So many times I have packed and unpacked, moving along to new cities in a effort to constantly feel alive, to make my dreams come true and to fulfill my inner free spirit. Every time I move to a new place to live, there is a big reality check coming along with it. Effectively, I need to learn how to live all over again. I need to understand the city and its culture. I need to meet the right people with which I will have meaningful relationships. I need to know the spots to buy cheap and tasty groceries, the cool cafés, the best parks, the splendid street art. It might seem easy and of course, it is blissful to stroll through new cities to discover new haunts. Alas, it is quite another thing to settle down in an unfamiliar place.
I just arrived in London, Ontario to start a Master in Journalism. I will stay here for one year and I already knew before leaving that it would be quite a challenge for me as a big-city girl that feels comfortable either in the countryside or in the city. I’ve always had trouble being in a small town or a suburb, as I feel that difference is more or less accepted. Despite having lived in London UK, Vancouver and Erlangen in Germany, moving somewhere else is always a challenge, even if it is the tenth time you’ve done it. It always means starting over.
Before leaving Montreal, I felt heavy, as though my past was weighing on my shoulders. As I was sifting through drawers of stuff from my twenty-five years on Earth, I reflected upon the fact that in life, nothing is forever and objects eventually have to live another life or disintegrate. I also pondered upon past trends, old friends, and my very identity.
It took weeks to sort things out. I had to make sure that I didn’t throw away useful stuff, or worse, keep too much. I have been moving apartments every year and downgrading in size, but I knew that this was my ultimate move. I’m going away to study now but I don’t plan on coming back to Montreal after I’m done. We’ll see where I’ll find my true calling (New York?).
Right now, I feel torn between missing my friends and my city and knowing fully well that I need to move forward in life and that my time in London will not exceed twelve months. I am now living in an apartment without internet (a devastating misunderstanding with the girl I rented the room from) which makes me feel insanely alone, helpless and empty. It makes me realize that this is a wonderful opportunity to stop and breathe but especially, reflect.
When I arrived in my first apartment in Vancouver at seventeen, I had constant insomnia despite being an usually sound sleeper. I could not fall asleep because I was highly receptive of the melancholy and sadness of life, and the fear of being alone and starting anew was keeping me awake at night. I felt miles away, physically and psychologically, from my loved ones. I still feel the same kind of restless anxiety years later as I’m trying to calm my nerves by myself, without being able to call anyone or say anything. In that case, writing is the only thing that really helps, in an effort to open up a conversation.
I remember when I was living in Erlangen and my bedroom was by the window. Evidently, as it was summer and that there were picnic tables just outsides, engineering dudes used to drink beer and speak loudly when I was trying to sleep. A similar pattern was happening last night, as my apartment was vibrating from loud music and that shouting from drunk dudes was coming across. When times are though and that I feel grumpy, I’m trying to be grateful nevertheless, otherwise life would be too melodramatic.
Yesterday was rainy and I walked kilometres in the windy and rainy weather to go downtown. I stopped at the river where I watched the geese swimming and listened to the water flowing down. I also saw street art under the bridge. I kept walking to see a clothing store that I was surprised had an outlet in London. I was in much need of retail therapy although it had to be a cheap session, given my financial circumstances. I got a new shirt, earrings and a badass women of hip-hop colouring book. I paid for my items and left the store to spot, right across the corner, a lady in front of Wine Rack with a sign written ‘‘Free Tasting’’ on it. What better way to invite people in? I came in and started talking to Megan, as her name tag suggested. She made me try two wines and a cider and listened to my newly-arrived desperate tale. She helped me with directions and encouraged me to come again on my way back.
I kept walking with the humidity making my bones shiver. The mix of bad weather, sadness and poor architecture was putting me in a bad mood again. In a shop window on which was written ‘‘free henna tattoos’’, I saw a girl rocking multicolor dreadlocks. I thought she looked cool but especially, that she looked like an individual in a city where people tend to look the same. I was tempted to go in but she was busy with somebody else. I thus kept walking, failing to find a grocery store.
I was downtown and there was a lenghty line-up to enter a comic book store. People were either disguised or wearing normal attire, and it made for quite a scene. As I kept walking, I ran into heaps of hobos, and I felt that I had hit rock bottom for the day. Despair was seizing me, and I knew that I had to head back. Walking on the same street again, I finally entered the elusive store, where I was greeted by two sunny ladies. I sat down with the dreadlock girl for a henna tattoo and we started to chat. It did not take long to realize that we were both from Montreal and felt quite different here. That conversation brought about a much-needed feeling of acceptance and relief. I knew right then and there that I was going to be friends with that girl. We spoke French and it was so comforting to let my guard down. She invited me to an 80s night tonight and even if I have school tomorrow, I’ll probably check it out.
Following that moving encounter, I went to the Covent Garden Market and got quite long-faced when I realized that organic food in London was way more expensive than in large cities such as Montreal or Toronto. Upon talking to a lady in the store, I got a list of other organic stores in the area. She winked at me when I was walking around, and I was so thankful to her for understanding the situation and sending positive vibes my way. It calmed me down to realize how people could be lovely. I know that I will make friends here, but I’ll just have to find my tribe, like anywhere else. I might be alone right now, but it’s an occasion to reflect and open up headspace for new experiences.
If I do feel lonely, I can open up a box of photographs, look at the pictures on my walls, or else at the henna tattoo on my hand. I’ll have to be brave, but I’ll be able to go through this, once again. Hopefully, the dudes downstairs did quiet down around eleven and I slept like a baby for twelve hours. I woke up to a sunny morning. As a French saying goes, ‘‘après la pluie, le beau temps’’.*
*After rain comes beautiful weather.
Lili Monette is a multidisciplinary entertainer and writer, and the Montreal editor of Blonde. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre & Development from Concordia University and is currently a student in the Master of Arts in Journalism program at the University of Western Ontario.
Photo: Autoroute 10, 2013 by the talented Olivier Gariépy. http://ogariepy.tumblr.com/