So I was writing this for a slack internal discussion and then realized it was a blog post…
I empathize so deeply with this topic and with the concept of “home”. My story is the reverse in that I am a :flag-ca: living in :usa: and have been since I left BC almost two decades ago. For the first seven years, I was in L.A., but even after I met some of my best friends, found my husband and had our kiddo there, neither my husband nor I considered L.A. “home” because we had no intention of staying there long term. By contrast, when we lived in Brooklyn for ten years, I was considering that “home” because I had built so much of my adult life up in NYC. I invested real emotional energy in building a local social network and building my career and I spent hours reading up on NYC history and the mechanics of the city so I could understand it. Calling NYC “home” was a deliberate choice because I expected to live the rest of my life there and I wanted an emotional connection to the place equivalent to the connection I had with Vancouver. (Also, I’m the fourth generation of my family to live in NYC so it was easy to construct a narrative with an established connection)
And then my husband got a job outside Philly and we had to up and move to the suburbs here and I am honestly too old and exhausted to re-invest the kind of energy into calling it “home” like I did with Brooklyn. I’m unlikely intertwine my sense of place and identity here the way I did with Vancouver or with Brooklyn and life is unlikely to take me back to NYC (especially now that it is literally the world’s most expensive city).
But I’m aware that even as much as I LOVED NYC, I do not say I’m going “home” when I go up there to visit. The only place I have consistently said I’m going “home” to is the greater Salish Sea area (which is the Straits between Vancouver Island and the US and Canadian mainland), and I still feel a sense of relief just flood through me every time I get back to Sea-Tac or YVR and see all the pointy trees and mountains and images of salmon in the airport art. Then I’m “home”. My sister, her family and my mom moved back last year to BC from Toronto, so my family are there. My son is talking about going to my alma mater, UBC Vancouver. My husband and I are discussing retiring in Washington State near the Canadian border, which a year ago, I wouldn’t have even considered as a path because I had planned to be one of those eccentric New York retired women who wear feather boas to the grocery store.
I suppose the point of all this is that some of us may have a sense of place or a sense of “home” already, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. I believe it’s possible to invest the emotional and intellectual energy in a new place to craft a sense of home and a sense of belonging that creates that inner peace. It just can be risky because it’s one more place to be homesick for.
I was back in NYC this week and it was breaking my heart.
I’ve been so comfortable in my new Philadelphia suburban existence that I became a little complacent about my grieving process. I have been so enamoured with how easy life became when we left that I forgot that I lived in NYC for one reason, and one only: I loved it. That was why we stayed after COVID and why we never even considered leaving when I committed to full time remote work. I loved the city and the life I had built in it, and chose to stay.
So I came in Wednesday night on Amtrak to have dinner with a dear old friend. First though, we went to the Museum at FIT, one of my favorite random museums in the city for seeing the most couture outside of the Met exhibits. And we had dinner, and I hsd two glasses of wine, and then rolled myself “home” to the apartment I still own. And it was then, walking back the last few blocks from the Q, a walk I’ve done hundreds of times, that I really fell apart. While walking around Manhattan, I had been merely wistful for the years when I ran around Midtown after work, for a time when walking across the city was a commonplace part of my week. But coming back to Brooklyn, I longed for my old life living in Prospect Heights. I longed to go back to living in that apartment with an intensity that shocked me. It hit me, all over again, how very muculh I truly miss my life in Prospect Heights.
And then I couldn’t sleep Wednesday nighy and chose to sleep in Thursday morning and missed one of my last chances for a walk in Prospect Park on a gorgeous fall morning. I am deeply disappointed in those circumstances, but also slightly grateful. I almost didn’t go back out to Brooklyn to crash on Wednesday night because I knew this attachment would re-form, that I would arrive in the neighborhood I spent eight years in, and be reminded of how very much I loved it. A walk in the park yesterday morning would have been too much immersion in one of my favorite places and then I really wouldn’t have been able to leave.
I dragged myself out of the city yesterday instead, zoned out on pain from dental surgery, aimlessly wandering across Midtown again from Times Square to GCT. I walked through Bryant Park and past the library, down into Grand Central and it’s extravagantly beautiful ceiling. I got on a Metro North train and traveled to Poughkeepsie, and spent the night in a very weird AirBNB. Today, I traveled the last little bit of the way to Rhinebeck and to the Omega Center, which is where I am now, wrapping this blog post and waiting for Cheryl Strayed to come address an audience of several hundred white women as part of a “Wild Awakenings” writing workshop. And I’m trying not to long too much for the city….
…but when I walked across the Walkway Over The Hudson this morning, I looked south, and all I could think was, “at the end of this river, is New York City, and shouldn’t that have been enough?”
Tonight, in the car, riding back from Vesuvius Beach with my family, I realized my brother in law listens almost exclusively to 100.3 The Q, The Island’s Rock….which means my nieces can sing the Thrifty Foods jingle on command (The smile’s in the bag for you….at Thrifty Foods!). These same nieces, along with their big teenage American cousin, spent an hour at the beach tonight pushing lumber mill driftwood logs into the water and then wading out to play on the barely buoyant wood, as the sun went down over the perfectly smooth Salish Sea. These kids are literally living the childhood my sister and I shared, a very specific Pacific Northwest existence, in the magical days of summer when the sun just never seems to go down. My sister has somehow managed to move her children back and then give them a way to create memories similar to our best recollections of childhood.
My gratitude for being here, so close to home, is off the scale. I’m so glad my sister actually did decide to move back here. After all, I’ve been Off Island since 1998. That’s more than half my lifetime out in the Wider World. And yet, I still come back consistently to the Salish Sea, and feel something in me release every time I do so. I felt myself breathe more when I drove out to the ferry at Tsawassen today, like something around my heart had loosened a bit. I am out there taking on the world and all its uncertainties every single day, but when I get back to Victoria or the Gulf Islands or the Lower Mainland, it’s still the place I’ve always known. The certainty of being able to come home to BC because my family re-settled out here resonates deeply with me, and the relief of getting here is indescribable.
