Category Archives: canada

the lassitude of lockdown

I have been looking for a good word to capture the inertia of the past thirteen days in Toronto, the time Ben and I have been spending on hold, waiting out our time in self-isolation. There is an exhaustion to it that I couldn’t quite describe. Eventually, I started looking at synonyms for lethargy. This time has been slow, but not languorous. Languor implies a more pleasant state of tiredness. Lassitude seems to sum it up better:

It is easy to enter this sort of scenario, as we did so much of the pandemic, with the best of intentions for self-care and self-development: journaling, meditation, education. Instead, I have found myself too mentally exhausted on any given day to do anything more taxing than watching Netflix. The first week, I was barely able to get through the four days I had committed to work, and spent Friday zoned out with my twelve year old, unable to ask him to practice his self-care regime when I clearly was not practicing my own. By the end of the day, I had sunk to watching romcom movies while drinking wine, as if I were some sort of cultural cliche, a metaphor for fortysomething women in the pandemic.

A contributing factor to this exhaustion is my current bout of insomnia, the kind where I wake up at an inappropriate hour, and then cannot convince my body it is time to sleep again for three hours. I usually read during this time, until I’m sleepy again, and then I will try once, twice, three times to fall asleep. Each time, I’ll take off my glasses, turn out the light, close my eyes and try to sleep. Each time, my brain revs back up, convinced that I have to be awake at that moment, and I’ll turn the light on and resume reading to keep myself from descending into a whirlpool of anxiety. I am usually able to fall asleep again for a few more hours, thus capturing 6.5 or even 7 hours of sleep for the 9 or 10 hours I’ve been in bed, waking up when Ben does at 8. This week, the hours I wake up have been later each day, culminating in 5:15am today, a point where I just decided to stay awake and read.

I have to ask though, what is causing my insomnia? Why am I so consistently anxious and charged with cortisol that I cannot even sleep through a night without my body chemistry waking me up? I feel as if I am constantly in a state of adrenaline rushes, fight-or-flight, or in a state of anxiety where I am waiting for the next stressor to attack. Paul wisely suggested that the state of lockdown is something of a callback to the trauma of March and April, where we all watched New York City shut down and reach its pandemic peak, fearing for our friends, our neighbors, our very city. I also feared for my job at that time, as my agency underwent layoffs. Perhaps the parallel is why I am hyper-sensitive about my job performance again this week, staying up until 10pm to answer emails, self-berating for not performing at my peak throughout the pandemic as I go through old, uncompleted action items.

Both the cause, and the result, of the poor sleep are the same: it is exhaustion, through and through. And yet, I feel I am returning to life a bit more this week. I spent Sunday in an almost-normal state, working through a course on Aboriginal Canada and then spending time in the yard of our AirBNB with my mother for her birthday. We have been fortunate that our hosts here are campers, and we often have unfettered access to the yard on weekends:

Subsequently, I have felt a little better each day. Each day, I have been a bit more focused, a bit more committed, a bit more willing to engage in activities that have more meaning than the mindless consumption of television or novels from the first week. Much of that activity is still work, as I clear out my Outlook at the end of each day while listening to podcasts. Still, as we edge forward towards our release from lockdown, and as time resumes meaning, there is a sense of moving forward again. With that motion, I am more motivated to take action: to turn off the TV and write, to do the HIIT workouts I promised myself I would, to continue the slow, life long development each of us undergoes as we engage with the world around us.

Tomorrow, we are released from lockdown. I cannot wait to run again. I cannot wait to be able to go to a grocery store. Perhaps this mental inertia is due to physical inertia being forced on me and my son. Back in May, I reflected on the absence of choice, how the pandemic took away so much of the dynamism of each day by reducing our options and making our lives flatter. Being in a two week self isolation period has reduced our choices even further. I cannot wait to be able to appreciate the choices I will have again after tomorrow. Perhaps when time has meaning again, this lassitude will lessen.

I miss the Salish Sea

In 2010, the Canadian and US governments made a decision to recognize the “Salish Sea”. This is the network of waterways that meander from the northern end of Vancouver Island to the southern end of Puget Sound. It includes the Strait of Juan Fuca between Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula as well as the Georgia Strait between Vancouver Island and the BC mainland.

Salish Sea Bioregional Marine Sanctuary & Coastal Trail ~ Map ...

I am from a city at the heart of the Salish Sea. Growing up, I thought that Victoria would never change. I thought even Vancouver was reaching the apogee of its change when I left in 2004. Now, I have to say that the cities on its shores are the places I used to know by heart. Not because those maps and vistas and landmarks have faded out of my heart, but because those places have changed. Victoria has moved into its future, and has become a real Canadian city instead of the lost British colony it was for so long. Vancouver has become even glassier and more unattainable for my generation to stay in.

I am growing used to change in my homeland. I am adapting to the idea that these places cannot stay the same as they were in my childhood. And I have never lamented change on the Island so much as I regret that I am home so rarely as to be surprised by it. Even changes a decade old are new to me, like the SkyTrain extensions or the Olympic Village in Vancouver. Vancouver Island has changed less than the Lowe Mainland, as it is is made up of a series of towns built on exploitation of natural resources and indigenous peoples in the 1980s and 1990s. As the exploitation subsides and those industries run out, the Island will change. As Vancouver continues to be more and more expensive and more difficult to live in, more of my peers will take their families over the Straits, and the Island will change.

In order to adapt to change in British Columbia though, I have to actually see it. My family were supposed to be in Victoria a few weeks ago, together. My sister, mother and I were supposed to be bringing everyone to our home. We were supposed to stay four days in our old neighborhood in Victoria, followed by four days in Parksville and one in Vancouver. We wanted to revisit the magical time we had with Ben and his cousins last summer on the shores of the Salish Sea.

