herkind.com · Raw Writing · The Writing Life · Uncategorized · Vancouver

Roaming in Vancouver

You know how it is; you break up with someone great because you’re convinced it’s the right thing to do. Maybe the timing is wrong or you think there’s something more suitable out there. Time passes. Nothing better presents itself. You don’t have the self-revelations you thought you might. And so you begin to revisit the decision, flirting with the possibility that, this time, things could be different… and better.

That’s how it is with me and Vancouver.

I came here for a rest and refuel, as I’m inclined to do every couple of years since my 2006 heart-wrenching break up with the city at the end of things. But tonight’s Jericho Beach sunset is the exact lure to get me thinking about staying.

Jericho Beach sunset, Aug 27

How can this sunset, and the blue hour it creates, go on nightly, weekly, monthly, yearly without me! Dusk is my favorite time of day, even without the blue upon blue upon blue of ocean, mountain and sky.

You can’t live somewhere just because you like the weather, can you?

I remember asking myself that when weighing whether to stay or go back to Toronto. But comparing this weather to the 45 degree plus exhausting heat and humidity I’ve experienced most of this summer, the answer is a resounding “yes, you can!”

Okay, maybe I should forget about the sun, Vancouverites are the first to remind me about its rare existence in this rainforest of a city. I must try to be practical and not let idealization creep in.

It is true that I wasn’t always happy here and if I recall correctly I had a fair number of lonely days and nights. I struggled for work and money, for acceptance from new friends who feared getting too close because I might leave. I had a big and then a smaller heartbreak. I dealt with the worry and guilt that comes when tragedy strikes far away back home.

Through it all though, the certainty of a mountain in my view and the ocean surrounding it was usually enough to ground me. And I don’t think I ever took it for granted. When I come to Vancouver now, I’m newly wowed by it, yet I have the luxury of knowing my way around, and feeling at home. The first few days of my 3 week stay felt strange, even confusing, but then I started roaming.

Retracing my steps is a habit I have, not just in Vancouver, but here I roam to remember my early days on the west coast, when my senses were so acute because everything was brand new.

Sunset, English Bay, Sept 7

At English Bay I think of the first time I happened upon a sunset, only to discover a crowded beach of aficionados, picnicking, throwing footballs, playing music, holding hands. From that day forward it was a daily check for sunset time and a rush to watch it, no matter what. I simply had to see the sky change hues with every passing moment.

Only in Vancouver do I fuss about missing the sunset. This visit, I’ve been alternating my viewing locations. Each one has different characteristics, each vantage point is unique. I’m trying to commit every single one to memory.

I suppose it’s natural for Vancouverites to worship the sun, considering its shyness.

A West End roam wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Lost Lagoon and my beloved swans. My first spring in Vancouver I became part of a small but passionate community of Swan Watchers. We were joined in the mind/heart work of making sure their eggs stayed viable and in delight we surrounded the nests during hatching to just love the cygnets out of their eggs.We made sure our schedules allowed us to see their first tentative dip into the lagoon, and their awkward climb on mom’s back for their first twirl around.

One of my beloved Lost Lagoon swans. Aug 24

That spring was equal parts exhilarating and difficult and I pinned all my hopes for a successful Vancouver life on the healthy lives of those wee creatures.

Walking the seawall conjures a 10-day trip I made in November 1999, two years after my mom died, when it rained every single day, which suited my mood and allowed me to cry without detection. At dusk one night, I made my way around the perimeter of Stanley Park, snapping pictures even as the rain fell. The sky was a brooding but hopeful mix of blue/grey/yellow and I made a vow that I would be living in Vancouver within a year. I framed that one photo and hung it in my work office to remind myself of the commitment.

Seawall, Stanley Park, Sept 7 – a recreation of the framed photo in my office, on a much sunnier day!

It was an easy goal to meet.

As I write this, I’m sitting mid-point Stanley Park seawall looking out into the open ocean. Tony West Van is on my right and the historic Siwash Rock on my left. Taking pen to paper at just this spot is so familiar. The first summer I lived here I would walk from my Alberni Street apartment, past Lost Lagoon, across the park to the seawall and along to at least this far. Then I’d double back to either 3rd, 2nd or English Bay beaches – depending on the value of my need for solitude. How many problems did I work out on those walks, on this bench, or laying in the sun listening to the waves?

Siwash Rock, Sept 7

If I had to put my finger on just what this part of the world means to me which, let’s face it, I’m constantly trying to do, it would have something to do with the fact that it’s the place I made peace with the past, started fresh and learned to be my original self.

