I have paused in the friendly and active city of Richmond, Virginia to catch-up on my writing. While I am here you can expect postings from my time in New York City, Rhode Island, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Fredericksburg, and of course, right here. I hope you’ll join me on my adventures! Just click on “follow” and don’t miss a thing! Cheers!
I’m sitting in my apartment on a rainy Tuesday morning in Richmond, Virginia. And I think to myself, this is crazy! In a good way, crazy. Because I live in Toronto. That’s where my bedroom is, that’s where my things are, that’s where some of my family live. My parents live in New Brunswick, but my siblings are in Toronto and there’s no one closer in my life than my siblings. Toronto is where I consider home.
I am in a growth phase of my life. I’m reinventing myself. Again.
When I was twenty-two I left New Brunswick for London, England when I first graduated university and I realised then that my life could completely change in nearly every aspect from one day to the next day. Within the time frame of one week I went from being a student in Fredericton with a population of 45,000 to having a job and a flat-share in one of the worlds greatest cities. (Fredericton is pretty great too though!) I vowed to remember, if ever I hated my life I would know that I could change everything about it. The streets I walk down, the people I interact with, the culture that surrounds me. The whole thing. But then somehow I forgot. I let myself feel trapped longer than I needed to. But perhaps I needed to have the negative experiences I had to make it a clean-break. Maybe my timing was right afterall.
We can get trapped by our lives as they progress. We get stuck in our mortgage payments, the security of work that we know, we become attached to our nice things. If we are mostly happy in our lives then the attachment is a good thing, it’s healthy. But if we are mostly miserable in our lives then keeping those things are not worth it.
Unfortunately, a certain miserable present is easier to accept than an uncertain future of possibility. It is a human condition to fear change. To fear the unknown. We evolved staying safe. The misery we know can seem more safe than the possibilities we don’t know.
Many of us have children and that brings life-long responsibility. But having a family also gives meaning and purpose to our lives. I see my grand freedom as a consolation. If you are tied to your family then don’t envy my life, you have something that I don’t have. If you have children, there will be ups and downs for sure, but you will always have that special bond that I will never know. I’m not saying that I envy that either though, I know that that experience is not for me.
My life had to fall apart for me to dump it and to pursue freedom. Even then, it was hard giving-up my home and my work. That choice was not easy and I fought it, the universe kept pushing me away from the life I no longer fit until it just crumbled around me and there was almost nothing left to leave behind. My beautiful home (which you can see on this blog) became my prison, my relationships faltered, anxieties eroded me in my work; I felt like I couldn’t breathe and I was killing myself with food and drink and smoking. My liver was being overworked by the medications I needed to get through the days. Anti-depressants, ADHD meds, and cholesterol meds, none of which I require anymore. I’m not saying people shouldn’t need these medications, everyone is different, I’m just saying that I used to need them myself and now I don’t. Maybe I will in the future, who knows.
I’ve shown this pic on my blog before, this was the photo taken for my driver’s license in May, 2012. This was right after I dumped my life in Winnipeg when I surrendered my Manitoba license for my Ontario license. I get a lot of attention at borders as unfortunately my passport photo is from a similar time. With self-destructive behaviour I had gained 20 pounds in my last year in Winnipeg. Since this photo I have lost 30 lbs, another 10 and I will be at my ideal weight. Not by dieting but by eating healthfully, making better choices and getting regular exercise. It’s not actually easy, I do ignore cravings and disallow most processed snack foods most of the time even when I want them. When I eat a “bad meal” I make sure to balance it out with some very good meals, like the French do in France. They will enjoy a banquet, but the next day it’s not business as usual, it’s salads and lean protein to balance the difference. It works! I also quit smoking and weaned off the long-term medications I had previously needed. (I do not suggest anyone to go off their medications, I’m just telling you that I no longer needed them.) I feel like my life changed just in time and I am very fortunate. That article is coming-up in the near future, watch for “At Home in Winnipeg”.
And a photo taken today, 19 months older in Jan, 2014. A lot healthier and happier. It’s not just the weight difference, my whole body and brain is healthier.
On my current road trip after spending time in Manhattan, Rhode Island, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Fredericksburg I was looking for a place where to linger so as to work on my writing and catch-up on my personal goals before moving on.
I chose Richmond as this place to linger due to a variety of factors:
-It’s a medium-sized city (200,000 city population, 1.2 million Metropolitan population) and therefore has a good variety of things to do and people to meet.
-It is enroute to my next reunion destination near Atlanta.
-It has mild winter weather (comparatively).
-I was able to sublet an apartment in what looked like an interesting urban area with walkable restaurants and coffee shops and near a gym and a library. (I must admit, where I am is rougher than I could have imagined, but it’s fine. I will not take my safety for granted.)
-Richmond has a proliferation of meetup groups through which I can meet locals. If you don’t already know meetup.com, it’s a great website for connecting people to share all manners of interests.
