughts.

Sometimes it takes a major outside force to make you realize you’ve been ignoring shifts and changes in your personality all along. Spending a lot of time alone made me realize that I had just been running away from spending time with myself, and that’s a skill that I’ll need to continue building up. Over the past months, I’ve been able to gain an appreciation for solitude as a time to reconnect with my emotions, assess my goals, and process my week. It’s an ongoing process, but I’ll pin it as a COVID highlight of sorts.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam


How live art adapts to social distancing

Montreal’s 14th annual OFFTA festival has rethought its programming

An annual artistic event created in conjunction with the Festival TransAmériques (FTA), the OFFTA is a Montreal-based festival dedicated to avant-garde creation in live art. Produced by LA SERRE — arts vivants, a non-profit creation platform which works year-round to support local emerging performance artists, the festival will feature live art performances to be presented both online and outdoors, in an effort to adapt to social distancing.

This year, the festival will take place from May 22 to 32. Yes, you read that right. Another day, May 32. Similar to the reorganization that we are currently facing in our daily lives as a result of the pandemic, this new day was imagined to create a deceleration and allow for a new relationship with time. This edition brings together necessary artistic voices that tackle the idea of time, thereby inviting the public to reflect upon different realities.

“We wanted to give people more time to take in other temporalities, lending another rhythm to what might seem inevitable to us,” writes Vincent Repentigny, LA SERRE’s artistic and general director, in the editorial published on their website. “We tried to create new time, draft new calendars, imagine new interstices that we can fully occupy, coordinate widespread deceleration and abandon ourselves to this force that we cannot control.” 

Amongst the fifteen live art creations that will be part of the festival, interdisciplinary artist Mélanie Binette will present her latest work. She is the co-founder of Milieu de Nulle Part, a collective interested in site-specific creation. The original version of her work, Errances, was created in memory of her father, who died of a heart attack at Theatre Maisonneuve in 2002. The interactive piece consisted of leading one person at a time, by the hand, through a walking tour of the underground corridors and the esplanade of Montreal’s Place-des-Arts.

In an effort to adapt to the current situation, Binette will not take participants by the hand for the OFFTA. Instead, to experience what Errances has become, they will be invited to go on self-guided walks in their respective neighbourhoods, while listening to an audio guide narrated by Binette.

To preserve the connection between the artist and the public, as one would have in the one-on-one experience, Binette invites participants to book a phone call with her to discuss their encounter with her work. The worldwide crisis we are going through is making mourning a part of our daily lives. Thus, Binette’s work proposes an opportunity to reflect on issues we are facing, both individually and globally.

While Binette’s piece takes the public outside, other performances will take place online. Hugo Nadeau’s work, Nous campions loin des endroits où la mort nous attendait, will be presented via Twitch Livestream. The audience will be invited to watch commentary of a video game created by Nadeau himself. Titled Nous aurons, the game is based in a post-apocalyptic world set in the year 2197.

Moreover, Toronto-based artists Andrea Spaziani and Matt Smith will present a rethought dance partition.  Spaziani’s choreography explores the archetype of Venus, which she describes as an ensemble reconstruction of the feminine persona of Venus, displayed through aquatic behaviour. Titled Silver Venus Redux, this creation has been transformed for the OFFTA festival as a dance score to be watched, or listened to, with headphones. The audience will be able to listen to the recording of the sound of the six dancers performing the choreography, and to view images of the cinematic landscape of Silver Venus Redux by Alejandro Fargosonini.

In addition, OFFTA will be offering a series of five artist-driven round table discussions organized by Montreal-based interdisciplinary artistic collective PME-ART, titled Vulnerable Paradoxes. These discussions between artists and professionals will address questions, and raise issues, regarding the place of performance art in society and the relationship between performance artists and their audience.

Through its multifaceted interdisciplinary programme, the OFFTA will be an experimental laboratory for the artists and the public alike. Alone at home, participants will be confronted with their own thoughts, distractions, and maybe even with boredom.

“If we don’t know yet what will remain of the world that we are now leaving behind, or what to expect next, we make the daring gamble to invent a deconfined festival,” writes Repentigny, in a statement published on the OFFTA’s website. “We invited the artists to present original artworks, thus allowing their necessary voices to reach you.”

Via performances, balcony parties, discussions and interactive projects, the festival has planned various events to create a sense of community. The goal is ultimately to preserve the precious link between artists and their audiences, in whatever form it takes, despite the challenges that may arise.

In an effort to make the event as accessible as possible, people can choose to pay what they can through a variety of pass options.  For OFFTA’s full program and schedule, and for further information, visit


Social isolation participation masterlist

Here’s a list of things worth checking out this April


RAW is looking for 250 fashion designers to create masks to help support hospitals around the world.


Visit Skawennati’s AbTeC Island in Second Life by following the instructions at this link. Free to participate with the Second Life software.


Skin Tone: how will we hold onto each other live-streamed performance at the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery (part of In the No Longer Not Yet) Watch here on April 1, at 5:30 p.m. Free to participate.


