“An impatience with toast crumbs and flossing”

It’s evening here now. I suppose it has been for a while, if you consider “evening” to be any time after sunset. I’m sipping a mojito at my kitchen table, waiting for my sponge cake to finish baking. A nice, simple end to an adventurous day.

I was supposed to finish reading my book club book today. It is my pick this month, after all. My choice to delve back into Aritha van Herk’s Calgary, circa 1998, and experience the grief and sadness that accompanies the narrator’s decision to have herself assassinated. I read this book, Restlessness, only once before. In the spring of 2010, as I was finishing up those last few classes for my undergrad, excited about my impending move out west, I found this book at a second-hand shop in London the day I presented a paper at a women’s conference in town. It was $4.50, and I devoured it quickly. The book only fuelled my desire for Calgary, and was the reason one of my first stops here was to the Palliser Hotel. I brought the book out here with me, of course, intending to re-read it once I became familiar with the city. But I never got the chance, and the book sat on my shelf collecting dust, and then got packed and moved to my new apartment, where it collected more dust. Occasionally, I’d pull it down just to read the first few pages, just to remember the sentences that made me fall in love with this city. And then a few months ago, when my parents came out, I pilled a bin with books for them to bring home. All of Aritha’s other books ended up in the bin, without me ever asking her to sign a single one of them. But this one? This one I decide to hold onto. I needed to read it here at least once. This book, I thought, this act of re-reading, would be my final goodbye to Calgary. And then last month when my boss asked if I would host this month’s book discussion at the store, the first book to come to mind was Restlessness. Now I find myself having to re-read it and yet trying to avoid that re-reading at the turn of every page. Not because I’ve lost interest in it, because I haven’t – it’s still one of my favourites. The problem is that, while the last reading had me longing for Calgary and the prairies and the Palliser Hotel, this time it has me clutched firmly in the grip of homesickness. Aritha writes that we never truly explore our hometown until we’re tasked with showing guests around, and then she has her narrator and the assassin wandering down First Street, exploring St. Mary’s Cathedral – my neighbourhood, my church, my streets. And rather than wander with the Calgarian and her assassin, I place them on the streets of Windsor, walking along University Ave and heading into Assumption Church. Funny that when I can finally truly imagine the scenery being described, I want to push the characters elsewhere.

It’s a tough read for me right now. I’ve been having enough homesickness lately without the added help from this book. And I find it so strange because, after two and a half years here, I’ve never been truly homesick until now. Everyone expects it at first, they almost want you to be homesick, and when you aren’t, they act as if there’s something wrong. I wasn’t homesick when I first came here. Ok, I was, but only for one day. It was that brief. And then my mom went home and I pulled myself up and decided I could love this place. I had to love this place – I was going to be here for two years at least. Sure, I missed home, but not at the level of homesickness. I went home, I came back, it wasn’t all that hard on me. But lately the pull backward has been unnaturally strong. The thought of remaining here for another year is enough to make me physically sick. Which probably isn’t the proper definition of homesickness, but it’s my definition, and it works.

But this isn’t a post about homesickness (that’ll come next time). This post is about today’s exploring. Because, as I was reading/avoiding reading Restlessness and got to the line about how we don’t explore where we live, I decided I had to explore. Because I do live here, at least for the time being, and I don’t want to be one of those people who regrets never seeing the great things in their own backyard. So I put down my book, suited up (not that it was cold today – just the opposite. I was sweating in a thin t-shirt and my jacket), grabbed my camera, and went back up that hill. Well, it was a different hill today, a few streets east, but whatever. I hiked up as far as the road went and found myself standing on the crest of a steep hill, looking down over rooftops and busy streets. It was actually physically breathtaking that this view was, quite literally, in my backyard and I didn’t even know about it. I wandered along the crest of the hill for quite a while before turning back and coming home to that suicidal narrator, reading about her restlessness and longing for other places, and feeling as if I had proved her wrong. And yes, I have gotten to that point where the highlight of my day is outsmarting (or just plain arguing with) a fictional character in a novel.

After reading for a bit, I made myself a nice meal and then decided I needed to see that hilltop view at sunset. So I grabbed my camera again (a technological advancement that narrator despises because, she says, it stops you from actually experiencing. If you see everything through a view-finder, your memories will all be rectangular blocks. I disagree, but then I have a tendency to argue with this narrator on every page). I grabbed my camera, laced up my boots, and headed back up that hill. And I was right. Sunsets look so much more beautiful when there are mountains in the distance.

Hilltop view of downtown
Hilltop view of downtown
Everything looks so little down there...
Everything looks so little down there…

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Our resident door-greeter. He waits for me every day. Today I snuck in the back door so I could take a picture of him waiting for me.
Our resident door-greeter. He waits for me every day. Today I snuck in the back door so I could take a picture of him waiting for me.

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