Yearly Archives: 2011

My Dance With Consumerism: The Christmas Schwag

About That Other Thing, A Steff Note:

My Christmas eve posting was cryptic because sometimes we need the light of day before fear goes away. I’d gotten a call 10 minutes before I served Christmas dinner saying my late-ass brother wasn’t late — he was hit by a car and being taken by ambulance to emergency, with a definite head injury albeit the severity unknown. He’s doing very well, and is lucky to be alive. It was a pretty wrenching evening at times, and I wrote that post with him groaning in light pain while sleeping on my sofa, 10 feet away. Daylight made things better, as it often does.

***

It’s the calm between the storm fronts as my coffee reaches its bitter end.

I’m wishing I had another day of Nothing Doing after yesterday’s utter embrace of sloth, but I’m sadly headed into the world for acupuncture, shopping, lunch, and the like.

It’s half-way through my Christmas vacation. I’ve been on a shopping tear — all online — in doing the once-almost-every-decade shopping for electronics and things to make my life nicer on the homefront, signalling what will surely be a year of much belt-tightening and budget-respecting to follow. My last two such splurges took place in 2003 and 1994. Clearly, I’m due.

It’s the best kind of consumerism — the kind that enriches one’s life with careful choice-making before the splurging.

Oh, Glowing Picture On The Wall, Who’s the TVest of Them All?

For instance, I’m cutting my cable enough to compensate within one year for my splurge for a new TV and home theatre system. Thanks to sales, I got components worth $1300+ for under $600 after taxes. The amount I’ll save in 12 months for going to basic cable and using the one year of Netflix my friend gifted me? $588. Cha-ching!

My huge tube TV’s on its deathbed, taking as much as 6 minutes to just warm up and give me a picture upon start-up, and even when it’s warmed up, the input jacks are loose and just walking across the floor can cause me to lose picture. That’s been happening for three years, and was a real drag back when I was dating and watching something romantic or fun, and sucked even more with a back problem.

My stereo was from 1994, almost dead, and couldn’t even play my iPod, let alone play nicely with my out-of-date TV. My new dealio was 45% off, can play with iPod, is Netflix & web-ready, and will offer surround sound for those moments I give in to The Big Shiny Movies.

A Writer Needs What A Writer Needs

I picked up a new laptop, intended to make me work on my own writing more, and get out into the world to see people whilst I do so. My computer’s from 2006 and I suspect also similarly not long for this world. I saved another 40% on the laptop. Soon, I’ll get my office equipment, so I can have a healthier work environment. It’ll include an ergonomic keyboard & mouse tray, a back-friendly chair, a new desk, and other fixings, making for a more comfortable home office environment, since I’ll now be spending up to 40 hours a week there on just the “day job,” let alone writing for myself.

So, I’ll have a completely-new, ergo-friendly, and sexy office for only $550, because I’m getting things for up to 76% off, thanks to my smart deal-finding ways.

I did blow my wad on one treat that’s like a bottomless-refill cup of goodness for my soul — a new camera. I didn’t have a working one, and photography has been a love of mine for 20 years. It’s profoundly inspiring for my writing to spend a day shooting pictures, and there once was a time I’d write stories based on what I’d snapped. I long for those days. Nothing will make me get out and explore my new home more than having a great camera to record it with, like my new Nikon D3100.

Simply Gift-tacular!

There’s one new belonging I didn’t have to splurge on, and I can’t wait to have it in my life (it needs to be driven in from the Valley still). The Santa-Folks gave me a new KitchenAid Stand Mixer that will be incredible for homemade bread-baking and other things. This has been something on my wish-list for a very long time. I’ve still been using the hand-mixer I bought for $15 more than 10 years ago.

Barbara Krueger's iconic image.

Another gift I was given for Christmas, and it’s funny, because it was likely only a $10-15 gift and isn’t earth-shattering, is a CUTE littlelunch bag that has gel-pack walls on four of six sides, which you just store in the freezer, then it keeps anything cold for up to 6 hours. It’s FUNNY to me because it’s such a small thing but it makes me so excited to think about taking lunch breaks from working at home and walking to the beach with a book or my laptop, and eating a bagged lunch with controlled calories and nutrition, and keeping both my budget in line and me in the sun. It’s a really thoughtful little gift I love. It’s cute, functional, quick to set up, and pretty to carry with me. Perfect! Now I can envision it happening — me and my little peach-polka-dotted bag, together on shorelines and in parks, soaking up the sun and enjoying the outdoor writer’s life.

I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

None of these purchases were spontaneous. They’ve all been on a wishlist for a year or more, and I budgeted carefully beforehand to make acquiring my whole list happen, and I try to buy what will last.

With only my office set-up left to purchase, I’m dead-on-track with my budget and it feels great to know I’ve bought better quality for every purchase than I expected I would find in my budget.