Even after almost eighteen years in L.A. and NYC, I still respond with this flood of relief when I get to the Pacific Northwest every year. One year, I burst into tears seeing the metal salmon set in the floor of Seattle-Tacoma airport, because I was back in a region where people understand the importance of a salmon stream. This year, I started crying with joy and sheer relief when I got to the end of the Tsawassen causeway and pulled into the ferry lane, knowing I was going to make it onto the next sailing and that I had finally almost completed my journey back to an island.
It isn’t as if I’m fleeing my existence in NYC or Philadelphia exactly though. It’s more that somebody told me this is the place where everything’s better and everything’s safe. When I get to the Northwest, I feel like I have a respite from the fears I have living in the wider world. My son and I are here, safe and loved, in a place I know by heart. Being here means I can put down the mental defenses I have to keep up every day to survive in the Wider World, and just lean into a place where everything feels familiar and comfortable. I’m so grateful to my sister that we get to come back to the home she’s created out here and that my son and nieces are able to experience the best parts of our childhood as a result.
Do you know where you are now? Do you know if you’ve been found? Do you know how long you’ve been away?
54-40 remain the soundtrack of my years in Canada. Not because I necessarily sought out 54-40, but because that band was everywhere in my existence. 100.3 The Q (The Island’s Rock) played 54-40 incessantly in the 1990s. 54-40 played Arts County Fair so much that they asked for an honorary degree at ACF 12 (the year I stocked their hospitality suite with granola bars). Still, it’s these lines from “Miss You” that I keep hearing, especially the last one. Do you know how long you’ve been away?
I do know how long I’ve been away. It’s been eighteen years and counting since I left the Salish Sea in my Saturn. And over half of those years have been spent in New York City, which is where I am sitting now, in my apartment, which we technically still own. The difference is that I am now passing through New York City. I do not live in New York City. I live on the Main Line, outside Philadelphia, in an affluent suburb not unlike the one where I grew up.
It’s strange to think of the familiarity of Brooklyn or Manhattan and then recognize that I actually no longer have any claim to the city. It was strange to be riding in an Uber back to Brooklyn this evening, looking out at Midtown across the necropolis of Queens, a vista so familiar and yet no longer one I’m connected to. I had to unsubscribe to Gothamist today because I would read about a new restaurant, or development, or Mayor Adams policy, and it would slot immediately within my brain into the familiar context of the city, in the knowledge base I worked so hard to build over the last decade. And then I would realize, the thing that I was reading about would have no effect on me whatsoever, that I was no longer part of New York City, and the thought would send a physical pain through me.
New York City was my birthright, the place my ancestors came to a century and change ago. My grandparents lived within two miles of my co-op, in Crown Heights and Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, before they even met. My mother was born in Queens. When I log onto US government websites, it says my birthplace is New York (it was assigned to me because I’m a US citizen born abroad but still). Most of all though, New York City was the place where I spent a decade, more time than I’ve lived anywhere else since I was growing up in Victoria. I dream of the cities on the Salish Sea but New York has also become a place I know by heart. I can walk this city and know that I have a memory for the majority of the blocks of Manhattan below Central Park and that I knew the chunk of Brooklyn from Wallabout Bay to Green-Wood, from DUMBO to Crown Heights, as well as anyone. I came here a young mother in a new-ish marriage, and really learned how to be a parent and a partner here. I built my career here. I had some of my dearest friends in the city with me. I made my life here thinking I’d always be part of this city. Sure, my apartment was small and narrow and weirdly laid out, but outside this apartment is New York City and really, isn’t that enough?
I know exactly how long I’ve been away. It’s only been a month since I officially declared my moving date and changed all my social media to say I live in Wynnewood PA but it feels like so much longer. Doesn’t time always move more slowly when one grieves? And that’s honestly what I need to do right now. I feel like my heart is breaking, like I need to mourn my relationship with New York City. I feel the same sorrow I do in a breakup, knowing I’ve lost a presence in my life. Perhaps I need a new Sorrow Mix, because the last one was made when I was in Los Angeles and mourning Vancouver.
Maybe if I made a new Sorrow Mix, and gave myself the space to grieve, I would be a little more prepared to reconcile myself to a life in which I do not live in NYC. In the next few decades I have allocated to me, I will live in Philadelphia or back in the Northwest, but I will never again really be part of this city the way I have been for the past decade. I am moving on to a new phase in Philadelphia, and I’m excited for that, but I still need to process this loss. Miss you, indeed.
Since the 2020s in general have been so utterly terrible, I like to focus on the smaller disappointments, like the fact that I do not have a robot assistant. At this point in the future, should I not have AI that can assist me in handling my day to day? I want a virtual assistant that will not only tell me my agenda for the day, but will also tell me what I need to prepare for each meeting. There are many current trajectories that tell me I’m living in the wrong timeline entirely, that history has gone off its rails since the hopeful decade of the 1990s. Today, however, I’m choosing to focus on the lack of actual helpful AI assistance as the proof that this is a wrong tomorrow.
I find myself instead imitating what I think my own robot assistant would sound like sometimes, a weird idiosyncrasy that helps me externalize my priorities and my thinking. What would an AI assistant tell me my priorities were? If I am overwhelmed by everything happening around me, how would an external rational program help me identify what I really need to know for a day?
This is why I sometimes talk to myself in the shower while on business trips, especially at times like these when I have been through five states in three weeks (Colorado, California, Pennsylvania, New York and today, Florida) and need to remember which corporate hotel I am staying in, and why. I’ll start reciting to myself, in a virtual assistant voice sometimes, as if I am trying to add very concrete rationality to what could otherwise spin into a series of existential questions:
Good morning JILLIAN. Today is AUGUST 10TH, 2022. You are in JACKSONVILLE FLORIDA. The weather today is VERY HOT AND MUGGY. You have meetings with [CLIENT NAME REDACTED] AT 10:30AM. Your top prioriy tomorrow is to GET YOUR SLIDES DONE BEFORE THE 8AM MEETING WITH THE GROUP IN THE LOBBY. Your next flight is to CHICAGO AT 4:52PM AND YOU NEED TO BE AT THE AIRPORT BY 3PM AS IT DOES NOT HAVE CLEAR. Your top priority today is to REVIEW THE MATERIAL FOR THE NEXT PITCH. Your next priority is to PREPARE FOR MEETINGS IN CHICAGO.
