nouns and verbs


A view of one of the bridge’s I liked to cross.

Two months away from Vancouver, with my own place to stay, I’d begun to feel as though that were home. I have a new appreciation for my daughter’s city, having walked lots of the waterways, and rambled through quite a few neighbourhoods. I know place names now, bus routes (they have transitways that really do allow for express buses, unimpeded by cars. Metro Vancouver should take notes). I appreciate why she calls it home. Even my little bachelor suite began to feel like home, or at least the city began to feel like I could find a home there.

But then I came home to my city, last night around midnight, and woke up this morning back in my own home. It’s full of things I hadn’t thought about for two months, and mostly, not missed (though I could have used my cheese grater). I recognized this place as home, but it feels different too.

Each city has it’s own culture, something you can delude yourself isn’t so, if you never go see. It’s grittier in Central Canada. Older, obviously. There’s a lot more brick, a material you don’t see much here in Vancouver. I heard French spoken everywhere, and I’m used to hearing mostly Asian languages, when it’s not English. Vancouver is more sleek, somehow. All the metal and glass, I suppose. More rain too, manages to wash away the dust. I think winter is way harder ‘back east’ on the structures, and it’s reflected in design, of condos, for instance. They seem much more utilitarian, somehow. Inside as well. They don’t go in for as much glitz as Vancouver’s (new) condos do. There’s more of a recognition that ordinary people are buying the places, and they don’t have to mortgage their lives away. And house prices! There’s a house for sale near my daughter’s, for $275,000. Now it’s a little house and needs work, but my goodness, you’d be hard-pressed to find a bachelor suite in Vancouver for that price.

Air travel is very disorienting. I got on the plane last evening in one city, set down in another, briefly, and then walked out of the airport in a third, behaving as though my body didn’t know it wasn’t really three hours later than the clocks all said. This transformation took place in the space of one day, and mostly without leaving my seat. One (unfinished) crossword puzzle, one Sudoku, two or three episodes of Law & Order, SVU (they kind of run together), several repeats of CTV news, a dry sandwich. It’s a pretty mundane way to experience something really quite amazing, flying. The brain can hardly adjust to the changes; at least when driving, you see the landscape change. William Gibson, in his novel Pattern Recognition (great, by the way) suggested through one character, that the human soul isn’t meant to travel so quickly, and that jet-lag is really the sensation of the body reeling the soul back in. Makes metaphorical sense.

Everything is familiar here, yet everything is strange. I walked into my apartment and thought, oh, this is a nice place. I’d forgotten, somehow, what it looked like. Forgot how a few things worked too, is that possible in only two months? It’s all coming back to me now. Got the power back on, marvelled that it felt cold (it’s been toasty warm and sunny in Ontario). I’ll have to shelve my flip-flops now.

It is different outside my window. There have been repairs ongoing, the planters are gone, more light comes in my windows. The courtyards and stairs are all being re-waterproofed, and soon will have new tile laid (it’s begun, but not in front of my door yet). Once all the tile is down, new planters will go up, delineating my patios, and I’ll get some greenery back, but I think I’ll be careful about how much, as, lovely as they were, the rhododendrons that used to be outside my windows were very dense, and blocked a lot of light.

The roof is also being replaced, a job that is creeping (slouching?) towards completion (breaking all records for renovations taking longer than promised, and no I wouldn’t recommend the roofers, though it sounds that when finally done, it will be a good job). There is some hope that they will finish before Christmas. (They had begun before I left!) It hasn’t helped that they found dry rot, extra things needed repairing. Another metaphor? Be careful when you lift the roof?

I was hoping to miss all this by being away for two months (serendipity of the timing of grandchild’s birth) and I did miss plenty (though not lots of email/phone conversations about it) but coming in at midnight, I had to manoeuvre down stairs (railings removed for painting) that had recently had the last coat of the waterproof membrane applied, and it isn’t completely dry, so my feet stuck, if I stood still. Couldn’t drag in all those bags, so my brother and I had to lift them, squelch, squelch, squelch, down the stairs over the courtyard and into my door.

There is too much stuff here, in my poor neglected apartment, that’s apparent. I mean I’ve managed the last two months with the contents of (what grew to) three suitcases in a sparsely furnished bachelor suite. It’s quite luxurious now, here, not doing everything in one room. More than one place to sit, that’s got to be worth something.

I’m torn of course. I have two children in this city and one with two grandchildren in another, and I can’t afford to live in two places either. No this was an extraordinary occasion, spending two months visiting, helping through the first few months as my daughter and her family adjust to the realities of two babies, not one. And one of the nice things about spending two months pretending to live in their city, is that I got to know them all just that much better.

But I think that I need to remember that their lives are one thing and mine is another. Takes a while to adjust, shifting personal world view, and I was definitely rattled this summer by my return to single life. The different landscape helped tremendously in adjusting to that reality, and I think I can hold onto that perspective. (Nothing stopping me from flying back for the occasional visit, either.)

I read a book recently, entitled What Matters Most, by James Hollis. One of the things that struck me (many things did, my copy is full of sticky notes) is the idea that we like life to be nouns, fixed. But life is really all verbs, it moves, changes. It makes sense to think of home as a verb too (also adjective or adverb) so why I expect it to be static is anyone’s guess.

Spending the two months seeing two babies most days, also helped remind me that nothing stays the same. I remember when I had small children, and every time I thought I’d got things figured out (things being my children ;) they changed. Well, I saw that taking place again, with both kids. My life is still like that. Every time I think I’ve got things figured out, I don’t. So maybe at this late date, I will finally keep that thought in mind.

Change is both noun and verb, and unpredictable too. Makes life worth living. Doesn’t it?


No shortage of bridges to cross  in Vancouver, either.

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