community

Finding Home Between The Pages

I don't know, it must be a mid-life crisis, but over the past year or so I've become increasingly homesick.  For Victoria, yes, but more specifically for the blue-grey house I grew up in on Winchester Road, surrounded by Garry oaks.  For life with my family, who drove me crazy (and who I drove crazy) but who ensured I was never alone, for better or for worse. 

Of course, you can never go home again. Winchester Road was sold a decade ago, and is now covered in cheery pale green siding, its orchard of trees ruthlessly culled.  My brother has his own family, who I love dearly.  My parents would be appalled to have their almost-38-year-old daughter and her special needs cat move in, I'm sure.  Nor would I enjoy it.  So, life goes on, but I have to find ways to combat the homesickness, by looking for home elsewhere.  It's not always easy, living in alone in a city I didn't grow up in.

One of the places where I can go home again, is the library.  It's a different library, mind.  The bustling Richmond Brighouse Library, surrounded by the Minoru sports complex, housed with the Richmond Museum and the Media Lab, is nothing like the quiet Nellie McClung branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library that I visited at least weekly for the first 24 years of my life, where I spent hours doing homework after school.  But it's close enough to do the trick.  It smells the same.  The hushed busyness is the same.  And of course, the books are there, which will always, always be home. 

Yesterday was a lonely day, for no particular reason.  I had spent all day Saturday surrounded by friends.  Perhaps it was the contrast between that Saturday activity and the solitude of Sunday morning that made me feel sad. I got up late in the morning, spent some time sewing, but felt too listless to attack the list of chores I had scrawled out for myself on a note and left on my kitchen counter the night before.  I got in the car, and without really realizing where I was doing, ended up at the library.

I wandered around aimlessly for a few minutes, picking up and putting down books, not sure what I was looking for.  I (ahem) paid my overdue fines.  After not being immediately inspired by the choices before me, I went to one of the library catalogue computers and stood there for a moment, considering what to search for.   As I stood there, a little girl who looked too little to even reach the computer, let alone use it, came and stood at the computer beside me.  She had a colourful yellow plastic bookbag strung over her shoulder, with a nametag stuck in one corner.  "Serena," it read, in thick red marker.  Her black straight hair was pulled back from her forehead with a pink plastic band that matched her pink and white striped t-shirt.   I briefly looked at her as she grabbed the mouse and began to move it determinedly around the screen.  She was small for her age, but probably 8 or 9 years old and stood on tiptoe to reach the desk.  She was small, but old enough not to break the computer, anyway.  I turned back to my own search.

In a few seconds, the little girl grabbed my elbow.  "But, how do I do a search for a book that I want?"  I looked down at her, surprised.  Did she think I worked there?  I looked around to see if there were any staff members nearby, or if she had mistaken me for someone she'd spoken to earlier.  There were no one.  I looked at the man at the computer on the other side of Serena, to see if he might be her dad.  He studiously ignored us, so he either wasn't her dad, or wasn't interested in helping.  

"You want to search for a book?" I asked stupidly. 

"Yeah," she said.  

"OK, umm, well, let's see, you've got to go up to the top there, to that space beside the orange button, and type what you want - what book are you looking for?"

"Wings of Fire," she said.  

"OK, so, let's type in 'Wings of Fire' and see what comes up."  We typed, then we clicked, and waited expectantly in silence for the search results to return.  The leisurely pace of the library's catalogue was too much for Serena.  She clicked the mouse impatiently over and over again.  I gently took the mouse out of her hand.

"The library computers are slow," I said.  "Let's just wait and see what happens."

"I need the sixth one," she said as we waited.  "I've read the other ones."

The search results finally arrived, showing dozens of entries for Wings of Fire, a fantasy series by Tui Sutherland.  Serena looked blankly at the search results.   I scrolled for her.

"OK," I said, "So we've got book 5 -"

"I've got that one," said Serena.

"Book 4..."

"Got it."

