Category Archives: After the move

Curb Dreams

by Mary W. Walters

originally published in Open Book Toronto. Also reposted to my ongoing blog, The Militant Writer

Waiting for the lights to change at Bay and King, I looked happily up at the office buildings and through a gap in the high-rises to the southwest at the CN Tower lit up in blue and red. Even after two months, I still could not believe that I was actually living in Toronto — a city that I found endlessly appealing for its size and sprawliness, its geographical and cultural variety, its human diversity, its sounds, its smells, its industry and (most particularly, to my mind) its status as one of the world’s great writing and publishing centres.

A friend and I had decided to walk, despite the dampness of the afternoon, from College Street down to Front, where we would survey the rich literary wares on offer at Nicholas Hoare Books. Just ahead of us now was Harbourfront, where internationally renowned writers read to captivated audiences. A few miles back were the publishing houses whose logos had marked the spines of books I’d been reading since I was a child — McClelland & Stewart, HarperCollins Canada, Penguin. From the very spot where I now stood on the street corner, I was sure — if I only knew which way to look — I would see a few of the windows to the mysterious aeries where the literary agents dwelled.

I laughed aloud from my pleasure just to be there, and my friend pulled me closer in a hug to share my joy. I wished that I could have beamed my feelings of excitement and anticipation back across the miles to the friends and family I’d left in western Canada — most of whom had received the news that I was packing up everything I owned and moving all alone to Toronto with a mixture of indulgent good wishes and mystification. There had probably also been prayers for both my safety and my sanity (Toronto being, after all, the city most Canadians love to hate).

But I had done it. And here I was: poised on that very curb that very afternoon — ready, I firmly believed, to fulfill my destiny as a fiction writer.

* * *

Mine is not an uncommon story. Every year, hundreds or possibly thousands of aspiring writers, actors, designers, visual artists and musicians make the trek east from the frozen prairie by bus or plane or car (or west, from the Atlantic stormlands), their backpacks set, suitcases rolling along behind them, their gazes lifting with their hearts as the office towers emerge from the mists like physical representations of their dreams. Nor is my story uniquely Canadian: it repeats itself in big cities all over the world — from Mumbai to London and New York — and has for generations. Whenever and wherever there are dreamers in the hinterlands, there will be those who will make their ways toward the cities.

So I was just one of many — but in my case, there was a twist. Most of my fellow-travelers were kids: 18 years old or less, 25 at most — young people who’d been motivated to take action by the need and determination to fulfill their destinies before real adult life intervened. I, on the other hand, was 59, with much of my adult life behind me, and my dream had been 30 years in the percolation.

I hadn’t even figured out the nature of my destiny until after I’d had children. Although I’d once imagined myself as a translator at the UN, I’d set my sights on more proximate goals — obtaining a degree, falling in love, getting married and starting a family. Still, something was always missing — some part of me felt underdeveloped. I took piano lessons, a course in clothing design, aerobics. And then, one day, age 29, I signed up for a correspondence course in fiction writing… and my fate was sealed.

In the years that followed, as I raised my children and gradually acquired the editing skills that allowed me to earn a living, I also wrote and published dozens of short stories, works of creative non-fiction and two novels. I wrote radio dramas and documentaries. I won writing awards, critical accolades and even an entry in Who’s Who in Canada. But I was unable to extend my fiction-writing reputation beyond the West. I came to believe (to the scorn of many of my fellow prairie writers) that if I wanted to fulfill my dreams for my fiction and myself, I would need to move closer to Canada’s largest centre for the literary arts.

By the time my first book of non-fiction was released, my kids were well launched and my daily life was my own again. As an editor and writing consultant, my physical location no longer mattered: I could earn a living in cyberspace. I decided that moving to Toronto would provide me with the kind of big-city environment I had always found inspiring, and I decided that it was now or never. The fiction writer in me smiled at these decisions, and stretched, and opened up her arms to opportunity.

So here I am, with all the younger dreamers, and I’m holding some cards they’re not. A few them will find success in their chosen fields, but before long most of them will need to relinquish their artistic hopes in favour of the joys and realities of adult life: marriages, careers and children.

I, on the other hand, have all the time in the world… not to mention thirty years of credentials and experience. In my more mature and serious moments, I imagine that I am here not only for myself, but also for them: the wide-eyed talents who are standing beside me on the street corners (not to mention the ones back home who, in their late twenties or mid-thirties are just now discovering their passions). I’m here to remind them to be patient and to practise: there will be time for them to stretch and fly after the kids grow up. I’m here to tell them, too, that if they nurture and groom their talents, they will have as many dreams at 60 as they did at 17.

But most of the time I’m not mature and serious. Most of the time I’m just a kid standing on a Toronto street corner, imagining a red-carpet of a future rolling out before me as I step down off the curb.

A Costly Mistake, but all is well.

Post 24

There are advantages to moving to a new city five months before your belongings arrive. One of them is that you are calm and collected when the boxes and furniture are delivered, and you are not already exhausted when you start to unpack. I am taking my time and enjoying re-discovering what I own. The move was not, however, quite the triumph I had hoped it would be from a financial point of view.

