because the personal is cultural
On ne m’avait pas dit qu’une fois arrivée ici / Je n’aurais plus nulle part où m’en aller.
― Les Sœurs Boulay, « Nous après nous »
Je ne me suicide pas parce que j'ai envie de partir. Quand on a envie de quelque chose on est sauf. Je ne pars pas parce qu'une fois partie je n'aurais plus envie de rien et qu'il faudrait que je m'extermine. Ma logique m'effraie.
― Réjean Ducharme, L’avalée des avalés
I’d been living in my basement apartment for six years, but I’d never bothered making it nice because Montreal didn’t feel like home to me. One of my biggest fears is dying here. There would be nobody to ship my body home, or to even know where that is.
I’ve always been attracted to the ocean. On my last trips, I’ve gone to Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, British Columbia, and back to Newfoundland. I’ve been looking for a place for my body.
Wherever I would go, no matter for how long, I would never do touristy things. It wasn’t that I was above it. What always interested me was finding out if I would like to live there, so I would just go about my days as I would at home: go to a café and write, go to the pool, eat out, go for a walk, stop by a bookstore, go to the movies…
I booked my most recent trip to Newfoundland through a travel agency. I flew in to Deer Lake, on the northern tip of the island, and drove down to St. John’s over two weeks. The agency had sent me a list of suggested attractions along the way. It happened a couple of times that I punched in one of their suggestions into my GPS only to end up in the middle of nowhere on what could not possibly be considered a road, praying to God that I would make it out without a flat tire.
“Just east of Bonavista you’ll find Elliston, a community that claims the title of Root Cellar Capital of the World with over 135 root cellars, some almost 200 years old,” read the document. Fortunately, it was a paved road that led me there. Next to Nanny’s Root Cellar Kitchen, there was a plaque:
A favourite poem of Reverend Charles Lench, the Methodist Minister serving Bird Island Cove/Elliston, 1898-1902
If you want to see a town
The sort of town you like,
You needn’t pack your clothes in a grip,
And go off on a long, long hike.
You’ll only find what you left behind,
There is nothing really new,
It’s a knock at yourself, then a knock at your town;
It isn’t your town, it’s you.
Whenever my friend Nick would come over to watch a movie, we’d taken to playing a long video on my TV screen while chatting beforehand so that my computer wouldn’t shut down while iTunes was shuffling through songs. We’d started off with videos for cats and dogs, but through YouTube suggestions had made our way to bucolic and coastal landscapes. One such night, I’d picked yet another YouTube suggestion, a shot of a fire burning inside a cabin that overlooked snow-covered mountains.
“This infuriates me,” Nick said.
It seemed to me a strong reaction to an inoffensive video, so I pressed him on to know what he meant.
“It’s junk beauty. The idea that this is happiness…”
“Is it a class thing?” I asked. I was thinking about Mykki Blanco who, in the song “Highschool Never Ends,” raps “Up on this roof / Breaking diesel, I'm feeling evil, rich kids got the best views / The whole city looks so pretty.”
“Yeah,” he blurted out. “But not even. Even if we lived in the most egalitarian world, not everyone could live by the ocean; some of us would have to live somewhere else.”
I understood what he meant. What were you going to do? Say “I’m not going to be happy unless I get to live by the ocean”?
In the winter of 2021, after being unable to leave Quebec for two and half years because of the pandemic, I flew to St. John’s to spend the holidays there, alone. I arrived just as the Omicron variant was rearing its ugly head, shutting everything down in its path. Still, it’s my favourite vacation I’ve ever taken. I’d go on walks around the city, get takeout or delivery, and eat it in my hotel room that overlooked the harbour while watching Christmas movies (with an edible now and then). My life would be more or less the same wherever I’d live. All that changes is the view.
On my last trip, I took advantage of the cable TV in my hotel rooms and watched a lot of HGTV. When I got back to Montreal, I finally started improving my apartment. I painted the wall behind my bed, but not grey like I’d originally planned. All that HGTV had made me sick of upper-middle-class neutral colours. Instead, I painted it bright yellow, like one of the houses on Jellybean Row.
has an MA in Film Studies and works in contemporary dance. His fiction has appeared in Headlight Anthology, Cactus Heart, and Birkensnake.