Six years ago today, I left Ottawa. "So long, suckers," I posted on facebook (thank you, On This Day app, for enabling my debilitating nostalgia addiction) before unplugging my modem, walking it back to the Rogers store around the block, and dashing back home to pack up the last of my things (mostly VC Andrews paperbacks and half drunk bottles of wine). My then-somewhat-boyfriend drove down from his hideout in the woods to help me move that final load. In a particularly hilarious encounter, he and my first floor neighbour, an odd sort of duck who had both a heart of gold and a propensity for conveniently practicing guitar shirtless in the hallway of our apartment-house whenever I was arriving home, ended up sharing the burden of loading my mattress into the back of the truck. It was the closest I've ever come to causing the kind of macho posturing that I think is known as peacocking. A well-intentioned civil servant-slash-aspiring playboy and a ponytailed hermit carpenter, competing for my affection with some version of brute strength. As I watched them, I sought out the metaphor, something about my horrendous fake-white-collar past in Ottawa and my potentially amazing hipster-hippie future in Kingston bumping up against each other.
"Let's get the fuck out of here," my carpenter yelled, pulling me from my reverie.
We convoyed down the 416 and the 401 all the way to the Division Street exit, and got to my new North of Princess apartment just as the sun was setting. I had never been so glad to leave one place and arrive in another.
This is it, I thought. This is definitely it.
I spent most of my twenties moving, swearing each time that this would be the last one, this would be home, this one was for life. I called myself a reluctant nomad. I've always been a homebody, so if nothing else, I got really good at putting down roots as quickly as possible wherever I ended up.
In the six years since I left Ottawa, I've survived a few more moves. Four years ago yesterday, I picked up the keys to my house, and unlocked the door to this little cottage by the train tracks, and cried.
This is it, I thought. This is definitely it.
The thing is, though, you never know when you're done moving. You always think you are, but you have no idea. Life has a funny way of spinning you around in circles just when you were getting comfortable where you were. The good news is, for this perpetual homebody, it never takes too long to unpack, to get settled, to bury those roots, and bloom where you're planted. I've gotten better at it over time, the subtle art of finding a place to call home and landing there. It's the journey that can be the hardest part, but I know I'll arrive sooner or later. We always do. We can only wander for so long.
Monday, May 25, 2015
For the last little while, I haven't felt much like writing. It should come as no surprise that I can graph my level of creative productivity with my level of despair in a fairly straightforward way. So I guess I should feel glad that I've somehow, miraculously, absurdly, found myself with a contented form of writer's block. For the first time in a long time, looking back with anger (or nostalgia, or schoolgirlish regret) doesn't have the same appeal to me. And it's kind of wonderful.
Something I think a lot of us come to realize is that being happy is cumulative in nature. It doesn't happen all at once. You have to put your time in. There will be a lot of false starts. And once you've happened upon it you almost won't believe it. A lot of people describe their changing times as lightbulb moments, psychological seismic shifts. For me it was more gradual. I spent a few months in a state of reassuring flux. It was like one of those overcast afternoons, when you'd turn the lights on one at a time as the sky darkened, until suddenly, around dusk, you'd realize that the house had gotten brighter inside even as the sun had set.
Oh, you'd think to yourself, isn't that nice.
Real happiness, when it arrives, is absolutely fucking terrifying. It's even scarier when it arrives late, or perhaps just later than you'd expected it. When you've spent more than a few long years under the weirdly enjoyable spectre of mild existential ennui, when you've gone to strange and not entirely unpleasant places in search of anything that might mean something, when you've maybe even half-talked yourself out of the notion of it, finding yourself suddenly not just content but elated can be paralyzing. Oh god, what did I DO to make this happen, you wonder silently, your pulse as rapid as a baby bird's, and how on earth do I hold onto it. I don't know if I'm alone in the tendency to imagine all the ways in which the universe could potentially just rip it all from my arms. I might be. It's amazing and awful, isn't it, to realize you've finally really let your heart bust open after years of just wearing it quietly on your sleeve. It's a complete goddamned beautiful mess.
I don't know that I have a really tidy remedy for all that, other than to try to snap the hell out of the panic. It won't always be this way, dizzy and new and strangely familiar. Sink into that. Save the worry for when you need it. Replace sadness with compassion. Lean on their shoulder. Sleep a little late. Don't set an alarm you don't really need.
A couple of Fridays ago it was Good Friday, and after ramen for lunch and running into my little brother on Queen Street, we went to see the piece of the Douglas Coupland exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. It was delightful and comforting somehow, and as we wandered between digitally altered Group of Seven paintings and Lego towers and pulled each other by the arm toward the pieces we wanted to tell one another about, I was thinking of a line from Generation X that has rattled around in my brain since I read it in eighth grade. "Nothing very very good and nothing very very bad lasts for very very long." We held hands and went home for a nap. I woke up hours after he did and wandered out to the living room, knowing exactly what I'd find there.
I couldn't help remembering how I spent Good Friday last year: meandering along the Sunshine Coast in a hilariously sporty rental car, alternately enjoying the shit out of every moment with my best west coast friend Tara and long-distance text-fighting with a guy the way you do when you want something completely different than he wants. My life was exceedingly complicated in a way that was entirely my own weird doing. I can't believe I drew a line between that day and this one, I thought to myself.
Isn't that nice.