There’s a very structured rationality to how I imagine an AI assistant would give me information, which I lack in my day to day. If I was giving myself information, I’d immediately get sidetracked by a zillion details. Did I book the dog’s daycare? Did I reply to a Scout email? Have I texted my friends to make vacation plans? Do I have time to get my nails done? I’d go down rabbit holes of tasks that aren’t time sensitive or aren’t important. Whereas when I imagine an AI assistant giving me information in the morning, I assume that program is set up to only give me information that is in the upper left quadrant of the Eisenhower matrix.
Also, sometimes, I just think it would be cool to have a robot me that could help me prioritize and sort through my thoughts. It’s very Black Mirror, the idea that I could have an artificial intelligence so close to my own, that it could know and understand all of the thoughts and resulting to-do items that flit through my brain. In the interim, pretending to be my own robot alter ego sometimes serves as a useful thought exercise. Maybe that’s a self-help book idea to be published. Maybe it’s just me being tired at the end of a long day, in JACKSONVILLE FLORIDA.
I spent Friday back in my hometown of Victoria, in the downtown core, revisiting the Royal BC Museum and it’s soon to be defunct BC Human History 3rd floor exhibits (The museum is going to screw this up, but I digress). While there, I noticed a catamaran in the harbour below the old Royal Steamship terminal (formerly home to the Royal London Wax Museum) and assumed it was the Victoria Clipper parked in the wrong spot.
From a better vantage point, however, I realized the catamaran in question was not the Clipper but was rather the “V2V” Victoria 2 Vancouver catamaran:
Upon further research I found out that this is a ferry owned by an Australian company who bought the catamaran as a secondhand boat from a route in Quebec and re-wrapped it with a Coast Salish design. I very much doubt that any actual Indigenous creators were paid or accredited for this work, especially since the boat itself is named the Empress. I cannot sometimes with the exploitative colonial mindset of my homeland.
I also discovered via the Times-Colonist (actual name of local newspaper still) that the V2V service had become defunct before COVID, in January 2020. The surprise of the parent company also made me suspect that the Australian owners had not checked in or spoken to any locals in Victoria prior to launching the service. Had they done so, they would have learned of the prior failed attempt to create a similar service, the Royal Sealink, in the 1990s, which met with a tragic and disastrous end in 1993, becoming a Victoria local disaster tale on a par with the Great Blizzard of 1996.
Before I get to the Royal Vancouver catamaran though, let us take a few steps back and understand why people keep trying to create new maritime links to the mainand. Victoria is a former Britiah colony on the traditional land of the Lkwungen (now known as the Esquimalt and Songhees) peoples. It was originally a Hudson’s Bay Company town at its inception in 1843. Victoria was made the capital of British Columbia in 1866, but its future was sealed as a secondary city to Vancouver after the railroad was completed. Victoria, after all, is on an island, and cannot not be connected to the mainland by physical roads or rails.
Physical connections, however, are no longer needed to connect with the outside world. Now technology and the internet make it viable to work from the Island, andmy hometown has evolved from being a quaint tourist destination and government town, to being a small, modern city that both locals and tourists alike would like to be able to travel to and from.
The isolated aspect of my hometown surprises Americans. The idea of a modern city, with a population of almost 400,000 people, being unreachable by highway, is hard to grasp. There are car ferries that are part of the highway system (or used to be, before privatization), each carrying hundreds of cars and up to two thousand people. There are commercial flights in and out of Victoria International (YYJ). There are seaplanes and helicopters for those people who want to get to the mainland quickly and can pay the premium for the experience. And this is why every few years, a businessperson with no ties to the Island or to our ferry-based culture will decide that what wealthy people really want to travel on is a luxury fast ferry that will take them from downtown Victoria to downtown Vancouver.
Let’s start by defining fast ferry. The S-class BC Ferries (aka “Spirit class vessels”) that run from the Saanich Peninsula north of Victoria to the Tsawwassen peninsula south of Vancouver run at about 20 knots or 22mph. They go faster in the open Salish Sea east of the Gulf Islands than they do through Active Pass, but that is their overall speed.
Catamarans fast ferries, by contrast, run at speeds over 35 knots, or 40+MPH. These are passenger only ferries that are much smaller and lighter than the huge barge-like car ferries.
The Victoria Clipper service has run between Victoria and Vancouver since 1986. It’s a fast ferry that goes from downtown to downtown, making what would be a 5 hour car trip via ferries at Tsawwassen or Anacortes or Port Angeles into a two hours and change ferry ride. It’s always been billed as a luxury service. Not real luxury, because actual wealthy people recognize that time is money and the seaplanes between the two cities are a better investment in that time. But the Clipper is an affordable ferry upgrade that also provides some fantastic views along Puget Sound for people who either do not wish to pay for, or just do not like flying in a tiny plane.
It’s very likely the success and longevity of the Clipper service that makes non-Island business people think that a similar service to Vancouver is a good idea. However, these are people who probably cannot read maps. The route from downtown Seattle to downtown Victoria is fairly direct, up through Puget Sound and across what used to be the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Those boats enter Victoria’s harbour on the southwest corner of Vancouver Island. But because the harbour entrance is on the southwest side of Victoria, and Vancouver is to the northeast, the Vancouver route has to go around Victoria before they can get through the Gulf Islands and the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver
Because of the loop around the lower Island, it takes three and a half hours to get from Victoria to Vancouver — a full hour longer than it does to Seattle, which is further away. It also requires the boat to travel through some of the most open areas of the Salish Sea, which at high speeds, can cause seasickness.