MAGICAL I TELL YOU. Kids in Bastion Square, Victoria

Obviously, this trip did not happen for a myriad of COVID-19 related reasons, not least of which was that we did not want to risk bringing COVID-19 onto Vancouver Island. We canceled all the flights and hotels ages ago, accepted the loss as a minimal event in the upheaval of April, and moved on. It would take a lot of entitlement to complain about not going on vacation, especially in the wake of the disaster and mass death that is the spread of the coronavirus. To complain about my inability to travel to a high-end hotel would be a whole new level of self-centered. The only appropriate reason to publicly lament a lost vacation would be to express regret at not being able to spend tourist dollars in an economy that depends on that income.

“Disappointed,” however, is how I might have expressed the sentiment felt at the loss of a trip to any place but BC. “Grief” feels closer, even if it is “grief lite”. It’s sadness, it’s a sort of longing, it’s homesickness. We are lucky in that we are not grieving a loved one, like so many families this year, and we are only grieving the loss of time with our loved ones. It feels like the culmination and the apex of all the longing I’ve had to just be with my family during COVID is represented in the loss of this trip to BC. We had hoped to be together in the place where we are all most at home, where my sister and I are most ourselves, in the place we know by heart. We were supposed to be together, on the shores of the Salish Sea, the place where we scattered our father’s ashes. We were supposed to there with our mother, our husbands and our children, connected to the islands we know by heart.

Instead, we are still separated, and still unable to say when we will be able to return to British Columbia. I am here in Toronto, back in Canada, but still in self-isolation for one more week until Ben and I can actually hug our people. We are still not able to be with our family, and can only wave at them when they kindly stop off to bring us food or games or books to make the quarantine more bearable.

It still feels a little safer here than in the United States, knowing I am home, knowing I am back in a country that places a higher premium on the common good than on demonstrating individual liberties through an absolute lack of compassion. Being in Canada, especially since 2016, always makes me feel at ease, as I slip back into the emotional pajamas of the culture I was raised in. I know Canada isn’t the kind, accepting, cultural mosaic that I always wanted to believe it was, but it’s a kinder, more accepting, and more welcoming place for diversity than the United States. That’s a low bar, but it’s still always comforting to be in Canada.

Right now though, I would give almost anything to be home, in British Columbia, on the shores of the Salish Sea, just to have the solace of being in the place I love the most in all the world, at a time when the world is at its worst. I have never regretted my decision to leave, and to go out into the world, because I belong in a much wider world than the cities of the Salish Sea. I still miss my home though, every day, and losing my time there to COVID-19 has amplified homesickness into a sense of loss that is hard to move past.

Add it to the list, I suppose, the list of the hundreds of cuts that bleed my emotional strength every day. Compared to the fear for my neighbors and for New York City, this should be a minor concern, a small loss. And yet, at a time when every emotional impact lands in a different way, when the world wears on each of us in disparate, yet consistently exhausting ways, I grieve for that lost week on the shores of the Salish Sea in a way that is greater than the loss itself. I physically feel the loss at a higher intensity than I typically feel the low level of homesickness that has dogged me at every step of my journey in the States.

I do not have a path that takes me back to any of the Salish Sea cities, nor do I intend to create one. I only hope that the world rights itself soon, and the movement I took for granted, the roads and ferries back to my homeland, is restored to me and my family.

how capitalism ruined my birthday

Note: I am being somewhat “facetious” or “tongue in cheek” about my birthday being ruined. I just like pointing out where capitalism has had negative impacts on what our society considers a special day.

I turned 42 on Wednesday. Whereas my birthday have been becoming lower and lower key over the past few years, this year had low-key-ness imposed upon it by the Canadian government. Ben and I are waiting out our mandatory 14 day waiting period in an AirBNB suite in Toronto, about a kilometer away from where my sister, brother in law, nieces and my mom live in Baby Point. It should be noted that the Canadian government are not messing around with this, as unlike the shelter in place in NYC, going to local parks for exercise or local shops for necessities are not permissible activities. Between the actual law, and the justified concerns of my extended family, we are therefore on lockdown with limited exposure to the human population of Toronto.

These were all anticipated mitigating factors on my birthday. And at the time we planned the trip, knowing I would be in lockdown on the day itself, I accepted these circumstances. After all, it would relieve a lot of the pressure on the social side of the birthday, meaning that I wouldn’t have to agonize over scheduling an event in the time of corona. I thought would be able to quietly celebrate with my son, under the radar, and save the big celebration for next week with my family. My mother is the 23rd of August; my brother in law is the 28th, the same day as our release from lockdown, therefore prompting a family celebration. I would therefore just ignore the date, and choose to enjoy my birthday at the appropriate time.

Then we had the Great Uber Eats Debacle and my entire perspective on my birthday changed. Ben and I had ordered sushi for lunch from a local restaurant, using Uber Eats as the laziest option. The order arrived slightly early, prompting me to send Ben upstairs for the contactless, outdoor pickup, as I was still on a work phone call with one of my client’s bigger, more valuable media vendors. Ben triumphantly returned…with only one of the ordered lunch combos. I immediately called the driver, to let him know we had not received the entire order. The driver insisted that we had to call the restaurant to sort the situation out. When we called the restaurant, the business owner was then upset because she had absolutely given the driven the correct order. I continued to text and call the driver, to no avail. Stymied, hungry, and with limited lunch time, I decided instead to burst into tears, collapse into a puddle of cortisol, and give Ben the only delivered combo so at least he would get to eat before returning to comedy.

I continued to Tweet and email Uber to remedy the situation, and the driver eventually texted back and informed me that he had been given the orders and directions from the restaurant and it was clearly the restaurant’s fault for not giving him the correct order. When I asked if the driver could possibly bring the extra meals back, he informed me that he had delivered them to the subsequent customer and that I would need to sort this out with Uber and the restaurant.