I was finally able to alleviate the bottomless pit of loss the death of my mother had left, and learned to live without her. I learned how to be alone, and in the process discovered I prefer solitude. I lived for the first time on my own time and began to fully understand I’m a writer. I began to live as one, letting my creativity take me to new places and I followed it without fear. I learned to enjoy and appreciate the outdoor life, which up until then I regularly shunned, saying “I’m a city girl.” Not so, I found out. I became protective of the beauty of this place. I learned to open up my heart again, even if it meant getting it broken.

In recent years, I’ve forgotten that one , and it’s had consequences. In Toronto I live a too static, too insular life. It never occurs to me to chase down a sunset, and though I live minutes away from the lake, I rarely go there.

All this it very difficult to explain casually when asked, “what’s with you and Vancouver.” Easier to point to the beautiful surround of the city, no matter how cliché.

In these last few weeks of summer 2012, I’ve roamed every part of Vancouver that I know and to which I have special memories attached: North and West Van, there on the seabus – which, much to my amazement used to to be my commuter venue to one of my Vancouver jobs – and back by the Lion’s Gate Bridge, and it’s breathtaking view (or, as Doug Coupland says “one last grand gesture of beauty, of charm, and of grace before we enter the hinterlands”). Commercial Drive to Cafe Calabria, my Italian touch-stone in the city, Granville Island, just because it’s there and it’s great. And home of the wonderful Vancouver Writers Festival, where I’ve spent much time listening to – and drinking with – my tribesmen and women a.k.a writers. A walk along Alberni and then Pacific to look in on my first ever and most recent Vancouver apartments. I’ve gone to all the old haunts, and relived a lot of great, and some painful memories.

I should be exhausted from all the walking and remembering. Instead I’m relieved. It scares me when I think I’m forgetting the important time I spent living in Vancouver.

But I’ve also added some new memories and connections. I’ve been staying in Kitsilano, on the opposite side of the bay to where I always lived, so my roaming has included places I’ve never spent a great deal of time. Kits Beach, Jericho Beach, Point Grey, getting to know the small businesses and cute cafes and bars on West Broadway and West 4th. A discovery of a new, growing part of town, Olympic Village.

Seawall towards Olympic Village, a growing part of town.

When I worked at Citytv on West 2nd, there was nothing there: no bus route, no Starbucks or any decent lunch spots, no fun place to go for after work drinks. Now there’s the beginnings of a vibrant community and a gorgeous new seawall walk linking Granville Island to Olympic Village to Yaletown and beyond.

Now, I know there are some problems associated with this area of town, but from the point of view of fresh eyes, it’s good to see Vancouver not only growing, but with a renewed sense of civic pride born of the world’s favourable gaze during the 2010 Olympics. It’s what I hoped would happen.

This luxurious stretch of time here – remembering the old and discovering the new – is maybe my attempt to reconcile my regret about having left, and to begin a process to decide what to do about it. Try again, or stay put. Is it where I should be living, or is it my second place, a place to come for peace and restoration.

Coal Harbour, Sept 7

The one big plus on the side of returning has nothing to do with any place I saw, anyone I spent time with or any landmark I visited. It’s simply this: I like myself better in Vancouver!

Usually the person you feel most comfortable with, the one who can still surprise and inspire you no matter how long you’ve been together, the one you feel your very best self with is the one you return to, saying “I made a mistake, if you’ll have me, I want to come back.”

Maybe Vancouver and I are due for a second chance.

herkind.com · Raw Writing · The Vault: best of Herkind.com · The Writing Life · Vancouver

The Vault: the best of herkind.com / Unrequited

Originally published March 12, 2007

Is it possible to suffer a broken heart because of a failed relationship with the city of your dreams?

Moving home from Vancouver almost a year ago was like saying goodbye to a lover I didn’t want to leave, but with whom I knew there’d only ever be heartache. It’s not surprising then, that I would be filled with a longing that is most times very difficult to put into words.

Funny, how I keep trying…

This whole year has been a reintegration, a re-learning of sorts and I should probably keep the process to myself.  But…

English Bay sunset

If you haven’t lived in a place that doesn’t get ridiculously cold and, worse, barren for 6 months of the year, then it’s hard to understand what you’re missing, or even that there are liveable, viable places like that in the world to conduct your life (that aren’t resorts, I mean).

If you have, then this would be the longest winter of your entire life!!!

Sweet and helpful people tell me that it’s been a good winter, not too many cold snaps or snow, but that’s really besides the point for me. In October when the leaves started changing colour (admittedly pretty), and then falling off (oh dear!), I knew I was in for a long lush-less period of browning grass and cold, dark concrete, dirty, slushy snow that hangs around for eons. But I never would have anticipated the impact of it on my psyche – I guess I thought, well I was born here and survived 39 winters in a kind of desolation I never named, because I didn’t know any damn different! So, what’s the problem?

