The Back Story
As my fifties draw to a close, I find myself with the opportunity to choose where I want to live. My two (fantastic, interesting) adult sons are well established with careers, families and communities of their own – one on the east coast of the USA, the other in western Canada. I can’t live near both of them, and if I lived close to one and not the other, charges of favouritism might occur. (“How come she has to live in the same city as me? How come you get all the breaks?”)
I am currently living in Saskatoon, which is a city with a truly lovely river valley, a beautiful university campus and lots of fascinating people. But it’s a small city and very home- and family-focussed. There’s just not enough for me to do here: especially in winter when, since I do not own a car, I am mainly trapped indoors by icy sidewalks that whip my feet out from under me on a regular basis, and blisteringly cold winds that turn minus 20 (tolerable and even pleasant) into minus 40 or worse (intolerable).
Due to a recent escalation in the cost of rental units in Saskatchewan, I cannot afford to live in Saskatoon any more than I can afford to live anywhere else. I live mostly hand-to-mouth because since I was about 30, I have stupidly put fiction-writing ahead of earning income on my priority list. But I do have a non-fiction book coming out this fall that will allow me to offer workshops and do consulting work almost anywhere in North America, the U.K., or even Australia and New Zealand. Maybe even Mexico and India, if I’m lucky.
Where to go?
So, I asked myself, if I am free to scrabble (and scribble) for a living in the city of my choice, where do I want to be? The only thing I knew for sure was that for now at least I wanted to be in Canada.
Prior to coming to Saskatchewan in the early 2000s, I spent about four decades in Edmonton, Alberta. I have many wonderful long-time friends there who open their arms (and homes) to me whenever I go back to visit. They do not suffer from their geographical location quite as badly as I make it sound—the long sunny days of summer in Edmonton and across the prairies, not to mention what can be a beautiful, extended blue-gold autumn, make it almost worth living through the cold, dark months between. Edmonton in particular is increasingly well equipped to be a winter city, with heated walkways, indoor parking, lots of theatre and music and an outstanding transit system. But in spite of all of that, for many of the same reasons that I’m disinclined to stay in Saskatoon, I’m not interested in returning to Edmonton.
Unlike many prairie residents, I have never had the urge to move to the west coast. The west coast is beautiful (beautiful!) but Vancouver, Victoria and most of the other cities I have visited there are just too Zen and laid back for my tastes. And the politics are weird.
Montreal is a fabulous city, too. If I didn’t need to earn my living in English, I’d welcome the idea of living there, but my French is only passable.
From the beginning, there was only one real choice. Therefore, I am moving to Toronto.
An appealing option
Although it appears I arrived at the decision to move to Toronto through a process of elimination, I could just have easily arrived at it by creating a top-10 all-time favourite list of Canadian cities. Toronto would have emerged the destination-of-choice that way as well. I grew up in Ontario, and I welcome the thought of going back. I have missed the terrain of southern Ontario since I left in 1964, and a lot of my memories are grounded in the region.
As for Toronto itself, since childhood I’ve enjoyed my visits there. I have never shared the alternating feelings of resentment and schadenfreude toward that city and its residents that characterize the attitudes of most prairie-dwellers of my age, many of whom are still bristling from the national energy policies that Pierre Elliott Trudeau and his minions visited upon the West in 1980. For them, Toronto The Bad is an appropriate nickname. In fact, Toronto is a cosmopolitan, global city, with nearly 3 million residents (half of whom were born outside Canada) in the City proper, and at least 2 million more in the immediate vicinity. There is lots to do and see there, and that is what I want. (I do know that Toronto also has a winter, but I am actually more concerned about its hot and sticky summers, which I also remember well.)
The first step
So far I’ve taken only one concrete step towards moving to Toronto, and that is to buy a one-way plane ticket there from Edmonton on November 15. Everything else I need still to think about and plan.
I need to figure out, for example, where I am going to live when I get to Toronto, while I am looking for a permanent place to live. I need to decide what I will take with me to get myself through the looking-around period, and how I will get the rest of my stuff there once I’ve found a place to rent.
On the “surface” of my thinking, I am both frightened and excited about this new adventure. But deeper in, I feel quite calm and optimistic. I have hopes for Toronto in terms of my career that I’ll explain more clearly in another post, but I also feel a bit as though I’m going back to a very familiar place, and that I will be very comfortable in that setting.
I have not lived in Toronto since I was two, and even then it was only for six months or so, which gave me little opportunity to learn the layout of the city and its traffic routes. I have no clear plan regarding where I intend to live (although I have located on a map where the preponderance of violent crimes take place, and I plan to avoid those areas). It’s a bit like stepping off a cliff in some ways. But those who know me know that I like to step off cliffs fairly regularly. (I just don’t like to fall off them.)
I may be resolutely independent, and eagerly looking forward to figuring this thing out on my own, but I don’t feel as though I am alone. I do know several fellow writers in the Toronto region, and many many of my friends are regular visitors there. I also still have some friends from childhood living in southern Ontario, and even a few relatives. I’m happy to know that I can ask current and former Torontonians for advice when I need it—and that they will probably give me advice even if I don’t ask. (Fine by me as long as they don’t expect that I will necessarily do what they suggest—although I promise I will listen!)
