Sunday, June 01, 2008

My Vancouver Decade: In The Beginning...


It was on this day in 1998 that I moved back to Vancouver, where I have lived now for the past ten years; I say moved back because I'd lived here twice before. The first time was for six months between May and November 1990 when I arrived here from Ottawa with my then-boyfriend Morgin; the second time I shared a house with my friend James Gill, his boyfriend, and their friend Katherine during the months of November and December in 1991, following my graduation from hairdressing school. In both cases the city seemed to take no time in overpowering me, and in short order I felt I had no choice but to leave. Still, during the almost seven years between my second residence and my third I never felt like I belonged where I was; wherever I was I always felt like an exile from Vancouver, even as far away as Halifax, where I lived for most of 1992.

Recently - at least over the past four or five years - I've been feeling Vancouver beginning to overpower me yet again. Despite many years of a booming economy, like many working class people I have benefited from that boom only minimally; once again I am feeling pushed out by circumstances beyond my control, namely hordes of greedy yuppies, with their relentless pest-like gobbling up of available rental properties to build condos, not to mention the inflationary aura that clings to them like stink clings to shit. Then again, that might just be a cop out; the point is, I need to find out for myself if I am being crowded out or if I am edging myself out.

Probably the reason I've stuck it out so long this time around (apart from the inability to afford a move) is that I really have nowhere else to go; before when I left I could always return to my grandparents' house, and with their financial assistance as well. They're both dead now, and so I guess I have no choice but to make a go of it on my own. It's been a very maturing experience, in the same way meat is matured in a smokehouse; whatever tenderness I might have once had has been toughened out of me thanks to living in a city which seems to grow less friendly by the day. Yet in the city (as in myself) I will occasionally catch a glimpse of the way things used to be, or else some sparkling mirage of what could be, and that glimpse alone is enough to sustain me until the next one, even if months pass before it comes.

* * *

I originally moved here with my partner Dirk following the death of my grandmother; her presence was the only thing keeping me in Kelowna, and her sudden absence not only freed me to leave but also freed up a thousand dollars, which pretty much made our move here possible. Despite the high hopes I had for the life I would have here, I was at the lowest ebb of my life on that day as I drove Dirk's car over the Coquihalla Summit, ironically the highest point of land between my old life and my new one. Had I known how much further down I had to go before truly bottoming out, I'm sure I never would have made that initial descent by car.

My poor cat Boo - unaccustomed to both elevations and car travel - screamed away in the carrier on the seat next to me through the entire trip, almost from the moment we pulled away from our old building; unable to stop to give her more Gravol (thanks entirely to Dirk's macho posturing, insisting that we set some kind of land speed record in our journey) I was forced to endure her ceaseless howling, each yowl of her pain cutting me like a shard of glass in my heart. Given the nervous driver I am anyway, I was pretty well frazzled from the outset, with hours still to go before our arrival. Fortunately I made a travel tape, and I sang just about the whole way there - more than five hours in all, till my throat was raw.

Upon our arrival we moved into an apartment on Burnaby Street in the city's West End, a leafy enclave known for its large gay male population; after a couple of days' respite to become acclimated I set about trying to find myself something of a life. To say this wasn't easy is an understatement of a kind that's impossible to quantify, since I am not naturally given to them, and therefore have no frame of reference. Dirk already had a job, and so it became my job to get a job of my own. In addition to having prospective employers turn me down in droves, I was similarly thwarted in my attempts to volunteer.

Despite years of experience on boards of directors in Kelowna - and having spent a good portion of the previous two years organizing Kelowna's first and second Pride Day Festivals, I was refused the opportunity to volunteer by Vancouver Pride Society. I was similarly turned down by the Queer Film Festival, BC Bears, and a gay theatre company, all despite my eminent suitability in each instance. The irony is that so many queers move to the big city to become more fully involved in gay life, while I became more withdrawn from it as a result of this mass rejection. A decade later, I now participate in the gay life of the city as little as possible; while that has been a broadening experience, it has also been isolating, especially during those times when my acute cravings for affection have threatened to become chronic.

* * *

Over the past few months, I decided to take it upon myself to use my eleventh year in Vancouver to try and rediscover what it is I once loved about the place, and what (if anything) I may come to love about it once again; in short, I've decided to wipe the slate clean and give the city another try. In doing this, I suppose I've decided to give myself another try as well, for in my typically self-loathing way I don't see my failure to fit in as the city's fault but my own. I realize this won't be easy as the company I work for, in its decidedly finite wisdom, can't seem to see fit to give me a regular schedule for more than six months at a time. As such, I can't volunteer, join a group, take a class, or do any of those things which might enable me to better my own situation, at least not reliably. Still, I figure there's plenty that I can do in and around my ever-changing schedule, and so I'll try to do those things instead.

Fortunately I have this blog, and so in amongst the glib and bitchy scratchings I manage to leave here, over the next year I hope to add reminiscences, photographs, and maybe (if I'm lucky) even insights into the pull this peculiar piece of urban landscape seems to have over me. I initially considered putting it all into another blog, as this project would seem to be entirely off topic for the Pop Culture Institute; then again, so much of this blog has arisen out of my experiences here, making this particular feature pretty much function as a creation myth for the monster I've created. At least, that's what I keep telling myself.

With any luck, I may even get a book out of it!

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