This did not resolve the bigger issue, which was that it was my birthday lunch that had been given to another customer, and I had had limited time to eat said lunch before resuming my workday. And while Uber was willing to promptly refund me the cost of the items not delivered, they refused to refund delivery or platform fees. So as I understand it, I ended up missing my lunch, the restaurant ended up losing the cost of the items mis-delivered, and the driver lost his tip. The only entity that made money on this entire transaction was the megacorporation that set its own rules and standards.

It took me some time, as well as an afternoon snack, before I was able to fully think through why I was so very angry about this situation. Part of it was that the driver could very well have checked the receipt that was stapled to the bag we received when he handed off the food. Part of it was that he could also have called the restaurant or done a double-check when I first alerted him to the issue. My bigger issue was why he didn’t take either of those steps at the time, and chose instead to continue on his path to incorrectly deliver my birthday sashimi combo to the next customer on his route. This is where capitalism, and the gig economy, conspire to overshadow the entire incident. My hypothesis is that Uber’s failure to take accountability for the people whose labour they exploit contributed to this debacle in two key ways:

  • The gig economy pays by the job, not the hour. Uber pays based on an algorithm of time and distance. Any additional investment of time by this driver would put his next delivery and his daily earnings at risk
  • Uber offers zero training for their Eats drivers. The entity making the profit here should have been responsible for communicating the delivery roster to the contractor they parceled out the work to. The driver should have been taught to check a receipt or check off the items in an app rather than rely on the restaurant staff and the potential language barrier inherent there

Thinking through this entire issue made me take a step back and re-evaluate who pays for the convenience of these apps, and how that might change or impact the behavior of the contractors who provide these services. Is the Uber Eats system partially responsible for the loss incurred across the board by the restaurant, the driver and me? Or is the driver just a jerk? Perhaps it is both, as I am not willing to discount the impact of the gig economy on this situation.

Taking a step back, I also have to question where else the capitalist system is responsible for my inability to celebrate my birthday appropriately. There’s no question that capitalism and fiscal gain have driven the US response to the coronavirus, as the federal administration have prioritized a return to a “normal” economic state over further lockdowns. Trump has also empowered states to determine whether or not those decisions should be made on a state by state basis, resulting in decisions motivated more by fiscal policy votemongering. The resulting patchwork of inconsistent policy has resulted in continued resurgence of the disease, with almost three times the infection rate of Canada (even Canada’s right wing newspaper confirms America has horribly botched the response!). Hence: the border closure, and the forced self-isolation for all returning Canadian citizens.

I am basically in lockdown because America’s leadership chose to roll the dice on people’s lives in order to preserve the gains made from the extreme capitalism of the current administration.

I’m not sure if capitalism entirely ruined my birthday. I received dozens of kind texts and Facebook posts from my friends. My mom attempted to make the day special within the restrictions of the law. My family will still celebrate me after lockdown, and my friends will still want to connect with me for a very belated party. However, between my beloved socialist democratic homeland having to put me on lockdown because of my sojourn in Capitalist America, and the gig economy exposing itself as a failed system incapable of delivering my sashimi, capitalism definitely put a major dent in my birthday.

Finally, I would like to note that we re-placed our sushi order through SkipTheDishes.com today, and received the correct order. Both mine and Ben’s lunches were still intact and beautifully presented, and our delivery person took the time to properly wear a mask and set down the food for contactless delivery. We were very pleased and recommend Tokyo Sushi for their lunch specials going forward.

nostalgia fever

I recently read Ling Ma’s Severance, an apocalypse story in which there are parallels between survival and haunting, between being a drone and being a zombie, and between nostalgia and death.  Towards the end of the book, there are multiple scenarios when a weakness for nostalgia results in an individual contracting Shen Fever, the fictional ailment that causes individuals to repeat a motion or a routine, over and over, until their bodies actually disintegrate.  Ma draws a parallel between nostalgia and repetitive motion, between the false comfort of repetitive thought and the disease of action loops.  It is not entirely different from how I think of nostalgia myself, as a trap, as something to be caught in.

In the winter of 2017/18, I was working as a contractor on a client where I wandered like a ghost in the halls of the corporate headquarters, unacknowledged and unaccounted for.  I watched as events unfolded around me, unable to communicate or connect to impact the changes that took place in my work.  I would then indulge in nostalgia for the hour long ride back to Manhattan from the HQ in New Jersey, listening to Matt Good Band, pretending the lights of New Jersey were those of North Van, dreaming of a parallel reality in which NYC would become YVR.  There is a connection between a sense of disconnection and an addition to nostalgia, a need to ground oneself in not just comfort, but a place one knows by heart.  Perhaps that is why I do not feel a need for nostagia as much now as I did last year, when I was less .

And yet.  I am heading home to British Columbia in a few days, which I have not returned to in four years.  I have never left British Columbia for this long. However, with my mother and sister now in Toronto, going home to BC is not my priority, and while I will always see Victoria, randomly, in my thoughts and in my dreams, I do not need to visit it in reality. There is tremendous comfort in visiting a place I know by heart but the reality is, I know it by heart, I carry it with me. Indulging in nostalgia, to me, is a trap.

I still updated my Off the Island playlist this week to better chronicle my memories of who I was when I dreamed of leaving, and who I was when I left. Last Parade, from the “Vancouver” album, is my longterm Vancouver look back song, as, like most Matt Good Band songs, it strikes me as if it should be the soundtrack to a Douglas Coupland novel, and it has the one line, “black out, wake up foreign, wander home”. That is how I feel, still, some days: like I have woken up foreign in America, like I will, eventually, wander home through YVR.