On Monday, I call and cancel all my cable add-ons. By then, I hope to have my new TV and stereo up and running. I see a future with less cable TV and more “deliberate choosing” of what to watch, either via the web or Netflix, rather than haphazard “what’s on?” channel-surfing that’s a bottomless pit for my time.

But Tomorrow’s Not Here Today

Then I’m looking forward to having a work desk at home that doesn’t leave my shoulders aching and my neck prone to starting headaches. It’s amazing how much that hampers one’s desire to sit and write for more than 40 minutes at a time. The desk won’t be a reality until I’m landed in my new home, come March, but my soul’s left wistfully wanting for that day.

While I’ll be thrilled to get out and meet new people on the Island when I move there, I’m making it very plain that my first motivation behind the move is to adopt the WRITER’S LIFE. This will mean a lot of time alone, and when I have a home that has a good entertainment system, lots of music to play, a camera to stoke my creativity, and a healthy writing environment with the right tools, I think the idea of being at home for all those long hours won’t feel like punishment anymore, especially when I’m so close to the city for quick escapes and refreshing The Little Grey Cells. I think those 15 hours I save on weekly “work” commutes via working from home will transform the way I work off-hours for me.

There’s still the mystery of where I’ll be. I’m prepared to compromise a little to get a two-bedroom (or one-plus-den) apartment in a neighbourhood I love. I want my work separate from my life, since it’ll be muddled together so much from working at home. I’m dying to know what I’ll be calling home for the next year or few, and I’m five weeks from knowing, eight weeks from going.

Buyer’s Remorse?

Absolutely not. With the holidays almost over and my budget intact, I feel great.

Unlike other people who buy new electronics every couple of years, when I buy things I have a tendency to use them until the end of their workhorse lives. I’m not about new or trendy, I’m about getting the best I can on a reasonable budget, of technology that’s been tested and true, and I’m big on not wasting my technology via replacing them for the “shiny” releases.

I’ve bought cheap-and-often in my youth, but I don’t do that now. When I replaced my sofa 3 years ago, I paid nearly 4 times what my friend did, but his will need replacing next year, and mine has a lifetime warranty on the frame and still has spots needing to be “broken in.” I have family members using the same brand of sofa from 20 years ago, because they bought smart with quality like me.

With a new home, a new town, new goals, new tech, new priorities, the coming year will be a really fun and exciting experience for me from day one to day done.

Sometimes, consumerism isn’t just empty acquisitions. Sometimes it’s about picking the things that really do let you be the best you. When I take breaks from writing, I love movies and drama. Always have. I love photography walks. I love writing in cafes and watching people. I haven’t been able to do these things for a long, long time. When my scooter died in late 2009, while my back was horribly injured, my life became more about commuting long-form through the city and surviving it, rather than living in it.

It’s sad it’ll take my leaving my hometown to get back to the smaller lifestyle I love, but it’s enthralling to know it’s closer every day. I’m 100% sure it’s the right direction, and with all the quality-of-life purchases I’ve made, and the things I’ll emotionally gain from the move, a part of me feels like there’ll be nothing left to want.

For now, I’m in a weird limbo between what I know is coming and what’s here today, but I’m soaking in every moment. What a ride.

A Late Christmas Eve Post: Sober, but Not

There’s nothing like to holidays to remind you that, no matter how hard you try to control all the elements, you just can’t.

The fit hits the shan from all directions, and just being Christmas Eve is no way to narrow the scope of its impact. When things go sideways, it doesn’t matter that it’s the holidays.

The only thing that matters is the trajectory. Who’s it landing on? Why?

I’m not gonna tell you about tonight, why I’m where I’m at, but suffice to say I’ve gone through a minefield of human emotions in the last five hours, and I’m glad the shrapnel’s not more impaling than it has been.

I spent two whole days preparing for my night. One phone call later, everything comes apart.

And that’s Christmas, man. Accidents, chaos, the whole meal deal.

I don’t really want to tell you what went down. You don’t need to know.

All you need to know is, I thought I had EVERYTHING under control. EVERY DISH was prepared before my guests arrived. I even remembered to remove the hanging-to-dry panties from my shower, for crying out loud!

I thought THIS was that PERFECT night of entertaining.

How wrong I was. Ho, ho, ho. The phone rings– BAM. Done! Instead of staggering home at 1am, the guests are leaving at 10. So be it.

That said, could’ve been SO MUCH WORSE.

I’m just here doing a PSA to remind you: We control fuck all. We try, but we don’t.

Things go sideways. It happens. No matter how much we plan, people get in accidents, they die, mishaps happen, trains derail. The whole shebang.

All we can do? Stand by, watch, and when the chaos subsides, we can respond.

With that? Not too heartbroken that this might be the last Christmas dinner I host for a long time, thanks to my impending island move. But… maybe it’s better to be the guest, for a while.