It was the added time and the nausea inducing nature of the journey that spelled out DOOM for the Royal Sealink thirty years ago. Well that, and the fact that the Royal Vancouver smashed head-on into a Queen-class BC Ferry in Active Pass in 1993, injuring two dozen people and smashing in the snout of the catamaran so it looked like a Volvo in a crash test commercial. (The BC Ferry, for the record, was slightly dinged up)
This led me down an entire Google hole yesterday of reviewing what exactly happened to this first failed fast ferry fiasco, and I actually found the original incident reportwhich I have now read with glee. Let me tell you, if it is possible for a maritime incident report to throw shade, this report does so. It is both factual and judgmental in all the best ways, thoroughly blaming the Royal Vancouver fast ferry crew for serving drinks when they should have been on the bridge, and calling out the ship master and first mate for being out of practice on the high seas. As my sister put it, “you done f**ked up, Royal Vancouver!”
I suppose V2V, had they even recognized that a prior similar service had failed, would have rationalized their atSo tempt regardless. The new Empress ferry was supposed to have stabilizers that would enable people to carry drinks to their seats without spilling. I also sincerely hope they had crew who had gone through Active Pass more than ten times before attempting to do so in the fog. But no amount of correction for the past’s most egregious mistakes could make up for the fact that there are not enough tourists to cover the costs of a fast ferry service year round — and while 80% of locals say they would take a fast ferry that went directly to Vancouver’s harbor, very few will do so at 15x the cost of a BC Ferry walk-on foot passenger ticket.
So there you have it: my commentary on why memory is important. Had the new Riverside Maritime Group surveyed Victorians my age and older, they would have known, there is no demand for a fast luxury ferry to Vancouver. It is not something that was asked for or needed, and only served to add one more very loud ship into the aural mix around the endangered Southern orca population. Victoria is a unique place with a long memory. I am surprised when lessons from those memories are forgotten so quickly
I struggle with getting older. Part of this is that, as a woman in modern Western society, I become more invisible the older I get. (A friend of a friend addresses this phenomenon in her comedy series, in which a woman’s age cannot even be heard). The rest of it is the fear of irrelevance. My sister in law remarks that she looks forward to being the kind of crone that yells at kids to get off her lawn. I have no problem with being an old cranky biddy telling people to remove themselves from her lawn (provided that it’s just a mild annoyance and not a climate change driven fight for precious garden related resources), but I do have a problem with the several decades that lies in between here and then.
Granted, irrelevance is not exactly a threat to me I’m GenX. Right now, GenXers have the most disposable income by household of any age group. Everything is reboots and nostalgia for our youth. It’s Nirvana shirts and 90s nights, brown lipstick and clunky boots, and constant, constant reboots of Ghostbusters. Most recently, it’s the show that taught an entire generation and a half of women the narratives through which to filter our relationships, for better or worse, the Sex & The City Reboot, aka The Great HBOMax Cash Grab. And I was here for it, even though I expected the show to make me feel even older than I already do, as I confronted the ages of the actors I last saw when they were the age I am now, a decade ago in the horror show that was the second movie.
And then I actually watched the show and came out of it feeling younger (note, not Younger, although I do love that show too). The central characters of SaTC have calcified into relics of the late 20th century. This is no doubt a key plot point, because they’re going to now evolve over the next ten episodes in Very Special Life Lessons where they will hopefully stop dumping their emotional garbage, guilt and microaggressions over every LGBTQ+ and BIPOC person available. (Miranda, I am so disappointed in you for constantly expecting your professor to validate your newfound wokeness!) Still, the central theme of the first two episodes seemed to be the women all saying “look at this crazy modern world where people listen to podcasts and also expect us to be all woke!”
What irritates me about this depiction of women in my generation and societal situation, is that there is a level of privilege and entitlement to not move past the era you came of age in. One has to be a person of means to be able to insulate yourself against a changing world. It annoyed me how the show was written in a way that kept the characters from having experienced discomfort or challenge. I realize we are all coming out of COVID, and we have all reached for comforting materials, whether that is a blanket, or our favorite album from the late aughts, but what about the fifteen years prior to COVID-19? There’s a level of discomfort to change that is to no one’s advantage to miss out on, and yet, these women seemed to have avoided any and all growth since 2004.
I am, however, the most smug about the contrast between how I spend time listening to my husband and how Carrie and Big spent their time listening to music. They spent their time listening to his record collection of music from the 1970s – which was depicted as a pretty serious wall of vinyl. My husband and I do much of the same thing, where we spend time listening to music together. In fact, we had been doing that on Wednesday night. The difference is that we had been listening to new bands, because we were debating whether we wanted to go out to either Mercury Lounge for WINGTIPS at Red Party or whether we wanted to go out to St Vitus to see Nuovo Testamento and Blu Anxxiety, all of which are new bands to us, even though they have nostalgic sounds.
I reflect a lot in my blog on the line between appropriate and overly consuming nostalgia, on how to differentiate between healthy reminiscing and an overdependence on the comfort inherent in the past. Avoiding the present and future is sometimes necessary for survival, and there’s times when the comfort in nostalgia is what it takes to get through the day. As proof of this, Spotify tells me that my favorite artists in 2021 are almost exactly the same as they were in 2006 (The Birthday Massacre, VNV Nation, Apoptygma Bezerk, BT and Hybrid. So perhaps it is a bit hypocritical of me to disagree with the way that a roomful of writers somewhere chose to depict women in their fifties as clinging to the comfort of the narrow views of their past, instead of moving out into the world.
Still, women in my generation have always expected these characters to represent us, to be our avatars on television. We expected them to speak for us in a way, to give us a narrative voice. I feel disappointed that their worlds, even their experiences of New York City, seemed to grow smaller, shrink wrapping them into views and relationships and experiences that seem reduced in scope. We are curious when we’re young, when we look for experiences that challenge us and grow our perspective. We agree to become irrelevant when we stop participating in the world around us so we can remain ensconced in the comfort of a fixed worldview.
Therefore, it makes me feel younger to not be represented anymore by the SaTC characters. They speak for women in a different place than where I am, and what I hope is a different place from where I will be in twelve years when I am in my mid-fifties. I hope my experiences between now and then will continue to make me think about all the perspectives I took for granted. I hope I’ll be able to keep up with technology. I hope I’ll still listen to new music and read new books. I hope I’ll go out into New York City able to take in and hear from the millions of narratives that make up this city, not just the stories of the people most like me.
