The Need to Move
Resistant, fearful, resigned. These feelings surfaced when I realized I needed to move to Toronto.
I always knew I had to take the leap. I was living in Vancouver at that time, a city I wanted to love so much I gave it thirteen years. Its’ trails, the Pacific ocean, fresh mountain air, the high-quality Asian food, and the work-life balance satisfied me for a long time.
But lots of things went wrong in Vancouver; I couldn’t find the right partner, I got stuck in my career, and my social life had disintegrated because most people had moved on, with only a few fair-weathered friends who were ambivalent not just about keeping in touch regularly, but life in general. This was something I didn’t blame them for; the city’s fog of passivity seeps into everyone’s psyche to the point where we become stagnant. Stagnancy is poison.
When I spoke to my spiritual healer, he voiced what I was feeling in a nutshell; I was in a city that wasn’t the right ‘match’ for me. I’ve always had an old soul, who gravitated towards old parts of any town. I loved the creative scene and needed a bit more spunk in my surroundings; theatre, music, literature, and heritage just to mention a few. Vancouver disconnected me from these needs.
My healer mentioned London (UK), Halifax (Nova Scotia) and Toronto as better alternatives. I weighed the choices. Trying to prod my way into England was going to be a logistical nightmare with its’ prohibitive policies of keeping foreign talent out. Halifax seemed appealing but felt geographically disconnected from any part of the world. I also didn’t know anyone there.
Toronto became the default, appropriate choice. I had family there, I went to a university only an hour or so away, and had enough connections to start a life without completely being thrown off the deep end.
Landing in The Six and Glitz
I surrendered myself to the fates. I saved up, quit my job, travelled for a few months and eventually moved to The Six (Toronto’s nickname) in July 2019.
Let me first tell you why I love Toronto because it has dynamic, objective qualities that make it spectacular.
It has experimental restaurants and a sizzling theatre scene with a hodgepodge of diverse performers and artists. It’s not New York or London but can hold its’ own in a plethora of diverse artistic will.
I loved its ethnic diversity. If you watched Turning Red, Pixar’s latest movie, you’ll have noticed a wide range of immigrants in the characters. I have friends who hail from various cultural backgrounds, who embrace each others’ differences and can straddle differing viewpoints along with the homogeneity that urban centres can mould in most of their inhabitants. Same same but different, as I saw in a t-shirt once. I was only one of two BIPOC people in my office in Vancouver, a staff of about thirty-five. At my job in Toronto, we’re about eighteen in a staff of forty.
From a practical standpoint, there are more businesses and career opportunities in Toronto simply because great talent resides here. Also, depending on the professional field, many corporations have their headquarters in Toronto, allowing people to move up a career ladder faster than working in a branch.
I love Torontonians’ openness. In Vancouver, I encountered people who wore expressions of squeamish obligation on their faces if they had to talk to strangers. But in Toronto, it’s ok to strike up a conversation with a stranger at the park, and the bar is a hub for making new friends. There are diverse personalities that defy generic tendencies.
Toronto has a strong sense of community. I think it’s a city so large it had to break up into small neighbourhoods to foster a sense of togetherness. Vancouver on the other hand was an awkward medium-sized city in physical limbo. It was too big to have a town-ish feel but too small to evoke a cosmopolitan air of living in a metropolis.
So yes, Toronto has a lot going for it. And that’s why I’m still here.
The Ugly Side of Toronto
But almost three years on, I still feel like I was duped into an arranged marriage to a city.
Toronto feels like an entity I know but whose identity hasn’t crystallized, like seeing an outline in a fogged mirror, but not the face. I still question whether it is a place that is a launching pad for where I will eventually end up, or whether it’s where I can build roots. Is this city part of the journey or is it a final destination?
Here are a few traits about this city I am definitely not in love with.
I hate its architecture. Where I work, which is known as Hospital Row in the downtown core, the buildings are so ugly with structures built from the 1980s. It’s dreary and depressing to have to walk under gray skies on a sordid Monday morning, among worker bees most of whom probably do not want to be there, especially during a pandemic. No one wants to be in a hospital during a health crisis.
I hate the drudging work culture. They say people in Toronto live to work. If I loved my day job, I could live by that mantra, but I don’t. The city feels like a heavy chore that no one wants to complete.
The city is dingy. The streets are dirty with polluted air that cannot seem to rise past the CN Tower. And, as much as I love industrial spaces the ones I’ve come across are unappealing and unnervingly abandoned with a character lacking.
The air is hot and humid in the summer, and cold and stale in the winter. Even though I’ve learned to like the winter after having lived in Canada for over twenty years, there is a forlorn, dejected disposition all Torontonians adopt for seven months of the year. This is too long a time to live in one’s life. Packed snow is coated with gunmetal dirt on the streets and blocks pedestrian walkways. I cringe as I step on large granules of salt, hoping they don’t ruin my new boots. When I get home I resist the temptation to drink a glass of wine.
The traffic is stressful as fuck. I made the right decision not to bring a car into the city. I do not envy those stuck on the spaghetti highways, entering and exiting ramps on a hurried morning of rush hour traffic or crawling a horrid commute home because of accidents that happen every day.
I don’t like that I’m being urbanized. I love living in my apartment and am eternally grateful for being able to afford housing here. But a squeezed living space is also present in my mind, not just in limited square footage. The non-stop elevators in my building with their incessant tinging sounds and cramped banks add to my daily micro-stressors. The packed streetcars with people depersonalizing themselves by looking down at their phones make me feel disconnected.
I resent my growing affection for retail therapy. Let me profess that I see nothing wrong with retail therapy but I am afraid of relying on it as an expensive coping mechanism. Just like a typical (older) millennial, I crave experiences more than material goods. I applaud businesses now because they have successfully managed to amplify the experience of actually purchasing goods. The city is full of glitzy stores with edgy window displays. Metropolitan cities are such a breeding ground for the capitalist side of globalization. Window shopping is one of my favourite pastimes but I prefer a nature walk.
Keeping At It
I’ve been here for almost three years now. The majority of these years were in a pandemic, which nonetheless, has actually been good for me. And it’s unfair to form an opinion about a place during an unusual blip of time. Perhaps I put too much pressure on it. I designated it as the sole procurer responsible for delivering my happiness. Tall order.
But I am not going to give up on this city. I need to give it more time like an arranged marriage everyone is convinced is a good match for you, even though it doesn’t feel quite right…yet.
Yet is the operative word. For times when I feel dejected and resigned at being here, and start thinking that somewhere else may be more appealing than this grey grind, I re-channel my stream of thought to a hopeful one. I disregard the misleading feeling of comfortable misery; and hold on to the outline on that foggy mirror, because I have faith that my unguaranteed clairvoyance will arrive.
Are you living in a place you’re still learning to love?