Tag Archives: Vancouver

Notes On A Good Week

I’m supposed to be working this weekend, finishing off the cookbook I’ve long promised everyone, but life interfered and I got tired of saying no to life. So I said yes for a bit.

Family arrived in town, my cousin I haven’t see in 25 years. He brought his daughter, who I’d never met before, and I’m so glad I blew off work. He’s turned into a great guy, a really loving and positive father, and a generous man. I smiled a lot. It was nice to reconnect.

And so continued what has been a week of epiphanies, small victories, change-making, and forgiveness.

While sailing on BC Ferries this week, I caught some beautiful light.

While sailing on BC Ferries this week, I caught some beautiful light.

Did you know I turned 40 last September? I did. I had very high expectations of this decade. I promised myself this would be the Decade of Steff. Me and my bucket list.

My 20s and 30s got hijacked and I lost my way. I never gave up, but I never saw things very clearly, either. I felt like the guy that gets lost in a jungle full of vines and brush, constantly walking and trying to clear things away, but never really making progress. Well, walk long enough and there’s always an exit.

I’m slowly exiting my back injury. I’m better more often than I’m not. When I do get hurt, even seriously, I rebound in 2–3 days or a week. There’s some kind of Zen lesson to take from serious, long-term injury. There’s a wisdom that comes from overcoming something that had been so debilitating for so long.

(But not all chronic injuries can be overcome, of course. I am lucky.)

When I moved to Victoria, my first chiropractor was trying to sell me on an expensive procedure because he claimed I had a loose hip ligament or something that couldn’t be fixed through exercise. I was already broke and I was devastated that I couldn’t “afford” to fix myself.

Flying on BC's Helijet.com, I got a good view of the slowpoke ferry below.

Flying on BC’s Helijet.com, I got a good view of the slowpoke ferry below.

Then I changed caregivers. Through very good research, I found a team of rehab folks who believed it was something I could overcome both through treatment and old-school work ethic. They didn’t see a fat girl, they saw a girl who once lost 85 pounds in a year, via near-Olympian effort in both sports and nutrition. They saw someone who needed encouragement, support, and challenge. Then they gave that to me.

In some ways, moving to Victoria was about me going somewhere to lick my wounds, keep to myself, and re-discover who I am. I have done all these things in that order. It’s been wonderful.

The Zen of Recovery, I’ve found, is in learning just how tough you are, how much you can overcome. It also puts a lot of life’s struggles into perspective. You learn that trite sayings like “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” really aren’t trite when you’re the one who’s been getting forged like steel in fire.

Cloudy? Or Sunny? Depends on your perspective. I love the unexpected cloudy sunsets.

Cloudy? Or Sunny? Depends on your perspective. I love the unexpected cloudy sunsets.

As I’ve matured, I’ve really allowed myself to own my emotions. If I’m depressed, I’ll let myself wallow in that for a bit. I permit myself to be angry, joyous, neglectful, and all kinds of other things. I’m human. These emotions are a part that journey. It doesn’t mean I’m broken. It means I’m really, really present on the ride. I’m there, I’m doing it, I’m experiencing every bump and bruise along the way.

I’ve enjoyed these two years that I’ve made myself the priority and let the rest of life pass me by. It’s what I needed and I wouldn’t change a thing.

But this week has been something of a light turning on. I’ve had some really great project ideas you’ll find out about in coming months. I’ve stopped to enjoy life on the occasions I could. I’ve overcome a couple of struggles. I went away for a weekend, had fun with friends, splurged, and didn’t come home broke. It was a good, good week.

I think it’s important to just press pause sometimes and enjoy the smug glee of getting shit right and living well across all sectors of life. From money to fitness to diet to self-care, I’ve gotten everything right this week. It really doesn’t happen often to us adults living in the topsy-turvy real world, so it’s great to celebrate. Sometimes celebrating it makes it last a little longer, keeps me in the groove. That’s the good of gratitude, man.

Because grateful is what I am. And excited. I feel that my 40th year has been setting a pretty wicked tone for the decade to come.