The rest of the songs are the ones I identified with the most from about 1994 on, the mix of sorrow and hope and fear and love of the years after high school, from the Pacific Northwest dream of the Posies’ “?Will You Ever Ease Your Mind?” through the heartbreak of “Little Earthquakes”, all the way through the calm of “Halcyon & On & On”. My flip sides of the top Canadian music in 1997, the social optimism of “Clumsy” and the loneliness of “The Sound Of”. The sheer despair and hopelessness of “Strange Days”, which I wept to, living in Texas, far from home. My eventual return to UBC to finish my degree in “Nightswimming”, which I remember from the night REM played T-Bird Stadium, sitting on the stadium roof singing along with a half-dozen friends. My second attempt at taking on America in Los Angeles, the egotism of “Muzzle” and the quiet optimism of BT’s “Great Escape”. My goodbye to Victoria in “Goodbye”, the song I listened to the most the year my father died, and finally, the end of my journey Off The Island, and the start of my love story with my husband in SVIIB’s “Ablaze” (you told me all you saw was diamonds/you told me that ’till I believed).

I do not listen to these songs very often because I am afraid that the only verb appropriate for nostalgia is “to wallow in”. There must be a more dignified way to experience nostalgia, as something one daintily dips into, something one takes in as a controlled substance, not as an unpredictable, current-laden substance that knocks one off one’s feet and leaves one prone to ill events. I am, however, unable to think of that, and so, even my nostalgia playlists tell a story in which I exit that state and move on, in which I end the journey through my own memories and come out into the present, clear eyed and awake. The narrative leading into the now is my defense against the unpredictability of nostalgia, an inoculation against the fever.

I go home in two days and I’m not quite sure I’m ready for it, or that I will ever be ready for it, as if I am a boat to be swamped, as if I can be overcome. The challenge will be to keep going without wallowing, as easy as wallowing may be. I’m not sure I will ever be ready for it, but Westjet’s check in notice reminds me, I am out of time to prepare. I have woken up foreign and will wander home, but at the end of it, I will pick myself up and remember: my real life is in Brooklyn, and that is where it will be good to be back home.

canadian culture as emotional pajamas

The metaphor I use the most for being in Canada or being with other Canadians is that it’s comfortable.  Canadian cultural references are embedded in the foundation of my brain.  They are patterns I recognize.  Some people’s brains light up at the idea of comfort food, or their own local state traditions, mine lights up at talk of parliamentary government and references to the Hip.  It is that bedrock of knowledge that corresponds to my childhood in Victoria, which means it brings a sense of security and comfort, an emotional halo, as it were.   Being in a space with Canadian culture is the mental equivalent of wearing pajamas.

This is not uncommon for immigrants.  If it were not, we would not have opportunities to experience other cultures in NYC.  Everyone coming to America needs a connection to their home cultures.  It’s just that mine isn’t that different from the dominant, mainstream, white American experience.  I’ve said to my husband before, I feel like I just came from a slightly alternative dimension of America, one where a bunch of stuff happened that didn’t in this reality that he and I live in.  Being Canadian, after all, I still have the historical knowledge of America as it happened in my lifetime.  I just have an extra layer of Canadian specific memories on top of that.

So that’s why I appreciate the opportunity to go to Canadian expat gatherings.  This includes going to Dirt Candy for the Great Canadian Beer Hall, to which I enthusiastically drag my American friends.  Often this is more of a Canada themed event full of Americans who are fans of Canada rather than actual Canadians, but it is still a direct connection to the homeland, and one with an excellent house wine to drink if one does not feel like drinking a Molson’s (I didn’t drink Molsons in Canada, and it therefore has no nostalgic appeal to me.)  Last night we went to see a screening of Iron Chef Canada because the Dirt Candy chef, Amanda Cohen, is from Toronto and is a proud Canadian as well as an extremely badass chef:

The main point of the event was to screen the episode of Iron Chef Canada where Chef Cohen took on a challenger from Ottawa, but afterwards, the Canadian culture resumed, with Anne of Green Gables on one screen, SCTV on the other, and both without sound so the restaurant could play a mix of Canadian music that was heavy on the Hip.  That is the draw for Canadians: the references to our own cultural touchstones, an environment where our brains are constantly releasing serotonin as a response to familiar media.  It’s also a reminder of some of the cultural influences that have impacted my own personality: the open-hearted nature of Montgomery’s original Anne series, and the smartass comedy we keep exporting to the USA.  Hey, I’m a smartass with a soft spot for my own Island too!

The flip side of all this is that one cannot sit around all day in pajamas (although when working from home, I certainly try to do so).  Similarly, I felt like I needed a different challenge than I was going to experience as a grownup in Canada.  Staying in my homeland would have been both too difficult and not difficult enough.  My life has been significantly easier in America: within two years of moving to L.A., I had met my husband and placed myself squarely on a solid career path.  Even now, my income-to-housing expense ratio is better than it would be in Toronto or Vancouver, and my career options are wide open because I work in a city with a high concentration of marketing jobs.  However, the cultural challenges are much more intense in this country.: America has much less equality than I thought it would have when I studied the Constitution and resulting Supreme Court decisions at university.  In the last two years especially, America’s worst legacies, of racism resulting from white supremacist foundations, along with the economic inequality resulting from capitalism, have been at the forefront of my consciousness in a way that those issues might never have been raised to me in Canada.  Those issues certainly exist in Canada, we are just better at making them less extreme and less visible, with our socialist leanings and our cultural mosaic narrative.

