Being tough on ourselves.

Not Regina... This is the view along the highway somewhere between Winnipeg and Kenora, December 2007.

I once spent the night in the Regina airport, after hours, in the time before it was open round the clock.  My dad had given me a free trip to visit him in Toronto, which turned into one of those adventures that involved many airplanes and stopovers across the country.  In Calgary, my friend Oldandmoldy drove out to the airport from his parents’ place and we spent an hour talking about music and his latest crush.  When I got to Regina, I sat down on a bench and did a sudoku puzzle while everyone else left.  Eventually a security guard told me I’d have to leave too.  It was past midnight, on a snowy November night, and I had no money.  The final leg of my trip was a 6 am flight to Toronto. He relented, but apologetically explained that I’d have to move to a bench where he could see me on the closed-circuit camera system, and that both the heat and the main lights would be off within the hour.

Sure enough, I was soon pulling out all the clothes I could layer from in my backpack, trying to stop from shivering.  On his rounds, the security guard apologized again, and offered to buy me a soft drink from the vending machine.  I thanked him but declined, figuring that the caffeine wouldn’t help much.  Instead, I distracted myself with a book.  It was pretty dim, but light enough to read by:  I tore through Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness from beginning to end.  To this day, whenever I hear about Regina, I think about that novel, about being different and being yourself.


Oats and I have been having hard conversations about finances.  No, I should correct that:  Not hard in that they’re difficult, but hard as in we’re being tough on ourselves.  Hard conversations that are also inspiring, really, because they are focused on big questions such as what do we want, where do we want to be, how shall we live our lives?

The terrible truth is that we’re living in one of the most expensive cities in the country, while carrying debt, and while I attempt to retrain in a new career and Oats works in a career that she does not like.  Basically, if we moved anywhere else, we’d be doing better.  In particular, if we moved somewhere with a low cost of living and where Oats could cheaply go to school for her masters’ of fine arts, we could get out of debt and Oats would stand a better chance at making a living as an artist, illustrator, art instructor, or whatever else she wanted.

So where are we looking at?  Regina, no joke.  Also, Winnipeg… And Windsor, Ontario.  Three cities neither of us barely know, but somehow seem to be logical places to hang our hats for a couple years.  It’s crazy, that we’d leave, considering how much we love where we live, but it feels like that’s the only way we could eventually live here and be more than just treading water, financially.

I’m not desperate to own a house or a fancy car or attain many other parts of the middle-class dream: I love our cooperative household and am so happy riding my bike all over the place.  At the same time, despite our very frugal ways, we’re paying a lot of money for basics while also paying lots of interest on student loans.  Oats can’t get paintings done let alone network with the local arts communities because she works long hours just so that we can stay afloat.  Our situation isn’t dire, but it’s not getting any better either.  I want to have kids, and to travel more, and for Oats to be working at something she loves, and it’s not really gonna happen until we ditch the debt.

So that’s the plan.  This next year, Oats is going to fine tune her portfolio, and send off a bunch of applications.  Then we’ll move, not this summer but the next, to some far off urban centre that I can’t even picture… Well, except Winnipeg:  I’ve been there a few times, and enjoy visiting… But to live is a different story.  It’s all rather romantic, really, which I find very appealing at the same time as completely terrifying.  I spent my entire twenties on this island, and am hoping that if I invest some of my thirties in the middle of the Prairies (or the Great Lakes?), I’ll be able to enjoy my forties, fifties, and onwards, here as well.

Economic geography, FTW.


16 responses to “Being tough on ourselves.

  1. Hm. Hard conversations indeed – and I’m no use since I am actually living in the most expensive city in the country and we are highly aware of the stupid amount of money we pay for things like basic housing. On the other hand I want to inject a little reality here about having kids – which is that ten years in, you will be very unlikely to want to uproot them. So if the plan is to go off for ten years, have kids and come back…. I’m just not sure when the time comes you (or the kids) will be really eager for that. So be realistic and pick a place you could fall in love with no matter what happens because you might be there a lot longer than you think at the outset.

    There are lots of interesting and decent corners of this country and BC/the island is not the end-all be-all of great communities to live in.

    If I had my druthers I would also live on the island now, but one thing is true – the bigger the city – the better the wages. So we’re stuck in Vancouver, probably until we retire. That’s a weird feeling since I grew up on the island and still feel like it’s home.

  2. feralgeographer

    Thanks for the excellent point! I fall in love with other places very easily… And I must admit, I’m kinda liking Regina right now, after reading up on cool stuff going on there. Oats is currently bigger on the ‘Peg, and we both are having ongoing love/hate feelings about Windsor’s proximity to many things (Detroit, Chicago, our families, the Great Lakes). That aside, the idea is to go for only two years: The last part of my apprenticeship, and the typical length of time for an MFA. But who knows how that’ll actually turn out!

  3. My first impression on reading your post was, “oh no, don’t go”, but I totally understand considering I have not lived a full year in your town since 2006… and it’s really tough right now for a lot of people. One suggestion though: don’t rule out Alberta. I assume Oats is looking at specific programs, but you’ll still need to be in a place where the construction industry is doing well enough for you to find steady work. As a *geographer*, I find the prairies a little oppressive (my apologies to any flatlanders), but AB has a little more variety to it – plus you’re only an hour or so by air from BC if you get homesick (and want to visit friends!). Funnily enough they also have some amazing funding there (for obvious reasons) for lots of things, including the arts etc – just check out some of the facilities – a friend of mine is currently working for a city-run environmental ed centre in Lethbridge and getting paid ridiculously well.