Well,, I only learned to appreciate nature by waking up to its unrelenting beauty every day. It really does change your whole perspective!

Stanley Park Seawall

Lovely Desiree, my friend in Vancouver, said last night, “well, it’s raining here.” Another well-meaning friend commented, “We have our own weather issues… it’s cloudy” Um… big flippin’ deal!!! My umbrella has been sitting under my work desk for months now, and I would kill to be able to use it over dragging on coat, scarf, hat and boots for the 5th month in a row!!! My dear West Coast friends, you probably don’t know this but RAIN and cloudiness is far better. You see, it means things are green, spring comes early and it never gets all that cold.

There!

Vancouverites love to compare themselves to Toronto and Montreal, feeling they always come up a bit short (oh they deny this, but it is sooo true!) It seems like a pointless effort, since they are really apples and oranges. And here’s why:

Each region of Canada has a way (and means actually) of life that is based purely on geography and climate. A road trip across the country is the best way to understand this. The things that concern us here in the centre of the universe don’t even register on the radar of rural Albertans, prairie folk, Islanders or west coast dwellers. This is the main reason why both sides of the country feel alienated, to one degree or another, by a centrist government and media. Who can blame ’em?

There are differences that are so subtle it’s easy to dismiss them – except that at the moment they are glaringly obvious to me. This morning, for instance, seeing the temperature was finally a balmy 1 degree above zero, I pulled out a top I haven’t worn in ages, but that was a staple in my wardrobe in Vancouver – in any season. Why? It’s a light weight cotton long sleeve, which up until this point would have me freezing both under my winter coat and sitting at my desk. Simple but important difference – you don’t have to invest in four seasons worth of clothing!! (good thing in a city as expensive as my beloved)

Cherry blossom-lined streets

Folks in Vancouver have impeccable shoes, hair and very clean cars. Nothing is weather-beaten. It’s one of the first things I noticed, with pleasure.

By the time I left Toronto 6 years ago, I had grown to hate winter and that fact was a big influence on the decision to live in a part of our country that pretty much skips that season.

I guess I forgot that part!

Last week I spent a day at Canada Blooms, a gardening trade exhibit. We were shooting stories for the tv show I work on and it sure felt strange to have to go inside at this time of year to see trees, waterfalls, streaming rivulets and flowers. It was so out of context for me that some of the displays looked downright funereal. At first struck by the crowd, I soon realized I was one of them, desperate to see green, growing things; willing to drop any amount on whatever it takes to make my 2×4 Toronto garden look lush for as long as possible (AND I DON’T EVEN HAVE ONE).

Here’s the crux of it: I never want to be a person who feels desperate for anything, least of all for want of a pretty flowering tree to gaze upon.

Cherry blossoms

But there’s also a deeper psychological issue at play here. I was brought up in a household full of extremes where I perfected the art of crisis management in order to feel any semblance of normal. To step out of the spiral I figured out that the extremes in weather too closely mirrored my early life.  I had to find moderation in all things – the ubiquitous balance to which everyone here gives lip service. As crazy as it sounds, for me that included weather, maybe even started with it. I thought I had succeeded , so this winter (and the horrific heat and humidity of this past summer) have been as much a test of endurance, as a barometer of personal growth.

I’m serious!

The truth is, as beautiful as Vancouver was and is, I could never quite find a way to make it feel like home. Had I been able to conquer that I would never have left. It was truly the biggest bout of unrequited love I’ve ever experienced. Geesh, you’d think I’d be happy it’s over!

Still… Spring has never been more welcome, and having said that I will rest my fruitless and exhausting comparisons and just find a way to make peace with my decision to live here.

OR…

Caliban · herkind.com · Vancouver

This is Caliban!

Caliban is Vancouver-born. So, naturally he loves rain!

Yes, he’s named after the character in Tempest. He’s 8 years old and for the last 6 months or so he’s been quite sick with diabetes. But he’s doing much better now. It’s been a bit of a trial for us, and very expensive. One day I’ll write about my frustrating experiences at the vet, but today my neighbour told me she saw Caliban playing tag with another cat outside and it just made me so happy to know that he’s feeling well enough to romp around with his pals again.

Another neighbour took this photo when he was at the height of his illness, so he looks a bit thin, but still gorgeous. And in case you’re wondering, his markings and temperament indicate he might be part Bengal. He’s pretty feisty, even when he’s feeling low.

herkind.com · Televison · The Vault: best of Herkind.com · The Writing Life · Vancouver

The Vault: best of Herkind.com / Vancouver Vignettes #9

(originally published August 23, 2010)

For a long time it’s been my intention to write about my time spent living in Vancouver (2000-2006) but for one reason or another I never have. Since Vancouver is my unrequited love, it might have been a bit painful for awhile. But in honour of my visit there later this month, and as a primer for it, I offer these small memory vignettes.