I’m not sure if this is a common dichotomy for all expatriate Canadians, to feel like our lives are easier here, but to also feel like being in America is less comfortable than being in Canada.  Maybe that’s also an experience that differs based on location.  I might feel less psychologically challenged in Seattle, a city that is culturally similar to Vancouver and Victoria due to proximity.  I might feel more discomfort outside of my neighborhood in Brooklyn, which is pretty much Vancouver in NYC.  Still, when given the opportunity to take comfort in a Canadian expat activity, I take it as a few hours of nostalgia.  But at some point today,  like every day, I will take on the challenges I’ve chosen by moving to the States, and I will also change out of my pajama pants.

top eight things I really want to discuss at the expat party

Tonight is the Canadian Association of New York party at the Canadian owned Dirt Candy.  This is a restaurant that usually hosts informal Canada nights on Mondays anyways, so this just seems to be a super-sized one.  I am very much looking forward to spending time with other Canadians.  I’m going on my own, assuming once I get there, as I am at any Canadian expat bar, I’ll be welcomed.  Still, to ensure I do not backtrack into my socially awkward self, I’ve come up with a list of conversation starters that aren’t the deep, serious discussion of Socialism vs. Capitalism and Common Good vs. Individualism that I’d love to have with anyone else living here.

8.  Did any of us know as kids that the Man in Motion song is actually the theme song to St Elmos Fire and not just Rick Hansen’s theme song?

My husband failed to get my reaction of OMG RICK HANSEN this last time we heard this song in a bar.  I TOLD HIM SO.

7. WTF is with softwood lumber trading being a thing again?  Is this, much like Chinese steel, something Trump used himself to build his hotels and then decided to heavily tariff once he didn’t need to purchase it anymore?

6. If the crappy American bands are doing shows, like Better than Ezra opening for Counting Crows, why isn’t there a tour with the CLEARLY SUPERIOR Canadian bands of the same era? Actually, where are Our Lady Peace these days, anyways?

AS CLUMSY AS YOU’VE BEEN THERE’S NO ONE LAUGHING

6. We are all still sad about Gord.

Canada literally shut down when Gord Downie died.  

5. So when someone says “lovers”, every Canadian’s knee jerk reaction is to say OH IN  A DANGEROUS TIME, right?

4. Alias Grace.  Wasn’t it an outstanding interpretation of the book?  How did it manage to be both psychologically disturbing and aesthetically beautiful at the same time?  Do we think Netflix will make anything as good with the $500M they’re investing in Canadian content?

3. Also in Canadian made TV…how the hell did Heritage Minutes beat out Degrassi on the Canadian most memorable TV brackets?

2. Why exactly are we all still in this country, run by a madman, where individualism and individual rights are prized more highly than the common good?  Have we not all considered going home to Canada, where our laws function on the side of greater society, and where our Prime Minister tries to set a positive tone to unite, not divide, the country? Oh, wait, I totally meant to NOT get into this…

  1. Seriously…the Most Memorable TV Thing!

 

 

and us remains impossible

One of my favourite hobbies is Moping About Vancouver.  This is partially an Early Twenties Nostalgia thing, because who doesn’t look back on their early twenties and see it in candy coloured light and want to soundtrack it and idealize it and frame that time up in Lucite as The Best Time Ever?  (High school, for the record, is somehow always the worst, even for people who didn’t seem to hate it at the time).

My moping over Vancouver is not entirely nostalgia though.  Vancouver really is a fairy tale city.  It’s unbelievably beautiful, set in a break in the mountains on the edge of the ocean.  I mean, look at the photos on the tourism website! It’s a city of glass that looks like a science fiction city on the edge of the natural world.  Yet it still has miles and miles of old neighbourhoods with only Craftsman houses to be seen.  The sky is laced with fir trees in winter and cherry blossoms in spring, so many of the latter that the blossoms pile up in drifts in the gutters in March.  I don’t know how so many movies have managed to disguise the city (hint: USAToday boxes).  And in the time I lived in southwest British Columbia, Vancouver still had the counterculture allure of the West Coast cities, all of the hippie culture my mother’s generation brought with them – now a parody of itself from Lululemon on down, but still very much in earnest in 2003.

Now, I’m realizing, Vancouver was a fairy tale city.  Article after article shows up in my feed about how people my age are leaving the city.  And over and over I hear the same line: that people are breaking up with Vancouver.  That they’re leaving it the same way they would a lover.  That it’s the end of a relationship.   I hear this as a Matt Good track off, well, “Vancouver”.  I know you, so you know me…but us remains impossible.

(I especially appreciate how nostalgic people are for early aughts Vancouver as a time before the housing crisis got ridiculous.  It was certainly trending towards ridiculous in my West Side world, although I could likely have slipped over the border of Main Street and had a very different experience)

A few weeks ago, I was comparing travel notes with another mom from Ben’s class. I’d taken Ben to Switzerland to visit a friend from Vancouver; she’d taken her family to Vancouver to visit a friend she knew from Brooklyn.  She was raving about the city, how beautiful it was, how great the food was, how much she had enjoyed it, without realizing that I was from British Columbia.  When I mentioned that I had been in Basel for the wedding of a friend from Vancouver, she said, “I didn’t know you were from there!  Why would you ever leave?”

“Well, it’s like New York housing,” I explained.  “Only with about 60% of the wages to pay for it.”  That’s usually the point where people look actually shocked.  And by “people”, I mean “people from New York”, which is about as expensive as you can get in North America.  No one here will blink at paying $1,000 a square foot to buy a chunk of Brooklyn, but only if they make money proportional to it.  The idea of not making that money and still having to pay that rate for housing is terrifying.  I shudder even thinking of it.

I still stalk Vancouver more than I ever have any old relationship.  I read Doug Coupland books  (and, briefly, jPod the TV series) and listen to Matt Good Band albums and mope.  I watched the entire run of Continuum for no reason other than the fact that it was the Vancouver-iest thing on TV, nevermind that it literally made no sense by the third season.  I’ll occasionally even check out the twenty year old tech of the KatKam (“Hello freighters nestled in the bay!”).  I read Ben Good Night Vancouver until he knew it by heart.