Like I said: The things you don’t know about coulda been so much worse. I’m so grateful it ended where it did.

So, Merry Christmas to us all. May better days be ahead.

Breathe, Grasshopper.

I tend to see patterns in life, from time to time.

These days, there are a few things cropping up here and there, all through my rehab, and it’s starting to echo in other aspects of life, but I’ll spare you the excess drama there.

One is the idea of ending the crazy by focusing on the moment. Another is that of breathing deeply and purposefully.

They both sound pretty basic.

“Think about now? Okay. Got it. Breathe slowly? Uh-huh. Got that. Rocked it. Moving on.”

But, um, you’d be wrong.

Some say 75% of adults are breathing incorrectly. If your shoulders move when you breathe, you’re doing it wrong. Your diaphragm hits belly-level, so your gut should fill and expand rather balloon-like, I’m told. If not, yer doin’ it wrong.

Photo I took in Vancouver's Olympic Village. Unknown girl: breathing/being.

And being grounded in the moment? Well, for example, can you tell me exactly what your body is doing right this second? What do you really feel? If you’re not sure about it, that’s a no. That’s what being fully in the moment means. It’s about knowing what’s truly going on around you, what your body is doing, and more. It’s hard to attain, ‘cos we’re so interminably distracted by the go-go-go of life.

Part of why I’m changing things up by leaving for a smaller city is I’m just so lost from any given moment. I’m incomprehensibly distracted. It wasn’t bad enough that I had the constant drone of both traffic and airport traffic surrounding my neighbourhood and my work, but now my apartment pipes and my refrigerator both do nightly practice of imitating Wookie death-rattles.

Add to that the constant-whiny buses and the roaring-fast traffic encircling my work and home, and it’s amazing I can finish sentences, let alone blog or write longer works. Focus is hard when you’re constantly on Pedestrian DefCon 3 and you’re not built for it, like sissy-pants Me.

But I digress.

So, I have this new chiropractor who’s all Zen-Master-Geek-Lord about back health, which is to say he’s weirdly good in a “Dude, that’s too easy!” kinda way.

I have this new theory that, like doctors over-prescribe medications, docs like chiropractors can over-adjust patients just because we’re under the guise that we’re broken and need fixing. My new chiro will only make the adjustment if he thinks I’m restricted. If he’s not, he won’t do anything.

He has me breathing for homework. Everyone else has been all “Gimme 20 push-ups” or whatever, usually involving extreme effort, all of which has gotten me only 70% of the way I want to be, after 9+ months of back-rehab stupid, and a second such serious injury in three years.

Zen-Master-Geek-Lord, however, has me pursuing breathing exercises, followed by simple advice. Like after I asked him “But what abdominal muscles should I be contracting when I walk?” Zen-Master-Geek-Lord replied with “Never mind. That gets confusing. You tell people that, they start thinking too much, and counter-intuitive stuff happens.  Just walk one inch taller. That’s all.”

So, I have, and it seems to be helping. And it sounds STUPID that I should require such SIMPLE advice, but this is how we get injured.

We get injured because we UnLearn basic nature. Our human nature is, breathe deep by expanding your belly. One day, you get hurt, or sick, or something, and you start breathing differently.

It takes an average of 21 days to learn a new condition. Ergo, it takes 20 days to unlearn one. I don’t know when I stopped breathing right, but I’m betting it was long, long ago. What else don’t I do anymore? I’d like to find out.

I’ve unlearned a lot of good things in all areas, and I want to change that. I’m looking forward to attaining Change: 360. Life full of learning and unlearning for a while. Sounds fun to me.

Life’s stressful as I head to the new-world days, but it’s been stressful for ages, for all the wrong reasons, and now it’s because I’m embarking on newness. That’s awesome.

But when I’m stressed and tired: I forget to breathe. And when life went in the toilet with my injury earlier this year, my bad breathing probably got worse. Breathing deeply doesn’t feel stellar with serious back injury.

Lately, I’ve had three different health professionals remind me to breathe, and more asthma issues more often. It’s funny I should be told now that part of my injury is that I’ve stopped breathing correctly and it’s resulted in muscles around my diaphragm weakening, causing my chronic back issues in the lumbar region, and that the asthma’s likely more behavioural than biological.

And knowing that just breathing correctly is fixing my back, when exercising daily wasn’t, is kind of bizarre and Twilight-Zone-ish.

I breathe more in the summer. It's not hard, here.

All this is affirming for me that it’s the simplest things often have the most profound pay-off, or consequence, in our day-to-day, and also that neglecting fundamentals can have rippling effects. Affirmation comes in another form, too, in that the idea of moving away just to knock a whole lot of speed and stress off my day might be the right plan… especially if I wanna focus on the moment and take the time to breathe on a constant basis.

