Pause and reflect It’s the right time to step off the beat and rekindle curiosity

For the first many years of my life, I didn’t know from whom I came, only where I was born. As far as anyone could tell me, I had appeared in this world already a week old and fully-formed. Just an infant placed into my father’s arms by a social worker in an office downtown. A child of the city, of Winnipeg, and anything more specific than that: unknown.

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For the first many years of my life, I didn’t know from whom I came, only where I was born. As far as anyone could tell me, I had appeared in this world already a week old and fully-formed. Just an infant placed into my father’s arms by a social worker in an office downtown. A child of the city, of Winnipeg, and anything more specific than that: unknown.

So maybe that’s where it started, my curiosity. Maybe it was the instinct of an adopted kid, piecing together an identity from what little she knew: namely, that her family loved her, but that her roots also grew past them, traceable as far as the ground on which she stood. Winnipeg was the only place to which I could be certain I belonged; my origin story, my home.

Whatever the reason, for as long as I can remember, all I wanted to do was explore the Winnipeg I know.

Because that city is beautiful, especially where it’s unvarnished. “Made from what’s real” isn’t quite how I’d put it, but there is something of it that’s honest: maybe it could never afford to wear too much pretension. It is heir to histories and cultures intertwining, processes that have brokered much pain but also much hope, and those stories are still unfolding.

I’m so grateful to have written about some of those stories for you. Both other people’s, and mine.

But something happened awhile ago. I was at my laptop one morning, pushing to finish a column that, like many in the last two years, just didn’t want to come, when I had a wave of déjà vu about a sentence I’d just written. That feeling stopped me cold, and a quick Google search confirmed: I’d written nearly the exact same phrase, years before.

After finishing the column, I sat down and scanned other recent pieces I’d written. A pattern emerged. I noticed how often I’d leaned on the same themes, the same words. Auto-pilot. Repetition. Worst of all, an obvious dearth of fresh ideas about how to explore the things that happen in this province, the issues it faces, and the people who shape it.

It was then that I realized: I’m not curious enough anymore. Not about the Winnipeg I know.

OK, now’s the hard part, here we go: this will be my last regular column in the Free Press for a while, at least. As of today, I’m taking a one-year leave from the paper, and from Canada. There are other things I want to write, other things I want to see, and other opportunities to explore. No sense staying stuck in a rut when you can take a different road.

It’s very surreal to write those words. A year isn’t such a long time, except when it’s a year away from everything you know. My whole adult life has been tied to the Free Press. I was still a teenager when I landed my first byline, and I’ve been a full-time staff writer for 15 years. The Free Press has been my work, but — just like Winnipeg — also my home.

That home hasn’t always been perfect, but it’s always been interesting. In my time here, I drifted around beats, made some mistakes, won a few awards. Editors gave me freedom to try a lot of different things, and some of those even worked. I was lucky to follow the stories that impact Manitobans across the world, from Tokyo to Ukraine to the edge of the North.

When I started writing for the Free Press, I didn’t have a real career plan. All I knew is that I liked to write, especially about Winnipeg and the wider province beyond. I wanted to visit all of its corners, meet the people who live here, listen to all that they’ve seen and know. Above all, I believed we deserve to have our stories fully and thoughtfully told.

What I couldn’t imagine when I started, were the relationships I would build with so many of you. The emails, the calls, the unexpected chats in restaurants with readers who recognized me from a picture in the paper. The stories you told me about experiences you’d been through, and how they helped you relate to what you saw in the news.

And I heard how the last few years were rough for a lot of you, as they were also for me. There was a long-overdue reckoning with my mental health, bracketed by hard blows of grief; I’ve written about all that before. These struggles aren’t unique, but the platform I have is. So it’s out of respect for that platform that I step away from it for a while now.

Because here’s the good news: I’m doing well. For all the pain 2022 wrought on the world, it gave my little life a brightness I needed. But in that light, I saw how I’d lost my curiosity somewhere along the way. I’m not serving readers well, where I can tell I’m just going through the motions; I’m also not serving me well.

So the right thing to do, for both those responsibilities, is to take an extended break.

But this isn’t a goodbye, just a “see-you-later.” I’m still going to be writing, because that urge is incurable and genetic; you may still see my name crop up here and there in the paper. I’m also excited to tackle some new projects, so if you’d like to keep up with my work, drop me an email and I’ll let you know where you can find me.

For now, I’ll bow out with this: in a matter of hours I’ll be out of this city, and this country, and I don’t plan to be back until a full suite of seasons has turned. I will miss watching the snow retreat and leave behind a patina of grime that can’t quite hide the promise of spring. I’ll miss the summer festivals, and the crisp kiss of fall. And I will miss you, our readers.

I hope I miss incredible news, in this city and province. I hope that when I come back, it will be to a place that’s the same in the ways it is beautiful, and changed in the ways that it isn’t. I hope that I miss highlight-reel local memories, and countless funny stories, and so many interesting ideas that it will take another year just to catch up with them.

And please keep supporting local journalism, because somewhere in Manitoba is a young writer brimming with curiosity, a young writer filled with new questions that none of us working now can even imagine asking. That writer deserves a chance to get those ideas out there, and you deserve to read them, because it will make our community better.

By supporting the Free Press, you help keep those opportunities open.

Above all, please take care of yourselves, and each other. Take care of the Winnipeg I know, forever my heart and my home.

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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