    Wherever you go, I will miss you both!

    • feralgeographer

      Oats is flatly refusing Alberta, I must say. Flatly refusing. It’s not even up for discussion. Ha!

      I’m not worried about finding work, though maybe I should be…? I figure that my union’s got me partly covered, with their apprenticeship jobs list. There’s also hydro in each of those provinces, and of course the regular small companies for residential work. I understand what you mean, but new construction doesn’t interest me anyway… Also, I’m kinda unusual as an electrician, what with the chatty friendly attitude and the fact that I’m a woman, and I think I stand a better chance of being hired on those attributes alone… For better or for worse, heh heh.

      I’ll miss you too, Sarah!

  4. bookish butch

    Have you considered Montreal?:-) I know it’s a little bit far east but, our Universities are mondo cheap, can’t last much longuer and you like Montreal, if you guys need French lessons, you know a bilingual butch bookseller:-)

  5. feralgeographer

    I don’t mean to make her look like the bad guy here, but Oats is also refusing Montréal… And yes, it’s mostly the language barrier, but the cost too! Education isn’t bad, but rents just aren’t as cheap there as they were 10 years ago, and both are priced higher than in the other cities we’re looking at.

    Also: Before your time (Ha! Yes, there was a time before BB commented on my blog, and it wasn’t so very long ago!), I wrote this entry about Montréal, which gives better context for why it’s not on the list at the moment. I need to focus on my career, not be distracted by a desire to improve my grammar and my wardrobe!

  6. As a former Winnipeg kid, here are a few things to consider:
    1. the city is vast, and you may both need to have vehicles unless you want to stand waiting for the bus at -45 degrees
    2. the rental rate for the city hovers at around 0% – it ain’t easy to find apartments
    3. extreme cold weather and mosquitos in the summer the size of birds
    4. not sure about the arts scene – it used to be vibrant, but I think it may have died out with the down town core
    5. very small gay and lesbian community

    I would opt for a smaller Ontario town that’s on the GO train line, or Via Rail Network so Toronto is not far. London, Stratford, St. Catherines, Kingston, Port Hope is amazing.

    That’s my two cents!

    • feralgeographer

      Oh, Winnipeg! Yes, I gather that the folks who say it’s rad were there many, many years ago… Though I’ve known of quite a few folks who’ve moved there recently, so I guess it still has some appeal?

      Those are all very good point, thank you!

      I’ve been thinking a lot about the lack of a gay/lesbian scene, which is likely to be an issue in any of our three cities, because Oats and I really don’t hang out with the mainstream GBLTetc scene here anyway. I keep thinking it doesn’t matter to me, but then wonder if this is because I take it for granted that it exists. Probably… I’ve never lived anywhere without a substantial queer population.

  7. Oh well, it was just a thought… I have to agree with Blair about Winnipeg, but wherever you to go I will try to visit!

  8. Tracey Coulter

    I have been having the exact same kind of conversations with my partner. We both have tons of student debt and there are so many counsellors in this town, and jobs come up very rarely. He still has at least two years in the social work program here, so we have a long time to decide, but if we ever want to own a house, it’s pretty clear we’re going to have to leave this town.

    • feralgeographer

      Pretty much… You could head a little north and probably do well, though… Or to the mainland!

      Then again, maybe when the economy tanks next, it’ll be so expensive to get here that no one will want to live here anymore, and we can turn the urban core into an agricultural paradise… Or maybe that’s just my fantasy…

  9. I’ve been having a lot of thoughts about relocating from northern New Brunswick. I have a lot of student debt (and a bit of other debt too) and despite a bachelor’s I don’t really have much job experience aside from call centres. I know I want to leave the province because there’s not enough job opportunities here aside from retail or call centres, and the queer community is fairly small. But I haven’t settled whether to look in Halifax, or perhaps go to Toronto or Montreal.

    • feralgeographer

      I’d choose any of those cities, frankly, for the reason Megan mentioned above: Bigger city equals higher wages! Well, for most folks, that is… Which includes you, I hope! I really wanted to go to Halifax, but the art school is too expensive so Oats nixed it from the list :(

  10. I spent my entire life apart from university living on the island. Less than two years ago we moved away in order to be able eventually to afford a place to settle into – not an apartment but a home. So much has already fallen into our laps and though I miss the bike commute, I’ve given it up for the life in the countryside that I’ve always wanted.
    One of the best decisions of my life so far.

    Sending you hope and enthusiasm! It’s not an easy step into the unknown but it has brought us so much. Hoping for good things for you both!

    BTW I was raised in the trees and mountains but I love the wide expanse of the prairies! The same reason I love the rolling hills of Quebec: you can see so far away!

    • feralgeographer

      Oh, as much as I love the mountains and sea views here, I also adore the rolling hills… And rivers, I love rivers.
      Thanks for the well-wishes!

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