I’m very, very excited about the year to come. I don’t mind taking the opportunity to ground myself, take some breaths, and save my energy for humans instead of for mundane things like endless work commutes.

It’s good that I’m seeing patterns. The above may or may not compute for you, but it resonates loudly for me. It’s the “seeing things” mode I need to achieve before I can find my will to write, and write often. Hallway vision, as they say, has been AWOL for a good long time. To unlock the “Be a Writer” Badge might be a little inconvenient time-management-wise before my move, but it’d do my soul a world of good.

I guess that’s why I’m learning to stop and breathe. Maybe writing needs me to pause a whole lot more to get through the crap of daily life and find the marrow.

Next week becomes both about being still and moving forward. Taking breaks, but starting to pack. Balance, grasshopper. Breathe.

2012, you’re looking good. Can’t wait. Om. [takes a deep breath]

My Choice to Move: Addressing Your Comments

Time to tackle some of the comments from the last week on my “bombshell” of my leaving this storied city of glass, Vancouver. [My original rant about getting out is here, and the “deeper reasons” posting is here.]

After this, I’ll move on to blogging about the process of moving, the reflections it creates as I go through a lifetime of belongings to ready myself for a new life, and other things one might be lost in thought over during such a process.

The Preamble

First: I’ve deleted TWO comments. Both were from people who didn’t know how to say they disagreed with me or thought I was whiney or whatever without calling me names and generally being dicks about it. I know you have freedom of speech and I encourage you to use it, but there’s no constitutional amendment that requires me to listen to your bullshit when you decide to use said freedoms to be a belligerent asshole about it. So, yeah, feel free to waste your time, but I’ll be deleting that crap.

Second: Let’s clear a few things up. I don’t think the day-to-day things will be much cheaper at all in Victoria. What I think is, I can get a much nicer home for only a few dollars more than I pay now, and live in a much more convenient neighbourhood that’s easier on me in every way than the place I’m in now.

Third: I don’t plan to return to the city every week or two, so travel costs don’t matter. I don’t plan to suddenly become a “concerts/theatre/ games” person because it’s been out of my budget the last couple years anyhow, so I’m quite content for a quiet life of parties at home, reading more, and exploring the world. Fact is, Vancouver’s priced most of the entertainment world out of my reach, so moving to a place where there’s less of that really isn’t a drawback. In fact, it’s a bit of an advantage, because I won’t want what I can’t have. Between my back problem and my lack of writing, being stuck on buses for up to 15 hours a week and not living close to any decent shops, the commuting is killing me. I want a walking lifestyle in a reasonably quiet, convenient area that will be better for me creatively, physically, and quality-of-life-like, and where people don’t drive 70km through the side streets like they do where I’m at now.

Okay? All rightie then.

From Culture to Pace

I get why people love big cities but a lot of the things about big cities aren’t things I’m really wild about. I don’t like the endless bustle and noise. I don’t like crowds and chaos. I don’t need “excitement.”

Deep down inside, a part of me would like to live in the Scottish Highlands and visit society once a month. If anything, I worry Victoria isn’t quiet and small enough for me.

One reader, @NiftyNotCool, commented on the backwater attitudes in the small Saskatchewan town she was raised in, and that’s why she needed to get out and move to a forward, progressive city like Vancouver. I totally get that, and it’s something I DO love about Vancouver — how open-minded it is, how many of my gay friends have found community here, how multicultural it is, and how well it seems all us races get along most of the time.

Clearing Up What “Foreign” Means

Now, let’s address the obnoxious comment I deleted that made it sound like I’m some racist who hates the fact that people of different ethnicities moved here and the real estate market escalated.

No, if you LIVE here, then I think it’s great. Hell, I’ve been an ESL teacher in the past, so the culture shock of moving here has even been my bread and butter.

My problem is with foreign millionaire landlords who don’t live here, don’t pay taxes here, and who buy properties solely as investments in an overpriced market, then charge high rents to reap rewards on those investments, thus escalating the market as a whole for renters and people who are looking to invest in a home to live in. I want the market protected from outside investors for a while, just so the local population can catch up — whether they’re “born” local or transplanted. Buying to live in it? Fine. As long as you’re interested in community and being part of the city, welcome to ya, whatever your background.

I may also have a problem with the number of SUSHI restaurants in Vancouver, but that’s the extent of my racial discontent.

I Think I Need A Drink

And, speaking of restaurants, I regret ever bringing up the motif of the “$10 beer” in my first posting. I know overpriced beer exists in Victoria. Hell, they charge $60 or something for High Tea at the Empress, so you know the stupid’s going on across the pond too. Let’s forget I ever bothered with that argument, since I also have to admit there’s $3.75 sleeves 10 blocks from my present home. I never grumbled about a $10 Guinness last fall, just this sleeve of Rickards. It’s too ordinary to be expensive. Still: You people are right, I was wrong, and there we go. Moving on. Ixnay the eerbay, eh?