Living with Ataxia , virtual exhibition from April 4 to 10 at GHAM & DAFE Gallery’s online platform available here. Read more about the exhibition on Facebook. Free to participate.


Parallel Lines, virtual artist residency at Centre Phi, applications upon until April 1 at midnight. Free to participate, and 10 lucky artists will receive $2000 for their work!


Balcony sing-a-long, courtesy of POP Montreal and URSA , with local bands, every tuesday until April 28. Free to participate.


The Good Drama, a virtual intergenerational activity, held in collaboration between the Office of Community Engagement at Concordia University, the Sustainability Action Fund and Bâtiment, will be facilitated by Drama Therapy Masters student, Sandy El-Bitar via Zoom. These sessions will take place Tuesdays at 5 p.m. until April 14. Zoom ID posted in the event’s discussion page on Facebook. Free to participate.


Art Hive Live, on Facebook, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 4 to 5 p.m. until April 15. Free to participate.


Online salsa classes with the San Tropes Dance School every Wednesday from 7 to 8 p.m. until April 15, for as low at $10.


The Social Distancing Festival, international celebration of visual art, dance, music, comedy and theatre (even operas!) Events running until the end of May are free, though there is an opportunity for donation.


Visit Place Less, an online exhibition space designed by Concordia student, Colin Courtney. Currently only viewable through Instagram (@place.less), Place Less’ first, form-free exhibition features eight local artists working in both digital and material practices.


A collection of free and paid videos (ranging documentary films to experimental productions and animations) is available on Vithèque, with special programs, May We Live in Peace, screening free until April 13, and Funny Women (no end date as of yet.) You must create a free account in order to view. Stay tuned for the release of dv_vd : Rachel Maclean on April 23.


Don’t forget about the National Film Board of Canada’s online database, now also offering educational programming for children and teenagers, as well as online “campus” resources for teachers.


ArtJam vol. 36 will be available via Facebook and Youtube Live on April 3 for their first-ever virtual edition.


Google Arts & Culture is encouraging users to “Recreate art at home” through their “Pose of the day” feature. Among Google Arts & Culture’s plethora of collections and activities are lab experiments, virtual travelling, and, naturally, Harry Potter: A History of Magic, a special from the British Museum.


Visit La Cenne’s current exhibition, Lentement le temps, a collaboration between visual artist and illustrator, Charlotte Gosselin (@charlotteecharlotte) and Camille Lescarbeau (@camillelescarbeau), via the space-rental tour on La Cenne’s website.


Artnet also put together this list of “11 Things Not to Miss in the Virtual Art World This Week.”


The Dark Poutine podcast community is putting together a digital cookbook! Instructions about how to participate are available here.


Grimes released the greenscreen footage for “You’ll miss me when I’m not around,” which she invites fans to download and edit via We-Transfer link found in the video’s descriptions. The artist also included a lsit of free/cheap software to use to do so. Upload to Youtube and tag your videos with #grimesartkit to share!


Blink-182 is also seeking contributions to their music video for “Happy Days” to combat social distancing blues. Videos must be filmed on mobile devices vertically and can be submitted here. Read more about the initative here.



Not on the list? Know of anything more? Send an email to and I’ll be happy to add your event!


Happening in and around the white cube this week…

Changing the way we interact with each other, technology, and the way we make art

Hello, and welcome to the white cube, online version. Should this be a podcast? Maybe.

Over time, I’ve gone through waves of whether or not I wanted the white cube to be capitalised and this is it, finally: no caps. It will just be in italics, that way you know I am referring to this column and not to an actual white cube. Moving on.

I have spent more time than ever on my computer this week. It’s truly astonishing. I’ve used it for everything. Working, writing, countless emails, bingeing Tiger King, and of course, becoming a ~digital artist~. So, I’ve taught myself how to make gifs using powerpoint and a screen recording Chrome add-on and, since I don’t have photoshop, I’ve been playing around with more Chrome add-ons, like Sumo Paint. My style is painterly, naive and wobbly—oh, how I have grown to love this word over the past two weeks.

I feel wobbly. Picture a jelly bean on its back, rocking back and forth. It can only stay still on its side. It’s unstable, and that’s how I feel. I don’t feel sad or angry, nor do I feel worried or anxious. I know this current situation is out of my control, and I’m riding the waves. I’ve lost my footing and I’m finding it again. I don’t want to talk about the c-word anymore.

Instead, let’s talk about this Instagram account, belonging to Max Siedentopf, a German multidisciplinary visual artist and now apparently, my wobbly dream-come-true.

Look, I had no idea who this guy was when I stumbled upon the account (between falling asleep during Baumgartner Restorations’ Youtube videos,) but I was immediately enthralled by his Home Alone project. As I’m writing this, Siedentopf’s account is home to 50 ways to occupy yourself while you are home during this global crisis, or more nicely put, Global Crisis of Being Stuck at Home: a survival guide. Check it out. You are very welcome.