A few days ago, I was running around a campsite, desperately grabbing electronics and non-waterproof items to throw into the car as a storm bore down on the Poconos. I threw in chargers, sleeping bags and tent bags; towels and shoes and all the detritus of a car campsite.
And all the while I was doing this, I was trying to listen and engage with a recruiter on the phone who was patiently explaining to me what it would mean to stay at Omnicom. The conversation ended abruptly when the world shook from thunder, and I dove into the front seat of Doomie, our Honda Civic, and had to say “just a moment please BEN GET IN THE CAR”
“There’s no room for me Mom!” Ben wailed back as he started to cry from fear of the storm.
That was the point where either the executive recruiter realized I wasn’t paying full attention or the phone cut out as I desperately tried to clear space in an overstuffed hatchback for my teenager to smush himself in, while rain pelted down and tree branches began to fall around us. Grateful to have only one thing to focus on, I pulled the camp pillows and sleeping bags out of the way, effectively burying myself in the front seat so Ben could get in.
My phone began to ring again just as soon as Paul jumped in next to me, shaking the water out of his newly short hair and chiding Ben for panicking instead of moving the camping gear items himself. I resumed the conversation with the recruiters, apologizing for being distracted while rain hammered down on our car and I watched the tent we had just set up shake and shudder in the storm, hoping that I could be clearly heard and that the tent didn’t blow away.
The next day, I sat in a damp two-piece swimsuit in a hallway outside the HR department of Camelbeach Waterslide Park, the quietest place with wi-fi I could find within the park, while I discussed with my own department lead what it would mean to stay at Omnicom. I was still thunderstruck that OMD was so invested in having me stay.
And yet, despite having spent two and a half years at Omnicom this time – more than twice as long as I spent there the first time in 2004/2005 – I still managed to quit.
It was hard. It was really hard to redefine success for myself. There was something so satisfying about the idea that I would become successful as a thought leader at the company that I started my career with back in 2004. I always thought success looked like being good at my job at the biggest media agency, proving once and for all that I could polish myself into the sort of person who could be successful there.
Then I realized that I was about to turn down a more potentially lucrative opportunity, with a SVP Media title, at a nerd shop where I would be reporting into a Canadian. I realized that, while I had a tremendous opportunity to drive change at OMD, the best path for me would be the path that paid the most while offering the best work/life balance for the remaining fifteen years I plan to work. And that path leads through the smaller agency that I start with next month.
I’m still kind of thunderstruck that this even happened, that I have left Omnicom a second time. But I’m on a track where I just want to retire early and go chase all the passions I have that don’t make money. I’d like to be able to finish writing a novel or two. I’d like to go back to school for urban planning or social justice. I’d like to be able to travel the world with my husband, in the time we have together. Life is too short to spend it waiting to retire, so I chose the path that would reduce the wait time.
Also, I have to face the fact that I was burning out so fast and so hard at OMD that I was becoming a sloppy mess. Numbers in media plans weren’t matching. Work was slipping through the cracks. I had two separate colleagues this week become disappointed with me because work wasn’t done or delivered as promised, and at my level, it’s expected that I can manage to get deliverables out with the time and quality promised. Staying at OMD would have not only burned me out from the volume of work I was trying to manage, but burned me out emotionally from constantly fearing people would resent me for letting them down or causing them more work. It would have been an ugly, vicious circle that would have continued to corrode my self-confidence.
So I’m a little more hopeful today. Hopeful that I’ll get my brain back from where it’s been in a constant state of overwhelm the last six months at OMD. Hopeful that I’ll remember to write a bit more, or remember that I am still a creative person somewhere underneath all this corporate facade. Hopeful that I’ll be able to connect more with my husband and my son, especially as Ben goes back to school and we lose the days together we’ve had for the past seventeen months. And finally, hopeful that I’ll get a summer vacation this year, even if I had to pay for that guaranteed time off by quitting my job entirely.
Oh, and that thunderstorm on Tuesday? It ended a few minutes after I finished my call, and tapered to rain. And while I am capable of camping in the rain (hello, BC childhood!) I don’t see why I would choose to do that on my break. I especially didn’t see the point of staying at an RV park where the rationale for staying there at all was for Ben to be able to find other teens to hang out with at the pool or tennis court or other on-site activities. Obviously, with the rain, all the teens had retreated to their parents RVs to play video games. So we decided to just pack up and move to the last room available at the local Holiday Inn, where we ordered in shwarma and watched Back To The Future Part II for the second time as a family. Ben declared it the best money I could have spent that day. All’s well that ends well.
Well, that’s it: the CDC must have had one too many White Claws this weekend, because the masks can come off for the fully vaxxed.
Unless you are on public transportation.
Or you don’t want your neighbors to think you’re a science-hating conservative.
Or you just don’t want to look like an asshole who doesn’t care about public safety. So I guess the masks cannot come off and I will be matching my masks to my outfits for a little while longer. (Everything I wore in Summer 2020 was black and white polka dotted for a reason.)
I still feel like we’re in the Beginning of the After Times. When we visualized this moment, back in the spring of 2020, when the first wave was subsiding, we thought we knew what the After Times would look like. We thought one day, the schools and theaters would open, the streets would fill with tourists, and NYC would throw the biggest party since VE Day.
Now, we’re not so sure what the After Times look like. The day to day life of Brooklynites seems to be coming back tentatively, as the city creeps up towards the halfway point of vaccinations. Some night, like tonight, I walk through Prospect Heights, and there’s a quiet sense of jubilation in the streets, like everyone considers it a small victory just to be out on a nice night in May.
I hope we don’t lose that sense of gratitude as we slowly inch back towards the normal pace of life in the city. The theaters and the schools are the last two major areas that remain either closed or reduced. But those will be both open by September: there are opening dates for Broadway now and the schools are holding parent forums on how to safely reopen at full capacity. (TAKE MY CHILD NOW NYC) The restaurants and bars have been spilling into the streets for weeks. The subway is going back to 24/7 and actually has people on it again. Everywhere I look, I see the city slowly regaining the sense of self that really only comes from its citizens.
