Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The city was my teacher, I left an apple on her desk

Nicole asked me the other night, "When people ask you where you're from, what do you say?"
I usually say I'm from Regina.
"But you're not from Regina, you grew up in Saskatoon."
I started to get into "Well, okay, I had my childhood in Saskatoon, but I was a teenager in Regina, and that's really what it is to grow up, that's the crucible of youth..."
But Nicole was just asking what I say when people ask.
And people do ask. Nobody's from Vancouver. Somebody must be, my daughter is, but even the most Vancouverish of people I know come from elsewhere: Marrakech, Burnaby, Saskatoon.
I left Saskatoon for Regina three months after my 15th birthday. My adolescence to that point had been relatively smooth and uncomplicated. I never thought about leaving Saskatoon, never thought of Saskatoon as a place to escape or, worse, as a place impossible to escape. I don't doubt that I would have eventually found Saskatoon to be a set of shackles around my ankles when I'm trying to jump a train. Nearly all my friends from Saskatoon have left (most of them are here in Vancouver), most them as soon as they could.
But the fact remains that I didn't stay in Saskatoon long enough to resent it. When I left, Saskatoon was still big enough to hold my dreams. Saskatoon teemed with adults I admired. Important people walked among us. Though we never saw him, we had heard that a famous and respected novelist lived on the same crescent as Dan and John, not far from Market Mall. Our Eighth Grade teacher had put out a record! All around us there were poets, visual artists, musicians, upholsterers, sewage engineers, whatever. Maybe I was just too young and naive to think otherwise, or maybe I was just lucky, but the people I knew--peers and adults alike--were really engaged with the community. Those people seemed harder to find in Regina.
Of course, I never really had to negotiate Saskatoon as anything other than a child, a teenaged child, okay. Even at my most independent, I could always count on certain securities. I always knew that my parents, teachers (with a few horrible exceptions), or other responsible adults would take care of me. Even when I stayed out all night or showed up at school with tiny dots of red paint on my glasses the Monday after someone spray-painted a pentagram and surrounded by the words Mötley Crüe on the portable classroom, I always felt like a part of something.

I don't mean to suggest that Regina is a shit place and that all the people I met there were shit people and that the writers, artists and musicians I got to know there as a teenager were shit writers, artists and musicians. Far from it. The truth is that Regina never had a chance. I became a sulky teenager almost from the moment I arrived and it was through those eyes that I saw Regina. Saskatoon, meanwhile, remained the city of my childhood. For years, I only saw Regina for what it wasn't.
I still dream about Saskatoon sometimes, but I don't pretend to know what it's become. Regina, I'm less angry at all the time.
I still don't have a good or wholly accurate answer to "Where are you from?" But I'm working on it.

mp3: "This Affair" by Soft Reeds

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