One Year in Vancouver

Kitsilano Beach, Vancouver
Kitsilano Beach, Vancouver

One year ago today, I boarded a dawn flight to Vancouver feeling slightly hungover and completely terrified. I was neither willing nor ready to leave home, a terrible combination when you’re preparing for a one-way flight. I arrived in the city with three suitcases, thirty books, and a dim idea that people in Vancouver spend all of their time eating sushi and doing yoga in front of mountains. The first and only time I had been to British Columbia I was fifteen and spent the majority of my time in arenas in Chilliwack. Still, I decided that British Columbia was the province I was meant to live in and Vancouver was the city I was destined to move to. Seven years later, I applied to graduate school in Vancouver on the strength of this conviction. I accepted the program’s offer with some trepidation but I mainly felt confident that I was following a well-crafted plan I had made for myself years prior. Somewhere between the completion of my clusterfuck of an undergraduate thesis and my fourth month sitting in a grey walled cubicle in Toronto’s Financial District, I began to have some doubts. I debated staying in Ontario but I realized that doing so would result in two things: run-ins with friends and peers who would wonder why the hell I wasn’t in BC and in a fifth month copying and pasting into Excel spreadsheets. I wanted nothing more than to avoid both of those things so I decided once and for all that I was moving and there wasn’t a damn thing that was going to stop me.

After one month in Vancouver, I wrote a post about my realization that this was the right time for me to leave Ontario, to push myself to the edge of my world to see what I would discover there. I finished writing, saw a spider the size of a coaster and cried for two hours; my writing was never shared. I exaggerate but the feelings are true all the same. I was afraid of everything the city had to offer: its streets, its dogs, its dirty cafes and its people. Its people most of all, even though I was desperate to make friends with them. My loneliness had me searching cafes with bewildered eyes and making jokes to baristas that always fell flat. I spent time with my peers but I was afraid of them too because the only things they seemed to talk about were David Foster Wallace and SSHRC funding. I decided I would finish my Master’s degree as quickly as possible because if I didn’t, I would die of loneliness if the rain didn’t try to drown me first. I took too many courses at once, marked two-dozen engineering papers to mitigate the cost of living in Kitsilano, saw an army’s worth of spiders, moved out of Kitsilano and moved into the Fairview apartment that I’m writing from today. Okay, it wasn’t all bad. I was already getting acquainted with what the city had to offer and my Monday night trivia team kept winning free beer. However, the latter made my Tuesday morning Victorian Literature seminars difficult and only added to the apathy I felt for George Eliot and phrenology.

Pier 57, Seattle, Washington
Pier 57, Seattle, Washington

Following a holiday with the Heffs in Seattle and a visit from Kelly in Vancouver, I started the next term with as many courses and more engineering papers than before. My roommate Stephen and my temporary roommate Ivan witnessed my struggles with Affect Theory and Ulysses. I sat in seminars drawing cats in the margins of my notebooks, speaking only to describe my affective response to whatever theorist we were reading that week. I walked the Cambie Bridge almost daily in a quest to make it to my Bean Around the World of choice. After seven months I realized I could get there a lot faster by SkyTrain. A misguided attempt at high scholarship had me trolling through collections of Samuel Beckett’s early works while I listened to Beastie Boys CDs I picked up from the Vancouver Public Library. Looking back on it now, that almost sounds like fun. It was around this time that I started sitting on my apartment’s balcony and engaging my neighbours in casual conversation. I could dedicate an entire blog post to my neighbours Trevor and Tyler who have since moved away, but it will suffice to say conversations with them got me through a seminar paper on Friedrich Kittler and Gravity’s Rainbow and made me realize there is more to life than feigning interest in literary theory. It was also around this time that the weather started to improve. I discovered Jonathan Rogers Park, found the greatest old school Canucks jacket in time for their playoff elimination, and realized I didn’t hate Vancouver as much as I though. At the end of eight months – eight and a half, if you count the extension I got on my Mediated Literacies essay – I had finished all of the coursework required for my degree. I took a trip home to visit some of the people I love and returned to Vancouver on an afternoon flight, in good physical health and feeling hardly any terror.

Stanley Park, Vancouver
Stanley Park, Vancouver

In the last four months, I have been lucky enough to meet great people in Vancouver. Some of them I met when Stephen’s friends came to stay with us. Others I met when I joined the English department softball team, The Prose, and have since had great times with sharing post-game (and mid-game) beers. I have been to games nights at Kristan’s, where I always make new friends and try fine tequila. I have spent enough time in Jonathan Rogers Park to meet the Australian football team that practices there, the West Coast Saints. Even though he has since moved away, I’ll remember Kerron for being a charming little shit with a propensity for sneaking up on me and for using Aussie slang so I wouldn’t know what the hell he was talking about. Also, for introducing me to the greatest radio station ever, triple j. Stephen, Michael and I made a truly bizarre Sunday night trip to The Libra Room on Commercial Drive; Stephen and I ended up in possession of one Pape and three Reba McEntire albums as a result. Emily came to visit me and after deciding that it wasn’t enough to eat and drink our way through Vancouver, we made a trip to Portland. (Stories of our bus trip, coming to a blog near you.) With Emily, Stephen and Doug, I celebrated my ‘nobody likes you when you’re 23’ birthday. I have since tried to convince everyone I know to come to The Cobalt with me so I can use their photo booth. The best laugh of my summer was either when Michael opened up his pantry and revealed almost a dozen jars of Bick’s sauerkraut, or when Stephen, Amanda and I reflected on the night we went to The Fox and ended up at the now infamous 24 hour pho restaurant. My peers have become my friends though the frequency with which the word plebs occurs in their conversations continues to alarm me. Just kidding, all of you keep my life interesting.

As for my progress on my Master’s degree, I’m hard at work on my thesis on Kendrick Lamar. I’m still trying to finish this degree as quickly as possible because I have realized I’m not meant to stay in academia. While I love the topic of my thesis, working on it in the initial stages has been more frustrating than rewarding. On bad days, this frustration is intensified by the fact that even with all the great people I have met here, I don’t have the support system in Vancouver I have at home. On good days, I remember that I will finish my thesis eventually and in the mean time I should probably join Stephen and Ivan on their quest for the best chicken and waffles in Vancouver. (They eat the chicken, I eat the vegetarian option.) The thought of spending four more months on a project I had hoped to finish by the end of August is daunting. To finish my thesis by the end of December would be to finish the degree eight months earlier than the university expects me to. The odds are against me but it will be worth it to finish sooner so I can wrap up and get on with the next phase of my life. What that phase will be, I’ll figure out when I write my Master’s thesis.

Portside Park, Vancouver
Portside Park, Vancouver

Now you know what I’ve been doing for the past year. Thank you for a hell of a year, Vancouver, and thank you to everyone who made the worst days bearable and the best days worth writing home about. Given the length of this post, this should suffice for personal updates for the next year. Until then, I’ll keep on trying to be the good kid, Van City.

Song of the Day: Pretty Pimpin by Kurt Vile

2 thoughts on “One Year in Vancouver”

  1. Wow Courtney, what a year you’ve had! I’ve been hearing about it, but I loved reading about your experiences from your perspective. Hopefully you’re enjoying some great weather out there and best of luck in getting that thesis finished by Christmas!!!!!

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