"Book 10..."

She said nothing, looking overwhelmed.  She clutched the straps of her book bag and looked at me, saying nothing.

"So - do you know where you got the last book from Wings of Fire?  What part of the library?"

"I think - over there."  She pointed vaguely in the direction of the YA section.

"OK, let's go over there, then," I said, picking up my own pile of books and tucking them under my arm.  "Do you know that they file books by author here?"  She gave me her blank stare again. 

"So if we find the Fantasy section, we can look for "Sutherland" and find all the books by Tui Sutherland in one place," I explained.  Serena still looked at me, her face inscrutable, but I started across the library floor, and she followed me.

"I wasn't sure where to look," she said, "Because I don't know if Tui Sutherland is a boy or a girl."  She smiled up at me, for the first time.

"That's a good question!" I said.  "I don't know either!  Maybe we can look on the back of one of the books when we find one." (We did - Tui is a she).  

We scoured the fantasy shelves until we found "Sutherland", and there they were - dozens and dozens of copies of the various Wings of Fire novels.  "So, there they are," I said, gesturing at the shelves.  Serena broke into a wide grin and immediately focused on the task at hand, busily sorting through the volumes.  "Thanks," she said absently, as I started to walk away somewhat sheepishly.  "You're welcome," I said.

I waited in line to check out my books with a smile on my face, and drove home with the feeling of loneliness that had weighed me down in the morning having abated.   I spent the evening with my nose in a book, and didn't feel lonely at all.  Once again the library had given me just what I needed.    My homesickness was successfully diverted by remembering what made me feel at home: a little bit of community, a chance to be of service to someone, and a story - one to write, and one to read.  

On Belonging.

I've been thinking a lot lately about what makes us feel like we belong.  As a single person, it's often easy for me to fall into the trap of thinking that I need a significant other in order to not feel alone.  That I just need to belong to one person, and that'll be enough.  It's common that I find myself reflecting that "If I just had someone, I could…(fill in the blank)."  But I've had to start speaking to myself sternly about this, because there is so much evidence in my own life that this idea is incorrect.  There are so many other ways for us to belong: to our families, our co-workers, our friends; to theatre companies and sports teams and charities and churches.  I think that if I choose to feel alone (which I admit, I do often), it is because I am not actively reaching out to those communities that I actually do belong to, saying, "I feel lonely," or "What are we up to tonight," "I could use some company," or, and probably more importantly, making things less about me: "How can I help?"    "How are

you

doing?"  "Can I pitch in somehow?"

It's tough sometimes, though.  It's tough to always feel like I'm the only one to make the effort, that my social life is at the mercy of my much-more-important friends with spouses and/or families.  It's easy to retreat into my own solitary world, look at my phone longingly to see if someone has texted or called, hunker down with Curriecat and commit myself dramatically to a solitary existence.  This despite having wonderful friends, family and colleagues.  I can't walk two blocks in my neighbourhood without bumping into a friend to say hello to.  

So, yes -  I realize that the only reason I feel like I don't belong is me.  Because I do belong.  I care about people and they care about me. And it's up to me to reach out and ask for what I need and to more importantly ask what I can give back.

I belong to this crazy, loving, sometimes infuriating family. As the only "out of towner," I forget that sometimes, and feel left out, but it only takes 5 minutes (and a matching apron) to remember.

Vancouver has some really great community events, including the Dragonboat Festival, which I've missed since I moved to London.  I've decided next year I'll have to put a team together - I miss paddling.  Yes, even early morning winter practices where your hands can barely hold the paddle, you're so cold.  So it's definitely time to get back into it.

Events like Streetfood Fest really show that Vancouverites do have a desire for community, to get together and hang out.  Every Sunday we bask on this little astroturf "beach," play pingpong, and line up 30-deep at the food trucks circled at Olympic Village.

Even when I'm alone, I'm not really.  As I type this a grey cat is curled up with her tail on the computer screen.