Just over a decade ago I kicked off my 30s by nearly dying twice in a year. Not an auspicious start! This decade kicked off by finding a wonderful home, fixing my back, sorting out my finances, rediscovering my creative self, and setting ambitious goals for the 10 years ahead.

As a comparison, it’s like I’ve become my own doppelganger in an alternative universe. There’s so many miles between these two lives of mine that it might as well be measured in light years.

A walk at dusk on Wednesday brought peekaboo sun-flares.

A walk at dusk on Wednesday brought peekaboo sun-flares.

When I think of 10 years from now, shit, I can’t even fathom it. How many books will I have written? How many photographs will I have sold? How many countries will I have seen? How strong will I be? What kind of amazing people will I have met and brought into my fold? How many dreams will I have lived through and ticked off my list?

Great questions. I have no fucking idea, man, but I can’t wait to see how that script plays out. Luckily I’m a writer.

Yep. It’s been a good week.

Did you know I’m scheming of many ebooks, the first of which I’m nearly done, and two others I’m already at work on? For the price of a coffee, you can support me while reading good stuff. Sign up for my newsletter, where I’ll apprise you of developments without boring the shit out of you or being spammy.

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Let’s Talk Mental Health: Life after Depression, My Story

Today is #BellLetsTalk day in Canada. It’s an initiative by Bell Media to get Canadians talking about mental health. Use of the hashtag on Twitter results in 5 cents per tweet getting donated to mental health awareness by Bell, but the tweet needn’t be about mental health to count. Tweeting about a donut? Tag that.

This big-biz-sponsored day on mental health has prompted me to want to talk again about my own experiences with depression, because I know for a fact it has helped people in the past, something that fills me with great pride.

I consider myself major-depression-free for 5 years now. (Woohoo!)

Sure, I got pretty depressed at the end of my time in Vancouver, but that’s different. That’s what you call “situational depression,” in which you get depressed as a natural result of a situation in your life — whether it’s a death, a job loss, bankruptcy, or any other major stress that can result in anxiety and other disorders. You can medicate yourself to manage these situations, too, or you can just hang on tight, knowing that it’s related to something that’s going on and that it’ll pass. When I thought about the stress of moving, I was depressed.

When I thought of the life I expected after moving, I felt momentary glee and hope. That’s how I knew it was a situational depression and that it would subside.

So, I hung on for the ride, then I moved to Victoria. It passed.

And that’s life.

It’s a lie to try and convince anyone that once depression goes away it’s all sunshine and roses. It’s not. Some are prone to depression and moods. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m “prone” to it, but I know that I have been susceptible in difficult times. The safe thing is to assume that I might always have a hard time in some situations. I’m a passionate person. Maybe that’s part of the package.

I think occasional susceptability to deep moods is a pretty normal deal. The important thing is being able to recognize it.

When I suffered my major, major depression that was chemically induced by a bad birth control prescription that closed in on me fast and changed everything. It began early 2006 and lasted into the autumn. I had to ask for help. I had to place an emergency call to a shrink in August, and then I went and got meds, and things began to improve 3 weeks later, but it was a long struggle back to normalcy.

I took those meds until spring 2008, but had to rapidly get off them because I had changed my diet and exercise routine so dramatically (and would lose 80 pounds that year) that I was able to get my body chemistry back to normal. At that point, the “anti-depressants” began making me aggressive, and we knew what was going on: I was getting balanced through natural means and no longer needed the chemicals to regulate matters.

Since then, I need a combination of time alone, vitamins, quality exercise, and regular sleep to keep my moods regulated. And if I “go off balance,” it’s usually only a couple days before I’m back to where I need to be.

Depression, once you’ve had a REAL depression — not just sadness or stress or a down period, but clinical dark-as-fuck, will-I-survive-this depression — I think it’s always there. Like a mole on your leg or your social security number, that experience just becomes a part of you.

