vancouver

Surf's up

When I was in the second grade I saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time. It was during a family trip to Disney Land. I was instantly entranced and waded in fully dressed in non-swim clothes. My parents had to drag me away. Disney Land and Universal Studios couldn’t compete with this magic. At one point one of them told me that they’d never seen me happier than in that moment.

It was like something had been missing from my life and in that moment I had found it. The waves, the water, home.

During the summer between sixth and seventh grade Blue Crush was released. It was a fantastic movie and it left me strongly convinced that surfing was in fact my calling. Never mind that I lived somewhere land locked or that it was probably too late for me. I was born to be a surfer and was very certain of this fact.

I requested that my parents move to Hawaii so I could fulfill my destiny as a surfer. They said no.

I suggested California instead. They said no.

Suspecting that citizenship was an issue I finally offered up Tofino. It’s in Canada and I could be a surfer there.

But no. They had jobs and lives in Calgary and couldn’t uproot everything for my latest intense obsession. I was very unhappy with this. It was your regular teenager-parent dispute except that to me it seemed so obvious that this thing had to happen because it was clearly my destiny and my parents didn’t understand and hoped I would stop talking about it.

My mother purchased me some Billabong and Quicksilver clothes in the hope that that would somehow compensate — in hindsight I appreciate that I was permitted to buy boys surf clothes, something that never met resistance or questions of your know Roxy is for girls wear that.

I did not fulfill my destiny as a surfer and I have yet to visit Tofino. Life is filled with hardships.

I do however live by the ocean. I go to the beach. I get to make fairly frequent tide and sea level rise diagrams.

And today I went for a stand up paddle boarding lesson. It is probably the closest I have come since viewing Blue Crush to that longing I felt. It’s almost like surfing. It was easy and I enjoyed being on the water. Unlike my kayaking adventures I think this is something I can do and want to do.

I am reaching back in time to that disappointed and frustrated 12-year-old me and telling her that this moment does in fact happen. She will glide along the water of the Pacific amongst beautiful hills. It will be fantastic. Just be patient.

I also want to tell her that those watercolours are really great and she should do a bunch of them.

That the imagery and design of those surf clothes will stay with her.

That she’ll find the water she seeks. That the pull is too strong to be denied.

Then there’s another me I want to reach back in time to. Me last year. The scared, sad, broken Rhi who could not have done something like stand up paddle boarding. The Rhi who couldn’t use her right arm. The me lying in the dark after my concussion thinking about how long it would be before she could do things again. The me that would wake up with the kind of pain in my back and neck and shoulders that made me dread the day, that made me not want to get up, not want to move, not want to exist.

I want to tell her that it’ll be okay. That it’ll get better. That she will get moments like this.

That her body is both damaged and resilient. That her sore, tense muscles also remember all those hours of training and the movement and activity of her past.

As my physiotherapist told me so often keep moving. Keep moving. Stand up straight.

Growing up my body was worthwhile as a thing that was powerful and athletic. I was never pretty so I never had value in that way, I never figured out how to be an attractive girl but I was good at a sport. My body had worth as that, I related to it as that. My body was what it did. it was muscular and had finely honed reflexes.

Relating to my body instead as something that hurts and that can’t do everything I want it to or that it used to has been challenging. I have let go of some things, accepted that I in fact have limits, accepted the fragility of my body, accepted that certain injuries leave a mark that no amount of physio exercises can erase.

Out on the water I got to relate to my body again as something that is strong, that was moving and active. It is when I am relating to my body in this way that it feels the best and that I feel the best about it. After all that worry and wondering if I would ever feel good again, how long it would be before I was back to doing things, I am trying to enjoy these days when I wake up and I feel normal, when I feel okay, to enjoy the feeling of doing something that I was scared I might never be able to do again.

I want to tell her that she’ll be alright and that she can take the time she needs to get there.

At home

Last week I was volunteering, which mostly involved spending time chatting with someone — a super easy gig. The person was an urban nerd who spent a couple of years living in the Netherlands. We had a lot in common.

