I am writing these words in a fabulous Italian cafe called Bar Buca on Portland Street, west of downtown. It’s sunny out, on the cool side.
Yes, quite cool–not balmy at all! It has, in fact, been a rainy and chilly couple of weeks. The spring flowers are still working to get traction after what, I’m told, was an especially snowy winter. The birch trees outside our new windows show absolutely no sign of life. (Other trees are budding out, though.) If I scampered outside, I’d have a view of the CN Tower and the skyscrapers of downtown.
It has been almost a year since I came here.
When I asked all of you what I should blog about, Wilson Fowlie on Facebook asked: Why on earth you’d choose Toronto over Vancouver?
From his phrasing, I’m guessing this question means: what kind of lunatic picks a densely urbanized, snowbound eastern hellhole over the warm, blossom-infested, mountain-equipped oceanside balm of the South Coast of B.C.?
He’s not the only one to have asked, and the truth is that it’s a hard question for me. Some of the answer is about unhappiness and boredom, and while I feel those things as often as the next person, I don’t generally share those feelings publicly. I’m a fairly private person, in some ways, and I don’t like to whine online. I’m also not crazy about the storm of advice that even a mild complaint can trigger from the Internet. This may be a personality flaw.
More than that, though, I’ve been reluctant to say anything that might sting the feelings of the dear and much-missed friends I left in B.C. It feels rude and ungrateful to admit that while I loved them, and so many things about my life in B.C., it wasn’t enough. I was ever more discontented there, and increasingly convinced it wasn’t the place for me. I’d gotten to an amazingly good place in Vancouver, and was down to polishing the fine lifestyle details. And that too was problematic. I want to be more, and to keep growing as an artist and a human being. It sounds a bit airy, and I’m no masochist, but I believe that comfort can be an enemy of growth.
Yet I love comfort. Love it! All hail comfort. I chose Vancouver 23 years ago almost entirely because it didn’t snow much there, and because it offered the distance I craved from the chilly, conservative place where I grew up, from a monoculture of, as I perceived it, hockey-worship and homophobia.
It was a brillliant place to live, to grow up, and to learn about writing. I was delirious there for a lot of years, and very happy for many more. I don’t really miss the city much at all, except for my beloveds.
You heard right. The shine for me started coming off in 2003–the fist nick in the patina came in the form of a devastating personal loss, wrapped in an out-of-the-blue, assumption-shattering betrayal. More losses followed: deaths, mostly, among the Alberta family. You can’t go to a funeral every 8-12 months, I’ve concluded, without changing a little, and not necessarily for the better. If you’re smart, you make what lemonade you can out of the experience, throwing a microscope on your life in progress and considering whether you need to make changes.
It was maybe around 2008 that we started seriously talking about moving here, to Toronto. There seemed to be opportunities here, chances to do things we really wanted, and other things that might simply disrupt a growing sense of being a little trapped. In, you know, the proverbial rut. But the rut was a warm and secure-seeming place, filled with genuine blessings–good people and material comforts. However much we might want to go, there was no overwhelming reason to upheave our entire life.
Then about a year ago the security dropped out from beneath, like a wacky cartoon trapdoor hiding a pit full of knives. I honestly couldn’t think of a reason to stay. We were packed and gone in six weeks.
So, what did Toronto offer, besides the opportunity to photograph cardinals, and has it delivered? That is a question for a second and far cheerier post. Stay tuned.