Montreal·Indelible Ink

Everybody has a project

Slowly and non-linearly, a sense of self is emerging. I'm not yet ready for a project of my own, but I hope to get there, writes Naomi Goldberg.

I'm slowly piecing together my own sense of self

Naomi's spot to sip tea and flip through borrowed cookbooks. (Submitted by Naomi Goldberg)

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Once I was at a house party and this 20-something-year-old guy was moving from group to group making small talk, getting to know people as one does at these kinds of functions. After a while, he threw his hands into the air and said, loudly, "Everybody has a project." Then he angrily stormed out of the room.

I think about that guy a lot.

During the early stages of the pandemic, everyone seemed to be working on a political podcast, creating a mutual aid network or homeschooling their kid. Those who didn't have a project — chosen or imposed by life — had a well-thought-out stance on why it was anti-capitalist to refrain from taking on work in a moment of much needed rest. Instead, they were focusing on their meditation practice.

I wasn't feeling creative or in need of rest. I couldn't tell whether I got meaning from the activities that filled my life. Was it satisfying to volunteer? Did it matter to me whether it was satisfying? Did I like learning how to make bread, or did I just do it because people think it's virtuous to make sourdough?

Every time I asked myself these questions, my mind would go blank.

So I took a break from cultivating an outward stance as someone who always puts others before herself. I asked myself a question: what and who makes you feel interested in the world?

The answer came in bits and pieces.

My 70-year-old uncle figure who worked odd jobs his whole life, because he just doesn't take life seriously enough to commit to one career. On his road trips around the country, he would park his car on the side of the road when he spotted a tree he liked. He'd hike up to the tree and stare at it for a while.

A friend who posts daily lists she calls "nice things from today" on Facebook. My favourites include her co-worker's snack, the feeling of cheeks thawing after walking into a warm café and not listening to music on the Metro to let her thoughts flow. What a variety.

Another friend who meticulously planned out the way she would ask her co-worker out on a date, from the sentence she would speak out loud in a confident manner — "Hey, do you want to go on a date with me? I think you're cute and I like spending time with you" — to the possible ways she would feel after she uttered the words. He said yes, but that was mostly irrelevant; I was interested in the freedom she felt when being clear about her desires.

Mount Royal's urban forest is a source of inspiration for Naomi. (Submitted by Naomi Goldberg)

The other day I noticed how luxurious it felt to have warm feet after coming out of the shower. I revelled in the feeling until it passed and I felt stuck again.

Recently I took a little-known shortcut through a patch of urban woods on an early morning walk with my dog. I noticed excitement rise up in me. I've been taking out cookbooks from the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, Montreal's richest public resource, and am languidly sifting through them as I drink my afternoon tea.

Slowly and non-linearly, a sense of self is emerging. I'm not yet ready for a project of my own, but I hope to get there.

I'm thinking about that guy at the party again. I hope that if he didn't have a project of his own, he at least noticed how good or bad it felt to yell in front of a group of strangers. I like to imagine that he was secretly working on a project that made him feel deeply alive, and that he just enjoyed making dramatic exits.

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Naomi Bénéteau Goldberg is a writer, an avid reader, a home chef and a community worker. She holds a graduate diploma in journalism from Concordia University. She lives in Montreal.


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