When Money’s Too Tight To Mention

Another comment I had came from some 21-year-old shithead who thinks he knows something about life and the struggles that might come down one’s way. I’ve been around too many blocks to even begin caring about that perspective, and that got deleted on merit alone since he was such a mouthy little fuck in his arguments, and the mouthy little fuck knows jack about my life.

It’s not like I’ve been forced to hit up the Food Bank or anything. My argument primarily is: the ridiculous renter’s/buyer’s market is insane and it’s now draining a lot of people like me who’ve “gotten by” for years but need to get ahead finally, and it’s just not happening in this city for us. The cost of living is high, and one would expect that today, but the real estate is off the charts.

If I’m paying high rent to live in the city but still spending a minimum of 10-15 hours in commute for work each week, and getting none of the “convenience” of living in the city, and I can’t afford the “scene,” then, what is it am I paying for? It’s a problem for a lot of us. For some, the solution is moving out to the ‘Burbs. For others, it’s just moving somewhere new entirely.

Ain’t No One-Size-Fits-All Dealio, Bob

I don’t think that the solutions I’ve chosen are right for anyone but me. I’m not trying to suggest I have the answer to anyone’s problems, or even a clue how to solve Vancouver’s market problems, but I think I’ve found the right choice for me, for now. I didn’t grab a Magic 8 Ball looking for Band-aids to life here, I took most of the year to decide when and where I should be going, on criteria that matters to me, and I considered cities across this great country. Ultimately, moving far from home doesn’t work, because I truly love this area.

I’ve been slow and careful in choosing because I think I had a fork in the road many years ago and took the wrong path. I think I’ve spent years struggling because of choices I could’ve made but didn’t.

And that’s life. Making a wrong turn isn’t something that becomes clear in a week or a month. Sometimes it takes years. And, yeah, it’s clear to me now. I think.

The Vancouver “problem” isn’t the culture. It’s not the mix of races. It’s not the beautiful setting. It’s not the fun festivals. It’s not the amazing bike paths, seaside routes, or any of that. It’s not the “Greenest City in the World” plan. It’s either that you can afford to live where it’s amazing, or you can’t.

And, me, I’m over city life. I’m tired. I don’t need the noise or the crowds or the commutes anymore. I don’t need to be an hour from town so I can “live it up” now and then. I need something less on a constant basis, and for quite a while.

For me, for now, less is more.

Now, I’ll assume I’ve said enough on the whys and wherefores. Moving on, kids.

The Deeper Reasoning Behind My Going

I wrote 1,300 words earlier but they don’t feel right after coffee. So, let’s try this again. [deep breath] Om…

***

My Friday post about leaving Vancouver is inspiring a lot of discussion, and I’m thrilled for the comments. So much is being said. I plan to mine the comments for posts in the coming weeks, because I think what’s going on in Vancouver, how the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” has become an anthem for a select class of Vancouverites, deserves a lot of discussion.

[If you’ve discovered my blog by way of others, hiya, and thanks for visiting.]

I’ve grumbled for a while that the cost of living is just ridiculous in Vancouver. Through an unfortunate series of events — bad vehicular accidents, stupid injuries, illnesses, victim of industry slowdown, over eight years — I’ve had one financial hit after another in recent years, like a boxer who keeps taking blows when he’s struggling to his feet. Well, when you’re down so long, it’s hard to see what way’s up.

I was an early financial canary in the recessionary coalmine and I’ve been hurtin’ in the bank for a long time comin’ now. The question of “how much is too much” when you’re throwing money at a way of life that leaves you an observer always on the flipside of the action starts to get a little old after two, three years of serious cutbacks and struggle.

There comes a day when there’s a line in the financial sand you can’t get over anymore, and if you don’t get gone, you just might get swallowed up. I have worried that if I stay in Vancouver much longer, that line in the sand will be crossed and I’ll no longer be able to get myself out of this situation. I’m not planning to stick around and find out.

I’ve said before about life that sometimes we just need to be uninvited from the party. Well, after so long of just getting by, and seeing my ability to afford even the meagre indulgences in life dwindle, I’ve taken the hint.

#OccupyWallStreet really amped up my thinking about what quality of life means, and what I’m willing to accept in life.

I don’t need a lot, you know. A good computer, a nice apartment, some comfortable belongings. I love the stuff  I own. I want to replace very little of it, actually. And I’m grateful for what I own, too. Then there’s cooking — like the ability to use good ingredients for cooking, that’s important, and is something I can’t always do these days. Wine two or three nights a week, also important. I’d like some more kitchen gadgets and a whole enameled cast-iron cooking set, but that’s a whole ‘nother matter. Aside from that? Pretty content on the possessions front.