Still, we’re not quite in the After Times. I’m not sure what will even define the After Times: will it be when we end the restrictions put in place to reduce the spread of COVID? Or will it be when we feel like time passes normally again? Right now, I still don’t feel like time passes the same way it did in the Before Times. It seems to pass too quickly or not at all. My perception of time stops and starts in a way I haven’t experienced since I was home on maternity leave. I still have a sense of being disconnected from the world that causes me to either look up and realize it’s May 14th already, or wonder why last May seems like it was three years ago. Time is hard to measure right now because we don’t have all the little differences from day to day that we used to have two years ago.
I also won’t feel like we’re in the After Times until I’m able to go out in a group of people again without completely freaking out. I just spent the past twenty five years re-wiring my brain to not short circuit in large groups of people. But now, the sensation of being in a large group of people I don’t know is overwhelming. I feel simultaneously invisible and vulnerable, and it’s challenging to remain calm and present in a large group. Maybe this will change over time, or maybe it will vary with my comfort level with the environment. Would I be okay in a goth club because that is my habitat? Is this a wiring left over from a childhood fear of rejection by groups? Do I now have to put the time and effort into actually figuring this out and trying to calm my brain like it’s a spooked horse?
So, I walked home tonight, past clusters of people out carousing on Flatbush. I took my mask off when I got to Grand Army Plaza, so I could smell the greenery in the park, and so I could actually feel air on my face. And for the first time in a year, it felt like the After Times were actually approaching, and in fact, might already be here for some people. I expected that the After Times would be like the Day the Rain Stops in Vancouver, when we all agreed, usually in early April, that the rain had stopped. It would rain again, but the winter rain, the Long Rain, was over. Now, I’m realizing that we will not have a consensus like that when we come back from COVID. This is a once in a century experience, not an annual change in seasons that every Pacific Northwesterner is attuned to. There are still people grieving those lost to COVID, for whom the impact is forever. The symbolism and the milestones may also be different for everyone, as we look to regain the parts of our lives that are most important to us. But we’re at the beginning of the After Times now, and it’s a time of cautious optimism trending to all out joy I’m grateful to be here for.
Many, many years ago, when Paul and I were much younger parents, we discussed how we were going to handle talking with our child about all things related to puberty and being a teenager. Paul did actual research into the topic, and ended up purchasing a copy of “It’s Perfectly Normal”. I, on the other hand, did exactly zero research and instead announced that I would just plunk Ben down in front of reruns of Degrassi Junior High, as is the tradition of my people.
Paul chuckled indulgently at me upon this declaration and did not believe that this plan would work for our American-raised child, especially after we actually did try to run the show for a ten-year-old Ben. Our then 5th grader announced that he hated the original episodes from the 1980s, and that this was the most boring show ever. He was marginally more interested in the 2001 reboot, called in true nerd homage style Degrassi: The Next Generation. Those kids at least had computers and the Internet and modern clothing, whereas the generation I grew up with were weird and boring!
Part of this problem was that the first generation of Degrassi kids were not consistently trained as actual actors, . Degrassi Junior High, as most Canadians know it, started in 1987 as a follow-up to the CBC “after school special”, The Kidsof De Grassi Street, which ran from 1979 to 1986. Unlike the American shows though, none of the Toronto children who appeared first in in Kids, and later, in Degrassi Junior High, were really full time actors. They were Toronto kids, the same age as their characters, who showed up on weekends in a working high school to appear in what would eventually become a cornerstone of Canadian culture.
In contrast, the kids of the Next Generation, the reboot that started in 2001, were actors who could consistently project emotions. And while the first few episodes leaned heavily on the adults from the first generation (now turning thirty in 2001) to provide context and continuity, the show quickly transitioned over to the rising 7th and 8th graders, born in the late 1980s when the first generation was in junior high. Degrassi: TNG initially centered on one 7th grader girl who had been born to an 8th grademom in the first generation of the show, but the plots quickly expanded to cover a dozen 12 and 13 year olds and their stories within the first few episodes.
Obviously, I didn’t watch TNG when it came out in 2001. I was a 23 year old grown adult, and even with the nostalgia factor, I had no interest in watching a show about teenagers. Therefore, when I flipped it on as a 40 year old grown adult, I was immediately engaged in finding out what happened to the characters I had grown up with. Ben, however, was very engaged in the story of the 7th grade boys, the pre-teens like him who were still focused more on goofing off than on chasing girls. This led to a lot of me yelling at Ben to shut up because I wanted to see what happened to Lucy after Wheels almost killed her drunk driving in the 1992 series finale, while Ben complained that the adults were getting too much screen time and he didn’t think we were seeing enough of the kids.
Unfortunately, we only had one season of the 2001 episodes that our then 5th-grader could relate to before the kids aged up a year. When we moved on to the second season, the actors and their characters aged up to grades 8 and 9…and four episodes in, the show took on date rape. And while TNG had already covered pedophiles on the Internet, recreational use of Ritalin, gay parents, taking Ecstasy, and Not Having Sex Before You’re Ready, those were still “light” issues compared to the physically abusive parent and teen date rape narratives that opened the second season. These traumatic storylines were more than Ben could process as a 10 year old, and as he was really just not that interested, we decided that we would take a break on the show until he was old enough to understand it. (Also, Paul was genuinely shocked by the intensity of these episodes. I think this was when he realized the show was just going to go for broke on every issue possible without sugarcoating or cutting away from very traumatic depictions.)
Cut to quarantine in Toronto this fall: with Ben and me in lockdown, I decided to take a second try at the show together. We re-watched the first season, and 12 year old Ben was much better equipped emotionally to connect with the narratives for both the 7th and 8th graders. When we got to the second season, he was able to process and take in the much more emotionally intense and traumatic situations the now 8th and 9th graders were facing. And suddenly, my seventh grader was veryengaged with a Canadian government subsidized teen drama where every episode was a Very Special Episode. Also: baby Drake when he was a duckling!
