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Sharing a personal story – Guest post by Cecily Walker July 26, 2008

Posted by Raul in Blogathon 2008.

This post was contributed by Cecily Walker, who is a librarian and knowledge translator and who blogs at Cecily.info

The easiest way to crank out this blogathon post is to tell a story about oneself, especially as a point of introduction to a new audience or passage into a new community. I’ve lived in Vancouver for seven and a half years, and although I’ve been a Canadian citizen for two of those years, but despite that I still feel very much like an outsider. I’ve started and restarted this post several times in an attempt to keep it as light as possible, but as a person who is on a personal journey toward the real, I think it’s best if I’m as honest as I can be, even at the risk of alienating people.

This rather long winded introduction is my way of dancing around an issue that I don’t often like to bring up in public. You see, I’m one of those rare people who really doesn’t like living in Vancouver. Oh, let me not sugar coat it — I hate living here. There, I’ve said it. This Paradise on the Pacific Rim leaves me cold,and it has little to do with the dreary chill that descends nine months of the year. Although I’ve lived here long enough to develop enough of a relationship with the city that I can (begrudgingly) call it home, my homelife, so to speak, is deeply unsatisfying.

When I arrived here in 2001, newly married and filled with expectation and promise, I imagined Vancouver as a place where I could be free to reinvent myself. I was free to jettison all the psychic baggage that I managed to accumulate in 32 years of living in Atlanta, GA (where I was born and raised).

Two weeks after I moved to Vancouver, I experienced my first earthquake. Looking back, I should’ve taken that for the omen it was. The earth was trying to tell me that my relationship with this place
was on shaky ground, but I was too dense (and too scared) to pay attention.

As an immigrant, I wasn’t able to work when I first moved here. That meant I had ample time to explore the city and to develop a feel for its physical and emotional geography. People often comment on Vancouver’s mountains that tumble gently toward the ocean, but I look at that landscape and I feel hemmed in on all sides. I don’t climb mountains or ski, and I can’t swim, so I feel stifled by the landscape. Then the bus strike of 2001 started just as I was feeling brave enough to venture forth, and my view of Vancouver was whittled down even further.

Back then, I wrote an open letter to Vancouver (which appeared on the now-defunct Vancouver Stories website). In the letter I told Vancouver that I felt she brought me here under false pretenses, that her gentle whispers of openness, acceptance, and opportunity were far beyond my reach, and that I was feeling betrayed by her. Almost eight years later, I feel like a woman trapped in a loveless marriage with no prospects, but with no other option to stay in a relationship that soured long ago.

Now, I have had experiences since moving here that I probably wouldn’t have had if I’d stayed back in Atlanta. If I’d stayed in Atlanta, I’d have never become a librarian. If I hadn’t moved here, I wouldn’t have been able to adopt certain lifestyle changes that made it possible for me to lose a drastic amount of weight in a relatively short period of time. Vancouver’s a hard city to be a fat girl in, but one only need look around to see evidence of that.

Vancouver is also a hard city to be a black woman in. I wear my hair in dreadlocks not as some political or spiritual statement, but because when I first moved here, there was only one hairdresser who had experience with the arduous task of chemically straightening a black person’s hair, and the salon was a-l-l the way up Kingsway at Rupert. I live in Fairview. There was a bus strike, and at the time, my husband and I didn’t own a car. Growing dreads was an act of pure survival.

It’s not only the hair that’s an issue. The only cosmetics line that carries shades that are dark enough – and properly tinted for darker skins – is M.A.C., so needless to say my bathroom looks like a satellite M.A.C. location. I once had a clerk at Shoppers Drug Mart tell me that because there weren’t too many of “you people” here that they just didn’t make the shades available in Canada. I later found out that was a lie on my first trip to Toronto.

I could go on and on about how I feel invisible because I’m ethnic but not Asian or South Asian, or because I’m Black but not Jamaican or African. I could talk about how I was frequently maligned when people ranted non-stop about Americans, and how few people wanted to make a distinction between American individuals and the Bush Administration. I could talk about how I came to hate Rick Mercer with a passion, because I got asked so many times if I’d seen his “Talking to Americans” special, and how Canadians expected me to stand in and defend an entire nation of people — or even the small cross-section that Mercer mocked on the show.

I could talk about all of those things — and I have, quite extensively on my own blog — but this piece is long enough already.

So you might ask what’s keeping me here? My husband’s desire to be close to his elderly mother is a factor, but the real reason is I’m a native Southerner, and despite the extra padding and insulation I’m carrying around, I’m just not built for Canadian winters.

So here I am, disgruntled, disillusioned, and dispirited. I’d just about given up on Vancouver and making any inroads into a community here at all, but then Raul popped up on my radar. Even though we’ve never met, Raul has extended his hand in friendship quicker and more freely than anyone else I’ve ever met in this town, and not that it’s fair to hinge my opinion of an entire city on one person, he’s given me faith that maybe my opinion of Vancouver need not be as bleak as it is.

EDITOR’S NOTE – I found Cecily’s writing compelling but even more so, her photography is extraordinary. And I can totally relate to how cold Vancouver can be. I am very honored that Cecily thinks I’m friendly because that’s exactly who I am. As I mentioned in a recent post, this blog is my story and I am proud of it. And I am proud of being able to bring people who have a lot to give, like Cecily, into my own life. Thanks for the contribution, Cecily!


1. Jodi - July 26, 2008

fascinating! i am always interested in the experiences of other immigrants from the states.

2. melaniea - July 26, 2008

I’ve just returned to Vancouver after a glorious year away. I’d been here for a decade before the sabbatical, and also felt claustrophobic from the looming mountains and smothered by the seemingly never-ending rain. More than that, I’ve never felt like I fit here. Square peg and round hole and all that.

In the year away, while I missed friends, I never once missed Vancouver. And, last week when my plane touched down, I sobbed uncontrollably. I was back.

3. Karen - July 27, 2008

I spent a year living in Toronto. The cold there *really* got me, having been reared on Vancouver’s mild winters (and Hong Kong’s tropical-slash-air-conditioning before that). But I too have the feeling of feeling a city’s cold shoulders.

At the same time, as Kathleen Edwards says, “Good things come when you stop looking.” That’s what eventually happened for me in Toronto, when I started engaging with what I found enjoyable about it there and tried not to look for things that I had loved in Vancouver, because I knew they’d be hard to find.

If you ever feel like sharing stories from home, I, for one, would be interested 🙂

4. Maktaaq - August 4, 2008

I moved back to Vancouver after almost 6 years away and I feel like I don’t really belong here anymore. I never noticed before how cold the people were; even my relatives, all Latin types who should be gregarious, have stopped hosting all-night parties and are now into sedate Starbucks lattes. The only things I would miss about Vancouver are the libraries and the mild weather.

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