When my good friend Larry Anderson suggested that I blog about the move, I immediately welcomed the idea. And already it feels good to have stated my intention publicly—it makes it real, and motivates me to start getting organized. But there is more to the appeal of writing here than that. I have found great comfort and companionship in various on-line communities in the past few years, and I am sure that the one that forms around this blog will ultimately make me feel as though I may be moving to a new, big city on my own, but that I am utterly supported. So I thank you in advance for that support. (BTW, if you aren’t supportive, I just won’t publish your comments. So there. The naysayers among you can write in to my Militant Writer blog instead, where I happily take on all comers.)
I intend to blog not only before and during the move but also for several months afterward—until I’m actually settled. I’ve lived in enough places to know that a person doesn’t just move to a new place physically. It takes a lot longer than that to achieve the emotional, social, and even administrative transfer—it takes at least a year to settle in even when you’re just moving down the street.
And as far as being accepted by and accepting a new community, making it a home—well, that can take much much longer. That part can take decades. But finding a home is not my goal. As I get older, I realize that I prefer to be a visitor no matter where I am. My writing is my home, enriched by my community of relatives and friends who live around the world. Thanks mainly to the Internet, I can take the most important people in my life with me everywhere I go.
So now I have begun. If you are interested in following me on my new adventure here, you are most welcome. There’s a “Subscribe” button at the top of the right-hand column. Just click on it and follow the instructions to receive my (irregular) updates. (If all the options for subscribing boggle your mind, just click here to get the email option, and fill out the form that comes up.) I’ll try to keep the posts shorter than this in future!
Mary, the best of luck to you. I grew up back east in Pennsylvania and went to Algoquin National Park to camp one hot summer. It’s a beautiful province and someday, I’d like to see Toronto too. Fuzzy geography may have me talking about two different provinces, but all the same, beautiful country.
I met you through the ABNA and followed your blog and tweets. Here’s to the non-fiction book coming.
You have the right province! I am looking forward to getting back north toward Muskoka/ Algonquin Park/Georgian Bay. I remember mosquitoes and HUGE “horseflies” with nasty bites, but I can’t wait to get into a nice deep blue lake on the Canadian shield. It’s been too long. Thank you!
I love the idea of the 1-way ticket. I did stuff like that when I was younger, but have gotten less brave with age. Go Mary!
The gypsy in your soul is showing her true colors. I wish you well on your move and believe you WILL find a Toronto home to satisfy and nurture you and your writing.
Though I have traveled further and further west, I love Toronto. There are some fabulous neighborhoods full of color and vibrant bustle and I can see your neatness of mind and body enjoying the well ordered city life.
My heart is sad. I would love to see you out west, but I know that the new age lifestyle here is not for you. . ( you must visit though, and walk the labyrinth I have created in my poetry garden)
Couldn’t figure out how to subscribe so please keep the emails coming.
Love you Mary,
Toronto was one of the most inspiring and supportive places I have ever lived. And coming from a prairie girl, that’s saying a lot! I know you are entering a fabulous new era in your life in a humming city that has more than enough of everything to go around – and the generosity to share it with newcomers. Oh the Portuguese bakeries, roti places, foooood in general. And so much to do and see. I’ll miss you here!
I finally read this, and I envy your bravery! Being this reflective will only help with the transition, I think. I’ll look forward to reading about it as it goes – here and on FB/Twitter. I’ve only been to Toronto once, but I had a lot of fun there. It’s supposedly the most diverse large city in North America! (But you probably already knew that.)
Rosthern, Saskatoon, Toronto, ???. I detect a progression here. I hope while you’re there, you’re able to influence the erroneous prejudices in both directions: i.e. “Toronto the Bad”, “Redneck West.” Neither deserve their labels. We wish you a successful move, and if possible, name a date to come back to Rosthern for auld lang syne and we’ll gather a few friends for our joint good wishes. Bon voyage.
Mary, I lived in T.O. for quite a few years…if I weren’t living in Mexico, I’d move back there any day. Lots to do!
When I lived there, High Park had some good rentals, and so did The Beaches, and both have really convenient transportation links (High Park has the actual subway, and The Beaches has the streetcar linking to the subway.)
And when you get tired of the cold winters, you can always visit me in Mexico.
Best of luck.
Mary, Mary, quite contrary.
I envy and admire and yes, aspire to be just like you.
Mary – this is a bold move but one which, after the first shock of realizing you’ll no longer be in the west, seems almost inevitable the more I think about it. It WILL work for you. Your capacity for making things work, even after setbacks, has always amazed me. I’m sure I’ll see you in Toronto some time, which will be odd. I add my good luck wishes.
You remind me of me.
I moved to Washington D.C. five years ago, when I separated from my then-husband. I had aging parents here, as well as a brother and sister. Yet, even with that, it has taken a long time to settle.
And just this summer, I faced and coped with the ongoing desire for HOME: I was fascinated by your
thoughts about this. I miss taking care of people (kids grown; aging parents dead). But I’ve concluded that you can miss something and still be ready to accept vital and real change in your life.
You have courage. You have my applause.
Good luck with the move Mary. I look forward to reading about it.
wow, mary. you inspire me. there’s a lot to do and I am anxious to read how you do it, so one day i can do it too. if i need to or want to, i mean.
looking forward to installment two.