Nothing Will Be Different by Tara McGowan-Ross is about the messiness of your 20s — read an excerpt now

The book is a finalist for the $60,000 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction. The winner will be announced on Nov. 2, 2022.

The book is a finalist for the $60,000 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction

Nothing Will Be Different is a book by Tara McGowan-Ross. (Dundurn Press)

Tara McGowan-Ross has a nice job, a writing career and a forgiving boyfriend. She has it pretty good. She should be happy. Yet, she can't stay sober and she's terrible at monogamy. In the autumn after she turns 27, an abnormal lump discovered in her left breast becomes the catalyst for a journey of self-questioning. She shares this story in her memoir Nothing Will Be Different.

It is one of five books shortlisted for the 2022 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction. The $60,000 award recognizes the best nonfiction book published in Canada. The winner will be announced on Nov. 2, 2022.

"I thought I was dying," McGowan-Ross told CBC Books in an interview.

"When I felt death come into my peripheral vision, I started making a whole bunch of choices as though my life was really important.  We are all going to die. That's not a rallying cry to grind hard and get a lot of success. What do you want to do with it? Do you want to lie in the grass? Do you want to call your mom? Do you want to show up at your ex-boyfriend's house and tell him you want him back? You should probably do that instead of going on LinkedIn." 

McGowan-Ross is an urban Mi'kmaw artist and writer. She's the author of Girth and Scorpion Season and the host of Drawn & Quarterly's Indigenous Literatures Book Club. She's also a critic of experimental and independent Montreal theatre and an editor for Insomniac Press. 

You can read an excerpt from Nothing Will Be Different below.

"I have some feedback for you," said Shannon. I was one of two on-shift baristas. She was on managerial duty — checking stock levels, ensuring someone was doing the detail cleaning I never did, assessing the continued safety of the industrial espresso machines.

As usual, I was unshowered and hungover. "Uh-huh," I said, my body and soul preparing for praise.

"Well, as you know, you are probably our best customer service person." Yes, I was expecting that. I am a delight. "And you show up to all the shifts you commit to, and you call if you're going to be late, and you do everything on the task list."

Check, check, check.

"But …"

But? I was pre-emptively hurt. Gentle criticism, my only weakness.

"You don't try very hard. You get by on how charming you are. You show up, but then you're just sort of here. I think you could be applying yourself more."

You don't try very hard. You get by on how charming you are. You show up, but then you're just sort of here. I think you could be applying yourself more.

Shannon was being too nice to me. Currently, I was not even applying myself to standing. I was slumped over the prep counter in the bakery because there were people in the café and I didn't want to look at anyone. My phone was in my apron pocket because I had been texting with Margot right before Shannon showed up instead of doing any work. Not interested in critically examining myself at all, I went through my mental list of Reasons I Should Not Have to Do Anything Different. Minimum wage, minimum effort. I don't own these means of production! Et cetera.

"You're doing a lot of the same things," said Shannon. "You should try doing something different, if you want something to change."

One day, arriving for another shift at Uncommon Grounds, I saw a message waiting on my phone from Matilda. "Hi," she said. "Hi, I was just thinking about you, and wondering if you wanted to move to Montreal together. Okay, love you, bye."

In Canada, people tend to do one of the following things when they don't know what to do next: move to the Yukon, go tree planting or move to Montreal. The Yukon was too far, and I didn't have the work ethic for tree planting. Montreal seemed like the obvious choice.

A woman playing on a couch in a black shirt and jean shorts.
The author in her studio during the editing process of the book. (Submitted by Tara McGowan-Ross)

I sighed and looked around at the afternoon sun streaming into my little café. The rush, the worst part of the day, had already happened. It would be a long, slow, easy shift. I loved Halifax. Plus, I had no money for school, no motivation to do it. I was shell-shocked from heartbreak — all blasted out on the inside. I could spend years like this, waiting for an opening — waiting for the money to add up, for the weight to come off, for the feeling to strike me. Then my dad walked into Uncommon Grounds with his arms full of roses.

His eyes were bright and joyful. Behind him, my stepmother and my grandfather, head still full of white hair.

"Your papers," they said. "Your papers came in."


Excerpt from Nothing Will Be Different by Tara McGowan-Ross. Published by Dundurn Press/Rare Machines. Copyright 2021 by Tara McGowan-Ross. Reprinted with permission.

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