Take That Toronto

In my freelancing writing quest in Vancouver, one magazine that I pursued had a “Take That Toronto” column. My idea was to write a short piece on how perfect everyone’s hair looked and how immaculate their shoes were. The editor wrote back telling me “Vancouverites don’t need to be told we have great style, we know we do.” Well, she told me!

But if you’ve ever lived in Toronto, with its humidity, over-treated, hard water, and snow and salt then you can appreciate what I meant.

Younger and blonder, circa 2005

I never understood the term “manageable hair” until lived in the land of soft water. It was softer, shinier and for the first time I could use “product” in it without worrying about buildup. In Toronto my hair was always BIG.

(to be honest my BIG hair sensitivity began in elementary school where I used to get called “mop-head” but we don’t need to go there today)

That it could, or ever would be any different is one of those happy discoveries that, while not life-changing by any stretch, certainly goes a long way to making your aging self feel better.

The shoe thing is just a matter of getting longer life out of a pair of shoes or boots due to little or no snow or salt. That means you’re more inclined to spend more on them, hence the well heeled feet of Vancouverites. (you could say the same about their cars actually).

Moving to Vancouver coincided with the first time since I was a teen that I grew my hair long, so having it so easy to take care of was a delight. In fact, I didn’t go for a haircut until about two years in. You can read about that harrowing experience in a piece I wrote called Of Human Blondage .

When I finally did get a salon haircut it was for a makeover show on CityLine. My former work colleagues from Toronto came to Breakfast Television, where I worked and couldn’t believe what they saw. Not only was my hair way long, but I wasn’t wearing the usual impeccable outfits and full makeup they were used to seeing me don as a junior exec at Chum in Toronto. They swiftly sent me to The Lounge Hair Studio on Richards, deaf to my protests of enjoying my new found “naturalness.”

That’s where Martin Hillier let loose my curls – yes, curls, which I didn’t even know I owned – and showed me how to enhance them with product! Product, I might add, that washes out just fine!

Now that changed my life. Let’s just say, men really like curly hair.

So as I sit here with a lump of build up at the back of my head, after years of detox shampoos, extra long rinses in the shower and narrowly escaping my own threat to just cut it out and off, I am really looking forward to 5 days of great hair in Vancouver later this week! And even though I cannot afford to get my hair cut and styled for the wedding I’m attending, I do know that no matter what, my hair will feel soft and look shiny clean! No buildup!

Take that Toronto!

general · herkind.com · The Vault: best of Herkind.com · The Writing Life · Vancouver

Welcome to cml.com, goodbye to herkind.com

For twelve years I blogged, with a great deal of success, under the URL herkind.com. I named the blog after a poem by my favourite poet Anne Sexton. I just really relate to her creative journey (not the suicide part, thank goodness) but the discovering her talent around age 40 part.

Now for purely practical reasons, I’ve decided to change my website to my own name; easier to find, no misunderstandings. It makes sense.

The day I began this process I worked on figuring out the new interface into the evening. Then, when I lay down my head to sleep I began feeling slightly anxious about the whole thing.

Herkind.com had about 3,000 hits per month, not bad for an ordinary blog. Readers – whether regular folks like me or the editors and other professionals I try to impress – got used to my style, my emotional truths and my willingness to talk openly about difficult topics like loneliness, regret, grief, longing, and the like. (which isn’t to say I don’t sometimes write about fun things too, I hasten to add) I hope people can still find me and won’t give up when they type in the old site.

Carefree days on the west coast

By far the biggest reason for the anxiety, however, is that I began this blog on my first ever personally owned computer, in my first apartment in Vancouver, where I experienced a few years of extremely important personal growth. I moved there after giving up a successful career, in mid-career, just before my 40th birthday, and began my journey as a writer and independent person – that is, independent of past obligations and constraints. It was an incredibly joyful, sometimes difficult and always worthwhile time in my life that marked a stark and necessary departure…. and arrival.

Try as I might to hang on to memories of those times, they are slowly fading through the mists of time. I worry about that. And it makes me sad. Though I hold on to the lessons, which of course is the most important part of it all.

I think I’ve found a way to feel okay about this website retirement though. Posts titled The Vault will bring the best of herkind.com into this blog, not for a rehash , but to remember and commemorate all the hard work. And also to introduce new readers to those parts of me.

Not to mention, no writer ever wants to let go of past good writing!

I’ll be slowly migrating some of all that, and the links to my writing work over here so bear with me as I’m a work in progress for the time being.

And welcome to cml.com!