April 21, 2010 § 1 Comment
When my grandfather returned home to the West Coast of Canada from five years abroad during World War II he wrote in one of his most moving columns: “So began that most emotional of all the pleasures of travel – the homecoming – snaking through canyons touched with sunrise to the beckoning tidewater shore.
“Five years is a long time to have been away,” he wrote, “I felt a stranger in an alien land. […] You come back to a world where everyone who was near or dear to you has aged five years. Aged, you might say in one single instalment without the grace of gradual time payments.” Overseas, he’d learned to speak two new languages and had lived in three of the greatest cities of the world; but, he wrote wistfully, “when we had our first glimpse of salt water at Port Moody […] I never regretted for a moment that we were riding on a one-way ticket.”
In my life, there have rarely been one-way tickets. I grew up on Salt Spring Island and though 12 years have passed since I called that Island “home” I know that a part of me never left. It’s still my point of reference; it’s where I’m “from”. I’ve spent the last 10 years building a life for myself in Montreal, where I’ve grown up, put down roots, become familiar with every dusty corner and grassy green nook of this city. A one-way ticket? I wonder what that would feel like.
Montreal has been an ever changing adventure, and sometimes, though only fleetingly, it’s felt like “home”. Back on the West Coast, there are the memories of what a home once was, and there is my family, who I wish I could see more often than once or twice a year. But how can I call it home when half of my roots – my life – is in Montreal? Displacement is the modern predicament. The question is how to integrate a 5000 km divide.
Today in Montreal the leaves of sidewalk shrubs are unfurling a cosmic green unleashed from the beyond. It is Spring again. “Start again, I heard them say, don’t dwell on what has passed away, or what is yet to be,” Leonard Cohen’s Anthem chimes in my thoughts. The question is where to unfurl fresh leaves in a new season.
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t sometimes felt lonely in this city over the years. It’s a place that challenges and pushes, and then occasionally offers so much goodness it overwhelms. I have lived in total abundance and gratitude here. But I remember once getting the flu with no one to take care of me, dragging myself teary-eyed and feverish to the depaneur for a carton of orange juice. Can these challenges exist in a place called home?
Montreal is an expanding nebula of potential and opportunity for an artist, and sometimes I’ve held onto that energy just long enough to call it my own. At other times, it’s felt like a potential out of reach, ever fleeting and dodging, tempting and sometimes betraying.
There are friends here I wonder how I would live without. There is a familiarity here that is my identity. And there is a potential here that is just so tempting and alive, something I still want to be a part of.
In the hero’s journey of archetypal mythology there is always a homecoming. A modern day parable is the student who goes off to university and returns home an educated adult. For me, the return just hasn’t happened yet. I know that all I can hope for now, having been gone 10 years, is an integration of two different worlds. And that’s the dilemma: wherever I put down roots means saying goodbye to some tangible parts of my past. Maybe it is true, as Thomas Wolfe claimed: “You can’t go home again.” But Maya Angelou has written that home is a place you can never leave, no matter where you are. So then the only question remaining is where to go from here.
Writing has helped me a lot over the last six months. Words have always been there for me to make sense of turbulent times. Once in the thick of post production, my notebook overflowing with “to do” lists, story outlines, phone numbers, budgets and time codes, I made space for the past and present in a poem:
A croissant in the morning
It’s snowing outside.
The moon hides behind snow
Waiting for a clear blue night
I let myself relax
like snow falls to snow,
good memories here.
A trampoline and raspberries
Now I’m under the cherry tree
I’m held in this warm cafe
What if every day was this?