I don’t mean in a way that you’re always AWARE of it, or that you always feel it. I just mean that when a real wave of sadness or sorrow hits, you remember that time when you couldn’t escape that feeling.

It’s always a relevant thing. Any time those moods return, I think it’s when a formerly depressed individual has to ask themselves if the emotional response they’re having is suited to the situation they’re experiencing, or if their response is illogical and possibly a sign that something chemical is off in the body.

Last week, I had just that kind of a week. I was moody, depressed, not wanting to do anything, and after a few days I realized there wasn’t a causal reason that deserved the reaction I was having. Then I realized I’d not been taking my vitamins for over a week.

Boom. Took vitamins, slept better, and then next day I was back to a normal level of grumpy I-Hate-February self. And that’s okay, because I’ve always hated February, and then I’m like a little kid in March when sun comes and flowers bloom. That’s my “normal,” and it’s okay, as long as I know that’s what’s going on.

Eventually, being a survivor of depression is just like being a survivor of back-pain or the owner of a shifty knee. You’re aware it’s a weakness you’ve had, and when things go awry, it’s okay to ask if it’s a Big Picture situation, or just a fluctuating phase like everyone experiences.

And it’s still okay.

I survive grumpiness. I also experience a lot of joy. I smile a lot, even when I’m alone. I get angry, too, but then I tell people why, or I write about it.

Mental illness comes in many, many different levels of severity. Not all are debilitating. Not all are perceptible by others. But all of them have struck someone you know, someone who may not have had the courage to tell you or anyone else about it, and that’s the only thing shameful about mental illness I can think of. Please encourage people in your life to talk to you, to feel safe in admitting what they’re going through, because lives can depend on it.

When you’re in it, depression feels like forever.

When you survive it, it’s hard to believe you ever felt as bad you once did.

It can be survived. It’s the fight of a lifetime, and there are tools of all kinds you can wield against it. Talk to someone who knows.

If you’re depressed and you want to read an amazing account of what it felt like for Pulitzer-prize-winning author William Styron, read his Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness. If you love someone who’s depressed and can’t understand how/why they’ve changed so much or why nothing you say seems to help, please read Styron’s book, and you’ll understand it for the first time. Here’s an excerpt in Vanity Fair.

_____

Don’t forget… you can read about my new, improved life I’m leading in Victoria on my new blog, VanIsleStyle.com, my take on a lifestyle blog.

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Bittersweet Beginnings

I know I haven’t been blogging, but I’ve obviously been settling into a new life and don’t feel badly at all that my attentions are otherwise focused.

But I have to drop in for a quick hello, even if I have a busy day ahead. It’s worth commenting on this.

My heart’s breaking as speculation mounts that the Book Warehouse in Vancouver might be closing its four locations, the last indie book chain in town, sounding an almost-imminent death knell for independent bookselling in a city of 2 million.

The Playhouse’s last night inspired protests. Photo by Arlen Redekop of the Vancouver Sun.

In the two weeks since I left my hometown, which was a decision two years in the making, the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company has closed down after 49 years, a found 70+year-old “ghost wall” reflecting a time long past, uncovered in a demo, was unceremoniously demolished, and word was announced that the venerable arts-house theatre The Ridge would be shutting down and replaced with, yes, more condos.

I’m broken-hearted for Vancouver, and have been for a long time.

Many of us residents felt it was a joke that the City had so many arts events happening during the Olympics, and we were right, because as soon as the Games left town, so did this newfound arts embrace demonstrated by government.

It seems now the slippery slope of not respecting arts and not playing an active role in finding a way to keep culture alive in Vancouver has resulted in people wondering nationally if Vancouver’s not just a little kid in the sandbox, since the town clearly doesn’t grasp the effect a cultural scene plays in keeping a city vibrant.

And, the thing is, it’s not just about the City Council kicking arts when they’re already down and out, by giving developers carte blanche to go ahead and mow down iconic locations like The Ridge, but it’s the incessant stupidity of continuing to allow foreign investment in Vancouver, when it’s driving rents into ludicrous territory, because there’s no person making under $40,000 who can comfortably live in Vancouver — anywhere — now.

