(Be)coming home

I continue to have a hard time writing blog-stuff lately. My first instinct is to say that this has been mainly because so much of what I’m thinking about, other than the major research project I’m writing as the last requirement of my MA, has been pretty personal, not terribly political and probably not very interesting for the world to see. I think a more accurate assessment would be that it’s because, again, outside of said research paper, I’ve kind of been avoiding really carefully looking at what I was thinking and feeling.

Most of it centres around the fact that I’m moving in a few weeks. Not far – just about an hour and a half down the 401, with easy enough Greyhound service that I could come back here most weekends if I chose. But far enough that it’s going to mean a real change in my life. And the strangest, most foreign feeling for me is that actually, there’s not much I’d really want to change about my life right now. Whenever I’ve moved in the past, I’ve always felt like I’m running away from something, trying to make something different, felt this pressing sense of anxiety driving me somewhere, anywhere that is not here.  I realized recently that even though I don’t want to leave, I’ve kind of been adopting some of that kind of anxiety about this move – I get a little frantic, I start thinking about all the ways I can have a fresh start and when I move, fix whatever has been frustrating me, but with an intensity and a pressure that makes them feel like the Incredible Hulk version of New Year’s Resolutions.

It’s a little bit of history creeping in, I think – this is what my actions have been like when I’ve moved in the past, so this is what my brain understands moving to feel like – and a whole hell of a lot of distracting myself from the fears that I’m feeling. I’m just finally coming back to a sense of faith that leaving here doesn’t mean I’ll be totally lost, but for the first time in a damn long time, possibly ever, I have a sense of rootedness, an anchoring force that has been really good for me in countering those frantic, spinning, rising energies that used to be both my defining features and my downfall. I feel like I’m leaving home, even though my entire household (which consists of me, my cat and the embodied personality of a few hundred books) will be coming with me.

I grew up in a very small town within a family that really emphasized some kind of connection to that place. When I first left, for university, I assumed I would always keep calling that place ‘home’. Even if I sort of knew that eventually some other place would be my settled spot, I certainly didn’t think it was going to be this one. This was a place I tolerated, with its smog warnings, its industrial smokestacks, its rundown downtown core. This was a place whose ugly corners I could mostly avoid while I was at university, conveniently segregated off into one of the nicest parts of town. I moved back here right after I got married, convincing my husband that the people we knew here and the job he would be getting would make up for the fact that yes, it was a horrible location in a horrible city. And then somehow when my marriage fell apart, even though I had no job and nothing holding me here at the time, beyond the general sense that there wasn’t really anywhere else I wanted to be, I committed myself to staying.

Two years ago, I made a plan – impulsively, ill-advisedly and based on all of that totally ungrounded, chaotic kinetic energy that I’ve already identified as invariably destructive – to move across the country. When that plan fell apart in extremely dramatic and emotionally devastating fashion, I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do with myself. I genuinely wasn’t sure I could figure out how to get through that one, because I just felt so lost, completely lacking in any sort of anchor, totally unsure about how to find my way through reality. The spatial metaphor that I suddenly felt like I had no map makes sense to me in retrospect, mainly because home became such an important part of recovering from that complex set of emotions. One of the consequences was that I had to fairly quickly find a new place to live, and a friend connected me with the apartment I’m currently living in, which happens to be in an old, 1920s-era orphanage that’s been converted into a 25-unit apartment building. Back in the day, it was actually called “The home for the orphaned and friendless”, and as I listen to the stories of the people who live here, myself included, I can’t help but think how appropriate it is, because the place still seems to draw in a higher-than-usual proportion of, if you’ll pardon the cliché, lost souls. Someone asked me the other day if I’m going to miss this apartment, and my answer is much more nostalgic and emotional than would normally happen with reference to a rental place that’s housed me for just about two years now, because I feel like being here played such a role in finding that ground I can actually stand on again.

I have this very clear memory of the moment when I realized that Hamilton as a city had become home. It was probably the same week that I moved into this apartment, and I was at the Bulldogs home opener the season after they won the AHL Championship, where they were giving the players their trophies and rings and whatnot. A local kid had just won Canadian Idol a couple of months before, and he was singing the national anthem. I don’t know if it was because I’d been feeling so lost and empty, or because of the specifics of how that feeling had been connected to the plan to leave town, but there was something incredibly comforting about that crowd and feeling like I belonged in it. Even with a bit of detachment from the super-cheeseball “that’s our boy” attitude towards the anthem-singer, this place with its what-you-see-is-what-you-get, no bullshit, blue-collar attitude just suddenly made so much sense to me.

And however irrational it may be, I’ve been having a hard time letting go of that. Whatever weird mixture of emotions have been attached to my past few years here, it makes this relatively short-distance move feel far more difficult than when I took off for Brazil for a year at 16, or when I went to Edmonton for grad school, or when I thought I was moving to Calgary. I wasn’t pulling up any roots back then – I was just riding in a different direction on energy that I couldn’t possibly find a way to ground or contain or modify or mitigate damages from. It’s definitely an improvement, overall, but it’s an improvement that makes that hour-and-a-half drive look much more threatening.

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