At the close of any year, it’s hard not to be contemplative. We arbitrarily divide time by journeys around the sun, so it’s only natural to try and find meaning in why we do so. How can I condense this collection of 365 days into lessons I can take forward? If the past 12 months haven’t meant anything, why did I bother living them? In a sprawling, gratuitous year like 2018, I’ve been scrambling to make meaning of the madness.
Let’s see how this goes.
It only dawned on me, as I walked to my now traditional Sunday dive bar brunch, that in The Year Of Our Lord 2018, I’ve actively pulled in my locus. I’ve been here for over five years now. It’s the second longest I’ve lived anywhere. Moving to Toronto was the biggest shift in my adult life, and whenever something goes wrong, it’s the first place I start to question “why?” It’s only for a split second, and says less about any desire to not be here, as it does to my need for context. I know that this was the best decision I could’ve made. Despite the URL, I have no doubts about where I am. I think though, that I’m constantly looking for signs that I’m heading somewhere. An understanding about where I am helps me better see where I’m going. This year, I’ve started actually seeing my neighbourhood. It’s always been there, even if mentally I’ve been elsewhere.
I was a little (quite) stoned one night and on the lookout for some kind of comfort food. I thought to the Chinese/Polynesian place I’d passed a million times and never entered. I went in and had a WEIRD experience. I’ve found myself going back time and time again (often sober) and really coming to appreciate the place. It’s thoroughly mediocre. I’m sure I could get much better food elsewhere. I could order without leaving the house, but I have no way of knowing if their food would be cooked with so much goddamn heart. It’s a cute little unassuming hole in the wall. There are seats, a desk, and a door going back into a kitchen. There’s a gangly teenager at the desk. The kitchen is nothing but a dude and his elderly mother. He’s the nicest bloke, apologetic about things beyond his control, always tossing in a free coke or remembering your name the next time you walk in. His mum always has a smile from ear to ear as she throws in dashes of her own spice mixes and sloshes oil around in a pan. They’re the type of people who work so hard and never complain. It’s nice to appreciate people like that, y’know? I want them to succeed, so I keep coming back, despite the plethora of alternate options. Also it’s uncomfortably cheap, and the portions are huge. Also that.
I’ve had a local coffee joint for a few years now. My girlfriend and I love making it part of our weekend ritual. If I’m ever working from home it’s a total treat to grab a mocha or flat white to take back home (or, more accurately, finish on the walk). The owners are apparently lovely, so the employees tend to stick around for a while. They’re all friendly, and great at what they do. It’s always nice to chat with the British beanie dude about his new indie folk obsessions or stand up comedy. It’s the kind of place in which I now know where they keep replacement cup lids. It’s this kind of place because I’ve wanted to help out and restock the lids before, I want to see them keep ticking along. This place being around grounds me in my area, it’s a connection to ritual, comfort. There are so many great options for coffee around this city, but none of them are this place. They might be technically “better”, but better is subjective, y’know?
I’m writing this from my aforementioned dive bar brunch. I’ve searched for years for a “local” a bar or pub in which I could feel totally welcome. A place where I could either be ignored or find connection, depending the mood. I may have found it, even if I rarely drink here. There’s a jumbo hound prone on the floor. A man walked in earlier, took one look at him and said “aren’t you friendly and large?” Right on man, right on. The vinyl just changed from reggae to Dylan. There’s a jar of candy canes near the door for people to help themselves. There’s a timeless air to this spot. In a way, I come here to exist outside time. I pull out my keyboard and soak it in. It’s just me, a plate of eggs and home fries, and whatever rabble walk through that door. It’s the kind of bar where the bartender will, without fear, casually throw out “I’m just disappearing for a few minutes. Don’t let the place burn down.” Who would want to? It’s all drifters here, and this place feels like home. It’s been ten minutes already. I hope she makes it back. I think we all need whatever it is this bar gives us.
Putting it all together, it paints a pretty clear picture. These places aren’t new, and I didn’t just arrive here. 2018 has been year of withdrawing, cocooning out of necessity. It’s been hard knowing what holds me up when I feel like I’ve been endlessly falling. I’ve retracted, and sought foundations I could call on. In my lowest ebbs, I’ve sorely needed sight of land. Finding stability within my radius has helped me understand, in some small way, where I am. In other, subtler ways, having these touchstones has taught me something else. I am here. In times where my tether to reality has been gossamer thin, the feeling of belonging has kept me anchored. It’s stopped me from drifting to places beyond return. It all sounds trite and maudlin, but it isn’t. I know where I am, and I love it.
In times where meaning frequently seems out of reach, that’s a lesson worth taking forward.