And like most relationships, I regret deeply the missed opportunities.  I regret that I didn’t take the time or opportunity to know the city better, that I never lived anywhere in Old Vancouver, on the East Side, that I always stayed in Kitsilano where it was familiar, where it was close to my friends and the university and looked a lot like my actual home of Victoria.  I regret that I didn’t learn Vancouver the way I learned Los Angeles when I moved there, that I didn’t study the city and its development and change, the waves of immigration and extremes of society that built the city on that chunk of flattish land between the Fraser River and the Narrows.  My sister bought me Vancouver Was Awesome for Chrismukkah a couple years ago and I’m fascinated seeing the old city, one so like Victoria, one I only ever saw ghost outlines of under all that futuristic glass.

And yet, I have no intent of going back to make up that time with the city.  I’m not looking at job listings or apartment listings: even in the days after November 9th, 2016, I looked at Toronto, because I only wax nostalgic and I’m actually extremely practical and pragmatic.  Still, going back isn’t out of the question, either: the exchange and the equity in my Brooklyn apartment would allow us to purchase something at 20% down.  If Paul and I both had jobs, we would probably be OK.  Not great, but OK.  Our quality of life wouldn’t be much different – we’d save less for retirement and Ben’s college, we’d pay more into taxes instead.

I still recognize that “if we had jobs” is a big fat IF though.  I left to find a career in the first place, and Paul’s work is specialized enough that it is challenging to find a fit for him in the Tri-State area, much less on the edge of the world in a country he’s not a citizen of.  Nothing’s impossible, I’m told, and yet I feel like for us to have the same sort of ease of life we do in NYC, the same sort of careers, the same sort of income to housing ratio, I have to tell my former city, I’m sorry, but us remains impossible, Vancouver.

I also remind myself when I’m moping that I love living in New York City.  I grew up in BC, but this is my actual ancestral homeland, as proven by the fact that overall pushiness makes me a perfect fit for NYC.  I have a career type job in marketing, in the epicenter for my industry.  I experience and learn so much here every day that I would never have learned in my safe corner of Canada.  Right now, much of that is about how completely fucked up America is, but at least I am learning something and spurred into action by it, which is a lot better than complacency, idleness and stagnation.

I remind myself that I left British Columbia to See the World, which, at the time, consisted of Living in Los Angeles.  Now it consists of Living in New York With The Occasional Trip to Europe.  I look at Manhattan when I come back across the GW Bridge each day, at the towers bathed in golden light, and I think, this is my home now, and I know the two boroughs I spend the most time in as well as I ever knew Vancouver – and I still have barely scratched the surface of New York City and of America and of all the things I can be curious about and learn and experience here.

(Oh, and I also left on a sort of quest to find my True Love, which actually took less than two years of the thirteen since I left.  I assume if I had wanted to go back, I would have taken my husband and retreated by now.)

Over the last few years, my moping has been taking on a different sort of nostalgia than it did when I was a homesick twenty six year old in West L.A.  Now, as I read article after article about people leaving Vancouver, I realize I am moping over a Vancouver that is gone, that in reality, what remains is a city my friends are abandoning for the suburbs, for Vancouver Island, or for Canada’s other cities where they can afford housing for their own growing families.  My family have moved to Toronto; my friends from UBC have scattered across Canada.  Vancouver has become too needy, too high maintenance, too much for any of us.

This isn’t a Vancouver phenomenon, obviously.  It’s the same thing that’s happened here in New York, to TriBeCa, to the East Village, to downtown Brooklyn, to even the north edges of my neighborhood in Prospect Heights.  But even though I live in New York, and have had to watch Brooklyn’s neighborhoods bleed out their neighborhood culture from a thousand luxury condo cuts, I grieve for Vancouver more.  Now it’s changed so much, I suspect I wouldn’t be able to love the city the same way even if I had a magic opportunity to go back with the same sort of quality of life I have here.

There are dozens of posts about the Vancouver housing crisis from people who didn’t leave in 2004.  This is my love letter, my own sadness, my own loss at the city I called home, a slightly idealized, candy coloured look at a place I lived in when I was twenty-six, that I left because I was going to outgrow it, even if I hadn’t already.  The reasons I left will always be good, and the decision to leave when I did will always be the right one (it’s given me a career and a husband and a son and a ridiculous adventure of just being American) but that isn’t going to stop me from moping at an expert level for the version of the city I left in 2004, and over empathizing with every breakup article.  Oh Vancouver, us remains impossible.

 

I have to stop reading the comments

I have to stop reading the comments

Do not ask me why I read the comments. It is always a mistake. Whatever the topic now, it manages to devolve into a set of crystallized black and white beliefs from the Left and the Right. This year’s crop of holiday messages has been the worst yet, as people have used those as jumping-off points to insult and express their dislike of the politicians posting those good wishes.

It’s impossible to see good in any comments anymore. The right jumps in to say that we Lefties are all “libtards” (officially my Most Hated Term Ever) and refuse to see The Truth about the Current POTUS, and/or His Associate Hillary Clinton and/or The Current Canadian Prime Minister. That “truth” is usually that that the “libtard” in question is wearing blinders/corrupt/biased in ways that are MUCH worse than their counterparts on the Right. If only us lefties were smarter/less fooled by MSM/more willing to admit it, we’d realize the leaders we chose are awful in their own right and that we are too stupid/selfish/elitist to choose REAL leaders like Current Right Wing Extremist. (Oh, and also, Obama is a Muslim/Trudeau hates Christmas)

The Left states that the incoming President is racist/going to get us all nukes/corrupt, and that the outgoing POTUS/his associate Clinton/current PM Trudeau is the best, classiest leader that ever was or could have been and NO MATTER WHAT they are definitely better than PEOTUS/past PM Harper. They would like to cite a lot of racism and prejudice that the Right is responsible for, and would like to also cite Russian hacking/Russian affiliation/Russian arms race as a factor.