Ben was so into the show that he and I started bingeing episode after episode while in Toronto in December. We continued when we got to Pittsburgh for the holidays, as I attempted to explain the show to my American in-laws. We kept going after the holiday break, watching two or three episodes a day even as the kids aged up into grades 10 and 11, and the issues became more complicated. I would use the subject matter to introduce topics to Ben, and then reference back to It’s Perfectly Normal to reinforce the biological aspects where necessary. I got to work in all the topics, across the major areas of Coming of Age. We hit everything from teen pregnancy to coming out, from gay bashing to drug use, from child abuse to gender stereotypes, from studying science to inappropriate boners. (side note: nothing I have had to discuss with my child has been quite as mortifying as explaining to him what the term “boner” refers to…except maybe the plotline where I had to explain how a character contracted oral gonnorrhea)
Finally though, as the characters became older, the scenarios became more complicated, and Ben and I were both concerned that he would not be able to relate for much longer. In Season 5, when a character considered plastic surgery for her acting career and I had to explain breast implants, we decided that these issues were too mature for a seventh grader. We had to find a new option to watch, where we could show kids Ben’s age again. Without a viable modern option, I opted to try again with the first generation. This time, despite the “weird” clothes, and the complete lack of technology (not even an Apple IIe!), we discovered that kids had the same problems in the 1980s as they (probably) would in 2020 (if there wasn’t COVID!) Kids still struggled with being accepted! Kids still struggled with pregnancy and drugs and drinking! And most of all, high school kids still struggled with being honest and vulnerable thirty years ago! Who would have thought that being a GenX teenager was every bit as emotionally challenging as being a Gen Z teenager?!?
So after retreading the stories of Canadian teenagers born in the 1970s (ME: “Ben, these kids are only a year older than your dad! This is what high school looked like for us!” BEN: “MOOOOOM NO STAWWWWP”), we had covered even more issues: abortion, being sexually confused, the stigma around AIDS, and teen suicide. The original DegrassiJunior High was light-years ahead of its time with a commitment to covering genuinely uncomfortable issues, and some episodes that addressed homosexuality or abortion were even banned in the United States. The first generation featured real-looking teens who wore their own clothes and did their own makeup, and represented a wide socioeconomic range of East Toronto, and even if that was because CBC clearly had no money to pay for wardrobe or makeup, it made the show that much more authentic, especially compared to American contemporary shows like Saved by the Bell and 90210.
More importantly, Degrassi covered issues that were so relevant, I remember watching key episodes about pregnancy and AIDS as educational supplemental videos in Health class in Grade 10. Paul, wandering in and out as we plowed through the original Junior High in January, even remarked he was surprised how progressive the show was. I got to be a Smug Canadian (TM) about how my country subsidized this particular teen drama and brought issues to the forefront that are still underrepresented in American media. Degrassi Junior High reinforced the Canadian cultural mosaic message of the late 1980s by including first generation Canadian kids in their cast, covering both the stigma of the Vietnamese boat refugees as well as racial slurs against a Nigerian-Canadian boy, both within the first two years of the show. Junior High even worked in a storyline about accepting a gay older brother in 1988 (who would never be seen again), and featured a significant arc about de-stigmatizing homosexuality and AIDS in Degrassi High in 1990. These are all values our son takes for granted, as immersed as he is in the progressive ethics of Brooklyn, but as we keep having to explain, even as recently as the 1990s, these narratives were important to humanize the very real issues seldom shown on national TV.
Even starting over with the original kids only bought us a few weeks though and Ben and I eventually ran out of time with his age range as the 7th and 8th graders approached grades 12 and 13 (Grade 13 was still a thing in Ontario in the 80s and 90s). Ben decided he wanted to try again with the older kids in the newer show, so when the first generation ended with the School’s Out! movie, we resumed TNG already in progress with Season 5, taking a little extra time when necessary to discuss the challenges outside of Ben’s pre-teen frame of reference.
Throughout the series, Ben has related to some stories more than others, and has been more disturbed by some plotlines than others. He found it very hard to watch the infamous school shooting episode in Season 6, in which Drake’s character is shot in the back and paralysed. Still we’ve consistently kept watching, even as the show managed to veer into the ridiculous several times. As TNG picked up steam in the early aughts, the commercial network behind it began to syndicate the show to the USA, and needed new hooks to keep the audience growing. This gave us one of the worst and least realistic narratives when CTV brought in Degrassi superfan Kevin Smith to guest star in a half-dozen episodes across two seasons, under the premise of filming a fictional installment in his franchise called Jay And Bob Go Canadian, Eh!. This is only worthwhile because it led to this hilarious scenery-chewing cameo by famous Canadian Alanis Morissette:
Even as the show started to spin off from After School Special into into Teen Soap Opera style drama, it still covered what I just started referring to as VALUABLE LESSONS (TM). Every day, Ben and I would watch a few episodes and then I would quiz him on what valuable lessons he had learned. Every episode includes at least two plots, with Plot A featuring the Tough, Thorny Issue of the episode and Plot B being the lighter, more day-to-day story. Multiple plotlines means lots of conversation points to work with, almost all of which result in Ben eye rolling and mumbling “mommmmm, stawwwwwp” at me while I pause YouTube and inform him that if he wants to keep watching, he will listen to me sidebar about the relevant topic. I’ve even been been able to work in our son’s responsibilities as a cisgender male, which include:
CONSENT. EVERY TIME. NO EXCEPTIONS.
Don’t ever make another person feel like they need to consent to sex for you to like them!
Watch your female friends’ drinks so they do not get roofied!
If you get a girl pregnant, your role is to support her through HER decision!
Be a good ally: stand up for your friends with less privilege than you!
We also learned other VALUABLE LESSONS universal to all kids:
Tell the truth, because people will find it out anyways and then it will be WORSE
Drugs are a bad idea every time, but prescription painkillers are significantly worse than marijuana
Having sex before you’re ready will mess your brain up because hormones.
