When I moved to Calgary 7 years ago, I had no idea that my split-second decision to give the West a chance was going to define the rest of my life. At the time, I was a hippie Literature graduate with a spirit I can now only envy while simultaneously shaking my head. I went to University in a small city where I could walk anywhere I wanted or needed to go. I lived frivolously with my student line of credit. I experimented with clothes, hair styles, music, and, with other undergrads. It was a time of wild excess and freedom unlike anything else before or since.
Calgary was going to be the next big adventure. There were jobs aplenty; I couldn’t wait to see the mountains, and most importantly, there was a guy who wanted me here. THE guy. You know the one I’m talking about. The two of you are friends who flirt, probably a lot. He’s always involved when you’re single or vice versa. You go out to a club together with mutual friends and buy each other shots like sex on the beach. In other words your feelings are about as subtle as a flying brick but neither of you does anything about it.
Yeah, that guy.
After graduation he moved away and I went to my small hometown for the summer. We spoke on the phone four nights a week. Inexplicably, I missed him a lot more than I would a mere guy friend. So in typical me fashion I up and bought a ticket for YYC departing a few days later with $800 in my bank account, my measly credit card, significant student debt, and no place to live.
“The guy,” who is now my wonderful husband, offers me a couch and picks me up at the airport. I don’t need it; I sleep in his bed.
That’s the kind of carefree individual I was.
A few weeks later I’m a waitress at a pizza joint with a bunch of kids who have no idea why someone with a degree was serving iced tea. I can’t give them an answer because I don’t know why either, other than jobs in writing are sparse, particularly creative writing.
The next few years are much the same. I work somewhere I don’t like or don’t fit in, assimilate a little more into the guy’s life, and write on the side. Four jobs come and go and our friends begin to think I’m a little eccentric. They are right, of course. They are also more practical than I am. I’m broke.
Time passes and soon I begin to realize that a small spark in the always-optimistic me has faded, and, whether it’s simply age or circumstance I get a bit cynical. Bad bosses, bad drama, bills, and small insecurities take their toll.
The refrain remained the same. Be a good person, keep trying, keep writing, and keep looking. Something will turn up, things will turn around.
They didn’t and haven’t. Still broke.
Writing is a challenging career and is often very isolating. Like many other writers I found that I started to drink a little bit too much and write not quite enough. I would eat poorly and sleep worse. My habits were not those of the successful-though-naïve hippie type I once was, but of a woman who was headed downhill.
The strange thing is that throughout it all, the question of whether or not ‘the guy’ and I were meant to be together was never once an issue. Sure, things were hella difficult at times, and still are, but as a result our relationship is tighter than a Chinese finger trap.
And really, I don’t mean to sound like these past 7 years have been all bad because they haven’t. It’s quite the opposite, actually. I’ve made some wonderful friends. My family are truly amazing in every sense of the word. I love my husband. I’ve learned to enjoy camping and hiking. I’ve read some good books. I’ve written a (pretty good) book myself. I’ve written some other things I’m really proud of.
Does that mean I don’t have any regrets? Of course not.
When I was younger I thought that regret was useless because feeling it couldn’t change anything. It only referred to the past and the past was beyond our reach; pointless. But then, when I was a kid I had nothing to regret in the first place and therefore no true concept of the word’s actual meaning. For example, I know now that it’s possible to regret things that haven’t even happened yet. Regret for an idealised, fantasy-future that can’t be.
I don’t regret my split-second decision to move here because I probably wouldn’t be married now and that’s something I wouldn’t change for the world.
I don’t regret pursuing Literature in school because as impractical as it may be, it wasn’t just any old option it was the only option. Because that’s who I am, that’s me. It would be nice if I had pursued my Master’s degree before buying a house. I can’t afford it now and don’t know when I’ll be able to.
In life, there are sacrifices we make every day: for our loved ones, for work, for others, and for our sanity. As a writer my main sacrifice is a financial one. Choosing this life means not being able to afford the things that my friends and neighbors afford with ease. It is also a sacrifice of pride, in some respects, because many people will simply not be able to understand why you do what you do.
But it isn’t a sacrifice of who you are, and that’s why regret is just another thing that I can’t afford.
Ashley Britten is a freelance writer with a BA in English who has recently completed her first novel in a YA trilogy. Ashley lives near the Canadian Rockies with her husband, their dog, and her betta fish Clyde. Follow her on Twitter @AshDWalsh until her new home on the interweb is up and running.