What frustrates me the most is that neither group is playing on the same playing field. They are each shouting horrible insults at each other in knee jerk reactions of hatred that require the mental gymnastics of lumping each and every person into the same category. I do genuinely believe that there are many more incorrect facts and honestly just plain wrong beliefs by the Right, and that a lot of people with single-issue reactions (ie. this week’s “Obama is the WORST EVER for not using his veto to help Israel” crew) are lying to themselves and/or believing outright false news in order to make themselves feel better about the fact that A Possible Nuclear Winter Is Coming And It Was Fairly Elected In.

The Right continues, when sane, to announce that Obama was the Worst President Ever because of one or two things he did wrong; the Left continue to exaggerate Trump’s less concrete (and therefore more easily dismissed) problems to stand on a platform of Righteous Indignation and Moral Superiority.

How about this?

  1. The Left will focus on actual, well written statements. Not “Trump Will Get Us All Killed”, not “Trump Grabs Pussies”, not “Trump is Racist”, but “Trump has Business Conflicts Of Interest and had Bob Dole broker a call with Taiwan for his own hotel empire’s growth, thereby risking our relationship with China.” Or “Trump is pandering to a Christian population and is expressing vocal support of policies and laws that are in direct conflict with our Constitution”. Or “Trump isn’t attending security briefings but apparently has time to watch SNL.” Or even “Trump’s entire cabinet bought their positions and will never have the country’s best interests at heart over their own business kickbacks.” (This is my favorite because I really can’t handle having decisions over minimum wage made by a fast food CEO, or decisions on our foreign relationships made based on what’s best for Exxon)
  2. Perhaps we could also politely suggest that the Right put the same amount of fucking effort into digging up dirt, corruption and shadiness among Trump and his ridiculous excuse for a Cabinet that they did into finding all that circumstantial evidence against Hillary to believe she was corrupt. If they’re all so great at seeing through the screen of decency that Obama and Clinton throw up over their shady backdoor dealings, maybe they can apply that superpower to the new League of Supervillians that will be running the country? Insulting Hillary and telling us about her corruption is moot right now, maybe those watchdogs could look for corruption in the administration they somehow thought would be less corrupt.
  3. The Right will stop the absolute wall of hatred they throw up at every possible opportunity, like posting those stupid “crying laughter” emojis, saying that the Left is whiny, or calling us “libtards”. I hate “libtards” because it’s a generic insult calculated to be offensive, and I hate being called “whiny” because I don’t like the President Elect and insist on expressing my distrust of him and his coterie of 1%ers at every possible opportunity. You know what’s whiny? The government of North Carolina disenfranchising the state by taking all legislative power away from the democratically elected governor. Or, for that matter, continuing to complain about losing the Civil War for over a hundred and fifty years. Being “loyal opposition” to a PEOTUS you don’t trust isn’t even in that league.
  4. The Right will also stop citing proven false statements like Obama being a Muslim, Planned Parenthood selling fetus parts, LGBTQ being a “lifestyle choice” or climate change being a myth. Science exists, please stop denying it.

What we should do is just all talk about why we are so fucking emotional about this. I know why I’m so emotional. Every single member of Trump’s cabinet will make decisions that are bad and wrong for me, my family, my community, my city and my country. Most of all Trump’s policies on climate change will put my beloved hometown underwater within my goddamn lifetime. And to add insult to injury, my NYC income tax is now paying for security at Trump Tower because the PEOTUS won’t even live at the White House. Do you all realize how much that is taking away from my son’s school budget? DO YOU?!?

This is what I mean about emotional. I perceive these things as genuine threats to me & mine. Insulting me though, does not serve to help. And me insulting other people who believe in Trump because they are upset that Obama chose to stab Israel in the front today (JESUS BARRY REALLY?!?) or who genuinely believe that Trump is the choice for bringing back jobs to their small towns is not going to help in much the same way.

And that’s just America. I am deeply afraid for Canada, and afraid that the culture I grew up with and so strongly believe in — that of diversity and mutual respect and being just plain nice to people — is being eroded as people begin to take on American-style exaggerated blanket statements as mantras so they may justify adherence to a slate of politics they may or may not entirely agree with. For example: justifying the concept of “screening for anti-Canadian values” and saying that “67% of Canadians agree with it” [sample size or survey too small to make this accurate, btw] because you don’t like the Liberals fiscal policies are two totally separate things from the Conservative slate In Canada, we do not have to have absolute partisan politics with prejudice and insults the way we have in the USA. The fiscal conservatives in Canada should be perfectly capable of saying, “I don’t like Trudeau’s carbon tax but I do like how he is willing to work with pipeline companies,” without having to go into personal insults and undying loyalty to the Ghost of Stephen Harper and/or The Threat of Kellie Leitch and their racism — or, worst of all, saying things like “we need a Trump.”

Canada has been divided East vs. West before, and we do not need to follow America’s shitty example of being divided Rural vs. Urban now. It’s fine for those who do not like Trudeau to post that their Christmas is fiscally bleak because they don’t think his financial policies for the country make sense, but to constantly say he is a corrupt pretty boy out of touch with reality is making those statements far less part of a Loyal Opposition and far more part of a Knee Jerk Partisan Loyalty — or really, just Being A Jerk.

So that’s why I have to stop reading the comments. It literally sets my heart racing to be impersonally attacked, to have the leaders I support and believe in and the service they have done to their country reduced to insults so that those on the Right may continually believe in 100% of their political slate and their extremely poor choices. Claiming climate change doesn’t exist so you can be completely on the Conservative Train isn’t necessary. It’s OK to not agree with the entire slate of stupidity, and it’s OK to say that Obama did a good job of climate change legislation even if he wasn’t a friend to Israel.