It didn't take long to get to how much we missed Europe, how life there is easier and better, how most of the streets and buildings in Vancouver are awful compared to where we used to live, that the only reason people in Vancouver feel good about the quality of our city is that the rest of North America has somehow managed to be worse, that our social programs are a joke and our healthcare dysfunctional. It's not that I hate Canada so much as that after living in places that are doing things way better — in easy totally achievable ways — it's hard not to look at Canada with a critical eye.

I am getting better at not being annoyed by these things but it was nice to talk to someone who knew where I was coming from. Once you live in Amsterdam or Copenhagen even the nicer cities in Canada still feel sprawling and awful and trying to endure the dysfunction that is our government is pretty brutal. 

I want to do what I can to make Canada better, to fight for my beliefs. I'm in this place, I have to do what I can to make it better. Still, sometimes it feels like I'm far removed from what everyone here seems pretty happy to shrug their shoulders over.

When I planned my studies in Scotland I had it in the back of my mind that there was a good chance I'd stay. I thought about moving to Sweden, there's the eternal pull of Copenhagen. I felt very at home in Scotland. Too bad about that whole Brexit and anti-immigrant sentiment thing. If they were independent I'd peace out for a cheap flat in Glasgow pretty quickly. As is when I left it felt like a place where even white well-educated Canadians weren't very welcome — this is more a reflection of UK policy than how people act in Scotland.

So I came home. Back to this place that I like a lot more when I'm not actually here, when I'm far away, when I go on dates with people I can only kind of understand even though we are both native English speakers. There is something nice about being in a place where everyone just gets things and you don't have to explain as much, where people have heard of where you grew up and went for undergrad, where saying give 'er once doesn't elicit stares and confusion because no one has ever heard it before then becomes a catchphrase.

When I told my sister about my conversation during my volunteer shift she said that she thinks I should go back to Europe. It's something I think about more and more as time goes on. I wonder where I can go that will be safe, that will be mine, that will feel like home.

My plan when coming out to Vancouver was that this would be it. I'd move here, settle down, build a life. Then I figured out what the housing crisis really looks like and my life kind of fell apart. I'm doing a lot better than I was but I still can't picture a future here. I want a decent affordable place to live that is mine that I can fill with well-designed things and paint various pastel colours.

Today the smoke is so bad that I can't go outside without having trouble breathing. It's only going to get worse. That's another knock on this place.

I'm editing some of my photos from when I visited Copenhagen when I was in Edinburgh. Those streets will always feel like home. I liked that place. Life there was good and I was really happy. It was one of those rare times in my tumultuous twenties that I felt like I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing exactly where I was supposed to be doing it. I had my crew. I had a nice bike and a nice space to live in. I had everything I needed and it was great.

I'd like to feel that way again. I'd like to settle down and find somewhere that I can feel at home. More and more I wonder where that might be.

Getting into gear

I found this quote in Austin Kleon's newsletter — email I actually want to receive and that says a lot because I am drowning in email — sometimes I hit inbox zero and I'm like please no one ever try to contact me ever again so I can bask in the perfection of this glorious achievement.

It's about stuff, another thing I have just way too much of. I want things to be simple, and easy, but generally it feels like there's just a lot of stuff. Some of it I don't need — I am triaging some of my mugs before moving because apparently my new roommate also poses mugs and I don't want a box of them in my closet — but a lot of it I do. The light pad, the laptop stand, the camera, the lenses, the hard drives, the pens, the paper. I do too many things and they all come with stuff.

Having too much gear is one of the worst things in the world. The more gear you have, the less you do.
— Jim O’Rourke

I'm trying to get to that Goldilocks spot where I have everything I need and nothing more. One day.

I was on the Aquabus on my birthday because I've been missing the ferries in Scotland and thought it would help — it did. The boat operator noticed that I was taking a lot of pictures of the water and asked about my camera. He was a photographer too. I mentioned my wrist injury and he said that he has L Series lenses but they're really heavy so he never uses them, and likes the small and simple mirrorless way better. I couldn't agree more.