Category Archives: vancouver

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.

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.

 

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.