So here I am on day three of twenty-eight days. My goal here is to create a temporary life. Or to continue my life, but temporarily here. For me this means having meaningful days and hopefully making some meaningful friendships. It is very different than sight-seeing, which by it’s very syntax is looking at the surface. Sure, I want to see some of the more important sights while I am here, but visiting locations and looking at things is rarely my purpose of travel. This is confusing to most people who take week-long vacations either soaking in the sun or filling their minds and photo albums with views of museum contents and historic landmarks. The contents of museums were never my main interest anyway, and that activity for me is unsustainable. I have been mostly travelling since summer, 2012 and I do not have the type of mind that can focus on displays day-after-day because it is not my interest. I don’t try to visit museums all the time in Toronto, but I do try to have meaningful connections with others. The same is true when I travel. I’m not trying to see everything – I am trying to experience everything. I want to know what it feels like to live in Richmond, Virginia. What is it like to be a local here. How does a Virginian see the world and himself in it. Okay, I might not get to understand that last bit, but I do hope to have lots of meaningful conversations with local friends that will at least widen my understanding.
It’s day three. I arrived on Saturday afternoon, half-unpacked, and spent two and a half hours at a local supermarket stocking the kitchen. It took so long because being unfamiliar with the store I had to read a lot of labels and really search to find healthy choices. The “Organics” section seemed to be set-up to push premium health-labelled foods rather than to actually segregate organic choices because when reading the labels more closely, easily 2/3 of the items in that section were not organic. “Natural” is not organic. Don’t be fooled. There is no substitute word for organic. And you will see labels like, “made with organic oats” and then find a whole list of non-organic and possibly even GMO ingredients also in the item, oats might even be a lesser ingredient. The food system is not set-up to keep us well. It’s very tricky. Trying to avoid harmful pesticides and antibiotics and hormones and genetically-modified human experiment foods is difficult and expensive. Not everyone can afford healthy food or has the time to find them and that is wrong. The food system is not set-up to nourish, it is set-up to maximise profits. I know I will be eating-out at least once daily, so I want my at home choices to be the best they can.
Sunday I attended the local Unitarian Universalist Church. I met an interesting friendly woman with whom I should have given my details, I don’t know why I didn’t. I guess I didn’t feel like “coming-out” at that moment. I feel like if I give a woman around my age my number and invite her to call me, I should clarify that I’m a gay guy. Hopefully I will see her next week because she seemed like a friend. I was hoping there might be a regular brunch group after church too that I could join, but I didn’t find such a group. I met her and one man who introduced himself. With him, though, I found myself in an awkward conversation defending Canadians. I did not come here to compare Canada to America, such comparisons are unfair and can be “won” in different ways in both directions. If I didn’t have a love for America and Americans, I would not be here. Of course Canada is my homeland and will always have my first allegiance. I would expect the same of any nationality. Everywhere must have it’s pros and cons. Anyway, it’s the people who mostly make a place what it is.
Later Sunday, after joining the YMCA and adding that routine which is high on my list of goals, I joined a group to see a film, for which I had to drive well into the suburbs. This is a very suburban city and I am finding my car to be essential. They were a wonderfully friendly group and afterwards most of us continued with dinner. I emailed one of the group afterwards, basically a gesture of friendship, now I think he probably found it strange but that is just me interpreting his non-response. He’s probably just busy and I should not second-guess. The thing is, if I don’t reach out and try to make friends, I won’t make friends. It takes effort, putting oneself on the line and getting out to meet people. If I am successful in making some friendships I won’t write about them specifically, except to mention activities and that I did make a friend(s).
Monday was engaged with parking issues, writing, working-out, and wandering the neighbourhood enjoying 16C sunshine. Later I attended a “dinner with singles” event, again a thirty minute drive into the burbs. It was a nice group, but the restaurant choice was terrible for meeting people. One of those chains trying to mimic urban after-work chic but in my opinion failing. The sushi was suburban with lots of cream cheese and avocado options and muted flavours. “What kind of wine is the house red?” “It’s red. We have white and red.” “Yes, but what type is it?” The waiter looks at me confused and says again, “red”. He knows there are more than two kinds of wine in the world, they serve other kinds by the bottle. That the house red should be a particular variety or bouquet of varieties should not confound him. Surely it must be something. I didn’t actually care about the food or the drink. I was sitting with friendly locals, we all chose to meet for dinner together for the purpose of meeting more than for the actual food, but the venue was far too noisy for regular conversation. I strained to hear across the small tables, and I strained my voice trying to be heard. I was able to chat a bit with the friendly woman beside me and she gave me her card. She could become a friend. I emailed her so we’ll see.