Siedentopf posts the next day’s challenges on his Instagram story, inviting followers to choose and photograph themselves doing them, for him to share in galleries on his feed the following day.

Home Alone Day 9  (March 27)

  1. Place your bed vertically
  2. Find a way to communicate with aliens
  3. Build your own indoor mountain
  4. Use your mouth to become a human fountain
  5. Sleep in your bathtub for variation
  6. Wear all your jewelry at the same time to stand out

This bit of participatory/interactive performance art almost feels like a meme. Though Siedentopf is initiating the performances, he isn’t actually doing them. His prompts are simple, yet incredibly bizarre, resulting in the uplifting content we didn’t know we needed. Siedentopf’s creative endeavour stands out against the waves of posts tagged with “isolation art club” and “quarantine art club.” There is a surreal pressure on creativity right now. With all this time we have, we’re forced to face a burst of inspiration or stagnancy, telling ourselves we have no excuse to not exercise our artistic practices and creative hobbies.

I can’t help but wonder what the world will be like post-c-word. The way we interact with each other, technology, and the way we make art is changing more and more everyday.

On Animal Crossing, some artists are even throwing together virtual exhibitions. Most recently was Brighton-based artist, Stephanie Unger, who hosted an ultra-creative exhibition on the game, inviting players from around the world to visit.

Can you taste the future isolation-flavoured art world?


It’s a Netflix Party: police corruption, fistfights, a crazy ex-girlfriend and a weird roommate

Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg collaborate on a fifth movie together, Spenser Confidential

Witty and sarcastic, ex-cop Spenser (Mark Wahlberg) is always quick to throw an amusing comeback. Yet, he is also a work in progress, taking every opportunity to help others and better himself.

Spenser Confidential is inspired by the book Wonderland by Ace Atkins, and the characters are loosely based on the ones Robert B. Parker created in his Spenser crime novels.

This action-comedy movie starts with a flashback from five years earlier, showing Spenser, who was then a cop, going to his captain’s house and beating him. At the same time, the narration is him pleading guilty for disturbing the peace, harassment in the first degree and for aggravated assault of a police officer. He ends his confession with “the son of a b*tch deserved it.”

After spending five years in prison, Spenser goes to live with Henry (Alan Arkin), a funny old man who only eats hot dogs, and Hawk (Winston Duke), Spenser’s new roommate.

The movie revolves around this team trying to solve the murder of a woman while looking for enough evidence to get dirty cops arrested. Boston police captain John Boylan (Michael Gaston), who Spenser had assaulted, is killed the night he gets out of prison, and the murder is pinned on officer Terrence (Brandon Scales), who, according to the police, killed himself after killing Boylan. Spenser claims that Terrence wasn’t a crooked cop and that he was murdered, which is why he starts another investigation into Boylan’s murder.

Fights are always happening in this movie. To be exact, Spenser gets into four significant fights and a dog attack. The first fight is during his last day in prison. While in the library, he gets jumped by a group, including Squeeb (Austin Post a.k.a. Post Malone). After the murder is pinned on Terrence, Spenser goes to a cop bar to find Terrence’s ex-partner, where he, once again, gets jumped, this time by a group of police officers. Later on, when Spenser is running after a car, he gets attacked by Lego, a dog. The third fight is at Marcela’s Burritos, where he gets attacked by members of a Dominican street gang involved in drug smuggling. Finally, the fourth and last fight is against Driscoll (Bokeem Woodbine), the main villain and the brains behind all the murders.

This movie is not only funny, but it also examines corruption within the police system. It reminds us that justice is not always served and sometimes, more than we’d like, bad guys get to walk the streets free, framing innocent people for their acts. This movie serves as a reality check while making us laugh about Spencer getting beat up, his crazy ex-girlfriend Cissy (Iliza Shlesinger) and Hawk’s weirdness.

Spenser Confidential is also about relationships. We see Spenser and Hawk’s friendship grow during the movie. They start as rivals, Spenser being jealous that Hawk has been spending more time with his dog, Pearl, while he was away in prison. But the two roommates quickly bond and become friends. Spenser and Cissy’s relationship also improves and in the last scene together, they’re actually getting along and not yelling at each other.

This could easily be one of the best movies of the year, as it’s the perfect combination of an action-comedy and a drama. It’s funny, exciting, and we see the characters developing. For example, in the last fight, Spenser controls his anger and stops punching Driscoll, making a citizen’s arrest instead. As well, the performances are incredible and the plot keeps everyone alert. It keeps the audience wanting to know what Spenser’s next move will be, or when he’ll get beat up again, which is probably the funniest part.

Netflix Party, a new chrome extension, allows people to watch Netflix together virtually and offers a chat section to discuss the show or film. If one person pauses the video, it pauses it for the rest of the group, as if everyone were watching it on the same screen. This extension has gained popularity over the last few days, as people from all around the world are implementing social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Stay at home, talk with some friends and put Spenser Confidential on to enjoy together from a distance. Stay safe!

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