It also makes my blood sugar spike to read the pandering and retroactive re-writing of history to eliminate things like Clinton or Trudeau’s pay-to-play fundraising. Right now I am also disappointed about the glossing over of Obama’s policies on Israel (REALLY BARRY YOU WANTED TO BE A DICK ABOUT THAT INSTEAD OF FORCING A SUPREME COURT APPOINTMENT?!?!?!). But I do think the selective perception and fake news is a more common phenomena on the Right as we see this increasing psychological phenomenon of justification and self-placating regarding an extremely bad decision to elect and support Trump. This is why we see the walls grow more absolute and the statements less truthy with time. This is why seeing the right wing trolls really upsets me because they are so illogically and unnecessarily mean, and they especially come out when the Left make emotional, sugarcoated and/or panicky statements.

Perhaps we could all agree to make more logical and polite statements on the Internet as a first step to healing the divide between the two Americas…and what will, if we don’t stop it, become two Canadas as well. That would make me more likely to engage in productive and intellectually challenging discourse, instead of being outraged and responding in a non-constructive way. It would also be nice to be able to make statements on the Internet without worrying about being attacked, as I am posting this on Medium, because I know ultimately, I will get comments from people who do not agree with me about one political point or another and will argue about it.

Just, if you must argue with me, please do not call me a libtard, or insinuate I am whiny, or that I am ignoring the fallacies of the Democrats/Liberals. I may not be as familiar with all those fallacies — but I’d be willing to hear logical statements about them. Saying Obama is the worst, most divisive president in history though and ignoring the legacy of economic and environmental good he did in his last eight years of service, however, is not going to make me listen. Calling the current PM “Trudope” or insulting his hair is not relevant to an argument against his tax policies or foreign aid distribution. Just stop. Please. And allow me to read the comments once again.

Oh, Canada, I miss you

I am Canadian. It’s who I am, and its part of me. It isn’t just where I’m from, but the whole belief system I grew up with. It’s that little shift from democratic capitalism to democratic socialism, that little extra degree of politeness, of equal rights, of being able to believe in a little more fair, just, and kind society. Canada isn’t that ideal, of course – but those are the things I believe in as Canadian qualities. There’s a lack of cynicism, a belief in just being nice, that pervades Canadian culture. We are the cultural mosaic. We are the source of indie rock. We export laughter in the form of comic actors.

And we export kids like me who find it far easier to work and live on this side of the border. But that is what it is. As Metric is singing right now, “is this my life? Or am I breathing underwater?” Most days, I don’t think about the fact that I’m out of Canada, that I’m far from home. Other days, I stop to think about it, and it is like being suddenly underwater. It’s like being hit and pulled under by a wave, the realization that I’m so far for home, and sometimes, very lonely. Canada is so comforting to me because its home, it’s what and who I am. I see all those waving flags, that sea of red, those maple leafs, and I miss my country.  I miss those shared reference points with people who come from the same place that I do.

The question is, how do I express that to my son? How do I tell Ben that he is Canadian, and make it mean something?

I can tell him, you are Canadian, this is our music, and put on CBC3.

I can tell him, you are Canadian, this is our culture, and find Canadian children’s shows for him.

I can put him in Scouts to try to find an organization with Canadian values: kindness, loyalty, community, the outdoors.

But I can’t give him that sense of being Canadian, of pride in Canada, that comes from growing up on Canadian soil.

Sigh.  I pay small prices, here and there, for the life I live.  Because it is good, but it’s good because of who I’ve become being in the States.  Maybe someday, Ben will go back to Canada, for college, for a job.  Maybe someday, he’ll learn why I am so proud to be Canadian that I had it inked on my skin.  Until then, I just have to hope that Canada stays the idealistic nation it was when I was growing up.  Or that it goes back to being that idealistic: one people, of all cultures, joining hands from sea to sea… to sea.

 

what is broken is now whole

I think it’s time to leave again, to go back into exile, to return to the lands outside my Archipelago. I have let my chance to build a grown-up life in Vancouver slip by me. Not only with Kody, but with everything – I have not moved far enough past the Gates, and I have let myself get into the habits of relying on my university connections to provide me with the laughter I need in my life.

I think that in order to continue rebuilding myself, I have to leave Vancouver, to go back to the States, to return to life as a grownup, as it was before, as it should have been had I not taken a wrong turn or two in 1999, in 2000.

And for this, I am afraid – I am afraid to leave, to go back out on my own, but I may have to. To return again with a more solid base, with my looks restored out from under the fat, with the confidence that I am liked, that I can make friends, that I am not ordinary and should never settle for less than I deserve. To be able to tell myself all this and more, and to hold the memories of two years in Vancouver – two wonderful, fun-filled years – will help me if I resume the paths I left to come home to heal.

I came back to UBC broken, to take up again that part of my life I left unfinished when I dropped out to move to the States. Now, I will go back to the States to pick up that part of my life I fell from when I fell apart in Dallas so long ago, broken by homesickness and loneliness and a longing for stability.

I don’t know when I’ll leave – but I know what the cards tell me – that seven months from now, by the time the days are at their longest, I will stand in an American city, one among millions, be it Seattle or San Francisco or Los Angeles, under a different sky from the one here, under a sky stained by sodium lights. I know that I have, irrevocably, ruined myself for ever being happy in Canada – that I will want, always, to trace my future in the States, to take what education my homeland has given me and sell it at the highest price possible in a market of American commerce.

Years from now, I will come out of exile again to settle in Vancouver or Victoria, in my world, in my Shire. But now, I feel like I need dragons to defeat, worlds to explore, challenges to face. I need to find a new quest and take it on. Twenty-five is far too young to settle down in my own version of a happy ending.