I need practice making friendships. I’m never sure how much to share, how much is too much, when first meeting people especially. I can’t always tell if someone will be a good friend or a detrimental person to know when we meet. Might I enjoy spending some time with this person, or will I find them draining after a very short time and regret having given them my private number. The British yoga instructor I made instant-friends with in Manhattan only a few weeks ago proved a very suitable friend who I will hope to know for a long time. As did my former NYC landlord. Sometimes people click, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I’m am too forward in offering friendship and people shy away before we can know if we’d make good friends or not. Or they misinterpret my offer of friendship and it’s just awkward. As I said, I need practice. I know the reason for this, it has to do with my developmental phases as a child and into my teens. For a number of years I had very few and often no friends at all outside of groups. I am an introvert and need alone time, but I am also outgoing so this is not apparent. Growing-up, in my head I was always an outsider. Even when perhaps no one else saw me that way. Even before things went wrong. I was because I thought I was.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” he mentions how most comedians tend to be outsiders. How they gain a unique perspective looking at the groups around them because of their removed position. They are able to step-back and see things that others don’t. Or they don’t even need to step-back, that is already their viewpoint. Funny, I had assumed that Gladwell was a Jewish native New Yorker, and only when I was at a reading he gave in Brooklyn this December did I find out that he is actually a Protestant Canadian from Ontario. Part Jamaican background and born in England until moving to Canada at age six, he would have been somewhat an outsider in small-town Ontario and also in NYC himself. He was being interviewed by the editor of the New York Times, who he actually grew-up with. Another Canadian from Ontario. Being an outsider has some very specific advantages. (As well as disadvantages.) This lends itself to writing too, not just comedy, seeing and experiencing things differently than most provides a unique perspective. In some ways I will probably always be an outsider, I was never destined to lead a “normal” life. Square peg not trying to fit a round hole. I think that is why I feel so at-home abroad where it is more congruent to be an outsider. I am happy being an outsider, but not socially. Not anymore.
No longer being an outsider socially was a goal I decided to conquer this Autumn when I joined a men’s discussion group in Toronto. It is a fantastic group where I am able to share openly, set goals for myself, and hold myself accountable in a very supportive environment. My focus also moved to having more meaningful personal connections in my life. I had been isolating myself. I have been feeling the fear and doing it anyway on a variety of personal issues that I have allowed to stop me from living my life more fully. It was my new habit of pushing through fear that saw me trying stand-up in front of a New York audience in December. Three times. It was a natural extension of pushing-through that barrier of fear that had been stopping me from more regular activities that don’t cause most people any stress at all, like answering the phone. (Anxiety issues became an offshoot of my ADHD meds in connection to things that happened in my life, and the habit of having anxiety lingered after I weaned-off them. I then had a lot to conquer.)
If I don’t make a friend or a few friends in Richmond then I may see my time here as a failure. But I shouldn’t. All I can do is try, and I know that if I tried then I was successful. I can’t regret trying, I can only regret not trying. But it’s hard to accept that really. I know myself to be a kind and honest person, an interesting and unique guy and the other person should be fortunate to have me as a friend. But when you come to somewhere alone with a goal of connecting with locals, it is hard not to see the accomplishment of that goal as success or failure. I try to choose appropriate possible friends and they can accept or reject my offer of friendship. How they see me and how they behave towards me actually has little to do with me and is entirely about them, but it is still personal. They are still reacting to me, even though it is based on their own ideas how they interpret me. I know that if I leave Richmond on Feb 8th without having made a lasting personal connection, I will wonder where I went wrong. But it won’t go wrong. One of these times I’ll offer friendship to the right person and they will invite me into their personal life and maybe even introduce me to their friends and I will make some meaningful personal connections. It’s fun meeting socially with groups, but it is more meaningful meeting with people who have become friends. Not just friends in the group, but friends outside of the group. Already I have met lots of really friendly people here in Richmond, so it’s just a matter of time.
I guess this is a bit of a personal social experiment although I didn’t see it that way until just now. For the moment, I’m having a great time organising to be social every evening and spending quiet days reading, writing, wandering, and exercising. At the library, the gym, at home, and at coffee shops. Balanced days. Getting things done that are important to me while honouring my nature of needing quiet time.
I just found a list of goals in one of my notebooks that was from about 6 months ago. Until very recently, I was not Mr.Social. At all. One of my goals was to push myself to meet with a friend every week. As I mentioned I had been suffering anxiety and as a result of this I rarely called friends anymore, I rarely reached out. To meet with one friend a week was one more than I was usually meeting. Incredible. I am moving forward.
Here is a crazy goal, and I will not let myself feel defeated if I don’t accomplish it. Make enough local friends to actually host a small gathering before I leave. Wouldn’t that be something.
Some local artwork, right out back.
I am going to enjoy taking photos of the graffiti art in Richmond. They’ve done a great job brightening-up areas.
Stay tuned for pics highlighting Richmond’s more picturesque areas. These are just a few directly around me. Cheers!