If an adult is making you uncomfortable, trust your instincts, get away from them now and tell another adult you trust
Do not be an idiot on social media because it will backfire and cause you to get socially ostracized or suspended from school or both.
Do not sext or encourage other people to sext because naked photos will never go away and will end up being distributed to people you did not intend them for.
Did we mention consent?
In both the first and second generation though, I believe that that the producers never meant for the show to run more than a couple years. In the first generation, the 12 and 13 year olds in 1987 ended with a made-for-TV movie centered on their 1991 graduation, and no new characters were introduced to keep the series going. In the second generation, the characters who were 12 and 13 in 2001 didn’t end their narrative until their first years of college (which allowed me to plug the Canadian university system)…and then the show had to contrive a plot to bring new 10th graders in for Season 7 to re-fill the cast. By Season 8 in 2008, the kids still aged up, and graduated high school, but the show stopped following graduates to university. Instead, new 9th and 10th graders would show up every season until the “Next Generation” kids from 2001 were completely aged out, and the show became just Degrassi in 2010. Around the same time, seasons went from twelve episodes to over twenty episodes and eventually to over forty episodes per season. The episodes are still 23 minutes, but there is just a lot more of them.
This extension into the “telenovela” production style is a byproduct of what I call “America Money”: the transition to MuchMusic in Canada and Nickeodeon in the USA. By 2008, the show was radically changed from the 12-episode season CTV-based series that started in 2001. Gone were the cheesy synthesizer soundtrack themes, initially replaced by in-show music clips from CBC3 indie bands, but then expanding to feature five or six songs from major labels per episode (I just heard Imagine Dragons on an episode Ben is watching). The show’s production values increased, with the school suddenly acquiring more elaborate facilities beyond the original handful of classrooms. More episodes means more commercial airtime money after all…but it also requires more drama to fill those episodes, and the show became a full on teen soap opera, ending Seasons 6 and 7 with made for TV movies that took the characters to US cities (Degrassi Goes Hollywood!, Degrassi Takes Manhattan).
Even with the format change and 200% more drama though, show still covers VALUABLE LESSONS, and features groundbreaking narratives for a mainstream TV show. Very few teen shows in 2010 would heavily feature the story of a FTM trans boy, but Degrassi had one struggling to just to use the boys’ washroom. However, the format change also means that Ben has been plowing through at least four episodes a day since he hit Season 9 because it feels like there is a never ending supply of teen drama to watch. We’re in Season 12 now and we still have at least a hundred episodes on the MuchMusic/Nickelodeon run before we even get to Degrassi: Next Class on Netflix. We’re also on at least the seventh teen pregnancy plotline, the second school shooting, and the third character with a self harm/cutting problem, so the show is retreading over its Greatest Hits pretty hard. The timeline has also only allowed for coverage from Facebook (“Facerange” in Seasons 9 onwards) and MySpace (“MyRoom” in Seasons 6 and 7) to date from the social media sphere, because we’re just not at Instagram or TikTok until Next Class.
After four months of watching though, I am still surprised by Ben’s interest as neither Paul nor I thought our son would be so enthusiastic about this show. He is genuinely engaged with these narratives and situations, mostly due to the effects of COVID. After all, Ben hasn’t been in a school situation for a year now. He misses being with other kids his age, the teens and tweens he’s used to seeing every day at school. Watching a TV show every day with kids interacting in a very authentically awkward (albeit scripted awkward) way makes him feel like he’s still able to pick up some of the social behavior examples he’s missing at school. Degrassi allows him to see a dramatized version of what social interaction looks like for kids in the grades immediately above him. He is so into the show that even the use of the over-dramatized situations as teaching tools for his parents to bring up HORRIBLY EMBARRASSING TOPICS is acceptable if we can just watch another episode. And Paul has acknowledged that this actually was fantastic parenting on my part to just plunk our kid down in front of a Canadian television show because it covered way more VALUABLE LESSONS, and with much more emotional impact, than my American husband thought a TV show could. (Canada: Telling Teens It’s OK to Be Gay Since 1986!)
Now, after almost 300 twenty-three minute episodes, we’ve covered teen problems from four years of GenXers (born 1965-1980) and twelve years of Millennials (born 1980-1995), and we’re just getting into the later Degrassi and Degrassi: Next Class years that feature members of Gen Z (born 1995 – 2010). Just as Paul and I are among the youngest GenXers, our son, born the year I turned 30, is one of the youngest GenZers. This is why it’s disappointing that Netflix canceled Next Class in 2018, just as the students started to include children born in 2000, but before the show could include children born after 2005. It’s also a strange parallel that, just as the original generation ended with characters born five years before I was, the Next Class ends with characters born five years before Ben was. The most time we’ve spent has been with the seasons featuring characters born in the mid-90s, halfway between each of our generations. But so long as they have cell phones and the Internet and their clothes aren’t weird, Ben can relate to them, and we’ll just keep on covering all the teen issues until we run out of time and only see these characters in Drake videos.
Finally, for those GenXers who followed the original generation: Snake is now the principal of Degrassi Community School, like he has been placed under a curse that prevents him from ever leaving the school. And he eventually married Spike, and became Emma’s stepdad, and stayed friends with Joey Jeremiah and yes, we did have to hear the occasional rendition of “Everybody Wants Something” even as late as 2004. (Thankfully, all the high school bands featured in the show since 2001, have been actual bands with more than one song.)
You can find all the seasons of Degrassi except for Degrassi High (1990-1991) and Degrassi: Next Class on the official YouTube channel (along with plenty of best/worst, first/last, etc videos https://www.youtube.com/user/epitomedegrassi). You can find the original Degrassi High and its finale movie Degrassi: School’s Out! on YouTube but you’ll have to hunt around for them.Finally, you can find Next Class on Netflix, although these kids all seem to be in their 20s like the producers decided to 90210-ify it. And no one seems to have a good source for the original Kids of De Grassi Street, which I 100% would have made Ben watch if I’d been able to find it when he was younger so HEY CBC GET ON THAT.