Living in Newfoundland was not an option for me. I couldn’t imagine any kind of future here. The island, I felt, was a finite world – one could only wander so far. It imposed limits on virtually every aspect of my life – work, love, money. I felt it closing in on me. I was stuck, stifled, confined. I left.
I left to nestle deep into urban life. In the city streets I found the room I needed. I found freedom in the endless life paths suddenly available to me, relief in the lack of dominant ideology governing daily living.
I aligned my heartbeat with that of the city, its rhythm became my own. I began to think like the city, act like the city. When it protested, I protested. When it celebrated, I took part. When it came alive, as did I. The city became both my world, and the lens through which I saw it.
Toronto’s steady pace and work culture propelled me to earn, acquire, achieve. Montreal’s laziness and hyper-creativity egged me on to focus on what came naturally to me. The diversity and insightful minds I encountered in both cities helped erode deep and destructive beliefs I’d long harboured but never had an opportunity – or reason – to challenge. I didn’t realize it then, but after nearly a decade, the city had fully infiltrated my psyche, my world view, my core. It had changed me, forever.
And that’s when I decided to leave. Positively and irreversibly morphed though I was by the city, after a decade, my threshold for noise and crowds and man-made structures had been reached. I was no longer charmed by the sight of urban decay, no longer liberated by the hum of the downtown streets.
The urban environment, I felt, was a finite world – one could only wander so far. I felt it closing in on me. I was stuck, stifled, confined. I left.
I longed for home – for ocean, fresh air, shorter line-ups and dinners at Mom’s. I began to hallucinate images of St. John’s. From my office in Longueil, Mont Royal took on the dimensions of the southside hills. I would turn a corner in the Plateau and swear I was on Water Street. Everywhere I looked I saw signs directing my homeward. On two separate occasions – once at home, once at the Rosemont library – a Stevie Wonder piano book flopped open to a song I’d never heard before. Its message was clear:
I couldn’t turn another corner only to find more duplexes and triplexes. I needed an unobstructed view of the sky. I needed to see something other than my neighbour’s brick wall when sitting on my balcony.
And now, I very much do:
I’ve been home for 10 months. The buzz of the city is a distant memory now. I hear more seagulls than sirens. A stream of seven cars feels like traffic.
There’s so much room here. So much space to breathe. A 900km trail stretches across the province where the train tracks used to be. I bike on it for hours and see no more than five people.
400kms of coastal hiking trails lie along the eastern coast of the island. I’ve maybe seen ten people in 20 hours of hiking.
There’s a natural pond on top of the hill across the harbour. Even on a scorching hot day, the entire area is completely deserted.
And yet, I sometimes feel stuck…stifled. Confined.
Physical space exists in ample supply here, but human beings do not. The guy downstairs and the guy at the record store are the same guy.
I saw a girl at a thrift store the other day, then saw her that same day at yoga. We officially met the next day when I saw her at a beach bonfire.
When parking my car last week, I found out that the ticket agent to whom I had sent a strongly-worded email the previous day works part time as – you guessed it – a parking lot attendant.
I had forgotten that aspect of living in Newfoundland. I had also forgotten that fewer people means fewer fresh ideas, fewer forward-thinkers, fewer…everything.
Since I’ve been home, it’s become clear to me that there is no utopia environment. In all of our choices, we sacrifice something in order to gain something else.
I miss the city. I miss its minds, its options, its endless activity and accessibility. I miss its markets and parades and parties and people. I think of the many sultry summer nights I spent in its parks and along its waterfronts, and I miss it. I'm okay here, for now, along the ocean and amid the hills and trees and at Mom's for dinner, but I miss the city.
Cities are socially liberating, but physically confining. Island life is socially confining, but physically liberating.
But then, sometimes I wonder: How could I ever feel confined, by this?