It’s the people who make under $40,000 who answer your phones, serve your coffee, teach your kids, act in the theatre, read poetry in cafes, sell you movie tickets, and more.

And soon none of them will be able to afford Vancouver.

Don’t think I’m the only one who had an exit strategy. That door out of Vancouver’s a revolving one now, man.

There’s no sense living in the world’s most beautiful city if you can’t afford to live there in a way that allows you to enjoy it.

I was born and raised in Vancouver. The Vancouver Playhouse was instrumental in my cultural upbringing. I’ve seen musicals and ballets and murder mysteries there as a youth.

The Ridge Theatre was where I saw my first independent arthouse flick, and turned me onto all things cinematical — from Easy Rider to Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout. From Baraka to Rear Window. I saw ‘em all on screen at The Ridge. Across town, The Rio Theatre is fighting to stay alive by trying to become a hip place where you can see live performance, filmed entertainment, and have a drink — but governmental idiocy will likely kill them too.

And, Book Warehouse, well, they were never my cup of tea but they have been an important part of Vancouver’s independent bookselling scene for a long time, and the more informed reader could walk in and score deals on writers that met the returns pile but should be more read here in Canada, like James Kelman, Iain Banks, and Colum McCann.

These aren’t just “businesses.” They’re the soul of a city.

Vancouver is a young town and it disses its heritage, saying “well, it’s only 70/80/90 years old, so…” because other towns have been around for centuries.

But heritage is where we come from, and I don’t give a fuck that Vancouver’s become a city of immigrants. It’s OUR HISTORY.

There’s no cultural soul anymore. It’s tech industry and more.

But here in Victoria, they’ve attracted Microsoft, largely because of the quality of life offered to those living in Victoria. I predict we’ll see more businesses deciding not to open in Vancouver because they know it’ll be too hard to attract entry-level employees making under $50K, who are the backbone of any enterprise.

Soon, Vancouver’ll be a city full of Lululemon pants, people who never say hi to each other, toy dogs, and business folk — no artists, no creatives, no funky people.

And I won’t be there when it is.

Yeah. It breaks my heart. I love Vancouver. I just don’t like what it’s become. Vancouver, to me, is like that girl who was always pretty and fun and great to be around, but didn’t know it — then one day she figures out she’s hot, gets in with the cool kids, stops being a geek, wears high fashion, and loses all the personality that made her great in the first place. Now she’s just another vapid hottie.

Vancouver’s quickly becoming the vapid hottie with no soul, and it never needed to happen. There have long been incredible artistic peoples in Vancouver.

There just won’t be, soon.

And if Vancouverites don’t demand change, if laws around investments don’t alter, if tax credits for artistic societies don’t improve, if housing options for those who aren’t working in big biz don’t improve, then, yeah, expect to see a continuing demise in Vancouver’s arts scene.

Please, don’t let Vancouver become a vapid city. Even from afar, I don’t think my heart can take it.

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Alone Together: Urban Life In Vancouver

There’s been a lot of fuss of late in the Vancouver media about dating, meeting people, and the perceived isolation that seems so typical of Vancouverites.

I don’t know how we have a reputation for friendly people, but I’m betting those folk who think so are judging us from sunny days. This is Jeckyll/Hydeville, and it’s a rainforest. When weather rolls in, so does a whole new grumpified citizen.

But I read a reader’s response in VanMag this week and the writer later suggested on Twitter that perhaps our anti-social bad-flirting ways is because of our dearth of truly public gathering places, like European plazas and public courts, where people can really mingle together.

Unbelievably, it’s been nearly two years since the Olympics landed in Vancouver. Those halcyon days were truly amazing for us because we’ve never been that gathering kinda community in this town. It was a new world.

Cynics would say every time we get together it ends in a riot, but that’s bullshit. Riots happen in civilized cities too because asshats are omnipresent. Welcome to life.