At storage unit in Saskatoon

On the morning of Sunday, April 18, right at the appointed hour (i.e., at 8 a.m.), Country Wide Movers/Allied Van Lines arrived at my storage unit in Saskatoon to pick up my belongings and bring them to Toronto. Three weeks prior to that, I had sent out quote requests to seven or eight movers. Four replied –with five estimates. The two lowest bids both came from the same company – Two Small Men with Big Hearts. (One of their estimates was for $2,300 and the other for $2.760 for the same weight and distance.) The other three were about $1,000 more. After checking on-line for the reputations of all four companies that submitted estimates, I took the lowest of the three higher bids (all of which were within $100 of one another): the one from Country Wide Movers/Allied Van Lines.

Due to the small print and confusing layout of the estimate (see below), plus the fact that it was so close in amount to the other two acceptable bids, I neglected to notice that the Country Wide quote was based on a weight of 3,000 lbs while the others were based on a weight of 4,000 lbs. I did realize that all companies would weigh the truck before and after they had loaded the goods, and revise their estimates based on the actual weight. However, if most companies figured that my belongings would weigh at least 4,000 lbs based on the list I had provided (which included 30 to 40 2 x 2 ft. boxes of books), why didn’t Country Wide?

Still, the fault is mine for not reading more closely. Never assume anything when it comes to a moving company. Or any cost estimate, I suppose.

As it turned out, the actual weight of my possessions was about 4,600 lbs, so my charge from Country Wide ended up being about $1,000 more than the estimate. In the long run, I could have got the move cheaper from ANY of the other companies. Stupid me.

Allied did do a good job of moving my things efficiently and safely from Saskatoon to Toronto. They arrived for the pickup exactly when they said they would, and they delivered when they said they would. Both times the driver called the night before to double-check the time and the address. I was very happy with the driver and his assistants in both Saskatoon and Toronto. It was only the estimator who did not leave me feeling very pleased. Considering how many problems people have with movers, I guess I should be contented that nothing else went wrong — but money is money, especially when you’re moving and so many other costs are involved. As far as I’m concerned, $1,000 is a lot of money at any time.

By the way, the Government of Canada has a very good checklist for consumers when it comes to choosing a mover. I highly recommend that others (even non-Canadians!) read it before undertaking any major move. It’s located here:

My apartment before the movers arrived...

And now I have all my belongings in one place. All I have to do is unpack and figure out where to put everything. I have had no second thoughts about moving to Toronto. I am already finding more work here as a freelancer than I have had before, and I’m busy with social activities, visitors from the west and south, and events I want to take in solo or with other people. And I still love the subway. 🙂

... and after the delivery

It was a good decision for me, and I am one happy former-Saskatoonie-former-Edmontonian-former-Londoner(ON)-former-Wainwrightian-current-Torontonian.

The estimate from Country Wide


Post 23

Today I get all my stuff from Saskatoon. Welcome to your new home, Cuisinart coffeemaker!!!!! How I have missed you. Welcome books and bookshelves: we must never be separated for this long again. Welcome, mattress. The airbed and I just never hit it off. And Watch Out, Toronto: I am grounded. Hear me roar.

Okay. I’m moved. Now what?

Post #22

I sat down to write an update to this blog and realized that I am now pretty much settled. There is still administrative stuff to do, and lots of parts of Toronto to explore, but I don’t feel like a newcomer here. I find myself as irritated with the phone company as I was in Saskatoon, and in Edmonton before that, which means I must be home. I even got myself a family physician last week.

Spring in the city

I’ve read that it takes a full year to get used to new surroundings and completely feel at home, but since I think it is likely that I’ll be moving to a new apartment when the first year in Toronto is up (just to get myself a bit more room), I can only say, “It’s never over till it’s over.” And I hope it will be a very long time before it is!

Anyway, anything further that I could write about Toronto now would be the same kinds of things a visitor would tell you – they would include my first trips to the St. Lawrence and the Kensington Markets, the Bata Shoe Museum (a pretty cool place, I must say: they have a pair of Elton John’s shoes there, and a pair of Marilyn Monroe’s, and Terry Fox’s, and Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s. Not to mention a lot of intriguing shoe history), or seeing the King Tut show at the Art Gallery of Ontario – a building to which I want to return soon, to admire the building itself. It was designed by Frank Gehry, who is originally from Toronto.

Those are some boots! At Bata Shoe Museum

So I am going to abandon this blog for the most part, and move on to the next stage of my life with a brand new blog, The Whole Clove Diet Chronicles, where I am hoping you will rejoin me. Here’s the basis for that one:

After six years of trying to find an agent and a publisher for my third novel, I am about to take the self-publishing leap. I intend to prove that in this era of book-publishing uncertainty, for certain novels (my own being a prime example) self-publishing can be a far better choice than the traditional route.

Unfortunately, while I was looking for an agent, I was also eating too many M&Ms. So in preparation for all the media stuff I’m sure I’ll need to do (appearances on The Today Show, Ellen Degeneres, and Perez Hilton), I am about to apply the techniques set out in The Whole Clove Diet to get my svelte self back.

I’m blogging it all (the weight loss and the self-publishing) here:

Alexander Muir Park

Thank you all for your support throughout this move!