So, there’s not a lot I really “want” in life. It’s not about that, and never was.

I don’t feel entitled. I don’t feel ripped off. I feel occasionally bitter that simple things I used to enjoy — dining out, concerts, games — are out of my means now, because life keeps getting more and more expensive but my salary stays the same, a common theme I hear from others. But, then, I don’t think often about restaurants, games, or concerts anymore, so they’re not really a factor any longer, either.

So, if I’ve made my peace with the idea that I don’t go out, and that’s sort of my level of expectation in life, and I’ve lowered my standard of living and simplified my expenses, and I’ve caught up with all my bills, and I’m on top of my finances that way, and I still can’t live “up” to my now-adjusted-and-simpler standard of living, well… something has to change.

Other people don’t have the same connection to place. I understand this. Some thrive to pick up and go. But I’m a sticker. I love my home. I’ve lived in 5 places in 38 years, with two of them alone compile more than 30 years of my life — my first home and my most recent apartment. I don’t like being in places for a short period of time. I want to know people, haunts, secrets, and more.

But it’s really hard to look around this place — a rainforest with world-class mountains, the Pacific Ocean, culture, great food, rivers, and more — and think “Yeah, I can do better than this.” Leaving doesn’t exactly sound like a step up when looking at everything around me here in Vancouver.

Then I remember it’s all dragging me down ‘cos that awesome comes at a price, a price too high for the payin’, and leaving’s the only thing I can do to break my  downward spiral.

So, it’s a really heavy heart that has made these choices.

But now that the choices have been made, I’m excited about the change. This is gonna rock, you know?

I love “learning by experiencing” in a new place, just like getting to know a lover. Every day it seems there’s some new thing to discover, and that’s just a fantastic way to live.

As a writer, I’ve long since lost my fire within. There’s something missing inside me, and I think being able to get up and see Difference around me every morning might be the thing to fire me up again.

Besides all that, it’s a monumental time in my life, and I’ve known that  as I’ve waded through the deciding of late. It’s the fork in the road — do I choose a city career or do I roll the dice on my writing dreams?

By choosing to get out of Vancouver, I’m telling myself I deserve more, I’m asserting that I won’t settle for less. I’m putting a value on my time, what I’m willing to waste on a commute, versus giving back to myself via writing and other passion-based endeavours.

I’m proving that I’m meant to live a slower life. I’m living up to my ethics and finally making the switch to a lifestyle where I can mostly walk and cycle, and stop leaving a big-ass carbon footprint.

I get to continue being surrounded by arts, culture, and open-minded people. I’m affirming that a life spent pursuing greater creativity, and living closer to people who inspire it within me, is something that’s critical to my nature.

I know, down deep, that acting on all those values in this way is something that will resonate and ripple for me, and for a long time to come.

I’m being forced to move by today’s economies, but that doesn’t make me a victim. It makes me someone with my eyes wide open, who’s choosing to turn it into a opportunity for positive change.

I might still be on a tight budget as I make my way to where I’m going, since most of the costs of living are somewhat similar to hear, save for rental and the ridiculous commutes, but it’s a really exciting time to be running down a new dream, whatever the price.

And so it begins.

***

Yes, I plan to continue blogging in Victoria. Yes, I will write about the experience of moving toward the big day. Yes, some will be panicky and insane. Yes, I will address some of your great comments in postings to come. Yes, my head may explode before Christmas at this rate. And, yes, it’s kinda fun. Stay tuned for more. Thanks for reading.

Vancouver: I Love You, But I’m Leaving

This is my first piece on my decision to leave my hometown of Vancouver and head for Victoria, off the coast, the southernmost point of Vancouver Island. (Vancouver is on the Mainland, not on the island that bears its name. No, that’s not confusing at all. God.)

Because it’s the first time I’m letting the cat out of the bag, there’s a lot of simmering anger in me. I feel I’ve been forced to this decision by a city that has become a place where much of the 99% can barely get by. Like so often is the case, my anger’s finally making me act, and I’m picking up my first moving boxes this weekend.

As time evolves, I’ll look at this shift in my life with a more tempered, mellow view, but today I’m embracing the anger and the Dark Side for this posting.

The Breaking Point

It’s quittin’ time, Henry.

Gettin’ while the gettin’s good.

Hasta la sayonara. Change of address. Forwarding my mail.

All this and more, soon. Outta Vancouver, man. Into the fray. I’m a goner, Ma.

Some might think I’m crazy. “HEY, leaving the most liveable city in the WORLD? Are you NUTS?”

No, man. I’m just real fuckin’ broke, and real fuckin’ tired. File me under “Can’t give a shit anymore.”

For two years, I’ve been growing weary of Vancouver life. I’ll always love this town. It’s my home, but it’s now become my burden.

