Love Letter to Calgary

“There’s no place like home,” Dorothy says at the end of The Wizard of Oz, as she taps her sparkling red heels together. “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”

Over a year ago, I wrote a paper on the idea of the road as it relates to American literature and pop culture of the 1930s. The Wizard of Oz came up a lot. It was never my favourite movie, but I always liked it. Now, I’m finding parallels in my life. Early in the film, Dorothy dreams of a better place, “somewhere over the rainbow,” where the economy is better and people are happier. She wants excitement, maybe, something new and different, and when she arrives in Munchkinland, she has her dog with her (that little piece of home).

Growing up, I dreamed of living in a different place, doing something exciting. I kept up to date with what celebrities were doing because I thought their lives were so glamorous. They all moved from other places and settled in Hollywood, and I wanted a similar ending. Maybe not the fame and fortune, although that would have been nice, but I wanted the excitement. I needed a change. So, 3 years ago, I landed in Calgary, with all my little pieces of home, and, like Dorothy, I’ve been trying to get back to my Kansas ever since. I followed the yellow brick road all over this city, met a lot of interesting (and some not-so-interesting) people, spent a fair bit of time arguing with the Wicked Witch of the West, met the Wizard, who made me see that I already had brains and courage, and was serenaded by several members of the Lollipop Guild. But all the while, I was just trying to get back home so I could tell Auntie Em my wild tales.

“Follow the yellow brick road,” Dorothy is told. “Go West, young man,” Joshua Jackson’s character is directed by a Tim Horton’s cup in One Week. In The Grapes of Wrath, west equals prosperity, and the Joad family travels west along Route 66 to California, where they are treated like second-class citizens. The idea of travel has been so intricately woven into American (and Canadian) culture that the two are nearly inseparable now. While the Route 66 sign is liable to produce mental images of The Grapes of Wrath and escapees from the Dust Bowl, a rose is not likely to conjure Gertrude Stein (“a rose is a rose is a rose”) or Shakespeare (“a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”). We have fostered, over the 20th century, a culture of travel. And more often than not, it’s west-bound travel that we seek.

Following the pop culture ideal, as well as the advice of several professors and my own childhood adoration of the Canadian prairies, I ventured west. What I found was not altogether what I had expected. It was a difficult road, to say the least. There were arguments about the validity of my chosen field of research, and there were a handful of people who stood in my way from the moment I arrived, mouths telling me I wasn’t good enough, or smart enough, or that I didn’t subscribe to the right way of living, or that I sound too American when I speak. All the things I had grown to love about myself didn’t seem to jibe with the way of life out here. I tried to change, at first. I wanted to fit in the way I do at home, so I spent money I didn’t have on dinners I couldn’t eat with people I didn’t even particularly enjoy being around. By the end of my first year here, I was miserable and lonely, and spent the majority of my time venting to my roommate, who understood all too well what I was talking about. She was my saving grace – one of the reasons I refused to give up.

It wasn’t all bad, though. I’ve had experiences here that I wouldn’t have had anywhere else, and I’ve learned things about myself that I wouldn’t have learned had I never left home. My first apartment was here, and the first serious relationship I had in years was out here. I was living here when I finally got to meet my German penpal of 12 years, and it was being here that gave me the opportunity to touch two oceans in the span of 17 months. I got to see the Badlands and an old Alberta coal mine, the flat prairie, the mountains, I’ve experienced Chinooks and Stampede. I bought my first pair of cowboy boots here, started drawing again, survived a flood, wrote a thesis, drank millions of cups of coffee. I lived here. It may not seem like much, but for 3 years, this has been my home. No, I haven’t flown around the world or seen everything I could have, but I lived, and in the end, that’s the experience I want to hold onto. It wasn’t all roses and sunshine, at times being here felt like the hardest thing I would ever do, but knowing that I can survive that feeling and still go out and live my life – that’s worth more than any trip around the globe.

Like Dorothy, I have been pointing my compass toward home since the moment I arrived, but leaving this place is going to be just as difficult as arriving. I don’t mean because I’m trying to jam an entire apartment into a few plastic bins and cardboard boxes, although that isn’t easy. Knowing that I’m down to my last 7 days here, that I have to soak up everything I can in a week, is hard. Because I am going to miss this city, and this province, and I’m going to miss the people I met here. Some of them have already left, and others probably never will, but my hope is that one day we’ll meet again. One day, maybe I will come back to this place, walk around these streets and touch the buildings again, and I’ll find a part of myself that I left sitting on a rock by the Bow River, and I’ll know that I’m home.

“There’s no place like home,” Dorothy says, tapping her heels together. And just like that, she’s home.

calgary

If you ever think of me
Let it be around twilight
When the world has settled down
And the last round of sunlight
Is waning in the sky as you
Sit and watch the night descending

A car will pass out front with lovers at the wheel
A dog will bark out back
And children’s voices peal over and under the air
You’ve been there
Lost in the remembering

If you ever wish for things that are only in the past
Just remember that the wrong things aren’t supposed to last
Babe, it’s over and done
The rest is gonna come when you let it

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