It’s true, though. Vancouver doesn’t “gather” a lot. We’re not into community like some other places. We like to think we are, but we’re not.

We’re the city Arthur Erickson helped build, for all its pluses and minuses.

Instead of grand sweeping public places where you’re all in it together, we’ve got spaces filled with hideouts, different levels, and either manmade or natural divides.

Look at Arthur Erickson’s legacy project, the heart of Downtown Vancouver, Robson Square.* Littered with little spaces where you can shun others and be alone, it’s almost as if to suggest being in public is good, so long as you don’t have to actually mingle. Three people here, five people there… it’s still a gathering spot, just filled with micropockets of people. Alone together, the Vancouver way.

Ducking into alcoves for privacy and hiding seems like a great option, a wondrous thing for readers and lovers, but it encourages us to have distance from one another too.

With all our forests and twisty long miles of beaches for us to get lost in, and the pockets of ethnic neighbourhoods and the growing economic/class divides, it kind of makes sense that we’re this disconnected community here in Vancouver. We don’t chat or talk on streets. There are endless commutes between communities, which means picking a neighbourhood means likely committing to a neighbourhood, unless you’re driving a car.

Add it all up, and we’ve stopped talking to strangers, and have become insular. It’s frustrating for anyone who doesn’t want to be in that mode. Deep down inside, I’ve got New York-meets-small-island sensitivities, and this town confuses me.

Plus, this insular world is a game-changer if you’re single but don’t want to join a club or do the online-hookup thing.

So, this fuss about “Vancouver men suck” for dating, well, it goes both ways, sugar. I know I’m guilty of not flirting, smiling, or starting enough conversations.

That’s oversimplifying things, though.

I think it’s bigger than that. I think the cost of living here affects how much we want to date, I think the changing economy and how so many of us in the city have ditched cars doesn’t help the dating life either. Every added inconvenience or wrinkle makes dating, et al, a bigger social chasm to cross. This thing, that thing, those things — oh, lord, can’t it just be simple?

For me, personally, I’m in that “life is complicated” stage and dating’s inconvenient. Hell, life’s inconvenient. 168 hours a week, and I don’t know where they go.

I know a lot of folks who think the same as I do, “Well, sex would be nice but I don’t want to feel obligated to anyone right now” or however you want to define the resistance. Relationships are made for compromise, that’s what it’s all about. Give, take. When you feel like you’ve got little left to give at the end of the week or the pay period, well, why try at all?

Does money, commute, weather, geography, and everything else all conspire to make Vancouverites more insular and sucky for dating? Probably all of the above, yes.

I’m leaving town at just the right stage, I think. I’m ready to have a more insular work life that encourages more after-hours socializing, rather than vice versa, but I’m happy I’ll be in a smaller city where it might be easier to do all of the above, and on a more friendly budget.

I’m sure I seem like the non-dating type these days, but I wasn’t always this way, and I’m excited to change gears on that front, and many others. I’m open to blind dates once I move, and plan to dial up my Flirt Number too.

After I cross the pond, gaining an outsider-looking-in perspective on my hometown will be interesting, because much of Vancouver’s allure baffles me in my jaded hamster-on-a-wheel present lifestyle.

I don’t know what’s broken in this town, but it’d be nice if the locals would learn to smile more, talk more, and celebrate that we’re all in this life together. Being civil to people on the streets actually feels good. Engaging with humans, it’s a positive thing. Feeling like we’re all a little more connected makes the big expanse a little less scary.

Live a little. Get out of your head. Say hi to people. Smile. Character is who you are when no one’s looking, but it’s also who you are in passing, too.

And if they don’t say hi or smile, do it again until someone else does. Don’t stoop to their level of isolation. Be in the world, not just of the world, as the old Biblical quote goes.

And what do you think? Why are we so… Vancouverish?

*Arthur Erickson’s “alone together” style of design also makes Simon Fraser University what it is. The campus is bleak but beautiful in the dark season, filled with isolated spots and, ironically, convenient places to jump from.

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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.

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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.

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