I didn’t come on some vacation, fall in love, and move. I’m not some foreign investor who’s decided to throw his wad at the town. I’m not some keenie who thought the Vancouver future was so bright, they came packin’ shades for life in a rainforest.

No. I was BORN here. This is my HOME.

Urban Undone

Most “born” Vancouverites I know — they’re really, really chill, down-to-earth people. The transplants? Depends. Many, not so much. It’s messing up the mix, and what was once a really laidback city often feels pretentious, overpriced, and pretty shallow. Maybe I work downtown too much.

I’ve been employed in the heart of Yaletown off and on for 12 years. Love the office I work in, hate the neighbourhood.

Every day, I show up to a job where I barely scrape by because it’s not a lucrative industry but it’s a great office, and I work in a neighbourhood where I find Ferraris parked, toy dogs, and plenty of ridiculously plastic people. Seriously, I think a Yaletown shop should open offering the service of extracting people’s heads from their asses. If one more asshole with an umbrella walks under an awning hugging the building in a rainstorm, I’m gonna slap someone.

After work a couple weeks ago, I went out for a BEER in the hood and had to pay $9.50. Before tip. For a SLEEVE, not a PINT. Metric THIS, baby. I don’t know what fairy godparent pays your tab, but I can’t do $10 not-a-pints. I buy a bottle of wine for that, for crying out loud, and at least that can put me out of my misery if I drink it fast enough. Let’s get real here. I fuckin’ hate Yaletown.

The class divide? I WORK inside it. While I’m so over it, I’m totally not, because it’s in my face daily.

But not for long.

When I grew up, Vancouver had under a half-million people. It was some quaint pint-sized version of Seattle-meets-San Francisco, but we liked it.

Now? It’s some gleaming pearl in the world and everyone wants to live here. Thanks, Hollywood people.

The average Vancouver-city home now sells for 11x the average family’s income. Compared to that income, Vancouver’s property values are a ridiculous 56% higher than NYC, & even stacks up 31% higher than the great city of London, England. It’s a bitch-slap to renters, too, because we have to absorb both land and tax costs, but we’re also the people least likely to afford to do so, leading to people having roommates as they’re pushing 40 and beyond now. Then there’s the lack of new rental opportunities because developers only care to sell, not rent. No one has a long-game in the providing-homes-business anymore.

Add to that the fucking ongoing three-plus-year recession and that most small biz has frozen wages for most of that time, if not longer, and renting in Vancouver is a real conundrum.

LIVEABLE? SURELY YOU JEST.

Where the 30% Can Afford to Play

Like this brilliant Vancouver Magazine article reports, I know more and more people in their 30s and 40s looking for second jobs, but most of them are secretly thinking there’s got to be a better life where we don’t need to work 60-hour weeks to be stuck in traffic only to pay exorbitant prices as premiums for the location — be it in dining, rent, clothing, or whatever. (Or $10 draught sleeves of local beer.)

This will always be my home, but I wish to hell so many people hadn’t found out about it, because I’m REALLY not digging the company.

Every day, I’m tired, I’m annoyed, I’m broke, and I’m left wondering when I’m gonna bloody stop feeling like this.

And then I realized: I’m not. It won’t stop.

It’s not me, Vancouver. It’s you.

For all your positives, there’s all these downsides that no one wants to talk about.

You’ve got a lot of people who don’t smile on streets, who look like they’ve been slapped if you say “hello” (if they look at you at all). You’re expensive. Your traffic is often at a crawl. You’re filled with “scenes.” And, because you’re so expensive, everyone’s so primed to get by and get ahead that socializing seems more about business than making friends.

God, you’re SO expensive.

I just can’t pay the price anymore, not literally or figuratively. It’s eating at my soul.

I have a Virginia Woolf quote on a memento at home. It says: “If you are losing your leisure, look out, for you may be losing your soul.” One day recently, I dusted it, read it, and I realized I’m absolutely losing my soul.

While I love Vancouver’s setting and its diversity, the truth is, I’ve seen far too much of the same for 37 years. The newness here all looks the same — glass and concrete. I need a more soulful newness, and Victoria’s close yet far… and looking to me very much like what Vancouver was 30 years ago.

Making the Working-from-Home Switch

In this town, I’m an unlucky girl who landed a serious back injury and is struggling to get by. On top of my full-time week, I’m rehabbing an injury, and even though I live inside of city limits, the 10km I travel to downtown takes me about 40 minutes each way, and when you factor in all my appointments, getting around, and more, it’s adding up to a crazy 15-20 hours a week I’m spending on transit. It’s soul-sucking.

Right now, I can’t work from home because I hate my home, since my landlord has dreams of achieving “slumlord” status. To rent a new place in a better neighbourhood, I’m looking at a 50-60% rent increase, and nothing in this city remains for what I pay now. There’s co-op housing, which would be affordable, but it needs a 5-year commitment, and the idea of committing to this city another five years has churned my stomach of late.

I have no interest in being in this craptastic apartment all day every day. My at-home workstation sucks, and I’ve fallen out of love with my apartment since the cockroach episode of ’08-’10. My desk is too high. At the real office, I’m simply at my desk too long. I hate leaving work and returning because my days are long enough as-is, given my back-injury needs, so I generally work straight through my days. It’s not ideal, but it gets my day over faster, and me home sooner.

In the end, I spend lots of weekends keeping to myself to recharge and house-clean, because I’m too weary after work with my wonky body to be doing that crap on work nights. It’s an unsatisfying and even depressing balance that’s the only thing I can make work for city-life these days. It keeps me antisocial, and I hate that my life has become this. I don’t hate people, I’d like to see them, but I also need a certain amount of time to myself, and that’s how it’s achieved in long-term injury rehab when one’s stuck in the urban rat-race.

Moving to Victoria, my rent’ll be about the same price but my home and neighbourhood should be better, and possibly with utilities included, lowering my expenses. I’ll be close to the downtown core AND the ocean, less than 20 blocks from each, and could ditch a bus-pass in favour of walking 80% of the time — great for my body. I can work from home and keep my antisocialness to a practical level, then escape to see the world because I’ll be living in the mix, not stuck on the inconvenient busing-to-every-place outskirts like I am now. I could write in cafes with my soon-to-be Boxing-Day-Special laptop, work out more regularly, keep my work-seated hours to smaller chunks for better back health, and maybe, just maybe, have more fun.

The discipline required to work from home will be hard, but the soul-suckingness required to work in the heart of Vancouver is a far higher price to pay than the task of making myself become disciplined.

Quality of Life

Vancouver Island is almost self-contained. As a foodie, this is kind of awesome, because so much is grown and produced there, and the profit margin is much higher for vendors to use sustainable practices and sell close to home. I’ve been checking out grocery prices, and finding that locally-raised unmedicated chicken sells at prices lower than mass market meats here on the Mainland do.

All things considered, for me, moving for “quality of life” makes a lot of sense. I’ll be able to balance the demands of working for a living along with the living I’ve not seemed to get around to doing a lot of over the last couple of years. I’m imagining a Steff who likes to walk and explore, who feels relaxed enough to finally focus on reading and writing again, who’s out rediscovering her love for photography, eating less processed food and taking the time to cook healthily at home. I’m imagining a Steff I used to be, a Steff whose soul got lost a while ago.

And then there are the pubs. Real British pubs. Fan-fucking-tastic. Maybe they don’t charge $9.50 a sleeve. (Motherfuckers!)

Being the heart of a ferry system for both the province of BC and an outcropping of the Washington State ferries, Victoria offers far different weekend-traveller options that include crazy rainforests, other islands, and Canada’s only surfing spots, and other great haunts, all for far cheaper than Mainland travel spots.

Will I stay there forever? Unlikely. Stay for five years? I think so.

The Last Word (For Now)

Sure, it’s a drastic — and considering I have to pay to move my belongings by weight on the ferries, expensive — move. And it seems surreal to be so excited (yet still sad) to be leaving, knowing all these organizations claim Vancouver is the most liveable city in the world, something that makes my jaw drop every time I hear it.

Vancouver Island in the distance, from UBC's Fraser Outlook.

Maybe it used to be, but with bad civic policies leading to exorbitant and insane real estate prices, the day-to-day here remains out-of-reach for most of the 99%.

A lot of us single folk in our 30s and 40s, who are tired of barely getting by, let alone not getting ahead, can assure you these ranking folk are misreading their data. Very unscientifically, about one in three people I talk to who are in my age range have considered leaving Vancouver, and their options are still open. Most people I know dine out less, have less time for leisure activities, and are feeling more stress than ever. At this rate, soon, this town will only consist of white-collar workers and upper-management, unless expensive rental conundrums are solved, and fast.

I can either cough up the 50-60% more for rent now for the delusion of living the good life while killing myself to make my ends meet, or I can admit I’ve lost the battle, but that the battle’s no longer worth the fight, pick up, and leave. And leaving brings a quieter, simpler, closer, more convenient, healthier lifestyle, for the same price as I pay now, or maybe less.

Hmm. Yeah. Doesn’t sound like such a tough choice now, huh? So, 10 more weeks, then.

It’s a drastic change, but my gut says a great one. Buckle up. This’ll be a fun ride.

***

I’ll definitely be blogging about everything coming down my pipes — from moving ideas, planning, to the simmering excitement of not knowing where I’ll be or what’s gonna happen, for the next three months of my life. Yep. 2012’s gonna be a good’un. I just need to remember to stop and breathe a few times between now and March.